Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Recap: Our UK Adventure - London

Leon and I have returned safely from our trip.  I must confess that I have apprehensions about flying.  In spite of scientific evidence to the contrary, I do not believe that it is possible for something the size and weight of a Delta 767 to actually get off the ground, let alone over the Atlantic Ocean and into Heathrow Airport.  In this I am like the Republican Conservatives who deny global warming and its effects.  However, I was somehow transported to England two weeks ago.  I saw the lights of Long Island and points north below me and hours later the green farmland and chimney tops of Great Britain.  So, despite my disbelief, Leon and I landed at Heathrow on Wednesday morning and were off to learn the ways of our English neighbors.

Now, if you wish to see pictures of famous and historical buildings and places, I will provide you some, but not in excess.  Pictures of buildings can be found on the internet.  I find other details much more interesting.  

A European or American's survival in London can depend on getting the hang of looking in the correct direction when crossing the street.  London traffic only stops when the "walk" light is in your favor, otherwise, beware.  The English, being either considerate or just tired of wiping up carnage in Piccadilly Circus, have marked the direction in which to look for oncoming Mercedes, BMWs, Bentleys and Red Double-Decker Busses.  Old habits die hard and we both found our heads glancing to the Left despite the clear directions painted on the street.

To make matters more confusing, cars park in both directions on both sides of the street and then, at times one was also advised to look left. When streets were One-Way, we still looked both ways, just in case.
We were prepared for the English weather which happens to be, at this time, this year, a cold spring.  The crocuses, daffodils, cherry blossoms and forsythia (for-sEYE-thee-a) were in bloom, but for the most part, warmth was lacking.  Here in sub-zero New England I never wear a scarf, but on Bob's advice, I brought one along - and it came in handy.  Something about the wind and cold seems to require one.

The traveler in foreign lands must get the lay of the land and the location of the most civilized toilets.  For those who, like myself, loath public rest rooms, there is one hidden away in St. James Park that is not too busy.
Crocuses At St James Park

We traversed the city using public transport - which was actually very easy to do.  The well planned system of subway trains (The Underground) and busses was super efficient, clean and safe.  The Brits have CCTV (closed circuit TV) everywhere and they let you know it.  We got to be just like city folks "topping up" our "Oyster Cards" and "Minding the Gap" between the train and the platform. 
Underground at Earl's Court

Personally, I don't understand the Brits' and many Americans' and others' fascination with Royalty.  William and Kate are commodities at the Buckingham Palace Gift Shop and elsewhere around the UK.  Must have's are commemorative plates, cups, "tea towels", pens, spoons, books, etc.  
Isn't That Special?
One would think a Cathedral grander than an Abby, but alas, the Catholic Westminster Cathedral is rather homely next to the Church of England's Westminster Abby, site of the upcoming Royal Wedding.

Our first dinner was Fish and Chips at the Constitution Pub near our hotel.  Again thanks to Bob for his recommendation.  Meals were probably our major expense in the UK except for a few attractions and the add-on side trips that we took with the tour.  Our first hotel had a "full English breakfast" - eggs, sausage or bacon, toast and baked beans.  
One of Leon's All-Time Favorites
We walked literally hours and miles but there was no burring off enough calories to make a difference in poundage.  The Londoners, like people in many large cities are mostly slim.  To add insult to injury, most seem young and good looking.  I debated whether to dye before leaving and decided to go grey to be sure to get those senior discounts - "concessions" they call them.  

In general, we were blown away at the prices in the UK.  It's very easy to look at a price for a cup of coffee in Pounds 1.90 and think US dollars.  With the exchange rate at 1.70 it's $3.20 for a coffee.  A light lunch of soup and sandwich for Pounds 6.50 ($11) is about $5 more than I'd expect to pay at home.  We were beginning to think that wealth is more widespread than previously thought.  To look at how people dress, what they drive, how they eat and this goes for young people as well - either they make a lot more money or they are up to their eyeballs in debt.  Employment ads for general labor has starting wages at 6Pounds or $10 per hour.  Go figure.  The economy-budget cuts-taxes is the big topic in the UK as it is here.
The Weather by the Thames is  Just "Ducky"

Russ, I thought of you when this truck drove by.

