Getting Together for BreakfastTaking a page from the Amazing Race today we would be racing across the country dragging our suitcases behind us as we switched modes of transport time and time again. To fuel or frenzy we started with yet another marvelous full English breakfast. No need to detail our orders as we pretty much decided on the same stuff every day.
Well, at least sort of "getting together". Tyler and I weren't about to share either of our hearty meaty English breakfasts with the girls. The granola-munchers could sit at their own table.
While we waited for Cassie to pack-up and perform her morning ablutions, Tyler, Grandma and I walked a short way up our street to take a look at the local parish church. Just as we walked up the custodian showed-up and let us inside. It was a beautifully decorated little church; more ornate than many cathedrals that we'd seen on the Continent. The church janitor noted our interest and started to tell us something that I'm sure was fascinating, but his Yorkshire accent was so intense we couldn't understand a word he said.
The next few hours were pretty much uneventful as we took the A1 and then the M1 southward to Heathrow Airport. We made a brief detour through what I thought would be the tiny village of Milton Keynes because Tyler wanted to find the Red Bull
An Absolutely Perfect B&B
It's no wonder this place has won numerous awards. It's clean, comfy, serves a great breakfast, has charming rooms, offers plenty of amenities and features a virtual library full of local tourism information. Besides this table full of tourist news, the cabinet in the background has brochures for every site one could even think about visiting plus the DVD backshelves with loads of touring videos. The proprietors even sell local produce like jams and jellies. They take great pride in their business and their community.
Formula One race team headquarters. It turned out to be a rather big and bustling village with some nasty traffic congestion. We wasted almost 45 minutes just trying to get back on the motorway.
The only other "event" during our four plus hour drive South was when we spotted a car in the passing lane with what looked liked a totally zonked-out driver. Temporarily forgetting that the driver was indeed wide awake on the opposite side of the car, it looked like the car was speeding down the motorway with the "driver" perched all the way back in his side and with eyes closed and mouth wide open. We pulled-up next to them to snap a picture then almost got involved in a high speed accident when that car tried to move back into our lane. I had stupidly been riding in the other driver's blindspot while we attempted to take a picture.
As we had hoped, we arrived at Heathrow Airport before sundown. Our GPS got us lost again in the huge maze of Heathrow's 5 widely-spaced terminals. but eventually we made it to the Avis rental car lot. Along the way we were highly amused by
The Usual for Dougie
Guaranteed to put you in the cardiac ward eventually, these English breakfast are all the best bits of my ideal first meal of the day. Bacon, ham, local sausage, egg, baked beans and a very crispy baked tomato. I still don't get the whole baked bean thing but I ate them whenever they were presented.
an obvious tourist who had just rented a big Humvee and proceeded to speed through the airport roads on the wrong side. Just before a head-on crash occurred, he/she swerved over into the correct lane.
Returning the car took far longer than we expected. Long lines and only two agents. We were also upset to see we were charged for another full day on the rental than we were expecting. Since we picked the car up so early in the morning in Edinburgh and were now bringing it back in the late afternoon, Avis hit us up for an extra day.
We were further frustrated by the long wait in the cold for the free shuttle bus to Terminal 3. We needed to go there to catch the Underground into London. The strategy for getting into London after returning the car had probably taken more of my time and research than any other facet of the trip. I spent hours comparing different Tube passes with taxi fares, the Heathrow Express train and bus routes into the city. The train into town would've been the most economic and fastest way had our hotel been anywhere near Victoria Station, but
I Just Discovered a New Setting on My Camera
This is the "dynamic" color mode. It makes the blues really blue, almost fake-looking. This was the view up the street from our bed and breakfast. I'm standing in front of James Herriott's veterinary surgery.
since it was in Knightsbridge we would have to go halfway across town by taxi or subway once we reached the train station. I e-mailed the London taxi company in an effort to find out what that would cost for the five of us, but got no reply. The bus service was just too confusing to figure out and would've probably been tough with all our luggage.
When we arrived at Terminal 3 we decided to ask the experts at the transport information kiosk what they recommended. At first they suggested the Heathrow Express train because it was the fastest, but when they saw all of our luggage they told us the Tube would be less stressful. We decided not to buy any of the day passes available because even though they might save us a lot of money if we used them for multiple trips each day we were in London, we reckoned our hotel was so close to most of the stuff we wanted to see and do that there was no need to take more than a trip or two per day on the Underground.
