We were approaching our two year mark of living abroad – Andrew’s is in March and mine is in May. During those last 2 years, we still had not visited London. Why? I’m not entirely sure, but I think we kept telling ourselves that it is so close, and that we would eventually get around to it. We finally decided to take a quick trip and instead of taking the fast Eurostar, I decided that we would save a bit of money by taking the bus.
The guy at border control even gave us a bit of a hard time for taking the bus for the first time. On our way to London, we took the shuttle under the channel. The cars/buses/trucks loaded onto this train car and we were zipped under the water.
Our chariot arrived at Victoria Coach Station 45 minutes ahead of schedule! We were due to meet up with a friend at the station, but there was some confusion on both ends since we were early and she had to work (plus I don’t have a phone so contact was limited). Sadly we did not meet up, but hopefully next time! We waited around for a few minutes at the station and then walked to our flat on the other side of the River Thames. My first photo in the city! I forwarded this picture to my mom. She thought the buildings looked like owl heads, and my sister-in-law, Sara, thought they looked like books!
Once we were settled, we walked around the city for a bit. It was a beautiful, cold walk and we warmed up in one of the restaurants with some meat pies and sticky toffee pudding. It really was incredibly cold and windy walking around that evening and we hoped that the weather might get a bit better tomorrow.
The next day we walked the 50 minutes from our flat to the breakfast place. The weather was surprisingly better this morning. We were wearing our dress shoes…we will see how this goes. On our way, we passed by the Palace of Westminster (the meeting place of the House of Commons and the House of Lords, the two houses of the Parliament of the UK) and also Westminster Abbey (the place where the coronation, weddings, and burials of kings/queens in England typically occur).
To start our first full day, we had breakfast at Dishoom in the Covent Garden area. This restaurant is in the style of the Irani cafés of Bombay. They were very busy when we arrived for our reservation at 9h00. The food was excellent and the décor was cool. The servers were also all pretty nice. We wish we could have eaten there every day!
After breakfast, we met our tour group. We use SANDEMANs NEW Europe tours a lot and today, we were going on their free tour of London. At the end, you pay for the tour whatever you deem worthy (that could be 20 pounds, 2 pounds, or nothing). We’ve never been disappointed with a tour from this company. Our guide today was Jake!
We learned that we were in fact not in London at the moment, but were in fact in Westminster (note the sign), or Greater London. The city of London is only one square mile. I had heard of the “Square Mile” before, but I guess I never realized the significance before.
This is the Royal Coat of Arms for the United Kingdom. The U.K. is made up of England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales. However, Wales is left out on the arms with England represented in the first and fourth quarters. The second quarter represents Scotland and the third quarter represents Northern Ireland. Also around the shield are a lion (representing the crown) and also a chained unicorn (representing Scotland). According to legend, free unicorns were considered dangerous and since the unicorn was the national animal of Scotland, it seemed appropriate to them that it be chained. Seems kind of mean to me (leaving out Wales and chaining the unicorn…). There is also French writing on the Coat of Arms. The reason there is French writing, is due to the fast that William the Conqueror (or William the Bastard to some) who was the Duke of Normandy, became the first Norman King of England after invading the country in 1066.
Part of Harry Potter was filmed here? I need to go back and watch the movie(s) again!
Here we are at Trafalgar Square. This area has been used for political demonstrations and gatherings. Nelson’s Column is located in the square.
We are entering “The Mall” street through Admiralty Arch. Mall is not pronounced as you would think.
These are the statues of Queen Elizabeth’s parents. Her mother lived to be almost 102!
This is St. James Palace.
Newsflash! We saw Queen Elizabeth II drive toward Buckingham Palace! We do not have a photo due to a camera malfunction, but we saw here in her cute pink outfit. This is the aftermath photo.
Buckingham Palace with the Victoria Memorial in the front!
I think we are in St. James’s Park here and if so it was lovely. Watch out for the squirrels.
There’s Big Ben, err I mean the Elizabeth Tower.
There’s old honest Abe Lincoln’s statue in Parliament Square. Many protests and demonstrations are also held in this square.
This is a better picture of the Westminster Abbey.
After the tour we made our way back towards Buckingham Palace (really it was on the way to get some gelato – even though it was a bit cold). We stopped by the gates and also got to see someone leave the palace by horse and carriage. We have no idea who it was though.
We had some delicious gelato from Gelupo! I’m hoping that it won’t spoil our afternoon tea.
