Tuesday, November 26, Back
This day started out with the anxiousness and excitement of traveling out of the country. The last time I went to Europe was back in the Summer of 1990. The day started off with the promise of a great adventure and then had a couple hiccups along the way. I arrived at work, planning to work a half-day and then go to the airport. I arrived at work and found out about three hours before my plane was to leave Denver that my traveling buddy, Mike, had a passport issue. It seems that in order to gain entrance into another country that you need to have a passport that is good for your travel stay as well as an additional 6 months, Mike's was good for the trip but expired at the end of December. Instead of risking it, Mike decided to cancel his plans to travel. I was left with uncertainty and eventually decide to go, with the encouragement of some other co-workers.
At this point I had less time to make it to the airport. I made it to the airport thinking that I needed to make a flight that would leave in 45 minutes, so I was a little rude and jumped up to the first class counter. I was relieved at this point to find out that I had an additional hour to make my plane, because I would now be routed through the Washington Dulles airport, as the Chicago Airport was having weather related problems. Once I made it to my gate I called my sister to relay all this new information to the family. I ran into some old church friends at the gate who were just going on the Washington leg of my trip. At this point I was finally settling down and then started feeling hungry, bummer I was on a snack only flight.
Once in Washington I bought an over priced sandwich and lemonade. The new set of flights that I was taking to London would put me into London 2 hours after my previous planed flights.
Wednesday, November 27,
I arrived in London and went through the customs entrance queue without a problem, the only thing of interest was that they asked me where I was staying. I did not declare anything on entrance to London, and hoped that was the right thing to do. I found the tube without a problem, I just followed the rest of the crowd. Almost all of the tube stops have charge card tube pass machines now which make getting a travel card easy. I managed to figure out how to get to the Paddington station via and tube change at Earl's Court, however it took me a while to figure out how to find the right train at Earl's Court. One thing that would become apparent after a couple days riding the tube is that the tube map can not be overlaid on a real map and that you should forget about trying to keep your NESW sense of direction...just follow the signs.
I arrived at my hotel, explained my situation of being just one person instead of two, and arranged to get a double bed instead of two singles. I had to put my luggage into a closet until the room was ready and I could actually check in. While waiting I went to the tube stop to get a travel card for zones one and two, at this point I was tired and a little unsettled. I dropped some money and my tube pass trying to figure out what was in all of my pockets, a transportation representative helped me out. I did not have a chance to get into my room and organized all the stuff I would be carrying or leaving at the hotel. I managed to travel on the tube and find a library, which like in the US has free internet access, and emailed home. I then checked out Hyde Park and went back to the hotel the check in.
After checking in, I took the tube to Harrods to check out the store who's slogan is, "We have everything." The store was decorated for Christmas and had the greatest window displays. There was a Bentley and chauffeur waiting outside one exit; its it not every day in the US that you see a Bentley. One observation about automobiles is that most people either drive a small fuel efficient vehicle or they drive a luxury, there is no middle ground. After checking out the store I walk down the street past the Prince Albert Museum. After taking the tube back to the hotel, I had supper at the Swan pub, which was down the street from the hotel just across from Hyde Park.
Thursday, November 28, Back
This day started off with a walk through Hyde Park down to the Marble Arch. After figuring out that the Tube travel pass card was cheaper after 9:00AM, I figured out that a walking in the morning was the best thing to do while waiting for a cheaper tube pass. This morning I found a small ice skating rink at the Marble Arch, and continued my walk down the street to Bond. This morning was when I first started noticing all the Starbuck Coffee houses that are located only a block apart. Because London is such an old city, you can just walk down the street and see cool architecture everywhere. There was an interesting bar near the Bond Street tube stop that I peered into, and thought that it would be nice to stop by later. I continued my walk to Hanover Square before making my way to the Oxford Circus tube station.
After taking the tube to Tower Hill, I started my major tourist site for the day with the Tower of London. I spent about 3 hours at the Tower of London, listening to the beefeaters (Yeoman) explain some of the history of the grounds. There was a lot of be-heading at the tower, mostly women. The seven ravens that are on the ground also had a cool story. Other interesting things to learn from include the armory, Roman presence in London, and the large number of miniature/scaled representations of the Tower of London grounds that showed the changes of the tower of the years. The Crown Jewels, which included the gold maces and gold orbs where interesting to look at. The gold orb reminded me of, "The Holy Hand Grenade," from the movie, "Monty Python and the Holy Grail". Although there were a number of tourist and this site, there were also a lot of school children in their school uniforms.
