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Trip Report Leeds & London w/Frankfurt layover, college-hunting w/daughter

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One of our daughters is keen on going to uni in the UK, so after doing tons of homework and numbers-crunching we realized it *might* be possible. We participated in some online/virtual open days and, over the course of a year, cobbled together the money for a bare-bones trip to check out a few schools in person.

What I *hadn't* counted on was getting wretchedly sick just a few days before we left. I tried to smother it in antibiotics, Vitamin C, rest (as much as possible, anyhow) and tons of liquids, but by the time we left I was still only about 50%, with a nagging cough, near-zero energy and pretty poor breathing/endurance. Ooohhh so angry about the timing! But not much can be done about that, so ... onward we went.

Day 1: Monday, 27 Oct

The cheapest flight we found was a "hacker" fare with a long layover in Frankfurt (Lufthansa). Fantastisch! I hadn't been to Germany in 25 years or so and our daughter is in her fourth year of German (as well as speaking it at home before the kids went to school), so we were looking forward to our 10 hours or so there.

The flight was great -- I love Lufthansa -- and the airport was immense but it was easy to get to the train station. Daughter had *assured* me that she'd be up to another couple hours on a train to visit Heidelberg or other trendy places she'd read about in books, but we opted just to play it safe and stay in Frankfurt.

We walked about 10 miles that day ... Holbein Steg, Eiserner Steg, Altstadt, the European Central Bank and all along the River Main ... stopped at some coffee shops and bakeries to warm up along the way ... and took tons of photos. Daughter was able to use some of her German language skills, of which she was pretty proud, and she fell in love with the bakeries there (because how could you *not*?).

By mid-afternoon, though, she was exhausted, and I'd been exhausted to start with, so we headed back to the airport a bit early. She slept for a couple hours before we boarded the next plane, then fell asleep again as soon as we were on board. It's a useful skill. :-)

The flight to Birmingham, England was quick, only about 90 minutes, and we stayed at the Ibis right by the airport. Super convenient. Basic accommodations but we were fine with that, so we got to bed early. Our first day was 30 hours long!

Day 2: Tuesday, 28 Oct

In the morning we had breakfast at the hotel and then caught the AirRail from the airport to the main rail station in B'ham, where validated our rail passes and headed on to Coventry. This was our first campus tour.

Coventry is a wonderful little town; we especially liked the cathedral ruins and the town square. It was half-term so there were thousands of school-aged kids out and about, and the city had a carnival right in the center of town.

We weren't quite as enthralled with the uni. It's well regarded but we just weren't sure how good of a match it would be. It was spread out across town rather than being in one (or even two or three) central areas.

After the tour we trekked back to the rail station for the trip to Headingley, just north of Leeds. By now a light rain was falling, which turned into a steady drizzle, and by the time the train pulled into Headingley it was after dark.

There was some confusion about how to get to the campus where our dorm room/hostel accommodations were, but we muddled through it and arrived cold, tired, wet and probably more than a little snarky with each other. Fortunately, our accommodations were wonnnnnnderful. Double-size bed, tons of storage, en-suite, just great.

One of our indulgences for this trip had been getting separate rooms at this uni so that she could have a taste of college dorm living away from her mom, and I'm SO glad we did that. Teenagers can be ... well, teenagers ... and being with a parent 24/7, especially a half-sick parent, is not really fun for anyone. That extra bit of space made it easier on both of us.

Day 3: Wednesday, 29 Oct

We had breakfast in the student cafeteria. GREAT food at a great price! A very pleasant surprise. This gave us time to explore the campus on our own before the "official" tour, which was quite nice. I really liked this campus and let her set off on her own, which was good because it gave her some independence and also let me take it a bit easier.

The campus tour was impressive -- daughter even said, "I feel like I belong here; I could see myself living here."

After it was done, we took the train into nearby York to check out their Illuminating York event. We'd been to York in 2012 but had had only an hour or two to explore it which is hardly any time at all, really. So this time we spent a few hours in the Shambles and just enjoyed the city. Great time. We got back to the hostel/dorm rather late but very happy.

Day 4: Thursday, 30 Oct

We were at the Headingley rail station early -- before 7am. The rail station is about a mile, maybe 1.5 miles, from the campus. That doesn't sound like much but it does wear on you day after day. I wished I had investigated the bus schedule more.

Anyhow, we had about a 90-minute ride to the University of Huddersfield, which is another lovely little Yorkshire town. We grabbed a quick breakfast at a Caffe Nero along the walk from the rail station to the uni. Very impressed with the facilities and opportunities there.

This was a full-blown open day instead of just a campus tour, so it took several hours. When it was done, rather than go straight back to Headingley we spent some time in Leeds, then returned to York for more fun at Illuminating York.

By now the mother/daughter time together was wearing thin. I still felt like dirt which was frustrating enough for me but it just drove her crazy. I know I held her back because I couldn't walk as fast as she could, wasn't as quick at figuring out rail schedules, etc. Just rotten timing. We were working hard to be nice to each other and there were moments where it was *really* hard work.

