Tower Bridge in London


Great Britain 2016

Last updated July 14, 2020



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Day One | Day Two | Day Three | Day Four | Day Five | Day Six | Day Seven | Day Eight | Day Nine | Day Ten

Our good friends and neighbors, Don and Sara, are temporarily living in England. While we were sad to see them leave, we were happy when they invited us to visit. Norma and I took them up on their offer.

Last year, when visiting my parents, Norma and I volunteered to stay behind and take a later plane on an overbooked flight. This gave us each $500 on United Airlines which we used for this trip, making it all the more affordable. Other things made this trip relatively inexpensive. Great Britain had recently voted in favor of Brexit which meant they would be leaving the European Union. Thus, the British pound was weaker and our American dollars could purchase more. We wouldn't be paying much for lodging since we would stay with Don and Sara for the first part of the trip and then with Norma's former co-worker, Tomasz, and his family for a night. When we did pay for lodging, it was a very small room she found through AirBnB.

We flew out from Dulles, Virginia on the afternoon of July 22, 2016. The area was being hit with a heat wave. It was a good time to leave for someplace cooler.

On the flight over, I watched "Creed" (the 7th "Rocky" movie) which was much better than I expected. I also watched the first part of "Ip Man 3." I didn't sleep much on the plane. I think "Creed" got me a little pumped up like any good Rocky movie should.

Day One, Saturday, July 23, 2016

Sara picked us up. I napped off and on in the car, feeling a little dazed from lack of sleep and jet lag.

Our first stop was the open air Marlborough Market in the town of Marlborough. See first photo. This quaint little town was everything I expect of England. The temperature was ideal...more like our Maryland spring. There were plenty of brick and stone buildings with slate roofs. The early morning northern European sun cast a glow on things that reminded me of our trip to Norway in 2014. But unlike Norway, the cost of things was much more reasonable.

One of the things we bought at the market was a classic Oxfordshire lardy cake. See second photo. We found it amusing how they gave it a truly descriptive name rather than a name suited for marketing. We found it quite filling, as expected.
Click thumbnails to enlarge.

Our next stop was the Avebury World Heritage Site, where we did a little walkabout. Sara had asked us if we wanted to see Stonehenge but Norma was turned off by the large crowd that this popular tourist destination attracts. Avebury is similar but without the horizontal stones atop the vertical stones.
Unlike Stonehenge, the monuments at Avebury do not stand in isolation. The Village of Avebury, with its Saxon origins, and the main road share the interior of the henge with the stone circle, making use of the original entrances for the road pattern and of many of the stones themselves for building material. This close proximity gives Avebury a unique atmosphere, with the busy life of the village going on in and around the monuments.
- from Wiltshire Council - Avebury World Heritage Site

What is a henge?
Henges are intriguing monuments built in the British Isles between 4000 and 5000 years ago. Avebury is one of the biggest and contains the remains of the largest prehistoric stone circle in the world.
- from trail sign titled "Avebury World Heritage Site - A complex of outstanding prehistoric monuments"

The three of us walked amongst the stones (first photo, first column) with other visitors and a few cows. See second photo, first column. In England, many of the trails pass through farmland (third photo, first column). Farmers are required to allow walkers to pass through. Thus, most of our hikes were shared with cattle, goats, and sheep. Cleverly designed gates kept the animals in while allowing hikers to get through easily.

England isn't known for its wildlife but one animal it does have are hedgehogs, which we did not see. On our walk, the most interesting animals I saw were snails with beautiful markings. See fourth photo, first column. They reminded me of our trip to Germany in 2011.

We saw several pretty flowers (fifth and sixth photos, first column), many of which resembled those we have here in the states. I didn't see any poison ivy and it isn't native to England but one does need to watch for nettles which can make your skin sting.

While exotic flora and fauna isn't England's greatest strength, the really great news is that we didn't see a single mosquito during our entire stay!

Sara led us to Silbury Hill. See seventh and eighth photos, first column.
The largest man-made mound in Europe, mysterious Silbury Hill compares in height and volume to the roughly contemporary Egyptian pyramids. Probably completed in around 2400 BC, it apparently contains no burial. Though clearly important in itself, its purpose and significance remain unknown.
- from English Heritage - Silbury Hill

In one area, we saw several strips of cloth tied to a tree. See first photo, second column. They were all quite different so I don't imagine it has a practical purpose. I have no idea why they were there.

