OK, here it is, warning... it is LONG. I talk a lot.
Thank you again for all the people that helped plan this trip. It was many years in the making, and I appreciate every piece of advice I read -- even if it was to someone else!
Our honeymoon in England:
This trip has been planned, cancelled and re-planned several different times. Due to various financial emergencies and poor decisions, it had been delayed almost 4 years, but we finally got to go August 2005.
The planning portion, as I said, was over several years, but the first step towards actually going this time was getting airline tickets on Priceline. I managed to get tickets for my husband Jason and I from Orlando to London, in August (which is high tourist season in London) for $482 each plus taxes, for a total of $598 per ticket. Since the normal discounted internet rates were around $1000, I think I got a rather good deal there. We had one change over in Charlotte, and it was on US Airways.
Our next step was accommodation: I went to Priceline once again, and got 4* hotels in Leeds and London, each for $70 a night. The Leeds hotel was the Crowne Plaza Leeds, a decent enough place, and then the Copthorne Tara in London (Kensington) which was great. As many people know, though, a 4* in England is more the equivalent of a 3* in the US. Still, the rooms were clean, relatively spacious, and the bathrooms and locations good. More on that later.
There were several items that I booked ahead of time, and I will mention those throughout the report, when appropriate. I tried to do most of the planning ahead of time as I wasn't sure how much (if any) internet access I would have during the trip.
On to the actual trip!
Thursday, August 11th
I left work around 11am to drive to Orlando in time for our 4:30pm flight. We were planning on dropping our car at our friend Marie's house. The trip normally takes about an hour and a half, but driving through Orlando during the first week of school at 1:30-2:00pm was a bit more harrowing than I expected. We finally made it to the terminal by 3:00, though, and checked in' in time to find out our flight was delayed by ' hour. That worked fine for us, and the US Airways agent was very helpful, even checking to make sure we would still have time to make our connecting flight (before we even asked!).
I do want to say here that, throughout our trip, the staff at US Airways was friendly, helpful, and incredibly conscious of their customer service levels. Many went out of their way to help us or others with problems or concerns. Kudos for a job well done! In this day and age, this seems to be the exception rather than the rule, and I am happy to see GOOD customer service and praise it, hopefully encouraging it.
We went through checking our bags at the TSA checkpoint, which was painless, and went through security. This was relatively quick, even though they chose Jason's backpack to go through more thoroughly. It's understandable, though ' he had all sorts of wires, accessories and devices there for his laptop. We got finished with security and to the gate 1 ' hours before the flight was due to leave ' and discovered that the flight was actually 1 ' hours late. Since we had 2 hours leeway on our connection, we were still doing OK. They did announce that since the flight was delayed, anyone with close connections should approach the gate to talk about the possibility of rescheduling. I think that sort of communication and proactive problem-solving was exemplary.
We grabbed a bite to eat at Burger King in the airport (not realizing there were much tastier choices around the corner) as we no longer rely on the availability or quality of meals on airlines. When we boarded, we were seated in a 3 seat configuration with an empty seat between us ' however, as it was a full flight, we scootched over so a mother could sit across the aisle from her 5 year old son.
Part of the lateness of the flight was made up in flight time, so we arrived in plenty of time for our flight to London ' which was also delayed a bit. It was scheduled to leave at 8:13pm, but instead left at 10pm. It was explained as a mechanical problem, and this information was displayed on screen and at the gate. Again, good communication kept everyone calm and satisfied. The Gate Attendant said that she would try to keep the seat between Jason and I open on this leg, and she did. That made the flight itself much more comfortable, especially important as this was the 9 hour part of the flight.
Dinner on the flight was Tortellini, which I didn't eat much of as we had eaten several hours before, but it was reasonably good. Unfortunately I became the target of some falling drinks as the Flight Attendant took her cart by ' but only my sleeve got soaked. She brought some club soda to make sure it didn't get sticky.
I watched a movie on the IFE (Hitch) and an episode of Monk, then tried to get some sleep, and was reasonably successful. Breakfast was tea and a doughtnut, and we had arrived!
