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London - Last Leg 2017

I knew I would run out of Schengen days and didn't have to be back at work for another 10 days, so I spent nine nights in London. Haven't been there in over 30 years. I booked a reasonably priced (for me) room at London House Hotel, and after a few email mishaps (I typed in the wrong security code for my credit card payment, they charged my card before the free-cancellation period expired, I realized I needed an extra night but the cost for adding to my original reservation was more than double the previous nightly rate, so I made a new reservation for the last night - just the kind of mistakes I am prone to every day anyway).

I flew from Milano to Gatwick, bought an Oyster card and a 7-day transportation card to cover the nine nights, and set off to find my hotel via tube from the airport. My hotel was near Bayswater Road (Street?), about two blocks from the tube station. The front desk seemed completely staffed by workers of different nations, which I realized was a reflection of the hotel's clientele, so brilliant to have so many languages accessible. My room was a "small single", efficiently arranged, but no place to put a suitcase (even my 20" rolly) except to empty it out and leave it on the floor or at the end of the bed, between bed and wall. Good-sized mini-fridge, a safe in the closet, no end table but I was able to improvise one from a narrow bench below the mirror. The bathroom was large. From the outside, the hotel looks like all the other hotels on the same street, and on the surrounding streets.

There is a bus stop to go toward the main sights about a block away from the hotel, a bus stop for returning "home" around the corner on the same street, and two tube stops: Bayswater, and a couple of blocks further on the same street, Queensway. I love a good bus ride, and every time I asked for transportation advice, I was given tube stops which, although much quicker for reaching a destination, don't help me with orientation as much as seeing landmarks and bus stops do. Also, I didn't come to London to sit in the dark. I loved having that unlimited 7-day pass! I could change my itinerary at a moment's notice. I also got a discount (1/3 off) on the roundtrip boat ride to Greenwich.

I planned to use London as my recovery time from a long summer trip, and except for meeting up with Nigel and his better half, I had no plans. I did want to go to Greenwich, a few museums, and Westminster Abbey. My wish list was pretty modest.

I started out by walking around the neighborhood - a garden, many inexpensive restaurants, some other stores, a florist, a couple of banks, two Pret a Manger restaurants within two blocks, and lots of souvenir shops and "pound" stores.

The next day I took the boat to Greenwich and back, with the standard commentary from the guide, and as we passed one historic landmark after another, I realized how much British history is part of the American educational and cultural experience. My ancestors were from Italy, but going to school in the U.S. I "took on" a lot of British history as my own. I was a little shocked at how familiar London seemed to me. One key moment was when the boat passed Traitor's Gate (clearly labeled), which the guide did not even mention, but which sent chills up my spine as I thought of the people who had their last glimpse of freedom as they passed under that low bridge. Blackfriars, the Tower of London and its iconic bridge, and the Houses of Parliament receding in the distance - I felt at home.

Posted by
11613 posts

(Continued)

My day at the British Museum (they have a nice café upstairs) was conflicted. A poster on the forum recently referred to it as the world's best collection of stolen stuff, but I think that honor goes to the Getty Museum in California. The conflict is that I truly believe that the Parthenon Marbles (see what I did there?) belong in Athens, now that they have an adequate place to put them; but the story (and I believe it, since it happened elsewhere) is that the sculptures were being carted off piecemeal for sale or re-use, and many would have been lost forever if Elgin hadn't taken them. Many are in a terrible state of mutilation and disrepair as it is. And then I think of Palmyra, whose historic ruins were further destroyed by ISIL a few years ago. On the other hand, I had to ask myself why the Piero della Francesca painting of the Baptism of Christ was in London and not in Tuscany. A group of Italian students saw the painting and greeted it like a long-lost relative.

There was so much to see that I went back the next day. The line for security was short (I was in it at 10am), but several people were called to a separate desk after the bag check - I was one of them. There were five or six staff people at this row of desks, each asking for a donation to the Museum, which is free. I remembered the dozens of donation boxes, one at virtually every gallery entrance, and the money I had already donated. So I told the very nice staffer that I had contributed yesterday (which was true), and thanked her for the free museum. (My local museum, Toledo Museum of Art, is also free, but our domestic robber barons - I mean philanthropists - were a century later in hauling away Europe's treasures.)

My afternoon with Nigel and Carol was definitely a highlight! The view from the top floor of One New Change was impressive, it's very near Saint Paul's Cathedral. We had lunch, then walked to Paul for dessert, and then Nigel gave an excellent tour of the nearby monuments. My favorite was the church garden, which was planted in the space of a church destroyed by bombing in WWII. The different types of plantings follow the design and placement of the furnishings of the original church. The garden has won some awards for Best Small Garden.

Other visits to other landmarks and museums, and finally on the day before I flew back to the US, I went to Westminster Abbey. Having seen photos and videos of it for nearly my whole life, I was still moved at the harmony of it all. As I was walking through, one of the priests announced that there would be a minute of silence in remembrance of this being a place of prayer. This happens one minute every hour. What a fabulous idea! He then announced that there would be a healing service in one of the chapels, if anyone would like to attend. I decided to go, and was anointed with everyone else in the room at the end of the service. I needed healing - my journey had begun less than a month after surgery, and it did affect my stamina throughout the summer. I had been anointed before surgery, so this seemed to close the loop, in a sense. I thought about how this trip had changed me, as every trip does.

I bought chocolates and teas for my friends and coworkers, repacked my suitcase (which by now had very few clothes remaining in it), went to bed early and woke up at 5am to take the tube (starts running at 5:30) to Paddington Station, where I bought a ticket for the Heathrow Express (15BPS), and was headed back to the U.S. I still have about 5 pounds on my Oyster Card for next time.

Posted by
344 posts

Thanks for posting-I enjoyed reading your report. Sounds like you had a wonderful time in London.

I love the neighborhood around Queensway. Very convenient with two grocery stores (Sainsbury's Local and M&S Simply Food) and a Boots Pharmacy in addition to the other stores and restaurants you mentioned. I just realized that there is a Patisserie Valerie on Queensway just north of Whiteley's --too late for my June trip but I'll be stopping in there on my next stay in the area.

Posted by
1607 posts

Thanks, Zoe, for a lovely report. I will be in London mid-Sept and will be staying in the Lime Tree Hotel near the Victoria Coach station. We are meeting a friend from this forum for a pub meal who is staying at the London House Hotel. It looks very conveniently located.
Whenever I go to London, I feel somehow like I am returning home. Interesting. I suppose it comes from having read so many British fiction writers and books about English history and Britain and Churchill's role in WWII. In any case, I love London and the UK! Soon I will be adding Ireland to my travel experiences.
Thanks again.

Posted by
679 posts

Thanks Zoe. I have enjoyed reading all your postings through the summer. Now back to the real world and work until the next time.

Posted by
1465 posts

Zoe-thanks for sharing what sounds like a grand adventure.

Posted by
4448 posts

Nice report. I suspect the garden that you visited was St Dunstan in the East

Posted by
23728 posts

I suspect the garden that you visited was St Dunstan in the East

Actually, we were at Christchurch Greyfriars Church Garden.

The day with Zoe was really nice. After so many years of doing related things - including cat sitting for another Forum member - it was great to spend some time with her.

Posted by
1235 posts

I enjoyed reading your report, Zoe, thanks.
The Getty people still have a lot of catching up to do
to match the Brits -- but they are giving it their best try, I'm sure.

Much of what you mention does seem familiar, so I'll just mention that another option beside teas and chocolates is fancy soaps -- I remember getting a set of soaps named after each of Henry XIII's wives that could be spread around the office to everyone's benefit.