Meeting Friends in Coventry

Our transportation, accommodation, food and entertainment cost so far

Sep 10 ~ Day #123
Budget to date
Spent today
Total to date
Daily average
Total
$12300
$56.82
$11121.04
$90.41
Miles by Road
Miles by Sea
Miles by Air
Miles by Train
Total Miles
13905+88=13993
4451
5180
119
23743

Current Location: Coventry, UK

Today’s Total Expenses: $56.82

Transportation: $55.40 (£27.00 bus to Coventry + £8.00 for Tube)
Accommodation: $0.00
Food: $1.42 (£0.90 – juice)
Entertainment: $0.00

Miles Traveled Today:
Road Miles: 88 (London to Coventry)

Losing Money to an Automated Ticket Machine

Well, we were all packed and checked out of our hotel in time to make our way to Victoria Station and catch a bus to Coventry to meet up with our friends T & E.

So, there we were with our loaded up backpacks getting our tickets, or at least trying to, for the Docklands Light Rail and the Tubes in order to get to Victoria Station.

Unlike our other days in London, when we would get an all-day ticket, today we just needed one way for each of us.

We pushed all the right buttons and started putting our £1.00 and £2.00 coins into the slot. However, the machine neglected to register – or return – one of the £2.00 coins and, of course, wouldn’t give us our tickets because it was still expecting another £2.00. So, we fed it another £2.00 so we could get out tickets.

We noticed there was a gentleman collecting money from the other ticket machines and resetting them. What luck! we thought.

We approached him and explained the problem – the machine had taken £2.00 more than it was entitled to. Could he please correct the problem?

Well, apparently he only collects the money from the machines and has nothing to do with fixing them or making refunds in such cases.

All he could do was refer us to the customer service number and the customer service email address. He also advised us to take down the number of the machine that had screwed up.

Truthfully, he wasn’t very helpful or understanding at all. But, we thought, we could talk to a real person when we got to the Tubes and perhaps they could do something.

Well, no they couldn’t. Apparently the DLR (Docklands Light Rail) is actually operated by another company and all he could do was give us the same customer service info. But, at least he wished us luck!

Small World

After getting off the Tubes at Victoria Station we had a bit of a walk to get to the bus. Remember now, we’re traveling with fully loaded backpacks.

With all this exercise it seems only fair that we should be losing some weight, but things never seem to work that way. Sigh.

Anyway, as we were trudging along towards the bus station we noticed someone displaying a Canadian flag on their backpack, just like we were.

So, we said “Hi”.

Our fellow Canadian has just arrived – that morning – from Montreal en route to visit a friend. She was also heading towards the bus station but wasn’t exactly sure of where she needed to be going.

Having been to the bus station on previous days, we were able to point her in the right direction.

It always amazes me what a small world this truly is – and – how many Canadians seem to be traveling in any given country at any given time.

Arriving in Coventry

After a pleasant enough bus ride we arrived in the Coventry bus station and looked around for our friends.

Not seeing them right away we headed for a bank of pay phones and gave them a call.

They had been waiting for our call as they weren’t sure if we would be arriving by bus or by train.

Unfortunately, we neglected to ask them where we should meet them at the bus station so we tried to pick what seemed like a good spot just outside the bus station and waited for them to drive by.

After just a few minutes, E came out of the bus station and said that T was parked just a short walk away.

It was good to see them again as it had been several years, though we had stayed in touch by email and Skype.

Take-Away Indian Food

The meal for this evening was to be take-away Indian food and it was delicious and the company was wonderful.

We were staying at the boarding house where T stays during the week until we left for the narrowboat trip on Monday.

Back to Victoria Station

Our transportation, accommodation, food and entertainment cost so far

Sep 09 ~ Day #122
Budget to date
Spent today
Total to date
Daily average
Total
$12200
$113.79
$11064.22
$90.69
Miles by Road
Miles by Sea
Miles by Air
Miles by Train
Total Miles
13905
4451
5180
119
23655

Current Location: Customs House, London, England

Today’s Total Expenses: $113.79

Transportation: $19.94 (£12.60 transit pass)

Accommodation: $75.64

Food: $18.21 (£11.50 – groceries at Sainsburys)

Back to Victoria Station

It was a good thing that we had planned to do more sightseeing in London today.

