Category Archives: London 2015

London/Paris — 16 September 2015

Off to Paris! The packing up took just under 2 hours–good information to know when we pack up to go home in 2 weeks. (But please don’t make me think about going home yet!) Our host, Benjamin, comes by before we leave and returns our deposit of 100£. That means we now have to get rid of these British pounds! We’ll pay the cabbie and then exchange them in Paris because we ain’t coming back here to use them.

Our cabbie was from Somalia and he was a very genial fellow. He was also a VERY well-informed member of the world. He had a good grasp of American politics and talked about pretty advanced economic theories. He was way ahead of me and he’s making a living as a cab driver. It was a pleasant and interesting drive to the train station.
Before we left on this trip I bought a couple of “knife safes” so we could bring good knives with us to use in the kitchen. I was pretty proud of myself when I thought to order them from Amazon and with our Amazon Prime I was able to get Sunday delivery. But I was REALLY mad when I could not find them the day we left! I did find them in London when I unpacked my suitcase which made me even madder at myself for not remembering that they were there. BUT I was happy that my memory is somewhat failing me because we discovered that we could not carry any knives over 3″ in length on the train to Paris. So if I would have remembered where the knife safes were and if I would have brought the knives, we would have lost them. (And they would have been our nice, expensive knives.) So now I think I’m brilliant!
Howard fortunately had read thoroughly about the procedures at the train station. He made sure we got to the security line and through immigration and customs in good time. The train trip through the Chunnel was easy and fast. And, no, we did not see any fish! Our driver eventually found us at the Paris station after a few back and forth phone calls. I finally realized all I needed to tell him was that we were in front of the #5 voie (platform) which I could read off the sign in front of me.
The Paris traffic to our apartment was a mess! He dropped us off in front of our apartment door and successfully got us into the foyer. We said “Merci, au revoir!” And then quickly realized we could not get through the second security door. We were in luck; he had not yet pulled away from the curb. He showed us that we needed to place a magnetic key ON the apartment registry list–we never would have figured that out but apparently it is a usual thing here in Paris.
Up we go 4 flights of stairs (80 steps!) with 5 pieces of luggage and a couple of small over-the-shoulder bags (camera and iPad bags). My heart nearly exploded! And my arthritic knees nearly gave out. I thought all our walking and climbing in London for a week made us much stronger! Apparently that was not the case. So hopefully 2 weeks in Paris will help us on our way to fitness.
We have a beautiful apartment in the very best part of Paris! We have stayed in this area of Paris several times and know our way around. We have favorite shops and restaurants here and we feel right at home. Howard ran out right away to get some wine for us. We sat back with our feet up and the windows open so we could listen to the wonderful sounds of Paris, sip our wine and consider the 2 weeks we have ahead of us.
The apartment has a collection of restaurant business cards from past tenants. We find one that is nearby and I make a reservation via the Internet (much more easy than calling and having to communicate effectively by phone). We get a reservation for 7pm. Before dinner we take a little walk. It’s raining just a little but we really don’t notice.
At 7 we are the first to arrive at this REALLY tiny restaurant, Le Petite Vatel. It seats 18 people max! The lady is so nice and helpful. She brings us the little blackboard with the evening’s choices. We understand 75% and she fills in the rest of the information for us. Howard orders blood sausage in filo for his 1st course and beef cheeks with potatoes and nicely cooked vegetables for his 2nd course. I order little steamed clams for my 1st course and veal stuffed with ground lamb and beef with roasted garlic and perfectly cooked carrots, haricot verte and cauliflower.
We are happy to finally get some really good vegetables! There is a dearth of good vegetables in London. We share the third course: a nice big slice of aged Lauguiole cheese. French cheese–magnifique! For the dessert course we both have clafoutis with mirabelle plums. Espresso coffee ends the meal. The price for our meal was $145. And that is exactly the price we’d expect to pay for that kind of dinner–unlike London where everything is so incredibly expensive. The exchange rate is 1€ to $1.13 here in France–that’s the lowest we’ve seen for over 10 years!!! What a great first dinner in Paris! We could have not asked for anything more. We are off to a great start.
Speaking of the current exchange rate… It’s a good thing we spent 3 months living in France in the spring of 2014. After living there for so long we decided, because of the cultural unrest and the bad economy, that France would not be a good choice for our second home. (We chose Ashland, OR instead!) If we would have had our usual month-long vacation, we would have not had sufficient information to really decide if France was for us. With insufficient information and with the current exchange rate we would have been tempted to buy a place in France and that would have been a bad decision. So our 3 month-long adventure in France was a very good idea!

