Hello again! I know that I have been very neglectful in posting. For that I am sorry. I just get busy (or lazy) with life and don't get this done. By the time you get to the end of this one, you may be thinking I am long-winded and posted too many pictures. I just want to share my amazingly wonderful trip so bear with me!
This trip was planned back in June. Our daughter, Ashley, was turning 30 on November 3rd and told us she was going to London for her birthday. She had been there 4 times previous and calls it 'her happy place'. This time she really wanted us to go with her. She has been asking for several years. This year we made it work. And we are SO VERY GLAD!!!
About a week before we were to leave, Ashley was notified that our flights had been changed. We had booked non-stop flights from Dulles to Heathrow to leave on November 2nd and return on November 15th. Everything, including the hotel, was already paid for. Our flights were changed to leave on the 3rd and return on the 14th. This was just not acceptable. I spent 3 hours on the phone and finally got it back, but we had to fly through JFK. The flight was full and we were seated in the last row. The seats wouldn't fully recline as we were against the wall and the flight was over night. That wasn't too bad, but we were also right by the lavatories and were serenaded all night by the powerful SWOOSH of the toilets flushing. Makes for an interesting trip! All was not bad. We had great flight attendants and they fed us well. Tim is very social and chatted quite a bit with one of the attendants. She gave us some places to be sure to see in Liverpool (where she was from) while we were there. Tim had told her that it was Ashley's 30th birthday and before the plane landed, she presented Ashley with a bottle of champagne from the crew! What a great way to start a birthday!! Happy 30th Birthday Ashley!! The flight certainly could have been worse. We flew Virgin Atlantic out of JFK and I would recommend it.
We had preconceived ideas about London, all of which were turned upside-down once we got there and got to know the city. One that did not: do NOT try to take the London Underground (tube or subway here) from Heathrow Airport. Between the 3 of us we had 5 rolling cases, plus purses and other carry bags. We got into Heathrow at rush hour. Yes! Ashley talked us into to taking the tube to our hotel. That was quite nearly a disaster! There must have been a million people squeezed into the areas and there are many escalators and stairways to be tackled. In addition to that some of our suitcases took on a mind of their own and would get hung up and dance around. Tim's got caught on the escalator once and he fell backwards, almost falling and knocking over the lady behind him. Not fun and not the way you want to start your vacation. One of Ashley's bags weighed about 50 pounds (she was taking some goodies to a friend of hers in England). That one was lots of fun to carry up and down stairs! NOT! Anyway, we finally made it, but not without a few bumps and bruises. For sure when we return, we will be driven to the airport.
Our hotel was only a few blocks from the Underground. We finally arrived there about 9:30, but check-in is 1:00. They allow you to store your bags in a closet until check-in time. So we left our bags and walked around to see where we were. Just couldn't believe we were in London!!! It takes a bit to realize where you are. Everything is so different, yet very much like other large cities. We had 'real' fish and chips for lunch. You just can't go to London and not have them! After checking in we took a couple of hours to shower and rest. When in London for only 2 weeks, there is a massive amount of walking to be done.
After a rest, Ashley and I took off. We took the tube to Westminster. There I got my first look at Parliament, Big Ben (it is covered in scaffolding for repairs), Westminster Bridge that crosses the Thames River and the London Eye! I am just completely in AWE!!! I have seen many pictures, but they just can't do it justice. The real thing is overwhelming.
That afternoon we took a short walk into Kensington Gardens (just west of Hyde Park). It is just gorgeous and only a block or so from the hotel. It has many walkways running through it and so many people were out with their dogs. The dogs are allowed to be off their leashes and were running around have great fun. There is a lovely pond in the park, Round Pond. There were many beautiful swans, ducks, pigeons and seagulls on and around the pond. There were also a number of green parrots flying around. Kensington Palace can be seen from there. Very beautiful. For dinner that evening we ate at Prince Alfred which is only a couple of blocks from our hotel. Tim and Ashley had cottage pie and I partook of the steak and ale pie. Yummy! The Prince Alfred has been on Queensway since 1851 (which is far longer than anyone can remember), and has become a firm favourite for local residents and tourists alike. They have wonderful pub food and became our go to place on a number of occasions.
