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Trip report - London and Kent

Old Jul 6th, 2004, 12:56 PM
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Trip report - London and Kent

This is going to be a long one - our trip was from June 16 - 28 and I've only got he first 4 days done. I'll probably need a couple of days to finish the rest. . . . . (this is copy/pasted so there may be the usual Fodors glitches - sorry in advance)

Wed. 6-16: A friend drove us down to SFO from Sacramento. We stopped a Skates in the Berkeley Marina for a splurge lunch and the great views (just yards from where Scott Peterson dumped the bodies - no, I haven?t pre-judged him ;-). Arrived at SFO about 2 hrs 45 min before flight time only to meet a HUGE check-in line. The flight was fully booked and they trawled the entire line twice looking for 16 volunteers. BA was only offering $400 cash or $600 voucher (plus hotel plus meals plus a phone card and guaranteed seat on 6-17). I figured since they needed so many, they should be more generous. My friend and I briefly considered taking the bump, but decided we didn't want to give up a day in London. But we would definitely accept a bump on the trip Home! (Unfortunately, no such luck on that one ) I assumed we would get stuck in middle seats on the 747-400 since I couldn't get the check-in feature on BA's website to work (You can check in on-line up to 12 hours pre flight time). We finally got to the desk and the perky agent said she got us an aisle and interior seat together. She did NOT however tell us they were in row 55 - the last row that does not recline. Well they do recline - but only about 2 inches. The good thing was there are only the 4 center seats in that row - no seats on the window sides of the aisles - so we were not crowded at all. The bad thing is this is also the area folks congregate while waiting for the toilets, or just to socialize. All night long the nitwit party people kept opening the window shade to look out at the clouds and N. Atlantic. It was so bright - like a spotlight shining right in your eyes. Another good thing about the location, you get served everything first, no running out of your choice and no having to wait for the aisles to clear to get up. But all-in-all the flight was good and we arrived at LHR about 25 minutes early.

Thurs. 6-17: We had to taxi and wait for a gate for about 15 minutes but were still leaving the plane at about the original arr. time. Cleared immigration and got luggage - no bad lines at all and were in the arrivals hall in no time. Hit the ATMs (had to try two different machines), picked up Time Out, and bought our zone-1 transport passes and the zone-6 extension for the trip in from LHR. We were headed to Victoria so changed to the District line at Hammersmith, by far the easiest place to change from the Piccadilly line.

We walked from Victoria down Wilton St a couple of blocks to the office of our rental agency. I had asked for a flat in Pimlico (close to the river, Tate, etc.) but they offered us a larger one right across the street and we took it. That close to Victoria is not as quiet or residential feeling as farther south in Pimlico - but it is Sooooooo convenient for transport, the Easy Everything internet café, and a brand sparkling new, HUGE new Sainsbury. This is a very upscale supermarket, they had exotic tropical fruits, a good bakery, and several different hot counters with pre-cooked meals.

After unpacking and buying a few breakfast foods/staples we headed back to Victoria about 4 p.m. to meet Molly's cousin and her 3 traveling companions. These folks were just in London one night enroute to Spain the next day. Our flat was a spacious 1-bedroom (largish bedroom, very large (by London standards) eat-in kitchen, decent sized bathroom and a living room with futon sofa, lounge chairs and French doors to a small roof terrace (no views but great for fresh air). It was £500 for the week and PLENTY big enough for the 2 of us - but Thursday night we were also putting up these 4 other travelers. But they were just fine with crashing on the floor so it worked out OK. Three of them headed out to a pub or sports bar to watch England's Euro Cup match. Molly, her cousin and I headed to the OXO tower for cocktails and views. Then we walked across the Millenium Bridge to St Pauls and took the tube to Covent Garden to wander around and have dinner. Places w/ TVs were packed so we just went upstairs to Chez Gerard. As usual the food was serviceable. It isn't gourmet but the prices are reasonable and the service usually pretty good. But that night there were some glitches and each course took forever (I think the servers must have been watching the match in the back). That night there were lots of delays on the Piccadilly line but we got back to the flat just about 10p.m. and totally crashed.
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Old Jul 6th, 2004, 01:03 PM
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Fri. 6-18: After a breakfast of mangosteen (yummy), Wheetabix and toast we headed out to TKTS at Leicester Square. Before committing to a show we decided to walk over to St Martins in the Field to see if there was a concert that night. And there was (a WONDERFUL, mostly Mozart, Concerto Festival concert by the London Soloists Chamber Orchestra). So theatre had to wait for another day. We went to the National Gallery and spent a couple of hours going our separate ways to the galleries of most interest. We met up and walked around the corner to the National Portrait and had a lovely champagne lunch in the top floor Portrait restaurant. The place was really busy and we hadn't booked but only had to wait a few minutes for a table. Then we toured through the Portrait Gallery and spent some time in their technology center where you can view and study on-line most of the works in the gallery and print out copies.

