Old Dogs, New Trips: Museums, glimpses into world history, and pies

Kensington: Our Base For Exploring London




Independent/John Laudando

Where we’re staying in London is a very different area from our last, nearly forgotten trip here. We’ve especially forgotten which far-flung area we stayed in. On that first trip, after lengthy rides on the tube, we visited the usual tourist stops — the changing of the Queen’s Horse Guard, Big Ben and Parliament, a wander past the nearly unblinking guards at Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, the National Gallery. We do plan to revisit some of those sights, to get our bearings from our new digs in Kensington, which seem to be closer to more places of interest.

But our first foray, after checking into our hotel in the afternoon, is just across the street from the Earl’s Court Underground station that’s only two blocks away. We confess — we headed out for pies, ales, and cider at what’s to become our favorite London pub, The Blackbird. In our opinion, their steak and ale pie is about as good as food needs to taste. Served with mash and peas. We feel sorry for those who think they don’t like British food.

We’d gotten to Kensington via London Underground from Heathrow Airport, after we dropped off the car we’d driven more than 1000 happy miles. (If you missed some of that trip, you can search “Old Dogs, New Trips” at indyeastend.com to see all of our British chronicles.) At the airport, we bought Visitor Oyster cards, which were all we needed to get anywhere we wanted to go, except for our sightseeing cruise down the Thames. Our tube travel, except for the airport, was all within the same zone, so one purchase easily covered everything. I let the lady at the Oyster Card counter advise me, and she was spot on about what we’d need.

So, well fed, we crossed the street and took the tube to Victoria, where we had a quick look at Buckingham Palace, then found ourselves in St. James Park. Here’s the thing with English gardens — essentially, they are glorious, lush, and everywhere. During our two-week trip, we saw gardens magnificent enough that, avid gardeners that we are, we wondered if we’d be happy living in England. St. James Park and Kensington Gardens were wildly abloom in May, and, nearly everywhere we walked, we also saw pretty little private gardens set in the middle of residential districts.

If the gardens of London are impressive, the museums there are every bit as remarkable. The Victoria and Albert Museum is in an amazingly beautiful building that alone is worth the visit. Same for the Natural History Museum — plus it has a great dinosaur exhibit, to name just one rightfully famous feature. The collections in both museums are astonishing in their depth and breadth, but they both fall short of the historical scope of The British Museum, which boasts the Rosetta Stone as its #1 attraction.

Beginning with ancient Egypt, the British Museum basically covers the development of the world as we know it. We also made short visits to the National Portrait Gallery and the National Museum of Art, both done hastily as their doors were about to close. And we doubt we even touched the tip of the iceberg where London museums are concerned. As I observed on our last trip, just a walk through Westminster Abbey is like revisiting an English history class.

What else is London famous for? Theater! And, in the West End, we found that the bargain ticket booth offered not only last-minute tickets for today, but also had tickets for many shows on the following day. And there were no lines to speak of. So, we bought very reasonable tickets for the next night, with good seats, for “Wicked.” We hadn’t managed to see it on Broadway, and it was fun to see it on a London stage. What a clever spin on the original “Wizard of Oz!”

We loved the ability to get to so many places just by walking a short while or taking a quick tube ride from our Kensington hotel. We’ll be flying into London on our way to Croatia in late September, and Kensington is where we’ll overnight; we’re looking forward to spending more time there. Word to the wise: By booking JFK to London round trip, then booking other European cities round trip from there, it’s possible to save big on airfare. We’ll splurge some of our savings during our day and night in London, and we’ll be sure to drop by The Blackbird for pies!

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