February 2018 from London
On my last trip to the UK for business, I was lucky enough to be able to take my kids with me (Dakotah age 23, Bailey age 20) for a few days of “Rest” together. When we decided to do this the weather never entered my mind. I had been to London 3 other times during the year, it was always cold and dreary; but never Freezing COLD!
Thankfully I was watching the weather as the trip approached only to find out that snow was in the forecast. Being from Pennsylvania I knew we’d need layers! Our plans changed from us each taking backpacks only, to needing 2 checked bags.
Day 1 February 23, 2018 (7,990 steps):
As it happened, we arrived in London 7 days before they were hit with the “Beast From The East”, London’s biggest snow emergency in more than 2 decades! A Siberian Blizzard was headed straight towards us! It was really cold when we landed on Friday morning after flying all night on the red-eye from Baltimore. We had 3 days before I had to report to work, we didn’t want to waste Friday, even though we were all tired from our all night flight. After we made it through customs and collected our checked bags, we hopped onto one of the FREE airport hotel buses. Side Note: There is also a bus service called the Hotel Hoppa that charges a fare to take you to the Heathrow area hotels, but why pay when you can ride for free? We were booked at the Hyatt Place Heathrow for our first night in the UK.
After dropping our checked bags off at the hotel we grabbed a quick breakfast at good ole McDonalds! Once we filled up, we hopped back onto the FREE airport hotel bus back to Heathrow. Our plan was to head out to see Windsor Castle. We had several hours to kill before we could check into the room. So Bailey, our navigator, consulted the https://tfl.gov.uk/plan-a-journey/ page and found out what bus we needed to take out to the Castle. The ride out to the Castle was long; but wonderful. We rode through several lovely small towns, on the 20 mile trip, and past many fairytail scenes. I don’t have the words to describe the awe I felt as we drove past some of these structures. I couldn’t take my eyes off the side of road, mile after mile I was enchanted by this peek into the days long past.
Dakotah and Bailey slept most of the bus ride, so they were ready to go when we reached Windsor. The bus let us off just a couple of blocks from the Castle, but it was cold which made the hike a little less than ideal! We had decided against buying the official tour the castle tickets but we wanted to see what we could see. We were able to walk around to the front of the castle and stand right in front of the gates for some pictures. It was beautiful, no doubt, but the castle was heavily armed and the contrast between fairtail and realit caught me a little off-guard!
After pictures in front of the castle, we popped in-and-out of a few of the little shops that lined the cobblestone streets. I can imagine enjoying lunch at one of the little diners, if the weather was nice! After a quick stop for photos at one of those famous red phone booths, we headed back to catch our bus back to Heathrow.
We survived the cold on Day 1 by spending a good bit of our time on the bus. We wore plenty of layers, including hats and gloves. The only times that we were really exposed to the weather was when we were waiting for the bus. There is not much shelter while you’re waiting so be prepared and be on time. The buses arrive on time and won’t stop if nobody is waiting. Make sure you are on the right side of the street for the direction you want to go! We were told that there was a “direct” bus to Windsor from Heathrow Terminal 4; but I’m glad we took the longer, warmer journey through the England countryside.
Back at the hotel, we ordered Dominos Pizza and then crashed for the rest of the night!
Day 2 February 24th (29,804 steps):
After checking out of the hotel, we were able to take the FREE Heathrow Airport Hotel Bus over to the Hilton Garden Inn
to ask them to hold our checked bag for us. We would be returning to their hotel Sunday night and we didn’t want to drag our checked bags with us as we explored London on Saturday and Sunday. Thankfully, the desk clerk agreed to hold our bags for us! After taking care of the bags, we were glad to realize that the “Underground” Subway station was just around the corner. We took off, each of us bundled in layers, and carrying our backpacks for an overnight adventure in London!
Before we left home we purchased Oyster Cards https://oyster.tfl.gov.uk/oyster/entry for each of us, so we were able to walk right up to the card scanners and then right onto the platform to wait for our train.
It was a straight shot down to London. We were headed to the Borough Market, a top rated London Farmers Market. The Underground Station was just steps away from the market and the market was mostly sheltered so the cold temps were not too discouraging.
We enjoyed the best Bacon Egg and Cheese sandwiches during our visit to the market! Yum!