Our next stop at Avebury was the West Kennet Long Barrow. See second photo, second column.
One of the largest, most impressive and most accessible Neolithic chambered tombs in Britain. Built in around 3650 BC, it was used for a short time as a burial chamber, nearly 50 people being buried here before the chambers were blocked.
- from English Heritage - West Kennet Long Barrow

Continuing our hike, we saw some tree fungus (third photo, second column) and several sheep (fourth and fifth photos, second column) before the giant stones led us to the village of Avebury. See sixth photo, second column. I noticed how some structures incorporated thatch roofs (seventh photo, second column). Clearly it works out there but I reckon we get too much snow in Maryland for that to work while it would be a fire hazard in California. After we enjoyed a snack (no, this wasn't a Team SNaCk trip since Carmen wasn't there), I took a nap on the lawn while Norma and Sara explored the village.

That night, Don, Sara, Norma, and I ate a pub called the Beehive. Don and Sara's dogs (Newcastle and Bailey) joined us. We sat outside, enjoying the nice weather and late sunset (about an our later than in Maryland). We also got a chance to see their town, Cheltenham.
Click thumbnails to enlarge.

Day Two, Sunday, July 24, 2016

Don, Sara, Norma, and I drove out to do a little hike. Driving in England takes a little getting used to. Staying on the left is just one of many differences. There are many roundabouts which require one to pay more attention than a signal light. Roads are narrower yet some people drive big SUVs and pickup trucks (though not as many as in the states). Don't expect to find shoulders on which to pull off. Roads are often bordered by hedgerows which drivers keep their vehicles just inches from. There are quite a few bicyclists that share the road with cars since there are often no shoulders. The thing I found most peculiar was the fact that yellow lines did not divide traffic traveling in different directions. Instead, all the lines were white, regardless of whether or not they separated traffic going in the same or opposite directions. I commented that I saw no abandoned vehicles like I see so often in the states. One abandoned vehicle could pose problems in a place without shoulders. I was told that cars in England must be inspected annually and this helps avoid vehicle breakdowns.

We parked at a pub where we would return later, located near the Church of Saint Giles. See first photo, first column. Then we caught a trail that took us uphill to Uley Bury.
The Bury is a remarkable prehistoric hill fort created from a natural promontory of the Cotswold escarpment.
- from sign on trail titled "Welcome to Uley Bury!"

These trails, which took us through more farmland (second photo, first column), comprise the Cotswold Way which offers over 100 miles of trekking in the Glouchestershire area. Sara has really gotten to know this area well. For more information about this area, see Camino Adventures - Cotswold Way.

At a trail sign, someone left a rock containing what I believe to be brachiopod fossils. See third photo, first column.

After taking a group photo (fourth photo, first column), I spotted a gatekeeper butterfly. See fifth photo, first column.

Our hike involved quite a bit of uphill walking. See sixth photo, first column and first photo, second column. I don't expect the dogs would have fared well in their old age.

At the top, Norma and I posed for a photo with the village of Uley in the background. See second photo, second column. It was obvious why this location was chosen for a fort. Visibility was very good and it would have been excellent if it wasn't overcast.

We spotted some purple thistle (third photo, second column) and some other plant ready to seed (fourth photo, second column).

Heading back down, we crossed more farmland and saw several goats. See fifth photo, second column.

Our hike finished just before it started raining. We stayed dry while we ate lunch in a pub. During the first few days, I tried to sample as much English food as possible. None of it was bad though it wasn't particularly memorable. What I didn't much care for was the Diet Pepsi. It tastes different out there. So I spent more time drinking tea.
Click thumbnails to enlarge.

