Saturday, November 22, 2008

I see London, I see France...

Today I spent the day in London! It's been 8 years since I've been to England - not sure why it has been so long. But it was good to finally get back there! I took the Eurostar - the highspeed TGV train that goes under the English Channel through the Chunnel and gets you from city center to city center in 2 hours 45 minutes. The amount of time you are actually "in the chunnel" (i.e. under water) is about 30 minutes - I made a note this time :-)

So I took the 8am train and arrived in London just before 10am (England is a hour behind France so I gained an hour going over). My train home was at 7:15pm, so I had a full day to see the city. However, unlike Paris - which I can easily do in a day because I know the city so well - London is huge. And the traffic and the quantity of people on the streets reminds me a lot of New York City. So as it turns out, 9 hours in London was a stretch and I spent the day literally running from site to site. I got to see most of what I wanted, but the thing I didn't have time for really was any shopping. And the shopping looked so good! On SkyNews (out of London) they have been saying how all the shops in London were really hurting and talking about the recession and nobody buying. Well... that did NOT seem to be the case! Every store was packed, every store was already set up for Christmas, and business appeared to be absolutely booming!

Anyhow... in preparation for the trip I went online Friday night and bought a few eTickets: double decker on-and-off bus pass; fast track entrance to the Tower of London; and fast track entrance to the London Eye (giant ferris wheel on the Thames River). I am VERY glad I did this - the lines were incredible and I never would have gotten to do those things had I not already had my tickets. Have I mentioned lately how great the Internet is :-)

So I got to London at 10am and basically had 2 hours to sightsee before the highlight (and only relaxing time) of the day - a lunch reservation that I made several weeks ago (again, online) at Gordon Ramsey's restaurant called "Maze". I really like Gordon Ramsey (watch all his shows) and wanted to see if his restaurants stack up. But before lunch...

When the TGV arrived at St. Pancras Station (close to Kings Cross), I jumped on a double decker bus and went to Trafalgar Square. Then I walked from Trafalgar Square, past the Horse Guards Parade, and all the way through St. James Park to Buckingham Palace. This pretty much ate up my morning and I was crunched for time, so I had to jump in a cab to make my lunch reservation.

Lunch at MAZE was cool. The outside was very nondescript - you wouldn't even realize it was a restaurant - much less his - if you didn't look real hard. Inside, very modern with clean lines and a monochrome color pallet of light browns, beiges and sage. Nothing fancy, but clean and chic. I ate in the Maze Grill which is known for its steaks. Here is what I ordered:

Starter: Confit tomatoes, chorizo, potatoes, bitter shallots
Main Course: Casterbridge grain fed 10oz Sirloin
Side: Potato gratin

Lunch was a tad pricey, but very good. There were steaks from different parts of England, Japan and the US - you had to choose. They brought around a tray that showed the different cuts and explained the differences between the meats from different places. I choose a sirloin from England (Casterbridge) that was cooked perfectly and so tender I barely had to move the knife. Hope I don't get Mad Cow though! Sorry England, small joke ;-)

The steak was served on a small cutting board instead of a plate - kind of interesting. And the potato gratin was served in a tiny cast iron pot the size of a ramekin on a slate coaster. What they say is true, presentation is everything. The unique way in which everything is served at Maze is as much a part of the experience as the food is. Needless to say I was stuffed and just wanted a nap when I left, but I pressed on :-)

After lunch I had to zoom over to the London Eye to make my 2:30pm appointment. Not enough time to take the bus, so again I hopped in a cab. I can't emphasize this enough - buy your tickets in advance online people! The lines were astonishing at the Eye, but because I had a fast track ticket, I pretty much just walked right on. The views were incredible! I got some of the best photos of the whole day during the ride.

After the Eye, I got back on the double decker bus and headed to St. Paul's Cathedral for a quick pit stop on my way over to the Tower of London and London Bridge. On my previous trips to London I had seen the Tower of London, but not gone inside. I was determined to see the Crown Jewels this time and made it in just under the wire. Last admission was 4pm and I got there about 5 minutes before that!

Walking around the castle grounds is really cool if you're into history like I am. I didn't have nearly as much time as I would have liked, but I did get to see the Crown Jewels! Looking at all the scepters and crowns of previous kings and queens of England was fascinating. I noticed that when you go in to see the Crown Jewels (no photos allowed by the way) you are actually walking into a vault. The metal vault doors had to be about 5 feet thick. For some reason I kept thinking of the Oceans 11 movie while I was in there :-)

From now until mid-January they have ice skating at the Tower of London - kind of like how they do at Rockefeller Center in New York. And the view of the Tower Bridge from the castle grounds as it started to get dark was just beautiful.

By this time it was completely dark (it gets dark in England at 4pm in the winter) and it was sadly, about that time... so I jumped on the double decker bus to head back to St. Pancras station to catch the TGV back home to Paris. Because it was on the other end off the route, the ride was long - but this was a good thing because I got a free "London by Night" tour and saw all the monuments and buildings (and the Eye) all lit up! I sat up on top of the bus in the open air to take photos and froze - but it was worth it. Oh, did I not mention the weather? The high in London was about 35 today and the temps never made it out of the 30s the entire day while I was there. Thank God it was sunny and didn't rain! And up on top of that bus at night - with the wind - it was definitely very brrrrrrish :-)

I made it back to the train station, checked in, got on board and dozed for much of the trip home. When I arrived back in Paris at Gare du Nord I still had to take the Metro home - another 20 minutes.

When I finally walked back in the apartment it was 11:30pm and I was exhausted. It was a very long and fast-paced, but wonderful day in London. And now I think I'll sleep about 10 hours to recuperate - ha!

Click here to view all of today's photos from London (11/22/08)


Anonymous said...

Cool all day in London. You did a lot to day though. Long blog-took me long time to read. LOL

I forgot my username and password so I am send this anonymously. You don't know who I am wooo scary. :)

Bye, have a good time.

~Brianna (Anonymously)

Anonymous said...

Wow, what a wonderful day.
Glad you were not dragging me along, I would not have made it. LOL