Our Fabulous Week In London

Trip Start May 12, 2012
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Trip End Jun 06, 2012


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Where I stayed
Rental flat on Oakley Street, Chelsea, London, UK

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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

DAY 1 IN LONDON - May 30, 2012 - GETTING ORIENTED

We were up early to have breakfast and catch a taxi to the Salisbury train station for our trip into London, via Clapham Junction Station and Victoria Station. We got a taxi from Victoria Station to our one-bedroom rented flat on Oakley Street in Chelsea.  We had phoned the rental agency from the train and after a few minutes the lady agent appeared and let us into the flat and showed us around.  We took a little while to unpack and freshen up before deciding to walk the three blocks over to the Thames to see what it looked like. 

We found we were right at the foot of Albert Bridge, which connects Chelsea with the Battersea area on the other side of the Thames.  There were already some signs up about road closures for the Flotilla event.  We later realized that the Royal barge would be moored at the dock just downstream of the Albert Bridge on the day of the flotilla.

We walked downstream a short distance before cutting inland toward Sloan Square, looking for Karen and Roy's flat.  We took our time, looking at the scenery.  When we got to their building we saw Roy at the door with the doorman, and he took us up to greet Karen in their nice little rental flat. 

We all walked over to Victoria Station to purchase some Oyster Cards for use on the buses and underground.  We walked quite a bit more that afternoon and evening, getting the lay of the city and looking for CAMRA-approved pubs that Roy had researched, and finally to JD Wetherspoons for an early dinner.  After dinner we caught a bus back to our flat while Karen and Roy shopped for groceries.


DAY 2 IN LONDON - May 31, 2012 - BRITISH MUSEUM, NATIONAL GALLERY, BUCKINGHAM PALACE, PROMS CONCERT

We were up at 7am for breakfast and out the door at 8:30am to walk up to King's Street to meet Karen and Roy at a bus stop.  We took the bus down to Westminster Abbey and walked to Trafalgar Square and beyond to the British Museum.  In passing we gave a quick look at Parliament Square, Big Ben and many other buildings we couldn't yet identify. 

We spent two hours viewing only part of the British Museum, focusing on the Egyptian, Middle Eastern and Greek exhibits - all outstanding.  This museum is famous for its "Elgin Marble" collection from the Parthenon in Greece.  The artistry and workmanship in all the displays was breathtaking.  This is definitely a world class museum, with so much more to see than we had time for.  Karen and Roy had visited it several times before on previous trips and still haven't seen it all.

We then walked back to the National Gallery on Trafalgar Square for a quick forty five minute look.  No photographs were allowed inside; their extensive art collection included many famous works by the masters including Cezanne, Monet, van Dyke, Ruben, Rembrant, van Gogh and more. Amazing that admission to the main galleries is by donation only, but there was a separate gallery that did charge for entry.

We walked through many streets to get to Covent Garden, and Karen stayed there while Roy, Claudia and I went to find another interesting CAMRA-approved pub called The Harp.  We met some CAMRA UK people there who noticed my CAMRA Victoria shirt and remarked that they didn't know there were groups out in Canada.  They were very friendly and suggested some more pubs to see. 

We met up again with Karen, then walked from there to The Mall, the street that leads to Buckingham Palace.  Admiring the gardens and national flags along the Mall, we arrived at the Palace grounds and viewed the outdoor stage and grandstands that were being erected for the upcoming Jubilee concert. Buckingham Palace was not open for visitors that day, so we looked through the gates and watched the guards marching stiffly back and forth.

From there we checked out another pub or two on our walk back to St. Martin In the Fields Church in Trafalgar Square for an evening Proms concert.  We had supper on the way at another Wetherspoons pub (good selection of beers, inexpensive foods).  The inside of St Martins in the Fields Church has been recently renovated with a modern front window, but the high decorated ceilings and old wood pulpit and pews attest to its long history.  Downstairs there is a gift store, cafeteria and art displays.  Outside a stone sculpture depicted a newborn baby.  At the Proms concert, we enjoyed the string quintet with guest soprano, flautist, and harpist.  As well as many of the standard British favorites, they also featured a newly composed piece and its female composer was in the audience.  A great way to get into the spirit of the upcoming Diamond Jubilee celebrations.

After the concert we took the bus back to our flat at 10:00pm.  Tired Feet!!


DAY 3 IN LONDON - June 1, 2012 - DAY TRIP TO GREENWICH

While Karen and Roy wanted to travel up-river to Kew Gardens for the day, Claudia and I decided to go in the other direction by river to Greenwich.  We caught the bus on Kings Road to Westminster Abbey and then walked to the sightseeing boat wharf on the Thames near Big Ben to catch the tour boat to Greenwich.  The weather was very overcast but not too cool, and fortunately it didn't rain all day.

