By the time you read this post, the Olympic torch may have already made its way to the Olympic Stadium in London, and its flames, which historically commemorated the theft of fire from the Greek god Zeus by Prometheus, will have ignited the Cauldron, this time commemorating the power of the human spirit and the ingenuity of the British people. The opening ceremony kicks off with the sound of the largest harmonically tuned bell in Europe, and the Stadium becomes the British countryside–with real farm animals!–and proceeds with a sequence featuring volunteer performers from the National Health Service.
I LOVE watching Olympic ceremonies: I enjoy their colors, their energy, the imagination of their creators and the inspiration of their performers–not to mention the parade of the athletes. Of course, as a librarian, I also think about the role our library plays in enhancing these events for our patrons. So, if you’re looking for books that will make “your” 2012 Olympic Games successful, check out my last Literary Links column published in the Columbia Daily Tribune on July 8.
Otherwise, stay with me a little longer, and I’ll give you some tips on visiting London.
1. Unless you have to be there at a certain time, travel late in the spring or in the summer. I spent two weeks in England in June and it rained only once! Most days the weather forecast was something like “dry with sunny spells.” Do dress in layers, though –it may get rather cool between the “spells.”
2. Buy a travel card for a week. The card is good for the Underground as well as for buses. It requires a small passport-style picture. And, if you don’t ride a red double-decker sitting on the first row of the second level, your London experience is not complete!
3. Take a tour of the city. Hop-on, hop-off sightseeing buses are good a good way to tour the city. They circle all major tourist attractions in about 1½ hours. I also took several walking tours from Original London Walks which offers some 90 tours and gives you a discount coupon if you want to do more than one. If you take their “London Explorer Day,” you’ll learn that the City of London is a small part of London, that Green Park has no flowers because of a jealous queen and that unwanted visitors have broken into Buckingham Palace three times! The tour is timed to allow participants to see the Changing of the Guard. (You’ll have a chance to take pictures with them too!) It also includes the Tower of London, a boat trip down the Thames and much more.
4. Go to museums. Many of London’s museums are free, and they also offer self-guided audio tours. Feel overwhelmed? Take a guided tour. In the British Museum, for example, you’ll be taken directly to the highlights–the Rosetta Stone, the Elgin Marbles, etc.
5. Don’t just walk along the South Bank; go to see a Shakespeare play. We saw Richard III in the Globe Theatre performed entirely by women. (Only fair, since in Shakespeare’s time men played all the women’s roles.) If you’d like to see a play or a musical, you have lots of choices available to you. Be aware, though, that the Half Price Ticket Booth in Leicester Square discounts the top-priced tickets only and lines are often long.
6. Take literary tours. You can see the oldest church in London, which has survived since Shakespeare’s time. Learn about Dickens’ London and see Brides Church, whose shape inspired the first wedding cake.
7. If you like murder mysteries, go on the Jack the Ripper walk. You’ll rub shoulders with some 200 like-minded tourists there. By contrast, literary tours typically attract 15 people or so.
8. If the London Eye is too pricey for you, go to St. Paul’s Cathedral. Climb 530 steps to the observation balcony for a spectacular view of the city. Don’t be surprised that the cathedral is surrounded by new buildings. During the Blitz, bombs fell all around it, but miraculously, it stood untouched.
9. Go to see London’s parks and gardens. It has an amazing number of both. No wonder gardening shows are incredibly popular on British TV! And don’t forget about Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park.
10. Don’t miss Covent Garden with all its hustle and bustle. After all, that was the place where Rex Harrison met Audrey Hepburn in “My Fair Lady.” Also, remember that the Royal Opera House has no performances on Sunday.
11. Eat in ethnic restaurants. No offense, but nobody talks about English “cuisine” the way they talk about French or Italian.
12. Don’t worry about “fitting in.” If there is one place in the world where that is not important, it is London. It is so cosmopolitan that some Englishmen living outside the city say that London is no longer British.
13. Send a postcard to your friends and family. The one I bought was the head of Prince Charles with his ears clearly delineated. Everybody else sent serene pictures of the beautiful places they were visiting, but mine was the biggest hit by far!
14. Walk around London at night. A stroll from the Embankment Tube station towards Big Ben and Parliament is a must. Enjoy the soft golden glow of the Tower and the blinking lights of the London Eye. (Yes, it remains open after dark.) It will be one of the most romantic moments of your trip, even if you are holding hands with your own spouse.