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Trip Report Mini trip report - a week in London

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There being already a wealth of information on London here, I thought I'd just add a few random points from my recent trip. A couple are obviously opinion and entirely debatable, but my intention is mostly to add odd bits of info possibly useful to non-residents of UK.

1. See notes about flying on British Air's daytime flight from BOS to Heathrow on the air travel forum. Very unpleasant, both directions.

2. On past trips, I have stayed: near South Kensington underground stop near Imperial College, on Belgravia Rd. near Victoria, and in Bayswater. This time, because my partner was attending a conference at the Excel center, east near City Airport, we chose a BnB/'boutique' hotel near Baker St. tube station, which allowed a fairly easy trip to get to the Excel. Staying near the Excel is entirely possible but inconvenient to anything else and soulless. At first I was put off by the Marylebone-Tussaud atmosphere, but once I walked away from that immediate area, I truly enjoyed the Fitzrovia/Regents Park/Bloomsbury area -- new construction notwithstanding. There aren't that many inexpensive hotels around there, but we stayed at the Blandford Hotel on Chiltern Street and found that its location more than made up for some of its low-end limitations (iffy wifi, unvarying and limited breakfast, very cramped and sparsely appointed rooms, even for London). It is relatively quiet yet tremendously convenient to tube connections, Paddington Station, etc. And once you discover Marylebone High St., you've found some great shops and restaurants.

3. Those restaurants start with our standby alternative for breakfast, Le Pain Quotidien. This is a chain that has made it to NYC and Chicado, but it offers a pleasant setting with reliably good fruit and hot dishes and, bless them, Belgian hot chocolate. Specific places may fall short on one or another thing, but in general I'm happy to find a LPQ, and there's one on Marylebone High near Nottingham.

Limited chains, as it happens, turn out to be a Thing in London, such that an American may discover a place that seems distinctive and good - as we did - only to figure out that there are handful of the same name scattered around the city. Cote (with accent) Brasserie is one -- decently good if semi-comfort-level French food; not cheap but not stratospherically pricey with fair wine list and very good specials with fresh local ingredients (notably fish).

A non-chain wine bar I particularly enjoyed that had just opened a few weeks earlier was Blandford Comptoir, on Blandford St.a few doors west of Marylebone High St. As a non-drinker I'm sure I was a slight disappointment to the staff but they were more than gracious, and the food was good enough that I actually went back a second time (don't usually do that when traveling) with my partner, who pronounced the wine choices good. They are small -- about 12 seats at a bar and about 10 tables, so they get booked-up quickly. Worth getting a reservation unless you're there between meal rush times.

A place both old and new is the Chiltern Firehouse, at the foot of Chiltern at Blandford. The hotel is set in a historic firehouse (and worth seeing just for that), and the restaurant occupies a lovely setting indoors on the main floor and flowing into a courtyard garden. However, there's been a recent change of management, and there were no signs anywhere to announce what was there. The main indication was the line of limousines dropping off Beautiful People from other parts of the city. I did not eat there, and the best I could do by way of reservation was a seat at the bar for 5:30 pm (which I canceled) -- there seemed a bit of an Attitude there, so I assume my ignorance of just what a Terribly In and Important Place it is must have put them off.

4. I spent an intriguing couple of hours at the Camden Town street fair on a Sunday -- it's pretty honky-tonk touristy but in a 60s-70s throwback sort of way. And the Camden Lock -- with its crowded together food stalls and bars and small shops -- is The Scene for the weekend. I wish I had taken the time to try the river and canal ferries/water buses to explore what one can re: these ribbons of water that run all kinds of unexpected routes. I visited a relative in Oxford who told me that it was theoretically possible to take a river boat from there into London (an hour away by high-speed train).

5. I had discovered the book and print shops on Bear St. near Leicester Square already, but I went back again for a more leisurely look. As the US is watching not only its indie bookstores but the chains disappear, it was lovely to stand amid all those shelves of venerated volumes and look for old friends or admired celebrities. I found a Rackham print I liked, obviously a page taken from a book -- a practice I really shouldn't approve of -- but if the book is already falling apart, I love the idea of salvaging an illustration and having it to appreciate on my wall.

6. Down by the Excel -- not worth the trip if you don't have to go there -- there is a cable line up over the river carrying Emirates Air lines cable cars. Rick Steeves (sorry, Fodors) put it beautifully: It's an "exciting but completely pointless" ride. It starts nowhere you'd want to be and ends nowhere you'd want to be, but it goes over the river and has an interesting view toward the city, toward the Excel, and toward the airport.

I'm sure I've forgotten or omitted some things; but this is a long enough -- so worth stopping.

Thanks to those who gave me advice on this and a previous trip.

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