Archive for February 2013

Last Day in Glorious London…   1 comment

It was my last full day in London.  I refused to let sadness creep in…there would be plenty of time for that during the flight home the next day!

After my pub walk the night before I allowed myself to sleep in.  It was my plan to go to the Museum of London and they didn’t open until 10:00 in the morning.  However, as I stirred and thought about the morning, I realized that with my lunch reservation at the Savoy Grill at 1:00 I’d be forced to cut my time short at the museum.  As I worked out the logistics in my head, I threw open the drapes of my room and was greeted by the sun beaming down upon me.  Well that made up my mind!  It was too nice a day to spend indoors!  I would have to put the Museum of London on my “next time” list.

I whipped out my phone and went to the London Walks website to see what walks I might be able to join that morning.  Well, wouldn’t you know it?  There was a “Subterranean London” walk scheduled to go at 10:30 and the meeting point was literally two minutes from my hotel.  Perfect! 

I got dressed and popped into Pret a Manger to grab a croissant and a bottle of water.  In all of my trips to London I’ve never been to Pret, but found their ham and tomato croissant a perfect (and reasonably priced) fit for my morning.  Tasty too!

The Subterranean London walk was very good, even if you didn’t actually go underground.  Our guide, Kim, effectively explained what was happening beneath our feet though!  The tour began in the Victoria Embankment Gardens near the York Water Gate which marks where the bank of the Thames used to be (135 metres further in than today!).

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We covered Joseph Bazalgette who created London’s sewer system…beginning the clean-up of the Thames and non-contaminated drinking water for the citizens of London.  We stopped at the Ministry of Defence (located where the Palace of Whitehall once stood) and found out the amazing effort they went through to preserve Henry VIII’s wine cellar.  It was discovered when they started to digging beneath the Ministry.  It was too important to destroy, but too fragile to dig around, so they encased it in steel and scaffolding and moved it over so they could continue their dig, then moved the cellar back into place. We talked about the digging of the Jubilee line which runs beneath the Circle and District Lines (a massive feat of engineering as they managed to do so without disrupting service at Westminster Station…which of course is next to the Houses of Parliament).  During the dig the Clock Tower housing Big Ben began to shift so the engineers had to come up with a solution to that before proceeding.  We stood outside the entrance to Churchill’s “secret” war rooms…which according to the guide are actually only 10-feet beneath the surface and wouldn’t have protected anyone in there had a bomb actually struck them.  Really a very interesting walk and a great way to spend a sunny morning in London!

I did have to leave the walk just before the last stop so I could make it to the Savoy Grill and my lunch “by” Gordon Ramsay.  Lunch was a mixed bag.  The appetizer that I had (a stilton and leek tart) was to-die-for, but I found the steak and ale pie to be just fine (the pastry surrounding it was a bit mushy, leaning toward undercooked).  I was disappointed as my lunch at his Maze Grill a couple of years ago remains one of my best meals ever consumed.  The atmosphere at the Savoy Grill was lovely and the service superb.  The set menu at £26 for three courses is a good value (the ala carte prices would be double that).  My disappointment in the steak and ale pie may have just been me though.  A woman at a table next to me also ordered it and exclaimed it one of her best meals in a long time.  Go figure!

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Lunch took an hour and a half…a good half hour of that was me trying to get the bill.  I understand that in England you need to ask for the bill (whereas in the US, the waiter will deliver it when your meal is done) as they allow you to linger, but as a solo diner, it seemed a bit ridiculous that they seemed hell-bent on drawing out my experience.  Rather than being relaxing (if I were dining with someone else I’m sure I would have enjoyed lingering over coffee and conversation) it was just annoying.  I was done with my meal and my dessert, had no water or coffee to fiddle with, so there was nothing else to do but leave!  Of course part of my irritation stemmed from my wanting to make a 2:45 walk…a desire that went up in flames as the clock ticked.

Ah well.  It was a lovely experience and I would recommend it if you can get the fixed menu!

I walked to my hotel and decided to begin packing.  I figured if I spent a little time on that now, I wouldn’t have a big chore that night (I was meeting friends for dinner and drinks, so I knew I wouldn’t be early!).  That pesky chore taken care of I walked over to the National Portrait Gallery and spent some quality time there.  The Tudor exhibit is always worth a look and they’re always swapping out paintings so you have a fresh experience.  They also have a Marilyn Monroe in London exhibit right now which was interesting. 

I popped into the Chandos pub next for a pint.  It’s a Samuel Smith house which means their beer is relatively cheap for London.  My pint of bitter is £2.90 (although I recall this being £1.60 back in 2004!).  I wash it down then head northwest toward Russell Square as that’s where I would be meeting my friends later.

I have a lousy sense of direction.  Convinced I was heading northwest, I somehow ended up southwest and back on The Strand.  Sheesh!  Well, a stop at Café Negro for a cappuccino and their free Wi-Fi, allowed me to pull up a map and get myself back on track.  Looking at a map of London when I got home, I still have no idea where I literally “went south”.  I had made it to the Covent Garden tube station, made a conscious effort to continue northwest, and blew it.  Ah, well, I always wanted to see the Australia Centre didn’t I?  😉

My bearings firmly in place I made my way to The Lamb. 

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This pub is often used for pub meets on Trip Advisor’s London Forum.  None of the pub meets I’d attended had been held here, so I was excited to finally visit this “famous” pub.  (If you ever make it to London, check Trip Advisor for pub meets.  Usually held at least once a month, it’s a great way to meet fellow travelers and locals!)  I spent a lovely evening with decent pub food, good ale (Young’s) and good friends new and old.  I wonderful way to spend my last night in London!

