Sunday 28 June 2015

Wartime Adventure

I am in the process of uploading my photographs to my Flickr pages of a great day out yesterday at
the Severn Valley Railway. I took several so it will be a while before they're all tagged and filed, but they'll be there soon if anyone want to look at them. I'll write a blog post in due course, too, but that takes a little longer - the day job, you know. 
(A Spitfire flew over while I was writing that, incidentally. Amazing!)

Wednesday 17 June 2015

Hotel and restaurant reviews

I review all the hotels I stay in and almost all the restaurants I visit, along with some of the activities and attractions. These are on TripAdvisor (with many hotels also on and there are links to my reviews under "Helpful Links for Adventurers" in the right-hand column of this page for those who wish to have a look >>>>

Tuesday 9 June 2015

Sent to the Tower

Regular readers may recall a trip to Newcastle upon Tyne which was organised in order to partake of a gin tasting which never happened. The "experience gift" company through which it was booked reimbursed the kind giver of the gift and in order to compensate us also gave us a free alternative experience. We decided to go for something a bit less fly-by-night than a trendy gin-tasting outfit and thought that maybe the Tower of London was something that was not likely to go bust any time soon, and that since the vouchers for it could be used any time it is open (every day!) we could go whenever the opportunity presented itself.

We decided that May Bank Holiday week was an opportune time. We would stay three nights in London, near to our son and his wife and their new baby, and as well as visiting them and doing some gardening for them we could spend time in London including our visit to the Tower. Planned well in advance we bought inexpensive First Class tickets as usual with Virgin Trains East Coast. Getting the hotel room was not quite so straightforward since location was important on this trip but we found a budget hotel in just the right place, one of many strung along the east side of Shepherds Bush Road.

We set out after a snack lunch on the Sunday afternoon,  with our luggage and a garden hoe which we needed for the work we doing for the family and would leave with them as it was surplus to our needs but would be useful to them. Have you ever travelled by public transport with a hoe? Business end was throughly wrapped in bubble-wrap to keep it safe but it was still good fun in the crowds in London, and although it easily went on the luggage racks both on our Cross Country Turbostar and our East Coast High Speed Train it would have been easy to forget it was there and arrive without it after all that trouble!

We arrived at Peterborough from Stamford for our change of train to see that all trains were reported "On time" except ours which was 8 minutes late. Gradually this became later and later and announcements reported that it had been delayed by a technical fault. The train after ours came and went (but on Advance tickets we could not use it) and by the time it arrived ours was about 20 minutes late. It was a diesel HST and the fault apparently was the total failure of one power car so it was restricted to 100 mph, slow enough to cause considerable delay and, of course, for the delay to extend as the slower journey went on. Arrival in London 34 minutes late meant that we could claim some of our ticket price back under the Delay Repay scheme, although the only inconveniences to us were (a) hanging around at Peterborough station and (b) constantly revising the e.t.a. at our our son's home.

The quickest way to the Hammersmith & City Underground line is straight out of Kings Cross main line station (and coach M in which our seats were reserved is right at the front) and down the stairs on the far side of the forecourt: the platforms for this line are only just under the highway and there is no need to take a longer way round, unless it is raining heavily, that is! According to the current Underground diagram ("Tube Map," as it is now called), both Circle and Hammersmith & City line trains all go through to Hammersmith but for the second time since we started making this journey frequently at weekends we found ourselves on a Circle line train that actually intended to continue the circle at Edgware Road rather than going on to Hammersmith as shown. I don't know what TfL is doing but it was especially confusing for foreign visitors and the subject of mystified conversation on the Edgware Road platforms as we made a surprise change of train to get to our destination.

Shepherds Bush Road, Hammersmith
We walked from Hammersmith station to our booked hotel, the Saba, around the corner and a few blocks back the way the train had come, still carrying the hoe, I am pleased to say. It had been especially good fun through the automatic turnstiles on the Underground. Come to think of it, it might have been even more interesting to have tried to bring it by car ...

Checking in at the smartly decorated Saba we were led along the street one more block, with the explanation that they have two buildings and our room was in the other. Our room was on the lower ground floor with a partial view of the Shepherds Bush Road and smelt of fresh paint. So fresh we think we were the first to use it after a repaint. The room was quite stylish and pleasant but very cramped. The supplied towels were OK but there were not enough of them and no footmat for the shower room, no bedside lamp so switching off the light at bedtime was a matter of navigating a cramped room in the dark ... I don't think I've ever been in a cleaner hotel room, though, and it was vey handy indeed for the breakfast room, also on the lower ground floor. It was fine for our purposes but if you want a room with chair or table this room is not for you! It had a fridge but nowhere to eat or drink any contents you might buy. The great thing about the location, though, is that any shortcomings of the room are, in my opinion, greatly outweighed by the sheer joy of walking out into a tree-lined street filled on the other side with cafés, bars, shops and restaurants, a short walk from Brook Green and not much more walk to Shepherds Bush and the Westfield Shopping Centre. It is just a great place to be.

That evening we had dinner with the family and started the gardening. We did not need that hoe in our little hotel room! The following morning, Bank Holiday Monday, we went to the breakfast lounge near our room. It was not full English but again was adequate for our purposes. There was a variety of cereal (but none was muesli), yogurt, orange juice, fruit cocktail from a can or two, and the option of scrambled, poached or fried egg on white toast, plus very decent coffee served to order from a machine. Like the rest of the hotel, the room was very stylish in a minimalist low-budget way, a very pleasant space with friendly staff. I don't think we were the target market (that is probably coach parties who are whisked away all day by their tour operators), and were among the very few that spoke English; we heard a lot of French being used: interesting.

