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Trip Report Tales of the Texas Two; or, Ladies in London

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Tales of the Texas Two; or, Ladies in London--A week (or so) in London with my daughter

Below is some intro and background; skip to actual TRIP REPORT if you just want to read what we did. My Trip Reports tend to be rather narrative with more context than some need, but I write them for me and my family as much as for you guys—ha—just being honest!

Background: For the 3rd time, I would be the group leader for some students (and adults) going on a student-tour-company-arranged 9-day trip to London/Paris/Alps/Munich in June 2015; we began signing up for the tour (to spread out payments) in early 2014. DD (R for this report), who also teaches at the small private school where I do, would be one of the 2 other faculty members going on this tour with me. In January 2015, DH and R and I decided that R and I would go ahead to London a week early, since DH would not be able to arrange a trip with me at this time.

So the planning began for our time in London! I made hotel reservations as quickly as I could, even though I knew we might have to adjust them. The tour company requires a 3-day window on either side of requested date, and I wouldn’t get confirmation until early March. When we got our travel dates, we ended up leaving 2 days earlier than requested, but we were able to adjust our hotel reservations.

Personal/prior travel experience info:R and I teach English/language arts and history, to 7th -12th grades. We love books, writing, history, walking (well, she does especially!), and taking pictures. And we fell in love with London in 2005 when she went as a student and I as a parent on a tour with the company we now use as teachers. Prior to this year, I had been to London 5 times, 3 with student tours and twice with DH. R had been twice, once on the student tour and once with her dad and me. So we had seen, sometimes more than once, the majority of “major” sites in London, but there are several we don’t mind seeing again, even on every trip!

Accommodations: In my previous London visits, I had stayed kinda all over, both in Zone 1 and –well, let’s say further out. This time we wanted to stay somewhere in Zone 1, but we were trying to keep the cost to its absolute minimum without giving up some things. We’d need twin beds; we didn’t want a modern/box hotel; we didn’t want (ok, didn’t require) fancy or lush accommodations; we didn’t need wi-fi or AC (although either would be nice); we’d want breakfast included; we’d want to be near Tube stop and maybe near train station; we wouldn’t be in the room much so it could be tiny; we didn’t want to rent an apartment.

I first tried the Bloomsbury area, but when I began to look in January for rooms to suit us, there was nothing available, in the many, many places I tried, for under $250 a night—which is not that much for London, but I was looking for less! Eventually, through Booking.com, we settled on Ashley Hotel near Paddington for £99/night; it appeared to meet many of our requirements/preferences, plus did have free wifi, so I made reservations, which were adjusted when we got confirmation of travel dates.

Planning what to see and do: We each made a list of things we thought we’d definitely want to do, including day trips. We had to make some compromises and choices, as we had enough to fill at least 2 weeks! We settled on taking 3 day trips in a row (see below about train passes) and left some wiggle room in the rest of our time in London, which actually became less wiggly when we made a few time-specific plans. I made sure to check web-sites for days and hours of operation.

Planning Transportation:
• We’ve used both the Tube and Justairports car service to get us from LHR to our rooms in the past (and busses on the student tours). Ashley is extremely near Paddington Station, so I looked into all the options—and rediscovered (I’d read about but ignored) the Heathrow Connect train, which, while a bit more than a Tube ride, would be less than a car and way less than the Heathrow Express. So that would be our arrival plan.
• Then I researched again all the Oyster/Travelcard permutations! Thanks, Fodors experts! Anyway, since we’d be going to some places that honored the 2for1 vouchers, we would, on arrival at Paddington, purchase 7-day paper Travelcards—but I packed our leftover Oyster cards, too—and we brought our needed passport-sized pix.
• Also I investigated train travel; I’d used a BritRail Pass and a German RailPass in the past and really really liked them, as the extra cost over point to point is offset for me with the total flexibility. So in late March I purchased our 3-Consecutive-Days BritRailSouthwest passes for less than $157 a piece. For the trains we’d want at about the times we’d want, the prices 60 days out amounted to about $138-$140, so for me the convenience of the flexibility was well worth the $20 or so more per ticket.

Theatre: The second thing we did after getting confirmation of dates (after changing hotel dates) was to investigate theatre ideas. We decided we’d “splurge” by getting tickets ahead of time and not risking finding no tickets left or having to use our time to get tickets in London. Her first choice was Warhorse and I agreed. Our second choice was a Globe production if possible; The Merchant of Venice was playing. Having taught that to 7th graders, she was happy with that, although it’s not our favorite play. Then I looked at The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. We both love this book; when I’d checked in January, the play was scheduled to end its run in the spring; but when I checked in March, it had extended to the fall, so YAY! We got tickets to all 3.

Other planning things:
• In March I became aware of the exhibit at the British Library on Magna Carta, and as the BL was already on our “going to see again” list, I made reservations on-line in early April.
• In early April we got confirmation of our tour-arranged flights; we were set to arrive at LHR at 6:55 AM which meant we’d have much of Day 1 to use! Yay! I contacted the Ashley to confirm we could leave our luggage, if early check-in proved unavailable on our arrival.
• Also in early April I took a hard look at our packed itinerary ideas AND re-looked at London Walks; I decided to make some adjustments and deletions and scheduled in 2-3 Walks.
• In May I printed 2for1 vouchers and double-checked everything I could think of.
• Then right before we left there came the news of a threatened National Rail strike (industrial action) this would seriously affect our plans, so I explored how to rearrange days and looked at alternate Tube routes; in the end the strike was cancelled, so it was back to original plan. Good reminder to have some flexibility!

Last minute prep/things.This was my 11th trip to Europe and I don’t know how many trips, mostly on business, that DH has made, so a lot has become sorta routine—scanning passports, leaving all info with someone, printing out any and all documents needed, calling financial entities, moving plenty of extra money into seldom-used bank that serves as backup debit card resource, etc. We unlocked R’s Samsung Galaxy in mid-May and made arrangements for it and my Blackberry to be usable while in Europe. We gathered all our camera equipment and plug adaptors. We loaded up the Nook with a couple new books and some travel stuff/maps. We packed a very small laptop which would be our photo-backup-thing more than an actual computer; I get a bit paranoid about backing up photos, and no, I don’t use nor want to use a “cloud” thing. (I did purchase a travel power strip because with 2 phones, 2 cameras, an e-book, and a computer, I was concerned we’d not have enough plugs.) We packed our clothes to layer and wear several times to fit in two 22” bags. (I became determined to have only a carry-on and a personal bag, a new thing for me, so I did a lot of “packing light”-video watching and passed along tips to encourage all my students to do the same.) Since DH would be left at home, there was less to do to arrange for house care; R made arrangements for doggy care and mail pickup. The extra thing this trip was making sure that my fellow faculty member (ST) who would be the chaperone for the group traveling a week later had duplicates of all the paper work and info for that tour.

NEW FAVORITE WEBSITES ABOUT LONDON: I began to check regularly (almost daily sometimes) the Londonist http://londonist.com/ and When You’re Tired of London. http://www.tiredoflondontiredoflife.com/ I found these two also interesting--http://www.londondrum.com/ and http://ianvisits.co.uk/

NOW THE ACTUAL TRIP REPORT--This trip report will be about R’s and my week+ in London; I’ll begin another about the adventures with the students on tour

(And DD/R is going to comment on my comments; her perspective will be in italics if I get those html instructions done correctly!)

Day 0—Travel begins

One of our students (S) was going early like we were, accompanied by her mom (J) who would not be staying with us for the student-tour days. So we all met at the airport a couple hours before flight and left on time for Houston on United. The previous week had seen disastrous flooding in Texas and bad storms around Houston, but we had fine weather this day. Our flight from IAH to London was an hour late leaving, but in the end landed 5 minutes early, before 7 am! We had a stiff tailwind. I had tried the almost-no-caffeine for a week idea for thwarting jet lag, but I didn’t sleep but maybe an hour on the 9ish-hour flight. The flight was ok, bit bumpy at times; and it was the worst airline food ever. And when we arrived, I learned that the rail strike was cancelled. Whew.

That airline food, though. *Everyone laughs*. I finished a book on the plane and became a little worried I would run out of ways to keep myself occupied for the next two weeks during all of our travel time.--R

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    Hi, LeeAnn, I thought of you our Cardiff day! Thanks for hopping on for the virtual ride.

    Here're Days 1 and 2:
    Day 1—Arrival, a park-walk, Dickens Museum, and Paddington neighborhood

    All went very smoothly upon arrival; it took about 30 minutes for the LONG walk to the passport control line, then through the long but quickly moving queue there, then getting JandS’s checked luggage and using the loo. Quite impressed with LHR’s efficiency this trip.

    SandJ were going to stay at a friend’s flat in north London but didn’t need to be there til late afternoon, so they decided to hang around with us for the morning. As we followed signs toward the Connect/Express ticket office (I hoped), we walked by a Heathrow Express ticket kiosk where I asked about Heathrow Connect tickets; he showed us how to buy those tickets at the kiosk (no problem with our CC’s). We followed the signs to Heathrow Express for a long walk; at the platform we just had to wait about 20 minutes for the Connect train not the Express one, and then it took 30 to get to Paddington. After the first stop the train was quite packed. I wasn’t expecting commuters to use it. But I found this a good way to reach the city for pretty cheap—£10.10—if getting to Paddington works for where you are staying.

    At Paddington we were very much the confused tourists and had to get help—kindly given—to figure out how to get up to the actual street level station. There we found ATM machine (J’s card had issues, but as a wise traveler, she pulled out her second one and it worked). They topped up their Oyster cards for their week of travel, while I went to the National Rail office and got the 7-Day-Zones 1-2 Travel Card; I had our passport-size photos with me so the whole process went pretty fast, even on this busy Monday morning.

