Monday, April 7, 1997

1997---Great Britain


My excuse for this trip was as a high school senior trip for Tim.  It was the first trip to England for the kids and I hadn't been back there since living there for a year after being born there in 1956. Needless to say, I don't remember living there, but always wanted to go back and see where I was born.  Ken had no desire to go, but gave us his blessings.  My sister also ended up joining us.  So during spring break, we headed off to England.

Fri., March 21, 1997, we got up around 7:30 am and prepared to leave for our trip. We got to the airport the 2 hours early required for international flights and quickly got checked in so we could sit for 2 hours. But it wasn't totally uneventful. I went to take a flash picture in the airport (using 35 mm cameras back in those days) and discovered the foot of the flash was broken. Very frustrating beginning!


Our flight to New Jersey was uneventful. We arranged to visit at my Great Aunt's house for about 5 hours before connecting to our flight to London.    My cousin DAnny and his wife Trish picked us up from the airport and took us to Aunt Anna's house.  She had rolls and lunch meats and cheeses for us.   This was actually the first time the kids had met that part of my family.  I hadn't seen any of them since my wedding and before that was many years prior.  We had a great visit.


The flight across the ocean wasn't nearly as bad as I expected. Back then, they even served food! We had chicken and rice. Even watched a movie "Extreme Measures". Shortly after that, more drinks, then breakfast, then we were there.

Day 1:

Arriving at Garwick, our journey and tremendous learning experience was about to begin. We went through a lot of "firsts" this week! Even at the airport. For Angie and me, it was our 1st time through customs (not counting when I was an infant). We followed signs to customs and went through the area marked "nothing to declare" and were out of there before we realized we were through customs---never even talked to anyone.

My sister met us there about an hour later and we were on our way to find the Gatwick Express railcar. A train to London was at the platform, so we boarded---somewhat surprised (looked more like the metrolink than a train). Thinking we were on the express, we planned our route from Victoria Station to the apartment I'd rented for 3 nights. But somehow we ended up at Charing Cross Station. We existed and started heading to Marlybone, then realized we needed Marble Arch Station. At this point, Tim took over and led us directly everywhere we needed to go (he had spent a couple weeks in France not long before then and had subway experience).   At Charing Cross we got our underground/bus passes for 4.20 lb@.  Very well designed, but a bit overwelming for the novice.  Sure glad Tim was there!

What a marvelous public transportation system they have once you figure it out! At that time, gas there was about $4.50/gallon so public transportation was used alot.

Finally we got to Edgeware road and walked up to our 2 bedroom apartment. In those days before internet, I reserved this over email and was curious as to what I really booked. I was impressed---even the kids said I did good! It took a little figuring out how to work things in the kitchen. Finally we noticed they have switches on the wall to turn on the appliances. They also had a washer/drier all-in-one which didn't seem to dry (they replaced a fuse to it as we were checking out).

Across the street was a Safeway which we enjoyed checking out. It was really amusing seeing how many of the same items they had, but theirs were different (like their Corn Pops were tiny nuggets). We also devoured many mint Kit Kats (something we didn't see here in the states). Didn't see anything resembling Fritos or Pretzels. Plus most everything had vegetable fat added to it, including their Pepsi and skim milk. We were going to have french toast one day, but the only syrup we could find was in the ice cream topping section. We did have eggs and bacon and were impressed that the bacon was more like what we call Canadian bacon. One great find were cookies for 19p.  They were very good.  And we bought lots of them---ate them the whole trip.

After shopping, we decided to go to the original Hard Rock Cafe for dinner, which was about a mile away. It was a nice walk through Hyde Park, a bit cool (somewhere around 50 for the high that day), but with lots of daffodils in bloom.

Loved all the statues all over the city.  This was one in Hyde Park.
 Dinner was good, but expensive. It was neat seeing all the Beattle's stuff decorating the restaurant. The kids got some souvenirs. Carolyn and I tried to, but the guy in the outside booth where we were waiting in line knocked over his till and shut down his line just as we had worked our way to the front. So we left. We decided to try our luck at the buses. The passes we got were good for underground and buses. It was great riding the double decker buses.

