We’re off again for another birthday travel present from my guy. This time it’s London for a day+ and then Paris for two weeks.
We leave home around midday to make our 10PM British Airways flight from Dulles. The traffic isn’t too bad considering that we end up driving through rush hour traffic on the far outer fringes of DC. We find economy parking with no problem but encounter our first almost mishap when we leave a suitcase behind on the bench when we board the shuttle. Fortunately it is night and we are the only passengers, so the driver has time to be more attentive to us and notices the orphan. Donny thought I had it and I he.
Next stop is to check our bags and settle in for the wait as we needed to be at the airport three hours prior to departure. Finally boarding time comes and everyone queues up at the first call. Maybe they are all sitting in the back rows. Anyway we bid our time and eventually get on the plane. First class seats are the coolest I have ever seen. They swivel around so you can rotate four together to play cards or chat or two can be rotated head to toe so that each person ends up with lots and lots of leg room. This also turns the chair into a chaise lounge, which all adds up to a better night’s sleep than most airplane rides give you. There are also fan like shades on either side to help keep out neighboring lights.
Steerage is much less impressive but okay. I manage to sleep a fair amount including through breakfast which is fine by me. I like food coming back from Europe better than food going.
We touch down at 9:40 and by 10 have some British money and are on an airport bus to the tube. The bullet train is not working so we have to take the regular tube which is not so bad. We opt to buy a Travelcard which will let us use either train or bus for one day on an unlimited basis. One train change and we are at Liverpool St, our stop. We have to walk north about eight blocks to reach the St Gregory. The weather is fine just cold.
It’s a nice hotel on the edge of the east section of old London. Our 3rd floor room is plain but nice. One wall is a window overlooking London proper but mostly we see ordinary buildings. By now it is about noon. We consider going out but the bed beckons and we crash for several hours. The sheets are so soft and the duvet warm.
Around three we struggle out of bed and decide to explore a bit. I have printed a one day in London guide I found online before we left and Donny has some British Airways suggestions. We have not thought to get a Rick Steves book. We do not want to jump on the internet because there is a fee. All we have at this point is a tube map. Even the usual around town guide found in hotels rooms is missing. We will fumble along. We decide to follow the tour route my one day guide suggests.
We hope a bus and head for the upper deck. It’s very warm and cozy. Outside is getting dark and dampish. Shortly we are at Aldsgate, a stop near the tower, our destination, so reluctantly we leave the warm bus. With no map to guide us we can only wander in the general direction we think we ought to be going but we don’t mind, everything is so interesting. We spot a church remnant that is from an early century. Very rare as large chunks of London were either burned in the great fire of 1666 or destroyed during World War I and II. Everywhere we see ultra modern buildings interspersed with the old. The new buildings are mostly glass and have very futuristic looking designs.
We decide to have a bit to eat at the Drawn and Quartered pub but it is full of folks meeting for drinks after work, no room for sitting, and so we move on down hill toward the river. We see ice skating ahead. We have made it to the tower. There is a winter rink in the courtyard. It is festively lit. We watch from the tower bridge approach for awhile and then wander down the ramps looking for a dining place. We find a better view of the skaters and small selection of snack food. I buy a piece of fruitcake for later and after we take a few pictures, we continue our food search. Everything around the tower is closed up. We are a bit surprised, it is not that late.
Back up on Tower Hill I see people on an upper level of a glass building eating. We head that way and find a Wawamama noodle factory. We pop in and get seated. The tables are set up cafeteria style but everything is elegantly and efficiently served. The food is wonderful. I have salad and Donny soup. He is happy to have a wooden spoon instead of chopsticks. We order Japanese beer that is mild but flavorful. We find it clever and amusing that the dessert selections are printed on the table mats.
We have not arrived too soon. Before we finish eating last orders are taken. I have chocolate cake with wasabi white chocolate dressing. It is superb. Donny has sorbet with fresh fruit.
Our high thread count sheets call. We catch a bus home and are soon slumbering in London town.
