Trip Report - Solo in London

Old Mar 4th, 2007, 11:46 AM
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Trip Report - Solo in London

I am inspired by Janis’ London trip report to write one of my own – I was in London at roughly the same time Janis was. Here goes…

THE BASICS

Who?
Just me this time; 42-year-old university teacher, wife, mother of two. I live in Ontario, Canada, but I grew up in the UK and know London quite well (I try to visit at least once a year).

Why?
The main reason for this trip was a meeting related to my research at the University of Manchester. Once that was out of the way, it was also a chance to catch up with some old friends from my school days, and to do some cultural things.

When?
One week; Feb. 17 to 25.

Stayed at…
Luna and Simone Hotel, Pimlico. I cannot say enough great things about this hotel; but don’t just listen to me – look at Tripadvisor.com. The reviews are all true!

DAY 1 - SATURDAY

I took the day flight from Toronto to Heathrow; it was the first time I had done this, and I was curious to see how it would go. I really dislike the overnight flight, arriving at 6 a.m., feeling tired and in need of a shower, and with a full day ahead of me. My flight left at 9 a.m., which meant getting up at 4 a.m., but it was worth it. The flight was uneventful, and I arrived at Heathrow around 9 p.m. feeling fine.

Took the tube from LHR to Victoria (one change, at Hammersmith); then walked from Victoria to the hotel. It took about ten minutes pulling my suitcase on wheels. I was in my hotel by 11 p.m. I had requested a single room and was expecting it to be on the 5th or 6th floor; however, I found myself with an upgrade to a second-floor double at the front of the hotel, with an ensuite bathroom (spotlessly clean), plenty of room, and a private balcony!

One of my best purchases on a previous trip has been my UK mobile – it cost 19.95 pounds, and comes with a pay-as-you-go plan from Orange. This is vital for me to keep in touch with my husband and kids when I’m away, and to make arrangements with UK friends by text. I charged my phone, called home, sent a couple of texts, chatted on the phone with a local friend, and finally fell asleep around 2 a.m.

More to come...
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Old Mar 4th, 2007, 12:16 PM
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Bring it on, Tania. I am waiting....
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Old Mar 4th, 2007, 12:33 PM
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Oh, yay, another London trip report! Thanks for wading in - I can't wait to see what you did with your time there.
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Old Mar 4th, 2007, 12:36 PM
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Getting impatient here. Did you get an Oyster card at LHR?
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Old Mar 4th, 2007, 12:49 PM
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DAY 2 – SUNDAY

Got up quite late so I missed the breakfast in the hotel. I wanted to spend Sunday exploring the east end, so took the tube from Victoria to Liverpool Street. I had investigated London transport and the Oyster system quite well before leaving, so knew exactly what to ask for at Heathrow – a pay-as-you-go Oyster with 15 pounds on it. I topped it up twice during the trip.

Strolled around Petticoat Lane market for a while, which seemed to consist mainly of cheap clothing and souvenir t-shirts. I didn’t buy anything, and found that I liked Camden marked much better later in the week. Wandering around, I found myself in Brick Lane, the Bangladeshi part of London. Having read Monica Ali’s book, this was interesting, and I spent more time here than I had expected. There are some great-looking restaurants along here and because I had missed breakfast I was hungry. I chose a place called Monsoon, which had a lunchtime special of four courses for 6.95. It was great – really good curry and a nice place too!

My plan had been to do the London Walks tour of the Unknown East End at 2 p.m., and the decision became enjoy lunch, or rush through it and try to catch the tour. I decided to linger over lunch. There is always next time… After lunch I walked along the Mile End Rd to Stepney Green tube station and took the tube back to Tower Hill.

Continued walking… the weather was fine, around 11 degrees and not raining. I always notice, coming from Canada, how humid London is. I was wearing jeans, a long-sleeved t-shirt, and a leather jacket, and I was warm; many locals were dressed in much warmer clothes and looked comfortable! Anyway, walked across Tower Bridge, over towards Southwark, and ended up at Vinopolis, where I ordered a large glass of wine and made some phone calls. I tried not to think about the fact that in Canadian dollars, I was spending around $12 for one glass of wine!

Took the tube to Euston to pick up my train ticket for Manchester the next day. This is a great system – I had ordered the ticket online from Canada, and simply went to the machine, punched in my code, and got the ticket. I could have saved myself a journey and done it the following morning, but my train was leaving at 8:30 a.m. and I didn’t want to take any chances.

