Wednesday, April 18, 2012

London and Ireland - Part I

Sorry, Arkansas.

Another vacation.  The "count the states you've visited" tally still stands at 49.  But, welcome to the "countries you've visited" tally, UK and Ireland!

Another great trip.  What follows is either an travelogue, cure for insomnia or both. Beware.

"I want to study abroad for a whole semester", said Anna.  That's where this started.  Ireland.  University of Limerick.  Spring 2012.  That's where it wound up.

It was all the excuse we needed to plan an international family vacation.  We would all go visit Anna in Ireland.

Best time to go, Spring Break.  First week in April.

Problem.  Anna's spring break is the same week and she already has travel plans to continental Europe.

Solution.  We'll start in London, she'll cut her week short a bit and we'll stay a few days into the following week.

Here's how it went.

Day one.  Fly to London, Heathrow.  British Air.  Non-stop.  Overnight.  How'd it go?  Well, we got there.  Almost on time.  But, Lufthansa had spoiled us on our previous trip to Germany.  The British Air 777s were in serious need of having their interiors renewed.  They were shabby.  The crew was OK, but nobody operates with the efficiency of those Lufthansa crews.  The part that was better was that Heathrow is a pretty nice airport compared to Frankfurt and we got our bags and through passport control in short order.

Day two.  We had purchased our Oyster cards, which are reusable tickets for the London Underground (like a Breeze Card in Atlanta or a MTA Metrocard for NYC), by mail order, so we hopped on a Piccadilly Line train right from the airport, and 30 minutes later, we were in Hammersmith, about 5 miles from London proper.
Piccadilly Line train at Piccadilly Circus stop

Why Hammersmith?  Finding a room for two people in London is pretty easy.  Three or more, and it's slim pickings, particularly near the "Easter Holiday" period.  The Holiday Inn Express in Hammersmith had the right combo of a room for three, a reasonable price, and good accessibility to the sights in London.

It was a short walk from the Hammersmith Underground Station to our hotel.  We checked in, dumped our bags and headed back out.
Pub for lunch
After grabbing something to eat and drink the Hammersmith Ram pub on the way back to the Underground,  we hopped on a train and a short time later we were in London at Piccadilly circus.

Piccadilly Circus Underground

Piccadilly Circus above ground
Where to start?  
There is so much to do.  
Lets see everything all at once - from the London Eye!  
This was on my "must do list."  A giant Ferris wheels is a very cool thing for an engineer...
So, off we went.  

Walking over to the Eye
Giant bicycle wheel.

You can see a lot from the Eye.  The problem was, what were we looking at?
In retropect, we know:
Hungerford Bridge

St. Paul's - dome in distance
The Shard - in distance, Waterloo Station on right

Charring Cross Station

Parliament and the view up the Thames into the afternoon sun

We wandered back through Trafalgar Square and then on toward Hyde Park.

Admiral Nelson.  Defeat the Spanish and French at sea and you get a really big pedestal for your statue.
Hyde Park ducks

Hyde Park people

Gate house at Hyde Park

After a walk through the park, we headed back to Hammersmith and dinner.  The hotel free WIFI was lousy, but the pub next door had great WIFI.  Didn't need much more of an excuse....

Day 3.  While in England, it's good to see the things that make England, England.  While there are lots of these things in London, the most prominent is the Royalty stuff.  And the most prominent of that is Changing of the Guard. This was on Patti's "must do" list.

Queen's "city" house
The British love black wrought iron with gold leaf

Actual guard actually guarding Buckingham Palace
The "Original" hop on-off bus tour in London is very useful in this regard.  They have multiple bus loops running. They have multiple free walking tours included.  They even have a free boat ride on the Thames.  The problem is, it's way more than you can cram in from 9 AM to 5 PM!  So we picked carefully.   The one thing that seemed most useful was their walking tour for the Changing of the Guard. 

