We arrived at the Grange Strathmore hotel around 6pm on Saturday, Feb. 15. I picked the hotel because it had a good location (South Kensington) and a neat back story – it used to be the Earl of Strathmore’s London home (maternal grandfather to the present Queen). We checked in and rested a bit before breaking out Rick Steve’s England guidebook to find a place to eat dinner. Did I mention that he became my best friend during this trip? Stephen would often ask me how I knew something and I would reply, “Oh, Rick told me.” It didn’t take long to pick out a Rick-recommended pub (The Angelsea Arms) that we thought was fairly close to where we were staying. However, it was dark when we arrived and we knew the general area where we were, but not exactly how to get to the pub. Since we hadn’t paid for internet yet we couldn’t just look it up online to make sure we knew where we were going. (First world problems). But that is what the hotel concierge is for, right? Well, kinda. We went downstairs and the concierge was not at his desk. We went to ask the front desk lady what the cross streets were, so we could orient ourselves on the map in the guidebook. She looked at us blankly, and indicated we should ask the concierge, who had just walked up. So we asked him what the cross streets were, and he also looked at us like he had no idea what we were talking about. It was fairly obvious that English was not his first language. I was trying to figure out a different way to phrase the question – does the term “cross street” not translate in the Queen’s English? Stephen asked him what the main streets were. Finally the concierge pulled out a map and marked the hotel on it for us, which was perfect and really all we needed.
It was only a 10 minute walk to the Angelsea Arms. It was obvious that is was a very popular neighborhood pub. It was very crowded and it seemed like we would never find a table. Luckily Rick had told me there was a dining room in the back corner, so we headed straight for that and were seated right away! Stephen had their fish and chips and I had some other grilled fish with couscous, I don’t really remember, but it was very good!
After dinner we just headed back to the hotel to relax and figure out our game plan for the next couple days.
As you can see, our hotel was quite close to the Natural History Museum, the Victoria & Albert Museum, and Kensington Gardens.
Sunday morning we walked to the closest Tube station – Gloucester – to get a day travel pass and hopefully spot a place to get breakfast. There were a variety of restaurants across from the Tube station, including a Burger King. We did not eat at Burger King. But because the goal is always to prevent a hangry Tori (that goal was not met that afternoon) we stepped into The Patisserie for coffee and protein to fuel our morning, before navigating the Tube station. Now, in the US we are all about customer service. Speedy service, attentive service, the customer is always right. Not so in the UK. It is important to learn this before dining in the UK, or else you will be sitting around for a very long time waiting for your server to come check on you. Because they won’t. One of Stephen’s colleagues, originally from Liverpool, explained this to us, and it is a good thing he did, or we would have never eaten breakfast. There were a few waiters at The Patisserie, and it seemed that they would stand in the middle of the room, just observing, until you called them over. The only reason our waiter ever approached our table was because I caught his eye and gave him a little smile and nod. Stephen did not realize I had been doing this, and commented on the slow service later. I told him the only reason our waiter came over at all was because I caught his eye.
We bought two day passes and traveled by Tube the entire time we were in London. The rest of that morning and part of the afternoon was spent at the Tower of London, until I was starting to get VERY hangry (sorry Stephen). We practically ran into the first likely restaurant (The Minories) we saw for a late lunch around 2pm. It turned out to be a neat place, made up of brick tunnels tucked under a train bridge. Every so often the whole place would rumble with the sound of a train going overhead. And it wasn’t too expensive either!
After lunch we made for the Churchill War Rooms, which were very neat. It is so incredible to think that those rooms were just sealed up as-is after the war, until the past decade or so. There was sooo much information, not just in the War Rooms, but in the included museum chronicling what seemed like every single year of Churchill’s life.
The sun was setting as we emerged from the War Rooms. At 5:45 every Sunday evening there is an organ concert at Westminster Abbey. It was just starting by the time we got there, so we ended up having to sit on the floor. It didn’t matter though, as it was simply awe-inspiring to listen to the organ music soar through the vaults of the church. After the short concert, we were not that hungry yet (remember our very late lunch?) so we found another Rick-recommended pub (The Blackfriar) for a pre-dinner drink. For dinner we tried a Chinese place in Chinatown. I think it was our only disappointing meal the entire trip. It was just average. After eating Chinese food in China (I guess it’s just food there), nothing else can compare.
We are not real big night-life people, so after dinner we once again headed back to our tiny London hotel room to rest and plan our last full in London.