Trip Report: London June 24 - 30

Old Jul 1st, 2003, 07:25 AM
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Ian
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Trip Report: London June 24 - 30

Day 1: Arrival Tuesday June 24

Transport from Heathrow to the London Hilton on Park Lane via London Transfers £ 38

We were 1 hour late arriving & I was relieved to see my name on a sign. The trip to our hotel (morning) took just over an hour.

Hotel - London Hilton on Park Lane £ 365 per night per night for Club floor ? King Bed

Being a Hilton Honors points collector, I took advantage of one of their perks for Gold members ? 6 free nights at any Hilton in the world for 150,000 points. We decided to use them wisely on a hotel in one of the really expensive hotel cities. With a standard room rate of £ 365 per night we would not have stayed here otherwise. We got a largish room on the 19th floor with a small balcony facing north, overlooking Mayfair & Hyde Park. We loved it. We also got free access to the Club Room on the 26th floor; looking west over London with an incredible view. We skipped the Eye because we had this view everyday. This gave us a good free continental breakfast, free afternoon tea & snacks & free drinks & snacks in the evening. We used it everyday. The staff was excellent & the quality of food & snacks was first rate. This alone probably saved us £ 100 per day. We rubbed shoulders with Arabic, Indian & American businessman who seemed to haunt the Club Room.

The Tube (Underground) with a One Week Zone 1 Travelcard £ 16.80

A bargain. You can buy them at any tube station & no, you DO NOT need a photo. The tube is really easy to use. Just put your card in a machine (the right way, please or you will have to ask an attendant for help; I know because my wife blew it at one station) and the gates open. Retrieve your card & you?re in. At your destination, you have to put your card in the machine to get out. A couple of hints: Always know which line & which direction you are traveling (east/west, north/south). The larger stations can be confusing with multiple lines and levels. You will face escalators & stairs, so it helps to be fit.

Sandwich Lunch in Green Park

Another attempt to economize, we bought sandwiches at miscellaneous sandwich shops, which seem to be near any major area. Prices varied from £ 2 to 5 with meats, melted things, veggie only and baguette style or normal bread. Good & cheap.

The Queen

We were jet-lagged this first day, so we decided to wander in Green Park, down to Buckingham Palace. When we got there, there were TV vans & police everywhere & they had the whole mall & circular in front of Buckingham sectioned off with fencing. We asked a policeman what the commotion was, and he told us the Queen was going to formally greet President Putin of Russia (the 1st Russia leader to visit England since the Czar in the late 19th century) & would be making an appearance. We lined up on the mall & saw a great show. With great pomp & circumstance, the entire area was lined with red-coated, beaver capped guards. Horse parades & bands soon followed & then . . . Queen Elizabeth & Prince Phillip buzzed by in their new Bentley on their way out of the palace. Wow, a Royal sighting on our 1st day! But then, we heard a 21 gun salute & the crowd was abuzz. In conversation with a very knowledgeable Londoner standing next to us (we suspected he was a secret service ? bulge in the jacket etc) we learned that they would make a grand parade back to the palace. Sure enough, 45 minutes later, more horse guards approached & then the Royal procession. Queen Elizabeth zipped by in an open horse-drawn carriage with Putin. Phillip & Putin?s wife followed in another. The third had Price Charles (who interrupt his conversation & waved at us when my wife waved at him) & some dignitaries. Two more carriages followed with beaming Russians. Wow! Our 1st day & we say the Big Three + a world leader! A great start.

Dinner at a Lebanese restaurant £ 15 for 2 The name escapes me but it is just off of Oxford on Balderton? Next to an Italian place. We had nice hummus & shish taouk (chicken kabob). Cheap & good.

More to follow . . .
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Old Jul 1st, 2003, 07:29 AM
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ira
 
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Wow, Ian

You couldn't have done better if you had planned it.
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Old Jul 1st, 2003, 08:50 AM
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Wednesday June 25

Our 1st full day, so we set off to see some sights. We tend to like monuments, museums & art.

The Tower of London £ 12

As many posters have advised, we went early. There was no line up at all. We had bought tickets at the Tube the day before, but this would have been unnecessary. We lucked out and joined a Beefeater tour with no waiting at the front entrance. They run every half hour and last for an hour. Our Beefeater was very informative and entertaining. Afterwards, we saw the Crown Jewels (kind of hohum) and toured the buildings: Bloody Tower, White Tower etc.

Another Street Sandwich Lunch that we ate in front of the British Museum.

