Beating the Royals at Their Own Game.
Act I: Buckingham Palace
Prince William is a rescue helicopter pilot, is inheriting billions of dollars worth of land and palaces with views and grounds which are not accessible to even the other richest people on the planet because their families haven’t been the richest people on the planet for the past thousand years, going to be the king of England, and it’s an international achievement when he gets his hot wife knocked up. But what he is not, thanks to the Magna Carta, is the boss of us.
So start this day at Buckingham Palace on the grass by the lake of St. James’s Park, and sit in the royals’ front yard and now you’re off to doing London better than they can do London because can you imagine the swarm if they tried to step out and do any of the things we’re going to do today. But if standing out front of, as Neil Gaiman put it, remarkably unpalatial palaces, while listening to a military band playing pop tunes on the other side of a gate through which you will never step is not the reason you came to England, then blow their cute little kiss right back to their cute little balcony where Prince William kissed Kate and then head to the Ritz London. It’s the height of class and luxury, but, unlike the palace, it is livable and lovely and waiting for you.
Act II: Tea at the Ritz
If you’re looking at the balcony of Buckingham Palace, head right, which is north, for Green Park. Stroll Green Park as you will, always heading north for as long as you want to stroll in this royal park that the royals are too famous to enjoy until you reach Piccadilly St, then take a right and where the park ends, or at about Piccadilly and Berkeley St, is the Ritz London.
Tea at the Palm Court of the Ritz needs a reservation and it is a bit on the expensive side, but sometimes, or I should say onetimes, once in a lifetime opportunities present themselves and tea at the Ritz is one of those opportunities. So for about a hundred bucks you can live like a royal and be treated like one by a waiter who knows this is a special occasion and that this is a moment you’re making to look back on for the rest of your life. Besides, I’ve designed the rest of the day to be cheap and instead of spending a hundred bucks on a few forgettable meals spend a hundred bucks on one of real life English magic and be a royal for the day at tea. It’s one of those special places in the world and what would you pay for a memory that will last you the rest of your life.
So at the Ritz they do require a tie and a jacket for boys and no jeans for boys or girls. You might be thinking, I’ll have to wear that all day. But what I think you mean to be thinking is, I get to dress like Dean Martin in London all day. Speaking of, let me tell you one bit of advice and if you don’t believe anything else I say then I hope you remember this. If you want to be mistaken for a local in Europe then wear a tie. And otherwise, dress as nicely as you can, and when I say as you can, I mean without looking stupid, or for the environment, or for what you can afford. Nothing says I’m not out to lunch or at this park as a tourist but as a local professional taking a break from being a local professional than a loose tie.
Act III: Marylebone High Street
From out royaling the royals with palms and splendor at the Ritz, now it’s time to really out do them by doing precisely what it is that they within their palace walls can never have: to live London with Londoners on one of London’s high streets. The high street is where locals shop and work and do their day to days. So out of the Ritz, and be sure to get a picture of you casually walking with one hand in your pocket beneath the club Ritz sign as if no big deal, take a right out of the doors of the Ritz to head east on Piccadilly. Then take a left on Old Bond St and like Gollum said, go up up up Old Bond St which becomes New Bond St and then take a left on Oxford St, which is cool because it’s famous too and if it’s your thing, Selfridges is on this street if you keep going. But it’s not my thing so after a left on Oxford St I take a right on James St which becomes Mandeville Pl which becomes Thayer St. For our sakes and purposes, this is where Marylebone High Street starts. It’s about a thirty-minute walk, give or take, of seeing London.
From Thayer St take a left on George St and two minutes later you’re at the Wallace Collection. It’s an uncrowded, lovely museum that’s one of my favorites in Europe and with some of the baddest dudes of art history. Like Titian. Yeah. Titian. Yes there are two Titians there and some Rembrandts and other masters of equal stature in the rooms of this (speaking of royals) old mansion that used to belong to queen Jane Seymour’s nephew. Maybe that’s why King Henry VIII liked her best of all. Shoot if I married anyone who had a nephew with a free uncrowded museum with bad boy Titian on display, she’d be my favorite wife, too. It’s no big deal. Just walking a high street of London like a local and stopping in for an art collection that would have left Renoir weeping. Like I said, no big deal. But, um, don’t eat at the café here. It’s just that all the life represented in the paintings in here is waiting for you on the high street outside.
So. Out of the Wallace collection head back to Thayer and take a left to head north. Now you’ve got a decision to make. Is it park weather or is it not. If it is, from here on out do things as if you were picking things up for a picnic at Regent’s Park, which is at the end of our high street. If it isn’t park weather, then just hang out and don’t worry about taking anything with you as you leave. Fair enough? I think so because it’s London and part of the charm is that you just never really know what kind of weather it’s going to offer as a guide because in Europe the weather is always your number one guide.
