A Travellerspoint blog

February 2019

The Trip to London

Thanksgiving 2018

If you have come back to the blog, you are a glutton for punishment...just kidding...hopefully this is getting better, ha ha! I think I'm finally understanding this process and quite honestly, I give kudos to the people who do this for a living. It is much harder than it looks. Enough rambling...on to London!

We travelled to London for Thanksgiving for a few days. We took the train down and it only took a little more than an hour or so. I honestly LOVE riding the trains here and much prefer them to driving. The trains are clean and timely and certain companies will reimburse you if their particular train is more than 15 minutes late! The whole rail network here is pretty crazy in terms of sheer number of rail companies and timetables, so it takes a bit of time to learn and research. And then there is the whole issue of rail maintenance and the rail companies changed all of the timetables last year which caused massive delays, but so far we haven't encountered any issues (knock on wood). There are even train ticket deals that can be used to reduce the cost of entry fees to museums and sites (like a two-for-one deal) which is what we did for a few of the places we visited down in London.

To begin, we stayed at the Byron Hotel, which was located right across the street from Kensington Gardens. It was very convenient the London Underground. We had a very small room, but that is fairly common across Europe as a whole. We strolled through the gardens and saw The Albert Memorial and then made our way to the Victoria and Albert Museum. It was founded in 1852 by, yep, you guessed it...Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. The museum is FREE (although a small donation is appreciated as was the case with a lot of the museums and galleries we visited) and massive, one could spend several days inside looking at all of the different exhibits, collections, and art work. It is very impressive and there are so many collections of artifacts. After spending a few hours there, we walked across the street to the British Natural History Museum. This museum is also free and covers a large space. Apparently the site used to be a railway station. It was interesting, but was also really busy. I did learn the difference between African and Asian elephants (their ear size and head shape). After touring the museums we ate at Honest Burger in South Kensington and walked back to the hotel. We also passed by the Royal Albert Hall on the way back.

Inside the British Natural History Museum:
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Whale exhibit in the history museum:
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Royal Albert Hall:
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For Day 2, we started out by going to Westminster Abbey (photography wasn't allowed, but my better half took a few pictures of the places around the Abbey). The Abbey is beautiful. Fun fact, Lord Lytton, whose family owned Knebworth House (see the previous posts), is buried here as are Edward the Confessor and Mary I and Elizabeth I and lots of other famous and important people. Mary I and Elizabeth I are half sisters and former Queens, both daughters of Henry VIII. Mary I, also known as Bloody Mary, was the daughter of Catherine of Aragon (who died at Kimbolton Castle) and Henry VIII. Elizabeth was known as The Virgin Queen, Gloriana or Good Queen Bess and was the daughter of Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII. The Abbey is beyond impressive and it is astounding being in a place rich with so much history. It was also really cool to experience the Abbey after having watched William and Kate's wedding on TV in 2011. After Westminster, we walked by 10 Downing Street and then made our way to the Churchill War Rooms and Museum. This was probably my favorite part of the entire trip (even better than the possible royal sighting!)! The war rooms are interesting and the museum is fantastic (photography was not allowed). It was very crowded, but one could literally spend a day here. I didn't realize what a prolific writer and painter Churchill was or that he basically wore a track suit most of the time. We plan to go and see his Chartwell home one day as well. It is located south of London in Kent. We rounded out the day by going to the National Portrait Gallery, also free! It was nearing closing time, so we went to the Tudor rooms. I have become obsessed with the Tudors since arriving here, if you can't already tell. The overall history of the royal family captivates me. We ended the day by eating dinner in the West End at The Chandos (famous for homemade pies...meat and vegetable filled pies).

