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Trip Report Trip Report: Goodwood, Bath, London, 26 June-6 July 2015

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Thank you, fodors forum posters, for your invaluable help and tips. I didn't ask many questions but I read everything on this forum in the year leading up to our departure. I learned so much and it helped us have a fantastic trip. You have my most sincere thanks.

The complete report with pictures is on my "blog"
But I'll post each entry here.

Trip Report: Goodwood Festival of Speed, Bath and London

Who: Husband, nephew (18), me

What: 10 sightseeing days in England

Why: Our present to nephew for high school graduation

Where: Goodwood, Bath, London

How: Lots of research on TA, fodors. Thank you to all forum posters!

Guidebooks: Michelin Green Guide, Blue Guide (for planning).

Maps: Streetwise London, AA and google directions

Result: Smashing success!

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    The Plan

    Goodwood Festival of Speed, Bath and London
    June 25 to July 6 2015

    Thursday, June 25 --depart at 2pm

    Friday, June 26: Middleton-on-Sea Arrive LHR 740am, pick up rental car
    See Arundel Castle: Chapel, Garden, Grounds and Keep--10am-4:30pm; Rooms--12n-5pm
    Check in to The Elmer Pub and Inn

    Saturday, June 27: Middleton-on-Sea
    Goodwood Festival of Speed

    Sunday, June 28: Bath
    Jane Austen House Museum (daily 10am-5pm); Winchester Cathedral (Sunday 1230-3pm, no free tours).
    If time, Stonehenge (only if nephew wants) or Avebury Stone Circle
    Check in to Cornerways B&B

    Monday, June 29: Bath
    Bath Abbey (930am-630pm); 10:30 am Mayor's Voluntary Guides free tour, starts at Pump Room; Roman Baths Museum (9am-5pm); No. 1 Royal Crescent (1230-5pm); Assembly Rooms (1030am-5pm)

    Tuesday, June 30: London
    Drive from Bath to Windsor Castle (945-1715)
    Drive from Windsor to LHR, drop off car, take underground to check into apartment on Palace St., shop for essentials
    Dinner at Nobu

    Wednesday, July 1: London
    Westminster Abbey (930am-1530; Verger 10am) The line was too long at 945am
    Procure Travelcards at Victoria Railway station
    Westminster Cathedral

    Churchill War Rooms (930am-6pm)
    Pass by: 10 Downing Street, Horse Guards Parade
    National Gallery (for Impressionists--rooms closed for Industrial Action)
    National Portrait Gallery (Audrey Hepburn Exhibit--sorry, starts on 2/July)
    Wimbledon--queue for “after 5” tickets (arrive around 430pm)

    Thursday, July 2: London
    British Library (Treasures 930a,-1700), Magna Carta exhibit 930am
    St. Pancras and King's Cross Stations
    Museum of London
    St. Bartholomew the Greater
    Smithfields pubs

    Friday, July 3: London
    Tower of London (9am-1630), get there at opening, see Crown Jewels, join Beefeater Tour, then wander at will; lunch at the TowerSt. Paul's Cathedral (830am-430pm; 2pm tour)
    Pub Crawl in the City
    730pm Jack-the-Ripper tour (London Walks, Tower Hill Tram coffee stand outside Tower Hill tube)

    Saturday, July 4: London
    British Museum (10-1700; tour at 1130am or 2pm)
    National Portrait Gallery (Audrey Hepburn exhibit, sadly sold-out)
    National Gallery (for Impressionists, 10am-6pm) Parliament Tour (first 9am, last 4:15, prebook, arrive 30 minutes early)
    Dinner somewhere
    9:30pm Ceremony of the Keys

    Sunday, July 5: London
    London Greeter tour of Greenwich, see the rest of Greenwich (9am/10am-5pm)
    Souvenir shopping
    TALF pub meet 630pm Blackfriars

    Monday, July 6--depart LHR at 225pm
    If needed, Marks and Spencer for last minute gifts
    Blackberry Cabs pick-up at 1030am

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    Arrival, Arundel Castle and a nice surprise

    England Day 1: Husband met me and nephew in Charlotte and we all flew from there to LHR, Terminal 3, US Airways. It was a typical economy class flight. The food and service were ok, the entertainment system worked, the cabin was very cold, the legroom barely tolerable. Surprisingly, husband and I slept a few hours!

    We landed early but by the time we got to the gate, we were “on-time.” It took at least 1.5 hours to get through immigration, get our bags and get on our way. We walked to the Hertz counter on rental car row to find we had to take the bus to the Rental Office. No problem.

    We waited in line for 30 minutes at the Hertz rental office but they had free wifi and gave us delicious coffee.

    The guy that helped us was pleasant. I had prepaid but there was an additional small charge (3GBP) that he couldn’t explain; too small to worry about. He upgraded our vehicle without telling us so we ended up in a very nice small Mitsubishi SUV.

    We pulled out our maps and google step-by-step directions and were off to our first destination: Arundel Castle. We had not splurged for GPS (15GBP per day) and hoped for the best.

    Husband did very well with the driving. His previous experiences (2011 and 2008) came in handy as well as the unexpected sleep on the plane! I did cringe a few times because he seemed to get awfully close to the hedges on my side—but he never hit anything. All three of us kept saying “stay left” to remind him that he was on the “other side” of the road.

    Of course we got turned around a few times and lost our spot in the google directions and our maps were not on a small enough scale to really help. We ended up stopping at the Coultershaw Heritage site begging the nice gentleman there to point us in the right direction. He most graciously did but then invited us to view the Beam Pump which fascinated my two “engineer” types. I loved the setting and the history and of course wanted to visit Petworth House. The Beam Pump provided water to Petworth House from 1782 until 1960. It was such a pleasant stop, we were all glad to have been lost! Check it out here:

    With good directions in hand, we made it to Arundel without any further detours. We, unlike almost every previous trip, did not stop at an ATM in the airport and now needed money to pay the parking. Husband went off to get change for our one 10GBP note while nephew and I waited in the beautiful sunshine. Parking paid, we walked to the castle. We got the Gold tickets to have access to all but the bedrooms.

    Arundel Castle is massive and beautiful and just what I expect a castle to be. Nephew was impressed by the size of the walls and the richness of the ornamentations. It really is a very cool place. We explored all the interior rooms as well as the Keep. We wandered the gardens and the Fitzlayan Chapel. It was a lot of walking and we were getting tired but we had to stop at the Rose Garden before exiting—it was delighfully smelly.

    Back at the car, we initially went the wrong way but finally found the road to our next stop, the Elmer Pub and Inn in Middleton-on-Sea. At some point husband looked at radio display and noticed the name of the street on which we were travelling. I fiddled with the Navigation. Lo and behold it was enabled! We were so excited at this very nice surprise. We plugged in The Elmer and made it there in no time.

    We were greeted by one of the bartenders who showed us to our rooms. I’d prepaid on Expedia so he just checked our names and handed us the keys. Both rooms were nice, clean with comfortable beds. I figured they would be loud from the pub downstairs and I was right. Thankfully the music died down by 1130pm and we all slept well. We’d stay there again. Review posted on

    Husband and I refreshed then went to the pub for drinks. Nephew retreated to his room and computer. When I got there, husband was making friends (as usual) with a couple he noticed at Arundel Castle earlier for whom The Elmer was their local. They stop in every evening. They were very nice and we had a great time chatting with them and others. We particularly appreciated the lorry driver who gave us a shortcut to the Goodwood Estate. And the lovely gentleman who had recently been to New Orleans and had to buy us a drink. Nephew eventually joined us and met some of these nice folks. We had dinner there and it was very good.

    After dinner, I dragged husband and nephew out to find the beach, which we did easily thanks to directions from the Arundel couple.

    Then back to the room to sleep (through the loud music).

    What a wonderful first day in England!

    Next: Goodwood Festival of Speed

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    Goodwood Festival of Speed: What a spectacle!

