Category Archives: Walk London

Chelsea’s Physic Garden

Why is everyone flocking to Chelsea’s Physic Garden? Might be to get up close and personal with Bella Donna, the poisonous berry that “ladies of the evening” would put a little of the juice in their eyes to dilate their pupils and make them more attractive. Or, maybe to sit al fresco at the Tangerine Dream Cafe to enjoy a delightful range of fresh, homemade food and the best afternoon tea in London.

Whatever the reason, the Physic Garden is the second oldest botanical garden in England. Oxford’s plantings slightly predate Chelsea.

Philanthropist Hans Sloane bought four acres of land near the River Thames from Charles Cheyne. In 1673, he leased this land to the Society of Apothecaries for £5 a year in perpetuity. The garden was established for the study and cultivation of medicinal plants.

Under Philip Miller’s direction, the Chelsea Physic Garden became world famous and, besides preserving plants from around the world, initiated the seed exchange program to other nations and organizations. For example, cottonseed, sent to the colonies, was the beginning of the American cotton industry.

School children enjoy field trips to discover pond life while adults enjoy finding a favorite plant variety.

Open from April – October, Wednesdays-Sundays from 12-6 p.m. Admission is £8 for adults.



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Hampton Court – day tripping from London

Hampton Court, the residence of British royalty since the 16th century.  Watch as David Ingham and Annie Coburn, co-authors of Walk London, walk you through this magnificent palace just 12 miles outside of the center of London.

David explains the architecture, the history and why this is such an important part of English culture.

Hampton Court has two contrasting architectural styles: Perpendicular Gothic and Renaissance style. Giovannie da Maiano’s relief busts of Roman emperors were set in the Tudor brickwork.

After Cardinal Wolsey fell out of favor with Henry VIII, the king began an expansion of Hampton because he had a court that exceeded 1,000 people. He quadrupled the kitchens and demanded day/night construction on the Great Hall which has one of the most impressive carved hammer-beam roofs in existence.

In 1689, when French King Louis XIV moved his court to Versailles, royalty everywhere attempted to meet the standard of this opulent residence. Hampton Court was no exception. William and Mary commenced a huge building project. Sir Christopher Wren was commissioned to redesign the palace – out with the Tudor and in with the Baroque.

The two King George’s (I and II) were the last royal sovereigns to reside at Hampton Court. Thanks to Queen Victoria, 1796, Henry VIII’s Great Hall was restored and the palace was opened to the public.

Info:    Open from March 28 – October 30

Time:  10:00 – 6:00 Monday – Sunday

Tickets:  About 15 GBP

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How to Use the London Oyster Card to ride the Tube

The London Underground, affectionately known as The Tube, is one of the longest (250 miles of track), oldest (started in mid-1850’s) and busiest (more than 1 billion passenger journeys in 2007) in the world.  Since 2000, Transport for London (TFL)  is responsible for London’s transport system.

With just a few simple instructions, you’ll be able to negotiate The Tube and quickly arrive at your favorite destinations.

Let’s get started.

How to Purchase an Oyster Card:

The Oyster Card is TFL’s smart-card. You can use it on buses, light rail as well as the Tube.

As a visitor, you can buy a card before you leave your home country from various overseas travel agents. Just check the TFL website at Since the money you put on the card never expires, you can use it on your next visit.

If you don’t buy your Oyster Card prior to your arrival, it’s not a problem. You can purchase an Oyster Card from any of the ticket booths, kiosks or any of the 4,000 authorized agents around London.  Remember, there’s a £ 3 refundable charge for the card.  A 7 day travel card gives you unlimited travel while in London.

How to Interpret the Map:

Now that you’ve purchased your Oyster Card, let’s go somewhere. Small maps are free at any of the Tube stations. Be sure to pick up several and stash them in pockets, wallets and purses.  They come in handy.

Each line has a different color. For example, the Jubilee line is a gray color. The Circle Line is yellow.  The direction (east or west, north or south) is indicated by the name of the final stop.

There are large maps within the stations to help you locate the stop you want, the platform and the direction so you can get on the correct train.

How to Touch in and out:

Now that you have your Oyster Card and a map, the next thing we want to do is enter and leave the station. This is known as touching in and out. This is a snap.

