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TR: Solo in London, Museums, and a Private Tour of Parliament

TR: Solo in London, Museums, and a Private Tour of Parliament

Aug 3rd, 2011, 06:36 AM
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"Twk, where did you watch the debate from? The gallery? We did not go up there. I never expected to have such an opportunity but who knows?"

Yes, I watched from the Commons gallery. For any non-UK resident without the kind of connections that you had, unless you are there in September during the recess when they do tours, your only chance for a look inside Westminster is to line up to watch a debate in the Commons or the Lords. Got a little peak inside, but no tour, and you aren't just free to roam around. UK residents can line up tours through their MPs, I believe. You were very lucky. There was an MP that shares my family name and I considered writing to see if I could finagle a tour, but decided against it.
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Aug 3rd, 2011, 08:00 AM
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Yes, latedaytraveler, I've eaten at the Wallace a couple of times. I love the setting in the courtyard - even if you don't have a full meal you can have a glass of wine or dessert.

For a couple of years I was in lucky to be in London every six weeks or so staying in Marylebone and I'd try to get to the Collection on each visit. It's such a peaceful place and I never seemed to see everything.
mvor is offline  
Aug 3rd, 2011, 10:47 AM
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Thank you, Mvor, sounds like a plan... I hope to return to the Wallace someday.
latedaytraveler is offline  
Aug 3rd, 2011, 07:05 PM
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Still chuckling about having met Mr. Skinner - I had no idea!
latedaytraveler is offline  
Aug 4th, 2011, 11:37 AM
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Still working on Cornwall and Devon...
latedaytraveler is offline  
Aug 4th, 2011, 07:03 PM
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Enjoying your trip report. Can't wait to read the rest.
europeannovice is offline  
Aug 4th, 2011, 07:10 PM
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Thank you, Europeannovice, for your interest. Now that I am home, I am really beginning to process the whole experience, particularly visiting Parliament as a no UK resident.
latedaytraveler is offline  
Aug 5th, 2011, 08:19 AM
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TUESDAY, July 19- MONDAY, July 25: We met in the lobby of the Park Plaza County Hall at 9 AM. The group was large, some 48 souls (I can hear the groans from here ). My sense is that most folks on this board have never taken such a tour and wouldn’t be caught dead doing so, although they are too polite to say so. N’est pas? I did not expect to chronicle this part of my trip but since a few people asked for it, here goes:

Most traveled as couples, friends, small family groups with four unattached men and six single women, including “moi.” I have been to Europe many times in the past 15 years – independently, on trains, and driving. My traveling companions of yore, for a variety of reasons, are no longer available. Therefore, escorted tours suit my needs well. A description of the tour is available on the Trafalgar site – THE BEST OF CORNWALL AND DEVON. Sorry, I could not cut ‘n past the website here. For most folks on this junket, the tour was part of a larger itinerary. Some travelers, particularly those from Down Under, had been traveling for months.

TOUR DIRECTOR: The impresario/ rainmaker/ nanny – ours was ANDREW, a very experienced, older guide. At the end of each tour, clients are given an evaluation to fill out. The the tour director scores determine the trips he will be assigned in the future. Obviously, Andrew has scored consistently well to lead such a large group.

THE COACH (or bus as we call it in the States) – large, clean, comfortable. Passengers rotate seats daily, moving two rows up clockwise. Therefore, someone “new” sits beside you every day.

LUGGAGE: passengers are allowed one good size suitcase which is picked up outside their room at an appointed time (early) and delivered to their new hotel room at the next stop. Tour directors are responsible for checking luggage and I have never known of a suitcase to be missing on these safaris. Any other carry- on or purchases can be left in the coach for the day. Hotel keys are available upon arrival. Paperwork/passport info is pre-arranged.

HOTELS: first and last night at PARK PLAZA COUNTY HALL, London (see above). We were five nights on the road: Tuesday at DURRANT HOUSE, Bideford , a bit like Faulty Towers – but maybe that was because there was no computer available and the weather was miserable; Wednesday & Thursday at JURY’S INN in Plymouth – clean and basic, near major sites; Friday and Saturday at MERCURE HOLLAND HOUSE in Bristol – more upscale, similar to a Radisson or Marriott.

