UK 2019: London

Pictures from this part of the trip can be found in the London gallery.

Day 17: Monday June 3

We have 5 days in London, which seems like an eternity, but there is so much to do here! A key goal for Monday and Tuesday was staying out of the way of President Trump's state visit, and the protests caused by his visit. These were supposed to be near Trafalgar Square and Buckingham Palace, so we decided not to go there. We visited the British Museum instead. The museum is overwhelmingly big, and we could have spent multiple days there to see it all. It includes an amazing collection of ancient sculpture, pottery, and artwork. The popular sections (like the Rosetta Stone and the sculptures of the Parthenon) are very crowded, but otherwise it wasn't too bad. We had lunch at the museum restaurant on the top floor before returning to the museum. However, after realizing that we could never see it all and shouldn't try, we finally dragged ourselves out of the museum and went for a walk through the historic city area.

We eventually returned to the hotel for some downtime, and then resumed our quest for gluten-free food. We found that London has a ton of restaurants for pretty much every kind of cuisine, so the gluten-free restaurants are there, but you aren't going to find them by wandering around the street. (Any random street usually just has pubs serving fried food and beer.) Julie found a couple websites that had some good suggestions, so we started working our way through the list and found some great food in interesting neighborhoods. Tonight was Apres Food Co, which was excellent, with friendly staff.

Day 18: Tuesday June 4

We had tickets to the Royal Opera's production of Tosca at noon, so we had a later start to the morning. We walked through the Soho neighborhood on the way to the opera, got a snack at Farmstead in Covent Garden (good gluten free breads!), then went to the opera. We had obstructed view seats, because we were only willing to pay £80 for tickets and not £200 for the "full-view" seats. There were a few things that we couldn't see well, but overall the view was plenty good. There were standing-room-only tickets behind us, and our experience was definitely better than theirs. The production was 3 hours long, which would have been a long time to be standing. The pit for the orchestra was HUGE — the biggest Julie has ever seen. They had a Kenwood orchestra-sized group with plenty of elbow room. We definitely enjoyed the production.

After lunch, we went to Masala Zone nearby (which was decent, but not fabulous). It was raining in the afternoon, and we wanted to do something inside, so we took the Tube to the British Library. They have an amazing collection of old manuscripts, including an early Shakespeare edition and Beethoven manuscripts. Julie enjoyed observing the messy music-writing process (and wondering how anybody could read the scribbles!). After finishing up at the museum, we took the Tube back towards Trafalgar Square and Parliament. Fortunately, President Trump was gone by then, so it was not crowded. When we were done there, we decided to take a double-decker city bus back to our hotel. It was nice to see the scenery on the way back, but it took a lot longer than the Tube because of traffic.

Day 19: Wednesday June 5

We decided to visit Westminster Cathedral right away in the morning. The cathedral contains a "Who's Who" of political, scientific, and literary figures who are buried or memorialized there. We liked the cathedral, but to be honest, we liked some of the other cathedrals (like York Minster) better.

We then took the Tube to Borough Market for lunch, because friends had recommended it, and because it was supposed to have gluten-free food. We ate lunch at a stand selling paella and other Mediterranean food, then wandered through the rest of the market. We saw some beautiful meats, cheeses, and mushrooms, but it wasn't practical to buy anything. We then walked along the river back to the main part of town.

We had 3pm tickets at the Churchill War Rooms, also recommended by friends. This was an underground bunker that Churchill used as his base of operations during World War II. Churchill knew that it wasn't bombproof, but most of the workers didn't. The area was abandoned after the war and then eventually turned into a museum, so we got to see what it was like in that era. Julie's favorite areas were the "War Room" where all decisions got made, and the "Map Room" where the analysts had to synthesize all the reports coming to them and determine what was actually happening on the ground.

After the museum, we decided to head back to the hotel for a while. Julie was interested in visiting a pub and eventually found a suitable one - Leadbelly's Bar & Kitchen near the Canada Water Tube station. It had good gluten free meals, including fish and chips, and also gluten free beer.

Day 20: Thursday June 6

We took a day trip to Greenwich, home of the Royal Observatory and the Prime Meridian. We spent a couple hours at the observatory. Julie especially enjoyed the section about marine timekeeping. It was a great example of the engineering process — the British government identified a customer need ("determine longitude with a certain accuracy"), and multiple concepts were developed in parallel. The first was to determine your current position by taking sightings of various stars, and then using some complicated math, compare that to the London sighting. It worked but required a lot of skill. The second was that John Harrison spent 40 years developing an accurate clock (tuned to Greenwich time) that could be carried on a ship, and then you compared your local noon to Greenwich noon. It was a superior technology but expensive, and became practical only when several other watchmakers reduced the cost to manufacture it. We had lunch at Gourmet Burger Kitchen (gluten-free bun) which was pretty decent, then visited the Queen's House and the Maritime Museum. We also took a nice nap on the lawn outside the Maritime Museum which felt great.

