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6 women, 2 flats, 2 cars (oops - 3 cars), big house -- 2+ weeks in England

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Jun 2nd, 2009, 09:10 PM
  #1
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6 women, 2 flats, 2 cars (oops - 3 cars), big house -- 2+ weeks in England

I've been back a little over a week and REALLY need to do my trip report. Unfortunately, 2 days after getting home I came down w/ some sort of viral crud and have either been in bed or wishing I was in bed ever since. Finally feeling sort of human again so guess its time to fish or cut bait

It may take me a few days to get things sorted out and finished but at least I can start tonight.

Background: This trip has been in the planning for the best part of a year. We started out w/ 9 friends mostly in a local book club. Over the months the players changed a few times because of health problems, family deaths, one just plain chickening out, and various and sundry "issues". The final group ended up four of us from the book club flying from SFO, plus the sister of one and sister's best friend flying from ORD.

The plan is to spend the first week in two 2-bdrm flats in St Katharine's Marina and then a week in a big, old, posh farmhouse midway between Chipping Campden and Stratford. After the 2nd week, the ORD ladies flew home; I stayed over an additional day in London to go to the Chelsea Flower Show; the husband of one woman flew in and the two of them connected on to Shannon for a week in Ireland; and the final two took the train up to Glasgow to catch a two week coach tour of Scotland and Ireland returning to LHR to fly back to SFO. Talk about a complicated itinerary! I normally book everything myself, but we turned all the flights over to a local TA and she worked everything out beautifully.

Our VS SFO-LHR flight and the AA ORD-LHR flight landed 30 mins apart at T-3 - just about perfect timing.

Accommodations:

In London we rented through http://www.hamletuk.com/ We originally booked 3 flats (two 2-bdrm and one 1-bdrm) but w/ the shrinkage from 9 to 8 to finally 6, we cancelled the 1-bdrm and still had LOTS of space. Both flats were comfortable w/ either a terrace or patio, full kitchen and everything we needed. One flat had views of the marina and the other had views over a landscaped courtyard. I usually stay in more central neighborhoods, but needing 3 flats (originally) in the same bldg was more important than being in the center of things. The marina turned out to be the perfect location (except for the Circle/district line being shut down our first weekend - more on that later). There is a very nice Waitrose supermarket, several restaurants, Thames boat pier, chemist, dry cleaners - all the comforts of home.

In the country we rented http://tinyurl.com/oehvpt Loved, LOVED this place! Four bedrooms, 3.5 baths, huge eat-in kitchen w/ 8 burner stove, dishwasher, washer/dryer, 2 fridges, etc, large dining room, 2 flat screen TVs, computer/free internet, phone w/ free local calls and they just asked for a small donation if we used long distance, beautiful garden w/ furniture/gazebo. The house is across the street from the church and a block from the VERY good College Arms pub.

That's about all I can manage tonight . . . . . I'll pick up from our arrival (and the first snafu before we even get out of Arrivals )
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Jun 2nd, 2009, 09:41 PM
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Hurray! Looking forward to this report.

Lee Ann
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Jun 2nd, 2009, 10:23 PM
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I've thought of organizing a group of friends for such a trip; I'm looking forward to hearing more!
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Jun 3rd, 2009, 05:43 AM
  #4
tod
 
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Nice start Janis - I am so envious about the Chelsea Flower Show! Just couldn't do it this visit but pleased to hear South Africa did very well indeed.
Looking forward to more quite soon!
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Jun 3rd, 2009, 06:05 AM
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janisj:

Sorry to hear you were under the weather on your return.

We are in for treat hearing all about your holiday.

Sandy
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Jun 3rd, 2009, 06:09 AM
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Looking forward to hearing all about it! As you were one of my main helpers in my planning a trip last year, I have a bit of cyber-connection to you. Get well and write on!
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Jun 3rd, 2009, 06:55 AM
  #7
yk
 
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Hi janis, I've been waiting forever for this! Glad you're feeling better.
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Jun 3rd, 2009, 11:06 AM
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Hi everyone. This will be a short entry just to cover day one and settling in. I'll get to the meat of the report in a day or two . . . . .

