A Week in London, Part Two of Four

Rosemary's Travel Diary - London

Saturday. After a long day of travel we arrived in London. Experience has taught us to expect a very small room. That's not a problem. But this room at the Cumberland Hotel was impossible. There was not enough floor space for an adult to walk around the bed. There was no closet, no armoire, no drawers, and nowhere to even lay a suitcase down. The management had the gall to describe this as a "deluxe" room. While it might seem comfortable to a teenage backpacker accustomed to sleeping on cots in the crowded youth hostels of Nepal, no one in the Western world could honestly call this tiny, miserably furnished room "deluxe". In response to our complaint, the woman behind the reception desk said that all the rooms had been designed to be "modern". Apparently modern people travel without a change of clothes. Unwilling to spend a week in a cramped space where we would be unable to unpack our bags, we paid for an upgrade to a "junior suite", which had a closet and, oddly, two showers in the bathroom (one of them too small to be used by anyone with elbows).

The evening was cool with light rain. We enjoyed a hearty meal at a nearby pub called Three Tuns. I had fish and chips, while Steve chose the sausage of the day, with the traditional accompanying gravy, mashed potatoes and peas.

Who's that lady?
Sunday. The day was cool and breezy. We took the Original Tour Bus around the town. This hop-on, hop-off plan is a convenient way to see the major sights. [Steve: We also picked up an Oyster Card to use for the “tube”, London’s great underground train system, which we used every day to easily get around town. Our hotel was around the corner from a tube station, so it was extremely convenient.] Today's activities included a stroll through Trafalgar Square, a short cruise on the Thames, and a walk past Parliament. In the afternoon we walked to the Speaker's Corner in Hyde Park, where two evangelists, a communist, and men of various political and social opinions stood on boxes or stools and attracted crowds with their speeches. We strolled along a section of the Serpentine, the man-made lake that marks the boundary between Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens. Here people walk, sit, play soccer and cricket, push baby carriages, and dance on roller skates.

I have been surprised by the number of Muslim women who are completely covered and veiled. In Los Angeles we see modestly-dressed Muslim women, who typically wear long-sleeved tunics over jeans or slacks, and scarves or hijabs that cover the head, hair and neck. But here we often see women (or people we assume to be women) fully draped in black, tentlike garments with veils that just allow their eyes to peek out. It is an odd and somewhat disturbing sight in this modern setting.

We had dinner at Prezzo, an Italian-style restaurant across the street from our hotel.

Monday. This was a cool, overcast day with hints of rain. We went to the British Museum, one of the largest and greatest collections in the world, with millions of objects documenting human history and culture. It would be impossible to see it all in one visit, even if we had the strength to try. We concentrated on ancient Egypt, Assyria, and Greece. Here we saw amazing things: the Rosetta Stone, beautiful Egyptian tomb paintings, marbles from the Parthenon, carved panels chronicling history and mythology, pottery, jewelry, and a few bones.

After a casual lunch (hot dogs in the garden) we went to St. Paul's cathedral, where we were treated to the end of a choir rehearsal. When we were here six years ago, the building was largely obscured, inside and out, by scaffolding. Today, most of the restoration work is complete and we were able to really see the place. Last time we climbed the 530 exhausting steps to the top where we enjoyed a panoramic view of the city. This time we stayed below, touring the interior of the church and then going down to the crypt. So many memorials to the dead of so many wars.

We had dinner at La Porte des Indes, a nearby Indian restaurant with good food in a picturesque setting.

Tuesday. It rained lightly nearly all day long. We went to the Tower of London where we viewed collections of armor and weapons as well as the crown jewels. After lunch at the nearby Dog House restaurant, we walked to the Tower Bridge, where we climbed up to the pedestrian walkways for a damp, gray view of the Thames and the surrounding area. The rain let up a little, so we strolled along the riverside Queen's Walk to London Bridge, where we caught the tube back to our hotel. By dinnertime it was raining hard enough to deter us from going out, so we ate at the more casual of the hotel's two restaurants. I tried the black pudding (yes, I know what's in it), which had the taste and texture of gamey polenta.

