Memory Monday: London!

**I’m SO far behind on our trips that in addition to Throwback Thursday, there’s going to be “Memory Monday” and “Flashback Friday” until we’re back up to date! 🙂

Where: London, England
When: June 2014
Hotel: The Columbia Hotel
Why London: My friend Karyn was coming back out for a visit, and when we had started planning for her return visit, I still wasn’t sure if I had “won” the lottery for Wimbledon tickets (I didn’t…but just applied for 2015! Fingers crossed!) So, with that up in the air, we picked London as a place to get away to for a couple of days. London was on my list of places to see, and as John had already been there – I wasn’t too worried about going without him. When RyanAir offered $68 round-trip tickets and we found a very reasonable hotel (not easy in London), Karyn and I were set for a 5-day trip to Londontown!

The Trip: We flew from Baden-Baden, about an hour away from Stuttgart, into London Stansted and had an hour bus ride to London. Prior to the trip, I had scoured and searched for the best possible hotel – but prices in London are CRAZY! The dollar is so weak to the pound, which didn’t help matters. Luckily, The Columbia Hotel was reasonable and in a good location (a good lesson in this case to ignore TripAdvisor…yes, it was an older hotel, but clean and comfortable – so it fit everything we really needed!)

Our home-sweet-home for five days!

Our home-sweet-home for five days!

Our view from our room - prime location across from Hyde Park!

Our view from our room – prime location across from Hyde Park!

London is like Paris – it’s so huge that the only way to see it is to break it up into sections by each day. Otherwise, you will spend WAY too much time and energy traveling between places. For the first day, we stayed around the Hyde Park areas – starting with Kensington Palace. Sadly, there were no Prince George sightings! 😦

First stop - Kensington Palace!

First stop – Kensington Palace!

My favorite part of the Kensington Palace tour - the Queen and Princess Diana clothing displays!

My favorite part of the Kensington Palace tour – the Queen and Princess Diana clothing displays!

Following Kensington Palace, we cut through Hyde Park to the famed Harrod’s department store. If you go – do NOT miss the Harrod’s Food Hall. It’s pretty impressive.

Walking through Hyde Park, I saw a real English Sheep Dog! It was awesome!

Walking through Hyde Park, I saw a real English Sheep Dog! It was awesome!

The Princess Di memorial - people were just lounging and walking through the water.

The Princess Di memorial – people were just lounging and walking through the water.

Needed John with me to have a Bridget Jones moment - renting a paddle boat and just drifting through the park!

Needed John with me to have a Bridget Jones moment – renting a paddle boat and just drifting through the park!

Harrods! I was not ready for how massive and impressive it was!

Harrods! I was not ready for how massive and impressive it was!

The Food Hall is crazy - multiple rooms of yummy goodness! I was excited to see cupcakes, which can't be found in German bakeries! :-)

The Food Hall is crazy – multiple rooms of yummy goodness! I was excited to see cupcakes, which can’t be found in German bakeries! 🙂

The remainder of our first day tour was hitting up Piccadilly Circus and having dinner at Gordon’s Wine Bar..a suggestion from a family friend, and it was a perfect way to unwind. Plus, a dinner of bread and cheese and yummy wine can’t be beat!

We had just watched Notting Hill, so seeing the Ritz where a couple of the scenes were filmed was cool!

We had just watched Notting Hill, so seeing the Ritz where a couple of the scenes were filmed was cool!

One of the many London markets - there were so many too see. Londoners love their markets!

One of the many London markets – there were so many to see. Londoners love their markets!

Picadilly Circus!

Piccadilly Circus!

First Big Ben sighting from Picadilly Circus! It was really cool to see it in person!

First Big Ben sighting from Piccadilly Circus! It was really cool to see it in person!

Karyn, me and Karyn's friend, Pamela, who joined us on day 1.

Karyn, me and Karyn’s friend, Pamela, who joined us on day 1.

If you get a chance, pay Gordon's a visit. It is is worth it!

If you get a chance, pay Gordon’s a visit. It is is worth it!

Day 2 was a Saturday, which meant we HAD to go check out the Notting Hill for the Portobello Road Market! Also on the agenda was the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben and Parliament, 10 Downing Street and Covent Garden Market. Oh yeah, and lunch at the Sherlock Holmes Pub! (No sign of Benedict Cumberbatch, though…disappointing!)

Took a double-decker bus to Notting Hill! It was my first time on it, and I LOVED it! So much fun! Take one and ride on the top level...and if you are lucky, you will get the front row! It feels like you are going to hit everything but it was really fun!

Took a double-decker bus to Notting Hill! It was my first time on it, and I LOVED it! So much fun! Take one and ride on the top level…and if you are lucky, you will get the front row! It feels like you are going to hit everything but it was really fun!

