Please sign in to post.

York and London - March 3-11 2023

I turned 50 in February and will be married to my wife for 18 years this June. We love art, food, museums, churches, and each other. As a couple, this was our sixth trip to Europe (including Turkey), fifth that I planned (Turkey was a package deal my parents signed us up for). Our ninth trip lasting a week or longer (Curacao, SonomaX2).

I had some trouble planning this, due to the size, star power, and expense of London. But I got my head around it and built it to our standards. Wife gave my efforts in planning an A+. I rate myself as an A minus to an plain A, with the help of the Rickniks on the England forum.

I'm gonna go by days, because I have a lot to say on a lot of things.

Booked tickets through Iberia who were code sharing a British Airways flight. We departed Chicago on March 2nd at 5:00 PM, set to arrive in London on March 3rd at 6:40 AM. I dock myself some points here. The plan was to take the Tube to Kings Cross for a 9:06 LNER up to York. The flight, on an Airbus A380, operated by BA, seated on the upper deck in seats 71 J & K. 71J, where I sat might be one of the worst seats on the plane due to an entertainment equipment box under 70J. Wife had the window, but the guy in 70K dropped his seat all the way back, then fell asleep with his head on the tray table, pitched forward.

Given the timing of the flight, I should have sprung for "World Traveler Plus." But maybe, we should have flown into Manchester, maybe through Dublin (The advantage with the customs being in Dublin on the return being a plus as well).

Any rate, woulda shoulda didn’t. No sleep on the red eye for either of us, got through passport and customs so clean (UK: The “Nothing to Declare” line: BRILLIANT). Navigated to the Underground (the whole time humming this to myself), figured out where we were going, and an hour later emerged at Kings Cross station. Got coffee and something to eat at Upper Crust (the bacon sandwich I had was sad. I was exhausted, so probably not the best thing to get, and probably not the best rating), found our train, had some time, but low energy, and got on the LNER to York. Assigned seats were unassigned due to some malfunction, so we sat where we sat and enjoyed the ride.

Arrived in York at 11:30, and my instinct to cancel tea at Betty's for 12 was right. We were beat. So beat we missed a turn walking through the station to get to the Rick recommended Bronte Guesthouse. So, instead of the 17-minute walk, took us 25, but got our first views of medieval York, which is an absolute show-stopper. Got to the guesthouse, met by Mick and our first real experience with Britons commenced.

For the trip, the Britons we met (not all in the tourist trade) were generous with their time, information, opinions, and everything else that didn't cost them anything. Mick was no exception, a wealth of knowledge about his city, its sights, its gates, bars, and snickleways. We got to the room and crashed until 17:00 (will be using 24hr time, because I'd like to think I'm a 24 Hour Party Person). We got up, and decided to walk around the town, look for something to eat, something to see. I noted that Rick said the best thing is just walking around York, and he wasn’t kidding.

We wound up at The Cross Keys in York, a Nicholson pub (despite claiming to be a freehouse). Had trouble deciding between their famous pies but settled on the gold medal winning Steak and Ale pie. First experience with British style gravy, and mind expanded. I'm now a huge pie fan. Really, the shortcrust pastry, the hearty beef, the umami of the gravy. It's genius. Had first taste of British cider, on tap, and YES!

More walking, then home for sleep. 5.8 miles, 0 staircases (seems dodgy as our room was not on the ground floor)

Posted by
483 posts

We were too tired on day one for our scheduled Deathly Dark Tour of York, after bopping around town waiting for its 20:00 start. In retrospect, this was dumb on my part. Should have done an earlier tour on put it on Saturday. I was falling asleep and dragging feet. It’s sad I know, but we'd walked 5.8 miles on the day, and are really more 14-hour party people at best.

I NEVER sleep well the first night in a hotel, so I was worried. The bed at Bronte was like sleeping on a cloud. My wife, who likes a bed of nails and iron, didn't like it. I dunno that I've ever slept so well. The street that the Bronte is on is mostly residential, and there were some folks talking outside through the night, but nothing too bad.

9:45 entry to the Minster, so we had our first breakfast at Mick & Mindy's Bronte, and it delivered. First, they had, playing over the top, not overly loud, a soundtrack of late 70s and 80s music that hit these two Gen Xers right in the warm fuzzy spot. Second, good coffee and good tea. Third, we both got omelets, me with ham, cheese and mushrooms, wife with ham, cheese and tomatoes. They do a hot and fast omelet, a style I had kind of forsaken, but their result was fantastic. So good, that we had the same the next day. came with some nice "brown bread" which had some seeds and such on the outside. The jams with them, Wilkin & Sons black currant conserve is now my wife's favorite spread for toast.

The York Minster. First, as I've said in my thread on the England forum, you NEVER skip the cathedral. NEVER. They are layered onions of art, architecture, history, and culture. In the Middle Ages and Renaissance, they were all in competition for pilgrims, resulting in a level of marketable insanity. If they've taken the time to maintain and improve a building from the 13th century, it's worth a couple hours of your time, minimum. I say this as an avowed atheist. And the York Minster DELIVERS. They say they have more medieval glass in the building than the rest of England combined, and it is amazing, even on a cloudy overcast day. They might have the most amazing glass I have seen, and I've come to have a great love for the stuff. And the York Minster DELIVERS. Just every style imaginable in a riot of colors. Amazing. I mean, look. Beyond the glass, the architecture wows. The harmony, despite taking 250 years to build, with multiple architects, working over generations, to create a singular building, on a mostly singular plan. The evolution of styles in medieval construction is more reflected in the glass than the architecture. The acoustics are amazing. The community continuity represented in the building is stunning. We did not climb the tower, but it is a remarkable achievement, especially when they had a shaky foundation due to the roman fort under it. Do not skip the Chapterhouse, where some of the most amazing sculptural elements I've seen are (more fun than the Milan Duomo's, though I'd rate the ones of the Duomo roof + St. Bart as the best I've seen). Do not skip the undercroft museum and the Treasury, as the history of the site, along with everything in York, is worth the time.

Then to tea at the Impossible Tea Rooms and Wonderbar. Pretty sophisticated, but many bites not worth writing home about. I suspect our American palates are used to sweeter sweets, but not that impressed. Much more exploration of York on foot, with ten thousand of our closest random strangers, as York on the weekends is apparently a madhouse of sightseers and partiers. I think the tea was so filling we may not have had dinner that night.

4.51 miles walking, 5 flights of stairs. Dreams of colored glass.

Posted by
99 posts

Thanks for this report. We may be doing something similar later in the year.

I dock myself some points here, as the plan was to take the Tube to Kings Cross for a 9:06 LNER up to York.

This would be our plan as well. Due to the points we saved and the airlines we can fly, we have to stop at LHR and then take the train to York. Why did you think it wasn't worth it? Is it because you were tired? And do you think that the 2 hours and a half between the expected landing time and the train was enough?

Also, I'm guessing you had to change trains to get all the way to King Cross station?

Posted by
6622 posts

I couldn't agree more about York Minster -- or about your general take on medieval cathedrals. We took a tour there and the guide told us about the 1984 fire that badly damaged the south transept, and all the people who rushed in to save the silver and artifacts when the roof collapsed. He said a lot of people were spontaneously doing that, and every single item was returned afterwards. Another example of the community at work.

Looking forward to more about your trip. Happy birthday and anniversary.

Posted by
93 posts

Great report so far. Can’t wait to read more. We are doing RS Best of England later this summer, so interested in the feedback experiences of these two cities.

Posted by
483 posts

@Confuso:

This would be our plan as well. Due to the points we saved and the
airlines we can fly, we have to stop at LHR and then take the train to
York. Why did you think it wasn't worth it? Is it because you were
tired? And do you think that the 2 hours and a half between the
expected landing time and the train was enough?

We were wiped. If you are flying the same flight (ORD to LHR), and it is within your means, I would look at a comfort map of seats, and decidedly avoid row 71 on the BA airbus 380. Having even a nap on the plane would have made the full process a bit easier. Wish I had this when I was picking seats: https://www.seatguru.com/airlines/British_Airways/British_Airways_Airbus_A380_new.php

The tube was an AM rush on the London Underground, which wasn't that bad, but I'm a CTA Blue Line, western arm, so my standards are pretty low right now.

It was completely achievable. It had plenty of time to get lost, to wander, and wonder. Kings Cross is an attractive rail station, and it has a Harry Potter site (if you're into that).

Your mileage will vary.

The Piccadilly Line goes directly from LHR Term 5 to King's Cross St. Pancras. Short walks on both ends for GBP 5.60. The Heathrow Express to Paddington to District to Edgeware, to Hammersmith/City to KC/StP is about 15 minutes faster, costs GBP27.80, and involves two changes. I looked at that option and looked at the timing, and decided I'd take the hour on the Piccadilly over the 20 minutes on the Heathrow Express, 2 minutes on the District Line, and 7 minutes on the Hammersmith/City line. Less walking, fewer transfers, and due to the timing of the transfer, could relax on an older tube car that went from suburbs to city. They'd never run that same train or car on the Circle Line. But that's almost getting ahead of the story. Today, day three in York.

Posted by
483 posts

Part 2.5 - Looping back to day 2

Before I start on Day 3 in full earnest, wanted to circle back to the York Minster. Do take the time to take a tour with a volunteer guide. My wife kind of actively dislikes being toured around anything, and she LOVED the tour. A remarkable wealth of information, like the story about the fire that Dick mentioned, and real insight from a devoted local. We got to hear a bit of blasphemy regarding that fire, about how folks in York joked that the lightning hit too late and forty miles off target. But also, the community spirit. When you hear that they removed the medieval glass to people's houses, without seeing the glass, you think maybe it's ten families or something. Just the East Window alone is larger than a tennis court of glass (note: we hate metrics, so we will measure in anything but actual units of measure). It's SEVENTY-EIGHT feet tall with 311 panels. And that's just the one window. The building is practically ALL GLASS (not really, but a good third of the wall space is glass, easily). They have 128 windows that stretch from about a third of the way up the wall to the ceiling. The effort of removing and relocating ALL THAT GLASS struck me yesterday, a full week and change after being there. And they were doing it before the war, in anticipation. That's community involvement.

Second thing I didn't mention about the Minster is that they currently have an exhibit about carving their statue of Queen Elizabeth II, which was planned for her 2022 Jubilee, but is a bit more poignant now, as her statuary likeness fills a niche on the front of the cathedral. They have a copy of it as part of the exhibit, and it's an extraordinary piece. Given some time and exposure to the elements, it will be of a piece with the entire cathedral and provide continuity from the 13th century to the 21st, as the Blue Peter bosses link to the late 20th, the dedications to the men and women who fought in the two world wars a link to the rest of the 20th, and other monuments to each century from the completion to present. That's part of the layered onion that makes every cathedral a must see. The Minster is as much a part of York's identity as anything, in more ways than an American atheist can really fathom, though I am sure I have done more than scratch the surface, with the help of a local guide.

