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England Day 10: Come Together

Our last full day in England began with a phone call from Mike's friend we visited in Wivenhoe, Debs. She was trying to find someone to pick up her daughter from school so that she could come into London and meet us on our last day. Our phone minutes were just about out so Mike ran down to the corner store to top them off so we could make and receive calls from her the remainder of the day. In case she made it into the city, we rearranged our plans for the day and decided to head north to Abbey Road. But first we stopped off at Borough Market because Mike wanted some more truffle oil. Unfortunately, the truffle oil booth was closed so we ended up buying some other goodies for friends back home instead. We hopped back on the tube and made the ride to Abbey Road for the obligatory zebra crossing pictures.



And then there was Abbey Road Studios itself, the studio where the Beatles had their last recording sessions all together before releasing the album Abbey Road in 1969,

While walking back to the tube station from there, we got a call from Debs so we sat on a cement wall for a few minutes. This flirty little car was parked on the street where we sat.

Debs was still unsure about her situation so we took the tube back to Westminster and grabbed some fish and chips at the Story Wine Bar in Parliament Square. The plan was to visit Westminster Abbey but by the time we made it back, ate lunch, and dealt with a few more phone calls we ran out of time. And Debs was unable to make it anyway. I was pretty upset about missing Westminster Abbey but maybe one day we'll be back either on another trip or a long layover on our way somewhere else.

We went back to the apartment and began packing and cleaning up in anticipation of leaving the following day. We wanted to get all of that done so we didn't have to do it after dinner later. Mike wanted to have dinner on the Butler's Wharf riverfront and had previously picked out Brown's by reading menus when we passed by. We still had some time before our reservation so we decided to go back to The Vault for some tasty mulled wine.


After warming up with mulled wine, we braved the cold once again and walked the short way back to Brown's. If it had been warm enough to sit outside, the view would have been spectacular.

Unfortunately, it was freezing so we sat inside. We tried to start out with some martinis but they were out of olives. Surprisingly, this is a common problem for us. Maybe we should start traveling with our own. So we switched to our standard rum and Coke and gin and tonic. We shared a crab and avocado stack as an appetizer.

For our main dish, we both ordered the lobster tagliatelle.

Both dishes were good. We were exhausted after dinner so we went back to the apartment and went to bed, very glad that we had already packed and were ready to leave in the morning.

We awoke the next morning to a foggy, drizzly kind of day.

We said goodbye to our home for the last six days and a private car took us to Heathrow. Our direct flight to Dallas was on time and we arrived home safe and sound. This trip had been a different kind of trip for us, more planned activities and more of a schedule than we were used to. Mike really enjoyed spending time with his friends in Wivenhoe and all of the Beatles's sights in Liverpool. I was blown away by the "historicalness" of it all. We enjoyed being on our own, taking the tube, and having our little oasis to return home to each evening. We ate some great food and since returning home have perfected our own mulled wine recipe. I'm sorry that we missed some of the major sights but we did visit all of the sights that were most important to us.

Posted by zihuatcat 15:53 Archived in England Tagged london england Comments (0)

England Day 9: Medieval Towers and Halibut with Flowers

I had a bit of an ambitious schedule planned for today. I wanted to hit St. Paul's Cathedral, the U.S.S. Belfast, and the Tower of London before dinner at Gordon Ramsay's. When Mike woke up, he was tired from the day before and asked that we narrow the schedule down a bit. The Tower of London was at the top of my list so we decided just to visit there and save the others for another visit. Upon checkin, the apartment owners gave us a map of the surrounding area and there was a pathway along the waterfront to the Tower Bridge. We decided to walk it rather than take the tube.






As we walked across Tower Bridge, we could see the U.S.S. Belfast docked close by.

And the Tower was waiting for us at the end of the bridge.

Upon reaching the Tower, we walked by Traitors' Gate which used to be an underwater gate. Most prisoners passed through this gate when entering the Tower.

We were hungry so we decided to have some fish and chips before going in the Tower. Mike ordered some mulled wine for the first time. We had seen this all over London and didn't know quite what it was. It's warm red wine with cinnamon, sugar, and some other added flavors. We were sold on it immediately.

We had to fight the birds to make sure we got our share.




The Tower offers tours every hour by yeomen and one was starting just as we entered. But the tour seemed very large and we didn't think we'd be able to hear the guide very well. So we set off on our own.