Evening found me in Soho, one of my favourite parts of London. I have done my fair share of socializing in Soho, but this time I was alone, so I took the London Walks Soho pub tour. It was Chinese New Year, so the area was packed, but the tour guide made a couple of adjustments, and it was a fun time. The pubs were a bit touristy (Spice of Life, and Dog and Duck) but I chatted with some other visitors, and spent a very enjoyable evening.

Early to bed – early start next day…
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Old Mar 4th, 2007, 01:12 PM
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DAY 3 – MONDAY

Today I had breakfast in the hotel – bacon, eggs, baked beans, and plenty of toast and tea. I don’t usually eat like this at home, but in England it really sets you up for the day.

Took the train up to Manchester. I have rented cars in the UK and I don’t mind doing it, but I love taking the trains too. I find them generally quick and reliable, and prices are not outrageous if you book in advance.

Had a very productive meeting at the university. After my meeting I took another train over to Liverpool, a journey of about an hour. My plan was to meet a friend from school (someone I have known since I was about 12), have a drink with her, then take the last train back to London. However, after a bottle of wine, another curry, and still too much left to talk about, I knew that was not going to happen. A quick stop in Tesco to buy a toothbrush, and I ended up staying over at her house.

I had never been to Liverpool before, and from what little I saw of the city, I found it quite fascinating. My friend lives in the Toxteth area which experienced rioting in the early 1980s, but which seems to be making a comeback. Around Liverpool I saw examples of wonderful old buildings, great architecture, which tells of the city’s past as a prosperous shipping centre; today, some is in disrepair, and some has undergone a process of gentrification. Very interesting – I would like to go back and explore some more.

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Old Mar 4th, 2007, 01:21 PM
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DAY 4 – TUESDAY

Arrived back in London around lunchtime. Took a shower at the hotel and decided to go up to Charing Cross Road and Covent Garden. One of the great things about my hotel was the location; the number 24 bus stops right outside, and this bus goes through Westminster, past Trafalgar Square, up Charing Cross Road (good for Soho, Covent Garden, and Oxford Street shopping), up to Camden, and finally to Hampstead. I ended up taking the bus far more than the tube.

My first stop was TKTS at Leicester Square, where I bought a ticket to see the Queen musical We Will Rock You that evening. It cost me 22 pounds.

Then, on to the bookstores on Charing Cross Rd. Sadly, I learned on my Sunday night walking tour that there are only three independent second-hand bookshops on CC Rd these days; high rents are forcing them out and the giants are taking over. Nevertheless, I found a couple of things I was looking for in Foyle’s, and was able to finish my eight-year-old son’s collection of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five books, which are not readily available in Canada.

Then over to Covent Garden and some browsing in the clothing and accessories stores. The piazza at Covent Garden is always fun, if touristy. I did notice a lot of visitors in London, probably more than I was expecting in February; my friend who lives in London tells me that tourism is a lot less seasonal than it used to be… it’s always busy! Bought a lovely dress for my six-year-old daughter in Monsoon Kids, one of my favourite English kids’ shops.

Dinner that night was at Arirang Korean restaurant in Soho. It was fine, but I have to say that I have had better Korean in my home-town in Canada. I felt a bit rushed too because I was dining alone, and the place was starting to fill up.

Walked along Oxford St to the theatre; We Will Rock You is at the Dominion Theatre at Centre Point. I really enjoyed the show, although for the first ten minutes I found myself wondering whether I had made a mistake. The story is a bit silly, but the music is phenomenal, and the performances were brilliant. It turned into a great night out.
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Old Mar 4th, 2007, 01:30 PM
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Great report, Tania...more, please.
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Old Mar 4th, 2007, 02:12 PM
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great report Tania. Yep - we were probably w/i spitting distance of each other a couple of times

Isn't the #24 bus great. I usually stay in Pimlico not far from the Luna and Simone and ride the 24 everywhere. Rode it twice this trip to/from the Tate.

I was also surprised by the crowds. You get used to it in London - but the Tates, theatres and such were all crowded.
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Old Mar 4th, 2007, 03:42 PM
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DAY 5 – WEDNESDAY

This morning found me in the British Museum. It had been years since I was there, and I had never explored it properly as an adult; I was actually a little intimidated by it. I didn’t get the timing quite right to take a tour, but instead I bought a guidebook that contains 15 self-guided tours, and this worked perfectly.

