July 10, 2011 Comments Off
We slept in just a bit, our Apartment was odd and slightly crapy, but felt reminiscent of my old apartment in Moscow, so we actually were sleeping better. It was kind of like a 20 year old homecoming.
Once up, we gathered our laundry together, and while Sasha rested in the apartment, Yulia and I walked around the corner to the laundromat. It turned out this was the filming site fro one on Scarlett Johaansen’s films, so folks popped in to take photos, while we were really just interested in getting a bit cleaner. I grabbed some food around the corner and dropped it off for Sasha at the apartment. then I headed out for the Olympia Kensington Station where the Doctor Who experience was setup. From what we read online, tickets were a bit of a pain, and according to the Tube map, the Station was a easy ride through the Metro, so I figured I would square tickets away, get back, then we would see the exhibits and do the city.
Unfortunately, the final leg of his particular tube ride was some kind of local shuttle oddball, and didn’t seem to run in the mornings. So I was stuck with no clear way of getting to the station, and decided to walk. metro stations are usually spaced out for a reason, that being that is just a bit to far to walk between, and in this case that was pretty true. I was winded by the time I got there, and found that tickets weren’t all that hard to get, and unlike purchasing them online, no specific time was needed to show up. At least that was a win.
I found a slightly closer metro to Olympia Kensington Station, walked briskly over there, then caught the metro back to the apartment. This took a lot longer than expected and Yulia and Sasha were pretty worried by the time I got back. All was good and we hit the road, taking the tubes back to the exhibit.
It was still a walk out there, but well worth it once we got in. I really appreciate Yulia being so patient while Sasha and I geeked out, but this included a massive exhibit that had a interactive experience with rolling Daleks, Cybermen, weeping angels, the Pandorica, and others, followed but a prop exhibit that had items dating back to the 4th Doctor, and costumes reproduced back from the first on. It was really amazing. They had lots of behind the scenes displays, and even Yulia was interesting in a few bits, but just a few. Most of it was too geeky, and I thank her again for tolerating us.
Once we were done, we decided to see if the shuttle train was running from the station at this time, and by luck we were just in time to catch the shuttle to the main line, saving us a ton of walking. We headed over a few stops toward the Victoria and Albert gallery. We had a few crepes just outside the gallery in a little French shop, then went into the gallery. Apparently this started as Richard’s private collection of art, and it is amazing. We walked throughout the first floor, and amongst the collection were surprised to se a plaster copy of the Apprentice Pillar from the Rosslyn Chapel, which we saw only a few days before.
After a lot of walking we went for a rest at the cafe, having some wine and coffee. THe restaurant there is apparently the oldest Museum cafe that is actually built for the purpose. It is pretty swank. We rested until our feet only hurt a bit, then walked up the shopping street towards the Metro. this took us past several funky shops, then, to Harrods.
If you read in the guidebook, Harrods is simply described as an overpriced institution. But that really doesn’t do it justice. you can see that about half of he people in Harrods are just there to see the spectacle. Imagine if Wily Wonka had a retail outlet and you are very close. Every department is a spectacle of architecture, with uniformed servants to run the place. Prices are set at least 6-10 times the highest retail. The selection of items is expansive and exquisite. I really can’t do it justice. It is everything that you might imagine shopping to be, if you read only Vogue and Bon Appetit your whole life.
But the customers…
Fat old men with bigger breasts than their diminutive enhanced wives, entire arabic sports teams with poorly disguised security details and hordes of burka-dress wives, children in tow. Everyone looking at the best way to conspicuously spend money. Once woman waiting in a massive line to order 20 pound per slice pizza that looked like Domino’s. 12 pound per kilo apricots. A sweets and coffee shop that was right out of chitty-chitty-bang-bang. Everyone looking to impress the person next to them or shock the onlookers. Yulia couldn’t get enough. She desperately wanted to watch and make fun of the spectacle. I had to take her out of there before the told them that Soylent Green is People.
