Sunday, October 25, 2015

London: 5 nights, September 8-13

General Information regarding the full 6 week adventure:

I had been saving air miles on my Delta for years. We always said it would be for a really big trip. That time finally came when we made the decision last March to plan a 6 week excursion through Western Europe using our air miles to get there and back. 

Over the next 6 months, we made reservations for our Eurail Select Pass, which allowed us 8 travel days over a 2 month period of time. To make this decision, we had to determine our exact itinerary. Fly to London, fly to Amsterdam, train to Bruges, Belgium; train to Brussels, Belgium; train to Paris, France; train to Avignon, France; train to Barcelona, Spain; train to Valencia, Spain; train to Madrid, Spain; fly to Lisbon, Portugal; and fly back to London for our return flight home to PV. 

We also ordered our London Pass for 3 days including the Oyster Card for metro/bus transportation throughout London (would not do Pass again but most certainly would want the Oyster.) Prior to leaving PV, we had made reservations on line for a tour of Buckingham Palace, a tour of Windsor Palace/Stonehenge/Bath. Plus a day trip from Amsterdam and one from Paris (will explain those in those posts).

Also, we were required to have reserved seats on our trains for Brussels, Paris & Avignon. All of these were mailed either to our US address or Directly to PV. In all the other locations, we reserved our seats directly at the train station in that country.

We were also fortunate that Eurail was offering FREE global SIM cards for our cell phones. Awesome sauce!

Our hotels were chosen based on affordability with a budget in mind plus good location. We wanted clean, free internet (preferably in our room) and easy walk ability or easy local transportation. We used Kayak,,,, and a few more to determine which ones we would reserve. Always comparing pricing between the sites.

After many months of planning and several return flight changes due to Delta changing their flight times, we were more than ready! With only a small carry on bag and a backpack each, we knew we were still masters o the art of traveling light. Believe me, this became a saving grace during our travels!! It's also a great way to strengthen your biceps due to lifting and carrying up and down many flights of stairs.

Our Adventure:

So, on Monday, September 7, 2015, we boarded a flight that originated in PV and went directly to Atlanta, where we had to go through US customs before catching our direct flight on Virgin Atlantic to London, Heathrow airport. We had no glitches or hang ups with either flight. And, I must say traveling internationally, even in coach, can be extremely pleasant – still. Free real food and free liquor certainly made it much more enjoyable!

Upon arriving in London, we knew we were already going to be taking the local metro (the tube) to get to the train station closest to our hotel. Thank You, Shauna for the wise advice!!

We made our way to the tourist info booth and retrieved our city map, train map, and with our already purchased Oyster Card, boarded our first train. We had to change trains once to get to our Baker Street station. Mission accomplished without a hitch.

After just this first train experience, we were more than grateful we had followed our own advice and had only our small amount of luggage. There were steps to climb or descend everywhere. It also helped that we were used to steps and walking from our living in PV. 

It was only a short walk down a block and up 2 to our hotel, Somerset Hotel – London. We knew we probably wouldn't be able to actually check in because it was only noon. However, they did allow us to check our luggage in so we could take off to find lunch and go for an exploratory walk until 2pm, when we could check in.

 Tired but not falling on our faces, we found a great Pub called The Globe, just across from the train station on Baker Street. The atmosphere was pure British and the food excellent! Since I'm a meat and potatoes kind of person, I simply loved the food in London!! Shepherd’s Pie was a delight!

The very obvious part also that made my life through Europe exquisite, was that my wine was ALWAYS less expensive than Mike’s beer!! And, Mike certainly enjoyed his exoticbeers all the way along our journey!

After a long walk getting to know our neighborhood and finding, by accident, where John Lennon lived in 1968 (John and I share our birthdays on October 9), we stumbled back to our hotel. Thankfully, our room was ready because we immediately crashed on the bed and slept for hours! Right thing to do!

Upon getting up around 7pm, we realized that our room was not going to work well for us so we requested a room change. Fortunately, they could accommodate us. So instead of being on the second floor, we were relegated to the fifth floor, no elevator. Again, we were glad we are in good physical condition and had small luggage to cart up all of those narrow stair ways! The room was worth it though. 

