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England Observations

I'm just going to jump in here, be honest and avoid over-thinking political correctness. Just tell it like it is and be straight forward, as we do in West Virginia. I'd appreciate any commentary.

1) The Trafalgar Square-Westminster area was jam-packed with people in late May. One of the officials at Westminster Abbey told me this was "nothing compared to what's coming up." I was wondering how could it get more crowded?

2) Trip highlights: Churchill War Rooms, Leeds Castle, the people of Liverpool, London Tower Yeoman Warder tours and crown jewels, and relaxed moments looking out of the train at the English countryside, occasionally napping.

3) Not highlights: To suggest the Tube was packed, at times, like a can of sardines is an understatement. Wow. I guess being from a more rural area I'm not a big fan of people rubbing up against me, and it could've been construed as sexual harassment at times (kidding?). Once, a rather sick person was coughing/sneezing in close proximity and I had the back of my neck sprayed with spittle, but hey I'm not sick yet so no worries. Finally, dodging people in the human mass of stations and sidewalks, which was even more fun when encountering folks staring down at their phones while walking. I suspect as homo sapiens we'll evolve into a hunched over physiology.

4) "No worries" and "sorry" seemed to be the most commonly used words.

5) Right up there with the Irish and Scots are the Scousers. Funny, charming, gregarious, cynical, snarky, and sometimes hard to understand. It was quite different from London where people seemed more... reserved.

6) As for the apartment near Gipsy Hill, well, it was a reasonable trade-off. Plenty of room to relax for a couple of hours in the evening. The downside was about a 40 minute commute from the time we stepped outside the door to arriving at Victoria Station.

7) Far, far less obesity in London than what I see in the States. Now, that seems to be changing along with the Americanization of the world, but still a vast difference. That imbalance seems to be shifting from when I lived in Germany 20-30 years ago, where obesity was even more rare relative to the USA.

8) It seems like the Americanization of the world is accelerating, particularly in the areas of fast food and entertainment, maybe social media and other areas. The cultural differences have lessened, and I wonder if that's necessarily a good thing. Vive la difference.

9) The English, in general, and all of this is "in-general," wore nicer and better fitting clothes. With guys it looked like mom jeans. If you're lean and fit this is a good look.

10) The courage and skill of cyclists and walkers darting in and out of traffic, missing collisions by millimeters and nanoseconds. I wonder if England's success in professional cycling has had an impact? Many cyclists wore professional team kits and were riding top-end racing bikes.

11) I don't mind a group tour and my wife made us commit to a RS tour in 2020, but I prefer DIY. As a teacher-coach I'm used to making my own decisions on a daily/hourly basis. It's my nature. I'm not good at following the herd in a cattle-call.

12) Yeah, get advance tickets whenever possible unless you prefer another hour or so in another line. Sorry, I mean queue! The ticket line (queue) at Windsor Castle? Yowzah!

13) Do your homework and research. Doing so made everything go much more efficiently with fewer headaches.

Posted by
6358 posts

Thanks for the report Mike

Reminds me why I travel in late November and December. Rarely a queue anywhere. Colder yes but living in the City of Angels where it's pretty much sunshine all year I enjoy the difference.

People in urban and rural environs aren't vastly that different when it comes to be seen staring at with their smart phones walking. It's an addiction of sorts.

Yep London is a crowded metropolitan city. Thus the masses. You'd see the same in Madrid, NYC, Chicago, Paris, etc. but as you noted you liked what you saw of the English Countryside through the windows of the train.

Hopefully on your next UK sojourn you'll stay in a more rural less populous area to experience a slower pace.

Posted by
914 posts

Mike,
One benefit of an RS tour (I know, I know) is that you won't have that hour-long wait to enter a castle or museum. So while it has drawbacks for people used to doing their own thing, it also has benefits! :)

Posted by
9717 posts

Thanks for your Trip Report!

I'm glad you enjoyed the Churchill War Rooms - they are one of my favorite sites in London.

Would your wife consider doing an RS tour on her own? There are always a number of solo travelers and the other couples are usually very open to engaging with those who aren't traveling with a companion. I've come across several women over the years who's husbands don't travel and the RS tours are the perfect way to see a new area with a top-notch guide, an interesting itinerary and fun companions. There is a no-grumps rule which I think makes a difference in people's attitudes.

