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Trip Report Trip Report: Lyme Regis, Bath & London, 2013

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This is the third of three trip reports. The first part in each report includes our prepaid items such as flights, car rentals and room reservations. In most instances, the process of making reservations (and paying for them) started three to four months ahead of time, which may be why some prices may appear low (the early bird ...)

Our airplane flights were the following:

open jaw SFO to Frankfurt Heathrow to NYC ($2033-all prices for two)
We then purchased separate tickets NYC to SFO ($345), Berlin to Paris on Easyjet (110€), Limoges to Stansted on Ryanair (178€).

The train fare from Paris to Brive-la-Gaillarde was 30€

We rented three different sized cars which turned out to be the following:

a Seat Ibiza in Germany from May 10 to May 24 for $385.

An Audi A3 2-door TDI in France from June 3 to June 28 for $567

A Fiat 500 in England from June 29 to July 8 for $180

In all instances the cars had standard shift and the Fiat did not have AC in the one country where we could have used it. For those thinking of a lease, I checked the price for a lease that would cover our time in Germany and France, and it would cost twice as much as our two current rentals and the airfare from Berlin to Paris ($2300 vs. $1100). In other words, if one is willing to live with the uncertainty of having the credit card carry the CDW when permitted, renting is cheaper than a lease.

The only reservations we made were for one night in Bath and for our stay in London, although our friends in England reserved the cottage in Lyme Regis. Through Expedia we obtained a room in Bath for $118 at the Oldfields House. We used Airbnb for our July 7 to July 11 London stay which cost us $385. We are fortunate in that the only other direct housing expense was from May 10 to May 24 when we traveled in Germany and for our week’s stay in Lyme Regis (£300). Otherwise we stayed with friends, relatives and our place in the Dordogne (for which we pay utilities, taxes and upkeep every year, whether we use it or not).

Our other expenses, including our share of the Lyme Regis rental, averaged $1100 per week for everything that was not prepaid. However, we undoubtedly spent more per week in Germany and England than in France because we did not travel as much in the Dordogne and ate mostly at home.

I mention prices because I find it frustrating to read about “reasonable” prices without seeing the actual price. What is a reasonable price for one person might be for an unacceptable venue (car size, restaurant, hotel room) for the next or might be too high for the third.

We flew from Limoges to Standsted on Ryanair. Our friend in Cambridge came to pick us up. It took us more than an hour to get through immigration (a head’s up for those landing here and transferring to another airport for a flight home).

Our friends had stayed with us in the Dordogne, we had stayed in Cambridge and spent a long weekend with them in Edinburgh. Nonetheless our friend’s son asked his other outright if we were at each other’s throat by the end of the week. After various ideas were considered, they settled on renting a cottage in Lyme Regis for a week, with all costs split down the middle. We had hoped to see Bath, so we left in the middle of that week to spend a night in Bath.

We only overnighted in Cambridge, picked up a Fiat 500 at the train station, loaded it up and then followed our friends to Lyme Regis. It’s basically a day’s drive, and I was glad to be following someone to getting used to driving on the left side of the road and shifting with the left hand. The Fiat 500 will actually hold two 22” suitcases in its trunk, but in an unusual configuration: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mksfca/9306578174/in/set-72157623094971409 . This may be important if touring with luggage in the car, although the Dorset authorities are not very sanguine about keeping luggage hidden in the trunk: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mksfca/9440047593/in/set-72157634933769065 .

Driving experience: 8 days of driving on the left side of the road will not turn me into the comfortable driver that I am driving on the right side of the road. I can shift with my left hand, but but my reaction time is not always as it should be when downshifting. I always have to be aware that I am driving on the left side, it is not natural for me. It takes getting used to the roundabouts. The direction of the roundabout is not a problem, as the entry roads are oriented for going clockwise and it would take a real effort to do the contrary. However, in larger roundabouts, the leftmost lane often goes off at a tangent rather than going into the roundabout itself, and I am usually in the left lane since I make no claim of being a fast driver in the U.K. When traffic is heavy, switching lanes when the signage appears is not always easy. Eventually I made it a practice of going into the middle lane as soon as the three lanes were created unless I was absolutely positive that I wanted to take the tangential road.

