Last weekend I headed up to the Capital to see my sister and a mutual friend and her daughter, who were visiting for a few days from Canada (spring break). Our friends were visiting London and Paris; her husband and older daughter were on tour in Asia - Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia.
My sister's last housesit was for a someone in Devon who happens to own a number of properties, a few of which are in London. She was offered use of a two-bed flat for a week - perfectly timed with our friend's visit! The flat was 15 minutes walk south of Elephant and Castle tube station, on the south bank of the Thames, in an area called Walworth. It's very multi-cultural - African, Caribbean, Turkish, etc., with bakeries, restaurants, pop-up markets, etc. all over the place. Really fantastic. Direct bus service to Waterloo station and into London as well, so nicely placed, yet much cheaper than many parts of the city.
I started out early on Saturday morning and arrived at about 10:00 (after spending half an hour standing outside the wrong flats!). Our friends arrived about 2:00 and we went out exploring a bit but saved the first full day for Sunday. We took a bus to Waterloo station at about 10:00 and then didn't stop walking until 3:00! After which we kept going...London is a huge city, but perfectly designed for walking because there is simply so much to see.
We started at the iconic London Eye, a few minutes walk from Waterloo station.
The Hungerford (train) & Golden Jubilee Bridges (pedestrian) with a view of a hotel called the Horseguards across the Thames.
The Eye and that other iconic landmark, Westminster and Big Ben.
Westminster Bridge and the Houses of Parliament. Scene of chaos only three days later. It's always heaving with people, so the fact that so many more weren't hurt or killed is a miracle.
This is the area where, on Wednesday, a very sick man drove purposely into the crowds, killing three people and severely wounding so many more. But this day was just 'normal' busy. You get a bit of an idea what it's usually like - traffic standing still on the bridge, pedestrians everywhere.
St James Park dressed for spring.
Cherry blossoms galore!
Duck Island cottage - built for the bird keeper (there's a long history of it on Wikipedia) now owned and managed by the London Historic Parks and Gardens Trust.
The Mall is closed to traffic on Sundays and this day there was some filming going on - perhaps a new episode or two of Prime Suspect 1973?
Certainly plenty of film accommodations and necessities. Intriguing!
The Mall, surprisingly quiet...until you get to the Palace and understand why.
Here's everyone! What exactly is going on?
The changing of the guards!! That explains it. It was shortly after 11:00 and this is a daily routine. I'm pretty sure it didn't start out being a tourist attraction, but it's definitely become one. It was actually on my 'to see' list, so I can check that off now.
The handsome Horse Guards.
The iconic Grenadier Guards.
It's a bit odd having such a quiet street in London, but quite nice, as you can wander at will.
The Wellington Arch - and police on horseback!
The Royal Crest on the gates at Wellington Arch.
Brompton Road and ... is that HARROD'S? Yes! We made it.
In we go (we were looking for the food)!
Baby cakes - £10 each.
Rainbow unicorn cake - rainbow inside too!!
There are about 7,000,000 rooms in Harrod's, I'm sure, but we limited ourselves to a quick nose around the food court (dare I call it a court? Haven?) in the basement - it was amazing. Take yourself downstairs if you ever happen to be in the area - or simply make a point of visiting on purpose - as it's overwhelmingly fantastic.
Chocolate and red velvet cakes - £70 each. I, of course, got a piece of red velvet cake to take home with me and bought my cousin a piece of carrot cake. I have to say that it genuinely was the best red velvet cake I've ever had. At £6 a slice, it had better have been! Yes, a ridiculous price for a piece of cake, but seriously - it's Harrod's.
Divine selection of delectable cupcakes!
A statue we came across by Hyde Park.
Marble Arch. Where we FINALLY stopped to eat something (thanks, Pret a Manger!) and sit down for a half hour. Once refreshed, we carried on.
Dressed up for Beauty & the Beast.
Piccadilly was also shut. We couldn't quite figure out why, but I think it had something to do with a belated St Patrick's Day parade - there was an Irish festival of some kind happening in Trafalgar Square and there were SO. MANY. PEOPLE.
This was one of the Arcades leading off Piccadilly. I remember it as the Broughton Arcade, but I'm not sure that's right. Tiny, exclusive shops.
We finished up at M&M World in Leicester Square. It was packed. Of course, I bought some M&Ms - £8 worth! Oops.
I returned home to the Forest after that - quite relieved to get back to the peace and quiet of it in all honesty. London is fun on occasion because there's so much to see and do, but it's exhausting - just so many people and so much happening all the time. Still, it was great to see our friend and meet her daughter - they had Harry Potter World on their agenda, a family visit and food, and then were off to Paris for a week yesterday, so hopefully they enjoy that just as much.
Wednesday was the attack on Parliament and four deaths and so much hurt. A sad, sobering day. Bits & pieces of information are coming together about the attacker (British-born), but Londoners are pretty solid folk - like I've been reading, there were so many bombs and IRA attacks in the 70's and 80's they're not inexperienced in this. They're prepared and they practice. A lot. The Emergency Services were absolutely brilliant. It's definitely left a bit of a pall, however, and there's a large, growing memorial for those who died, but London is tough. She'll recover and is already carrying on. What else can you do?
Today is a glorious spring day - supposed to be about 15C! I've already been out to the bank, picked up a few bits and stopped at the library (6 books came home with me). My cousin has gone to Romsey to look around and get her nails done later today, but I decided not to join her. I can't really be bothered, although I enjoy Romsey for the most part. It's just nice to have some time to get caught up on things and have some time on my own. I was going to get up early and go for a walk but didn't. Instead, I'll do that tomorrow and see how far I can go. I've been walking in the mornings - taking a later train allows me to get up, go for a walk, have breakfast and still get to work for 9:00. I'm less stressed, am getting more sleep, and enjoying my walking. I did 3 days walking this week (11km on Sunday in London, 3km each during the week) and I'd like to do 4 this week. I'm happy to miss a day as long as I go the next. I'm aiming for consistency and 30-40 mins a day.
It's my birthday next weekend and my cousin and I are headed to York for a couple of days, which I'm really excited about! I haven't yet been but have heard great things, so I've already got several things in mind of what I want to do: York Minister for sure, the walls, The Shambles (I've been told to go early in the morning to avoid crowds here - so I think I'll get myself up on Sunday a.m. before we head back and poke around a bit), possibly a ghost walk. We only have two nights and really one full day, so I have to be really picky about what to see.
Have a great weekend everyone!