22 April 2013

A Spring Dash to London for Food, The Shard, and Pompeii

I took a quick, long-weekend trip to London to break up the monotony of no holidays in the springtime.  There were a few things I wanted to do prior to the summer crowds and a restaurant that I wanted to visit.

My outbound flight on a Wednesday evening was fairly light.  It left a little early, and I managed to get enough sleep.  We landed on time as we were put in a holding pattern upon getting to Heathrow Airport.  Upon getting to immigration, where I had to use the Fastrack lane (normally it is not an issue on afternoon arrivals for me), I had to dig up the street address of my hotel.  In the past, I managed to get by with just writing the name of the hotel in London.  But they appear to want the full address now for every form. There were no lines to get tickets for the Heathrow Connect trains to Paddington Station  (the intermediate cost option between Heathrow Express and taking the Piccadilly Line subway).

I stayed at the Hilton Paddington again.  This time, I bought into a Terrace Suite, which was a nice, bright and spacious room. The deck was large (though not quite as great at the Tower Suite decks). It’s much better than the normal small-windowed rooms that I usually get.

That evening, I had a nice dinner experience at Kitchen Table in Fitzrovia.  It’s the fine dining back part of a restaurant called Bubbledogs.  Bubbledogs is a very popular place where people often queue up to get in to be served hot dogs of various sorts and champagne (and other drinks).  Kitchen Table is a 19-seat counter serving a tasting menu of fresh ingredients prepared and served in unique ways.


Champagne from Kent

The evening's menu

Jersey potatoes and crab

I also wanted to go to the observation decks of The Shard.  This newly opened skyscraper is located south of the Thames near London Bridge Station and is the tallest building in Western Europe.  You can pre-purchase tickets online for a time slot (probably advisable).  The cost is a hefty £24.95.  I bought my ticket in advance, checking out the weather forecasts for the weekend.  It turned out I picked a great day to go.  It was cloudless and not windy, so it made for a much more pleasant experience.
There is a separate entrance to The View from the Shard (as they call the observation deck).  Exit London Bridge Station towards St. Thomas St. and you cannot miss it on the left.  After going up a short elevator, you get to main reception where you must pass through security before you can get to the first set of elevators that take you to the 33rd floor.  At that floor, you change to another bank of elevators that take you to the 69th floor.  From there, it’s a quick flight up to the 70th floor enclosed observation level.  It’s very nice with wood paneling and wood floors.  There are also these electronic telescopes with screen that help you identify the London landmarks as you look out.

 Steps or an elevator take you to the observation deck on the 72nd floor.  While you are still enclosed by glass, the top is open to the sky.  You can see the rest of The Shard structure above you.
It’s worth doing at least once, especially on a nice day.

The last thing I wanted to do was go to a special exhibition at the British Museum.  An exhibit called Pompeii and Herculaneum just opened and would be there all summer.  I have been to Pompeii, but this was supposed to show artifacts in a setting meant to convey what life was like for the population before the disaster.  The items exhibited were set up in rooms meant to simulate a typical upper class dwelling. 

The exhibition was held in the center of the museum, under the dome.  It was very interesting but also a bit crowded.  But I am not sure whether it will ever not be crowded.
Garden Room fresco

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Food from Pompeii and Herculaneum

Bread loaf

Rare resin cast

A family captured in time
I also managed to work in afternoon tea at Brown's Hotel.  While it was a little pricey at 39 GBP, they did offer a healthy option if desired, and they will let you ask for repeated servings of anything you want.

Finally, on my departure day, there was one last thing I learned.  On Sundays, they switched the Heathrow Connect train service to an hourly service from half-hourly.

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