England May 2004

This is the diary from my May 2004 trip to England - earlier that year I had a bout with gallstones...not nice. Luckily I was able to have surgery by mid March however I had to cancel a 7 week trip to Europe that I was due to take mid March to late April. This included the World Figure Skating Championships in Dortmund Germany (total loss on tickets), a visit to friends in Denmark and Vienna, visiting Salzburg and of course my beautiful London. Due to going to my first walking convention in May in Vancouver (planned months before and three weeks or more after my return from England) I could only fit in a two week trip - I had to wait six weeks after surgery so Tuesday May 4th was it!!! I was also quite slim due to having lost a lot of weight - when eating the wrong foot hurts you avoid it. Well I would never ever want to go through that pain again wish there was something similar I could do to stop my incessant appetite!!!!


Tuesday May 4th Wednesday May 5th: Flew to London via Minneapolis on NorthWest Airlines. Very uneventful flight and arrived on time into Gatwick. Got the train into London and then on to York and checked into my Bed and Breakfast. It was called the Wold View Hotel and was right next to the Nestle chocolate factory! I unpacked but it was such a beautiful day that it seemed a waste not to do a bit of exploring. So I set off walking into town.. I went to the Treasurers House and did a “ghost tour” of the basement. Ghosts of Roman soldiers have been seen walking through on their way back to their base which lies beneath the ground nearby. The most famous sighting was by a young lad in the 50’s who was helping do repair work - he later became a police officer. We didn’t see anything on the tour unfortunately but it was very interesting. Afterwards I had a cream tea in the tea shop there - I swear the cream was piled an inch thick on the scone! Welcome to England! I then walked back to the hotel, rested a bit, watched “Coronation Street” and called it a day. Unfortunately I didn’t fall asleep until 5 a.m. - good old jetlag!

Thursday May 6th: After a cooked English breakfast I tackled a 10 km walk set up by the British Walking Federation - it is associated with my walking group. It was a wonderful walk and I pretty well covered all of the city walls and explored places I’d never seen on all my previous trips. Really enjoyed myself. York is a gorgeous old city - my second favourite in Britain - next to London. I did take a boat cruise along the Ouse river that was pretty much a non-event. Along the way I had my first prawn and mayonnaise sandwich of the trip for lunch. Love those sandwiches! J In the centre of York there was an old chap with his two Border Collies. He was basically a one man band and when he finished his piece of music the one dog would bark - if he played his harmonica the same dog would howl. (the other one just sat there - on the job training?) It was vastly entertaining for a dog lover like me. I went back to the hotel to rest a bit and change then met my penfriend Sue from Leeds at the train station. We went to Pizza Express for a meal and had a really good visit.

Friday May 7th: At 9 a.m. I met my cousins Ann and Sue in central York in a coffee shop. We walked over to St. Michael le Belfrey where Guy Fawkes was baptized. On to St. William College - not a school but a former collegiate for priests. It dates from 1471 and we were lucky enough to be taken by the receptionist to see a gorgeous wall in one of the original rooms. We then walked through the Shambles and looked in the shops - I paid a ridiculous amount of money for a box of Yorkshire Tea. On to Betty’s of York (“the” place to go for tea) for lunch - Sue’s treat - and I had Yorkshire rarebit. (cheese with beer melted over bread) The prices were enough to have my eyes out on stalks. It was very nice though and now I can say I’ve been there. It was a big “hangout” for Allied troops during the war so we went down to the basement and looked at the mirror where many Canadian soldiers had signed - I picked one out from Regina right away. We decided to head out of town so Sue drive us to Nunnington Hall - we got a bit “lost” along the way but that was part of the fun. The GPS had a very snooty British woman's voice on it who seemed to get more and more perturbed when Sue got off route until finally Sue shouted "shut up you bloody woman" and turned it off. (2011 note: I always think back to that day when I am in a car with a GPS!) It was very nice and the garden was lovely. We had tea - fruit cake with wensleydale cheese. Back to Ann’s - Sue had to go back to Bradford but I stayed at Ann’s for a wonderful meal. Ann and Brian then drove me back to my B & B about 9 p.m.

