London Stories and Tips

Wandering London, Day 1 (2005)

Waldorf Hilton, Aldwych Photo, London, England

During a New Year's trip to Manchester, we took a few days out and traveled to London. It was early January and while the weather wasn't sunny, we really didn't get rain either so you can't ask for better than that at that time of year. I had been to London many times but this is Graham's first visit since he was in school so he wanted to do some touristy things. We took the Megabus service to London which was great and checked into the Paddington Hotel on Gloucester Street. (see reviews for both in this trip journal). The first night was spent in a pub with a group of friends.

The first full day was clear with some cloud cover, temps in the single digits (celcius) so fairly comfortable for walking around. The included breakfast was continental, pretty standard stuff. Over to the Lancaster Gate tube station where there was quite a queue and we were told that we could bypass it, be ushered through the turnstiles and buy our tickets at the other end. We did that but then the day pass wouldn't let us out because it hadn't been used to let us in! Oops!

Our first stop today was the Sir John Soane museum, on the north side of Lincoln's Inn Fields. It's a small but eclectic museum close to the Holborne tube stop. I'd definitely recommend it (review for details).

Leaving there, we walked back over to Kingsway and found a narrow *real* "caff", Café Don Quixote. Cheap coffee and tea, sandwiches and sweets. Very unpretentious and not trendy in the least. Much more comfortable *and* quiet than Starbucks!

We started wandering from there, into the outskirts of Covent Garden around Drury Lane and Kemble street where we saw some very attractive restaurants and shops. I spotted a big brick building with lots of windows and a large fire escape. It looked somewhat out of place and drear but then discovered that it was the rear of the Waldorf Hotel, which fronts on Aldwych and is very elaborate on the public "face" with gilding and columns and archways.

We nipped into the church that stands in the middle of the road where Aldwych meets the Strand, St. Clement Danes. There has been a church here since the 9th century though it's been rebuilt several times including once by Sir Christopher Wren in 1682 with a tower added on a bit later. It was destroyed in the Blitz in WWII leaving only a bit of the church and tower standing. It was restored and dedicated to the RAF in the early 1950's so it looks a bit more modern inside with dark wood and lovely stained glass. There are regiment badges embedded into the stone floor and lots of Air Force regimental flags and symbols around the church. The Nativity was still set up as well though I'm sure that will be taken down today as it's Jan. 6, Twelfth Night.

Leaving there, we changed direction and headed south to the Thames near the Temple station. We poked around on the Embankment taking photos of the London Eye and Parliament over top of Waterloo Bridge and then went into the restaurant that was right there beneath the tube station, an Australian themed place called Walkabout. They had pretty good prices and a convenient combo for a main grill item and a snack. The snack was more than enough for me, and I decided to try the kangaroo meat pie. They have several kangaroo items as well as crocodile and barramundi on the menu. The meat was tender, and not bad tasting at all.

We walked along the Victoria Embankment, examined Cleopatra's Needle and the Sphinxes and made our way across the Embankment gardens where we saw a good sized fox run across the grass! That's the last thing I expected to see in the center of London!

Up to the Strand and along to Trafalgar Square. I have to say, seeing London in the dead of winter is great! No crowds or queues, and even the weather was acceptable.

En route to Piccadilly Circus, we passed Canada House and saw an ad for a little exhibit on things Canadian by Douglas Coupland so we peeked in, passed through security and had a look. Cushions made of checked flannel, beer cans, hockey gear, Kraft Dinner and old Eaton's and Canadian Tire catalogues! There was also a room exhibiting Canadian design innovations called Red and White. If you are a Canadian citizen, also know that you can go into the Commission and they have some computers set up so you can check your email and communicate with family back home, free of charge.

We walked past Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square where I noticed people standing around holding advertising signs pointing to various venues like ticket sellers, theatres and eating establishments. That has to be a pretty thankless job! We were heading for the tube to go up to Camden.

And what a difference between touristy busy central London and Camden further north! Camden does have tourists, especially on the weekends when the markets are in full force but you still find yourself slowing down and relaxing more. Camden high street is filled with shops both mainstream and alternative. Look up, there is lots of interesting signage and sculpture over the shops. There are street markets and the Canal Stables Market which is a bit less up and coming and trendy than the Camden Lock market where I found a lovely store selling Celtic style jewellery. The Stables Market is much more independent and raunchy, with lights spilling out onto narrow cobbled lanes and all manner of music filling your ears as you pass from one shop to the next, from metal growling to Roy Orbison's soaring voice.

We found a few shops that caught our interest including one that had some really nice Native American crafts and turquoise jewellery, stopped for a cuppa and a shared slice of cake on the high street and visited Resurrection Records.

We were going to go to Oxford Street next to see if any of the Christmas decorations were up. It's late night shopping tonight I think, unless Oxford is always late night, I don't know. We caught a bus but ended up just walking around, not venturing into the stores. We did find some really nice street decorations lighting up Regent Street and Carnaby Street though.

Definitely time to eat, we walked down towards Soho and found a small Italian restaurant on Beak St. just at the bottom of Kingly and the parallel Carnaby Street. They had a set menu for £9.95 which appealed to us so we went in. There's a downstairs wine bar section I think but the ground floor restaurant where we sat is very small, only about 6 tables. The staff was excellent and the food was phenomenal! We had a creamed vegetable soup for our starter, with fresh parmesan and pepper. The chicken was stuffed with some sort of pesto that had mint in it and covered lightly in a fresh tomato sauce. Strips of grilled vegetables and small roasted potatoes rounded out the plate. It was delicious! For dessert there was creamy panacetta with an orange glaze sauce.

We dragged our feet back up Carnaby St. to Oxford, got a bit turned around looking for the tube entrance but there we were, back in our hotel room, after a very long day walking around. I can't believe we packed in as much as we did! Tomorrow we're planning to see the Wallace Collection.

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