June 2011


Westminster Abbey

Friday was a day of tours. I’d read about and been told that the walking tours of London were worth doing and so I arranged to find one on Friday morning. The ones I had read about are every day but they differ by day. You can find all the details at www.walks.com. The one I did was the Royal London and Westminster Abbey tour. They all start at a Tube stop and you just show up, pay a fee to the tour leader and off you go. We started in Green Park and made our way down through the park to see the changing of the guard. The tour guide was very good.

The skies opened up on us after the changing of the guard and there was even some lightning and thunder. Thankfully I had an umbrella along and it wasn’t long before we were in Westminster Abbey. The Abbey has a fee to tour it unless you’re going to a service there but if you’re just going to the service you don’t actually see that much. The service seemed to be confined to one small area. Kinda strange, but it seems more of tourist spot than a church at this point.

Some very interesting memorials within the church. For example, the church is were Charles Dickens is buried. On the day I was there, June 10th, they were still commemorating the anniversary of his death (June 9th) with a couple wreaths of roses.

Our guide through the Abbey was excited to point out the ‘cartwheeling Verger’ that was about to do a service at the church. I’d never heard of him but apparently he made quite the name for himself at the recent royal wedding. See for yourself in the video.

Cycling around London

The walking tour finished in time for me to catch the Tube over to another part of the city to join a bicycle tour group done by BrakeAway Bike Tours. I did the ‘Secret London’ tour though I’m not really sure why it’s called that. The tour was a lot of fun and while there was a bit of rain along the way, mostly it was fine. The highlight was probably the Tower Bridge and being able to bike over that. We rode from about 3:30 to 8:00. Didn’t seem possible. We made lots of stops and our tour guide and ride leader, Brian, did a nice job of explaining the sights.

White Horse, Parsons Green

With the endurance test that is modern day airline travel out of the way this morning, I had the day to work out my body’s reaction to the time change – which always hits me hard – and to wander around a bit of London today.

The flight from Austin wasn’t all that bad as such things go. No delays and the flight was uneventful. Flying ‘coach’ though is just plain painful. You’re packed in there like sardines and forced to remain in an comfortable chair and position for, all tolled, about 12 hours over two legs of the trip. The flights were completely full too so very little room to spread out. I had not been able to get an aisle seat arranged in advance, but thankfully one of the folks in my row actually wanted the window and hadn’t been able to arrange that either. So we worked things out.

After getting off the airplane, you have to work your way through passport control and customs before you can get to your luggage. You get in one of those ever moving lines like at an amusement park. It was a looong line. When they finally looked at my passport they asked one question and stamped it and I was on my way. Couldn’t have taken more than 30 seconds.

I picked out a few people speaking American English but otherwise most of the people in line were non-native English speakers. Mainly that’s because the EU and UK folks have their own line to go through, and it’s shorter.

I didn’t really do much on my first day. My flight arrived around 7’ish and by 8’ish I initially found my way via the Underground to my B&B. Fiona, my B&B hostess had sent me Tube directions. ‘Take the Piccadilly Line to Earl’s Court and then the District Line to Parson’s Green’. Then it’s a little hike. Sure, no problem… I’m sure everyone’s familiar with navigating the Underground in London but me, but I’m going to jot some notes here in the event I ever want to refer back to this again. (It’s half the point of my writing this stuff down in the first place.) A little reading and other suggestions had suggested I get an Oyster card. This is the electronic card you ‘fill’ with a certain amount of money to then use to enter and exit the Tube stations. If I’d actually looked at the web site in advance I would have realized I could have bought one in advance and had it shipped to me, but I didn’t. Instead I tried to buy it from a ticket machine at the airport and failed 3 times trying to use 3 different cards. Thankfully there’s a manned both that provides assistance and I told him how many days and he suggested an amount. I paid $25 Pounds and off I went. At Earl’s Court there’s lots of platforms to choose from to make a transfer. Didn’t take me long to find though soon I was off to Fulham and the Parson’s Green station. By the time I’d gotten my luggage, found my way to the Underground, bought a ticket, ride, transfer, walk… I arrived at the B&B by 10am. Only one bag and a day pack but still, plenty to lug all that way.

Fulham Neighborhood Homes, London

The B&B is really more of a home stay. Reminds me of many of the home stays I did in New Zealand. A retired woman named Fiona has a home in the Fulham neighborhood at 17 Homestead Rd and it has up to 3 rooms that she books. It’s a completely renovated home tucked into a row of homes on what seems like a pretty quiet street. Her son lives in the basement apartment and it has its own entrance. 1st floor includes a small living, dining, kitchen area. Out back is a small patio. 2nd floor has 2 bedrooms and 2 baths. 3rd floor has one more bedroom and bath. Everything’s modern, clean and up to date. Nightly rate, 70 GBP.

B&B at 17 Homestead Rd, London

Later I wandered around the streets of the neighborhood. Found a pub named the The White Horse and had a tasty beer and a bit to eat. The picture at the very top of this posting is inside The White Horse.