London Calling

Near-constant rain was the backdrop of our London visit.

When we set out last Friday for London I wasn’t sure how I felt about going. I was excited about getting to see YaYu and spending time with her but also was somewhat dreading the logistics of navigating a new-to-us (very) large city, albeit an exciting one filled with lots to see and the potential for adventure.

On our way to London – that big cloud followed us the whole way.

Rain was the signature feature of our travel day. It was raining when we left Blockley and rained the entire way to London, with us getting soaked at the stations where we made transfers. We arrived on time though, and once we got to our hotel had a light dinner and went to bed early as we needed to be at Heathrow at 7:00 a.m. to meet YaYu’s flight. We almost arrived late for that though – we ordered a taxi in the morning and were told it would arrive at the hotel in approximately 10 minutes so we went back up to our room to get our bags. When we came back down another couple was finishing loading their bags into OUR taxi and off they went! So, a new taxi had to be called but it took its time getting to the hotel. We finally made it to Heathrow, went running to the arrival gate and just a couple of minutes later out came YaYu!

Our London Airbnb apartment was in the back attic of this terraced home.

From the airport we headed over to our Airbnb rental to drop off our bags – our host happened to be home that morning and said it was fine for us to check-in early. Our loft apartment, located in the attic of an older terraced home, was clean and modern, with a comfortable sofa bed for YaYu in the living room. It was a good thing though that YaYu and Brett can sleep through anything, and I was extremely thankful I had thought to bring earplugs along with me because one of the first things we noticed was that jets into Heathrow were coming in right over the house (apparently this happens only once or twice a year – lucky us).

And, just because I like to keep things interesting, on the way out of the station on the way to the house I had caught my foot on the steps and fell, jamming the big toe on my right foot (but otherwise OK). The pain was excruciating, but thankfully I could still walk.

After getting our bags put away, we set out for our afternoon walking tour in Notting Hill. It took a longer time than expected to get to our destination – our trip by bus and train there took nearly two hours because the double-decker bus from our location to the underground station was slowed down by road construction as well as being crowded and needing to make frequent stops.

One of the many interesting places we stopped at in Notting Hill. This regular-looking building is actually a very, very private hotel favored by celebrities. In September 1970 Jimi Hendrix overdosed on sleeping medication and died in the room under the window and behind the plants.
Arundel Lane in Notting Hill had the unfortunate distinction of being the most bombed street in London during WWII. It was rebuilt after the war to look just as it did before its destruction.

We arrived on time in Notting Hill with minutes to spare, found our meeting place, and soon set off on what turned out to be a fun and very interesting two-hour tour. Our group was small (only eight of us) but the guide really knew the neighborhood and its history, and told interesting stories and showed the group where several celebrities had lived or currently owned homes, or where famous events had taken place. It rained steadily during the entire tour, but it was so interesting the time flew by. After finishing we went back to a small restaurant our guide had pointed out along the tour, Mike’s Cafe, which had recently been voted as having the best breakfast in London, and had a great (and affordable, for London) late lunch/early dinner there. Across the street was a gourmet doughnut shop filled with decadent choices, and we each chose one for our next morning’s breakfast. We arrived back to our apartment that evening feeling extremely tired – we had walked five miles that day! My toe was screaming, and when I finally got a look at it, it was double in size and sporting a huge, deep purple bruise, not a good sign.

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Little did we know when we got up on Sunday that we would be calling on all of our resourcefulness and ingenuity to get ourselves where we needed to be. We had tickets to visit the Tower of London, but getting there wasn’t going to be easy in the least. There was a large eco-demonstration going on in the city and the two train lines that would get us to the Tower were closed down (one for scheduled maintenance, it turned out). We made it as far as Covent Garden, London’s theater district, and then had to find a bus. Locating the bus stop however turned out to be a major challenge because so many streets were shut down by the demonstration. There were police stationed all over though and one finally helped us find the stop we needed. We had a long, long wait for the bus, under a big theater marquee, but eventually the bus showed up and off we went . . . or so we thought. Twice the bus made stops where everyone had to get off and climb on another bus! We eventually made it to the Tower, but the journey had taken us nearly three hours!