    England Day 2: On the advice of the locals, none of whom had been to Festival of Speed, we decided to head out around 9am. Full English breakfast was included in our room rate and it was delicious and very filling. We plugged in Boxgrove, our shortcut town, into the GPS and off we went. This was a very good tip because we avoided major traffic back-ups along A27. We were parked and walking along the Goodwood Golf Course by 945am.

    Husband has long read about the Festival of Speed (FoS) in his car magazines. He was very excited to be seeing the action in person. It is a huge event—I believe Saturday and Sunday were sell-outs. Each and every car manufacturer in the world (probably not really) has a presence at FoS. From Bently to Tesla, everyone is represented. They all had displays with their latest models and a lot of the cars also ran on the hill climb. We gawked at the Ferraris and Bentleys and Mercedes. We climbed to the top of the Ford pavilion to look over the race course and had a photo op. We got our bag at Audi. We did not wait in the long queues for the Land Rover, Jaguar or Porsche experiences which all looked like fun.
    We walked through the mostly empty paddocks and saw Richard Petty driving out in his blue Plymouth Belvedere for his turn on the track. Husband got to shake hands with Derek Bell. We saw Sir Stirling Moss walking to his car in the crowds. We oohed and ahhed at the gorgeous old cars and listened to the end of singer Mahalia’s set in the Mazda music garden. We danced to a group that could have been from New Orleans; got some kettle corn at Infiniti; grabbed a burger and fries; and made our way back to the track. We secured a nice spot by the hay bales where the cars were all coming out to go to the starting point. We could then see them race by so fast I couldn’t capture it on video. I asked husband where the hill climb was and he just laughted and said the whole track was a gradual hill. Okay then.

    The amount of stuff to see and do was overwhelming, really. We had a very full but fun day. We got (delicious) Pimms cups for the walk back to the car. I didn’t enjoy FoS as much as the Goodwood Revival (reviewed here but it was a fantastic experience.

    GPS on, we made it back to The Elmer quickly. Same pattern as last night, husband and I settled ourselves down in the bar, chatted with the Arundel Castle couple, got hugs from the bartender Rachel who was celebrating her birthday with her friends, chatted with the other locals and had a great time. Nephew emerged in time for dinner which was very good again.

    Afterwards, husband and I went for a walk trying to find the other beach access route. We gave up after it got dark and cold around 1030pm and went into The Beresford for a nightcap. It was a nice bar but not quite “our” Elmer.

    Upon return to The Elmer, Rachel and her friends were winding down but the music was going strong. I asked the bartender (Shelley) how much longer the music would be on and she said she’d get it turned down soon. By time we were ready for bed, the music was off. The Elmer staff were really lovely!

    Next: Jane Austen, Stonehenge and Bath

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    Thanks, janisj! I liked the Revival better than FoS, especially on Saturday when so many people were dressed up.

    Day 3: Jane Austen, Winchester Cathedral, Stonehenge and arrival in Bath

    After another great full English, we packed up and left the Elmer. It had been a really great way to start the trip! On today’s agenda: Jane Austen’s House Museum in Chawton, Alton, Hampshire; Winchester Cathedral, and Stonehenge (per nephew’s request).

    The GPS guided us through the South Downs National Park to Chawton. It was a beautiful drive. I love the English countryside—the gently rolling hills, green everywhere, flowers, cute cottages, and sweet villages. A feast for the senses. Nephew even said he’d look for an English girl because he would love to live in the area.

    We arrived without problems at Jane Austen’s House Museum. There was a light drizzle under overcast skies. We paid our fee and started in the outbuilding that had the donkey carriage. My first tears were shed. The kitchen was next and I got to sample writing with a quill and ink. As we entered the house, we were graciously greeted and invited to play the pianoforte. Well, nephew took that offer and played a lovely tune while husband and I looked around the drawing room. The piano lessons paid off! He did tell the lady that the pianoforte was out of tune. We toured the entire house and took our time about it. We walked in the gardens and watched the videos about the house and Jane’s life.

    It is still hard for me to believe that I was in the house where Jane Austen, my favorite author, lived contentedly after years of being pillar to post and wrote or reworked her wonderful novels. I am so grateful the Jane Austen Society saved this house and has made it available to tour. This was a major highlight of the trip for me.

    We bought a few things in the gift shop and then were off to Winchester Cathedral to pay homage at Jane Austen’s grave. One of the JAHM attendants told us about the “flower festival” at the Cathedral which she was looking forward to seeing.

    The trusty GPS took us right to the Cathedral Close. It was Sunday so we parked for free on the street leading to the Close. It’s a beautiful setting: an archway into the Cathedral Close framed by very old looking half-timbered buildings. We walked the short distance to the Cathedral but first decided to grab drinks and a snack in the café set up for the Flower Festival goers.

    Suitably refreshed, we paid our entrance fee to tour the Cathedral. It being Sunday, there were no free guided tours which would have helped us understand what we were seeing. We did not get the audio guides (I think they were available).

    At any rate, we were all kind of annoyed by the flower displays which to us, having never been there before and not having previously seen its grandeur, took away from the Cathedral instead of enhancing it. Maybe we’re just not huge-weird-flower-installations-in-Cathedrals kind of people…

    We walked around, admiring what we could, particularly the spectacular Medieval tiles, and made our way to Jane Austen’s grave. Homage paid (and tears shed) we left. Next stop would be Stonehenge.

    Husband and I visited Stonehenge in 2011 and I was underwhelmed. We only went back because nephew wanted to see it. It was another easy drive, thanks to the GPS. The site is completely different than when we visited in 2011—we couldn’t even figure where the old visitor’s center used to be.

    Fee (so pricy) paid, we went into the Visitor Center which was very well done. I appreciated the backstory, photos and displays which did help me understand a little more about Stonehenge. We all chuckled at the “Stonehenge as an Icon” displays.
    We caught the bus and in no time were walking the circular path around Stonehenge, with a few hundred of our closest friends. It was quite crowded. The weather had turned cold, windy, still cloudy, but was no longer wet. Perfectly atmospheric. I was still underwhelmed. No woowoo for me. For nephew it was a “been there, done that” thing.

    Back in the car I called Sue at Cornerways B&B in Bath to let her know we were on our way. We plugged in the address and next thing were in Bath, another place I’d been longing to visit.

    Cornerways is on a busy road with free parking behind the B&B. We took a couple of wrong turns trying to find the back alley to the parking but by 630pm were all parked, checked in, and drinking coffee while Sue gave us the lay of the land. Reviewed on

    Nephew thought his room was very charming and had to share it with his mom (via facetime) because he knew she’d like it too. Our room was big, (too) bright, and noisy for being on the road, but very comfortable. It was a bit warm, too. Sue said they were having unexpected hot weather. We used the fan.

    Sue recommended the Raven for pies. It was a short walk away and we made it there just 30 minutes before they stopped serving. The pies were delicious! After dinner we went for a walk to see the floodlit Abbey, Roman Baths, Pulteney Bridge and more. We were all already in love with this charming town.

    Next: Walking tour, stinky water, Baths, #1, and some drinking

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    Day 4: One excellent day in Bath

    We ordered breakfast for 830am so we could have an early start on our only day in Bath. Sue was running a little behind so by time we ate and left it was closer to 930. We headed directly to the Abbey but it was closed to prepare for a graduation. The staff said it would be open after 5pm.

    We planned to take the Mayor’s Voluntary Guides Tour at 1030am so with a little time to kill, we went into the Pump Room. The host greeted us and when I asked to “take the water” he took us back to the pump and served us three glasses. He didn’t charge us. There were maybe 6 people at tables.

    While we stood there sipping on the stinky water, husband started chatting with a reporter who was there for a story and nephew was probably bored and confused when I got tears in my eyes when the orchestra started to play. Jane Austen had been here along with so many others. And now I was sipping on the same stinky water that brought them all to Bath. Priceless. We walked around to get a better view of the King’s Bath then made our way to the meeting point for the Tour.

