Tuesday, March 31, 2015

day 6

Day six of our visit to London saw us catching a tour bus and leaving the city. Bus tours are not the way to see things if you can not resolve yourself to the idea that you only have about 90 minutes to explore each venue. Warp speed touring. Yep. It was the only way we would be able to see these three places as making full long day trips to each was not possible. We were happy to get a taste of each place and if we are ever able to return, would love to spend more time in two of the places.

Our first stop was Windsor. A royal residence, an adorable small town, and not that far out of London. Due to us touring in March, we were able to see several rooms that are closed to the public when the queen and family are at home. The castle is beautiful, the restoration work done there due to the devastating fire is amazing. The vistas from the windows are gorgeous. Beautiful place with beautiful spaces. The chapel on the grounds is where Henry VIII and Jane Seymour are buried. We stopped in there and then finished by watching a part of the changing of the guards.

Back on the bus to eat our picnic lunch and enjoy the drive to Stonehenge. Along the way we went past Ascot racecourse, a town with thatched roofed buildings, and assorted quaint pubs.

Stonehenge is on the Salisbury Plain. And it is plain. Wide open and flat, except for the barrows dotting the countryside. You catch a shuttle bus at the visitor's center to access the stones. The walk way around them offers you various views of the henge. One side of the walk curves in fairly close to them. They are stunning. It is a magical place, not in that you get any vibe from the stones, but in just knowing how old these man-made structures are. The weather was perfect for our visit. Clear blue skies and blustery.

Back on the bus, wanted more time to peruse their museum, but I spent too much time pondering the stones. Now we were on our way to Bath. The drive down was again quite scenic. Saw a Norman church, lots of sheep and lambs, some military vehicles and tanks on field exercises, and cute cottages.

Bath is a resort town from old. Like old as in Roman times. The bath itself is rather impressive. The statues and engineering are really wonderful. The contrast of the Roman statues against the backdrop of Bath Cathedral was awesome. I could spend days in Bath just exploring all those windy, cobblestone streets. Oh, and Johnny Depp has a place there!

We managed to visit a small pub before we got on the bus and had a pint and rested. Nice! Then it was back on the bus for the 2.5 hour drive back to London.

We left at 7:15 and were back in our flat by 8:30 PM. A long day filled with wonderful things.

It was worth it.

Monday, March 30, 2015

day 5

Here is an abbreviated post for day 5. I woke up late! We started off at the Tower of London. Always an amazing place to visit, the beefeaters almost steal the show. Great storytellers and bring the history of the place to life. The crown jewels are amazing, as you would expect. Not sure if I like the new display though. Kind of liked them all piled in one case like they used to be.

From the Tower we went to St. Paul's. So different from Westminster, but beautiful. We toured there and hubby climbed to the top. I took a break in the cafe. No where near as good as the Cellarium.

We walked from St. Paul's across the Millennium Bridge to the Globe Theatre. No tours when we arrived, bummer, but we explored that side of the Thames and saw quite a few things. Would have loved time to make it back that way and go to the Borough Market. Didn't happen.

From there we caught the tube back to the flat to meet the girl for dinner. We were pretty exhausted by the end of this day after several days of sightseeing. It was an early night as we needed to be up and ready to go by 7 AM on Wednesday, Day 6, for our bus tour!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

day 4

My morning routine at the flat was pretty similar to my routine at home. Wake at 5ish, make the first pot of coffee, do some reading (the tour books instead of the paper), wake the hubby, have breakfast, get ready, and out the door we go.

Our first stop on day four was Churchill's War Rooms. Part of the Imperial War Museum, this underground bunker was where the British military commanders planned their attacks, decoded messages, and endured the blitz. The rooms are furnishes as they were during the war years. You can see Mrs. Churchill's room along with the rooms and office of her husband, and all the generals. You can see the typist pool room, the map room, and so many others including the tiny kitchen. At the back of the space is the museum dedicated to Churchill. Exploring his life from childhood to his death, that part of the museum is just as fascinating.

We spent 3 hours down there, realized time had slipped away from us, and headed off for the tube station to zip across town to find our girl's office and meet her for lunch.

She works off of High Holburn Street in an office that faces Lincoln Inn Fields, yet another one of the pretty parks in the middle of a square of houses/buildings. We had a nice Thai meal for lunch and then she went back to work and we went back to tour the Abbey.

I could write pages on Westminster Abbey. It was wonderful to be able to visit it again as things had changed. The throne no longer has the stone under it as the stone was returned to Scotland. The throne is also now behind glass in its own room. Wasn't like that in the 1980s. They also charge now to tour, something I don't believe they did on my first visit.

The graves and effigies and architecture and art are all just as stunning as I remembered. I get chills standing alongside Elizabeth I and her sister Mary's tomb. Across the chapel lies Mary, Queen of Scots. Walking through poet's corner is always amazing. Seeing so many graves/tombs of kings and queens I have studied and read about over the years is incredible.

