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I traveled to the United Kingdom from 21-26 January 2012 for business. Before the trip I reevaluated the way I had been looking at work travel and decided to add a weekend in London on to the beginning of the trip to take advantage of the opportunity. Having a weekend in London for the cost of a couple of nights in a hotel is a bargain. I had never been to the UK before and looked at this as a chance to do some reconnaissance for a future vacation with my girlfriend. Her heritage is British and mine is half Irish, so we would like to visit both countries in the same trip. I knew London would be interesting. The city has long and important history, but I was worried the weather would be so bad that I wouldn’t enjoy it. It was a little chilly, but I had a really fun day and the weather did not take away from the fun.
I did some planning before the trip although not as much as I would have liked to do. The week before the trip was very busy. A couple weeks before the trip I talked to a coworker who had been on a similar trip some months earlier. He recommended staying near Paddington Station. I found a good hotel about 4 blocks from the train station, so I would not even need a taxi unless the weather was terrible. I looked at Google Maps briefly and plotted out a basic plan. I planned to walk at least to Buckingham Palace and then decide if I wanted to take the Underground or walk the rest of the way to the London Tower. I figured I would be able to use the Google maps on my Blackberry once I got there if I was unsure of the direction to head. I got in at a little after 3:00 pm on Saturday after taking a direct flight (red-eye) from San Diego. By the time I got to Paddington Station and checked in to my hotel it was around 5:30 pm local and I had not slept in about 26 hours. I headed out to explore the local area and get some dinner. I ended up walking a couple of miles and settling on Fish and Chips and a good beer. When I got back to the hotel I had no problem getting to sleep. I would have all day Sunday to see more of London.
I got up early on Sunday and headed out for a coffee. There was a Starbucks a few blocks up the street and a Costa Coffee right across from it. My first impression of the Costa Coffee was that it looked like a Starbucks clone so I picked the Starbucks. I did have a few coffees from Costa Coffee later in the week and really liked their coffee, atmosphere, and service. I would recommend giving them a try. The internet connection in the room was not working and I was having trouble with my Blackberry so after my breakfast I set out on my walk with only the memory of looking at a map online a couple of weeks before.
I knew Hyde Park would be south and east of Paddington station and that I would have to cut diagonally across the park to get to Buckingham Palace, so I just started walking in that general direction. It was a cool, dry day perfect for wearing a light jacket and taking a nice long walk. There was more activity in Hyde Park than I expected. There were lot’s of runners, walkers, and even one woman riding a horse. As I left the park I just continued in the same direction, under Piccadilly and through the Wellington Arch onto Constitution Hill beside the Buckingham Palace grounds.
The band was playing a series of Bond movie themes and there was a fair-sized crowd in front of the Palace and around Buckingham Fountain to see the changing of the Guard. The Band and Guards had their gray overcoats on so the scene was not the classic “Red Coats”. Still an impressive ceremony and a festive atmosphere. I continued on toward the Thames through Saint James Park.
This is where not having a map cost me some interesting sights. I considered going through the Churchill War Room museum, but had no idea that 10 Downing Street, the Prime Minister’s residence was right around the corner. Instead I decided to follow the signs toward Parliament Square. This is a beautiful part of London too. I came to Westminster Abbey first. It was Sunday so the Abbey’s visitor’s entrance was closed. As you walk toward the back of the Westminster Abbey you see Westminster Palace which is where Parliament meets. I walked around Parliament and came up to the Thames in Victoria Tower Gardens.
At that point the view along the river was inviting so I decided to take advantage of the walking weather and continue my walk all the way to the Tower of London. I walked back around Parliament and across the Westminster Bridge. On the other side was a great view of Big Ben and Parliament. I walked past the London Eye, it really does look like a giant bicycle wheel. At first I thought it might be closed because I never saw it moving, but then I realized that it never stopped moving, it just moved very slowly.
From that point on the walk along the river was very relaxing. I considered crossing on the Millennium bridge, which is a pedestrian only bridge, but I’m glad I didn’t as the Globe theater was the next building along the river. My son had done a report on it a couple of years before, so I knew some of the history and a little about its layout.
After seeing the Globe, I decided to get serious about getting to the Tower of London before the tours ended. I crossed on the Southwark Bridge and picked up my pace on the other side. I could see the Tower Bridge just a little further up the river so I knew I was getting close.
I got to the London Tower about 10 minutes before the last tour. If you’ve never been there before I definitely recommend taking a tour. It is included in the price and will give you a good bit of history and a better idea of the layout. The tours are led by the Yeomen Warders of the Tower, better known as Beefeaters. Our guide was quite a character, but I get the feeling that this can be expected. I had always thought of the Tower of London as a prison, but it has much more history than that. A very interesting place. It is also charged with keeping the Crown Jewels safe. The Crown Jewel’s exhibit was another surprise for me. I had no idea! The diamond in the Sovereign’s Sceptre, the First Star of Africa, is the largest flawless cut diamond in the world at 530 carats. Hard to imagine what 530 carats is… just have a 10-year-old make a fist… that’s about the right size! Where are the 2nd and 3rd largest cut diamonds in the world? Oh yeah right here attached to the Queen’s crowns. Here are a few more pictures from the Tower of London…
Standing on the Tower of London wall with the Tower Bridge in the background.
One of many sets of King Henry VIII armor on display in the Tower of London.
Near the entrance to the Tower of London, showing the moat (drained centuries ago).
View the next post for my UK 2012 trip: Salisbury UK (January 2012 Salisbury Village, Salisbury Cathedral, Old Sarum, Stonehenge)