Traci had to go to the UK for a 3-day business meeting. This was her second time attending meetings there. I flew over to meet her and do some sightseeing. We spent Thursday through Saturday touring London on our own. Saturday evening, we spent the night at one of Traci's co-worker's house. London is a great way to spend a long weekend.
Silly me. I almost passed up this wonderful opportunity to see London. Traci had to go to the UK for three days of business meetings. She asked me if I wanted to fly over and meet her Thursday after her meetings were over. The flight was relatively inexpensive and our lodging was paid for. One of Traci's co-workers had even invited us to spend Saturday night at her house. So, why is it that I wasn't excited about going to England? I had never been to London and really had no desire to see it. I thought it was just going to be another modern city. Besides, we were leaving for an Alaskan cruise in two weeks. To go over seas for a few days would eat up the rest of my vacation days at work.
I'm not sure what made me change my mind and go on the trip, but I thank God I did. This turned out to be one of the nicest getaway weekends I've ever had! After returning from the UK, I decided I would never pass up another convenient travel opportunity.
I flew out of Philadelphia on British Airways (very nice airline). The flight left at 6 p.m. Wednesday and arrived at Heathrow Airport at 6 a.m. Thurday (London time). Traci had arranged for a driver to pick me up and bring me to her hotel which was about a 45-minute drive from London. The driver was a very pleasant lady who was happy to tell me about England. It's something about the British accent that makes every word spoken sound so polite. After riding through all types of traffic circles and highway traffic, we eventually arrived at Traci's hotel. I went in to help Traci bring her luggage to the car. Our plan was to stay at the Royal Gardens Hotel in downtown London.
The driver waited outside in the car as Traci got her bags together. Eventually, we got everything together and headed to London. Because of the traffic, it took about an hour and a half to get to the Royal Gardens Hotel. Our driver talked to us the whole way. She even gave us a mini tour of London. She was so pleasant and eager to show us the city. I felt bad because jet lag had kicked in. Despite my best efforts to stay awake, I ended up dosing off during the tour. I didn't wake up until we arrived at the hotel. Traci had dosed off too. I apologized to our driver for sleeping during the tour, gave her a tip, and entered the hotel.
Traci and I unloaded our bags in our room and started our trek to Hampton Court Palace. Neither one of us were really in the mood for sightseeing. It was a cold, rainy day. All I wanted to do is to curl up in the bed and get some sleep. We realized we only had three days to see London, so we grabbed our umbrellas and a map and headed out.
Traci's UK co-worker, Philamena (Phil), had emailed Traci instructions earlier in the week as to which subways and trains we needed to catch in order to get to Hampton Court Palace. We stopped by the concierge desk on our way out to get directions to the nearest subway (London Underground) stop. This was the only correct information we got from the concierge at the Royal Gardens Hotel the whole time we stayed there.
Even though the walk to the London Underground was only two blocks, it was a miserable walk. The cold rain was relentless. The umbrellas were of little use because the wind was blowing the rain sideways.
I also had to get used to crossing the streets. The British drive on the opposite side of the street than we do in the U.S.. I had to get in the habit of looking to the right before crossing. Also, there is a yellow light just before the traffic light turns green (as opposed to red and then immediately green). The traffic starts moving on yellow. Fortunately, there were 'Walk' and 'Do Not Walk' signals at most intersections.
We road the London Underground to Waterloo station where we caught the train to Hampton Court Palace. One thing I didn't like about the train station is all the pigeons flying around in there. I felt like I was going to be hit by droppings at any moment. Anyway, the subway rides and train ride from our hotel to the palace took about an hour and a half.
