My First Time Across the Pond

London Travel Blog

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In March 2000, I took a trip to London with my then mother-in-law, three of her sisters and their mother.  Not my ideal travel companions, but I didn't mind for a chance to be in England.  See, I am a serious Anglophile, and could think of no where else in the world I wanted to visit more.  If they'd been going to France or Italy I would have said, "Oh, that's nice" but would not have cared to join them.  England, however, was not to be missed!

We stayed in a hotel in Bayswater that was nice enough.  Different standards in hotels in those old townhouses, narrow halls and stairs up and down in strange places.  But it was a good location.  There was a tube station a block or two away, but their mother had had hip (or knee?- don't remember) surgery a couple months before, so we took cabs everywhere.

We did the open top bus tour first things to get oriented a bit.  That was great, but COLD!  It was not a particularly warm week there, and drizzling.  Those bus tours take you past all the major sites/attractions in the city and we tried to snap some pics as we went by.  Thus these shots of Trafalgar Square and the Houses of Parliament.  Got off near Big Ben to visit Westminster Abbey.  I had no idea it would be such a labyrinth of little nooks and separate chapels and monuments.  I can't imagine actually attending that church regularly for services.

Back on the bus, past the Horse Guard and the London Eye.  Off again at the Tower of London, where I had to stop and buy gloves from a vendor in a sidewalk underpass.
  We had a very entertaining yeoman warder guided tour and saw the crown jewels.  The guard was changing while we were there and we were nearly trampled by a group of them marching across a square.

Many of the buildings on the east side were closed due to some renovations or something, and others we just didn't have time for.  I barely stepped foot in the White Tower when they decided we needed to leave to get to our river dinner cruise on time.  Very disappointed!

The dinner cruise was nice enough, though I'm not much for 'fancy' food and didn't really eat much of mine.  But there was a sort of caberet entertainment that was amusing.  It would have been really cool to go up to the open upper deck and see the city by night more, but it was so cold when I went up that I could only stay a few minutes.
Piccadilly Circus- from top of double-decker bus.

Next day we took a day trip tour into Kent, to Rochester, Canterbury and Dover.  As is stereotypical for coach tours, we were rather rushed through Rochester, only stopping by this old Norman fortress (we got no closer to than this) and walking down to see a small chapel where Charles Dickens was married (outside only).  Completely missed the Cathedral that was right there too.  I guess we did walk through a few narrow old streets to get to the pub where we had lunch, and then right back on the bus.

On Canterbury we were able to actually tour 'The Mother Church', which I really enjoyed because it figures so largely in all the history of England I've studied.  Saw the site of Thomas Becket's murder (or as close to the actual site as they let you get) and all the beautiful chapels and stained glass.
  I really like the cloisters in both Westminster and Canterbury, something about the quiet simplicity or solitude I think.  I could feel the history more there, where there wasn't so much modern tourist stuff intruding on the ambiance.

From Canterbury to the White Cliffs of Dover, where it was clear enough that we could just make out the shore of France across the channel.  I would really have liked to go through Dover castle, but that was not on the day's schedule.  Could only snap a few pics as we stood on the beach below.

Our final stop for the day was Leeds Castle, near Maidstone, Kent.  It is set out in a lake which makes it romantically beautiful.  They also had beautiful gardens and a hedge maze on the grounds.  First time I saw our traditional Christmas holly actually growing live.
  (It's a tree!  For some reason I had always imagined it as more of a hedge type plant.)

Back to London and dinner that night at the original Hard Rock Cafe.  This was St Patrick's Day and I had sort of imagined there would be lots of Irish in the city celebrating, but there weren't.  I was told they don't celebrate it near as much as in the US.

Our next day out was a train trip to nearby Windsor.  We arrived pretty early in the morning to be there when they opened and it was still misty/foggy which made the castle look even more enchanting.  We toured the rooms open to the public, including a dollhouse made as a miniature palace.  We walked breifly through St George's, and I stood an Henry VIII's burial stone.  But they were in a hurry to get back outside to see the changing of the guard, so I wasn't able to explore any more there.

We were able to stand right up at the baracades to see the guards change.  Quite a show.  I was disappointed that the uniforms were this dull blue/grey, but I was told the red ones are worn by another guard, mostly in the summer.  The little band that led in the new guard stood to the side and played, of all things, Showtunes and TV themes!  I thought something more traditional would have been more impressive, but everyone else found it amusing.  There were a group of school children all in cute little uniforms who were very excited to watch, so cute!  I got a couple pics, but then their teacher said they were allowed to be photographed for privacy reasons etc. Oops.

We took a walk through some of the streets of Windsor closest to the castle.  Curious old buildings and crooked shops.
Then back to London.

We walked the Queen's Walk past Green Park from Piccadilly Circus and came out near Buckingham Palace.  The Queen was not at home at the time, she was on a visit to Canada.  We went to the Museum of London (not so exciting), which the others seemed to have mistaken for the British Museum (much more important/fascinating, I hear).

Our final visit was to St Paul's Cathedral, the major icon of London, which was impressive as anticipated.  I found the Crypt below the cathedral quite interesting as well.  For our final evening in London we went to the theater.  They all chose to go to Chicago,  which I personally thought was a bit ridiculous.  We live near Chicago ourselves, it's about an American city.
  Wouldn't it make more sense to see something more essentially English while we're actually in England?  Oh well, it was a fine show, just not what I would have chosen.

And that was it, just a quick taste of the area, over all too quickly, but still unforgettable.!

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Piccadilly Circus- from top of dou…
Piccadilly Circus- from top of do…
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photo by: ulysses