Advertisements
Tag Archives: London

Tourists again

29 Aug
29 August 2017. One of our favorite things about living in Roma was telling people we lived there. When we traveled we felt just a little Continental. We could take a trip with minimal planning: except for needing cat sitters, we could be quite extemporaneous. Trains were easy and we didn’t obsess over packing perhaps because we were so at home in Europe.
We loved being able to go to Tuscany for the weekend or to stay for an entire week somewhere because we weren’t in a rush. We loved vacationing as Italians do, passing a summer month in the cool beauty of the Dolomites.
Now we will be American Tourists again. We’re going back!
One of our dreams for life-after-Roma has been to return and do long trips with long stays throughout Europe. We will go back to favorite places and visit some new-to-us places. Cat-and-house sitters are lined up for September and October. (Read about our sitters, Dan & Tracy, at their blog, Sitters on Tour.
This time it feels like mounting an expedition. We’ve never done a two-month trip before. We are committed to packing light: the same amount of stuff for 2 months as for a week, 21-inch-roll-aboard plus a day pack. And we will experience temps (based on averages) as warm as 73F/23C and as cool as 43F/6C. A packing challenge, for certain.
Where will we be?
Amsterdam, Munich, Ortisei, Venezia, Assisi, Roma (naturally), Paris, and London. We plan to fan out on day trips in many places.
Amsterdam: We have five full days and figure we will spend three in the city and take a couple of day trips, perhaps Leiden, Delft, Hoorn, and Enkhuizen. We are staying in Haarlem.
Munich: Only two nights to break up the trip to Ortisei. I was there when I was 19 and most of my memories revolve around beer gardens. We plan on a private tour to see some city highlights.
Venezia: We know the city well after eight (or is it nine?) visits and will have five full days this time. What new experiences should we add?   I am thinking of  Bassano del Grappa and maybe Chioggia.
Assisi: We visited Umbria in 2011 and want to revisit some favorites (Spello), do some hiking, and see some new towns (Norcia perhaps). We will be here for five nights, four full days, and have a full day of travel (naturally by train) between Venice and Assisi.
Roma: Planning to reconnect with the city, friends, and favorite restaurants.
With our three stops in Italy, we will overdose on the Italian food (pizza!) we’ve missed so much.
Paris: We’ve been five times for 2-to-7-night visits in the past 2 1/2 years, but the only forays beyond central Paris have been to Versailles and Giverny. I am thinking about Chartres this time. We’ll have 7 nights, 6 full days. (Never enough.)
London: Wrapping up with two weeks in London, we are staying in Westminster. We love just walking around London and will try to hit sights and sites we missed on our last three trips but we also want to do some day trips. Bletchley Park is on the list, and maybe Bath and Stonehenge with Canterbury and Dover in mind as well.
I will try to be a good little blogger and post regularly. General travel insights and experiences at www.GoodDayRome.com, pizza eating at www.OurWeeklyPizza.com, and hiking (Assisi, Ortisei) at www.ProjectEasyHiker.com. If you are not signed up for all three, consider giving me a follow on them.
“See” you from the continent!

 

 

Advertisements

Even a great trip can have it’s share of problems

8 May
8 May 2016. I have written before about the pleasure of returning to a place. You can relax in the familiarity and explore beyond the usual locales of first-time tourists. Our third trip to London in four months afforded us an opportunity to get beyond Big Ben. We were familiar with the Tube, the bus system, and the city in general. We did not need a map at every turn. We were able to go into neighborhoods previously ignored by us, to find museums less patronized, and to generally enjoy this great city, even if it was unseasonably cold.
That does not mean our trip was trouble free. Oh no!  Our travels are usually problem-free and easy going. No missed trains, no bungled reservations, no illnesses, good meals, and few budget surprises. Pick your favorite cliché: Smooth as silk; Easy as pie; Clear sailing; A bed of roses. This time was somewhat different. We encountered a multitude of weird and annoying little things – things we came to call “wrinkles” in our trip. Perhaps because we were familiar with London, we were able to shrug off the annoyances with a dose of humor. 
I’ve interspersed this narrative with some pictures so you can see we really had a lovely trip. 
When touring Windsor Castle, Ric and I both felt a Disney-like quality. It was also perfect! So serene! No litter, no eating,, the grass "just so."

