A Travellerspoint blog

England Day 7: Where East Meets West

Today we had pre-booked a 9:15a tour of Parliament and then planned to take the ferry out to Greenwich for the afternoon. Mike still wasn't feeling well so we decided he would stay home and rest in the morning and I would go on the Parliament tour by myself. There was no way to reschedule it. I took the tube to Westminster station and when I walked up the stairs to street level, getting my first view of Parliament Square and Big Ben, I felt like I was really in London for the first time. It actually took my breath away.





The tour of Parliament was very interesting. We started in Westminster Hall and visited the Queen's Robing Room, Commons Chamber, Lords Chamber, Central Lobby, and several other rooms. The guide was informative and I learned a lot about the way the British government works. My only complaint was that the group was a little large so sometimes it was difficult to hear the guide. After the tour, I bought some House of Lords vodka and a Big Ben rubber duck in the gift shop. The duck was a gift for our apartment hosts as they collected the ducks and displayed them in the bathroom. They had several English-themed rubber ducks such as the Queen, palace guards, etc. I then headed back to the apartment to meet Mike.

I picked up Mike and we rode the tube back to Westminster station and walked to the pier. We caught the City Cruise ferry going to Greenwich. This ferry was more of a tourist ferry and provided some commentary on the sites along the Thames River. It also had a nice snack bar so I had a delicious ham and cheese panini while we cruised. We crossed under several bridges but Tower Bridge is my favorite and by the end of the trip came to symbolize London for me.


As we crossed under the Waterloo bridge, the narrator told an interesting story of how the bridge was built during WWII by women. It's the only bridge in London that was built on time and under budget. No surprise there, women get things done!

We arrived at Greenwich around 2p and walked around a little bit, getting a plan together of the places we wanted to visit before closing time.

The obligatory red telephone booth.


We decided to head to the Royal Observatory first since Mike really wanted to see the Prime Meridian. To get there, we had to first walk through the National Maritime Museum.


This skater chick was hanging out in the museum with her board. :)

After walking through the museum, there was a long path that wound up to the top of the hill where the prime meridian is located along with Flamsteed House, the original Observatory building, designed by Sir Christopher Wren in 1675.

The red ball on top drops every day at 1p.

Of course we took the obligatory, stand on the line pictures.


There were other telescopic instruments to see as well.

The view from the top was beautiful. There was a lovely contrast of the green fields with the fall-colored trees against the gray city. Lots of families were there and many dogs, running and playing.


We then made our way down to see the Cutty Sark, a wooden clipper ship, built in 1869.

In the beginning, the Cutty Sark was sailed back and forth to China in the tea trade. But the opening of the Suez Canal and the popularity of steamships made sailing vessels in the tea trade virtually obsolete. She was then used in the wool trade with Australia for a number of years until that trade also became dominated by steamships. By 1922, she was used only as a cadet training ship until being dry docked in Greenwich in 1954. She is open to the public for full tours as a memorial to the Merchant Navy and those who lost their lives in both world wars.

The berths





The copper hull

Our last visit was to the Old Royal Naval College.


In 1692, the Royal Hospital for Seamen at Greenwich was built here. It closed in 1869 and four years later, the Royal Navy took over using it as a training facility. They Royal Navy left the premises in 1998 and it became a tourist attraction. The two main buildings to visit here are the Painted Hall and the Chapel. The Painted Hall was designed by Sir Christopher Wren and was used primarily as a dining hall for veterans staying at the hospital. It's the fanciest cafeteria I've ever seen!


The nearby Chapel was used for worship by the seaman and for many years had no pews. It was destroyed by fire in 1779 but redesigned and rebuilt with a heavy Greek influence.



By now it was getting dark and we were getting tired and hungry so we decided to grab some food at The Old Brewery at the Royal Naval College. We split a gigantic plate of fish and chips and Mike tried the local beer, Meantime. We took the faster, Thames Clipper ferry back to Westminster then the tube home. London at night is even more beautiful than London during the day.


We watched a little BBC then called it a night.

Posted by zihuatcat 14:39 Archived in England Tagged london england Comments (0)

England Day 6: Hatless Horse Racing

Mike woke up this morning not feeling well. He was having a flare up of his FMF so he took some medication and went back to sleep for a while. We had plans to take the train to Ascot for the horse races. They didn't start until 1p so we had a little bit of time to work with. I passed the time watching "Jeremy Kyle," the British version of Jerry Springer, only much more polite and low key. The show still had the same white trash premise but without the physical fighting and cussing.

