Cambridge to Edinburgh

We had a quick breakfast of ginger yogurt, Icelandic cereal and 2 bites of Melton Mowbray pork pie, which we would do well to forget.  

Left-hand driving, round 2.  This time en route from London to Sheffield via Cambridge.  I had expected keeping to the proper side of the street would be most challenging but this was actually quite easy. Lane positioning and navigating proved difficult, however.  My driving was successful in that I remained collision-free throughout our time in the UK, but it was admittedly stressful. 

All highways in England seem to be lined with thick green trees with the occasional view of farmland, so the scenery wasn’t anything to write home about. But we did stay entertained with BBC radio’s coverage of the Brexit aftermath.  High profile resignations, double-talking politicians, speculation and opinion pieces filled the airwaves. Finally!   

We arrived in Cambridge, which has a very different look and feel to that of London. Much more regal and prestigious.  A town that embodies academia, perhaps precipitated from its reputation.  Parking proved to be a challenge and we resigned ourselves to a car lot that was certain to gouge us later.  

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(Beautiful Cambridge, England)

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(One of many magnificent churches – Cambridge, England)

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(Emmanuel College – Cambridge, England)

In the centre of town, amidst stores and cafes, the university campus was all around us.  There were winding narrow streets and beautiful old buildings at every turn.  We came to an open air market and decided a picnic was in order.  Stocked with stilton and aged white cheddar from ‘the guy on the corner’, a convenient charcuterie tray, crackers and 2 little bottles of wine from Marks and Spencer and we were ready. A short walk and we were on a cricket pitch laying out Rachel’s yoga mat to set up our feast. 

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(Discovering the market – Cambridge, England)

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(Browsing the market stalls – Cambridge, England)

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(Spontaneous feast on the cricket pitch – Cambridge, England)

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(England, meet Rachel and Adam)

The tray from Marks and Spencer’s included air dried beer brined ham, Cumberland style salami, and mild Lancashire cheese.  The Stilton we got at the market was our favourite, but it was all so tasty. So nice to relax in the park, eating and watching the cricket match, totally oblivious to what they were doing. 

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(“Yummy!”)

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(Inexplicable!)

We pondered how many great minds had frequented that very spot?  Did a young Stephen Hawking lay on that grass dreaming of stars collapsing to infinite density?  Did Oppenheimer imagine he would become a destroyer of worlds?  Did Charles Darwin ponder the origins of life?  Did an apple deliver a mild concussion to Isaac Newton?  Did John Cleese perfect funny walking? Even if they and so many others had been at that park, perhaps they were simply as bewildered by the cricket as Rachel and I. 

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(Bewildered by cricket – Cambridge, England)

Before leaving, Newton’s theory of gravity, lesson 1…

(Any two bodies in the universe attract each other with a force that is directly proportional to the product of their masses, and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them.)

We stopped for a coffee and hot chocolate  before lining up for our car lot gouging. Yup, 24£. Ouch!

The drive to Sheffield felt quick and we arrived to a very warm welcome at Chris and Qiu Jiang’s house. They are friends of my brother who was nice enough to put us in touch.  Although we had just met, they treated us like family.  Qiu Jiang prepared a delicious Chinese dinner of hongshao rou (red braised pork belly – Chairman Mao’s favourite dish), stir fried lamb and peppers, stir fried vegetables, and perfectly steamed rice.  It was all so tasty. 

We sat at the table and talked for hours, getting to know each other over wine, brandy, and Niol.  Chris explained that Niol is an apple liqueur native to the French country side – near Brittany, I think.  It’s a dying tradition so that bottle may have been among only a few left. It was a little harsh for my liking but so generous of him to share. 

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(Calvados – apple brandy from France)

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(A good time was had by all – Sheffield, England)

We woke up the next morning to the smell of bacon. Qiu Jiang was preparing an English breakfast of fried eggs, bacon, baked beans, roasted tomatoes, sautéed mushrooms and toast.  What a feast!  We continued right where we left the night before, talking around the table.  

 Realizing the day could easily slip away, Chris offered a tour of Sheffield. He drove us through the city and we walked around the downtown core for a couple hours before stopping for coffee by the Millennium Art Gallery and Museum.  The city had been a manufacturing and mining hub for some time, and is especially recognized for its cutlery and silver work. 

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(City center – Sheffield, England)

We returned home to have a bbq. Qiu Jiang had prepared a variety of marinated meats, cous cous, salad and snacks to enjoy in the yard.  Chris fired up the coals and the meats went on the grill.  Chicken, sausages, burgers, squid and prawns.  It was all excellent but the squid was terrific. Fresh, flavourful and cooked perfectly.  For desert, Chris barbecued bananas and served the melted flesh with fresh cream and some vanilla ice cream. Amazing!  

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(BBQ with Chris and Qiu Jiang – Sheffield, England)

(BBQ’ed bananas, fresh cream and ice cream – Delicious!)

We sat and talked as the sun was slowly overtaken by dark clouds. We moved inside as the first drops fell and we sat comfortably around the fireplace with full bellies and a snifter of brandy.  The entire evening snuck by us as we sat in that cozy little den while the rain poured outside. We touched on everything from politics, to religion, education, etc..  Qiu Jiang shared her story of growing up in China and being groomed and trained as an opera singer.  After some convincing, she sang to us.  Puccini’s Ma Mia Babbino Caro to start. Her heavy Chinese accent somehow vanished and we were left speechless by the power and range of her beautiful voice.  That was the piece we had selected for Rachel’s entrance during our wedding procession so it held a special meaning for us.  Qiu Jiang continued with a variety of pieces by Mozart, and others. We melted into our seats, totally mesmerized.  We were in awe of her ability to create such magnificent sound sitting so casually on the couch. We hadn’t expected that at all but were so thankful for the experience.  

