Monday, March 25, 2013

Travel Teaches Toleration - A Week in London

Wanderings.  Husband, daughter (18), son (17) and I headed to London for a spring break holiday.  My husband and I had been to London about 20 years ago, and we were there for only a few days.  Our flight was a direct flight to London Heathrow, with a little delay at Heathrow.  We made arrangements with London Connection for a flat.  We chose a flat with two bedrooms, one with a queen bed and the other with twin beds, and two bathrooms.  With four adults, the two bathroom decision was beneficial.  What I was most excited about?  We also made an arrangement to have a driver pick us up at the airport, and I had always wanted to enter into the airport terminal with someone standing there with my name on a placard.  After a very long flight that felt longer since I did not sleep a wink, I was even more excited about seeing my driver.

Proof that everyone else in my party had no problems sleeping.  Taken with an iphone.
We exited customs, and there were drivers lined up all along with their placards, but none said our last name.  Searching, searching, searching.  We waited for about 10 minutes, and decided to contact our driver.  Here is where we found out that my lovely iphone didn't work, ever, on making phone calls.  I even went to Verizon beforehand to set up my ability to use my phone.  Never worked.  Only worked in texting other iphones when I had wireless.  Major disappointment.  My husband's Samsung; however, worked like a charm.  A lovely Heathrow information assistant helped us with how to make our first phone call.  We connected with our driver, and we were headed to our flat.

The flat was located in the posh area of Mayfair.  Really posh.  Mulberry, Louis Vuitton, Alexander McQueen, Stella McCartney, Dior, on and on.  Our flat was reduced due to off season rates, and I would say I wouldn't be willing to pay for the higher rates if I was to be there in the summer.  I would have preferred a more neighborhood environment versus commercial, but for this trip the central location was perfect.  A representative from London Connection met us at the flat, and gave us all the information on working the stove, dishwasher, etc.  After that, we headed out to find a late lunch which
happened to be just across the street.  Brown's pub was to be our go to place when we were exhausted and too lazy to figure out another spot to eat.  My daughter and I had afternoon tea of delicious sandwiches, scones with clotted cream and jam, my son had fish and chips which he loved, and my husband had a yummy burger.
The beginning of a desire to get a full tea set before the trip was done.

We headed back to the flat, unpacked, and then my husband and I went to get groceries.  The London Connection rep told us about several close grocery stores so we headed to John Lewis  As we approached the store, my husband said this isn't a grocery store, this is Nordstrom's.  I said that he told us that it was in the basement...and it was.  I think we took longer than average shopping since we had a learning curve, but we had fun, and got groceries to make dinner and breakfast.  The big surprise, eggs cartons sitting on a shelf not refrigerated.  Okay, when in Rome....we ate those eggs over several days, and we sure didn't have any issues.

My expectations on what we could get done the first day were overestimated as usual.  I was also hoping that my husband and I could head over to the closest train station to get our travel  cards.  Exhaustion overtook us, especially since I had not slept all evening.

Fortunately, I use Fodor's forums for a lot of my travel planning, and had learnt about the travel card and the promotion with 2 for 1 tickets to many of the London attractions.  You have to have a passport size photo of everyone in your party so that needs to be done beforehand, but otherwise it was quite easy.  You also have to get this done at a train station.  For detailed information London Toolkit.  Remember you need to print off all of the vouchers before you go.  I think the savings at the Tower of London pretty much convinced my husband of its worth.  We used the tube, trains, and buses the whole time we were there, and it was so efficient.
We all slept in on our second day.  Really slept in which was probably needed.  Good thing we had gone to the grocery the night before.  My husband made a delicious breakfast.  Off to the closest train station which was Charing Station.  Heading to the train station on foot, took us through the famous Trafalgar Square.   A theme for weather for this holiday was rain and cold!  It's not easy getting crisp photos under these conditions, but that didn't stop us for trying.  My daughter and son each had a SLR, and I took photos with my iphone.  It was so bitter cold and raining, at times downright pouring that I'm surprised we got as good of pictures that we did.  In addition, the weather changed our plans a lot.  After getting our travel cards which took a bit longer than planned, we took the train to the Tower of London.  This afternoon would be my daughter's and son's favorite day.

Wet, windy and cold walk over the Tower Bridge.

This photo and the following two were actually taken on our final day from the HMS Belfast.  My son took these and they turned out to be a better perspective, and it didn't hurt that while overcast it wasn't raining either!

I want this tea set!

