London


Our hotel was conveniently located in Westminister near almost everything. We were within easy walking distance of Westminister Abbey, Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, St. James Park and Victoria Station. This last is particularly important because we had to lug suitcases in from Gatwick Airport. Lugging suitcases is one of the major problems facing travel and we did a lot of it, but we did it. We made it fine to Victoria Station on the train from Gatwick and we rested there, got our London travel pass, ate, and started to our hotel. We should have walked or taken a cab but we made the mistake of taking the tube (subway) one stop to the St. James Park station. This was our "home" station for our stay, it was just about 1 1/2 blocks from our hotel, but the trouble of lugging suitcases on and off the subway train was not worth the saved steps, to say nothing of the stairs we had to go down and up. But we made it.


Here is our hotel in London, the St. Ermins.

For some reason they didn't have a 'regular' room for us, so we were upgraded to an 'executive' room. It wasn't all that much bigger, but we had some nice perks. The room was on the 1st floor, so we didn't have to use the elevators (lifts). Europe has come a long way since the war, but they have not mastered the elevator. Small and slow, and no freight elevators. We even had white robes for our use in our rooms while we were there. The hostess came in every evening and turned down our bed and put candy on the nightstand, along with a package of shortbread. We had coffee (or tea) and shortbread every evening when we returned to the hotel.

To cure "jet lag" we stayed up all day without a nap. Since I almost never sleep on airplanes it made for a long day. We did general sight seeing and a lot of walking. We explored St. James Park and Trafalgar Square, Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park and the small food market close to the hotel. There is a lot to be said for staying in one place for a week. For one, you can unpack your suitcase. And you become familiar with the neighborhood. We got very good at finding the most direct subway route to our destinations.

Both Glenda and I had been to London before, so we shied away, for the most part, from the normal tourist attractions. We didn't visit Westminister Abbey or the Tower of London or the British Museum, but we did want to go to the Tate Museum. For one thing, the Tate is now in two parts. The regular Tate Museum building now houses the British collection and the new phase is called the Tate Modern. It is housed is a former power plant on the wrong side of the Thames River. That is the side opposite everything else. Strides have been made to improve the opposite side, the big Ferris wheel that was built for the Y2K celebration is opposite Big Ben, and a new footbridge has been built straight to the Tate Modern.

I might mention that the Tate is an art museum, so the Tate Modern has - surprise - modern art. Modern is defined as the last 100 years so it is basically 20th century art. Very impressive and very tiring. We took 2 days at the Tate Modern and one day at the Tate British. It was our main museum 'thing' for this trip.

I also enjoyed rediscovering the things I most like about London. Magnums (ice creams on a stick, sold all over Europe but not in the USA) and Strongbow Cider. The cider is on tap in the pubs and I was able to enjoy a pint with pub meals. Glenda doesn't drink, but she allowed me an occasional glass of wine and my cider. :-) We ate breakfast in the hotel (included) and some meals in pubs and some in restaurants. London is expensive and we wanted our money to go elsewhere, so we were cautious.

The 'elsewhere' was divided into several things. We wanted to take a day trip to Stonehenge, our mutual craving for coffee, and the London theater. We nicely managed all three. The Stonehenge trip was scheduled for our last full day in London (that trip will be the subject of the next email). Our coffee urges were satisfied at Starbucks - they have one in London about every two blocks, and if that is not enough they have another large chain called Coffee Republic - London folks seem to really like coffee. As for the theater, we went three times. Leicester Square, in the heart of the West End theater district, houses the official "half price" ticket booth. They sell same day tickets when available. Any theater that is not sold out for a performance sends the left over tickets to the booth. We saw "Noises Off" one night. Our seats for that performance were not good, but the play was funny (as always). We next caught a Friday matinee of "Chicago". This was the 'hot' ticket last time I was in London and I had wanted to see it. It is a 'black and white' song and dance musical set in the 20's, and is choreographed by Bob Fosse. We had tickets in the center on the 4th row. You can't get any better than that!

Our last experience was special. We were able to get tickets to the Saturday matinee of Les Miserables! This musical opened in 1985 in London (1993 on Broadway) and has been running ever since. It is an event and was a highlight of our London experience for me. Now I am not the greatest fan of musicals, I have no desire to see Andrew Lloyd Webber productions, but Les Mis is different. No dancing, but the music is superb and the production has to be seen to believe. We had great tickets (again). This time in the second row of the first balcony. The production is now in the Palace, and it is not a large theater, so we had the best possible location. I think looking down slightly on the action was better then to see it from the floor. The production is 3 hours long, but I enjoyed every minute of it. It's great story with everything you could want: unrequited love (the saddest kind), honor, duty, action, suspense, history, humor, and just about anything else you can think of. The production was great and even I, macho guy that I am, shed a tear or two when Eponine died on the barricades. By the end of the second act I was ready to go right out in the streets of London and start building barricades myself. Luckily there was a 3rd act.

We had many small adventures in London. We visited the parks and even had lunch in Kensington Gardens a couple of times, armed with French brie, bread and cider (for me, water for Glenda). We rode the subway often, and the bus on occasion, one night in the wrong direction. We walked a lot, once walking from St. Paul's Cathedral all the way downtown. We stayed on the same street and it changed names several times. For a while it was Fleet Street and later, near downtown, Strand. We walked from the Tate, across the new Millennium Bridge to St. Pauls Cathedral, we walked around Picadilly Circus, we went to market on Portabello Road, on Sunday we walked down to Big Ben and 10 Downing Street and saw a funny parade - it was Belgium Day or something - and we took walks in the park.

The evening we saw "Chicago" (it was a 5PM matinee) we were sitting and waiting for the production to start - this is the time we had 4th row tickets - when Glenda punched me and directed me to look at the girl sitting in front of us. Admittedly I didn't take a lot of urging. We both agreed she was an extraordinarily beautiful girl. Probably early 20's, tall, and she had a flower in her (dark) hair. She was by herself at the production and we assumed she was a local and not a tourist. In any case we happened to see her again a few days later, entering a subway station on Oxford Street. We were on the escalator behind her and we were going to say something to her, but we lost her in the crowd. She had a flower in her hair.

Next - A trip to Stonehenge