I took two main tours: the first was a general overview that covered all the biggies – the Rosetta stone, Parthenon sculptures, mummies, and so on. The second was a tour of early British artifacts. Next, I followed a thematic tour of the history of writing; as a former linguistics student and now a teacher of writing, I was on familiar ground here. Finally, I visited the Korean gallery – again, familiar ground as I lived in Korea for three years.

I have heard it said that the best way to do the British Museum is in small chunks – stop in for an hour or so. I would agree with that; it is a lot to take in in one visit. I spent several hours in there, by which time my feet were aching and I was in need of refreshment; hence, a much-needed time-out in the Museum Tavern across the street. (By the way, as a woman traveling alone, I never felt nervous about going into pubs in London, and I did it quite a lot… obviously, I wouldn’t do this in the more dodgy areas of the city, but in the well-touristed areas, I didn’t think twice about it.)

Later that afternoon I met a friend at Charing Cross station and had an early dinner in the Princess of Wales pub near Embankment tube station. This was the only time in the entire trip that I ate typical English pub food (steak pie and chips). We had a good time catching up.

Wednesday night’s entertainment was The Woman in Black at the Fortune Theatre near Covent Garden. This one certainly lived up to its reviews; it was quite scary, and very well acted. There were several school groups in the theatre, and there were plenty of screams from the kids!

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Old Mar 4th, 2007, 05:05 PM
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DAY 6 – THURSDAY

Today’s plan was to visit the Imperial War Museum, spend a couple of hours in there, then join the London Walks tour of London in the Blitz at 2 p.m. It didn’t quite work out that way.

The IWM is walkable from my hotel, over Vauxhall Bridge and along the Embankment, then south into Lambeth – this is what I did. This museum is impressive! I spent a fair bit of time in the WWI and WWII sections; the Trench Experience and the Blitz Experience are certainly worth seeing, but so are the war-time artifacts, letters home from soldiers, and so on. The things on display made it all real. Then on to the Holocaust section, where I spent far more time than anticipated. This is extremely emotional; the video accounts from Holocaust survivors brought it all home. Finally, there was a video of post-war atrocities including footage from Rwanda, Cambodia, and the former Yugoslavia. The IWM currently has an exhibit about children in wartime, but I didn’t make it to that one. Because I spent so much time in here, I also didn’t make the walking tour… next time.

Had a mid-afternoon lunch at a nice Italian restaurant (Sole Mio) next to my hotel and a glass of wine in my room, then got dressed up to go to the opera.

When I was planning this trip, one of the very first things I did was get a ticket to see Madama Butterfly at the Royal Opera House; I was joined by an old friend from school, someone I had not seen since we were 18! She had booked a table in the bar of the ROH, and we shared a bottle of wine and a plate of sandwiches, and caught up on the last 25 years! The performance itself was fantastic and the building is beautiful. This was only my third opera ever, but I am now a fan! I spent the rest of the week humming the music to myself, and I still am!

Rounded out the evening with a late-night snack, then took the bus back to my hotel.

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Old Mar 5th, 2007, 03:25 PM
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Finishing this off...

DAY 7 – FRIDAY

Didn’t do too much today – was feeling a bit tired, and actually had a nap in the hotel in the afternoon.

One thing I did have to do today is withdraw money, as my cash was getting low. On my last two or three trips to the UK, I have been amazed at how easy it is to take cash out of my home account using my ATM card. Having said that, I always felt more comfortable changing a couple of hundred pounds at the airport. In this case, I took 100 pounds out of my account at an ATM in a Tesco supermarket! Couldn’t be simpler. Never again will I bother with changing money at the airport or anywhere else. From now on, I will make sure I have enough cash to get started, then just use the ATMs – no problem.

In the evening I met another old school friend and had a bit of a night on the town. We met at Piccadilly Circus and we walked from there up to Old Compton Street in Soho. For anyone not familiar with this area, it is London’s gay district; it’s a lively scene where anything goes. As a non-gay person, I have never felt uncomfortable there. We visited a couple of pubs including the Admiral Duncan, site of one of the UK’s most horrible hate crimes, the nail-bombing attack of 1999 in which three people were killed and many others injured. It is not unusual for non-gay people to stop by the Admiral Duncan to have a drink and show support. Had a snack in Balan’s (I had heard their eggs benedict is to die for, and yes, it is pretty good). We ended up at a local pub in Deptford, southeast London, with not a tourist in sight.


