Yesterday I didn’t blog because it was a travel day and a long relatively uneventful one at that. The biggest thing was adjusting to the time change. We ended up going to bed at 8 pm because we were so tired. Of course we had been up since 6 am England time and by the time we went to bed it was about 4 in the morning there.
At two am we both woke up and it took awhile to get back to sleep. We had no problem getting up at 4:00 am for our train and were ready to walk out the door when our taxi arrived at 5:15. Luckily we arrived on the early side to the train station. Because after that our trip got really interesting and we were almost prevented from getting on the train.
Peter lost a wallet when we were in Bath. In the wallet was a credit card, some money, and his alien registration card. Most of it was easily replaced with the exception of the alien registration card. Peter called the Embassy in London and they advised him to fill out a lost and found items and a police report. When they found out our travel plans they said they couldn’t help and to talk to Customs and Border Patrol in Canada.
Our first opportunity to do that was at the train station. When the officer checking our passport found out Peter had lost his card he said, “That is bad, you might miss the train today.” He took both of our passports and shuffled us off into a little side room. The officer in the room started working on the problem–he filled out forms and took Peter’s fingerprints and a picture of him. All the while the clock was rapidly approaching 6;30. At about 6;45 he was done but the printer jammed. So, they called down to the border and were going to have the documents waiting for us. We barely boarded the train when it started moving. We hit the border and the agents came through the train looking at everyone’s documents. When they got to our seats the agent said, “Mr. Sanderson, we’ve been waiting for you” and handed Peter his waiver for the card. It took a long time for the adrenaline rush to leave my body. But now we are home safe adventure over.
Last day in London, last day of the trip. Tomorrow is a big travel day- we fly from Gatwick to Vancouver BC. Today we saw the Treasures of the British Library, and Tate Britain Art Museum. It also was a “dreaming in technicolor” moment. We realized today that we had to come up with priorities on our remaining things to see, because we can’t see it all. I guess we will have to come back some day to cover what we left behind this trip. We wanted to take the Tate Boat and tour Saint Paul’s cathedral, and see the National Gallery, in addition to what we did do. Time constraints didn’t allow it, not to mention energy levels and the “What another church?” factor.
The picture is the statue outside of the British Library. It is Sir Issac Newton discovering stuff. It is one of two pictures that I took today! The second one was Peter cooking our dinner. We have a kitchenette in the hotel and decided to cook for ourselves tonight. It was a refreshing change.
The British library was once again a site that you could spend days in and barely scratch the surface. We saw original Shakespeare, Gutenberg Bible, scores of Beatles’ songs, and the Magna Carta to name a few treasures.
The Tate Britain is one of the oldest art museums. It has a big collection of Turner paintings. Turner painted during the late 1700s to mid 1840s when he died. He is the original painter of light. We got a tour, which for me at this point is necessary because I am suffering from information overload and it is just easier to listen to someone talk about something then read yet another plaque!
We came back to the room and Peter cooked dinner while I worked on my blog and laundry. Tomorrow we will be in North America again. It seems hard to believe that the trip is almost officially over. I am really glad I got this opportunity and don’t regret anything about it–okay that crappy hamburger I ate in Wales I do regret! Overall, it has been a wonderful trip.
A lot packed into one little day. We did our last stint on the British rail system traveling from Birmingham to London. We had reservations but a lot of good that did there was a derailment that cancelled all reservations. We couldn’t sit together for the first leg of the journey but then a nice man traded seats with me, and we were able to sit next to each other.
Our hotel held our bags for us while we went into town to explore. We ate lunch at the Black Friar pub which sits on the site of the old monastery which allowed Shakespeare’s theater company to build a new indoor theater on the London side of the river that opened about a decade after the Globe because London proper wouldn’t allow theaters but they couldn’t control what happened on church lands. I had the best IPA of the trip plus it was served American style, which means cold. All the other beers I’ve had in England turned out to be too warm for my taste!
We went to the Globe theater, which is a reproduction of Shakespeare’s theater and toured that. It was pretty interesting. We got to see the interior. We chose not to see a play here because we did the one in Stratford Upon Avon. After that we were going to take a boat to the Tate Britain an art gallery but we decided to go back to the room and check in. Along the way we bought sandwiches at Pret A Manger. It has organic coffee and sandwiches made daily.
