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Trip Report Oh, to be in England--and we were! Trip Report of 2 Weeks in London and Day Trips

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My DH and I just returned from 14 nights in London with 5 day trips. We had an incredible, exhausting (or even incredibly exhausting!), fantastic 30th anniversary trip, and now I want to 'pay my dues' here with a trip report I hope will amuse and/or help someone.

First, a big thank you to all you Fodorites who helped me while doing my 6 months of planning and self-educating, especially London experts like janisj, flanneruk, elendilpickle/Leann, Patrick, PalenQ, CW, and others. I cannot imagine how I would have planned this trip without this forum.

So, I will post in small doses as I finish sections. In this trip report you can read about how we (among other things)--
*Saw the Queen'really!
*Met someone who went to church with C.S. Lewis
*Were grateful for free ear plugs at Silverstone Race Track
*Took thousands of digital pics despite a camera acting part of the time
*Stood in the spray of the Emperor Fountain at Chatsworth
*Watched King Lear on the heath in the storm getting wet from rain'stage effects compliments of Mother Nature, not the Globe
*Had a short tour of Oxford by a guide who had met both Tolkien and Colin Dexter
*Needed sunscreen at Dover
*Used almost every public transport possible (plane, train, bus, Tube, taxi, and boat) with only 1'yes, that's ONE'minor glitch or delay
*Didn't get pickpocketed, lost, sick, rained on much, or arrested (although I was tracked down after leaving the US Embassy, all the way to Marks and Spenser on Bond Street, and questioned about why I was taking pictures!)

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    Before I start the report, I’ll give a bit of personal background; I’ve found this helpful when reading others’. Feel free to skip to the actual report if you want; hey, I’ll never know!

    Personal: We are in our early 50’s and in good health except for some heel/bone spur discomfort for DH, but we live on the flat gulf coast of Texas (ergo, no stairs, reliance on cars, and used to AC!) and knew this would be a strenuous trip, an adventure and not necessarily a “vacation.”

    Goals: My planning of this trip (a 30th anniversary present from DH) was driven by interests in literature and history more than arts, food, or shopping. I’m an English teacher and history fan. And the dollar is so weak it didn’t make sense to do any real shopping this time, and we were willing to try to save some money by not eating at expensive places (i.e., we relied on pubs and take-aways mostly).

    Planning: We decided early on to 1. not use a packaged tour; 2. not drive; 3.stay in a bed and breakfast rather than hotel; and 4. stay in London as a base and take a few day trips using public transport. I used various travel guides, the internet, this forum, maps, and a little knowledge from a trip to England and London 3 years ago when I accompanied my daughter with a high school EF Tour. I used detailed maps of London to plan out possible itineraries/routes/sites and grouped things I wanted us to try to see or do into 14 “days,” arranged either by area or by major destination. These “days” would be mostly interchangeable if weather or our feet affected our plans!

    I found a recommendation in Frommer’s for a B&B agency in London, At Home in London. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED! Then I coordinated dates of availability, cheapest days to fly, discount for extended stay, etc., and in early January booked flights and the B&B for July 14-29. (Alas, not enough FF miles at the time I was booking to help any and we needed firm dates for DH’s summer business travel planning, so we had to book early.)

    After hours of reading and research, I decided to purchase the BritRailEngland 4-day flex pass. And it was terrific. The complete flexibility of times and days was worth every penny/pence that the pass cost over the cheapest tickets available. So for us this was a great decision.

    Other than the train pass, I bought/booked only a few things before leaving : Globe tickets (in mid-February best seats already gone for July 27), an Inspector Morse tour in Oxford (also almost full in mid-February), Prom tickets, and Silverstone Classic Race tickets.

    Before we left: I got a Capitol One credit card (sorry, Dave Ramsey) to use with no overseas transaction fees. Good decision. I got some pounds from our bank—costly, but eased my mind to have some correct currency on hand when landing. Okay decision. I notified credit card companies and bank of our travel times, and left all sorts of contact info with children (all in or out of college) and friends. Prudent decisions.

    What we packed: I packed things to layer, slacks and tops and jackets, mostly in black, white, and grey. Wore black tennis/walking shoes. And always felt appropriate! DH wore jeans and shorts (and was NEVER the only one in shorts) and a kind of fishing shirt with lots of pockets on the front that keep him organized and thus happier. White shoes—and he was never alone in this! We needed our rain gear a couple times, jackets often, and cooler clothes a lot. We each had one checked medium-size wheeled piece of luggage. This was not a problem at all as our BandB was just 5 minutes from Hyde Park Corner Tube stop and thus we had almost no steps to negotiate (except the steep case at the BandB!). We each carried a bookbag type bag, mine rather small; 100’s of others, both professional London types and the tourists, were seen with similar bags on backs or in hand. We carried DH’s laptop (for picture storage and internet) and Blackberry (he didn’t really have a complete vacation from work!); the blackberry also served as phone if we needed it, which we didn’t. We took our Sony DSLR, 2 batteries and charger and 2 memory cards, a couple flashdrives, and a backup small HP digital point and shoot; we knew that taking lots of pics and being able to download them and back them up would be a priority for us.

    Day 0(Travel) and 1—In which the flat-landers arrive in the big city

    We traveled from Corpus Christi, Texas, via Dallas/Fort Worth on American, arriving at Heathrow. Uneventful flight, leaving Monday at 12:30 pm CDT and arriving a few minutes early actually, about 8:15 AM Tuesday. The passport control was very quick, and when we got to luggage area, our bags were already there! Found customs to be just a walkthrough; found Underground ticket office at Tube entrance with no problem; Oyster line maybe 5 minutes long. (We found the Oyster to be easy and cost effective.) Used ATM machine next to ticket office with no problem at all. Got on Tube and we were off at Knightsbridge Tube Stop at 9:52! So the whole process, from landing to being off the Tube and near our rooms was less than 2 hours. Wow—much faster than anticipated. We had opted to use the tube over other modes from Heathrow to our rooms because our BandB was a short walk from Knightsbridge or Hyde Park Corner, on the Picadilly Line straight, which is the line from Heathrow, so there were no changes, stairs, trains, or long walks with our luggage. It worked great for us.

    Although we were a bit early our hostess met us at the door of the BandB in Belgravia in the Kinnerton Street area. We had a bedroom with a double bed, a roomy bath with shower, and a great sitting room with desk, wardrobe, and several seats. Made it feel very roomy. (BandB’s are tricky to recommend, as people’s expectations and preferences are all so different. I was very pleased with this one; clean, a sense of privacy, very quiet for being a few yards off a major street in London, and roomy—and so conveniently located. We could use the refrig but no microwave or anything else in kitchen, really. Free wireless. And the price was extremely reasonable, as we got a discount for staying 2 weeks. The breakfast was a bit Spartan; enough for me but not DH always, but all in all the facility was great. We were about 5-10 minutes from 2 pubs, a Waitrose for groceries, Hyde Park, and 2 tube stops, plus Harrods and Harvey Nichols!)

    After a shower and short rest, we went exploring the neighborhood, to stay awake and get our bearings! We ate at one of the 2 pubs a couple minutes from our rooms, The Nags Head. Smallest pub in London by some claims. And it is small! I won’t use the q-word here but it is….unique, pub-by, and friendly. We went back a few times during our stay. We wandered around Belgravia toward Victoria Station, stopping for a scrumptious brownie at the Chocolate Society. A gentleman there was enjoying hot chocolate and recommended it, but it was too warm. We got to Victoria Station and looked around a bit. We picked up salads at a Marks and Spenser Simply Foods (they are EVERYWHERE!). After a walk back and a nap, we walked the short distance to St. Paul’s Church in Knightsbridge, a lovely place with some important Victorian decor. Then across to Hyde Park along with many others enjoying this gorgeous evening with warm air and blue sky; rented a couple of those famous canvas chairs and ate our salads. Then we walked through Hyde into Kensington, by the Peter Pan statue, and back to Knightsbridge. The long summer evening’s light lasted until after 9. We walked to the Waitrose on Motcomb to get sandwiches and such for tomorrow. What a LONG time it had been since a real sleep, but what a great hello to London.

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    Welcome back texasbookworm!

    This is a great start!

    I thought of you just the other day and wondered when you'd return.

    <<Stood in the spray of the Emperor Fountain at Chatsworth>>

    (sigh)

    Can't wait to hear more!

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    Thank you, encouragers, for your comments! Here're the next 2 days (partial!) memories:

    Day 2—In which we see Buckingham Palace, Westminster and—well, read on!

    We left about 8:30, packing our lunch; the day was cool but warming with mostly blue skies. We walked through Green and St. James Parks toward Buckingham Palace. London’s Parks are such a wonder, green and spacious, even when packed with people. A needed oasis from the city for Londoners and a treat for the eyes for visitors. We seemed to have beaten the crowds and took tons of pictures of the Palace and surrounding area. DH got his first glimpse of Big Ben. We strolled toward Westminster Abbey and got tickets with absolutely no line. We did not beat the crowds inside, however. But the beauty, history, and the sheer awesomeness of the church was the focus. The free audio guide is excellent; we spent about 90 minutes soaking up the atmosphere. We ate our lunch looking out at the cloisters. (I had a 2for1 voucher for Westminster Abbey, but you have to have paper travel cards to use them. At Victoria Station yesterday I had asked about buying them ahead; you can, but only one day ahead. As weather for this day was uncertain, and I didn’t know for sure if we’d want to go to Westminster, I didn’t want to commit to the paper cards for the little savings we’d see. And I sure wasn’t going to walk the 15-20 minutes to Victoria Station this morning to get the travel card. So I blew off the voucher idea for today.) DH was feeling pretty jet-lagged but gallantly (in the true knight-serving-his-lady sense) pushed himself on—and this was pretty much the way it was all 2 weeks! Blessings on the man who will keep going with bone-tiredness and blisters, even if grousing a little while doing it!

    As we walked toward Parliament and Big Ben with 1000’s of other tourists, still beside Westminster Abbey, I heard a siren. The next few things happened in a few seconds: Oh, there’s a motorcycle leading a car. Oh, the car has a flag on top. Oh, the flag is –the royal flag! Oh, it might be the—
    And there, sitting smiling in the back, dressed in blue and I think with a small crown, was Queen Elizabeth! Quite a stir it was causing! DH reacted as fast as non-paparazzi-humanly possible but got pics only of the car, not of her-self. How priceless! The pictures of her smiling famous face are in my head if not on the Sony memory card! We saw the Queen.

    Then we went on to see Big Ben and Parliament—not anticlimactic at all, as these landmarks are so monumentally beautiful and –well, monumental. Everyone in London not on some sort of public transport whizzing by (like busses and taxis) must have been walking, jogging, or biking in this area; it was packed. We had our first look at the Thames on Westminster Bridge (where I stood and re-read Wordsworth’s words which are on a covering on the bridge where they’re working—This City now doth like a garment wear/The beauty of the morning—of course, it was actually afternoon by now)




    Our next trek was up Whitehall. Couldn’t see #10 Downing close; bummed; but kept walking. Got to Trafalgar Square where a telecast of an opera that night meant that scaffolding and fencing were up preventing me from touching the lions. Bummed. But we got a few pictures anyway. I spent a shockingly short hour in the National Gallery among hordes of people while DH rested his feet. (He’s not a Philistine but doesn’t really enjoy art museums.) Every museum we went into in London deserves a day or more, so it’s with regret that I left after such a brief time. But a short visit is better than none

    DH felt like walking again, so we went down Picadilly with the throng; stepped into Fortnum and Masons just to say I had! Back in Belgravia we went to the other pub near our rooms, the Wilton Arms. Also wonderful, friendly, more than adequate food (we had fish and chips, and bangers and mash). Then we found a great bakery across from Waitrose and had an incredible brownie—Ottolenghi’s. We’ll be back! Tomorrow first train ride to Salisbury, so we called it an evening.