After a restful sleep and another delicious English breakfast, we packed up and said goodbye to our new friends.  Qiu Jiang had prepared a cranberry, bacon, brie sandwich, a cheese and Branston pickle sandwich, and some fruit and snacks for our journey. (The brie and bacon sandwich was sooo good!)  We were thankful for Chris and Qiu Jiang’s overwhelming hospitality. It was a relaxing couple days and so enjoyable to share that time together. 

We had a 4 hour drive ahead of us to Edinburgh with a couple stops planned along the way. First we came to Newcastle for a quick stop at the Gateshead Millennium Bridge.  We wanted to see Hadrian’s Wall so we didn’t stay long in Newcastle.  A quick picture at the bridge and we were back on the highway.  

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(Gateshead Millennium Bridge – Newcastle, England)

Google Maps was being difficult again but we eventually found a stretch of Hadrian’s wall at Walltown Crags. There were actually several popular sites within a few miles of each other, but we focused on one where we could hike a short length of the wall.  There, the wall snaked along dramatic cliffs, which offered far-reaching views of the countryside.   The wall was built at the command of Emperor Hadrian to establish the northern limit of the Roman Empire and keep the barbarians out.  Construction started in 122CE and it eventually stretched across the country from east to west coast.  You could easily spend a day or even days here, visiting the various Roman ruins and forts and hiking along the wall.  But it was lightly raining and we were still several hours from Edinburgh. Satisfied with our brief walk, we got back on the road. 

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(Hadrian’s Wall – Walltown Crags, England)

Once we entered Scotland, the scenery became gorgeous. Rolling hills and valleys dotted with giant windmills and old towns. After the turn east toward Edinburgh, the highway became only two lanes and narrowly twisted through scenic villages woven into the landscape.  

We arrived at Rachel’s friend, Su Ying’s apartment shortly after 7pm. Su Ying greeted us and introduced us to her partner Adri, and her little dog, Keller. They were both very nice and Keller was so cute, jumping and barking with excitement.  He reminded us how much we miss Sophie.  Rachel caught up with Su Ying in the kitchen as she prepared dinner while Adri and I talked in the living room. Adri was from Columbia doing her masters in education in Edinburgh.  Su Ying called us to dinner and we all sat down to a delicious home cooked meal of fried rice and chicken soup.  

Rachel and Su Ying were friends in elementary school.  Su Ying had moved to Edinburgh to complete her training as an Anesthesiologist.  Sitting, eating, and listening to the two of them catch up, I was getting another glimpse into Rachel’s childhood.  Su Ying had just gotten off work that morning so she was tired in a very relatable way.  We all agreed it would be nice to stay in and have an early, quiet night. 

As we talked, we learned that Adri was a big Game of Thrones fan and, like us, was eager to see the final two episodes of the season, the finale for which had just aired the night before.  We moved to the living room and Adri set up the TV.  Rachel and I had resigned ourselves to waiting a year for this so we were thrilled!  Both episodes were epic and perhaps the best so far, even among all seasons. 

We retired to bed and I stayed up finishing my Iceland entries to the sound of Rachel’s snoring. 

The next morning, Su Ying made us a quick breakfast of soft boiled eggs before we drove to St. Andrew’s. It was a scenic hour long drive.  First stop, the famous Anstruther Fish Bar.

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(Anstruther Fish Bar – St. Andrew’s, Scotland)

With Keller in tow, we picked up several orders to go and ate by the dock, overlooking the harbour.  The fish was quite nice.

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(On the harbour at St. Andrew’s, Scotland)

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(Fresh fish from Anstruther’s – St. Andrew’s, Scotland)

Next stop, Janetta’s Gelateria for the freshest ice cream I’ve ever had. I had a waffle cone with one scoop of coffee and one scoop of vanilla, fresh from the machine.  Rachel had the butter pecan.

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(Fresh ice cream from Janetta’s Gelateria – St. Andrew’s, Scotland)

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(Fresh ice cream from Janetta’s Gelateria – St. Andrew’s, Scotland)

Keller led us down the street to the ruins of St. Andrew’s Cathedral.  Built in 1158CE, it was the largest church and the centre of Catholicism in Scotland until the Scottish Reformation in the sixteenth century when Scotland largely broke from the Papacy. 

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(Ruins of St. Andrew’s Cathedral – St. Andrew’s, Scotland)

Keller then took us to St. Andrew’s Castle.  Although rebuilt many times over, the castle was first built around 1200CE and was home to powerful church leaders, Kings, and even as a prison with a notorious dungeon cut out of the rock foundation. 

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(St. Andrew’s Castle – St. Andrew’s, Scotland)

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(St. Andrew’s Castle – St. Andrew’s, Scotland)

We walked around the streets of St. Andrew’s University and got a coffee at the cafe where Prince William met Kate.  How romantic…

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(The likeness is uncanny)

We headed back toward Edinburgh, passing the Mecca of golf, St. Andrew’s Links.  Golfers have been playing here since the 15th century, making it one of the oldest courses in the world.  Although it appeared very prestigious, the grounds themselves were not altogether impressive, at least not from the road. 

Back in Edinburgh, we parked at the base of Castle Rock under Edinburgh castle. We climbed up the steep stairs where we met Adri. She had been busy working on her thesis throughout the day.  Su Ying decided to bring Keller home so we could later go for dinner.  We wandered around the entrance of the old castle before strolling down the royal mile with Adri. We meandered in and out of shops selling kilts, scarves and tweed, and buttressed churches with intricate stained glass windows and stone walls blackened by time.   A piper filled the air with the shrill sound of bagpipes.

