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A Perfect Long Weekend in London

Jill MacAlpine Merrell is the daughter of Jim’s best friend and neighbor since fifth grade, Bob MacAlpine.  She and her husband David attended Tufts Dental School in Boston and we grew quite close to them during that time, loaning our cars to them for weekend trips, running the Charles River together and helping Jill climb the barrier to run the last few hundred yards of the 2007 Boston Marathon with Dave (while pregnant).  We attended their wedding in 2004, their graduation from Dental School in 2007, David’s Naval officer commissioning on the USS Constitution after graduation and have visited them many times since then.  They even invited us to a large family gathering where they announced Jill’s first pregnancy.  We have watched their two children, Evelyn and Mitch mature into delightful young people and we just love spending time with them.  They have had a standing invitation to visit us anywhere in the world but parenthood and management of a thriving Dental practice has kept them too busy for a long time.  David decided this year would be a good time for a long weekend in London to celebrate their 15th wedding anniversary and Jill’s 40th birthday.

Thursday morning arrival after a long day and night of travel.  Backpacks only and they took the underground from Heathrow to Earls Court and then walked to our home.
Breakfast on our terrace with gin & tonics.
Our plan was to keep them busy all day so they wouldn’t have time to be tired or sleepy.  Heading for Westminster on the tube.
At Westminster we caught the river boat to Greenwich.
Heading down the Thames
The beautiful Tower Bridge and the “walkie talkie” building on the right.
The Cutty Sark is the first thing you see after getting off the boat in Greenwich.  She is the last surviving tea clipper from the golden age of sail.  A great little museum which we have not visited yet.
The Old Royal Naval College was originally The Royal Hospital for Seamen or a pensioners home.  It was designed by Christopher Wren.  King William hospital block is on the left and Queen Mary block on the right.
They were so tired that they lay down for a quick nap.
Oh wait, they are not sleeping, only looking up at the ceiling.
And a gorgeous ceiling it is.  This is The Painted Hall.  England’s version of The Sistine Chapel without the crowds and The Vatican Museum to navigate before you get there.
See, we lay down also.  Look at the lack of crowds, this is a must see if you have the time.
This is now known as The Painted Hall but was originally the pensioners dining room.
A wall mural at the entrance to The Painted Hall.
The Ripley Tunnel which connects the King William and Queen Mary hospital blocks.
The skittles hall just off of the tunnel.  Two bowling lanes using old cannon balls as bowling balls.  You have to set up your own pins and retrieve the ball after each bowl.  Jill and Jim bowled strikes.



David tickling Queen Mary’s undercroft.  This is directly below the chapel, see below.
The Chapel of St Peter and St Paul is a Neoclassical masterpiece which was also built for the retired seamen.
The ceiling of the chapel.
Lunch stop at Trafalgar Tavern right on the river in Greenwich.
Greenwich Park with the Royal Observatory at the top. The prime meridian passes through it, and thereby gave its name to Greenwich Mean Time.
The Tulip Stairs in The Queen’s House in Greenwich.

On top of The Royal Observatory hill looking across the Thames to central London.  Note the white dome in the top right.
This is the O2 arena, 2.2 miles away and our next destination where we will climb to the top of that roof.

We had booked a 5 o’clock climb of the O2 arena and the walk along the Thames took much longer than anticipated.  Jim had almost given up hope of making our booking but Jill kept saying “we are going to make it.”  And sure enough we arrived right at 4:59 and they approached us at the end of the queue calling us by name and taking us right in.

All set for the climb with a vest to store our phones in the pocket, a safety harness and cable connecter to keep us from falling off.
They even supplied special climbing shoes which Jill and Jim wore without socks.
This is the walkway up which starts out and ends very steeply.  You are looking at the top level part as it plunges downward at the end of what you can see.  The cable connector connects to the cable in the middle.  The walking surface is very reminiscent of a trampoline.
Getting high in London.
They will not let anyone climb to the top “under the influence of alcohol”, even threatening a breathalyzer, but they give out champagne at the top.

And so ends day one for Jill and David.  Jim had scheduled a very busy day and we hit every activity with the exception of not walking the Greenwich Foot Tunnel which runs underneath the Thames from Greenwich to The Isle of Dogs.  We did walk 8.2 miles for the day though.  They were real troopers and had a great day.  We even stayed up until midnight talking.  It was the longest either of them had ever stayed up without sleeping.  We had pre-booked a Buckingham Palace tour at 10:45 on day two and had to wake them  up in order to arrive on time.  We took this tour last year and feel that it is well worth the time as the palace is only open for tours six weeks out of the year while the Queen is in Scotland.  No pictures are allowed in the palace.  They both thoroughly enjoyed the tour.

Light lunch at the cafe right outside the back door of the palace.
Rear palace entrance.
We also took a guided tour of Buckingham Palace Gardens.  No pictures allowed in the private gardens either.  The gardens are not that impressive but it was fun to see and know that the Royals of England have been enjoying these gardens since Queen Victoria’s reign.

