Date of Trip: December 2002
We have visited London several times but this time we found a changed city. We have already visited all the usual sights fortunately so the disruptions of the country peoples’ demonstration and the underground rail strike was not a disaster but another travel adventure.
You can’t go to London without a visit to the theater, and we saw Art on the night of the Tube strike–our first adventure. Shopping (or at least looking) is mandatory, so the first day we headed for Harrods. The food court does not look as great as I remembered, but the decor in Harrods is worth a visit, as are the restrooms. The shopping is more like any big American department store. We headed to Liberty, my favorite store, to buy Christmas presents. To my disappointment, they have discontinued their old famous fabric designs and there was loud (young) music. Hardly the Liberty I remembered. An attempt to market to the young was evident in most stores except Aquascutum. At Aquascutum, it appeared to be the same courteous place with the traditional products. When we visited the men’s floor and my husband needed a water fountain, they sent a salesman downstairs for a glass of water. It was a heartening sign of old times.
We visited the new attraction, the EYE, which is basically a big Ferris wheel but very enjoyable with great views and one of the sights of London.
Apparently Tube strikes are a monthly event in London. The buses will all be full and few taxis available. Unless you’re able to walk to your hotel, stand to the far right at a bus stop and energetically wave down a taxi. This gives taxis a space to pull in easily.
If you are using public transportation, be sure to buy a week’s pass. For this you go to a station, have your picture taken for about $2 (be sure camera in booth is working), then get in a long line to buy your ticket for about $15. This allows you to travel on buses and underground trains for a week–a real bargain if your hotel is far from a station or if you are confused by mass transit.
If there is a demonstration scheduled while you are visiting, plan activities around your hotel. Watching the British is almost as interesting as touring, since it gives you an idea of how they live.
We found a Safeway on Kensington High Street which had a wonderful selection of takeout lunches of various foreign foods and even sidewalk tables.
Best Way to Get Around:
The best way to get around London is with the weekly pass on the Tube or buses. Signs and maps are everywhere. Keep up with the strike news, however. If you do need to take a taxi, they are not expensive, and the drivers are friendly. Our taxi from the theater district had a driver who was very knowledgeable about London theater.
If a Londoner describes something as a 10-minute walk, be aware this seems to be a much longer walk than in the U.S.
Driving in London is not much fun, first because of the left-side driving; second, because there are no marked lanes; and third, because of the cozy driving. I remember commenting to my son-in-law, “You’re touching the mirrors!” Then I noticed everyone was driving that close.
A solution is to rent a car at the airport; stop at the first “I” (information) where you can reserve a room at a B&B outside the outer ring around London, like Maidenhead; and take the train into London city. B&Bs are much cheaper than hotels and offer more interesting experiences.
Kensington Olympia Hilton:
This is a pleasant renovated old hotel, renamed the Hilton. It was supposed to be four stars, but that’s iffy. Nevertheless, I liked the hotel and would stay there again, mainly for the location. Service was excellent, and the room spacious for London. A light breakfast comes with your room rate, and if you wants a heartier breakfast, you can order one at a rather pricey rate.
The lobby and the restaurants are bright and modern. Despite new carpeting, the halls are still redolent of an old English hotel, and several times we smelled fish in the hall. I’d swear someone was cooking in their room. However, we didn’t smell anything in our room, and it was pleasantly decorated.
There is a nice little gift shop in the lobby near the elevators. The elevators were never crowded despite the fact that the hotel seemed quite full. It appeared to be a hotel frequented by tour groups.
It’s about a 10-minute walk to the Tube station, but there is a bus stop right by the hotel.
There are several good restaurants near the hotel, and pasta places are ubiquitous. Prices are generally close to those in the U.S.
A supermarket is within walking distance and provides great deli-type food of all nationalities.
Kensington High Street is a pleasant shopping area where real people live, work, and shop, so you can buy any necessities you might need. Talbot’s, the Gap, and a few other popular clothing stores are close by.
There are several varieties of bookstores and a wonderful little art-supply store. Holland Park is close by, and an excellent place to watch the Brits and their dogs. No pooper-scoopers in sight, though, so don’t walk on the grass.
If you explore the side streets, you will find little gardens to sit in, antiques stores, and a quaint little block of hairdresser shops.
The old days when Kensington High Street was a singles’ bar hangout seems to be gone. The street was not jammed like it used to be on Saturday nights. I guess the economy has slowed things down, or else the bars have moved to another area.