Wednesday. The day was sunny, but not too hot. Our first excursion of the morning was the London Eye. This is a gigantic ferris wheel on the south bank of the Thames, and one of the city's most popular tourist attractions. Getting there early was a good move. The ticket line was already long when we arrived, but there weren't many people ahead of us when we boarded the ride. By the time we left, the length of the line to get aboard was about 50 yards long. The ride and the view were really enjoyable. Afterward, we strolled the tree-lined walkway next to the river, enjoying the sights.

We took a tour of the Globe Theatre, a replica of the original theatre of Shakespeare's time. Great attention has been given to using authentic materials, including the first thatched roof in London since the great fire of 1666. This is a working theatre that hosts both traditional and modern performances of Shakespeare's plays as well as works by other playwrights. We saw part of a rehearsal for Henry IV (I can't remember whether it was Part 1 or Part 2). We had lunch at the restaurant next door.

We walked to the Tate Modern. Fortunately, admission was free, as we soon decided to spend our time and energy elsewhere. After walking across the Millennium Bridge, we took the tube to Westminster Abbey. King Edward the Confessor, who built the original abbey in 1065 and died in 1066, is buried here, as are Queen Elizabeth I and her half-sister Mary I, enemies in life, buried together for all eternity. There are thousands of tombs and memorials to royalty, politicians, military heroes, and prominent citizens. Geoffrey Chaucer was the first great writer buried here; the Poet's Corner now contains many plaques and monuments, and a few blank spots awaiting future use.

We had dinner at a small middle eastern restaurant a few blocks from our hotel, then took a walk along Edgware Road. Signs in Arabic and English (or just Arabic), veiled women, people smoking hookahs in the sidewalk cafes.

Thursday. This was a lovely, sunny day. We visited the National Gallery, another great museum that is simply too big to tour completely in a single visit. We focused mostly on the 16th century. For lunch we had pizza nearby at Bella Italia. Then we walked (not very far) to the National Portrait Gallery, which exhibits 500 years of people in history. We went on to Covent Garden, which features huge crowds, a shopping arcade, a flea market and street performers. Like the performers we saw when we walked along the river, their acts usually consist of a long, tedious introduction and very little (if any) actual performance. Exhausted, we went back to the hotel. In the evening, we took the tube to Mayfair, where we had stayed the first time we came to London, and had dinner at a middle eastern restaurant we remembered from that trip.

Friday. We decided to take a day trip to Kew Gardens. There was a problem with the subway which forced us to get off the train, go to a different station than we had planned, and catch a bus there. A journey that should have taken an hour ended up taking three, so we were already getting tired when we arrived, and the first thing we needed to do was get something to eat: mediocre sandwiches at the café inside the gardens. This was the only really hot day we've had in London. If we had known what the weather would be like, we'd probably have chosen an indoor location. Kew covers 300 acres, and much of it is not especially interesting, consisting mostly of vast stretches of grass and ordinary trees, crossed by unshaded walkways. Many of the exhibits are inside greenhouses. The butterfly exhibit was lovely, but after about 15 minutes the heat drove us out. One building was devoted entirely to palm trees, probably fascinating to northern Europeans, but not to people who live among the palms of California. Steve wisely stayed outside while I took a peek. The temperature inside was 35 Celsius (that's about 95 Fahrenheit) and it felt like 70% humidity. We climbed to the "treetop walkway", an elevated walk oddly placed in an area where there is little to see. We had the time, energy and interest to see only a fraction of the place. No doubt it is better in cooler weather, and a better choice would be to spend the extra four pounds apiece to ride the tram instead of walking. The trains were running, so it took us just an hour to get back to the hotel.

We went to a local launderette to wash our clothes. After another dinner at Prezzo, we packed our suitcases for tomorrow's flight to Paris.


The Elephant Parade project placed over 250 life-sized baby elephant sculptures, sometimes alone, sometimes paired or in groups, throughout central London, Decorated by various artists and designers, the elephants were on display during spring and early summer. After the exhibit ended, they were auctioned off to raise money for conservation charities


Around Town

If you want some fast food in London, you could go to McDonald's, Burger King, or even KFC. But a much better choice is Pret a Manger, where you will find tasty food that is freshly made with wholesome ingredients. We went there for lunch and late-night snacks.

Gilded Lion of St. Mark, originally from the Venetian fortress on Corfu, now at the Tower of London

Statue of Charlie Chaplin at Leicester Square

Detail over the door of Westminster Abbey