London Trip, 2016: The Thames at Night

These photos are from our stroll along the Thames back in February of 2016 (we were in London for my sister-in-law’s wedding). It was a cold, but nice night–I was happy to finally have my wife with me on a trip abroad. Sadly, it would turn out to be our last bit of fun before I became deathly ill for the rest of the trip, followed by my wife a couple of days later. We had been planning to take a train to Bath the following day but instead I spent it in the hotel room, with my poor wife wandering the city looking for medicine. Then at the end of the trip, she had it worse than me to the point where we had to stay an extra night just so she would be well enough to fly home. Good times. Anyway, I got some cool photos out of the experience…

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England Trip, 2016: Leeds Castle

These photos are from my second visit to Leeds Castle (I had taken a tour of the castle back in the summer of 2014). This time, I was there for a Valentine’s Day wedding. Unfortunately, I had caught a terrible flu in London and was barely able to function, so I took far fewer photos on this visit, but I did manage to get a few outside and several inside, including pics of our awesome room. We spent the night in the castle, which was really cool, though I didn’t get to savor much of it as I ended up sleeping through most of my stay there . . . still, I’ll always be able to say that I slept in an English castle. 🙂

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London Trip, 2016: Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens

These photos are from my stroll through Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens up to Kensington Palace back in February of 2016.

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London Trip, 2016: Carnaby Market and Picadilly Circus

A few photos from the Carnaby pedestrian shopping market and Picadilly Circus (London’s version of Times Square), shot during my brief visit to London in February, 2016 for my sister-in-law’s wedding.

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London Trip, 2016: Buckingham Palace and St. James Park

Back in February of 2016, my wife Jen and I traveled to London for her sister’s wedding. Unfortunately, I fell deathly ill on the second night, forcing us to cancel a planned excursion to Bath. I had already visited Bath in 2014, but I wanted to take Jen there (since a trip to the Scottish Highlands was out of the question in the middle of February). Instead, I slept in our hotel bed on the third day while she walked around Picadilly Circus looking for medicine.

By the end of our trip Jen had caught the bug and was too sick to fly, so we had to extend our stay by a day at a hotel not far from Victoria Station. I was still recovering myself but felt well enough to do a little walking while Jen slept in the hotel.

The hotel was literally a stone’s throw from Buckingham Palace, so I walked around there, through St. James Park, and back along The Mall. I also visited nearby Westminster Cathedral and the Horse Guards Parade area. These photos are from that walk.

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Eurotrip 2014, Part 15: A Final Day in London

July 10, 2014: Today was my final day in London before I would head out on a three-day trip to Amsterdam and Bruges. It was a light day overall as I allowed myself to sleep in following two days of excursions featuring early-morning wakeup calls and long bus rides. Since I had been in London for nearly two weeks and hadn’t yet visited Buckingham Palace, I thought today would be a good day to do so.

But first, after grabbing some lunch and buying a new umbrella, I hopped on the tube to Baker Street so I could walk in the footsteps of Gerry Rafferty while also stopping by the Sherlock Holmes statue. I then took the tube to Hyde Park Corner and walked through Green Park past some war memorials and through the Wellington Arch before making my way to Buckingham Palace along Constitution Hill. Here are some photos from my day:

One interesting tidbit about Buckingham Palace: apparently the Queen does not like the palace. According to a guide from one of my tours, she derisively refers to Buckingham as “the office,” only going there long enough to dispense with official duties before retreating to one of her preferred palaces. She was actually staying at her palace in Edinburgh when I was there the previous week. I can see her point: it’s not the most attractive palace in the world.

After spending some time outside the palace (the inside was not open to tourists at this time of the year) I walked around Green Park for a bit longer before grabbing some dinner and then heading back to my flat. I decided to call it an early night since I had a lot of packing to do and an extremely early wakeup call the next morning. I was looking forward to my visits to Amsterdam and Bruges, though I felt as if, despite spending two weeks here, I had only just scratched the surface of everything London had to offer.

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Eurotrip 2014, Part 14: Canterbury, Greenwich, and More London

Since I’ll be returning to London in three weeks, I thought it might be a good idea to actually try and finish the journal of my previous trip, which I began writing oh so long ago

July 9, 2014: After our visits to Leeds Castle and Dover it was time to head to Canterbury, home of the famed tales by Chaucer. We parked and walked through the charming pedestrian market area to get to the cathedral. Unfortunately, we were denied access to the cathedral because the BBC was shooting some TV show there, so that was a bummer. We had to settle for the crypts, which we only had 15 minutes to explore before they closed. The crypts were really neat, but the feeling of being rushed did not make for a pleasant visit.