We then walked over to the Prince of Wales theatre to see about tix for Mama Mia. There weren't many good seats available until too late into out stay so we opted for a box on Monday night. (As it turns out, the boxes in this theatre are oddly shaped and have worse sight lines than some others I've been to but the seats w/i in the 4-person boxes are not reserved so if you get there early you have a better chance to have less obstructed views - BTW this is not nearly as good a venue for this show as the original Prince Edward).

After getting the tix, we wandered around P. Circus, Regent St a little and then over to Piccadilly and afternoon tea at Fortnum & Mason. I cheated and had a hot fudge sundae instead of tea and scones - but what the hey . . . .

We went back to the flat to freshen up and just put our feet up for a few minutes and then went back out to the concert. It was absolutely sublime!!!! At the interval we wandered around Trafalgar Sq. Afterwards we went down into the Crypt for an after concert supper, just a large bowl herbed carrot soup and crusty bread for me but it was really yummy. This is a good tip - the Crypt stays open late after events in the church so you can get a meal or just wine or coffee w/o fighting some of the crowds in soho or Covent Garden.

Sat. 6-18: This was going to be the KILLER day, but we were ready for it. Starting out about 6:30 a.m., we went to Portobello Rd. We spent about 2 1/2 hours there and bought a few little treasures and some totally silly souvenirs (why do I need a deep red cricket ball??). We stopped for breakfast in a really cute café near the southern end of the road (sorry I don't remember the name but it is down a short sort of mews and has courtyard tables). They had baked goods, full cooked breakfasts and snacks and seemed to do a land office business.

We walked over to Kens Gardens (too early for the Orangery), wandered along the flower walk, went to the Albert memorial and then down Exhibition Road to the Museums. We were headed to the V&A but Molly wanted to get some things for her son so we stopped in the Gift shop at the Science and then went into the Natural History for just a short visit and a couple of its shops. Finally we got to the V&A and after seeing the amazing Raphael Cartoons we went to the café for lunch and to plan out or visit. Unfortunately the main silver gallery, the jewelry and armor galleries are closed for re-fitting. But the place is so vast and there is so much to see that this wasn't that disappointing. There was also an "un-Chelsea" exhibit in the courtyard. Ten garden sheds had been turned over to artists to design/interpret the typical English Garden shed. They were a hoot - one was just really a mass of graffiti to which we added our "original" scrawls.

Then back to the flat to relax/nap and re-charge for the rest of this long, loooooong day. About 7 p.m. we headed to China Town for dinner - there are so many to choose from but cheap is always good so we opted for the Friendly Inn (the first place on the west end of Gerrard St.). We didn't expect too much, but the food and service were surprisingly good.

We took the tube to Tower Hill and wandered around St Katherine's Dock and had a drink. Then to the Tower at 9:30 for the Keys ceremony. I have been to this several times over the years, but this Yeoman Warder explained things in a lot more detail and made it more of an "event" that most. After the ceremony we walked across the bridge and wandered along the south bank. I got suggestions on this forum for late night places because we had time to kill before a special midnight performance at the Globe. I was headed to Tas - but a friend in London told me there is a new Pizza Express right next door to the Globe and that is where we ended up. BIG mistake. Not because there is anything wrong w/ Pizza Express, but I assume they had not planned for the crowds. We volunteered to sit in the lounge instead of at a dinner table when they said it would be quicker. We were only having dessert and Irish coffees - we got there about 10:45 and we almost missed curtain. It was chaos. Luckily the restaurant is literally just steps from the theatre.

I love Romeo and Juliet and this performance was really good. But sitting in the cold at 3 a.m. after the two lovers are dead and the priest goes on (and on) explaining what has just transpired -- I just wanted to YELL "enough already, We?re freezing out here - step it up a bit!" Just kidding, I was warmly dressed, but one forgets how protracted the end of the play is. We had great seats - bought last Feb. as soon as I heard about this performance. We rented cushions but not blankets - but most of the groundlings were drinking hot beverages and were wrapped up in the Globe's red blankets.

