When the initial plans for this London trip were made, Thursday was meant to be a day of leisure with the Tube used to whizz around the capital as a means of saving feet and saving time.
After breakfast and check-out of Imperial College (I gave it 10 on my booking.com review), I wandered up the road and onwards to Kensington High Street. The reason? I seem to remember that there was a National Geographic shop there. I’d tried doing the usual internet search before the trip and had found that the shop’s page wasn’t playing ball, something I put down to technical gremlins rather than anything else.
But it wasn’t to be. All I found of interest on the High Street was Ellis Brigham and that was it. Still, I’d stretched my legs as a way of compensating for the big breakfast and ended up back by The Royal Albert Hall and the collection of bus stops on the other side of the road.
And guess what? They were all full and not stopping because of the Tube strike. After about half an hour, I did manage to get on one of the crowded buses, but it stopped way short of its destination because of congestion and road works, so it was time to get off just before Trafalgar Square and then find somewhere to check out how much credit was left on my Oyster Card. That turned out to be a fairly quiet Charing Cross Station.
As it was about time for a mid-morning drink, I went off in search of same. Big mistake as everywhere was busy, so I headed into a Tesco Metro, got a litre of strawberry milk and slowly, but surely polished it off before heading towards Covent Garden once more.
Yes, it was busy, but not as busy as I’ve seen it before. Stanfords beckoned with books on the agenda and whilst there was a good selection of Rough Guides and Lonely Planets on offer, nothing caught my attention. Unlike the small representation of a Peruvian immigrant sporting a jaunty hat and a blue duffle coat (but no red wellies). With no marmalade sandwiches in sight, it was time to move on, and on, and on…
Now I knew that there was a recently opened branch of Rohan in the area and whilst I could have easily found their old site in Henrietta Street with ease, I’d left the address of this new store on the desk at home (D’oh!) so the on foot exploration continued until I eventually found myself on the familiar territory of Charing Cross Road.
Which is undergoing some changes (and then some). The demolition crews have been in thanks to Cross Rail and the reconstruction of the area as a result of the work being done to create this new way of getting around London. Oxford Street was a surprise though as a few of the places I used to visit have now gone the journey and whilst it was interesting to see a branch of Lush on Oxford Street, Caroline and I had just done some shopping in their Leeds branch, so there was nothing that we needed.
Lunch ended up being in the thoroughly exciting surroundings of McD‘s. I don’t use them much at home, but quick service times and cheap for London prices meant that it was a place to go and eat rather than savour. Then it hit me. I was flagging and despite the words of Dr Johnson springing to mind, the long day on Wednesday was catching up with me and I was getting a little weary of the capital.
The buses on Oxford Street were as busy as one expected on this strike day, but a wander onto Tottenham Court Road brought some enlightenment. Yes, it was tempting to go to the cinema to while away a few hours, but the only film I might have been tempted to see was Mission: Impossible 5. And that was a problem as I hadn’t seen numbers 3 or 4, so I probably had lost the plot in the continuing story of Ethan Hunt. Oh, and the daytime admission prices were a bit of a laugh… allegedly!
Still, all was not lost as they say in clicheworld. An almost empty bus with the words King’s Cross came along and I headed to said station. Yes, there were six hours to kill before the train home, but I had some money for coffee and snack and a well charged/well stocked Kindle so it wasn’t going to be too much of a problem. Or was it?
Loads of people everywhere had taken up the seats in the station concourse. The cafes were all full and taking a look at Platform 9 3/4 and the adjacent Harry Potter themed shop doesn’t take up that long. So I hit the pub and had a very fine pint of Beachcomber and then made a pint of cola last an hour whilst resting/snoozing on a very comfortable sofa in the station themed bar I was in.
When hunger started to rush in, choices had to be made. The pub prices were interesting, the cafes were still full and McD‘s across the road was also busy. It was tempting to buy something from the food market outside of Kings Cross but with a sausage roll costing £4.50 and a scotch egg coming in at £5, someone was having a giraffe as they say in the semi-local parlance… The bakers up the road from Wisepacking Towers charges 75p for a sausage roll while Co-Op charges £1.15 for two scotch eggs…
And then it happened. I remembered about the pub in St. Pancreas, found it, ordered some very good comfort food – sausage and mash – and a pint and waited for the food to arrive. It came, it was eaten and was very, very good too.
