CATAPULTING TO ADVENTURE

Leaping, catapulting to adventure! What a concept!

It conjures visions of mountains to climb, rivers to ford. Diving to see the ocean bottom. Jumping from airplanes or diving into canyons tethered by elastic bands. I was never physically adventurous. This had less to do with fear but spoke more to my understanding of what I can actually do … and what I can’t.

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Clumsiness stands out head and shoulders from the crowd of reasons why I never became a rock climber, diver, or bungee jumper. I knew, in my soul, I would fall off the mountain, the bungee cord would pop and a fatal plunge awaited me. On horseback, I was daring, though looking back, I think stupid probably better applies. I fell off regularly and got broken. Eventually I learned to ride well enough to be less stupid and avoid additional breakage. By then, the damage was done and would never go away.

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Fear, trembling, and an already damaged spine notwithstanding, I climbed down the cliffs at Land’s End in Cornwall on a dare. Which is always the stupidest reason to do anything. But I did it anyway. I am not proud of it because it didn’t prove anything about me or the cliffs. I didn’t fall and break the rest of me and I get to say I did it, but wasn’t as if no one had dared do it before.

What’s the point of an adventure if you aren’t accomplishing anything new or noteworthy … or going somewhere you couldn’t go via some other safer, easier means? Why climb 1000 stairs if there’s an elevator?

Photo by Ben Taylor

Other adventures meant more to me. I moved across the ocean to live in a foreign country that became home. I wanted to experience another culture and see the world from a new perspective. For my own reasons. It was an adventure requiring mental rather than physical agility. Much more me.

Today,  a lovely hotel with comfortable beds is a grand adventure. Otherwise, I’ve passed my tests, thank you. I don’t feel any pressure to prove myself, not to me or anyone. But those of you who still have mountains to climb? Have at it. When you get up there, plant a flag and think (briefly) of me rooting for your success. Have fun out there. And … as they say … be careful. You only get one body and it has to (hopefully) last a long time.

FOR THE LOVE OF BOATING – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I used to love traveling. I liked getting to stay in new places every night. I liked not being at home, not having to worry about dishes — and what to make for dinner.

Then we got a boat.

I learned the joys of traveling WITH your home. Now, it’s the only way I want to travel.

On the boat, there’s almost no packing or unpacking. Your “stuff” is always with you. You have your comfy chair, your high def TV. You can bring your dogs – and that’s a biggie for us. We like having our dogs with us when we explore new places. Besides, it gets expensive leaving them home with the dog sitter.

It gets complicated with the dogs when we drop anchor outside of a marina, which always has easy access to dog walking areas. When we’re “on the hook”, we have to load the dogs into our dinghy (think big inflated canvas rowboat) and drive them to a place on land where they can do their business.

It’s an adventure. The dogs love it, but it can get old at 11:00 at night or 6:00 in the morning.

Another thing I like about traveling with my house is that it comes with a fully stocked kitchen. We don’t have to stop what we’re doing three times a day to figure out where to eat. We can grab something simple for breakfast and lunch and just go out for a nice dinner when we feel like it. We can also cook on board, which is fun, or even grill on the dock since most marinas provide grills. It’s easier on the pocketbook and the waistline, too, especially if you’re away for more than a few days.

Traveling by boat suits our lifestyle. Even on vacation, we’re homebodies. We like to sit and read. Tom likes to play his video games or watch old movies. It’s so much nicer doing that on the water than in a hotel room, even a nice one. We’ve stayed in some wonderful condos. At best, a hotel or condo may feel like home. When we’re on our boat, we always feel like we’re on vacation.

That’s the best thing about our boat. We can go sit on it, in our marina, going nowhere, and still feel like we’re light years away from everyday life. It’s magical. I love the sounds of the water and the seagulls, the gentle rocking of the boat, the lapping of the waves. I love watching the water. It looks different at various times of day when the sun hits it at different angles.

I love watching the birds and the other boats too. And there’s the smell of the sea. You’re in a whole other world when you’re on the water.

