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Trip Report Much anticipated trip to London. Well worth the wait!

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I had been dreaming about a trip to England and was finally able to visit this past January. I had originally planned to travel in the autumn, but the trip needed to be pushed back a couple times. I was hesitant to travel in January, but it turned out to be a great time to visit London this year. I’ve been able to learn so much on this forum that I wanted to share some of what I learned during my visit. I’ve never written a trip report so I hope that this one is ok!

I spent months researching information for this trip, including several travel books, the Internet and, as noted, the Fodor’s forums. I used the London A to Z map, walkit.com and Google maps to group together sights by area. The Google maps site is great because it gives a street level visual so you can have some idea of where you will be going. I studied the tube maps and used the TFL site to plan tube and bus rides. I copied the first 18-19 pages from the A to Z map and used a copier to magnify each page. This way, instead of carrying the book with me, I just took the page/pages where we were going on that particular day along with the page of the itinerary. I grouped sites together by area so we weren’t spending a ton of time traveling.

I not only wanted to see the well known historical sites in London, but I also wanted to see lesser known areas that aren’t usually included in tour books. There were a couple websites that I used for this including www.knowledgeoflondon.com and www.shadyoldlady.com, among others. Another interesting resource that I used was the London Encyclopaedia. It is a pretty big book so it didn’t accompany us on the trip, but it was really useful to read the history on the things that we planned to see, as well as research what we had seen after our return home.

I had been to London in 2010 for only a couple of days prior to leaving for a cruise. I had bought Oyster cards, which I had saved. Prior to leaving, I opened an account at Bank of America. Bank of America and Barclays are part of the Global ATM Alliance, which allows customers to withdraw money without having to pay an access fee. I also have a Capital One card that does not charge a fee for foreign currency transactions. Since the plan was to buy a Travelcard, I printed out several 2 for 1 coupons from the Days Out Guide.

I used a three ring binder with sheet protectors to hold all of the information. As the trip progressed, I removed the paperwork that I no longer needed. I used the sheet protectors to keep ticket stubs, museum pamphlets, etc. to use in a scrapbook. I kept a printout of my itinerary in the binder, but I also had it on my laptop and sent it to myself in an e-mail so if anything happened to my carry on, I would still be able to access it in London. Although I planned an itinerary, I knew not to be too rigid as things could change based on how we were feeling, the weather, etc. I also purposely did not plan anything for one day at the end of the trip. I wanted to have a day to go back to things that I was not able to see during the week.

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    Friday, 13 Jan 2012

    My husband, Mick, and I flew Virgin Atlantic from Boston to London and our plane touched down at Heathrow Airport earlier than scheduled. The flight was uneventful, which is always a good thing. The line for Immigration was long. We waited for about 1 ½ hours before we were able to be processed. Once through, I headed to the Oyster Card station to top up our cards. We jumped on the Tube and remained on the Piccadilly line until our stop at South Kensington. We walked to our hotel, the Rembrandt, which was about five minutes away. Although expensive, it was a very nice hotel in a great location. I specifically chose it due to its location, the proximity to an underground station and that the South Kensington station services the Piccadilly, Circle and District lines. The hotel faces the Victoria and Albert Museum and there is a Cabman’s Shelter directly across from the entrance. I had read about the Cabman’s Shelters (I have also seen it referred to as Cabbie’s Tea Huts). There are 13 surviving shelters in London. This particular one sits in the middle of the street (Thurloe Place) between the hotel and the museum. One can walk up to the window and place an order or sit inside for a meal. I stopped by a few times during the week to buy a cup of tea.

    The weather was beautiful upon our arrival - blue, sunny skies with the temperature in the 50s. Our room wasn’t ready upon arrival so we left our bags with the concierge and set out to explore. We walked up Brompton Road, browsing the stores. Mick saw the National Geographic Store and we made note to stop there at some point. We were hungry and looking for a place to eat, but were not having any luck. Upon approaching Harvey Nichols, Mick asked the doorman for a recommendation for breakfast. He suggested the Fifth Floor Café at Harvey Nichols. We proceeded to the fifth floor and had breakfast. It was quite good, prepared fresh in a kitchen that is open to the counter where we sat and watched.

    We took the tube from Knightsbridge to the Barbican station to see Charterhouse Square. This is a complex of buildings going back to the 14th century. The history in England blows me away. It is overwhelming to stand in an area where buildings have stood for hundreds of years and think about who lived and worked there. As an Agatha Christie fan, I wanted to see Florin Court. This is the building that has been used as Hercule Poirot’s flat, “Whitehouse Mansions”, due to its Art Deco design. We then walked through the Smithfield Market on our way to Cloth Fair.

    Some of the buildings and lanes in this area survived both the Great Fire of 1666 and the Blitz. According to an article from the BBC, it notes that “the house at numbers 41 and 42 was built between 1597 and 1614”. To stand in front of a home that was built over 400 years ago and think about all the families who lived there, along with their trials and tribulations, is just amazing to me.

    We went into St. Bartholomew the Great Church, which was founded as an Augustinian monastery in 1123. It is a very old, historical church with wonderful architecture. It has been used in quite a few movies, including Shakespeare in Love and Four Weddings and a Funeral. We approached the church via Cloth Fair, however, if you walk through the courtyard, you will see the gatehouse. It is a very narrow structure in the Tudor style. You can walk through the gatehouse out to West Smithfield Street. This leads to St. Bartholomew’s Hospital. As an FYI, there is a public restroom across from the gatehouse.

