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Just returned from my quasi solo trip to London & beyond

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Saskatoon...
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Just returned from my quasi solo trip to London & beyond

I just got back yesterday from a wonderful trip and need to thank all of those on Tripadvisor who helped sort out details, offered suggestions and calmed my frazzled nerves - it was so much fun...

Days 1 through 7 were part of a Globus tour Best of Southern England so days 3,4,5 & part of 6 will give people an idea of the pace on one of the bus tours....

Day 1 [April 22] [Mostly cloudy with some sunny breaks]

Arrived at Heathrow 10:00 via Air Canada and was met by the Globus reps for the included transfer to my hotel, Hilton London Metropole. My room wasn't ready [wasn't really expecting it to be] so they stored my luggage and I set off. Went to the tube station and picked up a Pay as You Go Oyster card with 20 pounds loaded on it.

I caught the 159 bus and sat on the upper deck to see things [Marble Arch, Horse Guards] as I headed towards the Southbank. Got off at the Westminster station, walked over Westminster bridge past Big Ben & Parliament buildings and the Southbank Lion. I then strolled & took pictures until I got to the Tate Modern - enjoyed the views and an iced tea at their restaurant and did a brief tour of some exhibits. Walking back towards the London Eye, I stopped at Gabriel's Wharf at the Pie Meister and had a delicious sausage roll. It was quite crowded around the "Eye" and the fastest carousel that I've ever seen. I walked back over Westminster Bridge and continued to St. Jame's Park to gaze in wonder at all the flowers [having come from snow up to my knees in my backyard in Saskatoon], crossed the blue bridge with wonderful views on opposite sides of Buckingham Palace and Horseguards, walked up Constitution Hill and then began the long walk that took me past the Wellington Monument, along Hyde Park, Marble Arch and at Edgware Road, I decided to just continue on to the hotel. I made it back to the hotel and got checked in by 5:45 and had good intentions of going to the Pub to meet Tripadvisor folks but took off my shoes - elevated my aching feet for a "minute" and woke up at 8:00. Sorry to have missed out on meeting people.

Day 2 [April 23] [Sunny day]

My morning started early [7:00] with an included buffet breakfast at the hotel - busy restaurant but good food - and an 8:00 included Highlights of London tour. This kind of gave me a taste of what the next few days would be like on the tour. We drove by a lot of sights but actually stopped for a visit to St. Paul's Cathedral and later a chance to see the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. I asked the guide if it would be okay to leave the tour at Buckingham Palace and walked through St. Jame's Park and headed to Waterloo Station to take the train to Hampton Court Palace. Everything went very smoothly, using the Oyster card for the rail trip and I loved the Palace. I joined the Historical Royal Palaces since I planned to see the Tower and Banqueting House and you get a 10% discount in the shops and restaurants. I spent the entire afternoon there enjoying a talk on the Great Vine and a lovely tea in the Tiltyard restaurant. After my return trip to London, I caught the 159 back to the hotel and spent an hour enjoying the sights of Regents street as we were stuck in traffic [the tube is definitely faster but I wasn't in a hurray anyways] Dinner was at the hotel and was quite good along with a gin & tonic

Day 3 [April 24] [cloudy with sunny breaks] [Globus traveling tour begins]

Early start to the day with luggage out by 7:15 and to be in the lobby at 7:45 to be on the coach by 8:00. To those who suggested on tripadvisor that the itinerary seemed a lot - you were right - this was the first of 3 jam packed days of bus travel with short stops in lovely locations that all needed more time to explore] I also confirmed that tour lingo of VISIT is the only time you actually get off the bus to wander around a bit. So... London - Oxford - Stratford upon Avon... Oxford was our lunch stop - we had a walking tour past some of the Colleges and the Radcliffe Camera and Bodleian Library to the covered market - then had an hour to have lunch and explore at our leisure. [I decided that the buffet English breakfasts would due me until dinner with a latte picked up on our lunch stops to allow for more time for exploration] We continued on to Stratford - upon Avon with an included tour in the Shakespeare museum. It was interesting and a lovely place. Our hotel the Holiday Inn was right across from the Shakespeare centre and so that was easy to visit in the early evening.

