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Trip report - Two weeks in London - April 2009

Trip report - Two weeks in London - April 2009

Old Nov 3rd, 2009, 06:29 AM
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Were there lots of blooms at Kew Gardens in early April?
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Old Nov 3rd, 2009, 06:32 AM
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Amusing info about the ravens at the Towerbr />
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Old Nov 3rd, 2009, 01:13 PM
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I loved Kew Gardens, and as you said, it can be a nice reprieve from the crowds.
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Old Nov 3rd, 2009, 04:13 PM
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It was April 12 I was there, and yes there were plenty of blooms . Of course, never having been there at any other time, I had nothing to compare it to, but it seemed like everything was flowering.
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Old Nov 4th, 2009, 07:54 AM
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Day 11 - my aborted trip to York.

I had planned a day trip to York for today, two hours there and back by train, about 8 hours in the city. Enough time to walk the city walls, and stop to see York Minster and the railway museum.

I arrived at Paddington station in plenty of time to catch my train. Unfortunately, I soon realized that in fact I needed to be at a completely different station (St. Pancras). Looking at the tube map, St. Pancras was only 5 stops away and if it had been my first day in London, I might have deluded myself into thinking I shot of making the trip. However, I knew didn't have a chance in hell. London Tube stations are huge (some of them anyway), and it can take 5 minutes or more just to reach a different line.

In the absence of knowing what else to, I set out for St. Pancras anyway. Sure enough, I was at least 10 minutes late. I went to the ticket counter where I discovered I could either, wait until 1:30, which is the time the next train from the same company was running, or buy a new ticket for a 9:30 train.

Partially because I was thrown by my plans being derailed , and partially because I didn't want to spend the money for a new ticket, I decided not to go to York. The not wanting to spend money on a new ticket is highly amusing, for reasons you will see in a minute.

So, I decided I would move for itinerary for the next day forward to today. However, someone had mentioned to that St. Pancras Station was worth a quick look in it's own right, so I decided to have a stroll first. That's when I saw the sign advertising the Eurostar to Paris. Well, to make a long story very slightly less long, 10 minutes later I had booked passage leaving for Paris about 7:00AM the next morning and return to London at 10PM that night. I had mentioned previously that I overbudgeted what I would need for food/entertainment costs. Well, all the money I had saved was spent in those 10 minutes, return ticket cost me, brace yourself ... 289 pounds. For the record, you can buy advance tickets for about 107 US. No explanation really for what possessed me to do this.

Still reeling in shock over what I had just done, I headed for St. Paul's Cathedral, stopping along the way to pick up a map of Paris. St. Paul's was awe inspiring as expected, lots of memorials and tombs in the basement - Lord Nelson, Chrstopher Wren, John Donne among others.

Gotta run to work now... one more post to go, the balance of my Monday (Tate Britain, Globe Theatre) and the big day trip to Paris. Plus reflections on the trip as a whole.
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Old Nov 4th, 2009, 08:22 AM
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Loving your trip report! Great information and a fun writing style.

Because of your report, I'm now trying to cram more into my short time in London at Christmas. There's only so many times I can decide that I need more time here, here and here and that I want to add in more places to visit while I'm there.
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Old Nov 5th, 2009, 05:32 AM
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Day 11 - continued

Tate Britain - The first painting of Turner's that I recall seeing was at Sir John Soane's Museum. I don't recall what it was titled, but it was a seascape that I liked it quite a bit. I mention this now because Tate Britain has many of Turner's works. Unfortunately... well I don't think I can do better than to reproduce my Facebook update after going there:
"... in what is sure to be regarded as proof of my ignorance of all things artistic, was seriously underwhelmed by Turner's paintings (most of them, anyway). Abstract or not, make a choice, but please spare me the endless barrage of landscapes that look like they were painted by someone suffering from severe myopia."

From Tate Britian, I took the Tate boat back to the Tate Modern and went on the tour of the Globe Theatre. The tour was interesting, the number of people that would fit into the size of the space during performances seemed impossible. Apparently there were so many people in the standing area in front of the stage, that once the play started, you were stuck there until it was over. If you needed to go to the bathroom, you went where you stood. Sadly for me, I was about a week too early to see a performance.

I headed back to the hotel. By this point in the trip I was very tired and starting to come down with a case of the sniffles. I walk a lot at home (averaging 10+ km a day during the week), so I thought that I would be fine keeping up my energy, but I hadn't really considered the impact of all the time spent standing around in museums. I was dragging myself from place to place now.

Day 12 - Day trip to Paris or "The day I learned the correct answer to the question, "Do you speak English?" is no."

Got up around 5:30, and headed back to St. Pancras. Train left on time, and I settled in with my map to try to plan my day.

When planning my trip to London, I had thought about taking a day trip over to France. I had decided against it, partially because there was plenty to see in London and partially because I was worried about language issues. But after two weeks in London, I had determined that since I wasn't talking to anyone anyway, what difference did it make whether I could speak the language or not.