We escaped and continued along the street, until we had had enough then caught the Tube to the station where we stayed on our last trip to London, only one block off from this trip. The neighborhood looked better than I remembered, and we check a few shops and grabbed some food at Tesco, before finding the local shopping mall. The mall was pretty cool. We waked around a bit, not finding anything great, then we came acrsoss the fish.
I had seen a local salon on once of our walks, and joked to Sasha that these tanks were for your feet, and the fish nibble at your skin to clean it. Then we found this in the middle of the mall, Tanks of fish with people sitting above them, feet in the water with little fish nibbling at them. I had made up the whole thing, and it turned out to be true. I couldn’t resist and paid for Yulia and Sasha to do 1 minutes of fish pedicure. It was hilarious to watch, as they didn’t stop giggling the whole time.
But once they were done, they said their feet felt great – can’t argue with that.
We left and walked over the the Swan Pub right near our Apartment. The place is about 200 years old, and while we were put off originally by the huge volume of people smoking out front, found a fantastic place inside, all clean and non-smoking, with a dining porch upstairs. We had a great dinner with beer and wine, declared this to be our home pub for our stay.
We were even treated to a show when some American woman began berating the waiter for not coming to her table to take her order, not realizing that at a pub that you walk up to order at the bar. She was livid that this wasn’t explained to her, despite the fact that it is not her country, meaning that it is her responsibility to figure things out, and also despite the fact that they have a big blackboard at the front titled “How to Order Food at The Swan” with these instructions spelled out in detail.
I just smiled and had another Fuller’s London’s Pride. (aptly named)
July 6, 2011 Comments Off
Must. Kill. All. Owls.
It was a bummer leaving York in so short a time, we were trying to decide between spending an extra half day in York, or getting an extra half day in Stratford upon Avon. We only had a 2 hour drive or so, and that was going to leave us with extra time somewhere. We figured that traffic would be best in the morning, and eft right after breakfast, opting to take our half day in Stratford.
We were right about the traffic, and got to stratford just after noon. Our room wasn’t even ready yet. We left our things at the hotel, and walked into the town. The town is small, and though full of tourists, very rustic. The timber framed buildings are beautiful, and it looks like there has been a good local effort to preserve them as best possible.
We have been on vacation for two weeks now, and have found that across the UK, every place that we have stopped has been really beautiful, but each in a very different way. I think we have been pretty lucky in our choices of destinations, but you also just have to credit the area for being generally scenic.
The weather, however, is finally starting to turn on us. Sasha is pleased. The heat was getting to her right away, and she is happy to have some rain showers and cooler air. Can you tell she is a Seattle girl? We found a nice tea shoppe to duck into while the rain came down to get lunch. We had a view right across the street of the Shakespeare birthplace. The place is remarkably preserved. We waited for the rain to clear a bit, and checked out the tourist shops.
Despite the huge volume of tourists, it was still really charming. The Tudor architecture is really hard to beat, even with all the development. We went back towards the hotel once our room was ready, and while nothing special, it was nice to be in a full hotel for some part of our trip. We got all set up, then headed back down to the lobby, as we saw a boat tour just next to the hotel.
Apparently, when built originally, it was a Hilton Hotel, (now a Holiday Inn) and the Hiltons wanted to advertise a “Riverfront” hotel. Unfortunately, there was no way in the area to build right on the riverbank, so the hotel was built a ways back, then they dug their own canal to bring the river to the hotel. This made little sense in the long run, but now a small tour company runs out of here, and we could take a 45 minute tour of the Avon for about 5 pounds.
it was a small operation, but they had a good sense of humor, and wine. I was amazed right of by the ability of the captain to maneuver such a narrow, long boat through the narrow channel. There was little room for error, and he made it look pretty easy. You could tell that it was a small, amateur operation as they were not completely organized, but they work working pretty hard to make everything interesting. We got river views of the Marina, Local church where Shakespeare is buried, city center, local homes, and a bit of explanation of life on the Avon river. It was pretty fun.
Then the Americans spoke up.
