25 June – Saturday
Pat and I left Singapore arriving very early into Heathrow at 5:10 AM. After landing we spent nearly 45 minutes getting through Immigration and Customs because of the crowds. We topped up our Oyster Cards and took the Underground to the Canada Water station (the closest one to our AirBnB – click to see the listing).
Because we weren’t scheduled to meet our AirBnB host until 11:00 AM, we stopped at the Canada Water Cafe, just outside the station, for breakfast. Then we headed for the BnB, just to see if we could find it – we did (kind of, we were a block off because I remembered the address as 7 not 17). To kill additional time, we went in search of a geocache, which we found easily. We also got our first views of the neighborhood with its ponds and canals left over from the area’s docklands.
At 11:00, we found the correct house and met our host, Paris. She was very nice and showed us around the house. She also left us some fruit and muffins. Paris had a couple of suggestions for places to eat and where we could get groceries. She also asked if we would water her houseplants.
We soon got a message from David that they were at Victoria Station, having arrived on the Gatwick Express. Their flight from Columbus, OH took them through Lisbon, Portugal and then to Gatwick. We told them we would meet them at Canada Water, but must not have been clear, since we waited at Canada Water, while they took an Uber to the house.
The kids all wanted to take showers and rest a bit before tackling London. After a couple of hours, we all headed out for a quick sightseeing walk. We took the Underground to the London Bridge station and walked along the south bank of the Thames to Tower Bridge. While crossing the Bridge the rains came and we got very wet even with umbrellas.
After a short walk around the Tower of London, we decide to eat at Wagamama, a Japanese-style noodle restaurant Pat and I had discovered on a much earlier trip. At that time we were very enthusiastic about the menu, but since then it has shrunk in size, and in our minds is no longer a place we’ll go back to.
David wanted to go to Speakers’ Corner at Hyde Park. So I led everyone to the wrong Underground stop (got off at Hyde Park Corner, one stop short of where we wanted to be), but we made it after a 15 minute walk. There was not much activity going on, only about 6 speakers, none of which caught our attention for very long.
Our next stop was Hedonism Wines, suggested by our friend Toh Weh Hon. What a place – not only wine, but spirits of all sorts. There had to be a wine for every taste and occasion. Price was sometimes in the thousands of pounds (or dollars).
While walking along the road, we spotted a reference to Shepherd Market, so we decide to head there. Of the many places to have lunch, we chose The Market Tavern. Here we had their Sunday roasts: Slow cooked lamb shoulder and red wine a jus; Roast Cherry Orchard pork loin and red wine a jus; Woodhall’s black combe ham, salami, sun-blushed tomatoes and breads. Very tasty meals. In addition, we had a variety of ales, lagers and ciders.
The next items on the agenda was to find chocolate shops (David and Justin’s favorites to visit wherever they travel). We set the GPS for Carbonnel et Walker Gourmet Chocolates in the Royal Arcade on Old Bond Street. Then on through the Burlington Arcade, across Piccadilly to Prestat Chocolate in the Princess Arcade between Piccadilly and Jermyn Streets. We continued on to Carpo (Nuts, Chocolate and Coffee) on along Piccadilly. Of course, we had samples at each of these shops and some bought take-away.
We made our way towards Denmark Street, another place David had wanted to go. It was also known by the name of Tin Pan Alley and is now lined with guitar stores. David and Justin were content to spend the whole day there.
Although we had been sampling chocolate all afternoon, we still needed to have dinner. We wanted to try a particular Indian restaurant, but the line and the wait was more than we were willing to endure. Therefore, heading towards Covent Garden, we found another Indian restaurant, Grand Indian Restaurant – not the best, but met our needs.
Walked around Covent Garden and then to Charing Cross Station to catch the Underground toward home.
27 June – Monday
Today we started with breakfast at the Canada Water Cafe.
We then went to St. Paul’s Cathedral. One of the things I like to do is climb to the Whispering Gallery (257 steps) in the dome, then continue up to the Golden Gallery (an additional 904 steps), with a short stop at the Stone Gallery. Justin and I were the first up the stairs; Pat and Meredeth were behind us; David chose to stay below and investigate the Crypt and other parts of the building on level ground.
When Justin and I got to the Golden Gallery, the additional stairs to the top-most center of the dome, appeared to be closed. However, we were later told (and shown the pictures) that Pat and Meredeth went on up. That was very disappointing to me, as I really like looking directly down on the floor below the dome, seeing the chairs and the people that look like tiny ants.
