Monday, February 20, 2017

Minding the Gap in London


Our flight from Dublin to London was just over an hour, but the time and effort was the same as if we were flying around the world. There is just no denying that traveling is tedious and international travel is even more so.  Nevertheless, we landed on time at London's Heathrow airport in the early afternoon in mostly sunny skies.

Perched in Starbucks at Dublin Airport, waiting for our flight to London.

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Approaching London on the plane and on the ground at last, bound for Paddington Station.

We traveled by train to Paddington station which would become a central transfer station for our entire stay. There we purchased our Oyster Cards, which are travel passes for the Underground system. They apparently named it Oyster because it protects something valuable, like money, and because the world is your oyster. In any case, we loaded ours with a few pounds to make sure we could easily travel to and fro during our stay.

Announcements to “Mind the gap” were frequent as we rode the Underground.

Because we live in Scoopy, literally taking our home with us as we travel, we had not yet had occasion to book AirBnB lodging. For this trip, however, we did just that in both London and Paris. Our flat in London was located in the Maida Vale district, which is two stops from Paddington Station on the Bakerloo line. Once at our local underground station, we had a 12-minute walk to our front door. Getting into central London meant transferring from the Bakerloo line to the Circle or District lines at Paddington Station. While it didn't take too long,  next time we might find a location where we don't have to transfer at all.

Maida Vale Underground Station.

Although the road was long to our flat, the quaint neighborhood made it an interesting walk.

With cars on the “wrong” side of the road, these handy warnings were very helpful!

Cute little restaurant in Maida Vale where we had some delicious breakfast.

On our first day in town we headed straight to Trafalgar Square and The National Gallery. First, it's free, and second, the paintings are magnificent. To truly get the most out of a visit here it is best to devote lots of time and if possible, hire a guide or join a tour. It's one thing to stroll by and admire the artwork, but it's another thing entirely to learn about the artists and the stories behind the paintings. We didn't do this, but each time we passed a small group intently listening to their guide, I kind of wished we had.

Trafalgar Square in Central London. See Big Ben way down the road?

We could have stayed all day at the National Gallery.

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Big Ben in the distance and, yes, of course we went shopping at Harrods!

After a couple of hours we moved on, walking and talking, taking in the atmosphere in what is arguably one of the most beautiful and dynamic cities in the world. We passed Westminster Abbey and pondered visiting, but we were hungry and decided to save it for another day. Little did we know that when we returned we would find the queue wrapped around the building. Oh, well.

We strolled by Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament and across the Westminster Bridge. Mostly, we got the lay of the land and made a list of things we wanted to see during subsequent visits.

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Quintessential London scenes: Buckingham Palace and around Westminster.

In the early 1980s, my parents lived in Kingston-upon-Thames, then Twickingham, both suburbs of London. At the time my Dad worked in Richmond-Upon-Thames. (My sister had a dog named Snoopy and we called him "Snoopy-Upon-Thames", and we pretty much applied that moniker to everything.) A couple of miles from them was Hampton Court, my absolute favorite of all the royal courts. I have been there many times, and I wanted to take Steven there, too.


As I say often, we love traveling to popular places in the off-season. London was no exception. We had Hampton Court nearly to ourselves. I am a big fan of the history of both the palace and its inhabitants and I love learning about palace intrigue. If you haven't binge-watched "The Tudors", do yourself a favor and get started right now. :)


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Scenes from the Court. The Queen’s staircase, palace kitchen, dining rooms and a painting of Henry VIII

We made a trip to the Tower of London and like most of the other places, it's hard to take it all in with such limited time. But these places are totally set up to help tourists at least scratch the surface and get a selfie, which is what satisfies most people. To help them along, there is now a moving walkway that you step on and it glides you right past the Crown Jewels. It's a necessary evil, I guess. Without it, we might not see them at all.




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The Tower of London and Tower Bridge. Such dense history here!

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What is a weary visitor to do after a busy day at court? Head to Starbucks just outside the gates, of course!

We also made it back to Westminster Abbey which is another of my favorite places to visit. This is where the bodies are buried, literally and figuratively. We stood right at the graves of Sir Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin, poets Geoffrey Chaucer, Charles Dickens, Rudyard Kipling, Laurence Olivier . . . the list goes on and on. Talk about who's who and intrigue! You could spend a lifetime studying each person in there as well as the church itself, but we just had a day. It's a fabulous place! 

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Westminster Abbey. Photographs were not allowed in most of the interior but we did get this one just outside.

A couple of things I noticed about the London of today is that the quintessential English Pub is no more. In the past, there was one on every corner, but those have been replaced by upscale versions and posh restaurants. Most of the dark, dank pubs are gone. Also, Marks and Spencer has a scaled-down version of itself called M&S Food To Go and they are located in nearly all the major Underground stations. They carry really delicious pre-made soups, salads, stews, pastas, roast chicken, snacks, etc. as well as drink items. Nothing else. I think these are fabulous and I wish we had something like this in the states. I might never cook again, I loved them!

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M&S Food  to Go, a great selection of pre-packaged food.

For our five-day stay we had prepared for chilly and wet weather and we were not disappointed. By the last couple of days of our stay, when the drizzle turned to sleet, that 12-minute walk from Maida Vale got kind of old. We were ready to move on to Paris, where the weather promised to be much more enjoyable!
NEXT UP: Bonjour, mon petite chou!