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Six exhilarating, exhausting days in London - a trip report

Six exhilarating, exhausting days in London - a trip report

Jul 1st, 2007, 11:01 AM
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Six exhilarating, exhausting days in London - a trip report

We prolonged our trip from Little Rock to London by flying first to New York JFK via FF miles, spending the night at an airport Hilton (using CC points), and resuming our journey via AA the next morning to Heathrow. This would have been a good humane plan had flight delays not caused us to have only about 4-5 hours of sleep in New York. And further delays got us into our London hotel about 1 am. Oh well, at least we avoided having to take a red eye flight!

Day One:

Let me start by saying that we loved the Renaissance Chancery Court. We received a complimentary upgrade to an executive room (whatever that means). Our room was comfortable, the service at the desk and in the restaurant (usually) was very good, and the location near the West End was convenient. The actual street was nothing gorgeous to look at but it was close to a tube station and many things were within walking distance. The best breakfasts of the entire trip were obtained in their Pearl restaurant - hot off the menu and included in the price of the room.

This first day in London for us was also the much anticipated (by me) Trooping of the Colour day. After our delicious breakfast, we made our way on foot down to the procession route along The Mall. We made a wrong turn or two but, as this was our first exposure to the city, we didn't mind wandering a bit. That first view of Trafalgar Square is breathtaking! We stood up on the Duke of York stairs for the processional TO the Parade, where the bobbies were quick to keep us in line and out of the way of pedestrians trying to use the stairs. Needless to say our view of everything was pretty distant. After the processional passed by, we made our way over to Buckingham Palace for our first view of it and then lined up directly along the street for the processional back to the Palace. I wanted close-ups! By this time, my family has decided I'm a crazy Royals fanatic but bravely stick by me to the end. We strike up a conversation with some local families and ended up enjoying the wait very much. The little rosy-cheeked children holding their Union Jacks and straining to get views of the Queen was heartwarming. I enjoyed watching all of the maneuvers the soldiers lining the route went through to be ready for the processional to pass AND I enjoyed the regiments and the bands very much. The passage of the Royals was almost anti-climactic and I'm afraid my pictures were not as good as they might have been. - I was too busy watching and taking it all in. Princess Eugenie was the only one who waved or acknowedged the crowd at all from my perspective.

After the second processional, we walked through St. James Park, which was just beautiful. The weather began to change from sunny and breezy to threatening. We listened to the gun salute as we sat in the park and fled to the protection of the trees as it began to rain heavily. We were able to watch the RAF flyovers from this shelter and were glad we had not pushed into the crowds in front of the palace to watch "the balcony scene".

Now we were sort of at loose ends. We made our way over to the Thames and walked north to Cleopatra's Needle. We still had not seen Westminster Palace/Big Ben. By now we were feeling a bit soggy and bit hungry so turned inland to look for food. We had okay sandwiches at Prima in the Aldwych area and then headed back to our hotel for a nap.

Before long it was time to head out for dinner and Spamalot. My daughter and I got take away haddock from Rock and Sole Plaice which was just okay and rather soggy. My husband took one look and passed. Disappointing! We pressed on to the Palace Theatre and positioned ourselves across the street at the Marquis of Granby pub for a couple drams of Laphroiag before heading over. Let me say that we LOVED this production. Our seats in the dress circle were ideal. The cast was magnificent and the material from the Monty Python movie had been augmented to hilarious effect.

"Home" after a fun first day, tired and jet-lagged.

Day Two:

Another excellent breakfast and then off to meet Richard for our "Magical Mystery Walk" with London Walks. This walk allowed us to see quite a bit of the Holborn area as well as pertinent Beatles sights - very enjoyable. Richard has an interesting, almost Robin Leach way of speaking (out of the side of his mouth). We purchased a copy of his book which he kindly autographed for us to take back to our fellow "Beatles nut" friend at home. Trying to get a picture walking across Abby Road is a death-defying act and one which I lost my enthusiasm for pretty quickly.