After the palace tour we stopped off at The Goring Hotel for drinks overlooking the back lawn.  This is our third visit here and we really recommend it.  Sandy had high tea here last year with Donna Quirk and we have been here for drinks and a meal this year.

A sculpture Jim liked while walking through Grosvenor Gardens.
Next stop, St. Paul’s Cathedral which was on Jill’s wish list.

If you go to St. Paul’s you must take the narrow stairway and climb 528 steps to the top of the dome.
The view from the top is well worth the climb.

After St. Paul’s we went to a great Indian restaurant, Indian City, which we found last summer very near the Cathedral.  We were not disappointed, Jim liked it even better this year and David and Jill just loved it.  Our leftovers provided a whole other meal on Sunday.

We walked back past St. Paul’s Cathedral on the way to “the walkie-talkie” building where we had reservations for the Fenchurch Terrace Bar.
Stopping briefly at Leadenhall Market.
Real live Tito’s vodka martinis in London, who knew.  Very well made by the way.
Drinks with a sunset view of London, how perfect.
Friday night on the District Line heading for home.

Jill & David scheduled a 10am bike tour on Saturday with Notting Hill Bike Tours so we scheduled a tour of Westminster Palace which is the houses of Parliament.  We headed out the door together at 9:00.  We took the underground to Westminster and they walked the 2 miles to Hyde Park for their three hour bike tour.  Our tour of Parliament was only so so as we had a very controlling soft spoken dry tour guide.  It was quite interesting to see but may have been better with a self guided audio tour.  Again, no pictures allowed.

Getting ready to enter Westminster Palace.  Big Ben renovations and the house of commons behind Jim.  The tower is actually The Elizabeth Tower and Big Ben refers to the largest bell in the tower.
Interior entrance to the Houses of Parliament.  The lights in the glass window change with the tide levels of the Thames.

We met David and Jill after our respective tours and had a great lunch/brunch in Mayfair.  Their bike tour was great and highly recommended with a very funny outgoing young tour guide.  We walked to Portobello Road as David wanted to see Notting Hill but it started to rain so we cabbed home for some rest and relaxation before introducing them to our world travel game of Buraco.

They caught on to this game very quickly.  Sandy and Dave were the champs.

We had no solid plans for their last day on Sunday but David wanted to go to Wimbledon and we had been able to book a 12:30 guided tour.  We decided to go to church at Westminster Abbey on Sunday morning as it is free and there are no crowds.  We attended the 10am morning prayer, said with hymns, which was held in the quire. This was spectacular as there were very few people there and we were seated in the back row of the quire surrounded by ancient historical carved wooden seats that tourists are not even allowed to get close to, much less sit in.  You are not allowed to tour all of the Abbey but are able to walk in the main entrance which is the usual tourist exit and they got to see a lot just walking in and out, including the Poet’s corner.

A view of The Quire looking towards the main altar.  We were seated on the right side underneath the arches.  Not our picture as no pictures are allowed.
Leaving the Abbey after morning prayers.

We left Westminster Abbey with thoughts of taking them by the Queens horse guard and 10 Downing Street but passed by Winston Churchill’s War rooms which happened to have a remarkably short ticket line.  This had been on David’s wish list but we hadn’t pre-booked online tickets and the lines are usually prodigious.  We did a 30 minute perusal of the War Rooms and headed for Wimbledon.

The mandatory iconic London phone booth picture.

Deja vu, we were rushing the last mile on foot to make our tour arriving a couple of minutes late this time but they still let us into our tour group.

The men’s and women’s singles bracket for this years championship.
This is court #1 which has a retractable roof similar to Centre Court.
Henman’s Hill, Sandy watched the championship from here in July of 2018 when she queued with “The ladies of Wimbledon”.
Rolex clocks reflecting the time in all four tennis grand slam locations.  New York, Wimbledon, Paris and Melbourne.  We plan on being in Melbourne in October.
Our tour guide Philip was excellent, very knowledgeable and professional.
They have these anchor desks for all of the major media outlets from around the world who cover Wimbledon.
Press interview room.
This is Centre court with the roof open.  The Royal Box is at the far end.
The scoreboard still reflects the 2019 record setting men’s final scores.

This is the actual women’s singles championship plate.  These trophies never leave Wimbledon.  The winners take home a smaller replica of the trophy.  The winners names are etched on the plate but they have run out of room on the plate and are now starting to use the base.
The men’s championship cup.
2019 Wimbledon champions.
Heading home for our final night of buraco.
A champagne toast to 15 years of marriage and 40 years of life, cheers!
Goodby dear friends, we had a great time.

What a great weekend we had with these two.  We hit very different highlights of London but we all loved what we did and how much we saw in a few days.  Did you notice that our Sunday was all W’s?  Westminster Abbey, Winston’s War Rooms and Wimbledon.  Such symmetry.

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