Friday August 12th:
We breezed through immigration and got our luggage. Off to the trains! We were booked on a train from London to Kings Cross, and then from Kings Cross St. Pancras to Leeds (St. Pancras is down the block from the other Kings Cross station). I picked up my pre-purchased tickets at the Fast Ticket machine at the station and boarded. The first train basically took us AROUND London ' from Gatwick to one of the northern train stations in the city. This is where we hit a snag ' as I was getting off at Kings Cross, I had trouble getting my luggage off. By the time I did, they closed the train doors on Jason, and he was unable to get off in time.
This is also when we discovered that our cell phones did not work in the UK (something I had been assured by Cingular). I decided that the best course of action was to wait for Jason ' common sense dictated that he would get off at the next stop, and get the next train coming back. Meanwhile I sat and people-watched for about 45 minutes. I saw a very slovenly-looking nun pass through ' her shoes, backpack and attire reminded more of homeless folk than nuns, but she definitely had a brown habit on.
He did, but since this was an Express train, the next stop was 20 minutes away (St. Albans). That means we missed our connecting train ' but the customer service clerk wrote us a note to give to the other train station, explaining that the trains were running late, so they were stopping for shorter periods of time at each stop, thus not giving us enough time to alight. It worked fine, and we took the train to Leeds one hour later than our original. The clerk who did this (Cedric) was very helpful.
This is when I discovered that the bathroom at Kings Cross St. Pancras cost 20p to use ' and I only had pound notes, no change, as I had just gotten here. A kind lady gave me 20p, luckily!
We got on our train to Leeds, after much deliberation and the wrong seats (we went into a car with reserved seats first, and we had no reserved seats). Unfortunately, finding the unreserved seats also means we were right next to the smoking car, and people going in and out of the car all trip brought the smoke smell with them.
The train trip itself was uneventful and rainy, and lasted about 2 ' hours. When we got off the train at Leeds, we called Enterprise Rent-a-Car, and they offered to pick us up in the back of the station ' which we had to find in the rain. We went around most of the train station until we found it! It was near a pub called Wetherspoons. We could, of course, had tried to find it from the inside ' but we were too tired for logic at this point!
We rented a full-sized car, which was a Saab, and large enough for both Jason and I to drive. As my husband is 6'4', finding a car he fits in comfortably enough to drive is a challenge. When we turned on the car, it told us the coolant level was low ' so they filled it up at the rental agency, and told us to keep refilling it if we needed to. The coolant level wasn't really low, the indicator light just continued to tell us it was, so we ignored it. We got directions for the nearest gas station, as they rented the car to us empty of petrol. Unfortunately, the petrol station they sent us to was just closing up, but the manager told us he would turn the gas pump back on if we were paying cash. We did, filled up with £35 ($70!), and followed the manager to the Crowne Plaza Leeds. The manager offered to show us the way, as he said he was rubbish with directions.
We checked in to our room, and the clerk tried to secure the honeymoon suite for us, but no luck. The room mini-bar was broken, and there was no adaptor for the internet. The room itself was nice, but little bits here and there were annoying. However, the shower pressure was fabulous, and the bed comfy, that makes up for a lot. Jason found two wireless connections, but they were both too weak to use, so we availed ourselves of the free 24-hour business center internet service about once a day to check our email. There was only one computer, so occasionally someone else was using it.
We were tired and hungry, and decided that going out for something to eat was too much effort, so we decided to eat at the hotel. There are two restaurants at the hotel ' the higher class Boccagrande, and the lower class Sandwich Bar. We decided that, after about 24 hours of traveling, we were much too un-hygenic for a nice restaurant, so ordered room service. I had a burger with brie, and Jason had a steak & onion sandwich, with a salmon appetizer. It may have been our intense hunger, but it tasted delicious!
We each took a shower and collapsed at 9pm ' waking up late the next morning.
Saturday August 13th:
We woke late today, but thoroughly rested and ready to go. We watched a show called Braniac, which mostly involved exploding things and shocking people for the interest of science.
