London 2016: Day 8

Portobello Road Market
Portobello Road Market

The final day in London.  On the agenda for today were the Portobello Road Market and the Feast of St. George.  I had my last hotel breakfast (I’m not a fan of British style scrambled eggs – too mushy for me) and checked out around 10AM.  Repacking my suitcase took less time than I was expecting.  And I managed to find the piece of fudge I bought in Cambridge!  I left my luggage at the hotel and set out for Notting Hill to explore the market.  I had plenty of company as I crept my way up Portobello Road.  The market is roughly divided into sections covering antiques, new goods, food, etc.  Plus, there are shops lining both sides of the road to stop into.  My only purchase was a custard-filled donut from the same woman I bought one from last time I was there.  One thing I will say about British sweets: none of them are overly sweet.  The donut was good, but left me wishing I had stopped for a scone instead.  Once I got to the end of the market, I wove my way back down Kensington Park Road to the tube.  Along the way, I peeked into several of the neighborhood gardens, almost all of which require a resident key to enter.  They were every bit as beautiful as the one Hugh Grant and Julia Robert’s climbed into in “Notting Hill”.

Next it was off to Trafalgar Square for the Feast of St. George.  It was basically a mob scene of food vendors, wandering performers, carnival, and performance stages.  Crazy!  I managed to find another fudge booth (Laura’s Fudge) and how could I resist?  Homemade clotted cream, dairy cream, and toffee fudge managed to find their way into my suitcase.  And an English Toffee and Butterscotch ice cream cone managed to find its way into my stomach.

Mind the Gap!
Mind the Gap!

From Trafalgar Square I decided to walk back to the hotel to pick up my luggage before heading off to Heathrow.  I arrived to find that the original aircraft had been swapped out for a smaller one and I was one of the unlucky ones (one of 40) who got bumped.  I tried unsuccessfully the find out what the criteria was for bumping since I had checked in exactly 24 hours in advance, but nobody seemed to either know or want to share the rationale.  Anyway, it took about a half hour to sort everything out before I was on my way with a seat for the next flight (about 90 minutes later) and a prepaid debit card for £237 for the inconvenience.  Not too bad!  Since I’ll be traveling to Scotland at the end of June I didn’t bother withdrawing the cash and converting it to US dollars; I’ll just use it then.  Of course, the later flight left me with some time to grab one last cider (Magner’s; not my first choice since I can get that at home, but I managed to drink it).  Then it was time to head home.  I wasn’t ready to go home in a homesick kind of way, but more in the “ready to be done with the city” kind of way.  And although I slept well in the hotel bed, it’s always nice to sleep in my own bed!  It will be a temporary goodbye to the UK this time as I’ll be back through Heathrow in less than 10 weeks for the next adventure…

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London 2016: Day 1

If you know me at all, you know I am not a city person.  I hate the crowds, the noise, the fast pace… pretty much everything about a city.  So it may come as a surprise that I picked London as my vacation destination.  Especially since I was just here last year for a couple of days and spent a week here three years ago.  I know it’s a bit of a contradiction, but as much as I hate cities in general, I love London.  I think it’s the combination of history (I’m not a history person either, so another contradiction…), music, and culture that continues to draw me back.  The British scones certainly have a bit of pull as well!

St. Paul's Cathedral
St. Paul’s Cathedral

I first visited London on a school tour in high school.  Of course we rushed through the tourist sites then, and I did a good bit of that when I was here three years ago.  Last year, London was a place to recover from jetlag before renting a car to explore the Cotswolds.  I had no specific plans to visit London this year, and hadn’t even considered it until I found a “cheap” flight last September.  I’m not an impulsive person by any means, but I found the flight on a Saturday and bought the ticket on Sunday.  Suddenly, London was exactly where I wanted to go.

I’m not entirely sure what possessed me to book the 10:30 PM flight out of Boston (as opposed to one of the earlier flights), but 10:30 PM turned into 12:45 AM by the time we finally left Boston.  By that time, I didn’t care that I was headed to London.  It was 4 hours past my normal bedtime, and I was exhausted.  All I wanted was sleep.  I don’t normally sleep on planes, but I managed to get about 4 hours in during the flight.  When I woke up and looked out the window over Ireland, I was reminded of how much I love to travel and explore.  The excitement returned.

