London Lantern

Putting the Spotlight on London

Our First Trip To London - Second Part

29/07/2004, By Candice Caster

Reader Rating: 2.9 from 16842 votes


On Day 2 of our first trip, we visited the Tower of London in the morning, gripping our open umbrellas as we braced ourselves against gusty winds and pelting rain and moved from tower to tower. It looked quite different a few years later when we stood solemnly inside the Tower walls after dark to watch the 700-year-old Ceremony of the Keys, the locking-up of the Tower for the night, led by the Chief Warder in Tudor bonnet and red coat, keys in one hand and candle lantern in the other.

From the Tower, we progressed to the National Gallery of Art and stood, for the first time, amidst the pigeons and bronze lions in Trafalgar Square, Londonís largest square. Although not realizing it at the time, we would find ourselves here each time we came to London, particularly during the Christmas season when a giant tree is placed near the statue of Lord Nelson and lit with great ceremony and carol-singing.

Trafalgar Square

Representatives of St. Martin-in-the-Fields bless the crib in the square in a torch-lit procession commencing from the church steps. We spent a memorable evening at the church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields (whose archives include the baptismal certificate of Prince Charles), several years after our first London trip, as we enjoyed a concert of candlelight and the Bach Brandenburg Concertos. Many other landmarks are visible from Trafalgar Square, and it was from here that we first saw the tower of Big Ben.

Years later, we would look up at that world-famous clock through flakes of snow as we hurried past on our way to Prime Ministerís Question Time to watch a feisty Tony Blair face a contentious House of Commons. Not far from Trafalgar Square is the very distinctive Sherlock Holmes Pub on Northumberland Street, where we would one day partake of a delicious traditional pub lunch and view the memorabilia of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes and Watson.

But those were joys not yet discovered. On the morning of Day 3 of our first visit, we wandered around Covent Garden, not knowing enough to take note of the charming restaurant with the green awnings that was Porters English Restaurant, where one evening years later we would sup on English pies and puddings with the gracious owner Richard, The Earl of Bradford.

Ritz Hotel

We spent some time in the Piazza, watching the street performers, and shopped in Market Hall, another place to which we would return throughout the years, again and again.

That afternoon, we had tea in the exquisite Palm Court at the world-famous Ritz Hotel, in front of which we would one day watch Londonís New Yearís Day Parade, burrowing our faces deep into warm woolen scarves to fend off the chill of the wintry winds.

A few blocks away lay Berkeley Square, home of the legendary nightingale, and in another direction stood the Handel House we would someday visit where the extraordinary composer produced many of his greatest works, including the Fireworks Music and the Messiah.

In the evening, we attended Agatha Christieís Mousetrap at St. Martinís Theatre, our first West End production, beginning the tradition of nightly theatre-going while in London. Across the street stood its companion theatre, New Ambassadors, where last year we saw the entertaining Abigailís Party.

The next evening of that first visit to London found us at the incomparable Phantom of the Opera at Her Majesty's Theatre, across from the white-pillared Theatre Royal Haymarket at which we would see a number of memorable productions.

So I remember London as it was when we first laid our hungry eyes upon it - and in the years that followed. How little we knew about London in the beginning! But early on we found ourselves inspired by its treasures, attracted by its beauty, and stimulated by its music and works of art. And from those initial seeds of interest and love has sprouted a beautiful and flourishing garden of memories.

Candice Caster

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