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Trip Report TR: yk & parents 5 days in London & Canterbury, November 2011

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This is the second half of our recent 11-day trip to Europe. We (my parents, me, DH) spent our first 6 days in Barcelona. The TR for that segment can be found here:
http://www.fodors.com/community/europe/tr-yk-family-6-days-in-barcelona-october-2011-with-photos.cfm

DH flew home at the end of our week in Barcelona. My parents & I flew on Easyjet from Barcelona to London Gatwick.

Preamble
The impetus of this European trip began in June of this year. My dad received an invitation from University of Surrey to join the school in celebrating its Battersea 120 event, and they are offering my father an honorary degree.

Let me backtrack a bit. My father did his PhD in London from 1962-65. At that time, he was enrolled at the Battersea College of Technology. The Battersea College was not a university at that time - back then, there was a scarcity in college spots. So University of London had an agreement with Battersea - the qualified students can study there (under a Univ of London appointed professor), and be awarded degrees from University of London. So, when my father graduated in 1965, his diploma came from Univ of London. A few years after he left, Battersea received a royal charter to open as a University. It moved to Guildford and became University of Surrey.

This year, University of Surrey decides to celebrate the 120th anniv of the founding of Battersea college, and it does so by honoring all past graduates of Battersea College (or Univ of London) and giving each one of them a honorary degree. In the end, several hundred graduates (from class of '41 through '71) RSVP'd to attend.

The ceremony was scheduled for November 2, 2011; hence our European trip was constructed around this occasion.

I have been to London many times - at least 15 or more; I usually go once every year or two. So, there isn't a long list of must-sees for me on this trip. OTOH, my parents haven't spent much time in London, so this trip is partly planned for their interests.

Day 1 arrival to London
We landed at Gatwick 20 minutes early at 11:40am. Easyjet leases the cheapest gates (hence the farthest), so we walked and walked and walked ... before we got to the immigration hall and baggage claim. We were at North Terminal, which means that after we picked up our checked luggage, we had to take the monorail over to South Terminal where the train station is. We tried buying our tickets using the automatic machines; however, it turns out the machines do not offer GroupSave discount (buy 2, get 3rd & 4th free), so back to the long snaking line for a ticket agent (£25.20 for 3).

We got on the 1:15pm FCC train (runs every 15 minutes) to London Bridge, then change for the SouthEastern train to Charing Cross. The entire trip took around 30 minutes. We rented a 1BR apartment near Charing Cross via City Holiday Home and the owner and the cleaner were there to meet us.

http://www.cityholidayhome.com/trafalgar-sq-apartment-9/

The apartment is located on a dead-end street 2 blocks from Charing Cross Station, sandwiched between the Strand and the Embankment. The Street name is York Buildings. Because it's a dead-end street (runs into the Embankment Garden), it is extremely quiet at night despite its convenient location. The apartment we chose is on the (US) 4th floor - no elevator. Bedroom has a double bed of poor quality. The living room has a leather sofa which can open up into a double bed; plus a single futon/sofa. The most spacious room in the apartment is the kitchen, with a dining table for 4. The kitchen has a fridge, stove top, tabletop oven, dishwasher, washer/dryer combo, microwave, kettle, and French drip coffee pot. It is adequate for our purpose, and its location makes up for any shortcomings. Our rate for 4 nights was £445, which is quite a bargain for central London.

I probably could have gotten a slightly bigger/nicer apt in London for similar price, but I picked this solely based on its convenient location. It is within walking distance to SoHo, Chinatown, Covent Garden, Leicester Sq; it is <3 min walk to both Charing Cross and Embankment Stations (4 different tube lines to choose from), and it's in such a central location that my parents can go out for walks easily without me and won't get lost.

Kitchen area (view from dining table): http://i406.photobucket.com/albums/pp146/y2000k/London%202011/IMG_6872.jpg

Bedroom: http://i406.photobucket.com/albums/pp146/y2000k/London%202011/IMG_6874.jpg

As the apartment hasn't been thoroughly cleaned yet, we dropped off our luggage and headed for lunch. I took my parents to the Chinese noodle bar in Leicester Sq where I went last year. We each got a bowl of its signature LanZhou hand-pulled noodle soup with beef, which hit the right spot.

Noodle Bar (Chinese)
33 Cranbourn Street (across the street from Leicester Sq tube station Exit 4)

[You can read my review /TR from Nov 2010: http://www.fodors.com/community/europe/yks-short-trip-to-london-nov-2010.cfm ]

After lunch, we went over to Royal Opera House to pick up our pre-paid tickets, then went back to Charing Cross station where there is a Mark & Spencer Simply Food supermarket to get groceries.

We headed back to the apartment and took a long afternoon nap - after all, we got up at 6am this morning in Barcelona! When we woke up, we were still full from lunch so we headed straight to Covent Garden for the Royal Ballet's Sleeping Beauty. This is Dad's first return to Covent Garden in 50-odd years, so it's partly a nostalgic visit for him. (He used to go see the opera from the Upper Slips.) I showed them around the old auditorium as well as the new Paul Hamlyn hall. We didn't pre-order food and drinks there, but did get a couple of ice-creams during intermission.

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