    How is the weather not the first thing mentioned? That first step off of the plane I felt like I was coming back to life. I kept saying that we, at home in South Texas, get 7 days in a year that feel like that first day in London, and we continued to have amazing weather. I also had forgotten how many people there simply are. I never felt in danger while in London, but I did get overwhelmed by numbers of people some days (more on that later).

    We walked to the Ashley; it is on Norfolk Square less than 5 minutes from Paddington. This is a busy area with little bit of everything—local shops, a pub, a Burger King and Costas. Norfolk Square is a pretty little typical square/park with benches and big chess set and lovely trees, surrounded by white Victorian townhouses, now turned into modest hotels and BandB’s. At the hotel about 9:30 our room was not ready, so we stored our luggage and set out for a London look!

    I loved the fact that our hotel had the cutest park with benches and giant trees right across the street. Green space makes London beautiful for me. And jealous of anyone who lives there.

    I had made a list of things we’d try to see today, depending on time and weather and stamina, but there were really only 2 that were definite. The first was to go to the Peter Pan statue; 10 years earlier on R and my first trip to London, that’s the first thing we did, so we were commemorating our “anniversary” visit. Off we set to the Italian Gardens between Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens. The day was cool but not cold and blue skies served as backdrop for the fountains. Yay! We’re in London! (J and I had phone issues; she spent much of the walk on the phone with her server, and I spent almost an hour later with mine. Oh, well, we each had a daughter with a functioning phone.)

    We took a wrong path in our search for Peter Pan; I felt we had gone too far; a nice lady strolling with her pram gave us directions so we retraced our steps and found it. Fun!

    Yes, we took several wrong turns in the park. This was the first of many wrong turns we would take. Here’s where mom and I differ. I was enjoying the park and the weather, and she began to get anxious and worried about why we couldn’t find our goal. We were both remembering it in different spots. There were so many dogs running around not on their leads (despite the signs!), and the lady with the pram had two with her. The oddest thing in the park was seeing tourists taking pictures of squirrels. Where were they from that they didn’t have squirrels? So odd.

    We took a bit more of a walk around the Park just enjoying the bright day, swans and ducks, people and flowers. We went to Lancaster Gate Tube to Chancery Lane. It was about 11:15, and J and S decided they’d part from us, heading back to retrieve luggage and go to flat; we would see them Wednesday for lunch.

    R and I headed to the second of our definite destinations for today— the Charles Dickens House on Doughty. Along the way we got some lunch at an Abokado ----rice and veggies; we were struck once again with the variety and freshness of options for take-away/fast food. I had a Coke, feeling a bit draggy! Nice stop. Then on to the museum. We really enjoyed it. It is a well-preserved house with period and personal possessions nicely presented throughout the five floors. Dickens’ desk, annotated books from which he did his readings, personal belongings, the special podium he used when doing his readings—a treat for two who appreciate many of his works and have taught them over the years. Glad we spent our 90 minutes or so there. Had a little camera scare as it randomly took pink pictures for a few shots, but a “hard reboot” brought it back to its senses. Weird.

    Always good to start the trip with something nerdy, so Dickens was a good beginning. I teach Great Expectations and adore Dickens’ work, so the writer in me loved seeing his original handwriting—almost as bad as mine!—and furniture. It’s easy for me to see a piece like a table or chair and simply imagine him there. .

    We were both really dragging and most of the other ideas for other walks for today now sounded too ambitious, so we headed back to hotel by a little after 2. Our room was ready and luggage delivered to it, so we trudged up the steps for two stories (NOT a surprise—just not used to stairs yet!) to our room. It was clean, bright, small but enough room for the 2 of us, comfortable enough beds, free wifi, pleasant and responsive personnel, great location for us, enough plugs and storage—BUT it has the world’s tiniest bathroom! It was rather---well, either maddening or comical. The sink stuck out OVER the toilet so you had to maneuver between them. The shower was so small you couldn’t bend over if you dropped something. And I’m pretty petite. Oh well; if every Ashley room’s bathroom is this small, there’s no way I could ever recommend this hotel, despite all the good points. Also R found it noisy, not from street noise but water pipe noises at all hours and sounds from other rooms; old hotels just aren’t well insulated. Our view was NOT overlooking the pretty Norfolk Square area. But it was ok all in all—except for the bathroom!

    Oh, that bathroom. I had several meltdowns over that bathroom. You wouldn’t think that having a big enough bathroom is such a big deal. I live in a very small flat, so I’m used to small spaces, but that bathroom. Oh. That bathroom. It is comical retelling how I had to make it work (later I made several of our students laugh by reenacting how it operated), but a few laughs aren’t worth the pain. Also, a whole week without a good night’s sleep was not ideal. The week got harder as I had less and less sleep. I wouldn’t recommend that hotel.

    We got settled in and lay down for a little. I had to take care of my phone issue (about the 8th person I talked to realized they’d messed up updating/registering my Sim card number correctly).

    Got the good news about no strike. About 5 we decided we really were too tired to try to do anything major, so we went to Paddington Stationfor take-away dinner and to get oriented. We knew we’d be using it a lot and wanted to know where things were so we could navigate even in crowds. We admired the station from various viewpoints. As rail travel is a novelty to us, and as some of these stations like Paddington have a lot of history and great architectural points, we enjoy them. People-watching at rush hour at a train station makes me wonder what all their different stories are—all these people did something this day and were now headed home or to meet a friend or to job—and each one unique. We found Paddington Bear—fun. We went to M&S for salads, fresh and yummy. R is a gluten-avoiding vegetarian, so finding foods for her always involves some thought, but in London it really isn’t hard. On our way back we found that the day had turned gray and drizzly and cool, so we probably wouldn’t have enjoyed a walk much. We did enjoy our dinner in the room and a rest; I communicated with DH, and R was happy to watch some British TV! We fell in bed by 8:30 while it was still quite light out!

    I thought I was tired that day. And I was. I’m glad we rested, but I felt even more tired the rest of the week, so I’m not sure looking back how I kept up with mom, ha!

    Oh, how much I already miss being able to walk into an M&S and pick up a fresh salad for dinner. We have nothing like that where I live, and I seriously wish we did. All in all, I was proud of us for getting so much done on our first day considering how neither of us really slept on the plane.

    As for the TV—here’s what was interesting to me—so much on the telly was reality shows. Nothing came on BBC channels until 7pm. And I didn’t see any British show I’ve watched in America, so that was all a bit weird. Still, just turned it on for noise.


    Day 2—London—Westminster, Trafalgar Square area and museums, serendipitous shops, and a Curious Incident

    We were able to sleep or at least doze til almost 6:30 and went to breakfast at 7:30; it was the typical cold continental with breads, yogurt, cold cuts and cheese; R had hoped for eggs but made do with cheese and tea—and apple grabbed for later. The water temperature regulation was non-existent in our shower, so we both almost got scalded, so asked about that; it took a couple tries but they were able to fix it by the next day.

    I love cheese. It’s one reason why I can’t be vegan. But after two weeks of nothing for breakfast but cold cheese, my love of cheese has gone from 100% to 98%.
    Stop reminding me of the bathroom! *Shudder*


    About 8:30 we headed to Paddington; we are morning people and like to get an early start, but I figured we’d let some of the rush hour crush dissipate. Well, not this day! At the street level entrance there were hordes of people just standing; we went into the station and found police blocking off the steps down to Tube; I asked and he said severe overcrowding. I think the Circle and District lines had severe issues for a couple mornings we were there. So we walked about 10 minutes to Lancaster Gate and caught the Tube there. Wow, if this is going to be a pattern, I will have to rethink our 8:30-ish starts! Tube from here of course crowded but it was accessible.

    We rode to Westminster and walked around the area, gawking as usual at the iconic sights for a while and walking halfway across the bridge. Once I’ve seen the Thames, I feel “in London” so that got done! It was grey, cool, windy with some sprinkles. About 9:25 we went to the Churchill WarRooms, stood in 2 minute line, used a 2 for 1 voucher, and entered.

    We spent about 2 most educational hours. To read everything would take many more hours than that—I pretty much skimmed through the Churchill Museum part about his life, which had so much stuff it was overwhelming to my jet-lagged brain! The audio guide is most helpful, though. I really liked seeing/reading the different comments and personal anecdotes about all the people; the letter from a group of young ladies explaining why they needed to go on a secret mission to America for stockings and chocolate was hilarious. R was especially struck by seeing some of Churchill’s artwork as well as things like the noiseless typewriter he insisted on. A most worthwhile stop.

    Day one reminded me that 1. There are too many people in London and 2. The green spaces make London beautiful to me. Day two reminded me 3. The architecture appeals to me in London; I love the continuous mixture of old and new buildings, stones, and signs.

    The Churchill Museum was information overload. As a history major, I love all things with primary documents, so I can’t say there were too many, just too many for one trip! Also, the lighting in there, while best for the documents and artifacts, isn’t ideal for your eyesight. This large group of French students kept getting in my way, too, especially in the one tiny corridor. Look at the room and move along, s’il vous plait. My favorite pieces in the war rooms were the “noiseless” typewriter, the switchboard gas mask so girls could continue to work even if gas was filing the room, and a letter from a group of women wanting to go to America for “essential” items (chocolate and cosmetics—a humorous piece during such a dark, and crowded, time). There are so many un-sung heroes that made me want to learn more, which is ideal for a museum. For instance, mom’s right about the art. I didn’t know Churchill painted, and I was especially intrigued to find out that he started to help him with what we’d now probably call PTSD. I’m particularly interested in WWI at the moment, so I concentrated on the parts dedicated to his time in that war.


    We went across the street to St. James Park and had a snack and a glimpse of the horses leaving the Horse Guard area down the road a bit. We had a bit of stroll in the pretty park (Ok, which park in London isn’t pretty? I just don’t have synonyms handy!) We then hunted for the Texas Embassy plaque from the time when the Republic of Texas sent its ambassador to the court of St. James. It’s on the wall at Pickering Place right off St. James Street—after I’d missed it, R found it despite her thinking I meant an actual building was still there! It’s in a little pedestrian hallway. Funny.