We walked to the Westfield Centre, arriving well in time for the shops opening at 10:00. We walked around the whole centre, for although we had been before, that had been very much a mission to buy something in particular, whereas this time we had no real agenda, although  the ladies' section of Ugg was a required inclusion ... but as it turned out we left Ugg only with my own new shoes! I resisted the temptation to splash £8 on a raffle ticket for a Jaguar F Type, thinking the odds were probably not that good if anyone is expecting to make a profit out of the raffle. We left the centre for our scheduled family barbecue, via Waitrose to pick up some wine as our contribution.

After the barbecue lunch there was family stroll along the Thames at Hammersmith, and a pint at the local on Brook Green on the way back. We bought a snack from Sainsbury's which we took back to our hotel room and had a reasonably early night in preparation for the big outing to the Tower the following day, Tuesday.

By the time we had finished breakfast and prepared for the day, we were very much mixing with commuters as we made our way to the Tower. The trip is easy from Hammersmith, using the other Hammersmith station, on the District and Piccadilly lines we took a District line train direct to Tower Hill: we had to stand to start with but found seats after a couple of stops. Although Tower Hill station has building work in progress it was still easy to find our way out and to the entrance for the Tower of London. We exchanged our voucher for an admission ticket and were inside by 09:30 and went immediately to the Crown Jewels, since remembered dreadful queues for this display from my last visit as a child and the tourist information for the Tower warns of queues in school holidays - which this was. We walked straight in and saw all there was to see with just a little crowding here and there, but with patience it was not difficult to see it all. I say, "all," but the Imperial State Crown and a couple of maces were missing and replaced by labels saying, "in use," for this was the day before the State Opening of Parliament and Her Majesty would be using these items for that occasion.

A glimpse of the world outside!
We walked around the walls and took in all the displays about the history of the Tower as a royal palace and a barracks from the time of the Norman Conquest right up the present day. I was amazed to see it was still in military use in the twentieth century. I learned about the menagerie that had been there until was deemed too dangerous and the animals were moved to the new zoological gardens at Regent's Park. I learned a lot about guns and arms and armour and horses, and the royal family over the centuries.

And I saw the awesome queue that had developed for the display of the Crown Jewels and was so glad that we had started there! We had both coffee and lunch at the Tower, so full was the day, and we saw all that we wanted to see.

We then decided to take a stroll as far as Westminster, along the south bank, the inside of the curve of the river, so when we left the Tower we walked across Tower Bridge, which is   an experience in itself.

Tower Bridge, seen from the Tower
We walked past the Mayor of London's curvy, leaning building, had coffee at the remarkably inexpensive Cinq cafe at Hayes Galleria and crossed the road to have a look around Borough Market, which by then was closing for the day. Past the Globe Theatre we then popped briefly into the Tate Modern to buy some gifts in the gift shop and then made our way along the South Bank to Westminster Bridge which we crossed to get the train back to Hammersmith for dinner out with the family at the Best Mangal Turkish restaurant a few minutes' walk from their flat.

On Wednesday morning we packed up, checked out and then went to finish our gardening at the family's flat and then had lunch all together at the Wellcome Kitchen restaurant at the Wellcome Trust's amazing museum in Euston Road: again, easy to do; Hammersmith and City line straight to Euston Square station. We must return one day and look around all that is on show there, but for now we were on our way to the Jewish Museum in Camden.

Scripture repository at the Jewish Museum
From Euston station we caught the Northern line just two stops to Camden Town and then walked the short distance to the Museum. It was a lovely day and a pleasant walk, even with our luggage for the trip home. Security at the door was strict, and there was a free cloakroom at which we could leave our luggage, then we bought our tickets and went in. Fascinating displays told us the stories of the Jewish community throughout the country and especially in London - and a lot of the social history was actually of broader interest anyway: there was a special display about weddings and the fashions of the eras depicted were little different from anyone else's! Many of the other visitors were quite obviously Jewish and I was heartened to see a young woman in Islamic dress, too: the more we learn of each others' cultures the better. We avoided the section on the holocaust, not because it isn't important but because we have seen so much already: I visited the holocaust display at the Imperial War Museum in 2000 and do not feel I need a revision session just yet. Jewish life in London is not just about the horror (faced by all Londoners) but about joy, too. I'd recommend to anyone a visit to this fascinating place.

Looking south from Good Way: the distinctive clock tower at
St Pancras, and the yellow-brick curve of the Great Northern
Hotel at Kings Cross. Notes wine bar is on the ground floor
of the grey building to the right!
We walked back to Kings Cross along Camden High Street, stopping for a look at the amazing art deco Greater London House and then via St Pancras Old Church and the redevelopment site north of Kings Cross station, including a walk along the towpath of the Regent's Canal and sight-seeing from the viewpoint atop a pair of freight containers. A leisurely glass of wine at Notes coffee and wine bar saw us round to our train's departure time and we wandered onto the concourse at Kings Cross just in time to see the platform number on the display and took our seats in coach M as usual.

Departure was on time and the coffee served immediately, soon followed by the wine, sandwiches and cake (those travelling further also had the option of hot food, but Peterborough is too close for that. The usual short wait at Peterborough and we were soon walking home across the Meadows in Stamford.

You can read my TripAdvisor reviews by following the link in the right-hand column of this page >

Thursday 4 June 2015

There's Nowhere Quite Like London - report coming soon.

I am back from a trip to London. I often go there these days, but this time I stayed a few nights and actually did a touristy thing: a visit to the Tower of London. So I'll be writing that up in a few days' time: I always have a lot to catch up with when I am back from a break. Then the there's the hotel review to write as well ...

Meanwhile I already have the tickets for the next visit to family in London - we are travelling a well-worn path down the East Coast Main Line this year.