This trip is going to be a chance for me to get out of the everyday life routine. It's going to give me an oppertunity to take some great photos and to educate myself on the history, government, and current popular events and items in a foreign country. It's also going to give me a chance to explore many very large citys, and the culture within each.
See + Do
Greenwich is a bustling little market town in its own right, colored by bucketfuls of maritime history. Most importantly, it's where time begins. No, seriously, it does: At the top of a hill in Greenwich Park, a brass line marks longitude 0 degrees, the starting point of every time zone in the world—better known as GMT (Greenwich Mean, or Meridian, Time). The Royal Greenwich Observatory is up there, too, and for the effort of walking up a gentle hill, you'll be rewarded with excellent views. Down below are architectural gems: Georgian houses, the National Maritime Museum—designed by Inigo Jones, it displays Admiral Nelson's coat from Trafalgar, complete with the fatal bullet hole in the left shoulder (44-20-8858-4422; www.nmm.ac.uk)—as well as the stunning University of Greenwich and Trinity College of Music, designed by Sir Christopher Wren. The Cutty Sark, the last clipper ship to be built (dating back to 1869), has rested in a dry dock in Greenwich since 1954 and is currently being restored. Until it's completed in Spring 2010, you can only view the ship from the nearby souvenir shop; see the website for more details (44-20-8858-2698; www.cuttysark.org.uk). Nearby is the glazed cupola entrance to the Greenwich Foot Tunnel, which runs under the Thames. Alternatively, in keeping with Greenwich's nautical roots, catch a boat back up the river to central London.
See + Do
The only truly new neighborhood in London is Canary Wharf, a complex of offices and shopping malls centered around the city's tallest building, César Pelli's One Canada Square. There are few clues that this used to be a blighted area, part of the Isle of Dogs (a peninsula and former dockyards)—Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket was filmed here after the demolition, before the building began. Take the Jubilee Line to Canary Wharf station (a modern cathedral-like structure designed by Sir Norman Foster), and wander down to the river. Get a good view of this futuristic neighborhood as you leave aboard the elevated monorail, the Docklands Light Rail, which winds its way between the buildings back to central London (www.tfl.gov.uk/dlr).
See + Do
Buckingham Palace, England
Tel: 44 207 766 7300
The queen's London pied-à-terre is not the most beautiful of palaces, but it's big. Most of the year, all you can do is peer through the iron railings at the guards in busbies—those silly two-foot-tall black fur hats—and check the flagpole to see whether Brenda, as Private Eye calls her, is at home (the standard only flies when she's in residence). But from late July to September, even commoners can enter those gates. The Throne Room, Picture Gallery, Ballroom, and 16 other state rooms are open, as is (a bit of) the south side of the unbelievably huge palace gardens. The Royal Mews, with working stables and display of fancy state vehicles, is just around the corner and also worthy of a visit, as is the Queen's Gallery.
The Main House, England
Tel: 44 207 221 9691
Thanks to posh ex-nightclub owner Caroline Main, you too can be a Notting Hill bohemian. Her stucco Victorian house within spitting distance of Portobello Road makes the ideal home away from home for London visitors, though with just four rooms, you may never get in. Should you luck out, you'll have the run of a wood-floored, white-walled flat with the kind of graceful proportions, big sash windows, and leafy views that pushed this once-funky area out of the reach of mere millionaires years ago. Ms. Main has perfect taste, hence the Portobello-provenance framed mirrors, deep-buttoned leather chesterfields, slipcovered chaises longues, mahogany secretaries, and wrought iron candelabra. There are TVs with DVD players, phones with voice mail, plus WiFi, and morning coffee or tea is delivered to your room. What else could you need?
The Hoxton, England
Tel: 44 20 7550 1000
For those who thrive on Hoxton's galleries, garment wholesalers, hip clubs, and swank bar-restos (and can handle blighted, traffic-heavy Great Eastern Street), this is a second home. Wood fires blaze at either end of the glass-fronted, bare-brick-walled, polished-concrete-floored lobby. A flock of papier mâché bird lights hovers overhead. A ruckus spills from Hoxton Grille, the groovy brasserie. Under the glass check-in desk is a small snack shop. This lodge is, in short, for the young. Compact though they are, the 205 rooms are a nice surprise, with Frette sheets and duck-down duvets, flat-screen TVs, AC, and Wi-Fi. Fridges are stocked with free milk and mineral water, and the coffeemakers are for use with the banana, OJ, and yogurt delivered in a brown bag every morning. Bathrooms have showers, Pears soap, and lots of white towels. A sign says: “Hotels ask you to reuse your towels to save the environment (their money more like). So why don't they give you enough room to hang them up (we do). P.S. It's good to save the planet”: Urban Lodge in a nutshell. It's all the brainchild of a Pret à Manger sandwich shop cofounder, Sinclair Beecham, and he plans more. The further ahead you book—via the website—the lower the room rate goes.
Guesthouse West, England
Tel: 44 207 792 9800
Tel: 44 20 7244 2255
B+B Belgravia, England
Tel: 44 207 259 8570
The cost of real estate in this upmarket neighborhood doesn't bear thinking about, but at B+B Belgravia—a duo of Georgian townhouses on a residential street—you could convince yourself that you're at home, and a fine one at that. Belgravia's 21st-century makeover of the bed-and-breakfast concept stripped away chintzy assaults on lodgers' senses—and that uneasy feeling of being charged to stay in some old lady's spare room—in favor of the most minimal of decor. A small lounge area, with checkered floor, black leather sofas, and white chairs, has a flat-screen TV and a complimentary-coffee machine that whips up a passable latte. Breakfast is cooked-to-order in an open kitchen, adding a touch of domesticity. The 17 guest rooms are done in shades of mushroom, cream, and white, with flat-screen TVs and free Internet access. Attic rooms don't have the tall floor-to-ceiling windows of the ground floor, but they do have a cottage-like look and lovely views. It's quieter up there, too—light sleepers on the lower floors should request the rear suites, as the hotel is situated on a sometimes bustling street.