Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Windsor, arrival in London

England Day 5:  We got started later than I wanted because it took a while for breakfast, to pay up and get loaded up in the car.  It kind of mattered because we got to London later than I really wanted.  But we got there!

We said goodbye to Sue at Cornerways and beautiful Bath.  This city really impacted all of us and we talked about returning there in the near future.  Nephew talked about looking into study abroad programs that might help him get to Bath while in college. 

View of the road from our room at Cornerways

The GPS programmed for Windsor Castle, we were off.  It took a good two hours driving to get to the parking lot at the foot of the Castle.  It was very pricy to park (I knew there was a cheaper option a little further away but here is where that late start first cost us) so we paid up for three hours.  We hiked up to the Castle just in time to see the finale of the Changing of the Guard so I know it was 1130am!  It was pretty cool to see the Guards marching by playing music but it’s not something for which any of us would want to wait hours.

The ticket line was long, 45 minutes.  I hadn’t prebooked because it was expensive and I couldn’t be 100% sure beforehand that we would make it there.  The guard would come out periodically to move people who had prebooked to the much shorter line and we were all seriously jealous.
Our view as we waited in the long line
Once paid up, security checked, audio guide working, we started our tour of this magnificent castle.  The Queen’s flag was flying and it was pretty exciting to be touring “her” house while she was home.  By time we left, her flag had been replaced with the Union Jack.  She didn’t even tell us bye bye (sniff).

The Queen's flag flying

I won’t bore you with descriptions of Windsor Castle. It’s simply magnificent in every way.  Husband and I thought Buckingham Palace was the prettiest castle we’d ever seen, until Windsor.  It’s spectacular.  The audio guide was very well done and even though it was very crowded, we didn’t feel overwhelmed by the masses, except in the Dollhouse rooms.  No photos allowed inside-which I didn’t realize (hence the ones of the Dollhouse and Dolls, sorry) until we go to the first State Room. 

The Dollhouse was so intricate and detailed

Beautiful tableware.  This is where I realized NO photos! Sorry

We loved all the State Rooms particularly the Waterloo Room, the massive St. George’s Hall and the spectacular Crimson Room with its gold and chandeliers.  Nephew asked the guard in the Crimson Room if the gold was “really gold” and it was “really gold leaf.”  He started calculating how much everything cost and how rich the royals are.  We couldn’t come up with a realistic number. We were awed by St. George’s Chapel and were lucky to hear the end of an organ recital. 

St. George's Chapel

Our parking was about expired so we hightailed it back to the car.  We were hungry so we stopped in Datchet at the Royal Stag for lunch.  It was good pub food, maybe a little fancier than what we’d gotten used to. 

After lunch, we easily found the Hertz rental car agency but it was bit more of a struggle to find the gas station to fill up.  Once we arrived at Hertz, the agent was very nice, looked over the car and said they’d be no extra charges for anything (as it should be since we didn’t cause any damage and we returned the car full).  I ran inside to use the wifi (Skype app) to let our apartment greeter know we were at LHR and would be taking the train in to London.  We were running late...

The process of taking the tube into London was really very easy.  We bought Oyster Cards for all of us with enough money to get us there and back.  Nephew’s had extra for daily travel.  Husband and I would be buying 7 day Travel Cards for the 2 4 1 offers.

We got on the Piccadilly Line with plans to get off at Hammersmith.  But the train kept stopping short of the stations.  It was stifling hot.  We were sweaty, tired and disgruntled.  Now, we’re from New Orleans, Louisiana—it routinely gets into the 90’s F (32-36C) with high humidity (anywhere from 70 to 100%) during the summer.  We are used to hot.  We are not used to being in hot, enclosed places without AC!  So as the Piccadilly line seemed to be having trouble, we opted to get out at Acton Town and transfer to the District Line to Victoria (our destination).  This worked out well—no steps to speak of, except that this train, too, kept stopping short of the platforms.  What should have taken 45-60 minutes, took over 1.5 hours.  We were never so happy to see the Victoria!

We dragged our bags the 3-4 blocks to our apartment on Palace Street and were met by the lovely Ricardo.  He looked at us pityingly because we were all flushed from the heat.  He showed us around the beautiful apartment, explained how everything worked, made sure the wifi was connected, found a second fan and set it up, and recommended we stay outside the next day because it was projected to be hotter than today.  He also recommended nephew try pear cider which proved to be his favorite drink (I liked it a lot, too).