    Day 3—In which we go to Stonehenge and Salisbury via public transport

    Although it looked like a gloomy, maybe rainy day, we decided to go to Salisbury and Stonehenge. As I explained above, we had purchased the BritRailEngland 4-Day Flex Pass and used it for the first time. We rode the Tube to Waterloo Station. Once there, we found ticket office and had our passes validated as we needed to for the first use. As car-dependent Americans, we had never ridden a train before and were a bit intimidated by the process. But the people were helpful in every station we used, and if the signage or directions weren’t clear, we could always find someone to help. So if you’re going to be riding the rails in England, just allow plenty of time, like 15-30 minutes, after you arrive at the station to find available trains if you don’t have that info, which platform the train will be departing from and the actual platform. With the FlexPass we didn’t have to try to get to a specific train; in this case we knew there was one at 8:50 and then 9:20 if we missed it, but we found platform and train in time to get on the 8:50. This train, as all others we rode, left on time and was not crowded at all. We had a smooth 90 minute ride to the Salisbury train station. Trains are comfortable, have nice facilities, and give a nice view of the passing countryside. Definitely better than driving for us this trip.

    I loved arriving at all the different train stations, some rather compact and old, others a bit more modern and full of services. Salisbury, as I recall, was on the small side but had a snack shop and a helpful agent who told me where to catch the Stonehenge bus.

    I had researched how to get to Stonehenge via public transport and found that this year there was a service called (not very creatively but appropriately) The Stonehenge Tour that for £17.50 each would pick us up at the train station and drive us to Stonehenge. Admission was included so we wouldn’t have to stand in line, and then we could spend as long as we wanted and take any of their busses that ran every 30 minutes to go back into town. (There was also a stop at Old Sarum but it was not nice enough for us to do this). This mode worked great for us; the bus was on time, comfortable, had a narration on its nice 30 minute ride to and from the site, and gave us freedom to spend as much or as little time there as we wanted. Highly recommended.

    Stonehenge is impressive, of course, and can’t really be described, only experienced. So I won’t try to recreate the experience. Go there. This day it was pretty windy, cold, and sprinkly so we didn’t dawdle, and we had read much so didn’t find the audio guide to be that interesting (plus I’d been before) but all in all it’s an unforgettable experience.
    We caught the bus back after warming up with hot chocolate and then in town walked, following obvious signs, to the Cathedral. It is impressive, of course, and can’t really be described, only experienced. So I won’t try to recreate the experience. Go there. (Yes, I know I just repeated myself—but both sites have that effect on me—awe, if for different reasons, and wonder.) Salisbury is just an incredibly lovely place of worship and is 750 years old this year! The good copy of the Magna Carta is almost worth the trip all by itself. On this day when we came out the sky had brightened up nicely so we took duplicate pics as the light playing on the structure differently than when we went in made it look quite different (let’s see, didn’t some guy name Constable notice the same thing?) DH was pretty tired and so we didn’t spend any more time in this lovely city, but caught a 4:20 train (barely made it!) back to the madhouse known as Waterloo-at-rush-hour at 5:45.

    A look at the weather forecast (75% rain and in 60’s) convinced us to do some switching of my itinerary days, and instead of being outside at the Tower and along the Thames, go to the British Library and British Museum tomorrow. So we spent the evening resting and looking at our pictures. Our camera had been malfunctioning and not letting us review the pics on the camera, but it was taking good ones anyway we were happy to discover. Camera malfunctions to us are a major trauma, one we hadn’t anticipated!

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    texasBW - Did you have a tour guide in Salisbury Cathedral?
    I'm so sorry we did not have time ( or make time) to see the wonderful Magna Carta, BUT this gives us an excuse to go back hey!

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    Hi Texasbookworm -

    Welcome back! Enjoying your trip report, and thanks again for your tip on the Stonehenge tour (when I was doing my research for my trip back in May).

    tod- There are free guided tours at the Salisbury Cathedral when I visited. The tours are about 1 hour long, and I had such a wonderful guide/docent who knew everything about the Cathedral. The tour does not include the Magna Carta, which is in the Chapter House. But there are another couple of docents in the Chapter House who can tell you everything you need to know about it.

    In addition, there are paid guided tours of the Towers of the Salisbury Cathedral. The Tower tours are 1.5 hours long, but I didn't have the time. But Fodorite noe847 took the tour and had detailed it in her trip report.

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    Tod--I'm typing as fast as I can! This may take a few days! Thanks for your compliments.

    Tod--no we didn't do a tour. It was my second trip, and DH takes so many pics it's hard to keep him reined in by a tour guide! Sounds like there are several ways to enjoy this lovely place, though.(But don't skip the Magna Carta; it doesn't take long and it's a wonderful copy).

    Day 4—In which we enjoy the joys of the British Library and Museum

    As this looked like a good day to be indoors, and a good day to not overtax our aching legs before a big day in Oxford, we went to the British Library and the British Museum. We had a very unhurried morning (DH had some business faxing to take care of anyway) and still got to the Library about 10, with a walk by St. Pancras’s fascinating outside (we’ll be in train station another day for pics).

    The Library is a wonderful place to spend a morning. As an English teacher, I was thrilled to see, among other things (all in one room) a Shakespeare First Folio, a Gutenberg Bible, Bronte’s manuscript for Jane Eyre (Reader, I married him—in Charlotte’s handwriting!), Scott’s diary before his death, letters and writing materials of Austen—what treasures! Glad we'd seen the good copy of the Magna Carta at Salisbury, too; this one is sad. Before you go expecting to see something specific, though, be aware that the displays change and rotate stuff, so just because the Library has it (like Lewis Carroll stuff) doesn’t mean it will be viewable. But it is definitely wonderful, whatever you might see.

    Then we walked not far to the British Museum which was, as expected on this might-be-raining-any-minute summer holidays day, packed. What can I say that hasn’t been said about this wonder? It was my second trip and I had things I wanted to share with DH, of course, and led him there, plus I followed him to some areas, and there were still 100’s (1000’s?) of things I didn’t see this time either. If a person has only 2-3 things to see or do in London, this and the Tower are the 2 I will always recommend. And allow at minimum half a day. (I did get a picture, with me in it, of the Rosetta Stone which was the one obligatory picture from my trip in 2005 that I somehow never snapped.)

    About 4 we headed down Charing Cross, planning to find #84 and go to Covent Garden, maybe to eat. So we walked down the teeming street, looking for #84. If you haven’t read the book by Helene Hanff, it’s a delight. The bookstore, Marks&Co., once there is gone now, but they (I forget who “they” is) put a plaque on the wall to commemorate the store which birthed the book which was turned into a play and movie. We got to like #86 and then #82—backtracked and still no sign. DH went into a restaurant and I looked around. Oh, there it is—and here he came with a kind waitress who said people often stopped in to ask. Took a pic (of course—do you sense a pattern in our days?) of me and the small, now rather dingy plaque and walked not too far to Covent Garden. I suggested we find the Lamb and Flag, which despite showing up on lots of suggested lists might be ok to grab an early-ish dinner at and rest. Somehow, don’t ask me, we did find it—but they don’t serve food at dinnertime. Bummed. So we just grabbed Tube at Charing Cross and hit one of the pubs near our “home.” Oxford tomorrow!

    Day 5—In which we make the Morse, Lewis, and Tolkien pilgrimage!

    Oxford was just about number one on our list of places to go, in or out of London, when we planned this trip. At first I figured it would be by rail, but someone on the forum mentioned that the coaches from London were just as fast, reasonable, and dropped you off more in the center of town (and would actually be just as easy for us to board as getting to a train.) So bus it was. Both the Oxford Espress and the Oxford Tube pick up at Marble Arch, at a bus stop well marked, which was about a 15 minute walk for us. Both run frequently, have good information on their websites, and cost the same. So if you decide to use this service, I highly recommend it; just check out times and stops on their websites to see what fits you.

    We left our rooms at 7:45 and got to Stop 14B about 8 and the Espress came by within 10 minutes. (If the Tube had come first, we would just have ridden it.) £30 for both of us, return tickets.

    My first goal was to go to C.S. Lewis’s house, the Kilns. Thanks to flanneruk, whose suggestion was spot on, I decided we’d get off the bus at Thornhill Park and Ride and walk about a mile to the house. I had a googlemap and off we trotted. (Ok, I was ready to trot but DH was willing to walk in a more normal way!) The map was accurate and within 15 minutes we had walked along the quiet, green, flowery neighborhood streets and found The Kilns. We unobtrusively, I hope, took pictures and I just tried to imagine Lewis here. Then DH was willing to walk about a mile, we hoped, to Holy Trinity Church where Lewis worshipped and is buried. My map this time was accurate but the directions weren’t; I should know to look at the map, not read the google instructions. We missed it. But a nice gentleman working in his yard patiently gave us directions (“Looking for Lewis, I’ll wager. Well, you’ll find him waiting there for you!”) and also a general idea of where to catch bus afterwards.

    We backtracked to the church notice board and took the little path to the church. It is---so ENGLISH! Small grey stone church, well-tended graveyard with a sexton (do they call him that?) tending to the grounds that morning, a bird singing, clouds skittering along in the high blue morning sky, vines twining on the stone walls. Oh, breathe! Lewis’ grave is indicated so we paid our respects there. As we looked around, a couple came in the front gate and began unlocking the church. They smiled at us and said, “We’re here to clean and you’re welcome to come in if you want.” (If we want?!) So we followed them in. He said, “From across the pond, are you? And here to see where Mr. Lewis is buried?” We entered the cool, they pointed out a few things and said they’d leave us and get to their chore; they were on the rota to clean this week. So we inspected the Narnia window and Lewis’ pew. And we struck up more conversation (not difficult!) with the gentleman. He had been christened, baptized, confirmed and married in this church, as had his children. They’d just had their 45th anniversary. And he remembered C.S. Lewis! Didn’t claim to “know” him but remembered his sitting there and how he often left before the sermon! Funny. Also, this gentleman had been a Morris dancer for most of his adult life, until the arthritis kicked in, and his group is actually in the background in one scene of the Hopkins/Winger version of Shadowlands! (I’ll be looking for that one to purchase on amazon when I get home!) He told us a bit more about himself and she about the church. What a blessing to have them there when we were!

    I could have stayed much longer but didn’t want to impose upon their graciousness, so we said farewell and headed to the main road (London Road I think), found a bus stop, waited about 10 minutes, and rode into the town center, about a 20 minute or so ride.

    Well, at noon on this Saturday, Oxford was awash with a million teenagers. (Lots of language schools/language school tour groups, it seemed, had descended upon the town this day. No, that sounds like locusts, and they were not behaving inappropriately at all; there were just masses and masses of them!). We just grabbed some food from an EAT, used a loo in Marks and Spencer and carried our food to the Oxford Information Center where we would be joining a tour in about 90 minutes. People everywhere and no place to sit really. We sat on a curb. At least it wasn’t broiling or raining. DH was pretty unhappy at this point. But by 1:30 his feet had rested and the food and coke had helped, so when our Inspector Morse Tour began, he was ok.

    We both like the Inspector Morse “stuff”—I’ve read all the books, and he’s read most, and he bought me the whole series on DVD. We’re not fanatics, but fans, and when he read about this tour, it piqued his interest. So I made reservations in Feb, I think (Note: I couldn’t get the website to accept my input as an American and so I called the office directly. I never got any sort of confirmation, so I was a tad nervous, but they had us booked, no problem.) There were actually 3 Morse groups this day, of about 19 each.

