Skip to content

Posts tagged ‘london’

London (& UK) last hurrah

And then my five weeks were up. I had one final day to tick off some final things before dad and I were due at Heathrow in the evening. Mum on the other hand would be staying on for another week to partake of some Diamond Jubilee events (including a concert with her beloved Russell Watson).

The weather was again amazing and it lent itself to covering a bit of ground on foot. Which wasn’t the best for dad’s knee but he coped admirably. He and I set off, leaving mum behind to catch up on stuff. We tubed to Trafalgar Square and trotted off down Whitehall.

The Cenotaph – tricky to get a clean snap through the streams of traffic

My main priority of the day was to go through the Churchill War Rooms.

Nice pose Father

The rooms were really interesting and I ran out of time to do justice to the huge wealth of information in the museum at the end. Needless to say, dad was done and dusted long before I emerged.

From the map room

Door to Churchill’s underground office and bedroom

Our arrival at the War Rooms had coincided with the arrival on Horse Guards Rd of a long ribbon of Foot Guards en route to the parade grounds. A really impressive sight and after cross-checking photos with information, I think all five army regiments from which Foot Guards are drawn were represented.

And as if through divine synchronicity, by the time I emerged from the War Rooms they were heading back.

Off to the marching grounds (shoes = immaculate)

Returning (shoes = filthy)

The Horse Guards parade ground – quieter than it was a few minutes before

I wanted to show dad Buckingham Palace and the NZ War Memorial in Hyde Park Corner so we did the Mall and Constitution Hill circuit.

St James’s Park

Heading off down The Mall, the various barricades and Jubilee preparations getting in the way of a usually very scenic walk through the St James’s Park area

Containing the masses outside Buckingham Palace

I had to do some tippy-toe contortion, around people and above their heads, to get a photo through the fence of the goings-ons in front of the palace

Walking to the NZ War Memorial

The wreaths may have been from ANZAC Day one month earlier

By now dad’s knee had had enough so we tubed back and found mum. The rest of the afternoon was sorting out stuff until it was time for us to do the final luggage heave-ho down to Paddington where mum waved us goodbye onto the express train to Heathrow.

Dad was well ready to be getting back to familiar surrounds and I had loved my time in the UK but was looking forward to getting back home to Mike and celebrating my birthday. (I had fleetingly considered timing the flights such that I would spend my birthday in the air, which on the return would mean losing a day… meaning I could avoid actually turning 40…)

I think dad was quite pleased to be going home

Just 24 hours in economy to endure first. Sigh.

Big day of London sights (and a rooftop bar)

It was our second to last day in London and the weather gods were still in a good mood. This meant one thing: we had to get out and see stuff, as much stuff as possible. Mum and I had swapped notes about things we were each keen to see and with it being dad’s first time in London, a hop-on / hop-off bus tour made sense.

We made our way to Trafalgar Square where, somewhere, I was to pick up the pre-booked tickets.

Olympic clock in Trafalgar Square

Big kitties at the bottom of Nelson’s Column

Easier said than done (let alone where in this large area the bus stop actually was) and with a dented sense of patience we eventually connected with a bus.

A snap from the bus

And another

It was fairly slow going but we were on the open deck and had plenty of time to study our surrounds and take many uninteresting photos.

We got off at the Tower of London as much of what we wanted to see was in that area. This didn’t include going into the ToL as mum and I had been there done that previously (and dad wasn’t all that bothered).

We went to the Tower but not into the Tower

The first sight I was interested in was the nearby remains of the original Roman wall. This stuff fascinates me and later on I hunted down another section of it in the financial district.

A small section of the original London Wall near the Tower of London

And another section in Noble Street

With dad’s dodgy knee we had to watch the amount of walking we did but for now it was ok. We wandered across the iconic Tower Bridge which we had cruised under the night before.

Tower of London with financial district backdrop

I did a double take at the tractor on Tower Bridge

Busy! The Queen’s Walk from which we would access the HMS Belfast

I wanted to look through the Belfast, a museum ship since the early 1970s, and figured dad would probably be keen to as well. It had only been reopened a couple of weeks after being closed for six months following a partial collapse of the gangway.

