Day 2 - Surrey Hills and Stonehenge
The day starts very early as I am making an airport run with the van and the ladies as they have an 8:30 plane to Civitavecchia. I suggest a 5:30 meeting in the lobby so I am up
at 5 so I can stage the van from the car park. Arora Crawley is a good hotel so I can find a coffee station at 5:15A and we are ready to roll. I drop my passengers and drop the
van off at Budget, only to walk next door to Europcar which is not quite open yet. A very nice lady apologizes as they do not open until 6A and she is booting up all the
When we start on my Auto Europe reservation (not to be confused with Europcar who is the car rental company) I produce the detailed contract and point out the upgrade. She
points out that I have been sold a cheaper car with the upgrade included already, but they have upgrades, so the hussle begins. My only request is something with a trunk rather
than a hatchback as I need to hide the laptop that produces this blog, acts as our mobile office and holds my downloaded camera pictures. As we are going cross country the
rental agent checks to see which cars she has available. Luckily, she offers a small Mercedes that is automatic and has a Navigation system which we quickly will find is a
lifesaver on English backcountry roads. It was a little bit expensive and I was surprised to see that Europecar UK had this paperwork trick where they quoted it as incremental
cost to hide the true cost but the rental car companies have always been a problem if you are offered an upgrade, added insurance or peripherals at the counter. It was like they
threw my $135 Auto Europe voucher in the garbage and did not recognize that cost on the written contract anywhere. I guess my point is my vendors have managements with
zero morals, so be careful at the counter as I am experienced at this. Make sure you know the true cost of what you are buying even if the paperwork says something different.
Once we establish the true cost of the car, it was still worth the upgrade for the automatic and the navigation system. Plus the new deal is they send you the paperwork
electronically later so you really don’t examine the paperwork you just signed. I happened to ask for a printed copy of the contract so I could see the incremental cost hussle
while I was still at the counter.
It is only 15 minutes back to Arora Gatwick and I find Gina sound asleep in a
darkened room. About 10A we check out and head back out. The navigation
system has a learning curve and we quickly realize we will have to program
point to point as we cannot program the whole day with the interim stops. We
head back up to Gatwick as we also have a printed map/itinerary from our
Googlemaps to correlate with the nav. system.
Even as an experienced traveler that has done fly/drives in Ireland, Jamaica and
Italy; I am struggling with the English countryside. We have to force the nav
system away from the “ring road” motorway just as we had to force
Googlemaps to produce this itinerary. The motorway still has rush hour traffic
and we want to go cross country in southern England. As we depart Gatwick
we realize why the systems did not want to take us in this direction. Very
narrow country roads are prevalent in the Surrey Hills but this area is
spectacularly beautiful as we drive. We have to work with oncoming traffic in
many areas as the roadways are not wide enough for two cars. We hit a spot
with a traffic accident so we are detoured to even smaller farm roads and we hit
a roadblock at one point. The driver in front of us informs us that two men are
stuck on a one lane road and neither will agree to back up and let the other pass.
We can hear arguing across a one lane bridge so we are stuck for 10 minutes
until one man relents and lets the other van pass.
The nice lady who is stuck in front of us tells us to follow her to main road and we are grateful for the assistance. When we get to the next town she waves us off on the
roundabout and we are on our way. Roundabouts are everywhere in Southern England (about every mile or two in some places) thus my appreciation for the Mercedes
We stop for a coffee at the Westcott Bakery which is actually a small busy green grocer. We order cappuccinos and a couple of bacon and cheese croissants. The baker is
excellent and it is the best breakfast sandwich we have had in a while with great English bacon, sharp cheese and a really flaky croissant.
Off we go to Newland’s Corner which is a small park and overlook. It has public bathrooms (marked a WC for watercloset in England) and we engage a delightful man who
explains the history of Surrey Hills which was very industrial. In the valley is a river that used to have factories that made gunpowder and munitions. Now Surrey Hills are
mostly farming/tourist areas where people walk including walking vacations. He is sad to tell us that he has sponsored a picnic table for his deceased wife so he bikes up here
each morning for coffee. It is only day 2 and we are meeting very nice people in Southern England.
As we got a late start and we have a 2:30 appointment to see Stonehenge, we head directly there and ditch our morning walk. Stonehenge is an ancient circle rock formation that
was built to tell time and seasons. It is about 1.5 miles from the visitor’s center to the rocks so we choose to hike up while others ride motor coaches with the destination that
marks “To the Stones”. We are getting a light rain and it is about 50 degrees so we choose to walk out on the main road. It has a marked walking path on the side of the road
away from the busses and this is a private road with no traffic besides the Stonehenge busses.
We spend about an hour up at the actual Stonehenge site as it was captivating. We read about the burials that were done within eyesight of the mystical stones and the various
theories about the creation of these monolithic rocks. There has been some restoration work done and the gatekeeper tells us in the summer 10,000 people a day visit this tourist
attraction. We have pre-purchased our tickets on the internet and they come with an appointment to see the rocks. We stop at the visitor center for a bowl of tomato and lentil
soup and a fresh roll that hits the spot before heading out into a cold drizzle. We are about an hour early but on this day there are less visitors in April so we are permitted to enter
We have decided to hike in both directions so we head up into the hills near the rock formation. Like most hiking paths in England, this one has gates that must be opened and
closed to hike from field to field. We actually spent about 3 hours including the visitor center and the hike. We stop to see the burial mounds along the field as all this land is
controlled by the English Heritage Trust. We meet some people who are hiking all the way to Woodhenge (similar to Stonehenge) but that looks to increase the walk to six miles
and we do not have time for that today.
