It has been a while since I visited England’s capital city, but as I had a day between flights out of Heathrow Airport I decided to visit a museum I had not been to before and explore Covent Garden, where Eliza Dolittle meets Henry Higgins in the musical My Fair Lady.
Covent Garden was once a flower market and tributes to its past are pretty barrows of flowers located at various places around the paved and cobbled area. It is now where high class stores can be found as well as a two storey indoor market where an array of goods are sold.
I spent half an hour exploring the colonnaded alleyways and side streets that lead from one shopping mall to another, then decided to enjoy a glass of wine in a restaurant on the ground floor. I spent a very pleasant hour sipping my wine and listening to an opera singer, then a string quartet, called ZHL Strings, the violinist of which quite happily admitted they were busking.
“A hat” was passed around and I was content to contribute as the music was phenomenal, which is hardly surprising because Covent Garden is home to London’s Opera House.
I didn’t go to the Opera House but to the London Transport Museum where the first exhibit on display was a red double decker bus from 2007. Yes 2007! There should be a law stating all exhibits in museums should be at least 25 years old, maybe even fifty. Feeling like a real crumbly, I walked around the three floors of the well laid out building and was taken back down memory lane, recalling a time when buses had conductors on board selling tickets, when there were request bus stops as well as compulsory ones, and trains were divided into three classes, not two.
The museum is a testament to all those who constructed the London Underground, originally by hand, and who have worked for London Transport. Shovelling coal into steam engines was arduous work but having travelled on the underground from Heathrow to Covent Garden on the Piccadilly Line, I was reminded that even today working shifts underground is a tough and often thankless job.
On the upper floor the history of the construction of London transport is fully documented and there were fabulous examples of trains and horse drawn buses, well before my time. I was particularly struck by a train carriage marked for ladies only and reminded that the horses had to be cared for although I couldn’t find anything about the dung which had to be cleared from the streets!
The tunnels of the London Underground were used in World War II as shelters from the bombing and bases for operations. Down Street Station, closed in 1932, was bomb-proofed and housed the Railway Executive Committee. This committee managed the country’s railways and the movement of troops and equipment. Seemingly traces of this station can still be seen today. Next time I am in London I will investigate further. My family took shelter in the underground during the war and the suitcases on a shelf was a poignant reminder of the necessity to pack a few things as no-one knew how long they would have to stay.
Back up on the sunny streets of Covent Garden, I watched a few street performers before catching the new Elizabeth Line back to Heathrow. This new tunnel is not fully complete and, unlike earlier tunnels, was not built by hand! The trains were very quiet and very comfortable and I was back at Heathrow within forty minutes.
The London Underground is a great way to get about the capital city, the staff are happy to help and the trains whilst I was there kept good time. I’d recommend a trip to Covent Garden if you wish to be in an animated, cultured environment, to dine well and shop safely. A far cry from the poverty stricken London streets of Eliza Dolittle, the flower girl touting her wares in Edwardian England.