PART ONE - LONDON
Pictures at http://amycaicos.zenfolio.com/f739605949
Friday July 4
Arrived Heathrow with no problems. British Airways from Chicago. All luggage arrived, immigration was quick and easy. Met our car from Addison Lee, which was booked and prepaid online. Made it to the flat at WC2H by 9:15 a.m.
63 Shelton Street WC2H– Covent Garden Penthouse C. Via Uber London Apartments
We booked again via Uber London Apartments given that we had a good experience last time at the Oxford Street flat in Soho. UL went above and beyond the call this visit. The owner of UL greeted us at the flat as we exited our car. He was very generous to stock the flat with a few items for our visit. It was most kind and unexpected.
The Operations Manager was present to walk us through the flat and make sure our wi-fi worked, that we knew how to operate the various appliances, etc. There was also a nice gentleman there to assist with our bags, as we were on the top two floors, with several narrow flights up to the flat.
The Operations Manager and her assistant also met us at check out, and assisted us with our bags to the street. At all times we had access to the UL team via e-mail or phone, and any inquiry we made was promptly answered. We needed assistance only a few times, once to request additional towels, and once to have someone come by and close the skylight on the upper floor, which opened when my husband set off the fire alarm making toast. We swore off making toast thereafter.
We had booked during a 20% off sale with Uber London. The flat is a newly remodeled space, nearly 2000 square feet, on a quiet street steps away from The Seven Dials and across the street from a big office building that fronts Long Acre. The flat was bright and contemporary and comfortable. Two bedrooms, each with a full bathroom, as well as a half bath. The bathrooms were equipped with heated towel racks, rain showers, and contemporary fixtures (hairdryers too). The bedrooms were of nice size with ample storage space and comfortable beds, and several pillows.
The kitchen was fully equipped, it had a charging tower for our devices, and in addition to a coffee maker, and a full espresso machine. The top floor living area was comfortable and cleanly decorated in natural hues, lots of natural light, and nice images of London on acrylic on the walls. We also had an iPod docking station and a flat screen television. The washer/dryer combo in the kitchen made travel much easier for us. The flat also has central A/C, as well as an intercom system for entry. We spent a lot of time on the top floor deck which opened up to the living space via a set of folding doors. The images on the Uber London website accurately depict the flat and I would recommend it to others.
The UL team was accommodating with respect to our request re: checking out and leaving our bags behind before we departed for Hampton Court Palace, where we stayed for the last 3 nights. Without question, I’d book with Uber London again upon a London return. I’ve stayed in two of their flats in Central London and find them to be clean, contemporary and comfortable, and the service is excellent.
Covent Garden, Soho, Seven Dials
First stop was a double espresso at Café Nero to help shake off the desire to take a nap. The sun was shining and the weather was sweet – so we had to keep moving.
On Friday we walked around Covent Garden to get our bearings and passed the usual lot of “statues”, jugglers of dangerous items, tight rope walkers, and so on. As my husband says “Statue’s got a brand new bag.” Levitation. We spent about 45 minutes in Covent Garden, and that was enough. We wandered through the Market and picked up a few things – some handmade cufflinks and an artist made t-shirt. I prefer other London markets to Covent Garden.
We headed over to Soho and the Italian restaurant, Amalfi on Old Compton Street where we sat at a table on the sidewalk and had lunch, a bottle of wine and people watched. It was a gorgeous Saturday. Lunch for two, with a bottle of wine, was £48. We walked around Seven Dials, bought some wine at a wine store at Neal’s Yard (CVS) that we could enjoy on our deck.
Saturday July 5 – Soho, British Museum, National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, Trafalgar Square
We planned on staying around the area and visiting the galleries and museums. We planned on going to Highgate Cemetery, but given that it was raining, we walked over to Soho and had the Brioche french toast and a latte at Gail’s Bakery on Wardour Street. I like the window counter there, as well as the few tables out in the alley, and the French toast is pretty good too.
We walked to the British Museum (yes, on a Saturday!) where the crush of people around the Rosetta Stone should be an exhibit in itself. We saw the highlights – Stone, Mummies, Pantheon Sculptures, Oxus Treasures, Lindlow Man, Sutton Hoo Ship, Chess pieces. The British Museum is lovely. Going on a Saturday was not the best choice, but the crowds weren’t too bad once you moved away from the big draws like the Rosetta Stone and the Mummies.
We walked over to the National Portrait Gallery and stopped into see the Tudor portraits, where I was scolded by an uninformed patron for taking photos (allowed unless otherwise indicated).
At about 3:30 p.m. we were hungry and made the mistake of going to a spot which someone told my husband had “good burgers.” Garfunkel's on St. Martin’s Lane. Not so good. The fact that it was nearly empty should have been a clue. The burgers appeared to be pre-made/precooked frozen patties. Our mission to fuel up so that we could keep going and visit the National Gallery meant we sacrificed what could have been a good lunch. Fortunately, it was not an expensive meal. Lunch for two was £29.