We entered the Medieval Palace, built in the 13th century, where medieval kings and queens stayed whenever they visited the Tower. There is a recreation of King Edward's bedchamber.

From the Medieval Palace, we entered the Wall Walk which runs along the outside perimeter of the entire grounds. You can enter each of the outside towers from this walkway. The towers held exhibits on weaponry, royal beasts, and other similar items from the medieval times. Down below is a courtyard.

We then made our way to the Crown Jewels which are under guard at all times. A moving walkway takes you through the Crown Jewels exhibits.


After exiting, there was some sort of guard changing ceremony going on .

Our last visit at the Tower was to the torture chamber. This was actually a big disappointment. There were four or five examples of torture equipment used but not much else to the exhibit.

We left the Tower and went across the street to the gift shop. I was excited to find an opal necklace there that matched my opal ring from Cozumel. I love to buy locally made jewelry from the various places we visit and it was unexpected to find something so perfect. It was made in Scotland rather than England but, hey, that's still the UK so it counts in my book.

We walked back across Tower Bridge and found a little bar stashed away underneath called The Vault. They advertised mulled wine. We were thirsty and it was cold so we stopped in. That was the best mulled wine!

We headed back to the apartment to get ready for our big night out at Gordon Ramsay's. I had made reservations months in advance and we were very excited about our first ever visit to a three-star Michelin restaurant. We had to travel to an area called Chelsea so we hopped on the tube and when we got off we were in the middle of what looked like a Christmas village. There were little white lights strung up in all the trees around the square. Three story apartment homes lined the streets and everyone rushed around all bundled up in their wool coats. We started off in the direction of the restaurant, with Mike in his new dress shoes, only to discover that it was much further than I had anticipated. Mike and his feet were not too happy with me but we finally made it. We were seated next to a couple and their two young daughters. I was astonished that there would be children dining at a restaurant like this but I came to learn over the course of the meal that these were "foodie" children who were extremely well-behaved and discussed each course with their parents.

We decided on the three course dinner menu, which came with many little extras, and glasses of Ayala champagne. The event started with three amuse bouches--a parmesan mousse, a quail egg inside a scotch egg, and seaweed wrapped caviar. Each of us had our own personal waiter who would explain each dish to us in great detail. I don't remember mine but MIke's was a French guy with an accent that made it difficult to understand him. For the first course, I had pan-fried sea scallops with applies, walnuts, and a celery and cider emulsion. Mike had a large ravioli stuffed with lobster, langoustine, and salmon in a light bisque then topped with Oscietra caviar. Both dishes were fantastic! We had the same main course which was halibut topped with crab sitting on top of cauliflower couscous. Our personal waiters poured around it a finger lime and ras el hanout infused broth. Ras el hanout is a spice from Africa but we couldn't find much spice or taste in this dish. It was beautiful but bland. The whiteness of the fish and cauliflower was offset by colorful, edible flowers swimming in the surrounding broth. After this, we were served a mango and jasmine parfait in a tall glass with glass straws. I assume this was a palate cleanser and it was cool and refreshing. Finally, for dessert, I had a coconut soufflé and Mike had a chocolate and blood orange cigar with cardamom ice cream. Both of these dishes were delicious. At the end of the meal, our last complimentary treat arrived--petit fours of chocolate, rosewater, and strawberry ice cream served on dry ice. These were fairly unmemorable except for the rosewater which we felt was like tasting perfume. In the end, it was a great evening and we enjoyed our time there. The food was good but not the best meal I've ever had. Service was excellent for most of the evening until we had to wait almost 30 minutes for our check after we told them were done for the evening. I would consider returning but I certainly wouldn't recommend the halibut.

While out on smoke breaks during our meal, Mike made friends with the doorman so he called a cab for us to take us back to the tube station. The doorman was very interested in U.S. gun laws and how we can walk into a store and purchase a gun. Such a privilege does not exist in England. We returned home for the evening and fell asleep on the couches. Mike woke up later on and played photographer some more.

Early morning light.

Posted by zihuatcat 15:39 Archived in England Tagged london england Comments (0)

England Day 8: Keep Calm and Carry On

We woke up about 8:30a and Mike was feeling much better today. We wanted to see the Horse Guards at 10a so we headed to Bermondsey station by the apartment only to find out that the Jubilee line was shut down between Waterloo and Westminster. So we had to readjust our plan of travel to get there.


We made it to Parliament Square and walked along the street to the Horse Guards Parade. On the way, we passed the home of the British Prime Minister at 10 Downing Street.