BTW, with the smaller size of the RS groups - 24-28 I've never felt herded. You always have the choice to opt out of activities that don't interest you except on a transit day.

Also, just because you are doing a tour doesn't mean you are off the hook as far as research. You'll doubtless have free time so you'll want to take a look ahead of time on what you'd want to see. Sometimes that might require purchasing tickets ahead of time.

Which tour is interesting to your wife?

Posted by
1842 posts

"Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few." We don't understand how desperate it was for the UK when they stood alone against Nazi Germany in 1940-41. They could very well have been defeated during this time. It choked me up a bit.

The wife is more of a fan of group tours. She is more relaxed and not thinking about the time or two (or three) when my "great plans" when awry. She is also too nice to be good at fending her way through crowds without saying "excuse me" or "I'm sorry" every other step. Napping on the bus re-energizes her.

Pam, agree 100 percent about the research regardless. It makes the trip much more meaningful.

One thing I liked about Paris is most things were centrally located, so we would walk to places and thus be less dependent on the Metro. Heck, we walked from the Champs-Elysee to our apartment in Le Marais. That was a 10-mile walking day, I think.

Posted by
646 posts

A fair set of observations Mike. Always makes me smile when tourists complain about how busy London is... busy with tourists lol. I do wish our town was a little quieter at times, but i’m equally happy seeing people enjoying our great city. Maybe try staying more central next time Mike, may improve your experience. Almost anywhere in Zone 1 is fine.

Posted by
13086 posts

We are in London now and I will endorse what Mike says, especially about the crowds. This is our 7th time in London; we were last here for three full weeks in May 2016. The crowds seem significantly greater now, especially around Westminster Abbey, Trafalgar Square area, and Camden market and town. We love to walk but found it difficult/unpleasant in some areas. The buses still work well for us.

We were especially glad we purchased advance tickets for Westminster Abbey, and entered at opening (9:30 am). Within an hour the floor area was so crowded we headed up into the Jubilee Galleries (also booked in advance) and then departed.

Now we are back in London after a few days’ walking on the Jurassic Coast, and staying in our favorite area, the South Bank. Between here (near Blackfriars) and Tower Bridge it still feels like the London we know and love, so this is where we will return next time. It is much nicer if we don’t have to jump into thick crowds right outside the hotel or apartment.

Posted by
4668 posts

Now we are back in London after a few days’ walking on the Jurassic Coast

Where did you go and did you enjoy it?

Posted by
638 posts

Thanks for those observations, Mike. Interesting and informative. Though I doubt we'll have time to evolve into a hunched-over species; they'll probably figure out how to just implant that technology into our skulls so we don't have to mess with holding onto phones anymore.

About crowds. My most recent trips to London (2015, 2017, 2018) were all in October or November. My perception is also that there are more crowded places than I remember from several previous trips beginning in the mid-90's. But generally I enjoyed walking around in London anyway.

The crowds on the Tube sparked my efforts to learn to use the buses, although not exclusively. And - the buses get crowded too!

I've lately stayed at a hotel on Bayswater Road, just across from an entrance to Hyde Park and quite close to a Tube station and bus stops. It's busy with foot, vehicle, and bicycle traffic, but not unpleasantly so. I enjoy the city hustle and bustle, if it's not ramped up to getting-squished-in-a-crowd level. And I've enjoyed being able to step into Hyde Park to enjoy big green spaces and literal elbow room.

BTW, thanks to Amazon Prime Video, I recently watched a 2016 British TV documentary series, The Tube: Going Underground. The many scenes of jam-packed station platforms and trains were not unfamiliar to me. I enjoyed the behind-the-scenes view of the people who run that system. I'm amazed at how many people travel the Underground every day - heck, every hour. And I have even more respect than I did before, for the staff of the Underground. They have some tough jobs and IMO they have to be emotionally tough to do them and not lose their minds. I'd rather herd a bunch of hungry lions than face down a platform full of passengers when service on the line has been suspended. Or herd a bunch of worked-up football fans through the system, or deal with alcohol-soaked holiday revelers. Anyway, I'm glad I watched the series. Although I'm not sure I really needed to know that all of the Piccadilly Line trains were built c. 1973 and are now kept rolling with a lot of work and sometimes scavenged parts. Sometimes ignorance is bliss. (I looked it up; TfL has rolled out a replacement program but the new trains won't be in service for another few years.)

