London Visit – Summer 2017 Part 10: Flight Home; US vs. UK Observations

Left to Right: Wellington Arch; a plane filling up with passengers at Heathrow airport; A picture of the map on the plane charting our progress.

Note about the last picture: I really wanted to know what Google would say over the Atlantic Ocean. Apparently it just says the date. Such a letdown. Everywhere else, it creepily tells you exactly the town you’re over. Learned this gem on the way back from Florida.

Spending the Excess Money

A visual representation of what happens when you leave me in the airport with twenty-two pounds when I’m headed back to America.

I must have checked out three times in that convenience store. It had all sorts of goodies from giant bags of gummy bears to hats to key chains and other souvenirs in case you somehow escaped the other few thousand gift shops in the city of London. Maybe I just like playing with self-checkout machines. Though I must say, scanning the boarding pass repeatedly got old.

In-genius idea: They had donation boxes around the airport where you could donate whatever excess currency you had. I didn’t, but I love the idea. Wonder how they deal with that. Must be on great terms with the exchange people. Who am I kidding, they probably are the exchange people.

Waiting in the Airport

At Heathrow, they waited a really long time before announcing which gate one should go to. That is a very large place. They probably just wanted you to be in the area where you could buy stuff for a longer amount of time. Also, it sort of works because you have to hustle to get to your gate, then you’re only there like fifteen minutes before boarding. Thus, there’s no time for huge lines and impatient crowds. By the way, I really like their signs everywhere that tell you how many walking minutes you’re away from the gate area.

US vs. UK – A Random List of Comparisons and Observations

Note: When comparing cities, I was envisioning New York City vs. London.

Second Note: My experience in England was limited to London, so keep that in mind when reading the observations. I’m still going to use UK even though I didn’t venture far from the city.

Consumer taxing –  UK; it’s nice to have the price you see be the price you pay. Never really thought much about value added tax before, but I kind of like it.

Pigeon Size – UK; the London pigeons were bigger than designer dogs

Money System – US; Yes, I know that the pound is worth more, but in terms of physical money, they have way too many coins. It also weirded me out that the money changed size, but I’m told that’s the way it is everywhere except the US. Counterfeiting measure or not, it’s still somewhat annoying to have four different size notes. Though I will admit, those new five pound notes are adorable.

Use of the word brilliant – UK

Queue vs. lines – UK; Windsor Castle aside, the Brits generally know how to set up a proper queue.

Safety warnings –  UK; See it. Say it. Sorted. The implication is that they’ll take care of it. In the US, the safety message is: If you see something, say something. There’s no promise to take care of it.


US = penny, nickel, dime, quarter, occasional dollar (pretty much not in general use)
UK = one pence, two pence, five pence, ten pence, twenty pence, fifty pence, one pound coin, two pound coin

Back to the Random List

Subway (NYC) vs. Underground (London) – UK; The Underground is much easier to learn. Most cars are cleaner. The directions of where you should go are much clearer. Here’s the major difference: the Underground (tube) tends to hit every stop along it’s line all the time. There’s no such thing as an express train. There are electronic signs with three pieces of information: the next arriving train and two later arriving trains and sometimes a safety message.

Subway vs. Underground Pricing – US; The Underground is set up by zones, so the farther you go, the more you pay. There’s really no other way they can set up that system and make it feasible, but it’s still annoying to have to pay more while staying on the same train. In the subway, you swipe in once and can transfer as many times for the same price. In the Underground, you have to tap in and out everywhere.

Accent – UK; If you want to get boring about it, I’m told there are studies that show the British accent makes people sounds smarter. Hollywood’s version of the British accent isn’t representative of all the accents that exist over there, but Americans in general (me included) are obsessed with the British accent.

Weather – US; usually not quite so cloudy, though I will say the coolness was appreciated. I love seasons with snow, just not a lot of it.

Locks – US; Pretty sure I’d die if there was a fire. You have to use a key to unlock the complicated thing. Pull up on the handle, insert key, turn key left and if that doesn’t work try turning it all the way round to the right. At least at home I just have to flip a deadbolt.

Speed limit signs – UK; They actually smile at you if you’re going the speed limit. I think if you speed you get a frowny face and possibly a ticket.

Draw …

Public restrooms/toilets – draw, cleanliness – UK; water pressure – US (Sinks here turn off when you tell them to.)

Driving – draw, though I will say the US drives on the right side 😉

School Scheme – draw. There are some older schools with deeper traditions, but overall, the system’s just different not necessarily better.