    We had a little steam left so we thought we would take a peek inside the London Museum since we were in the area. It is a fascinating museum that traces the history of London from prehistoric times to the present. We made it to the Great Plague before jetlag really hit us hard and we decided that we would finish the museum another day.

    As we were walking toward the St. Paul’s tube station, I wanted to stop at Postman’s Park. It is the former head office of the General Post Office. The entrance is on King Edward Street. In the corner of the park, under a canopy, is George Frederic Watt’s Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice. This is one of my favorite memories of the trip. It is a memorial to ordinary people who died saving the lives of others. It is a poignant and moving tribute to people who history probably would have forgotten. I would recommend that anyone in London seek out this park. The tiles are hand painted with the person’s name, date of heroic sacrifice and their deed. I took several pictures and each time I look through the pictures, I get a lump in my throat. While I was there, I met a local man who was looking at the tiles. He commented that he had stopped by the park in the past, but wanted to have another look. I told him what I had read about the history of the park and he seemed pleased to hear about the background. Wikipedia has pictures of the tiles. www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_tablets_on_the_Memorial_to_Heroic_Self_Sacrifice

    After our time in the park, we took the tube back to the hotel, checked in and had a rest before dinner. We went to the Brompton Road Brasserie, which was a short walk from the hotel.

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    Your report so far is more than "okay"! Detailed with clarity and lots of good information. I look forward to the rest.

    (We popped in Postman's Park ourselves on a walk to the Museum of London and enjoyed the tiles and off-the-beaten-path spot as you did. Thanks for the memory-prompting!)

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    Great trip report so far! Looking forward to the rest.

    We enjoyed the Museum of London too. We also had read about Postman's Park but we didn't get there. We did stop by the Guildhall to see the clock collection near the Museum of London and forgot about Postman's Park that day. I was also hitting every Boots in town for compeed for those aching blisters on my feet:) Postman's Park is something to put on the list for another time.

    Keep your trip report coming.

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    What a very good report! Many thanks for all the detail. It's taught me much more than I ever knew already, after many visits to London.
    I know the Rembrandt Hotel, as my son lived near there in Thurloe Place for a couple of years. very nice area. very good choice.

    Looking forward to more.

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    Wonderful report. And different from most :)

    My daughter and I are staying in the same general area this summer (first time in London!), so I am now reading w/ particular interest.

    We will be sure to visit that memorial!

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    Thank you all for the positive comments! My hope for writing was to pay it forward for all of the information that I learned on this forum. Europeannovice – I remember reading about your compseed search! I even made note based on your report to get some if I developed blisters since I knew we were going to be doing a lot of walking. Taconictraveler – we very much enjoyed the Rembrandt. I really liked the area and would stay there again.

    Saturday, 14 January 2012

    Woke up to blue, sunny skies again today! My initial plan for today was to do a day trip to Oxford with London Walks. However, Mick’s ankle was causing him a bit of pain. As you will read, we did a lot of walking and he was a trooper. After a full English breakfast (breakfast was included in the price of the room), I switched around of the itinerary. Since it was such a beautiful day, I thought we should spend the majority of our time outside. It was chilly (about 42F), but we were well prepared for the weather.

    We walked around Thurloe Square on our way to the South Kensington tube station. I had seen pictures of the Thin House online and thought it would be pretty cool to see it and it was. Visiting the Monument was on my list and I had read that it was best to visit on a nice day. We took the tube to Victoria Rail Station and bought two 7 day travelcards for zones 1-2, which cost £58. We returned to the tube to go toward Tower Hill, but when I saw the riverboat sign on the tube map at the Embankment station, I thought it might be nice to take the Thames Clippers to Tower Millennium Pier and see the sights along the Thames.

    After disembarking, we walked toward the Monument, stopping on Pudding Lane to see the plaque commemorating where the Great Fire of 1666 started. The fire ended at Pie Corner at the corner of Cock Lane and Giltspur Street, which I had planned to see the previous day, but did not due to jet lag. It was postponed until later in the trip. We made our way through the construction to the Monument, a massive pillar designed by Christopher Wren that stands as a reminder of the Great Fire. We agreed that the view from the top of the Monument would probably be fabulous, so we decided to climb to the summit. Mick didn’t say a word about his ankle as we walked up the 311 stairs in a tight, circular staircase. If you are claustrophobic, think twice before attempting this. It was pretty scary and I was regretting our decision halfway up the pillar. I should have gone back to the gym earlier. However, it was worth it once we arrived at the balcony. We admired the view while we caught our breath and Mick rested his ankle. Anxiety began to rise as thoughts of walking back down those 311 stairs came to mind. We made it down successfully and as we were leaving, we were each handed a poster of the Monument certifying that we had made it to the top.

    We walked toward the Fenchurch bus station and took the bus to the George Inn for lunch. There has been an inn on this site since 1542, however, the present building was rebuilt in 1676 after a fire. We ate in the restaurant on the second floor, which used to be the bedchambers. Although I loved the building, I wasn’t crazy about my lunch.

    After lunch, we planned to go to the Southwark Cathedral. We walked by Borough Market and it was open. I thought it would have been closed by Saturday afternoon, but happily, I was wrong. I had read rave reviews about Borough Market so I wanted to take a peek. What an amazing experience! I don’t think I can provide a description that would do it justice. I had no idea that it was so big! The stalls (more like large rooms) were filled with vegetables, cheese, meats, fish, poultry, etc. There were also several stalls that served cooked food. There were hundreds of people there. I now understand the rave reviews.

