There will likely be a couple of posts originating from the UK. This one is of our first drop into the UK, London.
I have so many photos I’d like to share. I generally try to add photos to match the narrative, but with so many, I may just plonk them in willy nilly.
9 hours on a plane is slightly less annoying than 11 hours, but it’s still tough. This time I got the aisle seat and Mark was stuck with a rather tall man (read long legs and will spread himself out) next to him encroaching into his space.
Just like the first time, the second time we went through customs we just breezed through the “nothing to declare” gate. There was no one on it. Really UK, you are terribly slack. In NZ you’re asked numerous questions at the “nothing to declare” gate, they test to see if you want to change your mind, that you truly don’t have anything on you or in your luggage that is disallowed.
Margaret and John were at the airport to meet us. Given it takes 2 hours from Chester to London by train (and the airport is probably another 30-40 minutes by train), coming to meet us is no trivial thing and we so appreciate they offered to do this.
Mr Fussy and I were pretty tired. We had about as much sleep as the flight to Vancouver (not enough! – about 4 hours in pockets of about 40-60 minutes) and we were pretty tired and not very talkative.
John navigated from the Hammersmith station to our accommodation which was great, it saved me having to try to figure it out with only half my brain functioning. We arrived at our first AirBnB place. The photos were accurate, but they didn’t really show how small the place was. I was expecting a kitchen and laundry area and we had a room just big enough for the queen bed (we had to step over the corner of the bed because our luggage was jammed in the only available space big enough) and a funny little room that had a modern shower on one side and the toilet on the other. Basically this was a room in the house (3 levels). So the door you enter into lands you directly in the middle of the ensuite and you take two steps through this to now be in the bedroom, and you’re right at the foot of the bed, side shuffling to get around it. We did have a little fridge. It was in a cupboard above the bed and entirely impractical. Still Mr Fussy somehow managed to feel his way to placing a bottle of water in there.
John and Margaret handed over SIM cards and were on their way to have a quick catch up with Anna, James and Chloe before returning to Chester. They had been on the go since 9am that morning. I suspect they didn’t get home until some 12 hours later. Their day must have left them just as drained as ours.
Now that we had mobile data getting around would be so much easier (well getting out of trouble if we got lost). Our first stop was to the nearest Superdrug. Love that place, or at least I thought I did. Funny how when we were last here it was my favourite place and I haven’t really stopped singing its praises in that time. Our visit this time left me feeling a bit meh about it. Still has everything you need for cheaper than you’ll find it in NZ but it’s somehow lost that sparkle. Perhaps I’ve realised that it’s not quite as “super” as I thought it was. You still can’t beat it for getting travel sized items, and I’ll be buying a good few of those before leaving the UK. Saves a lot of mucking about at home squeezing some of this and a little of that into travel sized containers. Since Superdrug was our first place to purchase anything it was the first place we pulled out a 50 note. The guy looked at us like we were crazy, then produced a funny pen (like the ones you used to scribble over a page and a grey outline would appear, like it was invisible until the ink hit it) and draw all over the note. He explained to us that there were counterfeit 50 notes. We were a little worried since that’s the smallest denomination we got from the bank (other than the money we had left from our first trip). We moved on to the supermarket. We picked up some more fresh fruit and water and wound our way to a local pub that had been thoroughly recommended in our little visitors pack. We had no idea you should book a table so were lucky they could squeeze us in. Every table had a reservation.
We hadn’t had the breakfast offered on the plane (which would have coincided with lunch in the UK) so we were a little peckish, but I wasn’t this hungry! Look at the size of my dinner. It was a half shoulder of lamb. Wow. In my sleep deprived state I just stared at it not knowing what I was doing. A good half of that piece of lamb came home with us. I would save it up and then make lamb sandwiches for one of the days we were sightseeing.
First thing on Tuesday (we’re still feeling somewhat sluggish) I got up and went for a run. I ran along the Thames River. It was a reasonably simple run as far as getting there and back, but I would soon realise just how hard the pavement was on my legs. They started to hurt almost the minute I stopped running.
Mr Fussy and I headed off to meet up with Anna, James and Chloe. What a stunner of a day it turned out to be. We were so warm walking from the station to their home. Then we wandered off to the local pub and had a very pleasant lunch outside.
Next up was to find a tube that would take us to where one of the Hop on Hop off stops was. We ended up at Hyde Park Corner. I picked this because it was handy to Harrods and from there we would walk to Peggy Porchen and wander onto Buckingham Palace. However there’s a stop on both sides of the (very wide) street and I hadn’t factored that in. The bus we got ended up taking us away from Harrods, not close to it. Once I realised which direction we were headed plan were changed and we remained on the bus making the other two destinations something for Wednesday.
Close to 5pm we got off the bus, headed back to the apartment (shoe box), changed clothes and headed back into the city for The Lion King show. We had a little bit of time to spare, but not enough to have dinner. A quick fruit salad and cookie and that was our impromptu dinner. The Lion King is the most physical show I’ve seen, and the characters aren’t limited to only the stage. Mr Fussy has never seen The Lion King movie and didn’t really care for the story or music, but he was impressed with the show.
The show finished sooner than I thought which was a good thing. We had just enough time to grab some KFC as they were packing up. Who would have though having KFC on a bench on the side of the road at 11pm would be something to write about, but that was us, and now I’m sharing the experience. Crazy to be going to be having only just eaten. We don’t really care at all for KFC, but it was something safe to have in a place we weren’t familiar with.