Dec. 16th, 2005 | 04:02 pm
1. Struggle out of bed
2. Eat complimentary hotel breakfast at 7th floor restaurant – great panoramic view looking west over the city
3. Buy bus ticket around the corner
4. Hop bus to London Bridge
5. Get bus map (finally) at London Bridge Station/ big and bustling
6. Leave station; Donny asks about old cathedral close by; I say it must be a lesser place as it is not noted on my walking tour guide
7. Walk down Nancy’s Steps (from Oliver Twist) to cathedral
8. Discover cathedral is Southwark, very important; Shakespeare’s brother and John Harvard (university founder) both worshipped here
9. Get nice private tour talk from Welcomer lady
10. Walk to St Mary Overie Dock where replica of Golden Hinde (Sir Francis Drake’s ship) is docked; very small, intimate place
11. Pass by rose window; remains of Bishop of Winchester’s Palace
12. Pass by The Clink, BofW’s personal prison
13. Continue walk along Thames, this whole area called Bankside; then outside London proper so not subject to city regulations
14. Have coffee at Starbucks next to Globe Theatre; not impressed with Globe
15. Finish coffee; walk round the corner; see real Globe; now impressed
16. Amazed at the three 17th century houses next door rather tucked away in the middle of all this commerce; they are for let; Provost Lodging
17. Note Cardinal’s Cap Alley; very narrow walkway typical of the 1500’s
18. Overwhelmed by Tate Gallery of Modern Art (will go inside another trip), partially housed in first London public power station; it is huge; we walk through garden
19. Cross Millennium Bridge; called wobbly bridge as it had to be closed for a year to fix constant wobbling that resulted from too many people on it at same time
20. Wonder about odd look of St Paul’s; as we get closer discover we have been looking at cloth façade covering sand blasting
21. Get city map from Tourist Information; at last a guide to the rest of London
22. Do not chose to pay fee to see St Paul’s inside; walk through garden
23. Head back toward Thames; pass St Andrew’s By-The-Wardrobe
24. Pass Blackfriars Bridge; walking is fun but the levels and lack of pedestrian crosswalks in places make it challenging; I tell Donny we need a 3-D map too
25. Find the river walk; pass many war memorials
26. Pass Somerset House
27. Pass Charing Cross Station
28. Marvel at Obelisk and history of it; make friends here with a lone tourist that we photograph on his camera phone in front of the adjacent Sphinx; he takes our picture
29. Pause across from the Eye; Donny takes my picture with it as my halo; see our friend and take his picture with Eye; decide not to cross over to find out why it is not running (even at night we never catch it running)
30. Approach Big Ben and House of Parliament
31. Turn away from river at Westminster Bridge
32. Circle Parliament Square noting protest signs
33. Walk around Westminster Abbey; do not pay to go in
34. Pass Jewel Tower which looks interesting but it is getting toward dusk and we have more to see
35. Confused about where Diana got married (I think St Paul’s as the steps are better for showing off the gown) we also cannot decide where her funeral service was held; Donny thinks he remembers a walk from Buckingham
36. Walk on to Westminster Cathedral which I have noticed on the map near Buckingham so maybe the service was here
37. Arrive at this Roman Catholic place of worship so beautiful in its red Byzantine style after walk down Victoria St
38. Photo interesting huge (wider than the church) flag spread out in cathedral outside entry courtyard (it is gone by the time we leave)
39. Happy there is no fee we go in; contributions to offset the daily operating costs (L3000) are welcome
40. Stop at adjacent McDonald’s (at the separate “McD’s Café” inside) for bathroom break
41. Need to shop for some gloves for Donny; we are in a shopping district and it flows toward Buckingham Palace; but no gloves are found here
42. Reach Buckingham Palace as a car is entering; much searching is going on; it is now dark and the whole scene is very clandestine-like
43. Have to backtrack on ourselves to simply cross the street to walk down The Mall
44. Walk down The Mall past St James Park toward Trafalgar Square; it is dark
45. Intend to see the tree in Trafalgar Square (which was lit yesterday) by night we come upon it just as we planned (it is tall but skinny)
46. Go inside St Martin’s in the Field which is diagonally across from the square
47. Hungry, we dine amongst the dead in the Crypt Café; we have stumbled upon the best in London for church meals; it is equal to a five star restaurant
48. Hustled out (but we did get to eat at a nice pace) because a sold out concert is about to start and the cafe is closing
49. Buy expensive StM’s academy and chorus Christmas cd in the bookstore as it is closing (the partially pulled down metal security doorway, literally, on Donny’s head as he walks into it leaving – nice bruise, no blood)
50. Head for Covent Garden which is supposed to be beautiful at night
51. Climb Duke of York steps
52. Consider theater tickets at Leicester Square
53. Would go to Christmas Carol with Patrick Stewart but starts 6/12 (6 December)
54. Have been stopped three times (including once by a bus driver) for directions; we pass for Brits
55. Find gloves at a shop (Next) in Covent Garden
56. Weave our way through narrow cobblestone walkways into the square
57. Photo tree from good side; side without garishly lit Santa (note Covent Garden literature also photos non-Santa side)
58. Aim for bus stop
59. Board bus to Shoreditch (Globe Theatre originally in this district) and hotel
60. Arrive at St Gregory
61. Shower and pack for early departure
62. Happy Birthday #62