Since I hadn't planned to go, I had done no research on Paris. My only aid in figuring out a plan was a tiny little map of the city, which helpfully came with a list of top attractions. The first thing I discovered was that the Lourve was closed on Tuesday's (oops). This was probably a blessing in retrospect, since it would have eaten up most of my day, and I think that walking around the city was a better choice.

I got in around 9:30ish and headed outside, walked around the area of the train station, (which, unlike the airport, is reasonably central) and then took the metro to the area around Notre Dame. I couldn't understand what anyone around me was saying, but again, since they weren't talking to me, who cares!

There were hundreds of people standing around in front of Notre Dame (it was a pleasant sunny day). While taking in the crowd and the exterior of the cathedral, a woman, dressed in flowing robes, approached me and asked me if I spoke English. After I answered yes, she handed me a note that indicated she was from Bosnia originally and was in difficult circumstances and asking if I could help her. I work in an area of Vancouver where having people asking for money is not an unusual occurrence, and I suppose I have developed a rather hardened attitude about it. I handed the note back, said "No, sorry" and moved away from her. I was feeling a little guilty about this, if not the refusal that rather abrupt way in which I did it, when another woman, in very similar dress approached and asked if I spoke English. in then next 5 minutes, 2 more women did the exact same thing. At this point I stopped and looked around the area. There were at least half a dozen of them and 3 of them got together for a little meeting while I watched. This kind of organized activity doesn't occur in Vancouver.

Anyway, back to Notre Dame. There was a line up outside, but it seemed to move at a reasonable speed, so I don't think I waited more than 10 minutes to get in. Unlike Westinster Abbey and St. Paul's in London, there was no charge to get in and photography was permitted inside. The cathedral is magnificient as you would expect. There was in the central area some kind of service or prayer going on. This did not stop some rather rude people from taking pictures more or less on top of the service. Understand, the cathedral is huge, there were lots of places to go and take pictures away from this central area.

Also fairly close by is Sainte Chapelle, a 13th century Gothic chapel. The stained glass is incredible, if you are in the area, you have to see this.

From there, I strolled along the Seine, making my way towards the Eiffel Tower. This is actually not that close, you are probably better off taking a bus, but I just wanted to soak up the sunshine and see some of the city on foot. A couple of hours later, I reached my destination. Before going to Paris, the Eiffel Tower had not been a high priority spot for me. Having been there, I have to say it is a lot more impressive in person than in pictures. There were 4 separate and very long lines to enter each of the legs of the tower for the ascent. Three of the lines allowed you to take an elevator up, the fourth was for people who wanted to walk.I waited a good half an hour before I entered one of the legs and began my ascent (I took the stairs).By stairs, you can only reach the second deck, at least when I was there. The views of the city were reward for the climb.

After climbing down, I crossed the Seine, snapped off a couple of pictures of the Tower, and headed to the Arc de Triomphe. As I walked along, I was amazed at the number of scooters around. They are everywhere. Arriving at the Arc de Triomphe, I was initially perplexed as to how to cross the road (4 or 5 lanes of cars who, in what I can only assume is some of sort of punishment, are forced to spend all day driving around in a circle.) Eventually I discovered a tunnel underneath the road.

From there, I headed down the Champs-Élysées taking in the scenery and passing the exterior of the Lourve, eventually arriving back at the same metro station I had gotten off the morning. I headed back to the train station and home (well, my home away from home anyway). Arriving in London, I walked back to my hotel, only about 10 minutes walk, however it was pouring rain and I got soaked to the skin. This was not a happy development.

Actually, this was the only occasion I encountered any serious rain in my time in London. There were a few showers and clouds some days, but mostly I was sunny, with highs between 15 and 20 C.

Day 13 - I go home.

I woke up at 7 (my usual time in London), and immediately wished I hadn't. Every muscle in my body ached, I had a fairly nasty cough and generally didn't want to move. Apparently 2 weeks of pushing myself too hard and not eating enough had caught up to me. I had planned on taking a quick look at the Wallace Collection, however that was now off the table. I somehow managed to get to the airport, it took me a lot longer than it should have, since I was moving very slowly, with lots of stopping to lean on my luggage. I was actually a little worried that when the folks at the airline got a look at me, they might not let me on the plane (ghosts have more colour than I did; more life too actually ). However they did let me on. Happily, the return flight have plenty of empty seats, so was able to sit by myself. Of course, anyone who had been sitting next to me would have taken one look at me and asked to me moved anyway. I did eventually arrive at home in one piece.

Thoughts on the trip as whole:

1. I had a great time, my primary goal was to soak up as much history as possible, and I certainly feel I accomplished that.

2. Next trip, I need to pace myself better. Even before I got sick, I was too tired a lot of the second week, which detracted from my endurance and my ability to take in what I was seeing.

3. Less walking, more using public transit. Of course, I want to be able to do some strolling around neighbourhoods, but given that I was on my feet most of the time even when in museums and galleries, a little moderation would be helpful. see point 2.

