Friday, June 22, 2012

Foggy London Town - Sunday, May 27th (Day 1)

We landed about 7:30 in the morning London time and even though we were very comfortable on the plane we only had a few hours of sleep.

Luckily we had access to the Virgin Atlantic Arrivals Lounge. Here we were each assigned to a private bathroom with a shower stocked with very nice Cowshed brand products and we enjoyed a proper breakfast.

Once we ate and showered we headed in to the city on the train ready to find our hotel and determined to stay up until at least 9pm so we could reset our internal clocks. About 4pm this proved very difficult as we were both tired of walking and tired of being awake.

We found our hotel and checked in to our room. It was a Holiday Inn, very clean and suited our needs very well. We dropped off our bags and headed out for the day. We walked down Oxford Street through Oxford Circus and then Bond Street, both areas are known for fabulous shopping. We caught a quick glimpse of Picadilly Circus and made our way through The Green Park to Buckingham Palace.

The fountain honoring Queen Victoria was in the process of being transformed for the big Jubilee concert. The entire city seemed to be decked out in Union Jack flags and bunting, it was quite a sight to see all of the decorations.

Buckingham Palace was just as fabulous as I expected it to be - the gates, the guards, the famous balcony, it was all amazing.

I was thinking it must be strange to have people hanging on the gates to your house all day just staring and wondering what life is like inside the palace. Is that something you just get used to or do you just want to be left alone, I imagine some days you don't mind and some days it is really irritating (and if you are the Queen on those days you can head out to Windsor or Balmoral, it is good to be Queen).

We walked a down from Buckingham and had a quick bite to eat at a horribly touristy pub. It was fine but it was more about sitting and getting a drink than looking for something fantastic to eat. After the little break we took the Tube (London's subway) to Kensington Palace. Kensington Palace was the home of Princess Diana and it will be the future home of William and Kate (apparently they are getting a 20 room apartment). The entire Kensington compound is huge and there are other Royals that live on the property. They have just opened some parts of the Palace to visitors, these rooms include living quarters for Queen Victoria.

We didn't take the tour, instead we enjoyed the grounds and the beautiful sunken garden.

Kensington Palace is on the edge of Kensington Gardens, a huge park that is adjacent to Hyde Park.

We were at Kensington Gardens sitting on a bench about 4pm and I think we both could have fallen asleep right there. We rallied and figured out something to do before eating an early dinner and heading to bed.

My research librarian let me know the Harry Potter Platform 9 3/4 was at the King's Cross train station. I remembered my friend Bex saying it was really lame but I couldn't remember why and it was just one of those things I had to see for myself anyway. We hopped on the Tube to King's Cross station and looked around for Platform 9 3/4 - it was pretty easy to find. It was surrounded by families of tourists with parents taking photos of their children "pushing" the luggage cart though the wall, just like Harry Potter. Clearly the little set up was a total last minute afterthought, it is one sign and half a grocery cart in an odd part of the mall above the station - it isn't even in the station or near any actual train platforms. I had Michael take my picture and we moved along. I was glad we went to see it but I would have been mad if I had chosen to see this over something else or if had been a real pain to get to that train station.


The real gem of this tourist outing was the St. Pancras station. From the outside it was this imposing red brick structure that served as a hospital at one time during its history.

Once you stepped in side the station it was even more impressive. The entire platform area would have once been an outdoor courtyard, but now it is covered by a huge glass ceiling that let in lots of light and was architecturally stunning with the glass and iron beams arching gracefully overhead.

Inside the station the high speed Eurostar trains were loading up travellers headed to Paris or Brussels. The trains travel at a max speed of 186 mph and can get you to Paris in about 2 hours. We seriously considered going to Paris for a day but there was just too much to see in London. It was really tempting and we wrestled with the decision for a couple of days.

The station has a huge set of Olympic rings hanging at the entrance. London is definitely getting ready to welcome the world this summer.

It was a quick walk back to our hotel and dinner from here. We ate just across the street from our hotel at Marquis Cromwell. We didn't realize it, but Sunday night was a quiet night for the pub - every weeknight it was packed with locals grabbing a pint after work. It was Sunday night, the tradition 'roast' night. Michael had the lamb roast and I had the nut roast. I had to try it just to find out what a nut roast was, basically it was similar to a piece of meatloaf but it was made entirely from different nuts ground in to different textures, bound together and then baked as a loaf. It was very tasty and very filling. Both dishes also came with roasted carrots and new potatoes. The new potatoes were roasted and then they had to be fried, they were absolutely delicious but you knew they were not good for you - luckily there were just a few in a serving.

We made it to 9pm, time to get a good night sleep and get ready for day 2 of our London holiday! (I tracked our miles once we were home and we walked 8.5 miles that first day, no wonder my legs were tired on Monday.)

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Where in the World - London!

My big surprise trip was a real surprise - until we checked in at the airport I had no clue we were headed to London! I have always wanted to go and because of a great airfare special in honor of Queen Elizabeth's Diamond Jubilee Michael booked the trip of a lifetime.

