OUR HONEYMOON IN ENGLAND
This trip has been planned, cancelled and re-planned several different times. Due to various financial emergencies and poor decisions, it had been delayed almost 4 years, but we finally got to go August 2005.
The planning portion, as I said, was over several years, but the first step towards actually going this time was getting airline tickets on Priceline. I managed to get tickets for my husband Jason and I from Orlando to London, in August (which is high tourist season in London) for $482 each plus taxes, for a total of $598 per ticket. Since the normal discounted internet rates were around $1000, I think I got a rather good deal there. We had one change over in Charlotte, and it was on US Airways.
Our next step was accommodation: I went to Priceline once again, and got 4* hotels in Leeds and London, each for $70 a night. The Leeds hotel was the Crowne Plaza Leeds, a decent enough place, and then the Copthorne Tara in London (Kensington) which was great. As many people know, though, a 4* in England is more the equivalent of a 3* in the US. Still, the rooms were clean, relatively spacious, and the bathrooms and locations good. More on that later.
There were several items that I booked ahead of time, and I will mention those throughout the report, when appropriate. I tried to do most of the planning ahead of time as I wasn’t sure how much (if any) internet access I would have during the trip.
On to the actual trip!
Thursday, August 11th
I left work around 11am to drive to Orlando in time for our 4:30pm flight. We were planning on dropping our car at our friend Marie’s house. The trip normally takes about an hour and a half, but driving through Orlando during the first week of school at 1:30-2:00pm was a bit more harrowing than I expected. We finally made it to the terminal by 3:00, though, and checked in… in time to find out our flight was delayed by ½ hour. That worked fine for us, and the US Airways agent was very helpful, even checking to make sure we would still have time to make our connecting flight (before we even asked!).
I do want to say here that, throughout our trip, the staff at US Airways was friendly, helpful, and incredibly conscious of their customer service levels. Many went out of their way to help us or others with problems or concerns. Kudos for a job well done! In this day and age, this seems to be the exception rather than the rule, and I am happy to see GOOD customer service and praise it, hopefully encouraging it.
We went through checking our bags at the TSA checkpoint, which was painless, and went through security. This was relatively quick, even though they chose Jason’s backpack to go through more thoroughly. It’s understandable, though – he had all sorts of wires, accessories and devices there for his laptop. We got finished with security and to the gate 1 ½ hours before the flight was due to leave – and discovered that the flight was actually 1 ½ hours late. Since we had 2 hours leeway on our connection, we were still doing OK. They did announce that since the flight was delayed, anyone with close connections should approach the gate to talk about the possibility of rescheduling. I think that sort of communication and proactive problem-solving was exemplary.
We grabbed a bite to eat at Burger King in the airport (not realizing there were much tastier choices around the corner) as we no longer rely on the availability or quality of meals on airlines. When we boarded, we were seated in a 3 seat configuration with an empty seat between us – however, as it was a full flight, we scootched over so a mother could sit across the aisle from her 5 year old son.
Part of the lateness of the flight was made up in flight time, so we arrived in plenty of time for our flight to London – which was also delayed a bit. It was scheduled to leave at 8:13pm, but instead left at 10pm. It was explained as a mechanical problem, and this information was displayed on screen and at the gate. Again, good communication kept everyone calm and satisfied. The Gate Attendant said that she would try to keep the seat between Jason and I open on this leg, and she did. That made the flight itself much more comfortable, especially important as this was the 9 hour part of the flight.
Dinner on the flight was Tortellini, which I didn’t eat much of as we had eaten several hours before, but it was reasonably good. Unfortunately I became the target of some falling drinks as the Flight Attendant took her cart by – but only my sleeve got soaked. She brought some club soda to make sure it didn’t get sticky.
I watched a movie on the IFE (Hitch) and an episode of Monk, then tried to get some sleep, and was reasonably successful. Breakfast was tea and a doughtnut, and we had arrived!
Friday August 12th:
We breezed through immigration and got our luggage. Off to the trains! We were booked on a train from London to Kings Cross, and then from Kings Cross St. Pancras to Leeds (St. Pancras is down the block from the other Kings Cross station). I picked up my pre-purchased tickets at the Fast Ticket machine at the station and boarded. The first train basically took us AROUND London – from Gatwick to one of the northern train stations in the city. This is where we hit a snag – as I was getting off at Kings Cross, I had trouble getting my luggage off. By the time I did, they closed the train doors on Jason, and he was unable to get off in time.
This is also when we discovered that our cell phones did not work in the UK (something I had been assured by Cingular). I decided that the best course of action was to wait for Jason – common sense dictated that he would get off at the next stop, and get the next train coming back. Meanwhile I sat and people-watched for about 45 minutes. I saw a very slovenly-looking nun pass through – her shoes, backpack and attire reminded more of homeless folk than nuns, but she definitely had a brown habit on.
He did, but since this was an Express train, the next stop was 20 minutes away (St. Albans). That means we missed our connecting train – but the customer service clerk wrote us a note to give to the other train station, explaining that the trains were running late, so they were stopping for shorter periods of time at each stop, thus not giving us enough time to alight. It worked fine, and we took the train to Leeds one hour later than our original. The clerk who did this (Cedric) was very helpful.
This is when I discovered that the bathroom at Kings Cross St. Pancras cost 20p to use – and I only had pound notes, no change, as I had just gotten here. A kind lady gave me 20p, luckily!
We got on our train to Leeds, after much deliberation and the wrong seats (we went into a car with reserved seats first, and we had no reserved seats). Unfortunately, finding the unreserved seats also means we were right next to the smoking car, and people going in and out of the car all trip brought the smoke smell with them.
The train trip itself was uneventful and rainy, and lasted about 2 ½ hours. When we got off the train at Leeds, we called Enterprise Rent-a-Car, and they offered to pick us up in the back of the station – which we had to find in the rain. We went around most of the train station until we found it! It was near a pub called Wetherspoons. We could, of course, had tried to find it from the inside – but we were too tired for logic at this point!
We rented a full-sized car, which was a Saab, and large enough for both Jason and I to drive. As my husband is 6’4″, finding a car he fits in comfortably enough to drive is a challenge. When we turned on the car, it told us the coolant level was low – so they filled it up at the rental agency, and told us to keep refilling it if we needed to. The coolant level wasn’t really low, the indicator light just continued to tell us it was, so we ignored it. We got directions for the nearest gas station, as they rented the car to us empty of petrol. Unfortunately, the petrol station they sent us to was just closing up, but the manager told us he would turn the gas pump back on if we were paying cash. We did, filled up with £35 ($70!), and followed the manager to the Crowne Plaza Leeds. The manager offered to show us the way, as he said he was rubbish with directions.
We checked in to our room, and the clerk tried to secure the honeymoon suite for us, but no luck. The room mini-bar was broken, and there was no adaptor for the internet. The room itself was nice, but little bits here and there were annoying. However, the shower pressure was fabulous, and the bed comfy, that makes up for a lot. Jason found two wireless connections, but they were both too weak to use, so we availed ourselves of the free 24-hour business center internet service about once a day to check our email. There was only one computer, so occasionally someone else was using it.