Portobello Road...so quaint and colorful! And the market was bustling! Get there early...we were there when some of the stands were still opening up, and left as the crowds were trickling in!

Portobello Road…so quaint and colorful! And the market was bustling! Get there early…we were there when some of the stands were still opening up, and left as the crowds were trickling in!

The walk from the bus stop to the market was great - so much to look at in the quiet neighborhood.

The walk from the bus stop to the market was great – so much to look at in the quiet neighborhood.

The market area!

The market area!

Oh my goodness the sweets! Thanks to all the walking, there was some guilt-free indulging!

Oh my goodness the sweets! Thanks to all the walking, there was some guilt-free indulging!

Ugh...the bookstore from the movie, Notting Hill is now a tacky bookstore. Two thumbs down!

Ugh…the bookstore from the movie, Notting Hill is now a tacky bookstore. Two thumbs down!

Karyn and I split up so she could meet some family friends, and although I wasn’t sure I was going to make it in time to see the Changing of the Guard because I lingered at the market too long – I got a fairly good spot at the Queen Victoria Memorial across from Buckingham Palace. I have no idea how long the crowds were there to get a front-row spot, but I enjoyed watching the guards move to and from the palace so I didn’t feel like I missed the actually changing of the guard at all.

Buckingham Palace! (Check the dates when you visit - the Queen was still in town, so the palace was closed to visitors!)

Buckingham Palace! (Check the dates when you visit – the Queen was still in town, so the palace was closed to visitors!)

Where I stood for the Changing of the Guard ceremony

Where I stood for the Changing of the Guard ceremony

There go the Guards that have been relieved!

There go the Guards that have been relieved!

Found Karyn...time to go see Westminster Abbey!

Found Karyn…time to go see Westminster Abbey!

Do NOT miss a visit to Westminster Abbey (although, sad - no photos allowed inside. There's so much to look at anyway, it's better so you don't miss anything!)

Do NOT miss a visit to Westminster Abbey (although, sad – no photos allowed inside. There’s so much to look at anyway, it’s better so you don’t miss anything!)

Big Ben! Which is literally just around the corner from Parliament!

Big Ben! Which is literally just around the corner from Parliament!

10 Downing Street - the traditional home to the Prime Minister. There was a lively protest marching past while we were there!

10 Downing Street – the traditional home to the Prime Minister. There was a lively protest marching past while we were there!

A much-needed stop for food and a beer! It was really good...add it to the list, even if it seems touristy! :-)

A much-needed stop for food and a beer! It was really good…add it to the list, even if it seems touristy! 🙂

We started with a market - we needed to end with a market! Covent Garden, which was first established in 1654!

We started with a market – we needed to end with a market! Covent Garden, which was first established in 1654!

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Read about Ben’s Cookies in Covent Garden and all the recommendations were spot on! They were yummy!

Took the South Bank path back to the hotel Add that to your itinerary...the views are amazing!

Took the South Bank path back to the hotel Add that to your itinerary…the views are amazing!

Day 3 started off with a 4.5 mile run through Hyde Park and the surrounding areas. I wasn’t planning on going that far, but it was so easy with all of the sites to see!

The cute Peter Pan statue!

The cute Peter Pan statue!

Now this is a memorial...see the people? That is how massive this was! Prince Albert was very loved by his wife!

Now this is a memorial…see the people? That is how massive this was! Prince Albert was very loved by his wife!

The Prince Albert Hall...right across from his memorial!

The Prince Albert Hall…right across from his memorial!

This pub was right outside Hyde Park toward Notting Hill...all pubs should really look like this! So pretty!

This pub was right outside Hyde Park toward Notting Hill…all pubs should really look like this! So pretty!

After the run, we had a busy itinerary filled with a trip to the Old Spitalfield’s Market, the Petticoat Lane Market and the British Museum. Finished the night with another South Bank walk…this time to see it all lit up! Oh yeah, and if you like Indian food, do NOT miss up a chance to eat some in London – it is delicious!

Good way to start a Sunday...another market!

Good way to start a Sunday…another market!

This was, without a doubt, the best cupcake I had ever had! Every Sunday, they have a stand in Spitafields, otherwise you can get them in Selfridges daily. Do it - trust me!

This was, without a doubt, the best cupcake I had ever had! Every Sunday, they have a stand in Spitalfields, otherwise you can get them in Selfridges daily. Do it – trust me!

This market was PACKED! And is in the same neighborhood as Spitafield's...really good prices on souvenirs!

Next stop! This market was PACKED! And is in the same neighborhood as Spitafield’s…really good prices on souvenirs!

From the markets to the British Museum, we got off at King's Cross Station, home to the famed Harry Potter platform!