Westminster Abbey:
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Courtyard at Westminster Abbey:
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These were from a small chapel on the abbey grounds:
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On Day 3, we decided to go to the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace. This was the "off" season, so the "changing" takes place on a reduced schedule. We had to research this and then plan our trip around the specific day and time of the event. I had seen the "changing" before, but was still impressed. On the way over, we walked through Hyde Park, Green Park and St. James Park. Following the show, we made our way over to Regent Street in Soho (known for its shopping) and strolled around. In the afternoon, we headed over to Harrod's in West London. Harrod's was insanely busy! The bottom floor was like a gourmet grocery store and there were several floors above that sold everything from housewares, to art and furniture and electronics, and souvenirs. It was literally a one stop shop for everything imaginable, but with some hefty price tags. After that overwhelming experience, we took a little break and wandered back to the hotel before heading out to Mayfair. Our possible royal sighting occurred as we were leaving our hotel for Mayfair. A motorcade had prevented us from crossing the street. The motorcade consisted of a few police motorcycles and vehicles and one dark Land Rover. Inside the Land Rover was a young lady and three men, including the driver. The young lady looked like, at least to me, Kate Middleton. Naturally, I queried the internet to see if she had any royal engagements that day near us and low and behold both she and Meghan Markle had engagements that day! Kate's engagement was near our hotel, so I was pretty convinced that this was a possible Kate Middleton sighting! Following that excitement, we headed to the Hard Rock Cafe in Mayfair, which is an affluent area of West London, for dinner and t-shirts :). The Hard Rock has some pretty interesting memorabilia, which I think is pretty common for those cafes.

Buckingham Palace:
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Facing opposite the palace:
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Hyde Park:
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Harrod's:
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Our last day happened to be Thanksgiving Day. We went to St. Paul's Cathedral where a special Thanksgiving service is held every year. The US Ambassador to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Woody Johnson, was the keynote speaker. St. Paul's was really interesting. The church has been around for over 1400 years and been rebuilt five times, including when the cathedral was bombed during World War II. Fun fact, Prince Charles and the late Princess Diana were married here in 1981. After the service, we were able to tour the cathedral, again photography was discouraged. We then walked to the British Museum and on the way, passed by the London Stock Exchange. The British Museum was also impressive and rather large. The Rosetta Stone is on display here and we managed to get a peek at it despite crowds of people surrounding the glass case. It was almost closing time when we arrived, so we didn't get to explore a lot of the works. We had Thanksgiving dinner at the Museum Tavern and called it a day. The next day we said goodbye to London and took the train home.

St. Paul's Cathedral:
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View of the city of London from the second level of the rotunda:
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It was a great trip and there is quite a bit more we need to see in London! I'm sure we'll make it back.

On to the next adventure...

Posted by LCP 09:33 Archived in England Tagged victoria london park st. history museum cathedral abbey james buckingham albert hyde westminster pauls kensington churchill royals Comments (1)

Pictures from Knebworth, Windsor, Kimbolton, and Rockingham

Uploading pictures...advancing in my blogging capabilities

Here are a few pictures of Knebworth House:

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Windsor Castle:

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Kimbolton Castle:

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Rockingham Castle:

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Slowly getting the hang of this and hopefully getting better! My millennial brethren must be so embarrassed at my lack of technological skills, ha!

Posted by LCP 06:45 Archived in England Tagged castles england history houses christmas windsor royalty rockingham kimbolton knebworth Comments (0)

Castles, Castles, Castles

Finally got the blog up and running!!!

I thought this might be the appropriate inaugural post for England...castles, castles, castles. We have been fortunate to be able to visit a few of the many castles here. So far, we have visited three castles and a "house" since we arrived: Knebworth House, Windsor Castle, Kimbolton Castle, and Rockingham Castle. Each castle has been unique in its own right and the history that is associated with each location is fascinating.

First up, Knebworth House. It's located right off of the A1 in Stevenage. Knebworth is considered an English country house located in, of all places, Knebworth in Hertfordshire. The house has been in the same family since 1490...yes, 1490. Knebworth is probably best known as being Britain's largest music venue. Fun fact, Queen played their last concert here with Freddie Mercury in 1986. Another fun fact...Led Zeppelin played the last of their British concerts on the property in 1979. Many famous people have stayed the night in the house, as I recall from the tour guide, reportedly Queen Elizabeth 1 in 1571 and Mick Jagger, just to name a few. Hosting a Queen was quite expensive and was known to have bankrupt estates. As one might imagine, the grounds around the house are beautiful and the architecture is Tudor Gothic. The house is cozy despite its large size and the gardens are perfectly manicured. The house is also famous because parts of several films have been filmed in or at the house. The Lytton family still lives in the house to this day.

