London ūüá¨ūüáß

Telephones and Taxis

London has never really been on the top of our travel list. I really don’t know why. Maybe it wasn’t exotic enough? Perhaps the food seemed unappealing? (we’ve seen a lot of hotel English Breakfasts during our travels and I’m not a fan of baked beans, tomatoes and soggy bacon). But, we caved when our daughter wanted to see the Rosetta Stone and the Egyptian exhibits at the British Museum. It’s hard to say no to a thirst for knowledge!

So, London called and we answered. We weren’t disappointed. In fact, we had a fantastic time!

These red phone booths are everywhere. So iconic and I loved seeing them. I thought it would be fun to have a picture of the kids popping out of one but…surprise!…the booth we opened had a big pile of vomit in it so after that we didn’t open any others!

Lots of old red phone booths are actually being restored and repurposed for things like a book exchange or a tiny shop. It’s pretty cool! You can read more about that in this NY Times article.

Another cool thing that you will find in London are the letter boxes. They appeared in London in the mid 1800’s and they started out green. In 1874, someone decided they liked red better than green so they were all painted red over the next ten years!

While I’m on the subject of iconic things in London I have to talk about the black taxi. We rode in a couple of them and even had a private tour around the city in one. I had no idea that years of studying and lots of testing were needed to become a London Black Taxi driver. You can read more about that history here.

During our tour, we drove by Buckingham Palace, Hyde Park, Parliament, Big Ben (which is covered in scaffolding and undergoing a huge restoration until 2021), National Gallery, Churchill War Rooms, Westminster Abbey, Covent Garden, Harrods, Green Park, St Paul’s Cathedral, Royal Albert Hall and many more famous places.

By the way, we visited in late March and lucked out with a week of great weather! Mild temps, no rain, some blue skies and even some cherry blossoms!

We also drove by Tony Blair’s heavily guarded house (I would hate to be his neighbor!), the Ecuador Embassy, where Julian Assange and his cat are currently living, and 10 Downing Street. Interesting times!

I guess now is as good a time as any so I might as well mention Brexit. Wow. What a mess. Most people we talked to were sick of it and they just want closure. All of the waiting and going back and forth on when and if they will leave the E.U. is a nightmare.

While we were there, a massive planned protest was scheduled. We heard that a million people turned out that day. We saw many of them at the tube station.

We decided it was a good day to hide out in the British Museum and we just caught the beginning and tail end of the protest by our hotel in Mayfair.

We spent several hours at the British Museum focusing on Ancient Egypt and of course spent some time pondering the Rosetta Stone.

We enjoyed a really terrific lunch at the Great Court Restaurant at the top of the museum. it was fun to watch the action in the open kitchen. You can get all of the details you need to visit the British Museum on their website.

On the way to the British Museum, we decided to hit Platform 9 3/4 at Kings Cross Station. We’ve got a house full of Harry Potter fans and the girls even brought their house ties on the trip!

Well…it was an hour and a half wait to take a picture with the trolly going into the brick wall and there was no way, even though we are huge HP fans, that we were going to stand there that long! (I mean just look at the lady in this last pic…does she look happy with her decision?)

We settled for these pictures and a promise of some sticky pudding later and everyone was happy!

We had a really amazing week in London!

In short, London is a bit like NY in that it’s vibrant and exciting and there is a lot to do at any time. However, London has such a rich history, it’s cleaner and people are more polite. Oh, can’t forget about the charming accents! So, I can see why London just won the #1 spot for the TripAdvisor Travelers Choice Top 25 Destinations in the World!

We had great food too. Sampled lots of fish and chips (which comes with mashed green peas that I really enjoyed but I think I was the only one), we also had some excellent Indian food and a lovely afternoon tea (coming up in another post). No baked beans, no cooked tomatoes and no soggy bacon!

Next up…more of London including The Tower of London, an afternoon tea and a visit to Notting Hill

Stonehenge

Unless you have been living under a rock (ha ha) you’ve read about or seen pictures of Stonehenge!

Stonehenge is a prehistoric stone circle in Wiltshire, England. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site. Archeologists believe that Stonehenge was built between 3000BC and 2000 BC.

Since our family is into archeology and history, this was a must see on our trip to England!

Originally, we planned to visit Stonehenge the day before but we couldn’t get tickets. It wasn’t until we got there that we realized the previous day was the spring equinox. Duh!

This is a huge big deal at Stonehenge! People dress as Pagans and Druids and they come from all over to see the sunrise. In fact, it’s one of only four public events a year where Stonehenge isn’t roped off. You get to walk amongst the stones! How cool is that?! Well, maybe we will plan for that another time!

Archeologists are still trying to figure out how all the giant heavy stones were moved and exactly what Stonehenge was used for. They know for certain that it was a burial ground because they have found the remains of more than 200 people. Theories are that Stonehenge was a place of healing that people came to visit and it was also a place to study stars and eclipses but it’s still a mystery!

You can tour Stonehenge as a day trip from London. A long day because it’s about two hours each way and you will want to stay at Stonehenge for a few hours. You can rent a car in London or arrange a tour. There are many tours that you can arrange from London.

The Stonehenge Visitor Center is great. It’s clean, organized and well managed. There is a gift shop and a cafe where you can have lunch or a snack. The Museum is really nice and interactive.

All the info you need to visit is on their website. We booked our tickets online in advance. You select a time slot and have a 30 minute window to arrive. Once you are there, you can stay as long as you want.

  • If you have time, you can visit other sites in the area like Woodhenge and Avebury so be sure to do your research and make the most of your trip!

    Next up…London!

    Bath, England

    The World Heritage City of Bath is best known for its Roman baths. (And bird poop but more on that later). It’s just over an hour drive from London, which makes it a great day trip. However, we chose to spend the night in Bath so we could spend more time exploring. And we combined it with trips to Oxford and Stonehenge.

    We stayed at the Francis Hotel Bath by Sofitel. Great location, friendly service and quite charming!

    The city itself is filled with Bath limestone, a honey colored stone. The architecture was predominantly Georgian, which is a tad boring but the city is very walkable with lots of sights and restaurants.

    Here we are in front of the Royal Crescent. They are townhouses and flats built in a crescent shape in 1774. The most interesting thing about this place is the “Ha-ha ditch”. It’s designed to break up the lawn for different purposes but not obstruct the view. I love the name! You can read more about it here.

    The Roman Bath complex is the main attraction in Bath and a visit here will show you why. The modern museum and well preserved ruins are a must see! It’s fun to learn about the lives of the Aquae Sulis people.

    You can’t actually bathe there but you can go to the nearby Thermae Bath Spa, which looks amazing.

    At the end of your tour you can sample the spa water. It has 43 minerals and it’s a cure for whatever ailments you might have. The kids thought it tasted like the end of a nosebleed and I agree!

    Adjacent to the Roman Baths is The Pump Room. It’s really elegant and a great place to have afternoon tea-which is so very fun and English!

    While in Bath, we took advantage of the nice weather and had a relaxing walk in Royal Victoria Park.

    So, what about all the poop? It turns out that there is a huge Gull problem in Bath and some other inland cities. The gulls find the urban locations safe places to nest and return each year. The birds are aggressive and noisy. Bath spent tens of thousands of pounds on bird control last year. You won’t find this on the Bath Tourist Info but be prepared to be pooped on!

    Next up…Stonehenge and London

    Oxford

    Greetings from Oxford, England!

    We flew into Heathrow Airport in London and stayed the night at the Sofitel right at the airport because we had a long trip from the US and we were exhausted! After a twelve hour snooze, we were ready to go! We rented a car and set out for Oxford.

    Don’t forget to keep left!

    Our original plan was to go to Stonehenge on our first day but we had to go to plan B. We didn’t realize it was the equinox – so, there were crowds of people all camped out to celebrate that Pagan ritual at Stonehenge.

    It worked out just fine though because we had a lively afternoon in beautiful Oxford! The town was charming and ascetically pleasing! Who doesn’t love lots of different architecture packed into one small English town?! Neo-Gothic, Palladian, Gothic Revival, Neoclassical and Baroque- just to name a few!

    We ate fish and chips and vegan mushroom pie for lunch at The Eagle and Child– which once was the watering hole for Tolkien and CS Lewis. How cool is that?!

    We strolled around the town and Helena is now 100% convinced that Oxford is her number one choice for college. We are all convinced that we will love visiting her there!

    Oxford is about an hour and a half drive from London. It’s a university city with over 150,000 people and a very cool vibe. I highly recommend a visit!

    Stay tuned for Bath and Stonehenge…

    21 flights in 100 days!

    By the time we got to Dubai, we had completed 14 flights in 58 days!

    We knew the routine and were getting really good at airport security as well as customs and immigration! Only 7 more flights left on this adventure!

    Tip-sometimes the rules on what to remove while going through security are in another language and all the airport security screens are slightly different so watch what the locals are doing.

    Example: no need to remove liquids in Vietnam but we had to remove shoes. Shoes stay on in Singapore but liquids come out.

    Also, Vietnam and Cambodia did not let us go through immigration together as a family, we needed to go up one at a time. Dubai made us go together and Switzerland chastised us for waiting to go up one at a time because they didn’t want to have to “repeat all the same questions”. Geez.

    We also had to check our 21 inch bags on the regional flights and my suitcase suffered greatly and got 2 big tears. I see the appeal of hard sided luggage if you are constantly checking bags rather than our usual carryon. Lesson learned!

    Since I’m wide awake at 5am (jet lag!) I decided to make a list of airline, airport, food and lounge bests and worsts.

    Yes, we’ve traveled business class almost the entire trip- I don’t think we could have done all this travel in coach, in this short timespan, without completely freaking out!

    Best Airlines:

    Singapore

    Air New Zealand

    Thai Airlines

    Worst Airlines:

    Angkor Air

    Vietnam Airlines

    Runner up: Air Canada

    Best Airports:

    Brisbane International

    Singapore

    Siem Reap, Cambodia

    Queenstown, New Zealand

    Portland, Oregon

    Worst Airports:

    Honolulu, Hawaii

    Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

    Upon landing in Vietnam, we waited 45 minutes to get our passport back and approved. We had all of the proper paperwork completed and approved in advance so we aren’t sure what the hold up was.

    That airport, and the Vietnam Airlines counter lady, also charged us a mysterious and inexplainable $60 fee that could only be paid in crisp American dollars.

    We knew we got ripped off and the lady pocketed the cash but we just wanted out of the airport at that point so I guess it was money well spent.

    Worth mentioning:

    Los Angeles

    New York

    Not from this current trip but LAX and JFK are dirty and gross airports and we avoid flying through them whenever possible

    Best preflight check-in:

    Air New Zealand in Auckland-The business lounge is completely separate from the regular checkin. Really amazing!

    Photo credit: CPRW Fischer

    Runner up: Swiss Air whisked us through the airport and the lines through Dubai. We felt like VIPs!

    Best Plane Landing:

    Queenstown, New Zealand- breathtaking views and incredible huge mountains. You can only fly in to their airport during the day currently but you never know when that might change.

    Runner up: Zurich- the Alps!

    Worst Landing:

    Siem Reap, Cambodia-Small, old plane. Lots of turbulence despite the pilot telling us what a smooth flight we would have! I nearly had to break out the barf bag, which would would have been an airplane first for me!

    Best Food on the Plane:

    Singapore

    Thai Airlines

    Best Wines:

    Swiss Air

    Worst Food on the plane:

    Swiss

    Lufthansa

    Best Airline Lounge Food:

    Singapore

    Best Amenities Kit:

    Swiss Air- La Prairie lip balm and hand cream are amazing!

    Best Safety Video:

    Air New Zealand – not only are their videos good and entertaining but one of the featured male flight attendants in the video was actually our flight attendant!

    *Runner up-Vietnam Airlines for the unintended comedy factor. It shows 2 seat mates that are very excited to smoke a cigarette and vape. They practically “cheers” their smoking paraphernalia until the “no smoking light” comes on and they sadly put their stuff away. We saw it on 3 flights and laughed every time!

    Best Business Class Seats and Configurations:

    Singapore -huge seats, great in seat storage and a makeup mirror!

    Thai -similar to Singapore just scaled down a tad

    Worst Business Class Seats:

    Angkor – didn’t have any!

    Vietnam- old planes, non functioning leg rests and the seat in front of us reclined so far back that I couldn’t get out to use the bathroom

    Air Canada-same issues as Vietnam but not quite as old and no leg rests.

    Best Airport Lounge:

    Singapore

    Auckland, New Zealand

    Dubai

    Worst Airport Lounge:

    Bangkok, Thailand

    Toronto-Air Canada – special mention- not only was the lounge fairly dirty but this was the only lounge where the check in lady was rude with a bad attitude.

    Friendliest Customs and Immigration:

    New Zealand

    Australia

    Singapore- the kids got candy

    Most intimidating and unfriendly Customs and Immigration:

    Vietnam

    Switzerland

    Odd Business Class Configurations:

    Delta One Some rows in Business Class were facing backwards

    Air New Zealand seats were angled in so you faced people across from you. Row A seats face the back of seats so these are more desirable.

    Of course, you can look at the type of plane and seat configurations before you book. Sometimes though, the plane changes and you end up on something different.

    There are lots of great websites that provide pics and reviews of seats and planes!

    What airports do you enjoy or try to avoid?

    Laurie Eats Sometimes- Spain Edition

    Every country has something they are proud of, you might even say a national treasure.

    New Zealand has Peter Jackson and Lord of the Rings, Cambodia has Angelina Jolie and Spain has Jamón Ibérico! A cured ham from the Spanish countryside and the crown jewel of Spanish food!

    It’s so special they cover it with a blanket and tuck it in at night….just kidding…sort of!

    Ham is everywhere and in lots of food. And, it is delicious. But, for a vegetarian, we found Spain to be the trickiest of the countries that we visited during this trip.

    However, one meatless dish that you can find everywhere is patatas or papas bravas. It’s native to Spain and you will see it on the menu of most bars and restaurants. It’s simple but varies a lot by sauce (tomato and aioli) potato shapes and spice level.

    We ate this at at least half a dozen places but we especially liked the version of it at Ena in Seville.

    Another place where we enjoyed the potatoes was Oca√Īa in Plaza Reial, Barcelona. I don’t have a picture of the potatoes but who needs that when I have this picture!

    Drag queens, great live music and tapas! What a fun night!


    ta·pas

    ňątap…ôs/noun

    small Spanish savory dishes, typically served with drinks at a bar


    Some other popular tapas that we saw on every menu were olives, ham or fish croquetas, anchovies, squid and tomato toast usually served with manchego cheese slices on the side.

    The squid was either fried or in some cases, served as finger puppets!

    In Granada, we ate at a casual little restaurant called Kiki-located in the Plaza de San Nicolas. Sea anemone was the special that night and it was absolutely delicious!

    We really enjoyed a leisurely lunch at Gallito in Barcelona. It was on the beach, close to the W Hotel. Sea views, some cava, tapas and this yummy shrimp, squid and artichoke paella dish. What a fantastic way to spend the afternoon!

    We had exceptional tapas at Vinitus Restaurant in the Eixample Quarter…in fact we ate there twice!

    I mentioned anchovies earlier…the best ones were served like this at Petite Corner Bar in Seville. In fact, everything there was exceptional!

    We had a delicious dinner at El Trillo in the Albaicín in Granada. Risotto, pig cheeks and tasty red wine. The ambiance was nice too-we ate in the garden but you could also get a table with a view of the Alhambra.

    If you are in the mood for non-Spanish food, you should go for Moroccan or Arabic food in Seville or Granada. The hummus and moutabel at Alwadi in Seville were particularly good!

    Photo credit: saffrontrail.com

    When in Spain, you should definitely sample some delicious cava! Cava is a sparkling wine that undergoes the same production process as champagne. I guess that’s why it tastes so good!

    Most cava is produced in Catalonia and it’s very affordable too…so drink up! Salud!

    There are many other dishes that you should try while in Spain.

    Gazpacho is from Andalucia- a cold soup on a hot day tasted good! I had a strawberry gazpacho in Granada and it was quite tasty!

    Tortilla Espanola is another popular dish in Spain. It’s made with potatoes, onions, eggs and olive oil. It’s a Spanish omelet!

    Photo credit:my gourmet connection

    Bocadillos-little Spanish sandwiches with various fillings can be found everywhere.

    You will also see Gambas, or shrimp in olive oil on most tapas menus.

    Don’t forget to get some churros dipped in chocolate! Mmmm.

    Next up…best and worst airlines, lounges and airplane food reviews

    Barcelona and Gaudí

    I’m not sure why you would go to Barcelona and not see the famous works of Antoni Gaud√≠! His work is really one-of-a-kind!

    Gaudí was born in 1852 and moved to Barcelona in 1868. Unfortunately, in 1926, when he was 73, he was struck by a train and killed.

    During his life, he studied architecture and his first projects were the lamp posts in Plaza Reial – which we got to see in person and they were pretty cool!

    While in Barcelona, you should make sure and stroll through the gardens and unique buildings of Park G√ľell. It was built between 1900-1914 and open to the public in 1926. It was originally supposed to a housing site with amazing views of the city. It became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1984 so, you guessed it, it’s a very popular tourist destination!

    You should also make time to check out Casa Batlló, a house that was redesigned by Gaudí in 1904 with the roof designed to look like the back of a dragon. The local name for the apartment is the House of Bones and when you see the building, you can see why!

    The number one, not to be missed attraction in Barcelona is the Sagrada Familia.

    Tip-you should get your tickets several days in advance!

    The Sagrada Familia is an absolutely stunning gothic church, that has been under construction since 1882 and is supposed to be completed in 2026. (To commemorate the 100 years since Gaud√≠’s death). The outside is amazing but the inside really makes your jaw drop!

    The light coming through the beautiful and colorful stained glass was like nothing I have ever seen before! In fact, I don’t remember a time that being in a church made me so happy!

    There are lots of places to read more on the Sagrada Familia…it’s fascinating and really a masterpiece!

    Next up…Laurie Eats Sometimes-Spain Edition