As I sit with severe "post vacation depression" and a serious case of "withdrawl of all things London", I would 1st like to thank all the very wonderful and patient members of TALF. Without you, my trip would not have been as smooth and enjoyabe, especially with the public transportation questions...which was MUCH easier to understand after my arrival, and really not worth all the anxiety I suffered! LOL
We took the red-eye from Detroit, and arrived at Heathrow at 1100. (I stand by the fact that this was a wonderful choice for arrival time, our other option being 0600.) Customs was a breeze, found our tube from Terminal 4. Bought an Oyster Card per TALF suggestions, topped off with 10 pounds each, and away were went!
Piccadilly line was direct to our hotel (Rydges Kensington) at Glouster Road. With the time we landed, utilizing the tube was very easy, as we debated private transport. Our hotel was a block away. (Please see my review.)
Operating on sheer adrenaline and excitement (sleeping from New York and waking up over Ireland helped!), we checked in and we were off and running. We took the tube to Westminister Station,I walked up the stairs, and will never forget the feeling of staring at Parliment and Big Ben! OK, it's a little silly, but I felt tears...this has been a bucket list trip since I was a child, and looking at iconic landmarks I had only seen in pictures, and the very bad life situations that actually allowed me to be in the UK (didn't see that coming!)...the feelings took me by surprise! My wanderlust runs deep, and here I was, at last!
We spent our 1st day walking and exploring, and taking pictures. Westminister Abbey, past 10 Downing Street, through St. James Park..Buckingham Palace! The weddings I've seen, the history! (Typical American, loving all things Royal, and positive I'm a Princess trapped in a Nurses world!) We couldn't take in enough!
My husband is a history buff like I am, and we just don't have this in the United States. My observations are we (U.S.) like to remove the old, and put in the new. (Not to mention a significantly different history...though this history is OUR history!) History is placed in museums on a whole. (To my experience.)
Exhausted, and a tad bit jet-lagged, bed was early, but NOT until a Pub dinner of Fish and Chips, and a long awaited Shandy for me! (We don't carbonate our lemonade in the States, and am possibly suggesting we make a constitutional amendent to do so! LOL) Mushy peas? Why didn't I know about the creative way the UK folks have made one of my most hated vegetables one of my favorites! :)
Wednesday, up early and off to Windsor Castle! Stopped at the Cafe Forum a short walk from Glouster Tube, and had my first Full English Breakfast (not a big fan of beans generally speaking, traded my husband for his egg, which he hates, and when I told my Mom she feels we should adopt this practice), which kept my tank full until dinner. Waterloo Station to connect to the train out. Loved the town, and did the Castle Tour. I just could not believe the SIZE. I seriously had no idea. St. George's chapel ! Felt sorry for the Guards and the less then appropiate people posing next to them for pictures. I know this job (from what I read) is an honor, but I honestly thought it would be a terrible! Toured, wandered around, bought some shot glasses for friends. Stopped to get a coffee from McDonald's (which we SWORE NOT to eat at any American fast food chains on our visit), waiting for the next train. We looked at a group of what I would say was 7th grade boys stopping in after school. From my Mom experience, this age is tough with boys and they are full of business! There were about 10 of them, and "thumbs up" to the parents...whatever you do different, I seriously doubt I would've seen such a well behaved group of boys doing the same thing in my neck of the woods!
Back to home base, and because of my husband love of "all things pub", back to Stanhope Arms for dinner. (I think I need Lipitor after this trip!) I have to say, your Pub food is much different from our bar/tavern food with the choices, generally speaking. Our fish is small and LOADED with batter...liked yours better, and have found a love of your "pies". We have chicken pot pie, and it isn't available the way you serve it. I even ate Blood Pudding! (It reminded me of Liver...not a personal favorite, but I had to try, right?) Forced hubby to eat Bangers and Mash one night...you can get a burger at home!