A bit later, we arrived for our afternoon tea reservation at sketch. Everything was a bit expensive, but it was fun for our first afternoon tea experience! You could refill anything you wanted and we definitely overate a bit.
The sketches on the wall were really interesting too.
The toilets at sketch were some of the most interesting that I had ever seen! Get in your pod!
After tea time, we headed to the St. Martin’s Theatre for The Mousetrap! Our hostess was able to get us better seats since they were a little slow that night. The show was great!
On Friday we had our food tour scheduled at 10h00, but we always have breakfast before (even though they warn us not to). We had our breakfast at Ottolenghi and it was delicious. Andrew had the Shakshuka and I had the Polenta, feta, and sweetcorn cakes with poached egg and spicy guacamole.
Andrew got coffee at this place. Their sign was hilarious and true.
We met our food tour guide at the Old Spitalfields Market. I wish we had had more time in this area. The market looked neat.
The first stop on our tour was at St. John Bread and Wine for a bacon sandwich.
After that tasty morsel, we went to the English Restaurant for a proper bread and butter pudding served with custard. This was so good!
An old façade for a soup kitchen opened over 100 years ago. The area we were walking around in today was and for some still is a poorer part of Greater London. The second photo was also housing for women, men, and children. They had separate entrances for the genders. Some people thought it was better to sleep on the streets than in there for the unsanitary conditions.
This area had street names such as ‘Artillery Passage’ and ‘Gun Street.’ It was named like this because this area used to be the old artillery ground under Henry VIII. The barriers are also made out of old cannons.
In some areas, developers are forced to build around historical facades. This is an example in London along Artillery Lane.
They had window taxes in London too.
Our next food tasting was at Androuet for some cheese. We sampled cheddar and blue cheese.
Next up was fish and chips at Poppies! This was delicious and light, if I can call fried fish light.
Maybe this will be our door knocker…
Apparently this building has been used in some films. I thought I heard him mention Stanley Kubrick, but I haven’t found any info backing this up online. Clay, do you recognize anything?
We got to meet the famous Lenny the cat at the Pride of Spitalfield’s pub! I want a cat someday! We also got to have a beer and some hard cider.
Andrew’s favorite stop on the tour was along Brick Lane at Aladin’s for some curry! All of the places along this street advertise being the best or having won an award (many the same year), so you really need to know which one is good before entering.
Interesting street art all throughout this neighborhood – you really need to keep your eyes open (look on the walls and on the poles)! We learned that some of the artists were French and started to better understand our street art scene. For example, Yadayada is a the one who does all of the pixelated art around Paris. Also, we saw Banksy’s pink car.
We also had a real bagel sandwich at Beigel Bake. I liked the bagel and meat, but the mustard cleared out my nose! Whoa!
Andrew spotted this street art for me. I love it and was glad that he had his eyes open, because I clearly didn’t (at least not in that direction)!
Boxpark is an area where shipping containers have been turned into retail stores, cafes, etc. What a cool idea!
Our last stop was at Pizza East for a salted caramel tart. This was delicious and my favorite thing on the tour! What can I say? I’m a dessert woman. However, I liked all of the food.
After the tour we made our way towards Borough Market, but first we stopped to see The Monument. This commemorates the Great Fire of London which occurred in 1666 and burned for 3 days. The fire started not far from where the monument was erected (the height marks the distance to the shop of Thomas Farynor, the king’s baker, where the fire started). This monument was co-designed by Christopher Wren & Robert Hooke. This piece of information was interesting because the name of one of the characters in The Mousetrap is Christopher Wren (he was named after the famous architect). The Great Fire of London put an end to the great plague that had rocked London for the last year. The fire killed all of the rats carrying the fleas of the plague. The people had mistakenly killed all of the dogs and cats in an effort to get rid of the plague and had only made it worse by eliminating the natural predators of the rats. The Great Fire was both a curse and a blessing.
We had a great view of the Tower Bridge from the London Bridge on our walk to the market!
Borough Market was a wondrous place! It would be nice to be near a place like this wherever we settle down. We tried the delicious cream filled donuts from Bread Ahead and also tasty ice cream from the Greedy Goat!
On our walk towards the Tower Bridge! We also spotted the Tower of London.
We had some tapas at a nearby restaurant before our Grim Reaper walking tour. It is best to fill up before a night of hearing about execution and murder. There’s a nice shot of the Tower of London at night with the Underground sign!
