On our journey home from Israel to San Diego, we just had to work in a visit to some exciting international location. After some deliberation between Copenhagen, Stockholm, London and Switzerland; the UK finally won out in the end. Off we went to the land of tea and biscuits, Paddington Bear, Harrod's, Beefeaters and British Parliament. We decided to stay in the well-situated London Hilton on Park Lane, just across from Hyde Park and on the corner of Park and Piccadilly.
We were delighted to not only be upgraded into an available suite with a killer view, but also, to find some treats in our room upon arrival in honor of both our one-year anniversary and my birthday. It's always icing on the cake to be treated with that extra bit of thoughtfulness. We were welcomed with a saucer full of fresh fruit, champagne on ice, butter biscuits with powdered sugar and two servings of surprisingly delicious trifle. What a way to start the trip.
As mentioned, we were excited to be upgraded into a beautiful suite with stellar views of London. Here, you are looking out over Mayfair, onward to Green Park and Hyde Park and out into the distance where you can see the London Eye, Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament if you look carefully.
We did not waste too much time unpacking before heading out onto the streets and down into the London Underground. We still had a few hours of daylight to enjoy some sightseeing.
Of course I had to hop into a handful of red telephone booths to get my typical "I'm in London and I'm in a red London phone booth" picture. Quite touristy, but well, you know what they say: "when in Rome...". And fear not, I of course got a shot of the double-decker bus, too.
We spent our first night walking and walking all over London all the way down Piccadilly, starting at Hyde Park and ending up at Covent Garden. There was much to see along the way including Piccadilly Circus, Chinatown, Trafalgar Square and the many theater box offices and their accompanying marquees decorating the West End. Here are a few images of the beautiful city of London at night:
Bright and early the next morning, we were wide awake and ready to sight-see. With just two full days on our agenda, we wanted to make sure we got everything in. First stop was a stroll through Green Park, just a short 5-minute walk from our hotel. A walk through Green Park gets you to the border of Buckingham Palace, the first stop on our morning tour.
Before we knew it, we had walked our way across Green Park and found ourselves at the side entrance to Buckingham Palace, one of the most famous residences in the world:
Despite the gray weather, we were determined to charge forward and continue exploring the English capital. Next, it was onward to St. James Park which is right next door to Buckingham Palace, leading you toward some major sight-seeing.
After leaving St. James Park, we arrived here on the opposite end. I wish I could tell you what building is in the images below, however, the truth is that we never did figure it out. It was definitely calling for some pictures, nonetheless. On the opposite side, you will be within short blocks of Big Ben, the Parliament buildings and Westminster Abbey.
We took a wrong turn, but nowhere is really a wrong turn in London because each and every street leaves you with great views and interesting nooks and crannies.
And then there it was, Big Ben, sticking its top out into the clouds. We had ventured in the right direction indeed. Just a few steps further would bring us face to face with this London icon.
Just a few steps further we found an even better view of Big Ben and the surrounding Houses of Parliament. As always, it was an impressive view.
And just around the corner was Westminster Abbey, one of the world's most famous cathedrals. Home to the weddings of both Prince William and Kate Middleton as well as the late Princess Diana, this site holds an endless amount of royal history.
Our last stop for the morning was an up-close look at the London Eye, London's famous oversized ferris wheel located in the heart of the city center. Sitting on the banks of the River Thames, it was a great location to stop and take a breather.
We could not sit and relax for too long, as we were on a schedule, just like the rest of the tourists in London. Below you will see images of the crowds lining up to see the Changing of the Guards at Buckingham Palace.
They weren't kidding about getting to Buckingham Palace well in advance of the Changing of the Guards. It was impossible to get a good place to see much of anything unless you arrived at least 30 minutes in advance. Luckily, some room did free up over the course of the hour-long tradition. Because the guards come marching down the street, there is actually many places you can stand on watch for the procession.
Later in the afternoon, after meeting up with some extended family of mine for a late lunch on Piccadilly, I met a friend of mine who lives in London for a stroll through Hyde Park and the neighboring gardens of Kensington Park.
The late afternoon was spent strolling down trendy Oxford Street, one of the most popular shopping destinations in town. A street like this leaves you not knowing where to look as you pass by designer stores and streets filled with trendy locals.
My husband and I had signed up for a Jack the Ripper Tour that night, one of dozens offered around town. I had heard from many people that this nighttime tour was a "must-do" and I can tell you now that it did not disappoint.
The hour-and-a-half long tour took our small group through the actual streets in East London where Jack the Ripper carried out the historic murders of five different women nearly 120 years ago. Learning about the world's first serial killer was an interesting and spooky way to spend a London night. We could have also opted for a Broadway show, but the truth is that I have seen most of the shows currently in production. Of course, the perfect way to end a busy London day is to find a delicious ethnic restaurant to satisfy your senses. Indian food, Thai food, Chinese food....you really can't go wrong.
Tune in tomorrow for a look at the second day of our London trip. Will we go on a day trip to nearby locales or will we stick around London for more "must-sees"? You will just have to wait and see!