    Once we made our way through the Market, we walked to the Southwark Cathedral. According to its website, it is believed that there has been a church on this site since AD 606, possibly even earlier. It further noted that Southwark Cathedral is the oldest cathedral church building in London and archaeological evidence shows there was Roman pagan worship there well before that. Upon our entry into the cathedral, a clergyman approached us and asked where we lived. I told him that we were from Massachusetts and he said that the only place he knew there was Boston. He then asked about Harvard University. We told him that we knew Boston and Harvard and he told us that John Harvard, the benefactor of Harvard University, was originally from England. I did some research after our visit and found that John Harvard was born and raised in Southwark. The clergyman walked us to the Harvard Chapel and explained that every day, there are graduates of Harvard University who go to the chapel or attend a mass there. Isn’t it fascinating that no matter how far you travel, there seems to always be a connection to home?

    We then walked along the Thames and saw the remains of Winchester Cathedral and the Golden Hinde. I walked along New Globe Walk by the Bear Gardens in an attempt to find the Ferryman’s Seat, but was unsuccessful. At this point, the sun was beginning to set which gave the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral a golden glow.

    We went to Shakespeare’s Globe. I had planned to use the 2 for 1 coupon for the Globe, but when I checked my pocketbook, I realized that I had forgotten all the coupons back at the hotel. Since we were already there, I had no intention of leaving. We took a tour of the Globe, which we both really enjoyed. As we sat there looking at the stage and picturing what it must have been like to watch a play during Elizabethan London, we decided that we would need to return to London to see a play at the Globe. After the tour, we walked through the exhibit on Shakespeare.

    After leaving the Globe, we saw the London Eye all lit up and I suggested to Mick that we go on it for an evening ride. He didn’t think that he would like being in a capsule, especially so soon after our claustrophobic climb of the Monument, so we passed. Perhaps when we return to see that play at the Globe…

    We took the Thames Clippers back to Embankment and returned to our hotel via the tube. We freshened up and wandered out to find dinner. We found an adorable restaurant, Orsini’s, which was only two doors down from the hotel. The food is Italian and it was delicious. It was definitely the best meal that we had in London. We ended up going back there for dinner twice more during the week and for coffee and dessert on our last evening.

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    You two are having such a good time! And after all your research and your inquiring mind, you deserve to enjoy it all. I hope Mick's ankle handles it well. More power to both of you. Your enthusiasm is catching!

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    I am really enjoying your trip report. Also glad to know my report was helpful. I loved those compeeds. It saved the trip for me after all the walking we did. I hope Mick's ankle held up so you could enjoy your trip too!

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    You pack your days full - very nice. I'm really enjoying your report and am in awe of your research.
    Have made a note of Orsini - thank you! Looks like a great spot for breakfast, too - and only a 5-min. walk from our hotel.

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    Although our days were full, the excitement of being in London kept us going. I kept telling Mick that we could sleep when we got home!

    Sunday, 15 January 2012

    Once again, we lucked out with waking up to a sunny day. It was chilly, but bright and clear. The original plan was to visit the British Museum today. According to the BBC weather report, rain was predicted for Wednesday and the plan for that day was to see Buckingham Palace, walk around the area of St. James’s Palace up to Trafalgar Square then down Whitehall to Westminster Abbey. Based on the weather, I switched the two days so to be able to walk around London and soak up the sun.

    We took the bus to the Green Park station instead of the tube so to see some of the sights on the way. We walked to Buckingham Palace through Green Park. The pictures that I have of those beautiful golden gates set against a blue, cloudless sky with the sun shining on them are stunning. The gilded statue of Victory on top of the Victoria Memorial gleaming in the sunlight is one of my favorite shots. As an added bonus, I did not know is that the Mall is closed to traffic on Sundays, which meant that we could move around freely without fear of being run down. We walked up the Mall, stopping at Stable Yard Road to watch the guards patrol the gate.

    I loved all the monuments/memorials throughout London commemorating the royalty, war heroes and historical events. We turned onto Marlborough Road and saw the statue of Queen Alexandra’s Monument by Sir Alfred Gilbert. The base of the monument reads “Faith, Hope, Love – the Guiding Virtues of Queen Alexandra”. A nice thought that we can only hope to have in our lives. Across from the statue is the courtyard of St. James’s Palace. If you look carefully, there are little crowns on the tops of the gas lamps. Built in the 16th century, the building is an imposing and impressive work, especially the Tudor gatehouse, and was the home of several kings and queens. Once again, to stand next to this piece of history where decisions were made that affected thousands throughout hundreds of years is amazing. We took a short walk up St. James’s Street to see Berry Bros & Rudd, originally a grocers, now wine merchants, from 1698. Next door at number 6 is Lock and Company, hatters, that was founded 1676. They had hats in the storefront that were similar to the ones were worn at Prince William and Kate Middleton’s wedding. Unfortunately, since it was Sunday, both stores were closed. We turned back toward Pall Mall and ducked into Crown Passage to see the Red Lion. This pub is over 400 years old and reputedly has the second oldest beer license in the West End. Again, we couldn’t go into the pub as it was Sunday morning and not open. However, there is a Pret A Manger next door just in case you need a snack while you are in the area. We went back out to Pall Mall and walked up the street admiring the buildings.

