You’ve caught on by now, right?
Jackie and I are country girls who like to travel. We debated a long time about whether or not to take a few days in London at the finish of our Wales trip. In the end, we decided it may be the only time we fly in/out of Heathrow, so we should take advantage and see this historic city. Since Jackie narrowly avoided having a full-blown panic attack in the chaos of the London Underground, we were glad we chose to do a guided tour.
We booked through Premium Tours, which we’d recommend with a couple of caveats: Be prepared to be stranded wherever the tour ends. They do not take you back to where you were picked up! Our tour ended at the Park Plaza Hotel. Others ended at the London Eye or Tower of London.
The other tour negative is that no information was provided about lunch or restroom stops. Don’t stock up on coffee beforehand because you don’t get a break until lunch, which is on your own and not until one o’clock. Luckily we’d thought of this possibility and our hotel prepared us boxed lunches. They gave us so much food that we shared the treats with our new Australian friends!
We met this mother and her two thirty-something-year-old sons while waiting in the bus station for the tour to start. They were as unsure as us about being in the correct place. Humorous confusion started our exchanges and bounced back and forth throughout the day. What fun it was to watch them interact with family quips and ongoing jokes.
Our first double-decker experience!
We were on the top of a closed double decker bus, being driven around London and hearing tidbits of this huge city, marveling at the history. To give you perspective, London has over 8M residents, Jackie’s state of Montana finally topped the 1M mark, and my state of Pennsylvania over 12M.) We were overwhelmed with the expanse of the city.
We saw where the 1666 Great Fire of London started at a bakery on Pudding Lane, ending at Pie Corner. The devastation obliterated 350 acres, including St. Paul’s, in four short days. Londoners: “Fire Fire” is a new exhibit at The Museum of London, on display until April 2017.
Buckingham Palace is the only place we saw law enforcement during our travels (except for the Saundersfoot Spending Police)—extensively armed at that. The exterior of the Palace is austere compared to others I’ve seen. But it is huge and it was grand to stand there and see the Palace Guards.
The Tower of London
The Yeoman Warder (Beefeater) guides at the Tower of London are not to be missed. Our Warder was a grand story teller with a sardonic approach to the various off-with-their-heads stories. Seeing the Crown Jewels was sparkly, but the people mover slides you along so quickly that you see them in greater detail online.
Unlike what I had imagined: a tower with chains in the walls and a place for decapitations, the Tower of London is a sprawling complex of buildings. It covers twelve acres and has multiple towers, barracks, a chapel, the Jewel House and the Queen’s House.
Try to participate in the first tour of the day, when the Tower is not crowded. By the time we finished, it was bustling. The Yeoman’s site provides vast information about visiting—you could spend an entire day here.
A treat was stopping by St. Bartholomew’s Hospital. We’re fans of the current “Sherlock” series starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman. St. Bart’s is the hospital where Holmes faked his death in this version of The Reichenbach Fall. We were surprised at the number of messages left for the fictitious detective.
Other Notable Sites
Another interesting spot was a plaque near where Sir William Wallace was put to death in 1305. The guide said that in twenty years of coming there, he has never seen it without tributes. Those sentimental Scots.
We were sad to part ways with our Australian mates after St. Paul’s Cathedral. They were fun and sharing the tour with these folks made it special. St. Paul’s is active with worshipers. Be respectful and remember—no photographs inside.
Twenty minutes to take it in is a third of the time required to walk the sprawling grounds of this grand place. Don’t skip the gardens with various statues, flora, and fauna to enjoy.
Our tour ended with a quiet and relaxing Champagne Tea at the Park Plaza Hotel near Westminster Bridge.
And a lovely walk
To return to our hotel on the far side of Green Park, we strolled over the river, taking in the vastness of Parliament stretched beside the Thames. Research notes that “Big Ben” refers to the Bell itself, rather than the tower that holds it. The Bell weighs 13 tons. For contrast, anyone who has stood before the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, it weighs just over one ton. There are two theories about the actual Ben—one is Sir Benjamin Hall, known in the House as Big Ben, and the other is a heavyweight boxing champion of that era, known by the same name.
Not quite tired and well-recovered from our big-city anxiety, we walked around the Mayfair area, Jackie snapping various photos. A doorman popped out of the Four Seasons and asked if she was a famous paparazzi, so of course, I posed with him so she could get a shot.
Have you been? Did you see the same sights?
Thanks for touring Wales, Bristol and London with me—back to the USA for a while!