    There were some 80 people gathered for the Tour but the guides broke us into four manageable groups. Our guide was an energetic retired educator. She started us off imagining the swamp that was there before even the Romans. She explained how there have been four houses of worship on the site over the ages. After the grand introduction, we were off for 2.5 hours of walking all around Bath. We saw what is left of the original wall which was very cool and something we might not have noticed on our own.

    She told us about the three men that made Bath what it is: Allen, Wood Elder (and Younger), and Nash, and weaved their stories throughout the tour. She talked about the 4 Kings named George after whom the “Georgian Period” is named. We all felt a little sorry for Frederick who his parents disliked so much they allowed him to be a guinea pig for untested vaccines (harsh). No-one seemed to mourn his death. As she explained, had he ascended to the throne, the Georgian era would have been interrupted.

    The tour took us past the Assembly Rooms, to the Circus and the Royal Crescent. We saw the hole in the brick fences where the human waste was collected by enterprising men to sell to farmers as fertilizer. We walked the path where Captain Wentworth and Anne Elliot reaffirmed their love in Persuasion. She showed us how home owners would brick up or reduce the size of their windows to pay less in taxes. We ended up by the Abbey and she departed rather quickly—no tips, no further chatting. It was a fantastic tour!

    Afterwards we grabbed filling sandwiches at Jacob’s Coffee House then toured the super crowded Roman Baths. We had the audio guides and did our best to understand what we were seeing but it was hard with the crowds. Maybe an evening tour would make it come to life. We all threw coins into the black pool so I hope that means we’ll be back in Bath one day (like the Trevi Fountain in Rome).

    Next stop was #1 Royal Crescent. I really wanted to see the Assembly Rooms but we were running out of time so I chose #1. We were a little confused by how to tour the place until husband noticed that we had entered #1 A (for annex) and that the entrance to #1 was next door. We went up and down the elevators and stairs a couple of times before figuring this out… We watched the video then went next door.

    Number 1 Royal Crescent was the home of a Georgian gentleman and it is decorated faithfully to the period. Husband and I always enjoy “house” museums because they help bring the period to life. This was no exception. We could see and understand how the wealthy in the Georgian era lived. We all enjoyed the tour and talking with the nice and knowledgeable staff in each room. We were delighted to see “New Orleans” on the antique desk map. The display of the turnspit dog was sad. We spent an hour there and enjoyed it.

    Since we were at the Royal Crescent, I suggested we stop at the Royal Crescent Hotel for a drink. This was a really nice break. The hotel gardens are gorgeous, the public rooms beautiful and quite similar in décor to #1. The drink prices were not even extortionate.

    The Assembly Rooms were closed by now so we made our way to the Bell Inn Pub which was recommended by Sue, the proprietor of the B&B. My nephew is very much into music, he plays guitar (and still a little piano like at Jane Austen’s House Museum) and had worn a Led Zeppelin t-shirt to breakfast. Sue told us that Robert Plant was one of the 500+ owners of the Bell so of course we had to go.

    We had a postcard with directions for the Bell but it was a bit hard to find, even with the help of locals. On the way there, I noticed the Star Inn pub and we stopped there. We were the first customers of the night! The Star is really a cool place. Small, intimate wood paneled rooms, little tables and benches, very old feeling. Husband got us our beers and chatted with the barkeep who told him about the damage the building suffered during the blitz. He showed us a book about where the bombs fell in Bath and articles about that awful time in history. When husband returned the book, it was a different barkeep who asked him what it was. This barkeep has worked at the Star for years and had never seen the book or heard about the war damage. Pretty funny.

    It was still pretty early when we got to the Bell but a lot of the locals were already out. Everyone was very welcoming to husband, who was making friends at the bar, nephew with his Led Zeppelin t-shirt, and me. We met Jay, Richard, and several others whose names I can’t recall. All very interesting characters who drank and joked with us all night. We decided to get dinner before the music started at the Bell at 9pm. We went down Walcott to Thai Basil restaurant and it was pretty good and filling. Afterwards back to the Bell where Jay informed us that the band scheduled had to cancel because they were stuck at Glastonbury so three musicians joined up to make music. It was not great music but kudos to them for helping out at the last minute.

    This was nephew's favorite pub experience (and we went to a.lot of pubs!). He enjoyed talking to Jay who is a drummer and shared his experiences playing music in London in the 60’s and 70’s. The Bell Inn was a place we could see ourselves hanging out regularly if we lived in Bath, and we would all like to live in Bath!​

    We walked back to the B&B and crashed around midnight. It had been a fabulous day and evening in Bath!

    Next: Windsor Castle, it’s hot and the train keeps stopping, London

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    Day 5: Windsor, arrival in London

    We got started later than I wanted because it took a while for breakfast, to pay up and get loaded up in the car. It kind of mattered because we got to London later than I really wanted. But we got there!

    We said goodbye to Sue at Cornerways and beautiful Bath. This city really impacted all of us and we talked about returning there in the near future. Nephew talked about looking into study abroad programs that might help him get to Bath while in college.

    The GPS programmed for Windsor Castle, we were off. It took a good two hours driving to get to the parking lot at the foot of the Castle. It was very pricy to park (I knew there was a cheaper option a little further away but here is where that late start first cost us) so we paid up for three hours.

    We hiked up to the Castle just in time to see the finale of the Changing of the Guard so I know it was 1130am! It was pretty cool to see the Guards marching by playing music but it’s not something for which any of us would want to wait hours.

    The ticket line was long, 45 minutes. I hadn’t prebooked because it was expensive and I couldn’t be 100% sure beforehand that we would make it there. The guard would come out periodically to move people who had prebooked to the much shorter line and we were all seriously jealous.

    Once paid up, security checked, audio guide working, we started our tour of this magnificent castle. The Queen’s flag was flying and it was pretty exciting to be touring “her” house while she was home. By time we left, her flag had been replaced with the Union Jack. She didn’t even tell us bye bye (sniff).

    I won’t bore you with descriptions of Windsor Castle. It’s simply magnificent in every way. Husband and I thought Buckingham Palace was the prettiest castle we’d ever seen, until Windsor. It’s spectacular. The audio guide was very well done and even though it was very crowded, we didn’t feel overwhelmed by the masses, except in the Dollhouse rooms. No photos allowed inside-which I didn’t realize (hence the ones of the Dollhouse and Dolls, sorry) until we go to the first State Room.

    We loved all the State Rooms particularly the Waterloo Room, the massive St. George’s Hall and the spectacular Crimson Room with its gold and chandeliers. Nephew asked the guard in the Crimson Room if the gold was “really gold” and it was “really gold leaf.” He started calculating how much everything cost and how rich the royals are. We couldn’t come up with a realistic number. We were awed by St. George’s Chapel and were lucky to hear the end of an organ recital.

    Our parking was about expired so we hightailed it back to the car. We were hungry so we stopped in Datchet at the Royal Stag for lunch. It was good pub food, maybe a little fancier than what we’d gotten used to.

    After lunch, we easily found the Hertz rental car agency but it was bit more of a struggle to find the gas station to fill up. Once we arrived at Hertz, the agent was very nice, looked over the car and said they’d be no extra charges for anything (as it should be since we didn’t cause any damage and we returned the car full). I ran inside to use the wifi (Skype app) to let our apartment greeter know we were at LHR and would be taking the train in to London. We were running late...

    The process of taking the tube into London was really very easy. We bought Oyster Cards for all of us with enough money to get us there and back. Nephew’s had extra for daily travel. Husband and I would be buying 7 day Travel Cards for the 2 4 1 offers.

    We got on the Piccadilly Line with plans to get off at Hammersmith. But the train kept stopping short of the stations. It was stifling hot. We were sweaty, tired and disgruntled. Now, we’re from New Orleans, Louisiana—it routinely gets into the 90’s F (32-36C) with high humidity (anywhere from 70 to 100%) during the summer. We are used to hot. We are not used to being in hot, enclosed places without AC!

