What I Did in London

Just back from a one-week vacation in the UK! Rom is from SE England and I have made a few previous trips, but I am always excited to go back. We decided to spend the first few days based in London, and then visit family for the rest. I was surprised we didn’t catch any grief over this!

We left Halifax at 11 pm on a Wednesday overnight flight and arrived at Gatwick Airport at 8:30 a.m. local time on Thursday, with virtually no sleep. By the time we checked into our hotel, had a meal and figured out the transportation, it was getting late for the shopping excursion we’d planned to nearby Guildford. So we headed into London instead, because the public transport was easier. The first order of business was the Hard Rock Cafe. The London one has a vault (an actual vault) full of rock artifacts so we ogled many famous instruments before having dinner at the restaurant.

Punk bear is scouting out the premises

Deep inside the Hard Rock vault!

Next we walked over to Harrods, the five-floor luxury department store, with galleries of handbags, shoes, perfume, chocolate, toys and books, housewares and designer fashion lines. They are clearly trying to cater to all tastes and budgets, and they offer a lot of London/UK souvenirs. You can buy pretty much anything you like, Harrods-branded. My favourite thing I saw there (and didn’t buy) was a Lego architectural set of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater, for £75! I somehow left the store having spent only £20 on gifts. I would have bought much more chocolate if it wasn’t such a hassle getting food past Border Control on the way home.

Harrods

Rom and Friends at Harrods

On the way there I went gaga over the store windows at Harvey Nichols, but didn’t go in to shop.

Store window at Harvey Nichols

That was all we accomplished on Day 1, because we were jet-lagged zombies 🙂

Next up was museum day! We had decided in advance to go to the Natural History Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum, on the same day. One awesome thing about London museums is that they are all free! We got to the NHM at opening time and breezed right in, as you can see here:

Diplodicus Hall at Natural History Museum

We spent about 2.5 hours at the museum and saw about 2/3 of it. You can spend a full day at any museum, but we stuck with our original schedule. About an hour into our visit, the place was packed to the rafters with young’uns, especially at the dinosaur exhibit. We spent extra time in the earth sciences and human evolution exhibits which were more adult oriented. I liked the massive display of minerals (an intact 19th century display) and the meteorites!

The massive hall containing all the mineral specimens at the NHM

And I was happy to see the Darwin statue. I just read a book about Darwin. His wife attended the unveiling of the statue and didn’t think it looked much like him. Do you agree?

Darwin at the NHM. Only a fair resemblance, apparently.

Mr. Darwin

But for me the star attraction was the building itself and its beautiful depictions of animals and plants:

Column-topper owls

We had lunch at a spot nearby but I am going to do a separate post about London food!

The Victoria and Albert Museum was another experience entirely. It covers the history of design and includes sculpture, architecture, home decor and furniture, household items, pottery, china and dishes, textiles, metalwork and jewellery,  and those are just a few of its collections. Some of my favourite things there were illuminated manuscripts, tapestries, tea sets, and an exhibit on the Great Exhibition of 1851 (Crystal Palace).

I have to be honest, though – there were so many items at the museum, and so many floors and galleries, and everything was so ornate and historically bling-y, that I found it overwhelming. I have always favoured modern design and I didn’t know I would have a physical reaction to that much excess 🙂 So next time I will go to the Design Museum (the modern one).

But first, here are my views of the famous glass sculpture in the V and A lobby:

Hanging glass sculpture at the Victoria and Albert Museum

Close-up of glass sculpture at the V and A

We ended the day by taking in the musical Wicked at the Apollo Victoria. It was so fun to be in a huge theatre (2200 seats) that was sold out and everyone was so excited to be there. It was the biggest-budget production I’d ever seen, with spectacular sets and effects. The actors’ voices were also of the best professional calibre, something I don’t always experience in my home town. I was curious about how the book was adapted for the stage (I’d read it years ago) and how it was set to song. I had also never seen a musical with so much music and so little dialogue! I was surprised to see so many kids in the audience, because the book was very adult, but the play was quite family-friendly. Maybe best for 10+? I thoroughly enjoyed it and recommend it unreservedly (although prior knowledge of the Wizard of Oz is a given).

Elphaba, my hero!                                    Photo credit: wickedthemusical.co.uk

So that was a blockbuster day!

On Day 3 we arrived at Buckingham Palace at 9 am to get tickets for a tour of the Palace State Rooms, and the first available time slot was 1:45 pm. So we set out shopping until then, with a pit stop in a cake shop and a cool veggie restaurant. We shopped in and around Covent Garden Market and the wonderful sci-fi store, Forbidden Planet. I bought some anime DVDs including an obscure Miyazaki one (Ocean Waves / I Can Hear the Sea). And while I didn’t buy any toy robots, I did pick up a couple of these cuties:

Minitotem Doppelgangers.                                                    Makes me wanna “collect ’em all!”

Here I am hanging with Wenlock, one of the Olympic mascots.

I liked the tour of the Palace – it had an audio commentary, and you could listen to as much or as little detail as you liked, as you walked through. All of the areas were spacious and the furniture and decor well-selected, so it wasn’t as garish as being at the V and A! There were staff stationed in every room (they looked like students), and at least 3 of them were literally sleeping standing up. At the end, you were led through a huge gift shop, and it exited into the royal garden. Moments later, the skies opened up and we left the property in one of the most torrential downpours I have ever experienced, as a pedestrian, anyway! We got so wet that we had to cancel our plans for the rest of the day and return to the hotel.

The gardens at Buckingham Palace are serious about keeping you in/out!

A tour of the state rooms at Buckingham Palace spits you out here!

So our three days in London came to a soggy end, but we had a cozy meal at the hotel’s historic pub, and all’s well that ends well, especially with a phyllo cheese tart.

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