Thursday, September 30, 2010

The London Eye

No, we didn't go on the London Eye. Mr. M. has height issues, and I was able to get my views of London from a number of more historical vantage points. A friend took her family on it and shared her pictures--it looked like fun, except...

I have my photos rotating through my laptop as wallpaper, and this morning this picture of the Horse Guards parade grounds was cycling through. A lovely, historic-looking building--with the London Eye curving between two of the roof lines.

Ahem. I don't mean to offend anyone, but am I the only one who thinks the Eye gives the London skyline a bit of a carnival feel?

I have to admit I'm a born and bred Washingtonian--that is, a Washington, D.C. native. We take our skyline very seriously. Buildings in the city can't exceed a certain height. (According to a recent article in The Washington Post, the limit is 130 feet.) There are arguments about this. I understand that it may be more cost effective and efficient to build vertically. The same Post article said that a 30-story tower is going up in Rosslyn, just across the Potomac in Virginia. But I'm very happy with the height ban. I like the horizontal feel of D.C. I like the way it looks--at least the Mall and government buildings. (Another confession--when I was around 13, my girl scout troop visited New York City, and I found all the tall buildings a tad scary.)

Not far from the house I grew up in, a religious group built a very large building. I have no problems with that religion and I actually think the building is quite attractive. What I don't care for is its effect on the skyline. If you've ever driven the Capital Beltway in Maryland, you probably know which building I'm thinking of. When you see it rising out of the trees, you might wonder if you'd detoured to Disneyland.

I have similar feelings about the London Eye.


No, not airport security--walking around security. Keeping your stuff secure and out of pickpockets' hands.

I think I may have gone overboard with this. I got talking to a clerk in a travel shop, and he persuaded me it would be a good idea to take precautions. I bought a waist wallet and a special purse. I even convinced Mr. M to get a man bag. That was a bit of a hard sell, but I told him to think of it as a camera bag--and he did carry his camera in it.

Did we need this stuff? Not sure. I did pick up a brochure at St. Paul's that warned about pickpockets, but I didn't feel any more at risk in London than I do in D.C. or New York. I didn't bother with the waist wallet, but I was happy to have the purse. It wasn't at all stylish, but it gave me piece of mind. It had a handy exterior pocket for my Oyster card and was big enough to hold pretty much everything I needed--camera, scarf, gloves, sunglasses, and most of the research books I bought.

And now that we have this stuff...I guess that means we need to take more trips, eh?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010


I think all our pictures from the trip are now up on my Facebook fan page:

I've gone through and added commentary to most of them, so if you're interested--or just desperately looking for a way to kill time--go on over and enjoy!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A London puzzle

I understand that people drive on the left side of the road in England, but I couldn't figure out which side they walked on. When on a sidewalk, should I bear to the left or the right to avoid oncoming pedestrians?

I thought I should go left, but in the Underground, the automated announcement tells everyone to stand to the right on the escalators so that people walking up or down can pass on the left, just like on our Metro. (Though folks seem better trained in London--maybe there are more announcements. In D.C. people--and yes, we like to blame the tourists--all too often stand two abreast and clog things up.) Sometimes in navigating our way between Underground lines or between the Underground and a train station, signs told us to keep left--but other times they told us to keep right.

On the flight over, the Scotsman sitting next to me said he'd rented a car to tour some of the D.C. suburbs and was very nervous driving on the wrong side of the road. LOL. I hadn't focused on the fact that it would be just as disorienting for someone from Great Britain to get used to our cars and driving pattern as it is for us to adjust to theirs.

And Mr. M and I decided early on that there was no way we were renting a car. Obviously some people can manage it, but we were pretty certain we weren't two of them. We found crossing the street challenge enough.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Too funny

I couldn't resist taking a picture of this sign--Mr. M. actually volunteered to pose with it.

Who are these elderly people? I'm quite sure neither of my parents--my mom died at 88 years of age; my dad at 95--would have considered themselves "elderly."

Sunday, September 26, 2010


This sign cracked me up. (Not all such notices were so polite.)

On one of our many walks across parkland in London--I think it was St. James's Park--a fellow on a bicycle was pedaling in a part of the park where bikes weren't allowed. (Many parks seemed to restrict bikes to designated lanes toward the perimeter of the parkland.) An official was passing in a small truck and called out to the fellow, something along these lines:

Official--You can't ride here, you know. You have to go to cycle over there [gesturing toward the edge of the park].
Cyclist--Oh, sorry. [He proceeds to head to the bike lanes.]

All right, I've totally forgotten exactly how it was--but it sounded so politely British. No yelling, no cursing, no defiance. No rude hand gestures. Mr. M. and I just couldn't picture this kind of restrained exchange happening in the States.

