London wears the crown

It’s supposed to be my last blog for the month for vacation spots.

As the saying goes, too many places, too little time.

The epilogue goes to London.  Charming with history etched in every architecture.  Pompous and beguiling.  This is a city of ideas and imagination.  And residence to the monarchy in England.  Like Toronto, this is a city that is deeply multicultural, yet unequivocally snotty at the same time.  Prim, proper and proud.  London, like its queen, definitely wears the crown to my blog on vacation stories.

Arriving on Qatar Airways.  Among the middle eastern airlines, I have always loved Qatar Airways. Great ambience, luxury seats and amenity kits, pyjamas onboard the biz flights, and the best food in the skies. After all, who serves Laduree dessert 33,000 feet in the air? Pampering takes a new level with this airline. And their lounge in DOHA provides excellent menu and amenities (shower and business centre) as well. The flights on biz class are not too expensive as well (flying from Manila-London-Manila on Qatar was $1000 cheaper than flying on Philippine Airlines). The only downside with the middle eastern airlines is that while they are not too expensive, few have alliance partners, making mileage accumulation difficult and sadly, useless.

This vacation to London was interrupted in between with a weekend to Edinburgh, Scotland.  Our first hotel in London was the Haymarket Hotel at 1 Suffolk Street on Piccadilly.  It is located right in front (walking distance) of the Philippine Embassy. Breakfast (at Brumus) at this hotel was outrightly awesome (and according to the waiter there, the Philippine ambassador frequently has breakfast here). As part of a Firmdale chain of hotels, the Haymarket was a show stopper by any standard! The gym, the pool, the room, the fragrance, the bed, the service, the breakfast!

We made it by foot to many of the touristy spots that gorgeous afternoon.  And the following day took the hop on/hop off bus to gallivant around London. London Bridge, The Tower of London, Buckingham Palace, St James Park, Harrod’s (with a dedicated shrine to Princess Diana and Dodi) and a pitstop for meals at the Laduree patisserie in Harrods. On foot you can explore Nottinghill and 10 Downy street or stroll along Central London, Piccadilly Square or the British Museum. England has a deep and amazing history – like one out of a fairy tale book.

And a trip to London would never be complete without going to Warner Bros. Studio Tour of Harry Potter.  There is only one Harry Potter Studio in the whole world.  This is where they shot all the movie and its sequels for 10 years. Traveling from London, take the train from Watford Junction and arrive there from London Euston (a 20 mins journey) or Birmingham New Street (a 1 hr journey).  When you arrive, you will see the Harry Potter buses outside which will take you to the studio.

After a few days scouring London, we hied off to Edinburgh, Scotland for the weekend.  Because we booked another Firmdale Hotel when returned from Scotland, the hotel was more than happy to send our luggages directly to our next hotel and they kept our luggages for the 3 days 2 nights of our stay in Edinburgh.  We packed a few clothes and from London King’s Cross left a little past 11AM and arrived at Edinburgh Waverley station after 4 1/2 hrs.  The hotel was right on top of the train station in Edinburgh – so that was a plus!

Edinburgh, Scotland

The Balmoral Hotel was home to us for the weekend.  This hotel was a special request as J.K. Rowling had stayed in this hotel as she was writing the last book of Harry Potter.  She stayed in Room 552.

Draped across a series of rocky hills (and the climb to the top is a challenge and a must if you want to break out some serious sweat) overlooking the sea, this city is small enough to tour in a day, but must be enjoyed leisurely.  The Edinburgh Castle, the Royal Yacht Brittania, The Scottish Parliament Building, and that climb to Arthur’s Seat! This is one of the most spectacular cities in Europe.

After Sunday service, we had brunch. And were on our way back to London for finishing touches to our vacation.

Our second hotel was another Firmdale Hotel.  It’s sister hotel, the Ham Yard Hotel, was not only flabbergasting…I have never seen a boutique hotel as spectacularly amazing at this.  While its amenities were way above the Haymarket, the noise around the area was a turn off.  It’s located right at the Piccadilly Circus area and closest to all the shops and eateries.  It actually is a small fort within the city.  And I will let these pictures speak for themselves.

There were still many places to visit.  And so many shows to see.  While we saw The Elephant Man (with Bradley Cooper starring) and Sunny Afternoon (which was just okay), the icing to the cake was Gypsy (showing at the Savoy Hotel London). And Laura Stanton deserved that standing ovation!

The following day we decided to go take a trip to Stonehenge in Salisbury. It was a 2 hrs trip on the tour bus (which meant a whole 4 hours of travel time back and forth).  While there is a story to this place, I felt that it was just a bunch of rings of stones in a barren field in the middle of nowhere.  But don’t get me wrong. You will need to go through the history and mysteries that were concocted for this place in order to appreciate the trip.

But London was not all about the tourist spots.  Whetting ones pallet was definitely on our…uhmmm…menu as well. Whether we were binging on Chinese or a burger or fish and chips…the food scene in London is expansive, a tad expensive, but delectably good.

Relax. Recharge. Rewind. Repeat.

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Vacations are all about stories we can tell. Over and over.

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