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14 Days in the UK

Dear Readers,
I will almost certainly be long-winded and, at some point, my opinions will doubtless come in conflict with yours. To top it off, I will not be nearly as entertaining as Mike or other rather famous trip reporters. Please read at your own risk.

UK -1: Travel Day
Ah, travel days. Husband (DH) and I have a terrible track record of getting off safely on a trip. Over the past 10 years, the day before a trip we have: had an eye infection when every ophthalmologist in the state was at a convention, broken my arm, husband was hit by a truck while on his motorcycle, car battery died as we were leaving for the airport two hours away, cut my hand open on a piece of metal and needed stitches, and on the vacation before this one I was fired the day before and we flew into a hurricane to catch a cruise. So I always hold my breath on the day we leave for a trip.

Luckily, this time everything ran to plan. We ran out to the drug store to get passport-sized photos taken for our rail passes, packed, had lunch, and snuggled with our furry kids that we would be leaving for two weeks. At 6PM we took an Uber for the 15 minute trip to the airport. We were flying British Airways Baltimore to London Heathrow. Check-in was a snap and even the attendant there couldn’t believe we weren’t checking bags.

Security could have taken hours as there was an entire Honor Flight ahead of us, but they sent the dozen of us not on that flight through the TSA pre-check instead. Once ensconced in our waiting area DH disappeared to do some work and I read. Soon we were boarding. I had upgraded us to Premium Economy because the price wasn’t insane (it was on the way back, so we would be in steerage for that flight!). This made a huge difference for the overnight flight. The seats were larger and more comfortable, there was a footrest, the drinks service was more frequent, and it was quieter.

My 2 Cents: Upgrade your seats if you can on an overnight flight.
I read, watched two movies (Moana and Girl on a Train) and two episodes of the Great British Baking Show, ate dinner, had two individual bottles of wine, and then breakfast. I did nap a bit. The flight seemed to go by quickly.
We landed on time and they disembarked that plane more quickly than I’ve ever seen. The line at passport control moved quickly, although they did have more questions than in the past. We successfully got cash at an ATM (pin works!). I was looking for a courtesy phone to contact our driver per the instructions, but no need. He was waiting for us just after customs. He, too, could not believe our lack of luggage. In minutes we were on the road to our flat.

My 2 Cents: The private airport transfer was pricy but worth it.

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We enjoyed relaxing in the car on the way to our flat and even saw a bit of London. We were in the Leicester Square/Covent Garden neighborhood across from the Palace Theater. The London Connection host was waiting for us and took us through all the ins and outs, from how to work the oven and washer/dryer to opening the windows. He also made sure we had his number and knew that he was available for everything from forgetting keys to printing anything out to restaurant recommendations.

After some water and bathroom breaks, we went out to explore. It was chilly so we were both layered with tshirts, sweater/hoodie, and I had my rain jacket too. We walked down to Charing Cross Station (10 min walk) to get our National Rail weekly tube passes, which would allow us to access the 2-4-1 deals. The lovely ticket agent knew exactly what we wanted, trimmed our passport photos to fit into the card, and handed us a 2-4-1 pamphlet. I had them start that day, not sure what we had planned and also a bit jet lagged. Turns out I should have had them start the next day so that we could use the tube to get to the rail station on the following Sunday. But it ended up working out better anyway.

Our flat had a map listing nearby grocery stores on it, but for some reason we were incapable of reading it. We ended up at the Sainsbury Local and Boots near the train station. I know better, train station shops are always smaller, but we were able to get the necessities. Supplies secured, we walked back to the flat.

We put everything away and then headed out again for more walking and exploring. Lunch was at the Pret a Manger next door (there was one every 100 feet). And that’s the reason the sub-heading for this trip report could be “egg sandwiches I have known”, because I had one practically every day. We walked around a bit more and even popped into the National Gallery, but DH was fading fast. We returned to the flat and he napped while I unpacked (and eventually napped). When we woke up we did another walking tour in the other direction and finally ended up with takeout Pizza Express for dinner.

Sitting at “our” dining room table with some takeout pizza and grocery store wine while watching some funny British tv was a great end to our first day.

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London Day 1: 1,000 years of history, give or take
I was up relatively early. A short nap on arrival day plus staying up to a regular bedtime meant I pretty much conquered jet lag. DH wasn’t so lucky, he was still wiped out. I showered and made him coffee and finally got him up.

It was very chilly and cloudy as we walked up past Charing Cross and then to Westminster. Great buildings and statues on the way and I kept meaning to get back to take more pictures, but never did. Since we were running late the line at Westminster Abbey was already substantial. Instead, we headed to the Churchill War Rooms. Good first stop as it was very quiet. I had printed out our 2-4-1 vouchers and we were able to secure those tickets with no problem and pick up our audio tour.

We were really enjoying the interactive Churchill Museum, which wasn’t there the last time I visited. I was quite moved by the video of Churchill’s funeral and then amused by his daily menu (that was…a lot of alcohol). DH and I were split up and enjoying the exhibits that interested us when suddenly an alarm sounded and we were all herded out. I was already thinking about when we could go back, and would they honor our tickets, and all sorts of things. We were in the hallway headed back out when they announced a false alarm and let us back in. Whew!

Back inside we finished up the museum and then continued on the war rooms tour. Some of it was quite touching, some of it amusing (hiding sugar packets so your colleagues wouldn’t get them!) and some of it just amazing. There was something about seeing the original maps with their tiny pinholes, tracking troop movements across various fronts that just astounded me.

We enjoyed the cute shop, I bought a couple of postcards and we used the very clean restrooms, and then back upstairs. Once out in the (chilly) open, we found a long line to enter and many, many police swarming about the area. I’m not sure what was going on.
We walked back to Westminster and first enjoyed St. Margaret’s briefly before hopping in line. The long line moved quickly and we were soon at the ticket booth buying our 2-4-1. Again, we just showed the voucher I had printed and our train tickets and no problems. Never did we face someone not knowing about the 2-4-1.

My 2 Cents: Westminster Abbey will always be busy. If it’s on your itinerary, start with the Churchill War Rooms which are significantly smaller and more impacted by crowds.

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We didn’t do an audio tour here, just had the Rick Steves tour I’d torn out of the guidebook. Highlights for me were the tomb of Elizabeth 1st and Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. DH’s highlight was the monument to John Andre (DH: “well, this is awkward”) and the medal of honor presented to the British Unknown Soldier. He works closely with the Old Guard at Arlington, so seeing the British monument to their unknown was special.

I also found it very exciting to see the first real construction going on in the Abbey in a hundred years. We wandered down some of the lesser-traveled pathways and got some lovely pictures.

That was a lot of history! It was now past lunch time, but I let DH choose our path. He led us past Buckingham Palace, where we stopped for pictures, and then through Green Park and from there we meandered through Piccadilly. There were several stores we passed I would have stopped in but for hunger and exhaustion! Once back in our neighborhood we stopped at…Pret a Manger and got to-go this time.