So, we stared with the "original" loop, taking it half way around while the tour guide fed us factoids about the Westminster portion of London through a fire hose.  We hopped off near Victoria Station and walked back along "the mound" to the starting point walking tour.

While you can do this yourself, the walking tour was very useful because the tour guide:

1) explained what was happening
2) took us to places we could see what was happening
3) knew how to get from spot to spot along the route
4) knew spots where we could actually see and get close to the action

Basically, the new guard musters

hmmmm...still wearing red coats.  No "lessons learned" in the late 1770s?

marches in

relieves the old guard - at Buckingham Palace and other places the royal kiddies live.

the old guard marches out

That's it!

After a quick lunch at a Pret a Manger  (don't ask me how to say it, but these places are everywhere in London and they have really good sandwiches), it was time for more bus hopping on and off.  We walked down Whitehall Street...

Gov't buildings...harrumph, harrumph!

...popped into a "time machine"...

...saw an old, re-purposed, double decker bus...

and then to Westminster Abbey 

and Parliment

Statue of Richard  I

Oliver Cromwell - led an overthrow of the monachy that led to 11 years of  republican government.  He died.  The monarchy was restored.  The king dug Cromwell up 2 years later so he could be properly decapitated and his head put on a pike.
(no caption needed...)

...where we hopped back on, received another large dose of factoids, this time about London proper, then hopped off at the Tower of London.

Yeoman Warder aka "Beefeater"
They live on the premises and guard the crown jewels...and act as tour guides.
A pretty fancy cannon - just a lethal as plain ones. 

Partial remains of Roman wall

The keep - where they keep stuff like...
Models of Kings' horses and...
Kings' armor
Housing for Yeoman Warders
Traitor's gate

Tower walls and Tower Bridge
It was a fascinating place, full of history and the Crown Jewels are on full display.  An amazing collection of stuff!

We could have "hopped on" the bus to complete the loop, but decide on the Thames boat since it covered much of the same territory.

Tower Bridge and HMS Belfast
Tower of London
London is full of statues and other monuments.  I took lots of pictures of them.  Here are some.





Day 4.  Harry Potter Day.  This was on Dan's "must do" list.

Warner Brothers recently opened two new sound studios at their location just outside London and moved a very high percentage of the sets, props, costumes, models and art work used in the filming of the Harry Potter movies into them.  We went on the second day they were open.  Although tickets for the day were sold out, the crowd was light...probably trying to get things running smoothly and then ramp up the ticket sales.

Didn't know what to expect, but we were pleasantly surprised.  Here is a smattering.
20 mile, one hour bus ride to the Studio
Great Hall set
Some costumes
Gryffindor bedroom set
Potions classroom
Dumbledor's office
Ministry of Magic
Night bus
Goblin heads
Diagon Alley
Diagon Alley
Hogwarts model
Weasley Kitchen

Wands with the names of anyone and everyone who worked on the films

After returning, we took a walk around Kensington Gardens and along Hyde Park to the Albert Memorial
"Welcome to our new house"

Swan in Kensington Garden

Vikki's main squeeze.

"Now they know how many holes it takes to fill the ________"

Diana Memorial Fountain

Pond in Hyde Park

Day 5. Kensington Palace had recently reopened after an expensive renovation.  We headed there first.  Expensive.  Wierd. Confusing.  Not helpful.  These are words that describe the restoration.  The Diana room was pretty straight forward, but really was just a collection of some of her dresses.  The Victoria rooms were relatively straight forward and gave a reasonable sense of her time as queen.  The King and Queen rooms were beyond our comprehension.  They were "decorated" with artful interpretation of the meaning of being king or queen....I think.  Too much licence given to artists and not enough to historians and preservationists. The reviews on Trip Advisor pretty much sum it up.  It did look pretty, though.