Some days I think, “Gosh, why do Americans have such a bad rap across the world?” Then I see Arseholes like this. About halfway through the tour, some woman started giving a hard time to the guide, giving him crap about his lame jokes and interrupting to show how much better she was. Apparently trying to impress her children in front of her new boyfriend, who seemed to be pretty horrified at how she acted. Judging by her Tiffany watch and rings, she was the one with the money, and didn’t give a crap about anything else. She was loud and trying to put the crew in their place, whatever place that was supposed to be. Our guide payed it cool and she gave up after a while.
Once we left the cruise, I ran into her again in our hotel, yelling at one of the staff in the lobby. Classy. Yulia commented that it was too bad that I hadn’t had a few more drinks, as then I would started comments back at her, which would have been entertaining. Although some people actually do take offense from being called an obnoxious fat tart, but I can’t imagine why.
We got dinner at The Garrick Inn, which is the oldest continuos Pub in Stratford, operating from the 1500′s It had been gutted by fire at least once, and rebuilt, so it had a mix of original exterior, and original and updated interior. The food was excellent, and reasonable prices, surprising for a tourist town.
“Drink sir, is a great provoker of three things….nose painting, sleep and urine. Lechery, sir, it provokes, and unprovokes; it provokes the desire but takes away the performance.”
Well said sir, Well said.
July 6, 2011 Comments Off
Things might cool down at night near the riverfront, but apparently our solid brick and stone hotel retained it’s heat pretty well. We might not have been able to sleep well, but the owl that lived next to our window gave us something to listen to while awake.
We still got up early, as a free breakfast was a free breakfast. There was a full selection of continental breakfast items, and a Full English Breakfast as well if you wanted it. I did, and ate some of Yulia’s as well. It too me two cups of coffee to realize that I had forgotten to wear shoes downstairs, while everyone else seemed to dress sharp for breakfast. They were giving my some funy looks.
Screw ‘em – They’re lucky I even had pants.
After dressing we headed out for our next York cat. This was working out to be a great city tour, we would find a cat, shop around, grab some espresso, and go for the next cat. We hit the whole center of town this way. On our way around, Yulia found some nice sunglasses shopping, and Sasha had some baby geese run up to feed from her hand and jump up on her. Too cute.
We walked around the bank and cut over to York Castle. We walked up the mott to the castle and enjoyed the view. We really weren’t up to pay to go into yet another castle at this point, but we saw ice cream across the street and made a beeline over. It was really rich, fantastic ice cream, and reminded me that England hadn’t fallen into the trap that the S had of replacing all food with tasteless, fat-free replacements that doubled up the sugar so you wouldn’t notice the extra salt and sawdust used to puff it up. Bastards.
We wend back across the center of town, past the birthplace of Guy Faulkes, and went to York Minster to see the tour. As it turned out, there was a funeral at the Mister that day, so we had to wait for that to finish to go inside, and most of the tours were closed. We were able to walk about the interior, which was massive. I would have to compare it to Notre Dame in scale, with a series of smaller prayer areas inside the size of most normal chapels. The artwork was beautiful, and we wished we could have taken a full tour, but that just wasn’t going to happen.
We left the Minster, and were seriously overheating. We went back to the center alley streets for more shade, and found courtyard cafe to hide in for a bit. Here, we were served the best Pimm’s cocktail yet. This had so much fruit in it, it was almost a drinking salad. I decided that that made it healthy, and ordered a whole pitcher. The short rest did good, and we went back up past Minster to find out last cat. After finding it, the heat was getting to us again, and we went straight back to the Hotel.
An afternoon nap was welcome. Despite being hard to sleep, it was nice to have the heat after some dodgy weather up North. the reports also showed that we were going to get clouds later in the week, so we decided just to enjoy this while we had it.
Once we woke, we went back to the center for dinner, and to find the last architectural oddity on our list, which was a red devil carving on one of the walls, there are interesting carvings al over the city, and this is one of the more famous. We found it, then found a French Cafe chain to have dinner at.