View through a porthole

On the top deck

Activity overhead

With all my camera faffing around dad finished long before me and I eventually collected he and mum from the embankment to continue our improvised walking tour. Plans had been made to catch up with a cousin of mine after he finished work and it made sense to head to the financial district and stay there until it was time to meet Steve.

View from London Bridge

We stopped by the monument to the Great Fire of London

Mum and I left dad to rest his knee at the statue of Wellington near the Bank Station crossroads and we went off to find churches and stuff.

Walking round the side of St Paul’s Cathedral

We popped into St Paul’s before retreating at the sight of the entry fee. Still I would’ve felt short-changed to have paid all that money and not have been able to take photos. Anyway, the exterior is stunning enough.

The front left tower of St Paul’s

We then split up so that I could find the Temple Church and more of the London Wall. I was half successful. Conveniently, the Temple Church had just closed before I got there so I had to again be happy with a nosey around the outside. The wall I found after a bit of a walk and was worth the effort.

A statue at the Temple Church

I found mum and dad back at Wellington around the time that normal people were finishing work. Steve and Sheree arrived and whisked us to nearby bar Coq d’Argent – the perfect choice for tourists as it turned out. A rooftop venue with a lawn area and fantastic views. Very cool.

Mum and dad waiting for drinks to arrive on the lawn of Coq d’Argent

Superb views, though my squeamishness with heights didn’t see me peering over the edge for long!

Drinks now acquired: me with my cousin Steve and his girlfriend Sheree

The locals took us somewhere else for dinner – and with the promise of a restaurant that served only steak and chips, I suspected dad would feel the long day had been worthwhile! I don’t often blah on about restaurants or food-related travel experiences because it’s typically not something I’m interested in reading about myself, and I’m not a foodie (except when it comes to consumption). However, Relais de Venise l’Entrecôte deserves a mention because it was fantastic.

At dinner (which was utterly YUM)

No menu, just a salad starter and steak plus frites for the main, served in two batches. There’s no way in heck I eat meat that’s anything less than well and truly dead and mine came out beautifully well done. The sauce was so delicious it would probably be liquid death if you came here too often. Not quite done after that, we all embraced the occasion with dessert. I chose profiteroles. Wow.

Full of enough calories to last the next week, we shared a cab back home. It had been a big day, but there would be no slacking off tomorrow!

Thames dinner cruise: a day-to-night perspective from the river

I looked into river tours while researching stuff to do in London with mum and dad. An evening cruise with dinner sounded good as being after hours it would give us more flexibility to squeeze in daytime activities to our very limited time, and I liked that it went up to the Thames Barrier (in fact that was quite a selling point for me). I booked three tickets for Sunday night – the same day we went to high tea. Call it a continuation of my London birthday.

We reported to Westminster Pier at bit after 7pm and found a bunch of others also waiting for the ‘Showboat’. Once onboard we were shown to our table in what was a large restaurant type space, and the dinner service began. I think we stayed moored until the meal was fairly well advanced.

Waiting. Would we be caught in the crush of a boarding frenzy?

The pier was just across from the London Eye and County Hall

Appreciators of the starter which contained icky seafood things

Once we were away and puttering downriver, mum and I were more interested in taking in the sights from the upstairs deck and would dart up and down in between completing the courses. I was surprised that the majority of people stayed inside for the whole trip.

That big clock tower thing

One of four Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) stations on the Thames

Under the Millenium Bridge

Southwark Bridge with the recently completed Shard, a new landmark on London’s skyline

Ahead is Tower Bridge as we approach the permanently moored HMS Belfast

The Belfast was on my to-do list

At some stage the ‘show’ part of ‘showboat’ cranked into gear. A covers singer. She was good, and I’m pretty sure there was dancing, but it just wasn’t my cup of tea. There were lots of other partakers though.