After that, it was back to Kings Cross for some people watching, reading and observing the number of bikes being wheeled or carried into the station. If I had a £100 for the number of Brompton folding bikes only that I saw over the next couple of hours, it would have ensured that my travel money pot would be rather full for a couple of years.
When the chosen train came up on the boards as being ready to get on, it was time to have a bit of luxury, some ‘free’ coffee and a chance to reflect on a day in London when there was no Tube service. Hectic was the word of choice before I dozed off for an hour and woke when the coffee and biscuits were served once more.
Will there be another visit to London this year? Quite probably, but it won’t be a solo on next time – plenty more to show Caroline when we head down there together (and hopefully there won’t be a Tube strike!).
If it’s Wednesday, it must be London and a short walk was necessary to find the breakfast room at Imperial College…
Or should I say rooms, because breakfast is provided in one of the biggest student dining areas that I’ve ever been in, and because it was so busy, seats were at a premium, but the food was freshly cooked as the catering staff cooked more to cope with the demand. Given how busy it was, it was also a good idea to load up two cups of coffee before finding a table.
Once fed and coffee’d, it was time to pick up the bag from my room and head off in search of the sharing lunch items to have later in the day. Time to wander around the area surrounding South Kensington tube station.
Yes, there were loads of shops selling all sorts of things (including Lamborghini cars – I kid you not!), but it took a while to find a Waitrose to get a couple of packs of filled wraps and some pain au chocolate bars plus a couple of bottles of water. Once sorted it was time to head up to the RGS and the meeting point with the Lonely Planet Thorn Tree Forum contributors and the trio of moderators who were joining us for all or part of the day.
Once we met up and introductions were made, it was time to take a wander around the Travel Photographer Of The Year exhibition in one of the RGS galleries and the adjoining gardens. Impressive? Oh yes as a certain cartoon bulldog that’s used to sell car insurance might say…
After leaving the RGS behind, it was time for a different London experience for me – getting on a London bus for the first time in about thirty five years! The destination on this part of the day was the Wellcome Trust building and a visit to the Institute Of Sexology (no, I hadn’t heard of it before either!).
Although an hour or so had been allocated to wander around this site, I found myself taking a wander downstairs to the multi-faceted shop on the ground floor (10/10 for stocking the London Modern Babylon DVD guys!) and a double espresso. Once everyone assembled, it was time for another bus, this time down towards Central London and St. James’ Park ( the park itself, not the similarly named football ground in Newcastle-upon-Tyne – only been there once to see a certain band that still had Bill Wyman as their bass player at that time).
After a brief wander through the park, it was lunchtime and starting to drizzle, so lunch was a standing up job for me as I’d noticed that others outside of our party had plumped for sitting down in deck chairs – and were being charged for this privilege!
Once we were fed, we moved on to see the tail end of the Pelican Feeding Time elsewhere in the park and witnessed a couple of witless herons trying to have a free meal for themselves by taking on some of the fish that the pelicans had left behind.
As the herons were failing miserably in their attempts at successfully feeding themselves, we moved on to Horse Guards and caught the mid to end sections of the Changing Of The Guard routine. Fortunately for me, I’d seen quite a few armed police officers in Lisbon a month before my visit to London, so seeing a fully armed police officer in Horse Guards wasn’t that extraordinary to me…
So, where next? Well, I could tell you the location but then I’d – nah, only joking! But somewhere in London are the offices of Lonely Planet and that’s where the bus journey and walk ended up And up as we were given entry passes to get to the six floor of the office block that Lonely Planet hang out in.
And what can you say? A suitable entrance hall with a selection of classic Lonely Planet guides surrounding a seating area, long desks with plenty of occupied and unoccupied computers on them (PC’s not Macs) plus meeting rooms and a library of Lonely Planet guides in both English and the multitude of other languages that they’re published in. A Forum/Moderator shot was taken for posterity by Lonely Planet’s Tom Hall before handing our passes in and heading out for the next bus and our next stop.
And the next stop was? Familiar territory – Camden Town and more specifically Camden Market. Why familiar? Largely because I’ve been to Camden Town a few times to see one particular band (The Skiff Skats) back in the mid-1980’s and also to take a band into the legendary Dingwalls Dance Hall back in my days of managing and promoting bands.
Camden Market is still one of the ‘hip’ places to go in London and yes, there were a few bearded hipsters in attendance that day too. After a wander around the market it was time to get undercover when the rain started, so an all-out personal assault on KFC was called for to get a drink and a small bite to eat at the same time. Once done, it was time to join the rest of the happy wanderers in the local Wetherspoons near Camden Lock.
