When you get to the United Kingdom, you will want to make every second count and there are, oddly enough, two very different ways to do this.
The first way to make every second absolutely unforgettable is to do what is known as the “whirlwind tour.” This entails trying to see everything you possibly can in three or four days, including tours of London, Glasgow and Edinburgh with side trips to Stone Hedges and Liverpool.
In the big city, you will want to stop at Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, the Churchill War Rooms, Westminster Abbey, the National Gallery, the British Museum and a few hundred other stops crammed in, including Convent Garden and the Soho art district. You will want to drop in on four pubs each day, eat at 15 different restaurants – a few of which you wouldn’t recommend to your cat – and take in two musicals and a play. Then you can go home and say you made the most of it.
Or you can go the other way. You can sip your tea slowly, so to speak, savoring this very British custom with unhurried panache. You can stop and smell each rose on a garden tour. You can go shopping with no particular agenda in mind. And you can take in a football game – the game you Yanks call soccer – and sit there and listen to the roar of the fans who take sports very, very seriously, as you might have heard.
One of my favorite things to do in London is to peruse the art that is available at no cost because it is the habit of painters and sellers to set up right there on the London sidewalks and put on a show for free.
No, this isn’t the kind of art that belongs in a museum much of the time, but sidewalk art is like running into a street musician. It’s more surprising than curated art that hangs in a serious gallery.
Nothing speaks of savoring the British culture more than taking in a show or a soccer game. The first comes in two varieties: A play or a musical. London, of course, is famous for both. No city on earth can boast of the quality and quantity of its theater district, except for the Big Apple in New York. And you can buy package deals, so you can do a lot of savoring at discount prices along the way.
Soccer is also a savoring event, but this is a place where you might be savoring the beer and the salty behavior (and language) of some of the fans, famous the world over as some of the rowdiest on earth.
If you are new to soccer or a long-time fan, there are advantages to buying Champions League ticket packages – which is an international league – or Premier League package, which will get you in to see the U.K.’s top players go head-to-head or toe-to-toe, as it were.
A just-getting-started soccer fan can buy a package deal, enjoy the discounts and take in a few games to get a quick education. A soccer connoisseur can also take advantage of package pricing and fully enjoy their stay in London town.
The point is, you don’t have to race around town to enjoy London. You might want to race through some of the meals you are served because London’s cooking is famous for being hearty, but lacking in sophistication. It’s a meat and potatoes town in which there are probably only two spices in the kitchen – salt and pepper.
But savoring your day is one of the joys of being on vacation and some of the best days I can remember in London are days without an itinerary. Shopping is not my favorite thing to do, but I remember a terrific afternoon of shopping in London in which I didn’t buy anything, but gawked at the variety of merchandise, like a kid in toy land. It was a pleasant afternoon and my company was very pleasant, as well and not being in a hurry with a good friend beats running around town with bad company any day.
While you’re not rushing around, remember to enjoy those moments that are not on your itinerary. Enjoy the bus ride or the taxi ride. Do some exploring as you wander the city trying to find a decent place to have lunch. Take amusing side trips when they present themselves.
One of my tricks is to take pictures of statures. Believe me, this is one way to chalk up some very dull pictures for my scrap album. But the excuse to take a photo of a statute is my excuse for exploring a small park I might otherwise have not noticed or to stop in at a downtown crossroads instead of rushing by. I have too many pictures of men holding swords aloft and I don’t really care for those things, anyway. In fact, I love the plaques at the foot of the statue more than the statue itself, because there’s a connection to history there and a bit of information that helps put it into context.
Try the stop-and-smell-the-roses tour. It’s more mundane, but it has as much to offer as the tour in which you rush around until you drop.