Category Archives: Great Britain 2015

London, Here We Come

More than twenty years ago, husband Paul, 10-year-old daughter Samantha and I embarked on our first European vacation.  When we got married Paul promised me we would go to France within five years, and the deadline was approaching. We decided to spend five days in England before crossing the English Channel to France to ease our way into visiting a different country with a different language.

Paul likes to say he went on this first trip kicking and screaming but then realized how much he loved traveling.  Many years and countries later, today we are excited to return to where our love of travel began.

Our First Trip

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London, Here We Are

After a last-minute flight cancellation and a great deal of time on the phone with Delta, we arrived in London this morning-thirty minutes earlier than our  cancelled flight would have arrived.  London welcomed us with sunny skies and temps in the low 80s, not the London weather I remembered.

The weather was not the only thing different from my memory.  The skyline was different-more modern buildings with lots of curved and slanted edges and cranes everywhere.  London is in the midst of a building boom.  Our cab driver explained to us that foreign investors think London is a safe place for their money, and they are the ones responsible for most of the new building.

London skyline view across the River Thames and Mellenium Bridge for the Tate Modern balcony.

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We explored our neighborhood a bit, then visited the Tate Modern. The Tate Modern is a huge museum housed in a converted powerhouse on the River Thames.  Arranged by theme, not artist or period, each piece of art had helpful information about its artistic significance and contribution to the theme.  Paul and I came pretty close to that delicate balance where we are in an art museum long enough for me and not too long for him.

Crossing the Thames on the Mellenium Bridge, we could see Londoners strolling on both sides of the river, enjoying the beautiful weather. The Mellenium Bridge, the first bridge built in London in over a century, shook when people first crossed it. The city closed the pedestrian bridge, spent eight million dollars repairing it and re-opened it twenty months later.

We walked back to our apartment via the Jubilee Walkway along the Thames and had a wonderful Indian dinner.  London has great ethnic restaurants, and we plan to enjoy many different types of cuisine.

London, Day 2

Our first stop today was Leicester Square to get play tickets at the tkts booth.  We booked our Lion King tickets before we left the US and decided to wait until we got to London for other theatre tickets.  The Official London Theatre Ticket Booth is a good resource for discounted and no-fee-added tickets.  We got lucky and got discounted tickets for Memphis on Monday night.

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We walked two blocks over from Leicester Square to the National Gallery.  One of Europe’s great galleries, the London museum houses displays of European paintings from 1250 to 1900.  Our museum guide was amazing.  She especially helped us better understand and appreciate the paintings from the 1300s.

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In the afternoon we visited the Bank Museum.  As part of the London Festival, the museum had special tours and hours today.

We capped off our lovely day with a great performance of the Lion King at the Lyceum Theatre.  Dining after the play, we met a couple from Minnesota on their honeymoon.  Then it was home to our apartment before the tube quit running at midnight.

 

London, Day 3

We covered a lot of ground today-three Tube trips and ten miles of walking. Our first stop was Notting Hill where we explored the Portebello market and wandered the neighborhood.  From there we walked though the Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park. One of the gates on the side of Kensington Palace , the former home of Diana, Princess of Wales, has become a shrine to her.  There were flowers and birthday cards wishing her a happy 54th.

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Much of the park looked brown  and not very attractive, but we found some lovely walking paths.

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On our walk to the Victoria and Albert museum, we came upon this magnificent memorial to Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria.  I especially enjoyed seeing it because Albert is a family name for my brother, father, grandfather, and many generations before them.

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After the Victoria and Albert Museum, we explored the area around the Tower of London.  We walked by 10 Downing Street, the home of the Prime Minister, but a closed gate and guards prevented people from getting too close.

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Right across the street from the entrance to 10 Downing Street is a fenced area that must be set aside for protesters.  Today it was occupied by people protesting actions in Eritrea.

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We ended our day with a beautiful organ recital at Westminster Abbey.   After the concert we walked part of the way back to our apartment through St. James Park and saw  Duck Island Cottage, the beautiful Swiss chalet that was built as the home for the bird keeper in St. James Park.  Taking the Tube for the final part of our trip home, I had a sobering moment when a young woman offered me her seat on the Tube.  That was a first.

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A good dinner and a good night’s sleep, and we will be ready for our final day in London tomorrow.

