Sunday, July 12, 2015

A Few Things I Learned This Trip

Overall, this was a wonderful trip.  I don't think anything went seriously awry; we had no real meltdowns (except due to the heat!) and enjoyed all that we did.  Still, here are some things I learned or don't want to forget or need to work on for future trips.

1. Driving:
     a) avoid doing it right off the plane if possible.
     b) if not possible to avoid driving jet lagged, make sure you only have a short distance to cover
     c) get the Sat Nav (GPS).  It was a lifesaver (and luckily free this time!)
     d) but don't forget the paper maps.  These help if the Sat Nav fizzles or sends you wrong
     e) picking up a car with Hertz at LHR was easy.  It was a very good rental experience
     f) if you get a little lost, stop and ask a local for directions.  We met the lovely gentleman at Coultershaw Heritage Site because we were lost
     g) if a local gives you a shortcut to avoid traffic delays, ignore the Sat Nav and listen to the local!

2.  Lodging:
     a) if the reviews say the rooms are noisy, they probably are noisy.  Do ask for the quiet room when you book.
     b) Full English breakfast is the best breakfast! Better yet if it's included in the room rate!
     c) if you book a room above a pub, expect noise and have earplugs handy.
     e) take an eye mask because no room was not dark enough for me.

3.  Transportation:
     a) the 2-4-1 deals with the 7 Day paper Travel Card from a Railway Station in London are a great money saver.  We used them at several places and saved enough to pay for almost the entire cost of  2 Travel Cards.
     b) make a safety plan if you're separated on the tube.  Ours was not specific enough before nephew was lost but we made sure to reiterate it daily afterwards.
     c) make sure everyone knows where the hotel or apartment is located
     d) the Oyster card was not the best option for us.  We found the paper Travel Card easier to use and wished we'd gotten one for nephew too.  It would've been one less thing to worry about on a busy vacation.
     e) buses are great except when it's hot.  Or when traffic is stuck.

4.  Prebook Westminster Abbey and Windsor Castle if possible.  Unless they have the 2-4-1 deal.  We didn't see Westminster Abbey this time because the lines were too long and waited at least 45 minutes to get into Windsor.

5.  If you go to St. Paul's take the free tour.  It enhanced our experience there greatly.

6.  If you go to Bath, take the free Mayor's Voluntary Guides tour.  It was wonderful.

7.  See the Museum of the City you're in.

8.  If travelling in the summer, bring shorts, short sleeves and appropriate footwear in case there's a heat wave!

9.  Make sure your wifi is working before the apartment greeter leaves.  No problem this time, thankfully!

10.  Have a plan but be flexible and willing to adapt to the situation and moods at hand.

11.  I have got to figure out how to get a phone to work abroad!

Next trip:  Lyon, the Dordogne, the Loire Valley, and Paris in October 2015 so I can get my Paris and castles fix! 

Monday, July 6, 2015

Goodbye London

England Day 11

London Day 6:  On the agenda:  get back to the US!

The Blackberry Cab arrived as prearranged at 1030am.  It was a comfortable and clean car with plenty of room for three adults and our bags.  The driver was safe, the traffic was light and we all got to see a few more lovely glimpses of London. I would definitely book with them again.

We arrived at LHR plenty early.  That is, until the US Air agent told us that husband had been changed to a different airline (British Air) and flight. His final destination was IAH and ours was MSY so they moved him to a direct flight instead of connecting with us through Charlotte.  We had not booked all three tickets together so they didn't realize we were a "family" and just treated him like a single passenger.

The US Air agent did try to get us all on the same flights but everything was "overbooked" so it couldn't be done.  I said a tearful goodbye to my husband, who was off to T5 to check in for his flight. 

Security at LHR is even more ridiculous in some ways than in the US.  The whole thing about putting chapstick, lipstick, foundation, deodorant, etc. etc. in the little bag they give you is annoying and useless.  I didn't feel safer because I took my chapstick out of my bag.  I really hate airport security... Rant over (sorry).

