Trip Report - London & Beyond

Nov 28th, 2008, 12:45 PM
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Posts: 261
janisj -- "I remember your planning threads and was wondering how things worked out."

Thank you again for all your great advice. You kept us out of many a pickle.

sashh -- "Yay I got mentioned in a trip report, doing a celebratory dance now."

Ha! Not just mentioned. You were our hero and lifesaver for sure that first day. We probably could have found a SIM card, but it was so nice not to have another worry at that point. Thanks!

sallyky is offline  
Nov 29th, 2008, 06:29 AM
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London – Day Four – Sun. Aug. 31 – Galleries Galore

Today was a day for art. Our agenda included the Courtauld Gallery and the National Gallery. We were met with a bit of drizzle and very humid weather as we emerged from the flat and it lasted till we arrived at Temple station and walked toward Somerset House. It wasn’t raining hard though, and we enjoyed the atmosphere of walking through a bit of misty garden on the embankment on our way to the Gallery.

We were there primarily for the Impressionist and post-Impressionist paintings and the Cezanne special exhibit, but we found the rest of the collection just as wonderful. We enjoyed the Reubens, Renaissance and all the rest. We even enjoyed the decorative arts more than I had expected. I was unfamiliar with Canaletto, but I fell in love with his work.

We were told that the technique for viewing is to walk up the three flights of stairs and work our way down. So we did. The Cezannes were magnificent. I especially loved Montagne Sainte-Victoire. And all those Manets, Monets, van Goghs, Seurats. Wow. I was in heaven. Seeing these paintings in person is so different form seeing them in books or magazines.

We went to the café to supplement our packed lunches, hoping to eat outside, but it was pouring rain by that time. After we ate, the rain had stopped and we walked up the Strand to the National Gallery.

On the way, we saw a luggage store and decided to solve my suitcase problem. I have a soft-sided suitcase that converts into a backpack. I also have a nylon duffel that folds down to a bandana-size rectangle. My plan was to use the duffle as a carry-on and then, after we arrived, shift the carry-on items into the backpack suitcase, fold up the duffle, and have one easy suitcase to carry. Would have worked a treat, too, if the zippers to the backpack part hadn’t locked up, leaving me instead with a heavy suitcase that was awkward to carry. So when we passed the luggage store, I bought a new suitcase on wheels.

Along this stretch Jerry almost got killed – truly. He crossed against the light, looking the wrong way, and a car was coming down the street right at him. I screamed. Jerry jumped, but more into the path of the car instead of away. The man screeched to a stop, horn blaring, and Jerry was safe. But we vowed never again to cross a street without having the signal saying Walk. We were all shaken up.

We popped into St. Martin-in-the-Fields on our way to the National Gallery. It’s not as big or as ornate as many churches we visited, but it was beautiful, and we’re glad we made the stop. Then on to the National Gallery. Wow again. Titian, Degas, Monet, Manet, Van Dyke, Reubens, Turner, Constable, and, oh, the incredible van Goghs. There were sunflowers, van Gogh’s chair, tall grasses with butterflies, and one of wheat fields with cypresses.

There were throngs of people. I wondered how many had come specifically for the art and how many came in to visit just because the National Gallery is on the major tourist spot of Trafalgar Square. If the latter, that’s great, because many people may have seen great art for the first time and really enjoyed it. When we saw the quite smaller crowds at the more out-of-the-way Tate Britain, I thought this was probably the case.

From the National Gallery, we walked up Charing Cross Road to find the Photographer’s Gallery for John. Charing Cross is a wonderful, bustling area with interesting buildings – though what London area doesn’t have them? We wished we’d had more time to explore the many bookstores, and I wished I’d found #84. This looked like my kind of place, but we were too rushed to explore it well.