When touring Windsor Castle, Ric and I both felt a Disney-like quality. It was all so perfect! So serene! No litter, no eating, no smoking, and the grass “just so.”

ANother lovely view of Windsor Castle. The weather was the best we had in a week in London.

Another lovely view of Windsor Castle. The weather was the best we had in a week in London.

Gift shoppe at Windsor full of corgis -- stuffed corgis.

Gift shoppe at Windsor full of corgis — stuffed corgis.

We usually have terrific success with our lodging choices. Whether apartments, B&Bs or hotels, we usually have no complaints or they are so minor we don’t say anything. The flat we had this time in London was hardly a nightmare, but the lack of attention to detail became laughable. One or two “little things” I would brush off, but this place was chock full of wrinkles: Non-working lamps (yes we replaced the bulbs); no wastebaskets; VRBO advertised king-sized bed was a double, not even a queen; non-working heaters (did I mention it was cold?); No hot pads in the kitchen which we did not discover until we had a hot casserole ready to come out of the oven; A washer/dryer combo all-in-one that did such a bad job I had to iron our jeans because they came out of the dryer wrinkled in a way I did not know denim could wrinkle.
Somebody from the staff needs to stay here a few nights and realize what improvements could be made. (See Dear Vacation Rental Property Owner.)
The management sent a taxi to pick us up at St. Pancras as part of the service. The taxi driver apparently could not find the taxi rank and his non-English accent was so thick we could not understand him when he called to coordinate. We had to pay for a cab to the flat, no one offered to reimburse us, and they told us “this happens all the time.” WTF?
We had ordered groceries to be delivered by Waitrose, which has been described as the British Whole Foods. We had done this in March when we rented in a different location and it was flawless. This time, the delivery was quite late and we had plans. I called Waitrose and was told he should be there soon. It took three calls in all, only to find out the driver could not locate our building due to construction in the area. Seriously? I had to go out and walk around the area – about a 4 block square area of densely packed buildings – to find him and lead him in.
Then we had THE GREAT OVEN DISASTER. Our last night, a Friday, we decided to stay in, eat a pizza and salad, and watch a movie. We stopped at Waitrose where we’ve purchased fresh-made take-out pizzas before (yes our standards slipped this one night). I pre-heated the oven and after about 20 minutes Ka-BOOM! The inside glass door of the oven exploded, sending shards of glass flying all over the kitchen. It was safety glass, so the danger of getting cut was minimal, but it was scary, messy, and annoying. The outer oven door glass somehow stayed intact.
I was so stunned I neglected to take an illustrative picture. It looked a lot like the over door in the picture at the top left of this link. If you Google the topic you’ll find it seems to happen a lot. Boh!
Obviously, we were not cooking our takeaway pizza in that oven. We were already in our jammies and not inclined to get dressed again, so we called up Deliveroo for our postcode. We’d seen the ads throughout our week in London so we gave it a whirl. Great service! Twenty-three minutes after placing an order on their website, the delivery guy pulled up to our door on his motor scooter. It was not great pizza, but it was hot and it was delivered to our door.
The Imperial War Museum is a fine museum covering wars from WWI forward.

The Imperial War Museum is a fine museum covering wars from WWI forward. Not very busy on this clear, cold day.

Imperial War Museum, view to the main hall.

Imperial War Museum, view to the main hall.

Montgomery's jeep at teh Imperial War Museum.

Montgomery’s jeep at the Imperial War Museum.

St. Paul's Cathedral, our neighbor this trip.

St. Paul’s Cathedral, our neighbor this trip.

In yet another flat-related “wrinkle,” Ric left his wedding ring on the nightstand, remembering he might have done so when we were already locked up and keys pushed through the mail slot. Any attempt to go back or contact management to let us in (on a Saturday morning of a holiday weekend at 08:00) would have caused us to miss the EuroStar. The staff redeemed itself with true honesty: the cleaning service found the ring and it is being shipped back to us.
Sand dog. Saw this little guy sculpted at Piccadilly Circus. Where he got the sand....

Sand dog. Saw this little guy sculpted at Piccadilly Circus. Where do you suppose the sculptor got the sand?

This red telephone box was the model for all the booths to come. Still in pristine condition unlike most of them these days. Near the Royal Academy.