We were tired and hungry, and decided that going out for something to eat was too much effort, so we decided to eat at the hotel. There are two restaurants at the hotel – the higher class Boccagrande, and the lower class Sandwich Bar. We decided that, after about 24 hours of traveling, we were much too un-hygenic for a nice restaurant, so ordered room service. I had a burger with brie, and Jason had a steak & onion sandwich, with a salmon appetizer. It may have been our intense hunger, but it tasted delicious!
We each took a shower and collapsed at 9pm – waking up late the next morning.
Saturday August 13th:
We woke late today, but thoroughly rested and ready to go. We watched a show called Braniac, which mostly involved exploding things and shocking people for the interest of science.
On our first driving exploration trip, I took the wheel. After all, I’d driven in the UK before, and theoretically I knew where we were going. Right.
We drove towards our first destinations of the day, Harewood House and Fountains Abbey. However, since we had woken so late, we decided that, if we could see only one, then Fountains Abbey was our first choice. It was a good choice! We had lunch on the way up, at a pub called the Black Swan Inn in Burn Bridge. We both had our first Fish & Chips of the trip – the haddock was sweet and flaky, the portion huge, the chips fluffy. Heaven!
The Black Swann Inn
We headed back on the A61 to find the Fountains Abbey – and discovered that www.theAA.com doesn’t always give the best directions!
We arrived at Fountains Abbey, which was covered on our Great Britain Heritage card. It was a short walk from the welcome center, by a field (they were setting up a stage for a show that night) and down a wooded hill to the abbey. It was a wonderful ruin! There were lots of areas to explore, lots of great pictures and film to take. It drizzled on and off while we were there, with a couple spats of heavy rain, but the sun came out afterwards, and became cool, breezy and clear. The architecture was incredible, and my husband waxed poetic at one point. There is a lovely stream beside the abbey with great wildflowers and culverts around it. The music of the stream was liquid delight – it was nice just to sit and listen to it. There were a good number of other people touring the place, and some children running around, but they weren’t intrusive or loud.
The walk back up the hill about killed us – we are so out of shape! We had to rest at the bench halfway up. The 3 little old ladies walking up the hill passed us!
We went into the gift shop as it was closing down, and got an umbrella and invested in a wonderful street map book of England, something that saved us many, many times throughout the trip. We went out to the courtyard, and Jason had a chocolate ice cream cone and we both got some water.
We headed back to Ripon, but got lost. We ended up heading west towards Kirkby/Averly, and drove on that road about 4 miles by the time we figured out where we were. That map was a timely investment! We turned around and got back to Ripon and Harrowood. We had dinner at a pub called the Queens Arms just outside Leeds. We each had steak & ale pie, covered in a delicious gravy, and had mushroom/stilton melt for an appetizer, a coupleof pints (Guinness for Jason, cider for me!).
The place was empty when we first arrived at 7, but was full when we left. It looked like they got lots of tourists (like us). We drove back to Leeds and had fun (?) driving around the Loop road that circles town centre, find the road that our hotel was on. We went around at least 1 ½ times before we found it. We watched a little telly and then went to sleep. Tomorrow was an early day!
Sunday August 14th:
Up early at 7 am, we had a trip to York today! My memories of York were clear and quaint – half-timbered shops along cobble stoned shopping streets, the wonderful Minster, and of course, too many people.
On the way out to York we passed an intersection that had at least 9 traffic lights facing in our direction. Some contractor must have made LOADS of money on THAT contract! We went into York by way of Tadcaster (and laughed a bit at the name, of course). We found parking under Clifford tower. We were there too early – nothing was open yet, and it was misty and rainy. We had only one umbrella between us, so walking was a bit difficult, but we wandered among the streets until we found a restaurant open serving breakfast. We went in for our only ‘English breakfast’ of the trip, a true fry-up. By the time we were done it was 9 am, and the town was beginning to wake up.
While we were eating breakfast, we discussed the possibility of setting up an English-style pub in our town back in Florida. There weren’t any there now, and the closest thing was an Irish bar that didn’t serve food. We discussed lots of details like serving a full English Fry-up Breakfast on Saturday and Sundays, Afternoon Tea on Saturdays and Sundays, and open for lunch every day – pub grub. We would, of course, have British beers on tap, (including our favorites, Guinness and cider), and possibly (if it’s legal) have real English-sized pints, too!
After breakfast we wandered around the Newgate Market, sort of like a flea market. Most of it was retail things, with a few handcrafted and art items. We saw more quaint little cobble-stone alleyways and half-timbered houses, just like I recalled. We tried to get lost, but kept finding either the Minster or Clifford’s Tower. It’s hard to miss either of these landmarks.
The bells pealed at 9am and 10am, and Jason was feeling chilled, so we went for some coffee at Starbucks. I know, you gasp, Starbucks in England? It is true, we went, but I didn’t buy anything – Jason did 😛
We found a Japanese store and I got a cute little cinnabar-style dragon. We saw a book for a friend on adult-themed origami, but decided against it, to my regret. Now I want to go back for it! Perhaps I can find it online?
We went into the Jorvik Viking Center, something I had wanted to do last time we visited but couldn’t afford then. It was interesting, but rather cheesy, but I’d been warned about that. The ‘ride’ through the Viking village was interesting – up to the part where you saw one of the mannequins going to the bathroom behind a wattle wall. He even grunted! And yes, smell-o-vision was activated.
We went down to York Minster, and I went inside. I was once again amazed by the beauty that man can create. The sheer volume of carving, gilt and art in this one place is incredible. The choir was singing when I came in, and the acoustics and sound were breath-taking.
Jason and I did some people watching outside York Minster after that, and we heard all sorts of languages being spoken by the people going by; Russian, German, Dutch, Cantonese, Spanish, Italian, Ukranian, Japanese, French, and lots of different English, Scottish and American accents. ‘Tis a small world, indeed!
We did some more shopping, including my first trip into a Boots (Pharmacy). It’s a pretty amazing place, for a pharmacy (or chemist, as they are called in the UK). It was like the mecca of toiletries. I purchased some gel pads for my heels, as my shoes were chaffing a bit and giving me blisters.
As we were crossing the street outside Petergate, I slipped and fell flat on my face into the street. Such grace! Such style! Luckily I merely suffered some scrapes on my knees and the palm of one hand. I really should take up ballet, don’t you think?
We drove out of York in search of a pub for a late lunch. We’d about had it with the city, and were looking for something out in the country. We drove through Tadcaster, but the only place we saw that was interesting was ‘Tad-kebobs’, and we wanted a sit-down meal. We drove through Bramham and onto the A1 and A64, finally stopping at the Fox & Grapes. We ordered a couple of pints, and Jason had open-faced chicken pie while I tried the lamb moussaka. Thus we come to my second clumsy moment of the day, sitting on a stool and sliding right off the back, falling on my bum and hitting the back of my head on the wall. And I hadn’t even taken a sip of my pint yet! The lamb dish was good – sort of like a potato based lasagna with eggplant and lamb.