The play ended just before 3 a.m. and we headed out to Southwark Rd to catch a night bus to Victoria. But we missed one by about 5 minutes so we were prepared to wait 30 min til the next one. We did wait about 20 mins but then hailed the only available cab we saw the entire time (not too much traffic about at 3:30 in the morning). Walked in the door at 3:55. This was a loooooooong day but totally great, and our plans for Sunday were modest so we could sleep in.
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Old Jul 6th, 2004, 01:31 PM
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Welcome back and great report so far Janis! I stopped at a bakery on Portobello Road and had a gingerbread man. Hadn't had one of those for years. Can't wait to see Mamma Mia again. Already have my ticket for the Producers. I am missing London big-time! Just 4 more months -this will be my 3rd visit in 12 months - I wish I could do that every year!

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Old Jul 6th, 2004, 01:33 PM
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Hey janis, I saw you at P Circus.
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Old Jul 6th, 2004, 05:31 PM
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Sun. 6-20: Needless to say we slept in late, but we were up and about by a little after 10 a.m. We are meeting a couple of friends later for dinner at Simpsons in the Strand so we decide to do the ?Tate to Tate? and have lunch at the Globe?s café. We walk over to Tate Britain and do our regular procedure. Pick a time to meet back up and then go explore the galleries that interest us most. I love traveling w/ Molly, none of this connected at the hip stuff. We do lots of things together but there is no pressure to skip something I really want to see to make sure she is happy. I LOVE Turners and the collection at the Tate is wonderful, including his lecture materials for perspectives classes, and several unfinished works. His later works are amazing, especially when you consider they are early 19th century. I?ve been to the Tate so many times (I usually stay in Pimlico so sort of consider it my own personal gallery) that I really don?t need to spend that much time, but there are always the Turner prize winners and temporary exhibits to fill time.

After about 90 minutes exploring the Tate we jumped on the Tate to Tate ferry. This is a terrific addition to the transport options. It stops at both Tates and at the Eye, and you get a discount if you have a London Transport travel card.

First we walked over to the Globe to have a light lunch in their café overlooking the river.

Then we walked back and spent a couple of hours at Tate Modern, which is never enough but when your time is limited you have to make some sacrifices. The heads in the Turbine Hall and some of the kinetic sculptures were my favorites but for someone who isn?t really a modern art fanatic I always find lots of interest there. Unfortunately I really didn?t have time for the Hopper exhibit. There was one piece that sounds disgusting but was really fascinating. It is a video on a plasma screen of a still life of fruit that condenses 2 weeks into 10 minutes. It shows the fruit decaying in a surreal vision that after a couple of minutes you can?t even identify it as fruit. In fact when I first walk into the gallery mid-video I thought it was tape of scoops of ice cream slowly melting. Nope, that was rotted fruit! And it always surprises me to see Monet?s Water Lilies at Tate Modern. The Impressionists seem out of place, but they were certainly modern for their time.

By the time we got out of the Tate at closing time it was pouring rain and walking across the river was not such a great idea anymore. So we joined a short taxi queue behind the gallery and took a cab to Covent Garden, where we had coffee and hot chocolate, hit the ATMs and then walked over to Simpsons in the Strand at 6:30 p.m. On the way over (I think it was in Southampton Row) we passed a street vendor selling cute handbags and (fake) pashminas. I love pashminas because they are so versatile, and these fakes look every bit as good as my real ones, and for £5. We both bought one.

One of the friend?s we were meeting had his 40th birthday June 1 so the plan (MY plan anyway) was to treat them to dinner as a belated birthday celebration. But he would have none of it and we ended up being treated to a fabulous traditional meal with the normal impeccable service they are known for. Just an absolutely lovely evening.

Then we walked back to Covent Garden and tubed back to Victoria station. We stopped in the concourse to make Fathers Day calls to our Dads back home. (The only down side to the flat is there is no phone)

Mon. 6-21: After breakfast we got a fairly early start and headed over to Westminster Abbey. Apparently there was a special service and it opened a little late. By the time the doors opened there was a long line and before we got in the first verger tour had already started. So we just went around on our own. There was quite a crowd but the Abbey is large enough to absorb a lot of people. I did find it interesting that there is no longer an entrance fee to visit the Chapter House. The charge was never very much but it did keep the crowds down. Now it is open and was a LOT more crowded than any other time I?ve every visited. That cannot be a good thing for those medieval floor tiles and wall paint.

After leaving the Abbey and visiting the book shop we walked over to St James Park and had lunch at the new Inn in the Park. This is a great addition to the Buckingham Palace/Traf. Sq/Horse Guards area. You can either eat in the more formal restaurant or at the self serve café inside or outdoors looking over the lake. We walked across Green Park and tubed to Knightsbridge for my semi-annual trip to Harrods. We ofcourese wandered the food halls and Harrods shop, then we went upstairs to look (just look) at designer clothing and shoes. Then down to the Hall of Luxury to but my traditional splurge of a Halcyon Days enamel box. I try to get one at Harrods every trip and this year?s is an image of the Somerset House ice skating rink w/ Christmas tree. I also bought a beautiful pair of caramel colored kid gloves. Oh, and we both bought some yummy truffles that we ate for the next 3 or 4 days.

After Harrods we tubed back to Green Park for our 5:30 booking for tea at the Ritz. Now, I know many UK Fodorites pooh pooh taking afternoon tea and especially so at he Ritz. ?NOBODY? but tourists do it. Well, not! I go there every couple of years and this time I made a special point to take notes about who/what was going on. All tables were booked and besides the two of us there was only one other table of Americans. There was one table of 4 young Japanese girls. There was a table that appeared to be 5 middle eastern women that were very expensively dressed. EVERY single other table was occupied by British diners. There was a table of 8 40 something ladies celebrating a birthday. There were 5 or 6 tables of older British couples. There was one table of a gentleman sitting alone and I didn?t assume he was English until his guest arrived and I overheard a bit of their conversation. Yep, they were British too. All the rest were ?ladies who lunch? types. So rest assured British people do go to afternoon tea. Maybe not the ones who post here on Fodors tho. Tea was lovely as usual but the price has gone up to £34 plus £9 if you want champagne. But there is so much food you can easily substitute it for lunch and/or dinner.

Which is what we did. We caught a cab to the theatre for Mama Mia and the timing was perfect for the 7:30 curtain. Getting a taxi was a bit of problem though. The doorman earned his tip for sure. Because of the early kick off of the Euro Cup match there were almost no cabs available. I guess everyone was rushing to get someplace to watch the game. We were the 3rd couple waiting for a cab. Usually at the Ritz there is no wait at all, but the doorman had to go out to Piccadilly and walk up and down the street several times to hail each cab. But we finally got one and made it to the theatre w? about 10 minutes to spare. Just time to pre order our drinks for the interval. As I said earlier, we had a box ? if anyone is considering boxes at the Prince of Wales ? Don?t. The route you have to take to from, up and down stairs, across full rows of seats in the Dress circle and more stairs. It is a REAL trek. I?ve never seen anything like it. But it was worth it for mama Mia. It is just so much fun. But interestingly, when it played at the Prince Edward lots of folks got up and danced. Not so in the new venue. Except for 6 people in the very back of the balcony, and me, not a soul got out of their seats. It was weird.
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Old Jul 6th, 2004, 05:38 PM
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Tues. 6-22: Today we split up. Molly went to the Tower and to Covent Garden for Lush and another concert at St Martin?s. I went to the Royal Mews, the Queen?s Gallery, caught the end of the changing of the Guard (I didn?t plan on this but was in a perfect position on the Spur Rd and they marched past about 5 feet from me). Got some of the best pix I?ve ever taken of the band/guard. I was headed to Leicester Sq to check on theatre tix but decided to take an evening off and skipped it (I think a first for me). Instead I tubed up to Regent?s Park. Queen Mary?s Rose Garden was in the most magnificent bloom I have ever seen. There were so many roses they almost seemed artificial. And the aromas were intoxicating. Then I walked up north past the zoo and up Primrose Hill for the wonderful view over the whole city. Then back through regents park and back to the tube and home. I stopped in at Easy Everything to send/check e-mails and then walked to Sainsbury where I picked up some yummy Chinese food and a bottle of wine.

Wed. 6-23: Our last day in London We went to the British Museum and did our regular split up and meet later, except this time there was a glitch. They had a fire alarm and had to completely evacuate the museum. I ended up having to go out the Montague Place exit and Molly was pushed out a private door on Bloomsbury. The museum was closed for about 40 minutes and I walked around to the main entrance on Gt Russell St. By then there were masses of folks waiting plus new people arriving in droves so the whole entrance court was filled. Eventually it re-opened and we were let back in. Molly and I met up at the pre-arranged time/place and went up to the restaurant on the top floor of the Great Court for a late lunch, which was terrific. Because of the evacuation, Molly had not seen nearly enough. This was her first visit to the museum. So we split up after lunch and I wandered over to Lincolns Inn and toured Sir John Soanes museum. Then I went over to Covent Garden for MY Lush visit and watching the buskers. There was a brass band and town crier slow marching a sort of New Orleans type funeral for a group celebrating a 60th birthday.