Next, on your left just after Moxon St will be and I don’t really believe in playing favorites but it’s my favorite book store in the world because it is a bookstore of the world. I can imagine the look on the Knights Templar when after crusading to find the holy grail they returned home and took off their armor and went to Marylebone High Street for an evening with the kids and came to Daunt Books and said oh there it is.
For the levels three of this holy grail of books are not categorized alphabetically by author nor by title nor by fiction but by continent and by country. The bookmongers here are experts and let’s say that after England you’re heading to Austria so go to the Austria section on the European floor. All books with Austria as a subject or setting or author’s home country or anything else that has to do with Austria are yodeling from this shelf for you to take them on to Austria or wherever you’re going next.
You’re probably thinking it sure would take me a while to find a book in a temple like that but first of all that’s best case scenario to spend all day here and that’s the way Johnny Book travels so if you want to then stay here all evening, but they also have experts to pick out selections for you and they’re maybe the best part of this place and they’ve never missed yet. Also, that’s what the stained glass window is for. It takes requests and then will shine the sun on whichever book is your next reading destiny.
Now for food. So out of Daunt books take a right and head south a few steps to Moxon St and then take a right and on you’re right will be La Fromagerie. When you used to think of cheese you used to think of France, but after La Fromagerie you’ll find yourself confusing the words cheese and England like, hey boss I need next week off because I’m going across the pond and we’re going to be in cheese for a few days where I’m going to out royal the royals and then we’re on to Spain. These guys here are expert cheesemongers and what I do is let an expert be an expert and tell them that you’re going for a picnic at Regent’s Park and that you need some cheese and jam and crackers and some wine that would go well with their selection. It’s a lot of fun to go into their walk-in fridge and talk England and talk cheese, which, at this place, are the same thing.
So like I said this is a high street which means this is where the locals go for the business of getting on with their business so if at any point you spot anywhere you would rather do then follow Johnny book rule number one and do it. But Johnny Book takes a left back onto Marylebone High St and then stops a minute later at Pierre Marcolini on the east side of the street because I know it’s London but they also say London is the second biggest city in France and it’s cool to walk into a place in London and say bonjour and pick up some éclairs for a park because it’s just something you do. Split your éclair selection evenly between savory and chocolate. It’s delicious sure but that way you don’t have to spend the rest of the evening trying to decide, especially if daylight is burning over Regent’s Park just a few steps away.
From Pierre Marcolini take a right back onto Marylebone High Street and head north with your book and cheese and wine and desserts and if you need a blanket then Cath Kidston is a store a minute or two up on your right and I got a blanket here last time which now serves as the official Johnny Book picnic blanket. It’s signed regularly by all those who live our moments with us in the parks of Europe. I don’t own to the idea of souvenirs because I would rather bring back a moment and besides just order it online when you get back but anyway this is the kind of souvenir that you can actually live with while over there and then come back and live with some more with picnics and sparkling rosé and sparkling memories.
Epilogue: Picnic at Regent’s Park
I’m throwing this in as an epilogue because it might be raining because after all it’s London, even though it doesn’t rain as much as you think, but still if it is raining or too cold well then I can’t imagine a better evening in London than living it with Daunt Books, but if it isn’t raining then I can’t imagine a better evening in London than here at my favorite London park. Besides we’re beating royals at their own game and the name of these lawns is Regent’s and another besides is that this is where Pongo played matchmaker and knocked everyone into the water while filming 101 Dalmatians. I think that was actually a blooper they just used for the film.
From wherever you are on Marylebone High St head north for a few minutes, and then when you hit Marylebone Rd take a left and then after a minute or two or maybe less you’ll come to York Gate on your right. From here wave to all the lollipops standing in line at Madame Tussauds (is there a synonym for lollipop?) and then take a right on York Gate and then another few steps and you’re into regent’s park.
Once in Regent’s Park just take York Gate which essentially becomes York Bridge and cross the fairy tale pond and then you hit Inner Cir. I like to take Inner Cir to the left and then a moment or two later there is the Regent’s Bar and Kitchen which has drinks and food and most importantly a bathroom and if you forgot anything like water they’ll have it here and then I just set up picnic shop somewhere on the grass around here. It’s easy access to the bathroom with the wine and besides I’ve done enough walking for the day. By all means, however, keep taking Inner Cir around it’s, well, circle, and you’ll find all sorts of goodies like an open air theatre which was playing Shakespeare when I was there and then of course there is a zoo here and a lake and then keep heading northwest on the park and there is Primrose Hill which has a view of London. And if you want to come back to Regent’s Park tomorrow then come back to Regent’s Park tomorrow and spend all day here. There are many ways to beat the royals at their own game but it’s hard to beat beating them at a sprawling park named after them but which they can’t really use. Sweet as your éclairs.