Punch to the gut.
I went to Hyde Park to walk it out.
The bright summer day felt bittersweet.
They were setting the stage for British Summer Time Hyde Park (BST Hyde Park) that, between June 24th and July 10th, would feature the likes of The Rolling Stones, Eagle and Adele as headliners.
I felt that, at the time, a more apt corner of the park was the Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain, designed by Kathryn Gustafson and Neil Porter and inaugurated in 2004.
The beautiful and sizeable Cornish granite oval stream surrounds a lush grassy field. It is accessible to and popular with children as the designers intended to pay tribute to Lady D.
Water flows from the highest point of the fountain in two directions, cascading, swirling and bubbling before meeting in a calm pool at the bottom, representing two sides of Diana’s life: “happiness and turmoil.”
London is all about its parks. That’s why defying the public transportation strike, I decided to go beyond the central part of the city and headed out to Parliament Hill Fields.
All it takes it’s a 45-minute double-decker bus ride to feel like one’s in the country side.
The stunning grassy public space, one of the highest points in London, from where the Houses of Parliament are visible on a clear day, embraces ancient woodlands, playgrounds and a training track.
The site is also home to a remnant of Victorian times: the iconic Hampstead Heath Ponds—London’s early water supply, and sex-segregated swimming ponds, which opened in the late 1890s and continue to serve the community today.
Ever the WW2 nerd, I needed to get my fix by visiting the Churchill War Rooms, the historic underground complex that housed the British government’s command center during the Second World War from August 1939-45.
Highlights: The Map Room, where British Army, Royal Navy and Air Force officers produced daily intelligence for the King, Prime Minister and the military Chiefs of Staff. And The Cabinet Room, from where Churchill famously declared: “This is the room from which I’ll direct the war.”
Another crucial rooms were the Transatlantic Telephone Room, from where Churchill spoke securely with US President Roosevelt. And Churchill’s office bedroom included portable BBC broadcasting equipment from where the prime minister made four wartime broadcasts.
we would rather see London laid in ruins and ashes than that it should be tamely and abjectly enslaved.Winston Churchill
One of my favorite things about London is that it’s the next best thing to a time machine. And so, from the mid-20th century, I transported myself back to the 1000s by visiting Westminster Abbey.
The place of coronation, marriage and burial for monarchs, and where prime ministers, poets, writers and military leaders are buried or memorialized, also houses the historic King Edward’s Coronation Chair, the Chapter House and the stunningly beautiful Medieval Wall Paintings.
From a young fisherman having a vision of St. Peter to Benedictines worshipping on the current site to monarchs establishing it as a Royal Church, Westminster Abbey has a rich history.
My favorite part is the Poets’ Corner, inaugurated in 1400 with the burial of The Father of English Poetry, Geoffrey Chaucer. In 1740, William Shakespeare was commemorated with a memorial that reads “buried at Stratford-on-Avon.”
Other famous artists buried or memorialized at the Abbey include Lord Byron, Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, Lewis Caroll, Oscar Wilde and T. S. Eliot.
This town’s breadth and depth of culture encompass not only a multitude of eras but also genres, as demonstrated by The Cartoon Museum—a hidden gem in the Fitzrovia neighborhood of Central London.
With a political satire-oriented permanent collection exhibiting original works from the 1700s on, I was in heaven. Some of the most important historical events, including “recent ones” as WW2, the Watergate scandal and Brexit, have been brilliantly immortalized by the most legendary British cartoonists.
The museum runs events and has books on the history of cartoons, comic strips and graphic novels available for research upon appointment.
It also holds temporary exhibitions, one of which, “Love Stories,” includes previously untold LGBTQ+ narratives commemorating Pride Month. I’m in love. It’s my new favorite London museum.
The Wallace Collection is another hidden gem in the heart of Marylebone. The former townhouse of the Seymour family, Marquesses of Hertford, it’s named after Sir Richard Wallace, who—along with his descendants—built the extensive collection in the 18th and 19th centuries.
The collection features Old Master paintings by Rembrandt, Van Dyck, Velásquez and many more, as well as pictures, miniatures, decorative arts, arms and armor and furniture.
Richard Seymour-Conway, 4th Marquess of Hertford, left it to his illegitimate son Sir Richard Wallace, whose widow bequeathed it to the nation. The collection opened to permanent public view in 1900, and admission remains free.
I contemplate an imminent return to my country and wonder whether, after leaving the United States, I would be coming back to Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale’s” dystopian Republic of Gilead.
And, once again, these somber thoughts contrasted with my bright surroundings: a picture-perfect day at Regents’ Parks’ Queen Mary’s Garden.
The gardens, contiguous to the Japanese Garden Island with its waterfall, a couple of bridges and statues, it’s famous for their 12,000 roses and are beautifully arranged circularly.
I saw the BT Tower perfectly framed by the flowers. The icon, which serves as orientation in the city, gave me some perspective about the situation that looms across the pond: my fellow Americans, do not keep calm and carry on!