Thursday, February 28, 2008

Hampton Court Palace

There are a lot of boats in London, seeing as it is a city with a very large river running through the middle of it, this makes a lot of sense. In the good old days, when Henry the Eighth was cruising to Hampton Court he could take all the time he wanted. It is a lovely and majestic place, built and designed by Cardinal Wolsey, who met with a bad end and fell out of favor with the King. Even after giving him Hampton Court Palace in an attempt to keep his favor. The Tudors TV show on Showtime made it appeared that Cardinal Wolsey was the only sane member of Henry the Eighths advisers and that his death brought an end to reason in the Court. Be that it may, Hampton Court Palace in an amazing place to visit. But I would not advise getting there by boat, as well did.

After riding ferries around the touristy parts of London, we thought it would be fun to ride a boat to Hampton Court-well, it was not three and half hours of fun riding a boat to Hampton Court Palace. But I must admit that it was a bit of fun seeing all the many different styles of bridges between the City of London and Hampton Court. We rode by gardens, and statues, and parts of the city would have not seen otherwise. We got to go up and down in a couple of locks which were hand cranked and raised or lowered us as the river demanded. These were all things we would never have seen riding the train for thirty minutes.

However, we seriously short-changed ourselves on Hampton Court. We didn't have time to see or do all that there is do. But it was still a lot of fun. With over 500 years of royal history, Hampton Court Palace has a lot of offer visitors, from the Tudor Kitchens to the State Apartments. Guides in period costumes roam the grounds and help bring the place to life. Hampton Court Palace contains some of the private art collection belonging to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. There are a lot of gardens and the huge lawns were as smooth as billiard tables. There was a horse drawn carriage available for a turn around the estate, but we didn't have the time to do much before he had to head back to the boat for the return ride to London.

It would be nice to return to Hampton Court Palace and spend the full day there. It really is a stunning building. If the Cardinal had given it to me, I think I would have been a bit nicer to him.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Stonehenge-A London Side Trip

Stonehenge is one of those must see places-as long as your in London, might as well take a day and have a wander around the megaliths. Wikipedia has a pretty thorough explanation of Stonehenge, as thorough as possible for something that is basically a mystery. Visiting Stonehenge is both exciting and a bit disappointing-there is something amazing these ancient stones, but you are not allowed to touch Stonehenge. After a short walk around Stonehenge, and taking a lot of photos, there is not much else to do.

There are a lot of tours to Stonehenge, with a wide range of stopovers available. I choose the Bath Stonehenge tour from London and really enjoyed the Roman Bath and that half circle of building called the Royal Crescent that Jane Austin was so found of. The Wife was mad at me as she wanted to see Avebury instead. Avebury is another ancient stone circle that is a little less well known than Stonehenge. But it was just a day trip from London to Stonehenge and we couldn't fit in all the cool stuff that we might have wanted. Avebury would have been cool, but I still think Bath was the better place to go.

The tour we took from London to Stonehenge was on a large motor coach with a very classy sounding tour guide, as all tour guides in London seem to be. Our tour was for Bath and Stonehenge, but as we were driving through London, our tour guide started telling us everything we could have wanted to know about the London neighborhoods we were passing though. He talked about everything with a great deal of authority and as we passed one of the oldest building in London, he sneered at it-"They say it has been around since the 1500s, but clearly it is not older than the 1650s." We though this funny, as the building was ancient to us in either case.

Once we hit the open countryside he asks if we minded if he stopped talking for a while as there was not much of great interest between there and Salisbury Plains. He didn't keep quiet for long, as even the open country had the odd canal bridge or chalk artwork in the side of a hill. Our Guide talked about the Solstice and the history of Stonehenge. Our trip from London was filled with odd bits of info about Tree Gods and waterways.

Stonehenge and Bath will always be linked in my mind. We took our tour on a Sunday, and the Tour Guide lead us right into Salisbury Cathedral in Bath-during the service. There were snapping photos and snaking our way among the pews. It was an amazing place, we really great tombs sitting in the middle of the floors. Our time Bath was too short-we still had to get to Stonehenge England before the day was out.