Back at the visitor’s center we visit the exhibition and go outside to see the rocks and the huts.
We ask about the English Heritage Trust pass which we have not purchased (see sidebar) but we
suggest after this first trip as it gives you unlimited visitation to sites for about twenty pounds
more than just the Stonehenge ticket. We passed other sites along the way like the Chedworth
Roman Villa which we declined to enter because of the cost but we might have gone in had we
had this pass.
It is about a half an hour to downtown Bath and daily we are praising the Navigation system as a
lifesaver. We find our way to Bath and gladly dump the car for 36 hours in the hotel carpark. We
have purposely rented accommodations in the city center and pre-purchased limited parking in the
Saco Bath apartments. I double park in the street to check in. The car park is around back and a
challenge to get into but we are happy to avoid driving the next day whilst we tour Bath. While I
am checking in, Gina is parked next to a Chinese restaurant that is being patronized by many
Chinese, so that is the choice for dinner. We have the best chicken and mushroom dumplings we
have ever had but the rest of the dinner is very different from what we are used to. It is late, jet
lag (and a 5A call for me) has taken its toll so we head home with leftovers for the apartment
English Countryside and London
April 29 through May 9, 2019
Crawley (Gatwick Airport)
Arora Gatwick Hotel
Saco Bath Apartments
Cotswolds/Bourton on the Water
Manor Close B and B
London (Bayswater neighborhood)
The Cleveland Hotel
From Tampa, London is a comfortable 8 hour flight. We have nonstop flights on British Airways so it is a little easier to board the
plane in the evening in your hometown and arrive the destination nonstop the next morning. We chalked this trip up to cheap ticket
serendipity. Our second unplanned destination since Iceland last year. We are finding, as agents, sometimes we know the
destination of the year and thanks to a fare war between British Airways and Norwegian Air (support “open skys”) we were
roundtrip for around $600 even including bags and seats. Yes, this aggravation with a-la-carte airline pricing continues to expand
so make sure what is included when you purchase a ticket. Sometimes it is cheaper to bundle seats and checked bags but in our
case it was less expensive to purchase separately because of the super low cost of the “basic” ticket. We are earning our ticketing
fees lately with all this complication. It was a bright cool day when we arrived Gatwick running about 45 degrees f.
Day 1 - Brighton Beach and Crawley England
We were traveling with customers and my Mom, who were departing Rome on a cruise so we spent the day with the group doing a
trip to Brighton Beach. This is about 45 minutes south of London on the Sea. Brighton is a typical seaside town with a rocky
beach, boardwalk with an English Countryside feel. It hosts the Royal Pavillion which was the summer residence of King George .
We stopped for some fish and chips served with green peas, which is classic Brighton cuisine and did some shopping. I was
driving a 7 seater van very carefully and the group was tired after the
overnight travel so we only spending the afternoon in Brighton as the
seniors seem pretty tired.
We pull out from Brighton and head down the coast to see the lower “white cliffs” in this part of England that faces the
English Channel. It is a beautiful site and the towns in this part of England are very quaint. I am realizing that driving
will take all my skills in this country, especially with the huge van we are driving but we make our way back to
Crawley with the rush hour traffic about 7PM.
The ladies head to bed and we take a late dinner at Leo’s Tapas in Crawley which is walking distance from the hotel. It
is late April, but about 40f degrees at the time of our 9PM walk. Leo and George are very friendly at the tapas bar and
we have a great bottle of red Portuguese wine. After 4 plates of the best tapas we have had in a while we head off to
Day 3 - Bath England
It is a bright sunny morning with a forecast of rain for the late afternoon. We modify our plan to explore Bath
early and go see the Roman Baths in the afternoon. Our path takes us past the Royal Theatre, Jane Austin’s
House, The Circus and up to the Royal Crescent. Just before the Royal Crescent, we stop to do some
Christmas shopping at Alexandra May an upscale boutique. Bath is a beautiful city and this planned
development called the Royal Cresent from the 1800s has houses facing a park at the top of the hill. After
touring the area we cross the park and find a neat little walled garden that is open to the public with one of
the largest bay leaf trees we have ever seen. All the parks and flowers in Bath were delightful.
We stop at the Green Park market for a cup of coffee. This is the old train station which has been turned into
a festival marketplace. We buy some old vinyl at Resolution records and have a great conversation with the
owner about some old reggae artists he has in the bin that we actually knew. We are drawn in by the 1 quid
records outside including Roy Orbison and Lionel Hampton for a pound. Once inside, we find an impressive
vintage reggae collection including King Jammies and a early Dennis Brown in vinyl.
We make a stop at a mini museum at the Bath Royal Library and Scientific Institution which is very
interesting. We were standing outside and an English man walked out and said you are already here so you
might as well go inside as it is free. They display a bottle with a touch of the liquor that had preserved
Admiral Nelson’s body after dying in the battle of Waterloo, herbal medications and other unrelated scientific
subjects including armaments. It was interesting. We wander back to the middle of town and have a price fix
lunch at a Amarone which is a good Italian restaurant next to the Royal Theater. 2 courses for $13.95 pounds
with a great minestrone soup and carbonara pasta made with egg yolks and heavy cream, so it is very yellow.
Gina leaves half the pasta so we make a stop at the apartment before heading off to the Riverwalk which is
beautiful in Bath and across the Pulteney Bridge which is similar to the Ponte Vecchio in Florence as it is
adorned with shops and stores. We wander through the Bath Marketplace shops and Bath Aqua Glass where
we buy our yearly travel Christmas tree ornament.
