Friday, Day 10
Friday night, 5 pm and we’re back from Belfast. Our last dinner at McGettigans, where we said goodbye to everyone. Sarah wasn’t working so we’d said goodbye and swapped hugs with her on Wednesday.
Saturday, Day 11
Off to the docks where we walk aboard the ferry for our three and a half hour trip back across the Irish Sea. At 11:30 we arrive at the Holyhead ferry dock and train station and catch the 2 pm train to Chester for the first of our three train changes.
If you’re traveling in England, the trains are a wonderful way to get to where you’re going. They run frequently, they’re fast, clean and the service is great. Our 4 day BritRail pass had us traveling in first class for much less than normal coach tickets would have cost. Just before we arrived at each station for our train changes, the conductors would call ahead to let them know which train we were changing to and each time people met us with a cart to transport us to the next train. Unbelievable service and yeah, we pretty much made friends with the conductors on each train.
One word of advice. The main trains lines in England mostly run north and south. So, if you’re crossing England from west to east (or east to west) plan on a few train changes. Another way that having a BritRail pass really helps. One pass covers all the trainlines. (Thank you BritRail. You can mail my check to…..) Seriously, the rail passes, and Oyster Card for the tube system in London, are a real bargains.
Two more changes at Leads and York, and at 8 pm we arrived in Alnmouth. Thanks to Alicia, our fantastic friend in Alnwick, our taxi was waiting for us and by 8:30 we were putting our luggage in our rooms at the Bondgate Boutique B&B in Alnwick.
It’s here I’ve another bit of travel advice. Alnwick is a captivating, charming village that we love. However, it’s a small village where they pretty much roll up the sidewalks at 8 pm. So, our arrival at 8:30 and attempts to find a place to eat around 9 pm resulted in us going to bed hungry. My message? Plan accordingly you folks from the big cities where everything is always open.
Sunday, Day 12
Two very hungry yanks and one kiwi walked the short block to Barter Books where we devoured breakfast. Yes, Barter Books serves breakfast and food pretty much all day. (Well, not after 8 pm.) It is also gigantic and the oldest secondhand bookstore in England. One more tidbit, they created the saying “Keep Calm and Carry On”. For us, it was like we had died and gone to heaven as we spend several hours after breakfast just roaming through row after row of books. Oh, and watching the miniature train that runs through the place and chatting with the people who came in with their dogs and the staff and the people sitting next to us at breakfast and …. Well, I think you get the idea.
Some four hours later we left Barter Books and hoofed it through the fantastic village to Alnwick Castle. After a small stop at The Cookie Jar B&B, where Alicia is manager, to say hi and thank her for her help, it was off to the castle.
Built some 950 years ago, the castle is still occupied by the Duke of Northumberland and his family. It is also where the first three episodes of Harry Potter and several episodes of Downton Abby were filmed.
The castle is fascinating and, with the exception of a moat, it has everything a castle should have to be a truly proper castle. Sorry, but Leeds Castle has spoiled me, and yes it has a moat. A very big moat! But then, Leeds castle is smaller than Alnwick so, I guess they’re even.
Oops, wait a minute, I forgot, Alnwick Castle has a resident vampire! That does it, Alnwick wins by a mile!
While we were there they were doing broomstick training in the center yard, lessons on how to defend yourself against a dragon in the inside court yard and archery lesson way off by the wall where no one would accidently get an arrow stuck in them.
After our tour of the castle it was off to the Plough Pub for dinner and an early night turn in since our colds by now were raging.
Monday, Day 13
Up and off for breakfast at the White Swan Inn. Then Sheryl opted to go back to the room and sleep while Casey and I headed for Alnwick Gardens and The Treehouse Restaurant.
After a guided tour of the Poison Garden, we wandered through the rest of the gardens on our own, finally ending up at The Treehouse, before our colds had us calling it a day.
Dinner was again at the Plough Pub. In the morning it would be off early for Alnmouth and our train to London. But, not before another story caused by the little village we love.
Tuesday, Day 14
Ever since we arrived in Alnwick, I and Alicia had been trying to arrange for a taxi to pick us up on Tuesday morning and take us to the train station, all to no avail. Seems every taxi for miles was pre-booked to take kids to school until 9 am. Which of course is when our train left. At 8 am Alicia called and said, don’t worry, my Granny will come pick you up. She’ll be in a little silver car. Just be outside at 8:30.
Yay! Saved by Alicia and Granny.
