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Much anticipated trip to London. Well worth the wait!


Feb 18th, 2012, 04:43 PM
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Much anticipated trip to London. Well worth the wait!

I had been dreaming about a trip to England and was finally able to visit this past January. I had originally planned to travel in the autumn, but the trip needed to be pushed back a couple times. I was hesitant to travel in January, but it turned out to be a great time to visit London this year. I’ve been able to learn so much on this forum that I wanted to share some of what I learned during my visit. I’ve never written a trip report so I hope that this one is ok!

I spent months researching information for this trip, including several travel books, the Internet and, as noted, the Fodor’s forums. I used the London A to Z map, walkit.com and Google maps to group together sights by area. The Google maps site is great because it gives a street level visual so you can have some idea of where you will be going. I studied the tube maps and used the TFL site to plan tube and bus rides. I copied the first 18-19 pages from the A to Z map and used a copier to magnify each page. This way, instead of carrying the book with me, I just took the page/pages where we were going on that particular day along with the page of the itinerary. I grouped sites together by area so we weren’t spending a ton of time traveling.

I not only wanted to see the well known historical sites in London, but I also wanted to see lesser known areas that aren’t usually included in tour books. There were a couple websites that I used for this including www.knowledgeoflondon.com and www.shadyoldlady.com, among others. Another interesting resource that I used was the London Encyclopaedia. It is a pretty big book so it didn’t accompany us on the trip, but it was really useful to read the history on the things that we planned to see, as well as research what we had seen after our return home.

I had been to London in 2010 for only a couple of days prior to leaving for a cruise. I had bought Oyster cards, which I had saved. Prior to leaving, I opened an account at Bank of America. Bank of America and Barclays are part of the Global ATM Alliance, which allows customers to withdraw money without having to pay an access fee. I also have a Capital One card that does not charge a fee for foreign currency transactions. Since the plan was to buy a Travelcard, I printed out several 2 for 1 coupons from the Days Out Guide.

I used a three ring binder with sheet protectors to hold all of the information. As the trip progressed, I removed the paperwork that I no longer needed. I used the sheet protectors to keep ticket stubs, museum pamphlets, etc. to use in a scrapbook. I kept a printout of my itinerary in the binder, but I also had it on my laptop and sent it to myself in an e-mail so if anything happened to my carry on, I would still be able to access it in London. Although I planned an itinerary, I knew not to be too rigid as things could change based on how we were feeling, the weather, etc. I also purposely did not plan anything for one day at the end of the trip. I wanted to have a day to go back to things that I was not able to see during the week.
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Feb 18th, 2012, 04:45 PM
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great report, cant wait to read more!
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Feb 18th, 2012, 05:25 PM
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I love London lovs2travel! Great start, tell us more!
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Feb 19th, 2012, 05:52 AM
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I have already gotten several GREAT tips from this - thank you! I cannot wait to read more about your trip. You sound incredibly well-organized!
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Feb 19th, 2012, 07:55 AM
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Thank you for your encouragement!
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Feb 19th, 2012, 08:02 AM
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Friday, 13 Jan 2012

My husband, Mick, and I flew Virgin Atlantic from Boston to London and our plane touched down at Heathrow Airport earlier than scheduled. The flight was uneventful, which is always a good thing. The line for Immigration was long. We waited for about 1 ½ hours before we were able to be processed. Once through, I headed to the Oyster Card station to top up our cards. We jumped on the Tube and remained on the Piccadilly line until our stop at South Kensington. We walked to our hotel, the Rembrandt, which was about five minutes away. Although expensive, it was a very nice hotel in a great location. I specifically chose it due to its location, the proximity to an underground station and that the South Kensington station services the Piccadilly, Circle and District lines. The hotel faces the Victoria and Albert Museum and there is a Cabman’s Shelter directly across from the entrance. I had read about the Cabman’s Shelters (I have also seen it referred to as Cabbie’s Tea Huts). There are 13 surviving shelters in London. This particular one sits in the middle of the street (Thurloe Place) between the hotel and the museum. One can walk up to the window and place an order or sit inside for a meal. I stopped by a few times during the week to buy a cup of tea.

The weather was beautiful upon our arrival - blue, sunny skies with the temperature in the 50s. Our room wasn’t ready upon arrival so we left our bags with the concierge and set out to explore. We walked up Brompton Road, browsing the stores. Mick saw the National Geographic Store and we made note to stop there at some point. We were hungry and looking for a place to eat, but were not having any luck. Upon approaching Harvey Nichols, Mick asked the doorman for a recommendation for breakfast. He suggested the Fifth Floor Café at Harvey Nichols. We proceeded to the fifth floor and had breakfast. It was quite good, prepared fresh in a kitchen that is open to the counter where we sat and watched.

We took the tube from Knightsbridge to the Barbican station to see Charterhouse Square. This is a complex of buildings going back to the 14th century. The history in England blows me away. It is overwhelming to stand in an area where buildings have stood for hundreds of years and think about who lived and worked there. As an Agatha Christie fan, I wanted to see Florin Court. This is the building that has been used as Hercule Poirot’s flat, “Whitehouse Mansions”, due to its Art Deco design. We then walked through the Smithfield Market on our way to Cloth Fair.

