The second week of my epic 2022 trip to the United Kingdom saw myself and my friend Laurel back in London just as the official 10-day mourning period for Queen Elizabeth II kicked into high gear. Our daily mileage also really kicked in during this part of the trip, so I’m including what we walked each day; roaming around a smaller town like Hay-on-Wye, we barely topped four miles per day, but in London, it went into the double digits on some days. (As always, click on the photos below to see them larger on your screen and in slideshow mode, when multiple photos are shown.)
Day 8: Sunday, September 11
So here was the plan: Get up early-ish, enjoy a leisurely breakfast in Hilton London Bankside’s wonderful OXBO restaurant, and then walk along the south bank of the Thames until we got to Westminster Bridge, walk across that and through St. James Park and Green Park and onward to Foyles Bookstore on Charing Cross Road. And it almost worked … in fact, everything except the parks part. What I hadn’t figured on was both parks were all bolloxed up (stay in London for three weeks and you pick up a few new words) with thousands upon thousands of people wanting to go to Buckingham Palace to pay their respects to the Queen and place flowers. The normal paths I was familiar with were re-routed, and security forces directed us away from them. It was fine, though … packed with people, but fine. We eventually—after a nice walk along the Thames and a stop to visit the outdoor book stalls near BFI—made it to Trafalgar Square and up onto Charing Cross Road and Foyles.
Foyles is one of three London bookshops that I consider among the most beautiful bookstores I’ve ever seen. It’s located a few doors down from its original location, which I visited in 2006 during my first visit to London, and which featured the most arcane and confusing way of shelving books: by publisher. It might have been easier for the store clerks, but it was incredibly confusing for the shoppers to have to know who published the book you were looking for. The new Foyles is much better, with books arranged by topic: All the graphic novels together, all the mysteries together, etc. And it’s an incredibly beautiful bookstore, five floors of books with a cafe and event space at the very top. I bought a couple of books there on Sunday (I will reveal all my London bookish purchases in the next installment of this epic trip recap), but I will confess to a small amount of changes in the store that bugged me. I have a love/hate relationship with change of any kind, but to be honest, I mainly hate it, even just little things. No more magazines in Foyles (other than W. H. Smith, it was hard to find magazines in the UK, period … kinda just like the US these days; the magazine industry is tanking all over, I guess), which used to have a nice display of literary, art, and photography mags on the ground level. That’s been replaced by gift items with a bookish slant: notebooks, journals, pens, etc. The graphic novels section has been kind of isolated off to the side of the children’s book section, making it feel like it’s a bit ostracized (and once again perpetuating the whole “Comics are for kids” mindset that is so untrue these days). The entire back section in the lower ground floor is now totally the province of the children’s section. It used to include travel and maps and such, if memory serves me right.
Big Ben (more correctly, Elizabeth Tower) in all its restored glory, plus a view of the London Eye (top row); My favorite photo of London from this trip and the constant reminder of the Queen’s passing and a city—and country—in mourning, at this newsstand at the end of Westminster Bridge.
After we left Foyles, it was definitely time for lunch and we stopped in the first pub we found (Cambridge’s on Charing Cross) and had a proper fish and chips meal, which was great. We then made our way to the behemoth known as Waterstones Piccadilly, a giant six-story bookstore which is the largest in all of Europe. I bought a few books there, too, and took note of a few more I wanted to revisit. I was a bit timid in my book buying, because later in this week I was headed to Bath, and I wasn’t quite sure if my hotel would let me store my large suitcase there while I was away (I was coming back to spend a final five days in London … they actually DID allow me to do this, which was a lifesaver). We roamed around Waterstones for quite a while and got separated for a bit, but when we got back together, Laurel told me a book she was looking for was—according to a clerk—actually at Waterstones Tottenham (it was, but upon seeing it in the flesh, so to speak, Laurel decided to pass on it), so we went there. While we were there, we spied a luggage store right across the street; Laurel was looking for a new small suitcase to take home her purchases, so we spent some time there and had a new friend to take back to the hotel … a small, blue Samsonite rolling suitcase, which was quite spiffy to be honest. We took the Tube back to the hotel and got off at Waterloo Station, one of those gigantic train stations that pop up all over London. I was looking for the new William Shaw novel, Dead Rich, which Shaw had plugged on Instagram as being available in a special paperback edition at W. H. Smith’s Travel stores, which were supposedly located in train stations and airports all over the UK. I checked every W. H. Smith I could find (Paddington, London Bridge, St. Pancras, Kings Cross, Bath, Leeds, and Heathrow) and never did find a damn copy.