So we were sated and happy and drove home from there. We were getting very tired, so we decided to get back to the hotel for a while. We checked our email at the business centre, and took an afternoon nap – neither of us slept well the night before. After the nap and some news on the telly, we decided to go explore the surrounding streets a bit for a dinner spot. We got a recommendation from the desk clerk to try Nawab, which is an Indian restaurant several blocks down. We found it and it was great! We had meat samosas for starters, lamb haandi and chicken jefrase. The food was delicious, but the dessert, called Fantastica, while tasty was evidently common – we saw it in no less than 4 other restaurants later in our trip. It was a caramel and vanilla ice cream dish with toffee and chocolate on top.
When we were done with dinner, we waddled the few blocks to the hotel, and watched a couple of episodes of Babylon 5 on Jason’s laptop before going off to bed.
Monday, August 15th:
We were supposed to get up early today, but got up around 9am instead. Today was Whitby day. We debated switching with Nottingham today, but decided against it. We decided not to try to find anything fancy for breakfast, and stopped at a Burger King on the way. Boy that was different! It was late, so breakfast was over. I tried a chicken BLT baguette – not bad!
Today’s first stop was Rivaulx Abbey. The trek was one of the more harrowing, as it involved a tiny one-lane road for 4 miles, going up and down hills at a 25% grade. We went very slowly! Then we saw a hobbit bridge, and had to check to make sure Smeagol wasn’t in the back seat.
The abbey was great, but I think I liked Fountains Abbey better. This one was more peaceful and isolated, and was MUCH more difficult to get to. It was nice to see the swallows flitting around it constantly, like a ballet on the wind.
It was in the hills, and we tried going out a different way – it sort of worked. We headed up the A169 to Whitby and found ourselves among heather, heather, and more heather. The hills were covered in purple, and Jason accused me of secretly taking him to Scotland. I told them this was obviously English heather, as there were no bagpipes playing in the background. Oh, and the lovely odor of sheep and their by-products permeated the air as well!
When we arrived in Whitby we went straight to the Abbey, as the first time we visited we had gotten there too late and it was closed. Again, the Great Britain Heritage Card was useful for our admission, and we explored the abbey, which is situated on a dramatic headland next to Whitby harbor. Interestingly enough, the first time we visited in 2000, Jason had a severe drop in his blood sugar, and almost passed out. The same thing happened this time, though a little less severe, so we went to the gift shop and got him some sugar. He had some cookies and I went to the tea room for some drinks. I tried a ‘ginger & lime pressé’, which was quite tasty, though strange. Jason had a Shandy Beer, which was also pretty good. I bought a brass celtic knotwork bookmark for myself and a little book on medieval cooking for my mom.
Whitby Abbey and her guardians
It was nice to hear the seagulls crying in the sea as we looked over the bay.
We went down to explore the church and graveyard that is next to the abbey, which has some fabulous celtic crosses and a spectacular view of the water. The town is below, on either side of the river, and the harbor just around the mouth of the river. A truly magical spot, except for the occasional blast of sound from the cheesy tourist carnival on the quay. That was something we didn’t remember from our first trip, as well as the gift shop and tea room – those at least were built in 2002, according to the ticket clerk. We chatted with him a bit – he literally used to live where the gift shop was. It was his farm land. I found that rather sad.
We drove into town, but just looked around some and went on to Ravenscar. We wanted to find the area we stayed at last time, a B&B called Smuggler’s Rock, as it had a wonderful view. We did find it, and took lots of pictures of the mill across the street, and the view over Robin Hood’s Bay. It was as beautiful as I remember!
We drove into Scarborough on our way back, on a long windy drive. And that’s when we discovered that Scarborough beach is also covered in a cheesy touristy carnival. Ugh! Fantastic sea views, but loud, raucous noise coming from the rides and children. We drove along the marine road, and then out through east side to York. We were very hungry by now, as our lunch was at 11am and it was now almost 8pm. Of course, we can’t find any pubs along the road since we’re so hungry. We stop at one called the Snooty Fox (I loved the sign!) but discovered that they don’t serve food on Monday. Argh! They did recommend a place called the Coach and Horses, which was down the road several miles. We found it and both ordered Whitby Haddock – my was that good! We also had some HUGE fried mushrooms. They must have been over two inches across each. The pub was decorated in hundreds of cats – not live ones, though, ceramic, brass, glass, etc. Some were even hanging from a glass tray from the ceiling!
We figured we could do this with my dragons in our pub.
I had some Red C cider – it was sweet rather than dry, and is my new favorite.
We drove home and conked out – it was a long, tiring day, with lots of driving and great sites.
Tuesday, August 16th:
Up at 9am today – we should have gotten up earlier, as it was another fun-filled day, but we were tired!
Today was a trip designed by a fellow traveler from Fodors, a ‘day in the Yorkshire Dales’. We started off to Skipton first. We drove through Ilkley, and were stuck there for over a half hour getting through town center – it was very congested. Then we had a long drive into Skipton and we kept missing the castle. We finally found the castle, but couldn’t find any parking open, so we skipped Skipton and went on to our next site, Bolton Abbey.
We found the Bolton Abbey area, but once again passed right by the entrance, without realizing it. One of the problems is that there is a large area all known as Bolton Abbey. We drove down to a forest called Strid Wood before deciding to turn back. When we did, we found the Abbey itself, and parked. We walked down the hill into the Abbey. There are two parts of the Abbey – the ruined part and St. Mary & St. Cuthbert church, which is still whole and in use. Both were great in their own way, and the graveyard was fantastic (yes, I’m morbid, I love graveyards. This one had lots of beautiful headstones and a ‘lived in’ feel).
Jason wasn’t as interested in the Abbey as in the stream, so he sat on the beach and watched the children play while I explored the ruins. He said he had watched an entire family trying to cross the river on these stepping stones – and the last one fell in. We sat a while listening to the water falling over the rocks, and then took the long walk back up the hill. With several stops for rests!
In the gift shop we decided that it might be a good investment to get Jason a walking stick, as his knee was complaining heavily about that last hill walk. Walking stick in hand, we drove off on a fruitless search for Barden’s Tower, and then off to Grassington. This was a fascinating shopping town, but after several tries down dead ends and one-way cobblestone alleys, we decided it was much too crowded and abandoned the search for parking.
Aynsworth falls were next on our list, but we started off in the wrong direction, and ended up going towards Ripon instead. We stopped in a town called Niddleham, and had a couple of sandwiches for lunch before Jason tried getting behind the wheel for the first time. That’s when we crossed the river and found out we could have had much better than sandwiches for lunch, as that’s where all the restaurants were. Ah, well!
We went towards Jervaulx Abbey, but it was getting late so we weren’t sure we’d get there in time. Boy I’m glad we tried, though! This place was wonderful. It was very ruined and overgrown, nature had definitely started reclaiming it. It was beautiful, peaceful, and serene. There were very few people there (of course, it was near 6pm) and we had it almost to ourselves. The trees and the birds melded into the stone.