London — 15 September 2015

Today is our last full day in London. It’s a little rainy but, hey, we are not made of sugar! Westminster Abby is our first stop. And what a sight it is! Every second of our tour is mind-blowing. There are probably thousands of memorials inside the church ranging from ginormous and opulent to easily overlooked tiny. There are memorials to scientists like Darwin and Sir Issac Newton; to poets and writers like Geoffrey Chaucer and Dylan Thomas; to musicians like George Fredric Handel; to actors like Sir Lawrence Olivier; and to the opulent resting places of kings and queens. The videos of royal weddings do not begin to show the grandeur of the church.

We spend a couple of hours exploring the church and the gardens and then head off to the nearby Westminster Arms pub recommended by Rick Steves. I have sausage and potatoes and Howard has steak and ale pie which he says is even better than the one he had at Trafalger Square.

We should be tired enough to go home but we forge on to the British Museum. And that is a place not to be missed! Rick Steves says “it is the only place I can think of where you can follow the rise and fall of three great civilizations –Egypt, Assyria, and Greece–in a few hours.”

The ancient Egyptian exhibit (2400 to 200 B.C.) is soooo amazing! It begins with the Rosetta Stone dating back to 200 B.C. That discovery made it possible to decode Egyptian writing. We then come face-to-face with a colossal statue of Ramesses II from about 1250 B.C. And the fun never stops through the entire Egyptian wing. There are animal statues, coffins and sarcophagus, more colossal statues, paintings, statues of the gods and more!

Then on to ancient Assyria (Iraq 1100 to 600 B.C.)… The huge human-headed winged lions and winged bulls are my favorite of this exhibition. But the rest of the exhibit is incredible too. It is for the most part carved panels showing battles, palace scenes, and lion hunts (my favorite of the panels–it is so realistic).

And last, Ancient Greece (600 B.C. to 1A.D.). This exhibit was my least favorite. Although it was interesting, it just couldn’t beat the other two exhibits. There is pottery, small humanoid statues called Cycladic figures, sculptures, and frieze.

We were rung out at the end of our time at the British Museum and hobbled home with a stop at the wine shop and bakery to use up the last of our British pounds.


We had great weather! Lots of sun; pleasantly cool temperatures; and the little rain we got, did not inconvenience us.

London is WAY too expensive! It is also sooo crowded. And the metro is not as convenient as in Paris. It’s an interesting place to see but not interesting enough to come back. Our trip to the country was great–would love to see more of that but the country roads can be very narrow and driving on the other side of the road is too much. It was nice to be able to communicate although sometimes I wondered what language Britons were speaking. But one man said he didn’t understand at first what I said.

Londoners are very friendly and helpful. People stopped to ask if they could help if they saw us looking at our map.

London made me feel OLD! Too many people offered up their seats on the tube for us. I tried to convince Howard the first time it happened that the lady was talking to him but both of us elicited sympathy from younger Britons. So if it had not been clear before, it is crystal clear now: We are old!

We had tasty pub food. It was nothing fancy but it was good and we enjoyed our meals.

London — 14 September 2015

We are up at 7am and to the underground by 10. Today we visit the Tower of London. It’s a little rainy so we take our rain gear.

Once inside the walls we head lickity-split to the Crown Jewels, a popular tour. The tour starts with some very interesting videos (some are animated) showing the the many kings and queens who have worn the crown from William the Conqueror (1066) to the current monarch, Queen Elizabeth II (crowned in 1953). There is a video of Queen Elizabeth’s coronation–as Howard as an eleven year-old boy watched the coronation on TV, he fell madly in love with her, he says. Next you view all of the coronation items: ceremonial maces, swords and trumpets. Then comes the display of royal regalia: an eagle-beaked flask from which the anointing oil is poured, the Sword of Offering and the 20-pound gold robe. Finally you enter the room with various crowns, orbs and scepters. In these precious items are contained the 530-carat Star of Africa diamond, the 106-carat Koh-I-Noor diamond and a large blue sapphire from Edward the Confessor’s coronation ring. Of course there are also thousands of diamonds, pearls and semi-precious stones. Wow! But I have to say after seeing all those priceless symbols of the monarchy, I can see why some people believe it’s time for the monarchy to end. Kind of like the Vatican. How are all that gold and those priceless jewels helping the world? And how COULD it help the world today?