 

London-Day 4

Today started with a big history lesson.  We toured the Churchill War Rooms, an amazing exhibit of the original underground rooms that Churchill and his government used during World War II.  Located under the Treasury building, they were used from 1939 until August, 1945 after the surrender of Japan.  The rooms were maintained exactly as they were during their use.  There also was an exellent museum depicting Churchill’s life.

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For a total change of pace we took the Tube to Jubilee Park at Canary Wharf to see a lunchtime concert by The Kansas Smitty’s Big Four as part of the City of London Festival.  Canary Wharf is on a peninsula on the Thames and Jubilee Park is a lovely oasis in the midst of shining skyscrapers.  We sat on a little wooden bench and enjoyed listening to the music and watching the Londoners around us-beautifully dressed professionals on their lunch breaks, little children playing and an uninhibited couple dancing on the lawn.   It was such a nice break from the London attractions.

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We ate a late lunch at Nandos, a Portugese and South African restaurant, recommended by a friend who lived in South Africa for a number of years.  It is his favorite restaurant when he is in London and South Africa and he said we had to try it.

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While scouting out the Nando’s location we discovered the o2, sometimes called the North Greenwich Arena.  The site of the 2012 Summer Olympics, it is also the world’s busiest music arena.

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We had to come home a take a little nap before heading out for a play and dinner, but we didn’t feel too guilty after learning that Churchill loved his naps. After a little rest, we went to see Memphis, one of the best productions I have ever seen and had a late-night snack of dim sum.  Tomorrow we bid London a fond farewell and take a train to York.

London to York

Leaving London today, we thought how lucky we were that the expected Tube workers’ 24-hour strike wasn’t starting until tomorrow.  We used the Tube many times each day, and our London experience would have been very different if we hadn’t been able to use the wonderful London underground system.  But today we were traveling to York via taxi and train, so all was well.

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Our York hotel was a half mile from the train station so we walked the narrow sidewalks to our hotel, pulling two roller bags and Paul’s very-large golf bag.  About two blocks from the train station light drizzle turned into heavy rain and we took refuge in a bus shelter.  Lucky for us the rain soon stopped, the sun came out and we finished our hike to the hotel.  After settling in to our room, we headed out for a little tour of our neighborhood.

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York is charming-narrow streets, quaint shops, very old buildings, wonderful restaurants and lots of places to get sweet treats.  They love their chocolate, pastries and ice cream here.  We love listening to street musicians and were delighted to encounter a young man playing the violin and singing wonderful English songs like Danny Boy.

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After a great meal at a little French cafe, we took a guided walking tour by a local who must have been a history teacher.  He seemed to enjoy sharing some of the grizzlier aspects of  York’s long and interesting history.  For example, we learned that Bootham Bar (a bar is a gate), an entrance to the medieval city, is where the Romans would display body parts of people who had been hung as a reminder that crime doesn’t pay.

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Totally York

We started our day with a two-hour hike on top of the ancient walls around the old city of York. Built in the 13th century, the walls closely follow the line of the walls built by the Romans in the first century.

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Views from the highest parts of the walls provide unique glimpses of old buildings and beautiful gardens.  The tower gates now house coffee shops and museums.

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Our next stop was the York Brewery for a tour and beer tasting where our guide, Gordon, gave us a wonderful tour.

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We had a great time in the tasting room after the tour, sampling the different beers and talking with other people on our tour.  One thing we love about traveling is meeting locals and people from other countries.   We talked with two men from York, a family from Bulgaria and three young women from Australia and Estonia who are on a six-month tour of Europe and the US.  The Australian women didn’t really like beer, so they gave us their unused beer tokens.

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We had such a good time tasting and talking that we were the last ones from the tour to leave the tasting room.  Paul wanted a trim, so we found a barbershop, and he got a proper British haircut.

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After a light lunch and a little shopping, we stopped for afternoon tea and a slice of Victoria Gateau.  I never realized how well tea and cake go together.

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Paul returned to the hotel to do some work, and I attended the Evensong services at the Minster, one of the largest Gothic churches in Europe.   A lovely couple next to me made sure I had a kneeling bench and served as my guides for when to sit, stand or kneel.

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York to the Lakes District

Hauling our roller bags and Paul’s big golf bag, we hiked a half mile from our hotel to get our rental car this morning.  Unlike our hike from the train station two days earlier, the sun was shining and the sidewalks were pretty empty.  After we got our rental car, and Paul felt acclimated to driving on the left side of the road, we headed to the Lake District, an area of England that has always seemed romantic and mystical to me.

