Wednesday Wanderings: Pret-a-Manger, Hastings, and Portobello Road

Monday, September 18, 2017

We woke Monday morning in Royal Tunbridge Wells and it was Stud Muffin’s birthday. Due to the B&B proprietress trying to shake down an additional 16£ from us, we elected to find breakfast on our own. We asked the man of the house and he cheerfully directed us to walk down the hill a hundred yards or so. Sure enough, there was a coffee shop on three of the four corners. We chose Pret-A-Manger, a quick take-away or eat in shop,  because we hadn’t visited one yet and they were all over. Starbucks is in England, but Costa Coffee is far more prevalent. I don’t think we managed to visit a Costa Coffee. Breakfast and coffee at Pret-A-Manger ended up costing us just about 16£ but the satisfaction at not feeling taken was worth it.

Back in the car and we headed to Hastings. We’d watched the British television show, Foyle’s War, set in Hastings and wanted to see it for ourselves. Hastings is a coastal town southeast of London, overlooking the English channel. It’s the home of Hastings Castle and is where William the Conqueror landed in England in 1066.

Parking was the usual issue, but we were able to walk on the pier and the beach. I 2017-09-18_10-40-38_911learned a rocky beach is called a shingle. The Hastings beach is very rocky. So is it very shingly? I don’t know. I do know walking was unsteady and hard. The weather wasn’t especially cold but it was windy. We took refuge in another coffee shop on the pier before deciding to visit the castle.

The ruins sit on a bluff overlooking the town. William conquered Hastings in 1066 and the castle’s construction began in 1070. There’s a short and informative movie you can watch. You can wander the ruins, the walls, and some of the underground rooms. It’s amazing to think that almost 1,000 years ago, it was considered new.

The roads in Hastings were narrow and steep. For the castle, we parked at a municipal “lot” of five cars, then hiked up to the castle, through a church yard and narrow bricked walkway. The entry fee was nominal and the ticket booth was managed by a teenager with a video game.

After a short visit (it doesn’t take long to see the whole place), we headed back to London. I wanted to visit Portobello Road and the Notting Hill Gate neighborhood.

And the adventures began in earnest.

I was still the driver with Dave navigating. As we entered the city, he got turned around and we ended up along the docks and had to take an “alternate” route to our hotel. That route just happened to direct us through Trafalgar Square and past St. James Palace. Just the sort of tourist attractions we’d planned to avoid. I was white-knuckling my way through traffic and only got a couple of glimpses out of my peripheral vision, but I promise, I was suitably impressed.

We returned to the Lancaster Gate where we’d stayed previously. We left our luggage at the desk and drove back to the Marriott to drop off the rental car. The agency was only open until 3 pm on Mondays. We got there about 2:45. Remember, when we picked up the car, one of the employees had fetched it for us, saying, “It’s a bit cramped down there”?

Oh. My Word.

The ramp down to the parking area was a twisting, winding lane with inches to spare on either side. Before we made it all the way to the bottom, Dave had to get out and guide me down. I had to back up a few times to make the curves. And I’m not exaggerating. At all.

Inching into the only spot was nearly impossible. Finally, the employee finished with the other couple he was helping and he rescued me and pulled the car in. I’d left my back pack with our luggage and had only a cross-body purse. Dave had his back pack and he set it down in the garage to take a video of the car, to prove we had returned it without damage, in spite of our precarious arrival.

We completed the check-in process and summoned an Uber to get us back to the Lancaster Gate. As we got out of the Uber, Dave realized–I’m sure you know what–yes, he didn’t have his back pack. Mild panic struck. It had his passport and we were leaving for Scotland the next day, not returning to London except for a layover at Heathrow on our way home. The staff at our hotel helpfully called the Marriott, but no one there had the back pack. Dave talked to a security person and said we were on our way back.

We Uber-ed to the Marriott again, but of course the rental office had closed and everyone was gone. The security officer met us and after pinning down the times we’d been through, he left to look at security footage of the lobby.

While the rental office was closed for business, it wasn’t locked up. I peeked over the counters and under desks, but didn’t open any drawers. No black back pack.