Saturday May 8th: I caught the bus to Castle Howard which is a huge stately home (www.castlehoward.co.uk) outside of York. It is very grand and exquisite furnishings inside. Beautiful fountains and lakes. Unfortunately it was the worst day of my trip - a tiny bit of rain, dull with a strong wind. I walked through the Ray Woods which were beautiful with loads of rhododendrons - I ended up at the Temple of the Four Winds which was gorgeous. Back in York I had fish and chips at Gillygate Fisheries which were good. Walking back towards the hotel the smell of chocolate was overwhelming - the wind was in the right direction from the Nestle factory. I confess…I had to stop and buy a chocolate bar on the way back!!! I rested a bit then decided at the last minute to go on a Viking history walking tour that evening (I’d done the walking ghost tour last time and on a previous trip as well) but I was the only one that showed up so she cancelled it. So back to the room to watch telly.

Sunday May 9th: Walked with my luggage to the station (muttering all the way “next time it’s carry on only”) and caught the 10:19 train to Kings Cross. Once there I then walked over to the Thamelink station to get a train to Bedford only to find out there were no trains from Kings Cross Thameslink that day. Grrrr. So back to the tube station and over to Kentish Town with all my luggage. Finally got to Bedford where I got a taxi to Tom’s house in Oakley. It was wonderful to see him again and everything was the same - it’s a bit like home to me now. Well Tom insists I call it my “home” in England. We had homemade fish and chips for supper. Finally had a pretty good night’s sleep - between the sherry and the homemade wine Tom was plying me with there wasn’t much chance of not having one!!!

Monday May 10th: After breakfast I did laundry and hung it out to dry - Tom’s is the only place I ever do that! Then I went for a walk. There was a 10 km sanctioned walk that started half a block from Tom’s - I started off on the trail but it was too mucky from all the rain and I had not brought my walking boots with me. So I just walked around the village a bit. We had roast lamb, roast potatoes, mushrooms, onions and brussel sprouts for lunch - it was a wonderful meal and I savoured every mouthful. Then apple crisp with cream for dessert. While Tom had a nap I went for another walk this time the other way and found part of the path I would have followed if I’d done the 10km walk - once again still too wet. When I got back Tom’s friend Rita was there so we had a drink and then I went back with her to see her little bungalow. I walked back and made us sandwiches for supper. After another double episode of “Coronation Street” and some chatting it was time for bed.

Tuesday May 11th: A sad day as I had to say goodbye to Tom. He is 88 and who knows if he will still be around when I go over to England next. Back to London and then the tube to Golders Green and a local bus to my B & B on Wildwood Road in Hampstead Garden Suburb. It was a pretty house and while my room was very small it had everything I needed and the view across to Hampstead Heath was lovely. I took the tube to Knightsbridge and met my penfriend Irene and her husband David for supper. We went to a pub for a drink followed by a meal - Bangers and Mash (sausages with mashed potatoes and gravy) for me - they were naughty and insisted on treating me again. This after presenting me with a box of chocolates. Anyway we had a great visit. Took the bus with them to Baker Street and then carried on by tube to Golders Green.

Wednesday May 12th: I awoke to a dull day - the sun never did appear. Had a wonderful cooked breakfast - one of the best yet. I got myself a weekly travel card and got the tube to Marble Arch where I started the Royal London walk - another British Walking Federation 11 km walk. I walked through Hyde Park, Knightsbridge, Victoria, St. James Park and to the Strand. By this time (4 p.m.) I was famished and had a pizza at a restaurant called The Mode. Can you believe I was still hungry so grabbed a sandwich and sat in Soho Square and relived some wonderful memories of encounters with a certain Mr. McCartney there. Back to the room for what else..”Coronation Street”!!!

Thursday May 13th: After another wonderful English brekky I set off to the river and took a cruise down to Greenwich and the Thames Barrier. Really enjoyed all the sights along the way - the skyline of London is constantly changing. I saw the Millenineum Dome - ugly thing. The Thames Barrier was very interesting. In Greenwich I had a hot lunch of a delicious Steak and Kidney pie at a famous pie shop - didn’t realize it was famous until after I’d eaten there and read about it in a brochure. Then I walked to the Royal Observatory and through the park. Back to Westminster by boat and back to the room for a snack of an apple, cheese and Marks & Spencers pineapple yogurt which I loved - we can’t get pineapple yogurt here and this was creamy, delish AND low-fat! Then off to the Embankment tube station to meet other spook lovers for a walking tour called “Apparitions, Alleyways and Ale”. It was excellent - lots of ghost stories and better still walking down gas lit alley ways that you didn’t even know existed. We ended up walking through St. James Park at night and over the bridge seeing Buckingham Palace lit up on one side and the London Eye on the other.

