UK Trip Story According to Rob

Flight -

Bright eyed and bushy tailed we got to the San Francisco airport (SFO) plenty early and got checked in. We are carrying only two modest sized suitcases with wheels. I have a small carry on bag with my camera and radio. Deb has two bags, one with tour books and stuff and another with emergency stuff in case our luggage is lost.

The plane took off about 4:30pm. The plan is to sleep in flight. The airline is Virgin Atlantic. The web comments indicated that we would be "sardined" and poorly treated. My travel agent booked us so we had an aisle seat, a window seat and hopefully an empty seat between us. Unfortunately the seat was booked. Well guess what, the guy that was supposed to be between us never showed up so we had space. Other then flying through a thunderhead the flight was very nice and comfortable. We were fed nicely, given free drinks and enjoyed our private movies and games on the little tv sets on the seat in front of us. Not bad. We didn't sleep.

   Because of rain and so much airplane traffic the plane could not get to a gate. We had to walk down off the 747 to a bus which took us to the luggage area.

   We found the Avis bus, rode out and picked up our right hand drive car. The fun began. Driving on the left is a major trick. I kept moving to the left almost hitting parked cars and curbs. I had a hard time moving over into the right lane when passing. Deb had to keep telling me to "LOOK OUT FOR THE PARKED CAR", "GET OVER WHEN PASSING", "DON'T HIT THE CURB". I appreciated it and thanked her for the help (really).

   We were driving to Cambridge which looks on the map to be about 1-2 hours away. The M25 ring road around London is a parking lot. It took like four hours to get there. Arrrrgh. It was raining and there were actually dozens of various size accidents. It was so slow people were stopping to pee on the side of the road.

Night 1, Cambridge  -

We got to Cambridge and had a hell of a time trying to find the B&B. After about two hours of driving around through various tiny alleys, curvy streets, constantly changing names and one ways built in the 1200's we finally got there. We hiked down the hill, over the river Cam and into town. Very impressive. On the way back we stopped in our first pub for a beer and some food. What a hoot. We met Mark  who was sitting at a table nursing a beer. Apparently he had had a few before we arrived. We needed a place to sit and he needed somebody to talk to so it worked out brilliantly. He's some sort of lab technician at Cambridge University, he claims he is one step above janitor (doubtful). After some pub-grub and a couple of very nice beers, including "Old Peculiar" we decided to go back and go to bed seeing we hadn't slept in about 36 hours.

The next day we spent a few short hours hiking around Cambridge. It was beautiful though rainy. The King's College chapel was all it was advertised to be. Very nice. We need to go back.

We took off for York with a plan to stop to see the cathedral in Ely. A VERY impressive cathedral in a small town. We were overwhelmed by our first really big Gothic cathedral. It was rainy so the interior was fairly dark which added to the effect. Fantastic!

I think this is where we ate in a little French restaurant and had really nice food in a picturesque place. Deb had gazpacho.

The drive to York was more practice driving on the wrong side. York is a bit of a mess as are most of these old cities. Roads curve, change directions, change names, dead end and become one way out of town, etc. I finally stopped at a pub and asked directions. Darned if the guy didn't steer us correctly and we found our place with very little problem. We had to park on a one lane two-way street. Our host Chris at Abbeyfields Guest House was very helpful in getting us oriented to the tourist area. We had an interesting view from our bedroom window overlooking an elementary school.
   Getting into York from our room was a hike through a park that contains the ruins of an old Abby. Too bad these were destroyed. The tourist area is very nice and interesting. Lots of shops, pubs and restaurants.
   We ate at the first pub we found. They had a rather extensive menu. I ordered beef and Yorkshire pudding. What else when in Yorkshire? Later it seemed we had Yorkshire puddings with nearly every dinner.

