London, England - April 19 - May 2, 2016
This was our first visit to the United Kingdom and London. As a summary statement, it was a very enjoyable vacation and one that we will remember always.
[Tuesday, April 19] Today we flew from Houston Intercontinental to London Heathrow airport. We departed at 4:05 PM and arrived in London at 7:05 on Wednesday.
Click on the small photos to enlarge them.
[Wednesday] After clearing customs we boarded the Piccadilly Underground line and rode the train to Russell Square station. We had to wait at our hotel for them to clear our room and clean it, which would be available around 1:00 PM. We walked the local streets up-and-down from the hotel and ate a snack at one of the cafes. We then took the underground to Victoria Station where we found where the tour buses pick up tourists. We learned how to "Mind the gap between the train and the platform" as well. We afterwards ate our supper in the shops near the underground station.
At the top of the stairs to our 2nd floor, there is a bronze statue with this plaque:
George is our resident bronze dragon who sits atop the 2nd floor stairs. Fitzroy Doll, architect for both Hotel Russell and RMS Titanic, had two dragons moulded. One went to Hotel Russell.......the other is today 2.5 miles beneath sea level in the Atlantic Ocean aboard the remains of RMS Titanic.
[Thursday] Our first full day in London, we thought a guided tour of the city would make us comfortable to explore on our own later in the week.
We then went to Buckingham Palace for the changing of the guard. The crowd of people was about as large as the area would hold and apparently it is like that always, during the ceremony. We didn't get anywhere near the palace fence on this visit. Later in our vacation we got closer on our own.
Finally we went to St. Paul's Cathedral, where we visited inside. This was where we departed from the tour group and stayed in the area so we could attend the 5 PM Evensong Service where we sat with the choir in the Choir Loft.
[Friday 4/22/16] We took the Underground to Kensington Palace and spent from 10:30AM to 2:00PM touring the palace. There were several docents that explained the palace and some of the displays. This palace is the current home of Harry & Kate. They live in the front part of the palace and tours take place in the back part. We ate in the palace cafe for tourists.
We then walked through light rain about 1/2 mile to the Victoria & Albert Museum. This museum contains an awesome collection of art from all over the world. We stayed until the 6:00PM closing, then went back to the hotel.
Early on, we discovered two very good fast food places across the street from our hotel. They were literally on each corner of the building. One was Cafe Nero and the other was Pret A Manger. Cafe Nero was an Italian coffee house and Pret A Manger was a natural food place. They both were very popular with locals and were located everywhere in London, so after a long day sightseeing, they were the perfect stops for us most of the time.Pret A Manger.
[Saturday 04/23/16] We took the underground to the House of Parliament (The Palace of Westminster) where we had scheduled a tour at 11:20. After the tour was complete we ate lunch at the parliament's café and then we attended a 2:00PM afternoon tea beside the Thames River at the House of Parliament.
We returned to the hotel and changed into nicer clothes and attended the 7:30PM performance of The London Philharmonic Orchestra at The Royal Festival Center at Southbank Center. We took the Underground to the Embankment stop and walked across the Waterloo Bridge to Southbank Center. The performance was Shakespeare400, to celebrate his birthday. At the end of the performance, we returned to the hotel via the bridge and the Underground.
[Sunday 04/24/16] After watching the start of the London Marathon on TV, we took the Underground to Westminster Abbey, where we attended the 11:15 Sung Eucharist service. Unfortunately for us, a few thousand people were lining the streets around the area to see the marathon, which passed right in front of the Abbey. There were about 40,000 runners along the 20+ mile route through the city streets. The church service was very interesting and I managed to sneak in one photo from the area we were sitting with many other tourists, which was against their rules.< < Westminster Abbey.
After the service at the Abbey, we walked across the street to the Churchill War Rooms and the Winston Churchill Museum. We spent the afternoon there until about 5PM. The War Rooms are the actual underground bunkers use by the government & military to run the war effort during WWII. It gives you an excellent appreciation for the endurance of the UK people.
When we finished the tour we walked back across the Marathon route to Westminster Abbey and attended a very impressive Organ Recital. The marathon had thinned out to a few walkers near the end of the line.
[Monday 04/25/16] We started out our day at the beautiful Brompton Oratory, a Catholic Cathedral dating from 1884. It is an Italianate Oratory, a rich monument to the English Catholic revival of the late 19th century.
We walked down the street a few steps to the Victoria & Albert Museum for a second visit. We walked through part of the British Gallery. At noon we took a guided tour of the Europe Gallery 1600-1815.