Dave paced, then walked down to the garage to be sure it wasn’t still down there. The security guy came back and showed us the footage he’d found. We saw the employee who’d helped us carrying a black back pack across the lobby. A clue!

We moved back to the office and this time, the security guy did open drawers and there was the back pack! Whew!! Dave had to list the contents, sign a statement, and a copy of his driver’s license was taken.

Friends had told Dave to take some CHP patches, that overseas law enforcement agencies love to see them. Dave had some patches in his back pack so he gifted one to the security officer and left two more for the rental agency guys. The security man was overjoyed! Really, you’d have thought we gave him a 100£ note.

2017-08-31_22-54-06_543We breathed easier and this time we Uber-ed directly to Portobello Road. I love the Hugh Grant/Julia Roberts movie Notting Hill, and Portobello Road is an important character in the movie. We found a kitschy tourist shop where we bought refrigerator magnets and another shop where I added to my  knob collection.

And then we found the shop that’s supposed to be the Travel Book Shoppe in the movie.

It’s now an even kitschier shop than the one we’d stopped at, but I couldn’t resist getting a picture.

We’d had an exhausting day, so when we saw a restaurant, The Distillery, advertising Portobello Road Gin, we gave in and stopped. After a gin & tonic and a snack, we returned to wandering the streets. Because of the whole lost back pack adventure, we didn’t get to the area until 4:00 and many of the shops were closed or closing shortly. We did find a spice shop and Dave purchased some different spices to bring home. A curry, and something else fragrant and exotic. Our luggage smelled yummy the rest of the trip.

We found a pub for dinner, the Duke of Wellington. Dave had the charcuterie board and I had fish and chips. Both were delicious. I found it funny that a pub named after the general who defeated Napoleon at Waterloo had pop art and Beatles decor on the walls.

We wandered a bit more and found the most amazing gelato at 3BIS. Rich, creamy, artisanal, and completely amazing. We each got one and shared.

Our adventurous day was finally over. We Uber-ed back to the hotel where the staff had kept our luggage safe for us, and fell into bed.

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Wednesday Wanderings: Exploring England

Somehow two weeks have elapsed since my last trip post. Sigh. Thank you for sticking with us!

We woke up Saturday morning in London, had breakfast at the hotel and checked out. Stud Muffin had wanted to get out of London, so I’d reserved a car. We Ubered over to the Marriott and got our rental car.

The staff at the rental office were so kind and helpful. They upgraded us to a Volvo with an automatic transmission which turned out to be a huge help. One employee fetched the car for us from the underground parking garage. “It’s a bit close quarters, down there,” he said. Remember that, because it will come back to haunt me.

We found our way out of the city fairly easily and headed to Windsor. Stud Muffin wanted to avoid “tourist” attractions, which is one reason for getting out of London.

Before our trip, we’d watched several television shows based in the UK. Escape to the Country was a favorite, as was Walks With My Dog. Escape to the Country is like our House Hunters. Walks With My Dog is exactly what it sounds like. Not-quite-A-list British celebrities take a walk with their dogs. They walk several miles, stopping to learn about local culture or history or taste a local delicacy at a pub or restaurant. We watched all we could of each series, although we get a very limited selection here in the States.

One of the Walks With My Dog episodes we’d seen included Windsor Park, the grounds around Windsor Castle. I thought it looked gorgeous and would be a great place to visit. So we plugged in “Windsor Park” into our phones and headed off. We found Windsor the town pretty easily. The park though … not so much. First we were directed through town to nearby LEGOLAND. Not quite what we wanted. Then we circled town to a large area of open ground that could have been (and likely was) horse training grounds. People and dogs were walking around, so I could see why Google maps thought we wanted to go there. We finally just went back to town to find parking and ask around. We found a mall with parking, and headed out. The mall was an outdoor shopping area and guess who found a cigar shop?

