Photo of the Day: The Thames at Night

It’s been a long time since I posted something, a combination of a trip to England, a lengthy illness, and being super busy, but it’s time to get back in the saddle. Here’s a photo from my recent trip to England, taken during an evening stroll along the Thames.

Date: 2/12/2016
Camera: Nikon D5100
Click for larger view

You can view more featured photos at my Photo of the Day Collection.

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.

View more of my photos from London.

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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.

View more of my photos from London

View more photos from my visits to the English countryside

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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.

View more photos from my visits to the English countryside.

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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.

View more photos from my visits to the English countryside.

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Eurotrip 2014, Part 11: Rock ‘n’ Roll Pilgrimages and a West‑End Vampire

Flash Forward: Battersea Power Station

July 7, 2014: It was my first day back in London after spending three days in Scotland and I was still recovering from lack of sleep, so I got a late start after allowing myself to sleep in. I didn’t have any excursions scheduled during the day (just a play I had tickets for in the evening), so my plan was to take it easy, meandering about the city and taking a couple of pilgrimages to iconic rock locations.

First on the list was Abbey Road, site of the famous Beatles album cover of the same name. I took the subway to the closest station and made my way to Abbey Road Studios.

Pilgrimage Accomplished

The crosswalk is actually in a busy intersection with no traffic light, so I tried to respect motorists by crossing as quickly as possible, but many people were quite a bit less courteous, stepping in front of cars and spending long periods of time setting up their photos. The locals are used to this, so they’re patient in allowing people to cross and take their photos, but when people linger in the middle of the road to take multiple shots and exaggerated poses, then the motorists understandably start to get irritated.

Abbey Road Crossing

I wasn’t about to hold up traffic by asking someone to take a photo of me as I crossed, but I was still able to get footage of my crossing via the web cam trained on the crosswalk. All you have to do is go to the Abbey Road Studios web site and grab the shots of your crossing, and if you time it right, your friends and family back home can actually watch your crossing live via the video feed. Here is a shot from the web cam:

That’s me looking up at the camera.

I then headed back to the subway station, and as you can see from the photo below, a nearby shop knows how to capitalize on Beatlemania.

A Day in the Life of a local coffee shop.

My next destination was the Battersea Power Station. If you are a Pink Floyd fan, this is the building featured on the cover of their Animals album. I made my way down to the Thames and walked along the bank for about 30 minutes before realizing that I had turned in the wrong direction, so I was forced to backtrack. Here are some photos from that stretch.

Looking Across the Thames
Another Thames shot.
The Tate Britain Art Museum

By the time I began to see the station it had started to rain—because you can’t walk for an hour in London without encountering rain—at least I couldn’t. 🙂

I was surprised at how massive the station is; it completely dominates the landscape of that portion of the Thames. Here are a couple of photos (I liked these better than my attempts at recreating the actual album cover, and I’m pretty sure the album photo was shot from the other side of the river anyway).

Battersea Power Station
The Battersea (sans flying pig)

I thought about checking out the Tour de France, which was wrapping up its London leg today, but decided I didn’t feel like braving the crowds, so I settled for snapping this photo of a biker who may or may not have been part of the race.

Race straggler or casual biker?

I then made my way back toward the center of the city and ducked out of the rain into an Italian restaurant for an early dinner. Inside they had the end of the Tour de France on television, so I sat and watched that with a glass of prosecco and a ravioli dinner. I don’t remember much about the dinner itself, so it couldn’t have been great, but it wasn’t bad, either.

After dinner, with the rain still beating down, I decided to just head back to my apartment and get ready for my evening trip to the West End, where I would be seeing a play called Let the Right One In, an adaptation of an excellent Swedish vampire film. I had bought the tickets online ahead of time for something like ten pounds—shocking that you can see a show in London for a fraction of what it would cost on Broadway, or maybe I was just lucky with that particular show.

While getting ready for the evening I watched some TV—an interesting aspect of TV in Britain is that American television shows seem to be played at a faster speed. Perhaps it has something to do with British television broadcasting at a different frame rate, but the effect was that every cast member of The Big Bang Theory sounded as if they had just inhaled helium. Thus, I can’t help wondering if everyone in England is under the impression that Americans talk like chipmunks. 😉

Instead of riding the subway to the theater district I decided to take the long walk from my apartment and enjoy the newly emerged sun. I did not bring my camera with me since I wasn’t sure what the theater rules were regarding cameras, so there are no photos from my walk through some interesting neighborhoods.

