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Winter Honeymoon in London

by:

Bianca Wright


My first impression of London as I stepped off the plane after a grueling twelve-hour flight was: "It’s so cold". With a maximum temperature of around 7C, one could be forgiven for wondering why on earth we would choose London as a honeymoon destination in November. But the truth is London is one of the most beautiful and exciting cities in the world, regardless of when you go. My husband and I were in awe of the hustling bustling crowds that swarmed the streets, shops, restaurants and every available area. There is an electric atmosphere in London that surpasses anything one can feel in Johannesburg or Cape Town or even Paris.

But let’s start at the beginning. Arriving at Heathrow Airport is like arriving in a city in itself. I had never seen such a large airport. We managed to find a taxi to take us to our hotel because we were a bit unsure of navigating the Tube all by ourselves with so much luggage. A taxi will set you back a pretty penny, but may be worth it if you have never been to London before. Ours cost around 30.

The Tavistock Hotel (http://www.londonhotels.ndirect.co.uk/tavistoc.htm), where we spent six wonderful nights, is a centrally-located, three-star hotel, situated just around the corner from the Russell Square tube station on the Piccadilly Line. The staff is efficient and cordial and the rooms are comfortable. Our travel agent had unfortunately forgotten to mention the fact that the hotel does not give double rooms to travel agencies and so we were quite shocked to find two single beds in our "honeymoon room".

The hotel had no double rooms available and so we had to make do with tying the two beds together! Not the ideal honeymoon situation, but we made the best of it. My advice to avoid this kind of mix-up is to either forgo the travel agent entirely or else to contact the hotel yourself and ensure that you are booked into a double room.

The wonderful thing about London is that it’s so easy to get around. The Tube can take you anywhere you need to go with a minimum of fuss and the system is not that difficult to navigate.

London is a unique mix of nature and humanity. We were surprised to glimpse squirrels frolicking in a nearby park as we walked to the Tube station. The red, gold and orange of London’s Autumn leaves drift down streets a flood with taxis and trucks, creating a picture worthy of Da Vinci’s brush. The beauty of a Cape Town sunset or the moonlit beaches of Port Elizabeth is eclipsed by this image of the London of contrast. As we stepped into the rush of the station, it is hard to believe that such beauty can exist in a city that thrives on its mad pace of life.

Our first stop was Madame Tussaud’s (http://www.madame-tussauds.com), which is just a few steps from the Baker Street station. At 10.50 per person, Madame Tussaud’s may appear expensive but it is well worth it. Our first encounter with the life-like wax inhabitants of this interesting museum was a face-to-face encounter with Mr. Terminator himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger. We had an official photograph taken of ourselves cozying up to Arnie, which we later purchased at the exit for 3.50. We spent an incredibly fun and surprisingly romantic afternoon rubbing shoulders with the doubles of Sean Connery, Naomi Campbell, Lennie Henry, our own Nelson Mandela and Princess Di. The wonderful thing about Madame Tussaud’s is that, unlike most other tourist places, they have no problem with your taking photographs of the wax models. We used almost an entire film.

As evening fell – and since it was winter, evening came as early as 4pm – we took a leisurely stroll through Covent Garden Market. The sights and smells of London can best be captured by looking at its markets and Covent Garden is the epitome of the London lifestyle. Street carts selling huge baked potatoes filled with everything from tuna to baked beans line the streets, while rap musicians and Opera singers entertain diners and browsers. Souvenir stalls abound and you can purchase anything from miniature statues of Big Ben to gold-leaf paintings of tourist scenes at reasonable prices. Walking hand in hand with my new husband through the exotic wonders of London’s best known market was an experience I won’t soon forget and one that I recommend to anyone who travels to England’s capital.

The next morning dawned bright and brisk – which is another way of saying cold – and we ventured out of the hotel to Selfridges (http://www.selfridges.co.uk). Our first taste of a London department store more than lived up to our expectations. Selfridges is a three-floor shopper’s dream situated at Bond Street and specializing in anything your heart desires. The home ware department alone is bigger than a Woolworth’s or an Edgars. We took a break from shopping at the Selfridges coffee shop, which offers such a range of choice that it took ten minutes to decide what to order. The prices are steep, but bargains do abound if you know where to look. Videos and CDs, especially, can be bought at much lower prices than locally and, of course, the choice is much larger.

Our next stop was the London Zoo (http://www.weboflife.co.uk/londonzoo/). If you are an animal-lover like me the Zoo is a must-see. Housing over 6000 different types of animals, London Zoo is situated in romantic Regent’s Park. Here, the majestic Bengal Tiger shares the stage with a baby hippopotamus.

We ventured into the Nightlife section, where baby foxes and strange-looking Egyptian Jereboas, which look like mice on stilts, make their homes. The Zoo keeps this underground haven at constant twilight during the day, so that the animals that only roam at night can be visible to Zoo visitors.

The petting farm is wonderful for kids and grown-ups alike. You can stroke goats, sheep, ponies and even big fat pigs. We spent half a day just wandering around and we did not even see half of the Zoo’s inhabitants.

No trip to London would be complete without sampling the theatre offerings of the West End. My husband and I were fortunate to see two exquisite West End musicals during our honeymoon stay. The first was really the best. Disney’s stage adaptation of their animated feature Beauty and the Beast (http://disney.co.uk/MusicalTheatre/beautyuk/m2.htm) surpassed our expectations and was truly the highlight of our trip.

We took the Tube to the beautiful Dominion Theatre and sat spellbound as the actors and actresses of Disney’s Theatrical Company brought "the greatest love story ever told" to life before our eyes. Disney has done a truly fantastic job with this play. The special effects, costumes and choreography were magnificent and the actors and actresses shone in their roles. It was truly the most wonderful theatre experience we had ever had and the perfect end to a fabulously romantic evening.

