A Travellerspoint blog

Home Again

Oct 13, 2015

Not much to report this day. Our flight left about 11 am or so from Heathrow. We decided to stay with our couchsurfing friends instead of at a hotel. It was actually a great idea! We booked a taxi the day before to come pick us up at 7:20am. We were at the airport before 8am and the cost was 20GBP. So we were able to save money on a hotel and save paying the shuttle bus and got to stay with our friends and chat an extra night!

We got thru check in, dropped the bag, fast thru security then we just had to wait until we knew which gate (and honest to God it is always the one that is furthest away and takes 10-15 min to walk to. We ate breakfast and relaxed at one of the airport restaurants - hubby had bacon and toast, I had a breakfast smoothie. We wandered thru some of the shops and spent the last of our money buying candy and shortbread cookies.

The flight home was without incident. We thought when we got home we would take the bus, but we didn't want to wait over an hour. While at Heathrow, I was able to send a message to my sister thru FB (even with a four hour time difference - she gets up early for work - isn't the internet wonderful?!) and she contacted my mom and aunt and they came to get us and take us home so we didn't have to wait around.

The End

Posted by u2traveller 15:21 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (0)

A visit to Greenwich

Oct 12, 2015

Well, we had a bit of a late start today - too much chatting...lol.

First we walked over to book a cab for the next morning to take us to the airport - easy peasy. We took a double decker to the tube station - we sat up top right at the front...it was a little disconcerting for me - I felt like I was going to go thru the windshield, and it looked like we were going to rear end every car we came up behind. A lot of traffic as well, so going was slow - we could have walked the last few blocks faster than the bus was going.

Once we got into London, we made our way to where the river services were. That pretty much chewed up the rest of our money on our Oyster card! We took the river bus to Greenwich. We got on near the London Eye. Once you get past the Tower Bridge, that thing just flies! It was a little choppy on the water, but was nice to see London from the Thames. We didn't take a map with us, so just wandered towards the Observatory. We stopped first by the Cutty Sark and went into the gift shop, but decided not to visit the display. Then went into what I think was an informative area about what there is to see in Greenwich. Wandered around the Royal Navy College and into the Painted Chapel. That was lovely to see. Beautifully painted. They had tables set up with large mirrors to look at the ceiling so you wouldn't have to crane your neck. One of the security guards chatted with us for a few minutes - and told us scenes from the Cinderella movie (from a few years back) had been filmed there - I haven't seen the movie, but would love to see that part! We stayed about 10 min then had to be on our way.

Next stop was the Observatory...what a climb! Uphill...gradual at first, but it got a little steep near the end...had to stop and catch our breath. We got the audio tour - it was a good hour - and was actually very interesting (oh, since we hadn't any lunch, we grabbed ice cream and crisps from a little food truck there to hold us out). I quite liked the museum - even if I did get a little lost. Just seeing all the old clocks was fascinating, as well as the history of timekeeping. There was a lot of info on the audio guide - I skipped over some. Oh, then hubby had to pony up for the obligatory standing on both sides of the Prime Meridian shot. And some lovely views down the hill to London town. Overall, I'd say we spent about 90min there.

We popped into the free Maritime Museum - we probably could have looked longer, but we were both getting hungry and wanted to get back to the city. There were some lovely displays - ship figureheads, stained glass, lots of ship related stuff.

Hopped back on the river bus after about a 15 min wait (and a top up of our oyster card). We got off at Embankment and decided to hit a few shops. I found Il Papiro (which I had walked 10 blocks to in NYC only to discover the store was no longer there - even tho the website still listed it). Got my marbled paper. Then to hubby's fav shop - Forbidden Planet...and my fav shop to visit when hubby visits FP - Hotel Chocolat - right across the road!

By now we were both very peckish. Our couchsurfing friends told us of a little hole in the wall called the Stockpot in/near the theatre district (which, we found out, closed a few months after we went after being open for decades). They made cheap filling food. Only accept cash. I had chicken and potatoes and was never so happy to see carrots on my plate (I don't get many veggies when we travel) and hubby had beef, I think. It was half the price of the meal we had the night before.

After supper, we wanted to go back to where Piccadilly Circus, only to discover the tube stn we wanted to use was closed for renos. So we ended up walking - we were also in search of the Thorntons fudge store so we could stock up some more. Found it and the British store - and was able to find a spoon for my sister's coworker with Princess Charlotte on it in a diff part of the store. Good times all around. We also stumbled upon what may have been my fav hot chocolate - Wafflemeister (And the waffles looked delish as well). I think most of the hot choc was made with melted Swiss choc - it was so rich and thick, and I had a dollop of whip cream on the top. A fine end to a long day.

We were pretty tired and got back to our hosts around 9pm. I had to do some creative packing to fit all the fudge into our bags, and we wanted to be ready for the morning without too much fuss, as we told the cab to come for 7:30.

