On Christmas Day public transportation shuts down in London – no tube, no buses. Nearly everything you read about visiting London in December warns about this closure and the difficulty of getting about.
So we had a plan – walk from our flat in Notting Hill to Trafalgar Square, and then to join a Charles Dickens walking tour. Our younger son, the trail boss, figured out the route, covering so much of central London with streets and buildings familiar from history and literature.
We opened stockings and ate a breakfast of scrambled eggs by candlelight (dark lingers late and comes early in winter London). Then we set off, the day chilly but sunny, past the shuttered shops of Notting Hill along busy sidewalks. (Closing the tube means all the below ground life suddenly appears street side.)
In Kensington Gardens fellow walkers, families mostly, chattered in many languages, children rode in buggies or skipped along with the international excitement of children on Christmas Day. People strolled, not the Londoner’s usual purposeful stride, past Diana’s Playground, Kensington Palace, the Round Pond, the Albert Memorial.
After Hyde Park, the trail boss pointed a line through the neighborhoods of Mayfair and Belgravia with deserted streets and no people – residents here might spend their holidays at country estates. An armed guard at the fortress-like American embassy managed a smile in reply to a “Merry Christmas” greeting.
Just before reaching Trafalgar Square, we stopped for a hot drink in an open (and very busy) coffee shop. We weren’t the only people fancying a Victorian Dickens tour on Christmas Day – a crowd filled the square, tourists but locals as well.
A few nights before, we’d been to a performance of “A Christmas Carol,” staged in a small theatre just off Piccadilly. On the tour we learned that the theatre was located close by the notorious and miserable blacking factory where Dickens worked as a child, and that he, too, loved to walk in the countryside and in London.
The walk was cold! Like penguins we huddled around the guide who read bits from Dickens novels, standing on streets where Dickens lived, and outside one of the many pubs named for him.
We had arranged for a car to pick us up, and after a long day in the cold on foot (six miles by the sweet bride’s pedometer), the toasty quick ride back over the route we’d walked gave a taste of a whole other way to be in London.
In the tiny kitchen of our flat, we turned our traditional comfort meal festive – spaghetti, Lady Baby style zucchini, salad – and miniature mince pies from Ottolenghi. We ate by candlelight and the warmth of the little gas fireplace.
Then, feeling like true Brits, we watched the Downton Abbey finale on the telly (never mind we hadn’t seen any previous episodes). A memorable Christmas Day.
And I’m wishing you the same – with all your important elements in place!