|Coronation plans underway|
News of a few major events in London slipped by me while I was planning a three-day stopover on our way to Jordan.
The London Marathon, preparations for the coronation of King Charles and a major soccer match collided to bring thousands of extra visitors to town.
Had I done my homework, I would have realized that many of the roads and walking paths around Buckingham Palace would be blocked. And it wasn’t the smartest move to book tickets to see a performance of “Newsies” at a theater down the street from the Whembley Park soccer stadium. Kudos to the British for queuing under any circumstances. Otherwise we would have been part of a stampede for standing room only on two packed subway lines.
|A view of the London Eye from St. James park|
No complaints though. In three days, Tom and I managed to visit great pubs, spend time at the British Museum, ride all modes of transportation, go to the theater, walk 7-8 miles a day, stroll through St. James Park via Buckingham Palace, join a London volunteer greeter on a tour of the East End, and take a long walk along the Regent’s Canal and Little Venice.
|A canal boat ride along the Union Canal near Little Venice|
Arriving in London during an extra-busy time was a wake-up call that this IS a city where reservations are a must for most everything. That goes not only for hotels and theater tickets, but for pizza, a pub meal or even admission into a museum or special attraction where entry is free.
Whether you’re a first-time visitor or have been here before, but not since the pandemic, there’s lots to catch up on when it comes to making the most of a short visit.
GETTING TO AND FROM HEATHROW
Uber now operates in London, and there are always taxis, but those are the most expensive options. In the past, we took Piccadilly underground line into town or the Heathrow Express train to Paddington Station. This time, we opted for the new Elizabeth Line, a high-speed Tube line that connects Heathrow to Paddington, with connections there to other lines. The cost was around 12£ vs. 27£ for the Heathrow Express. One advantage is that you don’t have to buy a ticket. All you do is tap your credit card or mobile device when boarding. Same goes for other Tube lines and the buses.
|A ride on the London Tube|
We withdrew 40£ from an ATM, but didn’t need it. Everyone takes credit cards or mobile payments, even for the smallest purchases, and more and more cafes and restaurants are no longer accepting cash. Paying with a tap card or mobile device is fast and efficient, but it brings up the importance of carrying a back-up card just in case one is lost or stolen.
|The British Museum. Entry is free but make a reservation, or risk a long wait|
ABOUT THOSE RESERVATIONS
They’re a good idea, and often necessary, even for attractions and museums where entry is free. The good news is you can book online in advance from anywhere. So if you want to go to the British Museum on a certain day a month from now, you can book a timed visit at no charge. The same goes for most restaurants, even pubs and pizza parlors. Looking for an indoor activity on a rainy afternoon, we were hoping to visit the Sky Garden, London’s tallest indoor garden inside a high-rise tower called the Walkie-Talkie building. Entry is free, but you must reserve a timed ticket online. By the time I realized we would need to book, all the slots were taken.
THE FULL ENGLISH…. NOT
Happy to report that thanks to London’s diverse multi-cultural community, there are now many alternatives to the “Full English” spread of eggs, sausages, beans and mushrooms. We stayed at a Airbnb that didn’t include breakfast, an advantage because it meant we could breakfast hop around our Belgravia neighborhood to French, Syrian, Turkish, Georgian and Indian cafes and restaurants, all high-quality and healthy.
Entree, a family-run Georgian bakery near Victoria Station, was one of our favorites. Top choice was a healthy version of Georgia’s national dish, Khachapuri, a boat-shaped bread filled with cheese and an egg on top.
|The Bear and Staff pub, a favorite hangout of Charlie Chaplin|
Definitely eat at a pub, especially a “gastro” pub where the food is a cut above what you’d expect in a bar. Put off by the loud soccer fans drinking on the sidewalk outside? Book a table for the dining room. Most pubs, such as the Bear and Staff above, have small dining areas (reservations are a must) where you can enjoy the food, beer and ambience in a quieter setting. If it’s Sunday, go for the Sunday roast - beef, chicken, and these days, a vegan option made with nuts and spices.
|Tom enjoying Sunday roast at the Bear and Staff pub|
SIGN UP FOR A LONDON GREETER
Julia Gay has been leading visitors around her favorite parts of London for 15 years. She’s a member of London Greeters, an organization associated with the International Greeters Association, a group of volunteers that connect locals with travelers around the world. No money exchanges hands. Instead, you might treat your greeter for coffee or tea while touring, or make an online donation to the organization after the visit.
|Julia Gay and us in front of a 300-year-old building that houses a bookstore and cafe|
We spent several hours with Julia on a walking tour around London’s East End, an area historically populated by poor immigrants, now gentrifying with renovations of run-down flats once claimed by squatters. The area around Spitalfields and Brick Lane were settled by French Protestant (Huguenot) refugees, then Jews fleeing Europe and finally Bangladeshi immigrants who made Brick Lane the curry capital of London. Today tourists come for the Spitalfields arts, crafts and food market, art galleries and mural tours led by local artists. We came to meet up with Julia, and make a new friend.
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