My trip last October was a bit rushed for my taste, so I was determined this time would be more relaxed. During planning stages, I enjoy creating an itinerary, but have learned not to feel pressured to stick to it. I did end up veering off course this time, paying more attention to my mood at the moment. Afterall, one of the joys of traveling solo is having the freedom to do exactly what you please.
Heathrow Connect train - The wait times were long and had to make the transfer from Terminal 4 on Heathrow Express (HEX) to Terminal 3 for the next Connect. It took a total of 2 hrs. from landing to the platform at Paddington. Too much wasted time IMO so it’ll be back to HEX for me. The overall impression I got of Connect is that it’s mainly geared toward commuters, not travelers with luggage.
Barbican Centre – Went on “First Thursday” to see the “chair” exhibit. Very cool – office & theatre-style seating were hung sideways along a huge curved wall – all in the formation of airplane seating. Unfortunately, no pictures were allowed. First time in the Barbican, so I simply explored the complex – found a lake of sorts as well as a conservatory (only open Sundays). The bonus was the Mahler concert that evening – after perusing the giftshop and grabbing a coffee, I was able to sit in the lobby and enjoy the concert for free over the loudspeakers and the video screen.
Big Bus Tour - Decided to scrap my original itinerary (a day in Windsor) and took the Big Bus Tour instead. For some reason we were required to switch buses often which made some passengers angry. Especially one family man who could have passed for Jim Royle. I had to laugh to myself – it was like watching “The Royle Family Tours London.”
The City – From Tower Hill, walked over to Fenchurch St. Station, paused inside St. Olave’s where a string quartet was practicing. Then back out to the busy lunchtime rush near Leadenhall Market. There were food stalls in the center so I got a £5 lunch of fresh lamb meatballs and couscous with a dollop of yogurt on top. Stood and watched all the construction around the market. It was fun seeing the glass elevators go up and down in nearby office buildings. Found some freshly squeezed OJ and went over and sat in the quiet churchyard of St. Peter’s. Dessert was a few pieces of chocs from the local Godiva shop. A great lunch experience!
Evensong at St. Paul’s - The service lasted about one hour. The choir consisted of all men, no young choristers on this day. In the middle of the service, a loud thud occurred – either someone dropped a hymnal on a woman’s head or she fainted, it was hard to tell. People ran to her aid, including one of the service leaders.
Breakfast in Bed – At my hotel in the City, woke up, pulled the drapes and was surprised with a stunning view of the steeple of St. Bride’s in the distance. It was definitely a “vacation” morning – candlelight breakfast in bed, classical music on the radio, a unique view. Hyacinth Bucket would have been proud.
Hunterian Museum - Had fun taking pictures along Holborn Viaduct as I headed to Sir John Soane’s house. I got my directions mixed up and ended up at the Royal College of Surgeons/Hunterian Museum. Free and fascinating place. A ladies group was having a tour so I got to learn some behind the scenes facts as well. Of course this kind of exhibit is not for everyone, but I would suggest giving it a try. You can always leave if it gets to be too much. I enjoyed the Bodies Exhibit, but found the Hunterian to be a more authentic experience. Afterwards, I crossed Lincoln Inn Fields to Soane’s, but there was a long queue. Could have kicked myself for not going there first. Got out of line since that’s a waste of time, besides it can be done on another trip. Strolled to Inn The Park for lunch on the terrace.
Evening Concert - After dinner & nap, it was off to a concert of Mozart’s Requiem at St. Clement Danes, one of the “island” churches on the Strand. Every time a bus passed by, its shadow danced along the side windows causing everyone to turn their heads. A funny distraction. The concert lasted a full two hours and everyone was complaining about the rock hard seats. I found this event through the concert-diary website, a site I rely on for every trip.
Volunteer Work - This is an ideal way to meet locals and get a different perspective on London. It was intriguing to hear stories of foreigners who came to the UK years ago and never left. The experience was also grounding – there are still pockets of the city untouched by all of today’s crazy technology. It was refreshing to have real human interaction with undivided attention – no putting up with cell phone interruptions, loud iPod music, or Blackberry tapping.
Shampoo/Blowdry @ Vidal Sassoon – Another way to meet locals and get insider information. Unfortunately, this was the morning of the hurricane, so hairstyle was gone with the wind soon after.
