Britain Part 2

Sunday April 4: Dublin to Heathrow to Bath

Our flight from Ireland descended very leisurely into Heathrow. Typical congestion meant that we spent about 20 minutes circling around, while we occupied ourselves by spotting famous London landmarks including the London Eye, Tower Bridge, the Houses of Parliament, and Buckingham Palace.

Luggage collection at Heathrow was unusually prompt, and we walked our way through the maze of this enormous airport. We found the central coach station, and paid for two National Express tickets to Bath, with an extra unexplained charge of £0.99 each. The guy issuing the tickets seemed pretty clueless, so I eventually gave in to their extortion to save myself some hassle.

The bus was slightly late leaving, and took us through Swindon on the way to our destination. We arrived in Bath on time, then took only two minutes to walk to the Best Western Abbey Hotel. We checked in without any problems despite me leaving the booking voucher in our room in Dublin.

Since we had limited time in Bath, we decided to do the hop-on/hop-off tour thing. It was a bit of a waste of time, since the tour only took around 25 minutes. And it rained. We were sitting on the upper deck, trying to squeeze under the small amount of shelter as best we could, but umbrellas trying to keep the rest of us dry. I imagine it would have been quite a sight.

Once the tour was over the rain stopped, and we walked around and took some photos. Bath is a picturesque little place, with Bath Abbey, Pulteney Bridge, and the River Avon. We also went through the 2000 year old Roman Baths, where the exhibits are well done to give interesting and educational explanations of everything about the baths. Definitely worth a visit!

River Avon
The River Avon
River Avon
The River Avon
Roman Baths
Roman Baths
Roman Baths
Roman Baths
Outside the baths
Outside the Baths

We walked down to the railway station and collected our tickets from the FastTicket machines (I like those machines - they're very easy). Then we went to an internet cafe to reprint all the hotel vouchers and other information that I'd left behind in Dublin. Having a backup on the internet was an excellent idea.

We had a bit of trouble finding dinner, it took us three pubs before we found one that was serving food. We finished up at Sam Weller's, which has tasty simple food and good beers. The evening was made complete with a Bizarre Bath Comedy Walk. The walk costs £5, and the guy who runs it kept us entertained for the entire evening. I highly recommend it! The walk finished at the Huntsmen's Arms, a mere ten metres from our hotel.

Monday April 5: Bath to London

We managed to get up in time for breakfast, which today consisted of pastries, bread, bacon, egg, sausage, and mushrooms. I like mushrooms, so the day was off to a good start. We checked out of the hotel, leaving our luggage behind in the convenient but not-particularly-secure luggage storage room. We had cleverly planned to travel to London late in the day so that we had more time to see Bath.

Firstly we walked up to The Circus, a circular street with three-storey Georgian homes. Lots of columns, and very posh. Not far away was the Museum of Costume, with lots of old clothes dating from the 1600s to the 1990s. It was a lot more interesting than it sounds, and the audioguide is a useful investment. We looked at the Royal Crescent (similar to The Circus), then walked down to the railway station to start a scenic tour around the nearby hills.

The scenic tour is included in the price of the hop-on/hop-off tour, and is probably one of their few redeeming features. Unlike our main tour, the scenic tour we were on had a live guide. In general, live guides make a tour far better than a pre-recorded commentary. There's not really anything specific that you see on the scenic tour, it's just a drive up into the hills for some excellent views of Bath, then a drive back down again. But it helps to pass the time.

Finding ourselves back in the centre of town, we had a nice lunch at the Cellar Bar, one of two pubs very close to our hotel. Afterwards, it was a two minute walk to Bath Abbey. Inside we saw some very impressive stained glass and monuments on the walls. It was different enough to other churches and cathedrals to make it interesting, which is always good.

Inside Bath Abbey
Bath Abbey Interior
Bath Abbey stained glass
Bath Abbey Window
Inside Bath Abbey
Bath Abbey
Bath Abbey memorials
Bath Abbey
Memorial Stones

With not much else we wanted to do, we had a hot chocolate at the hotel, then walked to the railway station to catch our train to London. The train took us to Paddington, and from there the Warwick Hotel is only a few minutes walk away. Sadly, the location of the hotel is one of the few things that it has going for it (the other important one being the price). The hotel has no lift, so it was left up to me to carry our increasingly heavy cases up to our room on the fourth floor.

We did our washing and filled the very small room with drying clothes. That took ages to get done, and we were pretty hungry at this stage so it was off to the nearby Nelson's Pub, which claims to be London's longest. I had an overpriced curry and a beer, then it was back to the hotel for an exciting evening of television.

Tuesday April 6: London

The day started with a disappointing breakfast at the hotel; all-you-can-eat toast and some orange juice that wasn't even cold. It was somewhat different to the breakfasts that we had become accustomed to. We decided that it would be good to do a tour as orientation on our first day in London. The Big Bus London Tour left from just outside our hotel, so it was the obvious choice, though somewhat expensive at £17 each.

We started on the blue tour with boring recorded commentary around to Marble Arch, which was invisible beneath scaffolding. We changed to the red tour with a live guide, but our initial guide was lacking personality so we hopped off at Trafalgar Square to take some photos. We walked down Whitehall and saw some guards preparing for the changing of the guard. I took one of my favourite holiday photos - the close-up of the guard on horseback.

Nelson's Column
Nelson's Column, Trafalgar Square
Horse guards
Horse guards
Horse guards
Horse guards
Horse guard close-up
Horse guard close-up

We continued walking, saw Downing Street, and then Big Ben. More photos were taken (still in sun) then it was back on the bus with a much better guide than the tour we had left earlier. We went around to the Tower of London next, and jumped off the bus just as it started to hail. The weather had changed dramatically from earlier in the day. We took the opportunity to have lunch at a nearby pub.

