London (and Paris toe-dip) Trip Report

Old Aug 5th, 2011, 06:31 AM
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London (and Paris toe-dip) Trip Report

We got so much fantastic advice from Fodorites in planning our trip to London (and side-trip to Paris), we wanted to post a trip report in case it's useful to others planning similar travel schedules.

Tuesday, July 26
Flew Virgin Atlantic on the advice of many Fodorites; sprang for upper class tickets, and got the full royal treatment—including free pajamas. Fabulous service from enthusiastic people who clearly like their jobs. Or are faking it really, really well.

Wednesday, July 27
Arrived in London, enjoyed breakfast in the Virgin Revivals Lounge, and were picked up by Just Airports (another great tip from Fodor's Forum) and taken to the Sheraton Park Tower, the perfect location as we were to find out later. Got lucky with early check-in and upper floor room overlooking Hyde Park. Napped for a couple of hours, then took a private walking tour with London Walks. It was terrible and it cost £120! Save your money and just take the regular tours they offer—we think we just got a bad guide. Cheered ourselves up with drinks at The Nags Head, this pub that’s at least 300 years old! And dinner (fish and chips, what else?) at the cheerful Wilton Arms pub. Both recommended by another Fodorite and VERY fun!

Thursday, July 28
Breakfast at The Knightsbridge Café. Walked to Hyde Park Corner to grab the Hop-On/Hop-Off Bus Tour with The Original London Sightseeing Tour. Excellent way to get our bearings and the ticket included river cruise back to Westminster, wittily narrated by salty raconteur. From there, we walked back to hotel.

DH’s shoes were killing him, so we went to Harrods to purchase new walking shoes for him. It puts anything in NYC to shame. While there, we took the Egyptian Escalator, which is worth walking in all on its own. There was an opera singer on a balcony singing, oddly enough, “Nights in White Satin.” Happened into the Diana/Dodi Memorial at the bottom of the escalator, which was interesting. DH was horrified—he thought I’d been making this up. As if. Our London Walks tour guide told us she hated Harrods and refused to even walk by it, but we thought it was a kick to just see it and it sure came in handy when DH needed new shoes. Harvey Nichols was right next door to our hotel, so we walked through it as well. Enough retail, for sure!

Dinner at The Gloucester, which was good, but more of a chain type pub.

Friday, July 29
Breakfast at The Knightsbridge Café. Rode The Eye, then walked down Queen’s Walk along the river to tour The Golden Hinde, replica of the warship sailed around the world by Sir Francis Drake—probably our favorite tour guide of the week. Had to rein in DH to prevent him from getting in front of the children, he was so excited. A must-see—very hands-on experience.

Excellent late afternoon tea and people-watching at The Wolseley. Saw War Horse at the New London Theatre on Drury Lane. Incredibly moving story and music. The “puppets” (if you can call something that lifelike puppets) were ingenious and engaging. You literally forgot they weren’t real.

Saturday, July 30
Eurostar to Paris! Day tour planned by Viator (on advice from another Fodorite), included train tickets, bus tour of Paris, river cruise down the Seine, champagne lunch on the Eiffel Tower—amazing and delicious—quick Louvre tour, then on the train back to London. The tour cost around $700 for the two of us, but we agreed it was so worth it to have someone else arrange all the transportation, tickets, and lunch reservations and choreograph it all.

Late dinner at The Grenadier, charming hideaway pub in Knightsbridge that purportedly has a ghost! Really good food, too, and charming Yorkshireman barkeep.

Sunday, July 31
Breakfast at The Knightsbridge Café, then quick cab ride to the Imperial War Museum, where we walked through a replica of a WWI trench and then experienced what it was like to be in London during the Blitz of WWII. Really amazing place! They even have the motorcycle that T.E. “Lawrence of Arabia” was killed on in the mid-1930s. The gift shop was incredible and this wound up being where we purchased most of our gifts for our family and friends.

Took a cab to Warr’s Harley Davidson, Europe’s oldest dealership (founded in 1924) to add to DH’s Harley t-shirt collection. Well worth it—such cool bikes and retro tees. Great lunch at The Hand and Flower pub across the street, including a few Pimm’s and lemonades. Refreshing!

Fabulous birthday dinner at Zafferano Restaurant, 15 Lowndes St., Knightsbridge. Superb service and amazing menu! Everyone there is Italian (or, again, are faking it really, really well). Excellent wine list. Wandered over to The Grenadier again to have a drink with our friends, then back to the hotel, where the concierge had sent up a beautiful cake and a bottle of champagne.

Monday, August 1
Buckingham Palace tour, arranged by the concierge, for 11:00 am and it went off without a hitch, despite the incredible crowds. Wowed by the art gallery full of Rembrandts, Van Dycks, Canalettos, even a Vermeer—we aren’t really art museum people, but we enjoyed that quite a bit. Got to see the Duchess of Cambridge’s wedding gown and accessories. Very well done.

Took a walk through Kensington Gardens—absolutely beautiful!—and happened upon the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain, which is clearly popular. We joked it should be called the “Princess Diana Memorial Fountain and Foot Spa” because people were in their bathing suits parading around in it like it was a water park at Busch Gardens. We don’t think the landscape architect originally intended it to be experienced quite so fully. Not sure how we felt about it at first, but in remembering how warm and engaging she was, it may be an entirely appropriate way to remember her.

