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London - 18 Aug - 23 Aug - Trip update

So I finally made it out of Boston and am writing this in St. Athans at Kings Cross in London. I'm going to briefly update this post everyday with my day - hope a few of you read it and like it or at least find my experiences useful.

Here goes:

  • Aer Lingus is a weird airline. For the first time ever I was made to stand in a line to check in while they took 10 minutes or more to take my passport away to simply photocopy my visa. Why? Who knows?

  • Stop over in Dublin. No sleep. Dublin to Heathrow. Dozed a bit. Landed in London on 18th Aug at 1:30pm. No checked in baggage at all.

  • Mom and Dad were flying Qatar Air from Mumbai and they got caught in a terrible line for immigration. Waited for 2 hours for them, they eventually got out of the arrivals terminal at Terminal 4 at 3:30ish.

  • Bought 3 Oyster cards and loaded a 7 day travelcard on each of them. The operator performed 3 separate transactions, meaning I lose transaction-fee money 3 times. Why not just buy all 3 with 1 transaction? Weird.

  • Each travel card cost 41 pounds'ish. That's apparently 31 for the Zone 1 travel card and 10 topped up to adjust my travel from Heathrow to Russel Square.

  • Getting off at Russel square and checking my balance revealed that there was only 3.50 pounds left of the additional 10. Wonder why. Any clues?

  • St. Athans is a nice little place. Super tiny rooms and shared bathrooms but really we knew all that when we booked it. No complaints.

  • Ate dinner at an all vegetarian Indian place - Woodlands in Picadilly Circus. Delicious food but costs a pretty penny - 47 pounds for the 3 of us.

  • Plenty of stairs everywhere in the tube. Dad's having a hard time. There are elevators and escalators too though, which makes matters a little easier. I need to study the bus routes a bit more closely - just that the tube is so much more convenient.

  • So far so good though, and I'm just very tired with very little sleep in the last couple of days. Tomorrow Dad will ride the London Eye, and we'll try and see the changing of the guards in the morning. If things go well, we'll try and fit in a visit to the Buckingham Palace in the afternoon. Big Ben and a few other attractions are all enroute - between Westminister Abbey (view from outside or view just the free part if there is one) and Buckingham Palace.. so we'll see all that too.

Will check in tomorrow and tell you guys how things went :). Thanks again for all your help - this trip wouldn't even be possible without your help :)

Posted by
3380 posts

This guide may be of help to you in your quest to avoid stairs in the Tube. They can be avoided! Good luck, enjoy your trip, and I look forward to reading your daily posts!

Posted by
137 posts

Thanks Anita. I did look at that guide quite a bit. Kinda weird that Picadilly circus has a million stairs though - you'd expect a lift to be there at least - it's such a central station.

Emma: Thanks again. Life is good so far. We're all very tired and Dad's knees aren't great, but that apart we did a lot of stuff and are ahead of schedule. I'll plan tomorrow's route just by bus now - we did the bus a couple of times today. The only problem I am having is planning while traveling - and I don't have a phone, just my laptop at the hotel with Internet. So if my plans change during the day, that causes trouble. But I'll give it a shot tomorrow, there's enough walking as it is.

Next post will have a brief update on what we did today :)

Posted by
137 posts

Day 2: London

  • Booked tickets for Dad for the London Eye at 8 pm on Day 2.
  • Booked 3 tickets online for Buckingham Palace for all 3 of us at 3:15pm on Day 2.
  • Another 4 hour sleep day, I'm pretty f*** tired :)

  • Late start. We wanted to start off with changing of the guards but didn't get out of the hotel till 9:45. All the stairs climbing slowly, meant we reached Westminister at around 10:30, which was too late to make it to Buckingham Palace or St. James Palace.

  • Saw Big Ben, Parliament and Westminister Abbey, all from the outside. Neither Mom or Dad were interested in seeing the inside.

  • Passed a number of old government buildings on Whitehall, that whole street is full of them. Also passed 10, Downing street but obviously weren't let in :)

  • We did catch the Horse Guard Parade, pretty cool the way all the traffic just stops and the horses pass through.

  • London is easy to cross the streets. Reminds me of India in the way people laugh at death while jaywalking. Its much easier than in the USA frankly :).

  • Slowly made our way over to Trafalgar square and spent a little time there. Its a nice place and has a nice central area just like in Picadilly Circus. We all sat there for a while.