Posted by
483 posts

Part 3 - Sunday in York

I got us opening tickets at the York Castle Museum, which is on the other side of Medieval York, about as far from the Bronte as anything gets in York. A one point one miles. We got our breakfast. The cheese in the omelet was sharp, the ham was crisped on the outside and tender on the inside, the mushrooms had great umami flavor, and the 80's hits were starting the day right. Mick & Mandy are darling.

The Castle Museum was FANTASTIC. If the Minster is the heart of the community and the continuity from 1250 to 2023, the York Castle Museum presents that community and the tremendous social changes from the Victorian era to the present, through objects collected by Dr. Kirk, who would accept "by-gones" in exchange for services. He was interested in the disappearing way of life under the second Industrial Revolution. My wife said his story reminded her of the Seinfeld episode where Kramer has Anthony Quinn's undershirt for trade.

The exhibits include a recreated Victorian era street, a remarkable and chilling exhibit about World War One, a thoughtful look at the building's history as a prison, an exhibit on clothing and diet over the last 400 years, and a look at the post World War 2 world, though a "street" in the Sixties. A thoroughly brilliant museum in my estimation, presenting activities for children without making the serious social trends it explains childish. It's a rare attraction in my experience that caters equally to the family and the adult without really compromising one or the other.

Do bring some pound notes or change. They currently have 14 penny arcade machines on display, ready for use.

As we had time at the completion of our walk-through history, we were talked into getting a ticket to enter Clifford's Tower. The simple: Probably the best view of York, especially on a clear day, which we didn't have. You can reportedly see all the way to the famous Moors. The only structure of similar height as this motte and bailey castle from the 13th century is the Minster tower, which doesn't feature a great view of the Minster.

The Complicated: In 1190, in a wooden predecessor that sort of dates to William I and 1068, the local folks of York got riled up and decided to kill all the local Jewry. They broke out in a riot, and the Jews, under protection of the King, sought shelter and protection from the "keeper of the King's tower," while all of their property was looted. Trapped in the tower, on the Great Sabbath ahead of Passover, the folks of York laid siege to the tower, with help from the king's troop, the very folks supposed to protect the Jews. Those besieging the tower had offered safety to those who willingly converted, murdered any who tried. Most of the 150 deaths were fathers killing their wives and children before killing themselves as part of a suicide pact. The rioters then went to the Minster and burned the records of their debts to the Jews. The daffodils on the hill, a plaque installed in 1978, and one of the five audio benches note this dark history.

Having been there, I do not think Clifford's Tower is worth the spend, unless it's a clear day when you can see for miles. Or, if you really need that long distance glamor shot of the Minster.

I'm not a practicing Jew, but it won't matter to the next wave, so these things chill me. I'm always struck by the idea that the people of Medieval Europe are not as distant as we think, in attitude or thought, aspiration or dream and there’s a long history of this kind of thing. No reason to think these things cannot happen again. History may not repeat, but it certainly will rhyme.

Posted by
483 posts

Part 3.5 - Sunday Roast in York

With the brightness of Clifford’s Tower and WW1 (this is sarcasm) in our hearts, we walked around town some more, ahead of our 15:30 reservations at The Rattle Owl for a wonderful British tradition, variously called Sunday Lunch, Dinner, or Roast. I'm sure there are other names, but the key thing is, it's Sunday, there's some kind of roast, and it's eaten sometime between noon and maybe 17:00 at the absolute latest. I made the latest reservation available, and the timing worked well. I found the Rattle Owl on the recommendation from the Yorkshire Food Guide (and a few other websites). I did a lot of research (on this and the tea), between multiple sites, but the Rattle Owl kept getting mentioned, and the pictures haunted me.

Good call by me. The Rattle Owl is in a Grade II listed 17th century building, 42 total seats, but a lovingly restored shop front turned into a Michelin noted restaurant. It's just a tad outside of tourist York. We both opted for a two-course dinner, so a main and a dessert. I struggled between the Roast Sirloin of Beef and the Roast Mutton Rump, while my wife saw someone else get the sirloin and was sold. I opted for the same. Sue us, we got the same thing. I paired the recommended Primitivo (related to Zinfandel), while wife opted for the Vinhao Verde from Portugal (recommended for the Mutton). Good picks, well paired.

The “Sirloin” of Beef was actually what we'd call roast prime rib or strip loin, further into the good part of the cow than American sirloin. We cut and term differently.

Taking you through the meal:

I hit the beef shin fritter. Without the gravy, this was the best bite I'd had on the trip so far. With a dab of the gravy, the top bite I had on the trip, and maybe to this point in 2023. The beef was good, but that shin fritter. The roast potatoes were on point. Thick crisp exterior, tender inside, with some gravy, giving a textural contrast and a savory wonder. The caramelized onion was a bit of glop on the plate that didn't sing or say much to me about onions but paired with the potatoes or beef it made sense. I'm generally not one for carrots or horseradish, which the crushed carrot had whipped in. I ATE ALL OF THEM, loving every bite after the first two which were confusing, in the pairing of two things I don’t usually like. The Yorkshire Pudding was pretty. But I think I was expecting more. Bland until it met the gravy. I've mentioned the gravy a few times now, but this gravy was savory, umami magic. Wife also cleared her plate, in delight, and also feasted on some green veg that was plopped between us; a mix of peas, some leafy something, and some other thick leaf, dressed thoroughly with maybe some vinegar based something.

We diverged on dessert, with wife getting the Hot Chocolate Mousse and I opting for the Treacle Tart. These, too, were transformative deliciousness. Wife said hers was maybe the best chocolate dessert she'd ever had. Mine was in a shattering crisp pastry, not unlike pecan pie, minus the pecans, but the character of the treacle just kept hinting at other flavors that drove my palate into a frenzy of identification. Like a vintage wine tasting. The creme fraiche sorbet was genius, like frozen sour cream, really meshed with the tart, when I made it a la mode.

We walked home along the walls after 17:00, just enjoying the walk, the city, the fading light, and the post prandial bliss. It's a beautiful town, with modernity crammed into well preserved medievalism. And really well enjoyed from the height of the walls, without all the tourists.

4.97 miles, 12 flights climbed.

Posted by
7395 posts

Bookmarked your interesting, detailed post, Max, as we’ll be in York & London soon. Thanks for taking the time to share your experiences & impressions of York!

Posted by
483 posts

Day 4 - Leaving York - Hello London

Check out time at the Bronte is 10:00, but we skipped the breakfast, and left a bit earlier. The original plan traded a London day for a York day, as a modest cost saving measure, so I booked the early getaway to maximize the London time. Ultimately, I was happy with the tradeoff, though with how good the breakfast was (including the 80’s soundtrack),I was thinking it was not the best idea to have booked the 9:34 LNER back down to Kings Cross. Especially as our rooms in London could not be checked into until 15:00.
However, in retrospect, I made this work out for the best. We got some coffees and pastries for the train, at a Pret a Manger, where we completely forgot how to do anything and would have annoyed the living hell out of American baristas with our apparent cluelessness. The English politeness and their willingness to help morons in distress saved the day. We got our pastries: wife Pan au Chocolate, me a “Cinnamon Danish" that was a rolled and hard baked laminated pastry with cinnamon sugar. SCRUMPTIOUS. I did not describe the awkwardness of us at the Cross Keys, but they must be used to guiding American naïfs through buying a pint, getting a table and getting table service, as were the staff at the York station Pret. Or it's just the general politeness of British society.

I should mention here, before departing York, that I LOVE the Yorkshire accent. Uncaptured in the video I've linked is a slight sing song character, and within your first day, you will hear a local say "sorry" and realize you're both far from home, but really quite welcome.

When I read about York, it reminded me of Bruges, a well-preserved medieval city. York is not Bruges. It is preserved not because their economy collapsed, but out of community tradition. Bruges is, charmingly, frozen at the point where their harbor silted up. York did not stop, it built, but preserved the past while building outside the old wall. That makes it a living, vital place. It's a vibe. Not as chilled as Bruges (in early April before the film), but just as remarkable, if not more so.

At the station, met a woman who does some work for the NHS, who used to live in London, still works there, and relocated up to York during the pandemic. Really nice chat, complete stranger, normal person. Happy to share in the F'edness of much in the world with my wife. Told us where to sit for the train and went from there.

LNER south, no real events worthy of reportage. Second class is comfy enough, Monday morning train, pretty full. My soundtrack up to York was Made in Manchester, because the Made in Yorkshire playlist was meh, and "Manchester kids have the best record collections." Going south, Made in London, and that's a banger from the first three songs, all the way through.

Arrive at KC on time, but over three hours until our rooms will check us in. We checked our bags at the luggage counter back by the Harry Potter store, right by the 2022 Loo of the Year award winning Eco-Friendly Toilets. Should have gone outside and hit one of the other luggage services, but convenience and timing won out over cost. Not salty about it, but could have been managed better if I'd been thinking more broadly and cost consciously.

Posted by
483 posts

Day 4 continued - A Very British Museum

With the loose time, we hiked south to the British Museum. First, the Assyrian exhibit is likely second to none in the world, totally AMAZING. You don't see a ton of Assyrian art, and it's been maybe 35 years since we last met in world history in high school, so I think it should be your first stop at the BM. The giant sentinels, the stories of how all this came to Britain, great. The shallow relief of the wall decorations... I've never seen the like, and my wife, hadn't either. Similar design features to Egypt, to Inca and Aztec, but also, unique to itself. We were really taken with it, though I will warn folks sensitive to depictions of animal cruelty, the “Lion Hunt” is hard.

We wound up in the BM Egyptian wing and I found myself mentally comparing it with the Met in NYC, what I consider my "home museum." I think my conclusion is that the BM has better stuff, but the Met puts it on better. The Met does have a whole frickin’ temple reassembled and on display. However, the BM has a really remarkable Egyptian exhibit, and the time we spent there was time well spent.

The BM admits to the controversy of what they call the Elgin Marbles and everyone else calls the Parthenon Marbles. It's complicated. When the British took them, they'd already been damaged in a conflict between the Ottoman Empire and the Venetians (I had to google that). A lucky shot by Venetian artillery on an ammunition pile the Ottomans were keeping in the Parthenon. There wasn't a nation of Greece when the Brits took them. The Ottomans owned the land, and from my time in Türkiye, Turks have near zero regard for anything Greek. At any rate, as badly degraded as the main figures are, they are thoughtfully displayed (as is everything in the BM), and quite impressive (same). The friezes have fared better, though one of the two sets they have are remarkably repetitive, so only really important for provenance. I'm very happy to have seen them in the BM, but I hope to see them in Greece at some point in the future. No blame, no apology necessary, but return them. The BM will miss them, but not lose any shine off it's amazing collection of stuff.

We did the gift shop, and, despite not having time to see them, I was so taken by a picture of the Lewis Chessmen Queen, that I bought a resin figure, which is now sitting between my monitors at work, with an expression I save for the very best of my customers. I also discovered that none of the Moon Knight tv series was actually filmed there, and there I was wearing my Moon Knight socks for the occasion.

