Our London adventure left us breathless

A four-hour walking tour of London

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LONDON, UK Feb. 28, 2016/ Troy Media/ – The wait staff in the breakfast room of the Grand Royale Hotel are impeccably dressed. White pressed blouses, creased black slacks, freshly shined shoes and a kind welcome for each patron. Their accented English betrays French, Spanish and perhaps Polish backgrounds in the European Union.

The hotel guests are something else – at least in the sense of dress. Most wear distressed jeans, running shoes or urban trail runners, and a variety of sweatshirts or hoodies pulled over T-shirts or casual work shirts. Only expensive executive haircuts betray many of the men as hotel guests. The women also wear denim but sport catchy jewellery and signature shoulder bags to convey a look I think of as ‘contrived casual.’

The breakfast buffet is superb. It is physically divided into left and right, health and protein divisions, focused on fruit and juice, with cheese and smoked salmon rolls to the left, and eggs, sliced ham and sausages to the right. Print copies of the London Times and the Independent sit on a side table.

After breakfast, Hyde Park beckons across Bayswater Street. As you exit the hotel, one is struck by the carbon particulates from diesel buses, taxis and trucks. The huge urban park offers some respite.

To the west are Notting Hill and Kensington; Marble Arch and London’s City core beckon to the east. It makes sense to head downtown. The still leafless trees are backlit by the rising sun as we walk. Suddenly, two tropical green birds burst from branches above. Parrots in Hyde Park? They circle and wheel above us before careering off to the south. They must have escaped from a Russian oligarch’s townhouse; how do they tolerate the cold and rain? What do they eat?

We are soon surrounded by runners, nannies with babies in prams, and files of uniformed public school students marching purposefully forward to museums and art galleries. My iPhone health app says that we have walked three kilometres as we see Marble Arch rising ahead. Instead of walking on down Oxford Street, we head a block south to avoid the diesel fumes and particulate.

As we pass a construction site with high yellow hoardings on Bond Street, uniformed police are suddenly everywhere. We slow down and ask a policewoman, “What’s going on?” One officer responds that some Royals are expected at the Elizabeth Line Station construction site. In a festive air, someone volunteers, “The Queen is coming to name the tube station after herself!”

A purple Rolls Royce turns into the intersection on Davies Road. Her Majesty’s royal Standard is fluttering on the roof of the Rolls. All eyes strain for a glimpse of the Queen – and momentarily there she unmistakably is riding on the right hand side of the back seat. She is wearing what appears to be a purple top hat, and looks intently ahead. The big car passes quickly into the open gate of the construction site as the crowd cheers.

The gate shuts and we move on to the north and east, seeking the British Museum in Russell Square. The app says we have now walked seven kilometres. Deep in my lungs, I feel a growing congestion and asthmatic tightening. We call an Uber to complete the journey, and minutes later a young Polish driver picks us up in an immaculate BMW 3 series. When he finds out we are Canadian, he exclaims, “Your new young prime minister – I like him very much!”

We round a corner and there is the magnificent British Museum once again. My mind flashes over what I want to revisit; Ramses III, the Rosetta Stone, the Sutton Hoo ship burial, the Japanese prints, the Islamic ceramics gallery, Chief Wiah’s pole from Masset . . .

We do it all, with a museum lunch and a subsequent tea, in four hours. An Islamic art lecture in Room 34 by volunteer Roger Hickson is simply superb. We head home by Uber at 5 p.m. What more could you do with a London day?

Troy Media columnist Mike Robinson has been CEO of three Canadian NGOs: the Arctic Institute of North America, the Glenbow Museum, and the Bill Reid Gallery. Mike is also included in Troy Media’s Unlimited Access subscription plan.

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