It was still raining when we got to Hampton Court Palace. The wind had kicked up a little more and really started to cause a chill in the air. Despite this, Traci and I purchased admission tickets and set off to explore the palace. We wandered around the courtyard and the colorful gardens for a while and then signed up for a guided tour. It was fascinating. The tour guide were dressed in medieval fashion. We saw the chambers of Henry VIII and James I. There were tapestries that have been hanging in the palace since the 1500's. There were not many tourist at the palace that day. Traci and I were the only people other than the guide in two of the three tours we took. Even the first tour only had five patrons. Traci and I toured the palace until it closed at 5 p.m.? and then hopped on the train back to the city. I totally enjoyed my day at Hampton Court Palace.
garden at Hampton Court Palace
Hampton Court Palace interior
As we approached Waterloo Station, we realized from our map that we were only a block away from the London Eye. The London Eye is 450 foot Ferris wheel whose purpose is to provide tourist with a panoramic view of the city. Instead of seats like an amusement park Ferris wheel, the Eye has glass capsules that can accomodate at least 20 people. Traci and I decided to ride the Eye that day since we were in the vicinity. We were warned that you needed to make reservations for the London Eye - sometimes days in advance. We didn't have reservations but we went to the ticket counter anyway. To our surprise we were able to purchase tickets and walk right onto the Eye. Unfortunately, by this time, the rain was coming down in buckets. We boarded our capsule and began our half hour ride (or flight as the brochure refers to the experience). The rain was still falling and causing beads and streaks of water on the glass of our observation capsule. We couldn't really get any nice picture of the city. Then I realized the rain was the reason there was no line for the London Eye that day. My recommendation is to avoid the London Eye on rainy days.
soggy view from the London Eye
The rain had stopped by the time we got off the Eye and headed back to the train station. We were getting hungry, so we caught the subways back to the hotel. We had a slightly longer ride than we anticipated because we accidently got on the wrong train - thanks to me:(. Anyway, we corrected our course and made it back to our hotel.
The Royal Gardens Hotel has two restuarants. We wanted to try the one upstairs. The guy at the concierge desk said the restaurant was open and has a casual attire. Traci and I headed upstairs to the restaurant in jeans and tennis shoes. There were a few people at the entrance in suits and evening gowns. This didn't discourage us because we were sure we would see people in casual attire like the concierge guy told us. Well, as the hostess showed us to our table, we began to feel very out of place because everyone was in suits and evening gowns. I ordered a lemonade while we were looking over the menu. By the way, lemonade in England is not the same as lemonade in the States. In England, it's more like lemon soda. It's very good though. We continued to look through the menu when finally, Traci said let's leave because she didn't see anything she wanted. Yikes! This means we would have to walk by all the suits again. Oh well, no use of paying for what you don't want. When the waiter came to take our order, we told him we wanted to leave. He told us we might enjoy the restaurant downstairs.
The downstairs restuarant had more of a Shoney's flair and it was definitely casual. We thoroughly enjoyed the meal. Traci had fish and chips which were out of this world and I had salmon. (I stayed away from any type of beef. At the time, England was battling Mad Cow disease and Foot and Mouth disease.) The waiter from the upstairs restuarant even came down to bring me my lemonade and to see if we liked this restaurant more than the upstairs one.
The next day, we bought tickets at our hotel to do the Hop-on, Hop-off bus tour of London. This tour allows you to get on and off the narrated tour buses as many times as you want for a 24 hour period. It is a really nice way to see the city. They suggest you ride the whole route to get an idea of the attractions you wish to visit and then get off at the attractions you wish to explore further. This was our intent; however, we had to change buses at Hyde Park. There was a lady who appeared to be affiliated with the tour company that was selling tickets for the Madame Tussaud's Wax Musuem. She told us that if we bought tickets at the museum, we would have to wait in the ticket line and then get in another line to enter. If we bought tickets from her, we could go right to the entrance of the museum. We bought the tickets from her and got off the bus when we got to the museum.
Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum
There was a very long line to get in the museum. We waited patiently to enter. It was well worth the wait. This was the absolute best wax museum I have ever visited. There were very detailed and life-sized wax figures of hundreds of famous people from Henry VIII to Mohammad Ali and Bill Clinton. There was also an exhibit that showed the various ways people were tortured and executed during the middle ages. The museum tour ends with a ride that takes you past exhibits that tell the history of London. There is even an amusing wax figure of Benny Hill saluting you as you exit the ride. You are let off at a souvenir shop. The museum is next to the planetarium. It was only a small fee to enter it so we did. Unfortunately, as soon as the lights went out and the stars and planets were shown on the domed ceiling, we, along with many other people, drifted off to sleep. From what I saw, the planeterium was not much different than the ones I visited on field trips in school. If stars and planets are not your thing then you won't miss much if you skip the planetarium; however, the Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum is an absolute must see.