After getting back to our hotel we noticed that the tickets we had bought to Coventry had been issued incorrectly. One of them was correct – for tomorrow (Friday), however, the other one had been issued for the day we purchased it – yesterday!

We were lucky to get the same gentleman that had issued the tickets for us yesterday and struck his forehead with the palm of his hand and said, “Yes, that sounds like something I might do.” And, he immediately issued a corrected ticket and all was well.

More Sightseeing in London

There is just so much to see in London that you can’t possibly do it all in just a few days.

But we were able to add the following places to the list of things we’d seen:

The Tower of London

It is strange to see such a well known piece of British history being encroached on all sides by the city of London itself.

We did a circuit of the buildings, and even saw traitor’s gate where Elizabeth, along with less fortunate personages, would have traveled through. The area simply drips with history.

Again, we were not able to take the tour inside as it was out of our budget. Sometimes traveling on a tight budget can be too restricting. But, at least we’re here.

Tower Bridge

Tower Bridge is another magnificent structure that is not to be missed.

Less informed people, over the years, have referred to it as London Bridge, which is, of course, wrong.

Dinner in the Park

By dinner time we were almost dead on our feet. There was a small park near a Sainsburys grocery store and so we stopped into the store and bought items for a lovely picnic.

We then headed off to the park and thoroughly enjoyed a relaxing, unhurried dinner among trees, grass, birds and even the odd squirrel.

Getting Ice Can be a Challenge

Having spent most of our time in North America, having ice in your drinks is just normal.

We have also been used to having a ice bucket in any hotel room we have stayed at with an ice machine just down the hall.

Not so in our hotel in London.

When we asked at the front desk where we might get some ice, we were told that we could get it from the restaurant. (That’s the same restaurant where we had the FABULOUS fish and chips on our first night in London.)

So, we stopped into the bar and asked for ice. We got a glass full of ice to take back to our room with us.

Not exactly what we expected but it sufficed for our needs as we just wanted some ice to chill some drinks we had bought at Sainsburys and brought back to our rooms with us.

Again, another wonderful day in London.

Going Home

Our transportation, accommodation, food and entertainment cost so far

Sep 08 ~ Day #121
Budget to date
Spent today
Total to date
Daily average
Total
$12100
$114.03
$10950.43
$90.50
Miles by Road
Miles by Sea
Miles by Air
Miles by Train
Total Miles
13905
4451
5180
119
23655

Current Location: Custom House, London

Today’s Total Expenses: $114.03

Transportation: $19.59 (£12.60 for the Tubes)
Accommodation: $75.64
Food: $18.80 (£11.98 for Bangers & Mash)

Written by Geoff Wells

I grew up in England. From the time I was born to when I emigrated to Canada at the age of 17 we lived in the same house in a suburb of London called Edgware.

Our local underground station was called Queensbury, which was on the Bakerloo Line. Directly opposite the Queensbury underground station was the Esoldo Theatre which was a marvelous old building with an elegant restaurant on the balcony level. My mother and I would stop in for afternoon tea on our walk home from my piano lessons.

My parents purchased our home before the Second World War and had lived there during the London Blitz. I didn’t come along until after my dad got out of the army.

It’s not a big house, just two bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs with a living room, dining room and kitchen downstairs. We had a good sized back garden where dad grew all kinds of fresh vegetables. The front garden was a typical English floral garden with lots of fabulous smelling roses.

Today I was going home for the first time in more than 45 years. I expected there would be changes but I was not prepared for what I found.

We caught the DLR (Dockland Light Rail) train at the Custom House stop and made our way to the Jubilee Line.

Some time, about 10 years ago, the Bakerloo Line got shifted around and my home stop was now on the newly created Jubilee Line.

Okay, you have to expect some changes after 45 years, even in England. Nothing really looked familiar until we got to the Kingsbury Station which is the stop before Queensbury. This is a journey I made every day when working at my first job in London. The Queensbury station was familiar but much smaller than I remember.