This red telephone box was the model for all the booths to come. Still in pristine condition unlike most of them these days. Near the Royal Academy.

I don;t know whay is cuter here: The little children on a school outing in their safety vests or the double-decker bus painted to promote Hawaiian pizza (which is a travesty in Italy).

I don’t know what is cuter here: The little children on a school outing in their safety vests or the double-decker bus painted to promote Hawaiian pizza (which is a travesty in Italy).

Finally, we had a couple of transportation wrinkles.
Waiting at Gare de Lyon in a lounge area, two French army soldiers with automatic weapons and a uniformed security guy from SNCF (French national train system) appeared. The SNCF guy asked us to move along for “security reasons” and they cleared the area! We lost no time in beating a retreat to our departure hall, although that meant waiting in the cold. No idea what was going on.
We always hope for minimal drama on the way home. Who wants to end a trip with stress? We got up at 4:30AM in order to make a train at 5:40AM out of Dijon. We were traveling all the way back to Roma from Dijon, 13.5 hours on 3 trains, so we dragged our sleep-deprived selves out before dawn. (Fortunately, our hotel room was equipped with a Nespresso machine. Heaven!) Arriving at the station, we got on the train, and there it sat. Apparently the conductor was a no show. Our 40 minutes to change trains in Lyon ticked away. If we missed the connection we would not get to Rome that night and the cat sitters were leaving, not to mention the prepaid ticket on Trenitalia that would be worthless if we missed the connection. Luckily when the conductor arrived the train driver stepped on it and we had a few minutes in Lyon to catch our connection. Whew!
Tombstones in Postman's Park, London, a park which grew out of a former burial ground. It includes a Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice as well.

Tombstones in Postman’s Park, London, a park which grew out of a former burial ground. It includes a Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice as well.

Did you know? The inspiration for the contemporary wedding cake was the steeple of St. Bride's Church, in London in the 18th century. The baker supposedly had this view out of his window in Ludgate.

Did you know? The inspiration for the contemporary wedding cake was the steeple of St. Bride’s Church, in London in the 18th century. The baker supposedly had this view out of his window in Ludgate.

It may look like spring in London, but it was cold enough to waer gloves every day. The tulips did not care.

It may look like spring in London, but it was cold enough to wear gloves every day. The tulips did not care.

Fools for Sherlock that we are, we did tour 221B Baker Street. it's cute and fun.

Fools for Sherlock that we are, we did tour 221B Baker Street. it’s cute and fun. We also took a walking tour of Sherlock sites with Brit Movie Tours. Very well done!

Fat Boy or the Golden Boy of Pye Corner, is a monument at the spot where the Great Fire of 1666 was stopped.

Fat Boy or the Golden Boy of Pye Corner, is a monument at the spot where the Great Fire of 1666 was stopped.

Last unshrouded picture of Big Ben for awhile. The Elizabeth Tower and the clock will undergo extenisve renovation soon.

Last unshrouded picture of Big Ben for awhile. The Elizabeth Tower and the clock will undergo extensive renovation soon.

And a few more snaps from our Paris food tour. We’ve not done a food tour anywhere before but this will not be the last one. Terrific fun!
Bread chandelier, Poilâne Bakery, St. Germaine. This place has an amazing history. I have posted a link at the bottom of the page.

Bread chandelier, Poilâne Bakery, St. Germaine. This place has an amazing history. I have posted a link at the bottom of the page.

Poilâne again. A beautiful and tasty product,.

Poilâne again. A beautiful and tasty product,

These are chocolates, not marbles, at the very high end chocolatier, Patrick Roger, I think 3-4 Euros per piece. Luckily our food tour included some product tastes.

These are chocolates, not marbles, at the very high-end chocolatier, Patrick Roger, I think 3-4 Euros per piece. Luckily our food tour included some product tastes.

Tiger prawns. Note the lemon included for perspective. Small lemon, but still!

Tiger prawns. Note the lemon included for perspective. Small lemon, but still!

 

Location of our post food tour feast. It means "the last drop."

Location of our post food tour feast. It means “the last drop.”