When I asked Mr. M which park this happened in, he thought I was referring to a different cycling drama. Another time when we were traversing Regent's Park, a man who I think was rather older than we are was riding his bike whilst (British word!) berating a young girl (at a guess a teen or early 20 something) also on a bike for not riding responsibly. (As an aside, I don't believe either of them was wearing a helmet, but that's a different issue.) He was apparently neither a relation nor acquaintance, but merely an older member of society who felt it his duty to instruct the young. I take it she'd almost run over a small dog. He was speaking sternly as he pedaled, but not yelling, and while I doubt she was an eager recipient of his message, she seemed to be taking it with relative politeness. At least we didn't hear any cursing or abuse.

Or maybe it's just that anything said with a British accent sounds polite to my American ears.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Getting around

I won't say we chose the most economical options for moving around London and nearby points, but I don't think we went crazy and it sure was easy to get from place to place. We bought everything before we left the States, so we just had to haul out the right pass when it was time to use it. Here's a summary of what we did.

1. Getting to the hotel from the airport. We flew into Heathrow early Sunday morning. While it would have been possible, I think, to get from the airport to our hotel using only the Underground, I thought it best not to choose that route. My main concern was we weren't familiar with the Tube. The D.C. metro is pretty easy to navigate with luggage--though it's not much fun trying to squeeze into a rush hour train with a big suitcase. (I'm pretty sure I've rolled over at least one person's toes in my lifetime.) But Metro has escalators and "roll on" trains--no steps to lift the luggage over. When I've traveled to Boston, I've been able to navigate the "T's" stairs and steps because I'm usually up for only a weekend and have a small suitcase. But there was no way I was going to be able to carry my London suitcase plus messenger bag computer case plus purse anywhere. So we took Heathrow Express--bought the round trip (or, as they say in Britain, return) ticket from BritRail before we left home. The Express runs every fifteen minutes from the airport to Paddington Station. At the station, we grabbed a cab to the hotel. I'd never been in a London cab--you pull your luggage in with you--no trunks.

2. Getting from the hotel into London. The Underground, or Tube, is a dream--or was when we were there. We used an Oyster card--never did figure out why it was called that--which worked just like a Metro SmartTrip card. Unlike with Metro, though, we never had to wait more than about four minutes for a train.

3. Getting out of London for our day trips. We got a four day BritRail pass that let us hop on any train we wanted. I think we could probably have done this more cheaply. For example, it looked like the Oyster card worked out to at least one of our destinations. But I was looking for easy, and this was it.

4. Getting around London. We used the Tube some, but we walked most of the time. Fortunately, we've both been going to the gym regularly, because I don't think we could have done all the walking we did--I'm sure we walked miles and miles--without being in shape. My main concern was getting squashed by a car, bike, or bus. At some corners, the powers that be have helpfully printed in the pavement "look left" with an arrow, since I suspect I'm not the only directionally challenged individual or "look right." I also sought out crossings that had a "walk/don't walk" sign. That green walking man was my friend. But at lots of crossings, I just prayed and tried to stay with the natives.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Laundry day

The last load is in the wash--hooray!! Going off on vacation is great, but coming back is a lot of work.

Whilst the washer and dryer have been doing their thing, I've been trying to catch up on all the email I've let slide. I think I'm closing in on that goal, too.

Meanwhile, I've been over on my Facebook fan page trying to put commentary to my pictures. Oh, my wretched memory. I knew exactly what I--or Mr. M--was taking pictures of at the time, but now... I may have to wait for his help on some of them.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Home Sweet Home

We're home, back in the hot, humid D.C. weather. The flight was fine--except for the detour to Newark due to storms around D.C., but even that wasn't so bad. We ended up being only a little over three hours late. When we landed in Newark, I was imagining all those horror stories of passengers kept prisoners for hours in grounded planes, but thankfully, all was as well as could be expected.

We switched our watches to D.C. time as soon as the plane took off from London, so I'm not even feeling as exhausted as I probably should be.


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Heading home

I'd hoped to post a picture and report of today's events and set a blog to post tomorrow, but my internet time at the hotel ran out. I'm typing this on the business center computer and one or two keys must be in slightly different positions. It's driving me slightly batty.

Anyway, today was more walking around London--the Sir John Soanes museum, the British Museum, lunch at the White Horse pub on Drury Lane, and then an amble down Drury Lane to the Victoria Embankment, across the Millenium Bridge, past the Tate Modern (Okay, we took a bathroom break there and checked out the bookstore), past the Globe Theatre and on to the London Bridge Tube stop. We hopped off one stop before "home" so Mr. M could do something HE wanted to do for once--take a picture on Abbey Road.