The Esoldo Theatre was replaced by a seedy looking apartment building. Everywhere I looked were buildings that were familiar but nothing looked quite right.

The walk from the station to my old home was much shorter than I remembered and the houses along the way were looking tired and in need of care.

My dad and neighbours on the street were proud of their gardens and worked tirelessly on wonderful displays of flowers. All the gardens were gone, concreted over to provide parking spaces.

On a whim I rang the bell on the my house not really expecting anyone to be home. We saw the curtains move and then a lady with a head scarf opened the door.

I explained who I was and surprisingly she invited us in. I’m sure if Vicky had not been with me she would not have done so. She very graciously showed us around and even offered us refreshments.

From the street the house looked close to how I remembered it. The garden was gone and the front door was different but I could still reconcile my memories with today’s reality.

Inside was a different story – nothing was the same. It was so small – there was no way the furniture I remember could possibly have fit.

We had three fireplaces in the house and they were all gone. The wall separating the living room and dining room had been torn down and the two downstairs fireplaces were covered by built-in closets.

The kitchen and pantry had changed so much there was no way I could fit my mental picture into what I was seeing.

When I was young, my brother had built in cupboards on one wall but I ripped them out and put the head of my bed where they had been. This gave much more room but ironically now the new owners have built a new set of built-in cupboards where the old ones had been 50 years ago.

The next stop was the shopping parade on Mollison Way. This is where we went every day for groceries, meat and bread. At the head of the parade was the Flying Eagle Pub, the off-license and the fish and chip shop.

The Flying Eagle is now an Indian restaurant and the fish and chip shop now sells kebabs.

Not a single shop is the same – groceries, butcher, green grocer, fish monger, drug store, bakers – all gone. There is still a Post Office in the news agents but the store is totally different.

We continued walking as I struggled to find anything familiar. We kept going right into Edgware and the site of another favourite theatre that had been torn down and replaced with apartments. Both the butchers and the hardware store I had worked at as a kid were gone.

I gave up. This was not anything like the area I grew up in and nothing was familiar. We caught a bus that would take us along the Edgware Road back to London.

I am not naive enough to believe that I could return and find everything exactly like I left it but I did expect some degree of familiarity. At the very least, I would hope for improvements, but I didn’t see any.

The new residents of this area do not seem to share the same values as my parents.

My father paid £500 for our house which is now worth £250,000 but I don’t think I would want to move back even if I could get it for what my dad paid.

My home is gone and all that is left are the memories.

Exploring London

Our transportation, accommodation, food and entertainment cost so far

Sep 07 ~ Day #120
Budget to date
Spent today
Total to date
Daily average
Total
$12000
$110.76
$10836.40
$90.30
Miles by Road
Miles by Sea
Miles by Air
Miles by Train
Total Miles
13905
4451
5180
119
23655

Current Location: Customs House, London, England

Today’s Total Expenses: $110.76

Transportation: $19.94 (£12.60 transit passes)

Accommodation: $75.64

Food: $15.18 (£9.59 dinner & cider)

Miles Traveled Today:
While we are in London we won’t be counting any of the miles we put on by just exploring the city. We’ll only add miles when we’re actually traveling from one place to another.

Dealing With the Transit Strike

Being Canadian we are not strangers to transit strikes but I’ve got to say that I’ve never experienced such a polite strike – really.

Let me explain.

Not all of the lines were shut down during the transit strike which meant you could still get around if you knew how to circumvent the areas that were closed.

Well, not knowing the transit system we thought we wouldn’t be able to get anywhere.

Not so! At each station that had a portion of the tubes, or buses, closed, there were several transit employees telling you how you could get around the closures – honestly.

We were simply amazed and we were able to use the tubes get to the sightseeing that we wanted to do today.

How very, very civilized.

Beautiful Sunny Day in London

As if to offset the problems of the transit strike, London greeted us with a bright sunny day.

We spent the day trying to take in some of the more famous landmarks such as:

Big Ben

Big Ben was right where it was supposed to be and I was certainly excited to see it.

