I stopped in London for a few days on my way to and from the Alps with Lynne, Anne, and Hennie. The skyline has changed much since I was last here, forty years ago, but the weather has not.

18 July – Depart for London

I met my fellow travelers at the Embarcadero station for a BART ride to the Oakland airport. We had an afternoon flight on discount Norwegian Airlines. It departed four hours behind schedule thanks to mechanical problems with the first plane. As usual, I didn’t sleep much on the flight, not helped by hard seats that barely recline.

19 July – Arrive in London

We arrived in late afternoon, got pounds from an ATM and caught the Gatwick Express train to Victoria Station. From there it was a short walk our Airbnb lodging in Westminster. Our two-bedroom apartment was up a couple flights. Lynne and I slept in the large living room, swapping between futon and couch.

We dropped our backpacks and headed to a nearby Taylor Walker pub for dinner. I ordered a Mexican salad and a pale ale. Afterwards we took a short walk; the light was beautiful and I regretted leaving my camera behind.

20 July – River Walk and Tate Modern

We couldn’t figure out how to work the stove, so I crisped up a piece of fish on top of the toaster for breakfast.

According to our phones, we walked ten miles today – down Victoria, along the south bank of River Thames to the Tate Modern (with its disorganized exhibits spread throughout an old rambling power plant), across the river to St. Paul’s Cathedral. After lunch, a nice salmon with salad, we headed back along the riverfront, detouring to Trafalgar Square and fenced off Downing Street. It poured briefly just before and after our museum visit, but was mostly sunny.

Exhausted, we returned to our neighborhood and stopped at the Albert pub for an early dinner. I especially enjoyed the warm camembert with roasted onion jam and a London Royal beer. After a few taste tests, I also came to realize that gluten products are no better for my digestive system in England than at home.

21 July – Buckingham Palace and other Tourist Sights

I slept in late, 8:00 am, and awoke feeling more refreshed than yesterday. Anne and I enjoyed the morning quiet on a short walk to Westminster Cathedral. After breakfast, Hennie went off on her own, touring the British Museum and meeting a friend for tea. The rest of us walked through St. James Park to Buckingham Palace to join the crowd gathered to watch the daily changing of the guard. From our vantage near the Victoria Memorial fountain, we saw more horses than guards. We left before the hour-long ceremony was over and stopped at a café for a pick-me-up (decaf mocha and gluten-free brownie).

We walked to tourist-filled Trafalgar Square and waited in a short line for free entry into the National Gallery, a more satisfying experience than the Tate Modern. Afterwards, Lynne and I watched birds in St James Park while Anne took a quick tour of the Churchill Museum. There we encountered our first pay toilet, only 20 pence. In late afternoon, we returned to the Westminster Cathedral and took a lift to the top, all getting a 50% senior discount. (One of the few offered on our trip, and one of the fewer that I qualify for). After admiring the view with peek-a-boo sun, we listened to vespers for a few minutes then headed over to another local pub for dinner. The food menus were identical at all three, but the beers varied.

22 July – Off to the Alps

We got up at 4:30 a.m., walked to the Victoria Station, and took the Gatewick Express back to the airport. A one hour delay was announced, than another half hour, then we sat on our EasyJet for another half hour before departure. See upcoming blog entries for a description of this adventure.

8 Aug – Back in London

It was overcast when Lynne and I landed at the Luton airport. We took a shuttle bus and Thameslink train to St. Pancras Station and walked to the Travistock Hotel. Our room, on the fourth floor overlooking a small park, was ready, so we dropped our bags and went downstairs for an Indian buffet.

It was a short walk to the overwhelming British Museum, where we spent a few hours wandering through human history. It was swarming with people and would require a year-long college course to get an overview. We walked back to our room under misty skies, took a nap, then went to dinner at a roastery, and walked over to a cinema to watch Dunkirk. I was disappointed to see that commercials have invaded theaters here as well, but enjoyed being able to pick our seats.

9 Aug – A Wet and Musical Day

We ate breakfast at the hotel – typical English buffet with eggs, beans, grilled tomatoes, and meat – more satisfying than many of our protein-free, bread-heavy Swiss breakfasts.

Though it was overcast and drizzly in the morning, we optimistically bought passes for one of the hop-on-hop-off bus tours. This was a waste of money. The first bit was fine. We rode on top, plugged in our headphones, and listened to the narrative. The rain picked up as we waited to transfer to the next bus and it was pouring when we got on board. Though we nabbed great seats, by the front window on top, we would have needed windshield wipers to see anything. The traffic slowed the bus to below walking speed, so we got off near the Tower of London and took a boat ride back to Westminster Bridge (included with our bus pass). We stayed upstairs on the almost deserted roof for most of the half hour ride, huddled under our thin Big Bus ponchos.

After failing to find the next bus stop, we abandoned the tour and walked to Covent Gardens, stopping on the way for a very satisfying lunch – large salad, small thin crust pizza, and a draft beer. Though there are exceptions, this trip has confirmed a couple things for me: the U.S. has the worst pizza in the world (crusts too thick, cheese too plentiful, and seasoning not varied) and draft beers are better than bottled.

After a bit of shopping, we walked back to our hotel and changed out of our wet clothes. (I was glad to have worn hiking boots all day; Lynne’s socks and shoes were soaked.) With tickets to see The Book of Mormon, we took the tube to Piccadilly Circus. (If I return to London, I’d like to stay close to the theatre district and go to a show every night). It was still raining when we go out.

10 Aug – Long Day Home

We left our hotel at 9:30 am for the tube and train ride to Gatwick. Our 11-hour flight left an hour late. I didn’t like the dimmable windows in our plane, they neither completely reveal the view nor block the light, and they don’t insulate against heat or cold. The movie selection was limited and it was difficult to hear since the music soundtracks were louder than the voice tracks.Though the calendar date was unchanged, 17 hours elapsed from hotel-to-home. I fell asleep early and miraculously slept for 10.5 hours, both cats curled up with me.

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