The next day was Westminister Abbey. Stunning, the history, the architecture, the sarcophaguses, the stories. We took our own tour at the suggestion of security when we went in, not the verger tour as planned. We listened in to the other tours at certain points. Enjoyed a prayer service at the tomb of Edward the Confessor.
No picture poicy I didn't understand, especially when we got to Notre Dame, and they were allowed throughout the church.
Friday and Saturday was the Eurostar to Paris. (One more thing I do not understand why we don't have it in the States.) 2 hours, and we did an over night stay, keeping our hotel in London. I will not review Paris...as this isn't the site, however, won't be on the Paris TA either. A HUGE disappointment. My heart said visit Scotland (other choices as well), and I should've followed it. Sparing detail, I will NEVER go back, cannot understand the love of it, and to be honest..they don't like Americans. (I knew this.) From the conversations I overheard...they really aren't too thrilled with anyone not French. OK, I'm done.
Back in London! (YEAH!) This was MY trip that my hubby very kindly allowed me to drag him to everything "I" wanted to see/do, I told him about the Destination London Star Trek Convention. This was our Sunday. I know people LOVE this show. The people watching was phenomenal! The money these folks paid to meet the Captains! OK, its obviously not "my thing", and felt kinda sad to see some actors with careers that are over for the most part selling their autographs and photos for a buck, then basically vendors selling over priced crap.
We ended up at London Bridge from the tube, and decided to take a Thames River tour back to Westminster. Enjoyable with a very funny guide. It was rainy, foggy, everything I imagined London to be after our beautiful 1st week of sun...we still sat on the top deck of the boat for pictures! (Thank you to The North Face company for our wonderful, warm, light weight, water proof jackets! LOL)
On our return from Paris, we picked up our National Rail Pass to St. Pancreas to take advantage of the 2-4-1 deals for our next week. (7 da pass) We brought the pictures with us from home. They asked us what day we wanted it to start, which I didn't know was an option, very nice. We used the Oyster card for the 1st couple days. All I can say is I wish we would've bought this the 1st week. We spent a significant amount of money using the Oyster Card (didn't use the bus), and this Pass would've saved us quite a bit of money. Now, this is where I think I screwed up. I had read that we needed extension tickets out of Zones 1-2, which our pass covered. We went out a couple of times, and seriously, not trying to steal anything, we entered and walked on trains. (For example, out to Hampton Court Palace.) Looking back, I believe I was supposed to buy this ticket, but I was never stopped and never asked. Just went through. We kept thinking we would have an area to do this. My husband thought the train was covered on the pass. I'm still not sure....
The 2-4-1 saved us money on the Churchill War Rooms, The Tower of London, and Hampton Court Palace. (Total $100 saved.) There were many other sites to use with this, that we just did not get to. I cannot recommend this enough...especially with our very weak dollar! Easy to get, easy to use. We printed out every thing at home for the passes, however, you're given a booklet to fill out if you wish.
I have just realized how lengthy I'm getting (my poor family and the 400 pictures they were forced to see when I returned! LOL), I will sum up the remaining time of our trip....
The Tower of London was fantastic! We spent a solid 5 hours there. The graffiti on the walls of Bloody Tower amazed me. The jokes the Yeoman made about who built the Tower ("Mel Gibson to you Americans")...it's a tour that should not be missed! Make sure you get a picture of Henry VIII amour from the side, to give you the true picture of the size of this man! My family was surprised!
Hampton Court Palace was well worth the visit. Probably my favorite "palace" that we went to. Took my husband kicking and screaming ("another one?", he asks! LOL), and he said this was by far his favorite as well. Very different.
We took another boat tour to Greenwich. Walked up the hill to the Royal Observatory, toured, pictures at the Prime Meridan, the Naval College, snacks and beers and ANOTHER wonderful pub. Adorable town!
Days walking around the city, exploring, lunches in your wonderful parks with take-away, the Victoria and Albert and British Museums, the Churchill War Rooms..I'm worried I'm forgetting to mention all the wonderful things we visited!
