Landing in London was the start of our European travels. The shuttle from the airport gave us our first glimpse of many London icons – Red double decker buses, red phone booths, black cabs and….rain. We were looking forward to a guided tour of London the following day, but set out on our own for a little initial orientation.
After settling into our hotel, we took off on foot to explore the local neighbourhood in Kensington amid rows of white-painted terrace houses. Many of these, including our own hotel, have now been converted into boutique accommodation. Prominent blue wall plaques provided us with historic information, such as the fact that we were staying across the road from Alfred Hitchcock’s old house.
We made note of the important landmarks, the two tube stations within easy walking distance and a number of pubs, where Ian was keen to try out the local produce.
One worthwhile extravagance on the first day of our week in London was a “London in a Day” guided coach tour. This guided tour of London gave us an orientation of the city and a whistle-stop view of many of the major attractions. This enabled us to take note of the places we would like to come back to later in the week.
It also provided us with a running commentary from our tour guide and entry into a couple of the major sites.
Guided tour of London
Our tour commenced at 8am, when we were picked up from the hotel. We marvelled at the skill with which the driver manouvred the big red bus through the heavy London traffic, sometime with only inches to spare. Ian is a seasoned bus driver – a bus full of screaming school children on the last day of term didn’t faze him. But he was agape at the skill of these drivers.
As the rows of colonaded town houses turned to a brown and then cream paint scheme we learnt that the colour and style of the homes delineated which Lord owned the land. Certainly makes it easy to know which neighbourhood you are in.
Royal Albert Hall
Our first stop was a quick visit to the Royal Albert Hall, where crews were setting up for “The Proms” which we had watched many times on ABC TV. Adjacent was the Albert Memorial, which Queen Victoria commissioned in 1872 in memory of her beloved husband.
Donning our personal audio guides, linked to our tour guide, we took a stroll around the Westminster Abbey precinct and houses of Parliament, with the mandatory photo opportunity at Big Ben.
By the time we arrived at Buckingham Palace, it was raining. This didn’t deter us from donning our lightweight rain jackets (absolutely the best thing we packed for this trip). We then headed down the mall to witness the changing of the guard, as the troops trotted towards Buckingham Palace in full regalia.
The weather cleared by the time our tour arrived at Trafalgar Square for a lunch break. Here we found the National Museum and Art galleries, Nelson,s Column, the historic church of St Martin in the Field with a cafe and restaurant now established in the crypt…ummm no thanks.
We took advantage of some free time to wander around the square, continuing our research into London Pubs visiting an historic establishment decorated in a naval theme.
St Paul’s Cathedral
Back on our coach we headed to St Paul’s Cathedral, an amazing piece of Christopher Wren architecture. During our tour of the Cathedral we had the opportunity to stand on the spot where Lady Di “fluffed” her lines during her wedding ceremony nearly 40 years ago, before visiting Wellington, Nelson, Churchill, Thatcher and others in the crypt below.
Those not averse to spiral stairs could climb to the “Whispering Gallery” high up in the dome, however this was something I chose to witness from below.
Tower of London
Our final stop for the day was a visit to the Tower of London. Crossing tower bridge, often mistaken for London Bridge, we gained our first glimpse of the massive fortress which I felt was worth a post on its own
This was just in time to finish the day with “fish and chips” and “a pint” at the local, which was so popular we were asked to share our table with a French couple who spoke English as well as I speak French.
I did manage to articulate that we were visiting from Australia our daughter who lives in Berlin recommended the fish and chips, and able to glean that they were visiting for the weekend from their home in the south of France where they run a B & B.