York was a great city. We easily could have spent more time here. We were very glad to have changed our plans.
July 6, 2011 Comments Off
We had a long drive ahead of us today. We were going from Glasgow down to York, and that was a 5+ hour drive. We had packed up most of the way the night before, But the Fast and the Furious the night before kept us up for too much of the night. We were pretty slow moving in the morning. We made what food we had left for breakfast, dropped our keys off at the interior office, and headed out of town.
We made amazing time heading to The South. the roads weren’t as scenic as they were driving through Wales, but even when they dropped to a single lane in each direction, they remained good and fast. We Folowed the GPS into York, and were winding among small streets and city walls in no time. Our hotel was just two blocks off from the pedestrian city center, which meant we were *inside* the old city walls. In most European cities, this is just a metaphorical comment, usually with some street, named something creative like “Wall Street” marking where the walls once stood.
In York however, this isn’t a theoretical discussion. The walls are all still standing, as are the main three gates. There are a few large gaps on main roads in, but otherwise you can actually still walk the top of the defensive wall all the way around the city. Bring a couple of loads of bricks from Home Depot and you would have the whole thing back in full operation. The tower gates even still have their portcullis’s, though they may need some WD-40.
The hotel was not too small, and very clean. Once we were settled in, we went to the lobby, and checked out the flyers for things to do locally. We found one that talked about the York history of architectural cat statues. Apparently York has had buildings put up statues of cats for luck since the time of the plague, apparently to scare off rats. the ones up currently are modern, and most from a single architect who loved the practice. The flyer gave us clues on where to look, and we decided to make this a project for the city. As the cats were scattered around the whole city, it would make for an effective tour.
The city center is just as beautiful as Bath, though completely different architecture. We walked in the evening through the skinny old streets, where the upper floors of the houses on either side extend wider with each added floor, almost touching on top. Yulia was going crazy here, she loved the place. We definitely made the right choice to come here instead of the Castle in Darlington.
We found a couple cats right off, wandered a bit, then settled in an alley cafe for some drinks and food. Prices were very good, which surprised us as we have been expecting things to get more expensive as we get closer to London, and even though this was a tourist center, it was really reasonable. We chased away a few smokers from the tables through pure shame, then continued our cat hunt. Part of our walk led s across the top of one of the sections of city wall. It was in near perfect condition, and the view was amazing. After finding a few more cats, we headed back towards the hotel to clean up a bit.
We headed back out after a short while and made our way to another section of city wall. We walked along the outside of the wall, and ended up along the river walk, heading back to the center. We passed by the river locks used for boats heading in and out of the canals, and kept in towards the center, finding an outdoor pub on the riverfront. We sat for a quick meal of wings and a couple of Pimms. It was cheap and good. and as the sun was going down and starting to cool off, thankfully quick. We headed back to the hotel, and were glad to get in an extra half day in York before out tour day in the morning. We were up for getting some rest.
The night had it’s own plans…
June 24, 2011 Comments Off
And we’re off.
We’ve become pretty old hat at this whole traveling thing. We got out of the house and into a waiting shuttle, driven by part of the Eastside Russian Limo Mafia. And the roads were clear. We made it to the airport in no time. Being early, we were able to drop off our bags with no line, and had a line at the TSA “Grab and Grope” that was only a few people long.
Naturally, this gave us more time at the bar, I mean – gate.
We grabbed a quick bite and drink, then went on a hunt for bottled water. Our lesson from last trip was to carry more water with us, as the plane was dehydrating and you got stiffed at the airport arrival. After buying a big bottle in the magazine shop, we got an announcement from the British Airways ticket desk that they had free bottles of water for the passengers on our flight.
In any case, I took a bunch and filled my bag for later. Time flew pretty quickly, and soon we we were boarding the plane. We had fairly good seats, at the front of the economy class. Naturally we were split up, me in front, Yulia and Sasha behind me. While annoying, this wasn’t too bad. We at least had pretty good seats, and the flight was only 8 hours or so, so it wasn’t that long.