Day 4 [April 25] [sunny then cloudy then sunny]

Itinerary: Stratford - Broadway - Tintern Abbey and Bath [Optional excursion to Castle Combe]

Another busy day - we stopped in Broadway for about an hour - unfortunately not much was open but it was a beautiful area to walk around, then on to Tintern Abbey for an included Cream tea and a chance to visit the ruins [totally beautiful] before continuing over the Severn Bridge to Bath. We had the included tour of the Roman Baths and then an 1 1/2 to eat and explore. I managed to get to the Jane Austen museum, retrace steps taken 30 years ago by finding the railway station and I think the hotel that I stayed at and then spent 1/2 hour quietly at Bath Abbey. We were then taken to the Hilton Bath City and at 5:00 headed off to Castle Combe - a busy ending but totally beautiful and worth the extra time and effort.

Day 5 [April 26] [mostly cloudy a few sunny breaks and really windy]

Bath-Stonehenge- Salsbury-Arundel-Brighton

We got a late start [wakeup call at 6:45 instead of 6:15] thanks to Stonehenge not opening until 9:30 :)

Stonehenge was interesting we did the tour before there were many people there - I imagine that later in the morning it would be jam packed because there were a lot of people there by the time our coach tour left. We then continued to Salisbury where I spent our entire 1 1/2 hour break at the Cathedral. I had decided at that point that I wasn't going to run for spot to spot and would just concentrate on what I could actually see in the 1 1/2. Salisbury Cathedral was one of my favourite visits from 30 years ago and it inspired the same feelings again. From Salsbury we continued along the countryside stopping in Arundel for a 20 minute rest stop and on to Brighton. A tour of the Pavilion was included and afterwards since it had turned sunny I spent time in the gardens between the Pavilion and a museum. It was beautiful there and a nice bit of a peaceful break. We then went to the Brighton Metropole which was the most disappointing hotel of the trip - 5 out of 17 rooms were changed mine included because of some mold. Our farewell dinner at the hotel was nice - and it was a nice bracing walk to the Pier - since the one across from the hotel had burned.

Day 6 [April 27] [sunny with cloud & a bit of rain]

Brighton- Royal Tunbridge Wells - Leeds Castle - London

We set off from Brighton to Royal Tunbridge Wells and had an hour to wander around - but again nothing was open - continued on to Leeds Castle [the reason I had chosen this particular tour] It was beautiful with the grounds/moat & castle - the grounds/park were gorgeous with Peacocks, swans, ducks... the castle tour itself was interesting and then I spent time in the gardens [not much was out due to the late spring but I imagine it is beautiful later in the year] I got a latte and spent the rest of my time sitting in the park by one of the lake areas just taking in the beauty. As we left, the area got busier so I was glad of our early start. We continued on to London arriving just before 3. The tour was technically over - my room wasn't ready [Hilton London Metropole] so I stored my luggage again and walked to the Wallace Collection. I spent the rest of the afternoon there and slowly took in parts of the exhibit. Later I walked back to the hotel and had dinner at there. I treated myself to a cocktail at the Minako at the Met lounge and enjoyed the wonderful view of London.

Day 7 [April 28] [cold and grey a few sunny moments]

Tour officially ended today, I slept in, had a leisurely included breakfast, watched people and eventually met up with one of my friends whom I would be staying with for the next week. We caught the 27 bus to Camden Town and walked to their place. After I settled in, we talked about what we should do for the day since my other friend [his wife] was at Hampton Court Palace for the day. We took a bus and went to explore the War Rooms and Churchill museum - ending up spending the entire afternoon at that incredible place. Caught the bus back to Camden town and later all had dinner at home.

So that was the first week for me my highlights were: my walk on the first day - tiring but the best way to see London; St. Paul's Cathedral, Castle Combe, Salisbury Cathedral, Leeds Castle, Wallace Collection & Churchill War rooms.

Things that were a bit of a miss: Brighton & the Royal Pavilion; Bath - Roman Baths; changing of the Guard [a lot of waiting about]

I also do not think that I will ever do a full coach tour again. I'm a bit too independent and although it gets you to the places you want to see, there is little control over how long you can spend at any location, also as many have mentioned on trip advisor so much time is spent on the bus. They may be perfect for some but no longer for me.