The Photographer’s Gallery wasn’t very impressive, so John didn’t stay long. Instead we had dinner at the Porcupine, the very personification of our image of a pub. It is a very traditional looking place, lots of wood paneling and nice lighting. Since it was Sunday I was able to get the traditional roast beef with Yorkshire pudding and some kind of vegetable which none of us recognized. Is there a traditional veggie served with Yorkshire pudding? I think it was pureed.

The roast beef was good, but not as good as the steaks the guys had. I don’t know if this was the beginning of our running joke about wrong food choices or if that came later. When the food came, if one of us decided we’d rather have what someone else got, we’d jokingly complain about making the wrong food choice. My choice wasn’t really bad. It just wasn’t as good as theirs. I also had an apple-rhubarb crumble, which didn’t seem to have any rhubarb. The waitress didn’t tell me they were out of rhubarb, but they were out of many other things, so maybe so. My dinner was £7.85 and the steaks were £11.45.

As we made our way down from the upstairs, I noticed a guy in the bar wearing a Florida Gator T-shirt. I support the Kentucky Wildcats in the same sports conference, so of course I had to stop and talk. Jerry supports the Tennessee Volunteers, also in the same conference, so a great deal of bantering took place. I was saying Go Cats! And Jerry offered to sing Rocky Top, the Vols’ victory song. We had a fun time together. One of those small world things.

We went home in a hard rain to prepare for our Palace visit and watched cricket again. John said he had read all the rules online and still didn’t understand it. We need to work on this.

Tomorrow – Buckingham Palace & tea at the Dorchester

sallyky is offline  
Nov 29th, 2008, 03:05 PM
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Ha--I'm reading this while the Vols and Cats are playing on tv!! I'm in Texas now but my blood is still pretty--ORANGE! Go Vols! My family is still in Chattanooga and Knoxville.

If you happened to read my trip report posted in August, you'll see that we did find #84--the plaque only, as of course Marks and Co is long gone. It was worth the effort, though--something to put on your "next trip" list!

Enjoying your report, maybe with a tad of bias toward a fellow Tennessean!
texasbookworm is offline  
Nov 29th, 2008, 04:39 PM
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I'm watching the game too and think it would only be fair if you Vols would let us win one little measly game. LOL Of course, Wildcat football has always been an iffy thing, except for when we had Bear Bryant back in the dark ages.

I did read that you found #84 and kept the report so I can use your directions.

Go Cats!
sallyky is offline  
Nov 30th, 2008, 10:21 AM
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London – Day Five – Mon. Sept. 1 – We are treated royally

We were up early to make our 10:15 appointment at Buckingham Palace. Since we were going to visit the Palace and have tea at the Dorchester, we looked quite spiffy. The guys were in suits, complete with ties. And I even bothered with make-up. We were ready to meet the Dorchester’s dress code – or even to meet the queen. ;-)

After making a short stop at Victoria Station to ask about our upcoming trips to Greenwich and Dover, we walked to the Palace and started our tour at the Queen’s Gallery. There were some fantastic paintings. The first we saw was Eve of St. Agnes by John Everett Millais. I love the Pre-Raphaelites, and this painting is impressive. We spent a lot of time there.

After that we saw other paintings, armour, jewels, furniture, sculpture, sketches of animals and more. The sketches were quite interesting for the unusual views. I suspect that in some cases the artist was working from second- or third- or fourth-hand accounts. In one, a bison was climbing through a branch of a shrub. There was also a very strange looking skunk. I know the artist had never seen a skunk, unless it was one quite different from any I know about. The jewels are fabulous. I stayed with them a long time too.

Since coming back to the US, we have visited a museum in Charleston, SC. It was started by men who were inspired by the British Museum and wanted their museum to be just like it. Among the exhibits were sketches of an unusual looking bison standing next to a shrub and a very strange looking skunk. There had to be a connection with what we saw in the Queen’s Gallery.