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(Edinburgh Castle – Edinburgh, Scotland)

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(Edinburgh Castle – Edinburgh, Scotland)

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(Edinburgh Castle – Edinburgh, Scotland)

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(The Royal Mile – Edinburgh, Scotland)

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(St. Giles Cathedral on the Royal Mile – Edinburgh, Scotland)

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(Stained glass window in St. Giles Cathedral – Edinburgh, Scotland)

We carried on toward Calton Hill and climbed up for an open view of the city and Arthur’s Seat in Holyrood National Park.  It would have been nice to hike Arthur’s Seat, but that will have to wait for a future trip.  At the top of Calton Hill stood the Scotland National Monument among several other monuments as well as the City Observatory.  We could see Holyrood Palace, the vacation palace for the British royalty…not bad. 

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(Walking up Calton Hill – Edinburgh, Scotland)

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(Scotland National Monument on Calton Hill – Edinburgh, Scotland)

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(View from Calton Hill – Edinburgh, Scotland)

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(Impressive cannon!)

We rejoined Su Ying and drove around the fairly new Scotland Parliament building, very unique and not particularly attractive. We were just killing time, waiting for a table at the famous World’s End pub.  Our table still wasn’t ready when we arrived so we had a drink at the bar. Another pint of creamy ale!  We talked for a while and just as we started to consider ordering food to our tiny bar table, a proper one opened up.  The menu was full of traditional pub food and, of course, haggis.  I had the haggis pie and Rachel had the steak and ale pie. Mine was like a shepherd’s pie, but with haggis. It was quite good, especially with the gravy. The salad and boiled peas were dull but not bad with a heavy dash of salt. Rachel’s pie was tasty as well with tender meat and crispy chips.  Overall good food, and even better company!  

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(Scotland Parliament Building – Edinburgh, Scotland)

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(World’s End Pub – Edinburgh, Scotland)

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(The Last Supper – Edinburgh, Scotland)

(Rachel’s Steak and Ale Pie at the World’s End Pub – Edinburgh, Scotland)

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(My Haggis Pie at the World’s End Pub – Edinburgh, Scotland)

We returned home to a very excited Keller. He was such a nice dog. So energetic and playful.  We packed up and went to bed, tired and satisfied from another day of exploration. 

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(Keller getting frisky)

Su Ying woke up the next morning with a terrible head ache that made it impossible for her to go to work, as had been predicted the night before.  😉  We decided the only cure was a nice breakfast at Blue Bear.  I had an english breakfast with haggis and black pudding. I wanted to try the black pudding but was somewhat dreading it at the same time. I had imagined a gelatinous, irony goo, but was pleasantly surprised by what came. The texture was similar to haggis (ground meat), but was more grainy with a meaty flavour. It was not nearly as irony as I expected.  I would gladly have it again but in small portions.  We enjoyed a slow breakfast and made our way back to our car at Su Ying’s.  We had such a great time with Su Ying and Adri, but, sadly, we had to say goodbye before heading south to England’s Lake District.

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(English Breakfast with Haggis and Black Pudding – Blue Bear Restaurant, Edinburgh, Scotland)

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(The Last Breakfast – Blue Bear Restaurant, Edinburgh, Scotland)

UK Finale – Bath and Stonehenge

We checked in early to our accommodation once we arrived in Bath.  The host did an excellent Keith Richards impression, albeit unintentional.  He was quite nice though and the townhouse was very modern and clean.  We freshened up and got some good recommendations for touring the city.

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(Accommodation in Bath, England)

First we walked along a ridge that overlooked the Bath valley.  A very nice view. Perhaps I had underestimated this place.

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(View of Bath looking north-west)

We walked down a steep staircase cut into the side of the hill and crossed the River Avon to enter the oldest part of town.

(Entering the old town – Bath, England)

Bath had a unique look, with streets lined with buildings made of smooth, beige-coloured Bath stone.  Very rich!  Of course, it has been a spa town for nearly 2000 years!  We initially walked through a shopping area with colourful decorations and inviting stores.

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(Initial views of Bath’s old town)

Slightly peckish, we couldn’t resist Marks and Spencer’s offer for afternoon tea. Perhaps it would beat the one we had in the Cotswolds.  We shared one setting, as well as a green pea and mint soup that looked and smelled too good to pass up.  Cheese scones with clotted cream and jam, followed by finger sandwiches of egg salad, ham and mayo, smoked salmon and cream cheese, and roast beef and mustard.  Simple, but very tasty and yes, better than the King’s hotel.  We inserted the pea soup as a welcome addition to the usual fare. It was quite nice with the mint and not as heavy as the traditional pea soup with pork.  The sweets made for a nice finish…strawberry macaroon, cream puff, and a chocolate cupcake.  Our temptation served us well.

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(Afternoon tea at Marks and Spencer’s – Bath, England)

We walked further into the heart of Bath and eventually came to the magnificent Bath Abbey and Roman Baths, seated right next to each other in a stunning courtyard.

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(Courtyard in front of Bath Abbey and the Roman Baths – Bath, England)

The Abbey is now an Anglican church following a long history.  It began as a monastery in the 7th century and was rebuilt in the 12th and 16th centuries to become the buttressed cruciform plan that towers above the surrounding buildings.  Apparently it can seat 1200 people.