Then we met up at the flat and after packing and relaxing a while went to Goya. This is a tapa bar I like in Pimlico. They have a really good selection and make really yummy fancy coffees. We got in about 10 p.m. and turned in after finishing packing and tidying up. Tomorrow morning we pick up a car head down to Kent/East Sussex.
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Old Jul 6th, 2004, 05:54 PM
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It is too bad Mamma Mia left the Prince Edward. Noone dancing?? Very strange. That has always been such a great way to end the play when everyone gets up and is singing and dancing. My favorite play in London (followed very closely by Les Mis).
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Old Jul 6th, 2004, 06:02 PM
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"Turner Whistler Monet, Impressionist Visions" is in Toronto until Sep 12, the Grand Palais Paris from Oct 15 to Jan 17 and concluding at Tate Britain Feb 12 to May 15, 2005.

A Raphael exhibition is on at the National Gallery (Sainsbury Wing) is on Oct. 20 to Jan 16.

We saw "Turner and Venice" at the Kimbell in Fort Worth in May and the Turner Exhibit at the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown last year.

I applaud your approach with your friend to go your separate ways in museums. My wife and I have done this for years.
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Old Jul 6th, 2004, 06:36 PM
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Loved your trip report, thank you!
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Old Jul 6th, 2004, 07:31 PM
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janis I am loving this trip report... looking forward to the remainder. I will be in London again late August with my sister and we seem to have similar interests to yours. Lots of ideas here for us!
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Old Jul 7th, 2004, 01:48 AM
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Janis - loving your report. Looking forward to reading more.
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Old Jul 7th, 2004, 05:49 AM
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Thanks everyone. here are the next two days. Still trying to finish the rest.

Thurs. 6-24: This morning we headed out early and walked to Victoria station to catch the Gatwick Express. (being less than a 5-min walk from Victoria was soooo convenient for transportation and for the shops pubs in the neighborhood. But I still prefer being in Pimlico proper) When we got to Gatwick I called Woods car rental and they directed us to the Meridien Hotel to wait for our car. We took the airport train over to the North terminal and waited in the hotel lobby. A young man showed up w/ his supervisor. He was a trainee but they wanted him to do the paperwork on his own so the supv walked across the lounge and waited. Every line or so on the forms, the agent dashed over to his boss to double check he was getting it right. So completing the rental forms took twice as long as needed. But everything must have been OK because eventually he walked us out to the car park and there waiting for us was this humongous Citroen Picasso. He was beaming because they had upgraded us to this giant. I rented a small car because that is what I wanted, so he was much happier than I was. But it was a very nice car ? just bigger than I like driving in the UK. (It wasn?t until a couple of days later that I realized, he may have done the paperwork correctly ? but he forgot to give me a copy of the contract. Basically I had a car, the keys and no way to prove it was mine).

We set out from LGW and headed to our first stop at Chartwell. They have timed tickets and ours were for 30 minutes later. So we went to the restaurant and had a sort of brunch/early lunch before entering the grounds. The gardens were in full bloom and the house is very homey. It is the sort of place you can imagine living in. Not like many stately homes and palaces where you are awed by the art and antiques. Chartwell is truly a home with the addedattractions of all the Churchill and WWII connections. Churchill?s painting studio down in the bottom of the garden was really interesting too.

Molly was having her very first road atlas navigating experience. It only took her about an hour to get the hang of the different signage, roundabouts, etc so she was a big help for the next 3 days.

After Chartwell we drove over to Hever Castle. The castle is lovely, old and has LOTS of royal/historic connections (the Bullens/Boleyns family, Henry VIII, etc) but so much of it was altered by the Astors in the early 20th century that it is more of a facsimile of an ancient castle. It is still lovely and has some beautiful rooms, but the setting and the vast gardens are its real claim to fame. I have been there a couple of times before but the gardens were the best I?d ever seen.

Then we drove down to Penshurst Place ? which is one of my favorite houses/gardens. Again the gardens were in full bloom. This must have been a great Spring since all the gardens we visited were lush and full of summer flowers. The roses everywhere were the best I?ve seen.

On this day we each used the 7-day Great British Heritage Pass to the tune of £21.30 so the $38 cost was totally recouped in one day. Everyplace else we visited would basically be free. (we also used the GBHPs in London for the Royal Mews, the Tower and St Pauls)

We left Penshurst at closing time and made for our B&B where we would base for the next 3 days. Bryants House is an absolutely lovely farmhouse on the edge of Bewl Water between Wadhurst and Ticehurst. I picked it because of the great location so convenient to the gardens and castles of Kent/east Sussex, and because she would rent both of her doubles for single occupancy w/o a huge supplement. It ended up being a perfect place to stay. Good rooms, luxurious linens, beautiful views, and a huge bathroom. The only (slight) downside is the house is not walking distance to a village so you have short drives to pubs and shops. But we had a car so this was not a problem. Unfortunately all the pubs in Wadhurst were packed for the Euro Cup match. But there was a good Indian restaurant in the village and we had a real feast.