Don drove us into Wales to see the Chepstow Castle. I was told that Welsh castles are different than English ones and this was a fine example of the former. See first photo, first column.
Chepstow Castle is the oldest surviving post-Roman stone fortification in Britain. Its construction was begun in 1067, and it was the southernmost of a chain of castles built along the English-Welsh border.
- from Facebook - Chepstow Castle

I spend a lot of time studying things several millions of years old yet I have a hard time comprehending seeing anything built by humans almost a thousand years ago such as this castle. Wooden doors hung at the main castle gateway (second photo, first column) are slightly younger.
Their age was recently tested by dendrochronology (tree-ring dating) and they were found to have been made no later than the 1190s. This surprisingly early date makes these the oldest castle doors in Europe.
- from sign at castle titled "Chepstow Castle Doors"

From the castle, I could see the River Wye below. See third and fourth photos, first column. This separates England from Wales. While us Yanks don't really distinguish between the two groups, Don tells me that when an Englishman walks into a Welsh pub, all the good Welsh people switch from speaking English to Welsh.

My favorite building material is stone and structures such as the Chepstow Castle prove just how durable such a material is. See fifth photo, first column and first, and second photos, second column. Not only are the walls built of stone, the foundation is also stone.

The historic bathroom in the castle was simply a bench over the water. I guess you don't get your drinking water from downstream.

Interior structures in the castle had windows. Only the river side of the exterior fortification was deemed safe enough to have windows.

A sculpture appearing to be made of branches stood within the castle walls. See third photo, second column.

Not only were the castle walls hearty (fourth photo, second column) were the plants which grew in them. See fifth photo, second column.

I can't remember which evening it was but one night we stayed in and watched "Waking Ned Devine," a delightful British movie that Norma and I very much enjoyed.
Click thumbnails to enlarge.

Day Three, Monday, July 25, 2016

As is typically the case on our trips, Norma does most of the planning. The one exception is when it comes to kayaking. Then I am in charge. I really wanted to paddle in Great Britain. So I spent a lot of time looking on-line for outfitters. Sara and I discussed possibilities and came to the conclusion that the River Wye would be best. This is not to be confused with the Wye River which I paddled recently on July 21, 2016 in Maryland.

We had our choice of a few outfitters. Most seemed to offer short kayaks or canoes. The Brits often use the term "canoe" to include kayak so when they talk about a "Canadian canoe," they're referring to what we think of as a canoe. In the end, we went with Wye Pursuits.

Our route would be Ross-on-Wye to Symonds Yat, a 16 mile route. Their website describes the first part:
Starting at the picturesque market town of Ross-on-Wye, the river gently meanders through beautiful scenery, taking in the spectacular Goodrich Castle along the way. A quieter section of the river with an abundance of wildlife, you may see the shy otter fishing or a flash of blue as the kingfisher darts ahead of you.

The outfitter describes the second part:
Starting from our centre at Kerne Bridge this stunning trip takes you through the spectacular Symonds Yat Gorge past Coldwell Rocks, where the peregrine falcons nest and are often spotted circling above. The beautiful scenery and wildlife make this a truly wonderful trip.

The outfitter took several of us in a van to the launch area. This section of the Wye is several miles upstream from the Chepstow Castle. Unlike the wide, muddy water downstream, this water was narrow and much clearer. See first photo, first column.

The launch area incorporates a combination of ramp switchbacks and stairs. See second photo, first column. It is not a bad solution for being able to travel over a significant vertical drop in a short period of time though it only allows for cartop carry watercraft (which is fine by me).

We launched our RTM Solo kayaks. See third photo, first column. I found them suitable. At first I was hesitant to ask Norma to paddle such a short boat for 16 miles but the river gave us what I estimate to be a 1.5 mph push downstream.

Our main landmarks were bridges. See fourth photo, first column. I think we would kayak under five or six. Some looked to be rather old.

We passed by the White Lion restaurant and inn (fifth photo, first column).
When the children cry let them know we tried. Cause when the children sing then the new world begins.
- lyrics from "When the Children Cry" by White Lion

Norma, Sara, and I saw dozens of mute swans (sixth photo, first column), Canadian geese, and mallard ducks. I also saw a cormorant. Nothing exotic.

Today's weather was one of the nicer days. Mostly sunny with a few clouds and very little chance of rain. The lighting was not bad for taking photos.
  • Seventh photo, first column: We were required to have a helmet with us though there was no requirement to actually wear it.
  • First photo, second column: The white things in the background are swans.
  • Second photo, second column: Me not paddling.
  • Third photo, second column: Sara and I.
  • Fourth photo, second column: Norma approaching one of the nicer bridges.

