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Buckingham Palace guards
London’s about a 6-1/2-7 hour flight from DC. Time flies by because of superior service from the cabin crew and the opportunity to sleep overnight. OK, upon deplaning at Heathrow, the airport’s visually disappointing. That said, visitors are treated like royalty. The English have developed “queue” management to a high art form. Clearing Customs was a breeze. This is when the visitor starts to say, hmmm, this is gonna be goood! Friendly, prompt shuttle service to our hotel reinforced this good feeling. Alternatively, you can catch the subway into Central London, a fifteen minute ride which is very economical.
Dropping our bags, we hit the trails, of course! First stop, getting our “tube” (subway) tickets. Tube travel is easy and fast. Stations are spaced only blocks apart. You can get anywhere you want to go without having to take a bus or taxi. Visitors can purchase single or multiple day passes to get a reduced fee on the transit costs. A word of advice in planning your journey - there are no escalators in the stations, but there are stairs. Prepare before you go by doing some stair climbing exercises, so you do not get “tired” legs on your vacation.
Our group had a choice of trails. There are 11 year-rounds! Several of us took the 12K Royal walk as our introduction to the city. Hyde Park is so large, even the locals do not know all of the entrance gates, as we, unfortunately, found out while temporarily lost on our map walk. This turned into a positive experience, because we encountered so many friendly, helpful people. Thanks to a knowledgeable taxi driver, we were soon on our way once again.
Then it was time for eye candy. Harrod’s department store is world famous. Understandably so, given that it has the greatest selection of consumer items that this writer has ever seen under one roof. You’ve heard of Sloan Square and the “Sloan Rangers?” That was next. This is where London’s well-heeled, gorgeous, young and not-so-young people go to shop and be seen. It’s similar to our Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, but much ritzier. When you visit London, put this on your must see list. If you plan to shop, remember that the exchange rate is one Pound Sterling to two American dollars, so double the prices that you see on the tags, if you want to keep to your travel budget.
It was time for lunch, so we stopped in at a pub. We didn’t know that lunch is served only until 2 PM. That staff was courteous enough to seat us directly and have the cook stay on duty to cook our meals. The food and the service was out of this world.
After lunch, we were re-energized and ready to finish that walk. This time, we traveled to Kensington Square, where the museums are located, walked by a number of embassies and on toward Buckingham Palace.
By this time, it was getting dark and we needed to check into our rooms and freshen up. We had theater tickets to “Blood Brothers,” a terrific musical about English social class conflicts. This has been to Broadway, but was new to most of our group. We returned to our hotel at 11:30 PM. The streets of London were still bustling on this Friday night, but our weary band of happy travelers was ready to turn in.
Lovin’ London? For overseas travel, it simply doesn’t get better than this first day of Adventure #29. Thanks, Matt Pernick, for giving our group the experience of a lifetime.
Willy Russell's award-winning musical features Liverpudlian twins who are separated at birth and go on to lead very different lives. However, their paths are destined to cross again... The show, now in its fifteenth year, features Linda Nolan as Mrs Johnstone in a role which has been played by a host of famous faces including Barbara Dickson, Petula Clarke, Siobhan McCarthy and Denise Nolan.
Author: Willy Russell; Director: Bob Tomson;
Cast Includes: (from September 1) Lyn Paul (Mrs Johnstone) Philip Stewart (Narrator) Stephen Palfreman (Mickey), Mark Hutchinson (Eddie), Sarah Hay (Mrs Lyons), Louise Clayton (Linda), Stephen Pallister (Mr Lyons), Daniel Taylor (Sammy), Grant Aylward (PC/Teacher), Louis Tamone (Perkins), Louise Russell (Donna Marie), Alex Harland (Bus Conductor), Emily Buck (Brenda), James Templeton (Neighbour).
Portabello. What do you think of? Most Americans will say, “a mushroom.” Those of us lucky enough to travel on Adventure #29 will say “an outstanding morning and shopping experience.” Day #2 of our adventure bloomed sunny and bright. It was a Saturday. Like many Londoners, a lot of us overslept breakfast. No worries. We simply got dressed and headed to the Portabello Market. This is an open air shopping experience in which you can purchase anything that your heart desires and your budget can afford. Located about 8 blocks from the “tube” station, the traveler has ample opportunity to exchange dollars for Pound Sterlings or take advantage of the many ATM machines. This is not a typical tourist haunt. Most of the shoppers on this beautiful morning were locals. Simply exit the tube and follow the crowds. They know a good deal when they see it. Unlike our “flea markets,” the Portabello Market combines outstanding quality merchandise available through local store owners with temporary kiosk vendors set up just on Saturday. Our group took advantage of exceptional values from the merchants.
