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Travel 2016: Day Two – King’s Cross to London’s Camden Market

Marylebone Grammar School.

Marylebone Grammar School.

After a good night’s sleep, we decided to head out on foot with only a tentative itinerary in mind. We had two shows booked and about six hours for exploring before then. We wanted to try and catch a boat ride at 10:30 am so we started walking that direction; up through King’s Cross and Marylebone to Little Venice.

Our friend George, highly recommended the phone app Maps.Me and so I’d downloaded the map of London as soon as we arrived. It’s a life-saver. What’s great is that once you have a map downloaded, you don’t need phone service to use it since it is GPS powered. We used it to get our bearings, locate points of interest and find the nearest Tube stops, never needing to worry when we’d wander off track.

We arrived in Little Venice early, giving us time to explore around the Regent’s Canal and grab breakfast at the Waterside Cafe. The restaurant itself, was a boat on the canal.

Jason’s Original Canal Boat Trip.

Jason’s Original Canal Boat Trip.

After breakfast, we boarded Jason’s Canal Boat Trip using our London Pass for a leisure ride around Regent’s Park (which covers 395 acres) to the Camden Locks. Jason’s has been operating since 1951 using a boat that’s over 100 years old.

The boat ride takes about 45 minutes. In addition to plenty of natural scenery, you glide past old and new estate homes, jogging paths and the London Zoo which flanks both sides of the canal.

Crossing under a bridge on the Rengent Canal.

Crossing under a bridge on the Regent’s Canal.

There are many bridges crossing the narrow canal allowing only enough width for one boat to pass through at a time.

At the end of the line, we reached the Camden Locks that are still manually operated to this day. The twin locks were originally constructed in 1818 and 1820. They now have Grade II historic designation and protections.

 

Camden Market

Welcome to Camden Market.

Welcome to Camden Market.

We got off the boat and found ourselves in a wonderland of food and unique treasures. The Camden Market started out open only on weekends but became so wildly popular it is now open daily.

Camden Market is an indoor and outdoor marketplace housed in multiple buildings and connecting streets. It’s a must-visit destination requiring anywhere from a couple hours to a full day of exploration.

Whether you are a treasure hunter, tourist or window shopper –there are multitudes of unexpected gems to taunt the senses. You can find food and trinkets here from all over the world.

 

Outdoor stalls at London's Camden Market.

Outdoor stalls at London’s Camden Market.

 

Several sellers exclusively merchandise to the Steampunk crowd.

Several sellers exclusively merchandise to the Steampunk crowd.

 

Exotic textiles at Camden Market.

Exotic textiles at Camden Market.

 

New and perfect-condition vintage clothing, steampunk accessories, old records, lamps, artwork, new and heirloom jewelry– it’s all here. If you can dream it- you’ll probably find it.

 

ZSL London Zoo

London has a truly first-class zoo. With a little time before our matinee, we used our London Pass  for fast-track entry and a rather rushed but enjoyable visit.

Opening in 1828, the London Zoo is the world’s largest scientific zoo. Today, the zoo features 756 species of animals.  It’s as much a park as it is a zoo. Large green spaces, well constructed exhibition grounds and something to appeal to all ages.

The carousel at the London Zoo.

The carousel at the London Zoo.

 

Lions at the London Zoo.

Lions at the London Zoo.

 

Show Time

Matilda the musical at the Cambridge Theatre in Covent Garden.

Matilda the Musical at Cambridge Theatre in Covent Garden.

We headed back to Covent Garden for the matinee performance of the musical, Matilda. Based on the popular children’s book, it made for a colorful and entertaining afternoon. I’m really glad we waited to see it here in London.

We had just enough time between shows to catch a nice dinner at Cote Bistro, in the theatre district.

Our evening performance was what might be considered standard British farce. The Play That Goes Wrong is funny, funny stuff. The plot centers on a community group putting on a play. As the title suggests, everything that can go wrong does so hysterically.

The Play That Goes Wrong at the Duchess Theatre.

The Play That Goes Wrong at the Duchess Theatre.

For my theatre friends– every single thing that could possibly happen, or you have ever experienced going wrong in a show, is included. I couldn’t think of one possible thing they left out.

After the show, it was back to Shake Shack at Covent Garden Market for a chocolate-peanut butter concrete, then headed underground for our Tube ride back to St. Pancras.

Travel 2016: St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel London – A Photo Essay

The restored clock at St. Pancras.

The restored clock at St. Pancras.

You’re probably familiar with the St. Pancras Hotel and didn’t even know it. Have you seen Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets? In an early scene of the movie they fly right by it. The Spice Girls video “Wannabe” was filmed at the entrance and on the grand staircase, prior to the hotel’s massive renovation.

