“Elevenses. A favorite from my school days not usually indulged in these days. It’s a family tradition I mostly honor in the breach. Whenever we were home for hols, Mum would call us all to the tea table for a slice of Madeira cake and a cuppa. Warmth runs down my spine as I think of hanging out with my sibs, comparing the cars we covet, and the flights we want to try. Some days I wonder why I don’t just go home. I could work from our London office.”
Max Grant, At First Sight
Clockwise from top: City of London in the foreground with Canary Wharf in the far background, Trafalgar Square, London Eye, Tower Bridge and a London Underground roundel in front of Elizabeth Tower (Wikipedia photo montage)
"We see nothing till we truly understand it."
Last year, when David Tucker announced at the end of his marvelous virtual walk around Kensington that he was planning a walk around Hampstead, I was very excited. What has been a long wait finally came to an end for me with the Hampstead walk I took on May 1, 2021. He opened with the Constable quote that is the title of this post. Constable may have been referring to art, but the experience of travel fits just as well. If anything, the presentation was even better. Kensington was a joy, but for me Hampstead is hard to beat.
Over the course of the last year, virtual tours have been one of the methods I have used to slake my travel thirst, revisit happier times, and learn new things. I ventured to Iceland to see the northern lights, studied Flemish and Dutch painting including three sessions on the Ghent altarpiece, spent the New Year celebrating Hogmanay in Edinburgh, learned to cook Portuguese egg tarts, and joined an art fraud expert from the FBI on his search for stolen, faked, and forged art works, all through Context Travel.
I have watched Leslie Goddard transform herself into a number of historical women, from Eleanor Roosevelt to Amelia Earhardt, Bette Davis to Queen Elizabeth II, as well as present a wonderful history of one of the icons of Chicago, Marshall Field’s department store. Walks presented by Adam Selzer of Mysterious Chicago Tours and by Chicago Detours have kept me in touch with my hometown, even as I perch in my condo on the far north side.
Far and away, the experiences with London Walks have given me the greatest pleasure. Walks, history, art tours have kept me in touch with one of my favorite cities in the world, brought me new experiences, and helped with research as I greedily absorbed their tours. Among the stellar guides are the aforementioned David Tucker, owner of London Walks with his wife Mary. Mary is the person who makes everything run smoothly. She has helped me out with various glitches. She stages manages for the guides. Mary is amazing.
Simon Whitehouse, Russell Nash, Fiona Lukas, Karen Pierce-Goulding, Adam Scott-Goulding, and the two Richards—Richard Burnip and Richard Roques are among the guides that I have gotten to know from tours as varied as Sick London, Oscar Wilde, and Sherlock Holmes. Richard Burnip's walk on on Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers was fantastic. Fiona took me for an adventure on the history of the London Underground and Karen's on shopping showed me how Selfridge's really is the London Marshall Field's. Simon's two series on art have been a revelation. Some of guides have become virtual friends and I look forward to the day that I can meet them all in London. Perhaps take them to dinner.
My history with London Walks began in 1982, on our second trip to London. I was surprised when Peter chose London, because he had told me that he would always choose somewhere else! After all, he knew that I would always choose London. (Turned out that wasn't true either.)
Anton Powell’s book, London Walks, had just been published and arrived just in time for the trip. When I discovered that he did actual tours, through a company named London Walks, I was determined to go. We showed up for the Dickens’ Walk. The look on his face when I presented him with the book and asked for his autograph was priceless.
Over the decades, we would check out Whats' On while enjoying breakfast at "our" hotel, The Ridgemount on Gower Street. Once we had found something, we would show up at the meeting point, usually Tube stations, for tours all over London. The opportunity to continue that connection has been a highlight of the past year.
Ridgemount Hotel, our home away from home in London since 1982.
My writing has also benefitted. Max and Cress spend a significant part of my current book, At the Crossroads, in London. My second series features Alexander Sheremetov, a rare-book dealer, and Nicola Craig, a librarian. The setting is Cecil Court, London, where Alex and his brother own a rare books shop.
London Walks has reintroduced me to areas I hadn’t seen in years, like Hampstead. A scene I planned to write that takes place in Rules restaurant was enriched when Fiona took us inside. Russell introduced me to Heal’s Cat, as Max does to Cress.
Truly, Samuel Johnson was on to something when he told James Boswell,
"Why, Sir, you find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford."
Statue of Hodge in the courtyard outside Dr. Johnson's House, 17 Gough Square, London (Wikipedia)
Dr. Johnson's House (Wikipedia)
Travel when you can. When you can’t, virtual experiences bring new meaning to the term armchair traveler.