British Airways allows you to opt in for different meals, if you use the website in advance. This let’s you get a kids meal, or vegetarian, or Kosher, etc. They had an option for Gluten Free meals, which is the closest to my diet that I could find. This did not work out well.
The odd, processed rice bun and cake, frozen salad, and mystery meat in white sauce that passed for the Gluten Free meal, surprisingly, did not satisfy. Neither did the snack pack of, largely, an empty box and diced fruit. I was left a bit wanting.
I’m really happy to get an uneventful flight, it was calm enough that Yulia didn’t need to calm herself with too many drinks, and we were tired, but in good shape when we landed. Our bag came through the collector quickly, and we were out on the stop waiting for our shuttle to Hertz in no time.
Naturally, the shuttle ran late to get us, but this was made better with an unnaturally long and slow line at the Hertz office. I would have used the automated check-in, but I had two confirmation mails that listed two different cars, and wanted to make sure that I didn’t have two cars rented by mistake. Once I got to the front, I confirmed that we had just one car, and since I had done everything online, it was a quick process to get signed and get the lot number for our car.
We walked right past our car twice, because we were expecting a significantly smaller and worse car. I still don’t know the model and make, but it’s a black compact wagon of some foreign make, and much larger and nicer than the Ford Focus that they had us pegged for. Yulia was thrilled with the car, and happily jumped into the passenger seat to go and found a steering wheel staring at her.
Right-Hand-Drive issues solved, we got into the correct seats, plugged in the GPS (the UK map pack is so worth the money) and headed out. It took me quite a bit of focus to stay on the left side of the road and in the center of the lane. We stopped about halfway to Bath for a rest and some food. England has rest stations just like France, and we loved it. Gas, a food court, coffee, wifi, and a minimart. All super clean. I was starving from the flight still, and made a beeline for the kitchen. The food looked fantastic! Yulia wasn’t starving, but she was still impressed, so I knew it wasn’t just starvation goggles making things look great.
I found the “brunch plate” for £5.90 which had sausages, chips, beans, and fried eggs. That and two Red Bulls really hit the spot. We hit the road again with the GPS giving us our bearings. About an hour later, we were off the main freeway heading towards our B&B. The road was getting smaller and smaller, ad we were a bit nervous, both about driving on the smaller road, and if our place was going to be ok.
The area around Bath is pretty sparse. We didn’t see much around. Right when the GPS told us we were at our destination, we saw the place, “The Blathwayt”. It was a stunning little pub and B&B just outside Bath. We walked in and found the manager working at a table in the pub, rebuilding the website on her laptop. She was glad to see us, and once we confirmed that we were there to stay and not just have a pint, she got our keys and showed us up.
We were expecting a typical British closet-sized room, and were shocked to find that the room we reserved “the Family Ensuite” was big and fully remodeled. We have a big private bath, and a view out across the horse racetrack behind the pub. Yulia was thrilled again, this was a great start to the vacation. We cleaned up, napped a bit, and got directions on where to park in Bath for the evening to get some food and find our bearings.
Bath is stunning. Absolutely beautiful architecture. We drove around a bit, parked and walked the center of town for a while. This was a great shopping district with some very funky shops, nice food, and close to the main tourism spots (namely, the Roman baths). Tomorrow, we planned on taking the tours, but today we just found a nice Pub and grabbed some food.
We will see how the city is in general tomorrow.
June 21, 2011 Comments Off
I’m not much for a blended scotch drinker typically, but I’m beginning to take a shine to the Johnnie Walker Gold. Not too shabby.
We take off tomorrow for the UK. We are all excited, though we just finished working on our house and it would be nice to get more time in it in a finished state before taking of, but that’s just not going to happen. We set our schedule six months ago and we wouldn’t want to give this up. we have a whole three wweeks ahead of us taking a driving tour of the U.K., and it looks to be a blast. we will hit England, Wales, and Scotland.
I’m looking forward to digging into some Haggis.
Now that’s a sentence you don’t hear very much.