Mama needs shoes. That’s about as real as it gets. Nic has Plantar Fascitis, and since she refuses to pay homage to Marcus Paige (who in the Year of our Lord 2015 AD bravely led his armies into battle on hobbled foot), she needs new shoes so she can walk around London. First priority of business.
So, I look up shopping centers (or centers, as it’s spelled here). At home, this quest would be a simple car ride to a pre-destined location. But nothing is simple when you travel. After a ride on the Tube, we found ourselves in Westminster, winnowing our way through labrynthine streets. There’s a T.K. Maxx! (not a typo, how it’s spelled here). No dice: more walking. Pubs. Gay bars. Theaters. Bookstores. First Shopping Centre? Fail. Check the map on the phone and wander some more. Thanks to PokemonGo, we don’t look like tourists; we’re hunting Balbusaur. Sushi joints. Italian joints. Stores too blue to mention here. More bookstores. More pubs. Nearly four miles and no shoes. Nic’s being a trooper in her Chacos, but they’re not serving her dogs well.
We get a little rest at Golden Square Park–ping pong tables, body sculptures, and the first of many tributes to Roald Dahl’s 100 years. A short walk up the pavers and we are at Kingly Court on Carnaby street, a large, mostly pedestrian market area. Restaurants, clothing stores, and pubs, which by now are swelling with Friday afternoon merriment. Nic is wooed by a large Fish and Chips ad, but needs the shoes more. Soon, we are in the Asics store (pronounced ah-siks, if you’re keeping score) and she is trying on trainers while I read “Norweigian Wood”, a Japanese novel based on a Beatles song.
Newly shod, we re-enter the streets, where a light drizzle always threatens. Here the rain became a bit heavier, joined forces with our hunger, and swept us into an Italian joint–New York pizza and pasta in the heart of London. They pipe Italian language lessons into the loo. Beside a table of hijab-Ed teenage girls (and a boy with a backwards black cap) all playing with their phones, Nic re-arranged our open bus tour while I stared whimsically at a wall decorated by prominent Italian Americans, right out of Sal’s Pizzirea in Do the Right Thing.
Back on the pavement either our need for shoes and hunger sated, we began to wander aimlessly but generally in the direction of Hyde Park where we would catch the Tube home. In the middle of rush hour, We caught Oxford street, a main thoroughfare packed with pedestrians: street preachers, business people, slacking teens, smoking sales people. Nic’s keen photographic eye caught a side street blanketed in the Union Jack, and we turned left. Then right. More pubs with patrons spilling in the streets; two houses side-by-side where Hendrix and Handel created; the Argentinian embassy, a modest storefront that could’ve been selling cookies.
By 6 we reached Grovesnor Square, an open park under tall trees decorated with memorials to FDR, 9/11, WW2 pilots and beautiful flowers, artichokes and roses in bloom. Wedged between the Canadian and American embassies, it was a good place to slow down. At home, it was around 1, and just stepping outside would drench me in sweat. But here, Nic found a bench to read quietly while I explored monuments and architecture.
Back on our feet, we passed the U.S. Embassy on the left–tall gates, anti-tank pillars, Kevlar-clad guards: it’s still clear even here we don’t scrimp on defense. Soon, we found Marble Arch, an ornate former entrance to Hyde Park.
Picnics lingered. Children fed the all-too-friendly geese and squirrels. It could’ve been any park in America. We strolled the Serpentine, a lake where boats paddle, on our way back to the Tube as dusk neared. Near the Lancaster gate, we found the Italian Gardens, a gift from Andrew to Victoria in the form of symmetrical pools and flowers overlooking the lake. “What more of a romantic gift could one give?” the sign asked. What more, indeed.
The sun sets in a long, protracted golden hour this far north. We left the park and hopped on the Tube home. Soon, Nic was asleep on my arm as I read a paper left on the seat next to me. After nine we began the walk back to Gary and Ashley’s through the peaceful dusk. Usually, I abhor shoe shopping, but its necessity took us through a beautiful marvelous meandering trek through the city today. And it’s only Day 1, a unique and promising start to our vacation.