Actually I prefer to travel on INSIGHT TOURS (higher end of Trafalgar Tours) because the hotels are a notch or two above. But Insight does not offer this tour.

MEALS: Each hotel provided a full, hot breakfast – too full, I might add, with all those sausages and eggs! One “Cream Tea” was offered in Tintagel – consisted of scones (something like baking powder biscuits) with Devon cream (almost a cross between butter and cream cheese- with no calories we were told) and an assortment of jams. Served with hot tea – quite good.

DINNERS: Dinner was included at the hotel on the first night in Bideford and on the last evening in Bristol “with wine.” Dinner was adequate, but then I am not fussy.

OPTIONAL DINNERS: Often passengers on their first tour resent paying “extra” for optional excursions. However, I have always found them to be worthwhile. “The Best of Cornwall and Devon” offered two. On Thursday night in Plymouth we took a short ferry ride across the River Tamar to the village of Cremmyll to the rustic 15th century EDGECUMBE ARMS INN where we enjoyed a delicious carvery dinner. We then took a drive along the stunning RAME HEAD PENNINSULA with dramatic views of the “forgotten Cornwall” coast. The shoreline reminded me of scenes from one of my favorite writers, DAPHNE DU MAURIER.

On Friday night (the weather happened to be magnificent on both evenings) we ventured from Bristol to Lacock, a delightful village maintained by the National Trust which retains it authentic 18th century appearance according to the will of Charles Henry Fox Talbot. The village with its charming thatched roof cottages has been used in many films including PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, CRANFORD, and scenes from HARRY POTTER. We ate at the GEORGE INN, built in 1391 – need I say more? We were told that Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, lives nearby although the natives guard her privacy well.

ITINERARY: in a word, extensive. Below were my favorite stops:

SALISBURY CATHEDRAL: magnificent early English Gothic built in just 38 years (1220-1258), motherchurch to several hundred parishes in Wiltshire and Dorset. The huge Cathedral contains dozens of crypts, testimonials, and statues, not to forget its 404 foot spire. At 1PM the rector offered a short ecumenical prayer for peace from the pulpit. Shortly thereafter I stopped at the Cathedral café/carvery for lunch. The facility was quite crowded. Suddenly I saw the rector with his lunch on a tray looking for a seat. I invited him to join me. We had a delightful conversation which included a discussion of one of my favorite writer ANTHONY TROLLOPE whose novels often had an ecclesiastical setting.

As we left the town, we stopped at viewpoint where the painter JOHN CONSTABLE painted THE HAY WAIN and SALISBURY FROM THE MEADOWS (which I had seen at the National Gallery). Andrew told us that a few years ago a large super market chain wanted to buy the property but was met with howls of protest from art lovers all over the world. The billowing clouds that day were right out of Constable as we drove through the lush English farmlands.

ST. IVES: another beautiful day! Near the tip of southwest England, St. Ives, formerly a fishing village (and base for pirates in the old days), is now an upscale holiday resort featuring one of the best beaches in Europe, according to a recent report. Only residents are permitted to drive through its narrow streets so the coach parked in a lot above the town which provided a sweeping view of the St. Ives. Above the beach are rows of streets with Victorian style resort villas. A bus service provides frequent access down to the shoreline, filled with upscale shops and several eateries/pubs. I had to try a Cornish pasty – lamb with mint – delicious. Up close the water is beautiful, an aqua blue similar to what is seen in the Caribbean and Mexico. The resort is hugely popular with the Brits – Andrew told us that if we had come in August, the roads would have been clogged with traffic. St. Ives is lovely.

BATH: if you have been there you know why. I guess I had just expected to see the fabled Royal Crescent and a few other sites preserved from the days of Jane Austen. I soon discovered that the whole city is a veritable museum whose buildings are constructed of a creamy limestone called “Bath Stone.” Our tour started with a visit to the Roman baths – so interesting – after which I peeked into the famous PUMP ROOM where diners were enjoying breakfast while a stringed orchestra played. Andrew gave us ticket for the Hop on- hop off tour of the city which came in handy because Bath is spread out (beautifully) and quite hilly. I dropped off at the JANE AUSTEN CENTRE at 40 Gay Street. A young docent gave an overview of Austen’s life and work and invited us to peruse the many exhibits at the site. Jane Austin is not my favorite British novelist, but since this was a literary/artistic pilgrimage, I felt I should pay her homage.

