Another London Adventure Begins

Well! Here I am, sitting in my hotel room (okay, I’m technically sitting up in bed, but close enough) in London. That’s something I haven’t been able to say in 2.5 years, thanks to COVID (I was last here in November 2019), so it feels great! And the fact that the sun is shining through the window makes it that much better. On top of that, I slept for something like 12 hours last night – amazing!

As is usually the case with these posts, let’s begin at the beginning. As you saw in my last post, I was at the airport in Minneapolis, getting ready to fly to London. I’m very happy the direct route between the two cities survived the last couple of years (I think Delta got rid of it for awhile, but later brought it back), though it’s earlier than it ever has been. Whereas that direct flight once left Minneapolis around 9-10 PM for a 12-1 PM arrival in London, it now leaves at 5 PM, which means a 7 AM arrival in London. And this flight seemed particularly fast, so our (mostly) on-time departure led us to a 6:30 AM landing – barely seven hours in the air! I upgraded myself to Premium Select on this flight, which is a newer class for Delta – a step up from Comfort+, but definitely not the lay-flat magic of Delta One. It’s fairly similar to domestic first class in that it’s in its own cabin (between Delta One and Economy) and has even bigger seats with more recline (and footrests – so fancy!), so it was a more comfortable experience. The service didn’t necessarily feel any different from Comfort+, but I had no complaints about it. I didn’t sleep a wink (because the flight was so much earlier than I was used to, I wasn’t even really tired during the actual flight), but I kept myself busy with a few movies. All in all, a good flying experience!

You already saw this plane in the last post, but here it is again. 🙂
A pre-flight drink? Don’t mind if I do!

Two selfies for the price of one! Although masks aren’t required on planes (or in airports) anymore, I kept mine on the whole flight (minus this selfie and, you know, eating).

Once on the plane, I found the legroom to be pretty generous. You can’t see the footrest in this photo, but I definitely had that popped out for most of the flight.
It was nice to have a little remote for the in-flight entertainment.

The pasta I got for dinner was actually really tasty – very cheesy and lots of sauce. Ditto the egg breakfast sandwich they served shortly before landing. I think the “tableware” in Premium Select is meant to be nicer than Comfort+ and economy, but this didn’t feel any different to me. I’m assuming the actual food wasn’t any different either.

With a smooth trip behind me, I found an equally quick experience at Heathrow. Since I was last there, they’ve rolled out eGates, which are a MUCH faster way to get through Border Control. As of now, they’re available to people from the US and EU and they’re so slick – you literally walk up to them, place your passport into a scanner, and then look into a camera that uses facial-recognition software to match you to your passport. That’s it! No agents, no questions, and no passport stamps (I’m a little sad about that part, to be honest – I like looking back at my stamps!), but it honestly took perhaps 90 seconds to get through Border Control from the moment I arrived to the moment I left the eGate. There was no line to wait in, so the process would obviously be longer if there had been one, but I was very impressed. The process was so fast that bags hadn’t even started coming down when I got to baggage claim! Once the bags started arriving though, mine was pretty close to the front, so it was a short wait (another of the perks of Premium Select is Sky Priority tags on baggage, so they come down faster).

Bag in hand, my muscle memory took over (which was good, since fatigue was setting in a bit at this point) and I made my way towards the Underground at Heathrow to catch a train into the city. As I’ve said in previous posts, I actually like taking the tube into London as it makes me feel more like a local and a little less like a tourist. I had my Oyster card ready to go (though I did top it up at a machine before getting on the tube) and I was soon on my way.