We spent a couple of hours exploring the Tower, including viewing the Crown Jewels (which were spectacular), then walked over to see the famous Tower Bridge. The rain was light when it did appear but mostly the day was only windy and cold. At the Tower Bridge Pier we caught a boat and took a wonderful ride down the Thames to Westminster Pier, enjoying views along the way of St. Paul’s Cathedral, the London Eye, and several other famous buildings. At Westminster Pier we sadly discovered Big Ben and many of the Parliament buildings were shrouded for major conservation work, so we didn’t hang around and instead walked over to Westminster Abbey. It was closed at the time we were there, but we enjoyed walking around the exterior and talking about the events we knew of that had occurred there (weddings, funerals, etc.). The Abbey was much larger than we thought; however, YaYu said that everything else we had seen was smaller than she had imagined, including the London Eye and Big Ben.

We had initially not planned on seeing Buckingham Palace but since we were so close we thought we should walk over and check it out before stopping for another late lunch/early dinner. From the Palace we walked over to Victoria Station Plaza to have another late lunch/early dinner at Wagamama and make a quick stop in Marks & Spencer for a few supplies. When we stepped outside after eating the first thing we noticed were blue skies and sunshine, giving us hope our final day in London might end up being a good one. Trains were running from Victoria Station so we had a fairly quick and easy trip getting back to our apartment. Once back we discovered we had walked five and a half miles that day – it was no wonder we all felt so tired! Thankfully when I woke up that morning the swelling in my toe had gone down and the pain had decreased as well so I had a better experience getting around than I thought I would.

My dinner selection at Wagamama, chicken & shrimp pad thai, was a risky choice – the last time I’d had it I broke my tooth. No problems this time though and it was delicious.
Westminster Cathedral (Catholic), across from Victoria Station. Sadly the blue skies and sunshine didn’t last long.

Because our behind-the-scenes tour on Monday for the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace had been canceled (there was an official state event that day – the Queen went to Parliament to make a speech), we slept in a bit on Monday morning but woke to heavy rain (again) and howling winds. We also felt more tired than we imagined we would, and decided not to push ourselves to go out again but instead spend the day together resting up for our trip back to the Cotswolds the next day. We eventually got bored though and rode the bus down to a big commercial area next to the nearest train station, and got a few more things at Marks & Spencer and had dinner at an interesting and inexpensive fast food noodle shop. I had initially been disappointed that our tour that morning had been canceled, but we all ended up feeling thankful because the weather was not fit for anyone or anything to be out in. We came home from dinner, packed our bags for the next morning’s departure and enjoyed some hot chocolate and watched some TV.

This is the main reason I visit Marks & Spencer! Best. Cereal. Ever.

After three days in London we were eager to get back to the more quiet pace of our little Cotswolds village. I’m not sure our short time in London was enough to form any kind of honest opinion about the city, and while we enjoyed our Notting Hill tour and the sights we visited on Sunday, we mostly felt overwhelmed by the transportation issues, crowds, and exhaustion (and in my case, a foot injury). The miserable weather added to the feelings of too much in a strange city. However, we absolutely loved the diversity we encountered there, all the languages we heard spoken, the variety of ethnic restaurants and shops, and the kindness of almost all the people we met or encountered during our visit.

We’re off tomorrow morning to visit Oxford. We’re booked on a walking tour in the early afternoon, and then plan to stop at a pottery studio and store I have long wanted to visit before going to our B&B. On Friday morning we’ll tour the Ashmolean Museum before getting YaYu over to the station to catch the bust to Heathrow for her flight back to the U.S.

17 thoughts on “London Calling

  1. You don’t do things by halves, do you? Both in travelling and stubbing your tow!

    I love London. Four years ago we spent three weeks there. Inside Westminster Abbey is awesome. Three weeks and we weren’t bored. Plenty of people told us we had to get out and see “the real” England. We will. Next time. See stayed near Notting Hill. Often walked down to Kensington Palace.

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    1. Our time in London was just too short – three weeks would have been wonderful. But, the focus of this trip has been the English countryside. We only visited London because YaYu came in there.

      We had hoped to walk over to Kensington Palace and Hyde Park after our Notting Hill tour but between transportation difficulties getting there and the miserable weather we decided against it. Westminster Abbey was opening later in the afternoon, but line for that was already massive when we were there so we decided to skip it. Overall though we’ve adjusted to the slower pace of life out here in Blockley; that’s one more reason I think we felt overwhelmed in London outside of the weather and other issues.

      The toe injury turned out to be a very bad sprain, but I worried the first day that I’d broken it; the pain was that severe as was the swelling and bruising.

