When my friend June was coming over to London with her brother and sister-in-law and asked me to be their "tour guide" I jumped at the chance to show people the city I love so much and also be a "tourist" once again. And the idea of hanging out with my buddy for a couple of days did not offend either!
We stayed in a hotel in the Paddington station area. The last time I stayed in central London was three years ago with June - in the same area but next door to the hotel we were in this time. I now stay out in the suburbs and prefer it that way as I am away from tourists (because of course I no longer consider myself a tourist you see...uh huh) Staying in London for weeks and months on end just would not be financially possible if I stayed in Central London) London is very expensive and if you are from North America well let's just say the hotels in London aren't like at home and leave it like that. That saying "not enough room to swing a cat"? That pertains to London hotel rooms..unless you are very rich of course.
So Day One dawned and after a full English breakfast off we went on the "tube" which is Londoners' fond name for the Underground railway - because the tunnels are shaped like a tube. Don't call it the subway whatever you do...in Britain a subway is something you walk through to pass under a road or bridge. We got on the Circle line to Westminster station. First up was the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey. Sadly Big Ben and the Elizabeth Tower are completely covered with scaffolding right now and will be for the next four years while restoration work is done. It's very disappointing for tourists as that is one of the iconic London sights. And let's face it, London isn't really London without Ben chiming out on the quarter hour.
Across from the Houses of Parliament stands a statue of Winston Churchill...we'll get back to him later.
Westminster Abbey is a must for the first timer to London. This was my third visit but it still overwhelmed me. It is so much more than its religious aspect. If you are interested in history you will love this place. It has more than 3300 burials and memorials. Queen Elizabeth I and her half sister Queen Mary are buried here...side by side as well which is very ironic. Charles Darwin and Sir Isaac Newton are buried here and Stephen Hawking's ashes will soon join them here. The Abbey is a Who's Who of the deceased. Poets Corner has a memorial to William Shakespeare as well as the resting places of Charles Dickens, Rudyard Kipling and Sir Lawrence Olivier to name just a few. At the exit is the Coronation Stone used for every Coronation of a Monarch since 1308. Amazing!! Of course there are the Royal Weddings held in the Abbey. We spent hours there and it was worth every minute. No photos are allowed inside though. This was my third visit but felt like the first.
After all that standing and walking it was just a short walk over to St James's Park (my favourite place in London) to admire the daffodils and sit down for a while.
This is the classic view towards Horseguards Palace and Whitehall from the Blue Bridge in the park.
It is very popular to have your photo taken here or on the other side with Buckingham Palace in the background. It makes crossing the bridge interesting with people having their photos taken or others doing selfies.
On to Buckingham Palace which is across from the park.
And as unattractive as it looks in the photos..bonus time as the road was closed which meant we could walk freely between the palace and the Victoria Memorial. Can you believe I had never been on the Victoria Memorial? I sure fixed that!
Looking down The Mall - Clarence House somewhere on the left and St James's Park on the right.
Then it was time for a break and a cuppa at the cafe in St James's Park. Afterwards we walked by the area where the wildlife in the park hang out. (my favourite place)
Daffodils are happening here with lots more coming!
Where's the cigar?
Mr. Churchill hated noise when he was working...I totally agree on the whistling. Whistling should be BANNED!!!
Inevitably I bought another drink coaster (I know... I should join a support group for coaster obsessors) which says "Make tea, not war". My sentiments exactly!
We walked through Horse Guards Palace but the guards on their horsies were gone for the day so it was just the regular guys with their guards with the AK47's or whatever they are. The sad state of our world today is the reason that the unarmed guards need to be guarded.
Then on to Trafalgar Square...
By then we were getting rather tired (we are all old) - if we hadn't I would have suggested a short walk over to Piccadilly Circus and Covent Garden. So we took a #23 bus back to Paddington. We missed rush hour on the tube and were able to see Piccadilly Circus, Regent Street and Oxford Circus from the top deck of the bus. As soon as we got off the bus we hot footed it to the pub. Visiting a pub is a must when you are a first timer (or 28th timer) in England.
That my friends is a steak and ale pie and chips...not the best one I've had by a long shot but it filled the hole in my tummy.
