London in the sunshine

“Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.” – Samuel Johnson (The Life of Samuel Johnson LL.D.Vol 3)

It is well known amongst my friends, that wherever I am in the world, I always return to London during the summer months. When this city  begins to awaken from it’s wintery slumber, there is no place I would rather be. The feeling of walking down a leafy street with the gentle sunlight caressing my face is one of happiness in abundance. This is my favourite time of the year.

Whenever anyone mentions visiting, I always advice that they do so in summer. London is the most visited city in Europe and has a reputation for being one of the most expensive. There is, however, so much to do and see that costs nothing or very little and yet encapsulates everything that London is.

As I consistently say, walking is the best way to feel the rhythm of a new place. It offers a glimpse of every day life and often allows you to feel the pulse of a city.

One of my favourite walks in London begins at St.Paul’s Cathedral, along Fleet Street towards The Strand and rounds off along Victoria Embankment. So much history on a simple lunchtime walk, topped off with a spectacular stroll along the Thames. It doesn’t get any more “London” than this.


St. Paul’s Cathedral – This is a busy place at the best of times. In summer, people sit on the steps, chat with friends, eat lunch, eat ice cream and bask in the sunshine. There is a charge to enter the cathedral. It is absolutely worth getting to know it’s rich history. But it is not to say that you cannot simply enjoy this magnificent building from the outside. As with most places of worship, there is no photography allowed inside except on the observation deck. You can climb up to it’s dome for breath taking views across London.

Lunch on the steps of St. Paul’s Cathedral

The Temple Bar Memorial

From St. Paul’s it’s a straight walk down Fleet Street towards The Strand. The Temple Bar Memorial marks the boundary between the City of London and Westminster. The original boundary  is mentioned as far back as 1293 (Wren’s Temple Bar). It was replaced with the current memorial (1880) with statues of Queen Victoria and The Prince of Wales who were the last monarchs to pass through the gates in 1872.

The Temple Bar Memorial

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The Law Courts Branch – Lloyd’s Bank

Less than two minutes walk past the Temple Bar Memorial is the spectacular Law Courts branch of Lloyds Bank. It was originally built as a restaurant in 1883. The restaurant failed and the building stood empty until 1895 when Lloyd’s Bank purchased it. It is tucked away unsuspectingly so make sure you don’t walk past it. Even before you consider the site’s great history, the interiors alone will leave you in awe.

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The Edgar Wallace

What would London be if it was not full of the most astonishingly beautiful pubs? Turn off  along any of the streets off The Strand towards the river and you will find yourself spoilt for choice for places to eat and drink. The Edgar Wallace stands at the corner of Essex Street and Devereux Court. This is a particularly cosy pub, typical of traditional English pubs, complete with 8 hand pumps. It has a magnificent range of fine ales, perfect for a late afternoon in the sun.

The Edgar Wallace Public House

Victoria Embankment

Cut through Essex Street and walk down towards the banks of River Thames, namely, Victoria Embankment. Depending on where you turn off from The Strand, you may also walk across Victoria Embankment Gardens – a series of beautiful green spaces built in 1874 on reclaimed land. Finish off your walk along Victoria Embankment, one of the most beautiful and romantic walks in London. With views of The London Eye, Big Ben, the Oxo Tower and the ultimate icons of London – bright red phone boxes, it is the perfect way to end your tour.


How to spend 3 hours in Basel

Having previously only ever passed through Basel, to catch an onward bus, tram or train, I had given this city little thought. Switzerland’s second largest city, with such great transport links – Basel SBB (Europe’s busiest international border train station), bus and tram stations conveniently located next to each other, it had seemed to me that people arrived in Basel only to be carried away from here.

Basel BSS Station

Basel is RICH in history. Basel BSS train station has been here since 1854 and was rebuilt in the 1900s. Switzerland’s oldest University, founded in 1460, is also here. There is a medieval Old Town dating back to the 1500s complete with moat, alleys, houses, fountains and courtyards. This city has no less than SIX bridges connecting one side to the other.

When I found myself with three hours to spare in Basel I was determined to make even a small connection with this enormous city. Whilst sitting in a restaurant, looking for the wine list, I found, “A Journey Back in History”. This leaflet, published by Basel Culture Unlimited, detailed 5 walking tours to discover the Old Town. Each tour named after the town’s famous residents past, could be completed from 30 – 90 minutes. Excited by what I had just discovered, I downed my wine, dropped off my bags in a locker, bought a travel pass and headed out to discover the fascinating medieval Old Town.

Tram NO.8 towards Kleinhuningen takes you to Marktplatz where the walking tours begin. Marktplatz translates to Market Place. And, yes, there is a market here, selling local produce, on weekdays. The bright red Rathaus or Town Hall dominates the square. This 500 year old building is used for local government meetings in the Canton of Basel. The dramatic black arch gated entrance opens out into a magically colourful space. A tiny courtyard is surrounded by walls covered in frescoes restored from 1608-11 originals. Brightly coloured wooden doors lead to council chambers. A staircase guarded by a 1574 statue of Munatius Planks, founder of the town, carries you up to the mezzanine. All of it is simply magnificent.

Directly across the road, at the corner of Sattelgasse, a tiny street between two restaurants, is the starting point of the 5 walking tours. I began the Thomas Platter tour but the signs disappeared 5 mins into the walk and I found myself walking around in circles. However, I was happy that I had this guide, as without it I might have never discovered the Old Town at all.

So, I did what I always do – put away the guidebook and followed my senses. The Old Town is contained in such a way that it’s not possible to lose your way.

I found the Theater Fauteuil, an independent, local theatre – an absolute gem to discover. It’s miniature in size with an interesting schedule of German/Swiss German plays. In my opinion, worth visiting if you have an evening to spend in Basel.

There were medieval alleyways, houses, streets and fountains to be discovered at every little corner of this breath taking Old Town. Having attempted to re-start the walking tours three times, I had lost too much time and did not get to see many of it’s highlights. If you attempt to take the walking tours, try the Thomas Platter walk or simply see the University of Basel (founded 1460) which is the oldest university in Switzerland. The Hans Holbein walk, on the opposite side, should take you to the banks of the Rhine river which runs through Basel. You can also take a ferry across the Rhine from Grossbasel to Kleinbasel, provided you have time. As always, bear in mind that times stated on guide books are not exact but meant merely to guide you. “A Journey Back in History” is a free leaflet available at most restaurants and hotels around Basel BSS train station. It is well worth following as a rough guide (even if you can’t see everything). It highlights all the things you should definitely see; offering an incredible experience for the price of a tram ticket. Absolutely worth your time if you only have a short while to spare.

Whenever I find myself with a more than an hour to spare, whether in a little town or big city, I always try to connect with it. If travelling has taught me anything, it is that there is always more. Nothing is ever as it appears to be. Something interesting has always happened. It’s just waiting to be discovered.


Demi xx