Next we headed over to the British Museum which was near our hotel. This was something I had so looked forward to but found somewhat overwhelming. It is so large and was rather crowded. My husband felt tired and dehydrated and did not enjoy it as much as I had hoped. My daughter and I resolved to at least see the Egyptian rooms and the Elgian marbles, which we did. Then we all went up to the museum cafe to "take tea". The service was a little sketchy but the tiny sandwiches and huge variety of teas was very good and we felt much replenished by the experience. I recommend tea here! On the way home, we visited Forbidden Planet and an umbrella store. DH was altogether too tired to eat dinner so my daughter and I made our way across the street to the nearby McDonald's (gasp!) Actually this too was a very cool experience. The two-level place had a very mod decor and a pretty large menu. Well-dressed people were actually in there talking over coffee and listening to the great R&R music. Not at all like our local Mickey D's!

Day Three:

I beat my family up this morning and made my way to the tube station to get our daughter's daily £1 tube pass (available with our 7 day travel passes on Oyster cards), to the ATM to get some more money, and even by the Tesco to get umbrellas and an herbal sleep aid; stopping at a streetside farmer's market to get my DH some delicious cherries for his Father's Day present before returning.

After breakfast we got a cab to our next hotel, the Royal Horseguards. The cab was inexpensive and convenient. So much better than the almost one hour tube ride, standing, with all of our luggage, on our trip from LHR to RCC. Check-in was quick and effortless. We got the promised room on the sixth floor with Thames view and extra bed. Very nice. Really loved the bathroom. In fact, I loved the hotel itself - not as posh but much more funky/atmospheric in a way than RCC. The breakfasts, served buffet-style, were not nearly as nice or good.

Next we headed over to Westminster Abbey for the verger tour - best idea I ever had. Ben, our guide, was funny and made the history of the Abbey truly come alive. I shudder to think about the possibility of having NOT taken this tour. Worth every pence and more! Westminster Abbey gave me chillbumps and was the highlight of my time in London. Walking around the Westminster area gave us our first glimpses of St. Stephen's Tower/Big Ben and all of the other amazing statues and buildings in this area. I LOVED staying in this neighborhood - jaw dropping beauty right outside our hotel.

We ate dinner at the Angel and Crown pub - upstairs in the restaurant. Really good pub food (fish and chips, steak and ale pie, chicken and mushroom pie) and ales. We were able to look out the open window into the street scene below and it was one of those "wow, we're in London" experiences. Now back to the hotel...

DH is pooped but my daughter and I are looking longingly across the Thames toward the turning EYE and hear it calling to us, "It's a lovely evening and my queu is not longgggg." We walked over and took "the flight". The views were great and we enjoyed ourselves immensely - seemed to pass very quickly. We were the only two people who knew to position ourselves for the end of flight picture and showed up well while everyone else was pointing their behinds into the scene. Ha!

Day Four:

This was Hampton Court Palace day. After our slightly-yucky buffet breakfast (complimentary so musn't grumble) we headed over to Waterloo Station via the tube to catch a train to HCP. Wisely, we decided to visit the maze and the gardens and The Vine first on this lovely warm day before we got too tired. Then we took our time touring as much of the inside as we desired. I enjoyed QE2's privy kitchen (where we had a sandwich) and Henry VIII's apartments most of all. Of course, so much has been altered by subsequent monarchs. Much of the Tudor kitchens were being renovated so we couldn't see as much of this as we would have liked. We used an audio guide for most of our visit. We saw only one costumed person our entire time there. So many people had pointed this out as one of the most fun things about HCP so that was kind of disappointing. Finally we were really tired so returned to central London about 3-4 pm.

We had dinner at the Sherlock Holmes Pub which was cheesy in the extreme and much fun. Wouldn't go there for the food but the atmosphere is delightful. They have a reproduction of Sherlock Holmes' parlour in there complete with creepy statue.

Then it was time to go see Wicked at the Apollo Victoria Theatre. We opted to take the long but scenic walk there, only getting lost twice. We had great seats for this play and enjoyed it. Unfortunately the two lead actresses (Elpheba was the understudy) did not have the vocal range of the actresses I've seen in a previous production and I missed those notes they could not hit. Also the man in front of me was tall and fidgety so I felt like I was at a tennis match trying to watch the show! Oh well, this is a wonderful, exalting play and you cannot help but leave feeling upbeat and humming the tunes.

Day Five:

This was Oxford day. And how we loved Oxford! We tubed back over to the Victoria area and took the Oxford Tube. This was our first experience on a double decker bus and it was fun. At first you are just sure than the driver is going to run over people and other cars. We got to ride in the front top (over the driver) on the way back and that was absolutely a THRILL ride.