Regent’s Park - The weather cleared up a bit so I made a beeline to Regent’s Park and The Honest Sausage for lunch. Thinking all was safe, I walked toward Chester Terrace. Murphy’s Law – as soon as I was out in the open area of the park, the sky darkened and high winds and rain soon followed. I honestly thought I would be doing a Mary Poppins with my umbrella! All I could do was stand as still as possible, but then the wind snapped one side of the frame. Ran for cover amongst Nash’s terraces, but it was no use. Came upon a bus shelter, complete with homeless man and his transistor radio. The C2 finally arrived, and I started my journey toward Bond St.
Gray’s Antiques - Wanted to see the Tyburn River in the basement, but it was nothing special. There had recently been a flood so many of the dealers were reorganizing their wares – or staring at laptops. Had a nice conversation with an antique doll dealer. I immediately noticed a difference between dolls. The French ones have pointy little teeth and the German ones are square-ish. Useless bit of information.
Shepherd Market - Strolled around the back streets of Mayfair. The spa I wanted to try was closed for renovations. Yet when I inquired next door, was told they would not be reopening. I could tell from the shopkeeper’s expression that there was more to the story. Ok then. As I stepped back out onto the street, a chocolate shop caught my eye – actually it was two smartly dressed business men sitting at the dessert bar sipping chocolate and reading newspapers. Not a sight you see everyday. So of course I just HAD to go in. Oodles of handmade delights and Easter treats. The name of the place is William Curley and their website gives all the background info. Later on, ended up at Richoux for hot chocolate. The staff allowed me to sit outside in the chilly weather but I don’t think they were happy about it. It took over 20 minutes for my order to be taken. I was then brought an ashtray (I don’t smoke!) and then another long wait for my order. No matter, I was dressed up warm and snug, so thoroughly enjoyed sipping chocolat chaud while watching the parade of students/parents walking home from school. The scarlet and grey uniforms looked so sharp!
TALF Pub & Tea Meets - New faces, old faces (as in familiar). So nice to be around people with similar affection for London.
Spa Day – Had planned to go to London School of Beauty for a facial, but then happened upon a day spa one block from the hotel – The Treatment Rooms. Only went in to browse at products but the smell was intoxicating – a facial was quickly booked for lunchtime the next day! (And wonderful it was – the scalp massage put me into a trance and had to go recover in the relaxation room.) A tip for anyone getting a facial: ask them to omit the oil for the scalp massage unless you want to look like you stepped out of an oil slick.
Holland Park – Had a nice stroll in the rain in one of my favorite parks. Mostly full of locals and the flora & fauna is a treat for the senses. Afterwards, explored the surrounding neighborhood and had a meal at Cool Monkey Thai on Clarendon – yummy appetizer of shredded, fried seaweed with cashews. This place seemed to be popular with locals. Before hopping on a bus, stopped-by Hillcrest Pharmacy near H.P. tube. I always love looking through here to see how things are packaged differently than at home.
Shopping - Made a quick walk-through of the food hall at Selfridge’s – oh the lucky kids to get an Easter basket from here! Note to self: avoid cutting through Cosmetics after a long-haul flight. Nothing else will make you feel more like a frumpalump.
St. Christopher’s Place – Finally made it here at last! Such a unique shopping area and cute restaurants. Discovered toffee bonbons at Mrs. Kibbles sweet shop – it looks like an old-fashioned candy store with lots of jars and pink-ish décor. Had a nice lunch at Eat Thai – lovely seat looking out window. Kept noticing a man bringing in food at the Italian place across the way. Was imagining him running to M&S and then serving it to unsuspecting customers.
Marylebone Lane/High St. – On my last trip, I promised I’d get back here to spend more time. Well, I left it to day of departure so still did not have enough time. There was a huge queue in Waitrose where I was stocking up on souvenir goods. The lady infront of me dropped a basket of blueberries – bloop, bloop, bloop…all over the floor. I watched in sheer amazement as two employees swiftly arrived to sweep up. And there wasn’t even an announcement, “clean up in aisle 2.” I wonder, are they always on stand-by behind that big mirror???
That dreaded moment – Once settled into my seat on HEX, I started to get teary-eyed. I didn’t want to leave. I never want to leave. London is a place you can’t sum up in words really, you just have to experience it.