Fortunately Terminal 3 was where the Piccadilly Line started so
And Now for the Retro Look
Using this pinhole effect would get old real fast but once or twice during a vacation makes for an interesting shot.
we were able to grab a corner of the subway car for ourselves and our luggage. By the time we reached our stop at Knightsbridge 14 stations later, we were pretty well hemmed in by the mass of humanity that had boarded along the way. Once we fought our way out of the car, we manhandled our luggage jammed with memorabilia up the escalators and steps leading to the street. When we emerged from the depths we were in an even thicker crowd of people. We were right outside the doors of Harrod's department store. Some sort of sale had to be going on because it was a zoo.
It took me a few minutes to get my bearings but before too very long we were headed just a block and a half up the street to our luxury digs, the London Mandarin Oriental. This palatial hotel was staffed by two doormen in bright red livery as well as some plain-clothed security guards all standing on the front steps. Most guests arrive at this $500 per night and up hotel via limousine, chauffeured vehicle or even taxi. I wonder if they ever saw 5 folks bundled-up in Walmart and
All Creatures Great and Small
This office across the street from the Gallery B&B was the surgery for James Herriot, autobiographical author of "All Creatures Great and Small". Those stories about his veterinarian experiences among the farmers of Yorkshire was made into a long-running PBS TV series. I'd love to see it again now that I've been here, but our local educational TV stations are only showing home improvement shows and bad classical music acts. Herriot's office is still being used today by a different vet.
JC Penny coats, lugging bulging suitcases as they emerged from the Underground and boldly approached the Mandarin’s entrance. We looked like homeless people.
Yet everyone at the Mandarin Oriental was extremely nice. The doormen helped us take our bags up the steps to the lobby. The very very prim and proper front desk people did no more than raise their eyebrows a tiny bit when we announced that we had reservations. Once the clerk checking us in pulled-up our reservation on his computer he broke into a big smile and said, “Ah, the Lunds! We were expecting you. You do realize that you got a rather extraordinary rate for your stay?” Duh. He told us that the rate we got was a horrible mistake made by a computer programmer who accidentally put in the wrong information onto the Booking.com website. He was subsequently fired.
Gail got a little testy when the clerk asked for a credit card. She informed him that we already paid, but he called it “just a formality”. I suppose they were afraid we’d steal something from the rooms. After we reluctantly gave them our Visa, Gail asked about breakfast. The clerk told us the
St. Mary's Church in Thirsk
While we waited for Cassie to get her stuff together before leaving Thirsk, Tyler, Grandma and I walked a block up the street to get a closer look at the impressive town church.
hours of the restaurant and told us that the Continental Breakfast was £18 whilst the full breakfast was £35. Gail promptly whipped-out our reservation confirmation and pointed-out that we got breakfast with our rate. I would have meekly dispensed with breakfast as soon as I saw just how plush this hotel was and realized what an awesome deal we got.
Instead of just handing us our keys, the clerk called a bellhop over to grab our bags, then personally led us to the elevator. I was impressed with just that little courtesy, but he boarded the elevator with us then took each of us to our rooms. We were all on different floors. I was in room 326.
I got to my room first and was almost floored by the accommodations. The bathroom was the size of most hotel rooms I’ve stayed in. It was bright white accented with gray marble throughout. Two thick white bathrobes hung on the door and a phone rested next to the hopper. A big soap dish was filled with bath oils, soaps, shampoos, conditioners, a bathing cap, a comb, and a sewing kit. A note informed me that shaving materials and other
Information About St. Mary's
From the church's own website: "St. Mary’s is an Anglican Church situated at the end of Kirkgate.It was built between 1420 and 1480 and is a magnificent mediaeval building. Often called the cathedral of North Yorkshire because of its outstanding Perpendicular Gothic architecture, size and prominence - it has an 80 ft tower - it has served the needs of the people of Thirsk for over 500 years. It has seen many changes, witnessed turbulent times and helped people to see beyond their troubles and encouraged them to look to God."
toiletries were available if I wished to contact the front desk. Next to the tub was a big jar full of bath salts.
My bedroom was separated from the bath by a hallway. The bedroom itself was immense. It had the biggest bed I’d ever seen piled high with 8 different types of pillows. There was a huge flatscreen TV with a welcome message personally addressed to me. There were phones everywhere I turned in the room. The mini bar looked like a convenience store. My closet had a cedar lining, a pants press, an umbrella, a shoe shine kit and an exercise mat. I had just sat down on my big sofa when the phone rang. Gail told me to immediately run up to Cassie’s and Tyler’s room.
