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Trip Report Two Bonnie Lasses: A Road Trip from Edinburgh to London

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Well, to begin with, we weren’t supposed to do a major European trip this summer. We usually go every OTHER year. Last year was a wonderful trip to Amsterdam, Brugges, and Paris and the rounded two-pronged plug hair dryer purchased from a Paris department store and our euros were packed away for June 2015. BUT, with the Supreme Court’s ruling in June 2013 and a subsequent marriage for us on October 23 (23 years together) under the rotunda in San Francisco’s City Hall, a honeymoon was in order! My spouse had been wanting to return to England and try to “find” Elizabeth I. We had covered a lot of the London area on a trip years ago, but this time the loose focus was Elizabeth. I knew Hatfield House was a must-do and Warwick Castle, and we went from there. Throw in Edinburgh, Scotland, the home of Linda's father's ancestors plus a destination on my bucket list and from there it morphed into a 11 night trip.

We had both signed up for a British Airways credit card for the 50,000 miles perk last year. I always thought that we’d use that for a round trip ticket to the UK at some future date. When I hadn’t anticipated was my sweetheart’s staunch refusal to fly in anything but Business Class. Our previous two trips had been in Business using our United frequent flyer miles, and now, she can never go back. That put a huge wrench in my plans. So what we did was to fly over on BA Business Class using our miles and fly home in Business on United using Linda’s UA miles. And it worked! It was a bit of dance to get the outgoing and return coordinated but we were able to fly to Edinburgh connecting through Heathrow and fly home on the partner airline Air Canada connecting through Toronto. At least I THOUGHT that was the plan. When I checked the Air Canada flight on my UA app in early May, I noticed a change…cutting our layover from 2 ½ hours to 45 minutes. It wasn’t until Memorial Day when I called Air Canada to find out that 45 minutes would not be enough time as we would have to get our bags, go through customs, check our bags back in and go through security AGAIN. The AC gal said we'd never make the flight to SFO and suggested we call United pronto. When I did call UA, the fellow took awhile to find a flight home with a 4 ½ layover. Not OK, I said, how about a direct flight from LHR to SFO on United? Yes, he said, after a few minutes, that would work. With two seats next to each other in Business? Yes, maam! Yahoo! Again, that direct flight was not offered; I had to ask. That was the third time in the last year where our flight plan has been adjusted and I overrode the United adjustment with a suggestion of my own. I appreciate United's flexibility!?!

The seats on BA faced each other; Linda was by the window facing the rear of the plane and I was in the aisle facing forwards, kind of like a pair of sneakers in a shoe box. It worked out very well for us…easy to talk to each other. There was a barrier that could be raised between us if we didn’t want to engage and I imagine that’s what strangers might do after take off. Another option would have been to have two center seats side by side which created a nice little square area of space, but you did have a seat on either side of you. If you had to leave the center to go the restroom, you would have to climb over the outside person’s legs if he/she were in recline position. I imagined it might feel a bit claustrophobic as well by being “surrounded” if you will. We were happy with the seats although there was an “S” curve to both seats which made them feel a little more snug than United seats. On United, we were side by side, aisle and window, facing backwards. Not quite as attentive service on United as the attendants seemed rote with their tasks.
Both Lounges were terrific! Tasty sandwiches at SFO on departure. The food at LHR was more varied…chili con carne, a beets salad with quinoa, mac and cheese, as well as a few more dishes. We actually took showers at LHR. There were about eight of them, and I don’t think any of them were being used. A small room with a vinyl floor with towels and products in squirt bottle attached to the shower wall. It was wonderful to get refreshed like that. Leaving LHR on United, there was breakfast fare with steam trays offering up items in a typical English breakfast.