Having a bit of jet lag from our 6 hours difference in time (8 for CArolyn), we hit the sack about 9pm London time and slept well---occassionally waking up to loud music across the street at a pub, but too tired to care.


Day 2:
Carolyn had called her in-laws (Tom's Aunt and Uncle) who lived outside of London and arranged for them to come visit. Hindsight says we should have had them come by later in the evening-but we didn't know yet that everything closes down early there. But it was a nice visit. By the time they left, it was after 5, so most things were closed. We did ride the buses for a bit,though. Even rode to Tower of London and wandered around it.  We were intrigued with this McDonalds next to the Tower or London.  We named it the Medieval McDonald's.

We also saw places where the old London wall was still there.  Instead of tearing it down, they just built around it.

I was very impressed with the city. Most of it was painted off white and very ornate. Also very clean. I was also intrigued with the way the buildings were built to curve with the roads. Later I heard that was a style taken from the cresent-shaped buildings in Bath.

When we weren't riding the bus, we were trying to navigate the pedestrian walkways. We found out after being honked at a few times that to cross the street there were underground walkways. They were quite extensive and somewhat confusing. I felt like a prairie dog poking my head up to see if we came up in the right place. Several of these crosswalks also had guys playing guitars or saxaphones in them. One guy kept singing something like, "I don't know where I'm going to sleep tonight".

After wandering around the outside of Tower of London (after hours) and gauking at the Tower Bridge and the old destroyer ship, Belfast, we jumped back on the bus and ended up at Planet Hollywood.  Again we bought a few souvenirs: Tim bought a maroon sweater; Angie a shirt; and I got a sweat shirt.  80lb of goods and I forgot to get a VAT return form. (Later we discovered a Planet Hollywood at Gatwick and they filled out the form for me---at 17%, the VAT was worth the trouble to get back.)  After we had dinner there, someone came to video the place and set up right next to us. We later found out that the restaurant won some sort of award and was being videoed for some SKY (cable) show. Then we headed back to Edgeware by bus. Back at the apartment we lounged and watched some tv---mostly cricket and "football" (soccer, to us). 

It really wasn't tough adjusting to the new time schedule.

Day 3:

This morning I woke up early and decided to cook breakfast for everyone: fried eggs, bacon, crumpets, tea.  Everyone was sleeping in.  I was hoping the smell of breakfast would wake them up so we could eat and be on our way again.  Today we had decided to go to Hampton Ct. So far the weather hadn't been too bad---50's for highs and a few light sprinkles off and on, totally clouding over, then clearing to show beautiful blue sky. Carolyn made it as far as the post office with us, then complained of a migraine and headed back to the apartment. The kids and I continued on through the subway to the train station and rode a train the 30 minutes to Hampton Ct..   The walk from the train station brought us to this gorgeous view of the castle. 
Admission was pretty steep, but the kids did get a youth and student discount of 20lb @.



I found the interior fascinating (too bad pictures weren't allowed). I believe Tim did, too. Angie wanted to rush through--- still wanting to do some shopping in London, so we really only toured the Queen's side of the building. Tim later mentioned we never saw Henry VIII's side. Outside I took lots of movies and photos of the extensive gardens and courtyards.


The kids wanted to rush through that, too. There was a big maze of hedges there and I figured I could lose them in there for awhile so we went off that direction.  When we entered that side of the castle, I was awestruck! The grounds were completely covered with daffodils.

Once they were done with the maze we left. Back in London, I left them at the Oxford subway station so they could shop and I went on to Marble Arch and on up to our apartment. Carolyn was still in bed, but she decided to get up and join me for a ride on the buses up to the Kennsington area. By then it was after 5, so not much of the trip was in daylight, but it was still neat. We also learned the busses don't just circle their routes.  It came to an end and we had to get off.  THen we had to figure out which bus to get on to get back to our original destination!  Once back at the apt., the kids were already there. Dinner that night was cheap---just stuck around the apt. and had sandwiches.

(A few days after we got home Ken asked if the kids tore up the maze. He found an article in our paper about the maze being worn in places and being closed for repairs after that year.)

(Angie also shocked me a month or 2 later when she said Hampton Ct. was her favorite thing of the trip! A few years later, she graduated K-State with an Architecture degree.)