The next day we braced ourselves for a hectic rush of sightseeing as we boarded the Big Bus Company open-top tour of London (http://www.bigbus.co.uk). The bus tour, one of many in London, follows three prescribed routes through the main tourist areas of the capital.

Our first stop was the breath-taking Trafalgar Square where Nelson’s Column towers above mortal man and the waters of the beautifully sculpted fountain spout from the mouths of nymphs and dolphins.

The Square is opposite London’s National Gallery, which was our next stop. There is no way to cover all the art exhibited in the gallery in one day and we only managed to scratch the surface as we strolled through room after room of the Sainsbury Wing which houses artwork from 1260 to 1500. There is so much to see, in fact, that after a while the paintings all seem to blend into one another and it looks like you are seeing the same painting over and over again. My advice to those who really want to take in the essence of the awe-inspiring art that has its home in the National Gallery is to take things slowly. Visit a different section each day and take your time.

Stopping only to pick up a few souvenir gifts for the family back home, we hopped back onto the bus and made our way to the (infamous London Dungeon, a museum of a different sort, a museum of the macabre. The dungeon goes all out to scare the living daylights out of you. We were greeted by white-faced Dracula's who directed us to a room where I had the opportunity to chop my new husband's head off. Don't worry it was just a pose for the official photograph, which (as usual) you could purchase at the exit for 3.50.

Moving into the museum itself, we were confronted with some of the most gruesome and terrifying scenes from English and European history. We watched as men were stretched on the rack, beheaded with axes or burnt at the stake. Definitely not a stop for the faint-hearted.

We then ventured through two large doors which shut ominously behind us and found a not so friendly tour guide waiting for us. She went onto explain in gory detail what various torture and restraint devices did to a person. There was a very interesting one that fitted around a man's private parts, but we won't go into that!

Next we were ushered into a medieval courtroom where we were summarily found guilty and sentenced to death. We were taken to Traitor's Gate (or rather a replica thereof) and put into a boat. We floated up the river to the execution dock, where we were shot to death. The ride is very exciting and a great deal of fun.

From our execution we wandered into the land of Jack the Ripper where we were treated to as glimpse of his handiwork and a recreation of all the Ripper murders. Our tour ended with a trip to a French Revolution execution scene complete with guillotine. Watch out for the blood!

After a quick trip to Hay's Gallaria and the HMS Belfast, we ended our day with a visit to the infamous Tower of London where we saw the real Traitor's Gate. Our guide, Scottish Yeoman Warder George regaled us with tales of the various executions and imprisonments that have taken place at the Tower over the years. The highlight of the tour was, of course, seeing the Crown Jewels of England, which are as beautiful and ornate as expected.

We dined that evening at a London Pub, but were sorely disappointed. The food was ok, but not traditionally English (Chicken Cordon Bleu) and the place was smoky and cramped. After dinner we went to The Trocadero, also known as Segaworld. This game-lover's paradise features six stories of arcade games and rides.

My husband bravely ventured onto the Pepsi Maxi Drop, a terrifying ride that takes you up six stories to the roof, hangs around for a few seconds and then lets you free fall almost to the floor. It stops about a meter from the ground and glides the rest of the way down. It's quite an experience, I am told, one which costs 3. We also went on a virtual reality space mission and took the James Bond ride, which assured us we would be "shaken not stirred". Great fun.

The following day, we took it a bit easier. Buckingham Palace was top of our list for sightseeing and it more than lived up to our expectations. The ornate gates and life-like statue of Queen Victoria were breath-taking and the changing of the guards was well worth the wait.

Next it was on to Westminster Abbey and a bit of lunch at a wonderful little Greek restaurant called Dionysus. We did a bit of shopping at Forbidden Planet, one of my favorite shops in London as it is a specialty store dealing in everything related to science fiction.

The ultimate (and most expensive) shopping experience, though, has to be Harrod's. The store occupies an entire city block and is six stories high. The window displays alone can take your breath away and the selection of everything from fruit to chocolate to perfume is truly out of this world. Of course, the prices are equally out of this world and I wouldn't recommend doing any Christmas or birthday shopping there.

There is a memorial to Princess Diana and Dodi al Fayed in the basement section and this is the only part of the store that you are allowed to photograph. Still after two years, their deaths have an impact on the English population and the memorial is scattered with flowers, gifts, notes and photographs from grieving fans.

We went back to the hotel to rest, having purchased some strawberries and a few chocolates. We stopped at a coffee shop to buy some hot chocolate. Tip: If you can, choose to takeaway your coffee or hot chocolate if you stop at a Starbucks or other coffee shop. If you take it away it's 99p, but if you sit down to drink it, it'll cost you 1.99.

After a quick rest, it was on to Her Majesty's Theatre and the production of Phantom of the Opera. Although, there is a great deal of hype about this Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, we found it a bit boring and definitely less appealing than Beauty and the Beast. It's worth a watch, though, especially for the music.

London, for us, was a city of dreams. It was the most wonderful honeymoon destination and I have no qualms in recommending it to other honeymooners, no matter what the time of year. After all, the most important thing is to be together.

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Bianca Wright is a freelance travel writer based in South Africa whose passions include fine dining and even finer theatre, preferably of the musical variety. Her travel writing has appeared in Cosmopolitan, Wedding Solutions, Brides and Homes and ComputorEdge. She also specializes in business and marketing writing. (More about this writer.)

Email:  bmt@icon.co.za (Bianca Wright)
Web: http://www.icon.co.za/~bmt 

 

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