Night 2, York -

York  has the York Minster  which is a big cathedral. We got there about 11 am and the place was filling up with tourists. Buses were disgorging them by the hundreds. Deb knew just what to do. We went into the basement(?)  and looked at the old stuff they found while renovating.
   It was very impressive seeing what they had done to shore up the footings under the big tower. Essentially they surrounded the old stuff with high quality concrete with very long stainless steel bolts about two inches thick running through it. They said an 18 story building could sit in the center part of the church. Very impressive.
   We then paid to climb to the top of the main tower. A very small steep twisty spiral staircase took us up to various levels where we could get views. On the way down Deb fell and sprained her ankle. It could have been very bad had she gone head first down the spiral staircase. Luckily she was mostly shocked and skinned up. The sprain didn't seem to slow her down much on the rest of the trip.

We shopped around the tourist area. Part of it is called "the shambles" and dates from before 1000. We went into a pub recommended by Rick Steves and had a beer. He always sends you to the best pubs. Very quaint and old, the people were friendly and the beer good.

In the evening we went into a small pub near the Minster. The waitress said she had never been in the Minster and was waiting until her college graduation ceremonies which are held inside.

Night 3, York -

We got off to a fairly early start towards Edinburgh because we wanted to see  Hadrian's wall Hadrian's wall. This is a wall built by the Roman Emperor Hadrian to either stop the barbarians from the north, keep his troops busy or to mark the edge of the empire. The drive was a hair raising experience at 70 mph on narrow hilly country roads, driving on the wrong side. 8-\  Really scary! After what seemed like hours and hours we finally arrived. It was pretty impressive. I imagine the Romans were happy to be stationed here. It looked like after the Romans went home the wall was used as a resource supplying materials to build the local farmhouses and fences. Very picturesque in this area - large rolling hills, sheep and lots of stone buildings and fences.

The drive to Edinburgh was more small roads and little towns. It's amazing to me that on a narrow two lane road with a curb that people just park their cars and take up one of the lanes. We all have to stop and take turns getting by. It appears to just be a way of life.

We arrived and found our room in only a couple tries. The B&B host Mark, who was a real nice character, was running the B&B. His wife was on "holiday" so he only had us and an eccentric college librarian as guests.  A very nice room.

We had planned to avoid the big world class festival scheduled for the middle of August. But a pre-festival called the Fringe was going on and seemed really big to us. It mostly happens in an area called "The Royal Mile" . Sections are closed off because of the crowds. We took a look, killed ourselves trying to find a place to eat. We finally ate and went back to our room, it was pretty late.

Night 4, Edinburgh -

The festival was overwhelming. Big acts were occurring in the streets during the day and early evening. There were hundreds of entertainment venues going on. But the big thing was the Tattoo - a big evening show in a temporary stadium in front of the castle consisting of bands and dancers including a college band from America. We stood in line to get a ticket but were told that they had all been sold until the next week. We planned to go anyway and see if we could scalp some tickets.
   We toured the castle. It's a classic. High on a craggy hill. Really beautiful. It was packed with people. The views were spectacular. We looked at the line to see the royal jewels but it was too long. Along came a guy we had been talking to earlier in an old time kilt and warrior getup, he told us where the back door was. Zip, in we went and saw it all.
   We took a bus tour around the city. Edinburgh feels sort of poor, the streets were sort of dirty and in need of repair.
   In trying to get money from an ATM the damn thing ate my card. From here on we had to use Deb's card, go into the bank and stand in line. Darn!
   That evening when everyone was lining up in the street to go to the Tattoo we came along and found a guy standing with two tickets. Debbie asked if he wanted to sell them. "Yes.", "How much?", "Face value". So we had our tickets which proved to be excellent. The show was impressive except the band from Southern Missouri was hardly "America's Premiere College Band". Oh well, why quibble.
    We got back to our room rather late. We have a big drive tomorrow - all the way back to London, about 350 miles.

Night 5, Edinburgh -

I finally asked a Scotsman if he ever watched any golf on tv (seeing a Scot had dramatically won the British Open). He sort of said no, he isn't very interested in sitting around watching golf. He also explained that if you wanted to watch golf that it was pretty well sewn up by the cable and satellite companies and costs quite a bit.
   We read that for someone to follow all the games of their local soccer (football) team they would have to subscribe to three different services and pay 600+pounds per year - more then a season ticket.