So speaking of the monarchy we head out to see the towers in which they were imprisoned and the places they were beheaded. We visit Beauchamp Tower where “Very Important Prisoners” were held. The walls are covered with graffiti expressing the prisoners’ hopelessness of ever leaving the tower and their final and last words.

The White Tower houses an interesting exhibit of suits of armor displayed on human and horse manikins, weaponry, instruments of torture and the execution ax and chopping block for…you know…

For 600 years beginning in the early 1200s, exotic animals were received at the tower as royal gifts and the animals were kept at the Royal Menagerie for the entertainment and curiosity of the court. The first royal beasts to arrive at the Tower – the lions, polar bear and elephant – came from Europe and North Africa. In later years, the variety of animals at the Tower increased. Everything from elephants to tigers, kangaroos and ostriches lived in what was known as the Royal Menagerie. Responding to this tradition, Artist Kendra Haste has recreated some of the most popular animals as wire-mesh animal structure pieces for an exhibition called Royal Beast. Haste’s life size polar bear gives visitors an idea what it would have been like hundreds of years ago. Seeing the bear, poised and chained brings an overwhelming sense of disbelief that an Arctic animal made it to London during the 1300s.image

The only animal to have survived until today are the tower’s ravens. According to tradition, the Tower and the British Throne are only safe as long as ravens are present. “The ravens are now treated almost like royalty. Like the Royals, the ravens live in a palace and are waited on by servants. They are kept at public expense, but in return they must show themselves to the public in settings of great splendor. So long as they abide by certain basic rules, neither Royals nor ravens have to do anything extraordinary. If the power in question is political and diplomatic, the Royals now have hardly more than the ravens. But the word “power” here can also mean the aura of glamour and mystery which at times envelops both ravens and monarchs.” (Boria Sax, author of books on human-animal relations) HA!

We have a delicious lunch at the Tower’s restaurant. I have a tasty plate of ham, potatoes and beans and Howard has sausage and mashed potatoes.

We decide to take the boat “bus” back to Westminster and then take the tube home.

London — 13 September 2015

Today is Sunday and we decided it was to be a day of rest. We were slow to get going. We made a picnic lunch of chicken salad sandwiches. Our destination is nearby Hyde Park and Kensington Park.

At the Diana Fountain

The day is cool but it is lovely weather. We have a set walk in mind but discover we veer off to other paths. We see a sign indicating the way to the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain and we move in that direction. We arrive at a weird monument and hope it is not the Diana monument. We keep going and eventually find our destination. The fountain is beautiful! It is in a circular shape and has incredible variations in water movement. The children are gleefully wading in the water. It truly is a beautiful memorial to Diana’s memory.

We try to find our way back to the original route but almost immediately discover the Serpentine Pavilion. It is a whimsical multicolored plastic pavilion that is a cafe in the middle of the park. It is described in the London Financial Times as “a little pavilion with almost psychedelic tunnels and shimmering rainbow refractions evoking oil in a puddle or a soap bubble.” (

We had delicious champagne as we watched little children run around and through the pavilion loving and enjoying the colors and pathways. We had our picnic in the shade of a lovely tree in the park. We people-watched but especially enjoyed the dogs having a romp in the park. It was especially funny to watch the dogs go after the squirrels. One owner got tired of calling for the dog (who was entranced by the squirrels) and just walked away. Finally the dog took notice that he was alone and quickly ran off to find its owner.

After lunch we visited Kensington Palace. Princess Diana and her sons made this place her home for a time. We just peeked our heads in (did not take the tour) but we enjoyed the gardens. On our way back we found a nice wine shop just around the corner from home with a welcoming man on duty. We bought some wine and enjoyed a chat before heading home.

We relaxed, read, had toasted English cheddar cheese sandwiches and pastries from the corner bakery. We actually stayed up until 11:00pm!