    Yeah, I thought the embassy was a building. The plaque was pretty hidden. “Appealing” isn’t a word I’d usually use for an alley, but it was an alley that led to a little square with flowers, bicycles, and table and chairs. Quite appealing!

    Down Pall Mall we went to Trafalgar Square which wasn’t very crowded; had a look at the Gift Horse; I think the concept of art on the 4th plinth is brilliant, but I’m not that fond of this inhabitant. Next, for the first time for me, despite being to Trafalgar Square at least once every visit, we went into St. Martin’s in the Fields for a quiet look at its interior, nicely lit by light from the “warped window”—while I don’t like a lot of “modern art,” I am a big fan of what London seems to do in many places in blending/juxtaposing the new/modern/contemporary with the ancient. St. Martin’s old interior lit by this day’s light through a modern window is wonderful.

    Lunchtime, so down to the Café in the Crypt where we got 3 salads and 2 soups to share (well, we didn’t share the soups!); the good reviews of value and quality of food were right. It was nearly time for a free concert, so we looked around the gift shop and got seats a bit before 1. It was a cello/piano/bassoon trio and they were quite nice. We stayed for maybe just the first selection? Fifteen minutes.

    This trip was nerdy for me. In Trafalgar’s Square I remembered that time the Eleventh Doctor was flown in hanging from his TARDIS by UNIT (Doctor Who reference). And what’s with that weird horse skeleton? I prefer the lions.

    St. Martin’s crypts were cool. I feel a bit odd about walking on old graves (the floor is old tombstones), so I was relieved to go into the room where they have several grave stones preserved. One particularly caught my eye and seemed like something out of Lemony Snicket
    The Series of Unfortunate Events: “Modeft, as Morne, as Midday, Bright; / Gentle, as Evening, Cool, as Night; / Tis true, but all so weakly faid, / ‘Twere more significant: She’s Dead” (What? That’s hilarious). The brick ceilings were my favorite part in the crypt. As for the concert, I never imagined those instruments together, but was glad we listened, as it was beautiful and a nice rest. We stayed for the whole concert, actually. It was just three songs. The church was having a service afterwards, which we didn’t stay for.

    Into the National Gallery; I was looking forward to not feeling rushed like on my two previous visits. Some galleries were closed (I think there was still a strike on), but we still saw the mostly 19th century ones we wanted, especially Turner, Van Gogh, and some Impressionists. Lovely lovely. Sure, I’ve seen them all before, and with the internet you can look at any picture just about, but there’s something quite moving to be a few inches away from the beauty. We spent a couple hours or so and then got some souvenirs.

    Next we went around the back (the wrong/long way! The entrance is on the right of the National Gallery as you face it, but it’s all close) into the National Portrait Gallery. But the first-full-day-fatigue was setting in for both of us and we were a little museum-ed out. So I saw the Richard III painting which factors in The Daughter of Time (a book that influenced me a lot when I read it in a college history class and which was the first time I’d ever heard of the National Portrait Gallery) and a few more, but then we were “done.”

    As I was growing up, art museums never appealed to me, but having learned more about Van Gogh and Monet, and enjoying their styles, I always love tracking their work down. I really don’t care for much else. I’m one of those people who wonder how long I have to look at a painting to convince everyone else in the room I’m seriously interested in it.

    We got water at a Pret a Manger near St. Martin’s and ate our M&S brownie from last night—they are quite good!—and rested while we decided what to do between now and dinner before a play. We walked up Charing Cross sorta headed toward Foyles Bookstore but looking for little book shops. When we got to Cecil Court, that little pedestrian street looked intriguing, so we wandered around there a bit. Several book shops with many early and rare and first editions—way out of our price range! But fun.

    Then we went into Marchpane which specializes in children’s books—Winnie! Alice! Harry! Aslan! Many of our favorite characters. And also—surprise surprise—there are two Daleks! R is a tremendous Dr. Who fan, so this was a totally serendipitous stop! She asked owner for permission to photograph—“Of course”—and learned that one was from a ride at an amusement park but one was from the 70’s tv show. Fun. As we left, we noticed bins outside with matted black and white illustrations from various old children’s classics; there were several from 1894 edition of Alice and 1926 edition of Winnie. So we got 3. Nice.

    That street was more fun than Foyles, and now it was time to eat, so we headed to Mildred’s. Along the way we passed the Gielgud Theatre to which we’d return later, so we stopped and were able to pick up tickets. On to Berwick Street (market all closed up as expected—just wanted to have a look at the street) and then noticed a comic/anime book store called Gosh!, so R browsed happily for a bit. We got to Mildred’s on Lexington a little after 5. We’d eaten there in 2010 so gladly returned; they do veggie meals quite well! We shared a big Mexican starter and some sweet potato fries. Good stuff and pleasant staff and pretty timely service even when busy.

    The book store was such a lucky find. Not only were there two Daleks, but we could also afford some of the precious Alice and Pooh drawings. My little heart was souring! I couldn’t conceive of buying any of the books in there—200 pounds? 1,200 pounds, anyone? Wow. And then the comic book shop made me jealous (not the first time on this trip, nor the last), as we have no such store where we live. There were comics and graphic novels galore. I was especially tickled to see Tin-Tin. I love him!

    It was almost an hour til theatre opened, so we went to Piccadilly Circus, sat on the steps below the Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain and people- and pigeon-watched. It was a gorgeous evening, and this part of London is good to experience for a little bit, anyway. Makes us appreciate the non-hectic parts of life and travel.

    At 6:50 we went to the Gielgud Theatre for The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. We sat in the lobby for a few minutes, then got to our seats in the second row of the balcony. There was a row of girls in front who leaned forward a lot over the rail so my view was obstructed a little much of the time, but seats were still fine. This play is—amazing. The staging is quite unique, with lighting and graphics and sound being part of the acting, used to convey the perspective of the main character—a highly functioning autistic teenage boy. R and I love the book, and we were excited to see what this both Olivier- and Tony-award-winning play did with the story—it’s marvelous. The lead actors were quite good and it was just well done all around. So glad we were able to see it!

    I could write pages about the play. It was amazing. I hope I never forget it. A must-see (but read the book first, please!).

    A quick walk to Piccadilly Circus Tube, a quick Tube ride got us back to our room about 10:30; we regrouped and did some “chores” like photo saving and washing out a few things. Marvelous full day.

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    Terrific report -- enjoying getting both of your perspectives

    Re your early start: >>we are morning people and like to get an early start, but I figured we’d let some of the rush hour crush dissipate.<<.

    For future reference the commute tends to be a good deal later in London than where I live in the States. Here the commute rush is about 06:00 or 07:00 to about 8:30 and it is totally done by 9:00. Not much of London's rush hour will be over by 08:30 -- most of it hasn't even started by then.

    IME it also runs later in the afternoons

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    Hi, janisj,
    Yep, I think your comment on the timing was certainly true in our experience, too.

    And thanks for your encouragement; it's nice to know if anybody reads these things! Glad you like the dual-perspective format.

    OK, here's Day 3:

    Day 3—London—A Tardis and Albertopolis, then lunch with friends and a London Walk in Chelsea

    We woke to beautiful blue skies after a less restful night; we still had water-temp issues (which were finally resolved late this evening), but we pressed on. After breakfast and getting ready to go, we got to Paddington a little after 8:30 and were met once again with massed crowds outside the Tube entrance. I had checked the TfL site that morning which said Circle delays but none on District, but in reality they were both backed up. So we again walked to Lancaster Gate to catch the Tube.

    Our first goal today was a Dr. Who-related one—we rode to Earl’s Court where she’d learned there was a Tardis/blue police call box. Sure enough, there it was right outside the entrance. Few fun photos then back on Tube. We had a few issues—we went the wrong way for a bit (we kept finding Circle and District lines, as they overlap and separate, a bit confusing in our hurries), the cars were very crowded, I got hit by closing doors (but gently—not like Metro doors!). Anyway, we finally alit at South Kensington a bit before 10. There was a long line of many, many children going into the Natural History Museum, but it went pretty fast and we were inside by 5 minutes after opening. I just wanted to see the inside of the building a little; it is impressive and R, just along for the ride, was very wowed with its architectural beauty. Lots of photos and a glance at some of the mineral displays and on we went.

    The Natural History Museum was spectacular. I never thought I was so into architecture, but this trip proved me wrong. There are also tons of gorgeous rocks and minerals to look at, but I let mom take me to the next museum.

    We walked the short way to the V&A; I was trying to find the WWII damage on the outside I remembered seeing, but either we were on the wrong side or it was covered with some scaffolding. Oh well. In we went, admiring the Chihuly glass, and decided to spend some time in the Medieval section in the hour or so we had before meeting some folks for lunch. It is a lovely museum with so many items; we enjoyed trying on some priestly robes and seeing some chalices and swords.

    So—about lunch. In 2011 with the student tour company I had a wonderful Trip Director (C) with whom I stayed in touch. I requested that she be the TD for my 2013 tour, which she graciously made arrangements to do, and we continued to stay in touch. She is now in law school and had a baby in March, so she wasn’t able to be our TD this year, but we planned to meet; it worked out lunch at the V&A was going to work well for her and baby, and SandJ would come and meet us (they had both been on the 2013 tour so were glad to get a chance to visit with C, too). So R and I went to the lovely, bright courtyard area with kids enjoying the water and sun, and C and baby found us there soon. SandJ came in a bit, and we all had a wonderful time catching up in person and meeting baby (and R and C meeting) as well as a lovely lunch. R and I discovered this dessert of shortbread/caramel/chocolate (like a Twix but oh so much better and fresher!) and found them later at a few other places, too—yum. It was such a treat to see C and now the baby!

