My students and I bought travelcards for one week at the tube (subway) station in Heathrow airport, a one hour ride took us to Paddington from where we reached our low budget hotel situated in a tranquil street two minutes away from the station.
Later we took the tube to Westminster and went round the Houses of Parliament into the gardens and looked down at the Thames. Unfortunately the water was flowing into the ‘right‘ direction, so when I asked my standard question, ‘Where‘s the North Sea in your opinion?’ the answer had to be correct. It‘s nice to ask this question when the water is coming in and then explain them what ebb and flood mean.
Unfortunately Westminster Abbey is more often closed than open, it‘s always closed on Saturday afternoon so we could only admire it from the outside. From there we went to Buckingham Palace crossing Green Park, a lively sight on a sunny weekend day.
For the evening I had booked a walk with email@example.com. Get to know the city on foot, an intelligent concept, be guided by people who know the tour well, who have anecdotes ready and who can deliver what they have to say in a pleasing manner. I had decided on Kensington and on the Ghosts of the Old City Walk.
Although we had the best possible guide (Tom Hooper), I wouldn‘t do the walk through Kensington again, it‘s just not as attractive as, say, Hampstead, I was rather disappointed. The students couldn‘t compare and followed the guide and his stories dutifully impressed. The stories surrounding Princess Diana to which we listened sitting on the grass in front of ‘her‘ palace touched us Germans only superficially, but must be the highlight for British groups.
Sunday morning saw us in a nunnery, the Tyborn Convent, 8 Hyde Park Place, Bayswater Rd. W2. I had read about the place in the book Secret London by Andrew Duncan some years ago and written to the prioress asking her if we could visit. I‘ve been there three times already and will include it again if there‘s a next time, what better chance for 18-year-old students to get to know an alternative life-style?
The 25 Tyborn nuns belong to an enclosed Benedictine order which means that they never leave the convent, not even to visit relatives. They spend their time in study and prayer. The site is near the former gallows of Marble Arch and they pray for the souls of the Catholic martyrs executed there during the reign of Henry VIII. Every day they relax for one hour playing games or taking exercise in the convent garden, when indoors it‘s snooker and scrabbles for them.
From there into the outside world, to Speakers Corner just across the street. What a homey feeling it gave me to see two speakers again I‘ve seen every single time I‘ve been to London and to Speakers Corner!
Camden Street Market next. My colleague and I took our students there, told them not to just stay near the station, but to walk on because the more interesting things are beyond the bridge across the canal, but then we ‘got lost‘. We went our separate ways, not only because it‘s impossible to stay together there, but also because we had our individual plans for our spare time. We forgot to tell our students that on Sundays one can only get out at Camden Town tube station, but not get in, one must use the station before or after when going back to the centre, but they were intelligent enough to find that out on their own.
At 7.30 pm the teachers and the students met at St. Paul‘s tube station for the walk The Ghosts of the Old City. Lesley, an Irish actress, guided us. The students, boys and girls alike, took to her at once, later they told me that this walk was the best and two even said that it was the highlight of the whole week. We enlarged our vocab on ghosts and gallows considerably and became (verbal) experts in the fields of beheading, quartering and disembowelling.
The Globe Theatre and the Shakespeare Exhibition therein was the destination of the following morning. London without a bit about Shakespeare isn‘t possible! We were near the Tate Modern and so later told/ordered them to at least walk through one floor, alone or in groups, anyway not with us teachers, no money would be spent in vain as the admittance is free, and just look. Surprisingly for them, not surprisingly for us, some of them (one can never please everyone) were quite impressed.
After that the students could do what they wanted. They asked us about Madame Tussauds, my colleague and I told them that there were lots of wax celebrities which meant nothing to foreigners, that the only part of the exhibition which could be understood by everyone was the Chamber of Horrors. Then my colleague said, ‘If you‘re interested in horror stuff, you can also go to the London Dungeon which is also on the South Bank, not far away, it‘s cheaper and there are fewer visitors.‘ I remembered former students telling me that it was really too childish, well, to cut a long story short, in the end we talked them into going to the Imperial War Museum, admittance free and certainly not childish. The next day they told us that the advice had been good.
I stayed in the Tate Modern for more than three hours‚ on my own and undisturbed, what a wonderful place! In the evening I saw the play The Woman In Black at the Fortune Theatre, Russell St, WC 2, a ghost story with two actors and a ghost, fitting into what we‘d already seen and heard of London. The students discovered the Happy Hour at the Pubbar Oxygen, 17 - 18 Irving Street, Leicester Square, which they liked so much that they returned there every night.
We only looked at the Tower from the outside (very high entrance fee!) the next morning, listened to the speech of a student who was the expert of the day and then walked on to the Tower Bridge where I made my students stand with one foot on either side of the bridge. Although heavy lorries were passing, we didn‘t feel much, maybe we were too heavy? After a while a British teacher with a class from elementary school shooed us away, he wanted them to spit through the gap. I asked him if that meant good luck, he said, ‘No idea, I‘ve just made it up‘.
After a detour to Katherine‘s Wharf and an envious look at he yachts there we entered the Dockland‘s Railway and discovered the most modern part of London, it‘s a surreal feeling to sit in the (aboveground) train and glide through a city of steel and glass. We got off at Canary Wharf (pity that visitors aren‘t allowed to go up to the top) on our way back from Greenwich where we visited the Observatory, also admission free now.
What did I plan for the afternoon? The Hindu Mandir in Neasden, the biggest Hindu temple outside India, made of white marble and limestone, a real gem in the run-down and ugly suburb in the north-west of London. Neasden is outside zone 2 and one has to buy an extension ticket to get there. The students were very impressed indeed and two decided to make it No 1 on the list of what they liked best in London.
On the following morning my colleague took the group to St Paul‘s while I went to King‘s Cross to buy the tickets for our day trip to Cambridge on our last but one day. I had my
‘special event‘ when Euston Station where I had to change on my way back was evacuated because some jokester had left a piece of luggage on a platform. Later we met at Covent Garden Tube Station at 11.30 from where our guide Tom guided us on the walk Behind Closed Doors.
Of course, one can‘t leave London without seeing the British Museum, our students were completely knocked out after that and went back to the hotel to sleep!
On our last morning (we had to leave for Heathrow at 3 pm) I took the group to Fortnum & Mason, the high class food store for the well-off. We did *not* buy a real scorpion in a bottle of vodka or crisp worms to be strewn over soup, but we found some special half price offers like Assam tea or pickled walnuts to take home as souvenirs. Later I went to the Summer Exhibition of the Royal Academy of Arts on Piccadilly where I could easily have spent several thousand pounds and the students went shopping, of course.
‘He who is tired of London is tired of life’ (Samuel Johnson).