The sun streaks the water silver as behind us gondolier Tiberius leans into his pole to better navigate the busy canal. At that moment, music man Zacharia, at the sharp end, strums another chorus of a popular Italian song.
But these aren’t the waterways of Venice. No Signore, we’re on London’s Regent’s Canal, gliding below a graffiti-festooned rail bridge where the echoes of our somewhat shy and thin rendition of “Volaré, oh-oh, Cantaré, oh-oh-oh-oh,” bounces off the walls.
The Music Boat is based at Camden Lock, in the heart of Camden Town’s busy cosmopolitan market and eateries. One moment we’re waving at kayakers, paddle boarders, and the folks who make their homes on its narrow boats, the next we’re passing uber-luxurious, multi-million-pound Georgian homes with private jetties, before finding ourselves flanked by the monkey and warthog enclosures at London Zoo.
By the time we return to base 45 minutes later, the boat’s entire company – emboldened by prosecco, sunshine and the contagious camaraderie of fellow canal lovers – is bellowing The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine.
My teenage daughter and I are only in the Big Smoke – my home town – for a short break and when time is limited, Camden Town is a great hang-out.
The canal and its towpath path give access to some of the capital’s top spots. It’s just a 10-minute, 1.8-mile trek from the path via the well signposted bridge that leads to Regent’s Park Road and on to Primrose Hill.
This leafy “village” with its grand Victorian terraces and pastel-painted Regency townhouses has a plethora of trendy cafes and its eponymous hilltop park affords the most breathtaking views over the sprawling metropolis.
Back at Camden Market we spend hours exploring the colourful cornucopia of eateries from Lebanese and Vietnamese, to Dutch pancakes, Peruvian Street food and Venezuelan hot pockets. Chin Chin Labs boasts Europe’s first liquid nitro ice cream.
And, boy, do we shop ’til we drop. At Carpe Diem, we take Roman poet Horace at his word and seize not only the day but a couple of finely crafted leather handbags. We leave Boom Cat Books laden with old copies of Thomas Hardy’s complete poetry collection along with a little Philip Larkin. And in the What Goes Around Comes Around vintage street store, my daughter comes out sporting styles I’d worn the first time round in the ’70s.
Our break started from the moment we boarded the new Caledonian Sleeper from the far north of Scotland.
After drinks in the dining car, we returned to our rooms and woke to a hot breakfast and coffee, arriving in the UK capital refreshed. It’s our favourite way to travel. No long airport queues, delays or cancellations, just stress-free, comfortable, civilised travel.
At the superbly located and comfortably stylish Strand Palace Hotel, we share a deluxe studio king room with kingsize bed, a sofa (also a bed), complimentary mini bar, and a spacious shower room.
At its Haxells Restaurant, where the service was impeccable, we dine on smoked salmon with horseradish crème fraiche and roasted beetroot, followed by Himalayan salt 28-day aged ribeye steak, French trimmed lamb cutlets and desserts of lemon tart, apple tarte tartin, and a traditional crème brûlé.
Situated on the Strand, the hotel is just a short walk from theatreland, and haunts like Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus, Leicester Square, the legendary jazz club, Ronnie Scott’s, and Covent Garden, the most laid-back hangout for culture vultures.
It’s been hosting performances since the 1660s when Samuel Pepys noted in his famous diary that a puppet show featuring a character named Punch (and presumably his long-suffering wife Judy) took place on the Piazza.
To this day Covent Garden hosts small-scale operatic, classical and Baroque concerts as well as performances by other street artists from magicians to jugglers. And a Punch and Judy pub still exists today serving good quality fayre at a fair price.
A favourite reunion spot for our family, we wine and dine there for hours while Puccini arias filled the air. Paradiso!
If you’re in Camden check out The Cheese Wheel, a hand-rolled tagliatelle with a choice of sauces – white wine cream, mushroom cream or cream of tomato – spun in a giant wheel of Grana Padano.
Double rooms at Strand Palace Hotel from £205 per night. Visit strandpalacehotel.co.uk, call 020 7379 4737. For Caledonian Sleeper information visit sleeper.scot or call 0330 060 0500.
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