London Trip Report, November 2010

Nov 7th, 2010, 02:52 PM
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Join Date: Jan 2004
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London Trip Report, November 2010

We just got back from a week in London, and am posting this trip report in hopes it may help someone else. I searched these forums diligently while planning and learned so much. You will notice that we skipped some big sights, like St. Pauls, and Westminster Abby, but I was happy with what we did see. We are a Mom and two kids ages 13 and 9.

Saturday 10/30/10--Sunday 10/31/10
We arrived at Dulles airport quite early at 4pm and were at our gate by 4:30pm, so it was a long wait to board just before 7pm. BA216 was completely full. We arrived a bit late after circling and waiting for a gate at 7am. Nori slept and hour, and Truman conked out for the last half hour, and I only dozed a bit. We were pretty tired. Customs took an hour. Then we got money from the cash machine, got my Oyster Card and Truman’s daily Travel Cards (Nori is free on all transport) and got on the Piccadilly line. It took about 45min to Bayswater Station. There was a light drizzle, and we must have wandered around for 45min before finding our hotel among the many blocks of old Victorian homes that all looked alike. We dropped off the luggage and set out for breakfast.

We ate at a little Italian place near Bayswater Station. English Breakfast was good except for the icky sausages I remembered from my last trip to London. “Breakfast Bambini” for the kids was toast and eggs, and we had good coffee and hot chocolate. Despite the rain it was quite warm, and I didn’t wear my coat all day.

We were planning to meet a guide named Fiona for beachcombing on the Thames at noon near Mansion House Station. We were stymied by the Circle Line being completely closed, so we took a taxi from the last open station at Embankment to the Mansion House area. I don’t know if the walk was canceled due to rain, or we just missed it by being 15minutes late, so we had 90min to kill in a deserted financial area of town around Bank Station before the Harry Potter walk. We nearly gave up due to fatigue, but just before 2pm our guide Richard showed up and the 20 or so of us set off. Richard did mention a lot of Harry Potter trivia and passed out stickers as prizes, but also covered a lot of general London history. We saw Mansion House, home of the Lord Mayor of London, Bank of London, and the Gherkin on St Mary Axe. We walked through the beautiful Leadenhall Market. We walked across London Bridge and viewed Tower Bridge, then took some stairs down to view the Golden Hinde--the ship Sir Francis Drake sailed around the world, plundering Spanish ships in the name of Queen Elizabeth I. We saw Southward Cathedral, dating back to 1207 where Shakespeare prayed, and his brother is buried. It was also where John Harvard was baptized and married before sailing to Boston and founding Harvard. We learned about Nicholas Flamel, the French alchemist mentioned in “The Sorcerer’s Stone.” We were all exhausted, so after tossing our magic wands in the air, we took the London Bridge tube back to Bayswater.

At the local Tesco we bought sandwiches, Gummie Babies, and Cadbury bars, ate in the room, watched some very limited TV, took baths, and were conked out by 7pm. The kids slept through to 8am. I was up at 4am for an hour, then I also slept to 8am, and were ready to go.


Monday 11/1/10
Breakfast at the Bayswater Inn was just rolls and jam, but the coffee and hot chocolate were good. We took the tube all the way to Tower Hill, bought our tickets in the gift shop to avoid the lines, then waited only a short time at the entrance for the Tower of London. We headed straight for the crown jewels. There were miles of queue with movies a la Disney, but we walked steadily through the lines. The most interesting one was the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953.

We saw crowns, scepters, orbs, plates, and a punch bowl big enough to hold 105 bottles of wine. Then we spent hours in the White Tower viewing a huge exhibit of armor. We also went to bloody tower, heard the Beefeater tour, saw the spot Anne Boleyn and others were beheaded, and St John’s Chapel where she is buried. We found the medieval Place and met the Queen, Prince, and another medieval Lady (in costume). We ate sandwiches at Subway (mainly for the free drink refills) and then found a little playground at the foot of the Tower with some unique equipment. We left about 4pm.