Speaking of LHR, on our departure we took the Heathrow Express from Paddington. The fare was about $36 each but on a rainy morning the day before the Tour De France hit the UK, we didn’t want to take a chance with any road closures or complications. The Express was a direct shot to LHR in about 15 minutes with plenty of space for luggage. No step up, just glide the Samsonites across the gap and you are on. We arrived at Terminal 2 and then walked about 20 minutes to the United counter. Once we passed security we walked another 20 minutes to the gate. We tried to do the VAT refund thing but the line was long and there clearly weren’t enough clerks. After waiting for ten minutes and only one person moved to the counter from the line, we just gave up. Good thing, too, as we didn’t realize it was still a short hike to the gate.

So what did our itinerary look like? Edinburgh for three nights, train to York, pick up car, two nights in York, drive to Bronte parsonage and then on to Warwick for the night. Next day Warwick castle and then drive on to Stonehenge and stay the night in Salisbury. Drive to Bath, dump the car, spend the day/night in Bath, then train to London for three nights staying in two different hotels.

Auto: booked through Auto Europe and ended up with a Hertz car. Four day cost was $105.92 for a compact stick shift. Went through one tank of gas at the cost of about $100. We drove 359 miles. Picked up the car just beyond the train station in York and returned it to a downtown Bath location.

Radisson Blu Hotel Edinburgh was right on the Royal Mile between the castle and the palace! Could not have asked for a better location! We decided to take a taxi from the airport as it was a bit rainy (surprise!) and we were bleary eyed. I know there is a new tram from the airport but then we’d have to negotiate the luggage off and catch a taxi. I booked it online for 130 pounds a night…Standard room with the AAA rate. Once I booked an email shot back asking if there is availability would we like to upgrade to a Business room? The Business room included the buffet breakfast for two, a Nespresso machine, and the room would be on the quiet side. For an additional 32 pounds a night, I thought it was a good deal as we like to have breakfast on site to start the day. I had phoned to ask the price of breakfast and it was about 13 (or was it 16?) pounds each so there’s 26 pounds rights there. Linda loves our Nespresso machine and can’t start her day without a cup of coffee so I figured, OK. It was a quiet room, the Nespresso machine has about nine pods of three different flavors, bathroom was adequate, bed was firm, towels were large, and water pressure was good. The breakfast was extensive in the buffet area or you could order a set English breakfast or waffles or eggs benedict. The sausage was excellent! We tried the hotel’s bar café once and had some delicious cauliflower soup and a hummus dip with a good wheat bread.

Enjoyed the castle, the Museum of Scotland, walking around the historic center, the Britannia (an easy bus ride to the port). Unfortunately, the palace was closed due to the visiting Queen but the Queen's Gallery was open with an exhibit that included three Elizabeth portraits...two of them miniatures that we had never seen before. Other paintings included a Holbein Henry VIII.

Our meal highlight was the Elephant House where J.K.Rowling worked on her first Harry Potter book. It was a Rick Steves recommended restaurant that was casual, reasonably priced, and served good food. We both had a vegetarian lasagna. It was easy to see how comfortable Rowling would have been working in this place with the big windows with views of the castle. On the way out, I noticed the restaurant sign that said, "where Harry Potter was born."

The Bloomsbury Hotel in York on 127 Clifton (165 pounds for two nights) had great hosts who helped up park our newly acquired car in the narrow parking lot. The large Magnolia room faced the front street although we were never bothered by street noise and I am a fussy sleeper. Tasty breakfast with fresh fruit salad that I could have kept on eating! Bathroom was tiny with shelf space on the ledge by the window.

In a prior email, I had asked if they offer laundry service because we’d need to do a load. When we arrived, I mentioned this again, and we immediately gathered one load and the proprietor did the load for us. A few pieces were drying in the room when we returned from our outing and the rest were neatly folded on the bed. The bed and breakfast was a good 20-minute walk from the historic center of York…a little too far out on our two rainy days. I think it would have been better to stay in the historic center to avoid a lot of walking energy sapped going to and fro.

Highlights: York Castle Museum with a special World War I exhibit; Betty’s for some tasty ginger/chocolate chip scones and cherry/almond fruitcake dowsed in sherry, York Minister, the Shambles, the old walls and entrance ways. First experience in a Cath Kidson store. Loved the book bags and small totes!

