London is now one of the most expensive cities my wife and I have visited in the last few years. It is also one of the nosiest and most crowded, like Manhattan without the pastrami and far out jazz.
I’m also different – older — so hanging out and drinking in the pubs did not have the same appeal as when I was here on tour with an American rugby team in 1969. Besides, American beer is now better than what I was able to find on tap at most every pub I visited. Apparently British and European tastes do not lean toward the bitter West Coast IPAs with ABVs of 6% and higher that I prefer.
But the food is much better than it was then, the mix of modern and traditional architecture among the best in the world, and it is still one of the most walkable cities I have ever visited. When the sun shines, which wasn’t that often in the 17 days we were there from mid October to early November, the city sparkles.
Rain or shine, Katherine and I chose a different section of the city every day to explore on foot. Our explorations ranged far and wide – trendy Notting Hill, where we stayed; literary Fitzrovia, where I stayed in 1969 (has that neighborhood changed!); the West End for excellent theater (and the worst crowds); a boat ride on the Thames; a train ride to Greenwich; the obligatory visits to Piccadilly, Parliament Square, Westminster and St. Paul’s Cathedral; and walking tours of the old city and historical Jewish sites in the East End. We walked so much that I actually lost weight despite eating very well.
Speaking of eating well, our favorite place was the original Ottolenghi’s, owned by Yotam Ottolenghi, the Israeli chef and restaurateur who has redefined Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine and taken the cookbook world by storm. The eatery, more of a deli than a sit down restaurant, was only a ten minute walk from our accommodations on “buzzy” Portobello Road, so we ate there several times during our stay.
Our favorite walks were through Hampstead Heath and along the Regent Canal to Camden Lock. The Heath is a huge park of ponds, rolling hills and wide open meadows in the heart of one of the most attractive neighborhoods in the city. Regent’s Canal offers a quiet, picturesque stroll through the heart of the city (actually, it seems like there are lots of metaphorical “hearts” in London) to one of the most ethnically diverse markets in the city. I’m sure that one of the reasons why these walks were our favorites is that they happened on the warmest, sunniest days of our trip.
Now I’m back in Southern California soaking up the sun and relative quiet. I enjoyed our visit to London, but with so many other places in the world to visit, it may be another 45 years before I return. I’ll be 117 years old then, so I might not be able to walk as much, but if I’m lucky, Ottolenghi’s will still be there.