London — 12 September 2015

We slept very well and woke up at 8:39-9:00. Our destination today is the Westminster area for a Rick Steve’s walking tour. On the underground, a lady offers her seat to us. It isn’t clear which one if us she is offering up her seat. It makes it worse that she is on crutches! So a disabled lady thinks one of us is more deserving of a seat. OMG! We are old people!!!

It is REALLY crowded today! Even more crowded that other crowded days. There is a rowing competition on the Thames and we enjoy watching it for awhile. We walk down Whitehall to Trafalgar Square passing #10 Downing St and other important government buildings. I am hungry but all the pubs we pass are filled up. We take a side street at Traflager and find The Admiralty Pub. It is quaint and there are tables available on the second floor. We both enjoy English pies: I have pork and Howard has lamb. They are delicious! I try English cider with mine and it is a perfect culinary match. Howard has English ale.

We walk towards Buckingham Palace through a beautiful park. We saw the queen’s guards in a little off-public area carrying out the changing of the guard. It was an exciting secret moment to witness a royal ceremony.

We hiked back through Hyde Park and found an underground station just when my legs started screaming. We decided we should stop off at Whole Foods before returning home. My legs screamed the entire time!! Gosh, Whole Foods is expensive here!!! We got home about 4:30 and enjoyed a relaxing evening.

London –11 September 2015

We slept really well especially since we both took sleeping pills at 12:30am. Today’s adventure is a trip to the English countryside including Bath and Stonehenge. We must take the underground to Waterloo Station, the largest railway station in Europe. We are traveling with The English Tour Bus Company and are in the competent hands of Colin Welsh. We are in a Mercedes Sprinter van seating 14 people. Most people are from the US but there are also people from Canada and Australia. It is a beautiful day and no rain is predicted.

Colin tells us about Waterloo Station. Apparently the Eurostar train from France to London used to come into Waterloo Station. The French authorities thought that was not much of a welcome to the French since it brought back bad memories of the battle of Waterloo and how Napoleon lost to the English. So the Eurostar station was moved to St. Pancreas and all was forgiven.

Colin also told us about London’s mayor, Boris Johnson. Colin said that he was educated at Oxford but sometimes acts like too much of an everyman guy. But he said that at the London Olympics in 2012, Mr. Johnson, a slightly rotund man, ran a zip line and got stuck in the middle. He was dangling for a while and the harness cut an unflattering silhouette on London and international TV. Poor man…

We drive through London as Colin tells us about the different neighborhoods. We get a little primer on rugby and the local ale company. He tells us about a high-end neighborhood where people cannot add height to buildings so they are digging lower and lower below the buildings for new apartments. Sometimes they excavate so much below the ground’s surface that they cannot get the excavating machinery out and must cement over them.

The first interesting country-side place we pass is the village of Windsor. I realize this is the picturesque area I saw from the plane as we headed into Heathrow Airport. And of course it is the countryside home of the queen. Colin tells us that the queen acts somewhat like she is a regular resident of Windsor. She is the only English resident who is not required to have a driver’s license. Apparently she drives frequently and has been known to go rogue (off road) if she is annoyed with other vehicles or pedestrians (including nearly hitting a family taking a walk along the road).

We take a beautiful drive through the Southern Cotswold English countryside. The countryside is a patchwork of pastures with hedgerows defining each family’s land. Colin tells us we must report if we see cows standing or lying down. Lying down means there is rain to come but standing means clear weather. We see both so we must be ready for anything! We see quintessential cottages with thatched roofs. There are “dry stone walls” that were made by fitting the stones so closely and perfectly that no cement is required. Although Colin points out that sometimes the top row is cemented to prevent theft of the stones.

As we look out to the hills we see distinct mounds that look like hills on the hills. Those mounds are barrows or burial mounds and date originally to the Neolithic and Bronze ages and as late as the 6th and 7th centuries. There is so much to learn about prehistoric history here in England. That could be a complete trip to England!

The tour company has intrigued us–they say they will be taking us to a “secret place.” That place turns out to be Lacock Village. The village is owned almost in its entirety by the National Trust and attracts many visitors by virtue of its unspoiled appearance. The buildings date back to the 14th through the 18th centuries. The pub was dated 1346. The village is used for movies because of its unspoiled appearance. One house and the church’s cemetery was used for a Harry Potter movie! Colin asked if there were any Harry Potter fans and we eagerly raised our hands. Some smart-ass woman wondered aloud how we would not be embarrassed to say so. Cheeky bitch! (That’s London talk!)

