Imagine that tomorrow, all of your duties and obligations evaporate for the day. You get the day all to yourself, to do anything you please. What types of fun activities would make your day?
Something I haven’t done in years would make a great tomorrow. I love strolling around London, following where the streets take me. I’d say leave me off at Paddington Station, and I’ll roam as far as I can before I drop. I can walk my shoe leather off in this great city. There’s so much to see and I don’t mean the great tourist spots like Westminster, Big Ben, or the London Eye. I enjoy finding little hidden parts that put it on a human scale.
Paddington Station is a great starting point. I’ll head south to Kensington Park. Seeing the Palace, where Princess Diana lived, on my left, I’ll think I’ll go straight through the park past the Serpentine, coming out on the other side. If it weren’t February, I might take a rowboat out onto the water, but the place is pretty quiet now, as opposed to the summer months when it’s teeming with people, tourists and residents alike.
Coming out on the other side, I’d walk down Sloane Street, which runs through one of the most desirable areas of London. I’ll bypass Harrods — I can never afford anything in there any way — and I’ll go into Sloane Square, a quiet haven. Time for coffee at an outside cafe table. Looking around at the distinctive Dutch style red brick buildings built in the 19th century, I can imagine elegant horse-drawn carriages passing by with the upper crust dressed in finery who once inhabited this still exclusive area.
Now off to another favorite spot, Buckingham Palace. On my way I’ll go through Belgrave Square, with its grand white stuccoed houses, once aristocracy row, now home to several embassies. The neat terraces of houses create understated elegance and order. Just a bit further to Buckingham Palace, but I haven’t come just to see the Queen’s home in town (built in 1702). This is a fascinating area because down different little streets and “alleys” there are little surprises, like the stables for the honor guard horses, and barracks for the Household Cavalry, who are real soldiers who may be transferred to active service if needed.
Green Park sits behind Buckingham Palace, so I’ll cut through going north, crossing Piccadilly, putting me in a warren of streets and squares east of Kensington Palace. By just walking, I’ll peek down alleyways and arched openings that lead to little mews cottages with tubs full of flowers. It’s hard to imagine them as the horse stables for the rich, then garages for early cars, that they once were. No doubt as London became more populated and property values went up, someone thought, “My what a cute little cottage this stable would make.” And it does.
The Georgian houses that line many of the smarter streets and squares in London are today usually split up into flats — very nice flats costing up to a $1,000,000. Many of these were once the town homes of the wealthy land-owning class from the 1800’s. Once World War I was over, so was the period of great houses, town houses, and legions of servants ready to do their master’s bidding. A large number of the grand building also now house businesses, since they can afford the high price tags for the good addresses.
Rambling leads around many of the private gardens in London, kept closed to the public by lock and key. But they abound, carefully tended, like oases in an otherwise crowded city. The many public parks offer rest for a tired walker or hungry lunch-eater, too. London has an amazing amount of green space for the density of population. Just north of where I am now, lies Regents Park, which even has its own zoo, plus a boating lovely boating lake. On foot, I find I get a feeling for a place much more so than being in a car or bus, and a greater sense of history too.
As I make my way west back to Paddington Station, I know I’ll find a little restaurant in this diverse area. I’ll rest my weary feet and have a pleasant late lunch of some ethnic variety. It would be a great day, if miracles happen.