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London 2005

Sunday, December 4th, 2005 · 2 Comments

If there’s any country that should be on every American’s list of countries to visit, it is England. It’s mind-boggling how much of the world’s history is in England (thanks to that funny little thing known as the British Empire) — from the Rosetta Stone to the Magna Carta to the oldest existing copies of the Bible (dating back to AD 100). All that history, combined with its accessibility (no language barrier for those of us not gifted with bi- or trilingualism) and ease of getting around (da Tube), make London, England a no-brainer for international travel.

England has long been on my list and I’m finally able to check it off. Also on my list of countries visited outside the U.S. include Italy, Canada, Mexico, Sweden, Denmark, The Netherlands, and Germany (only in passing), though the latter four only sort of count since I was too young to appreciate being there (I was 13 and in those countries for a month playing soccer with an organization called TeamsUSA).

Jen and I were joined by her parents for our action-packed weeklong trip, which focused primarily on London, along with a day-trip to Leeds Castle, Canterbury, and through Greenwich. We got to spend time with my cousin Sararose and aunt Suellen. And we even got to hang out Friday morning at GP and CM‘s London house with Rose and Apple (yes, that Apple)… It was an amazing trip; I’m still trying to process everything we did and all the history and sites we took in… read on for all my observations and fun facts about our trip (or skip right to the trip photos)!

The People
Consistently, the English people impressed me with their politeness. Wednesday night after we saw Chicago, I noticed a fellow theater-goer kneeling on the wet sidewalk next to a man sleeping in a sleeping bag. With her hand on him, she spoke with him softly. There was something incredibly compassionate about her body language, and unlike anything I’ve ever witnessed in other cities.

Another night, while heading to the Camden neighborhood of London via Tube for drinks with my cousin and aunt, I was approached by two teenage boys. “Can you spare 5p for my mate, please? He’s short for Tube fare.” Having lived in San Francisco, where one must always be on guard, I cautiously agreed and dug through my coat pocket for some change. I handed one of the boys a 20-pence coin and said, “There you go.” I was ready to go on my merry way, when the other boy said, “Here you go,” and actually handed me three 5-pence coins. It was the first time I can recall that someone asking me for money on the street actually gave me change.

The Accents
I’ve always been a sucker for the British accent. While viewing the Crown Jewels at the Tower of London on Wednesday, Jen and I were tickled silly when we heard a 10-year-old British schoolboy lean over to his friend and say (insert British accent here), “Charlie… bling-bling!”

The Diversity
London is a very international city. Almost as common as hearing English is hearing other languages — French, German, Italian, Spanish, Swedish. (We had a drink with a Swedish couple Monday night at the Pride of Paddington.)

The Pubs
Beer. Oh so good and so fresh. Much better than here in the States. Long-pull ales attached by long line to kegs in the basement are the hallmark of British pubs. These ales are cellar temperature and pretty bitter. I enjoyed them all. The glass is filled not by hitting the tap and letting the beer flow, but by pumping the tap until the glass is full. In one case, an ale I ordered at the Museum Tavern (Old Peculiar) had to sit and settle, much like a Guinness. Other ales I tried included Greene King IPA (my favorite, Guinness notwithstanding), Bombardier, Black Sheep. The ales are amber and dark amber in color. The draft Guinness was more fresh and smooth than here in the States (closer to the source). Imperial 20-ounce pints and half-pints are standard. A “proper drink for the ladies,” according to Rick Steves, is lager shandy. My mother-in-law drank mostly this sweet mix of lemon soda and lager.

Liquor bottles in pubs are mounted vertically upside-down with spouts at the bottom for easy pouring. Gordon’s gin seems to be the standard. I tried it one night in a G&T at the hotel bar and wasn’t too impressed. Video lottery machines are in every pub, as is smoking. All my clothes that I brought on the trip now reek of smoke. Select pubs — like the Jugged Hare and the Silver Cross — have small non-smoking areas in the back; they’re the least populated and least lively. We were fortunate enough one night at the Sussex Arms to hear a group of women break out in drunken song, a tradition at British pubs.

The menus at most pubs we hit were very similar — they had the same cover design in most cases. Fish ‘n chips, ciabatta bread with brie and pesto, lasagne, crisps, vinegar, baked pie with sweet potato and spinach filling. Overall, the food was much better than I had anticipated.

