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Oh, to be in London!

I just returned yesterday from quite possibly the most perfect little 5 day stay in glorious London--my first visit was in 2011 and I surely won't wait another 7 years to go again. Weather was just right, too, 70-75. Non-stop on United to Heathrow, landed at 7 am Thursday and was through passport control in 20 minutes, onto the Heathrow Express (round trip about $50 US but at 15 minutes it was worth it) and at my hotel in Bayswater by 9 am. I really loved the location of The Caesar Hotel on Queen's Gardens, a quiet residential area with a park in the middle of the street, easy 10 minute walk from Paddington or to Queensway, where there were plenty of shops, restaurants and the Bayswater and Queensway tube stations. I averaged 7-8 miles of walking per day.

This trip I decided to go carry-on for the first time and my Travelpro 21" spinner was just right, though I did check it on the way home and used a LeSportsac travel tote on the plane. I may be a convert, at last! So nice to just be on my way after passport control.

I topped up my Oyster card--used 30 pounds in my 5 days there--and headed over to the V&A, arriving when they opened at 10, time for a scone and latte in the gorgeous cafe and a poke around before my 11:30 slot to view the fabulous Frida Kahlo exhibit--I booked a month ago & good thing since it had sold out and missing it would have been disappointing as she's my favorite artist. Then it was off to the Tower to see the ravens--I had toured the buildings and seen the crown jewels previously, and frankly, I am a total nut about the ravens--I follow the Ravenmaster on facebook and know their names based on the color-coded bands on their legs--so this visit was just to sit and observe them, they're quite busy and entertaining and Jubilee sat next to me on a bench and patiently posed for pictures while eyeing whatever food people nearby had in their hands--they aren't shy about snatching it away given half a chance. Near the edge of the cage area I spied the perfect souvenir--one of their feathers! As I hadn't slept a wink on the plane jet lag hit me much earlier than usual and by 4 pm I was done. Had a sandwich for dinner and made my way back to the hotel, asleep by 8 pm.

Friday I took the train to Bletchley Park from Euston Station--me and a train car full of giddy kids and their parents heading to Harry Potter World. The Park was easy to find and I spent about 3.5 hours there exploring the various Huts, displays, and the Mansion plus the lovely lake area before heading back to London by 3. Stopped at the British Library to see what they had on special display, plus it's a treat to see Jane Austen's portable writing desk, then off to Regent St for some shopping. I have long wanted to visit Liberty of London as I'm a quilter and their fabric is legendary, and of course the store itself is just a revelation architecturally. I spent over an hour selecting several bundles of fabric and then wandered the area, finding Carnaby Street along the way.

Saturday was market day--Portobello Road and Camden. I already knew the 2 lines I needed most weren't running, District and Circle, but Portobello was an easy & pleasant 15 minute walk from the hotel. Found a vintage sewing caddy for my collection and also some really cool Players Cigarette trading cards from the 1930s, had a great chat with the seller as well. Explored the whole length of the market, had an iced coffee and then got on bus 27 to Camden. Interesting re-purpose of the old horse market stalls and quite an enormous area to explore inside, but the goods weren't quite my taste, though lots of intriguing street food options. I did have an early dinner at the wonderful Cheese Bar, all kinds of dishes and platters featuring artisanal British cheeses, would definitely return again. Back to Queensway via bus and got pastries for the morning as I had a very early start for the highlight of my trip...

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2630 posts

Sunday was Highclere Castle day, aka Downton Abbey. I'm a huge fan of the show and still sad that it ended, though I learned filming of the movie starts next week and the entire village of Bampton will be shut down and people relocated so to maintain total secrecy of the plot. The tour group met at Great Portland St tube station at 7:15, and at that hour I decided taking a taxi was the best thing as no Circle line running. The tour guide was wonderfully fun and quite knowledgeable and our first stop was Cogges Manor Farm in the Cotswolds, where we toured the house and grounds, nice to be out and about in nature. Then on to Bampton, such a beautiful little village that served as Downton Village in the show. Like stepping back in time as no new construction is allowed, I could totally imagine living in such a place. Finally arrived at Highclere around 1, had lunch and then toured the house, with plenty of time to spare to explore the extensive grounds and gardens before heading back to London around 4:30. From Marble Arch I was able to get the Central line back to my hotel. It was a great tour--albeit a bit costly, it was quite worth it to see these charming places outside London and inside a great manor house like Highclere.

