Rom and I had two full days in London this month, plus parts of our arrival and departure days. We decided we would each plan a full day of activities, and the other would agree and go along with whatever was planned. However, I cheated a bit.
I commandeered our arrival evening, buying advance tickets to the new Adrian Mole musical (The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾). It is playing at an “off-West End” theatre that only seats 150. The building has a restaurant and we had a very good meal there. I had been lacking in vegetables while travelling so I had a “power bowl” type salad. The pre-theatre set menu and the à la carte menu cost about the same (i.e. very reasonable) but had different food choices. And lovely desserts! I have every confidence the play will go further. It was a knock-out! I am biased since I loved the first two Adrian Mole books, but it was so funny, full of life, and true to its time (1981). It ranks among the best musicals I’ve ever seen, including Billy Elliot. Maybe the only caveat is that younger viewers wouldn’t get the “historical” references from 35+ years ago, but the same is true for Billy Elliot, set in 1984.
On our way to the play, we walked around the base of The Shard, London’s tallest building, at the London Bridge station. It was dazzling!
My day (August 18) started with a tube ride to Monument station. Rom waited below while I challenged myself to trot up the 311 winding steps of the “Monument to the Great Fire of London.” I timed it so we were there at opening. There were no tour buses or line-ups. I did the climb, but I was more out of breath than I thought I’d be, since I often do 500-1000 steps on the Climb Master at the gym. No comparison to the real deal! I got my first views of the surrounding skyscrapers from the viewing cage at the top of the monument.
A couple of days before, we visited Lewes Castle in Sussex. Some child visitors counted the steps to the top and informed us there were over 200, so that was my warm-up climb!
After the Monument, we walked around the bases of the nearby famous skyscrapers: the Gherkin (30 St Mary Axe), the Cheesegrater (122 Leadenhall Street) and the Lloyd’s Building (1 Lime Street). They all have plazas and cafés at the ground level but no public access. I was amazed by them. Beautiful!
As you know from a previous post, we enjoyed a special meal at the top of the Walkie Talkie Building mid-day.
From there we hoofed it to Tottenham Court Road to join a London Rock Walk. This is one of several tour companies that does rock music-themed tours of Central London. For two hours, we followed our well-informed tour guide as he stopped in front of various buildings and told us who worked, rehearsed, played or lived there. He told quite a bit about managers, agents, music publishing houses, venue owners and other music business folks, which I really enjoyed. Most of the sites related to the early days of rock n’ roll in the 50s and up to the late 60s. Classic rock artists like Rod Stewart, Elton John, the Rolling Stones and Jimi Hendrix were cited the most. There are other tours that cover different eras. Of course, this was the only two hours it rained in our entire ten-day trip, but it had to catch up with us sooner or later!
Following that, we just browsed around, and had a late dinner at one of our favourite chain restaurants, Le Pain Quotidien. It is a healthy eating place, rather overpriced for a franchise, but the food is always fresh and yummy. To counter the healthiness, we stopped at one of our other favourite chains, La Patisserie Valerie, on the way back to the hotel! We had a nice stroll down the very long Edgeware Road, which is known for its “Middle Eastern” and North African culture. It is a thriving community and has a great neighbourhood feel. Families and friends of all ages were out having meals together and smoking shisha at some of the sidewalk cafés.
Rom’s day (August 19) revolved around a self-guided walking tour of Kensington Gardens and Regent’s Park. Starting at Kensington Gardens, we spent some time walking around the formal Italian Gardens and finding the Peter Pan statue, before going through the flower gardens. We viewed the massive Prince Albert Memorial which is an exercise in opulence. My favourite part was the Serpentine Galleries, which had a free exhibit of Grayson Perry’s mixed-media work. His stuff is humourous and contains a lot of social commentary. I loved it. We continued to the Diana Memorial. I had somehow thought it was “just” a fountain, when it is actually a sculptural water park in which kids can splash and play. It is a large granite oval reminiscent of stream bed, with water constantly sloshing and tumbling around curves and down little stone courseways. It is quite impressive, and interactive.