When you’re leaving Heathrow, there’s always plenty of space on the tube, but it gets more and more crowded at each stop, though it didn’t get TOO full this time, thankfully! It’s a very straightforward journey – Piccadilly line to Earl’s Court, where I switched to the District line to get me to St. James’s Park, which is about a two-minute walk from my hotel. And what hotel might that be? It should surprise no one to learn that I’m back at the hub by Premier Inn – Westminster Abbey, which I first stayed at over four years ago (and have stayed at a couple times since then). Although I’ve sadly never been able to snag the amazing price I got on that first trip, this hotel has still always been a good deal and quite comfortable, despite the cozy room size. Although I’d been able to check in early in the past, I knew that was unlikely to happen this time, since I got to the hotel around 830 AM, but the person at the desk was very nice and happily took my bags (after I did a little rearranging to get ready to be gone for several hours). He also made sure to note my request to get a room with a window. While that may sound a bit odd, the way this hotel is built means that not every room has one, but since I’m here for a week, I really wanted to make sure I got one. He said that may mean my room would take longer to be ready (depending on which rooms got cleaned first), but since I wasn’t planning on getting back to the hotel until the official check-in time anyway, I figured that wouldn’t matter.

With many hours to kill before I could get a room (or a shower, or any sleep) and before I had anything planned (more on that shortly), I set out on a bit of a walking tour of some of my regular London favorites. Although arriving so early meant that I had to stay awake for a full day, it also gave me a proper day to do stuff, meaning I didn’t have to burn my arrival day, so that was nice! And the weather, while cloudy, behaved itself for the entire morning, so I didn’t have to deal with rain while zipping around the city (that wouldn’t prove to be the case later though). Even though I’ve been to London many times in my life, this first time back in 2.5 years was a little surreal in some ways. I missed it a lot, but it was so nice to be comforted with many familiar views. How great to be back in my favorite city!

Prepare for an onslaught of photos you’ve likely seen from me before! 🙂

My first Underground photo of the trip!
Westminster Abbey is, shockingly, still just down the street from my hotel.
Now THIS was a pleasant view – Big Ben not covered in scaffolding!
A return to selfies in London!
Aww, Trafalgar Square, my old friend.
I missed seeing Nelson and his column, plus the lions.

I wasn’t sure what to expect on the Fourth Plinth this time (if anything), so I was happy to see this tasty-looking sculpture, called The End. The drone by the cherry broadcasts a live stream, which you can see here.

Poor old Leicester Square is apparently being worked on once again, though this time it looks like the focus is on TKTS, rather than the whole square.
I always enjoy seeing lanterns up in Chinatown, which is right by Leicester Square.
Love the old-time look of this station!
Some colorful flowers in Covent Garden.
Ahhh, Retro Bar. I didn’t have a drink there, but I will at some point!
Hello to the hustle and bustle of Villiers Street!

It was around this time that I decided to make a little detour for a random experience that, in all honesty, isn’t that special, but it felt like one of those things you should just do when in London. What is that, you might ask? Walk through the Greenwich Foot Tunnel, of course! Random, I know, but I’ve somehow never even thought to do it before (despite being by right by its entrance a few times in the past). I just think it’s really cool (and a pretty amazing engineering feat) to walk through a tunnel that’s over 100 years old (it opened in 1902) that runs underneath the River Thames. And, practically, it’s a neat way to cross from one side of the Thames to the other. 🙂

Why include a photo of the Cutty Sark? Just because the southern entrance is right by it!
This dome is the southern entrance.
That’s a lot of nos! Of course, no fewer than four cyclists came whizzing by me during my short time in the tunnel.
Looks like a long tunnel, eh? Glad I was able to get a shot of it with no one else in it!
There’s a lift at each end of the tunnel, but if you don’t use that, you have to climb up (or down) quite a few steps to reach the tunnel.
And here’s the other entrance. A short journey, but worth it for the experience.

At this point, I hemmed and hawed a bit about what to do next. I had something in mind (more to come on that if I decide to do it), but figured I wouldn’t have enough time before the activity I’d already planned for the day. So I did what many people do when they aren’t sure what to do – eat! 🙂 Keep in mind part of my mission for this first day is to stay moving and engaged as much as possible as it helps keep me awake. With that in mind, getting a burrito bowl at Tortilla may not have been the best idea, but since sleep wasn’t an option anyway (no hotel room yet), I figured it would be fine. So I enjoyed that bowl and, predictably, started getting drowsy. But never fear – more tubing and walking to the rescue as I made me way to Highgate Cemetery for a scheduled tour.