  • Near the mid-point, we took out at Kerne Bridge, which is near the outfitter. Then we walked to Inn on the Wye where we ate lunch. Norma had fish and chips (fifth photo, second column). Sara warned us that the quality of such a meal varies significantly from one restaurant to the next but this place was good. Service is not particularly fast at the places Norma and I ate at and this restaurant was no exception. This had me a little concerned because we had to be at our destination by 1700. Based on how far we had paddled and how much we had left, we would have to pick up the pace or risk missing the outfitter at Symonds Yat.

    The route description mentioned being able to see Goodrich Castle from the river. We had a bad and brief view of it while kayaking but a much better, though distant view from the restaurant. See sixth photo, second column. It is an 11th century Welsh castle.

    Sara opted out for the second part of the trip. She wanted to give her shoulder a rest. She handed me her Epic full carbon fiber wing paddle to complete our journey and said she would meet us at Symonds Yat. I offered Norma the wing but she preferred to keep using the Euro paddle provided by the outfitter.

    I saw a few small fish in the water but nothing else. There was something swimming on the surface but I couldn't get a good look.

    We paddled past Coldwell Rocks. See the right side of seventh photo, second column.

    Norma and I saw a few Hereford cattle near the river. See eighth photo, second column.

    Many people were out enjoying the river either via canoe or kayak. I saw no motorboats until we reached our destination. I think many parts of the river were too shallow for a motorized boat.

    Except for manmade structures, I felt like I was kayaking in the states. As far as natural things are concerned, I saw nothing especially interesting. Don't get me wrong...the scenery was nice. But like the native food, it wasn't particularly memorable.

    Sara picked us up at the take-out. The outfitter also met us there to take the boats back. Norma and I finished with plenty of time to spare.
    Click thumbnails to enlarge.

    By the time we got back to the house, Newcastle and Bailey had been inside all day. So we took them out for a walk. They are Labrador siblings. Bailey is the blonde while Newcastle is chocolate. See photo.
    Click thumbnail to enlarge.

    Day Four, Tuesday, July 26, 2016

    On one morning during our visit with Don and Sara (perhaps it was this morning), Sara made a fantastic waffle breakfast with fresh berries. They make fantastic hosts and do very well running a bed and breakfast.

    Sara, Norma, and I headed out to the Cotswold Lavender Farm. This place is a feast for the eyes and nose. Beautiful colors and scents.
  • First photo, first column: Lavender comes in many shades.
  • Second photo, first column: Wildflowers.
  • Third photo, first column: Norma and Sara.
  • Fourth photo, first column: Lavender as far as the eye can see.
  • First photo, second column: Sara and me.
  • Second photo, second column: A poppy. This is a symbol for both veterans groups in England and the states.
  • Third photo, second column: More lavender.

  • A small store at the farm sold Spot Loggins "supernatural" lavender ice cream which we sampled. We also got to read about and see the equipment used to harvest the flower and extract the oils.
    Lavender oil: It is the essential oils within the lavender plant that give it its characteristic scent. Oil is stored in small glands at the base of the flowers. When you brush against lavender in the garden in the summer, these glands burst and release their scent.
    - from sign at store

    So lavender is an "essential oil." I wonder what a "non-essential oil" is. Motor oil?

    There were many Asian visitors at the farm.
    Click thumbnails to enlarge.

    The three of us drove out to Broadway Tower, the Cotswold's highest castle. See first photo.
    Broadway Tower was erected in 1800 for George William, the 6th Earl of Coventry.
    The 18th century was a great age of building and landscaping, done with an eye to creating picturesque and fanciful views. Among the most popular features were 'follies', most often in the form of brand-new 'ruins' or mock-medieval castles or abbeys. Broadway Tower was just such a 'Gothic' folly, in fact one of several created for the Earl.

    - from sign at tower

    We climbed to the top (second photo) where we had a nice view of the town of Broadway (third photo).
    Click thumbnails to enlarge.

    Sara had things to do so Norma and I set out on our own, picking up the Cotswold Way trail at Broadway Tower.

    We passed some stone fences. The first (first photo, first column) was complete while the second (second photo, first column) was still in the works.

    It didn't take long before we arrived at the town of Broadway. The place was pristine and beautiful with the type of classic stone buildings and fences that one would expect in a quaint English town. See third and fourth photos, first column. It was also fairly crowded with what I'm guessing were tourists.