At last we pulled into a parking lot and we were just across the street from Stonehenge. The stones are big and they all seem to be ready to tumble over. Depending on the angle, they look exactly like every photo of Stonehenge you have ever seen. But at other spots on the long walk around the giant stone circle, it just looks like a ruin or random rocks. The top pieces are missing in many areas, so that the standard image of two tall stones with one short stone across the span is not there. It is still worth a good long stare though.

We only spent thirty or forty minutes at Stonehenge and then had to climb back on the bus and head for London. I wouldn't have missed going to Stonehenge though, and you shouldn't either.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The London Eye a.k.a. The Millennium Wheel

The British Airways London Eye is a giant Ferris wheel on the River Thames near the Tower of London. This is either the best new thing in London, or it is the dullest new thing in London. A flight on the London Eye takes about thirty minutes, which is a long time for busy tourists on a London vacation. Booking the London Eye will set you back about 15 GBP, but there are other options that cost more. The London Eye carries 32 sealed and air-conditioned passenger capsules attached to its external circumference. Each capsule holds approximately 25 people.

There is a pretty cool 360 Panoramic and the Wikipedia Page is very good as well.

British Airways was the main sponsor of the London Eye until February 2008 and up until November 2005 were joint shareholders with Marks Barfield Architects and The Tussauds Group. British Airways also privately funded the London Eye project from the early stages of conception. The London Eye is now operated by the London Eye Company Limited, a Merlin Entertainments Group Company.

The London Eye is no longer the tallest Ferris Wheel in the world. The Singapore Flyer began inaugural rides last week on the 165-metre observation wheel, the world's highest. Singapore won't be on top for long either. There's a mad rush of giant wheel-building going on around the world, and each of them is bigger than the last. The next couple will be in Berlin and Beijing - the latter a whopping 208 metres high-which should give you a fine view of the smog below. After that there are big wheels planned for Orlando, Qingdao, and Dubai.

There are a lot of London Eye Hotels, London Eye Restaurants, and lots of other Tourist Attraction near the London Eye. The London Eye is not for everyone, the que can be long and the cost can seem excessive-but most people seem to think it is worth both the wait and the expense. It is definitely on my list of things to do next time I am in London.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

London's Best Fish and Chips

Fish and Chips is a simple British fast food. You fry fish and you fry potatoes, and Bob's Your Uncle. But it isn't all that simple to come to a firm conclusion on what exactly is the best Fish and Chips in London, the best Fish and Chips in the UK, or even the best Fish and Chips in the World. There are so many variables, what kind of fish, what kind of potatoe, what kind of oil

The Times Online wrote an article recently called the UK's Top Ten Fish and Chip Shops, there were 81 comments contesting the list and offering thier own favorites. There were no London Fish and Chip shows on the list for one thing. Not even a Donner Kabob? This little hole in the wall place was one I liked in Camdeon Lock, but it is not really a proper Fish and Chips Shop.

The North Sea Fish Restaurant gets a vote as a good London Fish and Chips Shop. Ollies in Herne Hill gets a vote. There are a lot of people that like their local Chippies. Time Out London has thier own list of London's Best Fish and Chips, and London Eats has a Top Ten Chippies to Die For list. The list below popped up when I Googled Fish and Chips in London. Hey, you have to trust Google, don't you?

Seafresh Fish Restaurant - +44 20 78280747 - 10 reviews

The Fryers Delight - +44 20 74054114 - 7 reviews

The Rock & Sole Plaice - - +44 20 78363785 - 9 reviews

Mister Fish Ltd - +44 20 7229 4161 - 13 reviews

The Golden Hind - +44 20 74863644 - 8 reviews

The Fish Club - - +44 20 7978 7115 - 7 reviews

The Dining Plaice - +44 20 74373280 - 1 review

Traditional Plaice - +44 20 74058277

Flying Fish - +44 20 77017032 - 1 review

Nautilus - +44 20 74352532 - 4 reviews

Monday, February 18, 2008

The London Dudgeon

"You have been found guilty of desertion and doing a Reginald Perrin into the Sea." I was told by the Judge, who was wearing a large powder wig and flowing red robes. The Wife and I laughed at this, as we were both familar with the British comedy The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin, in which he strips naked and runs into the ocean as the open credits roll. None of the other Americas in a our group of about fifteen got the joke. The rest of the group was found guilty of cowardice in the face of the enemy. We were all being sent to the London Dungeon.

