Eurotrip 2011: London.3

London isn't the only place we visited! See all our Euro travels here.

After two quite full days in London, we slept in on Day Three. And by slept in, I mean we didn't emerge from the flat until 9:15.  So much for getting extra winks on vacation. In any case, we would have probably been out the door by 9:00, except that we had just a bit of trouble with the skeleton key on the exterior door. As Americans, we don't have a lot of experience with skeleton keys, and there seems to be a special way to jiggle it to get it to unlatch. I'm not a claustrophobic person, but not being able to unlock a door on demand makes me plenty nervous. (Ugh.. fire hazard! I shudder.)

Our #1 priority was to secure tickets for a Buckingham Palace tour, but I couldn't resist a quick rest in the gardens on the way there. Maybe it was that our hectic schedule had started to catch up with me, or maybe it was the warm autumn sunshine. Anyway, I welcomed the comfy chairs and peaceful setting.

Yes, I have those pesky Skechers on again, with real socks this time. They still didn't last long.
We wound our way around the palace grounds to find the visitor entrance. The imposing palace leaves quite the impression. Here is just a sprinkling of the palace exterior (and guards).

Tickets to the state rooms are doled out on a first come-first served basis, so rather than choosing a tour time, you are given tickets to the next available tour. In our case, this was 12:15, so we used up some time wandering through St. James Park, checking out the bridges again. NS, the animal lover, discovered an older gentleman feeding birds from his hand, so he got in on the action. I'm not tempted to have bird claws on my finger, so I stayed behind the lens on this one.

I found another grassy spot to enjoy the sun a bit more. What is a vacation without some down time? (Just a side note: Amazingly, we spent six days in England and only experienced 15 minutes of rain! While I can't complain about the weather, I will say that I noticed my nails started chipping and breaking, which I'm not used to living in humid Cayman. I guess the oppressive heat is good for something!)

Our Buckingham tour was wonderful; as Americans, we enjoyed seeing the luxurious rooms, fixtures, and artwork in the palace. It's fun to imagine a proper royal banquet with the world's dignitaries gathered around an enormous dinner table that the Queen herself inspects beforehand. I also found it interesting to learn about the number of staff the palace employs, as well as what work conditions are like, and what kinds of perks they get. Still, I don't think I could deal with the stress of the Queen's supervision.

But most fascinating for me was the exhibit containing Kate Middleton's wedding dress. The dress had its own public display, along with the veil and the shoes. Even the cake was on display, and the amount of time and effort that must have been involved to perfect every detail really blew me away. What kept me entranced was the short documentary film that they were showing on continuous loop, showing interviews with the designer, Sarah Burton of Alexander McQueen. She explained many of the details of the dress, like how they custom designed the lace using traditional English symbolism, and how they "engineered" the panels of the dress to allow it to lay flat, and how involved and concerned Kate was during the whole process. Seeing all of the elements close-up gave me a new appreciation for what must be the prettiest gown of the century.

We must have left Buckingham with a nose-in-the-air mood, because our next stop was the famous Harrods. I really couldn't call this a department store, because it was oh, so much more. Most of the ground floor was dedicated to high-end fish, meat, coffee, chocolates, cheese, pastries, deli foods...

After perusing the expensive goodies, we reached the top floor on the Egyptian-inspired series of escalators, as you can see below. It felt more like the interior of a casino than a department store! Definitely worth a walk-around (if not a full shopping experience.)

We traveled via one of those famous London red buses to the stop near the Natural History Museum and walked just a couple blocks to Cromwell Road, snapping a few photos along the way.

Once again, even before entering the museum, I was quite impressed with the architecture of the actual building, and the backdrop of the blue skies made every angle that much more crisp and eye-catching.

People rave about this museum, and it's no mystery why; you are greeted by enormous dinosaur skeletons immediately upon entering. If there is anything that will make you feel tiny and insignificant, it's standing next to a dinosaur. (Also, being at the Grand Canyon. Or standing next to a cruise ship. But let's not get off-topic.)

