Wed 31 Jul - London, England

Another "Free Tour by Foot", tickets for an exhibition, another pub lunch and a little more rain, but mostly good weather.

We awoke to some rain but trusted the Weather Channel that said it would pass by the time our walking tour started at 11am.

Just after 9am we again caught our good ol' number 9 bus into town. While waiting we couldn't help but notice this typical London morning traffic - lots of bikes (we think thanks to Boris), plenty of red buses and only a few private cars. London has a congestion charge of £3 per day plus petrol prices of £1.75 per litre (nearly $3 AUD) so it's no surprise that not many drive cars to work.

The theme for today's "Free Tour by Foot" was "Westminster" and started outside the Ritz near Green Park in Mayfair. We were there about a hour too early so decided to first wander the streets of Mayfair. This is how we walked including the tour:

Mayfair is a truly eye opening experience of real wealth in London. First up at Berkeley Square, Rolls Royce and Bentley showrooms.

Di checked out the prices of second hand Bentleys (low mileage of course). Would be handy for Sunday trips to the Cotswold...

This one struck us dumb...£200,000 for a used car... Well, the price included "veneered picnic tables..." so that's a plus...

Berkeley Square seemed a very expensive address and had this lovely park in the middle. Luckily it was not private, like another gated park that we saw later in the day in Knightsbridge.

Crazy priced commodities were available throughout Mayfair.. Like this caviar specialist, charging £400 for 50grams of Beluga. Give me a kilo...

We did laugh at the typical posh puffy dogs these people were walking, 2 * 2 of them in one single frame...

The Ritz Hotel looked more glamorous from the Main Street but for some reason that entry was closed. This entrance looked less impressive.

We met our guide, Charles at 10.45am and two more American girls joined our group before we headed off at 11am on the dot for our Westminster Tour.

We started by walking to St James Palace and hearing about how it was built at Henry VIII time and about his 6 wives who suffered various fates.

Afterwards we quickly trotted to see the tail end of the changing of the guard parade at Buckingham Palace. Us and many others...

Before wandering into St James Park. A lovely park that we admired during our last visit in 2010 and liked again. It stretches between the Buckingham Palace...

...and the Horses Guard at the other. You can also see the London Eye on the Thames from here.

Hans posed in the park opposite the Horses Guard. The highlight of the story of the Horses Guard is that during the Olympics last year the Beach Volleyball competition was held in the forecourt area (the red gravel section in this photo). We bet that the women's competition was popular with the bearucrats...

The swans were a hit with our group, especially as they seemed to be following Mum's directions on grooming. Too cute.

Our tour then moved on towards Westminster Abbey and Whitehall.

First a quick stop near the War Rooms and the statue of Clive of India, who won India for Britain. Charles gave us a brief run down on Clive and also Churchill, and recommended a War Room visit. Charles is the red haired man in front of Di.

What made this moment funny was that a competitor was also running a free tour behind, BUT using a larger also orange umbrella and had a much larger group of punters...

We moved on to Westminster Abbey (where we again choked at prices - £18 each to get in!)

We really noticed that there are far more tourists in the height of summer in London than when we were last here in April 2010. We don't have many photos of this walk because it was constantly crowded and a bit rushed.

Whilst it looked gloomy over Westminster Palace, now the Houses of Parliament, we did avoid any rain.

The obligatory photo of Big Ben (officially named Queen Elizabeth Tower). OK OK boring, everybody takes one, but at least we didn't "hold it" or squeezed it between our hands etc...

10 Downing Street had its usual mass of tourists outside.

We then passed Whitehall government offices and came through the back of the Horses Guards. We felt sorry for the guards who were constantly photographed and sometimes jostled. His guy looked unimpressed.

Di tried to stay clear because we were warned the horses could kick or bite. Hans was saying go back, go back...hmmm

We finished our tour with Charles at Trafalgar Square. He seemed to know his stuff but like the tour guide yesterday, he lacked showmanship so lots of what he said were lost in poor presentation. Hans had drifted off early but Di persisted. Of course, Di would again be happy to send feedback to the manager...

Post script:

An email from Free Tours by Foot arrived a couple of days later and it containes a Facebook link where there were 2 group photos taken by Charles, our guide. Girl to the left was from Wisconsin and the girl to the right from Nashville.

Back to regular programming...

A break was needed, as it was after 1pm when we finished, so we sat on a bench at Leicester Square and had some fruit while watching these cinema poster guys workings. Lunch waited until later.

We then took an overcrowded train to South Kensington for the Victoria and Albert Museum. Reason; we wanted to get tickets for the extremely popular David Bowie exhibition that runs there for only a few more weeks. We had learnt that ordering tickets online is no longer possible and that you have to rock up there in person. Well, the next available tickets were for Monday pm or Tuesday 10.45am. We settled for the latter and purchased our two tickets.
We then did a futile attempt to find a reasonably priced lunch deal in the Knightsbridge area, but with Harrods just down the road, that was not going to happen.
As an indication, they advertised this absolute "bargain" property rental for a mere £7,750 per week. Yep, £1,100 or around A$1,700 per night. We're gone...
So, we found our "home" bus number 9 up on Kensington Gore and went to Hammersmith instead. There, we found our favorite lunch time pub deal from yesterday, £8 with a pint of beer or shandy or soft drink, at The Swan. It turned out that these pubs and many more are part of a chain called Nicholson's Freehouse. As there is a Nicholson beer as well, we will make a wild stab in the dark here and say that they are related.
Cheers to that, Di.

Hey, bangers and mash and a pint in an English Pub. Can't go wrong there...

After a most satisfactory late pub lunch, we will be back, time now was after 4pm, we decided to wander back to West Kensington and our hotel, but the longer way via Shepherd's Bush.

We pass a bit of "Australiana" along the way...
Awesome tucker? We don't think so. Authentic? Hmmm we don't know anyone who eats Kangaroo Curry (which Di says is too lean for curry). Bring on beef vindaloo and chicken tikka masala.

The food from these guys outside Shepherd's Bush tube station seemed surely both more authentic and fun... You could almost hear Leslie Nielsen's voice...

We liked Shepherd's Bush as it seemed very multicultural and "real".

We finished our day past our local grocery shop picking up some refreshments (beer for Hans, G&T for Di, milk for tomorrow's breakfast). Home around 5.30pm.

A curious point to note - our polish proprietress Anna is now overly concerned with making sure we are happy. A few examples from today;

  • Of course no problem to store our fresh milk in their kitchen fridge; she had heard we did not like their UHT milk so has bought another type for breakfast tomorrow;
  • Could they make us coffee or tea? Are you sure that you don't want anything?
  • Wifi in our room didn't work, so Hans went down to enquiry. Anna promptly rebooted the router and then went up to our room on the 3rd floor to tell us that all was good now

Hans thinks they've worked out Di's Priceline usage and willingness to review both on Priceline and TripAdvisor. Funny thing is we really like the place and think that we are getting a great deal with our room.

A lazy night with a few drinks and planning ahead... Good night.


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