From the markets to the British Museum, we got off at King’s Cross Station, home to the famed Harry Potter platform!

This has been made into an attraction - and I'm not that big of a fan to wait in line!

This has been made into an attraction – and I’m not that big of a fan to wait in line!

The British Museum! Free and HUGE! A great way to pass a Sunday when other attractions are closed!

The British Museum! Free and HUGE! A great way to pass a Sunday when other attractions are closed!

They know how to make a good entrance! All of the areas split off from this main section in the museum!

They know how to make a good entrance! All of the areas split off from this main section in the museum!

One of the many cool parts of the museum - a piece of the Ishtar gate!

Everything in the British Museum would deserve its own blog post – this was one of the many cool parts of the museum – a piece of the Ishtar gate!

Mmmm...this Indian food was delicious! Found in the SoHo neighborhood!

Mmmm…this Indian food was delicious! Found in the SoHo neighborhood! Definitely recommend!

I haven't had Indian in over two years...this tasted wonderful!

I haven’t had Indian in over two years…this tasted wonderful!

The London Eye...cool to look at, but we opted to skip a ride. Tickets are quite pricey, and unless you get good weather - it seems like a lot of money to pay for bad views. Plus, I didn't want to be in a ferris wheel for an hour!

The London Eye…cool to look at, but we opted to skip a ride. Tickets are quite pricey, and unless you get good weather – it seems like a lot of money to pay for bad views. Plus, I didn’t want to be in a ferris wheel for an hour! But it looked cool!

Pretty Parliament...worth seeing at night!

Pretty Parliament…worth seeing at night!

Westminster Abbey by spotlight!

Westminster Abbey by spotlight!

Two thumbs down, Buckingham Palace. Thanks to my camera setting it seems lit up - but it is not. Maybe because the Queen was home? Either way - it was a letdown after seeing all the other buildings all pretty with spotlights!

Two thumbs down, Buckingham Palace. Thanks to my camera setting it seems lit up – but it is not. Maybe because the Queen was home? Either way – it was a letdown after seeing all the other buildings all pretty with spotlights!

Day 4 was our final day, and that meant it was time to see the Tower of London, the Tower Bridge and St. Paul’s Cathedral!

The Tower of London - it was founded in 1066, was the site of famous beheadings and is home to the Crown Jewels!

The Tower of London – it was founded in 1066, was the site of famous beheadings and is home to the Crown Jewels!

Modern and new - the "Shard" and the Tower.

Modern and new – the “Shard” and the Tower.

Entrance into the Tower of London - buy tickets ahead to avoid the lines!

Entrance into the Tower of London – buy tickets ahead to avoid the lines!

The Crown Jewels - the line can get long, but it is worth the wait!

The Crown Jewels – the line can get long, but it is worth the wait!

The Tower Bridge (often confused to be London Bridge)...right by the Tower of London. You can go up, but we opted against that.

The Tower Bridge (often confused to be London Bridge)…right by the Tower of London. You can go up, but we opted against that.

St. Paul's Cathedral, where Prince Charles and Princes Di got married.

St. Paul’s Cathedral, where Prince Charles and Princes Di got married. Photo taken on a double-decker bus!

A good spot to rest and have lunch - just down the road from St. Paul's, there has been a pub on this spot since 1536. It was a favorite of Charles Dickens.

A good spot to rest and have lunch – just down the road from St. Paul’s, there has been a pub on this spot since 1536. It was a favorite of Charles Dickens.

Four days in London = exhausting! There is so much to see and do, that breaking it up was the only way to see it. And of course, taking advantage of the transportation was key!

Both the Underground and the double-decker bus were great...

Both the Underground and the double-decker bus were great…

But I LOVED the cabs!! Maybe a little expensive, but they were clean and so cool...at least worth trying once!

But I LOVED the cabs!! Maybe a little expensive, but they were clean and so cool…at least worth trying once! Which we did, our very last day! 🙂

Final Impressions: I enjoyed London a lot. It was nice to go to a place and not worry about a language barrier, and it was a fun, modern city mixed with a LOT of history. I didn’t quite enjoy how expensive it was, and it really is a place you need to save up for before visiting. It got to a point where I just would double everything so I would know the ball park of what I was paying in dollars. (It’s not quite that bad, but close..$1.60 = 1 pound…yikes!) Knowing the how poor the dollar was, also made it important to pick and choose which attractions to pay for, and which ones to skip. It takes a bit of planning to rack and stack what you want to see, and you can save money buying tickets online instead of at the gate. Plus, you will miss the lines and there are a lot of lines! In all, London is a place I would visit again…with a trip to the Cotswolds and Stonehenge thrown in. For that, though, I need to start saving now!

 

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