We toured the dinosaur exhibit in entirety, and wandered around a few other mammal and sealife exhibits before moving on. I'm sure there were plenty of interesting displays throughout the enormous museum, but I just wanted to get my fill of the scary stuff. Good thing those guys are extinct. It bothers me enough to see a cockroach around here, let alone a beast as big as the building I live in!

Our bike tour from day one had gone so well that I wanted to get back on two wheels and cover some ground on our last day in London. Renting Barclays Cycles makes for a convenient, easy way to ride through the city, and they're quite inexpensive to boot.

After paying just a £1 one-day access fee, the first 30 minutes of usage are free. Anything after that incurs a usage charge (for us, just £1 for the hour we needed.) Returning the bike is easy, as there are Barclays Cycle Hire lots sprinkled all over the city, and your credit card is charged for the amount of time used between pick-up and drop-off. We downloaded the Barclays Bikes iPhone app, which helped us to decide where to drop the bikes. Man, I love modern technology!

You'd think that we'd have looked for new things to see in our final hours in London, but all we really wanted to do was to get out of the city's hustle and bustle and visit Hyde Park again.

Behind me is Hyde Park's Boat House, where you can rent rowboats and paddle boats.
But biking is easier.
If you've ever been to the Sheep Meadow in NYC's Central Park, you'll understand the serene quality of the section of Hyde Park shown below, where Londoners (and travelers) gathered to sprawl out in the afternoon sun, soaking up whatever vitamin D the UK weather would spare.

Welcome to London's beach.

Our one-hour rental soon expired, so we returned the bikes to Oxford Street, which led to our next adventure.

Before leaving on this big trip, we spent a good bit of time discussing our London options with Cayman friends who are originally from the UK. My takeaway from these discussions was that the words "Oxford Street" meant one important thing to me: Primark.

Primark might be as close to an American shopping experience as you'll find in London. While British shopping prices are traditionally higher than what we're used to in the States, Primark defeats the odds and brings rock-bottom clothing prices to the English masses. My UK girlfriends rave about little shirts or dresses or accessories that they found at Primark for a mere £5. My shopping-deprived self couldn't let this opportunity slip by. So in we plunged.

All the promises of ridiculously-low priced clothes were completely true. I immediately found a shirt I liked for £7, full-price. But it really was product overload. The walls (and floor) were a kaleidoscopic of shapes and colors, and for a solid ten minutes I must have just wandered around trying to decide what genre of clothing I even wanted. The store was being almost ripped apart by dozens upon dozens of young women, rifling through racks and shelves of everything from office apparel to casual attire to nightwear to underwear.

    photo credits: N on the iPhone

At one point I took a sharp left turn and accidentally left poor N to wonder where in the maze of similarly-sized and -clothed females I might be. I was a mission to find myself a new belt (and ended up with a set of 3 for £2!), trying to ignore the fact that there was an escalator to a second floor. A second floor?! I wondered. How on earth could they manage two stories of this zoo? Once again, the reminder of my all-too-stuffed backpack kept me from finding out. Besides, I had to recover my husband. It's a good thing he was the tallest guy in the place.

Oxford Street had many other similar (albeit higher-priced) temptations, but the day was drawing to a close, and our stomachs reminded us that we were due for another stop at the best Syrian/Lebanese food London has to offer. That's right: Back to Imperial Wharf for a healthy dose of Yamal Alsham's delicious menu.

Notice the newspaper to the right; this was the Evening Standard - one of the free newspapers you can find in the London Underground. We passed the time reading about everything from British politics and business to the newly-opened Westfield Shopping Center.

Our night ended shortly thereafter, as we had quite an early Eurostar train to catch in the morning. On to non-English speaking territory!

I'll try to keep future city posts to just one (or two!), but no promises. Paris deserves more than that.


  1. Absolutely wonderful post Jenn! Sounds like a great vacation!

  2. Wow, you've successfully made me homesick! Fab pics, I'm glad you enjoyed London!

  3. aaaaah, Primark!
    I was a frequent shopper there when I lived in London! I remember finding a bargain before my week holiday to Greece.. one quid for a bikini (top and bottom!)!!! and a good one at that!! You pay CI$40 for HALF a bikini here in Cayman!!

  4. ok, that was 9 years ago though.... =)