London, England - November 2002 Megamail

As if you didn't have enough to do already with the holiday season upon you, you are also getting this Megamail! But this is a special Megamail for a number of reasons. One, it is the last one of 2002 (only three this year if you count them), it is an international Megamail (London, England), and it is probably the last Megamail you will receive from this e-mail address. Future Megamails (it is hoped) will be coming from our very own domain name that we have had for about a year now, but just keep forgetting to do anything with. Many of you will find our domain name... fitting.

General Notes

First of all, why London and why Thanksgiving? Well, Sam and I subscribe to this magazine called Budget Travel and it gives us a ton of ideas on places to go and things to see and how to do it without spending a fortune. One of the tips it had in one of its issues was about a company called that had several good deals to Europe, in particular London. So after doing some investigation, it seemed that they did offer some good deals and we quickly narrowed our destination to either London or Rome.

Now, prior to all this, we have been trying to arrange a trip to New Zealand with our friends Marty and Chris. It had been difficult to lock in on a block of time for said trip which is why a weeklong trip to a European city seemed appealing. Not to leave these two clowns out in the cold we let them know of our intentions. As fate would have it, at almost the exact same time Sam and I were discussing London, so were they for they too subscribe to the same magazine and saw the same tip. And so now we have a destination! And because we could utilize some holiday time to save on vacation days, Thanksgiving seemed ideal. So, now you know why!

Here are some other tips for you if you go to London yourselves. Be absolutely sure to go to and get two passes: the London Travelcard and the London Pass. The former allows you to hop on any subway or bus in the center of the city for unlimited times for six days. This is an absolute must for the metro is probably the best way to get around town. The latter is a pass that gets you into many (but not all) of the most popular attractions. It comes to a hefty $75, but when attractions easily cost $18 or more to get in, this quickly pays for itself.

$18 to see some old building?!?!? Yes, everything you heard about how expensive London can be is absolutely correct. The £10 note is like a yuppie food coupon over there. Everything is £10. A round of beers: £10. Lunch for one: £10. The Tower of London: £10. A movie: £10. The fine for not having your ticket with you on the subway: £10. Well, I think you get the picture.

Also, as London is famous for its theater, if you are into that sort of thing, you should probably get tickets for a show long before you go. Believe it or not, but Ticketmaster in the U.K. does not hit you with the bloody service charge and their web site is I think better than the U.S. counterpart. You can get cheap tickets the day of the show, but if you want something confirmed, get the tickets before you go!

OK, enough preliminary stuff, let's talk London!


Our flights proceeded smoothly enough on United. In fact, the long flights to and from London were some of the best international flights I have had. We were on a Boeing 777 and there are individual monitors for each passenger so one could select from five different movies that played continuously during the flight. The service was also excellent. The only down part was the main meal in which they asked if we wanted the chicken or the fish. Well, the fish as they called it, was actually chicken but it was seasoned as fish normally is. Do they take us for fools?! Well, the 'fish' wasn't that good for our stomachs either we both very nearly got sick later in the flight. We managed to get some sleep though, and that helped a lot the next day.

Upon arrival (6:30am Wednesday) we proceeded through customs and checked on the status of our friends' flight from O'Hare. It looked like it was about on time so we thought cool, this will work out perfectly. Yeah, right! More on that later. We took the Heathrow Express into London, which I think is what I would recommend to everybody who is heading in to town. It costs a few more than £10 per person one way and takes 15 minutes and trains leave every 15 minutes. It is just the fastest and easiest way to London.

We went to the hotel with the intent to drop off our luggage, but as fate would have it, they had rooms available for immediate occupancy so we checked in right away at about 8:30am. As expected, our room was tiny. The bathroom brought back memories of the bathroom I had when I lived off of Langdon St. Remember that one people? The one where I could sh**, shower and shave all at once! I know, you didn't need that illustration, but rest assured, this room was tiny... but nice.

We quickly unpacked and went to our friends' hotel, which was two blocks away. They had not checked in yet. No biggie, we thought. Our stomachs were still unsettled from our flight so we had breakfast at a nearby eatery. The place was run by Spaniards, which was our second run-in with people from Sam 's country. The first was the hostess at our hotel. It made us wonder which country we went to, England or Spain?!? For breakfast I had a turkey and bacon panini, which was excellent.

