We arrived at the Kings Crossing Station in London early on Friday evening, August 19th. Things were busy as we moved through the subway with our luggage to the London School of Economics where we were to stay for the next four days. We were hungry, but wanted to drop off our bags first. We found the Holborn Hall (located a couple blocks from the Holborn subway station) and checked in. Our room was large, with three beds and a bath and we shared a kitchen with four other rooms. Spartan, but clean and very convenient and at $120 a night, a real deal as hotels in this neighborhood would have cost three or four times this amount. The room also included a wonderful buffet breakfast!
We had noticed a grocery store across from the subway station, so we decided we’d head down and get pasta and food that Caroline can easily eat with her “no-diary” needs. However, once we got there, we found that they had closed at 8 PM and was going to be closed for a month as they remodeled. So we set out to find another store. After walking a few blocks, we saw a pair of police officers and approached them, figuring they could direct us. They couldn’t! They laughed and sheepishly admitted they weren’t even from London. As the city had been rocked in riots ten days earlier, they’d been brought into the city from another part of England. They admitted their main purpose was to walk around and “make a presence.” They told us where they thought they’d seen a small store and we headed in that direction. I felt like a king as Caroline insisted on holding my hand. We eventually found a small store and brought food. On the way back to our room, we stopped at a fast food place, ran by Middle Easterners and brought dinner as it was going to be too late to fix a meal. This was my first time to have fast-food lamb ribs, but they were good (Donna had chicken) and we all had fries.
The next morning, we took the subway to High Street Kensington Station where we met Todd, Donna’s cousin, and set off on a walking tour through London. Todd works for an American company out of their London’s office and knows the city well. We walked through Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park, stopped for photos at Buckingham Palace, then through St. James Park and by 10 Downing Street, headed up into the theater district where we had lunch and tried to wait out an afternoon shower. After lunch, we headed toward Big Ben and walked around the Parliament building and then on to Westminster Abbey and Westminster Cathedral. Instead of touring the Abbey, we toured the Cathedral (and I went up the tower) and then headed back to the Cathedral in time for the 5 PM Evensong Service. The service was beautiful and the sounds of the organ and the choir filled the sanctuary. Afterwards, Donna and Caroline decided they wanted to go with Todd to see the play “Wicked.” Not wanting to come up with another $150 for a ticket to see a play that I was only marginally interested in, I decided to skip the play and to explore the city on my own.
Instead of the theater, I continued walking, checking out again Parliament and then the Victorian Tower Gardens before crossing the Lambeth Bridge and heading up the Thames, passing by the London Eye, before crossing back over the river and back toward the London School of Economics. Knowing my evening was a chance to eat what I wanted, I headed to an Indian Restaurant I’d seen a few blocks from where we were straying. The “Punjab” advertises to be the oldest “North Indian” restaurant in the city. It opened in 1946 (India was then still a part of the British Empire). The place is run by Sikhs and the food was wonderful. Again, I had lamb (this time spicy), wonderful bread and vegetables along with a large bottle of Cobra Beer imported from Bangalore (which isn’t North India, I realized as I read on the bottle where it was brewed).
Sunday was a rather lazy day as Donna and Caroline had stayed out late with Todd. Late in the morning, we took a boat up the Thames River to Kew Gardens. Getting off the boat, we got to see a Cricket match as we walked over to the Gardens. We ate lunch in the Gardens and walked around the grounds, but mostly spent time within the buildings that had lilies (the super-sized lilies that had pie pan shaped leaves that were a meter across were neat) and tropical plants (especially orchids). We took the train back late in the afternoon and ate dinner before returning to our room. For some reason, I was in a down mood most of the day and never really got into the gardens even though they were beautiful.
|East Coast Line at York|
We all got up early on Monday morning. Donna and Caroline planned to go to Wimbledon and then meeting Todd for some evening shopping and dining. Having just taken the train from Southeast Asia to Europe, I had wanted to visit the Rail Museum in York and we’d decided this was the best day for me to accomplish this. After breakfast, I headed to the subway and back to King’s Crossing Station where I caught a northbound East Coast Line train. Two hours later, after riding through the rolling country of freshly cut grain, I arrived in York.
