Before we went, we did lots of research. That included blogs, so what I’m posting here is my view of our experience. You may go to the same areas we did and have a totally different experience. If you’re planning a trip, hopefully this will be helpful. If not, at least may it be entertaining!!
We headed out from our cute little row house in Gargrave to turn in our “hired” car. Returning was much less dramatic since our brave driver was by now pretty used to it. We did see Highland cattle (which are from Scotland but we didn’t see any while we were there) and a few different looking sheep as we headed back to Lancaster to return the car.
After we paid the equivalent of $7-ish a gallon for “petro” we returned the car and caught a taxi to the train station. While we were waiting at the train station, a short train came through and after it was gone, someone mentioned that it was the Queen’s train. She was at a ribbon cutting or grand opening or something going on in a nearby town. When we finally boarded our train, after having a little panic that we thought we missed our train and nearly got on the wrong one, we were crossing a trestle and flashed past the Queen’s train just sitting there. Don’t know if they were waiting to pick her up and that is safe place to wait????
We had an otherwise uneventful trip to London, enjoying the countryside and small towns we went through. We came into London and debarked. We definitely had packed too much for easy public transportation handling. I will say this, though, while we were in Scotland it was chilly enough that we were grateful for all the warm clothes we had brought along. By now it was warmer and traveling lighter would’ve been nice. I have a backback that holds my camera and extra lenses as well as my laptop. We still had quite a bit of details not worked out so we did use the laptop in places where we had internet service. The downside was the backpack doesn’t hold much more than my the above mentioned items, so I still had to have a suitcase.
When planning our trip, we had agonized and bellyached about where we wanted to stay in London. Being budget travelers 🙂 , we didn’t want to pay city motel prices. One option that Rick Steves recommended for the really budget-minded that was in the heart of old London was Easy Hotels Victoria. The pros were: 1. easy walking distance to many of the London sites we wanted to see, and close to access to the Tube. The cons were: 1. small, small rooms, no place to prepare/store any food, meaning eating most meals out. And as we mentioned, food prices are fairly high. Some of the rooms had only space for the bed. Some are more roomy. So based on the mixed reviews on Trip Advisor, we decided to forego that option and chose an apartment outside of the city proper.
We didn’t realize just how far out of city central we were. We knew there was a train station very near our apartment but somehow we couldn’t make the connection to it. We ended up catching a bus to our area and did some backtracking once we realized the street had changed names and were suddenly on our street and the numbers were going the wrong way, and the bus was jam-packed with people getting off work for the day or coming home from shopping! Whew! Yeah, that’s how we felt by now! We finally found our landlord, who owns a bar on the street level, and he showed us to our apartment on the third floor. We were delighted by the spacious 2-bedrooms and living room/dining room. It was fun to look out the window and see the activity.
Ruby is having fun describing the virtues of the biscuit she’s holding. We had many hilarious, stress-relieving times! It was vital!
We were delighted to find a restaurant right beside our stairs that had fish and chips, as well as kebabs. Fish and chips, of course, are ubiquitous in this area, but this was our first good taste of them. I would’ve been happy eating them every day. Lois and I were first introduced to doner kebabs in Germany by our uncle Lewis. They had become our “fast food” staple on that trip. They usually cost about $8 (US) and include chips. An inexpensive, quick meal. We did have our own kitchen so we made some of our own food. A small grocery store was on our block too, so we could get what we needed there.
We bought Oyster Cards which are good for multiple modes of public transportation. You can pre-load as much $ (sorry, I don’t have the English pound symbol) as you want. When they worked, they were great. But inevitably someone had an issue with them. And then the station where we usually transferred from the DLR train to the Underground (Tube) was called Elephant and Castle. And it was under major construction and not well marked at all. By the time we had all of the public transportation figured out, it was time to leave. In the meantime we had some funny, tense, hysterical experiences.
Oh, yeah. Forgot to remind you this was a few weeks before the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, and 2 months before the Olympics, so there was a lots of prep going on for that. It would be interesting to see if things were any different now that both of these big events are over.
The city of London charges a daily Congestion Charge of 8 pounds (US $12-ish) to drive in the city. When they first implemented this in 2003, “they say” traffic dropped dramatically for a while until people got used to paying, now traffic is thick once more.
A three-lane roundabout ^ The bus merging into the traffic straight ahead is like the one we were on.
We threatened to take a taxi somewhere just to ride in their cute cars but didn’t get it done.
Are we really here?!?!?
Some rugby fans
The first evening we were there, we made it to St. Paul’s Cathedral in time for Evensong, an early evening service. This is was a chance to see the cathedral for free, plus enjoy some spectacular music and a short sermon that was surprisingly down-to-earth and timely. Why surprisingly? We were in an old cathedral (where Charles & Diana were married, no less) that is ornate and, well, the Church of England. We weren’t allowed to take and pictures inside and I never did find any postcards to buy of the inside. It is the 4th cathedral to be built on this site and this one is over 300 years old. This has been a site for christian worship for over 1,400 years, according to their website.
