Wednesday to Thursday, 9/9/09-9/10/09
Our Continental flights were all on time. There was some turbulence crossing the Atlantic - hit an air pocket and spilled some wine, got almost no sleep, but arrived at 6:30 AM and took the Heathrow Express Train and were in London at Paddington Station by 8:00. So we left our luggage with the concierge at the Park Lane Marriott after changing into waling shoes and went exploring.
We bought 24-hour tickets for the hop-on, hop-ff Big Bus tour, but hopped on the wrong bus in the sense of getting on a Blue route instead of Red, had no live commentary, and went all over places we could have done without. After being on the bus for an hour and freezing on the upper deck and having the bus dawdle at each stop, we got off, bought a 3-day Underground ("Tube") card and proceeded to the British Museum. That was awesome. So many Egyptian treasure and so many muummies and mummy cases. Seeing the real Rosetta Stone was really neat, along with the Elgin Marbles from the Greek Parthenon was wonderful. Finally ate lunch at their cafe and went back to the hotel where we could at last get into our Hyde Park-view room, shower, nap, eat substantial canapes in the Executive Lounge for free, and go to our show. (Upgrading to Executive Level in the hotel is well worth the extra price: free Internet is included along with breakfast, food all day in the Lounge, and a better room - we believe that we would have spent more in cash for these extras if we had had to pay for them piecemeal).
We had obtained tickets ahead of time for "Wicked" which is a musical and a pre-Dorothy prequel to the 'Wizard of Oz. It was wonderful, the theater was great and so were our seats. We miraculously arrived one minute before showtime - we had made our way to the wrong theater in a different part of London, to our horror, and had to flag a taxi who earned his tip well by getting us from Soho to Victoria in time.
We had per-purchased tickets for the Tower of London, and planned to get there by 10:00- until woke up after a dead-to-the world sleep (after being up for almost 48 hours) and looked at the clock - it was 9:30 AM! We did get to the Tower by 11:00, and the anticipated line to see the Crown Jewels was not so bad after all, thanks to it being September and not July! They were magnificent, almost impossible to comprehend in terms of their value - but Elizabeth Taylor's jewels were dwarfed by these! The entire Tower complex was great, full of history that we were familiar with - and the weather was magnificent - sunny and pleasant. We followed that with a cruise to Westminster on the Thames river.
Once off the boat, we could see the Parliament buildings and Big Ben which obligingly rang for us. The familiar "ding-dong, ding dong" was nice to hear, but when the actual bell rang the hour itself, it was nothing any imitation ever did! Wow. We toured Westminster Abbey which seemed to be full of tombs and a bit difficult to comprehend even with an audio guide device. Photographs were not allowed here. We then walked down Whitehall road, catching a glimpse of #10 Downing Street (through tight security), a close view of the colorful Horse Guards (who are actually elite troops like our Marines), and then proceeded to Churchhill Museum and War Cabinet Rooms, all in its underground bunker and left exactly as it was the day the war ended - fascinating.
We then tried to have High Tea at the Orangery at Kensington Palace, but we were both too late and it had closed early for a private party. That was discouraging as it took a lot of extra walking to both get there from the Tube and then through Kensington Gardens, back to another Tube station and on to our hotel. Thank goodness for the canapes in the Executive Lounge.
We had dinner reservation at a small and not-in-the-guidebooks restaurant that Trip Advisor readers had highly recommended - and they were right. It was gourmet delicious and even not too expensive!
Saturday, September 12
We got up on time this morning and headed out for a hodgepodge of sightseeing in different parts of the city. This was done on the "tube" which, surprisingly, was extremely crowded - must be Saturday people. The first stop was the British Library where we saw the originals of the Magna Carta, scribbles by the Beatles, some of Shakespeare's manuscripts and plays - very interesting to see these still preserved. Again, no photographs were allowed inside.
Then we went down to the other side of town to Buckingham Palace to see the Changing of the Guard, which was certainly a lot of colorful pagentry and music. Off to St. Pail's Cathedral in the city area, and then to Fortnum and Magnum (the gourmet food department store) for champagne high tea (lots of food), and finally a quick stop into Harrod's department store before heading back to our hotel, exhausted. We think we saw as much as we could in three days, although we never got to any galleries or spent as much time as we would have liked in some of the places we visited.