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Trip Report Day trips, Tours & Theater

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Note: Due to short time between connecting flights on return trip (and I did have reason to worry), didn't want to check luggage - managed to pack everything for 7 nt. trip into 2 carry-ons (thanks to compression bags bought from Rick Steve's website and washer/dryer in the rental flat).

Tue/Wed: Good coach seats on 9 hr. overnight flight from DFW. Bulkhead seats=legroom.
Customs, etc. at Heathrow went very quickly and met driver from London Connections (rental property agy.) for ride in to London. Our flat was on John Adam St. - less than 1 min. walk to Charing Cross station and 1-2 min. walk to Embankment station, for 4 different tube lines. Only had to change lines once to get to our destination (and that was DH's fault, as you will read later).
Flat was 1 bedroom, 1 bath - great for a week - new and clean and had everything we needed - you sure couldn't beat the location!
Amidst the snow flurries, we set out to buy a few groceries, etc., and to familiarize ourselves with the surrounding neighborhood. Immediately came across blue plaques on homes belonging to Rudyard Kipling and Benjamin Franklin. Walked down Villiers St. along Victoria Embankment and the Thames and back through Victoria Embankment Gardens. Snow flurries continued. Found a Sainsbury around the corner on the Strand and a Marks & Spencer Express inside Charing Cross station. We would later make a discovery - M&S's premade sandwiches are really good!
Jetlagged, we tried many people's suggestion and took a 1 hr. nap and then left for a late lunch at the Princess of Wales pub (upstairs dining with separate entrance). The food was so good, we returned the next night. Even with our severe jetlag and no appetite, it was delicious.

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    Thur: International Friends Tour of Oxford, Cotswolds, Stratford Upon Avon - This tour was worth every penny in my opinion. There were 8 people (including us) on the passenger van tour. John, the driver/guide, pointed out places of interest on the way (such as J. K. Rowling's London home) and was a wealth of knowledge. I wish I could remember all the interesting facts and stories he told us the whole way there and back. Should have had a notebook to write it down like another passenger did. Had a different guide, David, for the Oxford tour - both were very good. I loved seeing Burford, Upper and Lower Slaughter, Stow on the Wold, and Stratford Upon Avon-so picturesque-and we had a beautiful day. We had some free time to walk around a little in all? of these places - enjoyed buying a souvenir in each place. Due to accidents on the freeway back, the driver took a backroads way back to London that went through even more villages - we even passed by the Prime Minister's summer retreat, Checkers (nothing to see but the gate, however).
    After being dropped off at Charing Cross station, returned to Princess of Wales pub again for more good food (day before we had the mush. stuffed chicken breast and ribeye steak sandwich; this night, the steak frites and fish & chips).

    Fri: Today, visited the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery (where I got to see Kate Middleton's new portrait). Thought my husband would rush me through these galleries, but he was very interested in the historical impact of most of them. It's not every day you see Rembrandts, etc. and most of these paintings are just breathtaking.
    Had lunch in the Cafe in the Crypt (1st time) - Fish & Chips didn't disappoint. The beautiful arched interior and crypt floor created so much atmosphere, we wanted to return before leaving London, but never did make it back. Great gift shop, too.
    Took a short walk down to Cecil Court (heard it was the inspiration for Harry Potter's Diagon Alley) and took some photos.
    Quick meal - sandwiches from Marks & Spencer Express in Charing Cross station (great sandwiches by the way), then rest up before a pub walk that night.
    7-9 PM - Along the Thames pub walk with London Walks - guide was Richard III - pretty interesting but hampered by a light rain.

