At the end of October, we headed to London to take in the late-fall experience there. It was a wonderful visit. Here are some of the highlights.
Full, high-definition photos for many photos can be found at Goldilocks Creative.
Day 1: Thursday: October 11th
We flew out of Newark for the first time. This was partly encouraged by all the ads we’ve seen from United touting their new terminal. Being on the west side of town, it seemed like a wash between driving across Manhattan and Queens to JFK or driving across the river and down some highways in Eastern New Jersey.
It, indeed, came out to be roughly a wash, but the new United terminal is very nice and, we noted with some excitement, has the pets travel section right next to the curbside check-in. Having flown with Byron in cargo twice, it would be a relief to drop him off with luggage versus at some warehouse on the airport grounds (like one does at JFK).
Also a first was to take a non-redeye flight. I recommend this. Neither Lauren nor I sleep very well on planes. While it was a down-side to take a day off as as a travel day, we arrived far less bedraggled than usual, avoided the usual post-customs grouchiness and, generally speaking, felt much more together. We left the US at 8:30 and arrived in the UK in the early evening.
We went through customs and took the awesome London express train into Paddington Station. This storied station (not only for its kindness to lost bears), is a wonderful way to enter the industrial, wrought-iron grandeur of London.
We then took a classic black cab from Paddington to our AirBNB in Earl’s Court. It was a basement-level one-bedroom flat on a quiet street of white-pillared houses. The interior was modern, simple, and efficient. It was a welcome place to land.
For more information, see the AirBNB Posting
The evening air was cool, but not cold and, while there was a hint of the possibility of rain, it stayed dry for us. After turning the lights on and setting our bags down, we immediately needed to handle the growing hunger situation.
We were rapidly approaching closing time for businesses and restaurants so we walked up Earl’s Court Road a ways to the Sainsbury’s Local near the tube station and stocked up on some food. Since we had a kitchen, we decided to make a simple dinner in at home and plan for breakfast at home, on our schedule in the morning. This was a great idea. We were able to walk back home easily, cook some simple food, and drink wine while we unpacked. Also, when our confused bodies said that we should eat lunch in the middle of the night we had options 10 steps away.
Day 1: Friday: October 13th
We had a “bit of a lie-in” after all the traveling, made eggs and toast, and began our day with tall mugs of Yorkshire tea. A short walk up Lexham gardens took us to the Earl’s Court station whence we began our exploration of London proper.
“Why do you smile, when you think about Earl’s Court” — Morrissey
Having gotten a later start on the day, we hopped the tube to Holborn and walked toward the British Museum. The weather was cool and overcast, but dry. We walked past the joyously quaint and outrageously expensive, but so-very-darling shops:
They have a penny-farthing for crying out loud!
Arriving at the museum, we faced a relatively short security line and then were ushered into the grand expanse of this precious storehouse of history. We took a long visit through the sections of antiquities: Egyptian, Babylonian, and Greek.
Lauren captures the beauty of the Elgin marbles
We also were lucky that the museum is running an exhibit: “I am Ashurbanipal king of the world, king of Assyria,” a collection of artifacts relating to the time when the Assyrians ruled the classical world. A philosopher-king / warlord / strongman, the exhibit was really special:
And speaking of special things:
And then headed upstairs to the wonderful Japanese exhibit:
It was Friday night in London so after our visit we wandered out and found a really nice Thai / Malaysian restaurant were we were thrilled to sit down and eat.
Afterward we walked around before settling on a decently packed pub for a pair of pints and crisps. It’s truly a feat of culinary alchemy that the English have perfected: salt & vinegar crisps and bitter. Why it tastes better there is like the mystery of why bagels taste better in New York.
We wandered up to see the famous 221B Baker Street (which was closed, but that was fine) before we turned back South and raided a corner-shop for more crisps. Upon checking the route home Lauren saw that there was a long bus ride we could take back to our neighborhood. We climbed aboard a bus, got the top-most, font-most seats and watched the neon and light of London roll past as spatters of rain spattered half-heartedly against the glass.
Lauren was a fan:
We alit from the bus, walked home and called it a day.
Day 2: Saturday: October 13th
On our third day, we awoke and made straight for Saint Paul’s Cathedral.
The day was filled with warm, beautiful autumnal sunlight. We explored the gorgeous Wren masterpiece. Unlike the other cathedrals we saw in Italy a few months ago, seeing Wren’s work I could feel that the pervading religious character was geometry versus mysticism. The clean polygons, the shapes, the symmetries all speak of a Newtonian-British model for family, society, government, and religion. It was my first time to explore the upper tiers of the cathedral and the views on this fine-weathered day were remarkable.
