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Leaving London: Logistics, Beer and Wine

by Ben

semi-overcast 7 °C
View Koning/Zemliak Family Europe 2012/2013 on KZFamily's travel map.

As the saying goes, “all good things must come to an end”; except in our case. Yes we will miss London but we are off to see more great things so the sting of leaving is pretty mild. Considering four of us have had colds for the past week we still kept up a pretty brisk pace this week, so we opted to change things up with a more lazy start to our travel day (at least for the girls and Helen).

A good deal of travel is about logistics. Where are you going to get food and shelter? Where is the next landmark or attraction to visit? How are we going to get from A to B? Where are we going to get the money to pay for all this? I guess the last question is not really about logistics but if anyone has a line on some extra cash we are game to check it out. Today’s logistics were all about transportation. In order to satisfy the budget, I secured a much better deal by picking up our six week car rental from Heathrow rather than from a closer and more convenient location within London. The catch is this meant a fairly long tube ride to Heathrow.

Our London house: very cheery and homey

Our London house: very cheery and homey

The usual quick Underground travel has been complicated by the fact that several tube lines have been closed over the Easter holiday for maintenance. It took Muriel and me 90 minutes to get to Heathrow, which is a bit of slog when you know you need to drive back into London to pick up the rest of crew and then find your way out again. The silver lining is that the cost of our public transit journey to Heathrow was a mere three pounds each.

When we arrived at the car rental desk we were greeted by a little sign that said no one was operating the airport office and to head out the doors to take a 15 minute shuttle ride to their main office. So by the time we got to our car rental location we had been travelling for a full two hours. What you do to save a buck!

Our car pickup was an interesting illustration of where technology is taking us. For the first minute I was served by a person behind a desk but the rest of the transaction took place at a kiosk with a video phone. Here an attendant based in Ireland completed my rental agreement and told me what stall to pick my car up in. It is just a further step into a virtual world.

Plumpton Green cottage: pleasant but a tight squeeze

Plumpton Green cottage: pleasant but a tight squeeze

I had arranged to get a station wagon model of car so we could transport more food staples as we move from home to home over the next six weeks. We will average a new location every four days but would rather not rebuild our larder of staples from scratch each time we move. I was a little surprised to find that the station wagon parked in the rental stall was a Skoda. Skoda has been around for a long time but it has been the butt of as many jokes as its Russian cousin, the Lada. One joke in the 1980s about a Skoda went something like this. How do you double the value of a Skoda? You fill its tank with petrol. Fortunately, today’s Skoda is a subsidiary of Volkswagon and the cars have an appearance more like a BMW and drive like a Volkswagon.

I was thankful I had a six day refresher on driving on the left side of the road a few months ago in Malta. The drive back into London went smoothly although the traffic was thick. I said to Muriel that I was glad that the hardest driving would be done before I even picked up Helen and kids as we would be heading out of London. I had not really thought this through. Our house is in the north of London and we are heading to the south of England to the small village of Plumpton Green. If you punch this information into a GPS it efficiently plots a straight line from A to B which in our case took us pretty much straight through the heart of London. A straight line drive in London consists of many lines connected by circles (also known as roundabouts). Our fifty mile journey would take two and a half hours and take us within spitting distance of Buckingham Palace. I treated everyone to three times around the rotary next to Hyde Park around the Wellington monument. We truly came to understand the size of a city of 14 million people and the maze of road and traffic it creates. I must say that four and a half months of European and Turkish driving practice is finally paying off. Although the drive was a bit of a slog it was far from stressful. I can happily report that I have not singed any ears with any verbal outbursts. Perhaps this was a disappointment for Helen—having read about other incidents with relish from our earlier blog posts she may have been eagerly anticipating a live rendition. No worries. There is still time, I still have to drive in Cardiff before she parts ways with us.