Restaurants: Café Concerto right on the main drag (21 High Petergate) as you approach the Minister. Decent prices, good food on a cold rainy evening . Café No. 8 : just outside the city wall and a quick pivot around the corner(8 Gillygate) for a late lunch on the second day. What a foodie find! I had some kind of lamb dish that was out of of this world. Linda had a mint pea soup that was tasty as well.

One of the highlights of York was discovering that York would be the start off point for the Tour de France the following week. Yellow painted bicycles could be seen in front of homes and stores as well as hanging from church steeples and roofs. Some folks laced flowers through the wheels and decorated the bikes. It was clear that this would be one exciting event!

On our way to Warwick, we stopped in Haworth. This place has been at the top of my bucket list since I read Jane Eyre in 7th grade. As we headed toward the Yorkshire dales, we realized we were following the path the cyclists would take the following week. Literally…the same roads and dales based on all the signs we saw. Linda handled the car well despite have six gears and driving on the “wrong” side. Thank goodness she updated our own Garmin with UK maps two days before we left. My printed out maps weren’t as nuanced as the Garmin! We parked in Haworth on a road as opposed to a car park as there were plenty of spaces on the road at 11AM. A photographer who was walking across the street offered to show us the way to the house. We cut through to a quaint main street full of tea shops and other shops with a pub that Branwell frequented. We passed the church, the school, and the cemetery before we saw the compact little two story house. We headed to the back of the house to watch a horse graze and feast on the hills and dales the sisters and brother would have traipsed. We toured the house, each room with artifacts of the family including the Aunt and hired help. It was very moving to see these tiny rooms and imagine the family writing, talking, and creating. We had time to visit one shop on our way out (I understood that the 2-hour parking limit was strictly enforced). The shop was called Rose with lots of soaps, scented powders, and little jars of lemon curd, chutneys, and jams. Perfect to take home for gifts!

We ended up in Warwick in the late afternoon at a bed and breakfast called Park Cottage guest house for 86 pounds a night whose kitchen was the former dairy of the castle 600-year old, original stone floor still intact. We had a small room at the top of the house with a huge bathroom with a two person Jacuzzi tub. The proprietor asked that if we use the tub to use it at night or else an AM use would deplete the hot water for everyone else. The reason I chose this B&B was its close proximity to the castle not for the tub! In fact we were allowed to stay parked at the B&B while we visited the hotel saving a 6 pound parking fee. In addition, the helpful B&B proprietor sold us "tickets" ( a voucher we redeemed for tickets at the ticket booth) for 5 pounds off per ticket. We literally turned the corner outside the bed and breakfast to find the access road to the castle. It was a short 15 minute walk up to the castle, and we were there when the castle opened. Despite some reads that the castle was more of an amusement park than historical site, the castle maintained an historical focus. The exhibits were well marked and we saw some Elizabeth I items;; saddle, hankie, and royal seal. We really enjoyed touring the castle. Afterwards we saw the trebuchet being fired off and saw the birds used in the birds of prey show….magnificent and proud eagles from all over the world.

After the morning and early afternoon at the castle, we headed for Salisbury with a stop in Stonehenge. On our way to Stonehenge we passed the exit for Highclere (Downton Abbey location) but didn’t know how close it was to the sign and felt reluctant (in the rain) to make that detour. I wasn’t sure if it was open for touring either. We came up on Stonehenge and the sight from the motorway takes your breath away. Traffic was going very slowly as people gawked from cars. As it was getting late we decided to see it from the road and turn around and went back by it again. We arrived in Salisbury with enough time to walk over to the cathedral and enjoy it as well as the beautiful grounds around it.
Our bed and breakfast, the Cathedral View, was my least favorite in terms of room accommodation. Granted it was close to the cathedral and we could park (with a parking permit supplied by the proprietor) on the main road, but the room was cramped and the bathroom small and narrow. We left the window open at night to catch a breeze as we were on the third floor. The highlight, though, of that accommodation was meeting a sweet, older couple from Lincoln at breakfast and engaging in a conversation about Scotland’s desire to separate from the UK. The proprietor joined in and it was very interesting to hear their viewpoints on that and other political topics. Great meal at the nearby The Cloisters the pate with chutney.

