Tuesday August 25 to Thursday September 3, 2015

10 days in London

It seemed a bit unusual for us this year not to be taking a cruise vacation, but with the way our schedules were this year we actually couldn’t find a cruise itinerary that we liked on cruise line we’d consider at a time we could travel. With that ruled out, we began to consider vacation options that would work for us and tops on the list was a trip to London. We had last been in the UK in 2012 but didn’t spent very much time in London during that trip so we were looking forward to spending more time in this amazing city this time around.

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  • Tuesday August 25, 2015

    Arrival in London and first walk around town

    We left home in the evening of Monday August 24 to arrive in London in the morning of Tuesday August 25. We opted to fly British Airways this time and selected premium economy seats to get a bit better legroom for the night flight without shelling out the big extra cost to fly business class. Flying British Airways meant our arrival at Heathrow Airport was via the newest and very nice Terminal 5 on Tuesday morning.

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      We had booked our stay at every hotel Piccadilly - located very close to the Piccadilly Underground station so it was an easy choice to take the London Underground from the station at Terminal 5 of Heathrow Airport to Piccadilly station and then a short walk to our very nicely located hotel. It was just a short fight of steps we had to navigate with our luggage as we left the Underground station. We were able to check in early and after getting unpacked we set off to walk around London for the first of what was likely to be many strolls around the city.

      There was light rain most of the time with occasional periods of heavy rain as we toured around but it was still good to stretch our legs a bit even though it was a bit difficult to take in the sights. We had a nice late lunch in Soho and by the time we had finished lunch the rain had stopped. For the evening we walked to Trafalgar Square to take in all of the sights there and then walked down Whitehall towards the Palace of Westminster and along the Thames River. We found out on this trip that the clock tower of the Palace of Westminster is now officially called the Elizabeth Tower - even though it will still always be commonly known by the name of its largest of five bells - Big Ben.

      Our time management for the evening wasn’t so good because we left it a bit too late to have dinner. All of the places we’d go to eat weren’t taking new diners and a pub we stopped at was only serving drinks because the kitchen was closed. We could have gotten food at one of any number of fast food outlets, but we opted rather to pick up some nice fresh food and a bottle of wine at small grocery store and head back to our hotel for a late light meal. Even with the weather not at its best it had been a nice first day in London.

  • Wednesday August 26, 2015

    Churchill War Rooms, National Gallery and London Film Museum

    For our second day in London we had arranged to go to the Churchill War Rooms together with Gary’s aunt Rose and uncle Mick. Neither of us had been to see this museum previously, and was one of the top things on our list of activities while in London.

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      We started the day early with a light breakfast and then walked to Whitehall to find the entrance of the museum. We arrived a few minutes ahead of Rose & Mick, and once we were all together we ventured into the location where Winston Churchill and his cabinet directed the country and the war effort during World War 2. We spent about two hours in this most fascinating attraction - comprised of the Cabinet War Rooms as used during the war and the Churchill Museum. A truly memorable visit with so many interesting things to see and experience. We’d definitely say that this was a highlight of our trip to London.

      The rain was in full force when we finished our tour of the Churchill War Rooms, so with umbrellas in hand we made our way towards Trafalgar Square in search of a lunch venue. We settled on the National Dining Rooms (not sure why it is plural) at the National Gallery and got a nice table near the window overlooking Canada House. Following lunch we made a quick visit to the National Gallery - a must for Gary to check in on his loved Georges Seurat’s painting of “Bathers at Asnières” every time visiting London.

      By late afternoon Rose & Mick set off for home on the London Underground while we headed to see the Bond in Motion exhibit at the London Film Museum. The display of items from all of James Bond movies was very enjoyable - and it was especially cool to see the iconic Aston Martin DB5. For dinner this evening we went to one of Jamie Oliver’s restaurants in Covent Garden - and it was a good way to end a very enjoyable day.

  • Thursday August 27, 2015

    British Museum, Westminster Abbey and River Cafe

    We were a bit tardier for the start of day three in London - the travel and the full second day caught up with us a bit. For breakfast we went to Leicester Square and found a restaurant where we could sit outside to watch the morning action in the square while we enjoyed a nice breakfast.

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      After breakfast we made our way to the British Museum under what looked like a promising sky void of rain. We could have probably spent a full week at the British Museum and still not seen everything there was on display - so we did need to limit the time to our particular areas of interest while there. It is, to say the least, and impressive museum with some incredible artifacts. For us, the Greek & Roman collections are both truly spectacular. We did make a point to see the largest collection of Lewis chessmen - we had seen a smaller collection of 11 of them in Edinburgh in 2012 and it was a treat to see the 84 chessmen crafted mostly carved from Walrus ivory in the 12th century on display at the British Museum. The origin of these chess pieces is Nordic, with some experts thinking they came specifically from Norway.