  • The National Gallery was just there as well, so I changed plans a bit and we spent a lot of time inside. Mom loved it and had her heart's fill viewing all those paintings. I very gently felt a painting to feel its raise surface and a dude came running in panic, and said it cost 3 million pounds and that I was screwing its surface up. Really? I hardly touched it. But maybe its true and even a small touch can cause chaos.

  • Practically skipped lunch and walked over to the Buckingham Palace. St. James Park is quite a huge park - we never went inside though. Plan to come back on Thursday for the Changing of the guards, maybe we'll lunch in St. James that day :)

  • Took a bus to Victoria station, which is pretty pretty huge and very chaotic too. Plus some lines were delayed a lot. It appears to be a major terminus though.

  • Back to Westminister - Exit 1, and we walked to the London Eye. Too many steps really but Dad somehow managed it all - some of them can't be avoided at all as they lead down into the space where the London Eye is. The other option is to pay 3.50 pounds and cruise across the Thames using a company called City cruises from the Westminister tube stop.

  • Dad did the London Eye. Said it was pretty much not worth the 17 odd pounds for sure. So anyone reading this, please don't waste your money, there's probably other great observation points.

  • You have Internet access (Access point name is The Cloud) at the London Eye ticket window. You have to sign up and create an account though. Use a fake name and address - it's fine :). The 4D experience of the London eye lasts precisely 4 minutes - although they call you 30 minutes before (Why? who knows). Ask to get into the fasttrack line though, they let Dad in for no extra charge.

  • We crossed the road and took bus 159 towards Marble Arch and got off at Picadilly Circus and had another meal at the same hotel as yesterday as everyone were tired. Another 47 pounds. Sheesh. Emma: 47 pounds included service charge - none of us drink. But we're all strict vegetarians and eat only in places (as far as is possible) where there is no cross-contamination possible, so I guess we pay a premium for that.

Tomorrow: Plan is to do St. Paul's cathedral (or some other free cathedral if I can find one) and the Tower of London and Tower bridge for sure. Will maybe relax a bit in Covent Garden later on. Will plan all routes using buses. More updates tomorrow. Thank You everyone who is reading.

Posted by
8031 posts

I'm sorry but you thought it was appropriate to walk up and touch a painting in the National Gallery!!? Why? Stunned that you would consider doing that but your use of the term "dude" to describe the guard who cautioned you speaks volumes. As far as paying 47 pounds for a meal for 3 Emma is right that's not bad for London. She's also absolutely correct in encouraging you and your parents to ride buses. Will help eliminating wear and tear on your dad's knees. Considering London is a hugely diverse city surely you can locate all vegetarian restaurants that will cost a bit less. Might consider looking at eating at any of the famed markets. Camden Lock, Borough, Brick Lane. All have food stalls where you can find vegetarian offerings.
BTW there's free wifi in all Starbucks, Costa and Nero Coffee shops. Hyde Park, Hampstead Heath, Regent's Park are huge.
Great places to sit and watch people though. Picnic as well. FYI the Crown Jewels are encased in glass so you won't be able to "slightly touch them," either.

Posted by
5182 posts

Central London underground stations were by and large originally built before the First Word War - accessibility was not much of a concern back then, and not even in the stations built more recently up until the 1990s. It does feel annoying though when they have a lift from the street towards the platform but the last few metres involves stairs. About 7% more of the stations have been made accessible in the last 10 years, but some probably never will be.

Posted by
3442 posts

Here's a link that may help, Time Out's vegetarian restaurant list.

As Claudia said, please do not touch any paintings in the museums! The oil content from your skin is not good for the very old paint on the painting and your fingernail may scratch the painting! Also, the canvas the painting is on gets very dry and delicate with age. Can be very easily torn with touching or poking. Please do not touch any artifacts on display in any museum. It is considered very bad behavior, and in some museums, you will be asked to leave and escorted out by the guards.

If they think you have damaged a piece intentionally, such as tearing off a small piece of fabric as a souvenir, or accidentally poking a hole with your finger in a painting, they will arrest you and charge you with causing a dollar amount ($2500, $10,000, $60,000) of damage, which would be the cost of repairing the item by a qualified restoration specialist. You and your parents would be forced to cover the cost of repairing the damage. And there may be jail time for you as an additional punishment. Don't touch stuff in museums unless it is labeled as an interactive display, such as pushing a button to start a video.

Posted by
45 posts

I can't imagine not wanting to see the inside of Westminster Abbey. To me, it's a huge part of history. It's absolutely fantastic.