Along the way I stumbled across a hotel that serves afternoon tea. To this point I had not had a proper British afternoon tea and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to remedy that. For my tea I chose an excellent Earl Grey, which was served with savory sandwiches, tasty sweets, and delicious fresh-baked scones with clotted cream (also known as Devonshire cream). The low-quality cell phone photo below does not do the spread justice.

Tea Time

Needless to say, I am now a huge fan of British-style afternoon tea—I had always been a big tea drinker, but the Brits take it to a whole different level. Now, whenever I go on a trip here in the States, I keep my eyes peeled for a place serving afternoon tea.

Unfortunately, I had to kind of rush through my tea because the show would be starting soon, so I finished up and made my way to the theater. The Apollo is a nice, historic building, lending the play some additional atmosphere.

The Apollo

All of the seats in the theater appear to be good. Here was my view of the stage:

Set of Let the Right One In

During the first act, the person behind me kept kicking my chair while a couple sitting directly in front of me kept making out (or snogging, to use a British term) throughout the entire show like hormonal teenagers in a movie theater, so after intermission I moved to a relatively empty section where I could watch the second act in peace.

As for the show itself, the play was outstanding, really well-conceived, and every bit as affecting as the film. The overall tone was sufficiently eerie, the performances were great, and the music and choreography during transition scenes was stunning. All in all, I was glad I decided to spend one of my evenings in London at the theater.

After the show I walked around Picadilly Circus, which is very cool when it is all lit up at night (I would return later in the week with my fast prime lens to take some night photos). I then headed back to the apartment. In the morning I would be venturing outside London on a trip to the Cotswolds.

View more of my photos from London.

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Eurotrip 2014, Part 6: And Now for Something Completely Different…

July 3, 2014: Today was the day around which I had planned my entire two-week trip: the Monty Python reunion concert. But first, I toured the Tower of London and walked across the Tower Bridge.

The day began with a bit of a subway misadventure—I got on the tube heading in the wrong direction. I had done pretty well to that point navigating the London Underground, but the Circle line was a bit confusing. However, righting my course was simple enough once I realized I was going the wrong way—I just had to hop off at the next stop, make my way to the other side of the tracks, and hop back on.

The Tower of London is an interesting window into London’s medieval past, and definitely a must-see when you visit the city. There is a lot to see among the various buildings, so plan on spending a good portion of your day there, especially if, like me, you read all of the plaques describing the exhibits and the history behind them. Here are some photos from my visit (click on any image to open a gallery):

One of the main attractions of the Tower for many people is the chance to see the Crown Jewels. To be honest, I really didn’t care that much about seeing them, but since the line was relatively short, I decided to head in. The wait to get in can reach astronomical portions at peak times, so you need to decide how badly you want to see them. As I said, my wait was fairly short, about 20 to 30 minutes, so in my case it was worth it. It can be a bit claustrophobic as you’re herded through the exhibit, and at one point you’re moving through on one of those conveyor belts like they have in airports. There is much more on display than just the Crown Jewels: all manner of crowns, scepters, and similar items, but no photography is allowed inside so I don’t have any photos.

After finishing up at the Tower of London it was time walk across the Tower Bridge. You can also pay to walk on the upper level of the bridge for a bird’s eye view of the city but I decided against it since I had already gotten a similar view during my visit to The Shard. If the view had been unobstructed, I probably would have gone up, but the upper level is enclosed in glass, so my photos would have been no better than the ones I had gotten at The Shard. Anyway, here are some pics from my walk across the bridge (and also a couple of the bridge taken from the Tower of London).

I then headed back to my apartment to do some packing (I would be checking out in the very early morning) and grab some dinner before heading to the Greenwich peninsula for the Monty Python concert. There wasn’t enough time to head back into the center of the city so I found a small Chinese restaurant near the apartment and ate there. The pineapple chicken fried rice was a bit bland, not one of the most memorable meals of my trip, but not the worst, either (that was still to come).

The subway ride to the O2 (the concert venue) was long, probably about an hour if you count walking to and from the stations and changing lines. The O2 is a massive stadium complex containing multiple venues, restaurants, and other facilities. Although I didn’t take any pictures that night (I chose to leave the bulky camera in my apartment), here is a shot I took of the stadium from down the river the following week:

The O2

My seats were much better than I was expecting. I had a great view of the stage and the show itself was splendid, everything you’d expect from Python, ending, of course, with an entire arena full of people singing and whistling to “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.” Here’s a bad cell phone photo of the stage:

Monty Python

Afterward I went directly home to finish packing for my three-day trip to Scotland. It was around 11 p.m. by the time I got back to the apartment and I had a 4 a.m. wakeup call, so I would not be getting much sleep, but Scotland would prove to be more than worth it.