As I mentioned at the start, familiarity with a location just adds to the enjoyment. Our first two trips were focused on the classic must-sees (see entries about our Christmas trip here and here, and about our March trip).  This time we wandered in diverse and historic neighborhoods, sought out places locals eat lunch, visited the Museum of London (well-curated and much patronized by school groups) and the Imperial War Museum (lightly attended, highly recommended), saw a show (“The Book of Mormon,” which was hilarious), went to the Handel & Hendrix in London exhibit, shopped, and took a ride on an historic steam railroad thanks to out friends from the East Midlands, Nigel and Carol. This third trip only whetted our appetite for more. London, we will be back. But maybe not for awhile…
The story of Poilâne, from an article in The New Yorker.  

Ethnic food

4 May
4 May 2016. Italian food is fabulous: fresh ingredients, few preservatives, simple flavors, regional specialties, lots of vegetables, fish, olive oil. And wine.
In London, we indulged in ABI: Anything But Italian. Our “ethnic” eating included
  • Sunday Roast at a London pub complete with Yorkshire Pudding and goose fat roast potatoes (a vegetarian’s nightmare)
  • Mexican street food at Wahaca which was noisy, but fun for lunch
  • An incredible hamburger at a brasserie in London, with chips of course
  • Indian City;  Great food but noisy. What is with British restaurants being noisy?
  • Pad Thai and calamari at Busaba Thai (also noisy, BTW)
  • Steak & Ale pie at a 300-year-old pub in Windsor with an ancient fireplace and low clearance (mind your head!)
    My Sunday roast for lunch. Note the enormous and perfect Yorkshire Pudding.

    My Sunday roast for lunch. Note the enormous and perfect Yorkshire Pudding.

    Cute little pub in Windsor., the Horse and Groom. First licensee on the site was in 1719.

    Cute little pub in Windsor, the Horse and Groom. The first licensee on the site was in 1719. The door was clearly made for short people. 

We wrapped up this trip in Dijon. No light cuisine there! For lunch in Beaune we enjoyed a very traditional Burgundy meal during a wine tour day. Boeuf Bourguignon for me and lapin for Ric. Ouefs en Meurette for an entreè were excellent! I may like lardons even better than pancetta.
Just writing this has me pondering the meaning of “ethnic food.” Is it “ethnic” when you eat something in one country not native to your own? Is a hamburger ethnic cuisine if you eat it in France? How about French fries? If an Indian eats tandoori in London, is it “ethnic?” I might consider eating an Italian meal in Portland “ethnic” dining, but I certainly don’t consider Italian food in Italy “ethnic.” Unless, of course, you are eating Ligurian food in Abbruzzo or bistecca Fiorentino in the Alto Adige.
Scallop with roe (or coral) included. I had no idea they were sold this way, but leave it to the French to use every edible part. The roe is supposed to be delicious!

Scallop with roe (or coral) included. I had no idea they were sold this way, but leave it to the French to use every edible part. The roe is supposed to be delicious! From out food tour in Paris, which was very educational.

A Bresse chicken is the most expensive chicken in the world, so we are told. It has appellation d'origine contrôlée status,. We did not eat any. Retail price, uncooked, about $25/pound.

A Bresse chicken is the most expensive chicken in the world, so we are told. It has appellation d’origine contrôlée status. We did not eat any. Retail price, uncooked, about $25/pound.

Our final night in Dijon, as we wandered around looking for a light supper (having gorged at lunch), nothing really looked good. It all seemed the same: hearty Burgundian cuisine and burgers. I turned to Ric and said, “If we were in Italy we wouldn’t have a problem picking a place to eat. They may all have the same menus but we like everything on the menu.” Yup, Italy has the best overall food in Europe. Italy just doesn’t have much “ethnic,” that is, non-Italian. 
Tuesday we returned to the land of lighter cuisine and inexpensive wine. I think I need a salad.

