London 2

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When: April 23rd 2014- May 4th 2014

Total length: 9 nights

Area we visited: London and Horsham

Weather: It was generally cool to warm (~12-20 °C). Mostly clear skies with some rainy showers

 

Getting There

This time we decided to try Heathrow Airport instead of Gatwick. There are many more options to get into Central London, and we decided to use the Journey Planner on the London Transport website to figure out how to get to our house. We of course used the wheelchair accessibility feature to map it out, and found out getting there that it is not always correct. Take the example below:

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Depending on where you want to go in London, you can take these Express buses to reduce the amount of time. We got to the bus terminal, to only find out that we couldn’t take the bus because of my wheelchair. From my understanding, they state that my wheelchair type (A Quantum 600, nothing unusual) has not been approved for travel onto this bus. And you can only have one wheelchair on at a time (I had two). This was a waste of our time, especially since I did all this research beforehand. We are soon to learn that the website, and various workers are not to be trusted. Half the time no one knows what they are talking about with regards to accessibility.

    Instead, we took our tube map and stuck to that. Even though we had two wheelchairs and three suitcases, we took the tube to King’s Cross, and then the 205 bus to our apartment.

Transportation in London

Note: This section is different than when I visited two years ago. Wheelchair users must now pay for the buses, because they are deemed accessible for all. Tube travel is free. See London for detailed descriptions of buses and trains

The tube:  I was always hesitant to use the tube in London, since many of the stops are not accessible, or only accessible in one direction. We took this map, and decided to try it out. Do not, and I repeat DO NOT listen to any transportation workers who attempt to (rudely) tell you which stops are accessible. Using the below map, only make stops on the BLUE wheelchair, not the WHITE (only partially accessible).

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The platform to the tube was almost seamless, making it very easy to get in/out.

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The Apartment (see below for our one night stay in a hotel- The Ampersand)

We decided this time to rent an apartment through Airbnb. It was in East London, a cheaper area, but still eclectic. I would research in advance what types of things you’d like to see before going. That way you aren’t taking buses all over the city. I liked our area, but it was far from the things we wanted to do for this particular trip.

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Bedroom and Living Room: There was one bedroom, and a separated living room with pull out sofas. I put my air mattress on top of the sofa and it was fine. I found that the street pollution was extremely loud. I could hear people talking 3 stories down!

Bathroom: The bathroom was large and had a bathtub/shower combo. I brought my shower chair from home. I found that the tub was extremely high, and had an odd shower glass door. It only swung in, so you had to basically stand in front of the shower head, get soaked to turn it on. I brought my own shower curtain and pegs to use instead of the door to keep the water in.

Kitchen: The kitchen was decent. It lacked some essentials though, such as oven mitts and certain utensils.

Elevator: There was a key to access the front door of the building (too high for me to reach) and a password to use the elevator.

Around the apartment: There was a Tesco across the street (grocery store) and an Argos for things like air mattresses. There were really neat shops close by for some boutique shopping (see below). Aldgate Tube station is down the street, but it is not wheelchair accessible. There is a bus stop right in front of the Tesco.

 

Spitafields Market and Sundayup Market

This was a little walk from our apartment and is well worth the crowds. There were plenty of outdoor food trucks and people selling fresh food all along the streets.

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It wasn’t until we walked into an old warehouse type building that we saw what the SundayUp Market was really about.

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The foods that you could purchase were mouth watering and delicious. We had the Korean skewers and I could have purchased 10 of them. There were also plenty of stalls with people selling their original clothing pieces (expensive) and cheap mass produced ones (still beautiful). We also bought authentic pearl necklaces, as the lady was extremely nice and informative.

We walked throughout the market and then headed over to Old Spitafields Market. Now this wasn’t as vibrant as the previous market, but it was less crowded. We tried some homemade doughnuts here that were pretty good.

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We also found a beautiful vintage clothing store in the East End, close to the markets. It was called the Laden ShowRoom. I purchased a pretty dress on sale. There were actually patterned dressed in the markets for 1/10 of the price and looked the exact same!

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High Tea
This is obviously an essential when in London. But so expensive! We opted to find an affordable High Tea place and chose the Kingsway Hall Hotel. We had looked online for a coupon and used it to get a better price. The atmosphere was nice, although didn’t feel “British”. The food was pretty good, and we were allowed to refill our tray with our favourites.

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Natural History Museum and Victoria and Albert Museum

These two museums are right around the corner from each other and great if you have a free afternoon. I wish I had more time to see the Victoria and Albert Museum, as we got there right before it closed.

Borough Market

If you plan on buying groceries for the week, make sure you go here at the beginning of your trip. We could have purchased delicious breads, cheeses, meats, seafood and desserts to last us the whole week! This market is permanent and open throughout the week. There was tons of food to taste-test and places to get vendor food. We ate at a restaurant within the market that had decent fish and chips. Overall a great afternoon spent here.

Shopping and Eating in London

I was a bit disappointed at the high street shopping this time. Maybe because the dollar was so bad and there were no good sales! We did stop in Harrods though and look around. I did want to buy more tea cups, but they weren’t on sale! Luckily I bought 5 or 6 the first time I was in London. We did eat at the Shwarma place in Harrods. For the price, I was expecting it to be better, but it was just okay. The one man who worked there seemed a bit off put by the fact that we were there and weren’t Middle Eastern. I didn’t realize there had to be an ethnicity code, jeez!

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We did stop at Strada, an Italian restaurant. The pasta was nothing special. I loved the food last time I was in London, and it was such a disappointment this time. Other than the steak place (see below), restaurant food was blegh. But the street food was amazing!