Our marina has a swimming pool, picnic tables, grills, and a restaurant. It’s ideal for entertaining, so we do most of our entertaining at the dock. We take friends out for a ride up the Housatonic River or out to Long Island Sound. Then we come back to the dock for appetizers, drinks, and dinner. It’s a perfect set-up for a perfect day.

The 2017 boating season is just starting. It’s Tom’s favorite time of year – he has six whole months of boating ahead of him. When the boat comes out of the water in November, Tom goes into a form of emotional hibernation until the next season begins.

This was taken in January. The temperature that day was 75 degrees! In January!

So we’re at the start of Tom’s life cycle. Here’s to 2017 — on the water!

HONEYMOON IN IRELAND – HAPPY ST. PATRICK’S DAY

We surprised everyone — except ourselves — when we announced our plans to honeymoon in Ireland. “Neither of you is Irish,” they said, foreheads wrinkled. I’m not sure why everyone assumes the only reason to go to Ireland is to look for “roots.” While we were there, we were often asked why we’d come and on hearing neither of us is Irish, would get looks of puzzlement.

Then, they’d look again and ask “Are you sure?”

It was a great place for Americans. There’s strain between the Irish and English for longstanding historical reasons, but they have nothing but smiles for Americans. From Dublin to Sligo, Shannon, Galway, Cashel and all the lovely towns in between, people were friendly and welcoming. When they learned we were honeymooners, we were treated to rounds of drinks and offered the best accommodations. Avoiding big hotels, we stayed in bed and breakfasts which we found using the National Tourist Board guidebook and a map.

We’d zero in on a destination and phone ahead. After a while, it began to work the opposite way. Wherever we found ourselves as evening approached, we’d see who had a room and stay. We always found a place and each home was spotlessly clean and comfortable, although tiny by American standards.

Cong and Garry

Cong and Garry

Our first stop after Shannon was Cashel. The bed-and-breakfast was like a little European pension. In the shadow of the Rock of Cashel, adjacent to the ruins of a medieval Dominican church, the location was perfect. We stayed two nights, then headed for Dublin.

Dublin was magic. Once we found our feet,  it was a city of music and good company We’d been planning to stay two nights, but stayed five. There were evening’s at Foley’s, where Irish music played every night and we all joined in, each in our own key. There were the pubs, where the Irish Coffee was always strong and the folks eager to wish us well and advise us on our itinerary. We shopped, sang, and drank, not necessarily in that order. (Note: Probably you should shop then drink.) We listened to stories, told some of our own, and would gladly have stayed another week or more.

Ashford Castle

From Dublin, we drove cross-country to Sligo. As we entered Sligo, the rain began to pelt down. For perhaps five minutes, it poured. Then, as the rain slowed to a drizzle, in front of us appeared a brilliant double rainbow. Welcome to Sligo. Our destination was a bed and breakfast called Rathnashee, which we learned means “fairy ring.” There’s an earthwork fairy ring in the field adjoining the house. I chose it because it had a room with a private bath, was on a main road (we never stopped getting lost, but we did learn to enjoy it), and had a library. Books are my weakness. Maybe my strength too.

The parlor of the house was a library, mainly the history of Ireland and Sligo in particular. Evenings, by the warmth of a peat fire, we settled in with a pot of tea and a plate of cookies. We read about Yeats, the Great Hunger, and the long, often tragic history of the north. In the course of events, Garry discovered he did, after all, have Irish roots, while I dreamed of fairy circles and magic mountains.

Abbey ruins near Ashford Castle

Sligo is bursting with magic. You can feel it as you explore the ancient earthworks, standing stones, cairns, and castles. I became convinced that the “Little People” live there still. Loch Gill, where lies the Isle of Innisfree, has its own kind of magic. We spent a grand afternoon exploring the recently restored Park Castle.

The crystal waters so clearly mirrored the sky that those viewing the pictures we shot that day have trouble telling which is water and which is sky. Later that same day, while heading toward Knocknarea, the mountain top cairn of the legendary Queen Mab, we met Gordon Winter, ex-spy, author, and local character. We were photographed in close encounters with his pet chickens, sipped tea in his kitchen, and bought an autographed copy of his latest book “Secrets of the Royals.”