At this point I started my afternoon stroll through the city of London, which started at Cannon Street tube stop and ended at Trafalgar Square. Along the way I stopped for a sandwich at a Pret-A-Manger, I decided to "stay in", vs. "take away." Which reminds me that when you are in the tube you look for the "way out" instead of an "exit". I also checked out the Millennium Bridge, St. Paul's Cathedral, Ye Old Chester Cheese pub, and an ice skating rink setup at Kings College and the Summerset House Courtyard. I found my internet connection at the Shoe Library this day and emailed home again.
In the evening I enjoyed people watching at the Russell Square tube stop, near the Nike store, while waiting to meet up with Max Rutch. Max is a former co-worker who I met at Trip.com and is now living in the London area with his English wife Nicola. Max walked me through SOHO and on to Piccadilly Circus where we met up with his wife and a friend that he knew for supper at Pizza Express. Supper was the first time I really saw the English eat with a utensil in each hand, never letting go of either of them...its pizza. I at first cut my pizza into slices and then picked up the slices by hand, then realizing I was the only person doing this I decide to do it the English way. After supper we walked down the street O'Neil's Music Room to watch a live performance from a band that was lead by a friend of a friend of a friend.
Friday, November 29, Back
After a late night the previous day, I decided to sleep in. When I did get up I started the day by getting to the St. James tube stop and walking through St. James Park over to Buckingham Place where I waited for the changing of the the guard. Today had to be the most tourist trap filled day on my trip. Tour buses practically stop and drop off the masses at the palace for the changing of the guard. The number of cultures represented there was huge. I managed to find a close enough spot to the gate to see most of the action. I waited around for an hour before the action started and then stayed for about 45 minutes of the hour event. I then walked back through St. James Park to Westminster Abbey. Again the Abbey had a lot of people waiting to get in. The Abbey was interesting, with a lot of history and dead people. It is a good thing that they no longer bury people there, otherwise there would be no room left to actually hold a church service. Visiting the Poets Corner was one of the most rewarding parts of going through the Abbey (Geoffrey Chaucer, William Shakespeare, George Frederick Handel, Jane Austen, and Charles Dickens, graves and memorials).
Next, I got my pictures of Big Ben, Parliament, and the Eye of London. I continued my walk toward Trafalgar Square and stopped at a local to get Lunch, fish and chips. While eating at the local I had a very interesting conversation with a couple that had come into London from about 2 hours North of the city to do some site seeing themselves. After lunch, I continued to Trafalgar Square, past the Horse Guard and Admiralty Arch. The square was alive with people and pigeons. It seems that people had a hard time reading the please do not feed the pigeons signs that were everywhere. Like a lot of the London area, this area too was under restoration and new construction. From here I crossed the construction zone in front of the National Gallery and went into the Galley to have a look. It was amazing to be able to visit so many museums and galleries for free. In the gallery I found some works of art from artist I recognized and saw their actual paintings, not just a poster of the painting (Rembrandt, Monet, Seurat, and Van Gogh). I want to see the Van Eyck painting, but I did not find it; the painting of "The Marriage of Giovanni Arnolfini with Giovanna Cenami".
I did a little shopping in the afternoon at HMV and Virgin Music Stores and Games-Workshop. After shopping I made my way out to Richmond on the Tube to have supper with Max and Nicola. We ate at another Pizza Express run restaurant and this time had pasta. Max lead us on a walk around the palace grounds in Richmond and then on to a local to have a beer. After saying goodbye I made my way back to the hotel with only a few minutes to spare until the Tube stopped operations for the night.
Saturday, November 30, Back
This day I started at from the Holborn tube stop, where I walk around the neighborhood that included Russell Square. At the Russell Square tube stop is where I met up with Max and Nicole for another day of site seeing. Today we went through the British Museum, which basically houses all the things that England "rank-sacked" from other countries. This includes almost of the Parthenon from Rome. We also viewed the Rosetta Stone, which has now been placed behind glass. I had a co-worker mention that it was once unprotected and you could just touch the stone. There was a good collection of mummies as well as an interesting collection of monetary instruments (coins, salt, charge cards, etc.) The center of the museum hoses a library as well as a court yard. the court yard was once open the the air but has now been enclosed with a very interesting architectural glass and frame roof.
After the museum, we went to eat at the "All One Bar" a chain of bars in the London area. But on the way we stopped in at, "The Model Zone" where I picked up a model of a mini cooper. Max then took me by a couple shops that I wanted to find, but had not been to yet after we ate. We stopped by the "Black Market" a London dance music shop, but we failed to find the book store that I found listed in one of my guide books. We ended the afternoon and night by stopping at Costa Coffee for a drink.