The next day started out a bit rainy. We took a train from London out to Bletchley Park. "Bletchley Park Bletchley Park was the central site for British (and subsequently, Allied) codebreakers during World War II. It housed the Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS), which regularly penetrated the secret communications of the Axis Powers – most importantly the German Enigma and Lorenz ciphers. According to the official historian of British Intelligence, the "Ultra" intelligence produced at Bletchley shortened the war by two to four years, and that without it the outcome of the war would have been uncertain.Located in Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, Bletchley Park is open to the public, and receives hundreds of thousands of visitors annually." We had two reasons for going here: 1) Ashley was meeting one of her friends that lives in England (Nicola and her daughter Bronte), 2) it is a very important part of history. Ashley had brought a suitcase full of American treats for Nicola, Bronte and their family. They have traded back and forth for years. They also brought gifts for Tim and me. That was just amazingly thoughtful. Thank you so much for your kindness. This was a midway point and a great chance to see Bletchley Park. Tim and I were so glad to be a part of this venture. Nicola is a lovely lady and Bronte is such a lovely girl!! Bronte and Tim became great buddies!! We had a most wonderful time learning about Bletchley Park and spending time with two wonderful British ladies! We also got to enjoy train rides. Tim and I love to ride trains and do at every chance. That evening we took the tube to Oxford Circus. In the case of Oxford Circus, circus is defined as a circular area where several streets meet. We also visited Piccadilly Circus which is comparable to NYC's Time Square and Trafalgar Square. It is just amazing to stand there looking at these places in person. We ate dinner that night at Garfunkels. More meat pies, mine was Chicken, Leek and Ham and Tim and Ashley had their standby cottage pie. Can't go wrong with either. They are delicious! 'When in Rome . . .".
Sunday was a beautiful day. After breakfast at the hotel, we took a walk to Hyde Park. There was a sidewalk art show outside the park. We took a walk through the park a bit and we found the Peter Pan statue. There is also a beautiful pond with fountains. After that we went to the Jubilee Market in Covent Garden. What an amazing place!! It is partly an open air market with an amazing array of items for sale. Ashley and I wandered around the market and had some mulled wine (yummy) while Tim found a place to sit and people watch. Ashley and I perused the Hotel Chocolat and bought some deliciously exotic truffles!!Right next to the market we visited the London Transport Museum with exhibits beginning in 1800. Very interesting. We had lunch at the White Swan Pub. That afternoon we dropped Tim off at the hotel and Ashley and I went to Camden to an antiques mall. Being Sunday most of the stores were closed, but it was very interesting to see. That night we went back to Westminster and saw Parliament, Westminster Abbey, Thames River and the London Eye in their night dress. It was absolutely beautiful and breathtaking! That evening we had dinner at Moor & Hitch, another eatery only a few blocks from our hotel.
Monday was another beautiful, sunny day. And I thought it was always gloomy and/or raining in London. I guess we brought some good weather! This is the day we visited The Royal Observatory at Greenwich where the Prime Meridian is located. It is a bit of a hike up the hill to the observatory, but oh what a worthwhile hike! You can see almost forever from there. It is just magnificent!! We toured the Royal Maritime Museum which was very interesting. Down below in Greenwich we saw the Cutty Sark. There was also a smaller version in a bottle! We had lunch in Greenwich at Pie & Mash. I do love English pub food! Then Ashley took us to a favorite haunt of hers, The Junk Shop. No kidding!! It is a very cool 'junk shop'. We love those kinds of shops. We also visited the Greenwich Marketplace and bought two small bottles of Black Tomato and Pinkster small batch gins. Go figure! After that Tim went back to the hotel and we walked to Oxford Circus to Primark (England's version of Walmart). It is a great store, but I don't think I will ever complain about Walmart being busy. This store epitomizes 'busy'!! You could hardly get around for all the people! I bought some souvenirs and Christmas gifts and was glad to get back out on the street! Whew! That evening we had dinner at Prince Alfred. This time fish & chips and a pint of beer were our choice, Ashley had cottage pie. Another great day!!
On Tuesday (7th)it was a bit rainy so we went to the Imperial War Museum. Note: most of the museums in London are free. We spent 3 hours wandering through. What an amazing place. It is interesting to see history from another perspective. After the museum we went to St. Pancras and King's Cross train stations. At the King's Cross train station is the Harry Potter Platform 9-3/4. There were many people standing in line to get their picture taken. There was also a Harry Potter store. We ate lunch at The Curious Pig in the St. Pancras train station. Tim and I shared a steak and ale pie while Ashley had wild boar sausage and mash (mashed potatoes). After that we sent Tim back to the hotel and we went to several charity shops (thrift shops). Ashley is such a wonderful tour guide. She knows where everything is, she has been here so many times! Great job.
