Margee a month or so before Columbus Day brought up the idea of traveling to London before she was no longer able to fly while pregnant. London is on my list of places I wanted to go so, why not?
Quickly we booked flights and picked out all of the things we wanted to do. I went online and bought tickets for many of the tourist attractions that we wanted to see including the Tower of London, the London Eye, Thames River boat tour, and our train tickets from the airport into the city and eveloped an itinerary for our trip. In a large city like London with large amounts of tourists, “winging it” can lead to an unfulfilled trip. Off we went to a country where we spoke the language fluently, aggghh what a nice feeling. As we landed in London and began deboarding the plane I heard an older Italian man ask his wife “Come si dice arriverderci” (how do you say goodbye) to which I responded to him “goodbye” and thought to myself this guy is in trouble. The transition form the airport to the train station within the airport was easy and we were off. The train from Gatwick into the Victoria station in the city was only about 30 minutes from where we transferred to the Tube.
We took the tube to the nearest stop by our hotel and then walked about 10 blocks or so, no big deal except for the fact that it was pouring. Now, before you say your in London of course it is raining let me just say we were as prepared as possible but we didn’t want our luggage getting all wet. We should have just hopped on one of the 5 buses that kept passing us but it is almost impossible to figure out bus routes and we knew we were close enough. We checked into the hotel dried off and headed back out to the London Eye and then our Riverboat cruise. The London Eye was interesting but I could have done without the pelting rain and high winds while hanging in a glass bubble 135 ft over the Thames River but that could just be me. After departing our super duper Ferris Wheel ride we hopped on our river cruise which was nice enough although we had to sit inside due to the wind and rain. I was able to go on the top dock to take some pictures. Starving after our flight and tourist activities we headed to a pub for locale pub fare and a good English Ale. Our second day started with a full English breakfast at the Red Lion Pub near Parliament: eggs hash browns, grilled tomato, ham, and of course sausage.
One delightful surprise was the coffee. Most of the coffee throughout London was very good. From there we did a Rick Steves’ walking tour (the app and audio guide is free) which I had downloaded to my phone before we left. We started at Parliament and walked up Whitehall past 10 Downing Street, The Horse Guard, and ended at Trafalgar Square. From there we walked to Picadilly Circus and took the tube to St. Paul’s. I had downloaded another Rick Steves’ walking tour for St. Paul’s and climbed up to the top for some great views of London.
This Guy, Come on in!
After Margee headed back to the hotel for some rest and I went to do a London Walks Tour of London (www.walks.com) which was great. We did a Pub Tour in which we stopped at 3 or 4 different pubs and learned a lot of interesting facts about London most of which I have now forgotten. The funny thing was I showed up at 5pm outside the designated tube stop but no tour group or guide was to be found. I walked around and around eventually giving up and residing to a pub for a beer where I was also able to get wifi on my cell phone and check the schedules to confirm I had missed the tour.
Well the tour actually started at 7pm, whoops. So I waited around for a couple of hours and sure enough I easily found the tour guide and off we went. What I do remember from the tour is walking along the Strand learning where chess pieces were developed and saw the only street in London where they drive on the wrong or right side of the road (depending where you come from) in front of the Savoy Hotel.
Where chess pieces were invented according to the the English.
Stairs down to the original level of the Thames.
The reason behind this is cab drivers could bring their passengers up to the hotel, reach their arm out of the window and open the passenger’s door to step directly out on the sidewalk. One other point that sticks with me is how high the River Thames used to be compared to now.
The following day the weather was terrible. There was a torrential downpour so we headed to the Sherlock Holmes Pub for breakfast. Afterwards we headed to the London Art Museum along with everyone else due to the weather. Luckily we had Rick Steves’ London City Guide which explained a few of the more famous paintings. My favorite was the Execution of Lady Jane Grey (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Execution_of_Lady_Jane_Grey).
Sherlock Holmes Pub
From there we headed to Harrod’s department store which was quite impressive. I am not sure who actually shops there although we did spend 10 pounds almost $16 on two espressos…BELIEVE IT!
We had booked high afternoon tea at the Milestone Hotel across the street from Kensington Park. It was very swanky and in my opinion overpriced but When in Rome! (or this case London). The English gentleman sitting next to us with his wife, son, and daughter in law was quite the character. He seemed to be very outspoken and when the waitress was pouring his tea he asked her if they instruct her to pour the milk first and then the tea to which she responded yes. The gentlemen then responded “Do you know that is wrong? You pour the tea first and then the milk to the color that you would like.” When it came to tea this guy meant business. The Tea included little sandwiches with the crust cut off as well as sweets, and then scones.
By the time the scones came out I could not eat anymore. By the time we left the rain had stopped and we got to take a quick walk through Hyde Park and decided we had enough time to go see Buckingham Palace and the Queen! Unfortunately there are only tours of Buckingham Palace in July and August and from the outside there is really not much to see, disappointing. We were pretty tired after all of this and headed back to our hotel where we stopped at a pub for some grub before retiring for the night. The next day we headed to the London Tower where there are tours given to us by the Beefeaters. What is a Beefeater? Essentially they are retired military officer who know guard the Queen and the crown jewels but they are essentially tour guides for the Tower of London read more here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yeomen_Warders.
It was a very entertaining tour and I enjoyed our Beefeater who told all of us he spoke three languages which he would break into at any time Australian American, and Canadian HA! The tower of London along with the crown jewels (Yawn) as well as the ax and chopping block used at executions (Awesome!). On the way back to the hotel I stopped at the Blackfriars Pub (An Uncle Paul recommendation) for some banger’s and mash as well as of course a pint. That evening we had tickets to see The Book of Mormon. It was a great show and we both enjoyed it. The next morning we had a very early flight at 0060 so we had to get up at 0230 so that we could be there on time. Much to our surprise the airport was packed with people drinking beer starting their holiday early!