For our family vacation this year, we chose to visit England. As many of you know, we first made sure that we got the kids to all 50 states. Then we visited Costa Rica last Summer. This Summer we visited England, beginning our journey with three days in London.
After arriving in Heathrow, we took the express shuttle and two tube lines to our hotel. We rented a “flat” or apartment from the London City Hotel, the entrance of which was right next to the Borough underground stop.
Despite feeling quite jet lagged, we determined to “power through” our first day. We began by walking past Borough Market and over London Bridge to visit St. Paul’s Cathedral.
At St. Paul’s we visited the crypts, the main floor, and climbed to the top of the dome.
From St. Paul’s we went back to our hotel to check in and drop our bags in the room. Along the way we stopped in Borough Market for a snack. Tom and I split an excellent corned beef (salt beef) sandwich (on which cheese was melted with a blow torch) and some sort of mediterranean pasty thing with potato and onion while Sam and Candy split some kind of 22,000 calorie dessert.
After dropping our bags in our hotel, we walked to the London Eye. Some think the Eye is a tourist attraction, but we all know it was an antenna used to attack the Earth by aliens whose plot was thwarted by Dr. Who.
After visiting the Eye, we stopped for dinner at the Sherlock Holmes pub. This pub features a room made to look like Holme’s study as described in the various stories. We ate traditional pub fare. The kids had their first (to my knowledge) hard cider.
We economized a bit at breakfast. Since our flat had a full kitchen, we purchased some muffins, Scotch egg, and falafel at a local Sainsbury’s store to heat up in the mornings.
We began the next day in London with a visit to the Tower of London and the Crown Jewels. I had seen the Crown Jewels over 30 years ago. The exhibit is MUCH more interesting and well displayed now. There is a bit of multimedia, but mostly the jewels and regalia are displayed nicely spaced, and they control access, so you can really see everything.
We took in the crown jewels first thing, before the crowds formed. Then we latched onto a guided tour by one of the yeoman warders.
The Beefeater was very entertaining, and did a nice job of explaining elements of the Tower’s storied past.
After leaving the Tower we met my friend Simon and headed off to Knightsbridge. Candy, Sam, and Tom needed to see a “shopping palace,” like Harrods, which is in Knightsbridge. Before going into Harrods we stopped to have an old time photo taken. We spent about 45 minutes walking around Harrods. Then Simon took us to a pub, called the Grenadier, which we never would have found on our own. It was at one time the Mess of the Duke of Wellington. We then walked around Hyde Park for an hour or so and took a double-decker bus to Covent Garden.
There we met Simon’s football buddy for a light snack. We parted ways, so that Simon and his buddy could get to the ballet, and we walked around Covent Garden. While doing so, we ran into Julie Horton, who is Tommy’s unofficial sponsor at West Point. What a coincidence that we should run into her in a city of 5 million people 3000 miles from home.
After a short time shopping, we went to see showing number 26978 of The Mousetrap, the longest running play in history. This is an Agatha Christie story. I have seen it any times, but I wanted the family to see it. The kids, whose only theater experience is in high school productions, only went to humor me and thought they would be bored, but everyone enjoyed the play — and no one guessed whodunnit.
The next morning began with a tour of Buckingham Palace. The tour was quite good, and we all learned a great deal. It is self guided, but the audio guide is very easy to use and is informative.
The tour exits into the palace garden — and a gift shop.
Our next stop was to Baker Street to see the Sherlock Holmes museum. I have read all the Conan Doyle stories and enjoyed them. The “museum” is essentially a building made to look like Holmes’ and Watson’s quarters as described in the stories. It also has a nice gift shop.
At this point we split up. Everyone wanted to see the Cabinet War Rooms, but I had just seen them a year ago. I wanted to see the National Army Museum, which was under renovation last time I was in London, and I hadn’t seen in 30 years. The family enjoyed the War Rooms; however, I was strongly disappointed in the National Army Museum.
Last time I was there, I found this museum to have more history and artifacts than the Imperial War Museum. I learned a great deal about the evolution of the British Army. After the renovation, much of the history has been replaced by political correctness. Displays ask questions like “should Britain have an Army,” “how should POWs be treated,” “should snipers be considered war criminals?” There were displays that emphasized the “diversity” of the soldiers in the British Army, talked about how the British Army has been an instrument of subjugating foreign populaces, etc. I don’t need more PC BS. I went there to learn history, and I was sorely disappointed. It is even worse than the military section of Smithsonian! If you have a chance, give this one a pass.
Even this cool WWII tank simulator was broken. It was a very disappointing visit.
I linked back up with the family at Picadilly Circus for a leisurely walk up Regent Street and back to look at overpriced clothing. The high point along Regent Street for me is Hamley’s toy store, which makes FAO Schwartz look like a dimestore.
From Regent Street we took a combination of tube and walking to get to Ivory House at St. Catherine’s Docks for a mediaeval feast.
Between courses, we were entertained by singing, juggling, acrobatics, and swordplay.
Everyone felt that the feast was a little underwhelming. I enjoyed the food quite a bit. The food here is mostly familiar, but often has an interesting twist that I quite like. The food was served family style at ten-person tables. We had an interesting charcuterie tray, broccoli soup, and roasted check.
On the walk back to the hotel we passed the Tower lit up at night.
Our final morning in London we checked out of our hotel and got on the water bus to Greenwich.
On our return from Greenwich we walked across Tower Bridge and back to our hotel.
We grabbed our bags from the hotel, tubed it to Paddington Station, took a train to Reading, and hired a car. My adventure driving on the wrong side of road began in stressful way with navigatrix Candy sending me the wrong way down a one-way street during rush hour. The car we hired form Enterprise was a Ford Kuga. At the rental office we thought they were saying “cougar” with a British accent.
Half way to Swindon for the night we had a puncture (flat tire) along the motorway (interstate) and had to have the automobile club tow us off the highway and replace the tire. We eventually made it to our hotel in Swindon, ate dinner in a nice pub, and got to bed about 2330.