Wednesday was quite cool and windy, but some sun. We went to see the Tower of London and Tower Bridge. We walked around the outside of the Tower of London, but would take the tour another day. We did tour the Tower Bridge. This is the iconic bridge that most people (myself included) think of when talking about the London Bridge. The London Bridge is actually not very interesting to look at. After the Tower Bridge we visited the Clink Museum (The Clink Prison Museum is built upon the original site of the Clink Prison which dates back to 1144 making it probably the oldest prison of England.). There were many hands-on exhibits of torture devices. Very creepy! Not far from there is Shakespeare's Globe Theatre. It was amazing. Again, I had preconceived ideas about what it would be, and I was surprised. I don't know exactly what I expected, but it was great. Near the Globe Theatre is an amazing market that sells prepared and other food items from all over the world. The smells were delicious!! Coming into the market was an area selling Spanish food. They had a huge caldron full of Catalan stew. As it were, Tim ended up getting a big bowl of that stew. Ashley had a huge German bratwurst. What a great place and so many, many choices!! That evening we went back to Oxford Circus to see the Christmas lights that are strung over the streets. They were beautiful!! We had dinner at Ed's Diner and had some good old-fashioned American food; hamburgers and chicken tenders!!
Thursday Ashley went to meet another friend at the British Library. Tim and I decided to take the Big Bus Tour. That is a hop-on/hop-off double-decker bus tour that runs through London and Westminster. You can get off and on as you like, but it was cool and partly sunny that day so we just stayed on the bus. We were each given earphones and listened to a guided tour. The tour took about 4 hours and it gave us so much information about the city that we wouldn't have gotten trying to walk it on our own. It was so worth it! Our trip took us past Aston Martin, Bentley and Rolls Royce dealerships. Those dealerships are nothing like our here. First, they were 2 or 3 stories high and the cars were all inside. They were probably sitting on red carpets! Just amazing to me! That evening we didn't know what we wanted for dinner, so we walked around our area. There is no shortage of different types of food there. We finally settled on Little Persia. A nice restaurant with inside and outside seating. The outside seating was under an awning and most of the patrons there were partaking of a hookah. We sat inside. I had a chicken kabob with saffron rice and salad. Tim had a prawn kabob with saffron rice and salad. Mine was delicious and Tim wished he had gotten chicken. They had many lamb dishes, but I don't know if I would like it. Something different.
Note: most of the restaurants in London are very narrow. They may be more than one story and many of them have the kitchen on the lower floor.
As a part of our Big Bus Tour we also got a river boat cruise. On Friday, Ashley went off and did some things she wanted so we took the river cruise. It was a beautiful sunny day and we got on the boat at Westminster right across the Thames from the London Eye. About the London Eye: it is 443' high, has 32 capsules which hold 25 persons, it travels 1mph and you can see for 30 miles. We got off the river boat near the Tower of London and took the tour. What an amazing place!! We were there for over 3 hours. We had a guided tour. John, our tour guide, was absolutely wonderful! We visited The Chapel Royal of St. Peter ad Vincula (St. Peter in chains) is the parish church of the Tower of London. A low rectangular stone building, the chapel is situated in the north west corner of the Tower's Inner Ward, by Tower Green and dates from 1520. The chapel now serves as a place of worship for the Tower's residents. We were not allowed to take pictures inside. We visited the Tower of London Jewel House where the crown jewels are displayed. There is a great museum on site as well. Out in the courtyard is a memorial where Queen Anne Boleyn lost her head. It was a must see. When we left the Tower of London, we met Ashley and went to 221B Baker Street, home of Sherlock Holmes. There was a museum and store there. We went into the store, but didn't pay to the see the museum. But I can say I was there.
That evening we ate at Nando's. It originated in South Africa and specializes in Portuguese chicken dishes with various peri-peri (South African) marinades. It was very tasty!! Later in the evening we took the 'Jack the Ripper' walk. It consisted of walking about 1-1/2 miles in 2 hours around the area where Jack the Ripper did his killing. The area is called Spitalfields which was where an old hospital (spital) was located in a field. Of course it doesn't look anything at all like it looked back then, but you can still get a bit of a strange feeling knowing what took place there. 10 Bells Bar is still there and was the last place the last Ripper victim was seen alive. It was a very interesting and informative walk.