Part 2 of my trip report will have a very different tone

Nijmegen...
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1. Re: Just returned from my quasi solo trip to London & beyond

Hi thanks for sharing, I'm afaid it confirms that bus tours arent really my thing. And that are some very early starts! Glad you had a nice tine for the most part though and wondering wharpt the very different tone of the second part of your report will be.,,

Redlands, California
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2. Re: Just returned from my quasi solo trip to London & beyond

Bus tours do have their place but you have to study the itinerary--and ha, yes, the difference between "view" and "visit" is a lot! Still, it sounds as though you enjoyed it and you certainly got around London like an expert.

Germantown, Maryland
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3. Re: Just returned from my quasi solo trip to London & beyond

Wow! This is great. Thanks for sharing your trip. I was debating on doing a group tour vs. solo. I chose solo and I'm glad I did. I will start my adventure in less than 2 weeks.

Saskatoon...
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4. Re: Just returned from my quasi solo trip to London & beyond

Part 2 of my quasi solo trip to London

To begin this part, I need to explain that I stayed on in London for a week with friends who are there on sabatical. They are staying in a lovely quiet area to in Camden just off St. Pancras Way with a garden. Part of the very different tone has to do with my spending time every morning, catching my journal up and watering plants in their garden then having a cup of coffee before they got up and we started our day.

Day 8 [April 29] [Monday - pretty sunny day but a cool wind]

We had a 2 part adventure starting after a leisurely breakfast with 2 of us heading off by bus to go to Horse Guards Parade - we got there before 11 for the changing of the mounted guard - it was something that I had wanted to see since I'm a little horse crazy - so we watched as the Blue coated group relieved the Red coated group of riders - this process took a while and then we went into the Household Cavalry Museum - you could watch through a glass wall as the horses were fed and groomed - then back outside in time to watch the 2 horses on duty be relieved [I know it was the guards being relieved but like I said I'm horse crazy]. We then crossed the street and visited the Banqueting House. The audio tour is very interesting and although you spend the entire time in the hall, the audio suggests looking at the room / ceiling from different vantage points [Horse Guards, Cavalry Museum and the Banqueting House are all very close to one another and would combine with time spent in St. Jame's Park very well] The Banqueting House was the 2nd 'palace' visited with my membership to the Historical Royal Palaces. We then went back to Trafalgar square to have a light lunch at the Cafe at the Crypt - really a nice place to eat lunch or dinner. After adding to my Oyster card, we headed for Camden via the Tube to meet up and take a cruise on the Regents canal on the Jenny Wren from 2:30-4. This was a lot of fun - a different perspective seeing beautiful gardens, passing under bridges, traveling through the zoo - we did the return trip back from Little Venice then stopped for a coffee before heading for home to relax for a bit before heading back out to dinner. We went for Thai food at a restaurant on Camden High Street, it was very good - home again for a daily recap and to decide on tomorrows activities including booking my play for the following evening and making a reservation for dinner at the Bali Bali Restaurant

Day 9 [April 30] Tuesday

Gord had to spend some time at the office so we set off to check out the venue for our evening - they were going to Peter and Alice and I had decided the light comedy of the 39 Steps would suit me. We took a bus and got off along Shaftesbury Avenue to check out where we would be meeting for dinner. Then walked to an area near Covent Gardens called the Seven Dials, continued on to locate the Critereon Theatre at Picadilli Circus and to do a bit of shopping and looking along Regents Street. We visited a few shops then took the tube from Green Park to South Kensington and the tunnel to the Victoria and Albert. We enjoyed having a cream tea in the lovely restaurant area before focusing in on the jewelry exhibit and the British area. We then headed by tube to meet at the Bali Bali for dinner before heading off to our respective theatres. Strangely when I went in and picked up my ticket for the 39 Steps I felt like I had been there at the Criterion before - 30 years ago - it turned out that I had attended a performance of Woza Albert there on my first trip to London in June 1983 -wow totally cool. I also found out from the staff there where my hotel the Regent Palace had been it was a trip down memory lane for me. I totally enjoyed the 39 Steps, afterwards we caught the 88 bus back into Camden and home to review our day.