Just place the Oyster card on the yellow pad or dot that is on the turnstile. Your card will be read electronically. The doors will open and allow you to pass through.

Note:  As long as you don’t exit a station, you can transfer from line to line without any additional charge.

If you have any problems with your Oyster Card just call the 24 hour Hotline at 0845-330-9876. Someone will be happy to assist you.

Enjoy your time in London and riding on the London Tube.

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London’s Borough Market on Tour…Urban Kitchen Tour

London’s Borough Market is one of the most vibrant markets in the world. Acres of cheese, olive oil, wines, sauces, fruits and vegetables beckon you to taste and buy for your gastronomic delight.

Toral Shah, owner of Urban Kitchen, conducts monthly tours of the market. She educates, demonstrates and advises her tour participants on procuring the perfect ingredients.

After an extensive tour of the market, Toral returns the group to a beautiful flat over looking the River Thames to prepare a scrumptious brunch. You watch, learn, take notes as she prepares food fit for royalty. At the conclusion of the brunch, you return home with delicious purchases, recipes and a full tummy.

Make your next trip to London an unforgettable experience with an Urban Kitchen tour. Sign up at The cost is 57.50 GBP  ($89.76) per person.  Tours are offered once a month.  Enjoy!

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Boris Bikes – London’s Hop-on, Hop-off bike rental

Just a few short weeks ago, Boris Johnson (London’s Mayor) launched London’s Barclay Bike Hire. Even though there have been some “teething” problems, such as undocking problems, bike shortages, over-charged accounts. But, these glitches have not stopped the overwhelming response from Londoners. In just a matter of two weeks, over 100,000 journeys have been logged. Let’s call this 140 Million GBP project a huge success.

The quality of the bikes is top-notch. Built in Canada, the Boris Bikes have a sturdy frame, flashing front and rear lights for safety, a basket on the front for your belongings, and all the mechanics enclosed behind a cover to protect your clothing from the chain. Boris Johnson called them “the Rolls-Royce of bicycles.” I’ve ridden one of the bikes, although it is heavy, it gives one a secure feeling.

The later part of September, you and I will be able to hire a bike without a subscription or electronic key. We will merely swipe our credit cards, receive a code, enter that code, unhitch the bike and off we go. This is a great way to move around London quickly. The bikes are an easy ride even for the most inexperienced. London traffic is terrible! If you’re in a taxi, you could be immersed in traffic. Bike cycles move you along quickly rather than being stalled in traffic light cycles.

As Mayor Johnson exclaimed to me when I asked him to give a message to Americans planning to visit London:  “Get off your butts and come ride our bikes.”  We can do that!!

Update on Boris Bikes: Good article by Tim Adams in Sunday’s NYT’s Mag (3-20-11), Breaking Away: Why velophilia is the closest thing London has to a political philosophy. I’ve used both the Paris Velib and London Barclay Bikes. The Boris Bikes are hell for stout. They are heavy, clunky and devoid of sex appeal. However, I believe they will prove to have staying power over the sleeker Paris version.

To add one more piece of info for those of you heading to the London 2012 or just off for a visit to London…tourists can now rent a Boris Bike without having to have a “key” (see the video above). Boris Johnson promised this short-term access and he has now delivered! Thanks Boris.



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Greenwich – the perfect day trip from London

From Westminster pier, jump aboard a City Cruises boat (round-trip under £ 20 or $30) to the place where time begins, Greenwich. This hour long trip is fun regardless of sunshine or rain since a member of the boat’s crew will serenade you with a humorous blow-by-blow rendition of famous places along the River Thames. Before you realize an hour has passed, you will be docking at Greenwich.

Cutty Sark - the fastest tea clipper on the seas

The first thing you’ll see when you disembark is the white sheeting around Cutty Sark, the last tea clipper in existence.

Cutty Sark under wraps for renovation

She is currently being renovated after vandals set her on-fire in 2007 and severally damaged the ship. Completion will be 2012 in time for visitors to the Olympics. And this is only the beginning of English history recorded here.