Back to the Palace -- Next we visited the Royal Mews, stables, where we saw numerous carriages, all of them beautiful. An Australian one had a kangaroo and emu on the door. The state carriage has an oceanic theme with mermaids and Neptune to represent the Monarch of the Ocean. This carriage is so heavy it must begin to stop some 30-40 yards in advance. Otherwise the Queen will not step out on the red carpet, but into the mud puddle a ways down the road. The carriages are so ornate they are things of beauty in themselves.

We also saw a couple horses in their stalls. A sign said the horses were seldom seen except when they are performing their duties, an interesting choice of words, I think. It’s accurate, but I had never thought of the horses having duties before. Then I noticed something else and grabbed Jerry’s arm. “Look,” I said. “Doesn’t that look just like Oatabix?” Yes! Except for being larger in size, the alfalfa in the hay nets looked just like Oatabix. I knew it. John’s favorite breakfast cereal is really horse feed.

We had seen Bumbles Restaurant on our way to the Palace from Victoria Station, and I wanted to eat there because of what a Fodorite had said about it. We rushed back there and had their lunch special, three courses for £10. It was great. I started with an unidentified soup. The waiter told me what it was, but we could never understand him. Whatever it was, it was excellent.

John had an excellent cod appetizer, which came wrapped in parchment. It appeared to be in pastry, so it was a good thing the waiter opened it for him or John would have tried to eat the covering. We see we have to raise our sophistication level.

I had an excellent chicken fricassee for my main course and John had a delicious lamb burger. One of the things we loved about dining in Britain was that lamb and mutton showed up on the menu so often, was offered in various forms, and was so good.

After lunch, we rushed back to the Palace to tour the state rooms, which were unbelievable. Again, how we wish we could have taken pictures. There was so much to see: the decoration, the furniture, paintings, chandeliers, statues, even the ceilings and moldings were so artistic as to grab our attention. There was so much beauty and so much to see, we could hardly take it in.

The hall of paintings was wonderful, as was the hall of statuary, and a special treat was seeing the banquet hall set up as for a dinner for (I think) 150 people. They start two days in advance to set plates and silver, glasses and so forth. There was video of how things are done behind the scenes. It was really hard to take in all that we saw.

After touring the Palace, we exited through the Palace gardens and walked to the Dorchester for afternoon tea. Nice. It was much cooler today than it’s been and very windy, but a pleasant day for all that, and sunny. On this walk we learned that there is help for pedestrians trying to cross busy and difficult intersections. Instead of going across a street, you go under. You descend into a tunnel, called a subway, and more tunnels go off in various directions to get you to the street, and even the side of the street, you want.

A number of Fodorites helped me make the choice of place, and I want to say the Dorchester was fantastic. First, the atmosphere. We loved the feeling of opulence, the waiters in tails, the sofa and deep chairs, the heavy drapes of green and claret, Nubian statuary with exotic birds and animals, the pillars of red and gold, the palm trees, and a pianist playing in the background.

Now, about that Nubian/Egyptian statuary. Was that really in the Dorchester? I have it in my notes that it was, but I don’t see it in the pictures or remember it. And then there's the line in the Harrod's section of my notebook that says simply: self-cleaning stove. What's that about? I don't have a clue. As John says, it's hard when the notes have grown cold.

Anyway, I loved that although the Dorchester is a very posh place, there was no pretension or snobbishness on the part of the waiters. They were very pleasant and friendly, and happily willing to take pictures. We could tell from seeing many others having their pictures taken that we weren’t the only tourists doing the afternoon tea thing.

I chose Bangkok tea, a green tea with lemon grass, and a hint of ginger and coconut. It was very good. John had Earl Gray Supreme, also excellent. We traded tastes. Jerry had the Dorchester blend. I was glad that a Fodorite had mentioned the tea strainer and how she got tea leaves in her cup from not knowing to use it at first. Otherwise I might have done the same thing from not being aware.

We started with sandwiches, all on different kinds of bread. We had salmon, cucumber and cream cheese, egg salad, chicken and mustard, and cheddar and mango chutney. We could have all the sandwiches we wanted. The waiter kept offering more. When we were full of sandwiches, we had a palate cleanser before receiving scones with clotted cream (another thing we really love) and strawberry jam. Then we were offered pastries of various kinds.

We were constantly offered more scones or more pastries until we were stuffed. The éclairs were especially good. I was sorry I’d insisted on Bumbles for lunch, as I would have loved having more room for sandwiches, scones and pastries. We were there about an hour and a half. When we could absolutely eat no more, our waiter boxed up another half dozen or so pastries or us to take home.

Even the Dorchester loo was posh. It had cloth towels for hand drying. Very impressive. There also was a classy wastebasket looking kind of thing that I assumed was there for the used towels, but I wasn’t sure, since it was empty. So I just kept drying . . . and drying . . . and ever so casually . . . drying my hands until someone else threw her towel in it. Then I gave a sigh of relief and followed suit. What was I saying about sophistication level?

From the Dorchester we walked up to Marble Arch and went through a very complicated subway crossing to get to the station. We were a bit later than usual heading back to Archway and found ourselves in the middle of rush hour(s). The train was really packed, and I had nothing to hold onto. I was far from the upright bars near the doors, and am too short to reach the overhead bar. A well-dressed, middle-aged man heard me say so and offered his arm for support. I took it, and hung on as the train swayed and lurched. When he got off before we did, I thanked him profusely. “Oh. My pleasure,” he said. “Perhaps we can do dinner some evening.” I cracked up.

Jerry said it was a late night for us. We got back to Archway after 7 PM. Of course, we had already eaten, so that made us later than usual. We have discovered that we have no energy left for evening things, and the research I did on jazz haunts was all for naught. As retirees, we are not used to purposeful activity every day, let alone the miles of walking and standing we are doing now. We thought we had gotten in shape, but we hadn’t. So, after our usual check of the street from our window and a look at St. Paul’s and the Eye on the horizon, it was early bedtime for us.

Next – Greenwich

sallyky is offline  
Nov 30th, 2008, 01:04 PM
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Hi sallyky - I'm finally catching up with your TR, as I was away for Thanksgiving. Keep it coming!
yk is offline  
Nov 30th, 2008, 01:11 PM
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London – Day Six –Tues. Sept. 2 – Longitude 0°00’ 00”: We go to Greenwich

We seem to be alternating weather. Yesterday was warm and sunny; today is gray, cooler, and drizzly.

We are starting to relax on the tube. I no longer watch the map constantly and obsess over the next station and how many stops to ours. When I hear the voice saying “This train . . . ,” I always want to burst out with the rest of the line from the old spiritual This Train is Bound for Glory. Jerry said I shouldn’t bring it up. It would scare people. At times on the tube we feel like we’re in Whack a Mole or Meercat Manor, people popping up and down, shifting seats, in and out the doors.

I particularly enjoy checking out the outfits of the numerous well-dressed women on the tube. I know now why so many people suggested that I bring a scarf instead of a high-necked sweater (jumper). Although I hadn’t really noticed women wearing scarves in the places I’ve been in the US, either before or since, scarves obviously are the fashion accessory of choice here. Many women are wearing them, even in very warm weather.

Today we’re headed for Greenwich. A couple Fodorites suggested the best way to go would be by DLR and then take the foot tunnel underneath the Thames. Great idea. On the tube we were talking about a notice that the escalator at Bank was out and we would need to climb stairs. A man who overheard us said we needn’t worry as that was a problem only if we were leaving the station, not if we were just changing to DLR. He was really nice and chatted with us a bit.

It was nice being above ground for a change and seeing our surroundings. There is a lot of building and rebuilding going on in the docklands area. We saw some fantastic looking hotels, a new Mariott, and lots of high-rise apartments. We wondered what they would cost to buy or rent. Surely more than we could afford.

When we reached Island Gardens, we walked through a little park and took pictures of Greenwich, which is across the river. We had some great views. Then we walked through the foot tunnel, which was finished in 1902 to enable workers on the south side of the Thames to get to their jobs on the docks and in the warehouses.