Why would anyone want to tour a cemetery?? Honestly, that’s not a bad question, but I’d seen it pop up a few times in a London Facebook group I’m part of and it looked old, interesting, and a bit creepy, so I figured it would be a fun way to spend an hour. There are actually two halves to this cemetery – East and West. While you can book guided tours for both halves, I opted to book for just the West, which not only looked more interesting to me, but also included free, self-guided access to the East side, so I knew I’d get to see them both. For that, I paid the very reasonable sum of £14, which turned out to be great value for money as the guide (Margaret) was excellent and there was only one other person on the tour anyway, so it was almost like a private tour.

As I mentioned earlier, the rain that held off during my morning explorations parked itself over the city for the afternoon, so it rained for pretty much the entirety of the Highgate tour, but that somehow made it a little more spooky (plus it wasn’t very heavy rain most of the time, so it wasn’t too bothersome). As for the cemetery and the tour, it was really interesting! Highgate dates back to 1839 and and over 170,000 people are buried/interred in it – so, kind of a lot! It was really cool to hear about the history of the cemetery and learn a little bit about some of the people buried there, what it was like to mourn from a cultural standpoint in Victorian London, how often living family members came to visit their loved ones who had died, and more. From crumbling headstones, to large mausoleums, to tons of wild garlic (it grows all around the West side, which makes for an interesting, though not unpleasant, smell), there’s a lot to see here! I loved hearing the stories of some of the people that Margaret shared with us, too. And if searching out the graves of famous people is your thing, you’ll find several here (George Michael, Bob Hoskins, and several members of Charles Dickens’s family, to name a few). Visually, I found it really interesting, with lots of cool mini-architecture in all the monuments, especially juxtaposed with all the trees and wildlife.

The entrance to the East Cemetery, which I walked through before my tour of the West.
This mausoleum felt especially impressive, given the staircase leading up to it.
It was amazing to see so many headstones and monuments squished so close together. I later learned from Margaret that the Victorians didn’t care about squeezing things together.
If you’re into black-and-white photography, a cemetery is a good place to practice. Spooky!
It’s nice that there’s so much greenery to see, alongside the starkness of the headstones.
I learned from Margaret that these images of half-draped vases don’t signify anything in particular, but rather were just a popular piece of imagery with the Victorians.
I thought the poem on this stone was poignant.
Loved the single, fresh flower on this one.
Entering the West Cemetery.
After entering, we passed through a courtyard and then up these stairs to reach the cemetery proper.
Right away, we were met with this large monument, which belongs to the family that ran the foundry that created the bells for Big Ben and the Liberty Bell.
This monument is for an actress and it’s designed to show her coat/cloak on a bench, as if she’s just left it there.
The family mausoleum of Loftus Otway. This one is interesting because through these doors is a staircase, which you have to walk down to access the mausoleum. They aren’t usually underground!
The top view of the Otway mausoleum used to have glass domes, but they were shattered long ago. There are no living members of the family to visit or care for it anymore.
The grave of Alexander Litvinenko (known as Sasha), a Russian man who defected to the UK after learning about many of the atrocities of Putin. He was poisoned by two Russian men at a hotel in London and died in 2006. The poison, a radioactive isotope called polonium-210, meant he had to be buried in a lead-lined coffin, 30 feet underground.
This was the very first person buried in Highgate, Elizabeth Jackson, who died in 1839 at age 36.
The entrance to Egyptian Avenue, which isn’t actually Egyptian, but was built to look that way to attract visitors.
One of the tombs in Egyptian Avenue.
The Circle of Lebanon, which used to have a massive cedar tree above it. The tree pre-dated the cemetery and this was built around it, which eventually caused the death of the tree just a few years ago.
Walking through the Circle of Lebanon.
Margaret pointed out this tomb, which houses Radclyffe Hall, a poet known for her work in lesbian literature. The all-volunteer staff of the cemetery keeps fresh flowers there for her.
After Radclyffe, we climbed some steps and were able to see the top of the Circle of Lebanon. Although the original cedar tree has been removed, you can see the new one that was planted in its place.
This is the mausoleum of Julius Beer, which he built for his daughter, and is considered the finest monument in the cemetery. Margaret told us that, to build this today, you could expect to spend $40 million. Wow!
Loved this moss-covered book.
This is a very recently-built mausoleum for a man from the US.