Upon a second check with Marty and Chris' hotel, they still had not checked in. Hmmm. Well, we thought, it is Chris and Marty so they are probably just slower than us and we still were not too worried. We left a message that we would be at our hotel. Which we were, as we took a much-appreciated one-hour nap.

It was now after noon and still no word from Marty or Chris. Now we were worried. We stopped at an Internet cafe to check our e-mail to see if we had any messages. Sure enough, we had a message from Chris's father saying they were on a later flight. We checked on the flight status and it just landed. Yoo Hoo! We went back to their hotel and left another message for them (the hostess was really getting sick of us at this point) saying we would meet them at the Porterhouse at 3pm.

See, before leaving, we agreed we would meet at this pub called the Porterhouse at 3pm if all else failed. This idea stemmed from a Spring Break trip long ago to New Orleans in which our group was traveling in two separate cars in a dense fog. We said we would meet at the first tavern listed in the phone book that is on Bourbon Street at 2pm if we got separated, which we did. It worked beautifully then and so why not try it again?

Well, it did not work this time as those bozos did not arrive to their hotel until 3pm and although we waited until well past 4pm for them, they still did not show up! So from noonish until sevenish Sam and I were on our own and we pretty much just walked around London. Some of the highlights were Piccadilly Circus, Soho, Trafalgar Square, Charing Cross, Covent Garden, the Thames, Parliament and Big Ben.

Eventually we tired of this and went back to the hotel to see if we could meet up with our friends. They were there and so we decided to head down the block to this tavern we all saw on the walk from Paddington station (where the Heathrow Express drops you off) to our hotels. I got this monstrous cheeseburger and Sam had some jacket potatoes (which is nothing more than a baked potato with a variety of toppings heaped on). It was very good and we had some beer and retired early, but not before hearing all about Chris and Marty's exploits and planning our schedule for the next day.

Thursday (Thanksgiving)

As you might expect, England does not celebrate Thanksgiving, so our Thanksgiving was rather un-American this year. As a start, we headed out to St. Paul's cathedral. Upon arriving we were dismayed to find that it was closed. See, the church decided to hold a special mass for us Americans on our special holiday. Church, smurch, we are tourists today and want to behave as such! So St. Paul's was thrown out the door. Not a good start!

We then walked through the Blackfriars part of town along the Thames on our way to the Tower of London. Along the way we saw this very attractive woman that wore some attire that we would end up seeing a lot on our trip. In England it is very popular to wear a skirt cut above the knee and tall boots that go as high as just below the knee. The legs then are covered with an assortment of stockings. It was a very attractive look that I hope catches on in the States more.

OK, Sam just hit me so I better continue, the Tower of London. Here we put our London Passes to first use. Again, I can't say enough good things about the London Pass. If you are going to be in the city for any length of time doing the typical things, get this thing! I think they offer a weekend long pass as well. We cruised to the front of the line and were let right in!

The Tower of London, in a word, is cool. It is one of the royal palaces and it was also a place where a lot of people were executed. But to us indifferent tourists, it is just plain cool, because most of it is just one big castle and we like castles. One could easily spend all day there, but we managed to cram it all in about three hours. The Tower of London is also where they keep the Crown Jewels. I don't know, all the gold and diamonds get rather boring after awhile, but finding out about the history of such things was rather interesting.

Upon leaving the Tower we were immediately set upon by hunger and were frantic to find a pub. Well, we found this place called The Vineyard soon enough and were allowed to be enticed by the porter (it was part of a hotel) and thus proceeded down to the basement. It was very nice place and though they had a sit down restaurant, we opted to stay in the pub and get sandwiches. We also had what I think all will agree was the best beer we had while in London, Old Wallop. For it indeed packed wallop and was served in pewter tankards which really made it charming.

After staggering out the door, thanking the porter, we walked across Tower Bridge. Our London Pass did not work on this attraction and so we bypassed it and went to the HMS Belfast, which was a WWII cruiser. I'll tell you, of all the naval ships I have been on, this tour was perhaps the best. They really did an excellent job conveying the way things were aboard a ship and allowed you to walk pretty much everywhere on board. We spent a lot of time there, and could have stayed there longer, but we were in a mild hurry to get to the London Dungeon.

