Dream For Three

Jun 28 2015

London – my thoughts and impressions

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London is a huge city that seems to be built on top of itself. For the most part it is tall narrow buildings, cramming as much as possible into very little space. The streets are narrow and it surprises me that there isn’t more gridlock – but perhaps that’s a credit to the public transport system.

We found that the tube was easy to navigate and relatively intuitive. Having said that, we never used the buses and the coaches/trains were well organised.

The people push and shove and don’t tend to move out of the path of anyone else, unless it’s at the last minute. But they do tend to maintain two distinct streams and as long as you’re in the right stream, moving at a reasonable pace, it’s not a problem. There is none of the politeness that we had expected, except from other tourists, the tour guides and assistants, and the souvenir shops.

Food is interesting. We were aiming to sample the local cuisine in each city visited, but we struggled to find such a thing in London. Jason and Nicole pointed out that a lot of traditional English food is really a take on Indian or other Eastern cuisines. While in London I think we ended up eating Italian the most. Although we struggled to find a food estabishment served by “traditional English people” (once in all the time we were there?) we have been told that this is to be expected.

One of the things I was surprised to find that I liked was all of the history and how it ties back to the Royal Family and even the Romans – I’ve never been that much interested in history. Then again, maybe that’s because of the NZ and other irrelevant history I’ve been fed when I was younger.

Would we return? Yes, definitely. But, I have a nagging feeling that it is the sort of place best taken in small doses. Now MK, on the other hand, is a beautiful place with many (all?) of the expected amenities, in close proximity to London. It was beautiful countryside without the rush and stress that I could imagine would be found in London.

Jun 28 2015

Au Revoir London, Hello Paris!

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Although I had a good sleep, DW had been up early trying to get the washing dry – after four hours in the washer-dryer it was still damp. We had a bit of time left (our train to Paris wasn’t leaving until 11am), so we packed the washing and headed down to the local laundrette (the first coin operated one in London, apparently). We chucked in £1.50, which gave us 15 minutes of drying, then headed across the road to Cake Create Bakery for breakfast. Two bacon and cheese croissants and a sausage roll for DD, we headed back to the laundrette to find our clothes dry. Everthing was packed back in the bag and we returned to the apartment to eat.

Checking the rest of our itinerary the only thing we were supposed to confirm in advance was the pick up at Gare du Nord, Paris – that was to be done two days ago. I called the number provided and successfully confirmed our booking.

After breakfast we packed and made sure nothing was left behind. We were ahead of schedule, so we checked out (a five minute walk up the road) and then took a taxi to St Pancras Station. The taxi driver managed to squeeze three large suitcases, three smaller cases, and three people into his reasonably small car – grumbling that the person who arranged it should have mentioned the amount and/or size of luggage.

The check in at St Pancras was very easy and we only had a brief wait before the EuroStar boarded and departed. The journey was only 2.5 hours and we barely noticed when we went through the chunnel. The meal on the EuroStar was alright, albeit a bit small perhaps.

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Arriving in Paris it was easy enough to get out of the station and we found our transfer driver waiting, as arranged. He too was worried by the amount of luggage and people – his car was about the same size as the one in London. But he managed to fit it all in and I tried to hop in on the driver’s side – apparently France has left-hand drive cars.

We arrived at the hotel just before 3pm, which was the check-in time. Our room wasn’t quite ready, so we waited about 20 minutes before completing check-in. During the drive to the hotel I came to the conclusion that I would hate to drive in Paris – it’s full of one way streets, the street markings appear to be indicative only, and the aim is to move forward as far as possible before even thinking about stopping. In fact, I personally believe that the street markings are there to give tourists a false sense of security.

After settling in we decided to head up to Sacre Cœur for a visit – France has a heatwave coming and temperatures are already up around 33C. It was a half hour walk to Sacre Cœur and we went inside (providing a small donation). We were going to walk to the top, but there was a service on and we didn’t find the stairs. If we get time we will return later to do that. We purchased a few items in the store anyway. Heading out again we discovered the way we were supposed to approach it, so we returned that way, wading through thousands of tourists and souvenir shops. We made our way back to the hotel through the myriad of one-way streets, taking our lives in our hands at times, grabbing Subway for dinner (about 20m from the hotel). We found that the cross signals all seem to be automated (you don’t need to press any buttons), but most people just cross if there’s no vehicle within hitting distance.

