Mar 07

Day One in London!

by in London

I’m finally feeling myself today — enough to stay up late and post some photos! We arrived at Gatwick ten minutes early Friday morning due to a tailwind, then breezed through customs in a matter of minutes, as there was hardly anyone in line. This threw my timetable for a loop, as I’d fully expected it to take us an hour or more to make it through the passport line and out through customs. We sat down on the Gatwick Express to Victoria station at one minute ’til eight and zoomed into London thirty minutes later. The sun shone very bright, but it was deceptive, as the temperature wasn’t far above freezing that morning. Bria and I were so glad we had carried our coats instead of packing them! Benjamin looked snug in his little snow suit. I snapped this photo out the train window while zipping across the Thames (you can just barely see the Globe Theatre to the right across the water).

Once at Victoria Station, I pulled out my UK cell phone to call our host family to let them know we were about to board the train for West Dulwich. To my dismay, I discovered that the phone was out of minutes. So I walked toward the Vodafone store in Victoria Station to top off and found the store was closed! I then went in search of a public telephone, but the only one there had been vandalized and wouldn’t accept change. So much for calling ahead. We got our tickets and boarded the train. Remembering what had happened to Miss Melissa in 2006, I warned Bria that train stops are very, very fast. You have to be at the door and jump off onto the platform as quickly as you can. With four pieces of luggage, a baby, and a carseat, that was going to be tricky. So I warned her that, if we got separated and she ended up on the platform alone, she needed to stay put. This turned out to be a highly prophetic warning, as this is precisely what happened when we reached our station. First, the door didn’t open automatically, and when we finally figured out that you have to push the “open” button, we didn’t have many seconds left. Bria got out with three suitcases, and the door slammed shut on me with Benjamin in the carseat and a suitcase in my other hand! I mouthed, “Stay HERE!” through the window as the train lurched forward. Another woman with a baby also got stuck, and she told me the next station was just two minutes away. So we got off there, then walked to the opposite platform to go back toward West Dulwich on the next train.

I say “walked,” but it was more like “hauled ourselves,” as she and I both had babies (hers in a stroller) and luggage, and the only way to the other side was up two flights of stairs, across a footbridge, and down the opposite two flights of stairs. When I arrived on the other side, a teleprompter announced the next train would be there in six minutes. I spotted a pay phone and dashed over to call our host family. Foiled again — this phone had also been vandalized! The train arrived in five more minutes, and I boarded it for the two-minute journey back to West Dulwich, where I found Bria waiting on the platform as instructed. Victory!

Now we had the joy of discovering that the train station in West Dulwich did not have a phone. I remembered that our host family lived close to the Dulwich Picture Gallery, so, seeing a sign for it, we steeled ourselves, buttoned up our coats, and started walking. About half a mile later, we reached the gallery. I left Bria inside the courtyard, parked on a bench with all the luggage and Benjamin, while I went inside to inquire after a telephone. The two German ladies in the cafe’ told me I’d have to walk three minutes into the village for a phone, so, instead, I asked if they knew how far I was from the address of the house we needed to reach. They gave me a blank look and said I should try asking in the museum shop. So off I went. The very kind lady behind the counter said, “Please use our phone, as that is a very local call!” So I got hold of our hostess, who said she’d come pick us up. Relief!

It was now about 10 in the morning, and Benjamin was so exhausted he’d gone to sleep in his carseat (a rarity for a little one who loves his bed!). I decided to call and cancel the 12:30 meeting I had scheduled with the hotel manager near Piccaddilly and just rest instead. So we unloaded our luggage and sat down for a refreshing cup of tea and conversation with our hostess. We had a very relaxing morning, but Bria was beginning to droop, so she went off for a nap right after lunch. Benjamin was also down and very out, so I thought I’d just run off and do my errands while they slept. Our hostess dropped me at the underground station, where I found a Vodafone store and topped off my phone–hurrah! I got to Green Park, just off Piccadilly, around 2:30 pm. It was a short, pleasant walk to the Flemings Mayfair hotel from the station, down a very quiet side street. When I told the lady at the desk who I was, she said I would still be able to meet with the manager after all, so I took a seat in the beautiful library sitting room, which you can see below.

Karen showed me over the hotel, which has absolutely beautiful rooms and a lovely tea room and full restaurant downstairs. The hotel was originally a Georgian townhouse built in 1730 and is supposedly the second-oldest hotel in London. It is incredibly quiet for central London and is a regular rabbit warren of halls and stairs and nooks and crannies. You could easily get lost, so the staff frequently help people to find their way back to their rooms! It’s really a lovely spot, and I know we’ll enjoy staying there with the tour group this fall!

Next, I called Hillary at the Museum of London (costume curator) to let her know I’d be slightly late for our 3:30 meeting — I’d be there closer to 3:45. It was getting windy and quite
a bit chillier since the morning, so I chickened out of walking all the way to the Piccadilly underground and instead asked a cab driver what it would cost to get me to the museum. This was a bit of foolishness, as cabs are the most expensive way to go in London. But he quoted me a very fair price, so I hopped in. I arrived at the museum with a couple of minutes to spare and made my way up to the cafe’. Hillary arrived moments later, and we immediately hit it off. She bubbles over with enthusiasm for the museum’s extensive historical costume collection (it’s in the top three of all costume collections in the UK). I could tell immediately that she was a kindred spirit, and she is very excited about catering the study tables for fall to the interests of our group. We’ll be able to choose the kinds of things we want to see and then examine them in detail. FUN! After talking with Hillary, I took a quick walk through the museum galleries, which feature London’s history from ancient times up through the Tudor period, including a fascinating exhibit on the Great Fire of 1666. I wished I’d had more time to stop and look, but I wanted to hurry back to be there when Benjamin woke up. I hoofed it up the hill to St. Paul’s, snapping the shot below on my way around the great cathedral:

I knew I needed to get to Blackfriar’s Station, but I didn’t have a map printout with me, so I went by memory as best as I could. I knew I was going the right way when I came out on Queen Victoria Street. I hurried, as the wind had really picked up. I was so glad I hadn’t brought Benjamin out in it; he would have been miserable. I reached the bottom of the hill and saw Blackfriar’s across the road with no crosswalk — and then remembered the tunnel. Found the entrance and went beneath the road to get into the station. The ride back to West Dulwich was very quick, and I had no trouble getting off before the doors clanged shut. ;-) I grabbed the bus and managed to make it to the right street but got off at the wrong stop. It wasn’t far to walk back to the house, though, and everyone was just sitting down to a lovely high tea supper. Bria and Benjamin were both wide awake. We ate and talked, and then I felt my eyelids dropping, so I called it a night at 7pm and crashed into bed. Thankfully, Benjamin was still tired and also went to bed!

After a good night’s sleep, we got up this morning to head to Bath — and I’ll post about that tomorrow if all goes well! Here’s a teaser picture for you — Miss Bria and Miss Jane Austen:

One Response to “Day One in London!”

  1. From Amy:

    Yay!!!! The hotel looks amazing, and I can’t wait to go study the costumes!!!!! :)

    Posted on March 8, 2009 at 8:00 pm #

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