Our gate hadn't been posted yet so we sat and waited until it was.  Once the gate was posted, we hiked there to check in not realizing that there is nothing, and I mean nothing, to do at the gate.  There are no TVs, no vending machines, no toilets.  Barbaric!  And of course I needed a toilet before getting on our 9 hour flight.   I had to leave my boarding pass with the gate agent to be allowed out of the area. Then I trekked all the way back to the food court/mall area to the nearest toilet.   Upon return to the gate there was a line to check in and I had to wait for the agent who had my boarding pass to give it back.  It's a really poor system, in my opinion.  And it must aggravate the gate agents.

Anyway, the flight was uneventful.  Charlotte airport was about the easiest customs ever.  We had a three hour layover before our flight to New Orleans, and at other airports that has been close to not long enough--I'm looking at you Philadelphia.  I walked around a bit while nephew utilized his phone for the first time in 12 days. 

Family picked us up in New Orleans and, just like that, it was back to reality.

It was a lovely trip.  I'm so glad husband and I could take nephew to experience another country that even with a shared language and some history was different and exciting.  It's so easy to travel in England.  And there's so very much to see and do, all of it fabulous.  Husband and I can't wait to return!

Next:  (finally) a few things I learned this trip

Sunday, July 5, 2015

London Day 5: Greenwich with a Greeter, pub meet.

England Day 10

London Day 5:  Today was our last sightseeing day.  On the agenda: a tour of Greenwich with a London Greeter (1030am), the rest of the Greenwich sights, and a pub meet.

We woke up to overcast skies and high chances of rain.  It was also a lot cooler than it had been. 

Before we met our Greeter, we decided to book a taxi to take us to the airport in the morning.  We just did not feel like taking the tube.  I recalled Blackberry Cabs had good reviews on Tripadvisor so we called them.  The cost was 32GBP (as compared to the 55GBP that the driver recommended by Londonconnection charged).  We just hoped they would be on time.

We got to the Cutty Sark tube station in Greenwich to meet Eleanor, our Greeter, a few minutes past our agreed upon time.  She is former resident of Greenwich with deep family connections to the area.  It was raining pretty hard at this point and I was glad for my umbrella but wished I also had my rain jacket like husband and nephew.

Eleanor took us on a 1.5 hour tour highlighting the history of Greenwich, its role in the Second World War, the Cutty Sark, Henry VIII and his palace, the Queen's Palace, and so much more.  It was wonderful to see Greenwich through her eyes.  She left us at the lovely Wren Chapel at the Old Royal Navy College.

By the end of the Greet, the day had turned gorgeous!  The weather was finally what we had been expecting the whole trip (sigh, on our last day, of course).  We definitely were not done with Greenwich but empty stomachs needed to be filled.  We ended up at Greenwich Tavern.  We had burgers, fish and chips, and beer.  It was all ok.  Definitely not my favorite pub grub on the trip.

We decided against visiting the National Maritime Museum but did pop into the Queen's House designed for Anne of Denmark by Inigo Jones.  It's now a  museum for art with maritime themes.  We then made our way through the pretty park up to the Royal Observatory.  It's quite a little hike up that hill!  But so worth it.  We spend a good hour or more roaming around the free sights, taking pictures, looking at everything.

The cost to get into the Royal Observatory was pretty high (15GBP) and the lines for the Mean Meridian photo op were very long so we decided against it.  But we still wanted to see the Mean Meridian Line.  Luckily husband overheard a guide telling a young family that they could see the line for free just down the hill by the "kissing gate."  He found this "kissing gate" and we got our photo op on the Mean Meridian line.  No waiting, no cost, excellent tip!  It's actually one of my favorite pictures from this trip. :)
Gorgeous view of London
It was a beautiful day
Bronze observatory 
On the "free" Mean Meridian Line

We headed back to the Cutty Sark tube station but decided to take the boat back to Embankment.  It was a nice but kind of long ride.
Leaving Greenwich by boat
We took the tube back to our "neighborhood" for some souvenir shopping.  Husband and nephew went to the Buckingham Palace Gift shop while I hit up Marks & Spencer.  We all were happy with our purchases (but once we got home I wished I'd bought more Percy Pigs and Digestives).  We stopped at the Phoenix for restorative brews before starting the dreaded packing up.