We made our way back to the hotel and Laurel humored my request for pizza for dinner. I have to admit having a soft spot for the UK pizza chain, Pizza Express. We dined at the one along the Thames, not far from our hotel, a personal favorite of mine. I was a bit disappointed in it, to be honest. The pizza was great, but they used to have an upstairs seating area that had a great view of the Millennium Bridge and St. Paul’s Cathedral. They must have downsized to not using that space any longer, so we sat outside, which was very pleasant, even if our waiter was a bit like an ersatz Borat, and managed to disappear for long stretches of time. We walked back to the hotel and called it a night.
Miles walked: 10.65
Day 9: Monday, September 12
Monday was our pre-planned “Museum Day,” and we visited the Design Museum in Kensington and the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) in Knightsbridge. After a confusing start, Tube-wise, we ended up walking quite a bit from the station to the Design Museum. It’s a very beautiful building, much better than it’s first incarnation over by Tower Bridge, which I visited back in 2014. There’s a large, permanent, free exhibit on the top floor, “Designer, Maker, User,” which houses an incredible amount of everyday objects that feature slick, utilitarian design. I love the colorful moving sign board that greets visitors to this exhibitor at the top of the building. Other paid exhibits included “The World of ASMR,” which is not a world I particularly want to visit, since the whole ASMR thing is entirely lost on me.
After exploring the Design Museum’s gift shop (we bought pens!), we hiked over to the V&A, which is one of my favorite London museums, and one I visit almost every time I’m in the country. Laurel is interested in the work of William Morris, who designed a lot of patterns, so we roamed around the museum seeking his work. We came across an exhibit that was similar to the Design Museum’s in that it explored 20th century object design. We also spent an inordinate amount of time in their shop. Remember kids, when you visit a museum, always exit through the gift shop! We also had a bit of lunch at the V&A.
Top row: The Design Museum; bottom two rows: Victoria & Albert Museum, including a shot of me once again not finishing my lunch and the paparazzi who took it.
Next up and sort of just down the street was Harrods, the world famous mega-department store, which is always worth at least a walk-through of the Food Hall. (I myself prefer Selfridges, which is smaller and less crowded, but I know that’s tantamount to heresy and shows what a déclassé person I am.) Nothing was bought by either of us at Harrods, although they already have their Christmas store open (maybe it’s open year-round, I dunno—but it’s too early to even look at Christmas stuff). From there we took the Tube to Covent Garden, where I wanted Laurel to see the London Graphic Centre, a wonderful art supply store, nestled in some back alleys near CG. Laurel very optimistically grabbed a basket on her way into the store but, even though she did purchase some items, failed to fill it. We also visited Stanford’s Travel Store, a lovely bookstore which also features maps and travel items. We decided to take the scenic route home, walking all the way up the Strand (stopping to look at historic Somerset House, photo below), Fleet Street, past St. Paul’s Cathedral, and back over the Millennium Bridge to our hotel, where we ate dinner in the Executive Lounge.
Miles walked: 10.15
Day 10: Tuesday, September 13
For Tuesday, I had planned a visit to Sky Garden, the free viewing deck in what is locally known as “the Walkie-Talkie Building,” on the north side of the Thames. I had visited there before and much preferred it to the pricey trip up to the top of The Shard, which I experienced in 2019. Sky Garden is free, but you have to book it in advance. It also has two restaurants, and I made a lunch reservation for us at one of them, Darwin Brasserie. With the reservation, we were able to get into Sky Garden 45 minutes in advance of our lunch time and we roamed around and took lots of photos. It was a rainy and overcast day, so the outdoor area wasn’t open, but the beauty of Sky Garden itself, coupled with the view we had, was more than enough to justify the visit. Lunch was great, with a table front and center for one of the best views in London, even with the rain. I had a smoked salmon and haddock fishcake (the Brits are big on fishcakes and fish fingers) along with fries, and Laurel had the Spiced Chickpea and Walnut Burger with fries. Both of us loved the food and the service was excellent, something that’s hard to come by in London these days, due to the same problems we’re having in the US: not enough workers.