We discovered we were just a block or two from Windsor Castle, so we walked there and then asked where was the park. It turned out to be a short walk around the castle grounds, through a gate and then we were in the park. We learned it was called the Long Walk and Deer Park and is part of the Windsor Great Park. It was gorgeous! We saw chestnut trees, a private polo club, and lots of people and dogs. We spent some time wandering the grounds. We could see the castle through the gate and fence. The castle had obviously been built directly adjacent to the old “village,” since the grounds wall was shared with a pub. Literally. They were side by side.

After a good walk, we looked for a place for a drink and a bite to eat. We found a cobblestone street with several restaurants with outdoor seating. The Queen Charlotte Pub advertised a local gin, Guildhall Island, so we chose that one. We had the Guildhall Island with flavored tonic. This was our introduction to the wide variety of tonic waters available in England. We were used to Schweppes or Canada Dry. We’d occasionally see a “specialty” tonic like Fever Tree. This pub had lots of Fever Tree varieties. We shared a baked Camembert in sour dough (delicious, so creamy and tart and yummy) and a gin and tonic.

We struck up a conversation with a couple sitting nearby. They had been to a gin festival in London a few weeks prior. We said we were in the UK celebrating our anniversary which would be the next day. Their anniversary was the same day! Only 39 years separated us! They were celebrating their first anniversary, our 40th. They were not youngsters though, so must be a second (at least) marriage for both.

We continued on our stroll though the mall again with a stop at the cigar store, before getting back in the car and heading to Newbury.

I had booked us a room at the Furze Bush Inn, a lovely and charming country pub outside of Newbury, in the North Wessex Downs. We loved the inn! If we ever get back to England, a return visit to the Furze Bush will be on our list. The room was cozy, but modern and clean. The food and drinks were excellent. They had a lovely back patio where Stud Muffin enjoyed one of his cigar purchases.

We ate in the dining room. Dave had a Gammon steak, which we learned is ham, not beef. We should have known since it wasn’t listed with the other meats, and came with an egg. He just thought it sounded good. I had a salad with calamari and both were delicious. The staff was incredibly kind and helpful and attentive without being intrusive. We chatted quite a bit with Jules, whose family has owned the pub and inn for a long time.

After dinner, we retreated to our room for a good night’s sleep.

Next week: Highclere, Lambourn, Jane Austen, and Royal Tunbridge Wells.

Wednesday Wanderings: Oxford

Friday in London … well, it really began Thursday night. After we got back to the hotel from seeing Phantom, I opened up Facebook. I knew my agent and her friend/co-worker were in England on a Jane Austen tour and Janet and I knew we’d be overlapping in London by a few days. But it’s a big city and we didn’t compare notes about where we’d be or make any plans to meet up. But every night on her tour, Janet posted a picture of her view out of her room. Thursday night … her view was my view! So I knew she was in our hotel and in a room nearly adjacent to ours.

But, still, it’s a big hotel with lots of guests leaving and coming at all hours. We would be up early the next morning and off to catch a train from Paddington Station to Oxford.

We went to breakfast Friday morning at seven o’clock, when the buffet opened. We were shown to our seats and I went to fill a plate while Stud Muffin waited at our table. As I made my way back to him, who did I see seated two tables over?

Yes! My wonderful agent and her friend! We exclaimed over the crazy coincidence, hugged, took a picture, and compared notes on what we had seen/hoped to see/planned to see. When Wendy heard we were headed to Oxford, she said to be sure and see the Ashmolean. I filed that tidbit for future reference, but didn’t really know what it was.

After breakfast and saying goodbye, we walked the short distance to Paddington Station. It was through a different neighborhood than we had walked before, and was about half a mile. We found it with no problem, but as we approached the station, we heard sirens in the distance, then law enforcement officers of some sort passed us, walking briskly, all business. We weren’t sure (still aren’t) if they were Tube/Underground security, London policemen, or Brute Squad officers.

We printed our tickets from the kiosk, found our train, and took our seats. We had about an hour ride to Oxford, where we had a bit of time to kill before our Thames River cruise. On the train, I checked email and found a message from the US Consulate in London, advising us that there had been a “security incidence” in London and we should let our family and friends at home know that we were safe. I did that, not knowing what kind of incident had occurred or where.