DH left for a crossfit drop-in class while I settled down for some reading (and accidentally fell asleep). After he returned, we walked over to Covent Garden to Pasta Brown’s for dinner. I enjoyed my vegetarian penne and DH ate all of his pasta and meatballs, but it was a bit pricey and the service was indifferent.

There was a Tesco Express across the street, so after dinner (and just before they closed) we stopped in for dinner supplies and more wine and chocolate (so essentials, is what I am saying). At home DH fiddled on the computer and I read an Agatha Christie and we watched Mock the Week. I did have trouble sleeping tonight, in part because our amazing central location also meant lots of outside noise. Luckily I had packed a sleep mask and ear plugs!

Timing: About 2 ½ hours in Churchill War Rooms and 90 minutes for Westminster Abbey. That includes time standing in line, bag check, etc.

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London Day 2: We must be on vacation if we’re climbing all over a ship
Today was Tower of London day, so important to be up on time. To give DH credit, he was actually ready to go before me. Today was also our first tube ride. Leicester Square to Embankment to Tower Hill worked just fine and took about 30 minutes. I used the Rick Steves pull-out tube map and also had one from Fodor’s London. RS was of a stiffer plastic and more durable.

We were at the ticket counter by 8:40 and..well, when they say they open at 9AM they mean 9AM. We were the second in line and done with our transaction (2-4-1) by 9:02. We headed inside after a cursory bag search and were headed into the Crown Jewels by 9:08. There were maybe a dozen people with us. The jewels are, as always, incredibly impressive and I appreciate the moving walkway that facilitates seeing everything. I was perhaps most impressed by the punchbowl that holds 144 bottles of wine!
After the jewels we stopped at the Fusilier’s museum. Without DH I would not have spent so much (or perhaps any) time here, but it was actually interesting. They had a sample pack of what a soldier would be expected to carry, and while DH picked it up with basically a few fingers, I could barely lift it!

Then time for the White Tower and the line of kings, which was excellent. There is something special and amazing about just spending time in a building 1,000 years old. I enjoyed the history and DH tried his hand at shooting a bow in the interactive exhibit. Then the Beauchamp Tower and 500 year old graffiti, visiting with some ravens, and the bloody tower. I also appreciated the monument on the green where executions took place. We even got to see one of the Beefeaters surreptitiously feeding one of the ravens a scrap of food. We finished our tour with looking through the medieval palace and walking along the battlements.
My 2 Cents: The Tower of London is worth an early morning. It was teeming by the time we left at around 12PM.

Upon exiting we took a few moments to enjoy the view of the Thames and Tower Bridge. Then we walked across Tower Bridge to the other side of the river. Before touring the Belfast, we stopped by a Tesco Express for the famous meal deal. For 5 GBP we each had a sandwich, chips, and a drink and we sat on a bench in a park looking out onto the Thames while we ate. Not a bad deal.

The Belfast was very quiet. We paid (2-4-1) and picked up our audio guide and started clamboring about. There were some interesting stories, some great photo opportunities, and the fun of seeing a couple of older gentlemen have the absolute time of their lives. Comparing life onboard the Belfast to, later in our trip, the roominess of the HMS Victory was quite a contrast. We spent an enjoyable hour or so onboard.

After we walked past the new Globe Theater and crossed over on the Millennium Bridge. I needed a break so took a seat in front of St. Paul’s. Whether or not to go in was up in the air on our itinerary, but DH decided he wanted to see it. Unfortunately, when we went around to the front we found they were closed for a special event.

So off to the tube we went and we were home in about 15 minutes. I did suggest the nearby Museum of London, but we were both tired. Once home DH napped and then we went for a walk around Covent Garden. We had thought to stop in at a pub, but they were all mobbed and I really don’t love crowds. We did stop in at the box office for The Mousetrap (the theater was literally 200 meters from our door). We found out we could get same-day, front-row seats for 27 GBP, so made plans for that.

Dinner was in the flat that night and I watched a great historical drama on channel 5, then Date Night or some other delicious, hideous show. I love British television.

Timing: 3 hours for Tower of London moving at a fairly good clip and not taking any special tours. About 90 minutes for the Belfast.

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London Day 3: Getting our Culture On
A lazy morning today as our first plans were just down the street. At 10AM exactly we headed outside, turned right, and 40 seconds later arrived at the theater doors. Once inside we found we were the first of the day and got front-row seats for 27 GBP. I have no idea how the discount kiosk in Leicester Square works, but if you go to the box office the same-day tickets for Mousetrap are front-row. And since the front-row is behind the orchestra pit, you will not be straining your neck.

Treasures in hand, we headed over to the National Gallery. Again we used the Rick Steves guide, thank heavens, because it is huge and crowded. Do ask a docent if you can’t find something, they are longing to be asked about the paintings. Heartbreakingly, my favorite picture was in storage. But tons of treasures were available for viewing. DH prefers historical works, while I love the rich detail often found in portraits. And who doesn’t love a rousing game of ‘name the saint’ based on iconography?

Next we went right next door to the National Portrait Gallery to put some faces with those famous names. Loved the fabulous Tudor section and all the royals, really, plus the artists and Victorians. I even noticed the namesake of the street we would be staying on in Portsmouth and learned it belonged to the man who devised the first tunnel under a navigable river.

After years of hearing about it, we finally visited St Martin in the Fields for lunch. Yes, the crypt was certainly atmospheric. I had the afternoon tea and DH the hot dish. He liked his except for the peas. I enjoyed my scones and sandwiches, but the cake was so dry as to be inedible. So everything was okay, but nothing to brag about.

My 2 Cents: I am almost always disappointed by ‘must visit’ restaurants. Cheap and reliable is better for me.

Now it was time to hop the tube to Elephant and Castle, a stop which is right on the verge of being seedy. A ten minute walk took us to the Imperial War Museum.

The WWI exhibit is outstanding and worth the trip. It is interactive and multi-sensory and does a tremendous job of immersing you in the feeling of the war. If anyone has any issues with noise or with PTS, you really should consider avoiding it, it is that powerful.

The other war exhibits were not so exhaustive, and DH was especially disappointed to not see more about the Napoleonic wars or the Boer War. Also, he is a giant nerd.

On the fourth floor you will find the holocaust exhibit. I spent quite a long time in this, and DH left at some point. It is gut wrenching and brutal and there is a reason why they have discreet exits marked throughout. Sometimes the only sounds you can hear inside are muffled sobs. By the time you reach the end, you will feel emotionally gutted. It is on the same level as our amazing Holocaust Museum here in DC.