We spent hours at the Tower of London.  We initially took the tour which was shortened due to weather so we went straight to the chapel.  I highly recommend the tour.  Afterwards we toured the whole area.  At this point it was late afternoon and we were starving.  Hopped on a double decker bus (15)  and tried to have afternoon tea at the National Gallery.  It was St. Patrick's Day and it was crazy busy outside and inside. We headed onward, and ended up at Brumus which is by Trafalgar Square.  We all took in afternoon tea, and it was fairly good.  A bit pricey for the quality, but we were hungry, tired and wet.

Dinner was at the flat.  We all rejoiced in that! The next day we headed to breakfast in Soho at the Breakfast Club.  Quirky and interesting this 
was my husband and son's first traditional English 
breakfast.  I had porridge and it was delicious.
The guys thought their breakfast was okay, and this feeling was substantiated later on our trip when they had much better food.  Overall, I would say pretty good food, but I wouldn't wait in line for it.

Then off to the Undergound to take the tube to Westminster Abbey.  I think everyone should take the tube to this beautiful abbey because heading up out of the Underground with the Thames River, the London Eye, and the House of Parliaments and Big Ben all coming at you at once is spectacular. 

Futuristic tube station.

The London Eye

Westminster Abbey was incredible.  I guess I like gothic architecture.  In essence, it's really an indoor cemetery, but what a cemetery!  Three of us used the audio guide which was really informative.  Highly recommended.  It was fun walking up to the entrance with my daughter fresh out of Art History class.  She shared with me some aspects of the architecture.  We spent several hours touring, and once again missed lunch.  Famished we headed to the sit down restaurant in the abbey, and had one of our better lunches.  

Delicious gnocchi.

Warm smoked salmon sandwich.  I got salmon in some form everyday and it was always fresh and delicious.
It was absolutely pouring afterwards, and we headed out trying to decide where next.  We had intended to go to the Churchill War Rooms on the afternoon after the Tower of London, but we had a late start that day.  My husband looked at the map and realized that it was very close to us so we headed there.  Again, I would highly recommend going there and using the audio guide.  My husband and son particularly enjoyed this and we were there for several hours.  A full and exhausting day, we ended up putting together meats, cheeses and bread for dinner which we had gotten at the grocery store. 

Breakfast at the flat again.  We took the kids to Rome one Christmas holiday, and rented an apartment near the Campo de' Fiori, and that was part of one of our favorite memories.  Shopping at the wonderful open air market, and fixing wondeful meals at the apartment.  Probably the one trip planning aspect that I seem to have a lot of trouble with is being at the right place at the right time for lunch or dinner.  I made one reservation prior to leaving for London, and we ended up canceling because we were all too tired.  It saves money, and sometimes for the money you won't find much better food.

Jet lag was starting to take it's toll on all of us.  We were moving slower, and my husband started having issues at work so we were delayed getting out of the flat.  We decided to head over to the Victoria and Albert Museum.  As we walked, my daughter saw a store that she wanted to go into, and about an hour later we left with a couple of pair of socks!  My teenage son showed a great deal of patience which I appreciated.  

Dancing in the museum!
The Victoria and Albert Museum had a special exhibition on ball gowns which my daughter and I toured, and the guys literally covered the whole museum while we did that.  We all toured the main floor together.

It's hard taking photos when your sister is a goofball. 

Plaster casts of Trajan's columns from 1st century AD.    This was one of the favorite areas for J and M. 
The Victoria and Albert Museum is free as are most museums in London.  They do ask for a donation.  It is one of the largest art and design museums in the world.  It is large, in fact massive, but for me, it didn't do anything.  In fact, we felt like a lot of it must be for storage since there were not a lot of rooms open.  

We were hungry, and wanted to go somewhere for a bite to eat.  Instead, we headed to the Science Museum, and were pleasantly surprised.  The beauty of all of these museums being free is that you can go in, and if you aren't interested, you can leave, and not feel you wasted your money.  After about an hour at the Science Museum, we were ravenous and headed to the Le Pain Quotidien.  A fair lunch.  We did get brownies and those were delicious!  We had entertainment, too, with an Italian woman and man in a pretty big verbal argument.  From the looks of it, he was in big trouble.  We, of course, didn't know a word they were speaking, but we got quite a bit of humor with watching the body language.

