The door of Her Majesty’s Treasury opened with a thud. “Hello,” we said. “Just here to use the Lou.” With credentials in tow, the night guard smiled and let us in.
I hadn’t seen Gabby in six months; the last time we met, the Souled Out crew was plodding through the jungles of Vietnam. There, she earned a spot with our team caked in mud, leeches, and a permanent wetness that soaks through your bones. Half a year later—and 10 hours after Conor and I left Inverness, Scotland—Gabby and I found ourselves in London, borrowing the treasury building for its water closets.
Outside, the lights of Big Ben and Buckingham Palace cut through a clear and chilly night.
I’d arrived here through a blurred series of events: hastily re-booking an AirBnB after the original host fell through, walking several blocks through the rain with all of my gear on my back, sprinting underground to the tube, and finally arriving at Sir John Soane’s Museum around dusk, where Gabby’s tour began.
“No pictures,” said the attendant, as we queued in front. Inside of Sir Soane’s, it was easy to see why. The museum itself is actually just a house left in its original state from the early 1800s. The quarters are cramped, but a quick walk inside leeds you through a triple-story maze of priceless antiquities. An Egyptian sarcophagus, a Roman pillar, English paintings, and countless sculptures and tomes lifted from all corners of the globe.
“Dubiously acquired,” Gabby noted. “I call this one bust of a bust.”
Sir Soane’s house reminded me a bit of H.H. Holmes, the notorious Chicagoland serial killer who built a house of horror around the 1890 World’s Fair. In its crypts, you get the feeling that the elaborate tower of mirrors, hallways, and art was designed to deliberately confuse guests. It’s a place that, apparently, few tourists ever hear about, though it lies not far from the British Museum.
We pondered its mysteries over a meal of steak and kidney pudding, which was really more like thanksgiving dinner than what you or I would call a pudding. No bananas, just meat and the smell of a centuries-old pub. (It’s sort of like catfish.)
Charles Dickens was once a regular here, allegedly. Downstairs, the remnants of a 13th century monastery served to cook up ghost stories for the pub above. “I don’t believe in that stuff,” remarked one bartender. “But a lot of the other people who work here say they hear things.”
A short walk from the pudding pub, we found ourselves in a cellar at Gordon’s Wine Bar. The joint is tucked away in an American-themed collection of streets named after Ben Franklin, John Adams, and Watergate? “It’s a lot like the cave from Vietnam,” I joked, as water from the roof above dripped onto my shirt. Here in the cellar, you get a glimpse of what London is really built on. Tubes rumble past under your feet, feet hammer on the roof above. All the while, life goes on here as it has for thousands of years.
In the cellar, it hit me. It’s easy to see why London has become the setting of so many great tales over the years, from the weathered stories of Dickens and Doyle to the wizarding world of Rowling. The streets, wind-whipped and empty on an unremarkable Tuesday night, oozed of mood. Ultimately, an hour or so in the cellar set us up for the finale of Gabby’s walking tour, with a pit-stop, of course, at the treasury.
We bid goodbye to the guard and stumbled down the steps of the treasury with one question left, “Do you want to see Buckingham Palace?”
Editor’s Notes: London is new to me, but it’s not new for many of you. One of the most common themes I hear is how busy the city is—especially the central area around Buckingham Palace. For new or return visitors, I’d recommend going at night. The streets are relatively quiet and you’ve got the place more or less to yourself.
This week, I hop over to France where the SouledOut Gas Fund will dictate whether we spend a few days in Paris or make an epic road trip across France. Which would you rather see? Leave me a note in the comments.