Wednesday we had crepes for breakfast (and again on Thursday) before heading out for the day. We took the train to Knightsbridge and popped up from the Metro right next to Harrods. Naturally my first stop was the food centre. I’m sure it has a much flasher name than that. Having taken several photos and ooh’d and ahh’d we moved onto the souvenir department. We picked up a new oven mit and an apron for us both. I went to pay for the purchases with a 50 note that was left over from our first trip and the lady explained these 50 were no longer in use as of April that year. She recommended we swap it at the Harrods bank, which we did. Gosh 50 notes were proving to be a pain in one way or another.
Having picked up a couple of cookie cutters we were on our way to track down Peggy Porachen’s place. It wasn’t a huge walk, and in getting there we came across Pierre Herme store. Mr Fussy got a chocolate and I got two Macarons. Everything was nicely packaged up and then we were on our way (without photos because that wasn’t allowed) off down the street. I should add that it was another hot day out, so with all this wandering about we were starting to cook a little. I was feeling a little overdressed. Belgravia is quite the post sort of spot really. Lots of fancy shops and lots of fast cars. Mr Fussy was very happy to have spotted one of his favourite sports cars outside Pierre Herme store. He’s got a few photos. And he was hearing fast cars everywhere.
We finally made it to Peggy Porchen’s shop. Mr Fussy had a Strawberry Champagne cupcake, I had a lemon layered cake. They were beautifully packaged up, and did I want a carry bag? Yes please!
During our walk we’d come across a number of small parks and had agreed that given the built up area of London, they had lots of parks around them to give them a sense of outdoor living. But do you think we could find one to park ourselves at to make up the lamb sandwiches (well buns, we bought buns at Harrods)? No. We came across private gardens, those where you needed a key to get into them. So I Googled to see where the next park was. One was found, it said it was open 24 hours. I took that to mean it was a public garden, but having arrived there we found a sign out front asking if memberships had been renewed. We gave up looking and decided to just walk to Hyde Park. We were sweltering by this stage, tired of walking and getting impatient for lunch. The chocolate and icing on the cupcake and cakes hadn’t fared well with the heat. Needless to say the two macarons I got didn’t travel well in my backpack either, they’re looking a bit second hand. The park however was lovely and I wished we’d known much sooner just how wonderful it was. I couldn’t believe the number of runners at that time of day, in peak heat. I guess you do what you’ve got to do. I was still grumbling about how sore my legs felt after my run along the river.
After lunch we made our way through the park and onto Wellington Arch. We went up the top and took some photos looking back across the park, and some photos of the New Zealand War Memorial. From there we continued to walk to Buckingham Palace. I was quite in need of a toilet and wondered if the Queen would mind if I made use of her facilities. Mr Fussy was less certain I’d be welcome. After finding out the souvenir shop didn’t have toilets, and spotting the Hop on Hop off bus parked up right outside, I spoke loudly to Mr Fussy who was having a little sit down, that we should get on the bus. One employee was outside and nodded us on. We went upstairs again and were surprised we had the bus to ourselves. As we started out I was having trouble working out which route we were on. There are numerous coloured routes. I couldn’t seem to make any sense of any of them. Then I spotted Euston Station and figured out we had to be on the purple bus, it was the only one that went that way. We decided it must not be a popular bus route to take since we still hadn’t had anyone else get on the bus. The narration had changed to music which wasn’t unusual, but there’d been no narration for some time. After a while, and while sitting at lights, the driver (we didn’t realise that at the time) came upstairs and told us that the bus was returning to the depot and was not in service. He dropped us at a place we could easily get to a stop the blue bus would be at in 10 minutes.
What I’ve found while travelling is that I drink very little of anything. Because we are walking/travelling all day I’m never sure where we might be able to use a restroom. When we got dropped off I spotted a Starbucks outside the stop and decided I’d purchase a drink in order that I could use the facilities. Phew.
We got on the bus and only went one further stop until we reached Oxford Street. It was after 5pm and we had decided that during the evening we would do a spot of shopping, having spent the days playing tourist. We found HMV and Mark picked up some Blu-rays that haven’t yet been released in NZ and I bought a pair of sunglasses at Sunglass Hutt. We had a wander around Debenhams and I spotted a lovely red lacy dress on sale. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular, but I bought the dress and will wear it at Jasmine and Sam’s wedding in December. Of course I’ll probably have to find a shawl/wrap or something as well, just to finish it off. I’ll be on the look out while we continue our travels.
We found an Italian restaurant just off Oxford Street and had a very nice meal. It was another restaurant that had great reviews on TripAdvisor. And when we got the bill they left a little card asking that we leave a comment on the TripAdvisor website. Good on them. Not that I have left a comment, but we were very pleased with our meals, Mr Fussy commenting that it had been one of the best basil pesto he’d tasted. I’m not sure where our own home made basil pesto rates on his comparison scale. Having just checked, he says it’s about the same, but a little more fluid than ours.
The last day in London I ran to Ravenscourt Park. It only has a one kilometre loop, and my Garmin ran out of juice as I was running to it, so I can’t say if it was accurate or not. I ran once around the garden and it didn’t take that much time so I backtracked to run it again the other way. On my third time round I spotted a little squirrel running across the path so I stopped and wandered up to the tree and tried to talk it into holding still so I could take some decent photos of it. I’m afraid I don’t speak squirrel very well so the photos are not great.
We began packing our suitcases, not an easy task in such a small space, then popped back for more crepes for breakfast. It wasn’t long before we were navigating the stairs at Hammersmith Station to make our way to St Pancras to travel by train to Paris. We were so looking forward to making up for our last trip where we were both unwell, the weather was cold and gloomy, and making the most of our planned activities was difficult due to ill health. So bring on Paris (and I’m writing this as we’re travelling to Switzerland where views/opinions have changed to the anticipation we felt leaving London).