There was a Tour de France event going on in Trafalgar Square, with big screens showing the race, and later on a band. Once again, plenty of levitating “performers.”
At The National Gallery we were able to see all of the “big” pieces – da Vinci, Van Gough, Renoir, Botticelli, Rembrandt, Raphael, Titan, Bellini, and Michelangelo. I spent some time in the 1500-1600 and 1250-1500 rooms. We made it out of the National Gallery within minutes of it closing.
We went to dinner at The 10 Cases on Endell Street, just around the corner from the flat. Service was quick and the meal was good. Dinner for two was £52 (with wine). We walked around Soho and Covent Garden a bit more before calling it a night. We finished with a drink at Brasserie Blanc on the Opera Terrace, watching women in high heels stumble and walk gingerly on the stone streets of Covent Garden.
Sunday July 6
We had guests arriving at the flat for a few days. We walked over to Covent Garden so that they could get an idea of our location. They were tired, hungry and a bit overwhelmed. We grabbed lunch at Brasserie Blanc. The food was okay, but boring. Watching the crowds from the Terrace was nice, but I wouldn’t return for another meal. Lunch for 4 with a couple of glasses of wine was £82.
Our guests returned to the flat to unpack and nap. We took a stroll around the neighborhood and walked around Lincoln’s Inn Fields and Chancery Lane, The Royal Courts of Justice, and The Maughan Library at King’s College London.
We discovered Field’s Bar and Kitchen at Lincoln’s Inn Field and made a note to return for breakfast. We walked up to Fleet Street and dipped into Ye Olde Cock for a few pints and to watch some tennis.
That evening we took our guests over to Soho (one of the places they wanted to see) and walked around some of the rock and roll landmarks like Wardour Street, Saint Anne’s Court (Trident Studios), Bar Italia, Ronnie Scott’s, etc.
We stopped in for dinner at Princi on Wardour Street, knowing our guests would like the menu. Before we were seated it poured rain for a bit, but no matter, we just huddled under an awning with everyone else.
We quickly walked our guests through Chinatown, Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square as these were on their “must see” list.
Monday July 7
We walked to Lincoln’s Inn Fields and saw the temple there, the great hall and the grounds. We walked to Temple Church. From there we walked to Somerset House and had lunch at The River Terrace Café. We grabbed a spot on the terrace and watched the Tour de France zip by. We ended up meeting and talking with a couple who live about 40 minutes from our house. Small world.
After the blur of bikes, we visited the Courtauld Gallery. What a great gallery – not crowded, and you can get up close to well known paintings and take the time to admire them without the masses waiting impatiently for you to move. Because it was a Monday, it was half off the entry fee. The Impressionist and Post-Impressionist collection is very nice. I got some photos of the staircase, which I had wanted to photograph on my last trip to London, but didn’t get the chance.
We stopped for a pint on the walk home.
One of our guests had Italian food on the brain, so we returned to Amalfi on Old Compton Street, again, knowing that our guests would enjoy the menu. Dinner for 4 with appetizers, dessert and a bottle of wine was £108.
Tuesday July 8
We started with breakfast at The Breakfast Club on D’Arblay Street. We had a 30 minute wait. We sat at a table with a couple from Texas. The food was very good, and our server was nice and fun. I am a big fan of the breakfast meats in London – so much better than the overcooked, shriveled, pinky sized, processed garbage we typically get at breakfast here.
Our guests wanted to see the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace. I thought this to be rather ambitious, as it was already 10:30, we had to walk from Soho to BP with someone in our party who does not care that much for walking, let alone quickly. Not to mention that people have been camped out since early in the morning to see the COG. Nonetheless, we walked to BP, and as I anticipated, missed it.
Our guests wanted to hang around and see the “end” of the ceremony, so we stood behind a fence along the Mall for 45 minutes, against the push of the crowd. The air pollution was bad that day, so it made for a rather uncomfortable wait. What was entertaining was the ridiculousness of the tourists spilling into the street, jumping in front of cars and completely ignoring commands from the police officers. The officers were very polite and friendly given the shenanigans I saw while standing there.
At one point, I watched a blind woman with a service dog, being led out across the Mall by a sighted man, into several lanes of oncoming traffic. The poor service dog was bracing himself and cutting in front of the woman to try to prevent her from attempting this crazy move. She and her sighted but absentminded partner did get a “talking to” after crossing and causing traffic to come to a screeching (literally) halt. Likewise I’m pretty disappointed in the way people treat the Queen’s Guard – but more on that later.