The playground was near the bus stop for bus 15, which we caught and took back to Trafalgar Square and then bus 11 down to Westminster. We were too early for the walk scheduled at 7pm, so looked around for something to do. We finally settled on the Natural History Museum, and viewed the gems to round out the day that started with the crown jewels.

It was a bit chilly and our feet were tired, so after they threw us out of the Natural History Museum at 5;30pm we decided to just find a bench to rest on in the tube. Nori, as usual, was hungry, so she had a tube kiosk hot dog while Truman and I had Magnum Bars (thinking fondly of China, where we first had them).

As we exited the tube at Westminster, we were blown away by the sight of Big Ben all lit up. We met our fellow walkers at 7pm and walked around the neighborhood seeing the buildings all lit up. We walked through a gas lamp lit street of original Victorian town houses (the only ones left after the bombing in WWII). What an expensive area of real estate! We went inside Parliament, and spent a few minutes in the House of Lords viewing the “action.” We had to be photographed, and searched, had to leave our bags and cameras, and list our home address to get in. We left Westminster Station about 9:30. We are not nearly as tired today and all coped well with a very long day 9:30am to 9:30pm!


Tuesday 11/2/10
Tuesday morning the kids would not wake up! They finally struggled out of bed at 9am and we were at breakfast at before 10am. We took the tube to Tower Hill Station, had a quick slide at the playground, walked past the Roman wall, and over to the Docklands Light rail. We got to sit right up front on the train.

Upon arrival at Greenwich we went to the visitor’s center first. We confirmed that there was a concert that day at 1pm (Gilbert and Sullivan songs we were told), then went to see the painted room. Nori did a family trail for 50p that involved looking for a lot of animals, and required some knowledge of Greek mythology.
We then went to the Maritime Museum where there was another trail for the Toy boat exhibit. Nori didn’t complete that one: it wasn’t as much fun. Behind the museum was “Mecca” and ice cream shop. Nori asked if “clotted cream” favor was similar to vanilla, to which the girl answered “not really.” She tried it anyway and loved it. Truman had Dutch chocolate, “better than regular chocolate,” he said, and I had raspberry. We missed the concert because we instead decided to walk up to the Royal Observatory instead. We walked up, up, up to the Royal Observatory to see the prime meridian and some of the exhibits about navigation.

I had thought that a boat trip back would be fun, and as the weather remained beautiful, we did that. We bought tickets at 3pm, raced to the Marks & Spencer to get sandwiches, and made it back for the 3:20pm boat with a minute to spare. Boat passengers were sparse and we got an upstairs table. It was very fine to ride the boat and eat lunch as the Thames rolled by. We were back at Westminster and the London Eye at the end of our journey.

We were trying to get to the Florence Nightingale museum before closing at 5pm, so we raced across Westminster Bridge and hunted among the buildings of St. Thomas Hospital until we found it tucked in a corner. This museum had a cute gimmick where you used a stethoscope at various exhibits to hear the audio commentary. They were color coded for adults and children. The exhibits were perfect. There was also a band of lighted photos of nurses from different ages all around the whole museum.

As we came out of the museum I wanted to take a photo of Westminster lighted up from across the Thames, and then get ourselves up to oxford Circus to do the shopping Nori wanted so badly. As we came around the corned with the bridge in view Truman said, “so where is it we want to go?” “Oxford Circus” I said, and at that moment the bus for Oxford Circus (who knew!) drove up. We were 20 feet away from the stop so were running to catch the bus and missed that evening photo of Westminster, Ah well. Nori hopped on, and Truman and I were shut out! Horrors! The driver must have been paying attention because he opened the door again to let us on. It was near 6pm now and the traffic was heavy. Oxford Circus reminded me of Times Square, it was had to push through all the people on the sidewalk. London is very well signed, and there was a sign on the corner with a map of stores. We passed lots of familiar chains, and went to Marks & Spencer which one of my guidebooks had recommended as a good place to buy basic childrens clothes. Well, they were pathetic--similar to Kmart. Disappointed, we walked along and tried a store called Next. They had some crazy stuff that reminded me of Justice, but did have some unique flowy tunic tops. Nori got a top with ruffles down the front and a knit navy dress that looked “Londony” to us.

