Editor’s Note: This is the third part in a week long series about our fantastic trip to England last week. If you’d like to see the rest of the posts about our journey, click here.
Due to the shortness of our trip to England – we were only going to have one full day in London and we wanted to make the most of it. As Dispatches from the North Columnist Lisa Coulson wrote about in the weeks up to our trip, she’d had a tempestuous relationship with London and wanted to get the grand tour from me – someone who had a passion for London despite it’s warts.
So, as she wrote about last week, she rode the train down from Hartlepool and met us on Thursday for a whirlwind tour of London.
I woke up at about 5am – the sun wasn’t even up yet – because I couldn’t sleep. I mean – despite the exhausting day before – I was in London! How could I waste my time sleeping? Sadly, my wife did not quite share my enthusiasm and I could not wake her up too early. So, I played on my iPhone and watched the sun come up outside our window until it was safe to wake Jackie up.
On our way to meet Lisa – we stopped by the new 7-7 Memorial in Hyde park and that was a very moving experience. Jackie really summed up the place better than I could. Read her post about it here.
We met up with Lisa in front of the Gloucester Road Tube stop to eat breakfast at the restaurant across the street – they have a good hearty breakfast and quite possibly the best orange juice in the world. They have a machine that literally crushes the oranges on site and turns them into juice. You will not have better orange juice anywhere.
It was great to finally meet Lisa in person. She’s been writing for Anglotopia for almost a year now and I’ve really enjoyed reading her adventures of acclimating to life in the North of England in Hartlepool. We shared a breakfast, talked and bit and prepared for the day ahead.
The plan was:
- Victoria & Albert Museum
- National Gallery
- London Transport Museum
- St. Paul’s Cathedral
The Victoria and Albert Museum
After breakfast we walked down Cromwell road to the Victoria and Albert Museum, which wasn’t far from where’d we’d eaten breakfast. We actually go there about 5 minutes before the museum opened and stood around outside it’s massive wooden doors and waited for it to open. The goal was to see the special Maharaja exhibit and wander the museum.
Anglotopia Columnist Lisa Coulson
Well, we didn’t see the Maharaja exhibit – it cost extra (the regular museum is free) and it required timed ticketed entry – something we didn’t have time for. So, alas we did not get to see the exhibit. However, we did explore the museum and see some interesting sights.
The V&A is the strangest museum – because it’s a sort of hodgepodge of many different things from cultural artifacts, to artwork, clothing and artifacts from the far east – it has often been called Britain’s attic. We saw lots of things and the ladies particularly enjoyed going through the displays on the history of fashion.
I got to wander the museum and saw a lot of interesting things – my favorite displays were the ones on British History from the middle ages onward.
But by far my favorite thing I saw was something I wasn’t even looking for and just stumbled upon. Located in a library are various displays of modern artifacts that exemplify modern British History and off to the side is a very famous picture that I was delighted to see.
I’m talking about the famous picture of Christine Keeler sitting in a chair. Christine Keeler was at the center of political sex scandal in the 1960’s that claimed the career of Minister for War John Profumo and eventually brought down the conservative government. The salaciousness of the story simply can’t be made up – it really happened and was a huge story at the time.
Well, Christine Keeler happened to pose nude in a chair and it’s an iconic symbol of modern Britain and I saw the original hanging in the museum. I couldn’t have been more please. The whole episode was made into a very good movie called Scandal starring John Hurt, which I highly recommend.
After we’d had enough of Britain’s Attic, we headed up Cromwell road to Harrod’s. Even though I’ve been to Harrod’s every time I’ve been in London and, in the end, it’s just an overpriced department store – it’s always worth a pilgrimage.
Our goal on this visit was to visit the Harrod’s Christmas Shop and pick up some Harrod’s peanut butter cups – which put Reese’s to shame.
Harrod’s was a zoo and we didn’t really fancy wandering around very much but after our goals were achieved, we decided it was time for our feet to get a break and eat some lunch.
We wandered up Cromwell Road until we found a good enough looking pub. I don’t remember the name of it but it was your typical British gastropub. I had a burger (I know, how predictable of me). We talked with Lisa about life in the UK and my future plans for Anglotopia. The service in the pub was terrible and we ended up having to sit there for far longer than we had time to, which ended up shortening our day a bit.