We then walked along the Thames River toward the Tower and Tower Bridge. Most of the businesses along the river were closed and this was a popular place for people to run in the evenings.
The original London Bridge which is much prettier, is located in Arizona. That funny glass building is called The Shard. It is 72 stories high.
Eventually the sun came out for one last beautiful blast of the evening!
View of Tower of London from the Bridge:
We opted to take a Big Bus tour and purchased tickets at a souvenir shop in the Tower area so we could catch the first bus in the AM. I also bought what is my favorite souvenir from this trip:
It also has a lid. When I bought it I “worriedly” told the cashier that I don’t drink much tea, and is it okay to drink coffee in it. He said, “Um, sure, that would be okay.” It took him a little to see the twinkle in my eye! 🙂
What some Londoners eat for breakfast:
Not us. We had biscuits and gravy at the apartment. So not proper or organic.
We pretty much had the bus to ourselves since not many other tourists were out and about at 8 AM.
We rode for a while, seeing as much as could before getting to Buckingham Palace to see the Changing of the Guards.
Westminster Abbey Western Entrance:
Westminster Abbey North Entrance:
Parliament Building with a side of Big Ben (har har) :
One of the frustrations of shooting with a wide angle lens is lens distortion. Since I couldn’t fix this one in Lightroom, I decided to distort it further:
Big Ben, I’m sorry!! *sob*
We arrived at the Palace about an hour before the Changing of the Guards. Already there was a crowd gathering and we managed to sqeeze into a “second row” and got to chatting with the family between the fence and us. It was a doctor, his wife and their 3 adult daughters from Alabama. We had a great time comparing experiences. The father explained how he was now such an expert in Jane Austen since they had already visited Bath, and how he was sure this would come in handy on the golf course. He was good-naturedly sarcastic. To our left was a young Asian lady from Seattle who was chatty and giggly and we had fun with her too.
From the the photo below we knew that the Queen was “home”. Can you figure out how? Hint: the picture may be a little misleading but it was a windless morning.
The William and Kate kissing scene on the balconey? That center balconey. It’s a massive building, eh?
After watching the guards on site for a while, then a few marching back and forth, to and fro, and then back and forth again, we began to come up with our own commentary on what was happening. I have a feeling it wasn’t very accurate.
Finally, a group of guards (coming on duty) entered stage left and then those coming off duty. It would be more interesting if you had specific instructions as to what was happening.
After about 45 minutes they still weren’t finished and we decided to leave and let someone else have our place.
We caught another bus and finished another loop of the city tour. There was much more of the city that is covered by the tour package we bought, but there wasn’t enough time to do it. By this time traffic had gotten much thicker and it took a while to get anywhere. We took a water taxi which was a part of the ticket package down the Thames to the Tower and took a tour there. After a late lunch/early supper of what else, fish and chips!
We went through the Prison area where they showed their methods of torture.
Another building hosts its military history.
On closer look I see he was looking at me. He looks rather unconcerned at the Canon pointed his direction. Or is that a look of panic?
Yeomen Warders aka Beefeaters guard chatting with my sister:
We went through the building housing the crown jewels which was quite amazing! Thankfully they have a conveyor belt running past the showcases so you got a good chance to see them and you can ride it as often as you want. It was quite mind boggling to think how much money is housed in that building!
As mentioned in an earlier post, we were in England 7 days. We were in London area from Wed. afternoon to Sat. morning, plus, we chose to spend Friday on a day tour (will be Part 5 of this trip) of other parts of England we wouldn’t see otherwise. We only scratched the surface of London and would strongly advise staying longer if you want to do justice to all there is to see. Things were much more spread out than we expected and it took much longer to get around than we expected. The bus tour was great in that it gave us an overall visual tour of the area we most wanted to see. The downside was that we were on it from 8 ’til about 3 or 4 and didn’t get to see many other landmarks. I think the Westminster Abbey would’ve been the next thing on my list to see if we had time. If you only have a few days to see London, pick the things you most want to see and concentrate on getting those done. You won’t see it all in few days!!!
When we left the city on Saturday, we discovered that the train schedule was different. Trains left from Crofton Park every 30 minutes instead of 10. And then we were really glad we hadn’t waited until Sunday because the trains don’t run at all. Maintenance and all that good stuff! We had thought we might have time to squeeze in one more stop at in London but then we’d have had to leave super early, arrange for a locker at the train station, and not knowing how congested things would be on a Saturday, gave it up. We wanted to get to our small town in Wales before it was dark.
Oh, I forgot to tell you a very funny moment on the train one evening when we were about wiped out. After multiple frustrations at finding our way around, working at getting our exit schedule mapped out with the transportation system (were going to catch a train from Euston Station to Wales on Saturday) and were very weary. Lois said, “We need to connect in Elephant and Garlic (station).” We about died laughing! And once you’re that tired, it only gets funnier the longer you laugh. Yeah, it’s supposed to be Elephant and Castle. We had grown elephant garlic (large garlic bulbs) in our garden a few years back and that was stuck in her mind somehow.
One last parting shot, the ever-present phone booths: