A little bit of snow changes the appearance of the world. Not just a little bit. It can make familiar places nearly unrecognizable. Turn ordinary streets into magical kingdoms. Smooth out the lumps and bumps to make a surreal, serene picture postcard.
Enjoying the Local Cuisine, by Rich Paschall
Imagine getting on a plane and flying for eight hours, landing in another country, to go to McDonald’s. The premise may sound a bit absurd, but it is the sort of thing many people do. When we stayed in London recently, we found a street nearby that has a Burger King, Subway sandwiches and a Kentucky Fried Chicken. In fact, there is no shortage of American fast food places near the tourist-laden Paddington area. These familiar sites attract many tourists, largely American, as well as some others and some locals. We walked past these familiar stops in favor of local businesses.
For some the familiarity is the thing that drives them into the establishments they know from home. They will certainly get food they can eat at prices that are still reasonable. To me, it does not matter. I did not go all that way to eat at someplace I can visit walking distance from my house. If I want a Whopper with Cheese, fries and a diet Coke, I know where to get it.
On the same street with the American fast food giants were local coffee shops and restaurants, a pub or two and even a London Chicken stop that looked like they may be providing fast food. We skipped it too. Of course, if you are on a limited budget, you may wish to go places where the food is cheap. However, local business may also have food at reasonable rates.
My friend from France has a motto by which we travel. “Eat local, drink local.” That does not include local fast food. We always skip those. If we are unfamiliar with a location, we pick out something that looks good and we give it a try. Sometimes you must have a sense of adventure. It does not mean you have to spend a lot of money.
Within walking distance of our London hotel, we found many shops and small restaurants for breakfast and lunch. At dinner time we checked out the local pubs, never going to the same one twice. In a spot called the House of Paddington, where they served Fish and Chips all day, the edge of the awning advertised Beer, Food and Beds. Since we passed it everyday, our curiosity was finally aroused enough to visit it on the last night. As I did not yet have Fish and Chips on the trip, I went ahead and ordered. And yes, they do have beds for weary travelers or maybe for someone who has stayed too long. They run a hostel on the floors above.
Some think that food in England is rather bland, but the only thing I found to be that way was the fish (cod) and chips. Everything else was tasty. We washed down dinner with local ales, taking recommendations from the bartender at each stop. “Nothing too bitter” was my request each time, while my travel companion was content to drink the dark and bitter stuff. We had plenty of selections that we had never heard of before.
If you can not afford to eat at local spots, no matter how reasonable, then you may consider dropping into local markets for your breakfast and lunch and picking out items that are easy to make or you can eat on the run. Some years ago when I visited Paris with a friend, we discovered that our tiny room also came with a tiny refrigerator. We pushed aside those hotel items to make room for some yogurt, water and whatever we could make fit. In that way, we ate out less often and did not pay for the mini bar items. In fact, I have used this trick a number of times.
I love the food and wine in France. I am fortunate to have a close friend in the Alsace region and we have toured there a lot. Of course, he took me to some of his favorite spots, and at other times we tried something that was new to us both. It is good to know someone who knows all the good wine tasting locations as well.
Once we met in Frankfurt and travelled to Stuttgart by train. We attended the Cannstatter Volksfest in Stuttgart during the traditional Oktoberfest season, but I have wisely decided not share any of those pictures. Let me just say the food and drink were excellent. We have a pastry shop picture instead.
When my friend from Alsace makes the long trip to Chicago, he does not want to see the Burger King or Ronald McDonald when there are so many good restaurants and sports bars. I could name locations in this country as well as others, where we avoided the fast food for the local fare. When you are on the road, find out what is good to eat at your destination city, and skip the fast food you can get at home.
What is your favorite holiday?
Our anniversary. I know it’s not a national or religious holiday, but that’s part of why I enjoy it. No pressure. We can do a lot, a little, nothing … or delay it until the time is more convenient. It’s our personal holiday. We can do whatever we like.
What types of food is associated with your holiday?
If it is just us — and it usually is — Japanese. Sushi, sashimi, and tempura. The last time we went out — and I think it was, indeed our anniversary, we realized the rice we cook at home is better than the stuff they are serving in the restaurants. My green tea is better, too. We have become rice and tea snobs. Now, if I could just master the art of tempura!
Do you travel for your holiday?