Day 4:

Our time at the apartment was up. We decided to take the Big Red Tour of the city (Tim's suggestion and i'm glad he did).  Initially I thought it was a bit spendy at 12lb@ (6lb for Angie), but it was well worth it!  The tour was really neat, but we didn't have time to get on and off like you're suppose to, though. Our guide was really neat---the kids even imitated him for quite awhile after returning home.  ("Look to your right, Big Ben"---or Bend as Angie thought it was)

It took about 3 hours to do the red route. We actually had to wait awhile as the Tower Bridge was drawn up---they were filming a new James Bond movie, we were told. I really wanted to get off at Westminter Cathedral, but the place was packed and time was running out.


Trafalgar Square looked like a neat place to check out, too---maybe next time.

Even came upon the famous Piccadily Circus.  Found out that circus is just another name for cirle.

When we got back to Hyde park, we transfered to the Blue route and went to Harrods.

 On our way, we asked for a recommendation for a good pub for fish and chips. The guide recommended Kings Arms . While at Harrod's, I bought a teapot for Mom and Dad. It was 20 pounds which I paid for with a $20 travellers check. Tim later asked me if I realized they took American dollars for the pounds ( a pound being worth $1.69 at the time). I was totally oblivious to that. They got us back, though, in the restrooms by charging a pound to use them!

We left there and headed by public transport to Kings Arms. It was a cute little place with a hilarious waiter (very sarcastic), but we still weren't able to get fish and chips --- they were out. But my shepards pie, Tim's kidney pie and Angie's roast beef was great, as was dessert. Tim even got a hard cider being he was of drinking age in England. The waiter even gave Angie a map of London. I thought it was a great map and wanted to buy one from him to which he used his sarcastic humor again and gave Angie another one.

Then we were back to the apartment to pick up our luggage and head off to Euston Train station to catch our sleeper train to Inverness, Scotland. We were excited about the sleeper train. Another new experience which I thoroughly enjoyed. We left at 9:30pm and got into INverness at 8:40am.  The rooms were small.  I took the upper bunk, Carolyn had the lower.  ANgie and Tim share the adjoining room.  We had a sink in each room and a complimentary bag with a toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, and rag, plus a little book:Paul Theroux's "Down the Yangtze.  We hung out at the lounge car for awhile and enjoyed complimentary nuts and tea. Shortly after getting back to our rooms, there was a knock at the door--the room porter was bringing my camcorder to me which I had left in the lounge! While in the lounge car, a lady from Scotland was sitting across from us and entered into an interesting conversation with us. She was some kind of personal heal-yourself type of 'doctor' and was very funny. Sleeping on the train was rather comforting---the drone of the train and swaying motion was relaxing.
Day 5--
Angie woke us around 8 telling us tea would be there soon. We looked out the little window above the sink and was rather disappointed with the landscape. It was gloomy and bare. Tea came, along with jelly filled cresant rolls. We arrived in Inverness about 9am and hauled our luggage out into the rain. We were able to lock up our luggage in the train station while we went out into the city.

We made reservations for the Loch Ness bus tour which was leaving in about 30 minutes.

On our walk to the Information Center (and tour), the sun came out. It was an impressive looking little town. We did a little shopping on our way to the tour pick up spot. Fortunately we got another really good tour guide. The ride around the Loch was really neat. The scenery was beautiful. The weather was weird: rain, sun, snow, hail, sun all in 10 minutes---the whole trip.

The first stop on the tour was at the Nessie museum. We didn't want to pay to go in it.  We did go in the restaurant and drank tea and ate fruit while we waited for the tour to continue.   The waitress came up with some free Nessie postcards and said she heard we had just gotten off the sleeper and apologized fornot having food to serve yet (other then the fruit pack for hotel patrons).
At one point during the tour, we were able to go down to the Loch--it was very cold and windy.  Waves actually rolled on to shore like we were at the ocean.

 The Loch was HUGE, no wonder people see things in it.

Even saw some Shetland Ponies!
Another stop on the tour was at a monestary. That, too, was rather neat, especially hearing the monks singing somewhere out of view. Carolyn was the last one back to the bus. She said a monk came up and started talking to her.



