September 10th, 2003
Today we head out from London and got the Cotswolds for 2 days, then Oxford for a day, then York. Yesterday was spent mostly lazing around (tourism is hard work) and then we sat at the British Tourist Authority and then the Scottish Tourist Board to make B&B/hotel reservations. I hadn’t been able to settle on anything from home, and then I usually couldn’t make reservations via the Web, but we’re sorted now, I hope. David is worried that the hotels/B&Bs won’t be any good — that is, worse than this one, which isn’t that great but is at least convenient.
Also yesterday, we wandered around
Trafalgar, toured the Cabinet War Rooms, and dropped in on the Queen at Buckingham Palace. Once again we found an easy and surprisingly good place for lunch — the cafe at the War Rooms was about 2/3 along the route of the tour. We wandered the neighborhood and found a beautiful church with Evening Prayer just ending, lots more restaurants, almost witnessed an accident, and had a good meal at a Spanish/Italian place called “Brazas.” Almost went to “The Swan” but it was too smoky, though it had a pretty posh clientele.
All in all, London has been good to us. Now let’s see what the rest of the country can do.
Afterwords: February 7th, 2004
The weather cooperated with us as we wandered around being tourists. We covered a lot of ground that day.
As a travel agent, I was amazed and astounded that the business of making a hotel or bed-and-breakfast reservation still came down to going in person to a travel office and sitting down at someone’s desk while they made phone calls. I realize that B&B bookings have to be person-to-person for the kind of place we were looking for, but still it made me feel a slight nostalgia for the old way of doing things… or was it nausea? Anyway, it was an interesting process and it took a fair amount of time to get things sorted. Both agents that helped us were very nice – it appeared that they both worked for the same travel company that contracted for the British and Scottish tourist boards.
Strangely, they were located in different offices, so once we were done with getting things figured out for the Cotswolds, off we went to the Scottish office, just down the street (and not far from Trafalgar, so we did sort of proceed in a logical fashion toward actual tourist activities).
At least at the Scottish office, they had free bottled water. Made me think of a “Monarch of the Glen” episode, but it was not the Glenbogle brand.
As it was an unseasonably, and downright unEnglish hot day, we walked out with several bottles. What’s the hey. We were glad we had them later.
We wandered around toward Trafalgar and window-shopped (neither of us are big shoppers). At one point, it looked like there was about to be some sort of news story happening – there were a lot of official cars and police escorts drawn up outside one of the ministry buildings near Trafalgar, but I have no idea what it was all about. We watched to see if anything interesting would happen or to see if perhaps the PM would be visible, but saw no one we recognized.
We spent a good hour just taking photographs in Trafalgar, but decided against hitting the National Portrait Gallery and the inside of St Martin’s-in-the-Fields, and decided to wander along the Mall in the general direction of nothing in particular, looking at the various buildings and relaxing.
After wandering around the gardens in Green Park (which were well watered and spectactular) we headed for the Cabinet War Rooms tour – an EXCELLENT and interesting choice for something to do (and also cool in the summer and dry in the winter).
There was some sort of altercation at the front door between some people whose tourist vouchers stated that admission to the tour was included, but the tour people were saying the offer had been rescinded, and they went on wrangling about the price for quite a while. Their American accents sounded harsh and brassy to us (after only a couple of days in London, too!) as we quietly paid the admission.
By about now in the trip, we had both started using little phrases we picked up in passing or heard on the morning chat show in the hotel breakfast room. I’ve always had a fund of little Britishisms, but it was funny hearing David start to use them, and we’re still doing it. Just today, after getting out and skiiing in a nearby forest preserve, we made it back to the car in one piece and David said “well done, us!” He became a big fan of the Tube, and still misses it. 😉
Anyway, the tour we had just signed up for is a self-guided walk-through of the Cabinet War Rooms used by Churchill during the Second World War. It’s very evocative of the time of the London Blitz, and they’ve done an incredible job making it seem like everyone concerned has popped out for the day. They use sound effects to make it seem like someone is just around the corner, whistling and striding down the hall with that particular ringing step familiar from the soundscapes of countless British war films. About half way along we were flagging, and found they had an area for sitting around listening to sound clips from the era in these lovely leather armchairs. And in the same area was the cafe. We figured as a captive audience it would turn out to be our first disappointing and overpriced meal in Britain, but not so.
Lunch at the Switch Room cafe was not only excellent for a little canteen-style place with pre-prepared sandwiches, they had Fentiman’s ginger beer. We had first encounted Fentiman’s at the Tower of London cafe and loved it, so we were perfectly happy. Canteen sandwiches in Britain often turned out to be tandoori chicken and had nice crisp peppery watercress on them instead of limp lettuce. We soon learned to recognize a couple of brands and rely on getting at least a decent sandwich when we were on the move.
“Oooh!” I’d say. “Tandoori chicken, my favorite.” I’d never seen curry used as a sandwich filling, but I must say it’s delicious.
And we’re not the only fans of Fentiman’s, apparently, although I won’t go so far as to bid on some online. We’re really hoping to find a US source in our area, but our local Binny’s doesn’t carry it. Yet. These guys do, and we’re headed out West in the Spring. Hmm.
I was surprised to find that there is no national museum in Britain dedicated to Winston Churchill. There was a section of the tour devoted to Churchill’s life after being voted out of office, and it moved me very much. However, it appears that they will open some sort of small museum there in 2005, to be called “The Churchill Museum.” And they’re looking for funds. Must mention this to the hubby.
After that, we moseyed along toward Buckingham Palace and wandered up through Regent’s Park. It was gloriously empty.
Sadly, we didn’t actually explore our own neighborhood until the afternoon before we left London, but on a return trip I think we’ll feel a lot more venturesome, no matter where we’ll staying. I keep running across references to restaurants and things to do that were located in our area that we missed out on. That’ll larn us.
Here are the best of the photos… these are thumbnails at 25%:
National Portrait Gallery and fountain
Flowers in Green Park (someone worked hard to keep these going)
Buckingham Palace: The Queen Is Not Receiving Drop-In Visitors
Regent’s Park: where is everyone?
I have no idea what this building is, I just thought the copper detail on the mansard roof was striking.
And so off we went to Paddington the next morning to catch the Thames Trains service out to the Cotswolds, and the next part of our trip.