We stomped back to KC, and we were 15 minutes over the GBP4 for 3hr price, so it was GBP15 per bag (2). Got the Circle Line from KC to Bayswater, and found our place, The Hayden Pub and Rooms. We were beat and decided to have dinner at the pub while taking our "welcome" drink. I had a roast chicken with chips, a salad that was grabbed by my wife, and a nice Aspall cider. Wife had the fish and chips with mushy peas and a glass of Sauv Blanc. Hunger is the best sauce, making this damn good food.

We ascended to the third floor, hit the bed, and got ready for a busy day 5.

6.31 miles, 6 flights of stairs.

Posted by
99 posts

Nice, very detailed description. Thanks for writing it. Adult daughter and I are planning to do York first, followed by Edinburgh and London. Wife/mom will join us in Edinburgh and London. Unfortunately, I can't find twin/separate beds at Bronte Guesthouse so I guess we'll have to find a hotel somewhere else.

Too bad we won't be there on a Sunday to try the same meal you had.

Did you do the 5 miles walk after 17:00? Did it get dark? Daughter is looking forward to that hike.

Posted by
483 posts

At Confuso: Sunday Roast is a national thing. Not sure if it is in Scotland, but just search for best Sunday Roast X for wherever you will be. Yorkshire as a whole is a culinary wonderland, though York has a lot of tourist places and dance clubs, because that’s the modern economy of the city.

The post dinner walk was only about 2 miles. It was the twilight hours for the walk on the wall, very pretty. It will get dark later when you are there, so plan accordingly.

While I really enjoyed the Bronte, it is the guidebook recommended BnB that is furthest from the action, last on Grosvenor Terrace.

I will say the dumbest part of my plan was trying to do the late ghost walk on the day we arrived, given the red eye. Thought it would be an easy activity, and we just couldn’t do it.

Posted by
483 posts

Day 5 - Ye Olde London

For the second time on the trip, I slept remarkably well on the first night in a hotel. I cannot remember that ever happening. The Hayden's bed met my wife's approval for firmness, but met mine for softness, maybe with a pillow top, so it all worked out. We were up early to make our 9:30 entry to The Tower of London. We got on the Tube at Bayswater, went all the way to Tower, which is clean on the other side of the Circle Line, 15 stops, 24 minutes according to TFL.

We got a breakfast at Costa at the Tower, which took some extensive exploration to figure out how to get into, where I had a ham and cheese sandwich, which had a griddling on one side on the most boring white bread this side of Wonder Bread. But the addition of mornay sauce to this sandwich made me rave, despite the sad nature of it. I had a flat white, wife had a latte and a sausage butty (good sausage, meh bun). Gonna say, Pret a Manger over Costa for that type of thing.

In the Tower, seeing some milling hoards, we made a beeline for the Treasury to see the Crown Jewels. Rick says they’re the best crown jewels in Europe, and I can’t fault him.

A few important things from British history, as an aside: After October 14th, 1066, William the Conqueror became the first Norman King of England. The line of transfer of power was almost entirely unbroken until 1646, when Parliamentarians led by Oliver Cromwell, a Puritan "Roundhead," defeated the forces of Charles I, who was executed three years later. From 1649 to 1660, England had no monarch, being ruled variously by a parliament and Cromwell as a military dictator, until May 1660, when the Monarchy was reestablished under Charles II, Charles I's son. They have had a continuous monarchy since that date.
A further aside: It’s interesting King Charles III is the first Charles on the throne since 1685; Charles I lost the crown, Charles II was quite popular, but an inept statesman.

The result of all this history is that there are very few intact items from before 1661 and Charles II's coronation, but some of the biggest and most impressive stuff comes from 1661, and anything from before is extra special. There's a spoon that dates to 1349, and many of the jewels in the crowns predate the Protectorate.

It is a truly magnificent collection of sparkly stuff. Due to the early arrival, we were able to circle the walkway on the people movers multiple times and get some questions together, which were posed to William, a guard/docent in the vaults. William was a WEALTH of knowledge, having worked at the Tower for 20 years. What's so special about the Koh-i-Nor, rather than the Cullinan 1 diamond on the Sovereign's Scepter? The age, provenance and Curse for the Koh-i-Nor. That was wife's question, because the Cullinan 1, The Star of Africa is a 530.2 carat, flawless diamond, just amazingly brilliant.

My question for William was about the difficulty in the changes in titles. Charles has been Prince Charles since 1952, and for William's life, Elizabeth II was the only monarch he’s known. Lots of things are Her Royal Highness's, and now have to be His Royal Highness's. Lots of little linguistic shifts from what's been in place for 70 years. William confessed to some difficulty with King Charles and having to remind himself but was eager for the coronation. I asked this question to a few people, and it's been a process for everyone I asked. No real dislike of Charles, but he’s certainly not as popular as his mother.

We had a second run in with William when looking at some giant plates and gold serving ware and got another wealth of information on the Exeter Salt, which William had seen up close, with it taken apart.
Overall, we spent an hour in the Jewel House.

Posted by
483 posts

Day 5 - Ye Olde Part 2
We spent at least half of our time with the crown jewels was soaking in the wealth of knowledge of William. His information about the Exeter Salt gave me some perspective on an object I'd made note of on a previous trip to Europe. The Salt Cellar at the Kunsthistorisches in Vienna. William explained the use of salt cellars at banquets, which put the Saliera's use and ornateness into perspective, which the KHM failed to do. The Saliera had a story of theft and ransom that has stuck with me. We still crack up at the idea of the trident being sent back, as a proof of life object.

As the Jewels started to fill, we moved on to the White Tower. It was 10:30, so we were poorly timed for a Yeoman Warder tour. Narrator "They would not get a yeoman warder tour." The White Tower hit me right in the entryway, with posters of famous visitors to the tower with quotes (Guy Fawkes and William Wallace’s reviews were missing). The very first was Samuel Pepys, one of my favorites from 17th Century Brit Lit, my favorite lit class in college. Pepys had visited back in the 17th Century. This has been a place where visitors have toured since the 1660s, which is a continuity that astounds. The first of several run-ins with my 17th C. Brit Lit favorites.

The arms and armor displayed in the White Tower is quite remarkable, and likely the best collection of ornate arms and armor, and royal likenesses, that exists (My guess as it's not my thing). The armor of kings and nobles, with special attention to that of Henry VIII. The one that stuck with me was a full set of plate for Charles I as a child, which was subsequently worn by Charles II. By the time Charles I's father had this armor made, Richard III was dead for 150 years, minimum. Richard III was the last English Monarch to die on the field of battle (his remains were found in a Leicester car park in 2012). Given the lack of battle leadership by British monarchs at the time, seems odd to make a full set of plate mail, modifiable for mounted or foot combat, for a child. (George II, aged 60 in 1743, would be the last British sovereign to fight alongside, so maybe not the best take I had).

Despite it not being exactly our thing, the White Tower took us over an hour to explore. It was coming up on noon, a 2PM entry at St. Paul's, and things to see between the two. We had to skip a tour with a Yeoman Warder. If you haven't gotten from my writing before that I'm plotting a return visit to London, maybe in 2026, then make note of it here. Either you run through things faster than we did, or you spend the whole day there (completely viable), or you make the YW tour the priority, and schedule the rest of your visit around that. We will return, we will take the YW tour, and visit the rest of the Tower.

Wife saw Tower Bridge, so we walked across that. It's an impressive bridge, in harmony with the surrounds. We didn't go up it, because time was burning, walking had to be done, and things seen. I was fretting for time a bit, but was calculating what could be dropped, and lunch was the drop. Which was fine, as we were not hungry.

One thing that amazed me about London (no shortage) is the juxtaposition of eras of architecture, with survivors of the Fire (Pre-1666), and the ensuing building rush (1666-1939), with the Blitz halting construction until the extended rebuild afterwards. I loved seeing the Shard over Tudor style buildings from the Stuart era.

Posted by
483 posts

Day 5 - Ye Olde Part 3 (this was a big day)
Wife saw Tower Bridge, so we walked across that. It's an impressive bridge, in harmony with the surrounds. We didn't go up it, because time was burning, walking had to be done, and things seen. I was fretting for time a bit, but was calculating what could be dropped, and lunch was dropped, we weren't hungry..

I was amazed by the juxtaposition of eras of architecture, with occasional pre-Fire buildings, 1666-1939 buildings and post 1945 buildings all coexisting, sharing space, in a sort of harmony. I loved seeing the Shard over Tudor style buildings from the Stuart era.

Leaving Tower Bridge, we walked towards Leadenhall Market, and we got there during the lunch rush. We entered through scaffolding, so expected disappointment, but once we got past the construction, the wow factor kicked in. We are not Potterites, but we love a good covered market. We're not luxury shoppers, but there's something about the glass ceiling and the feeling of being outdoors and indoors at the same time. It’s sort of a "cathedral light" experience, only given over to high end commerce. Leadenhall is evocative and was busy. You get why it was a Harry Potter location, but it's just gorgeous, in a very British sort of way. It is not quite the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan, but it has its own charms.

Walking there, or perhaps on the way towards the Monument and the Cathedral, we walked past a pub, The Hung Drawn and Quartered. Nothing exceptional about the pub, as we didn't stop, except for a picture of a poster on the side of the building, quoting none other than Samuel Pepys from his journal entry for 13 October, 1660. As I mentioned, 17th C. Brit Lit meant a lot to me in 1996, and continues to do so, and Pepys was the author I most enjoyed then. Walking in spaces he did gave me some feels, especially given the intimacy of his diary. NOTE: A lot of people love this entry, claiming it's a good insight into the whole diary. Pepys saw remarkable events, commented on his domestic life, was theater going bon vivant, and was a somewhat important man in his own right.

Feeling good, we bopped down to look at the Monument to the Great Fire of London. With the time and the potential of the tower climb at St. Paul’s, didn’t even look at going up the Monument. I'm sure it was great when built, but on a grey, damp day, it was just more stairs for a second tier view with St. Paul’s being taller. The plaque is cruelly in Latin, for reasons that probably made sense in latter half of the 17th century.

Back toward the cathedral, and we found what we think might be the coolest building in all London, at 30 Cannon Street. Could totally see the British Don Draper chain drinking G&Ts and coming up with the best way to sell Embassy Filters to teens of 1971. Any rate, wife shot it from nearly every conceivable angle as we had half an hour to our entry time. It has some interesting history. There was a medieval church on this site (it's TWO BLOCKS to St. Paul’s...which was built on the same site as the old St. Paul’s… They needed a lot of churches I guess), but that burned in 1666, so the site was rebuilt as one of Christopher Wren's 52 church rebuild of London, completed in 1683, where it stood until 1941, when it was destroyed in the Blitz. 30 Cannon was built between 1974 and 77, as one of the last WW2 bomb sites to be redeveloped, and it was built for a bank, with slots for three retail banks on the ground floor. It was Grade II listed in 2015, so we're not alone in our appreciation of it. I felt a bit old writing that, with construction in my lifetime now being a monument in this city.