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Afterwards I needed the sunshine and the walk back to the tube to recover. We got off at Charing Cross to hit the ticket booth up for extensions to Hampton Court Palace. I know here on the boards there is a pedantic desire to never shorten or otherwise use a derivative of a name, else you’ll end up at the other end of England. I’m sure this has been the experience of others. However, my experience was always that ticket sellers and helpful locals assumed I was a tourist and thus by default sent me to the tourist destination. Such was the case here, where after barely hearing my request the ticket lady had given me extensions to Hampton Court. Another helpful employee, roaming about with an ipad, confirmed which station I should leave from and how to use my tickets.

Once home DH took off for another crossfit drop in while I had a snack and visited the local Tesco for wine and chocolate, because I have my priorities straight. DH returned with some (wait for it) Pret take-out and had dinner and showered, then we headed over to The Mousetrap.

What a delightful show! There were 8 of us in the front row who had scored front-row, same-day tickets. As I stated, the orchestra pit meant we weren’t straining our necks. At the interval everyone was chatting about who could have ‘done it.’ What fun! At the end we were all sworn to secrecy and inducted into the secret society. I was delighted, and even DH really enjoyed it.
Given our proximity, we were home before those in the balcony had exited the theater. Tonight’s offerings included First Date and Cheaters. Oh British television. I miss you.
Timing: About 3 hours for the two art museums, 40 minutes for lunch, and 2 1/2 hours for IWM.

What a great trip report! I'm really enjoying it.

I'm going to guess that maybe you stayed on Isambard Kingdom Brunel Street in Portsmouth?

Plus: I'm always baffled that the Crypt at St Martin's in the Fields has become a "must visit" for Rick Stevesians. It's simply a pretty good cafe that just happens to be in the crypt of a church in a convenient tourist area. I guess it began as a top tip for decent food in Trafalgar Square and has somehow transmogrified into an appointment to visit place, which it really isn't...

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yup nothing special about St Martin's field - was quite unusual when it opened - a cafe in a church - but it seems to have garnered a reputation that has stuck.

Nothing bad about it but the novelty has worn off (at least for locals).

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Thanks for the excellent and detailed report! My daughter and I are off to London next week, and we will likely be using some of your suggestions.

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"Egg sandwiches I have known"

"Wine and chocolate (so, essentials is what I'm saying)"

Loved your trip report. Thanks for posting.

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Thank you to anyone still reading, and I do hope this is a tiny bit helpful.

London Day 4: I’m Henry the Eighth I Am
My love of all things Tudor started long before the recent television show or spate of movies. I can remember watching the old Private Life of Henry VIII and Anne of a Thousand Days as a child (reruns on PBS, I’m not that old). Anyway, it was with much anticipation that I got ready to head to Hampton Court Palace today.

We had purchased extensions for our weekly passes. For those wondering, you use your regular pass to enter the turnstile at Waterloo Station, then use the extension card to exit. On the return, you use the extension to enter and the regular pass to exit.
We arrived at Waterloo at about 9:20 and found a train leaving for Hampton Court at 9:36. They posted the gate about 10 minutes before departure. Everything was clearly marked and easy to find. The Southwest train was clean, quiet, and on time. I was constantly amazed at how clear the announcements were on trains and on the tube. Our metro can’t seem to use a decipherable public announcement system no matter how new the trains are.

In about 30 minutes we were at the stop (the train ends here, so no confusion about where to go!). I could not find anywhere to put my ticket through, or anyone to show it to. So we just left the station, walked over the bridge, and in less than 5 minutes we were at the palace. We bought our 2-4-1 tickets at the gate and were on our way.

We picked up the audio tour and started in the kitchens. They were filming in the kitchens that day and so suggested we visit them firs to make sure we saw them. This was wonderful, as a full staff was prepping food and walking around and we got to eavesdrop on some film people having the kitchens explained to them. The audio guide is lovely and very thorough. For instance, I did not know that the pastry around the pies was just as a vessel for cooking and not meant to be eaten.

After the kitchens and the cellar we headed to the Henry VIII rooms. The great hall lived up to its name, and we caught the first 15 minutes or so of a show they do a couple of times a day telling, of course, part of the story of Henry VIII and Anne. I saw the remaining H&A logo, marveled at the tapestries and the ceiling, and then we moved on. We played Fox and Geese and noted the changing décor, thanked heaven for modern plumbing, and then looked into the page’s room and the council chamber. I appreciated what they tried to do there, but truly this palace is magnificent enough without adding anything.

The chapel took my breath away, just standing there and looking out onto that glorious ceiling. Be sure to listen to the audio tour to hear about its status as a royal peculiar.

Outside also be sure to note the dynastic portrait – including its omission entirely of the current wife!

We covered the William III and Georgian rooms. Highlights for me were the staircase and the ingenious napkin folds. The Young Henry VIII exhibit was not that interesting to me.

We had lunch at the café inside, which might have been the only one open? I’m not entirely sure. I had an egg sandwich, of course, and we both accidentally got fizzy water and I had to force myself to drink it. After that it was the royal picture gallery and the special treat of Wolsey’s closet.

My 2 Cents: Hampton Court Palace is an easy day trip from London. A return trip via boat would make it a full day.

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Day 4 Con't:

We walked out to the gardens and saw the swans and the deer and walked around the formal gardens. We actually did not do the maze. After stopping by the shop for some postcards, we returned to the train station to see a train pulling out – drat. The next one was in about 30 minutes, so we took a walk around the village center and then the train was pulling in again as we returned. Once again, I couldn’t find a place to insert my extension card, so we just got on the train. When we returned to Waterloo we used our regular passes with no trouble.

After a nap on the train I was ready for some shopping when we returned to our neighborhood, but DH was still tired and headed home. I had a nice walk around Covent Garden and poked around the food hall at M&S and some other shops.

Once home I found DH had ducked out to go to a crossfit drop in class. He returned after a great class, and having finally found a cross fit shirt with a Union Jack on it. Once he showered and changed, we headed to Wagamama for dinner. Great choice, I had a veggie pad thai and DH some steak and noodle thing. We even shared a slice of chocolate cake for dessert. Once home we settled in with some Date Night.

Timing: HCP took about 4 ½ hours with me taking my time. Normal people could probably do it quicker

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London Day 5: This is the Army, Mr. Jones.
I think our pace was beginning to have an impact, as neither of us wanted to get up today. Running about 40 minutes past the schedule, we finally headed out the door to the recently reopened Army Museum. For this, we got off the Tube in Sloane Square and had about a 10 to 15 minute walk. It did take us past the Royal Hospital Chelsea and we saw some residents out and about, which was nice.

The museum is a little confusing, even with the provided map. We started with an exhibit on “Could you be a soldier”, which was somewhat interactive and took us through the requirements including selection, specialties, physical training, and cooking and living in camp. I enjoyed this.

We headed upstairs for the war art exhibit, surprisingly gripping and interesting. They also have an exhibit on the future of the army and pop culture and the army. The army in battle exhibit has an interactive display on the Battle of Waterloo that was helpful to me.

My 2 Cents: It’s free and there are enough interactive and hands-on exhibits to keep the kids interested. If you’re in the neighborhood, it’s worth an hour.