Day 10 [May 1 - May day] Wednesday - Sunny day

Tower of London was our main agenda item - we spent the entire afternoon there [3rd of the membership 'palaces'] We were able to walk right in to see the Crown Jewels - amazing, did every stair possible in the White Tower, walked the castle walls - had a delicious lunch in the restaurant, shopped in gift shops, visited the Beauchamp and Bloody towers, talked with some of the Beefeaters, watched the ravens, sat for a bit in the sunshine near the memorial to those executed on tower green. We finished out tower experience by enjoying a Thames Clipper ride from the Tower pier to Embankment Pier. Once again catering to my tube aversion, we caught a bus back to Camden and stopped at a local Pub the Prince Albert for a delicious dinner accompanied by some lager. Another wonderful day

Day 11 [May 2] Thursday and my birthday

We started the day by joining a large line up to gain entry to Westminster Abbey. Once inside we separated and agreed to meet at 12:30 when a service was set to begin to exit and have lunch. The Abbey is truly a place where you feel the history oozing out at you [my preference was for St. Pauls but Westminster is very powerful] the Lady chapel that Henry VII built was among my favourite places along with Poets corner and the Tomb of the Unknown warrior. After we met up we walked through to the Restaurant, enjoyed lunch and then splurged on a taxi to the Globe Theatre - they had wanted to take me to the Tempest for a birthday present. The Globe is a really interesting place to visit even if not to see a play - the play itself was very good and we all had a wonderful time. Afterwards, we walked over the Millennium Bridge to St. Paul's Cathedral and eventually bused back to Camden for another pub dinner. A really nice birthday day

Day 12 [Friday] Gorgeous and Sunny

2 of us did the London Eye [one of us was afraid of heights :)] I really enjoyed the 'trip' on the Eye - the views were stunning with incredibly clear blue skies - for me it was worth the money. After our Eye adventure, we walked over the Hungerford [Jubilee bridges] another really nice walk and had lunch at the National Gallery cafe. I spent part of the afternoon looking specifically at the British artists [Constable and Turner in particular] and the Monet/Manet paintings, then strolled over to the National Portrait Gallery to look at the Tudors and Stuarts, had a light but expensive tea in the upstairs restaurant primarily for the view but the tea was good also. Then the blue skies and beautiful weather made me escape for a convoluted journey back to Westminster [took the wrong street] but enjoyed the walk along Pall Mall through Horse Guards, through Parliament Square and then back to the Cafe at the Crypt where we were meeting for dinner before a candle light concert at St. Martin in the Fields. The Bach concert was a highlight of my trip - the music was wonderful and the venue exquisite - if anyone has the opportunity to go to a concert there they should and/or go to a concert by the Feinstein Ensemble they were truly very good. After the concert we caught the bus opposite and headed for home

almost done but the last 2 days have to wait for part 3 because this is taking way to long - I write too much

Oregon
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5. Re: Just returned from my quasi solo trip to London & beyond

I'm really enjoying your report!

Did you enjoy Bali Bali? I used to live in Indonesia so I am always looking for good Indonesian food.

Saskatoon...
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6. Re: Just returned from my quasi solo trip to London & beyond

Yes I did enjoy it - but I haven't had Indonesian food that often so may not be the best judge - it seemed quite busy with regulars so that could be a good sign. I found the food spicy without being hot and my friends said it rated pretty well - they've traveled a lot more than me and also have eaten Indonesian quite often so that could be a good recommendation also.

Oregon
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7. Re: Just returned from my quasi solo trip to London & beyond

That sounds like a good enough recommendation to me!