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(Bath Abbey – Bath, England)

Right next door, the Roman Baths complex contains the ancient baths themselves, a temple, the pump room, and now a museum, from which you can take a tour. We didn’t do the tour, but read a bit of the history in the front entrance and gift shop, where tourists were buying expensive viles of spring water.  The Romans first built the temple here in 60-70CE and then slowly developed the baths over the following 300 years, making use of England’s only natural hot spring.  Rain water from the surrounding hills trickles down very deep through the porous limestone where geothermal energy heats it up. The hot water then rises to the surface through fissures and faults.  In the seventeenth century, there were claims that the waters had healing properties when pigs were supposedly cured of their leprosy after wading through a muddy spring in the area.  Peculiar, but apparently very effective marketing.

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(The Roman Baths – Bath, England)

In the same square, a street performer, presumably called ‘The Pigeon Whisperer,’ tempted tourists to stand as a perch for his many cooing birds.  Such an obviously bad idea.  As we walked around the square, one unwitting woman gave her donation and all the birds promptly flocked into position.  Soon after, we could see the Whisperer dabbing the inevitable poop off the woman’s head and shoulder.  Perhaps this was the real show.  I know I was entertained!

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(‘The Pigeon Whisperer of Bath’)

Still sipping my coffee and Rachel’s tea from Marks and Spencer’s, we strolled along to the sound of Simon and Garfunkel’s Sound of Silence, Rolling Stones Painted Black, and various Beatles songs, played by a true street performer.  Around the corner was Kingston Parade, another square.  This area was much more quiet and there was another talented guitarist sitting in the centre.  We sat on a bench and listened to his lovely rendition of Pachelbel’s Canon.  It was so peaceful. A cooling breeze blew softly with the sound of seagulls flying above, seemingly in concert with the guitar. The Roman Baths in front of us and the Abbey to the right. This was a memorable moment.

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(Sipping our coffee and tea on a park bench in Kingston Parade – Bath, England)

(A street performer plays Pachelbel’s Canon on guitar in the Kingston Parade – Bath, England)

Eventually we continued walking, passed the Jane Austen museum and through antique shops filled with random treasures including old and very well used police batons, telescopes, and furniture. An untold story hidden in each piece.

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(Rubbing elbows with the locals – Bath, England)

We entered The Circus, a ring of uniform town homes built in the 18th century.  It was imagined by the famous Georgian architect, John Wood, who died before it was built.  He was apparently convinced that Bath had been the centre of Druid activities, so he designed the ring to match the diameter of Stone Henge.

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(View of one quarter of The Circus – Bath, England)

Down the road, we came to The Royal Crescent, another iconic example of Georgian architecture. This crescent of 30 luxurious, terraced town homes was also built in the 18th century but by John Wood’s son.

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(The Royal Crescent – Bath, England)

It was time for dinner, so we headed to The Raven, a pub recommended by our host.  Famous for their ales and meat pies, we ordered one of each, bangers and mash, and a cider for Rachel.  We were a bit reluctant to commit to 2 pies, remembering the terrible pie we endured in London.  The food was good, but slightly under seasoned, as we had come to expect.  While there, I received a recommendation to visit the Thermae Spa from my friend Percy. She had been there 10 years earlier and said it was amazing. So after dinner we went to check it out.  It looked quite nice so we decided to go in the morning before leaving Bath.

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(Dinner at The Raven Pub – Bath, England)

We woke up early and had a quick breakfast of those tiny individual cereal boxes. I haven’t had cereal like that in years.  We packed up, loaded the car, and headed for the spa. So much for budget travelling!  We arrived just before opening and there was already a short queue.  We got in and paid for the basic 3 hour session, which gave us access to the roof top hot spring pool, steam rooms, and a wading pool.  The roof top pool was heavenly. We were among the first to arrive, but it quickly filled up with other tourists, which took away from it a bit. But it was a unique atmosphere, floating in naturally warm water on the roof of a modern building set among the Bath Abbey and old Roman bath complex. A nice way to wake up!  We were starting to bump into other guests indicating it was time to move on. One floor down was the steam room, which had three pods with scented steam.  Eucalyptus, lemongrass, and lotus flower.  This was a real treat.  As the pods started to fill up, we shocked our bodies under the cold shower and moved on to the wading pool on the floor below.  This was a little disappointing. It was already packed and just felt like a public pool with a current that slowly drifted you around the pool. It would have been nice if we weren’t constantly banging into other tourists.  All in all, a very nice experience  but too many tourists. I can’t imagine what it would be like at peak hours.  We left shortly after the two hour mark and got a quick bite to eat before walking back to the car.

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(Awaiting entry to Thermae Spa – Bath, England…sorry, no pictures inside!)

It was a fairly quick drive to Salisbury for our UK-finale, Stonehenge.  We both had visions of hordes of tourists crowding an anticlimactic site of big rocks.  The giant parking lot overflowing with tour buses, camper vans and tourists with overpriced ice cream cones dripping onto their “I ♥ Stonehenge” t-shirts confirmed our fears. Oh well, this is a site we should see while in England.  Lets just get it over with…

We picked up our audio guides and boarded the packed bus to get to the actual site about a mile down the road from the museum and ticket office.  To our surprise and despite the volume of people, this turned out to be a real highlight of our time in the UK.  The audio guide was excellent.  In fact, I wouldn’t recommend the visit without it.

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(Arriving at Stonehenge)

The ring of famous stones is set within a dense collection of Neolithic and Bronze Age monuments, all of which are believed to have been constructed between 3000-2000BCE.  Earth banks and ditches encircle the famous stone structures with a long avenue stretching to the nearby River Avon.  The entire area is dotted with burial mounds, most of which have been relieved of their ancient artifacts.  Interestingly, the horseshoe arrangement of the largest stones and the avenue embankment are aligned with the sunrise and sunset of the summer solstice.