After a quick bite to eat, purchasing a beer for Mike and a bottle of wine for me, we were ready to head back to our hotel.  Checking in with the rest of the world was only available free in the hotel lobby so with my Jammie's on and a glass of wine in hand, I cuddled up on their couch to touch base and let everyone know we had arrived. 

Up and refreshed the next morning, we set off on foot to find the Hop On/Hop Off bus for a cursory tour through the city. I must say we were delighted with the good weather we seemed to be having. Over our 5 days there, we never had to use our umbrellas! 

We caught up with the bus we chose at the Marble Arches on the northeast corner of Hyde Park. There were several routes and we actually did make it through most of them. We got off in the Theatre District first to grab a bite to eat, then back on for the northern route through the financial district, back on the bus where we got off at the Tower of London.

What a fun excursion through the Tower fort! Our guide was none other than Billy The Beefeater! Mike had seen a video of him on You Tube before we left. What a treat it was, as he is certainly a character! Totally enjoyable. Our tickets were covered by our London Pass.

After finishing the hour long commentary/history tour with Billy, we set off to see the Crown Jewels. WOW!!!!  Simply incredible!! 

We boarded the City Boat Cruise (included in our day pass) to make our way back to Westminster and Westminster Abbey. We walked around both. You can't go into Westminster and we decided to come back to the Abbey the next day because we wanted to finish the bus route on our one day pass.

On our walk back to our hotel, we found a terrific English Pub again for our final meal of the day. 

Day 3 was spent taking the bus down to Buckingham Palace, as we had tickets for a tour through the staterooms. The Palace is only Open for 2 months, August and September, when the Queen is on holiday. We were very lucky to be able to do this! The only unfortunate thing was that our tour was at the same time as the changing of the guard. We saw a bit of it but not the whole thing. Oh well, can't do it all. We've seen many changing of the guards in other parts of the world. Next time.

The tour of Buckingham was exquisite, incredible and awesome!  Couldn't take pictures inside but we got plenty out in the gardens and around the Palace.

Off to lunch by Victoria Station, a peek into Westminster Cathedral (catholic), then a stroll on up to Westminster Abbey (church of England). Again, WOW!  Lots of people buried there including many many famous poets in the Poet’s Nave. We weren't allowed to take pictures in the Abbey either so here are some of what we could take pictures of outside and in other parts of the campus.

From there we walked up to Covent Gardens where we took a stroll through to enjoy the atmosphere and stopped to have a late afternoon libation. Took the train back to “our” Baker Street station and had a nice dinner at Pizza Express. Yes, a very nice middle fare place with ambiance.  We then collapsed back at our hotel!

On Friday, Day 4, we took a bus guided tour out of town to Windsor Palace, Stonehenge, lunch in a small village called Lacock (where they filmed a lot of Harry Potter) at a pub dating from 1301, ending our day in Bath. It was terrific to see some of the countryside of England. A very nice day, for sure!

Windsor Palace:




Our last day in London was mostly spent meeting up with friends, Jessica & Ryan Tredell and their little one, Elizabeth, who is 6 months old. We had met them when they were on their honeymoon on our Machu Picchu excursion in Peru 2 years ago. It was a delight to catch up with them, again!

We did a stroll through the Borough Market, the Tate Art museum, lunch from a market vendor, and a walk through the Southwarke Cathedral. So enjoyable!! Thank You, Jessica, Ryan & Elizabeth for spending such a wonderful day with us!!

Mike and I decided to walk the Thames waterfront back as far as our feet would carry us. A beautiful day for a stroll! We succumbed to a bus back after a few miles of walking. A final meal at The Globe Pub to finish our time in London just as we began it. Where do the days go?!

A few things we learned along the way: Take Away = To Go; Give Way = Yield; Way Out = Exit; Potato Jackets = Loaded Potato

We were up early the next morning to take the bus back to a different airport, Stansted, for our quick flight on EasyJet to Amsterdam. Again, thrilled with so little luggage to deal with!

So sorry for all the photos. It's only a smidge of what we took.  If you're interested in more, here's the link to all of them.

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