    We turned onto Carlton House Gardens and pondered never be able to afford one of the flats in this area. I had read about the 1934 grave of a dog that I thought was an interesting story. On Carlton House Terrace next to the Duke of York steps stood the German (Nazi) Embassy from 1932 until 1939. The only reminder of this is a little gravestone of the ambassador’s pet dog, Giro. The stone reads ‘Ein treuer Begleiter’ (a true companion). Fascinating that this piece of history would remain despite the atrocities released on the English by Nazi Germany. In my opinion, a dog is man’s best friend and this demonstrates that the same sentiment can be shared by so many despite the differences in ideology.

    We walked down the steps by the Duke of York memorial to the Mall, through the Admiralty Arch to Trafalgar Square. There stood tall the monument to Admiral Horatio Nelson. As you approach the square, take note of the small ships on top of the street lamps. There were lots of people enjoying the square, including several who were climbing on the lions (not children). There is a clock in front of the National Gallery that is counting down the days, hours and minutes until the 2012 Olympic Games. I had seen a show on the Travel Channel that talked about the Fourth Plinth that was originally designed to hold a statue of William IV, but remained empty due to lack of funds so I was surprised to see that there is now something on that plinth. It is “Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle” by Yinka Shonibare. It is a sculpture of the flagship “HMS Victory” housed in a glass bottle. The sign reads “the sculpture considers the relationship between the birth of the British Empire, made possible in part by Nelson’s victory at the Battle of Trafalgar, and multiculturalism of Britain today”. It has been there since 2010, so the show I watched was apparently a repeat.

    My original plan was to go into the National Gallery, but I decided to see it another day so that we could spend the remainder of our time outside. We had lunch in the crypt at St. Martin’s in the Field. It was jammed, but it was a very different experience to eat lunch while sitting at a table adjacent to a gravestone. As we left the church, I made sure to look for the smallest police station in the UK on the southwest corner of Trafalgar Square. It was adapted for police purposes in 1926, however, today it is used as storage for cleaning equipment.

    We walked down Whitehall and saw the horse guards with all the people standing next to them to have their picture taken. Despite the warning sign about the possibility of the horses kicking or biting, we saw (what I assumed to be) a parent holding her small child next to the horse and watch as the little girl put her hand out to the horse’s mouth. I held my breath and hoped for the best. Some things never cease to amaze me. We walked by Downing Street and saw the police guarding the gate. We paused at the National Monument to the Women of World War II and the Cenotaph, to pay our respects to the memories of those who fought in the wars.

    It was a nice walk for the day and we enjoyed seeing a lot of the royal and historical things along our route. Due to Mick’s throbbing ankle, we opted to take the tube from Westminster back to the hotel so he could give it a rest before dinner.

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    Great report!

    Among the flotsam/bits/useless stuff I picked up while living in England is a Lock & Co. top hat in its original case. Apparently it was made for a baronet who was an MP in 1910 and a colonel in WWI

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    Just a footnote - the Fourth Plinth is now well-established as a base for a temporary display, each new item being chosen after public consultation. Some might remember Antony Gormley's idea that gave the plinth to a selection of all sorts of people for an hour at a time to do more or less what they wanted. The Ship in a Bottle is about to be replaced by Powerless Structures, which also relates to the theme of ambition and heroism that the rest of the Square depicts:

    http://www.london.gov.uk/fourthplinth/

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    "Fascinating that this piece of history would remain despite the atrocities released on the English by Nazi Germany."

    What atrocities?

    If you believe bombing civilians or trying to cut off food supplies (just about the only Nazi actions against the English anyone could seriously object to) are "atrocities":

    - We started them. We deliberately bombed civilian targets in Germany before they bombed us, to divert the Luftwaffe from destroying our fighter planes, which they might well have achieved. Instead their fighters were used to protect the bombers they were tricked into retaliating with, achieving little except giving us time to build enough fighters.

    - We out-atrocied them in spades. We murdered about as many German civilians in one week's bombing in Hamburg alone as the entire UK civilian death count for the whole of WW2

    - In spite of the extraordinary heroism of U-boat crews trying to choke our supply lines, and the immense sacrifices of Allied convoy crews confronting them, nutritional standards in the UK actually improved during WW2.

    Though there was understandable postwar anti-German resentment among Britain's Jewish population, and among a lot of refugees from countries the Nazis occupied, ordinary British bitterness about the Blitz was generally assuaged by the infinitely greater horrors we inflicted on them. Any possible overall resentment was wiped out by the realisation of the real atrocities Nazis inflicted on those they'd ruled - and of the atrocities the Japanese inflicted on British prisoners.

    Lutheran churches - for German sailors to use - were being rebuilt in London about two years after the last German flying bomb killed Londoners, and at about the same time in Liverpool's war-ravaged dockland. You occasionally find war memorials (for example in schools and Oxbridge colleges) including German alumni who'd fought for their country.

    This isn't a tribute to British tolerance: anti-German feeling ran very deep, and lasted a long time, after WW1. But almost as soon as victory was declared in Europe, a myth emerged that what had happened between Britain (and its allies) and Germany was almost a model of civilised warfare. "Atrocities" were things that happened elsewhere. For whatever reason, popular culture became obsessed with Our Gallant Boys' victory, rather than with dwelling on imagined bestialities they'd inflicted on us.

    Many visitors observe our continuing WW2 obsession with amusement. Apart from the odd shooting of prisoners (a practice almost as widespread among British and American troops as among the Germans on the western front) that obsession never includes any hint of Nazi atrocity towards the British.

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    >>Lutheran churches - for German sailors to use - were being rebuilt in London about two years after the last German flying bomb killed Londoners<<

    I believe at least one German church in Whitechapel remained open and offering services in German throughout the war.