We walked to Westminster Abbey and met our Verger for a tour. 100% worth the extra £5. We had a small group, only 7 of us and we got to see the Shrine, including the tomb of Saint Edward the Confessor. The verger asked if we wanted to attend Evensong. We did, and he reserved seats for us, front row, next to the choir. It was a highlight of the trip. It was special to hear the choir, and to be in the Abbey after the crowds had left, and the atmosphere quieted down. I enjoyed sitting there, looking at the tombs and memorials, and enjoying the silence. I couldn’t help but think of all those who had attended a service in the same place, and how fortunate I was to do the same. I stayed out in the cloisters until the very last minute before the service so that I could enjoy them by myself.
In between our tour and Evensong, we stopped into the café at the Abbey for a quick bite (captive audience choice), did some shopping, visited the Museum, Pyx Chamber, Cloisters, and Garden. It was special to be in the Cloisters after almost all of the tourists had left for the day. I wish I could have grabbed a book and sat there reading for the rest of the evening.
We walked back toward our flat. Our guests wanted to “see” 10 Downing Street (there it is – behind that crowd, the officers, and the gates – not much to see). It started to rain pretty steadily, and we made our way to The Lamb and Flag on Rose Street for a pint.
We ate dinner at Belgo Central that night. Our guests were big fans of mussels, and so it was an easy decision, and close to the flat. Dinner for 4, with beers was £80.
Weds. July 9
Last full day in London for our guests. We had breakfast at Field’s Bar and Kitchen (£22 for breakfast for two). Our guests wanted to “take the Tube” so, after rush hour passed, we topped up our Oyster cards, purchased same for them, and set off for Tower Hill Station via Holborn. I think our guests were surprised that there were so many steps and so much walking involved with taking the Tube (and add in a line change). They were going to be heading back to the flat at rush hour, without us, and although they made it back on their own, they were a little intimidated at first.
We stopped by Tower Hill for the obligatory pictures. It always strike me as strange – folks smiling, arms wrapped around each other, on a site where people were executed. That being said, I have one of those pictures of myself from a previous trip about which I have mixed feelings. Our guests easily purchased tickets (almost no line at 10 a.m.) and we walked straight to the gate with our Historic Royal Palaces membership (it also gets you 10% off at the gift shops and cafes).
It was a gorgeous, sunny day. Our guests went off on a Beefeater Tour (which we had done previously and suggest) while we ducked straight into the Crown Jewels with no wait (about 10:30 a.m.) An hour later, the line wrapped all along the barriers set up for that purpose. We toured the rest of the grounds, and saw the armory exhibit at The White Tower which was closed last time we were there. We also visited the Beauchamp Tower (also closed last time), Lower Wakefield Tower, Bloody Tower, and The Fusiliers’ Museum.
We grabbed lunch at the New Armouries at The Tower (£33 for two, again, captive audience decision) We continued touring the grounds while our guests navigated the Underground back to the flat.
We decided to take a Thames Clipper back as we had never done so (once and done), alighted at Embankment, and then walked to the flat. We walked past Benjamin Franklin’s House (the first US Embassy) and took some photos there, as my husband’s Sons of the American Revolution chapter is the Benjamin Franklin chapter, and his company is named after Mr. Franklin. Unfortunately, there was filming inside, so we could not tour it.
A quick shower and change, and we were off (in a cab – guests were done with walking and wanted “a black cab experience”) to The Swan at The Globe for the pre-theater dinner (£175 for 4 people with a bottle of wine, and appetizers). Service was good, and the food very nice. The atmosphere is also lovely. We had at 6:30 reservation and concluded dinner at about 7:15.
The show started at 7:30 and the actors were active in the lobby, drumming up excitement for the show, and creating the atmosphere relevant to the first scene.
We had middle gallery seats (cushions rented) for Julius Caesar. I was pleased to see “Jasper Tudor” (Tom McKay) from The White Queen as Brutus, as well as a few others that I recognized from shows like The Tudors, Dracula and The Borgias. It was a fantastic experience and I will return for a play when I’m back in London. I really liked the play, the first act was more exciting than the second, but, I could watch Luke Thompson read the phone book for 3 hours and be just fine. The Globe Theater was another highlight of the trip.
Cabbed it back to the flat (£15, and called it a night).
Thursday July 10
Our guests departed early in the morning for Scotland, and we had a lazy morning around the flat. The weather was “meh.” We had lunch at All Bar One Kingsway (£34 for two) and then spent most of the afternoon at Sir John Soane’s Museum.
The man outside on the pavement was put out when we decided, 3 minutes after entering, that we wanted to check a bag. Visitors either have to check bags, or place them in a large plastic bag and carry them around by the bunched up bag, but not on shoulders, arms or backs. When we walked up, and he started grabbing for our coats and bags, and we must have looked confused, he was a bit rude, and acted like we were dummies or something.
