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Friday, October 7, 2011

LONDON......our trip and my tips

I am back from my girls trip to the amazing city of London. We did a whirlwind 4 day tour of London. I felt the last minute need to go to London because they put Kate's wedding dress on display at Buckingham Palace. They announced it in July and we headed over there in September. The weather was perfect and what I was not aware of - the perfect time to go! They only open places like Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle certain times of year and that's exactly when we were traveling.
We stayed at a hotel called the Mercure London Bloomsbury. It was very contemporary and was just recently re-done. So, it was clean and new feeling. I chose this one because there were 3 of us in the room and they have a room category with 3 twin beds. Yay no one has to share and no one is stuck on the dreaded sleeper sofa. It was kind of out of the way from most of the places we wanted to go. I'm not sure if there would have been a perfect spot. We wanted to do things all over the city so everywhere we went meant getting on the underground (Mind the Gap! haha) or taking a cab. The underground was pretty close - about 3 blocks or so. It wasn't too bad.
We were delayed flying out of DC several hours which meant that we landed late...which meant we were late getting to Gordon Ramsey's. I was scared they would yell at us or tell us we couldn't have lunch or something and I was really looking forward to it. They didn't do either. They were super nice and accommodating and let us delay the reservations by an hour so we had time to change. The restaurant is really small. Only 14 tables I think I read. It's a French restaurant and has 3 Michelin stars so thus it is amazing. The portions are small but with the "basic" lunch you get 3 courses with a couple surprises from the chef so it was more than enough. We had about 5 waiters for the 4 of us. They brought us out caviar to start and these ice cream strawberry balls sitting in dry ice at the end. It was all very impressive. Totally a splurge and totally worth it. Make your reservations in advance! It was hard to get in and it was the only slot available during our trip. When we told the front desk where we were having lunch she exclaimed "Oh wow! How did you get a reservation?!" I told her my travel agent :)
On Friday it was the wedding day. We arrived right when Westminster Abbey opened (after looking at Westminster Cathedral and me going "this doesn't look the same as what I remember" Duh Lia!) and we did a semi quick walk thru of the church where William and Kate were married. It's also where Kings and Queens and lots of important people are buried. They had the head sets where you can listen to all that but I have a short attention span so I only could handle listening to that for about 5 minutes. It was totally beautiful. One of our traveling companions Donna went on Sunday to a service and listened to the choir. She said it was great.
Next we headed to Buckingham Palace. It wasn't too far but we still took a cab which ended up being fun because the cabby told us all about things as we drove along and we drove down the The Mall to get there to which I kept telling everything that it was exactly how Prince William and Kate did it.
We saw people gathering for what I thought was going to be the changing of the guards. We sat outside for a good 45 minutes waiting for it and it just never seemed to happen. Now looking at the website, it was only on even numbered days in September and we were there on the 9th. (So check this if you go!) We eventually gave up and went on our Palace Tour which we had pre-ordered the tickets. I'm glad we did because it was sold out.
They didn't allow pictures inside which was kind of a bummer. You got to see more than just her dress. They had a whole Faberge exhibit too which was gorgeous. For part of the wedding stuff, they walked you thru the room that they took their official wedding pictures (lots of red!) and then the dress was displayed in the room that the Queen held the reception. Her shoes, her earrings, the tiara and the cake were all there. The cake was huge! It was like a normal 3 tiered cake but that was each corner holding up the cake. It was huge. I guess they replaced the stuff people ate and it said they saved the top layer for their anniversary. (It's like they are real people! Crazy huh!). Well I was in total Royal Wedding heaven and it was worth the trip for me. I bought a Faberge picture frame and Chrissy got Faberge tea cups. We had them shipped back.
On Saturday we visited Windsor Castle. It was perfect that we picked Saturday. The train station sold us a "Group" rate for the 4 of us and since it was off peak it was only 18 pounds for all 4 of us to Windsor round trip! I thought it was a steal. It left from Paddington Station and they had a stand with Paddington Bear stuff. Super cute.
The town of Windsor was really neat. Lots of little shops and restaurants. I would go back and stay there for a couple days in a second. We pre-bought Kitchen Tour tickets. It was now the highlight of my trip. They took us down back corridors of the castle. They showed us backrooms that the Queens grand kids (William and Harry! Omg...) had their 21st birthday parties. It was crazy. The room didnt look anything more than a banquet room at an old church. Like one you would never want to have your wedding reception in because you would have no idea how to not make it look dumpy.
The kitchen is the oldest working kitchen (like from 1200 or something) They have guest chefs come in so it was not furnished with utensils. I wish they would have let us take a picture. There was a shelf up around the huge room with copper pots from all different castles and palaces. The lady joked that they were all marked and it was a bummer that Windsor's were marked "WC". haha.
We had a traditional English meal our on a side street in the town of Windsor. It tasted like cafeteria food to me. Potatoes and ground beef with a beef gravy over it and peas. It was fun to try it though.
On Sunday we did the traditional high tea and at no where else but The Ritz. The cabby told us that it was the original place. We had tea and little sandwiches and cake and scones with clotted cream (which was biscuits, strawberry jam and whip cream). It was fun and fancy. Kind of a check of my list thing.
We also visited The Tower of London. This is where the Crown Jewels are. America's Hope Diamond does not have anything on this. Wow. I really felt like I was looking at pretend stuff. It was over the top.
We did even more than what I have typed here. We did a cruise down the Thames and tried some different restaurants. I am impressed on how much we squeezed in. Last minute I had to a Harrods run. I could go back and spend a day at Harrods. They even let you pay in dollars. :D
Overall here are my top tips:
1 - Wear comfortable shoes (pain is not beauty here people)
2 - Plan out what is going to be open and when
3 - Buy important tickets in advance (like Buckingham Palace, Windsor, ....)
4 - Make dinner and High Tea reservations in advance (I know alot of people like to just wing it but if you do that you wont get to do these things - I promise!)
5 - Bring snacks (my pop tarts in the morning while we road the underground saved time!)
6 - Make sure your hotel is near the underground (I liked being by the Piccadilly line because it ran diagonally across the city)
7 - Ship the breakable stuff home......
8 - Plan on spending more than an average vacation. Everything is more expensive. 1 pound is going to cost you $1.63 plus an exchange fee if you are using your credit/debit card. So plan on double to be safe.
9 - Look up what kind of adaptor to bring. We just trusted the Best Buy employee and we arrived with the wrong one.
10 - Always use a travel agent! :)

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