Posted by
13086 posts

JC,

We stayed at West Lulworth in the HF Holidays Lodge there, for several days of guided walking, and enjoyed it very much. One of the walk leaders is a geologist and she explained a lot about the rock formations and their significance. We were also introduced to the history of the area ( lots of smuggling at a Lulworth Cove) and visited the village of Tyneham, which was requisitioned for use by the armed forces prior to D-Day and then was never returned to the villagers.

This is the website:

https://www.hfholidays.co.uk/holidays-and-tours/guided-walking-lulworth-cove/

We were with a particularly lively group and had lots of fun both on the hikes and in the evenings.

Posted by
13086 posts

We are now at the airport awaiting our flight home. We rode the Circle Line to reach Paddington ( with pre-booked Heathrow Express tickets) and it was blissfully I crowded. I guess many people were above ground at the demonstrations.

Posted by
10056 posts

This is great, Mike. We love London and will go back (have been 5 times now), but this trip (just got home Saturday) we had 2 weeks in the British countryside including Wales. The lack of crowds, the beauty, the historic sites, not to mention lower cost, has increased appeal.

BTW, the tube is quite empty at 6 am. 😁

Posted by
2319 posts

Laurel--my first visit to London was in mid-August and it felt crowded--though not overwhelmingly so--and I recall thinking as I waited for the tube back to Heathrow at 6 am that that was the only time I was ever alone anywhere.

BigMike--I'm glad to hear your trip went well! The Churchill War Rooms are a favorite of mine, too.

Posted by
2097 posts

Mike,
I love London and tend to visit in September - December. Still love it, no matter the crowds. Usually stay in a hotel close in, either near Victoria Station or Paddington Station or Trafalgar Square. I loved the Churchill War Rooms and visited on a whim in Nov. 2013 before they became so popular. We just walked in and spent a couple hours. I have read a lot about WWII, Churchill and Hitler and was very moved by being in the space where civilization as we know it was being saved. I too was very moved.

Every time I go to Europe, I am struck by the smaller numbers of obese people I see compared to the US. I ride Marta, our Metro or Tube, to work and notice the high numbers of obese people riding the train. It's amazing. The US has an opioid crisis but the obesity crisis is very serious too. In Europe, there are many more people who walk or bicycle their way back and forth to work or to shopping, etc. Here in the states, we depend on our cars for daily transportation. Plus, we watch TV and eat lots of snacks. I am only making a generalization...

I loved my visit to Windsor Castle a few years ago and we had advance tickets then too.

On return visits to my favorite places, I tend to see the "smaller" sights and thus do not encounter as many crowds. I've also learned to go at the less popular times & with advance tickets. Nothing unusual. Also, I like to take a RS tour to a region in Europe I have never been every year and then an independent trip somewhere else in Europe as well. The RS tours are so well-organized and I learn so much history and culture and get to see an entire country or region in a highlight fashion. Then I can go back to a place I really liked on my own.

Posted by
1842 posts

Judy, the balance between organized and independent travel makes sense.

I was just going to add that I needed only one card the entire time I was there: Contactless (Visa or otherwise). It worked everywhere including the Tube, restaurants, shops, etc. No concerns with an Oyster or how much was on it or when I might need to top it off.

I only used our debit card the first day to obtain 300 GBP, and I didn't even need that much cash for 10 days. It was great to carry only one card, although my wife had hers as a backup. The only place I needed cash was for drinks or snacks from street vendors (but not always). We set aside 55 GBP for our taxi fare to Heathrow, and that included a 10 GPB tip from Crystal Palace.