Today we do our big 350-400 mile drive to London. Once we filled up with 72 pence/liter gas (about $4.60/gal) we were on our way. Man they drive fast on the big motorways. I finally settled on 80mph in the center lane. People were passing us going at least 100 mph. It was a beautiful large three lane dual-carriageway (freeway). We made good time. Beautiful countryside, reminded me of Michigan at times.
   When we finally got to London I was doing all right with the left hand driving. Unfortunately the only maps we had were a globe and nighttime satellite shot of western Europe and the British Isles. After much hacking around we stopped at a cafe in a rough looking part of town and got some directions. They helped a little. It took us forever to find our place. We asked for directions in at least two more places before we found it. I drove right through the busiest part of London on a Friday night. Whew!
    At the hotel/B&B we were told that we could park overnight but at 8:30am they start ticketing cars. So we had to get up and get it moved to a garage fairly nearby. The charge for 24 hours was like 24 pounds ($38). Luckily we had a coupon which saved about 6 pounds. Expensive but not as much as if we turned the car in for two days and rented it again.
    That night we walked to a local pub for dinner then over to Buckingham Palace and Queen Victoria's fountain (where two gay guys were holding hands and more 8-\ ).

Night 6, London -

    We put our car into the garage which was just a few blocks away and walked back to our hotel.
    On the advice of somebody on the web we bought a nice pocket atlas of London and an all day bus/underground ticket. We jumped on the bus, sat up front on top and rode to St. Paul's  cathedral. Pretty nice. We hiked to the very top and wandered all around. We stopped over at St. Mary Le Bow church because it played a good size part in the book "London" that we recently read. To be a real cockney you must be born within the sound of the bells of "Bow" church. We hiked around that part of London.
    We went back to our room and took a nap.
   This night we had tickets for the Tower of London exchanging of the keys at 9:30pm. We jumped on the underground and found that this train didn't stop at Tower Hill. So we got off a stop early and walked. We were both starving and it was getting late when we found a pub near the Tower. It catered to tourists. It was pretty nice and the food was good. We met a nice couple from Indiana and had a nice discussion. She was into theater and planned on seeing some shows, he was into English history. They had spent the whole day at the Tower. He had some interesting information.
   We stood around with about 75 other people waiting. Finally we were met by a beefeater/guard who escorted us in and told us the story. It was raining fairly hard off and on. I couldn't hear what was going on very well but they did their thing. We hopped on the subway and went back to Victoria station.

Night 7, London -

Today we retrieved our car. While parked in front of our hotel to load our bags I stepped inside for about one minute. When I came out a policeman was getting ready to write a ticket. He was very nice and didn't complete it and wished us a good trip.

    We drove out to Bath. By now we are experts at getting around and driving. We arrived fairly early in the day as expected. Bath is in a very beautiful setting, large rolling hills, stone fences, hedgerows, little villages around and the Avon river (of Stratford upon Avon fame). At least in Bath the Avon has old locks along it and is very beautiful.
   Our B&B was spectacular. The rooms had been freshly redone and were beautiful and clean. The "hostess", Julie, seemed to be a real go-getter, friendly, helpful and nice. Her husband, Keith is the cook and support team.
   The town of Bath is about a three block walk across the Avon and past a cricket club. There was a pub at the end of our street where we ate several times - Deb learned what a BLT is in England (Canadian bacon, chopped tomato and lettuce on a french roll)
   We ate lunch and tasted a beer in a local pub then walked around the shopping area.
   We visited the Roman baths that the town is named for. I don't think I would want to get in it today, it looks pretty dirty. It was an interesting tour. I like the tours with the headphones.
  We visited a famous meeting building that was used mostly by the elite for parties. There was a large dance hall and reception room as well as rooms for game and card playing. In the lower level is a dress museum which was surprisingly entertaining. Bath was a favorite vacation spot for the wealthy. It's still a vacation destination for the British.
   We visited a little friendly pub on Green street recommended by Rick Steves.
   That evening we walked up to the "Royal Crescent". This is a building shaped like a crescent where the elite lived in the 1700's. On the way up we passed through a circle of similar buildings designed by same architect. I believe it is called the Georgian style. The view from the top was spectacular. The Royal Crescent contains an elegant hotel. You have to know it's there to spot it. We went in and gawked at the furniture, paintings and elegant intimate surroundings. A friendly greeter gave us an elegant brochure of the place - many pages with beautiful pictures. Ah, someday when I'm rich...
   On the way home, as we crossed the bridge over the Avon, a car slowed down near us and suddenly we were squirted by super soakers. We were pretty wet but we thought it was a hoot. Damn teenagers, anyway.

