Thursday, January 24, 2008

48 hours in literary London

I missed this Reuters story when it was published last Wednesday, still here it is in case you missed it too, better late than never! Makes one want to rush over there..........................
Got 48 hours to explore the literary haunts of London? The British capital is a treasure trove of pubs, museums and hotels steeped in booklore. Reuters correspondents with a mix of local knowledge give tips on how to spend a short stay.

7pm - You'll be thirsty for a drink when you arrive, but don't waste time searching for George Orwell's mythical perfect public-house, the "Moon Under Water". Start your weekend in the world of P.G. Wodehouse's butler Jeeves by drinking and dining in the historic pub "I Am the Only Running Footman" on Charles Street in Mayfair. The 1749 pub, rebuilt in 1937, was once the haunt of servants and is said to have inspired Wodehouse to create the fictional Junior Ganymede, the club for "the gentlemen's gentleman" where Jeeves took his ease. As you head back to your hotel, take a look at Number 48, where Winston Churchill lived as a child.

9am - Start your day with more than 13 million books! Head to the London haven of book lovers, the British Library at St. Pancras. You can view the 1215 Magna Carta and many manuscripts, including Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre and Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens.

10:30am - Walk down Upper Woburn Place past the gardened Tavistock and Russell Squares in the heart of Bloomsbury - home to the "Bloomsbury Group", or "Set" as it is also known. See where the Bohemian artists who so influenced Edwardian London lived and exchanged views - as well as lovers. Modernist literary giant Virginia Woolf lived at 46 Gordon Square.

11am - A short walk from Russell Square is the Dickens House Museum at 48 Doughty Street. Tour the rooms where Dickens lived with his young family during a particularly productive period. It was here that he completed "Oliver Twist" and "Pickwick Papers" between 1837 and 1839.

12pm - You've seen where Dickens lived, now why not sip a pint where he did. The Lamb on Lamb's Conduit Street is a pub full of history. Not only a local for Dickens, it was also the meeting place for the Bloomsbury Group. Built in the 1720s and done up in Victorian times it has beautifully preserved and rare "snob screens" - panels of etched glass at head height at the bar to conceal the drinker's identity. After a traditional pub grub lunch take the tube to Leicester Square.

2pm - Exit the tube onto Charing Cross Road, where there are a plethora of bookshops to suit any budget. You can find rare books, first editions, antiquarian sets and modern classics. Be sure not to miss 84 Charing Cross Road, once home to the bookshop in Helen Hanff's book of the same name, later made into a film with Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins. Lose yourself in the massive independent bookshop Foyles (113-119 Charing Cross Road). If you're lucky you might even meet an author, as they regularly pop in, sometimes unannounced, for signings. If you can't wait to flick through your new purchases, take a breather in the organic Café inside Foyles.
4pm - Take a taxi to the north side of the Millennium Bridge near St. Paul's Cathedral and walk across the River Thames towards Shakespeare's Globe Theatre - a faithful reconstruction of the Elizabethan open-air playhouse for which the Bard wrote many of his greatest plays. Take a tour (last entry 4.30pm) to learn about the painstaking construction of the theatre and original Shakespearean acting techniques, such as what they used for gory scenes in Elizabethan times (real pig's blood - in case you're wondering).

5:30pm - Pop to the Anchor pub just along the path by the side of River Thames where diarist Samuel Pepys was said to have watched the destruction of London in the Great Fire of 1666, describing the dreadful heat and "fire drops". Rebuilt in 1676, the pub's original structure has been added-to over several centuries, creating a maze of odd little rooms featuring old brick fire places and creaking floorboards. One of the bars is named after Samuel Johnson, the lexicographer and writer, who drank here regularly. A copy of his dictionary is on display.
If you're after more modern surroundings you could head for the imposing Tate Modern museum next door to the Globe for a reviving cocktail overlooking the Thames. The restaurant and bar on the 7th floor has some of the best views in London.
7pm - In the summer months, nice weather might encourage you to down a few pints of beer and have some pub food at the wooden tables set out in front of Anchor on the bank of the River Thames. If it's raining, you might consider dining in the restaurant at the Tate Modern before walking back to the Globe to watch an evening play (performances between late April and October only).

9pm - If your visit is outside of these months, head back into central London for dinner at the world famous Café Royal on Park Lane. A favorite haunt of Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw, where they and their literary chums enjoyed conversational jousting in the opulent dining rooms of frescoed ceilings and gilt-edged mirrors.
9pm - Wake yourself up with a brisk walk through the parks of north London and a visit to Highgate Cemetery, Karl Marx's resting place. Take the tube to Archway and walk up Highgate Hill to the East Gate of the famous Victorian cemetery. It's a tranquil place to wander, crammed full of gravestones, tombs, catacombs and monuments, all set in magical woodland. Marx's massive granite bust with the inscription "Workers of the world unite" is the most visited, with flowers and wreaths still placed there. But you can also find novelist George Eliot and Victorian poet Christina Rossetti's graves. Just outside the north end of the cemetery is St. Michael's Church, where late 18th century author of "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" and best friend of William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, is buried.

12.30pm - A short walk into Highgate Village will take you to the Flask pub, a historic once-rural establishment with rambling charm. Settle into one of the nooks and crannies and sample one of the many real ales and eat a hearty lunch before heading back to central London by tube to Baker Street.

2.30pm - Coming out of the tube make your way to one of London's most famous addresses 221b Baker Street, where Arthur Conan Doyle's fictional creations Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson lived in the late 19th century. In the Sherlock Holmes Museum you can sit in the super sleuth's armchair by the fire in the study overlooking Baker Street. The deerstalker cap, magnifying glass, Persian slippers and disguises are all on display. But if you'd like a photo taken in character you'll have to bring your own pipe - "Elementary!"
4pm - Time for a quintessentially English Afternoon Tea at a hotel favored by mystery writer Agatha Christie and colonial traveler Rudyard Kipling. Make your way to the 170-year-old Browns Hotel in Mayfair. It boasts that Kipling wrote "Jungle Book" here and that Christie broke off from writing "At Bertram's Hotel" here to enjoy the dainty sandwiches, scones, clotted cream served at tea time.

6pm - If you happen to be leaving London by rail enjoy a glass of champagne at the magnificently restored St. Pancras station, said to rival New York's Grand Central. If you're departing from its grimier neighbor, Kings Cross station, see if you can find J.K. Rowling's platform 9-3/4. Muggles beware though - don't jump aboard the Hogwarts Express, as you may end up somewhere mysteriously magical.

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