    Our tour guide was Eva Wagner, a feisty older lady who’d been called in at the last moment because of the number of people signed up and who had a sore throat and proclaimed herself to be grumpy. But she energetically and demandingly led us off. And she was a delightful hoot! She’d been doing this for years and years, starting when they were actually still filming the series. So she had lots and lots of inside stories, having met Colin Dexter and seen John Thaw several times. This tour was a delightful mix of some Oxford history, an explanation of the Oxford university/college system (the tutorial system), a quick glance at and trot by several of the most famous Oxford spots, and Morse trivia. Took about 2 hours. Toward the end I talked to her a bit and discovered that she was a former German/comparative lit professor who’d had rooms next to JRR Tolkien! When she found out I was a literature teacher (not of her caliber, of course!), she said it was a pity we weren’t here longer so she could give us a “proper” tour of Oxford. I would have loved to have taken her up on that! But she gave us a great afternoon. (If you ever have her as a tour guide, she may tell you the story of the entrance exam question. One time one of the colleges set one statement before the applicants: “Is this a question?” and she asked us if anyone could say what the answer was the examiners liked the best. DH, without even blinking it seemed, said, “Is this an answer?” and she laughed and said, “That’s it, you must be very clever!” Even with aching feet, his brain is sharp as a tack!)

    Next we walked to Magdalen College; it was open (the colleges Eva Wagner had tried to get us into during the tour were closed, so I was glad to find this one still open, about 4). We admired the spires and towers, the quad and halls. Then we went for a stroll along Addison’s Walk where JRR and Jack had discussed the Christian faith. Lovely. People punting on the Cherwell. Shadows playing along the path. Deer feeding in the park. Flowers rambling over the walls. Just lovely.

    DH navigated a quieter way for us to walk back to St. Giles far from the madding crowd and we went to the Eagle and the Child. It was crowded but far in the back we got a table and some food. It was tasty. The Rabbit Room was full and he wouldn’t disturb the patrons to take pics of the Inkling plaques—I’ll have to retrieve my 2005 pics! Took pics of us both outside the Bird and Baby and headed to the bus station, found our bus and got off at Marble Arch about 8:45 for a walk through Hyde Park at dusk. What a day!

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    You day at Oxford sounds absolutely lovely! I have to go back for a revisit next time.

    Just FYI, the British Library has two copies of the Magna Carta. One copy is fairly well-preserved, but it was off display when I went in late May, so I assume you didn't see that one. The other copy was damaged by fire, which I believe was the one you saw at British Library.

    Of the 4 remaining copies of Magna Carta, the copy at Salisbury Cathedral is the best preserved, though the original wax seal was broken (shattered into pieces) when the Magna Carta was being moved to saftey during WW II. [At least this was what the docent told me, when I inquired about the lack of wax seal.]

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    Oh TBW, I'm completely enjoying your trip report. The library and museum are on our itinerary as is The Kilns. Love, love, love your encounter with the couple at the church - magical!

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    Your report is terrific -- I am so jealous that you had FOURTEEN days in London when we had only four -- I am especially interested in the way you made London a home base and did many day trips by public transport. This really sounds like the way to go to me.

    We were there in October, so didn't experience the madding crowds you seem to have encountered. So from your report I have learned not to go to London in the summer!

    Also, I sympathize greatly with your DH and his blisters.I thought I was well prepared with broken-in walking shoes, but ended up buying moleskins and band-aids at Boots. Ouch. Hope the foot problems improved -- mine did.

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    Day 6—In which we ride a boat, meander a market, and climb a hill

    This was a beautiful day to be outside. And many were! We began the day by arriving at Warwick Avenue Tube stop and finding our way, not very clearly, to the Waterbus dock to take a noon canal boat ride from Little Venice to Camden Lock through Regent Park Canal. They could improve their signage. But the ride was lovely, taking about 45 slow, relaxing minutes. We arrived at Camden Lock about one. It was a busy, bright, stew of people and aromas. We got kabobs and then wandered around the Market area for a while. It seemed to me to be definitely for younger people (lots of tattoo, goth, punk type places mixed in with vintage, antiques, junk and jewelry stalls). And lots and lots of ethnic flavors.

    Had our fill and walked toward Regents Park. There we made the climb up to Primrose Hill. It was covered with picnickers and sunbathers and children. There at the top was a cold wind but a cooler view of the city. Worth every achy step!

    Walked down the hill, through Regents Park full of flowers and gardens, and convenient benches! Caught the Tube and got off at Knightsbridge so DH could see Harrods. Well, see it is about all we did. It was a tightly packed at Camden Market! And the streets outside were gridlocked with Rolls, Bentleys, Jags, and Mercedez and their chauffeurs. I’m definitely out of my social strata! Walked home via Sloane Street, lined with Chanel, Jimmy Choo, Versace, Armani, Yves St. Laurent, etc. I’m definitely out of my fashion strata! Funny just to walk past the windows anyway.

    Day 7—In which we walk the cliffs, see the castle, and get sunburned

    This was to be Dover Day if the weather was good, and the forecast was favorable. So off we went, catching a train at 9 ish from Victoria Station. The ride takes about 2 hours. A plan was to go into town, go to castle, either walking or by taxi, and then go to walk the cliffs. But when we got there, and walked to the information center and looked at map more closely and the sky, DH decided we should go walk the cliffs first while the weather was good. Looked like a long walk from either town or castle, so it didn’t matter. So off we went. Be warned—it is a LONG walk from the center of town to the National Trust entrance/path to the White Cliffs of Dover. Worth it, but long. First we walked down towards the Channel and ferry/port area. The man-made stuff is utile and ugly, but the Channel and the view—magnifique! There was Calais, pretty clearly, 22 miles away. We kept walking and kept walking and then began to climb. There were the cliffs, yes, but all sorts of ugly intrusions and such. Finally, as we entered the National Trust area, the cliffs began to appear as we had imagined them—white, sheer, falling away from the brown and green grasses into the blue water. Beautiful. We decided to try to walk the “bracing 2 miles” to the South Foreland Lighthouse. A spectacular walk. It was only slightly windy but very sunny; we could have done with some sunscreen! The views across the channel stayed clear all day. The golden grasses in the fields on one side, the turquoise and azures of the water to the other with the white chalk in between. Oh, to be a poet, or painter. Oh, well, we had a mostly cooperating camera! This was the longest 2 miles ever I think (and I’ve climbed a 14-er in Colorado and had 3 children!). But we made it (ok, honestly, we only got close enough to get it in the viewfinder—but we couldn’t have gone up in it anyway). It’s the lighthouse Marconi used for radio transmission history making.

    Walked back. Still gorgeous views! This way the Dover Castle often loomed into view in the distance; it was our goal. Walked back down into town. Found the path up to the castle. Yes up. And after the day we’d had, it did feel steeply up. We began for the first time on the trip to dream of a taxi! But we got into the Castle about 4 and had a glorious 90 minutes or so there. It deserved at least 3 hours. But we just didn’t have it! We opted right away to not take the 1 hour WWII tunnel tour. Next time! I know they are fascinating, and important, but we had to choose and we chose old stuff. We were able to see most of the important parts of the rest of the castle, getting up high on the walls and reveling in the spectacular views; the weather had cooperated more than even expected.

    So, suggestions: The Castle really does need 3-4 hours, unless you totally skip the Tunnels. The Castle is up a steep slog, so a taxi (as JanisJ suggested) from the station to the entrance would be a wise thing. Should we have done the castle first? Well, we really wanted nice skies for our cliff walk and channel view and the weather is notoriously changeable, so I wouldn’t second guess our decision. But it did mean we ran short of time at the castle; I wouldn’t have spent any less time on the cliffs.

    We walked back down to town, ate at a Weatherstone’s pub (mint lamb burgers and chips) and then when checking timetable discovered we might be able to make a 5:54 train. We had about 20 minutes. So we had one last sprint in us, slid into the station, were stopped momentarily by young man wanting to see our tickets and telling us which platform, we ran up and down the steps, and the 6:54 was pulling away—and I swear the clocks said 6:52! So we collapsed and waited an hour. Got back to Victoria at 9:45 and had 15 minute walk. We were rather sun and wind burned/chapped and would be sore tomorrow—but another glorious day.

    While on the train, DH had gotten an email from work about an –impending hurricane! And 2 of our kids (19 and 23) would be in the path! But by the time we got back to the bandb, we’d received some emails from them that said local forecasters had Dolly going south of Corpus Christi, which it did. So hurricane alert stood down!

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    Thanks so much for your helpful details in your report. I'm sure that your students' education will be the richer for your experiences. Thanks for sharing; looking forward to the rest of the report!

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    <<with Rolls, Bentleys, Jags, and Mercedez and their chauffeurs. I’m definitely out of my social strata!>>

    I hear you TBW, and if it's any consolation, I've no driver for my jag! :0-)

    <<I'm sure that your students' education will be the richer for your experiences.>>

    Well said, irishface.

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    Day 8—In which we climb towers, watch a bridge lift, walk the Southbank—and threaten to toss a camera in the Thames!

    We left on another gorgeous morning about 8:30, so were at the Tower of London about 9. Yesterday at Victoria Station before we left for Dover I had bought 1-day-travel passes (which do NOT have rail symbol on them). At the Tower, where there was no line whatsoever, I presented my 2for1 voucher and he didn’t ask to look at pass. We headed for the Crown Jewels where there also was no line whatsoever. Then we spent the rest of the morning meandering around the Tower. I don’t need to go into great detail here about this. Suffice it to say that on my list of “must-sees” in London for anyone, any age, I still put the Tower as Number 1. So much history. So much pageantry. This day the crowds were heavy by noon and the weather was lovely all morning. We didn’t go on any of the tours but enjoyed our own wanderings. I filled DH in with what history tidbits and trivia I recalled from my former visit and all my reading, and he read as much as he wanted on displays. (And we voted in the Bloody Tower—read The Daughter of Time to decide how we voted!) We enjoyed some guard changing, raven feeding, and people watching as well as the Tower itself, which is of course actually not just “a tower.”

    (The camera was giving us some fits, as it had since Day 2, sometimes refusing to let us use menu and other buttons and now sometimes locking up or taking random multiple shots. The pics it took were still wonderful; we just didn’t have great control or access to them as we took them; no idea why.)

    For lunch we got pizza slices from Paul’s outside the Tower, overlooking the Thames. (This is what my DD and I had shared in 2005 and I kinda wanted to re-create that moment. The pizza was tasty but cool, not really even warm, and of course over-priced, but the views of the Tower, Thames, and Bridge as we ate were worth it. We weren’t here for the food, anyway.)

    We then walked over to the Tower Bridge and went into the Exhibition before 2 pm. We had googled Tower Bridge scheduled lifts and knew the bridge would be opening at 3:30. I thought DH would want to be down the bankside a ways to take pics, but he wanted to actually be on the bridge to take close-ups. So we wanted to time our visit so we’d be done with the inside and be out in plenty of time to find a place to view from. At the Exhibition I also used 2for1 voucher but they did look at my pass. The exhibition is very interesting but the best part for me was the view from the glassed viewing area. (And there are tons of things for children to do, both hands on and “scavenger hunt”/educational ones; I think children would really enjoy this.) Here the camera went berserk and just took multiple shots all by itself sometimes! If we’d been nearer the water, it might have ended up at the bottom of the Thames! It did calm down later.

    After looking at the Thames from the viewing area and the engineering works inside the bridge, we exited and DH scouted around for what he hoped were best views. The light was better if we stood on the south side, but the area around the Exhibition entrance on the Tower of London side had more space for people and a bridge attendant told him the views would be better there, so we staked out a spot. About 3:30, they began stopping traffic, started raising the bridge, allowed 2 ships to pass, one each way, closed the bridge, and opened the road back up, all in what seemed like less than 5 minutes. It was a most interesting sight.

    My tentative plan had been to stroll all along the south bank, seeing several sights and ending up at the Tate Modern. But it was already almost 4 and we had big day tomorrow, so we shortened my ambitious plans quite a bit! We went to Southwark Cathedral, where someone was practicing on the organ (maybe for Evensong? People were arriving as we left.) Lovely church with much history, of course. Don’t skip it if you’re near. (We had to skip Borough Market, the George Inn and seeing the Clink, but I’d rather have spent our time as we did.) Rode tube in rush hour and got Waitrose salads for light supper. Day is done!