    Another museum with information overload! There was an amazing olifant-horn (Song of Roland like), some holy grails (choose wisely!), fun charis so you can sit and emulate the statues, a dress-up room where we got a small taste of how heavy priests’ clothes must have been, and a really old map (I’m forgetting if it was the oldest of London or England? The original was burned in a fire, but they have a large screen print of it). Also more and more arches and amazing brick and stone work.

    The desert is a Millionaire Shortbread. It is amazing. We did try one from an Eat, here at the V&A, and one at the British Museum. The one here was the best! I can’t wait to make my own version. C and baby were lovely to meet.


    At 1 R and I took the Tube to Sloane Square where we were to meet for a 1:45 London Walk in Chelsea. We had time for a pre-Walk walk; R loved the architecture and the pollarded trees, which surprised me as she usually likes ”natural” stuff better. We went back to the station entrance where others were gathering for, we assumed, the Walk. About 1:48 a lady called the LW office and learned the guide was stuck on the Tube but coming—he arrived about 2 minutes later.

    I had 2for1 vouchers but he wouldn’t accept them—said they were only for some walks which were listed on the website. I looked later and never did find what he was talking about, but another guide said the same thing. LW or the 2for1 people need to get info accurate. His name was Brian and he was not super engaging or personal, but he was clear, loud enough (I have hearing loss but aids in outdoor settings don’t help much, so I didn’t wear them on the trip), and quite knowledgeable. He and R had a brief conversation in which she learned he’d been doing this since 1994 and has 150 walks he could do!

    I had always wanted to explore this area, but it had never been a priority or convenient. This time I did some research and included some time here on our itinerary, but then I discovered London Walks had this walk on a day that would work for us, so we went on my first London Walk. It was a great walk except that R and I had both run out of water, so we were a bit unfocused by the end. We heard a lot of tidbits and stories about many celebrities and saw many pretty and expensive homes--£5 million for a mews house, £20-25 million for some houses. We went by the Chelsea Pensioners Hospital and learned some about the history. We also passed by the Chelsea Physic Garden (my main goal) on the way.

    I did really love the architecture, as well as the “pollarded” trees, as their branches made lovely designs in the air. I liked Brian as a guide. I knew nothing about the area we were in, so I enjoyed the literary stops we made (including Oscar Wilde’s house, where, despite knowing a lot about Wilde, I learned about his being a boxer). I should’ve told Brian about my interests sooner, as when I mentioned I taught literature on one of the last places we were headed, he told me he’d make an extra stop just for me (who knows if he was telling the truth). He stopped us on a street with an old building that is now the equivalent of a day care. We saw an impressive chauffeur picking up someone’s child, complete with his driving gloves, which reminded me of how rich an area it was. Anyway, Brian pointed out the house where Vera Brittain lived (author of Testament of Youth, which was recently made into a movie starring Colin Morgan, my favorite actor, so I can’t wait to read the book—Vera’s memories about living during WWI—and see the film).

    We got done about 4, and R was quite interested in going back to the Physic Garden, too, so we did. They did accept my 2for1 voucher. First we found the loo and some water and a bench and a snack! I’d sorta wanted to have lunch or early dinner in the café, but it wasn’t going to work with having lunch with C, which was more important. Next trip! Rest and rehydration helped. R took tons of pix of pretty flowers, which weren’t in full bloom but still great.

    A bit after 5 we decided to just head back to hotel even if we encountered crowds; I’d tentatively planned more walking for the evening, maybe just staying out of the Underground for a while, but we wanted to get back to the hotel. So walked along Chelsea Embankment in the cool shade to Chelsea Bridge and then to Sloane Square. Our 6 pm ride was crowded but not impossible. We grabbed more M&S salads and brownie at Paddington with some crisps for a nosh later. In the room we had email, photo maintenance, and laundry stuff to do. Bed by 9 (despite noise which even I could now hear) with still-light sky; and it’s light again by about 4, but I go back to sleep!

    The gardens were beautiful. Visiting another park made me feel rejuvenated, so it was a lovely end to the day.

    So, day two reminded me of how much I love the architecture in London, and day three continued that lesson. Day three solidified my belief that living in London or the surrounding areas is expensive, so I will never live there. I’m fine with that. I’ll just visit whenever I can.

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    I have stayed three times at the Cardiff hotel which is also on Norfolk Square. It is a lovely little oasis. Its baths are also quite tiny. That's what comes of retrofitting these places. I am willing to put up with the small bath for the very reasonable price for a single. By the way, the Cardiff does have eggs in its breakfast buffet.

    I stayed in this area several times in the 70's and early 80's. Paid something like 10 pounds per night. However the B&Bs were a bit rundown and the toilets and showers were on the stair landings. Breakfasts were the full English cooked breakfast.

    I am enjoying your report and the interspersed comments from R. Looking forward to more!

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    Thanks, irishface! The Cardiff was right next to us, I think; I had tried for rooms there first, but none were available for our time slot. We could see their dining room as we passed by on the sidewalk looking into its window below, and one day R actually noticed the eggs on the buffet! Ha! I did like the area, all in all. And I could stand the bathroom, barely, but many (like R and I know my DH would be the same) would feel so cramped as to be truly uncomfortable. I have had tiny-bathroom-experiences before, so was expecting small. But having the sink so that I could touch it with my head when using the ....facility...well, I'd prefer bigger! Ha!

    Will post a couple more days before sleeping tonight.

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    Day 4—Cardiff—Gorgeous day with great fun, small disappointment, and a crowded end

    Today we would take our first train trip, heading to Cardiff. We needed to get our Railpasses validated before getting on a train, and we were going to try to make an 8:15ish train after grabbing breakfast as soon as we could at 7:30. But we were up and going by 6:30, so we just got some food at M&S, got our passes validated at the manned office which is open 24 hours (it took 2 minutes), and found that there was a 7:45 train we could take. We kept watching the board for the 7:45 to Swansea, but by 7:30 it still said on time but no platform. So I asked an employee who directed me at the same time R noticed the platform finally posted. So we were in good shape and boarded, hoping we weren’t in first class car; it takes a bit of practice to re-familiarize oneself with all the details. We found seats in the very uncrowded train and off we went at 7:45, on R’s very first inter-city train trip, as far as we can remember.

    We arrived after a pleasant and uneventful ride about 10. We had a crude map of Cardiff and headed toward the bay, we thought; at a bridge we began to doubt our way; as we consulted the map, a man offered assistance—we had turned a bit the wrong way, but by going along the river where we were, we would get to the wharf, so we had a nice walk mostly along a path by the river under perfect skies. Lovely. The Cardiff Bay area is really great; there weren’t many people about. We enjoyed the views and a stroll. This area is in the background of several shows like Torchwood, so R enjoyed being here.

    First impressions in Cardiff: Where is everyone? Second impression: Why is there so much trash on the ground? With less people, there’s less workers to clean. I don’t know why I noticed this first. The third thing I noticed was the lovely walk along the river, thinking it looked like a place I’d like to live, plus someone was nice enough to offer us assistance?? That’s a first!

    Our main goal this day was the Dr. Who Experience, a sort of museum? of the show. We arrived about 11 and had until 11:30 to look around before joining a group for the “experience.” So there’re a couple floors of props, costumes, monsters, pictures, posters, sets, weapons, etc., from the decades of the show. She was loving it! I enjoy the show, too, and so recognized much of the “stuff”—I especially liked seeing the different Dr.’s outfits, the face of Bo, and different Tardises—and scary things like “don’t blink” angels and Oods!

    At 11:30 we were escorted through the “experience” which is—well, it’s a secret; we’re not supposed to say much about it. Ha! It was fun and funny. Let’s just say it involves Peter Capaldi’s Dr. interacting with the group and Gallifrey museums and crystals and help needed from the group to save the world and scary monsters and rocking Tardises—ok, enough said. It’s clever and a treat for Dr. Who-ites. Then we went back to the exhibit until R had seen all she wanted, then the store (of course souvenirs!), and I grabbed some lunch at the little café there. BBC has a big studio, still being added to I think, right next door. We really enjoyed the Cardiff Bay area. Good morning!

    This was a nerdy day. They’re Weeping Angels, mom  Dr. Who fans are called Whovians, ha. And yes, no spoilers for the experience! The museum is mainly just costumes. There are a ton of Daleks (the Doctor’s main enemy) and Cybermen. The costumes are mainly from New Who, especially from the last season. This makes sense, as they now have a place to put the things, whereas the older ones are probably gone, destroyed, or owned privately. Still, the Tenth Doctor’s TARDIS is the first one you see when you walk in, and as David Tennant is my favorite Doctor, it was the perfect start.

    We took photos around the Wales Millennium Centre, which has a nice plaza in front of it. Then into the Tourist Info office in the lovely Centre; there I learned we could take a bus for not much up to Cardiff Castle, our other major destination. R was a bit reluctant, but I was feeling tired so talked her into it. We caught it right outside the Centre and rode through town. We decided to get off at the National Museum Cardiff first; I pushed the button but he didn’t stop; oh well, at the next stop we got off and walked through a nice garden near the university full of young people sunning themselves on their lunch hours. We went into the free Museum for maybe half an hour; she’d remembered it as a location for several shows and wanted to see the staircase and entry, but we also looked around a little at the art. Sargent, Rodin, Monet—nice stuff.

    Cardiff as a whole left me with a great impression—it was beautiful. There was a man offering a boat ride for 2 pounds, and if we had known we would have time (because of the castle-situation---keep reading), I would’ve done that just to see around the bay for another view.

    Before the bus ride, mom and I found a spot from the show Doctor Who to “recreate.” I showed her the picture from the show, and she recognized the building, which is attached to the Wales Millennium Centre.

    As for the museum, I’ve seen it in
    Doctor Who, Being Human, and possibly Sherlock. If we had known we would have more time (because of the castle later), I would’ve looked around more.

