If you have come back to the blog, you are a glutton for punishment...just kidding...hopefully this is getting better, ha ha! I think I'm finally understanding this process and quite honestly, I give kudos to the people who do this for a living. It is much harder than it looks. Enough rambling...on to London!
We travelled to London for Thanksgiving for a few days. We took the train down and it only took a little more than an hour or so. I honestly LOVE riding the trains here and much prefer them to driving. The trains are clean and timely and certain companies will reimburse you if their particular train is more than 15 minutes late! The whole rail network here is pretty crazy in terms of sheer number of rail companies and timetables, so it takes a bit of time to learn and research. And then there is the whole issue of rail maintenance and the rail companies changed all of the timetables last year which caused massive delays, but so far we haven't encountered any issues (knock on wood). There are even train ticket deals that can be used to reduce the cost of entry fees to museums and sites (like a two-for-one deal) which is what we did for a few of the places we visited down in London.
To begin, we stayed at the Byron Hotel, which was located right across the street from Kensington Gardens. It was very convenient the London Underground. We had a very small room, but that is fairly common across Europe as a whole. We strolled through the gardens and saw The Albert Memorial and then made our way to the Victoria and Albert Museum. It was founded in 1852 by, yep, you guessed it...Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. The museum is FREE (although a small donation is appreciated as was the case with a lot of the museums and galleries we visited) and massive, one could spend several days inside looking at all of the different exhibits, collections, and art work. It is very impressive and there are so many collections of artifacts. After spending a few hours there, we walked across the street to the British Natural History Museum. This museum is also free and covers a large space. Apparently the site used to be a railway station. It was interesting, but was also really busy. I did learn the difference between African and Asian elephants (their ear size and head shape). After touring the museums we ate at Honest Burger in South Kensington and walked back to the hotel. We also passed by the Royal Albert Hall on the way back.
Inside the British Natural History Museum:
Whale exhibit in the history museum:
Royal Albert Hall:
For Day 2, we started out by going to Westminster Abbey (photography wasn't allowed, but my better half took a few pictures of the places around the Abbey). The Abbey is beautiful. Fun fact, Lord Lytton, whose family owned Knebworth House (see the previous posts), is buried here as are Edward the Confessor and Mary I and Elizabeth I and lots of other famous and important people. Mary I and Elizabeth I are half sisters and former Queens, both daughters of Henry VIII. Mary I, also known as Bloody Mary, was the daughter of Catherine of Aragon (who died at Kimbolton Castle) and Henry VIII. Elizabeth was known as The Virgin Queen, Gloriana or Good Queen Bess and was the daughter of Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII. The Abbey is beyond impressive and it is astounding being in a place rich with so much history. It was also really cool to experience the Abbey after having watched William and Kate's wedding on TV in 2011. After Westminster, we walked by 10 Downing Street and then made our way to the Churchill War Rooms and Museum. This was probably my favorite part of the entire trip (even better than the possible royal sighting!)! The war rooms are interesting and the museum is fantastic (photography was not allowed). It was very crowded, but one could literally spend a day here. I didn't realize what a prolific writer and painter Churchill was or that he basically wore a track suit most of the time. We plan to go and see his Chartwell home one day as well. It is located south of London in Kent. We rounded out the day by going to the National Portrait Gallery, also free! It was nearing closing time, so we went to the Tudor rooms. I have become obsessed with the Tudors since arriving here, if you can't already tell. The overall history of the royal family captivates me. We ended the day by eating dinner in the West End at The Chandos (famous for homemade pies...meat and vegetable filled pies).
Courtyard at Westminster Abbey:
These were from a small chapel on the abbey grounds:
On Day 3, we decided to go to the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace. This was the "off" season, so the "changing" takes place on a reduced schedule. We had to research this and then plan our trip around the specific day and time of the event. I had seen the "changing" before, but was still impressed. On the way over, we walked through Hyde Park, Green Park and St. James Park. Following the show, we made our way over to Regent Street in Soho (known for its shopping) and strolled around. In the afternoon, we headed over to Harrod's in West London. Harrod's was insanely busy! The bottom floor was like a gourmet grocery store and there were several floors above that sold everything from housewares, to art and furniture and electronics, and souvenirs. It was literally a one stop shop for everything imaginable, but with some hefty price tags. After that overwhelming experience, we took a little break and wandered back to the hotel before heading out to Mayfair. Our possible royal sighting occurred as we were leaving our hotel for Mayfair. A motorcade had prevented us from crossing the street. The motorcade consisted of a few police motorcycles and vehicles and one dark Land Rover. Inside the Land Rover was a young lady and three men, including the driver. The young lady looked like, at least to me, Kate Middleton. Naturally, I queried the internet to see if she had any royal engagements that day near us and low and behold both she and Meghan Markle had engagements that day! Kate's engagement was near our hotel, so I was pretty convinced that this was a possible Kate Middleton sighting! Following that excitement, we headed to the Hard Rock Cafe in Mayfair, which is an affluent area of West London, for dinner and t-shirts . The Hard Rock has some pretty interesting memorabilia, which I think is pretty common for those cafes.
Facing opposite the palace:
Our last day happened to be Thanksgiving Day. We went to St. Paul's Cathedral where a special Thanksgiving service is held every year. The US Ambassador to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Woody Johnson, was the keynote speaker. St. Paul's was really interesting. The church has been around for over 1400 years and been rebuilt five times, including when the cathedral was bombed during World War II. Fun fact, Prince Charles and the late Princess Diana were married here in 1981. After the service, we were able to tour the cathedral, again photography was discouraged. We then walked to the British Museum and on the way, passed by the London Stock Exchange. The British Museum was also impressive and rather large. The Rosetta Stone is on display here and we managed to get a peek at it despite crowds of people surrounding the glass case. It was almost closing time when we arrived, so we didn't get to explore a lot of the works. We had Thanksgiving dinner at the Museum Tavern and called it a day. The next day we said goodbye to London and took the train home.
St. Paul's Cathedral:
View of the city of London from the second level of the rotunda:
It was a great trip and there is quite a bit more we need to see in London! I'm sure we'll make it back.
On to the next adventure...