Next stop: the village of Bath, a village that Rick Steves says “is a joy to visit.” Bath is a World Heritage Site known for its hot springs, Roman period baths, Medieval heritage and stately Georgian architecture. Bath has more protected historic buildings per capita than any other town in England. The city became a spa with the Latin name Aquae Sulis (“the waters of Sulis”) about AD 60.

Colin gives us an overview and we set off to have lunch and, if time permits, a little exploring on our own. We decide lunch is a priority and stop in to the Roman Bath’s Kitchen. We have a very nice meal of steamed mussels (Christine) and baked cod with chorizo (Howard).

In addition to the ancient baths there is the picturesque Pulteney Bridge crossing the River Avon. It is one of only four bridges in the world to have shops across its full span on both sides. The structure is based on the Ponte Vecchio (Florence) and the Ponte di Rialto (Venice) and was completed in 1774. There is a very picturesque wear on the river right at the Pulteney Bridge.

Stonehenge was our next stop. Amazingly the renown Stonehenge is just one of MANY henges (an area with a ring bank with a ditch inside) in England. In fact, there is a newly discovered henge near Stonehenge: ( But Stonehenge is the only henge with cut and placed stones and lintels. We were overwhelmed by the structures and very happy to have seen them.

So back to our sweet apartment. We arrived after 9pm. It was a long, wonderful day. We thought the tour was very well worth it!!

London –10 September 2015 Afternoon

The results of my trip to the corner bakery are disappointing. I get cappuccino and croissants. I must have turned on the oven broiler to heat up the croissants because within 30 seconds the tops are seriously burned. I cut off most of the char and they are just OK and the cappuccino tastes of burned coffee. We have a Nespresso machine in the kitchen but only a couple of capsules. We both think the machine makes pretty decent espresso. I discover it’s not easy to score those capsules so I call the owner and he is going to bring us lots more. So maybe I’ll be able to forgo the coffee run to the corner. But it would be nice to find some delicious breakfast pastries…

First thing we bought a 7-day transportation pass. The pass gives us unlimited underground, train and bus transportation. There is a station not far from us and the “tube” set up looks to be very similar to the metro in Paris.

Our destination for the day is Greenwich, England’s maritime capital. The weather is beautiful; the Londoners keep telling us that a nice sunny day is not a usual occurrence. We catch the tube to the Westminster stop where we pick up a sight-seeing boat on the Thames to Greenwich. Westminster looks impressive and as we wait to our boat departure, Big Ben is chiming. The sights along the Thames are incredible and we have a very interesting and funny guide telling us all about them. It gives us a visual of all the places we need to see.

The Greenwich town center was laid out in the 1820s. At its heart is the Royal Navy College and the Queen’s House. But other visitor attractions include the Cutty Sark, the National Maritime museum and the Royal Observatory in Greenwich Park.

We first tour the Cutty Sark, the world’s last surviving tea clipper ship which was launched in 1869. The exhibits show how the ship was able to store an enormous amount of tea in its hold. There is also a very interesting collection of old ship figureheads including Abe Lincoln, Sir Lancelot, a few kings and then a bunch of the usual buxom maidens.

We are hungry by the time we complete the tour and have lunch at the Trafalger Tavern, a place frequented by Charles Dickens in his time. We both decide on traditional fare: I have fish and chips and Howard has bangers and mash. The chips are pretty disappointing! Howard has an English ale and I stick with the tried and true French wine.

Fortified, we head off on a lovely walk through the park with the Observatory as our destination. The park is really lovely–people are catching some rays, picnicking, throwing balls for their dogs. The observatory is a site dedicated to timekeeping and astronomy and those both relate to seafaring.

The observatory was founded in 1675 by King Charles II for the purpose of improving navigation. It is located on the prime meridian (0 degrees longitude) and is famous as the point from which all time is measured (Greenwich Mean Time). There is also a camera obscura at the observatory. This low-tech device projects a live image from Greenwich onto a flat disc in a darkened room simply by manipulating light, without electricity or machinery–rather like TV today!

At the end of our visit to Greewich, we take the train back home. I think we’re getting the hang of London’s subway system! Our trip began at 9:30 and ended at 4:30 and our feet did not fail us. But we are happy to be back home to relax and put our feet up.