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    Sat: London Walks Windsor Castle & Eton with guide, Chris
    Took train from Waterloo station and started interesting tour of Eton. Saw the cute students with their coats with tails and the professors in long gowns riding their bicycles (reminded me of Goodbye Mr. Chips). After lunch break, continued tour with Windsor Castle (Queen was "in the house"). Chris did another very good tour (she did our Bath tour 2 yrs. ago). Windsor Castle was beautiful - saw all the renovated rooms after the fire and the Queen Mothers doll house, as well as the awesome Windsor Castle chapel. Bought a tote bag (made from recycled margarine tubs) in the gift shop that ended up being my salvation in returning home with all my souvenirs, while the large purse/bag that I bought at Target and used just for trips got thrown in the trash - I set it out on the steps of the bldg. with the other trash - maybe someone "recycled" it. Heard it rained pretty heavily in London that day, but the weather wasn't bad at all in Windsor. Also must note the pub where we ate a delicious lunch - DH tried the steak & kidney pie and I had the chicken/mush. pie.
    We could spend as much free time as we wanted in the town, then take the train home when we wanted. My husband and I were worn out, so we returned on the 5 PM train. When we returned to our flat area, all the eating places were packed - even the fast food places, so we made yet another sandwich run - this time to Pret A Manger for soup & sandwiches that were good, but I think M&S were a little better.

    Sun: London Walks Greenwich tour - 10:30-1:00 with Chris from yesterday's Windsor tour
    Took boat from Tower pier to Greenwich-great tour! Got photo of DH standing on both sides of the Prime Meridian. I loved the Chapel of St. Peter & Paul and the Painted Hall at the Old Royal Naval College.
    Took a Thames Clipper boat (4 pounds with Travelcard) to return quickly to Tower pier.

    Now this story: I really wanted to take the Little Venice canal boat cruise on our last trip 2 yrs. ago, but missed it due to logistical problems, and was really excited about taking it on this trip. It's only available through London Waterbus on weekends during the winter months - the last scheduled boat leaving Little Venice at 3:00 PM. Arranged my whole trip schedule around it.
    After a quick run through the Greenwich Market (15 min.-it's now 1:30 PM) and the Clipper trip back to Tower Hill station, we set off to Embankment station and then had to change to the Bakerloo line and take it straight to the Warwick Ave. station-canal cruise dock being a very short walk away. Plenty of time, right? Well, much to my displeasure, my DH HAD to make a stop at the flat (we frequently are late places because of his "stops"). We got back on the tube and I fretted all the way there. We exit the station, rush down the street to the canal, only to see the boat already on its way. (Insert cursing here) Was so disappointed. Took some photos of the pretty area. Then, due to my husband's (not DH anymore) questioning, realized the boat makes its final return trip to Little Venice from Camden Lock dock at 4:00 PM - could we make it? Two problems: 1)We never could find the Camden Lock docking area on our last trip 2)There was no easy tube ride route east to Camden Town station.
    I thought 55 min. was plenty of time to get there, however, the easiest way I could figure was to take Bakerloo south to Charing Cross sta.-change to Northern and take it back north to Camden Town sta.-there were a lot of stops (15). After exiting the C.T. station, we quickly walked through the throngs of Camden Market crowds to the canal and frantically searched the area marked on my map for the cruises. We looked across a little footbridge and saw the London Waterbus being prepared for taking off! "Hey" we yelled - "Can you wait?" and we started running - they kindly waited and loaded us aboard. Thank you again, London Waterbus. Really enjoyed the restful canal trip and seeing the live-in canal boats and beautiful homes along the way, but wished it had commentary - I think the summer cruises do - maybe with Jason's company?
    Stopped by Warwick Castle pub on the way to the station for the Sunday Roast. Roast beef with all the trimmings - it was marvelous! Even tried a vegetable my husb. and I have never had before - parsnips. Had to ask the booth of drunk (their words, not mine) ladies next to us what veg. we were eating.

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    Enjoying this. Looking forward to the rest . . .

    Re your tube saga: Next time it might be a good idea to have an AtoZ w/ you. Sometimes walking makes more sense than concentrating on just the tube. If you had walked over to Royal Oak or even Paddington you would have had a straight shot to Kings Cross. Then the Northern line two stops to Camden Town

    (Your DH owes you one :) )

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    Mon: Opened an email from my oldest daughter Sun. night (free WIFI in flat-brought my tablet). She sent a pic of the recent People magazine article telling of Kate Middleton's favorite choc. truffles (Prestat) and wanted me to find some for her. After an internet search, discovered they carried them at Waitrose - remembered seeing one at Gloucester Rd. tube station, so that's where we headed Mon. morning. My youngest daughter requested bags of Cadbury mini eggs and couldn't find them at the grocery stores near our flat (we swear they're better than the ones sold in US-they even appear different-UK's are speckled and diff. colors than the US eggs). Found 1 box of Prestat truffles called "The Jewel Box", and the large bags of Cadbury eggs, so that mission accomplished.