A short walk from Tower Bridge, in one of the many lovely warehouse districts of London, is an unassuming building that houses the wax museum/house of horrors that is The London Dungeon. It has been a few years since last I was there, judging by the website they have added a lot more action to the place, it was mainly a wax museum when we were there. But it was a fun wax museum, was a lot of people in period costumes wandering about. The museum had two main parts, a self-guiding walk through London During the Plague and then a guided tour where your are Judged and Sentenced and sent to the Guillotine.

During the self guided part of the London Dungeon the rooms were dim and partly lit by candle light. Real candle light, supplied by very large candles with four or five inch open flames. These tapers were just sitting around and burning merrily away-the kind of thing you would never see in an American museum of any kind. But it seemed perfectly normal here.

New since we where there is an exhibit featuring the demon barber of Fleet Street, Sweeney Todd, Extremis: Drop Ride to Doom!, and Traitor! Boat Ride to Hell! They are fond of exclamation points at the London Dungeon. It will take about an hour and half to see all there is to see in The London Dungeon. Prices for London Dungeon : Adult: £19.95 / Child: £13.95 / Student: £14.95 / Disabled Adult: £17.95 / Disabled Child: £9.95 /OAP (60+ yrs): £14.95

Just remember when you are in front of the Judge to call him, Your Honor. He'll still sentence you to be hanged, but he will be nicer about it.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

London Pubs and Pub Signs

Even a short walk around London will take you past a number of Pub Signs. Pubs are to Londoners as krill are to whales. The streets of London, as well as the back alleys, a filled with Pubs. A real pub, as in a historic pub that a touristy type such as myself my like, looks like a set from a Sherlock Holmes movie. I like the signs, and I took many photos of Pub Signs when last I was in the city of London.

But the signs are really a side issue, it's all about the food and drink and the company one finds in a good pub-not to mention the size of the telly. Or so I hear. I like to look at Pubs more than I like to use them. Which is why a guide to London Pubs is always a welcome thing. There are a lot of guides to London Pubs, but only a handful that really seem to cover the topic well. I have picked five websites that talk seriously about proper London Pubs.

Pubs.Com is a very pretty and very functional site that about all things Pubs. Recent stories talk about Pub Etiquette, how to get around in London, and the fact that beer prices or on the rise. Traditional and Historical Pubs are the focus here. They have a nice little Pub Finder that lets your search by location, postcode, name, or landmark-with a lot of choices in what the Pub you are seeking has to offer. A quick search for London Pubs brings up 68 Traditional and Historic Pubs. The site also feature Pub History, The Law, and other Pub Related Topics.

London View-London Pub and Bar Guide is a bit more modern in their view of the Pub. They have 205 London Pubs listed on their site. London View also has a nice Pub Finder which has drop-down menus to help you narrow your search to parts of the city and tube stations. The latest London bar news here is about Prince Arthur and Amora Aphrodisiac Lounge, great names at any rate, and I bet they have good Pub Signs as well.

TimeOut London Bars, Pubs, and Clubs has a nice clean look to it. It's Pub Search says it lists over a thousand bars and pubs. They have a place to sign up for a newsletter if you can't wait to find out which Pub they are reviewing next. The reviews seem to be quick and to the point, which is what you want in a Pub review. The Features are a bit more in depth than the reviews. This is a good site to while away a few minutes, or more, deciding where you want to start that Pub Crawl.

Random Pub Finder is for those times when you don't want to while away the odd hour looking at the web, you want to go to a Pub. So hit the Pub Randomizer and whamo, you are given a Pub to go to. There is also a map of London with a ton of red dots that represent the Pubs, a Tag Cloud of Pubs, and the Full List of Pubs. One of the cute items here that I have not noticed on the other sites is a list of Top Ten Worst Pubs in London. Just as good to the bad ones as it is to know the good ones. This is a simple and easy site to use. Need a London Pub? Point and click.

