London is all about the liquid — the 60 billion cups of tea Brits drink each year, the 27 million pints of beer quaffed each day, the 23 or so inches of rain that fall, on average, in London each year. You'll find enough tea/coffee houses and pubs (although they're said to be disappearing at the rate of two a day) to slake your thirst, but your personal shelter from the storm needs a special place, and that place is James Smith & Sons, which sells umbrellas and walking sticks. It's been a going concern since 1830. I could not leave without buying an umbrella, silly for a Southern Californian.
James Smith & Sons, 53 New Oxford St., http://www.james-smith.co.uk.
Although it was raining, I didn't need the umbrella for my trip down the Thames on the Thames Clipper, which is really an enclosed commuter boat. It's an overlooked way of seeing London like a local — a local in a hurry. It leaves slowly from the London Eye, but just past the Tower Bridge, it goes full tilt on its run to Greenwich. No narration, but you can figure out the sites yourself.
Round trip: http://www.thamesclippers.com, about $12.75 with an Oyster card discount.
It seemed only right on my liquid tour to stop at the Cutty Sark, an 1869 clipper ship that in its prime carried tea from China (and later wool from Australia). Queen Elizabeth II reopened the ship last month, almost five years after a fire gutted it. Now it sits in a steel cradle, its beauty restored, pointing proudly at this section of the 205-mile Thames as if to say, "Landlubbers are lame." You walk enough in London, and I promise that's true.
Cutty Sark, part of the Royal Museums Greenwich, http://www.rmg.co.uk/cuttysark. Admission: About $20.
What's more romantic than dinner in London? Just about anything, but definitely dinner in Paris. I'd booked the Eurostar for this fast train trip to France, leaving on the 3 p.m. speeder to Paris and returning about 9 p.m. (You gain an hour, so you'll arrive about 6:30 p.m. at Gare du Nord station.) The countryside blurred by, fields of yellow rapeseed exploding with color amid patches of vibrant spring green. From the Gare du Nord, I walked across the street to Terminus Nord, ordered a glass of wine, some escargot and a steak with béarnaise sauce and fries, which sound less sinful as pommes frites. Tab: $75, not including tip. Effect: Made me giggle at the silliness of it all. Next time: I'll stay longer. Or be more adventuresome with my restaurant choice. Or go to Brussels, which you can also do for less than a day. If you book far enough in advance, a standard nonrefundable ticket for Brussels or Paris can be about $100, round trip. Leaving London made me long for it, and I returned, happy but tired, just before midnight to log a little more shut eye before continuing one L of a trip.
Eurostar, http://www.eurostar.com. Terminus Nord, http://www.terminusnord.com.