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Dave found the acre of bicycle parking interesting. This was right outside of the Oxford train station.

In Oxford, we wandered the town and found our way to the restaurant where our cruise began. We had some tea and coffee while we waited and I added more data to our embattled cell phone plan.

The day was cloudy and chilly, but the boat had blankets and plastic that could be pulled down to protect us from the wind. It was a lovely time. Our boat had five couples and the captain, Alex, a young local woman. We saw some of the loveliest countryside, I believe, in England. Cows grazed along the river banks. There were community gardens lining the river just outside of town. We knew from watching Escape to the Country that what we call a yard, the British call a garden. We asked Alex if what we were seeing was indeed a community garden, but she replied, “No, they’re just vegetable plots.” It took a bit of back and forth before we remembered the language disconnect about yard/garden.

A pair of swans swam up to the boat, peering intently at us. I’m sure they were looking for a tidbit of something yummy to fly their way, but I swear they looked like they were expecting someone. They’d invited a guest and were quite certain she was arriving on that boat.

We had to pass through a lock, both coming and going. I’d never seen one work from the inside before and it was fascinating how the gate closed, the water gurgled away or whooshed in, the boat lowered in the compartment or was raised, then the opposite gate opened and we chugged along again.

We stopped for a bathroom break at The Perch pub on the riverside. It was delightful, old with low ceilings, but updated inside with a warm fire. We had about half an hour there to thaw out, get something warm to drink and eat, and then we headed back to Oxford.

My must-see in Oxford was the Eagle and Child Pub where J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis and their Inklings writer’s group met. It’s old, small, wood-paneled, and we absolutely took a step back in time. The food was fabulous. I had macaroni & cheese, Stud Muffin had a mushroom (beef) pie. Both were incredible. We shared a Sticky Toffee Pudding for dessert. We bought some postcards of the pub with drawings of the building and it’s famous patrons.

We still had a couple of hours before our train back to London and we passed by the Ashmolean, so we went in.

Incredible! It’s free, but we tossed a few pounds in the box and prepared to wander. We separated. Stud Muffin went to the top, I stayed on the bottom and we planned to meet in the middle.

Unfortunately, after just fifteen minutes, a guide came and told me the museum was closing. We hadn’t even looked at the time or the open hours, so sadly we only got a brief taste of all the Ashmolean offers. If I get to return to Oxford, the Ashmolean is top of my do-over list.

There wasn’t much left to see in walking distance, so we headed back to the train station. Tip: when booking a train to London from one of the outlying towns on a Friday evening, be sure and reserve your seats. We had, just by luck or Divine Providence, so we didn’t worry about having a seat, but the station and the train were both very full of people making their way to the city. While waiting on the platform, we chatted with a man and learned the extent of the “security incident” in London that morning. A homemade bomb on the Tube had injured several people, including the would-be bomber. The man didn’t know many more details.

We made our way back to London safely and walked the now familiar path back to the hotel.

Next up: Driving on the left side in England: Different from driving on the left in Ireland.

Thursdays in London With the Padgetts

On our first morning in London, it was a beautiful September day, a bit cool and clear and perfect walking weather.

We met up with Will, our guide from Strawberry Tours, at a Tube station. There were about twelve or so of us. There were two tours that morning, one in Spanish and Will’s in English.

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By John Winfield, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3186845

 

Our first site was part of the crumbling Wall of London which stands near the tour’s beginning point. We learned about the original city, Londinium, its fall to William the Conqueror, and about the City of London, which is the historic and business square mile inside what we usually think of as London.

 

The City of London has been governed by the Lord Mayor of the City of London since William the Conqueror gave governance of the city back to its inhabitants in 1066. And we learned that when the Queen wishes to enter

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Where the Queen must stop and request permission to enter the City.

the City, she must request permission from the Lord Mayor, bow to him, and touch his sword, then she may enter the city behind him. The Lord Mayor of the City and his sword are the only things she bows too. Fascinating stuff!

