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London Calling

Six days. 8,000+ roundtrip miles. Six time zones. And one helluva unique radio broadcast.

I like pushing the limits of technology (and the buttons of my bosses) especially when it comes to doing remote broadcasts. No better place than to set up temporary shop on the world’s largest moving observation wheel (read: a huge Ferris wheel-like thing).

We worked with some sharp England-based radio engineers to rig a show from the London Eye along the River Thames. Using wireless RF transmitters, electrical generators (which actually died for a few minutes) and an ISDN phone connection to the KPRC studio, we pulled it off and even made International headlines.

I did a few other shows from a studio near Hyde Park and spent the rest of time eating, drinking, sightseeing and have the time of my life.

For those who tuned in to the London-based shows and followed my travails around the city, here is a recap of my trip. Maybe it will give you some ideas on where to go this summer. And if you do, take me!

Most Fun Pub
Punch & Judy. I went here the last time I was in London and had to make a return trip. It’s on the lower level of the Market in Covent Garden, one of my favorite parts of the city. According to locals, P&J was built in the late 1700s and it’s exactly what you expect a London pub to be – cavernous, loud, a bit smoky, beer, lager and fun. Make sure to walk around the area at night which is near many theaters.
The Gipsy Moth. We found our way to Greenwich one evening and wandered into this boisterous place next to the river. The Cutty Sark (famous ship) is docked nearby and you can also get plenty of Cutty Sark (the scotch drink) inside.

Coolest Bar (literally)
Absolut Ice Bar. Just off tawny Regent Street there’s a short lane with a very cool, er cold, place to hang out. Run by the same company who operates the Ice Hotel in Sweden, this place is almost completely made of ice. The bar. The cocktail tables. Even the glasses. The temperature is kept around 27 degrees Fahrenheit (-3 degrees C as they keep track) and every patron is issued a parka-like coat complete with mittens. The first drink is included with the cover charge though you probably won’t hang around too long as your body temp nears that of the room. Brrr!

Fave Restaurant
– Too many to list though several stuck out for different reasons. Beach Blanket Babylon has some of the most unique interior designs I’ve ever seen in a restaurant. Located in the Notting Hill part of town, you walk down several spiraled stone staircases, over bridges and through tunnels to darkly-lit cavern-like rooms. Maybe it’s a bit kitschy but I thought it was pretty darn cool.
Fifteen. Jamie Oliver, aka the Naked Chef, opened this place last year to help young budding chefs learn the ropes of running a restaurant. It was the focus of a popular UK television show and now has a waiting list of up to two months to get in. Don’t ask how we got a reservation but we rolled out after the five-course tasting menu dinner.
– Fast, casual chains are also big in L-Town. Wagamama was great for noodles and Yo! Sushi has a concept that needs to spread quickly in the U.S. Sit on stools in front of the sushi chef as continuous plates of fresh shashimi and rolls move down a conveyor belt. Grab all you want.

Neatest Sites (free)
British Museum. This place is huge and houses some old and important artifacts like the Rosetta Stone. The mummies are a big attraction as are items from all the continents. I liked the traditional architecture as you enter the huge building and then walk into a modern, glass-paned geodesic main hall. Oh and don’t miss the gift shops (you really can’t miss the gift shops!)
– Famous photo spots. It doesn’t cost anything to gawk at Parliament and the clock tower that houses Big Ben. Caught a glimpse of 10 Downing Street though security gates keep visitors a few blocks away. Walking along the River Thames I saw a replica of Shakespeare’s Globe Theater and watched the famous Tower Bridge open up for passing boats. The price was right.

