|Cheers from London! We are here filming a pilot TV show following the path of Dan Brown's novel, now a major motion picture: The Da Vinci Code. Last week we left off in France (here's the link to the archives). This week we travel on Eurostar, check in to one of London's top hotels, hit some spots in the DVC movie and discover one of the best areas for Indian food. If you want to come on this adventure bring your wallet, because this is one of the world's most expensive cities.
MAKING A SHOW
We followed the exact tour I did in March. For more detailed information on the places we're visiting, here's the archive (check out the March and April 2006 stories). The only difference on this tour is the two high-definition cameras that follow my every step. Wow! I have new respect for anyone who works in TV - making a show is a lot of work. I didn't realize that people on camera have to do numerous takes from many different angles. They also have to nail their line - which for me is not that easy to begin with. Now try doing that in a public place without a loud truck driving by, a plane flying overhead or a kid screaming. It's just short of a miracle. I also had no idea there are many laws that prohibit professionally filming (especially in London) without permission and/or expensive permits. Many of the private places where we filmed demanded escorts, such as the Paris Ritz, Eurostar and National Gallery, to name just a few. But the fun part for me -- besides having two very cool cameramen/directors and my brother -- was traveling to amazing places and meeting interesting characters.
PARIS TO LONDON (VIA THE EUROSTAR)
We took the 186-m.p.h. Eurostar from Paris to London. Travel time is just 2:35 from and to the downtowns of both cities. Passengers depart and arrive in Paris' Gare du Nord and London's Waterloo stations (here's helpful info on Waterloo and Gare du Nord). Prices are reasonable (especially if you book in advance), starting around $100 USD roundtrip for coach class, $242 for Leisure Select (first class). Tickets are available online from RailEurope.com.
When I was in London in March I had dinner at the Goring with the owners and management. Those guys were so funny. They reminded me of the English show "Fawlty Towers" -- except the Goring is one of the nicest hotels in London. It has been awarded the most coveted honor: 5 Red stars from the Automobile Association. Only half a dozen or so London hotels have earned this prestigious accolade. Here's even more praise: Last July, Travel + Leisure Magazine listed the Goring in its Top 100 Hotels in the World -- and rated it number one in London.
The Goring is quintessentially English. It's not an international hotel; it's English, and there are not many of those left. It's been in the Goring family for four generations (it opened in 1910) and is still privately owned. The 73 bedrooms are all individually designed in English Country House style, with silks and fabrics of primarily English design. The beautiful, clean bathrooms are stocked with Molton Brown products, and two glass bottles of water (still and sparkling) are placed bedside every night and morning. Most rooms overlook an English Garden. High-speed internet is available at 15 pounds a day ($27). I know -- that hurts!
The food at the Goring is really good. Last year the Goring was named British Restaurant of the Year at the Tio Pepe ITV London Restaurant Awards. Their full English breakfast frequently wins awards as London's best. The lunch and dinner menus feature modern, light versions of English classics like steak and kidney pie, steak and kidney pudding, salmon fishcake, whitebait, Cromer crab, English asparagus, roast leg of lamb, ribs of English beef, and of course Yorkshire pudding.
The Goring is ideally located in a quiet haven in the center of London . It's adjacent to Buckingham Palace and within walking distance of the Royal parks, London's major shopping areas and the heart of the West End. It's just a 5-minute walk to Victoria Station, whose trains take you anywhere in London - including nonstop to Gatwick airport. Room rack rates are priced between £180 ($330) and £590 ($1,100), but shopping around on the internet will save you some money. The Goring, Beeston Place, Grosvenor Gardens, London; tel.: 44-0-20-7396-9000; email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
TEMPLE CHURCH & WESTMINSTER ABBEY
We filmed in and around the major sites in the book, including the Gothic-Romanesque Temple Church (more info: The Temple Church, Temple, London; tel: 44-0-20-7353- 8559). Not surprisingly, Westminster Abbey would not let us film there. They wouldn't let Ron Howard film either, which is why he used Lincoln Cathedral in Lincolnshire for the interior of Westminster (more on that next week). For more info on Westminster Abbey, log on to Westminster-Abbey.org, or call: 44-0-20-7654 4900.
