Thursday, May 21, 2009

Day 6: the queens house and a walk

Well as you probably know, Chris and I have made it home safely and have caught up a bit on our rest.   However, we still have some updating to do!  Lets go back to Tuesday and let me tell you about the final day of our trip. 

The last day of our vacation was planned around a train ride to Windsor and Windsor Castle, the official residence of Queen Elizabeth.  She isn’t currently “in residence” so we were able to take a tour of the State Apartments while we were there.   The first thing that strikes you when you see the castle is the enormous size of it because it just seems to stretch on for miles!


We arrived just as the ticket center opened so we were lucky and missed most of the crowds.  We had read that there could be some fierce lines so we made a beeline straight to the State Apartments for the main tour. 

One great thing about the tour was that it included another special exhibit of artwork related to Henry VIII.  We really enjoyed browsing through the drawings and artwork and then we made our way into the main tour through the Queen’s apartments.  No photography here but I can describe them simply by telling you they looked exactly as you would expect a queen’s house to look…opulent and beautiful. 




We have a lot of these self taken pictures and started to refer to them as the “Ingram Special”.







Once we had made it through the interior castle tour, we raced outside just in time to catch the changing of the guard.  That’s where the video of the band playing 2 posts ago came from.  It’s a neat  ceremony and the band was pretty good.  The rain had stopped just as the ceremony had started.




Some of the grounds and landscaping at Windsor Castle look just like something out of a fairy tale. If you look closely in this picture you’ll see a little waterfall. I can only imagine what this garden will look like when all of the flowers are in bloom.  I tried to take notes so I could try to emulate some of the landscaping at home.








This is an interior courtyard.









We finished up our day at Windsor Castle with a visit to the Royal Chapel which is inside the castle grounds. It’s exquisite on the inside and seemed the perfect ending to our week in England because one of the last things we saw here in the chapel was the burial place of Henry VIII and Jane Seymour….a fitting ending of a week dedicated to Henry VIII exhibits.



Our parting view of the castle. After we left we picked up some lunch and headed out to catch a train back into London and decided how to finish our day.  Chris really wanted to do a little more beachcombing so we did a little more pipe hunting and then walked back towards St. Paul’s Cathedral.



Sadly St. Paul’s had already closed for the day and this was really the only thing I think we would have liked to have fit in.  We sure saw a lot but this would have been great to tour.  We got some nice pictures of the exterior though.   We also took a quick peek at the Museum of London but didn’t stay long.  By this time we were a bit tired and knew we had to pack for the trip home, so we decided to take one more walk through the city and call it a day. 

We started our walk on the Strand at Trafalgar square and walked all the way through the city to our hotel. It took a couple hours but was worth it to catch a few more sites, including the motorcade of the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown.


We also took a picture of the Royal Courts of Justice which were really pretty and a lot fancier than the not very royal courts of Jacksonville.  Once we arrived back at our hotel we popped into M&S where we picked up a little carrot cake for my birthday and then set about packing for the trip home.  It was a great birthday and an even greater vacation.   

This is not quite the end of the story.  I’ll finish my story of the nearly arrested tour guide and wrap up our vacation story with a few funny pictures tomorrow night.  Stay tuned….

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


A new post tomorrow..I promise. Tonight we are jetlagged and travel weary. I sense a short trip to dreamland coming. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Day 5 (posted on day 6): Tower of london

If you’ve been following along, you’ll know that today’s post will actually be about what we did yesterday, which happened to be a visit to the Tower of London, beachcombing for treasure, and checking out Harrods.

We started out the day at the Tower of London, which is basically a big castle/fortress in east London that still houses the Crown Jewels, some of the Royal Armaments, and is famous for the beheadings of many people including one Anne Boleyn.


The Tower of London is that castle in the middle of the picture but as small as it looks here, it’s actually huge. It contains 20 towers, a moat, tower wall and a castle in the middle. The men who take care of the castle are the Yoeman Warders, also known as Beefeaters, and they still live right on the grounds of the tower. Continuing on the Henry VIII vein of history, we got to see where Thomas More and John Fisher were held before they were beheaded. We saw where Lady Jane Grey and her husband Guilford Dudley were kept before their beheading, and we saw lots of 500 year old graffiti written on the walls. We walked up to Tower hill where all the chops happened. We also toured the Royal Chapel and saw where Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard were buried under the altar. The best part of our day at the tower was touring the Henry VII exhibit that included a bunch of King Henry’s actual armor and weaponry. Mind you this armor is 500 years old and just beautiful with all the detail and engraving. Chris had such a good time seeing the full body armor on display. Again, no photographs allowed but a fantastic exhibit. Also really awesome was seeing the actual crown jewels. We’re talking the actual crowns of the kings and queens! We got to see the coronation crown and the official state crown. We saw the sceptor and orb, and a 500 carat diamond. Talk about bling bling. After the Tower of London, we took some pictures of the Tower Bridge.