Jervaulx Abbey — peaceful and natural
We drove on to Middleham and found the castle there – but it was 5 minutes after the last admission. The clerk kindly let me in to explore a bit anyhow. This was Richard III’s castle, and there’s a white statue of him in one of the fore courts. It was a very black, dark, dank place – not peaceful at all, very strong and proud.
We were off to Leyburn and Bedale next, where we had dinner. We tried the Green Dragon pub first (of course) but they had no food, so we tried the Black Swan instead. They stopped serving at 5:15. Sigh! Once again we run afoul of the fact that everything in rural England stops dead at 5pm!
We finally found a restaurant called the Taste of India, and I ordered Lamb Tikka Marsala, a typically British dish. Jason had the chicken jefrase again. His was great, but I didn’t like mine that much – too much tomato for my taste. The cheese/garlic naan was great though :
We chatted a bit with the waiter, who was 18 and ready to vacation in South Beach, Florida. We told him to wait 3 years, as he wouldn’t be able to drink! He had never been to a big city, so we warned him about that as well. He’s from Dacca, but had been here for most of his life.
We finished dinner and drove to the A1, too tired to take the back roads home. Jason driving in Leeds for the first time was much fun (not!), and we found the Royal Armories by accident, looking for our hotel. We finally found the hotel, checked our email again, and stayed up watching television. We finally called Cingular to find out why our phones weren’t working, and was told that, despite what I was told two weeks ago, our phones were not capable of international access. Customer service was very helpful though, even putting me directly through to one of my credit cards since I couldn’t call on my cell phone. They even called me back rather than have me calling out of the hotel (as the hotel charged £3 a minute!)
Wednesday, August 17th:
We were up late this morning, but we had several strong days, so it was time to rest a bit. We were off to Nottingham! This is when one of my digital camera cards decided to go kaput! and refuse to be read by my camera. I had two 512Mg cards – I wanted two in case one died. Lucky I did. One was sufficient since we had the laptop, I just had to remember to clear it every night by uploading the day’s pics into the laptop. One card stores about 320 pics, and I took that much most days. Of course, I believe that you take 100 shots to get 5 good ones :
We traveled down the M1 to Nottingham, and passed some nuclear power plants. RIGHT next to the highway, too! I’ve never seen them that close before. Jason wanted a more scenic drive than the M1, so we exited towards Mansfield and took the scenic route through fields and forests. We found a pub outside Nottingham for lunch, called the Ram and another right next to it called the Waggon and Horses. We had lunch there – steak and mushroom baguettes with chips and a couple of pints.
While eating lunch, we chatted with two delightful ladies sitting at the next table named June and Christine. I believe they were sisters. Christine lives in Fort Myers, and we talked of some of the differences between England and the US. We exchanged stories about long ago loves lost (my parent’s story) and what we should do in Nottingham today. They recommended the Nottingham Castle, and said we should try to see the Victoria and Albert Museum when we get into London.
We got lost about 3 times due to diversions from city centre, but finally found the Warhammer World, which is the factory for the game my husband plays. This was our main purpose in coming into Nottingham, a sort of pilgrimage Jason needs to make periodically. It had changed drastically from when we were there five years ago. Last time the upper rooms had incredibly wrought Games Day displays with entire armies poised for battle, some on deserts, some at sea, some in bombed out cities, etc., about 20 displays in all. This time it was simply a figurine gallery of painted figures. I was less impressed.
I was impressed, however, at the change in the playing area – it was decorated like a medieval castle courtyard with castle walls and turrets. The Bugman’s Bar at the end was just as cool as before, with thick wooden tables and other medieval touches.
Jason did some shopping, but he couldn’t find any of the pieces he had been hoping to find. I read a bit in the bar waiting for him, and then we left.
We went to find Nottingham Castle, but arrived 10 minutes past the last admission time once more. I couldn’t’ see anything from the gate, as the trees and foliage were obstructing the view.
We took the long way home, by way of Conisbrough Castle. It was also closed, but very impressive, and I got some good photos of it.
Trying to find our way back from the scenic route and into a motorway, we went along a road that had – no exaggeration! – over 25 traffic circles in 20 miles. And these weren’t useful ones either – there was nothing branching off yet, just road-circle-road, one after the other. We assume that the large area north of it will eventually be built up, but right now it was highly annoying!
We had dinner back in Leeds, at a Chinese restaurant down the street from our hotel called 56 Oriental. It was an upscale noodle bar. I tried some sweet sherry with my dinner (very good) and had Hong Kong style fried rice – lots of seafood! Jason had 56 fried noodles, and both were delicious. My dish had scallops, shrimp, chicken, duck and veggies in a salty oyster sauce. We stopped by the little grocery store on the way back for some water and snacks.
Thursday, August 18th:
I got up around 9:30, but Jason slept much later… I read some and watched some television while he rested. We went to the Indian Restaurant Nawab for their lunch buffet – it wasn’t as good as their dinner was, but that’s to be expected. Today was the Royal Armories in town.
As easy as it was to find it the other day, it was very difficult today. It seemed like each sign brought us farther into a spiral, closer and closer, but never quite there. Finally we found it, and went in to see the Shogun exhibit that was featured. The exhibit was fascinating, and had lots of different things, including painted screens, armor, poetry written by Tokugawa, daily objects, maps, etc.
We went upstairs to the other exhibitions of weapons, and then on to armor. They had everything from huge heavy punt boat guns (to shoot ducks!) to delicately carved and traced gunpowder horns, ancient spears and modern pistols.
We got caught up in a silent documentary on the art of Japanese sword-making, each section showing how the sword maker makes the bar, shapes the sword, folds and reshapes, polishes, makes the scabbard, the hilt, etc. It was fascinating – and took most of the time we had until closing! We rushed through the rest of the oriental floor once they announced the closing of the gallery, and went down into the gift shop (of course that was still open!). We got a couple gifts there, including a red/gold scarf for Kim, and decided to go driving anywhere. We didn’t want to return the rental car tomorrow with half a tank of gas when we got it empty, so we decided to burn it up!
We picked a road and drove, ending up going through Wakefield (in the south) and Sandal Castle. This was on a battlefield where Richard of York died (1460), and was set up as a local park inside a lovely hilly neighborhood. The castle itself was mostly a tower in ruins, but it was a nice, laid-back area. There were a couple kids playing, and a couple joggers, as well as someone walking their dog. The hill was high and offered a delightful view of the surrounding areas, including a large lake to the west. The boys were flying paper airplanes off the tower to see which would go farthest. As the sun started inching down, the wind up there got a big biting, so we headed back to our hotel, glad for the decision to find something to do that evening.
We decided to eat at the hotel restaurant for our final stay in Leeds, and it was actually quite delicious. It was £18 for 3 courses. For starters I had a goat’s cheese, bread, spinach leaves and fig dish that tasted great. Jason had soba noodles and prawn tempura that he said would have been better hot. Dinner was duck confit with cabbage and potato, and was delicious. Dessert was passion fruit and blueberry cheesecake. It was very decorative, but perhaps the taste was too subtle for me. I like bold flavors, this was delicate.