The day ends at the Roman Baths in Bath, England. Yes the Roman Empire came north as far as England and
these Roman Baths hosted all classes of people during that age. It was kind of like going down the street to
the Health Club and the waters are supposed to have a curative affect. The attraction was way more
interesting than I thought it might be with different displays of the archeological dig interspersed with
holograms of the Roman participants of the age. The baths still bubble up from the earth at a very hot
temperature and you can smell the Sulphur. We spent about two hours at the attraction until closing and were
glad we did the tour after the busses left Bath for the day. I have made this tip in past blogs but if you stay in
the city with the attraction at least overnight you can visit the attractions early morning or late in the day as
the “day tripping” tour busses always arrive mid-day. It is raining and cold by the time we depart the Roman
Baths so we make a grocery store stop for dessert and a great Cru Bourgeois Medoc wine from France and
retire to the apartment to eat leftovers in our PJs. This Saco Bath apartment is fully equipped with
dishwasher and wine glasses, microwave, oven and a stovetop.
English Heritage versus
Royal Oak Membership
are covering more than one country.
deductible under US 501-3c rules.
Royal Oak Membership Cost
Royal Oak member benefits include:
Unlimited admission to properties of the
National Trust (350 properties) and
National Trust for Scotland (100 properties)
The National Trust Handbook and Car
Three editions of the National Trust
Two editions of the Royal Oak newsletter
Discounted admission to National Trust
London Partner heritage attractions and
Special subscription rates to a variety of
Overseas Visitors Pass
Our Overseas Visitor Pass gives you the
best value for money and a simple way to
explore England's greatest historical
Simply choose between the 9 or 16
consecutive day pass, book online and
collect it from any of our sites.
Valid at over 100 places including
Stonehenge and Dover Castle, the
Overseas Visitor Pass gives you the
flexibility to get the most out of your trip to
These sites are in England only.
Tog Hill 696 feet above Bath - Scene of the Battle of Dyrham
Saxons killed 3 kings of England on this spot to conquer Bath, Cirencester and Gloucester
Day 4 - Bath to the Cotswolds
The Cotswolds are a protected English National Park of low hills full of hiking trails, small towns and attractions. We are lazy on
this vacation and barely get out of the apartment by our 11A check-out time. We make a few stops in the hills above Bath and get
really lost outside of Bristol. We make one wrong turn and have to follow the motorway for
almost 7 miles towards Wales. We compound that mistake given the traffic circles when we exit
the motorways and lose a half an hour. Finally we are on another country road and the nav.
system say turn left here. We both look at each other and say thank God and “she” knows where
she is going. This is a good point to suggest you not try fly/drive Southern England unless you
are experienced at the task as it seemed harder than most other countries we have driven in a
rental car. Even with automatic and a navigation system, we are constantly monitoring for the
next turn or asking which exit from the roundabout? We are finally back on track and the small
roads through the Cotswolds are beautiful. We stop to walk around a town named Cirencester
and take a lunch break to eat some Cornish Pasties which are actually pretty good on a cold day.
We think we like the traditional meat pie better than the chicken pie but they both are good and
of course with chips but these are shaped more like wedges. Great people watching from our
window table with more coffee to fuel the fly/drive. Cirencester has a mini farmers market and upscale shopping so we take a look
and walk around town. Afterward, we visit Lechlaide on Thames, which is at the beginning of the Thames River but this will not be the last time we see this river over the
next three days. A group is preparing for a multiple day paddle on the upper river and the large wooden rowboats are really cool. We walked a trail out back of the church
but headed back to the car as rain was on the horizon. On our way to Bourton on the Water, we visit the Chedworth Roman Villa site and then work our way to Manor Close
B and B, just in time for some time in the pub.
We pulled into Manor Close B and B which is right in Bourton on the
Water. Parking and breakfast are part of the package which is good
as parking is tight and paid in most Cotswolds towns. The owners
are nice people and we got settled in quickly above the garage. We
took a walk around town and ended up in a Knightsbridge Pub on a
Friday afternoon. The pub was filled with tourists and locals plus
kids and dogs. It was quite a scene on a Friday afternoon as the
locals came in to see each other after a long week of work. Kids
were running around, dogs came up to see you as you drank a pint
and all was well in the English world. At one point there must have
been six or eight dogs in the bar along with a dozen children and
everybody knew each other.
US people need to get adjusted to English Ale as it is not driven by
gas but just containing the natural fermentation. It is served warmer
and actually “pulled” from the keg by the barman. Gina had one taste and opted for red wine. Afterward, we stopped back for a shower after a very long day and finished
with a shared wood fired margarita pizza and a salad at Lanatra Italian at the Chester House Hotel. From Manor Close, you can walk easily into the main town to enjoy the
facilities and Bourton was a very nice town. It was so quiet at night and the river was diverted right through the main area of town although this not a natural occurrence but
it had made for a storybook tourist town since the 1920s. Most of this area was settled around the Neolithic period (4000 bc) but was industrial in the 1700 and 1800s. Now
Cotswold’s are mostly tourism as only 3,500 people inhabit the village of Bourton on the Water; but approximately 300,000 tourists visit the town each spring and summer.