4. Was Paris worth it? YES! Of course I wish I had planned ahead so I didn't end up spending so much to get there, but it was a great day. Plus, it helped reassure me about being able to function in a city where I don't speak the language. This sets the stage for next year's trip to Italy (with a couple of days in Switzerland)

5. Don't wait 6 and a half months to write a trip report next time! There are probably lots of interesting details I could have added if only I could remember them.

Well, I am done here. Questions, comments?
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Old Nov 5th, 2009, 05:52 AM
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How did it feel being in a foreign country for the first time? Or did London not 'feel' all that foreign to you? I remember when I first visited the US from the UK, expecting to feel right at home, I was actually surprised how alien it felt in parts.

I know you were only in Paris for a day, but how would you compare the two cities in your opinion?

What was your highlight? Your biggest disappointment? Would you go back?

Always interested in what other people think of my home town.
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Old Nov 5th, 2009, 02:17 PM
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Thanks for the report!
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Old Nov 5th, 2009, 04:49 PM
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I really enjoyed your report. I think your unplanned day in Paris was just right. You walked around, saw some sights, and soaked in the atmosphere. But you still need to go back to see York!

Italy next--but, did Paris interest you enough for a longer return trip?
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Old Nov 5th, 2009, 10:25 PM
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Thanks for the interesting report.
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Old Nov 6th, 2009, 05:27 AM
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I don't know that London felt all that foreign to me, but there were a couple of things that I noticed. One was a a sense of age. Not just at the big tourist attractions, but just wandering around the city, it seemed like every time I turned a corner I ran into a building that had been standing since before Vancouver even existed. The other thing that comes to mind were the crowds. Again, I don't mean at tourist sites and around them. I remember being on Oxford St. one afternoon and having challenges just walking up the street due to all the people.

Well, one thing I noticed very quickly is that London Tube cars are much cleaner than the metro in Paris. Granted, maybe the 2 metro rides I took weren't representative, still the difference seemed fairly dramatic.

If I had to pick one place, I would say the British Museum. It such an amazing collection of artifacts to be assembled in one place. I thought when I was leaving that if I ever won a lottery, I might come back and try to volunteer as a janitor or night watchman, anything to be able to spend some time wandering the collections without the crowds.

The biggest surprise to me were the paintings. I had never been in a serious art museum before, so had no idea how blown away I would be by seeing them up close. Now that I think of paintings, I realize I left out a small portion of my trip.

On the day I went to British Museum, the crowds had worn me out by 4:30 or so. When I left, I started wandering South until I realized I was fairly close to the National Portrait Gallery. I had originally intended to go there on the same day as the National Gallery, but had felt too tired, plus I had plans for that evening. So, I decided to head in (The Portrait Gallery has late opening on Thursday.)

It was a very enjoyable couple of hours. I was interested in the group paintings, where you could see the interaction between people. Plus, there weren't that many people there. Don't get me wrong, it was hardly deserted, but I didn't feel this constant pressure to move on to the next painting.

I think the biggest disappointment for me probably involved things I didn't end up doing. I fully intended to attend a performance at the Royal Opera House, but that didn't work out. And as much as I enjoyed my excursion to Paris, I do regret not getting to York.

Would I go back? In a perfect world, Yes! In reality, things are a bit more challenging. I only have a finite amount of time and money, and there a lot of places I want to see. I have this very vague plan that over the next five to six years, I will see most of Europe. The highlights anyway, I mean if I couldn't see everything in London I wanted in two weeks, I am certainly not going to manage all of Italy in that time. Next year, Italy, and then a trip a year: Germany, France (yes to spending a little more time in Paris!),Spain/Portugal, Scandinavia, another trip to see the rest of the UK etc. Not too mention the rest of the world.

But you never know, with luck I will make it back.
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Old Nov 6th, 2009, 05:06 PM
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Oooh....take me with you!
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Old Nov 6th, 2009, 07:45 PM
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I think Glen has been bitten by the travel bug! For a first trip out of the country, Glen covered an amazing amount.
So many don't make it to the Ceremony of the Keys until a 3d, 4th, or 5th trip. Good for you.
I think you must have done more research than most for a first time there. Doing intensive research before a trip is one key to making the most of a trip.
Really enjoyable report, Glen.
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Old Nov 6th, 2009, 07:47 PM
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"One thing I noticed in walking around London was that a of lot of the crosswalks have notices indicating which way the traffic is coming from. I can only assume that the authorities got tired of scraping dead tourists off of their roads."
Particulary good section.
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Old Nov 6th, 2009, 11:57 PM
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I think the bird you saw at Kew may have been a peacock.

Great report!
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Old Nov 9th, 2009, 08:50 PM
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Fun report. My daughter and I were haunting some of those same spots around the same time; nice reminder.
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Old Nov 10th, 2009, 06:52 AM
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I really enjoyed your report. Lots of good observations and some humor.

Now that you know that you might feel a bit lonely halfway into a trip, maybe you could mention on this forum that you will be in such and such a place on certain dates and arrange a meet up for a meal or just a coffee.
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