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Trip Report Seven days in London, June, 2014

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This wonder forum and the input I received while planning our first trip to London was immensely helpful. Thank you all for the great advice. To ‘pay it forward’, below is my trip report in hopes that it will provide some useful information to others in the planning stages. We are two 60+ year olds that traveled at the end of June, 2014.

Day 1…. (Monday) Arrival, Travelcards
Our flight from Dulles Airport to Heathrow was uneventful. We arrived at the brand new Terminal 2 at 6:30AM. Getting through security/customs was a breeze. We had made arrangements from justairports.com for a taxi to pick us up. (We booked them online from home in the US—this cost us a little more (£56 to St. Katharine Docks) than had we paid by cash. Thankfully, our driver was waiting for us as promised. (Unlike the fiasco we had in Paris…another story.) The ride from the airport was at times nail-biting—weaving in and out, tailgating and motorcycles driving between lanes of stopped traffic. Of course, at this hour we were hitting rush hour traffic. We were amazed to rarely hear a car horn honk---so unlike major US cities. The drive took about 90 minutes to arrive at our rental in St. Katharine Docks.

The owner of the flat was very accommodating in allowing us to check in early—9AM! The flat was lovely and the view of the marina was very relaxing. After a 90 minute siesta to recharge our batteries, we headed out to get the coveted Travelcards from the National Rail Service—our main objective for the day. (NOTE: These are not Oyster cards) Since we wanted to walk over the Tower Bridge and check out the Southwark area, we headed to the London Bridge Train station—not to be confused with the London Bridge Tube station. With our 2”x2” head-shot photos in hand that we brought from home, (Took them on our camera—didn’t pay for passport photos.) we bought two 7 day passes for zones 1 & 2 for £31.40 each. Don’t balk at the cost—it was a bargain. The Travelcards can be used on bus, tube or trains—but the biggest savings came with the 2 for 1 coupons that could be used in conjunction with the Travelcard. Thanks to fellow Fodorites that turned us on to this great savings!! Prior to leaving on our trip, we went to www.daysoutguide.co.uk/2for1-london and printed out the coupons we thought we’d use.

After completing our main objective for the day, we walked along the Thames. The weather was beautiful and lots of people were out enjoying the sunshine. We grabbed a sandwich at the Hay’s Galleria. They had a large screen set up along the walkway there to watch the matches at Wimbledon. We worked our way back to the Tower Bridge and decided to use our first 2 for 1 coupon—the Tower Bridge Exhibition….£9 saved! (cha-ching!) It was fun to walk across the upper part of the bridge and we enjoyed it but it definitely is not a ‘must see’. We then hit Waitrose for some groceries before returning to our flat. Dinner on the balcony consisted of wine, prosciutto, cheese and crackers while overlooking the marina—divine!

Day 2 (Tuesday)….Westminster, War Rooms, Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar
We adjusted to the time change perfectly—slept in until 6:30AM and were out the door by 8:30AM. First on our list was Westminster Abbey. We rode the District Line (tube) from Tower Hill. Westminster opened at 9:30AM and we had a short line to wait in before admittance. Senior rate admission was £15/ea—no 2 for 1 here. The audio guide was included, though. While in the Abbey, I kept remembering William and Kate’s wedding being held here and all its grandeur . Sir Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin are buried here. We spent almost 2 hours there and hit the gift shop afterwards where I made a couple of purchases.
We walked to the Churchill War Rooms…another 2 for 1 coupon site …£17.50 saved (cha-ching!) and included the audio guide. Fascinating place even for those who are not war buffs.
Hungry for lunch, we stopped at Pickles for some sandwiches ‘take away’ (to-go) and had a little picnic at St. James to enjoy the lovely weather. Lots of other people had the same idea—it was a busy spot.
With stomachs full, we walked thru St. James’s Park to Buckingham Palace to take some photos. Buckingham Palace is open to visitors in August and September when the Queen is away on holiday, so this was going to be a walk-by. We were advised by Fodorites to skip the changing of the guard here because of the crowds and time wasted—good advice, in our opinion. We were able to zoom in with our camera to take photos of the guards out front. We were struck with how regular street traffic zoomed so close to the Palace—that would never happen at the White House!
We then walked back past Westminster Abbey and onto the Westminster Bridge to get the obligatory photo of Big Ben and the House of Parliament.
Trafalgar Square was next on the list…(Sorry, my notes don’t indicate how we got there—oops.) I had read where you could do some brass rubbings at St. Martins of the Fields Church. Unfortunately, it was later in the afternoon and no one was around. The plates I saw to use didn’t interest me, so we skipped that.
The National Gallery was right in front of us but we were running out of time and steam and opted to fit it in another day, if possible.
We took the red double-decker bus #15 back to Tower Hill. We left Trafalgar at 4:30PM….(Note to self….take the tube during rush hour!) It took us 45 minutes to reach our final stop!
Dinner was at the Dicken’s Inn which is right in St. Katharine Docks. Good food.

Day 3 (Wednesday)….Cotswolds
Today was out day tour of the Cotswolds with International Friends tours. We visited Bampton—the site where many village scenes in the “Downton Abbey” TV series are filmed as well as Cogges and Swinbrook. Blenheim Palace, the home of Sir Winston Churchill was also on the tour.
Our scheduled pick-up point was outside the British Museum at 7:20AM. Being a bit paranoid about being late, we opted to take a taxi as opposed to using public transportation. Plenty of taxis could be found at the corner of E. Smithfield and Thomas More St. We flagged one down in no time and arrive at our pick-up point with plenty of time to spare. (Fare was £14.20.) After a few more pick-up stops by the tour bus, we were on our way.
Our first stop, after a 2 hour drive (traffic accident on freeway) was Cogges Farm in Oxfordshire. This is a working farm that dates to the 10th century. It was such a lovely bucolic setting with lovely gardens—great photo ops here! There was also a little food area where we had our first tea & scone with clotted cream. OMG…it was delicious! I tried not to think of the clotted cream clogging my arteries—totally worth every calorie!!
Our next stop was at Bampton where many of the Downton Abbey TV series is filmed. We are fans of Downton and enjoyed seeing the filming sight. It was a quaint, picturesque town. Lunch was at the Swan Inn in Swinbrook. The food was good but the service was s-l-o-w. There was a ‘footpath’ near the inn. We learned that a footpath in England is protected by a 1000 yr old rule that allows the public to cross private land. There is even stepping stones to climb over any stone fencing that one might encounter.
Our final stop was at Churchill’s grave site and Blenheim Palace—home to Winston Churchill. The palace was quite grand with lots of acreage--although it paled in comparison to Versailles. Churchill’s grave is in an unassuming spot in a graveyard of an old church nearby. (FYI…A graveyard is always attached to a church where a cemetery is not. Who knew??)
The tour bus dropped us off at the Bond Street tube station (Jubilee line). We took that two stops then hopped off at Westminster to catch the District line home.
Dinner was at Elements—a quiet spot at Tower Hill. The food was excellent.

More to follow......

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