Friday, August 18, 2006
More London Travel Notes
Read more features coming soon in our Destination UK Guide.
Our plane touched down at Gatwick airport on a early foggy morning. It was 6:45 a.m. local time, with the flight from Austin via Houston going 4,848 miles in 8 ½ hours. Noted that the plane got up to 39,000 feet and temperature outside the plane was -81 degrees Fahrenheit. On a long plane flight, you make a note of lots of trivia..
After getting through customs and security, we caught a Gatwick Express train for a 30 minute ride to Victoria subway station in London. Saw townhouses, RV trailers, and mobile homes along the way. After arriving at the Melita House, we slept for four hours, then went to a local corner grocery to get a few items to munch on, which consisted of bread chip crisps, cream cheese and chives spread, cider and chocolate sandwich cookies. Later, we got some "digestive biscuits" (finding out they were what we call Graham crackers). Found an open air market where seafood, fruit, and clothes were being sold.
Our first restaurant, we ate at Biguns Ribs and had fried cod and vegetable quiche. Was fun to listen to British conversation from a couple of businessmen at the next table. Was a cozy atmosphere, but a bit noisy due to an Italian family, visiting London for the first time with their kids. Be prepared for spending more for the necessities in London. The average meal on a budget is rather pricey £8 (over $16).
It must have been from the jetlag as we walked late into the wee hours along the Thames River, seeing Westminster Abbey, the Houses of Parliament, hearing Big Ben chime for the first time. In Parliament Square there were Iraq war protest signs and two protesters camped out and sleeping along the street.
Some of the side trips we made which we are not making features on but
will be included in our overall London guides...
Here is a sneak peak with photos:
Cabinet War Rooms - The chalkboard in the war situation room gives a status of the situation on September 15, 1940 just before the tide started to turn in WWII as Hitler diverted his attention to Russia.
The rooms remain virtually unchanged from the end of WWII. Went to Saint
Mary’s Gardens (Lambeth Road on the south side, across from Lambeth
Bridge by the Thames River). Ate at a pub across the street from the
Imperial War Museum, trying some vegetable soup and Strongbow cider.
The Imperial War Museum contains a rich display of WWII history, including the stark Holocaust exhibit.
Madame Trousards - Our favorites for most realistic manequins were Julie Roberts, John Wayne, Marilyn Monroe, and Nicholas Cage.
Café in the Crypt (below St. Martins in the Fields church) - Had creamed corn soup and handroll, plus lemonade with ginger and bread pudding and ginger beer. While there we bought a print of Big Ben from a local artist who signed and dated it for us.
Changing of the Horse Guard - Watched the Horse Guard as they had the
dismounting ceremony (yawn).
Walked by Downing Street. Strolled through St. James Park, watched the ducks and people feeding the pigeons.
After eating at the Oxo Tower Restaurant (feature coming soon), we strolled along the Thames River, viewing the frescos under Blackfriar Bridge, by the Tate Modern, Shakespeare Globe Theatre, and London Eye after crossing the bridge. Walked by St. James Cathedral and found St. Clement Danes Church where an ancestor was married back in 1668 in the original church (which was bombed during WWII).
Visited Sotheran’s, the oldest bookstore in the world, located near Piccadilly Circus. Read my article on Sotheran's written for AmericanaExchange.
National Gallery – Viewed many rare original paintings by Monet, Van Eek, Da Vinci, Rembrandt, Michaelangelo, Dirher, Picasso, Gauguin, Gainsbourogh, Cezanne, and many others. Did I mention original! This is not to be missed when visiting London.
Trafalgar Square – Listened to a musician play Amazing Grace on bagpipes. Quite touching given the locale. In the subways are guitar players, saxophone players, singers, even watched someone play a harp one day.
Victoria and Albert Museum, lots of interesting artifacts and treasures
here. Photos are not allowed we found...
Photo above is a Formal Man’s Doublet, England, circa 1650 – 65, very rare, made of very fine silk, with silver gilt silk tissue thread, bobbin face.
Tippoo’s Tiger – from Hindu India, circa 1790s – wooden life sized carved musical with metal workings instrumentation.
There is also not to be missed, the Raphael Cartoons, dating from 1515 -1516 by Raphael, wall sized paintings based on Bible verses, on load from the Queen. Many sculptures are here, including Valor and Cowardice, circa 1857. Admire the ceramic staircase, ceramic, circa 1869. Or browse the many rare musical instruments, including a Spinet from Italy, circa 1550.
Retable of Saint George, Spain, dating from 1410, measuring over 20 feet tall, Spanish tempera and gilt on pine.
Christie auction house in South Kensington - Viewed paintings, books, and antiques that were up for auction. It should be no surprise that the highest rated auctions in a lot while we were there was all Beatles memorabilia. One item was a signed letter sent by John Lennon to his cousin, which detailed his "lost weekend" period back in 1974. The pre-auction estimate was £10,000-15,000 ($18,716 - 28,074). Another auction in the same estimate range included "A Hard Day's Night" album which was signed by all four of the Beatles. Another was a rare album, the Beatles "White Album", marked as #5 on the front, with the estimate of £8,000-12,000 ($14,970 - 22,454).
We ventured to the historic town of Bath, with the ancient Roman baths that are being restored. Prepare to spend a day or more here to soak in the rich history of the churches and buildings.
Not to be missed is historic Leeds Castle (feature coming soon), which was built around 1066 and added onto over the years. Took 9:48 train from Victoria Station to Maidstone East (£26 roundtrip for 2) to the local station. From there we took the train to Bearsted, which we found out we should have just went straight there. The weather was cool and rainy. Could see fields of bright yellow canola and rapeseed, wheat and barley, with occasional sightings of deer, ducks, and a peach orchard. From Bearsted, we took a coach bus to Leeds Castle (£4 roundtrip).
Once back in London, we hopped into the Tom Cribb Pub just down a side street from the Strand and near the Benjamin Franklin House (feature coming soon) to try some ale. Ordered some Timothy Taylor championship warm beer (which Brits much prefer over our cold beer) and listened to the locals talk up football. The Brits love football, which is different from our football. Besides the unusual car names like Vauxhall and Citrogen, and Vespas, we noticed several animal hospitals, with some having animal ambulances. Internet cafes are all around, which average just £1 ($2) per hour. The problem we found was finding enough of them around where we were, so do some checking before you go. Avoid the small Internet terminals located at the airport and at subway stations. They are frustrating to use and too expensive.
From all of our planning, there was still much more to see than time available. London is a true experience of the senses. More to come.