Next stop...Notting Hill.  I wanted to go there because of the movie.  I am an adult who understands that movies don't usually depict real places, but for some reason I wanted it to be reality and not fantasy.  I wanted to find a bookstore like the one in the movie.  I didn't do any research on Notting Hill we just went.  As we got off the tube and headed above ground, I realized that I made a mistake, but we kept walking.  K loves the tacky tourist stores, and we went into one and he told us to keep walking to find more shops so we did.  We found many more, and bought M a beautiful wool coat, and me a wonderful walking jacket.  Mine was on sale, too!  There were cute vintage stores, and they were closing up, but I wish I had stuck around because they had the cutest tea sets, mix and match.  K tried on some clothes, but no luck.    

We took another double decker bus back to our neighborhood.  We headed back to the flat to relax, and my husband (J) made dinner.  

Next day was an early breakfast at the The Wolseley.  We were seated in the front bar area which turned out to be nice since we could look out at the street.  Our waiter was from Scotland, and he was delightful.  My son (M) had the traditional English breakfast again, and he said it was delicious.  This time he ate the black pudding, and loved it!  I had salmon and scrambled eggs and it was wonderful.  We liked it here so much, we made a reservation for Friday morning.

A breakfast with a view.

Beans for breakfast?   

I'm supposed to be downsizing, and I love this little silver platter for my butter.
Headed back to the flat, and picked up my daughter (K) to spend the day at Hampton Court Palace.  Tube to train for this journey.  Hampton Court Palace is basically Henry VIII's party palace during the summer months.  Afterwards it was used by several other monarchs who did their own additions, too.  It really gave me a sense of place, so I'm going to start reading Wolf Hall again, and see if that helps.  I recommend the audio guide here because it gave so much information.
Waterloo Station train going to Hampton Court Palace.

Fabulous ceilings!
I just felt like Anne Boleyn may have looked out this window into the next corridor.

Ceilings were artwork.

Absolutely beautiful ceiling. 
The landscaping and gardens were beautiful on this rainy, cold day.  I imagine in June they must be spectacular.

We headed back to London on the train, and took the tube back to our neighborhood for an early dinner at Cecconi's.  The people watching was as good as the food.  No photos here, too busy eating and being nosey.

The next day was to be the British Library, British Museum and the Borough Market.  I got outvoted on the British Library.  We were all tiring of fighting the rain so one less stop was preferred.  We used the tube to get to the Museum.  The British Museum is massive.  My favorite things at the museum were the Rosetta Stone for the obvious, and the mummy cat for the not so obvious.  This museum had a major collection of currency.  Before we went to the museum, we of course had to stop for breakfast.  This time at Bill's in Soho.

Americano my preferred breakfast drink in London.

Someone's unhealthy breakfast.

I was beginning to develop a scone problem.
We have mixed reviews on Bill's.  Some of us liked our breakfast, others didn't.  I think everyone agreed it all tasted too sweet.

The Rosetta Stone.

The oldest hoard of currency.

Mummy cat.  Love.
M said the first baseball cap. 

Very rare bronze.  They had several.  In fact almost a full body sculpture.

A somewhat odd English teacher for a private boy's school who left his charges to ask K if he could take a photo of her.
Peek a boo!
J spent a lot of time on the phone towards the end of the week.  He was here the whole time we toured the main floor.
Worked up an appetite touring the museum so we headed to the Borough Market.  It opens on Thursdays so while this wasn't the most convenient location from which to head there, we knew it was where we wanted to go.  As a result lunch and dinner were supplied by the market.

K always wanted to try Turkish Delight.  Not what she expected, but at least she tried. 
Took home delicious cheese from Wales,  cured meats, fresh squid, plums, rocket, and bread for dinner later.

Grilled cheese sandwiches (fav), pork sausage dogs, and pork sausage burgers for lunch.
Dinner from our purchases at the Borough Market.  
Our last day.  We had originally planned to have a day trip in the middle of the week.  Due to the extreme cold and rain, we decided against going anywhere that would be colder.  We decided today was the day for everyone to do something they wanted that they weren't able to earlier in the week.  As the week went on it continued to get colder and colder.  In fact, it snowed on the day we left.  I had wanted to get a new leather purse.  This had been something I needed, and hadn't purchased for quite some time in the states because what I wanted was so ridiculously priced, and I refused to get another Coach purse with their quality going down.  The night before, when we got home early from our day out, my husband and I headed to some shops in the area.  We went to Blount Street.  We hadn't realized what we were getting ourselves into, but I guess when they have the doors locked, and the guard unlocks them for you to enter, it tells you something.  Nothing was priced under 1000 BP.  What was nice is that everyone was so polite to us in all of the stores, and willing to let us browse, and show us anything we wanted.  Anyway, anyone who cannot afford anything in Bergdorf Goodman's in NY knows what I mean about them treating you kindly.  That doesn't happen at Bergdorf's.  Of course, I came back to the flat empty handed.  Searched the web and found Aspinal of London.  So that was my desire for the day.  