After our visit to the V&A Museum, we walked to the Science Museum, where we ate lunch in their cafe and remained in the museum until they closed at 6PM.
[Tuesday 04/26/16] Today, we scheduled an all-day guided bus tour of Windsor Castel, Bath and Stonehenge, in the English country out of London.
Windsor Castle is a royal residence at Windsor in the English county of Berkshire, outside of London. It dates from the 11th Century. Her Majesty the Queen was living there during our visit. Her Majesty's flag was flying from the flagpole to indicate her presence. President Obama had been there a few days earlier to meet with her as he was trying to talk the British out of voting to exit the European Union (which the did in June).
We arrived at Windsor Castle early in the morning and waited in a line until they were ready to let us in. As usual, the wind was blowing and it was very cold for April. Our tour included a visit to the Royal Apartment.
After we left Windsor, we rode through the English countryside to the town of Bath. Bath is a city in the ceremonial county of Somerset, England, known for its Roman-built baths. Having spent 2 weeks in Italy last year, and knowing that our tour would only spend a little time inside the baths, we decided to walk through the town instead. We stopped at Sally Lunns and got one of her "World Famous" buns. It was good. Bath is another place that deserved a lot more time than we had to give it now.
After we left Bath, we drove through more of the English countryside to the picturesque little village of Lacock, where we ate lunch at the historic George Inn.
After lunch, we drove to the impressive Stonehenge, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Stonehenge is a prehistoric monument in Wiltshire, England. Archaeologists believe it was constructed from 3000 to 2000 BC. Some folks think its alignment corresponds to what are called Ley Lines. The wind was blowing and it was VERY COLD out there in the open countryside.
After leaving Stonehenge, we rode back into London and took the Underground back to our hotel. It was a long day, but very productive.
[Wednesday 04/27/16] Today, we decided to direct our own sightseeing. We rode the Underground to the Waterloo Train Station. There we took a train to Hampton Court Palace. Hampton Court Palace is a royal palace in Richmond upon Thames, Greater London, 11.7 miles southwest and upstream of central London on the River Thames. It began in 1514 as a country house of Cardinal Wolsey, King Henry VIII's Archbishop of York. He gave it to the King in 1528 and Henry turned it into his palace.
We spent the entire day at there and we consider this the high point of our spectacular London vacation. We caught the train back to London as they closed the palace to visitors for the day.< Waterloo Train Station.
[Thursday 04/28/16] Today we took an all day bus tour of Oxford, Stratford-Upon-Avon and Warwick Castle. The trip took us outside London about 100 miles northwest of the city, nearly to Birmingham. We drove through the Cotswolds area of England coming and going to the various stops.
Our first stop was at Warwick Castle. Warwick Castle is a medieval castle developed from an original built by William the Conqueror in 1068. Warwick is the county town of Warwickshire, situated on a bend of the River Avon.
Our next stop was Stratford-Upon-Avon, in Warwickshire, the birthplace of William Shakespeare. We were given a guided tour of the home, which was set up inside as it would have been in his time. Afterwards, we strolled the streets of the town.
The final stop on our all day bus tour was the city of Oxford, home of the world famous University Oxford. It happened that our guide was a graduate of the University many years ago, and gave us many insights into student life on the campus. He told us that the university is made up of a variety of institutions, including 38 constituent colleges and a full range of academic departments which are organised into four divisions. All the colleges are self-governing institutions as part of the university, each controlling its own membership and with its own internal structure and activities.
After taking a short walk through the city of Oxford, and sampling some of it's food, we boarded the bus for our trip back into London. We arrived around sundown - a full day.
[Friday 04/29/16] Today we are back acting as our own tour guides. We used the DK Eyewitness London travel guide, which has excellent guide books for just about anywhere in the world you could want to go. Our first stop was Westminster Cathedral.
Not to be confused with the more famous Westminster Abbey, Westminster Cathedral, or The Metropolitan Cathedral of the Precious Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ, is the mother church of the Catholic Church in England and Wales.
After this we had scheduled an audio guided tour of Westminster Abbey. Since we had bought our tickets online, we were allowed to go to the head of the long line, standing in the light rain, to go right in. Nice! We took the audio tour, which lasted over an hour (no photos allowed inside) and made our way to the Westminster Abbey's restaurant for lunch. Along the way we were allowed to take photos in the outside areas.
Next, we took the Underground back to Russell Square station and went across Russell Square from our hotel to the British Museum. There, we spent the afternoon touring the massive Mesopotamian and Egyptian galleries. We only scratched the surface of this enormous museum.