Food variety – US

Mug size – US. If you’re looking for cute mugs, go UK, but if you’re looking for functional mugs of a decent size, definitely US.

Fashion Sense – draw


The ten-day trip I took to London was a once-in-a-lifetime awesome experience. There are tourists everywhere, but Having the London Pass helped me navigate. Also, it helped that I had friends there, but even if you go alone, there’s a ton of great stuff to see and do. I took a grand total of three hundred and fifty pounds with me and spent roughly thirty of that a day. I had to top up the Oyster (travel) card a few times, but I believe in the eight days I really used it, I spent about sixty pounds total.

As much as I loved the trip and would do it or something like that again in a heartbeat, Dorthy had it right. There’s no place like home.

Need to Catch Up?

Part 1: Preparation, Planning, Cost

Part 2: Arrival and First Day in the City (The London Museum)

Part 3: Getting into Tourist Mode (British Museum)

Part 4: Windsor Castle

Part 5: Buckingham Palace and More Museums (Natural History and Science Museums)

Part 6: Tower Bridge, HMS Belfast, Shakespeare’s Globe

Part 7: City Cruises, Greenwich, and Church

Part 8: Kensington Palace, Curzon Bloomsbury, and a Pub

Part 9: Westminster Abbey, Namco Funscape, Churchill War Rooms

Planning your own trip?

London Visit – Summer 2017 Part 9: Westminster Abbey, Namco Funscape, Churchill War Rooms

Left to Right: Westminster Abbey; A Letter from King George to Winston Churchill asking him not to go to the staging grounds of D-Day.

Last Day to Play: Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Westminster Abbey

Found my way to the right station no problem, but got turned around and couldn’t actually find the abbey for a few minutes. That takes some serious talent. I mean the building’s huge. This is another place that I might not have gone inside if I didn’t already sort of pay for it by buying the London Pass. It was definitely cool with yet another neat audio tour, but 22 pounds would probably have turned off the cheapskate in me. Can’t take pictures in there either. I think it’s because they want you to buy officially sanctioned postcards.

Gift shop:

Yes, I’m pretty sure I bought a postcard or two. I know I bought chocolate. Who knows, perhaps tourist chocolate is better than grocery story chocolate.

Lunch at a Random Noodle Joint

Okay, so I hate to admit it, but we were looking for the McDonalds and couldn’t find it. We walked over Westminster bridge on the right side if you’re facing away from the side that has Westminster Pier. By the time we crossed the street we were on a part of the walkway that didn’t have the steps down so we walked around the whole building. Pit stop at a noodle joint. It was all right. Looked it up. Place is called Ned’s Noodle Bar. If I was rating the restaurant, I’d give it 3 of 5 stars.

Food was decent but nothing to write home and rave about. Maybe I just chose something too mild. Their system isn’t that smooth. It wasn’t that busy but I wasn’t sure where to go to pick up the food. I can see them placing random boxes on the top of the counter getting kind of confusing. Heck, even McDonalds had a more efficient system with order numbers displayed above and somebody there who shouted out the number that was ready. If you read the google ratings, they’re basically split down the middle. Kind of pricey for what you get. Each box is about eight pounds.

Arcade – Namco Funscape

Took me a little while to understand the place. The London Pass came with three free tokens here, but they’re not useful for most things, just the video games. I bought the further deal which was buy five tokens and get five free. Oh well, we had fun blowing up bad guys and robots. There was a crane game with Star Wars character plushies in it. Being Star Wars nuts, naturally my friend and I tried for one. Every crane game try cost thirty pence, which is actually much cheaper than the arcades I’ve seen in the states.

After a few tries, we quite that and played some of the ticket games. My friend did amazing at this game where you drop random balls and it trickles down and lands in various fish bowls. Each of those turns was ten pence. I had fun with a different game where you try to time a token sliding down a ramp into the back to get the game to drop more tokens that you want to slide off the platform.

Eventually, we spent some of the tickets on a mug and a collectable Star Wars piggy bank style tin. It’s currently holding one pound, but if I ever want that back, I’ll need to break in with a can opener. Literally. That’s the instructions on the bottom of the container.

Conquering the Crane Game

Anyway, back to that darn crane game. It was mocking us. We had to try again. My friend tried once or twice more. I turned a cute little five pound note into coins and fed three of them to the machine, giving me ten turns. On the third of these, I picked BB-8’s behind up for the umpteenth time and miracles happened. By that, I mean the crane didn’t drop him until it was over the prize box. Success! Had a few tries left so blew them trying for a Kylo Ren, but he’s too darn skinny for that crane thing to pick him up.

