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.)