Before starting a cruise out of Southampton, England, my husband and I took a Whirlwind Tour Of London And The Cotswolds. The 3 night “Legendary London” tour was a pre cruise land package that we purchased before we started our “Glamorous Europe” cruise aboard the Regent Seven Seas Explorer.
We flew direct from Orlando, Florida to London’s Gatwick Airport where we were met and transferred by private car to the May Fair Hotel in London. After a light lunch in the hotel’s bar, we were given a room, unpacked and rested a bit before an early dinner.
Click on any photo in the article to enlarge and see a slide show.
We spent the evening with friends who are originally from England and happened to be in London for a wedding. We were their guests for dinner at the Ivy Cafe, Marylebone, one of their favorite restaurants in London. The brasserie is quite charming with blue walls lined with antique prints, leather banquettes, marble tile floors and interesting globe lights. Before our friends arrived, we had cocktails and nibbles at the bar which has a wonderful antique pewter top.
I ordered a delicious halibut special and my husband had their classic shepherd’s pie, which he said was great. It was a wonderful introduction to London’s popular dining scene.
The next morning after breakfast, a motor coach and guide met us along with 20 other guests for a full day of sightseeing. We drove along the Thames River, over the Westminster Bridge with a view of the London Eye and passed by Parliament and Big Ben. Big Ben, one of London’s most famous landmarks, is almost unrecognizable as it is covered with scaffolding with the exception of its face. We were told it will be that way at least until 2021.
We then drove down Whitehall past Horse Guard Arch, the main entrance to St. Jame’s Palace and Buckingham Palace. We left the coach and walked through Admiralty Arch to watch the Changing of the Queen’s Life Guards at the Horse Guard Parade. This is also where the Trooping the Color takes place to commemorate the Queen’s Birthday.
What a sight it is to see the Queen’s Household Cavalry lined up in their uniforms with their breastplates shining in the sun. The Life Guards wear red tunics and light plumes on their helmets and the Blues and Royals wear blue tunics and red plumes.
We continued on to Trafalgar Square with Nelson’s Column at the center. Around the square is The National Gallery and St Martin in the Fields Church.
Afterwards, we walked along The Mall with St. James’ Park and 10 Downing Street on one side and Green Park and Piccadilly on the other. We continued past Clarence House to Buckingham Palace. The Queen wasn’t in residence, instead she was spending time at Windsor Palace.
Lunch was at the Audley Pub, a three story traditional Victorian pub in the heart of Mayfair. Slightly outside of the tourist area, it attracts locals and celebrities such as Sean Connery, Hugh Grant, Michelle Obama and Prince Charles. The inside has a feel of a gentlemen’s club with original chandeliers, dark wood paneling and a black and white tiled floor. What did we eat… hand battered fried cod, chips and mushy peas along with a pint, but of course.
After lunch, it was back on the bus for more sightseeing. We crossed the famous Tower Bridge for our last visit of the day, the Tower of London. Passing through the huge stone walls is like stepping back in time. Inside, rows of brick and Tudor houses line the old walls on what’s called Mint Street making you realize that the Tower is really a small village, not just one structure but a complex of buildings started during the time of William the Conqueror.
It was late afternoon so we decided to go see the Crown Jewels first. The collection is breathtakingly beautiful. As we come out, we happened upon one of the pampered ravens. There is legend that should the ravens leave the Tower, both it and the kingdom will fall so you can be sure that the seven ravens kept there are well taken care of.
After a full day of touring, it was back to our hotel. Still feeling jet lagged, we decided to eat at our hotel’s May Fair Kitchen and that was a very good decision. The restaurant specializes in small plates of Spanish,Italian,Peruvian and Mexican dishes.
On our third day, the coach picked us up at 8:00 A.M. as we were heading to the Cotswolds. We drove about an hour and a half through gentle rolling countryside dotted with picturesque villages and small towns with charming buildings of honey colored stone. The Cotswolds also has its share of stately homes and our first stop was Blenheim Palace near Oxford.
It is the home of the 12th Duke and Duchess of Marlborough and was the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill. An interesting note…it’s the only non royal house in England to hold the title palace. We toured the grounds then visited the staterooms filled with treasures collected over three hundred years. There was an exhibition at the time of our visit by French avant-garde artist Yves Klein . His electric blue artwork was placed among the baroque interior…I felt a strange combination.
Afterwards, we drove to the small village of Burford for lunch at the Lamb Inn which was on Sheep Street. The pretty village is known as the “Gateway to the Cotswolds”. Later we visited Bourton on the Water, another picture perfect little village, before heading back to London.
What I found most interesting about this tour was how the historic past and the contemporary present day are mixed together throughout London and the countryside.
This was the first time that my husband and I have joined a tour group and it has its pros and cons. As to the positives, from the moment we were met at the airport, we didn’t have to worry about handling our luggage and that is a big plus. It was a fast paced three days, exhausting at times but we certainly saw and learned a lot. We had two fantastic and knowledgeable guides during our tours (one guide is a professional actress as well and she brought history to life in the most interesting way).
Most everyone I asked, including myself, thought our five star hotel was impersonal and probably wouldn’t stay there again if we returned to London on our own. We would have enjoyed having choices for our included meals but we understood that can be difficult on a tour with time restraints. Since we were always on the move, either in the bus or walking, it was difficult taking good photos. Most of all, the majority of us would have enjoyed a little more free time at our stops.
I hope you enjoyed this introduction to what was a wonderful three week tour of Europe. While longer than most of my writings, I wanted you to have an idea of what a tour of London and the Cotswolds is like if you want to partake in a tour yourself.