Today, my last day in London and the last before returning home to the U.S., was filled with activity. But before we go there, I want to promote my traditional strategy of staying at a high-end hotel at the end of a trip like this. In this case, I’m at the Paddington Hilton (but , thanks to Frequent Flyer miles, I avoid the stiff prices) where the room is great, the bed is superb, and the bathroom is almost as big as my entire hotel room in Rome. Also, the Paddington Hilton sits right atop Paddington Station (endpoint of the Heathrow Airport Express and crossroads of several subway lines) so getting to the airport tomorrow will be so very easy. I highly recommend the practice!
So, today began with a "tube" ride out the west side of London to Warr’s Harley Davidson dealership, a lovely place packed with bikes, established in 1924. The staff was very welcoming and even gave me a little tour of the shop. There I saw two brand new bikes, for customers in Bahrain and Beruit, that had been customized to look like bikes from the 40’s and 50’s – really beautiful work. This gives you an idea of the international nature of the business here in Europe. After a bit, I snapped up a tee-shirt, bid them farewell, and headed back into London.
My next stop was Harrod’s where I discovered that my favorite Lagerfeld after shave balm is also not sold here anymore (so I guess they really did stop making it) and where I did a little gift shopping. Harrod’s is always an amazing experience – the targeted, quick in-and-out was a good approach but I could have been sooo easily distracted and stayed much longer. The Food Halls are unbelievable!
Next, back on the subway for a long ride to the South East of London, to Greenwich and the Royal Observatory. The latter sits atop a steep hill in the middle of huge park and so it’s a pretty long walk up to see the observatory and… the Prime Meridian, or 0-degrees Longitude. Yes, it’s the international zero point for Longitude and all of our time zones are offset from it (see photos). The observatory grounds also house a neat museum covering the 19th century contest to figure out how to acurrately measure Longitude at sea. Greenwich also has a fine maritime museum (which I didn’t see) and a nice waterfront area (which I did). I had lunch at the Spanish Galleon Pub and learned a bit about the bar business, English-style, from the friendly manager. Now I know the difference between lagers, ales, and bitters and their handling.
My next two subway rides took me to the north side of the city and the British Library. I fell in love with their "Treasures Room" during my last visit and definitely wanted to go again. The items on exhibit change periodically but here’s some of what I saw today: a Gutenberg Bible; one of the copies of the Magna Carta; the handwritten notes of Galileo, Da Vinci, and Newton; the Codex Sinaiticus (4th century Bible in ancient Greek); the Beowulf manuscript; one of the Shakespeare 1st Folios; some of the works of Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, and Lewis Carroll, in their own handwriting; the original scores of Handel’s Messiah, works by Mozart, and Beethoven’s 9th; and finally, the handwritten original lyrics for a number of Beatles songs. Totally amazing stuff, just really jaw-dropping. You can digitize books all you want and read them online but there is something so personal about being within a few inches of the actual paper where the hands of the creators wrote these things. I know it seems silly but I feel as if a proximity to the actual paper and ink handled by these geniuses brings you somehow closer to the essence of what these people are/were.
Finally, one more tube ride back to the Hilton and then a little rest. It was a very good last day in London, spanning all sorts of things that are veddy British, and a good way to wind up my little European excursion. Tomorrow I’ll pack up my bags, head to the airport one last time, and turn myself over to Virgin Air again for the ride home. Once I get there, I promise a retrospective entry and my final photos.