We also stopped at a river and old stone bridge for a short time.




After the 5 hour tour, we shopped our way back to the train station. Tim bought a really nice looking coat.

 Then we headed to the train station to head on to Edinburgh while we still had light for a little while. The highland scenery was beautiful.

The 3 hour trip passed quickly. It was about 8:30when we got to Edinburgh and we decided to take a cab to the Holiday inn carolyn had reserved. The holiday inn turned out to be a big disappointment! They wouldn't honor the price Carolyn had reserved it at and we weren't about to give in. So we were back in a cab with a list of hostels. We didn't have any luck with a hostel, but we did find a B and B next to one that let us have a "family room" (1 double bed and a twin--Angie refused to sleep with CArolyn and me and got the floor) for 45 pounds.

I was surprised that it was actually more like a hotel. The showers were on the other side of the stair well. Although my sister misunderstood the directions to the public shower and happened to use one that wasn't public that night---we still tease her about that. The next day she was surprised when that door wouldn't open again. I then showed her the public restrooms again. Wonder who's room she managed to wander into the night before?! For dinner that night we tried to get fish and chips again only to find the place closing. They directed us to a really nice restaurant, La Piazza. So we walked about an hour and found it. Streets were eerily vacant at night---but the next day they were packed. At La Piazza, we had real Italian food. Again we had really interesting waiters who liked to joke around with us. Tim tried Lager this time. The atmosphere of the place was really nice.


Thurs. March 27:


Breakfast was from 9-11. Nothing fancy, but adequate: corn flakes, milk, toast and jam, tea and coffee.... We went from there by train to another station near Edinburgh Castle and stored our luggage again while we went up to the castle. At the castle we did a self guided tour. It was a dreary day--and very cold up there. But I found it interesting. Sure wouldn't want to live there, though. The castle grounds was made of several buildings and many of those were made into museums. We spent quite awhile there.


Set atop a hill to protect the city, there were great views of Edinburgh.


Then we walked down the Royal Mile and shopped along the way.

Then we took a bus tour of Edinburgh. That tour was unimpressive. The guide was monotoned and not very enthusiastic. Back at the station, we set up a plan to meet up with the kids at 7pm and went off our separate way. Carolyn and I found a little fish and chips window and had a bite--it was pretty good. Then on to Marks and Spencer. At the entrance was a young man dressed in a kilt and playing a bag pipe--an interesting change from the guitar players in the pedestrian crossings. We met back up with the kids at a bar where they could get dinner, then we headed on to the train station. In the lounge at the station, we saw news for the first time since leaving the states. About 10:30 we collected our luggage and were on to the sleeper for another comfortable night's rest.

Fri. March 28th:
This day did not start out too well! We arrived at Euston in London at about 8:30 am. Got the tea and jelly filled cresent again. I elected for breakfast in the food court instead. Angie was going to get donuts but the gal was too busy doing ? to wait on her. So she wouldn't eat. Tim found egg sandwiches at Burger King, those hit the spot. Carolyn eventually came down and we headed out to get a taxi to the station we needed to leave from to go to Bath. Got about 1/2 way down the steps when I heard Angie screaming, "Mom, help me!". I turned to see her laying back on the steps. At first I thought she had fallen. But she said it was her knee. I felt so helpless, I had no idea what to do! I felt her knee and her knee cap was all the way to the side of her knee. Once the previous summer she had dislocated it and popped it back in before I got to her and she could hardly walk for a week. All I could think of at that time was how was she going to be able to enjoy the rest of her vacation. Plus I didn't know how to help her relocate it and she kept crying, "Help me Mom!". Within minutes several security people from the train station were there. One guy took Angie's leg and twisted it down and around and seemed to have "painlessly" and easily relocated her knee cap. He then proceded to rub down from both sides of her knee for several minutes never saying a word (that I heard). Another guy came and started asking questions:name; where going to; what happened;etc.---for an official report Im sure. They were also saying that she should go to the hospital, did I want her to go?. I was in a bit of a state of shock, I think. 3 or 4 guards stood at the top of the stairs, I presume to keep people away. I was amazed that there weren't a crowd of onlookers like seems to happen here in the states. I agreed to have an ambulance come. The paramedic arrived in about 10 minutes. A very nice young man. He looked at her knee, said it didn't look dislocated, to which I motioned that the gentleman now at the top of the stairs had relocated it. He didn't see a reason for her to go to the hospital. I guess before he got there---or maybe after---the sequence of events isn't totally clear, I fell into tears. Tim asked why I was crying. Anyway, the paramedic said she'd probably be in the emergency room for a long time and end up with an elastic bandage which we should be able to buy at BOOTS drug store at the other train station, so we went on to catch a cab. Tim automatically carrying Angie's bag now. But at the next station, BOOTS was closed---it was infamous Good Friday, which we always seem to have bad luck on(truck got stuck one year; car accident one year; winning $500 at bingo then them taking $250 of it away). So I went to the first aid station to see if they had a wrap and the nurse showed me to a wheel chair and said she'd be happy to wrap Angie's knee. So i went and got Angie. It was interesting to see the different kind of treatment she got there then home---first the nurse wrapped it in wool, then a very thin elastic.