Day 5: Friday, 31 Oct

We slept in a bit -- about 8am -- then did laundry, checked out of the dorm/hostel and headed down to London. We were staying at YHA London Oxford Street, which is a great hostel! Loved it, loved it, loved it.

After checking in there and dropping off our backpacks, we headed out to Soho to walk around. Soho on a Halloween Friday night is quite an experience, and we loved every minute of it.

We returned to the hostel pretty late, stumbled into our bunks and were asleep probably in minutes.

Day 6: Saturday, 1 Nov

Saturday morning was an early breakfast at Borough Market (yummmm). Daughter was pretty pleased that she was able to jam most of a loaf of bread in her purse, so we gnawed on that all through the rest of the day. Just soooo good.

The rest of the day is a blur. Big Ben, Houses of Parliament, Horse Guards, St. James' Park, St. Paul's Cathedral, Trafalgar Square, London Eye/Jubilee Gardens, Covent Garden ... this was another long and late day for us, but we had an absolute blast. I was finally feeling a little better and the weather was *perfect* which always helps: sunny, 65-70 degrees, light breeze. It just could not have been a much better day, and so many times that day we smiled and said to each other, "Can you BELIEVE what a great day this is? Can you BELIEVE we're finally doing this?"

Day 7: Sunday, 2 Nov

By contrast, Sunday was not such a great day.

It was an open day at the University of Hertfordshire, which ordinarily is a quick 25-minute trip from KGX. However, due to construction/maintenance, on this day it took the combined 2-hour efforts of Tube, National Rail, public bus (both in London and in Hatfield), and university shuttle. Uugghh. Our tempers were frayed by the time we made it there.

Fortunately we had allowed plenty of time so we weren't late, but it was not a whole lot of fun. From daughter's perspective, to make things even worse it started to rain, then pour, once we were at the uni. I had brought an umbrella but she hadn't, which left her a choice of huddling close to me (the mom who was really getting on her nerves that morning) or getting drenched in a cold rain. I think it was a tough call for her, but she opted to stay dry under my umbrella.

The campus itself was impressive, and we took a lot of photos and notes. The trip back to London wasn't nearly as bad as the morning, mostly because we knew how to navigate it now, so rather than go straight back to the hostel we went to Victoria Station and enjoyed the shops and atmosphere there in much better spirits.

Day 8: Monday, 3 Nov

This was our last full day in London, and we awoke in that panic of, "Oh no, the time's going too fast!" So we decided to make the most of it.

We visited Paddington Station (for the Paddington Bear statue there; my sister *loves* Paddington Bear so we wanted to get a picture of it for her), then continued to the Natural History Museum, Royal Albert Hall and the Royal College of Music (all near each other). As a zoo/aquarium/museum professional, I could have spent hours in the NHM! There was also the Sherlock Holmes Museum and the Royal Academy of Music's museum. Very fast pace. It ended up raining, but by lucky timing that was while we were at Royal Albert Hall and we took refuge in their cafe for about an hour. Very "Londonesque" landscape outside, and we enjoyed watching it.

At 4:30 we had a reservation for tea at Lady Dinah's Cat Emporium in Shoreditch, which was a fun quirky thing we'd set up weeks earlier. It's a tearoom that is also home to about 10 rescued cats. If the cats feel like interacting with you, they do; otherwise you just get to relax with a great cuppa and watch them play and snooze and be happy little things. It was a bit of an adventure finding our way there, but well worth it. Hard to leave, but we still had some big things on our to-do list.

By now it was well after dark. Because crowds at the Tower of London had been insane during the day, we headed there in the evening to see the WWI poppy display at night when it was less busy. Tremendous experience. Just tremendous. Beautiful and humbling and tragic all at the same time.

After we left the Tower we meandered around St. Katherine's Docks for awhile, which is about the time that daughter said she wanted to go to the Beatles' Abbey Road crossing before we left. She had been stalking the live webcam there for months and thought it would be fun for her friends back home to see her on it from home.

That turned out to be a huge logistic problem. Her friends were in school, she couldn't text them, etc. I hadn't known about this goal of hers earlier, but she assured me that she knew exactly what do do because there was a Tube station named Abbey Road, so how hard could it be? Ah, teenage confidence.

We learned the hard way that the famous Beatles zebra crossing is at St. John's Wood (quite near some of the places we'd visited that morning, incidentally), whereas the Abbey Road Tube station is on the other side of London. This mistake cost us several hours of precious time, and by then it was very late, her friends had given up on her and we were both exhausted.

We DID still make it to St. John's Wood and got photos of her in the crosswalk, though it was not quite the poetic interactive experience she'd envisioned. But heck, we were still in London which is magical all on its own, so it was all still good.

Day 9: Tuesday 4 Nov

Departure Day. We took the Tube to Heathrow and it was all pretty straightforward from there. Home by 11pm local time and off to bed.

And now we're surrounded by tons of university literature, knee-deep in analysis and numbers-crunching and decision-making, and realizing that we already want to go back to Europe.

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