Our airline for the LAX to Heathrow portion this time was American Airlines. The service was good and the seats were wider and more comfortable than the last trip we took on Virgin Atlantic. For us, comfort and adequate service beat out Virgin’s amenities which include better service, better food, and vastly better entertainment enroute.
Our hotel for this first leg of the trip was Jury’s Inn in Chelsea…just a couple of miles west of the heart of London. Jury’s Inn is part of the Jurys Doyle chain, an Irish company that has hotels throughout the British Isles. It is in a very quiet area that is being built up on top of the old gas works. It’s a quick bus ride to the shops and pubs of Chelsea and the accessible Fullham-Broadway Underground station which provides quick links to the rest of the city.
A bus ride to the Fulham-Broadway tube station. A ride on the district line to Westminster station. A ride on the Jubilee line to the Kilburn station. Finally, another bus ride to Abbey Road.
Londoner’s may be sad that the old Roadmaster double-deckers are being retired, but wheelchair users aren’t. The new replacements…double-decker, articulated, or smaller regular buses…are wonderfully accessible. A ramp deploys from the back door and a space is reserved.
This round-a-bout journey is what it takes to get a wheelchair from our hotel in Chelsea (Jury’s Inn) to the Beatles studio located at 3 Abbey Road, a ways north of Hyde Park.
Mainly a spot to take pictures, there is not a whole lot more to do here so we walk towards Lord’s Cricket Ground nearby. Tours are being given but at this time the sky opens up and a heavy, cold rain begins to fall.
We decide it’s time to take this journey indoors.
I hail a taxi and we head over to Harrod’s.
The famous department store is huge – get a map at the information counter near the northeastern entrance. Five floors of expensive clothes, appliances, furniture and more. The food hall is impressively expansive, drool inducing, and expensive. The seating, along counters, is unfortunately not friendly to the wheelchair user. It is a little telling that the most crowded counter was the Krispy Kreme stall.
Luckily, there is not a charge to go in and look.
It’s Wednesday, July 6th. We’re at Covent Garden passing time until the matinee performance of the Producer’s starts up the street.
A limbo dancer is entertaining the crowds for tips when a group of fighter jets roar low overhead. It is at his precise moment, thousands of miles away in Singapore, that the International Olympic Committee announces that London has been awarded the summer Olympic games for 2012. The jets, streaming red, white, and blue smoke are part of the celebration taking place a few blocks away at Trafalgar Square.
It is a joyous moment.
We go on to see our play. The wheelchair seating is excellent, twelve rows back from the stage. The staff at the theatre is also excellent and one usher is assigned to us to take care of all our needs such as getting to the restroom and even bringing drinks in. The play itself is quite good and funny. Ticket prices, as they always are in London, are a bargain compared to Broadway. Less than $100 for all three tickets.
We have found that for matinees, you really don’t need to plan that far in advance except for the most popular shows, early in their runs. I called upon arrival in London and easily reserved three tickets to this show which I picked up at Will Call. Previous trips I have used e-mail from the states, which turned out not to be really necessary. You may want to call direct a couple of weeks ahead of time if you want to go on a traditionally busy time such as Friday or Saturday night.
After the play, we start hitting pubs and celebrate the culmination of the years long struggle to get the Olympics with London’s locals. We end the evening at the Bar Room Bar on King’s Road having pizza and shooting pool with the regulars.
This is the day we are to go see the Royal Observatory in Greenwich. While getting ready, Tim notes that the BBC is reporting an explosion in the Liverpool Street Underground station. BBC is reporting that it was caused by an eletrical surge.
All cleaned up, we catch a bus to Fulham-Broadway to start our day. Not having had any breakfast and noticing that there is a Starbuck’s in the station, we strong-coffee starved Americans decide to have some coffee and muffins to start our day.
At the counter, the server asks if I want it for here or to take away. Not really thinking about it, I say it’s for here and our coffee comes in ceramic mugs. My wife, not too pleased with this, asks why I didn’t take it to go so we could just take it with us on the train. I don’t really have an answer and we take a few minutes to drink our coffee before leaving.