Our next stop was Trafalgar Square – my favorite tourist attraction in London – and the National Gallery. We were beginning to run short on time so we didn’t linger in the Square as it was a bit of a zoo due to the African trees that were on display. We made our way to the inside of the National Gallery and wandered around with no particular path in mind.
My Lovely Wife
One thing I had hoped to see was The Hay Wain by John Constable, as it had been on loan last time I was in London. It’s one of my favorite paintings and is considered one of Britain’s National treasures. It’s of a simple country scene but it’s considered the beginning of Britain’s romantic conception of it’s countryside. One thing that always amazes me when I see the real painting (or any painting actually) is how large they are. You just don’t expect to see a painting of British Countryside take up a whole wall.
The Hay Wain by John Constable
On a side note – one Constable I did notice was his painting of Salisbury Cathedral which was cool – because I would be seeing that the next day in real life!
I lingered on the other Constable’s and Turner’s and we explored the rest of the museum. I must say, without a doubt, that the National Gallery is my favorite art museum – I enjoy it MUCH more than the Art Institute in Chicago.
My main goal for the day was to visit the London Transport Museum. It had been closed for renovations on my last few trips and I’d never had a chance to go through. So I was very excited at the prospect of going there.
We couldn’t catch a cab outside the National Gallery – so we decided to walk to Covent Garden – which isn’t very far anyway. On our way we stopped at the Muji Store where I picked up my favorite pens and Mandarin soap. After that we headed for the Market itself and decided we needed a tea break as our feet were killing all of us. We had tea and as the time passed, we realized that we weren’t going to have enough time to fully enjoy the London Transport Museum.
So, we decided skip it – but not without visiting their awesome gift shop.
St Paul’s Cathedral
With the clock ticking until St Paul’s closed for the evening – we hopped a cab and got there just before they closed. Lisa and I walked around and admired the amazing building. Since Lisa is a Royal Navy wife, we were sure to make a stop by Nelson’s tomb. We lingered a bit in the Cathedral and appreciated it for what is was. Even though it costs money to get in, a visit to St Paul’s is always worth it.
King’s Cross and St Pancras
Lisa had to be back to King’s Cross around 4:30 in time to catch her train back to Hartlepool. So, after admiring all that St Paul’s had to offer, we hitched our longest cab ride yet and all rode to King’s Cross together. Once we got there, we bid her goodbye and Lisa was off.
St Pancras International
Next up was a visit to St. Pancras International Station – I’d been really wanting to see it ever since the renovations were completed and the Eurostar was moved there. So, we walked the short distance between King’s Cross and had a look.
The station is simply amazing – it’s a cathedral to trains. It’s beautiful Victorian engineered structure was a site to behold. By far my favorite site was the statue on the concourse of the couple, happy to see each other (or sad to part).
Another reason I took Jackie to St Pancras was to show her the World’s Longest Champagne bar – something a wine connoisseur like her would truly appreciate. We sat under the beautiful train shed, watched the Eurostar trains come and go all while enjoying fine drink provided by the bar.
Dinner at the Maze Grill
After our aperitif at St Pancras, we headed back to the hotel to relax for a little bit and get ready for what was sure to be the highlight of our time in London – we had reservations at Gordon Ramsay’s Maze Grill. We both got dressed up in our best and decided to walk to Grosvenor Square, where the restaurant is located.
It was a lovely cool London fall night – we were pretty tired – but excited to be walking through the streets of one of London’s most beautiful neighborhoods. It wasn’t a far walk from the Park Lane Hilton to Grosvenor Square. We knew when we were there as we saw the ugliest building in London approach – the US Embassy. I’m sorry London that we plopped down such an ugly building in your picture postcard square. If it’s any consolation, we’re moving in a couple years.
I don’t need to say much about dinner except that it was the most delicious and expensive meal I’ve ever had. Check out Jackie’s review of our experience here.
Back to the Hotel
After a whirlwind day in London, we headed back to the hotel, curled up in bed and fell asleep to British telly. The day was exhausting but it couldn’t have possibly been better.
Check back tomorrow for day 4 of our adventures in England as we rented a car, toured Salisbury and discovered heaven on earth: Updown Cottage in Shasftesbury.