Just Us Girls Exploring London

American Airlines Advantage Card – The Only Way to Travel

My daughter Annie (14) and I were traveling without the boys (my husband and son) for this part of the trip. We planned on meeting them later in Prague. Annie and I caught a flight from LAX to London business class – is there any other way? It was a most enjoyable flight because of my American Airlines Advantage Card which is my ticket to comfort.

I have often said I would need an IV drip if I had to go coach this long on an airplane. But I schedule my trips far in advance to take advantage of benefits that my credit card offers. I am fortunate to know when I want to travel and plan months in advance to get the seats. This does take planning but it’s not hard. And little else beats basically flying for free. We flew first class from LAX to Vancouver by Alaskan Air, but what we like is the American Airlines Executive Club lounges which are part of the deal when you travel using miles out of the county.

Getting Into London

We landed in Vancouver and had plenty of time to walk to prepare for our long flight to London. We were flying for the first time via British Air to London and we were looking   forward to boarding our home for the next 9 plus hours. Our hearts sank as we saw the first section of the aircraft with normal seats and then we kept going down the aisle to find our seats when we entered another section of the aircraft. We could not believe the section we were in. I called it small condos. It was fantastic. Pods, small apartments whatever you call it, this was the only way to go. Thank you Citibank Advantage Card!

Annie and I had fun opening the drawers to find the expected amenity kit. We love these kits they offer the eye covers, ear plugs, toothbrush and wonderful lotions. The seats had so many buttons that we pressed all of them and discovered our seat would go complete flat. This was the only way to sleep. We soon took off and we were spoiled the minute we were in the air. The movies were on demand and there were 20 of them. We each found our favorite movie and settled into our seats. The food that was served was excellent and the cabin crew was truly the best.

After dinner and a movie, it’s time to take an over-the-counter sleeping pill, pop in the ear plugs, and pull the shade over your eyes and sail into sleep. When we get to London we want to be ready to explore.

Choosing Where to Stay in London

We landed at Heathrow and immediately brought tube passes to take us into the city. This is our second time in London and I knew I did not want to stay near the loud hustle and bustle of crazy London and stay in a quiet welcoming, peaceful haven overlooking the lush Grosvenor Square in fashionable Mayfair. The boutiques and shops of Bond Street are only a 5 minute walk, with the open spaces of Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens just a short stroll away.

The City’s financial and commercial centre is within easy reach. This means weekends are dead quiet and most business close at 5. We stayed at Millennium Hotel London Mayfair, on Grosvenor Square in Mayfair. We had a great rate and a really nice room with two queen beds with very good mattresses, wonderful linens and a view of Grosvenor Square, perfect! We arrived late in the afternoon and this would be our second time in London so we knew what and where we wanted to explore.

Whenever we arrive in a foreign county we instantly change to the time zone we are in. This helps with jet lag so we are not going to sleep or waking up at odd hours. We headed outdoors to explore Bond Street and after a long walk to see the stores that we wanted to shop in it was time for dinner. We knew London would have great ethnic food so our first night was noodles at Wagamama. Simple and good.

After dinner and a look at Harrods we walked back to our very quiet hotel in an English residential neighborhood to go to sleep in our new time zone. You must go to bed exhausted and with a pinch of a sleeping pill to keep you asleep all night and to wake up in the morning ready to rock and roll. Good night.

Our First Full Day in London Town

Good Morning London. It was freezing and it was mid June. We both had to buy coats before we turned into ice cubes. Until we had jackets to keep us warm, we decided to head downstairs for the hotel breakfast. We were first surprised the cost that was over $60 but we were hungry and just decided to stay. We tried the buffet and it was awful. Spoiled fruit and dried out bakery goods. We decided to order off the menu and we ordered a bagel and eggs. They ran out of bagels and brought out a toasted hamburger bun. Yuck. Eggs were bright yellow and good but this was not enough to make us happy. So I called over the manager and asked her to go to the buffet and take some fruit and a baked good and try them. She did and came back and told us that we were correct and they did not charge us for breakfast. This shouldn’t be too much of a surprise since England isn’t exactly known for its cuisine.  Time to explore the city hungry, oh well; lunch would be at somewhere wonderful. The area we were in had many of the embassies and we did find an English restaurant that we ate at several times during our stay. I loved the coffee and it was close by to our hotel.

We love to explore fine food emporiums just to see how they make food so gloriously delicious at times. Harrods is truly a store to explore. Most of all we love The Borough Market which is a haven for those who enjoy a spot of gastronomic indulgence. Whether you’re a chef searching for the perfect produce for your pot or just a culinary adventurer, Borough Market is a delight. This food market will make you a very happy tourist. The restaurant and food stalls are the best I have ever been to and the food is amazing. I wanted to buy so many delights to take home but this was the beginning of my two month tour of Europe so we tasted, smelled and explored this wonderful market. By the way our best fish and chips dinner was here. Enjoy!