Next, was Windsor Castle. We were so lucky to have won tickets via a lottery for this visit!!! We visited Windsor Castle right before Princess Eugenie's wedding in October. Before we began our tour, we had a light dinner at the Prince Harry pub about a block away from the castle. Windsor is a quaint little town, with so much to do and see. Windsor Castle is the oldest and largest inhabited castle in the world and was originally built by William the Conquerer in the 11th century. To beigin our private tour, we walked into the Grand Staircase and the Grand Vestibule. The Grand Vestibule is amazing with the different swords and historical artifacts, such as the musket ball that killed Lord Nelson. We then went into the Waterloo Chamber. The room was quite impressive and was painted to showcase the success of the forces of Great Britain, Austria, Prussia and Russia at the Battle of Waterloo in June 1815 when Napoleon was finally defeated. Next, we were led into the King's Drawing Room, the King's Bedchamber (such interesting decor), The Queen's Drawing Room and then the King's Dining Room. Apparently, the King's Dining Room was open to the sky until the 1820s and one could come and watch the King and Queen eat dinner, if that's what one wanted to do (not awkward at all). We also saw the Queen's Ballroom (lots of dance parties here we were told), the Queen's Audience Chamber, and the Queen's Guard Chamber. One of the most interesting rooms was St. George's Hall. Palace staff were setting up for the wedding so tables were placed all over the room (pretty interesting to see wedding photos from the room after having just been there!). The names of all Knights past and present are inscribed on the panels that cover the walls and ceiling of the Hall. We also walked into the Lantern Lobby which was built after the 1992 fire. It does feel a bit more modern in this part of the castle, but that does not take away, in my opinion, from the impressive nature of the castle. We also were treated to the Grand Reception Room and the Garter Throne Room. The Grand Reception Room houses the massive Malachite Urn, which was gifted to Queen Victoria by Tsar Nicholas I in 1839. During the 1992 fire, the urn was filled with hose water to preserve it, since the urn was too heavy to remove from the room. It did require restoration, but I didn't notice any difference or damage (not that my layman's eye could).

We visited Kimbolton Castle next on our own. We are kind of spoiled because this castle is so close. The castle was converted to a school in the 1950s. The village of Kimbolton is also adorable and is literally right across the street. Henry VIII banished his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, here when she produced a female heir, who would later become the Queen of England, Queen Mary. The room where Catherine died is now the headmaster's office..not creepy at all. Catherine was buried up in Peterborough at Peterborough Cathedral. One of the docents also mentioned the castle has a reputation for being haunted, not only by Catherine, but also by a baby. Apparently at one point in the castle's history, one of the judges - involved in the Guy Fawkes trials - lived in the castle or rented it. He apparently came home inebriated one evening, saw that his wife had delivered a baby girl, and took the child and threw it out a second story window into the courtyard. Supposedly, every year the ground where the baby was thrown turns a red hue on the anniversary of the baby's death. On a brighter note, the gardens are rather unique and were the result of "Capability" Brown, who was famous for telling clients that their property had capability for improvement. His designs were markedly different than the original gardens and not necessarily for the better, in my opinion, especially at Kimbolton. We went to the little Christmas market held at Kimbolton around the holidays and had a great time tasting, and picking up a few things.

The last castle we visited was Rockingham Castle. Rockingham Castle is located in Leicestershire. Rockingham has been in the Saunders Watson family for 450 years. Again, this castle was built by William the Conquerer. The last King to use the castle as a royal residence was Henry V in 1422. Henry VIII sold the castle because he didn't care for it and preferred the money. The tour was really unique in that our guide was a "butler" and led us on a "Victorian" Christmas tour. We started in the servants quarters and then were led into The Kitchen. It was VERY interesting to see how cooking occurred way back in the day. We saw The Great Hall which was very cozy and masculine and had fantastic Christmas decor. We toured a few more rooms in the house. It was staged for a Christmas event in the 1800s, so that was pretty interesting. Unfortunately, it was evening when we toured so we didn't see the gardens, but we did have "Christmas Dinner" at the castle which reminded me of Thanksgiving dinner in a way. Christmas is HUGE here...

Well, I suppose that is all for now. These posts will get better as I find a rhythm and get more comfortable....And no one judge me please, English was not my major and I am not a writer :) We'll also work on uploading pictures, again neither one of us is a photographer. Photography is also not approved most of the time in the castles.

Up next, the recap of our trip to London in November...possible royal sighting included!!!

Posted by LCP 08:24 Tagged castles architecture england history tour Comments (4)

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