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A couple weeks in England - London

Our last stop was a week in London. Exhausting in every way -- distances, crowds, walking and dining, yet totally worth it. My overall impressions were (1) everything is expensive and (2) the main sites were crowded (except St. Paul’s) (3) there are not many capital cities more varied and interesting (4) taxi drivers were a disappointing bust.
I so enjoyed London’s taxi drivers on my last visit. This time, we had 4 rides, none of which were great. The first driver, as we later learned, drove us around unnecessarily from Paddington to the apartment, charging us a full 10 pounds more than he should have. The second driver primarily spoke Russian and showed little interest in speaking anything else, and I tried a couple of languages. The third driver complained during the entire trip how credit card companies take him to the cleaners and how he can’t insist on taking cash, but he’d really like to. The fourth at least said thanks at the end of the ride, but my two questions were greeted with an “I don’t know.” They weren’t hard questions. Uber, on the other hand, was reasonably priced (sometimes cheaper) and the drivers were personable, responded quickly to requests and were very well-versed in short cuts about town.
We started with a London Walks tour, but the Thames Sightseeing: Brunel’s River Cruise was less than expected. After all their great reviews, I was annoyed that we gave up one of my preferred activities for it. It consisted of a boat ride on the Thames, which was a public boat filled with noisy people, making it very difficult to hear the guide, who even for a group of about 20 did not use a microphone/headset apparatus. It covered everything promised in the description, but we felt it was just plain boring. I’m no architecture/engineering type, and I had hoped to be educated and entertained. Very little of either happened. There was one long walking stretch with absolutely nothing to gain -- sites, education, or scenery. I wouldn’t recommend that particular tour.
We generally shoot for one major site a day and leave the afternoons open for more relaxed, less structured activities. On Saturday, we visited Windsor Castle, too. It was really, really crowded, although it was a weekend. I get they need to maximize their income, but to me it seemed like they need to better enforce and limit the timed admissions. In terms of the crowds, and their less-than-polite behavior, it was a job. Expect to go through the full-blown airport security drill, including removing a money belt/neck wallet, belt, etc. No one seemed to expect it (we didn’t find this anywhere else), and it slowed down the line considerably. However, the rooms were lovely, the docents happy to talk for hours (to the point we had to excuse ourselves twice) full of interesting information and clearly enjoying their jobs. The cafeteria staff were exceptionally helpful. As soon as they saw my husband’s wheelchair they jumped into action hastily rearranging the nearest table and volunteering to navigate the line with me and carry his tray up the stairs. Our helper even made a special trip to the kitchen to try to procure 2 more bowls of vegetable soup (again, we were cold!), the supply of which had been exhausted on the serving line. He came up with them, which was most appreciated. It was delicious, as were the scones, tea and accoutrements. Opting for the changing of the guard here vice Buckingham Palace was a good choice --front row by showing up only about 15 minutes early.

The War Rooms and Churchill Museum were great. The last time I visited, the museum was not yet open, so it was an added bonus for me. We entered at opening and the first 15 minutes were a drag because everyone started at the beginning. Next time, I think I would walk further into the museum and start there, maybe returning to the beginning later. There were about 100 people in line at the opening, however at 1 pm, there was no line at all to enter.

Posted by
3936 posts

However, the rooms were lovely, the docents happy to talk for hours
(to the point we had to excuse ourselves twice) full of interesting
information and clearly enjoying their jobs.

I'm nodding my head in agreement. I haven't made it to Windsor yet, but I find the docents at English museums to be the best and friendliest in the business. Last Fall in Salisbury the front clerk hinted to us that one of the docents will be thrilled if we show any interest at all at the Amesbury Archer exhibit. He was thrilled and he ended up giving us a guided tour through a couple of galleries. At the Tower of London I took interest in a door in the White Tower and the docent jumped on it and we (he) talked for 15 minutes about it.

Posted by
2460 posts

I’m sorry you were disappointed with the taxi drivers in London but I just have to share my recent experience. It was raining buckets, I needed to get to the other side of town for a play at the National Theatre and my underground options were not available that day (2 weeks before the Coronation), so I hopped in a cab. My usually trusty umbrella would not open! The taxi driver said, “don’t worry, Love, I have an umbrella for you”. He certainly did and it worked beautifully and probably cost more than the taxi fare! I brought it home with me and it resides in my closet with the other gear for inclement weather!

Posted by
760 posts

I know they aren't all bad -- they weren't on my last 3 or 4 visits and I know they have a great reputation. Just bad luck for me. I'll try again next time.