Saskatoon...
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8. Re: Just returned from my quasi solo trip to London & beyond

Okay the last 2.2 days

Day 13 [Saturday] cloudy and actually a few periods of rain

Saturday was another day of walking - we first walked to King's Cross so that I could look at Platform 9 3/4 and pick up a couple of Harry Potter souvenirs for a friend at the shop. Cute idea with the cart going through the wall... then we walked to the front of St. Pancras station to look at the beautiful old station - entered and looked at the clouds in the new station and were able to watch one of the trains leave. We then walked out into a fairly heavy rain and darted across the the British Library a prime destination. We enjoyed a nice lunch [advice to go for lunch before 1:00 it seemed to get busier then] spent an hour looking at the treasures - marveled at the King's Library [I do work in a library after all] and did a bit of shopping. This is a very nice place to stop for a while - there is bound to be something for everyone to look at in the Treasures area and the also have a fun exhibition that closes on May 12 "Murder in the Library - A-Z of crime fiction". The shop has a nice selection of souvenirs including some cute "book" erasers. Afterwards it had stopped raining so we continued our walk down Jud Street shifting to look at the Foundling Museum - thanks for the suggestion from one of the tripadvisor regulars - towards Gord's office and then eventually to the Sir John Soane Museum - wow what a wonderful gem - I would have said hidden but we were told that over 400 visitors had been through the museum on that Saturday. After feasting our eyes on the many interesting architectural objects, learning about the history of the collection and enjoying the picture room [ask what the door knobs are for to see further panels of paintings beyond those that are in view] and marveling at the use of natural light, we walked across the street to enjoy the open Lincoln Fields park. As we were leaving the park, a woman came up and suggested that we might want to look at Soane's Museum - she was pleased that we had already known about it. We continued to walk past the Opera House to Covent Garden Market and stopped at the London Transport Museum. It was late so we contented ourselves with some shopping in the gift shop. Afterwards we caught a bus home, reviewed our day and then headed out again for an East Indian Restaurant the Masala Zone [seems to be a chain within London] The food was good - my friends had been a few other times and said that we hit the best combination of flavours that they had had to date at this restaurant. Afterwards went home and planned for my last day.

Day 14 [Sunday] cloudy with sunny breaks

We set out for St. Pancras station to enjoy brunch then caught a bus [46] towards St. Pauls Cathedral, we got off at the end of the line St. Bart's hospital area and walked around finding the plaque for William Wallace and the clothmaker's house that had survived the fire in the 17th century. We continued to the Museum of London to look at the Roman Wall and the beautiful ceremonial coach. Continuing on to Paternoster square we sat and listened to the bell tolling at St. Paul's Cathedral, afterwards we went in and attended the evensong service - it was very beautiful. This was followed by a free organ recital which we enjoyed. leaving the Cathedral we stopped with others and took in the painting Light of the World. Walking back to catch our bus, we traveled along Little Britain street and walked through the Smithfield Market passing by the site that may be near where William Wallace was hung. drawn and quartered. we eventually met up with our bus and after resting up at home set out to the Thai restaurant we had eaten at before and enjoyed a very good dinner. We went home and I packed for my trip home to Saskatoon

Day 15 [Monday]

Well I whimped out and decided against taking the tube to Heathrow - I really don't like being underground so we all got up early in the morning and walked along to St. Pancras station where I hopped in a taxi having said fond farewells to my friends. The taxi dropped me at Paddington Station where I enjoyed the trip to Heathrow via the rail. Between the taxi and the rail ticket I likely tripled or quadrupled the cost of getting there but the lack of stress to me was totally worth it. All of my connections worked out and I arrived home in Saskatoon last night. Friends picked me up at the airport and my cat Mocha welcomed me home.

It was a wonderful trip. If I were to give people planning a trip advice, I would say to do your research so that you know what is available but to keep a degree of flexibility so that you can enjoy moments / opportunities that pop up. Also that walking is totally the best way to see the sights and take advantage of side trips, special spots and "smelling the flowers".

Thanks again to all those who shared their experiences, made suggestions and through their words helped to make my trip such a wonderful time

Fern

Great Ocean Road
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9. Re: Just returned from my quasi solo trip to London & beyond

Fantastic report, I really enjoyed it. Off to London in 3 weeks and have a few new ideas. Thanks.

Nijmegen...
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10. Re: Just returned from my quasi solo trip to London & beyond

Thank you for sharing, your second week sounded really good, how nice that you were able to spend time with your friends and you were also able to see quite a lot!