Day one, arriving at LHR and the first of several "perfect" plans to fall apart:

As I mentioned, our flight schedules could not have been better w/ just 30 minutes between arrivals and in the same terminal. I e-mailed justairports to get a quote since we were staying outside of what they call "central London" and needed a people mover. They didn't answer so I eventually phoned and got £68. Not bad but I thought a wee bit high. So I called Ray Skinner (he used to be my car service of choice before his prices went up significantly). He quoted £59 if we pre-paid -- "sold". That is great for 6 from LHR to St Katharine's. We talked about the two flights and they would key on the actual landing time of each flight and arrive 35 mins after whichever touched down last.

So the PLAN A was written in stone - whichever flight landed first, those women would STAY in the baggage claim area until the others arrive. No exceptions. There are benches and the wait would likely be 30 minutes or less. No one would exit until we were all together and then head out to find the driver.

The 6 of us had a couple of conference calls leading up to the trip but when I suggested I'd call the ORD ladies to explain our plan - the sister said - "no problem, I'm calling tonight anyway. I'll take care of it." Big mistake

The SFO flight arrived on time but had about a 10 minute wait for a gate. We weren't worried, the ORD ladies would be waiting. Well, we got to baggage and got our stuff (all carry on sized but checked due to VS' 6 kilo limit). Then we went looking for the others. Saw their flight # on a different carousel w/ another flight #. But no people and no luggage (?). Then bags started coming down the chute - still only a handful of people. We waited and waited - the bags were not from their AA flight. We wandered up and down to other seating areas - no ORD contingent. We spent nearly 30 mins searching/asking and finally an AA staffer said their flight had landed and cleared nearly an hour ago. In other words, about 30 mins before ours just like we planned. Where the heck were they? Did they miss the flight?

We decided the best thing to do was go out and look for our driver and then head to AA to see what the problem was. Lo and behold (!) - there were Barb and Marty standing chatting w/ our pretty (actually VERY) annoyed driver. The girls had not understood the plan at all and had been worried that we had missed our flight. It turned out OK - since the driver calmed down pretty quickly and didn't even charge us the extra standing time.

Richard took us on a nice, slightly off course scenic route where I could point out some major sites (this is where we learned that the two ORD ladies are DEATHLY afraid of heights - one peek at the Eye and one of them about panicked. Seems we'll have to re-think our celebratory Champagne Flight idea)

As we approached the Tower, Richard phoned David the on-site manager at the flats and he met us as we pulled up. Very nice. We were about 3 hours early for our guaranteed check in time but one of the flats was ready. 3 of us moved in and David stowed the luggage for the other 3 in that flat and told them it would be ready in about an hour.

We went to the Dickens Inn to get something to eat. Many of you have see this place - really lovely outside but not a gourmet sensation to be sure. But at that point, nearby and food was about the only criteria. The Dickens Inn is literally downstairs and maybe 150 feet from one of the flats so could not have been easier. Two of them coped fine but there was a lot of "what is that", "what does that taste like", and waffling/indecision from the other three . . . .

Not kidding - the pickle (Branston-type) freaked out one. The look of it - no question she would actually taste the stuff. She was leaning towards a ploughman's lunch but somehow came away w/ cheese, bread and noodles !?

But the cider and beers were a dreat success - yeah! so all was well. (but I was sensing that our plans for a dinner at Rules, tea at the Ritz, etc might run into "issues". As it turned out, they were all quick studies and there really weren't any other food disasters)

We walked over to Tower Hill station and everyone bought Oysters and I topped up my old one. Then back into the Marina and over to the Waitrose to buy basic provisions for each flat. Each gal put £10 into the pot and we used that to buy breakfast things, tea, coffee, wine, fruit, etc etc etc -- oh - and digestive biscuits and flavoured crisps of course.

That was about it for day one - most* got cash from the ATM in the Marina, walked around the area, took photos and basically just settled in. This was Friday and I had hoped to go over to Borough Market for provisions, but it just didn't work out time or energy-wise.

Tomorrow: Portobello Rd, and more . . . .

