We have returned.
We had a wonderful time. It was the best trip I ever experienced.
London is an amazing city. London is so large and there is so much to see and do in London that it is simply overwhelming.
I think we were wise to focus on only one portion of the city’s geography. Doing so eliminated wasteful travel time and allowed us to focus on and savor the heart of Westminster and surrounding environs.
We visited everything we planned to visit. Nothing disappointed us. The churches and palaces and museums and landmarks we had selected were as fascinating as I had hoped, and I would go back to everything in an instant except for Tate Britain, which I have now seen in its entirety.
I’m glad I visited Tate Britain. Like Andrew and his brother, I think its collection of British art is more interesting from an historic perspective than from an artistic perspective. Much of the art on display I intensely disliked, and I would not want to spend more time at Tate Britain anytime soon. There are many magnificent paintings in the collection, a good portion of which are by American artists who worked in Britain. There are also innumerable paintings that are not of museum quality. I can also say, having now seen the world’s largest collection of Turner paintings, that I am not eager to rush out and see more.
Before our trip, I had been a little worried that Andrew and his brother, having already seen almost everything on our list, would become bored. I was fearful that Andrew and his brother were willing to return to so many attractions only because I had never seen them before or because their parents had not seen them for many years.
I need not have worried. The attractions we visited were of such abiding interest that serious travelers may visit them over and over, with no fear of boredom or fatigue.
I came closest to visitor fatigue at Tate Britain. Andrew’s mother came closest to visitor fatigue at The Wellington Barracks Guards Museum (as Andrew had predicted). Andrew’s father came closest to visitor fatigue while walking around Covent Garden and Seven Dials and Neal’s Yard (“once you’ve seen a couple of these shops, you’ve seen them all”). Andrew’s brother came closest to visitor fatigue at The National Army Museum (he had simply seen everything there too many times). Andrew came closest to visitor fatigue at Westminster Abbey (he already knew every single niche and stone and monument and grave by heart, having been there so many times—yet he gave us a better tour of the Abbey than the verger did).
Some attractions were more interesting even than I had anticipated. The churches we visited were marvelous. They were fascinating for their architecture and their art and their histories. I am glad I read about them before our trip. That made my visits to the churches more meaningful and more enjoyable.
The British Library was also more impressive than I had expected. I never thought that I would find examining illuminated manuscripts from The Middle Ages to be so rewarding. The workmanship and artistry on display in some of the ancient illuminated manuscripts were staggering.
Our evenings were not as rewarding as our days.
The four nights we spent at the theater were not fulfilling. None of the plays we attended was particularly good, and none of the performances was mesmerizing. According to Andrew and his brother, this was the luck of the draw, and they were overdue, or so they said, for some duds. In 2005, they had gone to the theater ten times in eighteen nights, and everything they saw that year had been excellent. In 2004, they had gone to the theater eight times in eighteen nights, and everything they saw that year had been excellent. In 2003, they had gone to the theater seven times in seventeen nights, and everything they saw that year had been unremarkable if not poor. They were due for an unremarkable year, they said, and they got it handed to them this year. I saw nothing that made me think that London theater was any better than anything we have in the U.S. Perhaps I will change my mind after our next trip to London.
We made a mistake in attending four orchestral concerts in six evenings. We were at the mercy of Proms scheduling, and tried to take advantage of that, but four concerts in six nights was too much for all of us. The fact that all four concerts featured late-Romantic German repertory—Brahms, Bruckner, Mahler—did not help matters. We would have welcomed more varied programs, I think. I am glad I had the opportunity to witness Riccardo Chailly in action, because he is a star in every sense of the word. He had the audience in his hands from his first step onto the concert stage. Compared to him, Michael Tilson Thomas and Daniel Barenboim and James Levine were trolls and troglodytes, with all the charisma and glamour of plumbers. In person, all three were far more unattractive than their photographs suggest. I gasped when I first saw each one. They were frightening, especially Levine. That man should not be permitted to go out in public.
I could not help but compare our trip to London with last year’s trip to Hamburg. Hamburg was a beautiful city, and I’m glad that I went to Hamburg, but London has at least fifty times as much to see and do as Hamburg. We pretty much saw everything there was to see in Hamburg in thirteen days. We did not even scratch the surface of London in fifteen days. It would take a full year, maybe two, to see everything London has to offer.
The residents of London, however, do not compare favorably with the residents of Hamburg. Londoners do not appear to be as healthy or as well-dressed or as prosperous as the citizenry of Hamburg. Compared to Hamburgers, Londoners are often ill-behaved and boorish, and appear to be positively poverty-stricken.
London also has an enormous population of what the British themselves refer to as their “slatternly” class, and this slatternly class was on prominent display practically everywhere we went. We do not have anything comparable in the U.S., at least on the same vast scale.
Everything in London was outrageously expensive. For Americans, London must be the most expensive city in the world right now. Everything costs roughly two-and-a-half times what it costs in the U.S.
Some admissions we paid were scandalous. For the five of us, it cost us $175 to visit The Buckingham Palace State Rooms. I had no idea that Queen Elizabeth was living so close to the poverty line! Maybe we should organize a benefit.
It cost us another $150 to visit The Queen’s Gallery and The Royal Mews. Queen Elizabeth did quite well by us, all in all, especially since we also acquired this year’s edition of the guide to The Buckingham Palace State Rooms as well as the catalog for the special exhibition of Italian painting at The Queen’s Gallery (setting us back another $100 between the two of them).
It cost us $125 to visit The Cabinet War Rooms And Churchill Museum. It cost us $110 to get into Westminster Abbey and, once inside, we had to pay another $55 to take a verger tour. It cost us $80 to get into Apsley House and The Wellington Arch. Even Banqueting House, which is visited only because of its one remarkable room, cost us $50.
The art and military museums, at least, were free, except for the Courtauld. Whether the museums in London will continue to be free much longer is an unresolved question, as many officials in the British government believe that admission charges should be re-instituted.
London is not a city to visit if cost is an issue.
I did not think that the food in London was particularly good. In general, food in U.S. restaurants is much better, I think, than food in London restaurants. However, I was not impressed with the food in Hamburg, either, although everyone else seemed to have no problem with the Hamburg food. Perhaps I have become spoiled by the cooking of Andrew and his mother.
What was the single most magical experience I enjoyed in London? It was strolling Pall Mall, which I believe must be the most fascinating street in the world.
What was the least magical? It was exploring the performing-arts buildings of The South Bank Centre. All of the buildings were minor architectural disasters, compiled of cheap materials and anachronistically dated before their constructions were even completed. These buildings are so bad that they actually ruin the otherwise beautiful view from the other side of The Thames.
Andrew and his brother were perfect guides. They know London so well that they did not even need to consult street maps or subway maps as they made their way around town.
Andrew’s parents had a wonderful time. They enjoyed seeing so many wonderful things that their sons had seen so many times. It was fun for us to watch them have such a good time. They both said that this had been their most enjoyable vacation in over thirty years.
London was so stimulating that, now that I am home, Minneapolis seems drab and dull in comparison. My only consolation is that practically all other cities in the world seem drab and dull, too, in comparison to London.
I want to go back as soon as possible.