Salisbury, England

After nearly four years of my whining about wanting to see Stonehenge, we finally made this happen.

Funnily, what made this trip really happen wasn’t my nagging but my desire to visit a tack shop in Wilton, which is right next to Salisbury. The things one does for the right boots…

So following our arrival we hopped on the Stonehenge Tour bus outside of the station and enjoyed a historical tour of Salisbury en route to Stonehenge. Stonehenge is first visible from the A303. I saw it a few years ago en route to Cornwall, and it was such a surprise to see it there. if you want to see it a bit closer, you have to buy tickets and enter the site. Seeing Stonehenge doesn’t require a lot of time. We walked around the site in its entirety in about 40 minutes. There’s a free audio guide as well, but we decided to skip that because we hoped to take the earlier bus back into Salisbury.

The Pheasant Inn

We took the tour bus to Blue Boar Inn, a listed building right near the city’s Guildhall and Central Marketplace in search of lunch at The Pheasant Inn, a pub located in an old 16th century inn.

After an undocumented lunch of Steak & Ale pie and Bangers & Mash, we headed off in search of the perfect riding boots.

Equishop came highly recommended by a riding instructor I know,and given that I was having a miserable time finding boots, it seemed worth the trek. Unfortunately, my experience wasn’t as good as his was. The overall customer service and selection available within the shop was quite good, but the fitter who helped me seemed very content to sell me a pair of Ariat boots that had way too much free space in the calf. My acquaintance’s experience was completely different. he joked that they made him try on every pair in the store and checked the fit like he was five years old, which was exactly what I was looking for. Would I go there again, yes, but something I’ve learned on this boot hunt is that you need to find the right fitter and I didn’t do that in this case. (I’ve since found boots and am a happy girl.)

Cathedral Exterior

So, leaving the shop a bit deflated and empty handed, we headed back into Salisbury to the Cathedral.

Salisbury Cathedral, built in the 13th century is famous for its 123m spire, the tallest in England. One can visit the base of the spire via 332 steps on organized tours, but we arrived too late for the last one on a summer Saturday (1530). It’s also famous for being the home to one of the four original copies of the Magna Carta and houses the world’s oldest, still functioning clock, built in 1382.

I’ve included some interior pictures of the Cathedral, but photos in the Chapter House, where the Magna Carta is housed, were not permitted.

After seeing the Cathedral, we had a bit of a wander around the City Center, followed by a pint at The Chough. A chough is a type of bird – I learn something new every day.

Then, unfortunately, it was time to head back to the rail station!


Walking in Search of US Presidents in London

In honor of Independence Day, Darren suggested we go on a walk around London in search of statues of former American Presidents.

Thus, off we went! (The map includes our route and markers for each statue.)


We kicked off the walk at Great Portland Street tube stop, right next to Regent’s Park and a statue of JFK. This Statue was funded by Sunday Telegraph readers, each allowed to donate no more than £1. The statue cost £50,000.

JFK at Regent's Park

From JFK, we headed South into Mayfair to the US Embassy and Grosvenor Square, which is really the Powerball of presidential statue spotting in London. The Square is home to three of them: FDR, Eisenhower, and as of today, Reagan.

FDR in Grosvenor Square

Ike in Grosvenor Square

Reagan in Grosvenor Square

We then headed back to Bond Street to visit FDR & Churchill.

Churchill & FDR on Bond Street

Walking South through Green Park and through Victoria, we found  Lincoln, across from Westminster Abbey.

Lincoln near Parliament

Wrapping it up, we visited Washington, a gift from the Commonwealth of Virginia,  in front of the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square.

Washington at the National Gallery

Regents Canal Towpath

Where to go...

Darren and I recently took advantage of a sunny day to head over to the Regents Canal Towpath and Little Venice (where Regent’s Canal meets the Grand Union canal)  for a bit of a walk.