Fri. 6-25: Today we started out after a great breakfast and drove the short distance to Bayham Abbey. This is the lovely ruin of a 13th century abbey on the bank of a river. It is a very romantic place. Not as ethereal as Tintern but pretty close. Then I made my first mistake. I KNOW better than to ask for directions out in the country. Even having lived there for several years, there is just a fundamental difference in how a bloke gives directions. The warden at Bayham told us in great detail how to get to the nearest petrol station. In fact if we followed his route we would pass one small garage and soon come to two large stations at a cross roads. Well. It never happened. We drove and drove and ended up in Royal Tunbridge Wells. I gave up and back tracked and headed on towards Sissinghurst. We found a petrol station that was also a classic Rolls/Bentley dealer. Some of the most beautiful cars. An amazing burgundy colored 1954 Bently (I don't know the model but it was a sort of sporty sedan) was parked right next to the petrol pumps.

On to Sissinghurst. They used to issue timed tickets at this popular property. But we just walked right in. This is the amazing and world famous garden/home of Virginia Woolfe and Harold Noicholson. I missed the fabulous wisteria which was totally past. But everything else was in bloom and so very pretty. We stayed there for a couple of hours and wanted to eat in the restaurant. Unfortunately the café was more crowded than the gardens. At least a 30 minute wait so se gave it up and drove over to Scotney Castle/gardens.

Scotney is a chocolate-box-pretty castle in a lake at the bottom of a large landscaped garden. Again the wisteria that covers an entire wing of the castle was through blooming ? but the setting is still really lovely. Scotney does not have a café so we just bought ice creams in the gift shop and decided to have an early dinner as soon as the pubs open. After a little over an hour at Scotney we drove over to Bodiam castle. This is a great castle ruin in the middle of a carp filled moat. You can climb all over it and up to the tops of a couple of the towers for far ranging views. There is a casual café so we stopped for tea and scones and held off for a nice dinner around 7 pm.

All four of these places (Bayham, Sissinghurst, Scotney and Bodiam) are w/i 10 miles or less of each other and all are close to our B&B. So it may sound like an overly full day but was really very easy and we were not rushed at any of them. We got to Bayham at opening time and left Bodiam at closing and everything timed out perfectly. All 4 properties are covered by the GBHP so we used them for another £18.60 or almost $35 worth of entrance fees. On the way back we stopped a couple of miles outside Wadhurst at a pretty posh pub for delicious dinners of lamb cutlets and roast duck.
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Old Jul 7th, 2004, 05:52 AM
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Sat. 6-26: After another great breakfast we headed east to Deal. Deal is one of the cinque ports and a really interesting defensive castle right on the English Channel. You can wander through all the tunnels and up on the cannon mounts. Some of the tunnels are pitch black and they give you large torches (flashlights) so you can find your way around.

From Deal we drove a couple of miles to Walmer Castle and gardens. This castle is architecturally similar to Deal. But it has been converted to a lovely private home with really beautiful gardens, topiaries, and green houses.. The moat was drained and it is a sunken garden. All the round wings that are still defensive at Deal have been converted to beautiful round bedrooms and parlors at Walmer. The castle is covered by the GBHP but on Saturday they were having a garden fete in the grounds so there was a separate £3.50 entrance fee for that.

From Walmer we drove west to Dover and spent the rest of the day there. Dover is huge of course and and there are Roman, Anglo-saxon, Medieval, Victorian and WWII bits. We had a hot lunch in the NAAFI restaurant and then went down into the WWII casemate and hospital tunnels. The tunnels are set up as they were during the Dunkirk evacuations. Anyone who enjoys the Cabinet war Rooms in London would really enjoy seeing these tunnels. Then we split up to explore the rest of the castle and met up just at closing time. Another really full but not rushed day.

GBHP covers all 3 sites so we got another £17.80 ($32) worth of sightseeing out of the pass. We stopped at a large Tescos and picked up all the fixings for a scrumptious picnic to eat back at the B&B.
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Old Jul 7th, 2004, 06:14 AM
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Janis, we visited Regent's Park about a month before you and the Rose Garden was lovely then. In fact, all the flowers were magnificent. I think this is my favorite London Park because it seems more peaceful and isn't as crowded as St. James or Hyde Park. I also found a friendly squirel who was very willing to take some bread off my hands (literally)!
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Old Jul 7th, 2004, 11:16 AM
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Sun. 6-27: Our last full day in England. A major downer We had another good cooked breakfast, made kissy face with the B&Bs two adorable Jack Russell terriers and reluctantly checked out of Bryants House. We headed north to catch the M25 to go to RHS Wisley near Woking. Stopped at a motorway service area for petrol (Molly?s first experience with one of these). Petrol would play an IMPORTANT role later in the day. In the UK you often do not get a full tank of petrol w/ your hire car and they don?t care how much is in the tank when you return it. So being smart (?) and because we still had about a 4th of a tank we only bought £6 of petrol. We were only driving to Wisley, Windsor and junction 4 near LHR and we should have been fine ? more on that later .