After shopping, we felt compelled to support the local restaurants. One Indian owner graciously offered to bypass the buffet set up for his usual customers and arranged a seven course custom meal just for our walkers! Boy, it doesn’t get better than this!
After lunch, we had enough energy to tackle the year-round. First stop, the Tower of London. This locale is truly humbling when you think of the history of this place and the people who died here. It is also the home of the Crown Jewels, guarded by very fierce militia armed with automatic weapons. It is very easy to spend a day in this place, but the year-round called many of us. Time to move along and appreciate the route that the London club had laid out for us. What a route it turned out to be! The City Church Trail takes walkers by 34 churches, including St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Old Bailey, the Bank of England, the Royal Exchange, the Museum of London and Lloyds of London.
After concluding the walk, it was time to think about evening entertainment. Several adventurers opted to take a cruise along the water to see the night lights. Our tour guide offered enlightening remarks about all of the buildings we passed, including a spicy remark about where William Shakespeare relaxed with lady friends while his plays were between acts at the Old Globe! Our tour ended at Big Ben, alight at night in unique splendor. To stand in London, listening to Big Ben chime the hour on a sparkling, brisk evening, is a once in a lifetime experience.
Deciding that there was nothing to beat that moment, we returned to our hotel, thankful for the companionship and the opportunities that this day offered to each of us.
This writer has signed on for many Bad Pennies Adventures. Unlike all the others, Adventure #29 offered several days of “free time” with no structured walks. Well, some of us can get in trouble when offered too much free time!
Day #3 started out wonderful. This writer hopped a tour bus to get outside London’s city limits. “See Stonehenge, Salisbury Cathedral and Bath!” the brochure said. Well, who could resist such historic places on a first visit to England? With appreciation to American Express, this walker signed on the dotted credit card line. Off on the bus, I went. Just 85 miles outside of London, Stonehenge was impressive, but not worth the hour-long stop on this day tour.
Salisbury Cathedral is the second tallest spire in the European continent, second only to the Cathedral at Ulm, Germany. This is a very sacred building. It is situated amidst a restored town of period buildings. Lunch was served in a typical British Pub and the service as superb, as I had come to expect after 3 days in country. As Americans, we are so accustomed to “newer, bigger, better” that it takes a moment to appreciate how difficult life must have been for the masons who built these amazing edifices and carved the stonework in this beautiful setting.
I thought the tour had the best of it behind as we were approaching Bath, England. This town was a mecca for soldiers in the Roman Empire and citizens of the area who appreciated the natural mineral Hot Springs. They have a wonderful town with a gorgeous cathedral and, the main attraction, the Roman Baths. I guess I appreciated the history and beauty of the baths a little too much, because I missed the bus back to London. Ooops!
Standing on the sidewalk, without seeing any familiar face, wondering how I was going to get back to London, I realized that America is truly a great country. I had an American Express card!!! Taxi! Take me to the train station! The cashier was very reassuring. He promised that the next train, due in 20 minutes, would get me “home” to London faster than my tour bus would have done. Of course, there was the small matter of paying about 3 times as much for the ticket, but who cares, when you have a tourist class, cold water, hotel calling your name?
Sure enough, the train was on time and very pleasant. It was full of families returning to London from their weekend holidays. What a great gift to share this unexpected experience with them. Paddington Station was just a short stop from my “tube” home. Unfortunately, I got back too late to share the Adventure #29 Pub dinner.
What did I learn on this unique aspect of Adventure #29? If you plan to travel solo, bring your purchased goods with you at each stop. When I traveled to the coach station the next day to retrieve my belongings, all of my souvenirs were gone, thanks to my fellow bus mates who helped themselves. Also, be sure to note the time the bus departs. As I relayed this experience to Matt Pernick at breakfast, he informed me that the Bad Pennies have also left folks behind! Watch out, walkers. Don’t let this happen to you!