From that station, we went on to Bath. Arriving there after noon. First we went and got tickets to the Guide Friday bus tour. Then headed to where I thought we were told to go catch it, "that way a couple blocks and to your left" (seemed to be the same thing we were told everytime we asked directions to anywhere!). Which, of course, was wrong. So Angie was hurting and started cursing. Carolyn was wanting to go another direction. Tim questioning me too. I had enough and Angie's cursing set me off! Then she yelled at me for not caring about anyone, Tim started telling me what a terrible trip it's been. Carolyn had left to find the correct directions and call Gatwick Holiday inn and see if we could spend 2 nights there. Anyway, there I sat in Bath, on a curb, crying again, the worst day I've had in a long time, feeling like a fool---blah, blah, blah. Fortunately Carolyn came back with good news---Holiday Inn for 2 nights and the bus on the other side of the parking lot. So we caught the tour.


Tim sat down below, Carolyn, Angie and I up top. Angie, as if nothing had happened---her usual cheerful, devil-may-care attitude---Carolyn not knowing about the scene at the curb. I did find Bath to be a beautiful city. Lots of interesting cresent shaped buildings.

Nicely landscaped. Rode it all the way around then suggested (reluctant to suggest anything now), that we leave our luggage at a hostel. They wanted 9 pounds per bag so was agitated again. With luggage in hand, we walked back to where we thought the baths were and couldn't find them. Tried to take some more pictures and the film wouldn't advance---figure the sprockets got stripped. Found the baths, tried to get in to see them but the line was too long with tours going in ahead of individuals. So we looked into the BAth Abby nearby.



Then we decided we had enough of Bath. Found out later the kids were disappointed because they expected to find old open Roman Bath ruins, not a large tourist city.

Back at the train station I checked to see if we'ld be able to see Stonehenge---we just missed the last bus! So we headed to Gatwick by way of Brighton to avoid London rushhour traffic. Got into the Holiday Inn around 8pm. Finally some pleasing news! They didn't have any more rooms with 2 doubles in it like Carolyn had reserved, so they were giving us adjoining rooms---one with a double and one with 2 twins. Things were looking up---but then they had to eventually! We even got a free ride to the hotel on the hotel shuttle. Ate at the hotel restaurant which turned out to be expensive, but good. Hoped to get back in time to hit the pool, but it was closed by the time we were done with dinner. So we just hit the showers and then crashed.
Sat. March 29:
We gave the kids the choice of what to do today---Stonehenge, London, or the coast. They chose the coast, White Cliffs of Dover to be exact. We got a ride to the airport from the hotel shuttle, from there we caught another train.We did have to make a couple transfers, but they didn't take long. Although we did go around in circles at first. When we got to the first transfer station, we had about 9 minutes to cross over the tracks and catch the connection. When we got over there, a train pulled up and the sign came up with our next destination on it, so we hopped on. Apparently it was a sign for the train coming next. After about 15 minutes we recognized the scenary. Got back to the airport and waited for the next one. There were usually so many ways to get to any destination that different rail workers would give us different options. Most of our travels were on inner-city trains, but now we were on Southern England Rail. We found the Southern England rail system trains weren't as nice as the fast inner-city trains. But most of the trains had seats facing each other, without tables, or just a little ledge by the window. Many of them did have snack carts. Anyway, the scenery to Dover was beautiful---low rolling green hills/flowers and sheep all over. Even some huge manor houses visible, as well as a couple castles in some of the cities. Finally we arrived at Dover.