Author Gordon Winter, Garry and chickens

Author Gordon Winter, Garry and chickens

Throughout our vacation, the weather never stopped changing. The sun shone, disappeared and reappeared in rapid succession. Wind blew, and clouds rolled in, and it rained. A few minutes later, the rain stopped, the wind died, the sun came out, the temperature rose, and just as you had taken off your jacket and put on your sunglasses, you’d realize it was raining again. We took our sunglasses on and off twenty times an hour, and took our jackets on and off almost as often. The second morning in Sligo, we awoke to pounding rain. I peeked out the window to see another rainbow, even brighter than the one we’d seen coming in, in the field across the road.

Rainbow over Sligo

Rainbow over Sligo

By the time we went to breakfast, the sun had come out, but by breakfast’s conclusion, it was again drizzling. Such is Irish weather. It never rained all day, but it rained a little almost every day, and we learned to ignore weather and proceed with our plans, counting on the ever-changing skies to give us enough clear weather to tramp through a ruin, scale a castle wall, or walk down by a riverside.

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After three days in Sligo, we traveled down to Connemara. One afternoon, we drove to Cong, where John Ford shot “The Quiet Man.” Ardent movie buffs, we literally climbed over fences and wended our way through sheep pastures (Garry always greeted the sheep by reminding them how good they would taste with a bit of mint jelly; I thought in terms of sweaters and tweeds) pastures until we found the “quiet man’s cottage,” now in ruins. The setting is as idyllic as ever, though, and the stream still flows past the cottage door and under the little bridge. Clearly the movie was the biggest thing to ever hit the town. Cong is full of Quiet Man memorabilia, and the local residents full of anecdotes and memories.

Cong, September 1990

Cong, September 1990

Our time was almost up, and as we continued down along the coast, we began to realize that we would really have to go home. The idea was so depressing that we stopped in the nearest pub for solace.

The only part was driving. Keeping left was a problem. The roads were another. Narrow, a terrifying mix of blind curves, roaming sheep, and meandering cattle, locals drive these narrow roads at supersonic speeds. On roads hardly wider than our tiny compact car, we were passed, after which we felt obliged to check if the door handles and mirrors were still attached.

Irish Signs

Eventually we stopped worrying where we were or how to get someplace else. We let the road take us where it would. We knew whenever and wherever we stopped, we’d find a good pub and friendly faces.

We hoped we’d go back again, but other places called and the years ran faster than I believed possible. But we remember.

Yeats in Sligo

Post Script:

When we got home, we were visiting Garry’s folks, showing the photos to Garry’s Dad until he stopped us. It was the pictures of Yeats’ burial site. “Those are your people,” he said, pointing to a group of stones slightly behind Yeats’.

“Our people?” asked Garry.

“Your grandparents were from Sligo,” he said. “My mother,” he clarified. That explained the very light-skinned red-headed grandmother Garry remembered.

“When were you going to tell me?” he asked his father.

“I was waiting until I thought you were old enough,” his father explained. Garry was 48 at the time.

AHOY! HOLD THAT SHIP!

Share Your World – March 13, 2017


Do you push the elevator button more than once?  Do you really believe it makes the elevator faster?

I know in my heart of hearts that pushing the button once is like pushing it a thousand times. The problem is that half the time, the light behind the button is out. The bulb went. So. I push the button. Nothing happens.

Not the right elevator?

A philosophical issue arises. Did I push the button … or did I not push the button? IF I pushed it, did it work? Is the absence of a bulb mean a failed process? Will pushing it again accomplish something else?

I push it again. Still, no light. By now, the conveyance is conveying. Up or down, we are on our way. Somewhere. Will it be where I want to go? Tune in next week and I promise I’ll let you know!

Do you plan out things usually or do you do them more spontaneous (for example if you are visiting a big city you don’t know?)

I never visit big cities I don’t know without a hotel reservation — and a parking space. Other places — gentler, less busy places — we will go with or without plans, depending on the time of year. If it is full tourist season, we need a reservation. But if it is off-season, we might go and see what comes up. Some of our best trips have been to places we were only planning to be for an afternoon, then decided to stay overnight.

