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ACE UK! 2015 – Prologue: London

On Thursday evening, July 16 I flew out of Atlanta to London. This would be my second trip to the U.K. but my first visit for amusement parks as my previous visit was only sightseeing in London. I arrived on Friday, July 17 and met up with Richard Bostic, David Lipnicky and Cliff Herring for a couple of days of sightseeing in London before the ACE UK! 2015 trip began Saturday evening. Richard and I arrived at Heathrow Airport just after 9:00 Friday morning.

Since we had a little time before we would meet up with the others, we dropped off our luggage at the Gresham Hotel near Paddington Station, where we would be staying for one night,

and made our way via the Underground into The City

to Temple Church,

which was for many years the base for the Knights Templar,

the religious order that protected Holy Land pilgrims.

Of note here are stone effigies of knights on floor.

The church is a beautiful building

and we especially enjoyed seeing the rotunda

that was the resting place for many knights.

After a quick stop by Hyde Park and the Marble Arch

we returned to Paddington Station and met David and Cliff and checked into The Gresham Hotel.

We had lunch at The Monkey Puzzle Pub nearby.

After lunch we took the Tube to The Tower of London

stopping to see the best remaining portion of the Roman Wall.

We arrived at The Tower of London

in time to go on the last Beefeater Tour of the day.

Built by William the Conqueror shortly after his arrival in 1066,

it has served as a castle, the king’s residence, a prison & an execution site.

After the very informative tour

we saw the Crown Jewels, which are very impressive,

and toured the White Tower,

the main building that was once home to the king.

This was my second visit to The Tower of London, but I was glad to make a return stop.

From here we walked to and across Tower Bridge.

Built in 1894,

this Victorian bridge with its two Gothic towers has become a symbol of London.

Next we had wanted to get a good view of the Thames River, so I decided to do a 2 mile Walking Tour along the Thames River on The Queen’s Walk/ Jubilee Walkway in Southwark to the London Eye,

past London Bridge, a new version of the famous bridge;

Southwark Cathedral, which dates to the 12th century;

and the Globe Theater, a replica of Shakespeare’s Globe Theater. I estimated this walk to be 2 miles, but the group soon had me convinced I had mismeasured it and it must be at least 4 miles. It took us about 90 minutes to make the walk with several stops, much longer than my budgeted 45 minutes, but for the record, when I got home and measured the walking distance on Google earth, it turned out to be 2.3 miles and can be done in 46 minutes. I am still awaiting apologies from the group for telling me it was longer than I said. In hindsight, however, we should have taken a boat!

Once at the London Eye we got to enjoy the view from one of world’s highest observation wheels, which slowly moves around once in 30 minutes. This was my second time to ride the London Eye, but it is just as thrilling.

We got great views of Parliament,

Buckingham Palace,

The City

and all the way back toward Tower Bridge from which we had just walked. It is truly a magical experience.

Once back on the ground we went to the included London 4D Experience, which was good. From here we took the Tube to The City

for dinner at the Rick Steves recommended pub The Black Friar. We had planned to do a walking tour of The City, but the lateness of the hour and jetlag convinced us to head back to the Gresham Hotel near Paddington Station.

On Saturday, July 18 we left the hotel and after a quick breakfast nearby, we were on the Tube headed for Trafalgar Square.

We spent a few minutes on London’s central square,

viewing the sights

including the 185 ft. column

with the Lord Horatio Nelson Statue;

the National Gallery, Britain’s top collection of European art from 1250 to 1900;

and St. Martin-in-the-Fields, with its Gothic spire on a Greek inspired structure.

From here we embarked on a Walking Tour to Westminster

viewing along the way the Horse Guards;

the Banqueting House, where King Charles I was executed; the Ministry of Defense;

#10 Downing Street, the official residence of the British Prime Minister;

the Cenotaph, a memorial to those who died in wars;

the clock tower housing the bell known as Big Ben;

the Statue of Boadicea, the Celtic queen defeated by Roman invaders in 60 A.D.; Westminster Bridge;


where the House of Lords and House of Commons meet;

Richard I’s Statue;

and St. Margaret’s Church.

We arrived at Westminster Abbey and listened to the audio tour. This is the Church where British royalty have been wedded, crowned & buried since 1066. There are more royalty buried in this one building than one can imagine.

If I had one thing to do differently on this trip, I would include more time here, just to take it all in. Included here are the tombs of Edward I, Henry III, Elizabeth I, Charles II, William & Mary, George II, and Mary Queen of Scots, among others. The coronation chair from which British monarchs have been crowned since William the Conqueror is here. This is one of the most impressive sights I have been to and it definitely requires a return visit with more time.

From here we walked through St. James Park to The Mall and headed to Buckingham Palace

for the Changing of the Guard.

I knew that in order to get everything in we would not be able to arrive early enough to get a spot to view it closely, but we would be able to see the guards march in and out.

It was very crowded and we could not see in the courtyard for the ceremony, so I think the group was somewhat disappointed in what we got to see. I did see it better on my previous visit, but it was in November when things were less crowded.

After viewing as much as we could see,

we made our way down The Mall to Trafalgar Square.

We had perhaps my best meal of the trip at the nearby Rick Steves recommended The Chandos Pub.

After lunch we took the Tube to St. John’s Wood and walked the short distance down Grove End Road

to its intersection with Abbey Road to see the iconic crosswalk made famous by the Beatles.

We looked around outside of Abbey Road Studios (which is not open to the public)

and attempted to take an Abbey Road picture. With 4 of us we had the right number, but no one to take the picture, and with traffic on a busy street with people who no doubt tire of crazy tourists who want to block traffic to get the shot just right, we settled for just crossing the street.

From here we took the Tube to King’s Cross St. Pancras and walked to the British Library, where we got to see such treasures as the Gutenberg Bible, Hamlet, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Beowulf & Canterbury Tales. While entrance is free except for a suggested donation, I paid extra to see a special exhibit they had on the Magna Carta. It included a copy of the Declaration of Independence (perhaps the one we sent to King George III!).

After this, Richard and I walked to the British Museum while David and Cliff headed to our next hotel near Heathrow Airport.

At the British Museum we found the world’s oldest public museum, dating back to 1753, and what Rick Steves says is the “greatest chronicle of civilization…anywhere.”

Of particular note the Egyptian, Assyrian,

Greek and Roman displays are most impressive.

We did not have time to study everything carefully, but I got a good enough overview to know what I would like to come back to see someday.

As the museum closed at 5:30, we headed back to retrieve our luggage at the Gresham Hotel and made our way by Express Train back to Heathrow.

From there we headed to the Radisson Blu Edwardian Heathrow Hotel for the ACE UK! 2015 Registration Reception. Once we had our materials and had caught up with many friends, we made our way to dinner at the nearby Marriott Hotel. Then it was time for some rest before the trip would start the next day.

Next Up: Paultons Park & Stonehenge

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