We rolled into London St. Pancras Station, and could have taken a cab to our hotel, but noooo-- Frugal Fred and Freida were going to save a few pence, so we schlepped our 3 (way too heavy) pieces of luggage across the station, up and down several sets of stairs, and onto the Tube (subway), which would take us to another train station right near our hotel. Guess who managed two heavy suitcases, while I had to contend with only one? Not a word of complaint from David, not even any comments about my shopping in Paris! He's such a good sport.
We managed to wrestle our suitcases off the Tube, up and down several more flights of stairs, and finally onto the street. Thank goodness, our hotel was literally right across the street from Paddington Station!
We walked into the very nice lobby, thinking "this is pretty nice, I think we've got it made". Wrong! The front desk clerk, Mr Guiseppe (yes, that was his real name) was NOT in a good mood- in fact he was yelling at the poor housekeeping staff, rolling his eyes, sighing, and generally having a major meltdown. Oh well, we just ignored him, not our problem!
After completing the check in process with Mr. Charming, we wrangled those suitcase yet again-to the elevator--as we were on the top floor. Opened the door to our room--yes! It's great, very small, but spotlessly clean with a nice roomy shower. One problem...we just couldn't figure out how to turn the lights on. We looked high and low, none of the switches worked. Nothing to do but go back down to the front desk and speak with dear Guiseppe. Maybe he'd be finished with his tantrum, we thought. Wrong, again! He's still in a VERY bad mood, but did answer our question about the lights, acompanied by a big rolling of the eyes! "You must put zee card in zee slot by zee door" (you dummies!), Well, duh! Ma and Pa from Spudville didn't know about zee card in zee slot for zee lights! But we do now.....
After a quick unpacking, we hit the street. We were hungry for lunch, and our first meal in London was a very traditional fish and chips. Pretty good--the fish was delicious, very crispy and not greasy. The chips, however--well, let's just say that the British could learn a thing or two about chips from McDonalds--or even Ore-Ida!
After lunch we set off to explore our neighborhood, not too much of interest around there, so we hopped on the Tube, and "minding the gap", off we went to central London.
A word here about "the gap"....Every time the subway stops at a station, either a recording or the train driver comes on to remind riders to "mind the gap" between the train and the platform. Sometimes there really WAS a huge gap, but listening to them, one would think it was the Grand Canyon! I'll be hearing this in my sleep for a few more weeks yet.......and I must not be the only one, as they even make t-shirts with that saying on them!
We rode to Trafalger Square. Trafalger Square has a beautiful fountain, and a tall stature of Lord Nelson, as a tribute to his victory over Napoleon in the 1807 Battle of Trafalger. It's a very pretty place, with LOTS of people! We milled around for a while, taking in the`sights and enjoying the energy.
We found a nearby pub, and sat down for a pint (make that 1/2 pint for me-I'm a cheap date!) We had the first of many mediocre British beers. They could learn a thing or three about brewing beer from the Belgians! We'd had nothing but exceptional beer in Belgium, and even in France, however the British beer was blah--not much character--kinda like drinking Bud. Of course, that didn't stop us from continuing our "research" and trying many different brews over the next 6 days!
After relaxing over those marginal beers, we explored a bit more. Wow--London is a BUSY place! Much more hectic than relaxed, serene, beautiful Paris. We found the architecture to be not as interesting as either Paris or Bruges. We didn't take nearly as many pictures in London, but here are some intersting buildings:
We did some minor souvenier shopping, checked out a few nice shops, and then decided we were just plain tired! We opted for an early dinner, and chose a small Indian restaurant. The meal was good--not great, but just fine. We Tubed it back to our hotel, walked into the lobby, and thank goodness Mr. Guiseppe's shift had ended! If he had snapped at me one more time, or even rolled one eye, I might have let him have it with my best "looking over the top of my glasses" Jake look!
An early night for us--we were two tired and weary travelers.
Friday was another sunny and beautiful day in London. We started with breakfast in our neighborhood, then back to Paddington Station to catch the Tube. Did I mention that we love subway travel? It's so easy, quick and efficient. Sure wish we had that in Spudville. Our plan for the day was to go to some markets. We started at Covent Gardens. It's a nice market, with several food vendors with delicious looking food. We both indulged in a mid-morning Greek pastry--they were very good. We browsed in some interesting shops and cruised the tourist "crap" that several vendors had. I confess to buying several of those great scarves that are sold all over London. I do think poor David got quite tired of looking at scarves!