Sky Garden has the best view of London, even on a rainy day.
Before we entered the magical world of Sky Garden, which is literally a garden in the sky with beautiful landscaping, we went to the ancient Leadenhall Market, which is also worth a walk-through, if only to appreciate its ornate beauty. It’s filled with restaurants and shops now, but it dates back to 1321 and it sits on land that was once part of the Roman Empire. We, of course, found a bookstore (Waterstones) to spend some time in out of the rain, and also visited a Marks & Spencer department store. (One does not go to London without a trip to M&S.)
After lunch, we slowly made our way back to the hotel via the Tower of London, Tower Bridge, and the South Bank’s Queen’s Walk. Laurel wanted to spend some time in the Tate Modern museum, and after visiting the Riverside Bookshop in Hay’s Galleria, we went our separate ways, with me going back to the hotel for a bit of a lie-down, and Laurel exploring the Tate for a couple hours. We ended the day having dinner once again in the Hilton’s Executive Lounge, because, let’s face it … it was FREE.
Miles walked: 7.43
Top row: Leadenhall Market, Somerset House, and a view of The Shard from Tower Bridge; bottom row: Tower Bridge with one of the dining pods near the Tower of London, and St. Paul’s Cathedral.
Day 11: Wednesday, September 14
Wednesday was our last day together in London, so we deliberately left it unplanned to take advantage of any last minute stuff we wanted to see and do. After breakfast at OXBO, we set off to Covent Garden once again, but this time we were on a special mission.
Way back in 2016 (I reckon), I was roaming around Covent Garden and I came across a single copy of a magazine, The Covent Gardener, in its dedicated stand. It was a little banged up, but I was immediately smitten with so much about it: the design, the illustrations, the paper, and the content. On my return trip to London in 2018, I found the most recent issue and decided to subscribe. It’s a quarterly, but it was soon joined by a sister publication, The Mayfarer, so I subscribed to that, too; after all, both mags are “fiercely independent, quirky and timeless,” and I couldn’t agree more: all those traits are right up my alley.
The issues come out on the same seasonal schedule, and I always look forward to them magically showing up in my mailbox, 5,200 miles away, as the Autumn issues did just about a week ago as of this writing. Along the way, I started following both CG and The Mayfarer on Instagram (@thecoventgardener and @themayfarer) and became a “pen-pal” with the publisher, Jeannine, who is a bit of a force of nature (she managed, over a number of years, to get no less than Milton Glaser to design a cover for her). Well, short story long, Laurel and I went and met Jeannine at the Transport for London Museum and had a cup of coffee with her. I gave her a copy of my favorite Comic-Con Souvenir Book, the one from 2018, and we had a nice long chat about publishing, design, artists, printers, paper stock, and all the minutiae only a publication or design person can appreciate. Meeting Jeannine in person (as opposed to the other side of an email exchange) along with Anne and Helen, my Hay Instagram friends, was one of the highlights of my trip this year, a decidedly different experience for this “bitter recluse” of a retiree. You can check out The Covent Gardener and The Mayfarer by clicking here.
The latest (Autumn 2022) issues of Jeannine’s magazines.
After coffee, Laurel and I went to Daunt Books, the third of my favorite London bookstores. (Waterstones Piccadilly is the second). Located in the Marylebone neighborhood, Daunt is basically a travel bookstore (their basement and mezzanine are filled with country-by-country books), and while not the size of Waterstones Piccadilly or Foyles, Daunt is an equally beautiful bookstore, with lots of dark wood shelves, green-shaded lamps, and a lovely stained glass window. Daunt is part of a chain of stores in London, founded by the person who runs Waterstones and—believe it or not—Barnes & Noble in the US.
