Elizabeth and Steve's 2009 Trip to London

Nine days in London -- a great vacation!

Friday, April 24, 2009

 

Left the USA on Thursday night, and arrived at Heathrow early on Friday morning. Dropped our bags off at our hotel, the Lime Tree Hotel, in the Belgravia neighborhood, which we liked! Matt and Charlotte, the proprietors, were gracious, welcoming, and full of good suggestions for things to do (and how to get to them, which was a big help).

We walked to Hyde Park (not too far from the hotel), and I took a short jet lag-induced nap (sitting up, of course!) on a bench next to this beautiful flowering cherry tree.

Flowering tree in Hyde Park

Flowering tree in Hyde Park

Had a very nice lunch at the restaurant on the "Serpentine" (lake) in the park. After a nap at the hotel, back out and to the Brompton Oratory, a beautiful Italian Renaissance church south of Hyde Park. Then next door, to the wonderful Victoria & Albert Museum (the "V&A"), which is open late on Friday nights. Here's a photo of just one of the many cool things we saw there.

Elephant, at the Victoria & Albert

Dinner at the V&A Cafe, and then back to the hotel.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

 

Today was our day to see the Tate Modern, a modern art Museum in the former Bankside Power Station.

We bought one-week Oyster Cards, which gave us unlimited "Tube" and bus rides in London. (And we were glad to have purchased them!)

Here's a view of St. Paul's Cathedral from the base of the Millennium Bridge, the south end of which is in front of the Tate Modern.

St. Paul's, & the Millenium Bridge

A detail from the bridge.

Millenium Bridge detail

Looking north across the Thames from the cafe at the Tate Modern (where we had a great lunch!).

View from the cafe at the Tate Modern

After the Tate Modern, we thought we'd try out the London Eye. Which was a treat! Here's a view from one quarter of the way around.

Half-way up on the London Eye

And a view of the Clock Tower (which houses the bell, "Big Ben").

St. Stephen's Tower (Big Ben)

Almost all the way around on the Eye.

A view from the London Eye

And a view of the Eye from Hungerford Bridge.

The Thames from Hungerford Bridge

Good Fish & Chips at Livebait. And then the Tube back to the hotel.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

 

Elizabeth had scoped out the Columbia Road Flower Market as our first destination for the day. So many wonderful plants and flowers! And off the beaten (tourist) path, which was nice.

Flowers at the Columbia Road Market

Flowers at the Columbia Road Market

A happy customer!

A happy customer at the Columbia Road Market

Flowers at the Columbia Road Market

A tasty and leisurly lunch at Laxerio, on Columbia Road. Paella and sangria.

Then we walked to Brick Lane (in London's "East End"), a funky "vibrant art and fashion student area" (Wikipedia), and also home to a large population of Bengali immigrants.

A large crowd was enjoying a Brazilian band that was playing on a street corner.

A Brazilan band on Brick Lane

Then on to Old Spitalfield's Market, but not before I snapped this shot of pub-goers enjoying the nice day outside. (We saw quite a few pints being enjoyed on sidewalks outside of pubs all over London.)

A pub across from Old Spitalfields Market

On to the Liverpool Street Station. (Site of an amusing T-Mobile ad.)

Liverpool Street Station

Liverpool Street Station

Liverpool Street Station

A beautiful bowling green at Finsbury Circus.

Bowling Green in Finsbury Circus

Then through the Barbican Estate, which is a huge development done in a scary and unfriendly 60's concrete modern style.

Took the Tube back to our hotel.

But first, some wine and cheese at the Ebury Wine Bar, next door to our hotel. Very nice.

Monday, April 27, 2009

 

Off to the British Museum, which has to be at the top of the "must do" list for London. A wonderful place -- both for the many ancient artifacts, but also for the glass-topped courtyard (with the glass roof designed by Norman Foster, the same guy who designed a smaller glass roof in our hometown, Washington, D.C.).

British Museum

A number of photos from the Egyptian Sculpture Room. Including this colossal head of Amenhotep III, from around 1350 BC.

British Museum

British Museum

British Museum

We took a wonderful one-and-a-half tour by a blue badge guide, who pointed out this easy-to-miss cuneiform tablet. (Although I can't recall where it was -- there is so much to see at the Museum!)

Cunieform at the British Museum

"The British Museum acquired 11 wall-paintings from the tomb-chapel of a wealthy Egyptian official called Nebamun in the 1820s. Dating from about 1350 BC, they are some of the most famous works of art from Ancient Egypt." (Quoted from this page on the British Museum's Website.)

It's amazing to realize that these vibrant images are 3,350 years old!

British Museum

British Museum

British Museum

Back to the courtyard.

British Museum

British Museum

I liked this sculpture from the Japan collection.

British Museum

After spending the full day at the museum, we had a very nice dinner at L'escargot, in the Soho neighborhood of London.

We tried to get into Ronnie Scott's -- a famous jazz club -- to see Hiromi, which sounded like it would have been a good show, but it was sold out. Darn!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

 

We took the Tube to the High Street Kensington Station, and walked to Holland Park. Which included a beautiful formal garden.

Holland Park

As well as a lovely Japanese garden.

Holland Park

Holland Park

Holland Park

We walked northeast, to Notting Hill and Portobello Road. Then took the Tube to the Sloan Street Station, and walked to the Saatchi Gallery, which was great! They change exhibits periodically, but the one we saw was primarily modern art from the Middle East. Free admission, although a few pounds for a useful booklet with descriptions of the art.

Then back to the V&A, to see some exhibits that were closed when we were there previously on Friday (when the museum was open late, but not all the exhibits were open).