One of my favorite parts of arriving at Heathrow is the large “UK Border” signs above the immigration desks.  For some reason, stepping under that sign makes it really feel like passing into another country.  After I got through the long walk from the gate and the long lines to get through immigration (they have a million desks, but for some reason they only ever have a few manned at any given time), I made my way to the Underground booth to top up my Oyster Card (London’s version of a Charlie Card) and add a 7-day travelcard so I can get around the city easily.  From Heathrow, it is about a 45 minute trip to the center of London.

John Islip Street

My hotel is about a 10 minute walk from the nearest tube station, but as I discovered staying there last year, the walk is very pleasant.  John Islip Street is primarily residential from the tube to the hotel, passing brick townhomes and the pretty Millbank Gardens on the way.  I didn’t like the first room I was given, so I was able to move to a second room with a much better view.  Once I was settled it was almost 4PM.  My intended first stop was Borough Market, so I walked the few blocks to the Westminster tube station and hopped on a train to London Bridge.  Borough Market is a cross between Quincy Market and a traditional farmer’s market.  It is located under the London Bridge, and is spread out over several blocks.  Since it was late and I was tired, I did a quick browse and then kept walking.  My plans to eat my way through the market were trumped by exhaustion.  

I walked to the Millennium Bridge on the South Bank and then crossed over the bridge and walked up to St. Paul’s Cathedral.  It had been a bit cloudy when I first arrived, but the sun was starting to peek out and made for some nice pictures of the cathedral.  From there, I walked to Postman’s Park, which is a quaint little park with a wall of plaques dedicated to those who gave their lives as a sacrifice for others.  One particularly moving plaque is dedicated to a 10 year old boy who drowned while attempting to save his brother after having just been rescued himself.  

Millbank Gardens
Millbank Gardens

By the time I left Postman’s Park, I was beyond exhausted, so I made my way to the nearest underground station and took the train back to Pimlico.  Fortunately, I booked an Executive room this week, which comes with complimentary drinks, snacks, breakfast, and evening hors d’oeuvres each night.  Those snacks and treats made for a good dinner before calling it a night.  Tomorrow is filled with a trip to the flower market and at least one walking tour.  

England 2015 – Day 7: Homeward Bound

This morning, I was torn between wanting to lie in bed a while longer and wanting to go out to take some early morning pictures on my last day of vacation.  Knowing I could catch up on sleep when I got home, I was out the door a little after 6 AM.  If you’re not an early morning riser, become one!  Even if it’s only once in a while.  One of the things I love to do at home when it’s above freezing is get up early on a weekend morning and head to the beach for sunrise.  There’s something entirely different about being out before most of the world wakes up.  This morning I had the same feeling I get on those mornings at the beach.  My first stop today was Ebrington.  I wandered around the village for a few minutes taking pictures and then headed off to the field with the sheep near the church in Chipping Campden.  I planned to just stop for a few pictures, but ended up leaving my car and going for another walk on one of the walking paths.  This one crossed the sheep pasture and met up with the second part of the path I was on yesterday behind the church fields.  There was dew on the grass and a low fog over some of the field, and it was just a perfect morning to be out enjoying it.  I passed only two other walkers on my way.

Morning walk through the fields of Chipping Campden
Morning walk through the fields of Chipping Campden

After my walk, I headed back to the hotel to get ready for the day, eat breakfast, and pack.  Once I had my things in the car, I set off for one last walk around Chipping Campden and then headed to the airport.  Since my route took me through Moreton-in-Marsh again, how could I resist stopping at the little candy shop I visited on my first day?  The owner recognized me and even threw in some extra chocolate for my trip home!  Then it was back on the motorway to Heathrow for my flight back to Boston.  Fortunately, the damage to the rental car was easily dealt with and the guys checking in my car got quite a laugh over what they decided was probably an owl lodged in the front of the car.  I had to pay for the damages, but will (hopefully!) be reimbursed by my credit card rental insurance.

Chipping Campden
Chipping Campden

This was probably one of the best vacations I have taken.  I didn’t do a lot of planning ahead of time, and just decided to figure out each morning what I would do that day.  The people were very friendly and driving on the opposite side of the road definitely put me out of my comfort zone, at least at first.  And the experience of visiting the Cotswolds was exactly what I had hoped it would be.  I have a hard time comparing my vacations because how can you compare something like the Grand Canyon or the Grand Tetons to the villages in the English countryside?  They are so completely different that I can’t rank any one as better than the others, just all great travel experiences.  I will post more this weekend about some of the highlights that I haven’t mentioned, but my bed is calling to me tonight!