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    Sorry Flanner
    "We started them. We deliberately bombed civilian targets in Germany before they bombed us, to divert the Luftwaffe from destroying our fighter planes, which they might well have achieved. Instead their fighters were used to protect the bombers they were tricked into retaliating with, achieving little except giving us time to build enough fighters."

    wrong, read more

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    This is side-tracking bilbo, and flanner is characteristically over-egging the pudding, but on that point he is not totally wrong, at least as regards the tactics of the Battle of Britain. And the general point about "atrocities" is a fair one. For all the horrors the Nazis visited on others, most people in Britain were and are well aware the country's experience was very different from the depths of destruction and despair on the continent.

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    "We can sleep when we get home!" - that's my motto too! :)

    Smart girl to switch up your itinerary based on the weather. (Hope it worked out!)
    I've made a note of the hat shop. My daughter will love that. I just watched a video I found in a visitbritain email I received that shows how a hat is made. It was amazing to me! http://www.visitbritain.tv/partner-channels/va-museum.html

    So sorry about your husband's ankle.
    Enjoying your report very, very much.

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    I am just amazed at the detail of information you have and are sharing. I wish I had this information before I went last year. I will be putting your report in my London file!

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    Thanks for the positive comments! We had a wonderful time. Took a bit, but Mick’s ankle is finally better. Latana – great website!!! I will save it in my favorites! Try to get to the V&A. It is awesome. I visited during my last trip and loved it. Janisj – I was sorry to not be able to get into Lock & Co., but I do love what they have on their website. PatrickLondon – thank you for the information on the Fourth Plinth. What a great idea to use it to display different works of art! Flanneruk – I am of the opinion that any civilian, in any country, who is murdered as a result of war is an atrocity.

    Monday, 16 January 2012

    The weather was beautiful again – sunny and in the mid-40s. Despite being thrilled that it had been so nice, it is definitely a worrying sign of global warming. Today’s planned itinerary was to see the sights along Fleet Street. The weather made for a good walking day. We took the tube to Bank because I wanted to see the Gresham Grasshopper on Lombard Street at the corner of Abchurch Lane. It is based upon the family crest of Thomas Gresham, who founded the Royal Exchange. As previously noted, we are from Massachusetts. Faneuil Hall is located in Boston and there is a gilded grasshopper weathervane on top of the building that is believed to be modeled after Gresham’s grasshopper on the Royal Exchange. It was a nice reminder of the connection between England and our home.

    We visited the Bank of England Museum. My primary reason for going there was to see the Roman mosaic, however, we did look at the exhibits on the evolution of money in England. There is a pretty mosaic on the wall, as well as the floor, but there was something about it that didn’t sit right. Alas, after additional research I found that a Roman mosaic had been found under the Bank of England, HOWEVER, it is located in the British Museum. Ooops.

    We then walked to St. Paul’s Cathedral. In St. Paul’s Churchyard, were many tents housing protestors who were part of the Occupy London campaign. A sign read “welcome to the world’s longest occupation! 93 days since last eviction”. It seemed to be a peaceful protest with people singing while we were there. I was able to use the 2 for 1 coupon (a savings of £14.50) for admission to St. Paul’s. We took an audio tour of the cathedral, which is massive. The interior is very beautiful with mosaics, lots of gold and marble. I thought about what it must have been like during the wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana. Although we did not go up to the Whispering Gallery, we did explore the crypt.

    We walked up Fleet Street and had lunch at Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese. Our stop here was more for the historical ambiance instead of a gastronomical experience. Although there has been a pub at that location since 1538, the current building had to be rebuilt in 1667 after the Great Fire of 1666. We immediately noticed that the step at the entrance of the pub has been worn down over time so that there is a groove in the stone. There is a proper step over it, but we made sure to touch the original step and think about Charles Dickens putting his foot on the same spot. We had lunch in the Chop Room and at the prompting of our waitress, we explored a little bit to see the narrow hallways and numerous rooms. We went downstairs to the cellar. I recall reading that there was a building that belonged to a Carmelite Monastery in the 13th century and the vaulted cellars were part of that building.

    We continued our stroll along Fleet Street. There is a beautiful Art Deco building across from Salisbury Court, which is the Daily Express Building. It has a black façade, rounded corners and chromium strips. You can’t miss it. It is not open to the public and the shades were drawn so you couldn’t see inside the building, which was a shame because I have seen pictures of the artwork in the lobby. They are fabulous! There are two other similar buildings in Manchester and Glasgow.

    I attempted to find the crypt of the Whitefriars monastery, which I thought had looked really interesting. Despite my search, I was not able to find it. That was disappointing. The website that I had found it on said that was on Whitefriars Street by the Tipperary Pub. However, a second website, which I saw after the fact, said that it was on Magpie Alley off of Bouverie Street. Bouverie Street and Whitefriars Street run paralell to each other. We’ll know for next time!

    On a brighter note, we were able to see the Temple Church. The church was open from 2:00-4:00 p.m. on this day. The opening times change, but the website provides the times a month in advance. The church was really impressive. The effigies of the knights were amazing. A lot of the church was damaged by an incendiary bomb in WWII, which landed on the round part of the church over the knights' tombs. Luckily, plaster casts of the effigies were made in the mid-1860s for the Great Exhibition and were kept at the V&A so they were able to reconstruct them. The sculptures of the faces around the circular part of the church were amusing and we took several pictures of them. We walked around Middle Temple and I explained to Mick what we were seeing as I had taken the London Walks Illegal and Legal London walk when I was in London two years ago.