Day 5 - Costwolds towns of Stowe in the Wold, Chipping Camden, Snowshill and the hike into Broadway
We were recovering by this point and full English breakfast was served between 8:30 and 9A at
Manor Close B and B. They served a full English Breakfast which included bacon, sausage,
eggs, pan fried tomato and mushrooms along with toast. We learned the owners were
originally Italian heritage but had been in England their whole lives. They made a good
French press coffee to go along with breakfast so we were up and away by 10 this morning.
We started in Stowe on the Wold. The town council had established a car park for free parking
next to the grocery and it was only a few blocks to town. The main town area was delightful
but busy on a Saturday morning. It is higher than many of the other towns so we had a cold
bite that was unusual for the bank holiday in May. English people said it should be warmer
now and were all bundled up. This town, like most of the Cotswolds was upscale shopping,
boutiques, tea rooms and pubs. While we were walking around town we saw a sign for a
church bazaar and stopped in to see what arts and crafts they had. I always like these when we
are in Europe as you never know what you will see and they are always very local. As luck
would have it, they had a bake sale so we purchased a cake with sugar infused ginger which we
took with us for the London apartment. After that we headed out to Chipping Camden which
was more upscale and had a nice local walk to see the cathedral which was dressed up for a
wedding later in the day. We visited the graveyard to look out over the valley and saw a piece
of some type of Roman building in the field. We checked out another local craft fair and hit
the local WC. All European towns have public bathrooms if you look around or ask a
shopkeeper for the location. This one had a unique metal box that had soap, water and a
blower to wash your hands. We had never seen that before.
At the suggestion of our English friend John, we decided to head on to the Broadway Tower
and hike into the town of Broadway for lunch at the Crown and Trumpet. This would give us a
chance to actually hike a small piece of the Cotswold’s Way. The tower is not ancient but a
recent “folly” that was produced around 1800 for the wife of the rich landowner. It overlooks
a very pretty Cotswold’s Valley so we headed in and parked the car. The company that runs it
operates parking for 2 quid so we parked the Mercedes in a field and headed off. We did not
tour the inside of the tower but they had a nice café on the hill and red deer penned in next to the tower. It was sunny but howling a cold wind on this afternoon so we
bundled up after a cappuccino and headed down. We walk a lot but we live at sea level so we were hesitant about the walk back up. It is about 1.5 miles into town and
another 1.5 back UP to the car. All in all, we were in Broadway about 4 hours with the walk.
This is another area where you keep crossing different fields so you have to open and close the
gate as you pass through each field. Sheep were all over the hill including all the small lambs
that had been born this winter. They were very cute
walking about with mommies. We heard one little guy
crying or bleating and then saw that Mom knew who’s
cry it was and came running. I think the mothers were
trying to ween the lambs and teach them to eat the spring
grass that was starting to come up in the fields as they
laid down to prevent the lambs from suckling milk. The
path is easily marked and the walk was easy down the
hill. We came in between two houses and walked all the
way through town past the chain café’s to the Crown and
Trumpet which is an original English pub. It was
crowded with a fire burning and we found a spot but
everybody was packed tight on a Saturday afternoon.
Gina had a Ploughmans lunch (salad & cheese platter)
with Stilton cheese and I had the Guinness Pie. Pies are
just stew covered in a flaky crust and we were both
happy with our choices. She had a glass of French wine
and I proceeded to try a few half pints of the local brew.
As I said in my previous Irish blog if you enjoy beer,
drink half pints so you can try a few taps even though all
the locals will order a pint. I had a heavy red ale and a
bright gold lager. Both were pulled so they were a little
flatter and warmer than a traditional American lager.
After lunch, we headed out for the chore of doing a mile
and a half with about a 15% grade to the top of the hill. I used to hike a lot and we walk 7-10 miles a week but we stopped many
times as we moved up the hill as the elevation was tiring. We could see rain showers on the horizon so that helped to quicken the
pace as we donned the rain gear. Take a good rain jacket as you travel the world as you will get rained on at some point in time. We
had to open and close about 10 gates across fields and the heaviest elevation had some steps to make it easier in a few spots. We try
to wear pants a few times but after an occasional miss into the sheep dung, we figured todays pants would probably be inappropriate
to wear to the Queens house at Windsor in the AM since I had a spot near my hiking shoes. The last section was done in a light rain
but it passed quickly and we got to the car. It was beautiful to look back down the hill as Cotswold’s this time of year is dotted with
Canola Oil fields that are bright yellow spectacles of color.
After Broadway we stopped in Snowhill at John’s suggestion but we were too late to see the manor and gardens. The English
Heritage pass would have come in handy as the admission was not cheap for this attraction, even if we had time. We worked our way
cross country on very small roads back to Bourton on the Water which was a particularly pretty drive. Many times today we were on
roads that were not wide enough for two cars but I had become adept to pulling over to let people pass. The woods are full of
bluebells in the spring and wildflowers are everywhere on the side of the road. This stretch was horse country so we saw many
beautiful horses. It was the end of the day by the time we got back to Bourton and the town was pretty quiet, sunny and cold for our
afternoon walk around town. It was after five so many of the shops were closed as we walked on the main and by the river. We met a
guy named Bruce who was dressed in 1920s style so we talked for a while about his ghost tours of the town that he ran in the evening.
Even on a bank holiday the town was so empty that he was cancelling the tour and heading home but it sounded like a neat tour if you
are ever in Bourton on the water on a sunny evening.
Written by John Rice
The Travel Blogs Continue…
Day 6 - Cotswold’s to Windsor, Runnymede and on to London Town
We awoke early and packed. Headed down for the full English breakfast treatment and checked out. We headed out of town and made our way past Oxford to Windsor
arriving shortly after noon. We were lucky to find a space in the public lot near the castle and walked through town. Parking was about $3 per hour in many of these places.
