Trip Report - London & Beyond

Dec 2nd, 2008, 05:03 PM
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London – Day Eight – Thur. Sept. 4 – Tate Britain

Today we were headed for the Tate Britain, though John had a pilgrimage of his own to make. He visited the all-Nikon store, Grays of Westminster.

There was some kind of train trouble this morning and getting on at Euston was very difficult. We waited for several trains and all were packed. Everybody was squished. We got off at Pimlico and John went off to Grays, while Jerry and I went to the Tate Britain, a nice walk. We’re having another lovely day. After all the comments about British weather this past summer, we feel very fortunate about the weather while we were there.

Jerry and I dropped off our bags at the coat check and started to go up to the galleries via the back stairs, where we saw a man in running clothes tying his shoes. Hmm, we said. He must be stopping off to use the toilet or something. As we topped the stairs and reached the main corridor, a woman in running clothes tore past us at full speed. We were astonished. We couldn’t imagine someone using the main corridor of an art museum as a running track.

As we approached the front, another man in running clothes raced by. By now we figured something was going on. These could not be stray runners who just happened to run in museums. But it wasn’t till later that we learned having people run through the corridor as fast as they could at 30-second intervals was an art exhibit. I forget the name of the man who organized it. At the risk of being called a Philistine, I must say it reminded me of the saying that modern art is an oxymoron.

We took two tours, one of paintings from 1500-1700 and another 1700-1900. John caught up to us at the beginning of the first tour. Not only were the tours excellent in themselves, but we were provided with folding stools to take with us so we could sit while we listened to the lecture at various paintings. YAY! John said it was the most humane thing he’s seen in a while.

I especially enjoyed the many Pre-Raphaelite paintings here. There was the huge Bourne-Jones masterpiece: The Sleep of Arthur in Avalon, based on Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur. The visit would have been worth it if this were the only painting I’d seen. I also especially liked The Annunciation (Dante Gabriel Rossetti) and Jesus Washing Peter’s Feet (Ford Maddox Brown).

Both imbue the characters with realistic expressions unusual in religious paintings. Usually Mary is seen in the annunciation as radiant or adoring or joyful. In Rossetti’s work, she looks exactly like a teenager who has just been told the Holy Spirit will impregnate her. You have got to be kidding! She is almost recoiling from the angel. At best she’s stunned. In Brown’s work, the expressions of the disciples are very interesting. Peter has an expression of humility and perhaps a feeling that it’s not quite fitting for Jesus to be washing his feet, whereas another disciple is hurriedly pulling off a sandal in order to be next.

We were enjoying the paintings so much we wish we could have stayed much longer, but we left about 4:00. As John said, more than once, the mind (or soul) can take in only what the feet can endure. Also, Jerry was looking for a British doll for his sister and we decided this might be a day to shop. He had tried many street vendors and tourist shops, but the dolls were all from China. We first asked a woman at the cloakroom if she had any ideas – sexist, I know. She didn’t, but a young man listening suggested Hamleys, a famous toy store on Regent Street. That taught us a lesson about thinking women automatically would know more about dolls. So we were off to the bus stop.

Now, the difficulty we’ve found with busses is that you have to know what your stop looks like in order to get off at the right place. We usually did not. And we certainly didn’t in this case. However, as is his wont, Jerry struck up a conversation with a man who told us to get off where he did and he would take us to the store. So we hopped off with him. He took us to the next corner and said, “I’m going another direction, but go down this street a little way and there it will be.” Ha.

We walked and walked and walked, finally stopping to check our map, and to grumble a bit, wondering if we were even going in the right direction. As we were engrossed in all that, a young woman stopped and asked, “Are you OK? Can I help?” We weren’t, but she did. She told us we were going the right direction and how much further we had to go. But it turned out that Hamleys, while having lots of bears and a few dolls, did not have any collectible dolls. We gave it up and went home.