Sunday, December 1, Back
The Greenwich day, started off with the fun of trying to getting there. I attempted to use only two trains to get out to Greenwich, but I ran into a weird on/off schedule on Sunday trains as well as engineers repairing two of the 4 tube transitions to the dockland trains. So what should have taken 45 minutes took 95 minutes, I did however mange to find a great way back to my hotel which only took 45 minutes. I arrived in Greenwich at the Cutty Sark and was met with wind and rain. I made my way to the National Maritime Museum and had a great time there looking through all of their displays. Some of the highlights included a set of displays showing a then-and-now of the Thames waterfront. Also their was an entire area dedicated to the Shackleton adventures, where I saw a theatrical presentation from "One of the survivors of the Endurance." There was also a great area for kids to discover how waves are formed, how Morris Code works, how to fire a cannon, etc.
Greenwich is known for its markets, so I spent some time looking through and buying some of the items. I found some good chocolate. I had lunch at a local called, "The Rose." I then moved on to Greenwich park and the Royal Observatory that is located on top of a hill in the middle of the park. From the vantage point of the hill you can see quite far, it also makes a great place to put an observatory. At the observatory I learned about the history of time, and how the history of time and sea travel were closely dependant on each other. There are many places at the observatory for great photos of standing in both West and East degrees. The observatory was used to track star travel in order to determine date and time. By tracking the stars the speed and rotation of the earth on its axis and the rotation of the earth around the sun the scientists could determine date and time information. Sea travel was originally done using the stars alone.
In back of the observatory is the Royal Planetarium which has an awesome architecture, however I did not go in through it. After going through the observatory, I climb a path in the park to a church where some young men where using mountain boards to go down the hill in the park. I took one last trip through the markets and then headed back to my hotel.
Back at the hotel I dropped my newly acquired souvenirs and went to an Italian restaurant down the street, "Bazzaros."
Monday, December 2, Back
This was my last day to explore London, because the next day would only allow for just getting to the airport. I started the day with another walk, this time to Hyde park and then on to Notting Hill gate and Portobello Road. I found a cool sci-fi store that I wanted to go in, but there was no store hours posted. On Portobello road I also found produce markets and more people watching opportunities. After 9:00 I was back on the tube out to Kings Cross and St. Pancras Station. There was suppose to be a location at Kings Cross where a scene from the movie Harry Potter was filmed at, but I could not find anything that looked like the movie. Near this station is the British Library that now houses works from Shakespeare, Leonardo da Vinci, and Jane Austen. Some of the works include the Gutenberg Bible, Codex Sinaiticus, and the Magna Carta.
I then went to Tottenham Court tube stop to find the "Forbidden Plant" Store. This store was awesome, it had the greatest assortment of Sci-fi posters, figures, etc. Another store I tried to find, was an Irish Store to get some Guinness glasses, but I found that it had moved or went out of business.
Next, I made my way to the Millennium Bridge, which I used to get across to the Tate Modern Gallery. At the gallery I had lunch on the 7th floor at a window over looking the Thames river and the entire waterfront including a spectacular view of St Paul's Cathedral. At the Gallery I found some Picasso paintings that I had seen in art books as well as some new artists that seemed to ride the line between genius and insanity. Some of the more memorable works of art included a couple of drawing that used lines and color to trick your eye in the seeing things that were not there.
For dinner I found an Irish restaurant called "Mulligans" and had a traditional Irish meal and dessert. Because I had not found the Guinness glasses I was looking for, I asked the waiter about where I could get some. She checked with her manager and came back saying I could just take some of theirs. So I got 4 glasses costing about 26 USD for nothing; I gave the waiter a nice tip. In my excitement from getting the glasses, I managed to leave the restaurant forgetting my camcorder; I returned only minutes later to pick it up again.
After get back to the hotel I packed up all of my purchases and clothes so that I would be ready in the morning for my early trip to the airport.
Tuesday, December 3, Back
Leaving Day, I got up and checked out of the hotel around 6:20AM and then made for the Airport. At the airport I waited with the rest of the travelers in a bull pin type of area where travelers were made to wait until a gate number was given to their flight. Gate assignment are shown to the travelers about 30 minutes before the plane is scheduled to take off. While waiting in this area where travelers are coerced to spend any left over local currency by the vast number of shop managers, I picked up some breakfast.
In Chicago I had to go through customs, so you have to go through immigration, pick up your bags, do any baggage customs, and then recheck your bags for your connecting flight. The plane back to Denver was over booked and 60 people were waiting on standby, I think the weather had several flights canceled into Denver the previous days.
I arrived in Denver, picked up my bags, and met my sister in her car waiting at passenger pick.