9 Days In London

Old Mar 19th, 2010, 11:30 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Mar 2003
Posts: 27
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
9 Days In London

I am writing this report in the hope that it will be as useful to other travelers as all the contributors to the many London threads have been to me in planning and organizing my recent trip. I hope this report isn't too long.

BACKGROUND: My wife and I have been independent European travelers for 20 years. We traveled to London for our first trip because of the language. After friends invited us on a trip to Portugal we determined that between learning a few critical words like wine, beer and bathroom, a little sign language, and the fact that so many people speak English as a second language that this not a barrier to us language challenged Americans. Since then we have traveled all over Europe. I decided it was time for a return trip to London. Our trips revolve around dining and local cuisine with the addition of museums, churches, historical sites, and architecture as you will understand as you read on. I do extensive researching, planning, organizing etc, which I really enjoy. My planning can extend a ten-day trip into many months.

Even though we live outside of Philadelphia, we generally fly out of Newark, NJ. using Continental, which allows for direct flights to more European cities and whenever we can we use points to upgrade on the way over to Europe. As we get older, the flight across gets harder and harder and Business/First makes it somewhat more tolerable. For some reason, the return flight seems so much easier, I guess because we do not feel we are missing a night’s sleep and it is light the entire flight. However, jet lag works the opposite way for us. We adjust quickly on the trip (maybe it’s adrenaline) but we drag for about a week after we return to the states.

One difficulty this trip is that I have been experiencing severe sciatica due to arthritis in my back and hips, which has slowed me down but I wasn't going to let it stop the trip. I could feel miserable at home or in London so I chose London. However, once I sit down the pain quickly subsides so it does not effect eating or riding. Sometimes I am in severe pain and cannot walk very far, and other times I have been able to hobble around for quite a while with my travel cane.

THURSDAY: We arrived at Heathrow about 7 AM. From the airplane to Passport Control was a pretty long walk and I was struggling. The woman directing everyone through the maze took pity on me (I do not know how much longer I could have stayed on my feet) and took us all the way to the front of the line, which was greatly appreciated.

I had arranged for London Heathrow Cars to meet as we came out of customs. This worked very smoothly and we were quickly driven through rush hour traffic in a very nice Mercedes sedan to the Rubens at the Palace Hotel. We booked the room starting the night we were on the plane, so we would be able to check in immediately to catch a couple of hours of sleep before my sister and her fiancé arrived from Virginia.

Once we were all together we hailed the first of many of the famous London Taxis to begin our London holiday at St. George's Tavern on Belgrave Road. We were offered a tasting of 6 different ales to decide which to select and then accompanied the ale with some local sausages, pies and puddings. After a hearty lunch, we hailed another taxi to drive us to the middle of Westminster Bridge to take pictures of the London Eye and Big Ben. We then walked up Whitehall to Trafalgar Square. Since it was getting cool, we went into the National Gallery to warm up, and were able to locate their two paintings by Vermeer (more on Vermeer later) in the museum. On our way back to the hotel we stopped at Gordon's Wine Bar on Villiers Street. We had been there 20 years earlier, and it still looked exactly the same. You enter the basement through an unmarked door and are then in the middle of a basement with tables, kegs, and food that was packed with customers. Since we were unable to find a table and were too tired to stand we returned to the hotel. We had dinner at Bumbles, which was one block from the hotel, and we took advantage of the 3-course fixed price menu for £10 that they had emailed me about after I made the reservation. A had to ask for the special menu but it turned out to be very good as well as good value.

FRIDAY: We began the day by walking to Victoria Rail Station to get our paper seven day travel cards for zones 1-3 (we included zone three to be able to travel out to a quilt fabric store and the nearby Kew Gardens) to be able to use the 2for1 coupons I had printed at home. We then used our new travel cards to take the tube to Westminster where we had a great English breakfast at the Cinnamon Club on Great Smith Street. After breakfast we arrived at Westminster Abbey just in time for the 11AM Verger led tour, which was very informative and gained us access into areas not open to the public. After paying £15 to get into the Abbey, it was a bargain to get the guided tour for only an additional £3. After the 90-minute tour, we headed to the Lamb & Flag on Rose Street for some more ale and pub grub in another very old pub. After some time wandering around the Covent Garden area and watching the street performers we headed back to Westminster to the Churchill Museum and Cabinet War Rooms. Since very little has been changed, you could almost hear the bombers overhead. After resting up at the hotel, we headed out to Rules for dinner. We enjoyed eating there 20 years ago and again had a very good traditional British meal of prime rib with Yorkshire pudding in the over the top Victorian surroundings. We had our first Sticky Toffee Pudding, which then became a quest to see how many versions we could find.