This was a special day at Oxford for several reasons. The students were in the midst of final exams and so were walking around in their dark grim robes of various lengths and decorated with differing colored coursages to indicate where they were in their exam schedule. Those who took their last exam were often greeted by friends at their room door; carrying champaigne, flowers, etc. I was assured their would much drinking later in the day for those who had completed their tests. Also, being the 3rd Wednesday of the month, various dignitaries - including our own Jimmy Carter - were there receiving honorary degrees.

I opted to take the blue badge guide tour throught the TIC and signed up for the next one which was filling up rapidly. My family did not want to go with me but rather decided to wander around town on their own. We ate lunch at The Eagle and The Child before we parted ways. This was a big thrill for the three of us as we are BIG Tolkien and Lewis fans. The food was pretty good too!

I really loved the tour I took. We thoroughly visited three colleges (Jesus, Exeter, and Merton). Our guide gave quite a bit of insight into the history of the colleges and their inner workings, plus their history. Unfortunately, after the tour, little time remained and we were tired, so we returned to London without visiting Christ Church or Magdalen as we had planned. Oxford is a place to which I'd like to return some day.

Back in London, my daughter and I walked a short distance from our hotel to eat at an "Italian-American" pizza place called Little Frankies', which had a decidedly pop American feel to it. Well, the pizza was absolutely delicious - thin crust and very fresh ingredients. Highly recommended!

Then it was time to reconnect with DH to attend the Ceremony of the Keys. We tubed over to the Tower of London gates and awaited the guard along with the other lucky individuals who had tickets. What a wonderful experience this was! Being inside the Tower after it has closed to the public is a wonderfully creepy thing and gave me much more of a sense of the place than touring it did the next day. Our guide explained the ceremony beforehand in great detail and watching this ancient ritual was quite a privilege. Afterward we elected to walk the two or so miles back to our hotel along the Thames. Our feet were tired but it was our last night in London. Seeing the bridges and the river itself as we walked along was truly atmospheric and made us feel like were saying goodbye to this exciting city.

Day Six:

Departure day. The day you think about all the things you didn't get to do and yet are too tired to do. First we took our luggage to Euston Station via taxi. Then we headed over to the Tower of London for our official visit. We went first to the Jewel Tour which we loved. Then we joined up with the Yeoman Warder tour - ducked out a little before it was over because it was a whole lot of story telling and not much actually SEEING anything. And they do get a little cheesy after awhile. Then we went through the Bloody Tower and The White Tower. Generally walked around and saw as much as we wanted to see...

Next it was over to Regent's Park Open Air Theatre for Midsummer Night's Dream. We had plenty of time so got lunch at the Garden Cafe. The ploughman's lunch was delicious. It took forever to get our bill and so we had to literally run over to the theatre and march down to tour 3rd row center seats just as it was starting. We LOVED this production - creative interpretation, well-cast, wonderful. Twice it started sprinkling but we all just put up our rain jacket hoods and the show went on. Luckily, an absolute downpour never materialized. There were many well-behaved school children there who were just as mesmerized by the performance as we were. Before long, it was over, and we went back to the cafe for dessert and coffee before heading over to Euston Station for our departure on the Caledonian Sleeper to Fort William. At the station, we purchased cornish pasties at a stand to take on to the train with us.

I'll do a report on the Scotland portion of our trip as well.

LONDON: Exciting, exhilarating, exhausting. You feel like you are always in the way and you are! You feel like you are touching history in a way that - as an American - you've never been able to before. You feel the regret of so many things left undone but are amazed at how much you DID do! You wonder what you'll say to everyone who asks if you visited Harrod's or watched the Changing of the Guard. You hope you'll be back...


crazy4Hawaii is offline  
Jul 1st, 2007, 11:25 AM
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Please forgive any mistakes I've made in typing, etc. I've only been home for 36 hours!
crazy4Hawaii is offline  
Jul 1st, 2007, 11:37 AM
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I loved reading your report of your trip to my home city. So pleased you enjoyed it and we hope you'll be back to visit again soon!
quiUK is offline  
Jul 1st, 2007, 12:40 PM
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twk
 
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Nice report. We did a lot of the same things that you did one week before.
twk is online now  
Jul 1st, 2007, 01:13 PM
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I can't believe you are back home already!!

