Next to NYC, my favorite city in the world is London so coming back here is always a highlight of any trip. Add to that spending time with my good friend Liz, it is something I look forward to but never do often enough since my last visit was in September 2019. This trip, like my last, my dear friend has given up her flat for my use while here. God, I love her! This is not my grandson’ first trip to London so finding things to do that he hasn’t already done and might find interesting is always a job. This trip had some hits, but also some misses, pretty much like the rest of the trip so far. One of the many wonderful things about Liz’s flat is its proximity to the Tube. Located only a block from the Piccadilly Line, it is easy to get back and forth to Heathrow (which is how we got there when arriving from Ireland) and can connect to the rest of the network at King’s Cross. With Oyster Card (the metro card for the Tube) in hand, we were off visiting sights new to both of us.
As I continue to work in the afternoon and it is at least a 30-minute ride on the Tube to central London, I planned sights close to each other minimizing travel time whenever possible. One of our first trips out was to Covent Market in search of vintage items; unfortunately, the market has been upscaled since my trip several years ago and vintage was not there. I was able to replace my black scarf left in Ireland, get a lovely one for Liz and see the cutest of large balloon animals. Vintage not found; we are off to find something to peak my grandson’ interest.
Not far as the crow flies but on the Bakerloo line instead of the Piccadilly, we are back on the train, changing lines and off at Baker’s Street to visit the original Madame Tussauds. London is the site of the 1st museum dedicated to showing us statues of the famous in wax with one being here since 1835. Included in the collection here is the original wax of Voltaire made by Madam Tussaud herself in 1777 along with her self-portrait created at age 89, a mere 8 years before she died in 1850.
I am not normally a fan of attractions like this as they seem to be a very expensive exhibit and one that can be viewed in 30 minutes or less. However, this time I was pleasantly surprised at the extent of the exhibit and unbeknownst to me at the time, the London sight is not only the first but the largest of all 12 museums worldwide. As one would expect in London, the royal family was well represented but both real and fictional characters were abundant in the numerous exhibit rooms. I found some of the figures what I would believe to be ‘spot on’ likenesses but others not as good I would have thought. In one of the exhibit rooms, the museum included a short history of the Madame herself even with a staff member dressed in period clothing to answer questions visitors might have. What was completely unexpected was the ‘ride’ through the museum that took you past a historic timeline from the time of Madame and now through wax exhibits that you ‘drive by.’ Of course, no wax museum would be complete without Star Wars and this museum had an ample amount.
One of the things I can count on keeping my grandson’s interest is animals so any opportunity that we have, we visit the zoo; London was no exception. Hoping on the tube and after a change of lines and a 10-minute walk, we arrive to spent the morning among the animals in and out of the cages. As it was half-term in London, which means kids are not in school, I think the animals (kids) outside the cages were more frightening than some of those in the cages. Besides the animals, one of the neatest things at the zoo is the painting on the walls as you walk around.
For my grandson, no zoo visit is complete without seeing the penguins, so the trip to the penguin habitat was a required stop. With the penguins seen, it is off to one of my favorite animals, the lions. The zoo has created an interesting exhibit around the lions that resembles an Indian village. The king of the beasts made his appearance, roared at us, and proceeded to pee on the glass facing us. I guess we know what he thinks about the visitors with noses to the glass trying to get a glimpse at him. His mate was much more refined and sat and watched the show.
After looking at too many bugs and some aquatic animals, to include Finding Nemo, we are back through the park and walk to the Tube and back to the flat and work.
Continuing the search to find something that my grandson will be at least a bit interested in, we are off the next day to the Science Museum. While the museum was interesting, unfortunately almost everything inside that was REALLY interesting required another ticket and had a cost opposed to the free museum ticket. The most interesting part for me was the history of clocks. The collection includes more than 600 watches, 90 clocks, 30 marine chronometers and several fine sundials and examples of hand engraving, mapping the history of innovation in watch and clock making in London from 1600 to today.
Another trip into central London found us on a Thames cruise starting and returning to the pier at the Eye. We have taken cruises along the rivers in capital cities before in both Paris and Frankfurt. I have to say that the one on the Thames was one of the better ones. Our tour guide AJ entertained us with history of the sights being seen with humor and enthusiasm that made the cruise enjoyable even when sitting outside on the deck on a chilly day. My grandson was lucky enough to sit next to the skinniest guy on the boat. AJ imparted to us some interesting information that I, for one, was unaware of. Did you know that tower in the north end of the Palace of Westminster that we all call Big Ben, well...it’s not! Big Ben is the nickname for the Great Bell of the striking clock in the tower, not the tower! That bridge we see in photographs of London we refer to as London Bridge, it’s not! It is Tower Bridge; London Bridge is the much less glamorous bridge next to Tower Bridge. An afternoon cruise of the Thames showed us lots of buildings and information that in my dozen or so trips to London I had never learned. It was interesting and well worth the 40 minutes of the cruise duration. It was also interesting to know that you can take an Uber Boat on the Thames. Uber is now taking over the river in addition to the roads.
My lovely friend Liz took my grandson and I to see Hampton Court Palace while we were in London which was a wonderful treat! It is a royal castle in the London area we had not yet seen, and I am so glad we were able to see it this trip! What a beautiful place it is. For 500 years the Palace has been a grand display of Henry VII and the Tudor Dynasty. The palace has been expanded by each subsequent ruler with the addition of the maze (we did venture into the maze; thank goodness my grandson was with us or they would had to rescue Liz and me!), the Great Hall where Shakespeare’s 'King's Men' first performed Hamlet and Macbeth for the new Stuart King, James I, the Long Water, a beautiful canal commissioned by Charles II, and the ‘new’ royal chapel commissioned by Queen Anne. The palace also held unhappy memories for Henry. His third queen Jane Seymour died giving the King a longed-for son, Edward, later Edward VI. It’s said her ghost, a ‘white wraith’ appears on the anniversary of her death. I have to say of the four palaces I have visited in and around London, this might be my favorite! We have packed a lot into this 10-day stay and are off to Bath and surrounding areas for a few days to see what else England has to offer outside of London, but that is a post for another day! Until then……