London Day 1 – arrival and Westminster Walk

So how much can you really do on you first day after flying nearly 10 hours? A lot! Yes, I will caveat this in that I flew business class on American Airlines fancy new 777 and slept really well for about 6 hours. My flight left LAX at 6:35 pm Friday and arrived in London just before 1 pm Saturday. (Pease excuse my iPad typos!)

Fast Track through customs, visit an ATM in the arrivals hall and then followed the signs for the underground. I did not use the Heathrow Express as the tubes route planner showed I could reach my underground stop only 10 minutes later than the Express and underground connections. But I saved a lot on the train fare.

It’s a long walk to the Heathrow Express station from where American lands and even further to the underground station so if mobility is an issue you’re better off shelling out the pounds for a taxi.

By 2:30 pm I reached my hotel. I’m staying at the St Ermin’s Hotel, an Autograph hotel and part of the Marriott family. As you can see, it has a very impressive entrance!20140222-211302.jpg
It’s right by the St James Park underground station so only one change from Heathrow. Piece of cake. And just a minute or two walk from the St James Park underground.

Since I travel so much for work, I do get some nice perks to use on vacation. One is hotel award stays, the other is automatic upgrades. Even when staying on points you still benefit from your hotel status level. So, my free room was upgraded to a king, breakfast is complimentary which is a huge savings, and I receive a bottle of wine and either a sweet or savory snack to be served at the time of my choosing, which was immediately.

I must admit, first impression of the room was “what upgrade!?” But rooms in Europe can be very small and the appointments are wonderfully done. 20140222-213238.jpg
I’ve already unpacked so the room is a bit disheveled. I look back though memories of rooms only a quarter this size. And I admit I have to recalibrate my US interpretation of “executive king room” to European standards. The room really is lovely but it’s not an Executive King, definitely a king upgrade but just not what they told me upon check-in. Since I’m one person, it’s no big deal and it’s a definite upgrade from the small standard rooms.

Here are just a few highlights I’ve discovered: premium in room coffee, flat screen TV with sound bars, desk equipped with adapters and a super comfy bed and a complimentary bottle of water, assorted macaroons and hand signed note welcoming me to the hotel. What more could you ask? Seriously, the macaroons are delicious and the hand signed note a very nice touch.

As I unpacked, my wine and savory snack arrived. The snack turned out to be a beautiful English cheese assortment and delicious Spanish white wine.
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Just past 3:30 pm I’m ready to explore! After picking up a complimentary map from the concierge it was just a few minute walk to this fantastic partial view of some of London’s power attractions. 20140222-214416.jpg
Instead of wandering with tour book in hand, I’ve discovered the Rick Steve’s app and audio guides – free! No internet connection required if you’ve already downloaded the available tracks. I wove my way through the tourist hoards to the Westminster Bridge to begin his walking tour of Westminster.

The audio guides work great although instead of reading a book and looking around, you just stare at the sights and loiter. Not sure which is better, but the audio guide made a walk in a busy area very easy to follow. Here are just a few highlights from Westminster to Trafalgar Square.

Parliament

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And because you can’t have too many photos

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Big Ben

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Trafalgar Square with St Martin in the Fields in the background.

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Trafalgar Square facing down Whitehall. This is where the Rick Steves’ Westminster Walk ends.

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From here I decided to head down The Mall toward Buckingham Palace. The walk allows for opportunity to stroll through St James Park which was lovely. Bulbs are showing and the parks animals and fowl are on display.

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And finally the uninspiring palace.

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From here I continued along the southern side of the park back toward my hotel. Essentially this made an elongated triangle (which I’m sure has some sort of math name).

After a refreshing break in my room, I gathered up my books to plan my attack for the next couple of days, because yes, I left my rough itinerary at home! For dinner I simply opted for the hotel restaurant and bar which appears to be a bit of hotspot. My travel weary self didn’t exactly blend with some of the fancy cocktail dresses but it was a broad mix in the bar as the fancier waited for their coveted restaurant reservations. The service was excellent, wines wonderful and appetizer delightful.

What a great day. I was impressed by how much I saw yet there is so much more to experience! The next three days will be packed! But for now, it’s all I can do to stay up as late as possible, and proud by how late I’ve made it!

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