We got to Wisley about 11a.m. This was a gorgeous, warm Sunday morning and the place was absolutely jam packed (or chock a block as they say). We had to park in the 2nd overflow car park. But Wisley is huge and easily absorbs the crowds. Once inside it never felt crowded. RHS Garden Wisley is the Royal Horticultural Society's main exhibition and trials garden. I enjoy Kew (a LOT) but Wisley is even better. There are acres of all sorts of gardens, trials fields with rows and rows of the most spectacular garden flowers, rose gardens, alpine gardens, wild gardens, fruit and veg, model allotment plots, small demonstration gardens like the ones assembled every year at Chelsea, and green houses of every sort. There are two Alpine houses, several tropical and desert hot houses, one green house dedicated solely to fuchsias, and another just for orchids. Plus water gardens, fish ponds -- just every sort of garden. And everywhere the most glorious flowers and trees. If you enjoy gardens at all, RHS Wisley must be high on your list. We spent 4 hours there and it was barely enough, a whole day would not be out of the question.

We opted not to stop to eat (another benefit of the substantial breakfasts at most B&Bs) so we could spend more time exploring the gardens. We could eat later in Windsor. So off we set. There was some construction on the M25 and a few delays so we didn?t get to Windsor until about 3:30 and I went to the Arches car park where I have always found spaces in the past. Well ? no luck and we were stuck in a queue of others looking to park. I got out as soon as I could and headed to another nearby car park where there was only one space. I mentioned how large the car was. The sight lines especially to the front were weird and during the whole 4 days I never got a good feel for where the edges of the car were (no, I never hit or brushed against anything but always felt I would). Well there is this one narrow space ? and BOTH drivers of the cars on either side were standing near their cars. Talk about panic ? I just knew I would hit one of them. I drove to and fro, back and forward about 6 times and still could not get into that darn space (as it turned out there was PLENTY of room but not being able to see the front of the car I just couldn?t tell). One of the other drivers took pity on me and directed me into the space ? I?ve driven thousands of miles in the UK and this was the only time I ever had a problem like this. Felt like a real ditz.

With all the delays and parking problems it was getting close to last entry time at the Castle so we ran (luckily I know Windsor pretty well and knew a short cut) and made it with a little time to spare. We heard the tail end of a military band concert just outside the entrance and went first to Queen Mary's Dolls house. There was a long queue for this but it moved fast and we were able to see it and get to the State Rooms with actually plenty of time too see everything. We did have to rush through the gallery w/ the master drawings that lies just before the Porcelain Museum ? but otherwise we weren't rushed. The State rooms are over the top, but I really like them. And the displays of craftsmanship in the rooms restored after the fire are amazing.

We then quickly hit all 3 gift shops in the upper, middle and lower wards and just then the skies opened up and it poured. We stood in the lower ward shop for a few minutes and the sun burst out again. We made a dash for it and looked for a place to eat. Late Sunday afternoon can be a problem for meals in pubs and we didn?t want fast food. So we went into Slug and Lettuce. It is not my favorite place to eat but it does have decent food all day long. Fish and chips and a half pint and we were good to go.

Now comes the adventure! The petrol gage was now down to one mark above the empty line (which really isn?t empty but close enough). Not to worry, we were only going to the Holiday Inn at junction 4 on the M4, about 8 miles form our car park in Windsor. That is the instructions the nice young trainee back at LGW said. "Just turn the car in at the HI at J4 of the M4 and if it is out of office hours leave the key at the front desk". End of instructions. And I had no paperwork or other instructions. So off we went. I know the M4/LHR area pretty well and I wasn?t concerned at all, we?d be there in 15 minutes.

Unfortunately there was one problem after another. The Windsor-Eton Rd was totally backed up and it took us 15 minutes to go the 2 miles to the M4. Then another downpour hit ? but this one didn?t go away. We got on the Motorway and it went fine for about 2 miles and then solid traffic again. We got to J4 and there was the hotel towering over the motorway. Unfortunately there is no exit to the hotel. Once we took the LHR exit we were stuck in a massive tail back and no way to get out of it w/o going all the way to the terminals. 35 minutes later (35 mins for a 1+ mile drive) we arrived at T3 and could turn around to head back toward the hotel. So I figured (wrongly) there must be a slip road to the hotel so we went back towards J4. No exit!