The tour guide was amusing and informative as we motored underneath a number of bridges, and passed famous sights such as the Tower of London, St Pauls Cathedral and the Millenium Bridge, Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, the Golden Hind, the Shard building under construction (glass covered, now the tallest building in Europe), the Tower Bridge, etc. etc.  We had a nice view of the river on the way to Greenwich, which took an hour or so.  We also saw a great variety of boats on the river, many gathering for the upcoming Jubilee flotilla event.

When we got to Greenwich we could immediately see the Cutty Sark sailing vessel, permanently mounted on land as an attraction, and recently repaired.  We went in to the tourist centre briefly, then walked past the site where workmen were building the Olympic stadium for the Equestrian competitions at the upcoming Olympic Games.  The main gardens were off limits to the public, and we were routed around them and up the hill to the Greenwich Observatory and museum. 

Our guide at the Royal Observatory was also a CAMRA member and he gave us a personal tour of most of the museum, sharing a lot of information about the history of the place, the people and politics involved, and the equipment used to measure and standardize the measurement of time.  We watched the ball on the roof drop at 1pm, and stood with one foot on either side of the primate meridian which runs right through Greenwich.

We walked back down into the town and had a bite and a half pint in the covered market to rest our feet.  We did not take time to visit the National Maritime Museum there, the Old Royal Naval College, nor the Queen's House Art Gallery built in 1616. We went into the gift shop at the Cutty Sark dry dock, and could some of it's lower hull from there.

We caught the sightseeing boat back to the Westminster pier, which was a lot more crowded than our morning's journey. The tide must have been out as the water level in the Thames whas quite a bit lower and we cut see the tide marks on the bridge supports, wharfs and wall along the way.  Once back at the wharf near the Parliament Buildings, we walked back up to where we caught the bus back to our flat.  We phoned Karen and Roy to see if they wanted to meet us somewhere for dinner, and decided to try a pub halfway between our flats.  It was the Friday night of a long weekend so the pub was too packed with people ready to celebrate, so we went to pick up some frozen food to take back to our flat.  The four of us heated our dinners and enjoyed a drink as we exchanged stories about our day.


DAY 4 IN LONDON - June 2, 2012 - BILLY ELLIOT PLAY, COVENT GARDENS

Today I woke up with a sinus headache and runny nose.  As I wanted to avoid getting worse I decided to stay in and rest for most of the day.  I also needed to find a place in the area to have my watch battery replaced (couldn't find one anywhere in Greenwich yesterday).  I rested for half the morning before going out.   I did find a jewelery repair a couple of blocks away and was able to get the watch fixed.  The trouble was that it was downstairs in an incense shop and I was coughing and sneezing as I tried to tell the man what I needed.  I had to leave the watch there for a half hour, so I walked around the area looking at shops, and a small park.  I picked up a small package of pasties and took them back to the flat for lunch.  they were quite tasty in spite of being inexpensive. Then I had a three hour sleep and felt much better.

Claudia took the bus to meet Karen and Roy for the day.  Karen showed Claudia the Covent Garden Market where they bought some scarves and jewelry. Karen noticed that the vendors were different than two days before, so it paid to go there on a Saturday for better selection.  They explored nearby streets, looking at the theatres and shops before buying a sandwich and eating it in Victoria Station.  They had bought matinee tickets for "Billy Elliot, The Musical" starting at 2:30 pm in the Victoria Palace theatre downtown, and they thoroughly enjoyed it. Roy met them outside the theatre about 5:30 pm, after wandering and shopping in the area for the afternoon, and they waited together for the bus back home. 

Claudia arrived back at the flat about 6:20 pm and we had dinner and a quiet evening in the flat.


DAY 5 IN LONDON  - June 3, 2012 - ROYAL JUBILEE FLOTILLA

It rained quite heavily all night and was still raining lightly this morning.  We got up around 7 am and after breakfast we put on our rain coats and headed off with an umbrella to see where we could find a place along the river to watch the Flotilla.  We walked down Oakley Street to the Albert Bridge and found out it was closed.  So was the road downstream, so we couldn't get over to where Roy and Karen's flat was unless we walked blocks and blocks out of our way.  So we decided to stay upstream,

We walked up to the Battersea Bridge and crossed to the other side of the Thames.  There was a misty rain falling, making it difficult to keep our glasses and camera dry.  We walked all the way back to the Albert Bridge but found out that we couldn't cross there either.  Battersea Park was close by but required tickets to sit there.  Looking across the water we could see the Royal Barge moored at the dock just the other side of the Albert Bridge.  We later learned that most of the royal family and guests would board the barge there in the afternoon, but the Queen and Prince Philip would approach the barge from the river aboard the Britannia's tender boat before  taking the barge at the head of the flotilla all the way to the Tower Bridge.

Retracing our steps back to the Battersea Bridge, we walked back to the Chelsea side and found it filling up with people.  So we picked a spot halfway between the Albert and Battersea bridges, right next to the rock wall overlooking the river on the embankment.  We were very near a small church, a big screen running historical footage of the royal familly, and a refreshment truck that sold lukewarm tea.  The rain had stopped but a cool wind was blowing across the river from the south. After a while Claudia volunteered to go back to the flat to make some sandwiches while I saved a space at the river bank. When Claudia came back we still had three hours to wait until the royalty arrived and the flotilla started. The crowd had grown considerably. 

