To say I took the city by storm would be about right. I came in with thunder and lightning, and made tracks here there and everywhere while in London. While going back and forth to site visits, I came to rest in the city a total of five nights.
Armed with a grand list of sightseeing options, recommendations from my students, and an Oyster card .. I set out to do what I couldn’t do in 2004: explore on my own.
* Trains were my main route of transportation, and I saw more London stations than I thought possible during this trip: Paddington (to Cardiff & Heathrow), Euston (to Watford Junction), Kings Cross (to Grantham), Waterloo (to Winchester). You know what I did at Kings Cross, right? That’s right. Grabbed an innocent bystander, put a camera in her hand and had her take a photo of me pushing my way through Platform 9 and 3/4. Easily the most gleeful pic I took in those two weeks.
* Both of my hotels in London were lovely – but the Caesar Hotel (of the Derby Hotels brand) really took the cake. My digs in Cardiff left a bit to be desired and I was ready for a serious sleep, and some pampering. The Caesar is located just above Hyde Park, in Queens Gardens – a quiet, residential neighborhood walkable from Paddington station and many restaurants and shops. My second hotel, London House, was in roughly the same neighborhood – also lovely, with few guests (only 4 floors) and a tight, if well appointed, single room. Both hotels are near two tube stops (Bayswater& Queensway) with several connections (Central, Circle and District lines).
And what did I do with my other night in London, if you’re doing the math? I crashed at Marylebone Hall – a University of Westminster dorm! In true student-living style, the wifi was busted, ethernet wasn’t available, the lift to my floor was broken and the handle on my suite was stuck. The real comedy was to see me in the bathroom stall – thankfully, en suite but not meant for people approaching 6 feet tall.
* I checked (ticked) off the boxes on my sightseeing list: Westminster Abbey (although closed), Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, London Tower. Given my timeline much of it was wandering around outside and snapping photos. The sun was also shining, and that hardly happens in London, so I ditched the museum idea — although nearly ALL museums in London are free admission.
I wandered through glorious green space of all shapes and sizes: Regent’s Park, Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens. I tried shopping on Oxford Street until the crowd at Primark freaked me out back into the street. The people watching, you understand, was extravagant. I also used my Oyster card with great frequency, when my legs were at their limit, and you can’t argue with people watching on the tube.
* I ate, and ate, and ate. Here are some of the foodie highlights:
– Bella Italia – these are Italian chains all over the city, and you know chains are usually against my religion. However, the map from my hotel boasted a 20% discount, it was walkable from my hotel, and it was damn good. So there!
– Indian YMCA – a recommendation from Westminster colleagues, at first I thought – what? A hostel? Well turns out their cafeteria is open for all, and quite affordably delicious. Located in Fitzroy Square.
– Tinseltown – An American diner in London? Well that’s a challenge if I ever heard one. I hopped in at 11 p.m. (that alone is amazing) for a burger and fries, which were delicious. When you’re tired, the local (Bayswater) goes a long way.
– Banana Tree – Thai close to home (Westborough Terrace). My last meal in the city, and a spicy treat.
– Leon – Kings Cross and Heathrow are the two (yes, two) locations I took advantage of this beautiful restaurant. First of all, mindblowingly cheap. Second of all, really unique and healthy options for travelers: poached egg pots, porridge combos, and greek yogurt choices. They’ve covered all the bases on gluten free, vegetarian, you name it.
– Churchill Arms – hearty Thai in the most packed, festive and green pub I’ve ever been in. Seating for one was easy, but sitting in the aisle was less so.
– Raoul’s – I wandered up to the Maida Vale neighborhood to visit with a student and was so pleased by my pasta and asparagus in white truffle oil. Plus cider, obviously. And outdoor seating.
– Borough Market – is going to get a post of it’s own, because Market Culture is a topic that needs to be addressed.
And yes, I went to Warner Brothers Studios to see The Making of Harry Potter – arguably one of the best and most expensive decisions of my life. But that’s another post now, isn’t it?