SATURDAY: We were a little slow arising so we did not get an early start (after all we are on holiday). I had originally planned to have breakfast at Lantana in Fitzrovia and lunch at the Holly Bush in Hampstead. Due to the time, we decided to have a late breakfast at Lantana. However, after finding the correct address on Charlotte Street and not finding the restaurant, we were informed that the restaurant is on Charlotte Place which fortunately was only a couple of blocks away. As we approached the restaurant I kept hoping that the crowd of people outside was not the waiting line, but it turned out that it was (it must be really good) so we had to go to plan C and continued to Hampstead and the Holly Bush. We were seated at the last empty table, which was tucked into a very small space next to one of the wooden supports, in the very crowded pub. By now I am becoming used to the ale being cellar temperature and not chilled and am starting to really enjoy it. After a goat cheese salad and some lamb rump we were ready to take on Kenmore House.

The reason for going to Kenmore House is that there is a painting by Johannes Vermeer that we have not previously seen in person. We became interested in Vermeer in 1996 when we went to an exhibition at the Smithsonian where 21 of his 35 known paintings were on display. We stood in line in Washington DC on a Sunday in January for four and a half hours to get in on the last weekend of the exhibition and have since became obsessed. After another Vermeer exhibition in 2001 at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, and visiting many other museums including the Frick Collection in New York, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the Mauritshuis in the Hague, the Louvre in Paris and the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, we had seen all of his paintings in person except “The Guitar Player” at Kenwood, “The Girl reading a Letter at an Open Window” at the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister in Dresden, and “The Concert” which was stolen out of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston in 1990. We now have to find a reason to get to Dresden. We toured the ground floor of Kenwood House and spent some time with the Vermeer. We also enjoyed the view of central London from the Heath before we returned to the hotel to rest up for dinner. We had reservations at The Narrow, a pub in the group of Gordon Ramsey’s restaurants, which is located on the river in Limehouse, where we could watch the river traffic and enjoy a good meal. I ordered the onion soup and the fish and chips, and later regretted not ordering the kidney, which the waiter had recommended.

SUNDAY: We had a relaxed breakfast at the hotel. On our previous trip to London, breakfast was included with our room and we became bored with the same buffet day after day. That is why I planned a different restaurant each morning. On our way to Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, we were heading to Waterloo Rail Station, but when we tried to transfer to the Jubilee Line, it was shut down for repairs so we had to walk over the Westminster Bridge. This is an example things that make each trip interesting, because crossing the bridge at the same time was some kind of a rally of Vespa like scooters and there were hundreds of them in all different colors and styles including some with white wall tires, all kinds of accessories, one modified like a chopper, and there was even one with a sidecar. At the rail station we picked up our tickets for the next day's trip to Salisbury and found out that the price was half as much after 0930 so we booked off-peak tickets. We then went to Shakespeare's Globe Theatre and used another 2for1 coupon. Since it was cold and windy and it was getting late, we had lunch at the Swan at the Globe, which was OK but nothing special. We finished just in time to hurry across the Millennium Bridge to make the Evensong service at St. Paul's Cathedral (on our previous trip we toured St. Paul’s Cathedral and attended services at Westminster Abbey). The choir and organ music was great. It seemed a little strange that the entire boy's and men's choir and everyone else involved in the service was male with the exception of the chaplain who preached the sermon. We ended the day with an excellent dinner at Amaya on Halkin Arcade. Not being familiar with Indian cuisine we took the recommendations of our waitress and everything was wonderful, spicy enough but not too much.

MONDAY: We had breakfast at Arch One restaurant, which is across the street from the main entrance to Waterloo Rail Station so we did not have to worry about getting from breakfast to the station. We left London at 0950 and arrived in Salisbury just after 1100. With the information from this forum, we approached the first taxi and arranged for him to take the four of us to Stonehenge, wait one hour, and return us to Salisbury for £40, which is slightly less than the bus and much more convenient. It was cool and windy but we made the complete walk around the stones and learned many tales from the audio-guide that was included with the admission charge. The paved parking lot was about three quarters full on a cold Monday in March so I asked the taxi driver what it is like in the summer and he said that cars are parked all over the surrounding fields. We had the taxi drop us off at Haunch of Venison pub for another some more good ale and great pub grub, in an historical building. After eating and relaxing, we walked through the quaint town of to the Salisbury Cathedral. I was especially interested since this cathedral was involved in Rutherfurd's book Sarum. The Salisbury Cathedral was built in the 13th century and is pretty much original. The Chapter House houses one of the four remaining copies of the Magna Carta and probably the one in the best condition. Many Bible stories are carved in the stone around the room are they were used by illiterate families to teach their children. After a little time spent in the town, we were on the train back to London. Dinner was at the Cadogan Arms Pub on King's Road. It is classified as a gastopub and certainly met the category. I had rabbit leg stuffed with prunes, which was wonderful. The toffee sticky pudding was the best so far. The only down side was the noise since in the front of the pub they were having some kind of a trivia contest and the leader shouting out the questions was extremely noisy. The waiter told us that these trivia contests are a common British pub thing.