Posted by
483 posts

Day 5 - Ye Olde - Part 4 - Stairways to Heaven
14:00 Entry to St. Paul's, which wows, like any Cathedral. It's clearly the peak of Wren's reconstruction of the liturgical architecture of the city after the Great Fire. It was a major church before the fire where John Donne had been the Dean of the pre-fire church. Donne is my other 17thC Lit hero, revisiting him during the pandemic. Harry Potter filmed something here, so there's magic in the architecture. But more, it's been in fairly constant use since 1697, when it was consecrated for use, and more fully since 1708, when Christopher Wren Jr topped the cathedral out. Beyond, it's the funeral site and final resting place of two of Britain's greatest military men, Viscount Horatio Nelson and Arthur Wellesley, The Duke of Wellington, the men who delivered decisive defeats to Napoleon at Trafalgar and Waterloo respectively. It was the site of Victoria's Diamond Jubilee, the Silver, Golden, and Diamond Jubilees of Elizabeth II, the Wedding of Charles and Diana, and thanksgiving services for VE and VJ days.

It is a massive church, with a massive dome, an English version of St. Paul's in Rome. The monuments to the important people interred in this church are both grand (Wellington), subdued (Nelson), and haunting (Donne). Donne's survived the fire, the only to do so. Also interred here: Christopher Wren, Alexander Flemming, JMW Turner, John Everett Millais, William Holman Hunt, Anthony Van Dyck, Arthur Sullivan, Florence Nightingale, TE Lawrence, William Blake and many important military men from British History.

The interior is massive, and looong. There are mosaics, arches, monuments, and sculpture. It is a massive place to be, elegant, decorated, and hushed. The acoustics are impressive, particularly considering the size. It has feet in the 17th Century, but also in modernity with two video installations for altarpieces flanking the altar and the American Memorial Chapel. And they continue adding and updating art, with a massive installation commemorating the start of the first World War in the nave. In the juxtaposition of new art with old architecture, it is, in my opinion, London, rendered into one building.

After touring the ground floor, we took 20 minutes to climb the 522 steps to the top of the dome. We are not fit people, but we made it with many breaks. There are plenty of places to get a breather on the way to the top. The views are top notch, and 360*. And because we were getting quite hot with the effort, the cool air outside was a relief. We toured the crypt, with impressive tombs for notable people on legs of jelly.

We left by 4PM, and were hungry, and I had wanted to hit one of the gorgeous pubs in the neighborhood. I had my eye on one located in a Victorian bank, and pulled up an article, which noted the Counting House, which was east, behind us. I had meant to go to The Old Bank of England, which was further to the west, and therefore closer to our rooms. Any rate, I f'ed up, but I f'ed up well.

Got to the Counting House at about 16:40, and they don't seat for dinner until 17:00. We got a round, and our seat was taken instantly when we went upstairs for dinner. Wife got a Traditional Cornish Pasty, which was her second round with mushy peas (both of which she liked). I got the Five Spiced Duck, Cranberry and Port Pie, which had that five-spice perfume in every bite and came with a delicious gravy. We split the Apple and Blackberry Crumble. A pudding for sharing for 2-4. We’re Americans, we dusted it.

Cabbed home, with a cabbie who had some racist conspiracy theories about the Mayor.

8.21 Miles, 43 flights of stairs. Slept WELL.

Posted by
1989 posts

I loved York and it's probably my favorite town in England especially as everyone seems a bit more relaxed than London. I hope you saw Holy Trinity Church in Goodramsgate. A small parish church with highly piggly box pews. I stayed at a flat that overlooked this churchyard and it remains my happiest memory.

Posted by
262 posts

Very much enjoying your report. I’ve been to England twice but not since 2008 and you’re making me want to go back ASAP!

Posted by
4236 posts

But, a thing that isn't really widely advertised about the English is
the politeness and their willingness to help morons in distress.

So true....the politeness of the English, I was especially surprised of that in London. I didn't expect that in a city of that size.

Love how you're writing this with pinches of historical facts and opinions, keep it up.

Posted by
483 posts

Day 6 - Art and War
We were expecting to be cramped and useless after the 522-step climb to the top of London (prior to 1963 :-), but we were in good shape. Tuesday was to be the furthest east we were going to venture and the most walking. The East End is for a subsequent visit. I am anticipating having jerk chicken in Brixton with this in my head. With a much more compact itinerary, and less time on the train needed, we had a more casual start to the day, hitting the local outlet of GAIL's Bakery for ham and cheese croissants (apparently made with offcuts, wonky fruit or other stuff that might be wasted, so good for us), a latte for wife and a flat white for me. Ham, that good English Cheddar, and MORNAY SAUCE, in a buttery flaky croissant that was good enough that we didn't have to trek over to a London outlet of POILÂNE, to engage in our own Proustian Madeleine Moment, only with the sublime butter croissant we randomly had on a 2013 trip to Paris. GAIL’s ticked all the boxes, the coffee was very good, and a love affair with a chain bakery commenced.

Circling back to the cab ride on Day 5. First, just getting the destination to the guy was an amusing experience. We were staying at the Hayden Pub & Rooms, which I pronounced, Americanly, as Hay-Den. "Never 'eard of it," said a cabby who had allegedly passed The Knowledge. Said it a bit slower, as though everyone can understand American if you just say it loud or slow enough. Wound up spelling it for him, and he said, "Oh, the Aidin, right!" Had a nice conversation about his views on London over the past 25 years, which veered into local politics, which turned out to be an Islamophobic conspiracy rant about Mayor Sadiq Khan and suburban Muslim voters. Which then turned back to things to do and see, and ideas to add on to our days. Weird.

First sightseeing stop of the day was The Churchill War Rooms and Museum. If the Second World War means anything to you, this is a top stop, unmissable. If the Second World War does not mean anything to you, go anyway, as WW2 is both massively important to the modern world and also because it is instructive about our world in 2023. Stepping down from my soapbox The War Rooms are actually two sites, with the front and back half being the rooms themselves, preserved by disuse from VE day to the mid-80s, so kept largely intact to how they were when the War Cabinet of the UK packed up and went fully back topside. These are really great looks into the past. As my parents were born in 1945 and 1946, it's a look at the world of my grandparents, though, in some ways, less dated to my childhood memories of the 70s than it might be for my nieces’ and nephew’s view of the 70s from now. A level of hardship, determination, and rapid standup during an emergency, that is hard to imagine, though Churchill was getting by at nearly pre-war standards as far as food and drink. The War Rooms and the memories of people who served there were really moving, but the real attraction, in my opinion, is the Churchill Museum.
.

Posted by
483 posts

Day 6 - Art and War - Part 2
The Churchill Museum, which is basically LARGE room in the middle of your War Rooms visit, is a huge trove of objects, recordings, films, stories, and memories of the life of Sir Winston Churchill, painting a full, possibly somewhat hagiographic, picture of one of the most consequential figures of the 20th Century. There is so much material about a long and largely lived life in this single room. There's actually a small second room about Churchill and the Middle East, but the bulk of the museum is in the single giant room. We spent over two thirds of our visit to the War Rooms Museum in the Churchill Museum, and I could go back and spend another several hours there, pouring over his life and accomplishments. I spent a chunk of time with a sequential series of quips that Churchill made over the course of his life, read by an actor. I was dazzled by his wit and linguistic pugilism. I also spent time listening to recordings of portions of his speeches from the early days of the war before I realized I was missing a whole museum behind me.

Had a nice chat with a volunteer who gave us lots of stories. He shared some of his father's journal from the war years that he's assembling for publication. The way that the history ties to the personal is something that we never got in history class, but now, at 50, I'm engaging with. Maybe you cannot get that when you’re a bored 16-year-old.

There's a plaque at the entrance to the museum, noting that Queen Elizabeth II opened the museum at some point in the 80s. Can you imagine the feelings while opening a museum dedicated to the life of your first prime minister and deep and enduring friend?

On your way out, after the very nice gift shop, where I bought a book of the Wit and Wisdom of Winston Churchill, note the corrugated seeming walls as you ascend back to street level. Our volunteer told us that this was drilled through the layer of concrete they added to harden the ceiling of the War Rooms. When they were excavating this, to open the exit to the museum, they brought in a hydraulic diamond tipped drill to get through it. They thought it would take a few days, but it was a project of months to drill through that concrete due to the hardness and depth. The corrugation is not because there was a corrugated metal that they poured over; it was the path of the drill. When you hear the story, it's a bit of wow on the way out.

The weather this day was cold, and the sky was alternating some light snow with the dreaded wintry mix. I left Chicago for this? We did a rapid march up to the National Gallery, not really lingering on the streets at all, just because of the blech out. Trafalgar Square, swinging by 10 Downing, out. Straight to the National Gal, and in. We were early for our entry, which was completely unnecessary anyway, apparently, but made "the perfect pit-stop" at the Espresso Bar in the basement. I got us a Bakewell Tart, maybe raspberry, and a couple coffee drinks that I don't recall. Despite watching Great British Bake Thing for years, the Bakewell tart just isn't my thing. I couldn't say if this one was good or not. We had some store-bought ones in York, making this the second chance for a Bakewell. Not my jam. Your mileage will vary, but I think you have to grow up with them to have fond memories. But the coffees were just what the doctor ordered.

After a warmup and relaxation, on to the museum.

Posted by
6439 posts

Bakewell Tarts are one of those foods which polarise opinions, should it be fully iced or not, should it have a cherry on top or not?
Is it a pudding or a tart?
You should go to, well, Bakewell (in Derbyshire), if you want an authentic one. Even there you will get differences in opinion, and conflicting views on which is the original bakery to have made them.
But a good bakers (not shop bought) and In Derbyshire.
I suspect anything you get in a tearoom in London is going to be a pretend Bakewell, quite far away from the "real" thing.

Posted by
483 posts

Day 6 - Art and War Part 3
The National Gal was my wife’s top museum to see, and she was on a mission to see a couple paintings of high value and personal interest. In a previous post, I explained that we are both art lovers, but that she is a "Gardner's" with a formal education while I am more of a "Rick Steves' Europe 101", largely self-taught through museum visits, google, and casual reads. Her missions were headlined by: The Wilton Diptych and The Arnolfini Portrait. Add in any medievalism, that’s her top interest. I started as a Rembrandt fan, until I went to Italy for the first time and discovered Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, and I have been drawn to his work ever since. The National Gallery owns one of his most famous works, "Boy bitten by a Lizard."

Now, seeing Caravaggio's most meme worthy painting was not my reason for crossing the ocean or even visiting the museum. As we toured, there was a large bit of writing on the wall, about the division in art, with Caravaggio being one of the main influences of the second school, the one with more drama and realism, I was getting really excited for a big load of Caravaggio and maybe a Gentileschi. That's on me. Poor prep, but wife’s prime museum. They own three Caravaggio's, and the Boy is on loan. That said, Supper at Emmaus is incredible, and I can never get enough of Caravaggio self-portraits, particularly when he was either just a head or in the act of being beheaded (2x Holofernes, 3x Goliath, 1x John the Baptist), though the National's version is the least dramatic of them, with his own head being presented, rather than the act of beheading.