I had another interesting tube experience. Once again I was in a position where I couldn’t reach any of the handholds. A young woman offered me her seat. “Take mine, madam,” she said. Later, when she got off the train, John laughed and said, “Well, how did that make you feel?” “You mean besides old and short?” I asked. Well, since I had been having difficulty, it also made me feel thankful

If I remember correctly, it was a British Fodorite who said on one thread that she really disliked being called ma’am while in the States. Now, after being called madam some 10,364 1/2 times in six weeks, I wonder how anyone who’s used to that could object to be called by it’s abbreviation. I was called madam in deference, as a question, and, I think, in exasperation, simply by a change in tone. John says I could have had an entire conversation with only the word madam. With one meaning or another, I certainly was called madam often.

That night we had dinner at the Archgate Mediterranean Bistro. We were served olives and crudités; then we ordered hummus to share for £2. John and I both had meat moussaka for £7.5 and Jerry had the salmon special for £8.5. All of it was very good, and the hummus was perhaps the best I’ve had anywhere. The atmosphere was nice too. The restaurant is very narrow, with room for one table and walking room between the wall and the display cases with the desserts. There are all kinds of lamps and glass objects hanging from the ceiling. In the evening there was low lighting and candles. It was very pleasant and slightly exotic. There was quite a mix of people. One visit and this was our favorite eatery in Archway.

The service was good and the waitress was very pleasant and friendly. She is Polish and had been in London a little over a year. Both in London and as we traveled elsewhere in the UK, we came across large numbers of immigrants as waiters, clerks, workers in museums, and other places. We often had a great deal of trouble understanding them because of their accents. I don’t know why understanding English or Scottish accents seemed pretty easy, whereas the immigrants’ accents often were impossible for us.

sallyky is offline  
Dec 2nd, 2008, 10:53 PM
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Sally - The North Sea Fish Restaurant is in Leigh street.
Cross over the road from St.Pancrass Station and walk up Judd Street - then turn right into Leigh street - can't miss it.
We are headed there next trip as we only saw the takeaway section, not realising the restaurant part was around the corner!
tod is offline  
Dec 2nd, 2008, 11:34 PM
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On the ma'am/madam thing

I'm with the anonymous woman who gets irritated at being called ma'am (or, in my case, sir) in the US.

My experience has always been that it's far more widespread in the US than in the UK, and therefore to my ear sounds unnecessary (and almost forced by some training course) in the US. Which said, it strikes me as much more widespread here than it used to be, so maybe it's not that much rarer than in thg US any more.

Whether I get "sir-ed" more often because my hair is greyer, or because more people in Britain serving the public now go on courses telling them what to say, I'm not sure. Either way, you usually only say "sir/madam" to people you don't know. So inevitably, you get it more when travelling, and the term does signal slightly you're a stranger.

Whatever: it injects a formality into conversation that I find unEnglish.
flanneruk is offline  
Dec 3rd, 2008, 01:59 AM
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I don't mind answering to Madam. I didn't mind love, duck or flower when I was young, but nowadays I'd find it patronising.
Something Canon Chasuble finds difficult in Italy is deciding between Signora and Signorina. He's afraid of getting it wrong. A middle aged matron is definitely Signora and a teenager in Signorina. It's the ones in between that are a problem.
MissPrism is offline  
Dec 3rd, 2008, 05:59 AM
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Sally - Just want to say that I am really enjoying your report and style of writing!
Debbiekep2 is offline  
Dec 3rd, 2008, 06:26 AM
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sallyky, I've been catching up and I love your report! I agree the British Museum is worth more visits - I've been there twice and haven't even scratched the surface. I could easily spend a week there, day and night

