Category Archives: England and U.K.

Hanging out at Gatwick – London (sort of)

Playing post-vacation catch up:

It’s tempting to jump on a train and visit my beloved London during this 7 hour layover but a number of things are holding me back, including my arm, which doesn’t hurt but slows me down. “Been through the war?” the immigration woman said to me with uncharacteristic humor.

Fact is, I’d have only 3 hours max before I need to head back to the airport for check in. And protests are expected in London because Trump is visiting. (I just avoided him in Helsinki, where he and Putin are summitting in a few days.)

I wasn’t planning to go through immigration here but my Norwegian Air representative recommended this, even if I don’t go out of the airport because apparently it offers more comfortable options for waiting around than departures. Good to know for future reference.

I slept a bit last night but was up by 3:30 a.m. to watch my cell alarm go off at 4. My Airbnb host Annamari was sleeping on the living room couch (I had her room) but got up to give me a hug goodbye. It was kind of an odd Airbnb arrangement but she was sweet and the price was good ($70 a night). The 11 minute walk to the bus was easy and because it was almost full daylight I didn’t feel spooked dragging my suitcase through neighborhood streets at night. Oddly, I had to pay with cash (5.50 euros) which is the opposite of other Scandinavian countries that have become almost cashless.

Kallio Airbnb

As I pulled my suitcase through the outskirts of Kallio, several young people were out and about, at a karaoke bar and the McDonald’s. The airport bus was packed at 4:30 am but Helsinki airport was very quiet at 5:15 am. My first flight was easy and not too uncomfortable. I think I slept. Next one could be a bear.

Airbnb room

But hey, just found some reclining lounge chairs here, looking down through the glass at people checking in for flood flights. Feels almost like a day at the beach except there is no sun or sea or beach and a baby is wailing nearby. And three security guards just passed by with a sniffing dog.

P.S. As it turned out, my flight to  Chicago was delayed two hours because the pilot was missing. not a promising sign.  He did eventually show and we flew on without incident. Forgot what a pit Gatwick is. Chicago Midway looked bright and shiny by comparison the next day.

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Filed under airport/flight safety, England and U.K., Scandinavia

When next in NYC, LA, SF or London – April Bloomfield’s picks

This from a NYTimes Q and A with chef April Bloomfield, whose restaurants we’ve recently gone to (Coombeshead Farm in Cornwall; the Spotted Pig in NYC).

London recommendations:  in Hackney, Violet (cute tea shop/bakery); in Shoreditch, Lyle’s (“clean simple food”)

In LA: Hearth& Hound (her new place in Hollywood for “wood-fired food.”)

In San Francisco: her place, Tosca Cafe or Marin Brewing Company (in Marin)

In NYC: her places – Breslin Bar & Dining or the John Dory in Flatiron district; White Gold Butchers, Salvation Taco.; recommendations – Kunjip in Koreatown.

 

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Filed under DINING, London, Los Angeles, New York City, San Francisco, Uncategorized

Latest London suspected terrorist bombing hits close to home: Parsons Green

On Hammersmith Bridge near Fulham, July 2017

Parsons Green was my tube station when I lived in London’s Fulham neighborhood in the 1980’s and remains a place I regularly visit old friends as I did again during my trip to London in July. The news of what appears to be a terrorist attack there jolted me this morning. Parsons Green is near a little park in a quiet southwest London neighborhood that has gentrified into a posh place since I lived there. It feels almost suburban although it’s not far from bustling urban areas. I’m trying to think of an equivalent neighborhood subway stop in Chicago or New York.  Maybe Brooklyn’s Park Slope neighborhood or Chicago’s Lincoln Park? Yet again, I’ve emailed my London pal Francine to make sure everyone’s okay and she responded: Yes. But what a world we live in….

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Unexpected sights/sites in England– palm trees and Stonehenge

“What are all those people doing up there?” my husband asked, pointing to a faraway hillside where a crowd was gathered. We were driving west of London toward Shaftesbury and eventually Lyme Regis in Dorset at the time and just getting used to driving on the left side of the road in a manual car with a leftie stick-shift. Gulp.