Monday--all of a sudden it was the last day. 10 am slot for Buckingham Palace--it's only open a very short period of time while the Queen is away so I felt fortunate to be there at a time when I could visit. Moved quickly through the state rooms, every bit as ornate and gorgeous as expected. Just had to buy an Andy Warhol print of the Queen tea towel. Had lunch and then off to Covent Garden for the London Transport Museum. But I hadn't realized there was a big marketplace there, too, Covent Garden and the Jubilee Market, which had some antique stalls with good prices. Then into the museum which was really interesting, all about the Underground and building of it, with vintage tube cars and buses and a great special exhibit of posters designed by women for the Underground over the past century. Great place to take kids, too, and I loved their gift shop. Then off to Bloomsbury to visit a bookstore I dearly love, Persephone Books on Lamb's Conduit--a real treat to explore in person as I've ordered online from them. I would have visited Charles Dickens' house but that will be for another trip. Lots of Blue Plaques in that area, kind of like a treasure hunt when you find one. Getting late in the day and I was still obsessing about that darn fabric at Liberty so I went back and bought yet more. Final dinner at Prince Alfred pub on Queensway and then it was time to pack up--I had somehow ended up with quite a lot of tea towels, the blasted things are quite insidious, along with several books and lots of yummy fabric.

My flight home was at 10:30 am so I caught the 7:10 Express from Paddington, through bag check and security by 8:15 so that left time for a proper breakfast. I had the entire row of seats to myself on the plane, that was quite nice! All in all it was a grand little trip that I personalized with special things like the Frida exhibit, Bletchley Park, Highclere Castle, visiting Liberty and time with the ravens at the Tower. I don't think I could ever get tired of London, so much to see and do and it's just such a satisfying city in so many ways--easy to navigate, lots of green spaces, kind people, good food, great art, fascinating history and interesting architecture, plus it feels so familiar. I fell madly in love with it at age 8 when I read the Paddington the Bear books and the connection only grows stronger with the passing years.

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264 posts

Lovely review, I enjoyed reading it! London is my favorite city too.

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2016 posts

Lovely trip report and as someone who used to travel every year to London(sadly, no longer) one can never grow bored. I'm glad you went to the London Transport Museum as it's one of my favorites. The Omnibuses and the 1930s Underground train stock makes me wish I could travel back in time to experience it.

The Ravenmaster has written a book and is giving a lecture at the Smithsonian this fall and as a fellow Yeoman Raven lover, I've already got my tickets.

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2630 posts

Heather--the lecture is incredibly tempting!!! If only work wasn't about to get crazy for the next few months I would so be there--will you post a report about it? Or at least send me a PM telling me how delightful he is in person?

And I felt the same way when I saw the vintage train cars and buses, wished I could be a time-traveler, too.

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14244 posts

What a wonderful time you had! I have to tell you I love solo trips to London because you can do ~exactly~ what you want!

I'm pretty impressed that you tackled the V&A on your arrival day even with your targeted event of the Kahlo exhibition, then the Tower! Wow!

Bletchley Park has been on my list for the last few visits but I have not managed it yet. Glad you got out there!

Thanks for taking the time to post. I love to read Trip Reports!

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3259 posts

Oh, loved your report. I've had many long weekend trips to London and this makes me think I'm due for another. As a quilter who didn't know about Liberty of London, I must go!

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521 posts

What a great trip! I also love London and was lucky enough to visit twice this summer. So many things to see, I just want to keep going back! 😀

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610 posts

Thank you for your lovely report! You did many things I wouldn't have thought about, but I've added some to my wishlist for future visits. Sounds like a wonderful trip!

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94 posts

Great trip report, thank you for taking the time to post it. Makes me long to go back! Have a trip planned this February and can’t wait. Sounds like you had a great time!

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985 posts

Wow - you really packed it in during your five days. So happy that you got to see so many interesting places. Thanks for sharing your trip with us.

