On to London

The short trip from Dingle, Ireland, to London was a little disorienting. On the way to Shannon airport, we chatted with our bus driver the entire 2.5 hours or so it took to get there; he, like everyone we met in Dingle, was incredibly welcoming and enthusiastic about American visitors, and we had a great time talking about our experiences in Ireland, and his experiences in New York City (he said the best thing ever is to be an actual Irish person in NYC on St. Patrick’s Day. You are an instant celebrity, and he had never felt so popular. No wonder he loves the U.S.).

London was absolutely wonderful, but it felt odd that no one wanted to talk to us anymore, and we would walk into pubs to find people ignoring us. All the sudden, we had to figure everything out on our own and didn’t have a guide to tell us the best places to go. And the temperatures there got above 60 degrees! We adjusted quickly, and spent the next five days seeing as many sites as we could fit in. I had never been to London before, and it had been many years since Hobgoblin visited, so we set out to see all the major tourist sites. First up on Monday was the tower, and here’s a picture of Tower bridge:


From there, we climbed the Great Fire Monument, and toured St. Paul’s Cathedral (climbing to the top there as well — I climbed SO many stairs that day!). Over the next few days, we walked by Parliament, Big Ben, and Buckingham Palace, walked through St. James Park, and toured Westminster Abbey (spending a lot of time in Poet’s Corner). Tuesday night we saw Much Ado About Nothing in the Globe Theater. It was a great production — very funny with lots of good energy from the actors and audience. I had to laugh at the people in front of us as we left the theater complaining about how long the play was and how Shakespeare can go on and on and could have benefited from speeding things up. A response to be proud of, right?

Let’s see — we also saw the National Gallery — or parts of it, rather, since neither of us has a whole lot of endurance for museums. We tend to take 1-1 1/2 hours, see the sections that most interest us and call it a day. I couldn’t help but feel that each museum we saw we could have spent several days in. We also saw the British Museum (parts), a highlight of which was the Elgin marbles, and the London Museum, a great place to learn about the history of the city. At the end of our trip, we spent some time in the Victoria and Albert museum, although by that time, I’d had enough of reading museum displays, and just walked around looking at all the pretty things (of which they have tons — I loved the jewelry section in particular).

What else? We walked around Bloomsbury:

and saw Samuel Johnson’s house, as well as taking a guided tour called “Dr. Johnson’s Fleet Street,” where we saw some of Johnson’s haunts.

Somewhere in there we visited the Charles Dickens house, the Sherlock Holmes museum (cheesy, but fun), and the Carlyle house, which was a favorite, not least for the … odd … but very enthusiastic guides who showed us around the place. Here’s a picture of the tiny garden in the back:

We also visited a ton of bookshops, including Slightly Foxed, which wasn’t too far from our hotel and which we stopped by three times, although once for only 10 minutes before closing time. Also, the Persephone bookshop, and the London Review bookshop. We walked past 84 Charing Cross Road, which I knew had turned into a Pizza Hut, but what I didn’t know was that there are a bunch of bookstores elsewhere on Charing Cross, so we went to Blackwell’s and Foyle’s, as well as several shops with antiquarian and used books. And, of course, we went to Waterstone’s; I’m not even sure how many of them. I came home with 11 books, but I’ll tell you about those later.

By Friday, our fifth full day there, we were getting quite tired, so we started to slow our pace a bit, and we spent time just sitting in Hyde Park. On Saturday, it was time to go to Oxford to see Becky. After a tour of the city and some of the colleges:

Becky understood exactly what we needed, which was a chance to sit. So, we got some lunch and sat, found a pretty place along one of the rivers and sat, sat for a couple hours over tea, sat in a pub, sat over dinner. It was perfect and a great way to catch up on all our news.

Sunday was our last full day in London, and we spent it quietly, visiting some of our favorite bookshops and eating, and Monday we came home.

I’m satisfied what we did while there: there is obviously tons more to see in London, but I saw enough that if I don’t make it back for a while, I won’t mind too much. In addition to all the museums, churches, etc., we walked through a lot of neighborhoods, and I was happy to get a sense, even if it’s limited, of various parts of the city and how they all fit together.

And now it’s time to get back to books — hopefully I’ll be back soon to write about what I’ve been reading.

12 Comments

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12 responses to “On to London

  1. I really enjoyed your five days in London and I wasn’t even there! One thing I like a lot about blogging is when I get to meet the people I’ve only known virtually. Visiting Becky in Oxford sounds like fun. xo

  2. What a wonderful time you had! I’ve been to London several times now, and I still haven’t managed to see Dr. Johnson’s house or to climb up the Great Fire Monument or St Paul’s (my fear of heights prevents me). And you got to some bookshops I haven’t visited yet either.

    The museums are amazing, aren’t they? I love museums in general, but I do find that half a day is about all I can take. The nice thing is London is that because most of the museums are free you can wander in and poke around in a few rooms and then return another day without feeling like you’ve wasted money.

  3. What a whirlwind tour you had! To me, London has always been the kind of city that expands to meet whatever length of time you might happen to be there. I feel like I could vacation there for a year and never run out of things to do! In you five day trip you saw a bunch of things I wasn’t even aware existed, so I’ll certainly be adding some of them to my list for when I should happen to be back.

    I will say that I have had the good fortune to see Shakespeare performances at the Globe theater twice. Once I saw Hamlet, and once I saw… some comedy, which I don’t remember at all! Both were very good, though I do think the best Shakespeare I’ve seen was in Stratford-Upon-Avon. Though those £5 groundling “seats” can’t be beat!

  4. I loved London when I was there, and your words and pictures make me want to return! It sounds like you had a great time, although I totally get the transition issues from small town to big city. Your bus driver’s story about being Irish in NYC on St. Patrick’s Day is hilarious – I just bet he was the toast of the town. :-)

  5. Rohan

    That all sounds wonderful! The Carlyle house was definitely my favorite stop on my trip a couple of years ago (wow, a couple of years already!). But the Tower moved me unspeakably, despite all the touristy trappings they have now (Clarence’s face in a bucket? really?).

  6. Yes we’re a little less friendly than the Irish here! Sorry about that. But you did manage to pour a huge amount into your week – you’ve seen more of London than I have (or at least, more exciting parts!) Charing Cross Road is fantastic.
    As for Oxford – when you come back again you will have to spend more time soaking up Oxford because it is lovely and a day doesn’t do it justice.

  7. This reminds me of my trip to London, before kids. It was November, rather nastier weather!

  8. Wow – you did masses! My grandmother used to say that London has the hardest pavements in the world, and I always found my feet hurt there more than anywhere else! You’ve actually seen lots more monuments and attractions than I have! I completely agree that one and a half hours is maximum museum time before fatigue sets in. And Oxford looks lovely – good for Becky for giving you a perfect day!

  9. What a wonderful time! I loved London when I was there and would love to go back sometime. There is so much to see and do. And of course, all those bookshops!

  10. I love English gardens, even the tiny Carlyle garden (nice that it’s so small–easy to mow and take care of!). It sounds like you had a great time and with so many things to do it can be overwhelming. It’s better to take things in smaller doses I think. I would love to go back someday–if I ever pay off my credit card I am going to start saving for a proper vacation–even if I have to go by myself–somehow I don’t think I would be bored. Lovely photos–thanks for sharing them.

  11. Glad you had a good time in London. I was at the Globe to see Much Ado last Friday, too. Brilliant production I thought – partifcularly the actress who played Beatrice.

  12. musingsfromthesofa

    I think I needed the sitting too; and the eating! But it was so great to see you both, and I’m glad you had such a good time over here – it means you’ll come back!

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