After we all got back down, we went to explore the Crypt and other parts of St. Paul’s.
Leaving St. Paul’s at lunch time, we headed down Ludgate Hill and ate lunch at Ye Old London pub. The meal was uninspiring and the menu is the same at many Taylor/Walker pubs around London. We decided to look at the printed menu card from a distance before walking towards a pub. If we saw the same generic menu card, we walked on by.
Our next stop was the Temple Church – made popular in “The Da Vinci Code” in 2008. That year the Temple Church went from being a seldom seen tourist spot to an extremely popular site.
We left the Temple grounds and walked to Parliament and Westminster Abbey. In a grassy park beside the Abbey there were lots of tented area setup for camera crews, reporters, and interviewees. Brexit was still a very hot topic.
Ate dinner a The Mayflower Pub, near where we were staying. The Mayflower is the oldest pub on the Thames and is the place the Mayflower, carrying the Pilgrims to America, started out, with a stop in Plymouth to pick up the rest of the people. It is an interesting pub and the food was good.
28 June – Tuesday
Pat and I started the day with running around the neighborhood. I put in a 3.5 mile run, my first ever in Great Britain; Pat ran just under 2 miles (way to go Pat!).
After breakfast, we went to Buckingham Palace to see the Changing of the Guards. We got there about 11:00 AM and the area in front of the Palace was mobbed. The ceremony actually starts at 11:30 AM.
I walked on over to Wellington Barracks to see the band preparing to march to the Palace.
Then went back to watch the ceremony with the rest of the family.
We stayed until a little after 12:00 PM and then start another quest for chocolate. This time we were headed to Rococo Chocolate, in Belgravia (an area behind the Palace). However, on our walk there, we stopped at UNI Restaurant for a sushi lunch.
Since we were reasonably close, we stopped at the food halls in Harrods (looking at the chocolates there, too). Then it was off to Artisan du Chocolate for David and Company. Pat and I went to the Rose & Crown for a pint while we waited for the others.
We had dinner at home after stopping at Sainsbury’s grocery on the way home. We feasted on cheese, meats and wine.
29 June – Wednesday
Today we started out going to Camden to visit the Camden Lock Market and the nearby Camden Stable Market. This is an area in North London along a portion of Regent Canal. David, Justin and I did a very quick survey of these markets and then found a coffee shop to kill some time, whilst Pat and Meredeth took a more leisurely look around.
After the coffee and a pastry, my group found the food stalls (known as the West Yard) near the canal and decided we would choose these stalls for lunch when we met up with Pat and Meredeth. The variety of countries of origin for the food was good. David found a stall that advertised kangaroo and zebra, but was disappointed when he found their supply of these animals had not yet arrived.
After lunch, Pat and Meredeth went to find something they had seen earlier and the guys went to the Lockside Camden Restaurant for Punk IPA and Camden Pale Ale.
Once we were all back together again, our new destination was the British Museum. Pat, Justin and I headed for my 3 personal favorites: the Rosetta Stone (the first time I saw it, I touched it; the second, there was rope blocking access; this time, it was encased in a glass case), the Elgin Marbles (always impressive, but probably should be in Greece) and the Assyrian Collection. David and Meredeth went off by another route. After only an hours we ran into David and Meredeth and voted to leave. The crowds were just too much.
We popped across the street to the Museum Tavern, a place Pat and I always seem to end up in. We had a quick drink and then went for an early dinner at another of our favorite restaurants, a couple of block away – Konaki Greek Restaurant. We had a very good dinner.
Then headed home, where I reserved a car for our adventures on Friday and Saturday.
30 June – Thursday
Today we are going to Dover, so we took the Underground to Victoria Coach Station to catch a bus to Dover Ferry Terminal. Just made it to the station in time to pick up our tickets and find the bus. One of the problems was that when I made the reservations, the email I received acknowledging the purchase didn’t have a receipt number or any other identifier. I first got in the general ticket line, which was definitely too long to allow us to make the bus, but Pat asked around and were told we should go to the customer service desk in another part of the terminal. That we did and got our ticket/printout just in time.
The bus trip is a little over 2 hours. Once we got to the Dover Ferry Terminal, we discovered we had about a 20-30 minute walk to the other side of the bay to the dock where we were supposed to catch our boat to see the White Cliffs from the water. While walking along the waterfront, we saw some people practicing for swimming the Channel. The beach here is where the Channel swimmers either start or finish their crossings.