I was really looking forward to the TripAdvisor London Forum Pub Meet for a couple of reasons: 1. I'd get to meet people who were kind enough to answer questions on the forum and 2. because we were meeting at Blackfriars Pub which was high on my list of pubs to see on this trip.

Blackfriars Pub
When we got there (so very easy to find!), locals adamhornets and Mrs. adamhornets, leagle, and IloveNYandLondon were there along with tourist lonestarlady and her lovely mom.  One other tourist arrived but I can't remember here name (sorry).  It was a very nice time.  We had some pub grub and drank a few beers.  Lonestarlady and her mom told husband that a highlight for them so far was the Ceremony of the Keys.  He told me "I guess we should have gone."  (wife shook head and refrained from saying "I told you so!").  We left around 930pm.

So that was the end of our last day and evening in London.  We finished packing up our bags and got some sleep to get ready for our long haul trip back home.

Next: get back to the US!

Saturday, July 4, 2015

London Day 4: No goes, Parliament, Sekara again

England Day 9

London Day 4:  On today's agenda: the British Museum (11am tour), National Portrait Gallery for the Audrey Hepburn Exhibit, National Gallery for the Impressionists, Parliament tour, and the Ceremony of the Keys.

Husband woke up and said he was a no go because his foot was hurting something terrible.  And it must have been because he's not one to complain.  So we ditched the British Museum (husband and I had been there in 2011). Nephew wanted to go to the National Portrait Galley to get an Audrey Hepburn poster and I wanted to see the Exhibit focused on her life.  She is one of my favorite people.  She was a lovely actress and a wonderful human being.  I also wanted to see the Impressionist Rooms at the National Gallery.

It was not Sahara Desert hot today so we braved the bus to Trafalgar Square.  We chatted with a nice local Indian family on the bus.  They were on their way to Chinatown. I told them how excited I was for the Parliament Tour later on and they had never done it or even considered doing it.  I told them they could get a tour, for free, through their MP.
We entered the National Portrait Gallery and were immediately disappointed because the Audrey Hepburn exhibit was sold out for the day.  They had some slots for Sunday but we would not be able to return.  I was seriously sad.  We spent some time in the gift shop so nephew could get his poster and I bought one too.  He knows nothing about Audrey Hepburn except that she was beautiful.  Her poster will hang in his college apartment with the others he collected on the trip:  Jimmi Hendricks, Winston Churchill, Keep Calm and Carry On, and Bob Marley.  What a mixture!

We walked over to the National Gallery and there was no "Industrial Action" today.  The Impressionist collection is wonderful.  I loved every painting! Nephew sat on one of the benches and was bored.  We perused a few other rooms on the way out and I really look forward to spending more time here on a future visit.  We bought a few things in the gift shop and left.


Pretty sure this was a Sisley 

We walked over to St. Martin in the Fields to look at the church and possibly have lunch.  The church is very plain but sweet.  Nephew decided nothing appealed in the cafeteria so we made our way back to the apartment via tube.  Weirdly, as we exited there was husband!  He was looking for an ATM, not us.  He found us but not an ATM!  We all walked to the nearby Marks & Spencer and got sandwiches and drinks for our lunch.
St. Martin in the Fields from the National Gallery

Simple but pretty inside

We relaxed at the apartment until it was time for the Parliament Tour (4:15).  We took the tube to Westminster and came out to a beautiful warm, but not oppressive, late afternoon and masses of people everywhere.  It was so crowded, none of us enjoyed the walk to the Houses of Parliament entrance.

Westminster Hall
We had a little time before the tour so visited the gift shop, looked around the gorgeous Westminster Hall and waited.  Our guide, David, was fantastic.  Funny, engaging and knowledgeable.  Husband and I took this tour in 2011 and thought it was great then but this time was even better.  It's beautiful building, new by London standards, that is apparently crumbling.  David said they are considering closing these Houses and relocating Parliament.  I guess everyone who works in these building will be happy if that happens but it's sad to think of these buildings being shuttered.

Final questions for our guide
Christmas card pic :)
Iconic London shot
We walked across the river toward the London Eye.  I really wanted to go on it but was overruled by husband and nephew--they didn't want to wait in line (which was really short, actually).  I told husband that the next time we come to London, no excuses, we're going on the Eye (he agreed, probably to shut me up, lol).  We walked along the river and stopped a few minutes to watch a  busker.