Now, our expectations for the Dungeon were all wrong, for we were expecting an actual dungeon. I'll tell you now, it isn't. It is more like a haunted house attraction mixed with a museum. The first part, the museum part, passed you through from exhibit to exhibit so you could familiarize yourself with all the lovely forms of torture used back in the day and some specific stories of names and places and the awful ends people met. There were some clever animatronics used in places that we found most humorous.

The second half was a guided tour through the murders of Jack the Ripper, which believe me, goes on longer than it needs to. All in all, if we actually paid for this we would have been pissed, but as it was part of the London Pass, it felt free and besides, it was at the end of the day and put us in the mood for drink, which we did. We did a small pub-crawl that got us back to the Covent Garden portion of town where we had dinner at a trendy restaurant. I had my first and only fish and chips there. I could have gladly eaten more fish and chips but there were just so many other good things to try, I never got back to them.


We once again headed back to St. Paul's Cathedral and this time they were open. Our London Pass provided us this feature as well. The cathedral was more sparse than the ones I remember seeing in Spain but was very large and its crowning feature is the huge dome that you can see from just about anywhere in London. They allow visitors to climb up this dome, but be advised, it is a lot of stairs to deal with. We went up first to the base of the dome which was very cool for it was shaped in a way that you could whisper and the person on the other side of the dome could carry on a conversation with you. Kind of like in the U.S. capital for those of you who have been there.

At this point we left Sam behind because her knee was bothering her. Us three 'men' then proceeded to climb all the way to the top and were provided with some excellent views. One thing we saw that we could not believe we missed the day before was the Globe Theater, which is right on the banks of the Thames and was right along our walking path. Eventually we recouped our strength and headed down to pick up Sam and continue our exploits elsewhere.

Oh, one thing before leaving behind St. Paul's, is that it seemed as though it was a military cathedral. Meaning a lot of generals and admirals had gravestones there. Also, there were a number of monuments dedicated to Americans there.

For lunch we headed what we thought was north, but was actually east of St. Paul's Cathedral. This part of town had a lot of business people and so we just kind of followed the masses to a charming little street where we found a nice pub. I had the brats and mash, which were good, but not great. The brats were too small for my taste. I think by this time we were becoming familiar with the popular beers of the area. The two that we saw the most (besides Guinness) were Spitfire and London Pride. Both ales are very good. You can't go wrong with either.

After lunch we hopped on one of the double-decker busses and headed to the British Museum, which is located in a very cool building. In the middle is this huge courtyard that has been domed off and the ground has been replaced by marble floor. And the reading room in the center of the courtyard is worth a visit in and of it self. A truly amazing venue for a library. Don't pass it up!

I'm not sure how much time we spent in the museum, but the highlight was definitely the Rosetta Stone. Though I was surprised given the popularity of this piece that they did not place it in a more convenient area. It was placed in sort of a U-shaped room that had display cases that cut the room in half. Thus, one had to wade through the masses of people (and there are masses) two times in order to get a good look. It was quite unlike the displays for the crown jewels that we saw the day before that was optimized to deal with lots of people.

After the museum we took the metro to the river near the Parliament building. These subway stations down by the river have been recently renovated or something for they have this sort of modern sterilness that makes them look really cool.

Anyway, we soon found ourselves at the London Eye, which is the huge ferriswheel like contraption along the south (or at this point of the river, east) bank of the Thames. It is 500 feet tall and provides excellent views of the city. This is not a part of the London Pass and costs a cool £10/person. It is a popular place so expect crowds at all hours of the day. When we went up it was just starting to get dark and by the time we finished it was solid evening. The ride takes 30 minutes and goes fast, even though it hardly looks as though the wheel is turning.

After this I'm not sure what we did other than go to several pubs and knock back a significant number of ales. It made waking up the next morning extremely difficult.


This trip was not only marked by one national holiday, but also by two birthdays: Marty's and my own. Marty's took place on Saturday and for that reason, any command decision that needed to be made we left to Marty. I think he did an admirable job!

