St. James’s Park is the loveliest park in London.
Don’t argue with me. It blows away Hyde Park, especially now that they’ve built that horrendous new mound situated by Marble Arch. Sure, Regent’s Park has the zoo, but it’s not an area of town that most tourists venture into.
If you’re visiting London, you’re almost certainly going to visit Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament. So why not take the two minute stroll from Parliament Square up Birdcage Walk and into St. James’s Park.
As you enter, the bustling city completely disappears. Traffic noise fades away. You’re transported instantly into a pastoral paradise.
Walk along the lake. Be amazed by the ducks, crows, geese, swans and pelicans. Yes - pelicans. Apparently they have been resident to the park for the last 400 years since the Russian Ambassador presented some as a gift to King Charles II.
Cross the bridge across the lake. On your left is a stunning view of Buckingham Palace. Look to your right, you can see the London Eye peeking out over the trees.
Follow the path down the other side of the lake. On a summer’s day, Londoners and tourists alike are stretched out in lawn chairs taking in the sun. On this day, two ladies are living out the “Feed the Birds” scene from “Mary Poppins,” with pigeons sitting on their hands and heads.
It’s a magical place, with children oohing and ahhing as they take in the natural wonders of the Royal Park.
It’s how we spent Wednesday morning in the bright sunshine and perfect 70 degree Fahrenheit temperatures. At times, I felt almost overwhelmed by the beauty of the park and the absolute joy of the hundreds of people who were walking around at the same time.
If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that we need to appreciate the beauty of this world. And I know of few places more beautiful than St. James’s Park.
Grainne and I exit the park into the Horse Guards Parade, the parade ground where the Trooping of the Colour takes place every June for the Queen’s official birthday. As always, the members of the Queen’s Life Guard are on duty guarding the area and providing ample photo opps for the tourists (including us).
From there, we make our way to Trafalgar Square, where Lord Nelson stands atop the famous column, surrounded by lions. Today, the lions have a special treat as there’s a statue of a giant cone of soft-serve ice cream topped by a cherry standing outside the National Gallery. As you can see in the picture below, it looks as though the lion may stick out its tongue at any moment for a taste.
We carry on, walking past St. Martin-in-the-Fields church and into Leicester Square (Americans, pay attention - it’s pronounced Lester. It’s really that easy). Two minutes more and we’re in Covent Garden, where Eliza Doolittle first met Henry Higgins - a little literary reference for you “My Fair Lady” and “Pygmalion” fans. Today, of course, Covent Garden is all about designer shops and pricey places to eat. Who can complain? The area is full of street performers, music and smiling visitors. We take a few minutes and soak it all in.
We lunch at Paul’s, a French bistro that we’ve eaten at before. The sandwiches are tasty and reasonably priced. The patisseries are delicious, and will leave you picking up each little lost flake from your plate to make sure you don’t miss a morsel.
Our journey by foot continues to the Savoy Hotel, which is famous as the site of our oldest son Pierce’s engagement, documented in an earlier edition of this blog. We simply want to take a few minutes to reminisce and take in the beauty of one of London’s most famous hotels.
We uber back to our hotel - The Megaro. It’s not as famous as the Savoy, but exceedingly cool and comfortable with a killer view of the grand St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel. We have dinner at the hotel restaurant - Magenta - where we are blown away by the quality of food and service.
The restaurant features Northern Italian inspired cuisine, but this is not a spaghetti and lasagna joint. I started with a rabbit and duck rolata, wrapped in Parma ham. It resembles a rough country pate. Amazing. Grainne chose the tuna tartare, delicate pieces of raw tuna with raspberry vinegar and a buffalo mozzarella emulsion. I’m getting hungry again writing this.
We both chose the lamb “in crosta” - think Beef Wellington. Lamb, wrapped in mushrooms and herbs, with a puff pastry shell. It was served with a potato and artichoke cake. We had a salad of bitter Italian greens in a simple oil and vinegar dressing. They tacked on a complimentary amuse bouche to start and a little sweet at the end to make a perfect beginning and end to the meal.
Oh London, you do have a way of enchanting me on these perfect summer days.