London Report: Speed Touring.

Jun 26, 2013 by

London Report: Speed Touring.

Hubby got sent to London for business. Conveniently enough, I had never been to London and wanted to go, so about two days prior to his trip I worked it out and booked a flight. I touched down in London, so tired there was a grumpiness in me that was fierce. Grabbing my bags while chatting with a guy from Fairfax county, I put best face forward. I should have taken the train in, my rush hour cab fare was not cheap, but I was too tired to think about public transportation, but really the express train and the tube are a good option when you would otherwise be in a cab during morning rush hour. Got to the hotel and was very happy that Matthew had landed and gotten our hotel room prior to me. We stayed at the Crowne Plaza St. James, which is a great hotel in an amazing location. Rooms were quite comfortable, while not huge, and bathrooms were well appointed and a pretty good size, with towel warmers that I could get used to having on a daily basis. The one thing I don’t understand is that none of the hotels had an electrical outlet in the bathroom, except for a plug for a shaver, no idea why, oh well. I climbed into the shower so tired I didn’t know if I could stand for the entire shower. A nap ensued. Upon awaking I ventured to find the place to get my London Pass.

If you are doing a lot of sightseeing then the London Pass is really a good deal, although note most of the notable British museums have free entry. You can have it mailed to you if you aren’t buying it super last minute like I was, and I would suggest that you do this so you don’t waste a lot of time getting it. I walked there by way of Buckingham Palace and garden and Trafalgar’s Square. Finding the location to pick it up without a map was a bit of a challenge, but I finally found it. By then I was quite hungry and again it had gotten to the point where rational thought was no longer possible. So I wandered into Pret-a-Manger. I then took advantage of the free entry to British museums and wandered the National Gallery, although a smaller museum it has a great collection of impressionistic painters and classics, laid out in a beautiful building right overlooking Trafalgar’s Square. I then explored one of London’s most talked about attractions- Harrod’s by way of Hyde Park and Wellington Arch. Hyde Park was very cool and huge, I skipped the speakers area and concentrated on the formal gardens and pond. Next time I will be riding a horse through the park, but seeing the swans, trees and arranged flowers made for a really nice afternoon. Harrod’s is an interesting experience with many separate shops combined into one large retail store, packed with restaurants and all sorts of exotic goods, and plenty of souvenirs as well. I was so overwhelmed I didn’t buy a single thing, not even a barking and walking Westie toy that looked a lot like Max. On the way home I decided to try out another British chain, Wagamama. Since rumors of it’s opening in D.C. and the excitement that stirred up, I really wanted to know what the fuss was about. I had a good and inexpensive meal of udon noodles and dumplings that was topped off by a really exuberant waiter who made my night. Nothing fancy, but about as quick of a sit down meal as you can get and very affordable, even with a glass of wine.

The next morning I was off to explore the long list of sights I wanted to see. I loved Westminster Abbey, it was my favorite sight of the entire trip. The amount of people buried in and around the abbey was astonishing with tombs stacked up all over the place and the audio tour was very interesting. The church itself was breathtaking. After some snaps of Parliament and Big Ben, I hopped on the City Cruises included in the London Pass and watched as I sailed past sight after sight. This was another one of my favorite experiences of the trip and the City Cruises boat took you to walking distance of so many of the sights that it was a great way to get around with a view. Next up was lunch a couple blocks over Tower Bridge at a small restaurant called The Kitchen, which also was quite economical and a great lunch of salmon cake with poached egg, a huge portion for the price. The restaurant was really light and pleasant and had free wi-fi too. I then walked back and did the Tower Bridge experience, which while a little touristy, it had an amazing view. I then toured the Tower of London in hellacious rain and about 15 minutes of fierce hail. Which brings me to a top tip: bring a very good rain jacket with a hood, don’t bother with an umbrella. I think the Tower would have been more enjoyable under better circumstances, but seeing the huge cauldrons used for wine at royal ceremonies and the crown jewels was a sight not to be missed, there are also Beefeaters and guards with the same fuzzy helmets as those who do the changing of the guard. It was also really educational. I didn’t know some of the “prisoners” of the Tower had quite a bit of leeway in terms of their confinement.

That evening I had dinner in the “dodgy” end of London, which really wasn’t dodgy compared to CUA-CSL territory. Kennington Tandori had a great range of Indian food, including some really interesting curries. Not really expensive, but not cheap either, but a great meal. It’s been around since 1985, but the inside is quite modern and updated with really professional service. And the attention to detail in the food is noticeable.