    So as the Piccadilly line seemed to be having trouble, we opted to get out at Acton Town and transfer to the District Line to Victoria (our destination). This worked out well—no steps to speak of, except that this train, too, kept stopping short of the platforms. What should have taken 45-60 minutes, took over 1.5 hours. We were never so happy to see the Victoria!

    We dragged our bags the 3-4 blocks to our apartment on Palace Street and were met by the lovely Ricardo. He looked at us pityingly because we were all flushed from the heat. He showed us around the beautiful apartment, explained how everything worked, made sure the wifi was connected, found a second fan and set it up, and recommended we stay outside the next day because it was projected to be hotter than today. He also recommended nephew try pear cider which proved to be his favorite drink (I liked it a lot, too).

    The apartment is It has two bedrooms and two baths. It’s in an L formation. As you walk in, the large, master bath is the first room you come to, then the kitchen. Across from the kitchen is the combo living and dining. Down the hall into the L are the two bedrooms, both about the same size. The first bedroom was twins made into a king which we gave to nephew because the bath was down the hall. The other bedroom had a good sized queen with a very small ensuite bath. The shower stall was a good size but the sink was a terrible design and the water went all over the floor when it was being used. It really needs to be changed for something less “pretty” and more functional. This room overlooked an interior courtyard and was very quiet at night. Other that the non-functional sink, we had no complaints. We liked the apartment, the location, the ease of working with londonconnection both in the States and in London, and the price. If we were going with another couple, we definitely would consider staying there again.

    Husband had loved Nobu when we went there on a visit to Hawaii so I was happy to find it in London. I chose the Berkeley location because it was marginally closer to our apartment and got good reviews. We arrived at 840 for our 830 reservation and were seated at a terrible table for two with an extra stool in the walkway. It was also a very warm table due to its proximity to the kitchen. Not good. Not acceptable. We asked for a different table and were offered another small table by the sushi bar. We were not going to pay Nobu’s extreme prices to sit at the first table so got up and looked at the second and decided to stay. This was not an auspicious beginning.

    It took awhile for things to get better. The waiters (and there were tons of them) didn’t seem to understand that we wanted tap water and took about 15 minutes to bring us a bottle of Fuji which we rejected. It took another 10 minutes to get tap water. Someone took our drink orders and the drinks came out eventually. Finally, a David Beckham lookalike waiter (from Italy) took over and the service improved dramatically. I don’t know his name but he redeemed Nobu for us. The food was delicious, possibly better than in Hawaii, and we ended up having a very nice evening.

    We walked through St. James Park and saw floodlit Buckingham Palace on our way back to the apartment where we crashed. It had been a long, hot, but enjoyable day and night. We were in London!

    Next: Seriously hot, long lines, a little history and some tennis.

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    England Day 6

    London Day 1: Almost too hot to handle

    On the agenda today was Westminster Abbey, procuring our 7 day Travel Cards, Churchill Rooms, walking about and possibly Wimbledon.

    No more full English breakfasts for us. It was now pastries and coffee in the apartment. Not quite as satisfying, of course.

    I didn’t buy advance tickets for Westminster Abbey. I called them early to ask when the Verger tours would be held. She said the first one was 1030am. So we left the apartment around 930am, a little later than I wanted. It was a pleasant walk there from the apartment. When we arrived and saw the lines, it was kind of shocking. We passed the entrance and kept going to the street on the Houses of Parliament side and the line went down about ½ block there. The advance ticket line was really short. I kicked myself for not having bought tickets online.

    After some debate because husband and I have been to Westminster Abbey before and nephew really didn’t care one way or the other, we decided to skip it, thinking we’d do it later on in our stay (we never did get back there). Instead, we grabbed the bus to Victoria Station to get our 7 day Travel Cards. This bus was the only one we took this day that was not stifling. After we got our travel cards, we debated between going to the Churchill War Rooms or the Museum of London. We decided on Churchill and it was a good decision.

    We stopped in at Westminster Cathedral since it was right there. If this had ever been completed, it would be spectacular and a major tourist attraction. As it is, we enjoyed seeing how these massive buildings were constructed.

    We took a very warm bus to Westminster and wandered past 10 Downing Street pointing out the Prime Minister’s resident to nephew. It’s not quite the White House, which he visited earlier this year, but equally important in world politics. We were hot by time we made it to the Churchill War Rooms and had a short wait to enter. We used our 2-4-1 and saved 16GBP. Nephew got the student discount. It was well air-conditioned, which we were tremendously happy about!

    The audio tour at Churchill is really well done, in my opinion. The War Rooms are a frozen-in-time snapshot of how World War II was won by a dedicated group of patriots. They are fascinating. We all enjoyed the Rooms. Two out of the three of us, however, were frustrated with the Museum. It’s not in any kind of chronological order so it’s very hard to follow. I describe it as you start with Churchill at war, then he’s born, then he dies, then he loses the Prime Minister-ship, then he gets married and has kids. Aargh. Husband figured it out and felt he really “got it” this time (it was our second visit). Nephew and I didn’t get it and just wandered lost and confused. The information is very interesting but the way it’s presented leaves a lot to be desired.

    The Rooms were pretty crowded and there were no facilities within them. So geaux before you go (lol). We spent a little money in the gift shop before heading out.

    We walked through the Horse Guards Parade grounds on our way to Trafalgar Square.

    The secondary sights on today’s agenda were the Impressionists at the National Gallery and the Audrey Hepburn exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery. We had time because we hadn’t gone to Westminster Abbey.

    But we were hungry so we stopped at the Admiralty Pub. It was not air conditioned but still pleasant inside. We ordered at the bar, standard pub food, and were served by a pretty waitress from Latvia. It was a nice break.

    Next we went to the National Gallery and were heading straight for the Impressionists but couldn’t get through to the galleries. The doors were locked with signs stating “Industrial Action.” To these three Americans, that sounded like a chemical spill or something. Husband asked and it was a union strike so the rooms would not be open today. No one knew when they would reopen. Bummed, we headed to the National Portrait Gallery around the corner. No industrial action but I was off by a day for the beginning of the Audrey Hepburn exhibit. Bummer #2. We decided against buying tickets to the exhibit since we could not commit to a day and time that we would be back.

    Since we had a little break and it was so hot, we decided to head back to the apartment and relax until we went to Wimbledon for the after-5 tickets. We started off on the bus but it was so hot in there (claustrophobic really) that we ended up bailing and just walking. The apartment was cooler so we all relaxed for a while.

    We headed out around 4pm. We had no trouble getting the tube to Southfields for the Queue at Wimbledon. The walk to the beginning of the Queue was pretty long. And there were lots and lots of people in line by time we made it there. We waited in the hot sun for at least 1.5 hours; thankfully I had sunscreen. Husband got us ice cream. Finally the line started moving. We paid 18GBP each for “after-5” tickets. It was pretty exciting to be on the grounds! There were tons of people everywhere.

    As we walked in, the first match we caught was Safarova on Court 16 (I think) against an Asian opponent. It was cool to see them so close.

    We kept going and could see that Azarenka was playing nearby. This turned out to be next to the Resale Tickets Booth for Centre, 1 and 2 Courts. I asked who was on Centre Court and it was Serena Williams. Venus Williams was on Court 1. We snagged three tickets for Centre and caught half of the first set and all of the second set as Serena beat Timea Babos. Pretty cool.

    There were no more matches on Centre Court so we tried to find more live tennis. Every court was packed and since these were the last matches of the night, we weren’t able to see any more action. Seeing Serena on Centre Court and just being on the grounds made it a great day for us! We spent some money in the gift shop then took the long walk back to the tube.

    Husband and I were famished by time we made it back to the apartment but nephew didn’t want anything to eat. We left him to relax and found our way to Maverick Cocktails and Pizza. They were still open (it was around 1030pm) and serving! I got their 12GBP special (a cocktail and a pizza) and hubby got beer and pizza. It was filling and nice to sit and chat while watching busy London go by. We had left overs for tomorrow, too.