Now we're checking in for our flight, printing out boarding passes, and starting to pack. It's been a great trip--I'll probably keep blogging about it for a while as I digest all the events.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Mayfair ramblings

We didn't have to be in town until 10:30 this morning, so we hit the gym again. I discovered that the reason the treadmill had seemed so slow yesterday was because the speeds are in kilometers, not miles per hour. Duh. Not being very good at conversions, I had to guess what to set the speed at by what felt right. Since we were going to do a lot of walking, I didn't spend too much time running.

The reason we had to be in town at 10:30 was I wanted to go on the Old Mayfair London Walk. London Walks puts on a number of organized walks through various parts of London and even farther afield. I was a little disappointed, though, because it wasn't Regency details all the time. I didn't much care about the Victorian and modern stuff--yes, I guess I'm now a card-carrying Regency nut.

Mr. M and I had lunch at The Fountain Restaurant in Fortnum & Mason's. I had a salad of autumnal vegetables--it ended up being very good but not at all what I expected. Mr. M, being somewhat more adventurous, had sardines with soused raspberries.

After lunch I dragged the poor man all over St. James's while I took pictures of buildings. James Lock & Co, pictured above, was founded in 1676 and seems to have been in the same location all these years. (And, yes, they have a web site:

We walked from St. James's through Hyde Park down Rotten Row (complete with three horses and riders!) to Holland Park. Whew.

Only one day left in London! Tomorrow begins at the Sir John Soane's Museum, if all goes according to plan.

Sunday, September 19, 2010


No picture today. My camera's battery died and Mr. M didn't bring his camera on our travels.

We slept in a bit, stayed in London, and actually hit the gym--or Leisure Club as they call it at the hotel. I wondered why I was having such a hard time lifting the weights. I knew I was a bit out of shape, but this was rather alarming...until I realized the weight weren't in pounds but kilograms.

After the gym we went off to church and then to the V & A--Victoria and Albert Museum. It took us a while to figure out how to move around the place--not all stairs go to all floors. I wanted to see British Galleries, 1760 - 1900, which were on level 4. We made it to that level, but we couldn't get to those galleries from where we were--we had to go up to level 5, cross to the other side of the building, and then go back down a different flight of stairs to the part of level 4 I wanted. Mr. M deposited me there and I spent a couple hours studying the rooms that had objects from 1760 to 1820 while he poked around the rest of the museum. The V&A allow you to take photos of the displays--but this is where my camera battery died. Argh! I tried to buy a catalog of the exhibit, but it's out of print at the moment. I so wish I had a photographic memory.

From here we scurried over to Rules, which bills itself as London's oldest restaurant, on Maiden Lane. It was established in 1798, so my characters could well have eaten there. We had a lovely three hour meal (!) and waddled back to the Tube, deciding to put off further London explorations till tomorrow.

Saturday, September 18, 2010


We traveled to Brighton to see the Royal Pavilion, the amazingly grandiose, somewhat bizarre palace Prinny (aka King George IV) built there. I wish we'd been allowed to take pictures inside--the rooms are jaw-droppingly lavish. From there we went down to see the sea. I've never encountered a beach that wasn't sand--this was all large pebbles and stones. I wouldn't want to walk barefoot there, but the guidebook says there's a nude beach farther down the shore. Ouch! And no, we didn't go look. We did stroll up and down the non-Naked beachfront and went out on the very tacky Brighton Pier--we felt we were back at the Jersey, Delaware, or Maryland shore with all the the noise and rides and junk food.

We spent some time exploring the Lanes, narrow streets that are now filled with shops, and ended up having lunch at Jamie's Italian--Mr. M is a fan of Jamie Oliver's cookbooks. (How could he not be? One of the cookbooks is The Naked Chef.) Then after a quick peek in the Brighton Museum and Art Gallery, we caught the train back to London.

We've been so spoiled with beautiful, slightly chilly (especially to my southern blood) weather for our day trips out of the city. Now we're staying in London to finish up our stay. There are too many things to see; Mr. M keeps telling me I have to make choices, but it's so hard!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Leeds Castle

We ventured out to Leeds Castle today. We caught the train to the bus successfully. Whew. We were a little worried about that. The weather was beautiful and so was the castle. It's a fun, if not completely period (for me) site. We enjoyed touring the castle, the gardens, and the aviary and finding out way through the maze and the grotto. We took far too many pictures of the black swans and peacocks.

Tomorrow it's on Brighton.