Ice Cream and the Great Sweatshirt Hunt

I’m relatively easy to please with few wants. One of those wants was a London sweatshirt. Didn’t find too many without hoods,but finally got one. It’s a tad small but it was the last one they had and five pounds cheaper than the other place across the bridge. This stall was almost identical to the other just on the Westminster Pier side. Saved a fiver, so I spent it almost immediately on ice cream of all things. The soft ice cream with flake was a bit softer than it ought to be but that just meant we had to eat it quicker and use more napkins in the fallout.

Churchill War Rooms

For an underground bunker of sorts, the place is quite extensive. Once again, you wind your way down some stairs, buy a ticket, and head in with your audio tour looped around your neck. The Imperial War Museum people know how to create a nice exhibit. There’s a large room where you can explore the different phases of Churchill’s life, but most of the tour focuses on the various rooms that make up the bunker. Some of them have audio clips from people who worked for Churchill or the other important leaders of the day. Hearing the voices of people who lived and worked back then was great.

Gift shop:

Nope, didn’t buy a postcard, but I did make a purchase here. Would have bought a DVD too if it was compatible with US players. Pretty sure it wasn’t.


I really enjoyed the arcade. Learning the history in the Churchill War rooms was cool too. Westminster Abbey was beautiful, as expected, but I’d already seen much the same type of thing at St. George’s Cathedral in Windsor Castle.

Need to Catch Up?

Part 1: Preparation, Planning, Cost

Part 2: Arrival and First Day in the City (The London Museum)

Part 3: Getting into Tourist Mode (British Museum)

Part 4: Windsor Castle

Part 5: Buckingham Palace and More Museums (Natural History and Science Museums)

Part 6: Tower Bridge, HMS Belfast, Shakespeare’s Globe

Part 7: City Cruises, Greenwich, and Church

Part 8: Kensington Palace, Curzon Bloomsbury, and a Pub

Had enough Reading? Check out some Video Games

London Visit – Summer 2017 Part 8: Kensington Palace, Curzon Bloomsbury, and a Pub

Left to Right: View of queue (line) to get into Kensington Palace; Some of Princess Diana’s Dresses; A look at the fountain with Kensington Palace in the Background

Monday, July 17, 2017

Kensington Palace

Once again, I forged out on my own in the morning. That guide book made the palace look so close to the underground station. It’s deceptive. You probably have to walk a good three blocks then across half a giant park to find the palace, but it’s worth it. Inside, you’ll find more state rooms as well as a few rooms they’ve turned into an exhibit for Princess Diana’s dresses. The line wasn’t too big but the area’s a tad cramped anyway. The dresses were lovely, but dresses aren’t really my thing.

After exploring the state rooms for a little, I knew I needed to leave, but I had to walk through more rooms to get to the exit. Of course, it lay just beyond a gift shop, so I had to stop. Impulse buy: adorable teddy bear wearing a sweater that says Kensington Palace. My friend told me the bear was wearing a cricket sweater. He also said that a proper game could go on for five days. Who plays games that last five days? Who watches such things? Where do they find the time?

Wimbleton was going on while I visited, so I didn’t get to see the stadium or do any of those tours, but I think I sort of understand the game of tennis better.

Curzon Bloomsbury – (Movie Theater)

Met my friend outside the movie theater and saw A Man Called Ove. I’m pretty sure we were the youngest in that theater, but since the theater only held about 12 people, that’s not saying too much. Guess I should write a full movie review, but here’s the short version. It’s not my typical type of movie, but I enjoyed it. I’m never going to read the book, but I’m told the story’s really good. It was a nice compromise to be able to see it, even with subtitles. Grumpy man meets lively family. Favorite part: when he told the woman not to let the ambulance drive in. Not generally a fan of flashbacks either, but in this case, I think the tactic worked well.

Since I could, I got a cappuccino at the concessions stand where you buy the tickets. The London Pass comes with the ability to see a free movie at one of four Curzon theaters. I never tried to see two movies, so I don’t know if that’s possible, but there’s so much stuff to do in that city, who’d want to take the time. Each Curzon theater played a whole plethora of different small, indie movies, so finding something to see was challening. I’m happy with my choice though.