So back on the M4 ? all the while it is pouring rain and our gas gauge is sinking fast. I decide to take the M25 and use J14 which I know is Airport Way and would get us on to surface roads around LHR. One VERY BIG problem. J14 is closed due to construction!

We are now officially screwed. Petrol running out, heading the wrong way on the M25 and its raining like crazy. So I drive on and take J13 which I figure will at least get us off the motorway and give a chance to ask directions. Off in the distance I see what looks like an off airport car park so I make a bee line for it and hope an attendant there can direct us to a petrol station and/or the elusive HI. Well there were two attendants and I pulled out my atlas and asked them to show us where on the map their lot was. I KNEW we were in trouble when they said 1) they didn?t know where the hotel was, and 2) on the map they marked the location of their parking lot ? IN THE MIDDLE OF A RESERVOIR. ARRRGH! But looking at the map I finally realized the hotel may be at J4 of the M4, but access is actually from the A4. This is an entirely different road. So I thanked our guides and got in the car and told Molly to totally ignore everything they had said. We pulled out of the lot and I drove north keeping the airport to my right and lo and behold we came to the Bath Rd. Thank heavens I know a little English geography. The Bath Rd woud have to be the A4 so I knew we were getting close. We finally found the hotel entrance and the red low petrol light and warning bell came on just as we pulled through the gate.

We parked the thing, went inside and left the keys at the front desk and had them call us a driver to take us to the Travel Inn. Molly said that was the first time she had ever seen me "hyper ventilating" ? her words not mine Total driving time from Windsor to the HI ? 90+ minutes!!!!! For an 8 or 9 mile jaunt. I did say I love to drive in the UK, didn?t I?

We stayed the last night at the Travel Inn and it was a reasonable choice. Cheap but a decent sized room, a restaurant and bar snacks in the lobby, and the hotel hoppa bus makes it as convenient as any of the airport hotels.
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Old Jul 7th, 2004, 11:46 AM
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I still have a few details and loose ends to wrap up. But just to complete the GBHP tally: On Sunday we got nother £19 ($35) value from the passes. My total came to £83.20 or about $152 in entrance fees from the $38 GBHP.

Molly did a little better since she went to the Tower of London and St Pauls so hers came to almost £90. If we had made it to Hampton Court Palace and/or Greenwich we would have hit about £100.

The GBHP is about the biggest money saver (after a cheap airfare) you can get . . . .
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Old Jul 7th, 2004, 03:07 PM
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rjoo7: Wish I could say "glad to be back" but it always takes me several weeks before I feel "at home" again. Four months isn't that long, it will be here before you know it. I probably won't get back there until sometime next spring. And no, there were no dancers except the group in the very back row and me. In fact I got a lot of sidelong "WHAT is the girl doing?" glances

2fly: So that WAS you

jsmith: Thanks for the info about the exhibitions. I might make the Tate next year.

usbeauty: Thanks for the kind words. I enjoy the UK so much and do tend to go on and on (and on).

taggie: Thanks. Have a great trip!

bbib: I'm just about done just a few loose ends but I can't seem to locate my notebook so it may take a few days.

bettyk: I'm with you. Regents Park, Primrose Hill, and even more so, Hampstead Heath are where I go when I want to wind down from all the inevitable hustle/bustle of a trip to London.

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Old Jul 7th, 2004, 04:23 PM
Join Date: May 2004
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Yes it was me - had a hard time catching up with you!
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Old Jul 7th, 2004, 04:34 PM
Join Date: Aug 2003
Posts: 2,627

Have been looking forward to reading your trip report and it was excellent.

I am confused about your remark that they don't care if you return the car with a full tank of petrol in the U.K. I just checked on and it states 50 pounds fuel deposit is held against your credit card. If car is not returned full the cost of refueling will be debited from the card. Partial refunds for fuel are not possible. Have rented from others and we have always returned the car with a full tank and we always got a car with a full tank. I thought the paperwork said we would be charged if returned with less than a full tank.

Are you saying to ignore the paperwork that you will not be charged if you do indeed return the car with almost empty tank. Anyone else have any experience doing this and care to comment. I want to be sure that works before I tell my DH that we don't need to fill the car up prior to return.

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Old Jul 7th, 2004, 04:54 PM
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Sandy Brit: No - Many UK rental companies work just like in the States. You get a full tank and return it w/ a full tank.

But - some companies just give you the car with some petrol in it and you return it w/ some petrol in it. These tend to be the ones that don't have large car lots/depots and instead bring the car to you.

If you go to pick up a car at a full service rental agency, then you'll probably have to fill the tank.

I have rented from both types. If Nova says you need to fill up - you'd better fill up.
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