A second visit to London

Trip Start Aug 02, 2012
Trip End Aug 02, 2013

Flag of United Kingdom  , England,
Sunday, November 25, 2012

We arrived at Aksinia's without any troubles and even remembered how to get there without a map! Her and her flatmates were amazing and let us stay there for five nights!!! We were so grateful and lucky to be fairly close to everything. We caught up on news for a bit, made a few plans and then headed off to bed.

The next morning we woke up to a wet day. We decided it would be good to be indoors and headed off to see the British Museum. Now when I say "see the British Museum", I mean see the tiniest part of the museum as it is enormous! We had a Rick Steves audioguide which led us on a tour of the Egyptian section. He described one of the mummified sights as the remains of a tourist who tried to see the entire museum in one day. Taking this into account, we stuck to a smaller part and decided to save the rest for another day. The time listed on the guide was 1.5 hours and we were there for at least three. Some of the highlights were:

-        The Rosetta Stone: when it was discovered they were able to use it to decipher Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics which they had been unable to do beforehand

-        The Assyrian winged lions

-        The mummies: there was quite a display of mummies including people, cats, fish and a cow

-        The Parthanon pieces: the Elgin Marbles and the statues from the Parthanon were quite amazing

-        The exhibit on tea customs from around the world

After a brief snack, we continued on to see Covent Garden which was beautifully decorated for Christmas. There was a huge tree outside with lots of pretty lights and red Christmas balls. We continued inside and admired the enormous Christmas balls hanging overhead; in the next room they had huge candy canes hanging from the ceiling. We quite enjoyed seeing all the decorations and it put us in quite a festive mood.

We then headed back to Aksinia’s to meet up with her and drop off our stuff before heading out to dinner. For my birthday we went to Jamie’s Italian which is one of Jamie Oliver’s restaurants. There was one nearby so we walked up the street in time for our reservation. It was really busy, but we had a nice spot overlooking the rest of the restaurant below. To start we decided to share pumpkin and smoked mozzarella nachos. They came with a fresh tomato salsa and were delicious (even if they didn’t look like what you would call a nacho). For the main, Aksinia went for chicken liver tagliatelle while Anoop chose the wild rabbit tagliolini. I had the wild mushroom cilindretti pasta pillows which were delicious. For dessert we had a chocolate brownie with raspberries and ice cream and tiramisu. It was all amazing and we were glad for the walk home to help digest a bit!

November 22

Today we started our day at Big Ben. It was quite an amazing sight and definitely a must-see! We had our audio guide which led us on a walk around the area and eventually down to Trafalgar Square. We also had a great view of the London Eye and a wander past the parliament buildings. We then walked around Westminster Abbey (but didn’t go inside). The entrance fee was really high considering we had seen incredible churches for free, and we decided we could always save it for another trip if we wanted. On our walk, we passed by Downing Street, where the prime minister lives. The guards at the gates (and those at parliament as well) were posing for photos with the tourists which we thought was quite a change! We also passed by a monument to the women of World War II which was the first of its kind we had seen on our trip so far. We continued on past guards on horses (who were just as straight faced as those at Buckingham) and arrived in Trafalgar Square. We ate our lunch quickly since it was rather chilly in the wind and then headed up the street.

We arrived at “Her Majesty’s Theatre” for our performance of Phantom of the Opera. Phantom is one of our favourite musicals, battling it out with Les Mis for the top spot. This time, Phantom definitely came out the winner! This was by far the best performance of Phantom we have seen so far. The stage was a lot smaller, as was the theatre (compared to the Queen E back home), which made everything so much closer. We were sitting in the second level, a few rows back and had an amazing view. Christine, the Phantom and Raoul all had incredible voices and were easily heard over the powerful music, which isn’t always the case. None of them out sung the other which was amazing because there are so many duets and sometimes one of the singers is a lot stronger than the other. We enjoyed every minute of it and would recommend it to anyone going to London!

One big difference between theatres in London and those at home is that you are allowed to bring your drinks and snacks into the theatre. All around there were people sipping on their wine or other drinks! At intermission, the ushers brought out a stand to sell mini Haagen-Dazs ice cream and candy! Luckily it wasn’t noisy candy and everyone was very polite about not crinkling wrappers during the performance.

After the performance we wandered up Regent Street which is one of the huge shopping streets in London. They had it decorated with lights for Christmas in the “12 days of Christmas” theme. It was quite pretty strolling along although quite busy with people. We ducked in to Hamley’s toy shop which was enormous. It is 6 floors of toys, puzzles, games, you name it! It was actually rather overwhelming with the sheer number of people inside as well as sales staff showing off the latest and greatest toys, or at least the most gimmicky. They were the kind that are cool to play with once and then remain in the back of the closet forever because let’s face it, Lego and Playmobil are really the coolest toys out there! Regardless, we had a great browse all the way to the top floor where we were greeted by the royal Lego family, waving over the balcony at us. They were quite well done and Anoop didn’t actually believe that they were made of Lego so we went back another day for a longer look.

We then set off to the Victoria theatre to meet Aksinia. We had found bargain tickets for Billy Elliot the night before and decided that we wouldn’t mind seeing two shows in one day. We sat way up in the centre of the nosebleeds, but with the theatres being so steep, it didn’t feel like we were too far away. The musical was really well done. I don’t remember the movie much, but thought that they did a great job with the music and the choreography. The actor who played Billy was great as were all the kids in the show. It was quite something to see a show centred on a 12-year old because it was so important that he be just right for the part. We quite enjoyed it and were glad we had seen something new.