We crammed ourselves into the Oxford Circus tube and a Central Line train for the trip back to Bayswater Station. We looked for a neighborhood joint for a cheap meal and had Thai food for L20.00. When we got back to the hotel we had a message that our Wednesday morning Stonehenge trip was canceled and we could reschedule for pm or another day. I decided to go Friday am instead. So this Tuesday night we are in early, relaxing and recovering.


Wednesday 11/3/10
Since we weren’t going to Stonehenge as planned, I decided to try to catch the Changing of the Guard. There is a London Walk from Piccadilly at 10am, that finishes just before the changing, that I though we would try to catch. We got to Bayswater Station a bit late, at 9:40, but thought we still had a chance to make it. Then, “Oh no!” the station was closed. I had heard rumors about a strike, but since it hadn’t affected travel Tuesday night I forgot about it. Big mistake! We walked past Bayswater Station out to Bayswater road thinking it should be pretty easy to find a bus to Piccadilly. Well, it wasn’t TOO hard. When we got to Piccadilly we were too late to attempt the changing, so decided instead to go to the British Museum. Problem was, I didn’t have a bus map, and even if I had they are hard to read. I also didn’t have a good map of London, just one that covered the central area. I did know it was close to Holborn Station, and that going down Oxford road was the correct direction, so we finally caught a bus heading the right way. Unfortunately, the buses were not following their usual routes, traffic was horrible, and the one we were on stopped well short of the Bloomsbury intersection I was looking for. So, we caught another promising bus that said Holborn. This bus was detoured, so many of the regular riders were confused. It was also one of the buses that didn’t have lighted signs of the names of the stops, so I was confused the whole ride. Finally I asked the driver and we were “several blocks” past Holborn. It was still about 6 blocks to the museum. Never were we so happy to arrive somewhere, anywhere! It was already 12:30pm! On the way home I heard several people saying it took them 3-4 hours to get to work that day.

We had lunch at the museum in the beautiful Great Court. I had read on the museum website that there were backpacks for kids, so next we inquired about that. Scavenger hunts always help the kids be more interested, me too! They instead chose to do 2 trails, one including China, and another covering Rome. The hunts, quizzes, and games were interesting and informative. The funniest one was when they had to hold the pose and expression of Augustus for 10sec. This one was tough for shy Truman, because other museum visitors were commenting on how well he did! After finishing the trails, we took some time to view the Elgin marbles and were ready to leave about 4:30pm.

It was too soon to go home, so I thought we might try the Victoria & Albert which I knew was open late. Surprisingly, it wasn’t too hard to catch a bus going to South Kensington. As we traveled, I decided to get off for a quick look at Harrods, which turned into an hour long visit to the Egyptian escalator, the Diana/Dodi memorial, and the food halls. By then, of course, we didn’t have the energy for another museum.

I had been paying attention all day, thinking about getting home, and caught the first bus to Marble Arch, knowing it was a big transfer area. Then it was easy enough to catch the 148 which went along Queensway--where we had started at 9:30am. All the buses were crowded, but the last one was so crowded Nori had to suck in and hold her breath. Since we were packed in like that I had little idea where we were since I didn’t know exactly where we had got on in the am and the driver wasn’t announcing stops. Another passenger on the bus told me Queensway stop was close, and we got off there to get our bearings--and take a big breath. We were close to home, and only had to walk a few blocks.

We really didn’t want to go out again, so tried the tiny restaurant/bar at the hotel, and had some tolerable pizza. We were back in the room by 7:30 after a long, long day of travel. The strike is supposed to be over, and not affect travel tomorrow.


Thursday 11/4/10
Thursday we planned another walk, this time around Buckingham palace, another of Nori’s must sees. Thankfully the tube was in normal operation again. We tried a different stop, Queensway, which is only a block for Bayswater station. This was a mistake because we had to change lines 3 times to get to St James Palace Station. We arrived on time to meet Helena at the corner on Broadway. Helena took us in front of Westminster Abby, showed us a little alleyway and Sting’s home, walked us over to the horse parade grounds where we saw the mounted guards just leaving after the changing. We saw guards at the gate to Buckingham Palace, the Old Admiralty (headquarters of the British Navy), and the adjacent building where the “mincemeat” project was hatched in WWII, and 10 Downing Street. We saw the entrance to the Cabinet War rooms, the nerve center of the British war effort, used from 1939 -1945.