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The Hawksmoor: Can I just eat here everyday? It was well worth the price. My steak was huge! I had a Caesar salad, steak with marrow bone gravy and buttered collared greens. I then had apple crumble for dessert. YOU MUST EAT HERE. Even the atmosphere was great.

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The only part about this restaurant that I did not like was that the accessible washroom was right in the dining room. Didn’t leave room for privacy.

 

Billy Elliot

When in London, you must see a play. We opted for Billy Elliot and of course loved it. The theatre was nice and the accessible seats were in a great location. There wasn’t much to see around the theatre, but we did go to Simpson’s Department Store for lunch. Again, nothing great. Do your research in advance to find something nicer.

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Kew Gardens and the food tent square

So we love looking at historic castles and landmarks. We have been basically going to this site and ticking them off one by one. We have now done all the centrally located ones, so it was time to venture further out. Note: we wanted to go to the Banqueting House but we called and it turns out that it wasn’t even that accessible. Kew Gardens can be a long bus and tube ride, but completely worth it. Spend the entire day here.

When we got off the tube and walked out to the town area, we happened to walk into a square that was packed with food tents. We decided to eat here instead of at Kew Gardens, as it would be cheaper. It was so hard to pick what to eat!

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I ate the lunch box at Moorish.

We took our food to go and at it right in the food court at Kew Gardens. You probably aren’t technically allowed to do this, but… oh well. I also really liked the gift shop. They had perfumes and soaps made with the fauna of the gardens.

Here is a peacock we saw. I’m not sure how to segway into the place itself (clearly).

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The pathways were all very flat and we could visit almost every area with ramp access. The gardens were beautiful. There were two greenhouses, a museum, Kew Palace, cooking buildings and smaller houses.

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The second greenhouse (below) was a bit trickier to navigate. There were multiple levels, so it was a bit confusing on where to go with the wheelchair.

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Kew Palace was amazing. It had tour guides inside to answer questions, and even an elevator that could take you to different floors. It’s the worst when you hear from a company that they can’t add elevators or make places accessible, claiming that the building is too old. Well London and its castles are pretty old and they seem capable of doing it!

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I really wanted to go to the Royal Kitchens, but only the bottom part was accessible via elevator. Well the elevator is the slowest one known to mankind. After taking it, you basically go to a pretty empty basement. Not really worth all that effort.

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Try to go to Kew Gardens when flowers are in bloom. We went at the perfect time.

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The Ampersand Hotel

We were given a Journalist’s stay here to review for my readers. My opinions are of my own and I have to stay that from the minute we walked through the doors, we were blown away. The Ampersand Hotel is located in South Kensington, right down the street from the Victoria and Albert Museum. It is very central in London, perfect if you want to stay right downtown and in a “posh” and safer area. Although it is on the pricey side, this boutique hotel delivers.

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We got off the bus from the East End and took a one minute walk to the hotel. We were told in advance to go to the accessible side door (to the left of the steps). The automatic side door leads to a vestibule with an elevator. The elevator opens up into the first floor restaurant. If you are coming in late at night, I would suggest arranging this with the hotel in advance since you have to walk through the restaurant. It can be a bit odd to have to go through the restaurant, but at least it’s accessible!

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We walked to the next set of elevators up to the main floor lobby and reception. We did not ask for anything special in advance for our hotel room, with the exception of the accessible room itself. The front staff were extremely nice and attentive. They even aided us in planning our train travels for the next day to Horsham.

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The sitting rooms were beautifully decorated, offering beverage and sweet services. It would be great to sit in here and have afternoon tea! Downstairs had meeting rooms and a library. They were unfortunately busy so we did not have a chance to see them. You could also use their Mac desktops.

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Our accessible room was on the first floor. The rooms also used key cards, which I always find easier to manage. Upon walking in, you can’t help but be impressed. Each room is individually decorated with great taste. We had asked if we could have a cot added in, which they obliged. Some of the furniture was quickly rearranged for easy maneuvering. The room was still very large to move around in. A mini fridge (not overstuffed, good for your own snacks or leftovers) was included.

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The bathroom was very spacious and even had a walk in shower! There was a pull down seat and a detached shower head. I did not test it out myself, but would say this shower would be very workable. The sink had plenty of space to roll under, but the mirror was too high for me. Bring a pocket one if you need it. The toilet had 2 movable arm rests as well.

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I really enjoyed the extra “special touches” added into the rooms and hotel throughout.

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We ate breakfast the next morning at the downstairs restaurant. A “from the counter” breakfast was offered with: cold cereals, artisan breads, cheeses, cold cuts,muffins, croissants filled with cheese, yoghurt and some fruit. An additional menu could be ordered off of (see menu). Other people were ordering options such as Belgium waffles and fresh orange juice. Looked delicious!

We opted for the “from the counter” and I ordered poached eggs with toast. The atmosphere in the restaurant was very homey and warm.

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Horsham

We were here visiting family for the day, so did not partake in any “touristy” activities, but still walked around this picturesque town. We took the train from London, and it was a breeze. Again, it’s pretty impossible to book in advance and actually show up on time to your booking. The tube was on strike that day, so we had to take a different train. No problems with just showing up.

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This town doesn’t even feel real. How can any place look this magical?

We walked around the town centre area and looked into cute little shops and a shopping centre. It was odd to see a little town with normal stores, such as a Top Shop. The houses and streets were gorgeous. We even stopped into a church and looked at old gravestones. Next time, I would go to Horsham for a night, then to Brighton.