J, M and I headed to an early breakfast reservation at The Wolseley once again.  The food was equally as good, but the service wasn't too good.  

After breakfast, J and I headed to Aspinal of London.  What I like is that their goods are made in Spain and Italy, not China and Turkey.  I got a purse, wallet, and a gorgeous butterfly scarf.  J got a leather cover for his yet to be purchased ipad.  I guess he will now have to go buy that ipad.  

K's desire....wait for  For those who know her this is not a surprise.  M wanted to go to the HMS Belfast.  My other wish was to go to Buckingham Palace.  I realize since it is only open in the summer, it would be just a walk by, but I wanted to go.  J wanted to go to Lloyds of London to see the building.  Sadly, J did not get his wish.  This was the most bitter and coldest day so far.

We decided to take a taxi to the HMS Belfast.  At this point we had only taken public transportation and it was incredibly easy and efficient, but it was COLD!  I enjoyed our cab ride, and he pointed out so many buildings and sites to us.  When we got to the drop off for the HMS Belfast, the wind had picked up considerably.  By the time we walked to the entry gate, K and I had said, we wouldn't be going, and we would head over to a lunch spot nearby.  M enjoyed it thoroughly, and in fact, got better pictures of the Tower of London from that vantage point.

M would tell you to go to HMS Belfast.  He enjoyed it thoroughly.  Due to the high price of our cab, we headed to the Underground to go back to our neighborhood.  K still needed to shop.  We stopped at Zara, and she was successful in getting some cute clothes at pretty reasonable prices.  For our last evening, we wanted to go somewhere special, but not far.  As we started calling around, there were no available reservations so we decided to head back to Brown's.  J did not join us due to a highly stressful client problem which also resulted in him not going to Lloyds of London.  K, M and I enjoyed ourselves, and laughed a lot at dinner.  It was a Friday night, and the local business people were there in droves, but mostly for drink so we were able to be seated.

And now to my title.  Travel teaches toleration which is a quote from Benjamin Disraeli.  We tolerated the inclement, no, miserable weather.  K was going on a vacation that she had decided she didn't really want to be going on which was ironic since this was somewhere she had always wanted to go.  Maybe she wanted to go just not with us.  She is in her first year of college, and she is in that stage where she has tasted independence and she likes it.  M had to tolerate shopping excursions which would be an hour or more of just standing in a department store.  We had to tolerate not understanding the basics of functioning in our home such as how the heck does this microwave work?  J and I had to tolerate a small bedroom and bathroom and getting ready at the same time.  This was practice for our new home in Washington, D.C.  We had to tolerate figuring out the tube, train and bus lines which weren't always clear, especially the buses.  Finally, in this age of communicating via texting, we had to communicate person to person, and work through disagreements verbally, and not read so much into what others said.  Family is so important and they will be there for you always.  I hope my children never forget this.  

I had a great time in London, and I would like to visit the UK again, but this time get out into the countryside.  I wouldn't go again in March.  The gardens and parks in London are part of it's beauty, and we were not able to enjoy that aspect.  In fact, on our cab ride back to Heathrow, our driver took us past Hyde Park.  We never ventured near there due to the weather.  Here in the gently falling snow, were families on horseback heading into the park.  Our driver told us they stable the horses nearby.  I can't imagine paying the rent to live in that neighborhood much less adding the cost of horses.  I suppose if you can afford the rent, you can afford the horses.

In London, I would stay in a flat again, but in a more residential neighborhood so that it would be easy to get a loaf of bread, or whatever last minute item you needed, and maybe it would be easier to have conversations with the locals.  Overall, I really enjoyed London.  For such a large city, it was surprisingly easy to get around.  I cherish the memories I have with my family discovering London together.   

The majority of the photos are M's, and a few from my iphone.  Sadly, K left for college with her camera before I downloaded her pictures.  I will create a post with just her pictures which will be so nice to see both perspectives of what each of them thought interesting.

1 comment:

  1. What a wonderful journey I just went on by reading about your travels to London. Your pictures turned out great even though you experienced inclement weather. I felt transported and was right there on vacation with you.

    As you know, I've never been to London but after reading your blog and looking at your pictures, it has inspired me to go some day.