We ended our two week UK excursion with three nights at the Park Plaza Sherlock Holmes on Baker Street, which turned out to the perfect hotel in the perfect location for London sightseeing. After dropping the car off at Heathrow (and almost getting into a last minute accident as the car return sign was beckoning us across the busy round about) we lucked out with a friendly, very helpful cab driver – shout out to Mohammad – who gave us a map for the sightseeing bus we could hop on a few short blocks from our hotel, and we were off. I must say, it was a bit of culture shock, though. We had left simple, unhurried Chipping Campden, where we chatted with the ladies selling homemade breads and soaps at the community farm market that morning, and found ourselves on crowded sidewalks full of people speaking many languages and hurrying to get somewhere. We were glad to take in the city from the upper deck of the Big Bus, which we rode through its complete two and a half hour London loop to get our bearings and pick out sight seeing destinations for the next two days. We had our first glimpses of Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, the London Bridge, the Tower of London and the London Eye from this vantage point.
It was getting dark by the time we ventured out to find dinner on a Friday night, but we discovered several charming old pubs within walking distance of our hotel. Unfortunately, we also discovered that pubs don’t begin serving food on a Friday night until after the drinking crowd – most of which spilled out onto the sidewalks in front of pubs – was done with happy hour.
We did happen upon a fantastic gastro-pub, The Coach Makers, where a very attentive server kept an eye out for an emptying table for us and we eventually enjoyed one of the best meals of the trip. David had a burger with chips and I had a roasted beet salad followed by an appetizer portion of pumpkin ravioli.
Following dinner, we walked around the scrabble board of pubs restaurants on the side streets of the Marlyebone neighborhood, and finally settled for a drink at The Barley Mow, a historic pub, where we had the first of many toasts to our wedding anniversary. When we arrived back at our hotel, I inquired about the poster advising visitors that the clock would be set back an hour the next night. When I mentioned to the concierge that the next day was our wedding anniversary and we were, coincidentally, married on the day we set the clocks back, he thanked us for celebrating our anniversary at the hotel and wrote our room number on the back of his hand to remind him to sent us an anniversary treat.
The next morning we were up early to take a cab to Old Spitalfields Marketwhere we would meet our Eating London tour group. This tour was so memorable it rates its own post! What a great way to see the East End of London and get a taste of its culinary heritage.
From there we walked (the travel mode of the day) to the Tower of London where we paid the only London attraction admission to see this historic site! We took the interesting and humorous Beefeater tour and even stood in line – for the first time in two weeks – to see the awesomely impressive Crown Jewels.
Following the tour, we consulted our map and decided we could easily walk to the South Bank and maybe catch a tour of the Globe Theater, but once there ( the walk along the Thames was lovely ) we decided not to wait – and pay – for the last tour of the day and opted instead for the free Tate Modern art museum after a few ceremonial pictures of the Globe.
Then we had to savor a walk across The Millenium Bridge – the first pedestrian river crossing over the Thames in central London for more than a century.
By then, we had walked so much, what was a few more miles to get the the posh Oxford Street shopping district? We arrived just as the skies were darkening, but the crowds were not lessening one bit – it was Saturday night and I had not yet been to H & M London.
We had watched a season of Mr. Selfridge on PBS, but I wasn’t anticipating the spectacle of Christmas windows already in place! A shoppers glory on a balmy London night.
A few gifts purchased, a few more miles walked – wasn’t it time for dinner? We ended our marathon day at the loveliest Italian restaurant – Caldesi Restaurant Marlyebone – where the servers were so Italian that , although David thought he ordered a glass of wine, we got the whole bottle for a price the exceeded our entrees combined. Back at the hotel, we were greeted by a complimentary bottle of wine, which added to our giggles. Daily walking total – 11 miles and just one more day to see ALL the rest.
In retrospect, our last day could have been much better orchestrated. We set out early and arrived at the Marlybone Farmers Market before the set up was even complete. On the the British Library which didn’t open for another hour. We killed time – gloriously – inside of the St. Pancras Train Station, where I visited my first Cath Kidston store! The train station was awesome in the old fashioned sense of the word – old meets new!
Once open, we did a quick tour of the Treasures of the Library and we the we were off walking again
This time, a quick and windy stroll through Regents Park would put us on our course to Abbey Road.
Abbey Road Zebra Crossing is indicated on all the maps and draws visitors with the simple promise of walking in the footsteps of the Fab Four. After walking half of the day to get there, we could have spent the rest of the day watching musical pilgrims recreate the stroll. David did his best.
Having achieved this life goal, we walked back to Marlyebone High Street shopping district, wandered into acclaimed Daunt Books, gorgeous for its architecture, before ending up at the very last pub of the trip. We had met Theo, who manages The Gunmakers Marlyebone, at closing time at a different pub the night before. Apparently, British pubs take their Sunday roast dinners pretty seriously, and he invited us to spend our last night dining in his establishment. However, since we reached our hunger peak mid-day (it was another 11 mile walking day) we opted for Black Pudding Scotch Eggs and a gorgeous cheese board for our “last meal” – and of course a pint of cask ale for David and cloudy cider for me.
We retired to our room ridiculously early to pack up and watch the weather report about the looming storm. Added bonus – new season of Downton Abbey already airing in Britain and a bedside stand full of Sherlock Holmes literature!