 

London

10 Mar
One of my Italian friends cannot understand why Ric and I repeatedly return to places we’ve been before. We go back over-and-over to Venezia (trip #8 coming up!) and the Val Gardena. Having familiarity with a location makes it easier to navigate and observe more of the culture, the history, the idiosyncrasies of a place. You don’t need a map every second of the time on repeat visits. Seeing a place in different seasons allows new perspectives. 
We’ve been in Paris twice in less than a year, and since our recent trip, we’ve spent a total of two weeks in London in less than three months and we still have a long list of sights to see and things to do. Repeats are worthwhile. 
We repeated a couple of sights–Westminster Abbey and the Tower of London–since Derek had not seen them. The abbey was almost deserted and we were able to experience so much more the second time. At the Tower while Derek took the Beefeater Tour (we’d taken it in December), we explored the White Tower as we had not seen it prior. One could easily spend 4 hours seeing everything at the Tower of London. 
Westminster close-up. No pics allowed inside. We found the self-guide audio fabulous, in fact better than the London Walks guided tour we took in December.

Westminster close-up. No pics allowed inside. We found the self-guide audio fabulous, in fact better than the London Walks guided tour we took in December.

London was colder overall during the first week of March than it was at Christmastime. Still we had some sunny days and sights were remarkably uncrowded. Westminster Abbey was deserted the afternoon we chose to go. The hearty pub food hit the spot in the cold weather, and we were traveling with our son, who is Mr. Go-Go-Go, so we were very busy. The usual pausa we take in the afternoons when traveling was almost non-existent. Our pedometers said we’d done as much walking as we do on most of our hiking trips!
A few tips for those planning a trip to London:
  1. London Walks does a great job of outdoor tours. We all enjoyed “The Old Palace Quarter” walk. Only £10.00 per person. 
  2. Westminster Abbey’s audio guide is fabulous; better than the guided tour we had in a too-crowded abbey with London Walks in December. On the other hand, LW allowed us to skip-the-line (a rather significant line at Christmas time).
  3. The London Pass is a great deal if you pack your days. We managed to buy the 3-day pass during one of their 20% off promotions and saved £32.00 each on admissions over those 3 days. 
  4. You can negotiate your rent on a longer stay in a flat. By asking, I was able to get a discount on the posted rate for our two-bedroom flat this trip, and I found the rents soft for a return trip we are making in April. It never hurts to ask.
  5. We kept our daily budget for eating to our target of €100.00 by eating 5 breakfasts and 3 dinners in the flat and frequenting pubs and a reasonably priced Indian restaurant. In a city as expensive as London, we did not think it possible to meet our target, but we did.  
  6. Waitrose delivers groceries. I placed an order before we left town and had it delivered an hour after we checked in. Just like home for us. No schlepping of heavy bottles of water and wine. 
  7. The boat trip from Westminster to Greenwich on a sunny day is delightful. Great chance to see the architecture, including bridges, and the narration is pretty good. Included in the London Pass.
I’ll leave you with some photos from our trip, along with what I hope are insightful captions. As they say in London, cheers!
Tower Bridge view from the HMS Belfast. Walking across was quite fun.

Tower Bridge view from the HMS Belfast. Walking across was quite fun.

Tower Bridge glass walkway. Worth the climb.

Tower Bridge glass walkway. Worth the climb.

It is rather eerie standing on the walkway and seeing traffic far below. Would love to be up there for a bridge lift.

It is rather eerie standing on the walkway and seeing traffic far below. Would love to be up there for a bridge lift.

It was cold that day we visited the Tower of London and Tower Bridge!

It was cold that day we visited the Tower of London and Tower Bridge!

Planter in front of Brook's Gentlemen's Club, St. James. Our guide said the "1776" embossed on the planters (there are two) reflects the Whigs supporting the American Revolution. The club of the Tory opposition is immediately across the street.

Planter in front of Brook’s Gentlemen’s Club, St. James. Our guide said the “1776” embossed on the planters (there are two) reflects the Whigs supporting the American Revolution. The club of the Tory opposition is immediately across the street.

Who knew? Texas had a legation in London during its brief period as a country.

Who knew? Texas had a legation in London during its brief period as a country.

The Big Ben Breakfast at the Red Lion Pub was a treat on Derek's birthday.

The Big Ben Breakfast at the Red Lion Pub was a treat on Derek’s birthday.

Spring has sprung! Green Park and St. James Park were awash in daffodils despite the chill.

Spring has sprung! Green Park and St. James Park were awash in daffodils despite the chill.

Who knew there were herons in St. james Park? This guy was perched in a tree by the path and Ric managed to get a good shot.

Who knew there were herons in St. james Park? This guy was perched in a tree by the path and Ric managed to get a good shot.