Night 8, Bath -

I figured out here, thanks to Deb, that when the British say "eggs over easy" they mean "over medium" - no snotty whites.
   We drove to Avebury to see a henge that is much bigger then Stonehenge. It was very impressive and we could walk around it and touch whatever we wanted - unlike Stonehenge. It consisted of a circular trench with a mound on the outside, inside of this were various size circles of stones. The stones were large but not shaped and stacked like at Stonehenge. Apparently when it was in use the trenches went down into the chalk bed therefore they were white, as were the mounds because they were covered with chalk. As we saw them the trenches were well silted up and the mounds covered with grass and probably much shorter then they were a thousand plus years ago. Still very impressive. Somebody had made a large figure in a wheat field - I assume it was some relative of the ancient builders 8-)
   I twisted my ankle, fell down and rolled around on the ground - just enough to get dirty and damage my camera lens. I was OK (surprisingly).
   We went to  Wells cathedral for Evensong. I thought Evensong was an evening service but this took place at about 3pm. It tended to be long for us non churchgoers. But it was beautiful with the organ playing and the choir singing in a beautiful cathedral. We actually sat in the choir seats. The choir is the area usually made of intricately carved wood with seats facing across an aisle.
   We then went to Glastonbury Abby to see the Abby ruins. It supposedly is where Jesus' father Joseph brought Jesus' blood and sweat. Because of this it was a pilgrimage destination for centuries. It must have been spectacular. The remaining ruins are spectacular. Supposedly King Arthur was buried here. In order to convince the abbot to close it up they had him drawn and quartered. His head was hung on the door and the other four parts taken and hung on the doors of other Abbeys. There is also a mysterious man made hill nearby called "The Tor".

   Never made it to Cheddar to taste the cheese, Wales to see the museum or Stonehenge... next time.

Night 9, Bath -

We had missed going into the Bath cathedral so we did it this day. Nice.

We drove back to London, dropped our stuff off at the Stanley Hotel and returned our car. Damn! Returning the car became an adventure. The drop point was right in the middle of the busiest part of London - thousands of taxis and buses. We must be crazy! We finally found the drop point down a dead end alley. After we parked we realized that we had forgotten to fill the tank. Deb went in and asked what the charge would be if we didn't fill it. Arrrrgh - 160 pounds (~$256). She got directions and away we went on a one hour wild goose chase to get about two blocks to the petrol station. The station is in Selfridges Department Store parking garage. After driving around and around we found that it was located down a one way alley, and we were on the wrong end. I pulled up on the sidewalk/exit area and pondered for a couple of minutes before backing down the alley in reverse! We made it! Got the gas and quickly got back and dropped the car off. Whew! They could have charged us an extra day but didn't.
   We then walked to Regent street, down to Piccadilly square then took a subway back to Victoria station near our hotel.