Hope those photos inspire you to visit Highgate as it really is interesting. Finishing my tour inspired me to go to my hotel and finally check in! 🙂 The timing worked out pretty perfectly as I knew I would arrive back there shortly after the official check-in time, so I was hoping my room would be ready. Thankfully, it was, so I was able to grab my bags, check in, and finally take a shower to wash that post-travel grime off. I hate that feeling! As with my other experiences at this hotel, I found the room to be clean and comfortable, though arranged with the bed under the window, which is different from the other rooms I’ve had here. I was a little worried about the light from that waking me up in the morning, but the shade is excellent and kept all the sun out (it’s sunny today!). And it must be REALLY well-sealed as I hear nothing from outside. Check out the photos below!

Hello, old friend!
Compact and comfortable.
As always, a bathroom with good water pressure.

Feels like I’ve been writing this post for ages, but hopefully it doesn’t feel that way for you readers. I’m almost done, I swear! I wrapped up my day with a reservation at Darwin Brasserie, which is one of the restaurants in the Sky Garden. You may remember this place from my previous visit there on my last trip, but since that was a last-minute decision and the weather was a bust for it (plus it was evening on that visit, so I couldn’t appreciate the views as much), I decided to go again. And this time, I planned to have a meal there! That’s a good thing because the weather was a bust again, which meant that the terrace (which gives best access to the views) was closed again, but at least it was still light out, so I could see things better. But hey, at least the meal was good! I had a really good burger, with some especially tasty bacon and some nice, crisp fries. I was eyeing a couple of other things on the menu, but the burger won out in the end. And it was worth it!

Heading into Sky Garden.
Thanks to the rain, I didn’t bother taking any pictures of the views, but here’s one of the inside. Lots of people visiting!
The glass-enclosed box is Darwin. There’s another restaurant above it, so I may have to try that one on a future visit.
I had to walk up one more level to reach Darwin.
I was glad they seated me at a window table as I enjoyed the view.
I also enjoyed this burger! 🙂

And that, my friends, marked the end of my first day of this trip. Although it was only about 5:30 PM when I finished, I was getting pretty tired and I knew sleep would catch up with me soon. I did manage to stop and grab a few snacks for my room though (I can’t very well be without supplies, can I??) and, upon returning to the hotel, I got all my stuff stashed and sorted, which I hadn’t been able to do before because of my early dinner reservation. After that, it was about 7 PM and I was getting very drowsy. I tried watching a little TV, but it was no use – I was officially in bed at 7:30 PM. And you know what, I’m totally fine with that! I woke up briefly just before 4 AM and then again at 6 AM, but I didn’t get up until just before 8 AM, so I got about 12 hours of sleep, which I desperately needed after not sleeping at all on the plane. As with previous stays at this hotel, I was very pleased with the coldness of the AC and was cold when I woke up this morning, which is ideal for me.

And now it’s noon on Thursday and I’m finally finished with this post! Today is a lighter day, though my friend Matt is coming to the city and we have a show planned tonight. I’d tell you what it is, but that would be cheating. Good things come to those who wait, as they say!

Onwards to Thursday in London!

3 thoughts on “Another London Adventure Begins

  1. I loved Highgate! Karl Marx’s grave was a bit overdone for a communist. By contrast, Douglas Adams’ grave was very plain. My surprise was seeing George Elliot’s grave

    1. I probably should have sought out some of the “famous” graves, but I was happy to just wander and look at everything vs. any one thing. 🙂

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About thejeffelston

Based in St. Paul, MN and love to blog about travel. Comment, follow, and join me on my journey!