Saturday we started by walking in Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens. I like these types of parks and wish we had more of them in the States. These parks are indicated by large expanses of well-groomed grass with large deciduous trees sprinkled about. Not thick enough too look like a leftover forest, but thin enough so that one can have a pickup game of football. Also in this park they allowed dogs to run around unleashed which is something that us dog-lovers enjoyed.

At some point in our meanderings we encountered Royal Albert Music Hall, which isn't nearly as exciting as you might think. But the highlight of the morning was Kensington Palace. I think, this was the royal palace that was used before they all moved to Buckingham. But it is still used from time to time for some part of the Royal family. This is where Lady Di lived.

The start of the tour was not encouraging. There were a whole lot of clothes that did not interest the men of our little entourage in the slightest. I think we showed an extraordinary amount of patience not to just rush right through that part, right Sam? After the fashion show we finally got to see the palace proper. This was more interesting, but generally it was all in all, so-so.

We hit a nearby pub for lunch and then tried to get into the James Bond exhibit at the Science museum. Bad move. It was all sold out for the day and was pretty much packed with people. We then wanted to stroll by Buckingham Palace and so began a good 45 minute torture as we bounced from waiting for busses that just kept on going by our stop because they were already full to then walking to what we thought was the nearby metro station. Sure, the entrance was close enough but then we walked a good 1/2 mile underground to get to the actual station! All told, we could have probably walked to the palace faster ourselves! Anyway, we finally got to Buckingham and were not that impressed. I mean, it looks like a building, not like a palace.

We had to cut this tourist day short for we had tickets to a play in the evening that we had to get ready for. After a quick change and metro ride to Covent Garden, we frantically looked for a restaurant for dinner prior to the show. They were all pretty much filled up but we finally stumbled upon an Indian restaurant just around the corner from our theatre.

We allowed ourselves to be convinced by the host to try one of his mystery appetizers, which were extremely good, but also extremely expensive. But in all, it was quite a good meal. While dining we witnessed a regular old scam take place. Some bloke claimed to have injured himself on the stairs of the restaurant and was ready to call the police but convinced our host to give him £20 and call it even. The bloke and his partner laughed as they ran off, £20 richer.

Our play was excellent and in an excellent venue. The Fortune was a small and very intimate setting, perfect for the story being told, a mystery of sorts called The Woman in Black. There were just two actors, neither of which we recognized but Sam thinks she saw the older fellow in something at one time. It was a very good show and I would recommend it to anybody.

Afterwards we stopped in a pub for a couple of pints before being thrown out at closing time by a bouncer who had many similarities to characters seen in Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Actually, the bathroom at this establishment provides a humorous story as two Brits were amazed at the international clientele using the facilities. They just about bust a gut when a guy from Turkey urgently walked in!


On Sunday we decided to head out to the Hampton Court Palace, which is the fringes of London, past Wimbledon. This is the palace where Henry VIII stayed and William & Mary and several others. It was a 30 minute or so train ride from Waterloo station with many stops. Be sure to get your tickets from an actual teller and not from a machine as your metro cards will get you the tickets cheaper.

Although it was cold and blustery, this palace definitely ranks as one of the highlights. We spent all day taking in the two distinct architectural styles of the palace. The guided tours which ran every hour or so were extremely good. Also, there are the portable audio guides CD-ROMs that are free with admission and provide colorful side stories about what all happened at the palace.

I can't really say enough about this excursion other than we had a great time. Oh, one part of the garden was a hedge maze that we just couldn't pass up. It wasn't too difficult but it was fun nonetheless. At the center they have some tree stumps one can stand on to survey the area. All of us, including some bystanders found Marty's attempt to get to the top of this stump most humorous. He almost lost something important there!

Before heading back into town we stopped by a pub for a late lunch/early dinner. They had some interesting beers on tap there... I think the place was called The Kings Arms.

Back in London we opted to see the latest James Bond movie. It was very busy that night so we had to get tickets for one of the later shows and had some beer to pass the time. This particular movie theatre offered only assigned seating. We ended up in the circle seats (balcony) way up there. But the seats weren't too bad. The theatre that we went to was absolutely huge! I was impressed at how much it must have cost to just build the thing because real estate in London can't be cheap.

