The week of Independence Day 2023, my wife and I took two of the older Woods daughters, Veronica and Amy, on a trip to London.
We’ve been there two other times and absolutely loved it each time. This particular trip was unapologetically idiosyncratic, so I will hear no outraged cries about our neglect of this or that activity.
On our previous visits we’ve stayed near Trafalgar Square. We’ve found the Covent Garden area very pleasant: vibrant, and convenient to many things we wanted to do (including theater shows in the West End).
This time we stayed closer to Buckingham Palace, which was pleasant enough, but then we found ourselves sitting in taxis more than we would have liked, as we headed back to where we used to stay in order to do what we really wanted to do. On the other hand, frustration with traffic forced us to learn the Underground system (my wife was the pioneer here), which turned out to be a very efficient way to get around.
We flew business class on Virgin Atlantic, because I wanted the girls to be as comfortable as possible on their first international trip (apart from cruises), and I knew they’d be exhausted from jet lag, which they would be experiencing for the first time. The breakfast buffet, along with the hot food to order, at the Virgin Atlantic club at the airport was a nice added benefit, as was the special entrance to the airport and special security line just for what they call “upper class” passengers.
We stayed at Taj 51, Buckingham Gate. We had a two-bedroom suite along with a spacious living room and a full kitchen. Our accommodations were very comfortable and pleasant, and I recommend Taj 51 if that’s the area of the city where you’d like to stay.
We are fans of the Brigit’s Bakery Classic Afternoon Tea Bus Tour, which we’ve taken in both London and Edinburgh. A quaint red bus takes you for an audio-guided tour of the city while you enjoy sandwiches, pastries, and hot and cold beverages. In general we like to do a bus tour at the beginning of all of our international travel, because we get an overview of the city while also finding out about places and attractions we might want to investigate more closely on our own.
We saw three theater productions while there, two in the famous West End. The one not in the West End was Agatha Christie’s Witness for the Prosecution, which takes place at County Hall, and the set was formerly a genuine courthouse.
We were genuinely riveted by the show, which kept us spellbound the entire time.
Back to the Future is certainly a technical marvel, and you will not be disappointed. At the same time, the acting in the original film is so good that almost any kind of remake is going to compare poorly to the original. But still, a very enjoyable night out.
We were completely blown away by the West End production of Les Miserables, for which we had front-row seats that were worth every penny. Strong performances all around: Valjean, Javert, everyone.
We had a great lunch with our friend Dominic Frisby, the jack-of-all-trades who’s a financial commentator, book author, playwright, comedian, voice-over specialist, you name it.
My wife needed a little extra rest time, so I had lunch by myself with the great James Delingpole, whom I’ve been reading for over ten years.
Yes, we visited Harrod’s, the enormous department store; contrary to what you’ll read on some of the travel sites, this is not a waste of time. Same with the wonderful Apple Market, where you’ll find stalls and stores dedicated to all kinds of interesting products. This man, right across from the entrance to the market, climbed that ladder while leaning against nothing, and eventually juggled some knives while doing so.
Cuisine is hard to navigate in London. Everything people say is true. I don’t know why the food is so bad. I don’t know why the beef always tastes off. I don’t know, and I’ve given up trying to figure it out. So we generally do two things: ethnic food (because there’s no reason Greeks and Koreans can’t still cook good food) and fine dining.
Although even with fine dining, the pickings are slim. We ate at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay and weren’t especially impressed (and we’ve eaten at many fine dining restaurants). We did enjoy SushiSamba in Covent Garden, which has Japanese (obviously), Brazilian, and Peruvian influences.
We’d never tried the London Eye, so we did that and enjoyed the view. I wouldn’t even consider standing in that line, though. We got whatever the accelerated tickets are and were able to get right in at a specified time.
Jenna and I love Aire Ancient Baths. We’ve gone multiple times to the New York location, and have also visited the Chicago and Seville locations. You descend a staircase into an enormous room lit only by candles and consisting of a series of “baths” of various temperatures — from quite hot to extremely cold. Their packages usually pair with a massage as well.
At the London location we enjoyed the Royal Indulgence, which added a tea tasting while submerged in a bath of tea!
We all enjoyed a VR place called Other World, where we could all enter a virtual reality setting and play one of many different games together. We saw it while walking down the street and decided to give it a try — and it was genuinely a blast.
Jenna and I saw Iron Maiden at the O2, after having had tickets to see them in Dubai in May of 2020, and of course that was not to be. (On our previous trip we saw Dream Theater put on an excellent show at the Eventim Apollo.)
We wondered how adventurous Veronica and Amy would be while we were at the several appointments we had. Would they stay in the room or go out and explore?
Well, I’m thrilled to say they went out and explored and had adventures together. And on the last night each decided to do her own thing, so Amy decided to go find and photograph Tower Bridge. She kept on exploring and sent pictures to us and to the sisters back home in the United States. She stumbled upon All-Hallows-by-the-Tower, the oldest church in the city, dating back to 675.
All in all an extremely memorable trip (and of course I’m leaving out general sightseeing we did), and now the question is which country to visit next.
Oh, and we went to buy hats.