Next, we cut through Hyde Park to get to Mayfair, a district we’d never explored. Rom had wanted to see the Faraday Museum at the Royal Institution, which was, unfortunately, closed for a private function. The area around New Bond Street had high-end shopping, especially for jewellery. I stuck to window shopping until I saw a Vivienne Westwood shop, and had a look: I thought her jewellery really “popped” when seen in person, compared to on the website! We also took a peek at the site of Jimi Hendrix’s former flat, but didn’t pay admission to explore in detail. Surprisingly, Handel (of Water Music fame) lived in the same building in the 1700s. It is now, enterprisingly, the Handel and Hendrix House 🙂
The next attraction was the Wallace Collection, a huge trove of classical oil paintings (mostly portraits) and decorative wares in a palatial home. I normally don’t care for aged oil paintings but by the end of the tour, they had grown on me a bit. I found myself drawn to the writing desks, ink wells and clocks. Apparently I’m not the only one – the gift shop had a book on the timepieces of the Wallace Collection. The house itself was sumptuous, too.
Nearby, we visited Daunt Books, an historic and charming book shop with a loft full of travel books, and ended Rom’s part of the day with a turn through Regent’s Park.
I say Rom’s part because I hijacked it from there. I had bought tickets to a record store show in the evening, so we had to travel out to Rough Trade East at Brick Lane. We had zero time to explore the markets at Petticoat Lane and Spitalfields, so don’t even ask! However, we had a nice browse through Brick Lane Market and the Old Truman Brewery where Rough Trade is located. There were lots of cool vintage shops, street art for sale, street food and food trucks. It also has a VERY lively bar and nightlife scene. Our gig was a way-early one at 6:30 p.m.! We went to see The Duke Spirit, a London band I’ve been following since 2008 when their wonderful album Neptune came out. They were excellent. A DJ set followed by another, more famous, artist but we didn’t stay for it!
I was happy with the variety of stuff we saw and did in our 2.5 days. Can’t wait ‘til next time!
If you know London, recommendations are always very welcome! Do you like planning your vacation days, going along with someone else’s plan, or winging it?
No recommendations for London – despite my youngest brother living there, I haven’t been to the UK since 2006! Which for a world traveller like me, seems a long while.
I am becoming increasingly more planned up and to a point. I like to have some ‘flex’ or free time, and my recent trip, this was the four nights in Germany where I lazed and just did what I felt like which was largely nothing and the wedding duties/tasks etc.
The 2016 Euro tour was planned in as much as I had a list of interests in each city, but I went for four nights in each, and combined with some intense heat and logistics being tricky, I really could have done less nights and felt better for it. I hate thinking I should be out and about seeing stuff, but not having the energy to overcome the obstacles, which can be: weather, lack of route planning/maps (no wifi or mobile coverage) or language making it all too hard. In like of those obstacles, 2017 trip was way better ‘planned’ and much improved on 2016! I had just enough time in each location for what I wanted to achieve, without being rushed.
I do think I do more when someone else plans – both the Japan trip which was a tour, and in Iceland where I was on day tours. I think I might have issues with a partner or friend planning ‘too much’. I need to have enough time to decompress and relax!
Hi Sarah, I have never (a.) done planned tours in another country, or (b.) visited any country where I don’t know the language! You are so well-travelled. 4 nights in each city is a lot. I confess I don’t build in too much time to relax when I travel – Rom probably thinks we do too much (at my insistence!)
🙂 I am a crazy demon of travel but still I’m more tame than my parents!
I loved the Adrian Mole books, glad you enjoyed it.
The Adrian Mole series continued into his adult life, but those got depressing – he will always be 13 3/4 to me 🙂
How interesting that Handel and Hendrix shared an address if not a time. I see a time travel novel in the works!
Haha, that would be great! I wonder if anyone has one in the works?
Love London, did that Rock tour the last year when we were there. Always find something new to do when we go. I like the Wallace collection because of the the Watteaus.
I remember the Watteau paintings – they caught my attention because of the ones with the elaborately dressed people partying in the forest – it looked so decadent 🙂
What an awesome two and a bit days!!! I read this out to Mr S as he wants to return to London.
Strong praise indeed for the Adrian Mole musical. I’d like to see it. I agree the older books got depressing.
I enjoyed walking around looking at the mix of modern and old buildings. I wasn’t a fan of the Lloyds one.