Posted by
7720 posts

We were in London in August 2018 , fourth time there and are used to big cities. We didn’t experience the crowds you describe. Not on the tube nor streets. We pre purchased tickets for Windsor Castle , Churchill War Rooms and Buckingham Palace where there were long lines for those w/o tickets. Walked right into Westminster Abbey and St. Paul’s. We mostly walked around and enjoyed our neighborhood in Chelsea. I am so sorry you experienced those crowds!

Posted by
5786 posts

1) The Trafalgar Square-Westminster area was jam-packed with people in late May. One of the officials at Westminster Abbey told me this was "nothing compared to what's coming up." I was wondering how could it get more crowded?

The offical must have been anticipating the US president's visit. PBS Newshour tonight (June 4th):

Judy Woodruff:

So, we have seen these large anti-Trump protests in London since he
arrived.

Posted by
8630 posts

Though I doubt we'll have time to evolve into a hunched-over species; they'll probably figure out how to just implant that technology into our skulls so we don't have to mess with holding onto phones anymore.

What, did you not pay attention to the Star Trek episodes with the Borg.... resistance is futile, you will be absorbed

The merger of man and machine.....

Posted by
4689 posts

One of the busiest tourist periods in London in May is around Ascention Day, which is not a holiday in the UK but is in many other European countries, and popular for school parties in particular. With it being in the week of the Late May Bank Holiday this year the effect would be bigger.

Posted by
4668 posts

It might also be quieter with people avoiding the centre of town because of the Trump visit.

It certainly wasn't quiet in Portsmouth today! I had to drive to Petworth this morning along the A3 and I have never seen so many diplomatic cars with shiny new police outriders passing in the opposite direction, I also passed Theresa May in the No. 10 Jag but was in no position to let her know my thoughts.

My youngest had a friend who was quite excited by a visit by MI5 agents who wanted to search his house as one of the bedrooms had a perfect line of sight should someone want to take a shot at Trump (or any other person deemed a target for assassination). Many, many people disrupted from their day to day lives due to the extraordinary security put in place on this compact but compressed island today (and the last few days).

Posted by
2939 posts

Mike, Thanks for the trip report. Interesting to read your observations.

We have been to Westminster Abbey three times and it was jam-packed all three times. The streets outside, the corners near Parliament and Big Ben/Elizabeth Tower also elbow-to-elbow with people. So we avoid that area now and concentrate on other parts of London.

We loved the Churchill War Rooms. Visited in May 2016. We walked up and purchased tickets as soon as it opened in the morning. Spent several hours enjoying the exhibits and seeing the rooms where Churchill and his staff lived and worked, left just as it was at the end of WW2. Very moving indeed.

Mike, on your next visit, you may want to see Churchill's home, Chartwell, located south of London.
You may also want to see Dover Castle, overlooking the English Channel, where there were war communications rooms during WW2 in a tunnel under the castle. White Cliffs of Dover there are amazing to see.

If you are a big Churchill fan, you may want to see Blenheim Palace next trip, just outside of Oxford. Churchill was born there. (His parents were visiting relatives there at the time.)
You would enjoy spending time in Oxford, I think, seeing the town and the University.
There are many pleasant places to spend several days (and nights) in England that are NOT London.
I love London, but next trip we are planning to go all over England for 3 to 4 weeks, with either no time in London, or just 3 days at the end. Crowds are a factor in that decision.

Glad to hear you enjoyed your trip and everything went smoothly as planned!

Posted by
4668 posts

The impact of this Trump visit was no where near as severe as the previous one.

I have it on reliable source that prior to the last Trump state visit his security team requested the Tube be shut down during his visit for fear of bomb attacks. The request was politely declined! Can you imagine the chaos such action would cause? Not least the lack of understanding of just how deep underground the tube is.

Posted by
2939 posts

Mike, I believe you and your wife might enjoy the Rick Steves Best of England in 14 Days tour. We went on this last spring and loved it.
Starts in Bath, with its stunning Roman Baths. Goes to Blenheim Palace, the Cotswolds, Wales castles (fabulous), the Lake District, Hadrian's Wall, and York before returning to London.

You could plan for time before and after the tour to "do your own thing". Have 3 to 5 days before and after to plan your own itinerary and see places not included in the tour.
Good friends of ours went on the RS Southern England Tour in April 2019 and loved that.