The area around Lyme Regis has narrow roads with no shoulders and with high hedges. It is similar to being on a narrow mountain road with no shoulder or guardrail on the downhill side or even the cliff side, although the consequence of going off course are less extreme with the hedge; I would much prefer taking my chances with a questionable but visible road level shoulder than with a thick hedge. The hedges also impede viewing the countryside. All too often one sees only hedges, with no opportunity to appreciate the general countryside.

The week in Lyme Regis was spent in a relaxing manner: walking to the town, going down the coast for a picnic and a walk along the cliffs looking for fossils. One day we drove to see the The Cerne Abbas Giant (somewhat disappointing) and then went to the Thomas Hardy cottage which was closed. I was not driving so I had a better experience of the countryside seen through the car window. Stopped in a town and ate at the only pub to be found outside the town. Our friend was very skeptical because it was not in her pub guide, but it turned out to be very good and listed in the newer edition of her guide (http://www.thebluevinny.co.uk/ ). We took a trip by ourselves with the intention of visiting Sherborne Castle and its garden. It turned out to be closed on Friday (somehow we missed that information, or our guidebook did not give it). We went instead to the National Trust Montacure House (http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/montacute-house/ ), which undoubtedly is a lesser site in all respects than the one we originally intended to visit, although it has extensive grounds where we picnicked. It was pleasant but we had hoped for more.

In addition to cooking at home, we ate well in Lyme Regis. One was at the River Cottage in Axminster (http://www.rivercottage.net/canteens/axminster/ ), where the menu changes every day (£105 for four). We then had a celebratory meal at Hix Oyster & Fish House (http://www.hixoysterandfishhouse.co.uk/ ) overlooking Lyme Regis itself. It cost £178. I ordered huss (previously unknown to me), which turns out to be in the shark family but looked like eel. It was delicious.

We took a two day vacation from Lyme Regis to go to Bath. On the way we stopped by Wells to visit the cathedral which for some reason was on my mind. The cathedral is well worth a visit even though I find the celebrated figures in the front a little boring. I prefer more lively scenes than saints and other holy figures standing in their individual niche all the way to the top of the front. But the solution to a sinking tower is a gem and the ceiling of the chapter room a beauty. We had parked close to the bus station, and from the little I saw of Wells, I preferred its city architecture to Bath’s. There is nothing wrong with the Circus and the Royal Crescent in Bath, but that is because the curves soften the straight fronts of the housing style. Otherwise I find the style a little too severe. The Roman baths are a wonder, the museum at One Royal Crescent interesting and enlightening, the related architecture museum in a former chapel less so.

Our stay in Oldfields House (http://www.oldfields.co.uk/ ) was slightly marred by a nonfunctioning toilet. As compensation, they allowed us to keep the street parking permit until we were ready to leave Bath in the late afternoon to return to Lyme Regis. It is within easy walking distance of the center of Bath, more so going than coming back uphill. Its breakfast is very good, and as generally in our travels, if we have a large breakfast, our lunch can simply be a snack of a some kind. For our one evening meal was at http://www.aiorestaurant.co.uk/. It is touted as a Sardinian restaurant, but is only OK Italian from my perspective (£68 for two appetizers, two main courses, 2 glasses of wine, a dessert and a grappa)--for interesting Sardinian I will stick to my local SF restaurant until I get to Sardinia; but we had a free prosecco courtesy of our B&B, i.e. Bath’s hotel/restaurant association.

At the end of our stay in Lyme Regis we drove to Oxford to visit our friends’ son and his partner. One of them is faculty at Oxford University with a 20% appointment as a Fellow at All Souls College. So we had a grand private tour of Oxford in general and All Souls in particular. They live 5 miles out of Oxford in an extended cottage, partly thatched and partly tiled. The weather was perfect. Lunches al fresco under an apple tree (they are both excellent cooks) and an evening meal at a good restaurant (I was tagging along so do not remember the name) in Oxford. The stay was much too short, just a little over 24 hours.

Driving to Heathrow was easy once we figured out how to get to the motor way. We dropped off the car at the Hertz car lot and took the shuttle to the terminal where we caught the underground to London. We had one little problem in purchasing an Oyster Card, and throughout our stay in London, my wife’s card kept on giving error messages that could not be immediately fixed because these occurred at an unattended station. We got a refund at the end of our stay, but we may have paid more than necessary on my wife’s card because only the last error message showed on the agent’s computer. We used the card for all our travels, including the ferry ride from Tate Modern to Tate Britain and the train ride to Hampton Court because our hosts told us that the Oyster Card has a daily fare maximum which we might easily exceed with these rides and multiple underground rides.