    Day 9—In which we travel via public transport to Chatsworth

    About a year ago at a church garage sale, I found a somewhat-water-wrinkled book on stately British homes and bought it. One of the homes was Chatsworth. There I read the fascinating story of Joseph Paxton, who became its master gardener. The story went, briefly, that about 1826 young Paxton showed up at daybreak on the grounds before anyone was stirring, needing to be there for an interview or discussion with the Duke about a job as head gardener. He climbed over the wall, roamed the grounds, set some workers a task when he encountered them, and eventually was given breakfast by the housekeeper, all before meeting with the Duke. He also met Sarah, niece of the housekeeper. That day he got the job and a bride; he and Sarah were soon wed. He went on to become the head gardener for years at Chatsworth, design the Crystal Palace for the Great Exhibition in London, and be knighted and involved in railroads and politics. This story really intrigued me and I wished I could visit Chatsworth. Then I learned that Chatsworth was probably the inspiration for Pemberley in Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Now I really wanted to visit there someday! When my DH told me Christmas 07 to plan this trip, the first thing I said was We gotta go to Chatsworth!

    So I began to investigate how to get there from London (as we quickly nixed the idea of driving ourselves around England) and to my dismay could not find a tour running from London. (LondonWalks does a Discovery Day tour once a year, but not while we’d be there.) I communicated with Chatsworth and Chesterfield, who both sent me information about buses and such. It was all still a bit confusing but I set out a tentative plan. And now after all these months Chatsworth day was here!

    We got up by 5:20 and left about 6:30, headed to St. Pancras and a 7:15 train. While we were in the subway, the underground walkway to Hyde Park Corner tube stop, DH remembered he didn’t know where the train tickets were—I’d forgotten them! Mea culpa completely! So I hustled (almost running) back to bandb, got them, hustled back. Boy, was I humid! We caught the tube and still made it to St Pancras about 7 and found train posted as on time at 7:25. I thought we might have to ask someone which train because Chesterfield wasn’t the final destination and that’s how trains are posted, but I found a 7:25 train to Sheffield with stops listed under it, one being Chesterfield, so we were good to go. We had to wait a bit for platform to be posted but got on about 7:15. St. Pancras is really pretty with blue girders up high, lots of glass in the dome and old red bricks. There are new shops and restaurants and such; I think its reopening was this year? Not long ago. The train ride was about 2 hours to Chesterfield.

    At Chesterfield we needed to find the busstop for a 10:05 local bus to Baslow Nether End from where we’d walk through the park to the house. A lady at the train station pointed us in the right direction. A signpost soon said (ok, it wasn’t actually speaking!), to get to bus station, follow signs to Tourist Info Center, so we did. Chesterfield is the home of the church with crooked spire which we saw first from the train and looks like another interesting town to visit someday. We found the TIC in about 10 minutes (we can walk fast when we need to) and a young lady gave me a map and directions to bus stop 5 minutes away. So we got there and waited about 15 minutes. There was a long queue but we got seats. The ride took about thirty minutes on windy roads. We alit in Baslow. No signs. But we followed a couple other couples and then there was a little wooden signpost saying Chatsworth. I think they need better signage from this stop, as it seems to be a common way to arrive there by bus, although the vast majority of people are getting there by private car or tour bus. Anyway we walked through the grounds for about 30 minutes. It was rather warm and a bit muggy. The whole day stayed sometimes overcast and sometimes clear with no drop of rain in sight. I thought it was a lovely walk but DH’s legs were protesting too loudly for him to enjoy it. That Dover day really used un-used muscles and they still weren’t happy about it! I told you we were flat-landers!

    Then we got our first look at Chatsworth. I didn’t have quite the reaction that Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Bennett had (when she plops back down in the carriage upon seeing it) but I had a bit more preparation than she! It’s really big and blocky. It’s impressively massive and in a gorgeous setting, but the house isn’t really pretty to me. But the surroundings—I ached to be a painter with words or watercolors, to capture it all. I wanted to “capture the castle” in a way (Hey, have you read that book— by Dodie Smith? Good one!) But again had to rely on the Sony—which today was acting completely reliable! And did so for 95% of the rest of the trip. ???

    By noon, after lunch, rest, and review of Chatsworth map so we could plan our day, we were ready to enter the gardens first, house later. I saved about £7 using the bus ticket voucher I’d printed off from a brochure, so if you ever do go by bus, look for that on the brochure from Chatsworth. The grounds are massive, more so than the house of course, and cannot all be seen in a day. We just chose a few things, mostly the Joseph Paxton things, to enjoy. The cascade is lovely and was full of kids already. Chatsworth is a great place to take kids, I’d say; plenty of room to run and plenty to do without ever going in the house at all! There were lots of people and lots of older people from bus tours and lots of families with kids, but nowhere did we feel crowded except for a few places in the house later. I so loved actually seeing the areas Paxton had worked on; some of them are no longer actually there but there are displays and plaques explaining his impact and import to the gardens and grounds.

    Then we walked to the end of the pool to have a good look at the Emperor fountain, today gushing to about 30 meters. Paxton designed it for a planned visit from the Russian emperor, who ended up not coming! But the fountain remains in all its loveliness. It can go 90 meters and is the highest gravity fed fountain in the world, but for conservation purposes they hold it to about 30 meters daily, less in dry times. I was standing in the middle of pictures I’d looked at for a long time! I was actually in the middle of literature and history that are important and fascinating to me, so it was quite a treat. We walked to near the fountain and I stood in the spray—HIGHLIGHT!

    After actually buying some souvenirs (I’ve been restrained this trip!), we toured the house. It’s—well—ornate and ostentatious—gaudy in its own elegant way. There are many painted ceilings and dark wood carvings and ceramics and paintings. There’s a Gainsborough of the Duchess Georgiana and a Rembrandt of an old man hanging on their walls. And a Sargent portrait. Wow. They’re famous for their sculpture collection too and from the Pride and Prejudice movie I remembered a few pieces and of course ”Mr. Darcy’s” head—presented to them by the movie people. Took pics for a couple of giggly girls with it who assured me they’d also read the book! Then we walked around the outside to the bridge approach to the house and took pics.

    We were done with all we could do before 3:30. The gentlemen at the house entrance had born with me several times in answering my queries about busses. I won’t give a blow-by-blow description of the mental calisthenics we went through. But our options were walk back through the park 30 minutes and catch a 4:25 bus from where we’d gotten off, riding to Chesterfield. Or catch a 4:20 bus at the house which PROBABLY would get us to the 4:25 bus stop (sounded too iffy to me). Or, a new option opened up—catch the 4:20 bus at the house entrance and go all the way to Sheffield and catch a train. This option, because of our Flex passes, would work and keep us (DH!) from having to walk far again. (If anyone’s interested in trying to get to Chatsworth via public transport, the Sheffield to House entrance might be an option to explore; somehow I think I did look at that and it didn’t work for some reason, but the House back to Sheffield at the end of the day was certainly attractive.) So that’s what we opted for. So we had long wait. And small problem when bus arrived—it was a SMALL bus and there was a BIG queue! We got on and seats, but he actually had to leave a few people there! A 30 minute ride through more rolling countryside and narrow village lanes; the Sheffield bus station is just a 5 minute walk across a couple streets from train station. It was 5 and train left at 5:26. This was the only train of the 8 we rode that was at all crowded; seemed most seats had a reservation card in them (although it didn’t seem like all those seats actually were used) so we did not get seats with a table. But fine train ride and back at St. Pancras at 7:45. Waitrose again for salads. It had been another long and exhausting but exhilarating and incredibly memorable day! Gonna take it easier than planned tomorrow.

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    Texas:

    I'm really sorry your lunch in Oxford was so miserable. You hit a real problem.

    I can't think of anywhere public to sit in the middle of Oxford, except in pubs and cafes. There are a few unbelievably ugly (and even more unbelievably costly: tens of thousands each) seats along Britain's vilest shopping street, Cornmarket - but they're currently so surrounded with litter, using them would be a health hazard. There are really pleasant places to sit along the Oxford canal (half a mile west of where you were), the Thames/ Christ Church meadows (half a mile south) or the Parks (half a mile north) - but all too far away for people already knackered from a morning on their feet.

    The only solution I can think of for people in Texas' position who don't want to pay for sit-down food is to eat an M+S sandwich on the run, then either find one of the couple of armchairs in Blackwells or pop into a church. Great places to practice meditation and de-stress yourself from the horrors pf Oxford's shopping streets.

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    Thanks flanner; your advice is always so practical, seems to me! Cornmarket was absolutely a zoo that day, unexpectedly to me, but really when I remember Oxford, I won't be focusing on the lunchtime negatives but all the other magical moments, with people and the city, we had that day. Starting with our walk to the Kilns, thank you for directions!--Alecia

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    Day 10—In which we give ourselves a bit of a rest but still see cool stuff

    After a slow, much needed restful morning, we headed out into what promised to be a very warm day, heading to Ludbroke Grove Tube stop from whence we walked through the Notting Hill area, just to say we did, and down Portobello Road, which did not, as completely expected, have the market atmosphere it has other days. But a nice walk. We stopped at the much recommended Hummingbird Bakery and got brownies for later—well, they weren’t that good actually. The ones from the 2 bakeries in Belgravia were far superior. Other tasty looking pastries there, too, though. We headed down busy Kensington High
    Street (just busy and commercial, not pretty and picturesque—and I’m here for the pretty, not the shopping!) We went to Costas Fish Restaurant and had delicious fresh fish and chips, if a bit stiff at £20 with tip and cokes. Next we strolled through Kensington Gardens past the Palace. The park is mostly grass and lots of people in the sun today. We went down the Flower Path which is pretty.

    The Albert Memorial is huge! Bigger and taller than I imagined. DH said it was about the shiniest thing he’s seen in England, even having seen the Crown Jewels! We then walked down Exhibition to the VandA. At the entrance there is still visible damage from WWII bombs; it moved me somehow and I think it right to leave some damage unrepaired. The VandA is another one of the museums we slighted, really, with limited time spent there, but I’m glad for what we did. The Raphael cartoons (not a comic, you know) and the lovely rooms off the café were probably my favorite things. Too much to see in a day even. The bandb about a mile away so we were back there for a restful evening.

    Day 11—In which we gaze up, gaze down, gaze all around London Town

    Today was to be our walk around the City of London, including some Roman sites; I had extensively used some detailed maps to work out our own walking tour, which was pretty ambitious. By this day, Day 11, I could tell we weren’t going to make it everywhere, but I’d always put the most important stops or sites or sights at the top of each day’s itinerary, so we left about 8:30 planning to do as much as we could and still be back in our rooms before dinner so we could rest up for another big day trip tomorrow.

    We first rode the tube to the Monument, which I knew was under renovation and couldn’t be climbed, but it was good to go by it and remember what it stood for and marvel at how much the city must have changed over the last 1000 years. Next stop was St. Magnus Martyr which was built over a Roman rode where it approached the Roman London Bridge; but the church wasn’t open yet so we couldn’t see the road. Then we walked past Leadenhall Market, a covered area of shops and eateries, mostly not open yet. Then we walked up the hill to St. Mary Woolnoth where Wilberforce worshiped. It wasn’t open either. For me, just being at these important places I’d read about was enough; I didn’t really need to explore in detail (and DH was just along for the –walk.)

    Next we walked past the Mithras Temple site—I, the one with the map, missed it! DH found it. It’s actually been moved, stone by stone, brick by brick, from the location near here where it was unearthed and then replaced like they found it. Somehow it loses some of its importance to not be where it was originally—but still they uncovered incredible history.

    On to St. Paul’s, preceded by a walk halfway out the Millennium Bridge for pics. The day was warm and sunny and the camera working! I remember vividly being here with DD and our tour group in 2005 on our first day in London. Made me a little sad to miss that travel companion. The Millennium Bridge is well worth any effort made to get to it; views of both banks and the river can’t be beat.

    St. Paul’s is gorgeous. It’s big. It’s inspiring. It’s different from Westminster, or Southwark, or Salisbury, each being awesome in an individual way. We sat for awhile to just soak in the atmosphere and read a bit about it from some info I’d brought along. We walked around gazing and then down into the Crypt. We decided not to go even to the Whispering Gallery; DH did not want to do any steps he didn’t have to. I guess if there’s just one church you have time to visit in London, this should be it. Some would say Westminster Abbey which has more historical significance; I’m grateful we got to go to both this time.

    Then we walked to Postman’s Park. This is a nice little oasis with Watts Memorial to sacrificial heroes. We then went on to the Museum of London. It is under major renovation so only one floor is open, with history of the city from the BC era to 1666. It’s quite nice for a museum with good displays. From one window you can view the Roman/medieval wall (the medieval wall was built on the Roman wall foundation, and the whole thing buried until the WWII bombing when rubble clearing afterwards revealed the wall remains.). This is not a museum that gets on many “must see” lists but we really enjoyed it.

    Today we didn’t get as far by half as I’d sketched out for us, but I’m not surprised. I knew it was an ambitious day. The main things I wanted to see we got to—St. Paul’s, Millennium Bridge, and the Museum.




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    texasbookworm - I absolutely LOVE your description of Chatsworth, even though I have never been. But now that I've read your report, I can't wait to go visit! And I applaud you for the homework you've done in terms of getting there by public transportation. I've taken down mental notes for my future visit. Thank you for your details on the trains and buses and even the discount voucher tip!

    And now that you've mentioned it, I recall reading a book recently about the Gainsborough portrait of Georgiana. I believe the portrait was stolen, and eventually found and later bought back by the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire.

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    Day 12—In which we go to the races and I don’t mean the Derby!

    This was a day that most of you readers may not relate to, but it was a really fun day for both of us. We went to Silverstone Race Track near Northampton for the Silverstone Classic Races. This is a 3 day event at a famous English track with all sorts of different older race cars running several races a day, over 10 a day for 3 days, with all sorts of family fun events provided, too.

    This seems like a rather weird thing to do, right? Come all the way from America just to see race cars? It was as much a special treat for my husband, though, as Chatsworth was for me, I think. He’s been a car and race fan (not fanatic or die-hard but interested in all sorts) since a little boy and even did a bit of car building, drag racing, and rally racing when younger; he still does tons of service on our vehicles. So he has more than a glancing knowledge. After I made the reservations for plane and rooms, he discovered we would not be in England for the British Grand Prix (he’s begun to want to see one, now that he’s traveling a bit in Europe). Then he discovered that Silverstone was holding this race day and so we pursued the ticket-getting and the how-in-the-world-do-we-get-there-without-a-car info. As when planning the trip to Chatsworth, I used the internet and direct contact via email and snail mail with both the local transportation and in this case Silverstone officials to map out a plan I hoped would work!

    We made it to the Euston Train Station (I’m so glad we got to leave from 4 different stations, although they are rather a blur in my mind now!) in time for a 7:00 train. We arrived at Northampton about 8:15 I think. The agent at the train station said grabbing a taxi would be easier than walking to the bus station, so we walked out and found a taxi right away. £3.20 for maybe a 5 minute ride but through a bit of construction confusion so it was a good idea.

    We’d read that this bus station was ugly and it is. Narrow modern building of dark brick and dark wood. But it seemed efficient and well marked, if some signage was ugly and covered with tape. We confirmed that our bus left at 9:20. So we walked downstairs to a WC—REALLY ugly down there. Then we walked out toward “Shops” and we were in a bright, modern, multi-level, American looking covered mall—Grosvenor Centre. Weird. Not much open yet but we went to McD’s and M shared his “second breakfast” with me. We waited back upstairs for the bus which was right on time. £15 pounds for both of us to Brackley and back; the driver said he’d let us off as close to the track as he could. It was about a 45 minute ride. He let us down, along with 3 others and said the bus would pick us up across the street. We had about a 15 minute, well-marked walk along a main busy road. It was sunny and warm. No “light showers” or rain as had been predicted earlier in the week—yea! Can’t race in rain!

    We soon saw Silverstone as we approached along with an endless stream of cars. We got to the gates probably by 10:30 and there we were! It’s a huge complex. The grandstands go much of the way around a huge track. Across the track via tunnel or bridge is the huge paddock area, today full of tents, cars, mechanics, booths, kids’ area, eating areas, etc. There was a huge crowd but it never felt wall to wall. There was never a line at a WC and only short ones at eating venues.

    We watched part of one race while DH got the lay of the land. This race with older Grand Prix cars was quickly halted by a spin out, out of our sight. Later when they restarted, we heard that one driver didn’t make it back from—well, taking care of necessary business—in time to restart! The whole day was kinda funny like that; it was professional but in a homey sort of way. We decided we’d look for earplugs because despite his reminders we both forgot. So we went in a shop and they were giving them away—yea! (Too bad they weren’t giving away sunscreen!) We wandered around alternating between watching races and looking at cars and stuff. There were about 8 or 9 races while we were there, each with a different class of car like Formula I from 1966-85 and Pre-War Sports Cars, 1921-38 and so on. Pretty loud sometimes but earplugs prevented any problem. Very sunny; I knew we were both getting too much sun! But most of the viewing areas were covered so we sat there pretty often, in different spots, to rest, watch, and get out of the sun.

    In the paddock area were 100’s and 100’s of cars. What was cool for DH was that he could walk right up to areas where guys were working on cars, getting them ready for later races or cleaning them up from previous. All kinds—MG, Austin Healey, Jag, Stutz Bearcat, Lotus, Mustang, BMW, Ferrari, things I’d never heard of. M was looking for a G40, a 1966 Ford that was a major venture into racing for Ford. He’d had a model of it when he was 11. He found a couple to look at, one near the end of the day that was apart and being worked on for a race at 8 pm (no way we could stay for that, though).

    In trying to figure bus stuff out, it seemed we needed to be back at the stop about 6:20; we wanted to allow plenty of time and leave the track by 5:45, but we got done with all the looking and left about 5:20 and got to the stop about 5:40. There we discovered that the bus wouldn’t come until 6:45. This stop was nearer Northampton than I thought. Oh well. We sat on the pretty street being passed by all the cars now leaving Silverstone. The bus was exactly on time, got us to NH about 7:20, we flagged down a taxi, got to the train station, found a 7:31 train about to leave (instead of 8:20 one we were shooting for) and made it on with a moment to spare. Nice roomy train with not many people, going slowly at times through pretty countryside again with a canal and canal boats outside our windows sometimes. We were back in London before 9.

    DH got 2 blisters on his feet!—guess the extra heat was just too much today. We’re both pretty pink in places, too. Not sure what we’ll be able to do tomorrow—Greenwich and Globe scheduled.

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    Day 13—It was the best of times, it was the worst of times

    Well, I’m not in any way superstitious, but if I were, I might make a note of which day it was!

    Today the plan was to visit Greenwich and then somehow, probably by boat, get near the Globe for a play at 6:30. I had wanted to get us headed to Greenwich via tube, DLR, and tunnel fairly early, maybe 9, but we were too worn from yesterday so it was after 10. When we got to Canary Wharf to catch the DLR, we discovered it wasn’t running this weekend. I was mad. I knew to check the TfL website for service interruptions on tube and such, which I had, and hadn’t seen anything about this disruption. In fairness, I may not have looked enough or at specifically DLR. Anyway, I had wanted to experience this mode, too, and now we had the hassle on an already sweltering day of changing plans. Sometimes I can feel pretty inflexible and this was such a day! They were running a replacement bus, so we waited for it for a while with many many others, then rode it to Island Gardens. We got off and took pics of Greenwich across the river. Then we walked under the Thames through the tunnel, grateful to find the lift working on the other side. Emerged into the hot, already crowded area near the piers. Somehow this wasn’t what I envisioned! In any case, we went in search of food and shade as it was broiling there by the river. It was definitely in the 80’s already which you’d think would feel cool to a Texan, except that in Texas when it’s mid-80’s I’d have on less clothes, no socks, no pack on my back, and would not be standing outside in the sun! We actually succumbed to the temptation of McD’s because they had ice in the drinks and a findable WC. After lunch we headed toward the Market but it was so jammed we just kept on walking up the hill to the Maritime Museum. The Museum is nice but we just looked at the Nelson stuff (had his coat with the bullet hole from the fatal shot).

    Then we walked uphill (tram no longer running) in heat and hordes to the Observatory to see the Prime Meridian along with 100’s of tour groups of young people with cameras. One guy with a tripod kept setting it up, putting himself in the pic and using a timer—over and over. We did get a couple pics from a different perspective than the one most of the crowd was shooting from. The clear day provided a wonderful view of the city. That was nice.

    We walked back down to the waterfront area where boat tickets were sold. I decided we should ride the Thames Clipper to Bankside, getting off right at the Globe. This would be easier and probably faster than trying to find the bus to ride back to somewhere and then ride a tube back across the river. Tickets £8 for both. Stood in long line, which was a bit confusing to find as it wasn’t marked Thames Clipper. Signage needs work. After being shoved by someone in a hurry, run over by mom with stroller, (the crowds here at Greenwich contained the only rude crowds we encountered all week, and they were of several different nationalities or at least spoke several different languages) and boiled in the heat for about 15 minutes, we got on the Clipper and I enjoyed the ride of about 30 minutes down the Thames (or up?). We rode under the Tower Bridge for a wonderful perspective.

    Very near the Globe is a Pizza Express so we sat there and ate. Good salads, cold water, and yummy gelato . We got done right at 6 and went to the Globe. Our tickets had never arrived at our house and so, via email, we’d been instructed to pick them up and they were ready. We found our seats—kinda higher than I thought but a good view of the stage. Soon some musicians started playing and then the play began. It was hot and breathless for a while but it did finally cool off a little. The seats were pretty full with the groundlings almost covering their area around the stage.

    It was a most excellent production. During the “storm on the heath” part, with King Lear out on a projection jutting from the main stage into the groundling area and under the open part of the theater, it began to rain some! Natural special effects! This is an experience that probably most American teachers of Shakespeare will never have, a production at the Globe! And I was most glad to have had the chance. An unforgettable night!

    We walked over the Millennium Bridge, with some great views of the lit up city (and a couple neat pics to remember them by), to Mansion House tube. The streets were eerily almost desesrted. London before 10 pm, empty? But it was a Sunday night.

    And so ended another full day. Full of some minor disappointments in the morning and full of great pleasure in the end. In the balance a good one.

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    Day 14—In which DH rests and I don’t get arrested

    Last day—and a weird one. The plan was to go to any place we hadn’t gotten to and then we had tickets for a Proms concert at 7:30. A laid back day. Well, DH decided he really needed to lay back! Without going into tons of details, suffice it to say that, very uncharacteristically in his 30 year career, he has been and will be traveling, including overseas, almost 13 weeks from June through September of this year with a few weekends at home. As soon as we get back to Corpus Christi, he has to leave in 12 hours for a 3 day trip, home for the weekend, and then gone for 3 weeks. He really needed a day to recharge. So I planned a 6-7 hour walking/tube-riding tour by myself and left about 8:15.

    First I went to Russell Square and walked to Doughty Street to Dickens House where he lived while writing Great Expectations, which I will be teaching this year. I got back on the tube, rode to Bond Street, and walked down to Berkley Square with the oldest trees, large lovely plane trees, in central London, almost 250 years old. .

    Then I went to Grosvenor Square and walked toward the US Embassy and took a couple pics. There is a line of state flags and so I tried to take a pic of Tennessee (I grew up there)—couldn’t find Texas—when this British man came out of some office or something and said why are you taking pictures? I said oh I’m from Tennessee—I’m sorry. I went away back toward the park. There was no barrier I’d passed or signs that I could see. He glared at me and at a London officer/guard, who just shrugged. I took a couple pics from inside the park and then went towards Bond Street. I went into Marks and Spenser and wandered around a few areas.