The next morning we trekked to Bath, dropping our rental car at the Hertz locale. We took a taxi to our hotel, Three Abbey Green, and the taxi driver maneuvered his way through a maze of one-way streets, pedestrian areas, and construction zones to drop us off at the door! What a sweet place and ideal location. We could see the abbey as we stepped out of our entrance way of the bed and breakfast. Marks and Spencers was just around the corner. We arrived in Bath on the day of the University of Bath’s graduation. Happy graduates and their proud families milled around the abbey waiting for the ceremony to begin or enjoying their time after their particular graduation was over. I believe there were three “rounds” of graduation that day. It created such a positive vibe and the day was wonderfully sunny and warm. We visited the abbey in the late afternoon and tried to hold off visiting the Roman baths until nightfall. Beginning July 1, the day we were there, the baths are open in the evening creating a more magical setting with torches blazing around the largest of the baths. When we approached the ticket counter, the clerk told us not to be alarmed if we saw an increase in police presence in the area. “A special visitor is coming to Bath tonight,” he told. Linda guessed correctly that it was Prince Edward as she remembered he is associated with the University. We solemnly promised to behave while we were there as not to spark any trouble.

Three Abbey Green was the “classiest” of the four bed and breakfasts in which we stayed. The room, The Old Plane Tree (3rd floor), thus called because of the big tree in the center of the green was on the top floor. Large room (120 pounds per night/paid in advance) with a sitting area with chairs facing the tree and the green. Bathroom was compact with no counter space except for the ledge of the window. Breakfast was served in the basement…your typical English breakfast with a bowl of fruit to pick at instead of a fruit salad. A refrigerator near the computer and printer was there to offer bottles of water for your day’s outing. Flora sat me down and explained nearby sights and showed me a discount tag (along with the brochure) good at various shops, restaurants, and attractions. What I also liked about the location of this place was its proximity to the train station…a handy ten minute walk.

We liked Bath, and I could see its shopping potential for a serious shopper. Not so much independent stores with crafts and handmade things, but department stores and name brand stores. I scoped out the Marks and Spencers, the department store my mother would also talk about it from her childhood and found the Battenburg cake my sister wanted (although with a close expiration date I didn’t buy it).

Eating in Bath? Found the recommended Indian restaurant on the bridge, Rajpoot Tandoori, and thoroughly enjoyed the food and the formal service. I think we were the only people in the place.

The next morning we caught the train to London, a quick hour and a half train ride. Got out a Paddington station, bought a day’s tube/bus pass, and headed for St. James Park. Our hotel, St. Ermin’s, was booked with two Marriott certificates Linda had earned as awards through her job. I reviewed the various Marriott's in London and decided that St. Ermin’s had the best reads, a close proximity to a tube station, and an architecturally beautiful lobby (check out the hotel’s website and you will see what I mean!) We arrived about an hour and a half before official check-in so our room was naturally not ready. The gal at the counter said she’d check with housekeeping, have a seat, and she’d check back with us. Half an hour later, I approached the counter and asked her. I think she forgot because she called housekeeping right then to find out it would be a bit longer. About ten minutes after that our room was ready. I made it clear in my reservation and verbally to the gal that we wanted a quiet room with a not too tiny bathroom (tripadvisor comments warned of tiny bathrooms). She reviewed what was available and sure, for additional pounds more she could get us in to a larger room period. Didn't want to do that so we headed for our room to find a small,compact room with a very small bathroom. Clean though and a strong air conditioner! For a four/five star hotel, I didn’t feel the attention to the client was there. No one from the front desk looked up with a welcoming smile when we and others walked in, the wine hour in the late afternoon offered a poor quality wine without any nibbles, and the room was not made up in a spiffy manner. Do I sound terrible? Sorry, I just expected more.

