Inverness – the heart of the Highlands

After leaving York, we took a train journey to Edinburgh, where we spent 3 nights. However, we will be returning to Edinburgh for 2 more nights later in our trip so I am going to hold off blogging about our … Continue reading

Back in the UK

Here we are back in the UK for a month. We are of course most excited to visit with our girl Kristin, but also looking forward to a journey to Scotland.

We spent the first two nights in London – or to be more specific, at the Heathrow Airport Holiday Inn Express. This was a great hotel – brand new and we could redeem our IHG points at a much more reasonable rate than in London proper. The Piccadilly underground line runs directly from the airport into the city so out came our Oyster cards.

After the overnight flight from Calgary, we arrived at Heathrow, checked into the hotel and decided that taking a rest would not be the best way to conquer jet lag. So off we went on the tube to Kings Cross Station. At the station we needed to purchase our “Two Together Railcard”. We had booked all of our rail transit in the UK using the two together rate. This railcard cost only 30 pounds and provides a significant discount (at least 30%) for two people traveling together. I would recommend that anyone planning UK rail travel look into the various railcards that are offered. We accomplished this task (including having pictures taken in a photo booth for the pass), picked up our reserved tickets to Cambridge, got a little cash from an ATM and all our required tasks were done.

Wandering down the street, we came upon the British Library and stopped in for a visit. I just love that the majority of British Museums have no fee for entry. British citizens must find it quite annoying when they visit museums in other countries.

The historical documents housed in the library were quite fascinating. Everything from the earliest evidence of the written word to John Lennon’s scribbling of the lyrics for “Help” – on the back of his son Julian’s birthday card. And most amazing – the Magna Carta! Of course no pictures were allowed in the galleries to protect the documents.

After the library, we wandered through the Bloomsbury neighbourhood (which is where our hotel was when we visited in December) and stopped at a pub, the Marquis of Cornwall, for an early dinner. Quite a traditional meal – fish & chips for Harv and chicken & mushroom pot pie for Bev – and our first pints of the trip!

We then strolled down Oxford & Regent Streets (sadly more dreary than December with the Christmas decorations gone – but on the upside, not as ridiculously busy) to Piccadilly Circus. We reminisced about our first visit to Piccadilly in 1983, when we so intrigued by the first pink & spiked hair youth that we had ever seen. We then caught the tube back to the hotel – with both of us nodding off on the journey.

After a bit of a sleep-in and hotel breakfast on Wednesday, we hopped back on the tube and headed to the British Museum. We had walked by it many times in December but hadn’t stopped in. Not having any specific plans for the day, we thought this would be an interesting activity. And it most certainly was. There was only a short line up for bag inspection and the museum was busy but not overly crowded.

The museum is a huge building that houses a vast array of antiquities. Items spanning the ages from 1000 years BC to current days chronicle the journey of civilization. Featured are Egyptian mummies, Assyrian lions, and a large hall featuring the best parts of the frieze that once ran around the exterior of Athens’ Parthenon.

Other exhibits include artifacts from all corners of the globe, including an African cloth made from soda bottle caps, a seal gut parka from the Canadian Arctic, gold from the Rothschild collection and an intricate two-headed snake from Mexico.

One of the premier exhibits is the Rosetta Stone. Found in 1799, the Stone proved to be the key to deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphs, thereby opening a window into ancient Egyptian history.

After spending about 3.5 hours in the museum, I declared that I had seen enough artifacts for one day and we made our exit. It was an amazing place to visit and I can only imagine how fascinating it must be for a true historian.

We wandered from the museum through the Covent Garden and Seven Dials areas and stopped for tea and a pastry at a delightful little bakery. We then continued on through Holburn to the area around St Paul’s Cathedral.

For an early dinner, we chose the Bread Street Kitchen, one of Gordon Ramsey’s 15 London restaurants. It lived up to the standards that we would expect from Gordon, in service and food taste and presentation. We shared a Caesar salad, Harv had a burger & chips and Bev enjoyed the grilled Skrie cod with artichokes and mashed potatoes. For dessert, we shared a delicious custard tart, topped with rhubarb and passion fruit sorbet.