The London neighborhood of King’s Cross was a major train hub, both freight and passenger trains, in the late 1800’s, with four major train stations located there. St. Pancras was opened in 1868 owned by the Midland Railway Company. The Midland Grand Hotel, a stunning work of Victorian Gothic architecture, designed by architect George Gilbert Scott, opened in the attached space in 1873.

Inside the lobby of the restored St. Pancras hotel.

Inside the lobby of the restored St. Pancras hotel.

Unfortunately, the hotel closed in 1935 when it became too costly to run with its outdated utilities, and was used mainly  as office space after that. In addition, train terminal was hit by bombs during WWII causing extensive damage.

This incredible landmark was almost demolished in the late 1960’s after falling into major disrepair. Luckily, with great effort and much expense, it was saved.

St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel London is actually part of the larger complex known as St. Pancras International. Eurostar began providing high speed train service to Paris in 2007 and the hotel reopened in 2011 with a five star rating.

 

Exterior at St. Pancras International.

Exterior at St. Pancras International.

 

The original design of the train terminal at St. Pancras International was by William Henry Barlow.

The original design of the train terminal at St. Pancras International was by William Henry Barlow.

 

Eurostar High Speed Trains provide service to Paris.

Eurostar High Speed Trains provide service to Paris.

 

The Victorian Gothic entrance designed by Douglas Gilbert Scott.

The Victorian Gothic entrance designed by George Gilbert Scott.

 

This magnificent building is too large to photograph.

This magnificent building is too large to photograph.

 

The restored clock tower at St. Pancras International.

The restored clock tower at St. Pancras International.

 

Looking down at the lobby of the St. Pancras Renaissance London Hotel.

Looking down at the lobby of the St. Pancras Renaissance London Hotel.

 

The grand staircase at St. Pancras Renaissance London Hotel.

The grand staircase at St. Pancras Renaissance London Hotel.

 

Inside the Booking Office Bar & Restaurant, once the ticketing office for train passage.

Inside the Booking Office Bar & Restaurant, once the ticketing office for train passage.

 

The ceiling inside the Gilbert Scott Bar.

The ceiling inside the Gilbert Scott Bar.

 

The Gilbert Scott Restaurant.

The Gilbert Scott Restaurant.

 

The bedroom of the Sir George Gilbert Scott Suite.

The bedroom of the Sir George Gilbert Scott Suite.

 

The bathroom in the Sir George Gilbert Scott Suite.

The bathroom in the Sir George Gilbert Scott Suite.

 

A touch of whimsy.

A touch of whimsy.

 

The living area in the Sir George Gilbert Scott Suite.

The living area in the Sir George Gilbert Scott Suite.

 

Fresh flowers and a view of the Clock Tower.

Fresh flowers and a view of the Clock Tower.

 

The Gothic Windows of Grand Staircase.

The Gothic Windows of Grand Staircase.

 

A view at the Grand Staircase.

A view at the Grand Staircase.

 

Looking up along one side of the Grand Staircase.

Looking up along one side of the Grand Staircase.

 

Looking down the center of the Grand Staircase.

Looking down the center of the Grand Staircase.

 

Looking down one side of the Grand Staircase.

Looking down one side of the Grand Staircase.

 

The exterior of St. Pancras Renaissance London Hotel & St. Pancras International.

The exterior of St. Pancras Renaissance London Hotel & St. Pancras International.

Travel 2016: Day One – London (and getting there)

London, Rome and Broadway On the High Seas 7- cruising southern Italy. This time around, we booked our own pre cruise adventure– with the exception of the hotel in Rome, booked through Playbill Travel. The first five days we were on our own to create our own experience.

It’s funny how months of preparation and research fly out the door in the few days prior to leaving on an extended vacation. This was our third trip overseas and you’d think I’d be used to that last-minute feeling of anxiety but it still takes me by surprise.  I suddenly found myself forgetting and rechecking everything I’d prepped for; probably asking Michael the same questions repeatedly, hopefully not driving him too insane. All the research on London and Rome was a jumbled mess in my head so I found myself going back over notes I’d made just to be sure I was ready.

The Flight

This was the first time traveling since we got the Global Entry clearance which includes TSA Pre-check. Of course, wouldn’t you know I was one of the people randomly selected to be scanned at security. Luck of the draw.

We flew to London Heathrow, direct flight, business class– on an evening flight out of Chicago O’Hare. The seating on this American Airlines flight was cozy yet smaller than past times we’ve flown business class. I watched two movies: All the Way and Trumbo, both starring Bryan Cranston, and enjoyed them both. Though I did manage to get a little sleep, I’ve found it’s really difficult for me to sleep more than a couple hours in the air. Michael, on the other hand, can sleep like a baby.