It wasn’t as much of an experience for Geoff as he had grown up near London and had seen Big Ben many, many times during his youth.

I had expected it to be all out on its own, but it was still very recognizable for a new tourist like me.

Parliament

The Parliament buildings are quite impressive and you can actually go into them when parliament is sitting and witness government in action.

I was tempted, but we were there too early. We were told when parliament would be sitting later that day but then figured that government is government and it was likely to be pretty boring anyway.

But it was still an experience to see the seat of power.

Buckingham Palace

Naturally, as this was my first trip to England, I simply had to see Buckingham Palace.

I’m afraid to say that it was a bit of a disappointment. It’s just a rectangular gray building and I was expecting more of a “castle” feel to it.

Also, they were not doing the changing of the guards the day we were there, so I didn’t get to see that either.

They did have tours of certain rooms of Buckingham Palace. Apparently they do this kind of thing very infrequently.

However, the admission fee was £17.00 each (almost $27 US) and was, therefore, out of our budget. Perhaps we will have the opportunity to see it another time we are in London.

Hyde Park and Speakers Corner

We also stopped into Hyde Park with the express purpose of seeing Speakers Corner.

Hyde Park is a beautiful large park in the heart of London. A great place to stroll or picnic on such a lovely day and there were lots of people taking advantage of the lovely weather.

Unfortunately there was no one at Speakers Corner giving their opinion on whatever they chose to. Again, perhaps on our next trip to London.

Royal Cavalry

We also stumbled across the Royal Cavalry Stables and wandered around a bit.

There really wasn’t much to see but there were some rather impressive soldiers there.

10 Downing Street

I had told Geoff that, naturally, I wanted to see 10 Downing Street while we were in London. That is, of course, the residence of the Prime Minister.

He kept telling me that it was simply a door with a guard standing outside and nothing more. But, I would not be deterred.

So, we found where it was but Downing Street was closed off to all but official traffic and we couldn’t get anywhere near 10 Downing itself.

We asked the police guarding this entrance and he told us that this had been done by Margaret Thatcher during the difficulty with the IRA and these measures are still in place.

All in all, it was a great sightseeing day for me and a review for Geoff.

The Best Fish & Chips – EVER!

Our transportation, accommodation, food and entertainment cost so far

Sep 06 ~ Day #119
Budget to date
Spent today
Total to date
Daily average
Total
$11900
$147.94
$10725.64
$90.13
Miles by Road
Miles by Sea
Miles by Air
Miles by Train
Total Miles
13905
4451
4418+762=5180
95+24=119
23655

Current Location: Custom House Hotel, London, England

Today’s Total Expenses: $147.94

Transportation: $37.72 (£24.00 – train from Gatwick to London)

Accommodation: $75.64

Food: $34.58 (£22.00 – real English Fish & Chips)

Miles Traveled Today:
Air Miles: 762 (Madrid to Gatwick)
Train Miles: 24 (Gatwick to London hotel)

Madrid to London

We didn’t have a direct flight to London from Miami. We opted to change planes at Madrid because that was the least expensive flight we could get and we didn’t need to arrive in London at a specific time. Our hotel was already booked and they would hold our room even if we were late arriving.

Lots of Waiting

Even though we only had a two-hour layover in Madrid it seemed like a lot of time to wait around. As we were simply changing planes we didn’t have to go through Spanish customs or immigration.

After a nine-hour flight, though, the thought of just sitting around simply didn’t appeal, so we started walking along the corridors and browsing in some of the shops.

Sleep on a Plane?

As Geoff mentioned, the flight to Madrid was an overnight flight in pretty cramped conditions. If I got an hour’s sleep I think myself lucky. I just couldn’t get comfortable.

However, it seems, that by the time we arrived in Madrid I was way passed tired and had gotten my second wind.

Now I just wanted us to be on our way again so we could finally get to England.

First Glimpses of England

Geoff had often mentioned the English countryside but I just couldn’t envision it. It seemed to me that in a country so small there really couldn’t be much countryside left.