He really wanted this to be a total surprise so he packed for me;I had no idea what was in my suitcase. I didn't even look to see if he pulled our passports, he really wanted this to be a surprise so I did my part to ensure it was. On the way to the airport the cab had a meter that wasn't working and the driver took a different route to JFK (the cab bit was just lucky - Michael didn't ask him to drive any particular route).
Once we were at the airport he showed me the board that had our flight and asked where I wanted to go - the choices were Las Vegas, Stockholm. Oslo, and London. I really wanted to go to London but I didn't want to pick it as my destination because I didn't want him to feel bad if he didn't pick it (Michael likes a vacation where his choices are do we sit on the beach today or by the pool). I had very incorrectly assumed we were going to Vegas, so that is what I said. His reply, "Let's head East." When we got to the ticket counter he pulled out our boarding passes for London! I was beyond excited and that wasn't even the best part - we were flying Virgin Atlantic Upper Class. What an amazing way to fly, it will be hard to go back to coach.

Michael made sure we arrived at the airport with plenty of time to enjoy the Virgin lounge. It had a full size pool table, open bar, several dining options, a Bumble & Bumble salon, and a spa. Various spa and beauty treatments were complimentary. I opted for a deep conditioning hair treatment (complimentary) and a blow out (which was definitely a reduced price from the regular Bumble & Bumble prices). I was so excited my hair would be sleek and beautiful headed to fabulous London. Michael opted for a massage.
My first drink was an ice tea. Look at how it was served - just fabulous. All ice tea should be served in fancy glass pitchers just like this one and fresh brewed just for me. The small white pitcher had simple sugar syrup in case you wanted your tea sweet.

The bathrooms were of course very nice as well. I loved the tribute to the Statue of Liberty on the door of the ladies room. Inside there were urban planning type drawings of New York City. The photo below shows Central Park's reservoir.

The lounge had lots of different seating options. We had plenty of time to sit and then enjoy a full meal.

I finished our late lunch with a special chef's dessert. It was a sampling of a few different items, just a small bite of each. There was a chocolate mousse, a grapefruit sorbet and a sponge cake topped with raspberries and Poprocks. I haven't had Poprocks in a very long time, the crackle was a really fun touch.

Once on board (we flew a 747 with the upper deck and our section had a bar in back) we found our individual pods. The seats had a footrest (my black bag is sitting on my footrest) and when you were ready to sleep they folded down completely flat. Of course there was an individual entertainment system with countless movies and tv shows. I only ended up watching one show and that was the London destination video.

They even provided us with a 'Sleep Suit' so we could change and be comfortable during the flight. It was basically a set of light weight sweatpants and a long sleeve top. We had dinner at the bar and the moved to our seats. When I was ready, the  flight attendant made my bed and I enjoyed about 3 hours of sleep.

Once we landed in London we took advantage of the Arrivals Lounge. Here we were able to eat a full, made to order breakfast and take a shower. They assigned you a lovely private bathroom with a sink and shower during your visit to the lounge. The showers were stocked with a fabulous local bath products by a company called 'Cowshed'. There were attendants who made sure no one else used your room and they cleaned it once you were done. It made it so much easier to take on our first day in London after a shower.

Michael had really wanted to take me to London during the actual Jubilee celebrations, unfortunately with my work schedule that just wasn't possible. As it turns out, our timing was much better. We had absolutely lovely weather with just one 30 minute rain shower during our entire visit and there were no crowds.

Of course the time flew by way too quickly. We made sure to arrive at the airport early on our departure day to enjoy the Heathrow Virgin Atlantic lounge. Upper Class has its advantages, we had our own customs and TSA line. We were the only people going through at that time and just flew through and straight to the lounge.

The London lounge was just beautiful. It also had a salon and spa with complimentary services, various dining options, a pool table, a media area, a library, and you could go up on the roof to see the planes.

We first sat in the area pictured below. I tried the hanging chair but it was about as easy to get in and out of as it looks - and I am just not graceful. One would think the hanging chair was the most complicated chair but the brown chairs had a really strange center of balance. Yes, as soon as I sat down the entire thing tipped forward and I was on the floor! You really can't take me anywhere - I hadn't even started drinking my Pimm's cocktails yet.

At 3pm they offered a tea service. I didn't have time to enjoy a proper tea during the trip so it was absolutely perfect. The scone was flaky and warm and the sponge cake was delicately flavored with lemon. I also had not tried Pimm's in London, I made up for that in the lounge as well. The Pimm's cocktail was pretty tasty and I think was basically Pimm's, ginger ale, and fruit - sort of English sangria.

The media area was really cool. The chairs had sets of headphones and you could tune the headphones to one of the channels up on the screen.

There were all kinds of great areas to sit in this lounge as well. The library had sort of an ocean beach house vibe and the dining room was sleek and modern. They kept putting out differnent magazines, I am a magazine junkie and ended up with about 6 of them in my bag for the flight home. I opted for a manicure as my complimentary spa service and Michael had another massage.

This is relaxed Michael after his massage - actually I just think he's tired of me taking pictures. 

I completely adored London and I can't wait to go back. It was an incredible trip!