The National Gallery is MASSIVE, even with some rooms being closed and some paintings off display ahead of their current exhibit, The Ugly Duchess (sad that I didn't get to see this). Wife got hers in, and we saw other paintings that moved us, that engaged us in conversation, and that made us laugh. A remarkable walk through the highlights of Western Art History (horn fanfare), with a bit of extra love for the British (Turner, Constable, Stubb’s horse portrait that you can see from the other wing of the museum), and maybe a minor slight to the French. They do own 6 Ingres, but only two on display. They do have a bunch of Impressionist Art, aka the McDonald's of Art, which was largely a French thing.

The Gal is a great place to learn a lot about European art history. I think my enjoyment was a bit tempered as I feel beyond a survey course and want a bit more depth in my art journey now. Even as a self-taught art snob, I learned some new things and got greater appreciation for others. A remarkable collection and really a can’t miss site for those interested in art history.

IMO the best Caravaggio is in Italy, in Rome. On my eventual return to the Eternal City, I will make an effort to visit all of them. I did see what I think is my all-time favorite in Santa Maria del Popolo (art in situ is almost always better to me). Saul/Paul being limited to the bottom third makes it almost a British Horse Painting. ;-)

Posted by
483 posts

Day 6 - Art and War
Our brains were tapped, my feet were shot, it was cold out, so we went to Caffe Concerto. I think we just wanted a warm drink or something, but once we were seated and looked over the menus, we opted into dinner. I was debating a few plates, but ultimately decided to be cruel (See Note) and order a wild mushroom and parm risotto. My wife got a rigatoni concerto, maybe. Portions were American sized (aka ridiculous), but the warm food was a remarkable comfort until the final third (when the portion size hit).

All told, it was nothing special. If we were less tired or it was less inclement out, would have put a bit more work into finding a good place around Trafalgar Square. Given the density of tourism there, we would have had to walk into a neighborhood, and with the weather, it was a no go. It is said that hunger is the best sauce. In my estimation, a chill is the second best and exhaustion is probably the third. We had hit all three and I couldn't recommend the place. Good enough if the weather is miserable or you are, but in nicer weather and less distress, seek further afield.

Note: I have a few friends who work in the back of the house in the restaurant industry. Regardless of the restaurant, the risotto station, where it exists, is always the most miserable place to work according to ALL of them. The ones who are chefs routinely put the cook they don't like on that station. It's boring, it's tedious, and it's persnickety. Perfect combination for misery, and yet, when it's good, it's so good. So, I always weigh it, and frequently come to the conclusion that if they were so unhappy making it, they wouldn't have it on the menu.

It was only 4.00 miles, and we tacked on 11 flights of stairs, more than half of which were spent escaping from the National Gallery, in something like a fugue state from overstimulated brains.

Posted by
4236 posts

One of the most interesting Trip Reports that I've read. I'm disappointed that it's over.

Posted by
40 posts

"... the McDonald's of Art, which was largely a French thing." How very dismissive.

Clearly, you are not familiar with the Italian "Impressionists" -- the Macchiaioli, who pre-dated the French Impressionists by about a decade.

Posted by
483 posts

@Allan: I’m sorry the trip is done, but the write up is not.

I’ve been writing the updates on spare time at work, where I have my laptop setup and two monitors. At home, haven’t set up my desktop, because I can’t hotswitch all the connections when I want to telework.

Have two more full days to write up plus our adventure filled escape, then a summary with ratings of things for the TLDR crowd.

@Alisono I said “largely” a French thing. Not totally a French thing. Of course it started in Italy. Really, a lot of things started there, for better and worse.

My wife is fairly dismissive of French Impressionism, as are nearly all of her friends from art school, and their extended friend groups who went to other art schools. It comes from over exposure, general popularity, and maybe a touch of dislike for the style. Just because they are dismissive, doesn’t mean they are either ill informed or that their opinion should diminish your enjoyment. Lots of people enjoy McDonalds regularly. Folks with more formal training may not.

Not picking a fight. If I were, I’d’ve come for Thomas Kinkaid, “The Painter of Light.”

Posted by
1989 posts

Comparing Impressionism to McDonalds? Really? Your artists friends don't like it but saying it's because of formal training or they are ill informed is IMHO wrong. They honestly sound like the very artistic world the Impressionists were trying to break free from. Different strokes for different folks.

Posted by
483 posts

It's a bunch of folks. I've never had quite so much fun as going through a museum with three art school grads, and having two of them go hard on Renoir. But given the massive output of those guys, the widespread distribution of their work, particularly around the US, and the 80-90's investment banker obsession with them, it's not quite a trillion served, but it can't be that far behind. FWIW, Monet's Waterlilies are my Waterloo Sunset.

I think we've digressed enough, so I'm back to reportage. Opinions are strictly mine, and my interpretation of my wife's. Feel free to think we're declasse idiots. ;-)

Posted by
483 posts

Day Seven - Part One - To Kew or Not to Kew

Day seven, Thursday, really starts at the end of Day 6. Despite the low amount of walking, it was basically London’s version of a sad Mid-March day in downtown Chicago, with a temp in the mid-30s with precipitation. Wouldn’t have been that bad, except I didn't pack my winter jacket and my wife brought hers but didn't wear it for reasons I can’t fathom. We were beat, and back to the hotel by maybe 18:30. Lotta time to research the next day, which was scheduled for a 10:00 entry to Kew Gardens, a dinner in our neighborhood, and tickets to see Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons at the Harold Pinter Theater at 19:45. L^5 was the main reason why my wife wanted to do this trip in the first place, as it features Aidan Turner, who is probably #1 on my wife's hall pass at the moment (wife noted: No Hall Pass list, just a crush list). Kew was also my wife's thing, which I was happy to accommodate, but she's the flower fiend. If anyone was reading the England board, there was discussion about this day, as the plan included a nap for my wife, and I would maybe do something else.

Doing our nightly research, we discovered that the Princess of Wales Conservatory would be closed for the deinstallation of the Orchids festival. The closure was not noted when I booked the tickets. Cacti and Succulents are her current favorites, and tropical flowers would be high on her list, so without those, the great pagoda, or the water lilies, wife did not see the value. I put in to cancel the tickets, and, miracle of miracles, was refunded (though I didn't know this until a week after the trip). I took the plan for the nap time as a basis to work up something to do until our dinner reservations.

Way back in 2009, on our second trip to Europe (Paris, Bruges, Amsterdam), I learned about having a loosely structured day in a big city to appreciate some part of the city, maybe for the food culture, maybe shopping, but something low on sites, subject to whims, and just open, maybe with one thing in it. In Paris, back in 2009, my favorite day maybe, was the day we spent bopping around the 7th and 6th Arrondissements, hunting chocolate shops recommended by Clotilde Dusoulier. It’s hard to pick as I loved Paris. But the whole thing was a wonderful day, we fell in love with Poilane, and just chilled. It was a nice break as I was a harder task master then, trying to keep up with Rick’s pacing.

Recommended for me in my scheduling thread was the Leighton House museum. We got a bit of a late start, and my plan to get an Australian Brunch at Granger and Company was met, at the door to Granger and Company, with a half hour plus wait, so we backtracked and wound up at the West Grove Cafe. Nothing special, but they make omelets on their crepe griddle, have Illy coffee, and are in a tony neighborhood, so the produce they use to make their stuff is mid to high quality. Delicious soft omelet, good latte, no complaints for a place we just stumbled into. We walked the mile and a half from there to the Leighton house, up a giant hill, then down the hill gently angling through Holland Park. Cold and damp, but much more pleasant than the previous day. Walked by a house where Pre-Raphaelite brother William Holman-Hunt lived and died, right around the corner from Lord Leighton's House, our destination.

Tickets purchased at the door, took a spot at the Cafe to have a warm beverage to rehumanize and approach the museum fresh.

Posted by
483 posts

Day Seven - Part Two - Lord Leighton's Lush Life

The Leighton House is a really remarkable place. Leighton was a pre-Raphaelite adjacent figure, influenced by the main artists in the group, but also doing his own thing with it. He made it reasonably big, traveled in the Middle East, had a thing for tiles and decorative arts, and built a collection for inspiration and, well, home decoration. Built the house up over several years, and as he got more important. He is apparently the only British painter to be granted a title, rather than just knighted into the OBE, perhaps for his work as the head of the British Academy, his leadership of the Artist's Rifles or just because of his popularity and wealth. Not clear on the why, not really important, and his Lordship is maybe the least interesting aspect of the house. Though maybe dying the day after he got his patents of nobility and his peerage is the most interesting bit of trivia about LL. After his death, the wealth dried up, and his sisters sold off decorations from the house to pay for the house's maintenance, until they ran out of stuff to sell. The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea eventually came into possession of it, and eventually decided to restore it to its Lord Leighton lushness, as best as able. To my eye, it seems like they were quite able.

The show piece is the Arab Room, with a water feature in the middle, an absurdly tall dome that altered the layout and flow of the second floor, and a collection of Islamic tiles in that beautiful blue and all manner of styles. I’d describe his collection as worthy of royalty because the only place I've seen it's like is at the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul. The room is an Ottoman atrium, rendered through a Victorian artist's eye, and placed entirely indoors. The effect is magnificent, really worth the price of admission to stand in it for a bit. It overwhelms, it calms, it intrigues.

The rest of the house is Victorian wealth, living space, and workspace, with ornate furniture, paintings, more tiles, and some ceramic pieces of remarkable character. I do not believe I had heard of Frederic Leighton before this trip, but I enjoyed his artwork displayed in his house immensely, though I don't think they own any of his best-known work. Flaming June is probably his best work, and lives in Puerto Rico full time, but is in New York City until Feb 2024. There's one for the time machine... GBP 50 would have taken it home from a shop on the Kings Road in the early 60s, where Andrew Lloyd Webber was not allowed to buy this "Victorian Junk" by his gram. $140 would have won it at auction in 1963. I digress.

I was quite taken with this piece, A Boy Defending a Baby from an Eagle which is on display in the museum. The mixture of classical imagery with Victorian rural life, with the Boy being like a figure from mythology, his gaze steely on the bird, captivated me. There's also a Tintoretto and a Millais mixed in with all of Leighton's work.

In their gallery space, A Conversation Piece by Solomon J Solomon got a good 5+ minutes of my time. The glowering older man in the background, the courting couple in the front, the owl lamp, the ornate and cluttered room, two obscured maids. There's something disquieting about the setup. The folks are new rich maybe. It does invite a conversation.

In sum, a powerhouse of a bite sized museum. Their current campaign is called "Hidden Gem to National Treasure." I dunno that they're gonna be a national treasure, given the general wealth of everything in England and Great Britain, but it really is a hidden gem that I'm really happy I found.

