Subject: UK Travelogue part 1 (long)

I've been waiting all year for this trip. The main focus of it was to be a week long internet get together with Coronation Street fans in Manchester. We built an itinerary around it, including a weekend in London, a day or so in Stoke-on-Trent to shop for pottery, and a Scottish tour. The tour was rescheduled when Globus cancelled the one we were on so the tour ended up having an extra weekend in London at the back end and a few extra days in Glasgow before the tour commenced. The full itinerary is here:

We flew Icelandair because we got a much better deal than Air Canada but I don't think we'll fly them again. The planes are 757's or that size and you do feel squashed in like on a charter flight with less leg room and seat room. Because we had to reschedule our flight due to the tour situation, it cost us a few hundred extra for changing the ticket so it wasn't' that cheap in the end after all, plus paying for 5 extra nights in the UK. See, Icelandair only flies out of Halifax three days a week.

My friend Carole and i landed in London around noon on Thursday, September 14, completely shattered. We decided to take the airbus but we ended up walking up hill and down dale in the ramps in the tunnels underneath terminals 1 to 2 before we found a place to get a ticket and get the bus! We were staying at a converted Victorian mansion in Bayswater, the Inverness Court hotel, which we booked through the Holiday House brochure. NOT recommended! The lobby and stairwells were very elegant, the elevators small and slow. There were stairs once you got to your floor. Hmmm. The room was small as we expected, but our first impression was not great. The carpet was filthy, wallpaper yellowed, curtains hung limply. The outside glass doors to the balcony (well, just wide enough so you could stand if you wanted to brave the pigeon do-do) didn't shut and there was a hole in the glass about an inch round with cracks in the glass. We joked about our bullet hole! The inside sliding glass doors came off the runner once and would have every time if we weren't careful. The beds were narrow and really hard though at least the sheets were clean. The hotel was busy though, full of German tourists I think. Breakfast was included and was continental in the dining room in the basement. It was also convenient, across from Hyde park and around the corner from the Queensway underground station, a block from the Bayswater station. That's about the only good things about it. That made for a bit of a downer to start our trip off but you can't let that bother you. We had prepaid the room and from what I heard also, London was full, with nary a hotel room available as a friend of mine found out that week as well.

No sleep since yesterday but we rested a bit and decided to go out and over to the park for a walk through Kensington Gardens. We passed the children's playground where there is a trunk of an old oak tree with elves and fairies carved and painted into it. It was done in 1911 and is called the Elfin Wood.

We walked down toward Kensington Palace and saw this building with high windows. It appeared to have a restaurant in it and we decided to go in for high tea as it was high tea time. We weren't dressed for it but others there were in jeans as well so we went in. This, by the way is the Orangerie which was built in 1704 as a greenhouse. We decided to splurge on the Grand Tea which includes a glass of champagne to celebrate the beginning of our trip. Included were a little finger sandwich, raisin scone with fruit syrup and clotted cream and a piece of Belgian chocolate cake! How could one resist! I managed most of it though couldn't eat all the icing on the cake as it was way too rich on top of the clotted cream. And not having eaten since the plane, that champagne sure went to our heads! Time to walk some more!

We went to Kensington Palace for a look through the gates and later walked around the lower end of the park where there were some nearby gardens as far as the Albert Memorial and Albert Hall. Dusk is imminent so we made our way back up to the Bayswater Road end of the park via the same route we took down. We had a look at some souvenir shops opposite the underground stop, but didn't' buy tonight. Noticed that the postcards were fairly cheap here though, 10 for a pound. Back to the hotel, I tried to call my friend Alan who was supposed to have had some train tickets sent to the hotel but which hadn't seemed to arrived. Couldn't' get through and left a message and left one for some other friends, Dave and Nikki as well.

Nothing on telly and as usual that first day, overtired so it was hard to drop off to sleep.

Sept. 15

Nikki called this morning before work so we could set a time to meet, 6:15 under the Burger King sign in Liverpool Street station. We slept a little longer but I had to get up because my back was aching from that hard bed! We got up and showered and dressed and down to breakfast around 9:30. Continental, just rolls, croissants, tiny glasses for the juice and tea. You could buy the full breakfast if you wanted. But we didn't want. I called Barb before we left to set up a coffee meeting with her at 4 in a café around the corner from the hotel. Barb is another Coronation Street online pal who lives here in London.