Our first stop was the Wordsworth Museum and Dove Cottage, poet William Wordsworth’s home for the nine most productive years of his career.  Ever since he became my favorite poet in college ( I even named my English setter after him), I have dreamed of going to the Lake District and spending time where Wordsworth lived and worked.  We waited for our scheduled tour in his little cottage garden.

imageIt was hard for me to believe that I was actually walking through his home and seeing the furniture he used.   Although some of the other buildings  around Dove Cottage were contructed later, during the Victorian era, we enjoyed strolling the grounds and experiencing the cozy settlement.

imageI wondered lonely as a Cloud
That floats on high o’er Vales and Hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd
A host of dancing Daffodils;
… I gazed – and gazed – but little thought
What wealth the shew to me had brought:
For oft when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood.
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude,
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the Daffodils.

From there we drove about thirty minutes to Hawkshead, the home of Beatrix Potter, creator of The Tale of Peter Rabbit.  We took a few wrong turns on the very narrow, curvy roads, so we only had time to stroll around the quaint village.

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Paul did a fabulous job driving on the little roads framed by old stone walls.  One time we came nose to nose with a tour bus on a road that was not wide enough for both of us.  The courteous bus driver backed up a bit, and we were able to squeeze by.  I was pretty amazed to see how many people bike these narrow roads.  There are no bike lanes or even shoulders; there is barely enough room for two cars to pass.  The bikers must really trust that the car drivers are watching out for them.

With the wonderful assistance of google maps, we arrived at our B and B in Keswick.  Our front window gives us a great view of a little golf course, the hills and the lake.  After our tiny room in York, we are looking forward to having a bit more space.

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I Love Keswick

I am in love-with the beautiful little town of Keswick in the northern part of the Lake District.  A Scottish friend recommended it for the Lake District part of our trip, and it is perfect.  The town is walkable; no destination is more than ten minutes from the center of the city.  Every other shop in the city center is a British version of REI, and at least half of the remaining shops sell homemade ice cream.  The views are magnificent, the buildings are quaint and flowers grow everywhere.

We started our day with a full English breakfast.  Eggs here are always accompanied by a broiled tomato and the little round dish on the front of the plate is black pudding.

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Our hearty breakfast served us well today on our three hikes totalling eighteen miles.  We got wonderfully detailed hiking maps from the TI and only got slightly lost one time.  We didn’t have time for three long hikes, but we wanted to see Derwentwater, so we started with a wee hike along the shores of the beautiful lake.  On our second hike we walked more into the countryside.

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We walked through farmland, but the sheep never seemed to mind our presence.

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We walked up steep mountain paths and other times on flat walkways by old stone walls.

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Mid-way through this walk we came to the Castlerigg Stone Circle.  The stone circle dates from late-Neolithic times (3,000-2,500 BC), 1,000 years older than Stonehenge.  It was interesting to see something so old and mysterious, but I didn’t feel  any of the magic promised by the hiking map.

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Our final walk of the day was the best and the steepest and the longest.  From the top of Latrigg, we had a beautiful view of Keswick and the Fells (the mountain range.)

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Keswick to Durham

Before leaving the beautiful little town of Keswick this morning, we strolled the Saturday market and did laundry at the nicest lauderette I have ever used.  Washing clothes was almost fun.

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Arriving in Durham, we discovered the annual Durham Miners Gala was today.  Although no deep coal mines remain in the Durham area, a record 150,000 people came to celebrate the area’s coal mining heritage. Festive people packed the street.  A journalist covering the event gave us a great overview of what was going on.

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Brass bands and marchers carrying banners representing the different colliers (mines) paraded through the street.  The crowd cheered each new song and sang along to their favorites.  Nine to Five was especially popular. First held in 1871, the Durham Miners Gala is now the largest trade union event in Europe.

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We left the crowded streets and walked a few blocks to the serenity of the Durham Cathedral.  Founded in 1093, it houses the Shrine of St. Cuthbert, the patron saint of northern England and three copies of the Magna Carta.

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In the Middle Ages the church provided refuge for fugitives.  They could knock on the door and the church would let them stay for 37 days while they organized their affairs.

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