The next day I toured Apsley House which was really interesting for the architecture and art and Royal Mews. Next up was St. Paul’s Cathedral, which was also beautiful, but after seeing St. Peters in Rome, while amazing, it just didn’t quite compare and it lacked the charm of Westminster Abbey. The audio guide was also just a bit too high tech and had too much information that it just didn’t flow well through the space. The pouring rain again that day didn’t help. I then had a detour through Piccadilly Market, Fortnum and Mason (which I would recommend for high tea up on the fourth floor in the tea room) up through Bond St to Oxford Street to explore a bunch of purely British shops, ending at Selfridges, which I was so excited to see after the show. It really was amazing, a lot like Bloomingdales in New York mixed with Marshall Fields. I loved it. But where I did most of my shopping was John Lewis which was more affordable and had some interesting British brands. That night I had dinner at Roti Chai, the downstairs dining room, although I have to believe either level can put out just amazing Indian food. An absolutely amazing place for Indian food. I had spicy lamb ribs, chicken 64 a specialty of spicy fried chicken strips and dipping sauce, lamb “stew” which was rabbit and a curry sauce that was delicious. I also the most amazing side dish of spiced grilled vegetable, which may have been the best dish of the evening, rice and naan, it was a feast. I ended the evening with drinkable dessert, a coffee with a little something something that was quite delicious. That evening we switched hotels to the Montcalm at the Brewary, which was another really amazing hotel, very hip. Although if you are staying in the section by the restaurant definitely use the bell service for your luggage, as it is in an old brewery it can be a bit tricky to get around with luggage.

The next day I had my Hubby with me! We toured the Tate Modern, which was undergoing extensive renovation, but still had a really nice collection of modern art. We then headed to Borough Market one of the main food markets, which was crowded, but wonderfully full of goodies. We had good meat pies, chorizo sandwiches, cheeses, dumplings and lots of other culinary goodies. After that we headed to Kensignton Gardens, which I thought was a little lean on the garden and more like a big open park. Kensington Palace had a really interesting layout and was a lot of fun to tour, although a bit British qwerky, I really enjoyed the stories it told. We then went through Hyde Park. We then shopped Jeremyn Street where Hubby found out that he does own every Charles Tyrwhitt shirt, we found a new store for suiting we both loved T.M. Lewin. Hubby then stocked up some supplies as he was getting sent straight to LA (and then was sent to San Francisco) for more business meetings. With my feet about to give out we hopped on the tube home and had dinner at the Jugged Hare which was conveniently attached to our hotel, but really fantastic classic British food. We had pork head croquettes, braised rabbit leg and traditional sausage, it was a feast of just one good thing after another. I then collapsed into sleep in our very comfy bed and jacked.

The next day we toured the Churchill War Rooms which are a definite must visit. I then showed Matthew the joys of Wagamama so we could hop on the tube and see Kew the Royal Botanical Gardens. While a bit out of town, these are the kind of gardens that England is really known for, and anyone who likes gardens should visit. It’s also a fun destination for kids with lots of exhibits and features for them. I wish I had more time and would have been able to take a boat to Kew, but the gardens alone are a full days visit with the various greenhouses, gardens, the towering walkway, Kew Palace and the pagoda. The small town of Kew was really charming, as well. It was nice to be able to stop and enjoy tea and a snack or a soda and just enjoy the sunshine and flowers.

Our last day we visited the London Museum due to proximity to our hotel. It actually had some interesting exhibits on the people of London, and how the city changed culturally and through it’s landscape over time. We then departed back to the USA. It was a busy visit trying to fit in so many sights, I would like to have seen many of the other museums and more of the markets, oh and the London Eye (did you know you can drink on the London Eye?), but on my whirlwind tour I really felt that I got to see a huge amount of London. It was easy to get around, and while it isn’t cheap at all, it really has so much to see and do that it is worth the money and there are definitely things you can save on, like the meals and the museums depending on what you want to see. It is a city with a very distinct culture, architecture and heritage that I enjoyed being able to experience. I like to joke that my Hubby is very British and I am very French and it was fun to get to see London with him, as London fits him just so comfortably with a pure understanding of it’s essence.

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2013 London, a set on Flickr.

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