10 March 2012

London and Leeds

One of the nice things about London is that it always offers something new and different to entertain, regardless of the time of year.  So, I never mind going in the winter and had planned this trip a few months in advance.  Coincidentally, I had found out a few weeks before the trip that some friends were going to be there at the same time.  Fortunately, the plans that I made beforehand, plus the length of the overall trip, made it pretty easy to do a lot of different things, both solo and as a group.

My late-afternoon flight put me in London late-morning.  I had purchased a round-trip ticket on the Heathrow Connect (not Heathrow Express) train.  I got to the platform and saw the train and just jumped on board as the sign said it was about to depart.  Someone else also jumped on.  The conductor came by and checked his ticket and said he was on the wrong train (he had  Heathrow Express ticket).  He glanced at my ticket and told me the same thing.  I wasn't sure he was right but I got off anyway as the doors were about to shut.  What happened what my ticket, which was bought at a machine that dispenses both Heathrow Express and Heathrow Connect tickets, was printed on ticket stock that typically indicates a Heathrow Express ticket and the conductor probably just saw the stock colors of the ticket.  Now, the ticket machines at Heathrow Airport normally do this, so my ticket was correct.  Had I had time to think, I wold have explained to him the ticket that I had.  Normally, when you buy an Heathrow Connect ticket at a regular train station, it's a greenish color.  Oh well.  I only lost half an hour.

My primary activity for my arrival day was a dinner at The Ledbury, a two-star Michelin restaurant that I had booked a couple of months in advance.  I would be eating there on my first night and last night in town.  Later, I had plans to meet my friends for drinks at the newly refurbished and opened Renaissance St. Pancras hotel (It's quite a building -- unfortunately, it was nighttime and I did not take any photos).  But here are some shots of my dinner:

The next few days, I spent time with my friends exploring different parts of London.  We decided to take advantage of London Walks.  The nice thing about London Walks is that you do not have to pre-book, they have several different walks every day, the walks are conducted by the famed Blue Badge Guides, and are very convenient to use (they start and stop at London Underground stations).  They usually last about 2 hours or so, cost GBP 8, and are conducted rain or shine.  We decided to do the Hidden London walk (which takes you around the back alleys of the original City section of London) and the Olympic walk (which toured in and around the site of the main 2012 Summer Olympics venues being constructed in East London.

We also did a day trip to Leeds Castle.  This required taking a train from Victoria Station to Bearsted (about an hour)and then taking a scheduled shuttle bus to the grounds of the castle.  I had been wanting to visit Leeds Castle for several years, but just never got around to it.  It was a very nice day to make the trip and it is a very pretty location.   The castle exterior has been restored to its 17th century look.  The site of the castle has been in use since just after the Norman conquest.  There are records going back to 1080 deeding the site to nobles.  The interior of the castle has been modernized over the years as it was used as a residence up until the 1960s.  Today, it can be booked for meetings, conferences and weddings.  It is open year-round and the purchase of a ticket entitles you to visit the castle as many times as you want over the next 365 days.  In addition to the castle itself, the grounds are extensive and include an aviary, a difficult outdoor maze, gardens, and a dog collar museum.

On this trip, we also went to a restaurant called The Square, a two-star Michelin restaurant that is a sister restaurant to The Ledbury.

My return flight was pretty straightforward.  My Global Entry access got me through Immigration and Customs pretty quickly and my luggage was delivered fairly promptly, which I have noticed has been an consistent improvement over the last few overseas trips.

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