Thursday, September 15, 2011

Tales from the TRIP - Day 13!

Day 13 started with breakfast at the hotel - this hotel, despite being one of the nicest ones in many respects - had one of the lamest breakfast set ups. There was a huge buffet, but the tables were not cleaned regularly so by the time we got there, only places covered with crumbs and spills were left. White linen table cloths are only nice when they are clean. The food was mediocre even though there was plenty...maybe I was just tired of the same thing for breakfast each day.

We left around 8:30am to catch the 11am high speed train to London which you would think would be plenty of time, but when we got to the train station, we had to wait until they brought a baggage cart around for our luggage - once again, our gentlemen were quick to help load the carts since Stefano was driving the bus once again. Then we started for the security check and platform. We had waited long enough for the carts that I think Simone was concerned about us making the train because she was moving at a pretty good clip and we quickly fell behind. We finally managed to catch up when they hit the throng of people waiting to go through security, but a French couple with a child in a stroller cut in line between us and our group. Since we had no idea where we were supposed to go and didn't want to get separated from the group, I said, "Pardon me, we're with that group and we don't want to get lost," and we stepped ahead of them. The woman said, "Oh, yes, go ahead, you are such small children to be traveling alone." Nice. Well, it wouldn't be a trip to Paris without a little French attitude, now would it?

We made it to our car of the train just in time with only a few minutes to take our seats before the train left. I have to admit, although I pride myself in being pretty proficient in geography, I had no idea Paris was so far inland. I had this idea that the train was basically just the 'Chunnel', when in reality the majority of the trip was overland. It was not a bad ride overall - but a word to the wise, buy your lunch early because they only pack so much food and they started running out of the more popular lunches very quickly. I think we ended up eating an apple, a candy bar, and Mom got the last cup o' noodles meal. Of course, as we raced through the train station, we decided we had carried the fruit, which the hotel in Venice had given us for the inconvenience with the AC, long enough and tossed it.

We arrived at Kings Cross St. Pancras Station around 1pm and were picked up by a new bus to take us to the hotel, the Westminster Thistle.

OK, so it doesn't look like much from the street - but it really wasn't bad. The room was the largest we had the whole trip, with two true double beds and a sleeper loveseat. The only difficulty was the passage getting into the room wasn't wide enough to roll the suitcases...which are about 21" wide. We were glad for the larger beds since Megan was joining us and we were hoping to have her stay in our room rather than having to pay for another room. In addition, the hotel was located within a block or so of Victoria Station and literally across the street from the stable entrance to Buckingham Palace.

Simone handed us off to "the ladies in red" - Globus tour guides in London who wear red blazers. Funniest moment, when I asked our new guide if we were going to have to walk to dinner and the show, Wicked, that night. She looked at me a little like I was crazy and said, no, they had a bus to take us. Then we discovered that night that the bus drove us no more than a total of three blocks to get to the restaurant and the theatre! We could have easily walked, but they had the bus because some of the folks going to dinner and the show were staying at another hotel much farther away. The new guide proved to be much nicer and more helpful than Simone - she helped us get a cab lined up for our trip to the airport hotel for our last night and gave us good directions to find a cash machine and the subway station that Megan would be coming from (Victoria Station).

Dinner before the show was at Bank restaurant - and it was delicious. We had a few choices and I was a little worried when I saw the choices for the main course - pan-seared trout, risotto with mushrooms, and chicken with coconut and sweet potatoes. Now normally, I would have chosen chicken, but there are few things I hate more than coconut and sweet potatoes - maybe if they had drizzled raspbery sauce on it, that might have made it even less appealing - and I like mushrooms ok, but they don't like me at all, so it was trout for me. As I've mentioned, I'm not generally a big fan of fish, but this was fantastic! Paired with the duck springroll appetizer and the sticky toffee pudding with butterscotch sauce - wow, makes me wish I could fly back to London, just to have it again. It was that good. And not a ton of food, so I was satisfied but not stuffed when we left.

We got to the Apollo Victoria Theatre and found our seats - about ten rows back on the right side - excellent seats. I was surprised how small the theatre was - much smaller than our Memorial Auditorium in Raleigh, so there really weren't any bad seats in the house. The show was magnificent! It definitely lived up to all the rave reviews I'd heard from Megan, and we both thoroughly enjoyed it.

As we got off the bus, we asked our charming, Cockney-accented bus driver if there were any pubs that he would recommend in the area for lunch or dinner the next day and he gave us directions to The Albert, not far from our hotel. 

Day 14 - St. Paul's, Buckingham Palace, Megan arrives! Just three days left!

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