I did find a book that had unusual walks around London. I strongly recommend it for getting off the main tourist tracks. I’ll look for its name.
I’m a planner. As you’ve probably guessed. Can’t waste long haul flights and time in a place I might never return to.
Agree about the planning. Two years ago we went to Paris with no planning (we had to travel suddenly because Rom’s mom was ill, and we had no Internet there!) We only had two nights/one day in Paris. We hit a few highlights and I enjoyed it, but we certainly didn’t make the most of our time as we could have done. For example, wasted a lot of time figuring out public transit which we would normally do in advance. It couldn’t be helped, and I’m glad we were able to go at all. Of course, I feel like I have an “excuse” to go back, as if one were needed!
The book was Walking London by Richard Jones. I can’t find it in the quick search I just did but I found his website. He does walks around London. And has online guides to “hidden” bits. Worth a look.
Thanks! Rom used a guide “book” for planning his day – a set of 50 cards called “City Walks London” from Chronicle Books. Each card has a 1-2 hour walk. It is a few years old and some of the food and shopping suggestions are out of date but it mostly focuses on things that have staying power.
What a great tour of London – it is ages since I have been there about 200 miles for us. Sounds like you had a great time. We often have a few things in mind when going to places but then just go with the flow.
200 miles would be 4 hours for us on our wide-open Canadian highways, but I know it takes ages to get around the UK, and if you bring a car, there are parking and congestion charges to think about. Is it possible to take a train?
Yes I used to work part of my time in London and usually got the train. It is about 4 hours by car from here too. I think because we are always heading up North to Scotland we never plan to go down South. I must make the effort though for a ‘touristy’ weekend in London so much has changed from the London I knew.
What a great use of your time – such a wonderful variety of things to do. I love London – there is just SSSOOO much to do – and I love the fact that there is a lot to do for free – most museums & galleries – it’s amazing.
I was last there about 5 years ago with a friend that I often travel with. We only had a week that time but we planned things out ahead of time as we usually do.
We discuss it first and put down our “Must See” each – then our second choice each. Then we check the weather and figure the most appropriate days to do each thing. We always have at least one day apart (everyone needs a break) – generally one day for a bit of shopping – anything else is a bonus. We try not to overbook ourselves, we are both at the point where we’d rather really enjoy one thing than trying to fit in 4 or 5 things per day (although most days we can do one thing in the morning and one in the afternoon).
When we went to Iceland we booked for 3 All Day Bus Tours but we booked them for every other day – on the off days we’d do things in Reykjavik – we try to pace ourselves and allow for some flexibility.
I love walking tours – they are such a wonderful way to see a city.
I usually like to do one thing in the morning and one in the afternoon, and alternate evenings (a show one night and a relaxing dinner the next). But I also balance out the cost of ticketed events. I think it’s amazing that so many of the museums and galleries in London are free. For example, we had some extra time in London before the Adrian Mole show, so we just popped into the Tate Modern for an hour – how fantastic to be able to do that! Did you see Sarah’s series of posts about her Iceland tours? They start here: http://www.livetolist.com/lists/bucket-list-worthy/blue-lagoon/
Thanks for the link – brings back fond memories of Iceland. I was just speaking with some friends who are visiting from Northern Ireland and encouraging them to visit Iceland – just a 2.5 hour flight for them!
Sounds like you had a great time in London. We just returned from Spain and Gibraltar. We balanced our days with one or two main sights at most, a siesta, and happy wanderings. We had lots of time for leisure meals. Happy tummy, happy feet 🙂
That sounds delicious, Natalie! I am acquiring a taste for leisurely meals 🙂
You two always seem to get the most out of your visits. It is a credit to your planning efforts. Thanks for sharing.
Thanks, Keith. I have tried “winging it” but I end up with regrets and missing too much good stuff!
I loved the Adrian Mole series!!! Read the books when they first came out, as they came out. “Stick insect” – have always remembered that moniker. Over the years as I’ve donated my other books to thrift shops I’ve never been able to part with my Adrian Mole series.
I still have my old copies of the first two books. Funny, I didn’t remember “stick insect” from Adrian Mole – it was used on Sex and the City!