In Greenwich, we went into the tourist information center and looked around the shop before heading off on a tour. I think one reason we need a long time to see places is because we sign up for tours. But they are great and we learn a lot. This one took us all through the Greenwich complex. John said the clean lines of the architecture reminded him of Alexander Pope’s poetry. We ended at the Observatory, on the top of a very steep hill.

At the top of the hill and the tour over, we sat on a wall and ate lunch while enjoying fantastic views of London and the Thames. When we went in the observatory, we had to have our pictures taken while straddling the prime meridian line, i.e., with one foot in the eastern hemisphere and one foot in the western hemisphere. Cool! Zero longitude. And I got a picture of John setting his watch to Greenwich time. Then we took a tour of the observatory. Our guide was very good at explaining longitude, the importance of having a way to know longitude, and the efforts to discover an accurate chronometer.

On the observatory tour, we saw THE clocks, the Harrison clocks that solved the problems of pendulums, lubrication, and stability, and are still working. It’s may be hard to imagine a book on longitude being interesting to someone not a scientist or sailor, but Dava Sobel’s book Longitude is an amazingly good read. I highly recommend it. Our guide also did a great job with the personalities and human conflicts involved in the struggle to find longitude. We had a terrific time here.

She also told us about a woman many years earlier who would come up to the observatory every day to get the time. Obviously this was before watches, or even clocks, were common. Or maybe it was just before accurate clocks were available. Then she would go back down to town and sell the time to the shopkeepers. I guess “time is money” really had meaning for her.

After our tour, we moseyed down the hill, stopping to sit on a bench even though we were on our way down. Jerry says you can tell we’re geezers. We can’t pass a toilet or a bench.

As usual, we had started early enough to arrive at opening time, but we still didn’t have enough time to see all that had been on our original schedule. We had hoped for at least a short visit to the Maritime Museum, even though it was almost closing time when we got back down the hill, but we were just too tired. John is suffering from plantar fasciitis and days like today cause him great pain. I am thankful he is able to tour at all, though I see our hiking plans going by the wayside. With his pain and all of us tired, we decided to skip the museum, and all the other places I wanted to see, and head home.

We took the boat back to Westminster Pier and one look at the crowd around Westminster tube station made us decide to eat in town to avoid the rush. Jerry asked a street vendor for advice, a plan I didn’t think would work. I was sure a seller of tourist junk would not know a decent eating spot, but he did. He sent us to a very small Italian place around the corner: the Café Bar Churchill at 49 Parliament Street.

We had two sparkling waters and one tea, a spinach lasagna, a regular lasagna, fusilli romano, and three desserts for £51.10. It was really good or we were ravenous or both, but we really liked it and would recommend it for the Westminster Abbey area.

We are surprised at how often someone asks us about US politics or Hurricane Gustav.

We needed groceries and have worked out a scheme. John takes all the day bags and goes up first to start resting his foot. Jerry and I get groceries. Then Jerry is kind enough to carry all the groceries upstairs while I huff and puff along behind. John is supposed to put ice on his foot, but that’s not easy to achieve, neither the buying of ice nor finding something that will hold both ice and his foot.

If ever I am in London at this same time of year, I will bring shorts, if only to wear in the apartment in the evening. We were often quite warm.

Once again we dream of a way to haul groceries up by rope. We’ve had a long tiring day and we feel the fatigue is adding up.

Next – The British Library and British Museum, with a stuffed philosopher in between

sallyky is offline  
Nov 30th, 2008, 01:14 PM
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Really great report! I may have to print it up when you're all finished; it's a great guide. I'm particularly interested in finding out how the public transportation part worked out for you, as that's how I plan to do Britain next time.
azzure is offline  
Nov 30th, 2008, 02:38 PM
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You are doing a really terrific job of it. Enjoying every word!

