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Trip Report London in Spring.. a glimpse of Madeleine Albright

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I was lucky to meet up with a friend in London for a few days this past month. Since we have both been there several times we were able to roam and visit places and corners of the city we had not had the time to do on other trips.

I had pre-bought my Southern rail ticket online for 5GBP for a train two hours after arrival at Gatwick. As chance would have it, my flight was on time and immigration was so fast I couldn't believe it! Maybe 10 minutes total? So I got myself a coffee, a magazine and did some shopping on the ground floor of the airport near the train station.

I won the Marriott Kensington on Priceline bidding for a very reasonable rate. The only problem was that when I wrote and requested a two-bedded room, I was told it was 75GBP extra as it was an upgrade. No, thank you!

I was quite surprised any Marriott did not have twin bedded rooms except with an upgrade.. but it is true. However, the manager told me he would do everything possible to make a room with a sofabed available to us but could not guarantee it.

The room was small, but we did get the much appreciated sofabed. The location of the hotel was excellent although it would have been PERFECT one block closer to the tube! There is a bus outside though that whisks you along deeper into town. The staff were very efficient and professionally pleasant .

We had pre-ordered tickets to the Ceremony of the Keys at the Tower of London, which I highly recommend. Learn more about it here.

http://www.hrp.org.uk/TowerOfLondon/WhatsOn/theceremonyofthekeys

We went early to walk around the lovely area and were happy to see several new places to eat had sprung up across the way from the Tower. We ate at Wagamama, which I had always wanted to try. This restaurant serves a variety of Asian dishes ( I didn't check to see if the menu included other types of cuisine). The restaurant's plate glass wall lets you have a fabulous view of the Tower during your meal. I highly recommend this as a food/drink stop if you are meeting up to go to the Tower of London. Waiting with that view cannot be duplicated! They can take large groups as the tables are very long, shared ones.

The next day we walked through Hyde Park hoping to see some carriages with their horses out exercising but we were not lucky as i had been on another trip. It was probably too late. We quickly visited parts of the Natural History Museum, the V+A, Harrods, The College of Music and finally the Soane House.

We grabbed a snack at the National Geographic restaurant near Harrod's before meandering and admiring the prohibitively expensive luxury items so beautifully displayed at Harrod's. A quick stroll through the food court is always welcome no matter how many times you visit.

We had bought a Groupon Champagne Tea for Two 2 x 1 at a 4* star hotel for 25 GBP so we used that as our lunch. We had a window seat and really enjoyed resting our feet and slowly savoring the numerous delicacies we were served.

A quick visit to Convent Garden where the Thursday Food Market was taking place was a welcome stop. On to Leicester Square to see what was on today at reduced prices at TKTS.

Walking past the theater where "The Book of Mormon" was playing we got in line for returned tickets ( we thought) . But we were told it was actually a lottery as the show is sold out. They sell 20 tickets for 20 GBP through a lottery at 5:30 everyday.

We put our names in and the last paper drawn was mine so we suddenly had the opportunity to enjoy that irreverent but clever show from the first row at a bargain price!
We had some time before the play was to begin so we went into a Waterstone bookstore and found that Madeleine Albright was giving a presentation of some sort. Tickets were only 5GBP but it had already begun and it was sold out, however, one could see her and listen from the bookstore itself as due to how the room was set up. It was exciting to hear her powerful voice still at her age. We listened with other late comers until we realized time was running out.

Here is her talk the next day at Chatham House.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ihZOYltd9vI

A quick stop at Fortnum and Mason to the housewares department and we ran into a charity cooking class. We picked up a brochure and decided to try to fit that in one day during our stay. Everyday two popular TV or famous Cookbook chefs from the area would give a class. You got a drink of wine/champgne and also got to eat what was prepared. We were able to squeeze this in Saturday afternoon.

We learned that it is a good idea to check the websites for that bookstore and activities at Fortnum and Mason and perhaps other shops to see what unusual cultural events are taking place during your stay. I had not run across any of this during my numerous searches, although I was not really looking for it, either.

