Spending three weeks out of the country is a bit overwhelming — getting there, being there, and coming home — but also completely wonderful. I was going to try and cram all of it into a single post, but soon decided that was silly — expect several posts over the next few weeks with some highlights from our trip.
Because my sister, Jenny, and I were going to be London for about a week at the beginning of the trip, we decided to rent an apartment using Airbnb. This was my first time using that service, but it ended up being perfect. We found a small, one bedroom flat in central London, just south of the River Thames. It was easy to walk or catch the Tube to everywhere we wanted to go, and convenient to stop back at the flat in the afternoon for a break on long days.
On our first full day in London we visited Notting Hill and Kensington Palace. Jenny was excited about Notting Hill because of the architecture. I was excited about the shopping!
The rain held off for most of the morning, so we managed to see the outside of Kensington Palace and some of the gardens before the day’s main event — tea at The Orangery.
The Orangery is a restaurant set in the middle of the gardens at Kensington Palace. They do a variety of lunch options, but we planned to get into the London spirit with afternoon tea (egg mayonnaise and cress bridge roll, Coronation chicken wrap, smoked salmon and cream cheese mini bagel, cucumber and fresh mint sandwiches, orange-scented and currant scones served with Cornish clotted cream and English strawberry jam, and an assortment of afternoon tea pastries). It was so good!
The inside of Kensington Palace is equally as amazing as the outside. It’s been a residence of the royals since the 1600s, and is still the official residence for several members of the royal family. The state rooms are open to the public and, when we were there, featured exhibits on King William III and Queen Mary II, Queen Victoria, and fashion of the modern monarchs.
We were slightly less lucky with the weather the next day, when we planned to go to the Tower of London. We figured the rain would keep tourists away (partially true) but, unfortunately, they don’t run all of the regular tours on days with rain — apparently tour participants are prone to poking each other in the eye with umbrellas!
Despite the periods of torrential rain, I think we got our money’s worth at the Tower. In addition to it’s historic uses as a fortress, prison, and mint for England’s currency, the Tower of London is also home to the Crown Jewels. And although most people associate the Tower with Henry VII and the execution of a couple of his wives, executions actually took place at the Tower until World War II.
The Tower is right in the middle of London, so you can see some famous sights along the walls, including Tower Bridge (behind me, above). One of the coolest exhibits at the Tower was in the White Tower, the Line of Kings. This massive exhibit shows off armor and weapons of many royal kings. And there’s a giant dragon made of weapons!
I’m going to skip talking about Thursday, our visit to Warner Bros. Studios for the Making of Harry Potter Tour, because I want to do a whole post about it. So, on to Friday we headed to Buckingham Palace.
Because Queen Elizabeth II was not in residence, the State Rooms at the palace were open to the public for tours. Pictures weren’t allowed, unfortunately, because this was one of the coolest things we saw on the trip. The State Rooms are where the Queen hosts royal dignitaries, bestows honors, and conducts other ceremonial business. The exhibit showed how the palace gets ready for state dinners and some of the art and furniture that is special to these rooms. Afterwards, we headed over to grab some photos of Big Ben and Parliament. I wish we’d gone on tours there, but we were both feeling pretty exhausted at this point.
On Saturday we did a bookstore tour of London with Jackie (Farm Lane Books) — I wrote about that in more detail in my post about my book loot from the trip. That evening we went to see a play, The 39 Steps, as the Criterion Theater. It was really delightful — four actors playing 139 characters in a theatrical melodrama based on an Alfred Hitchcock film.
Sunday and Monday were both rather random days. We spent a little time at the British Museum and the British Library (so cool!), visited some other neighborhoods of London we hadn’t caught yet. The photo below is at the British Library and shows the King’s Library, a collection curated by King George III as the first royal library.
A big part of our time in London that I didn’t share many photos of was visiting famous buildings — Jenny is an architect and she had a lot of information to share about them. I teased her about it at the time, calling them “Architecture Forced Marches of London” but they were actually pretty fun. This photo is from the courtyard at the Sommerset House… I can’t remember what is cooling about it except that it’s old!
So, there’s just a really quick look at the first several days of our trip spent in London. After we left London we spent a few days in Bath, then headed to Greece to (briefly) visit Athens and spend time on a beach on Poros. I’ll share some of those details, plus Harry Potter day, really soon.
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