We walked down the route to the coast.

It was the prettiest day yet weatherwise---sunny, 60's) Angie's knee was doing well---no complaints about walking. Lots of neat shops that we hoped to get back to, but didn't get to most of them. We couldn't get use to them closing at 5:30! We first made our way to the information center. There I asked about the "discount" ferry tickets to France. The guy told my they were 1 pound. I asked in disbelief what kind of transportation that would be. He said, swimming or by ferry. I still didn't believe him. Then I asked how long it would take---1 1/2 hours. Was it a hovercraft--no, that's 5 pounds and 1/2 hour. If we had know this in advance we would have tried to plan on doing that. But it was late---as usual. We did find leaflets there backing up his claim. Everything I'd read back home said the ferries were almost as expensive as the euro-chunnel. Near the info was an interesting looking pub which we decided to try out for dinner. But first we went through the pedestrian underpass and to the coast. The coast was made of rounded down rocks, no sand. We sat there for quite awhile and threw rocks and watched them bounce off each other like they were rubber balls. The waves coming up through the rocks made an interesting "marble-hitting-marble" type of sound. The view of the White Cliffs was very good from there. Tim also brought up the fact that it didn't smell like the ocean there. At about 5, they were anxious to be moving on again. So we went to the Pub. The restaurant wouldn't open 'til 5:30, so we figured we'd use the 1/2 hour to shop a little. We managed to be in Marks and Spencer's when it closed--they even locked us in. We were waiting at the front door for someone to let us out. Several workers walked by, but didn't say anything. Finally I asked if someone could let us out. we were then told we had to go out a different door. With the kids leading the way now, we cut through a cute park area. In the center of it


 Tim pointed out a camera rotating on a pole. The view of the castle from there was great. I wish we had time to go to the castle. I read later that there were underground tunnels under the castle and throughout the White Cliffs. Dinner in the pub was very good. Then we started hot-footing it back to the train station (after trying to call a cab and loosing my money). After a short distance, a taxi appeared and took us the rest of the way after all. After getting 3 set of directions on how to get back to Gatwick, we chose one through Victoria and then on to Gatwick. All was going well until Angie ordered hot chocolate on the bumpy train. It was hard to drink and she got disgusted and threw it on the chair. After the events of the day before I was biting my tough to keep from saying more than, "that was uncalled for!". At least she then got paper towels and tried to clean it up. Back at the train station we caught the Holiday Inn shuttle and headed back to the hotel for tea time and sleep.


Sun., March 30th (Easter):
This was the day time changed in Europe to daylight savings time--but not back home. So now there was 7 hours difference in time from the midwest. We got up about 9am and started preparing to leave. Soon we were off to catch the shuttle and on our way to the Gatwick airport. Carolyn's flight was at 2, ours not until a few hours later, but we all went together and ate lunch at Planet Hollywood in the airport. Then the kids and I shopped the airport after Carolyn left on her flight. I was even able to square away the VAT refund while at the Planet Hollywood there in the airport and take it to the office to verify it. Apparently not many people do that at the airport, there was no line. After more shopping in the duty free part of the airport, we headed off to our gate. We had great seats for seeing the movies "the Associate and Ransom", but lousy seats for legroom--the first seats behind the first class section with the metal wall in front of us. So there was no where to stretch our feet out. But the flight wasn't bad. We were descending before the 2nd movie was even over. Once in Newark, we had to reclaim our luggage and go through customs. Again we went right through. I was even asking the guy if I needed to put anything else on the card when he stamped it and sent me on my way. Then we rechecked the bags and made our way to the next gate. The next flight was nearly empty with 3 seats to each of us. We arrived back in St. Louis about 10pm (13 hours after leaving London). Ken was there to get us. At home we found Easter baskets for us all, and colored Easter eggs, and an angel food cake---Ken must have missed us.

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