When I first moved to London (nearly eight years ago now), I always took the Tube, but you never really realize how much you miss when you’re underground. It wasn’t until I started taking buses that I really started to understand how the different areas of London connect. They’re great for people watching too. I always sit up top because you have the best view.
I thought for something a bit different, I’d take you along one of the routes I ride most often, and share some of my little observations, live from the top deck.
It is, afterall, the “Year of the Bus”.
Welcome to the number 19 to Finsbury Park Station. I sometimes walk this route, from King’s Road to Piccadilly Circus, when the weather is nice, but I’m not in the mood for soggy shoes and I’d like to tick off a few holiday gifts before the afternoon crowds pour onto Regent Street.
The shops aren’t quite ready to open. It’s quiet so far, but not for long since it’s about a month before the holidays.
We’re cruising down King’s Road now.
A street cleaner donning a yellow reflective vest pushes his cart slowly down the street, piled high with bags of rubbish and brooms.
There’s a smell of menthol in the air, like someone fighting off a Winter cold, but I’m the only one up here at the moment.
Duke of York Square comes into view on the right, a newly-constructed Santa’s Grotto ready to welcome excited children, vendors putting the final touches on their stalls for the Saturday market. On the other side of the street, two workers, covered in paint and carrying backpacks, saunter by with their morning coffee and cigarettes, not speaking.
On the curb outside of Intimisi, broken-down cardboard boxes are piled high. A man with hipster glasses carries a bouquet of flowers, a phone wedged between his shoulder and ear.
Shop window displays are all sparkles and snowflakes. You can see the tops of umbrellas from up here, a whole new perspective. On the top of one is a giant pink flower. Later I spot one with the open mouth of a whale on top!
We pass the playful penguin displays in Peter Jones and as we turn the corner, Tiffany’s is lined with Christmas trees, glistening with gold lights. Outside is the Big Issue seller who always stands there, rocking from one foot to the other in his faded red vest.
Stopping at a pedestrian crossing, I watch family of four walk by and think of the excitement of this time of year when I was the same age as their children. The lights, the anticipation, the wish lists and stockings and cookies and family coming in from out of town. Santa. Time off of school. The decorated tree.
On Sloane Street, we hit the ongoing construction across from Wilbraham Place, but we’re moving pretty quickly and soon the grand old homes and hotels come into view.
To the right is one of my favourite gardens in London, a place I’ve never been, and maybe that’s why it seems so magical. There’s a perfect view of the private Cadogan Place Gardens from the top deck, its lush trees, enchanting pathways and tennis courts. One day, in my dreams, I’ll hold a key! Ha!
We stop. A woman with a purple scarf steps on with a small dog poking out of her large Louis Vuitton bag.
Down a side street, a traffic warden in a yellow jacket is making his rounds.
We pass the Peruvian embassy, the Prada shop under construction, a man cleaning carefully around the door knob and wiping the front windows of Dior. Nearby, the suited security man takes his place near the door of Dolce & Gabbana as they’re just about to open for the day.
Cruising toward Knightsbridge, we pass a group of five women, head to toe covered in black, designer handbags swinging off of their arms.
At the lights by Knightsbridge Station, we stop. One Hyde Park looms above us: some 86 flats starting at £20 million. The world’s most expensive flat – a penthouse – was sold there in the Spring this year for a whopping £140 million.
Outside the station, a man in a black coat, red trainers and white headphones gesticulates wildly to whoever is on the other end of his call. Next to him, three men in suits inspect the windows of Boodles, huddled under a giant Boodles umbrella.
A girl, about five years old, with a Star Wars backpack and flower boots holds her dad’s hand to cross the street. Her brother holds the other hand. He has a My Little Pony backpack.
We turn into the traffic of Knightsbridge Street. There’s a glimpse of Hyde Park, looking stunning with its beautiful near-naked trees and the ground plastered in wet orange and brown leaves.
The script on the shops along this strip of the road is all in Arabic – a pharmacy, a Syrian and Lebanese restaurant, a window with high piles of baklava in different flavours and a selection of colourful shisha pipes.
A Lambourgini zips by with a thunderous roar and the small dog on the lower deck barks as ferociously as possible from his handbag bed.
The park comes into view again. Runners are getting their Saturday morning workout. A family of tourists take turns taking photos in the red phone booths as the bus pulls up to Hyde Park Corner. A boy in a Batman hat with a pom pom on top scowls at his mother and jerks his hand from her grasp.
In a small booth, a woman in a camel coloured trench is arranging London hoodies and keychains, unpacking a few remaining boxes of tourist tat.
Workmen are erecting street side barriers. An event, perhaps? The bus passes the famous Hard Rock Cafe which already has a mob surrounding the door and onward by the incredible living wall scaling the side of the Atheneaum hotel. Green Park, strewn with leaves, on the left. More Autumn foliage climbing the front of an abandoned building to the right.
In the doorway of HSBC, a man stretches out in a sleeping bag, a cup of coffee from Starbucks at his shoulder. The Ritz glows across the road with its Union Jack flags flapping wet in the breeze. A Ferrari roars around the bus as we pull away from the curb followed by a cement mixer.
The pavements below are full now. There’s a man in a tweed jacket and mustard coloured corduroy trousers walking slower than most, puffing on a cigar.
We pass the Royal Academy, Old Bond Street. If you know where to look, you can see some of Ben Wilson’s chewing gum art from way up here, something even people on the ground walk past unknowingly.
A long queue snakes down to the corner outside of Waterstones. James Franco is set to arrive and sign books two hours from now.
As the lights of Piccadilly Circus come into view, I press the stop button and head downstairs. It’s time for some shopping!