    Then it was on to the castle. DH had been in Cardiff once and had enjoyed the Bay area and a walk through town, but he hadn’t made it to the castle so was looking forward to my report. Well, we walked the long way around the castle walls to the entrance—which wasn’t an entrance this afternoon, having closed at 11 for preparation for a concert. NOOOO! Before we left the states, I had rechecked days and hours of opening for all the sites I planned to see, and I didn’t notice anything on this castle’s website. Arrggh. (The next day Cardiff was awash with fans of One Direction, but I don’t know who was performing the day we were there.) Oh well. (DH said later maybe that meant he needed to take me back someday—works for me!)

    The castle was a bummer for me, as I love castles and don’t get to see enough of them. As for the concert, they were setting up for One Direction, even though it was the next day. It was their first concert since Zayn left the band, so it was a big deal (I promise I only know this because my students like them).

    We found a little shop across the street where we sat for a snack stop and discussed options. There are a couple churches between the castle and the station, and shops, so we decided to visit the churches and walk through the market area. St John’s is small, and St. David’s Cathedral is, too—both pretty but didn’t take us very long to see. We didn’t really want to shop; most of the stores were more mall-types; it is a nice pedestrian shopping area but not really unique or to our taste.

    So we decided to head back to London earlier than we’d planned and see if we could make it to the one thing on my original “plan” for the week that we hadn’t gotten to—Twinings Tea. We got some M&S salads at a shop right next to the station, caught the 3:55 train, found the trains much more crowded than in the morning, ate our supper on the train, and arrived about 15 minutes late at 6:15. And my travel card stopped working. It may have been next to my phone. So took a few seconds every stile to find an attendant to let me through.

    The shop closes at 7:30; the Tube was slow and very crowded; we took one wrong connection but were at the Strand about 7:05. I didn’t bring a London map, but I thought I knew sorta where it was but not the number. We walked to the end of the Strand by 7:20—oh, doh, I had turned the wrong way. And no way were we going to walk back. This was perhaps the worst sidewalk crowd experience I’ve ever had. It was 5-6 people across with no space in between. It was crazy. And vehicle traffic of all sorts was also crazy. We needed to get out of the crowd as we were feeling a bit –done. So we found a quiet spot on Embankment in the gardens and just sat for a while. When we had mentally re-grouped, we caught a crowded but not insane Tube at Embankment and got back to hotel without incident in time to take care of nightly “chores.”

    So all in all a great day; castle closure sad but couldn’t be helped. The frustration of the tea-shop-finding-fiasco was not a good end; I directed us west instead of east and vowed to never go anywhere on this trip again without a London map in my backpack!

    This is what I was strongly reminded of on day four: I’m an introvert. The crowds and heat and rushing and not being able to find the store for mom so feeling disappointed was all too much for me. I was glad to get back to our room, despite its size, just to be away from the masses. Not being able to find something made me miss the convenience of modern technology, that’s for sure. The other thing to learn from day four is to not let a bad ending to a day ruin a good day when traveling.

    Day 5—Windsor and London— Kings Cross area, British Library with Magna Carta exhibit, and a play

    This, we hoped, would be a less frantic day than last night, but still full of fun. We went to Paddington after our regular quick meal and chores; I had time to get a replacement Travel Card printed and made sure it was not near my phone (in case that’s what demagnetized it or something). I asked the agent about the 8:23 train to Windsor, but he said there was a 7:50 we could catch that was just as fast, so there it was, so we hopped on and away we went in a couple minutes. Easy transfer at Slough; arrived about 9.

    It was a gray day today with sprinkles occasionally but not drippy. The whole area around the station and between it and the castle has many shops and a nice pedestrian area. We got to the castle a little after 9 and not many in line yet. We strolled around the block and found a little church, the Windsor Parish Church, with interesting buttresses, a tree planted by the “Queen mum,” and gravestones laid down neatly as a pathway. Back to the line which was now VERY long with many, many groups—oh, well, seeing the church was cool. And at 9:45 when the line moved, it went quickly; eventually we went to the non-group ticket window which had one person in front of me, so we were inside by 10.

    Wow, it really is a big structure. Its color and materials, and some of its form, reminded me of the Tower. The grounds are really lovely, and the stonework is attractive, not imposing. I liked seeing the motte and bailey, and loved how now the moat there is pretty with grasses and flowers.

    Honestly, I wasn’t impressed with Windsor as a castle. I get the importance of it, but eh. Also, I really don’t like places you can’t take pictures of inside. My favorite part was seeing all of the knight shields, including the ones which are white—these are of knights who committed some crime or something to where their titles were stripped from them. Oops.

    The long line was my fault. Sorry mom! However, once everyone started going in, we actually got in quickly, as we weren’t in a group.


    We went straight to St. George’s Chapel. It is lovely. I’ve seen other similar structures so I wasn’t astonished, but it is beautiful and I especially noted the width of the ceiling. The reality of the history of royal worship there is impressive. I enjoyed all the Order of the Garter information. I’m sure I missed some important graves (no photos allowed to help jog my memory) but I noted a few like Henry VIII’s. There were no crowds here yet, either.

    We had decided we weren’t interested in the Doll’s House, which from all reports would be thronged, so we went to the State rooms and walked through all that history--and gilt and glass and gold. Wow. I liked seeing the memorial to the fire—not as a happy memory, but it is quite a testimony to perseverance and continuity to see the result of the restoration. The audio guide was great with lots of facts I have now forgotten! R did mention one I had missed—how a room with hardwood floors got charred and water damaged, so they reversed all the individual planks—looks great.

    There was more crowds now but not packed. There was, however, already a long line at the Doll’s House, so we confirmed our decision. We had a rest, a last look at the grounds for pix, found a loo and filled up our water bottles—with yellow water!? Ick. The skies were still grey but only an occasional misty sprinkle. Had a snack (NOT using the yellow water!) outside on a terrace overlooking ?Eton? We did a bit of souvenir shopping and then exited, walking toward the water. We passed a public toilet—best of the trip! Free, clean, big, and the water was NOT yellow!

    We strolled the area around the Thames and enjoyed a couple garden-y areas there and walked back through the Dowlings toward the station. Near there at an Eat, I got a small wrap and we shared one of those shortbread/caramel/chocolate desserts and people-watched for a bit before catching a 12:30-ish train. I’m glad now I’ve been to Windsor, but the Tower and Hampton Court would be my preferences in the London area.

    Back at Paddington, we caught the Tube to Kings Cross before 2. I’d seen pictures and done some reading about all the renovations/reclamation/rebuilding in the area and wanted to see the new station and the area around it. Well, we were a bit foot sore (with 2 more “major” things ahead of us this day) so didn’t explore far, but I did get to see the new station. I love it. I love the mix. That wonderful glass and steel spiral melding into the old brick walls, with the huge info board above and tons of people rushing to and fro beneath—wow. It was very very busy but to my eyes it seemed the space was accommodating the crowds well. And very nice spaces all around the outside. We had first walked through St. Pancras and seen the new art—the clock called One More Time—nice—and the statues—I love the bronze statue of the former Poet Laureate Sir John Betjeman, but I see why many don’t care for “The Kiss”—they look sorta alien!

    Mom took this great picture of Kings Cross Station—the modern part on the left, full of metal and giant windows, the older side on the right, full of bricks. It’s a really cool picture which exemplifies how the mixture of old and new works so well in London.

    We walked to the British Library by 2:30 and looked first at the Magna Carta Wikipedia entry embroidery. Wow, quite unique and a massive undertaking. It is free, so if you are in the area it’s worth a look. We’d read about it before we went, so we didn’t spend time reading displays much, just admiring the handiwork.

    Then we went in the Treasures Room until about 3:20. It has been rearranged it seems since our last visit, and some pages “turned,” so different from what I remember, but all so great to see. No Alice stuff out, though—sad face. I know they had a big exhibit earlier this year, so maybe it’s being “rested.”

    About 3:20 they let us into the Magna Carta Exhibit with our 3:30 pre-bought tickets. We spent over an hour (and pretty much skipped through a lot of the last third or so). It is a very extensive presentation of archival material, material I think serves as some of the basis of English common law—its evolution, stemming partly from Magna Carta but certainly not just from it. Lots of stuff about the legends around King John, about Magna Carta itself including its preservation and non-preservations, laws and liberties, Magna Carta’s influence on colonies (not just American). That’s what I noted.

    R also took away the reminder of how important preservation and archival integrity is (she’s worked in a university archives and loves to use primary documents when teaching). There were 2 copies of Magna Carta at the end, both of which I’ve seen before here but not side by side. One is the realllllly damaged one—first by fire and then by efforts to fix it! Recent light technology has made it possible to see writing again—not well, but for an expert it is a help in comparing the 4 remaining copies of this “version” (the other 2 being in Lincoln and Salisbury—which I’ve seen, too). (I though Parliament had one—I may have numbers wrong, or be confused about exactly what constitutes a “copy” of Magna Carta.) We finished seeing what we wanted to see in the Treasures room, and browsed the shop briefly, too.

    The Treasure Room struck me as very multi-cultural and religious this time around. It was 75% religious texts. I was glad to see the Beatles exhibit finished, but I wanted to see more literary works! Still, I’m huge primary documents fan, so I was interested, but experiencing information overload, when we went into the Magna Carta exhibit. I was surprised by how many documents there were that related to the, excuse me, Magna Carta (no “the”, apparently!), which ended up being just a burnt, smeared, unreadable, sad document.

    About 4:45 we caught Tube at St. Pancras to Oxford Circus and walked up (down?) Regents Street, after asking a nice bobby which way to Lexington; he had to look at a map himself, but re-directed us. It’s so disorienting to me to emerge from the Tube and lose all sense of cardinal direction. The sun was no help today as the skies stayed gray and the air humid, but no rain. The short walk on a very crowded Regents Street reminded me why I don’t ever plan again to shop on Regents or Oxford. Too many people. I think there’s been some talk of making part of that area a pedestrian zone? I see why the idea is being discussed!