Posted by
483 posts

Day Seven - Part Three - These Little Piggies Went to Market

Our original trip plan had some browsing at the Portobello Market on Saturday ahead of our departure, but since we were bopping around, we hit it up. Not the peak day that Saturday is, but plenty of shops that are open all days and lower volume of people, so off we went, a bit indirect as we walked a bit of the Kensington High Street. We went back over the hill next to Holland Park, and, while not as steep as coming North to South, it was a bit of a slog getting up it, but we are the little piggies going to the market, and we'd need a cause to go “wee wee wee” all the way home, so up the hill we went. Fancy neighborhoods on either side of the park, with Notting Hill and Ladbroke Square Garden.

We stopped at a number of stores with antiques, vintage clothing, and wool goods. Two that stood out were the Portobello Print & Map Shop and Stumper & Fielding. I won’t say that these are the most interesting vendors on the block, but we spent a lot of time and left with merchandise to take home. The Print & Map shop took my wife who dug into their antique prints with gusto. Apparently, the owner developed this massive collection of Victorian prints and maps, and his wife insisted he open a shop (probably because their flat was getting full). I did not spend much time there, but wife came home with two late 1700s prints, one of a cactus in bloom and the other some form of bulb flower, maybe something that we saw in bloom around town or something she works with regularly. Pending framing, they're going to decorate her cactus room and/or her section of our shared home office.

I walked into Stumper and Fielding, as their store front had a lot of dapper stuff, and while everything I wear looks schlumpy, before the pandemic, I occasionally aspired to full dandiness. I think the silk scarves drew me in. Inside were a young American man and his mom, with the owner-proprietor Darren. They had come in for a belt to go with an outfit he's wearing to some concert or graduation or something. But Darren had him in a really posh double breasted wool overcoat. I'm a bit shy, but this guy looked so good in the coat, I had to give a compliment and share my opinion. A three-way sales patter ensues, with Darren jokingly offering me 20 quid for my assistance. Any rate, beyond the jacket, he had on a knit vest (or waistcoat), a shirt, just really stylish looking. And Darren, the owner, a really generous and loquacious salesman, working class accent but not dropping aitches or anything cockney. While he worked them, and pulled things for them, I had a chat, wandered next door to the Highland Store, offering many things woolen and Scottish, and therefore “not crap.” I came back and Darren is ringing up the mom for over 800 GBP. But he's gonna wear that coat for 20 years and be dashing AF in it if he plays his cards right.

I was interested in a "baker boy" what I think we call a pageboy cap in the US, the kind of thing they wear on Peaky Blinders. Wound up with a knitted wool scarf as well, worn in that Parisian Knot that might be called a "fast noose.” Part of the love for these products was chatting with Darren who was about my age, about being Gen X on opposite sides of the pond, music, life, man fashion. Felt really welcome and part of the family. Darren doesn't like email, but gives out his cell number, says he's a mad texter, and always available for his customers. Really liked him and would definitely buy from again. Back towards the hotel, more stores, but no further purchases.

Posted by
483 posts

Day Seven - Part Four - Dinner and a Show

We were booked for dinner at the pub attached to our room, but we ate there on our first night, and didn't want to repeat, so I had canceled the reservation, and we decided to find something on the way back or maybe make a separate outing. Wound up at Cocotte Notting Hill.

We both had their roast chicken (really, it's the main thing as far as I could see). Wife got the lunch special with a quarter roast, two sauces (BBQ & spicy), a salad and maybe some baby potatoes. I had a half chicken with a side of baby potatoes, with their jus. Both orders came with Jus, and good that they did because “ooh, mami,” that's the stuff. Chicken was well prepped, high-quality bird, potatoes were nicely roasted and seasoned, over all a very pleasant dinner.

Back in our room to prep for our show, I tried to hail a ride share, but after being assigned and then declined by five to seven drivers, I canceled the ride, and we got a regular black cab that we hailed. Knew right where the theater was, got us there with time to spare. No bizarre racist conspiracy theories, but he noted that he enjoys the way Americans insist on pronouncing all the letters in words. If I were saucy, I would have said, “That’s a very French notion you have, the dropping of letters,” and seen where that went.

The Harold Pinter is a modestly sized, ornately decorated theater. With bars upstairs and down, and probably way upstairs for the balcony levels, we got some drinks and settled in our seats. They play some gongs to get those milling about to find their seats or conclude their bar transactions at ten minutes and five minutes before curtain, and then raise the curtain five minutes after, because the five-minute bell isn't really sufficient to get everyone in their seats. In this, the English are about as bad as Americans, though some of the standees might've been Americans, so not a definitive comparison one way or the other.

Enjoyed the show thoroughly. It's an odd play, where the timeline of their relationship, ahead of and after the passage of a law that limits people to 140 spoken words per day, is scrambled, though it's not entirely clear initially what's going on. Both characters are quirky, both actors are immensely talented and charming, and it finally got me off the fence and fully appreciating Jenna Coleman. From Dr. Who, Sandman, and Victoria, I had been undecided. Their relationship is complicated, and gets very hard under the limitation, with them having to save words from their working lives to converse at the end of the day. Not my favorite play ever, but we had phenomenal seats (a splurge... sixth row center orchestra), so the fullness of their talent was visible to us.

Wife noted that Turner-Stans hang out after the show, by the stage door, to get a glimpse or a picture of Mr. Turner. She mentioned this, and I guess I was willing to wait, but she made no indication of interest that I could discern, so we got a cab and returned to the hotel. Researched the next day and off to the land of Nod.

6.02 Miles walked, 10 flights of stairs. Bigger step day, but mostly walking from place to place, so not hard.

Posted by
483 posts

Day Eight - Part One - Get me to the Church on Time

Last full day of the trip, and it's been several days since we've seen a cathedral. And my rule is that you NEVER SKIP a honking giant church, even if it's not technically a Cathedral. Easy day planned, short walk, weather is as nice as it was liable to get. Had a couple ideas to add on at the end if we were done early.

Out we go, hit up the GAIL's again, Lattes for both, I forget if we got a sweet pastry to share. Any rate, high marks for GAIL's. Then off to the Circle Line for Westminster. Easy tubing the whole trip. The Westminster Tube station is helpfully labeled (as are many) with which exit to go for which thing, so we pop up, and there's that big clock. There's a Joe Rogan bit that wife and I used to listen to (before he went off his rocker and embraced everything weird), where he travels to London, and he's "just there to look at a big clock." Also, he's disgusted by the red money, which brings to mind that, for the first time ever, I did not hit an ATM once during a trip. Did not touch a single pound note, and all I missed from that was spending some pound coins seeing some late Victorian automata in York. Any rate, there's the clock, big and harmonious with the rest of the buildings down there, and over the way, there's the Abbey.

Westminster Abbey. Site of coronations going back several hundred years, though they're gearing up for their first in 70 years next month. Burial site of monarchs, and many of Great Britain's best and brightest. It's not just a monument to history, it's not just a place where history happened. It's a place where history continues to be made. Not the cathedral, but of equal importance, due to its size and its ties to royalty.

We shuffle in a line, the worst of which we avoided, having bought entry a long time before. I also bought a couple guide books and a King Charles coronation coin. When I got to the ticket checker, they were out of the coins, so I took a Westminster Abbey coin in exchange, but I suspect the coronation coins will actually be worth something someday, while the WA ones are nice to have. Might be better because I tend to lose stuff, and I tend to be hard on things. After the security and ticket shuffles, there's a shuffle to get multimedia guides. My wife is not into that, and after getting one, and punching for the place I am in the building, within a minute, neither am I. Maybe it's because of the packed crowd that kind of moves at its own shambolic pace, maybe because of all the really lovely glass and all the tombs and monuments, but I could not listen and watch, and attempt to take everything in, while hunting historical personages on the floor and walls.

Around the nave we shuffle. We had the first entry time, better than the alternative, I think. A later one, and it might be this propulsive shamble through the whole church. When we finally break free, first tasting freedom around the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and getting a lot looser after passing through the quire. Everything in the building is history and royally appointed. Everywhere you look, there is something worth spending more time seeing. 3000+ people buried there, Tudor glass, 18th century glass, 19th century glass, 20th century glass. All of it beautiful (though the Tudor glass is a bit boring imo). The large majority of the 19th and 20th is largely of a piece with some of the oldest glass, excluding the newest window, which is not my thing.

We started to move down the north side of the altar towards the East wing, and look, it's an hour gone, and time (per Rick) for our scheduled entry to the Queen's Jubilee Galleries.

Posted by
483 posts

Day Eight - Part Two - JUBILATION

We climb the modern stairs, up, up, up to the Triforium, where the story of the Abbey’s thousand-year history is told and the"greatest treasures" are displayed, including Kate & Wills marriage license... meh. As you climb the stairs, you ascend next to the chapels of St. Nicholas and St. Edmund. You get close up with the external facing of the building and some of the stained glass.

You emerge into a part of the church that was closed for over 700 years. When they opened it, they found 30,000 shards of stained glass (I’m a bit obsessed, I know). They put this area on display with a really thoughtful, and quite amazing collection of objects and documents that tell the story of the Abbey, from construction, to funerals, to daily worship, and just a lot of cool old stuff, like the original altar piece (maybe).

Of particular interest to my wife were the funeral effigies, particularly that of Frances Teresa Stuart, Duchess of Richmond, and her pet parrot, possibly the oldest stuffed bird in existence. Wife loved the story of the African grey parrot so much, she hunted through the gift shop, and was rewarded with an enamel pin of him. Frances Teresa was rated the greatest beauty my man Pepys had ever seen in life, though smallpox got her looks in 1668, not depicted on her effigy. Hers was ordered to be a standing effigy in the outfit she wore to Queen Anne's coronation. The outfit, the effigy, and yes, her stuffed parrot (who was her companion in life for 40 years, and died shortly after she did), are all striking, as are many of the effigies.

I found Geoffrey Chaucer's lease to a property on the grounds of the Abbey, which was explained to be part of why he was buried here in the first place, the founding body at Poet's Corner. He was the Clerk of Works to the Palace of Westminster. The document was written in quite a fancy script on a vellum scroll, something of which I'd heard mentioned in many books, but had never really seen or understood. Imagine my surprise to learn it was calf-skin paper.

There are panels of medieval glass mounted at eye level. There is all manner of objects. I could easily have spent double the time we spent up there. Worth the price of admission (GBP 5 to get in on top of the Abbey admission). But the time meter was running, so we went down, and toured the royal burials in the east end.

While in the Lady Chapel, we talked to a verger, as my wife was curious about the heraldic flags and sculptures in this area. We were told about the Most Honourable Order of the Bath, whole explained with solid details of the whole she-bang. The flags (designed by each member, retired upon their death, no inheritance), the plaques (signified former members who have died... their heraldic flag is memorialized in a brass plaque on their seat), and the whole thing (modern Order of the Bath folks are largely important civil servants... something I, as a largely unimportant civil servant can appreciate). Continued tradition of remarkably knowledgeable and generous volunteers, workers, and people in England.

We did a lap of the main Cloisters, peeked at the Pyx (meh), I took a picture in front of Britain's Oldest Door (It's older than any door in the US, that's for sure), and we got to the Chapter House, which featured a remarkable vaulted ceiling (with a center pole, unlike the one at the York Minster), great, light stained glass, and the remains of some really great medieval depiction of scenes from the Apocalypse, from the Revelation. The portion where the four horsemen emerge is somewhat decayed, and everything after is just gone. The stuff before is glorious, though.