At 8:30, Granny pulls up in yes, a very little silver car. We all look at each other, look at the car, look at the pile of luggage and Sheryl’s foldable wheelchair and shake our heads. No way is all this going to fit.
Granny jumps out, we all swap hugs with her and tell her there is no way all our stuff is going to fit. She opens the hatchback, points at the stuff that needs to go in back there, then tells Casey to squeeze in the back first. After passing her a suitcase for her lap, Sheryl is next with another suitcase, then me up front with the last suitcase. Off we go for the 4.5 mile drive to Alnmouth.
As we pulled into the train station, everyone waiting for the train turns and starts laughing. We had to look like a clown car from the circus. Hatchback open, arms, legs and suitcase hanging out everywhere. But we made it with 5 minutes to spare.
Thank you Granny and thank you Alicia!
By now Sheryl’s and my colds have gotten much worse. So, on the way back to London I called British Airways and changed our flight from Thursday to today, Tuesday. Once we reached London, we caught a taxi to Heathrow and just made check in time for our flight.
This left poor Casey to tour London on her own the next day. However, being the travel trooper she is and with a bit of advice from me and help from the concierge, here’s what she managed to do.
Keep in mind, Casey had never been to London before! I’ve included her description (slightly edited) because I can’t believe how much she got to see and how fantastic she is at describing things.
The comments in italics are mine. I’ve also taken the liberty of adding a few pictures from our numerous trips to London so you can see just a bit of what Casey saw.
Wednesday, Day 15
On Wednesday morning despite feeling crappy, when I opened the curtains, my mood lifted ten-fold. Brilliant blue sky and radiant sunshine!
After having breakfast in the restaurant and armed with brochures, tube and bus information I walked down the road to catch the 253 red double-decker bus to Hatton Cross station. The bus circled the perimeter of the airport so I got to see lots of big planes. At the station I brought a roundtrip ticket and had to wait less than 5 minutes before the tube turned up and before long I was on the Piccadilly line.
Three-quarters of an hour later and thinking I was never going to get there I arrived at Green Park. I got off the tube, took the first exit and ended up in what I presume was Green Park. I got my bearings and despite the Big Bus hop on and hop off being there, I discovered I was less than 7 minutes from Buckingham Palace so I decided to walk there.
The sun was brilliantly hot and Green Park was just gorgeous and green. The trees were heavy with blossom, there were daffodils everywhere and lots of pretty flowers. I finally arrived at Buckingham Palace. Staring through the gates I could see a guard standing ramrod straight. The mail was being delivered in the Royal Mail van. A sign on the grounds indicated that there would be no changing of the guard today. The Palace was big but looked friendlier than what I had imagined.
I was confused about what was going on outside the Palace. I assumed that one could actually drive on the road around the Palace but today it was all blocked off and there were barricades everywhere. There was a huge police presence – in cars, vans, on foot, motorcycles, bicycles and horses.
I walked around the statue in the middle and dipped my hand in the water. I walked down the mall and was impressed with all the huge country flags lining the streets. It was then that I saw the sign – Commonwealth meeting. A ha! That explained the heavy police presence. Every now and again an official car would come down the road flanked by numerous police vehicles. Maybe it was Jacinda (New Zealand’s Prime Minister) off to meet the queen. The barricades I quickly worked out were for Sunday’s London Marathon.
I diverted into St James Park, marveled again at the pretty flowers and the deck chairs which you could hire then made my way around the side of Buckingham Palace. I diligently followed my map to where I thought I could catch the bus but nothing was making sense. I stopped to ask a rickshaw guy who turned my map around the right way. We both had a giggle and I was off on my way again.
I found where I needed to get the Big Bus. Outside the Royal Mews. While I waited for the bus I was finally able to stand back and soak up the hustle and bustle of London. It seemed every few minutes one of those cute black cabs would roll pass. I love them! And I chuckled as across the road was the Palace Fish and Chips. I can’t imagine the Queen stepping out for fish and chips.
The bus finally arrived and I went up the top snagging the last seat. We made our way slowly through the traffic around the Palace to Westminster Abbey. Wow! Amazing and so many famous people buried there. Going inside the Abbey was definitely on my list of things to do so made a note to get off on the next trip around on the bus. Oh, and you’ll be pleased to know there was a protest. I took photos of Indians waving flags and banners and yelling about something but I’m not sure what they were protesting about. (Remember the protests in Dublin?)