Some of the news stories we followed this week were of the Brazilian man killed in the Underground – his relatives were calling for the resignation of the police chief. We also saw lots of coverage on the Gaza Strip evacuation and Cindy Sheehan protests.
Impressions of Yorkshire:
There were wildflowers everywhere, including the fuzzy prickly puffs, purple stalks and yellpw buttercups. Birds were singing everywhere, especially the more remote of the ruined abbeys and castles. No midges were around, though a few flies made themselves annoying. There were cool breezes throughout, and the nights got chilly. It rained our first day there, and drizzled the second day, but then it stayed dry (sometimes even clear) until the day we traveled back to London. I did get a little too much sun on one overcast day. The people were, overall, very friendly and helpful, especially if they discovered we were from out of town.
The sublime feeling of ancient wonder is still there.
My favorite places were Fountains Abbey, Jervaulx Abbey, and Sandal Castle, with Whitby coming in close behind.
Friday, August 19th:
We got up at 7am to get our rental car returned, and took the looooong way to the rental agency – www.theAA.com strikes again! We finally got there and were dropped at the train station in plenty of time for our journey to London.
The train trip was uneventful, and we sat next to two ladies traveling to Petersborough. They were going for a cycling trip and had their maps in plastic sleeves. Very clever!
We got off the train and down to the tube to take the Circle Line to High Street Kensington Station with no problems. I did break the clasp on my favorite necklace when a man collecting trash bumped into me on the moving subway, but I caught both the pendant and the chain to repair later.
We walked down the block in the rain to our hotel. Thankfully the Copthorne Tara is only a couple hundred feet away from the station, shorter if you take the back alleyway. Checkin was smooth, and we were offered a permanent upgrade to Connesseur Room for an extra £25 a night. We weren’t sure at first, but when we got to our room, we decided that was a good idea. We had a queen sized bed, free 24 hour DSL in our room (a special for the month of August, evidently) and free breakfast every morning. We figured this was definitely worth it! Since the hotel room was only $70 a night to begin with, an extra $45 only brought it to $115 a night – very reasonable for such a nice room, great view (on the 11th floor) and breakfast besides.
The room had it’s own fridge, coffee and tea maker, plenty of drawers, a desk for Jason’s laptop, and a decent bathroom. After we checked our email, and advised those who needed it of our new phone number, I discovered I was hungry. I went down to one of the hotel restaurants (Crema) for a sandwich of mozzarella and sausage while Jason reconnected with the Matrix.
That evening was our “Along the Thames Pub Walk”, and while I was raring to go, Jason wasn’t up to it. He was very tired, so I went alone. The tube was incredibly crowded… when I lost balance, there were so many folks around me I didn’t fall. I got a sandwich from Pret a Manger (crabmeat) and headed for the walk meeting point. I was a half hour early, so I got a copy of the Evening Standard and read for a while.
Jillian was our guide, as our normal guide, David, was on vacation in Spain. I met Kate, who was a very out-going medical meeting coordinator on one-day layover from St. Petersburg (Russia) and lived in Chicago. I also met Antonio, who was on vacation from Spain, and Helen and sister from New Hampshire – their New England accents gave them away! We chatted for a bit about cameras and photography at one of the pubs. Nice ladies! Also briefly met Mary from Germany during the walk.
We went to three different pubs and got lots of great trivia. The most interesting pub, IMHO, was the second one, the Anchor, which was an 18th century pub where the café scene from Mission Impossible was filmed. We also went to the George, a 17th century pub that Charles Dickens used to frequent.
The tube was much less crowded on my way back… of course, it WAS 10pm, so that may have had something to do with it. Jason had gone down to the restaurant for dinner and had lamb and calamari, as well as a delightful tiramisu.
Saturday, August 20th:
We got up early due to the staff calling us, verifying that we were upgrading our room for our entire stay, so we dressed, got our laundry together (had to find a Laundrette) in our suitcase and went down to exchange our keys for new ones. A taxi took us to the Laundrette and we washed and dried all our clothes. While waiting for the machines, I wandered down a couple streets doing some shopping. I found a couple of consignment stores, bought a couple books and stuff. I saw a silver shop with some beautiful jewelry, but they appeared closed.
We broke down and settled for McDonalds on the way home – it was close and convenient to our hotel. Jason was craving a McFlurry with Cadbury chocolate. They have a set of baguette sandwiches that are much better than anything we have here in the states.
We decided to take the tube to Victoria Station and take the Original Bus Tour around the city for the day. We took the Red Line tour all the way around, and then took the blue one home. On the way we saw all the required sites, took lots of pictures, and saw lots of people. There were lots of festivities going on at Trafalgar Square.
From the hotel, we considered several places for dinner, and ended up at The Thai Place just down the street from our hotel. It was ok, I suppose, but not the best I’ve had by a long shot. Jason had Pad Thai and I had a curried seafood dish. The curry paste was very thick, and I guess I’m used to thinner curry. There was no spice and very little flavor to mine.
We went back to the hotel for dessert, though if we had realized it would take an hour for dessert and cappuccino we may have gone elsewhere. However, the dessert was worth the wait, and I had a sticky toffee pudding with gingerbread ice cream. Heavenly! We both had cappuccinos and Jason had his favorite tiramisu again.
We watched a show called Balls of Steel and the movie As Good As It Gets before sleep.
Sunday, August 21st:
The shower at the new hotel was unusual, to say the least. The English (as well as all Europeans, I’m sure) seem to delight in finding new ways to make faucets work. This one was a long tube. On one end you turned it away from you for cold water, on the other end you turned it towards you for hot. There was a button to press to get it past lukewarm or cool on either tube.
We went down for our free breakfast, which was quite satisfying. It included croissants, Danish, cereal of about 10 different types, cheese, fruit (dried and fresh), bagels, tea, coffee, or hot chocolate. We filled up and went on our way.
Today our goal was the Natural History Museum, which we decided to walk to. It was a long walk, but the day was sunny and clear and the weather warm. A little too warm for me! We got there a little early for entrance, so we sat in the park next to it and watched the playing children until the line reduced somewhat.
Well, we thought the line had reduced! We got into line and then discovered it went around the corner again. However, it went quickly – the delay was due to security bag checks.
We went into the dinosaur exhibits first, and were impressed by the little animatronic Dromeosaurs. They were very cute! They had a big T Rex animatronic as well that focused its eyes on you as you passed. Scared the children a lot!
We went on to the mammals, and the life-sized models were very impressive, especially the whales.
We were a little disappointed that most of the exhibits were oriented towards children, and were thus ‘dumbed down’ to their level.
We had sandwiches for lunch in the café, and on to the primates, which was a very small upstairs exhibit. We went to the slice of the giant sequoia upstairs, and on to the Evolution of Man, which was fascinating to me.
The mollusks, fish and bugs were next, and then we decided our feet had had it. We checked out the gift shop for some rocks, but most were either too large for making jewelry with, or already made into jewelry. We got a penguin plushie for Marie and sat people-watching in the park for about an hour.