    After this, set off for Liberty store. Bought some Liberty print pencils, tape measure, a pin cushion (that looked like a cute little mouse), and an adorable stuffed puppy dog for my soon-to-be new grandbaby (don't know sex yet). Also bought some Liberty print hankies for my sister, the quilter, so she could make something with the fabric.

    Walked down to Hamley's 5 floor toy store and bought a few things for grandchildren. There are some life size Lego replications of Prince Charles, William & Kate, and Harry standing together, and of the Queen sitting on her throne, as well as Sherlock Holmes, etc.

    Stopped for more sandwiches late in the afternoon, took a nap, then walked 7-8 minutes to Haymarket Theater Royal to see "One Man, Two Guv'nors". Had end 2 seats on one of the back rows in Stalls, but they were good seats. We both loved the comedy and the upbeat band music interspersed throughout the play. The audience participation in a few parts of it was hilarious.

    Tue: Returned (2 min. walk) to Nat. Gallery & Nat. Portrait Gallery's gift shops (how did I miss them on earlier visit?) and bought a few small things (bookmarks, coin purse) and started to worry about how I was to them home. There was a good bagpiper playing in front of the Nat. Gallery both visits.
    Walked (5-10 min.) to Covent Garden - took photos - bought MORE souvenirs, then traveled to Piccadilly Craft Market at St. James Church, and down street to Fortnum & Mason's (out of lavender shortbread).
    Next visited Blackfriar's Pub for a great lunch. This is a beautiful, unique pub with carvings on the walls and the food was great! If you haven't been there - don't miss it. Somewhere read it was built on the site of the Friar's Abbey where King Henry VIII went to visit the monks and try to get them to agree to his divorce from Catherine of Aragon. It was torn down after that didn't work out.
    Back to flat to pack and off to the Noel Coward Theater (5 min. walk) to see "Peter and Alice" with Judy Dench & Ben Whishaw, written by John Logan (Logan also wrote script for Skyfall with Dench & Whishaw in the cast). Again, had end 2 seats on a back row, but they were good seats. My husband heard the usher show 2 older men to their seats and say, "Now you behave yourself, Sir Richard" - maybe some of you British people might have some idea who this was? The play was pure drama - very good - I even cried at the end. Sad, true Story of real life inspirations of Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland characters. Judy Dench stole the show - though the actor who played the young Peter Pan character was also very good.

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    janisj: I was too distressed as this point to think straight - I had a London Mapguide with me. Halfway through the long tube ride, I realized how short the distance was between Little Venice and Camden Lock and that I should have gotten a cab!

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    Wed: Using the Rick Steve's compression bags, managed to get everything packed, plus some of the souvenirs in the carry-ons. Used a Windsor Castle tote bag to hold the others, plus the contents of my purse - had to throw my purse out with the trash.
    Driver from London Connections picked us up a little early, but we were ready.
    Waiting at Heathrow, I spotted a Harrods shop - went to take a look and found a whole display of Prestat chocolate items. Bought 3 more small boxes of their truffles (who wouldn't want to try Sea Salt Caramel & Praline flavors?)
    Returned to DFW (Dallas/Fort Worth airport) - what a disaster! Hundreds, maybe over one thousand, people in line for customs. We did get a jumpstart on the others who had to go to baggage claim first-that's what I was afraid of and why I didn't check any luggage. Then another line for passport check, then another line for ?-I forget, then another long, slow line for security-then back across terminal to gate for our connecting flight to Austin airport. Our London flight landed early - 6:05 PM - Austin flight scheduled to depart at 8:30 PM - we barely made it - last ones on plane.
    But we did make it home. The End

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