Gift shop was mobbed, but wife got her parrot item with help from staff and out we went to our next stop.

Posted by
483 posts

Day Eight - Part Three - Portraits, Landscapes, Money!

Departing the Abbey, we walked around it so my wife could shoot some pictures of the exterior. A bit difficult as we were kind of going the other way, and there was intermittent snow. We saw the sun while we were in the Jubilee Galleries, but it was, for the whole trip, an elusive creature, like some rare small cat on a nature documentary.

And we're off on a walk to the Tate Britain. Nothing much to comment on regarding the walk. Very nice building, on the side of a park and not a hard walk down. We are lightly hurt to learn that, in less than a month after we depart, they're putting on an exhibit dedicated to the Rosettis (Dante Gabriel Rosetti, his sister Christina, and his model/muse/wife Elizabeth). Having recently completed watching Desperate Romantics, we very much wanted to see as much of the work of the Pre-Raphaelite group as possible.

As you enter the "Walk through British Art," there is a statement about Henry Tate, the founder and original patron of the Tate collections, and the slave trade. It's covered in a bit more depth on the Tate's website, in a statement on the legacy of the slave trade and Henry Tate. It's complicated, and tints my appreciation of the Pre-Raphaelites, but the further you get from owning actual slaves, the easier it is to ignore how their mistreatment made a lot of other people wealthy. The Tate may not be a model organization, or it may, I haven't looked with much depth into the issue. But I think it's better to do the work to explain the relationship and clarify things.

I've heard that, at some point in time, religious and mythological art was the highest form of art. I can't really find the quote, or a further ranking of tiers, but I'll say that landscapes are probably on the bottom. My opinion, for now. Portraiture somewhere in the middle, but commissioned portraits of nobility, a wee bit above landscape. So, while there were a few highlights to the first several rooms, like The Cholmondeley Ladies (as much for their artistic qualities as for the fact that I know someone at work with the same last name) and Hogarth's O the Roast Beef of Old England, my wife was maybe a bit disappointed, and I was feeling a bit bad for picking the museum, remembering that England's greatest contributions to art were in the form of the written word.

We get to the 1776-1832 room (which is kind of odd, as we'd been in 1760-1830 and 1760-1815 with meh results), and we get to "artists grappling with (the) turbulence" of the first industrial revolution, the Napoleonic wars, and the American Revolution. And there's some JMW Turner, and some pictures with conflict and greater dynamism. The next room covers 1815-1905, and we start with the greater value (for us), including the abysmally displayed The Great Day of his Wrath and it's two companion pieces, and our first appearance of a Pre-Raphaelite, a John Millais. There's even a nice Lord Leighton here.

Next room is a bit of a step back, with a lot more landscapes and some early impressionism, and then, into the money, big time. 1845-1905 is the Pre-Raphaelite heaven. Millais's Ophelia, Ford Maddox Brown, DG Rossetti, Holman Hunt's The Awakening Conscience... and MORE. Every work in that room (pretty much) is worthy of sitting with.

Posted by
483 posts

Day Eight - Part Four - More Tate and Cheese

Bit more on the Pre-Raph room.
Ford Madox Brown's Take Your Son, Sir subverts Raphael's many Madonna and Child paintings, touches Art Nouveau 40 years early in Emma's expression, echoes a Dutch master in the self-portrait in the mirror. FMB worked on this periodically until his son, the baby pictured, died, but the details he filled in move you. There's a tension that puts it above nearly anything that inhabits the first half of the walk-through British art.

There's much to appreciate here in the room, bright blues, class conflict, classics of English lit brought vividly into their modern time, expressions, ornate interiors, and really, some precursors to the Art Nouveau and Arts and Crafts movements that would come in the subsequent century. We lingered in this room. Slow looking at most everything, even some landscapes.

The value continues in room 10 (1870-1905), as they leave Victorian values. John Singer Sargent is carrying the mantle forward, with some really great full portraits, eschewing the decorative backgrounds of the Pre-Raphs with greater tenebrism highlighting the personal expression of the individuals. Gone is the staid portrait of a landed noble, and here is a more dynamic and lightly impressionistic portraiture of real people about the city.

By room 12, we're in the post WW1 period, completely modern, and yet, despite not being huge modern art fans anymore, loved two paintings in room 12 intensely: Zebra and Parachute and Swiss Roll. Surrealism has always spoken to me, and while British surrealism isn't quite as unhinged as that from further east or the US, these two just sing with absurdity. Putting the swiss roll on the Matterhorn, just to emphasize the Swiss-ness of the composition, and then the juxtaposition of a modernist French building, a zebra and a likely dead parachutist. These are not the best executed paintings of all time (or even in this museum), but if you can have some fun, laugh out loud, the art is working, at least according to Immanuel Kant.

A few more rooms of increasingly recent work, and I'm not sure that rooms 19 or 20 were available while we were there. By the end of the Tate Britain, I think Rick's description in the book is about right, and maybe you will discover a new favorite. My new favorite being a primitive painting of a zebra, inexplicably in France, with a dead paratrooper was highly unexpected. But that's why you look at the whole collection.

A browse in the gift shop (there's an attractive book about John Martin, but it's kinda pricey, so I pass... wife got some post cards of things she liked), and we left, with plenty of time left in the day. We make a trip up to Rippon Cheese, to get a nice cheddar to bring home. Rippon featured what looked like an amazing assortment of cheese, but when I told the proprietor that I was looking for a good English cheddar to bring home, she pulled a wax bound cheese off the top shelf, said, "a good one," and charged me for my cheese. I would later find the same cheese at the airport, but at a nice bar, so maybe I shouldn't be "cheesed" about it all. But still, the least satisfying human exchange I've had in the country.

Walking directions to Victoria Station are lightly confounded by construction, but we make it in, find our train, and go back to our pub. But the day is not over.

Posted by
483 posts

Day Eight - Part Five - Dinner and Decisions

We decide to have our last dinner in London in our pub, where we had our first. The ease of use, combined with the rest of the plans, made it good. Another fine dinner, completely different order from us, and I'm now officially in love with a cider that I cannot get in Chicago, Aspall Draught Cider. Oh well. But high marks across the board for the Hayden Pub and Rooms as a restaurant.

I forgot to mention that all day I've been weighing a decision, and the deadline was approaching with dinner. Wife wants to go back, hang out by the stage door, and get a picture or autograph or something from Aidan Turner. The debate is whether I want to go with her or not. On the one hand, my wife is a fully independent woman, able to take care of herself in such American boogeyman cities as St. Louis and Chicago. On the other, it is a foreign city (even though nearly everyone speaks English better than we do), and I feel that manly need to protect her. She expressed no preference, so after much hemming and hawing, and going back and forth, I decide to stay at the rooms and let her have her adventure.

She cabbed over, got to the theater about fifteen minutes before the show let out, and went to the stage door, where she was greeted by Mr. Turner's bodyguard. Apparently, his fans are such that they limit the folks who get to meet him after the show to folks who attended the show on that day. Wife explained that she didn't want to make me wait with her the night of the show, but that we'd literally crossed an ocean to see Mr. Turner in the show. Bodyguard was understanding, said he'd allow it, and chatted with my wife for a bit. It's England, and people are surprisingly (to me, a native New Yorker, and lifetime American) considerate. Wife got her pictures and got to meet the lovely Mr. Turner, who is everything in person that he is on the screen, only, unfortunately, wearing a shirt.

She taxied home, and we discussed our getaway, and what to do in the morning. We'd decided to hit a brunch ahead of making our way to Heathrow, and while she was out, I reviewed some options. Let's just say, I was not lacking for great options for brunch of a Saturday in Notting Hill. I'd narrowed it to three places. Cocotte, whose brunch menu (and associated Instagram and reviews) was off the chart. Sunday in Brooklyn, which had really high marks in the local press. and Granger & Co., one of the leading purveyors of the Australian Brunch in London.

Very satisfying day on the whole, appropriately paced, and relaxed exit planned.

5.66 Miles walked, 11 Flights of Stairs (probably mostly up to our room and back down).

Posted by
483 posts

Hey Nick. Glad I wasn’t the only one. When we saw it, they were clear about there being no intermission.

I think some folks just like to mill about. As I said, might be Americans.

Posted by
483 posts

Day Nine - Brunch, Pack and Dash
We selected Granger and Co. Our plan was to wake up, get dressed, hustle over to Granger before they got busy, brunch, return to the Hayden, pack, and boogie. And we did just that.

For those curious, about what an Australian Brunch is, I'm gifting this NYT article that attempts to explain it. Start simple with a British-Mediterranean-Asian vernacular and make it beautiful and fresh, while having certain staples.

Any rate, we're not big Insta-worthy food picture takers, but the sweet corn cakes my wife got were so bright, fresh looking, and plated, that wife took out her phone and took a few snaps. She added a couple of poached eggs to make something like a benedict out of them. I got the ricotta hotcakes and added a side of fennel sausage.

Maybe it's because we've been slow to reemerge from the pandemic lockdown and haven't really been out to a nice brunch spot in a few years, but DAY-UM that was some amazing food. The fritters had red onion in them and spiced for the gods. The "bacon" was closer to a platonic ideal of what we Yanks call "Canadian Bacon," but with the actual texture of the pork loin, a bit of the surface fat on the outside, fried/griddled up to crispy delight. My hotcakes were like eating a cloud, with a light, fluffy texture. The banana was exactly that, just a whole banana just shoved under the hotcake clouds (simple). The sausage was amazing, with no real Italian character despite using that most Italian of sausage flavor additive, fennel seed.

Wife had a latte, and not thinking, I just asked for a regular coffee, leading to a discussion and me getting a "Long Black." I should have stuck with the Aussie latte, the flat white, but that first Long Black was like pure, espresso, coffee nirvana, with a beautiful crema. This is the Aussie version of an Americano, but they use less water, giving it stronger taste. It's also a bit more caffeinated, as a result, on an ounce per ounce basis. When we were wrapping up, wife decided she wanted another latte, and so she wouldn’t drink alone 😉, I got another long black. Which was just as amazingly delicious as the first one.

As we're walking back to our hotel, about 8:30 or so, the rumble started. Yeah, with the meds I take, there's a hard limit on the caffeine my system can handle per hour. I was WAY over the limit. I will spare you the details, but I'm not feeling well.

We pack our stuff, I police our room thoroughly, and we are out by 10:10. We run into another couple running down the stairs who are also pushing the check-out time of 10:00. In my work life, I manage a chunk of travel for a cabinet-level government agency, and have had folks get burned, personally, over timing issues. More related to canceling late, but I have the idea of hotel billing clerks being a combination of DC comics villain Clock King, Alive in Wonderland’s Queen of Hearts, and a classic film fascist saying, "Papers, please." We get to the bar to drop our key and it's no problem, because of course it isn't.

