Monday, January 22, 2007

London travel log

I posted some of the pictures we took in London over on Flickr. Click here to view the set.

We visited London at the beginning and end of our trip and spent only two full days there but we pretty much accomplished what we wanted to visit. We've both been to London before so we weren't pressed to see everything. The main things on our agenda were the Victoria and Albert museum, Millennium Bridge, and to see the holiday lights of the main shopping areas.

After our long flight from the states, we circled Heathrow for an hour due to fog. Little did we know just how foggy it was and what a mess it would create for so many people. We were fortunate to have planned a stay-over in London. Many people arrived at Heathrow to find their connecting flights canceled and they spent the next few days and nights sleeping on plastic chairs in a heated tent outside the airport. We didn't realize how lucky we were as we collected our bags and caught the London express into the city. We checked into our hotel and then set out to explore and find some dinner. It was so cold outside! I was glad to have my newly knitted Malbrigo hat and scarf with me. It was quite foggy in London too and made for some eerie scenery in the park we walked through. I wish I'd brought the camera with us (we did bring it but just not with us that evening) but in retrospect the low-light and foggy shot probably wouldn't have photographed well because we didn't have a proper tripod with us on the trip. I'll have to remember it in my head.

As expected, Oxford street was jammed with people doing their Christmas shopping as there were only 4 shopping days left. We walked for a good bit and eventually settled on dinner at Garfunkels in Oxford Circus. It's a chain-type restaurant that we would pass up but it was a) warm inside, b) had food and c) wasn't an American fast-food restaurant. We were cold, hungry, and jet-lagged and not interested in finding the "perfect" London eatery. The food was fine though. It was hot and filling and just what we needed.

The next day we set out for the Victoria and Albert museum. It was still freezing cold out so spending the day in a museum was perfect. There was a special exhibit on Leonardo di Vinci, which was excellent. I nearly lost my purse though! Apparently it slipped off my shoulder as I was monkeying with my coat and the headset for listening to commentary about the exhibit. I didn't notice my purse was gone until we had finished seeing the exhibit. Fortunately a staff member had picked up my purse and although they paged me I no doubt didn't hear the announcement because I was engrossed with the exhibit. Relieved to have my purse back we decided it was a good time to take a break for lunch in the museum cafeteria.

Now we fully expected the museum cafeteria prices to be high, but yikes, the exchange rate was killing us. We split a £9 ($18) sandwich. I spied some cookies and brownies but then realized that £2 each meant a $4 cookie. I didn't need one that badly! The sandwich was tasty and 1/2 was plenty filling.

After lunch we headed to the fashion exhibits, one of the main reasons we wanted to visit the V&A. The current exhibit was on clothing from the 60's (that link may only be around until late Feb when the exhibit closes). I took some pictures of some of my favorites, like this Worth dress:

Worth dress

But most of my photos didn't come out very well, with or without flash, because of reflections from the glass. I manipulated the above photo on Photoshop to get rid of some of the reflection. There are some pictures of the clothes on the V&A link that are much better of course.

From the rest of the exhibits, this coat from the 30's caught my eye because I love the collar on it:

Charles James

The V&A museum has a large holding of textiles that you can look at. I must say that it was completely overwhelming and we didn't stay long. They have the textiles mounted behind glass in wooden frames that you pull out from a case. They are indexed and I'm sure if you're looking for something in particular, you can find it. We just randomly pulled frames out to see what treasures they held. In many cases the textiles were fragments of elaborate embroideries and weavings from centuries ago.

After the V&A we ventured over to the Natural History museum for a quick look before they closed. The museum deserves a full day and it's even free. We just skimmed the surface and checked out the rooms containing mammals and skeletons.

It was still bitterly cold outside. After visiting the museums we went back to our hotel room near Victoria Station to warm up. We set out for dinner but since it was so cold we decided to eat at a Thai restaurant just down the street. It was delicious and perfect and there was no need to walk any further.