Since we were in the neighborhood, we stopped into Selfridges Department Store and ended up having a great lunch at Harry Gordon’s Bar in the basement, where I had, bar none, the best scallops I’ve ever had. It’s a little tapas bar and the prices were very reasonable. From there, Laurel wanted to see Liberty London, another legendary London department store, so we walked there, followed by a walk through Hatchard’s, the Queen’s bookseller, and a stop in Fortnum & Mason for some tea to take home as a gift for Laurel’s sister. I myself would return to F&M to do the same for my tea-loving friend back in San Diego, on the final full day of my trip. More on that next time.
Since it was our final night together, we decided to go to OXBO for dinner instead of the free Executive Lounge. We had a nice dinner then went back to the room to pack everything up and play the wonderful guessing game, “Will Everything Fit?” I’m happy to say we were both successful.
Miles walked: 10.25
Day 12: Thursday, September 15
Thursday started with our final breakfast together at the hotel and then a Tube trip to Paddington Station. Laurel was catching the Heathrow Express to the airport, and I was going to Bath for three days, and luckily both left from the same station. When we got there, the Heathrow train was already boarding, so we had to say a very quick goodbye. As I mentioned in my last post, it was a very different experience for me to be traveling with someone, but I couldn’t have asked for a better companion than Laurel. Once she was gone, I was back to muttering to myself as I walked the streets of Bath and then London again, but I at least pretended I was still talking to her.
I had a bit of time to kill until my Bath train left, so I walked around the area adjacent to the station for 45 minutes or so. The station itself was very busy, with many people coming to London to join the queue to pay their respects to Queen Elizabeth II, who by this point in time had been lying in state for a few days. The queue, which passed behind our hotel through Monday, September 19th, was 12-14 hours long and constantly moving, so if you brought along a little collapsible chair to sit on, good luck; there was never enough time to try it out. I avoided that entire scene until I came back from Bath.
All aboard! Bath is a fairly short train ride from London, and a lovely city to visit. Top row: Paddington Train Station in London, Bath Spa Station, Topping & Company had beautifully hand-lettered signage and an equally beautiful store floor, the upper floor of the Waterstones, and someone painting both his and the country’s feelings, all from my first day in Bath.
Bath was a (blissfully uneventful) train ride from London that took a little over an hour. I found Bath to be an absolutely lovely city, very reminiscent to me of York. It’s a city where you are literally walking on history everywhere you go. I stayed at yet another Hilton property, a Doubletree hotel, pretty much in the center of town, and just walked all over the place, including, as you’ve probably guessed, many bookstores. On that first day, I visited Bath’s only comic book shop, American Dream Comics, where I found an amazing copy of Sinister Tales, an old British comic of the 1960s which reprinted Nick Fury Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. #1, with a cover and story by Steranko, for the princely sum of four pounds. I grabbed that right up when I first saw it. I then spent an inordinate amount of time looking for Topping & Company Booksellers, finally finding it one street over from where my maps app told me it should be. This large and impressive store runs over two floors and appears to be in some kind of old event space or bank-type building. I then found both a W. H. Smith and a Waterstones. The W. H. Smith stores have become kind of a catch-all destination in these smaller cities, selling books and magazines, stationery and school/business supplies, and also usually have a built-in post office. The Waterstones was a three-story shop, and quite large. I found a number of books that I had spotted in London, so I bought a few here, feeling unencumbered by the whole “not enough room in my suitcase” or lugging books around while feeling over-burdened—I was lucky to travel to Bath with just my small piece of hand luggage and the new Roka backpack that I had bought in Hay-on-Wye, which was surprisingly roomy. (And before you ask: UK to US postal rates are so high that it doesn’t make any sense to try and mail anything home, as I’ve done in years past.)
By this time it was 6:00 PM or so, and I was tired from the day’s early rising and train travel, so I went back to the hotel where I had a nice, big, juicy burger in the bar downstairs and then a little British telly before bedtime, including the game show The Chase and a fascinating documentary on British actor Robert Donat (The 39 Steps, Goodbye, Mr. Chips).
