On our arrival into Heathrow, we had a very speedy passage through Immigration & Customs and were picked up by our driver who had us to our apartment at Kensington within 45 minutes. On our last trip here (staying in the same little apartment) we had landed just behind a full flight from Kenya and the immigration officers gave all the passengers a thorough going over. Then, it took almost two hours to clear immigration; this time was just the opposite.
After settling into our apartment and unpacking, it was pretty much dinner time so we walked the three blocks down to Gloucester Road station where there is a restaurant and supermarket. Fish and Chips for dinner, complete with mushy peas! Then it was into the Waitrose Supermarket to buy some basic provisions for breakfast and a couple of ready made meals for dinner over the next couple of nights..
On Sunday, we spent most of the day rediscovering this area. One block away is Cromwell Road and on one of the corners is a pizza shop where Princess Diana used to take her two boys. Further up the road is an Indian Restaurant where we ate dinner once. It still has the same sign in the window saying “The owner also eats here”. That’s why we chose it last time, as a place to eat. There are a number of embassies from smaller African and Asian countries, a few boutique hotels and a seemingly large amount of student accommodation for those studying at the Imperial College cross the road.
From there we wandered up to the HIgh Street, passing the site of a hotel where we stayed in 2004. The whole block has been completely demolished and a new luxury apartment block is being built on the site. It’s no wonder as the old building was very tired and the staff of the hotel were terrible. My notes from that trip recorded the following:
Too tired to walk any where else, we decided to eat at the hotel. What an experience! It was just like being on the set of Faulty Towers except that ‘Manuel’ was actually Pedro and the Philippines Manager did a good impersonation of Basil Fawlty. We waited 12 minutes to be seated while the staff entered other orders and bills into their computer, all the time arguing between themselves as to who had priority. Finally we reached our table and ordered. The waitress complained when we asked for a menu and our wine arrived half way through the main course (and it was not what we had ordered). Believe it or not, we went back another night as it was raining and too wet to walk outside.
We wandered right along the High Street, finding that the shops didn’t open until 11.30 am. However, no one could buy anything until 12.00 noon because some quaint law only allows shops to trade for 6 hours on a Sunday and that starts from when they take the first sale. Their advertised hours are that they are open from 12.00 – 6.00.
After lunch in a little cafe, we caught the tube to Piccadilly Circus and then walked back towards Green Park station where we had agreed to meet up with June and Paul who we met on our Trafalgar Tour through New England a few months ago. We had a very pleasant chat, a nice cup of English Tea and a very tasty fruit tart.
Today, on Monday, we thought that we would hit the heights with a ride on the London Eye. This giant wheel was just opened when we first visited it in 2004 and the queues were then a mile long. This time, we were able to get on almost immediately and although the day was cold and drizzly, we still had a great view of central London.
We found a Christmas Market a little way along the Southern bank of the river, so we stopped for a mulled wine and a Bratwurst Sausage for lunch. The market had some interesting things, but compared to those we had seen in Europe, it was less like a Christmas Market and more like a standard craft market. We were impressed to find one stall that was selling Australian olive oils from Musswelbrook in the Hunter Valley.
From the market, we walked upstream along the river to Blackfriars Bridge, where we crossed over and headed along Fleet Street and up to the Strand where we found Australia House. We came across a few interesting little shops like the Tetley Tea shop, passed by the Courts of Justice in their cathedral like building and then trained it back to Kensington on the train from Charing Cross Station.
Dinner tonight was one of the pre-made meals from the Waitrose Supermarket – Shepherds Pie heated in the oven. Quite cheap at 5 Pounds ($7.50) per pack of 2 serves and really tasty. Over this delight, we sipped a NZ wine for which we paid the equivalent of $12.00.