I mention this because you said your wife has gotten interested in doing a Rick Steves tour in 2020.

Posted by
1842 posts

Thanks, Rebecca. It seems Scotland is high on the list. We'll see what RS has. I reminded Mary that our daughter is getting married next spring, which won't be cheap. I can't believe what people pay for weddings nowadays. If it were me I'd say give us the money instead and we'll make a down payment on a starter house, but I'm old school, I guess.

Posted by
2939 posts

Hello Mike. A friend has been on the RS Scotland tour and she raves about how great it was.
So good choice there if you decide to go.
Happy travels to you.

Posted by
3304 posts

Mike, I enjoyed this. Thanks for taking the time to write. I haven't been in the forum for several weeks prior to today so I'm catching up.

3) Not highlights: To suggest the Tube was packed, at times, like a
can of sardines is an understatement....Once, a rather sick person was
coughing/sneezing in close proximity and I had the back of my neck
sprayed with spittle, but hey I'm not sick yet so no worries.

Ok, that is gross! Your attitude about it is impressive!

Finally, dodging people in the human mass of stations and sidewalks,
which was even more fun when encountering folks staring down at their
phones while walking. I suspect as homo sapiens we'll evolve into a
hunched over physiology.

I dodge them too and I live in NYC. The crowds can be overbearing especially in the summer so I find myself walking more than taking public transport. I can't deal with crowds either. LOL

4) "No worries" and "sorry" seemed to be the most commonly used words.

Not limited to the UK. i hear both all the time at home.

Far, far less obesity in London than what I see in the States. Now,
that seems to be changing along with the Americanization of the world

Given how much we walk in NYC, I see more obesity outside NYC from the car-culture than from city locals.

The English, in general, and all of this is "in-general," wore nicer
and better fitting clothes. With guys it looked like mom jeans.

So English men wear higher waist jeans? I never noticed. I also have never seen "mom jeans" written as a compliment!!

11) I don't mind a group tour and my wife made us commit to a RS tour
in 2020, but I prefer DIY....It's my nature. I'm not good at following
the herd in a cattle-call.

You and me both! I thrive on DIY travel and it is made easier with travel guides like RS books and his podcasts that can accessed offline. I don't mind going on a tour of a cathedral provided by that cathedral but day in and day out with 20-something people and a bus? Not for my husband and me.

13) Do your homework and research. Doing so made everything go much
more efficiently with fewer headaches.

Absolutely! It's also a ton of fun and easier now than ever. The RS guide books and podcasts make planning such a joy.

Posted by
659 posts

Great report! Thank you for the insights Mike! I really enjoy the information and honesty of the people in this community.... and am rearranging my itinerary. Again. :) We leave two weeks from today!!

Posted by
4668 posts

So English men wear higher waist jeans? I never noticed. I also have never seen "mom jeans" written as a compliment!!

I suspect Mike refers to "mom jeans" as the tight fitting jeans that are popular with younger men at the moment, these are almost skin tight but not high waisted, the waist height is no different to any other jeans men wear.

Posted by
3186 posts

Big Mike, remind your daughter that statistically, marriages that spent less than $10,000 on the wedding are more likely to avoid divorce. Big weddings are very stressful. Spend the extra money on a honeymoon in Europe or Hawaii!

Posted by
1842 posts

Cala, I've hinted at that, but she's married to a Marine captain so they can handle most of the expenses rather easily.

We're on the hook for $1500 for catering, because we had to do something, I guess. A buddy from New Joisy told me $40,000 to $60,000 weddings are no big deal there. Wow! That's a world I've never known.

Hot Wife and me got married in 1983 for $500, and most of that went to the minister at our church. Maw Maw took care of the cake and "catering," a friend took pictures, and Dwayne (remember him?) was the DJ. Honeymoon for 5 nights at Deer Creek State Park in a cabin for maybe $250 total. That was livin' in the fast lane for us.

My main concern is the father-daughter dance. We sure as heck will practice for that. I'm thinking Tom Petty's "American Girl."

(Dwayne got a job at the Little Debbie factory in Virginia. Starting at $12/hour. Not bad!)