As I stepped off the plane in Heathrow, a strange sense of belonging swept over me. This was home turf, my birth country. A place that I have only lived for a short part of my life, and that nostalgic feeling came as a bit of a surprise.
London is a REALLY long way from Christchurch – opposite side of the world in fact. The 10 years that had passed since my last visit had caused me to forget how long and uncomfortable it is to fly all that way in one go (well with a short stop and change of planes in Singapore anyway. Still I guess its a bit quicker than sailing there…
We breezed through Heathrow immigration and customs, grabbed our bags, hopped on the extremely convenient Heathrow Express train, and within an hour of touching down we were in the centre of London! Too easy!
Our fabulous travel agent Michelle, had organised us some Oyster cards – which are pre-loaded travel cards for the London public transport system. Paddington station was full of people rushing in all directions. We stood bewildered for a moment grappling our suitcases and after getting our bearings we eventually spied a sign pointing to the underground station. We swiped our cards, jumped on the Circle Line and headed off in the direction of our hotel. (You can pre-load your Oyster cards when you purchase them. We got £20 ones and then added some more money later on which you can do at the station.)
One of our best tricks to avoid looking like a possum in the headlights, a vulnerable tourist, and a potential target for pickpockets is to look like you absolutely know where you are going and start confidently heading in that direction (even if you don’t actually have a clue!). Thankfully Google maps has made this a whole lot easier, and when we emerged at Gloucester Station we were able to quickly find our hotel which was only about 100m away.
The Milliennium Gloucester Hotel London in Kensington costs around NZD$250 per night. There are lots of nice restaurants and cafes nearby. A little supermarket for wine and breakfast stuff, and within walking distance to the shops on High St Kensington and Harrods.
We’d arrived really early in the morning and our room wasn’t ready. Tired, stinky and excited about our first day exploring, we dropped off our bags, had a quick wash and change of clothes in the lobby bathroom and feeling only slightly fresher we headed out to explore the sights.
It was Andrew’s first time in the UK, and so there were some important things to tick off the “Must See in London” sights. So we took a stroll through Hyde Park, stopped by to have a cuppa with the Queen, checked out the New Zealand and Australian War memorials, then a spot of shopping at Harrods, followed by beer and pizza and then back to the hotel about 2pm for a huge sleep to try and acclimatise to the 12 hour time difference. Phew!
We were up early the following day and set out in search of a cup of coffee. New Zealanders are coffee snobs – and I was pleasantly surprised to taste that the coffee in London had vastly improved since my last visit. We hopped on the tube to Westminster. Checked out the enormous Westminster Abbey (from the outside – its GBP20.00 per adult to go inside!), The Houses of Parliament and then jumped on a Thames ferry using our Oyster cards to get all the way down to Greenwich.
Greenwich is a lovely little town, we wandered through the streets and up the hill to the Royal Observatory. This is a must see place for keen navigators, the home of GMT, the original chronometers and the Prime Meridian. If you are studying Celestial Navigation like me then I highly recommend a visit. In fact we could have spent all day in Greenwich exploring the Maritime Museum and the Cutty Sark etc, but we had a lunch date.
We jumped on another train heading back towards the city and eventually came to a stunning waterfront restaurant called The Narrow. We spent a really enjoyable relaxing afternoon right on the riverfront watching all the boat traffic go up and down the river, eating an enormous roast dinner, with the biggest Yorkshire pudding I’ve ever seen in my life, and catching up with my lovely cousins, Aunty Eun and Uncle John. We promise to come back again soon and spend some more time with you all.
After a wonderful afternoon with them we said farewell and headed back to our hotel via the St Katherine docks – London’s marina, (which was a bit disappointing – not too many cool yachts to ogle) and we watched the sun going down with a glass of wine beside the Tower of London. We vowed to sail up the Thames one day and tie up in this very spot. Watch this space!
The following day we still had a few sights to tick off – basically working our way around the Monopoly Board. We hit the streets covering off Oxford St, Trafalgar Square and a nice lunch in Covent Garden.
The shopping didn’t amount to much – its hard to be inspired by winter clothes when you are heading back to NZ summer, and with very few chandleries our credit cards were spared a hammering.
Being October, there was a bit of a chill in the air, and I’d expected that by travelling off-season we might have avoided some of the crowds, but there still seemed to be plenty of tourists wandering aimlessly around and taking ridiculously over-posed photographs for their Instagram pages…
(No fellow tourists were annoyed by the taking of this photograph)
On our last day we set off to watch the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace – not realising that the parade doesn’t actually happen every day! So anyway we’d missed that. I wasn’t overly keen on going up the Shard or the London Eye – (some random phobia I seem to have picked up post earthquake), so to get the views we went to a rooftop restaurant instead called Radio Rooftop. Located on the top of a very flash hotel, we both felt a bit scruffy, but then settled in for a long and extremely expensive lunch in the sun with too much champagne but thoroughly enjoyed the stunning outlook and surroundings.
Then it was off to the Tower of London. I highly recommend doing one of the free Beefeater tours when you get inside. They tell all sorts of stories about the somewhat gory history of this incredible place, and the Crown Jewels are absolutely spectacular!
We’d had 4 full days in London and a great opportunity to have a good poke around, but our time was up and we were off to Scotland!
We headed off to Kings Cross Station, our ticket said the train was leaving from Platform 9 3/4 which we thought was a bit strange. Especially when all we were greeted with was a brick wall…
Watch this space for the next post.
Check out the rest of our Europe Trip here!
- Europe Travel Tips
We recommend you book your next trip with Michelle Moore from NZ Travel Brokers.