After a short stop by our hotel to change clothes, we took the Underground to see The Phantom of the Opera at Her Majesty's Theatre. Her Majesty's Theatre is a West End theatre situated on Haymarket in the City of Westminster. The present building was designed by Charles J. Phipps and was constructed in 1897. Unfortunate for us, it was completely covered for some type of external restoration. We stopped a block away at a restaurant named Byron, that made a "proper hamburger." It was good.
The performance at the theatre was outstanding! Over the top! It was another high point of our vacation. After the performance, we walked to Trafalgar Square to catch the Underground, and even at 10:30 at night, there were people everywhere.
[Saturday 04/30/16] Today we rode one of the big red buses to the British Library. The British Library is the national library of the United Kingdom and the largest library in the world by number of items catalogued. We went there to visit The Sir John Ritblat Gallery: Treasures of the British Library. We were specifically looking for some of the oldest Bibles in the world. We were not disappointed. Of course, no photos allowed.
We then went to Harrods, London's most famous department store. To say that it is enormously large is an understatement! To say that it is RICH, is saying the obvious. What other department store has a dress code and doormen to greet you?
After exploring Harrods, we went to The Royal Observatory, Greenwich. It is an observatory situated on a hill in Greenwich Park, overlooking the River Thames. It played a major role in the history of astronomy and navigation, and is best known as the location of the prime meridian that separates the Eastern and Western Hemispheres on Earth. We toured the museum.
On our way back to the hotel, we went by where the Cutty Sark is anchored in harbor. The impressive sailing ship was built in 1869. She was one of the last tea clippers to be built and one of the fastest, coming at the end of a long period of design development which halted as sailing ships gave way to steam propulsion.
[Sunday 05/01/16] This was our last full day in London, so we rode bus to Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery. Founded in 1824, it houses a collection of over 2,300 paintings dating from the mid-13th century to 1900. We spent a few hours there sampling their exhibits.
We walked down the street and arrived again at Buckingham Palace, where we joined possibly 20,000 of our closest friends to view the changing of the guard. This time we were able to get a little closer, although still not near the fence, but we got to see and hear the marching band and guard as they exited the Palace.
After we finished at Buckingham, we stopped and ate lunch at The Walrus and Carpenter Pub, a unique looking English Pub. It apparently is a takeoff on the narrative poem by Lewis Carroll that appeared in his book Through the Looking-Glass, published in 1871. The food was good.
We were near the River Thames, so after lunch, we walked along the bank of the river past London Bridge, on to Tower Bridge. We walked across Tower Bridge and afterwards, used the nearest Underground station to take us back to the hotel.
[Monday 05/02/16] Up at 4:30AM and back to Houston. We caught the 5:50AM Piccadilly Underground to Heathrow Airport and ate breakfast at the Pret A Manger in the airport for our last time. We then caught BA195 back to Houston, arriving in the mid afternoon at IAH.
There appear to be no overweight people in England. Very puzzling. Definitely not the USA.
There are no tattoos on people, even younger ones. Very few nose rings, etc. Never saw a tattoo parlor. Again, not the USA.
The London Underground is down halfway to China. Escalators are mandatory to get to them.
Most of the time in the daytime, the next train is only a minute away. The doors stay open about 5-10 seconds.
Excellent mass transportation systems throughout the country. Again, definitely not the USA.
Pret A Manger and Cafe Nero on just about every corner of London.
Large number of tourists everywhere, even in obscure locations.
Lots of people riding bicycles.
Chimney pots on all the chimneys.
The British don't know how to pronounce many common English words.
The English have an obsession with peas and potatoes. (English peas and Irish potatoes) Its impossible to get a meal that doesn't include them.
All UK citizens must be in possession of an umbrella at all times - and a coat, even in the late Spring.
One must always mind the gap when entering and exiting the Underground trains.
Waiting for the green walk light is advisable, but not mandatory.
The British drive on the wrong side of the road. They think they can prove it is the correct side, regardless if the rest of the world disagrees.
The main import of the country seems to be tourists.
From the looks of things now, none of the city was destroyed by all the bombing in WWII, or it was built back old.
This draws to a close our wonderful vacation in London and some of the surrounding area. We hope you enjoyed the photos and brief descriptions of our activities. God willing, join us again soon for another travel adventure.
Goodbye for now,
Lawson & Kay
Lift up your heads, O you gates! And be lifted up, you everlasting doors! And the King of glory shall come in. Who is this King of glory? The Lord strong and mighty, The Lord mighty in battle. Lift up your heads, O you gates! Lift up, you everlasting doors! And the King of glory shall come in. Who is this King of glory? The Lord of hosts, He is the King of glory." (Psalm 24:7-10, NKJV)