I told husband and nephew that we had 930pm tickets for the Ceremony of the Keys.  Husband was not enthusiastic about trekking out to the Tower of London because his foot was still hurting.  Nephew didn't care.  I knew it would be something we'd regret not doing.  We decided to go for dinner at Sekara (again, yay) and decide once we'd eaten.

We tubed it back to Victoria and went directly to Sekara.  We ordered Biryani again, vegetable eggs rolls, and a mutton dish that was recommended by one of the waitresses.  The Biryani and egg rolls were spectacular.  The guys liked but did not love the mutton dish.  Overall, another great dinner at Sekara.

By now it was 915pm.  We obviously did not go to the Ceremony of the Keys.  Dropped off nephew at the apartment and went to the nearest pub (the decidedly not cozy Phoenix) for a nightcap.  The pub was decorated for the 4th of July which was a nice touch.

In some ways today was disappointing day because of all the no goes.  I told husband it just means there's another trip to London in our future. He agreed!

Next:  Our last day, rain, Greenwich with a Greeter, pub meet

Friday, July 3, 2015

London Day 3: The Tower of London, St. Paul's, olde pubs and Rumbelow’s Ripper

England Day 8

London Day 3:  On today’s agenda:  The Tower of London, Tower Bridge, St. Paul’s Cathedral, a pub crawl in the City. 

We deliberately got an early start today.  We arrived at the Tower before the ticket offices even opened.  It was only 5 minutes, but still that’s pretty good on vacation!  We used our 2 4 1 and saved 20GBP.  

I hustled husband and nephew to the Crown Jewels.  There were some 10 people ahead of us.  This display is now sponsored by DeBeers and was redone for the Queen’s last Jubilee.  It’s very nicely done.  The history fit right into what we’d learned at Windsor Castle.  The Jewels are magnificent.  We were able to see them unobstructed and at leisure for the first two passes.  I was the last person on one moving walkway that had just ceased moving so I could take my time looking at the Jewels.  Unbelievably beautiful pieces. 

Entrance to the Crown Jewels

We finished looking at the ceremonial tableware and were amazed at the size of the punch bowl.  Then back out into the yard.  We saw the guards doing a bit of a march, took some photos, and headed to the Yeoman Warder Tour.  

The crowd really grew in the 10 minutes we waited for it to start.  It was a good (not great) tour.  It was very crowded which wasn’t really a problem as I kept to the front.  Less entertaining were the Warder’s  jokes about how un-engaged the crowd was which mostly fell flat (he wasn’t hilarious).  It was slightly off-putting and needy on his behalf.  He shone, however, in the Chapel, which can only be seen on a Warder tour.  So for that it was definitely worth doing the Warder tour. 

It was now around 11am and we were hungry so we grabbed snacks in the café and relaxed for a bit.  The next order of business was the White Tower.  Lots of climbing to very interesting sights.  I liked the horses and armor display.  It was crowded but not unbearably so.  An hour max inside.  Well worth the time. 

The White Tower 
Not so great photo of Tower Bridge
We took the exit nearest the Tower Bridge and had our photo ops.  Nephew and husband didn’t to cross it or do the Experience.  I had originally wanted to cross and walk on the Southside to Borough Market, Southwark Cathedral, on our way to the Millennium Bridge to get to St. Paul’s Cathedral.   Instead, we decided to catch the bus to St. Paul’s.  As we walked to the nearest bus stop (hoping to catch an old Routemaster), I noticed restaurants and shops on the right.  We walked through a modern building’s pretty lobby and came out to wharves, docked boats, restaurants and loads of people enjoying the sun.   That’s when I realized we were at St. Katherine Docks.  We’d certainly like to spend more time there on a subsequent trip.  

While waiting for the bus we could see we’d just missed a Routemaster since it was stuck in traffic.  The traffic was really not moving so we took the tube to St. Paul’s and I’m sure got there faster than that snarl.  It seemed like all the City workers were on their lunch breaks and sunning themselves in the courtyards and on the steps at St. Paul’s.  It was actually hard to find a path through the crowds to get inside the Cathedral!