I had no problem giving up our belongings (in fact, in the tight quarters it was better not to be carrying anything - plenty of things to accidentally break). It was the lack of explanation re: same and the attitude that was a bit off putting. Perhaps they should explain to visitors that they are entering Sir Soane’s home, and Sir Soane would like to take your coats, hats and bags for you as you spend time at his home. A little schtick that is also explanatory - they need to work on their greeting.
The female staff we talked with in two of the rooms were helpful, informative and friendly as was the man in the room with the moving painting panels, although most of the male staff was stand offish. I am guilty of smiling at strangers, often. Nevertheless, we had a great time.
The Museum was a real treat, as it allowed a glimpse into the mind of Sir John Soane. I wish I had the time (and permission), to sit in a room as the light changed to see how it changed the atmosphere and the collections all over the walls. Unfortunately the outdoor space was closed for renovation. It’s quite a special place with a huge limestone sarcophagus. I enjoyed seeing how Sir Soane incorporated some of his designs around London (like the Masonic Temple rooftop design) into his house, as well as the parts and pieces from buildings all over the world. The gift shop was likewise nice and offered items that were different from anything else I’d seen. There was hardly a space that wasn’t covered with something. I was also interested to learn that the London telephone booth design was modeled after Lady Soane’s tomb.
That night we saw the Lee Ritenour/David Grusin show at Ronnie Scott’s. Great show, fantastic band (Grusin played It Might Be You) and great sound inside the club. There were two women sat in front of us who were determined to carry on a conversation the entire show until a new friend from Wales publicly scolded them and they stopped. Why do people go to shows only to talk the whole time?
Friday July 11
We were checking out of the flat and heading to Hampton Court Palace for a 3 night stay on the grounds at Fish Court. After breakfast, we took the tube to St. Paul’s and did toured the Cathedral for about 2.5 hours. We saw Sir Christopher Wren’s memorial and tomb. We did not have time to climb the stairs to the dome (or the inclination for that matter). Gorgeous. Again, it’s a place where I wish I could sit in peace and quiet and contemplate what I am seeing. It’s a bit overwhelming, but gorgeous.
We stopped by the Transport Museum gift shop for a look around, and grabbed a bite at Henry’s Café Bar in Covent Garden (choice made based on convenience, nothing else) before we picked up our bags at the flat, met our car (Addison Lee) and set off for Hampton Court Palace.
The Addison Lee app is pretty awesome. I could see where my driver was on GPS, and when he would arrive. I could check my bookings, make bookings, change them, etc.
The trip to Hampton Court from central London took two hours. I’m not sure why, other than it was Friday afternoon at 4 p.m.. However, it seemed that our driver didn’t really know where he was going (based on his use of the GPS which he later abandoned for whatever GPS he had in his mind), and he took us through every little side street, village, and town that stood between us and Hampton Court, I swear. It seemed to me that there had to be a faster route, but, given that I don’t live, work and drive in and around London and can’t really speak from experience. I kept it cool and didn’t let it bother me too much (I was getting restless, and a bit carsick in the car.)
At any rate, we paid for the trip in advance, so if it took him 20 minutes or 20 hours, he was getting paid the same rate. The only thing lost was our time.
Next Up – PART TWO – HAMPTON COURT PALACE
A few observations:
Wear whatever you’d like and whatever makes you comfortable. Really, no one cares. Unless you are going someplace with a dress code, wear what you want. Personally, I find that layers work well, as does clothing by Travex (made for travel). Don’t over pack. Remember that even though it is “chilly” outside, it can still be humid and sticky.
Please be respectful to the Queen’s Guard. If an American saw a member of the military (or law enforcement) in full dress stood outside, say, the Washington Monument, I’d venture to guess that not one American visitor would dare taunt, harass, selfie, or whatever. Please be respectful, they are not dolls or “England’s mascot.” I’ve never understood people pushing the limits of men with big guns with a sharp spear on the end. Don’t be jerks, tourists.
Likewise, the police officers are not making “suggestions.” They are concerned for your safety, and if they say, stay behind the fence, or off the road, it is probably a wise choice.
If you are going to claim you or someone in your group is a student, have a student ID to demonstrate same. We were held up several times with people in front of us claiming “but we’re students” with no ID. Even in the States, if you’re claiming a student discount, you need student ID, everyone knows this. I couldn’t understand why people were so incredulous about this known requirement (and they were Americans and others).
Pay attention and you won’t get in the way - which way are people walking to exit/enter a building or on a flight of stairs, or across a bridge. I love the organization!! I wish people would also apply it to grocery shopping, but that’s another rant.
We were tracking our walking via a FitBit and GPS during our stay. We averaged 7 miles of walking a day and most days were closer to 10.
Even on our lazy days we racked up 6 miles.
I got a nice, fashionable flat from The Walking Company with orthodic insoles, and - nary a blister or cramp.
PART TWO - HAMPTON COURT PALACE with ghost stories, up next.