My London Visit

Apr 20th, 2008, 11:52 AM
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My London Visit

Who We Are: I asked my namesake what she would like for her fifteenth birthday. “ A week in London” was the immediate response! Perfect, I can’t think of anything I would rather give as a gift. She is a wonderful travel companion. Although it was frequently cold and rainy, it even snowed one day, she never complained. She was open to all the new experiences and actively engaged in the day plans.

How We Went: We flew USAIRWAYS Airbus 330 CLT to Gatwick. Coach on the outbound and Envoy on return. The coach food was so so, service was quite good and comfort was limited. The Airbus 330 has good entertainment options; but, we tried to sleep on the outbound. On the return the food was very good and the flight was extremely comfortable.

Where We Stayed: We rented a one bedroom flat on Sloane Gardens from Farnum and Christ of Bristol, TN
The location was splendid. Literally steps from the Sloane Square Underground. I tend to walk when in London; but, one late night we did take the tube. In the immediate area were an excellent pharmacy, a number of convenience stores, Marks and Spencer to go, restaurants, shopping (French Sole, Jo Malone, Lulu Guiness, L’Artisan du Chocolate) and pubs nearby. The flat was reasonably quiet although street noise is audible. The layout is ideal for those who want a little privacy after a long day together. There is a small alcove as you enter a hallway. To your left is the living/dining room. It is comfortably furnished and has a pullout bed (which is not particularly comfortable as a bed, but fine as a sofa). A small television with very limited channel selection is in that room. In front of you is the small but adequate kitchen. To your right is a bathroom (tub and shower) and further down the hall is the fairly good sized bedroom. The bedroom is attractively decorated and looks out on a small garden to which we did not have access…viewing only. The bed was comfortable and very large. All the closets are in the bedroom.
I have rented from other companies in the past and not had a bad experience. I would also recommend Farnum and Christ. The cleaning fee was reasonable, I paid by credit card, the keys to the flat were mailed to me and I did not have to spend time trying to coordinate my arrival with someone on site, the flat was as depicted on the website. Although the refrigerator was posted with a rather disturbing notice to the effect that we should ignore any visits from the building caretaker as he was meddlesome though not dangerous, we had no contact with anyone in the building. I have returned the key and await my security deposit, but assuming it is returned I would rate the experience excellent.

What We Did: Of course one is spoiled for choice in London. I have lived there and returned for visits many times, but this was her first trip so we tried to build an itinerary which would engage her.

Day 1. As my companion and I are not related, I took with me several documents from her parents authorizing her to accompany me and addressing any medical issues which might arise. I was glad we took the precautions. A very snippy immigration officer demanded to see the documents and was very rude in the process. My companion’s mother is a lawyer and the documents were very thorough. It may have been just my impression, but it appeared to me that the officer was a bit overwhelmed with the documents and decided to wave us through without further inquiry. We stopped at the ATM, got a little cash, and boarded the Gatwick Express for Victoria Station. We found our flat an easy fifteen minute walk from Victoria Station. We took quick showers and headed out. We walked to Buckhingham Palace, Hyde Park, St. James Park and Green Park. We had a late lunch at the Hard Rock. I have eaten there in the past and always found it to be fine but on this visit it was very overheated, the food was bad, the prices exorbitant (a recurring theme in London), and the service very poor. We then strolled back through Picadilly and on to Covent Garden and picked up a calling card. A five pound card was enough to allow her to call her family and friends daily.

Day 2. It was snowing when we got up! We went to the Victoria and Albert, the Albert Memorial and Hyde Park (loved seeing all the snowmen there). She had just finished studying the history of the Middle East and was very interested in the V & A exhibits. She also loved the fashion section. We walked to Knightsbridge. She was in heaven. Top Shop and Zara proved to be her shopping mecca. She had a great time checking everything out. We stopped by Whole Foods store and picked up a couple of items for lunch. Her father flew in on business that evening so we met him at his hotel. We spent some time visiting with his colleagues and then went to dinner at the Three Tuns pub on Portman Mews. I liked it quite a bit. The food was good, the service excellent, prices reasonable and it was relatively quiet so we got a chance for a visit.