Headin’ for Home
When you visit London in the wintertime, you learn to appreciate that not all attractions will be open each day. For example, the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace is only done officially every other day. Some attractions close early. On Day #4 of our Adventure, seeing Westminster Abbey and Cathedral became a “must do” before hopping the big bird for home.
I struggled with this, thinking that nothing could beat Salisbury Cathedral. Wrong! As soon as you step foot in Westminster Cathedral, you step back in history and become immersed in the momentous events that happened on this sacred ground. Having said this, try to save some “pence” to purchase the audiocassette recordings. It is difficult to understand everything you see without them unless you are fortunate enough to read Latin. Did you know that the Coronation Chair used to anoint every king and queen is made of wood and carved full of graffiti?
Perhaps the most moving experience of this place, was not the Abbey or Cathedral, but the Chapel off to the side where the House of Commons met for the first-time, sharing the space with the monks of the Abbey. Having seen an original of the Magna Carta at Salisbury Cathedral, walking in the space where the House of Commons was born, was a deeply moving experience although I wasn’t prepared for the depth of emotion attached to this. What was most unexpected was learning that the monks were disturbed by the outrageous behavior of the members of the House who were loud, profane and often combative! Sounds like the 2004 American Presidential campaign!
Several aspects of the visit stand out. In the chapel is a special memorial to the medical corpsman who sacrificed their lives to help the British soldiers. The book lies behind protective glass and to view it requires special permission to view its pages. Another very moving moment in the Cathedral was the alcove dedicated to those who lost lives during the Battle of Britain. There are seven volumes in a special display case containing the names of the civilians who perished, an honor memorial to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and a special gated retreat dedicated to the British warfighters.
For many of us who have family members engaged in the Operation Iraqi Freedom, it was very comforting to see these memorials. This was especially significant when our group reached Heathrow Airport to return home. We were informed that the boarding gate for our flight to Dulles Airport would not announced until the flight was boarding, 35 minutes before take-off, special anti-terrorist precautions.
International flights require check-in three hours before departure. This gives the average American traveler plenty of time to purchase a new roll-on bag and fill it with “goodies” to bring home to family and friends. Yes, of course, we did this! On your next trip abroad, save yourself time and wait until you enter the “duty free” International departure lounge to purchase your take home items. You won’t regret the savings and your family will love your thoughtfulness! We arrived at Dulles 45 minutes before our planned touch-down. This was a perfect ending to a perfect Winter Adventure! Do yourself a favor, if you haven’t visited London, plan to do so. You will definitely enjoy the entire experience!
WEEKEND IN LONDON
The trip started at Dulles Airport on Thursday evening arrived in London Friday. Wedgewood Hotel London located in Bayswater section of central London was home four days with a sumptuous breakfast in the morning at the hotel. The Wedgewood was convenient to dining, shopping, and transportation (Tube-underground, Buses, and trains) We all had four day pass to travel anywhere in London. We had different Trails to choose from: Maritime Heritage Trail, Royal London Trail, The City Church Trail, South Banks Trail, London (Hogarth) Tourist Walk, Pilgrim Trail, London (Hampstead) Tourist Walk, Clerkenwell and City Trail, Hampstead & Highgate Trail, Richmond Trail. I only did three walks. I got to see all these: The Tower of London, The Globe Theatre, The National Theatre, Big Ben, Museum of the moving image.,Tate Galery, Westminster Abbey, House of Parlarment, Old Scotland Yard, Cleopatra Needle, and Hayward Gallery all on one walk South Banks Trail. Friday evening we all went to the London Theatre section Phoenix and saw Blood Brothers, this award winning musical tells the story of two twins who are separated at birth, but whose paths cross again when they are older. The musical is set in Liverpool and contains the song 'Tell Me It's Not True.' Wonderful! Sunday night we all went to Porters English Restaurant had a wonderful group dinner and Jack came and stamp all of our books. The door prize winners at the dinner are: Mary Beth Pomietto, Sharon Jalloh (great roommate) and Kathy Trekal. Monday was our last morning rode a Double Decker Bus, went to The National Art Museum, The Cutty Sark, Royal Naval College, The Old Royal Observatory, The Docklands, Greenwich Market and much more. The weather was great about 47 degrees and sunshine. Then it was back to the airport and on the plane to Dulles Airport Washington, DC. Outstanding Trip.
Thanks for a great trip.