To settle our dinner, we strolled back along the Thames, up to Trafalger Square and across to Piccadilly Circus where we once again caught the tube.

Two great days in London (over 20,000 steps each day). Now off to Cambridge and our girl!!

Cheers,

Bev & Harv

London – City of Sights

London is one of those great cities – where there is a great sight around every corner. You could spend weeks if you were to visit each of these things to see and do.

We last visited London in 1983; we plan on being back at least once in the next year. So on this visit, we decided we wouldn’t spend time seeing all of the sights. We chose to ride the hop-on hop-off bus tour one day to reorient ourselves to the city, and we also took a short cruise down the Thames.

London was decked out for the Christmas season. Some of the great light displays were on:

Oxford Street

Regent Street

Carnaby Street

We took in the Burroughs Market in the Southbank area. It would be great to shop there regularly – for both prepared foods and quality fresh ingredients to prepare your own.

For the Christmas season, a huge area in Hyde Park becomes Winter Wonderland. This includes 3 main areas, each impressively expansive – a Christmas Market, the Bavarian Village and an incredible amusement park, as well as many individual presentations. We wandered around for a while, made a few purchases and had our last Gluwein of the trip.

The large department stores were of course well into the season. Being fans of the TV show, Mr Selfridge, we enjoyed visiting Selfridge & Co. We also stopped in at Harrods. The window displays are fabulous to view.

Kristin took the train in from Cambridge to spend Saturday with us. We walked a bit, had a great dinner and then took in Bat Out of Hell, the Musical. It was great. An excellent job of creating a story based on Meatloaf’s songs and the cast were very talented.

The Brexit vote in Parliament was to occur the day we left London and the protesters and news media were out in full force. At the last minute, the vote was cancelled. It will be interesting to see how that progresses.

We walked a lot – one day, our Fitbits registered over 34,000 steps.

Here are some photos of the many sights we passed in our travels.

Trafalgar Square is London’s central square and is dominated by the world’s biggest Corinthian column. Admiral Horacio Nelson gazes in the direction of one of the greatest naval battles, where in 1805, Nelson defeated Napoleon’s French fleet and saved England. At the top of the square sits the domed National Gallery and to the right of the Gallery is the steeple of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, built in 1722.

Of interest, the Christmas tree in the square is given to London each year from the people of Oslo, Norway in appreciation for British help during World War II.

In 1983 when we visited London, the Elizabeth Tower that houses the 13 ton bell of Big Ben was covered in scaffolding. And it was the same on this visit, although one clock face was showing. Maybe someday we will see it in its grandeur – although it is apparently undergoing a multiyear renovation.

Opposite Big Ben on the south bank is a giant Ferris Wheel. The London Eye, built to celebrate the millennium, stands 443-feet high and is one of the world’s highest observational wheels.

Of course, one of the major tourist sights is Buckingham Palace. We did a walk-by…

On the banks of the Thames sit the Houses of Parliament, home to the House of Commons and the House of Lords.

Across the street is Westminster Abbey, where royalty have been wedded, crowned and buried since the 11th century.

St Paul’s Cathedral is England’s national church. This baroque cathedral with the 365-foot-high dome was constructed from 1670-1710.

The Tower of London started with the ‘White Tower’, built by William the Conquerer in 1077. Enlarged over the centuries to its current 18-acre size, the Tower has served as a lookout for invaders coming down the Thames, a royal residence, the Royal Mint, the Royal Jewel House and most famously as a prison and execution site.

The iconic Tower Bridge was built in 1894 with a Neo-Gothic look. The bridge is a fully functional drawbridge, opening close to a thousand times a year.

Now, we are home and busy with our own Christmas preparations. Thanks for reading about our travels and we will be back again in 2019 with more journeys!

Cheers!

Bev & Harv