We then moved to the Tower of London. We didn’t enter the Tower, but Will shared its history and stories about some of it’s occupants. We also visited the Royal Courts of Justice, the Bank of England, St. Paul’s Cathedral (I wish we could have returned here, it looked fabulous!), Temple Church, and several others. We learned about the Great Fire of London in 1666, the Knights Templar, the financial and business district, Leadenhall Market (which could have been the inspiration for Diagon Alley), and Fleet Street.

We chatted and walked with a young man from Irvine, California named Tran. He’s been traveling the world for the last nineteen months. Well, it was nineteen months at that time, in September, so it would be closer to twenty-five months now. He does go home 2017-09-14_15-15-21_517

for holidays and his mom’s birthday. We mentioned that we were on the trip celebrating our 40th wedding anniversary. Tran then asked us lots of questions about love and relationships and how to make them work. It turned out to be a fascinating conversation. We ended at the Edgar Wallace pub for bangers and mash or fish and chips. We sat with Tran and a woman from Canada. She left as soon as we were done eating, as she had a reservation on the Harry Potter walking tour at three o’clock. We talked for a long time with Tran and several of his new friends from the hostel they stayed at. A young man from Pennsylvania, one from Australia, and a woman from Chile.

We headed back to the hotel for a rest since we’d done a good bit of walking. Then we headed out again. This time we headed to Her Majesty’s Theatre for our evening show: The Phantom of the Opera. We’d never seen it live, so that was a definite highlight! The theatre was a bit more comfortable than the one the evening before. The show was spectacular. The chandelier is as awe-inspiring as I’d heard. The voices and music were incredible. Amazing show!

After we got back to our Hyde Street tube station, we stopped at a neighborhood pub for a nightcap and to toast another day.

On the docket next: An unexpected meeting at our hotel and Oxford!

Wednesday Wanderings: Off to London!

Our flight from Dublin to London was delayed a couple of hours due to high winds. So we missed our arranged ride from Heathrow to our hotel. After a phone call (just what our over-worked AT&T data plan did not need), and a half hour wait, our driver arrived. He was from Moldova and spoke excellent English. He’d obviously had something heavy on garlic for dinner the night before, but after a few minutes my nose adjusted. He muscled our bags into his car and we were off. The drive into London was fascinating, although not unlike heading into the downtown area of any of our urban cities. Dave and I both commented on the large number of car dealers lining the freeway and their dizzying displays of cars. The buildings were tall, full of windows and spiral displays with gleaming cars.

After checking in, we found the nearest fish & chips place on our map and headed on foot to Hobson’s. It wasn’t a long walk and on the way we passed a phone booth, a school getting out for the day, and assorted shops.

On the way back, around the corner from our hotel, was a plaque on a building proclaiming it the site where American writer Bret Harte died.

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I had to take a picture there because I attended seventh grade at Bret Harte Junior High (now Middle) School in Hayward, California. Bret Harte wrote short stories and poetry about the American West.

My current women’s fiction series of novels take place in a small mountain community I’ve named Harts Leap. So it seemed appropriate.

 

After a short rest back at the hotel, we looked at options for the next day. We didn’t have anything booked and Dave left it up to me what to do. I booked us a walking tour with Strawberry Tours of Central London for the next morning.

Then, we decided to brave the tube and find our 2017-09-13_20-47-52_450way to the St. Martin’s Theatre where we had tickets to that night’s performance of The Mousetrap.

The Mousetrap is by Agatha Christie and has been playing for 53 years, since it opened in 1974. It’s the longest running play in history. The show was great, the theatre small and gorgeous, the seats extremely uncomfortable. But the show and the experience were worth the discomfort.

We lucked out on our tube rides and accidentally got on the right trains, both to the theatre and back to the hotel after. It wasn’t until the next day when we got on a “wrong” train, that we learned how to tell the difference. But we’re old hands now. We felt very safe and the tube was quick and efficient. The Lancaster Gate station was a short distance from the hotel and we walked it at all times of the day and night without a problem.

I’d given up on my hair in Ireland. But now that I was in calmer weather and had a blow dryer near by, I upped my hair game after this first day.

Next week, the great Strawberry Tour with the amazing guide, Will.