As we walked toward the V&A, our next stop, we finally found an open Carphone Warehouse and stopped in for a cheap smart phone. The salesperson was super helpful and it was a very fast transaction. Doing it again, we should have also picked up a 10 GBP flip phone, since we split up enough that it would have been helpful. So for us, lesson learned for next time.

Another 10 or 15 minute walk over to the V&A. No crowd to get in, although inside much more crowded than the near-deserted Army Museum. They were pretty intent on you paying for the map here. Our first stop was the café. I had a tea and scone and DH had a full hot lunch. He also took the opportunity to set up our new phone.

Fortified, we headed in to see some decorative art. We used the Rick Steves tour from the guidebook. These were always a great way to see the highlights without missing anything big or spending 8 hours in a museum (spoken by someone who has spent 8 hours in the Met before). So the Beckett Casket, the Boar Hunt Tapestry, a Da Vinci book, a big carpet. Lots of stuff, all gorgeous and priceless. I especially enjoyed the rooms set up inside the museum and all the paraphernalia from the Great Exhibition.

After a few hours we headed out to Harrods for some souvenirs and because DH had never seen it. It was overwhelming, so we just rode the Egyptian Escalator and visited the gift shop. I spent 30 minutes looking around and DH had a milkshake at the ice cream bar (see, here’s where the extra phone would have helped). Then we visited the food halls and eventually each picked out a savory for dinner. We successfully escaped Harrods and took the Tube home.

Dh went back to the flat while I headed to the Tesco and got some extras for our dinner, including some potatoes and carrots that I cooked with some garlic bread and heated up our mains from Harrods. We stayed in and did some laundry in preparation for our last day.

**My 2 Cents: Harrods is a hot mess. If you just want some souvenirs, they have the most popular items at a shop in Heathrow T5.

Timing: 2 hours for the Army Museum, although you could do most of it in 1 hour. 2 ½ hours for V & A and then an hour for Harrod’s, although some of that was spent getting turned around.

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London Day 6: If you’re tired of London, you’re tired of Life
I wouldn’t say we’re tired of London, but I think we were both ready to see more of the country. This was our last day in London. We were up early and took the tube to the British Museum, arriving about 20 minutes before they opened. Security here was more serious than other places and in a tent outside the museum with a Disney-like line snaking up to it.

We started (with everyone else) at the Rosetta Stone/Egyptian rooms and primarily followed the Rick Steves tour, although we deviated when something looked interesting. Here we saw the Egyptian statues, the mummies, Greek sculpture, and the Elgin Marbles. We took a flying visit through medieval Europe, marveled at the Sutton Hoo treasures and Lindow man and ventured up and down staircases to find the Michelangelo cartoon. Whew! That was a lot of stolen culture to get through.

The shop is great and I spent too long in there. By the time we left at about 12:30, there was a line to get in.

My 2 Cents: Get there early for the British Museum if you’re going on a weekend!

We ate at an Itsu on our way to the tube. Yummy! Then we went back to Leicester Square. DH went to the flat and I decided to spend another hour at the National Portrait Gallery. Somehow I’d missed seeing some of the artists so I spent an enjoyable hour wandering around. I thought about heading to the big book store, but instead just detoured through the exciting part of Leicester Square to soak up some atmosphere.

That evening we headed for St. Paul’s to meet our walking tour. We ended up eating at the Wagamama again. It was interesting because this area of the city felt so quiet on a Saturday night compared to our neighborhood! We had a fabulous Ghosts of Westminster tour with London Walks guided by Adam. We were up and down alleyways and seeing spots we hadn’t visited before. Highly recommend.

This was a relatively late night, I believe the walk was done at about 9:30 and so we were home around 10 ish. DH had a pint at the pub next door while I started packing and eating some snacks. I mean, so they didn’t go to waste since we were leaving the next day!
Timing: 2 1/2 hours for the British Museum, 2 hours for the walking tour.

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Day 7: In which we venture out of the metropolis
I relied heavily on advice from these boards regarding train tickets. I knew to buy before the day-of, but I didn’t realize prices would vary so much by day or by week. Finally, the day before we left for London, I bought two one-ways for Portsmouth. Leaving from Victoria station and going to the Portsmouth and South Sea station (but one from the last station) and yes, handy walking distance to the Premier Inn on Isambard Brunel street.

Unlike our trip to Hampton Court Palace, which was a ‘whenever’ train for a certain day, these tickets were for a particular train at a particular time. We were up early to tidy the flat and take out the garbage. The beauty of using only carry-ons is that packing is a snap! Although we did have a bag of toiletries now and a few leftover snacks.

Our tube passes had expired the evening before, so I suggested the extravagance of a cab. Also, we’d gone through the tube journey to Victoria a few days before headed somewhere else, and I noticed that there were a lot of stairs. So a cab seemed like the easiest solution.

It was. We caught a cab Sunday morning around 8:30 in about 2 minutes. It was 10 GBP to Victoria Station and he took us to the correct door once we told him what train we were taking. DH tried to tip the cabbie but he refused. The whole thing took maybe 8 minutes.

Good thing we got here early for our train, as the automatic ticket machines couldn’t read my American credit card. I had to wait in line, although the attendant was more than happy to print out my tickets.

My 2 Cents: Build in some buffer time if you haven’t already printed out your tickets in case you need to stand in line.

We had just enough time to grab a coffee and our gate was announced. Interestingly, I had accidentally bought first class tickets. I swear, they were the cheapest ones. I know everyone says it doesn’t make a difference, and it certainly wouldn’t have made a major difference in our lives, but first class was quieter and much less crowded. Due to rail work, our train was splitting at a certain stop and only the first four cars were going on to Portsmouth, which meant that we needed to move up (they only announced this once the train had started). Finding two seats in coach would have been difficult, but it was no problem in first class.

We shared the car with a very nice older gentleman headed to a family gathering, and he was delighted to talk racing with DH. We got off at Portsmouth South Sea and the hotel was a two-minute walk from the train station. This was our first Premiere Inn and we were very happily surprised. Clean, quiet, with a comfortable bed and the room arranged logically. It had a Tesco and a Costa on the ground floor. It was too early to check in, but they took our bags.

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722 posts

Great trip report! Thanks for telling us about your trip!

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527 posts

Really enjoying your trip report. Especially like the "timing" parts. Thanks for sharing your trip!

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237 posts

A wonderful trip report! You must be a prolific note-taker (or have a photographic memory) to be so detailed--well done! As for entertaining you're up there with the best:-)

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2007 posts

What fun to read your wonderfully detailed trip report. Love your writing style! Thanks for sharing your journey with us. Will you be covering Portsmouth as well? Hoping so.....

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1713 posts

I am loving the read! Thank you for taking the time to do this for the rest of us to learn and enjoy!

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2059 posts

So glad to read your comments about The Mousetrap, I will be in London in Sept. and plan to buy my ticket same day for the front row.