We picked up a day travel pass at the newsagent around the corner and we caught the tube. We're going to the Courtauld Gallery in Somerset House. Bit of a false start as we got on the wrong train but got off at the next stop before it veered off in a different direction and we ended up in Wimbledon. The next stop was Notting Hill and we could get a train east. It's raining but not cold, however it makes it very muggy in the underground and on the trains. We got off at Temple and walked along the embankment which would have been very pretty if it hadn't been raining. We can see down the Thames and behind Waterloo bridge looms the London Eye, that huge observation wheel. We can also see Big Ben peeking over as well.

A little bit about Somerset House, it was built in the early 19th century to house the Royal Academy of Art which is now in Burlington House off Picadilly. Now there are several collections in there but the Courtauld is most well known. It's not a large overwhelming gallery like the National Gallery. There are three floors though only one room on the ground. The proper entrance is off the Strand but we were not there. To get to it, we had to come in from the Embankment entrance and walk across a large courtyard with a large fountain display in the center. Just rows and rows of fountains that start low and shoot up higher and higher. I took a few photos but they'll be gray and dreary I expect.

The building has lovely detail that you don't always see because it's up so high. The ground floor was the 14th and 15th century Northern Europe religious works, altar pieces and delicate and intricate ivory carving and triptychs. Each of the other two floors only had a few rooms and followed the timeline through the Renaissance, Baroque, a bit of Dutch and Italian and of course the Impressionists, my favourites. There were only one or two Monets, and only a few of each of the more famous painters though there were a number of Seurats, both before and after his divisionist (painting with little dots, I didn't know the proper name before!) period. I saw another Cezanne and Renoir I liked, about 3 or 4 all told that I wanted to get postcards of and was successful in that quest.

We were in there about an hour and a half, maybe 2 and we were going to have lunch in the café there but it was too full. We went out along the Strand but by now the rain is coming down in buckets!!! We ducked into a small bookshop to get out of it but it didn't' let up. We walked a bit further, trying our best to avoid the puddles at the street corners and playing bob and weave with everyone else on the sidewalk with our umbrellas. Across the road I saw a sign for a restaurant up a side street called Johnston's! Woohoo, that has to be good! LOL and it had a sign offering a hot and cold buffet lunch for £5.50!! Even better! We made our way back to the corner to cross over and went in. Turns out it is a restaurant in the Strand Palace Hotel. We had the buffet and a large pot of tea each to warm up. Yes the food was cheap. The tea was £2.50! No matter, there was a lovely poached salmon on the buffet with veggies and rice. We stayed and had a leisurely lunch and dried off and warmed up.

Once we were done we thought we would kill some time up in Covent Garden but we got caught up in one of my favourite stores, Past Times (oh, big surprise!) and as it was coming up on four, I didn't think we would have time to find the tube and change a line and get back to Bayswater to meet Barb so we bolted for a bank machine and caught a taxi and were only 10 minutes late. We met Barb in Café Verdi and had a lovely visit. We talked right up until it was time to leave to catch the tube back west to Liverpool St. and meet Dave and Nikki. The weather by this time has started to clear up a bit so we were hopeful. Came out in a massive crowd in Liverpool train station. Apparently there had been some train delays causing the Friday night exodus from London to bottleneck. We went out of the building . . . No Burger King. But I hadn't clarified it with Nikki as to where it actually was and assumed it was outside the station. Back inside and sure enough, we probably walked right past it and her because there she was! We had to wait a few minutes for Dave to arrive and then we left the station. Just as we came out, it started to rain. Thunder and lightening as well but it didn't rain hard. We walked a ways to a bar, dragged a table to a corner where there were chairs and got settled in for a drink. It was crowded and noisy but it didn't really matter and we all got reacquainted.

Later another walk through the dark and quiet City to a restaurant called Pizza Express, a chain type place with gourmet pizza and pasta. It was in the Barbican complex. It was modern, clean, quiet and the pizza was quite good on thin crust. After dinner we walked through the Barbican complex which has a theatre, cinema, restaurants and towers full of very pricey flats. It's very quiet in the City at night. There are people in the pubs and restaurants but the streets are fairly empty. We walked to the St. Paul's underground and wow! There's St. Paul's in all it's magnificence lit up!

We arrived back at the hotel about 10:30 and our train tickets had arrived. The envelope looked like it had been through the wars, it must have walked all the way from Manchester! We found out later when I called Alan the next day that the post office had a signature from the hotel as received the day before we arrived and the envelope must have been mislaid at the hotel! One more mark against it. Tomorrow we go to Greenwich. Hopefully the weather will be more cooperative.

Diane Johnston