Plumpton Green cottage

Plumpton Green cottage

Plumpton Green is your quintessential English village with one main road and a few short branch streets off it. It is situated in the gently rolling landscape of Sussex. Here we have rented a small backyard cottage. It is a bit of tight fit for five us but Abby is being a trooper and sleeping on some couch cushions on the floor to make it work. With Plumpton Green being fairly small we needed to drive a few miles to find a reasonably sized grocery store. It being Easter Monday, our selection was limited to a Lidl store. We had encountered this chain in Malta and found it a very basic grocery store for its overall size. Its limited wares said a great deal about what are not considered British staples. In a Lidl store, you will not find much in the way of salad dressing (two bottles in the whole store); there is no such thing as coffee cream; and brown bread is far from popular. As an aside, we were surprised to find that the all important British staple, beer, is relatively expensive.

Around the Lidl store you could see the influx of American chains such as Blockbuster (yes they are still in business here), KFC and Papa John’s Pizza. Despite this, the British identity does not seem to be in great danger since fish and chips shops and pubs are still as common as thick British accents.

We enjoyed a home cooked meal of curried chicken and salad along with some British beer (I complain about the price but still can’t resist). It was nice to finish off the evening with some nice wine and conversation. It has been a treat having Helen here in more ways than one. I like having someone to share a bottle of wine with for one. She has the task of choosing the wine and has been batting a thousand in her choices. You can get wine from all over the world here at very reasonable prices. Who thought we would be choosing wine over beer in England!

Posted by KZFamily 15:44 Archived in England Tagged london united_kingdom england plumpton_green Comments (3)

Easter Sunday

By Hannah

overcast 4 °C
View Koning/Zemliak Family Europe 2012/2013 on KZFamily's travel map.

English sausages are one thing, but English sausages for Easter breakfast are definitely another. These, muffins, and hot cross buns were enjoyed by all this morning. Abby and I also got a chocolate bar each, left over from the hurriedly purchased ones in Turkey. We saved those for later, though. We headed over to Golder's Green Parish Church, conveniently located about five minutes away from our house. The vicar was very friendly, and the mass was similar to our usual Easter service, altered slightly as the church was Anglican. Then it was home for lunch and quickly back out again, in order to make our timeslot at the famous wax museum.

.Madame Tussauds: Hannah and Robin

Madame Tussauds: Hannah and Robin

As we approached Madame Tussaud's (now known as Madame Tussauds, but I'm keeping the apostrophe), we saw the massive line protruding from the entrance and down the street. It was just as long as before, but fortunately my Dad had thought to book our tickets beforehand, and we only had to wait for about twenty minutes. I could feel the silent wrath of the people that had been in line for two hours as we quickly slipped by them. The wax museum was packed. The first room we visited contained figures of today's A-list stars and starlets, from Morgan Freeman to Emma Watson to Colin Firth. People were actually able to get right up to the statues, touch their arms, rest a hand on their shoulders. It was difficult, but we managed to get photos with a few of them. Then we squeezed our way out of the room and into the next

This room was brightly coloured and centred around the artist Andy Warhol, whose waxen figure greeted us at the door. We also came across a young Liza Minnelli, as well as other samplings of Warhol's art. Then it was on to the third room. Here we found the stars of yesteryear, including Marilyn Munroe, Charlie Chaplin and Humphrey Bogart. There were also a few tried and true actors, those who had seen years of showbiz and are still at it today. Dad posed with Dame Judi Dench, while Abby and I smiled next to Robin Williams. There was also legendary director Steven Spielberg, leaning against his director's chair. On our way out, we encountered Sir Alfred Hitchcock, looking stoic as ever.

Madame Tussauds: Lightning Bolts

Madame Tussauds: Lightning Bolts

From here we moved on to the sports section. My favourite model here was that of Tom Daley, Britain's young diving star from these past Olympics. They had posed him coming down from the ceiling, arched in mid-dive. There was even a projection of a pool below him. Another Olympic star placed in his very familiar "lightning" pose was Usain Bolt, who Abby decided to imitate. Dad raised his fists alongside Muhammad Ali, who was garbed in a purple boxing robe. Among all these great athletes was Tiger Woods' figure, golf club in hand. No one seemed to be taking pictures with him.