Well, I was certainly wrong.

As we were coming in to land at Gatwick Airport I noticed it was surrounded by countryside. One field I noticed seemed to have little white dots all over it and then it finally dawned on me – sheep – those were sheep!

It was nothing like flying into Toronto or Chicago or LA.

Then the plane touched down and I was in England! And, Geoff was back after an absence of 47 years!

Customs and Immigration

I always hate this part of flying, almost as much as I hate going through security to get on a flight in the first place.

There were two lines – one for those with EU passports and one for everyone else.

Our line actually seemed shorter but we figured it would take longer. We had filled out our customs and immigration form and just waited in the line until it was our turn.

It seems that no matter where we have to queue up for anything we always get behind the wrong people. And, this seemed like it would be no exception.

The people being interviewed by immigration just ahead of us were really being given the third degree. A supervisor was even called over for one person.

Even though there were three officers on duty for our line, they all seemed to have people that required rigorous questioning.

However, when we finally got our turn, we got the most pleasant officer and were through in no time. When we picked up our backpacks we were just waved through customs. It was really almost painless.

Getting from Gatwick to London

We knew there were trains or buses from Gatwick to London. Now we just had to find out how to get one that would take us to our hotel.

British Rail

We found a British Rail desk and spoke to the person on duty and told him where we needed to go.

He said it was no problem and then very quickly explained to us what we needed to do. He spoke so fast, and, of course, with a lovely British accent, so we had to ask him to repeat his instructions – and slowly this time.

Apparently we could catch a train from the airport and take it to London Bridge, from London Bridge we would pick up the Tube and from the Tube we would pick up the Dock Light Rail to the Custom House Station.

Perfect! Our hotel was right at the Custom House Station.

We purchased our tickets – one ticket that would be good for everything – the train, the tubes and the light rail – and headed off to catch our train.

The British Transit System

Another thing that Geoff had always told me was how good the British Transit System is. He’s always said you can get anywhere using local transportation.

Our trip from Gatwick to our hotel was a fascinating experience for me. A fairly long train ride and the train took us right into the Tube station, then on the Tube to the Dockland Light Rail.

Oooops!

We only did one thing wrong along the way. We didn’t realize that at the light rail station there was a choice of two different trains with, of course, different routes.

We just got on the first train and it was, naturally, the wrong one. However, people on the train, seeing our confusion, explained what we needed to do to get to our destination.

Custom House Station Closed

After getting on the correct train, we were then informed that the station we needed – Custom House Station – was temporarily closed. Yikes! What do we do now?

A helpful gentleman on our train told us not to worry. We could get off at the station prior to Custom House and walk – apparently it wasn’t that far.

So, we did just that. Got off at the station before Custom House and began our walk. Now, don’t forget, we both have full backpacks. However, we made the walk in a decent amount of time and happily checked in to our hotel where we ‘ll be spending the next four nights while we explore London.

Custom House Hotel

We had booked our hotel through CheapOstay.com for a very good price for a London hotel.

The room was small – but, hey, we’re now in Europe and that’s to be expected – but functional and clean.

The shower, however, was not at all what we’re used to. There was barely enough pressure to get wet.

Real British Fish & Chips

After checking in and taking a quick shower we no longer felt tired and decided to go to the pub attached to the hotel to have dinner.

Hey, we were in England, so what do you suppose we ordered for dinner? You guessed it – fish and chips!

Well, my first encounter with real English Fish and Chips was incredible! The piece of fish was not only huge, but it was also recognizable as a piece of fish. Not the uniform frozen fish and chips I have been used to. The meal was served on square plates and the fish, which was just lightly battered, went from point to point on the plate. The chips were hand cut and done to perfection and there was also salad and mushy peas. We enjoyed it thoroughly and washed it all down with a pint of Strongbow Cider.

Although the pub was quiet, after all this was a Monday night, it still felt authentic, to me anyway as this was also my first English pub!

We were both happy with our first day in London but jet lag was starting to set in so we headed back to our room, made tentative plans for the next day, let our marvelous supper digest and then drifted off to sleep.