" I was sorry I’d insisted on Bumbles for lunch"

I wondered when you first wrote about going to Bumbles -"Oh my Goodness - Bumbles and afternoon tea on the same day!" Most of the time when I plan on a full tea I skip lunch altogether (and usually dinner too)

"Jerry says you can tell we’re geezers. We can’t pass a toilet or a bench."

Know just what he means. I'm take a group of 8 ladies "of a certain age" to the UK next Spring. (you won't catch me calling them "geezers" on a bet )
janisj is offline  
Nov 30th, 2008, 02:56 PM
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Great report so far.

On our last trip to London, we had dinner at Bumbles. Thought it was a nice place with reasonable prices and great food.

We are staying in Haltwhistle and Shrewsbury for a few days as part of our 3+ week trip to the UK next April so I'm looking forward to reading the rest of your report!
bettyk is offline  
Nov 30th, 2008, 03:16 PM
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This is a wonderful trip report. Your details are amazing and I'm thankful that you're sharing them with us!

Keep it coming!

TravelRibbon is offline  
Nov 30th, 2008, 05:48 PM
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<< Once again we dream of a way to haul groceries up by rope. We’ve had a long tiring day and we feel the fatigue is adding up.>>

Too late for you Sally but for others: If you have access to the internet you can order online and have your groceries delivered. The driver will carry them upstairs and into the kitchen. The delivery fee is £5-£7 but may be worth it and of course you could order from the states before you even set off.
sashh is offline  
Nov 30th, 2008, 08:33 PM
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Just caught up with your trip report again - I didn't realize the Dorchester would box up all the desserts and scones that you didn't eat. Did you have to ask them to do it? How was it sitting on the sofas? I'm sure it's a stupid question, but when I was doing research for a place to have afternoon tea, I always wondered if it would be awkward to not have a proper table in front of you.

I'm a big ice tea drinker also, and I too miss it when we get to Europe. I've seen Snapple in Paris(which I almost took a picture of since I thought it was so unusual), but I can't remember seeing anything like that in London/England.

Are you putting up pictures for this report?
Anna1013 is offline  
Dec 1st, 2008, 02:44 AM
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Help me here

You got up in the wee small hours for the Queen's coronation in 1953. That would imply you were in North America.

But live intercontinental TV wasn't possible until the launch of Telstar in 1962 (a date usually easier for Britons to remember, since the Number 1 record in most of Britain throughout October 1962 was called Telstar. In the civilised part of Britain, of course, Love Me Do was No 1 that month).

So did they show film of the coronation exactly 24 hours later in the US? Or were you dragged from a nice warm bed just to listen to a crackly radio saying "they're putting a crown on her head"?
flanneruk is offline  
Dec 1st, 2008, 05:10 AM
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Great report Sallyky! Revived soooooooo many memories of past trips to London - especially the DLR to Island Gardens and then for us, walking through the foot tunnel to Greenwich and back again.
Once before on that same route a friend and I got off the train inside a huge building with a domed skylight - had a super lunch before going back into the centre of London.

If I've missed the link to the London apartment rental please give it again?
tod is offline  
Dec 1st, 2008, 06:24 AM
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Enjoying your report, Sally. Did you never get to the Cabinet War Rooms? If not, another reason to return.

About your apartment, I was wondering after the last installment. Did you still find the 92 steps okay? Or were they too much after a day on your feet? The apartment looks very nice and in an interesting location.
Mimar is offline  
Dec 2nd, 2008, 03:57 PM
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Sorry to have taken so long to answer questions. We’ve been on the road moving the “house,” i.e. the RV we live in fulltime, south for the winter.

azure – You’ll see much more about public transportation as we go, but generally I felt it was a trade-off between the flexibility of driving and the ease of rail travel. I was happy with train travel, and John, who would have been the primary driver, loved it!

janisj – You are so right. Bumbles and tea on the same day were way too much. I let my fear of not getting to Bumbles overcome my thinking powers, . . . but we did skip dinner. ;-)

Anna1013“I didn't realize the Dorchester would box up all the desserts and scones that you didn't eat.”