On our first driving exploration trip, I took the wheel. After all, I'd driven in the UK before, and theoretically I knew where we were going. Right.
We drove towards our first destinations of the day, Harewood House and Fountains Abbey. However, since we had woken so late, we decided that, if we could see only one, then Fountains Abbey was our first choice. It was a good choice! We had lunch on the way up, at a pub called the Black Swan Inn in Burn Bridge. We both had our first Fish & Chips of the trip ' the haddock was sweet and flaky, the portion huge, the chips fluffy. Heaven!
We headed back on the A61 to find the Fountains Abbey ' and discovered that www.theAA.com doesn't always give the best directions!
We arrived at Fountains Abbey, which was covered on our Great Britain Heritage card. It was a short walk from the welcome center, by a field (they were setting up a stage for a show that night) and down a wooded hill to the abbey. It was a wonderful ruin! There were lots of areas to explore, lots of great pictures and film to take. It drizzled on and off while we were there, with a couple spats of heavy rain, but the sun came out afterwards, and became cool, breezy and clear. The architecture was incredible, and my husband waxed poetic at one point. There is a lovely stream beside the abbey with great wildflowers and culverts around it. The music of the stream was liquid delight ' it was nice just to sit and listen to it. There were a good number of other people touring the place, and some children running around, but they weren't intrusive or loud.
The walk back up the hill about killed us ' we are so out of shape! We had to rest at the bench halfway up. The 3 little old ladies walking up the hill passed us!
We went into the gift shop as it was closing down, and got an umbrella and invested in a wonderful street map book of England, something that saved us many, many times throughout the trip. We went out to the courtyard, and Jason had a chocolate ice cream cone and we both got some water.
We headed back to Ripon, but got lost. We ended up heading west towards Kirkby/Averly, and drove on that road about 4 miles by the time we figured out where we were. That map was a timely investment! We turned around and got back to Ripon and Harrowood. We had dinner at a pub called the Queens Arms just outside Leeds. We each had steak & ale pie, covered in a delicious gravy, and had mushroom/stilton melt for an appetizer, a couple of pints (Guinness for Jason, cider for me!).
The place was empty when we first arrived at 7, but was full when we left. It looked like they got lots of tourists (like us). We drove back to Leeds and had fun (?) driving around the Loop road that circles town centre, trying to find the road that our hotel was on. We went around at least 1 ' times before we found it. We watched a little telly and then went to sleep. Tomorrow was an early day!
Sunday August 14th:
Up early at 7 am, we had a trip to York today! My memories of York were clear and quaint ' half-timbered shops along cobble stoned shopping streets, the wonderful Minster, and of course, too many people.
On the way out to York we passed an intersection that had at least 9 traffic lights facing in our direction. Some contractor must have made LOADS of money on THAT contract! We went into York by way of Tadcaster (and laughed a bit at the name, of course). We found parking under Clifford tower. We were there too early ' nothing was open yet, and it was misty and rainy. We had only one umbrella between us, so walking was a bit difficult, but we wandered among the streets until we found a restaurant open serving breakfast. We went in for our only 'English breakfast' of the trip, a true fry-up. By the time we were done it was 9 am, and the town was beginning to wake up.
While we were eating breakfast, we discussed the possibility of setting up an English-style pub in our town back in Florida. There weren't any there now, and the closest thing was an Irish bar that didn't serve food. We discussed lots of details like serving a full English Fry-up Breakfast on Saturday and Sundays, Afternoon Tea on Saturdays and Sundays, and open for lunch every day ' pub grub. We would, of course, have British beers on tap, (including our favorites, Guinness and cider), and possibly (if it's legal) have real English-sized pints, too!
After breakfast we wandered around the Newgate Market, sort of like a flea market. Most of it was retail things, with a few handcrafted and art items. We saw more quaint little cobble-stone alleyways and half-timbered houses, just like I recalled. We tried to get lost, but kept finding either the Minster or Clifford's Tower. It's hard to miss either of these landmarks.