I was feeling pretty tired but Peter wanted to go on a London Walks tour of Westminster by Gaslight. We had about 3 tube connections to get there and a two hour walk once it started. The blurry picture is from that tour- it’s the Parliament building, seen from across the river. The title came from that walk too. Westminster Abbey,s real name is Collegiate Church of St Peter at Westminster. Henry VIII, who destroyed a lot of abbeys, left this one standing, but gave a lot of money to an earlier version of St. Paul’s cathedral instead of putting it into maintaining Westminster. On the tour, we learned that one of he origins of the phrase “robbing Peter to pay Paul”. And that’s about what it feels like I’ve been doing lately. No- maybe it’s more like “burning the candle at both ends”…
The theme was take it easy today. We slept in until 9 am and then had a leisurely breakfast at the hotel. We did our laundry at Pablo’s laundry. We had to walk one mile one way to get to it but it doesn’t phase us anymore after all the walking we have been doing on this trip.
We went next door to the Restorante Caffe’ Gustami and had the most amazing Italian food while our clothes were washing. It was fresh, homemade, and cheap. The launderette owner was a character. He had pictures of a lot of celebrities on his wall–people who had come to his business I guess even the famous have to do laundry.
Next we walked along Birmingham’s canals. Birmingham has more canals then Venice does. The picture is of their library. Pretty interesting looking. Peter really enjoyed the history of the town and the canals. I was getting burned out and grumpy. We went to this restaurant for hamburgers but they had sold out and were closed. They recommended a Korean restaurant nearby that was cheaper then lunch!
I am getting ready to come home I can tell. Overall, it has been an amazing trip. One that the memories will last a lifetime. But the best part of travel is coming home and appreciating what you have that makes it so special.
We left the tour and traveled to Birmingham. In Rick Steve’s world Birmingham doesn’t exist even though it is the second biggest city in England. We are mostly here because it is where Peter’s biological father is from. That, and it makes a logical place to sleep with Stratford Upon Avon being such a tourist trap. After a few false starts (we tried boarding a train to Glasgow that stopped in Birmingham and was full of reserved seats) we made it to Birmingham by 11 am. We dropped our bags at the hotel and took a bus to the train station that went to Stratford Upon Avon. It was closer to 2 by the time we arrived. Traveling always takes longer then you think it will, especially transferring from point A to point B, and in England you go to different train stations based on where you are going.
We bought the 3 entry pass to Shakespeare sites from the Tourist information station. We only got to see two sites. One I wanted to see and one Peter wanted to see. All the buildings close at 5 pm. The most disappointing part was we didn’t get to see Shakespeare’s grave because they were having a service in the church by the time we went and his grave is by the high alter. Oh well, an excuse to come back to England (not that I really need one). We did see the house where Shakespeare was born–full of replicas of items LIKE what Shakespeare would have had in the home but nothing original to Shakespeare ( actually Peter was impressed by some of the original documents relating to both William and John Shakespeare,his dad). Plus, the information about Shakespeare was basic and stuff we already knew from our reading about him. The birthplace took about 30 minutes to tour.
We saw the site of the house he bought as an investment when he was starting to make a lot of money . It was called New Place, and was the biggest house in Stratford at the time. They have put a garden and more interpretive stuff about Shakespeare there. Again, very basic nothing in depth however, it was very peaceful place and a refreshing change from the sites and sounds of London.
Cymbeline was the play we got to see at the Royal Shakespeare theater in Stratford upon Avon. And guess who we meet again–the Romans. Of course, they were the bad guys in the play with an evil Roman villain and a war! It was set in a kind of fantasy version of Britain around the time of the Romans. It is one of Shakespeare’s problem plays because it doesn’t fit neatly into the categories of history, tragedy, or comedy. It is a tragic-comedy.
The train from Stratford didn’t leave until 11:30 pm and got into Birmingham about midnight, and then we hung out with drunk people and late night workers at the bus stop in the middle of the city in front of the cathedral. We caught a bus back to our hotel where we had to pick up our luggage and check in. We decided to sleep in and have a laid back day in Birmingham. We do have a few priorities. Peter is out of contact solution and I am out of clean underwear. So, laundry and shopping are a must for Sunday.