A quick and delicious dinner at Jenny Lo's, which we found on the very useful restaurant site, squaremeal.co.uk. And then off to see Billy Elliot at the Victoria Palace Theatre. Great show! (I'm not really a musical kind-a-guy, but this was treat that we very much enjoyed!)

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

 

Off to St. Paul's Cathedral. An amazing space inside. I had been up to the top of the dome in 2003, from which the view is spectacular. This time, the stairs from the base of the dome to the top were closed, but there were still great views from outside of the dome's base. (There's a cool virtual tour on the Cathedral's Website, which includes views from the top.)

View from St. Paul's

View from St. Paul's

View from St. Paul's

View from St. Paul's

Looking across the Thames (and the Millennium Bridge) to the Tate Modern.

View from St. Paul's

View from St. Paul's

Then we took the "DLR" (Docklands Light Railway) to Greenwich, which passes through the redeveloped Docklands area (with lots of high-rises and modern condos).

Once we arrived in Greenwich, it was perfect timing for fish & chips and a pint at Trafalgar Tavern (sitting outside, along the Thames), which we read about in Rick Steves' London.

Here are some views of the 17th-century Queen's House at Greenwich, with Docklands high-rises, across the Thames, in the background.

The Queen's House at Greenwich

The Queen's House at Greenwich

The Queen's House at Greenwich

This view is from the base of the Greenwich Observatory, which sits on a small hill.

View from the Greenwich Observatory grounds

We took a City Cruises boat from Greenwich back to the Westminster Pier. And saw some interesting Docklands buildings along the way.

The Docklands

Tower Bridge.

Tower Bridge, from the Thames

Tower Bridge, from the Thames

Millennium Bridge and the Tate Modern.

Millenium Bridge, from the Thames

Dinner at Med Kitchen, which was good. We had intended to visit the National Gallery, but their "open late night" had moved from Wednesday to Friday.

Took a bus back to the Victoria Coach Station (near our hotel), and got the top front seat!

Top front seat: Double Decker Bus

Thursday, April 30, 2009

 

Took the bus to Westminster, on the hope that we could see a session of Parliament. (Top front seats, again! Such tourists!) Turned out that it was easy to get in -- and (after pasing through a security checkpoint) you're immediately in Westminster Hall.

Westminster Hall

Westminster Hall

Westminster Hall

Westminster Hall

Then on to the chambers of the House of Commons. (No cameras allowed, alas.) We were up in the gallery (behind sealed glass), but not too far from the action, and it was a treat to watch the process unfold (albeit rather slowly, but that's politics everywhere, no doubt). David Miliband (Hillary's counterpart in the UK, essentially) spoke on the sad situation in Sri Lanka, from where he had just returned.

Then to the Churchill Museum and Cabinet War Rooms, which were amazing.

We walked to Westminster Abbey, for the 5:00 pm Evensong service. Got to sit right up front and close. Hearing the choir and organ reverberating in the Abbey was a wonderful treat.

Took the bus out to Chelsea to get to Chutney Mary an Indian restaurant we found on the helpful Website squaremeal.co.uk. Great food!

Took the bus back to Victoria Coach Station, and once again, got the top front seat!

Top front seat: Double Decker Bus

Top front seat: Double Decker Bus

A (blurry!) bicyclist.

Top front seat: Double Decker Bus

Friday, May 1, 2009

 

Took the Tube to the Tower Hill Station, and walked to the Tower Bridge.

Tower Bridge

Tower Bridge

Into City Hall for a quick tour of the modern spiral walkway that encircles the main meeting room.

Then on to Borough Market, which was packed with vendors selling all sorts of food.

Borough Market

Borough Market

Got sandwiches from the market, and took them across the street to the small lawn of Southwark Cathedral, which was packed with people enjoying their lunches on a beautiful day.

I didn't take many pictures today, but we did lots of fun stuff! Including taking the London Walks walking tour called "Legal and Illegal London: Inns of Court." We had a great guide who led us through some wonderful and peaceful courtyards (for the barristers, but open to the public), which are tucked away right in the middle of busy London.

Took the bus to Westminster Cathedral (built around the turn of the century, and near Victoria Station -- and not to be confused with Westminster Abbey). I had read that their choir was one of the best in the world, and we weren't disappointed! At 5:00 pm, we heard the Evening Prayer, sung by the Lay Clerks in the small Lady Chapel, and then, at 5:30 pm, the Solemn Mass sung by the full choir. Absolutely beautiful music!

Then on to see the Lion King, at the Lyceum Theatre, which was just amazing! It was directed by Julie Taymor, who also designed the sets and costumes, which were all a treat. (We had seen an exhibit of her work in Washington, D.C.; she is so creative!)

Stopped at Trafalgar Square for some night-time photos, before heading back to the hotel.

Night view at Trafalgar Square

Night view at Trafalgar Square

Night view at Trafalgar Square

Night view at Trafalgar Square

Saturday, May 2, 2009

 

We started our day with another two-hour London Walks tour: "Old Westminster." Our guide, Karen, was fantastic.

We decided, then, to take another tour, "Old Marylebone." Our guide, Margaret, was very knowledgeable and enthusiastic, but gave us just a bit more information than we were prepared to absorb. Nonetheless, it was an enjoyable walk through a very nice London neighborhood. The walk ended in Regent's Park, which was just beautiful. (We spent only a couple hours there; it would have been a great place to spend a full afternoon exploring!)

Duck, in Regent's Park

Regent's Park

Regent's Park

Back to Marylebone High Street (which we had walked along during our tour) in search of a pint. No space available on a beautiful day at any pubs' sidewalk tables, but we found Angel in the Fields, which was great, anyway. Then on to Michael Moore for a (fancy!) dinner.

Eventually, we made it (via a taxi, then the Tube, then a taxi) to a hotel we had booked near the airport.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

 

Flight home, after a great vacation!