England, United Kingdom
A few days in and around London
35 people found this review helpful
The main purpose for my visit was an exhibit on Princess Grace of Monaco at the Victoria and Albert Museum. I booked a room through LateRooms.com the day before I went to London and found a place just 10 minutes walk down the street from the museum. I arrived in London by train and took a taxi from the Kensington Olympia station to the Park International Hotel on Cromwell Road. My room was not quite ready yet so I left my bag with the concierge and walked down to Leicester Arcade for lunch at Garfunkels and returned to the hotel just before 2:30 to check in and freshen up before heading to the V&A.
As soon as you enter the V&A building from the Grand Entrance on Cromwell Road and look up, Dale Chihuly's massive blue and green glass chandelier suspended from the ceiling is stunning. I was able to get a 4:30 pm ticket for “Grace Kelly Style Icon” so had just over an hour to wander through the other exhibits in the European galleries – lots of sculpture and tapestries – where you are able to snap pictures to your heart’s content. Some favourites were “The Sleeping Nymph” by Antonio Canova, the Angeli Ministrantes tapestry designed by John Henry Dearle, and an Auguste Rodin bronze titled “La France.”
Back to the main event – the exhibit consisted mainly of Grace Kelly’s clothes (including accessories such as shoes, bags and jewelry) as an actress, a bride and as a princess along with photographs of her wearing the clothes and film footage from her movies and public appearances. There were over 50 outfits and they were stunning, and showed the many changes in style over the years. It was also evident how some of her signature style is still mimicked today. Even some ensembles, especially from the 60’s, that did not look all that special on the mannequins, were transformed when she wore them as evidenced in the accompanying pictures. Although this exhibit is now over, I am sure there will be others just as interesting this year. There is always a good variety on offer in addition to the permanent exhibits.
The museum closes at 5:45 pm (9:00 on Fridays) so I continued on down Cromwell/Brompton Road to Harrods, which was open until 8:00 pm. There is never enough time in either the museum or Harrods but I was able to return to both more than once and explore them a bit more. This first night at Harrods I spent mostly in the bookstore and found a copy of Graham Greene’s “Travels With My Aunt.” I had been trying to find a copy of it for a while and was told in another shop that it was out of print but Harrods had one copy so I bought it. If you have never read it, it is quite funny. I always like to wander through the Food Halls to see all the fresh fruit and vegetables as well as prepared foods from all over the world. I bought some Lebanese pastries to enjoy later in my room – deliciously sweet.
The next day I took the train to Richmond. There are so many places connected to London by train that are easy day trips. For example, the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew is another stop on the way to Richmond. Kensington Olympia station is about a 20 – 25 minute walk from the hotel – left out the front door to the big Tesco at Warwick Road, turn right on Kensington then left to the station.
It was my first time in Richmond so I set out on foot from the station and headed for the river. Across the Richmond Bridge there is a walk along the river towards Kingston Upon Thames and Hampton Court. I went as far as Marble Hill House which is set back from the river and is representative of the villas that used to line the river in the 18th century. It was built for Henrietta Howard, mistress to George II. The house is only open on the weekend but there is a little café behind the house that was busy with young families spending some time in the riverside park. After some welcome refreshments, I headed back towards town along Richmond Road and discovered that it is a much shorter route as I was back at Richmond Bridge before I knew it. It seemed like such a long walk along the river as it has many twists and turns. Back across the river I headed up Richmond Hill to Richmond Park for some beautiful views along the river and the Thames Valley. I walked down through the Terrace Gardens, which were very colourful and had lunch on the rustic patio at Hollyhock Fair-trade Café overlooking the gardens and fighting off some very friendly pigeons that wanted to share my quiche. Somewhere along the walk I had seen a glimpse of the Poppy Factory so when I headed back into the town centre I was on the look out for it. I found the Royal British Legion Poppy Factory Ltd on Petersham Road – who knew it was in Richmond? If you call ahead you could take part in one of two guided tours daily starting at 10.30am and at 1.30pm, Monday to Thursday to see them making poppies and wreaths and to learn about its history.
There is so much to do in Richmond and this barely scratches the surface but no visit to Richmond would be complete without a trip on the river. Now June is not quite the height of the tourist season so it was a bit of a challenge to find a boat that was still operating in the late afternoon. However, I did and the captain and his crew took me (the only passenger) along the river to Kingston Upon Thames. By this time it was starting to rain a little but the scenery was still nice. The cruise took us through Teddington Lock then on to the boat’s final destination – no, it wasn’t a return trip. The captain dropped me off outside John Lewis, which coincidentally is where I was headed. If you are travelling by boat, you can moor at the John Lewis Quay for free in the daytime (up to 2 hours between 9am and 8pm) and overnight if you arrive after 8pm. A great way to boat and shop. The John Lewis Kingston store is unique in that it was built like a bridge over a busy road in the downtown and has the remains of a mediaeval undercroft in the basement that dates from 1350. The restaurant in John Lewis overlooks the river, which is a nice place for a break, rain or shine. Most of my time in Kingston Upon Thames was spent in the shopping area between the river and the railway station. There are over 500 shops in Kingston including Bentall’s department store and shopping centre across from John Lewis. There is also a pedestrian area on Clarence Street and on Old London Road you will find “Out of Order” by David Mach which is a series of falling down red telephone boxes. It was a nice way to end a day out before heading to the train station for the trip back into London.
My last day I decided to walk to Westminster Abbey. It was less than an hour and a half stroll from the hotel to the abbey via Cromwell Road, Brompton Road to Hyde Park Corner, on to Buckingham Palace, through St. Jame’s Park and along Birdcage Walk. It was another warm and humid day and it was nice to get inside the coolness of the building. I highly recommend the audio guide (not the least because it is Jeremy Irons guiding you through the abbey and relaying the history of the site back to 960 AD). There are so many historic treasures to see. My favourites include: the tombs of Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots; the Grave of the Unknown Warrior; the Monument to Lady Elizabeth Nightingale which depicts her husband fending off death; Henry VII’s Lady Chapel with it’s beautiful fan vaulting above the alter; the Shakespeare Monument; and outside and above the west door, the statues of twentieth-century martyrs which were added to the cathedral in 1998.
On my way back to the hotel to pick up my bag (left with the concierge) and head for the train station, I stopped in St. Jame’s Park where some pelicans were entertaining folks by the lake and spent some time in the Rose Garden in Hyde Park. The rose bushes were in full bloom and the scent was heady. And so ended another enjoyable sojourn to London. Till next time….
Being June in London it was quite warm and humid – I usually tend to go in spring or fall. It was cooler in the hotel room with the window open as the air conditioning did not work very well. The room was itself a little tired but had all the necessities. The room rate included a continental breakfast served in the hotel bar and though I stuck to the muesli and yogurt there was also scrambled eggs and sausages on offer.
I was using a BritRail pass for my travels in England and they can be bought ahead of time if you are travelling to Britain through www.acprail.com/britain.
Other helpful web sites:
If you want to spend more time on the river there are cruises to Richmond, Kew and Hampton Court with www.wpsa.co.uk
35 people found this review helpful
This review is solely based on the opinion of a Silver Travel Advisor member and not of Silver Travel Advisor Ltd.