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Trip Report: 5 Days in London, September 2011

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Trip Report: 5 Days in London, September 2011

Trip Report: Thanks for all your help with planning our trip. We loved London and it wouldn't have been as easy or as fun without your help!

Hubby and I spent 5 nights in London (10/September – 14/September) and two nights in Sidlesham for the Goodwood Revival (15-16/September) . We rented an apartment through www.londonconnection.com which was located on Matthew Parker Street, around the corner from Westminster Abbey. We stayed at the sweet Jolly Fisherman B&B in Sidlesham. We also had one night at the beautiful Heathrow T5 Sofitel. To plan the trip I used the Rick Steves' London, DK Top 10 London, fodors.com and tripadvisor.com forums and internet research.

Our itinerary:

Saturday: arrive 11:40am. Car to apartment. 1630 tour of Parliament. Dinner reservation 1930 at Cinnamon Club.

Sunday: British Museum, British Library, Courthalt Gallery

Monday: 9:30am Buckingham Palace (Dutch Landscapes, State Rooms, Royal Mews), Apsley House, Victoria and Albert, Harrods.

Tuesday: Tower of London, St. Paul's Cathedral, Millenium Bridge, (walk by Shakespeare's Globe), Tate Modern. Dinner reservation 1800 at St. John Restaurant.

Wednesday: Westminster Abbey. Lunch reservation, The Square 1330. Churchill War Rooms and Museum.

Rick Steves' London is not his best effort but since I have used his guides for years, we took it with us. The DK Top 10 was good but seemed a little light, I guess, so I didn't refer to it while on the trip. It's helpful for putting things in groups. I would have loved to use the Eyewitness Guide but it's just too heavy to lug around… We also had a London book of maps that was really helpful.

Saturday: We flew British Airways in World Traveler Plus class (aka Premium Economy). We got a good price on this upgrade from coach and it was very worth it for the extra leg room, wider seat and quieter cabin. It was a pretty empty flight and all went smoothly. We both were able to doze a little. Entertainment unit was good; food was decent, really.

We arrived a little early at Heathrow T5. I was surprised by the ease of entry into the country—border control agent asked a few questions and then waved us through. I think it took all of 20 minutes from getting off the plane until we were looking for the ATMs by the Krispy Kreme (underneath a Thomas Cook sign as adamhornets, IIRC, reported). Our driver, Maureen, from Londonconnection.com, was waiting as prearranged. It took about 45 minutes to get to the apartment where we were met by Christina. She gave us a brief orientation to the small but comfortable and perfectly adequate flat. We unpacked, cleaned up, and headed out to find a pub before our Parliament Tour at 1630.

The weather was partly cloudy and cool. We marveled at the view of Westminster Abbey as we headed to The Sanctuary where we had our first proper English pints (well, a half lager for me). Lovely. Hubby had scoped out the area a little earlier and directed us to a second pub, Feathers (?), where we had a second pint and half. Lovely. We then walked to Parliament for our tour.

The tour starts with security and a picture for your Visitor's Pass. Very official-like. We gathered in the gorgeous Westminster Hall , which dates back to 1099!, and along with 22 other folks had an hour and a half tour of the impressive buildings. We began where the Queen arrives for the Opening of Parliament Speech, went into the gorgeous and opulent House of Lords before being allowed to sit in the seats of the less impressive House of Commons. The guide did a very good job of making the Houses come to life. I couldn't believe how many Members of Parliament there are, something like 1400 altogether compared to our 635 or so; or that constituents can hang out in the hall of Commons and send for their MP to come for a chat—can't see that happening in the House of Representatives any time soon! At any rate, the tour was fabulous. We bought a couple of souvenirs and took a bunch of photos in Westminster Hall. The view outside was of Big Ben and Parliament Square and one of the Houses—impressive!

We trekked the short distance back to the apartment to rest and change before dinner at the Cinnamon Club, also a short walk away. Dinner was outstanding. We loved the food, the French beer, the friendly but efficient service, the atmosphere (the book lined upper gallery was gorgeous). It was simply excellent. We walked to Victoria Station to get our 7 day Travel Card then took the bus back to the apartment to sleep. The bed was a "queen" which is more like a double in the US, so a bit small. We were so tired we slept well anyway. Excellent first day!

TO BE CONTINUED…

New Orleans
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21. Re: Trip Report: 5 Days in London, September 2011

Thanks for reading, everyone. I'm enjoying writing about our trip because it cements things in my brain :)

btgm, had I stayed so close to the British Library I might have gone every day!