Thursday, September 16, 2010


We took the train out to Bath today--1 and a half hours each way. We toured the Roman baths and visited the pump room--and yes, I took the waters. Mr. M. didn't care for the taste at all, but I didn't find it so bad. Except for the fact it was warm, it wasn't much worse than drinking the water at the Maryland/Delaware beaches.

We took a look in the Abbey and then headed off to the Royal Crescent to tour Number 1. I'm afraid I put the docents through their paces with all my questions, most of which they could answer very well. Mr. M and I were surprised to discover that the spit in the kitchen had been turned by a dog in a wheel, much like a hamster wheel suspended from the ceiling. Apparently there were dogs bred specifically for this job--and it wasn't a happy one.

Today we did take a break for lunch and then returned to the Royal Crescent to take more pictures. We tried to look in at the Assembly Rooms, but unfortunately they were booked for an event. So we headed off to tour the Herschel Museum of Astronomy and then crossed the Pulteney Bridge--not quite what I was expecting--before getting back on the train.

It was a full day--tomorrow we're off to Leeds Castle.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Out to the country

Today we took the train out of London to Sevenoaks and Knole, the amazing home of Lord Sackville. (And, yes, the family still lives there, though I believe the house is now owned by the National Trust. It is surrounded by a deer park with two kinds of deer, though we either didn't see both kinds or couldn't distinquish between them. We enjoyed walking around the grounds until the house opened at noon.

I've only included one picture here, but I hope to load more onto my Facebook fan page when I have time. To give you a sense of scale, I'm the little blue speck standing in by the doors.

Knole has one of the most extensive, if not the most extensive, collection of Stuart furniture in the world, and the docents were very patient will all my questions.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Day 3--channeling my inner mountain goat

It's too late to post a long report now--bed is calling me, but maybe I'll take an Advil or two first. I suspect I'll have some aching muscles in the morning. We climbed a lot today--stairs at the Tower, stairs to the top of the Monument (for which we got certificates), and then more stairs to the Whispering Gallery at St. Paul's and then higher to an outside outside viewing area called the Stone Gallery at the outside of the dome, and then even higher to the cathedral's tippy top, the Golden Gallery at the base off the lantern. (Mr. MacKenzie is not a fan of heights, so he let me made the final ascent by myself.) Here are two picture I took from the top--you can see the London Eye in the background of the first picture.

Monday, September 13, 2010

We venture into downtown London for the first time

After 12 hours of sleep, we were ready to face London. We took the Tube down to Green Park--I felt right at home, it was so much like the D.C. Metro at rush hour. Then we needed to do some housekeeping and get our London and British Heritage passes.

There is just too much to see and not enough time to see it all. We stopped in Fortnum & Mason and Hatchards next door. (Sadly, no naked nobles in residence.) We walked passed Floris J. Ltd. on Jermyn St. , stopped in to see St. James’s Church, and window shopped through the Burlington Arcade where I saw some fabulously expensive Faberge eggs. Mr. MacKenzie was a trouper.

Then it was on to the National Portrait Gallery, where we looked at the British paintings from the 1700s and 1800s--Turners, Gainsboroughs, Hogarths, and Stubbses. From there we headed down to the House Guards, watched the changing of the guards, looked around the parade grounds, and went through the museum. And yes, I am kicking myself for not getting any pictures of horse and man on guard, though you can see I got one of man alone. I must say those uniforms looked uncomfortable to me. As a reward with putting up with all that, I let Mr. MacKenzie choose the next sight--a tour of the Cabinet War Rooms. Fascinating--and a bit terrifying--but not Regency, of course.

We walked back and forth over Westminster Bridge and visited the Jewel Tower by the Abbey. (And no, there are no jewels in the Jewel Tower, though there used to be jewels there.) Then it was on to the Abbey. One small complaint--Westminster Abbey is very expensive, IMHO. It is also rather overwhelming. We did the audio tour and I still felt I missed seeing so many things. I did like how they asked everyone to pause once an hour for a few minutes of prayer. After all, it is a church.

We walked through St. James’s park and Green Park and saw more interesting waterfowl, including something that looked like a cross between a swan and a pelican, but fortunately we did not see any more rats. I dragged Mr. MacKenzie up Half Moon Street to Curzon and South Audley and Grosvenor Square and then along Upper Grosvenor to Park Lane, trying to recreate some of a scene from The Naked King, but I find it so hard to subtract all the modern bits and see the streets as they might have been almost 200 years ago.

