The Great City: London – Part One

Taken as a whole, london can be bewildering. But there is no need to take it as a whole. More then most capital cities, london breaks down into separate neighbourhoods and districts, each of which ia small enough soon to become familiar ground. In the central area, the major division is between the city and westminster, between the sober-suited, bowler-hatted financiers and bankers and the more frivolous fashion shops and stores of the west end. Travelling from oxford street to st paul’s you need to take a tube, but within the west end  or the city the simplest and quickest way to get from one destination to another is often on foot. Moreover, only by walking will you really get to know the pattern of the streets and to feel you have london in your bones.

Like all great cities, london has many moods, sometimes seeming warm and welcoming, at others remote and aloof. The weather is rarely blisteringly hot or achingly cold, but it can be oppressively humid in summer and- despite the evidence to the contrary in recent years- rain should be expected.For many the city is at its best in spring or autumn, when there are often clear, sunny days with a nip in the air which are just right for sightseeing, and holiday photographs.In winter, after the clocks go back in october, you will be faced with long dark evenings and most attractions will shut earlier. July and august are the height of the tourist season, when everywhere will be at its most crowded, and these are also the weeks when thr parks and squares, which add so much to london’s attractiveness, start to look tired.

Almost everywhere will be closed over the christmas holiday( 24, 25 and 26 december) and on 1st january ( new year’s day), and many places also close on other public holidays. Some attractions, in particular those run by English Heritage, will be shut 13- 14 for lunch. As in so many other things, the admission fees charged for entrance to museums, galleries and historic houses are not necessarily an indication of value for money. Some of the most rewarding attractions in london, such as the British musuem and the National gallery, are still free, and long may they remain so. Conversely, exorbitant entrance fees are charged by a number of pretentious establishments. So beware.

Finally, what could be more appropriate to name Harrods with london, which is both london’s most famous shop and a tourist attraction. Indeed, like tower bridge or buckingham palace, it has become part of london’s image, a byword for quality that is recognised all over the world.

Henry charls harrod, who started the business by taking over a small grocer’s shop in 1853, would surely be amazed if he could see the store that now carries his name. The impressive six-story building in Knightsbridge with its turn-of-the- century terracotta facade has 20 acres of selling space on five floors, with fifty lifts to carry customers from one lavel to another, and its own water and power supply.At harrods you can pick up a fishing rod or a celtic harp, purchase a theatre ticket or a weekend break in budapest, and even buy a house – as well as a brass knocker for the front door and everything you need in a way of furniture.

Today anyone who is anyone shops at Harrods, and the store is a supplier to Her Majesty the queen, Elizabeth, the queen mother, HRH the prince of wales, and the duke of Edinburgh.Taken over by the House of Fraser in 1959, Harrods, together with the rest of the group, is now part of the empire controlled by the Al-Fayed brothers, who see themselves as continuing the long tradition of family ownership.

Will be continued in  the next article