Some warnings about movies in London. From the listed start time, to the time the movie actually started, at least 30 minutes lapsed. This was covered equally be commercials and previews. But 30 minutes is 30 minutes and that is just way too long. Be sure to account for this if you see a movie over there. The movie itself, I at least, found entertaining enough. I could suspend my disbelief long enough to take it all in and laugh throughout. It was much, much, much better than the last Bond movie.


Wow, it's Monday already, can you believe it? Monday, as it was, was my birthday. But to be honest, it never really felt like my birthday. I never felt too special. OK, so this is your opportunity to pile on the sympathy!

All during our trip we were looking for two things: Theakstons Old Peculiar, which is a certain kind of beer. We never did find this by the way, despite visiting about half the pubs in London! The second thing was hearing somebody say '... and Bob's your uncle.' What the hell does that mean? Well, we didn't exactly know, but I did hear one of the newscasters say it while we were getting ready one morning. And after he used it, I was really none the wiser for what it actually meant. According to Internet lore, it means that 'it is a sure thing' or 'success is guaranteed.' I think it is just rubbish myself. And rubbish is one word that I did hear used by our English cousins!

Monday we designated mostly as a shopping/pub crawl day, but we had one more truly touristy thing to visit, Westminster Abbey. This cathedral of sorts was extremely cluttered compared to any I've seen. There are gravestones all over the place. Some of the more notables are a bunch of writers along with Newton and Darwin. That really threw me. I would think that given these scientist's discoveries that ran contrary to religious thought would not be welcome, but here they rest! Oh, and there were a bunch of kings and queens buried here as well. It was interesting cathedral overall.

Afterwards we stopped at a pub that provided us great sightlines to the abbey and Parliament as we dined. I had some stuffed salmon with sun-dried tomatoes that was absolutely fabulous. Afterwards we began our shopping excursion in earnest, not really looking for anything, but looking at everything (that wasn't in the stores). You know what I mean, taking in the unwashed and seedy underbelly that is London!

We stumbled around Covent Garden, Soho, Chinatown and Oxford Circus. Our shopping trip was punctuated with stops at taverns. The most interesting one of the bunch was a place called The Intrepid Fox. Let me tell you, if punk is your thing, than this place is for you. It had very interesting (to look at) staff and clientele. But we made it out in one piece nonetheless.

For dinner we went to a Spanish tapas bar, which generally left us wanting for more. It wasn't the worst one we've been too, but it by no means compared to Tapeo in Boston either. And by all means, bypass the manchego cheese plate. What an embarrassment. How they can feel ethical passing mozzarella off as manchego is beyond me! Right next door the tapas bars was the Porterhouse, where are weeklong journey was supposed to have begun. We got a couple of beers here, very good beers mind you. If you want selection, the Porterhouse is for you. And ambiance, the Porterhouse is for you. It really is a very nice pub in all respects.

While we were having our very good beer, we considered our trip that was about to come to pass and decided to make one last run for Old Wallop. And so we were off to the Tower of London once more and were just in time to take in a pint before the establishment closed for the evening. Not willing to call it a trip, and having several pounds yet to spend, we stopped by a pub near our hotels for a couple more rounds before calling it a night.

Sam and I bid farewell to our traveling companions, hoping we would not see them the next day because if we did, it meant that flights back to the U.S. were running late. We packed our suitcases before retiring for the evening.


Our flights back were also generally uneventful. An unusually nice crew once again serviced the flight over the big pond. At the end we found out why as there was a survey on their performance we were offered to fill out. Our flight back to Richmond was delayed a couple of hours, but all in all, the transportation portion of our trip went smoothly this time.


Now, as many of you know, Sam is heading to Australia with her family over the holidays and I am not going (and I am so happy about that... NOT!) so you are missing out on the opportunity for a really, really big Megamail. Please send your thank yous to Sam. No major trips are on board for next year, but this trip with went well enough that we may decide to take another 'quick' trip to Europe next year. Rome sounds nice... or perhaps Prague. What do you think?

Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Years to all that I don't see in the next few weeks!



Tower Bridge as night nestles London.


Sam gets her revenge on the three amigos.