Monday, April 7, 1997

1997 spring Great Britain trip

Being a military (Airforce!! brat), I was actually born outside of London. But we moved by the time I was a year old and it took about 40 years for me to finally get back for a vacation. It was well worth the wait! London is an incredible city! So big, but so easy to get around in. And so much history!!

London is where we (Tim, Angie and their Aunt Carolyn) spent the first 3 nights of a whirlwind 8 night/9 day trip. It definately had it's trying moments, but was worth it in the end.
It's a great place to visit with family. So much to do. Although we had only 3 nights there so did hardly anything---this time. But we now know the lay out for next time!

Our nights in London were spent in Landward Apartments. We rented a 2 bedroom apartment there. In 1997 we paid $220/night american dollars. I don't think that was too bad for downtown London.Unique Qualities: It came with a little washer and dryer as well as 2 bathrooms, cable tv, full kitchen. Took us a couple days to realize that they have switches on the wall to turn the electricity on to the sockets! The location was great. It was a couple blocks up Edgeware Rd. from Hyde park and over a block on 1 Harrowby Rd . This is Marylebone----W1H5HB. It's also very close to a Safeway food store on Edgeware road---good prices there. Only draw back to the place was the bar accross the street. There was loud music late into the night on the weekend.

One thing we found out quickly---don't try to cross the streets of London! Drivers won't slow down for you. They will just give you dirty looks! After attempting this a couple of times, we found out that there are underground pedestrian crosswalks all over London! What a great idea! Although they can be rather elaborate! Gotta have a good sense of direction. This picture shows typical London traffic and why you don't want to try and cross the streets!

Within London, I highly recommend subway and bus passes. Their public mass transit system is VERY good! I wish we were as developed here in the USA! Here is a picture of the Underground subway routes. It looks like a big challenge for first timers, but it's color coded well and we managed to not get too lost. .

The double decker bus is another fun way to get around London. Their mass transit system is great! Just don't try to ride it all the way around it's route---you might think you could ride it until it got back to the place you got on it. Wrong!!! The route has an ending spot and you have to get off that bus and rebourd another one to continue on your way.

I also highly recommend getting a Brit-rail pass if you plan on leaving London and seeing any of the wonderful countryside. We used it to travel all over England and Scotland. With only 8 days there, we even took the sleeper train twice and it was really nice. It was somewhat confusing when we first arrived, but didn't take long to figure out. There are several train stations in London. King's Cross station is the one we got off at when we first arrived in London from the Gatwick airport (about a 25 minute ride by trian). The building with the tall spires in the picture is the King's Cross train station. There were 3 types of trains: the fast and fancy intercity trains; the sleeper trains; and the smaller commuter type trains. The intercity trains even had some benches facing each other with a table between them. The sleeper had a really nice lounge car and well as the double berth sleeper cabins. The smaller trains reminded me of a large monorail type of thing. Some even had someone come through selling refeshments from a cart similar to service on an airplane. With the pass, we didn't have to get boarding passes or anything. Just jump on the train and they checked our passes on board. I really enjoyed riding in the trains.

Just riding the busses we saw lots of fascinating things of London. The London Wall was one of them. Many parts of it still exist. It had been built around the city to protect it from invasion back in medieval times. Here's a picture of some of the wall ruins near the Tower of London. I found it interesting that these ancient structures were just there and new structures were built right up to them.

Although we didn't have time to go in and tour the Tower of London this trip, we did take a bus there and wonder around the outside of it. It is quite an impressive site! It was founded towards the end of 1066 as part of the Norman Conquest of England. The White Tower was built by William the Conqueror in 1078, and was a resented symbol of oppression, inflicted upon London by the new ruling elite. The castle was used as a prison since at least 1100. In 1988, the Tower of London was added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites. It's still the headquarters of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers and houses a museum with the Crown Jewels.

Harrods is a high-end department store located on Brompton Road in Knightsbridge, in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, London.
At 5-acres and over one million square feet, it is the 2nd largest shop in the UK. With it's notariety, we had to check it out. One really memorable moment comes from there---to use the restroom there cost a pound!

