London is nothing if not consistent when it comes to the weather. Cold, gray and damp. Pick any two.
Like Lord Nelson, we had no choice but to forge on. Hopping on to the westbound Circle line led us to the Ladbroke Grove stop for the Portabello Road Market.
The market is the biggest flea market experience I have ever seen. Cupcakes, iPhone cases, sweaters, antiques and cider are all cheek to jowl with one another in stall after stall. I could have easily lost control of the entire day here as my wife and daughters pawed over hats and jewelry with reckless abandon. I finally drug them from there kicking and screaming to head for the next place.
Hammersmith to the District to the Westminster stop. The long way round, but simpler than three or four train changes.
Which does lead me to a quick aside on the tube and passes for it. You can purchase an Oyster card which allows you to load money on it and magnetically swipe in and out of the tube. They are trying to promote usage so you actually get a discount on every ride if you do this and the money doesn’t expire, so if you have multiple trips planned it is likely your best deal.
If you are doing a single trip in the 5-7 day range, a Travel Card is probably a better bet. It allows you unlimited access to all transportation for 7 days, so not just the tube, but busses, overland trains and the DLR as well. You buy these based on the number of zones that they cover, but most of the touristy stuff is in central London, so you may only need a trip to the outer zones to get to the airport and back.
The only real hassle with these cards is that the magnetic strips on them stink. 2 of the 5 that I purchased failed on the first day. The transit authority will not replace these as the validity is based on the dates printed on the front. The hassle is that you have to have a London Underground employee buzz you in, and out of the Tube every single time. This is not that big a deal, except at peak times when it is very crowded and it can be a pain pushing through the throng of humanity to do so. If you are tubing it at the end of the day and there is no Underground employee available, they will leave a gate open that you can push through.
Exiting the tube at the Westminster station is a trip unto itself. Walking out of the station on the Parliament exit literally puts you face to face with Big Ben. I have already posted pictures of the Tower, but you can’t get enough of that. It is truly breathtaking.
Westminster Abbey is staggeringly impressive, with such a weight of history that it is awe inspiring. Kings and queens have been married, coronated and buried there since the year 1066. This does mean that there is stuff literally crammed into every nook and cranny. Many of the passages are narrow and it is always crowded, so leave yourself a bit more time than you think you will need and try to get by on a weekday morning to avoid some of the crush.
You are not allowed to take pictures inside the church, so I can only show you this external shot but it is one of my favorite parts of a trip to London. Make sure you make a trip to the poet’s corner to see the range of people that are buried or honored there.
From there it was a trip on the Piccadilly Line out to Kensington Palace. This was where Diana lived and will soon have William and Kate moving in as well. The locals are very excited to have the pitter patter of little feet coming soon.
Because there is nothing so associated with Britain as tea, we chose to have high tea on this day at the Orangery on the site of Kensington palace.
Tea is a meal that helps you make it to a late dinner and was reputedly instituted because one of the Queen’s ladies in waiting was getting light headed as dinner kept getting later and later in the day.
It is every bit as fussy as it sounds. Tiny little sandwiches with the crusts cut off, scones with clotted cream (tasted like sweet butter to me) and strawberry jam and a range of sweet pastries to finish it all off.
Oh yes, and individual little pots of loose leaf tea. I had no idea that there were so many choices…check out what is left in the bottom of the pot.
Yes, this day featured the complete revocation of my “man card”. This is what happens when you travel with four beautiful women.
Be warned that high tea, with all the trimmings is not cheap. At 22 pounds a piece a guy may still find himself cleaning everybody else’s plate or looking for some Bangers and Mash not too long afterwards.
If you want to get the experience of tea without the penalty payment, there are lots of places that you can do “Cream Tea” and just do the scones and tea for about 6-7 pounds instead. The Tea and Tattle is just down the street from the British Museum if you are looking to group some things together.
Kensington Palace had been completely redone since the last time I was there, and they had done a stellar job of it. The King’s and Queen’s wings had completely new displays and the new section on Queen Victoria was quite well done.
The best part of the museums is to get the people who work there to talk about the history for you. We got a hilarious explanation of post-Queen Anne “baby race” from one attendant who explained the one King had to get roaring drunk to sleep with his new mandated wife because she didn’t bathe!
Back to the center of London to finish the day up at the Tate Modern. I have to say that a lot of the art at the Tate was lost on me. An empty frame, a deconstructed trailer home, heating ducts shredded and hanging from the ceiling, and some really weird film loops.
It is free however, and I highly recommend a trip to the restaurant on the top floor to refresh and soak in the view of St Pauls.
We strolled across the Millenium Bridge and ended the day at the Centre Page pub. A tavern here dates back to the 1660’s so if you are looking for a traditional vibe it is a great option. They describe themselves as a “modern gastro-pub” so expect a twist or two.
I had the very traditional fish and chips.
The twist was in the mushy peas, which were highly spiced and finished with mint and lemon. Quite tasty actually!
A full day in London Town for our second day here with more to come tomorrow !