London- two weeks of great fun

Jun 20th, 2006, 01:45 PM
  #1  
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London- two weeks of great fun

As a newcomer to this, I hope you have patience with me but I wanted to share our two week trip to London with those planning a trip there. I shared our impressions of the people in another thread, so here I will describe our trip in more detail.

Some background...I administer a nutrition center and an orphanage and as you can imagine, have little to no free time. With the responsibility of more than 50 young children, I tend to put in long hours every day. My 25 year old son lives here as well and runs our volunteer program. My 13 year old daughter Nina comes home from school directly to the orphanage and spends her free time there, helping out with the little ones. After several years without a break, we all decided that enough was enough–it was time for a vacation- so Nina and I decided on two weeks in London!! Nina was thrilled with the chance to visit another country and practice her English. I was sure I would hate being away from my work but knew that some time off and alone time with Nina would be good.

So off we went. We flew to Miami and from there boarded British Airways for our flight to London. We were so excited to be on a 747 and delighted with the little kit provided by British Airways...toothbrush, eye mask, etc...(you can tell we are new travelers!) But coming from Honduras, these things are treats indeed! Nina happily discovered all the channels of television, radio and movies and promised she would stick to English. I happily went to sleep!

We had decided on a hotel near Paddington Station as I knew nothing about London other than what I had managed to learn from this wonderful board. Researching on the internet was our only source of information as there are not any travel books available here. I had some understanding of the transportation system as I had lived in New York for many years and figured the tube would be similar enough that we could negotiate our way around the city. But getting into the city after a night on the plane was something that I wanted to be as simple as possible. Taking the Heathrow Express to Paddington proved to be very easy - we only had one rolling duffle each and there was no problem getting these on the train.

We had chosen the Royal Park Hotel- this was a fairly expensive hotel but the location was perfect and the reviews had all been consistently positive. Easy walk from the station to the hotel and our room was ready and waiting. After a brief shower, we went out in search of some lunch and encountered our first taste of the expense of London! Yee gods, the prices...in Honduras things are very cheap (of course, most things are also totally unavailable but that’s another story)... But we settled on a nice little sandwich in a local shop. We found an internet café and sent messages home that we had arrived without problem. The people at the café were very helpful and suggested a time card with them since we were going to be in the area for two weeks. This proved to be a very economical choice and only the first example of the helpfulness of the people of London. We would encounter over the next two weeks many moments of assistance by these wonderful people.

We returned to the hotel for a nap. The hotel is very small and quiet. They have created a very homey environment, with afternoon tea served and a glass of champaign every evening (orange juice for Nina). The staff could not have been kinder to us and we immediately felt at home. We were freezing as it was only 18...we had left home with temperatures in the high 30s and on our coldest day here it is no less than 20. The staff turned up the heat in our room and assured us the forecast was for warmer weather. They also turned down the beds and shut the curtains...we discovered this wonderful invention of curtains that totally block out the sun! Amazing to have a very dark room in the middle of the day! (I know I sound like a naive person indeed but we don’t have such things here and it was yet another delightful discovery!)

After a short nap, we went off and located the tube stations- we had our choice of using the Circle line at the Paddington station or the Central line at Lancaster Gate. I got an Oyster card and one week’s worth of passes for Nina- along with maps of the underground system, I felt I was ready to explore London. Nina tends to not like buses so we made the decision to use the tubes and did so with rare exceptions for the next two weeks. The underground system is extremely easy to use and most of the sites are within an easy walk of stations. We loved the expression “Mind the gap” and will always use that to remind ourselves of the fun we had in this amazing city.

The first evening we simply explored our neighborhood. I must recommend this area highly. Many less expensive hotels are near Paddington Station and the area is full of little grocery stores, launderettes, small take-out restaurants and of course all the shops at the station itself. Mark and Spencer’s was great for sandwiches, salads, and best for Nina, wraps using her favorite tortillas. The shops were perfect for picking up bottled water, soda, and snacks as well as my new love, Cadbury chocolate bars. These precious things would melt in a minute in Honduras but what a treat! The shop-owners all fell in love with Nina, who is a gypsy from Russia. Each one tried to claim her for their own- the Indian shop-owner insisted she must be from Northern India; the fellow from Iran was equally adamant that she was Arab. Nina had a great time telling her new friends all about Honduras and they shared stories of their countries of origin as well. Fascinating to listen to their stories of immigrating to London and hear their opinions about their new home. So before our first day was even over, we felt very much a part of the neighborhood and extremely welcomed to this city.

The next morning we set out to find ourselves some sweaters! The hotel staff told me not to go to Harrod’s except to see it and to shop instead on Oxford and Regent Streets so we did so. We had a fun day wandering around that area and shopping in many stores. One thing I wish I had brought with us was a compass. I usually have a good sense of direction but I consistently got ourselves turned around here so a compass would have been a great help. But the people on the streets were great at showing us the right way. The hotel provided us with an excellent street map so we were in pretty good shape, even though we lacked books to direct us.

Our first day was filled with simply falling in love with the sights and sounds of London. We loved the cars and taxis and buses- at home, we only see old pick-up trucks, bikes and horses so all these new vehicles were great fun. The double-decker buses were just like in the photos we had seen of London and a treat. Picked up lunch at Pret-a-manger (sp?) where we would eat many times over the coming weeks. We decided to walk all the way back to the hotel which proved to be a long walk but great fun. Walking was really the best way to get around for us as it enabled us to see many things we would have missed otherwise and gave us a good sense of the rhythm of the city. As it was cool to us, there was no problem.

Weather cooperated and most of our time in London was sunny and in the low 20s- sweater weather for us but warm for London. It was fun to see people acting as if it was so hot when we thought it was rather chilly! All what you’re used to.

Third day we used the Big Bus tour and loved it. We took one of the walks included in the cost - the Royal Walk. Our guide was Frazier and just a lovely man though his idea of walking was New York style and not Honduran...very fast clip! We saw the changing of the guard and learned a lot about the history of the royal family and the traditions of England. Very informative tour and lots of fun.

Fourth day was spent at the Tower of London. We spent the entire day there and a few days later went back for more. Really fascinating to learn about the history of the Tower and all the stories associated with this place. Nina and I loved climbing around the buildings and imagining the lives of the people in previous times. Very much worth the admission cost and a great way to learn history.

As our funds were rather limited, we decided to spend a lot of our time at the museums. Most of the museums in London are free and we took full advantage of this. British Museum was our first stop on our “museum tour” and an amazing place. Over our vacation, we spent about two and a half days at this museum, exploring every room and loving every moment. Nina is the sort of child who loves to learn about other cultures and so she was fascinated with each and every part of this great museum. We would arrive at opening time and go outside the museum for lunch, spend an hour or so exploring bookstores in the neighborhood and then back to the museum for the afternoon.

Day six we went on a tour with “London Walks”- met the guide at the Westminster underground station and toured Westminster Abbey– great to have a guide for this. Spent about two hours with the guide and then stayed to explore more of the Abbey on our own. Simply awesome to see this place and learn about all the people buried there. After a rather full day at the Abbey, we returned home to our little neighborhood to send internet messages to friends and relax.

Every day was blessed with sun and warmth so we really were lucky. Saturday we joined the crowds at Convent Gardens and while we didn’t buy anything, it was fun to see all the things for sale. A wonderful string quartet was playing there and we enjoyed a snack while listening to them. Then we explored more bookstores along Charing Cross road and wandered down to the National Gallery.

The Portrait Gallery and the National Art Gallery were two more great museums for us - full of great art and wonderful history. We hated to be inside too much on these lovely days but they were both well worth an afternoon a piece. We also loved the Natural History Museum and the Science Museum. One day spent exploring both of these.

Sunday we went to Westminster Cathedral for mass and met some great priests. As I work for the Catholic Church in Honduras, I wanted to connect with folks in London. We had lunch at the church café and talked with one of the priests about our work in Honduras and learned about their involvement with a South American parish. We are in communication now about the interchange program I manage with parishes in the United States- just more of the friendliness and openness of the people of London.



Next on our adventure was a great river cruise up to Hampton Court Palace. What a relaxing ride this was after days and days of walking! However, I would recommend taking the river cruise on the return trip and using the train to get to Hampton Court. The earliest boat left London at 11:00 and arrived at 2:30, barely leaving enough time to explore the palace and grounds. Next time (yes, there will be a next time!!) I will take the train up and the boat back, leaving more time at Hampton Court. But it was a beautiful day - lovely views along the river, relaxing and nice conversations with the other people on the boat and just a great day.

Another spot Nina loved was the Mews– she enjoyed seeing horses that were actually well-cared for rather than the poor skinny things she is used to in Honduras. The coaches were amazing and once again, seeing the history of the Royal Family was very interesting.

Everywhere we went, Nina would ask if the person selling the tickets if many people from Honduras or Central America visit. Consistently the answer was no, that we were the first from Honduras. She found this to be great fun and would proceed to tell the clerk all about our country, trying the patience of the poor people behind us in line, I am sure! Hopefully, though, she was a good ambassador for Honduras on this trip! I could not fault her enthusiasm!

We left many sights for our next trip. London is a city that cannot be “done” in a couple weeks...we intend to return again and again to this wonderful place and see more things as well as meet more wonderful people. Nina’s English is better now although laced with expressions that no one here can make any sense of : “brilliant”, “way out” and our favorite “Mind the gap”!
anaaleman is offline  
Jun 20th, 2006, 02:14 PM
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What a wonderful report anaaleman! Thank you for posting it. And what a great experience for Nina.

I'd love to hear from Nina - what some of her impressions were . . . .
janisj is online now  
Jun 20th, 2006, 02:46 PM
  #3  
cw
 
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So happy you had such a wonderful time. Your report has a lot of useful tips for touring London without spending a lot of money.

Nina sounds delightful!

CW
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Jun 20th, 2006, 03:09 PM
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It's very cool that the first thing you posted was a thread about the wonderful people in London. I am glad that you added a thread about your activities. I love this trip report! The best part is how you compare London with the sights and sounds of your home. Your sweet descriptions of your and Nina's experiences actually brought tears to my eyes - I don't think I've ever cried when reading a trip report.
noe847 is offline  
Jun 20th, 2006, 03:41 PM
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What a wonderful trip report! I, too, found the English people to be extremely helpful and friendly - frankly, more so than any other European country. It's the first thing that comes to mind from my two trips followed quickly by how many wonderful places there are to see.

How nice that a 13 year old enjoyed it so much. You've brought her up well to appreciate life

Next time you can take time to spend a few days outside London - it will be cheaper, thank goodness. England is so beautiful.
nancy is offline  
Jun 20th, 2006, 04:12 PM
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What a great report! Thanks so much for sharing your trip with us. Your descriptions clearly portray Nina's sense of wonderment.
seetheworld is offline  
Jun 20th, 2006, 04:14 PM
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What a great report! I am so glad you fell in love with London, too. It is my favorite city to visit, and each time I go it seems that my to-do list gets longer rather than shorter.
carolyn is online now  
Jun 21st, 2006, 02:17 AM
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Thank you for such a lovely report - and a glowing reference for the residents of my city. Funny, here we think we're all grumpy, whereas people outside of London are much friendlier!
Kate is offline  
Jun 21st, 2006, 03:41 AM
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i agree with Kate...in the UK, it often just takes a ray of sunshine like Nina to get us out of the grumps (at least momentarily).

far too often on this board, people are *taught* to stop being themselves and to be less friendly when they visit europe. In other words, to act cold, detached, and formal in an attempt to mimic european behaviour.

just be yourself as nina did and you will have no problems...in fact, people will generally embrace such behaviour rather than to act negatively toward it.
walkinaround is offline  
Jun 21st, 2006, 04:36 AM
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I'm glad that you enjoyed yourselves.
A reason for those thick curtains is that at this time of year, it gets dark late and gets light very early.
You don't really want brighgt sunshine at five in the morning.
Mind you, the sweet little birds are very early risers.
I love birdsong, but not at 4AM
MissPrism is offline  
Aug 19th, 2006, 05:31 PM
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What a wonderful report! I bet it's a great visit your daughter will keep in her memory bank for many many years!

And, although I don't know you, I must comment and tell you how much I admire you for the work you do. And your daughter, to spend her time helping the children is such a bright spot. I doubt either of you could have a poor trip between the two of you...it seems you both have a wonderful outlook on life and appreciate every nuance that greets you! Thank you for posting..

Now, what does "mind the gap" mean? I can't recall but thought it went with the tubes in some way.
Thanks!
Tara
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