And a memorial to the women of WWI.

We arrived at Horse Guards Parade but not in time for the ceremony. At least we were able to see the Horse Guards as they were leaving to go to Buckingham Palace.





We crossed the street to walk through St. James Park on our way to Buckingham Palace.

There were lots of ducks and birds in the park and unfortunately lots of people feeding them and even children kicking at them! I wish people would not feed wildlife. It is not good for them. And I certainly wish people would not let their kids chase and kick the ducks.





We arrived at Buckingham Palace on the other side of the park and it was packed full of people waiting for the changing of the guard.


The Horse Guards arrived shortly after we did.

The people who stick their ipads up in everyone else's pictures are really annoying!

We didn't even try to find a spot on the front gate but were able to find one on the left side. We saw some activity inside the gates but never did see the changing of the guard.




A little after 11a we decided we'd had enough of the royal palace. We walked back towards Parliament Square on Birdcage Walk and came upon more guards. These were of the miniature variety, kids dressed just like the Buckingham Palace guards.



During this part of the day it wasn't freezing cold or raining so the walk along Birdcage felt and looked very fall-like.


After arriving back at Parliament Square, we decided to have a late breakfast. The only place we could find open and nearby was Red Lion (not our first choice but it would do). We went upstairs to the dining room where I ordered a full English breakfast and a hot chocolate and Mike ordered a bacon sandwich and coffee.

We then went downstairs to the pub portion where Mike had a Seafarers beer and we contemplated our next move.


Next we walked across the way to the Churchill War Rooms, the underground bunker where Churchill's government lived and worked during various periods of WWII. Construction was completed in 1939, days before Britain declared war on Germany.

The Cabinet room

Churchill's telephone office

Bedroom of a Cabinet minister


The telecommunications room

The map room

This bunker sustained hundreds of lives over a five to six year period while bombs went off in the city overhead. Everything was left completely intact, just as it was the day they closed the doors when Japan surrendered in 1945.

We spent some time in the gift shop then walked from the War Museum towards Trafalgar Square. We passed Admiralty Arch.

We were headed to the National Gallery but decided to stop in for a drink at the Silver Cross pub first.

After our drink, we walked to the National Gallery just down the street. There were quite a few people in Trafalgar Square out front taking pictures or just hanging out.


We could not figure out why there was a blue rooster in the Square. After returning home, I googled it to find out that it's a humorous symbol of Britain's defeat of France in the Battle of Trafalgar. Both ultramarine blue and the rooster are symbols of France.


On our way into the museum, I saw this dog lying in the street. He belonged to a street performer. He reminded me very much of our Taylor that we lost five years ago to old age.

We spent about an hour in the National Gallery, gazing at masterpieces of the last few centuries. It was dark when we came out and we stopped in the square to get our directions right. We were approached by a bum asking for money. When we refused his request, we were subjected to a tirade about how Americans come over and take all of the jobs! Really? I don't think that's the reason he's unemployed, could be the liquor on his breath but that's just a guess.

We had dinner reservations at Rules Restaurant at 7p and about an hour or so to kill. We made our way in that direction and decided to stop into another little pub called The Marquis for some cider. I'm not a beer drinker at all but I did enjoy the cider. At reservation time, we walked up the street to Rules, a place in Covent Garden that bills itself as the oldest restaurant in London, established in 1798. Rules is a classic game restaurant and even owns a hunting estate where game is raised for the restaurant. Our table wasn't quite ready yet so we had a couple of drinks in the bar. We moved to our table shortly thereafter.



We started by splitting a green salad with rocket. It was good but had very little dressing (especially for us Americans who drench everything). We shared a bottle of Spanish wine with dinner. Mike ordered the pork belly with lentils and veggies.

I ordered the loin of roe deer with artichokes. It was incredibly delicious. A European roe deer is about the equivalent of an American whitetail.


After our dinner, we walked back to the tube station for our short ride home.

On our walk in between the Bermondsey tube station and our apartment, there were a couple of little stores at which we would stop to buy beer, snacks, or whatever. City Wines was one we stopped at frequently.

Before calling it a night, Mike decided to try his hand at night-time pics from the balcony. He took a time delay pic using the lights from the ferry.

It had been a long day so we once again watched a little BBC and went to bed.

Posted by zihuatcat 20:35 Archived in England Tagged london england Comments (0)

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)

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