I had to laugh at the virgin/verger thought

Great trip report so far, waiting for more!
GreenDragon is offline  
Dec 3rd, 2008, 07:53 AM
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We were in London in October and also visited the British Library and listened to Yeats reciting 'The Lake Isle of Innisfree'. I thought he sounded as if he'd had a few whiskies - but you may be right, he may have just been singing/talking.
rickmav is offline  
Dec 3rd, 2008, 09:21 AM
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Remember, the Irish have a natural lilt that hides, uh, sounds like they are drunk
GreenDragon is offline  
Dec 3rd, 2008, 03:02 PM
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Lots of great info on my favorite city. Thanks!
cobbie is offline  
Dec 3rd, 2008, 03:27 PM
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>>>I don’t think the steps bothered après-londee at all from what I remember of her TR<<<

Oh, I had my moments

It was a real pain dragging my admittedly overstuffed suitcase up the stairs, and one day I wasn't feeling so hot and I needed to take a couple of breathers on the way up at the end of the day. They were never flat-out fun to climb, but I was fine and considering the size and niceness of the flat and the affordable price, it was well worth it to me and I would happily stay there again.

>>>That night we had dinner at the Archgate Mediterranean Bistro... One visit and this was our favorite eatery in Archway<<<

My sister and I had dinner there one night! We loved it too, the food, the atmosphere, the service, all wonderful! That little place is a real gem. And I couldn't believe how small our dinner bill was at the end of the night.

Really enjoying your report, sally. Keep it coming!
Apres_Londee is offline  
Dec 3rd, 2008, 06:13 PM
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tod -- Thanks for the directions to North Sea Fish. It sounds closer to the British Library than the British Museum, so it’s a good thing we didn’t try to find it there.

rickmav & GreenDragon -- I told John what you said about the whiskies. And he said, “Yeats was a poet. Of course he’d had a few whiskies!” ;-)

Apres_Londee -- I agree about staying in the Archway flat again. We really liked it. How neat you loved that restaurant too. This is making me wish I were back!
sallyky is offline  
Dec 3rd, 2008, 06:16 PM
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London – Day Nine – Fri., Sept. 5 – The Tower of London & St. Paul’s

Taking the escalator in the underground, we have been seeing an ad for a movie called Guns, Girls, Geezers. I grin every time I see it. Part of me thinks it would be fun to see. Another part says it is surely dumb and I’d walk out.

Today is Tower of London day, and on the way we noticed, as we always do, what a wide range of people –in apparent social class, age, type of dress, and apparent destinations -- ride the tube. It makes it very interesting to observe.

At the Tower, I was thrilled at my 2-for-1 savings. This is a place where it really paid off. And my travel card has proven less expensive than the Oyster Card too. Even though the rain, time of year, and our fairly early arrival put us there well before any big crowds gathered, we went off to see the jewels first as is recommended. The jewel room was empty and so we could look as much as we wanted. I went around several times to take in the jewels. They are stunning.

When we had looked our fill, we went back to the gate to take a Yeoman Warder tour. The Yeoman Warders, also known as Beefeaters, give great tours. At least ours did, and I’d highly recommend it. Our guide was very informative and very funny as well.

The Yeoman Warders aren’t just any old guys who want a pleasant job entertaining tourists. Henry VIII created them in 1485 as a special guard unit for the Tower. Today their job is mostly ceremonial, but they do have some duties. And they all have a military background. They must be former senior non-commissioned officers, retired from the British Armed Forces, and with at least 22 years of service. They must also hold the long service and good conduct medals. There is, BTW, one female Yeoman Warder.

There are several explanations of why they’re called Beefeaters. The most likely is that they received a ration of beef, which was considered part of their wages, a ration they retained when they retired. Our guide said that is not the case any longer, however. According to him, only the ravens now get beef as part of their ration. Citing the legend that if the ravens ever leave the Tower, the monarchy will crumble, our guide said keeping the ravens fat on beef makes it impossible for them to fly away. They can only waddle. I’m not sure of the truth of the beef-eating ravens story, since I know they have their wings clipped to make sure they don’t leave the Tower, but it may be true they get beef to eat.