We took our time through the Abbey and by the late afternoon were ready for a break. We wandered into the Cellarium and found it was now a cafe. We nabbed a table and enjoyed a lovely break. I had cream tea and hubby had an espresso. The cream teas was served on lovely china, was absolutely delicious, and truth be told, was probably my favorite thing I ate on the whole trip. It was delightful.

We found our way back to the tube stop and went back to the flat. For dinner we met with our girl again and enjoyed a nice meal at an Italian restaurant in Covent Garden. Wonderful! We then made our way to the London Eye and as it was late, encountered no lines, got on a pod and took the half hour journey around. London at night sparkles. Very, very fun!

By the time we were back at our flat, we could barely walk another step, but we had a full day ahead of us on Tuesday and were ready to tackle the Tower, St. Paul's, and the Millennium Bridge!

day 3

Once we arrived back in London from our visit to see my pen pal and her family, we spent a bit of time in the flat just catching our breath. So, we had a snack, got the tour books out and planned our next activity.

We strolled to the tube station and hopped on over to the Buckingham Palace area. We walked past the Royal Mews, stopped in a few of their gift shops, admired the daffodils, took pictures in front of the Palace and then walked along the edges of both Green Park and St. James Park. We went past St. James Palace and Clarence House. We gazed at the Victoria Memorial. We walked down the Mall, passed through the Admiralty Arch to Trafalgar Square.

There was a concert going on in Trafalgar, an early St. Patrick's Day celebration. Lots of music and a few drunk people stumbling along Whitehall towards Westminster.

Whitehall is filled with things to see from the Horse Guards, to the Banqueting Hall, to a glimpse of the entry to 10 Downing Street. The sun was starting to set and by the time we made it to Parliament, it was dusk. We walked around Parliament and the Abbey and found our way to the tube stop and back to the flat.

It was a 3.5 hour walk and we loved every minute of it. We took our time, took pictures, took silly selfies, and talked, and walked!

Once back at the flat, we planned our Monday. We would be heading back to Westminster to tour Churchill's War Rooms and then the Abbey.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

my pen pal

Day two of our trip found us up and and it early. We had a train to catch. We packed an overnight bag and made our way to the nearest tube stop, Warren Street station. From there we went to King's Cross Station.

Using the tubes in London is easy, but full of stairs, escalators, lifts, noise, interesting sights, and smells. The whole experience is something to experience! And there is nothing like wandering around the big hubs like King's Cross or Paddington.

Of course at King's Cross we had to stop and join the queue for Platform 9 3/4. We took the pics pretending we too were going to run the baggage cart through the wall and board a train to Hogwarts. A very fun way to start the morning. Even more fun was seeing all the different kinds of people who were in line with us or standing nearby to watch the rest of us pose for the camera. All ages. All nationalities. Harry is global in a way that unless you experience something like that, it is almost difficult to imagine.

We boarded the train for Stevenage and took the 35 minute train ride out of the city. Several stops along the way, but it was fun for us to see the outlying towns and villages.

Once we arrived and made our way from the platform to the station, Donna spotted us and with a shout, ran over and gave me a huge hug. We both got teary eyed. Pretty amazing that two girls who began writing each other almost 40 years ago, but only met in person one other time, have such a connection. She guided us to the parking lot where her husband waited with the car. Off we went to their house! Stevenage is a typical post war community. It was bombed in WWII and the rebuild gave it a modernity that most villages don't have in that scope.

We had a cuppa, got unpacked, and headed out to Knebworth for lunch. Knebworth is a short drive away and has the distinction of being the "home village" to the Queen Mother. Her family estate is there. We got a glimpse of it through the trees. We also drove past author Ken Follet's house.

The Lytton Arms was our destination and once we arrived we enjoyed a couple of pints and a lovely, full on, English pub lunch. Chicken pie, roasted potatoes, carrots, green beans. Very tasty. The pub is adorable. Here is a link to their site: http://www.lyttonarms.co.uk/

We caught up over lunch and the conversation flowed like we had just visited the prior week instead of 27 years before.

After we went back to their house and they began to prepare for the arrival of all of Donna's family. She set out a spread of food. Enough for an army! Everyone began to arrive at 6:00 PM. Her parents came, her three daughters, plus two of her sisters, spouses/significant others, and her grandson. The house was packed! We hugged, chatted, laughed, told stories, answered questions, and laughed some more until after midnight. And we ate! We even had haggis!! Donna's hubby is Scottish as is her father.

In the morning, she made us a full English breakfast: eggs, bacon, scottish sausage, rolls, jam, etc. She was going to make blood pudding, but forgot it! Didn't matter, we were stuffed as it was.

Then it was off to the train station for our trip back to the city. We have a plan to see each other again as soon as we can. She'd like to see NYC as would I. So, we are thinking some time between Christmas and New Year's would be fun. If all goes well, we will be reunited again in a few years.

It was an amazing visit with my pen pal. What a friend I found when we became pen pals all those years ago.

And that was day two and the start of day three!

Monday, March 23, 2015

and we're back

After an amazing whirlwind of a trip/vacation, we are back home. Off to work today for us and off to school for the boy.