    We got to Mildred’s again about 5:30; they were busier today, but we got seated and got pasta and veggie burger and a brownie (which was good but not to die for). Quite satisfying and timely. We left about 6:15—Shaftsbury to maybe Shorts Gardens--some much nicer quieter way. Plenty of people pouring into and out of pubs on this Friday evening, though.

    Day four reminded me to not let bad things ruin a good day. Day five reminded me the importance of keeping care of history. If you take care of a primary document incorrectly, you can ruin it forever, which isn’t good. Okay, that lesson sounds lame, but you get the point. I love that London is so full of history. You may never know how future generations may benefit from that piece of history.

    Okay, this was the day I saw Samuel L. Jackson walking in the opposite direction of us. When I got home, I figured out that Jackson was in town as a guest on the Graham Norton Show. I didn’t take a picture—too many people, plus, Jackson scares me a bit—but I feel like this is my proof. So ha!

    I burnt my mouth at dinner


    We got to New London Theatre on Drury Lane (entrance around the side) about 6:30, picked up our tickets for Warhorse, and waited outside til 7, then got seated on the side with ok view of everything except a little of the visuals on the back of the stage.

    Warhorse is amazing; we’ve seen a film of the National Theatre stage production and the movie adaption, but this was our first time to see it live. I was struck this time by the puppeteers’ acting which I hadn’t noticed before. While the movie is well done, the stage production with the innovations of the puppets and the stage effects is unforgettable. It was well-acted too, although there were a couple cast members I couldn’t understand (I DID have my hearing aid in!) and I think the Germans weren’t that great, but all in all a phenomenal adventure.

    We got done a bit after 10, got R a souvenir mug, walked to Holburn, changed to Oxford Circus (my Tube pass is failing again—Argh), and got to hotel by 11. We had to wind down and wash out several things. But we were down by midnight and lay in bed “late” til after 7.

    Okay, War Horse is the play that makes me want to quit my day job and run away to the stage. I haven’t seen many shows in person, but this continues to be the one I suggest to people. It is such an amazing experience. Day five taught me, or reminded me, of the power of storytelling and the joy of telling stories well (the goose is my favorite).

    Tomorrow I will post the rest of our days--a trip to Jane Austen country, more walking, a play at the Globe, and more!

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    Hi TEXASBOOKWORM,

    So glad to see this report. Loved your intro and have bookmarked your actual report. Boy, you are a planner - good!

    I just love reading about anyone's adventures in London, particularly those who love books. :) I will be following along...

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    Hi Texasbookworm,

    I am also glad to see your report. You must have arrived at the new Queen's terminal like we did last year. It is a very LONG walk from the gate to immigration. Up and down a series of escalators or elevators just to reach the immigration line. On the way back there is even a sign past the stores and restaurants that it is a 15 or 20 (don't remember which it said) minute walk to the gates from that point.

    We thoroughly enjoyed the Churchill Museum and War Rooms on our first trip to London. The timeline table is so interesting. Equally as fascinating is Chartwell, Churchill's home in the Southeast if you ever get there. Or maybe you have covered it on a previous trip? Loved the desk of Mrs. Churchill and the sign in book at the house.

    I just took out the book The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time from the library. I think both my DS and I will like it. Glad you enjoyed the play.

    Looking forward to more of your report!

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    Just caught up with this! Enjoying the double commentary, and of course, London is my favorite big city.

    Couple of things.

    Surprised you had trouble finding somewhere to stay in Bloomsbury. The place I stay, the Ridgemount, has twins for 106 GBP. Bathrooms for singles not much bigger than the Ashley, don't know about the twins. Never had problems with noise or water pressure, and there is a cooked breakfast (not a buffet). The Arosfa and the Jesmond nearby are in the same price range.

    Were you flying American? I flew them last year and could not believe how horrible the food was in economy! I'm going over on BA in biz this time (FF miles) but coming back on US Airways/American in economy - will board with food!

    If you go back to Cardiff there is a wonderful open air museum just outside reachable by bus:
    http://www.museumwales.ac.uk/stfagans/

    Will have to look into the rail pass. I don't usually bother, but will be taking more trains than usual next trip.

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    Thanks, all, for your positive feedback.

    Thursday-I think I actually tried both of those hotels in Bloomsbury--for our dates, nothing worked (did find some with one bed and some for 3 or 4 days, but not the dates we needed for 2 twins). Maybe next trip as I still would like to try that area.

    No, we were on United per the student-tour-company arrangements. DH and I almost always fly American; no airline is without its flaws, from what I have experienced. I generally overall have found AA customer service, leg room, and website much better than United.

    Cardiff is definitely still in my "like to return to" plans!

    europe--hope you enjoy the book! And no, never been to Chartwell--drove by the gates once, but--something else to keep on the "one day" maybe's!

    OK, here're 2 more days:

    Day 6—Chawton for Jane Austen House

    Hotel breakfast at 8 on weekends must have started early as dining room was almost full, for first and only time, by 8:01. We had our small bits and headed to Paddington at 8:30, rode to Waterloo quickly, and R located Alton as destination on the board, so we were able to catch an 8:53, about 30 minutes earlier than I “planned,” so yay, we arrived earlier. It was a spectacularly lovely day. Cooler and mostly sunny with no forecast of rain, so I bravely left raingear in hotel!

    We got to Alton about 10:15 and walked, following arrows, to the Tourist Information office—which never appeared. I was feeling mad at myself for not printing out more specifics/maps, etc., but I really figured there’d be info at the Alton station (none) or somewhere for how to get to Chawton. At an ice cream shop we were able to connect R’s phone via their wifi and got directions on Google maps and also a bit of a verbal direction from pleasant girl in shop—who had no idea where the TI was (but there are signs pointing to a TI right there, so….Alton needs to work on that).

    It was more than the 2 miles indicated on what I’d read from station to House, but when we got to Jane Austen’s house, the lady there said we HAD come the shortest way. Part of that was on Alton’s main street with shops and churches and traffic and part was on non-major roads lined with nice houses. Chawton greeted us with charming cottages with thatched roofs and flowers everywhere. And the ladies in Austen’s house were most helpful (more later).

    We spent over an hour there. We toured the House, took lots of photos (ooh, Jane’s desk and handiwork by her and Cassandra), made lavender bags, and found some items in the little gift shop. It is a wonderful site; you don’t even have to like Austen to appreciate the house as a museum of the life of a village family a couple hundred years ago. But liking (and teaching) Austen’s works made it especially special.

    If you get lost in a town where you speak the language, you never have a need to panic or get frustrated. Just ask someone.

    Alton does need better signs to Jane Austen’s house—when we did finally arrive, we mentioned the lack of signs and the very sweet ladies in the shop told us they used to have them, but Alton took them down. How upsetting! Also, that makes no sense economically, so Alton needs to get its act together.

    If you do find yourself headed that way, don’t follow the road signs to Jane Austen’s house. There is a road that takes you past houses on your right that you should follow. This will lead to a little tunnel under a road and out into a street with houses on both sides of the road. It’s a short walk from there and Jane Austen’s house shows up on the right, with a pub on the left.


    R had really wanted to take a country walk during our time this week and explored several possibilities, the best of which seemed to be to go from the House on some loop, but we didn’t have specific directions. We talked to the ladies at the House and they were extra kind; they gave us a now-rare brochure with exact directions for 2.5-ish hour hike. I decided I’d go with her, as there would be shade and places to stop and no big rush. We had a snack first and then took off. We walked through the loveliest English countryside on public footpaths, through woods, over stiles and an abandoned rail way, past rape seed fields—so beautiful. I got tired but was ok; R enjoyed it thoroughly. There was lots of shade as I hoped and the air was mild. Very very nice. Probably highlight of whole trip!

    Hooray, a walk in the country! It was one of the two things I had to do on this trip (after the Dr. Who Experience), and this walk was perfect! The directions were also very clear. There was only one part that got confusing, as we cut through a field. I couldn’t imagine how that was legal at all, but mom explained to me how the path was public, even if through someone’s sheep meadow. Still, we didn’t cross where we first thought, and ended up being right about this later. The path wasn’t very used, either. There were several places where the bushes were growing over. We only saw two other people on the walk, and I think these people lived there, as the lady told us about the rapeseed plants growing that were extremely tall. My introverted self soaked up all of the quiet and beautiful sights of nature.

    If anyone wishes, I can easily type up the directions for the walk from the pamphlet. I imagine there is one on line, as I have found several wonderful walking tour sites for England before.

    Day six therefore taught me that, again, if you’re lost and in a place where people speak your language, just ask and don’t panic. Also, walking in the country is essential on any trip to England. Make it happen! (But do have a plan, don’t walk around aimlessly).


    We got back to the station, after a quick stop at an Alton M&S for lovely strawberries, in time for 4:15 so back at Paddington by 6. I went to the manned TfL office downstairs to top off our 5-year-old Oyster cards for our expected travel to meet up with our students/adults arriving Monday. My paper Travel Card continued to fail—and I know it did not get near my phone—so I don’t know why, but I didn’t mess with getting ANOTHER one printed for one more day.

    Another M&S take-away dinner and back to rooms. We were happily tired but done for the day. Normal chores and extra feet-resting for rest of evening! I confirmed that the Circle and District would be closed as scheduled, so made sure I had my alternate transport plan in place for our Sunday, the last day of just R and me (we thought).

    Day 7—London—London Walks and a play at the Globe

    Lined up for this day, I had several minor “let’s see them if we can” sites, plus 2 London Walks we could try, plus tickets for the Globe. When we woke still pretty draggy after our ambitious week, we knew we’d be willing to drop some things. Oh, I forgot to say—we’d been averaging walking around 12 miles a day, with a couple days much more than that. That’s QUITE an increase to my norm!

    About 9 we headed to the Monument to meet a 10:00 London Walk of the Old City. We couldn’t exit at Monument, so went back to St. Paul’s. We had time to go past 2 of those minor sites which are very near St. Paul’s—the Greyfriar’s Gardens (new for both of us) and Postman’s Park (repeat for me). Lovely little green respites and memorials in the heart of the old city. So that was cool.

