My flight to London/Heathrow was scheduled to arrive at 6:50 but due to strong tailwinds we were ahead of schedule by almost an hour. It was my first bit of travel to go with only carry-on luggage. The case I got for carry-on fit all required dimensions and I packed most of my things in zip-lock bags and compressed them by squeezing out the air and then sealing them. Packing like this is an effective way to save space in the travel case. For a one week trip I packed 4 changes of underwear and socks and one extra pair of jeans plus three shirts. Not packing enough clothes for the eight days meant I would need to do laundry at some point during the visit. I wore boots on the flight and had a pair of sneakers (tennis shoes or as they say in England, trainers) packed in the case. This time of year was difficult to predict what the weather might do so I wore my leather jacket. It is quite warm. In addition I had a light poly-jacket layer in the event it turned really cold. I was very pleased at how much time this saved. When using only carry-on luggage, there is no need to wait around the carousel for baggage, or as is often the case when I travel, no problems or delays searching for lost luggage. There are some limitations with carry-on: Most notable is that I can not bring a cork screw to open a bottle of wine or a pocket knife (I always carry a small pocket knife and feel naked without one) and of course, there are limits on the amount of liquid allowed and all liquids must be bagged in the case. As we landed, I was able to just grab my case and small shoulder bag and go. That can easily save an hour at the beginning of the trip. After disembarking the plane, and on the way to the train (called the underground or the tube in the U.K.) I stopped to exchange some currency into British Pounds. This was a mistake as the rate of exchange was not in my favor and the fee charged at the airport was punitive. Lesson learned; it would have been better to exchange a small amount of money prior to leaving home, to have for breakfast and the train.The train ride to Diane’s place took a little over an hour due to the morning rush of commuters on their way to work in downtown London. The trains in England are clean and efficient if a little crowded at this time of day. It was an easy walk from the Becontree station to Diane’s house and I was glad to get there as I was a little fatigued and needed a nap (a kip as they say in England).
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On my second day in England, Diane’s eldest daughter, Christine, offered us the opportunity to go up the Gherkin. Christine works in London and has many friends and connections. The Gherkin is a modern building in the heart of London. Security is very tight here because the mayor holds an office in the building. Entrance is restricted to workers and invited guests. The elevators go up 39 floors and then it is a walk up to the 40th floor where there is an all glass dome with spectacular views of London. We ordered two cappuccino and enjoyed the view. When I paid for the coffee I fully empathized with the complaint of many Londoners about the VAT tax (VAT = value added tax). It is my understanding that when it was initiated it was 7% but it is currently 17%! That translated to over 8 British pounds for two cups of coffee. It is crafty when politicians can attach such innocent sounding names to such onerous forms of taxation.
From atop the Gherkin, I took a number of distance pictures of the famous sights; St. Paul’s Cathedral, Tower Bridge, “Wobbly Bridge“, House of Parliament, The River Thames (pronounced Temms) etc. After the coffee we descended to the street and began a walk through the city. When visiting London, I think it is important to look up above street level or you will likely miss much of the charm and beauty. Many of the buildings are topped with steeples and beautifully crafted, old gables of stone. There are statues and fountains and many, many churches.
Along the walk we came upon a lovely old church named after St. Mary-Le-Bow. In the basement there is a delightful eatery called Cafe Below. cafebelow.co.uk The specials for the day were posted on a chalkboard outside the building and it caught my attention. Down the narrow stairs to a small cafe with an open kitchen and delightful smells of freshly baked breads, soups and stews. I ordered the item that caught my eye on the chalkboard; Cassoulet — A rich dish of slow cooked white beans and various meats (ham, sausage, bacon) served over a bed of rice and topped with shredded duck confit. Salad of mixed greens, arugula, romaine, mache, and radicchio with a sesame ginger dressing. I was a bit disappointed that the salad was served in a warm bowl but it was very good none the less. Diane had a sausage sandwich with orange-caramelized onions. Both items were served quickly and both were very tasty. Breads were made fresh daily. The total for the two lunches was just shy of 16 BP. This is a great value for such a lunch and the food was exceptionally well prepared. The cafe is one of three owned by Bill Sewell and I recommend it.
Back up to the street to continue our walking tour. We considered going into St.Paul’s Cathedral but at 14BP to enter and no pictures allowed we were deterred as it would only take about 30 minutes to walk through.
Trafalgar Square was next as we meandered through the city. The square features a center column of Admiral Nelson (Nelson’s Column), a number of fountains (in the evening they are lit in beautiful colors of blue and red) and various statuary. It is a lovely open space in the heart of London and a nice place to rest and enjoy the view.
Diane was a little tired and wanted to sit outside in the sunshine so she suggested that I go inside The National Gallery and then, meet her out front in 1 hour. Admission is free and the gallery is home to a fantastic collection of fine art including works of; Botticelli, Cezanne, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Monet, Raphael, Rembrandt, Rubens, Seurat, Van Gogh, Vermeer, Velazquez and many more. This is a museum that would take several visits to fully appreciate and absorb all of the content.
After my too-brief tour, I headed to where we had agreed to meet. Unfortunately, as I walked outside the front doors, I observed that Trafalgar Square had been cleared and the police had cordoned off the entire area. Apparently, there was suspicious package that had been spotted and the bomb squad had been called in. All of this excitement created a difficult situation given that I now did not know where Diane was nor did I know where an alternate place to meet her might be. Fortunately, I had her home phone number and I knew that Christine was home from work for the day. I called and then Christine contacted Diane on her cell phone so we were able to arrange an alternate meeting place. Frankly, I was not keen on staying in the area given the fact that there might be a bomb nearby. All of this highlights the importance of having a “Plan- B” in the event of an emergency. It is also important to keep contact information with you for just such an event. Diane and I found each other outside the front steps of The Academy of St. Martin in the Fields and departed for a walk which took in a wide variety of London highlights, including; Big Ben, St. James’s Park, Buckingham Palace, The London Eye along the South Bank/also known as the Queen’s Walk. Follow this link for pictures of my stroll around London
After the walk, we had a quick bite to eat and then back to St. Martin’s for the evening performance by the London Musical Arts Ensemble. It was a delightful evening of truly exquisite music. I was especially pleased at the opportunity to hear such fine music in one of the world’s famous venues!
The following is the programme (American English would spell it like this: program) for the performance.
ACADEMY OF ST. MARTIN-IN-THE-FIELDS
Music of J.S. Bach and Vivaldi
Violin Concerto in A minor
Allegro Andante, Allegro assai
Antonio Vivaldi (1678 – 1741)
Spring from The Four Seasons
Allegro, Largo, Pastoral Dance
Vivaldi; Concerto for Two Violins in A minor
Allegro, Larghetto e spiritoso, Allegro
Bach; Violin Concerto in E major
Allegro, Adagio, Allegro assai
All 6 pieces incorporated the use of 4 violins, Viola, Cello, Bass and Harpsichord. Here is a list of Classical Music Terminology to help you understand some of the music a little better.After the concert we got back on the tube and headed out to Diane’s house. It was a long day with many wonderful sights and we enjoyed terrific Spring weather. One day is surely not enough time to see everything the city of London has to offer. Maybe next time I will do a Pub crawl.I hope you have enjoyed reading this article and I would appreciate your feedback so I may know how I might make this type of article more interesting and informative.