    Before going to bed I checked the weather. The high today was 95F (35C). Someone said it was one of the hottest days in London’s history. Everyone seemed to enjoy the heat but we were hoping for cooler days ahead. Forecast for tomorrow was 80’s (26C).

    Next: Lost in the tube, treasures, all about London, the oldest church, pubs

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    In case anyone is reading, here are the next days, all in London.

    England Day 7

    London Day 2: Lost and found and some very old sights

    On the agenda today was the Magna Carta exhibit at the British Library (930am), the Museum of London, and whatever else struck our fancy.

    We left the apartment and made our way to Victoria Station to catch the District Line to King’s Cross for the British Library. It was rush hour so very crowded and fast moving. Husband and I approached the turnstile to tag in and looked around for nephew but he was missing. We immediately stopped and searched for him in the crowds. He was nowhere to be found. The station attendants noticed our distress and helped by announcing his name over the loud speakers. He didn’t respond. Our cellphones were not enabled for use in London so we couldn’t call or text.

    After a few minutes, I went through and got off at the next station but he wasn’t there (that had been the plan). I came back to Victoria defeated. Husband had waited at Victoria and no nephew. By now I was crying. I mean, what could be worse than to lose your nephew in London! The station manager took me inside the office and put out a call to King’s Cross (our end destination) in case he had arrived there. He had not. She took his name, description, etc. to have the station attendants keep an eye out for him. He was wearing a distinctive t-shirt (bright purple, “Geaux Engineering” slogan). It was now about 30 minutes since we lost him. Husband and I were about to head back to the apartment to see if he was there.

    As we walked out of the office, here comes nephew with a station attendant! That purple Geaux Engineering t-shirt had worked! Nephew said his Oyster Card did not have enough money on it so he veered off to top it up. Then he didn’t see us. He heard them calling his name but didn’t understand the direction to speak with a station attendant. Then he went through and got off at the next station but didn’t see me so came back. He was on his way to the apartment when the station attendant stopped him. Whew! This aunt and uncle were seriously relieved. We agreed not to tell his mother until he could do so in person—she’d pass out hysterical. Nephew was impressed that I didn’t fall apart, lol. This is where I first wished we’d bought him a 7 day Travel Card too, instead of the “top me up all the time” Oyster. Live and learn.

    The station attendant looked at nephew’s Oyster and saw that he had open rides and had been charged the max per day. He closed out the open rides and, with a healthy balance, we went on our way to the British Museum. Our lessons learned were threefold: make sure the Oyster has enough money; if lost, stop and speak to a station attendant; know your end destination, go there and wait if separated. This was a really rough start to our day.

    We arrived at King’s Cross station with no further drama. We were all calmer by now. The Magna Carta exhibit was our next object. I love the Treasures Room at the British Library but it’s not something that really appealed to husband or nephew, so this way my way of getting them there (sneaky, I know). But we all were interested in learning more about the Magna Carta and its legacy. The exhibit was well done and very comprehensive. I think it took a good hour, at least, to get through it all. We all liked it. I particularly liked being able to put the history in context of other countries. It was well worth the time and effort to see.

    Afterwards we visited the free and magnificent Treasures Room. Just FYI, if you visit during the Magna Carta Exhibit you won’t be able to see the Library’s copy of that document without paying. But there are so many incredible books, music, scribblings, objects in this room that it’s indescribable. I spent a good while looking at Mozart's, Beethoven's, Handel's and other composers' scores and listening to the music accompanying the display. I read passages of Persuasion in Jane Austen’s own handwriting (yup, tears. Even now just writing this I get teary-eyed). Her precious private little desk was there too. The illuminated manuscripts. The bibles. The maps. All of it, precious and priceless. This is a place I want to return to again and again.

    We then went out into the lobby area to see the embroidered Magna Carta wikipedia page which was super cool. That required a lot of patience to complete! Well done.

    We were hungry by now so we just grabbed sandwiches in the café. Nothing special except for the fact I was eating by the stacks. At one point, a librarian was shelving a book so had moved stacks out of the way and I could see inside this sanctum. I told nephew “I could live in there” and he looked at me like I was crazy. Lol.

    We left the Library and walked over to St. Pancras, which is just gorgeous. I love how its ornate Victorian outside gives no clue that the inside is all modern and new. Beautiful. Made me miss the Harry Potter movies. We didn’t search for Platform 9 ¾ because nephew wasn’t interested and we’d done that last time we were in London. I teased husband and nephew that we could take the Eurostar to Paris—surprisingly, neither was totally opposed. Of course we didn’t do it—way too pricy on the spur of the moment (and I’ll get my Paris fix in October).

    King’s Cross has trains going everywhere so we decided it was time for the Museum of London and caught the Metropolitan line there. I was particularly interested in seeing this Museum because I wanted to better understand London’s origins. It’s free and wasn’t crowded, except for some school groups that were kind of adorable.

    The Museum starts in pre-history then the Romans and onwards. I loved seeing the maps of the original Roman City and what we have now. How Londinium has grown! They had Roman artifacts on display that were not as well preserved or as impressive as those we’ve seen in museums in Rome but significant because they were found in London. I really enjoyed this section.

    Also interesting and enjoyable were the displays about London before the great fire of 1666 and the rebuilding afterwards. The video with people reading letters from the time of the fire over scenes of how the fire started and spread was very well done. The displays and video about the plagues were gruesomely fascinating. The Victorian stores and the gardens at Vauxhall were two of my favorite displays. I like feeling immersed in the period and these two displays did that well. The timeline of London’s development was fascinating. We noticed that the Metropolitan tube was the first line in 1863. I wasn’t as interested (or maybe was just tired at this point) in the more modern London displays. But toward the end they had a display about the Lord Mayor with his carriage as the major feature. It was fairytale princess cool!

    They were showing Wimbledon in the café so we had coffee and a snack and watched the tennis for a bit. But I was not about to let the grass grow under our feet and herded husband and nephew to nearby St. Bartholomew the Great, founded in the 1100’s. It is the oldest church in the London because it survived the Great Fire. There’s not really much left of the original church (the centuries have a way of doing that) but we took our time reading the provided brochure and Green Guide about its history. We were all fascinated by the fact that Ben Franklin worked in the Lady Chapel as a journeyman printer. I wouldn’t go out of my way to stop at St. Barth’s but it was definitely worth a few minutes (and the small fee that helps keep it running).

    All tourist attractions were now closed and husband and nephew breathed a sigh of relief. Nephew requested more tennis so we asked some nice folks at the Rising Sun where we could find a pub with TV’s. They sent us to the Sports Bar and Grill Farringdon but gave vague directions. We ask a couple of guys who were standing outside of St. Bart’s pub where the Sports Bar was and they sent us in the right direction. One of the guys had been in New Orleans two weeks before and enjoyed his time there—that’s always nice to hear!

    We made it to the Sports Bar and it could have been anywhere in the States. Lots of TV’s tuned to Wimbledon. Nephew was happy. He likes tennis and TV a lot. I think nephew got a burger and we all shared the chips. After a while, we headed back to the Barbican tube stop. As we were passing the Rising Sun, the guys from earlier asked if we’d found the Sports Bar. We decided to stop there for drinks. They had wifi so we called the family back home. We chatted with a grandmother, son and granddaughter who were touring England. I couldn’t tell who planned their trip but they seemed a bit lost and like they weren’t having a nice time. Made me sad for them.

    Eventually we decided to head back to the apartment. Nephew was full so we left him in the apartment (he ate our pizza leftovers) and wandered our “neighborhood.” Husband noticed Sekara Sri Lankan restaurant on a side street (Lower Grosvenor Place) and we ate there. It was our first time eating Sri Lankan food and we absolutely loved it. The server was very helpful with choosing the dishes so we had the chicken biryani and the vegetable spring rolls appetizer. Delicious! We planned to return before leaving London.