On Saturday Ashley and I went back to Spitalfields Market. This market is only open on weekends, but it had some really cool things. We had walked through it the night before on the Ripper walk. We also went to the Vintage Market. That is a great place where just about everything is vintage. There were some great 60s and 70s clothing, glassware, vinyl records and many other very eclectic items. In the area is a lot of unique graffiti. Many buildings are covered in it. Before we left, we stopped by this very unique café, Cereal Killer Café. It serves only cereal, but so many different types! Didn't have time to eat there, but it was worth the stop. We then left and met Tim at St. Paul's Cathedral. What an absolutely magnificent building. Because it was Remembrance Day, entrance to St. Paul's was free. We were totally awed by the beauty inside and outside. It is really a place to see. Our next stop was Harrods. I just don't have the words to accurately describe that store!!! Like Macys in New York, all the windows were decorated for Christmas. Most of them had animated figures. The pictures just don't do them justice. The store itself is a city block in size. It has any and everything you could possibly imagine. They sell meats, cheese, truffles, caviar, and a multitude of other edible items. There are several places to eat inside the store. There is a candy section that is just unbelievable!! There are probably hundreds of employees. It is a place beyond my comprehension! It was so worth just seeing it!! Inside there is also a memorial to Princess Diana and Dodi Al Fayed. It is almost worth going to London just to see Harrods. Again that evening we had dinner at our favorite Prince Alfred.
On Sunday, the 12th, is was a nice clear, albeit cool, day. We headed to Westminster to go to Churchill's War Rooms but ran into a massive crowd in front of Parliament. It was a service for Armistice (Remembrance) Day. About a block from where we were standing was the royal family, but we didn't get a chance to see them. At 11:00 canons were fired and Big Ben chimed (for the last time for the next 4 years, as it is undergoing repairs). We were very privileged to be there to celebrate, it was quite moving. Churchill's War Rooms would have to wait. Afterward we went to the British Library, but it wasn't open yet. Next we went to see the Natural History Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Science Museum. After the museums we took the tube to Green Park and walked through it to Buckingham Palace. It was a beautiful walk through the park. We unfortunately didn't get to see the changing of the guards and the Queen was not in residence at the time. Still it was well worth the walk! Such an amazing place. After the Palace we went to Abbey Road. We walked across the street as the Beatles did, but it is a busy intersection and you better watch out for cars!! Just around the corner from there is Abbey Road Studios, so cool! After Abbey Road, Tim went back to the hotel while Ashley and I went back to the British Library. It was not at all what I expected. It isn't like a regular library. In the middle of the second floor there is a six-story display of King George III's collection of 85,000 books! It was massive and such an amazing site! There aren't books to be checked out, but they do have many original, priceless documents on display. Included are the Magna Carta and the hand-written words to Beatles songs. At the time we were there they were having a big Harry Potter Exhibit. Enjoyed it very much.
On Monday (13th) we took a bus trip to Stonehenge and Bath. It was a beautiful sunny morning, but by the time we got to Stonehenge, the sky had turned gray and it was bitter cold!! Even so it didn't put a damper on seeing Stonehenge! It was just an amazing site! It sits out in the middle of a field. Around the area are also burial mounds in the surrounding fields. After Stonehenge we continued on to Bath. Bath is a quaint little village of about 85,000. This is where the ancient Roman baths are located. They were built over 2000 years ago. We toured the baths and much of the original structure is still there. It was like stepping back in time. It was unbelievable! Our tour guide also took us on a walking tour of the town. It really is a great place to visit if you get to England. As we were leaving town, we could look out and see into Wales being that we were only a few miles from the border.
On Tuesday, our last full day, we did get to visit Churchill's War Rooms. We spent a couple of hours wandering through. The rooms are set up as they were when they were being used. It was a very interesting museum and well worth a visit. Next Tim and I went back to ride the London Eye. When I first saw the Eye, the line was extremely long. But being a Monday, there was no one in line and we were able to get right on it. It takes 30-35 minutes to go around and you can see all of London and adjacent areas for about 30 miles!! It was like being on top of the world!! It is a bit pricey, but I wouldn't have missed it. It was so worth it!! Our last stop was the British Museum. I just don't have the words to describe how magnificent it was! We truly could have spent a couple of days walking through it and still might have missed things. The first artifact you see is the Rosetta Stone. Just amazing!! The real thing!! That museum has a huge collection of just about everything. We spent most of our time looking at the Egyptian collection which included Cleopatra's mummy and casket. It was just unbelievable and I would go back and spend more time.
Each day that we were there (except one) we walked miles, but it was so very worth it. I have now changed my ideas about London and would recommend it as a great place to visit with more things than you can do in even 2 weeks. Hope you enjoyed my dissertation!
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