Tag Archives: England

Day 10: London – Part 1

After leaving Oxford and taking the trains and underground, we finally got to our hotel. We were centrally situated near the Tower of London, and although it was a budget property, it was very clean and comfortable. We dined at a small Indian restaurant recommended by the front desk at the hotel, and it turned out to be my favorite meal in all of Britain. The Empress is located on Leman Street, and it was rather empty when we arrived on a Monday evening. After we looked through the extensive menu, Russell, our server, asked what dishes we liked, and recommended dishes that weren’t on the menu, but rather his personal favorites. Lamb curry made with baby mangos, Dhaka Murgh (chicken stuffed with spinach, glazed with honey and cooked in a tomato-based curry), king prawn butterfly, tandoori chicken and chicken tikka. Oh my god, my mouth is watering just thinking about that meal again. After our meal, we had a nice chat about the English football teams, the upcoming Man U v. Chelsea Champions League game, and Tottenham’s and Arsenal’s seasons, all of which I’m sure contributed to a fully satisfying dinner.

The next morning, we headed out bright and early to the Tower of London. We got in right at 9:00 when it opened and toured a la audiophones. We had wanted to take a tour with a Yeoman Garder but those didn’t start until later, and we were eager to be on our way. Two words: C R O W N J E W E L S. Those were awe-inspiring, astounding and amazing. They even impressed Brad, who I think is a rather tough customer. The crowns and sceptres were intricate pieces of art and history combined. Unfortunately, we were banned from taking pictures for security reasons but it actually allowed you to focus on the experience and pieces before you, rather than being distracted with taking pictures. I told Brad that I’d like at least one piece of jewelry like that and he said he’d see what he could do. I’m not holding my breath but it was a nice thought anyway. After the Jewel House, we also toured the Torture Exhibit and the Prisoner Exhibition, toured a recreation of the room where Sir Walter Raleigh was imprisoned for years, and listened to stories of those few privileged aristocrats and royalty who were executed inside the walls. We spent a nice satisfying 2 hours or so wandering about the Tower of London, appreciating its history and beauty.

Onward with our whirlwind tour, we hopped on the sightseeing double-decker bus and toured the many famous sights, appreciating them from afar: Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, Parliament, Trafalgar Square (we were stuck in a traffic jam in a roundabout there for 45 mins; argh!), Piccadilly Circus, Marble Arch, London Eye, Sherlock Holmes Pub, and National Gallery. We easily could spend nonstop weeks filled with wonderful things to experience, but unfortunately we lacked the luxury of time in this trip.

We then walked through Leicester Square (boarded up for London Olympics 2012 construction. Our London Angel, Helen, thought they were putting in the beach volleyball court there, as it seemed they were getting ready to move the trees), through the Soho area, along Oxford Street, picked up tickets to watch the Queen musical, “We Will Rock You!”, and raced the clock successfully to get to Loop, a London LYS, in Islington, another part of town. Imagine my mad yarn shopping powers being put to test in two minutes time. I emerged successful and happy with a Loop shopping bag and some beautiful indie yarn. Ahhhh, more sweet memories.

With only 30 minutes to spare before the show started, we stumbled upon a Hong Kong noodle house, Noodle Oodle (formerly called Noodle Inn) with a guy making handmade noodles in the window, next to the hanging char siu, roast pork and duck. Be still my heart! We popped in and asked the waitress if she could get us in and out in 30 minutes so we could get to the show on time. Not a problem, she sat us at a table in 3 minutes; we ordered our noodles with char siu or duck and Wes ordered his steamed Shanghai dumplings (the yummy kind with soup that leaks out once you bite into it) which takes 7 minutes longer; and we were slurping down noodle soup within 5 minutes. Delicious home-cooking inspired comfort food in the least expected place! It’s located on Oxford Street just next to the Tottenham Court Road tube station. Cheap, not a fancy place to hang out, but good satisfying food, especially on a cold day.

“We Will Rock You!” was recommended by my sister and her family, who saw the show three years ago, and it was a perfect recommendation for us. We splurged for close-up tickets, and enjoyed the music of Queen, albeit with a rather weak story line. Even so, we loved watching the live singing and dancing performances. Squid was entranced by the female performers, and I could hear Wes laughing at the jokes (Who were Tinky Winky and Dipsy? And why did they say, “Eh oh?” In our family he is known for his great obsession with the Teletubbies, when he was a toddler.) The show ended the with a huge, rousing performance of “We Are the Champions” and I promptly whispered to Brad, “What happened to Bohemian Rhapsody??!!” I’m such a sucker and easy target. That was the encore performance, and the true highlight was when Brian May came out and performed his great guitar solo. We were seated amidst a sea of German high-school age students who mostly seemed to understand the show. However, when they performed Queen’s most famous hit, they seemed a bit bewildered at all of the reaction and singing along from the audience. I’m glad to say we have appropriately musically-educated our kids and instilled a love of Queen well before this trip. We loved the performance, and our kids loved the performance. This is the stuff that memories are made of, and it was a great way to end our first full day of London.