Anna – it was even better than that. We finished all they put in front of us, but when we said we’d had enough, the waiter went off on his own and brought back the boxed up goodies. Don’t know if it was because I said aloud (maybe several times!) that we wished we could have eaten more or if they give extras to all guests.

John sat on the sofa and says it was no problem. I am so short I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to reach the table very easily from the sofa, so I sat on a chair. The tea table worked well with the seats, and we all felt quite comfortable.

I will post some pictures, but want to finish the writing first. John is working on photos now.

Flanneruk -- Your comments about US TV and the coronation really took me aback. I hoped that one of my most vivid childhood memories was not totally false. I puzzled and puzzled over it. After doing some research, I think I found the answer. Still photos were sent to the Today show by a device called Mufax beginning at 5:30 eastern US time. They could be transmitted in nine minutes, and the first US coverage was BBC radio and those photos. They must have been what I was rousted from my bed to see. The film was shown later, after being flown to Canada by military jet. The whole story is told at and it’s really interesting. I was amazed by the competition to get the film to the US first.

tod -- The link to the rental flat is

Mimar -- Unfortunately we did not get back to the War Rooms, and I agree that’s a great reason to return!

We joked a lot about the 92 steps, but they were OK. The guys did better with them than I did. I don’t think the steps bothered après-londee at all from what I remember of her TR. I think age, fitness level and weight (mine!) determine how much of a bother they are. We did find them a gumption trap in that we didn’t want to go out again once we’d gone up to the flat, and we organized all our outings and meals accordingly. But it is a very nice flat and we liked the location. We enjoyed our time there.


sallyky is offline  
Dec 2nd, 2008, 04:43 PM
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Hey Sally,

Thanks so much for your replies. After your comments, I wonder if you just got a wonderful waiter, or if they do that for all guests - I'll have to search the forum on that one. I'm short also(5'1) and I had the same concern about reaching things on the table from the sofa...nice to know chairs are available also.
Anna1013 is offline  
Dec 2nd, 2008, 04:52 PM
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London – Day seven – Wed. Sept. 3 – From the British Library to the British Museum, with a stuffed philosopher in between

Today was a lovely day, though cool, a good day for our much outdoor walking. We began by going to King’s Cross to walk to the British Library. While we were there, we made a visit to platform 9 ¾ to see if we could run our trolley through it on our way to Hogwarts School. Jerry hadn’t read the Harry Potter books, but when we explained, he made sure he had a picture too – for his son, an avid Harry Potter fan, and his granddaughter, who is sure to be a fan too when she’s old enough to read.

From there we walked past St. Pancras to the British Library, a modern building with a big courtyard. I’d wanted to poke my head into St. Pancras because I’d read it is worth the look, but we decided we didn’t have time and went straight to the library. The British Library’s famous manuscripts would be impressive to anybody, but to English majors like ourselves, it truly was a treasure trove. Imagine this: the Lindisfarne gospels, illuminated manuscripts, a Gutenburg Bible, works from Anglo-Saxon times, and a third-century Letter to the Hebrews. The letter was on papyrus and had been found in a garbage dump. And that’s just the beginning. There was the Magna Carta, a Beowulf manuscript, Austen, Bronte, Yeats and Joyce reading their own works, and the Beatles. And more. It was hard to tear ourselves away.

John said then and since that a highlight of our entire trip for him was to hear W. B. Yeats himself, recorded of course, read The Lake Isle of Innisfree. Yeats did it almost as a song, and John said he could pick out the chord changes.

Our next goal was to visit Jeremy Bentham at University College London We had thought we’d visit the Dickens House along the way, but we didn’t have time. Later, we also had to ditch the Old Curiosity Shop and had already skipped the Trafalgar Tavern in Greenwich. No Dickens this trip, I’m sorry to say. Another reason to return!