    We continued on our way, past the Temple Bar Monument, to Twinings Tea Shop on the Strand. I wandered in, while Mick remained outside, and bought a couple of pretty tins of tea. We saw the Australia House, which served as Gringott’s Bank from the Harry Potter movies. It was becoming dark at this point, so we jumped on the tube at Temple and headed back to the hotel. Before going up to the room, I bought a cup of tea at the Cabbie’s Tea Hut to help warm up.

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    Tuesday, 17 January 2012

    Today was our daytrip to Salisbury. We already had our tickets from Megabus in hand as I had printed them out at home. When we arrived at the Waterloo Rail Station, we found that the train to Salisbury had been cancelled. Apparently, there was a problem with the rail going into Waterloo. After a moment of panic, we were directed to board a train and make inquires as to our next steps. We found the conductor who told us to change trains in Basingstoke for Salisbury. The change of scenery from London to the countryside was a welcome treat. It was very cold and the frost on the trees and plants made it seem magical. We changed trains and we were on our way to Salisbury. All went smoothly and actually, the timing could not have been better. As we walked out of the station in Salisbury, the bus to Stonehenge was arriving. We bought our tickets for the Stonehenge Tour from the driver and we were off to see one of the most incredible monuments in the world.

    The bus tour included a commentary on the history of Salisbury and pointed out historic buildings. We drove by Old Sarum, the original Salisbury. The bus stops here on the return from Stonehenge, but we opted to go straight back to town. The commentary also provides information on the burial mounds around Stonehenge. I have read differing opinions on others’ experiences at Stonehenge from being underwhelming to outstanding. I found myself in the latter group. There were not many people there, which lent to the experience. To stand there and envision how the ancient builders developed the idea of their monument then made it come to fruition is astounding. Although we had the audio guide explaining Stonehenge, we also spoke with someone from the English Heritage who shared additional information with us. We both found Stonehenge to be amazing and spent quite a bit of time there despite the cold. As we were leaving, we warmed up a bit with a hot chocolate before boarding the bus back to Salisbury.

    In the marketplace on Tuesdays and Saturdays in Salisbury is a farmer’s market, which is why I chose to do this daytrip on a Tuesday. It was very large with vendors selling everything from fruits and vegetables to fish and meats to clothes and jewelry. From there, we walked up High Street to the cathedral, admiring the ancient architecture along the way. It had been explained on the tour bus that Salisbury Cathedral was spared the German bombing raids in World War II as the German airmen were instructed not to destroy the Cathedral as they used it as a guide to locate the river to London.

    The spire of Salisbury Cathedral dominates the horizon. It is an imposing piece of architecture built in the 13th century. The outside of the cathedral is decorated with intricate carvings so please do not overlook these images by rushing inside. We spoke with one of the tour guides who explained the oldest working clock and the new baptismal font. The website describes it as a “spectacular flowing ‘living water’ font”, which it truly is. We saw the Magna Carta in the Chapter House, which is incredibly well preserved. There are some beautiful monuments in the cathedral. Of those buried in the cathedral, there is a tomb to Lady Jane Grey’s (the “Nine Days Queen”) sister, Catherine, and her husband, Edward Seymour. Hers is a sad story. I found a website that has a list of people who are buried in the cathedral, which is pretty interesting. http://www.findagrave.com/php/famous.php?page=cem&FScemeteryid=1977331

    We made our way back to the train station and had a quick bite to eat. The issue with the Waterloo Rail Station had been resolved and we were able to go straight to London. We took the Tube back to the hotel where we freshened up. Mick remained at the hotel to rest his ankle while I decided to go to the British Library as it is open until 8:00 p.m. on Tuesdays. Although the exhibition area was smaller than I had imagined, its contents surely made up for its size. The collection of manuscripts, maps and bibles is like nothing I have ever seen. I saw Jane Austen’s writing desk and some of her writing, Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, the Canterbury Tales and Beowulf amongst other items. There is an exhibit related to Mary, Queen of Scots. The letter written to Queen Elizabeth I from her son, James I, requesting his mother’s freedom is moving. Bibles and other religious writings from different faiths were also on display. The detail and the colors are exquisite. There are also two Magna Cartas at the Library, which meant that I was fortunate enough to see three documents in one day. I was very impressed by the Library and would go again in a minute. I browsed the gift shop and picked up some books as momentos of my visit.

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    Wednesday, 18 January 2012

    We slept in a little today to catch up on some sleep. The weather desk at the BBC was correct and it had rained. However, it stopped by the time we got to the dining room for breakfast. It was about 55F, but seemed cooler because of the dampness. Happily, it did not rain for the rest of the day.

    My mom’s favorite gates in London are the Queen Mother Gates (officially known as the Queen Elizabeth Gate). They are located on the Carriage Road in Hyde Park from Park Lane. We took the bus to Hyde Park Corner by Apsley House and walked over. I wanted to take some pictures of the gates and have them framed for my mother, however, I didn’t get many good shots as they were open. They truly are beautiful and very intricate.

    We then took the tube to the National Gallery. What a place! We spent three hours wandering around admiring the art. The colors are so vivid and precise. It is hard to imagine that these paintings are hundreds of years old. They look as though they could have been done yesterday. It was one of our favorite places in London. We walked through two of the galleries before getting hungry. We ate at the National Café and had a really good meal before moving on to the other galleries. I would go back in a second.

    After peeling ourselves out of the National Gallery, we walked down Whitehall to Churchill’s War Rooms. I used my travelcard and the 2 for 1 coupon and paid £16.50. I understand why this exhibit is so highly rated. This was not on my initial itinerary, but I’m glad that I added it at the last minute. I can’t imagine spending so much time in an underground bunker. There is a lot to be said about the fortitude of Londoners during that time.

