Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Whirlwind tour of London

Arriving in London.  Notice the Olympic Rings hanging in the background. 
That was the only sign of the upcoming Olympics that we encountered.

We set our alarms for 5:45 a.m. so we'd be up and ready for the pre-arranged taxi ride to Gare du Nord.  The early morning Eurostar was set to depart at 7:45 a.m. and we needed to be there at least 30 minutes ahead of the departure time to clear Immigration.  The taxi was on time and large enough to accommodate us and the wheelchair, and the traffic was light so we arrived with plenty of time to spare.  We made our way into the station and we were immediately provided with an assistant to guide us around and through the queues.  We took the lift to the proper platform and boarded the train, stored the wheelchair and found our seats very easily.  The Eurostar is very modern, clean, and fast (up to 186 miles an hour) that delivered us to London in 2 hours 16 minutes.  Here's a link in case you're interested in more details:  We ate our usual pastry, juice and coffee while enroute - I had wisely pre-selected seats that had us sitting across from each other with a table in the middle. 

We arrived in St. Pancras International, thought about taking a taxi but I convinced everyone that we should hop on the Big Red Bus which is a "pay one price, hop on and off all day" tour bus and included a cruise down the Thames.  We had heard that London was very handicap-accessible, and indeed this bus had a wheelchair lift.  The bus provided headsets and narration of the sites as it traversed the streets through the traffic, and there was lots of traffic!

We decided to get off at the Tower of London and made our way to the entrance.  The first buildings were built in 1078, so needless to say most of it was not handicap-accessible.  We went where we could, poor  Allison being bounced around on cobblestones!  We were always on the lookout for smooth-rolling surfaces, but there's only so much that can be done with these medieval buildings.

After a brief walk-through, we headed out for lunch.  We found a nearby restaurant and enjoyed some fish 'n chips then headed down to the river and boarded a tour boat for a cruise down the Thames.  Christine and I sat on the upper deck while Allison and Rick stayed on the lower level.  We passed below all the famous bridges, got a great view of the London Eye, and finished the cruise at Westminster Abbey.

Note the last picture of the Queen's 25th Jubilee - I only got part of it, and didn't totally get the significance until later when we realized that London was preparing for her 60th Jubilee to take place on Sunday.  In retrospect, we think that is why there was little evidence of the Olympics preparation...there was nothing to distract the country from the Jubilee. 

We disembarked at Westminster Abbey and made our way to the handicap entrance (which was the exit for everyone else).  We made our way in and it was mostly smooth sailing for Allison.  She was free to roll over the graves of historical figures and be amazed at the majesty of the cathedral.

We were not allowed to take pictures inside (although it was extremely tempting!) so we respectfully wandered the building in utter amazement.  Here's a link if you'd like to learn more:

After the Abbey, we walked a couple blocks and made our way through St. James Park that led us to Buckingham Palace.   The park was beautiful - 53 acres of trees, ponds and waterfowl.  People were out enjoying the lovely weather and I enjoyed the birds.

We arrived at Buckingham Palace to find a flurry of activity in preparation for the Jubilee events.  Workmen were building the outdoor stadium for the concert that was held a couple days ago (we didn't know at the time exactly what this would be used for).

Dignitaries with invitations in hand were coming and going through the gates - it was fun to see the formal attire.

And the strangest thing we saw was landscapers applying sod to the side of a building under construction across from the palace.  I guess they wanted to make sure everything looked truly grand!

After Buckingham Palace and a substantial wait, we boarded the Red Bus again with the intention of heading to Picadilly Circus.  One word of caution about these HOHO buses - they arrive at the stops and sometimes very few people get off.  We were truly frustrated as three buses came and went with no room for the wheelchair.  There did not seem to be any coordination between the bus drivers and the attendant on the street who was supposedly helping to load the bus.  We got off the bus where someone told us we would find Picadilly Circus and tried following a tourist map, but we never quite made it.

We found a little Italian cafe with outdoor seating, relaxed and had a fantastic pizza - just enough to satisfy us for the trip back to Paris.   I wish I had taken a picture of that pizza - it was memorable, Rick is still singing its praises!  Then we caught a taxi and headed back to St. Pancras International train station. 

We all agreed that we really liked London and would want to go back.  To be honest, it was nice to be able to understand the language. 


  1. Michelle, what a great recounting of your travel to, and experience in London! I felt like I was there with you. London traffic is insane. I would never attempt to drive there (I was last there in 2005) I love your photos and the info you provided. Seeing the Tower of London brought me back to 1969 when I stood there before the site where Anne Boleyn lost her head. I had some interesting moments at that place.

    Thank you so much for sharing this!


  2. Thanks so much for sharing your trip. Your pictures are just wonderful and your commentary brings me there. Maybe on our next trip to Europe we will do London. We plan to go to Italy - Rome, Florence and Venice. Going via London might be something to consider.

    It sounds like you all had a wonderful time. I how great to be able to share this with Christine and Allison! I am sure you all kept Rick very busy and on his toes. What a great guy to take care of all of you.


  3. Michelle, thanks for taking the time o share your vacation experiences. I will keep the bus in mind for next May when we take our British Isles cruise. We will fly into London three or four days before the cruise departs so we have time for sight seeing.