DGates, we didn't have any problems with jet lag. We both dozed a little on the flight over and stayed active until bedtime around 10:30pm (well, I did have a 15 minute nap before dinner). We did a lot of walking both inside Parliament and in the neighborhood. I think being able to get into the apartment right away and shower and change made a big difference along with staying active.

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22. Re: Trip Report: 5 Days in London, September 2011

Thankyou nola44 for your amazing trip report!

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23. Re: Trip Report: 5 Days in London, September 2011

Tuesday: Today I scheduled the Tower of London because it opened early at 9am. Well, we didn't quite make it there at opening time but there were no lines when we arrived at 10am. We used our 2 for 1 to save 19 GBP! So one 7 day Travelcard was paid for—nice.

It was another beautiful cool sunshiny day and hubby was difficult to corral—he wanted to take pictures when I wanted to get on to the Crown Jewels before the crowds showed up (as y'all suggested). Finally convinced him to go on in and we timed it very well—we were alone on the conveyor belt for our first two passes by the incredible Jewels. They're simply stunning! We had a good chuckle about the monarch who complained that his crown was too heavy and changed our saying from "my lobster is too buttery" to "my crown is too heavy"!

As we left the Crown Jewels we saw that the crowds had arrived; there were about a 100 people following a Beefeater! We decided to tour the White Tower which was interesting—got my photo next to the huge and tiny armor. We left the White Tower and wandered around looking at everything we could for another probably 45 minutes. I liked going up on the Tower Walls. Beautiful, all of it, but such a gruesome history.

We made our way out of the Tower of London complex on the side by the river and wandered over to the Tower Bridge. We decided against crossing it and just took a bunch of pictures—it's quite impressive. We grabbed a bus to St. Paul's Cathedral and were lucky that it was an old timey one. We sat up top in front and really enjoyed the short ride (I love the double decker buses and always feel like I'm in a Harry Potter movie!).

Arrived at St. Paul's hungry so grabbed a quick lunch at Pret a Manger—very good, inexpensive and fast. Headed over to the Cathedral and paid our entry fee. Took the audioguide but didn't like it so out came Mr. Steves for the highlights tour. I was amazed by the size of the Cathedral. I recall that it's the 4th largest after like St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. It somehow didn't feel that big but once I walked the aisle (as Lady Dianna did at her wedding!), I comprehended the scope.

We followed Mr. Steves and then climbed to the very top. Beautiful views although it had just rained and the skies were no longer so sunny. The climb up was nowhere near as bad as we had expected. If you've climbed to the Dome at St. Peter's, this one will be easier—more metal spiral staircases than claustrophobic wall closing down on you… We went to the Crypt and looked around then back up for more soaking in the atmosphere of the beautiful Cathedral.

We had a 6pm reservation at St. John and it was now around 3:00pm so we headed out and walked across the Millennium Bridge (another Harry Potter moment!) to the Tate Modern. We passed by the Globe but neither had interest in touring it; not Shakespeare fans I'm afraid—too tortured by English teachers in high school!

We went into the Tate Modern which looks just like a huge empty warehouse on the ground level. Up some escalators we went to Material Gestures room for the modern impressionists. Did a quick walk through and enjoyed seeing these impressive paintings. I liked the Matisse and Monet. Cool stuff but not the warmest place in the world.

Back outside another walk across the amazing Millennium Bridge. We caught the City of London School letting out. I liked seeing the boys all dressed in their coats and ties but still acting like boys.

We had some time before dinner so perused our map and went on a mini-pub crawl. We hit Viaduct Tavern and Fuller's Ale & Pie House and Portal Restaurant and Bar before 6pm. The walk between the pubs was great. I enjoyed popping into the small courtyard by St. Bartholomew the Lesser Church, unfortunately closed, and feeling the quiet serenity amidst the busy city. Took a picture by the gate and now I notice how narrow the house above was--so neat. Smithfield Market was shuttered but the displays describing its history were very interesting. We just kept walking and enjoying being in this, to us, not so polished part of London.

Dinner at St. John was outstanding! Hubby loved his meal and I really enjoyed my mushrooms (yeah, a non-cow, pig or fish eater at St. John, go figure!). We had a great waiter, Davie, and lots of fun. I'm not sure I'd rank it as the best ever for me but it sure is up there on hubby's list.

Afterwards, we grabbed the Tube to St. James Park and walked back to the apartment: lovely views of Parliament, Big Ben and Westminster Abbey. We said hi to the guys at Westminster Arms but were too full for more drinks… And so ended yet another Wonderful Day in London!

edmond, oklahoma...
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24. Re: Trip Report: 5 Days in London, September 2011

Loving your reports, thank you for posting! I have GOT to plan my next visit!