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One of the few non-souvenir shops down that strip was Le Petit Musée du Chocolat (the little chocolate museum). Inside were some amazing sculptures or structures made out of chocolate, as well as plenty of chocolate and lollies to buy.

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Jun 28 2015

The Olde Thatched Inn

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Today was a bit more of a relaxed day, heading out to Milton Keynes to visit friends. We took the tube West to Edgware Road, then changed trains to head East to Euston Square. From there it was a short walk to Euston Station where we manged to get tickets for the 9:10am train reasonably cheap (compared to what I had seen on the internet anyway). We could have taken the 8:43 train, but it was already 8:35 and we hadn’t had breakfast. The guy at the ticket counter asked if we were from NZ – I asked if it was my T-shirt or accent that gave it away, to which he replied “It’s the way you said nine-tin”.

The journey was quite quick – about 30 minutes and Jason was there to pick us up. We noticed that many of the seats around us said “Reserved” but most of ours were “Reserved from Crewe”. However, once I realised that Crewe was one of the stops, it made perfect sense. A young asian girl said that DW was in her seat – when we pointed out there was a spare seat, she insisted she had booked a window seat. DW moved into the spare seat and I sat next to the asian girl. I had to chuckle to myself when she spent the whole time eating asian food (Joy Tofu?) and watching a movie on her phone – I don’t know that she looked out the window once.

Arriving at MK, I managed to go through the gates without issue, but DW’s and DD’s tickets were both rejected. They were both let through after a quick check of the tickets.

It was a short car ride to Jason and Nicole’s. We had a bit of a catch up, a tour of the cottage and the gardens, and then Jason and I went on to talk about work. DW mentioned that we couldn’t find the Annie and Clarabelle carriages (Thomas the tank engine) when we were at Hamleys, so Nicole found they were at the local Toys R Us and reserved them.

We headed out to the Olde Thatched Inn for lunch, which was a very nice meal – thanks to Jason and Nicole for shouting us! While we were out and about, we dropped by MK Central to pick up the carriages. We finished off with a tour of the town and then back to the cottage. After a bit more of a chinwag, Jason dropped us all back at the train station so we could return to London.

As it was our last night in London we decided to drop by Victoria Coach Station to see if a souvenir place was still open – DD had seen something she wanted to get when we went to Stonehenge. Arriving there around 7:30pm we found it was closed. We then searched for somewhere to have dinner, because we didn’t want to eat at 10pm again. We found an Italian restaurant named Prezzo upstairs somewhere between Victoria Coach Station and Victoria Train Station – it was probably the best dinner we had had in London.

After dinner we took the tube back to Notting Hill Gate and walked back to the apartment. Although the day wasn’t so rushed, we had done a reasonable amount of walking since returning to London, so we crashed out reasonably quickly – not before DW put a load of washing on though.

Jun 27 2015

Soaked in Bath

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Today we had a Coach tour out to Stonehenge, including stops at Windsor and Oxford. We had breakfast at Caffè Nero just outside our door and then headed down to Nottinghill tube station to head over to Victoria. We were suposed to be meeting at the Victoria Coach Station, but directions were a bit misleading and it wasn’t obvious how to get to the Coach Station. One lady was helpful, but only to the point that she said turn left at the lights and keep going – someone will be there to help you. Another stop down that road and we were directed again to head further down the road. We eventually found the Coach Station and then (after a bit of searching) found then Evan Evans Tours office. They had a bit of trouble locating our booking saying that we were supposed to call 48 hours earlier to confirm the time (because it was an open booking) – even though our travel agent said that it was all booked and confirmed for 8:45am 26 June. The lady at the counter was very accommodating and switched us to a Stonehenge, Windsor, and Bath tour instead, including all entrance fees (which apparently the other one didn’t cover), for no extra charge – saving us £21.

Our tour guide (Emily) and driver (Steve) were very good. They both contributed a lot of informaton and history to the trip, helping to pass the travel time. The first stop was Windsor Castle, which was a fascinating place to visit. I got plenty of shots from outside, but no photos were allowed inside (although the asian tourists seemed to think they were exempt, pretending that they didn’t understand English). In fact, they were the same with the crown jewels at the Tower of London. Our biggest problem was the lack of time, which was the same for all stops on the tour. However, we managed to do some souvenir shopping and get a bite to eat before heading off to Bath. I was tempted to buy a battle of Waterloo chess set (£250), but thought better of it when considering the weight and how much more travelling we have ahead of us.