Patisserie Valerie

Since the movie was at an awkward time and I didn’t get a proper lunch, we ate a snack at Patisserie Valerie near the theater. Interestingly, the food cost more to eat in than take out. We sat down anyway even though the weather was nice enough to take it somewhere else. Got an apple danish. Eh, there are worse lunches in the world. Had another cappuccino. Even though it was delicious, I couldn’t finish this one because I’d just finished the one in the movie. If I recall correctly, my friend had a croissant. Not a very filling lunch, but a nice snack.

Got some cakes to share with the people who opened their home to me. Not sure which one I tried, but it was excellent.

Dinner at the Pub

Went to a pub with my other friends that evening. Don’t recall the name of it, but I do remember getting sausage and mash (mashed potatoes). Weirdest thing. I had to sign a paper in order to take the leftovers home. Basically, it was a “don’t sue us if you get sick” paper, but I found it rather amusing. Well, the leftovers didn’t kill me, but I can see why they’d want something like that as protection. People are crazy. Not sure if they’re as eager to sue you over in England as they are in the US, but it’s understandable if a little weird.

All in all, a lovely experience and a good close to a busy day.

Need to Catch Up?

Part 1: Preparation, Planning, Cost

Part 2: Arrival and First Day in the City (The London Museum)

Part 3: Getting into Tourist Mode (British Museum)

Part 4: Windsor Castle

Part 5: Buckingham Palace and More Museums (Natural History and Science Museums)

Part 6: Tower Bridge, HMS Belfast, Shakespeare’s Globe

Part 7: City Cruises, Greenwich, and Church

London Visit – Summer 2017 Part 7: City Cruises, Greenwich, and Church

Left to Right: Cleopatra’s Needle in Westminster (I think, tour guide said there was a twin of it in New York City. I’ll have to look for that.); The Shard (weirdly shaped building with a penthouse worth 42 million once upon a time, might be more now.); View of Tower bridge with a tourist bus going through.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

City Cruises – River Red Rover

The London Pass comes with the ability to take a City Cruises river boat ride. Just make sure you have plenty of time to enjoy it. The line to get the ticket was giant and seemed to move nowhere until a lady came out with a scanner and pre-printed tickets to process some of the London Pass people.

The round trip for Westminster Pier to Greenwich Pier would be 3 hours. That sounds like a very long time, but I rather like the way I did it. I took the trip from Westminister Pier down to Greenwich, got off, walked up to the Royal Observatory, stepped into the National Maritime Museum, ate lunch, and got back on the boat to come back to Tower Pier.


Left to Right: The Cutty Sark, The view from Greenwich’s Royal Observatory, and the line splitting the East and West Longitudes

Unfortunately, I didn’t get time to explore the Cutty Sark. Taking that picture was about the extent of my experience with the ship, unless you count using it as a landmark to get back to the pier. It took some doing and quite a bit of walking to get up to the Royal Observatory. That is a very large park. The day couldn’t have been nicer though, so it was a pleasant walk.

On the way back, I stepped into the National Maritime Museum, but I lacked the time to explore that as well. Took a picture of the ship in a bottle. I considered getting lunch there, but decided to find a place in town. Ended up buying  a pie and a 7-up in a little place that sold nothing but pies.

Unexpected “Excitement”

Incidentally, I sort of think I passed a murder scene on the way back to the dock. In any case, there was a section cordoned off by police and a stain very much like blood spatter on the wall of a vestibule. Oh, and a lady constable yelling at people not to take pictures. Such excitement. World could do with a little less of that sort of excitement. Given the view, I’m fairly certain it was this story. (Link with more details.) For all my rushing to get back, I had a half-hour wait until the boat left, so I got an ice cream and waited.

Picture Opportunities – Tower Bridge from a Different Angle

Left to Right: A picture of the pub owned by Sir Ian McKellen called The Grapes; A view of Tower Bridge from underneath

I had three pictures but had to delete one because some dude’s elbow got in the way. At least he didn’t hit my phone and knock it into the Thames.

Church at Night

I got back with seconds to spare and attended church with my friends. Afterwards, they served a potluck style South Asian dinner. While not my typical fare, I enjoyed the meal and found plenty of things to try. The kids ran around and played sports for a while after the meal, at least until they knocked both tennis balls over the fence. My friend needed to run some errands after church, so I tagged along. Got to visit Tesco, which I’m told is sort of like a Walmart. Anyway, it looked like a place with clothes and food. I managed to buy some cookies to share at home. Got to have something English from such a trip.


Sunday kept me hopping. Probably the single most traveling I did the whole trip.

Need to Catch Up?