We were really looking forward to the horse races as it's something totally different that most visitors to England don't do. I researched the proper attire for our visit and discovered that during what is called "jumps" season, the attire is more casual than during Royal Ascot. We still needed to dress up more than we usually would if going to the horse races here in the U.S. but fancy dresses weren't necessary. I, however, really wanted to wear a fascinator hat and I didn't think that would be inappropriate based on the pictures I'd seen. I couldn't decide between a red one and a grey one so I ordered both, took pictures, and took a poll amongst my friends and family. The red hat won hands down so I built the rest of my outfit around the hat.

By 10:30a, Mike was feeling well enough to go so we took the tube to the Waterloo train station. Mike didn't want me to wear my red hat on the train so I took it in a little bag. We arrived in Ascot around 1:30p and walked along the path from the station to the racecourse.

When we got inside, I was really glad Mike had me bring the hat in a bag. Not one person was wearing a hat! I was so disappointed and not brave enough to be the only one.

The racecourse was beautiful and green. I wasn't expecting that. The racecourses here in the U.S. are dirt.


On one side, there was grandstand seating to watch the races.

This side was shaded and very cold that day.

On the other side, the horses were brought out before and after each race for presentation. That side was sunny and warmer.


There were six races scheduled for the day and we had missed the first two. The third race was about to start so we hurriedly decided on which horses to bet. We each bet five pounds - me on A Hare Breath and Mike on Tradewinds. My horse had 25:1 odds but I liked the name A Hare Breath since our greyhounds were bred to chase rabbits.


The winners' circle.


My horse came in a close second. That would have been a nice win with such high odds.

The fourth race came around about 30 minutes later and we decided to up our bets to ten pounds each. I bet on Simply Wings (because I love wings) and Mike bet on Greywell Boy. They did not win.


Towards the end of the race, one horse threw its jockey and finished alone.

After the fourth race, I went downstairs to check out the Christmas village. I had been really excited about it but that excitement was pretty short-lived. When I first read about the Christmas village, I imagined these little, crafty-type booths with Christmas decorations and homemade items. Instead, it was frou-frou sweaters and paintings, none with a Christmas theme whatsoever. Needless to say, I did not spend long walking through the village.

The fifth race was a huge race with 12 horses and it was hard to decide which to bet on. I went with There's No Panic and Mike went with Annacotty. The leaderboard kept track of the changing odds as the bets were placed.



Lost again! We are not good at this!

Last chance - race six. I went with Brinestine because it was an American horse and Mike went with Specialagent Alfie.

Again there was no payoff but it had been a fun day. As we were leaving for the walk back to the train station, we watched them cool the horses down in the winners' circle. You could see the steam rising from the horses in the cold air.


Beautiful creatures!

We walked back to the train station and joined the crowd waiting for the train back to London. Unfortunately, the only other Americans there were what appeared to be three very drunk, college students who were bragging about how much money they had bet and lost at the races. I guess they thought they were high rollers or something. They would talk to anyone who would listen. When they approached us, Mike talked to them in the best British accent he could muster so they wouldn't know we were American! What an embarrassment! The train arrived and we luckily found a couple of seats. Mike was starting to wane a bit so he immediately fell asleep when we sat down. I busied myself by reading some London-equivalent of the National Enquirer that actually had nudie pics in it! Apparently England does not have the same censorship standards the U.S. does.

We made it back to the apartment and Mike crashed on the sofa. I had another picnic with the items from Borough Market and watched NCIS reruns. I never watch NCIS but one of the shows I happened to watch was all about the medication that Mike is currently taking for his newly diagnosed FMF. I was able to help solve the crime because of my research on his disease. Afterwards, I tried my hand at some night-time pics from our balcony. The lit buildings in the distance are in Canary Wharf.