I then headed back into town and ate a late lunch at an outdoor French café, enjoying a dish of beef bourignon. Later I would discover that I had left my umbrella at the café—and an umbrella is not a good thing to be without in England. Oh well, stuff happens when you travel. Luckily, it didn’t rain before I was able to buy a new one back in London the next day. Anyway, here are some photos from my visit to Canterbury.

The next stop after Canterbury was Greenwich, London, home of Greenwich Mean Time, at zero degrees longitude. We waited here to catch a boat that would take us along the Thames back into central London. In the meantime I walked around and snapped some photos:

I also tried unsuccessfully to use a bathroom in a restaurant. I’m well aware that most places in Europe either charge you for the bathroom or will only allow patrons to use it. However, a large restaurant along the river had a sign on the outside advertising bathrooms, so I thought this place was an exception, especially since I had just watched one of my fellow tour members head upstairs to use it. So I headed up, figuring if anyone said anything I would just buy a soda or something, but as soon as I began ascending the stairs a restaurant employee came running across the restaurant to yell at me. I would have offered to buy something, but this person’s behavior irritated me so much that I just left.

Speaking of bathrooms, here’s a travel tip: never ask for a ‘restroom’ in the U.K. because nobody will know what the hell you’re talking about. One person thought I was looking for a place to rest. 🙂

Eventually the boat arrived and we were off. Here are some photos from the cruise:

I was disappointed to discover that it was a simple commuter boat rather than the cruise with tea, wine, and scones that had been promised on the web site through which I had booked the tour. This, on top of the denied Canterbury Cathedral entry and arrival to the crypts at closing time, as well as other missed itinerary points in Dover, left me feeling a bit ripped off, so I complained to Premium Tours. As it turns out, my booking was secured through a third-party web site that contained outdated itinerary information, but Premium Tours still made good on my disappointment by giving me a 25-percent refund, which was much appreciated.

Overall, I booked four tours through Premium Tours and found them to be a very good tour company. Although this tour was somewhat disappointing, I very much enjoyed the Bath/Stonehenge tour (worth every penny), and the Paris tour allowed me to see a lot of the city in just one day.

In the end, however, I felt as if I booked a couple of tours too many and did not spend enough time in London itself, so one bit of advice I would give someone coming to London is not to overbook yourself on tours that take you out of the city . . . unless you don’t care about seeing that much of London, then book away!

I decided to depart the cruise near the London Eye ferris wheel since I had pre-purchased a voucher to ride it and this would probably be the last day I would have a chance to do so. I waited in line for a half hour only to get to the front and be told that my voucher was no good, that I needed to go to the building nearby and exchange it for an actual ticket. I had naturally assumed that I could simply present my voucher to the ticket taker, just as I had done with my voucher to enter the Tower of London, both of which had been purchased from the same tour company: The Original Tour. The tour company should have made it clear that the London Eye voucher did not work the same as the Tower of London voucher, so this was partially their fault.

It was also the fault of the ticket takers at the London Eye, who should never have allowed me to enter the line with just a voucher: the attendant confirmed this, but she was completely unsympathetic that their screwup caused me to waste a half-hour of my time–she refused to allow me to go get a ticket and return to the front of the line; I would have to go to the back of the line and wait all over again. So I left the line (which was even longer now than when I had first queued up), and entered the building to get my ticket–until I saw how long the line was there. At that point I was so fed up that I said “screw it” and left; I had better things to do with my life. I ended up not using the voucher at all.

To be honest, once I realized the London Eye cars were enclosed and that any photos would be taken through glass, I wasn’t too upset about missing the ride (I had already gotten a bird’s eye view of London at The Shard anyway); I was just annoyed about wasting my money on the voucher. The lesson here: if you purchase vouchers in advance from ‘The Original Tour’ company, make sure you know which vouchers are good for entry, and which must be exchanged for a ticket.

After that debacle I decided to just do some more walking before heading back to my flat. Here are some photos from that walk.

I freshened up in my apartment and then decided to venture back out since I hadn’t really had a chance to experience London at night. I made my way to Picadilly Circus and snapped some photos before taking a stroll through Chinatown, where I planned to eat dinner. It was my first visit to any Chinatown, despite living halfway between Philly and New York (a few days later I would also visit Chinatown in Amsterdam, and a few months after that I would visit San Francisco’s Chinatown, so I made up for lost time). One thing I discovered about Chinatown is that, with so many similar restaurants to choose from, it’s hard to pick one place, so I found myself walking around in circles.