Once we found where we would board the boat, we headed to the Hythe Bay Seafood Restaurant for a quick bite of food. Then, we went back to the White Cliffs Boat Tours, where we boarded the boat and set out for a tour of the bay at the foot of the cliffs. We immediately realized the boat would not be leaving the breakwater and that the only part of the cliffs we would see were the same ones we had walked past (and taken pictures of) on our jaunt from the bus stop. The only bright spot was an explanation of some of the features by the boat captain.
Once back on shore, we boarded a van for:
“You will see some of Dover’s best attractions and historical sites including:
- The 2nd World War Gun Emplacements with a view across the marina & piers.
- The town and its history
- The Roman Painted House which formed part of a large official hotel built during the Roman era.
- Dover Museum that holds Bronze age boat, the oldest sea going vessel in Europe if not the world.
- Dover Castle. The bus drops passengers off at Dover Castle if they wish, or in Dover Town Centre, before going back to Dover Marina.
- Enjoy the British countryside for a moment whilst heading for those famous White Cliffs.
- Look across the Channel and see France on a clear day.”
Each of these bullet points were as brief as they could possibly make them. Rather than visiting most of these sites, we just drove past them and the driver, who was also the captain of the boat, briefly point out what things were. We had 15 minutes to walk on the path above the cliffs; we had 5 minutes at the gun emplacement.
We were highly disappointed with the boat/van trips and should have done much more research.
The van dropped us off at a pub in town, The Eight Bells, where we had dinner. Then, walking back to the bus stop to catch our bus back to London. Along the walk we stopped in The White Horse, Dover’s oldest pub and the place where the cross-Channel swimmers come to sign their names on the walls when they finish their crossings. Next to the pub, was the ruins of an old church.
Long day for so little satisfaction.
1 July – Friday
We got up early this morning and took the Underground to Heathrow to pick up our rental car from Europcar. I started driving, as I have experience driving in Great Britain, on the left side of the road and shifting with my left hand. Both David and Meredeth are listed as drivers, too.
Our first destination is Royal Leamington Spa to an AirBnB that Meredeth has booked. The apartment is about 15 miles from Stratford-upon-Avon, our destination for the day. We have ticket for A Midsummers Night Dream, performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company at 7:15 in the Swan Theater, this evening.
After dropping off our luggage, we drove to Stratford-upon-Avon, found a carpark and went in search of a place to eat a late lunch. What we found open was The Pastry, where we had a light lunch of sandwiches and drinks. We then went for a walkabout and a tour of the Tower, a high building attached to the Swan Theater, where we could see views around Stratford-upon-Avon and out to the Cotswolds. Although the day was overcast and rainy, we did enjoy the views.
Later we split up and Pat, Justin and I went one way; David and Meredeth, another. We planned to meet later at Cox’s Yard for dinner before the play. The 5 of us shared a huge steak. It was okay, but not a great steak – interesting only because of the size. Unfortunately, the bone was probably too much of the total weight.
It was then off to the Swan Theater for the production. We were in the second row, next to one side of the stage. Our seats were very good for enjoying the play. I still find Shakespeare difficult to understand, but the play was still good. The actors were dressed in somewhat contemporary dress. Some women played men’s parts and some men played women’s parts – unlike Shakespeare, where men played all the parts.
After the play, David drove us back to our AirBnB.
2 July – Saturday
Yesterday, we had decided to return to Stratford-upon-Avon for breakfast, but changed our collective minds and decide to eat in the Royal Leamington Spa area. Not having any success finding a place, we loaded the car and headed toward Stonehenge, hoping to find a place to eat in a nearby town. Meredeth decided to try driving, but soon gave up, as she had not driven a manual shift for several years and had some difficulty. Had we not been in England, I’m sure it would have gone more smoothly.
Our stop for breakfast was in Warwick, where we ate at Bread & Co. (Artisan Bakery and Cafe). Most of us had some variation of an English Breakfast (without the baked beans). I had fun talking to the owner and we all enjoyed our breakfasts (especially, Meredeth who also had some clotted cream). We all agreed that Warwick was a really interesting town and wished we had more time to explore it.
Warwick has a castle, but the cost was more than we wanted to pay and we wanted to get on to Stonehenge. We left Warwick and headed there. The drive was about 116 miles, or a little over 2 hours.
Our first view of Stonehenge was from the road as we approached the turnoff. Wow! Meredeth bought us all tickets at the visitor center. While she was waiting in line one of the rain storms that would get us there blew in and the temperature dropped. By the time we got the tickets and got in line for the bus to the stones, the rain had stopped. However, the sky still looked like it would come again.