Then we walked across the street and down the Mall, while discussing St James Palace, Buckingham Palace, and the Royals. Finally, we went around behind Buckingham Palace to Wellington Arch and up to the balcony for a view across Hyde park. The weather today was clear, sunny, warm, and beautiful with the leaves changing and a soft breeze blowing.

We took a bus back to Queensway, had lunch in a coffee shop, and spent 90min playing at Diana’s memorial Playground. The weather got colder and windier this afternoon, so we went back to the hotel for a rest before the show tonight.

We left the hotel at 6pm to pick up tickets at the Victoria Apollo Theater at 7pm. It only took 20min! And we were there before they opened the doors. There was no problem picking up our tickets, then we went across the street for a snack. We had coffee and the most chocolaty, fudge brownies ever. It was kind of sickening they were so rich. Our seats were in the nosebleed area, and I spent a L1 coin to “hire” a pair of opera glasses available at the seats. It was a good investment and Truman used them for much of the show. Of course Wicked was fabulous. There was a standing ovation.


Friday 11/5/10
We were in the lobby by 6:45am. Since breakfast doesn’t open until 7:30, the front desk guy was kind enough to give us a bag of rolls and jelly to carry with us. Our driver was right on time at 7:15am, then we spent nearly 1 hour driving to many hotels in the Bayswater area picking people up. There was only one guy we had to wait for, everyone else was standing outside waiting at the appointed time. We went to the Victoria Coach station and sorted ourselves into various tours all around southern England. Our tour “Just Stonehenge” has 11 adults and 4 kids on a large motor coach, plenty of room to spread out. It was warm again today, but drizzly on the way out.

There was only a light drizzle at Stonehenge and we enjoyed walking all around and listening to the audio tour. Really, the stones were less impressive than I expected. I guess I expected it to be enormous, not just big. Back at Victoria Station I decided we needed pub food at least once, and stopped at a pub nearby. The food was OK but the service was very slow. Truman tried the “mushy peas” and fish and chips, and Nori got barbecue chicken sauce all over her hands and face, but missed her clothes, thank goodness.

We took the tube to South Kensington and the Victoria & Albert, which was open late on Friday. We got a backpack of activities for Nori. She chose one about being a “Decoration Detective.” The activities were fun and both kids enjoyed them. We also spent a lot of time looking at jewelry through the ages, sliver, stained glass, sculpture, etc. The place is massive.

We left about 6pm to get over to the London Eye. I had booked tickets ahead for 7:30pm. It was Guy Fawkes Day, and I hoped to see fireworks during our ride. Boy did we ever! All along the horizon there were fireworks in different places, and they went on for a long time. They started about 7:20 and were still going on at 8pm. The ride itself was scary for me and I couldn’t wait to get off, but the kids loved it.

Since it was only 8pm on our last day we decided to try to find Harry Potter’s platform 9 ¾ at Kings Cross Station. Well, even after asking directions, we couldn’t find it in the Kings Cross Underground, the King’s Cross Train Station, or the attached St Pancreas International Rail Station. Even after coming home and checking my guidebook, I’m still not sure where to find it. They are doing a lot of construction at the stations, so perhaps it was covered by the many plywood barriers.

We stopped at Tesco on the way home from Bayswater Station for a snack. Even though our plane isn’t until 2:50pm tomorrow, we’ll go to Heathrow early right after breakfast. I don’t want to take any chances.