I then took the SKYLINE BUS TOUR out to the countryside around Bath – gorgeous homes and rich farmland. Although the sun was shining, the weather was cool sitting on that top deck. When we returned to the city, I stopped at an indoor café and had hot soup and tea. Another feature of Bath is its outstanding, award-winning gardens and green spaces – flower lover’s paradise! I then visited BATH ABBEY in the center of the city which is quite magnificent (maybe I am overusing that word, but nothing else will do). Nearby I found a shop which featured BATH GLASS and bought my daughter a lovely pinkish milk pitcher made locally. I then connected with some tour-mates on the sunny plaza outside the Cathedral and chatted before returning to Bristol. Just loved Bath.

AVEBURY: is the largest stone circle in the world: it is 427m (1401ft) in diameter covers an area of some 28 acres. “Although not so immediately impressive as Stonehenge (which we had visited earlier), it is an extraordinary site formed by a huge circular bank (a mile round), a massive ditch now only a half its original depth, and a great ring of 98 sarsen slabs enclosing two smaller circles of 30 stones each and other settings and arrangements of stones.” Truthfully, I am not that interested in archeology – what enchanted me is that these stones stand amid a lovely village (now a World Heritage Site) with rose-covered, thatched roof cottages and up close views of drowsy cattle and sheep.
We visited Avebury on Sunday morning, the last day of our short tour. We then proceeded to WINDSOR for a lunch stop. The castle is so huge and commanding. From there we visited the extensive gardens of HAMPTON COURT where throngs were enjoying a lovely Sunday afternoon as swans sailed lazily by on the nearby Thames.

After a brief farewell at the PARK PLAZA COUNTY HALL, the tour ended in London around 5 PM on a beautiful afternoon. I checked in, rested for a while, then said to myself, “Why not? I am heading across the street to the LONDON EYE.” At first I was discouraged by the crowd, but between purchasing a ticket (£18) and waiting to board, it was about an hour or so. In line I met a lovely couple from Manhattan and their son so the time passed quickly. Recall this “Millennium Wheel” was built for 2000 celebrations but has remained in operation since, servicing some 3.5 million visitors a year. The views from the Eye are spectacular.
On Monday morning l left London using the HOTEL BY BUS transfer (£ 20). I was quite satisfied with this service, the driver was on time and the vehicle was new and comfortable. Again through the streets of London, I observed each street sign and sign post. As I waited at Heathrow for my return trip to Boston, I continued to read THE CHURCHILLS IN LOVE AND WAR…
latedaytraveler is offline  
Aug 5th, 2011, 08:41 AM
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...where Constable painted THE HAY WAIN ...

Sorry, he painted it in Flatford Suffolk just about here

Suffolk is a delightful county and "Constable Country" is very little changed since his day.
More Suffolk pictures at http://tinyurl.com/3cjnxdf
MissPrism is offline  
Aug 5th, 2011, 09:43 AM
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One “Cream Tea” was offered in Tintagel – consisted of scones (something like baking powder biscuits) with Devon cream (almost a cross between butter and cream cheese- with no calories we were told) and an assortment of jams. Served with hot tea – quite good.

this made me laugh - Devon cream [with NO calories - if only] in CORNWALL? what I hope you had was Cornish Clotted cream with is loaded with calories. Scones BTW are NOT made with baking powder but with good old flour, butter, milk. possibly an egg or two in some recipes.

I had to try a Cornish pasty – lamb with mint – delicious>>

then this had me choking - a pasty with lamb in it may be a pasty, but it's not a CORNISH pasty, which now as the same status as parma ham or champagne. It is BEEF [preferably a cut called "skirt"] onion, swede, potato, all in a short pastry crust.

and there is no restriction on non-locals driving through the streets of St. Ives, though you'd be mad to do so, any time between Easter and October.