Me at Traffle-Gar Square
We did very few attractions that required paid admissions.  The London Transport Museum near Covent Gardens was one.  We were on a mission to find a poster of the London Underground Map for our friend Michael.  Leon likes motorized vehicles and history, so we spent some time there.  We got the poster but left it at the airport - its fate is still unknown.  The Transport Museum allows free re-entry for one year on your ticket.  This came in handy when, a week later we were in the area and we needed to use their restroom.  It sure beat going to a public trough.
One of the Museum Exhibits Taking a Rest

Another Museum Exhibit Bearing a
Striking Resemblance to Leon
From our London hotel we took the 24 Bus all the way to Hampstead Heath - again on recommendation of friend, Bob.  It was a nice change from London's hustle and traffic.  Riding the upper level is a great way to see the city and suburbs.
Dame Edna Shops Here
Just a reality check on butcher shop prices in US dollars and weight - in a posh Hampstead Heath neighborhood - and probably higher than the supermarkets: Pork Chops, $7.50/lb - Leg of Lamb, $10.50/lb - Rib Eye Steaks, $22.50/lb - Sirloin Steak, $23.25/lb.
Butcher Shop in Hampstead Heath

Fruit and Veggie Stand in Hampstead 
The bus took us through Camden Locks where we stopped on the way back.  Camden Locks is a festive town where a "hippie-like" atmosphere pervades, with shops and vendors and lots of food.
Camden Locks

We had to change to a different hotel when we joined the tour that we signed up with.  This was further out of the city - in Kensington - where Kensington Palace, Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens are located.  The Hilton was included in the tour package, but was not our "cup of tea".  Big on pretense and lacking amenities like Wi-Fi.  We got the "Cold" Continental Breakfast which was "free" - the hot breakfast was a 5 Pound ($8.50) upgrade.  The tour hotels all had a good breakfast selection - and, because food is so expensive, the opportunity for cheapskates like me to make sandwiches to-go for our lunch.  The location required a longer underground/overground travel to most attractions than the previous hotel, so we got good at getting around.

A Double-take Poster on the Underground Train -
Click to Enlarge

Is That Smugness, or What?
When we arrived at Kensington Olympia Station we were greeted by a poster for a "Doctor Who Experience" in the nearby exhibition center.  Leon was giddy.  He's a big Doctor Who fan and had been watching the series religiously.  Dare I say it was Doctor Who and the Mini Cooper that enticed Leon to England in the first place.  So off to the box office and tickets were purchased for the next day.  What we do for love.
Doctor Who, My Hero

Near Our Hotel

Leon indulged my desire to go to Kew Gardens.  What we do for love. Too bad we were a month too early.  The grounds were beautiful but very little was in bloom.  In addition to the regular spring flowers, the rhododendrons were the only other plant with color outside of the conservatories.  Lady Di's greenhouse was all a-bloom with orchids of all kinds and colors.
In Princess Di's Greenhouse

When in Rome - drink espresso.  When in England stop for Tea.  We had our first (and I think only) afternoon tea at Kew Gardens.  It was nice enough to sit outdoors.  Leon went in to order two teas and a lemon curd thing to share.  He was surprised when they put two pots of tea on the tray - one each.  We learned a hard lesson that day: Do not drink a whole pot of tea at Kew Gardens unless you stay within a 5 minute walk of a toilet.  When we left the Orangery, we stopped at the gift shop, then headed for the rhododendrons.  That's when the tea hit the bladder.  Our planned route through the Gardens was sabotaged as we consulted the map for the nearest restroom.  It was a good three-hour walk across the lawns.  Well, maybe it was only 10 minutes, but it sure seemed longer.  Tradition aside, that was our last afternoon tea.

View from Tree Walk


Walked way too much in the cold on Sunday.  The Tower of London in the background.  We didn't pay the 17 Pounds ($28) admission here as Doctor Who was expecting us later.

Leon - Kid in a Candy Store

For Doctor Who Fans

Hieroglyphics on the Hotel Window
Our tour of England, Wales and Scotland began on Monday morning bright and very early.  
More to come.


  1. And who might those handsome bearded men with the sunglasses be? movie stars for sure...American no doubt...

    So glad you enjoyed your trip


  2. I love love love travel blogs! I'm so glad you fellas had a good trip. I loved the Kew Gardens pics. I want so much to visit there.

  3. Hahahaha, love the "red tractor pork" sign - though I seriously doubt any pig is worth $7.50 a pound!?

    Glad you fellas had a good trip, the pics and commentary are great, looking forward to seeing the continuation.

    PS - I entirely agree with your thoughts about airplanes. If God had wanted man to fly, He would have given him wings. Definitely contrary to nature, and why doesn't the Pope say anything about that?



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