London, good ol’ London!
WELL, what can one say about the number one tourist destination for Middle East travellers? I am sure most of you have been there, done that.
And I am not going to bore you with a list of must-see attractions that you must have seen again and again. But then, for those who are not exactly going there to meet the Queen it needs to be said that there’s something about London that one keeps discovering with every visit.
Ask most regular visitors – count me in – why they keep returning to London and pat, they will tell you there’s nowhere quite like it. But prod a little further – now count me out – and enquire why there’s nothing quite like it and the answers will leave much to be desired.
To put it bluntly, there can be no convincing answers. On the surface, London is quite like any other big city in Europe. It has a blend of old and new but so does Vienna. The city has a certain pace and buzz but so does Paris. It has peace and tranquility but so does Munich. It has an amazingly diverse historical and cultural scene but so does Rome.
According to me, and this is my opinion only, what makes London quite so unique is its royalty. Buckingham Palace. The Queen. The Change of Guard. The whole experience. You are not talking about a bygone era. The palaces are inhabited. The Queen lives. The guards are on duty.
Every part of the city that you go to someone has got a story tell. Of the “Prince Charles comes here” and “Princess Diana used to eat here” variety. And before you know it, you can have a brush with royalty – most likely when Prince William is coming to a pub near you. After all, they may live in high-walled palaces but they are as human as you and me.
The royalty is there but – and here’s the best part – it’s not overwhelming. It just adds to the whole charm. More like a period drama unfolding before you. And when you have had enough, you can take the next street and it’s welcome back modern-day madness – with the most rocking nightlife in Europe on Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square. Or move on to the Covent Garden to enjoy some of the best street performances in this part of the world as wannabe rock stars bang their electric guitars and strut their stuff side by side world famous opera stars.
That in essence is what makes the London experience quite so unique. Yes, the cityscape is constantly evolving – what with dramatic new landmark skyscrapers gracing the skyline and waterfront and world-leading museums and art galleries getting completely revamped for the 21st century – but The Tower of London still dominates the river as it has done for nearly 1,000 years and is as much the proud symbol of the city as the Big Ben, the red buses and the black taxis. That shows the true character of the city!
It is that character that makes people keep coming back. No matter where you come from and no matter whatever collar it is that you are wearing there is a corner in London that will be there just for you.
To put things in perspective, the next time you are in London take a cab to Brick Lane, better known as one of the liveliest streets in the city. The place of refuge for centuries of immigrants – French Protestant in the 1740s, Jews in the 1880s, Irish at about the same time, Bengalis in the 1970s and Somalis today – Brick Lane means many things to many people. It is one of the poorest suburbs in London; it is also one of the “coolest” places in the city.
On one end of the lane, middle-class Bengalis run sari shops, groceries and ‘halal’ curry houses here. Towards the other end, Madonna comes in her limousine to buy bagels, Posh Spice purchases her clothes and Robbie William has sung live. All in the mile-long length that’s Brick Lane.
A few yards on, at number 19 Princelet Street (the next street up on the left) you have the Huguenot master weaver’s home, built in 1719, has an unrestored, galleried Victorian synagogue built over the garden and features in the top five per cent of listed building in the UK. The abode of young artists, Brick Lane has suddenly become one of the most ‘fashionable’ addresses in the city as young artists are moving in and real estate prices are hitting the roof. But that hasn’t changed anything here as conservative Bengali babus often rub shoulders with a pop star or two. That’s London. The real London.
Talking of the ‘real’ London, if you don’t have the time to drive down to Brick Lane, head for Harrods. But, this time, take the escalator down to the Ground Level. It’s the only place in the world-famous department store in Knightsbridge you can click a picture.
Here you will find a memorial to Princess Diana and Dodi Al Fayed, who was the son of the owner of Harrods. Below framed pictures of the Princess and Dodi, who were killed in a car crash in Paris in 1997, there’s a big diamond-studded ring and a wine glass. Below that is the following enscription: “These two items are among a handful of objects that illustrate how much Dodi and Diana were in love. The wine glass has been preserved in the exact condition it was left on the couple’s last evening together at the Imperial Suite at Hotel Ritz in Paris. Dodi bought this engagement ring for Diana the day before the tragedy.”
If this not an example of how London doesn’t believe in hiding anything, what is?
And here’s the good news for those of you who are ready to head to Britain again this summer. According to Mark Miller, VisitBritain’s (VB) regional area manager for Middle East and Africa, VB is now planning major new and revised marketing innovations to further promote Britain in the region. “Targeting Middle Eastern families, VB is introducing new initiatives/promotional campaigns including ‘Spend Time in Britain’, ‘Green Britain’ and Cities,” he added. “Moreover, VB is also working with its key partners in the region to promote bookable products and packages in the UK.” In other words, London, here I come.