THE NATIONAL GALLERY
Cameras are not allowed in the National Gallery without special permission. Fortunately, we had it, and we filmed just before it opened. The National Gallery wasn't featured in either the book or movie, but it does house one of the two originals of Leonardo Da Vinci's painting "Virgin of the Rocks," which was. Besides seeing that work, visitors can admire more than 2,300 other pictures, spanning the years 1250 to 1900. There is no fee to enter the National Gallery. Open daily 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Wednesday 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Closed January 1 and December 24-26. For more information, log on to The National Gallery.
I love Indian food, and outside of India London has the best. That's because Indians make up London's largest minority ethnic group (just under 875,000, of a total population of 7.5 million ). Indians began arriving in the early 17th century. There is no better place for authentic Indian cuisine than Brick Lane in East London. Locals call it Banglatown. Brick Lane, a one-way street that stretches for a mile, is filled with over 50 Indian restaurants serving delicious curry, naan bread, rice and more. This is a popular area especially with locals, because it's not as expensive as other restaurants in the tourist areas. Almost every restaurant has aggressive "touters" standing out front, trying to persuade passersby to eat there. I walked a couple of steps in front of our crew, and when the touters approached me I said, "Your place looks good, but my friends behind me are making the decision." It was so funny: They would follow the crew for a half a block, trying to get them to eat -- after we had already had dinner at Clifton Restaurant (1 Whitechapel Road, London; tel.: 020-7377-5533). For more detailed info on Brick Lane, read this Chicago Tribune article.
I have driven and walked over Tower Bridge a few times, but never taken the time to go up. This time I did. Tower Bridge, built in 1894, is one of the most recognizable bridges in the world. Reaching the top requires passing through airport-like security, then hopping on an oversize elevator that holds probably 15 people. The two towers are 213 feet high (about 21 stories). A movie shows the bridge's history, but it's not mandatory to watch, like some tourist traps). Visitors can walk over both sides of the bridge in a glass- enclosed hallway with little slots into which you can stick your camera, for better pictures of the Thames River. The Tower Bridge still opens 500 to 900 times a year to allow cruise ships, naval vessels, tall ships and other large craft to pass through. Tower Bridge. Entrance fees: adults £5.50 ($10); children (ages 5 to 15) £3 ($5.50). For general information call: +44-0-20-7403-3761.
My friend Olivia Decker from the Chatteau de Villete in France gave me the idea to call on the London Chapter of Opus Dei. Opus Dei is the Catholic organization that was portrayed as the villain in the Da Vinci Code book and movie. We contacted Jack Valero, head of media relations, and despite the short notice he granted us an interview. I was a little nervous going into the London office, because the only thing I knew about Opus Dei (other than its origins in 1928 by Josemaría Escrivá, a Spainard who later became a saint) was from the Da Vinci Code book. But Jack was a charming, very cool man. He offered all kinds of interesting information -- including the fact that - despite the book's assertion -- there couldn't be a killer monk in Opus Dei because the institution does not include monks. Members are all lay people. He had a great attitude, and pointed out that his organization had ended up making lemonade out of lemons. That's because the book, and now the movie, have made their Opus Dei a household name. Thanks to the publicity, membership has jumped enormously. To give you an idea how great an attitude Jack and Opus Dei had: They even let us a film a funny scene involving my brother (you'll have to wait to see it). For more information on Opus Dei, log on to their website www.OpusDei.org.
BRIT RAIL PASS
Travel around the UK using a 1st class BritRail Pass this year, and a British friend can ride along for half price, with a special "BritRail Guest Pass" promotion from Rail Europe. The offer applies to passes purchased between now and December 31, 2006, and travel may take place up to 6 months from date of purchase. Click here for Rail Europe.
Next week: Lincolnshire, England and Scotland! Stay tuned.