    It was still relatively early so we walked to Buckingham Palace and into the park a little. We chatted with a few fellow tourists and then went back to the room and had a nice sleep.

    Next: Castle #3, another church, some pubs and Rumbelow’s Ripper

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    England Day 8

    London Day 3: The Tower of London, St. Paul's, olde pubs and Rumbelow’s Ripper

    On today’s agenda: The Tower of London, Tower Bridge, St. Paul’s Cathedral, a pub crawl in the City.

    We deliberately got an early start today. We arrived at the Tower before the ticket offices even opened. It was only 5 minutes, but still that’s pretty good on vacation! We used our 2 4 1 and saved 20GBP.

    I hustled husband and nephew to the Crown Jewels. There were some 10 people ahead of us. This display is now sponsored by DeBeers and was redone for the Queen’s last Jubilee. It’s very nicely done. The history fit right into what we’d learned at Windsor Castle. The Jewels are magnificent. We were able to see them unobstructed and at leisure for the first two passes. I was the last person on one moving walkway that had just ceased moving so I could take my time looking at the Jewels. Unbelievably beautiful pieces.

    We finished looking at the ceremonial tableware and were amazed at the size of the punch bowl. Then back out into the yard. We saw the guards doing a bit of a march, took some photos, and headed to the Yeoman Warder Tour.

    The crowd really grew in the 10 minutes we waited for it to start. It was a good (not great) tour. It was very crowded which wasn’t really a problem as I kept to the front. Less entertaining were the Warder’s jokes about how un-engaged the crowd was which mostly fell flat (he wasn’t hilarious). It was slightly off-putting and needy on his behalf. He shone, however, in the Chapel, which can only be seen on a Warder tour. So for that it was definitely worth doing the Warder tour.

    It was now around 11am and we were hungry so we grabbed snacks in the café and relaxed for a bit. The next order of business was the White Tower. Lots of climbing to very interesting sights. I liked the horses and armor display. It was crowded but not unbearably so. An hour max inside. Well worth the time.

    We took the exit nearest the Tower Bridge and had our photo ops. Nephew and husband didn’t to cross it or do the Experience. I had originally wanted to cross and walk on the Southside to Borough Market, Southwark Cathedral, on our way to the Millennium Bridge to get to St. Paul’s Cathedral. Instead, we decided to catch the bus to St. Paul’s. As we walked to the nearest bus stop (hoping to catch an old Routemaster), I noticed restaurants and shops on the right. We walked through a modern building’s pretty lobby and came out to wharves, docked boats, restaurants and loads of people enjoying the sun. That’s when I realized we were at St. Katherine Docks. We’d certainly like to spend more time there on a subsequent trip.

    While waiting for the bus we could see we’d just missed a Routemaster since it was stuck in traffic. The traffic was really not moving so we took the tube to St. Paul’s and I’m sure got there faster than that snarl. It seemed like all the City workers were on their lunch breaks and sunning themselves in the courtyards and on the steps at St. Paul’s. It was actually hard to find a path through the crowds to get inside the Cathedral!

    We paid our entrance fee (using the 2 4 1 again) and signed up for the 2pm tour. We had maybe 20 minutes to wait so nephew napped while husband and I walked around with the audio guide. At 2pm, the tour guides broke those of us waiting into two groups and off we went with Linda. This was our second time at St. Paul’s but our first tour. Linda was charming and the tour was fantastic.

    We started at the geometric staircase, which you can only see on a tour, and ended in the crypt by the Churchill monument. We found the stained glass window representing the state of Louisiana in the American Chapel. Linda was intrigued by the pelican feeding her three young and said it was a Christian symbol. Husband pointed out the statues of Sir. Edward Pakenham and Samuel Gibbs who died at the Battle of New Orleans. Linda said she’d passed those statues numerous times and now was motivated to learn more about them. It was an interesting and comprehensive tour which helped me appreciate this magnificent Cathedral so much more.

    We decided against climbing to the Whispering Gallery so went ahead and spent some money in the gift shop. It was closing time at St. Paul’s and time for our pub tour!

    This was one of husband’s few requests. He told me he wanted to visit some of the old historic pubs in the City of London and mentioned the Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese. I did a google maps search and came up with 6 pubs close to each other starting from St. Paul’s: The Old Bell Tavern, Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, The Old Bank of England, Ye Olde Mitre Pub, Cittie of York and The Princess Louise. We started at the cozy Old Bell Tavern and were served our beers by Al Murray. We didn’t know who he was (googled him later) but everyone in the pub was snapping pictures with him. We watched some tennis and nephew got a burger and fries. We liked this pub.

    Next stop was Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese. We walked in, looked around and decided not to stay; I can’t remember why. We then went to the Old Bank of England and I really liked how open and expansive this space was. It was pretty crowded but we stayed for a drink because they were serving Pimm’s Cups. While here we decided we’d go on the 730pm London Walks Jack-the-Ripper tour which started back at Tower Hill tube station. It was still early so we went to our next pub, Ye Olde Mitre.

    The Ye Olde Mitre was not as hard to find as I had expected. It was very crowded in the alley but inside we were able to grab a table. It was another cozy old pub. We liked it a lot. Unfortunately they didn’t serve food (husband and I were getting hungry) but we did enjoy our beers and the atmosphere.

    We left and headed out to find the nearest tube station and with the help of locals and their smartphones, made it to Tower Hill for the tour about 15 minutes early. I was excited to see that it was Mr. Donald Rumbelow who would be leading the tour! We had a little time so went to the Liberty Bounds Pub to use the facilities. Nephew and husband lingered to watch the end of a tennis match, I think it was Federer. When we got back to Tower Hill station, there were many more people gathered for the tour. Mr. Rumbelow was signing his book and, of course, we bought one too.

    The tour was excellent. No frills, just great descriptions of what occurred. Mr. Rumbelow painted excellent pictures of the time period, particularly the people and how they lived;the compartmentalized police forces and how that allowed the killer to escape detection and capture; and the theories of who Jack might have been (some very outlandish!). We hit all the major spots, he stood on a stool and talked. It was a great way to spend two hours. I think this tour would be even better in twilight or dark conditions.

    We ended close to Liverpool station and decided to head back to the apartment (nephew was done at this point). We left him to relax and went back to Maverick Pizza and Cocktails for dinner. It was good again.

    Since we had not walked enough this day, lol, we went looking for Westminster Arms pub which had been our “local” in 2011. We didn’t have a map but thought we could get there. After about 30 minutes walking in what we thought was the right direction, we decided to turn back. We passed a couple of neat looking pubs not far from the St. James tube station but just went back to the apartment for a good night’s sleep. We were tired but happy from another fabulous day in London!

    Next: No goes, Parliament, Sekara again

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    Hi NOLA,

    Great report. I am on my way out the door now, but will read at leisure shortly. I never tire of reading about what others do/see/experience/try in London and surrounds.

    Thanks for sharing....

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    Great report. It sounds like the tube staff went a bit above and beyond for you. Btw it's really important to remember to touch your Oyster card to the reader at both ends of your journey - your nephew probably forgot to 'touch out' at some point, hence the open journeys that had depleted his balance. It's easy when you have to go through gates as they simply won't open without you holding your card to the reader, but some stations (eg the new bits of the Jubilee line, and some DLR) have wall-mounted or post mounted readers in corridors or at exits and you have to remember to keep your eyes open for them...

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    >>We walked through a modern building’s pretty lobby and came out to wharves, docked boats, restaurants and loads of people enjoying the sun. That’s when I realized we were at St. Katherine Docks. We’d certainly like to spend more time there on a subsequent trip. <<

    There are a few vacation rentals in St Katherine's Marina -- I've stayed there maybe 4 times over the years. A wonderful area and the flats are very quiet since there is no vehicle traffic and they don't face any of the pubs/restaurants

    Surprised to hear 'the Donald' is still giving tours since I thought he was well into his 80's . . . but just googled and he's 75.