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    1. The rain on our travel day was a deluge; the day after was only slightly better. Traffic was a nightmare as well. Combined with things being shut or canceled​ because of the demonstration, weather and Queen’s Speech on Monday really worked against us having a better time than we did.

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  2. I adore London but it does suck the money right out of you. I remember one visit ( in 2008 or 9 on president day) when we were at the British Museum which I always consider a must see and we came ou to the entire city being full of marchers and gains the Iraq invasion. My high school student was in his first peace March cause we literally had to join the march to get back to the hotel. We live the Beefeaters tour at the Tower.

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    1. We spent very little money in London. Ate one meal a day out, bought Oyster Cards for transportation and used all but a few pennies on each, bought a few treats at M&S (which were very affordable) and treated ourselves to gourmet doughnuts one evening. That’s all, but we know it could have been a whole lot worse if we hadn’t been careful.

      The Guard tour at the tower sadly wasn’t available the day we visited – we saw all of one guard there. Because of the Queen’s Speech on Monday and the weather, all sorts of things were closed. A few pieces from the crown jewels were marked “in use,” like two of the ceremonial maces and the Imperial State Crown, which the queen wore during her speech. There were no guards in front of the Palace either, just a few in “regular” uniforms standing directly in front of the palace and a couple with assault weapons. Add in Big Ben and Parliament buildings in shrouds and it was all pretty meh. I wish we had had time to visit the museums. I especially wanted to see the Churchill War Rooms.

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  3. We stayed at the British Army hotel years ago. Located in the Islamic quarter, it was worth slogging through dorm like settings.
    I plan on taking the oldest grand back in a few years. The walking tours sound excellent.
    Sorry about the foot. I flipped over my small dog last week—and shattered my elbow! gotta watch those falls!

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    1. The Army Hotel sounds interesting – I am going to do some investigation because I think I’d like to come back, but for a longer period of time.

      We have had good luck with Airbnb walking tours – they’re priced very competitively. We read the comments very carefully and go from there. I like free tours but hate having to go around with a large group.

      The steps in the station had this weird little overhang and it caught my toe and down I went. A very nice young girl grabbed my bag and carried it up the stairs for me while I hobbled behind her.

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  4. The Churchill War Rooms are fabulous. Wish we had a leader like that today. I hope you get to see it on a future visit.

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    1. I really wanted to see this museum because it was the actual place Churchill had been, and if our initial travel to the Tower had taken so darn long we might have had time to go. Another very good reason for us to come back to London someday​.

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  5. Ouch! That was bad luck. I loved the photos of those wonderful buildings. I’m not a big city person so have no desire to see London, but Oxford was a place I really enjoyed. Palaces are another thing I’m not particularly into, but Blenheim Palace was quite a great place to tour. Looking forward to reading about your Oxford visit.

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  6. When I was in London I went to a play each night. Petula Clarke in The Sound of Music, Michael Crawford in PT Barnum and an Andrew Loyd Webber Musical whose name I can’t remember. Back in those days it cost about 10 pounds or $18. for each play. I loved the crown jewels and Windsor Castle. Nice place to visit but I wouldn’t want to live there.
    Hope your foot gets better soon.

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  7. Your experience was much like ours in London several years ago: poor weather and tons of traffic. At least there were no protests or demonstrations to make things even worse.

    Once we left the city, we were overwhelmed with the beauty of the countryside and the friendliness of the small towns. Stratford-Upon-Avon and the Lakes District were our favorites.

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  8. Great pictures. Notting Hill was a fun movie! And yes, the rain. My DD tried to tell me about it before my last visit, but it has to be experienced to be believed. She had surgery (thankfully, all is well) and I had to venture out of the hospital to find food while she was in the OR. It rains and blow sideways, which I suppose isn’t unique, but it seemed endless some days. My raincoat was fine, but my legs got soaked. It’s why they all buy “showerproof” everything. Ha! And it sounds like London was a circus with the demonstrations, Queen’s address, etc. I’ll bet you’re happy to be back in a more peaceful place. The one thing I haven’t seen that still calls to me in London is the Victoria & Albert Museum. She has shared pics of a couple exhibits and it looks so beautiful.

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    1. The rain here is something else, as is the damp cold. It goes right inside your bones and chills from the inside out so it can be difficult to get and then stay warm.

      We’re thankful we weren’t in London this weekend when the Brexit demonstrations were massive. I doubt we could have gotten anywhere or seen anything. But, we still want to go back.

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