John and I had studied Victorian literature under a professor who considered Bentham and Samuel Taylor Coleridge the two men who defined the different directions of literature and philosophy from the Romantic period well into Victorian times and beyond.

Bentham was a pragmatic utilitarian who believed in the greatest good for the greatest number. I don’t know if that’s what he was thinking when he decided to have his body preserved for posterity, but he did it. It’s now stored at UCL in a wooden cabinet called an auto-icon. As many times as we had heard about Bentham, of course we had to see him. And we were heading past UCL toward the British Museum anyway. It was a nice day and we enjoyed our walk. If you’d like to see a picture of Jeremy in his auto-icon, Wikipedia has a pretty good one.

I’d read it was somewhat difficult to find Jeremy, though, so before we left the library, I asked a man at the desk if he could direct us. He happily found information on Jeremy’s location and even printed it out for us. It was a huge surprise to me that neither he nor anybody else seemed surprised when we asked about finding our stuffed philosopher friend. The next people we asked were at the university security office, which we just stumbled upon. They too seemed to think it was quite normal to want to visit Jeremy.

We found the right building, but there was a fire alarm going off and we couldn’t get in for a bit. Instead we chatted with the fire marshal and sat in the sun watching students who seemed to be returning from a graduation ceremony. They were all in caps and gowns and had parents in tow.
sallyky is offline  
Dec 2nd, 2008, 04:53 PM
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Once the fire alarm stopped and we got into the building, we learned where those parents were being towed -- up to see Jeremy. We couldn’t believe the crowd of people who wanted pictures. One man and his grandson approached when we were there and the man said, “There he is! There he is!” We, of course, got our pictures too. Pilgrimage accomplished.

From there we had a pleasant walk through the university and around Russell Square Gardens to the British Museum. There were lots of people milling about in the sunshine and many more inside. What a place. It seems there’s anything you’d want to see. We had planned to get there in time for the London Walks tour to help us hit the highlights, but, as usual, we got absorbed in the first agenda items and didn’t make it. And the tour started at Holborn Tube Station, and we didn’t really want to walk there and then come back to the museum – translation: our feet were already sore.

These are fantastic exhibits in a fantastic building. There is a big open, covered courtyard, which we understand is fairly new. It used to be uncovered and was generally not useable, but it’s gorgeous now, and has greatly expanded the useable space.

Even without London Walks, the visit turned out great. We started with an audio tour on our own to fill the time before a guided tour, and then took it. The guided tour was a treat. Even though we saw a lot – mosaics, colossal figures, Elgin Marbles, mummies, caskets, the Rosetta Stone, Greek urns, the statue that inspired Shelley’s poem Ozymandias, a desiccated person called Ginger, and much more – closing time came before we had seen nearly all there is. This is definitely a place we’ll return to, if not this trip, certainly the next.

I’d wanted to eat at North Sea Fish because a Fodorite had recommended it highly, but I had forgotten my information. All I could remember was that it was near the British Museum. Instead, we decided to head toward Holborn Station and look for a restaurant on the way. We got lucky. Within a couple blocks, we discovered the AhKing Bar & Restaurant at the corner of Bury Place and Bloomsbury Way. It was a find.

We had the Thai Special for £12.90 each. For that we got Tom Yum soup, fried rice, green curry beef, Phad Thai, and pineapple pork. All were excellent. Tea was another £1.20.

We enjoy people watching on the tube. Today a very large man got on and planted himself right in front of the door. Then he absolutely would not move when people wanted to get off. Interesting, watching people trying to get by him. We’ve also seen men and women who do not have the look of tourists in any way at all . . . except . . . gasp! . . . they are wearing white trainers.

Our Sainsbury store was out of ice (could we have used it all?), so we went to another little store and got some for John’s foot. All of us have aching feet if the truth be known. It really feels good to get home in the evenings. Having a flat is great. We can stretch out. We can fix snacks. There’s room to do pictures, read, or watch TV. We can check e-mail.

Next – The Tate Britain

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