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(Various views of Stonehenge)

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(Burial mounds surrounding Stonehenge)

The largest vertical stones that make up the outer part of the horse shoe are called “sarsens” and are up to 30 feet in height and weigh 25 tons.  They support the horizontal “lintels” with intricate mortise and tenon joints.  Based on the mineralogy, the stones are not native to the Salisbury plains and must have been brought from Marlborough Downs, about 20 miles away.  The smaller stones inside the horse shoe are called blue stones, weigh up to 4 tons and are believed to have come from up to 140miles away.

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(Volunteer repair work at Stonehenge)

For a long time it was widely believed that Stonehenge was built by the Druids, but carbon dating has shown that it was present about 1000 years before the Druids came to the region.  Not much is known about its original builders because they left no written record to tell us who they were, or why and how they built it.

 We left Stonehenge genuinely impressed and intrigued by the rich and mostly unknown history of our species and this world.  We speculated as to the purpose of that site and imagined the dramas that we’ll never know as we drove back to Heathrow. It was time to say goodbye to the UK and bonjour to France.

We enjoyed the UK, especially the wonderful people we got to meet and stay with along the way. Chris and Qiu Jiang, Su Ying and Adri, and the many hosts at our random accommodations enriched our experience in so many unique and wonderful ways.  The UK was quite a contrast to our first stop in Iceland. From one of the most untouched and exciting landscapes to one of the most tamed and, in many ways, subdued countries, we appreciated both for very different reasons.  The UK brought history to life for us.  You can reach out and touch it, everywhere.  It is charming, diverse, and, if nothing else, so very polite. I have to admit, we did not understand their aversion to salt, but the beer was truly superb.  I guess their reputation is deserved on both fronts.

England’s Lake District to the Cotswolds

Southbound to England’s Lake District, supposedly the most scenic region in the country. As we drove, the dark skies and rain hid the scenery from us. We planned to stop at the Castlerigg Stone Circle and then on to Keswick to hike the Cat Bells. Rick Steves had told me this was a good spot for a day trip.  Unfortunately, the dark skies and heavy rain continued and fog largely overtook the quaint villages, narrow lakes, and lush greenery we were driving through.

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(Overcast and rainy in the Lake District of England)

We stopped at the Castlerigg Stone circle and walked across the wet mine field of sheep droppings to the circle of ancient pillars.  It is believed to have been constructed during the late Neolithic or early Bronze Age, 3300 to 900BCE.  It’s purpose remains unknown, but is thought to have been used for rituals or ceremonies relating to solar and lunar cycles.  Although intrigued by the age and mystery, the heavy rain encouraged us to move on.

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(Castlerigg Stone Circle near Keswick, England)

We arrived in Keswick, discouraged by the uncooperative weather. The hike was not meant to be.  We remembered Chris had suggested a drive over Wrynose pass so we opted to head there instead, hoping visibility would improve.

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(Rained out in Keswick, England)

As we were driving out of the town, traffic slowed to a stop.  It was unclear what was causing the hold-up. Maybe an accident due to the rain?  It soon became clear…

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(Cows…Keswick, England)

We followed Google’s directions to Wrynose Pass, which took us through some exceptionally narrow roads. Tree branches and hedges brushed the car as we slowed to a crawl at times.  Negotiating with oncoming vehicles sometimes required us to reverse carefully to a widened patch of road. Sometimes we won the right of way. It was fun driving.

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(Narrow roads en route to Wrynose Pass, England)

The sun was finally peaking through and before we knew it, the dark clouds mostly blew away to reveal a beautiful blue sky!  We continued down the narrow winding roads, up and down rolling hills overgrown with thick vegetation and bound by moss covered stone walls.

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(Blue skies and sun in the Lake District of England)

We ended up deep in the woods and came to a steep hill paved with sharp, jagged shale unlikely to play nicely with our car’s tires.  Maybe Google meant for us to take the previous turn?  We double backed and veered left.  Soon we passed through a creepy, seemingly abandoned farm noting it would be a perfect set for a horror movie. We promptly hit a dead end so we turned around only to find the singular route through the old farm was now blocked with a large tractor.  Odd, we had just driven through there and the farm was still dead quiet with no sign of life.  The car slowly came to a stop.  We looked at each other and laughed nervously.  The horror set suddenly had all the potential of a horror scene.  I valiantly offered to stay with the car so Rachel could go search for the operator of that tractor.  She politely declined.  As I timidly stepped out of the car, a man appeared from around the corner. He wasn’t armed…promising.  My “hello” was met with a long silence. ‘Please don’t tell me I have a pretty mouth,’ was repeating over and over in my head.  He finally responded with a reasonably friendly hello of his own.  I told him we had made a wrong turn and asked him to move his tractor so we could get by. He reluctantly agreed and, in a reassuring gesture, offered us directions.  The ‘horror’ was over.

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(Deep in the woods of the Lake District, England)

It took two more stops for directions, but we made it to Wrynose Pass.  Signs warned of narrow roads up to 30% grade.  That is steep…very steep.  The steepest in all of England, actually (according to the signs).  But it was gorgeous and so much fun to drive!  Lime green grass carpeted mountains with a single lane road switching sharply back and forth, climbing aggressively from the valley floor to the top of the pass and back down the other side.  There it continued to Hardknot Pass, which is more or less a repeat of the same. All along the way, ancient stone walls divided the land and lazy sheep stared judgingly at the cars struggling up the hills.  Waterfalls were everywhere, flowing the heavy rain water to the valley below.  We pushed our little car over Wrynose Pass and just over Hardknot Pass where we turned around in a thirty-point-turn with sloping mountain on one side and sheer cliff on the other. It was time to eat.