The Tower, which is really a large complex and filled with many towers (too many some might say), is a place of many spiral staircases, so many they became a source of jokes for the rest of our trip. Each tower, and there are 20 of them, has at least one spiral staircase. They are often narrow and steep. And of course they must be climbed to view the exhibits. We saw the Torture Tower, the Bloody Tower, the White Tower, the Queen’s Tower, and many more. We saw the beheading ground, Traitor’s Gate, armor, weapons, life-size replica horses exhibited with the armour of various knights, Sir Walter Raleigh’s rooms, and, of course, the famous ravens.

We also saw King Henry VIII’s armor, which our guide told us to check out carefully. He said the armor was, perhaps, a bit exaggerated in places and the women should not swoon, nor the men be too envious of what they saw. ;-) Impressive though Henry's equipment was, it was only one of many exhibits of armour and weapons.

For some, being kept in the Tower was not so bad. Sir Walter, for example, had a set of rooms. He could walk around the grounds. He had books and papers. He had his family. Some prisoners were allowed to ride out, as long as they returned at night. In some cases, people were kept in the tower just to keep them from being a rival or rebellious on the outside.

Some, however, did not fare so well. For example, Edward IV’s young sons suspiciously disappeared from the Tower, supposedly murdered by their uncle, Richard III, who was then right in line for the kingship. And two of Henry VIII’s queens, Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard, were executed there. When I was a teen, there was a song about Anne Boleyn walking around with her head tucked underneath her arm. According to the Warder’s ghost stories, she does just that.

We ate in the Tower café. I had chicken bakken, a traditional dish, or so they claimed, with rice and peas. John had fish and chips. They were £13.90 total for both.

Despite the rain, which came down off and on all the time we were there, there were quite a few people by afternoon. We had arrived about 9:30 and didn’t leave until 3:00. There was much more to see than we had expected. We had hoped to cross the Tower Bridge on foot and go over the upper level for the views, but did not have time. We had to make do with views of the bridge from the Tower, and they are wonderful, even in the rain.

We had planned to take the 2:00 London Walks Tour of St. Paul’s, but we decided to see as much of the Tower as we could, or wanted, before moving on. Natch, we missed the St. Paul’s tour. Even though the rain had stopped, our feet ached, so we took a cab to St. Paul’s for £6.8. That seems a lot for a fairly short ride, but we were glad to pay it. Our cab driver told us he had been working for five years to pass the tests to be a driver in London, and we were only his second passengers. Made us a little nervous, but we were too tired to care. He and many others have asked what we think of the US election, and many have mentioned Hurricane Gustav.

St. Paul’s is beautiful. Because we were so close to the time of letting people in for evensong, we couldn’t really tour the church, but we did look around in the areas where we could go. I was really surprised by all the memorials and statues of secular heroes. There was Lord Kitchener, Samuel Johnson, and Joshua Reynolds, to name just a few. I expected that at Westminster Abbey, but I guess I thought that was the only place where statues and non-religious memorials would be present. As we toured many other old churches, we found it was the norm.

We decided we really needed to sit and have tea, and we did have time for it, so we went across the street to indulge. When we returned, people were lining up for evensong. One woman who apparently attends quite often told us that if we were lucky, we would be invited into the quire instead of sitting on the folding chairs in the nave. She also told us we were fortunate because the full choir, men and boys, would be singing that night. We were indeed invited into the quire and it was a magnificent experience to be there while the choir sang psalms and the Magnificat. It was a very moving experience to hear those beautiful voices in such a traditional ceremony in this very gorgeous cathedral. Jerry says it is the highlight of his trip to London.

We were glad we had gone to Westminster Abbey and the House of Parliament earlier because what we learned there helped us understand what we saw in the Tower and in St. Paul’s. At the Tower we saw video about the coronation, and we knew what the anointing spoon was for and about the coronation chair and the state carriage, for example. At St. Paul’s we saw the verger lead in the procession of clergy and choir with the golden rod. And lead them out again at the end.

Everything we’d learned fit together very nicely.