The sports area transitioned smoothly into the Royals' room. Diana stood gracefully in her own little corner, ever the People's Princess and still included even though she's not technically royalty. There were three displays aside from her. Harry, Charles, and Camilla (who was definitely not flattered by the artists) stood off to one side, while busts of a few of the kings and queens of the past were placed at the back, each one enclosed in an ornate picture frame. But the main attraction was the one with Her Majesty the Queen, Prince Philip, William, and Kate. These were the first figures that actually had a discernible line leading up to them. The people waiting (Abby and myself included) became more and more disgruntled as a large family of at least ten people took over the display. They were swapping cameras, changing poses and alternating family member for ages. Eventually, one of the staff on hand threatened to call security if they didn't get a move on. As they left, everyone in the room clapped. We did our best to avoid them as we progressed through the rest of the museum.

The next zone was filled with notable minds of the past and present, Stephen Hawking, Albert Einstein, and Vincent Van Gogh (who still had his left ear) among them. There was an interesting painting behind Van Gogh, a half-finished compilation of a few of his works. We also encountered the most famous bard in history, William Shakespeare, clothed in 16th century-style attire.

After this, it was on to the music section. This room was nearly as busy as the first. Many of today's pop icons were there, like Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga, complete with a telephone on her head. Older musicians still celebrated today included Freddie Mercury from Queen, singing into a microphone, and all of the Beatles, sitting together with guitars and drumsticks in hand.

Music legends turned into world leaders, and we came across a very familiar face: Atatürk. Seems as though we'll never stop running into him. There were a few of the UK's political leaders, such as Iron Lady Margaret Thatcher and current Prime Minister David Cameron. They were all placed in front of the 10 Downing Street residence. Off to the side, right next to the Downing Street sign, was Vladimir Putin, of all people. It looked like they didn't really have anywhere to put him, so they just stuck him in the corner. Further along in the room, there was a rather controversial pairing of figures. Winston Churchill and Adolf Hitler stood right next to each other, the former with his hand on his cane and the latter with his fist in the air. We snapped a photo, but didn't feel much like posing between the two. Barack Obama stood behind a desk flanked by flags with the presidential seal in front. While the set looked authentic enough, Obama's statue left a little to be desired. Something about the face. A number of religious leaders lined the wall near the exit, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Pope Benedict XVI, and the 14th Dalai Lama all side by side. Wonder when the new pope's figure will be introduced.

Crazy about all things Potter

Crazy about all things Potter

We were somewhat nonplussed by the Chamber of Horrors and Scream exhibits we found there. There were wax models being tortured and killed in a variety of gruesome ways all around us as we entered the supposed nightmare of Scream. It was advertised as unsuitable for those with cardiac and respiratory issues, a scary place full of live actors pretending to be unhinged criminals. In reality, it was a darkened passageway with flashing lights that allowed you to see the make-upped actors hiding in corners, ready to jump out every few seconds and breath menacingly in your ears. Abby decided to skip this, and I can't say she missed much.

After this ordeal, we entered a room detailed the "making of" process that all the wax figures had gone through. This was pretty interesting, and we saw how the face molds were made, the matching of eye colours and the threading of each individual hair into the waxen scalps of the statues.

We then took a Disney-esque ride called the Spirit of London. You board a classic black taxi and are whirled through the history of England's capital, from the Black Death to Guy Fawkes Day. This was more enjoyable, and helped us brush up on our knowledge of London a little bit, though I mostly just focused on the intricate sets and statues we rode by.

King's Cross: Platform 9 3/4

King's Cross: Platform 9 3/4

The last stop was dedicated to Marvel Comics and its characters, and included a colossal sculpture of the Hulk. After we'd seen Iron Man's suit and Wolverine with his adamantium claws unsheathed, we were ushered into a 4D theatre to see a superhero short set in London, specifically in front of Buckingham Palace. It was a little cheesy, obviously, but still impressive. After two hours, we emerged from Madame Tussaud's, and headed over to a different kind of theatre.

Abby and I received the special treat of a Harry Potter-themed live show from our parents. The show is called Potted Potter, and is a comical parody by two Brits that condensed the entire Harry Potter series into seventy minutes. To see how this show got started and more about the actors that created it, this is the official website.