The apartment is https://londonconnection.com/property/2-23-palace-street/   It has two bedrooms and two baths.  It’s in an L formation.  As you walk in, the large, master bath is the first room you come to, then the kitchen. Across from the kitchen is the combo living and dining.  Down the hall into the L are the two bedrooms, both about the same size.  The first bedroom was twins made into a king which we gave to nephew because the bath was down the hall.  The other bedroom had a good sized queen with a very small ensuite bath.  The shower stall was a good size but the sink was a terrible design and the water went all over the floor when it was being used.  It really needs to be changed for something less “pretty” and more functional.  This room overlooked an interior courtyard and was very quiet at night.  Other that the non-functional sink,  we had no complaints.  We liked the apartment, the location, the ease of working with londonconnection both in the States and in London, and the price.  If we were going with another couple, we definitely would consider staying there again.

Our bedroom 
Our ensuite with terrible sink
Comfy living and dining 
Living and dining
Good sized kitchen
Big main bathroom
Bedroom faced this inside courtyard
Husband had loved Nobu when we went there on a visit to Hawaii so I was happy to find it in London.  I choose the Berkeley  location because it was marginally closer to our apartment and got good reviews.  We arrived at 840 for our 830 reservation and were seated at a terrible table for two with an extra stool in the walkway.  It was also a very warm table due to its proximity to the kitchen.  Not good. Not acceptable.  We asked for a different table and were offered another small table by the sushi bar.  We were not going to pay Nobu’s extreme prices to sit at the first table so got up and looked at the second and decided to stay.  This was not an auspicious beginning. 

It took awhile for things to get better.  The waiters (and there were tons of them) didn’t seem to understand that we wanted tap water and took about 15 minutes to bring us a bottle of Fuji which we rejected.  It took another 10 minutes to get tap water.  Someone took our drink orders and the drinks came out eventually.  Finally, a David Beckham lookalike waiter (from Italy) took over and the service improved dramatically.  I don’t  know his name but he redeemed Nobu for us.  The food was delicious, possibly better than in Hawaii, and we ended up having a very nice evening.

Avocado salad-sensational!

Nephew's chicken teriyaki
We walked through St. James Park and saw floodlit Buckingham Palace on our way back to the apartment where we crashed.  It had been a long, hot, but enjoyable day and night.  We were in London!
Beautiful sky on our walk back to Palace St.
Next:  Seriously hot, long lines, a little history and some tennis.

Monday, June 29, 2015

One excellent day in Bath

England Day 4:  We ordered breakfast for 830am so we could have an early start on our only day in Bath.  Sue was running a little behind so by time we ate and left it was closer to 930.  We headed directly to the Abbey but it was closed to prepare for a graduation.  The staff said it would be open after 5pm.   

We planned to take the Mayor’s Voluntary Guides Tour at 1030am so with a little time to kill, we went into the Pump Room.  The host greeted us and when I asked to “take the water” he took us back to the pump and served us three glasses.  He didn’t charge us.   There were maybe 6 people at tables. 

We drank the stinky water!

It's a beautiful room, especially with the orchestra playing

Ready for all to "take the water"

View of the King's Bath

While we stood there sipping on the stinky water, husband started chatting with a reporter who was there for a story and nephew was probably bored and confused when I got tears in my eyes when the orchestra started to play.   Jane Austen had been here along with so many others.  And now I was sipping on the same stinky water that brought them all to Bath.  Priceless. We walked around to get a better view of the King’s Bath then made our way to the meeting point for the Tour.   

There were some 80 people gathered for the Tour but the guides broke us into four manageable groups.  Our guide was an energetic retired educator.  She started us off imagining the swamp that was there before even the Romans.  She explained how there have been four houses of worship on the site over the ages.  After the grand introduction, we were off for 2.5 hours of walking all around Bath.  We saw what is left of the original wall which was very cool and something we might not have noticed on our own.  

She told us about the three men that made Bath what it is: Allen, Wood Elder (and Younger), and Nash, and weaved their stories throughout the tour.  She talked about the 4 Kings named  George after whom the “Georgian Period” is named.  We all felt a little sorry for Frederick who his parents disliked so much they allowed him to be a guinea pig for untested vaccines (harsh).  No-one seemed to mourn his death.  As she explained, had he ascended to the throne, the Georgian era would have been interrupted.   