Posted by zihuatcat 11:47 Archived in England Tagged london england Comments (0)

England Day 5: Eyes Over London

We were once again up early for our 9:45a train from Liverpool to London. After sharing a bacon and egg sandwich with HP sauce and a side of hashbrowns at the hotel restaurant, we stepped outside to wait for our taxi. The night before, I arranged for a car to take us to the train station. The front desk person told us it might be difficult to hail a taxi in the morning. So we waited....and waited...and waited. I started getting irritated and went inside to ask at the front desk about the car. The woman on duty called the car service who said they were on their way. We waited some more. I got more irritated. She called again. Again they said they were on their way. It was getting late and I was worried we were going to miss our train. Finally, we see the car coming down the street. The jerk doesn't stop. He drives right by. By now, I've had enough. I yell at Mike to grab the luggage and we walked down to the corner to a larger intersection. Just a few feet away is a taxi stand with a line of taxis. I was furious. It's obvious to me now that the hotel and the car service have some sort of mutual agreement or they wouldn't have told me it was difficult to get a taxi. By now we only have 20 minutes to make our train. We flagged a taxi and explained the situation. He did an awesome job of getting us there. We made our train with only a couple of minutes to spare. Our reserved tickets were once again for the quiet car but Mike was not having that! We ditched it and went to a regular car where we could talk without fear of dirty looks.

About two hours later we arrived at London's Euston Station where we had left from just three days earlier.


We were welcomed by the usual train station welcoming committee.


We purchased our seven day travelcards, good on the tube and buses, then lugged our bags over to the tube station where we hopped on the Jubilee line to make our way to Bermondsey station. We were heading to our apartment where we'd be spending the next six nights. After a fairly short ride, we arrived at Bermondsey, and set off on the "short" walk with our bags. It actually was a fairly short walk to our apartment but after all of the travelling and then having to deal with hauling bags over uneven streets and sidewalks, it seemed to take forever.

We finally arrived at the apartment around 2p. We were staying in the Southwark borough of London, right on the River Thames. I found a great little one-bedroom apartment with fabulous reviews on vrbo. Our hosts, Janet and Peter, were there to greet us and show us around. They gave us some instructions and tips and left us to settle in.

The entryway. The front door is to the left of the red suitcase and the door to the bedroom is to the right.

The bedroom, with an entrance to the terrace.

The kitchen.

The bathroom.

The living room, with another entrance to the terrace.

The large terrace, with views over the River Thames.

We got things settled and then took off again back to the tube. We wanted to make it over to Borough Market before closing.

And I am so glad we did. What an incredible place! Borough Market has everything - fresh fish, meats, cheeses, fruits, produce, and pretty much anything else you can imagine. There are also tons of homemade meals that you can purchase and eat there or take home. I would love to have a place like this close to home.



Stuffed pies



Wild pheasant, anyone?

We bought a variety of foods to have a snack-type dinner at home that night then jumped back on the tube for our next destination, the London Eye.

The London Eye is a giant ferris wheel on the South Bank of the Thames River.

At one time it was the world's largest ferris wheel but has now been surpassed by the High Roller in Las Vegas. There are 32 sealed and air-conditioned capsules which hold 25 passengers each. The Eye does not stop for loading/unloading but moves continuously, taking about 30 minutes for a complete rotation. Passengers can move around inside the capsule, taking pictures around all sides.

We got some great pictures of the city sights at night.






It had been a long day and by now, we were exhausted. Mike had even fallen asleep on the Eye! We got back on the tube and made the short ride back to our apartment. I laid out our Borough Market treats for dinner but by the time I was done, Mike was already asleep again.

3 different types of venison sausage, anchovy wrapped olives, plain olives, pepper cheese, French bread, and white truffle oil

So I enjoyed the treats myself, watched "Ocean's Eleven", and caught up on emails home. I feel asleep myself soon after.

Posted by zihuatcat 14:32 Archived in England Tagged london england Comments (0)

England Day 4: Fab Four Fun

We woke fairly early on Wednesday morning to another cold, windy, and rainy day. We had scheduled a 9a tour of the Beatles' sights in Liverpool. But first we grabbed some breakfast at the hotel restaurant.

I had eggs benedict and Mike had a sausage and egg sandwich.

Mike is a huge Beatles fan so he was looking forward to our 3-hour private tour. Our guide, Jay, arrived right on time and we made our way to our first stop, the Mount Pleasant register office. This is where John Lennon married his first wife, Cynthia Powell, on August 23, 1962.

John Lennon was born at the Liverpool Maternity Hospital on October 9, 1940, now a student residence hall. Sixty years later, this plaque was placed there in his honor.