Day 9: Oxford

Brad and I did a day trip through Oxford 21 years ago, and loved it there. When we were deciding on our itinerary for the trip, we were weighing whether we had the time for Oxford or not. On the one hand, an extra day in London could easily be filled with all there is to do there. On the other hand, how could we not expose the kids to an educational institution of higher learning which has gifted the world with wonderful minds? Higher education won out, but we wisely sold it to the kids as seeing Harry Potter sights.

We had all our not-insignificant luggage with us as we alighted from the train, and schlepped it to a hostel which babysat your bags for the day. Walking through the narrow streets of this beautiful older town, we found a great little sandwich shop which made these delicious crusty paninis which were also customizable. We have really enjoyed eating at the small mom-and-pop type of cafes and shops throughout our trip, and this was another, boasting friendly faces behind the counter.

Fortified, we walked back to the train station to hop on the red double-decker sightseeing bus that takes you about the different places, features live commentary and lets you hop on and off. We rode the bus once around the tour and on the second loop, hopped off at Christ Church College. Christ Church is one of the biggest colleges at Oxford, boasting notable alumni including William Penn and Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (Lewis Carroll was his pen name). The Great Hall, also their dining hall, was the inspiration for Hogswart’s dining hall, so we snapped many pictures there. We tried to tour the Bodleian Library, where library scenes for some of the Harry Potter movies were shot, but unfortunately, they were closed. And that was the end of our too short Oxford trip. We still had to hop on the train for the hour ride back to London.

Believe it or not, Oxford is a small enough town where they do not have a yarn store, so sadly, no yarn adventures there. I’m sure I’ll make up for it in London though!

Day 8: Liverpool

It was a nice train ride from Manchester for our day trip to Liverpool. We’ve been enjoying record temps here in the UK. Brad and I got a chuckle, when we read a warning to the public that with these extreme temperatures, babies, small children and pets should not be left in locked vehicles for any amount of time. We’re used to seeing this in our neck of the woods, and especially when the temps hit the 90s, but it was a bit funny to see the warning here too.

Once we arrived in Liverpool, we headed towards the Albert Docks to Beatles Story, their official museum in Liverpool. Of course, not until after a bit of goofing around.

We toured the museum and really enjoyed the exhibits about their start and the start of the British Invasion, and their meteoric rise to fame.

There was a recreation of The Cavern, one of the main Liverpool nightclubs they performed, and there was a great vibe to it. We truly appreciated their musical, songwriting and performing geniuses.

It was a bit ironic that the day we visited, April 10, was the same date that Paul announced the group was splitting up. We didn’t plan it that way; it was just a coincidence.

One very touching exhibit was seeing John Lennon’s piano, … and pictures from his Imagine sessions. I felt these were quite special and touching to see.

I have to admit, I came away from the end of the tour a bit saddened by it. What they shared and created together was wonderfully magical, and I hated seeing it end the way it did. However, that’s part of their history and I just have to accept that peaks wouldn’t be peaks without the valleys. Hearing their music still makes me happy and I’m glad the kids got to appreciate and hopefully understand the Beatles’ significance in the music world.

We rushed off to Anfield Stadium, home of Liverpool Football Club, afterward. While I would have loved a full stadium tour, a’la Old Trafford’s, sadly it was not to be. Their game was scheduled for the next day, so only mini tours are offered the day before matches. Big sigh… We did get to go into the stadium though, sat in The Kop (one end of the stadium) and looked onto the pitch, as well as tour the museum. It was a bit disappointing but it’s nice for me to say that I’ve actually been there.

Wes, the die-hard Man U fan, refused to pose in any of the Liverpool pictures, but I snap a pic of him on the escalator. Escalators have always made him happy, ever since he was a toddler. I guess some things you never grow out of.