Our last night was spent at the Hilton London Paddington, directly over the Paddington train/tube station. Loved it, loved it. If you’d like to read my review on tripadvisor, you can look it up under under " Worked Well for Us! Would Stay Again!" I had used our leftover BA Avios points and $115 to pay for the room (prepaid). BA allows you to merge your points together; I think we each have 10 points left.

For dinner on our last night, a quick walk down the street led us to Noor Jahan 2 for Indian Cuisine. We love Indian food and our meal was one of the best we have ever had. A tasty chicken tikki masala dish with vegetable rice served with a vegetable curry and nan. Service was attentive and we were able to eat outside on a beautiful London evening.
Highlights in London included a trip to the Victoria and Albert museum , the National Portrait Gallery (to pay our respect to the Elizabeth portraits, of course), Covent Gardens, Picadilly Circus, a day trip to Hatfield House (more Elizabeth artifacts and engaging docents, eager to answer questions and stimulate your thinking about the house and the occupants), and a stop at the Hunterian museum. This museum sounded similar to a museum we enjoyed in Philadelphia called the Mutter museum. Both museums are attached to a physician’s college and contains morbid but interesting specimens. I wanted to watch the entire video of the removal of a brain tumor, but having just had lunch, it made for nauseous viewing. Mutter was a bit more extensive…pictures of smallpox, an iron long, skeletons of Siamese twins along with a collection of items swallowed by people and removed from their stomachs . Fascinating!

The train trip to Hatfield House required us to leave from King's Cross Station where we ran in to Harry Potter again. There was a long line of eager children and adults in front of a sign saying " Platform 9 3/4" for a picture with a luggage rack and a Gryffindor scarf supplied for the neck. It was sweet to see children so excited. Also at King's Cross we had a tasty, healthy, fast-food lunch at LEONS dubbed "Naturally Fast Food" . Some kind of chicken/rice Mediterranean to-go dish. I noticed this same place at LHR.

Linda came home with a Scottish accent to rival my nephew’s uncanny ability to imitate accents and dialects. She defaults to her new Scottish accent so much that a neighbor the other night told her to please “lose the accent.” We found out that Linda’s family was an old Scottish family and those who weren’t wiped out in the 16th century during Royalist wars headed to the New World which makes sense as Linda’s immediate ancestors were from Baltimore…and oddly enough or not so odd if you know Linda, a distant relative of Edgar Allan Poe. The creative genius flows in her veins, too, as well as a bit of the crazy. And I mean that with all due respect!

Other notes:

We took about 40 pounds with us. We had ten pounds left over from a prior trip and borrowed 30 from my dad. Good thing because I didn’t like the looks of the ATM’s at the airport…wasn’t sure if they were really ATMs. I was able to pay the taxi driver cash and then found a bank easily when we arrived in Edinburgh. I used the sister bank to Bank of America, Barclay’s, for an ATM withdrawal, figuring I’d eliminate the $5.00 fee. What I didn’t anticipate was a $20. foreign transaction conversion fee. First time I’d seen this.Complained when we got home and the charge was reversed out...this time. We immediately used our Schwab card and faced no withdrawal fee or conversion fee.

We kept our iphones in Airplane Mode the entire time to avoid roaming charges. My sisters all have iphones so it was easy to text/email when we had access to a wifi network in the hotel. Rick Steves had a good section in his book on this. My dad and I loved the Facetime feature as I could be in a B&B in England and we could see each other! I could also turn the image around on my iphone and flash what our room/the view looked like.

Another wonderful trip with great memories! So in the midst of a crazy day with middle schoolers, I can savor the memories of the Bronte parsonage, the sight of Stonehenge, or sipping hot chocolate in York's Café Nero with my sweetheart. Thanks for reading this, Fellow Fodor Travelers. Hope some information here will assist you in planning your next trip!

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