The Loos
Aside from being small and downstairs through a maze of doorways and hallways, most loos were incredibly clean. I was blown away by the 50p public toilets near Westminster Abbey and Big Ben. The company that maintains them (City Loo) won the “Loo of the Year Award” recently (see photos).

As with other international trips I’ve made, just being there is an experience beyond description. Rick Steves’ back-door travel philosophy sums it up best:

Globetrotting destroys ethnocentricity. It helps you understand and appreciate different cultures. Travel changes people. It broadens perspectives and teaches new ways to measure quality of life. Many travelers toss aside their hometown blinders. Their prized souvenirs are the strands of different cultures they decide to knit into their own character. The world is a cultural yarn shop. Back Door Travelers are weaving the ultimate tapestry.

Here’s how we spent our week:

Friday 11/25
drive to Kinderhook at 1pm
leave for Newark
5 hours at airport (Sam Adams Brewhouse)
peruse duty-free shop
7-hour red-eye flight to Heathrow via British Airways

Saturday 11/26
arrive London @ 830am local time
Hotelink to Royal Eagle (near Paddington Station)
drop off bags
breakfast @ Raffles (beans & toast English vegetarian breakfast)
looked @ the London Eye
Piccadilly Circus to Oxford Circus via Regents Street
drinks @ The Dickens (first tast of long-pull ales)
dinner @ Sawyer’s Arms

Sunday 11/27
Original Bus Tour tour from PIccadilly Circus
Thames cruise
drinks @ Sussex Arms (near Paddington)
dinner @ Garfunkel’s

Monday 11/28
bus trip:

  • Leeds Castle & clotted cream
  • labyrinth
  • White Cliffs of Dover
  • Canterbury, fish & chips
  • Canterbury Cathedral
  • Greenwich, Meridian line (marked by green laser in the sky)

Pride of Paddington & Swedes

Tuesday 11/29
Buckingham Palace / Victoria Monument
Changing of the Guards
Westminster Abbey (kings & queens, Elizabeth I, poets’ corner, The Unknown Soldier)
yummy lunch @ Pickles’
London Eye
Internet cafe @ Waterloo
British Library:

  • Magna Carte
  • Gutenberg Bible
  • Beatles
  • Mozart/Handel sheet music

shopping @ Oxford St.
drinks with Sararose & Suellen (Angel Tube stop)

Wednesday 11/30
bought Chicago tix @ Leicester Square
Tower of London:

  • Crown Jewels (bling*bling)
  • Henry VIII’s armor
  • weapons
  • White Tower
  • ravens
  • Bloody Tower
  • Guy Fawkes exhibit
  • Jane Gray

Trafalgar Square
National Gallery:

  • van Gough: Sunflowers
  • Seurat: The Bathers
  • Leonardo Da Vinci: Madonna of the Rocks & Mary & St. Anne w/Jesus and John the Baptist

dinner near Trafalgar Square: Silver Cross
Chicago @ the Adelphi on The Strand

Thursday 12/1
British Museum:

  • Rosetta Stone
  • mummies
  • Lindow Man
  • Egyptian art
  • Syrian art
  • wounded lioness
  • Sutten Hoo Treasure
  • Parthenon sculptures

Museum Pub for drinks (mmmmulled wine)
Vinapolis: wine tour.. 5 tastings, 2 premium, Absinthe (yup), Sapphire cocktail
walked across Millenium Bridge
Blackfriars tube to Notting Hill
The Swan for dinner
drinks @ hotel bar with Santos from Portugal

Friday 12/2
up @ 630am to visit Rose and Apple
240pm plane back to the States
arrived in Kinderhook @ 11pm local time
too tired to drive home to Saratoga


View all London 2005 photos

Tags: travel

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Joe // Dec 5, 2005 at 10:47 am

    Is the London Eye worth every pence or what? We were skeptical at first, but the view from up there (we went at dusk) was FAN-TASTIC! A highlight of our trip a couple years ago.

    The reason the menu designs are the same in a bunch of the pups, according to my British sources, is that about 10 years ago, big corporations started buying up all the pubs to standardize them into chains 🙁 Still, cool if you’re used to American bars, and quite different.

    Glad you had fun!

  • 2 Claudia // Dec 6, 2005 at 9:35 am

    You CANNOT just casually drop the initials “GP” and “CM” like that! Come on! Cough up the details!