Fancyapint? is another nice little site with a more friendly feel to it than the larger sites above. Fancyapint offers Pub reviews, Top Ten Pub lists, and a visitor's guide to the UK. Seems they wrote a book but it is sold out. They should have whipped out an ebook, those things never go out of print. They also have a list of Pub Walks and Pub Crawls. The Pub reviews features details about the Pub in question, such as the size of the TVs, whether they have a beer garden, and how to get there. Pubs are rated in beers-0 to 5 with 5 being the best. There are plenty of 5 beer Pubs to choose from.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Beatles London Flat up For Sale

A flat once rented by the Beatles in London is up for sale for about $3.5 million. Who says living in London is expensive?

The Beatles moved into a falt at 57 Green Street, near Hyde Park, in the Autumn of 1963. This was the only home shared by all four Beatles. It was Manager Brain Epstein's way to keep the mobs of fans at bay. The flat is for with Sotheby's.

General Beatles Sites has a long list of sites that cover all aspects of the Beatles. I have a great love of The Beatles myself, having found them when I was an angst stricken teen in the early 1980s. I stay in a hotel in Russell Square just down the road form a hotel the Beatles stayed in. Of course, I didn't know it at the time. One of things to see the next time I am in London is the Abby Road Studio. Just to walk the zebra crossing in St. John's Wood, London, England.

The Beatles old flat has been remodeled into a two-bedroom apartment. It was used from time to time by it's present owner, who lives in California.

"The owner is aware of its history, but hasn't turned it into a Beatles shrine or anything like that," said estate agent Peter Bevan.

Too bad, if I owned it, it's be restored to it's 1963 glory days and added to the very long list of places to see in London that have a Beatles connection. The Beatles are to the U.K. what George Washington is to America, they pretty slept everywhere. Or at least, that's what I hear.

Monday, February 11, 2008

The British Museum

The British Museum is one of those places where you could easily spend an entire London vacation wandering around. On my first trip to London, after a nine hour flight, a couple of hours wandering around Gatwick and making our way to Russel Square-where we were staying, we stumbled into the British Museum. It was a huge place, with giant ceilings and massive exhibits. We were impressed and often awe struck by the things we saw. It was a bit funny to see giant Totem Poles in London.

The British Museum is on many Top Ten lists of things to see in London, and well it should be. With objects as diverse as Roman Temples to a stone head from Easter Island, there is a little bit of everything here. The British Museum is the world's oldest public museum and is free to boot-except for special exhibits. One of my favorite areas was the British Museum Egypt, with it's large collection of mummies, including one of a cat. The artifacts seemed endless as we wandered from room to room, it was wonderful, but jet lag was doing us in. We would have to go back later to see Ancient Greece, Natural History, and all the art that fills the British Museum.

Thanks to the internet, you no longer have to travel to London to buy a souvenir from the British Museum. The British Museum Shop Online sells all kinds of art prints and reproductions of their collection. One of the many silly things they sell is British Museum Fudge and a British Museum White Chocolate Mummy.

The British Museum website is a clean and easy site to navigate around. The many collections are there for the browsing, so that you can decide before you go what you would most like to see in person. It is pretty much impossible to see all that the British Museum has to offer in one visit, so if it just one of many stops on your London holiday, than you need to the most of your time inside.

The current hot ticket is for 'The First Emperor, China's Terracotta Army' exhibition showing at the British Museum, which is now sold out until 6th April 2008. Still, there is a lot to see besides the featured shows. You can't go wrong spending a few hours, or days, at The British Museum.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

London Eyewitness Travel Guide

The DK Eyewitness Travel London Guide is the best book of its kind for my money. This is a wonderful guide to London filled with photos and diagrams and all the info you'll need for a great trip. Oh, I know, there is a lot more depth in the Let's Go Guides and the Rough Guide-but those books don't have any photos to speak of, do they?