    We left the museum and made our way to Westminster Abbey. I had scheduled our visit on Wednesday because it is open late. The last admission is at 6:00 p.m. There were pros and cons to this plan. The pros included being able to see other things during the day that would normally be closed at this time of day and we had the Abbey pretty much to ourselves. The con was not being able to see the beautiful stained glass windows because it was dark outside. I had been to Westminster Abbey on a previous visit and know that those windows are glorious. Once again, I was blown away by the history of Westminster Abbey, an institution for hundreds of years. The monuments are just incredible. The Lady Chapel is beyond words. We were able to spend quite a bit of time at Westminster Abbey without feeling rushed or pushed around by throngs of visitors.

    Leaving the Abbey, we were treated to the sight of the clock tower affectionately known as Big Ben. Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament are so pretty at night with the lights emphasizing the architecture. We walked over to the Westminster Bridge to see the statue of Boudica in the foreground of the London Eye, which was glowing in a beautiful soft blue. It was a nice way to end the day.

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    Thursday, January 19, 2012

    Today was a bit overcast, but no rain. After breakfast, we took the tube to Baker Street and found Madame Tussauds Wax Museum. This had not been on my itinerary, but it was something that Mick wanted to see. Since he had been so good about hobbling around London on a sore ankle and seeing what I had wanted, I thought it only fair that he should be able to see something that he wanted. Happily, I was able to use a 2 for 1 coupon for a savings of £30. The figures are a work of art and they spookily look very much like the real thing. Interestingly, this and the British Museum were the most crowded places that we had visited during our trip.

    We took the tube to Farringdon because I had wanted to see St. Etheldreda's Church in Ely Place. Unfortunately, this was vetoed in favor of lunch so it remains on my list of places to see. I had read several articles about Ye Olde Mitre, a pub near the church, which is a bit off the beaten path. I was determined that I would find it and used Google Maps and the A to Z to plot my course. This is not a pub that you would walk by on the street, it is located down a very narrow alleyway off of a gated side street. It is such a tiny pub, loaded with history. There were a ton of people there so we were not able to find a seat. Reluctantly, we left, but we did have pretty good sandwiches at Pret A Manger.

    I crossed the street to St. Andrew Holborn to see the Blewcoat School figures. The Christ Church Blewcoat School was founded in 1688 as a charity to teach boys to “read, write, cast accounts and the catechism”, according to the London Encyclopedia. I believe the original school was located on Caxton Street in Westminster. There are two statues on the front of St. Andrew Holborn, a girl and a boy. The girl can be seen on www.secret-london.co.uk/BlueCoats.html and the boy can be seen on the church website www.standrewholborn.org.uk I found them to be a moving tribute.

    While we were in the area, we finished Friday’s walk, which had been shortened due to jetlag on our first day. We crossed over the Holborn Viaduct and admired the statues on the bridge on our way to Giltspur Street. On one corner of Giltspur Street is the Viaduct Tavern, which was built on the site of Newgate Prison, which was by all accounts, a horrific place. Here is a description from the L.E. “the water supply was quite inadequate, the ventilation almost non-existent, the stench appalling and, during the frequent outbreaks of gaol fever, a virulent form of typhoid, the fumes bore the germs of the disease into every cell of the prison”. Makes one want to behave. Across the street is St. Sepulchre-without-Newgate and in its gates on the corner is London’s first public drinking fountain. It dates from 1859 and was erected to provide free water in an effort to discourage alcohol. It is directly across from the pub. Although there is a lot of construction in the area and there were several street signs resting against the railing, we could still see the fountain. There are two cups on chains in the fountain and engraved in the marble is “replace the cup”. St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, London’s oldest, is on Giltspur Street. Next to the graveyard at St. Sepulchre’s and across from the hospital is the Watch House, which was erected in 1791. It was used to keep watch over the newly buried bodies in the cemetery as grave robbers would steal the bodies for medical study at St. Bart’s.

    On the corner of Giltspur Street and Cock Lane, is the Golden Boy of Pye Corner. I had seen a tiny picture of him in a book and it became my mission to find him. It is a small golden statue set in the corner of a building. The inscription under him reads “the Boy at Pye Corner was erected to commemorate the staying of the Great Fire, which beginning at Pudding Lane was ascribed to the sin of gluttony when not attributed to the papists as on the Monument and the boy was made prodigiously fat to enforce the moral that he was originally built into the front of a public house called the Fortune of War, which used to occupy this site but was pulled down in 1910”. Interestingly, as Mick and I were standing on the corner reading about the Golden Boy and taking his picture, a local walking quickly with a purposeful gate, paused to see what we were looking at. He stopped, began to continue on then stopped again to step closer to read about the Golden Boy. A second man did the same. It makes you pause to think about the interesting things in your city that you may have overlooked throughout the years.

    We continued walking down Giltspur Street toward W. Smithfield. Once we got to the end of the street, we saw the bomb damage on the side of St. Bartholomew’s Hospital. After some research, I learned that on 8 September 1915, a German Zeppelin raid hit the area and caused the damage. There was another air raid in 1917. Very close to the damage is the memorial to William Wallace, a.k.a. Braveheart. It was erected to recognize the area where he had been hung, drawn and quartered. What a horrible fate!