I have two bits of sad yarn-related news. The first is that while running about in Liverpool, we ran out of time and I didn’t get a chance to go to the LYS, Purlesque. A missed yarn opportunity is always sad for me. Please sit down for the next one, if you’re faint of heart. Second, while on the train from Edinburgh to Manchester, I worked steadily on a stripey ribbed grey and purple beanie for Wes. Yes, you saw a picture of it on the Edinburgh day. I had purchased new Addi Turbos needles for this project, got through 65% of the hat on the train, and was starting to see the finish line. As we approached the Manchester station, the train was packed like sardines, and I put my knitting bag in my purse, and even tied the string onto the purse strap. You can probably already tell where this is going. Between the jostling of the heavy luggage, the crowds of people closed in about us, and the short 5-10 minute walk to the hotel, I lost the little project bag with Wes’ purple stripey hat and the new needles. I didn’t realize it until much later after we returned from the Old Trafford stadium tour. A few inquiries to the hotel and train station and even a walk back of our route yielded no results. RIP knitting stuff. Sniff, sniff, I’ll miss you! Brad consoled me by suggesting a knitter picked it up and will give it a nice, loving home. Yes, I’ll think of it that way.

Days 6 and 7: Manchester, Manchester United and the Red Army

Way back in 2005, we hosted two lovely British football coaches, Suzanne and Helen, who were coaching soccer in the US for a summer. We had a grand time showing them around our area and loved getting to know them. Fast forward six years to 2011 and our trip to Britain, we were really hoping to see them again. We’re looking forward to meeting up with Helen in London, but unfortunately we won’t be able to see Suzanne. She had booked her grand tour of Asia, and departed on the same day we arrived. We were so sad to have missed her, but she has proven to be our Manchester angel! Suzanne was and still is a huge Manchester United fan, and Wes shared that bond with her back in 2005. Turns out Angel Suzanne was working in the hospitality office at Old Trafford, and completely took care of us, scoring us amazing tickets just 15 rows from the pitch, a wonderful tour of the stadium and museum, programs, souvenirs and discount vouchers for the megastore. Suzanne, whether you’re in Beijing, Xi’an or elsewhere, you’re the T O P S ! ! !

After arriving in Manchester and getting settled in the Arora Manchester Hotel (great property that Suzanne recommended that was just a block off the tram station but still super quiet), we headed off to Old Trafford, home of the Red Army. We arrived about an hour before our scheduled tour and had plenty of time to enjoy the museum. There were great exhibits about the history of the team, the stadium, the horrible Munich plane crash of 1958 which claimed the lives of eight players, and the great footballers of past and present.

If you were to ask Wes his favorite part of the tour, he would say he liked all of it. The rest of us particularly enjoyed sitting in the players’ dressing room (and no, there were no players in it, I’m sad to report), sitting in the players’ seats during games when they’re not on the pitch (that’s the field for you non-footballers), and walking through the players’ tunnel. This stadium, this team, this history, all of it is awe-inspiring and really inspires you to well up with emotion at their greatness. I guess their tourism powers are strong.

I have to stop right now and make an admission. I am a Liverpool fan. (For you Man U fans, go ahead and boo and hiss right now. I’ll wait for you to get it out of your system. Liverpool is Man U’s rival, or at least one of the main ones.) The tour, museum and game – this whole experience – were almost enough to convert me to join the Red Army. Almost.

Welling over with Manchester United pride, we went to the football match vs. Fulham the next day. Fulham was also fun to watch, primarily because they have one of the few successful Americans, Clint Dempsey, playing in the English Premier League. However, I didn’t dare cheer him on as we were right smack in the middle of the Man U fans. In my heart, I cheered on old Clint. Our seats were right by the players’ tunnel, and we got great views of the players coming on and off the pitch. We learned a bit of the Man U songs, and cheered the players on. It was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience watching these footballers play in person, these athletes which we watch week in and week out do their thing.

We were a little sad that our favorites, Rooney (Who ate all the pies, Fat Boy?), Giggs and Van Der Sar who retires at the end of the year, didn’t play that day, but we were still rewarded with some great action right before our eyes. Berbatov had a nice goal, for which Nani had an amazing assist by dribbling through five guys. For the second goal, Nani drove up the left side, cut in towards goal, juked out the keeper and got past him, and passed it to a wide open Valencia who beautifully headed it in. The end result was 2-0 for Man U, and they earned 3 more points to keep them at the top of the league. There you go, Suzanne; there are your 3 points!

We waited in line for the Megastore before the game, and while it would be madness, the kids wanted to get their jerseys for the game. Wes chose a Giggs jersey (because he already has a Rooney one), and Squid chose a Van Der Sar keeper jersey. No, she’s not a keeper but purple is her favorite color. Makes total sense, right?