The map covers our route once we arrived at the path and just the bit that we followed. In its entirety, it runs from Limehouse  to Paddington. You can walk along the route, or you can take a boat.

Built in the early 19th century and whose design was guided by the architect, John Nash of Brighton Pavillion fame, the canal paths were used heavily to transport goods until the 1960’s.

Some pictures! (and evidence that my camera has been neglected for a while!)

You can visit the London Zoo from the path and see the warthogs!

View of the path heading West

Someone's shack along the path.

One of the Canal Boats available for rides.

There are many houseboats moored along the walk as you get closer to Little Venice.

A view of Maida Vale's Little Venice

A Day in Bath, UK

At the baths

Taking a very brief break from London, we recently headed to the city of Bath for the day. While Darren had encouraged an overnight trip, I was confident that we could make a reasonable dent in Bath’s offerings in a day, especially given that it’s a mere 90 minutes by train from London. I may have been mistaken, under normal circumstances.

The Abbey & Baths

In addition to being home to ancient Roman baths, Bath also offers natural hot springs, beautiful architecture, loads of museums, and is one of the most picturesque cities in England. The volume and mix of museums is impressive; from the Jane Austen museum to the Herschel Astronomy Museum to the Postal Museum.

Our first stop after arriving in Bath was the Roman Baths, the building of which started in 60-70 AD and evolved throughout the site’s use to the present.  The wikipedia  Roman Baths page is definitely worth a read for more background).

I think my favorite part were the curse tablets found at the site. On these small tablets,  one would convey a curse upon another who had wronged them. Many of these related to stealing offenses and the tablets would, in some cases, list all of the persons suspected. These tablets were thrown into one of the pools so the Gods could act upon them.

For Drinks Only

We then headed out in pursuit of lunch, dropping in at Bath’s smallest pub, The Coeur de Lion. Lured by the promise of local Abbey Ales and the pub’s lovely front window, we abandoned our original and well thought out plan for lunch at the Lime Lounge.

This, friends, was a mistake. While this pub was a cozy spot to hide from the rain, the food would have qualified as a 1.5 at best if subjected to the rigours of the Quest for Sunday Roast. My fries actually tasted bad! Darren focused on the mash component of his bangers & mash.

Denied at Herschel

Deflated from lunch, we headed to the Herschel Museum of Astronomy. En route there, not a single joke was made about how Herschel discovered Uranus. Really. Unfortunately, when we finally found Herschel’s house, we learned that the museum was closed for the rest of the month. Little did we know, this would not be the only time this happened.

The Jane Austen Centre

We then headed over to the Jane Austen Centre, located near one of the houses that Jane occupied during her lifetime.  The center offers a twice hourly presentation, and while the exhibits were nicely presented, the presentation was by far my favorite part of this museum of sorts. The presentation was largely biographical and talked about Austen’s life and how her family, and especially her seven siblings, are believed to have influenced her writing.  I learned so much!

The Royal Crescent

Heading through lovely, residential areas, we headed towards the Royal Crescent, a row of thirty Georgian houses that have been used as a backdrop in numerous films and is considered one of the finest examples of this sort of architecture in the UK.

Denied at Holburne

Around this time, I started to think that a sticky toffee pudding was necessary, but this was put off to see the Holburne Museum, located on the other side of the river. Our trek through the rain proved pointless as when we arrived giant banners advised us that the gallery would be closed until spring.

It seems to be a commonly held fact among the English that tea fixes everything, so we did the only reasonable thing: go for tea.

Sally Lunn's

A quick google for, “best tea shoppe bath”, brought us to Sally Lunn’s. Located in Bath’s oldest house, this was exactly the sort of place we were looking for. It smells wonderful! Lunn is famous for inventing the aptly named Sally Lunn Bun, which is a variation on the sweet and fluffy Bath Bun.

Naturally, we ordered Sally Lunn buns with our tea and enjoyed them very much. Even before adding jam or clotted cream, the buttery version delivered to me was fantastic.

