Tuesday, April 24, 2018
Travel

Stalking the James Bond experience in London

LONDON

On Friday, Daniel Craig will strut onto film screens once again as James Bond. Skyfall is the 23rd installment of the world's longest-running movie franchise, and its release comes 50 years after Sean Connery first assumed the role in Dr. No.

So as a Bond babe wanna-be, I thought it seemed like the perfect time to step into a pair of sling-back stilettos and follow in the footsteps of the world's sexiest superspy, first created by author Ian Fleming in 1953. Hey, if Queen Elizabeth II could make her Bond girl debut at the Olympic opening ceremonies at the age of 86, then surely I can writhe and wriggle my way into the role, too, right?

Which explains why, on a chilly autumn afternoon, I'm strapped into a crotch-hugging harness, shivering atop London's O2 arena — the creamy white dome from which Bond took a tumble in the pretitle sequence of 1999's The World Is Not Enough. But whereas Ursula Andress would somehow make this unwieldy yoke seem ravishing paired with a skintight bikini, I'm zipped into a puffy blue jumpsuit, looking like the love child of Smurfette and the Michelin Man. I'm not even fit enough to inflate Gargamel's flat tire, much less seduce 007.

But never mind that; the 360 degree views of London from 170 feet up are breathtaking — and to tell you the truth, scaling the outside of the Thames-side arena wasn't that scary. The 90-minute "Up at the O2" experience, which opened in June, is basically like climbing up a tilted trampoline — albeit one that ascends to vertiginous heights — while securely clipped onto a metal cable. For JB and his bevy of beauties, it's practically summer camp.

If you're a 007 enthusiast in search of Bond-worthy exploits around the UK, read on for a list of adventures that will leave you feeling more pleasurably stirred than shaken.

00-Orientation

For an overview of James Bond's London, book a minicoach excursion with Brit Movie Tours. Over the course of three hours, we visit about a dozen Bond film locations, from the Tobacco Docks where Pierce Brosnan launches a speedboat up a ramp in The World Is Not Enough to Somerset House, which doubles as the Ministry of Defense in Tomorrow Never Dies and as St. Petersburg, Russia, in GoldenEye. We also pass by espionage headquarters MI5, which protects the UK against threats to national security, and MI6 — Bond's branch — which keeps a watchful eye on international threats, and which came under attack, at least on celluloid, in The World Is Not Enough and will again in Skyfall.

A brief stop at a fictional "secret" entrance to MI6 — an unassuming door beneath a stone lion on the south side of Westminster Bridge — produces the most Bond-worthy moment. As we pause by the door, I spy a man mumbling into a walkie-talkie as another fellow, clad in riot gear, storms by with a metal suitcase emblazoned with the ominous words "Box will activate if stolen." Bond might have given chase. I decide it's best to "die another day."

Bespoke bondage

Dodging high-tech weapons and outwitting psychotic villains is a cakewalk compared to navigating the high-end boutiques of St. James and the aptly named Bond Street, where you can do some serious damage to your credit card. Boutiques like Prada and Gucci flank the road, while a single block boasts the jewel-filled windows of Cartier, Tiffany and De Beers, reminding shoppers that diamonds are forever.

Nearby, John Lobb holds the royal warrant to provide footwear for Princes Charles and Andrew and the Duke of Edinburgh, and the company also shod Daniel Craig for Casino Royale. If you have the patience (and the pocket money) to wait nine months for a pair of £2,860 ($4,581) bespoke beauties, you can literally walk in Bond's shoes.

For above-the-ankle sartorial inspiration, Bond always turns to Turnbull & Asser, which has designed custom-made clothing for icons like Sir Winston Churchill, President Ronald Reagan and Prince Charles. The legendary Jermyn Street shop, founded in 1885, has served as Bond's tailor ever since Sean Connery donned one of the crisp shirts with cocktail cuffs in Dr. No.

David Gale, who has been with the company since 1974, has measured everyone from David Niven to Judi Dench, as well as Daniel Craig. Wisely, he refuses to dish the dirt on 007. "He's a heck of a nice guy," Gale insists. "He has eyes to die for."

Spy school and cool cars

Of course, it takes more than a laserlike gaze, a well-cut shirt and a pair of snazzy wingtips to make the man — or the superspy. Before Bond ever blew up a lair or totaled an Aston Martin, he would likely have spent several weeks at Beaulieu, a country estate about two hours south of London that served as a finishing school for spies in the 1940s. Beaulieu's "Secret Army" exhibition features a brief film highlighting the often witty reminisces of former instructors and students, a display detailing a handful of the agents' missions and their sometimes tragic fates, and an unassuming little chest of drawers brimming with grim paraphernalia, including a vial of urine that could be used as invisible ink, and a dead rat that agents would pack with explosives — a decidedly more low-tech, but no less deadly, device than one of Q's nifty gadgets.