As we got closer and closer, we realized that – as we surmised – this was Stonehenge.  We were amazed. We could see it very clearly from the motorway and I crossed it off my list of things to see (it hadn’t been high but I was curious). I’m sure it would be even more impressive if we were closer and it towered over us but we were somewhat awed by seeing it even from a distance.

The other surprising sight came a few days later near the southwest tip of England in southwest Cornwall– around Lands End and Cape Cornwall. Palm trees! In England. Apparently known as the “Cornish Palm.”  (Cordyline australis). Below is one in Penzance.

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Morning in Devon, long drive to London via (Dorset) West Bay, Netherbury and Beaminster/Dorset — goodbye (for now) England 

Breakfast hamper in Devon

(a week ago…although it seems much longer…)

We hung around at the Devon farm Airbnb longer than usual, in part, because I needed wifi in order to checkin to my British Air flight 24 hours in advance and change my seat assignment, which as I suspected was a middle seat. (One of the annoying things I discovered about BA is that you can’t pick your own seat without paying $38, more than 24 hours before departing — a bit obnoxious for a round trip flight that cost over $1000…or in my case lots of credit card miles.) But I was happy to kick back, enjoy the lovely breakfast hamper that our host Sarah delivered to our cottage door with fresh homemade granary bread, multi-colored eggs from her chickens, raspberries and strawberries from the garden.

The Airbnb was deep in the countryside, north of Launceton, after a right turn at the pub in St. Giles on the Heath and a drive to the hamlet of Virginstow along another high-hedged, essentially one-lane, winding road that at times made me feel slightly claustrophobic. I generally love country lanes but the ones en this neck of the woods — literally the really wooded ones that form a tunnel, as opposed to the ones through open fields that you generally can’t see due to the hedges — were sometimes spooky, especially at night. (Maybe it’s a good thing I put off reading Daphne De Maurier’s “Jamaica Inn”, a spooky book set near where we stayed in Cornwall, although now I am more interested in finishing it.)

Dirck and I wandered around the farm, past the sheep and “rescue chickens,” the fruit, veg and flowers in the garden, the wood fence and beyond, a bucolic valley of fields stretching far into the distance.

In the church cemetery across the road from our Airbnb, we found a 19th century headstone for a “Betsy,” which was surprising since I rarely see my name anywhere, let alone in England. I also had a nice chat with our 34-year-old host who recently quit city life and a city job i to buy the old farm, fix it up and start the Airbnb (which despite its remote location gets guests from Europe, South America and us Yanks).

The three Airbnbs we’ve stayed at in England were excellent! Part of it may be that I am getting pretty good at picking and I don’t go for the dirt cheap ones (if they even exist) but beyond that, the English hosts seem to be particularly good at hosting and providing a good approximation of the English country life admired by anglophiles like me.

Our drive home was longer than expected, in part because we got waylaid for an hour (argh) in and around Exeter when the nice big A motorway we were on suddenly became a town center traffic jam. We ended up getting out of it by taking another smaller A road in the wrong direction and then having to take a series of tiny no-letter/no-number/high-hedged lanes that often seemed to lead nowhere useful but eventually did. We were amazed at the variety of  roads we traveled on during a short drive and how close they were to each other, from a multi-lane motorway, to a two-lane  (barely) road to a high-hedged lane.

In Dorset, we drove in and out of West Bay, where the TV show Broadchurch is filmed, long enough to see the back of the big sandy beach cliff where some dramatic scenes were shot. Way too many tourists. Fortunately my friend Marion had mentioned a lovely little Dorset village  nearby where she stays, Netherbury, so we sought refuge there. If only it had a pub. By the time we got to the larger town of Beaminster nearby, the pubs weren’t serving lunch any more so we ended up a a little bakery cafe for a few savory tarts.