London — 10 September 2015 Morning

London September 10, 2015 Morning

Here we are in London! It’s our first time here and we can’t wait to see this incredible city.

There was one close call before we left. I broke a tooth right in half length-wise. Thank goodness it wasn’t while we were on vacation. I’m not sure I would trust an English dentist to fix my tooth! I had to have an extraction one week before leaving. Fortunately my oral surgeon removed the tooth easily and I did not have one second of pain afterwards. Now I must smile my Mona Lisa smile in our travel photos to not expose my “gap.” (Reconstructive work to begin when we get back home.)

We have no complaints about our flight to London on Virgin Atlantic. Our Premium Economy seats were very comfortable and roomy. The flight crew were helpful and nice. In the middle of the night as I was watching a movie, one of the flight attendants saw I was awake and asked if I’d ever seen the Northern Lights. Coincidentally Howard and I had just been looking at winter cruises along the Norwegian coast specifically to see the Aurora Borealis! The flight attendant showed me to a window in a little bar area. While I was able to see a faint green glow in the distance, by the time Howard woke up and looked he saw lots of intense colors. So now maybe we don’t need to take that expensive trip to Norway!

Of course it was a long flight. We arrived in London about noon and took the train from the airport to the train station nearest to the apartment. We were approached by a man asking if we needed a taxi. I was a little wary of going with him since he was not picking up people at the taxi stand. My wariness grew when I saw that he was not driving a commercial taxi. But he got us to the apartment and I do not think he charged us excessively.

The apartment is located in a very nice, quiet street just about a block from a major thoroughfare. It’s on the 4th floor and happily there is an elevator–although it’s a tiny, scary one. We mistakenly hit the basement button and honestly found ourselves at the back of someone’s closet. I’m not kidding! The doorway was completely blocked by clothing! But the apartment is bright and comfortable with a very nice kitchen. It was not cheap (about $275/night) but a hotel would have been just as much and we are in a very nice area of London (Notting Hill in the Kensington/Chelsea area) and a perfect location for sightseeing. And we have a beautiful kitchen.

A welcomed shower and clean clothes were the first priority. As much as I wanted to put my swollen and sore feet up and relax for the rest of the day, we knew we needed to get out, get some sun to counteract jet lag, and buy groceries and wine. So we make our way to the biggest Whole Foods Market we’ve ever seen!

The walk there is about a mile and it is a parade of quintessential English sights: quaint taxis, double decker buses, beautiful old buildings, ancient churches, and cute pubs (including The Churchill Arms which is COVERED roof to street level with gorgeous flowers). The children are walking home from school–boys in blazers and short-billed caps and girls in uniforms with straw boater hats.

The Whole Foods Market is truly incredible. It is 2 stories and one of the most amazing things to see is the grocery cart elevator! It’s next to the escalator and transports your cart between levels just like an escalator. Of course the market has everything you could need. We decide to get a roast chicken to minimize our dinner preparation. We, of course, need wine (badly). I try to convince Howard to find some English wine (there IS such a thing) but no go; French wine is the choice for the night. We fill our cart as much as we think is prudent since we need to schlep it back home, start to navigate the checkout stands. It appears that there are no checkouts where you can push the cart through; there are just closely spaced registers with small counters between. A very nice lady shows us the ropes. I say we are from California and her first question is: Does California have any Whole Foods Markets this big? Of course my answer is that I’ve never seen one this big! She is surprised because she is sure that the US only has big everythings. I must say the price-tag is a shock. London is NOT cheap…or even reasonable. Oh well, it’s only money.

Back we limp. We are so happy to arrive back home, grab a glass of wine with some nice bread and English cheeses, and finally prop up our feet to get the blood flowing from our toes back up to our brains.

We fight off sleep as long as possible–me more than Howard since I didn’t sleep a wink on the plane. As I read after dinner my head keeps falling back and I jerk up with a start! So at 8pm we both decide to call it a day.

I sleep soundly for 7 hours and then decide to get up rather than take a sleeping pill. Howard takes a pill a couple of hours after we turn in and sleeps in total a little more than 8 hours. So I think we’re ready for our first full day in London. I will make a run to the corner bakery about 7am and then we will be off for a day in Greenwich in southeast London.