diamond geezer

 Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Top website Londonist enjoys nothing better than publishing articles about "London's Best". So far this month we've had London's Best Quizzes, The Best New London Restaurants Opening In November, London's Best Deep Fried Foods, The Best London Vantage Points For Watching Fireworks On Bonfire Night, The Best Beer Festivals In London This November, The Best Sandwiches In South London and London's Best Single Item Restaurants. And then yesterday we got this.
The Best Bus Routes For Seeing London's Christmas Lights
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.
With so many Christmas lights to ogle (and windows to marvel) in London, how's it possible to tick them all off in one fell swoop? The answer: by bus. £1.50 buys you a tour around the city's best festive sights — from the comfort of a double-decker. Here, we tell you the three key routes.
I did wonder if seeing "all the lights" was genuinely possible using three buses, but apparently it is, as the end of the post makes explicitly clear.
Warm? Check. Cheap? Check. All of the lights? Check.
So yesterday after sunset I took Londonist up on their proposition and went for a ride.
Why not pack a few mince pies and a flask of mulled something for the ride. You've had yourself a thrifty little Christmas.
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.
Number 10: department stores
I was fortunate enough to grab a front seat on the top deck.
Embark at High Street Kensington station: the route will take you past Kensington Palace then via the Royal Albert Hall.
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.
Next you'll be able to admire Harrods and their legendary window displays — this year's 'Once Upon a Christmas' is based on fairy tales.
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.
After Marble Arch, a drive down Oxford Street allows you to see the snowball-esque lighting (this year were switched on by the one and only Craig David).
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.

Keep your eyes peeled as you head along the road; Selfridges' campaign is called 'Shine On', and features Santa in a variety of unlikely scenes and settings — in a train carriage, on a ski lift, and in... a hot-tub.
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.
John Lewis is next on the agenda (another shop famed for its festive displays).
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.
The bus then heads to Tottenham Court Road (strung up with more lights) and past the British Museum.
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 might remind you of an ostentatious gingerbread house, before you arrive at the final stop, King's Cross station.
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.

So the 10 wasn't great.
Number 23: London landmarks
Might the 23 be better?
Hop on the 23 at Portobello Road, and begin to meander through some posh parts of the city: Westbourne Grove should have some quirky displays from the upmarket boutiques.
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.
After Paddington station and Marble Arch, the bus will take you down Oxford Street, to witness lights aplenty and some impressive window displays (see above).
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.
Your inner child will get pretty excited as you move down Regent's Street and pass the toy kingdom that is Hamleys.
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 giant angels 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.

The route then heads to Piccadilly Circus, which will be even more glowing than usual (look out for festive Coca-Cola ads).
I can report there's no additional glow, and that there are no festive Coca Cola ads as yet.
It wouldn't be Christmas in London without a gander at the huge tree in Trafalgar Square, which is next on the agenda: throughout the festive period, there'll be various events and carol singing taking place under said tree. You can even pencil in your ride for 1 December, when the Christmas tree lights are officially switched on.
So Trafalgar Square won't be looking properly festive for another three weeks. This dark moment confirmed that I was wasting my time.
The Strand always puts up an impressive display when it comes to Christmas lights, and this year is no exception. These lights are the greenest in London — powered by biofuel from recycled oil from the city's restaurants.
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.
Finish up at Liverpool Street after touring past St Paul's and feeling like a very festive tourist.
There is genuinely no point in staying on board the 23 to the end, there are no more festive lights to see.

Which leaves one last bus.
RV1: the river route
Who doesn't love a ride along the Thames for Christmas?
Jump on the RV1 at Tower Gateway, where the bus will whisk you on a tour past the Tower of London and its Christmassy ice rink.
They're not really Christmas lights, but yes, there are a couple of temporary sheds visible in the Tower's moat, with (less visible) ice skating beginning in a week's time.
You'll then head over London Bridge, where you'll see More London's festivities — each year there is a Christmas market with wooden huts selling everything from mulled wine to baubles. You might even be able to smell it out the bus window.
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.
Crossing Waterloo Bridge will allow you to witness the London Eye (and another ice rink), before taking in Somerset House.
Alas not. The Eyeskate ice rink was in place at the Eye last year, but isn't here this year (plus you wouldn't have been able to see it from the bus anyway).
Ending in Covent Garden, here's the perfect opportunity to hop off and see the market's decorations and stock up on a few presents. As well as the market itself having stunning decorations, the whole of the piazza and the nearby Seven Dials will be adorned with all things festive. This year, the theme is mistletoe (just watch out who's standing near if you're right underneath).
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.

These are not London's Best Quick Lunches, they are Some of London's Best Quick Lunches. These are not The 10 Best London Pubs For a Secret Rendezvous, they are 10 of The Best London Pubs For a Secret Rendezvous. These are not London's Best Bus Routes For Tourists, but perhaps ask "Are These London's Best Bus Routes For Tourists?" These are not London's Best Afternoon Teas For Kids, because nobody voted, nobody judged. And these are not The Best Places To Watch Gigs In London, these are simply some concert venues the author of the post really likes.

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.

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