I was more interested in not missing the sunset!

Me with my trusty point-and-shoot. It had served me well for the last couple of weeks after my other camera threw a hissy fit

Cruising through Greenwich where, somewhere nearby, are the sources for both Greenwich Mean Time and the prime meridian. The boat is the Cutty Sark, which had recently been reopened after a fire in 2007, and the dome houses one end of the Greenwich foot tunnel which goes underneath the Thames

These stunning buildings (best seen front on) are known as the Old Royal Naval College, which closed in 1998. In its former lives it was also a palace and hospital

Greenwich Power Station is 100+ years old but is still used as a standby electricity supply for the London Underground

The O2 arena

We sort of saw the Thames Barrier

This was disappointing. I was really quite interested to see the Thames Barrier and this tour seemed to provide a good opportunity. Luckily we were upstairs at the time our proximity to the barrier got a brief mention on the commentary as we were suddenly turning around to head back to town. My opportunity to see it was rapidly evaporating so I quickly snapped a few photos but they were rubbish. I felt the tour under-delivered (or over-sold) this feature and I gave them feedback accordingly.

About to go by The O2 again. I didn’t realise it at the time, but the pole in the top left corner is part of the Emirates Air Line, the cable car across the Thames which opened a month later in time for the Olympics

Me getting in the way of a perfectly good view of the Tower Bridge illuminated

And by now we were well ready for the tour to finish. It was worthwhile, the views from the river in daylight and dark outweighing any negatives. The meal was good and there was opportunity to both enjoy the food and nip upstairs for unobstructed city views. And we lucked out on the perfect night weather wise.

Bed was a couple of tube rides away so we lingered locally for a couple of uniquely London photos on our way to the station.

A girly afternoon in London

After playing ladies and gents at The Ritz I decided to spend the afternoon with Danielle. It would be good to see the neighbourhood she had settled into and, no doubt, find a cold wine (or two) somewhere.

It was a stinking hot day. I’d already had to scramble an outfit to wear to the high tea, as what I brought over from NZ was going to be ridiculously hot. Our hotel was half an hour’s walk from Long Tall Sally, a shop I occasionally mail order from, so it had been a novelty to visit in person the day before.

So while I solved the first problem, now that I’d be spending the afternoon mostly outside, I was overdressed. Melting. Sticky. Ugh.

We bussed over to the Sloane Square area and popped into Dan’s apartment. A quick tour and wardrobe change later we left and she introduced me to one of her neighbours, Peter Jones, whom I took a real shine to. PJ is of course a honking great department store and our mission was to find something a bit cooler for me to change into. There were so many gorgeous clothes I could only wander round in a random, slightly dazed manner, but with Dan’s gleeful encouragement a couple of purchases were made.

As I wistfully walked out (enjoying the slight breeze that was now able to blow around my legs), I secretly hoped that this wouldn’t be a one-off fling. Perhaps I’d be able to visit PJ again one day.

Meanwhile, Dan had a plan for where we could find a wine (or two). Now clearly there aren’t a shortage of licensed establishments in London but she had been somewhere before which had a garden bar, and that sounded just the thing for a hot, sunny day.

Not really knowing how far up such-and-such road it was, we walked… and walked. Feet gradually acquired blisters but being the big girl I am, I sucked it up and besides there were so many distractions around. This was about a week or so out from the Diamond Jubilee celebrations.

Bunting was up in many places we visited on the trip – it created not just a nice aesthetic but a festive atmosphere

Many shops had window displays themed for the Diamond Jubilee

Have I become little or is that corgi especially large?

And finally with the words “ahh there it is” Dan found our watering hole. We procured a shaded table in a little corner of the garden, the perfect place to while away a couple of hours with a wine (or four).

What better way to round out the afternoon?

All too soon it was time to find a cab. We could easily have carried on but I needed to get back to the hotel to meet mum and dad, for there was still the Thames dinner cruise left on the day’s agenda.

A brilliant afternoon.

