Monday, August 1, 2011

England Part I: London

With my aunt and cousins flying in for their dad’s concert tour, cheap Flybe tickets to Southampton and the start of Roberts’s vacation, how could we say no to a whirlwind trip to England?

We were planning on spending two days in London and two days out.  The train was an option, but with seven people and a desire for freedom of movement, renting a car was the way to go.  (In general, the ‘train tickets or rent a car’ decision in terms of money tilts in favor of ‘rent a car’ at somewhere more than three people).  Having a car simplified things for us as we didn’t have to stick to a pre-determined schedule and we were able to stick in a few extra sights. This was my first time in England, and although Roberts had been, most of his non-business travel days were from twenty years ago. Daina and my cousins had also never been, and this along with our limited time led us to purchase tickets with Big Bus Tours for the first day of seeing London. I suggest this method of seeing the sights; although expensive, it orients you as well as provides transportation, allowing for flexibility in schedules and sightseeing style. By purchasing the tickets ahead of time you save a few pounds sterling, and the tickets include walking tours and a boat ride. We took advantage of the “hop on, hop off” policy, stopping as we pleased for snacks, better views and a little more time to look at something. The recorded commentary was surprisingly interesting, and the route structured to see a maximum amount of sights in a minimum amount of time. 

With the cousins in front of Westminster Abbey

 We had prepared ourselves that London was going to be brimming with tourists, being the middle of August and summer vacation. However, I was still shocked at the number of people in the streets – tourists and locals alike, for street after street. This lead to complications at some of the places we wanted to visit, most notably at Buckingham Palace during the changing of the guard. Though we arrived 30 minutes early, masses of people surrounded the Palace and sidewalks. After watching the new guard march in we left, having no view of the changing which occurs behind a fence, behind the impassable, impenetrable wall of watchers who had probably camped for a couple of hours, minimum!  If this is your must-see goal in London, it would be good to arrive several (or more) hours early sans stroller, with food, water and sunscreen for young children and a strong constitution/plenty of energy for the wait. 

Top places of the day? I loved Westminster Abbey, Parliament and Tower Bridge. Crowded, yes, but the frenzy added to the experience, providing a marked contrast to the now-quiet Clermont-Ferrand. The smartest decision of the day? Hopping on the free ferry back from London Bridge to Westminster Abbey, as the view from the Thames provides a completely different view of the city, and the ride gives a small break from the traffic and noise of the city streets. Most unexpected surprise? How much I enjoyed hearing Big Ben chime twelve o’clock. And top things on the list for our return trip? St. Paul’s Cathedral, high tea, the museums and Trafalgar Square. Although I caught a glimpse of the square and Cathedral on this trip, I have heard great things about the city view from the Golden Gallery. And Lauris wants to spend more time in the parks.

We stayed at the Daugavas Vanagu Fonda Londonas Nams on Queensborough Terrace in Bayswater, just north of Kensington Gardens. Centrally located and  from what I gather less expensive than other options, they have a bar in the basement that is open Thursday through Saturday evenings (try the light and dark beers from the Latvian city of Bauska) and a great breakfast included in the mornings. I will admit we didn’t give much thought to lodgings; my cousins were all staying there, and we are partial to it as it is the only Latvian-owned guest house in London.

On the evening of the second day we drove north to Rugby, but I leave this for my next post…

The view of Parliament from our ferry

1 comment:

  1. Oh, that cloudy sky. Sounds like you had a lovely time. Rugby you say? Tell me more....


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