Neatest Sites (paid)
– Have to start on the London Eye. I must have gone around this observation wheel at least half a dozen times between broadcasting my show from a pod and the pre-publicity photos and interviews. This is a good place to start a trip as you can see nearly 25 miles on a clear day.
Westminster Abbey technically doesn’t charge to enter but they highly recommend a donation. I’ve been here several times before but still amazed at all of the kings, queens, authors and others buried here. I saw Mary, Queen of Scots’ tomb, memorials to Churchill and Shakespeare (though they are not buried in the Abbey) and the location of every coronation for the past thousand years or something like that. The first time I was visited London in July 1981, Prince Charles and Diana were married there. Don’t forget to hit the gift shop!

Best Way to Get Around
– We call it the subway but the fastest way of getting around London is usually in their Underground system. It’s very clean and they use a high-tech rechargeable card called the Oyster. Load it up with money and just wave it over the sensors; you’re in and out in no time. I am fond of the Jubilee line which cuts through the heart of the city plus I like the name.

Food
Scones. I now pronounce them like a European (“scuns”) and these babies were awesome. The ones we ate during afternoon tea were the size of fluffed-up biscuits. I never thought I’d try something called clotted cream but make sure you spread a little of that on a scone with some strawberry jam and the game is on.
– Chocolate. Maybe it’s a creature comfort to have a good piece of chocolate when so far away from home but chocolate is everywhere, cheap and good. Cadbury is big in the UK (didn’t see any Hershey products) and my fave is the Flake. It’s a chocolate bar that crumbles into flakes when bitten. Apparently the thing to do is to top off a vanilla ice cream cone with a Flake which can be found on most street corner carts.

Most Unique Afternoon Tea
The Wolseley. A classic place for breakfast and tea right next to The Ritz on Piccadilly Street. Make a reservation as this place can get packed in the afternoon. I’ve never had a traditional English tea experience but it was one of the highlights of the trip. Choose your tea – I went with the Wolseley Afternoon Blend – and you’ll get served with a three-tiered silver tray of finger sandwiches, scones and small desserts. I think I know why this is a European tradition; it’s pretty relaxing (even for me!)
– The Georgian at Harrods. We didn’t expect to do two tea sessions this trip but when the owner of Harrods (see below) invites you as his guest to have tea at his place you do it. We sat outside on the covered balcony overlooking rooftops of the Knightsbridge section of the city. Nice way to unwind after a long day of walking and shopping and spending.

Person
– Jack Freud. Yes, he is the great-great grandson of Sigmund and he seemingly is related to every single person in the UK. But this 26 year-old wunderkind was my guide and shadow during the entire visit. Much like a personal trainer he led me on walks for miles, kept our schedule and made sure I reached my goal of experiencing everything London. I wanted to adopt him and bring him back to the States but he’s got too bright of a future right where he is.
– Mohammed Al Fayed. My family is related to the Neiman-Marcus clan, so I can appreciate running a world-famous store. By happenence we had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Fayed who has owned Harrods since 1985. Though one of the world’s richest men he is now better known as the father of Dodi who was killed along with Princess Diana in that fateful 1997 car crash. He told us he met Stanley Marcus years ago, talking shop and how he wanted to create the same customer service and shopping experience as the Dallas-based retailer. A very gracious gentleman, he gave me parting gifts including a bottle of Harrods scotch (which I had him sign) and stuffed animals for the kids.
Queen Elizabeth II. Didn’t get a chance to meet her in person but she knew I was there. That’s her job. (Plus she has her own website!) You’ve got a beautiful country, Liz.

I met lots of people during my six-day stay and all of them were as friendly as Texans. The London I experienced was both traditional – as it will always be – but also young, hip and trendy. The fashions are much more forward than we are used to (at least in this part of the U.S.) and those local kids know how to drink and have a good time.

Several of them asked me if I thought Americans live in a bubble; not realizing the rest of the world is beautiful or has big issues like war or if we care about anything other than American Idol, fast food or making money. For the most part maybe we do live in our own little world. But I got out of Dodge for a little while and now hope to travel more. Your turn. If you want to start seeing how the other half lives, VISIT LONDON!

Note:  This was originally posted April 29, 2007

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