Birthday High Tea @ The Ritz

We left our cottage in Durley, said goodbye to the Merc in Reading*, and caught the train to London. A budget hotel near Paddington would be our home for three nights, then dad and I would fly home.

* where I managed to leave the mount for our satnav still attached to the windscreen, not discovered until I got home. Dummy.

I’d been to London briefly twice before (including at the start of this trip) and had expected to not like it. The opposite happened. So I was glad to have another couple of days there – even if it was only a couple of days. And even if this time would force me to start crossing the threshold into another decade….

Ten years ago for my 30th I had a joint party with my father who turned 60 around the same time (it was billed as our ‘90th’). As it transpired, within a few months I began my 30s by leaving a city and a marriage and starting what has become a great new life in Wellington.

I wasn’t as inclined to be quite so dramatic this time round. But what to do for the 40th? Another party? Travel? Both? 🙂

The trip concept with mum and dad started to take form, which was partially built around being able to celebrate dad’s 70th in St Andrews. Between that, the family history stuff, and proximity to my birthday, the trip went from concept to certainty. I would meet mum and dad in Scotland at the beginning of May, take dad on a side trip to Turkey, meet back up with mum in England, and finish up in London where we’d have an early celebration for my birthday.

The dilemma then became what to do in London that was a bit special, a place in which you’d never be stuck for choice? As well as my parents, I have a couple of friends there who I was keen to include. It was pretty easily decided in the end: high tea with everyone, and a dinner cruise on the Thames with mum and dad.

So where for high tea? You could lose yourself in the research as it seems there are so many excellent places these days. But I wanted more than just great food, service and reputation, I also wanted the ambience and decor – and in looking at websites it wasn’t always obvious what the dining rooms looked like.

I chose The Ritz. It seemed to tick all the boxes.

At the beginning of this year, four months out, I decided I better make the booking. There was only one viable day and I’m lucky I didn’t muck around any longer as I only had the choice of an 11.30am sitting or 7pm! ‘High lunch’ it was.

The day arrived, a really hot day. This was London’s heat-wave-before-the-many-weeks-of-dismal-weather-before-the-Olympics. We caught a cab and loitered outside the prestigious address until my friends arrived. It was lovely to see them.

Inside we transited through the amazing hotel entrance and lobby were shown to our table in a very proper, naturally, but friendly manner. I was so pleased with the choice: the Palm Court was stunning. Golden tones, elaborate furnishings. It was buzzing with other high tea goers in this two-hour sitting.

Louise has been a friend since babyhood and has lived in London for several years. Danielle I met soon after moving to Wellington. She moved to London at the beginning of the year and it was great to share my 40th with her, as I travelled to Vietnam to help celebrate hers a couple of years ago.

We all enjoyed the tea offerings. To be honest though, I went to a high tea at one of the nice Wellington hotels last year and while The Ritz tea may have been more traditional (?) I didn’t feel it was any better in either quality or taste than my enjoyable local experience. We happily nibbled from the tiered plates of food, alternately sipping between chosen teas and glasses of bubbles.

But there was also cake! There was a minute of happy embarrassment as the cake was brought out and the staff sang happy birthday. Everyone at our table had to have a compulsory slice though I don’t think anyone had room.

Dad and Louise. Until recently, when dad retired, he worked for Lou’s father in rural West Auckland.

The time flew. It was sort of like a wedding day – a bit surreal; lots going on and not enough time to do proper justice to the company, the food, the surroundings. All too soon it was time for us to vacate our seats as groups for the next sitting were already hovering in the lobby. It’s a shame you can’t linger for longer, but it is a hugely popular activity and their several sittings per day are usually booked solid for at least three months.

(The balloon was part of the gift from Louise!)

Not sure what I’m looking at!, but around that time an odd man watching our proceedings shouted a few offensive things at us. That didn’t mar what had had been a fantastic occasion, especially the brief catch-up it enabled with the girls.

And after dipping my toes in the waters of 40, I wasn’t feeling too bad. Just very full.

%d bloggers like this: