London: Churchill War Rooms, Tea, and the West End

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©Jean Janssen. Big Ben and the London Eye, London, England.

From Paris Gare Du Nord, we took the Eurostar to London.  Taking the train was so much easier than a flight.  It was a short cab ride to the station (or metro if you don’t have as much luggage as we have) and security was quick.  When we arrived in London two hours and 15 minutes later, we were already in the heart of the city.  The London part of the trip is all work for Boris, so he dumped me in a cab and I took all the luggage to the hotel while he headed out to a speaking engagement.  Fortunately, the hotel bellman Jack, in hat and tails, was most helpful.

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©Jean Janssen. St. James Park in the heart of London, England.

Our room wasn’t ready so I pulled out what I needed-money and a camera-and headed across Westminster bridge in route to Leicester Square and discount tickets to a show in the West End.  We are staying in a modern Park Plaza hotel near the London Eye and across the Thames from Big Ben.  I actually met some friends from Houston on the bridge.  It was quite difficult to cross because it was clogged with tourists trying to take pictures.

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©Jean Janssen. This is London so there is always a parade or changing of the guard even if you are not looking for one. Buckingham Palace is in the background. This military unit was headed to St. James Palace.

I was happy to hear that there are weekday matinees at many of the London theaters.  I should be out shopping since Brexit has made my US dollar stronger against the British Pound, but honestly I would rather see a show.  There was no direct tube (underground) route so I walked it.  Its hot again and I had left my hat at the hotel.  Darn it.  In Leicester Square there is a  booth for theater ticket sales, most sold at a discount.  It was far less crowded than its equivalent in Times Square, New York.  I got a ticket to see a musical, Showboat, and dashed over to the theater which unfortunately was one of the more remote theater locations.  I made it in time.

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©Jean Janssen. Ice Cream is sold inside the theater auditorium during intermission in London.

It was a great show and I was happy to see that they have kept the tradition of selling ice cream inside the seating area during intermission.  I hadn’t eaten since breakfast, so I decided to hold out for fish and chips at a pub on the way back to the hotel rather than have dessert first.  The set up at the Silver Cross pub required you to find a seat, order and pay at the bar giving them your seat number and then return to that seat, a little tough to do on your own.  The fish and chips were fabulous.

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©Jean Janssen. The Silver Cross Pub on Whitehall in the City of Westminster, London.

Next to me an Australian woman told the story of her current love life to a young couple.  When I needed another large cider, I asked them to watch my place and I heard them remark that I was getting an earful with her story.  That was all I needed.  Upon my return, I thanked them for watching my things and told the woman she deserved better and to get rid of the man.  The young woman, who turned out to be her niece, looked at me thankful and hopeful.  Then I had to hear the rest of the story.  Forty-five minutes later, the woman  thanked me repeatedly for my advice.  The young man, who was a friend of the niece that he had met on a previous visit to London, was just there to see his friend again.  He looked like he wanted to leave with me.  Natasha’s counseling services are available worldwide.

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©Jean Janssen. The London Eye by night as viewed from the Westminster Bridge, London.

She wore me out so I headed back to the hotel to collect our luggage.  Turns out Boris had already been there and gotten it.  If the shows hadn’t already started, I would have headed back to Leicester Square and gotten a ticket to an evening performance.  The room was very modern and the AC worked great.  I cranked it up, made the room really cold, and watched the London Eye lit up in red outside the window.  Boris got back really late.

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©Jean Janssen. Entrance to the underground Churchill War Rooms, London.

Boris didn’t wake me in the morning so I almost didn’t get up in time to shower before my tour of the Churchill War Rooms the next morning.  I did miss breakfast.  The facility is right across the bridge and I was there for the opening at 9:30.  I had pre-purchased my ticket at home.  There is a single line for security as you enter and then it breaks into two lines for those that have tickets and those that are buying on site.  Only a few people are let into the facility at a time.  The tour is self-guided with the use of an electronic device.  You are not limited as to the amount of time you can stay in this underground facility.

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©Jean Janssen. Meeting space in the Cabinet War Rooms.

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©jean Janssen. Cartoon of Hitler drawn on one of the maps in the Cabinet War Rooms, London.

The cabinet war rooms, built in 1938 and in use through the Second World War, were first opened to visitors in 1984.  After a major redevelopment and the addition of the Churchill museum, the facility reopened in 2005.  This was my first visit.

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©Jean Janssen. One of the larger apartments in the underground Cabinet War Rooms, London. Note the chamber pot under the bed.

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©Jean Janssen. Signs told those below ground in the Cabinet War Rooms what the weather was like outside. Churchill War Rooms, London

You are first given some orientation to the signage in this underground facility where some people lived full time and rarely saw the light of day.  In fact, one sign told the residents what the weather was like outside. After seeing some of the meeting spaces you come to the relatively new Churchill Museum; through interactive exhibits you can explore the life of Winston Churchill.  After leaving the museum, you see the living quarters for some of the residents.  A cafe is available should you want a snack.

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©Jean Janssen. Map room in the Cabinet War Room, London.

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©Jean Janssen. Map Key, Churchill War Rooms

I found the map rooms the most interesting.  Here maps, yarn, and pins outline the troop movements along the various fronts.  In the command center, wax figures depict the use of the room.  Phones of various colors line the countertop, each color for a different branch of the military.  Tubes for passing of messages filled the room.  Next door was Churchill’s bed and desk.

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©Jean Janssen. Churchill War Room. Different Color phones for different branches of the military.