After we finish, we head over to the station nearby down the hall. The worker there is closing the gate over the front of the station and putting a sign up outside that says “Entire Underground closed due to security alert.”
The crowds gather outside and I keep hearing more talk about the electrical surge. We go out front and try to catch a bus into London but no driver will let us on. Frankly, I’m starting to get a little PO’d at this but calmer heads prevail and we head back to the hotel where maybe we can catch a water taxi.
Since we’re there, we decide to stop at our room and go to the bathroom before continuing on. Tim turns on the TV and there is the bright red banner on the BBC with a large and frightening caption: “TERRORISTS BOMB THE UNDERGROUND”
Much like US crisis reporting, many rumors abound while facts are being gathered. First, it’s an explosion near King’s Cross. Then it’s six explosions throughout London. Soon it’s up to seven. There is a rumor that a bus has just been blown apart. At least two people are “reported” dead with many injured. Now it’s up to four dead.
Within the hour, London’s police chief is on the air saying that everybody needs to just stay where they are…do not travel at all. All Underground and bus service has been halted.
Of course, now we know that four bombs went off that day. Three in the Underground and one in a bus killing 56 and injuring hundreds more.
While it was probably planned to coincide with the G8 summit taking place at the same time, it was sheer coincidence that Rudy Guilani just happened to be eating breakfast about a block away from one of the explosion sites.
For us, most of the day is spent in the hotel bar where a big screen is set up on the BBC and the stranded guests watch the horrible news. Later that evening, local bus service in Chelsea is running again so we’re able to go about a half-mile into town to have a pub dinner.
Although stuck at the hotel and the surrounding are for the day and having our trip to Greenwich cancelled, we are very thankful that we took a few extra minutes before boarding the train. I would hate to think of trying to evacuate the Underground at non-accessible station or, even worse, through a tunnel.
It was a sad day but the locals put up a good front, were still friendly (although understandably miffed at the perpatrators), and the hotel staff very understanding. Besides the direct victims, those who got the worst of it were the thousands of London workers who had to walk many miles home that night.
The rallying cry throughout the city today is get back to what your’re doing. Don’t let them shut us down. London is open, come and enjoy. This is what you can do to support us.
With that in mind, we took to the streets and underground and continued on. Today, we take the tube from Fulham Broadway to Wimbledon. This is actually one station beyond the famous tennis club but the closest accessible station. We are able to catch an accessible bus from the station wich drops us off immediately in front of the All England Lawn Tennis Club.
There is a museum here with many tennis artifacts such as the Wimbledon trophy, shoes, rackets, clothes (all worn and autographed by such stars as Venus Williams and Boris Becker), plus representations of Wimbledon over the years. There is a well-stocked gift shop but the highlight is actually going downstairs to visit Centre Court, home to the Wimbledon tennis tournament finals.
Wheelchair users are escorted by a security guard and are able to get right up to the edge of the grass. The Royal Box is pointed out. We were there just about a week or so after the tournament ended and noticed the worn spots of grass that were reminders of what had taken place here recently.
Back on the tube, we navigated back to Fulham Broadway where we catch another train to Kew Gardens. It’s an accessible station here but on arrival, wheelchair users must take a two-block detour, cross a traffic bridge, and then continue on about three blocks to the gardens entrance. Upon departing, you do not have to make the two-block detour to the station.
Kew Gardens is a fantastic and large botanic park. It is a royal palace and the grounds seemingly go on forever. There are many highlights here and there is no way we can see them all.
Today, we concentrate on the large, glass hothouses which contain tropical plants from around the world. The day we were there came in the middle of an exhibit of original works by glass sculptor Dale Chihuly. His works were extraordinary and were scattered around the grounds and mixed in with the plants in the greenhouses. Of particular interest were the large chandeliers hung in each of the greenhouses.
There is a nice cafeteria here where you can dine on pastas, sandwiches, fruit and wash them down with a glass of wine or a bottle of ale.
This is our last full day in London, tomorrow we move on. We have a dinner at the Rose, a local Chelsea pub, and call it a day.
...Stay tuned for Part 2 and the Emerald Isle.
Copyright 2009 - Darryl Musick
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