England, UK

Playground Earth | London | River Thames

Of the many fortunate aspects of our visit to London was that we stayed with friends in Richmond, a suburban town in south-west London about eight miles from Charing Cross, the London junction where six routes meet. 

Day 1 - LAX to Heathrow

It was a beautiful, sunny day when we landed at Heathrow. In addition to the beautiful weather we had the good fortune to be picked up by our long time friend, Tamy. On the way from the airport to her home in Richmond she took us for a ride around the expansive and beautiful Richmond Park. Richmond is a residential district bordering the River Thames and is located about 30 minutes from the city center. Tamy, and her husband Sven, were kind enough to let us stay in their house during our time in London, so after unloading our gear and settling in the three of us went for a short walk through the neighborhood that eventually led to the banks of the River Thames. The low afternoon sun made the landscape look like a classic English countryside painting. It was a pleasant welcome to this busy and cosmopolitan city. That evening, to celebrate our arrival, they took us to their favorite pub, The Red Lion, for a very English meal of the best fish and chips in the region. Soon we were back at their place for some much needed post-flight sleep.
Playground Earth | London | River Thames
Playground Earth | London | River Thames

Day 2 - London City Center

Richmond to Westminster was our train for the day. I lived and studied in London 34 years ago and it was Jim’s first visit so still, a new city for both of us. We visited Covent Garden, the Tate Museum, Winchester Palace and crossed the London Bridge. Eventually we arrived at the London foodie temple known as the Borough Market. After trying various samples of food offered by vendors from around the world, we were hungry for a sit-down meal and stopped for lunch at Bedales of Borough Terrace, a former potato storehouse renovated into a wonderful bistro with an open air kitchen and second floor terrace. Over lunch we had a great view of the Borough Market below with all its noise and crowds. Adding to the cacophony was the commuter train that frequently ran above the market. We didn’t mind the noise at all. It was lively and unique. At the end of the day, and back at home in Richmond, we relaxed with a walk along the River Thames just a few minutes away from our doorstep followed by dinner at home with our friends. A perfect first day in London.
Playground Earth | London | City Center
Playground Earth | London | City Center

Day 3 - Richmond Park

With Tamy and Sven off from work for the weekend we drove to one of their preferred spots in Richmond Park for a long morning walk. With a light rain falling we admired the numerous deer that live in the park along with the wide open meadows and lakes populated with ducks and swans. It was a great way to start the day.

The park is vast and beautiful and walking its many paths was a pleasurable way to catch up with good friends. Tamy and I reflected on how it seemed as if time had not passed and we are still the same young ladies that we were 34 years ago. Jim and Sven discussed the history and many attributes of the park along with Brexit, which was about to get new votes and more delays. We returned back home for lunch and a siesta as we slowly began to get over the after-effects of the long flight.

That evening the four of us went to another of their favorite restaurants, an intimate Bangladeshi placed called Deea Bangladeshi Cuisine. Over dinner they shared with us they eat there at least once a week and carry-out one night as well. Yes…the food was that good!

Playground Earth | London | Richmond Park
Playground Earth | London | Richmond Park

Day 4 - London and Kew Gardens

Today Tamy played London tour guide, like only a seasoned Londoner can do, as we hopped in her car for a slow roll through the city. Sunday is probably the only day of the week this excursion would work. There was some light traffic on the city streets but we were happy chatting away and listening to old Christy Moore tunes as she drove up one street, and down another, all the while pointing out landmarks that few would recognize on their own.
Playground Earth | London | Kew Garden
Playground Earth | London | Kew Garden

After our impromptu tour Tamy dropped us off at the Kew Royal Botanical Gardens which are located near her home in Richmond. What a perfect way to spend the afternoon. On this lucky occasion, we found several installations from the legendary Portland, Oregon glass artist Dale Chihuly spread throughout the gardens, as well as inside the Victorian glasshouse, adding to the beauty of nature in a surreal but synergistic way. The masterfully executed, and strategically placed, sculptures rendered in his trademark kaleidoscopic colors are perfect for natural environments and were an extraordinary compliment to their surroundings.

No matter the time of the year or what is on exhibit at this UNESCO World Heritage botanical research and education institution, it is a must see destination for anyone spending time in London.