    Sat on orange plastic street barricades around Monument with several others (bigger crowd than in Chelsea) until guide came. Didn’t take my 2for1 voucher again-oh well. I think it was Simon and he was quite good as we walked for about 2.5 hours all around the City of London—lots of Wren churches, info about the Roman and Medieval past and streets and history. We ended up at Guild Hall where I wanted to go into, so that worked terrific. We went in, found loo, and then visited the Roman Ampitheatre display underneath, which is what I wanted to see briefly. Yay! Very cool.

    We went back to St. Paul’s and found a bench to sit on to wait for 2:00 tour—and decided we were too tired.

    Once again, I was very impressed with London Walks. This one was more crowded than the Chelsea one was, so I was afraid mom wouldn’t be able to hear, but our guide was equipped with a little headset and speaker system on his waist. So no problems here!

    He humorously told us all about the City of London—Wren castles, anyone?

    Day seven taught me that you should take something that seems destroyed and make it into something beautiful for people to enjoy. Also, don’t be afraid to go on group tours. I hate to feel “tourist-y,” and guided tours always make me feel this way, but my experience with the London Walks has been only positive so far, so I would suggest them.

    Because of this, I felt really bad that we weren’t able to go on the second one. I knew the kids were coming the next day, and I was exhausted. My introversion was tired and my feet were tired.


    Eventually we walked over the Millennium Bridge, after admiring St. Paul’s again, and went into the Tate Modern and just sat in the cool and relative calm for a couple hours. R had her Nook and I just enjoyed not moving for a little while! We have some city guides loaded on the Nook and so even without wifi we used that map to locate the Wagamama near the Globe. At 4 took a nice slow amble along the river to early dinner at Wagamama, picking up our tickets at the Globe along the way.

    After food and rest and water, we felt better, so took a short stroll by Southwark Cathedral, through the mostly empty Borough Market, and along streets there (including past the actual site of the original Globe across from the Rose). All of this was repeat visit for us, but it was nice and less crowded, mostly, than during the day or than along the river this evening.

    I enjoyed people watching and exploring just to explore.
    Randomly, I had begun counting pregnant ladies and gingers in England, so my count got very high that day. The final count was 18 pregnant ladies and 180 gingers, just if anyone wondered. No pregnant gingers.


    Back in front of the Globe we sat until about 5:50, went in, got cushions, shopped a little and about 6:15 sat down for 6:30 performance of The Merchant of Venice—the last showing this year—with Jonathan Pryce as Shylock.

    The play was marvelous; there are some great lines, the acting was top notch, and the staging/production, with lots of music and audience interaction, was unexpected. Mr. Pryce was terrific, except Shylock is not so despicable in his portrayal—but maybe that’s a wonderful thing—the layers of Shakespeare are infinite, it seems. What a terrific treat and great way to end our mom/daughter week!

    Day seven also taught me that if you can experience anything that is close to an original, do it. This includes reenactments or seeing a Shakespeare play in the Globe.

    What was most interesting to me about the play was its humor and audience involvement.
    The Merchant of Venice has never made me laugh before, which is just another reason that the play must be seen and not just read. I also agree with Mom’s comments on Shylock. The more I read that play, the more I realize it’s about prejudice, and both Shylock and Antonio are in the wrong. If you want to say who the antagonist is, I actually don’t think we should be so quick to say Shylock. He is the antagonist to Antonio, but Antonio is the antagonist to him. Anyway, literary discussions for another time.

    But back at the hotel for our last night, we learned that my group’s plane was delayed, so I didn’t sleep well, worried about them. We were supposed to get up very early, be gone by 7, and meet them at St. Giles Hotel in Feltham at 9ish (they had same 6:55am arrival R and I had had), but that wasn’t going to be necessary, so we lay in bed longer.

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    Day 8—Meeting other folks—checking out and moving and meeting—oh, and a Museum after all

    OK, this day was a day of flexibility and glitches and being thankful for modern communication devices!

    If you want to hang on to my coattails for the roller coaster ride that was our day as plans changed hourly, read on; if not, a condensed version is at the end of the day’s details:

    • Plan A—My group would arrive early and be taken by Tour Director (TD) in bus to St. Giles, drop luggage, and be available for some free time in London before a walking tour and dinner with TD and other group that would be on our bus the whole tour who arrived later; R and I would come out to hotel to drop our luggage, then escort group to British Museum for lunch and few hours before meeting TD and other group; SandJ would meet us at the British Museum, S would stay, J would take luggage to hotel.

    • Plan B--BUT the TD contacted me late Sunday night and said just to meet at hotel closer to 2, because of their delay. So based on that, R and I decided to head to the British Museum so we could have a few hours there, planning to leave before1. So we checked out and left our luggage at the Ashley about 9 or after, and went to the BM, enjoying it again, much of it returning to favorites. We had bite of lunch and were just leaving when we got a new plan:

    • Plan C—BUT their plane was over 9 hours late! So instead of arriving at 7, they weren’t going to get in til about 4:30. When this became clear, the TD contacted me again to say new plan—when my group arrived, they would be taken directly to restaurant. Meanwhile the TD and the other large group from Michigan would come into London about 1 or 2. R and I should meet the TD at Westminster at Churchill Statue at 2:45 I think, and we would have a walk with all them and then go to restaurant. Then after dinner RandI would go retrieve our luggage and meet the group at Waterloo. Wow, my head was spinning. I contacted J, but they’d left early for some reason and were almost at St. Giles, so we agreed to figure out the NEXT place to meet, like Trafalgar Square. R called hotel and explained we’d be later than planned to pick up luggage. (Yay for phones that work and for texting capabilities!)

    • So—R and I went to Westminster, had a rest in Whitehall Gardens, found a place near Churchill to wait, and the TD came as he said, so we finally met. The other group was exploring, but when they came back, we all walked up Whitehall to Trafalgar Square. So there I contacted JandS to say come there. R and I just sat on the steps for an hour; it got a bit cold and windy with dark clouds but they never dropped a drop. Sand J arrived.

    Meanwhile, my group landed safely but oh so delayed and were taken to Wagamama for dinner. TD then took all of us with him there and ---wow, finally all together again! Such a relief to see them all safe and sound and only slightly worse for wear and tear of delay! After dinner R and I scooted back as fast as we could to retrieve our luggage and on to Waterloo, while TD took the group on a short walk along Embankment, across Jubilee Bridge, and to Waterloo, and we actually all arrived at about the same time, and then it was on to St. Giles Hotel, which, while in Feltham, far away, had a big room and—a BIG BATHROOM!

    (Condensed version--my group got in so late they just met up with all of us at dinner and had a short walk with the TD then rode back to hotel. Meanwhile, during the day, R and I had time to spend a few hours in the British Museum and then meet up with the Tour Director and the other group we’d be traveling with for a walk up Whitehall and time in Trafalgar Square, where SandJ met up with us. Then after dinner RandI retrieved our luggage and met whole group at Waterloo for ride to hotel.)

    I was glad to go back to the British Museum. The last time I was here I felt like I would never be able to finish seeing everything. This time around I realized it actually isn’t that big. If you plan to read everything, of course it would take forever, but I walked the entire museum this trip. I was mainly looking at the Irish artifacts that the museum has, which aren’t many.

    The day was making me extremely sad for our kids, as they were missing an entire day in London and were going to be grumpy and tired upon their arrival. But they were remarkably un-grumpy.


    Overall impressions of our week? I had a blast planning a packed itinerary, knowing we'd probably not get to all of it, but we got to remarkably high percentage of it without killing ourselves (or each other!). London has a lot of people; I was a bit more bothered by the crowds this trip than before. I loved going to the theatre, which I'd not done much before. I still love London--it's green spaces in the summer, its history, its diversity, its persistence, its energy. "London, thou art the flour of Cities all" said Dunbar. Yes.

    So now ends the “Tales of the Texas Two; or, Ladies in London” time and on to the "Texans Take a Tour" portion in a different post in a couple days!

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    I did that same London Walk with Simon, and there was some kind of timed marathon/scavenger hunt that had markers near several places we stopped. It was very narrow in those places. My favorite place was St. Dunstan in the East.

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    Miranda--I forgot to mention St. Dunstan in the East, which this LW DID stop at briefly. R and I (and DH) had spent a while there one drippy morning in 2010, loving it. So the LW visit to it this time was a re-visit, and quite short, so I'm glad I had had time before to savor it a bit more. It is a lovely/sad spot. I've recognized it in a couple tv shows, too, which is always fun to say Oh I've been there! It is definitely worth seeing whether on a London Walk or on one's own. Thanks for mentioning it.

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    I have enjoyed this report and hope that we will get to hear about the tour part. R's mention of millionaire shortbread had me drooling. I had it during a break at the V&A last fall. Wished I could bring home a year's supply!

    I heartily endorse thursdaysd's suggestion for the Welsh folk village if you ever get back to Cardiff! I was there thirty years or so ago and returned last fall and spent the whole day. It is thoroughly pleasant and educational as well.

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    Hi TEXASBOOKWORM,

    Really loving you report with your daughter's input. I just finished Day 2 - love that area of Trafalgar Square. You wrote..

    "... we went into St. Martin’s in the Fields for a quiet look at its interior, nicely lit by light from the “warped window”—while I don’t like a lot of “modern art,” I am a big fan of what London seems to do in many places in blending/juxtaposing the new/modern/contemporary with the ancient. St. Martin’s old interior lit by this day’s light through a modern window is wonderful."

    Very well stated. I wonder if that window was damaged in the WWII then replaced with a modern touch. Thanks for the details. Will go back to Day 3 now.

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    Again, thanks to all those who take the time to read AND comment/respond. It is encouraging to know if I've helped anyone or prompted a memory or given an idea, etc.

