Today we went to the London LDS Temple in Surrey. It’s a lovely temple, where the Spirit is so strong. But it is very hard to get to. We took a train from Victoria Station to East Grinstead and then a cab to the temple in New Chapel. They sure weren’t thinking about public transport when they placed the temple there. But we were glad we sacrificed to attend the Lord’s House.
The assistant temple matron was very gracious and took us back to the train station. We walked into town and ate a cafe called Bluebells. We had a great chicken stroganoff and tea with scones. We even took some to go.
At night we went to the see Billy Elliott. What a great musical about a boy finding out about his love for ballet and his desire to dance even though it went against his family.
Today we visited one of my favorite places near London, Hampton Court. The train ride from Waterloo is easy and quick. We first toured the Tudor palace and even got to see Henry VIII and Ann Boleyn. I was very impressed by all the interactive displays that were installed in this part of the castle. I think it brings history to life and makes it fun for every one. There were several school tours, as well as older couples.
One of the favorite parts of the Tudor castle is the kitchens. It shows how much food was required at court, what they ate and how they prepared it. We always eat here too at the Privy Kitchen, Elizabeth’s I private kitchen. We always seem to have soup and a big cookie. I love the ambiance, it feels like you are eating in a dungeon.
Then we travel through time and visit William III’s apartments. William and Mary wanted to tear down this palace but thankfully added their own wing. It’s from a much later time and the furnishings, decorations and needs were different. One of the things that always impresses me is the rooms decorated with weapons. What a clever way to use things that are utilitarian.
However, the best part of Hampton Court is the gardens. They are so beautiful, not nearly as big as Versailles but just as inspiring. It always amazes me to see how big and beautiful the flowers are even though it’s only May. We don’t get flowers like these in Northern Illinois. The park has a lot of wild life. We saw dozens of deer and lots of cute swans.
Don’t forget to get lost in the maze and to see the world’s oldest grape vine and tennis court. It makes for a great day out.
On the way back we stopped in Wimbledon. Beware that the train ticket from Hampton Court does not allow you to stop in Wimbledon even though the ticket agent told us it did. This was my first trip without a guide book so I have to admit that I got a little lost getting to the Tennis Center. We went to the Wimbledon Stadium instead. It’s where they hold greyhound races. Not very exciting. Because we were late getting there we didn’t get to tour Wimbledon (it’s very expensive too) but the guards let us take some pictures.
In the evening we missed a bus so we barely made it to our show, War Horse. I’m so glad we didn’t miss it because it was fantastic. It’s the story of a horse used during WWI and his relationship with his young owner. The horses are huge puppets and they come to life. It was a great play and I would highly recommend it to anyone going to London. Just remember to order your tickets several months in advance.
We took a boat to Greenwich. What a glorious way travel! You get to see all the sights, observe the comings and goings of ordinary folk from a privileged seat. I took the walk from londonforfree.net. It shows the most important sights of this favorite Tudor place. As soon as you disembark you are greeted with the Free Tunnel which was built so workers could come and go from Greenwich. You cannot miss the Cutty Sark, once England’s fastest ship.
Downtown feels like a small village with quaint shops and pubs. We were lucky to be there on a Saturday and thus be able to tend the Greenwich market. A license for it was given in 1700 for a thousand years. So you’ll be able catch it any weekend. There are many stall selling food and arts and crafts. I bought some hand printed postcards and saw some really cute crafts but the vendors usually did not like having pictures taken. The walk to the Royal park is not far. Up the hill lies the reason to come to this quaint little town, the Royal Observatory. After getting your ticket, you walk through the court yard where the prime meridian lies. It is interesting to watch the people taking pictures on the line, on one side or the other or straddling it. The house that Flamstead lived is interesting but his study even more. It explains of the hard work he did every night recording the position of the stars. There was also an excellent exhibit on the problem it was to calculate the longitude. In the day of GPS we take for granted the difficulty it was to calculate time and distance. We become too complacent in our comforts to think of the difficulties overcome to get us where we are. There is also an excellent exhibit about our knowledge of the stars, from the beginning of time to space exploration. A most delightful day. I would highly recommend this site for anyone traveling with kids as there are lots of fun activities for them.
We also had a chance to visit the Queens House. It was a house built for a queen, finished for another, turned into a school and today serves as a museum. It houses a collection of nautical themed paintings and some paintings of Greenwich most famous children- the Tudors.
We decided to return via light rail. It was a beautiful journey back because we were given a privileged view of Canary Wharf. Something we would have missed seeing if we had taken the tube.
No trip to London is complete without buying discounted theater tickets at Leicester Square. We went to see We Will Rock You. It was entertaining. Being in Soho the night Chelsea played the finals for the UEFA championship was entertaining. Thankfully they won because the throngs of drunk fans were very happy. Some even risking their lives taking rickshaws downhill at break neck speed. What a merry crowd. Too bad no restaurant was open late because we had to find something to eat. This is something very weird about London, their restaurants and pubs close rather early and you better eat before going to the theater.
London is one of my favorite cities, it has all the historical attractions, the cosmopolitan activities and this year even the Olympics. But this time I encountered London with dismay. Yes, dismay is the word to describe what is happening at Heathrow. The line for passport control is extremely long. It extends past the area originally designed for it, down one hall, up another and then down another one. Everyone who tries to get to the end of the line is dismayed by it. It took us over an hour and half to get through the line. When we got down to baggage claim, I spoke to a gentleman who works for the bag company about the second problem, the huge pile up of luggage. Yes, for once your bags will get there before you do. He said that the bag claim closes before everyone can get downstairs to claim their luggage. So for those flying in late, they might have problems with suitcases. In my opinion that is another reason to travel light and only bring what you can fit in a carry on.
This time we are staying at the St. Ermin’s Hotel. It is located in Westminster very convenient to the St James tube stop. As always when we get to the hotel we are exhausted and no rooms are ready. They gave us a room but it had a weird layout. So in the afternoon they moved us to a beautiful suite with a canopy bed and a rain shower. Lovely! I still have to figure out how to get the best room when you are so tired and all you want is to lay down and take a shower. If anyone knows the trick please let me know.
We did the one tourist attraction we still hadn’t done, the London Eye. Even though the line was long it moved quickly. The views are amazing. Seeing Westminster Palace from atop gives you a difference perspective as to it’s size and beauty.
Near the Waterloo station we found a lovely food market. It had snacks, meals, desserts, deli meats from all over the world. We didn’t eat there because we wanted to eat near the London Bridge station at our favorite restaurant. How disappointing when we got there to find out that they no longer serve pasta. But there was Restaurant Alma across the street and the ravioli Alma was awesome with asparagus and mushroom sauce.
We were lucky to have the Bank of England Museum open late. Remember most museums close early in London but they are open late every once in awhile. The museum is free. It has some very interesting displays on the history of the bank, the evolution of currency both coin and note and you even get a chance to hold a real gold bar. Yes, 28 lbs of pure gold. How rich I felt. The displays were interesting for adults and interactive enough for children. I would recommend this free museum to anyone coming to London. It is so expensive to be here that when you find good things to do for free you should seize the chance.