Saturday, January 4, 2014

London Day 2: Tower of London, Big Ben, Westminster, Leicester Square, Harrods & a Chocolatier

London, Day 2: December 27, 2013
Tower of London
Our second day in London was our first full day. We all managed to get a good amount of sleep to hopefully shake off enough of the jet lag for our first real foray into London. We deliberately hadn't made a lot of specific plans to be at certain places at certain times (it was vacation after all) but had a general idea of places to go, especially for my nieces who had never been to London before. I have but in recent years the trips have been all for work so I haven't played tourist in London in quite some time so I didn't mind retracing my steps to some of the tourist attractions since I could scarcely remember them the first time around.

Tower Bridge
Thanks to a good friend with connections, we were able to get passes to the Tower of London so that was our first tourist stop. The great thing about London is the ease of getting around everywhere via the DLR (Docklands Light Rail) and of course, the tube or the Underground. We learned to navigate both very quickly and my nieces were quite adept at whipping out their iphones and google mapping wherever we needed to go. We were met with heavy downpour almost as soon as we left the hotel and both the umbrellas we'd packed from the mild climate of California didn't last 2 minutes outside. Fortunately the rain didn't last long and the sun even dared to peek out while we were exploring the Tower of London.
Big Ben - majestic as always
Much of the rest of the day was spent literally walking everywhere. We covered a lot of ground on foot - from the Tower of London to Big Ben and Westminster Abbey to Leicester Square, Bond Street, and Piccadilly Circus. We did manage to find 2 good places for lunch and dinner that day but I'm going to write those up in separate posts as part of my continuing restaurant reviews so they don't get lost in my travel monologues. Plus I like the idea of finding them later for when I go back and/or if I want to recommend them to friends who'll be visiting the city as well.

My favorite landmark in London has always been and still remains Big Ben. I never get tired of seeing it, in person or in pictures. There's just something so stately about it. Westminster Abbey is no slouch either. My head probably swiveled around like an owl as I kept gazing at all the beautiful, stately architecture around me just as we walked all around London.

In continuing with our walking travels, as a stereotype, can three females go to London and not go to Harrods? I didn't think so. However, imagine Harrods with lots of both tourists and locals doing after-Christmas and winter shopping and you've got the madhouse pictured accurately. It wasn't even Boxing Day but come to think of it, I don't think I've ever been to Harrods where it hasn't been packed. I don't have a lot of pictures inside to show because I just couldn't get out of the way long enough to take out my camera and snap pictures that weren't blurry.
Until we got to the Food Hall, that is. I love the Food Hall at Harrods, enough so that I'm going to write it up separately so wait for it in a future post :).

But I will mention the chocolatier we happened upon whilst out walking. That's the beauty of simply walking from place to place or just walking around to see the area. You can happen upon all sorts of treasures. Such is the case with William Curley Patisserier and Chocolatier. Did you think I could walk past a shop like this and not go in? I won't disappoint you because I didn't.
The inside was cute and filled with lots of expensive chocolates, both packaged on the shelves for immediate purchase and in individual pieces behind the display cases. "Take away" prices are lower than dine-in so we opted for take away since we were still on our way to Harrods at the time and didn't want to stop.
We did manage a few minutes to sample a couple of products though: a Honey and Rosemary Truffle for my nieces which they said was really creamy. Although the honey tended to overpower the flavor of the truffle, they could also still taste the rosemary. I was offered a bite but I'm not a fan of either honey or rosemary so I passed.
Scottish Rosemary and Honey Truffle

Particularly since I had my own confection to sample and share: a hazelnet praline enrobed in milk chocolate. Think of it as a Ferrero Rocher on steroids. It was both crunchy and creamy goodness at the same time - yum.

Besides eating, we also walked around most of the day. I didn't bring my pedometer or fitbit but given the time we spent simply walking, I estimated we covered at least 4-5 miles, if not more. We caught the tube from the Tower of London to Westminster then from there walked to Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus, Harrods, Berkeley Square and Bond Street, doubling back a couple of times just enjoying the sights.

Fortunately the rain had stopped so we just had to bundle up in our coats, scarves, gloves and hats against the cold. It gets dark early in London in the winter so while it felt late, it wasn't, simply because the sun just isn't around long enough for a full "day". We managed to cover quite a bit of ground on our first full tourist day, sparse daylight notwithstanding. I love seeing London on foot, even in the cold.

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