Day two (after another English breakfast of eggs, bacon, sausage, beans and toast - this sets you up for the day and you don't need to stop for lunch. Well that's my excuse!) saw us heading out on the tube in rush hour - just so they could experience it you know... we were meeting June and Bob's cousins at London Bridge station to spend the day with them. Just so they could experience it a bit more I got us a bit misplaced...damn Circle and District lines! A fellow Canadian showed us the correct way. As the so called "expert" on London my face was a bit red!
After we met up with the cousins we all walked across London Bridge and along the Thames Path to the Tower of London....
A view from London Bridge
And London's tallest building...the Shard. I am too cheap to go up the Shard. I book the free Sky Garden which is almost directly opposite on the other side of the river in the "Walkie Talkie" building (London's iconic new buildings always seem to get nicknames - we have the "Cheese grater" and "The Gherkin" for example) I guess the downside is you have to book ahead a couple of weeks and if the weather is crap you won't see anything...but it's free so you just don't show up!
Here we are at the Tower...this iconic London attraction dates from 1078. The last time I was in here was almost thirty years ago...this was my third visit. We spent ages here but there is just so much to see. Even the Crown Jewels are displayed differently than last time and to be honest I'd forgotten a lot of it.
You have to have your photo taken with a Beefeater - the (now) ceremonial guards of the Tower. Ladies, don't hold out for a "hot" one...none of them are young as they have had to have served at least 22 years in the Armed Forces.
On the other hand the guards at the Tower seem too young to shave. We were even wondering if they were women (which would be totally cool) but decided (after looking for any lumps in the chest area!) no they were just young.
Traitors gate....prisoners were brought in here from the Thames. When you came in this gate you usually didn't come out..not alive anyway.
Tower Bridge next door...
One of the famous Tower Ravens. There are at least six of them at all times - myth says that if the ravens leave the tower the Crown will fall. Well they make pretty darn sure they don't leave - the wing feathers on one wing are clipped and they are fed on a diet of fruit, fresh meat, cheese and biscuits soaked in fresh blood. (yum) Why would they want to leave? They all have individual names and have been tagged to identify them. They are even enlisted as soldiers of the kingdom!!! But don't get too close because they bite. One bird named Charlie came to an unfortunate end as he bit a visiting drug sniffing dog also named Charlie - and Charlie the dog bit back with dire consequences! Hmm...you would almost think that that would deserve some time in the Tower!
This is the approximate location where a few people lost their heads, including Anne Boleyn. It all looks so pretty doesn't it? A pillow? I don't think so! The scaffold used to be on the green but it is now in a display case pictured (in a bad photo) below.
Then a warming hot chocolate in St Catherine's Dock...here is the picture. I mean, how pretty is this..almost too pretty to drink!
Time to hop the Number 15 bus that runs from the Tower to Trafalgar Square. If you're lucky you get to ride a Routemaster bus - the old double deckers were retired from regular duty in 2005 but they still run five on the "tourist" route. We are getting off at St Paul's Cathedral.
Blossoms are s-l-o-w-l-y coming!! Hint: if you want to get inside Westminster Abbey or St Paul's without paying admission go to Evensong. I did that a couple of times at St Paul's. Of course you aren't free to wander around but you can have a gander from your seat.
Across from St Paul's is a path leading to the Millennium Bridge...which takes you over to the South Bank. We are heading back to London Bridge to bid adieu to "the cousins".
Back along the South Bank to London Bridge. Then a bus back to Paddington - but before that we were lucky enough to get on a Routemaster - yay!! Routemasters have conductors to punch your oyster card and a platform to jump onto. I remember jumping on those platforms back in the day...when I could jump. No more jumping now - I wait until the bus is stopped before putting one foot down and then the other. Sigh....I don't miss the old way of the buses though when it was based on how far you were going. Sometimes you didn't know and the whole bus system was confusing so I stuck to the tube. Now I love the bus and it's my preferred way of travel in London unless I am in a hurry - which I try not to be! Sitting on the top deck of a double decker and preferably in the front row is a must for a first timer in London.
Of course there is so much more to London and ideally you need at least a week to immerse yourself. A musical in the West End, a stroll through Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, a snoop around Harrods, the museums...I could go on and on. I am currently on my 28th visit over a 43 year time period and I am still discovering new places. To quote Samuel Johnson "When a man is tired of London he is tired of life for there is in London all life can afford". Too right Sam my man!