Also, my family and I thought the London Eye was well worth the price. We also walked to the top of St. Paul's Cathedral, which was a different, but still wonderful view. You may want to consider it, but your father couldn't do it. There are 528 steps.

Good luck with the rest of your trip.

Posted by
137 posts

Thanks all for your replies.

@Claudia: I do understand now and will not do it again. I haven't visited too many art galleries at all and was not familiar with that process. As for dude, honestly that was just a funny way to describe him, that's all - I did not mean any disrespect at all, obviously he was just doing his job. I use the word in a lot of places to describe a very wide variety of people, it honestly means nothing.

Yes noticed the crown jewels were in glass, I did feel the glass though :)

@Rebecca: Yes got it and that was a bit scary too - I'll take care next time. It was just that the surface seemed to protrude a little bit and I was curious. I hardly touched it to be frank, my skin barely brushed the surface. Obviously though, I was wrong in trying to do it. Got it.

@Bonnie: To each their own I guess, thanks for your wishes.

@Marco: Thanks. Yes, we did use a lot of buses today but used 1 tube at Tottenham Court Road at night and that was quite terrible.. sadly. Tomorrow I'll completely eliminate all tube travel.

Posted by
137 posts

Day 3:

  • Booked tickets for Tower of London from the hotel itself.
  • Left at around 10am. Caught 2 buses - 1 from Russell Square to Royal Court of Justice and 1 to Tower of London. Took longer but was much kinder on Dad's knees, so I guess it was fine.
  • Tower of London was quite nice, we looked at the Coin Minting section, Torture chamber, Medieval Palace, Crown Jewels and the White Tower. They were all pretty cool - the armor section in the white tower where horses had them too, was news to me. I was unaware of the same. Lots and lots of steps though and we were all pretty tired at the end.
  • Timed our exit so we could see the lifting of the drawbridge (Tower Bridge) for a ship to pass. The sun came out at the same time too, so that was nice and made for a very pleasant 15 minutes.
  • Took a couple of buses from there to Harrod's departmental store on Brompton Road in West London (bus number 9 enroute to Hammersmith). Harrod's is unbelievably huge. And super super pricey too :) - not that we were planning to buy something, we window shopped most of the time. But it was kinda nice to just roam around for a while.
  • It was around 8 pm by now and we caught bus 14 to Warren Street and got off near Soho square, Chinatown. It was a less thab 10 minute walk from the bus stop to a veg restaurant in Soho Square. But since everyone was so tired and the area looked a little shady (lots of pubs and bars) and a slightly lonely street - meant that Mom and Dad didn't feel too comfortable walking through.
  • Reached the restaurant just before it closed (thankfully the guys still let us in and let us eat a meal). Food was decent enough and was only 27 pounds this time for the 3 of us - nearly 20 pounds lesser than the Picadilly place. Will try Emma's Drummond street place some time if I can :)
  • Walked to Tottenham Court road and took the tube home (the only time I did that today) and there were an insane number of stairs staggered over many levels. From tomorrow, I plan every single thing - no more tube at all if I can help it.

All in all, quite a nice day - just a bit shaken by the fines that I could have been hit with for the painting, I didn't think I was doing any damage at all - anyway, a scary experience that I will learn from. Some of the guns and swords and coins in the Tower of London, I touched - that didn't seem to be a problem. Obviously, painting touching though is a strict no no.

Tomorrow will head off to Buckingham Palace again and catch the changing of the guards, hang out a while in St. James park and have lunch maybe there. Then in the afternoon, we'll try and do one of the museums British History, Science or Victoria and Albert. We wanted to do Sherlock Holmes too, but apparently that takes a long time in the lines - and we were wondering how good it actually was. Will decide tomorrow, probably go a bit easy and give Dad and his knees a bit of a break.

Posted by
8031 posts

Arvind, PLEASE keep you hands in your pockets. Don't touch dinosaur bones, paintings, coins, swords, vases, statutes, etc. These expensive prized items are there for everyone's enjoyment not just yours. They have been preserved for hundreds, sometimes thousand of years, for our collective enjoyment. Think about it. If everyone touched them would they still be as well preserved as they are? Be respectful or, as noted, you might learn the hard way that museums are not toy stores.

Posted by
137 posts

@Claudia: Yes agreed. I will not touch anything going forward.

Today was a pretty bad day overall though and we're back at the hotel at just 3 pm. Dad was feeling a lot of pain in his knees and couldn't walk much. So we just watched the Changing of the guards, which has a huge number of interested people by the way. We didn't get a great spot frankly, and could see very little clearly. In fact, apart from the first row of people, unless you were pretty tall or had an elevated spot somewhere nearby, you wouldn't be able to see much at all. Anyway it was something Dad always wanted to see, so that's done.

