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…

Click on any photo to open up a gallery.

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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 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 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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