Cosmopolitan, charming, and proper, London is one of my true travel loves. It was my first international business trip in my 20s and I’ve been smitten ever since. (Indianapolis was my very first business trip but there was less smit to be had.)
While squished on the tube with kids and suitcases, I realized I hadn’t ever visited London while on vacation. I’ve always been nuzzling against it in-between work commitments. This time, I could love it freely – or as freely as the pound-to-dollar conversion allows.
Feeling Hot, Hot, Hot
I had never been to London in the summer, which gave me a blind spot when I was booking a flat earlier this year. I was so focused on space for my flailing monkey-children that I didn’t think about the rarity of air conditioning in flats vs. hotels. In a fun coincidence, our third day in town also happened to be the hottest day in London in a decade. Brilliant.
Our American wimpiness to the heat meant we spent a small fortune on bottled water everywhere we went. While my kids may need to step up their self-funding for college, they remained well hydrated while there.
Last Call (Please)
Our flat was on the 5th floor but a chorus of construction greeted us all day and a steady stream of late-night partiers gathered at the outdoor pub across the street until wee-o’clock each night (morning?). We arrived on a Monday and the revelry only got more joyous as the week progressed.
With the temperature climbing to mid-90s during the daytime, we had no option but to leave the windows open to try to catch a scarce breeze. The nights stretched as thick as the humidity and our chatty drinkers were back for more. While I enjoy good cheer, I was praying for a thunderstorm by our last night to send the cheerios teetotaling home.
I’ve been to London frequently enough in the last many years that I have a happy-places collection of which Covent Garden is one. My husband typically has the imbedded GPS instincts, but as I stood at the center of Seven Dials my global satellite flipped on.
One stop I always make is Giovanni’s, a small Italian restaurant down an alley in the bustling theatre district. I first stumbled onto this dozen-ish table restaurant many years ago while tagging along with a colleague who spotted a review in a tiny book (remember books for travel?).
I’ve been coming back to see Pino, the feisty Sicilian owner, for many years and with many friends. It holds more memories for me than any other London spot so it was great fun to have Pino plop at our table, select my wine, and joke with the boys. He gave my husband the tour of pictures on his wall of well-known pasta lovers like Frank Sinatra and David Hasselhoff (there’s spaghetti on the menu named after him). He pulled out his phone and showed us a picture of John Goodman and his wife, who were just in, and said Bradley Cooper was coming later in the week. I’m hoping he puts him on the menu.
As we were saying our goodbyes, another diner arrived and Pino was delighted to introduce her as a magician. Before we could say abracadabra, she immediately put the kids to work on tricks with napkins on fire, string reconnected, and smiles all around. “Dinner and a show, Pino!” I said with a final hug. “Not just any show,” he said. “That’s Fay Presto. She’s performed for the Queen.” And an impromptu performance for my little American kings.
I was also able to catch up with a couple friends and loved wandering around post-meal/drinks with good people at my side. I’ve always felt safe exploring London at any time of day. It may be naiveté that comforts me but, like any first love, the tickling of danger is tucked into the fuzzy edge of the picture.
While strolling with the kids one day, I let them pick which way to go at intersections so we could round-about along the streets. We came upon a book store and clomped up and down the wooden stairs looking at the wares. I noticed a sign in the window for tarot card readings and found myself in a plastic chair across from Cilla. I plucked cards from her hands and she spread them on the table. She clucked and hmmm-ed and talked about the great crossroad I’ve been at and how the work has been done, now laid aside.
A happiness card appeared, a tree full of red fruit with a woman reaching for one. “This is about selecting the right happiness,” she said. “Not the biggest one or picking for others. Just the right one for you.” Clarifying cards were flicked over and all had the same theme: rebirth, harvest, creation, emergence.
The kids watched this elaborate card shuffle and Cilla invited them to pick their own cards which revealed bravery, journeys, and the rewards of hard work. As she turned back to my reading, she asked the kids what they thought it meant.
“Face the fear,” Brady said right away.
I couldn’t have written anything better.
American Travel Nerds continues on the sea. Stay tuned for quirky cruise adventures.