So much to do...

Spirits were restored, and while we agreed to consider an earlier train back than our planned one around 8pm, we decided to check out another museum en route: The Postal Museum.

The Postal Museum is located in the basement of a post office.  While the staff was helpful, there’s not much to this museum. It’s actually smaller than my flat. While it did have a nifty old machine for perforating stamps that one could play with, the post office cat promised by the visit Bath site was disappointingly Fur Real and not a taxidermied cat with a story. I did enjoy the Queen Mum’s pigeongram (sent via carrier pigeon, really.)  sent in the mid-1980’s celebrating the museum’s opening.

so buttered!

We did the best we could. We’ll have to go back, I think… maybe when more things are open!

I’d definitely go back just for the awesomely buttered Sally Lunn bun.

Things to See When Visiting London, Part II

View from South Bank

Part II has taken me a bit longer than planned. It seems January isn’t really inspiring me to leave the house or encourage guests much!

1. Starting off at Trafalgar Square, you can head into St. Martin in the Fields, where you can do brass rubbings in the crypt.

2. Next up, it’s England, so you have to have tea. While many of the hotels serve high tea, it’s very pricey, so if you’re willing to embrace something a bit less formal while still sconetacular, here are a few suggestions for a casual tea:

Treats in the Window at Bea's

Tea isn’t just about tea. It’s also about scones, clotted cream, jam, and if you’re a tea overachiever, it may mean finger sandwiches and pastries too. Tea overachievement should be reserved for when you don’t have dinner plans.


3. Liberty of London: Founded in 1975, this very traditional, yet trendy department store is housed in a Tudor building constructed from timber which had previously constructed two ships, the HMS Impregnable and the HMS Hindustan. (Needless to say, I was surprised to learn this from a sales associate last time I was there!). Liberty is filled with tiny rooms of beautiful things, and it has a mighty haberdashery section, which may be why I consider it a place I would have liked very much to take my grandmaman, but at the same time, it would please my trendiest friend.

4. Ride a London Bus – First seats, Upper deck:  One really can’t come to London without riding a double decker bus. Even if you don’t want to listen to the Smiths the whole time, it’s the most cost efficient way to see London at £2.20 cash or around a pound on your Oyster Card. If sightseeing is your goal, try to board where the route starts, as this will make snagging one of the front seats on the upper desk much easier.

View of Oxford Circus from the 55 bus

My vote for choicest routes and the sights you’ll see:

1. The number 11: picks up behind Liverpool Street Station:

  • Bank of England
  • St. Pauls
  • Trafalgar Square
  • Big Ben
  • Parliament
  • Westminster Abbey
  • Victoria Station Area
  • King’s Road, Chelsea

Alternatively, you can take the 9 or the 15, both of which have “heritage routes” on which the old Routemaster buses run. The heritage routes are abbreviated routes, focused in central London

2. The 15 starts at Tower Hill, next to the Tower of London:

  • St. Pauls
  • Trafalgar Square

3. The 9 goes from High Street Kensington to Trafalgar Square:

  • Victoria & Albert Museum
  • Harrods: The food hall is dreamy, and the customer service throughout is fantastic.
  • Hyde Park
  • Green Park
  • Picadilly, and Picadilly Circus
  • Trafalgar Square

5. A walk around Hyde Park’s Serpentine:

The Serpentine in Summer

My love of walking around the token, big grassy space in a city may be due to living in major cities for the last 16 years, but I really do enjoy it.

If it’s Christmas time, the Hyde Park Christmas Fair runs through the month of December, and is worth a visit as well. This picture was taken in the summer which is probably the best time to go, weatherwise. There’s a nice little cafe at the eastern end where you can sit outside and have a drink, or there are plenty of folding lawn chairs for rent all around the lake.

*Special thanks to my friend Elisabeth, during whose recent visit a number of these pictures were taken.

