Conor Kane takes advantage of the new Waterford-London route and enjoys a day trip in the city.
It’s early afternoon and lounging on a deckchair overlooking the Serpentine, with vast expanses of beautifully maintained green parkland on either side, with little sound save for the murmur of many conversations and the odd birdsong deep in the background, it’s easy to forget you’re in the heart of one of the world’s great cities.
Easy to forget too that just a few hours ago you were pulling into Waterford Airport car park, making the 30-second walk to the terminal building and then having an early-morning caffeine pick-me-up before checking in at leisure and passing through security: all in the space of 20 minutes.
In an age when connectivity is key, there are now many options for venturing from this country across the Irish Sea to our larger neighbour.
But few as convenient, perhaps, as the recently-unveiled VLM Airlines route between Waterford Airport and London-Luton, which offers businesspeople, short break tourists and day-trippers alike a quick, no-hassle link between the southeast and England’s capital. Twice a day Monday to Friday, each way, and once a day at the weekends.
But Luton is outside of that great metropolis, I hear you quibble? Yes, but just a relatively-speaking hop, skip and jump from the centre of London and its many attractions.
After a flight which left Waterford at 7.30am one warm Wednesday morning in July, we arrived at Luton about 75 minutes later and before we could say “Dick Whittington’s cat” had gone through the usual airport controls and plonked ourselves on the shuttle bus taking London-bound passengers to the Luton Parkway railway station.
From there, it’s 30 minutes (or less, depending on the stops) to the great, cavernous hub of St Pancras International station and the adjacent King’s Cross, whose tube station opens up the whole of London.
We chose on our day trip to hug the fringes of Hyde Park and venture inside to its vast, green expanses and many attractions on either side of the railings.
Hyde Park corner and its tube station are flanked by the impressive Wellington Arch on one side and the beginning of the fabulously-wealthy Park Lane on the other.
Take a stroll along Park Lane and admire the grand and historic buildings, or head in a different direction towards Knightsbridge and the world-famous Harrods department store, or “shopping emporium”.
One of the largest buildings to dot the edges of Hyde Park is Kensington Palace, official residence of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and site of various exhibitions, both permanent and temporary. From Hyde Park Corner you can walk but, if time is limited or the weather is bad, it’s a bus journey.
The four tours in Kensington Palace are of the King’s State Apartments; the Queen’s State Apartments; Modern Royals; and Victoria Revealed.
The latter casts light on the story of Queen Victoria from her childhood through her marriage to Albert, her grief at his death and then her own later life.
Another quick bus ride, or even a walk, will take you to the Serpentine and the Long Water, deep in the centre of Hyde Park and traversed by a foot-bridge, where pedallos and row-boats can be hired for a time.
If it’s one of those baking London days, you can even go for a dip in the Serpentine lido, one of many open-air bathing areas dotted around the city and used for cooling off by its residents and visitors.
Then there’s the Serpentine Gallery which has various exhibitions, depending on the time of year, as well as live events.
On the same side of the park as Knightsbridge is the Royal Albert Hall and not far away from that venerable venue are other places of interest such as the Albert and Victoria Museum, if you haven’t had enough Royal history for one visit, and the Natural History Museum.
Of course, London is a melting pot of food culture and all parts of the city include a huge variety of eating options be it breakfast, brunch, lunch or dinner.
On our recent visit we stuck to the park itself and enjoyed a long, lazy lunch in the Serpentine Bar and Grill. For a tasty, good-value meal, washed down with some welcome cold drinks, it’s an excellent choice.
Afterwards, take a last drink out to those green-and-white deckchairs and take in the wide expanses of Hyde Park before thinking about heading home again.
Or, if your stay is overnight, drifting in the direction of Picadilly Circus, Chinatown, Leicester Square, or another of London’s great nightlife areas.
The evening VLM flight back to Waterford from Luton-London is at 6.40pm, arriving in the southeast at about 8pm, and depositing travellers back in the car-park minutes later.
VLM Airlines now run a twice daily (7.30am and 4.30pm) service from Waterford airport, from €69 one-way, to Luton-London which is about 30 minutes by shuttle bus and train from St Pancras International station in London. Return flights are at 9.40am and 6.40pm. www.flyvlm.com
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