Part 1: Preparation, Planning, Cost

Part 2: Arrival and First Day in the City (The London Museum)

Part 3: Getting into Tourist Mode (British Museum)

Part 4: Windsor Castle

Part 5: Buckingham Palace and More Museums (Natural History and Science Museums)

Part 6: Tower Bridge, HMS Belfast, Shakespeare’s Globe

In the Mood for Some Shakespeare?

London Visit – Summer 2017 Part 5: Friday 7/14 Buckingham Palace and More Museums

Buckingham Palace

If you want to find crowds in England, go to a castle or a palace. The state rooms of Buckingham Palace aren’t open to the public all year. I think it’s something like ten weeks starting 7/22/17. Check their website if you want to know for sure. Timing is everything. We caught the tail end of the changing of the guards, as those coming off duty marched out. I find it amusing that they had police guarding the royal guards.

British Efficiency

About thirty seconds after the horse guards trotted through, a guy on a street sweeper came through. He probably needed to do a few more passes, but it’s the thought that counts. The horses still left their markers all along the path, so watch where you step if you go there for the changing of the guards.

Next up, Natural History Museum

This museum gave me a greater appreciation for the interactive nature of most British museums. It would be great fun to take kids to or to experience as a kid. We missed the unveiling of the big blue whale bones there. I believe the Duchess of Cambridge and her children where there for that a few days prior. Bet the place was crowded then.

In terms of order and layout and directions of how one is to proceed, the British museums excel. In sheer number of dinosaur bones, I believe the New York City Natural History Museum is better.

McDonalds – You Can’t Escape Them

Pretty sure we ate at McDonalds. We definitely ate at McDonalds one of the days, but I’m fairly confident it was this day. I think the whole meal for two of us cost ten pounds. Okay, so playing with the fancy ordering machine was kind of fun. Whichever day, I remember having a tough time finding it. We were looking for red golden arches…and the sign was green. Green.

A Stroll by Royal Albert Hall

We didn’t go in, but I’d wanted to see it because it shows up in a video game I play. (Forge of Empires If you want an invite just ask, but it’s free to sign up, unless you really want to pay them for things like diamonds to level faster.) I ended up deleting it from my game, but I see it around. Apparently, it got a paint job since the game designers fashioned their version of it.

Royal Albert Hall

Aside: I love that most of the Underground stations in central London tell you what to exit for and which lines you can transfer to. More on the Underground later.

Second aside: I tried to take the picture from an angle that would hide most of the ugly scaffolding. Many of these beautiful buildings in London are under construction to preserve them for future generations. Unfortunately, construction means ugly scaffolding.

Science Museum, London

If you’re still over in London, you can catch Dunkirk (the movie) in the imax theater at the Science Museum. Inside, you’ll find a lot of interactive exhibits. The Brits love their giant diorama displays. Everything from mind games to illusions to big replica termite mounds can be found in the science museum. The space food’s actually reasonably priced. They did have a nice variety of space ice cream. It’s not the best stuff on Earth, but it’s definitely worth checking out at least once in your life.

Robot display was a tad disappointing, but the constellation thing and the escalator that goes up through a mini Earth is very cool.


Both museums are worth seeing. If you’re trying to use things on the London Pass, these might be the ones to get cut, but I enjoyed them.

Need to Catch Up?

Part 1: Preparation, Planning, Cost

Part 2: Arrival and First Day in the City

Part 3: Getting into Tourist Mode

Part 4: Windsor Castle

Fancy some more Natural History?

London Visit – Summer 2017 Part 4: Windsor Castle

A Day on my Own … Thurs. 7/13/17 (or 13/07/17)

My friend and tour guide had to work on Thursday. So, left to my own devices, I got directions from the friends I stayed with. They live in West London. The London Pass guidebook provided pretty decent, detailed instructions on how to get to Windsor Castle from central London. However, it made much more sense for me to take a bus to Southall station and then catch the National Rail Service train instead of heading into Paddington station and coming back out.

Darn British Queues

Aside: if you’ve seen Dunkirk, you’ll see that queues are a time-honored British tradition dating back decades and probably centuries.

So, when I got to Windsor, I found the queue (line) to be giant. Not even 100% sure it was the right queue, I asked someone. Got a snotty response from some tourist jerk, but anyway, a few minutes later, I found out that that was not the queue for the castle. People lined the streets on both side to see the changing of the guards. Got a decent look at them while stuck in the wrong freaking line. Took my touristy pictures you see above.

After the excitement, I made my way over to the real line and waited. I think the total wait was something like forty minutes, but no matter. I got some quality kindle reading done while listening to the inane chatter around me. People behind me had two kids but I think the parents did the most complaining. Kids kept shut because they had ice cream treats on the line for behavior later.