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The next stop on the tour was Bath – it started to rain as we headed further West, but that was expected. One of the things we didn’t know, but learned on the trip, was that this was where the Sally Lunn buns originated (by a French lady who was a baker’s assistant), by Solange Luyon – she was nicknamed Sally Lunn by the people of the area. We headed in to the Roman Baths and learned about the history of these, including a tasting of the water at the end – you could tell that there are a lot of minerals in it, but it was drinkable. When we left the Baths we were running out of time to get back to the coach, but we managed to get some original Sally Lunn buns, some fudge, and ice cream. We wanted some more substantial food, but most of it was sold out by the time we got there and all of the shop entrances were being blocked by tourists trying to keep out of the drizzle, because they didn’t have umbrellas. DW had her umbrella, but DD and myself just braved the water in true Kiwi style.

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Our final stop, heading back East and out of the rain, was Stonehenge, which is what I really wanted to see. I know it’s just a bunch of rocks and mounds, but the when, why, and how questions continue to intrigue me. We spent about half an hour wandering around the rocks and hearing about the history and what we have discovered since. We then headed back to the souvenir shop where we probably bought more than anywhere else.

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Heading back to London, the coach dropped us off at Gloucester Road, from where we walked up to Kensington Gardens, doing some exploring on the way, and heading back to the apartment at the other side. During this walk we also saw our first squirrel, followed by the second, third, and fourth – they were not being very “secret”. For dinner we decided to try the local fish and chips (now around 10pm), which were pretty good. The Mr Fish shop was about half a mile (800m) up the road, so not too far away – although it seemed longer after such a long day. After dinner we collapsed into bed for a well earned rest.

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Jun 26 2015

A day full of stairs

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We headed out earlier, aiming to get to the Marble Arch to join the Hop On Hop Off bus. The plan was to go through Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park, but we were a little late leaving so we decided to skip that. However, we did stop for breakfast at Cafe Diana (across from Kensington Palace), which was a traditional English breakfast (served by middle-eastern people). In fact, so far we have eaten in many different places but not yet been served by an English person.

Heading down Bayswater Road we were approached by a lady from The Original Tour asking if we were hopping on the bus which had just arrived – we were surprised because (apart from looking like tourists, there was nothing to suggest we were getting on). So it turns out that we can join the bus tour at any stop. We purchased tickets to St Paul’s Cathedral and the Tower of London, as well as picking up our Thames Cruise tickets.

Next stop was Trafalgar Square, where we confirmed the start point for the Changing of the Guards walking tour and then got some water. The walking tour was great, with some good vantage points and marching/running alongside the new guard as they went up to Buckingham Palace.

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Returning to Trafalgar Square we stopped for lunch at Pret A Manger before rejoining the bus tour, heading to StPaul’s. We weren’t allowed to take photos in the cathedral, but we climbed the 528 steps right to the top and got a few snaps from up there. Those winding narrow iron stairs at the top are a real challenge. We stopped at the Whispering Room as well, but there were too many people and too much buzz to tell if it works.

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Joining the bus tour again we headed to the Tower of London. We were going to walk across Tower Bridge, but missed the stop before it. However, we probably weren’t really up to that walk. We went around the tower walls (more stairs) before joining the relatively quick moving queue to see the crown jewels. Again, unfortunately, no cameras were allowed.

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We then took our Thames Cruise down to Westminster pier, but decided not to go through Westminster Abbey due to a lack of energy. We rejoined the bus tour and went to Hanley’s toy shop (five floors) in Regent Street. Since it was late night, we looked for somewhere to eat (but we weren’t really up to more shopping than that). We tried Jamie Olliver’s Italian restaurant, but it was going to be a 20-30 minute wait, so we headed down to the Jamie Olliver Diner instead. Finishing that off we dragged ourselves back to the underground and then the 10-15 minute walk back to the apartment. At that stage weall crashed out almost immediately.

Jun 24 2015

Madame Tussauds and more

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Today we started with a short 30 minute walk to Madame Tussauds, with a stop off for breakfast and souvenir shops (didn’t buy anything yet – we had lots to do today). We also managed to organise Oyster cards for everyone and figure out how the tube works (well, possibly how we get to Westminster anyway).

Madame Tussauds was an interesting place with a large range of wax works, including Star Wars and Marvel. Here’s a few of the ones we saw.