Things to See When Visiting London, Part I

The London Eye, Southbank, Big Ben, & Parliament

Each time we have visitors, I tend to draw a blank as to what we should go and visit. It seems that nearly three years of living here has made me completely take the place for granted.

So, in the interests of not doing that, here’s the first of what I expect will be several posts on a few must sees, all under the London Tourism category. You can view all of these places on a google map here.

St. Bartholomew's

1. The Priory Church of St. Bartholomew: This church may look familiar to movie buffs, having appeared in a number of films, but the really interesting bit about this church is its  history. This 12th century church was founded by Rahere, a courtier, after he had a vision in which St. Bartholomew told him to build this church in London. Rahere traveled to London from Rome, and asked the King for the land on which to build his church. The request was granted, and Rahere then recruited volunteers to build this church, completing it in 1123.

2. The Postman’s Park: This tiny park around the corner from St. Paul’s was named for the Post Office that once occupied the land. Its most interesting bit is the Watts Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice. Created in 1900, it contains ceramic tiles recognizing those who lost their lives while saving another. Watts tried to obtain funding to support his

Tiles in Postman's Park

project, but unable to do so, the memorial is largely self-funded. The tiles are beautifully painted, and the stories expressed are at times, matter of fact, other times, seemingly poetic. Watts died in 1904, and his wife, Mary, carried it out after his death. The latest addition was in 2007.

St. Paul's

3. St Paul’s Cathedral: St. Paul’s has a varied history. To those of my generation, the most familiar memory may be the wedding of Diana and Charles. This Wren designed cathedral was the 5th to occupy the location under the same name, and opened in 1697. Wren’s models alone cost £32,000 in today’s terms, according to Wikipedia. To view the entire cathedral and crypt, there is an admission charge, but one can also just have a peek from the back for free. The restaurant in the crypt is new, and while I’m sure the food is lovely, I’d advise saving your appetite for Mary le Bow (next).

4. Lunch  in the  Crypt of St Mary le Bow Church: While there are a number of catherdral and church crypt restaurants, Cafe Below (formerly, “The Place Below”) remains a favorite.  This restaurant’s locally sourced menu of comfort food is an excellent escape on a cold day,  one can dine in the crypt itself or outdoors (summer only). I believe the restaurant has been there for a while, as it never smells crypt-y. This Wren-designed church is famous for its bells, and the term, “Cockney” was historically used to describe a person born within the audible radius of the Bow Bells.

Leadenhall Market

5. Whitecross Street Market: If you have any room left, is also worth a wander. Thursdays and Fridays are home to the Specialty Food Market.

6.  Leadenhall Market: Harry Potter fans will recognize Leadenhall as the entryway to Daigon Alley, but for the rest of us muggles, it offers some excellent lunch venues and spots for shopping that are filled with City workers, taking a break. After wandering through the market, you might as well go look at the adjacent Lloyds Building, which looks nothing like anything in Leadenhall. You can visit the interior of Lloyds during September’s Open House week.

Borough Market

7. The Tower of London: It goes without saying, really. After wandering through the tower and through the Crown Jewels, have a pint at the Hung, Drawn, and Quartered, around the courer.

6. Borough Market: head across London Bridge to visit this mighty food market, which supports retail sales Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. In addition to the many stalls selling vegetables, fruits, cheeses, breads, etc, there’s also a cooked food section which is great fun to graze through. As regular readers may recall, I’m very fond of the grilled cheese from the raclette stall behind Southwark Cathedral.

7. Wander along the Southbank: It’s pretty. Often there are fairs on.

8. The London Eye: see London in half an hour! The views are beautiful, and the slowly moving capsules/pods are fixed, so it’s not scary. It’s pricey, but you can get a better deal by advance booking your tickets on Last Minute.

The View North from Hungerford Bridge

9. Walk across the Hungerford Bridge and check out Gordon’s, London’s oldest wine bar. While there is outdoor seating in the summer, there’s only seating in the 17th century cellars when the weather turns cold. Ladies, this is not a place to wear complicated shoes, as the cellars are low-ceilinged and dark, and if you have accessibility requirements, the venue provides these notes to aid in an advance decision as to whether this venue will be suitable for you.