November 23

We headed off for a bit of a later start since we couldn’t meet up with Aksinia until later that night. We headed over to the theatre where Wicked performs to book tickets for December when we would be back for a few days. We also booked tickets to the Lion King, both of which would be new shows for us. We then headed back over the bridge near Big Ben and the London Eye to walk the other side of the bank. There was a small Christmas market taking place so we thought we would check it out. It was all extremely overpriced (even the frankfurters!), but fun to stroll through regardless. We saw the same cinnamon bread treats we had picked up in the Czech Republic for 50 kc (approx. $1) going for 3.70 (approx. $6)!!! There were some really nice wreaths made out of dried citrus fruit and cinnamon which smelled delicious. Perhaps something to try next year…

We then headed back along Oxford Street, another big shopping area, to view the Christmas light displays. This time they were sponsored by Marmite, so all the lights had a Marmite theme. We quite enjoyed them, especially the one of Santa turning green and throwing his treat away. We also ducked in to Hamley’s again so that Anoop could see the royal family. I also got my photo taken with the Queen and her dog, also made of Lego. Wandering around some more, we found C3PO and Darth Vader also scattered around the department…  We popped in to John Lewis, a big department store like the Bay (but nicer displays) and enjoyed perusing their Christmas department. I found a really cute felt robin ornament to add to our tree.

November 24

Seeing as it was Saturday, Aksinia was free to join us on our London explorations. She had some shopping to do and since it was raining, we thought this would give us a good chance to check out some of the famous department stores.

First we headed out to Portobello Road to explore the market there. Unfortunately, because of the rain, we didn’t have the greatest time. It was hard to check out all the stalls because of the mass of umbrellas everywhere and water pouring off the awnings. We did find a pretty china mug with red anemones (the flower, not the sea creature) and picked that up as a souvenir which brought our mug count to 9… Had we known we would accumulate so many in such little time, we would not have bought any to start when we stocked the van! We ducked in to a fancy clothes shop to get out of the rain for a bit and admired their display of old sewing machines which they were using to decorate the walls.

We then set off for Harrods which is apparently also a must see. We did admire the food market, but it was so incredibly packed (probably with everyone hiding out from the rain), that we couldn’t properly enjoy it. We had a look at the caviar (125g for 1250) and the 20 fish & chips and re-affirmed that we were just browsing. We then headed over to Fortnam & Mason where Anoop found the largest pepper grinder ever. We wandered up to the top floor where they had their tea room just to poke our nose in. We decided it was definitely not for us and even if it had been, we likely wouldn’t have met their dress coded!

November 25

We woke up to a much nicer day and set off for the Barbican Centre. Aksinia had mentioned that there was a display on called the “rain room” which had opened in October and had had hour long waits to enter ever since. She had asked earlier when the best time to visit was and the lady said get there before 10 and you would probably be in about an hour later. We decided to check it out together since she hadn’t seen it yet either. It worked out quite well since we chatted in line and the time passed quite quickly. The rain room was an interesting experience. It was a large room which had an area of “rain”. The idea was that you walked slowly through it and the sensors would stop the rain where you were standing. We watched for a while until it was our turn and there was a little boy having so much fun running through it (the sensors weren’t fast enough for running!) and getting absolutely soaked. When it was our turn we wandered in. It was a very strange experience to have it pouring everywhere but where we walked. We spent about 10 minutes taking pictures of each other through the rain and then headed off.

We wandered off through Camden market and browsed through all the stands. There were some really neat stalls and we quite enjoyed perusing. I picked up a really cute coin purse which meant I could retire my old one to “currencies we aren’t using at the moment” as our ashtray was getting rather full. We picked up some spring rolls to munch on as we walked up the street past chai for sale and people playing Carrom (an Indian game sort of like billiards but with checker size pieces). Anoop was quite excited and would have sat down for a game if we had enough time. We stopped at a hugely popular bagel spot for 3 salmon and cream cheese bagels and 2 doughnuts for the bargain price of 5! They were delicious!

We arrived at the flower market and were glad to see it still in full-swing. You could tell that they were going to close up soon because they were really trying to sell the last of their flowers. They were shouting out prices left right and centre and everyone was buying up beautiful bouquets. It was super affordable compared to flowers at home and you could get a huge bunch for 5 and then combine it with other stuff to make an enormous bouquet. It was our first time at a market dedicated solely to flowers and we loved all the colours and hustle & bustle.

We then headed back to Aksinia’s to finish packing up. Anoop relaxed a bit too much and we ended up leaving a bit later than planned. We rushed to the underground with our enormous duffel bag which was not the easiest to carry. Anoop decided for time’s sake to put the duffel bag on his back so it was easier to carry. Unfortunately he tripped on the stairs heading up out of the station and the weight just pushed him down to the ground. Luckily he was ok, just a little bruised, and we continued on. We made it as the bus was loading, climbed aboard and relaxed on the hour or so trip out to Gatwick airport. From there we caught a shuttle to the hotel and checked in. We had booked online with a discount website which gave us a great rate. We arrived at the hotel to see that they were charging 200 for the night and were glad we had got a good deal!
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MIke J on

I just LOVE London - one of my favorite cities. When I was travelling to Europe a lot for business, I would often spend my weekends there, so lots of your pictures are familiar. You are right, the museums are so large that you need to break it up into small visits - otherwise you go numb. Like the musicals too - and the weather did not look that bad either.

MYL on

You covered it all. I love London. So much history, culture, shopping and art to offer.

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