The London DK Eyewitness book is more like a glossy magazine than a travel guidebook. It has heft to it and yet it is still small enough to slide into a back pocket. All the top spots are well covered, with a ton of suggested walking tours. A new features in the London Eyewitness Travel Guide is itineraries, each one follows a theme and sights are reachable with public transportation. The themes for each day are as follows; History and Culture, Shopping in Style, The Great Outdoors and Family Fun Day. There are maps in the back and lots of info about prices and safety and all the things one would expect from a guidebook.

The photos and the many sections on history and food and plants all make this a wonderful book to browse, both for those planing a trip or those wanting to recall one already taken. For me this is the best of the Armchair Travel Guidebooks, as DK Eyewitness London gives a strong feeling of what you'll see and do once you arrive. You can plan and dream and ponder over all the amazing images. I never got around to doing half the things I wanted to do, but it was still fun looking at this London Guidebook. The better to plan that next trip and hit the spots I missed the last time.

London DK Eyewitness Travel Guide is one of my all time favorite books on the great city of London. What you should see, what you should eat, and where you should stay are all covered. I highly recommend it.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

London Cheese Shops

"A gentleman only buys his cheese from Paxton & Whitfield"
Winston Churchill

There is something about cheese, and Stilton Cheese in particular that has a bit fo magic to it. You take sweet and creamy milk and turn into something completely different. London is still an old world city in many respects, for example, they have Cheesemongers. If you want cheese in America, you go to the dairy section of the supermarket.

Paxton & Whitfield, 93 Jermyn Street St. James's, London, SW1Y 6JE. Looking for a great old cheese shop in London? Give Paxton & Whitfield a try, established in 1797, it still supplies the best Stilton in the kingdom. . In case you don't know, Stilton is a blue cheese and one of the truly British gifts to the world of cheese. It is a strong flavored blue cheese with a lot of character. Stilton is still made exclusively in the counties of Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire from local milk.

Neals Yard Dairy,17 Shorts Gardens, Covent Garden, London WC2H 9UP. A bit more recent, but highly regarded cheese shop, Neals Yard Dairy opened July 4th, 1979 in Covent Garden. They have a long list of interesting sounding cheese, including Stilton, Keen's Cheddar, Childwickbury, and Woolsery Goat-to name a few.

La Fromagerie, 2-4 Moxon St, Westminster, London W1U, UK. I like the whole bit with the cows and the bells as their website opens. They modestly remind us that they are one of the best Cheese Shops in London. The choices of cheese are really mind boggling. From such broad categories as country, animal, and firmness, the varities of cheese here seem endless. Under the UK Cheese we find such interesting items as Wensleydale Richard III, Ticklemore, and Colston Bassett Stilton.

Gorwydd Caerphilly, Borough Market, Borough High St, Southwark, London SE1, UK. Gotta love the name, don't you? They only sell Caerphilly, which is a traditional Welsh cheese. The Welsh name was a bit of a tip off. Gorwydd Caerphilly was established in 1996, so it's practically a new born. It's made with a traditional recipe and natural ingredients.

, Broadway Market, Hackney, London E8, UK. These good people are trying bring some respect to Ducth Cheesemaking, and get away from that rubbery stuff in the supermarket called Edam and Gouda. Of course, I kind of like Edam and Gouda. Maybe I will like Wilde Weide, Captein Gouda, and Boeren Sluetel Leidsekaas even better. I like anyone that is trying to make something better. Like making the cheese on small farms with unpasteurized milk.

So there you have a few cheese shops to check out. Enjoy.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

The Tower of London

The Tower of London is a castle, a huge fortress in the middle of the modern city of London. Political prisoners were frequently held in the Tower of London (though their confinement was often reasonably comfortable). The infamous Traitors' Gate could take them directly from the river Thames into the Tower. It is hard to image this cold, stone citadel being comfortable for anyone. But it is a very impressive place to visit.

The Tower of London is often on the Top Ten list for London sightseeing and it is well worth the better part of a day it takes to see everything there is to see. No London tour would be complete without stopping at the Tower and seeing the Royal Jewels and the Royal Ravens.

At the moment the Tower of London tickets for adults cost 15 pounds, which equals about 30 US dollars. Children cost 9 pounds, about 18 dollars. It that seems to be pretty close to what I paid the last time I was a London traveler. There is a long chain maze outside The Tower, just like the ones you find in amusement parks for the popular rides. But my London trip was in a chilly April and there were no ques at all. You can see London without seeing the Tower of London.

