Our Grand Tour – First Stop, London
She Said; She Said
By Geri Bain & Jenny Keroack
Inspired by the grand tours of aristocrats past and the more recent adventures of TV’s Gilmore Girls, 18 year old Jenny Keroack proposed that she and her mom, travel writer Geri Bain take their own grand voyage. This summer the two set out to share as much of the Old World as thirty days would allow. Setting out from London and finishing in Barcelona, they recorded their favorite places and activities. Jenny’s are in italics while Geri’s are in regular type. Read about their adventures, explorations and all the schleps in between. The following is their first installment, logged from London, England.
We decided to jump right into our new time zone with a busy first day in London and neither jet lag or the on-off drizzling rain were going to stop us. After a quick check in at our hotel, we walked to Westminster Abbey, continued on to the Imperial War Museum and kept going until 10 p.m. that night.
Settling In: From the May Fair Hotel, we walked everywhere–from Bond Street (about five minutes) to Trafalgar Square (about 20 minutes) to the Globe Theater (about 45 minutes). We loved the location, but the best part of staying at the May Fair was its feeling of intimacy and pampering. The front desk clerks and concierge greeted us each time we returned “home” and pitchers of flat and sparkling water and apples in the lobby were a welcoming touch. We never made it to the spa but we enjoyed the international mix of fellow guests at breakfast and afternoon tea and keeping our eyes peeled for celebs at the bar. It was also fun knowing that the Bachelorette TV show had filmed a recent episode here and celebrities like Pink have made this their base in London.
Imperial War Museum (IWM London). We entered a grand atrium filled with fighter planes hovering in the air and war vehicles on the floor– some open to exploration. My reason for coming was the “Secret War” exhibit, where the double lives of England’s undercover agents are revealed in the guns, gadgets and other personal items along with film snippets and interactive displays. Jenny was drawn to the walk-through World War I trench exhibit, realistic to the stench and sounds of war. Having just seen the movie War Horse, the recreation of trench life with life size model soldiers and video clips, felt quite impactful.
The National Gallery: I’ve always been captivated by Greek and Roman mythology, especially the more romantic characters like Zeus, Cupid and Minerva. I found a ton of paintings depicting these and other characters at the National Gallery. One room actually had three versions of Paris awarding the apple of beauty to Venus. If I lived in London, I’d spend a lot of time here. The collection spans from the 13th century to the present, and amazingly, as in most London museums, there’s no admission fee..
Shakespeare’s Globe: When the narrator of Henry V spoke about “this big wooden O” (referring to the circular wooden theater) Jenny poked me and said, “this wouldn’t make sense anywhere else”. She was right. The Globe is a special place to see Shakespeare’s work and, as in the Bard’s time, seeing plays there needn’t be expensive. Standing room, which fills the center of the open-air theater, costs only £5. More expensive seating under the thatch roof keeps viewers dry and comfy. Since it rained quite heavily the night we went, we were glad we’d bought seats. The music–lyres, recorders and drums–added to the historic feel. All that was missing was spectators in period dress and ripe fruit being thrown on stage to make us really think we’d traveled back to Elizabethan London.
Piccadilly Circus: Not even kidding, I would go to a place called Piccadilly Circus just because it’s called Piccadilly. That said, its name is not the main attraction. It’s essentially a much more charming version of Times Square and in the center of a great shopping area. What struck me most about the Piccadilly area was that you would come out of a store, bags in hand, and be staring at some black marble statue and behind that would be some neon sign and behind that would be a strikingly beautiful Victorian building. The blend of old and new—and the shopping–definitely warrant a trip.
London by Bike: We used the same company, Fat Tire Tours, as on our last trip to Europe and were not disappointed either time. The owner told my mom that their tours consistently use a basic script that each guide personalizes. The guides are funny, nice, and take you to the main sites such as Buckingham Palace and Westminster. They also tell interesting stories, such as one about the statue of George Washington at Trafalgar Square that actually stands on Virginian soil because Washington said he would never set foot on British soil again.
Next stop, Oxford.
Geri Bain, a widely published travel writer and editor, has written about more than 60 countries and contributed to publications including inc.com, N.Y. Daily News and Robb Report. While travel editor at Modern Bride magazine, she wrote an acclaimed guide to Honeymoons and Weddings Away. She is a past president of the New York Travel Writers Association and former editorial director of Endless Vacation magazine.
18-year-old Jenny Keroack wrote for the Observer Tribune from 2009 to 2012 and has been published in the Riverdale Press and Elegant Lifestyles. She was a researcher/blogger for the N.Y. League of Conservation Voters last summer and will be studying political science at the University of Chicago this fall.