We stopped for a cappuccino, checked the “long walk” side of the castle and headed inside. We already
had purchased tickets on the internet so we avoided the queue. Security was tight given the recent
problems last year in London but it made us feel safe. Even the ceremonial guards were locked and
loaded with large magazine clips and bayonets on the m-16s.
Windsor Castle is pretty interesting even though parts of it like the dollhouse are closed since the queen
uses it part of the year. Our favorite Royal Harry and Megan were overdue at this point so we were not
lucky enough to be there on the birth of a prince but it was exciting anyway as all of London was big
with anticipation. The tour of Windsor shows you many of the living quarters of past Kings and Queens
plus it is the largest exhibition of antique armaments in the world. The story on the audio guide is well
done and it takes at least two hours to go through. You can stop for vantage points on the way to the
State Apartments but the St. George Chapel is closed on Sundays when we took the tour. It was an
enjoyable visit and we headed off after spending 3 hours in Windsor Town and Castle.
After Windsor, we stopped to see the site of the signing of the Magna Carta which is the foundation for
the US Constitution as it established the principle that everyone is subject to the law, even the king, and
guarantees the rights of individuals, the right to justice and the right to a fair trial. They are not sure
exactly where it was signed but the whole site is well done with artwork depicting the chairs the various
signers used when negotiating the deal. The sculpture is done by Hew Locke a British visual artist from
London. There is also the John F Kennedy Memorial which is an acre of land given to the people of
America to commemorate the assination of the US President. I was only three on that day but I vividly
remember all the home makers in my apartment building screaming and crying in the stairwells so this
brought a tear to my eye to visit this site. Somehow with all the talk of our US Constitution lately the
stop to Runnymede to see where the Magna Carta was signed seemed appropriate at this time in history.
We ran into some guys from the National Trust so we discussed the tourism programs offered by the
Royal Oak Society and they were working on a presentation on American President’s so I contributed
my two cents as I have a pretty good knowledge of American history.
We pulled into the Runnymede Hotel on the Thames River (our second visit to the same river) for a bite
to eat. The bar food was good and it helped to have a glass of wine before braving the city. The sign
says it costs 40 pounds a day to park if you are not a hotel guest but the front desk assured us it was free
to park to have lunch at the hotel. We were able to use the restrooms before the trip into London, and
get the car/our luggage situated to turn the car in. After that, we headed to Heathrow to dump the car.
We had to find gas and the nav system was not helpful with that. We asked it to find gasoline and it
asked what brand we wanted. Technology is not always perfect as I screamed at it any brand of gas, but
we had to find gas on our own by poking around.
Heathrow was pretty easy to find the drop off for Europecar and I joked with the guy that he would have
to wash the mud off to see if I had scratched it anywhere. We must have been good as our deposit was
returned and we got the turn in paperwork by email in London. Europecar dropped us at the Heathrow
terminal and we purchased 2 tickets on the Heathrow Express that took us to Paddington Station in
about 15 minutes.
The train has wi-fi so we could scope out walking directions to the hotel as it was only about 4 blocks to
The Cleveland so we opted to walk. We arrived later than we wanted in London so we quick dropped
the bags, bought an Oyster Card and used the underground to Brixton. My English friend joked a
couple of days prior was our life insurance paid up if we asked him if it was ok to go to Brixton, but we
had no problems in South London. Mighty Diamonds, one of Jamaica’s foundation reggae bands was
playing at the Electric Brixton, so we rushed out. When we arrived at the club we were disappointed to
learn one of the members was not allowed a visa to enter England so the show was on with bands we
did not care to see. We stopped at the Jamaican restaurant next door for a patty and coconut water that
would serve as dinner for the night. We were going to stop at a pub but decided as this was not the best
section of town, we should drink on our own side of town.
We did not mind the trip as it gave us a chance to learn about the London Underground and do a dry run
before using the subway on a busy Monday morning. It was a long day so we took a bottle of wine
back to our room at The Cleveland to watch the evening news. The kitchen in a closet is well equipped
so we had wine glasses and purchased some high end instant coffee, Italian blood red orange juice, and
Irish cheese for breakfast with our ginger cake already in the room.
Windsor Castle and Runnymede England
Day 7 London
We were up early as the Changing of the Guard only happens every other day
(weather permitting) and Wednesday had a forecast for rain. You have to change
your schedule sometimes to accommodate the
weather for certain activities. Meghan had the
royal baby so the morning shows on tv and all
of London is abuzz with baby news. On our
way through the park, just past the Diana
Memorial, we hear horses and yelling so we
stop to see horseman in some type of queen’s
guard training in the park. We walked from our
hotel across Kensington Park in the AM to
Hyde Park Corner and took an early position to
see the changing of the guard festivities. This was an interesting spectacle but also a
mob scene. We were amazed how well the Metropolitan Police did with the crowd as
they were polite and friendly ambassadors for London. The military participants and bands come from all
sides as they come from different urban barracks to take part. There really is no best vantage point as they
come from all sides towards Buckingham Palace to do the event.