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    RM67, the tube staff really did go above and beyond. We were ever so grateful. Nephew had not touched out his Oyster at Wimbledon because they were herding everyone through. I think that's where the problem started.

    janisj, I remember reading about St. Katherine's from your trip reports. Would be a nice area to stay. I was surprised to see Rumbelow--I thought he only did the tour on Sunday nights. But we certainly enjoyed it.

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    England Day 9

    London Day 4: No goes, Parliament, Sekara again

    On today's agenda: The British Museum (11am tour), National Portrait Gallery for the Audrey Hepburn Exhibit, National Gallery for the Impressionists, Parliament tour, and the Ceremony of the Keys.

    Husband woke up and said he was a no go because his foot was hurting something terrible. And it must have been because he's not one to complain. So we ditched the British Museum (husband and I had been there in 2011). Nephew wanted to go to the National Portrait Galley to get an Audrey Hepburn poster and I wanted to see the Exhibit focused on her life. She is one of my favorite people. She was a lovely actress and a wonderful human being. I also wanted to see the Impressionist Rooms at the National Gallery.

    It was not Sahara Desert hot today so we braved the bus to Trafalgar Square. We chatted with a nice local Indian family on the bus. They were on their way to Chinatown. I told them how excited I was for the Parliament Tour later on and they had never done it or even considered doing it. I told them they could get a tour, for free, through their MP.

    We entered the National Portrait Gallery and were immediately disappointed because the Audrey Hepburn exhibit was sold out for the day. They had some slots for Sunday but we would not be able to return. I was seriously sad. We spent some time in the gift shop so nephew could get his poster and I bought one too. He knows nothing about Audrey Hepburn except that she was beautiful. Her poster will hang in his college apartment with the others he collected on the trip: Jimmi Hendricks, Winston Churchill, Keep Calm and Carry On, and Bob Marley. What a mixture!

    We walked over to the National Gallery and there was no "Industrial Action" today. The Impressionist collection is wonderful. I loved every painting! Nephew sat on one of the benches and was bored. We perused a few other rooms on the way out and I really look forward to spending more time here on a future visit. We bought a few things in the gift shop and left.

    We walked over to St. Mary Le Bow to look at the church and possibly have lunch. The church is very plain but sweet. Nephew decided nothing appealed in the cafeteria so we made our way back to the apartment via tube. Weirdly, as we exited there was husband! He was looking for an ATM, not us. He found us but not an ATM! We all walked to the nearby Marks & Spencer and got sandwiches and drinks for our lunch.

    We relaxed at the apartment until it was time for the Parliament Tour (4:15). We took the tube to Westminster and came out to a beautiful warm, but not oppressive, late afternoon and masses of people everywhere. It was so crowded, none of us enjoyed the walk to the Houses of Parliament entrance.

    We had a little time before the tour so visited the gift shop, looked around the gorgeous Westminster Hall and waited. Our guide, David, was fantastic. Funny, engaging and knowledgeable. Husband and I took this tour in 2011 and thought it was great then but this time was even better. It's beautiful building, new by London standards, that is apparently crumbling. David said they are considering closing these Houses and relocating Parliament. I guess everyone who works in these building will be happy if that happens but it's sad to think of these buildings being shuttered.

    We walked across the river toward the London Eye. I really wanted to go on it but was overruled by husband and nephew--they didn't want to wait in line (which was really short, actually). I told husband that the next time we come to London, no excuses, we're going on the Eye (he agreed, probably to shut me up, lol). We walked along the river and stopped a few minutes to watch a busker.

    I told husband and nephew that we had 930pm tickets for the Ceremony of the Keys. Husband was not enthusiastic about trekking out to the Tower of London because his foot was still hurting. Nephew didn't care. I knew it would be something we'd regret not doing. We decided to go for dinner at Sekara (again, yay) and decide once we'd eaten.

    We tubed it back to Victoria and went directly to Sekara. We ordered Biryani again, vegetable eggs rolls, and a mutton dish that was recommended by one of the waitresses. The Biryani and egg rolls were spectacular. The guys liked but did not love the mutton dish. Overall, another great dinner at Sekara.

    By now it was 915pm. We obviously did not go to the Ceremony of the Keys. Dropped off nephew at the apartment and went to the nearest pub (the decidedly not cozy Phoenix) for a nightcap. The pub was decorated for the 4th of July which was a nice touch.

    In some ways today was disappointing day because of all the no goes. I told husband it just means there's another trip to London in our future. He agreed!

    Next: Our last day, rain, Greenwich with a Greeter, pub meet

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    England Day 10

    London Day 5: Greenwich with a Greeter, pub meet.

    Today was our last sightseeing day. On the agenda: A tour of Greenwich with a London Greeter (1030am), the rest of the Greenwich sights, and a pub meet.

    We woke up to overcast skies and high chances of rain. It was also a lot cooler than it had been.

    Before we met our Greeter, we decided to book a taxi to take us to the airport in the morning. We just did not feel like taking the tube. I recalled Blackberry Cabs had good reviews on Tripadvisor so we called them. The cost was 32GBP (as compared to the 55GBP that the driver recommended by Londonconnection charged). We just hoped they would be on time.

    We got to the Cutty Sark tube station in Greenwich to meet Eleanor, our Greeter, a few minutes past our agreed upon time. She is former resident of Greenwich with deep family connections to the area. It was raining pretty hard at this point and I was glad for my umbrella but wished I also had my rain jacket like husband and nephew.

    Eleanor took us on a 1.5 hour tour highlighting the history of Greenwich, its role in the Second World War, the Cutty Sark, Henry VIII and his palace, the Queen's Palace, and so much more. It was wonderful to see Greenwich through her eyes. She left us at the lovely Wren Chapel at the Old Royal Navy College.

    By the end of the Greet, the day had turned gorgeous! The weather was finally what we had been expecting the whole trip (sigh, on our last day, of course). We definitely were not done with Greenwich but empty stomachs needed to be filled. We ended up at Greenwich Tavern. We had burgers, fish and chips, and beer. It was all ok. Definitely not my favorite pub grub on the trip.

    We decided against visiting the National Maritime Museum but did pop into the Queen's House designed for Anne of Denmark by Inigo Jones. It's now a museum for art with maritime themes. We then made our way through the pretty park up to the Royal Observatory. It's quite a little hike up that hill! But so worth it. We spend a good hour or more roaming around the free sights, taking pictures, looking at everything.

    The cost to get into the Royal Observatory was pretty high (15GBP) and the lines for the Mean Meridian photo op were very long so we decided against it. But we still wanted to see the Mean Meridian Line. Luckily husband overheard a guide telling a young family that they could see the line for free just down the hill by the "kissing gate." He found this "kissing gate" and we got our photo op on the Mean Meridian line. No waiting, no cost, excellent tip! It's actually one of my favorite pictures from this trip. :)

    We headed back to the Cutty Sark tube station but decided to take the boat back to Embankment. It was a nice but kind of long ride.

    We took the tube back to our "neighborhood" for some souvenir shopping. Husband and nephew went to the Buckingham Palace Gift shop while I hit up Marks & Spencer. We all were happy with our purchases (but once we got home I wished I'd bought more Percy Pigs and Digestives). We stopped at the Phoenix for restorative brews before starting the dreaded packing up.

    I was really looking forward to the TripAdvisor London Forum Pub Meet for a couple of reasons: 1. I'd get to meet people who were kind enough to answer questions on the forum and 2. because we were meeting at Blackfriars Pub which was high on my list of pubs to see on this trip.

    When we got there (so very easy to find!), locals adamhornets and Mrs. adamhornets, leagle, and IloveNYandLondon were there along with tourist lonestarlady and her lovely mom. One other tourist arrived but I can't remember here name (sorry). It was a very nice time. We had some pub grub and drank a few beers. Lonestarlady and her mom told husband that a highlight for them so far was the Ceremony of the Keys. He told me "I guess we should have gone." (wife shook head and refrained from saying "I told you so!"). We left around 930pm.