Why does this beautiful museum remind me of a radiation symbol???
We found a tube going from the park, so we decided to rest our feet for a while. I convinced my husband that tonight was Anatolian night, and we should try Taz, a local restaurant chain that specialized in that cuisine.
It turned out to be a great idea – that was one of our best dinners on the trip. The bread with yogurt/dill dipping sauce was a great start, and had very tender Kalamari for an appetizer. I enjoyed the flute music played in the background – it was very sad and lonely.
Dinner was a lamb/tomato/pepper dish with mushroom pilaf, and was delicious. Jason had mussels, prawns, and cod with a tomato cream sauce, also very tasty. I tried some Turkish coffee (very sweet and thick!) and Jason had chocolate ice cream.
We staggered on back to the hotel after dinner and digested our gustatory delights over a showing of Police Academy.
We aren’t much on night life, and watching movies when we got back to our hotel was a great way to relax and absorb the sites and thrills of each day.
Monday, August 22nd:
We were up early today, as it was our travel-to-Salisbury day. We almost forgot to clear my camera of yesterday’s pictures, and went back real quick to do that. Then we breakfasted, tubed, and got to Waterloo.
This is when I discovered I should have retrieved my pre-paid train tickets when I was in Gatwick Station last week – I had to purchase new tickets, and hope for a later refund. Not a big problem, but it took us several people to find out what we needed to do.
We got to Salisbury right on time at 10:45, and met Vic from Vic’s Taxi. Vic was delightful – he was full of information about the area, about the people, knew where to go and who to see. He is an older gentleman, retired from the army, and very personable.
Our first stop was Silbury Hill and West Kennet Longbarrow. I’d seen this on my first trip, but never went in, so we braved the long walk and the whipping cold wind (it was raining) to go into the barrow. I suppose this was a mistake, as Jason got a cold from it, but it was a neat place. The rain was misty, but the wind was very strong, especially as we got higher up on the unprotected hill. The barrow itself was very quiet and relatively dry, but Jason’s umbrella broke on the way back, so he got rather soaked.
Our next trip was to Avebury stone circle, but we had to do a detour to get there. One town was closed as there was an accident on the center road (read: only road) through town, so we had to go around. We got lost, but thanks to that wonderful map Jason had, we finally found our way back on track.
We had lunch at the local pub before hitting the stone circle. I decided to take a head-long dive into the carpet as I walked in – I obviously wanted to see it close up. After shattering my dignity (and wrenching both ankles), I got up and hobbled to the table. I had a great dish of Cumberland sausage and mash, which came with a MOUNTAIN of mashed potatoes and a sea of delicious gravy. I couldn’t finish it all, and gave some to Jason to accompany his fish & chips.
I went to explore the circle (Jason had had enough of the wind and rain) so I hobbled along the ring. The winds were very strong on the ridge and threatened to blow out my umbrella on numerous occasions. I tried to find the ‘devil’s armchair’ I had seen on my first trip here, 9 years ago, but couldn’t find it. It was a root system of a tree that looked like a giant chair.
I made my way back to the pub amid several groups of school children to find Vic and Jason chatting with Malcolm, a local ex-army chap who kept insisting that his wife was his mum. He was quite a character! He told Jason he likes old-time country American music, such as Patsy Kline and Elvis. He’d been to the US twice, both times to Graceland. We were sitting next to two local girls in their 20s who were busy rolling cigarettes.
We drove back to Old Sarum, and luckily could drive right up to the parking lot. Also luckily, the sun had decided to beat back the rain and the clouds for the afternoon. Old Sarum was an iron age fort and then a Roman fort, a Norman castle, and was the center of the city until they moved it to Salisbury.
A Medieval Bus Stop?
There was a living history group giving demonstrations there all week, including a period longhouse, a blacksmithy, a mason, and several others. It was great talking to them (Vikings!) and learning all about their group. We met Steve, Mary (the doctor), Dave and Gordon, all of which were more than happy to bend our ear about history and their group. We got very excited about the group, and told them we’d come back on Sunday, when they were having a huge battle re-enactment (over 250 re-enactors).
We went down and toured through Salisbury Cathedral. My favorite part was the Chapter House, and it’s colorful carvings and beautiful flowers and scrollwork decorations. Since I had read a book by Edward Rutherford called Sarum, I found it fascinating to look upon the carvings described in the book. One of his characters was the wood carver who created them. We saw a copy of the Magna Carta there, and listened to some of the service. In the cloister, we sat for a while and listened to the wind whistle and shake through the spruce leaves. It was nice and peaceful after the screaming children had left.
We went back to the gate where we were meeting Vic again, and got some dinner at the only place still open (everything closes when the tour buses leave for the day!) which was Burger King. Again, they had the baguette sandwiches.
Vic met us at 7pm, and took us off to Stonehenge for our special access dusk tour. We passed by Sting’s house and the pub where he visits (usually via horseback). We saw the D’Arcy’s house, a diamond and gold tycoon.
At Stonehenge they already had us on record, so they let us in. There was also a group of pagans doing a ceremony at the stones that night. While most were in robes, a couple (obviously newbies) were in jeans and t-shirts. We were originally told it was a full moon ceremony, but it was a couple days late for that, and the ceremony sounded much more pro-active and powerful to me. They were chanting about starting a storm, so something was definitely coming! One gentleman was evidently a supplicant of some sort, and spent some time meditating on one of the entry dolmens. They were all very nice and had no problems with us being present for the ceremony. We tried to respect their space and keep inobtrusive.
The sunset was truly beautiful and serene in the sun. I think I used up every picture I had left on the stones and the sky. The stones were very warm and solid, almost like a warm bed you know well. I kept being drawn to one particular area of two stones.
Jason talked some with John, the guard on duty. He had to, at one point, go chase off some folks who decided it was ok to walk in from the ropes.
It was very cold and windy up on Salisbury plain, and Jason went off into a sotto voce dialogue ala Steve Irwin, commenting on the pagans. ‘Here we see the dreaded moon-bat! Crikey! They are very dangerous when aroused… let me see if I can get closer to look at these beauties!”
We met Vic for the trip back to the train station, and as we had some time, we stopped for a couple of pints at a pub right outside the station. The train ride home was very long, and then the tube on top of that. We got home around midnight, and were exhausted!
Tuesday August 23rd:
I was up around 8:30am, and went down for breakfast. Jason was more interested in sleeping a little longer, so I left him upstairs. I took the tube over to the meeting place for the next London Walk, the one to Greenwich. I was a little early, so I took out the book I remembered to bring this time :
I got so engrossed in my book I almost missed the tour guide waving the brochures, calling for the group. The tour guide’s name was Chris, and she had quite a thing about William never being a Conqueror. She much preferred the name ‘William the Bastard’, as she insisted he never conquered anyone. Since most of these tour guides are getting their master’s degrees in history, this must be one of her pet subjects.
We learned about the Tower of London, and the gate where the lions used to be housed – the ‘first lion of defense’. We learned that the moat would be re-watered in the next couple of years and the road next to the tower would go underground to improve the area’s looks and accessibility.