Kensington Palace, just walked around and thru the park. Found Kensington Gardens much more interesting to walk thru, and thanks to a lovely police officer that stopped to chat with us, gave us lots of information, and a history lesson as well! High Street was like an outdoor mall.
Harrods. OK, you just have to see the building if nothing else, at night is the best! Had to remove my husband rather quickly after getting "sticker shock" and his determination to find a "sales bin"...LOL Had fun taking pictures in the Jimmy Choo and Dolce and Gabana areas until, well, we were politely told to stop! (We behaved, just a No Picture policy!)
Staying at Glouster Road, we there were many places to dine, and of special mention Paul (fantastic take-away sandwiches to eat in the park as stated), Cafe Forum, Hereford Arms (John Malkovich sat at the table next to me!), Olives, Stanhope Arms...utilized the Waitrose and Tesco Express for odds and ends. I cannot think of a better place to base yourself for your 1st trip...and would for any future trip if London was my focus!
Our last 2 days, we figured out South Kensington was only a 10 minute walk with many more choices for dining. We were very "tube dependent"...just fascinated without having any public transportation in our area at all...but in turn, we missed some things that were in walking distance. Take a minute and ask at your hotel!
My regrets? We never got to the theatre. We decided to relax a little, not rushing out the door every morning. (We ended up in the West End at the end of our stay...sad we missed!) There is a plus to this....arriving later at the tourist attractions, you miss the crowds. We never made it to Bath or Salisbury as planned. The towns outside of London (the couple we saw) are so beautiful, different, and I'm sure more representational of life in the UK. I wanted just ONE MORE WEEK! This was a very "tourist" trip, and I had a fear of never returning, and cramming in my "must sees". I feel I missed out on a different side of this wonderful country. (I just HAVE to return, I guess!)
Advice for 1st timers? We Americans take our cars EVERWHERE. I have never walked so much in my life, even with our trip to D.C. Make sure your shoes are comfortable! Ladies...bring scarves! Not only functional, everyone wears them, and we really need to adopt this in the U.S.! Pack lighter. We don't own 2 weeks of clothing, which we realized while packing. Thanks to the advice of a friend, wear what you can a couple times if your stay is 2 weeks like ours. (The time of year we traveled made this easy. I did, however, have 14 pairs of socks and underwear! LOL)
Don't fret over the Tube/Bus/Train! It's so easy, user friendly, well marked. Buy the National Rail pass, and use your Oyster strictly for the trip back and forth to the airport if you are able. Get a TUBE APP for your Smart Phone. Ours was $2.99 and worth every dime! Even the UK folks use one!
Stay on the right side on the escalators in the tube if you aren't running! City life..everyone is in a hurry! Mind the GAP! LOL
Apparently, the American "excuse me" is used in the UK after passing gas? All I know is, people always chuckled with that statement as my opening line. Adopted the "sorry" for bumping in to someone, and quickly put "pardon me" in play! LOL Feel free to message me and clarify before my next social faux pas!
The best advice...pay attention when crossing the street! We come from the OTHER direction! It looked like people were making a "left on red" to me! Thank you for putting the LOOK THIS WAY on the streets!
Thank you again for all the wonderful advice from TALF members during our planning! You get the same questions over and over, and always answer in kind!
To all the very kind people of London, I thank you for making me feel welcome. The conversations while having a drink at the pub (our election, healthcare, life differences), the very pleasant way you spoke to me when I'm sure you have been asked for directions to Buckingham Palace at least a million times! Your tolerance of smoking (I know its bad, I'm a nurse, and hooked...), and the abillity to let me sit outside as a paying customer with my meal, coffee, beer. The support of the arts and history, your respect, that at times I feel simply doesn't exist in the States for your things that we all use in the public sector. You have left an impression on me, one that I will not forget, and am truly impressed by!
I miss you already!