Day 3. We met her father for lunch at the Churchill Hilton. The food was excellent and the service top notch. After lunch we went to the British Museum. She was very engaged by the Rosetta Stone, having just completed a study of it in school, and the Egyptian exhibits, especially the mummies. As we were going to Stonehenge the next day we spent a significant amount of time in that area as well. We then went to St. Paul’s arriving after it closed for visits.. That evening we had tickets to the Changing of the Keys ceremony at the Tower of London. It begins at precisely 2130 so we decided to eat dinner at a pub nearby and stay in the area. It was very cold and windy that day and we debated the decision to attend the event, but since it was said to be a great attraction and one which I had never seen, we decided to tough it out. Our dinner at the Banker Pub, 2 Cousin Lane was very good. The lounge upstairs has great windows overlooking the river which made for a very nice stop. Perhaps it was the weather, the dark or too much anticipation; but, the Changing of the Keys was not a highlight of this trip. The yeoman warder was very difficult to hear, the group was large, and much of the narrative was redundant. Little of the history of the Tower or points of interest were discussed. I think this event is best for those who have already done a tour of the Tower. It was really cold and windy by the time we left the ceremony, so I decided to take the Tube back to Sloane Square. Had we been using the Tube regularly the Oyster Pass would have been absolutely essential. Single tickets are very expensive, even for off peak travel.

Day 4. We took the Explorer Day to Salisbury and Stonehenge with London Walks ( Hillary was the guide. We both enjoyed this experience immensely. Hillary is a first rate guide and even though I have visited there many times before she provided a new dimension to the experience. Highly recommended. We ate a light but quite good lunch at the Juice Source in Salisbury and had time to prowl the market.

Day 5. She was suddenly overcome with a fear that Top Shop would sell out completely and decided the day’s top priority was to return to the shop. She had a marvelous time buying some very cute items at Top Shop and Zara. We then went to Queen’s Arms Pub located on Queen’s Gate Mews for a lunch. The food was average, but the crowd was an engaging group of students and I think she enjoyed it quite a bit. From there we went to Kings’ Road and back to the flat to drop off our purchases. Then we headed to Fortnum Mason for sundaes and hot chocolate. Count this a major splurge stop, but well worth it. There is simply no better coffee ice cream or butterscotch sauce than Fortnum’s. Wonderful and I am already dreaming of my next visit.

Day 6. We went straight to Leicester Square to buy theatre tickets. I very unwisely chose Avenue Q as it was one of the few shows I hadn’t seen. Opinions will vary on this but for my taste it was not a good selection. Vulgar language and sexual situations (although the show is listed as inappropriate for under 12, I didn’t realize the language and sexual depictions would be so graphic) which were offered for titillation alone. After getting our tickets, we went to St. Martin of the Fields. She plays the flute and was delighted to find a small wind and string ensemble rehearsing. We enjoyed that. We had lunch in the church and it was very nice. Quite good and reasonably priced. We then went to the National Portrait Gallery. We saw the Vanity Fair exhibit which she thought would be interesting. I have to say it left me underwhelmed; but, the visit to the Tudor gallery was wonderful. We had a light dinner at Pret and then went to Avenue Q.

Day 7. We started the day by walking to Primmark where she had seen shoes offered for six pounds. The store was an absolute zoo and eventually the crowds overwhelmed us and we decided no bargain was worth the guerrilla action going on there. We met Tom for our London Walks tour of Royal London and Westminster Abbey. What a wonderful guide Tom was. His voice is strong and he has a delightful sense of humor. I highly recommend the tour. My friend was enchanted and we stayed in the Abbey for quite a while after the tour ended. We went to the Two Chairmen Pub recommended by Tom, but not by me. Bad food, terrible service. The sky was clearing so we crossed the river to do the London Eye. Wonderful and she absolutely loved it. We stopped for some dessert and hot chocolate at Giraffe, then headed back across the river to attend Evensong at the Abbey. What a gorgeous service it is. It was certainly one of the best things we did during our visit, and like many of the great attractions of London it was free to all.
We had dinner at a small Italian deli/café in the Duke of York square and took a last stroll down King’s Road before returning to the flat.

Day 8. We walked the fifteen minutes to Victoria Station, jumped on the Gatwick Express and made it to the airport a full three hours before our flight. We passed through check in and security in about ten minutes. I tend to prefer to be early and wait rather than rush, so we did a little last minute shopping and relaxed in the lounge before our flight.

I see by today’s paper that London is suffering under a cloud of manure odor said to be drifting over from the Continent. I guess I am glad to be home after all………

cmcfong is offline  
Apr 20th, 2008, 01:05 PM
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Thank you for posting such a delightful report!

Lee Ann
ElendilPickle is offline  
Apr 20th, 2008, 01:48 PM
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Have spent my day (at work, sadly) researching and planning for my June trip to England, which will include just two days in London - and now I've REALLY got to trim my list of must-do's. Thanks for all the great info!! Sounds like you had a great time!
txgirlinbda is offline  
Apr 20th, 2008, 05:42 PM
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Thanks for posting such a lovely report. May I ask how much the apartment was?
yk is offline  
Apr 20th, 2008, 05:49 PM
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The flat was 950 pounds per week, yk. They have some good pictures on the website.