I'm glad you had a good time, though!
annhig is offline  
Aug 5th, 2011, 10:07 AM
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Miss Prism, thank you for the clarification on Constable's THE HAY WAIN location - those were lovely pics of Suffolk and Norfolk

Annhig, I stand corrected. Whatever we ate was delicous.It was a lovely time...
latedaytraveler is offline  
Aug 5th, 2011, 12:45 PM
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ldt - it's interesting to find out what travellers are told about your own part of the world.

it does make me wonder about some of the things I've been told about "abroad".
annhig is offline  
Aug 5th, 2011, 05:34 PM
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Thanks for completing the story of your trip. It sounds wonderful!
irishface is offline  
Aug 5th, 2011, 06:27 PM
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Lovely!!! Thanks so much for sharing your detailed trip report with us.
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Aug 5th, 2011, 06:36 PM
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Irishface and Luvtravl, thank you for following my journey. I am preparing a little “Afterthought” to encourage anyone wishing to visit a particular place, but without a traveling companion, to give it a go either alone or on an escorted tour. Each of us has only so much time and so many resources and we must make the most of it. To be continued….
latedaytraveler is offline  
Aug 5th, 2011, 09:38 PM
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Sounds like a lovely tour . . . Except for maybe the 48 bit.

Here is a link to the tour if anyone is interested

janisj is online now  
Aug 6th, 2011, 02:17 AM
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Thanks for the link, JanisJ. Obviously this tour is popular because of the beautiful area it covers and because it fits in nicely to a larger itinerary.
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Aug 9th, 2011, 05:33 AM
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AFTERTHOUGHTS: Thank you to those who have followed my solo trip to London and my West Country tour. In the past I have gone “across the pond” for between 10-13 days, without pre or post tour stays. So for me to stay in London for five days alone was an adventure which I would certainly do again. However, although I enjoy my own company – enough is enough. I was glad to have traveling companions for the rest of the trip.

My message is to those folks out there who really want to travel and have the means, but not the spouse/partner/travel companion, to consider going solo to their dream destination or on a tour. I recall that I did not know what to expect on my first solo tour to Spain back in April 2000. It was school vacation and also Holy Week (very moving). On the first evening we gathered at the hotel for a “welcome drink” when a gal came up and introduced herself – she had noticed my college ring. You guessed it, she was also an alum and an English major to boot. She was in a party of five so we sat together on the bus through most of the journey although I met many others. It worked out well.

As I mentioned above, there were ten singles on this tour (4 men & 6 women.) An older gentleman, Lee, from Vancouver told me that our tour to Cornwall and Devon was his first but he was enjoying the experience. One day during a lunch stop at Glastonbury (not my favorite – too “new age”), I ran into Lee standing across the street from an old art deco hotel. He said rather nostalgically, “You know I stayed there 60 years ago when I was stationed nearby.” Obviously the memory was bitter-sweet. On our last day, Lee told me, “I should have done this years ago.”

I had a dear friend who had traveled widely in the days when I did not think I would ever have the same opportunity. He once said to me, “Remember, Helen, all you need is the time, the health, and the money.” (And I would add, freedom from family responsibility). I realize now how short the window is for most of us when we have all three.

Think about it….
latedaytraveler is offline  
Aug 9th, 2011, 05:42 AM
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Hi latedaytraveler, do you have any travel plans for future?

Thx again for report!
scotlib is offline  
Aug 9th, 2011, 07:41 AM
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Hi Scotlib, thank you.

Funny you should ask. Just returned from the public library with guidebooks about Paris and a book about the city during WWII. I am not making any plans yet, but I can see that my mind is drifting in that direction. I have been there briefly twice in the past.

If I went, I would do three/four days on my own “doing” the museums and then a tour that included the Normandy beaches. Not sure. Of course, expense is also an issue. If you are following the news, the economy is pretty bleak in the States just now.

Speaking of news, how about the situation in London – even David Cameron has returned from holiday. To be continued.

Scotlib, have you any travel plans in the pipeline?
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