I posted a question about The Mousetrap under another section of the Forum and I think you gave your 2 cents there.

Enjoyed your report and love your comment: If you're tired of London, you're tired of life. Such a wry comment, I love it! Also, you mention things happening just before a trip and that brought to mind that I have been sick with a cold 3 of the last 6 trips I have taken! Thank goodness nothing worse has happened. Anxiety till I am waiting at the gate for my flight.

Thanks for a fine trip report.

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It was about a 15 minute walk to the Historic Dockyards. Now, I should have bought tickets online for a considerable savings but I just completely forgot! Oh well. After buying passes we started with the HMS Warrior. Very impressed with how nicely they’ve kept her, and how much of her you can visit. The crew had so much room!

After the Warrior we had a sandwich and tea at the Costa in the visitor center and stopped by the Apprentice Exhibit (fun, but you can safely skip it).

On to the Mary Rose. Wow. Absolutely amazing and breathtaking. Whatever time you had budgeted for her, add an hour! Just a breathtaking exhibit. You start on the ground floor with the story of the building of the Mary Rose and how she sank. Then you turn a corner and, amazingly, there she is. On the left are remnants from the ship and on the right is the ship itself. You cross her three times as you climb the three levels, and on either end of the ship are galleries of artifacts. Don’t miss the ship’s dog Hatch, the pepper corns, and the descriptions of how they figured out the jobs the skeletons had.

My favorite moment was absolutely the top level and having the opportunity to breathe the same air as the Mary Rose. I also loved the guns with the tudor roses intact. DH loved hearing about the archers.

We were both blown away by this exhibit. Once we finally finished, we had just enough time to see the Battle of Jutland exhibit. I knew nothing about this battle, so it was all new to me and fairly comprehensively covered. DH liked that it was sponsored by World of Warships.

We walked back to the hotel via Gunwharf Quays, full of shops and restaurants. We stopped at a few stores and checked out our dinner options. Once fully settled at the Premier Inn, DH went for a run and I continued my love affair with foreign grocery stores. I bought too many snacks and cans of gin and tonic solely because I had read about them in Girl on the Train.

After a rest and showers, we headed back to Gunwharf Quays for dinner. To get there we walked past the town square, Guildhall, and very nice WWI memorial. We ended up at Slug & Lettuce for some drinks deals and very decent burgers. Just a lovely, relaxed evening.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from Portsmouth, but so far I loved it. There is certainly plenty to do, from the historic dockyards to the jumping off point for island tours or Arundel Castle. I heard some people worried about a shady element near the train station or this Premier Inn, but we walked back after dark two nights in a row with no issues at all and saw plenty of people out and about. I don’t think you could go wrong staying at the Holiday Inn at Gunwharf Quays either.

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Day 8: Stay Left!
Premier Inn wasn’t kidding about their good night rest guarantee – we didn’t wake up until close to 10AM! DH headed down for the breakfast while I got ready, and soon enough we were out the door. We had only made it to the Guildhall when I thought to ask if DH had his entrance ticket (they are good for 12 mths). He had forgotten it, so he ran back and I took the time to take some photos of the square.

I called Avis to make sure it wasn’t a problem to pick up the car later – it wasn’t. All our business done, we headed to the Victory. What an amazing experience to stand where Nelson stood. And to marvel at all of the room the crew had, especially compared to the Belfast. We weren’t sure the Victory would live up to the Mary Rose after our amazing experience there, but it did. We could go all through the ship, which was unreal. The audio guide was great and I highly recommend talking to the docents as well.

After the Victory we visited the M33. Interesting, but feel free to skip if you’re out of time. The film on Gallipoli was interesting and I liked the stories about the ship’s cat, but it can’t hold a candle to the Victory or Mary Rose if you’re short on time.

We finished up at the Navy Museum, another interesting but not imperative stop. The harbor tours weren’t running in the afternoon and it was rainy today or we would have done that. We stopped for a quick lunch at the boathouse (another egg sandwich and tea). Then we caught a taxi to the Avis rental. They’re working on the front of the Hard Exchange (bus/train/taxi hub). So the taxi stand is down the street.

Avis was easy to find and getting the car was easy. We did not need an International Drivers License (good, since we didn’t have one). We did need DH’s passport as he would be the driver. They upgraded us to a BMW, which was nice. Be warned, we still had barely enough room in the trunk for a 21 inch spinner and a backpack. Trunks are small!

Trouble started as we attempted to return to the hotel and learned that our smartphone had maps, but not active GPS. So after an unexpected detour to Southampton, we returned to Portsmouth and just aimed for the Guildhall, from which we could find the PI carpark (a public car park but only 4 GBP a day). This wouldn’t be our last run-in with directions!

Once back at the hotel DH took a cab (wise choice) to a local crossfit box while I relaxed. When he returned we walked back to Gunwharf for dinner at Strada and the Monday 5 GBP pizza deal. Lovely, relaxing dinner and then a walk back to the hotel. Tomorrow we head to Bovington!

My 2 Cents: Portsmouth was delightful and there is plenty to do for a day-trip or more.

Timing: We spent over 2 hours at the Mary Rose on Sunday and about an hour at the Warrior and 45 minutes at the Battle of Jutland. The next day we spent about 2 hours on the Victory and an hour at the Navy Museum and probably 30 minutes at M33. Historic Docklands was about a 15 minute walk from the hotel.

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I am really enjoying your trip report. I appreciate the details and also the times given.

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Day 9: Tanks for the Memories
We headed out at about 9 AM per our cab driver’s suggestion. DH had the full English breakfast in the PI dining room while I showered and had the rest of my pizza from the night before.

After a few roundabouts we found the correct road. Up through Southampton and through the New Forest, then down to Bovington. I had considered doing a hike in the New Forest, but it was much busier than I expected and there weren’t any clear markers for where hikes started. I’m sure I could have managed with more research, but what we did was fine.

The Tank Museum is actually exceptionally well posted, and after a wrong turn that was, for once, DH’s fault, we made it there with little problems. DH asked for a military discount and actually got in free. The clerk said “Well, if we give it to the Germans I suppose we have to give it to you.” Um, yeah, since we helped win the war.

We jumped into the museum, starting with the Tank Story, a huge hangar covering the history of tanks. Then the WWI experience, which includes a trench experience (you walk around a corner at one point and are being hit with German machine gun fire). This could definitely scare small children and adults prone to shock. Here there were a few more WWI tanks and exhibits, including a few tanks to walk through.

The Tiger exhibit was exceptional, the largest collection of Tigers. We also had the chance to sit in a Chieftain and talk to a docent, a great experience. I very much liked the special exhibit on the Fury, it was interesting to hear how they decided to participate in the movie and what it meant. After all, this was a tank that had killed Allied soldiers, was it appropriate to have it in a movie?

