About a month and a half ago, Gerrit was asked to travel to the UK for some business meetings and we suddenly thought it seemed absolutely silly to not take full advantage of that opportunity and also fly me over. So we took a week of vacation before his meetings and toured around the UK a bit, which has been on our travel list for as long as our travel list has existed (but isn’t something we thought would happen any time soon).
We loved it. And because I am a lover of travel blog posts, and love when I can create my own, I’ll split our trip up into a couple of different posts. First up, London.
We arrived in London in the morning, and as soon as we got into the city from the airport, we were able to check in to the apartment we were planning on staying in. And here is where I am going to sing the praises of Air BnB (and this is completely un-sponsored and totally my own thoughts). That first apartment was not a good situation. It didn’t seem cleaned and ready for us, there were no clean towels, we hadn’t heard from the host in days, etc. Air BnB completely took care of us, and after hanging out in a Starbucks for an hour or so (for the WiFi), they helped us get a reservation for a new place that we loved.
We spent most of the afternoon walking around and seeing the palaces: Buckingham Palace, St. James’s Palace, Kensington Palace (we did not walk from Buckingham to Kensington…this is much farther than it looks, and this is where we learned how to use The Underground).
This was a great plan for the first day because a) it helped us get our bearings b) it allowed us to see several things we wanted to see without a strict schedule the first day and c) we were able to simultaneously deal with our lodging issue.
Day Two was when we really hit the touring hard. After breakfast at Pimlico Fresh (which we loved), we headed to Big Ben and Parliament to look at it/take pictures/etc. while we waited for Westminster Abbey to open.
Westminster Abbey was one of my favorite things we did on the trip. The space is beautiful and the history cannot be beat.
And the best part of our Westminster Abbey visit is that because we got there before it opened and because we had bought our tickets online ahead of time, we were some of the first people inside. Because our favorite way to see a cathedral is when it is practically empty (see St. Peter’s), we scooted past some of the beginnings of the tour, and made our way to the Sanctuary for a few quiet and completely uncrowded minutes.
After finishing here, we were already ahead of schedule, so we decided to make our way up to the National Gallery for a few minutes before lunch. One awesome thing about the UK is that some of the best museums are completely free, so we didn’t feel bad at all skipping two thirds of the museum and heading straight for the art that is most interesting to us.
After lunch (Nando’s, which we ate several times on the trip because it is good and fast), we headed back the way we had come and went to the Churchill War Rooms and Museum. We agreed that this is one of the coolest museums we’ve ever been to (unfortunately it’s not one of the free ones). The bunkers are set up as they had been in WWII, with the rooms where they met in during the war, the rooms Churchill and other officials slept in, the kitchens, etc. And attached to it is a really well done museum about Winston Churchill.
The last thing on our list for the day, after wandering around a bit more and having dinner (we ate at a pretty standard pub), was riding the London Eye. This is one of the things I think we did wrong on our trip. We had heard that we should go at night, but we were getting so tired and the sun was setting so late, that we didn’t feel like waiting until it was dark. Now, I wish we had.
But the views were still very cool and it is one of those things you “have” to do, but I think it would have been more worth our money had we gone at night to see everything in the city lit up.
For our third day in London, we started at the Tower of London (after breakfast at Gail’s, which we loved). I was very glad to get there before the crowds, but even once people started filling in, it never felt too cramped or crowded, since it is such a big space (although the groups gathering for the free tours were ridiculously huge). I knew almost nothing about the Tower of London, and so I didn’t expect it to look like a little village inside. It was perfectly enjoyable, although not top of my list (although I did enjoy seeing the crown jewels).
After the Tower of London, we walked across Tower Bridge and had lunch at Borough Market, which is a farmer’s market/artisan food market of sorts. Then walked past Shakespeare’s Globe and across Millennium Bridge where we took the tube to the British Library.
This was easily one of my favorite things of our trip that I keep forgetting to tell people about when they ask what my favorite things were. The British Library has a small museum housing original manuscripts/scores/books of famous writers/composers/etc. There are drafts of music by Beethoven and Bach and Chopin. There are manuscripts (many with editorial markings) of Charlotte Bronte and Lewis Carroll and Jane Austen (Jane Austen!). There is a Gutenberg Bible and an original Magna Carta and a handwritten letter from Queen Elizabeth. Gerrit and I both completely geeked out over this exhibit for a long time. By far the longest we spent in any museum our entire trip.
After this excitement we took the tube back to St. Paul’s for one of our other favorite things: Evensong. St. Paul’s holds an evening choral service every night, and it was a beautiful experience. (And is a great way to get in to see a church for free.)
Also for dinner that night we ate at The Marquis at Westminster, which was one of our favorite pubs we ate at in London.
The next morning we were up early and on to Scotland…
So more to come soon…but it may have to wait until our moving chaos dies down a bit.