London - my introduction

Trip Start Oct 17, 2011
Trip End May 22, 2012

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Flag of United Kingdom  , England,
Tuesday, April 10, 2012

April 10-24, 2012: Thirty-nine years ago I was in London. Two girlfriends and I were hurrying around the Continent and Britain, "doing Europe" - I think it was 13 countries in six weeks. It's a blur now, but it was my introduction to foreign travel, and I do remember many highlights. On more recent trips to this side of the Atlantic, I have always avoided London, not being a big-city kind of person, but I decided it was time to devote two weeks to it this trip. I spent the first few days feeling overwhelmed and low-energy from my days of long walks along the Thames and then a wretched cold. But by the end of the first week I could say I really like London. There is so much to see and do!

This city is unlike anywhere I’ve ever been. And I have never climbed so many steps - at the Underground stations, in museums, up towers and domes for good views, and 84 steps up to my room! I stayed in a small, self-catering studio flat on the top floor of a Georgian-style (I think) rowhouse in the Kensington area. I bought an Oyster card, the public transit pass, and made good use of it, riding the Tube almost every day.

I met up with Sue, my friend from Ashford, and we journeyed down the River Thames to Greenwich, Sue pointing out the notable modern and ancient buildings along the way. We visited the Observatory and its exhibits about the road to determining longitude at sea, the Planetarium and of course the Prime Meridian line. Too bad we were just a bit too early for the reopening of the restored clipper ship Cutty Sark. It was fun to see a filming of Les MisÚrables taking place on the streets of Greenwich, actors and extras dressed in 19th century French costumes, horses draped for a funeral procession and a big French flag at half-mast.

I attended concerts at the beautiful, famous venues of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Barbican Theatre and Royal Albert Hall, the latter being a gala celebration for St. George’s Day with lots of patriotic songs and flag-waving.

I got together with a few of the women I met on the Christmas Walking Women holiday for an outing to some of the real ale pubs in the city. I enjoyed reconnecting with them.

London Walks is a well-regarded company that offers a wide range of walking tours around London. I went on four: Secret London (lots of back streets that you wouldn’t normally find out about), Tower of London (what a history! and Crown Jewels too), The Blitz (compelling) and Old Westminster by Gaslight (gas lighting is still used in some areas of London). All the tours were interesting; all the guides were good. Following the Westminster tour, many of us went into the House of Commons and the House of Lords to watch the evening proceedings from the public galleries.

London has a lot of green spaces and public parks. You could walk all day just in Kensington Gardens and the adjoining Hyde Park.

It rained most days of my stay, so I got used to wearing my waterproofs and carrying a brolly. I made brief visits to the Victoria & Albert Museum and the British Museum (Rosetta Stone, Lewis Chessmen, mummies...), but they warrant a few days each, and I just didn’t have the time or energy. I saw Buckingham Palace and Canada Gate opposite it but never saw the Changing of the Guard. I did spend over three hours at the very interesting Churchill Museum and Cabinet War Rooms. I have a very long list of places I want to go next time I come to London. I want to return asap!
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