    Then 2 officers, a man and a women, came up and said hello there’s no problem but we want to talk to you and ask you a couple questions; let’s go over here. So I followed them and they said they had to check out a report that I was taking pics of the embassy and why. He said so you’re from the States I guess and here on a holiday? I agreed and asked if he wanted to see the pics. He looked at them (I sure was glad camera was working!). They said again no problem but with the high alert because of terrorism things had to be checked.. They took my passport info and such. All the while they seemed to be trying to put me at ease by making conversation. Seemed to indicate that it was just a formality. So in the end they explained the notice of the stop that they had made, (which ended “Satisfactory stop”) had me sign it, gave me a copy, and said no problem enjoy the rest of your holiday. I asked if I’d missed some sign or crossed some line I didn’t see but he said no. So I don’t know what triggered all that! Weird. And later I realized I don’t know if these 2 trailed me or got a call and found me; something he said made me think they were at the Embassy but that might not be what he meant. In any case I don’t understand. I didn’t feel threatened or even have time to get nervous, nor am I affronted or outraged, but I am curious as to why that happened. The officers were nothing but extremely polite and gentle but I don’t know why we had this encounter at all. I didn’t see anything I violated, and I later couldn’t find anything on-line to say what I did. I’m just a pretty non-descript kinda middle aged lady with only a tinge of a Southern accent—Does anybody have a clue what others should do to avoid being tracked down in a MandS (besides not take pics?!)?

    Got something to eat at MandS; went across the street to Selfridges. The dollar’s weakness now make shopping anywhere in England, especially anywhere more upscale than a Marks and Spencers, just silly, but I wanted to walk into and through the 4 or 5 more famous department stores. I actually found cheap scarves across from Selfridges and bought 2 for DD(and me?)

    I went back out into the hot day (I think it got up to 85 this day) and rode tube to Holburn, walked to the Old Curiosity Shop (was past it before I noticed) and then wandered around the Inns of Court and The Temple Court area. Without a guide it was rather confusing but I soaked in the atmosphere a bit. I went into St. Brides church; very interesting; Wren spire; WWII bombing revealed a crypt that had some Roman foundations. I hadn’t planned on going in, just to take a pic of the cake-inspiring spire, but I’m glad I did explore it a bit.

    Then I walked to Blackfriars Bridge for a last look at the Thames. I next rode Tube to St. James Park, easily found New Scotland Yard in about 2 minutes and took pics (nobody chased me). I know this is silly but so many movies and tv shows have almost subliminally thrown up that shot of the revolving sign! Now I’ve been there!

    Back on the Tube, I rode to S. Kensington to Knightsbridge and to Harvey Nichols. It’s even more expensive maybe than Harrods! All designer stuff. Scarves for £160 pounds were about the cheapest thing I saw. I just looked around to be able to say I had and then walked back to the bandb.

    After some cooling off and some packing, and a last pub dinner at the Wilton Arms, we strolled through Hyde Park to Royal Albert Hall. It had cooled off nicely. I actually needed my shawl/scarf I’d bought (I had to break it in for DD and make sure it worked, right?) We had tickets for the Proms at 7:30—Beethoven. We went in a bit after 7. Our seats were pretty high and a bit left of center. A beautiful building. We were immediately hot. The place was about full—full of people fanning with whatever they could. No air flow at all. I know it was over 80 in there. We sat through about 50 minutes—some Beethoven and something annoyingly modern—and then gave up from the heat and left. No 9th Symphony. It was disappointing but too uncomfortable by far to stay. An English gentleman was complaining to someone at the desk as we were leaving; he was giving up too so it wasn’t just us AC spoiled Americans. Outside it was great, though. So we walked one last time through the park and “home” to do a little more packing. I hope I don’t have any problems with passport tomorrow!

    Traveling home day—In which we say good bye and we say hello

    It’s here—travel home day. Am I ready? Well, not really. I miss some things (bigger bed, my kids, home cooked meals) but as I’m not tired of life, I’m not tired of London. (or something like that!) But it was time to go.

    No need to go into any details. Our travels went hitchlessly—tube to Heathrow, turned in Oyster card for refund of money, exchanged pounds for dollars at Heathrow, got to go to Admirals Club Lounges in Heathrow and Dallas because DH’s travels have landed him in Platinum level, plane to Dallas, plane to Corpus, DH picked us up in the pickup and home! Had 10:25 am London time departure and landed before 6 pm Corpus time.

    About Oyster return: Because we’d loaded up the cards and then DH didn’t use his all one day, there was a good bit left on it. The agent said there’s actually a limit to what they will refund, plus some of the money was on there as cash and some as credit card. But the agent said he’d break the rules and refund all our money, which was £20.50 from both. That was great. But you out there might need to know what the refund limit is in case you encounter this.
    About currency exchange: We got many more dollars at Heathrow than we would have if we’d waited to do that at Dallas.

    Tube to Heathrow: We found this to be amazingly satisfactory, even easy. And cheap. Of course, our rooms were 5 minutes from a stop on the Picadilly line which is the line that runs from Heathrow, so we never had an exchange, and going to Heathrow, out of town about 7 am, there was no crowd. So if your rooms are near a Picadilly Line stop, this is the way to travel. Otherwise—

    Time at Heathrow: We allowed 2 hours, had 2 ½, and needed most of that. There are lots of lines, 2 lines for security (one just for shoes), and 5 different people looked at our boarding pass. So allow plenty of time when possible.

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    Thanks again for such an enjoyable Trip Report!

    So sad to see you have to leave half way thru the PROMs concert. I went last year but it was in September (end of the PROMs), so it wasn't hot. But I can imagine sitting in the stifling hot concert hall with thousands of other people and no air flow!

    Lastly, the area around St Paul/City is always very dead at night, and probably worse still for a Sunday night.

    Lastly, a belated Happy 30th Anniversary to you and your husband!

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    Wonderful report! Just great. I think the incident at the Embassy is just how things are nowadays. Chalk it up to an adventure - being a "person of interest" and being interviewed by a couple of bobbies.

    Day trip to Chatsworth √
    Day trip to the races √
    Police interview √

    Just another typical tourist experience :D

    "This seems like a rather weird thing to do, right? Come all the way from America just to see race cars?" Not in the least :)

    I used to go to the British Grand Prix every year - this was back when it alternated years between Silverstone and Brands Hatch. Plus went to the Veteran Car races every year at Silverstone - wouldn't miss them.

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    (correction to my last post about Travel Day--obviously, DH didn't pick us up--it was my DD!)

    Thank you all for your positive responses. I confess having read lots of travel reports that I've enjoyed and haven't often responded; I understand a bit better now how valuable feedback is. I'll do better.

    Yes, Janis, I'm glad to have those travel experiences which make such great stories--with happy endings!

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    Reader, DH here. You are witnessing the bubbly energy of this vivacious woman that I accompanied on this tour. Be blessed as I am.

    Thank you for your input that helped her plan an unforgettable trip!

    TWB, I so enjoyed reliving the adventures via this journal. Thank you for taking the time to write it, for all the planning that went into making the public transportation work (so I would not to drive), and, most of all, for a wonderful thirty years.

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    Awwww, VolCrew, how sweet! What a lovely way to cap off your wife's report. :-)

    Wow, texasbookworm, you pulled off that whole trip - including Chatsworth! Thanks so much for posting your report; it was such a delight to read.

    Lee Ann

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    TBW, thanks for sharing your story with us. VC's postscript was touching. may you have many more anniversaries! there was a news story recently of a couple (I think in the midwest) who made it to 80; that gives you 50 more.

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    Well, now we know how you have been able to last 30 years (and going) with the same man !!!! ;)

    I do feel it is important to acknowledge trip reports. I truly enjoy reading them and know the time and effort it takes to complete them. A comment here and there hopefully encourages the writer to continue.

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    texasbookworm,

    Ah! Totally forgot about your trip until I read your thread - I had to go back and check if it was you who had asked about doing a day-trip to Chatsworth without a car or tour. I'm so glad you decided to go - wasn't it worth the effort :)

    I have to say I am thoroughly impressed at all the effort it took for you to get there - and to think I was worried about getting there with a car!

    So, are you saying that from the Baslow bus stop you had to walk 30 minutes just to get to the house? Did you walk through the gardens to get there?

    My favorite thing about Chatsworth is the grounds - I'm not a big fan of illustrious houses. I felt the same way about getting to Chatsworth as you did, and I'm sure you would do it all over again for the experience.

    I have to say that I cheated and jumped ahead to read your day trip to Chatsworth - I've really enjoyed reading the first two days of your trip report, and will happily go back and read all the bits in between!

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    You might be interested in this
    http://sylvia.photoblog.me.uk/p43127598.html

    It's an extract from Paxton's diary in which he describes his first day at Chatsworth.
    BTW, you quote that you are not "tired of life" I don't think that you mention visiting Dr. Johnson's house.
    You must put that on your list for next time.
    There is a little statue of Hodge outside enjoying his oysters.
    I hope that your husband's blisters have healed.

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    Yes, readers, VC is pretty amazing. I too am looking forward to the future with him. And what a memory we now have!

    MissPrism—Johnson’s house was on the end of a day’s itinerary and we didn’t get to it –this trip! It goes back on my list of “next times!”

    ElendilPickle—I looked for Green Dragon pubs but didn’t see any! I remember enjoying your report and pics—wasn’t your trip for an anniversary, too?

    Anna—Yes, the 30 minute walk was from Baslow Nether End through the Chatsworth grounds to the House entrance. It’s an absolutely lovely walk; we were just already tired, DH’s feet especially, and it was a muggy morning and by the end of the day we just really didn’t care to walk another 2 miles. If I were doing this again, I’d look into being deposited at the door via another bus; maybe the one from Sheffield goes there. Chatsworth says on their website that they sometimes run a shuttle from this stop, but I didn’t see it. I think weekend connections might be a little more Chatsworth-accessible.

    And yes it was worth all the effort and I’d go back again, the same way even, at the drop of a hat!

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    Thanks for the trip report. Missing London so it's nice to live vicariously through your report.

    Re:Albert Hall. I've always wanted to see the Proms but have heard the Hall can be very hot. At least you can say you went.

    Public transportation-wise, the Fates must have been with you. Either that, or I've had extremely bad luck!


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    (Anna--yes, DH's blisters are better!)

    I planned, we went, I (will) journal/scrapbook. Wonder how you say that in Latin?

    Ok, here are a few (well, more than a few) perhaps final, random comments and details some might find amusing or helpful:

    Maps: I can’t imagine planning a trip, much less traveling, without good maps. I know the AtoZed ones get touted here and other places but they seemed bulky to me. I got one by Borch before we left at a chain book store. It is laminated and folds to about 4x10” and has the tube lines indicated at the tube stops so no need to refer to the separate iconic Underground map. It is detailed and big enough to read easily. The other is Bensons Map Guide which I got in London in 2005 (and replaced with another this trip—they’re only about £2) and is a mini-map—but only mini in that it folds up to 3x5”; it is very detailed of most of London.

    Planning: I probably spent more hours reading, staring at maps, on the Forum and planning and dreaming than we actually spent in England! But that’s part of the fun (and now I have hours ahead of me doing the journaling/scrapbooking that’s all part of the process of travel for us.) I started with 2 Frommers and one Fodors 2008 guides as general suggestion-makers and overlaid the info there with my preferences and our own limitations. Great guides both. When down to specifics, I used the internet extensively, as well as this Forum. I also got a used National Geographic Traveler London which has great pics and info. And I tore up an older used Rick Steves guide that had “tours” in it (like of St Pauls, Greenwich, Westminster Abbey, etc.), stapled them and took them along to refer to when at the sites.

    Taking info with us: We took my DH’s laptop instead of mine, so I printed out info needed before we left. I took a file folder holder with about 16 pockets; for each “Day” I planned, I gathered all pertinent info, guide book info, tickets, etc., and dropped it into a separate pocket. At night I would toss out what ever I was through with from that day and drop in the paraphernalia we’d collected that day. So my scrapbooking will be somewhat easier eventually!

    Also I can’t really imagine in these days not taking internet access with us; while there we used the internet a lot to double check on travel schedules, check TfL, look for addresses, etc.

    Weather and clothes: You gotta pack for everything in summer in London. Weather from July 14-29 ranged from sprinkles with wind, temps in low 50’s to clear sunny skies with temps in mid 80’s. The only place we really missed AC, though, was in the Royal Albert Hall (and the tube gets stuffy but we expected that.)

    Biggest surprise: I think it was the glitchlessness of the travel arrangements. We were blessed.

    Biggest disappointment: Having to leave the Proms. And this wasn’t a great disappointment. This was actually a last minute idea (well, ok, if you look at when I ordered tickets like in March or whenever they went up for grabs, it wasn’t like last minute before we left, but it was the last thing I planned). And we got to see the inside of the gorgeous hall.

    Most helpful public transport people: Every TfL agent we dealt with. Kudos to them for handling their jobs so well.

    Rudest public transport person: An Oxford Tube bus driver who was pretty snide with us when we got, momentarily, on his bus by mistake; he was totally unhelpful in helping us confused tourists find the right place.

    Most polite workers at a museum/site: Had to be the patient men at the Chatsworth House entrance.

    Rudest worker at a museum: A guard in the Nelson room at the Maritime Museum. You can take pics in the museum. Except not in this room. We didn’t see the sign. The guard was downright sarcastic when telling DH that no photo signs were posted. We never did that pesky sign.

    Biggest frustration: Had nothing to do with the city, the country, the weather, the expense, or the people. It was our camera acting weird! This of course was something completely unexpected and unpreventable but none-the-less stressful for us. We had packed a backup small camera. Always do that if pics are important to you.

    Crowd comments: London in summer is crowded. Period. So be prepared. The vast majority of crowd situations were completely orderly, polite, and purposeful. In fact, crowds inside of any building or transportation were usually almost silent, which was kinda weird sometimes. Being who we are and the age we are, we did not opt to get into, at least much, the jam-packed situations in various Markets, but that’s just a personal preference. If I’d been with DD or SisterChicks, I’m sure we would have. The only crowds that were dismaying were at Greenwich where for some reason we encountered various shades of aggressive/cluelessness. Next trip, if I go to Greenwich, I think I’ll try a non-weekend day, even if that means skipping the Market.

    Also, I forgot to mention at Dover Castle one reason we enjoyed it so much was that there was practically nobody there! Maybe it was because it was at the end of the day.

    What I wish tourists would learn: Two things I noticed tourists, of all nationalities (although I only heard “American” spoken about 3 or 4 times), doing that were clueless: 1. Tried to enter the tube before disembarkers disembarked. CLUELESS! I never ride public transport here in my little city, but even I could figure this one out. 2. Walked 3-4-6-10 abreast down already crowded sidewalks. CLUELESS (and just rude). This is not a city where you stroll the sidewalks; go to a park; walk single or at most double file. I don’t know how many walls I scrubbed or curbsides I got shoved to by non-English speaking packs of all ages mindlessly walking through the crowd.

    Random London notes: There was hardly any cigarette smoke anywhere! Go, London!
    There were lots of trash bags everywhere; I don’t remember this from before. Is there less trash pickup now, or what? I aways felt safe, even though there wasn’t a strong presence from the police force. (Those I MET were extremely polite!)

    Public transportation notes: I’m weird. I love the Underground. For visits. I’m sure it would get stale if I had to use it daily, and during both of my trips, I never experienced any delay or real problem, so I’ve seen it at its best. Which is pretty darn good.

    I’ve long heard of how trains there are notoriously late. We did not find this so at all. Almost the opposite. The FlexPass was an absolute gem of a way for people like us to travel because of its total flexibility. The advice I got here to arrive at the station about 30 minutes before catching a train was about right for leaving London; coming back to London, at smaller stations, we didn’t need that much.

    The Oyster Card is the way to go; I cannot think or find any reason if you’re there more than a day to not use it. It was easy to purchase, easy to use, easy to “top up,” and easy to turn in and get a refund. I just don’t know why anyone would buy travelcards, paper or on Oyster, except to get 2for1 voucher use and even then, you need to do your homework and decide which vouchers you’re going to use and see if the savings on them is offset by extra you’ll pay for travel cards over Oyster, plus need to travel to a train station to purchase. I know people have posted different experiences (like not needing to show travel cards, using other people’s vouchers, etc.) but I’m just telling my experiences.

    Expenses: It’s one of the biggest cities in the world. It’s expensive. The dollar has tanked. It’s expensive. It’s tourist travel. It’s expensive. Those are the facts. But we cut costs a bit doing these things: Using the Oyster. Using public transport (I’m almost positive that trains and buses ended up being cheaper for our day trips than car rental plus gas would have been, and public transport within the city is, of course, less.) Using the tube from Heathrow (which is not always the most convenient or even doable, I realize). Eating at pubs, grabbing packaged foods, and shopping at a grocery store (I know Waitrose isn’t cheapest but it was certainly close). Using a few vouchers and discounts I’d found on-line. (I just remembered I’d found a 20% off coupon good at St. Paul’s, too. Google discountbritain.net)
    I didn’t shop much. I didn’t buy many souvenirs (who needs souvenirs with 4000 pics!). We didn’t call home but used free wireless for emails. We got a discount from bandb for extended stay. (I think bandb’s and flats are always going to be less than similar accommodations in hotels.) We refilled water bottles and carried them with us.

    I love London. “Weight and power, Power growing under weight,” said Wordsworth. It is old and modern, and huge and intimate, with dirty corners and bedazzling flowers, all within a few yards of each other. Thank you, London and Londoners, and England as a whole really, for two weeks that I will relive with delight the rest of my life. And for now I must remember to “not cry because it’s over but smile because it happened.”

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    Thanks for such an informative and entertaining report. About taking the tube from Heathrow, did you have any trouble managing your luggage? Weren't there stairs involved, or did you encounter only escalators?

    We have been reluctant to use the Oyster card because we figured one couldn't come out even, but you said refunds are given. Do you know about how much (percentage?) one could expect to have refunded?

    So glad to hear you managed to see Chatsworth via public transportation. What a challenge to plan that! We'll be seeing it next month, but by car.

    Happy anniversary, too. What a great way to celebrate! Thanks again for posting back with your trip details.

    From another Texan (lived 16 years in Portland)

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    TBW< I've not enjoyed a report more than yours in ages.

    And a big thanks for the discount Britain site. That's one I hadn't seen before

    crccwc, if you are going to be in London for 4 or more days, a 7 day Oyster card is the way to go. Even for shorter periods , loading with some pounds will really save you money. A single tube ticket is 4 GBP

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    crckwc1
    We didn't encounter any stairs that I remember at Heathrow arriving and none for sure leaving. We did have a flight or two at the Knightsbridge stop, but we used the Hyde Park stop when we left and it has no stairs. I think many if not most stops will have stairs; you do know about the TfL website, right? google it, put in tube stops, you'll get info about stairs/lifts etc. at each stop. If you're going to be near a stop on the Picadilly line and you've got like one rolling bag with another or 2 to set on top, and if you're in at least fair health, you should be fine. Further away from Picadilly begins to get hairy,I'd say.

    I don't have any idea about percentage of refund on Oyster, but it's really easy to keep tab of how much you have left on the card and easy to find a place to top up, so you don't have to keep too much on there. (What happened with us is that we topped up and then DH didn't go anywhere one day which probably cost me the max, like £6.80 I think, plus I think he may have gotten a free ride one day so his card just had a good bit more than we expected, £12 instead of the 2.50 on mine.) If you ask when you purchase, they'll tell you about limit. I didn't even know there was a limit until we'd exceeded it! I would just say that Oyster has to be the cheapest way; you will get the balance plus the £3 deposit back easily at last tube stop (like at Heathrow). And we didn't mess with 7 day thing, we just put some money on it. If you load a 4 day or 7 day (I think) you've paid for consecutive days no matter whether you use the tube that day or not. I ended up spending about £37 for the whole trip on my card, including the £7 for the ride to and from Heathrow and we traveled a lot at peak times.

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    crckwc1: "We have been reluctant to use the Oyster card because we figured one couldn't come out even, but you said refunds are given. Do you know about how much (percentage?) one could expect to have refunded?"

    Maybe this will help. An Oyster doesn't cost a certain amount - you put whatever amount of money you want on it. That could be a 7-day travel card, or just an amount of money to pay-as-you-go. An Oyster is just a plastic card that holds your transit money like a pre-paid debit card. So you could put £20 on it, or more, or less, or the amount of a weekly travel card. Whatever amount you want. Then you can add more if you use up that money. Your refund is whatever is left over, not a %

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    >>ElendilPickle—I looked for Green Dragon pubs but didn’t see any! I remember enjoying your report and pics—wasn’t your trip for an anniversary, too?<<

    We saw several, but the picture on my Picasa page is from Ludlow.

    You're right, we celebrated our 25th anniversary on this trip - just magical. :-)

    We didn't see any "no photos" signs in the Nelson's Navy section of the National Maritime Museum either. I guess it's a good thing no one caught us!

    Lee Ann

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    This is a fantastic trip report that I enjoyed thoroughly! Great insights and I copied and pasted a bunch into my file for my whopping two days in London. Still - to be in England at all! I can't wait. Thank you for all the effort you put into your trip report. Definitely helpful and very entertaining. You're an excellent writer. Thanks for your reply as well to my "2 days in London" post. Very good advice. I appreciate it.

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    (sigh)

    TBW I'm thoroughly filled with more inspriation for our visit to London after reading your report. I cannot wait to stand in the spray at Chatsworth, visit the Tower, view the Thames, etc.

    I recall your post inquiring how to get to Chatsworth via public transport and now share your triumph in 'mission accomplished'! And, your introduction to the house, unlike many of us, I'd venture to say, was not through Matthew McFadyen's Mr. Darcy, (cute as he is) but through Mr. Paxton! How wonderful and distinct.

    I loved your comment about breaking in the scarf for DD. Practical for you, but sweet for DD to possess a scarf her dear mama wore whilst celebrating her parents' 30th wedding anniversary in London. Little details like that are priceless.

    Especially appreciate the tips following the report. Thank you so much for posting with such detail!
    Tricia

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    Great trip report. We're leaving in 3 weeks and you're insights were spot on. Did you buy your tickets for the Oxford Express once you got to London or online? The website states that they'll send the tickets but I'm not sure how long that would take. We're also doing the Inspector Morse tour. Many thanks from a fellow Texan(The Woodlands.

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    Actually, I couldn't pace myself and just savored your entire report today! You did a great job!! Perfect balance of detail and summary. Your husband's note brought tears to my eyes. I'm around your age (married 27 years) and my DH loves the fruits of my Fodor's research.

    I'm sure you have your ways of scrapbooking, but I've recently discovered online bookmaking sites and the books turn out beautifully. My favorite is blurb.com - you can use your trip report as the text and embellish with your photos and scans of things like tickets, etc. When you're done, you can order copies for your children, etc.

    I did a 333-page book from my Romanian "roots" trip report + photos (we had 3600 pictures from 10 days!) and I've been able to print copies for my relatives. I've even had non-related acquaintances want to purchase the book (which certainly wasn't my intention when putting it together!)

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    Darnwright,
    Howdy, y'all! Enjoy enjoy enjoy! I hope your Morse tour is as unique as ours, even if you don't have Prof. Wagner as a guide.

    We just bought tickets on the bus. I don't know where you plan on boarding; we walked to Marble Arch, where both the Tube and the Espress run some minutes apart, and took the first one that came by, which happened to be the Espress. I would think this would just be the best way.

