Saturday, September 27, 2014

England - Day 11-12

And just like that, we are done and back in the good old USA.

On Tuesday, we got up and decided against the hotel breakfast, instead stopping at a local coffee house to get some danishes and some coffee. We then headed to Kensington Palace around the corner from our hotel. The street leading to the palace was lined with embassy houses - so the security in this part of town was high - police walking with semi-automatic weapons like at Paddington.

We did not have time to go into Kensington, so we just walked around the grounds a bit. This is where Princess Diana had lived.

We then headed back to the hotel, grabbed our luggage and headed to the Paddington Station via the tube one last time. Bought our tickets for the train to Maidenhead...there was an unfortunate incident in Slough where someone had jumped in front of train - as far as we know, a murder suicide (a 48 year old woman who dragged her 10 year old son with her). We did go through the Slough station which had been closed while the investigation took place. Simon and Sinead picked us up at the Maidenhead station. We went to lunch at a pub, then stopped at a grocery store and a pound store to get a few more things for gifts. That night, we once again met up with Sinead's parents for our last British meal.

The following morning, Sinead and Simon took us to Heathrow where we had some time to do some more last minute shopping in the duty free stores before heading back to Detroit.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

England - Day 10

Good day and welcome to Day 10.

Tracey 'wanting' to get up early and her actually 'getting' up early are two totally separate things. We did manage to get out early and head to Buckingham Palace. Tracey said this was the highlight of the trip for her; it was nice, but I still preferred Windsor Castle. No pics inside the Palace State Rooms, so only a few exterior shots. After our tour, the changing of the guard was taking place in the front, thus the huge crowds.

We then spent some time getting more acquainted with the London Underground system...traveling to Piccadilly to walk around visiting the M&M Store, a souvenir shop, and then get some lunch at an Italian place,

Next, we headed up the Bakerloo line to visit Baker Street where there was the Sherlock Holmes Museum and shop (just looked around) and a Beatles shop (bought some things for a few lucky Beatles fans).

We then trudged it back east to get to London Tower and the Tower Bridge. Across the street from the tower is a WWI memorial. In remembrance of 100 years since WWI, they are putting out porcelain carnations around the Tower for each soldier that was killed in the war. Traitor's Gate is where Thomas More and Anne Boleyn were brought into the tower before their executions. We also walked across the bridge, took some pics, then headed back to Victoria station to find where our coach tour will be departing from tonight - my Jack the Ripper/Haunted London/Sherlock Holmes Tour I booked for the evening. We eventually found the location a few blocks away and headed back to the room to refresh a bit before having to head out again.

The tour was quite  nice...while focusing on the Ripper/Whitechapel events, we did get a good tour of the city with plenty of good views and stories about the different buildings  and neighborhoods. We first stopped at the location where William Wallace (Braveheart) was executed, then went through the neighborhoods on foot in Whitechapel, seeing some of the buildings that are still around like the tenement houses that are now upscale apartments.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

England - Day 8 - 9

Tracey is in heaven - watching the first episode of the new Downton Abbey season on this night of Day 9. We left Canterbury early yesterday and drove to the airport to drop the car off; about an hour backed up in traffic on the M25; but otherwise pretty much uneventful. Goodbye to the BMW - I will probably never drive one again. It was fun on the motorways...but the narrow side and town roads of Britain are not going to bring fond memories. The GPS navigator we called  'Elizabeth' rarely let us down...except in cities where there were areas of "limited access".

One of Simon's relatives works for the Heathrow Express, so we had pre-arranged tickets from the airport to Paddington Station on the fast train. The person we were supposed to contact did not seem to be available, but the friendly attendant knew who he was and got us first class tickets on the train - thanks Simon!!!

We arrived and Paddington and followed Sinead's advice - getting on the Circle Line 3 exits east to High Street Kensington. We asked for directions; our hotel was around the block.

The lobby was packed with people, mostly non-English speaking tourists, checking in. Our room was not yet available, so we were given 3 days worth of internet vouchers (woot!) and we left our bags with the hotel in order to get some eats on High Street. We ended up at a place we almost ate at in Canterbury. Simon told us today he thinks 'Nandoes' is just a more expensive version of KFC...but they are one of the few places that offers bottomless pops and the food was a bit better than KFC by my estimation. Everything is expensive in England!

Back to the hotel - got in our room - a bit smaller than the one in Canterbury, but it has a refrigerator - that is a first. We walked back to High Street to the Tesco to get some pop, cookies (biscuits), sammiches, and chips (crisps) to bring back to the room. Our plan was to relax because we were both a bit tired and had a long day today.

Another nice breakfast and we were off to meet Sinead and Simon at Paddington. Simon and I then headed off to White Hart Lane in the North of London to see the Spurs play miserably against West Brom. It took about 30 minutes and 2 or 3 train changes to get there. We had a burger and fries (chips) before the game.

While Tracey was with Sinead, they went into the city and visited various places including St.Paul's Cathedral and Harrods.

We met back up at Piccadilly Circus and ate at TGI Fridays. We then traveled to Westminster to see Big Ben, Parliament, and maybe ride on the London Eye. It was a very cloudy night, so we decided against it - maybe tomorrow.

Friday, September 19, 2014

England - Day 6 - 7

Traveling from Nottingham to Canterbury was quite easy as I get more and more comfortable with the driving. We traveled up the main motorway, drove along the northern side of London to the eastern side of the city and crossed over the Thames (Dartford Crossing - Queen Elizabeth II bridge). The camera was out of power and it was a bit misty anyway, so no pics.

The drive the Canterbury was pleasant; once again, an old town has old streets and limited parking...we could not find the correct place to park at the hotel, so we found a car park where a very nice car washer helped us immensely...we were then helped by another nice citizen directing through the crowd on High Street to get to our hotel which is smack in the middle of the business district. We got an updated postal code to plug into the GPS to get us a bit closer and we then were ushered into the parking lot (after calling the front desk to come out and unlock it) - all the while, cars squeezing by on a one way street. I will say - drivers here are crazy and the streets suck, but they are great and maneuverability.

Checked in - to a large room with AIR CONDITIONING. Best hotel so far, though the staff are bit aloof and not at all as friendly as the other two - we are a bit lower class than the normal clientele I think, but the place is nice. Our view is right out to the main drag that is nothing but shops and restaurants for at least a mile; and right around the corner from the cathedral.

Talked to the kids via Google Hangout which was nice...planning on talking to them again tonight.

Woke up in the AM and we got breakfast - continental with cereals, pastries, fruits, cheese, toast and some wonderful coffee.

We then made our way to the Cathedral for a few hours. We saw plenty of stained glass and read about a lot of the history of the place. It was massive and quite stunning - the pictures do not do it justice. A few kings are buried there; Thomas Becket is also buried there (and was murdered there), After the cathedral, we walked across to the ruins of the original Normal castle that was built after the invasion in 1066 - not much left of it as it was torn down and used for other purposes over the years - only a shell of it remains.

Original location of the shrine to Thomas Becket
The candle is where the shrine to Becket was placed until it was ordered to be destroyed by King Henry VIII.

Old Norman Castle Ruins
Picked up some lunch at an Italian place, and then organized our late afternoon 'Punting' trip down the River Stour learning about the history of the city and some of the architecture. The river that surrounds the city was originally expanded to be a water system by the pre-Roman Anglo Saxons that lived here. The river is currently covered on the bottom with debris/bricks from the buildings that were bombed by the Germans in WWII.

Our Guide - Sam at Canterbury Punting Company