10. Heading West down the Strand, the Courtald Gallery is always a favorite of mine, offering a small but excellent collection of impressionist and post-impressionist paintings.

York, England

Yorkminster and the Snow

As the end of the year draws closer, I realize that the husband and I should really be taking advantage of all the inexpensive mid-week train fares.

Among the many shopping streets

Thanks to that nagging idea and a pile of Hilton points begging to be used, we headed north to York for an overnight jaunt.

While the train took its sweet time to arrive (two hours late), we arrived with a few hours of Tuesday’s precious daylight left to enjoy.

After checking in, we headed to the Jorvik Viking Centre, a museum of sorts located on the site of a late 70’s archeological dig which yielded a number of significant finds about the Viking city of Jorvik, now known as, “York”.  The center includes a museum of archeological finds, exhibits relating to the structures that resided on this site, and an indoor gondola ride meant to provide visitors with the experience of touring Jorvik under Viking occupation, including the commerce, architecture, and even the smells.

We then headed to the Merchant Adventurers Hall, built in the 14th century by the traders who formed this organization. It remains in use today, as the organization continues to have an active membership, nearly 700 years later.

The Parkin

After having a delicious tea fix at  The Hairy Fig, a shop with adjoining tea room, we had a bit of a wander around The Shambles and surrounding streets. The Shambles is a more than 900 year old street, lined with 15th century buildings. It is currently home to shops, and was rated as the most picturesque street in the UK.

With a quick pub stop at The Swan en route, we headed to the highly ranked Melton’s, which was every bit as excellent as reviews led us to believe. The venison was lovely, but I think my favorite thing was the dessert, a Parkin. A parkin is a ginger cake, specific to Yorkshire. It reminded me of sticky toffee pudding, only gingery.

Our view in the morning.

Yorkminster's Interior

We awoke on Wednesday to find that quite a bit of snow fell whilst we were dreaming. After a quick stop for suitable footware, we headed to Yorkminster, the largest Gothic cathedral in Northern Europe. Like many of the cathedrals I’ve seen in England, this one has been well preserved, but what I really liked about it was how, where possible, evidence of the site’s evolution was highlighted. For example, one can view the Roman era walls in the crypt, and the first apse is subtly marked.

After all that Cathedral, it was scone o’clock. My pilates instructor, Lavinia, had mentioned a tea shop, and I was about to text her for the name when I spotted a venue that simply had to be the place. Betty’s delivered exactly what we were seeking: delicious tea and sultana scones.  While we were steered towards and also ordered a Yorkshire Fat Rascal, I found that I preferred the smaller, simpler offering with strawberry jam and clotted cream.

The Messy Closet Portion of the Museum

The Shambles by Day

In a scone coma (my first), we ventured out into the snow, and had more of a wander around the tiny streets and listed buildings.

Outdoor market off The Shambles

Last but not least, we headed to the National Rail Museum, conveniently located next to the train station. I realize I am likely outing myself as a giant dork, but I love trains, and I love this museum. Between the old UK rail cars, the Royal Trains from the 1840s to present, the aerodynamic locomotives, and the Flying Scotsman exhibit,  followed by a mishmash of asset tagged stuff all stacked up on shelves and largely unlabelled, I was super happy.

While I could have happily spent another two hours, we were kicked out at two due to a private event being hosted later in the day. It may have been for the best, as our decision to leave after a quick lunch, rather than waiting a few hours for our train, meant that with the delays, we made it home as planned.

Given our 26 hours or so in York, I wish I had booked another day. I would have liked to have seen the York Castle Museum, and The Yorkshire Museum & Gardens, as a shopkeeper we spoke with stressed the beauty of the gardens. Fortunately, a return is a quick train ride away.