Posted by u2traveller 15:20 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (0)

Moving on to London

Oct 11, 2015

We took the train into London today (after some finagling on my part before our trip to try and get a good price on the tickets - it cost a lot more to go one way than another! Anyways, I did good) We left about 10am or so, taking a taxi to the train station, arriving at our friends home in Chiswick around 1pm. After not seeing them for a year, we sat and chatted for a few hours, heading into the city around 4pm. We didn't have any hard and fast plans, other than to get a bite to eat and I wanted to get some night shots around the Thames.

We got off around Embankment area and wandered a bit looking for something to eat. Passed by a whole bunch of places as we walked towards Trafalgar Sq - where there was a festival of Light (I believe it was the Diwali festival...). So we started wandering back towards Embankment, trying to find something that appealed. We even passed by a 5 Guys burger joint! We finally decided on an Italian place called La Piazza. We weren't even sure if they were open, as there were NO customers inside while all the other places were bustling. We tentatively tried the door - it was open! The food was OK...a little pricey (well, considering our exchange rate - that 34 GBP meal was about $70). I had a nice burger and fries, hubby had gnocchi (which he really liked). I also ponied up for some profiteroles...yum. I guess it took us to break the 'no customers' spell, because soon after, people started coming in.

We went over to the London Eye to get some shots, then took the tube to the Tower of London. Some great shots across the Thames to the Shard and other buildings. But the best...there was a Scottish man standing there - he had just gotten off a paddle boat (of all things - it was part of a tour) and told us in 15min that the boat would be going back under Tower Bridge and the bridge would be lifting. So we hung around and I got some great long exposures. It was super nice of this man to tell us (I guess he saw my camera) as we would have had no idea. Hubby talked with him while I was busy snapping away - super nice gentleman!

We then went over to Piccadilly Circus (actually, PC was between London Eye and the Tower, but I don't want to retype...lol). I was on a hunt for commemorative spoons of the Royal babies that a coworker of my sister wanted. We checked different places while we were out, and finally stumbled on a big store all things British (the name escapes me right now, but they are all over). I checked and found one of Prince George but none of Princess Charlotte. I picked up that one then went and sat outside while hubby looked around.

We got back to our friends house around 10:30. It was a loooong day! And we only had one more day to fill before it was time to go home. We decided to visit Greenwich.

I'd like to give a shout out to the man at the Tube station who showed us how to buy an oyster card - we had always just used a travelcard. So now we have one with a little left on it and we can refill it next time we go to London!

Posted by u2traveller 15:19 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (0)

A jaunt around Portsmouth

Oct 10, 2015

So I wasn't sure how much enjoyment I'd get from walking around old ships all day, but I actually quite enjoyed myself. My sister dropped us off by our favourite shopping area, where we grabbed some hot drinks and donuts from the Krispy Kreme kiosk (oh, how I wish we had KK here at home!) then we walked over to the Historic Dockyards.

We didn't have any issues getting our tickets - I showed the photo of the confirmation and we were good to go. Our first stop was the HMS Warrior - which we probably spent about a 45 min wandering around. There were many levels to explore and was much bigger inside than I thought...it was set up with how it looked back then - including sleeping and eating quarters, storage, galley - and the surgery where you could see the tools used on injured sailors and read some of the stomach churning stories of injuries. Ugh. It's beautifully maintained and I really enjoyed it (more than I thought I would).

Here is a quote about the Warrior from the dockyards website...
<i>"A tour of HMS Warrior 1860 will give you a clear indication of why the warship earned its formidable reputation. She was built to protect the nation’s supremacy at sea following the launch of the iron-clad warship La Gloire by the French in 1859. The Royal Navy was determined to design a ship that would be regarded as invincible, and would deter France. She would have speed, armament and size on her side – in fact, when she was built she was 60% larger than La Gloire.</i><i>It’s ironic that having become the ultimate deterrent against attack, HMS Warrior’s life as a warship was short-lived. She was soon replaced by faster designs, with bigger guns and even thicker armour, and in 1871 was downgraded to coastguard and reserve services.</i><i>A few years later, it was decided that her rotten fore and main masts were not worth the cost of repair, and HMS Warrior was placed in the reserve. She was put up for sale as scrap in 1924, but no buyer could be found, and five years later she was converted into a floating oil pontoon at Pembroke Dock. When the oil depot closed in 1978, HMS Warrior was passed on to the Maritime Trust and was towed 800 miles to Hartlepool where the world’s largest maritime restoration project ever undertaken began."
When you come off the Warrior, you are right near the spot where hourly boat tours of the harbour depart - and we actually were there just as the boat was coming back in, so we decided since it was only a few minutes wait - to do that next. The tour goes past the docks where you can see old and new Navy ships (including one poor Canadian one - from our home province of Nova Scotia - that ran into trouble on the sea and was in for repairs - the sailors were having a bbq on deck!), then around as they give you some history of the area. I make it sound a lot less interesting than it was. We actually enjoyed being able to sit and relax. The tour lasted 45 min and made two stops - one closer to the Gunwharf Quays shopping area, then back to where we started.

