I had decided that I would like to plan a trip to London for my birthday in February, just Steve and me, and that we would do the “Tourist Things” that we had not done yet. Of course I wanted to wait until the weather got warmer and drier but had not chosen a particular date. Then a concert was announced on the radio, arranged by our favourite classical radio station, Classic FM. That set the date, 25 April, for the beginning of our long weekend in London. We went online to book our tickets for the Royal Albert Hall. It is an awesome booking system that has cameras set around the venue. When you click on the camera it shows you what your view will look like from that seat. It was so much fun picking out just the right seats with just the right view. It was all part of the experience.
The Royal Albert Hall is as special a place as it sounds. The excitement of the upcoming weekend began as I researched online all of the places that we could go to. I just had to be able to fit them into four days. After going over my list with Steve, we got it down to about ten things. We knew that we would have to be flexible as everything depends on the weather in England, and you learn to go with the flow to enjoy it all. We decided to take the train from Lincoln into London, which eliminated the expense of driving and parking the car. We would use the London Underground as our main transportation, as well as walk to see the many streets, bridges, shops and cafes. We would also use a taxi to take us to dinner and the concert.
The weekend began when Steve and I boarded the train at Lincoln Central Station – it sounds impressive, but there is only one train station in Lincoln. We were on our way to London’s Kings Cross Station, where most of the trains from the north-east arrive. It was a beautiful two and a half hour train ride down to London, the sun was shining and there was no rain to be seen, so we sat back and relaxed and took in the scenery. Spring had finally arrived.
We arrived at Kings Cross and found our favourite café, Pret A Manger, to have a fresh salad for lunch before heading to the underground to our stop at Gloucester Road from which we had a short and picturesque walk to our hotel, the Kensington Marriott. Everything looks beautiful when the sun is shining. That is the real Southern Californian Girl in me.
Steve is a Gold Elite member of Marriott, so when we checked in they upgraded our room, gave us access to the Executive Lounge and included breakfast for the entire stay. After about five hours of travel it was nice to just settle in the room, unpack and take a little rest before getting ready for dinner and the concert.
We took a taxi to the Richoux French restaurant in Knightsbridge. The Manager, Kamel, heard our American accent and went out of his way to give us great service. There was a family sitting across from us that was trying to get a family picture, so I offered to take it. We then started to talk with them. They were visiting from Nice, France, with their two girls who both spoke French, Spanish and some English. The mom was originally from Argentina and her husband is from France, we told them that we have bought a house in southwest France and had visited Nice many times and loved it too.
I love meeting new people and I love travelling.
We are now onto our big night out at the Royal Albert Hall for the Classics FM concert. The Royal Albert Hall is beautiful and has such character. It holds about 1,000 people but feels so cosy and the acoustics were incredible. They allowed guests to take pictures before the concert started, while the excitement was building in anticipation of the concert. It was the perfect setting for our first event at the Royal Albert Hall.
The concert was sponsored by Laithwaites Wine. They gave everyone a program and samples of their red and white wines. That just added to the evening. Classics FM brought musicians and singers from around the world for this concert – Sir James Galway on the flute flew in from Switzerland, Milos Karadaglic on the guitar was celebrating his 30th birthday that evening, Sir Michael Collins conducted the orchestra, except when Howard Goodall conducted with a world premiere of a new piece he had written. Jennifer Pike on the violin flew in from Australia with her new husband, and this concert was incorporated into their honeymoon. Amy Dickson soloed on the saxophone, and Sir Michael Collins on the clarinet. They finished the evening with the Tchaikovsky 1812 Overture and shot off fireworks within the hall to the rhythm of the music. It was a grand finale worthy of the standing ovation that we gave to the orchestra and all of the musicians. The energy was so high and the applause so exciting – it was a fabulous evening.
Our energy level was still so high and the weather was so mild that we decided to walk back to our hotel and see this part of London at night, as we passed by the Natural History Museum, the Victoria & Albert Museum and many restaurants, cafes and shops along the way. And that was just our first day in London!
We were up early for breakfast and began our day at the Jewish Museum in the Camden area of London. The museum is housed in a former piano factory and incorporated some of the original features of the building into its modern design. Care was taken to present the various elements of Jewish London history, including perspectives from the different branches of Judaism. There were many interactive displays including a Torah scroll with an electronic yad, or pointer. The yad sensed where you pointed and presented a translation from the Hebrew into English.
Camden is the home of many interesting sights and sounds, as it is a well-known favourite spot for the “younger” crowd. We knew that we would find an interesting place for lunch.
We ate at the Camden Eye – a well known pub that specializes in wood oven pizzas and salads not to mention a good variety of beers. We both agreed that it was among the best pizza we’ve had in England. The guy sitting next to us heard our American accent and assumed that we were tourists and told us of a famous pub just a tube ride away for another day – the Falcon Pub. How nice was that?
Being Friday, we then decided to take the tube to Golders Green, a Jewish neighbourhood, in search of a kosher challah (braided bread eaten on the Sabbath). Our friends have told us about the area but we had not been there yet. We got off of the tube and started walking to the High Street (Main Street). I saw a man wearing a yarmulke (skull cap) and knew he would have an opinion on the best bakery. We stopped to ask him where we could buy a challah, and he pointed us in the right direction of a few Jewish bakeries to choose from. We bought our challah and some special cookies and headed back to the tube station and back to our hotel to freshen up.
The Kensington Marriott is centrally located to many of the sights we wanted to see. The weather was cooperating beautifully so we decided to take a walk in the direction of the Victoria & Albert, known as the V&A. The V&A was hosting a special event celebrating David Bowie. We were more interested in seeing the museum but managed to get caught up in the excitement of the crowds at the event.
Exploring the V&A was a wonderful experience. The variety of its collections is amazing, from delicate sculptures to parts of historic buildings.
We were able to wander through about half of the V&A before our growling stomachs got the better of us, as it was close to 8 o’clock in the evening. We walked in the direction of Harrod’s and knew that we would find a place for dinner, even though it was a Friday evening, and we hadn’t booked a table anywhere. We turned down a side street that had loads of cafes and restaurants, and came upon Maroush, a Lebanese Restaurant that looked very good.
The manager found us a table right away and we pored over the extensive menu. I ordered a meze styled dinner, a selection of several small dishes. I had aubergine salad, tahina and Lebanese pastry filled with feta cheese. Steve had a lamb dish with rice that was outstanding. But before they served our food, they brought freshly baked pita bread and a large dish filled with all kind of raw Mediterranean vegetables to nibble on while they prepared our dinner. The service was impeccable, the food was incredible and there was plenty of it. The dinner was followed by a platter of fresh fruit. We were stuffed and waddled back to our hotel.
Stay tuned – the second half of our long weekend will be in my next blog post…