We paid our entrance fee (using the 2 4 1 again) and signed up for the 2pm tour.  We had maybe 20 minutes to wait so nephew napped while husband and I walked around with the audio guide.  At 2pm, the tour guides broke those of us waiting into two groups and off we went with Linda.  This was our second time at St. Paul’s but our first tour.  Linda was charming and the tour was fantastic.  We started at the geometric staircase, which you can only see on a tour, and ended in the crypt by the Churchill monument.  We found the stained glass window representing the state of Louisiana in the American Chapel.  Linda was intrigued by the pelican feeding her three young and said it was a Christian symbol.   Husband pointed out the statues of Sir. Edward Pakenham and Samuel Gibbs who died at the Battle of New Orleans.  Linda said she’d passed those statues numerous times and now was motivated to learn more about them.  It was an interesting and comprehensive tour which helped me appreciate this magnificent Cathedral so much more. 

We decided against climbing to the Whispering Gallery so went ahead and spent some money in the gift shop.  It was closing time at St. Paul’s and time for our pub tour! 

This was one of husband’s few requests.  He told me he wanted to visit some of the old historic pubs in the City of London and mentioned the Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese.  I did a google maps search and came up with 6 pubs close to each other starting from St. Paul’s: The Old Bell Tavern, Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, The Old Bank of England, Ye Olde Mitre Pub, Cittie of York and The Princess Louise.  We started at the cozy Old Bell Tavern and were served our beers by Al Murray.  We didn’t know who he was (googled him later) but everyone in the pub was snapping pictures with him.  We watched some tennis and nephew got a burger and fries.  We liked this pub. 

Old Bell Tavern history
Al Murray served us beers
Pretty Old Bank of England pub
Next stop was Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese.  We walked in, looked around and decided not to stay; I can’t remember why.  We then went to the Old Bank of England and I really liked how open and expansive this space was.  It was pretty crowded but we stayed for a drink because they were serving Pimm’s Cups.  While here we decided we’d go on the 730pm London Walks Jack-the-Ripper tour which started back at Tower Hill tube station.  It was still early so we went to our next pub, Ye Olde Mitre.   

The Ye Olde Mitre was not as hard to find as I had expected.  It was very crowded in the alley but inside we were able to grab a table.  It was another cozy old pub.  We liked it a lot.  Unfortunately they didn’t serve food (husband and I were getting hungry) but we did enjoy our beers and the atmosphere.   

We left and headed out to find the nearest tube station and with the help of locals and their smartphones, made it to Tower Hill for the tour about 15 minutes early.  I was excited to see that it was Mr. Donald Rumbelow who would be leading the tour!  We had a little time so went to the Liberty Bounds Pub to use the facilities.  Nephew and husband lingered to watch the end of a tennis match, I think it was Federer.   When we got back to Tower Hill station, there were many more people gathered for the tour.  Mr. Rumbelow was signing his book and, of course, we bought one too. 

The tour was excellent.  No frills, just great descriptions of what occurred.  Mr. Rumbelow painted excellent pictures of the time period, particularly the people and how they lived, the compartmentalized police forces and how that allowed the killer to escape detection and capture; and the theories of who Jack might have been (some very outlandish!).  We hit all the major spots, he stood on a stool and talked.  It was a great way to spend two hours.  I think this tour would be even better in twilight or dark conditions.
Husband and nephew paying attention

Mr. Rumbelow lecturing
We ended close to Liverpool station and decided to head back to the apartment (nephew was done at this point).  We left him to relax and went back to Maverick Pizza and Cocktails for dinner.  It was good again.   

Since we had not walked enough this day, lol, we went looking for Westminster Arms pub which had been our “local” in 2011.  We didn’t have a map but thought we could get there.  After about 30 minutes walking in what we thought was the right direction, we decided to turn back.  We passed a couple of neat looking pubs not far from the St. James tube station but just went back to the apartment for a good night’s sleep.  We were tired but happy from another fabulous day in London! 