After the Changing of the Guard we headed off to Piccadilly Circus to
look for a lunch stop. We stopped at a high-end Italian tapas bar named
San Carlos Chiccheti which was a first for both of us as we had never
seen an Italian Tapas restaurant. It had a giant fresh octopus in the
window so we figured seafood should be part of the deal and we had
grilled shrimp, onion/beef ragu over pasta, crab salad and garlic spinach
for lunch. This was one of the best meals of the trip. After lunch we
continued on to Picadilly Circus which was a tourist zoo but there were
buskers in the street playing music and inviting tourists in for a photo with pokeyman and iconic outfitted characters. A blind, challenged boy
stepped up with one of the buskers accompaniment (after being paid by the child’s Italian parents and encouraged by Mom) to sing. I thought
I was watching a young Andrea Bocelli sing and the crowd was cheering and applauding. It worked great for the busker playing along as we
all threw something in the guitar case since he gave the boy a chance to perform in front of the crowd.
We walked down to Trafalgar Square which was also very crowded and then back to the hotel for a change as we were meeting John for
dinner. John was coming in from Crawley to see us and I had originally suggested something near Victoria Station. He had an alternative
plan a suggested we meet at the foot of the Westminster Bridge. We left the hotel
an hour early so we could see the outside of Westminister Abbey and Parliament.
Once he arrived, we walked across the bridge to the South bank to eat at a French
chain restaurant called Cote. It was very good and then we took an hour
walk down the south bank toward the Tower of London and Tower Bridge
which most tourists mistake for London Bridge. We were very happy with
this evening walk so take a look at some of my night shots of London on
this slide show. At this point the Thames is a mighty river that can handle
small cruise ships. You can walk on both banks and walked all the way to
Tower Bridge past Shakespear’s Globe Theatre and the Modern Art
Museum. John rode back to Victoria Station, so he could catch the train to
Crawley and we continued on using the Circle Line back to Bayswater. As
a note, if you book any hotel off the Circle Line Subway in London you are
golden. We used this Underground line a lot as it covered many of the attractions from Paddington to Kensington
to central London and on to the London Tower. Just buy an oyster card at the first point of entry. We put 20 pounds on the card and it lasted for days. We had to top it off
with another 10 and we brought the card home in case we pass though London again on our way to Europe in the future as it hold value forever. We had walked a lot today so
sleep came easily after we made the short walk from the Bayswater Underground station.
Day 8 London
We did not rise early today as we were tired from all the
walking the last week. After a continental breakfast in the
room, we headed out to Tower of London. Again on the
Circle Line from Bayswater so we arrived around noon. It
was not too crowded in the off-season. We waited 20
minutes for the Beefeater to arrive for the Yoeman Warder’s
Tour. This makes four stops and he goes through much of
the history of London Tower with a real sense of humor.
The Tower was home to some of the earliest Kings of
England but became a prison later on where many beheadings were done to quell dissent and traitors
to the King. History repeats itself so the story is full of power killings among the Royals jockeying
for power over the millenniums. It is hard to imagine that you could be funny about a beheading but
our Beefeater joked about nothing to do in 1100 London if you were a peasant. Life sucked with
squalor all around you, no tv, etc. but you could head down and watch a nobleman lose his head as
sport on a Saturday afternoon.
Three Queens of England are buried under the chapel which can only be entered if you take the Beefeater tour. Beefeaters are a
special part of the Queen’s regiment. All of them live with their families inside the Tower of London. They all have to have
performed valiantly in the English military having won certain medals and it is
kind of a nice retirement job where they show the tourists around Tower of
London. They all were very funny as I shook his hand and complimented him
that I had worked in tourism over 30 years and it was one of the best tours I had
taken. He thanked me and joked “one of the best, not the best?” as he shook
my hand. I asked another what the ER on the uniforms meant, he joked
eminently romantic twice a day. These guys are certainly a true asset to the
Country of England.
After the tour, we went through the exhibit of the Crown Jewels of England and
then through the exhibitions that inhabit the outer wall explaining all the facets
of the tower including the wild animals that inhabited the castle and the men
that fought off invaders. Sir Walter Raleigh’s accommodations are interesting
as he was imprisoned in the castle for a while and you can finish with an
explanation of torture techniques used within the walls. Overall, this took about 2.5 hours to view everything. While I
enjoyed the outer wall displays, I do not suggest that part of the castle for anyone that has a problem with steps but it would
still be enjoyable to see Tower of London if you only did the Yoeman Warder’s tour and saw the Crown Jewels which are all
on ground level.
John had mentioned the poppies on our night walk from the 100 year anniversary of WW I. Touch on the poppies to see the
story as it was an amazing remembrance where the entire mote of the castle was filled with 888,000 ceramic red poppies to
commemorate 100 years since World War One (one for each Commonwealth death). People submitted names of worldwide
casualty’s of the war and then the poppies when home to those people who fought, around the world, when the celebration
After Tower of London, we walked next door to St. Katherine’s Docks for lunch. Everybody could find something to eat
here and it is a nice place amongst the yachts moored nearby. We chose Kilikaya’s a Turkish price fix lunch and it was great
with lentil soup and grilled chicken/salad. It was a beautiful spot to stop and eat so we took an outside table al-fresco since
we were blocked from the cold wind and had some sun on this day. After lunch, we walked London City past the Monument
to the 1666 fire and then on to St. Paul’s Cathedral. We were lucky to catch the 5PM mass at St. Paul’s that is done with full
choir and accompanied by the large pipe organ.
