April 18-25, 2000
In a week that included Easter we made our fourth visit to London in eight months. The first three hardly count: In late August we took the Eurostar train from Paris and switched in London to a rental car for the trip north to Darlington. Our greatest memory is being sideswiped by a truck just south of Russell Square on our drive out of town. The other two count even less, as one was to Heathrow for a departure and the other from Heathrow for our arrival.
We took National Express from Darlington to London's Victoria Coach Station. The trip, at five hours, is roughly equivalent to driving from Los Angeles to Las Vegas or New York to Boston and a bit more than going from New York to Washington, D.C. Our discounted bus tickets cost us 22 pounds (or about $35 each), probably a bit less than a discounted NY-DC bus would cost.
On arrival at Victoria Coach Station we walked the two long blocks up to Victoria Rail and Underground station, carrying our individual soft bags. We'd left our hand trolleys in Darlington; doing without them showed how much they are worth. But, since we managed it, it was probably all for the best. In our modern lives we don't work physically hard enough. So why pay for a gym when you can drag your own luggage about?
At Victoria Rail Station we found the London Transport office and inquired about passes. We'd had them before and were pretty sure they'd be available again. In fact, Gerry came prepared with photos for the travel card ids. We could have had a bus and underground (Metro) pass for 18 pounds but instead got a week's bus pass at 11 pounds, or about $17. The same amount of money would have bought us two bus trips each day if we had paid for them separately. But with these passes we could hop on and off buses for free. Otherwise there are no free transfers. That makes it pretty cheap -- though still slow -- to get to places on the other side of town. We rejected the idea of the underground because there is no convenient station to where we would be staying, and, besides, we were in London to see it, not to ride like a mole beneath it.
Tuesday April 18
After hauling our bags across town, we used our bus passes to go to the D'Oily Carte production of "HMS Pinafore". We liked it a whole lot.
Wednesday April 19
We spent most of the day in the Victoria & Albert Museum which we both liked a whole lot. Jan was especially impressed by the tea room (cafeteria), which was decorated in fine style by the pre-Raphaelite artists William Morris, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and Edward Burne-Jones. In the evening we wandered over to the Covent Garden Opera House and saw not an opera but a ballet, Manon. Lovely.
Thursday April 20
For years Gerry has wanted to see Canary Wharf since he read about it as the "new London". He'd imagined it as being comparable to La Defense in Paris. There are some similar aspects, but Canary Wharf is much smaller, with only one big building, although at 50 floors it is one of London's highest. Adjacent to it two more buildings are being constructed; when done they will be about as tall. But all-in-all, it is not even as big as the World Finance Center at Battery Park in NYC. Coincidentally, a week earlier a brother-in-law gave him a tour of the factory where he works in Darlington; it is where all the structural steel is fabricated for the new Canary Wharf buildings.
The Millennium dome is sort of a Disneyland Main Street indoors combined with a new-age circus. Inside, you sort of feel you are outside because under the dome there are a lot of buildings with walls and roofs. But they are at most 3-stories high and the dome is more than 10 stories. The free standing buildings are like Disneyland Main Street because each has a theme - "The Body" or "Money" -- and you tour them. In the price of the ticket -- steep at $32 -- three shows are included. One is a 20-minute comedy film about time travel. The big one is "The Millennium Show" which is a new age circus high wire Busby Berkely number at the center of the dome. In the end, we thought we would not have gone if we had known beforehand what it was. But maybe if it was only $10 our choice would be different.
Friday April 21
Today was our day for a return visit to the Tate Britain Museum. We admired the building that houses its sister museum, Tate Modern, across the river but didn't get to see it this trip. In the evening we went to Leicester Square and bought half-price theater tickets for a mystery thriller "The Woman in Black" at the Fortune Theatre.
Saturday April 22
Today we went off to Greenwich and saw the famous observatory -- from the outside. We got there after 5pm and it was closed, but one could see the zero-meridian line painted in red. East and west literally meet there.
We got there after 5 pm because we had gone to and stayed in the (British) National Maritime Museum until closing. They seem to have some pretty good stuff. Unfortunately we started with the lesser stuff and got chased out just when we were getting started on the Admiral Nelson room, which is pretty good. We walked very fast through some other rooms, like the history of WWII ships and fighting that also seemed very good. Maybe on another trip we'll get back there and finish up.
After leaving the observatory hill we walked down to the river, saw Cutty Sark from the outside, and then walked under the river. By then it was nearly 8pm and we took a series of three buses home, passing the Tower of London.
Sunday April 23
We spent the first part of our day looking for the Faraday musuem (without success) and wandering around Bloomsbury then Hyde Park and the beautifully refurbished Albert memorial.
Monday April 24
Today we ventured far afield and took the train to Hampton Court with its fine palace and lovely gardens. Hampton Court was the sometimes residence of Henry VIII through William III. One of the features of its garden is a 300 year old grape vine whose roots are outdoors but whose branches are in a green house. The single vine has a trunk of diameter 3 feet; its branches cover 40 ft x 100 ft and it gives bushells of grapes every year.
Tuesday April 25
We came back from London Tuesday night after spending the day at Kew Gardens. The place was nice but did not live up to the reputation that it had in my mind nor the three-stars of the Michelin London guide. Its 300 acres are mostly flat and devoted to tree collections. There is a maple collection, a bamboo collection, etc. There are flower gardens, but not much money or effort goes into making them spectacular, although the Rhododendron Dell and the blue bell fields were doing pretty nice. There is an extremely beautiful Japanese gate near a Chinese pagoda which makes a good photograph. The two "glass houses" are also very nice with their fern and palm collections. Overall Prospect Park and the Brooklyn Botanical garden are of more interest to the casual observer, if not the scientist.
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