After the show, we headed over to Trafalgar Square in order to meet up with Mom and Auntie Helen. For dinner, we went to a very English pub for a very English meal: fish and chips. For most of us, anyways. Mom tried out a traditional English pie filled with chicken and mushrooms, and Abby tried a tomato-y chicken dish. Dad and Auntie Helen had a couple pints, of course, one light and one dark. The former wasn't actually so bad. We had a very friendly waiter that actually knew a bit about Canada, and he ended up calling our collective table "Saskatchewan" for the duration of the evening.

To round off our last day in London, we rode the metro down to King's Cross Station, and posed with the famous Platform 9 3/4 sign, complete with half a luggage trolley to look like it was going through the wall. The films actually use a spot between platforms 4 and 5, so we visited them too and walked where a few scenes from the world-renowned movies had been made. It was a wonderful way for Abby and I to bid London farewell.

Posted by KZFamily 15:23 Archived in England Tagged london england harry potter madame tussaud's Comments (2)

A Day in London: Cousins George & Joan, St. Pauls, & Hardys


overcast 5 °C
View Koning/Zemliak Family Europe 2012/2013 on KZFamily's travel map.

Today we planned to split up a little, with three groups going three separate ways. Hannah and I planned to check out Madame Tussaud's, the wax museum, together, while my parents visited my mom's first cousin once removed and his wife. All of us planned to meet up at Saint Paul's Cathedral later in the day, and then head off to an old fashioned sweet shop called Hardy's.

Saint Paul's Cathedral

Saint Paul's Cathedral

But not everything went to plan, because as my parents were dropping Hannah and me off, we noticed that the line was extremely long. It was estimated that it would take 2-3 hours to be able to get a ticket. Both of us came to the conclusion that this was simply going to be too long of a wait, and accompanied my parents on their visit.

I really enjoyed meeting Mr and Mrs Goodall (George and Joan), and I told my mom as we were leaving that it was almost nice that we couldn't go to the wax museum. They are both very nice people, and seem fit for each other. They fill their free time with writing, literature classes, and weekly practices with a music group that George has been with for 40 years.

After our visit, the four of us made our way to Saint Paul's to meet up with my aunt. Hannah was feeling a little ill, so she and my dad chose to skip the cathedral and go straight to the sweet shop for a little before heading off home. My mom and I stayed behind for the 25 minute wait for tickets. We found my aunt shortly, but it turned out that she had already completed most of the tour. She went down to the crypt while my mom and I did a short tour of the top floor, before heading downstairs ourselves. We had come a little too late though, because they closed off the galleries and the dome before we were able to go see them, which for me, was extremely disappointing. Although I have a slight fear of heights, I still had wanted to walk in the dome.

But the part of the cathedral that we did see was very grand and beautiful. Most of the ceiling is done in mosaics, except for a small portion that is painted. There are many memorials dedicated to various people, and thanks to our free audio guide, we were able to learn about each and every one of them. Downstairs in the crypt the tombs are very large and ornate, and many of the names can be recognized as the same ones that have memorials in the upstairs part of the church.

Hardy's Sweet Shop

Hardy's Sweet Shop

The dome, or should I say, domes, of the church are very interesting. There are actually two of them, although you can only see one at a time. From the outside of the church you can see the outer dome, which was built so that it would dominate part of the skyline. The inner dome is smaller, so that from the inside of the church you can still see its beauty, without it being too high up.

Click here for more information on the Cathedral.
Click here for information on the domes. (skip to second last paragraph on first page)

After our visit, the three of us trooped down to Hardy's, and I was very pleased with the result. I had been the one that came up with the idea to go there, and it went beyond my expectations. I bought two types of fudge, chocolate and clotted cream. And I also bought a candy called "Mega Cherry Sours", which, as it turns out, are indeed mega sour.

From here we headed off home, and had a nice warm dinner of leftovers, followed by the watching of an old movie called "Chariots of Fire", before heading off into dream land to wait for Easter morning.

