With a few days left before winter break was over, we checked the loads to London. They were wide open, so it seemed like a foul-proof plan. We got a hotel by the airport so we would be ready to go the next morning. Well, as luck would have it, that night winter storm Hercules hit the midwest and northeast with a vengeance. Overnight 1,000s of flights cancelled and the loads went double-digit negative. What? Not now, we were packed and ready to go! We waited anxiously by the gate, hoping there would be misconnects and cancellations. Minutes before departure, our names were called and we had made it on. Even the gate agent said it was a miracle! Happily we boarded the plane and settled into our roomy first class seats. The very best part of international first class is not just the great nonstop service, but the sleeper seats that allow you to lay flat, so you are rested when you arrive. As always, it was hard to convince that kids that it was in their best interest to turn off the videos and put their eye shades on instead. But after some grumbling, they complied and got some sleep. We arrived Heathrow early Saturday morning.
There was no line at immigration or customs and no one on the roads. To get from Heathrow Airport to central London, there is the Heathrow Connect, Heathrow Express and taxis. It takes about 30-45 minutes – if your lucky. All are super easy, it just depends on how much we want to spend. Everything in England is pretty much double what you would expect. Prices look like what you would expect in US dollars, but then you have to convert to UK Pound Sterling, ouch.. also a good idea to carry some cash, surprisingly there are a lot of places that don’t take credit cards. We got to our hotel about 8 am and it was still pretty dark outside. The weather in London was not much better than the weather we had left in the states, but at least it was not freezing cold. So, we grabbed our raincoat, hats, a umbrellas and map and set out. What’s a little cold rain going to hurt? We always try to have each person pick something they would like to see or do. My son wanted to see an old castle, so we put the Tower of London on the list.
My daughter wanted to see the iconic English phone booths, that was going to be easy enough.
My husband wanted to go see the Churchill War Rooms . Done.
And I was just happy to be there! Now that we had a plan, we set out. Our hotel was right by the Marble Arch.
Next to the Marble Arch we found the Tyburn Tree site, it was the first permanent gallows founded in 1571. We decided to walk through the Royal Parks. In London you feel pretty safe, as someone is always watching you on closed circuit cameras….
Then we continued into St James Park. We pretty much had the parks to ourselves; besides the local geese and swans who didn’t seem to mind that we were there.
We grabbed something warm to eat and drink at one of the little stands in St James Park. It was cash only.
By now it was 10 am and we were outside the Churchill War Rooms which was just about to open. Perfect timing as we were starting to get a bit chilly. We paid (kids were free), and climbed down into the underground. It’s one of the Imperial War Museums. FYI, the museum itself it closed to visitors till July 2014.
As interesting as it was, after about an hour, my daughter and I had seen about enough and dragged the 2 boys out. About 2 blocks down Birdcage Walk was The Palace of Westminster, better known as Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. After having a morning with London to ourselves, we found everyone else who had come to London. The streets were super crowded.
We were right on the Thames River and could see the London Eye as we stood on the Westminster Bridge. Westminster Abbey was across the street, it was founded in 960. Man is that old! The Abbey has been the coronation church of kings and queens for over 1,000 years. It doesn’t get more “Londony” than this area. We walked a few blocks up Whitehall to see 10 Downing Street. We could not really see much from the road, as it was heavily guarded.
We walked back to the Westminster Station and jumped on the tube towards Tower Hill. The tube is their fancy word for the subway.
I always prefer to go to the live ticket booth to make sure we are getting the best deal for what we need. There are also automatic machines to use if you feel confident.
A few minutes later we were at the Tower of London, which started with the White Tower, built as a fortress in 1070. This was definitely not a cheap attraction. But well worth it, it was excellent.
We saw the Royal Crown Jewels.
They had character guides dressed in period clothing, like the Yeoman Warder, better known as Beefeaters all over the huge castle grounds giving information and guides constantly.
They were having a torture tour at 2:30 and that got my son’s attention. We went to the cozy New Armouries Cafe for some fish and chips for lunch while we waited. Happily, we found out they offered free water to drink along the back wall. Hey, since you do not find many things in Europe that are free, its a big deal!
Now it was time for the tour. The guides, all dressed in costumes, lead us along from the courtyard up into the Salt Tower.
They played out how someone would be caught for treason and the torturous methods used to get information out of them.
It was interesting to see so much history where it had actually happened.
I had been thinking of going to Greenwich as well, but it was now almost 5 pm and it was getting dark – so that will while till next time. We jumped on the tube to Piccadilly Circus and crossed over to the Knightbridge stop.
We heading to Harrods.
An exquisite 7 level department store that is amazingly beautiful inside. Each department is completely different from the next.
On the lower ground level there was a Princess Diana and Dodi Memorial.
We were now directly across Hyde Park from our hotel. It was the last weekend of the Angel Christmas Market. It was a cozy Christmas Carnival. We let the kids each have one ride that set us back about $20. We had survived the rain and walked roughly 3.5 miles through London’s history. What a great day!
Getting home was the same chaotic mess as coming. Once we had made it to the states, it just got worse. In the airport they just kept making the same announcement over and over. They were offering a complete refund to anyone who just wanted to cancel their travel plans and go home! There was enough entertainment in the boarding areas to write a book about.
For instance, there was this elderly couple from India, who had come in from New Delhi early that morning. They had been waiting for over 7 hours for their rebooked flight. A woman with a huge longhaired Greyhound, showed up saying she had bought a whole row for her dog. The agents had no inkling what to do with that one! And then the poor people who didn’t speak English, oh boy! Lines seemed to be a suggestion, as people just walked up in front of everyone else who had been patiently waiting. They must have been very important indeed! And right when I thought my son was ready for some responsibility, he changed his phone to Chinese and had no clue how to change it back (since everything was now in Chinese). I was texting him, ” Hurry, run to my gate!”, but that of course did not happen.
It was just nuts. After hours of “fun” in the airport, we made it on a flight in the right direction. We did have to rent a car one way to make it the final stretch – but we had made it home in time for school! Yeah!