Night 10, London -

Today we got out early and zipped over to the Tower. This time on the correct train. We were concerned because everyone told us that the place is very crowded and it might take hours to see the crown jewels. We paid our 10 pounds to get in and went directly to the jewel building. No line! It looked like a Disneyland line up area with many switchbacks and various rooms showing videos to entertain the waiting throngs. We charged through directly to the jewels. Stunning! They have people mover to keep you moving but there were so few people that we circled back for a second look. We could have gone back as many times as we wanted. Amazing! Deb bought a gold crown charm for her anniversary/personal history bracelet. We then walked around and looked at other stuff like armor. No crowds! We saw all we needed to see and left.
   The next stop was the British Museum. WOW! They have stolen all the best stuff from all over the world. They had better Greek stuff then we saw in Greece. They had the very best of everything. It was a bit crowded, depending on where you went. The Egyptian area was butt-to-butt. There is not enough time to see it all in any detail in a lifetime.
   We had lunch in a small elegant pub. It was down an alley and had no tourists, except us. The patrons were pretty much all in dark suits and ties, standing around drinking beer, wine and eating rather elegant food. Deb had the cheese plate. It was fantastic, about five different, very nice cheeses and about five different types of crackers, including some "digestives". Can't go to the UK without having some digestives. She also had a really nice apple cider.
   Next stop was the National Gallery. We used a computer to locate specific paintings that Deb wanted to see. This was a very smart move. You could easily get caught up in looking at one room for hours. As it turned out the map that Deb generated pretty much took us through every room. Fantastic. Even saw VanGogh's Sun Flowers (at least one of the more famous versions).
   We were whipped. Our feet were falling off. I was about to burst into tears 8-/.  But one more thing, we hiked down to Westminster Abby. Unfortunately is was closing to visitors.  Before we went back to our room to recuperate we walked around the Parliament building and looked at Big Ben. Everything was closed. We were pretty tired and had a hike ahead of us so we stopped into a nice looking little pub. The people were mostly well dressed in business attire. Apparently they work in the government. I overheard several deep intellectual discussions going on. Very interesting.
   Later that night the plan was to try to find a casino that I had joined many years ago. We hiked all over Soho, Piccadilly square and I don't know where all looking for it, to no avail. We saw a lot that way. Then we walked all the way back to our hotel - as I recall we passed Trafalgar square, walked up the Mall to Buckingham Palace, past Victoria station and to our hotel

Night 11, London -

Next morning we got on a bus at the Victoria bus station and rode out to the airport. The lines were pretty long. We wanted to claim the VAT tax on the charm Deb had purchased so we got in rather long line. There was only one guy taking care of business. The lady in front must of had 50 items to declare. We were there forever.
    Finally we got on the plane. It was packed. The trick with the odd seat didn't work. However, the guy that was supposed to sit between us was really nice and moved to the window.

Flight -

In fact the guy was really nice. He worked for Cisco in the UK and was going to San Jose for some training and as a reward. He was pretty interesting and actually added to the trip.

Comments -

Things were a bit more expensive then we expected. You can sort of figure that something that costs a dollar here will cost a pound there ($1.60). Beer was about two pounds, but we did try to drink the more interesting types that were more expensive. Deb liked some of the ciders.

We found that the sausages served with the breakfasts did not hit our spot and avoided them.

The pubs tended to close early. Usually by 10pm even the London pubs were mostly closed. That's bedtime anyway.

We should have driven from Edinburgh to Bath and then dropped the car before spending 4 nights in London. I guess we thought Bath was farther then London. It's not clear what we were thinking.

There were network places all around. For 1 pound/hr you can sit at a computer and do whatever. If you have a network mail account like Yahoo you can check your mail or send mail. Looked like a lot of people net surfing.

Deb thinks the British have things figured out. Once you get used to the roundabouts they are very logical and efficient. Having a pub on every corner is a convenience. Everyone was helpful and courteous. Even in London at rush hour you rarely hear a horn honk, everyone just cooperates. Driving is a team sport.

Deb was disappointed that we didn't take the bus tour of the London sights. I think she's right. We just never had the time to really get anything completely explored.

The B&Bs would give a discount if you paid in cash. Some would only take cash.

The mens rooms were like out of the 50's. Most of the time the urinals were sort of a wall with a trough at the bottom.

A bit of history -

In the 1530's King Henry the eighth wanted a male heir. His wife gave him a daughter and it didn't look like she was going to have any more children. Henry asked the pope for a divorce. Unfortunately the pope was under arrest and couldn't answer. Henry declared himself divorced and married Anne Boleyn. A short time later the pope declared the divorce illegal and the marriage a sin. So Henry separated from the Roman Catholic Church.
   However, the monasteries, who owned about half he property in England opposed him. So he disbanded the abbeys and suggested they be torn down. He took their wealth and property and sold or gave it away to friends. The abbeys were destroyed.
   Later when the puritan Protestants became strong they destroyed the stained glass windows, statues and ornamentation of the cathedrals. Nearly all of the cathedrals show damage from this action.