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    Great report.

    I'll second the suggestion for Blurb.com. It was great for our party of 3 in that we got to make one book, and each buy a copy.

    As to the Embassy mess, London has more CCTV surveillance than any place on the planet. My guess would be that anytime they spot someone who appears to be taking multiple pictures of a sensitive site (and US Embassies are favorite terrorist targets), they are going to make an inquiry to see who is taking the pictures and why. They aren't trying to stop people from taking pictures of these places (because that would be impossible), but really only want to see who is taking pictures and why, which might turn up some intersting leads (more so than if they posted signs telling you not to take pictures).

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    Thoroughly enjoyed -- by a fellow English major. Too, too funny--our first jet-lagged evening in London I dragged poor DH out to see Peter Pan's statue in Kensington Park. I think we stayed at the other side of the park, just a few blocks from the V&A.

    I have a little book called "Counting My Chickens" by the Duchess of Devonshire--and love it because of the picture of Chatsworth on the back.

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    yk - thanks for topping this thread. I hadn't read this report when it was first posted, so glad I've had the chance to read it now!

    TBW - Fabulous stuff. I love reading trip reports (especially about places that I am about to visit), but as I live in London, I also enjoy reading about people's visit to my home city. This report was great, so glad you enjoyed your visit and hope you can return one day. Your DH's response was lovely too.

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    Texasbookworm, what was the name of the B U B and did they serve a standard English breakfast of bacon and eggs. Was there a laundrymat near by.
    Thanks for the report.
    rifraf

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    TBW--

    You'd mentioned that you'd written a trip report and since you had so kindly read mine, I thought I'd return the favour. I very much enjoyed all the detail... amazing how you and I had 2 weeks, only spent our time in Southern England, got good mileage exploring much, and YET only went to a few of the same places (Salisbury and parts of Central London). Just goes to show the richness of things to do in that neck of the world.

    Your experience at the US embassy reminded me of my experience when I went to see my old school... the American School in London (ASL). School was out (July) but when I took a picture of the Lower School, a security guard was quick to come out, saying "no pictures". He was quickly mollified though when I said (in my North American accent) that I was a student from 1978-1982, were Mrs. Simmons, Mrs. Fryer or Mr. Anderson still there by any chance? Turned out kind of fun in the end, as I ended up getting a tour of the ASL (which HAS changed a lot in 27 years).

    Anyhow, great post!

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    Thanks for the kind words, Daniel. May your memories remain as clear and fond as ours have this past year! (This summer I just posted TR from our western National Parks 2 week marathon)

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    Wonderful report - thoroughly entertaining. I will be going to London in two weeks so jotted down lots of suggestions from this. Thank you (and please visit other places soon that I eventually may get to so I can enjoy those reports as well!)

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    Just got the chance to read your report. Sounds like you had a great time!

    When we first moved to London in 1982, we stayed in a company flat for a couple of months and it was located on Kinnerton Street! Spent many many days walking around the area -- many trips to Harrods and Hyde Park. Your report brought back many memories of the year we spent there.

    One thing to be thankful for regarding the US Dollar. Back in May 2008, the Pound was almost US $2! While it did get below $1.40 very briefly in March 2009, it's still below $1.70 today which is better than last year.

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    Re your US Embassy experience. Some background, they are so frightened that it might be bombed by a lorry driving into it loaded with explosives and having failed to persuade the authorities to close the approach roads to Grosvenor Square they are now planning to build a new embassy in Battersea at Nine Elms near Vauxhall. The plans include protection by a 30 metre blast zone, a detachment of US Marines and only US architects are being allowed to tender for the job. People are already getting excited about the design and work is not expected to begin until 2013 with occupation planned for 2016.

    The ground landlord is looking forward to the release of this asset, nobody can surely regret the demolition of the current very ugly building.

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    What a way with words you have, TBW -- and

    "When my DH told me Christmas 07 to plan this trip,..."

    were happier words ever uttered?? Thank you for an outstanding report!

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    Maybe not happier but almost as happy were when he uttered these words a few months ago--"OK, I guess she (DD) has saved us so much money with scholarships and has worked so hard at college, we should take her for an early graduation present and go back to England if she wants to--and I'll drive and you can use my AA miles for tickets"---!!! So now I'm planning an almost 2 week trek for the 3 of us all around England (I dare not post my itinerary for fear of many many nay sayers!) next August. This time we'll have a car for the 9 days outside of London. Still depending on this Forum for much help--and promise a trip report afterwards, of course!

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    Oh go on, please post your itinerary! I am trying to sort one out too so I would love to see what you have planned. It will only be between the two of us, honest!
    Here's what I have so far, but I am in the very early stages.

    Train London to York
    Pick up a car..... spend a day walking, having a picnic around Harians Wall (will have been in Italy before we land in UK so thought this would fit in nicely).
    Stay for a few days at Fellside Studio's in Ambleside, Lakes District.
    Drive on down to the Cotswolds (hoping to find a chocolate box cottage) for 5/6 days of touring and vegging out before we head back home to OZ.

    Ok now its your turn.

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    OK if you insist:

    (You need to know we are very willing to be very busy for a couple weeks; and our priorities, from the 3 of us, had us at opposite ends of England, so....)Also already have BandB's for every night! So not looking to change itinerary much

    July 29-Fly into HLR, arrive about 12:30pm--go into London, to BandB on Tenniel Close, explore neighborhood, maybe see Oscar Wilde spots on St. James and Hatchards

    July 30-Aug 2-We have 3 whole days in London; one day Westminster Abbey and Imperial War Museum; one British Library and Museum; one St. Pauls and South Bank--not hurried any day and nothing in stone except NOT St. Pauls or Westminster on Sunday
    We've been to London before and so are re-seeing a couple things and feel like we have a handle on the Tube, what we want to see, etc.

    Aug. 3--Pick up rental car (not sure where yet) and drive to Oxford; use Park and Ride to get into city; see as many Lewis and Tolkein sites we can but definitely stopping by Magdelan College. Spend night in Oxford

    Aug. 4--Drive by Tolkien's grave, Black Bourton (very egocentric--an ancestral relative, novelist Maria Edgeworth born there) and on to Shrewsbury--see at least the Abbey (because of Cadfael) and whatever else of the city we can. Spend night in Shrewsbury.

    Aug. 5--Drive to Conwy--maybe go by a castle important to Llewelyn--spend afternoon on walls and castle in Conwy --MAYBE drive to Llandudno. Spend night in Conwy.

    Aug. 6--Drive to Carlisle--long drive--try to be there to spend time seeing city walls and castle--MAYBE drive a bit through Lake District like near Windemere--depends on weather, traffice, etc. Spend night in Carlisle

    Aug. 7--See Hadrian's Wall--Stop at several important stops=--MAYBE see Durham Cathedral if we get there in time. Spend night in Durham.

    Aug. 8--Drive to York and spend the day; spend the night in York.

    Aug. 9--Drive to Dartford--have free night in a hotel. Not sure about this day--might stop in Lincoln. I know this is a long drive day with lots of traffic--would like to see Lincoln AND Cambridge but probably have to skip Cambridge; we'll see; staying in Dartford Marriott

    Aug. 10--Drive to Dover and see cliffs and castle (MIGHT/Greatly desire to stop by Canterbury Cathedral--depends on traffic/etc.). Spend the night in Dover.

    Aug. 11-Drive back to Heathrow area. Go through Rye and to Battle and maybe to Bodiam Castle--we'll see. Turn car in.
    Haven't made reservations but some hotel near Heathrom like Jury's.

    Aug. 12--very early flight back to Texas!

    We're opting this time for this sort of driving tour; our plan is to most days be in the destination spot by lunch or early afternoon, park in the bandb, and see sights. I know it's a cursory look at most places but that's ok.

    I'm the type that needs to make such plans way ahead and with 3 adults traveling (DD will be 21) our options were limited somewhat. I'm thinking of this as our ABC tour--Abbeys and Ancient Rome, Bed and Breakfasts, and Castles and Cathedrals amd a Car.!

    This itinerary won't appeal to many/most, but after hours and hours with maps, forums, books, websites, etc. and with our wishes, this is it for now!

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    Black Bourton:

    1. Be sure to look inside the church. There's a small cluster of churches in the area with surviving 13th/14th century wallpaintings: Black Bourton is one of them.

    It's really the medieval annexe to the local airbase (normally the RAF's major logistics centre) So there's a touching row of modern military graves where most ancient English churches have Victorian monuments or Tudor-era wool-bales

    2. Be cautious about the local wines. Wine making in England has advanced immensely over the past 20 years, and the local Castle Vineyard produces passable - going on OK really - whites. Their belief you can make reds at this latitude is shared by practically no-one else. Taste their red and you'll soon see why.

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    Thanks as ever, flanneruk--just the sort of specific info that makes planning and then seeing purposeful.
    (and I know my itinerary is a bit bonkers and fast, but if you --or others--have any other comment, I'll brace myself and listen!)

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    Aug. 7--See Hadrian's Wall--Stop at several important stops=--MAYBE see Durham Cathedral if we get there in time. Spend night in Durham.>>>

    I'd do this the other way round. Durham Cathedral is magnificent. Hadrian's wall is a wall.

    Durham is also a good destination to wander and potter about in.

    Seen one wall, seen 'em all.

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    Wow, sounds like you have done your homework, I'm impressed. I know what you mean about making plans, works for me too. We all have our own way of doing things including travel - if we all did things the same way, wouldn't it be boring!!

    I'm sure you will have a wonderful time, its sounds like a fun trip. I shall look forward to your report.

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    Brought back a few memories of this summer for me! thanks.....
    Oystercard - couldn't praise it highly enough!

    Might go back to UK early just so I can spend some time in London using it again!

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    CW--I live in a city that isn't even 200 years old and almost everything older than about 100 years has been blown away by sea breezes of one strength or another. So to be somewhere that is nearly 2000 years old is beyond amazing! Silly southern yanks, I know! But that day is pretty flexible as to stops and time spent at each. We do hope to make it to Durham in time to see the Cathedral (open til 7 and the BandB isn't far from it.)

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    Sounds like a fun itinerary exploring the countryside a bit.

    We are too chicken to rent a car to Oxford (driving on the left side of the road when we have never done that before is too scary for us). Even though I am sure you get used to it fast enough when you experience it.

    Did you ever go to the Ashmolean museum in Oxford? I read that it re-opened.

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    We were too chicken to drive our first trip, too. Now DH has some UK driving (on business) under his belt so he's willing to drive this time. But we won't be driving IN Oxford; we'll use a Park and Ride (very near our BandB) and bus into town.

    Never went to the Ashmolean--too many other stops and other places taking priority!

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    Texasbookworm, we picked up our car at AutoEurope's Marble Arch depot. From there it's really easy to get on the motorway to Oxford.

    The Tolkiens are buried in Wolvercote Cemetery. There are handy signs directing you to their grave; we have pictures in our Picasa album which you may have seen already.

    Lee Ann

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    Lee Ann,
    Yes, we were looking at your pictures again just yesterday, actually! How funny. DH enjoyed yours of Conwy Castle, one of our destinations.

    I'm wondering if a car service like justairports might be a good option, getting us from LHR upon arrival to our BandB in Bayswater (instead of using the Tube, which would work but have one station change) and then 4 days later picking us up early and taking us to car rental at LHR. Wouldn't cost much more than tube ride for 3 from LHR and the extra charge it looks like it would cost to pick up car one place and drop it off at LHR. Plus then we wouldn't have to navigate out of London and pay congestion charge. But there is a car rental place about 10 minute walk or less from our bandb, and we rode Tube to our BandB from LHR in 2008, so I don't know--maybe I should just start another thread with this question.

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    C_W is right about driving in London. I should have added that we picked up our car on a Saturday morning; traffic was very light and we were on the motorway in less than five minutes.

    Lee Ann

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