Ah, London. It had been quite a while between visits to London for Robin and I; I’m guessing it was 1996 or 1997 when we’re last there. Robin had received a package of family tree information while in Ontario to deliver to a relation in west London, so we decided to make a long weekend of it.
Rather than flying, we decided to take the overnight ferry service to London. It’s nice in that you leave 10:00 pm from Hoek van Holland near Rotterdam and arrive in Harwick, UK at 7:00 am in the morning the next day. It’s just like a cruise: the ferry has small cabins for the night’s sleep and a shower for the next morning.
Robin met me at Amsterdam Centraal around 6:00 pm on Thursday evening and we took a couple of trains to arrive at Hoek van Holland around 9:30 pm. We picked up our tickets, cleared NL customs and boarded the ship about an hour before the departure time. We walked around the deck to enjoy the setting sun and then around departure time retired for the evening.
We awoke the next morning docked in Harwich; however, they did not let people off the boat until 6:45 am since we had to clear UK customs. We grabbed some breakfast on the ferry (unfortunately the buffet breakfast was the only real disappointment about the ferry) and lined up with everyone else for customs. Once cleared, we grabbed some seats on the train to London Liverpool Station. As I searched for a cup of coffee, we learned of Michael Jackson’s death, already plastered all over the TV’s in the station waiting room.
The trip into London was largely uneventful, other than getting slowed up for half an hour due to signal problems. I continue to be amazed at the distances some people travel to work in London. Once at Liverpool Street, we purchased three-day travel cards for the Tube and headed out to Shepherd’s Bush where our hotel was located. I had some trouble finding a reasonable hotel in the main downtown area, so when I saw rooms at a decent price at the K West Hotel in Shepherd’s Bush, I booked it quickly. The hotel was a short walk from the tube station and we needed to be on the Central Line to get the pub we were meeting Robin’s relatives on Saturday.
We were very early for checking in, but the front desk had a room for us and checked us in. However, housekeeping was still cleaning the room, so we just dumped our excess bags and decided to head back downtown for the rest of the day. We rode the Central Line back to Oxford Circus and strolled down Regent Street towards Soho and Leicester Square. We were getting hungry by that point so we waited around Chinatown until noon when the restaurants opened and had a nice dim sum lunch at the Golden Dragon.
Fortified now, we made our way to the Thames to ride the London Eye. I was impressed with not only the views from it but also the engineering behind it to keep the capsules level at all times.
Next, we walked over to Westminster Abbey, one of my favourite places in London. It certainly has become a little more commercial since the late 1980’s, but you could also tell that many of the monuments had been recently cleaned and retouched. Still a very impressive place with all that history.
It was about 4:00 pm when we left the abbey and we decided a pint was in order. We stopped in at the Old Shades pub on Whitehall and enjoyed resting our feet for a while. We walked our way back through Soho, stopping to look in the windows of the various book and music stores in the area. We grabbed dinner at Brown’s, before grabbing the tube back to Shepherd’s Bush.
We spent a lazy Saturday morning, first having breakfast at K West and then strolling around Covent Garden for a bit before leaving for our meeting with Robin’s English relatives. We were to meet at the Black Horse Pub in Greenford. We unfortunately got lost for a bit which delayed our arrival but soon had it all straightened out. There to meet us was Robin’s distant cousin, Ian Irons, Ian’s brother Les and Ian’s son Jimmy. We spent the next several hours sharing stories and pictures of the two sides of the Irons family.
After a pub dinner and some final photographs, we said goodbye to the English Irons and returned to the K West for the evening. We watched a bit of Bruce Springsteen at the Glastonbury Festival before turning in.
Sunday morning we got up, packed and grabbed some breakfast at the local Starbucks in Shepherd’s Bush. We enjoying the morning sunshine walking around the Shepherd’s Bush Common. We checked out of the hotel and took the tube back to Liverpool Street where we dropped our luggage off at the baggage hold office. We spent the rest of Sunday walking through the city, past St. Paul’s and the Royal Courts of Justice. We had a nice French-inspired lunch at Cafe Rouge before finally deciding to tackle the British Museum. We spent a nice afternoon just wondering between rooms picking off the plundered treasures of the Empire.
Around 5:00 pm we returned to Liverpool Street to find that our train had been canceled and we had to take a bus to Harwich instead. Since the bus didn’t leave until 7:30 pm, we grabbed some dinner. We arrived at the port around 9:30 pm and had only a short wait before we could board and get into our room. Quickly to bed, we awoke the next morning back at Hoek van Holland. We were off the boat and through customs by 8:00 am. We just missed our train connection in Schiedam Centraal; if we hadn’t, I would have been at work by 9:30 am. All in all, we found the train-ferry-train combination to be a very civilized way of traveling and relatively inexpensive.