Transfers in the Underground vary in terms of length of walking and staircases that may be accessed. South Kensington is given as the transfer point from the Picadilly line to the Circle or District line, but if the end station is served by both of these lines, it may be easier to transfer at Hammersmith or Ealing. which is what we did on the way back to the airport.

We used Airbnb to find the room we chose in the Limehouse Wharf area. The hosts, Pauline Giroux and her partner, were very pleasant and helpful, the room was a standard bedroom in a modern apartment and we had our own bathroom, albeit down the hall (https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/97225 ). We were just 3 stops on the Docklands line which meant a long transfer point at Monument station, but we were only 4 stops from Waterloo station. The location was fine--there was a direct bus to Trafalgar Square, but it took an hour to get there; the Underground is much faster but less scenic. On the day we left, I forgot my camera at the apartment, and realized it only when we reached the Monument station. It took me only 25 breathless minutes to go back to the apartment and return to Monument.

The negatives about the apartment: There is no AC and the window opened only a few inches, although by now the host may have figured out how to remove the tab that stopped the window from opening more (I showed him the tab). The room had a view over Commerce Road (it was a block away) which meant that we heard all the street noises and as bad luck would have it, for at least two of the nights we were there, Commerce Road was being repaved between midnight and 4 a.m. with the old surface being removed. I suggest that the Limehouse Wharf is a nice place to stay, but closer to the water.

We ate well with three recommendations by our host and then our own find on Canary Wharf. http://www.indiana.uk.com/ is very good, and I believe that there is a discount for those making reservations ahead of time. My wife thought that it was superior Indian food. http://www.gordonramsay.com/thenarrow/ is a Gordon Ramsey restaurant which is pricey for what if offers (£40.56 including the suggested gratuity in the bill for two dishes and one drink), but it has a great location overlooking the Thames. It’s also good for relaxing with a drink, which we did one evening (£9.60). http://camino.uk.com/ was a fine tapas restaurant (£58.22 service included automatically for 5 dishes and 2 drinks), and there were other types of restaurants to choose from nearby (most obviously a French rotisserie, a Chinese restaurant and an expensive Argentinean restaurant). Our host suggested http://www.amicobio.co.uk/ , which rang a bell with us because we ate at the mother ship in Naples when we were there. The London branch is more “standard” than the Neapolitan one which had a counterculture atmosphere. The food is very good. It is located close to the Smithfield market, next to St. Bartholomew the Great church.

A note on tipping: many restaurants now add an automatic service charge, sometimes called “service” and sometimes called a “gratuity”. It usually is more than 10%. Other restaurants do not add such a charge automatically and do not mention it, while others suggest how much the gratuity should be.

We saw Vermeer & Music exhibit at the National Gallery, which, as we suspected, was somewhat of a hype in that most of the paintings were from the same period but not by Vermeer; there were five Vermeers, which is impressive since only 2 dozen or so of his paintings have survived. On another day we saw the Turners at the Tate Britain; they are absolutely overwhelming.

We spent a day at Hampton Court, which has interesting interiors and some beautiful gardens. In the chapel we fell upon a docent who was particularly knowledgeable about the history of the chapel’s architecture. He was also a little disdainful of the royal crown on exhibit--it’s a copy. And one day we just wandered around, starting near Covent Garden and picked up some cheese to take to NYC at Neal’s Yard Dairy. This was the second cheese monger’s who was familiar with SF Rainbow Grocery ‘s cheese department, the first one was in Lyme Regis, which surprised us. But we felt that they immediately took us more seriously as customers because we clearly knew our cheeses.

From London we flew to New York into really hot muggy weather, stayed there 4 days and have been enjoying the cooling SF fog every since.

Photos of Lyme Regis: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mksfca/sets/72157634933769065/

Photos of Wells and Oxford: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mksfca/sets/72157634948078818/

Photos of London and Hampton Court: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mksfca/sets/72157623461378508/ (London itself is a compilation from several trips)

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