Being that it was such a beautiful fall day we decided to walk home after visiting the gardens. Doing so gave us a great opportunity to see the various neighborhoods that make up the Richmond area. Once back home we joined our friends for a casual dinner of pizzas, salad and some great red wine.

It was another wonderful day spent in and around London.

Travel  Tip

Day 5 - Borough Market

Our friends are back at work today so we are on our own but not without a plan for the day. Of course it involves food! Planning a dinner for them in their home was a great excuse to return to the Borough Market. So off we went.

Once at the market it was decided that the fresh Scottish salmon would be item number one on the menu. With salmon in hand we moved through the market gathering fresh veggies to create the perfect Greek salad…cucumber, bell pepper, tomatoes, kalamata olives, purple onion and feta cheese. Of course the olives and feta cheese came from an all things Greek kiosk. Things are shaping up here!

Back on the train we returned to Richmond to assemble the day’s bounty for our upcoming feast. Once dinner was prepared we headed down to the River Thames to boost our appetite with an afternoon walk before dinner. When Tamy and Sven returned home from their long day they were delighted to see the meal that we had made for them. Shoes off, glass of wine in hand, they were ready to relax.

It is often said that the simple pleasures in life are the best. Sitting at the countertop in our friends kitchen, catching up on each other’s day over glasses of wine and the meal, was the embodiment of those simple pleasures.

With dinner finished and the dishes done we said our good nights and retired for the day.

Playground Earth | London | Borough Market
Playground Earth | London | Borough Market

Day 6 - Natural History Museum

Another day on our own so it’s time to visit something other than the Borough Market!

First stop was the Churchill War Room. The lines to get in this popular attraction were impossibly long so we decided to move on. As we left the venue we crossed the Cavalry Museum grounds just in time to watch the changing of the guard. Our timing could not have been better.

Our second stop was the Natural History Museum to see artist Luke Jerram’s awe-inspiring Museum of the Moon exhibit. At 20 feet in diameter and featuring high-resolution NASA imagery of the lunar surface it is the closest to the real thing that most of us will ever get. At one point the gallery was nearly empty, leaving us alone with the moon. It was awesome.

London is a wonderful city to explore on foot. Public transportation is without a doubt the best we have experienced but we like to walk. Today, however, we decided to hop on a red bus to see where it would lead. The ride took us to the Kensington area where we decided to get off and walk more.

This is one of the best ways to discover unexpected treasures which, on this occasion, happened to be Japan House and its stunning second floor restaurant, Akira. With its spare, Wabi-Sabi decor, and open air kitchen it was one of the most unique and delicious sushi experiences we have ever had. After our impromptu lunch we headed out to explore more of the Kensington neighborhood on foot. Lots of walking.

After a long day we found ourselves back in Richmond enjoying a relaxing dinner at Buenos Aires, an Argentinian restaurant favored by locals. With bellies full and our day coming to a close we walked along the River Thames back to our friends house.

Playground Earth | London | Natural History Museum
Playground Earth | London | Natural History Museum

Day 7 - Richmond upon Thames

On our last day in Richmond we spent the morning at home organizing ourselves for the next leg of our adventure. That afternoon we walked to Richmond for lunch and discovered Debraggios, a small and oh-so charming family owned restaurant serving authentic Italian food.

After lunch we explored more of the lovely town with its eclectic shops, galleries, historic houses and parks. We were pleasantly surprised that even for a Wednesday the town was bursting with activity. Spending the day in Richmond upon Thames quickly made us realize why the town is considered a “Jewel in London’s Crown”. It is not hard to understand why it has been a favorite retreat for Royalty as well as the rich and famous over the centuries. It certainly won our hearts after a week.

Our final stop for the afternoon was a local cheese store to pick up some wine, cheese and chocolate. With our goodies in hand we walked back along the river and arrived home just in time to greet our friends coming in from their day.

Playground Earth | London | Richmond converted boathouse
Playground Earth | London | Richmond converted boathouse
Travel  Tips

Staying in a suburb of any large city is a good travel tip as it is easier to get the best rates for accommodations and it allows you to get a better feel for the local life with fewer crowds and even fewer tourists. This is an especially good idea in London with its top notch public transportation system. It makes it very convenient to visit the city center by day, with its great restaurants along with historical and cultural landmarks, then retreat to the suburbs at the end of the day to enjoy a slower paced, more quiet life.

Final  Thoughts

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