Tuesday, July 7
Today is the day to explore the city and get an overview. What is the best way to do this? The hop-on, hop-off bus of course. We put our walking shoes on and headed out to see the sights. Again, it helps that Linda has a working knowledge of the city and can quickly find them on a city map. So, we headed out the door with Harrods as our destination. Our route took us along a private street that borders Kensington Gardens and is home to many embassies now located in fabulous Edwardian mansions. Security is very high in this neighborhood and you can’t even take photos of the houses. Both ends of the street have armed guards and these neat retractable stanchions in the road. Police must clear all cars before the stanchions are lowed allowing the car to pass. We cleared through that road and continued past Kensington Palace, former home of Princess Diana, past The Royal Albert Hall and the spectacular Albert Memorial. We found Harrods, the mother lode of shopping and stepped into the Summer Sale event. We cruised the food department, which is indescribable. Truth be known, the layout is something like Whole Foods back in the US. Imagine that as way bigger and every sinful specialty you might have read about. A caviar bar featuring dozens of varieties that you can either purchase for take away or sit down and enjoy at the bar. A fois gras bar. A sushi bar that I will be returning to later in the week. Jams, cakes, cheeses, they have it all. Then on to the ticket/travel department. We purchased tickets for the Thursday night performance of Billy Elliot and our Big Bus tour tickets. We read about another play that looked intriguing and plan to try to see as well, War Horse.
Now that we had our hop-on tickets, we stood in line outside the store and waited for the next bus. Of course, this being London, the weather was really iffy. As you board the bus, there is a carton of clear plastic ponchos and earpieces for each passenger. We grabbed our gear and headed up the steps to the open-air upper deck. Let me just say that those ponchos proved to be the one thing we couldn’t have done without. Linda was wearing a full raincoat and hood so she used her poncho as a seat cover. I had an umbrella, which wouldn’t due for upper deck breezes, so I had to hunker down into my poncho A LOT! It rained. The sun came out. It sprinkled. The sun came out. We protected our cameras as best we could and listened to the running commentary over the ear pieces as we passed Westminster Abby, the Houses of Parliament, The London Eye (Ferris wheel that takes one hour to make one circuit), St. Paul’s Cathedral, Tower Bridge, The Tower of London. We got off the bus at Buckingham Palace and took a few photos outside the gates. The Queen was having a garden party and we watched as the ladies in hats and men in waistcoats were cleared through security. There was nothing for us to do but visit the gift shop.
We got back on a bus to continue our route through the city. Again, we climbed to the upper deck, knowing we were in for wet weather. Never mind that it was really raining now, we were on top of the bus in London, England. Now, a few words about driving in London. It is the scariest thing I have ever witnessed in my life. The streets are incredibly narrow and are clogged with taxis and busses. Every sidewalk is completely mobbed with pedestrians. Add to this scooters and bikes jockeying for a tiny slit to weave through. Traffic moves only a hundred feet at a time. So, there we are, almost at the end of the route before we need to change from a red bus to a blue bus so we end up back in Notting hill. The weather was getting worse. It began raining so hard that we were forced to leave our seats in the open air and head down the winding steps to the safety of the lower level. Just as we found two seats, it sounded as if lightening hit inches from the bus. It couldn’t get worse, right? It got so dark, the street lights came on and the bus was pelted with huge splats of rain as the temperature suddenly dropped. Wait. That was hail we were being hit with. I looked over to see hail bouncing down the bus stairs leading to the upper deck. Then the stairs turned into a waterfall. The water ran through the bus, flooding the driver's feet. The temperature drop caused the bus to totally fog up. So, now the driver couldn’t see a thing. The driver called the guide to the front of the bus and handed him a Kleenex with which to clear the windows so the driver could try to maneuver the bus to safety. At a cross street the driver had to open the bus door so he could see if it was clear to proceed across the intersection. We were now to the bus stop and asked to get off the bus! By now the weather had started to pass, we found the next bus and rode back to our home neighborhood. By the time we arrived in Notting Hill, it had stopped raining all together and we walked to a lovely fish and chips restaurant. There we chatted with a couple at the next table. They advised us to not miss the performance of War Horse. I think we will try for tickets.