We are Catholic (not Anglican) but have found that attending other cultures masses can be interesting when the church is a
tourist attraction. You must show respect by quietly entering and we always sit towards the back of the church plus we make
a donation as you should support these icons across the world as they need expensive upkeep to remain beautiful. While
crossing a few blocks to get to the Circle Line we saw a monument to the firefighters that saved London from the blitzkrieg
in World War II when Hitler’s bombers came every night to bomb the city which
resulted in fires everywhere. It must have been near the English Veterans day as all
of the war memorials we saw were decorated for a holiday including this fire
We got off the circle line in South Kensington to check out the area since Mom was
staying at the Curio by Hilton after her cruise. We talked with some nice people as
this is a wealthy ethnic neighborhood with many Italian, Mediterranean, French and
other types of restaurants. It is the location for the Natural History Museum, the
Victoria and Albert Musuem and also nearby to Harrod’s. It must be upscale as the
Lamborghini dealership is next to the Maserati dealership. We met a London hotel
owner (originally from Lebanon) outside of an Italian butcher shop restaurant with
aged steaks hanging in the front window. After he found out we were all in the same
industry we were toasted with prosecco on the sidewalk while we had a discussion
about world affairs. After that we walked South Kensington before heading over to
Anglesea Arms which was suggested by our friend John as a classic London pub.
He was not wrong about this and right about everything he told us about our travels
in England. As we did a late lunch, we shared some pub finger foods for dinner
whilst I sampled beers. The bar maiden explained various taps and even brought
me samples. This bar had ales that they pulled but also gas driven taps of local craft
beers that were served cold so it was an interesting experience for any beer lover if
you are visiting South Kensington. We only worked on finger foods like sausage rolls, shrimp cocktail, fried mac n cheese plus
garlic bread with hummus and gorgonzola cheese (kind of like a pizza on focaccia bread) but the people at the next table had real meals and those looked very good also.
Touch the poppies to see
the story of the poppies.
Day 9 London
We awoke to a cold rain that had been forecasted for days. As a result, we saved the museums for the end. While we are not all-day
museum people it made no sense to walk around outside in a cold rain. We slept late, had breakfast in the room and took the Circle
Line to Trafalgar Square for the National Gallery. Most of the museums are free in London but they encourage donations and charge
for museum maps. We took about 2 hours at the Gallery as they have a nice collection of famous painters from Monet, Degas,
Cezanne, Rembrandt and others. We are still mulling a show but have been really busy on this trip exploring a new place. As it is
almost 3 and we have not eaten lunch we peruse the half price ticket window to see if anything is a must see. When we look at the
show list we decide to leave the theatre for a future visit and hunt for lunch. We find a great gyro booth off the street and sit in the
back for a couple of Shawarma’s and fries. Out the door for twenty pounds including Jamaican ginger beers, two sandwiches and a
plate of chips. We haven’t had chips for a few days as they are so prevalent in England and no tourist should eat fries every day.
After lunch we head to the Natural History museum. As our English friend John and I are both photographers
by hobby, he suggested the Wildlife photography exhibition that is actually a yearly worldwide competition
for the best wildlife photographers while we are in London. First of all, this is a world class museum that is
also free. It is much like the Natural History Museum in Washington with all types of animals, whales and
other species exhibited and stuffed. Over 300 scientists work at this facility and it has 80 million samples.
Natural History Museum Wildlife Photographer of the Year is a spectacular display of some of the best
wildlife photography in the world. One picture took 14 months of waiting for the perfect shot. Others
traveled to the ends of the earth like Antarctica to take pictures by drone. This exhibition was 12 pounds per
person but well worth it as we spent about 2 hours with the photographs.
We figured we should at least do a walk through in the most famous department store in the world called
Harrod’s. No visit to Harrod’s is complete without a stop to the chocolate room in the middle which did not disappoint. We had hoped for a walk
through the other side of Kensington Park past Kensington Castle hoping Gina might see Kate but the rain squashed those plans so we were back on
the subway. Rush hour on the tube is something to avoid if you are not a city person. I squeezed Gina onto a car for one stop like a sardine and she
was not pleased. When you marry up a city boy and a country girl things can be downright scary when you head to the city. Thankfully we only had
to go one stop and the Circle line was not as full when we made the change. You are charged for each ride based on zones but you can change trains
for free on a particular ride. You scan the card into and out of the system to open the gate.
Bayswater is a nice neighborhood and most of the hotels are in modified old houses. The Cleveland is located on Cleveland Park and it is a serviceable old building with nice
3.5 star rooms. The closet kitchenettes are handy for a continental breakfast that saves a few bucks and the room price is affordable for London. Bayswater is great location as
the costs can be a little lower but you have access to walk Kensington Park plus it is upscale residential. It is not for everybody as you have to walk 4 or 5 blocks to the various
tube stations or restaurants as you are in the center of the neighborhood but it worked fine for us and many of
Our last meal in London was just down the street at an Italian restaurant called Taormina. It has a history
dating back to 1960 and we guess mostly family working in the restaurant as the daughter handled the wine
key with panache. We split a pasta primi and then had wonderful
veal for dinner. Portions were so large I had to help Gina with her
veal but I was not complaining. Out the door with a limoncello for
95 quid and it was only three blocks walking distance from our hotel
plus the rain had finally stopped. The place was packed with locals
so we barely got a table at 9P. I suggest this one if you are staying in
Bayswater as you could get a couple of pastas salads and glasses of
wine for 40 pounds with cloth tablecloths and napkins, if you are on a
Day 10 Departure from London
We have already decided with our 50 pound bags we were not braving the rush hour subway on the way to Victoria Station. The hotel tried to call a taxi but they wanted half
an hour wait so we rolled out towards Queensway. We waved down a black taxi and Sam pulled over. Black taximen have extensive education and testing about London
information. I will bet your Uber person has no training and knows nothing about their town. The taxi was immaculate and he handled our luggage from the curbside. We
talked about black taxi’s so I could learn about the service. He pointed out the smallest house in London on the way to the train station. This house was known as the
Orangehouse as the King and Queen of Netherlands hid out here during the 2nd world war but it was literally just a stairwell and one room. You would only get one of those
little known facts in passing if you took a real taxi, not a ride sharing service. We discussed Black Taxi tours as many of Sam’s compatriots also have studied and achieved
blue badges for guide service too. On your next London trip, we can book you on a black taxi tour which costs about 70 to 100 pounds per hour per car and it is one of the best
private ways to see London if you want the real deal.
