I’ve been sitting on the review of our trip to England and France for over a month now. It also took weeks to trim the photos down before uploading them too. It’s not that we didn’t like the trip or there wasn’t much to talk about, it’s just been hard to make time for this when I know how much effort is involved. With that said, here is the short version: We had fun. There was mustard.
Let’s start with the long version: Having been to London last year we did a lot of the main tourist attractions that you should do, so our return trip was to see what we missed the first time. We wanted to go to places that were away from the tourist areas, a little more off the beaten path and try not to get caught up in the London rush.
We purchased a Rail Card with Underground access for seven days and to make the most of the card we went into London for all but one of those days.
Our trip started off with the Imperial War Museum. It was definitely a boys thing with tanks, missiles, rockets and airplanes. The exhibits were impressive and informative, especially to see how Britain suffered through the wars and what they did on the home front.
When we were learning about the World Wars in school I wish we could have seen a museum like this to connect everything together. I doubt I would have appreciated it as much as I did now, but putting real items of history to the education could have been a real benefit. Our enjoyment levels were knocked down a few steps when we entered the two level Holocaust exhibit. Any joy or happiness was deflated as our souls were crushed as we walked through the years of history the Nazi Germany were in power.
Our trip carried a morbid sense as we went to Highgate Cemetery. It isn’t the largest cemetery in London but it’s one of the most famous because of residents like Karl Marx, George Eliot and Douglas Adams. There are 170,000 people buried in around 53,000 graves across 37 acres of land. I don’t know how there are more people buried than graves, but that’s the information Highgate Cemetery provided us. The cemetery is split into an East and West side, but we only paid to access the East Cemetery. The West is a little older and has interesting architecture but we were content seeing the East.
From here we walked to the Hampstead and Heath park. There is a part in the park where you can look out and see the London skyline. You don’t get a sense for how far away the downtown area is, or how high the park is, until you have it put into context like this. It was a nice park, but the weather was a little chilly so our enjoyment levels were curbed as we walked along the site. There is a lot of grass and trees that this would make for a pretty amazing place to go in the summer time.
Our next day into London took us to the National Gallery. We were in Trafalgar Square last year and saw the Gallery but didn’t go in. I have a few hour tolerance for museums and I got tired quickly. There were some highlights like seeing a Monet or Picasso but the rest of the time felt a little tiresome.
Seeing how quickly I burnt out at the National Gallery made me worried for what would happen when I went to the Louvre in Paris. Because admittance into the National Gallery is free we didn’t feel like we had to stay there to justify the cost, and once we felt content we went from the quiet and calm of the Gallery to the busy and crowded Oxford Street to do some shopping.
Every time we go to Oxford Street we regret our decision and find it difficult to accomplish anything, so we left empty handed this time again. I had a side mission of finding Veja shoes but the ones I did find weren’t appealing so we struck out on all fronts.
One of our best days of the trip started with going up to the Dome at St. Paul’s Cathedral. Of the places along the Thames my favorite has to be St. Paul’s Cathedral. There is just something about how the Cathedral looks against the London skyline that appeals to me. The fact it survived weeks of consecutive bombings during WWII certainly give it a magical feel.
I also love the way it is connected to the South with the Millennium Bridge and to the Tate Modern Museum. I feel this is the epitome of the London style with new and old sharing the area. The view from the top of the Dome wasn’t half bad either and makes you appreciate how little of a city you experience.
From St. Paul’s we walked over to the Borough Market. This Market is unlike any Farmer’s Market I’ve been to. The variety of food available was incredible, and as Heather walked us around the Market she commented on which place had the best this and where you can have the best that. It was unoriginal but I had fish and chips, but on Heather’s recommendation they held true and were the best fish and chips I had.
When you are in the Borough Market area a stop by Monmouth has to be made for the incredible coffee. The coffee isn’t cheap but it is expensive for all the right reasons and is worth a visit. It’s probably good there isn’t a Monmouth on every corner because it would be quite easy to become dependent on it.
After the hustle and bustle of Oxford Street the shopping at Covent Garden seemed subdued, but it made for a better experience. It is also home to the prettiest Apple Store I have seen. We poked around the Transport for London Museum, partly to find a proper Cockfosters shot glass but also to look for souvenirs. I am fascinated with the Underground system, and if we had more time at Covent Garden I would have liked to go through the museum; but after a week of museums even the interesting ones start to tire you out.
On our way to Windsor Castle we saw the sunflower seed exhibit at the Tate Museum. I read about this exhibit opening up and immediately wanted to see it. Even after reading the news that it was closed for walking on I was pretty intrigued by the concept and seeing one hundred million hand painted sunflower seeds is a concept I still can’t quite grasp.
We enjoyed our days in London, we felt content with what we saw. Even though we tried to avoid the crowds and go at our own pace we still felt tired in the city, there is a hurried energy over the city that you can’t avoid. We were glad we had a chance to return to London, and will be okay if our next trip back isn’t for a few years.
We also spent three nights/four days in Paris as well as a trip to Windsor Castle, York, Cambridge and an unexpected night in Reykjavik, Iceland. Look for that to come shortly.