Exploring London: Hope and Greenwood, the Royal Theater, and Covent Gardens

The next day I wanted to find a famous candy store named Hope and Greenwood. I like to see how stores are designed and how they merchandise the store. We found this delightful store in Covent Gardens tucked in a corner we were delighted to see really how cute this store was. We could not decide what to buy and settled on fizzy lemon balls and we wished we could pack the whole store in our suitcase. I told Annie we would dive into our candy after lunch.

We found a wonderful little sandwich shop next door and we noticed right across the street was the Theater Royal on Drury Lane. We wandered over to the theater where the play “Oliver” was playing to see the architecture and we both stared at a sign that read, “starring Rowan Atkinson as Fagin” We could not believe our eyes! We LOVE Mr. Bean. We asked the box office if there were tickets and they said they weren’t available until July 29, which was a month away. But they did say to go stand in line for call back tickets and manager release. We were the first in line. Very soon the theater was filling up with lucky ticket holders and our line that we were lucky to be first in was growing fast also. Just then a lady came to the line and asked us if we would like tickets. Yes! We purchased our tickets and they were seats that if the royal family would show up that these would be their seats. We felt like English royalty sitting in these perfect seats.

The play was very good and Rowan Atkinson showed some of his crazy humor from Mr. Bean. He really is a gifted actor. The last standing ovation Annie and I ran out side to the stage door to get his autograph. Annie got his autograph and photo. When we left the theater it was one in the morning. We were hungry and found many restaurants open, which was a really different from how everything in the west coast shuts down at ten at night. We ate a hearty meal and headed back to our hotel at three in the morning. Not one person was on the subways.  The escalators that are usually full had not one person on it. We felt safe where we were and we had a small walk from the subway back to our hotel

Where NOT to go in London: The Orangery at Kensington Palace

When I began planning my tour of London with Annie I wanted to visit wonderful tea rooms. Annie picked out dresses to wear to have tea at the tea rooms. Our first tea was The Orangery at Kensington Palace. We both were so excited to be here until we walked in. The pretty cakes and scones were laid out and they were not covered. We sat down and I was devastated. I was at Princess Diana’s greenhouse and this was approved by Queen Anne? I had my hat and gloves on and I was sitting at a rusted (ok “vintage”) table with a paper tablecloth and I had a paper napkin to put on my lap. PAPER!!!!

This was NOT happening. We ordered a pot of tea and it came to us in a simple white tea pot. NOTHING special. Water was warm and I asked if they forgot to put the hot water in thinking they were just keeping the pot warm for my tea. No this is your tea pot. NO CHOICES OF TEA, JUST HERE IS YOUR TEA. Then came the scone. What would Martha Stewart do? What would Emilie Barns say? The scone had been microwaved and it looked like a small dirty sponge. Needless to say it was terrible. We were sad to be in here and spending way to much money on a warm pot of plain tea with a scone that was not acceptable.  DO NOT GO TO THE ORANGERY!  Fortunately we explored our favorite sites for the next few days that made up for this disastrous visit.\

Looking at London

The London Eye really has to be included in a trip to London. The 32 capsules carry around 10,000 visitors every day. Because of the way the capsules are suspended it allows for a full 360 degree-panorama when you’re at the top of the wheel. Tickets can be booked online, which really is the right thing to do as it saves a lot of time. The queues look long when you arrive but they move quickly as everyone is issued with a timed ticket. And don’t forget your camera!

The Tower of London is where the Crown Jewels are housed, which are quite  spectacular. It’s also where you can stand on the execution site of three English queens! The Tower Bridge Exhibition is also worth seeing and is only a short walk away. Tower Bridge’s architect, Horace Jones, and engineer, John Wolfe Barry, took 8 years to complete the bridge, which opened on 30 June 1894. It remained the only river crossing east of London Bridge till the Dartford Crossing (a tunnel) opened in 1991.

Buckingham Palace is the Queen’s official residence. We liked seeing the Changing of the Guard and the streets in the area are very nice to wander around on.

The Houses of Parliament is only a short walk down Whitehall from Trafalgar Square to Parliament Square. The building is stunning from Parliament Square, but it is worth taking a walk over Westminster Bridge and getting the view from the South Bank. Big Ben is actually the name of the bell in the clock tower which chimes every 15 minutes. Tours inside the Houses of Parliament for overseas visitors are only available during August and September.

Shakespeare’s Globe Theater is interesting and was founded by the pioneering American actor and director Sam Wanamaker and has become one of London’s most successful theaters and top visitor attractions.

And of course shopping anywhere in London is a must do! We found stores that were full of hats and gloves and we wandered in stores that were full of shaving brushes. No matter where you are you can hop on the tube and go shopping. After an exhausting day of shopping Annie, and I had dinner at Harrod’s. We created a delightful ice cream sundae that was a foot tall. Tomorrow we are taking the train to Paris.

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