In this part of the world, season matters. The more upstate you go, the more likely you are to need a reservation. For mountains and shore or merely to go leafing. In New England, going out to view leaves with a camera is a huge recreational activity. Bigger than summer vacation. This isn’t about how we feel about it. It’s about living somewhere that millions of people want to visit.

Locally, if you want to do anything involving the beach and it’s summer, you absolutely need a reservation. Even if you have an RV, you will still need a reservation.You are not going to find a lovely little place to stay on Cape Cod in June, July, or August. Probably not in May or September, either. And, to be fair, the Cape is insanely overcrowded in the summer. It’s really lovely in the second half of October. I recommend it.

The moral of the story? If you live in a vacation location, make sure you and your calendar have a relationship. New England has gotten back to being more of a vacation site over past 10 years … as it was 100 years ago. It has come around. Again.

Describe yourself in at least four uplifting words.

Uplifting? Um. I’m not sure about uplifting. Okay. But not very uplifting.

If you ask me for information or directions, you will really get them. I’m not good with quick answers. My husband has learned to say “JUST A QUICK ANSWER ON THIS ONE PLEASE,” which means I should leave the 40-page paper on my desk and give him the single-sentence version. But sometimes, I can’t.

It’s not even sarcasm. I think weird before I think deep. If you ask me something, I’m likely to give you one really strange answer. I have always been like this.

I love animals. All animals. That’s my most uplifting quality. Usually they like me, too. But they like Garry better.

I am a knee-jerk apologist. I apologize to everyone and everything. Tripped over the dog? Get down on the floor and apologize until dog gets annoyed and leaves. Walk into a table leg? Apologize to table and leg.

I am not perfect or even close.  I am, however, a hard tryer.

I believe we are supposed to care about people who need help. Poor people, sick people, hurt people, old people, children. Immigrants. I think we should be kind to those who most need kindness. It doesn’t mean I don’t have a sharp temper for which I will wind up making several million apologies, but that’s not the same thing. A sharp temper is just that. It comes (embarrassing). It goes. STILL embarrassing. Garry has a good solid temper of his own and you should see us when we both get going.

Eventually, we forget what we were fighting about and watch some television. As I said previously, pretending nothing happened is always a great way to end a stupid fight. Especially when you are fighting with someone who, like you, never loses.

If you had a choice which would be your preference salt water beaches, fresh water lakes, ocean cruise, hot tub, ski resort or desert? 

We’ve been on two cruises and we loved them. Why? Because once you get past the hassle of getting aboard — the traffic and hauling your stuff  — you are free. No calls. No mail. Nothing but blue ocean, leaping dolphins, and periodic stops on sandy beaches or other cool place.

After which, you go back to the ship, eat far too much, watch a show, take in a few movies. You can watch the latest films in your own little room or in a theater, too … which for movie buffs is a great thing. I thought a small ship would be better than a big one, but it doesn’t really matter.

The ship is the ship is the ship. They are beautiful, well-kept. The food is amazing. And for however long you are on board, life is just GREAT.

However, we’ve had two glorious vacations in Arizona and many wonderful trips to Cape Cod and other areas along the shore. We’ve been to the top of the mountains in Maine and New Hampshire and to the perfect village in Vermont. We’ve had a great time in Disney World, California, Gettysburg, Cooperstown and New York. We had a wonderful few weeks in Ireland, too.

The only time it really didn’t work out well was when it rained continuously for the entire time. There’s not much you can do up in the mountains of New Hampshire when it’s pouring. Generally, wherever we are, we have a good time. It’s stupid to not have a good time on vacation. If you are away, in a nice place, but not enjoying it? That’s silly.

THE WEATHER OUTSIDE IS FRIGHTFUL

Be Delightful, by Rich Paschall


If you live anywhere in the United States, except the extreme southern portions, you will eventually get your share of winter weather.  The further north you live, the worse it is likely to be.  Here in the upper Midwest, we are likely to get a lot of snow and much sub freezing weather.  Some years we get a lot of subzero weather when I can look forward to the possibility of the pipes to the kitchen sink freezing.  It is somewhat less than joyful to discover the water does not run in the kitchen.

