Pack Your Brolly….

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 7:59 pm

You may or may not have noticed three recent additions to the Weather bar along the left side of your browser window. I recently figured out how to pull international information from weather.com’s XOAP server so I added links to weather in Tel Aviv, Baghdad and London to my list of weather in places that are important to me. Israel because that’s part of my tribe (as diluted and unconnected as I might feel at times to it), Baghdad because it just seems like the very least I could do (particularly given the fact that I’ve had one nephew there already and another likely on the way), and London because, well, we’re GOING TO ENGLAND!

Margaret and I have actually been planning this for some time, in celebration of our tenth wedding anniversary (ten years. My God, ten fucking years. I can’t tell you what this means to me, but this might give you a bit of an idea: in 1989 I had decided that I would give myself five years after graduation from college to see if my life had begun to improve. If it hadn’t, I was planning to commit suicide. Shortly thereafter Margaret and I started dating. I’m still alive. Top that, Hallmark!) She went there with her family as a teen, whereas I’ve never so much as been to Canada, despite the fact that it’s close enough to cast a shadow on my house at the right time in the afternoon.

We’re going to spend time up and down the coast of the Isles, visiting London, Jersey, Bath, Inverness (yes, we’re going to take a tour of the Loch, we’re that big of a couple of weenies), Stonehenge, and every single zoo and botanical garden that gets in our way (and there’s a lot of them. At one point, Margaret was at her ‘puter researching places to visit when I heard her squeal with delight, “The Royal Thyme Garden!” I burst out laughing, and she asked me what my problem was. Affecting my most rapt tone of delight, I squealed, “The Strategic Dandelion Reserve!” I don’t remember nothin’ after that. πŸ˜‰ ) If we have time, we’re going to take the Chunnel and spend a couple of days in Paris. We want to do the Tower of London Ghost Tour, eat at half a dozen places featured on various Food Network and Travel Channel shows (St. John, Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen, and Yialousa Greek Tavern, a place Margaret and her family frequented when last they were in England, among others). All in all, an action-packed month.

All I can say about planning this trip is, thank God Margaret took the reins. If it had been up to me, we would have likely stayed in the hotel closest to Heathrow, touring the surrounding computer stores and eating at fine curry houses within ten minutes’ walk of our lodging. That’s just the kind of guy I am: lame. Margaret is also the one who saved our wedding from being held in our driveway, with pizza from the now-defunct Joe Mama’s next door and a Winchell’s donut wedding cake.

We will, of course, be taking a metric assload of pictures while we’re there, and posting some of the best of them right here for your viewing pleasure. To this end we recently bought an Olympus E-Volt E500, a wonderful digital happy-snap SLR with all the bells and whistles, save a couple. If you’re an amateur photog who wants the splendor of a digital camera with the full range of SLR lenses, but you don’t feel a pathological need view a live preview through the LCD viewfinder or shoot action photos in dimly lit rooms, I’d heartily recommend this bugger.

The main reason I wanted to let my adoring readers know what we were up to was so we could solicit suggestions, tips and other bits of tid from our more worldly compatriots regarding things to do, see and perhaps buy in England. Where to go for good omiyage? Places we simply must go, places we for the love of God should avoid? C’mon people: most of y’all are ten times the world travelers that we are (what’s ten times zero again? Remember, I graduated with a Bachelor’s in Liberal Arts). Help us out here!

10 Responses to “Pack Your Brolly….”

  1. joe Says:


    It has been twenty-one years since I got to visit England (and Eastern Europe) so all of my memories are probably out of date, but here goes.

    I visited Brittan before ATM’s were universally available and supported international monetary exchange. As a result, I had a wallet full of US Dollars and relied on private monetary exchanges to convert my Dollars into Pounds. Unfortunately, I did not fill my wallet with Pounds before a long weekend trip to Wales. In 1985 the banks and exchanges closed early on Friday and stayed closed all weekend. I had a rail pass and B&B vouchers so transport and lodging were covered but by Sunday evening I was hard pressed to cover dinner at a Fish and Chips cart in Chamfrain.

    Also, if the opportunity presents itself, get lost. I saw my share of guidebook attractions throughout Europe but I also had fun pointing my nose in a random direction and walking. I watched live-aid from a barbers chair on Kings Road and bought a concert tour tee shirt for Adolph Hitler and the Third Reich from a nearby shop (as irony goes, this shirt was a piece of art). I walked the wall of the medieval city of Chester through business and residential districts just to see how big the old city used to be. I made friends with a traveler from New York who told me how to spot American girls at the beaches in the south of France (I leave that to your imagination) over beers in a travelers hostel in London.

    Remember, you are there to have fun. Treat the unexpected as part of the experience. In twenty years you may be hard pressed to separate the memory of Kew Gardens from the Royal Thyme Garden but the scary early morning taxi ride through Leningrad or jumping a stall in a pay toilet in Dresden will stand out among your life’s great adventures.