Over the Westminster Bridge and my first look at the Thames. Wow! She’s big and very busy. And dirty. But I’ve since found out it’s the mud being churned up from the bottom that makes it dirty. The Thames is one of the cleanest rivers in the world home to 120 different species of fish. It seemed like this would be a good place to get off and do the river cruise.
I walked back over the bridge crowded with people, rickshaw drivers and a man dressed in zany union jack attire handing out English pub food flyers. (Ha ha, he’s always there!)
When I got on the ferry I was able to get a seat outside on top which was great. It was such a brilliant day weather wise. In fact, it was starting to get down-right hot! Apparently the weather in London had not been great in the previous week and today was the first day they had people out on the top deck.
There was live commentary all the way and I learnt lots about London.
Once the ferry got underway we made our way over to have a look at the Eye. I’m embarrased to say it was nothing like what I had envisaged which was like a ferris wheel that goes around quickly and you would be sitting outside. Now I know why you and Sheryl laughed when I was worried about motion sickness. The little cabs were moving so slowly it was hard to even work out if they were moving at all. It would’ve been a great day to do the Eye because the skies were so clear.
We then continued on down the Thames. I loved the architecture – the old and the new, the Shard and some other buildings I’ve forgotten the names of. There is a tonne of construction going on and some very large buildings being built. We went under London Bridge and had a good look at London Tower. The ferry stopped at Tower Quay and the commentator mentioned that you could get off here or go on to Greenwich. I remember you mentioned that that was one of the places you wanted to take us so I decided to stay on the ferry. The landscape changed as we continued up the Thames and I started to get a sense of why you liked the Thames so much and the views that you get along the way.
I got off at Greenwich and was immediately charmed by the quaint seaside town. I saw the Cutty Sark and decided to go on it on the way back. As I ventured up the first street I could feel a happiness about the town – the tourists, the locals and how laid back it was. The third shop I came to was a book shop! Yay! It was called Cafe W so I went upstairs to have lunch and a nice cold lemonade. I couldn’t browse too long but I wished you could’ve been with me. One of the things I loved about Ireland and England was the great array of independent bookshops they had which is really lacking in the US, NZ and Australia. From the bookshop I stumbled across the Greenwich market which was a really cool place to hang out and look at the arts and crafts and one Chinese food stall where the guy was making something from long noodles I think it was that he kept whirling and twirling in the air.
From there I had a quick look around the old naval buildings. Wow! These buildings were amazing – so much history and once again the architecture blew me away. I really wanted to do some of the tours around the buildings. However, it was getting close to 3 pm by this time which was when the next ferry left. I left Greenwich feeling as though I’d just touched the surface. I didn’t have time to really look around or do the Cutty Sark.
Back on the ferry and back down the Thames and an hour later I was back in London. My intention was to get back on the Big Bus but I was getting pretty knackered by then and knew I would need to get back to Green Park to get the tube back to Hatton Cross. So with a heavy heart I got off the ferry and made my way somehow to St James Park and walked along the Birdcage. St James Park was also so pretty in all its spring glory. There was an ice cream stand in the park and I would dearly have loved to have an ice cream but I needed to keep moving. I walked across the Blue Bridge, alongside Buckingham Palace, back through Green Park onto the tube.
What a contrast to the quiet ride in that morning! Standing room only, hot, stifling, smelly and this is where you no longer worried about invading someone else’s space. By 5.30 pm I was back at Hatton Cross and by 6.00 pm back at the hotel.
I thoroughly enjoyed my day in London despite only doing three stops of the Big Bus and virtually running all day to see everything.
When you told me that I would love London I was skeptical. It has never been a place that I’ve really wanted to visit but, of course, you know me too well, I loved it! It was vibrant, alive, quirky, bustling, with a character all of its own (and I just love those dinky little black cabs). The history is rich and I loved the buildings. I can see now why you love London so much and why it appeals to you. (I lived in London for two years.)
Thank you so much for opening my eyes up to another place. I did keep an open mind and I’m glad I did. I would love to go back and spend some more time there and do all the things that I only touched the surface on. The wild dreamer in me would truly love to be able to visit London again and visit it with you. I could feel you while I was in London and you peering over my shoulder pointing things out to me.
Thursday, Day 16
Sheryl and I have been home for a full day but Casey will take off today at 3pm and, after a stop in Shanghai, arrive home on Saturday.
We so hope you’ve enjoyed our trip as much as we have reliving it. We’ve tons more pictures we’d love to add but this is already way long.
Please, if you have any questions, just let us know.