New Orleans
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25. Re: Trip Report: 5 Days in London, September 2011

Thanks for continuing to read my ramblings!

kathylsmith: I'm a little obsessive about planning our trips! I love doing it and it helps me learn about where were going and keeps us on track when we're there.

Last day in London:

Wednesday: First up on the agenda was Westminster Abbey. We got there right at opening (such a hard commute, lol) and paid our entry fee and the extra 3GBP for the Verger tour. We had a half hour before the tour so Mr. Steves oriented us while we waited.

I'd have to say that Westminster Abbey is one of the most interesting, fascinating and old places we've ever been in. The Deacon Verger, David Mott, was excellent and the cost of the tour was so slight in comparison to what we received.

We started out in the Choir where we parked ourselves for David's introduction. Ok, I watched the wedding so y'all know I was stocked to be sitting where the little choir boys were. Too cool. Snapped myself to attention for the interesting history—it all started in 950 when Edward (now Saint Edward the Confessor) decided to build a church. Ok, that's wrong but I can't remember the details—there is just so much history in this place; I'd need a course at university to remember it all!

From the choir we went to the Nave and were able to see the "new construction" which looks very similar to the older part of the Abbey except for a subtle difference—look when you're there… We saw the Coronation Chair being restored. We saw the Scientists Corner and were impressed that Newton is buried there, along with Darwin and Rothschild among others. Now to the center of the Abbey where David walked us through a Coronation—8,000 people in the Abbey, incredible! Then to St. Edward the Confessor's Chapel where David told us about the tombs surrounding us (kings and queens and baby princes). Then onto smaller chapels before reaching the Lady Chapel with its beautiful frothy decor. On to the Poets Corner and Musician's tombs. Incredible, all of it!

We really loved this Verger Tour. David told us he escorted Wils and Harry on the wedding day and sat on the dais throughout. He interspersed a little modern history into the fascinating story of the Abbey which made it even more interesting.

No pictures inside but we took a few as we walked in the Cloister before heading out. When we go back to London we will probably not return to St. Paul's Cathedral but we definitely will return to Westminster Abbey.

We had lunch reservation at The Square at 1:30 and we were lingering a little long by now. We ran back to the apartment to upgrade our clothing choices then grabbed the Jubilee line to Bond St. There is no tube stop super close to the restaurant on Bruton street so we walked through lots of very cool, expensive shopping areas to get there. I hate shopping but if I had unlimited money and time, this would be an area I'd love to shop in—beautiful stuff!

The Square is everything you would expect from a 2 Michelin starred restaurant. The food was delicious, interesting and beautifully presented. The service was outstanding—attentive and friendly; no one was overbearing or arrogant. The décor was understated and elegant, yet comfortable. It was our first Michelin dining experience and it did not disappoint in any way. This was a wonderful treat!

We left comfortably full and content and tried to make it back to Westminster in time for the Horse Guards Dismounting Ceremony at 4pm but just missed it. We then had 1 hour and 45 minutes to tour the Churchill War Rooms and Museum (which needs minimum 2 hours!). We used our 2 for 1, bought the souvenir book, and took the audioguide.

I'm not a huge War Museum person but I must say, this was very interesting and really well presented. The audioguide was outstanding. The Museum is pretty interactive; I really liked being able to step on a button to hear what Churchill and other dignitaries had to say, for example.

The Museum starts with Churchill at War and moves you through that time until his death and then introduces him as a young man. We had to miss some of his younger years due to lack of time. We got to see all the War Rooms and were the last two tourists out of the building. I wish we had 45 minutes to an hour more in there. But so glad we got to do it!

We went back to the apartment and packed a little since we'd be heading out in the morning. Afterwards we hung out at the Westminster Arms and had a couple of pints (halfs for me) and chips. We really enjoyed talking to the barkeeps; we tried the "and one for yourself?" but were turned down. As we left, they wished us well and invited us to visit again on our next trip. It was our "local"! lol.

Our last day and night in London were just great! We loved everything about the city. I thnk we were super fortunate with the weather, even. Being able to communicate in English really made things easier. The transport system was easy to figure out and the free museums and 2 for 1 deals are great. Hubby proclaimed it his favorite big city and it's a very close second to Paris for me. I've put it on the agenda for 2013—it will still be fresh and sparkly after the 2012 Olympics!

Tomorrow another adventure: driving on the "wrong side of the road" and Stonehenge!

Santa Fe, New Mexico
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26. Re: Trip Report: 5 Days in London, September 2011

Great posts, NOLA. I'm with hubby on London over Paris any day! Paris is nice to look at, but London has more true character for me.