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(Wrynose Pass – Lake District, England)

Chris had mentioned there is a pub at the base of Wrynose pass that had excellent sandwiches.  We came to the Three Shires Inn and Pub as we drove out of the pass and figured this must be it. We pulled in and although we didn’t see any sandwiches, the menu looked good.  We started with a creamy broccoli and blue cheese soup. A winning combo!  I had locally made pork, mango and stilton sausages with chips. The sausages were among the best I’ve had…ever.  Rachel had lamb and mashed sweet potato, which was alright but a little too gamey for my liking.

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(Dinner at the Three Shires Pub – Lake District, England) folder 25-29)

We drove through more pretty landscapes of mountains, lakes, and woods, with cute inns and inviting restaurants.  We reached our home for the night. The Rose Cottage.  Built in the 1700s, it showed its age, but was well kept by a friendly master potter named Iain. The cottage had been in his family for generations.  He showed us to our room, up a narrow ladder of a staircase and down a crooked hallway. This was our first accommodation with a private bathroom. What a treat!  We were quite tired so we had an early night, drifting to sleep with the sound of birds chirping outside.

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(The Rose Cottage – Lake District, England)

Iain made us a nice English breakfast the next morning.  We ate and talked and ended up buying a piece of his pottery before we left. He had an appointment in town so we all left by 9am.

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(English breakfast at The Rose Cottage – Lake District, England)

Back on the road for a 3-4 hour drive to the Cotswolds, the region that supposedly defines quaint.  It is a region of Gloucestershire made up of many small towns that were once the wealthy centre of the woolen industry.  When that industry collapsed, the homes were left in disrepair.  Time passed, transforming the region into the gracefully dilapidated buildings and homes of today.

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(Driving to the Cotswolds, England)

We arrived in Chipping Campden just in time for afternoon tea at the King’s Hotel.  The town, the hotel, everything was very quiet.  We took a seat at a small wooden table in forest green wing-back chairs and made our selections.  Earl grey for me and peppermint for Rachel.  Shortly after the tea arrived, the waitress brought us a tiered tray of scones, clotted cream and jam, finger sandwiches and sweets. The raisin scones weren’t bad and the cream was nice but desperately needed salt.  The jam was jarred and more of a jelly than the fresh chunky jam we had hoped for.  On to the sandwiches. Cucumber with mayo, smoked salmon with cream cheese, and roast beef with mustard.  A little dull…alright, very dull. The sweets were consistent with the rest. Not bad, but just not that good either.  Lemon poppy seed loaf, chocolate cake, and strawberry mousse.  We’ve had much, much better. Disappointing because this just seemed like the perfect place for it.

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(Afternoon tea at The King’s Hotel – Chipping Campden, England)

We finished our tea and, eager to improve on our first impression, we wandered around town.  It was nice.  Did I say quaint yet?  It’s very quaint.  It is unique and even enchanting to some degree with slanted buildings, sunken roofs, vine covered stone walls, solid wooden doors and pretty flowers.  But I think we somehow expected more wandering through those streets.  Perhaps more cafes, antique shops, signs of local life?

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(Exploring Chipping Campden, England)

We drove on to the next village, Stow-on-the-Wold.  It was very much like Chipping Campden but utterly bursting with tourists.  So, on we went to Upper and Lower Slaughter.  These were nice areas. There were canals running through the towns with stone bridges and manicured gardens. A leisurely stroll would have been fun, but we opted to drive slowly, stopping occasionally for a picture.  It had been a weak start, but we were finally seeing the beauty of these enchanting towns.

(Driving through Stow-on-the-Wold, England)

(Driving through Upper and Lower Slaughters, England)

We decided to head to the WoodStanway Farmhouse where we would be staying the night.  It was another fun drive through narrow, canopied roads. We arrived at the 17th century home where we met the caretaker, Maggie.  Before being introduced to her very friendly and very old dog, she warned me to take off my hat because the dog doesn’t like hats.  We won the approval of the dog so Maggie took us to our room up a wide spiral staircase and down a crooked hallway.  The room was big with creaky wooden floors, antique furniture, and an en suite complete with a bath tub.  We freshened up and left to check out Stanton before dinner.

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(WoodStanway Farmhouse Bed & Breakfast – Cheltenham, England)

Stanton was off the beaten path and appeared quite affluent. Huge homes, elegantly refurbished to very effectively preserve the character of the old. The gardens and lawns looked to be full time jobs in themselves, with many owners (or their gardeners) out working away as we drove by after 7pm.  It was equally beautiful to the Slaughters and a nice way to end our tour of the Cotswold towns.

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(Exploring Stanton, England)85-89)

We made our way to the The Pheasant Inn Pub to eat and start, planning our coming days in Europe.  We started with the fried brie, which was nothing short of a spiritual experience.  I had the British chicken curry and Rachel had tomato soup. Both were quite nice, but the curry was my favourite. Distinctly different from Indian curries but nicely spiced and seasoned in its own right.  We sketched out a rough itinerary for Europe over ale and cider.

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(Dinner at The Pheasant Inn Pub – Cheltenham, England)

The next morning Maggie prepared us an English breakfast.  We ate in an old dining room as we talked and got to know her a little bit.  She explained to us that the several hundred acres of surrounding land is owned by an Earl and only leased to the locals.  Some of the furniture in the house had been there for quite some time, including an old coal burning stove. It was converted to burn oil in the mid 20th century and, although it still works, it is no longer used because it smells up the whole house. She also explained that she voted to leave the EU. She was the first person we met in that camp so it was interesting to get her take on it.

