May 24 – June 7, 2016
Just over one year ago, our oldest son, Gary, and his family, moved to central England. Kim and I decided to go visit them and spend a few weeks touring England and Wales.
Prior to flying to England, we ordered two “Oyster Passes” which allowed us to ride the subway and buses without using cash or credit card. We also ordered two “London Passes”, which included entrance into several attractions. One advantage of pre-buying the pass is that you don’t have to worry about the cost when you are there. Otherwise, the cost of entry may discourage visiting some attractions.
On the evening of May 24 we took a direct flight from Salt Lake City to Heathrow airport, just outside of London. We arrived early afternoon on Wednesday and took the subway (or tube) into town and walked to the Tavistock Hotel. After checking into our room, we went for a walk to gain our bearings and find out how long it would take us to walk to the British Museum and the train station.
We had a complementary curry dinner at the hotel, which wasn’t all that good. Nor was the traditional English breakfast all that great. We had much better food at other places throughout our trip.
On Thursday we took the subway to the Tower of London, arriving just before they opened. Getting there early allowed us to see the crown jewels and walk around the place before joining the first Beefeater Tour of the morning. The Beefeater Tour was well worth the time since they shared many interesting historical facts and stories.
By the time we finished the tour, the place was starting to get rather crowded.
To get a rest from standing, we took a river boat tour up (or down?) the Thames to Greenwich. We visited the Cutty Sark sailing ship, the National Maritime Museum, and the Prime Meridian where we could straddle the 0º longitude therefore standing in the eastern and western hemispheres of the earth at the same time.
We bought a “proper” hamburger at Byron’s café. We noted a couple in the next booth eating their “proper” burger with a knife and fork. Well that certainly wasn’t the proper way to eat a burger.
We returned to London via the river tour and departed the boat near Big Ben.
We wanted to visit Westminster Abbey, but they were already closed for the day. So, we walked over to Buckingham Palace, and then worked our way to the Cambridge Theatre to see the play “Matilda”. I was a little disappointed in the play, but maybe it was because I was so tired.
On Friday we checked out of our hotel and checked our luggage at the Euston train station. This turned out to be far more expensive than their website led us to believe – we should have checked our bags at the hotel.
We then took a “Hop-On, Hop-Off” bus tour around London. This wasted a lot of time due to the heavy traffic and some road construction. But it was interesting to have a narration explaining different parts of the city.
The subway is a much faster way of getting around town. You need to be careful when walking – if the cars don’t get you, the bicycles will. I was very surprised at how many bicycles were in town and how fast they ride. Since they drive on the left side of the road, you need to be very cautious crossing the street.
We eventually gave up on the Hop-On, Hop-Off bus and walked back to Westminster Abbey. I was surprised at how much ‘stuff’ was inside the Abbey. There are lots of tombs, statues, and engravings on the floor.
Our last attraction in London was the British Museum. Museum lovers could spend days exploring the place – it is absolutely massive. We spent about 3 hours walking through. We didn’t take time to read many plagues, but we did manage to find the Rosetta Stone (we walked right by it 3 times before we found it).
We were surprised that they don’t have many toilets in the place, and not a single drinking fountain. In fact, we only found a few drinking fountains during our two week stay. And we learned that you need to carry change since many public toilets cost 20p or 30p.
We took a bus from the museum back to the train station because our legs were so tired.
We ate dinner and then hung out at the train station for a few hours. We previously bought two tickets to Nuneaton, which is the closest train station to Gary’s house in Burbage. We were able to get a much better price by going after peak hours. We were surprised how large the crowds were during peak time. It took us a while to figure out how the system worked. Periodically a group of people would rush off from the crowd, all heading in the same direction. We finally figured out that they were waiting until their train posted the platform number. Then everyone would rush to get a good seat on the train.
The train ride was pleasant, but it was quickly getting dark so we didn’t get to enjoy the English countryside as much as I had hoped. The trains were much nicer than the ones I rode 45 years ago when I served an LDS mission in southwest England and southern Wales.
Gary picked us up at the train station and drove us to his house in Burbage. Burbage is the largest village in England. Apparently, it is a village rather than a town because it lacks a town hall.
We visited with Gary and Sarah for a while, before going to bed. Our grandsons; Gary, Peter, and Daniel, where already in bed, so we got to see them the next morning.
After breakfast we went to a flea market and then to Foxton Locks. Foxton Locks is a series of canal locks that provide a significant change in elevation for the canal. We got to watch a few boats go through the locks, and Gary’s family even got to ride through a few locks.
We also played a smartphone app that Gary developed to help increase the number of visitors to the museum. You have to visit several spots around the locks and find clues to solve a mystery about a fictitious missing girl. The game was fairly challenging, so not many people have actually finished it – but we did!
On Sunday we attended church with Gary’s family. Monday was a bank holiday. In the morning we visited Bolsover Castle, where we got to watch some “knight club” activities. It was fun to watch the archery contest and the club fights.
The club fights were really entertaining. Each team consisted of about 10 or 12 players, all dressed in armor with shields and a plastic club. One team member had a magnetic dragon on top of his helmet. The objective was to be the first team to knock the dragon off the opposing team. The competition was rather aggressive.
After lunch we drove to Sherwood Forest and visited the Robin Hood exhibits.
Tuesday was a rest day. We spent most of the day at Gary’s house, other than going grocery shopping and having a traditional meat pie for dinner at a local pub. It rained most of the day, and this was our only day of rain during our entire two week stay. It was amazing how great the weather was. Some days were a little chilly, and others were rather warm, but we were lucky to not have more rain.
On Wednesday, June 1, we started our six-day road trip through Wales. I will report on that in a separate document. On the final day of the road trip, we stopped to visit Stonehenge. They no longer allow you to get near the stones, but it was still interesting to listen to the audio guide explain some of the history and theories about the large stones.
We had another traditional dinner at a pub near our hotel, and then we bid farewell to Gary and his family. They dropped us off at the hotel and returned home so Gary could get back to work early the next morning.
Kim and I took a bus from the hotel back to Heathrow airport, and returned home to Salt Lake City on another direct flight.
We were tired and glad to be home, but we thoroughly enjoyed our two-week vacation. It was great to see Gary’s family and tour Wales together.