The bells pealed at 9am and 10am, and Jason was feeling chilled, so we went for some coffee at Starbucks. I know, you gasp, Starbucks in England? It is true, we went, but I didn't buy anything ' Jason did
We found a Japanese store and I got a cute little cinnabar-style dragon. We saw a book for a friend on adult-themed origami, but decided against it, to my regret. Now I want to go back for it! Perhaps I can find it online?
We went into the Jorvik Viking Center, something I had wanted to do last time we visited but couldn't afford then. It was interesting, but rather cheesy, but I'd been warned about that. The 'ride' through the Viking village was interesting ' up to the part where you saw one of the mannequins going to the bathroom behind a wattle wall. He even grunted! And yes, smell-o-vision was activated.
We went down to York Minster, and I went inside. I was once again amazed by the beauty that man can create. The sheer volume of carving, gilt and art in this one place is incredible. The choir was singing when I came in, and the acoustics and sound were breath-taking.
Jason and I did some people watching outside York Minster after that, and we heard all sorts of languages being spoken by the people going by; Russian, German, Dutch, Cantonese, Spanish, Italian, Ukranian, Japanese, French, and lots of different English, Scottish and American accents. 'Tis a small world, indeed!
We did some more shopping, including my first trip into a Boots (Pharmacy). It's a pretty amazing place, for a pharmacy (or chemist, as they are called in the UK). It was like the mecca of toiletries. I purchased some gel pads for my heels, as my shoes were chaffing a bit and giving me blisters.
As we were crossing the street outside Petergate, I slipped and fell flat on my face into the street. Such grace! Such style! Luckily I merely suffered some scrapes on my knees and the palm of one hand. I really should take up ballet, don't you think?
We drove out of York in search of a pub for a late lunch. We'd about had it with the city, and were looking for something out in the country. We drove through Tadcaster, but the only place we saw that was interesting was 'Tad-kebobs', and we wanted a sit-down meal. We drove through Bramham and onto the A1 and A64, finally stopping at the Fox & Grapes. We ordered a couple of pints, and Jason had open-faced chicken pie while I tried the lamb moussaka. Thus we come to my second clumsy moment of the day, sitting on a stool and sliding right off the back, falling on my bum and hitting the back of my head on the wall. And I hadn't even taken a sip of my pint yet! The lamb dish was good ' sort of like a potato based lasagna with eggplant and lamb.
So we were sated and happy and drove home from there. We were getting very tired, so we decided to get back to the hotel for a while. We checked our email at the business centre, and took an afternoon nap ' neither of us slept well the night before. After the nap and some news on the telly, we decided to go explore the surrounding streets a bit for a dinner spot. We got a recommendation from the desk clerk to try Nawab, which is an Indian restaurant several blocks down. We found it and it was great! We had meat samosas for starters, lamb haandi and chicken jefrase. The food was delicious, but the dessert, called Fantastica, while tasty was evidently common ' we saw it in no less than 4 other restaurants later in our trip. It was a caramel and vanilla ice cream dish with toffee and chocolate on top.
When we were done with dinner, we waddled the few blocks to the hotel, and watched a couple of episodes of Babylon 5 on Jason's laptop before going off to bed.
Monday, August 15th:
We were supposed to get up early today, but got up around 9am instead. Today was Whitby day. We debated switching with Nottingham today, but decided against it. We decided not to try to find anything fancy for breakfast, and stopped at a Burger King on the way. Boy that was different! It was late, so breakfast was over. I tried a chicken BLT baguette ' not bad!
Today's first stop was Rivaulx Abbey. The trek was one of the more harrowing, as it involved a tiny one-lane road for 4 miles, going up and down hills at a 25% grade. We went very slowly! Then we saw a hobbit bridge, and had to check to make sure Smeagol wasn't in the back seat.
The abbey was great, but I think I liked Fountains Abbey better. This one was more peaceful and isolated, and was MUCH more difficult to get to. It was nice to see the swallows flitting around it constantly, like a ballet on the wind.
