TF Goes to England

Updated: Nov 7, 2019

This is a pretty comprehensive chronology of my experiences in and around London in June 2019. Pick and choose what you'd like, or just look at the pics and captions (like National Geographic)!

Sunday June 9th (walked 2 miles)

The adventure starts with an 8 am flight from EWR arriving in London at 8 pm-ish thanks to losing 5 hours flying east. No matter, I’ll get them back later.

I arrived at Heathrow after a perfect flight on United. Watched The Green Book, and They Shall Not Grow Old. The first one may be one of my all-time favorites. The second one was a moving documentary about the British in WWI. Appropriate for this trip, but it saddened me.

With no checked bags, I rolled off the plane and followed the signs directly to the Underground. I used Google Maps to pick the right trains for me. The walk through the airport was comically long. They actually have signs along the way telling you how many minutes you still have to walk to the exit.

Next I bought an Oyster Card! My first taste of how efficient and clear the Underground system is. Armed with my new card, I rolled my bag onto a Piccadilly line train into London. The doors shut, the train pulled out and my wheeled carry-on bag rolled down the aisle away from me! Everybody stared at the stupid American as I ran down the aisle after it, retrieved it, and then lashed it to the seat next to me with a neat double half-hitch using the rope I had been carrying in my pocket to practice my knots.

After about an hour and a switch to the Victoria line, I alit (yes, they actually say alight instead of disembark or get off) in Victoria Station. Grand, beautiful building. A five minute walk through dark, quiet streets in the Pimlico section of town to my Airbnb at 21 Longmoore St.

It’s the one with the blue door and the “St Leo Hotel” sign. My window was the upper right one

Even though it was almost 11 pm, Robert was waiting for me as promised when I knocked on the outside door. He carried my bag up the narrow winding stairs to my room on the second floor. He was 30-something, long-haired, tattooed and pierced, and very nice. He showed me my cozy little room, exactly like the pictures on the Airbnb site, and showed me the two bathrooms (toilets or loos - don’t call them bath or rest rooms - that makes no sense) down the hall - one with a shower and one without.

I opened the old window wide, set my iPhone alarm, and went to sleep. The bed was excellent and the cool London air coming in through the window was splendid.

Monday June 10th (9 miles)

My first adventure was a five hour walking tour of all the classic spots in Central London. I put a bunch of bars that Ellen had provided into my backpack (I had been instructed that it was almost evil to use a belly bag, or “bum bag” as they call it), put on my coat, my raincoat and took my umbrella. Back to Victoria Station, but this time in the morning rush hour. It was magnificent. Londoners rushing in every direction. I basked in that for a few minutes and then took the Victoria line one stop to Green Park, which is adjacent to Buckingham Palace. We were to meet at the other end of the park in front of the Ritz Hotel, by two classic red English telephone booths. Of course I was way early, so I boldly entered the lobby of the Ritz and sat down in one of their gorgeous seating rooms next to a bust of Margaret Thatcher. I ate a bar and watched and listened to the wealthy tourists leaving for their day’s adventures. Finally I went outside to the 2 phone booths to meet my group.

The huge Ritz lobby where I hung out for a while waiting for the walking tour to begin

I booked this tour at the last minute thanks to a chance meeting the prior Wednesday on the bridge of the Intrepid. I was speaking with a guest there from Britain. When I told him I was going to London for the first time in just a few days, Geoff told me that he was the owner of London Top Sights Tours and would be happy to give me a couple of his tours free.

So I got a space in this Monday morning walking tour and cancelled the bicycling tour that I had previously booked for the same time. And a good thing too. It rained for pretty much the whole five hours. With my raincoat and umbrella, it wasn’t a problem. I might have felt bad about the rain at home. But in London, everyone takes the rain very matter-of-factly. Since it obviously isn’t a big deal to anyone around you, it becomes not-a-big-deal to you too. By the end of my week, however, I heard from several people that Monday’s rain was one of the worst they had had in a single day in ages.

I was afraid the tour might be cancelled because of the weather. But about 30 people showed up so they broke us up into 3 groups. I got Stephen, who had to be the best one. He was in 18th century costume including a tri-cornered hat. He never raised an umbrella and didn’t seem to notice the rain, even when it was heavy. He spoke very well and I could hear him easily and clearly throughout the five hours. My family will tell you that is quite an achievement. We walked briskly, stopped often and saw so much. Here’s a partial list of the major sights we saw (this was an outdoor tour. We did not go inside):

Buckingham Palace. We arrived just in time for the Changing of the Guard. Because of the rain, much of the ceremonial portions were omitted. It was basically last week’s guard getting on their horses and leaving, and this week’s guard taking their place.

Waiting in the rain in front of the Palace for the Guard to change

10 Downing Street. Unlike in one of my favorite movies, Love Actually, you can’t walk right up to Prime Minister Hugh Grant’s door any more. Because of all the terrorist attacks, the street is gated at both ends with heavily armed guards clearing every pedestrian and vehicle that wants to go down that block. I watched them clear a pizza deliveryman on a bicycle. Probably delivering to Hugh. BTW, Theresa May had just resigned, so Hugh may have really been in charge in the Interim.

Green Park

Westminster Abbey

Trafalgar Square

Big Ben (unfortunately encased in construction scaffolding)

The Houses of Parliament

The Whitehall Horse Guard

The Whitehall Horse Guard guard

Then we took the Underground to the London Bridge area. Most of the group had to be instructed in purchasing an Oyster Card. Of course I was a pro already. Here we saw:

The HMS Belfast (Navy destroyer and museum)

The Golden Hind (exact replica of Sir Francis Drake’s ship, the first to circumnavigate the globe)

London Bridge

The Tower of London

The Tower Bridge

The Millennium Bridge