What a fabulous city London is! The transportation system makes it so easy to get around an explore. I downloaded a great app for my smartphone before I left and it's been invaluable. It's CityMapper (free) and I just input where I am (or use GPS/current location) and where I want to go and it gives me all sorts of options, listing the tube alternatives, the bus routes or even walking (telling me how many calories I'd burn if I walked the entire way!). I prefer the interface over GoogleMaps and it go into detail with the schedules, what train platform etc.
So far I've visited the V&A Museum, the Museum of London, ambled through the garden outside Kensington Palace, walked through Harrods and Marks & Spenser, went to the Borough Market, explored the Southwark area, went to the site of the original Rose Theater (which came before the Globe), drank many pints and listened to a great band at an East London bar, spent much of a day at Hampton Court, going through the interior and then doing a "rooftop" tour! Today is a rest day as tomorrow we head for a short jaunt to Paris.
On the museums, I really loved the V&A which is focused on the decorative arts and has items from all over the world. I could come back here and spend days exploring the collections. There are incredible ceramics and furniture from China and Japan, turban ornaments from the Mughal empire, dresses from the 17th century...just an amazing array of interesting items. I find it fascinating to see so many cultures in one place and see the cross pollination of fashion, tastes and trends that the trade (and conquests) facilitated.
The Museum of London traced the history of London from pre-historic times, through the Romans then medieval, renaissance, Victorian into the modern age. I enjoy these types of museums as well and I think they are also great ones to bring kids. We visited the Edo Museum in Tokyo and the Carnavalet in Paris that are similar in scope.
I wandered on my own on Saturday, and started the morning at the Borough Market. It is a huge outdoor/indoor market place in the Southwark area of London (pronounced "Suth-ock"). Filled chock full with food stalls carrying everything you can imagine; spices, cheeses, breads, potted meats, curries, granola, chocolate covered nuts, meats of all types, beer, pastries, meat pies...I could go on and on! I got there rather early so it was nice to see it without the huge crowds that descended a bit later in the morning and over lunch. I did head back here for lunch and it was a zoo but I still enjoyed the chaos as I had familiarized myself with the layout earlier. I had fabulous fish and chips, perched in a tiny eating space at the side of the takeaway window, watching people of all ethnicities visit the market.
After my morning stop in Borough Market I made my way over the Thames to the Monument tube station to join up with a "London Walks" tour. These are inexpensive (9 pounds) tours that last about one and a half to two hours and explore various parts of the city. I have done quite a few over the years, and really enjoy them. They give you a taste of the area you explore as well as offer advice on what else to explore on your own. This tour was entitled "Bankside" and explored the Southwark area. So we went back across London Bridge, briefly through the Borough Market (it was the guide who recommended the fish & chips place, saying it was really good fresh fish and she was right!), then past the Clink Prison (origin of the phrase "in the clink" for going to jail), onto the Rose and Globe theaters original sites and ending up at the reconstructed Globe on the waterfront.
After the tour, I visited the Rose Theater's tiny excavation site, listening to some snippets of Shakespeare, then after my fish and chips walked to the Museum of London. After a quick walk through I returned to Hampstead having walked over four and half miles!
I love traveling with my family and friends but there was something kind of freeing about wandering on my own, making up my itinerary as I went and not worrying whether or not someone else would enjoy it. I wouldn't want to do it constantly, but it was a nice change of pace.
Yesterday we took the train out to Hampton Court and walked through the palace and then did a "rooftop" tour that my friend had scheduled through her membership supporting the palace. What a wonderful experience! We walked all around the roof of the baroque part of the palace, led by two guides, Barry and Philip, a sort of Brit Odd Couple, who kept bickering and correcting each other during the tour. It was incredible to see the vistas of the gardens from on high. And there were hundreds (it seemed) of lovely Tudor chimneys, each unique. I felt a bit like I was in "Mary Poppins" up on the roof with the chimney sweeps. I was rather proud of myself as I usually have "height issues", but we weren't near the edge of the roof, and were walking on a cat walk in the center.
So tonight is a play and off early tomorrow on the EuroStar, under the Channel to Paris!