Frequently, yes. It’s a good time of year, mid-September. It’s one of the reasons we chose that date to have the wedding.
Good weather, usually. It is past the worst heat of summer, but before the danger of snow. Also, hopefully, it’s not in the middle of hurricane season. We’ve traveled to Cooperstown twice (that’s upstate New York). To Maine several times (Ogunquit, Jackman, Freeport, Kennebunk). Locally to Cape Cod (Hyannis, Barnstable, Martha’s Vineyard, Bourne).
Up to New Hampshire (Lincoln and the mountains nearby). Vermont (friends in Peachum). Various places in New York, especially and most memorably to Coney Island — Brooklyn, don’t you know.
And we’ve stayed home and partied. Gotten remarried twice.
We’ve gone to Arizona twice. Last year, we deferred the journey until the following January because we wanted to be there in cooler weather, this time. Our previous visit was late August/early September and you could cook eggs on the sidewalk, depending on how you like eggs.
This year? It’s number 27, a sort of off-year. So maybe we’ll celebrate our birthdays instead. We were born a month apart, me in March, Garry in April. I’ll turn 70 and he turns 75 … which is definitely not an off-year. I feel we ought to do something, but it will depend on money … and the weather … and if I think we can actually gather enough of a crowd to make a party. Everyone lives in a different states these days. Gatherings are difficult. Moreover, you absolutely cannot predict weather in early spring in New England. It might be gorgeous … or blowing a blizzard.
Is it a religious or spiritual holiday?
Define religious. Define spiritual.
Is there a gift exchange?
Not so much anymore. Tokens. Cards. These days, if we need or want something, we get it. We had been saving for a rainy day, but then we looked up and realized … “Hey, it’s raining!” Usually the trip and travel is the gift. And the cameras we are carrying!
How long does the celebration last?
There’s no rules about this. We start talking about it months ahead. We ponder. I look to see if I can squirrel away a few bucks and I check prices on places i think we might want to go … and which aren’t so far away that the drive would be more stressful than fun. Otherwise, we go out to dinner. And that’s good too.
Mind the Gap, by Rich Paschall, Sunday Night Blog
There are a lot of great walking cities in Europe. London is certainly among them. Wherever you are in central London, you will be walking distance from many interesting and historic sites. If the weather is fine, which is often in doubt, then it is good to have some comfortable shoes and take to the streets.
The day we arrived in London, we walked all around the Paddington area. I always find it fascinating to see the shops and restaurants and various local business. Although I have been slowed by a chronic foot problem that caused for two corrective surgeries which did not seem to correct anything, we still logged a great distance. We made it down to Hyde Park, saw the Marble Arch and crossed over to Kensington Gardens before heading back to the hotel. It was a lot for a couple of weary travelers.
At night we purchased an Oyster Card which is the equivalent of a debit card for the Underground train. You purchase one and then add money as you need it to get onto the train. By the way, you need it to get out also, but it takes no additional value from the card. We have something similar in Chicago called Ventra cards. You can also buy single ride tickets, but if you are going to make a few trips around town, the Oyster Card is the way to go. It is more economical and it saves time from buying tickets. You can get your card deposit back and any value left on the card when your trip is over, so do not be afraid to load up the card.
Since I had been to London before, I was aware of some places my travel companion should see. We left from the Paddington Tube stop (see arrow on map above, a little left of center). The train system is vast and has many intersecting train lines. It is one of the best in the world and you can take it almost anywhere in the capital city. Buses can get you to some spots more quickly, except in rush hour perhaps.
We took the tube to Piccadilly Circus, London’s equivalent to New York’s Times Square. It may be a bit grander. I can say that as I have been to both. From there we walked to Leicester Square and found a Pub for dinner. Then it was off to Trafalgar Square and down to the Thames River. We crossed a pedestrian bridge to the London Eye. We came back across the Thames River on the Westminster Bridge toward Parliament and watched Big Ben strike midnight. This was all done in a few hours time. Of course, if you stay at the pub too long, there is a tube stop at Leicester Square for your trip home.
On our next great excursion around town, I followed the lead of my companion who wanted to see certain structures for their architectural significance and others for the historic value. He picked the tube stop that would be closest to some building he wished to see and we wondered just how close that would be to St. Paul’s Cathedral. If we could not find the church, we were willing to look for it another time.