Besides being the home of Greenwich Mean Time, here is the cradle for the Royal Navy which was the dynamo for the creation of the British Empire.  There are two main areas of interest at the Royal Naval College: the Painted Hall and the chapel. If you stand between these buildings and look toward the hill you will see two other important sites, the Queen’s House (Inigo Jones architect)  and the Royal Observatory. Christopher Wren, the architect, was commissioned to build the naval hospital, he didn’t want to block the Queen’s view of the River Thames, so he split the buildings, leaving the view unobstructed.

The Painted Hall: Sir James Thornhill worked 19 years to complete the painting of the allegorical Baroque murals that adorn the ceiling and far wall. William and Mary are the central figures with symbols of Virtue surrounding them. At Williams’ foot is Louis XIV groveling, holding a French flag. In the Upper Hall is George I with his family.  Look at the bottom right hand corner to see where Thornhill drew himself (a Hitchcock moment for sure). Here is where Admiral Nelson lay in state after he was killed at the Battle of Trafalgar before he was taken for burial at St. Paul’s Cathedral.

Sir James Thornhill's Painted Hall

The Queen’s Chapel: Walking into the chapel, the first thing you see is Benjamin West’s painting, The Preservation of St. Paul after Shipwreck at Malta. Two things outstanding about the chapel are the acoustics (great for concerts) and the organ manufactured by Samuel Green.  Free concerts are given the first Sunday of every month and Eucharist is sung every Sunday 11:00. If this chapel looks incredibly familiar it’s because scenes from the movie, Four Weddings and a Funeral, filmed here.

Queen's Chapel

The Royal Observatory: Built in 1675, this is the home of Greenwich Mean Time and the Prime Meridian of the World. The original purpose was to find longitude at sea. The red time ball at the top of the tower is raised at 12:55 and dropped at 1:00 p.m. A line running through the observatory marks the Prime Meridian. You can straddle the line and simultaneously be east and west.

Royal Observatory - Prime Meridian and GMT

Additional “Don’t Miss” places:

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Elephant Family

A few days after my arrival in London, I spotted my first elephant. Without hesitation, I gave it a big hug. The Walk London team (Ian P. Hardy, David Ingham and I) were strolling around Chelsea, getting a feel for the walks.  I wanted more elephants and London was filled with 258 colorful pachyderms. I had to learn more.

Basic Facts about the Elephant Parade:

From May until the end of June, these painted elephants have been scattered around the city, in the largest fundraiser ever for the charity, Elephant Family ( London hosted this grand art event, attracting 25 million people and raising an estimated £ 2 million to create elephant corridors in India, Thailand and Sumatra allowing elephants to migrate in safety. Village populations are growing,  pushing the elephant into less and less space. The hungry elephants invade villages, trample crops and kill villagers.Villagers retaliate, killing the elephants.  By establishing movement corridors, elephants and humans can co-exist in peace.

What can we do?

Date an elephant! Maybe this is the most far-fetched thing you’ve ever thought of doing…or…maybe not!

Here’s how it works:

If you’re searching for a gift that stands out – like the biggest thing possible – Date an Elephant will satisfy on all fronts. Elephant Dating is a great gift for special occasions such as

  • weddings
  • anniversaries
  • birthdays
  • Valentine’s Day

Elephant Family created the concept of Elephant Dating as a refreshing change to charity adoption. Animal lovers everywhere will embrace this unique way to contribute to a worthy cause.

Now, here’s where you come in:

A donation of £30 (approx $45.00) will secure a 12-month date with a real Asian elephant. In return you will receive gifts from your beloved that include love letters, a photograph (to be framed and kept on your nightstand) plus the all important, Valentine’s Day card.

Steps to successfully elephant dating:

  1. Log on to
  2. Buy a date using Google Checkout.  If you want the gift box to be sent to a loved one, merely click “change” in the” deliver to” option and give his/her address.
  3. When the box arrives it will contain a booklet, DVD of Elephant Dating Celebrities and, of course, your dating card.
  4. The dating card begins your romance. It contains your voucher code. You select your intended (the elephant of your choice) and provide the address where you wish to receive your love letters.
  5. From here…you’re on your own.  What you say to your elephant is between the two of you. Use the word “love” a lot. All animals love…love!

For goodness sake, let’s help the elephants.

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