Monday, July 04, 2005

To London We Go!

Time to go!
We got up around 8:30 AM and made up our beds, had a light breakfast of cereal (Choco Hoops... blah version of Cocoa Puffs) with whole milk (too warm for my taste), toast with raspberry jam and tea, stuffed the van with our bags and off we went. We stopped by the locked postal box and I sent out 2 post cards (1 for Aurora's Godmother and the other for a friend with no computer) and Paul and Sherilee posted some bills out as well. We made a quick stop in Lytham at Barclay's bank as Sherilee wanted Euro's for Paris. It was nearly 11AM when we headed out onto the M5 or M6 (one of those) the same one we came in on from Manchester. Paul hooked up his dad's GPS to guide the way to Staines. The GPS was rather amusing to us, as it has a lovely English accented lady voice and always says things like "Please turn left in 180 yards..." and so on. It is a very polite GPS! A few hours in we took a toll lane to go the fastest route we could take (much of the way was around 85 miles per hour). It made for fairly fast travel across England. We made a stop outside Birmingham one of England's larger cities at the Road Chef. There are many versions of Road Chef... such as Little Chef or Moto which are great stops when traveling across England. These are very clean facilities with showers and lavatories, fast foods, coffee, groceries, maps etcetera including massage chairs if you want to put a pound or two in for a massage. We stopped here for a break and ate our packed lunch of sandwiches, chips and cookies in the car (mind you that chips here are called "crisps") along with some cold water and soda's. We were back on the road by 1:30 or so.
Staines & Trains
We arrived in Staines and had to wait a bit for a parking space, as the intent was to leave the van here for 4 days while we went to London and Paris. We had to wait a bit, but finally got a spot after 20 minutes or so. Sherilee D. went in and got a parking permit for the week as well as picking up the train tickets into London and for our return. The trains come about every 10 to 15 minutes or so, so it is never a long wait. We boarded and had a nice treat to one of the newer Southwestern Trains. The seats were lovely and plush on a bright blue train with lovely royal blue carpets. The train made 4 or 5 stops at other stations along the way and before we knew it, we had arrived at Waterloo Station in London...when exiting or boarding...we have learned to "Mind the Gap" and you are reminded to do this often so you do not fall between the platforms and the trains!
Waterloo Station & The Wellington at Waterloo
This is a huge train station! There are tons of food vendors and little shops just beyond the boarding/exiting platforms. All manor of foods and little shops fill the station under a large covered roof with a skeleton type rafter system and old glass ceiling. There are people everywhere going here and there. This station has access to the underground trains, the Eurostar that we will take to Paris as well as the trains that leave for points outside of London. It is a very busy place and full of hustle bustle and excitement. We finally got out of the station after a few minutes of which way to we go turns and and across one of the roads we found our hotel on a corner facing the station. We are staying at The Wellington at Waterloo which is a hotel that is next to and over a Pub. This was a very handy access choice as we will have to report to the station in the morning to get the Eurostar at 5:30AM to go to Paris. The Pub was really neat with decorations on the ceilings depicting the battle of Waterloo...making the British look very stern and brave and the French look terrified. The ceiling had the sky and the side ceilings with the battles on them and a clock shaped like Wellington's famous hat as well. The furnishings were a bit worn but comfy. The hotel has a private entrance once you check in next to the bar area. The smokers are here in the pub and barely tolerable, but we are not sleeping in the pub! Our room was number 23 and way up 3 flights of narrow winding stairs. A bit of a challenge here with the case Jeff and I packed, but Jeff (my personal male pack mule) managed quite nicely. Our room was nicely sized and will win no decor' prizes, but it was okay for taking for the night so we could get back to the station early and readily. We put the cases away and went out to explore!
A Bus Tour of London, Dinner, Piccadilly Circus
We went out and walked to the Tower of London to here the bell "Big Ben" playing over our heads and took a photo opportunity on one of the many bridges over the River Thames. We wandered a bit more and then got on a double decker sightseeing tour bus for a couple stops to get on another one with a better tour with a live guide (same line so we did not have to pay any extra). The bus took us past Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, Parliament, the Tower Clock (aka Big Ben), over the Tower Bridge over the Thames, past the residences of Margaret Thatcher (she still has private guards!) Sean Connery apartment and Sir Elton John's as well. We also went past Trafalger Square and much more. We got off near Piccadilly Circus (photo is off web...I have yet to post ours...but it was wet like this when we were there and the signs are nearly all the same) and went to the Angus steakhouse for our dinner. We had really good steaks and side dishes and desserts...perhaps too good, as we spent 155£ for our meal! It was an excellent meal by all counts with two bottles of wine and we enjoyed our Scottish waiter who had a good sense of humor. Afterwards we walked up toPiccadillyy Circus to watch the lights flashing on the big signs with Coca Cola commercials and much more. We took a few photo moments and watched the night time London life about us. We walked on and went to a late night tourist shop and picked up a few touristy bits. We walked into the cinema area next toPiccadillyy Circus where they premiere the movies here...they have a walk similar to our star walk in Hollywood... and you can check your hands against Sean Connery, Arnold Schwartzenegger's and many many more. We went down to the underground and picked up an underground train to Waterloo and got up to our rooms some time around midnight. Quick showers, alarm set for 4AM and we are very excited. YAWN...soon we will be off to Paris.


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