Sunday, May 29, 2016

Days 1-7

You knock off the first two days very quickly.  It is the day you leave and arrive.  After a 9 hour flight we arrived at Heathrow about 1 pm. We had to go through Immigration and Customs and then met our driver in the outside hall.  He gathered our luggage and we followed him to the garage where he loaded us and our things into a new Mercedes sedan with the steering wheel on the wrong side!

It was a long ride to the Tower Hotel at the end of the Tower Bridge.  We were met by our Director, Alison, and immediately given our room key and found our luggage already In our room when we arrived there.  She had given us some paperwork, explained the evening's activity and signed us up for the Windsor Castle tour later in the week.  

Neither of us had slept much on the plane so we took a short respite before getting ready to meet up with Tom and Jeanne and the rest of our group.  We went by motorcoach across the Tower Bridge to a pub on the opposite side of the Thames River.  We watched many tour boats loaded to the gills with tourists and learned it was a holiday weekend here too so the city was even more crowded.  

Dinner was a drink, mushroom soup or smoked salmon, chicken or fish pie and apple crumble.  I had homemade lemonade, Ted a beer.  I had soup and Ted gave his salmon to Tom and we both had chicken pie and dessert.  It was very good and I was stuffed.  We met Chuck and his wife who entertained us with tales of their Antartica Trip on the same ship we are sailing on this trip.  The motorcoach brought us back to the hotel where we immediately retired for the evening.

We were up early on Monday having gone to bed at 9 pm.  We had our included breakfast at the hotel and then boarded the bus to Hampton Court whose most famous resident was Henry VIII and his six wives.  It is a huge place and we observed Flemish tapestries that have been hanging there for over 500 years, many portraits and learned more history of the divorces, beheadings, death and survival of the wives.  We walked for a couple hours.

After a bus ride back to the hotel, we joined Alison and another couple on a ride on the Underground (we were given passes) to Campton Road, an area of eclectic stores and stalls.  One area was former horse stables and there was beautiful architecture throughout the area.  We stopped at Hawley Arms for a local beer before reversing our Underground route back to the hotel.

We were on our own for dinner and walked to the Dickens Inn on the marina, visible from our room.  It has a tavern on the first floor, pizzeria on the second and a grille on the third and no elevator despite being a newly built building.  We trudged up the steps, had dinner and more local beer before making our way back to the hotel where we climbed into bed immediately.  I wish I had a Fitbit to know how far we walked that day.


Tuesday was an absolutely miserable weather day.  After breakfast we boarded a bus headed to Windsor Castle.  It rained all the way there and only picked up more steam as the day went on.  I had been there about 20 years ago, right after St. George's Hall had burned, and was anxious to see the renovations.  The train station has been expanded to include many high end shops and security now rivaled the airport.  Finally we were able to get in out of the rain by entering the building that houses the miniature of the castle called Queen Mary's Doll House though it was never made for children to play with.  It is a perfect 12:1 scale and everything is an exact duplicate from the vacuum cleaner and books to the Rolls Royces in the garage.

From there we entered the Apartment State Rooms and toured through all open to the public. The last was the new St. George's Hall with the many shields of the Order of the Garter and the octagon room that replaced the destroyed small, private chapel in 1992. 

After a quick stop at the big Chapel of St. George we hurried to the bus in a downpour.  Everyone was wet despite the umbrellas, weatherproof jackets, hoods, etc.  After a very long and damp ride we arrived back at our hotel.  

We went to our room and put on dry clothes and headed out for a late lunch/early dinner with Tom and Jeanne.  It had stopped raining but the wind was still cool.  We had a nice view of the marina as we enjoyed a good meal with wine and dessert.  Afterwards we all headed to our respective rooms,  the day had worn us out.

London is exhausting!  We went to bed about 8 pm, I woke up for maybe an hour around midnight then fell back to sleep until 8 am!   We dressed and went to breakfast where Tom and Jeanne finally located us.  We agreed to meet and head to the Imperial War Museum that Tom wanted to see.  I mapped our route - walk to Tower Hill underground, go on the black line to Embankment stop and switch to the brown line for two stops!  All of this is accompanied by lots of up and down many steps!

We visited the WWI floor and the display of medal winners.  By then we had been there for a long time and decided to move on to the Shakespeare Globe Theater.  It was another walk to the Castle and Elephant (I kid you not) stop for two stops and then a 10 minute walk.  We learned we were too late for a tour so checked on performances for tomorrow.  None of us relished the walk back to the underground stop so I decided to check on the riverboats.  Fortunately the pier right there had boats that would drop us off right at our hotel!  So our being tired allowed us to ride on the River Thames as a new experience.

We had a bit of time to rest up before dinner.  The folks who had not taken the London pre-trip had just arrived that day so the entire group was having dinner.  There will be four groups with their individual leaders on the ship.  We will continue to stay with Alison in the yellow group.  We gathered in the Upper Foyer for a talk and buffet dinner.  It was nice to only have to ride the elevator to our room.

Thursday was our panoramic tour of London and we were driven to all the highlights of the city.  Traffic is horrendous and I am surprised they don't have a daily talley on the news listing dead bicyclists, motorbike riders and pedestrians.  No car goes fast enough to kill any drivers or passengers.  Crossing the street involves looking in every direction because vehicles come from all directions.  We enjoyed the tour but were grateful we weren't driving!

The groups split up two and two and gathered at two different pubs for a lunch of fish and chips.  Afterwards we and a couple from PA walked down the block to the theater district and bought third row seats to see Beautiful, the Carole King Story.  It was fabulous!  I don't know if it was the music being from our generation, the story or the talented actress who played Carol but I would go see it again in a minute.  We caught a bus right outside the theater and used our transit card one last time to go back to the hotel. I think there was $1.60 on it so we cut it close.  I don't know how much was loaded on it in the beginning but we made good use of it.

As we walked from the bus stop to the hotel, we ran into Tom and Jeanne who were going to dinner so we just walked with them.  We ended up at Weatherspoon's where I ordered a special "3 small plates for 10 pounds sterling" so I ordered soup, chicken fingers and topped chips.  The portions were huge and I asked if this was indeed the small plate special and was assured it was.  I ate the soup, some of the chicken fingers but the "Chips" were French fries covered with cheese and pieces of ham.  I was expecting potato skins, not a huge dish of French fries, so ate one forkful only.  Ted ate the rest of the chicken but the fries we left.

We headed back to the hotel where we readied our things for the 8 am departure in the morning.


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