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(Breakfast at WoodStanway Farmhouse – Cheltenham, England)

After breakfast we packed up and said goodbye to Maggie, then I took my hat off and said goodbye to her dog.  Next stop, Bath.

London

We arrived at London Heathrow airport on June 23rd. It was bittersweet leaving Iceland as it had so far exceeded our expectations.  But we were equally excited to explore the UK even though it had big shoes to fill.  Outside, England was exactly as I had always dreamed it to be…overcast. 

(Rachel and I arriving at London Heathrow Airport)

We navigated through the busy airport and hopped on a shuttle to pick up our rental car.  I was anxious with the impending left-hand driving…so unnatural!  We exited the car lot collision-free and promptly missed the on ramp toward our accommodation in Forest Gate.  After circling the airport, we made the proper exit and were on the highway.

(First time left-hand driving)

Aside from terrifying Rachel and other drivers with my lane positioning and hoping my way through round about lane changes, left-hand driving was doable.  British signage, however, was awful. Even Google Maps was dithering uncharacteristically, advising us to take an exit only to change its mind as soon as we’d commit to it.  Needless to say, we missed another turn off, adding about 40 minutes to our journey home. 

(Scaring Rachel, and others…)

Arriving in Forest Gate offered the first impression of London. We had bypassed the downtown core and the highway was lined with thick green trees so we hadn’t yet seen much.  Much to our surprise, the suburb seemed more consistent with our expectation of Adis Ababa…narrow, littered, unmarked streets crowded with people that looked anything but the stereotypical Brit.  We were wondering and perhaps a little hopeful we had made a wrong turn, but Google was right this time. We made it to our flat, which didn’t look like much from outside but it had been recently renovated and was actually quite modern inside.  We freshened up and decided to explore the area, in search of a good curry. 

(Forest Gate accomodation)

As we walked, we warmed up to Forest Gate. It was clearly a very ethnic and not particularly affluent area, but it had a lot of character, reminiscent of Mission in San Francisco.  We ate a delicious Indian dinner of creamy butter chicken, spicy mutton curry with egg rice and garlic naan bread. Very tasty! 

(Dinner at Aromas – Forest Gate, London)

Curious to hear the local take on Brexit, we went to a nearby pub expecting to be overwhelmed with commentary on the vote. The polls had just closed after all.  On the streets, there was surprisingly little chatter, with the exception of a couple old men handing out ‘remain’ leaflets.  The pub was half full of a group who seemed to be gathering after work.  Funny, no talk of Brexit!  Oh well, the beer was incredibly good.  Creamy, just the right bitterness, not too carbonated, not too cold, nice finish.  I had forgotten how much I actually enjoy beer. 

(Night cap at Forest Tavern – Forest Gate, London)

Although we gathered no more context of Brexit, we did thoroughly enjoy the pub.  The building itself was very old, with exposed foundation and framing of varying brick and wooden beams, which had weathered and stained over the years to give it a character that would be impossible to reproduce.  It was dimly lit with home made lights of retired umbrellas that dangled on wiring from the crack ridden ceiling. It would offend any electrical code, but it worked and somehow matched the decor of mismatched tables and chairs, assorted flags, currency and flea market knick knacks.  Not the English pub I would imagine, but, in any case, a place to drink and socialize, which we were quickly confirming to be a central part of life here.  We finished our drinks and headed home to plan our next day.

We woke up relatively early the next morning to discover the UK had voted to leave the EU!  What a shock!  We ventured out and again found that life was still moving along without much fuss at all.  

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(Brexit vote result)

 At the metro station we bought an Oyster Card, which is the cheapest way to ride the tube, London’s subway system. A refundable deposit and a single day’s unlimited fare and we were immediately connected to all of London.  Thanks largely to tech-savy Rachel and Google’s intimate knowledge of the train schedule, the tube was fairly easy to navigate.

First stop, Borough Market.  Larger than expected, the market had stalls from all over the world boasting vibrant fresh produce, freshly baked breads, wide arrays of cheeses and cured meats, and enticing dishes that made us thankful for our empty stomachs.  Where to begin?  We wanted it all!

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(Borough Market, London)

We started with a sampling of cured meats from Croatia. Cured truffle pork sausage was king among the selection and truffle hunting in northern Croatia suddenly became a possibility for the coming months.  

Next, the olive cheese bread sticks, fresh from the oven. They had a light outer crunch but were soft and cheesy inside with salty bits of olive. We thought of Pam and Paul back home and the similar bread sticks from Bon Ton bakery they had recently tempted us with. 

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(Olive and cheese bread sticks – Borough Market, London)

Hand dived scallops from Dorset were the next indulgence. Three succulent scallops served on a bed of stir fry and crispy bacon.  Heavenly. 

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(Scallops – Borough Market, London)

There were many selling British meat pies but one stood out having been crowned best meat pie in England for several consecutive years.  The Melton Mowbray pork pie. We bought it cold to have when we got home as it was large and we didn’t want to fill up too early.  To spare the suspense, let’s just say it’s time to unseat the queen. 

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(Melton Mowbray Pork Pie – Borough Market, London)

We turned the corner to find three sensuous legs clamped provocatively in Spanish stands.  A bearded Spaniard with a sharp knife suddenly popped up from behind the counter and offered us a tasting of his Iberico ham.  Each one melted in our mouths releasing their own symphony of flavours.  They were all so incredible but our favourite had been raised on acorns and then aged to perfection.  So much less porky than the cured ham we’ve had at home.  We seriously considered skipping the rest of Europe to head straight for Spain.  