    Above the front entrance of St. Bartholomew’s Hospital stands a statue of King Henry VIII. The hospital was part of a priory, but when King Henry dissolved the monasteries in the 1530s, the hospital was spared. The statue was erected for his gesture. I have read that this is the only outside statue of King Henry VIII in London.

    We wound our way through Cloth Fair to return to the Museum of London. We picked up where we had left off at the Plague and followed it through to the present. I wanted to ride on the #15 bus, which is one of the heritage routes. On our way over to St. Paul’s Cathedral to catch the bus, we stopped into Tea, a cute shop, for a cup of….what else… tea. We took the bus to Piccadilly Circus. The majority of the time was sitting in traffic so it took us a while to arrive at our destination. Mick wanted to walk a bit so we set off in the direction of Leicester Square, where we found (of all places), M&M World! It was actually pretty fun – four floors dedicated to M&Ms. We were pretty tired at that point, so we took the tube back to the hotel. We cleaned up and went to Orsini’s for dinner.


    Friday, 20 January 2012

    Today, it was a bit drizzly out, but not as chilly. The skies brightened as the day went on. This was the day on the itinerary that I had intentionally left empty so we could go back to see anything that we had missed. Since I had bought the travelcard a day earlier than I had planned, I knew that I needed to see the Tower of London today in order to use the 2 for 1 coupon. At this point, the savings from the coupons paid for both travelcards.

    Unfortunately, I woke up with a cold and ended up getting a late start. After breakfast, we took the tube to the Tower of London and waited for a Beefeaters tour, but after 15 minutes we decided we would go it alone. I had done a lot of reading on the Tower, which was helpful. Despite all that I read about the Tower being crowded, there were very little people there. We first went to see the Crown Jewels. They truly are beautiful. Since there was no crowd, we rode the people mover twice. They were just as beautiful the second time around.

    Some trees were being felled in front of the White Tower. We were told that they had been planted in the Victorian Age and that it would now open up the view to the Tower Bridge and the buildings across the Thames. I can attest that it certainly did. I was most interested in seeing the White Tower. How incredible that this building has been standing for almost a thousand years! To stand in its shadow and think of all the history that took place there while it was a royal castle and a prison is unnerving. The royal armor collection is housed in the White Tower. It is quite extensive. We also enjoyed the other artifacts in the White Tower, as well as interesting movie on its building.

    Upon taking our leave, we followed the walkway toward the Thames and took some nice pictures of Tower Bridge. Instead of retracing our steps back to the Tower Hill tube, we walked around the Tower so that the bridge remained on our right. We turned left at the street onto Tower Bridge Road to walk to the tube. I saw a tube sign and crossed the street. I must have taken a wrong turn somewhere because we walked down what I thought was a tunnel under the street, but I was pleasantly rewarded with seeing another section of the London Wall. We eventually reached the tube and went back to our neighborhood for dinner.


    Saturday, 21 January 2012

    This morning was the first day that it was actually wet enough to warrant using an umbrella. I was still not feeling well so we decided to sleep a bit and skip breakfast. Due to moving around the itinerary earlier in the week, we would be visiting the British Museum today. This worked out so well with the weather. We had a delicious breakfast at a great little café on Museum Street. I wish I could remember the name of it. They served both breakfast and lunch, everything was prepared fresh, served quickly and was very reasonably priced.

    The British Museum is awesome! Mick said that we would go again on our next visit to London (yeah!). I have read that they have the best collection of historical artifacts in the world and I would have to concur. The museum was somewhat crowded, mostly with people taking pictures of the artifacts, but not actually looking at the artifacts. I wondered why they would not want to savor the time they had in front of such objects. We spent several hours at the British Museum admiring the exhibits. One could return over and over again and not see everything.

    We then took the tube to the Knightsbridge station and went into Harrods. The place is gigantic with wall to wall people. They have opened a Harry Potter Shop on the third floor. It is a large area completely decorated with all things H.P. There are several props and costumes from the films, along with those you can buy. Anyone who enjoys the movies will have fun here. We strolled through the food halls, which are always interesting. I thought we might eat there, but the crowds made it claustrophobic so we decided to eat elsewhere. We walked down Brompton Road and stopped at the National Geographic store. We continued our walk and stopped at a pub for dinner. We probably should have eaten in the food halls. It was an expensive and disappointing last dinner. Since we wanted to leave on a good note, we went to our favorite restaurant, Orsini’s, for dessert and cappuccinos and reminisced about our week in London.


    Sunday, 22 January 2012

    On our last day in London, we woke up to sunny skies. After some last minute packing, we had breakfast. We walked to the South Kensington tube station and boarded the Piccadilly line to Heathrow. There were no disruptions in rail service and we made it to Heathrow in less than 45 minutes.

    As with checking in, we upgraded to the extra legroom seats. We had a lot of time before our flight so we poked around in the airport shops. I bought the tea that my sister had requested from Harrods (duty free). We had lunch at Pret A Manger and then we were on our way home. The flight was uneventful and I was finally able to have my cream tea on the plane. I would have preferred to have it in London, but I enjoyed it all the same.

    Well, that was our trip to London. We loved it and I hope to return soon. Thanks for reading!

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    It makes you pause to think about the interesting things in your city that you may have overlooked throughout the years. >>

    you're not kidding. you saw loads more than i did in 15 years of working there. i might even try to persuade DH to spend a few days in london following in your footsteps [hopefully without the limp].

    thanks for posting such an excellent report.

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    Thank you so much for your feedback! I learned so much from all the trip reports posted on this forum. I enjoyed writing it and I appreciate your positive comments. We had such a great time!!

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