British Museum: Free

Truly one of the world's greater museums, highlights were the Egyptian, Persia, Greek, Roman & early Britain. Certainly in the ranks of the Louvre, the Met and the Vatican but devoted to objects with paintings and other art housed in the National Gallery and the V&A etc... We arted out after couple of hours and decided to do a wrap up visit our last day.

Dinner ? Rules £ 99 for 2 (including a bottle of burgundy) Certainly a tourist restaurant. The seating was poor, the service was mediocre and the meal was just OK, while the price was a tad exorbitant. We had the beef and Yorkshire pudding (of course) which consisted of a single rib cut up for 2. The Sticky toffee dessert thingie was very, very sweet. We both preferred Porters for a traditional English dinner (see below).

Thursday June 26

After a late start, we set out for our only reservation of the week: Tea at the Ritz

We decided to take afternoon tea in a Grand Salon and we were not disappointed. Ok, it is expensive at £ 29 each. But the room and the experience made it worthwhile. It is like a step back into the Victorian age with ultra polite staff and clientele. You get scones with jams and a limited selection, but unlimited supply, of sandwiches with no crusts followed by dessert goodies. Don't go for the food and remember to stick out your pinkie . . .

National Gallery: Free

This collection was stunning with a far better layout than the Louvre. Rembrandt, Corot, Van Gogh, Monet and Turner and on and on . . . If you love art, this is a true Mecca.

Dinner ? Indian £ 18 for 2 with wine We slummed for dinner and wandered around the corner from our hotel to the Shepard Street where there was a congregation of pubs and restaurants. Everything was packed except for a strange Indian restaurant below street level. Once again, the name escapes me, but it is the only Indian restaurant on White Horse St. In a teeny room we had good cheap curries and nan bread.

More to follow . . .
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Old Jul 1st, 2003, 10:22 AM
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Great trip report Ian - look forward to the next part!

Catherine
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Old Jul 1st, 2003, 10:36 AM
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Friday June 27

Thames Cruise to Hampton £ 8 with Zone 1 Travelcard

We decided to break out of London for a day. To kill two birds with one stone, we took a boat trip that departed from Westminster docks at 10:30 that went with the tide. The trip was very nice and gave us a good tour of London upriver. Unfortunately, this was our coolest day, so a good jacket was needed to sit outside but we braved it. It took about 3 hours to reach Hampton Court with brief stops in Kew and Richmond to off load passengers and 1 lock traverse. About an hour too long but still very enjoyable to see the river towns and countryside. It was fun to arrive at Hampton via water, kind of like Henry did, you know . . .

Lunch at riverside Bar & Brasserie £ 18 Another one that I forgot the name, but it is right across from Hampton Court and right on the river. Sandwiches and Guinness. A nice easy lunch.

Hampton Court:

The ghost of Henry VIII was everywhere. Just another castle maybe, but we really enjoyed touring the castle and the formal gardens that surround the palace. The apartments reminded us of Chambord and Versailles. I guess every monarch followed the same general routine. The wood carvings in the great halls were very impressive. Hint: If you go through the Maze, you can cheat by looking for pink arrows faintly painted on the paved path.

One note: We asked an attendant who was in a room with a pictorial view of the Kings & Queens of England. He proved very informative as he enthusiastically gave us a great rundown of the Henry VI through Elizabeth II lineup. Don't be afraid to ask these people questions they are not just security guards to keep you from taking pictures. Sometimes you can be very impressed with their knowledge. We had a similar experience in Westminster Abbey and at the Wallace collection.

Return by train Hampton Court to Waterloo Station £ 3.80 with Zone 1 Travelcard

The train station is just over the Thames bridge from Hampton and proved an easy and fast return (1/2 hour) to London. We arrived at Waterloo in rush hour and found our way onto the Northern line tube train. An announcement of a complete stoppage of the line caused a mass exodus to the Bakerloo train, which we took to Piccadilly with a few thousand new acquaintances. We decided to walk from there & find some eats along the way. We found:

Dinner at Getti on Jermyn Street £ 66 for 2 with wine A nice looking Italian eatery with a good menu and a reasonable wine list. We took our time and enjoyed a very good Northern Italian meal with good service.

Saturday June 28

Westminster Abbey: £ 6

This was the only place that we experienced real crowds. The tombs in the chapels were very busy with numerous annoying tour groups with their leaders bellowing in a multitude of languages. I had no idea how many people have ended up in the Abbey. It was particularly ironic seeing the beautiful tomb of Elizabeth I with Mary Queen of Scots almost anonymously underneath.