We took a cruise up the Thames and to Greenwich. We saw the Cutty Sark (which is due to be completely restored in the next couple of years), the Maritime Museum, the college, the Queen’s House, and the Royal Observatory. We set our watches to the 1:00pm ball dropping (similar to the New Year’s ball) and I went to take the cruise back to the tube. On board I had a Cornish Pasty, and it was quite tasty.
Jason and I were to meet but we were both about 20 minutes late, no big deal. My feet were blistering from too much walking, so we decided to rest back at the hotel before meeting a Fodorite (Kavita) for dinner that evening.
We went to Gerrard’s Corner, a Chinese restaurant in Chinatown, and it was delicious! We ordered several dishes and shared them all. I was going to order the jellyfish just to try something different, but the waiter recommended against it. We had duck with pancakes, prawn wraps with lettuce, a chicken dish, prawn with ginger and onions, and pork noodles. We talked about politics, travel, religion, and terrorism, as well as our favorite, science fiction :
I wanted to try something unusual so I ordered Mou Tei, a very strong rice/bamboo liquour. I don’t think I’ll try that again – much too harsh for me! I should have listened to the waitress who recommended against it.
Wednesday, August 24th:
We were up late today, and caught up on our emails. Then we were off to the British Museum. It was a cold and rainy day – perfect museum weather!
Jason wasn’t feeling very good at all. The cold was really beginning to take hold of him. After touring the Assyrian, Egyptian and Greek area, we got some fruit (Vitamin C!) and water at the café. Jason decided he would sit while I did a little more wandering. I got in some shopping at the gift shop, and collected my sick husband, and we went home.
We relaxed at the hotel, and discussed several options for dinner, but decided that it was too cold, rainy and windy to go outside. We had lamb joints for dinner and met a very nice waitress, Ella Woods. She was Polish and urged us to go visit her home city, Krakow. She was very nice and helpful, and chatted with us a bit.
I introduced myself to the Vikings NA list today, and one of the Vikings who lived in London (Pete) called us and arranged to meet with us tomorrow night at Kennedy’s, a pub we were planning on going to for some live Irish music.
Thursday, August 25th:
We were up late, so we grabbed a quick sandwich at Pret a Manger and went off to Parlaiment for our ticketed tour. I had to pick up my prepaid tickets at the ticket hut around the corner from Parlaiment, and we went through airport-like security to get in. Jason had to check his pocket knife, and photography was not allowed inside, to my disappointment.
We entered through the stairways and into the Robing room. We could smell the wood oil on the carvings and panels around us, and saw paintings of kings and queens throughout the centuries looking down at us. We went on through the Processional, the House of Lords, the Lobby and the House of Commons, ending up in the Old Hall that was originally the chapel. The whole place, except the House of Commons, was opulent in reds and golds. Commons was wood and green, but still very high quality in carving and decoration. The throne of the Queen of England was as ostentatious and gilded as you might expect… layers of gold filigree and gilding.
Our guide, Peter, was funny and entertaining, and made sure to let us know there were many places where we could not sit on pain of death. He wasn’t kidding, that is actually the punishment on record!
After our tour we ambled across the river to the Eye, and I went through the Dali museum. I was very disappointed, as most of the works I am familiar with, his paintings, were not there. This mostly had sculptures, watercolors and sketches. For almost £10 admission (I was getting used to free museums!) I was expecting some of his better-known works. I wanted to see the larger-than-life scale paintings I’d seen in books since I was a child!
I went to rest and people-watch with Jason on a bench overlooking the Thames, and we chatted with an Indian gentleman from Nairobi, Kenya. We talked about capitalism, war, and working hard to make something of yourself.
We had several hours to kill before our London Eye trip at 7:30pm, so we decided to take a river cruise, as Jason hadn’t come on the last one. It was nice, but Jason was too cold to stay on top, and I couldn’t get good pictures from the lower deck – the plastic windows were too dirty. We got back in time for our trip on the Eye, and got in line. Right in front of us was an Indian family with two young boys. One of the boys (the older one, about age 4) was screaming so hard and so constantly at the top of his lungs that he was getting hoarse.
When it came to our turn to board the Eye, he had quieted down (just), and the staff asked us if we wanted to be on the same pod as the family. Since the boy had quieted down (he had been on it twice already, we were told) we took a chance. Since normally they put 20 people to a pod, we had this one to ourselves – the family of four and us. The boy was an angel the rest of the trip, and we had a very nice experience.
We watched the sun set over the Embankment and Big Ben tower, and off to the tube for dinner at the Nordic. Jason had asked me to find Norwegian food for tonight’s culinary exploration, and this was one of the few Scandinavian restaurants I could find. Poor choice! We got there, and it was just a very crowded, very noisy bar… we quickly retreated. Instead, we went to Stephano’s Grill, which was a Lebanese/Italian place that worked fine. We had Lamb Shawana and hummus, and chicken curry. We were quite hungry, and it was quite tasty. We were too full to even have a pint before bed!
Friday, August 26th:
I was up early again today, but Jason was still sleeping, so I went down and had some breakfast and did some shopping. When I got back, we agreed to do more shopping on our own and meet at 6pm for our evening plans. Jason wanted to find the Games Workshop around here, and I wanted to invade the Lush store I had heard so much about.
I had lunch at Wagamama, and the Yaki Soba was delicious. I was very impressed!
Lush was wonderful, I’m a complete convert. The fizzy bath bars were great! I got some gifts for others, but I may just keep it all for myself! : I went in several other stores, including a book store, but didn’t find anything else worth buying. Most of the stores along Kensington High Street were clothing stores, and I wasn’t much of a fashion slave. I did go to a photo store to see if they could re-format my dead memory card, but no luck there. I did get more badly needed batteries though. At £10 for 4 AA batteries, I’m glad they last long!
I had scone and jam afternoon tea at the hotel, though I was hoping for clotted cream. I never did get that this trip! I went upstairs to catch up on more email and even played a game of Settlers of Catan (on the computer) before Jason got back from his shopping sojourn. We went out around 5 for dinner, so we would have time to catch our play tonight.
We went back to Wagamama, and I had the seafood udon, while Jason tried the seafood ramen, the closest thing he could find to chicken soup (he still was feeling sick). I tried elderberry soda, and it was definitely different! We had duck gyozi as an appetizer, then off to the Globe!
We had tickets for the Tempest at Shakespeare’s Globe, and took a long time getting from the tube station to the theatre – we kept asking directions and getting lost, but as soon as we found the Thames, we followed it to the theatre. We got up to the balcony, and discovered that Jason couldn’t handle the heights – so we went back one row, no problem.
The show was very good, even the sprites that were dressed in studded leather jackets and jeans. Their dances were well done, and the acting very entertaining and dynamic. Truculo sounded a lot like John Inman at times! There was a lot of passion and action in the play.
Afterwards we staggered on home, and had some room service, as we were hungry. The bangers and mash were sad and tasteless, a far cry from the wonderful ones we had in Salisbury.