Back on the Tube now to Camden Market. Now, this is a market! There are several different markets in Camden, each having it's own "flavor". This area of London is very "alternative"--some very interesting characters, and we really enjoyed it. We spent several hours in the various different markets, and when it came time for lunch we just happened upon a vendor selling Peruvian food. We had a delicious lunch, and a great conversation with him. He was quite proud of his little restaurant and the food he served, and rightfully so. He was very interested to hear that I had lived in Peru, and asked where I'd lived. When I mentioned Incapuquio, he got excited and said his mother is from Puqio--of course we had no idea if that was the same town, or even near it! But here is a picture of me with my new Peruvian (boy)friend!
It was way past beer thirty by now, as David had been very patient with all my scarf browsing. (I was waiting for him to start rolling his eyes like dear Guiseppe!) We Tube'd back to central London, found a nice Pub, and decided to just have an early dinner. We ordered a "sharing plate" of 5 different kinds of traditional British pies--our favorites were the steak and ale pie and the sweet potato pie.. The lamb, pea and mint--not so much! They were served with mashed potatoes, peas and gravy. Just good ole pub food--and some more of that marginal British beer.
After strolling around that area for a couple of hours, we decided to call it another early night. Tubed back to our hotel, where we are greeted my a smiling Guiseppe! Seems as though he got up on the right side of the bed that morning. Whew!
Saturday we changed up our plans a bit, as we had been reading about a likely strike by Tube workers the next week. That put some serious crimps in our sightseeing plans, so we did Westminster Abbey Saturday morning. We got there early ( a theme with us, huh??) and were just about the first ones in the door. They gave us an excellent audio-guide to the abbey, and off we went. Westminster is a beautiful church, full of ancient and modern history--the modern history makes it seem more relevant to us, as these are events and names we can remember growing up with. We throughtly enjoyed over two hours at this wonderful church, but no interior photos to share, as no photograpy is allowed. Here's a picture of the exterior:
After our time at the Abbey, we were off to Portobello Road Antique Market, as Saturday is the main market. Oh, my--thousands of people on the streets--it's just about impossible to walk on the sidewalks. We just followed the mob, and poked around in several booths and stores. I found many lovely things that wouldn't fit in my already overloaded suitcases! I only bought one little item, a very old wood and brass folding ruler. Don't ask me why, but I just love these things. This one is really small and very pretty, and it fit in my suitcase just fine!
After all that, I owed David several pints of beer! We found a Pub on the edge of the market; had a beer and a nice snack of hummus with pita chips. They were playing the worst loud music, we had to laugh at ourselves for sitting through it, we were thinking "if Matt could see us now, he'd just laugh and shake his head". We must have really needed that beer to sit through that horrid music!
We had been planning on going to a couple of plays in London, but our options were limited due to the impending Tube strike. So we had a wild idea of trying to get tickets for that night, and off we went--this time to the Old Dominion Theatre in central London. We managed to score great seats, ($$$--yikes!!) to "We Will Rock You", a musical tribute to Queen. We just forked over our Visa card--we will not likely be back to London, and this was near the top of our wish list of things to do.
We had a couple of hours to kill before showtime, and found a nice bistro for a pre-theatre dinner. We had some really good food--David had a salad with warm goat cheese, and I had the pate on toast, and for our main course we both had boullibase, and shared a lovely bottle of wine. Dessert? Of course! Espresso and creme brulee to share--very good.
Now it was showtime! The Old Dominion Theatre is really pretty on the inside, here are a few pictures taken before the show started.
Of course, no photograpy allowed during the show, but I was tempted!! It was a great show, we both really enjoyed it. There was a good story line, and of course the music was super--it's Queen!! Very loud--it was just about sold out--and the whole place was rockin'! A fun and memorable night. We Tubed back to our hotel, laughing about the fact that we were actually out after dark in the big city!
Sunday in London: Museum day. we are not much for museums, but the Natural History Museum sounded quite interesting to both of us. It is a beautiful building, with some interesting exhibits. Sunday was not the very best day to go, however--as there were tons of families with kids. We spent a couple of hours there, and especially enjoyed the bird exhibits.
Sunday aftternoon we explored Harrods--WOW--talk about expen$ive! David kept telling me--go ahead a look, I tried explaining to him that just ONE of those fine leather hadbags cost more than our whole trip. I think that put it in perspective for hime!
