Reasons I love London #1

As anyone reading this blog will know by now I do like to travel far and wide and there are definitely amazing experiences out there just waiting to be had. But there are also amazing experiences to be found much closer to home, which is why this is the first in an occasional series of posts about London.

I lived in Clapham for many years and am now only about 12 miles out of town, just inside leafy Surrey and close to the banks of the River Thames. The river in itself is one of the reasons I love the city, but this post is about two fantastic London experiences I’ve enjoyed this week, one for the first time and another I’ve done many times before but is still just as wonderful.

IMG_1346Experience number one was being on Centre Court at Wimbledon for the men’s quarter finals on Wednesday. For years I’ve meant to enter the public ballot for tickets. This year I actually went to the bother of doing it – and it is a bit of bother because despite so much of the world operating in the virtual space now, Wimbledon is still old school. Applying for the ballot involves sending a stamped addressed envelope just to get the application form; then you fill in the form and send it off – and all of this needs to happen before the middle of December, six months before the tournament takes place.

Needless to say it wasn’t top of mind when I got home on a cold February evening to find an envelope postmarked SW19. I don’t get a lot of post these days and definitely not much that makes me squeal and jump up and down with excitement! Not surprisingly I took up the offer of a pair of Centre Court tickets with almost indecent haste.

IMG_1360The experience itself didn’t disappoint and despite being only about seven rows from the top of the seating the view was perfect. We were at an end, opposite the royal box, so easy to see every point played without lots of neck turning and surprisingly comfortable seats – and as it turned out they needed to be as after the Ferrer/Del Potro three set quarter-final, Andy Murray’s match against Fernando Verdasco went to five.

As anyone who watched the match will know it was a pretty nail-biting experience. After losing the first two sets it looked a real possibility that we would see our UK hope crash out in straight sets. But a storming third meant he was back in the game.

IMG_1358It’s hard to describe what the atmosphere was like. It was electric one minute and you could hear a pin drop the next, particularly once Andy had pulled back two sets to level the score. At one crucial point in the fifth he had to halt his serve because someone decided to take a photo with a flash. You could feel the crowd’s disdain for the thoughtless photographer sweep around the court.

Obviously the fact that Andy Murray was the eventual winner was a huge bonus to my visit, but in all honesty I’d have loved the experience either way. Being on Centre Court was amazing too, but tickets for the other show courts or even for the ground are well worth having. In the first week in particular you’d be able to get very close to the action on some of the smaller courts which at that stage would be featuring some great players.

It only happens for two weeks every year but the Wimbledon Championships are a London experience not to be missed and even if it does mean engaging in an old school booking method, its well worth the effort.

The perfect theatre set

Experience number two this week was last night’s visit to the wonderful Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre. Boasting the longest theatre bar in London, it’s also the best one to be at on a warm summer’s evening – no need for clunky West End air conditioning.

IMG_1368In the heart of one of London’s Royal Parks, it was built in the 1930s and setting is perfect. Surrounded by trees and with just over 1200 seats, the feel is very intimate. It’s completely uncovered so performances are at the mercy of the English summer weather which isn’t always dependable, but I’m pretty sure I’ve only been there once when it’s been curtailed due to rain – and you do have the option to go to another performance if that happens.

I used to only see Shakespeare there and it’s definitely the perfect setting for A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but once you’ve seen that and every other Shakespeare comedy a few times, you’re ready for a change. That came and in more recent years there have been fabulous musicals and plays like last night’s Pride & Prejudice.

As a huge Austen fan and this probably being my all time favourite book, I’m a tough critic, but the performance was perfect. A simple but effective set, a great cast, many of whom seemed highly reminiscent of the famous BBC series starring Colin Firth, and some wonderful set pieces. Jane Asher as Lady Catherine de Bourgh definitely made the most of her final confrontation with Elizabeth.

IMG_1366There’s plenty of options for pre show dining at the theatre including bringing your own picnic plus a barbecue, a buffet and a covered dining area that offers a three course meal. To get there you can get the tube to Baker Street and walk through the park, but if you’re there for an evening performance the gates should be closed when you leave so you need to walk around the inner circle road and then turn right to get back down to Marylebone Road.

Don’t be fooled if there is a park gate left open, the one at the other side of the park won’t be and it’s a long walk back. Plus if the gate you came through is closed by the time you get there, its an uncomfortable climb over. Not that I have any experience of climbing over London park gates of course…

There’s a longer window to enjoy Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre as the season runs for sixteen weeks rather than Wimbledon’s two, but it’s another unmissable London experience that I defy anyone not to love. Even the men, who were undoubtedly dragged along to  see the most famous romantic comedy in history last night, looked pretty happy!

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