From there, you can glimpse the interesting architecture of the Roman Catholic Metropolitan Cathedral, also called Paddy's Wigwam.

After John and Cynthia were married, they lived in Brian Epstein's secret apartment at 36 Falkner Street. Epstein was the manager of the Beatles and a suspected homosexual. He kept a secret apartment where he met his boyfriends out of the public eye. While living at this apartment, John Lennon wrote, "Do You Want to Know a Secret?" on the toilet there.

John first met Cynthia in 1957 when they were both students at the Liverpool College of Art, shown here in the background.

Also in the picture, Jay and I are standing by a sculpture of concrete luggage called, "A Case History." Each bag has a tag referring to a notable person or institution from Liverpool. These guitar cases have tags labeled for Paul McCartney and John Lennon.

The lambanana, the artistic symbol of Liverpool. It's a cross between a lamb and a banana, both once common cargo on Liverpool's trading docks. There are eight of these across Liverpool and each is painted in a different pattern.

We took a small break from Beatles' sights and stopped off at the breathtakingly beautiful Liverpool Anglican Cathedral, the largest cathedral in the UK which took 74 years to build.



The neighboring graveyard is over 600 years old.

Back on the Beatles' route, we stopped off at Ringo Starr's birthplace and first home at 9 Madryn Street.

When the bricking was re-done, the construction guys wrote the word "Beatles" acrosst the top in mortar.

A few blocks away is the bar where Ringo's mom worked when he was a child. Coincidentally, our guide's family owned this building at one time and when he and his now-wife were dating, she fell asleep in the second floor bedroom with a lit cigarette and almost burned the whole place down.

Around the corner from the bar, at 10 Admiral Grove, is the home where Ringo lived until he was 21 years old.

We then made our way to the infamous Penny Lane, the bus stop on the street where Paul McCartney and John Lennon would meet to catch the bus.

"the shelter in the middle of the roundabout"

The barber shop mentioned in the song

Not far from Penny Lane is Paul McCartney's childhood home at 20 Forthlin Road. Here Paul wrote "I Saw Her Standing There" and "When I'm 64."

John Lennon's childhood home, where he lived with his Aunt Mimi, is also not far.

And just behind it is the Salvation Army children's home where John played as a child, which inspired the song, "Strawberry Fields Forever".

And, finally, the home of the last Beatle, George Harrison, where he lived just before becoming famous and buying his parents a new house, at 174 Makets Lane.

Paul and John met for the first time at this church hall during a concert of various bands in 1957. Paul helped John tune his guitar.

Across the street is the graveyard where later they would go to drink and write songs. There they would be inspired by the gravestone of Eleanor Rigby.

Our ride for the tour.

The tour ended with a stop at the Casbah Coffee Club, the place where the Beatles truly got their start. The Casbah was a small club located in the cellar of the Best family home in Liverpool. Mona Best got the idea of the club from a similar one she'd heard about in London. She sold all of her Indian gold jewelry and bet the proceeds on a horse with 33:1 odds. That horse won and she bought this big house and opened the Casbah in 1959. The Beatles, minus Ringo Starr and then known as the Quarrymen, played at the Casbah quite frequently and even helped Mona paint the inside before the grand opening.

Lennon carved his name in the wood wall.

Mona's son, Pete Best, became the Beatles' first drummer in 1960. He was later fired from the band and replaced by Ringo Starr. His brother, Rory, gives the tours of the Casbah.

The unbelievably small stage.



Rory Best and Mike on the larger stage built a few years later.

It was early afternoon when we left the Casbah and still rainy and cold. It was our plan to travel out to the beach to see Antony Gormley's "Another Place" statues but it was just too miserably cold. Jay offered to drop us off at the Cavern Club, a larger downtown club where the Beatles played when they became more famous. We agreed.

Jay had been an excellent tour guide and we enjoyed our morning with him. He even made the Beatles interesting for someone who is not a big fan.

A musician outside the Cavern Club.

The Cavern Club has been the center of rock 'n roll in Liverpool for over 50 years. It's several stories underground and the walls are made entirely of brick. The Beatles first played there in 1961. Since the weather was so bad, we stayed there for a good three hours or so and watched several sets. The music was great and they even had a great strawberry cider on tap that I loved.