When the rain stopped, it was time for a stroll along Regent Canal in the general direction of Lord’s Cricket Ground and onward to our eating place for the night – The Cedars.
It’s not the first time that I’ve eaten in a Lebanese restaurant and it’s certainly not going to be the last! As ever, I made a complete hash of trying to pronounce my menu selection (in English it was lamb cutlets with rice), but when the meal arrived, it soon became apparent that whilst I may polish off the cutlets, polishing off the rice might be a different matter. Needless to say, I wasn’t the only member of our group that had the same problem.
Want to know more about The Cedars – take a look at http://www.thecedarrestaurant.co.uk for more details. I suspect that like Arnie S, I’ll be back!
As the night was wearing on, it was time to head back to Imperial College. Now the quicker way back to my bed for the night was out of the question as a Tube strike had started at 6.30pm and it was now around 9.30pm. So it was time to get a couple of buses towards The Royal Albert Hall before crossing the road, heading back to the hall and phoning Caroline before finding a nice pint of cold Guinness and then bed…
Little did I know what the following Tube strike embattled day was going to bring!
Time flies – either when you’re having fun or when you’ve just thrown the alarm clock across the room!
I honestly meant to post this a couple of weeks ago, but things got in the way a little and distracted me (honest!).
The trip to London was done at relatively short notice after receiving an invite from a fellow poster on Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree Forum to head to London and join in a grand day out on foot or bus around the capital. And to meet up with other posters plus a trio of Lonely Planet‘s Forum moderators.
Getting down to London was easy thanks to a couple of offers on Grand Central‘s rail services – just over £13 for the journey down to London from Yorkshire and around £34 for the journey back in First Class.
Getting around London was interesting, even though I’d invested in an Oyster Card. First up was getting out of Covent Garden tube station as work on the lifts meant that you could get off the tube at Covent Garden, but not get on it as there were two lifts working rather than the usual four.
First stop in Covent Garden was Stanford’s – one of the best places for maps, travel books and accessories that I know of. An Oyster Card holder was all I needed on this first visit of the trip, but other items were noted to pick up later in the week. After a wander around, it was time to hit the tube again and head towards Kensington to find my room for the night.
But not before a quick detour into the Victoria & Albert Museum. All I was wanting was a coffee and a piece of cake, but there was also the notion of seeing what was in there in anticipation of a return visit with Caroline in the coming months. The place was quite busy, even though the Alexander McQueen exhibition has finished a few days beforehand.
The coffee went down well, but the cake was left where it was considering it was £4.50 for one slice (Caroline’s comment during a phone conversation later on was that she could have made two cakes for that price!).
And so to the digs for my two night stay in London – the residence hall blocks of Imperial College. I’d found this on booking.com and booked it because it was remarkably near where the Lonely Planet meeting up point was going to be the next day – the Royal Geographic Society.
It was also just a short walk from the Victoria & Albert Museum, the Natural History Museum and the Science Museum. At a smidgen under £140 for two night’s B&B it wasn’t that cheap, but as it was Summer in London, the price bullet just had to be bitten…
Mind you, the room was a cut above the residence hall rooms I had as a student twenty years ago – ensuite, tea, coffee and toiletries provided and an outlook over the park in Princess Gardens. There was also a mini-market in one of the adjacent blocks and a student bar/eating place that proved to be one of the cheapest places to eat and drink whilst I was in London that didn’t have a set of golden arches on the signposts outside.
After eating early, it was time to head to The National Theatre to see a performance of Everyman. Now I was in the back row to see this play, but given that it was London, a packed house and a good cast, I wasn’t going to begrudge the cost of the ticket to witness the performance – £15.
One thing I didn’t expect was the way in which the rest of the audience descended on the auditorium just before the lights went down – most people are usually in their seats in the theatres near home about 15 minutes before the play or show starts.
Now I like wandering around London and have been known to go to a function, spend the day there, hit the ceremony at the end of the day and then go clubbing afterwards before heading back to a hostel to get some sleep at around 3.30am. Not now though as I’m twenty years older and a bit wiser!
So it was back to Imperial College and a just-before-the-bar-closed pint of Guinness, a call to Caroline and then it was time for bed, but not before doing some clothes washing and hanging up to dry in readiness for wearing again two days later…
To say that the following day was full-on would be an understatement, but you’ll have to wait until Wednesday for the next instalment!