Some of the buildings and lanes in this area survived both the Great Fire of 1666 and the Blitz. According to an article from the BBC, it notes that “the house at numbers 41 and 42 was built between 1597 and 1614”. To stand in front of a home that was built over 400 years ago and think about all the families who lived there, along with their trials and tribulations, is just amazing to me.

We went into St. Bartholomew the Great Church, which was founded as an Augustinian monastery in 1123. It is a very old, historical church with wonderful architecture. It has been used in quite a few movies, including Shakespeare in Love and Four Weddings and a Funeral. We approached the church via Cloth Fair, however, if you walk through the courtyard, you will see the gatehouse. It is a very narrow structure in the Tudor style. You can walk through the gatehouse out to West Smithfield Street. This leads to St. Bartholomew’s Hospital. As an FYI, there is a public restroom across from the gatehouse.

We had a little steam left so we thought we would take a peek inside the London Museum since we were in the area. It is a fascinating museum that traces the history of London from prehistoric times to the present. We made it to the Great Plague before jetlag really hit us hard and we decided that we would finish the museum another day.

As we were walking toward the St. Paul’s tube station, I wanted to stop at Postman’s Park. It is the former head office of the General Post Office. The entrance is on King Edward Street. In the corner of the park, under a canopy, is George Frederic Watt’s Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice. This is one of my favorite memories of the trip. It is a memorial to ordinary people who died saving the lives of others. It is a poignant and moving tribute to people who history probably would have forgotten. I would recommend that anyone in London seek out this park. The tiles are hand painted with the person’s name, date of heroic sacrifice and their deed. I took several pictures and each time I look through the pictures, I get a lump in my throat. While I was there, I met a local man who was looking at the tiles. He commented that he had stopped by the park in the past, but wanted to have another look. I told him what I had read about the history of the park and he seemed pleased to hear about the background. Wikipedia has pictures of the tiles. http://www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lis...Self_Sacrifice

After our time in the park, we took the tube back to the hotel, checked in and had a rest before dinner. We went to the Brompton Road Brasserie, which was a short walk from the hotel.
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Feb 19th, 2012, 08:10 AM
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Your report so far is more than "okay"! Detailed with clarity and lots of good information. I look forward to the rest.

(We popped in Postman's Park ourselves on a walk to the Museum of London and enjoyed the tiles and off-the-beaten-path spot as you did. Thanks for the memory-prompting!)
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Feb 19th, 2012, 08:14 AM
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brill start. you've seen more of london in a day that I did in 15 years of working there!

keep it coming.
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Feb 19th, 2012, 09:01 AM
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Great trip report so far! Looking forward to the rest.

We enjoyed the Museum of London too. We also had read about Postman's Park but we didn't get there. We did stop by the Guildhall to see the clock collection near the Museum of London and forgot about Postman's Park that day. I was also hitting every Boots in town for compeed for those aching blisters on my feet Postman's Park is something to put on the list for another time.

Keep your trip report coming.
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Feb 19th, 2012, 02:11 PM
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What a very good report! Many thanks for all the detail. It's taught me much more than I ever knew already, after many visits to London.
I know the Rembrandt Hotel, as my son lived near there in Thurloe Place for a couple of years. very nice area. very good choice.

Looking forward to more.
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Feb 19th, 2012, 03:38 PM
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Wonderful report. And different from most

My daughter and I are staying in the same general area this summer (first time in London!), so I am now reading w/ particular interest.

We will be sure to visit that memorial!
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Feb 19th, 2012, 05:00 PM
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In September we will be staying in London for six weeks so I look forward to more of your report. So far it is great!
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Feb 19th, 2012, 06:34 PM
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Thank you all for the positive comments! My hope for writing was to pay it forward for all of the information that I learned on this forum. Europeannovice – I remember reading about your compseed search! I even made note based on your report to get some if I developed blisters since I knew we were going to be doing a lot of walking. Taconictraveler – we very much enjoyed the Rembrandt. I really liked the area and would stay there again.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Woke up to blue, sunny skies again today! My initial plan for today was to do a day trip to Oxford with London Walks. However, Mick’s ankle was causing him a bit of pain. As you will read, we did a lot of walking and he was a trooper. After a full English breakfast (breakfast was included in the price of the room), I switched around of the itinerary. Since it was such a beautiful day, I thought we should spend the majority of our time outside. It was chilly (about 42F), but we were well prepared for the weather.

We walked around Thurloe Square on our way to the South Kensington tube station. I had seen pictures of the Thin House online and thought it would be pretty cool to see it and it was. Visiting the Monument was on my list and I had read that it was best to visit on a nice day. We took the tube to Victoria Rail Station and bought two 7 day travelcards for zones 1-2, which cost £58. We returned to the tube to go toward Tower Hill, but when I saw the riverboat sign on the tube map at the Embankment station, I thought it might be nice to take the Thames Clippers to Tower Millennium Pier and see the sights along the Thames.