Next:  No goes, Parliament, Sekara again

Thursday, July 2, 2015

London Day 2: Lost and found and some very old sights

England Day 7

London Day 2: On the agenda today was the Magna Carta exhibit at the British Library (930am), the Museum of London, and whatever else struck our fancy.

We left the apartment and made our way to Victoria Station to catch the District Line to King’s Cross for the British Library.  It was rush hour so very crowded and fast moving.  Husband and I approached the turnstile to tag in and looked around for nephew but he was missing.  We immediately stopped and searched for him in the crowds.  He was nowhere to be found.  The station attendants noticed our distress and helped by announcing his name over the loud speakers.  He didn’t respond.  Our cellphones were not enabled for use in London so we couldn’t call or text.  

After a few minutes, I went through and got off at the next station but he wasn’t there (that had been the plan).  I came back to Victoria defeated.  Husband had waited at Victoria and no nephew.  By now I was crying.  I mean, what could be worse than to lose your nephew in London!  The station manager took me inside the office and put out a call to King’s Cross (our end destination) in case he had arrived there.  He had not.  She took his name, description, etc. to have the station attendants keep an eye out for him.  He was wearing a distinctive t-shirt (bright purple, “Geaux Engineering” slogan).  It was now about 30 minutes since we lost him.  Husband and I were about to head back to the apartment to see if he was there.  

As we walked out of the office, here comes nephew with a station attendant!  That purple Geaux Engineering t-shirt had worked!  Nephew said his Oyster Card did not have enough money on it so he veered off to top it up.  Then he didn’t see us.  He heard them calling his name but didn’t understand the direction to speak with a station attendant.  Then he went through and got off at the next station but didn’t see me so came back.  He was on his way to the apartment when the station attendant stopped him.  Whew!  This aunt and uncle were seriously relieved.  We agreed not to tell his mother until he could do so in person—she’d pass out hysterical.  Nephew was impressed that I didn’t fall apart, lol.   This is where I first wished we’d bought him a 7 day Travel Card too, instead of the “top me up all the time” Oyster.  Live and learn.

The station attendant looked at nephew’s Oyster and saw that he had open rides and had been charged the max per day.  He closed out the open rides and, with a healthy balance, we went on our way to the British Museum.   Our lessons learned were threefold: make sure the Oyster has enough money; if lost, stop and speak to a station attendant; know your end destination,  go there and wait if separated.  This was a really rough start to our day.

We arrived at King’s Cross station with no further drama.  We were all calmer by now.  The Magna Carta exhibit was our next object.  I love the Treasures Room at the British Library but it’s not something that really appealed to husband or nephew, so this way my way of getting them there (sneaky, I know).   But we all were interested in learning more about the Magna Carta and its legacy.  The exhibit was well done and very comprehensive.  I think it took a good hour, at least, to get through it all.  We all liked it.  I particularly liked being able to put the history in context of other countries.  It was well worth the time and effort to see.

Afterwards we visited the free and magnificent Treasures Room.  Just FYI, if you visit during the Magna Carta Exhibit you won’t be able to see the Library’s copy of that document without paying.  But there are so many incredible books, music, scribblings, objects in this room that it’s indescribable.  I spent a good while looking at Mozart's, Beethoven's, Handel's and other composers' scores and listening to the music accompanying the display.  I read passages of Persuasion in Jane Austen’s own handwriting (yup, tears.  Even now just writing this I get teary-eyed).  Her precious private little desk was there too.  The illuminated manuscripts.  The bibles.  The maps.  All of it, precious and priceless.  This is a place I want to return to again and again.

We then went out into the lobby area to see the embroidered Magna Carta wikipedia page which was super cool.  That required a lot of patience to complete!  Well done.

We were hungry by now so we just grabbed sandwiches in the café.  Nothing special except for the fact I was eating by the stacks.  At one point, a librarian was shelving a book so had moved stacks out of the way and I could see inside this sanctum.  I told nephew “I could live in there” and he looked at me like I was crazy.  Lol.

