On most days of the week it’s possible to take one train from the south of France all the way through to London, arriving in time to join the after-theater crowd for a late dinner. It starts in Marseille, so from Carcassonne you have to take one other train to catch the 3:15 PM Eurostar departure, and that’s exactly what we did last month. We are close enough to walk to the airport here from where we could fly directly to London, but we love the train. It’s relaxing, you can show up at the station a few minutes ahead rather than hours before departure, you depart from and arrive in the center of town, and leisurely drinks, snacks, and meals can be enjoyed with plenty of leg room while listening to music, reading a book, or just gazing out the window as the landscape glides by.
Instead of the airport, we walked to the train station, hopped aboard a fast train to the Mediterranean coast, and soon settled into our comfortable seat that would see us through the Channel Tunnel right into downtown London. Since dinner was included with our travel ticket, supplemented by snacks and wine that we took along ourselves, once we got to the hotel we called it a night knowing that our next day would be full of surprises as we headed off to discover “Secret London”.
In the last 30 years we’ve probably been in London almost annually, so I was pleased to see that Visit London (.com) featured a walking itinerary “to discover a side of town that most tourists have never seen”. As a backup, we also had some of the City of London (.gov.uk) self-guided maps, but those will have to wait for a future visit. Our first stop of the morning was the Guildhall Galleries that stand guard over their basement where the remains of a Roman amphitheater are hidden. On the same square is the new Police Museum that uses lots of digital technology to bring the subject to life. For example, there’s a hologram of a prisoner from 1888 who, within minutes of being released, became a victim of Jack the Ripper.
For lunch we headed over to Trafalgar Square, and keeping with our basement theme from the morning, we walked down to the crypt below St-Martin-in-the-Fields church to enjoy lunch under the brick-vaulted ceiling from the 1700s. When we emerged back into the daylight, it was time to notice a site we had easily overlooked numerous times: the smallest police station in Britain. Intended as a safe haven for an officer keeping an eye out on unruly crowds, who could alert Scotland Yard of any trouble by phone, it’s now a storage closet for the Trafalgar Square cleaners.
Our itinerary had several more suggestions for the afternoon including antique shopping in Camden Passage and taking a tour of Dennis Severs’ House, where the artist has recreated the home of an 18th century family including the smell of food they were about to eat had they not suddenly disappeared leaving everything untouched for 300 years. While interesting, we had another tradition in mind at The Breakfast Club. If you tell a staff member there that you would like to see the Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town, you will be led through a refrigerator door to a set of stairs that leads down to the basement (the theme for the day) to a cozy bar with several specialty cocktails.
Time ran short because we had tickets for a musical stage show that evening and we were leaving the next morning for Sheffield in north-central England. On that same Visit London website I saw that they have 101 more secret things to do, so we’ll have plenty more to discover on our return.
Note: Today’s blog post name was inspired by a 1966 song with a similar title by the Monkees, a singing group that included Davy Jones, well-known to London audiences.