I asked Wes what his favorite part of the game was, and do you want to guess his answer? The game. That’s right. It was for all of us too. Thank you, Suzanne, our Man U Angel for making this a dream come true!

Tomorrow, we journey to Liverpool and visit Anfield Stadium and the Beatles museum.

Days 4 and 5 – Edinburgh

Day 4 found us whizzing through the Northern English countryside and crossing into Scotland. We arrived in Edinburgh in the early afternoon, ate a bit of lunch, checked into our very nice hotel, which was referred to us by our good friends, the Schleiffers, who had previously stayed in the hotel last summer. It was a near perfect stay in a beautiful city in a gorgeous country. The feel of the city is best described as a dynamic, youthful spirit.

We hopped on the red tour bus which circles the city and lets you hop on and off at stops. Unfortunately, we started our sightseeing too late and by the time we climbed the steep road and reached Edinburgh Castle, it was too late to tour. We snapped a quick pic from atop and decided to head down. That’s on the calendar first thing the next morning.

(ETA: This cool picture showing the castle in the background.)

We walked a bit of The Royal Mile down to the High Kirk of St. Giles. There’s a folklore legend that if you spit on the brick heart on the sidewalk, you will have good luck. All but Brad let the loogies fly, and some people may have spit more than once (not I!). Squid should have plenty of luck now, and hopefully more for the rest of us too.

After an early dinner, we were done for the night. I think jet lag has hit the kids today, so we’ll sleep in a bit in the morning. We need all that energy for a big day tomorrow at Edinburgh Castle and the rest of the city.

Day 5 was a full day, once we were up and about. We breakfasted at a charming little cafe across the way from us, and my American husband and kids all ordered the American breakfast. So predictable! I felt very cosmopolitan with my Scottish scone and tea. The castle was the first order of business, and it did not disappoint. Brad and I fondly remembered our visit to the castle 21 years ago on our honeymoon, and I’m happy to report that we now have more fond memories. The kids ran around and completed the kids’ quiz sheet, which made sure to keep them occupied, entertained and educated (read: not fighting).

The Scottish crown jewels were amazing to behold, as was the ceremonial daily firing of the one o’clock gun. Guess what time they fired it? Yep, one o’clock. It stems from a long ago tradition to help sailors find their bearings. I took some video of it, so let’s see if I’m able to load it.

After the walk about the castle, and peering over the edges for gorgeous panoramic views, we partook in our ceremonial daily ice cream from the ice cream truck in front of the castle. This was a new memory but just as fond. We went for a bit of fun next and ended up in Camera Obscura. It’s basically a fun, hands-on science museum for the whole family with emphasis on visual effects. Touted as the #1 rated sight on Trip Advisor, that was enough convincing for us. The big attraction is the camera obscura at the top of the building which was built by a female scientist in the 1800s. Through lenses, you get a 360 degree panoramic view of Edinburgh. Add in a mirror maze, computerized visual effects morphing your face into a chimp or baby, a vortex tunnel, lots of MC Escher and Escheresque pictures, it was a huge hit with the kids. Brad and I enjoyed it too but I enjoyed the kids’ reactions as much, if not more.

We finished the day with the rest of the tour bus, and strolled about the city to dinner. We’ve enjoyed couple of hearty, delicious Italian dinners that I’ll convince myself were authentic. They spoke English with Italian accents, so the food must have been too, right?

Since this is originally a yarn blog, I’d be remiss in not showing you any yarny goodness. Besides, this is the truly exciting stuff. First off, I finished Brad’s socks I started months ago for this trip. Good thing I finished them while we were here. I think I’ll call them the York to Edinburgh socks; I was binding off while in Newcastle, instead of peering through the windows for a glimpse of their football stadium.

Up the street from us was a lovely little yarn boutique named K1. I stopped in on the first night but it was right before they were closing. I suspect they get a good amount of non-knitter touristy traffic, and I didn’t have much time to shop, nor did I feel that warm of a reception. It was a good thing I went back the next evening, because I had a better experience. The shop girl (just wanted to write that, as sexist as it sounds) was American and had arrived in Edinburgh in October. You could already hear the Scottish burr emerging in her speech. There was a small knitting class going on in the middle of the shop too, and all were friendly and cheerful.

