10 Days in London - Days 9 & 10

Day 9 - Tuesday

We planned some time to catch up with friends while we’re in town today. People we haven’t seen in years, and it was lovely to be on their home soil for a change. Between that, we managed to fit in a visit to the National Portrait Gallery and see a show in the West End.

I have to say, we didn’t particularly enjoy The National Portrait Gallery. Having been to a lot of galleries already, this one felt a bit stale in comparison - particularly the day after visiting the British Museum which we just loved.

Inside the National Portrait Gallery

They have a large collection of beautiful portraits, mainly of kings, queens, noblemen and military generals. And while I admire much of the technique and quality of the portraits, you can really only see so many privileged old white guys in power poses before getting a little bored with it. There were paid exhibitions which we didn’t see, so perhaps they were better.

We only spent a small amount of time in the gallery, and made sure to fill out the visitor survey on the way out.  As we exited we got our first taste of true London weather! Overcast and drizzling with rain, we pushed on to our next stop.

A small surprise in the day was a visit to Neal’s Yard. I hadn’t heard of this place, but Ash had heard it was a good spot for taking pictures. The space is very colourful and instagrammable, but the thing that caught my eye was a small plaque that says “Monty Python lived here”. Which in itself is a funny, pythonesque joke.

We rounded out the day with a West End show - The Play That Goes Wrong. And it was fantastic! I don’t think I’ve laughed so hard since seeing the Book of Mormon, and Ash was hyperventilating from laughter on more than one occasion.

The Play That Goes Wrong is by far the best, and least awkward, audience participation I’ve ever seen. It started with the production staff alerting the audience to a lost dog /cast member, Winston, that, and followed by more of the cast /crew going into the audience during the pre-show to search for Winston and ask the audience if anyone had seen him.

The story was a production of a play within a play and during the pre-show, the play within the play’s “Director”, Chris, came out and shook hands and had a chat with of everyone in the front row (including us! We managed to score great front row seats at the fraction of the normal cost thanks to the TKTS booth). Chris also starred in the play within the play, and was my favourite character because he was continually fighting with us (the audience) while also playing his own character in the play and directing the other actors.

Writing this the day after, we are still laughing at some of the jokes and quoting lines from our favourite scenes. And would encourage everyone to go and see The Play That Goes Wrong by the Mischief Theater Company. If I had more time in London, I definitely would have gone to see their other show, A Comedy About A Bank Robbery

Day 10 - Wednesday

Today was an early day as we were off to Cambridge, and our train was due to leave shortly after 8am.

We made the hustle and bustle to Liverpool St station, with plenty of time to spare. Forever the planner, Ash has basically double buffered our schedule for all the day’s we’re travelling, which usually gives us half an hour or more to relax at the station.

I decided to wear double layers today, and did not regret it! Cambridge was by far the coldest day we had yet. We made our way from the train station to King’s College on foot which was as a great way to see the town and all of the different campuses.

We had been using Apple Maps to find the college, and ended up walking for about half an hour more than we needed to. The location that we were being taken to was the main student entrance at the back of the college, but we were greeted on arrival by a series of large signs saying “No Visitor Access”. After zooming in and out a few times on the map, we realised we needed to go around the opposite side of the college to enter - which was quite a way, considering how large the campus is.

The Mathematical Bridge

The Mathematical Bridge

On our stroll we spotted the famous Mathematical Bridge, on the grounds of the Queen’s College, which was originally built in 1749 (and has been rebuilt two times since). It’s known as a bit of an engineering genius considering the bridge is in the shape of an arc, but is made solely using long straight planks of wood.

Soon after we were finally standing at the front gates of King’s College. As you enter you see the King’s Lawn which is an immaculately cut large green with a fountain in the center and a large white building in the background. Part of the reason why it’s so immaculate is because nobody is allowed to walk on it - and there are big signs (in several languages) saying “Keep off the grass!”.

To the right of the lawn is the King’s College Chapel and this is what arguably makes King’s College the grandest of all the colleges in Cambridge. The Chapel has the largest fan vaulted ceiling in the world and some of the most amazing stained glass windows we’ve ever seen. We spent close to an hour walking through the two main sections of the chapel, admiring all the detail and intricacy in both the building and the glass. Being early in the day, we mostly had the place to ourselves too - which seems to be a little secret that continues paying dividends.

From Kings College, we made our way down some of the back streets to overlook the river that sits behind the colleges, we also briefly ducked into Trinity College. Despite the freezing weather, there was still a number of people out in little boats (called punts) and making their way down the river. We could see that close to the rivers edge there were lots of flowers and garden beds that would be beautiful in springtime. It’s easy to see how we could spend a day here in summer, with a picnic blanket and a bottle of wine. Just sitting and enjoying the sunshine.

My tummy was grumbling pretty hard at this point, so we made our way back into the main part of town for a quick bite to eat (and one last scone). Afterwards we still had a little bit of time before our train was due to depart, so on our way back to the station we visited the Fitzwilliam Museum. Free to enter, the museum had some impressive displays, from ancient Egyptian artifacts to porcelain figures and vases, and even paintings by Monet and Picasso. But even if you were to remove all of its displays, the building would standalone as impressive with its vast columns and domed lantern in the ceiling of the main entrance hall.

But after a day of exploring, it was time to head back for our last night in London. We had a 5.40am train to Paris the following morning, so we spent the evening packing and getting ready so that we could just get up and go, go, go.

We’ve really loved the last 10 days in London, and it feels like a good amount of time to spend here. There is a lot to do and see (especially for first time tourists, like us) but it feels like we were able to get all of the big things in - like Buckingham Palace, The British Museum, Hyde Park, West End, Westminster Abbey - but also been able to do it at a pace that was manageable.

Big Ben was closed for refurbishment while we were there, so I’d like to see that next time. If we had spent more time here, I would have spent longer at the British Museum, visited a few more restaurants and seen a couple more West End shows. Beyond London, it would also be great to explore more of Country England and what’s outside the capital city. But that will have to wait until we return, which I am sure we will!