Our return home from London after our month long vacation was way too soon. After only 2 days, I decided it was the most beautiful city in the world. We’ve been to many incredible cities so that’s saying a lot. When we booked our November-December trip, we were concerned that England would be cold and miserable, so we opted to spend most of our time in Italy with only two nights set aside in London. Arriving in Southhampton, after our Mediterranean cruise on Queen Elizabeth, the weather was cold and foggy as we suspected. But to our surprise, the sun came out as soon as we drove into London and remained that way the entire 3 days we were there.
Getting to our hotel in London from the Ship
The friendly crew on the Queen Elizabeth booked us a transfer to Victoria Station. The plan was to arrive at the station and take a subway to our stop at the Embankment. Instead, the coach delivered us to the Victoria bus station across the street.
Huffing and puffing, we schlepped our bags to the station and then discovered we had to walk down several flights of stairs to reach “the tube.”
There wasn’t a lift (elevator) anywhere we could find. After hoisting our bags down the stairs and into the tube, we arrived at our stop. From there, we walked a couple blocks to our hotel. That would have been no problem if we were in our twenties, but we’re in our sixties. From now on we vow to penny up for a cab next time we have a crazy idea like that.
We stayed at the Strand Palace Hotel in the heart of the West End. It was a perfect location next to Coventry Garden and smack dab in the middle of the Theater District. Our room was small, even though we had ordered an extra-large room, but it was comfortable. A friend of ours, who had stayed there before, suggested we book our room in the back of the hotel rather than looking out to the busy Strand. She was right. It was delightfully quiet.
Day 1 in London
My toe was still aching after tripping over my suitcase in my stateroom but it didn’t stop us from spending most of the day walking around the West End. It was festive and sparkly with Christmas decorations. December is a lovely month to be in London. We soon found ourselves in the courtyard of Somerset House, which was decked out with a skating rink and a huge Christmas tree. We watched from a safe distance as happy skaters took to the ice.
Lunch at our first London pub
Our concierge recommended we have a bite at the Wellington Pub on the corner and to go up to their upstairs dining room. The Strand is lined with an array of whimsical pubs with funny names that have been there for centuries. The Wellington was definitely old world and was quite popular. Its walls were decorated with posters that described the history of the West End and the pub itself.
We ordered their “famous” fish and chips with mushy peas. I had a mulled wine to wash it down that’s only available during the Christmas season. “Fish and chips” is not a meal that would be considered “health food” because it’s fried, but I loved it and cleaned my plate.
A night at the theater on the West End
Later that night, we took a cab to the Prince of Wales Theatre to see The Book of Mormon. An American play is an odd choice for a trip to England, but it was hilarious. London theaters allow you to eat and drink in your seats, unlike most American theaters. During the “interval,” ushers walk around selling everything from chips to ice cream. The show played to a packed and enthusiastic house.
After the show was over, we stopped at another little pub on the way back to our hotel and ate more fish and chips. We’re lucky we didn’t have heart attacks. As we left the pub, it started raining a little, and we were a bit soggy by the time we walked back to the hotel. Fortunately, that was the only “London weather” we experienced while we were there.
Day 2 in London
The next morning started off overcast but gradually became sunny again. Since we only had the one day to explore the city, we decided to jump on The Big Bus Tour. It’s a hop on hop off bus that includes a river cruise. We picked up the bus a ½ block from our hotel. We’re big fans of hop on hop off buses. They’re a perfect way to see a city quickly and you can get on and off anytime you want to look at the sights.
A Red Line bus we hopped on had a live commentator who pointed out all the best pubs and areas of interest. He must have been an actor because he was quite entertaining. We hopped off at the Tower of London to board our River Cruise on the Thames at the Tower Dock. Our boat took us close to the London Eye. We could have gone on a longer cruise but we were confused and got off too soon. It was a lovely ride, though.
At the London Eye, we boarded the bus again and went back to our hotel to rest.
Sightseeing on our Hop on Hop off Bus
Later, we boarded another bus and took it to look at St. Paul’s Cathedral.
Doug was a little miffed that photography wasn’t allowed in the Cathedral, but it’s understandable. We attempted to climb to the top of the dome about 530 steps straight up. We made it to the Stone Gallery just below the top but then pooped out. Our vantage point offered a panoramic view of the city. The stairway is extremely narrow and probably not a great idea if you’re claustrophobic.
After leaving St. Paul’s, we again boarded the bus. This time, we took the Blue Line. We spent the next several hours (without lunch) and saw most of the city, with one stop off at Buckingham Palace.
We didn’t return to our hotel until after dark and were famished so we had dinner at the Daawat Indian Restaurant inside the hotel. I had curried Lamb Dopiaza with an Aubergine (eggplant) side and Doug had the spicier Lamb Biryani with a spinach side. The warmth of good Indian food is so comforting and appealing on a chilly day and the restaurant surpassed our expectations. After dinner, we were exhausted. Sadly, we had to leave early the next morning for the long haul home.
Returning home much too soon
Vacations are the best but the travel days to and from destinations are often challenging. A handsome and dashing driver picked us up promptly at our hotel to take us to Heathrow airport. 4 days earlier, Heathrow had been paralyzed by an air traffic control glitch. We were lucky it was resolved before our flight.
Our return flight from London was on American Airlines. They call it The New American because they recently acquired U.S. Air. Our first plane was ancient and I thought it was too small to be flying over the Atlantic. It had old fashioned TV monitors hanging from the ceiling to view movies and entertainment. I had to squint to see what was happening on screen. On the way to Europe, our US Airway plane had TV monitors installed in front of each seat. The flight home was also cramped. There were 2 seats on each side and 3 in the middle. I’d never spend the money to fly first class on that airline. The seats looked old and uncomfortable.
Hmm – Don’t fly list?
We landed at Raleigh/Durham in North Carolina. After standing in line for customs, we boarded a U.S. Air Jet. I’m sorry to say it was dirty, there were no movie screens or music outlets and, worst of all, there was poop and pee on the floor of the lavatory. I couldn’t wait for the flight to end. From now on, the New American will be on our don’t fly list.
Although, the flight was remarkably smooth despite the negatives.
In the morning after we returned home, I weighed myself and was delighted that I’d only gained 2-3 pounds. It was amazing to me since I’d eaten myself silly for 4 weeks. All the walking we did paid off.
Getting back to reality is always the hardest part. If I could, I’d be back on a plane to London in a second because darn it, I didn’t even get to shop at Harrods!
If you were in London what would be the first thing you’d want to do? I need to plan my itinerary for when we visit again. LOL