After the Chieftain experience (we were first in line, so no waiting time), I had a cup of tea while DH looked over some more tanks. Together we saw the area on Afghanistan and peacekeeping. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it, and of course DH was a kid in a candy store. At one point he heard a guide incorrectly describing something on a modern tank (he’s a former tanker) and stepped in to explain the side panels.

Of course we hit up the shop for a coffee mug and some post cards before leaving. As always, we were too far away to get to anything before it closed, but we were done with the museum. Ah well. We did a good job leaving Bovington but then got a touch turned around heading to Salisbury. I actually did a good job with the map here, linking us back to the big road. It rained as we headed into Salisbury and evening traffic, and I abandoned the plan for seeing the cathedral. Alas, three times here and I’ve never seen the inside. I don’t think I ever will at this point!

We stayed at the Holiday Inn Salisbury Plain, which has an excellent location and signs at all the roundabouts, so easy to find. The area has a gas station, Harvester restaurant, Toby’s Carvery, McDonald’s, and several other fast food restaurants. All walkable from the hotel. We had a kind welcome and a comfy room, although not as well thought-out as Premier Inn.

We walked to Toby’s Carvery for dinner and had an excellent waitress and yummy, filling dinner. Nothing at all fancy but hearty and perfect for a rainy evening. At home I watched some television (second episode of Elizabeth) while DH took advantage of the free wifi.
My 2 cents: I would never have gone to the tank museum on my own, but it was much better than I anticipated. Also, people aren't kidding when they say to add in more time for driving than anticipated!

Timing: About 4 ½ to 5 hours at the tank museum, probably more than usual!

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Day 10: The City that almost ended our marriage
After a great night’s sleep, we awoke to a steady rain. We drove across the car park to McDonald’s and used the new-fangled kiosk ordering system. I was disappointed (although, on reflection, not surprised) to find I couldn’t get a biscuit. DH got a snack option and was then confused it wasn’t bigger. Ah well, it was 20 minutes and a few pounds.

We followed the very simple and easy directions to Stonehenge given to us by the hotel. But really, if you are purpose-building a road (Stonehenge) why do it 1 ½ lanes wide? Would 2 lanes kill you?

It was rainy and cold when we bought our two same-day tickets. The visitor center was interesting and new since my last time there. They had some interpreters in the huts out back. Interesting, but rainy and cold. We caught a bus very quickly and were at the site in a few minutes. We walked around (no audio guide for us) and took pictures. And…it’s a big stone circle. I’m glad DH saw it, but after a while you’re just looking at the front side compared to the back side of a stone slab. I joked that we had 400 pictures of tanks and 6 of Stonehenge.

We spent probably 30 minutes at the site before catching a bus back. You walk back through the shop (50% of the visitor’s center). After we thought about heading to Avebury per our plan, but it was rainy and cold and another walk to see some stones didn’t appeal. So we headed straight to Cardiff, Wales.

Um, straight might be an overstatement. We couldn’t find the correct road so took a very roundabout way there. Once on the M4 we stopped for bathrooms and food – love the stops along here, very much like the rest stops on toll roads here. Clean and efficient.

We headed across the Severn River, a treat since we live in a town named Severn. I picked the right road to enter Cardiff, but I didn’t realize, and it wasn’t marked on the map, that the center of town is all pedestrian walkways. We spent an hour circling and going out of town and back in, with DH getting increasingly frustrated, until we finally just parked at a lot about 3 blocks from the hotel. It was not our best relationship moment. After a tense walk for those three blocks, we arrived at our Premier Inn. Once at our room, DH immediately took off for a crossfit class.

I took a moment to regroup, and wasn’t happy with the room. It had a tiny window and chair where we’d last had a giant window and couch. Plus the TV was oddly positioned due to a pillar in the room. Downstairs I asked about sightseeing and enquired about the room. Luckily, the front desk attendant was only too happy to move us across the hall to a more logically laid out room. She also knew all about the castles in the area and the train schedule and restaurants in town. Score!

I moved our things to the room across the hall and left a note for DH, then went to the Tesco down the street for breakfast things and wine (needed!). After crossfit he was much more relaxed. We both apologized and he appreciated the new room. We went across the street to The Chapel for dinner. I had an amazing asparagus/egg bruschetta appetizer and he had a ham steak and we both loved the atmosphere. Back to the hotel for a quiet night.

My 2 Cents: Stonehenge might be a ‘must see’, but I think I’ve seen it enough! But, if you don’t need to be in town the Holiday Inn Salisbury Plain is a nice stop.
Timing: 2 hours for Stonehenge and 3 hours to Cardiff.

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Day 11: Cardiff, Wales
As per usual, I showered and got ready while DH had the full English in the restaurant and I had a pastry from Tesco. We walked about 5 minutes across the street to the Queen Street Station. I bought same-day return to Caerphilly for about 14 GBP (for 2). A train was coming in just 4 minutes, so we had just enough time to find the right platform and board. A fast and easy trip, and sure enough you just walk out of the station and down the hill and you hit the castle.

Caerphilly Castle was wonderful! Again, you could walk up and around and climb all over it. Up and down stone staircases, sitting in window seats, climbing above the great hall and onto the ramparts. There was a great (although bloody!) film in one of the towers and some interactive displays and videos in another. Outside there are replicas of siege engines. The great hall was gorgeous. Lots of walkways with geese and wonderful views.

We were back at the train station around lunchtime and had only a 7 minute wait, then back in Cardiff by 1 PM. I considered pressing to go to the Welsh Outdoor Museum, but we were both hungry and DH preferred the Cardiff Museum. We had lunch at a Gregg’s (sandwiches, good and cheap) and sat outside enjoying the lovely day.

We found the Cardiff Museum, which is an interesting conglomeration of art, decorative arts, and natural science. Or as DH said, like if the state of Delaware had a single museum. If you have limited time, simply follow their ‘top 10’ list. We enjoyed the special modern art exhibit and then I did the top 10 while DH wandered on his own. They had some pre-Raphaelites, which was nice since we’d skipped the Tate. They had some nice Rubens and some Rembrandts and a decent Tudor selection. The natural science was underwhelming, but I’m sure kids love it. The life-sized spiders and centipede was nightmare inducing, though!

After the museum we enjoyed a drink in the brewery district. DH headed for the hotel to rest while I walked along the shops. I didn’t buy anything, but just enjoyed the scenery. For dinner we headed back to the shopping center for Jaime Oliver’s restaurant. A bit of a wait, but very good food and our favorite activity, eavesdropping on a first date at the adjacent table.

So far, Cardiff is a lovely city. A great mix of cosmopolitan and country.

Timing: 30 minutes each way for the train, including wait. About 2-3 hours for the castle and 2 hours for the Cardiff Museum.