We especially enjoyed the food hall at Harrods, a little bit of everything from fine Russian caviar (100's of dollars!) to chocolate, to exotic meats and fresh and beautifullly displayed fruit and vegies. One can buy just about any thing food-wise, at Harrods-just hand over lots of $$$$! Needless to say, we didn't!
After Harrods, we went to nearby Fortnum and Mason's--another food heaven. Again, a wonderful variety of traditional English food and exotic food--all many British pounds! It was fun to look and drool, though!
Back for dinner around our hotel--Italian food this time. It was just ok--like most of the meals we had in London--nothing really awful, but certainly not extraordinary. Nothing as good as what we had in Paris or Bruges, for sure.
Monday morning we were up and at 'em early to catch the train to Bath. Bath is a town that dates back to the time of the Romans in Britain. It's main claim to fame are the Roman Baths that were built at the beight of the Roman occupation of Britain, The Romans built these supposedly currative baths about 60 a.d., and for hundreds of years after the Romans were defeated by the Saxons, they lay buried beneath the town of Bath until they were unearthed in the late 1800's. Here are a few pics of the baths:(just the very lower part of this building are the original Roman baths--the upper part and rest of the building were built over/around the baths in the 1800's)
We spent 8 hours in Bath, enjoying a couple of beautiful cathedrals and the wonderful architecture and history of this small city. Early afternoon, we popped into a pub for our usual afternoon pint of mediocre beer, and had a wonderful conversation with two local gentlemen. One was a local police officer, and the other older gentleman was a bee keeper! It was fun to talk to a couple of friendly locals, and they were very interested to hear that we were from Alaska! (I just can't say I'm from Idaho--I might live there--but I'm not from there!!) We heard the usual Sarah Palin comments right away, and I just cringed! (I am so NOT a big Sarah fan). This was actually the second time on this trip someone has asked us about Sarah Palin---I just hate it that she is what people automatically think of when they hear Alaska--there is so much that is wonderful about our state. OK, off my soapbox now!
Late afternoon it started just pouring down rain--we just got out or trusty umbrellas and slogged through it! Went to the train station in plenty of time to warm up with a mocha, and then hopped on the 6:33 train back to London. Another lovely and interesting day!
Our days are winding down, and so are we. Three weeks of walking miles and miles every day, throw in a few thousand steps--and you have two very weary travelers. We just fell into bed, as we had another early day planned for Tuesday--tea with the Queen at Buckingham Palace! Well, maybe not quite--but still a great tour of the palace and a fun cappucino. (see separate post below for pics).
The tube strike was in full force on Tuesday, so getting around London was a REAL challenge, but we were determined not to let it stop us. We just hopped on those big, red double decker busses, and off we went. Well, with about 10,000 other people that were in the same boat! It made for some frustrating times, and I admit to a little meltdown when we couldn't find our bus stop, but we did live through it!
Wednesday was our last day in London--what to do? Well--high tea, of course! We did some shopping in the morning, and then had tea at the Orangery, a beautiful old restaurant that is part of Kensington Palace. The Orangery actually used to be a conservatory and greenhouse for Kensington Palace, but was converted to a restaurant many years ago. It was a fun experience, and whoda thunk dear David would ever do tea at a Palace?? Here's proof:
And here is our wonderful food--finger sandwiches, a delicious scone served with clotted cream (seriously good stuff!) and strawberry conserves, and of course, desserts. I especially enjoyed the tea--it was really good! They certainly do tea better than they do beer.
We lingered over our tea and goodies, as it had started raining hard. We thought we might just wait it out, but nothing doing! We just got out our trusty "brolly" as the Brits call unbrellas, as off we went. Tube'd back to our hotel at Paddington, and packed (er--make that stuffed, shoved, and smashed stuff into!) our bags. Our train to Heathrow leaves at 6:03 am, another of those early starts. May I sleep in next week, please???
That last night we strolled around our neighborhood to find a nice place for dinner, and decided on Indian food again. We found a great little restaurant a couple of blocks from our hotel, and had the best meal of our London week. Seriously great Indian food, and the male waiters were wearing those funny shoes with looong curled up toes! I wonder if they ever trip over those big, curly toes going up the stairs?? Wish I had a picture of them, but that wouldn't have been too nice.
It was our last night in London, and we felt a bit sad that our wonderful vacation was coming to an end, but home is sounding mighty good after three weeks on the go, go, go!
Thanks for sharing our trip with us, and I wish you ALL could have been there in person. It was the BEST of times!