England Vacation 2010: London (Day 3)

Originally published in July 2010. Now that I have a blog dedicated to travel, the trip is being republished where it belongs.

Don’t miss the beginning of the trip…read about the trip in order.

Day 1
Day 2

Having never tried to document my vacation via blog DURING the vacation before, I was completely unrealistic in my plan to post a daily blog of the prior day’s activities. Even after I realized on day 4 that I couldn’t keep up the writing, I figured that I would write the remaining posts on the long flight home and get them posted in the days immediately after the trip.

Wrong again.

Basically, we got 4 hours sleep for the first few nights. The first night was a result of a 6:00 AM flight out of St. Louis, and the next two nights were because both of us were trying to journal/blog before going to sleep. We quickly gave up recognizing that it was more important to experience the trip than to document it.

Now, over a week after I’ve returned home and all caught up with my work, I’m ready to tackle the rest of the trip.

If you haven’t read the earlier posts, I suggest that you start by reading Day 1 and Day 2.

London Trip – Day 3:

When we purchased our Big Bus Tour tickets the day before, we were given the option of picking up a 2nd day for only £10, which seemed like a deal at the time. In retrospect, we should have only done one day with the bus tour since it took so much longer to get around via bus than the Tube (subway). But we didn’t know that in advance, so our transportation on Day 3 was via the Big Bus Tour.

We decided we wanted a fast breakfast, so we stepped inside a casual Prett A Manger. Prett’s is like Bread Co is in St. Louis…one in every corner of town. The food is mostly in a refrigerator case, something like you would see at an upscale grocery store where sandwiches are ready for you to pick up and purchase. Everything is organic and the food looked healthy and fresh.

I love egg salad, so was thrilled to discover that this is a standard feature in London (they call it egg & mayo). I grabbed an egg, mayo & bacon baguette and an Americano coffee (drip coffee with free refills is really nowhere to be found).

The plan was to check out Buckingham Palace and then walk over to Kensington Palace. We had heard that the changing of the guard ceremony was a bit of a let-down and you had to get there so early that we decided not to go for the ceremony, and figured we would swing by the palace, shoot a few pictures and move on.

The day, like most of our days, ended up a mix of stuff we planned and things that just happened.

On our way to Buckingham Palace, we noticed a small park with a large monument, so we decided to check it out. We ended up spending about an hour at Wellington Museum Park, which had a number of war memorials in addition to some statues.

We then realized that we couldn’t get into Buckingham Palace from the side we were on, so we ended up backtracking and walking along a street that separated the palace gardens (behind a high wall) and Green Park. Totally clueless that the changing of the guard ceremony was about to start, we got a great view of the horses and riders as they headed to the palace, with traffic crawling behind them.

We arrived at Buckingham Palace just in time to squeeze behind 3 rows of people and get a somewhat blocked view of the ceremony. Holding my camera over my head, I actually got some good pictures.

After the ceremony was over, the large crowds that had probably been sitting there for an hour quickly dispersed, giving us a chance to take some more pictures without all the people in the way.

Our next destination was a short walk away, Kensington Palace. Compared to Buckingham Palace where you couldn’t get any closer than the gates, you can explore the inside of Kensington Palace. They actually have created a bit of a silly game with you searching for clues to figure out which princess each room scene was describing. The rooms were made up like fairy tale sets. The one I liked the best was the room with the mattress stacked about 10 feet high.

The biggest thing that struck me in Kensington Palace was how dark it was throughout the building. With the curtains drawn and only dim electric lighting, I can imagine that living in a palace hundreds of years ago was a somber place. Though we enjoyed ourselves exploring this palace, if you are going to London and don’t have as much time as we did, you might want to skip this site.

After exploring the outside gardens, we headed for a late lunch and found ourselves at Stanhope Arms, a typical pub. Trying to go with authentic British food, I ended up with the Big Ben burger…a greasy patty topped with the British version of bacon (more like what we would call Canadian bacon), cheese and a fried egg. Oh, and a Foster beer. We decided very early in the trip that ever meal would be accompanied by a 1/2 pint of beer that we hadn’t tried before.

The rest of the afternoon consisted of walking to a Big Bus Tour stop and waiting for almost an hour, then finally deciding just to walk back to our hotel. What a surprise when we realized we were only a few blocks away!

One thing that I do remember vividly is seeing two London policeman standing on the side of the road between the Palaces with a radar gun. Suddenly, one of them stepped out into the street, held up his hand in front of him and got a speeding Porsche to stop so he could give the driver a ticket. Brave soul.

We finished off the night by going in search of dinner. We decided to buy our Tube pass tickets and took our first subway ride on the underground. The system is remarkably easy to navigate and we immediately decided we wouldn’t be getting on a bus again.

I honestly don’t remember where we headed to dinner. I know we stopped at the Notting Hill station just to see what the area was like, but we had picked out a part of town we wanted to see and headed there for dinner.

We wandered around a bit, ending up at an Italian restaurant in the Arab part of town. It was a wonderful meal but it was a bit odd seeing all of the rows of men lining the sidewalks at tiny tables with their backs to the buildings and watching everyone walk by. Honestly, it was one of the only times in London that we felt a little uneasy, and we headed back to our tube stop after dinner to get to bed at a decent hour.

Lessons Learned:

  • The Tube was a much better way to get around than sitting in traffic on a bus, or waiting for the bus to arrive
  • Keep your subway pass handy since you need it to get the gates to open up and let you out after you have arrived at your destination
  • Unless you just have to get a great view of the changing of the guard, show up right before it starts, then stick around another 30 minutes afterward so you can get good pictures without all the crowds.
  • Upon arrival I had noticed that the computer lobby computers had a screen saver that said the internet service cost money. It wasn’t until day 3 that I actually asked and found out that the wifi was free if you had your own computer. Make sure to ask and not just assume.
  • We didn’t cram as much into this day and we were able to go at a more leisurely place…huge improvement.