Left to Right: The Queen and Prince Philip; Queen and the cute crew; a tower at Windsor Castle

At least the inside version of the queue had pretty pictures to look at.

Notice the vertical slashes in the tower picture. Those are for archers. It’s a wonder anybody could hit something from there. There is a small area where you can have some lateral movement to target, but yikes, still looks tough. Those walls mean business too.

State Rooms and Audio Tours

The trip to Windsor Castle gave me my first glimpse of king and queen state rooms as well as the audio tours that exist at many tourist attractions in and around London.

They don’t want you to take pictures inside, so there are staff around to remind people, but people can be willfully dense when they want to be. I saw at least two people with their phones out taking pictures. I’m pretty sure they listened to the same audio tour I did, which had at least a dozen tactful requests to refrain from taking pictures.

I didn’t get to see the doll house but that’s okay. I think I’ll live without the privilege. Saw an ice cream vendor, but didn’t get that either because I knew I wanted to see the state rooms. Doubted they’d let ice cream in the doors.

I enjoyed the audio tour.

After coming out of the state rooms, I wandered into a gift shop. My friend had been on the hunt for tourist chocolate, so I bought him some. And I might have bought a postcard or two.

St. George’s Cathedral

Wandered around this lovely cathedral listening to the tour. It’s surprisingly big inside. Got to talk to one of the staff there a few minutes. I would have liked to stay for one of the services, but I needed to leave soon. I believe the only service left would have been at 5:00 p.m. Spent a few minutes in one of the quiet prayer rooms, but I can’t say I prayed much. People being people (inconsiderate buffoons when they want to be) … a few families brought in their hordes of children and chattered like it was their personal living room.

Lots of dead important people tucked into small tombs around that cathedral. Place has some deep history.

Picture of the guard on duty

Poor guy. Do you have any idea how long it took me just to steal that picture of him alone? About 8 minutes. Every other second a tourist was stepping up next to the man to have their picture taken with him. At least the uniform makes him photogenic. That chin strap looks devilishly itchy though.

Lunch at a Small Cafe

By the time I left the castle, I needed to eat so I meandered back down to the town. The lady at the exit said I could find a toilet by going down to Victoria statue and turning left. Not sure what she meant, but I found a nice cafe with a tiny necessary without much of a hitch. Got a cappuccino and a chicken pasty. The former was okay, but the latter downright rocked. (Lilebet’s was the cafe for those who care.) I’m very particular about my coffee.

Wandering the Town

I didn’t have much time left because I needed to get back to my friends’ house, but I did get to check out a few of the stores. I window shopped a little, and yes, I bought another postcard. I considered purchasing a stamp just to have until I found out it was two pounds. Figured I’d send the darn things from inside the states for that price.

Went into a Hardys Sweets shop (candy store) and amused myself for a few minutes looking around. It’s kind of funny what’s imported as candy. The two things that stuck out to me the most were Pringles and Pop Tarts. Ended up getting a small assortment of random gummy things. Wanted to get one of the collectible tins but didn’t want to carry the thing.

Back to Base

Accidentally missed the bus stop nearest my friends, so I had a bit of a walk back. Worked out fine as the weather cooperated that day.

Need to Catch Up?

Part 1: Preparation, Planning, Cost

Part 2: Arrival and First Day in the City

Part 3: Getting into Tourist Mode

Who doesn’t love candy?

London Visit – Summer 2017 Part 3: Getting into Tourist Mode

Left to Right: Rosetta Stone; Reports from a Roman Soldier; Lewis Chessmen

British Museum

The rush hour ends around 9:30, so taking Underground trains is a little cheaper after that. I met my friend around 10:30 and we went to the British Museum. It’s got an awesome Egyptian display. Many other eras and people are represented too, but that’s the one that stands out to me. Seeing the Rosetta Stone was neat too.

Got to experience more stairs here. The view’s pretty neat as you climb the stairs that dominate the center of the British Museum.

I finally got into tourist gear. Bought some souvenirs. A couple of pairs of socks with the Rosetta stone design and a few other odds and ends totaled 27.94 pounds.

Note on VAT: I’d never really known much about it, but from a consumer point of view, it’s awesome. Okay, so tax is never awesome, but it is nice to have the price you see be the price you pay. In America, you just get used to tacking on an extra dollar or two to whatever you’re buying. Tax varies by state. What is taxed varies by state. New Jersey sales tax is 7%.