While we were in Harrods, we found a little buffet-style tea and danish/sandwich bar. Not easy to find. Not downstairs by all the other food shops. But I've forgotten the name of it. But we enjoyed an afternoon snack there.

Obviously the theatre district of Soho is the place to be at night. Unfortunately, we were only there 3 nights and too exhausted to go to the theatre. But we did hit a couple of the restaurants there. I was surprised to see that all the stores in London close around 5:30! Except for one night, and I don't remember which night that was. So for nightlife, Soho was the place to be. It's theatres and restaurants and bars were open and lively all night.

But don't party too much or you may end up like this bloke!

Trafalgar square is a square in central London, England. With its position in the heart of London, it is a tourist attraction, and one of the most famous squares in the United Kingdom. We only saw it from the bus, but it was pretty grand.
I wish we had taken one of the tour bus rides through the city the first day we got there. Instead, we did it on our last day. We didn't realize you could actually get off and on the bus in the many fascinating places. But, alas, we were pressed for time and had to stay on for the whole tour. It was VERY MUCH worth the 12 pounds (or US dollars, I can't remember now) we paid for it. Our guide was very interesting and full of humor. The tour we took was with The Big Bus Company. The picture is of our guide. Sorry for the blur, but the bus ride was rather bumpy.

An impressive, and HUGE, cathedral is St. Paul's Cathedral in London. I understand the USA capital building is copied after it.

We didn't go here on this trip, either, but heard that the London Dungeon was an interesting place to find out about methods of torture way back in the day. Amazing to think people can be so brutal!

When walking around, you'll probably come across Piccadilly Circus. It's an interesting 'circus' with lots of color. In this context, a circus, from the Latin word meaning "circle", is a round open space at a street junction. Located in London's West End in the City of Westminster, it was built in 1819 to connect Regent Street with the major shopping street of Piccadilly.

THis picture was taken in Hyde Park. That is my daughter trying to blend in with the statues. There are LOTS of statues in London. I read that if you could pay to have one put in, it was done---at least until they got so many that they changed that.There are also lots of parks in London. It's a very pretty city.

We were fascinated by the differences in McDonald's in England from the USA. Who would have thought you could get a beer with your Value Meal?! Or should it be called a Happy Meal!? Anyway, this McDonald's by the Tower of London was particularly interesting in that it sort of resembled a medieval building. Look closely, you'll see a low stone building just up from the walkway---it's a McDonald's.

We also enjoyed going to the original Hard Rock CAfe. It was themed with lots of Beatles memorabilia. I was surprised to see how small they were.
For an easy day trip from London, we took the train to Hampton Court. Not only was the palace spectacular, but so were the gardens around it.
The palace was originally built for Cardinal Wolsey, a favorite of King Henry VIII in 1529. As Wolsey fell from favour, the palace was passed to the King, who enlarged it. Today, the palace is open to the public, and is a major tourist attraction.

Here is one of the courtyards Wolsey built. The Base Court contained forty-four lodgings reserved for guests. The second court (today, Clock Court) contained the best rooms which were reserved for the King and his family.

Soon we were heading off to catch a sleeper train for our journey to Scotland. But we did make it back to London a few days later to change trains on our way from Scotland to Bath. Unfortunately, we had the misfortune of having the paramedics being called to the train station then for Angie (17 years old at the time). Going down the steps, her knee dislocated and she was in great pain. I was amazed at how quickly help was on the way! Guards had the steps closed off in a minute or 2. One must have been trained in relocating dislocated knees because he asked her permission to move her leg. Very gently and quickly he worked it into place. By then, the paramedics were there. I asked about insurance and was told I didn't need it---which really surprised me! I thought it was free for them, but I didn't think they'd treat foriegners for free (although I did have our insurance stuff with me). The paramedic assessed her knee and said the hospital couldn't do anymore for it but wrap it and she could get that done at the first aid station in the train station. So we took her there --- in a wheel chair that they had easily accessable. Unlike if this happened at home, no crowds gathered to see what happened. The guards kept everything moving. The medical care was efficient and quick. Everyone involved really seemed genuinely concerned. I was extremely impressed with how everything was handled----and it was Good Friday!
THus ended my first trip back to London since I was a child. We continued on to Bath and Dover for a couple days, then it was time for our long flight home on Easter morning.

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