Saturday 11/6/10
We were at Bayswater Station at 9:30am, amazingly. We traveled one station to Paddington expecting to take the regular Underground all the way to Heathrow. Unfortunately, work on the line closed the tube to the airport. There was bus service around the work area, but I was told it would take a LONG time. We were a little confused in the Paddington Train Station because only the Heathrow Express was evident, but I knew there was a cheaper option. After asking, we went to the ticket office and got tickets for the Heathrow Connect for about L16.00 total, instead of the L4.00 it should have cost. Not too bad, and saved a lot of worry and transfers. The Heathrow express would have cost about 3 times as much. We had to catch another train at Terminal 1 over to Terminal 5, which only took a few minutes. All together the trip took 90min.

At the Airport we found the ticket office and got the L4 refund for my Oyster card, unfortunately in cash rather than credit card refund. We checked out bags (too lazy to carry on on the way back) went through security, and waited at the gate 3 hours. Similar to our experience in China, we boarded a bus for a looong trip to the plane, and walked up stairs to board. This plane is a smaller 777--not the 747 we flew out.
The trip was 7.5 hours back and was extremely turbulent for at least 45min. We all felt scared and somewhat sick. The flight attendants had to keep shouting instructions to “Stay in Your Seat!” I was never so glad to get off a flight.

Holly met us at the airport and we were home by 8pm. Daylight savings time ends tonight, so we have an extra hour to catch up.

In summary, our trip to London was all I had hoped. We got to do most of the things I and the kids wanted to do, but there is so much left to be done on another trip. I enjoyed seeing the regular Londoners at their daily routine, and also interacted with a LOT of French tourists. For some reason I was asked directions a LOT, and often got out my map to try to help. I was surprised that there are people on the tube at all hours of the day and night with suitcases going who knows where. The current fashion for women is boots, tights, short skirts (like, really short) and short coats and scarves. It was striking how much of a uniform this outfit was. The people we met were unfailingly nice and helpful, except for that grumpy driver to Stonehenge. Prices were high, but not as bad as I expected. We had a great time.
rebeccaastone is offline  
Nov 7th, 2010, 03:18 PM
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Join Date: Apr 2008
Posts: 841
"give us a bag of rolls and jelly to carry with us"

I was wincing at the thought of that until I realised you probably meant "jam".
Hooameye is offline  
Nov 7th, 2010, 03:49 PM
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Join Date: Jan 2008
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Thanks for posting so quickly--I'm impressed. You've done a good job at sharing the details and emotions so I could follow along--and since I've been to many or most of your destinations, it was really fun to revisit! (We never did find the platform at Kings Cross either) Rest well!
texasbookworm is offline  
Nov 8th, 2010, 02:25 AM
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Great trip report. Thank you for taking the time to post with such detail.
julia_t is offline  
Nov 8th, 2010, 04:50 AM
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Wow, that was a quick report. I'm planning on taking my two oldest granddaughters and really appreciated the 'blow by blow' coverage. Did you travel with a computer?
Barbara_in_CT is offline  
Nov 8th, 2010, 05:44 PM
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No Barbara, no computer. Our cheap hotel had computers in the lobby for L1/20min, but no other access, and no printers. Most of the coffee shops had free wifi, so it would have been easy enough to use a computer. I missed mine and wished I had brought it. For instance, I hadn't written down which days the changing of the guard took place, and when we had to reschedule the Stonehenge tour and couldn't go on the day planned, I didn't know when to try again. Another thing I missed was being able to look op transport options.
I would recommend bringing yours.
Rebecca
rebeccaastone is offline  
Nov 8th, 2010, 07:26 PM
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ttt
cferrb is offline  
Nov 9th, 2010, 05:09 AM
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Thanks for a wonderful report. Your kids are certainly troopers to keep going on long days! They sound like fun to have as fellow travellers.
irishface is offline  
Nov 9th, 2010, 08:51 PM
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Great trip report!

Lee Ann
ElendilPickle is offline  
Nov 9th, 2010, 09:40 PM
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Rebecca--Great, great great!!!! I love your trip report. As many times as Ive been to London (and lived there)...there's still more Sounds like the Walks were a good idea! YOu are a brilliant planner, esp'lly with two kids whose needs must be taken into account along with yours, and flexible at the unexpected. Glad you were able to make great use of your time, without going 'potty" as the Brits say. Now i cant wait to see the Golden Hynde on our next trip!
CaliNurse is offline  

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