  2. Val Says:

    Duuude! That sounds like so much fun! Anyways, I’ve read about this “Ceremony of the Keys” at the Tower of London, and it sounds really great.

    It is free, but you have to reserve your tickets. You go around with one of the Castle Warders around 10PM as he literally locks the Tower up for the night. It is supposed to be like getting a personal tour, and the stories you get are different from the usual tourist pap. Supposedly. I’ve never been, every time I’ve been in the UK I’ve been working or sick. Please go for me?

    Process for reserving tickets
    Description of the Ceremony of the Keys

    I heard on NPR a couple of months ago that the Raven Master at the Tower has quarantined the famous ravens due to fears of the bird flu would kill them off, and HE didn’t want to be the Raven Master under which the British Monarchy failed!
    Bird Flu Forces London’s Beloved Ravens Indoors

    Have a great time. Eat at pubs and hole in the wall Indian restaurants. Avoid the haggis.

  3. Uncle Andrew Says:

    Great input, folks! Keep ’em coming!

  4. Val Says:

    OH! I forgot! Avoid the gypsy taxis. Only take liveried or the classical black London cab. Or ride the tube or the bus. Don’t try to drive in London, in fact I don’t think normal folks are allowed to drive within the city of London anymore. Only cabs, transports, deliveries, and personal cars with permits are allowed.

    But do avoid the gypsy cabs. On my first trip to the UK, I exited the Heathrow arrivals terminal using the door that indicated I would find a cab stand on the other side. Just as I cleared the door, a young man in a crisp white shirt and black slacks intercepted me and asked if I needed a cab. Having been to many airports where there is a cab coordinator to match the rider with the cabs, I assumed that’s who he was. He grabbed my large rolling suitcase and took off towards a line of traditional black cabs with me trailing behind. He then rolled right on past the line of cabs, across the airport drive, and into a parking garage, all at a very brisk pace. I was a little worried at this point, but then when we got to the parking garage I saw a lot of little sedan type cars there with tiny “TAXI” signs bolted to the roof. I figured those black cabs out front were for tourists, and these cabs in here were serious cabs, for serious business travellers. He stored my suitcase in his trunk, put me in the backseat, and we left the parking garage. I told him I wanted to go to Saint Pancras Station (which stood in for King’s Cross Station in the Harry Potter movies) to catch a train to Nottingham.He immediately offered to drive me all the way to Nottingham. I refused. I really wanted to ride the train! He kept trying to cinvince me, but I stood my ground. Then I started to notice the lack of taxi-like details in the vehicle, like no posted license, no posted rates, no barrier between the front and back seats, no signs or warnings to the passengers, no heavy duty industrial vinyl seats or carpets or headliners like in your basic taxi cab. It was just a regular, private car. I was starting to get a little nervous, here I was, at the mercy of this guy with no clue where I was or even if he was driving me to the correct destination. Then we pulled up next to one of those “tourist” cabs, and this one had a huge advertising sign mounted to the back of the car warning people of the dangers of riding in gypsy cabs. OHMIGOD! That’s when it hit me, I was in a gypsy cab! I did feel a little better when we drove past Mme Tussaud’s waxworks, I had done some research and knew roughly where I was at that point and that the train station wasn’t that much further. When we got to the station, he tried again to convince me he could drive me all the way before he unlocked the trunk to get my suitcase out. I refused again, and he did give me my bag. I tipped him generously, mostly because he had delivered me to the correct destination and hadn’t killed me and rolled my body under a bridge in the process. I asked for a receipt, and he actually gave me a hand-written one that had the name of a taxi company at the top, so I felt a little silly about my suspicions. But later in my hotel room I took a closer look at it, and under the legit taxi company’s logo, there in tiny tiny print it said “the company above is not responsible for the receipt below” and all the driver had done was scribble a couple of squiggly lines on the paper. That was it. No numbers, no nothing.

    I later learned from my colleagues at Rolls Royce that I was very, very lucky that all that he did was charge me 4 times the regular cab fare from the airport to the train station. Learn from my mistakes. Take the Tube.

