Birthday weekend in London

We had such a lovely weekend celebrating my 29th birthday. After a birthday lunch with family in Oxford on Saturday, we got the coach down to London for a short break and change of scene. The weather was beautiful when we emerged from Embankment tube station, giving us a gorgeous view down the river towards St Paul’s.

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Walking down the South Bank to our hotel, I couldn’t resist a quick browse of the fabulous open-air bookshop under the bridge.

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This picture is deceptive because it makes it look as though there was nobody around. Nothing could be further from the truth – it was heaving!

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We enjoyed this band playing jolly tunes down on the beach.

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Our hotel, the Mondrian London, turned out to be really nice. It only opened last year, and everything still felt very new and clean.

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Even better, we got upgraded – it being my birthday – to a room with this amazing view.

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After we’d unpacked and relaxed at the hotel for a while, we set out for a night-time wander down the South Bank and had a small dinner at Yo! Sushi (my favourite). London looks amazing lit up at night.

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When we got back, we were treated to milk and freshly baked cookies delivered to our room – a freebie from the hotel for my birthday! It was the perfect end to the day, and a great accompaniment to my ultimate guilty pleasure, Take Me Out.

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Here’s the view from our room at night…

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…and here it is next morning! What a view to wake up to, and we could see it while sitting in bed. We even watched the Harrods helicopter circling round outside and landing in the courtyard of a building on the other side of the river!

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As we headed out from the hotel towards St Paul’s, I was really intrigued by some of the archaeology that had become visible with the tide out. You can see lots of bits of old wood sticking out of the beach, presumably the remains of old jetties.

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London’s old buildings are its primary appeal for me. Quirky remnants of old London are everywhere, and we had a lovely morning wandering around discovering these traces of the past.

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The bells of St Paul’s were ringing out as we approached. Click the play button below to hear them…

We did go in – free of charge as it was just before a service, which we didn’t stay for. But photography wasn’t allowed, hence I have no photos of the inside I’m afraid!

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I was quite pleased with this time-lapse video I took outside the cathedral.

This picture is also quite cool – Lee took it after playing around with the colour settings on his new camera!

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Just across the road from St Paul’s is a little lane that leads to this intriguing building – the Old Deanery. I love the fact that so many of London’s interesting buildings are tucked away in unexpected places.

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We soon discovered that London’s backstreets are the perfect place not just to imbibe its history, but to escape the crowds.

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As you can see, these little streets were deserted, and they were remarkably quiet when you consider how much noise there was just streets away.

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This fantastic little pub is on Fleet Street. I love the sign outside with the names of all the monarchs who’ve reigned since it was rebuilt after the Great Fire of London. It was closed when we went past, but I’ve been there before and remember its old world gloomy charm. It’s fabulously Dickensian; indeed, Dickens himself is said to have been a regular there.

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On the subject of Dickens, I’m reading Oliver Twist at the moment and could easily imagine these little streets being the sort that the pickpockets would have escaped down.

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The most delightful discovery of the day was one made as a result of a signpost we saw outside Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese. It led us to Gough Square, and to the home of Dr Samuel Johnson. His house is the one at the end of this lovely tranquil square, and the cat statue is a tribute to Hodge, Johnson’s cat, “a very fine cat indeed”, according to the plaque.

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This is somewhere we’ll definitely have to come back to; unfortunately, being a Sunday, it was closed.

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Back on Fleet Street, we admired the varied architecture of the buildings along this most famous of London’s streets.

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Its most impressive building is the Royal Courts of Justice, which are often seen on the news.

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Somehow we ended up in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, and we used yet more lovely quiet backstreets to make our way back to St Paul’s. This was one of them, if I recall correctly.

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After lunch at a bar next to St Paul’s – which shall be the subject of a separate post – we headed back towards the river.

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Another trace of the past – I love old writing on buildings, and was thrilled to spot this bit on a building near St Paul’s.

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We walked some distance along the river, stopping to take this photo of the two of us.

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We got a great view of Tower Bridge…

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…and circumnavigated the Tower of London, sadly now devoid of the famous poppy exhibit that made it the subject of so many headlines towards the end of last year.

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We had thought about going to the viewing platform at the top of the Shard, but we reconsidered when we discovered that it would cost us about £32 each!!

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Tower Bridge seen from the opposite bank this time, with the Tower of London on the far left.

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Another interesting discovery, this church can be found near Borough Market (the latter was unfortunately closed, being a Sunday).

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This was yet another unexpected discovery in Southwark. This is all that’s left of Winchester Palace, an important building in medieval London and the former home of the Bishops of Winchester.

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Finally, a view of the Globe Theatre, which we passed on our way back to the hotel.

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We must have walked many miles around London, and still barely scratched the surface. We were knackered by the time we got home, but it was definitely worth it for our fascinating historical walking tour.

2 Comments on Birthday weekend in London

  1. Mona
    March 18, 2015 at 11:28 pm (4 years ago)

    Happy Birthday!!
    It seems London can be quite interesting after all. You sure found some gems without even looking too hard. Some of those old buildings just give me goosebumps. They are so beautiful, and you imagine all the things they have seen. If walls could talk. So much history to be found. I can’t wait to get myself back to Europe!
    And the statue tribute to a cat, just my kind of thing :)
    Cheers to a birthday well spent!

    • Rachel McCombie
      March 19, 2015 at 12:00 pm (4 years ago)

      Thanks Mona! It was a really interesting trip and it’s amazing what history you find around every corner of London. :)