Friday May 14th: Took the train to Brighton where I met my penfriend Judi. We looked in the shops (and ended up buying matching tops in the same colour!) (2011 note: I had lost a lot of weight due to gall stones and this top sadly lasted me for about two months...) and then had coffee. For lunch we went to a health food restaurant and had a healthy salad. Walked to the pier but it was all misty - disappointing. We did a bit more browsing and then had dinner at Donnatellos’ - I had a set meal of prawn salad, tortellini and tiramisu for dessert. Very good!!!

Saturday May 15th: - Today I took the tube out to Kew Gardens. It was beautiful but I was very tired and had to keep sitting down - my face was very hot as well and finally I had to head back to the room. As soon as I got back I was sick several times - I couldn’t even keep water down. Very disappointing as I had booked a ticket that evening for a Mozart/Vivaldi concert at St. Martin’s in the Field church in Trafalgar Square but instead I had a date with the toilet bowl!!!

Sunday May 16th: Without trying to be crude today it was the other end. I did manage to get to a chemist (drug store) for Immodium and that seemed to do the trick. In the late afternoon I decided to take the bus to Brent Cross just for something to do as it was quite close - but got there just before closing so I pretty well had to turn around and come right back.

Monday May 17th: - This morning I walked over to the main part of Hampstead Heath. As I entered it you could see the London Eye and some of the buildings in Central London. On my walk I stopped at the Ladies Baths - they have Gentlemens as well as a mixed pool. These ponds are open every day of the year but Xmas - people actually swim in them in the winter. Nuts! I would have loved some pictures of some of the old dears swimming in there but of course it wasn’t allowed. I then carried on to Parliament (Kite) Hill where you can see a panoramic view of London. I walked down into Hampstead and took a bus to Westminster and had what else..a prawn sandwich sitting on the banks of the Thames looking across to the Houses of Parliament. I then took a bus to Abbey Road studios and Cavendish Avenue - I have to make this pilgrimage every time. And it does change occasionally - Paul’s gate is now maroon not the dark green it has been since the ‘60’s. It must have been “that woman” that made him do it! I then walked over to Maida Vale to Little Venice and walked along the Regents Canal. A lovely walk but I went a bit too far into Westbourne Grove and when I started seeing rubbish in the canal and high rise flats I figured it was getting a bit dodgy and turned around. I took a bus to St. Martin’s-in-the Fields and had a wonderful cream tea - my last. Then a bus all along Oxford St. to King’s Cross where I hopped a tube back to the room. What can I say another evening of “Coronation Street”.

Tuesday May 18th - All too soon it was my last day in London. Two weeks is not enough!! I took the tube to Hammersmith and started walking back towards Putney Bridge on the Thames Path. It is an area I have never been before. Very interesting. I then got a tube to Tower Hill and from there walked back along the Thames Path back to Leicester Square where I had an Indian vegetarian buffet for lunch. Very nice. I then took a bus from there all the way back to Golders Green - I do enjoy the bus. Especially sitting on the top deck at the front marvelling at all the people dashing in front of the bus. They disappear and you assume they reached the other side of the road and aren’t under the wheels - you must have to have nerves of steel to drive a double decker bus in London. Back in my room I changed and headed off to Kings Cross ThamesLink to catch a train to St. Albans. Off to see “Sing-a-Long a Sound of Music”!!! I picked up my ticket and then managed to get into Marks & Spencer before it closed and got a salad and chocolate bar for my supper. I sat outside on a bench as the weather was gorgeous. Finally we were let in - so many ladies dressed up as nuns as well as some people dressed as the Von Trapp family, a pair of mittens (“My Favourite Things”), mountains - well you name it. They had a contest for “best fancy dress” and the show didn’t start until 7:45. We were given a bag of props so we were kept busy during the film - not only singing along but holding up cards, letting a noisemaker off when Maria and the Captain finally kiss, booing the Nazis, hissing at the Baroness, barking when Leisl’s boyfriend appeared and then when he turned into a Nazi well of course we booed!! It was a hoot, I loved it. Unfortunately they had an intermission of 30 minutes and I had to leave at 10:30 as I had to get back to London and finish packing. I left while Maria was getting married. I will never watch “The Sound of Music” in the same way again!!!

Wed. May 19th - Flew home via Minneapolis - wishing I was still in England but grateful that I had a chance to get away and see dear friends and family and my beloved London once again.