These houses show the different ways of quarrying the Bath stone

The tour took us past the Assembly Rooms, to the Circus and the Royal Crescent.  We saw the hole in the brick fences where the human waste was collected by enterprising men to sell to farmers as fertilizer.  We walked the path where Captain Wentworth and Anne Elliot reaffirmed their love in Persuasion.  She showed us how home owners would brick up or reduce the size of their windows to pay less in taxes.  We ended up by the Abbey and she departed rather quickly—no tips, no further chatting.  It was a fantastic tour! 

The Circus

Afterwards we grabbed filling sandwiches at Jacob’s Coffee House then toured the super crowded Roman Baths.  We had the audio guides and did our best to understand what we were seeing but it was hard with the crowds.  Maybe an evening tour would make it come to life.  We all threw coins into the black pool so I hope that means we’ll be back in Bath one day (like the Trevi Fountain in Rome). 

The Terrace of the Roman Baths, Abbey in background

Bacteria filled water at Roman Baths

It's good for you

Next stop was #1 Royal Crescent.  I really wanted to see the Assembly Rooms but we were running out of time so I chose #1.  We were a little confused by how to tour the place until husband noticed that we had entered #1 A (for annex) and that the entrance to #1 was next door.  We went up and down the elevators and stairs a couple of times before figuring this out…  We watched the video then went next door. 

Number 1 Royal Crescent was the home of a Georgian gentleman and it is decorated faithfully to the period.  Husband and I always enjoy “house” museums because they help bring the period to life.  This was no exception.  We could see and understand how the wealthy in the Georgian era lived.  We all enjoyed the tour and talking with the nice and knowledgeable staff in each room.  We were delighted to see “New Orleans” on the antique desk map.  The display of the turnspit dog was sad.  We spent an hour there and enjoyed it. 

New Orleans represented!

The Drawing Room

The view from the Drawing Room

The lady of the house's bedroom

Turnspit dog

Since we were at the Royal Crescent, I suggested we stop at the Royal Crescent Hotel for a drink.  This was a really nice break.  The hotel gardens are gorgeous, the public rooms beautiful and quite similar in d├ęcor to #1.  The drink prices were not even extortionate.   

French 75 at Royal Crescent Hotel

The Assembly Rooms were closed by now so we made our way to the Bell Inn Pub which was recommended by Sue, the proprietor of the B&B.  My nephew is very much into music, he plays guitar (and still a little piano like at Jane Austen’s House Museum) and had worn a Led Zeppelin t-shirt to breakfast.  Sue told us that Robert Plant was one of the 500+ owners of the Bell so of course we had to go. 

We had a postcard with directions for the Bell but it was a bit hard to find, even with the help of locals.  On the way there, I noticed the Star Inn pub and we stopped there.  We were the first customers of the night!  The Star is really a cool place.  Small, intimate wood paneled rooms, little tables and benches, very old feeling.  Husband got us our beers and chatted with the barkeep who told him about the damage the building suffered during the blitz.  He showed us a book about where the bombs fell in Bath and articles about that awful time in history.  When husband returned the book, it was a different barkeep who asked him what it was.  This barkeep has worked at the Star for years and had never seen the book or heard about the war damage.  Pretty funny. 

It was still pretty early when we got to the Bell but a lot of the locals were already out.  Everyone was very welcoming to husband, who was making friends at the bar, nephew with his Led Zeppelin t-shirt, and me.  We met Jay, Richard, and several others whose names I can’t recall.  All very interesting characters who drank and joked with us all night.  We decided to get dinner before the music started at the Bell at 9pm.  We went down Walcott to Thai Basil restaurant and it was pretty good and filling.  Afterwards back to the Bell where Jay informed us that the band scheduled had to cancel because they were stuck at Glastonbury so three musicians joined up to make music.  It was not great music but kudos to them for helping out at the last minute. 

Jay, nephew and me

Richard, husband and me

This was nephews favorite pub experience (and we went to a.lot of pubs!).  He enjoyed talking to Jay who is a drummer and shared his experiences playing music in London in the 60’s and 70’s.  The Bell Inn was a place we could see ourselves hanging out regularly if we lived in Bath, and we would all like to live in Bath! 

We walked back to the B&B and crashed around midnight.  It had been a fabulous day and evening in Bath! 

Next:  Windsor Castle, it’s hot and the train keeps stopping, London