To maximize our time in London, which wasn’t much already, we left Hayling Island by 9:30am, arriving on the outskirts of London just before noon. We had 45 minutes in Covent Garden for lunch, so Melanie ran off immediately to find McInternet (she actually found it inside a McDonald’s!), but I just had a Pria bar & went shopping by myself. I bought a small watercolor of London at the street market to keep my travel art collection going. Unfortunately, Lori, Kat & Mark weren’t back at the bus on time, so we had to leave without them. Lori had her cellphone so she called the ACFEA office and left a message that they’d just meet us at the Tower of London at 3pm, but Nick didn’t get the whole message, so he was quite stressed since this was the first time anyone had actually been left behind.
Doris was our guide for our whirlwind bus tour of London. The only stops were a quick photo op at Buckingham Palace then the Tower of London at the end. It is hard to see properly from inside a bus, especially Big Ben, but it was better than nothing. I felt badly for those who hadn’t been to London before and didn’t have the chance to extend their tours. It was an absolutely gorgeous day, which was very nice!
At the Tower of London, Doris was very informative, but it took 45 minutes for just her Tower tour, so that only left 45 more minutes to explore on our own. Since we’d seen the crown jewels before, Kat, Kristin & Kevin, Maly & I went through the Medieval Rooms, then the gift shops, getting back to the bus just in time. At least we were all back together by then, so Nick was back to being his chipper self.
We checked in at 5pm at the Thistle Kensington Gardens on Bayswater, not to be confused with the Thistle Kensington Park or Thistle Hyde Park! 😉 Since Graham was just dropping us off for dinner, and so many people weren’t going on the bus to the airport in the morning, while he was unloading our bags, we stopped him, gave him an Americana CD (with Shenandoah on it – remember that’s his favorite!), a tour t-shirt, tips collected from all of us, and we sang Shenandoah for him. Graham’s eyes got a bit misty, which started Daniel crying, and I saw Kat and Melanie crying too…awww…Graham got on the mic himself on the bus & genuinely told us “I don’t want this tour to end”…so sweet!
Melanie didn’t want to wake up so early since she was extending her tour, so we traded roomies with Peggy & Sheila so only Sheila & I would be the ones getting up at the crack of dawn. Sheila & I had wanted to go to Harrods “just across the park” but we realized there was no way we’d get there & back in time to leave for dinner at 7pm, so we decided we’d walk in Kensington Gardens until we had to start back. We went by Kensington Palace, former residence of Princess Diana, then we had just enough time to reach the brand-new Diana Memorial Fountain. There is no official sign for the memorial, only a yellow paper warning that pets and children are your own responsibility. I was hoping for an explanation of why it was an irregular oval shape. I figured the fact that pets and children were allowed to play in the fountain felt like Diana’s spirit. It did feel welcoming and friendly to me.
We made it back to the hotel with 10 minutes to spare, then we all left on the bus for dinner at the Farmhouse Table on Shaftesbury near Soho. We had our own room, but the tables were situtated around a corner so it was a bit difficult to see everyone. I ended up sitting with Todd, Kathy, Anna, Kevin & Nick, which also gave me a good vantage point for the videocamera. We had an excellent salad, with the first salad dressing we had yet on tour – heh! Nick had chosen lamb for the entree for everyone except Robin. It was so tender it just fell off the bone, but I still could only eat half since that was just too much meat at one sitting for me. However, the ice cream and chocolate fudge cake squeezed in just fine – delicious! Daniel gave speeches galore thanking everyone, then he got Nick up there, raved about how great he is which is absolutely true, making him blush of course, gave him a CD, tour t-shirt and tips we collected for him, then we sang his favorite for him…Ubi Caritas by Durufle. I didn’t see anyone cry this time, but the usual criers were around the corner from me so I can’t say for sure… 😉
Melanie & I had discussed earlier that we didn’t really feel like following the other crowd in search of gay bars in hopes of staying up all night, so we asked Nick if there was anywhere near our hotel to go. Since we were staying practically in his own neighborhood, he suggested his own local pub the Windsor Castle in the Notting Hill area. Nick had to lead the group of everyone who wanted to go back to the hotel first anyway, so we all got on the tube (I was “deputized” to keep the group together while Nick bought our tickets), but Anna, Kevin, Melanie & I stayed on for one more stop to get to the pub first to meet Melanie’s friend Gareth. Gareth had just arrived at the hotel to pick up Melanie’s suitcase for her and called her, so since the timing was perfect, we had him meet us at the pub first. We thought that a few like Maly, etc, might come along with Nick from the hotel, but it was just Nick so it was just the six of us. Very nice pub, but Nick had warned us of the very low doors inside – “the Mind Your Head signs are posted at the height of your navel” I think was the quote…? 😉 There was a large beer garden in back, and it was still a nice night, so we waited out there until a table opened up – very busy for a Tuesday night! The cider they had on tap (Addlestone’s?) was the best I had the whole trip – infinitely better than the Strongbow everywhere else!
Since we arrived around 9:45, we only had time for two rounds before we were kicked out at 11:20, since the pubs all close at 11pm. While chatting up a storm, we got some good and silly photos, but not with my camera, so I’ll have to wait – darn! It was walking distance back to the hotel, but Nick said he’d take us on a bus instead…but since Gareth still needed to get Melanie’s suitcase anyway, he offered to take us in his car, so we all piled in. They all offered me the front seat for leg room, but it would have been much more fun as one of the four squished in the back seat! I did get pix of that – haha!
While Melanie & Gareth took care of her suitcase, the rest of us went straight to the hotel bar. I opted to sip Absolut on the rocks this time. After Gareth left, it was Melanie, Kevin, Anna, Nick & I chatting for awhile, then Keith, then Daniel, then Carolyn, Will, Ben, etc, came back, disappointed in the Tuesday night gay bar scene. Around 12:30, they all left, with big hugs for those we wouldn’t see in the morning when we left at 6:30am. Around 1ish we noticed they had closed the bar without even offering last call…hrmph! Kevin was pretty much crashed out on the couch by then, Melanie had gone to bed, leaving Anna, Nick & me still talking, but Nick claimed tiredness by 1:15 or so, so we all went to bed…a very nice final evening!
Next: going home…