Reporting from Lovely London

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Despite what you may have heard on the playground, London Bridge is not falling down. In fact, it’s quite sturdy. I know this because I rode over London Bridge in a taxi – one of many things I did last week during summer vacation.

This trip was a lucky turn of events. Tom had a business conference scheduled initially for California that was suddenly moved to London. He suggested I fly over to meet him there after his meetings so we could add a short vacation to the end of his trip. It was a rare chance for both of us to see London while only paying for one airfare. (We ditched our kids and told them to take care of the pets while we were gone.) The chance for a reasonably priced international getaway feels like a miracle when you’ve been married for over two decades and are about to have three kids in college.

We quickly fell in love with the city (and its sturdy bridges) because London is a real looker. The airport, streets, sidewalks, and green spaces are remarkably clean for a city of more than 8 million people. Unlike summer in New York City, London doesn’t smell like an overdue trash day. Even the city’s subways, known as “The Tube,” look modern and safe. And if there were rats in London, I didn’t see them. Perhaps they were in a café somewhere sipping tea and wearing hats.

The people of London have a classic, timeless sense of style. If you see someone in yoga pants and a hoodie, it’s a safe bet she’s a tourist. Londoners wear crisp button-up shirts, leather loafers, dark blazers, and the occasional sundress. Their clothing color palette includes black, navy, white, and tan. And don’t expect to see bold graphics, logos, or characters on t-shirts. A classic French blue pinstripe is about as bold as it gets.

On Day 1, we saw the sights and heard some London history in the backseat of an iconic Black taxi driven by an English tour guide. He took us to a spot where a man named Simon Fraser was publicly executed in 1747 at Tower Hill. This event drew so many people that organizers built a wooden stand where people could watch. But shortly before the execution, the viewing stand collapsed, killing nine spectators. The irony that people who’d come to watch him die were killed in the viewing stands made Simon Fraser start laughing just a moment before the executioner’s axe came down on his neck. And that, my friends, is how the phrase “laughing your head off” came into existence.

The people we met in London were warm, witty, and happy to point a couple of Americans in the right direction. Despite having a reputation for gray, rainy weather, London served up four days of warm sunshine, cool breezes, and spectacularly blue skies. One afternoon, I sat on a bench alongside the River Thames and looked out at the ornate Tower Bridge as boats passed under it. It was like stepping inside a picturesque postcard, and I felt so lucky for the chance to take it in.

Speaking of taking things in, you’ll be glad to know I researched London’s food so I could report back to you. The verdict? Sticky toffee pudding is as good as it sounds. The flaky almond croissants are even better. And the English know how to serve a hearty breakfast that your cardiologist probably wouldn’t approve of.

But be warned: If you’re an American with a Dr. Pepper addiction, you might have some withdrawal in London. Even if you find a bottle, it’s an imposter. Your taste buds won’t be fooled. High fructose corn syrup is banned in the UK. Because of an English tax on sugary drinks, the manufacturer dramatically reduced the soda’s sugar content.

In this Southern girl’s opinion, they’ve destroyed the good doctor. It’s a carbonated catastrophe. So, if you need a caffeine fix in England, I recommend a steaming pot of Earl Gray tea with honey. It’s served virtually everywhere in London and pairs perfectly with an almond croissant.

Godspeed and safe travels wherever these summer days might take you.

Gwen Rockwood is a syndicated freelance columnist. Email her at gwenrockwood5@gmail.com. Her book is available on Amazon.

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