Dinner at Pantechnicon, a gastropub just around the corner from the hotel on Motcomb Street, that was absolutely delicious. Walked back through the Park Tower Casino, attached to our hotel, where DH played blackjack for 20 minutes and won £35. Nice surprise! But it was an intense place, much like the Casino in Venice, where the staff never smile and everyone is so serious. Very different from Vegas gambling, but a nice place, if you get the itch.

Tuesday, August 2
Enjoyed breakfast at the Virgin Lounge at Heathrow, but arrived too late to schedule a complimentary spa treatment. Need to call ahead next time. The place was so fun, with pool tables, a library, free computers/internet, the time flew until our flight. On board, we were served a three course lunch, then afternoon tea right before arrival into DC, 20 minutes early.

What we particularly loved:

• Our hotel, the Sheraton Park Tower. Splendid accommodations, service, and location. Several weeks before we went, I emailed a note to the concierge and he sent us a very detailed list of suggestions and mailed a huge package of brochures and magazines to help plan our trip—it cost £16 in postage. Invaluable!
• The food! Our expectations were pretty low, but we absolutely loved the pub food, as well as the fine dining. Zafferano’s is very expensive, but delightful and truly delicious.
• Virgin Atlantic—several Fodorites had recommended them and they were right! So nice to fly with people who enjoy what they do. It makes all the difference.
• The Golden Hinde and the Imperial War Museum. Both were just thrown into the mix at the last minute, but were very enjoyable and informative. The Golden Hinde only costs about £6 per person, compared with all the other expensive ticket items. Really great if you have kids (or a husband who still acts like one). The IWM was free admission, but were were so impressed that DH left a nice donation on our way out the door.
• The cabs and their drivers. We thought the cabs were fantastically designed—so easy to see, hail, and get into/out of. Why don’t we have those over here? The drivers were really talkative and fun too.

What we were shocked by:

• The prices! Living in Washington, D.C., ain’t cheap; I’ve worked in New York and San Francisco, and we’ve traveled to Venice, so I thought I knew from expensive. I’ve never seen anything like it. The prices were absolutely breathtaking. Our advice is to just treat the pound like it’s a dollar and go with it. Don’t try to translate every price into dollars or you’ll ruin your trip (like DH tried to do until a local London resident advised him to give it up; he had much more fun once he did).

Again, many, many thanks for the generous and spot-on advice--it made our trip fantastic!
marysmommy is offline  
Old Aug 5th, 2011, 06:45 AM
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I am glad you had such a wonderful trip. Fun to read such a positive report. thanks.
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Old Aug 5th, 2011, 09:21 AM
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I love the idea of a Paris toe-dip - should that be a dance or a beauty treatment? Glad it all worked out so well.
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Old Aug 5th, 2011, 11:58 PM
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Sounds like you had a great trip.

Thanks for the trip report and feed back. We will be in London in October.
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Old Aug 6th, 2011, 05:50 AM
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Marysmommy, thanks for such a detailed report. Glad that things went so well. Enjoyed your description of the Imperial War Museum - have only been to the Churchill War Rooms which is a great take also.

Happy that my suggestion of Viatours for your Paris “toe dip” was such a success. Gorgeous city, n’est pas? Just curious- what type of shoes did hubby buy in Harrods? We gals put so much time into selecting the right walking shoes for Europe (as witnessed by so many queries on that subject on this board), while the many guys have to get there to find out they have a problem.

Did you see Kate's wedding dress at the Palace???

Again, I enjoyed your colorful report…
latedaytraveler is offline  
Old Aug 6th, 2011, 02:35 PM
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Thanks again for the wonderful suggestion of Viators--it IS a gorgeous city!

LOL on the shoes! I spend way too much time on planning that part of the trip. Once we got through the Prada and Tod's area at Harrods and found the "Athletic Wear" floor (I think it was on 5) he saw a pair of brown suede, low-rise Timberland hiking shoes, tried them on and wore them out of the store five minutes later. He wore them the rest of the trip during the day and loves them. For more tropical climes, we wear our Keen's and I did wear mine a couple of days in England. He left his at home.

I did see Kate's dress! It was beautiful and they have a long film with the designer you can sit down and watch, as well as actual samples of the lace and embroidery on display so you can see all the detail very closely. They show clips of the wedding as you're waiting in line and things kept moving along pretty well. They also had a separate display with her shoes, earrings, and a replica of her bouquet. I don't see why the Queen didn't like the display, I thought it was as nicely done as possible and much more to it than I expected. Even hubby was surprised it kept moving so well. There was more of a pileup in the Faberge display.

Thank you again for the Viators suggestion--the itinerary was just perfect!
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Old Aug 6th, 2011, 04:49 PM
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Super report! (I think the Queen only complained about the headless mannequin --not about the display in general)
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Old Aug 6th, 2011, 05:22 PM
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Marysmommy, so happy DH found comfortable shoes for your trip.

Glad you were able to see Kate's dress. What a wedding!

Great report!
latedaytraveler is offline  
Old Aug 6th, 2011, 05:28 PM
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Really enjoyed your report. Sounds like you had a wonderful time.
Thank you!
lantana is offline  
Old Aug 7th, 2011, 06:35 AM
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Somebody could probably make a fortune with Eurostar daytrippers in both directions, giving foot massages on the evening trains.
kerouac is online now  
Old Aug 7th, 2011, 07:46 AM
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Too true!
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Old Aug 7th, 2011, 02:55 PM
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Great report!
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Old Aug 11th, 2011, 06:47 PM
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