After the harbour tour, we went into a building that had some different food options and some shopping. I'm not sure why we didn't grab a bite then - some of it looked really good - and when we came back a few hours later when hunger really kicked in, it was closing up for the day.

Next was the HMS Victory which we didn't spend as long on - again - it was nicely set up inside showing how life would have been on the ships back when they were war ships. The Victory dates to 1759 (the Warrior dates to 1859) and is the ship that Lord Nelson died on at the Battle of Trafalgar. Let me quote from the website (<a href="http://www.historicdockyard.co.uk/site-attractions" target="_blank">http://www.historicdockyard.co.uk/site-attractions</a>;)... <i>"The death of Nelson onboard HMS Victory during the Battle of Trafalgar is an iconic moment in world history and 400,000 people visit the warship each year to see spot on the quarter deck where Nelson fell, which is marked by a brass plaque. Victory suffered the highest casualties of the British ships at Trafalgar, 51 of the servicemen onboard were killed, 11 died of their wounds and 91 were wounded and survived.</i><i>HMS Victory was permanently saved for posterity in 1922 following a national appeal, and placed into dry dock at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard where she remains today. Visitors to Portsmouth Historic Dockyard can now trace the development of Britain’s technical maritime advancements. Maintaining a ship like Victory out of water presents huge challenges, but you can be sure that Victory will never lose her original charm and appeal."</i>

There - they said it much better.

Next was The Mary Rose - most likely my favourite part of the whole visit. Again, I was prepared to be underwhelmed, but the vast collection of artifacts from the sunken ship and the stories was fascinating. If it weren't for hunger, I think I would have spent much longer touring the site. As it was, we spent at least an hour in this lovely museum. And to see the parts of the ship in the drying out stage was fascinating - I can def see returning someday when the ship is fully on display (it was still in the process of being dried out/preserved so was behind a wall with glass windows to look in on it.). I would highly recommend this to anyone - even if you don't have much of an interest in nautical history - the artifacts alone were very interesting...from the website...<i>"The Mary Rose is the only 16th century warship on display anywhere in the world. The purpose-built award-winning museum reunites her with many of her artefacts and crew, capturing the moment in time when she sank over 470 years ago.</i><i>Step back in time and explore Henry VIII’s favourite warship – raised from the depths of the Solent and painstakingly conserved for future generations. The story of the Mary Rose is one of the most fascinating in naval history. A tale of battles fought against the French for over 30 years before sinking off the coast of Portsmouth in 1545. It’s an account of her being raised from the seabed more than 470 years later and of her meticulous conservation.</i><i>The ship captured the world’s imagination when she was raised from the Solent in 1982. Her dramatic story is now revealed in full inside the purpose-built, award-winning £27million Museum, which opened its doors to visitors in May 2013.</i><i>Inside the museum the starboard half of the ship is housed in a ‘hot box’, enabling it to dry out gently over the next few years. The impressive hull is truly captivating and can be viewed on three levels through viewing windows.</i><i>In addition to the ship, the collection of artefacts is just as impressive. There are many thousands on display, including personal belongings such as wooden bowls, leather shoes, musical instruments and nit combs, and many of the ship’s weapons, from longbows to two-tonne guns. The museum offers a unique insight into the life of crew members too, with forensic science used to bring the story of the Mary Rose and her crew to life."
Extremely interesting!

So by now, hunger was kicking in..as I mentioned above, we waited to long to get food from the food court area. There were actually a few more sites at the dockyards that may have been interesting (submarine museum, museum of the Royal Navy) but our stomachs wouldn't wait. I think in all we spent 4-5 hours. We went over by the Gunwharf shops but didn't really see anywhere to grab something fast and cheap, so we headed over to the downtown area (which we know well from previous trips) and went into Subway. So fortified, it was time to do a little (food) shopping. We hit our favourite shop - Thorntons - and stocked up on fudge (the BEST!) and some chocolate. The we hit Cadbury's outlet shop (our 2nd fav shop) and loaded up on great buys on chocolate - 5 pack of Fry's mint choc back for one GBP! Five pack of Cadbury Flake bars for one GBP - sign me up! We weren't sure how we were going to bring this stuff home, but we couldn't pass up those buys. We also went into WH Smith bookstore - and can I say that the UK has the best magazines ever - their craft magazines are all packaged with extras - I got a stamping magazine with a gorgeous huge set of acrylic Christmas stamps - I'm sure the set alone would sell for more than the cost of the magazine (the year before I got a mag with a set of Bo Bunny stamps and a 6x6 pad of matching paper - it sold for more here at home).