See that bridge behind us. That is the Tower Bridge and was built sometime in the 1800’s. It is NOT London Bridge as you will find when you google. Trust me on this.










I know this looks like an odd picture to put here, but let me explain. Chris had been reading a bit about how people collect these old clay pipes that men smoked in the 1600’s and 1700’s. They would smoke the pipe, then toss it right into the Thames. So imagine over a couple hundred years how many pipes there must be. Now people comb the beach for these pipes and collect them. So, yesterday afternoon at low tide we made our way down onto the beach of the River Thames and these are some of what we found. The long skinny things are pipe stems. Once you see one on the beach you see them everywhere. What’s really difficult to find is the intact “bowl” of the pipe. You see there’s one fully intact 3rd down on the left side, and also on the top right. Depending on the size, shape and markings on the bowl, you can actually date when these pipes were made. They even have a few on display at the London museum. Also littered along the beach with the stones, sand, pipe stems, are lots of broken dishes that can date back quite far, and lots of bones from animals that were cooked way back in the 1600’s or 1700’s. We steered clear of the bones but we did also pick up some pieces of old dishes. If you are interested in the clay pipes at all, just google “mudlarking”.


We finished up the day at Harrods just to see what all the hype was about. We pretty much walked through one entrance, through the store and out the other entrance. It’s basically just a super expensive designer department store which doesn’t interest either one of us. The building sure is pretty though. We were really struggling yesterday with our sore feet and legs so we called it a night early and were back to the room by about 9pm. Chris sucks it up better than me but there’s no doubt he was hobbling a bit from time to time. I think both of us will be happy to be off our feet for the flight home tomorrow. We walked for about 12 hours a day for the last 6 days….our feet need a rest.

And on that note, so do I! We have to be up at 4am to be out and on the way to Heathrow by 5am so I’d better get a little rest. I have at least 2 more posts coming so don’t go away just because we’re heading home. I’ll be back here again tomorrow night.

I'll leave you with this preview of tomorrow. Stick around until the end and you might get a surprise. Night!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Day 4 a day late: Hampton court and more

I think once you read this post you’ll be able to see why last night there was no post.  After all of the walking we did yesterday I fell right to sleep when we got back to our room and our legs were still recovering today.   Also, this post is going to be picture heavy…just a warning.

We started the day by grabbing breakfast at Waterloo train station and then taking the 3o minute train ride out to Hampton Court.

hampton1 Hampton Court was originally the home of Cardinal Wolsey, who then gave the palace to his king, Henry VIII.  It ended up also being the home of Queen Elizabeth I, Henry’s daughter by Anne Boleyn.  Chris and I have been really fascinated with Henry VIII over the last few months so we really got into the history of this place.  It also happens to be the 500th anniversary since he was crowned so we’ve been to 3 of 4 huge exhibits London is showing. We’ll be seeing the 4th tomorrow.  Anyway, this is the view of the palace from the front as you come up the driveway. Another thing really interesting is how different the palace looks from each side. It had been remodeled many times depending upon what king or queen was in residence at the time.


This is just another view of the front of the house with some of the statues that greet you as you walk to the door.








This is a view from the side looking towards the house from one of the many gardens. This garden was put in by Henry VIII and was his privy garden. It was SO pretty. 






The is from another side of the house.  You see how different each side looks?  We toured the inside of the house from top to bottom and got to see the King’s apartments, his privy kitchens, the Queen’s apartments, Wolsey’s rooms, and the Georgian rooms.  All of it was really cool and interesting and we spent the entire day there from opening to just about closing time.  I think we took 200 pictures of the place.  They also had this great exhibit of portraits of all of the women in Henry’s life from his wives to his children.  These are the original portraits we’re talking about..from the early 1500’s! It was really fantastic.


Also fantastic were all of the different gardens.  I think I can think of 5 off the top of my head that we walked through. Plus there’s an English maze in one part of the garden.  Chris and I raced to the center and he won..clever guy. We took the opportunity to get some really nice pictures.




3 cheers for nice strangers who see us struggling to take a picture of ourselves.

Ok, ok..enough about Hampton Court. Trust me…you’ll see more pictures of this place when we get back.  We have lots and lots of interior pictures.

So we caught the 4:30 train back to London and decided we still had some wind in our sails so we decided to do the “Westminster walk” that Rick Steves suggests in our guidebook.  To do that we had to get off at the Westminster Tube station that happened to be right in front of the London Eye.  So…..


…..we decided to hop on and take a ride. 


I was really worried that I would get anxious or sick up in this thing but it moves so slow you can barely tell you’re moving. 25 people can fit in one pod and it doesn’t swing or’s very stable. So, I ended up having a great time and the views were spectacular.  We met a really nice lady from Vancouver who we traded pictures with….you know, if you’ll take a picture of us we’ll take a picture of you kind of trade.  The only down side was that once again, the London weather was very sporadic. It was sunny going up and raining coming down so the pictures of one side of the city are good, the other side of the city were a little more difficult to get through the raindrops on the windows. 


This was one of our trade pictures.  We were on the way up at this point. 








And this picture was on the way down.  You can see the rain there coming in behind Parliament and Ben.  If you click on the pictures, they get bigger by the way.  If you look close, this is a picture of Parliament and Big Ben.  The bridge is Westminster Bridge and just behind Big Ben up and to the right a little you might recognize Westminster Abbey.



I know we had some Big Ben pictures a few days ago but here’s yet another one from the other side.  Here we have just walked across Westminster Bridge from the other side of the Thames.

So at about this time it’s probably getting close to 7:00pm and we decided to do the Westminster Walk which would take us up to Trafalgar Square.  On the way we passed a few cool sites such as the remains of Whitehall castle and 10 Downing Street which is where the Prime Minister lives.  I have to quickly tell you a story about that walk.  I really embarrassed Chris because in all honestly, we carry our Rick Steves Guide to London everywhere we go, and Chris often hides it behind something so we aren’t SO obviously tourists, though we probably are pretty obvious. I don’t think we’d be mistaken for Brits by anyone. Anyway, we had just gotten to 10 Downing Street when I hear a lady say, in an American accent, “well it looks like we’re about halfway through our walk.”  It struck me as funny because Chris and I were too at that point, so I look down and sure enough, this lady’s husband is also trying to hide the exact same guide book as we are carrying.  So I say to the lady, “Hey, you have the same guide book that we do!”  She kind of laughs and then we introduced ourselves, her family was from Texas.  We talked about how we had all been freezing, being from warm climates, and then they went on their way.  I think Chris was a bit mortified.

So anyway (we’re almost done..I promise), we kept walking and finally ended up in Trafalgar square. 


At this point we were starving so we had fish and chips in the nearest restaurant and then went into the square where Chris got this great shot of the fountains.  It’s so pretty there with tons of people hanging out.  We had some fun souvenir shopping in one of the many super cheesy shops. One of them was called “Fancy that from London”.  I love that name!

From here we continued walking up past the West End theater district and into Piccadilly Circus. 


Piccadilly really is like a circus with all the lights, all the people and all the fast moving cars.  It was about 9:30 or 10:00 by the time we got there and this was a Sunday night!  We were finally tired and went back to our room to rest for our tour of the Tower of London the next day (which was today).  So you see, we weren’t being lazy, we were exhausted!

I think even though this isn’t 2 posts it’s long enough to be 2 posts.  It’s after midnight now and I need to get to sleep.  Tomorrow is Windsor Castle and our train leaves early.  Night!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

day 3: bath and beyond

Today’s activities included an early train ride to the town of Bath where we visited the ancient Roman baths.  We then took a bus tour to the town of Lacock and to Stonehenge.  Lacock is a beautiful little village that’s over 1000 years old. It also happens to be where they filmed some of the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice and contains the abbey where they shoot the interior Hogwarts scenes from Harry Potter.  Bath is another gorgeous city, home to Jane Austin for a few years, and famous for its roman baths and Georgian style architecture.  It’s also reputedly one of the most beautiful towns in England.  Now to some pictures:


The Roman Baths


















Walking through the town of Bath.










The two pictures above and the one below are of Bath Abbey.  Chris took some amazing pictures in here.


Chris took this one and I really like it.









The quaint little village of Lacock.



























The Royal Crescent, Bath.   I know this had more pictures, less stories.  I’ll tell you more about the places tomorrow including the story of how our Stonehenge/Lacock tour guide nearly got himself arrested.

Friday, May 15, 2009

day 2: the walkathon

As the title suggests, today we walked our booties off.  We had lots of places we wanted to fit in today and managed to get most of them.

Our morning started off with a quick breakfast from the nearby M&S.   This is a bit like a grocery story but with it’s own little bakery/cafe, and most of the food is pre-prepared.  There are lots of sandwiches, and I have to say this goes for the London in general. This has got to be the sandwich capital of the world and has been our main source of nutrition since we arrived.  For breakfast we each had a “bacon roll” which was basically a toasted roll ham sandwich.  The lady at the counter offered “brown sauce” to go with it but it sounded a little ominous so I passed.  Our first stop of the day was to be Westminster Abbey. When we came out of the tube station the first thing we saw was Big Ben and Parliament.


This is a picture of Big Ben and in the distance you can see the London Eye.  I don’t really think we expected it to be there so we didn’t really investigate a better photo-op because we had a timeline we were trying to maintain.  We plan on heading back to this area in the next few days. 

I think we committed one faux pas when we were walking through this area.  We had to cross a park to get to where we thought Westminster Abbey was so we stuck to the sidewalk and walked around the grassy area in the middle. We saw a bunch of people on the corner ahead and it wasn’t until we got there that we realized we had stepped right into the middle of a demonstration protesting violence in Sri Lanka.  At that point we looked around and also realized that the entire park was cordoned off and was surrounded by tons of police.  We walked through and away from the demonstration as quickly as we could but I definitely don’t think we were supposed to have been there.

Anyway, on the other side of the park was Westminster Abbey and it is stunning.  It reminded me a lot of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris because they are both designed in the same French Gothic style.   We went in and right away signed up for a “verger” tour we had ready about in our trusty


Rick Steves London guide.   The verger tour is guided and takes you to some places the public doesn’t get to see.  You absolutely can’t take any pictures in the abbey and I definitely wasn’t going to try because I saw our verger lay the smackdown on some lady who was trying to sneak a few and it wasn’t pretty.

The inside is of course amazing and I hadn’t realized, there are over 3000 people interred and buried right there either in tombs you can visit or under the floor where you walk. There are memorial stones everywhere.  Among others, we got to see the actual tombs and effigies of Queen Elizabeth I, Queen Mary, King Henry VII, and Edward I. (Incidently, if you saw Braveheart, Edward I was the mean king in the movie) There were so many cool tombs and then we got to see the memorials or burial markers of people like Jane Austin, Charles Darwin, Sir Isaac Newton, Handel, Chaucer….so many to remember.  I wish so much that we could have taken pictures.

So from the Abbey, we walked a couple blocks north and then a few blocks west along St. James Park and came to Buckingham Palace. 

usbuckpalace  I was a little disappointed because I really wanted a picture of one of the furry hat guards but they were on the other side of the gates and Queen Elizabeth wouldn’t let us in.  The Palace is just as you see on TV and it was really cool to be standing in front of it.  We were there only for a few minutes and then we headed to the British Library.  The library has this awesome room that displays the original manuscripts, writings and letters from some really famous people in history.  We saw the actual Magna Carta, the Gutenburg Bible, the original manuscript of Jane Austen’s Persuasion written in her own handwriting (my favorite item!), and even a few songs written by the Beatles.  They were the actual lyrics written by John Lennon and one was written on the back of a Birthday Card.  Then we went over to the Henry VIII exhibit, again original writings which even included a handwritten love letter to Anne Boleyn, and ended up staying there until they pretty much kicked us out because they were closing.  


This is another picture of Buckingham Palace. 

After we left the library we had one more stop, the National Portrait Gallery where we did a free guided tour of the Tudor and Elizabethan Portraits.  It was super interesting and so cool to see the original portraits of so many people I’ve read about in European history.   When the gallery closed at 9pm we finally headed back to our hotel stopping at Yo Sushi for another conveyor belt sushi experience. It was pretty good but MUCH more expensive than in Seattle.  I don’t think we’ll go back.

A couple things we’ve learned about London so far:

1. Everyone moves VERY fast here.  This is something I never really thought about any other city I’ve been in but here you’d better not slow down or you’ll get run over.

2.  If they didn’t have painted at every crosswalk right on the road “Look right” or “Look left”, I think Chris and I would have already been flattened.  The traffic patterns make absolutely no sense to me.

That’s it for tonight. We’re beat and tomorrow we have to get up early.  We’re taking our first day trip to Bath and Stonehenge. 

Thursday, May 14, 2009

just one more

I know, I already went on about our view of St. Paul’s Cathedral.  But dudes, we turned off the lights to go to sleep and opened the curtains and this is what we get to look at:


This picture doesn’t even do it justice. 


Day One: The british museum

It’s about 9:15pm and we’re finally back at the hotel ready to settle in for the night.  I’m going to try to get the day’s recap posted before I have a narcoleptic episode…I am so tired.

The trip to London was uneventful but very very long.  We took off from Jax at 2:20pm and arrived in Dallas 2 and a half hours later.  Our plane to London left Dallas at 7:40pm and arrived here at 10:30am, but there’s a 5 hour time change in there too.  The flight from Dallas was 9 and a half hours long and I didn’t get a wink of sleep, though Chris got a few hours in. (lucky dog)  Once we finally made it to Heathrow it was about an hour getting through customs and getting our checked bags, then another solid hour on the Tube to get to our hotel. was a long trip. 

Anyway, we arrived to our hotel, Club Quarters, and were SO excited when we got to our room and discovered that 2 of the walls are made of huge windows that overlook St. Pauls Cathedral.  Our room is on the 6th floor and is on the corner of the building so this is our view outside!



Once we were able to drop our bags off and freshen up, we headed right back out into the city and went straight to the British Museum. We thought a slow stroll through a museum would be the lightest activity on more than 24 hours without sleep.

First let me tell you, London is absolutely beautiful, clean, and full of so many people of all nationalities.  There are a million restaurants and shops and we haven’t even been to the real tourist areas yet.  We’ve become quite adept at taking the underground subway now and haven’t gotten lost yet.  Another great thing about London is that a lot of their museums are free, including the British Museum.  It’s run completely off of donations (which we did give) and I can’t believe how the exhibits are just sitting there, many not even behind glass.   I think we both enjoyed the Egyptian exhibit with all the mummies the most, though that might have been rivaled by the Samarai soldiers had that exhibit been open.

Here are some highlights:


This is the Rosetta Stone and if you don’t know, this is what they used to figure out how to decode heiroglyphics.  Chris was really excited about getting to see it.







Me and my sarcophagus friend.









ramesses Chris and his buddy, Ramesses II.  












I had to post at least one mummy picture.  These are the real deal and what was really cool was that they had the CAT scan images of each mummy so you could see exactly how the skeleton is positioned inside.  The egyptians would paint the mummy’s shroud and then hand paint the coffin cover.  You see the mummy here and on the floor below it was the painted cover of the coffin she was in.


One more just because I liked the picture. It’s me standing next to a very tall Buddha statue.    Of course there are lots more pictures to share but I’ll save those for when we get home. 

Once we left the museum it was about 7:30 and we were both ready to get back and rest up for tomorrow.  For dinner we stopped at a Japanese takeout restaurant called Itzu Bang!  It advertises how super healthy the food is, so we each took some soup with udon noodles and some edamame back to the room for dinner and it was delicious.  I think we’ll eat there again before we go. 

Well that’s it for this installment.   I’ll have more to post tomorrow.  I think we have a list of 9 places to visit on our itinerary for tomorrow so I’d better get some rest. 

We made it

We just arrived to our hotel room about 20 minutes ago and MAN are we tired.  BUT not too tired to get freshened up and out to explore the British Museum.  I’ll post more this evening when we get back to the room. Daylight’s a wastin….

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The dedicated mower

Can you believe we are 2 hours from leaving for the airport and Chris is outside mowing the lawn? I guess that’s better than trying to mow foot high grass in a week.  We are all packed and just need to decide what we are taking on the plane with us.  We actually fit all of our clothes into 2 carry-on bags (I can’t believe it) but it left no room for bringing anything home so we decided to check in one of the bags and carry 2.  So, 3 small carryon bags isn’t as bad as the humongous suitcase we were dreading dragging on the subway…er, “tube” with us.  

I am off to do a quick clean on the mess that we’ve made on the house and then we’re off.  Next stop…Dallas, Texas for a 4 hour layover.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

officially on vacation

As of about 7:15 this evening I became officially on vacation, finally! Chris has been off since Monday and has been planning like crazy for our trip. Lucy is safely tucked away at my parents’ house, our bags are nearly packed and tomorrow at 2:20pm we’ll be taking off for London. Our hotel advertises high speed internet so I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to blog throughout the trip so stay tuned….

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Coming soon....London.

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