      Next stop for us was a tour of Westminster Abbey. The last time we had been inside the Abbey was 2002, so it was great to revisit here and see some of the rich history contained within it. For the first time we also had the opportunity to visit the College Garden of Westminster Abbey - considered to be the oldest garden in England. Getting to be in that garden was certainly another highlight of this trip for us.

      For the evening we had a fabulous dinner at the River Cafe located in Hammersmith on the Thames River. Gary’s cousin Nicola had arranged the dinner at this wonderful Michelin starred restaurant together with Rose & Mick as well. Certainly a memorable night and a great meal from start to finish.

  • Friday August 28, 2015

    Tower of London and the View from the Shard

    The sky was blue for the first time on this trip as we awoke for day four. We didn’t get moving too quickly so we opted for a quick breakfast before heading to the Tower of London. We had picked to go there this day primarily because the weather seemed to be the best for the week.

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      When we purchased our tickets at the Tower of London, the woman at the ticket counter recommended that we go to see the crown jewels first because the crowds would grow steadily as the day progressed. The advice turned out to be spot on - we went to see the crown jewels as soon as we entered the Tower of London and there was just a small line up heading to the see the jewels. By the time we came out from looking at them the line up was massively longer and we saw it grow more and more while we were there. Something that had been added since our last visit is a memorial sculpture at the execution site of a number of people throughout the Tower’s long history including two of Henry VIII’s wives: Anne Boleyn & Catherine Howard. The Tower of London is an amazing place to visit with so much to see - well worth the visit.

      For a late lunch we found an old pub near Tower Hill called The Minories that turned out to be a pretty good spot for food and drinks. Following lunch we ventured across Tower Bridge to the south side of the Thames River on our way to the Shard - the tallest building in London. The observation levels, known as “the View from the Shard” occupy levels 69 and 72 of the 87 level building with the 72th level being partially open at the top. The two levels provided some pretty spectacular views of London. After the Shard we ventured to the nearby Borough Market. By the time we reached it, the market was pretty much at the end of its business day with some stalls already closing up. It was still interesting to walk through the market. Our stroll route then continued along the South side of the Thames River until we reached Blackfriars Bridge where we hopped back on the London Underground to freshen up at the hotel before we headed out for dinner.

      For this Friday evening we noticed that every pub had huge crowds of people standing outside the as well as pubs themselves being totally full - we could actually tell that we were approaching a pub without seeing it based on the noise of the people standing outside. We opted for a casual dinner for this night at a place called Cote Brasserie in Soho and had a good meal there with some excellent service. It had certainly been a good day and we thought we had made the most of the best weather day so far on the trip.

  • Saturday August 29, 2015

    Buckingham Palace and Wright Brothers' Soho Oyster House

    For day five our plan was to head to Buckingham Palace to do the tour of the Queen’s State Rooms and we didn’t start at the crack of dawn, so we headed in that direction as soon as we were ready in the morning and grabbed a quick breakfast along the way.

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      The crowds had already assembled outside Buckingham Palace for the Changing of the Guard by the time we got there. We found a spot to see a bit of the action and then made our way to the location where we could get the tickets for the palace tour. The whole set up was well organized - we had about a 10 minute wait from the time we purchased our tickets to the time we entered the palace, and the provided audio guide was a terrific companion to the State Rooms that we toured. Lots of great things to see together with interesting background information. It is an impressive place to visit and well worth the time to go. The only down side was the same as what we experienced at Westminster Abby a couple of days earlier: not being allowed to take photographs inside. It would have been great just to snap off a few. At tour end we departed from the West facade of the building to see some of the massive garden behind Buckingham Palace.

      We thought not to push the touring too much for this day so we strolled back slowly towards the hotel after the tour and had a nice late lunch on the way back. For dinner we again return to Soho for an excellent dinner at Wright Brothers' Soho Oyster House. Great service and excellent food in a buzzing atmosphere made for a memorable evening.

  • Sunday August 30, 2015

    National Portrait Gallery, St Martin-in-the-Fields and dinner at Nicola's

    Gary's cousin Nicola had arranged a dinner at her house for the evening so we needed to be mindful of the time to get back to the hotel to change and grab a taxi to take us the 25km or so distance from our hotel to Nicola's house. We started with breakfast at a Cote Brasserie on St Martin's Lane not too far away from our morning destination of the National Portrait Gallery.