As we continued our walk toward the Thames from whatever building we checked out (one of us has an architecture degree), the church loomed in distance, and I do mean loomed. Built at the highest point in London, it was mostly constructed in the late 17th and early 18th century, opening in 1708.
We walked around the entire structure and even peaked inside. We avoided the high entrance fee that tourists must pay when there are no church services, so we could move on to find other architectural wonders. I am not a fast walker and my friend was seemingly content with my pace of sightseeing.
A new pedestrian bridge is very popular and a good spot for pictures. It is not a far walk from the Cathedral, which stands magnificently in the background. Yes, there are many places to get a good picture of the church so no need to start purchasing them. By the way, it is not as close as it looks from the bridge.
From the pedestrian bridge we could easily spot another stop on our architectural tour. The Shard is the tallest building in the United Kingdom at 95 stories and by far taller than anything on the London skyline. You can find a tube stop by the river or by St. Paul’s and ride to the London Bridge stop, but we walked our way over to the Shard. Unless you have a lot of time for sight seeing along the river, you will want to take the tube.
Along the river we saw the HMS Belfast, a British Naval cruiser that was originally launched on March 17, 1938. It was put on “reserve” in 1963 and serves more as a museum now. Behind it is the Tower Bridge, not the London Bridge which is actually in Arizona (look it up!). You can look back and see the new London Bridge, put it is really a rather ordinary looking structure.
When we finally reached The Shard we discovered a long line at the bottom to take a trip inside and up to the top. It was not important to me as we have been to the observation deck of the Willis (Sears) and my friend was more interested in getting outside pictures anyway. I chose to grab the train near there and my friend went on to see City Hall and Buckingham Palace on his own. I think he ran into James Bond before saying hello to the Queen, but I am not sure I trust him on these points.
By the way, when you get on and off the train, please “mind the gap,” the space between the platform and the train.
Our London Trip, by Rich Paschall, Sunday Night Blog
One of the things that my younger friends get to enjoy when we travel together is the discount I can get using my AARP membership. There is actually value to being over 50 and a member of the organization. I use the AARP travel site, powered by Expedia, several times a year. Not everything gets a senior discount, but I have uncovered some good deals there. I do take the time to check around on other sites.
For London I relied on a flight and hotel package from Chicago. Many hotels are suggested and unless you opt for the higher priced well-known names, I find the selection to be hit and miss. The hotels all have reviews, but they seem to me to be of limited value. You can find good and bad comments for each one.
We were lucky to get a direct flight on British Airways from Chicago O’Hare to London Heathrow airport. The service was better than other flights I have taken across the Atlantic and the unlimited drinks were certainly a plus for a few travelers. The entertainment options are amazing, but I chose to try to sleep a while each way. If you can not sleep on the plane, try to stay awake all day when you arrive.
It is always good to research your destination in advance, especially how to get around your destination city. Trust me, you do not want to drive in London. Aside from the driving on a different side of the street, the roads tend to be quite crowded at almost any hour. We decided to get into town on the Heathrow Express train from the airport to Paddington station. We bought the round trip tickets online before leaving home. This gave us a small discount over the train station price. We printed out the vouchers and exchanged them for real tickets when we arrived at Heathrow. Don’t worry about finding the train. There are plenty of signs in your native tongue, if you read English.
By car and by bus it is estimated to take about an hour and 20 minutes to get from Heathrow to Paddington. The Heathrow Express will get you there in about 15 minutes. The few extra dollars is more than worth it, especially for tired travelers who may have been up all night.
As Paddington is a main train station and a convenient stop for tourists, you can find many pubs, hotels, souvenir shops and currency exchanges in the area. Do not use the first currency exchange you see. There are likely two more on the same block. Go in each and ask for the rate, then go back to the best one. We found an exchange for 1.25 USD for one British pound. Down the street we could have paid 1.35. Those dimes add up if you exchange a lot of cash. It is better to change cash than pay your credit card’s foreign transaction fees, unless you have a card that does not charge it – lucky you!
Since the street is littered with souvenir shops, and some are the currency exchanges too, you should check the prices in several before you buy. I saved 3 pounds on a soccer scarf by pricing the exact same item several times over a couple of days. There is no hurry to buy souvenirs if you will be in the same spot for 5 nights, 6 days as we were. If you really need a Paddington bear, you can find all sizes up and down Craven street and surrounding areas.