And with that, my first week in London had come to a close. One big regret is that I never made it out to Wimbledon, which had been in its second week when I arrived. I had just crammed too much activity into all of my days so I never had the time. Oh well. That aside, my first week in London was a blast and I looked forward to seeing more of the city when I returned after three days in Scotland.

View more of my photos from London.

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Eurotrip 2014, Part 5: Bath and Stonehenge

Flash Forward: Stonehenge

July 2, 2014: After spending a couple of days in London and a day in Paris, it was finally time to explore some of the English countryside via a tour of Bath and Stonehenge. This was my second of several tours booked through Premium Tours, and would turn out to be the best one by far. I can’t recommend this tour highly enough. Just make sure you choose the option in which you see Stonehenge in a private viewing at sunset—I think this option is only available during the summer, and only on certain days, but it is so worth it. Whereas the public must view Stonehenge from behind ropes at a distance, this tour gives you access inside the ropes to walk among the stones. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The day began with a trip on the subway to the Marble Arch, where I would be meeting with my guide and waiting for the bus to pick us up. While waiting I snapped a photo of the arch. You can click on any photo in this post to view a larger version.

Marble Arch

The guide was a cheeky older fellow with a biting wit named David. In his welcoming speech to the group he told us that the company basically gets two types of reviews from people on his tours: those who loved him and those who hated him. I fell firmly on the former side, finding his humor quite entertaining, and a welcome change from the by-the-book guides you frequently encounter on these tours. I can see how some easily-offended people might not like him, but in my opinion he made an already great trip even more enjoyable.

Our first stop was the very charming city of Bath. On the way I snapped a couple of photos of the countryside from the bus.

English Countryside
A town in the distance.

The main attraction in Bath is the ruin of the Roman Baths, but the entire city is rich with character. It’s easy to understand why so many celebrities have homes here. We only had a few hours (most of which were spent in the Baths), but you could easily spend an entire day or more meandering through this majestic city.

While waiting in line to get into the Roman Baths, I befriended a couple who were on the tour with me after I overheard them talking about Monty Python—it turns out I wasn’t the only one to organize an entire trip to the U.K. around the Python reunion concert. We bonded over that (they were going to the show the day before mine) and also over Treme (the HBO show) and our mutual love of Trombone Shorty—they were from New Orleans and had seen Shorty perform before he was famous. I’m usually alone on these trips and too shy to strike up conversations, so this was a nice change of pace for me.

Outside the Roman Baths

Before long it was time to enter the Baths. I’ve always been fascinated with ruins, especially those of the Roman Empire, so I was very much looking forward to this.

The main bath viewed from the upper level.
The main bath viewed from the lower level.
Our guide David talked me into taking this photo in front of the “do not touch the water” sign.
The smaller bath. The water once rose as high as the dark area just below the tops of the arches.

After exiting the Baths I had free time to walk around the city. It was a beautiful day to enjoy a beautiful city (finally, a day without rain). Here are some photos from my walk around town. You can click on any collage photo on this page to open up a gallery.

I only wish I had longer to spend in Bath, but it was time to move on. Our next stop was an old Saxon village called Lacock. On the way I snapped a couple more photos from the bus.

Railroad Tunnel
Typical English countryside scene: a stone wall and field of roaming sheep.

Lacock, with its quaint buildings, is like a walk back in time. We had lunch reservations at a 14th-century inn called The George.

The George Inn

I can’t recall exactly what I ate (some sort of meat pie) but it was delicious and fresh (we had placed our orders earlier that morning to give them time to make the food from scratch), washed down with some home-brewed ale, and followed by a tasty dessert. This was my first proper English meal of the trip—and the most inexpensive by far.

After lunch we had a walk around the town. It didn’t take long to see why this was a key shooting location for the Harry Potter films. Here are some photos from our walk around the town.

Before long it was time to kick this trip up to eleven (as Nigel Tufnel might say) and hop back on the bus for our ultimate destination: Stonehenge. They no longer allow cars to park at Stonehenge itself (which is a good thing), so you must park at the welcome center, from where a shuttle takes you up to the site. While waiting for the shuttle I walked around the museum, which had lots of useful information about the history of Stonehenge.

Finally, the park closed to the general public and it was time to catch the shuttle for our private viewing. On the way to the site I managed to snap one heavily-zoomed photo of two of the many barrows (burial mounds) found in the surrounding area.


