1st Stop... London England!

Trip Start Jul 30, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Saturday, September 2, 2006

     Ahhh, 6:30am and here we are at Heathrow Airport outside of London. Had to pass on the free shots of Dewars at the Duty free shop
(surprisingly... there was a line of people waiting for shots!).  Time to get our bags do some repacking and off to the city.  We decided that instead of buying tickets for the Heathrow Express at 14 pounds each, we each bought all day passes (good for both buses and the underground) for 6.30 and made our way to town one problem was that we had to wait until the Picadilly Line started to run at 9:30.  So we did a bit of wandering around stopping in the Marks & Spencer and later found a hotel booking service where we found a hotel near Westminster Abbey.  Although the hotel was one of the cheapest they could recommend.... it would still blow our daily budget!  10 minutes off the plane and we already blew our budget!  Having been here several times before we knew London would be one of our most expensive stops and that we could make up the difference in the coming months.  The budget was just a rough guideline to keep track of our expenses.  Eventually we were on our way and an hour later we hopped of at Victoria Station and found ourselves near The Wellington Hotel, a stately old building (originally the College of Theological Studies) complete with its own library, chapel and a large park across the street where there was a Cricket team practicing.  Once in our room we decided to go against everyones advice on fighting jet lag the first day by going to sleep at a normal hour... I hit the proverbial 'wall' and decided to take a short nap.  England lived up to its reputation w/a cloudy overcast morning.  Perfect for napping.  The sound of the wind through the leaves of the ivy outside our window sounded like a light rain and provided a cool breeze.  We slept like babies.  Three hours later we tried to drag our heads from the pillows.  I think I was still asleep for an hour after I got up!  We were anxious to see London and to enjoy the rest of the day.  
     Last time we were in London we had booked a hop on/hop off bus tour over the internet.  This is definatly the best way to spend a day getting familiar with city.  I dont remember if we took a) http://www.bigbus.co.uk/ or b) http://www.theoriginaltour.com/ (the Original is found in many cities around the world, we saved a few bucks by saving our receipt and saving 10% on our next tour in the next city).  Surprisingly, London is a very walkable city.  We decided to spend the rest of the day mostly on foot.  With the advice of the hotels front desk we walked back to Victoria Station, we each had a pasty to keep us on the go and took a red double-decker bus (using our all day pass) to Trafalgar Square, walked down to Big Ben and Parlament, over the Thames River to the huge ferris wheel named 'The London Eye'.  Heading east along the river we crossed at Waterloo Station and took the tube to Leicester Square to see the statue of Cupid w/the neon signs in the background. (It seemed to be the Times Square of London).  Walked a bit more and ended up in the SoHo area.  The area had a lot of character but seemed like it could get a little 'dodgy' if we stay too late. We stopped at a grocery store, Sainbury Market, for another snack, then walked back through Chinatown for some Dim Sum Pork Rolls and then back to the hotel.  London is great but the exchange rate hurts a bit (At this time 1 English Pound is equal to $1.90 American Dollars, so you are paying almost double the price). We strongly suggest doing the hop-on/hop-off double decker bus tour in the afternoon.  The ticket is good for 24 hours so you can get two days of use and you can see everything in both the daylight and at night.  Usually this gives a very different feel to the same location and gives you twice the photo opps and since it is hop on/hop off, you can use it as transportation if you are going somewhere.

     The next day we were up early for breakfast (nothing special) then we hopped on 'The Tube' (subway) to meet my distant cousin Lisa from Australia (her mom is a Bartorillo) at Hammersmith Station.  After a short walk we were at a traditional English pub/restaurant (The Queens Head, built in 1711!) for a proper Sunday Roast.  We started off w/a jug of Pimms.  Lyn and I had never had this before and were a bit apprehensive, but it was excellent!  The only way I could describe it;  Similar to white Sangria w/the fruit.  It would be very good on a warm summer day.  Lisa had the Pork Roast, I had the ham and Turkey and Lyn had the Sirloin roast w/Yorkshire pudding (which is not pudding at all, but more of a pastry).  Prices were not too bad. 22.85 Pounds for all three meals, plus 9.95 for the Jug o' Pimms.
     Lunch hit the spot! The weather broke and the day turned out to be very sunny, so the three of us made our way to the London Eye for the best views of London. This is definitely the BIGGEST Ferris wheel any of us had ever seen.  In fact, at 443 feet (135 meters) it is currently the largest in the world.  From the top you can see all of London with a birdseye view of all the landmarks.  Afterwards we walked along the South Bank Centre esplanade along the river enjoying the company, the views of the city and the many street performers.      Soon our day came to a close and it was time to part w/Lisa.  We had to get back to the hotel, grab our bags and stop at the grocery store for some food to go, including Dandelion & Cordoon (Burdock) soda! and head to Waterloo Station for our train ride to Paris!  At Waterloo I decided to use my last 5 pounds to buy a Chicken ceaser bagel sandwich.  Afterwards the bloke at the register said my money was no good.  Apparently England had redesigned the back of their 5 pound notes and discontinued the one I was holding!  I guess this was a leftover bill I had from a prior trip to England.  Luckily I had enough in coins to cover it.  It was getting late and I had to run to get to the platform for the 8:35pm train to Paris.  Of coarse, there was Lyn... giving me that look that she is famous for.

Travel Tips:
It is sometimes cheaper to book things in advance from home (via the internet).
Some perks are available only to foreigners.

The Wellington Hotel - 71 Vincent Square/ London - around the corner from Victoria Station www.the-wellington.co.uk or wellington.reservations@grangehotels.com

Map of Londons Subway/Underground/The Tube...

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