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914 posts

"Then off to Bloomsbury to visit a bookstore I dearly love, Persephone Books on Lamb's Conduit--a real treat to explore in person as I've ordered online from them."

Lovely! I love getting their catalogues with the pretty bookmarks, and the girl there was so helpful, even while taking phone call after phone call.

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8865 posts

Favorite city on the planet....Always changing, always the same.

Lovely trip report. Well planned brief excursion.

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1136 posts

I loved reading your trip report and you were so organized and got it done! I spent 11 glorious solo days last May there, 8 of the days spent in London and I had such a great time. People keep asking me why i go back so often and all I can say is I ❤️ London!

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2016 posts

Heather--the lecture is incredibly tempting!!! If only work wasn't
about to get crazy for the next few months I would so be there--will
you post a report about it? Or at least send me a PM telling me how
delightful he is in person?

@christa-Will try and PM you with a report as it really doesn't fall under travel.

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49 posts

What a wonderful report! I am in the very early stages of planning a trip back to London next spring and you have given me some new ideas. Highclere Castle is at the top of my list - what tour company did you use for this?

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2630 posts

Mary--check the website for Highclere Castle as they are only open for very specific times--I was just so happy to realize I'd be there at the right time to be able to visit. https://www.highclerecastle.co.uk/public-opening-times-and-prices

I booked through Viator about 2 months out, the Downton Abbey and Highclere Castle Tour From London was the official tour name and it was $192 US. There are several other tour options, but this was an all-day tour, started at 7:30 am and got us back to London by 6:30 pm, with time spent at 2 filming locations, Cogges Manor Farm and the village of Bampton, each location was an hour apart from each other and then on to Highclere where we had ample time (over 3 hours) to explore on our own with admission to the Castle included. The guide was an absolute treasure, funny and very knowledgeable, so I felt that overall this was my best option to see everything and not have to deal with logistics on my own--each location was very satisfying..

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2630 posts

Wray--they offer pre-cut essentially fat quarters in 5 piece bundles and bundles of 12 1/8 yd approx. cuts, and of course yardage as well of the cottons, silks and velvets--fun to see people planning garments, and the staff is wonderfully helpful. They didn't mind that I basically made my own bundles by removing some pieces and adding others :) One clerk was delighted when I showed her my LeSportsac crossbody bag that was a limited edition Liberty fabric design--and then I found the same fabric so had to buy a piece. They also have Rowan yarns, patterns and Kaffe Fassett fabrics and needlepoint and embroidery kits, so despite also doing all those crafts for the sake of my poor beleaguered credit card I had to remain stoic and just buy fabric!

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62 posts

Oh Christa, you've made me decide that I HAVE TO go back to London and soon. I so enjoyed your great detailed report! I have been longing for a trip there - for a while we were going every year or two but then life got in the way. (We returned to Tillbury from a European cruise the day of Princess Di's funeral and I'll never forget that palpable feeling of grief I felt in the streets and in Heathrow). I have always wondered about the Highclere tour, yes a bit pricey but for an all-day adventure, sounds doable. Was it coach travel all the way? Thanks again for lighting a fire in me!

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2630 posts

Sue--yes, entire trip was via a big comfortable tour bus.

Emma--there you go, tempting me with the existence of discounted Liberty fabric!

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167 posts

What a wonderful trip you had! Frida Kahlo and Liberty of London and Highclere Castle....

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9855 posts

So glad you had a wonderful time -- this is what I love about London too. So many things you can do to investigate so many different interests. And bookstore visits are always a key part of any visit for me there (coming from a non-anglophone country as I am!!). As someone mentioned above: very impressive hitting the V&A and the Tower on your arrival day!!

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62 posts

Thanks Christa - I am going to try to get back there in the spring and will definitely add that Highclere Castle day to my itinerary.

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49 posts

Christa - thanks for the Highclere tour info. I am looking at late April to early May so really hoping it is open for tours at the time. The website doesn’t have 2019 info yet so fingers are crossed!

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2252 posts

Thanks for posting this lovely trip report, christa. I will be in London beginning next Wednesday and you have certainly given me lots to consider. I'm about to scrap my already made plans and use some of your ideas!