Saturday, February 27, 2016

Tourist Times - London

Occasionally, we leave the ‘wilds’ of Northamptonshire and head for the capital - as Tourists. We’ve always found it’s amazing what you see when you are on foot, especially in a big city like London.

Thursday
We caught a leisurely 11.26 from Kettering and headed for our home for the next two nights - it’s a new hotel located close to Aldgate East Tube called Arbor City Hotel and it received some great feedback at the time on Trip Advisor. It was cheap too – for London.




After checking in to Room 504, we switched to FULL Tourist Mode and headed for the Tower of London. We walked there from the Hotel, and it only took around 25 minutes. The route was interesting with so much building work going on – and it looks like they’re turning Whitechapel into Manhattan!

I haven’t been to the Tower for over fifty years, and Ann thought it was the same for her. First impressions were that it all seemed a lot bigger! As a sprog, I only recall sitting on the cannons, looking at Traitors’ Gate, seeing the Crown Jewels and marvelling all those suits of armour! This time around, I did them all again (although no photos allowed of the Crown Jewels!), but there was loads of other things to see too! - a history of our coinage, caged and un-caged Ravens, plenty of gift shoppes, the ‘torture tower’ and loads of staff dressed in period costumes – in other words: FAB! So, all-in-all, a really worthwhile re-visit of some childhood adventures.












It was still freezing cold outside, but we decided to take a longish route towards Borough High Street – and our meal for the evening – via Borough Market. No taxis or buses for us, as for us, walking around the back-streets of London near the Thames is always an enjoyable experience (in spite of today’s fffffrezzing cold weather), and it’s amazing how much more you see of this fine city when you are OUT of the car.






Then it was off to TAS, the Turkish restaurant chain - the one in Borough High Street. We were slightly early, but the place was pretty quiet so we were soon seated.


It was good to take the weight off our feet, and we were soon looking through the (typically extensive) Menu.


We managed Starters and a Main…



…finishing with a Coffee each. 

Then it was back out into the cold weather, joining the rat-race heading for the Tube. We didn’t have to wait long for our connections, and we were soon back in our room – with the radiator set to ‘5’!!!

It’s been a very enjoyable first day with more discoveries planned for tomorrow.


Friday

After a lazy breakfast in the hotel’s very well-appointed restaurant, we headed off to Temple for quick look round the area before slothing our way to Embankment Tube for our planned walking-tour. It nearly didn’t happen, as by 10.45 there still no sign of the Guide (I did make a few new friends asking complete strangers ‘are you our Guide?’) and a few of the other people also waiting for the Tour were, like us, waiting INSIDE the Station. As it turned out, our Guide, and the rest of the group, was OUTSIDE!


Having now joined the rest of the group, we headed for Embankment Pier for a short trip down the River towards the The Isle of Dogs, stopping off along the way at various points, by way of the Thames Path to learn bits and pieces about the ‘old’ London.



Our first major stop was in Millwall (Napier Avenue, E14) and the area where The SS Great Eastern was launched. There’s not much to see of it there these days, but in spite of the major re-development of the area, there was something – even if it was just the remains of the launch area.


The rest of our Tour was now mostly on foot, mooching around the back-streets. It’s changed so much round here what with the explosion of new residential properties – apparently, a one-bedroomed apartment starts at £460k!!! I wonder how the real locals feel about that?




We stopped for a while in Island Gardens admiring the view across the River of the Cutty Sark and picturesque Greenwich, before continuing our walk of the local area. Then it was off to our final destination for the day (and the main reason for my interest), the  The Brunel Museum and the not-very-well-known Thames Tunnel (not to be confused with any other tunnel currently under the Thames). It opened in 1843 and it’s the oldest river tunnel in the world. I’d been promising myself a visit to it for many years (although I can’t recall why!). In truth, there wasn’t much to see – but it was a bit of an adventure! Our Guide retrieved a key from the Museum and we all crawled (yes, really) though this tiny entrance that revealed the main shaft of the Tunnel. It was all a bit dark and gloomy, but it was one of those unique experiences that made the whole day worthwhile!




…and that was it! The Tour was over. Our Guide said his goodbyes, looking slightly embarrassed when we gave him a round of applause, and whilst the majority headed for the Museum, we headed for the Pub – The Mayflower!


This was VERY ‘olde worlde’ – you could easily imagine Drake or Nelson slipping in here for a quick one on their way home from a battle! Suitably refreshed, we headed back to the Museum, which in truth was a bit disappointing (in that there wasn’t much in it). But, what there was, was pretty interesting and helped to make sense of the scale and the sheer optimism of the Thames Tunnel project itself.


We then took a slow walk towards the Hotel, continuing along the back-streets close the the Thames for as long as we could, crossing over Tower Bridge and finally collapsing back in our room.






After a coffee or three, we headed out again for our evening meal - The Blueprint Cafe in the Design Museum where we’d been back in August 2012 with Ralph and Karen as part of our Olympic Weekend.


An excellent meal with a great view out of the window…


Then we headed back to the Hotel on foot in what now felt like sub-zero temperatures – but the smug feeling for walking it, rather than grabbing a cab or bus kept us warm!

A lazy morning tomorrow – we’ll probably take a look down Brick Lane.


Saturday

Our final breakfast here and then it was off to see more of the local area. First stop: the famous Brick Lane.


Although there wasn’t a full Market today, there was plenty to see - including the corniest title for a Barber's Shop I think I’ve ever seen!


Then, it was back to St Pancras International, a quick stop in Carluccio’s before catching the 12.29… and home. David was good enough to pick us up, and we were soon indoors unpacking.

It’s been a great mini-break and we love London. The standard of the hotel coupled with the price we paid and its closeness to the Tube made it feel even more enjoyable (thanks ‘Secret Escapes’).

Since regularly driving through Whitechapel to/from work ‘back in the day’, I think we were both amazed how much the whole East End has changed in terms of its architecture. Many of the really old run-down buildings have gone, to be replaced by a mix of commercial and residential monsters. I suppose that’s ‘progress’, but it did all feel a bit weird being amongst the ‘new’.