We also visited the tombs down below: Lord Nelson, T.E. Lawrence, Wellington and other national heroes were all present. As a monument to the secular notions of Britishness, the death and rest of Nelson sets a powerful iconic character-hero. Wounded by a Spanish sniper he is reported to have said: “Thank God I have done my duty!” and died. This utterance, and this slogan was in our minds as we continued the rest of our tour in the City where so many of the structures had been destroyed by the great fire of 1666 and / or by The Blitz.
We left St. Paul’s, grabbed a Soho Coffee before continuing a tour winding around the Thames-side quays. We wandered without any real direction or purpose but soon found ourselves walking across the Millennium Bridge and taking photos of the Thames near sunset. Lauren, as ever, could induce strangers and other tourists to play up for her camera and they obliged.
Having reached the other side of the Thames, we were in Southwark where we were inundated with much of the Shakespearian history and the culture of the Globe theatre.
We continued southeast until we came to London Bridge. We crossed it northward back toward Monument Station. Again the fire and the rebuild after 1666 seemed to be the theme of the day and we admired the lofty monument column.
We went to the Leadenhall Market (the set for “Diagon Alley” in the Harry Potter universe) and did a few late evening shots, but were then feeling pretty hungry.
We found that we could get a last minute reservation at Duck and Waffle in Bishopsgate. We got a 7pm reservation and ascended to the 40th floor where we had a commanding view of The City of London, the Thames, and “the Shard.” We were seated next to the window and served the tasty trademark dish and a few other small bites.
Afterward we headed to the nearby tube stop and returned back to our home for the night. As jet lag was still working its way through we found ourselves not really ready for bed once we got back in. As a result, we wound up watching “Die Hard” and thoroughly enjoying it.
Day 3: Sunday: October 14th
In part owing to keeping up with the adventures of John Maclane high atop Nakatomi tower, we got a late start on the day. We awoke to the sound of pouring rain. It was raining, it would continue to rain, and it would not stop raining. But it was also a special day for my beloved and I wanted to do everything to make her day as special as possible. We chose this day to visit the British Library whose collection of literary treasures is a bragging list of the influence of the English language as an essential fabric within the British identity.
Apparently the Queen foresaw October 14 being a special day
Arriving at the library after a late-ish start we took our sweet time viewing all of their treasures, from the Magna Carta to Jane Austen’s travelling writing desk, to Michael Palin’s script for the Biggus Dickus scene from “The Life of Brian,” to “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” from Lennon and McCartney. It was a fascinating voyage into the history of the printed word in that country. We spent many hours her perusing the items. Lauren got a beautiful hardbound copy of mythology in the gift shop and I settled for a slightly more pedestrian “British Museum” refrigerator magnet.
Afterward, we headed up to Oxford Circus to see if we could find Lauren a worthy rain trench. Despite crawling through 5th Avenue size crowds, it was a sad bust as far as shopping went. Sadly, a trend we’ve seen in New York was also in effect in London: when you go to a fine good store they are increasingly segmented by brand versus item. As a result you have to know whether the brand you like will have the item you want in a fashion that’s appropriate. I much prefer the old way: I want rain gear and Oh-Ho, here’s a Brand X, Brand Y or Brand Z. I suspect it’s because the stores can now change the brands for floorspace but it’s really sucky for shoppers.
For dinner we found an Italian restaurant that beckoned us in from the drizzling, cold damp and we warmed up with carbs and wine.
Afterward, we headed back out and headed to the evening’s swing event at “The Ned,” a fancy upscale hotel in Moorgate with a Sunday night live-band dance and a large dancing area. The live band was great and we enjoyed getting to see how swing is swung on the other side of the Atlantic.
Day 4: Monday: October 15th
It was another damp, drizzling morning. We headed over to Westminster along St. James’ Park before coming to the Churchill War Rooms.
En route to history!
It was in this warren of rooms, protected by a thick slab of cement, that Churchill and the leaders of the military prosecuted the war. For a small space, the museum is incredibly information-dense. The high-tech exhibits provide hours and hours of fascinating material.
While we did not spend endless hours there, to see the information management system (what these people could have done with a spreadsheet instead of a big white board and sliderules!) was really special. In modern business the pace of data and the ability to turn the data into plans is so greatly assisted by information management technologies, libraries, standards, indices, and algorithms, it’s almost impossible to understand how much of war prosecution time was not building wily war strategems but rather making the obvious decision based on the information once you had it.
We also saw an Engima machine, used to encipher Nazi communications.
I really enjoyed the human aspects the museum presented as well: the Penguin paperbacks on the night-side tables, the photos, and the letters.