The next day we set out for Heathrow. Since we'd arrived the news reports and newspaper stands all told of the canceled flights and ruined plans for thousands and thousands of people due to the fog. British Airways canceled all of their domestic flights and there was limited service to other European cities. The weather report was not promising and there was a possibility we'd be spending a longer time in London and perhaps would be there for Christmas too. Not that I dislike London, but I knew that they pretty much shut down on the 25th and 26th and it was cold. I really wanted to get to Rome. Since we did not have internet service in the room (or rather we didn't want to pay $12/hour for the luxury), we had the concierge check our flight status the night before we left and twice the next morning. The flight supposedly was not canceled so we set out for the airport. I did slip my toothbrush into my carry on bag in case we had to spend the night at Heathrow. I had a paritally finished sock with me so if worse came to worse I figured I get a lot of knitting done and maybe have an extra pair of socks to wear.

We arrived at Heathrow and met with unhappy news. Our flight to Rome was canceled. We were told to go to line "L" and speak to customer service. We tugged our bags past lines A, B, C, etc. and joined the chaotic mess. It wasn't too bad actually - just four or five people in each line leading up to the counters. But there seemed to be a lot of people standing around, looking lost. I stood in one line and my husband got in another to spread out our chances of avoiding the line with someone who might have extraordinary circumstances requiring a lot of the agent's time. Eventually an agent took our info and informed us that she might be able to get us on an earlier flight to Rome that was scheduled to go. Yippee! Great news. We eventually got boarding cards and our bags were taken from us. We didn't see them for another day and a half but at least we did end up getting them!

The second half of our London trip came with another set of minor issues but nothing very bad. The fog was gone (yay!) and it was a bit warmer (yay!) but it was still gray and rain was forecast. We flew from Rome to Gatwick and were hoping to catch the train to Victoria Station. We were staying in the same hotel nearby so this setup was ideal. Well, it was partially ideal. The trains weren't running due to construction on the tracks so we were bused to Victoria. But it turned out ok. Even though it took us almost 3 times longer (1 1/2 hours instead of 1/2 hour), it was interesting to see the areas outside of London and watch it change from suburbia to ethnic neighborhoods to city. I spied a few fabric stores I wish I could have come back to visit!

Dinner that night was in a small London pub eatery with a silly name I don't recall. I had fish and chips, which was another item on my "to-do" list for London. The night was nice and we walked around for a while.

The next day was looking rather rainy so we bought day passes for the Underground and acted like moles. We'd take the train to a station, pop up above ground, look around, and then go back down and take the train somewhere else. We visited the Thames a few times to see the river as well as various bridges: Hungerford (an interesting pedestrian bridge), Tower Bridge, and the Millenium Bridge. We visited Covent Gardens, walked past Tower of London and the new Tate Museum, and saw the outside of the newly recreated Globe Theater. On our next trip we'd like to see the museum and the Globe. Fortunately we've both seen Tower of London. It seems a bit commercial and pricey these days.

As the evening wore on made our way back to Oxford Street and Regent Street. Another item on my "to-do" list was to find pattern magazines. I managed to find a few in Italy but my expectations of finding more in London did not pan out. Perhaps I was looking in the wrong places. I only found Burda and La Mia Boutique in WH Smith. I already get a subscription to Burda so I only bought La Mia Boutique. Still it was fun to have the goal of finding the magazines. The streets were absolutely packed with people. I think more crowded than before Christmas. The sales looked fantastic but I really wasn't interested in shopping because of the awful exchange rate.

We found a great Mediterranean style restaurant for dinner and had a lovely meal. Afterwards we hoped to get some pictures of Big Ben, Parliament and Westminster Abbey lit up at night but the weather did not to cooperate. The high winds nearly knocked us over and the rain, although not a deluge, was horizontal. We retreated to the hotel for our last night in London and the last night of our trip.

Next up...Rome travel log. That one will be a long post and I may not get to it for a while. I took a lot of pictures and haven't gone through them yet!

1 comment:

  1. Your trip sounds fabulous. Thanks for sharing your experiences!