    R made gluten free version of millionaire shortbreads--oh my yummy. She'd probably share her recipe if anyone really wanted it.

    Lateday--yes, from the little I read it seems that St. Martin's window was damaged in WWII and only rather recently replaced. Nice (and I'm a "fan" mostly of colored glass in windows in churches that seemed designed for stained glass, but this one is nice)

    irishface--Yes, I will post the tour trip report early this week I hope; I will post a note/link here when I do.

    welltravel--I've been reading your post here off and on and enjoying your up to the moment reports. Brilliant! And of course you have given lots of ideas for more off the beaten paths sites for future visits!

    Oh, and in looking at my pictures, I found at least one mistake in my details in the trip report above; on the Windsor day, I said something about us walking back through the "Dowlings"--I have no idea where that name came from! I meant the gardens and park area called The Goswells!

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    Hi again TEXASBOOKWORM,

    I got a kick out of your description of the commuter chaos on the Tube at rush hour. Two years ago I went from Charing Cross on the train to London Bridge to visit the SHARD around 6 PM.

    Commuters were literally racing from one train to another with great speed, all well dressed with gals in high heels - don't know how they do it!

    Also agree with "....and vowed to never go anywhere on this trip again without a London map in my backpack!" So true.
    Savoring this report. I will go back to Day 5 later...

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    "....and vowed to never go anywhere on this trip again without a London map in my backpack!"

    In the past I've always tackled London with a mini AtoZ - picked one up on arrival if necessary. However, now I have a smart phone with Google maps I may not bother. A phone was very useful in Venice last year, and if it can handle Venice I think it should be able to handle London.

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    R here! Thanks to everyone for comments and advice.

    I used the recipe from this website for the shortbread. I just used 1 cup of gluten free all purpose baking mix from King Arthur for the * ingredients. I also used a 9x9 pan. I also know this is hard to imagine, but I thought there was too much chocolate and would use 1 1/2 cups next time. http://www.barefeetinthekitchen.com/2014/11/millionaire-bars-recipe.html

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    "I got a kick out of your description of the commuter chaos on the Tube at rush hour. "

    I've never seen commuter chaos in London, and I've not read any descriptions of it on this thread.

    London is a busy city, and the pace of life on and under our streets (with or without heels) is faster than in sleepier towns. Its transport system, at peak, might intimidate the more rustic visitor: but the millions regularly using it do so in a highly organised - and calm - manner.

    If they're running it's because they know the relevant train's going to leave in 90 secs and life's too short to wait 4 mins for the next. That's organisation: not chaos.

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    Thank you, texasbookworm, enjoyed your report, and there were useful nuggets of information for my trip.


    The 2for1 deal is only good for a few of the LondonWalks...I don't remember where I saw the list, just tried to find it. London Walks DOES offer a discount card to take 2(pounds) off of future walks if you take a few. Also, n email to them from their website got me an answer to a question within a short time.

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    Thanks for clarification, elberko; I, too, got a quick response from London Walks to a pre-trip email; I just didn't see the specifics about eligible walks in my pre-trip planning, so was sorta surprised; the walks were worth full price, in any case. If I ever go again with any plans to take more than one, I will buy the discount card after the first walk.

    About maps--or lack of them--it was my own fault totally. One, I had no plans to be IN London that day, after Cardiff, so packed light and left maps at home. Two, we were traveling as cheap as we could on our phones and had no data-plan, so we were avoiding internet usage so didn't really have easy/cheap way to access map on phones. And three I just turned us the wrong way and didn't ask anyone.

    Flanner--yes, I did not mean any of my scribblings to imply any commuter chaos. I did not see such. Commuters rushing, yes; commuters totally stopped in large masses, yes. It was, for me, only the crush on the sidewalks/pavements of the Strand (and somewhat on Regent Street) that were ridiculous, and that wasn't caused by commuters but by probably tourists and shoppers? I guess by definition I am a rustic American visitor, if by rustic one means a plain and simple person. I am not rustic meaning rural, as I live in small city, but except for the largest cities in America, public transport is not the norm, so I think I do pretty well to have managed as well as I have in several European large cities. And, as you say, in general they are systems remarkable for their organization and timeliness despite the huge numbers--especially London's. Experiencing such mass transit systems is one reason I like to take my students to large European cities, to give them a taste of such. One doesn't have to be rustic/rural to have little American experience with mass transit, but having such experience is important, I think, in broadening perspectives. I love my private vehicles and Texas roadways, but it's not the only way to get around.

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    oh and flanner--don't know if you remember but you strongly urged me/us to get out in the countryside and take a walk, in my pre-trip planning questions/posts. Well, we did--and it may have been in Austen country and not the Cotswolds, but it was great and you were right!

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    Hi again TBW,

    "Day 5—Windsor and London— Kings Cross area, British Library with Magna Carta exhibit, and a play"

    Wow, I had to take a nap after reading about that soooo full day. You mentioned:

    "We had first walked through St. Pancras and seen the new art—the clock called One More Time—nice—and the statues—I love the bronze statue of the former Poet Laureate Sir John Betjeman,..."

    That is one area I want to explore when I am next in London - thanks for sharing.

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    LDT--Naps are for home--no rest for the weary traveler if following me around! Definitely head to those areas when you can.

    Janis--a medal award trophy maybe. Ha. But I really do have to quibble that "rural" and "American" are not synonymous. But I don't quibble with flanner's comment on lack-of-chaos-on-London-transit. I didn't see any, anyway, although some reports I read about London Bridge station earlier this year made me glad I didn't have to use that station.

    Oh, and I had wondered about how the closing of ticket offices was going to affect the ...uninitiated/slightly lost tourist? I found plenty of agents walking around in the stations, around the stiles/gates--all very helpful whether in a gruff business manner or a more friendly kidding one. No problems with "lack" of ticket offices in my experience.

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    TBW,

    " It was more than the 2 miles indicated on what I’d read from station to House, but when we got to Jane Austen’s house, the lady there said we HAD come the shortest way."

    Did you really walk the two miles to the house? I guess you did. Then ...

    " We walked through the loveliest English countryside on public footpaths, through woods, over stiles and an abandoned rail way, past rape seed fields—so beautiful. I got tired but was ok; R enjoyed it thoroughly. There was lots of shade as I hoped and the air was mild. Very very nice. Probably highlight of whole trip!" Wonderful!

    OK, then I read, " Oh, I forgot to say—we’d been averaging walking around 12 miles a day, with a couple days much more than that. That’s QUITE an increase to my norm!"

    Wow!

    R - I agree: " I hate to feel “tourist-y,” and guided tours always make me feel this way, but my experience with the London Walks has been only positive so far, so I would suggest them."

    Mum & R - great report - thanks so much! :)

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    "the crush on the sidewalks/pavements of the Strand (and somewhat on Regent Street) that were ridiculous, and that wasn't caused by commuters but by probably tourists and shoppers?

    Interesting question.

    There's no doubt that London's streets have got a great deal more crowded (with pedestrians) over the past few years. My sense of it is that the growth's most acute in the West End between 1800 and 2200. I'm not sure crowds in the shopping streets around Oxford St have changed much: Oxford St has had Europe's heaviest pedestrian count for decades, and it really feels little different during the day from 25 years ago, though its back-street hinterland is a great deal more crowded - largely because the profusion of pavement cafes has taken a huge amount of otherwise empty space out of pedestrian use.

    The huge transformation here is pedestrian traffic after 1800. The area used to be a desert at night: those back-street cafe complexes are now an immense pedestrian magnet till midnight.

    Although Transport for London passenger count's up 30-odd percent over the past decade, better management and improved, more capacious, kit generally make the tube feel emptier than a decade or a quarter-century ago. Some stations (above all: KX/St P) have got a very great deal busier - but there, hundreds of millions invested make the crowds less threatening than in the 1980s, whereas at London Bridge and Victoria, the very act of upgrading is making the stations (at least temporarily) much more unpleasantly crowded.

    The really interesting question is where all those people (especially in the West End at night) are coming from.

    The distinction between "locals" (a term scarcely ever used in modern educated English), commuters and foreign visitors doesn't work in SE England: London's the regional capital and transport hub of a highly integrated, railway-based, economy stretching to the coast south and east and about 100 miles west and north, and people based in Oxford or Brighton pop into the West End of an evening almost as unthinkingly as they did (or will) when living in Islington.

    A significant proportion of short-term foreign visitors are here principally to work, and as London's dominance of multi-country business services (from law to architecture to financial jiggery pokery) has grown, the evidence seems to be that such visits have grown faster lately than conventional tourism.

    But a huge amount of the region's population growth comes from a kind or person you have to go back to classical Athens to find a word for: metics. These are people who aren't citizens (though under our system, most can vote and/or receive public benefits), live and work or study in an area, are fully integrated in the local culture and economy, speak a dialect close to indistinguishable from the local one, have little interest in becoming citizens and happily and frequently pop back to their parents' home overseas for a few days.

    Whatever you call them, they're central to London's economy - as waiters, students, tech entrepreneurs, medical staff (from hospital cleaners to distinguished professors with Nobel prizes) and practically every other kind of role imaginable.

    What all these groups share, to my eye, is a lack of ties. Self-evidently they don't wear them except as part of formal evening dress: but the West End has spawned a tidal wave of attractions (those pavement cafe-ridden back streets are all over central London these days) appealing to an enormous range of different kinds of people who don't need to get home before the babysitter's time runs out.

    What's visible on the evening streets isn't any kind of uniform signalling "tourist" or "office worker". But the restaurants, concert halls and proper theatres seem populated entirely by the 18-30's and over 60's - and the speed many switch between close-to-native English and something truly foreign indicates metic or visiting honcho from Dusseldorf head office more than a package tour from Shanghai.

    The growing attraction of vibrant real cities is a global phenomenon. London's just better located, better served by transport links (however much we all love to whinge about them) and has been sharper at fine-tuning its offers to evolving consumer tastes than the cities it once saw as its peers.

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