London, UK -- January 2004
We arrived in London on Saturday, Jan 17th and checked into the Travel Inn on Tower Bridge Road at around midday. We went for a walk around the Tower Bridge and along Southbank on a riverside walk along the Thames. There are a few pubs, restaurants and cafes along Southbank's boardwalk and we had lunch at the pub closest to the City Hall (can't remember what it was called). We ordered Fish and Chips and a pint of beer each. Much to our surprise the English know how to cook this! Who would have thought, judging by Scottish pubs, that the English would be so different? (For those who don't know, Scottish pubs and especially take-away stores, are completely incapable of cooking fish and chips.)
After lunch we visited City Hall. It's an unusual building which, at certain times of day, you can visit for free and get great views of London. After that we went back to our hotel and had a little nap. (Geez, how old are we?!) Then we got ready for the evening and took a leisurely stroll in the dark and the rain along the Thames until we reached the Millenium Bridge, where we crossed and headed for Trafalgar Square.
We then headed for the Palace Theatre where we were booked in to see Les Miserables. We had excellent tickets (Dress Circle) for the show and bought a glass of Bailey's each to sip during Act 1. The show was fantastic although I felt that the person playing Jean Val Jean wasn't quite up to the part. He seemed very weak, and his voice didn't have enough emotion. Javert's role on the other hand was without doubt the best performance of that character that I'd ever seen.
After the show, we got a late dinner in Soho's Chinatown at a tiny Japanese restaurant. The food was amazingly cheap (£27 for two people, 3 courses) and quite nice. After dinner we wandered around down to Picadilly Circus, down Oxford Street and eventually caught a cab near Southbank back to the hotel.
The next day at 11.30am we went to Buckingham Palace for the Change of Guard. This was highly overrated and I'm not sure why they advertise it. It was packed! We could barely see a thing - the music in the procession was quite poor (I'm comparing it against the Edinburgh Military Tattoo... but perhaps that is unfair?) and the guard uniforms were an ugly grey/black colour -- not at all like the bright red ones I was expecting. What a shame.
Following this, we got brunch at a small cafe about 5 minutes walk from the Palace. The food was rubbish, and the coffee was weak... but at least we had a table behind the glass which was directly getting the morning sun, so we felt quite happy to put up with the food to enjoy the warm sunny spell.
After brunch we went for a walk around Hyde Park. Hyde Park also fell short of my expectations. I guess I was hoping that it would be well kept like a Botanical garden, but it had a lot of weeds and dead bushes and the grass was well worn down to a patchy sorry looking state. Maybe I'm too used to Australian and French gardens and parks, where the council tends to them and keeps them pretty?
After Hyde Park we walked around Picadilly and were attracted to a beautifulwindow display. The windows were little Opera scenes, with music streaming out into the street. The display turned out to belong to the windows of Fortnum and Mason and we couldn't resist going inside for a look at the luxury food items. We spent half an hour browsing around the wonderful gourmet products.
Next we ventured over to Trafalgar Square, and then out to for an ice-cream sundae and coffee at a Haagen Dasz restaurant. We had dinner in Soho again. This time at a Thai restaurant. The food was okay, but not as nice as our favourite Thai restaurant in Edinburgh, Jirada. There was a general lack of authenticity and the dishes were so mild that they could have been mistaken for European cuisine.
We interrupted our visit at Harrods for lunch, and went to a nearby Thai restaurant which turned out to be very nice, as well as nearly deserted (now why would a restaurant be deserted at 3pm?): Taratai, 136 Brompton Road, Knightsbridge, London SW3 1HY, 02072252689.