"To strive, to seek, to find and not to yield"
- Alfred Lord Tennyson, 1833
"live deep and suck out all the marrow of life"
- Henry David Thoreau, 1845
"Some guys, they just give up living
And start dying little by little, piece by piece
Some guys come home from work and wash up,
And go racin' in the streets."
- Bruce Springsteen, 1977
"...to the heart, there's no time for you to waste.
You won't find your precious answers now
by staying in one place."
- Frank Turner, 2009
All written content and photos by Rob Fulfer unless otherwise indicated.
All written content and photos by Rob Fulfer unless otherwise indicated.
Monday, January 3, 2011
LonLisBar Trip (Days 1 & 2) - 46 Hours in England
Monday, December 26, 2010
We landed this morning in London to cold but clear weather. We grabbed a cab to downtown hoping we could get an early check-in at our hotel, Swissotel's The Howard, which overlooks the Thames River. Our first snag in the trip came when our cab arrived at the hotel and we were told the fare...yikes!!...we had heard that London was expensive, but we didn't know it meant cab rides as well. It also didn't help the fact that the U.S. dollar is taking a pounding (pun intended) vs. the British pound and the Euro. We reluctantly paid the highest cab fare we have ever paid anywhere for an airport transfer and wondered if we had just got "snookered." Granted it is a long ride from Heathrow to mid-town, about a half-hour, but "Bloody Hell!" The staff at The Howard were accommodating and allowed us early access to our room. We had pre-booked our room and for a slight upgrade charge we were promised a river view and a recently renovated room. Hey, why not, we were already in the hole with our cab ride. We did not get "snookered" on the room upgrade at least. It had a great view (photo above) of the river, the London Eye Ferris wheel on the far bank, plus the famous Big Ben clock tower, Westminster Abbey and their grand parliament building.
We had a 2 PM car tour scheduled, so that gave us enough time to freshen up in the room and go for a quick bite to eat for lunch. The first few pubs we had mapped out to visit nearby were closed for the holiday week and this didn't bode well. We found a sandwich shoppe for lunch and with a little further investigation found an open pub, The Lyceum Tavern (photo above), in the theatre district where we had our first beer of the trip. Delicious, refreshing and dirt cheap! Pints of good ale in England we discovered to our delight are extremely affordable. Much more so than a pint of Guinness in Ireland that we visited last year where you had to take out a small loan to purchase one. (See more on the beer from our trip in Rob's beer blog.) These cheap beer prices definitely helped ease the sting of the still incredulous taxi ride cost from the airport. Despite the cold weather and some places being closed, there were tons of people out and about. Next door to our hotel at The Somerset House they had a seasonal ice rink set up which was very popular (photo above).
We met our tour-guide and driver back at the hotel and climbed in his aging black cab (argghh - airport transfer flashback! good thing this tour was prepaid). The tour guide's name escapes us now. He was a pleasant fellow and a bit of a fast talker, but, obviously, he didn't leave that great of an impression on us like some of our great guides of the past (we still love you, Nigel, in Australia!!). He drove us first along the riverfront explaining some history of London and the importance of the Thames River to the city's development. Our first stop was upstream a few miles at the famous Tower of London castleworks and the nearby Tower Bridge (photo above - often mistaken for the London Bridge which is actually a ho-hum flat structure...and not the one in Arizona). Unfortunately, there were no famous Beefeater Guards on duty outside of the Tower of London while were there, but the weather was warming a bit and the rain was staying away, so we couldn't ask for much more. Surrounding the 9th-century-built Tower of London are glistening glass and steel skyscrapers like The Gherkin (photo above) named for its obvious pickle shape (according to our tour guide their are other names for its resemblance which aren't so nice) plus the half-built Pinnacle Building across the river which when completed will be the tallest building in London and second tallest in Europe. This shows the real contrast of the past, present and future intermingled in this interesting, bustling city.We moved on from there and did a drive-by of the lovely and famous St. Paul's Cathedral. We also got a closer view of the Big Ben Clock Tower (Big Ben is the bell inside and not the clock we learned and was made by the same forge that crafted The Liberty Bell) and Westminster Abbey as well as the The London Eye across the river which we would be taking a ride on later in the evening. We moved on to the easily recognizable Buckingham Palace (photo below) where we were able to take a quick stroll around the outer gates. The Queen was not here when we visited and was spending Christmas at another of her seven or so homes around England. Our driver took us to another couple of off-the-beaten-path locales of interest including the house where Lady Diana lived before coming Princess. Our two-hour tour had flown by and before we knew it we were back at the hotel. We had plenty of time to grab something to eat for dinner before our 7:30 PM visit to the London Eye Ferris wheel. We walked across the Thames on the beautiful Golden Jubilee Pedestrian Bridge to the London Eye located in Jubilee Gardens Park and grabbed some dinner before our "flight". We had prepaid to skip the entrance line and have a semi-private capsule for the 3o-minute ride that included a glass of champagne. The London Eye is enormous and each capsule can easily hold 30+ people. Our tour included 5 or 6 other couples so there was plenty of room to move around and get views from all sides of the glass enclosure. The views from high up were breathtaking. London sparkled in the cold, clear winter air. These kind of moments make it all worth while. Afterwards we strolled back across the river and found another pub to warm our bones inside. We found more great beer that you can only get here and settled in for a couple of hours taking in the whole scene inside the busy bar and outside on the streets of London as red doubledecker buses trundled by. Surprisingly, the pubs in London close around 11 PM which was probably good for us since we had an early wake-up the next morning for a long day trip out of the city and into the English countryside. Tuesday, December 28, 2010
We got up early to meet a bus tour that would take us to Windsor Castle, Stonehenge, the quaint hamlet of Lacock and the medieval city of Bath. Our guide was Derrick. See, if you are a great guide, you get remembered and Derrick was just that. With the look of an aging Austin Powers and a smooth, legitimate British accent that was much easier to understand than our car tour guy the day before, Derrick provided a great narration to the places we were going and the places were passing on the way. We had arranged for a "small group" tour because we have been burned before on large tour-bus tours with tons of elderly people taking forever to get on and off the bus at each stop, or gaggles of children making the constant noise and mayhem that kids are required to do. We had about 30 people on this tour and we were in a large bus, so we are not sure you could call this a "small group" but overall it was a good group and we had plenty of room to spread out and relax on the bus during the ride to and from.