Txgirlinbda, let me know if there is anything I can tell you about our visit. I owe you for all the good advice about BDA.

Thanks, Lee Ann!
cmcfong is offline  
Apr 21st, 2008, 02:54 AM
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You really packed in a lot! Is your namesake planning her next trip? Sounds like she's hooked thanks to you.
Carrybean is offline  
Apr 21st, 2008, 03:26 AM
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Right, Carrybean! She is a chocoholic, too.
cmcfong is offline  
Apr 21st, 2008, 10:07 AM
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You really organized the trip well and made the most of your time. Your location was indeed great. My SIL lived on Sloane St for 4 years (in fact, in the building next to Jo Malone's). We really liked the location and were able to walk to many places; otherwise the Sloane Sq tube was very handy and made for quick trips most anywhere. Unfortunately, SIL moved to NYC 2 years ago so we've lost our "free" London hotel. Glad you had a successful trip.
dfr4848 is offline  
Apr 21st, 2008, 01:13 PM
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Where's Giraffe? I never heard of that place.
Carrybean is offline  
Apr 21st, 2008, 01:43 PM
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bookmarking, thank you!
nvl325 is offline  
Apr 21st, 2008, 02:59 PM
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I think Giraffe is a chain. The one we stopped in was about a quarter mile down river from the London Eye. The menu was sufficiently varied to accomodate most tastes. It had a lively atmosphere.
cmcfong is offline  
Apr 22nd, 2008, 12:32 PM
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topping for returntoyourseat
cmcfong is offline  
Apr 22nd, 2008, 12:50 PM
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I missed this somehow (maybe not indexed under "United Kingdom"?) Anyway, your wonderful report made me really miss London, all the more so since my husband and I were supposed to be there last week. We had to cancel due to too many conflicting demands. Redeposited the miles into our frequent flyer account.

Your companion reminds me of my girls. I've been to London with one when she was 17 and 18 and the other when she was 21. They love the history and heritage, and equally love the shopping! They're actually disappointed that TopShop is coming to the US because they've been lucky to travel fairly frequently to the UK and feel that they come back with something 'different'.

Your flat sounds wonderful! Something to consider for a future visit...

We were also underwhelmed by the Ceremony of the Keys, although we could see and hear our Yeoman Warder very well and he did provide excellent history and information about the Tower. There just wasn't enough "to" the actual ceremony, imo. I do love the Tower, however, and the Yeoman Warder tours are always a highlight, imo.
noe847 is offline  
Apr 22nd, 2008, 01:14 PM
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Great report. Thanks for alerting me about it on the other "small world" thread. Glad Farnum and Christ worked out for you. You'll get the most beautiful Christmas card from them this year.

That's so funny about the note regarding the caretaker. Obviously it must be put there for HIS benefit, knowing that he'll see it since he's a snoop.

And sorry about Avenue Q. It is indeed graphic, but at least it's puppets -- doing the dirty deeds --not humans! LOL

NeoPatrick is online now  
Apr 22nd, 2008, 01:41 PM
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Glad you saw it Patrick, I relied on you when making the booking.
Noe, I miss London, too!
cmcfong is offline  
Apr 22nd, 2008, 02:39 PM
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Lovely report. And I do have to agree with you about Avenue Q. I thought the acting was excellent but the script was lame and gratuitous
avalon is offline  
Apr 22nd, 2008, 04:29 PM
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What a wonderful report! It makes me homesick for London too. I haven't been there for a few years. Maybe it's time to go back!!
I'm glad your namesake had such a good time.
kodi is offline  
Apr 26th, 2008, 03:42 PM
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Glad to hear you enjoyed the report! Topping it for TxTravelPro.
cmcfong is offline  
Apr 27th, 2008, 04:05 AM
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Loved your trip report and will save the info on Farnum & Christ.

Question about Avenue Q - did your namesake feel uncomfortable watching the show with you? I took my 17 year old son and though I did feel a bit "squirmy" he thought it was great that we had seen it. I actually do like most of the show. But I was amazed at the people who brought their VERY young children and seemed horrified as they hurried up the aisles after the first act - but then they returned for Act 2! Not sure I'd bring my 12 year old either, but I do think it is not entirely unappropriate for high schoolers who have seen a bit of Theatre.
AtlTravelr is offline  
Apr 27th, 2008, 04:52 AM
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She said she felt like much of the vulgarity was gratuitous and added nothing to the show. She was not bothered by sexual references, generally, I think it was specifically the very graphic simulation of sexual acts by the puppets and the use of gutter phrases regarding sex acts which she (and I) found offensive. I don't think (but who knows on this) that it was being with me which made her uncomfortable. She is very open and direct.
cmcfong is offline  

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