Then we made our approach to Stonehenge. It’s impossible to put into words the feeling of standing on this ancient site, and photos fail to do it justice, but here are a few.

Having the entire place to ourselves was amazing, especially as the setting sun bathed the sky in pretty hues that made for some great photos. At one point our guide David had us be quiet and just soak in the atmosphere. I don’t necessarily subscribe to the idea of a place like this giving off vibes, but standing there in silence among those massive stones was definitely goosebump-inducing.

Soon it was time to hop back on the bus and return to London. By the time I reached my apartment it was 11:30 p.m and I had been on the road for over 13 hours, but it was more than worth it. As I mentioned at the top, this was the best of all the tours I booked through Premium Tours, as well as the best day I spent in England during my entire two-week stay. And on that note, I leave you with one final photo of the sun setting over Stonehenge.

Stonehenge Sunset

View more photos from my visits to the English countryside.

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Eurotrip 2014, Part 3: Doing the London Tourist Thing

June 30, 2014: My first full day in London began late in the morning after allowing myself to sleep in (I needed to recharge the batteries after being awake for most of 32 hours). Today was the day I had set aside to do the touristy double-decker bus thing, so I walked ten minutes down the street to a pickup point and hopped on. The company I chose was called The Original Tour. For this leg of the tour there was no live guide so I listened to a recording via headphones. Here are some pics (click on any photo in this post to open up a gallery).

What’s nice about these tours is that they stop at most of the major attractions and you can hop on and off wherever you please. I took advantage of this by jumping off at Picadilly Circus. I needed to transfer to a different bus line and this seemed like as good a place as any. Here are a few shots from my brief walk around Picadilly Circus.

I found the bus route I was looking for and hopped back on.  Photos from this stretch include Trafalgar Square and St. Paul’s Cathedral, among others.

I jumped off again near the Tower of London because I had an appointment with a famous serial killer: a guided walking tour through Jack the Ripper’s old haunts in Whitechapel. The walking tour was included with the price of my tour bus ticket.  But first, I snapped a few photos while I waited for the tour to begin.

I’ve always been fascinated with Ripper lore; I even featured it in my novel. The tour is pretty cool as long as you know what you’re getting: you’re walking through a modern city in the middle of the afternoon, so don’t go in expecting spooky atmosphere. It’s not the Whitechapel of the Ripper era, though there are some spots that give you an impression of what it must have been like. The main draw of the tour is listening to the stories of the guide, who did a good and enthusiastic job. Another plus of the tour is that it gives you an excuse to walk through a portion of London that you’d be less likely to visit on your own since it is a bit off the beaten path.  Here are some photos from my walking tour.

After completing the Ripper Tour I headed toward a dock near the Tower of London and hopped on a boat for a cruise along the Thames. This was also included with the price of my tour bus ticket.  By this time it had started raining but I found a spot on the outside deck under a little overhang where I could take some photos.

At the conclusion of the boat ride I headed for a bus stop to rejoin the bus tour. This wasn’t the most pleasant experience.  In addition to the aforementioned rain, I couldn’t understand anything the guide was saying. It appeared that he was holding the microphone too close so everything came out sounding muffled—either that or the speakers were shot. Here are a few photos from that stretch.

I stuck with the tour bus for a little while but between the rain and the unintelligible guide I’d finally had enough and decided to jump off near Parliament.  From here I walked around, taking photos of Big Ben, Parliament, and Westminster Abbey.

At this point, after two days in London, I figured it might be a good time to have my first proper meal. I walked around looking for a place where I might have an authentic English dinner but wasn’t having much luck.  As it grew later and I grew hungrier, I settled for a Spanish restaurant.  That’s right—my first English dinner was Spanish food. 🙂

I then made my way to the Underground and headed back to my apartment, hoping to catch a few winks ahead of my 4am wakeup call.  On the morrow I would be heading for Paris!

View more of my photos from London.

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Eurotrip 2014, Part 2: Touchdown in London and a View from the Shard

Flash Forward: A View from the Shard

June 28–29, 2014: The day of my trip had finally arrived. I kissed Jen and Heidi goodbye and hopped on a train to Newark for my 10 p.m. flight. I was a little concerned that they had shut down the monorail service to the airport from the train station for repairs, but the temporary shuttle service they set up ran smoothly and I got to the airport in plenty of time.

As I went through security, I was apparently in some sort of express lane because I didn’t have to take my shoes off or empty my pockets or anything. In fact, the TSA agent yelled at me when I started to do so. I reached my gate with a couple of hours to spare, so I passed the time in a Heineken lounge. The time flew by, and before I knew it, we were wheels up.

