It had been a prominent desire of mine to visit England. True, there were earlier trips to Scotland and Ireland (only seeing a fraction of the marvelous places.) Yet, there was much of the British Isles that continually lured and intrigued me. Finally the dream came to fruition and it was the highlight of my year. Planning began early. I had hoped that my usual travel companion would be able to join me; however, that was not to be. Trip research continued, though, and it was suggested that I might invite a friend’s mom. I did so. But, this too, was not to be. At one of my wine tasting functions, I mentioned that I had lost my travel partners and about a week or so later, one of these buddies asked if she could join me. Yes, indeed! I switched back to looking for inexpensive, comfortable B&B rooms large enough for two. I had been looking at single rooms. Now, the date was set and planning began in earnest. After several months of this intense planning, of making appropriate reservations for our B&B, of buying tickets for a play, of getting train tickets to Wales, of purchasing a Stonehenge tour, and getting Tube passes, we set off for the United Kingdom on Thursday October 17th.
The itinerary included a few things my new travel companion hadn’t seen (she had been to England before, but loved it so much she wanted to return.) Although we didn’t get to Hampton court as hoped, we did do a few things she hadn’t done. The big advantage, for me, was her experience with the Tube and familiarity with the city. Although Tube signage was excellent, it certainly helped to know the differences between all the lines and directions of such.
We had an easy drive time to the airport on our departure date which allowed us to arrive at the Parking Spot unscathed. Making it through security with time to spare, we boarded as scheduled. It was as comfortable as any eight hour flight could be, landing at Heathrow an hour early, at 6:15 a.m. There wasn’t a long wait during the Immigration check – so we ended up ready to get into London. However, we were way too early to check in at the B&B, so we found a place to store our bags then found a place to have breakfast (a full English one) in the airport. After breakfast we found a Wi-Fi spot. Finally, around 9:15, we got a taxi and headed toward the B&B.
It took about an hour to get from Heathrow to Porchester Gardens, it was rush hour. We arrived at our B&B located in a little “close” – basically a strip of town houses with a drive in front of them and a wall separating the drive from another road or area. Every one of the townhouses had some lovely plantings in front – lush and green still in October. Our host was a bit surprised when we arrived, although I don’t know why since I had told her our flight would be early and we’d do our best not to infringe on the previous guests. Nevertheless, she showed us to the room which was at the top of the house – two flights of stairs up. After a bit of huffing and puffing we did get our luggage up those stairs. The rooms were definitely adequate, large bedroom area, and very large bathroom – this is where the built in closets were located and a small table with tea/coffee making accoutrements. I admit to a bit of dismay because the décor seemed a little worn and very 70’s. The main thing, it was clean, and our host was accommodating. Not only that, the location was close to two Tube stations.
While settling in, we got a surprise call from two friends of my travel mate. They were in London and suggested meeting over in Kensington. So, we took a tube ride (my first) to the area we thought we’d meet, walked a bit, called them , walked some more, called again and finally went in the correct direction to the meeting place outside a museum. So began our traverse around Kensington. We were looking for a phone store so my companion could buy a throw away; my first introduction to London, a nice walkabout in Kensington. By this time, though, we were definitely hungry. The Goat Tavern appeared on our path, a respite was enjoyed. After lunch, we decided to tour Kensington Palace. This was a fabulous idea; the place was spectacular – so much history beginning with Queen Victoria memorabilia to a display of gowns worn by royalty (including Diana). After Kensington Palace, we searched again for a phone store – finally found one. Hunger flared again, so snacking at a sandwich shop in a mall near Marks & Spencer transpired; then, my friend and I returned to Bayswater and our first night in London.
On the 19th, we had a late breakfast since there was a slight misunderstanding regarding our schedule. After breakfast we met the other couple at the Tower. The Tower of London is an astounding place! Built and renovated over several centuries, it encompasses the epitome of British history. It was most enjoyable, and there was so much to see. We did get to view the Crown Jewels – the way they are displayed is spectacular. We had lunch at a pub near the Tower called Liberty Bounds. Then, my friend and I headed back to our B&B to change for a show, The Mousetrap. Upon studying the tube map, a travel plan was devised and we decided to leave for the show at 6:30. Taking the Central Line to Tottenham, we found that the Northern Line was closed, but we took the Central to Holborn and finally the Piccadilly Line to Leicester Sq. It took us a bit of walking, reading street signs, asking folks and more reading of signs. We finally made it to the theater two minutes before curtain. I must admit to fatigue by that time and struggled to keep myself awake. I did enjoy the production – well done. And, I finally got to see the longest running play in the world! When we returned to Bayswater, we had a drink and snack at the Redban Pub.
Sunday dawned - our breakfast was ready at the agreed time. In order to get an idea of how long it would take us to get to Paddington (where the train for Cardiff departs), we made a recognizance trip. After that, we took the tube over to Westminster, de-trained and found the pier at which Thames River Boats leave. The Thames was choppy and high, many boats weren’t sailing. Since we were right near Parliament, we saw Big Ben, walked across the Westminster Bridge, walked past the London Eye (priced tickets), walked past street entertainers (Charlie Chaplin mime kissed my hand), took a ride on the Carousel, crossed the Jubilee Bridge and walked back down the embankment toward Cleopatra’s needle. We found St. Paul’s and a pub nearby, where we had lunch (London Pride’s fish & chips.) When we headed out again it had begun to rain pretty hard – we were able to find a tube station , rode over to Piccadilly Circus, then walked up to Fortnum and Mason. Taking advantage of the location, we enjoyed a spot of tea delighting in the warmth. Returning to Bayswater, we had a snack at Prince Albert’s pub.