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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.