After disembarking, we walked toward the Monument, stopping on Pudding Lane to see the plaque commemorating where the Great Fire of 1666 started. The fire ended at Pie Corner at the corner of Cock Lane and Giltspur Street, which I had planned to see the previous day, but did not due to jet lag. It was postponed until later in the trip. We made our way through the construction to the Monument, a massive pillar designed by Christopher Wren that stands as a reminder of the Great Fire. We agreed that the view from the top of the Monument would probably be fabulous, so we decided to climb to the summit. Mick didn’t say a word about his ankle as we walked up the 311 stairs in a tight, circular staircase. If you are claustrophobic, think twice before attempting this. It was pretty scary and I was regretting our decision halfway up the pillar. I should have gone back to the gym earlier. However, it was worth it once we arrived at the balcony. We admired the view while we caught our breath and Mick rested his ankle. Anxiety began to rise as thoughts of walking back down those 311 stairs came to mind. We made it down successfully and as we were leaving, we were each handed a poster of the Monument certifying that we had made it to the top.

We walked toward the Fenchurch bus station and took the bus to the George Inn for lunch. There has been an inn on this site since 1542, however, the present building was rebuilt in 1676 after a fire. We ate in the restaurant on the second floor, which used to be the bedchambers. Although I loved the building, I wasn’t crazy about my lunch.

After lunch, we planned to go to the Southwark Cathedral. We walked by Borough Market and it was open. I thought it would have been closed by Saturday afternoon, but happily, I was wrong. I had read rave reviews about Borough Market so I wanted to take a peek. What an amazing experience! I don’t think I can provide a description that would do it justice. I had no idea that it was so big! The stalls (more like large rooms) were filled with vegetables, cheese, meats, fish, poultry, etc. There were also several stalls that served cooked food. There were hundreds of people there. I now understand the rave reviews.

Once we made our way through the Market, we walked to the Southwark Cathedral. According to its website, it is believed that there has been a church on this site since AD 606, possibly even earlier. It further noted that Southwark Cathedral is the oldest cathedral church building in London and archaeological evidence shows there was Roman pagan worship there well before that. Upon our entry into the cathedral, a clergyman approached us and asked where we lived. I told him that we were from Massachusetts and he said that the only place he knew there was Boston. He then asked about Harvard University. We told him that we knew Boston and Harvard and he told us that John Harvard, the benefactor of Harvard University, was originally from England. I did some research after our visit and found that John Harvard was born and raised in Southwark. The clergyman walked us to the Harvard Chapel and explained that every day, there are graduates of Harvard University who go to the chapel or attend a mass there. Isn’t it fascinating that no matter how far you travel, there seems to always be a connection to home?

We then walked along the Thames and saw the remains of Winchester Cathedral and the Golden Hinde. I walked along New Globe Walk by the Bear Gardens in an attempt to find the Ferryman’s Seat, but was unsuccessful. At this point, the sun was beginning to set which gave the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral a golden glow.

We went to Shakespeare’s Globe. I had planned to use the 2 for 1 coupon for the Globe, but when I checked my pocketbook, I realized that I had forgotten all the coupons back at the hotel. Since we were already there, I had no intention of leaving. We took a tour of the Globe, which we both really enjoyed. As we sat there looking at the stage and picturing what it must have been like to watch a play during Elizabethan London, we decided that we would need to return to London to see a play at the Globe. After the tour, we walked through the exhibit on Shakespeare.

After leaving the Globe, we saw the London Eye all lit up and I suggested to Mick that we go on it for an evening ride. He didn’t think that he would like being in a capsule, especially so soon after our claustrophobic climb of the Monument, so we passed. Perhaps when we return to see that play at the Globe…

We took the Thames Clippers back to Embankment and returned to our hotel via the tube. We freshened up and wandered out to find dinner. We found an adorable restaurant, Orsini’s, which was only two doors down from the hotel. The food is Italian and it was delicious. It was definitely the best meal that we had in London. We ended up going back there for dinner twice more during the week and for coffee and dessert on our last evening.
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Feb 19th, 2012, 08:44 PM
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You two are having such a good time! And after all your research and your inquiring mind, you deserve to enjoy it all. I hope Mick's ankle handles it well. More power to both of you. Your enthusiasm is catching!
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Feb 20th, 2012, 05:42 AM
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Terrific report! Looking forward to the rest. Thanks for sharing.
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Feb 20th, 2012, 06:57 AM
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Feb 20th, 2012, 07:37 AM
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Excellent TR. The Cabman’s Shelters was new and interesting info for me. More, please!
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Feb 20th, 2012, 09:48 AM
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I am really enjoying your trip report. Also glad to know my report was helpful. I loved those compeeds. It saved the trip for me after all the walking we did. I hope Mick's ankle held up so you could enjoy your trip too!
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Feb 20th, 2012, 10:30 AM
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Great report; you must have done a lot of research before heading to London. You've mentioned so many unusual sights that I will add to my list!
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Feb 20th, 2012, 10:51 AM
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You pack your days full - very nice. I'm really enjoying your report and am in awe of your research.
Have made a note of Orsini - thank you! Looks like a great spot for breakfast, too - and only a 5-min. walk from our hotel.
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