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Day 12: Cardiff and Cirencester
Last day in Cardiff! After a rocky start, the city had really grown on us. It was another gorgeous day and we reached Cardiff Castle about the time that it opened, an easy walk from our hotel. We bought our tickets and picked up our audio tour and started on the green. Although mostly taken up with hospitality tents for an upcoming soccer event, we were still able to see some siege engines. Then the tunnels that they used in WWII and the rampart walk. We were passing back by the visitor center and DH needed the bathroom, so we popped in. Perfect timing. A house tour was starting in a few minutes and it was only 3 GBP each to add it on to our ticket.

This turned out to be an excellent idea. Aside from one or two casually sexist remarks from our guide, it was a great tour. We heard about the family and saw the smoking room, nursery, rooftop garden, and bedrooms. It was as though the Victorians had a terror of leaving a piece of wall unguilded or a surface bare. But delightfully over the top and insane!

Proud of myself for identifying the last room (Georgian!), the tour ended after the dining room and we were on our own to explore the library and Islamic Room.

We walked the 100 plus stairs to the old keep and enjoyed the magnificent views from the top. Back on terra firma, we briefly visited the exhibit on the Welsh soldier and enjoyed a private sword demonstration.

After about 3 ½ hours, we left the castle. Across the street to the Gregg’s again for sandwiches (egg, if you can believe it, for me and pasties for DH). That hit the spot. Then back to the hotel to pick up our bags and try to get DH’s race registration printed. No go, as Premier was having an issue with their email. Eventually we gave it up as a lost cause and were lucky enough to find the car park again. Since we’d driven the road approximately 12 times just 48 hours ago, I had no trouble finding the right road to get out of town!

Soon we were out of town and back to England. We stopped for gas and hit something on the dashboard and…realized we’d had GPS this whole time! Although you’d think this was super helpful and would have solved many a fight during the week, the truth was it wasn’t nearly as easy to use or helpful as you would think.

A beautiful day and we were off to Cirencester. We made good time and, although we stopped at the Aldi parking lot for a moment to get our bearings, we were soon at our last Premier Inn. We got settled just as the rain moved in. I walked across the street to the grocery store for some last-minute gifts (candy) and some wine (hey, I’m not running a race tomorrow). We had dinner in the Beefeaters Pub. I found it very good, although probably best to stick to simple fare. They didn’t have the wine I asked for and substituted something. It’s possible they over-charged for this. I didn’t really care at this point.

Dinner hit the spot and we again had a clean, comfortable, and quiet place to rest our heads. More than good enough for me. I heard reports about noise from the pub, but we had no troubles and this was a Friday night.

My 2 Cents: Wales was lovely and surprising, I’d visit again in a heartbeat!
Timing: 3 ½ hours for Cardiff Castle and about 2 ½ hours, with gas stop, for the Cotswolds.

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Thank you for taking the time to share this. it brings back memories of some great places.

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Day 13: We are Sparta
Up early for DH to have a chance to eat and stretch before driving to the race. As we headed out, we saw a few more Spartans in the hallway getting ready! Getting to the race at a nearby airfield was easy and took only about 30 minutes. It was well posted with signs for the race, so no troubles. We parked and gathered the backpack and then DH began his pre-race ritual.

He had an early heat, so we just had time to see the elites take off and then one wave of competitors before it was his turn. They did the whole Sparta thing and then it was just me and a backpack. I had a cup of tea and camped out in the grass for a while with a snack and my book. After about 45 minutes it started to rain and got very cold, so I retreated to a tent and put on my jacket. And then DH’s sweatshirt. And then the towel. Basically all of the clothes. It was mid-May! And my fingers were turning blue from the cold!

Luckily, this was a fast race and after about 2 ½ hours I saw a flash of the ridiculous red, white, and blue shorts DH was wearing and knew he was coming in. I got some great photo shots of the last few obstacles. And then he was across the finish line! He got his medal and shirt and hosed off and we were ready to go much earlier than I had anticipated.

Unfortunately, getting to Windsor took longer than anticipated, even with the GPS (again, not as helpful as you would think). We finally found the B&B after some time on the harrowing, narrow roads of Windsor. We stayed at Park Farm B&B. From the pictures, I thought it was more rural. But that was a minor disappointment. It had a generous parking area and looked lovely from the outside – we were there hours before check in! I left a note on the windshield that we were supposed to be there so we weren’t towed, and we took the Rick Steves map and walked into town.

It is about a mile outside of town but an easy walk. We made it just as the castle closed, so no Windsor castle for us. I’d seen it before, but knew DH would have enjoyed it. Again, the risk of everything taking longer. Instead we stopped for refreshment at the Nell Gwynn tea rooms, which had a charming staff, and I had a cream tea and DH had a pint. They even had blankets on the chairs since the day was chilly. Then we walked along the shops and down to the Alexandra Gardens and through there, then back up to town along the Thames. DH mentioned how big the ducks were in England. I pointed out that he was looking at a goose. Not a country boy, my sweetie.

Once back in town we had a quick dinner at Wagamama and then walked back to the B&B. Our hostess could not have been more warm and welcoming. We were in the little chalet house, and if you stay at the Park Farm B&B I can’t recommend this enough. The perfect bungalow with a bedroom, bathroom, and kitchen. It even had a washer and dryer for DH to clean his filthy race clothes. Warning, the shower here is tiny and if you are larger than medium-sized or claustrophobic, you might do better in the big house. But honestly, it couldn’t have been more perfect.

It was still light out and relatively early and our hostess basically ordered us across the street to the local pub. A great place to grab a drink and sit quietly soaking up our last night. Afterward we headed back to the guest house and did our best to put a dent in the snacks and remaining wine. Watched some last British tv and I finished a book I was reading. We slept like logs!

My 2 Cents: Having the race to look forward to and orient the trip around was really fun and a completely unique experience.

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Day 14: Home Again
There was no rush this morning to get up, but we were over at the big house for breakfast by about 9 AM. We had an absolutely delicious breakfast and chatted with some fellow guests. Our lovely hostess gave us the suggestion of heading to Windsor Great Park before our flight. After settling our bill and playing with her dog, we took our courage in our hands and headed out. I think we made a wrong turn, but we still arrived at the correct place.

We parked for free in a lot by the road and then walked down a muddy path and over a stile. It felt very Pride & Prejudice. The views of the castle and the park were fantastic, and it was a warm and sunny day. Basically this was the perfect end to the trip, and we spent a little over an hour enjoying the walk.

Back to the car and to the airport, where the GPS finally came into its own. We would never have found the Avis return without the GPS. We had more than enough time before our flight, which was good because we had some settling up to do with the Avis folks due to the wear and tear on the tires (we hit a lot of curbs).

It was a bit confusing figuring out which line to enter to not check bags but get boarding passes (not a dilemma a lot of folks face, I think). FYI, the bathrooms at Heathrow were ingenious. Not only were the stalls plenty big enough for a carry-on, but in between the men and women’s rooms they had the family/attendant bathrooms. What a brilliant idea.