TUESDAY: We started the day on Sloan Square at the Botanist, another gastropub that also serves a great breakfast. Enough with the English breakfast, it was time for some pancakes and syrup and great cappuccino. Then it was on to the Victoria & Albert Museum. The Gilbert collection of miniatures was amazing, and both Bernini and Canova were represented in the sculpture gallery. We had information that the Jewelry section is amazing, but it turned out that that area of the museum was closed because a strike had caused a shortage of guards (we thought this only happed in Italy). After wandering down the street and all around the food court of Harrods we worked up our appetites so we headed to Covent Garden for lunch at the Great Queen Pub. The Arbroath Smookie with cream and chives was to die for. The Treasures Room of the British Library was our next destination. After we saw a second Magna Carta and their Gutenberg Bible and a few other treasures we headed back to the hotel for some scones and tea, but got back too late, tea was over. We decided to take a rest from all the taxis and the underground trains, and had dinner at the Library Restaurant at the hotel. This turned out to be a very good decision as it was excellent.

WEDNESDAY: The Wolseley on Piccadilly started our day in a gorgeous setting filled with a very well dressed breakfast crowd. Since we didn't have a reservation, we were told there would be a half hour wait (I never thought I would need breakfast reservations plus we are never sure what time we will get started since we are on holiday). However, they were very sympathetic to me standing there leaning on my cane and set us down in a couple of minutes. I would highly recommend the Eggs Benedict. The British Museum was overwhelming so we concentrated on the Rosetta Stone and the Elgin Marbles from the Parthenon. We could have spent an entire day in each museum we went to, but were just hitting the high spots on this trip. It was time for us to ride on a double-decker bus, so we walked a couple of blocks and took the 38 bus to Hyde Park Corner to tour Apsley House, the former home of the Duke of Wellington, best know for defeating Napoleon. The house was impressive but the art collection was even better. The Dutch artists were very well represented which pleased us greatly. This time we made it back to the hotel in time for Tea. We couldn't leave London without some scones with clotted cream and we were not disappointed. Seafood was the order of the day so we went to J. Sheekey on St. Martin's Court. The taxi dropped us off at the wrong location and it took us a few minutes to figure out which way to go but not much can keep us from dinner, so we finally arrived. The sea bass coated in salt and baked with fennel and cream sauce was great and was followed by a couple of different soufflé’s, cherry and chocolate.

THURSDAY: My sister and her friend headed home so DW and I had a couple of days to ourselves. We just went down the street from the hotel to Pronto a Mangia for some coffee and croissants. We then took the tube all the way out to Tikki Patchwork near Kew Gardens. I have been able to find a quilt fabric store in almost every city we have visited and we have the fabric at home to prove it. I wasn't walking so well so we decided after the quilt shop not to go to the gardens and headed back to the city. We came out of the underground to Terroirs Wine Bar on William IV Street and you would have thought we had taken the Eurostar to Paris rather than were still in London. We had such a great lunch of Iberian ham, an assortment of cheeses, potato & bacon casserole, and finished with floating island, that as we left we made a reservation for lunch the next day. We returned to Rules for dinner. It is somewhat touristy but we enjoy the Victorian feel to the place and it just seems very British. Just watching some of the characters dining there was worth the time. We try to find a balance between going back to restaurants we have really enjoyed and trying new places.

FRIDAY: This was our last full day and since we regretted not trying the Indian Breakfast at the Cinnamon Club we returned. We had a rice pancake and Indian scrambled eggs and they were very spicy but we both survived, and they were delicious. The Courtauld Institute Gallery was next on the agenda with a very impressive art collection including many impressionist paintings. We then walked to the National Portrait Gallery and looked around for a few minutes waiting for the free concert across the street at St. Martin in the Fields. It is a beautiful old church and was pretty well filled. I wonder if they have that many people for Sunday services. Kentaro Nagai played some amazing piano pieces and was then joined by Sarah-Jane as the soloist. She had a powerful voice and we were sorry we had to leave for our second lunch at Terroirs Wine Bar. It was again worth doing. We had gilt head bream a la Plancha and Bavette with Shallots & Red Wine, and just one more floating island. The next target was the Queen's Gallery at Buckingham Palace to hopefully see the other Vermeer painting in London. We found out that the Gallery had been closed and would be reopening soon, but the Vermeer wasn't there, it was in the Palace. It must be nice to be the Queen. We were about traveled out by this time, so we again had dinner at the Library Restaurant at the hotel. The risotto with morels was phenomenal and again the Toffee Sticky Pudding was the finale.