Big Ben
Big Ben

After lunch we walked down to the Thames for a cruise back to Westminster Pier, which is included in the price of the Big Bus tour. I think it's worthwhile because it lets you see London from a different perspective.

Wednesday April 7: London

We got up around 9 but didn't go out until 11, with most of those two hours spent washing clothes in our tiny hotel bathroom. We didn't bother with breakfast after the previous day's disappointment, and headed straight off to Leicester Square to search for cheap theatre tickets. We chose Thoroughly Modern Milly; from memory the tickets were around £20 each. There were a couple of shows that were cheaper, but the available seats were crap.

Next it was off to Monument on the tube. We looked at the big monument that shows where the Great Fire started in 1666. It turned out to be less interesting than I thought it would be.

From the monument it's only a short walk to the Tower of London, where we planned to spend a few hours. We bought some pizza from a takeaway place then ate it while we queued for tickets. The queues were long and it took about 20 minutes to get to the front; I can't imagine how it must be in the middle of summer. Once we were inside there was a lot to see. The Crown Jewels were more impressive than I expected, the armour and weapons exhibits were very interesting, and the torture section lived up to expectations. There were a couple of suits of armour with an unusually well-protected groin area, and armour for horses which I'd never seen before. Overall we spent about 3.5 hours in the Tower. Much more than we had expected.

Tower of London
Tower of London
Knight and Horse in armour
Knight and Horse in Armour

Since we were in the area, we went up Tower Bridge (£4.40 each with a discount voucher from a brochure). There are some great views from the top and the bridge itself has more to see than most. They seemed very proud of their opening mechanism.

Tower Bridge
Tower Bridge
Tower Bridge
Tower Bridge
Tower Bridge
Tower Bridge

We headed back to the hotel, changed into some better clothes, then headed off to the theatre. Time constraints meant that we had a disappointing dinner at Burger King, and then our navigation shortcomings made us walk in the wrong direction trying to find the theatre. Eventually we realised our mistake, turned around, and made it in time for the start. I thoroughly enjoyed Thoroughly Modern Milly. The spectacle, the music, the singing, and the conductor made for an excellent night.

Thursday April 8: London

After skipping breakfast once again, we started the day by heading out to Camden Markets, which I had foolishly assumed would be up and running during the morning. We arrived around 09:30, and less than half the stalls and shops were open. So I learned a valuable lesson about checking our plans beforehand.

Next up it was off to Buckingham Palace for the Changing of the Guard, which was far more successful. We arrived around 10:30 to get a good spot on the steps of the Victoria Monument. I had seen it all before, so we were here primarily for my fiancée's benefit. She was a bit disappointed by the length and slow pace of the ceremony.

Changing of the Guard
Changing of
the Guard
Changing of the Guard
Changing of
the Guard

With so much to do in London and so little time, Shakespeare's Globe Theatre was our next stop. Again I had been there before, but I still found the visit interesting. At one point it became a little too interesting for my liking, as my fiancée decided it would be a fun idea to dress me up in armour. Young children giggled at my unfortunate plight as the armour went on, followed by the inevitable photo.

Gallant knight
Gallant Knight

The last stop of the day was an unplanned visit to the British Library. We went primarily to fill in time, but it turned out to be a pleasant surprise. Some of the items I found most interesting were Nelson's logbook, a list of gifts from the East India Company to the Great Mogul, old maps, Michelangelo's notes, letters from Galileo and Charles Darwin. The list of gifts sounded magnificent, including the greatest looking glasses that can be got and many breeds of dog, with an additional note may be difficult to transport.

Friday April 9: London to Madrid

It was time to bid farewell to England and fly to (hopefully) sunnier Spain. We missed the hotel breakfast once again, checked out, and left our cases at the hotel. We bought something from McDonalds for breakfast, I can only assume that I stuck to orange juice due to my dislike of everything they sell. We decided to waste some time in a nearby internet café, and I thought I might as well try out British Airways' online check-in, renowned for its unreliability. Somewhat surprisingly the system worked perfectly, and I had already been allocated an exit row. Quite content with this selection, I logged off feeling quite chuffed.

The trip to the airport was made easy by the Heathrow Express from Paddington, conveniently located within five minutes walk of the hotel. We even managed to avoid buying the rediculously overpriced tickets thanks to our freebies that were included with our European rail pass. We arrived at Heathrow Terminal 1 with plenty of time to check-in and relax before our flight.

With my new Gold Qantas Frequent Flyer status I knew I was eligible to check-in at business class, but the lack of signage forced me to ask customer service for directions. Finding out that premium check-in was "Zone R" made it far easier to find. Since we were travelling on a public holiday, there was no queue and no problems - we just confirmed that we had checked in online, and our exit row boarding passes were printed.

A quick detour to the toilets once again illustrated the benefits of status - these premium toilets sparkled and were obviously maintained to a very high standard! We located the British Airways Terraces lounge, where one of the "lounge lizards" quickly and efficiently checked our eligibility for access. Other people's stories of denied access without their frequent flyer cards seemed a long way from our experience. The lounge itself was very pleasant, and quieter than usual since we were travelling on a public holiday. After sampling the lounge's delights, we made our way to the gate and boarded our Airbus A320 aircraft that would take us to Spain.

We had a pleasant flight - the exit row seats were very spacious, and we were served some food. The British Airways "all day deli box" was nicer than I had heard it described, featuring a long roll with cheese and ham, a muffin, Kit Kat chocolate, and fruit salad. We ended up arriving slightly earlier than scheduled at Madrid Barajas Airport.

The holiday continues in Spain.
Back to the Europe 2004 index.