To get back to our friends’ house in Mortlake, we pulled out the “Sat Nav” which was a big help. (Most of the time I relied on an AZ book of road maps Francine kindly lent us.) Driving in residential southwest London is not easy. The windy streets are narrow and confusing but with the help of “Tracy” (our friends’ name for the Sat Nav voice) we made it to the Mortlake house and even found  a parking spot (several actually) in time to have dinner one last dinner with Una.

Mortlake meal

This morning, without Tracy’s help, we gave ourselves extra time to drive the rental car to Heathrow  and even though I’d made several screenshots of the google map to Heathrow, we still made a few wrong turns. Fortunately a woman walking her dog at 7:45 a.m on a Sunday morning helped us and we were soon out of the tangle of neighborhood streets and onto the M4, heading to sprawling Heathrow, where we eventually found rental car return signs (near terminal 4 and 5 for future reference) and gladly returned our car.

Heathrow was packed thanks to the start of the school holidays so I was glad to have 2.5 hours of time. BA flight attendants were on strike, which affected our service  (no second meal although the first one included a surprisingly edible Chicken Tikka, scant ice for the drinks, a non-functioning computer map and iffy movie reception).  A few nice touches — free newspapers available before stepping onto the plane so I loaded up on the Times and the Mail (The Observer wasn’t offered but fortunately I’d already bought one.) Goodbye England. I’ll be back.

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Filed under Airlines, b&b, England and U.K., LODGING

Bike riding in Richmond Park, late Sunday lunch with English and Aussie friends

( a few weeks ago….)

Flat out gorgeous weather today, for the first time during this trip. And we put it to good use. Francine and I hopped on bikes and rode a few miles to Richmond Park, which was full of Sunday strollers and riders and deer with antlers moving in great packs. Blue sky, sunshine, light breeze, gravelly dirt paths. We rode the circular path all around the park about 7 miles. It was largely flat except for one big hill. Just  beyond some of the entrance gates I could vaguely see posh brick homes in “The London Borough of Rich People on Thames” (a phrase coined by my friends here…)

This afternoon, Francine’s relatives came for a late lunch and we had a great meal including Pavlova prepared by someone who knows her pavs…Francine’s step mum who lives in Sydney and grew up in New Zealand. (Lesson learned: pile on a lot more fruit than I have done in the past to offset the sweet merengue. Try kiwi as well as berries.)

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Filed under England and U.K., London

The Dove/Hammersmith, Kew Gardens – lovely London

( a week or so ago)

It has been such a treat to ride bikes in London. When I lived here in my early 20s, I rode my bike all over the city but not along the Thames Path, that I can remember. Today, we rode toward Hammersmith from Mortlake (I think we were riding east on the south side of the river but the river is so curvy it’s hard to tell.) I never noticed how beautiful the Hammersmith Bridge was until I walked a bike across it. On the north side of the river, we lucked out with an outside table overlooking the river at The Dove, a great old pub with excellent food (fish and chips, chicken liver “parfait” — pate with sprinkles of pork skin crackle and a dab of homemade applesauce). We chatted with an interesting English couple who just moved back to London after 10 years in D.C

After lunch, we discovered that we’d parked our bikes in front of the William Morris Society — my second encounter with WM and the place offered some interesting sounding  classes or lectures. The bike/walking path was a little harder to follow on the north side but we rode past pretty old houses and boat or athletic clubs and a golf course before crossing Chiswick bridge and riding the path to the Brentford  Gate of Kew Gardens to meet Francine and Russ. We had a scary time trying to cross several lanes of traffic on the bridge so we could get back on the Thames Path (next time, we need to ride across the bridge’s east side.)

Kew was lovely. We had Pimms (a tad overpriced but location, location, location) on patio at The Orangery, overlooking gardens and huge gorgeous trees, visited the crazy clever “hive” – a sculptural depiction of a giant bee hive with lights and soft music somehow aligned with real bee activity in real hives nearby, and took in the veg gardens. Also enjoyed Sackler Bridge –  a pedestrian bridge across a narrow lake. Our only complaint was the signage, especially to out of the way spots like Queen Charlotte’s  cottage. I love London.

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Filed under biking, England and U.K., London