There are a lot of swords and cannons and armour in the Tower of London. One of the more impressive sights is the huge suit of armour worn by Henry The VII. Henry's armour shows that Henry was a big man, and had a very large codpiece.

There were a lot of Beefeaters acting as guides and standing about looking serious. There were plenty of more modern guards as well, especially around the Royal Jewels. There is a conveyor belt in front of the Royal Jewels so that, on busy days, mobs don't crowd the cases and cause a traffic jam. These people movers were on the day we were there, though there was no crowd to speak of. So we just stepped on the moving sidewalk and looked at the Crown Jewels at our leisure. These diamonds, rubies, silver and gold are amazingly beautiful and huge beyond belief. But the other London tourists didn't seem that impressed, they just rode the conveyor belt by and walked out the end of the room. True the Jewels are near the end of the Tower of London tour, but for crying out loud, these are The Royal Jewels! Take a minute or two if you can and give them a good look.

As a photographer I found the Tower of London both amazing and frustrating. You can take photos of the outsides of the buildings all you want, turrets and cannons and stone walls I have photos of galore. But you were not allowed to take photos inside, as The Tower of London is part of the Queens property, or something like that. There were people that took photos anyway and the guards asked them nicely not to do so again. But if you want photos, there are a ton of books for sale with photos of everything in the Tower of London, from the Ravens to the White Tower to the Royal Jewels. Of course, the Royal Raven are outside, so you can take photos of them. There was a cat on top of one of the birdhouses when we where there. That was pretty funny.

Once we were done with The Tower, we walked toward Tower Bridge, which is a very lovely Victorian structure. Just outside the Tower was a KFC that seated two hundred. We went next door instead and I ordered a Root Beer to go with my sandwich. They handed me a tall frosty glass of beer. No, I wanted a Root Beer. Don't ask me why I thought anyone in London would know what a root beer was. The man with a thick Persian accent said, Root Beer? I never heard of a Root Beer. I settled for a Coke, though I did find a Dr Pepper in a convenience store later. From the window of the restaurant you could see the Thames and the walls of the Tower of London.

Who could ask for anything more? Hmm, there is now a Krispy Kreme just a couple of miles from The Tower of London. There's something not quiet right about that. Oh, well, London is always changing.

Monday, February 4, 2008

London, just an idea really

London is a big city, about 600 square miles, about 8 millions people. I am not a native of London, not even as frequent a visitor as I would like. But I do love idea of London. Ok, I love the Touristy bits of the city. I like
listening to the people talk. I like being surrounded by so much history. Though I am not planning a London England vacation at the moment, if I can make enough money, I will be heading back.

So I'll talk about the Good Old Days, and I do mean Old. A bit of history and how much I like The Tudors on Showtime. Maybe a bit of music and a bit of food talk as well from that period.

There's the BBC and how London has been a big part of TV over the years. Modern films ike 28 Days Later and The Chirldren of Man have turned the busy streets of London into a ghost town.

There are interesting Hotels in London, from the Five Star jobs that cost more for a week than I make in a month to the little hostels that the wife and I slept in last time we were in London. There cheap rooms just down the street from the British Museum. Well, cheap hotels for London anyway.

Ah Food, more to London Restaurants than Fish and Chips, but hey, Fish and Chips are pretty goodl. I like Chef Ramsey and Chef Jamie Oliver. I even like the TV Show Chef. Here there will be plenty of room to talk about Dr Who's favorite sweets, Jelly Babies, and how sweet London candy is when compared to bland American chocolate.

I like to thin of all the London attractions, The West End, The Britsih Museum, The Tate Gallery, and all the other amazing museums, just to name a few. The places I went to and the ones that I have not made it to yet. The City of London has more to see and do than I am ever likely to get around to. But I can dream about. Flights to London from DFW leaves on a regular basis and it is only nine hours in the air. I could be there by the end of the week, if I really, really wanted to be. As it is, I will just think about London, and plan what to do on that next trip across the pond.