Our plan to the airport is to take the tube, the whole way, because we have the time. District Line to Earl's Court, Piccadilly line to Heathrow 5, the very end. That was my plan, but at the time we're doing it, I can't get TfL’s site or Google to do that route. We get on the District line, get some news from the station, wind up at Paddington, and have to get the Heathrow Express. The whole system is a bit bonkers because of whatever is going on with the Piccadilly and everywhere else, but eventually we're on the Express, at GBP25/person.

Posted by
483 posts

Day Nine - Hurry Up and Wait

The Heathrow Express is fast, chill, easy, a bit pricey and just a bit posh. The Piccadilly Line is slow, a bit shabby, and cheap. At least that's what it was coming in. I couldn't say going out. I would still opt for the Piccadilly line if the extra half hour or 45 minutes wasn't a big deal to me.

We sat next to a gentleman from Houston (at present), but originally from somewhere in Africa by way of England, where some of his family is. Pleasant chat about travel, the UK vs US, and other small talk.

We got to LHR, found where we need to be and proceeded through security. The line was insane, the area was hot, and my long blacks started to bother me. Despite the apparent chaos of lines, and the usual funkiness of people moving through security in a post-9/11 world, it moved at a reasonable pace. But I felt quite unwell in the line.

My wife didn’t want her film to be X-rayed as it was X-rayed on the way out and a double X-ray is apparently not good. She was shifted over to a separate line for hand inspections or something. I watched her from a distance, and there were two folks ahead of her who seem to be having or being a problem. Wife was just standing there, remarkably chill for a person who has near zero tolerance for bureaucracy. It’s funny that she married a bureaucrat, right. Took a good 15 minutes plus for her to get clear, and because I didn't feel well, it felt like forever.

Turned out, her hold up the snow globe she bought for her sister. The scanner was showing this big liquid bomb in her pack. She had completely forgot about it, so the questions went a bit weird, but British courtesy and professionalism meeting American embarrassment and earnestness resolved the issue and won the day.

We had a few hours to bop around the fancy retail part of the airport. They have a Harrod’s, a Gordon Ramsey eatery, and more. The post security part of LHR is basically a High Street unto itself. I couldn't figure out where we should go to sit, and when we did a bit of shopping for flight goodies, my brain couldn’t. Between my meds, the caffeine, the heat, maybe dehydration, and the confusion at security, I had a panic attack while walking around and was having my first encounter with dissociative thought. Maybe this is an overshare, but it's part of the trip report for me.

We found a place to sit, while we waited for a gate to be assigned to our flight. I calmed down, rehydrated a bit, and returned to myself. I never got chips, because I couldn’t process that two or more small bags would replace the big bag I wanted. Eventually, they announced where we should go, and we had to take a tram, away from the High Street terminal into the wilderness at the furthest out set of gates. With the mass of people we're flying with, we navigated out there, plotzed, and waited for boarding. They start preboarding, and then announce that we're delayed half an hour. If I were pre-boarded, and they didn't ply me with liquor, snacks, or a million miles on the plane, I'd probably wind up on a No-Fly list. Any rate, after the half hour, they loaded everyone else.

We flew back on an Airbus 350. We were in "World Traveler" which is BA for steerage. Standard World Traveler seats, and I had no one seated in front of me, so no recline issues. Wife had a person in front who reclined a bit. Wife was a bit upset that we'd paid for selecting these seats, that I thought were upgraded. No upgrade, but not quite the misery of the outbound flight. Given the time in flight, comfort on return is of higher value to me than the departure. It’s always a longer flight home.

Posted by
483 posts

Day Nine - Return From Fantasyland

The food options turned my stomach, so I passed on everything save ginger ale. BA has a nice Schweppes product with some citrus in it. Quite nice, cannot find it on the internet, and I don't think they sell it here. Any time I think about a product with some random citrus flavor in it, I always think of this. I ate wife's roll that she claimed would be better deployed as a building material. Didn't nap at all but made good progress on reading my book. Wife watched a couple of movies.

Got off the plane at O'Hare, 45 minutes late. With the half hour boarding delay and the half hour on the tarmac, they got us in 15 minutes early. We got to the passport control and customs. I thought it odd that they didn't distribute customs cards on the plane, but whatever. The line was a mess, and because our flight was late, we're right on top of a flight from some place warm. Odd contrast: Folks from our flight, having left 35* London for 35* Chicago, and these folks, having departed maybe the Bahamas or something. The large majority of the folks from the other flight had high school to college age young women with them, and were all boned on their connections, but struck me as they might be coming back from a cheerleading event or something. They also largely struck me as people I wouldn't have guessed being in the 33% of Americans with valid passports. Maybe your kid gets invited to something in the Caribbean and you join the minority who are free to leave their country. My biases are showing.

I felt better in the shambolic line and after some time, we got close to the passport agent. And my wife couldn't find her passport. AAAAAAAAAAAAAA! I was getting ready to lose it, but after sitting on the floor and deep searching her Bag of Holding, she came up with it, to a collective sigh of relief and commiseration from bystanders. We got our passports stamped and were given a customs form with some code on it in marker.

My form was in Arabic. So was wife's. So was everyone's. We skipped bag claim, carry on only is the way and skipped a bunch of line on our way to meet the customs folks. The line was a mess. They were requiring us to form two lines which caused some backup, as though we were cars on a poorly designed expressway. With rolling bags, and CBP's process, maybe we are. I had nothing worthy of declaration, but no one was even present to care, and finally, we got to the agent who looks at our Arabic form and waves us through.

We got a cab, got home, were welcomed by our cats, did some minimal unpack, and went straight to bed. Unpacked on Sunday, and I forgot I organized leave for Monday, so I worked from home for no reason.

And that was the trip. I have some things I learned from Day 9, and some actions for the future:

  1. Stay Hydrated Always
  2. Get Global Entry
  3. Lyft or Uber home from ORD now that we live in the suburbs (cabs have a 50% surcharge)
  4. Bring chips or something on the plane. Always.
  5. Wireless headphones don't work with the in-seat entertainment on BA, plan accordingly.
  6. Make some F'n notes so I don't wind up working when I could be on leave.

Gonna post some ratings and some final thoughts, but that was our trip. Aside from the misery of modern air travel in steerage, it was a 10 of 10 trip for me, maybe even 11/10, which I didn't think was possible outside of Italy.

4.19 Miles walked; 13 flights climbed on the day.

Posted by
483 posts

Recommendations and Takeaways

Every trip we take is not just a vacation from our real lives, not just a list of things to see, not just a political act, and not just life intensified, but a chance to broaden our understanding of the world and ourselves. And, for me, another chance to execute that (moving) platonic ideal of the smoothest trip plan ever.

Recommending hotels is weird. I don’t have a basis of comparison. I can rate them against hotels and B&Bs all over the world, but I can’t rate them against the options in market. Disclaimer out of the way:

  • Mick and Mandy’s Brönte Guest House in York gets my hearty recommendation as a quality place to stay for the price.
  • The Hayden Pub and Rooms (and their other properties around London) operate quality restaurants with good rooms and adequate amenities. Great staff. Not cheap, but London is screwy expensive.

I have no qualm recommending restaurants, having eaten at them all my life.
- The Rattle Owl in York has earned their Michelin notice and is worth the trek up the hill. Sunday Roast or anytime.
- Nicholson branded pubs have earned their pie awards and have good stuff on tap. If you see one and want a delicious savory pie, do not hesitate.
- The Counting House is a great pub in fancy digs, given the crowd there before dinner. Food is outstanding and the bartenders are high quality. FULL of locals.
- GAIL’s is a superior pastry and coffee shop compared to Costa, Starbucks and Pret a Porter. Really great coffee and top marks for pastry from a chain. Not as widespread as the others, of which Pret was best.
- Granger and Co is worth the effort, calories, and spend. Locals love it.

Sights:
Correctly rated by Rick:
York Minster, Tower of London, National Gallery, Westminster Abbey, War Rooms, St. Paul’s.

Overrated:
Tate Britain (unless you have an abiding interest in staid portraits of wealthy folks and tranquil landscapes). Good museum of Britain’s lower arts, but Britain’s best art is the written word: poetry, novels, popular music.

Underrated:
Leighton House (Rick does not rate it, I think 2, one of those if you’re interested in the stuff, decorative historic homes and smaller more focused art museums, can’t miss).
Yorkshire Castle Museum (3
can’t miss).
The British Museum. Rick gives it 3*, I think that is short of my love for the place.

Things I learned for future trip planning:
Some of my favorite days from trips have been days with minimal sightseeing and loose plans. I told about a Paris day in the thread about the Leighton and Show day. Our Vienna trip’s last day was Austria Day and the Naschmarkt and 90% of everything else were closed. We had to get coffee from Starbucks, went to the Hundertwasser Museum, and rode the Prater and other rides. And the 2017 trip was largely unstructured. I have to build that in.

Stay hydrated, don’t over caffeinate, and keep a chill pill handy.

Use SeatGuru while picking seats. Spring more on the return flight.

Always have something to snack on the plane.

Worry less about the food in places. I spent a lot of time and anxiety prior to this trip about things I never even came in contact with. My wife is very kind and accommodating of my anxieties. (She lurking and enjoying this thread).

Renew my passport and get Global Entry.

This was the 9th trip of a week or longer that we’ve taken together, and I have a good handle on what we like, our pace, and how to do all this. And where I don’t, there are generous Rickniks who are experts who know what I don’t. I’m proud of my work on this one and can’t wait to get to work on the next one.

2017 Veneto-Piemonte-VdA trip report next

Posted by
1119 posts

Max, I really like how you have shared your opinions here about your trip and the things you have seen. It’s made it very personal and interesting.

I am LOLing at you downgrading the British Museum. I mean it is only one of the greatest museums in the world and home to iconic one of a kind antiquities, but hey, if you don’t like it then you don’t like it. My own daughter refused to leave a bench in the lobby because of ‘all the dead people’ so I know it’s not for everyone!

Posted by
483 posts

I think you misunderstand. I think Rick’s rating of *** (Must See) is an understatement of how good it is. We spent a couple hours there and I could see another life where I avoided the authorities and lived there for six months. And it still might not be enough.

Posted by
3198 posts

Wow!
That was so detailed I’m bookmarking it.
(And I lived in the UK and visited London countless times over the years.)
Loved all your food descriptions.

Posted by
2460 posts

Thanks for this review, especially the York part as I'm planning to go there later this year. If I wasn't already looking forward to the York Minster, I sure am now!

Posted by
1860 posts

Love your writing style, plus this was one of the most detailed trip reports I've read and I enjoyed it all. I have visited and love both York and London many times and was most interesting in your thoughts. I agree about the Tate Britain. I had been in the mid 1980s and enjoyed, but last visit in 2019 just didn't appeal. I'm not sure why. I will bookmark this especially for your restaurant ratings as I never preplan that and probably miss out on some gastronomic adventures. Tell your wife I'm so glad Aiden T did not disappoint. He makes me heart skip a beat, too.

Posted by
99 posts

You lost me at don’t over caffeinate :)

But seriously, great write up.