SATURDAY: By the time we had finished breakfast and brought our bags down from our room, our car had arrived to deliver us back to the airport to head back home.

CONCLUSIONS: Even though we went off-season to avoid crowds, all of the restaurants were crowded. Apparently restaurant dining is very popular in London. I had made reservations for all but one evening over the Internet on either the restaurant's web sites or OpenTable. I did not think that I would need any reservations for breakfast or lunch at this time of the year and I do not like to restrict what we are doing during the day. The result was that we only were unable to get into one restaurant we wanted to and I don't think they take reservations anyway.

The 7-day travel card was almost worn out by the end of the week, and this is even though we had to take many taxis because I was unable to walk long distances from tube stops. We bought the paper rail 7-day travel card and used enough 2for1 coupons to cover the entire cost of one of the cards; however, we were never asked to show the paper card.

The London taxis were amazing. They were not cheap, but only once (at The Narrow) were we somewhere where a taxi had to be called. Any other time we could quickly summon one on the street.
There must be a very elaborate system enforcing the rules because every taxi was immaculate and every driver was courteous and knew where to go (with just one exception, who was very close). With thousands of taxis on the road, we did not see one dented taxi. After asking one of the driver’s a bunch of questions about the taxis he gave me a copy of his Taxi Magazine.

The Rubens at the Palace Hotel worked out very well for us. I Always look for a hotel in the center of the city and near transit lines and generally try to find a reasonably priced four-star hotel. The Rubens had a “pay for two nights stay three nights” special for the time of our stay. The Rubens had the friendliest and most helpful staff I have ever come across. Whenever we needed a taxi they would run out into the street if necessary. The free WIFI throughout the hotel was very useful.

The London weather turned out to be much cooler than we expected (low 40’s instead of low 50’s) but we did not have one drop of rain until the last day and by the time we left the Courtauld Gallery the rain had stopped and we never even opened our umbrellas. We were all layered up but it was cold when we were in the wind.
KipC is offline  
Old Mar 19th, 2010, 11:38 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 20,852
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
>>There must be a very elaborate system enforcing the rules
PatrickLondon is offline  
Old Mar 19th, 2010, 04:21 PM
Join Date: Feb 2007
Posts: 97
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
What a great trip report. I am taking my Mother for her 70th birthday and this was very helpful!
bgr8ful is offline  
Old Mar 19th, 2010, 04:32 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 150
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Nice trip report, but I gained about 10 lbs. sitting here reading it!
HuisClos is offline  
Old Mar 19th, 2010, 05:14 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 10,640
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Kip, I adore Sticky Toffee Pudding, too. Nice trip report. Thanks for sharing.
carolyn is offline  
Old Mar 19th, 2010, 06:31 PM
Join Date: Jan 2008
Posts: 1,900
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Thanks for the great trip report.
texasbookworm is offline  
Old Mar 20th, 2010, 02:00 AM
Join Date: Dec 2008
Posts: 147
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Great trip report! thaks for all the tips.
moonrise is offline  
Old Mar 20th, 2010, 06:18 AM
Join Date: Mar 2006
Posts: 5,537
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Very nice, KC. Will file this for future ref.

I look for Vermeers wherever I go, too. Will need to check out Kenwood House next time.

Being surrounded by so many spiffily natty breakfasters was my biggest thrill at The Wolsesley. The food's fine, too, of course.
stokebailey is online now  
Old Mar 20th, 2010, 06:28 AM
Join Date: Jan 2004
Posts: 25,646
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Thanks for the report; glad to see another Vermeer fan here. DH & I went to Berlin/Dresden last fall - Dresden is a great city, so definitely plan a trip there!
yk is online now  
Old Mar 20th, 2010, 09:21 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 15,297
Likes: 0
Received 11 Likes on 4 Posts
Thanks for taking us along, I enjoyed the trip.

"We now have to find a reason to get to Dresden."

Sounds like you have one already.
Nikki is online now  
Old Mar 20th, 2010, 05:48 PM
Join Date: Nov 2009
Posts: 1,313
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Thanks for the trip report.
europeannovice is offline  
Old Mar 23rd, 2010, 11:21 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Mar 2003
Posts: 27
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
The pictures to accompany this report are available at http://www.kodakgallery.com/gallery/...905%3A14078813

Thanks for all your nice comments.

KipC is offline  
Related Topics
Original Poster
Last Post
May 5th, 2010 06:28 PM
Jul 18th, 2007 02:49 PM
Jun 5th, 2006 02:28 PM
Mar 6th, 2004 05:46 PM

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off
Trackbacks are Off
Pingbacks are Off
Refbacks are On

Thread Tools
Search this Thread

Contact Us - Manage Preferences - Archive - Advertising - Cookie Policy - Privacy Statement - Do Not Sell or Share My Personal Information -