Something old and something new

I have two history degrees. I like old things. I particularly like the old things that reside in London. And this is why I now have a reputation for being something of a tour guide on call for visitors (generally Americans) arrive in the best of Big Smokes. Thanks to guiding a couple of Texans around the city two years ago, this reputation is particularly valued by Matryoshka Haus. The arrival of interns or random visitors often elicits a request for a tour, which I’ll usually provide unless utterly overwhelmed with work.

Touring with Shannon & LaurenAs 2013 MH intern Lauren put this at the time (she’s unpictured – this is me chatting to her friend Shannon), I was their “Royal racontour”. Got to love Lauren’s puns…

Two weeks ago, I did it again, this time for the winners of Matryoshka Haus’ regular raffle prize of a trip to London. Suzy and Jeff had never left North America before, and this trip coincided with their 25th anniversary. No pressure there then! As ever, it was a joy to show off the city. In case you’re interested (or want your own – my fees are reasonable…) the tour begins at Embankment station, travels along the Embankment to Westminster, around the Palace, across Parliament Square, down Whitehall, through Horse Guards and into St James’ Park towards Buckingham Palace. It’s a nifty way of getting in the best-known landmarks in a minimal amount of time. But, while I was showing my new friends sights that were old friends to me, it turned out they had something new (yet old) for me.

Jeff & SuzyAmerican guests on the bridge mid-way through St James’ Park – one of the best spots to get a view of the Eye, or Buckingham Palace.

It turned out Jeff had one burning desire for his trip to London – a visit to the Churchill War Rooms. He wasn’t sure if they were open [bad Imperial War Museum, the pop-up notice that the main museum is currently shut is not helpful when looking at the website of one of your other sites!!], but we popped by en route to Horse Guards and discovered it was indeed. We immediately joined the queue (and met some Americans who had lived/worked in the same neighbourhoods as my Americans – because the world is that small and American tourists really like to chat with each other) and the visitors were incredulous that I’d never been before.

Turn off the switchThe signs were terribly polite in WW2.

It’s got to be said, it is VERY worth shelling out the dosh to visit! I can’t believe this historic site was nearly left to rot away into an historical footnote – saved by the efforts of Michael Heseltine, of all people. The rooms that housed the Cabinet office and its staff during WW2 have been preserved (or restored, some were used as storage rooms after the war) meaning that you get an excellent idea of what it would have been like to work down there (one word: unpleasant). Utterly fascinating – even for non-History buffs – especially as everyone is issued with a highly informative audio guide. Mid-way through the tour, there’s a newer section featuring a museum of Churchill’s life (hence the change in name just over a decade ago) which has been done brilliantly – especially the virtual filing machine style timeline of his life laid out across a table at its centre.

A key on his majesty's serviceA secret key? 

The moral of this tale? It is never too late to discover new joys in London!

Talking of new joys. An actual new joy – as in physically new, as opposed to new to me – is the Shard. Specifically, as discovered a week ago, its cocktails on the 55th floor (the views aren’t too shabby either).

Shard cocktailsThat would be a Spring Julep, served in a frozen mini chalice. (Oh, and note to parents: my hair has changed since this photo…)

Shard ViewThe view from the 55th floor.