Fantastic Fast-Food Lunch

Found a Shake Shack. My poor, deprived friend had never had Shake Shack before so we had to eat there.

Imperial War Museum

After greasy food fortification, we hopped back on the Underground and made our way over to the Imperial War Museum. IWM sponsors several attractions, but this time, I mean the actual museum.

I don’t think we expected to spend as long as we did in there, but there’s a fascinating walk-through of WWI and WWII all the way up through the modern conflicts. The WWI and WWII displays caught my interest much more than the modern stuff, but I can see it having a lot more sentimental value for others who know active military people over there. I remember one thing with commemorative stamp sheets made for each of the hundred and something fallen soldiers from the recent conflicts.

Plane in IWM.

Bought more souvenirs. Won’t list them because some are gifts not given yet. 😉

Everywhere you go, you can be sure there’s a gift shop. It’s intriguing to see how the stuff they sell differs. Couldn’t bring myself to spend that much (2-4 pounds) on pens or pencils.

Need to Catch Up?

Part 1: Preparation, Planning, Cost

Part 2: Arrival and First Day in the City

In the mood for chess?

London Visit – Summer 2017 Part 2: Arrival and First Day in the City

A West London borough


The 8:35 flight from Newark got into London’s Heathrow Airport around 8:30 at night local time. There’s currently only a five hour difference time-wise. Jet lag wasn’t too bad for me in either direction. I’d had to get up at 3:40-ish to get picked up and get over to the airport, so even though it was only 4:00 according to my internal clock, I was more than ready for bed. I think it was still 11:00 local time before I actually got into bed, but I didn’t stay up too long.

First Day in the City

My friends dropped me off at the Underground station around 9:30 the next morning. I bought a one-way ticket into zone one so I could go pick up my London Pass stuff. Used a twenty pound note for a 5.50 pound fare and ended up with a pocket full of coins. Literally. Fourteen shiny pound coins and a fat fifty pence coin. It was like winning a jackpot in Vegas.

Phone Adventures in London

As I got out of the underground station in zone 1, Leicester Square, my phone said “welcome abroad.” Two minutes later, it said, “by the way, you’re over $100 in roaming charges. Call us. We can save you money.”

I was like “Say what? I already took care of it.” Anyway, ended up sort of bumbling my way in the right direction to go pick up my London Pass stuff, but was also distracted by needing to call the phone company. After a 10-minute conversation, got that mess sorted. I’d called before the trip to take care of getting a plan for going abroad, but for whatever reason, it didn’t kick in. Lady on the phone was nice enough though.

In a way, I’m glad that it happened this way because I would have inadvertently blown through all my data in no time, but the lady on the phone described how to turn off cellular data roaming when I didn’t need it.

Finding the London Pass … More Adventures

Okay, so finding 11A took some serious doing. It helps to read all of the directions. I walked up and down a street watching the numbers change and skip right over 11A. I’d even seen it from the other side. However, I didn’t read the part of the directions that said go underneath the ticket booth that’s located in the middle of the road. That part of the directions happened to be on the next page from the rest of the directions just by luck of the draw.

Who puts 11A in the middle of the road?

The sign for 11A was in cute small letters partially under the ledge of the ticket booth’s roof. So you can only see it from one side. Anyway, once there, the nice, large sign said go down the stairs for the London Pass. I did. This was my first experience with narrow, treacherous, shady, tightly-wound staircases in England. Success! Got the London Pass and spent a few minutes down with the free wifi basking in the airless glory of having found it. When I needed to breathe again, I left the itty-bitty ticket booth thingy and loitered outside it until my other friend found me.

The Rest of Day 1 in the City …

We walked around a fair amount looking for a decent place to eat. I think we settled on a pizza joint. Might have been Pizza Express, which are all over that city, but it could just as easily have been a different small pizza place. I kind of think it was one of the locations in the London Pass Dining Guide.

The Margarita pizza I ordered was giant. I ate half of it … maybe. Luckily, my friend helped finish part of the rest so it didn’t got to waste.


After lunch, we walked some more. After meandering over to the Thames River, my friend pointed out all the major landmarks within view. The London Eye, Tower Bridge, and the Elizabeth Tower were visible. Then, we walked over to St. Paul’s Cathedral. That would have been covered by the London Pass, but my friend didn’t have such a pass. I didn’t want to pay the entry fee of ~20 pounds to get in and get out. We’d not planned to see that anyway. First experience with bag checks, which are everywhere in that city.