Afterwards we ate at a Pizza Express right across the street. John’s pizza was £8.25, while mine was 7.95. Mine was artichoke, asparagus, and olives. Both were really good. Then we headed for the underground, and home.

Next – Hampton Court, but no boat trip

sallyky is offline  
Dec 3rd, 2008, 06:29 PM
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London – Day Ten – Sat., Sept. 6 – Hampton Court

This was another rainy day, though the rain was not constant. We made a deliberately early start to arrive at Hampton Court when it opened. We took the tube to Waterloo Station and then a train from there. Waterloo is very large and filled with lots of people in a hurry. At first we found it nerve wracking that the message boards didn’t tell the platform where our train would be. I wonder if choosing the platform is a last-minute decision or there is some other reason for it. In any case, after a bit we realized that the trains were listed by time and as one left, they’d all move up the board, and another would have its platform listed. As the minutes became few, we stood in the middle of the platforms so we could hurry in either direction when we knew which ours would be.

We were taken by the number of bikes that either were being left at the station or were being loaded on a train. We’ve seen people riding bikes in London and think they’re very brave. It was nice being above ground and able to see the countryside a bit. John pointed out that other than palaces and castles, we’ve seen no single-family dwellings. All have been flats. This seems true as we head for Hampton Court as well. We think it’s cool that we stop in Wimbledon.

On the train, we heard a mother and daughter speaking and realized they were Americans, so we asked about their visit and soon had a great conversation about what we’d seen and where we’d been. They said they had a pedometer and had been walking about six miles a day. Their days sounded a lot like ours, so we’re probably doing about the same mileage. No wonder our feet hurt and we’re tired at the end of the day.

We arrived in Hampton Court, walked over the bridge and up to the palace. Holy mackerel. This place is HUGE! The palace was built by Cardinal Woolsey, but taken over by Henry VIII in 1525. Henry built the great hall, which is a wonderful part of the palace. William and Mary lived there also.

We wandered about a bit with an audio-tour and then joined a tour led by a very buxom young lady costumed in William and Mary style. The tour was very good and is part of the ticket. No bookings need be made. You just see when the tours are scheduled and join it at the appointed place. I don’t think there were any other tours listed for this day, but we were glad to have this one. It was fun and informative. We learned that as people moved from the outer waiting rooms closer and closer to royalty, the rooms became far more ornate and impressive in their decoration and art. This was a theme that would reappear as we visited other castles.

In one room, as our guide talked, a heavy wooden door kept creaking and moving slightly on its hinges. She said it was a ghost, went over near the door and, in a very authoritative voice, told it to quit, which it did. We all looked at each other. Hmm. Maybe it was a ghost.

After the tour, we went on our own through the Queen’s rooms, the chapel, Henry VIII’s great hall, an exhibit of Henry VIII as a young man, and an exhibit on Woolsey.

Then we decided it was time for lunch. Actually, it was past time. We had already eaten our sandwiches, cheese and candy and were still hungry. Must be all this walking. We ate at the palace café. John and I had very good and filling mutton stew with bread for £6 each.

After lunch we were going to look at the flower gardens and found there was a tour of them just about to start. It was wonderful as well. Our guide worked in the palace gardens and was passionate about what she did. The gardens are changed from time to time, but we saw examples of what gardens would be like from the periods of the various monarchs. Our guide talked about the changes in the gardens as the different monarchs lived there.

There are 60 acres of gardens in all. I know we didn’t see them all, because about half of them are on the far side of the palace from the ones we saw, but we saw plenty. I was surprised that they were still blooming so late in the year. The flowers were in beautiful color, maybe the more so because of the rain. We saw how they were laid out and also the topiary. Jerry took a garden tour of Italy last summer and said the Hampton Court gardens were more beautiful than any he had seen in Italy. A big hit was the Great Vine, a 250-year-old grape vine. This one vine filled the greenhouse and its roots even went outside. It is an amazing thing.

