We landed at the Gatwick airport about 8:30 am, London time. (That would be 3:30 am, Eastern time, for me!) Unfortunately, one of our party had a missing bag. Nonetheless, she persevered and never complained! We met our coach and our tour guide Sarah and made our way to the Grange White Hall hotel near Russell Square in London. The hotel was in a great location! We were next door to the British Museum and within walking distance of two (or more) lovely green squares, the theater district, the used bookstore street (Charing Cross) and many other interesting sights!
We enjoyed tea and cookies at our hotel. Since our rooms were not yet ready, we stored our luggage and set off for a sight-seeing (orientation) tour of London. Sarah, our tour guide, was incredible! She was a walking encyclopedia of London and English history. She customized her tour to address items of particular interest to our team. And she was funny and charming! We couldn't have been any luckier in our choice of tour guides! Sarah was with us much of the week, as we had an "escorted" tour. This means that any transit time became a tour. Needed to get from point A to point B? Great! We hopped on the coach and Sarah regaled us the whole way there!
Here are a few photo highlights from the tour.
Red phone booths: This photo is a little fuzzy, but I still like it! I really love the splashes of British red in the urban landscape! Phone booths and mail drop boxes shine brightly, even on dreary days.
Westminster Abbey: Where Kinds and Queens are made (coronated) and some are buried.
By the way, I'm not really into the whole "divine rights" or inherited privilege of the monarchy. I think it's an outdated concept. However, as Sarah said, "If we didn't have the Royal Family, who would we talk about?" It's such a part of the British history, that to extricate it would require major surgery. One modernization that I think is crucially important to the monarchy is to allow women to be first heir to the throne if they are first-born. The throne still goes to the eldest male child. Bugger to that!
Buckingham Palace: Buckingham Palace is the official residence of the Queen. Her flag was not flying on the days we were there, which means she was not present. The Palace has more than 600 rooms, including 52 Royal and guest bedrooms, 188 staff bedrooms, 92 offices and 78 bathrooms! I have photos that are better from another day, so for now I will show the close-up of the gate. Incredible ornamentation. Also, the large statue is of Queen Victoria. (She was a tea-drinking Queen!)
Tea Palace: A very trendy place for tea in Britain. It’s in Notting Hill and it’s common to see stars and models here, like Kate Moss. (We didn’t see anyone famous in our visit.) The inside is very modern, with its plum leather couches and minimalist décor. The company has over 160 loose-leaf teas and is a leader in bringing high-quality tea to Britain. I chose to bring home a scented/flavored green-oolong mix with red currants called Royal Star.
We had Afternoon Tea here and it was fantastic! (For those of you new to the tea world, the correct phrase is "Afternoon Tea." High tea is more like supper. The phrase is misused a lot in the US.) Our menu:
- Sandwiches: Egg salad, cucumber, salmon and tuna salad
- Scones: Currant scones with clotted cream and jam
- Desserts: Coconut-raspberry cake, Green tea chocolate gateau, Lemon tart
The Brits, while drinking a lot of tea, aren't known for drinking high-quality tea. The Tea Palace has a mission to educate the British about higher-quality teas. One way they do this is by bringing a small dish of the loose tea to the table for inspection. I thought this was a very nice touch!
We had a very full and fulfilling first day! I fell into bed and slept like a rock until the next morning. Fortunately, our wise tour organizer, Denise, gave us extra time to sleep in the next morning!