I tried to sleep on the flight but I’ve never been very good at that; I think I managed a few winks here and there. I normally prefer an aisle seat when flying, but I found that an aisle seat makes it nearly impossible to sleep because you have people bumping into you all night as they walk up and down the aisle, so for this flight I chose a window seat. The downside was that I was sitting next to someone who refused to stand up when I needed to exit my seat, forcing me to climb over him and, at one point, causing me to spill water all over myself. Oh well, at least it dried by the time we landed.

After touching down in London I stopped at a machine to purchase an Oyster Card for the London Underground (aka, the tube) and put enough money on it to get me through two weeks of riding London’s public transportation system. The nice thing about the Oyster Card is that when you’re ready to go home, you can turn it in for a full refund of the amount you didn’t spend. After getting that squared away I hopped on the tube, which was conveniently located right beneath the airport, and headed for my destination. London is very big, so it took me about 45 minutes to get to my stop (luckily I didn’t have to switch lines, which would have been cumbersome while dragging two-week’s worth of luggage). Overall, I found a ride on the tube to be much more pleasant than riding on New York or Philly subways. Then again, I hadn’t yet experienced the pleasure of being sardined into an overheated car on the Picadilly line during rush hour. 🙂

Upon exiting the tube station it was about a 10-minute walk to my apartment building. I arrived early and wouldn’t be able to check in for another couple of hours, so I left my luggage in the lobby and decided to take a walk to King’s Cross and St. Pancras train stations. With two hours to kill, it was a good opportunity to get the lay of the land and figure out where I would need to report for all of those 6 a.m. excursion departures on my schedule.

The walk over was cold, windy, and rainy. The rain would be a recurring theme during my stay as England definitely lived up to its wet reputation, but the temperature thankfully warmed up for the rest of my London fortnight. I first encountered St. Pancras; its facade dominates the area and can be seen from a good distance down the street.

St. Pancras train station in all its Gothic glory.
Hotel at St. Pancras

I then made my way to King’s Cross…

King’s Cross Train Station

…which looks really cool inside:

King’s Cross

I couldn’t leave King’s Cross without seeking out Platform 9 3/4. It wasn’t very hard to find; I just had to look for the long line of people waiting to get their photos taken.

Next Stop: Hogwarts

By this point I was feeling pretty hungry; I hadn’t eaten since our little breakfast on the airplane. I didn’t want to eat a full meal—I figured I’d have dinner later—so I stopped at a food kiosk outside King’s Cross station, where I ordered some very tasty garlic fries (or chips, as they call them in England). That was all I had planned to order, but then I saw something I could not resist—a chocolate cronut. Although I live near New York, where cronuts were invented, I had never eaten one, so I wasn’t about to pass up the chance, and it looked delicious.

This chocolate cronut did not disappoint.

I then headed back to my apartment building to check in after first trying unsuccessfully to find a trash can anywhere near King’s Cross. I did see a person walking around picking up trash, which led me to wonder: Do they just drop their trash on the ground here? I decided to keep the trash with me and throw it out when I got back to my room.

After checking in, one of the front desk attendants led me up three flights of stairs to my flat. I had requested a room on the top floor after reading some reviews of thin walls, hoping that it would be quieter without anyone being over top of me. As I dragged my heavy luggage up an increasingly narrow stairwell, I was beginning to regret that decision, knowing that I would have to make this climb for two weeks. But in the end I was glad I chose it because it felt very private and I never heard much noise up there.

I unpacked a bit and then caught a short nap before my visit to The Shard since I had been awake for the better part of 24+ hours. I wound up skipping dinner, figuring that sleep was more important, but before long, it was time to catch the tube down to central London. I had an 8 p.m. reservation at The Shard, which is the final entry time of the day for the view from the top. During the summer, that’s the best time to go because you can stay up there until after dark, which means you can enjoy a bird’s eye view of London both during the day and at night, with a beautiful sunset in between.

The Shard is the tallest building in the European Union, so naturally, the views from the top are stunning, and I was lucky that the skies cleared up for me. The only downside, from a photographer’s perspective, is that you have to take all of your photos through glass. I did my best to minimize glares and smudges in the following photos (click on any image to open up a fullscreen gallery):

I headed home a little after 10 p.m. and got back around 11, calling it an early night since I was basically running on fumes by this point. It was time to catch up on some of that sleep I’d lost on the flight over so I could wake up refreshed and ready to tackle the rest of London in the morning.

Looking Up at The Shard

View more of my photos from London.

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