I settled on a bit of Aran weight Artesano alpaca/wool blend for Sweetie Boy’s cap. Fickle boy decided he didn’t want the dark brown, but grey instead. I decided to grab some purple to stripe for him too, since purple seems to be his color du jour as of late. I also may have picked up some blue angora blend for a scarflet, but since I have in the past loudly proclaimed for all to hear that I am neither a knitter of blue nor a lover of angora, I shall neither confirm nor deny this existence of this yarn in my suitcase. (Right now, we’re training to Manchester, and I love the fact that every time we pass grazing sheep, the kids yell, “Sheepies, Mommy, sheepies!” Sheep Watch 2011. Gotta love it! BTW, this is called using your powers for good, not evil.)

I had been toying with the idea of going to a knitting group while in Edinburgh, and had even done a bit of research on Ravelry.com for meet up days and times. I inquired at the shop about the Tea Tree Tea knitters, and one of the gals mentioned that the shop is only 2 blocks away. With my recent yarn purchases in hand, my blood was pumping and I decided to head over to the group. Ashamedly, I knocked on the locked door and when I explained my plight that I HAD to knit even for 15 minutes with them, they unlocked the already-closed shop door and let me in. Imagine this exchange through the window and my gesturing with knitting-like movements and pulling out my ball of yarn. They were cheerful and friendly and maybe taken aback by the crazy American knitter lady, but I can say that I knit for a short while in Edinburgh. I was sad it ended so quickly, but I could tell they were a good lot… friendly to all with all the right kind of yarn and pattern speak. I got a good tip on an Old Maiden Aunt silk/cashmere/merino wool blend knit up into a lovely shawl that apparently the Loop store in London carries. I’ll need to make extra sure I can get there next week.

Remember at the beginning of the post where I described it as near-perfect? We set the alarm early so we could catch the direct train to Manchester. We allowed ourselves 45 mins to throw our stuff into the suitcases before grabbing a cab. Sweetie Boy had just stepped out of the bathroom after his shower when the fire alarm went off. At first we thought it was just our room, and tried to wave away the steam that we assumed set off the smoke detector. That’s when we heard door shutting in the hallway and people leaving their rooms. Evacuation time! We thought it surely meant we would miss our train, but after hearing some business about a pot or hot plate left on, the fire brigade cleared the emergency and we were safe to return to the hotel after just 5 minutes or so outside. Whew! That was a close one but we caught our taxi in time, and boarded the train with 15 minutes to spare. I’m now entertained by the foursome of middle-aged men who are traveling toether and enjoying their pints of beer at 8:30 in the morning.

Next stop, Manchester where we pursue the nation’s and our love of football!

England Day 1

We arrived in London Heathrow and took forever to get through customs. We rode the 100 mph Heathrow Express to Paddington Station – just 15 minutes and the scenery was wonderful. We fell victim to our first tourist trap, looking for Paddington the Bear and found him in a nice kiosk in the middle of the station. Paddington the Bear is a special book that Brad and Squid bond over, and Squid now has her first souvenir of our UK travels.

We rode the tube to hotel. I loved hearing the 4 different languages in one tube ride: Italian, Spanish and German, in addition to English. We also met a couple of ladies from Atlanta who were really helpful in making sure we didn’t get left on the wrong train. Just outside of the tube station at Tower Hill, right across from the Tower of London, was a lovely little park. Squid and Wes had great moments at the park on its interesting play structures.

Since the Tower of London was closed, we went in search of the Fish and Chips shop that my sister, Teresa, recommended. Sadly, it too was closed, as Sunday evenings get closed up a bit early. We walked around the perimeter, and enjoyed the beautifully-lit Tower Bridge. We stopped for dinner at a pub on the way back to the hotel. I suspect it was a bit of a tourist trap but it was empty enough with as many Brits as Americans. Fish and chips, minced beef and onion pie and yorkie beef wrap made up our first meal on Britain’s shores.

The next morning, we found a Tesco market nearby and picked up a simple breakfast and snacks for the train. Tesco owns the Fresh and Easy markets in So Cal, so it was quite familiar. We’re heading up to York this morning, which leaves from King’s Cross station. We found Platform 9 ¾ before hopping on our train. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to hop on the Hogwart’s Express, since we’re all muggles. It has now been confirmed that we’re not wizards.

Pulling out of King’s Cross station, we passed right by Emirates Stadium, home of Arsenal Football Club, which was a nice surprise, especially for Brad, the die-hard Arsenal fan. Squid pointed out a beautiful, green rolling field with dotted with sheep! Something for both of us on this train ride. The kids, in between bickering, are diligently doing homework. Wes has science, while Squid is writing in her journal, which her teacher assigned as homework. More to come later, including yarny adventures!