All we had left in us after this was to walk to the lake and fountain and admire the shaped yew trees. It had been raining when we were near the maze, which I really wanted to go into, but I didn’t have the energy or feet to go back to the other side of the property to walk it. Instead we walked back to the station and got back on the train for Waterloo and home.

Another thing we’d really wanted to do was to take the boat back. We decided against taking the boat to Hampton Court because of its taking three or four hours to get there, depending on the tides. We didn’t want to spend that much of our touring time on the river. However, we figured we could ride the boat back to London and time wouldn’t matter. Oh, but the weather did. By this time it was raining again and had become quite chilly. The skies were gray and dull. Four hours on a boat no longer held any appeal.

We decided to eat in the flat and see what we could find in the fridge. We picked up a couple salads at a very nice co-op store right across from the tube station (our new store of choice) and had those, plus some leftover soup, the last of the Borough Market pesto, an orange each, and tea. And for dessert we had the great crème brûlèe crisis. Jerry had picked up some individual servings and put them in the freezer, even though the directions said do not freeze. No, he wasn’t being willfully disobedient; he just hadn’t noticed the directions.

They were supposed to go under the broiler, but of course couldn’t in their frozen state. John got bowls of hot water and worked at thawing them until they were warm enough to go in the oven safely. I can’t remember if we ever got them under the broiler. They were good, but John kept giving Jerry a hard time and threatening to imprison him in the Tower or to behead him for freezing the do-not-freeze-items.

Next – We can go no further

sallyky is offline  
Dec 3rd, 2008, 07:08 PM
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I'm loving your report, and by my question, you'll know I'm reading every word...

And my travel card has proven less expensive than the Oyster Card too.

I know you get some sightseeing discounts by using the paper travel card, but I don't understand how the travel card could be less expensive than the Oyster for travel, since the Oyster is capped on a daily basis at whatever the travelcard would have cost for the day. Is is that the multi-day travel card ends up costing less than the daily travelcard?
sf7307 is offline  
Dec 4th, 2008, 06:58 AM
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sf7307 -- You're right that what made the travel card cheaper is that the Oyster Card is capped at less than the one-day travel card, and a one-day travel card costs £6.8 as compared to £24.2 for a seven-day card.

John needed to top off his Oyster card after four days, while I had three days to go. Of course, we rode the tube a lot too, and at times at peak hours. If we had used the tube less, it may have been different.
sallyky is offline  
Dec 4th, 2008, 07:42 AM
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Thank you so much for your report. I enjoy your writing style and I'm getting so much valuable information for planning my family's trip in late March.
Lauratg is offline  
Dec 4th, 2008, 08:50 AM
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sf7307 - on my recent trip to London where I spent 6 days, I also spent more using Oyster PAYG than I would have if I had bought a 7-day travelcard; even though I was only there for 6 days. The 7-day travelcard offers a good deal if you take several trips of public transportation every day.

The palace was built by Cardinal Woolsey, but taken over by Henry VIII in 1525.

Just want to point out, it is Cardinal Wolsey.
yk is offline  
Dec 4th, 2008, 09:58 AM
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yk -- "'The palace was built by Cardinal Woolsey, but taken over by Henry VIII in 1525.'"

"Just want to point out, it is Cardinal Wolsey."

Oops! Drat. I knew that. It must be all those wooly sheep we saw. I find that no matter how often I proofread -- and then have John proof too -- there's always something I miss.
sallyky is offline  
Dec 4th, 2008, 10:01 AM
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"I enjoy your writing style and I'm getting so much valuable information for planning my family's trip in late March."

Lauratg -- I just replied on the Continental thread. Wish we were traveling together.
sallyky is offline  
Dec 4th, 2008, 11:36 AM
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Your report is just terrific - I look forward to each new installment.

Re the paper travel card vs Oyster -- is there a reason John didn't load a 7-day travel card on his Oyster instead of PAYG?
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