  5. Uncle Andrew Says:

    Oh, that’s good stuff, Val, thank you. πŸ˜€

  6. Dalek Says:

    Okay, here goes, in no particular order:

    Kebab stands and gyro stands are good, cheap ways to eat. Ditto for Indian restaurants.
    Eating Welsh Rabbit in Wales is well worthwhile.
    The gardens at Sissinghurst Castle are not to be missed.
    The Ghost Tour in Bath kicked butt – and Molly and I will swear that our tour guide was himself a ghost. The ghost tour in York was also fabulous, but the tour guide there was definitely an actor supplementing his income.
    Punting in Cambridge is well worth doing. (But then again, I learned how to punt from my fellow students; and while it’s not hard, maybe you don’t want to try on your own.)
    Don’t fail to go to the British Museum, or you’ll kick yourself.
    Aberystwyth (sp? it’s been a while) was great, and has standing stones that are far less crowded than Stonehenge (and not fenced off).
    In Paris, the crepe vendors on the street are tasty cheap places to eat. Ditto the small quiche shops everywhere. And Notre Dame and the Louvre are not to be misse
    Kensington Gardens in London are also fabu.
    Bath is purely delightful; you could spend days and days and days there.
    Be sure to take a picture of the unidentified speck you see out on Loch Ness. I know I treasure mine. πŸ˜‰
    In a more serious vein, Urquart Castle (the ubiquitous ruined castle you see in pictures of Loch Ness as well as the Synchronicity video) is worth visiting, even if you don’t see Nessie.
    You’ll be freaked out by how long the days are in Inverness. Be sure to stay in places with blackout shades.
    Indulge in the calories of a proper English tea at least once during your stay. Be sure to bring extra insulin.
    Ely Cathedral, Crowlands, and the chapter house in York Cathedral are well worth seeing, if you like church architecture. (I do.)
    Remember to relax and enjoy things at your own pace, because there’s no way you’ll be able to see everything anyway, no matter how much you hurry.

    Have a fabulous trip, and bring the Rat!

  7. Dalek Says:

    Oh yeah, I forgot to mention:

    Eat fish and chips from a chips stand that serves their food in newspaper at least once. It’s quintessentially English, and always tasty.
    Edinburgh rocks.
    If you like single-malt Scotch, Prince Street in Edinburgh is not to be missed – not to mention a pub crawl in Edinburgh, tasting different single malts at each stop. (Yes, I did this with Molly. It was absolutely fantastic.)
    Yorkshire is beautiful, if not crutches-friendly (Will was on crutches at the time, not that it let that stop him from going over stiles, etc.) Drystone construction has to be seen to be believed.
    The Victoria and Albert museum is also fantastic.
    Chocolate-covered Hob Nobs (plain or milk) are the world’s best biscuit. And over there, biscuits are cookies, crisps are chips (potato, corn, whatever), and chips are french fries.
    Don’t stare when the Brits eat their pizza, fries, and everything else with a knife and fork. In fact, try it – it’s not so hard.
    Try to see at least one show while in London.
    Take advantage of duty-free shops to stock up on good boozles.
    Be sure to buy at least one bottle of port while you’re over there, and drink it during the trip.
    Farmer’s markets are great places to get picnic supplies, and picnicking is something you should do at least once.
    And last but not least – keep in mind that all my information dates from ’91 and ’94. I’ve got to get out of this country again…

  8. Tony Lenzer Says:

    Ah yes, London….
    We arrived on June day, in the midst of what the Natives proclaimed as a Most Unusual Heat Wave (“it’s never like this, this time of year!”)….our cute Victorian hotel had no A/C, of course, and we had to beg and plead to get a dinky litttle fan. But then, we were told, Americans are crazy for A/C when it’s really not needed…..other fond memories: the Full English Breakfast (bring your portable defibulator); the very helpful Bobby at Heathrow; the wonderful ladies at Lufthansa who upgraded us to first-class for the trip home. Other things too numerous to remember (but your mother will). A cautionary note: we decided to go see “Miss Saigon” (a wonderful production), and, it being the London Theatre, my deah, we got all spiffied up, coat and tie, etc., only to find that the theater itself had no A/C, and the Natives were there in shorts and tee shirts. One other caautionary note: DO allow lots and lots of time for shopping at Harrods! I didn’t, and dragged Joan out of there, kicking and screaming, much too early. She hasn’t forgiven me yet!

  9. Tony Lenzer Says:

    A note from Mom: one of the highlights of our days in London was a tour of the old Jewish quarter….saw an ancient synagogue, someof the old original wall of the city and ate the most incredible chopped liver and rye bread… our plan hadbeen to eat a full meal, but we skipped that when the appetizer was so fantastic we ate two loaves of bread, and an extra mound of the meat. I already told you about Charing Cross Road and the bookstores, read Helen Hanf’s book titled the same. Also, it you get to Yorkshire, look for the town of Scotton as some of our ancestors came from this area, Take a picture or two of it for me….others came from Stratford and Manchester,,,,family names are Thackeray, Climpson. Smith

    , Linn all on Graamma K,s side of the family, except fir the Linns.

  10. Uncle Andrew Says:

    Nice stuff, Mom and Dad, thanks. We will definitely try to get out to Scotton for you, Mom. πŸ™‚

Leave a Reply

All comments containing hyperlinks are held for approval, so don't worry if your comment doesn't show up immediately. (I'm not editing for content, just weeding out the more obvious comment spam.)

All portions of this site are © Andrew Lenzer, all rights reserved, unless otherwise noted.