Then there are the cars. Through the end of 2012, Beaulieu is exhibiting the largest collection of Bond vehicles ever assembled. These range from the Lotus Esprit S1 submarine car from The Spy Who Loved Me to the crocodile submarine in which Roger Moore navigated the waters around Octopussy's palace and an Aston Martin DBS, which Bond (or, at least, a well-insured stuntman) flipped a record 7.5 times in Casino Royale. "They couldn't get it to flip over without a helping hand (an air-powered cannon underneath)," says guide James Ellis. "It's a good advert for Aston Martin if you know that. Otherwise, you see him going around a corner at 70 miles per hour, flipping over — and the airbag doesn't go off," he deadpans.

Behind the wheel

Speaking of Aston Martins, if you've ever dreamed of putting the pedal to the metal in one of these speed machines, you can do it during a daylong class, offered March through November, at Millbrook Proving Ground, about 60 miles north of London. (There's another course in Michigan, too).

I have an opportunity to get behind the wheel of a gunmetal gray Vantage S as part of a rare tour of Aston Martin headquarters in Warwick. Although I've lived in England for five years, I've only driven here once — and that was just around the corner. Now my fearless instructor, Nev Foster, encourages me to "give the gas a little squeeze" as I navigate this growling beast down a quiet country road. I push the "sports mode" button (or "rocket mode," as Foster likes to call it), and he rolls down the windows so that I can hear the V-8 4.7 liter engine roar to life, eating the asphalt like a cheetah devours an impala. My hands are shaking, my palms are sweating, and my throat has gone dry as a bone. But I feel the need for speed, and I admit I like the almost gravity-defying, G-force launch.

My only disappointment? No switch for Bond-style driver's side missile launchers. Hmmm … I'll have to talk to Q about that.

Amy Laughinghouse is a freelance writer based in London.

Comments
Spring break, hurricane relief boosted Tampa Bay hotels in March

Spring break, hurricane relief boosted Tampa Bay hotels in March

The Tampa Bay area’s hotel occupancy rate rose to 87.5 percent in March, the highest level in three years. The rise was fueled by spring break vacationers as well as insurance adjusters and hurricane cleanup crews flooding the state to restore it aft...
Published: 04/20/18
In Bhutan, gross national happiness more important than GDP

In Bhutan, gross national happiness more important than GDP

Associated PressLAYA, BhutanPrayer flags whip in the wind, flying across steep valleys and roads. Buddhist temples, stupa shrines and majestic fortresses called zhongs dot the landscape. Giant water-powered prayer wheels spin from tumbling falls. Far...
Published: 04/20/18
On its 20th anniversary, Disney's Animal Kingdom credits conservation with longevity

On its 20th anniversary, Disney's Animal Kingdom credits conservation with longevity

ORLANDO — When Disney’s Animal Kingdom opened 20 years ago, it was light on thrills and heavy on conservation. On April 22, 1998, Earth Day, the Orlando park had a single thrill ride, Countdown to Extinction, and a handful of shows like ...
Published: 04/19/18
Updated: 04/20/18
Universal to fill 3,000 jobs as ‘Fast & Furious’ ride, new hotels race to open

Universal to fill 3,000 jobs as ‘Fast & Furious’ ride, new hotels race to open

Universal Orlando Resort has finally given a hint about the opening of the new Fast & Furious – Supercharged attraction coming some time in May. And the company is looking for more than 3,000 new workers as it opens new attractions and hotels this s...
Published: 04/13/18
Universal offers a four-pack of tickets for $42 a day

Universal offers a four-pack of tickets for $42 a day

For Floridians looking to get away for the weekend and experience a little bit of movie magic, Universal Studios will be offering a discount on a four-pack of tickets from now until April 30.Florida residents can take advantage of an exclusive offer ...
Published: 04/11/18
Medieval #TimesUp? Florida attraction announces its first queen

Medieval #TimesUp? Florida attraction announces its first queen

Medieval Times in Orlando has announced some big changes.
Published: 04/11/18
Off the map in Oaxaca, Mexico, with a unique ecotour company

Off the map in Oaxaca, Mexico, with a unique ecotour company

CITY OF OAXACA, MexicoTourism to Mexico is a mixed bag, as high-end resorts abut areas of extreme poverty. Throw in recent political tensions around the border and news about drug-related violence, and Americans have many reasons to steer clear. But ...
Published: 04/11/18
A trip to lovely Joshua Tree National Park transports visitors to another world

A trip to lovely Joshua Tree National Park transports visitors to another world

From my perch at the peak of Ryan Mountain, 5,457 feet above sea level, a vast and undeveloped landscape stretched as far as the eye could see in every direction. It was dotted with rock piles that looked quizzically out of place from above, curious ...
Updated one month ago
A glow-in-the-dark waterslide is coming to Tampa Bay

A glow-in-the-dark waterslide is coming to Tampa Bay

If you’ve ever wanted to dive down a giant waterslide in the pitch black of night while splashing round in neon glow-in-the-dark water, head to Lakeland on June 30.That’s when the Blacklight Slide will be set up at the Sun ‘n Fun in Lakeland, and the...
Updated one month ago
Universal offers buy one, get one free deal on Halloween Horror Nights

Universal offers buy one, get one free deal on Halloween Horror Nights

Universal has gotten an extra early jump on Halloween season, announcing the dates for 2018’s Halloween Horror Nights as well as a limited-time ticket deal of $77.99 that gets you into the scare zones on a second night for free. The theme park will o...
Updated one month ago