Lately, I have run into a few Americans in European cities who have decided to give London a miss on their tour or I’ve heard my friends and acquaintances tell of their travels abroad sans London, too.
‘What is up with that?’ I have asked often. ‘London is a great city. You will never tire of it, promise!’
‘Not the problem,’ I have been told.
‘Then what is it?’
It’s expensive, really expensive. Fair enough, but you are not coming to live in the place for pete’s sake. You are coming to visit and when it comes to entertainment for free, London has much to choose from. From checking out its many cathedrals to its eclectic neighbourhoods, right in central London, the city promises to light up any European holiday.
Literally, this past weekend, London lit up in a special way. Though you will always find Leicester Square heaving, it was teeming that much more with Londoners and tourists alike this weekend, those keen to see what all the light of the Lumiere Festival was about. There, was the Garden of Light, first stop on Lumiere’s map.
Though a bit crowd shy, Paul and I wrapped up and joined in with the sightseeing on Saturday, the second night of the event, but chose to make Leicester Square, our last stop with a view that we would grab a bit to eat at one of our favourite spots in Covenant Garden. Not a chance. Never mind, we ended up in South Kensington, where we lived when I first arrived in London.
Posh neighbourhood indeed, but even there one can get a bite to eat without breaking the bank. Though we had planned on sitting down to one of the many neighbourhood restaurants, we ended up grabbing a take away from Rotisserie Jules. But I digress.
Back to Lumiere and where we started, (Mayfair), we got off to a slow start, when daunted by the crowds herding into Grosvenor Square to see the two, possibly three light displays—Brothers and Sisters, Spinning Night in Living Colour and the Light Bench. Not sure if we saw the latter or not. Never mind, we headed to Regent Street, where things literally lit up.
With the famous shopping street closed to cars, crowds adored the 1.8 London display on one end of the street, streaming like a ribbon in the wind, and on the other end was Les Lumineoles, fluorescents of the fish species. Also on Regent’s street was Keyframes light show, beamed from Liberty’s Department store.
On from there we headed to Piccadilly, where perhaps our favourite was 195 Piccadilly, a display of picturesque faces on the building next to Maison Assouline. Eager to escape the crowds, however, we took side streets into St James and into what was perhaps the heart of the festival, Les Voyageurs, The Travellers, featuring amazing characters perched on buildings around the area or seemly flying through the night.
Having had our fill of crowds, ranging from young to old, we decided to give a miss to Westminster, Trafalgar Square, The Mall and King’s Cross. Okay, so we missed out on a big part of Lumiere but not because we were tired of it, or of London.
As Samuel Johnson wrote, ‘when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.’
And though Lumiere is over, such events as it have a way of lighting up an already happening city, an enlightening stop on any European tour.