    So that was the end of our last day and evening in London. We finished packing up our bags and got some sleep to get ready for our long haul trip back home.

    Next: get back to the US!

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    England Day 11

    London Day 6: Goodbye London. :( On the agenda: get back to the US!

    The Blackberry Cab arrived as prearranged at 1030am. It was a comfortable and clean car with plenty of room for three adults and our bags. The driver was safe, the traffic was light and we all got to see a few more lovely glimpses of London. I would definitely book with them again.

    We arrived at LHR plenty early. That is, until the US Air agent told us that husband had been changed to a different airline (British Air) and flight. His final destination was IAH and ours was MSY so they moved him to a direct flight instead of connecting with us through Charlotte. We had not booked all three tickets together so they didn't realize we were a "family" and just treated him like a single passenger.

    The US Air agent did try to get us all on the same flights but everything was "overbooked" so it couldn't be done. I said a tearful goodbye to my husband, who was off to T5 to check in for his flight.

    Security at LHR is even more ridiculous in some ways than in the US. The whole thing about putting chapstick, lipstick, foundation, deodorant, etc. etc. in the little bag they give you is annoying and useless. I didn't feel safer because I took my chapstick out of my bag. I really hate airport security... Rant over (sorry).

    Our gate hadn't been posted yet so we sat and waited until it was. Once the gate was posted, we hiked there to check in not realizing that there is nothing, and I mean nothing, to do at the gate. There are no TVs, no vending machines, no toilets. Barbaric! And of course I needed a toilet before getting on our 9 hour flight. I had to leave my boarding pass with the gate agent to be allowed out of the area. Then I trekked all the way back to the food court/mall area to the nearest toilet. Upon return to the gate there was a line to check in and I had to wait for the agent who had my boarding pass to give it back. It's a really poor system, in my opinion. And it must aggravate the gate agents.

    Anyway, the flight was uneventful. Charlotte airport was about the easiest customs ever. We had a three hour layover before our flight to New Orleans, and at other airports that has been close to not long enough--I'm looking at you Philadelphia. I walked around a bit while nephew utilized his phone for the first time in 12 days.

    Family picked us up in New Orleans and, just like that, it was back to reality.

    It was a lovely trip. I'm so glad husband and I could take nephew to experience another country that even with a shared language and some history was different and exciting. It's so easy to travel in England. And there's so very much to see and do, all of it fabulous. Husband and I can't wait to return!

    Next: (finally) a few things I learned this trip

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    Finally: A Few Things I Learned This Trip.

    Overall, this was a wonderful trip. I don't think anything went seriously awry; we had no real meltdowns (except due to the heat!) and enjoyed all that we did. Still, here are some things I learned or don't want to forget or need to work on for future trips.

    1. Driving:
    a) avoid doing it right off the plane if possible.
    b) if not possible to avoid driving jet lagged, make sure you only have a short distance to cover
    c) get the Sat Nav (GPS). It was a lifesaver (and luckily free this time!)
    d) but don't forget the paper maps. These help if the Sat Nav fizzles or sends you wrong
    e) picking up a car with Hertz at LHR was easy. It was a very good rental experience
    f) if you get a little lost, stop and ask a local for directions. We met the lovely gentleman at Coultershaw Heritage Site because we were lost
    g) if a local gives you a shortcut to avoid traffic delays, ignore the Sat Nav and listen to the local

    2. Lodging:
    a) if the reviews say the rooms are noisy, they probably are noisy. Do ask for the quiet room when you book.
    b) Full English breakfast is the best breakfast! Better yet if it's included in the room rate!
    c) if you book a room above a pub, expect noise and have earplugs handy.
    e) take an eye mask because no room was not dark enough for me.

    3. Transportation:
    a) the 2-4-1 deals with the 7 Day paper Travel Card from a Railway Station in London are a great money saver. We used them at several places and saved enough to pay for almost the entire cost of 2 Travel Cards.
    b) make a safety plan if you're separated on the tube. Ours was not specific enough before nephew was lost but we made sure to reiterate it daily afterwards.
    c) make sure everyone knows where the hotel or apartment is located
    d) the Oyster card was not the best option for us. We found the paper Travel Card easier to use and wished we'd gotten one for nephew too. It would've been one less thing to worry about on a busy vacation
    e) buses are great except when it's hot. Or when traffic is stuck.

    4. Prebook Westminster Abbey and Windsor Castle if possible. Unless they have the 2-4-1 deal. We didn't see Westminster Abbey this time because the lines were too long and waited at least 45 minutes to get into Windsor.

    5. If you go to St. Paul's take the free tour. It enhanced our experience there greatly.

    6. If you go to Bath, take the free Mayor's Voluntary Guides tour. It was wonderful.

    7. See the Museum of the City you're in.

    8. If travelling in the summer, bring shorts, short sleeves and appropriate footwear in case there's a heat wave!

    9. Make sure your wifi is working before the apartment greeter leaves. No problem this time, thankfully!

    10. Have a plan but be flexible and willing to adapt to the situation and moods at hand.

    11. I have got to figure out how to get a phone to work abroad!

    Next trip: Lyon, the Dordogne, the Loire Valley, and Paris in October 2015 so I can get my Paris and castles fix!

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    Hi NOLA,

    Just finished your blog about your time in London. Really enjoyable, especially for those of us who have done the same things. As I said above, I never tire of hearing about what others do in London.

    About the BRITISH LIBRARY you remarked, "At one point, a librarian was shelving a book so had moved stacks out of the way and I could see inside this sanctum. I told nephew “I could live in there” and he looked at me like I was crazy. Lol."

    Great pic on your blog - that is the centerpiece of the Library - the collection of King George III which was housed in the British Museum before being moved to the Library in the late 90s. I may stand corrected about the dates. Beautiful place.

    Small correction - that church in Trafalgar Square is ST. MARTIN'S IN THE FIELDS, not St. Mary le Bow. I enjoyed your pics of the interior.

    How did you arrange for the tour of Parliament? Sounds great. That was a small group by the looks of that picture.
    No doubt, you folks will do the Ceremony of the Keys on your next visit. I am sure that your nephew appreciated the trip.

    Nice that you folks could go out for a drink together at the end of the evening. No doubt DN was catching up on his texting, snapchat, etc.

    Thanks for sharing...

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    nola - question. How long was your tour of Parliament? I've been before but the last time was years ago and things have probably changed. I'm taking the tour in a couple of weeks and I'm trying to figure out what time to make a lunch booking afterwards.

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    @latedaytravelker: thanks for the correction! I just knew I had the wrong name for the church!

    I booked the Parliament tour online at their website. They now offer audio tours as well as the more pricy guided tour. I think the guided tour is better for many reasons but especially for access to areas off limits to audio tours.

    @janisj: our tour started at 415pm and was the last tour of the day. We closed the place down at 6pm. And our guide was rushing a bit. I hope that helps.

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    I really enjoyed your trip report! You covered a lot of ground and your writing style has great detail, which lets us TR fans sink our teeth in. Thank you!

    And I also agree completely with the list of helpful pointers that you learned from this trip - especially numbers 5, 6, 9 and 10!! :)

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    @janisj: he was a bit rushed because the guards were trying to close down rooms behind us. I double checked and our tour was actually for 430pm and it started on time. We arrived a little early to get through security which took no time.

    @BostonBlondie: thanks for the comment. I'm working on succinctness but it's definitely a work in progress! :)

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    >>If you have a Cost Plus/World Market near you, they have Digestives <<

    I buy them monthly at Cost Plus -- and stock up because they are often out of the plain (dark) chocolate ones . . . Milk choc Digestives simply won't do ;)

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    The dark chocolate are my favorite, too. They have other English sweets, too - my kids like mint Aero and Flake bars. Plus, at Christmas, they often have large boxes of Cadbury Fingers, which are passed around after dinner during Christmas week at my husband's family's home near Chester. So we have a big trip to Cost Plus/World Market at the holidays, and bring the tradition to our home in the US :-)

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