So far, I think I only forgot to pack two minor items for our vacation to England and Ireland: A new pair of shoelaces and a USB cord.
Today I get lucky. The six of us (Grainne and me, Pierce and Ghazal – along with our friends David and Gail) were walking to the bus stop when we spotted a shop specializing in pre-paid phones and gadgets.
I duck inside and ask if they have a USB cord that would work with my camera. They do. Score! As I was checking out, David jokes, “I don’t suppose he sells shoe laces.”
To which the clerk said, “I do!” He reaches over to the merchandise displayed on his crowded wall and pulls out two pair of brown shoelaces that match my shoes perfectly.
I ask him his name.
“Shah,” he answers with a big smile.
“Shah, you’re the best,” I say.
“Yes, I am!” he agrees. “And I’m Armenian.”
With a major victory under our belt, we head out for a few hours of touring. We take a bus to The Strand and start making our way east. First stop, the Royal Courts of Justice. For you Bridget Jones’ fans, it’s where Bridget gets her big TV news scoop from Mr. Darcy.
This is not a building that many tourists visit, but it’s one that I adore. It’s open to the public (although you have go through security) and features some gorgeous Gothic Revival architecture. You can also see displays of the robes and wigs that barristers and judges wear in court. It only takes a few minutes and it’s totally worth it.
The weather is fine, so we decide to get a sandwich to go and walk over to the Temple gardens for a picnic. Like Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley, the Temple area of London is hidden in plain sight. It should not be missed. You walk a few steps off bustling Fleet Street and like magic, you’re transported to a quiet sanctuary of ancient buildings and magnificent gardens.
The Inner and Middle Temple are two of the four “Inns of Court.” This area is the heart of London’s legal profession. Some of the buildings date back to the 16th Century. The gardens are exquisite.
We find a bench, enjoy our sandwiches and take in the beauty of The Temple gardens. Bodies and spirits recharged, we set off down Fleet Street. This street is famous for being the home of London’s newspaper industry. The newspapers have moved to different parts of town, but several buildings still proudly declare their allegiance to broadsheets and tabloids of long ago.
Of the more than 60,000 streets in Central London, this is the one that ties my family together.
It’s where my wife’s father worked at the Irish Times London office.
It’s where I had my first job in London at an odd little news agency called Universal News Service.
It’s where our son Pierce had his first job in London, an internship at GSMA.
Tucked away in between more modern buildings, you find pubs dating back to the 17th Century. Near the eastern end of Fleet Street is another hidden gem, seldom on the typical tourist’s agenda – St. Bride’s Church. This lovely church with the massive spire is said to have inspired the tiered wedding cake. It is known as the journalists’ church.
When I worked on Fleet Street in the late 1980s, I would occasionally go down to St. Bride’s for a quick prayer and meditation during my lunch. I was thrilled to see the church looking so beautiful.
Having worked up a thirst, we crossed over to the north side of Fleet Street, down an alley to one of the most famous pubs in London – Ye Old Cheshire Cheese (Rebuilt in 1667). This pub is next door to my old office so it was like greeting an old friend when we entered its door and ambled down the stairs to have a pint.
By the way, don’t forget to duck if you’re taller than about 5’ 10”!
With our mid-morning to early-afternoon agenda completed, we head back to Pierce’s flat for a rest. After all, we are on vacation.
The evening brings more reunions as we head over to the cavernous Soho pub Waxy O’Connor’s. There, we meet up with my colleague from AT&T, Jonathan Moore. Jonathan – a crazy good writer who hails from Scotland – was the London-based member of my team. Despite talking every business day for two years, we’ve only met twice – both times at a trade show in Barcelona. So it’s good to shake hands, look him in the eye and lift a glass with him.
Drinks are followed by dinner in China Town at Leong’s Legend. Dumplings, spicy chicken, pork belly and rice crowd the table then fills our stomachs.
We decide we need to walk off some of our dinner calories, so we mosey through Leicester Square, down Charing Cross Road, past the National Portrait Gallery and into Trafalgar Square. The giant lions still protect Nelson’s column. St. Martin in the Fields Church stands like a strong guardian angel overlooking some Britain’s most prized treasures in the National Gallery. In the distance is the Palace of Westminster and Big Ben.
Has London changed a lot in the 20 years since I moved back to the States? Absolutely. But the magic of this day has been in seeing that many of the places I hold dear are still there and thriving – obviously cherished by a new generation of Londoners and sojourners like me.