It was in the hills, and we tried going out a different way ' it sort of worked. We headed up the A169 to Whitby and found ourselves among heather, heather, and more heather. The hills were covered in purple, and Jason accused me of secretly taking him to Scotland. I told them this was obviously English heather, as there were no bagpipes playing in the background. Oh, and the lovely odor of sheep and their by-products permeated the air as well!
When we arrived in Whitby we went straight to the Abbey, as the first time we visited we had gotten there too late and it was closed. Again, the Great Britain Heritage Card was useful for our admission, and we explored the abbey, which is situated on a dramatic headland next to Whitby harbor. Interestingly enough, the first time we visited in 2000, Jason had a severe drop in his blood sugar, and almost passed out. The same thing happened this time, though a little less severe, so we went to the gift shop and got him some sugar. He had some cookies and I went to the tea room for some drinks. I tried a 'ginger & lime pressé', which was quite tasty, though strange. Jason had a Shandy Beer, which was also pretty good. I bought a brass celtic knotwork bookmark for myself and a little book on medieval cooking for my mom.
It was nice to hear the seagulls crying in the sea as we looked over the bay.
We went down to explore the church and graveyard that is next to the abbey, which has some fabulous celtic crosses and a spectacular view of the water. The town is below, on either side of the river, and the harbor just around the mouth of the river. A truly magical spot, except for the occasional blast of sound from the cheesy tourist carnival on the quay. That was something we didn't remember from our first trip, as well as the gift shop and tea room ' those at least were built in 2002, according to the ticket clerk. We chatted with him a bit ' he literally used to live where the gift shop was. It was his farm land. I found that rather sad.
We drove into town, but just looked around some and went on to Ravenscar. We wanted to find the area we stayed at last time, a B&B called Smuggler's Rock, as it had a wonderful view. We did find it, and took lots of pictures of the mill across the street, and the view over Robin Hood's Bay. It was as beautiful as I remember!
We drove into Scarborough on our way back, on a long windy drive. And that's when we discovered that Scarborough beach is also covered in a cheesy touristy carnival. Ugh! Fantastic sea views, but loud, raucous noise coming from the rides and children. We drove along the marine road, and then out through east side to York. We were very hungry by now, as our lunch was at 11am and it was now almost 8pm. Of course, we can't find any pubs along the road since we're so hungry. We stop at one called the Snooty Fox (I loved the sign!) but discovered that they don't serve food on Monday. Argh! They did recommend a place called the Coach and Horses, which was down the road several miles. We found it and both ordered Whitby Haddock ' my was that good! We also had some HUGE fried mushrooms. They must have been over two inches across each. The pub was decorated in hundreds of cats ' not live ones, though, ceramic, brass, glass, etc. Some were even hanging from a glass tray from the ceiling!
We figured we could do this with my dragons in our pub.
I had some Red C cider ' it was sweet rather than dry, and is my new favorite.
We drove home and conked out ' it was a long, tiring day, with lots of driving and great sites.
Tuesday, August 16th:
Up at 9am today ' we should have gotten up earlier, as it was another fun-filled day, but we were tired!
Today was a trip designed by a fellow traveler from Fodors, a 'day in the Yorkshire Dales'. We started off to Skipton first. We drove through Ilkley, and were stuck there for over a half hour getting through town center ' it was very congested. Then we had a long drive into Skipton and we kept missing the castle. We finally found the castle, but couldn't find any parking open, so we skipped Skipton and went on to our next site, Bolton Abbey.
We found the Bolton Abbey area, but once again passed right by the entrance, without realizing it. One of the problems is that there is a large area all known as Bolton Abbey. We drove down to a forest called Strid Wood before deciding to turn back. When we did, we found the Abbey itself, and parked. We walked down the hill into the Abbey. There are two parts of the Abbey ' the ruined part and St. Mary & St. Cuthbert church, which is still whole and in use. Both were great in their own way, and the graveyard was fantastic (yes, I'm morbid, I love graveyards. This one had lots of beautiful headstones and a 'lived in' feel).
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OK, here it is, warning... it is LONG. I talk a lot.