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      In all the times we had been previously to London, it was a bit surprising that we hadn't visited the National Portrait Gallery before - especially with its proximity to The National Gallery. We really enjoyed our time in the National Portrait Gallery, but we found the layout of the rooms in the gallery made it difficult to maintain a linear flow on the collection. We did think that it was well worth the time here for sure, though.

      In addition to the excellent permanent collection on display we also had a look at the BP Portrait Award 2015 exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. That was quite interesting. We would confess, though, that we don’t really agree with the judges selection of the first place award. There were some other outstanding portraits on display, and most likely we would have selected the second place award winner to actually take the top prize. We did take the opportunity to head back into The National Gallery for another quick look - but it turned out to be quicker than we intended with quite a large section of the gallery being closed. We had intended to look specifically at the paintings by J.M.W. Turner on this visit, but they were all located in the section of the gallery that was closed.

      For a light late lunch we stopped at a pub near Trafalgar Square for some sharing food and a drink and then decided to take a look at St Martin-in-the Fields. The current version of the building for this Anglican church dates back to the early 1700s, but the earliest reference to the church on this site goes back to 1222 in the medieval period. It was good to have a look around the church and the crypt - this, too, was a place we had walked by many times on previous trips without going inside before today. It would have been good had our plans worked out to attend one of the evening concerts that were scheduled at St Martin-in-the Fields. Following our time in St Martin-in-the-Fields we made our way back to the hotel to get ready for our evening plans with family.

      Our goal was to get to Nicola’s at 6:30pm for dinner. We had used our maps app to estimate that it would take about 45 minutes for us to take a taxi to Nicola’s house so we gave ourselves 60 minutes to be safe and planned to set off at about 5:30pm to arrive in good time. The reality was a little bit different with our taxi driver not really knowing where he was going and even having to back track at one point after a wrong turn. The trip took a total of 75 minutes to get there. But we did make it.

      The evening was a lot of fun, and it was good to catch up in a relaxed atmosphere with family. We were joined for dinner by Rose & Mick as well as Gary’s cousin Ashlea and her son Tom, daughter Katy and Katy’s partner Billy. The whole evening was wonderful and turned out to be a bit of a late night - so it was good that the taxi driver for the return trip had no problems with the route to get us back to every hotel Piccadilly at about 2:00am. At this point we were thinking our Monday wasn’t going to be too much of an early start.

  • Monday August 31, 2015

    Emirates Stadium, St Pancras International, White Heart Lane and J. Sheeky

    It wasn’t that early of a start for us this Monday - which was holiday for the UK as the last Monday in August. It looked like the sun was taking a holiday, too, with view out of our hotel room windows being quite grey and rainy. The forecast indicated that what we saw was pretty much what the day had in store.

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      Once we got going we found a place for a quick breakfast and then headed to the Piccadilly Underground station where we bought a couple of day travel cards. We figured we’d get around mostly in the dry environment of the Underground system for this day.

      Our first destination was Emirates Stadium - the home of our son Michael’s much loved Arsenal Football Club. Connected to the stadium is a large shop called The Arsenal Armoury - so we spend a fair bit of time looking around at all of what they had on display. We found a few things to take home for Michael and then ventured back out into the rain. We might have spent a bit more time lingering around the stadium had the weather been better, but as it was we took a quick look around the perimeter of the stadium and then made our way back to the Underground.

      Our next destination was to check out St Pancras International railway station - an incredible Victorian era structure adapted for use today as a modern international train station. It was getting to the point that we were considering getting lunch, and there were quite a few restaurant options at the station so we did a bit of a reconnaissance trip around the station and settled on Searcys St Pancras Grand. Turned out to be a good choice with good food and service in a nice atmosphere. Before we left St Pancras we checked out some of the shops on our way to the Underground station.

      We travelled further north in London to visit the grounds of the team that Gary has supported since childhood - Tottenham Hotspur Football Club. This was the first time we’d been to this part of London, and seemed quite a bit rough as a neighbourhood. As we walked towards White Heart Lane (the team’s current stadium) we joked that it probably wasn’t the smartest thing to be carrying a bag proudly displaying the name of Tottenham’s fierce rival North London team. We found the Spurs Mega Store on the corner of the stadium grounds and were lucky with the timing - we were about 30 minutes ahead of the store’s closing time. The store here wasn’t as big as the one for Arsenal, but it had a really good selection of items. Gary found a couple of golf shirts for himself and saw something to buy for Michael - but Linda wouldn’t allow the purchase. We settled on a photo of it instead.

      It wasn’t possible to just walk around White Heart Lane as we had done at Emirates Stadium - the entire stadium area was closed off. We could see glimpses of the stadium from a few vantage points, but there really wasn’t much to see. What we could see didn’t look that great. The good thing to see was that construction has started on the new stadium. It is a massive project that isn’t scheduled to be finished until 2018.

      We used the London Overground train to get back to Central London and then back to the Underground to make it back to the hotel for the early evening. For dinner we had booked a table at J. Sheeky. The restaurant is one of London’s oldest seafood restaurants that is always very busy. Our experience at J. Sheeky was mixed - the food was good but nothing spectacular. When ordering our meals we found out about a number of dishes not available - that possibly could have been because it was a holiday Monday. We were glad we tried the restaurant but we doubt we’d make a return visit there.

      On our way back to the hotel we stopped in at the very busy M&M World…full of families with young kids even late into the evening buying all manner of M&M candy treats. We basically just took a quick look around and left. It was a very short walk from there back to the hotel to finish off the holiday Monday.

  • Tuesday September 1, 2015

    The Temple, Courtauld Gallery, Portrait Restaurant and HIX Soho

    Tuesday looked a lot brighter than Monday as we were getting ready early to make our way to The Temple - the area named by the Knights Templar in honour of Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem. We stopped for a quick breakfast on the way and then checked out the Royal Courts of Justice before we walked around the Temple area.

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      Shortly into the walk the inevitable London rain returned. We adjusted our planned route a bit to get to Temple Church a bit quicker. This was another venue in London that we hadn’t seen before, and we ended up spending quite a bit of time inside the church that originated in the 12th century. Temple Church had a display with a lot of information about the Magna Carta and reference to the role of a few of the Knights Templar in the history of this pivotal charter. In the centre of the original round portion of the church are the graves of some prominent Knights Templar. It was a great place to visit and we were very glad it was on our to do list for this trip.

      We had seen reference to the Magna Carta at a number of places on our visit to London with 2015 being the 800th anniversary of the original sealing of “the Great Charter” in 1215 in a field not too far from Windsor Castle. The Magna Carta sealing was at a meeting between the unpopular King John and a group of barons considered to be rebels and was set in a field to provide protection from attack from any direction because of the ground being too soft for sure footing. Trust was obviously not at a high level. We didn’t realize until after the fact that had we gone to the British Library located next to St Pancras International railway station when we were there on Monday then we could have seen two of the four remaining Magna Carta documents on parchment together with Thomas Jefferson’s hand written copy of the American Declaration of Independence and an original copy of the US Bill of Rights on display together for the 800th anniversary of the sealing of the Magna Carta. The final day of the display was today - September 1.

      Our next stop was to see The Courtauld Gallery at Somerset House. We had seen a portion of this wonderful collection of impressionist and post-impressionist art in New York City way back in 1987 when it was on display at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art (we know that because we have a dated print hanging in our house that was bought on that trip), but it was fantastic to see the entire collection in its home location.

      One of Gary’s favourite ales is one brewed by Badger Brewery (actually, the proper company name is Hall and Woodhouse, but they brew under the Badger name) and prior to this trip he had looked up pubs in London where we could get their ales. It was a short walk from Somerset House to one such pub, so next on the agenda was a pint of Tanglefoot for Gary and a glass of Sauvignon Blanc for Linda. It was lunchtime but we decided against having lunch at the pub - so after our drinks we made our way back to Trafalgar Square to see if we could get a table at the Portrait Restaurant in the National Portrait Gallery. We didn’t just get a table, we got a fantastic table near the window with a wonderful view of London. The lunch was very good and we had a most enjoyable time there.

      After lunch we strolled for a bit with no particular agenda until late afternoon when we made our way back to the hotel to relax and then freshen up for dinner. Our choice for the night was HIX Soho. We had eaten at a HIX once before when we were in Lyme Regis on the Dorset Coast of England in 2012 and we had passed by HIX Soho earlier in this trip and thought it would be a good choice. And it was a good choice - we had a very nice time at HIX with good food in a vibrant atmosphere. It was a nice end to enjoyable day.

  • Wednesday September 2, 2015

    Palace of Westminster, V&A, The Michelin House and Bentley’s

    We had another early start this day and the conditions we could see out the window looked quite good. Our initial destination was to tour the Palace of Westminster - the location of Britain’s House of Commons and House of Lords in what is more commonly known as the Houses of Parliament. We made our way directly down to that location and found a spot to grab a quick bite to eat and a coffee for breakfast before we got our tickets for the tour.