During my many years in Chicago land,  we have enjoyed some of the biggest snowfalls ever.  By enjoyed, I mean we were all stranded somewhere.  Hopefully, you made it home before the snow got too deep.  In 1967 as a youngster, I thought it was fun to have over two feet of snow.  School was cancelled and we got dig out cars and play in the street.  We could walk right down the center of usually busy Irving Park Road (Illinois 19) and not worry about traffic.  Buses were stranded everywhere as they were connected to overhead electric wires and could not get around stalled cars and snow drifts.

January 1967 Pulaski and Irving

January 1967 – Pulaski and Irving Park Road

By the Blizzard of 1979 we were not as amused with the snow as we were at a younger age.  In fact, it was the storm that pushed Mayor Bilandic out of office.  We can forgive almost any sin in this town except not moving the snow.  If he had not insisted the city was on top of the situation as the blizzard was raging on, he might have survived the poor effort. Like the snow in a soft storm, Bilandic was pushed to the curb in the following election.

We did not have another great blizzard until 2011, but we have had plenty of large snowfalls before and since.  I have done enough snow shoveling for a lifetime.  If you are lucky enough to have a snow blower, you learn they are not much good when you start measuring the snow in feet instead of inches.

February 1, 2015

February 1, 2015

Recently at work we heard that there was a state of emergency in the Atlanta area as they expected 1 to 4 inches of snow.  One to Four!  Of course we were all amused that they had to shut everything down over an amount of snow we would consider practically nothing.  On the other hand, they do not have mountains of road salt, a fleet of snow plows and an army of city workers prepared for even the smallest of snowfalls.  If the Department of Streets and Sanitation does not move our snow in a timely manner, the mayor will be the ex-mayor after the next election.

One year we decided to escape the winter with a week in Florida.  That was also the year that Florida did not escape the winter.  Everywhere we went from Orlando to the southernmost reaches of the state, we heard the locals swear to us that they NEVER have an entire week of weather like that.  Even Mickey Mouse must have gotten giant ear muffs for his mouse ears.

At least we had the beaches to ourselves.  From Clearwater to Sarasota and Miami to Key West, we did not have to fight crowds of locals and tourists for a spot in the sand.  Only the seagulls were walking around.  Perhaps it was too cold for flight.

Florida in January?

Florida in January?

Perhaps there just is no escaping Mother Nature.  If she so desires, she can stalk you around the continental USA like the merchant of evil she can sometime be.  Winter vacation in Florida is no guarantee of warmth.  When it is barely warmer than 1300 miles to the north, you are being advised that you should have stayed home.

So if the cold and the snow has overtaken your area, what should you do besides fret about the accumulations outside?  Aside from clearing a path in the snow, it may be time for a snowman, snow fort and snow ball fight.  It could be the time to get out the sled or toboggan.  You may wish to lace up the ice skates if you can actually get to the ice rink.

At this point in life, I can recall all those things fondly, but would rather delight in the inside of the house.  After all, there are so many things I consistently delay, a snow day or two would seem like a great time to start.  I have accumulated many books over the years that I have intended to read.  It would seem that not being able to go to the Wild West Sports Bar and Grill should not be so troubling.  I can always start one of the mysteries on hand or dive into the John Adams biography.

This January, I have continued my quest to watch all of the James Bond movies in order. I am now on the Daniel Craig films and have just one more to go. There are other DVDs I have had for a long while that I would like to watch, or watch again.  When the thermometer shows Zero degrees or the snow is piling up, the fire can be so delightful.  If you have a fireplace, that is.  Otherwise, just get a warm blanket.

STONEHENGE AND A ROMAN BATH

A Great Charter, by Rich Paschall

There are many tour operators in London.  Besides the trips they offer around town, you can go out on a day trip that will take you to one or more famous places.  On a previous visit to London I took the day trip to Oxford, then on to Warwick Castle and finally to Stratford on Avon.  Shakespeare was not home when we arrived at Stratford, but we saw his boyhood home anyway.  These trips last all day so you need to be ready for an adventure of up to 12 hours.