Sir John Soanes's Museum: Free

This museum house is a townhouse filled with mainly architectural fragments that Sounes picked up or copied during his life. The sarcophagus of Seti I is superb but the rest was a jumble of semi interesting pieces. The house and rooms are period and of interest. Worth a visit only if you have lots of time.

Wallace Collection: Free

Just a couple of blocks from the madness of Oxford Street, this museum/collection is a gem. Impressive collection of Louis XVI furniture with many miniatures, porcelains, an armor display and a good selection of 18 and 19th century paintings all in a wonderful grand house. Highly recommended.

Harrods

Brompton Street was a zoo as was Harrods, but it was Saturday afternoon. A little bit went a long way with me, but shopping is not a pleasure, but a torture for me.

Dinner at Porter's Henrietta St £ 35 for two with wine A good English restaurant featuring all the standards. Steak & kidney pie, spotted dick, bangers and mash etc with other lamb, beef, fish and chicken dishes. Not expensive or pretentious, we had a very nice meal with wine. Our best English style meal.

More to follow . . .
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Old Jul 1st, 2003, 11:27 AM
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I forgot to mention our closing entertainment for Saturday night. Bon Jovi was in town with a concert in Hyde Park for £ 35 a head standing room only that closed the Hyde Park tube stop for the night.. We skipped the concert but certainly heard it and saw the crowds from our balcony overlooking the park. While the stage faced the other direction, the fireworks show at the end was a treat for us, as well as the concert goers. It ended by 10:30, which was also very nice.

Sunday June 29

Victoria & Albert Museum: Free

We arrived at opening at 10:00. We didn't know what to expect, but we were very impressed. Furniture, weaponry, jewelry and life size plaster copies of many tombs and monuments. A dress collection and fabrics and on and on. Spanish, German, French, English. A little bit of something for everybody.

Hyde Park: Free

We took an afternoon stroll through Hyde Park. Starting near the Albert Monument, passing over the Serpentine Bridge and on to Speaker's Corner. Londoners certainly use their parks! Take a bag lunch and a bottle of wine & join in!

Dinner at Jonathan's £ 35 for 2 with wine. Another one around the corner from our hotel on Hertford Street. Upmarket pizzas, baked Italian dishes and pastas with a great arugula (rocket) salad. Very good. Filled with forlorn business singles & families looking for something other than their own hotel's offerings.

Departure Day June 30

The rush is on. We had a 4:45 departure from Heathrow looming, so we could not do much. I suggested a quick revisit to the British Museum to see the upstairs rooms, which we missed on our 1st visit because we were museumed out. A quick hop on the tube, and we saw highlights of the rooms that we had missed. Now I am satisfied . . .

We decided to be really adventurous and take the tube to Heathrow. We reasoned that we were 2 minutes from a tube station with only one line (no stairs). It was the direct line (Piccadilly) to Heathrow, so we would not have to transfer trains with bags etc. We only had 3 short flights of stairs to negotiate in pedestrian tunnels to get to the Hyde Park station. So . . .

Tube to Heathrow £ 2.70 (with Zone 1 Travelcard)

It was a breeze and took only an hour (and saved us £ 40). A fair walk at the Heathrow end, but there were moving sidewalks and elevators to assist.

The Weather

We came prepared (mentally and with 2 new umbrellas) for constant rain. We had great sunshine and warm (72 to 75) almost every day. We only used our umbrellas the day we were leaving. Sometimes the gods smile . . .

Pros of London

The Tube: easy to use and cheap
Travelcard: makes it easy to use the tube & buses & gets you a discount on trains and boats
Museums: you can't beat free
The people: everywhere, everyone was pleasant and helpful ) it's nice to travel in English for a change)

Cons of London

The expense: Everything is very expensive so be prepared. Meals are twice the cost of the same in America or Italy, Spain or France.

Thanks for reading . . .

Feel free to ask any questions . . .
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Old Jul 1st, 2003, 11:47 AM
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Ian,

Great report!! It makes me wish that I were back in London. We were there last Jan. when there was snow and ice on the ground but London is great any time of the year. Your report makes me want to go back soon! How lucky of you to see the Royal Family! An experience of a lifetime!
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Old Jul 1st, 2003, 12:05 PM
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Ian - post a coupla photos--- I am drooling to see/hear more!!!!!
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Old Jul 1st, 2003, 12:25 PM
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Great reports - and so soon after getting home!