No need to go into a description of what I saw there. The video tells the story. Suffice it to say, the turret suite greatly surpassed the many amenities of my room. It’s too late to whine about it now but…The confirmed reservations we had did state that all three rooms I booked were supposed to be turret suites. I assume Gail’s and mine were also suites, but not
Detail of St. Mary's Roofline
Not exactly the clearest picture this still gives you an idea of the beautiful decoration all over the town church.
intended for royal potentates like Cassie’s and Tyler’s place.
We spent the next hour or so exploring the turret suite (#906) then walking out onto the balcony high above Knightsbridge where we took photo after photo of the night view. It was freezing cold out there but we were so relieved to get through this taxing day that we hardly noticed. In fact, we hardly noticed the time either. It was close to 9:00 when we realized we hadn’t eaten since breakfast.
When we finally left the hotel we decided to had in the opposite direction from Harrod’s and the shopping district assuming that cheaper restaurants might be a little further away from the high end stores. The farther we walked the less commercial urban property we saw. After a few hundred yards we felt like we were out in the country as we paralleled the immense expanse of Hyde Park. London’s version of Central Park looked like a huge country fair was occurring just a few feet on the other side of the iron fence separating our sidewalk from the park. As we walked I could’ve sworn I smelled Bratwurst cooking somewhere. I was salivating after going
There were many ornate additions all around this old church located in a tiny little village. The local landowners must've been rather wealthy.
so many hours without feeding my fat belly.
After about a half mile of walking we reached an entrance into Hyde Park. Imagine our surprise to find ourselves walking under a banner announcing London’s Christkindlmarkt, . For years we enjoyed spending our Christmas vacations in Germany and Austria where we could enjoy the feeling of olde tyme Christmasses strolling among the stalls dispensing Gluhwein (hot Sangria), candies nuts, Christmas ornaments, toys, beer and Wurst (sausages). This year the Brits brought a bit of old Germany to us bon vivants living it up at the Mandarin Orienatl in London.
It didn’t take us long to agree that this would be where we’d eat dinner - not only tonight, but the next night too since the carnival would be ending that day. We stopped at the very first stall and got our first order of brats immediately. After downing the sausages accompanied by a beer, we continued to walk through what turned-out to be a huge Christmas market. There was an ice skating rink, loads of rides, a couple of beer halls, more candy to chose from than even I could imagine and a variety of smells that no blog
Inside the Church
I must've messed-up the settings on my camera when I was experimenting with the "dynamic" and "pinhole" effets because all of my indoor pictures in this magnificent little church turned out badly.
could ever hope to convey. I was drawn by the odors of not just the different sausages, but of roasted pork and turkey, potato pancakes, cotton candy, roasted nuts, the sweet smell of hot wine, and Lebkuchen. My senses were also assaulted by the glowing lights throughout the park and the cacophony of sounds all around us. You couldn’t imagine you were in the middle of one of the World’s biggest cities. It truly felt like we were in Bremen, Lubeck or Munich.
As we walked about and considered buying souvenirs of Germany, we were a little shocked to find out that the workers in most of the booths were actual Germans. It turned out that they packed-up and pretty much moved over to London for the 6 weeks that the Christkindlmarkt took place. It started back on November 21 and ran until January 3. They brought most of the fair with them on semi trucks. They constructed most of the stalls on the spot using that typical blond wood one sees in most German homes and restaurants. Yet some of the bigger stalls such as the beer gardens were buildings that had come intact from Germany and then
Best of a Bad Lot
This shot didn't come out very well either since it didn't capture any of the play of light coming through the windows or the darkness of the wooden pews and stone walls, but you can at least see why many call this church a mini-cathedral. Not many town churches have vaulted roofs and buttresses.
just rolled off the truckbeds.
We walked through the entire market stopping occasionally for a hot toddy to warm ourselves or to replenish my energy levels with some sugar-coated almonds. There were a few places to go inside and sit down for a beer or dinner, but all seemed too crowded for us. We were content to simply keep moving and eating. I was tempted to buy a replacement furry hat at a booth selling Russian stuff, but at £30 I figured I could find a better deal on E-Bay once I got home (I did).
Just before 11:00 we decided to call it a night and walked back to our hotel still savoring all the sights, smells and sounds of Germany along the way. Once again I went straight to bed, Gail and her mother stayed up to write in their diaries and the kids stayed up a few more hours enjoying the eccentricities of British television featuring the peripatetic Jonathan Ross.
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