One of my all-time favorite pastimes is planning trips. I adore buying guide books (yes, I know, I can do it all online today), I love reading up on what to see, then beyond, I love mapping out the day by day events.
Now, to be honest, on really big adventures when we go for weeks (think Alaska, South America and Southeast Asia), we’ve hired a tour company to plan our itinerary, to have at hand tour guides to get us through red tape and be our interpreters. We’ve laughed many times that if we hadn’t had a guide with us in Vietnam, we’d still be at the Phu Bai airport in Hue. Not kidding.
For our autumn adventure across the Atlantic on the Queen Mary 2, no planning needs to happen. None whatsoever, other than packing. We show up, find our deck chairs, and let the merriment begin.
We tossed around a million ideas of what to do after the voyage – Barcelona was the dreamy destination, Paris, Rome – but in the long run, for convenience sake (and pocketbook too), we’ve decided to stay right in jolly old England and be ugly American tourists in London. We have four-and-a-half days, which should be plenty of time for the key things on the list.
I bought three highly recommended books for London. First, Rick Steve’s Pocket London
(oddly, I never watch his TV show nor do I care for where he stays etc) but his book is superb, compact, easy to read, easy to stash in a pocket or handbag, and lays out tons of good tours and tips.
Out of the back of his book I tore the map and have circled all the places we hope to get to. It’s an ambitious four+ days which will mean up and out early and gone all day, but we’re hearty tourists and in the autumn, the weather should be far more amenable to long days than it is now in peak summer.
The other two books I bought are the NatGeo Walking London* and The London Map Guide, both as portable as Rick Steve’s book, easy to put in the day bag while walking.
[*The Walking London book is the one open on the left of the photo above. Excellent detailed street maps, laid out in grid form, with Tube stations etc]
We’re hitting the basics – Tower of London and Tower Bridge, that whole area of London the first day, including a cathedral or two and maybe lunch or dinner in the Old Spitalfields market. A cruise down the Thames for sure, on a totally touristy boat and end the day with the London Eye, or as locals call it The London Eyesore.
Day two and three are jam-packed – Westminster Abbey, Big Ben (which I hear will be all draped in scaffolding when we arrive), Houses of Parliament, Churchill’s War Room, and a one hour walk in Rick Steve’s book called the Westminster Walk.
Of course, Buckingham Palace, Horse Guard Parade, Changing of the Guard, Queen’s Gallery, St. James Church, high tea somewhere fancy, like Fortnum and Mason, Trafalgar Square, Serpentine Gallery, and dinner at a pub (I’ve gotten lots of suggestions of good local places).
Day Four, Greenwich. The Observatory and straddling the Meridian. Then out to Dulwich, the college and to see The James Caird, the wooden boat that Earnest Shackleton sailed for 800 miles and 16 days, from Elephant Island to South Georgia Island, after his ship Endurance was crushed by the ice in Antarctica. Miraculously, Shackleton and all his men survived. I’m sure there are plenty of pubs in a college town to enjoy.
There are other things on the list that’ll fill a half-day- Borough Market, walking through SoHo and Chelsea, but we are skipping all big museums – no Tate, no British Museum, no Victoria and Albert…
As always, feel free to throw us suggestions – real pubs, hidden gems to see, people to follow on Instagram or Twitter who might be helpful…my go to of late has been Wendy Perrin – she and her family were just in London and her IG feed was very helpful, giving us more food for thought. She also has a great travel blog.
One question: Should we take the time to go to Oxford?
PS: It’s a a STUNNINGLY gorgeous day today. The a/c is finally off – all the windows and doors are wide open. I feel like a human being. Aaah.