Houses of Parliament
Prior to our voyage on the Queen Elizabeth 2 out of Southampton last summer, our family spent a few days enjoying the beautiful city of London, England.
As this was our first visit to London, and it involved one-way airfare (as we would be disembarking the ship in New York), we turned the pre-crossing arrangements over to Cunard. Everything went seamlessly. Our overnight flight on British Airways was very comfortable, even in our coach seats. After clearing customs at Heathrow Airport, we were met by a Cunard representative who drove us in a private car to our hotel.
We had selected the Crowne Plaza St. James, not only for its convenient location near Buckingham Palace, but also because we felt a more modern hotel would be a better choice for our family of three. In retrospect, that turned out to be a great decision as London was experiencing its hottest temperatures in recorded history, breaking 100 degrees Fahrenheit both days we were there. We were grateful to have a cool air setting in our room. Our room itself was beautiful and spacious, and service was superb. Housekeeping even made up our son's rollaway with linens and bed coverings that matched our own king-sized bed.
We arrived at the hotel around noon, so one of our first stops was lunch at a nearby pub - Finnegan's Wake. The fish, chips and mushrooms were tasty, and my husband enjoyed his bitters. After a quick nap at the hotel, we walked over to Buckingham Palace, took a few photos through the gates, and boarded a tourist trolley that would get us acclimated to the city. I highly recommend a trolley tour for a first-time visitor. Not only did we see the main highlights of the city (Tower of London, the London Eye, Tower Bridge, Victoria and Albert Museum -- albeit from a distance), it helped us plan our activities for the following day.
The following morning, we enjoyed the hotel's breakfast buffet (included in the cost of the room). The selections were varied and plentiful, and included scrambled eggs, fresh fruit salad, mushrooms, tomatoes, cheese, meats, and pastries. This was the beginning of a busy, yet wonderful, day. We walked over to the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, which I found to be absolutely stunning. As it was a Sunday, government was not in session, so our walk was restricted to the grounds. There was a nice park along the Thames that included a beautiful structure commemorating the abolition of slavery. We then headed for the Lambeth Bridge and a long walk to the Imperial War Museum.
The Imperial War Museum was fascinating. It was in an older building that had been redesigned to include a large atrium. On the ground floor were actual vehicles used in war -- tanks, submarines, etc. -- and warplanes were suspended overhead. Fortunately, there were detailed plaques so that those (like myself) who were not familiar with their history could understand their significance. Downstairs was a chronological exhibit on England's war experiences. As an American, it was interesting to read about familiar wars and battles from this perspective. Other fine exhibits on this level were the Trench Experience (recreation of a World War I trench, with lifelike mannequins that represented soldiers and medics) and Blitz Experience (recreation of a World War II air raid shelter and the remains of a residential street, with London "burning" in the background). Another highlight was the Holocaust exhibit on the third floor. This was amazing and could easily stand on its own as one of the best Holocaust museums in the world, in my opinion. Among the exhibits was a scale model of a portion of Auschwitz.
After spending about five hours in the Imperial War Museum, we took the Tube to Piccadilly Circus. This area was bright and busy, and reminded me of Times Square in New York. We walked for a bit, and then headed for Trafalgar Square, where beautiful photos were to be had of the two fountains and adjacent buildings. We walked back to our hotel, passing government buildings, Westminster Abbey, and Downing Street. It had been a long day, so we rewarded ourselves by ordering room service for dinner. For dessert, I indulged in sticky toffee pudding with Cornish clotted cream. It was a delight.
The following morning, in the few hours we had before boarding the bus to our ship in Southampton, we explored two lovely parks adjacent to Buckingham Palace -- St. James Park and Green Park. For those of you familiar with Boston, Green Park reminded me of Boston Common while St. James was more like a very large Boston Public Garden. The greenery in both parks was beautiful.
I highly recommend a pre-cruise stay in London. Not only will it give long-distance travelers a chance to adjust to a new time zone, there are a wide variety of sites to visit. We are already planning a return visit in the near future, as our two-day visit gave us just a glimpse of what this great city has to offer.
Photos courtesy of Lisa Plotnick
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Lisa Plotnick, a writer who lives in Massachusetts with her husband, Neil, and young son, has written many SeaLetter Cruise Magazine articles, cruise ship reviews and book reviews. Lisa is a fan of the classic liners, unfortunately a dying breed in the early 21st century. The Plotnicks have cruised once or twice a year for the past fifteen years and have been on most of the major cruise lines as well as on several lesser-known lines.
Lisa is a SeaLetter Columnist and also assists in the management of the SeaLetter Cruise Forum. She may be reached for questions or comment at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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