Our first two days spent in London were day trips in from the “country” with Margo. For day one, we were up bright and early for our full-day Margo Tour of London, which began at the Tower of London at 10AM.
The Tower of London, the symbol of English Royal Authority that has overlooked the River Thames for nearly 1000 years, was a great visit. We spent almost three hours in the fortress, reliving the history from William the Conqueror to Anne Boleyn, but the best part of our visit to the Tower of London was the Crown Jewels. Oh my, those English know how to throw diamonds, emeralds, rubies, sapphires, gold, rabbit fur, and velvet together to make a nice-looking ceremonial headwear. After about three hours of walking around the Tower from torture rooms to the Royal Bed Chambers, we made our way back, through the rain of course as it is London, to the underground to start the next portion of our tour at Trafalgar Square.
After soaking up the buzz of Trafalgar Square, we made our way down The Mall, the long, oft-used ceremonial road that connects Buckingham Palace with Trafalgar Square, but not before stopping at the Royal Horseguard Palace, and St. James’ Park along the way. As for Buckingham palace, it was not too shabby, it had a very British, understated, yet royal feel to it. We continued to dodge rain drops as we ventured to Westminster, where we got up close and personal with Westminster Abbey, Big Ben and, the former centre of the Universe, the House of Parliament, Westminster itself. This was about when the skies opened up and we had to seek refuge, and pints, in the Red Lion Pub, which is apparently a popular watering hole with Prime Minister David Cameron. After the pub we continued our walk up the famous Whitehall, past the Churchill War Rooms, Downing Street, although it is difficult to get a glimpse of No. 10, which is halfway down the block behind a large police barrier, and completed our grand loop of a tour back at Trafalgar square. It is quite impressive how most of England’s iconic landmarks are neatly tucked away into a very small area around one another. From Trafalgar Square, we tubed to Covent Garden, where we wandered about the Theatre District a bit and then called it a day with dinner at a 1950s USA themed diner – which Margo very much enjoyed the novelty of – before heading back to Liverpool Street station to catch our return train to Norfolk.
Our next day in London with Margo was all class; it was our Afternoon Tea at the Dorchester day – which meant I had to put on a button-up shirt and jeans that day. The day started off with a first-class train ride into London, where we, as our tea reservations were not until later in the afternoon, started our day off at the famous Piccadilly Circus, which is basically the Times Square of London, complete with massive neon signs. From there we briefly, at just over an hour, stopped in at probably, check that, the fanciest department store I have ever been, Fortnum and Mason. Was this place ever swanky, with clerks dressed as butlers, or at least they could have just been a butler doing their masters shopping, I do not know, so if that was the case, it was so fancy that butlers shopped there. After Fortnum and Mason we walked down Regent Street, which was abuzz with tourists, where we popped in The East India Company shop, the famous Hamleys Toy Shop, which was absurdly huge, and full of insane children losing their minds over all the toys that were on the shelves. We then made our way to Hyde Park and then down to The Dorchester, where we arrived just on time for our reservation at 4:15PM.
And talk about classy, The Dorchester was the epitome of class and definitely transported you back to the Days of Empire. Full of marble, chandeliers, tall ceilings, dark-wood furniture adorned with Victorian fabrics, and soft light, and paired with waiters in penguin tuxedos, complete with white gloves, the Tea Room was quite impressive. Our Afternoon Tea was started with a glass of champagne, of course it would, followed by a second, and then finally the tea, a light vanilla- and cinnamon-flavoured blend named Paris for Valentina and Margo, and a very smoky, campfire-esque, Russian tea for me, accompanied by absolutely delicious, small, crust-less sandwiches. The five flavours of sandwiches were roasted pepper and mushroom, cucumber and cream cheese, smoked salmon, Mediterranean chicken (actual slices of real chicken breast), and egg salad; each was paired with its own bread, all of which were a perfect pairing. And after three rounds of these wonderful finger-sandwiches, and a couple of pots of tea, we moved onto the desserts and scones, and a fresh pot of tea. The desserts and scones were just as good, but we had made the fatal error of enjoying the sandwiches and tea too much before their arrival, and it was definitely a struggle, a labour of love, to get through the second round of desserts and scones. And when we could not eat any more, we sat and enjoyed one last cup of tea, before waddling out some three hours after we had arrived.
