London Stories and Tips

London, Part 2

Harrods Egyptian Escalator Photo, London, England

Wednesday was a little sunny at times though still cool. we decided that we were going to eschew the underground as Mom was too sore for too many stairs and gets a bit claustrophobic as well. Yesterday, on the way to Brighton, we'd bought a one week bus pass loaded onto the very convenient Oyster cards. (You can get any type of travel card loaded electronically onto a card, you can also pay as you go and just put a flat amount on it. You will never be charged more than a one day travel card (zone dependant, about 5 pounds for central zones 1 and 2) should you use it a lot in one day). A one week bus-only pass is 13 pounds. A real bargain! I'd made sure i had researched all the routes we were likely to need before we came over.

Anyway, We took our time this morning and didn't go down to breakfast. We caught the bus, intending on going to Harrods but first got off on Piccadilly. We stopped at a cafe for tea and a pastry as our breakfast and walked across the road to Fortnum and Mason, a very old department store. It was founded in the early 18th century, making it twice as old as Harrods. It's a lovely store too, with elegant displays. There's a wide spiral staircase up the centre of the store, a lovely well maintained old lift and another grand staircase near the lift. They have a very nice cafe and a very good food hall. It might not be as splashy as Harrods, but it oozes class and refinement. After a browse through there, we went next door to another London institution, Hatchard's. Hatchard's is a long established bookstore. It's not a large store, floorspace-wise, but it's floor-to-ceiling bookshelves are well stocked. If they don't have it, they'll order it for you. There's a staircase here as well and I believe there's also a lift. The store is staffed by knowledgable people and you can find pretty much anything you want there. Mom and I love bookstores! I could have spent a lot more time here but Mom was anxious to get to Harrods.

That was our next stop. We found the right bus and headed to Knightsbridge. We got off a stop too soon but windowshopped our way down the road, marvelling at the bright and funky window displays at Harvey Nichols and the designer dress shops. We stopped in French Connection and then... into Nirvana... Harrods! Now, I wasn't all that bothered whether I went or not but Mom had always wanted to see it. Harrods is huge, and I found, a bit confusing. They have a little map but it's still difficult to find your way through the departments to find lifts, escalators or a cafe. They do have a lot of very nice items, all of them expensive but it costs nothing to browse and browse we did. The food halls can be overwhelming but we did enjoy the part with the tea, coffee and easter chocolate displays! They even had a chocolate rabbit, about 4 feet tall! We bought some tea and coffee, that at least is affordable, and we splurged and had lunch in one of the cafes, the one at the back of the luggage department in the back corner of that floor. I thought we walked a good half mile to get to it but it was worth it. Lovely homemade soup and fresh fruit salad!

We found a seafood restaurant that had been reccommended to us by friends. It's called Loch Fyne (see other tip) and though we decided to try it, neither of us actually had any seafood there! They had a set menu that we had and then went back to the hotel to rest and change because that night, we went to the theatre to see the Lion King. It was our first of two theatre performances that we'd decided on. The Lyceum theatre was just around the corner from the hotel so there's no worry about being late or getting home later. We'd picked up the tickets earlier, so were all set. The theatre is one of London's oldest, with lots of red velvet and cushy seats. The performance was wonderful, with actors playing the roles of the animals with very clever costumes and masks and parts of animals that worked like puppetry. The scenery was minimalist, but really worked well to represent the African plains. The singing was excellent and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

The next day, after a bracing breakfast, we headed out to the nearby cyber-stop called Easy Everything. It's just on the Strand a few steps from Trafalgar Square. A good place to go to catch up with your email and send some messages home. It's only about 2 pounds for an hour so it's a bargain compared to other cyber cafes that charge you that much or more for 30 minutes. The weather is cold and rain is threatening. It did shower a bit on and off all day and added cold dampness to our bones. No way are we staying in the hotel room, though. we decided to catch the bus and go to Kensington Palace in Kensington Gardens (western half of Hyde Park).

Kensington Palace was bought by King William III and Queen Mary II as a house and converted to a palace. It was a royal residence for about 100 years through several monarchs until Buckingham Palace became the favourite place to lay their heads in the 19th century. It was still used as a residence for royals before they became rulers and by other members of the royal family and still is today. The Dukes of Gloucester and Kent both live here as does Prince and Princess Michael of Kent (Duke in waiting). Princess Diana, of course, was a recent famous resident as well and there is an exhibition of photos and video of Diana in the palace along with some of her designer gowns on display.

Kensington Palace has many state rooms open to the public and you can get a free audio guide to take round with you. You can see the King's and Queen's apartments as they would have been in the 19th century as well as some that were redecorated in the early 20th century in "Victorian" style. The public state rooms have marvellous paintings, plaster work, ceiling decoration and tapestries. The tall windows light the rooms and you can picture them strolling down the long Gallery, with views out over the gardens.

After we went through the palace and purchased a couple of things in the gift shop, we went over to the nearby Orangery for tea and scones. (see separate tip). This is one of my favourite things to do because it's such an elegant atmosphere there. The long narrow room with high ceilings and windows. Everything is white with little mini orange trees on the tables. The desserts are amazing and afternoon tea can be had with a glass of champagne if you are so inclined. We were too early for "afternoon tea" so just had scones and tea.

From there, we huddled under our umbrellas from the spitting rain and walked up to Bayswater Road to a bus stop. We decided not to stop on Oxford Street because of the weather and went straight over to Charing Cross Road to find Foyles, the largest bookstore in London. It did not disappoint! Four floors of shelf after shelf of books. We decided to split up and meet back later. Watches synchronized, Mom headed for cookbooks and biographies and I headed for Travel and History. It was hard to keep myself to just buying four books (two novels, one travel and one history in case you were wondering). The cafe there was just a small area with a few tables and was full so we headed back out onto Charing Cross Road which has a lot of new and second hand bookstores. Had the weather been nicer, we might have visited a few more of them. As it was we only stopped into one other store. Mom saw a steak house and having seen a few of them around the city, she thought she'd like to try it. We did, though I can't really recommend it. It was only ok, nothing to write home about, and more expensive than we expected.

We thought we were closer to the hotel than we actually were. We walked back through Covent Garden but it took us about 20 minutes and we were cold and damp when we got back. Hot tea and biscuits, definitely! Tomorrow we're checking into separate rooms because my fiance from Manchester is joining us so we packed up in preparation.

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