We got dropped at Victoria Train Station right in front of the ticket window for the Gatwick Express and he handled our
luggage to the curb. There is an entrance for The Victoria Train Station, Victoria Coach Station and also the Victoria
Underground with a city block between all of them. We would have paid about 4 pounds to take the tube but we would have
walked 3 blocks, hauled our luggage up and down stairs, rolled underground for a city block to get to the Train Station then
back up the stairs but our taxi fare was only 15 pounds for the trip. Sometimes you have to be smart, not cheap to really enjoy
your vacation especially as you put on some years and keep traveling.
Tickets on the Gatwick Express were under 19.90 each 2
class and it goes to Gatwick in about 20 minutes by high speed
train. We took the elevator down and jumped onboard a waiting train. The trains all have wi-fi if you want to read the
morning’s headlines on the way to the airport. The train station is attached to the airport so it is an easy run. Every time I go
to Europe, I realize how backward we are with transportation in America. Everybody used the train to the airport and rolled
right into the terminal as they are all connected. We were early so we stopped for one last English breakfast. One last portion
of that great bacon AND sausage at an airport restaurant, before heading home. British Airways service was much better on
the daytime run than it was on the overnight so we actually enjoyed the ride while I wrote this blog.
London, Crawley, Cotswolds, Bath and Windsor made for nice variety on our trip. London is one of the great cities of the world but it is also one of the most expensive cities
in the world. The history of the English is one of the great stories of the world as the English Empire was huge. London has great museums, great restaurant’s, parks, a theatre
district, the river Thames and interesting attractions plus a world class tube system. London can easily be paired with Paris using the Eurostar through the Chunnel under the
English Channel. We do a lot of those twin city vacations yearly. They can be done as independent travel as we set up hotel reservations and train tickets in advance. People
regularly fly into London and out of Paris (or vice versa). Usually 4 or 5 nights in each city is the minimum you would want to do in these 2 great cities.
The other part of our trip was more complicated. I am very experienced in fly/drive and this was a difficult road passage, even for me with experience in Italy and the
Caribbean. The countryside of England has smaller roads with many roundabouts so you have many chances to get lost or dent a rental car along the way. If you do want to
fly/drive, get a navigation system and allow more time than you think to get from place to place. England has very small roads, but a lot of cars so traffic was a discussion we
had a few times when routing for this trip. I think this was some of the most difficult driving I have experienced in my trips across the world. That said, the car was great in
the Cotswolds and the Surrey Hills were very beautiful.
We sell daytrips from London that see all these cities in the countryside. Many operators combine Bath with Stonehenge and there are daytrips that tour Cotswold towns.
Both are about 2 hours in each direction from London. Even better, we saw our Globus, Insight, Trafalgar tour busses along the way. We sell tours that include southern
England but also England, Wales and Scotland if you want to see more of the UK. These tours will have appointment times for attractions like Stonehenge and the Roman
Baths so you can step off the bus, tour the site and go. These can always be paired with an extended stay in London or a Paris add-on if you desire.
The Monarchy is an interesting story that has thousands of years of history but is living on a daily basis. On Monday Harry and Megan gave birth to Archie who is seventh in
the line to the throne. As we have lived through the tragic story of Charles and Diana we have watched these new Royals reinvigorate the British Monarchy, in our time. You
could not watch them follow Diana’s casket as children without wishing them well as adults. It was exciting to be in London for the birth of a new Royal and I am sure that
Harry and William’s Mom would be proud of how they have grown up.
Why does a Travel Agent write Destination Blogs?
Not all travel agents blog like myself but we do check out various neighborhoods when touring a city as it adds depth to the maps we look at when we try to book a room for
our clients. As I always promote our travel agency through this blog, if you are traveling to England or London on your next vacation book with an agency that has been there.
We can tell you the character, plusses and minus of the city as we have walked the streets rather than just looking at a map and throwing a dart at a dartboard as you will do
with online booking websites. A good example of this is London as many of the cheap hotels are in docklands or way down in South London. Why ruin your vacation to save
a few dollars when you can use our experience to get a better advice about a given tourist city or town? We sell a lot of vacations with London and Paris so now we have been
to both cities. We traveled to Southern England, Bath and the Cotswold’s as those are the daytrips we sell most when our clients head out on a bus tour for the day departing
from London or arrive in Southampton on a transatlantic cruise. We tend to visit destinations that we sell all the time as it is interesting to see what you sell. We call that
familiarization in the travel industry and it is vital to our continuing education as agents. We are usually about the same price as do it yourself unless we are custom planning a
fly/drive like we did in which case you will pay for a few hours of expert advice. Use a Travel Agent for the best vacation experience as your time is valuable and you only
live once. Agents have been there or have collegues that have been there!
Special Thanks to John Alsop for assistance with our trip and this England blog.
2019 Market Access Promotions and John Rice-photography
Layalina (Piccadilly) Lebanese