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Old Mar 5th, 2007, 03:27 PM
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Last one...

DAY 8 - SATURDAY

My last day in London, and once again, I did a lot of walking. I went up to Hamley’s toy shop on Regent Street to buy some things for my kids, walked along Oxford Street, down Charing Cross Rd, and had breakfast at Amato, next to the Prince Edward theatre in Soho. Then, walked through St. James Park and admired the crocuses in bloom; my garden in Canada is currently under about two feet of snow!

One fun thing today was to stand in Trafalgar Square in front of the webcam, and wave at my kids. I called my husband on my mobile, told him to turn on the computer (it was about breakfast time in Ontario), and they saw me! I knew exactly where I should stand because in my nostalgic moments, I often look at this webcam to remind myself of what London looks like!

Moved on to the John Soane’s museum, which I hadn’t visited before, and which was amazing. This is the home of architect and collector John Soane, and is full of wonderful works of art from all over. Like most London museums, it is free. There is a tour, which I missed, but I bought the printed guide and it was quite detailed. I would definitely recommend this museum; another great one is the Geffrye museum, which I have visited before but not on this trip.

Later in the afternoon, I met the same friend from Friday and we took the 24 bus up to Camden. The market was fantastic; full of the ethnic jewellery and clothes that I love, along with some arts and crafts, furniture, and food stands.

My farewell dinner in London was at Solo Bar in Camden, and I think this qualifies as one of the best meals I have ever had in London. It was quiet, candle-lit, relaxed, and with good service. We spent three hours chatting over dinner and were never made to feel rushed. It was also not at all expensive. I had mussels in wine and garlic, followed by paella; he had a chicken salad, followed by steak; we had a bottle of wine and two lattes – it was all excellent, and the total bill was around 40 pounds for the two of us (there is a special deal if you eat before 8 p.m., and we got there around 7:30). It was a great way to end the week.

Back to my hotel for a final glass of wine with my friend, and some last-minute packing; tomorrow… home.

DAY 9 – SUNDAY

Now we come to the most stressful part of the entire trip – getting out of Heathrow. I stood in line at security for a good hour; the line went right over to the other side of the terminal building. Still, it is worth it to know that security is being taken very seriously. I was aware that I would only be able to take one carry-on bag, and I ended up checking my suitcase and one other bag; it was actually nice to not have a lot of carry-on stuff with me.

Another uneventful flight, and I was home by 7:30 that evening… and am already planning my next London trip!


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Old Mar 5th, 2007, 04:25 PM
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This was a great read, Tania. Sounds like you had a nice trip; how wonderful that you were able to meet up with 'old' friends.

Thanks for the details of food and sights. I hope we can fit Soane's or the Geffrye in our trip, but time (or lack of it) will tell.

Did you buy the book of 15 tours of the British Museum in the bookshop there? I am very interested in the tour of early British artifacts - did that include the Sutton Hoo and the Lewis Chessmen?
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Old Mar 5th, 2007, 05:00 PM
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Wonderful report, Tania. Thanks for letting me tag along!
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Old Mar 6th, 2007, 12:24 PM
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Noe - I bought it not in the actual bookshop, but at a stand in the main concourse selling guidebooks, etc. It was 5 pounds - well worth it.

The British/European tour does include the things you mention; unfortunately, some of it is closed for renovation. The Lindow bog man is not currently on display. The Sutton Hoo exhibit is very interesting.

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Old Mar 6th, 2007, 08:19 PM
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Tania, LOL! Standing at Trafalgar Square and waving at your family, watching on the webcam. I love it! I often watch Abbey Road on the recording studio's webcam, and couldn't resist waving at it while I was there last fall.

What is the link for the Trafalgar webcam?
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Old Mar 7th, 2007, 03:07 PM
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Merseyheart - it's http://www.camvista.com/england/london/trafsq.php3

It's not as good as the Abbey Road one, but if you stand near the lamp-post at the front, they can identify you!

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Old Mar 7th, 2007, 07:55 PM
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Loved your report. Glad you liked 'We Will Rock You'. I expected to find it just okay, but because of the fun music, I loved it.

Have you ever taken tea at the small restaurant at the top of the British Museum? It makes a nice break from touring the museum.
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