Miles walked: 7.10
Day 13: Friday, September 16
Friday was a nice, sunny day in Bath, so after a free breakfast at the Doubletree restaurant (almost as nice as OXBO’s breakfast in London), I set out to just walk around Bath. By this point in time, one of the new pair of shoes I had bought specifically for this trip had given me a huge blister on the bottom of my left foot, so every step was painful. Because of that I opted for a movie later in the day, so I could rest my aching dog for a spell. I saw See How They Run, a new period comedy starring Sam Rockwell, Saoirse Ronan, and Adrian Brody, which had opened that very day. I saw it in an Odeon theater in downtown Bath. I loved this movie, which is about a murder mystery wrapped around a murder mystery play (Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap, which has run FOREVER). The comedy was a little broad at times, but it had a great cast and was very evocative of its 1950s place in time.
But, of course, before I sat down for a two-hour movie respite, I walked around Bath, including the beautiful Parade Gardens, which were very close to my hotel. Because of the Queen’s death, this was open to the public without having to pay an admission fee. I walked along the canal adjacent to it, encountering a number of people dressed up in Jane Austen costumes alongside some quaint houseboats (it made me wonder what it would be like to live on them). I’m not sure if the Austen cosplayers were tourists just dressing the part in the swing of things, or professionals paid by the city or some tourist organization to act as living, breathing atmosphere in this quaint town. I also sought out and found (although it was a bit of a quest through the narrow streets of Bath), Mr. B’s Emporium of Reading Delights, a delightful bookstore that took up multiple floors over two storefronts. After the movie, for dinner, I once again scratched my Pizza Express itch, boldly (or blandly) proving that I am definitely NOT a foodie, even when I travel. I limped back to the hotel and spent a quiet evening with my aching foot propped up on a pillow.
Miles walked: 5.65
The Parade Gardens (top row and first photo on the bottom row), Jane Austen “cosplayers,” and one of the wonderful windows of Mr. B’s Emporium of Reading Delights.
Day 14: Saturday, September 17
Saturday was my last full day in Bath and after breakfast, I started with a walk around a small antiques flea market that was set up in a parking lot adjacent to the Doubletree. Today I sought out some “new” (to me) bookstores and revisited some of the ones I first went to on Thursday. I also stumbled upon the famous “Royal Crescent,” a beautiful row of houses arranged in a gentle arc, and a big Mecca for Austen fans. I went to Persephone Books, an independent publisher who sells books by forgotten women writers. They publish beautiful paperback editions with matching bookmarks, which is a wonderful idea. (Hey, if you’re a bookstore owner and you don’t have a nicely designed free bookmark that plugs your store to give to customers … I don’t want to shop at your store. It’s always nice to remember where you bought a book, especially if you fall in love with it. Its provenance adds to its appeal.) I also visited a used bookstore and a charity shop, before having a “local lunch” (a Cornish pasty) and heading back to Waterstones … because evidently all I know how to do is go to bookstores when I travel (hey, if something brings you joy … am I right?). For dinner I opted for just some simple to-go food from M&S, including cold chicken and a roll. I packed up my clothing and purchases—and they just fit in what I brought, thankfully—and got a good night’s sleep before heading out for my return train trip to London, which I had a sneaking suspicion would be very crowded on Sunday as the Queen’s funeral was scheduled for Monday, September 19th.
Miles walked: 8.95
Top row: The Royal Crescent in Bath, a chemist’s window display seems fresh out of 1952, butterflies floating in the sun at SouthGate, a shopping center near the train station; bottom row: Bath Cathedral, a charming pub sign, and a tour bus by the Cathedral.
Next time: The final installment of my UK 2022 Trip Diary, wherein I return to London for six more days, visit Leeds for a day and do battle with the British train system when I try to return, and go to the THEE-A-TUR, all before I get into a large, sealed, metal can with a bunch of unmasked strangers and fly home, pretty much on fumes—both financially and mentally—after three weeks away. Don’t miss it!
Visit me on Instagram @gg92118 for lots more photos from my UK 2022 trip!