Overall, the flight was comfortable and it was on time. We arrived at Heathrow shortly after 9 am and breezed through to pick up our luggage.

 

The Tube is the best affordable way to get around London.

The Tube is the best affordable way to get around London.

Luggage and the Tube

We don’t travel as light as we probably should, so we found ourselves both lugging our two checked bags and two carry ons– that’s right… on the Tube. Aside from being a little awkward manipulating, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it might be. Except– that moment when we reached the first very steep escalator in one of the stations. I had a moment of acrophobia and kept it under control by staring at the back of Michael’s head.

The ride took us about 45 minutes to reach central London. Did I mention that I still didn’t know where we were going?

You Call THIS a Hostel?

Michael spent many hours researching London accommodations, months prior to the trip. To keep me guessing, he decided that our destination would be a surprise. It became a running joke that we were staying in a seedy hostel, complete with rats, paper-thin mattresses and a shared bath.

As we got closer to the trip, Michael would get “daily email updates” that he’d share with me each morning before he left for work. He’d inform me of pending updates such as ‘new pots to catch the water from the leaky roof’, warnings to ‘sleep with one eye open’, our daily ‘work assignment’– crazy stuff like that.

I can’t tell you how many times we’d finish watching TV or a movie and he’d say, “Did you see our hostel?” It was even one of the locations used in an episode of Downton Abbey that we re-watched before the trip. I was clueless.

The whole time, I knew I was in for something pretty incredible but Michael still managed to outdo himself. Our ‘hostel’ turned out to be the historic and opulent, St. Pancras Hotel.

St. Pancras Renaissance London Hotel

We got off the Tube at King’s Cross, exited the station to the street and Michael just stopped in his tracks. “There’s your home for the next few days,” he said. I looked around and was a little confused. All I saw was this stunning, monster of a building– complete with clock tower, across the street. Overwhelmed would be an understatement. Welcome to St. Pancras!

 

My first view of the St. Pancras Renaissance London Hotel.

My first view of the St. Pancras Renaissance London Hotel.

 

Arriving early in the day, we didn’t expect our room to be ready. I soon found out Michael had scheduled a tour of the impressive building shortly after we checked our bags. (I’ll write a separate blog post just on the hotel– too much to include here and visually too impressive not to share.)

After touring this magnificent facility, we were able to check in to our room. And as if my head wasn’t already full enough, Michael had snagged of of the three designer suites in the hotel– the Sir George Gilbert Scott Suite. The suite was named after the building’s architect. You’ll see in my next post, images of this carefully restored slice of history.

Staying in the historic section of the St. Pancras, we also had exclusive use of the Chambers Club where we could have breakfast, afternoon tea or just relax.

After settling in, we had just enough time to head out, catch the Tube and do a little exploring before our first show.

My First Visit to the West End

The West End is often referred to as London’s equivalent of the Times Square Theatre District in New York City– only it isn’t. Yes, it is the hub of many entertainment venues in London but that is where the comparison stops.  I found the West End to be quite charming and warm. Though it was bustling with activity, it was still easy to take a relaxing stroll through the area. The streets are loaded with unique shops and quaint restaurants enticing theatregoers around every corner. There is completely different vibe here than the tourist-driven frenzy that exists in New York.

Charlie marquee

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory marquee at Theatre Royal Drury Lane.

Our first show– my first ever in London, was Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Perhaps a little ironic that it was written by the American musical theatre team of Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman who also wrote the hit musical, Hairspray.

I loved it! As opposed to trying to compare it to other productions, I’ll say this: It was probably my most thoroughly-satisfying theatregoing experience in the past ten years. The physical production, the cast and the adaptation were all nothing short of magical. As one of my most favorite and most-memorable books growing up, this production of Charlie… made me feel like a kid again– rediscovering Roald Dahl’s delicious tale as if it were the first time. I can’t say enough good things about it.

From our seats, inside the Theatre Royal Drury Lane.

From our seats, inside the Theatre Royal Drury Lane.

By the way, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is slated to make it’s Broadway debut next spring.

After the show, we took a leisure stroll through the West End with one destination in mind: Shake Shack.

The Shake Shack on 8th Ave has become one of our go-to places when we’re in NYC. With their popularity growing, others have started to sprout up in major cities around the world. (London already has three.) Michael and I both love their thick creamy concretes and their burgers and Chicago style hot dogs are good too. London’s Covent Garden location didn’t disappoint. It became our nightly stop before returning to the hotel every night after our shows.

Bellies full and exhausted, we returned to our hotel and actually slept through the whole night, peaceably.

 

On the street in the West End.

On the street in the West End.

 

The Nags Head in the West End.

The Nags Head in the West End.