Saturday, August 27th:
We were up early and went to Paddington station to pick up train tickets for Sunday. I wasn’t making that mistake twice! We emailed Vic that we would be there around 9:45am from the train, and would need a cab up to Old Sarum.
I went down to breakfast while Jason woke up. I was getting much more value from that free breakfast than Jason was, but then again, I’m used to breakfast in the morning – Jason usually has his first meal around lunchtime.
We were off to Leicester Square this morning to get some half-priced show tickets to the Producers for tonight. We got some balcony seats for the Drury Lane theatre at 7:30pm. We went on to St. Paul’s Cathedral and relaxed in the small courtyard out by the tube stop for a while. Jason noticed that some bushes were blinking with Christmas lights. The buildings around us looked a lot like the set of Caprica on the new Battlestar Galactica series, so he said the trees were primitive Cylons, not very menacing. All they could do at this point was nibble your bum as you passed by. That became a running joke through the rest of the trip (and beyond!)
St. Paul’s was simply breathtaking. The carvings, painting, designs and mosaics were incredible. We were there during the Eucharist, and many people went forward to participate. I wandered around the Crypt for a while as Jason sat and absorbed the surroundings. We wanted to go up to the whispering gallery, but our bodies denied us, so we remained below.
We did some shopping, and I picked up a pretty silver bracelet cuff with some designs from the iron grillwork in the cathedral, and a book of inspirations for my old boss. We went home for lunch and did some shopping at Marks & Spencers for food. We got some great chips with Roquefort cheese and bacon flavor.
We were going to do more laundry, but decided to just wash some essentials in the sink and go off to dinner at an Indian Restaurant across from the theatre, a Taste of India.
We wandered through the carnival around Covent Garden before finding the little street of Drury Lane the theatre was on, and went for a quick pre-theatre dinner at the Indian restaurant. We had a lamb dish and chicken curry, and it was ok – nothing spectacular. We went up to the show, and must have climbed about 4 stories before we got to our balcony, only to discover we were much to large for the seats. Even if we had fit into them, Jason had an acute attack of height-fear, and had to stand back from the rail to regain his balance. It looked like we had wasted our money – no show for us 9 I was upset as I’d always wanted to see a broadway-style show.
We went home and I moped a bit, while we watched the Perfect Storm. I was certainly catching up on movies I’d never seen and wanted to see!
Sunday, August 28th:
We were up early this morning to catch our train – 6:30, ugh! But the tube was deserted and our train ride uneventful. When we got to the Salisbury station, Vic found us a cab to take us to Old Sarum, and we arranged for him to meet us back there around 5:30pm for the train ride back.
We saw Steve there, he is the living history guru. We also talked about several North American groups of the Vikings, as there is an event in North Carolina, and possibly Atlanta, next year. We saw belts being tablet-woven, stone-masons carving celtic knotwork patterns, iron being forged, and leatherwork being carved. Peter gave us some information on basic kit and the group structure while we were there.
Lunch was at a kiosk, and very forgettable. I hadn’t expected applesauce on my ‘roast hog bap’, and it was mushy and slimy. I was unimpressed.
The re-enactors ran two huge battles. The first one was ‘with honor’, and the second ‘without honor’, which allowed all sorts of backstabbing and stuff. They were both incredible, and we had a really good view from the top of the hill down.
It was a warm, sunny day throughout, and Jason and I both got a bit of sunburn. I live in Florida and go to England to get sunburnt, go figure! This was also our last day here, so I didn’t want to get too much burn – that would make the plane trip back unbearable.
After the day was over, we went down to the pub at the foot of the hill to see if we could call our cab into coming a bit early, but no luck. We did order some refreshment though – Jason had about 3 cokes and I had one mistake… uh, that is, one BritVic lemon, a very bitter drink. I think it was mostly lemon juice, no sugar. Bleh.
We finally gave up on contacting Vic, and went back to Old Sarum – there was our cab driver, a little early! Of course, not quite early enough – we missed our train by about 3 minutes, so had to wait an hour for the next one. While we waited we talked about Viking details :
The train ride back was very uneventful, though it was rather crowded, and we didn’t get seats together until the last half hour of the trip. We originally sat across the aisle from eachother, across from two oriental women. When Jason asked if she could move her leg over a little so he could stretch his out (his knee was hurting from the long day) she said she spoke no English. Later, when we moved up to some empty seats together, he bumped her by accident and apologized, she said, in quite clear English, ‘oh, no problem’.
We had to detour around a bit as the tube station we were going to change at (Westminster) was closed, so we had to take the Circle Line past Notting Hill. This wouldn’t be a problem any other time of the year, but this was Carnival day at Notting Hill. All sorts of interesting folk crowded onto the tube around there, and I think every one of them were blowing their whistles and clapping!
We went to the hotel and had a final meal at the restaurant with our waitress, Emma. The lamb shank was greasier tonight and not as tasty. I tried a starter of salmon with a pancake, watercress and caviar. Good, but not wonderful. A couple of pints and we were fine, though.
We went back to the room and packed up everything but tomorrows requirements, and collapsed.
Monday, August 29th:
Up early and before breakfast was served, so we checked out of the hotel quickly and got a cab to Victoria Station. Then we took the Gatwick Express to the airport. At check in the clerk had lots of questions – perhaps she was checking us against the no-fly list? And we got into the airport proper by 8:15am for our 10:30 flight. With lots of time to kill, we discovered there was a virtual mall in the airport waiting area, and the gates weren’t announced until an hour before the flight left.
We had breakfast at Upper Crust, which served us a BLT baguette and a pizza baguette. Both were rather delicious, and Jason’s BLT had real American style bacon. I did some last minute shopping at the duty-free Harrods and Virgin Megastore, and then we finally found our gate listed.
The trip back was very comfy, as there were only 80 passengers on a flight designed to hold 400! My seatback entertainment unit wasn’t working, so I moved up a row – we each had a middle row to ourselves. The flight attendants were very friendly and helpful, and were very kind. One FA reassured me that getting our bags, going through customs and re-checking bags would be a breeze. On the flight over I watched Phantom of the Opera (never seen it before) and Robots.
At Charlotte we encountered a very helpful Gate Attendant named Nile. The woman in front of me was very distressed, having left a notebook with her passport, tickets, and other travel documents in Philadelphia. He called everyone he could think of, including the tower, and couldn’t get any answer, but he tried very hard to help her. When people try there best, there is hope for the future.
We got back to the Orlando airport, called Marie to come pick us up, and staggered to dinner at Roadhouse… we were home by 11:30pm. Time to collapse, right? WRONG!!! Our power had been off for 5 days, the house stank from rotten food in the fridge, and our cats were hysterical (Florida heat in the summer isn’t the time to be wearing a fur coat!)
We couldn’t deal with it at that point, having been up about 24 hours in real time, traveling. We went to a local hotel for the night, and I had to work in the morning, so we got it straightened out the next day.
All in all, it was a fabulous trip. Jason and I both liked the north better than London, and our next trip will likely be in Yorkshire and Scotland. We met some wonderful people and saw some breathtaking sights. Now we need to rest from our vacation!!!