Front elevation with new, bronze porch
Lanterns along stairway are part of the interpretive art work.  What do they mean?  Don't ask me!
Interesting forced perspective paint job on ceiling
King's robes

Okay.  Enough of that.  On to Covent Gardens.  Not actually a garden, it would be more accurate to call it Covent Market.
Main arcade at Covent Gardens
Patti went shopping while Dan found the worlds 3rd largest Apple store.

I found the London Transport Museum.

Double deck trolleys (trams) preceded the iconic London buses

Steam locomotive used in a subway.  Yes, really!

The remainder of the day was spend in the British Museum.

It's a vast collection of things the British have gathered from the four corners of the world.  You could spend days in the place and just scratch the surface of all the stuff they have there.  We quickly went through just a few areas.
Inspiration for Penn State?

Parthenon frieze - each panel was unique and explained in the display

a whole something-or-other from Greece

Socrates and Dan

Easter Island statue

Aztec turquoise mosaic serpant

Easter egg hunt.  Really big eggs.  Over 200 of them.  There is a contest to find them and then they auction them off for charity.  Here are a couple.


Had dinner in a nice pub in the theater district

Day 6. Off to Ireland!

Underground to Euston Station.  Virgil rail "Super Voyager" train to Holyhead, Wales.  Stena Line Ferry to Dublin Ireland.  Generally a cold, rainy day.

On Undergound

Virgin "Super Voyager" diesel-electric MU train on second track from right.
125 mph tilt train.  Smooth and fast.

At Holyhead, Wales.  260 miles and 3-1/2 hours later.

On the ferry to Ireland - a 3 hour trip

 By the time we reached Ireland, it was cold and very windy.  The seas were pretty rough and this huge ferry was bouncing around a bit.  Thank goodness for Dramamine!

We caught a shuttle bus from the port into town, and then hoofed it in the rain and sleet (yup, sleet!) a few blocks to the hotel.  After checking in, we headed back out into the rain and sleet for the Temple Bar area, looking for dinner.
Clery Dept. Store still lit up green for St. Patrick's Day.
The next night, it was white lights.

Couldn't squeeze our way into the actual Temple Bar, so we settled for a nice place across the street.

Day 7.  Got up early, grabbed ubiquitous McDonald's food for breakfast and hoofed it over to Connolly Station to join a tour group for a day tour of Northern Ireland.  Only made a few wrong turns along the way.

Tour involved taking a train to Belfast, then going on a bus tour up the coast from there.  Tour leader met us in the station and then provide some narration as the train progressed up to Belfast.  It was another cold and windy day, but at least the sun was shining and the air was clear.

Here's the route

First stop was:

Where William of Orange landed before heading south to fight the Battle of the Boyne.  It seems most of Irish history in the post-Viking era revolves around their relationship - or lack of one - with the English - and vice versa.

Then, on to:

for a quick rest stop before:
The Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge

The bridge was originally used to get fishermen to this island to catch salmon.

Lunch at Bushmills Distillery

Size 10-1/2 Merrell "Intecontinental" sneaker for comparison
(I bought them for Germany last fall, hence "intercontinental")

Quick cooling of basalt lava caused fractures that resulted in these structures.


and a castle ruin

...on the seacoast

with some cows

and sheep (by a Presbyterian Church)

before heading back to Belfast and the train to Dublin

We got back to Dublin about 10 PM, wandered back the hotel - with only a few wrong turns - again.

One positive was that I could put my Pounds and Pence away for a week.  I had some "issues" with the money. Trouble by the Pound...and Euro

Not enough train pictures for you?  The "more than you wanted to know" about our transportation experiences are here: transportation: england and ireland

Stay tuned for the exciting conclusion in "Part II", here!


  1. Don, what an amazing journal of your trip. You should be writing travelogues for a living. I read through part I & II, plus your comments on money, trains, and driving. You've taken some wonderful photos and added informative and funny personal notes. I loved it. Jim

    1. Thanks, Jim. The good thing is that I enjoy doing it.


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