We then spent a couple of hours just sitting in the grass in St. James Park, after which Dad said he couldn't walk much more and we all came back. Sadly, a waste of a day :(

May go out alone in the evening and meet a friend if he's free.

Posted by
31025 posts

Not a lot wrong with Soho Square, only that Crossrail has a big footprint.

Posted by
137 posts

Thanks Emma, Nigel. Oh I'm sure Soho is fine, its just that Mom and Dad, having lived their entire life in India and are very quiet people - that they found the music and pubs and drinking on the pavement a little disconcerting. We didn't have a problem and made it back to the hotel safely.

Dad's never used a stick Emma, even at home - but maybe its a good idea to get him one. I see a Boots location very close to St.Athans - I will go there and buy him one tomorrow. He can use it whenever he feels its need.

On another note, I went to a place called Ravi Shankar on Drummond Street to eat today with a friend. It had some awesome food and I got quite a lot for 28.50 pounds for 3 people. That seems like a reasonable price. Thank You for introducing me to it.

Lastly, I'll have a few hours on Saturday morning before my train to Brussels in the evening from King's cross. Is there some countryside that's close to London - just a lot of green fields and the like, that's accessible by train/bus to me? Mom was saying it'd be nice to do something like that. I want to get back to King's cross by around 4pm. I'll obviously Google things up today, but was wondering if you or someone else could suggest something too.

Tomorrow we'll try and see as many museums as we can - I'm expecting we'll be able to see 2 at most. Science and Victoria & Albert is what I have in mind. If that goes well, maybe walk up to Hyde Park and relax there a while and grab dinner somewhere in the evening.

Posted by
3442 posts

Arvind, Here's the link to the Red Cross, who have wheelchairs for loan. Your father may benefit from having one of these for the rest of his London trip, even if he does not need one at home.

Also, wheelchairs can be borrowed at the British Museum (and the Victoria and Albert possibly) for use in their museum. You must call when they open early in the morning to reserve one. It would be a lot easier for you father's knees to move him around in one of these. If you tell me when you are going, I will send them an email and tell them you are coming, and that you need a wheelchair.

Posted by
137 posts

Many many thanks for that extremely kind offer Rebecca. I truly appreciate it. But the thing is that Dad will almost certainly refuse to use one. He has these knee braces and Mom and me have to keep reminding him to put them on all the time.

I'll certainly keep it in mind though and ask him if things get worse. Thanks again :)

Posted by
3428 posts

Kew Gardens is a lovely 'green' area!!!! Not rural, and not 'fields' as in crops, but really lovely- a rose garden, several green houses, and numerous fields of flowers. They have a tram that makes a circle and stops often so you can get on and off and back on another one. Their shop is one of our favorites in London, too. I know you can get there by tube, and am certain there must be a bus route, too. Great place to escape the hustle and bustle of the city.

Posted by
137 posts

Thanks Toni, Emma. I'll see if I can do something like that. Its nearly 9 am now and everyone is still packing so I'm guessing its a little late to start and no one seems particularly active today :)

I'm thinking we'll look at the British museum for a couple of hours, grab lunch and then head off to Hampstead Heath for the afternoon. We'll then come back to the hotel, grab our luggage and head off to St. Pancraas for our train which is the 7pm Eurostar to Brussels. Does that sound reasonable? Or is there a better suggestion to kill a few hours instead of Hampstead Heath?

Lastly, I also need to return my Oyster cards. I'm assuming I can do that at St. Pancraas?


Posted by
31025 posts

Yes, you can cash in your Oysters at St Pancras. There are sometimes queues at the windows so leave plenty of time.

Remember that you need to be checked in at Eurostar a clear 30 minutes prior to departure or they won't let you go. This is a Bank Holiday weekend with the likely combination of fewer staff and bigger crowds so delays wouldn't be a big surprise. After you check in you and your luggage will go through airport type security and go to the big waiting room before you are called up to your train. Note that you have to watch the screens - there are not loud boarding calls. In the waiting room you can charge devices and use the free wifi, and there is a Caffe Nero coffee place and WH Smith newsagents, as well as the service desk which sells some Paris Métro tickets (only carnets and Paris Visite - at a markup) which can be helpful; they also have freebie Paris maps.