They showed the QE/Putin carriage procession on a couple of the cable networks in the US. Maybe we saw you in the crowds . . . .
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Old Jul 1st, 2003, 12:29 PM
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Addendum

Walking

I realized that my report made it sound like we tubed almost everywhere. Although we did use the tube a lot we still walked a good chunk of the city. Mayfair & St James's areas, including Green Park were extensively explored. We walked to the Westminster area by Buckingham Palace & Parliament. Parts of Regent's Park, Soho, Covent Garden and Bloomsbury, Belgravia & Knightsbridge also fell under our sore feet. We found it a great walking town & I was only once almost a hood ornament. A speeding minivan on a small side street came close . . . my wife yelled at the right moment . . . The Look Right & Look Left pavement markers at intersections helped a lot.

A Note from my wife: The V & A should not be missed. It is a fabulous collection.

A Note about Heathrow: Is it an airport or a shopping mall? Once you get past security, it was hard to tell.

BTW The attendant at Westminster said over 3000 were buried there.
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Old Jul 1st, 2003, 12:53 PM
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All

Thanks for the comments . . .

It's nice to see that people read reports . . .
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Old Jul 2nd, 2003, 05:29 AM
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Great, great, great report Ian! You certainly managed to live like royalty with the "free" room!

One note on the trip to Hampton Court for others. I think I've read it's better to train there & take the boat back as you're going with the tide returning.
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Old Jul 2nd, 2003, 10:20 AM
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mclaurie: The 'best' trip is actually harder to predict. It seems to vary depending upon the moon phase etc. We went with the tide flow for most of the way until the Richmond lock. Our captain slowed down a couple of miles before the lock to wait 20 minutes until the weirs under the bridge would open so we wouldn?t have to go through the lock. This means we were at half-tide. We went through only one other lock, which raised us. Call them when you arrive for times.
see http://www.wpsa.co.uk/ It still was really cool to arrive by river, sort of made me think of a Man for All Seasons . . .

In re-reading my Trip Report (above) I realized that a little more editing time could have cleaned up some grammar issues & the Fodor Board's habit of replacing things it doesn't understand with a ?.
I apologize for my jet-lagged eagerness to pound out a fresh Trip Report.

A couple of notes:

Travelcard: As I mentioned, the 7 day or less Travelcard does not need a photo. But anything longer than a week, and you do.

The Lebanese restaurant was called Joury at 72 Duke just south of Oxford. They even have water pipes available for customer use.

Guys: One of the great thrills about London is certainly the car watching. With their Right Hand Drive needs, you see an amazing assortment of cars you never knew existed. Renaults, Vauxhalls etc etc. Park Lane with its high-end car salons is fun to window shop. Aston-Martin, Bentley, Rolls-Royce, Porsche, BMW, Mini and even McLaren have showrooms. And the streets around the area glisten with very expensive metal. Benzs and Bimmers are the 'common' transportation in Mayfair with all manner of Porsches, Astons, Ferraris, TVRs etc etc.

A London Conclusion

We really enjoyed London. We always felt safe in our travels on foot, train and the tube. Mind you we spend almost all of our time in Zone 1. We felt that our six days allowed us enough time to really enjoy the sights of London and its treasure trove of museums and monuments. Our chance encounter with Royalty was a bonus. Mind you, I have seen Queen Liz & Phillip on 2 other occasions. Long Live the Queen!

Food in London was expensive but it appeared to be a great restaurant city with a lot of variety.

Overall a good way to spend a week!

(We still love Paris best though!)
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Old Jul 3rd, 2003, 10:13 AM
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Ian,
Great trip report! Thanks so much for sharing with us. I can't believe you saw the Queen, Phillip, and Charles while you were there--very exciting!! I was in London earlier in June and we also had gorgeous weather while there.

I agree with so many of your comments regarding food and walking/tube riding. You have to walk a LOT; those stairs will wear you out sometimes. And, yes, the food is expensive in London.

I agree that getting out of London is a good idea. We went to Windsor (30 minute train ride) and that was one of our favorite trips. We also took a boat ride to Greenwich, which was only about 1 1/2 hours. This was another great trip and the sights there are lovely. We also went to Hampton Court (I just love visiting those palaces), but we took the train both ways. You are right about the security people in the palaces--they have tons of valuable information. Glad you had such a great trip and thanks for letting me relive my recent memories.
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