DH got a sandwich (from Pret, naturally) and camped with his book while I took a turn around the shops. About an hour before our flight they posted the gate and we took the train there. I had just enough time to buy a sandwich myself before boarding began. I had selected seats at the back that were just two across because the plus class was too expensive for the trip back. This wasn’t as roomy and the service wasn’t as fast or fancy, but it was fine for a daytime flight and knowing that our own cats and beds were waiting for us at home. I watched Bridget Jones Baby, Inferno, and Jason Bourne on the way home and finished another book.

Once home passport control took a little while, and I was depressed to realize I’d be back in that same airport in about 24 hours for a business trip. A fast Uber home and we were throwing laundry in, taking care of some seriously cranky cats, and eating frozen pizza.

My 2 Cents: We did not need to budget 3 hours for the airport, but you never know what it’s going to be like. At least Heathrow has a lot to see/do in the terminals!

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Epilogue: Next Steps/Final Thoughts

This trip was long in the planning, which is one of my favorite parts. It was wonderful and we had an amazing time. Without stops at Bovington and the Spartan Race, it would have been easy to do this trip via public transit and we likely would have spent more time in Salisbury and Windsor. For another British Isles adventure I can see spending a few days in London before taking off to York and Edinburgh.

Final Thoughts
- I’m all for saving money (sometimes to a maddening degree, ask DH), but sometimes a splurge is worth it. Upgrading our flight, a private airport transfer, and a flat rental for a week in a central location were excellent splurges for us. They saved us time and having the flat allowed us to save on food and also not murder each other in a tiny hotel room. Taking a cab to the train station also allowed us to avoid the hassle of public transit with bags. My splurges may not be yours. I’m just saying, don’t feel guilty about paying extra for something that will significantly impact your comfort or time spent on better things.
- Public bathrooms were uniformly clean with latches that closed (ladies, you know what I mean when I say that every third bathroom stall in the states has a door that won’t properly close). And instead of the seat cover you are supposed to somehow arrange and then perfectly sit on, they offered anti-bacterial spritz that you could wipe the seat with.
- We bought weekly tube passes through National Rail in order to be eligible for the 2-4-1 deals. Could we have saved a few GBP by buying an Oyster? Probably, especially given our central location and propensity to walk. However, we saved considerably using 2-4-1 at: Churchill War Rooms, Westminster Abbey, Tower of London, HMS Belfast, and Hampton Court Palace. Also, the weekly pass allowed us to not think about our transit, which was a plus. Since we occasionally split up, it also allowed us to not worry about who needed a top up and who didn’t. This was one area where convenience trumped the few pounds we might have saved.
- Things close early in London and even faster in smaller towns. Most shops are closed by 5-6PM. I hated feeling as if I had “wasted” time if I needed a rest after a morning and early afternoon of touring, and had to remind myself I was on a vacation. Consider a walking tour or evening bus tour or theater to fill the evenings. Or, you know, bad British television and Tesco wine.
- Tesco or Sainsbury Meal Deals are no joke. You can grab a sandwich, chips, and drink for around 3 GBP and eat it on the nearest park bench. This was also where I picked up candy to take back to friends and coworkers and breakfast treats.

- Driving will absolutely take you longer than you think. Since everything closes early, consider stopping on the way at an interesting lay-by, picnicking in the park, or just lolly-gagging. We found it difficult to do some touring in the morning and then make it to another stop without rushing. YMMV.
- You can pick up an inexpensive cell phone at a Carphone Warehouse. Consider getting a ‘smart’ phone and a flip phone, especially if you occasionally split up.

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I enjoyed reading your report. We totally agree about taking taxis to hotels when you have luggage, and we also often travel with only carry-ons, which still might have to be hauled up steps in the tube station. We take the Heathrow Express to Paddington, then get a cab. I understand why you needed a car on this trip, but agree with you about public transport being easier. I went from London to Salisbury(did not go to Stonehenge) to Cardiff(including St Fagans and Caerphilly) by myself by train. I booked hotels within 1 mile of train station and used a Tom Bihn backpack for my only luggage and never used a cab, despite having some orthopedic issues. One of my favorite things about Europe is the wonderful public transportation in so many places.

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Great report! I loved re-living my travels in England through you. I have to sympathize with your problems before you leave on the airplane. Our worst experience was 35 years ago. My husband and I were traveling from a very small community in Western Oklahoma to Venezuela where my parents were living while my Dad consulted for an oil company. Two days before we were supposed to leave, the airline we were to fly on (Braniff) went bankrupt. They didn't reorganize... they shut down! One week later, we flew standby on a different airline and got 1/4 of the way there and found out that we couldn't get all the way to Venezuela. We had to fly standby back home and never made it to Venezuela. My second occurrence was 2 weeks ago. We stayed at a motel the night before flying out of the Austin airport because we had to be at the airport at 4:30 a.m. When we got to the airport one of our bags had gone missing after the short ride from the hotel to the airport. Just then, a small bus pulled up behind us with my bag. Apparently, the back door of our bus had flown open as he drove to the airport and my bag fell out. The second bus saw it come out and stopped to pick it up and tracked us down. So I completely understand the paranoia about airplane trips!

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27510 posts

As a local I really enjoy this series of reports. I am learning lots and lots. Thanks so much.

Wife's birthday today so based on what I've learned I am getting her an annual membership for the Royal Palaces so she can run up to London and indulge her tudor and gardening loves at Hampton Court Palace (and Kensington Palace, Kew Palace and the Tower).

Thanks again.

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11613 posts

Loved your reports! Great info.

As someone who never passes up a spaghetti con vongole Versace, I have to ask: what's with the eggs?

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2906 posts

Great report; very well-written. Many thanks for this. I have enjoyed reading it so much.

About the egg sandwiches--I ate a lot of them last trip to England also. All the cafes in the museums in London have them.

You must include a train trip from London to Salisbury some day just to see the inside of Salisbury Cathedral. It is really beautiful. And they have their own copy of the Magna Carta on display.

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Thanks for taking the time to post!! I enjoyed your trip, lol!

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1875 posts

Many thanks for taking the time to write this very informative report.

You noted that the main road by Stonehenge was only 1.5 lanes. A row has been going on for years about turning the A303 into an expressway at this location. A local farmer is resisting the widening of the road and English Heritage would like an expensive tunnel.
That’s Britain for you - conflicts of interest & expensive land.

Anybody else thinking of going to the Tank Museum would be well advised to travel just a few miles south to the spectacular coast at Lulworth/Durdle Dor :>

The Cardiff Museum to which you refer is the National Museum. A smaller Cardiff Museum exists just north of the Jamie Oliver restaurant that you visited. You missed the big open air museum at St.Fagans Castle (really a 1500’s Manor House) which is about 5 miles west of the city centre.

When you went form Cardiff’s Queen Street station to Caerphilly, it would have been easy to purchase a return ticket Cardiff Bay to Caerphilly. Then, when you got back to Queen Street, simply swap platform & take the shuttle train the 1 mile down to Cardiff Bay.