* I said "most" got cash. The only other member of our group w/ much/any international travel experience was the exception. Before she retired she had traveled all over - India, SE Asia, London, Egypt in connection w/ her work. In the planning stages I'd talked about ATM, credit cards, conversion fees, contacting our banks, etc. All the general "stuff". That was the one lesson this lady ignored. She brought ALL of her money (for our 2 weeks in England plus an add'l 9 days in Scotland and 7 days in Ireland) in US $ cash!!!. Nuts IMO. And of course my first problem was finding her a bank w/i walking distance on a Friday afternoon that could exchange. We found one up near Aldgate maybe a 6 minute walk from Tower Hill station.
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Jun 3rd, 2009, 11:49 AM
  #9
yk
 
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Hi janis - kudos to you for organizing this trip! I recently traveled with several of my relatives and I was kind of worried, but they turned out to be very easygoing... I don't think I can ever "lead" a trip with people who I don't know well.
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Jun 3rd, 2009, 03:46 PM
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janisj:

Day One: Oh dear the first of several "perfect" plans to fall apart.

I can't imagine not liking or trying Branston pickle. But it sounds like the ladies came around.

I wonder if the group realized how lucky they were to have you as the leader.

Carry on - more please.

Sandy
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Jun 3rd, 2009, 04:10 PM
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hi janisj

great start to the report, if not to teh trip!

looking forward to more,

regards, ann

ps - if she had the screaming addabs about Branston, what WOUlD she do if confronted with piccalilli?
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Jun 3rd, 2009, 04:29 PM
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Is piccalilli something different in the UK? My mother (New England) made picalilli from cucumbers and other stuff in the garden. It was sort of like relish you buy in any supermarket, but infinitely better tasting. So what is it about the picalilli you know that might put someone off?
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Jun 3rd, 2009, 04:51 PM
  #13
 
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Really enjoying your report--there used to be a good seafood place at the docks--Fish? Wonder if it's still there. The house in the Cotswolds looks gorgeous. Looking forward to more of the report.
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Jun 3rd, 2009, 07:56 PM
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I've enjoyed your advice over the years, and am likewise enjoying traveling vicariously with you!

Cheers, Annette
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Jun 3rd, 2009, 08:14 PM
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I just wanted to say hello janisj and send you wishes that you are feeling back to you normal good health by the weekend! There has been some strange virus going around here dear one. Thankfully I haven't picked it up.

I love your trip report and look forward to the next installment.
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Jun 3rd, 2009, 10:32 PM
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Branston Pickle (a proprietary brand: astandard sugar-drenched brown relish, with next to no taste, what there is pretty drecky but not remotely worth getting into conniptions for or against over) is nothing remotely like:
- proper pickles, or
- piccalilli, which is a mustard (and sometimes turmeric, so Alzheimer-repellant) based, almost sugar free, relish usually in Britain dominated by pickled cauliflower, though other veg are often found
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Jun 4th, 2009, 03:35 AM
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Don't diss the Branston. Nothing, but nothing, goes better with cheddar.
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Jun 4th, 2009, 07:27 PM
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Your London flat looks perfect. I wish I would have known about it. I panicked and got a hotwire hotel, wish I would have stuck to asking you all for apartment recommendations.

Please keep talking about foods that are unfamiliar to us Yanks, I love learning and will clear out my suitcase of disposable tshirts etc. to bring home goodies like the Branston pickle!

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Branston_Pickle

Glad you are feeling better, Janis.
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Jun 5th, 2009, 10:29 AM
  #19
 
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Looking forward to the rest of what promises to be a terrific report, janis. I did think of you over those 2 weeks and wonder how it was all going for you!

Our Chum says...

Don't diss the Branston

Absolutely not! I don't tend to buy it now because I make my own pickles and chutneys, but when I was at boarding school back in the late 60s/early 70s all we were allowed on the table beside the salt and pepper were Percy Dalton's peanut butter and Branston Pickle. Without those two savoury items (our) school food would have been virtually inedible -Branston was a life saver!

Hey Chum - I bet you had better food at your boarding school!
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Jun 5th, 2009, 10:31 AM
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The school pets ate better than we did.

The only thing the kitchen could do was puds - cat's bum custard and drowned babies were my favourite.

We were allowed toasters in our cubicles. So I am the Gordon Ramsay of the toasted sandwich.
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