I'm going to blog a bit about our stay in London, but I need to gather my thoughts and I'm feeling a bit wonky this morning. Touch of jet lag I guess, but I did manage yesterday to stay on my normal schedule.

But, to start, we had a very smooth flight over the pond. Loved having the extra leg room. The upgrade on our tickets was well worth the money. When we are both tall people with long legs, 8 hours of flying time with no room for your knees is misery. We had an exit row on the way over so that meant even more room. It was wonderful. We both managed to sleep a fair amount so when we did land we didn't feel too off. We wound our way through Heathrow and found the Express train without any problem. Again, a good splurge to take that way into the city. It arrives in 20 minutes at Paddington station. Caught a taxi there to the flat. We figured out the instructions to retrieve the key, a bit of James Bond type activity there, and let ourselves in. The flat was clean, cute, and cozy. Perfect for us. We unpacked and sent a text to our London girl. We had time to get some groceries, so we set off on foot for the nearest Sainsbury's. First order of business: chocolates and dark chocolate Digestives! I did make a list of things I wanted to buy, before we left the home, which was smart thinking on my part. Thinking on your feet after a long flight is not my strength.

So with breakfast foods, snack foods, and some beverages in hand, we walked back to the flat and waited for the girly to arrive. She did, with flowers in hand!! A lovely bouquet with a lovely smile and big hugs and tears. So amazing to see her.

We picked a nearby place, Fishbones, and had the most wonderfully fresh fish and chips. Delicious and the perfect way to start our stay.

We followed the girl back to her flat and got to see where she lives, up many flights of narrow, twisty stairs in what was the servant quarters. Cute and snug!

We then wound up in a pub for a pint. The Jack Horner was hopping with young Londoners enjoying a Friday night out. We enjoyed ourselves for a bit before we both started to feel the jet lag and took ourselves off back to our flat.

Lights out by 8:00 PM as we had an early train to catch from King's Cross in order to visit my pen pal and her family out in Stevenage.

And that was Day 1!!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

off we go

We leave tomorrow for London! So excited to revisit this city. So excited to have my hubby with me. Super excited to see our girl!! Amazing that I will get to see my pen pal again!

So, on that note, I will be signing off from the blog until I return. May take a while to get back to it once we do return. No idea how I will handle the jet lag on the return trip.


Tuesday, March 10, 2015

getting ready

I think Mother Nature is trying to help us out by providing a glimpse of what the London forecast will be for our stay. Gray skies and puddles. Lots and lots of puddles.

It rained all night. So hard at times that it woke me. It is still raining and going to continue all week. I did check the London forecast and it will rain on Friday when we arrive, but should be just overcast for the rest of the week we are there with temps in the low 50s. Not bad.

The girl is at her internship, day two underway. She said her office is by a park and it will be nice to have her lunch break there when it warms up a bit.

Hard to focus on much else other than getting ready to leave!

So much to do. So little time.

Happy Tuesday!

Monday, March 9, 2015

time change

The time change is kicking my butt. And we leave in four days. WOW.
Tired and mind blown.
That is all.

Happy Monday!

Thursday, March 5, 2015

snow days

Snowy morning after a night of sleet. UGH. Work is off until 9:00 AM when they will reevaluate the conditions. It isn't supposed to stop snowing until 8-9 and from what I've seen on Facebook, parts of the interstate have actually been closed at times. Lovely.

In other news, the traveling girl is back in England. She visited Spain and Morocco on her spring break trip. She will be off to Dublin in a week and then she mentioned a trip to Scotland and maybe one to Amsterdam.

For a young lady who had only flown once before she flew to England, she has certainly made up for lost time.

Okay, off to watch the news and see the weather folks get amped up about Winter Storm Thor.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

here we go, again

Here we go. Winter storm approaching. It might be more nasty than anything we faced in February. Lots of ice. Lots of sleet. With a nice snowy topping to hide it all.


In other news, I am on day 3 of the raging head cold. I feel better this morning, but still have some sniffles and a bit of a wonky feeling. It will pass. Lots of honey lemon tea, lots and lots of it, has been consumed.

Other things consumed, books. I read a few books while I was trapped in bed Sunday and Monday. In no particular order:

As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust by Alan Bradley: Flavia is at it again. This time in Canada at a boarding school. I adore this series. Great writing. Great characters. Great plots.

Miss Buncle's Book by DL Stevenson: This was a freebie on Nook a while back and I snatched it up. It was delightful. This series was written back in the 1930s and has been republished. Small town life in pre-war England. Lots of hilarious characters.

Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear: Another series book, and another mystery to boot. Set in post WWI England, Maisie has risen from a housemaid to a private investigator. Well written and the setting/time is captivating. Downton Abbey fans would enjoy this.

A Touch of Midnight by Lara Adrian: supernatural trashy romance. It was okay.

So, my long weekend had a decidedly English flavor as three of the four books were set in England or featured English characters! It made dealing with a head cold much easier, and almost pain free.