Sounds like you had a really wonderful time.
janisj is online now  
Jul 1st, 2007, 01:38 PM
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I'm almost breathless just reading your report. My DD and I are going to take a day trip from Paris to London in January. I'm noting your enthusiasm for Westminster Cathedral tour. I'm trying to maximize our one day, but not become a crazed person (which could happen.) Thanks! Looking forward to your Scotland report.
Danna is offline  
Jul 1st, 2007, 02:06 PM
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Danna: Be sure to note the difference -- crazy was talking about Westminster Abbey. Westminster Cathedral is an entirely different place . . . .
janisj is online now  
Jul 1st, 2007, 02:22 PM
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Welcome home and THANKS for the trip report, crazy4Hawaii! You got a great taste of London/area and seemed to make good use of available tours and entertainment. Our first visit was also 6 days and I left with many of the same feelings. We actually did no day trips and still had a huge list of things we wished we'd done. I've now been 3 times and still haven't gotten to Harrods! Just not high enough on my list, I guess.

Looking forward to reading about your Scotland experiences!
noe847 is offline  
Jul 1st, 2007, 03:09 PM
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So glad you loved Oxford, and I'm still kicking myself for not at least watching the processsional of AS Byatt et al to the Encandia. I'm quite glad I missed Carter, though! Maybe that's why I stayed away ... anyway, I'm glad you enjoyed London and the surroundings.
JoeTro is offline  
Jul 1st, 2007, 10:22 PM
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You all packed a lot into six days! Thanks for posting your report.

Lee Ann
ElendilPickle is offline  
Jul 1st, 2007, 10:34 PM
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Joe Tro:

What's an Encandia when it's at home?
You're clearly misspending your time. Less faffing about stately homes or libraries and more hanging round the boozers and curry joints of Cowley Rd and you'd know what an Encaenia is.

Don't they teach you nuffin there anymore?
flanneruk is offline  
Jul 2nd, 2007, 12:54 AM
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Oops, my bad. Had I gone, I would have known how it's spelled. There's just too much Latin and Greek here.
JoeTro is offline  
Jul 2nd, 2007, 01:50 AM
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Enjoyed your report a lot. We were there at the same time but we lucked into the original stars of Wicked & it was fabulous.

Thanks for sharing your experience.
Carrybean is offline  
Jul 2nd, 2007, 03:36 AM
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hi, crazy,

lovely report.

you packed a lot in.

did you really see QE2's kitchen at Hampton court?



regards, ann
annhig is offline  
Jul 2nd, 2007, 03:41 AM
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It was Queen Elizabeth Tudor's privy kitchen. Another one of my errors. Ugh! It's really just a room with a huge fireplace that they use as a cafe but it had that ancient feel to it and I enjoyed having a sandwich there.

Thank you for all of the replies. I love reading and writing trip reports. I am in the process of sorting the over 400 pictures we took. I wish they would let me continue to enjoy my holiday and not go back to work today...
crazy4Hawaii is offline  
Jul 2nd, 2007, 03:59 AM
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It sounds like we were disappointed with Hampton Court Palace but we weren't! I particularly enjoyed the grounds. And I had read quite a bit of Tudor history before our visit. I tried to edit my report before I submitted it, but somehow the corrections didn't go through.
crazy4Hawaii is offline  
Jul 4th, 2007, 08:31 AM
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crazy4Hawaii: I will definitely be reading this report in the next day. We are leaving for London and Paris tomorrow night, so I will be reading this for tips And of course, we're doing Hawaii (BI and Kauai) next month. Any Hawaiian plans for you?
beachgirl86 is offline  
Jul 6th, 2007, 04:44 AM
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Hi, BG86!

I am SO dreaming about Hawaii right now. I've spent all of my vacation dollars for awhile but maybe next year. Usually we take our big annual vacation in June, so we'll have to see what's up for 2008. It's my husband's turn to pick.

Have a wonderful time on your trip! I look forward to hearing about it.
crazy4Hawaii is offline  
Jul 12th, 2007, 04:59 PM
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crazy4Hawaii:

Well done, always interesting to read a trip report on London. You covered a lot of ground.

Sandy
SandyBrit is offline  
Jul 12th, 2007, 07:22 PM
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Hi Crazy, I too enjoyed the Privy kitchen - had scones and tea. We were in London late June - haven't got there yet in my report.
mideba is offline  

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