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(Iberico Ham – Borough Market, London)

We continued wandering, eating, and sampling. Duck confit – as decadent as always.  Mead – an ounce was enough…not bad, but so sweet, it would be better as a desert wine.  Cider – much nicer than the mead, but still not my cup of tea.  Paella – bursting with flavour.  Strasberries – berries that taste like a cross of strawberry and raspberry.  So much food!

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(Duck Confit – Borough Market, London)

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(Mead – Borough Market, London)

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(Paella – Borough Market, London)

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(Strasberries – Borough Market, London)

We were slowing down but still had room for an ostrich burger, which tasted like a slightly gamier beef burger…nothing special.  Then a scotch egg – a soft boiled egg encased in seasoned ground pork, breaded and deep fried. It was very tasty and the egg was perfect, but a little porky overall.  Our treacherous stomachs were insisting it was time to stop eating. We protested and had a cup of goat’s milk ice cream. Rum raisin, if I remember correctly. A difficult choice as they were all so good. 

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(Ostrich Burger – Borough Market, London)

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(Scotch Egg – Borough Market, London)

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(Goat’s Milk Ice Cream – Borough Market, London)

Sadly, we missed out on fish and chips, Italian sandwiches, Malaysian chicken curry, grilled sausages, and perhaps the most tempting of all, melted raclette over potatoes.  Of course there was even more, but all now reasons to go back to London. 

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(Italian Sandwiches – Borough Market, London)

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(Malaysian Chicken Curry – Borough Market, London)

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(Grilled Sausages – Borough Market, London)

-VIDEO COMING SOON-

(Melted raclette over potatoes – Borough Market, London)

We walked passed London Bridge along the River Thames, enjoying London’s contrasting mix of old and new architecture.  The modern glass curves of City Hall, Walkie Talkie, and the Gherkin set against Tower Bridge, London tower, and the countless other relics that line the streets.  In person, these sites immediately transcend the campy and relentless tourist trap marketing.  This amusement park shaped the world and we both agreed we must come back for the rides when we have more time to savour them.

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(Panorama near City Hall, London)

(Tower Bridge and London Tower, London)

We wandered for several hours admiring buildings, and resisting the overwhelming urge to shop the summer sales.  Almost every corner housed a pub with thirsty patrons spilling out into the streets.  It was pleasant. People were social, not drunk and obnoxious. Mature.  We thought of having a drink at Sky Garden high atop the Walkie Talkie tower, but the lineup stretching around the building convinced us the city was pretty enough from street level. The dizzying view up the curved corner of the building was entertaining enough. 

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(Every corner in London)

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(Walkie Talkie Tower, London)

Near Liverpool Street Station we saw a military parade forming.  The marching band started with a bang and the soldiers were led back and forth, parting the crowd as they moved in unison around the square before disappearing into the London Guildhall.

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(Military Parade at the London Guildhall – VIDEO COMING SOON)

We walked slowly along the Thames, toward Westminster.  Passed the London Eye stood several World War 2 memorials.  One was inscribed with Churchill’s eloquent summation of the Battle of Britain, “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”  Those words echo loudly under the skies in which the battle was fought.

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(The Battle of Britain Memorial, London)

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(The Battle of Britain Memorial, London)

Finally, we arrived at Westminster, where we would meet Rachel’s friend, Joanne.  We waited in the shadow of Big Ben and The Palace of Westminster, the seat of British Parliament.  Much more impressive in person than as seen on TV.  I considered the lively debates that would surely rock that house in the coming days, following the historic Brexit vote.  But then again, if the streets of London were any indication, perhaps not. 

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(Big Ben and The Palace of Westminster, London)

Joanne emerged from the metro station and after Rachel introduced us we agreed to explore the area together before getting a bite to eat.  We walked and talked, passing the parliament buildings and over to Westminster Abbey, the traditional place of coronation and burial for British monarchs.  Rachel and Joanne knew each other from school in Malaysia and had been a fierce badminton pair.  Joanne moved to London for work about a year prior, and was keen to be a tourist with us. 

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(Meeting Rachel’s friend, Joanne)

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(Westminster Abbey, London)

We strolled along to Buckingham Palace, residence of the Queen.  The regal mansion stood quietly behind black iron and gold plated gates.  The Queen’s Guard stood at attention in their silly hats while hoards of tourists took aim with their cameras.  At the base of the golden Victoria Memorial statue, we turned to trip-advisor to find the best nearby fish and chips. Happy Halibut had promising reviews and was a couple blocks away en route back to the metro station.  Perfect!

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(Buckingham Palace, London)

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(Victoria Memorial Statue, London)

It was very nice for Rachel and Joanne to catch up and I enjoyed the stories from their high school and badminton days. We talked about life in London, our wedding, careers, and, of course, Brexit.  To my surprise, Commonwealth migrants were eligible to vote in the referendum as long as they were residents of the U.K (example work visa, student visa, etc.).  Very interesting, but I can’t say I agree with this. 

The fish and chips were a bit disappointing (needed more salt), but the company was great!  Joanne was even kind enough to treat us to dinner.  We headed back to the metro station and boarded the tube, all heading in the same direction. We said our goodbyes to Joanne and carried on. It had been a pleasure to meet her and Rachel was happy to have caught up. 

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(Fish and Chips – Happy Halibut, London)

After some train delays we had to make an unexpected transfer at Canary Wharf.  The courtyard amid the financial centre was lined with pubs and packed with cheerful people discussing eurocup, work and the goings on of their day.  A curious contradiction to the banner updates rolling around the square. 

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(Banner update at Canary Wharf, London)

At last we made it back to Forest Hill and fell fast asleep, exhausted after a long day of exploration.