I knew late night encounters with the werewolves of London was a possibility, but meeting the urban foxes of London was unexpected.
Songs from the 70s like White Man in Hammersmith Palais by The Clash and Down in the Tube Station at Midnight by The Jam were the kind of songs that made me think night walking London was not such a good idea when I honeymooned there in 1989.
There were hardly any people on the streets in Westminster at midnight. The area was so deserted as I walked to Buckingham Palace that an urban fox trotted across the road in front of me from St. James’s Park onto the sidewalk. We made eye contact, shared a greeting and under the fence the fox went.
Encounters with wildlife seem like a good omen to me, although I read that urban foxes are a nuisance in London. Kind of like the London version of raccoons I guess.
Spending three hours in transit into the city and back to Heathrow might seem like a waste of effort on a 21 hour layover. In fact, sitting on the Underground train at 9:00 pm when I was on Finnish time, two hours ahead of London, and after getting on the wrong tube line in Hammersmith, I asked myself why I ever booked such a crazy trip with four overnight layovers in four different countries on four consecutive nights to get back to California from Berlin.
Oslo and Helsinki were easy commutes, less than 45 minutes from the airport plane touchdown into my hotel room. London took 1 hour and 45 minutes from the time the Finnair flight from Helsinki landed at Heathrow until I stepped out of the tube at Westminster station.
Instantly, I mean the second I stepped out of the tube station and walked up the stairs adjacent to the River Thames and saw Big Ben, a surge of energy rushed through me. The weariness of travel had gone.
View of Big Ben from Westminster Bridge
“You’ll find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.” – Samuel Johnson
Kelley, my wife, had a poster with this saying that hung in our house for a couple of decades. I read the quote again today inside the Buckingham Arms pub we frequented during our honeymoon week in London 24 years ago March 1989.
County Hall and London Eye seen from Westminster Bridge.
My hotel was Park Plaza Westminster using 50,000 Club Carlson points. The hotel was quite conveniently located on the South Bank, directly across Westminster Bridge from the Westminster Underground station.
Park Plaza Westminster Bridge, London
The property seems like it should be a Radisson Blu and take advantage of free branding connections with all the blue lighting seen from Westminster Bridge.
Park Plaza Hotel review to come along with reviews of Oslo Radisson Plaza and Hotel Kamp Helsinki in the next few days.
Urban foxes prowling the London night
Like a wild creature scavenging urban neighborhoods in the night, I was looking for tasty things in London to capture with my camera.
Night walking in London
One of the best aspects of being out late on a cold London night was the lack of tourists. I felt like London was mine alone with as many security and police officers as tourists on the streets. Nobody walked in front of my camera shots.
Walking to Buckingham Palace had me wondering why there was nobody on the streets. Sure it was after 11pm, but with pubs having just closed, I figured there would be some tourists out sightseeing.
Alongside St. James’s Park there was only me and an urban fox prowling the London night. I wonder if that fox knew it was on Birdcage Walk. I did not know the name of the street either. I just remembered the area from my previous visits.
Wellington Barracks was quiet too. In 1989, Kelley and I watched a soldier forced to jog around the yard carrying a mattress while his superior trotted beside him bitching him out in military drill sergeant fashion. The changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace involves a squadron of soldiers marching over from the barracks to Buckingham Palace about 200 meters away.
Victoria Memorial in front of Buckingham Palace
Even the area around Buckingham Palace was nearly deserted, except for the constant stream of taxis driving around the fountain. I headed back toward the Thames River.
London has grand buildings. The city is a majestic place for a tourist.
The street cleaners, police, me, and a few couples strolling or kissing were the main bodies on the streets.
In March 1989 I remember blocks with hundreds of homeless people sleeping in doorways and sidewalks. There were remnants of cardboard beds on the steps at Westminster Station as the only sign of people having slept outside last night.
Walking the streets of London without my anglophile wife Kelley was kind of sad. The idea came to me that we should second honeymoon in London 2014 for our 25th anniversary.
Trafalgar Square fountain
St. Martin in the Fields church at Trafalgar Square always reminds me of Mozart’s Quintet for Clarinet and Strings, K. 581, from an enchanting recording I have by the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields chamber orchestra.
St. Martin in the Fields
Past Trafalgar Square I came across another pub I remember fondly from 1989.
The Sherlock Holmes Pub.
Kelley turned me on to Sherlock Holmes as literature in the 1980s. Two interests we shared in London back in 1989 were pubs and Sherlock Holmes. We saw Jeremy Brett and Edward Hardwicke in a London stage performance on our honeymoon trip.
Sherlock Holmes is all the rage again, but I find the Guy Ritchie Sherlock Holmes films rather inane. We are great fans of the modern TV versions. Sherlock from the BBC starring Benedict Cumberbatch is brilliant as Sherlock Holmes and Martin Freeman as Watson.
Kelley has always been a Johnny Lee Miller fan so we also watch the US television show Elementary.
I would have liked a pint, but alas, some London pubs still close at 11pm.
Interestingly though is alcohol can be sold in stores 24 hours. There is a 24 hour market between Marriott County Hall and Park Plaza Westminster Bridge on the South Bank of the Thames.
Golden Jubilee Bridge walking to the south side of the Thames. Kind of freaky being in the center of London alone outside at midnight.
I waited on the bridge to take a video of the midnight chimes of Big Ben. It was rather quiet and serene over the Thames River.
The lights of Parliament turned off at 11:59pm, and just as the tower chimed midnight, a train crossed the bridge behind me and the pedestrian bridge that had been empty for five minutes suddenly had a dozen people walking by me talking.
I just happened to be walking across Westminster Bridge the next day at 12 noon and got another chance to make a twelve chimes video. The street traffic was not nearly as loud as the train.
Golden Jubilee Bridge
Standing beneath the London Eye, the enormity of the structure reveals awesome engineering.
The fact that even Big Ben and Parliament had turned out the lights seemed like a sign that I should do the same after 90 minutes on a whirlwind trip prowling the magnificent city of London while remembering times past and finding new joys.