I cannot see these uniforms and the men marching without chanting "O-Ee-Yah! Eoh-Ah!"

I cannot see these uniforms and the men marching without chanting “O-Ee-Yah! Eoh-Ah!”

Changing of the Guard, Buckingham Palace. God it was cold and we had to stand for two hours!

Changing of the Guard, Buckingham Palace. God it was cold and we had to stand for two hours!

Admiring the daffodils in Green Park. the Queen was given 50,000 bulbs by the Dutch for her Jubilee. Schoolchildren planted them, Liz did not.

Admiring the daffodils in Green Park. the Queen was given 50,000 bulbs by the Dutch for her Jubilee. Schoolchildren planted them, Liz did not.

London skyline featuring the Walkie Talkie, the Cheese Grater, and the Gherkin.

London skyline featuring the Walkie Talkie, the Cheese Grater, and the Gherkin.

Royal Observatory, Greenwich. This is a sundial and the dolphin tails point to the hour.

Royal Observatory, Greenwich. This is a sundial and the dolphin tails point to the hour.

My toes straddling the Prime Meridian.

My toes straddling the Prime Meridian.

We had already eaten when we happened upon the Pie & Mash with eels in Greenwich. Darn!

We had already eaten when we happened upon the Pie & Mash with eels in Greenwich. Darn!

Love the contrasts in London. Here some vintage buildings with the Shard in the background.

Love the contrasts in London. Here some vintage buildings with the Shard in the background.

View from our flat: The Palace Theatre at Cambridge Circus, right in the heart of things.

View from our flat: The Palace Theatre at Cambridge Circus, right in the heart of things.

Plane vs. Train? No contest!

8 Mar
Flying may get you across many miles quickly, but there is nothing enjoyable about the experience. NOTHING. Trains, on the other hand, are simply a pleasure.
Not long after we had returned from our Christmas trip to Paris, London, and Switzerland, our son informed us that his company was sending him to the U.K. for work. Would we meet him in London for a week? How could we not? We had really enjoyed our time in London in December, and had immediately booked a return for April, but when your child is going to be on the same side of the ocean, you go. We don’t get to see any of them often, so this was a treat.
There was just not enough time between our Austrian adventure and an upcoming visit from American friends to allow us to take a leisurely journey by train, so we bit the bullet and bought tickets on EasyJet. (We prefer taking the train and stopping in Paris for a couple of nights.)  I popped for seats in the front of the plane and early boarding to try and minimize our discomfort. We abandoned our reliable roll-aboard cases in favor of large, uncomfortable backpacks so they would fit in the EasyJet overheads. I felt like I was going to tip over backward carrying that pack (although it only weighed about 20 lbs.) on buses and through the terminals.
EuroStar interior, photo taken on our December 2015 trip. Spacious. The TGV and FrecciaRossa trains are excellent, too. We like the configuration with the table between us, like you see on the right.

EuroStar interior, photo taken on our December 2015 trip. Spacious. The TGV and FrecciaRossa trains are excellent, too. We like the configuration with the table between us like you see on the right.

Now to the Planes vs. Trains discussion.
If we have a 3-hour train trip to Milano, we can travel door-to-door—from our apartment in Roma to our hotel in Milano—in 5 hours. We are relaxed, have been given espresso and wine on the way, we probably would have had WIFI access, and there would have been no need to disrobe and be x-rayed to prove we are not carrying anything hazardous.
Our 2-hour-and-40-minute flight to London took 8 hours door-to-door. In fact, 4½ hours after leaving home, we were just leaving Roma, taking off from FCO. I don’t need to tell you what the security experience was like, but we walked about a kilometer through the airport just to get to the bus that would drive us to the gate. On board we ate sandwiches that were 75% bread and the coffee was undrinkable.
Interior of Easy Jet airplane with passengers. Courtesy of EasyJet. Yeah, this is fun.

Interior of Easy Jet airplane with passengers. Courtesy of EasyJet. Yeah, this is fun.

We will return to London in April–a trip scheduled and partly paid for before Derek’s surprise voyage so no sense canceling. However, we will do the April trip in style: TGV to Paris for a few days, EuroStar to-and-from London, and a 3-night stopover in Dijon on the way home just because. Our roll-aboard bags will be back in service.

 

%d bloggers like this: