A Merry Time In Old (And New) England — Part 1

I hope you’ll forgive me for indulging in a few vacation posts. Actually, as I thought about which highlights to cover, I started worrying about overdoing things. I’ll bet everyone has been subjugated to at least one slideshow or home-movie “fest” from a friend or relative. And I don’t want to be that person! So we’ll see just where these posts go….

Kicking Off The Trip — London

We flew into Heathrow via Reykjavik after a thankfully uneventful flight. When news of a pending volcanic eruption in Iceland broke just a few weeks before the trip, we crossed our fingers that it wouldn’t cancel flights like one did a few years ago. Luckily, this one stuck to a lava flow and didn’t release an ash cloud into the atmosphere.

We knew that only two full days in London would mean dashing through lots of sights or focusing on just a few. How should we approach it? Well, we didn’t want to be those tourists we see in DC who rush through the city to see “everything” and end up seeing nothing. So we decided to spend the first full day on one of the hop on/hop off buses, starting with a complete circuit in the morning and then choosing a couple of stops in the afternoon. So from the bus we got to see such things as:

Eng 1What really struck us, though, was that everywhere the bus went, we saw this:

Eng 2Traditionally, London has never been a city of skyscrapers, but that’s beginning to change here in the 21st century. In addition to these cranes pronouncing a boom of new construction, scaffolding covered many existing buildings that are undergoing massive renovations. This booming economy, though, would not be seen on the rest of the trip.

Of course, we drove past some of the iconic sites, like Trafalgar Square with its statue of Nelson and the surrounding lions.

Eng 3In earlier days, the square was full of pigeons. Happy pigeons gorging on the food happily provided by tourists. Ultimately, though, gorged pigeons “clear their digestive systems,” shall we say. And the city finally had enough. The pigeons were forcibly removed, and heavy fines were imposed on anyone who fed the stragglers who sneaked in like the guy above.

We hopped off the bus at a couple of places later in the day. Our first stop was another “must see:”

Eng 4The oldest parts of the Tower of London date back to William the Conqueror. The lines were huge, so we didn’t go inside to see the Crown Jewels. But we did stroll around. And we quickly noticed that the images we’ve seen on television are carefully staged and cropped. Up close, you might think you were in medieval England. But look just a bit farther beyond, and modern London dwarfs the Tower. The mass of red you see in the last photo is part of the “poppy field” that will commemorate every British soldier who was wounded or killed in World War I.

Day 2

Our second full day in London was spent at a single location. And given that my husband and I are both archaeologists, how could that location be anything but the British Museum? The holdings of that facility are legendary, and we couldn’t pass up such sights as the Rosetta Stone, which enabled Egyptian hieroglyphics to be deciphered, and the frieze from the Parthenon in Athens (aka the Elgin Marbles), controversial though its setting is.

Eng 5

Eng 6The British Museum, of course, is where we also met the wonderful Vanessa-Jane Chapman and her partner, Neil. No controversies there! Just a lovely visit with two fascinating people. And this particular gift from them was so tasty!

Eng 7So that was our two full days in London. The next morning, we headed up to King’s Cross Station and took the train to York, where we spent two half days before beginning our walk along Hadrian’s Wall. More on those two places to come.

I know I’m no travel writer, but I hope you’ve enjoyed this take on London. If you’ve been there, I’d love to hear your impressions of the place!

66 thoughts on “A Merry Time In Old (And New) England — Part 1

  1. Very much so, thanks JM. I didn’t know they no longer encourage pigeons in Trafalgar Square – that’s how long it’s been since I’ve been back there. I can’t imagine it without the pigeons and poop!! It was lovely to be reconnected with the old city – there’s just something about London that gets in your bones. Glad you had a great trip x

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    • The square was remarkably clean. 🙂 And I thought it was funny to see this lone pigeon while the guide was explaining how he and his companions had been banned!

      I have to say, one of the things that struck me most in London was all the people on bikes (without helmets), dodging through the cars. I could never take my life into my hands the way they seemed to be doing! But they seemed to think there was nothing dangerous about the situation. I’m familiar enough with DC traffic, but I was a bit nervous about London’s!

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    • We didn’t get to Oxford or Bath. We spent more time in the north country on this trip. Maybe on the next. 🙂

      When we transferred early that Sunday morning at Reykjavik, the blast of cold, wind, and rain really woke us up! I didn’t realize we’d have to debark from one plane and walk across the tarmac to a shuttle bus to be taken to the next terminal for the flight to Heathrow. I felt so sorry for the folks who had boarded at Dulles in shorts and T-shirts!

      The British Museum is amazing. Be sure to allow yourself a day to really see the exhibits and not just run from gallery to gallery, snapping pictures as you go. If you don’t have a full day, then check online for a few things that you absolutely must see and focus on those. That’s the best way to spend limited time in such a place. 🙂

      Did you at least get to see the Northern Lights?!

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      • we tried to see the northern lights: we rented a car while we were there and drove 2hrs north east (toward the center of the country) but alas it rained at night. During the days it was cloudy but ok for seeing the geysers/waterfalls/mountains. Beautiful place, just not very comfortable!

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    • The fudge was absolutely “blogger Vanessa” all the way. 🙂 And it was really, really good. My favorite part of every meal was the dessert. Say what you will about British cuisine, they do a great job with desserts! Which reminds me—I need to find a recipe for sticky toffee pudding. Oh, was that good!

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  2. Sigh. Your post filled me with the urge to pack up and head for England. Sadly, that’s impossible right now, but thanks to you and your beautiful photos I can now plan my dream trip. Thanks for sharing — you make an excellent travel writer. 🙂

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    • The hardest part of planning that dream trip will be deciding where to go in a limited amount of time. 🙂 England may not be a large country, but there is so much to see and experience. I can say, though, that a walking tour through some part of it is a fantastic way to see the countryside and meet local people. I can’t think of a better way to really experience a part of any country!

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  3. All the new building! We opted for the Tube rather than the bus for time factor and to avoid weather. It was great – all the people were so helpful getting us from place to place. The poppies are beautiful – didn’t know about that tradition. (We got there very very early – bought ticket in that little hidden place outside by the ancient wall (I love that wall)- so beat the crowds…daughter had to see the bling.
    The British Museum was our second day, too (Oh, to live close enough to walk in there everyday).
    Da Vinci Code was fairly new (and read by all) I had located and mapped the sites mentioned (there were no tours yet) and we ran/walked all over the place. The art museums were not only good in weather, but what glorious collections – another sort of “acceptable” bling
    And we road train to a couple of places – Even countryside running past was interesting. Scenes from literature, history, vocabulary definitions even – so much more solid after actually seeing it
    I think you could spend years in the area and never see it all. Dreaming of attempting it, though.
    Can’t wait for the rest of the tour.

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    • I was really happy to see that, even in London, people were so helpful to tourists. Sadly, the same couldn’t be said for some places in the US. This poppy “exhibit” is special this year for the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I. There was a really interesting show on the BBC one night about the war that I hope will be shown here. We don’t see much about the anniversary here in the States, of course, since we didn’t enter it until 1917. But, not surprisingly, the event is of far more significance in Britain and in continental Europe.

      We loved how good the train service was, but when we said so to locals, they thought we were crazy. They all complained about it! We said, then, it just shows how terrible service is in the US.

      Reading English mysteries now has a different feel. I now know what some of these references are! We’ll simply have to make more trips back there to see everything else, right? 🙂

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      • Poppies were a very big thing here up until after my high school years, then it faded. This area has a large Brit expat community. We handed out crepe paper poppies outside the band as girls scouts and as drill team members. Everyone wore them. But maybe that generation passed. I had an elderly uncle that fought – a far boy from East TX. He always seemed rather vague and disoriented – Dad said he came back to the farm that way from the war and was shell shocked form the horrors of war. Maybe few are left here with those memories – but remembrances for both wars seem still strong in memory there.
        My parents both loved Brit/Scot history and the literature – we were read to at an early age. It is different after being there. Travel is so important. (and we were thrilled with everything there – and they thought us nuts, too)
        Gotta do the hop off and on buses….and maybe rent a canal boat…..it’s research, right?

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  4. I very much enjoyed this post! And your pictures are great. I like how you put them together.

    We were in London a few years back. We were only there for a couple days like you, and we had a teen and pre-teen boy at the time, so that limited some of our choices. But like you, we didn’t want to rush and try to see everything. We visited the London Eye, Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum, Ripley’s, Believe it or Not Museum, the Tower of London, and spent time just wandering the streets watching the street acts. Lots of magicians so my youngest was thrilled. We had such a fabulous time. Sure, the hubs and I missed out on some of the cultural things, but the kids loved the choices, and we had so much fun in Madame Tussaud’s and Ripley’s. I’ll never forget those days. Oh, and I already told you I scoped out John Snow’s cholera pump (the father of epidemiology). You can imagine how thrilled my kids were with that choice. (But my epidemiology prof loved the pics I sent him!)

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    • Thanks, Carrie! I was trying to save some space on WordPress by combining photos onto PowerPoint slides and then converting them to jpgs. They won’t “blow up” as big as they would as single jpgs, but they also won’t suck up huge amounts of my limited storage space. 😉

      Even with just me and my husband, compromises had to be made for the trip. And when you add young kids to the mix, that just multiplies. I feel so bad when I see parents dragging young kids through exhibits at the Smithsonian Museums that have absolutely no appeal to non-adults. Yes, children should be exposed to such things. But not necessarily when they’re five! So good for you for ensuring your kids had a good time, too. Before you know it, you’ll be taking those vacations without them, and you can enjoy some different sites with your husband—even if they are things like cholera pumps…. 😉

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  5. That’s the strategy I follow when I travel, JM: a tour of the city on bus, making note of where I’d like to go back for another look. My husband’s enjoying your British Museum pics, too! xoxoM

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    • Alas, most of us don’t have unlimited funds and times to spend months or years visiting other places. Unless someone knows exactly what they really want to see, spending a few hours on a bus can really help narrow down the choices for the rest of the trip. The British Museum was amazing, and the collections are jaw-dropping to see. We could’ve spent days poring over everything!

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  6. I loved London. We only had a few days there last summer (photos and thoughts on my blog), and spent part of our time at the British Museum too.

    I enjoy seeing it through your lens — more, more more!!! — and look forward to your future posts about York and Hadrian’s Wall!

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    • We’ve never taken so many photos on vacation before. Early ones predated digital cameras, and of course, the early digital cameras weren’t all that good. But now, even a $200 camera can take some great photos. But part of the reason we took so many this time is simply because there were so many great shots to get! And I was so happy to also have the great panoramic option on my Galaxy s4. 🙂

      I’m not sure if York will be next Tuesday’s post, but it will be the next vacation post. Then Hadrian’s Wall. Murum vici!

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      • The cost of living is high. The salaries are higher in London, but it doesn’t cover it. My bipeds had a 45-minute train journey into London, but counting getting to and from the station at each end it was more like 2 hours. It does become tiring after a while.

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  7. Never been there, and as much as I’d love to, I don’t know if I’ll ever conquer this claustrophobia thing enough to get back on a plane. Sigh. So, I’ll live through you. Enjoyed reading the post and seeing the pics. The photos of the new (skyscrapers) with the ancient buildings reminded me of how I felt when we went to New Orleans. We were in the dated French Quarter, and behind that the modern buildings towered. I took a shot of the two in one pic, and the contrast really stood out. I look forward to more about your trip. Need to live through others on this stuff.
    (p.s. I did used to fly on occasion, years ago, so I have been to some neat places, but the phobia got worse)

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    • If your claustrophobia was bad years ago on planes, it would only be worse now. Unless you can afford first class, there’s even less leg and seat room than before in economy. And there was never very much. I’ve never been a fan of flying, and as events like 9/11 occur and formerly isolated diseases can now be so easily spread by passengers, I like it even less. When possible, we drive to the places we want to see. It’s just one reason why I wish the US had a really good high-speed train system.

      Those juxtapositions of new and old make for some great photographs, don’t they? I took a lot of those, but picked just a few to post. I really don’t want to go overboard!

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    • I thought it was so funny to see him there while the guide was explaining their forcible eviction! I doubt he and his buddies are struggling for food, though. We saw lots of people feeding them in other parks. 🙂

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  8. I’m loving these posts JM! It’s really interesting for me to hear your take on coming here, in the same way as you would probably find it interesting if I (or some other UK blogging pal!) visited where you come from and then wrote about it. It’s funny to hear what other people think of where we live, and it’s also funny to think that somewhere we live is a place that people aspire to visit! That particular aspect I used to think about a lot when I lived in Vegas and I’d think “People save up all year to come here, and I get to be here every day!” I guess so many of us just aspire to visit somewhere that’s different from where we live.

    I’m so pleased also that you found the people nice and helpful over here, I’m not sure that we necessarily have that reputation, America is more well known for outgoing friendliness (even if it’s somewhat faked at times!).

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    • That’s so true about seeing our “homes” from someone else’s perspectives. We can easily forget how interesting sights around us are or not even realize they’re around! When my mom came out here this spring on a bus tour, we had the chance to visit for a few hours in DC. And it was fun to play tour guide for her and share our perspective on the city. 🙂

      I sometimes think the American friendliness is seriously on the decline, whether it be toward fellow Americans or visitors from abroad. And that’s really too bad. Maybe it’s just the result of all the conflict and distrust in the world today. But I promise that if you or any other tourist were looking lost or asked for help, I’d happily and nicely do what I could, Even if I am a shy introvert! 🙂

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  9. I am right there with you. Definitely want to go back and explore outside the city. Did you get to Harrod’s? What a wonderful foodie place to visit. Yum. Funny we had to search for a great restaurant to have fish n chips. Finally went to one recommended by our cabbie. Right on the money, it was fabulous. He suggested we walk back to the hotel as it wasn’t that far. We walked three hours after dark until finally finding it. Apparently what they think of as “not far” and our interpretation of the phrase were somewhat different. 🙂

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    • We’re really not shoppers, so we didn’t go to Harrods. I know that will shock some readers! The restaurant choices in London (and York) were really good, and we had some really enjoyable meals. I must confess to being more partial to English desserts than main dishes, though. Those sticky toffee puddings were really, really good…. 🙂

      Yeah, I’m not sure they measure distances the same way we do—even when they’re not using the metric system. I’m awfully darn sure some of the miles we clocked in a day weren’t reflected in our itinerary’s numbers!

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  10. Interesting! I spent about the same amount of time in London back in 2006 and opted for the double decker bus as well. I saw some of the same sights. I must admit that I was rather disappointed in Speakers Square in Hyde Park and the tower seemed smaller than I imagined.

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    • Speakers Square was devoid of speakers when we went by, which was really too bad. And the Tower of London seemed so small to us, too. The skyscrapers rising behind it really added to that effect, I think. But the effect of its construction must have been so much different in William’s day since the English didn’t build their castles in stone before then. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a time machine to see those sites as they originally were?

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  11. As a college English major, I spent the summer after my junior year in England. I loved this post…but the picture of Kent Cider Fudge really had me smiling. We received some for Christmas several years ago, and suddenly I was hungry for it when I saw the picture.

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    • That fudge was so tasty. I’d love to have a summer to spend in England, but there seem to be more demands on our time and resources once we’re out of college…. All part of growing up, I suppose. I really hope we have the chance to get back there again some day—and stop for some of that fudge and another visit with Vanessa. 😉

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    • Honestly, for me, London was great, but it wasn’t my favorite part of the trip. That was still ahead. 🙂 But I’ll give everyone a break before the next vacation posts. 😀

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  12. Glad you enjoyed London JM. I haven’t been there for quite a few years now. I did the proper tourist thing years ago when I was younger to see all the sights, but I’ve been often over the years for events or work trips. It’s not a place I love, but seeing the sights is just something you have to do. Looking forward to hearing more about what you thought about the north, which is my patch of course 🙂

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    • My reply to the comment above yours is a sneak peek into what I thought of York and the country along Hadrian’s Wall. 😉 They made me really glad I had my cell phone for some wonderful panoramic photos! There were times I felt like I was in a Bronte novel—or in the TV adaptation of “All Creatures Great and Small.” Stunning!

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  13. Pingback: Around the Archaeology Blog-o-sphere Digest #6 | Doug's Archaeology

    • I’ve done that rush through everything, too. And when all was said and done, I didn’t feel like I’d really seen anything, either. Photos are great, but the best memories are based in actually experiencing an event and being in the moment. Something that can be so hard to do in the modern world!

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  14. I can’t speak for the interior of the Tower since we didn’t go there, but I suspect it’s hard for such a place to live up to our expectations. Everything we see on TV is carefully staged to exclude the modern setting that surrounds it. And I doubt there’s any kind of “up close and personal” view of the Crown Jewels. I bet it would have reminded me of the big sights at the Smithsonian museums like the Hope diamond. Tons of people straining to see something that was meant be seen in a completely different setting.

    But I’d definitely recommend the British Museum to anyone with any interest in history!

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