Flew non-stop JFK–London, flight arrived Saturday 7AM London time, right around the time we would be going to sleep in NY. Didn’t get any sleep on the plane, so, being as we had only 2 days in London, we were going to trudge on as long as we could, missing one night’s sleep. It wasn’t easy; I probably would avoid doing it in the future.
When we went to get our luggage, had a temporary moment of panic when it seemed like all the luggage had been picked up off the carousel and ours was nowhere to be seen. We went over to the airline desk and then realized we were at the wrong carousel. I guess tiredness can do that to you.
Retrieved our luggage and walked to the tube station and bought our oyster cards. I remembered that someone had said you can return the card at the end for a refund and that was what I intended to do. I calculated later in the trip and figured that I saved money using the oyster card instead of 2 all day travel cards.
Those of you who read my posts before the trip questioned my choice of hotel and the long trip from Heathrow to Stratford had me questioning it myself. However, once we settled in, I still think I made a good choice.
My goal for hotels, on this trip, was to get a highly rated hotel for a good price, away from the center of things, but near to transportation with fast easy access to the sights. I accomplished that with all 3 of my hotels, Westbridge in London, Rainers in Vienna and Hotel Julian in Prague.
Between the 3 I averaged spending only about $85/night for 9 nights.
While my wife was getting ready that first morning, I went to the lounge/business center of the Westbridge to print some information off the internet. The lounge reminded me of one of those stodgy club lounges where men sit around smoking cigars and drinking brandy. When I looked next to the computer keyboard there was a chocolate Easter egg. Turns out I had found one of the hunted Easter eggs they told me about when I checked in. When I took the egg to the reception I found out I had won a 25% off coupon for the hotel restaurant, which I wound up using the next day on Easter.
We set off on our first day in London, tired as can be, but excited to be touring. Knowing that the churches would be closed on Sunday, my goal was to see St Paul’s and Westminster Abbey.
The walk from the hotel to the Stratford station was very close. I was also able to see where I would catch the bus to Stansted Airport, right there on Monday morning.
My first stop was St Paul’s. My wife was fighting off a cold so she was asking for soup. As luck would have it there was a little soup shop as soon as we hit the street right behind St Paul’s. We walked past the Temple Gate, which the Rick Steves guidebook told me had been disassembled and relocated a couple of times. I had bought my ticket to St Paul’s online, so we were able to bypass the line. We walked around viewing the amazing interior; I was taking pictures and videos and only realized on the way out that picture taking was not allowed.
Next destination was Westminster Abbey. The line was rather long but we waited in the chilly weather, paid our 40GBPs and went in. Of course, this is something that should not be missed, but the admission is somewhat steep. I guess the free museums makes up for it.
After the Abbey it was time to eat. Being in London, what is the first thing is you want to eat. fish and chips, of course. Not having enough time to seek out any of the good shops I read out about, I asked a worker for a recommendation. He sent us to The Feathers which I see now that someone describes on Yelp ‘nice ales and lagers, comfy chairs and a traditional decor with plenty of brass to be seen’, an accurate description. I enjoyed my fish and chips and beer. I would have enjoyed a nap at that point but on we went.
We walked onto Westminster Bridge and took some nice pictures with Big Ben and The Houses of Parliament in the background. We then proceeded up Whitehall. Along the way we encountered marchers, in an anti-fascist demonstration. I’m all for that. Much better than a fascist demonstration. We took some pics of the marchers and my wife also posed with a couple of London Bobbies.
We came to the National Gallery, and I decided to pop in for a quick look around. I sought out a few of our favorite artists, Vermeer, Monet and Van Gogh. We always seek out Vermeer paintings, wherever we go, since there are only 36 in the world, I think, and he was a great painter. I, also, love Monet’s Gare St Lazare paintings. I had seen the one at the Orsay and now I’ve seen the one at the National Gallery. As Zola said ‘Monet’s work on the Gare Saint-Lazare is unparalleled in its evocation of steam and the smoke-filled station’. I would have loved to spend a whole day at the National Gallery, but being short on time we moved on.
Upon leaving the National Gallery, we walked past Leicester Square, and on to Piccadilly Circus.
The energy of the mass of humanity around that area is fantastic. We enjoyed watching a group of young male hip hop dancers, taking turns and doing their jumping and flipping type dancing. It was, also, amusing to watch a couple of overweight Sikh tourists, with pretty good rhythm, join in on the dancing. Everyone was having a good time.
Later in the day we wound up in the Covent Garden area and I sought out a vegetarian restaurant that some guy on yelp had listed http://www.yelp.co.uk/list/great-lunches-in-town-under-a-tenner-london, ‘Food for Thought’. We went down into the cramped basement where a bunch of mostly young folks were chowing down. The place was closing up but we were able to get some food. They serve you a bowl of anything, cafeteria style, for 5 pounds. I had a vegetarian chile which I liked, my wife got a stew, but she said she didn’t like it.
At this point we had done so much walking that our legs were in pain, and my wife was starting to get PO’d. I pushed it and made her take a quick look at the Covent Garden market. I guess it’s something you should see. Ready to keel over we walked over to the nearest tube station only to find out it was closed and that we had to walk a few blocks more to the next station. Just when I thought I might have to call a bicycle taxi. I saw the entrance to the next station and we made it onto the train and back to Stratford.
To be continued..
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Trip Report London, Vienna, Prague - Part 1