We were so into our Afternoon Tea, all three hours of it, that we, and by that I mean Valentina, forgot to take as many photos as we should, but, please do trust us, if you are even in London, do yourself a favour and go to Afternoon Tea at The Dorchester; it was quite possibly the best part of our time in London.
The next morning, we packed up our bags again, said goodbye to Margo and made our way to London for our final four-nights in Europe. We arrived at our B&B right near King’s Cross station around 2:30PM, which gave us just enough time to hunt down some last-minute theatre tickets for War Horse at the New London Theatre. And talk about production value; War Horse was amazing. The stage was simple, yet the life-size puppet horses were outstanding, and incredibly life-like; so much so, that you often forgot that the horses on stage were in fact puppets.
We spent most of the next day wandering about the Natural History Museum, which, if you are into any sort of natural sciences, be it paleontology, geology, zoology or what have you, is a tremendous way to spend an afternoon in London; and the best part is, it is free, as are all the major museums in the UK. There was one downer though, as we were there during a sort of term-holiday for schools, the museum was jam-packed full of crazy little people running about and hogging all the good viewing angles of the dinosaurs. After the museum, we were quite hungry, which means Valentina was bordering on murderous rage, and since we were in London, we figured: “Hey, why not go for Indian food”. We ended up finding a great little place not too far from the museum either, but were ultimately sold on the place when the owner, as we viewed the menu in the window from the sidewalk, offered us free alcohol with our meal if we “honoured him with our business.” Sold!
After another great start to our morning thanks to our hearty English Breakfast at our B&B (you can never have too much bacon, eggs, sausages, navy beans, tomatoes, and toast in the morning), we visited, which was my favourite and quite likely the most impressive museum we visited, the British Museum. There definitely were some perks to the Empire, as the British Museum is full of some of the most amazing, impressive and important historic relics of human history; Ancient Egypt, Syria, Babylonia, Greece, India, Mexico, China, you name it, the British “collected” it, boxed it up and sent it back to London for “safekeeping”. We spent a good four hours exploring that big, beautiful British Museum and all of its relics, and even enjoyed a brief interlude of standing around while all the exhibits were evacuated due to a fire alarm; although no one was evacuated out of the building, as everyone just gathered around in the massive central court, eagerly waiting to either be the first to be burned alive or the first back in the exhibit rooms. Luckily we were first in line for the latter and enjoyed checking out some of the world’s oldest, best preserved Egyptian Mummies in those 35-seconds of undisturbed, bliss.
After our day at the museum, we tubed across London to the East End, Whitechapel to be precise, to partake in a Jack the Ripper tour, complete with “patented RIPPER VISION!” While this tour may sound like one of those lame, ghost tours, it was not. It was more a history walking tour, where we visited all the locations of the Ripper Murders, and listened to a retelling of all the facts and firsthand accounts surrounding each murder, with an accompany slideshow (Ripper Vision) of crime scene photos projected onto walls throughout the tour. It was a decently interesting and entertaining way to spend an evening walking about the East End; and there definitely was an eerie feeling about jumping on the Underground Central Line, which Jack the Ripper quite possibly did himself to flee his Whitechapel murder scenes.
The weather had been hit or miss most of our time in London, hence the Museum days, but the weather cleared up nicely and brought plenty of sunshine for our final day in London. With the sun shining we decided to (re)visit as many of the landmarks as we could, and with our early start we were able to see most everything we wanted to see. We first tubed up to Baker Street, 221B to be exact, and then tubed down to Waterloo Station, where we wandered along the south bank of the River Thames, checking out the London Eye. We then headed north past Westminster, through St. James’ Park and ended up at Buckingham Palace just in time for a military parade of the Horse Guard. After which we spent the rest of the day enjoying the sunshine and soaking up as much of London as we could, which obviously included some solid pub time.
We then capped off our last day by tubing all over London at night trying to get as many glamour night shots as possible of all of our favourite landmarks. Most turned out well, while others were surprisingly devoid of any late-night lighting, but, nevertheless, it was a great way to spend our final night in London, the UK and Europe.