For the evening, we had bought tickets to the St. Paul's Cathedral organ concert, which was a nice (and cheaper!) way to see the cathedral. The cathedral was built by Christopher Wren after the Great Fire of 1666, patterned after St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. It was a strange combination of beautiful yet stark, and incredibly ornate. Christopher Wren's vision was for it to be simple, but Queen Victoria thought it was boring so they spiffed it up a couple hundred years later. The organist was quite good, and we were glad we attended the concert, although we agreed that none of the repertoire was our favorite.

One twist was that when we arrived at the cathedral, we said to ourselves, "Do you remember where we're eating dinner after the concert?" "Um, no??" And, since Julie had called the restaurant the previous night on her phone rather than emailing, we didn't have a confirmation of the reservation. Eventually, we managed to look up the original gluten-free restaurant website, and after some digging remembered that we intended go to Leggero in Soho. We took the Tube there and arrived just in time. Leggero was a gluten-free Italian restaurant run by Italians. It was a little like being in a small cafe in Italy, and we had one of our best meals of the trip. We enjoyed pasta, coffee, and dessert there before wandering home late in the evening.

Day 21: Friday June 7

Our final day in London! Julie wanted to see Buckingham Palace, so we started at Trafalgar Square and then walked towards the palace, along with a lot of other people. We were there during the changing of the guard, but too far away to really see much. By then, it was raining, so we kept walking through Hyde Park (and its famous Speaker's Corner), then eventually to Selfridge's department store for lunch. By then, it was pouring hard, so we were glad to be wearing rain jackets. We ate at the food court for lunch.

After lunch, we decided we were tired of walking in the rain, so we took the Tube to the Tate Modern Museum (free) and wandered around there for a while. A lot of the modern art was weird, but we found a few exhibits that we really enjoyed. After that, it was time to return to the hotel, take a nap, and get ready for the evening. The evening Tube ride was interesting — there was some kind of delay elsewhere in the system, so after we got on, tons of people packed into our subway cars. We were happy that we didn't have to push our way into the subway. What if we had been separated?? By then, we knew where we were going, and it probably would have worked out OK.

We had dinner at Ceru, an excellent Lebanese restaurant in South Kensington with (again) lots of gluten-free options. Afterwards, we walked a few blocks to Royal Albert Hall for the English National Ballet's production of Cinderella. The ballet was a highlight of the trip — Prokofiev's score was lush (although in typical Prokofiev fashion, Julie was unable to make "sense" of it), the dancers were good, and the staging was really interesting. They used LED lighting of a semi-transparent screen and the floor as much of the stage set. We were really happy we went. Royal Albert Hall is also the site of the BBC Proms, so we imagined what it would look like with Minnesota Orchestra on the main floor in the middle, surrounded by orchestra fans.

The hall wasn't that far from our hotel, so we decided to take the bus home when the ballet got out around 10:00pm. It worked out great — until the bus driver stopped the bus, and made an announcement about the bus being on a diversion and not going all the way to the Queensway Tube station near our hotel. So, we got off the bus and crossed our fingers that we would figure it out. We followed some teenagers for a block and found another Tube station, so we took that back to our hotel. We were pretty happy that we had managed two Tube snafus in one day with no issues.

Day 22: Saturday June 8

It's finally time to go home! We don't mind that we are done touristing, but neither of us is excited to go home and get back to all the craziness at work. We packed our bags, walked to the Tube station, and took the tube to Heathrow. There were a lot of other people with suitcases, so we had to stand for the entire Tube trip. Oh well.

Once at the airport, we thought we could return our Tube cards, but the machine wouldn't take them (they cost a £5 deposit, so at least they weren't too expensive). We were there with plenty of time, so we wandered around the airport and got some food. Heathrow has a big center section with restaurants and shops where you're supposed to wait, then they announce your gate and you go there right away and get on the plane. We prefer the Minneapolis layout where everything is more spread out, and you can be at the gate whenever you want. We also noticed that there were several sandwich take-away shops but no fast food. Julie's hypothesis is that fast food is fundamentally American but the take-away shops are more European. Anyway, we ignored the instructions to wait in the stupid center area and spent an hour wandering around all of the empty gates before boarding our flight.

The flight home was uneventful. We had exit row seats (courtesy of Julie's silver elite status on Delta) so we had extra leg room. They were next to the bathroom, but fortunately, people weren't standing around near our seats. Julie watched movies and Ken read his book for most of the flight. Because it was a direct flight, it felt pretty short and we arrived home feeling fairly good.

After the Lyft driver dropped us off, we decided to go out for dinner near home and watch the new Avengers movie as a way to stay awake until a reasonable hour.