The National Rail Museum is free and supposedly the largest railroad museum in the world. It is very impressive, but I am not sure that it’s the largest railroad museum. The Sacramento seemed to be just as large, but it’s been a quarter of century since I’ve been there. The museum is located just to the west of the station, which makes it convenient to those who arrive by rail. I spent most of the morning and half of the afternoon in the museum, stopping for lunch in their café. Although the focus is on British rail, there is the engine of a Japanese Bullet Train on display as well as a large steamer from the Chinese (but it was built in Britain in the 30s). The museum houses a working replica of the Rocket, one of the oldest steam engines and the first to use tubes in the boiler to enable it to develop more steam. The royal family’s collection of elegant cars is also on exhibit at the museum. Probably the most sought after engine on display is the Flying Scotsman, a Pacific type locomotive that was built to run non-stop between London and Edinburgh. The engine came with an oversized tender to give it the water and fuel capacity to make the run without refueling or taking on water. This was also the first train to break the 100 miles per hour speed barrier and it gained even more fame as it was also the name of the first British “talking film.”
|The bottom of this wall was built by the Romans|
Tuesday was our last day in London. After breakfast and checking out of our room and storing our luggage, we headed across the Thames to the London Eye, a large Ferris Wheel on the Thames. It was raining, which meant we didn’t have the best views but we also didn’t have to wait long in line. The Ferris Wheel consists of a number of carriages in which 20 or so people are packed in. Each carriage rotates as the wheel slowly makes the revolution, so that you’re always level. It was interesting seeing the city in the rain, but I’m sure it would have been better in the sunlight or at night. After the Eye experience, we went to a nearby restaurant where I had the pleasure of eating the most overpriced food served with the least amount of service on my whole trip. For sixty some pounds, I had fish and chips (which was getting cold by the time the malt vinegar arrived), Donna had chicken strips and cheese sticks or something similar and Caroline had a plate of plain paste. Donna and I had hot tea to drink, which was served after we’d complained several times and had finished eating our food. I suppose it took them a long time to boil the water as the tea bags were placed in our drinks as they served them. At least the place was inside and out of the rain. I could only imagine what the service would have been like if it had been busy. Needless to say, I did something I seldom do and left no tip.
After lunch, we took a boat up the Thames to Greenwich Village. It was nice to sit inside and see the sights through windows dotted with drops of water. The boat included a narration and we saw where Shakespeare’s Globe Theater recreation and a number of pubs and bars frequented by famous people. We learned about the shipping and the various market areas within the city and other tidbits of history like where they mounted the heads of criminals after their execution. At Greenwich, we walked up the hill to the Royal Observatory. There, we got to straddle the 0 degree longitude line and see the various telescopes and other implements of measurement used not only to tell time but to map the world. The highlight of the Observatory was an actor who played a number of characters as he told the story of the Observatory and the role it played in developing a way to determine one’s position on the face of the earth, a necessary skill for a country of seafarers like England. I had hoped to see the “Cutty Shark” that’s moored at Greenwich. It’s the famous ship that gave its name to Lyndon Johnson’s preferred scotch and was also the last and one of the most famous clipper ships, but it was closed for renovations. The ship was being restored in 2007 and a fire at that time badly damaged the ship to where it requires even more extensive restoration. All the masts are down and we could only see a bit of the bow and stern over the solid construction fence surrounding the ship.
We took the boat back up the Thames, getting off near Shakespeare Globe Theater and crossing the Thames on a bridge and walking back to Holborn by St. Paul’s Cathedral (we never got inside of it). Retrieving our luggage, we headed to the subway and on to Kings Crossing Station where we had sandwiches for dinner as we waited on the train to Dover. We arrived in Dover at 9:00, PM, took a cab to our hotel. The next morning, everyone slept in but me as I walked around the town, picking up a few items in a grocery store for our journey. At 11 AM, we took a cab to the wharf where Holland America’s Eurodam was moored and boarded. The hotel lobby was packed and it seemed everyone was heading for the ship.
The port of Dover is a busy shipping terminal (especially for passenger ships as ferries constantly leave for France (which we could see from the top deck of the Eurodam) and other points in Europe. The white cliffs of Dover make a nice backdrop of the port. Late in the afternoon of August 24, after a lifeboat drill, we set sail for Amsterdam. The Eurodam would be our home for the next seventeen days.
|The White Cliffs of Dover and the lighthouse at the jetty|