Tuesday 28 November 2017

Chelsea Girl

A second trip to family in London in a few weeks, this time to bring granddaughter home with us, meant booking another train trip. With only a few weeks' notice, the scope for affordable First Class tickets between Peterborough and London was limited and we had almost an hour in Peterborough for our our connection, but we needed a trip to John Lewis anyway, so we planned that into the trip during our train change there.

We only had a short time in London before meeting our young charge from nursery and we spent it taking a bus to Sloane Square, having lunch in the top-floor restaurant at Peter Jones (also a John Lewis branch, of course, but we no longer needed to visit the shop itself!). We then had a stroll along Kings Road before making our way to the Underground to get near enough for the walk to the nursery. Off to Kings Cross we made ourselves at home in the First Class Lounge before boarding the train back to Peterborough and the connection home to Stamford.

Not much to write about really, but I want to make two points in addition to the fact that London is really not far away from anyone on or near a fast railway line: one is that there is always something to do or to see in London. Just visiting Chelsea is a pleasant way to spend a day, so rather than just nipping down, collecting child and nipping home we spent some time simply being there. The other is that, like our last trip a few weeks earlier we had a full catering crew on the trains in both directions and received the full advertised catering offering for our First Class fares, and the drinks and snacks supplies in the Lounge were also fully stocked. This really ought not to be news, but the catering situation on Virgin Trains East Coast has been so dire lately that getting the advertised food and drink has been a lottery, and now the odds seem to be rather more favourable at last. I'd still prefer my sandwiches on a plate - I do not think you can ever call a cardboard box "first class" even with a celebrity chef signature on it - and I'd like more variation in the sandwiches offered, but it is great to round off the day with wine or gin and tonic.

One tip for grandparents and other carers of toddlers: retaining surplus napkins for a future trip with a child does pay dividends when they knock over their fruit juice on the table! It is much easier to care for a small child in First Class, too, where there is more space both for them and for other passengers.  Travelling before the evening peak meant that we had a choice of table seats and could avid crowding other passengers.

Wednesday 22 November 2017

Another Royal Visit

Apart from our holidays and a few work trips (and these latter have been very few this year), all our occasional travel seems to have been to London lately, largely because of our desire to visit our family there, and also because, frankly, London is well worth visiting! I do not know how overseas visitors fit in all that London has to offer: I have been going there for over fifty years now and still find it fascinating. The current habit is to do just one thing, occasionally two, then go on to our family visit and then home. On a recent trip to London the "one thing" was to see the "Diana: Her Fashion Story" exhibition at Kensington Palace. We had been to Kensington Palace once before but things change and with this exhibition to see as well, there was plenty to occupy us until meeting our granddaughter from nursery at tea time.

It was essential to book tickets in advance for the exhibition (there is no charge other than admission to the Palace) in order to be sure that we could go on the day we had arranged to visit, so these tickets were booked and the train tickets bought well in advance so that we could secure inexpensive First Class tickets for the East Coast Main Line leg of the trip: this time we planned to return as late as we could, the 21:00 train from Kings Cross which connects neatly at Peterborough with the last train to Stamford at 21:59.

The day dawned wet in London, in accordance with the weather forecast. It was dry enough in Stamford as we made our way to the station and we had an easy ride to Peterborough and then First Class to London, with some breakfast goodies still on offer: croissant, yogurt, orange juice and coffee. There was a number of options for completing the journey to Kensington Palace, the entrance to which is well inside Kensington Gardens and not especially near any bus stop or Underground station, but the easiest way, we decided, was Circle Line via a change of train at Edgware Road: you need to watch this a bit as the next train southbound from Edgware Road needs to be determined from the information displays over the platform - either District or Circle Line will do for Bayswater which was where we were heading. From Bayswater station it is an easy walk along  and across into Kensington Gardens, with our hoods up against the steady rain - passing Queensway Central Line station on the way!

There was no queue to enter the Palace, just a bag search and, as advance ticket purchasers we were waved through to show our print-at-home tickets. Once inside this was just a visit to the Palace with entry to the exhibition included, and it was clear that they were catering for long queues to enter the exhibition. Whether it was the rain I do not know, but there was no queue at the time so we opted to "do" the Diana fashion story exhibition first and then drift around the rest of the premises. Of the exhibition I would say it is great for anyone who is interested in:

  • fashion of the 80s and 90s
  • Diana, Princess of Wales
  • The Royal Family
  • Celebrity culture
  • The use of dress to make a statement
I was mildly interested in the way the princess' attire changed as her role first developed and then changed again with the break-up of her marriage. To see first-hand dresses that we had all seen in the newspapers and on TV was also quite interesting. Some effort had been made to stage this show, because on her death her clothes were auctioned for her charities, so collectors had had to be approached to loan them for display. 

The rest of the visit to Kensington Palace consisted of a tour through several parts of this great house learning about the history of the UK and its place in the world alongside stories of the Royal Family down the ages since William and Mary, our only joint monarchs, made this palace their home. Away from the public parts of the house, it is still a royal residence and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge live here with their children - as the Duke's mother, Diana Princess of Wales, had done.

We had both morning coffee and lunch in the cafeteria at the palace and after we had seen everything it was time to go to the nursery to collect our granddaughter, take her home to her parents and enjoy the evening with them. The nursery is in west Kensington, and we decided to walk, the rain having stopped now: although a bus from Kensington High Street would have done some of the route, I am not convinced it would have saved any time. Out through the south-west corner of Kensington Gardens we walked past the two defunct art deco department stores, Barkers and Derry & Toms, and the wonderful St Mary Abbots parish church and on towards Olympia then through the streets to our destinations.

Later we left for home, taking the Underground from the local station to Kings Cross where we had just a few moments in the First Class Lounge before our train began boarding and we were off home with the usual hospitality of Virgin Trains East Coast - although I have to say I did prefer having a choice of sandwiches on a plate rather than the current cardboard box of the same sandwiches every time I travel: a celebrity chef signature printed on the box does NOT make a packed meal classy! A quick change of train at Peterborough and the last walk of the day across the Meadows to our home.