I was in London on a solo trip from Friday, September 4 to Monday, September 14. I stayed in a single room at base2stay. Which I’ve reviewed favorably here at TA.
Within hours after I arrived, I got to meet locals and visitors at a TALF pub meetup! Some of us left the pub to ride the Ghost Bus, duly reported on in another thread here already.
While in London, I took five rail trips out of town. Three were for London Walks’ “Explorer Days” day trips. The first (Saturday 5 Sept) was to Cambridge, leaving from Kings Cross. Our guide was Simon who did a great job of it, the weather was fine, and I’m glad I got my sleepy self to the station in time to make this trip. After a day exploring Cambridge on two guided walks with some free time for lunch, most of us rode a punt up and down the river. Our boat was handled by a grad student with a degree in architectural history who had some blazingly witty comments about the places we passed by. I was exhausted by the time we got back to London that evening.
The next day I realized I’d have to pace myself – boring story, aging hip joint – so I had a slower-paced Sunday. I rode the Hop on Hop off bus, got reacquainted with the Theatre District and Covent Garden, and revisited one of my favorite places, the Cabinet War Rooms. I hadn’t been for several years; the Churchill Museum was new to me, and the CWR itself has been much expanded.
Monday, 7 Sept, was my next rail journey – from Victoria to Brighton with London Walks, and again our guide was Simon. It was a fun, windy day during which I learned what a “twittern” is and heard more than enough about Quadrophenia. I toured the Royal Pavilion, and can understand why the young Queen Victoria wasn’t big on the place, although its decoration is lavish and inventive. Again, it was a pretty full day and I was not up to much after getting back to my hotel afterwards.
The next day I shopped and wandered. I didn’t enter a single museum or cultural institution. Unless you count the Clarks shoe store, dept stores, or Foyles bookshop. I walked Oxford Street and the areas around Leicester Square and Covent Garden, savoring the street scenes and seeing what I’d find around the next corner. I sat in a coffee shop and wrote postcards to mail home. It was a very warm (actually hot) day, which was another reason not to rush around, no?
Wednesday was a highlight of the trip! I went with a new friend, a barrister, to the Royal Courts of Justice and got to hang around with her and attend a hearing, with the kind permission of her client and the judge. After the hearing was over she took me to lunch in the Middle Temple, and I kept saying stupid things like “I can’t believe I’m sitting here,” but she was kind about it, and afterward I got to visit her chambers. Then she walked me around more of the Inns of Court. Absolutely a delightful experience, and specially memorable to this semi-retired Colorado lawyer to have such an insider’s visit to the heart of the British legal system.
The next day I visited Hampton Court Palace – by rail from Waterloo. I enjoyed it more than expected and was only kept from staying all day by a booking I’d made for a photo walk back in London. It was a terrific two hour session in the late afternoon, with a pro photographer - and I was the only customer. I learned to use more features of my Nikon DSLR. I also learned that the Oxo Tower allows public access to the balcony off its bar/restaurant on top of the building. Apparently they were required to do so by law or as part of their planning permission, but anyway just take the elevator up, smile nicely at the bar staff and go out onto the deck where you will see some postcard views of London looking North across the river. No purchase required!
Friday morning, after getting my train tickets at Kings Cross to visit friends, I went over to the British Library. Why on Earth had I not visited it before? I got goosebumps in the Treasures Room (no charge for admission), after viewing so many amazing things. The Magna Carta. A page from a Gutenberg Bible. Pages from Leonardo’s notebooks (and no it wasn’t L. DiCaprio), manuscripts and notes belonging to writers from John Milton to Jane Austen to John Lennon. Musical scores (Handel’s Messiah), maps, sacred texts. All that and more, and even free wi-fi. No wonder the BL is on my must-return-to list. Afterward I took the train from Kings Cross (not my fave London train station, could they possibly make it any less inviting?) to Huntingdon where my friends met me and took me to their house at St. Ives for lunch and a pleasant afternoon visit.
Saturday was my final rail trip out of London, from Paddington, for the London Walks explorer day to Avebury and Lacock. Our guide was Richard, and the day did not disappoint. Again, lovely weather and lovely scenery. I was actually more taken with the village of Avebury than with the also picturesque and historical Lacock. But I’m glad I saw it all.
Sunday was my last full day in London. I started with a morning walk around Old Hampstead Village, again with London Walks. It was so interesting that the time flew by, and Hampstead is another entry on the re-visit list, as we didn’t get out onto the Heath and I’d like to see that. I spent the afternoon buying gifts to take home, and wandering around. Tony at the desk at my hotel, took care of my online check in for the flight home. Not only is he efficient and helpful, he used to be a BA flight attendant – someone you can trust to land you the best seat available.
Sunday evening I took the Chelsea Village pub walk, my final London Walks adventure of the trip. It was delightful! This is another area I knew nothing about, and now I know enough to appreciate what I’ll see the next time I get down that way. I also learned that if you order fruit juice at a Chelsea pub? Specify “no ice” or you will get a glass chock full of cubes and precious little juice.
Monday was mostly traveling, after a late breakfast and ramble around the Earl’s Court/Brompton Road area I trundled myself and bags onto the tube and got to Terminal 5 in plenty of time, almost too early in fact, for my flight. Tip: on arriving at T5 on the tube, you will see a bank of free luggage trolleys right on the platform. Take one, as that will make the rest of your journey up to the security checkpoint so much easier.
Recommendations and information that may be of interest:
I had a couple of reasonably priced nice dinners in the Crypt, the basement of St. Martin’s in the Field church near Trafalgar Square. They also have a nice little shop and a brass rubbing centre. I also enjoyed good meals at decent prices at Balan’s (breakfasts only in my case) and Nando’s (love the sweet potato mash).
I did laundry at Bobo’s Bubbles laundrette on Earls Court Road; clean place with helpful attendant who gave change for the machines. The larger washers cost 5 pounds a load and the smaller washers cost 4 pounds. The dryers eat an infinite number of 20p coins, or less than infinite depending on your circs. Don’t buy detergent from the vending machine at Bobo’s; cross the road to one of the stores for much better prices. Another nice memory from this trip is my conversation with the attendant and a customer, who were kind and friendly and fun, while my clothes went round and round in the machines.
Following tips here at TALF I bought a PAYG cell phone at Carphone Warehouse for 15 pounds, which came with not only ten pounds’ prepaid UK talk time but 50 bonus international minutes. Such a deal!
THANK YOU to everyone who posted questions and answers and reviews here on Trip Advisor in the forums and on the review pages. My trip was so much better because of your contributions, and I’m specially happy to have met some of you in person too.
PS: My next trip is booked for mid-March. Yeah, I’m not at all done with London yet.