Our first stop was Windsor Castle (photo above), another home of the Queen and, no, she wasn't here either when we visited. We were one of the first to arrive when the gates opened for the day and we had an interesting and unencumbered audio tour through this vast complex. We have seen our share of castles and such in our travels, but this one surprised us as to how interesting it was. The rain held off for the most part during our outside trekking around the structure and a hanging fog gave the whole place a very "England of old" feel to it. Walking over and around the crypts of English monarchy from the past centuries in St. George's Chapel on the grounds of Windsor gave you a real feel of the history of this place and this country. We did a bit of shopping as well and found prices to be reasonable in the gift shops.
It was on to the famous Stonehenge from there. The fog remained close to the ground as noon approached and it rained off and on during our visit here, but the weather only seemed to add to the mystery of this place. Temple? Sacrificial Altar? Calendar? What purpose was this built for? No one really knows for sure which is what probably draws people to this simple place in such large numbers. Constructed at what is estimated to be around 2500 B.C. on a vast empty plain, the place is visually striking. When you learn these huge 4-ton stones may have been brought from over 150 miles away and erected without modern machinery, you come to realize what a special place this really is no matter what its true intent may have been. Only when we got home and started to view our pictures did the mystery of Stonehenge deepen even more to us. Pictured above is a photo we took at Stonehenge. The only altering done was contrast and color and that's when the rings appeared above it. As we said, this was a cloudy overcast day with intermittent rain. One theory for the choice of location of Stonehenge is that it lies on an electromagnetic crossroads. Could these rings be that energy visualized? If so, how did these ancient people know this? It definitely makes you wonder...
We moved on to the quaint little village of Lacock (photo below) next where we had lunch at The George Inn, a charming little pub in the center of town. Lacock hasn't changed much since it's founding in the 11th Century and for this reason it has been the locale for many period films most notably the recent Harry Potter movies. Lunch was great and most notably we sat with another couple from Nevada during our meal and learned that they too had paid the horrendous cab fare from the airport to London's city center. Perhaps we hadn't been "snookered" and that made us feel a bit better about the whole thing despite it still being basically highway robbery. We concluded our stops in Bath, a medieval city founded on the popularity of its geothermal pools (or baths, get it). We were given enough time to tour the Roman baths if we wanted, but we opted to explore the quaint city and its shops instead. The town was adorned in Christmas lights (photo below) which we were happy to see because the city of London, at least what we saw of it, wasn't as decorated as we expected for the holiday season. We were 100 miles from London now, so it was a long rainy, sometimes foggy, drive back in the dark English countryside. We commandeered the back seats of the bus and stretched out for the ride in fairly good comfort. We arrived back in London around 8 PM and we were let out at the Gloucester Road area where we found a nice pub called The Stanhope Arms where we had dinner and a few more cheap, delicious ales. We rode the Underground back to our hotel. We found London's subway easy to use and we thought we had a way to get back to the airport in the morning without having to take an expensive taxi. Unfortunately, we learned the next morning that the Underground didn't start until 5:30 AM and our flight was at 7:30 AM. Not enough time. Ring up a taxi, govna!! At least we were prepared this time for the cost which was a bit less thanks to not much traffic, but not by much. OK, ok, we have been griping about this cost during this entire blog entry, so how much was it you ask? It's embarrassing that we didn't know as seasoned travelers, but something definitely worth sharing. Drum roll please.......it was 80 pounds one way for two people....with today's conversion rates that's around $125, folks, for a cab ride from the city center to the airport it serves. We kid you not. You have now been warned! It's definitely a new record for us and one we hope we don't ever break. Despite the oft-mentioned cab rides to and from the airport, we really enjoyed our brief stay in London and would definitely like to come back (when it's warmer and we have more time to use the Underground to and from the airport!!). It's on to Lisbon, Portugal, tomorrow.