By the way, a friend told me Londoners drive like maniacs and I have to agree. The folks on motor scooters and even bicycles are fearless, out there with the cars and those red double decker buses. And there seem to be many more people on regular bikes than I see at home, though I admit it’s been a while since I’ve been in the city. They act just like cars, stopping at lights and keeping to their lanes. No way I would drive anything here, though. The driving on the “wrong” side of the road would have me crashing in no time, I’m sure. I’m nervous enough I’ll be squashed just crossing the street. Some of the corners have helpful directions in the pavement--“Look left” or “Look right”--but not all of them. I try to stay with the natives and scoot across when they do.

We finished up or day in London with an amble across Hyde Park, our feet protesting that they had had enough. (I saw some more birds--a gray heron, geese, ducks, and coots.) We’d been on the move from 9 am to 6 pm without even stopping for lunch--we grabbed an odd kind of soft ice cream cone and a bottle of water at Westminster Bridge. It was time to hop the tube back to the hotel area and enjoy a nice, relaxed dinner. Since we’ve been skipping lunch, I feel completely justified in having a full course dinner, including dessert.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

We're in London!

We made it across the pond!! The internet connection at ye old hotel is fabulously expensive and we are very busy, so you may not be seeing daily posts. This post was written on Sunday, Sept. 12, but it’s now Tuesday. If I can figure it out, I’ll back date it. Also, adding more than one picture is a bit of a pain, so since time is in short supply, I’m reverting to posting most of the pictures, such as they are, on my Facebook fan page.

The flight over was generally uneventful, so I decided to liven things up a bit by passing out in the aisle about halfway to London. Apparently poor Mr. MacKenzie almost had heart failure. I’m not quite sure what happened, but I was fine when I woke up. I got to chat with the flight attendants in the back of the plane as they gave me oxygen, water, and orange juice. When I wasn’t passing out, I had a nice chat with the chap sitting on my right who was a Scots engineer.

We arrived at Heathrow early, got our luggage, and hopped aboard the Heathrow Express to Paddington Station. We opted for a taxi over the tube from Paddington to our hotel--I had too much stuff to manage the underground if it involved climbing any stairs and far too little sleep. Plus I’d never been in a London taxi nor in a right hand drive vehicle--I was looking forward to the adventure.

Unfortunately, our room wasn’t ready when we arrived, so we parked our stuff with the concierge and prowled the neighborhood for a few hours. We went to church and explored Primrose Hill--what a spectacular view of London! Sadly, my camera did not do justice--and Regents Park. We saw a variety of waterfowl, at least one healthy looking rat, and some non-obscene shrubbery. The we walked over the canal and watched the narrow boats (I think that’s the term) motoring under the bridge. I’ve included a picture of one of the boats.

We finally got into our room around 2 pm London time which, if I’m doing the math correctly, is 9 am “our” time. Frankly, I’m amazed I’m not totally fried, since I think napped a very little bit, if at all. (Though I was out cold for the few seconds it took me to go from vertical to prone in the aisle when I passed out.)

We finished up with dinner at a lovely Indian restaurant.

Tomorrow, it’s into London.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Leaving on a jet plane...

It's September 11, and I will confess to being less than wild about flying today, especially as we'll be leaving from one of the airports involved in the tragedy nine years ago. That was a terrible time. But life goes on, and none of us knows the future--or at least I don't--so I'll climb aboard and hope for the best.

On a cheerier note, I want to say thank you to whoever invented the rolling suitcase.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Long, long ago

I pulled out the old photo books--yes, this was long before digital cameras--to look at the snapshots I took the last time I was in London. Let's say I didn't show any early talent as a photographer. I also have very few pictures of me or my traveling companion. My best friend in high school was Dutch; her father was at the Dutch embassy in Denmark so after we graduated, we got Eurorail passes and backpacked around, staying in youth hostels. Frankly, I'm still amazed that my parents went for that plan. So here's a picture of Piccadilly Circus--or at least that's what I wrote on the back on the photo.

And here's Big Ben.

And here's the only picture I could find of me. I think it was taken in Switzerland. Nice bovines in the background, eh?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The experiment begins

True confession time--I'm not a huge fan of blogging. You'll see me post around the web when I have a book coming out, but besides that I've pretty much avoided the blogosphere.

So why start now? Mostly because I'm off to London--yay!--and want a way to organize and share my pictures. Not everyone is on Facebook, ya know?

And, okay, I'm hoping by posting things as I go along, I'll remember what the heck I saw. However, all this depends on my computer playing nicely with English electricity and internet connections.

This may be the shortest blog in the short history of blogdom.

So please bear with me as I stumble about here. And don't expect perfection. If I sweat over these words as much as I do over the words in my book, I'll wave the white flag immediately.

I'll leave you with the cover of my current release, The Naked Viscount, which came out in June...if I can remember how to upload pictures and IF blogger likes me.