(still recovering from the holiday, and the cold I managed to catch on the way home - here is the first day report - so fun!)
Had a great flight, with an incredible tail-wind that allowed us to arrive at Gatwick 40 minutes ahead of schedule. Hooray! There isn’t a gate available, so we sat on the tarmac waiting for gate clearance…for yes! 40 minutes!
We were met at the Arrival Hall by our driver from Simply Airports. We had made the reservations online –www.simplyairports.co.uk
We had the street address and the beginning of the postal code SW1,but the rental agent had not given us the last part of the code. No worries, the car was equipped with a GPS system so we were on our way! I must say the drive into London was fast!, and took some getting used to! The driver was friendly and gave us some shopping tips and ideas for our trip. We were quoted 63 pounds to our destination with use of the credit card-but our card did not go through on the on-line booking form, so we decided to pay cash. We were still charged the 63 pounds - because that is the price that the driver was told - plus a waiting fee due to spending 40 min on the tarmac. SimplyAirports monitors flight arrivals and allows 40 minutes or so from landing to pickup without charge. It actually took about 90 minutes from landing to go through passport control, gather baggage and get into the arrival hall. We arrived in one piece, the driver was informative and helped with our luggage and at that point that was all that mattered.
Our stay was at 30 Park Mansions which we found through www.vrbo.com. It was an adequate accommodation for the area and the owner was very pleasant to work with. The duty porters were helpful and the flat was very clean. Since this was my first visit to London, I can’t really compare others-it is an older building, with locks that take skeleton keys! It was extremely noisy at 6-6:30 am, including New Year’s Day, with garbage disposal/pickup and delivery trucks. The view was lots of vents, windows and walls. We had to keep the blinds and curtains closed at all times, though, because the windows were drafty. There is a radiator in the hall, but no radiators in the other rooms – portable heaters only. There was a nice gas fireplace and lots of extra linens and towels and blankets. It is very convenient to the tube, Harrods, Harvey Nichols and all the bustle of the Knightsbridge area.
We had a quick lunch at Paxton’s Head next to the apartment. Not the best pub perhaps, but they were having a 10 pound for two main courses special for lunch, the waitress offered to take our picture and welcomed us to London. (It was obvious it was our first trip and first pint!) Paxton’s Head is connected to a PanAsian restaurant so the pub food is interesting. It was exactly what we needed though to get moving and get the cobwebs out of our brains.
My husband was having some issues with his T-Mobile, despite being set for international, so we had to make a stop @ a phone booth to make a phone call. (we had a calling card as well) He, unfortunately, is one that does not feel secure if he is not connected with his Blackberry and T-mobile. We wandered around Brompton Road, seeing what was around the area, while he made his calls.
Set off in search of the Big Bus Tours. I didn’t make reservations in advance because we weren’t sure of what we would be doing, or the weather. Despite the claims on the website, we couldn’t buy tickets on the bus or at least we couldn’t that day. We tried to board near Hard Rock Café and was told ‘it wasn’t the right one’ and to wait 5-10 minutes for the next. The next bus, wouldn’t issue tickets, just told us to ‘pay at the next stop’, which turned out to be three stops later. A ticket agent then came on board the bus asking for ‘the four who had not paid’ and issued our tickets. I’m not sure the on-line ticketing with a confirmation slip/bar code would have worked either-as the drivers seemed not to be involved in the ticket sales and were confused by the process. Despite this, the tour was great. The weather was cooperating (no rain, some sun, not terribly cold). We were on the Red Tour, with the live commentary, which at times was hilarious. British history certainly involves a lot of beheadings and hangings! It was a great way to see where things are located and take some first pictures. My most favorite picture of the trip came from this tour, the sun setting over Parliament and Big Ben. We disembarked at Victoria Station to get our oyster cards and get the tube back to Knightsbridge. My daughter is a tube ‘expert’ as she was in London for 5 weeks this summer, so she was our guide for negotiating card purchase, how to maneuver the crowds and how to go where we needed to be.
Shower to wake up, then dinner at Motcombs, which was about a 15 minute walk from the flat. I had made a reservation in advance through toptable. That didn’t seem necessary as the restaurant was only 1/3 full. Toptable noted ‘no dress code,’ but most patrons were in jacket and tie or business dress. Our daughter’s friend in a nice shirt, dress slacks, and nice shoes said he felt underdressed. The food was very good, service was attentive. Between the four of us we tried the grilled halibut, the linguine with clams and the crispy duck. All were delicious, and the wine during and the brandy after were excellent. After the first few pounds had flown out of our wallet that day, we decided not to do the ‘conversion’ of prices as we paid for things. The dinner was on the higher side of our meals, but we are only in London once and it was very nice.
After dinner we had ten minutes to gather some grocery staples, some wine and cheese and breakfast items before Waitrose, located next door to Motcombs, closed. Thank you to LeeB (I think it was you) for the tip that it was right next door. Note: if the store says they close @ 9pm, they expect you to be gone at 9pm! We thanked them for staying open until 9:03 so we could pay!
Brisk walk back to the flat, no rain, jet lag took over…………………………..sleep.