We spent the rest of the day visiting various attractions on the Hop-on, Hop-off bus route. The bus took us passed Hyde Park, Piccadilly Circus, the London bridge, the Tower of London, Trafalgar Square (pigeons galore), the Soho district (kind of like a miniature version of Time Square in NYC), and, of course, Big Ben. We got off the bus at various stops. We visited Buckingham Palace and took pictures with the palace guards. I was impressed with how discipled those guys are to stand there focused while tourist constantly surround them for photo opportunities. We walked through the Princess Diana Memorial Park. We also walked by Westminster Abbey but did not go in because the line was long and no cameras were allowed. The sun actually peeked through the clouds for a short while during our sightseeing walks but it had tucked itself away by the time we got back on the bus. That was the last we saw of the sun for the remainder of the trip. Fortunately, there was no more rain. The weather was cloudy and remained comfortable in the low 60's the rest of our time in London.
The Hop-on, Hop-off buses stop running around 5 p.m.. Traci and I made sure we timed the route correctly so that we were dropped off at our hotel before then. That evening, we had dinner at a little restaurant across the street from our hotel. They had a varied menu ranging from Thai food to burgers and fries. I order a Thai curry noodle dish that I didn't care for. Traci had some type of chicken she wasn't crazy about. I ordered some ginger soda thinking it would be simliar to ginger ale. Boy was I wrong! It was carbonated water with a very strong, bitter ginger taste. One thing I noticed during our stay in London was that if you ordered something you didn't like, the waiters would not take it off the bill or offer a substitution. They would just do what they could to make the food or drink fit your taste. In my case, when I told the waiter, the ginger soda was very bitter, he just put sugar in it. That made it taste worst. At that point, I gave up on the soda but still had to pay for it.
The next day, we checked out of the hotel. We still had a few hours before we needed to catch the train to Traci's co-worker's house. Therefore, we needed to decide what else we wanted to see in the city. We wanted to see the Tower Of London. Traci also wanted to visit Harrod's department store. Traci's urge to shop won out over another visit to old buildings. I've heard that the Tower Of London is an absolute must see, however. The hotel allowed us to leave our luggage with them while we headed to Harrod's. We asked the concierge how to get there from the hotel. He told us it was a ten minute walk up the street. He said we couldn't miss it. Well, he neglected to tell us about the two turns we had to make. We ended up in Piccadilly Circus before we finally asked a police officer how to get to Harrod's. She gave us good directions and we made it there in no time.
Harrod's is a gigantic department store that sells everything. We were there for two hours and barely scratched the surface. Traci bought a Harrod's bag and I bought some candy as souvenirs for my family. We started to get hungry so we left in search of something to eat. We could have eaten in Harrod's but for some reason, we decided to walk. This time we ended up at Pizza Hut.
After lunch we headed back to the hotel to get our luggage and to catch a taxi to Liverpool Station. We caught the train out to the suburbs where Traci's co-worker, Philamena (Phil) was there to meet us. She drove us to her house and introduced us to her husband, Ken. They are very nice people. We had tea and chatted for a while. Phil and Ken had made dinner reservations for us at a tavern. We met more co-workers there and had a wonderful dinner. Everyone was so friendly and cheerful. They made Traci and me feel right at home.
Phil and Ken
We returned to Phil and Ken's house after dinner. We talked for a while and headed to bed. Phil and Ken had left little gifts for us on our bed which I thought was a nice touch. The next morning, Traci and Phil walked to the grocery store. I was a little embarrassed because I slept so late. When I came downstairs the breakfast table was already set.
Phil had arranged for a driver to take us to the airport. The driver arrived after breakfast. We said goodbye to Phil and Ken and thanked them once again for their hospitality.
Traci and I truly enjoyed our trip to the UK. It was short but I felt like I saw a lot. I also loved the fact that we had the opportunity to spend time with residents of the UK. This trip had to be one of the best long weekend trips I've ever taken. I will definitely tag along the next time Traci has a business trip over there. We may even try to take the Chunnel to Paris next time. Main Page...
Magnets Purchased on this Trip: (click to enlarge)Entire fridge magnet collection...