Our hotel was picked off the online site. Unless you are going to pay for the much more costly package deal, your room choice may be just luck of the draw. We selected one based on website pictures and location. The relative location to the train, the tube, the buses, the pubs and restaurants made it a good stop. In reality it was barely adequate and a disappointment. I have generally had good luck with hotels and hostels, but was disappointed a few times as well.
When you leave the train station, there are many hotels within walking distance. Fortunately, my travel companion has a good sense of direction and researched the walk in advance. I may have gone off in the other direction. We were pleased with the surrounding areas and all it had to offer. After three days in a room too small for two and somewhat uncomfortable, we got a better room for the asking. I was prepared to use my laptop to find something else if they had not changed our room. Do not be afraid to complain or ask for a change if it is truly warranted.
We explored the area on foot the Sunday we arrived. We were surprised at the spots that were closed or opened very late. London is not Chicago (or San Antonio) and the local customs are much different. We walked extensively through the area, down to Hyde Park and across to Kensington Gardens and back through the neighborhood using a paper map. Yes, we know it is the era of phone apps, but we did not have phone service, nor wish to pay international rates to get it.
The homes and apartments of the area all seemed to have a similar style. In fact, on some streets all the houses looked the same to me. I guess there are streets like that here. We enjoyed our walks in Paddington, and the days ahead would take us to the famous sites around town. We got an “Oyster Card,” rode the tube and got the pictures I guess every tourist gets.
We learned to “mind the door,” “mind the train,” and “mind the gap.” Keeping all of this in mind, we also learned to “mind our cameras” on future stops. These pictures came from my phone.
Related: “London Calling,” Sunday Night Blog
Are you a traveler or a homebody?
I have been both and may be again. I have traveled a lot. England, Wales, Ireland. Israel. Canada. The entire east coast from Maine to Florida. New Orleans. Not so much now.
Driving isn’t the fun it was when we were younger. The roads were less crowded. Gasoline was cheap. And, of course, we had more money to spend. There still are a few places on my “to see” list. India. China. Japan. Australia and New Zealand. Paris (France). Nashville, Tennessee. I doubt I’ll get there, but I leave them on the list anyhow. You never know. Life can surprise you.
The drive and urgency to travel has diminished. Traveling requires more energy than I’ve got — and in this modern world, it’s a lot more complicated and dangerous than it was.
There’s a lot of hate going around. When I look at Garry and me in a mirror, I see targets shadowed on our foreheads. That makes staying home far more attractive.
What kind of TV commercial would you like to make? Describe it.
Not commercials. Public service announcements. I want to show people what they are doing to their world. Not someone else’s world. Not a world belonging to some abstract corporation, but your world. My world. Where when you destroy the water and kill the wildlife on land belonging to Native Americans in Standing Rock, North Dakota, you are destroying your own water, too.
With ever aquifer and spring we pollute, we push forward on that cosmic clock to accelerate our own universal demise. And that’s without getting into the disgusting racism and politics of this nightmare.
We share this planet. You cannot destroy part of it and think it will not resonate through this earth and affect you and yours. That’s magical thinking and it always fails.
Caring for this earth should not be a partisan issue. It doesn’t matter what color you are, who or what (if anything) you worship. It doesn’t even matter whether or not you are rich or poor. In the end, you kill your planet, you kill yourself. You kill everyone and everything that lives. Your children, their children. The future generations not yet born. Animals, butterflies, birds and bees.
These are the commercials I want to make.
Describe yourself in a word that starts with the first letter of your name.
Mmmmm? You got me on this one. Not a thought in my head. Oops.
List some fun things for a rainy day.
Watching movies, reading books, and cooking something that makes the house smell wonderful.
All things considered, there really aren’t so many “ways” around here. Towns are small and roads are two lanes, one in each direction. And those are the main roads. The side roads are those country roads where one car has to move all the way to the edge so the other can pass.
The roads may be small, but that has not reduced the number of cars people have. In fact, each year, everyone accumulates more cars. Where teenagers used to share a family car, now each kid has their own vehicle and it’s not unusual for them all to be driving at the same time.
So we have quite a lot of traffic on our tiny roads. The number of people who live in our towns has not increased and in many towns, has decreased … but there are lots more cars!