Saturday, June 18, 2016

London Town - Part Two

A great way to start off the day is a visit to Westminster Abbey, Parliament and Big Ben.  I'm a fan of the London Eye (and I don't like heights), it's pricey but a fun way to see all around London.  You can take a walk around St. James park to stop by Buckingham Palace (through July there is Changing of the Guard every day at 11:30 am).  And a walk through Green Park on to my favorite department store, Fortnum & Mason (a smaller classier version of Harrods) located on Piccadilly.  It's a wonderful place to have high tea or get food gifts.  My personal favorite is their lemon curd.  And the window displays are amazing. Right next door is the largest Cath Kidston store.  This is a great place to get gifts, and if you don't at the flagship store, there will be one at Heathrow Terminal 4. Past F&M you will see St. James church with craft booths called Piccadilly Market.  It's small but I've bought several gifts there.  Next door is a nice bookstore, Waterstone.

Next up is Piccadilly Circus and then go left to Regent St.  Lots of good browsing including Hamleys (toys) and then make a right at Great Marlborough Street for Liberty of London.  They have a great paper goods shop on the first floor and great fabrics on the 5th floor. I saw Usher there once. They have a wonderful Christmas shop starting in October.  Another great store for shopping is John Lewis on Oxford St.  They also have a great store at the airport.
Liberty of London

Covent Garden is a fun place to shop and eat, especially on the weekends.  You can pick up theater tickets in Leicester Square.  My favorite is Phantom of the Opera but we recently saw The Book of Mormon, which was hilarious. 

I like to stop in at Marks & Spencer (the grocery store) to pick up some lemonade and room munchies.  I think its fun to go to a local grocer to see the selection.  Boots is the local drugstore, I like to get a little bit of make up or lotion there, as a reminder of my trip.

For museums, I love the British Museum (it's located in a neighborhood so get good directions) and Victoria & Albert museum. 

The London Underground is the best way to travel around the city by buying an oystercard when you get there and topping it up, if needed. Their Plan a Journey page is a valuable tool. Be aware that many of the tube stations have long steep escalators - not my personal favorite but I take a deep breath and jump on.  And if you travel during rush hour, hold your purse close to you at all times.  Don't make eye contact with anyone and for heaven's sake, wear dark colored shoes.  American's stick out like a sore thumb when they talk loud and wear white "trainers" or worse, sandals!

Best way to come into London from Heathrow is the high speed train, Heathrow Express.  It is easy to find and a quick 15 minute trip, ending at Paddington Station.  Buy your ticket from an agent or the box, it's cheaper than while on the train.

Best way to get English currency is when you arrive, through an ATM.  Be sure and let your bank know you are traveling internationally (most banks have an online form you can complete) so they won't lock down your account when it is being used in London.
The English love to make up pet names for each other and their buildings too.  Here you see the Walkie Talkie, Cheese Grater and the Gerkin.  Across the river (not shown) is the Shard.  You will be tested on this when you arrive at the airport.  Just joshing.

I've had the good fortune to be on the top floor of the Walkie Talkie and taken photographs of each vista.  Click on the photo and you can see the London Eye in the distance and St. Paul's Cathedral straight ahead.

At night, you should walk across the Millennial Bridge and take a photo of both sides of the river. 

That's what comes to mind when going to London.  Seems like I do a lot of shopping, huh?  I'm going to do another post about a must-do visit to the town of Windsor, where HRH the Queen spends her weekends. 

Monday, June 13, 2016

London Town

I work in the insurance business, where you buy insurance in the London market (Lloyd's) and have had the good fortune to need to visit the city a few times each year.  It is one of my favorite cities in the world and I thought I would share some of my favorite places.  This may need to be two posts!

Lodging - we normally stay near Lloyd's in the insurance district at the Andaz or Doubletree near the Tower of London.  I've also rented a flat just north of there in Hoxton through Airbnb at $125/night.  I've also used Priceline's "name your price" for a 4-star hotel in Mayfair for about the same price.  I would refer to TripAdvisor for staying in Covent Garden or Westminster.

Shopping Markets - my favorite is Old Spitalfields Market, which is near the insurance district.  It's open air but covered consisting of market stalls (awesome crafts) and shops and plenty of places to have tea or sweets.  I've found great gifts at Inspitalfields and great fish and chips at a little joint called Poppies on Hanbury St. You can spend an entire afternoon exploring the market.  I also like to have a simple dinner our first night at Wagamama, which is a chain restaurant with Japanese noodle dishes.  Or go fancy at Chamberlains.  Spitalfields market is open 7 days a week. 

Just north of Spitalfields you'll find converted railcars turned into small shops at Boxpark in Shoreditch.  It's a funky area with amazing graffiti and you'll feel just a tad nervous, but don't be.  Keep going north/east to Columbia Road and an amazing little stitching shop owned by Jessie Chorley.  She's very talented and a joy to visit.  I also enjoy her Instagram posts.  Be sure and pop your head into all the little shops on the road, there's a few resale shops and a garden shop.   

Sweetest shop - look at the Steiff dog on wheels!

If you've got a free Friday morning, head south across the Tower Bridge for Bermondsey antique market.  It starts at 6am and fun for the search.  At first look it may seem pricey but keep looking.  It's also fun to walk back across the bridge and snap a few photos of the black taxis or red double decker buses on the bridge. 

I've never made it over to Borough Market which is on the same side of the bridge, just west of Bermondsey.  It's a food market and a lot of people rave about it, I've just never made it there.  If you've been there, do you like it and would you recommend it?

And while we're on this side of town, an interesting excursion is taking the boat down to Greenwich where the world's clock is set (Greenwich Mean Time) - you can stand in two time zones.  It's a sweet little town, nice to walk around with a small crafts market, a maritime museum and the Cutty Sark.  The boat can be caught at the Tower of London where you will ride down the Thames river to Greenwich and then up the river to Westminster and Big Ben and the London eye.  It's a very enjoyable way to spend the afternoon.

If we're talking about antique markets and London, of course we have to talk about Portobello, with market day on Saturday.  I don't care what anyone says, you should go and see it.  Yes, it's expensive.  Yes, it's crowded.  And you really should experience it, at least once.  Take a look-see in some of the brick & mortars. There's a vendor that sells printers blocks and trays - my hearts desire!  Start as early as 8 am and walk the entire street.  Stop at Biscuiteers and Cath Kidston for a look-see (but buy at the large store on Picadilly - later post).  Have some breakfast at Mike's CafĂ©, across from Notting Hill Bookstore.  Or eat from the street vendors.  Just experience it! And keep walking on Portobello, past the crowd until you get to the vendors that lay their wares on the ground.  Now you may find something you must have. 

I'll come back this week with more London shopping suggestions.