Posted by
9 posts


Excellent trip report! I am going to similar places next week in London and its so nice to get a current update on lines, wait times and routes. :)

Posted by
31025 posts

Yes, you're right, Keith.

Missed that.

But, just BTW, I think that the service desk airside at St Pancras is very Paris orientated. I think that the only Brussels help is a small map. That's a shame, really. If anybody can correct me and point out other Brussels services at St Pancras I'd love to hear it.

Posted by
137 posts

Day 5:
- We caught a bus towards the V&A museum and spent a good 3-4 hours there. It was quite a nice museum with a ton of different kinds of art (painting, metal, brass, coins etc). I wonder what the underlying theme of the museum was though. Would it just be under "art" in general? Mom and Dad both liked it a lot.

  • Had lunch in the garden of the Natural history museum. Dad then went off to Natural history while Mom and I went off to the science museum nearby. The steam engine section was quite nice and the Energy section and Health section on the 3rd floor was quite interesting too. I liked the clock section too, but wished I knew a bit more about watches and stuff - as I started to get overwhelmed after a while :)

  • The museum then closed at 5 and the whole of Exhibition Road got cordoned off. It was quite cool to see cops still on horses here and not on bikes or in cars :).

  • Walked back to the V&A museum and took a bus to Hyde Park corner. Spent a couple of hours there. Dad just rested on the grass while Mom and I walked quite a bit and saw a few swans at Serpentine lake?. I'd have loved to have spent some more time there and maybe in Regent Park too - maybe another day.

  • Took another bus from Hyde Park to Oxford Circus and spent a while shopping there. Dad picked up a ton of keychains for not too much as little souvenirs. I actually wanted to go to Portobello Market but that apparently closes at 6, so we came here instead. A tip is to NOT take a cab or bus when you come to Oxford Circus, traffic seemed to crawl that day.

  • Wound up by heading off to Catherine street and having dinner at another restaurant there. The food was pretty mediocre - restaurant name was Sagar.

  • Since we all felt reasonably fresh, we thought we'd then go see the British museum (Google said it was open from 10am to 12am too). On turning up there however, it was closed and we had to take a cab back to the hotel. Oh well.

Posted by
137 posts

Day 6:

  • We got up a bit later than usual, had breakfast and finished packing and checked out.

  • Headed off to the British museum. Mom and me marked off just 6 key rooms to look at (what Mom wanted) .. and focused on those. That strategy seemed to work well and we got some good info about how clocks worked, looked at the Rosetta stone and the Lewis chess set and a lot of coins from different countries before winding up with a room on Chinese ceramics. Dad went to the Mummies section and took a look - he enjoyed those.

  • Dad's knee started acting up again though, after he twisted it a bit in the morning, so I went and bought some food instead. We ate lunch and it was nearly 3:30pm so we dropped Hampstead Heath and decided to head off to the hotel and pick our bags up.

  • Dropped Dad at St. Pancraas in front of the Eurostar and then we got 59 to the hotel and picked up all our luggage. The checkin to Eurostar was a bit painful, just a little quicker than an airport. Yes Nigel, it was just like you mentioned.

  • Returning the Oyster card was a pain. I went and stood in a line, only to be told that my passport was needed. Then I had to run all the way back to St. Pancraas and get my passport from Dad and get my refund. Pretty cool though and an awesome way to return money.

  • The Eurostar to Brussels was pretty awesome, plenty of leg room, a dustbin by your seat, awesome head rests either side so your neck doesn't flop around like a jellyfish when you drop off on your seat :). The toilet was a first too with buttons under my feet to turn the water on. Never seen that before. I soaped my hands and couldn't find the water for a while, which was a bit uncomfortable :D

  • Landed at Brussels pretty much on time. The hotel was very close to the station but we took a cab - cost 10 Euros. Ugh :(. The hotel attendant knows English here but everywhere else, I suspect it's going to be a lot of French. Mom can speak a bit though so it should be okay.

That is it for the London updates from my end. Thank you once again for all your invaluable help during my trip here. Special shout out to Nigel and Emma :)

Oh and Keith, I'm male, not female :D. Do follow my trip on the Belgium forum if you're interested :). I'll have a thread on there shortly.

Posted by
6780 posts

My sense of the "theme" of the V&A is that it's basically England's attic on display. Lots of curiosities and great objects of all descriptions from around the world. I particularly remember the large Dale Chihuly piece hanging in the entranceway a few years ago.

Posted by
137 posts

Thanks Cyn. Yeah .. it seemed like a mix of many things ... quite nice though.