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©Jean Janssen. Churchill’s room in the Cabinet War Rooms, London.

I spent two and half hours underground; the museums were fascinating.  The headset recording included radio tapes and testimonials from individuals that worked in these facilities, enhancing your tour experience.  If you have the London Pass, the Churchill War Rooms are included.  I was glad I went first thing in the morning.  When I came out the wait looked to be about three hours long.

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©Jean Janssen. View of Buckingham Palace from the bridge in St. James’ Park, London.

I had reservations for tea in Mayfair, so I decided to wander that direction and perhaps do a little shopping along the way.  I hadn’t had time for breakfast, but I had grabbed a roll and sliced meat off the breakfast buffet at the hotel on my way out so I sat down in St. James Park and enjoyed my sandwich and a bottle of sparkling water.  It was hot, but a lovely clear day.  I crossed the bridge in the park and enjoyed a view of Buckingham Palace.  There are public toliets available in the park but you will need coins to use them.

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©Jean Janssen. Changing of the guard at St. James Palace, London.

There was a military parade on the way to a changing of the guard at St. James Palace, so I enjoyed an unexpected treat.  After I passed the Palace, I saw the store on St. James Street where Boris likes to buy his special hats, Locke and Co. Hatters.  This is the oldest hat store in the world, started in 1676 and at its present location since 1765.  The bowler hat has its origin at Locke and Co.

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©Jean Janssen. Natasha dons a fascinator at Locke and Co. London, England.

Looking in the windows I was pleasantly surprised to find they sold women’s hats.  In fact the second floor is devoted to the women’s millinery.  I didn’t look like their typical customer, so I got to look around for a while before someone came to wait on me.  I love hats, but have never really tried a fascinator before.  This is an alternative to a hat.  It is a decorative headpiece attached to a band or a clip.  I found one I just loved in a neutral color.  I got lucky and it was on sale.  Natasha now owns a fascinator.

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©Jean Janssen. Shopping in Mayfair, London.

Along Piccadilly, there were some familiar and some regional shops.  Prices just got steeper as I headed north.  I somehow felt more like a Mayfair shopper carrying around my hat box.  Mayfair was at one time more residential, but has become mostly commercial and has some of the highest rents in the city.  More 5-star hotels are in Mayfair than in any other part of London.  The US Embassy is in Mayfair.  The real question is why is Natasha here?

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©Jean Janssen. For Natasha, High Tea in Mayfair at Sketch starts with a rose champagne.

Before leaving on our trip I researched the most highly rated teas in London and selected one with a little different look, but without sacrificing the tasty treats and wonderful tea.  Including champagne was a nice touch too.  I chose Sketch in Mayfair.  The establishment is more club at night but serves a very popular tea during the day.  They have several different types of rooms, but tea is served in the large domed facility with its pink velvet banquettes and chairs with pink velvet pillows.  The walls are painted an even lighter pink and covered with framed sketches featuring a play on words.  Room accents are in copper.

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©Jean Janssen. Tea service for one at Sketch in Mayfair, London.

The sandwiches, sweets, champagne, and tea were all wonderful.  The service was spotty.  In spite of my specific reservation, it took them a while to realize that I was alone.  I don’t eat chocolate so the service took longer to appear, I assume for that reason.  I was seated for an hour and 15 minutes before my treats arrived.  Many patrons were served much quicker, others were not.  You can have seconds on any of the food that you would like.  It was very good and I do recommend the tea, but you might need to be a little more insistent than I was regarding service.

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©Jean Janssen. The bathroom at Sketch in Mayfair, London.

The biggest surprise at Sketch has nothing to do with the tea, but is the bathroom.  You go up the all white stairs, one direction for men, another for women.  The open room is done completely in white.  Inside are large pods that resemble eggs, but are larger than any person.  Individual toilets are inside the eggs.  The community sinks are against the wall.  Looking in the opposite direction, you see the men’s “eggs”.  While you are inside the egg you hear piped-in dialogue which almost sounds like a “take off” recording from NASA.  Bizarre.  I actually went back to my seat to get the camera.  I didn’t think anyone would believe me without the photo.

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©Jean Janssen. The Criterion Theater at Piccadilly Circus, London. The theater is underground.

Fortunately, I missed the rain while I was inside.  Rather than carry my packages all the way back, I took a cab to the hotel and saw my friendly bellman Jack who wanted to see my hat.  Jack approved.  I dropped everything off and hung around about an hour before I headed out to catch my show at the Criterion Theater at Piccadilly Circus.  A Comedy About a Bank Robbery is a new production and is like Airplane on stage.  It has incredibly clever dialogue, physical comedy, and staging that defies gravity.  I can highly recommend it.

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©Jean Janssen. PIccadilly Circus, London.

The theater is actually underground.  It is small, old and very charming.  Of course, there is ice cream at intermission.  Coming out after the show I noted that Piccadilly Circus was like a mini Times Square with big light boards and people milling around late into the night.

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©Jean Janssen. Big Ben at night.

I walked back to the hotel among the crowds, feeling exceptionally safe.  I enjoyed the wonderful nighttime views of the London Eye and Big Ben.  I have an early morning tomorrow for a tour just outside the city.  Sweet Dreams from London.

About travelbynatasha

I am a retired attorney who loves to travel. Several years ago I began working on a Century Club membership achieved by traveling to 100 "foreign" countries. Today, at 49 years of age the count is at 82. Many were visited on land based trips. Some were cruise ports. Some were dive sites. Most have been fascinating.
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