I eventually settled on a Vietnamese restaurant, where I had a funny (and somewhat humiliating) experience. The waiter brought out a dish of greens and I thought he said the word “salad,” so I poured what I thought was dressing on it and started eating. After a couple of bites I thought to myself, “This tastes like pure cilantro.” That’s because it was. I was supposed to put the cilantro in the soup he later brought out. So I threw the rest of the cilantro and “dressing” into the soup when it arrived, but this was also a mistake because the “dressing” was actually dipping sauce for the spring rolls and meat that the waiter would be bringing out next. Oh, and the spoon I had used to ladle the “dressing” on the “salad” was my soup spoon. I’m sure the owners had a good laugh at my expense. I’ll just chalk it up to being the end of a long and exhausting day. 😉

After dinner I headed back to my flat. Tomorrow would be my final full day in London, so I thought I should at least go have a look at Buckingham Palace. That will be covered in the next installment. In the meantime, here are some night shots of Picadilly Circus and Chinatown.

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Eurotrip 2014, Part 13: Leeds Castle and Dover

After a long, long delay, I am finally returning to the journal of my 2014 European trip. Perhaps I might finish it before 2016 rolls around. 🙂

July 9, 2014: Fresh from my visit to the Cotswolds on the previous day, I embarked on another excursion outside London. Today I would be visiting Leeds Castle, Dover, Canterbury, and Greenwich, before boarding a boat that would take me along the Thames back into central London. This was my fourth and final trip booked through Premium Tours.

The first stop was Leeds Castle. Our group was given a private tour before the castle opened to the public, enabling me to get plenty of people-free shots. Leeds may not be as big as other castles, but it’s very pretty and serene, situated on a lake and surrounded by beautiful grounds. It’s worth a visit if you’re looking for a day out from London to a nearby destination.

Little did I know that in less than two years I would be returning (and actually staying in the castle for a couple of nights) for my sister-in-law’s upcoming wedding. This time I will be visiting the castle in February, so perhaps I’ll get some new photos with snow cover to contrast with the summer photos below:

Our next stop after Leeds Castle was Dover for a chance to view the famous white cliffs. Unfortunately it was just a 15-minute stop, so I only had time for a few photos.

After leaving Dover we next headed to the land of Chaucer: Canterbury. That part of the trip will be covered in the next installment.

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Eurotrip 2014, Part 12: The Cotswolds

July 8, 2014: Today I took a trip through the picturesque area of the English countryside known as the Cotswolds, which included visits to four historic villages. This was another tour taken though Premium Tours. It’s a great tour to take if you like strolling through quaint villages and doing a lot of shopping, but in my case I felt as if it was a tour I probably could have skipped.

Don’t get me wrong, the villages were all very cute, but for me it wasn’t worth a 5 a.m. wakeup call and a missed extra day I could have spent exploring London. Perhaps a half-day trip would have been better, as I could have gotten the Cotswolds experience without using up my entire day—the villages were similar enough to each other that it wasn’t really necessary to see all of them.

It probably didn’t help that the much-touted lunch at a 17-century Inn was a huge disappointment. Our only choices were trout or vegetarian pasta. I don’t like seafood, so I was stuck with the pasta, which was decidedly mediocre, plus some fruit thing for dessert that I didn’t like. I wasn’t expecting five-star dining, but offering one meat option would have been nice (later in the day I made up for my lunch disappointment by having a nice afternoon tea with scones in one of the villages).

Nevertheless, the trip offered many nice photographic opportunities and I would still recommend it if you’re looking to do something different and get out of London for a day (though if you can only choose one trip, the Bath/Stonehenge trip is much better).

Here are some photos from my day:

Word to the wise: make sure you don’t wander into private property. I made this mistake in the first village we visited. I followed a couple of people from my tour through an open gate into a large garden area that appeared to lead to a church. Alas, it was someone’s private property (I missed the sign on the way in) and we were chased out by an irate home owner. Based on how unreceptive he was to my apologies, it must happen to him a lot. Later, when we rode back through the town, I noticed that the gate was closed. 🙂

We returned to London late in the evening. I can’t recall what I did for dinner; I may just have called it a night since I had an early wake-up call. The following morning I would be taking another excursion outside of London, this time to Leeds Castle, Dover, Canterbury, and finally to Greenwich for a boat ride back into central London.

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