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There was a 4D experience at the end as well as a Spirit of London ride – both very well done. After that we successfully navigated the tube to Westminster and across the bridge to the Eye, Dungeon, and Aquarium. After a quick bite to eat, our first stop was the Eye, which was an interesting experience and a good view of the city – probably not some we would need to repeat in a hurry though.

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Fortunately everything was close, so we headed off to the London Dungeon for some interactive history. DD was absolutely petrified, despite other much younger kids not having any issues with it. There was lots of interesting and good historic information mixed in with visitor interaction. Plenty of shock value, but not a scary experience (in my opinion), which is a good thing.

We were going to head to the Shard and save the Aquarium for another day but, after the Eye we decided that we didn’t need to do the Shard just yet. So we went through the Aquarium, providing DD with some “friendly” images/experiences to finish off the day. The Aquarium is more targeted to younger visitors, but we still managedto fill in about 45-60 minutes. The first encounter was different – walking over a shark tank.

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With sore feet and legs, we made our way back to the apartment (managing to navigate the tube during rush hour), stopping for a quick dinner at Tinsel Town (American hamburger joint). So far we have managed to have several meals here without experiencing the local cuisine or being served by (dare I generalise) a Brit. We plan to have a traditional English breakfast at some stage – probably Saturday, before heading out to Milton Keynes.

Tomorrow we are off to see the changing of the guards, St Paul’s, Westminster Abbey, and a few other places, including a Hop On/Hop Off bus tour around London.

Jun 23 2015

End of our first night

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Now that I have a bit more time I thought I would add more details.

It was interesting watching the stats onthe way to LA – we were at about 11km up and the outside temperature was -50C! I guess it’s not that surprising, I just hadn’t thought about that before.

I was also surprised to see that the flight from LA to Munich went across the States, Greenland, then Scotland and England. However, when you look at the path, it’s more or less a straight line to the Arctic, then a slight kink around Iceland before passing over the UK.

After a combined 36+ hours of travelling and waiting (with little decent sleep) both DW and DD are tired and a bit short-tempered. Hopefully a good night’s sleep will solve that problem.

Jun 23 2015

First Destination Reached

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We made it to London at long last. I was going to do a post at Munich but it turned out that the connecting flight was about five minutes walk from where we arrived and was boarding when we got there. Managed to get a quick snap before we left.

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The flight from Munich to London was reasonably short, but we still ended up about 15 mins late. The queues at Heathrow were diabolical, but processing was quick and painless.

Next we found that the luggage did not arrive with us. This made us a bit nervous because we were told to leave it next to carousel 1 at LA and then we were told that our luggage would be automatically transferred to the London flight at Munich. It turned out that our luggage never made it to the connecting flight in Munich – so it wasn’t far away. Lufthansa ensured us that it would be delivered tonight.

Then we reached the Heathrow terminal 2 exit at 5:20pm, only to find that our transfer shuttle had left after 90 minutes from when the plane was supposed to have arrived – colour me not impressed! So we arranged another shuttle for an extra £40 ($100), which is about what we paid for the first one. That said, the driver was pretty good and showed us where some things were on the way to the apartment and also talked about things we can do in various areas of London.

The Vancouver Studio apartments people have been really good so far too – very accommodating and easy to deal with. Below are a few shots of our apartment – I’ll post more later if I get a chance.

For now it’s off to find dinner, maybe a mobile phone sim, and then crash out for a late morning start tomorrow.

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Jun 22 2015

Stage 2 Complete – waiting at LAX

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We have safely arrived at LAX, checked through immigration, collected our bags, deposited our bags for the next flight, found the Lufthansa check-in queues (very long), got new boarding passes, navigated through customs (with a pat down for DW and myself), and now waiting for the flight to Munich. Our plane has just arrived, but it’s another hour before boarding starts.

DW and DD are both tired, since they don’t operate well on a few hours of broken sleep – although DD seemed to get more than the rest of us. With another 11-12 hour flight ahead of us, DW and DD are both planning to catch a few more winks. Meanwhile, I’ll be looking to watch the last 15-20 minutes of Focus, which I was enjoying on Air NZ when we landed.

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Jun 22 2015

Stage 1 Complete

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The first stage of our journey is now complete – we have successfully reached the international departures lounge in Auckland. Fortunately there were no dramas getting through Customs, just DD’s first time through this process for an international flight.

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