 

 

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Posted February 19, 2013 by cubechick in London

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Day Three Continued. ..   Leave a comment

Spamalot! Let me preface this with I am not a fan of musicales, but have been dying to see Spamalot. Since the play came out, I’ve just missed it in London (twice!) until now!  Not only is it here it is a block from my hotel. It is a sign!  

Overall I loved it. Even the mocking singing was too much for me (the Lady of the Lake singing about what happened to her part) at times but I laughed out loud numerous times. If you like Python, check out this play  

In the evening I decided to kill two birds with one stone and go up to Hampstead for a pub walk. I’ve always wanted to go to Hampstead and take a pub walk, so there you go!   This was a great way to spend an evening as a solo traveler. The walk itself was £9 plus any beverage consumed at one of the three pubs you stopped at. With 20 minutes allotted at each pub, the walk was about three hours. I highly recommend it.

So far I’ve had a wonderful time. The weather has even cooperated. I’ve only been sprinkled on once!  I can’t believe tomorrow is my last day. 😦

Posted February 17, 2013 by cubechick in London

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Westminster Hall at the beginning of the tour of Parliament   Leave a comment

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Posted February 16, 2013 by cubechick in London

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London Day Three   Leave a comment

Great start to day three.  

Took a tour of Parliament this morning. My only complaint is that too many tours were going on at once. At times it was difficult to hear our soft spoken guide with other groups right on top of us. They would benefit from using headsets or spacing out the groups.  

On to the good (of which there was plenty!)  The tour began and ended in Westminster Hall. The oldest part of Westminster Palace. It was built around the time of Westminster Abbey and many historic events took place there. Including the trials of Charles I and William Wallace.

We found out that when the House of Commons and Westminster Hall caught fire during the Blitz,  they let the Commons burn to save the Hall.

Seeing for yourself the gilt and pomp of the House of Lords in contrast with the simple stone and oak of the House of Commons was just too cool.   I definitely recommend this tour. I also recommend buying your tickets in advance. I zipped right in while everyone in front of me was turned away and told to go to the Jewel House to get tickets. Also all of the tours around me were full, so planning ahead is key.  

After the 90 minute tour, I wandered around, taking pictures along the South Bank.  

I eventually ended up at The Old Shades for lunch. A pub on Whitehall I saw recommended on Trip Advisor. Nice atmosphere and tasty fish and chips. Looking forward to Spamalot in a bit!

Posted February 16, 2013 by cubechick in London

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Temple Church   1 comment

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Posted February 15, 2013 by cubechick in London

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London, Day 2   Leave a comment

I feel like I’ve hit the jackpot for London weather. Last week they were having snow. Today it’s gorgeously sunny with a high of 50. Sweet!  

After I shake off the sleep,  I go to Café Rouge for breakfast. It’s a French chain a stone’s throw from my hotel. I love their Croque Madame for breakfast.

I then head to Westminster Abbey. I am sorely disappointed that they are only offering two Verger tours for some reason so I’ll miss out. The Verger tour is well worth the extra £3 fee. They tell you tons about the Abbey (I always learn something new) and the tour gives you access to the Chapel and tomb of Edward the Confessor (off limits otherwise)  Also, if you want to attend Evensong, the Verger will get you prime seats in the quire.  

Anyway,  I happily roamed the Abbey (one of my favorite places in London if not the favorite) my own commentary running through my head. One of my favorites is Queen Elizabeth’s tomb. Death masks were made from her face and hands for her effigy. I always find myself lingering, peering at her face and how worn she was at her death.    

Onward,  I caught the tube to Borough Market. I had wanted to visit here any way, but I was luckily meeting some friends for lunch.

A handy app I downloaded for this trip was Trip Advisor’s London app. It will give you suggestions,  but what I’ve found handy is its maps.  When I arrived at the Market I didn’t find the street I was looking for after looking around, so I keyed in the name of the pub. A map pops up with a compass. I quickly zoom in on the map and find I’m one block over. Brilliant!

Lunch was at The Market Porter. A hit with the beer fans and everyone enjoyed their meals. Two thumbs up!  

After a leisurely lunch we wandered around the Market. Wow. Foodie Heaven. I don’t think that there could be a food you wanted that you wouldn’t find here. Numerous meat, cheese, produce, game, sweets, and tea stalls. Even beer and wine stalls. After poking around, oohing and aahing, and sampling ( £79 a kilo cheese from Oregon anyone?), we went our separate ways.  

I walked along Bankside for a bit until I crossed the Blackfriar Bridge. I continued along the Thames, enjoying the scenery, before moving inland to Fleet Street. My mission was to find the Temple Church of Da Vinci Code fame. I had tried to find it before and failed miserably. I found it this time thanks to direction from a friend and my handy app!  I arrived just after close but felt victorious nevertheless!  

I celebrated with a victory pint at The Edgar Wallace. Just off of Fleet Street this great little pub fills up quickly after 5:00, but I arrived just before the rush, snagging a table. If you don’t know what kind of beer you want, bartenders in London will gladly pour a sample. I settled on a plum porter to savor my victory.  

Eventually I found myself at a mediocre Italian restaurant called Prezzo for dinner. I waited too long for service,  was brought the wrong wine and served flavorless pizza. Not recommended!  

I wrapped up the evening with a wonder around the National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery (open until 9:00 on Fridays)  I thought about having a pint, but on a Friday night,  all the pubs were mobbed. So it’s an early evening for me.  

Tomorrow,  Parliament and Spamalot!

Posted February 15, 2013 by cubechick in London

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Chorizo Hash @ The Riding House Cafe   Leave a comment

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Posted February 15, 2013 by cubechick in London

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