We did a lot today. It started with a tour of the Tower of London and ended with a farewell dinner for the tour group. In between there was a lot of walking. The tower was really cool, we saw the Crown Jewels and got a tour with a Beefeater (although they don’t call themselves Beefeaters- instead they are “Yeoman Warders”). They are basically retired military men who get to do this stint at the castle after they retire. It was a castle–did I mention I am castled out! It was your basic Norman style castle. We saw an exhibit of the armor of Kings in the White Tower (the oldest part, and one of the only original Norman structures we have seen). We could have seen the rooms where Anne Boleyn was imprisoned but I let Peter pick and what he picked was pretty good. Plus, we did see the interior of the chapel where she is buried–it was raining this morning and they won’t do the tour of the tower in the rain so we got the chapel instead.
Next we took a short river cruise on a ferry down the Thames. We got to see sites such as the London eye, the Tower Bridge, and Big Ben. It let us off in Westminster and was the official end of the tour. However, our guide gave those of us who wanted to go, a tour of the British Museum…or one small part of it- the British rooms. We got to see artifacts from the places we have been on this tour including a lot more of the actual Vindolanda tablets, and another Anglo-Saxon helmet. The coolest thing was the Rosetta stone and the Elgin marbles. The Rosetta stone is basically a government document that was translated into 3 languages. The fact that it had Greek, Egyptian, and something else enabled the scientists to decode Egyptian hieroglyphics. It was cool but it only took about 5 minutes to see. The last stop in the museum was the Elgin marbles. These were taken by a British lord in 1800s from the Greece Parthenon. and brought back to London for preservation. Greece would like them back but it’s not likely to happen anytime soon.
After that we took the tube and went to the Duke of Wellington’s house (called Apsley House for the people who lived in before the duke, even though his family has lived there for the past two hundred years). I have an interest in the Regency period and during that period they were fighting the Napoleonic wars. The Duke of Wellington prevailed in the battle of Waterloo. He lived out his days as a war hero and became a successful politician, eventually becoming Prime Minister. He collected a ton of art that was showcased in his home. Across the road from his home, in Hyde Park, is the archway commemorating his victory. You could go up three stories and enjoy the views across London.
We walked about a mile and a half back to the hotel and then went on another 30 minute walk to the restaurant for the farewell dinner, good food, lots of wine, and good company with our new-found friends. I can’t believe the tour is over. It seems like just yesterday we had our welcome dinner. Tomorrow is Birmingham and Stratford-upon-Avon.
The transfer from York to London went off without a hitch. I was amazed. Peter got to ride in a taxi with the luggage from the hotel to the train station. Being one of the youngest men he also got to load the luggage on the taxis, unload from the taxis, load on the train, unload the train, load onto the bus, unload the bus, etc. I walked with our carry-ons with the tour group from the hotel to the train station. We beat the taxis there. It was a two hour train ride from York to London. Once there, we boarded a bus and went to Westminster Abbey. When we got there we left our day packs on the bus. I just took my camera and glasses and my jean jacket.
The Abbey wouldn’t allow any photos–they only allow photos on Wednesdays. Our guide Robert is a blue badge guide so he was able to take us into the Abbey and give us the tour directly. I am beginning to be church-ed out, although the stained glass windows were stunning. They have done a lot of conservation work on the Abbey. We were in there two hours, after all this is the church the royals get married, buried, and have their coronation ceremonies in. It takes 18 months to prepare the church for the coronation. That is a long time but you have no notice because someone has to die for the new monarch to be crowned!
We walked around he City of Westminster, getting oriented to the area near our hotel, including Parliament, Big Ben, the Theater District, and the Horse Guards near Buckingham Palace. This took about an hour even though we were within a 1.5 mile radius of the hotel. The bus came by with our luggage and we all boarded the bus like we were leaving on it–this was to alleviate the cluster that is created when people get on a bus for the sole purpose of retrieving back packs. After that, we were free to do our own thing and oh, did I mention the weather was 85 degrees? I brought warm clothes so I was sweaty by the time we got to our room.
I was starving so eating was the first order of business. We didn’t even unpack first. You can tell we are in London because the prices are now high. It was over 20 pounds for cafeteria style food. We were in a cool crypt but still, I had a Greek salad and Peter had the special (goulash).
Peter and I decided to go to the National Portrait Gallery because it was open until 9. Most museums close around 5. This was amazing. Rick Steves describes it as looking through someone else’s old year book, and in a way he was right. However, we saw the portraits of a lot of the history making movers and shakers we have been hearing about on the tour.It was nice to put a face to a name. We didn’t get through the museum of course. Barely two floors and there are three of actual pictures. But we saw what we were meant to see. Tomorrow we will see the Tower of London, take a boat ride on the Thames, visit the British Museum, and do some stuff on our own.