New Orleans
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27. Re: Trip Report: 5 Days in London, September 2011

It's a very.close.second! I loved it and can't wait to get back. Most likely will be September 2013 but we'll spend two weeks to get into the countryside too.

For those of you who like photos, I've added them on my "blog" at http://herewegoagain-london.blogspot.com/

Monza, Italy
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28. Re: Trip Report: 5 Days in London, September 2011

Read it all and ejoyed it; thanks for sharing it with us.

You planned very well every single day; well done!

I love pictures and checked them on your blog; they're nice indeed.

Went to see the Tower in may and the Beefeater I took the picture with was 'really' friendly ;-)

Monza, Italy
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29. Re: Trip Report: 5 Days in London, September 2011

nola, why don't you link your trip report here: tripadvisor.co.uk/ShowTopic-g186338-i17-k524…

It's very informative and can be very useful for those planning a trip in London

New Orleans
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30. Re: Trip Report: 5 Days in London, September 2011

Thanks, londra92! I will post a link to reports as you suggest.

I'm going to post the Stonehenge and Goodwood Revival days here eventhough they're not technically London. But both are easily reachable by train...

Thursday: Hubby's 0/5 birthday! What a great year he's having; first Egypt and now England for Goodwood Revival. Makes me gleefully anticipate my next 0/5!

We got up early since we had a 9:52 train to catch. Things got derailed a little bit (pun intended, ha) because there was no hot water. Nothing like a good cold shower to start you off in the morning. Hubby spoke with Christina from Londonconnection but she couldn't do anything to help.

We finished packing, cleaned up the apartment and headed out to catch the tube to Victoria Station, dragging our bags up and down stairs—where are the escalators when you need them? We sent one last appreciate glance at the beautiful Westminster Abbey façade telling ourselves we'd be back soon!

I had prepaid our Southern Railway tickets to Gatwick (bargain price of 5.55GBP each, thanks tripadvisor.com forum posters!) where we would pick up a rental car. Other than maneuvering all the stairs, we had no problems catching our train.

We arrived at Gatwick around 10:30am and dragged our bags through the construction/smoking zone to Avis. We got a manual transmission Renault something. It was roomy and fine for our purposes. Going to Gatwick was an easy way to pick up a rental and we avoided with central London traffic.

I had written down step by step directions from Gatwick to our first stop, Stonehenge, because our Michelin map didn't have enough detail but we didn't want to pay for GPS. The drive was pretty easy—hubby didn't take any wrong turns. We kept saying "stay left/look right." His experience driving in New Zealand certainly paid off in England!

I would have preferred to visit some gardens or historical homes but hubby, on his birthday, overruled me so Stonehenge it was. The weather again was lovely—mostly sunny, windy and cool. We stopped at a gas station for lunch supplies and picnicked in the Stonehenge parking lot.

Arrival at Stonehenge is cool—you're driving along and all of a sudden, there are the stones! After lunch, we paid our entrance fee, grabbed the audioguide and went to walk around the stones with many other tourists. Hubby was stoked; me, not so much. I didn't get any "woowoo" feelings like he said he did. I guess my spirit is more comfortable in Santa Fe than Stonehenge…The audioguide was good, the stones are photogenic so we took lots of photos, most with no one else in 'em. What more to say about Stonehenge? I'm glad I went but I don't need to return.

Afterwards I enjoyed some ice cream while we decided to go to the B&B in Sidlesham instead of Salisbury (where I wanted to see the Cathedral and its copy of the Magna Carta). I had step by step directions again and we got there with no problems.

Pam welcomed us to the Jolly Fisherman B&B where we had booked two nights. It's a ramshackle comfortable place and she's a lovely hostess. Our double room upstairs was very comfortable and sweet except for the low doorways which hubby kept forgetting to avoid (he ended up with a cut on his scalp). I'm short enough that I didn't even have to duck!

It was a lovely late afternoon and our dinner reservation wasn't until 8pm so we walked over to the Crab and Lobster for drinks. Really pretty walk. We sat on the patio with our pint/half along with a few other people. We had noticed a gorgeous Aston Martin when we came in and had a long chat with the owner, Dennis, who said it cost him around 100,000GBP to restore! He was in for the Goodwood Revival and would be parking the car there to be admired.

Back to the B&B to refresh before dinner at Buckingham Arms. Pam kindly dropped us off so we wouldn't have to worry about drinking and driving; we cabbed back. Dinner was very good in a lovely atmosphere. Not as crowded as we expected given the Revival starting the next day. We had a nice chat with a local family who told us some back roads to take to avoid the A27 which backs up terribly with Revival traffic.

So ended our day in the lovely English countryside. Hubby had a great birthday and was looking forward to Goodwood Revival in the morning!