I travel to London on a fairly regular basis with work and normally I’m on a mission – Euston, tube, meeting, tube, Euston, home. Bosh. I don’t hang around the Capital or enjoy the London landmarks and sounds too often; although one of my customers is Christie’s so I appear above ground at Green Park and stroll past The Ritz, imagining how lovely it would be to stay there for a night or two. I took my beautiful Mum there for afternoon tea for her 60th birthday and we had such a wonderful afternoon sipping expensive Champagne and enjoying delicate sandwiches and far too many cakes. Heaven!
However, this week I had the opportunity to spend a little longer in London without the rush to get to a meeting or back to the train station. Having spent a lovely alcohol-induced evening on Thursday with my work colleagues, I planned Friday morning with careful precision to see London landmarks. I would go and visit The Shard! Despite not being a massive fan of heights, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to see the sights of London from 70 floors up.
Friday arrived with clear blue skies and fortunately a clear head (ahh the joys of getting old and not drinking my body weight in gin!) so before leaving the hotel, I had the fabulous brainwave of checking The Shard website for directions, opening times and how much a glass of bubbly would be when I got to the top. And this is when I discovered my first hiccup of the day. Not only can you not take overnight bags into the building, there aren’t any left luggage facilities. Arghhh!
So, after staring at the page for at least 10 minutes and muttering profanities under my breath, I decided I wasn’t going to schlep across London to find I wouldn’t be able to enjoy the experience. Time for Plan B.
I was staying on Kensington and realized that Harrods wasn’t a million miles away. Excellent. I’d been past the iconic store but never actually been inside – well, today was the day for that! The Hotel porter informed it was about a 25-minute walk so armed with my gloves, scarf, and comfy shoes, I set off, dragging my case behind me and clutching my phone for directions in case I got lost.
I strolled past other London landmarks such as Kensington Palace. I looked up in awe at The Royal Albert Hall and marveled at the beautiful old (and expensive) buildings. This was the side of London I loved, and it reminded me of the film set of Mary Poppins; all white buildings, tall houses and I half wished I could jump into a chalk pavement painting and escape for a while.
I kept walking, the 25-minutes long since passed and found myself walking past Imperial College, The Natural History Museum, and The Victoria & Albert Museum. Ahh, all London landmarks I’d heard of but never seen up close. But how impressive they were – magnificent, elegant, statuesque, and such a world away from the commercial Oxford Street, with its bright lights and chinging cash tills.
Eventually, at the very least 45 minutes, since I set off, I reached Harrods. The building stood majestically in the cold December sun, the Christmas decorations tastefully adorning the outside. I felt a flutter of excitement as I waited for the store to open at 10 am and I planned to browse the floors, looking at things I couldn’t afford and maybe treating myself to a nice coffee and cake. See, who needs The Shard when you can have Harrods?
The lovely well-dressed doorman, with a super-strong scouse accent, kindly informed me that I couldn’t bring my overnight bag into the store but there was a left luggage facility just around the corner. That makes sense I thought, can’t be too careful of people with ‘large’ bags these days as I trundled around the back of the building.
Once again, I was greeted by a very smart and friendly doorman who welcomed me to Harrods and proceeded to tell me it would cost £25 to leave my bag. I stared at him, not really listening to what else he was saying, my mind racing at what he’d just said. £25? To leave my bag for an hour or two? Twenty bloody five pounds?! I smiled and nodded as he continued to tell me that he would give me a voucher and as long as I spent over £50, the £25 would be refunded. I wasn’t planning on spending £5, let alone £50 but in all fairness that probably wouldn’t go that far in Harrods. I made some excuse about waiting for my friend to arrive and I’ll return when she does….and I left. Quickly.
Now, here’s the thing. I totally, 100% understand the need to reduce bags in public places – hey, I work in security and counter-terrorism is my bread and butter. BUT, and it’s a big but, I certainly don’t agree with making it difficult to enjoy London landmarks by not having the sufficient facilities (The Shard) or charging an unreasonable sum of money (Harrods) just because I have an overnight bag with me. With all the tourists visiting on a daily basis, surely it would make sense to make it accessible, affordable, and therefore enjoyable for everyone who wants to appreciate the delights on offer.
So, my Plan B didn’t quite materialize either and as I reflect on my two ‘unsuccessful’ missions, I can’t help feeling a little disappointed – best-laid plans and all that. But I will reschedule my visit to The Shard for another day, hopefully, a nice clear summers morning, and maybe I will return to Harrods, without my overnight bag, for that coffee.
Let’s just hope it’s not £25!
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