We were surprisingly lucky with the weather. Crisp air, but mostly sunny skies or partially so. It made such a difference to not have to hide under an umbrella any time of our trip this time. The delicate cherry(?) trees were in bloom around the Royal Albert Hall and many other plazas. I think we saw them at their peak. Daffodils and other colorful bulbs lined the soft skirts of grass in the parks. London in Spring is a feast for the eye.

We also commented on how clean the tube stations were. I had remembered many of them to be grimy but perhaps with the Olympics they were given a very much needed deep cleaning as they now show no signs of age or pollution.

We had also bought a 2 x 1 Thames all day boat tour pass online although after catching the nice tour at Westminster pier and arriving in Greenwich, we had no desire to take the boat BACK, so a one way ticket would have sufficed. Here is a coupon to get 50% off so you do not need to have a travelcard, etc. I am not sure if you can actually just pay a supplement from your travelcard to take the public boats. Hopefully someone here can address that.

http://www.thamesriverservices.co.uk/assets/TRSVC01.pdf

I had wanted to go on the Emirates Gondola but will save that for another trip.

http://www.tfl.gov.uk/modalpages/23828.aspx

I had been to Greenwich before but loved going again, and especially via the River as the day was bearable to sit outside most of the time. We visited the unique Fan Museum, the market and the Maritime Museum which has a great section for children.

http://www.thefanmuseum.org.uk/

The tea at the Fan Museum has been called "the best, most reasonable tea in London"!
See website for dates. We really enjoyed this small museum and its well displayed unique collection of fans. There are special exhibits every few weeks and more of the collection is brought out. Their small gift shop is laden with unusual books and lovely well-priced gifts. This museum is the personal project of a local aristocrat who happened to be there tending the shop. I had the most interesting conversation with her. If you go, I hope you also have the chance to share some time with her as she is a wealth of information and loves to see people enjoy her project.

We had coffee at the acclaimed "Black Vanilla" coffee shop just by chance. There was a small sign proclaiming it had been voted the best coffee in Greenwich and I totally agree with the voting!

It was such a nice day we decided to take the 188 bus back to London to the British Museum and not go underground. We later unsuccessfully tried to have dinner at Zedel but without a reservation it was an hour and a half wait. I'll make a point of doing that next time as this place certainly is attractive and popular and seems reasonably priced. They have several rooms. one for jazz, one is a bar and then the restaurant

http://www.brasseriezedel.com/

Saturday started off with a 2 x1 breakfast a a Hilton hotel, then some serious strolling along the Regent' Canal area. I had never been there and just to see the quaint houseboats and opulent mansions bordering that canal was totally worth it. I took my friend to Borough Market and then I went to another musical. We met up again at Covent Garden where we took the great RV1 bus to the Tate Modern. The RVI shuttled us along the Thames with a wonderful last touristic view of this lively city that was now dealing with with final details for tomorrow's Marathon. This bus goes from Covent Garden to the London Eye and eventually over to the Tower of London, giving any tourist one of the best public bus tours in London.

Dinner was recommended to us so we went to "Da Mario". Excellent pasta in Kensington. Simple environment but full and both items on the menu were delicious. We noticed lots of pictures of Princess Diana on the walls and were told that she and the boys used to frequent here.

Sunday I went to a Sunday Strings Marathon at the Royal College of Music. It was free entrance and every hour a series of soloists would come out and play a piece, one after the other, There was a 10 minute break and it would culminate several hours later with all of them returning to create a symphony with the director who was running the Marathon as they played. His place on the route was flashed on the screen occasionally as he progressed in the race.

I took a bus to South Kensington and walked around a bit with my carry-on luggage and had a Paul's pastry and sat in the welcome sun to enjoy it.

I later decided to walk to Victoria since it was such a lovely day and I had plenty of time before my pre-purchased return train . I'm glad I did as I was able to see small plazas I had never been in before.. now all bustling with Sunday sun-worshippers, shoppers and families enjoying the good weather.

London is such great city for walking. One never tires of the townhouse facades and the ornate flower- bordered plazas. No matter how often one goes, there is always something new to see or do. Now I have even more resources to discover unusual activities on my next trip, which I hope can coincide with Spring to once again enjoy those cherry (?) trees in bloom we saw everywhere.

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