While you can reserve a tour at many locations in central London, we chose to book in advance before we left on our journey.  A visit to visitlondon.com and other tourist sites will link you to the leading tour companies.  We picked the Stonehenge and Bath tour and saved a little by buying in the USA and taking our vouchers with us.  Once in London we received an email saying our trip was cancelled but they would upgrade us to the Salisbury, Stonehenge and Bath tour for the same price and on the same day.  There was an additional entrance fee at Salisbury we did not have to pay, so we gained a good savings.

The modern charter buses pick up at various hotels around town and take tourists to a central location, where you board your particular tour bus and head out of town.  We got a slow start due to traffic but made our way on the road to Salisbury Cathedral.  We knew little about it, but learned a lot from our guide who explained everything to the group in both English and Spanish.

Salisbury Catherdral

Salisbury Cathedral

The first thing we noticed was the size of the structure.  The spire is the tallest one in Great Britain at 404 feet.  While the church was finish in the 1258, the massive spire was added later and finished in 1320.  It would have long since toppled without additional supports over the centuries, including tie beams designed by Christopher Wren in 1668

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The tall nave is impressive in length, with tombs filling the spaces between many of the columns.  The Diocese of Salisbury has been in existence since the beginning of construction in 1220.  The building houses one of four remaining copies of the Magna Carta, agreed to by King John and rebellious Barons in 1215, basically a peace treaty.  Unfortunately, the agreement was not honored by either side initially, but it did lay the basis for English laws in years to follow.  No pictures are allowed of the ancient document and it is protected in a small enclosure you can enter for viewing.  A full translation of the Latin document is nearby for the true historians.

Stonehenge

Stonehenge

Just 8 miles north of Salisbury is the iconic Stonehenge.  While it is thought to date back to 2000 BC, it could in fact be somewhat older.  There is a mound containing burial sites around it which dates back hundreds of years before the structure.  In front of that is a ditch which is clearly visible above.  No, they do not let you cross the mounds or go into the center, except for four times a year.  At the summer and winter solstice and Vernal and Autumnal Equinox.  If you are a Neo-Druid or Pagan that may be your time to go.  You can get rather close on one side any time.

The locals are unimpressed with our visit

The locals are unimpressed with our visit

Yes, there are sheep in the valley alongside Stonehenge.  It just seemed to fit appropriately in the countryside.  A parking lot that was formerly close by stones has been moved in order to restore the view. A visitor center opened in 2013 which is near the highway and well away from the structure.  You can walk up the road to Stonehenge, but take the visitor’s shuttle.  It is a long walk.

Bath, England

Bath, England

From there is was back on the bus to travel another 38 miles out to the town of Bath, Somerset.  Much of the architecture of the town is distinctive in it golden colored stone.  From the spot above (on the extreme right) we entered into the ancient Roman baths.

Ancient Roman bath

Ancient Roman bath

Dating back to 60 AD it is a popular tourist spot now.  Fed by hot springs to this day, the waters are quite warm. While they advise tourists not to stick their hands in the calcium and sulphate ion rich, and possibly disease laden (dangerous amoeba) waters, people do it anyway to see just how hot it is. The site itself is a treasure trove of artifacts from Roman times. A slow tour of the facility is worth your time.

Bath Abbey

Bath Abbey

Nearby the Roman baths is the Abbey dating from the early 16th century.  While we got to see the building from several angles, there was no time to stop inside.  We were approximately 97 miles from London at this point and ready for our long trip back.

Our original intent had been the two stop trip in order to allow enough time at each place.  The three stops this far out of our origin meant there was little time explore, especially in Bath where we truly just ran out of time.  Nonetheless, we were glad to see Salisbury for its architectural and historic significance.

The tour provided lunch on the bus in order to save time, but some heavy traffic, even in off-season, slowed us down considerably. An alternative plan would have been to take the train from Paddington station in central London to Bath and catch a tour bus to Stonehenge from there.  Since our visit to the three stops was relatively brief, it is safe to say we would not mind a longer visit to each one.  Perhaps we will return some day in the future.

Related: Heathrow Express
Take The London Underground
A Tourist View Of England
London Calling

HEATHROW EXPRESS

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.

London train station

London train station

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.

Paddington Station

Paddington Station

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.

A hotel with great location

A hotel with great location

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.

Do they all look the same?

Do they all look the same?

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