With London being such a shopping mecca, there’s no better place to be in the run-up to Christmas. But what else does England’s capital city offer to complement seasonal retail therapy?
Murder, fashion and sex
Aside from the Natural History Museum and the National Gallery, London has an A to Z of others ranging from the Alexander Fleming Laboratory to the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum, but three special exhibitions on until the new year are well worth a visit.
If mystery is your thing, the Museum of London is the place to go. A special exhibition that runs until April focuses on England’s most famous sleuth – Sherlock Holmes – and why author Arthur Conan Doyle’s late-Victorian literary detective endures to this day. Exhibits include videos of movies and TV series down through the years; a 19th century portrait of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle; original Holmes manuscripts and letters and a televised interview; and the coat and dressing gown worn by Benedict Cumberbatch in the recent BBC series, ‘Sherlock.’ Detailed paintings, drawings, illustrations and photographs focus on the famous streets and landmarks portrayed in Conan Doyle’s books.
If fashion is your thing, then head straight to the Victoria and Albert Museum. Until January 4, the nation’s top art and design museum near Victoria station hosts the definitive retrospective of Horst P. Horst (1906-99), one of the 20th century’s leading photographers. Working mainly from Paris and New York and a master of light, composition and atmospheric illusion, Horst conjured a world of sensual sophistication during his 60-year career, with his images gracing the pages of Vogue, Condé Nast and other famous magazines. His most well-known fashion work is the iconic ‘Mainbocher Corset’ but the exhibition also includes his portraits of early Hollywood celebrities such as Bette Davis, Marlene Dietrich and Rita Hayworth, as well as his Surrealist collaborations with Salvador Dali. While at the V&A, pop over to the museum’s fashion gallery.
If sex is your thing, then you’ll find the latest exhibition at the Wellcome Collection on Euston Road intriguing. Entitled ‘The Institute of Sexology,’ it brings together the work of pioneers of sex studies including Magnus Hirschfeld, Sigmund Freud, Marie Stopes, Alfred Kinsey, Margaret Mead, William Masters and Virginia Johnson in a candid exploration of the most publicly discussed of private acts. Through more than 200 objects spanning art, rare archival material, erotica, film and photography, the exhibition investigates how the practice of sex research has shaped our attitudes towards behavior and identity. Moving between pathologies of perversion and contested ideas of normality, it shows how sex has been observed, analyzed and questioned from the late 19th century to the present day.
London’s ‘West End’ is synonymous with creative and exciting musicals, plays and comedies and in the run-up to the Christmas season the offer is certainly diverse.
For an evening of zany comedy, wonderful singing, creative costumes and excellent choreography and a quirky review of some of the most famous musicals ever produced from ‘Cabaret’ to ‘Cats,’ go see ‘Forbidden Broadway’ at the Vaudeville Theatre. Four very talented performers will bring you on a riotous ride as they poke fun at some of the most famous songs and stage props by comically re-writing many of the lyrics and dialogue.
Something very different takes place at the Gielgud Theatre with an adaption by acclaimed playwright Simon Stephens of author Mark Haddon’s 2003 novel, ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.’ Both funny and moving, it tells the story of Christopher Boone, a 15-year-old maths genius with ‘behavioural problems.’ The creative set transforms the Cottesloe into a sunken theatre-in-the-square with floor and walls covered at times with mathematical graphs and shimmering lights that form patterns representing neural pathways. The play has won seven Olivier Awards.
First a best-selling novel, then a blockbuster movie and now adapted for the stage, animal lovers will cry tears of grief and joy seeing ‘War Horse’ at the New London Theatre. British playwright, Nick Stafford, transformed Michael Morpurgo’s book but the real dramatic delight is the work of the Handspring Puppet Company, which have created, out of skeletal bamboo frames and internal hinges, the most expressive of horses as a young character, Albert, pursues his equine friend, Joey, across the scarred French battlefields during World War One. Technical ingenuity is reflected in magically transforming Joey from a skittering, shy foal into a bucking, rearing adult horse and a tank that suddenly, menacingly, rolls across the stage like an armor-plated monster.
Raucous hit satire about the press, the police and the political establishment, ‘Great Britain’ at the Theatre Royal Haymarket tells the story of Paige Britain, the determined young news editor of ‘The Free Press,’ a tabloid newspaper embroiled in a seemingly endless war to win more readers than its rivals. With obvious overtones of the phone hacking scandal of Rupert Murdoch’s News International and a no-holds barred view, both blunt and bruising, this fast-moving drama tells a story of raw, empty ambition overlaying a bitter cocktail of sex, power and money. As for newspaper ethics…what’s that word again?
No better way for a complete break from battling bargain hunters than to take an elevator ride 70-storeys up for unparalleled 360-degree views up to 40 miles over London, courtesy of ‘The Shard,’ the city’s architecturally striking vertical city developed by joint owner Irvine Sellar with support from the rulers of Quatar. You can even sip on a glass of champagne while trying to detect the difference between Wembley, Wimbledon and Westminster from way, way up high.
Back on ground level, one of the best ways to learn about the intricacies of the famed city is to walk its back streets and no better company to do that with than London Walks. A co-operative of talented guides, the organization was founded 50 years ago and now offers a comprehensive menu of options, from Jack the Ripper Haunts and Shakespeare’s & Dickens’ London to Old Mayfair. We enjoyed several excursions inside a week, most lasting around two hours. The ‘Inside Covent Garden’ version, for example, was led by an entertaining young lady called Katy, knowledgeable about the history of the area and the illustrious personages who treaded its streets. Among the stopovers were historical restaurants such as Simpson’s Tavern and Rules restaurant, two of the oldest in London, (scenes for popular TV series Downton Abbey were shot in the latter) and the so-called ‘actors’ church.’
Sleeping under five stars
London offers many luxurious accommodation options, depending on your choice of location and ambiance. Here are a few examples reflecting the diversity –
Located opposite Kensington Palace and Gardens near the Royal Albert Hall, Baglioni Hotel is a flamboyant Italian-styled, 5-star property celebrating La Dolce Vita with photographs of famed screen stars of the era everywhere. Creative elegance is reflected in a Murano candelabra, a flowing ‘water-on-glass’ fixture and rich gold interiors. Our suite was chic with a vivid black and gold ambiance reminding us of the Venice festival with oversize metal brass trumpets either side of the bed.
Close to the River Thames and a short walk from Trafalgar Square, Westminster and Covent Garden, Corinthia Hotel is a luxury property opened in 2011 in a grand Victorian building. A dazzling 1,000 bulb, Full Moon Baccarat chandelier created by Chafik hangs in the lobby lounge, with Italian and British-style restaurants beyond. Its ESPA Life spa spread over four floors is stunning, with dramatic Calacatta and black Italian marble, modern fireplaces and leather and dark oak. Seven penthouses are designed along individual themes such as acting, exploring, writing and music with furnishings linked to each.
First opened by King George V in 1927 in one of the most fashionable districts of London, the May Fair Hotel offers 404 rooms, including 12 suites, a spa, a fine-dining restaurant famous for steaks and seafood, a chic cocktail lounge and a casino. Our room was generous in size, decorated in tones of café au lait and crimson, with framed Oriental ink drawings, crimson leather armless chairs and decorative drapes. The bathrooms feature a double sink, with a wall length mirror and a separate shower and tub, the latter with an inbuilt TV.
What’s not to like about London – even its winters aren’t so bad – and with shopping opportunities galore, museums and theatres aplenty and seasonal afternoon teas with delectable scones, cakes and clotted cream for that special occasion, there’s something for everyone. For more information check out Visit London.