I could live in these stacks

We left the Library and walked over to St. Pancras, which is just gorgeous.  I love how its ornate Victorian outside gives no clue that the inside is all modern and new.  Beautiful.  Made me miss the Harry Potter movies.  We didn’t search for Platform 9 ¾ because nephew wasn’t interested and we’d done that last time we were in London.  I teased husband and nephew that we could take the Eurostar to Paris—surprisingly, neither was totally opposed.  Of course we didn’t do it—way too pricy on the spur of the moment (and I’ll get my Paris fix in October).

St. Pancras is so pretty
My poor attempt at a panoramic shot
King’s Cross has trains going everywhere so we decided it was time for the Museum of London and caught the Metropolitan line there.  I was particularly interested in seeing this Museum because I wanted to better understand London’s origins.  It’s free and wasn’t crowded, except for some school groups that were kind of adorable.  

The Museum starts in pre-history then the Romans and onwards.  I loved seeing the maps of the original Roman City and what we have now.  How Londinium has grown!  They had Roman artifacts on display that were not as well preserved or as impressive as those we’ve seen in museums in Rome but significant because they were found in London.  I really enjoyed this section. 

 Also interesting and enjoyable were the displays about London before the great fire of 1666 and the rebuilding afterwards.  The video with people reading letters from the time of the fire over scenes of how the fire started and spread was very well done.  The displays and video about the plagues were gruesomely fascinating.  The Victorian stores and the gardens at Vauxhall were two of my favorite displays.  I like feeling immersed in the period and these two displays did that well.  The timeline of London’s development was fascinating.  We noticed that the Metropolitan tube was the first line in 1863.  I wasn’t as interested (or maybe was just tired at this point) in the more modern London displays.  But toward the end they had a display about the Lord Mayor with his carriage as the major feature.  It was fairytale princess cool!

London timeline

These boots were made for walking!

Lord Mayor's carriage
It's fit for a princess
They were showing Wimbledon in the café so we had coffee and a snack and watched the tennis for a bit.  But I was not about to let the grass grow under our feet and herded husband and nephew to nearby St. Bartholomew the Great, founded in the 1100’s.  It is the oldest church in the London because it survived the Great Fire.  There’s not really much left of the original church (the centuries have a way of doing that) but we took our time reading the provided brochure and Green Guide about its history.  We were all fascinated by the fact that Ben Franklin worked in the Lady Chapel as a journeyman printer.  I wouldn’t go out of my way to stop at St. Barth’s but it was definitely worth a few minutes (and the small fee that helps keep it running).
St. Bartholomew the Great
Entrance to St. Bartholomew the Great

It's very old

All tourist attractions were now closed and husband and nephew breathed a sigh of relief.  Nephew requested more tennis so we asked some nice folks at the Rising Sun where we could find a pub with TV’s.  They sent us to  the Sports Bar and Grill Farringdon but gave vague directions.  We ask a couple of guys who were standing outside of St. Bart’s pub where the Sports Bar was and they sent us in the right direction.  One of the guys had been in New Orleans two weeks before and enjoyed his time there—that’s always nice to hear!

We made it to the Sports Bar and it could have been anywhere in the States.  Lots of TV’s tuned to Wimbledon.  Nephew was happy.  He likes tennis and TV a lot.  I think nephew got a burger and we all shared the chips.  After a while, we headed back to the Barbican tube stop.  As we were passing the Rising Sun, the guys from earlier asked if we’d found the Sports Bar.  We decided to stop there for drinks.  They had wifi so we called the family back home.  We chatted with a grandmother, son and granddaughter who were touring England.  I couldn’t tell who planned their trip but they seemed a bit lost and like they weren’t having a nice time.  Made me sad for them.

Interior of Rising Sun
Eventually we decided to head back to the apartment.  Nephew was full so we left him in the apartment and wandered our “neighborhood.”  Husband noticed Sekara Sri Lankan restaurant on a side street (Lower Grosvenor Place) and we ate there.  It was our first time eating Sri Lankan food and we absolutely loved it.  The server was very helpful with choosing the dishes so we had the chicken biryani and the vegetable spring rolls appetizer.  Delicious!  We planned to return before leaving London.

It was still relatively early so we walked to Buckingham Palace and into the park a little.  We chatted with a few fellow tourists and then went back to the room and had a nice sleep.

Next:  Castle #3, another church, some pubs and Rumbelow’s Ripper