What is not everywhere are rubbish (garbage) containers.

First Museum

Most of the major museums in London are free. I believe the first one we actually walked in was the Museum of London. Fitting. This one talked about the history of the city. I bought postcards. Later, as my travels continued, I’d find out that I’m a sucker for postcards.

Tower of London

In days gone by, going to the Tower of London pretty much sealed your doom. These days, they charge about 22 pounds to walk in the gates. After the bag check, of course. We got to the Tower of London pretty late. Twice, the people asked if we really wanted to go in knowing that we wouldn’t be able to see everything and there were no more guided tours. We managed quick tours of the crown jewels and the White Tower and a very, very quick tour of the tiny thing called Torture at the Tower. Nice way to end the day.

Crown Jewels didn’t wow me as much as I expected, but that’s because it mostly consisted of fancy spoons and decorative gear and armor for this or that coronation. It’s worth seeing to say you saw it, but not the highlight of my trip.

The view of the While Tower from the queue to see the crown jewels.

Fine Dining

By the time we finished with the London Museum and the Tower of London, we wandered around a little more in some authentic British weather. The skies decided to dump a few liters per second on people’s heads. Great fun. So, soaking wet, we wandered about some more and made our way to another place in the Dining Guide. We walked in. We walked out. The dining guide failed to mention it was a bar that served only snack type foods, not full meals.

Nearby, we found a really nice Italian restaurant that had a few people sitting in. The rest of the official dining area was abandoned, which I’m going to attribute to the early hour. I had pasta with Bolognese sauce. For the life of me, I can’t remember what that place was called. I did better most of the rest of the week remembering where I went. Promise.

Back to Base

My friend nicely escorted me to an Underground station that would get me back to where I needed to go. The first walk from the Underground station to my friends’ home was very long. Partially, I believe that’s because of the rain, but it’s also a decent 15 minute walk I’d never done before. Things look a lot different from a car.


The first day certainly involved a lot of walking. I consider it my whirlwind tour of the city of London.

Need to Catch Up?

Part 1: Preparation, Planning, Cost

Gearing up to travel? Grab some books and stuff.

London Visit – Summer 2017 Part 1: Preparation, Planning, Cost

Left to right: Tower Bridge, London Eye, Elizabeth Tower (and Big Ben – under construction)

London, England …

It’s a place steeped in rich history and buried in tourist attractions and gift shops. Home of Tower Bridge, The London Eye (sponsored by Coca-cola), and The Elizabeth Tower (which holds Big Ben). Seen above courtesy of my spiffy iPhone 7.

Why go to London?

Well, I was gonna go to Honolulu, Hawaii last year, but that didn’t work out. Long story, lots of tears, but as proof that all things work out eventually, the London trip was amazing. One huge bonus to going to London is that I know people there. Staying with friends has the benefit of getting to see them more and saving on lodging. I also got to meet an online friend who I’d “known” for 15+ years. Bonus – he was more than happy to play tour guide through most of the trip.

What had to happen to get there?

  1. Bought a plane ticket.
  2. Bought the 10-day version of The London Pass.
  3. Went to a foreign exchange place close to my apartment and changed about $400 over to pounds.
  4. Packed a small suitcase with 10-ish days worth of stuff.

How much did it cost?

  1. plane ticket: $1115.06. I actually paid much less because I had a credit of about $700 from the ticket I’d bought to Hawaii. Surcharges for transferring plane tickets stink by the way.
  2. 10-day version of The London Pass: $310.09. It was in pounds, so I got hit with a fee for paying with USD. Incidentally, I probably could have gotten away with the 6-day pass, but as long as you intend to do about two things each day that are applicable, I’d say it’s worth it.
  3. Three hundred pounds: ~$400. There are fees to switch currencies and the British pound is stronger  (worth more) than the US dollar. I got a fairly decent rate compared to other exchange places.
  4. Snacks – $20. I packed some snacks for the plane and waiting around in airports, but I didn’t really use much of that. Granola bars make for walking around and standing in queues (lines) much more bearable.

*At the end of this series, I’ll show you my complete list of comparisons and observations between the US and the UK.

What did the journey look like?

On the way there I had a window seat …

Left to right: taxing in Newark airport; Newark seen from above; clouds somewhere over the US.

Left to right: More clouds somewhere over the Atlantic; the sun somewhere over the UK, first glimpse of London, England.

What did you see there?

Tons of stuff really. I’ll write a few more posts with what happened each day as well as my casual review of each thing.

Just in case you need snack ideas…