Saturday, August 20, 2011

Travelling in the UK

Finally on vacation again. Not that it was urgent, but it is indeed pleasant. I think the best part was being able to spend time with Jennifer and her family again. Scott is also enjoying some holiday time and of course that means there is some serious golfing underway. Not only that, but his mens’ soccer team enjoyed winning their division championship. Jennifer and I got caught up on all the good gossip that is around so that was fun… thing is, there’s not a whole lot of gossip these days.
But Jennifer is well and that’s the good thing. It was around this time of year, two years ago, that her whole episode with leukemia began … so thank goodness she is beating that.
Jenn is also becoming something of a chef and is trying new recipes all the time. Her caramel pudding cream cake was the hit desert on the week.
Jenn and the boys dropped me off at the Sudbury Airport Monday morning, EARLY on Monday morning. We all managed to drag ourselves out of bed at 4:00 a.m. so we could be at the airport by 5:00 a.m. for the flight departure at 6:00 a.m. I was happy they all came out. I was surprised that the early flight from Sudbury to Toronto was full on a Monday.
The flight to London was long. I dozed on and off a bit, read a lot of watched some of the movie channels on the little TV screen. I was pleased when we finally landed at Heathrow about seven hours later.

The room at the Sheraton was nice and it had a very comfy bathrobe. There is a mini-bar, but the prices are ridiculous. I am NOT about to pay $10 for a shot of Jack Daniels, so I picked up some Scotch at a grocery store for about 15 Pounds. I got the hotel room at a huge bargain thanks to Expedia and booking early. I guess the hotel hoped to make extra money from cheap Canadian tourists. When I booked in, the pleasant desk clerk asked if I want to “upgrade” with a service that would give me a free breakfast each day, along with free tea and coffee throughout the day. The cost she said is only 48 Pounds. I figured that might be a nice perk for the three days I am here at this hotel. But she said it was 48 Pounds per day! That’s nearly $75 a day. NO WAY!
Tuesday was fun. The thoughtful concierge at the Sheraton told me there is a free bus that stops in front of the hotel that connects with the London Underground, the “tube” subway system.
My only mistake was that I headed out a bit too early, around 7:30 a.m. and got caught in the crush of daily commuters. Regardless, it’s so easy to get into the city.
Right away I went to King Cross station, got out, grabbed a coffee and sucked up some of the morning air in that massive old train station. So I recommend the idea of getting a hotel near the airport, at a much lower rate, and commuting into downtown London each day. The cost is well worth the transit pass.
Getting around downtown is easy. Before I left Timmins I bought one of those expensive tourist books that have all the maps and attractions. But the same thing is free on big maps posted at every Tube station. The maps show everything that is available within a five minute walk, and then it shows a circle on the map for everything within a 15 minute walk.
The walking is great, but a couple of times, I stepped onto the street thinking there was no traffic … only to see a bus or car rushing at me from the left. I am too used to checking to the right to see if a car is coming. And there are soooo many people here. It’s like leaving the McIntyre Arena after a hockey game… and there is a crowd in front of you and around you… only this is ALL THE TIME.
My first visit was the world famous British Museum. Wow, it is a beautiful massive building and the admission is free. But as much as I liked it, I am still partial to Canada’s Museum of Civilization and the Royal Ontario Museum. Still, the antiquities in the British Museum are amazing. I saw stone axes and arrowheads more than half a million years old. I saw Egyptian mummies nearly 5000 years old. I saw the ship’s logs detailing the voyages of Captain Cook, written in his own hand.
I also got out and about around the city and took in the sights … the London Eye, Buckingham Palace, the Changing of the Guard, Piccadilly, Westminster … I actually got a blister on my right foot from so much walking. But a few pints of Guinness took care of that.The stonework at Westminster cathedral was incredible. I loved it. Especially the flying buttresses. If you've ever read the book Pillars of The Earth by Ken Follett, you will know what i mean.
Acting on Ronald’s advice, I also visited the Imperial War Museum, which was pretty amazing and well worth going across town on the subway. It was an added treat that I was in the Lambeth North tube station, which was one of the many bomb shelters that was used during World War II.
The architecture here is stunning. I love the older buildings. London is filled with them. But there are also ultra-modern buildings everywhere too. As the train rolled through some of the older parts of the city, built at the height of the Industrial Revolution, there were rows and rows and rows of the old town houses, crammed side by side. I call them Mary Poppins neighbourhoods. The incredible thing is that the homes have been retro-fitted with plumbing and toilets and the pipes are all located OUTSIDE of the houses. It was amazing to see.
I arrived in Edinburgh Friday. The overnight train ride was so nice. The train left Euston Station at about midnight and I sat in the lounge with a few fellows drinking whiskey and having great conversation. Got to bed at 2:00 a.m. and up at 6:30 for a quick scrub up in my roomette and then down to the dining car for hot tea and croissants. The train arrived at Edinburgh Waverly Station at 7:15. I taxied to the B&B and dropped off my luggage and went exploring around town. It was great. It was amazing to see the castle early in the morning, have breakfast and enjoy the city.
Friday night I headed out to see the famous Edinburgh Military Tattoo. But first I had supper at a local pub. It was brie cheese with raspberries, smoked salmon on crusty bread and then a dessert of warm toffee pudding drenched in whiskey. Yum yum.
The Tattoo was an amazing show and the music gave me goose bumps. I have never seen so many pipes and drums.
One of the features of the show is the performance of a lone piper who stands atop the castle ramparts and plays a sad lament in honour of all the Scots who have died in the wars. The crowd went absolutely silent as he played. The piper was a young fellow named Stuart Gillis.
Just finished breakfast in the kitchen at the B&B with the owner Kirsty and a couple of nice ladies from Ireland. Great early morning conversation. Another day awaits. Keep smiling.

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