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      As you can imagine, security at the Houses of Parliament is vigilant so it isn’t the quickest place to get inside but the process is well organized easy to understand. As we had previously used at a number of other locations in London, we were given very good quality audio guides for a self directed tour. The tour started in the large Westminster Hall - it and the adjacent St Stephens Hall were the only two place where photography was allowed. That was too bad - there were so many cool things to see inside the Palace of Westminster and it would have been so good to be able to take some photos. We do, though, have some great memories of time we spent in this amazing building that is so steeped in rich history. It is definitely worth the time to tour the Houses of Parliament.

      We had passed a few locations of a pizza restaurant chain called Prezzo as we walked around London through the week and had commented to each other that it looked pretty good and we should give it a try for lunch sometime. Well, this was really the last opportunity to do so on this trip, so it was an easy choice for lunch this day. It was good, and we were glad we had actually given it a try.

      For the afternoon we had arranged to meet up with Nicola, Rose & Mick at the Victoria & Albert Museum - named after Queen Victoria & Prince Albert and recognized as the world’s largest museum of decorative arts. We took the London Underground to the museum and arrived at almost exactly the same time as Nicola, Rose & Mick. We caught up a bit with a coffee in the rather impressive surroundings of the V&A cafe. The building itself is quite spectacular even without looking at any of the objects on display. We had never been to this museum before, so it was good to take a peek at some of the collection this time. We say peek because we would have really needed more time or more visits to see a lot of the vast collection in this museum. We really would need to return here.

      We had a dinner booked for 7:30pm and the museum closed at 5:45pm, so once we left the museum Nicola suggested we go to the nearby Bibendum for a drink in the most impressive Michelin House - originally built as the head office for the tire company Michelin in 1911. Bibendum, incidentally, is the name of the plump white Michelin Man used in the company’s advertising. The building itself has many images of Bibendum in stain glassed windows. There is a restaurant on the top floor that would be worth a try some time, but we settled for a bottle of champagne and some snacks for this visit.

      We hopped back on the London Underground to head to our dinner location of Bentley’s Oyster Bar & Grill. We had chosen to sit in the more vibrant atmosphere of the oyster bar - which was by far the better choice for the night. It was a nice way to end the evening and pretty much our time in London with us heading home on Thursday.

  • Thursday September 3, 2015

    Time to head home

    For our final morning in London the task at hand was to get packed up and ready to start the voyage home. The arrival trip from the airport via the London Underground had worked very well so it was easy to make the same choice for the return trip to the airport.

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      Nicola was also flying to Manchester this day so we planned to head to the airport a bit earlier than required for our flight and meet up for some lunch once we were all checked in at Terminal 5. That plan changed once we arrived at the check in counter to find out we were too early to check in. There were certainly better restaurant options after the security checkpoint, but instead we had some lunch together at Carluccio’s in the time before we could check in.

      It was a nice surprise when we checked in to get upgraded from premium economy to business class for the return flight home. Once through security we walked a bit with Nicola until she headed off for her flight and we made our way to the lounge to wait out the time before our flight home.

      The flight home was decent and we enjoyed the better service for the daytime route west to Canada. We arrived at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport in the early evening and were greeted by some heat that we hadn’t felt since we left home on August 24 - with it being 29°C and quite humid.

      Weather notwithstanding we had a wonderful time in London. It was great to stay in central London and explore some of what the city has to see and do. The time we had available for this trip was based on our schedules, but had we had the ability to extend the trip further we would have no doubt found lots of other enjoyable and interesting things to do.

London Image Gallery

Our hotel - every hotel Piccadilly
Victoria Tower viewed from the Abbey's College Garden
Linda in Westminster Abbey's College Garden
Looking towards the Elizabeth Tower from outside the Palace of Westminster
Expressive Yeomen Warder (Beefeater) at the Tower of London
Tower Bridge being raised to let a ship through
Sun glinting off the Gherkin (30 St Mary Axe)
Tower Bridge
Tower of London viewed from across the Thames River
The Shard viewed from ground level
Millennium Bridege leading to St Paul's Cathedral
Crowd gathered outside Buckingham Palace for the Changing of the Guard
Band of Coldstream Guards (& one Irish Guard) accopanying the new Guard
Eclipse clock hanging at St Pancras railway station
The Royal Courts of Justice
Blues & Royals Guard outside the Horse Guards building
Richard I Coeur de Lion statue outside the Palace of Westminster
Oliver Cromwell statue outside the Palace of Westminster
About WHITEonline

WHITEonline is the digital home of Gary & Linda White. We’ve been married since 1980 and live just outside Toronto in Ontario, Canada. Linda was born and raised in Toronto while Gary was born in London, England and moved to Canada at the age of 11. We enjoy travelling and taking photos while we travel. WHITEonline provides the opportunity to share some of our photos & experiences.

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