We left as the sun was moving downward so we scurried over to Trafalgar Square before we lost all the light. We passed through the Buckingham Palace complex (but didn’t stop at any of those sites) by traveling the walks alongside St. James Park. Arriving at the square, we saw the glorious lion statues and watched some of the chalk-drawing buskers in front of the National Gallery.
We headed up Charing Cross Road past the theatres of the West End.
Hunger came calling so we opted for a very early dinner at Dishoom which was some of the best and most inventive Indian food we’ve ever had. The interior was wonderful with Indian newspaper ads for cologne and underwear. It had a delightful Bollywood + Global hipness vibe and great food. Thoroughly refreshed, we headed up to geek megastore Forbidden Planet whee I was able to get a book on art for a friend of mine back home. Rounding out bookstore Meccas we also descended to Foyle’s to check out their grand collection.
Day 5: Tuesday: October 16th
For this day we took a bit of an excursion and the fine weather was glorious.
We took the tube to the eastern-most point on the line (Elephant and Castle) and disembarked. Thereafter we took a bus on a windy path through suburban London so that we could see what things look like outside of the halls of power and wealth. We saw the supermarkets, restaurants, mosques, and auto-repair shops that create the life of the everyday Londoner.
Eventually we arrived at Greenwich Park, the large park adjacent to the original Royal Observatory at Greenwich.
It was a stunningly beautiful and sunny day in Greenwich and the beautiful greens of England shimmered in this dappled sunlight.
We then took the fabulous tour of the observatory and learned about the lives of those who lived there: the Astronomers Royal and their families. The astronomers were expected to perform measurements, to calculate clocks and “do science” while their families were expected to host distinguished guests and tend to the growth and care of a family at home.
We took the toddy recipe of Mrs. Maskelyne (wife to the 5th AR, Nevil Maskelyne):
Also, this is the laboratory where the relationship between time and longitude and navigation was worked out. From the comparatively crude time signal of dropping a big red ball at 13.00 to signal the ships in the Thames, to becoming the place that defined the globe’s time, Greenwich Mean Time, a powerful step towards the globalized world was launched here.
Speaking of GMT, the observatory also keeps beautiful timepieces that chart the steps toward making a timepiece that works on the roiling ocean. A wonderful docent gave us the vibrant tale of John Harrison’s multi-decade work to create the H4 timepiece that earned him the longitude prize.
As a tangible experience of this discovery, we, of course, had to see the Prime Meridian.
Afterward we descended from Greenwich to its quayside where we picked up a water taxi back to the Tower of London.
We met up with a friend of mine from many-a-year ago who I knew while studying in Holland, Dan. Dan came and met us in Blackfriar’s and proceeded to give us a tour of pubs and Fleet street as we tried to find a dinner establishment open to our ill-timed stomachs. While we couldn’t find a winner until later (no one was open), we eventually found an Indian restaurant where gin and tonics and Tandoori food helped warm us up while we caught up.
Dan then took us on a pub crawl and we were joined with a lovely friend of his. While we neglected to take photos of this, it was probably all for the best given the amount of drinks charges that hit my credit card later. We wound up the evening at the Oriole, near the Smithfield meat market where we brought festivities to a close after several delightful drinks.
Sadly, I had to keep a tad to the moderate side, owing to an early afternoon flight out from Heathrow. I’m glad Lauren got to have a few extras though :). After saying farewell to those who’d shown us around, we bade goodnight and hopped a cab back home.
Day 6: Wednesday: October 17th
On our last day, we headed out early so that we could see a few sights before heading to Heathrow. Our plan was to leave our bags at Left Luggage at Paddington station for a few hours. However, upon arriving, the station was deadly quiet. Apparently a test train had damaged the station and taken out several key electrical cables and now nothing was leaving.
The major loss of power caused issues on Great Western Railway (GWR), TfL Rail and Heathrow Express services, leaving hundreds of thousands of people struggling to reach their destinations during the morning rush hour.
By the afternoon, two of the affected lines had reopened and were offering a “minimal” service between Paddington and Reading and Heathrow.
Unsure of how to proceed, we had to ask the Heathrow Express operatives whether we should apply for a refund and what the next-best path was. Ultimately while we grabbed lunch service was tentatively restored. We decided to head to Heathrow early.
While it made a long flight day even longer, we were glad to get home so that we could be reunited with our Byron.
No, not UK the burger joint.
There’s so much more to London than anyone could ever hope to see in any one trip. It’s got the full collection of everything interesting from modern art to performances of Shakespeare to 5-star food. It’s my second time there ever and I look forward to heading back with Lauren again.