Posted by KZFamily 14:52 Archived in England Tagged london united_kingdom england uk candy relatives saint_paul's_cathedral Comments (2)

"Nobody goes there anymore; it's too crowded" -- Yogi Berra


semi-overcast 3 °C
View Koning/Zemliak Family Europe 2012/2013 on KZFamily's travel map.

The first excursion of the day was to return to Buckingham Palace to see the Changing of the Guard. It is heralded as one of the 'must see' events and this was apparently the opinion shared by the other 19,995 people that were there that morning. As we disembarked from the tube, we joined the other lemmings making their way through Green Park towards the palace gates. When we arrived, we encountered swarms of tourists surrounding not only the gates but lining the walkways and taking every available spot around the Queen Victoria Memorial. The guards estimated there were 20,000 of us there by the time 11:30 rolled around. Our first spot was facing the gates, but we were about eight rows deep at that point. I must say the crowds were unexpected and the girls were a bit nonplussed at the whole event. We saw the guards (or rather, the tops of their fuzzy, black hats) march in front of us and through side gates. Then, for the next half an hour, they performed the 'change' behind the gates. Only those lined up along the gates would have any hope of seeing anything; meanwhile, the rest of us, the remaining 19,800, would need to wait patiently till the old guards came out again.

Changing of the Guard

Changing of the Guard

Some were not into the wait so we were able to move up to about row four. Lucky us. We were finally treated to the marching band and guard traipsing out in front of us to head back to the barracks. All in all, we saw about five minutes of activity in the hour we were there. It was quite the nonevent for most of us, although it was interesting to be in a crowd that size.

Buckingham Palace borders Hyde Park so we stretched our legs by walking to Speaker's Corner. No one was speaking today so we did our best to proclaim a heartfelt but trivial speech before our small audience, snapped some pics and moved on. Next was Harrod's, which gave us a view of so many things which no one really needs. The rooms we visited were labeled 'Luxury Items I',' Luxury Items II', etc. and the display of Gucci bags and jewelry with Faberge eggs caused one of the kids to opine 'This is just silly.' Walking through their version of a food court, we saw hoards of people sitting down to enjoy the $50 plates or to buy crackers and caviar. Ben and Helen were intrigued with the wine room, while Hannah discovered a $400 set of 60 small vials of different liquids. One can purchase these to practice their ability to identify different smells, in the hopes of working towards being a sommelier. Being our family's 'super taster,' she demonstrated pretty good skills already on their sample set laid out for shoppers to try. As we exited the store, we noted the doorman only bidding goodbye to those who carried a Harrod's purchase. Needless to say, we did not.

Passion Play in Trafalgar Square

Passion Play in Trafalgar Square

Our lunch was much more reasonable fare, and save for having to eat it at an outside table, renewed us considerably. It being Good Friday, some of us elected to attend an outdoor Passion Play being held in Trafalgar Square. As we arrived to suss out the situation, we were again greeted by very large crowds, rendering the event for us, at least, an outdoor viewing of big screens which captured the live action far away. Not relishing an outdoor movie, as opposed to a live play, we decided to move on. We bid farewell to Admiral Lord Nelson, whose grand column stands in the square, and walked onto Piccadilly Circus. There, we joined the throngs who were out walking about the pedestrian streets and looking in the many shops. Here, the girls could finally look for souvenirs. We all split up into various groups, depending on our penchant for shopping, and agreed to meet some time later. When I asked a shopkeeper whether the huge crowds were common at this time of year, she said it was due to the long weekend (both Friday and Monday are bank holidays in Britain). I am still in culture shock having not experienced these kinds of numbers on our trip before now. Among the crowds, I did note that Hannah no longer stands out with her purple hair as I have seen many bright colours and mohawks about London.

Piccadilly Circus

Piccadilly Circus

With the day finally redeemed via the shopping escapade, we made our way home on the underground and bus, did our daily shop at the local Sainsbury's, and quickly made up our pork vindaloo. Being Britain, the Indian sauces are very inexpensive here so we feel we must partake. However, I'm thinking the next one doesn't need to have the three pepper rating (very hot).

Posted by KZFamily 05:54 Archived in England Tagged london england Comments (3)

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