The action started with Prince Charles, Camilla, William and Kate arriving at the river near the Albert Bridge to board the Royal Barge. All we could see of them were small dots on the metal walkway.  They waited until The Queen and Prince Phillip came to another wharf up the river a short distance upstream and boarded a launch that took them past us to the Royal Barge.  Then the Flotilla started and church bells rang and the crowd moved in toward us.  At least we were kept warmer by all those people around us!

Thousands of boats, small and large, came past us bearing flags.  There were row boats, canoes. steam powered boats, naval boats, sail boats, power boats, passenger boats, and fire fighting boats.  There were boats carrying bands and choirs, dignitaries and officials, security personnel, people waving flags, dressed in all kinds of costumes and just having fun.  The flotilla took about two hours or more for all of them to pass. 

We stayed almost to the end, but when the rain started to come down in earnest, we decided to miss the narrow boats (which we had seen going upstream earlier) and whatever else remained to return to the flat and get warm and dry.  We watched the rest of the Flotilla on TV coverage while enjoying a hot cup of tea.  As we had missed seeing the Royal Barge actively participate, it was nice to see the royal family and the flotilla from a different perspective.

We had some dinner in the fridge so we decided to stay in for the evening.


DAY 6 IN LONDON -  June 4, 2012 - ST PAUL'S, WALK ALONG THE THAMES

This morning after breakfast we took the bus to St. Paul's cathedral where we met Roy and Karen.  Although it was closed to the public, there was a rehearsal going on for the Queen's visit on Tuesday, and we were amused by the man in charge making sure that the buglers' feet were exactly in line, practically to the millimeter! 

We walked to the nearby Millennium footbridge and went down some stairs onto the mud and rocks at the edge of the river.  We did a little "mudlarking": looking for ancient junk that had been tossed into the Thames, perhaps centuries ago. We found a child's marble, some handmade but rusty nails and lots of pieces of clay pipe stems and broken china.  We washed our hands as well as we could and then walked over the Millennium footbridge to the Tate Museum of Modern Art, which we only briefly looked in.

We continued walking along the far bank of the Thames all the way to the Tower Bridge, stopping along the way to look for a couple of CAMRA awarded pubs. None were open as it was not yet noon!  We walked across the Tower Bridge, past the Tower of London and through the deserted business district (it was a "Bank holiday" in honor of the Queen's Jubilee) where we saw bits of the old wall of London. 

We continued on to the London Museum, and after spending a couple of hours in this large museum, we parted with Roy and Karen and dropped into a nearby pub to rest our sore feet. We shopped for some supplies for the flat and took the bus back to our flat and soaked our feet.  After warming some dinner we watched the Royal Gala concert on television.   The tickets for this concert at Buckingham Palace had long been sold out and we were not willing stand along The Mall for hours in the cool weather, hoping to see the concert on one of the huge screens.


DAY 7 IN LONDON - June 5, 2012 - WESTMINSTER ABBEY, ROYAL PROCESSION

Today Claudia and I took the bus down to Westminster Abbey.  We only got as far as Victoria Station as a lot of the roads are closed down near the Abbey and the Houses of Parliament in preparation for the royal procession.  So we had to walk between five and seven blocks to the Abbey.  We paid admission and spent over two hours looking inside at all the tombs of Kings, Queens, poets and scientists and the architecture of this most famous church.  We weren't allowed to take photos inside, so we bought a few post cards in their gift shop.

The Queen and the royal family were attending St Paul's and the House of Parliament, and were being driven back to Buckingham Palace in a procession in the afternoon. Karen got down to the area about 8 am to get a space at the curb while Roy went mudlarking again.  Karen said that bands would go by regularly to entertain the huge crowds, and she also enjoyed talking to the friendly people in the crowds nearby.  Excitement was in the air!

When we finally exited Westminster Abbey, the church bells were ringing constantly, and the crowds were already too thick to get near the parade route.  We walked a couple of blocks to a small pub called The Speaker, where we had a cold lunch and a half pint.  When we returned to the Abbey we found a troop of palace guards on horseback, marshaling in readiness to escort the Queen to the palace.  There was even a mounted band in full dress uniform.  We photographed them and then tried to get close to the parade route near the Houses of Parliament. I caught only a glimpse of the Queen in her carriage by holding my camera above my head, but taking a photo seemed too hard with all those people in front of us.

As rain started to fall, we went to a nearby pub to watch the television coverage of the procession. We joined a crowd of young people and joined in with the singing of God Save the Queen and several toasts to her health.  After a couple of pints the rain had stopped, so we decided to leave and catch the bus back to our flat in Chelsea. We got off near a grocery store and bought some food for our dinner.  It was time again to pack our suitcases in preparation for leaving tomorrow.
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