The Grim Reaper tour was very interesting even though it was absolutely freezing that evening (I would have enjoyed it more had it not been so cold). We heard stories about the people executed in the Tower of London and on Tower Hill. Our guide, Angus, also told us the story of Jack the Ripper and how we may never know who he truly was. He talked of the corruption in the police force, the grave robbing, and organ snatching. These are some of the photos taken along the tour. The one of the bench is where one of the alleged victims of Jack the Ripper was found.
This church was known as Prostitute’s Church and not because prostitutes went to church there, it was where they lined up or more accurately walked around to try to pick up clients.
This bar, The Ten Bells, has been associated with two of the alleged Jack the Ripper victims (Annie Chapman & Mary Jane Kelly). This was the last place Mary Jane Kelly was seen alive. However, many believe that her boyfriend is the one that murdered her and not Jack the Ripper.
On Saturday, we visited the Tower of London! It was neat to walk around the grounds. I even enjoyed seeing the crown jewels. The Beefeaters were exactly what I expected too, cracking jokes during the tour.
This spot is where Queen Anne Boleyn was executed. Others were executed there too, though not many were actually executed in the Tower, most were executed on the Hill.
The house with the guard in front of it is Queen Elizabeth’s house. It is always ready for her, though we were told that she never comes.
The ravens on the grounds were my favorite part. The birds seem to have quite the personalities. Due to superstition, at least six ravens are kept on the grounds for fear that if they leave the Crown will fall and the Tower will crumble into dust. I guess it is easier to keep the birds around than to chance it.
Wild beasts were once kept at the Tower.
The White Tower houses ‘The Line of Kings,’ weapons, and gifts from other countries.
Toilet…your business slides right off the side of the building.
The view from the White Tower isn’t too awful.
Items used for execution and/or torture.
Traitors Gate! Many prisoners entered the Tower through this water gate (it doesn’t go to the water anymore).
Me and one of the Yeomen Warders (or Beefeaters)! They are the guardians of the Tower.
After we had thoroughly explored the Tower, we went back to Borough Market for some lunch.
Then we hopped on the Tube to head to our next tour. We were taking the Old City Tour with Jake. The Theatre Royal Drury Lane in the background showing Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is apparently the most haunted theatre in London.
The Covent Garden area used to be the site of a garden that belonged to Westminster Abbey.
This old tube station at Aldwych on the Strand is out of use now as far as the tube is concerned, but formerly it was the air raid shelter during WW2. It has also appeared in numerous films.
The Australian High Commission’s interior was used as a filming location for the Gringotts banking hall in Harry Potter.
The Royal Courts of Justice…where anyone who’s anyone gets a divorce.
Clock featured in Harry Potter?
The St. Clement Danes Church was damaged in the WW2 bombing (you can still see damage in this photo) and was due to be torn down, but the RAF (Royal Air Force) put forth the money to repair the building.
This statue marks the boundary between the City of London and the City of Westminster along Fleet Street to Temple Bar. It is symbolic because the dragons (which represent London) are above the Queen and typically no one is above the crown. The sign shows that we are now in London.
This is the Temple area along with the Temple Church, once belonging to the Knights Templar. It is said that the monarch has to have the Lord Mayor’s permission to enter the city. This is still occasionally re-enacted.
This London skyscraper named the “Walkie-Talkie” due to the shape actually melted parts of a car due to the reflected light during the summer of 2013. It had to be fitted with shading to prevent further issues. Wow!
Here stands St. Paul’s Cathedral. This is one of many buildings designed by Christopher Wren. This structure was part of the major rebuilding after the Great Fire.
That night we had dinner at Jar Kitchen. Plate licking is rewarded here! The food was pretty good. However, the table next to us was kind of obnoxious. My only complaint is that the seating is so close together. They could have spread us out a bit. Other than that it was a nice cozy place with good food and excellent service!
We had breakfast on our last day at Pimlico Fresh. The food was very good! I loved the yogurt with granola and the green eggs and bacon! It had avocado, they could do no wrong.
We scrambled to find a patch after breakfast because we hadn’t found one we liked yet. This ended in failure…I guess we have to go back to London now 🙂
On our bus ride back to Paris we took the ferry instead of the tunnel. This was an interesting experience. However, I do not know if I want to take the bus again. It is a lot cheaper, but on the ride back there were some annoying kids and their parents didn’t do anything about it. We are just treating it as lessons for us when we have kids. You never know who you will end up on the bus!
London was fun and we’re looking forward to going back one day!