After the club, we walked to a little shop and bought some souvenirs then took a taxi to Italian Club Fish for our dinner reservation.


Dinner was fabulous! We shared a bottle of white wine. Mike had smoked salmon with toast and I had lightly fried calamari and prawns with chips.

We walked outside after dinner to find a taxi back to the hotel and a local bum asked us for some money. When we answered that we didn't have any cash, he could tell we were American. He then asked us if we thought Bush was a good man. What a loaded question! Now I don't think Bush was a good President but I don't think he's a bad person so I said yes. Well that just opened the door. He then started on this huge rant about Bush and Saudi Arabia and how he wanted to teach us some history. Ugh! I told him to get lost and we went on our way. It then took us three attempts to get a taxi. The first one we tried had no idea where our hotel was. The second one we tried, we believe, the driver was high as a kite. Finally, the third one was sober and seemed to know where he was going. Success!

Posted by zihuatcat 16:27 Archived in England Tagged england liverpool Comments (0)

England Day 3: Here Comes the Sun

We woke very early to a cold and rainy day as we had an 8:30a train to catch for our journey to Liverpool. Debs made us bacon sandwiches with HP sauce (or brown sauce as it's called in England). The bacon is much different than in the US, it's in round pieces, not strips, and is more like ham than what we know as bacon. I love HP sauce, however, and eat it now at home on many things. Scott delayed going to work so that he could ride into London with us on the train. He drove us to the train station in Wivenhoe and we caught the train to London Liverpool St. Once we arrived there a little over an hour later, we changed from the train to the underground tube and rode to Euston Station. Scott got off at the stop before us and continued on to work. At Euston Station, we had to climb the stairs to street level, walk around the block, and transfer again to the train station.

We had a few minutes to kill before the train left so we had a drink at the station. I needed to use the bathroom and got a big surprise - it cost me 30 pence to use it! I had to put money into a turnstile to even get in the door. Inside the stall, there was an advertisement printed on the wall, "Jack and Jill went up the hill to have a bit of fun. Sadly Jill forgot the pill and now they have a son." I could not stop laughing at that. Way to go liberal England! No wonder they have a lower pregnancy rate than the US. We found our train and our reserved seats which, unfortunately for Mike, I had inadvertently booked in the "quiet car". I didn't know what that meant but we quickly found out and he was none too happy. We arrived in Liverpool about two hours later where it was still cold but sunny and beautiful. We grabbed one of their black cabs to our hotel for the next two nights, Heywood House.


There was a souvenir rubber ducky in the shower.

And a balcony with a view of the building next door.

We didn't stay at the hotel long because we wanted to make it down to the docks for a ferry ride before dark. We were only a couple of blocks away from the seafront.





Down at the waterfront, we saw a diabetic alert dog getting a drink.

Around 3p, it was time to board the ferry. Normally the ferry makes several stops where you can get off and tour a German U-boat, a space museum, and some other attractions but since it was the last ferry of the day, this one would not be making any stops. Instead, we would spend about 50 minutes making a large circle in the bay in front of the Liverpool waterfront.

We started out on the open deck but holy crap it was cold!

The view of the waterfont and the contrast between the old and new buildings was striking.

What the hell is this weird box on top of this building?

We thought this yellow thing on top was a helicopter but upon closer inspection it was actually a crane.

We had to take a break inside to warm up.



When we returned to the docks, we took a look around "The Beatles Story," a collection of black and white photos taken by Paul Berriff in 1963 and 1964. We bought several souvenirs including a miniature version of George Harrison's Gretsch guitar. It was already getting dark so we made our way down the waterfront towards the Albert Docks area and on to a little brewpub I wanted to visit called the Baltic Fleet. The Baltic Fleet has been around since the 1600s and I don't think it's been cleaned in all that time. It was filthy but it did have character. We met an older couple from Yorkshire there and struck up a conversation about their/our world travels. After a couple of drinks, we headed out into the cold, dark night again to walk over to Salt House Tapas for dinner. There we shared a jug of sangria and tapas of sardines with orange, fennel, and almonds, steamed mussels, and Korean ribs. Sitting next to us at dinner were two strapping men who were oil workers from London. We chatted with them about American and English politics for a couple of rounds after dinner then caught a taxi back to our hotel to call it a night.

Posted by zihuatcat 20:00 Archived in England Tagged england liverpool Comments (0)

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