So our hands full of our shopping finds, we walked back to my sister's home (about a 25-30 min walk - but it felt longer). Ate a few Flake bars on the way, stopped in a little convenience store to pick up some snacks (pop, chips and some juice for the morning) then went back to try and figure out how to repack our suitcases...

We also thought perhaps we'd go out for a meal but it turned out my sister already ate. So not sure what else to do, she suggested a take out place. They thought it was about a 5 minute walk, but it was more like 10. But we did find it and checked out the extensive menu. They offered everything from fish to chicken to Chinese food and burgers. I ordered a piece of fish and chips and hubby got chicken breast. For some reason, hubby ordered extra fries. Well. My piece of fish was enough to feed three people, and the extra French fries, on top of the huge amount I got with my fish...was probably equivalent to another bag of French fries. Wayyyyy too many. At least we foisted some onto my nephew. So they didn't all go to waste...and their cat got some of my fish. We were able to get a carry on bag from my sister and we reorganized our stuff some to make our train journey to London a little easier the next morning.

Posted by u2traveller 15:18 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (0)

Airport stress and on to the UK

Oct 9, 2015

Today was another mostly travel day. Flying from Nice to Gatwick.

We got up on time and walked over to the Nice airport from our room. It wasn't as easy as crossing the road of course. Because it was a very busy road, so you had to walk up a ways to a pedestrian underpass - it took maybe 15 min. We got into the airport fine but I couldn't remember which cc I used to pay for the tickets (we were just going to use the machines) so we went to the desk. A very nice lady at the British Airways desk gave us a hand. And she told us the plane would be leaving from terminal 2 - which we should have paid attention to! We walked over to where terminal 2 was and saw a passport check (this was after already going thru security) so we thought there was something else going on as we didn't ever recall going thru passport control when LEAVING a country.

So...we stayed in terminal one until we could see which gate the plane was leaving from. Had some breakfast, spent our last euros at a little newspaper shop. Then 25 min before the flight, the gate was shown. OK, it is terminal two. We walk over thru a lineup of people to the doors and realize - OMG - we have to go thru passport control! WHAT!? And the lineup was very very VERY long. There was NO lineup when we first looked 90 min before. So, panic is setting in that we are going to miss the flight because the lineup was a couple hundred people long. And two people at the passport desk. So we found an airport worker who tried to fast track us thru, but the passport guys said no. They have to wait in line. Panic is really setting in. Another worker tried the same thing to no avail, but they told us someone would come along and gather up the people who were running late and put them up in line. There were two women behind us who did the same stupid thing we did (they were also flying to London, but to LHR). And a man who was on the same flight we were. All of us are freaking out. But someone came along about 5-10 min before the flight was scheduled and took us up in the line (to the anger of some cranky British dude). So we got on the plane, there was still room for our bags and we weren't even the last ones! There were about another dozen people who must have gotten pulled from the line as well. The pilot even said about the slight delay because of the hold up at passport.

Now, BA wouldn't let us pick our seats in advance and we couldn't change them without paying $25. And of course it gave us seats apart from each other (across the aisle but hubby was a row up). The weird thing was, the plane was a 3/3 and the seats in the middle of both our rows were empty! So we could have sat beside each other but we rather enjoyed being able to spread out a bit, and it was a short flight so we didn't worry.

Got to Gatwick no problem. It again took me awhile to remember which credit card I used to pay for our train tix to Portsmouth (I am going to make notes now on the papers!) But we figured it our, printed the tix and had time for a quick snack.

And I made my second stupid mistake. Even after doing this 4 times before, I got train tix to the wrong stop. We should get off at Fratton and I got tix for Portsmouth/Southsea. Hubby tried to tell me when we got to Fratton he thought it was our stop but I just pooh-poohed him. Of course, we get off at PMS and I realize my mistake...so, we got tix BACK to FRA and got the cab to my sister's. We could have taken a cab from PMS, but I wasn't sure how far away it was from her home and a ticket back was only a few pounds. I now know where the station is located, and it wouldn't have cost probably any more for a cab.

Then it was just relaxing and chatting the evening away! We were trying to decide what to do the next day and have always thought about going to the Historic Dockyard, but the price is quite high - 30+GBP each - which at the time was about $60. But we figured, we should do it once, especially this being our 5th time in Portsmouth. They actually have a special if you buy the tix ahead of time online, you save 20%. Even better, they had a 2 for 1 special because it was a weekend! Jackpot - $60 for 2 people isn't bad at all. So bought the tix online and knew what we were going to do the next day!

Posted by u2traveller 15:16 Archived in France Comments (0)

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