According to the article (which they'd love you to click through and read in full, because it pays the bills), the best bus routes for seeing London's Christmas lights are the 10, the 23 and the RV1. Well that's fascinating, I thought, I wonder if it's true.
I skipped the mulled wine, because carrying open containers of alcohol has been banned on London buses since 1st June 2008. But I did take myself to High Street Kensington, because that's where the first shopping-themed ride begins.
Kensington High Street hasn't put up any Christmas lights, so starting here seemed a trifle pointless. It also wasn't possible to see Kensington Palace from the bus - the leaves in Kensington Gardens are still too thick. But the Royal Albert Hall and its atmospheric uplighting was clearly seen, not that this is anything unusually seasonal.
Four bus routes go past Harrods, but alas the number 10 isn't one of them. Slow traffic allowed me to turn round at the junction with Brompton Road and look back towards the distant department store, its exterior illuminated like some amazing fairy palace. But the famous store was more than a football pitch away, and very tiny, so there was no chance of seeing the window displays, none at all. I did get a very good view of the windows at Harvey Nicks, though.
In ten days time you'll be able to see the lights of Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park, but the wheel's not up yet, so I saw nothing. One hotel near Hyde Park Corner has made the effort, that's the Wellesley, with one splendidly lit tree out front and three draped balconies. But it was more than twenty minutes before we reached Marble Arch, and the first Christmas lights I considered proper.
The lights along Oxford Street have been up for a month, and were switched on at the weekend. They look a bit feeble during the day, but after dark the multi-level globes and stars bring a dash of sparkle to the shopping street, and the top deck of a bus is as good a place as any to enjoy them.
If the bus isn't going too fast - alas mine briefly was - it's possible to look down into the windows at Selfridges and play Spot The Santa. I did manage to catch Santa and the penguins, and Santa the airline pilot, when we pulled in at the next stop.
Actually Boots is next, with an impressive and ginormous 'Merry Christmas' beaming down. Then there's Debenhams, with its Giftatron window display, followed by an amazing line of colourful Christmas trees at House of Fraser, which was being madly Instagrammed as we passed. John Lewis merely has a deep curtain of white lights, and some rather underwhelming window displays. It's almost as if the writer of the Londonist piece hasn't actually made the journey themselves.
Tottenham Court Road isn't strung up with lights, but the approach along Oxford Street features a last burst of overhead sparkle, now sparsely hung. And that was the last good bit, there being nothing Christmassy to see at the British Museum, nor in Russell Square, nor beyond.
The St Pancras Renaissance Hotel didn't remind me of an ostentatious gingerbread house, indeed its floodlighting is unexpectedly underwhelming, with no effort made to showcase the building after dark. By the time we reached King's Cross I'd been on the bus for an hour, and only the twenty minutes spent crawling down Oxford Street had been worthwhile.
But it doesn't. There's a cluster of Christmas trees at Toast, a festive flourish at the Daylesford organic cafe, and two sheets of reindeer wrap in the window at Paperchase, but bugger all to go out of your way for. Perhaps it's too early in the season.
It takes ages to get from Portobello Road to Marble Arch, with nothing festive to see along the way. Then the number 23 covers the same central ground as the number 10, so there seems little point in riding them both. But thankfully at Oxford Circus we turn right and a fresh good bit begins.
It won't, not yet. The shop windows at Hamleys contain plenty of Christmas toys, but the photo Londonist has used to illustrate its post was taken in 2006 - there are no big lights up outside today. What is impressive is Regent Street's Christmas display, a sequence of giantangels floating like fishermen's nets between the buildings, and the most elegant lights the street has had in years. It's just a shame they haven't been turned on yet. Come back on the 17th, that's Thursday week, and there'll be something spectacular to see after dark.
No, the Strand only had Christmas lights for the first time last year, and they've got the same ones up again this year. The display is sponsored by the Northbank Business Improvement District, and features all your favourite Northbank brand collateral, including their signature bowler hat. Alas the dangly lightstrings won't be switched on until tomorrow, so yesterday the sky was blank.
The RV1 is currently going over London Bridge while Tower Bridge is closed for maintenance. This is a shame, because More London is much closer to the latter, so it's hard to see from the bus. Plus there isn't a market there until the 8th of December, which is a whole month away. As for the olfactory claim, unless the wind's from the east and the smell of cinnamon is so strong it can drift for quarter of a mile, that's clearly impossible.
These are the only Christmas lights you can see from the RV1, and only from the very last stop, and only in the distance obscured behind some mirrored building works. And as you can probably guess, they haven't been switched on yet. The mistletoe's all up, and Facebook-friendly, but won't be lit up until next Tuesday. It's been a total waste of time, illuminations-wise, this RV1 ride.
Indeed all three bus rides have been a waste of time. Only the Oxford Street lights are lit, so the inescapable conclusion is that Londonist have pressed "publish" on their Christmas Lights bus post prematurely.
Perhaps more importantly, these aren't the best bus routes for seeing London's Christmas lights. The 10 misses Harrods and only covers Oxford Street. The RV1 doesn't pass any Christmas lights at all. Only the 23 scores a direct hit on four key Christmas light locations - Oxford Street, Regent Street, Trafalgar Square and the Strand - and if you get off the bus at the Strand you could also walk to Covent Garden's display in 90 seconds flat.
As for that claim that the three buses would take you to "all the lights", that's clearly false. We missed Carnaby Street (but could have walked there from the 23). We missed Marylebone High Street and New Bond Street (but could have walked there from the 10 or 23). We missed Duke of York Square in Chelsea, by some distance, and we missed Kingston Town Centre, by miles. We missed loads of places, because that "all the lights" claim was a journalistic simplification for effect, without the voice of truth behind it.
If you do fancy seeing London's Christmas lights by bus, may I suggest the following. Wait at least a couple of weeks, or preferably until December when Trafalgar Square's tree is lit. Head to Marble Arch to begin your journey along Oxford Street, catching the 6 or 23, perhaps the 13 or 139. These all head to Oxford Circus, then down Regent Street, then past Trafalgar Square, then along the Strand. Alight at the end of the Strand and walk to Covent Garden. Maybe get off in the middle and visit New Bond Street and/or Carnaby Square, using the Hopper fare to avoid paying extra. That's probably the most efficient way to see the most impressive lights, not Londonist's lengthy three-bus kerfuffle with copious filler.
But my route's not "the best". There's no such thing as "the best bus routes for seeing London's Christmas lights", because that's an entirely spurious concept, as if it were somehow possible to confirm an objective optimal selection. But this is something Londonist does all the time, titling a subjective post with an exaggerated claim in an attempt to give a personal list some unfounded legitimacy.
If you ever see a website claiming to have its own list of The Best of something, remember it's almost certainly not true. And be wary of following up on the information provided because, as I discovered, the experience may not turn out for the best.