The market was everything we expected and more! Lots of people buying lots of things! I couldn’t help but think about how normal it all felt to me!
After enjoying our breakfast at the market, we set off on foot to explore London. We crossed the London Bridge first, taking a moment to reflect on the tragic events of the June 7, 2017 terror attack on the bridge.
We walked past the Shard, the Monument and Leadenhall Market before circling back around to the Tower of London and the Tower Bridge.
There were lots of people out sightseeing, the weather was still cold, but the sun was out and it actually felt nice at times. We crossed back over the Thames River via the Tower Bridge, just in time to watch the drawbridge open for a passing ship. That was quite a sight to see! Once across the bridge, we wandered along the riverbank back towards the Borough Market. During our exploration, we came upon a street vendor selling roasted nuts, which Dakotah couldn’t pass up! We also enjoyed a few photo ops along the banks of the river.
The most magical moment for me was when we walked under the London Bridge….they were playing London Bridge Is Falling Down on the sound system. I felt like a child!
Onward to St. Paul’s Cathedral, for a few moments of reflection in the courtyard of these historic grounds. St. Paul’s was the last thing on our list before we were going to check into our hotel to prepare the evenings event! We were standing in line, waiting for our bus, we were freezing once again at the bus stop! We had just missed the bus we needed as we walked up to the stop, so we knew we’d be waiting 15 or more minutes for the next bus. So what did we do? We decided to get on the very next bus and ride it to wherever it was going…..
The next bus came, we jumped on, and lucky for us, the front seats on the top level were open. We went straight up. Honestly, this was my absolute favorite part of the day! We rode that bus to the end, and then jumped on another and rode it to the far side of London! What fun we had! The sites we saw! The London Eye, Westminster Palace, Big Ben it was like we were on a private tour! This was a fantastic way to see the city!
After so much fun on the buses, we had to hustle over to check into the Hilton Double Tree and then get over to the spot where we were to meet for the Jack the Ripper walking tour; our entertainment for the night.
Bitterly Cold is the only way I can describe the temperatures as we crept along the back streets of the Whitechapel area of London. I had never really understood the details of the Jack the Ripper case until that night….sad.
Once the Jack the Ripper tour was over, we grabbed some dinner at an American Themed 50’s Diner….I guess we can’t get away from burgers and fries!
I’m gonna say that taking the Underground back to our hotel on Saturday night around 10pm, didn’t seem near as safe and innocent as it did at 10am! For those of you traveling with kids or by yourself, I encourage you to avoid the Underground if you can later at night.
These are the things we did on Day 2-
Day 3 February 25, 2018 (17,117 steps):
Once again, it was very cold when we were off early to catch the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. Our hotel was about a mile and a half from the Palace so we took off on foot. We stopped at a local grocery store and grabbed some fresh fruit for breakfast on our way. We were able to see the Westminster Abby, Big Ben and Westminster Palace on our way. We got to Buckingham Palace in time to get a front row spot to stand in front of the gates. At first this seemed like the perfect spot to watch the ceremony, but as the masses filled in behind us, we actually felt a bit trapped! We were literally pinned against the fence. There was a little pushing and squishing as people pressed in to get a good look. I couldn’t believe how many people turned out to see the ceremony! Make sure you arrive early for this one!
After seeing the changing of the guard we headed back down to the Whitechapel part of town. We wanted to check out the street market that they have on Sundays. We were told that this was a Sunday tradition, that the streets would be lined with vendors…that sounded right up our alley! Unfortunately, we were a bit disappointed upon arrival. There were lots of street vendors but it was mostly apparel and it seemed kinda flea market-ish to us. After a quick tour, we headed over to Poppies Fish and Chips http://poppiesfishandchips.co.uk/ for lunch. Poppies came highly recommended and we were not disappointed!
After lunch we caught the Underground back out to the airport where we had reservations at the Hilton Garden Inn.
Here are the things we saw on Day 3-
The Beast from the East was not due to hit London for another 5 days, but the daily temperatures were bitterly cold already. We had a blast exploring the best of London in some of the coldest temperatures London had seen in years! We wore lots of layers, stayed sheltered as much as we could, but we kept on going! We didn’t let the cold keep us from taking in all that London had to offer! My best advise, is to know what time your bus is due to arrive; the most painfully cold moments were the ones when we were waiting for a bus! Cheers Ya’ll!