We had a great time circling Stonehenge, taking photos from all different angles. We hiked back to the car on part of the many hiking paths that cross England. We bought a basket of fresh fruit along the way – strawberries, cherries, and one apricot!
After walking back to the Visitor Center and picking up our car, we drove to Salisbury. Being very hungry, we ate dinner at The Wig & Quill, which just happened to be across the street from the car park we stopped at.
After dinner and a pint, we walked to the Anglican Salisbury Cathedral, a good example of early English architecture, whose main part was build between 1220 and 1258. The Cathedral has one of the original copies of the 1215 Magna Carta, but unfortunately, the display had closed before we were able to get there. However, the rest of the place was beautiful.
After the cathedral we walked around the town a bit and found – yes indeed – a fudge shop.
We then returned to London.
3 July – Sunday
Today is the last full day for David, Justin and Meredeth, as they have to leave early tomorrow morning.
Our first stop was to be the Brunel Museum, a short walk from our AirBnB. This museum was across the street from The Mayflower and I had noticed a small cafe in the building. This is where we decided to have breakfast, until we found out all they had was coffee. However, the docent (who turned out to be the Museum Director) recommended Simplicity, just a block away.
We went back to the Brunel Museum and had somewhat of a guided tour from Robert Hulse, the Museum Director. He explained the tunnel under the Thames was needed to get goods from the docks on the south side of the river to the north side, without causing a problem with all the ships going up and down the river. The tunnel was started in 1825 and took 18 years to complete. When it opened in 1843 it was only for pedestrians, because they didn’t have enough money to build the freight access ramps. Finally, in 1869, trains were able to run through the tunnels. Today the trains are part of the London Overground. The public can only visit the original Rotherhite Tunnel Shaft, where you can feel the trains running beneath your feet.
From the Brunel, we went to the Tower of London. David, Justin and Meredeth got tickets and went in with the crowds; Pat and I relaxed by the river and had a cup of coffee. After a couple of hours, the kids came out, disappointed with the visit, primarily because of the crowds. Crowds and David don’t mix well.
Because we had had such a good Sunday lunch at The Market Tavern, last week, we headed there for lunch. Unfortunately, when we arrived, they had sold out of all the roasts except the beef. We all had the beef.
From The Market Tavern, we walked down the street to The Kings Arms for a pint before going back to Denmark Street and the various guitar shops. David and Justin sampled more guitars.
We then went for dinner on Neals Yard Street, north of Covent Garden, at the Punjab Restaurant. The food met our need for Indian food. The restaurant is the oldest Northern Indian restaurant in the United Kingdom.
Then it was back to the AirBnB to start packing to leave tomorrow.
4 July – Monday
Today we go our separate ways. David’s group had to leave the house by 7:00 AM, to get to Gatwick and catch their flight through Portugal, back to Columbus. Pat and I don’t leave for Singapore until 8:00 PM. However, we have to be out of the house by Noon, but can leave our luggage until later.
Pat and I left the house at 8:00 AM and went looking for a yarn shop that Pat had looked up. We caught a bus a few blocks north of our house, to Lower March Street. As the bus stop at Lower March was closed because of nearby construction, we had to walk a bit to get to the yarn shop. As we were walking, we stopped at a Costa Coffee shop for breakfast, a grocery store for gum and chips and then on to find I Knit London. The yarn shop was closed for another hour, so we wandered along Lower March and stopped in several interesting bookstores, including a travel bookstore, “Traveling Through…”, where I talked to the owner and recommended Swallowing Clouds and Eastern Approaches.
After Pat bought some yarn (surprise!) at I Knit London, we headed walked to St. Paul’s Churchyard and the Citibank offices hopefully to pick up replacement cards because I lost one on our cards on our first day in London. Along the way to the bank, we noticed the Thames was at low tide, and in some places, the “beach” was available.
Arriving at the Citibank office, I held out little hope that my new credit cards would actually be waiting for me, but was almost shocked they were waiting for me.
Since it was now time for lunch, we walked down Lugate Hill to Fleet Street and The Punch Tavern.
After lunch, walked across Blackfriars Bridge to catch the bus back to the house. However, we decided to stop at the Tate Modern. Glad we did.
When we got back to our AirBnB, we got a chance to talk to Paris again. She was cleaning up for her next visitors. We visited a bit, picked up our luggage, and took the Underground to Heathrow to wait for our flight home.