Sunday, March 16, 2014

Lincoln (and Rachel) In London: The First 24 Hours

Rachel and I are celebrating our third anniversary at the end of this week (and getting a leg up on my 30th birthday, two months from this Friday past). To celebrate, we're taking what is arguably one of my first "Real" vacations -- No family commitments, no work excuses* -- purely pleasure in motivation. It's also the first time I've left the continent of North America.

London has been at or near the top of my "Intentional Destinations" list for as long as I've had such a list -- often swapping spaces with Sidney for top billing -- and we finally bit the bullet and booked our week in London.

Cleveland to Chicago
We departed Cleveland late Friday evening for a quick connection in Chicago for a nonstop flight to London's Heathrow airport -- departing Chicago at 10pm local time (11pm Eastern) and arriving in London just after 11am Saturday morning. Thanks to my Gold elite status with United Airlines, Rachel and I secured Exit Row seats (with ample legroom) -- the next best thing to one of the "Lay Flat" seats in BusinessFirst or United Global First -- curiously, my reservation indicated we were booked in the latter cabin, but neither of us were prepared to shell out the extra $3600 for an upgrade.

Arriving at Heathrow, we proceeded through Customs and Immigration with surprising speed -- aside from a long queue, the actual process took less than a minute. After collecting our luggage and selecting the "Nothing the Declare" exit we were officially on British soil. A quick an efficient Heathrow Express ride to Paddington Station and then a "traditional" black taxi delivered us to our hotel at about 12:30 Saturday. With Check In not until 3pm, we stored our luggage and set out on foot for an exploration of our neighborhood.

Tate Britain: 500 Years of British Art 
And it seems that I have selected the right neighborhood -- our hotel is the DoubleTree by Hilton London Westminster at 30 John Islip Street, near Tate Britain (not to be confused with Tate Modern), the Vauxhall Bridge, and not many steps from the Thames. Setting out after dropping our luggage, we literally stumbled across Tate Britain and took a tour through several hundred years of British Art -- including large holdings of the works of John Singer Sargent [a favorite of Rachel] and JMW Turner [I'm fond of his The Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons, 16 October 1834, in the collection of the Cleveland Museum of Art (1942.647)]
Traditional London Phone Box

Upon departing the Tate, we sat for a few minutes and decided to hunt for food. Wandering down Millbank we stumbled into a bright pub, where after some confusion on our part about the process of things (the correct answer: you order at the bar; food is delivered to the table) we had an adequate lunch.

Big Ben, The Houses of Parliament and The London Eye, 
Following lunch we decided that we should acquire Oyster Cards (the payment method for mass transit in greater London) and made our way across Vauxhall bridge where I initially waited in the wrong line before being politely directed to the ticket vending machines in the adjacent Underground station. Again the process was fairly quick and painless. Now safe to make our way back to the hotel, we retrieved our room key -- and I shocked Rachel by asking the clerk "where are the lifts?" (not thinking about the word I had chosen.)

The room is nicely appointed -- not large by any stretch of the imagination (particularly the bathroom) but comfortably laid out and more than sufficient for a stay where we do not plan on spending much time in the room. Flopping on the bead we both crashed, and were essentially dead to the world until about 9.30 this morning.

Getting started, we headed out behind the hotel and discovered how truly wonderful our location is: About a half-mile, more or less down the street, we stumbled upon the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben before dipping into the Westminster Underground station headed toward Baker Street. Surfacing at Baker Street we visited the Sherlock Holmes Museum, the London Beatles Store, and then sat at the Volunteer Pub for what will go down in history as one of the most delicious cheeseburgers either Rachel or I have ever consumed, with tasty chips -- er, pardon me, fries.

The National Art Library, The V&A. Rachel Lusting. 
Moving on we walked from Baker Street through Hyde Park, admiring the swans and paddle boats with the ultimate destination being the Victoria And Albert Museum,  known colloquially as "The V&A". Like, it seems, many other British museums (and, of course, The Cleveland Museum of Art) admission to The V&A is without charge -- though a donation is suggested. Aside from admiring the expansive collection of art, Rachel, an admitted bibliophile currently employed by two academic libraries, was found lusting after the collection of the National Art Library through locked doors.

After exhausting ourselves with the collection we left The V&A and walked back toward Hyde Park, hugging the periphery this time rather than cutting through the middle, and discovering Royal Albert Hall and passing Kensington Palace (with an abortive attempt to purchase ice cream) we laid on the lawn of Hyde Park for a bit before hopping back on the Underground to attempt to stop by a Tesco to stock the hotel mini fridge.

The Tesco our mobile phones pointed us at having been shut (one major difference from The States: opening hours for many businesses on Sundays are severely curtailed. Wandering away the general direction of our hotel, though, we found a wonderful desert shop and Rachel and I enjoyed ice cream and sherbet before discovering a Sainsbury's (open till 23:00) where we found not only Coke but Dr. Pepper (Rachel's vice) and Mountain Dew (my vice). And we began the trek back to our hotel -- as it turns out my instinct was about 20 degrees off, but again, mobile phone GPS to the rescue.
Residential Street, London

Along the way, though, it was a delightfully beautiful and quiet combination of neighborhood streets to stroll and enjoy the dusk hours. And walk past Burberry's headquarters (Rachel loves but does not own their jackets).  And we find ourselves back at the hotel with sore feet but feeling very accomplished for the day.

If you're a Friend of Rachel on Facebook, you can find the full-resolution versions of the pictures here -- and quite a few more -- in our London album.


*- Arguably, this is my favorite way to vacation as it takes the stress of actually choosing a destination out of the equation and someone else pays for the airline ticket, leaving incremental food and lodging as the only expenses. I've seen New York, San Francisco, Vancouver (Canada), Portland, Minneapolis, and more via the "Workcation" method. I would gladly acquire clients in other countries (and have been hoping to serve someone in Europe for quite a while)

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