    Following Norma's guidebook, we ended up at the Saint Michael and All Angels Church. See fifth photo, first column and first photo, second column.

    The trail led us through more farmland.
  • Second photo, second column: Hay field with big square bales.
  • Third photo, second column: Ropes kept us from veering off the trail.
  • Fourth photo, second column: Sheep watch us curiously.

  • Somehow, we got off Cotswold Way. There were a few other people trying the follow the same route as us so clearly it wasn't obvious where we went wrong. A couple of young men with a map that spoke like natives told us which way to go and we followed their advice. That was probably a mistake. Our destination was the town of Stanton but instead we ended up at Snowshill which was nowhere close. The day was overcast so it was difficult to determine direction using the sun.

    We ended up at Saint Barnabus Church. See fifth photo, second column. There was a working pay phone nearby so Norma called Sara who came and picked us up. Like here, pay phones are becoming a thing of the past so we were fortunate to come across one. They are being converted into ATMs and other things. Our phones usually didn't work out there.
    Click thumbnails to enlarge.

    Day Five, Wednesday, July 27, 2016

    Sara, Norma, and I drove south to an area known as the Jurassic Coast. This is a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site which means it is a really important place...even more than Savage, Maryland.
    The layers of sedimentary rock along the Jurassic Coast can be read like a book. They reveal the history of Earth across 185 million years and form a near complete record of the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods. Exploring this immense story takes us on a walk through time across deserts, tropical seas, ancient forests and lush swamps, recorded in rock and laid out along the 95 mile stretch of coast between Exmouth in East Devon and Studland Bay in Dorset.
    - from "Jurassic Coast - What is the Jurassic Coast?" (a broken link as of 2016)

    We started by walking along the Red Coast. Look at the red sandstone walls near the water and you'll know how it got its name. See first and second photos, first column. We had a nice view of the beach (third photo, first column). It wasn't exactly the type of place to go lie out on the sand. It was very rocky and difficult to walk on with bare feet. Still, some folks were out enjoying it like a regular sandy beach, despite the dark skies.

    The three of us took a brief stroll through Connaught Gardens. See first photo, second column.

    Next, we walked to the town of Lyme Regis, a nice beach town. See second photo, second column.
    You could think of it as the English Riviera, or as a necklace strung with jewels of scenery.
    - from The Washington Post - The Jurassic Coast, England's Riviera

    Norma and I walked through the Lyme Regis Museum where we learned about local celebrity Mary Anning.
    Mary Anning was the most important local geologist in the early 19th century, and this ichthyosaur [photo shown in museum] found by her was the first to be scientifically described in 1821.
    In 1821, Anning uncovered a partial skeleton, the new species was called a Plesiosaur.
    - from display at Lyme Regis Museum

    It was largely the work of Mary Anning that the town developed a strong "fossil" identify. It could be seen in the ammonite motif lamp posts (third photo, second column) and numerous fossil shops (fourth photo, second column). In one place, I even found chocolate ammonite candy for sale. More about ammonites to follow.
    Click thumbnails to enlarge.

    Our next stop on the Jurassic Coast was a rocky beach at Charmouth. Here, we spent a few hours fossil hunting.

    Over the last few years, I've spent quite a bit of time looking for fossils in the Maryland/Virginia area. I've found quite a bit of stuff and gotten really good at finding shark teeth. But the fossils here in Charmouth are much older. At first they were difficult to find. Not surprisingly, we had the best luck once we walked far from the parking lot and away from the crowds.

    We saw several things that looked like black boulders near where we found several fossils. Upon closer examination, they were soft. Pieces could be broken off which contained impressions of shells and ammonites. See first, second, and third photos, first column.
    Ammonites were predatory, squidlike creatures that lived inside coil-shaped shells. Like other cephalopods, ammonites had sharp, beaklike jaws inside a ring of tentacles that extended from their shells to snare prey such as small fish and crustaceans. Some ammonites grew more than three feet across.
    Ammonites constantly built new shell as they grew, but only lived in the outer chamber. They scooted through the warm, shallow seas by squirting jets of water from their bodies.
    Ammonites first appeared about 240 million years ago. Ammonites were prolific breeders, lived in schools, and are among the most abundant fossils found today. They went extinct with the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.

    - from National Geographic - Ammonite

    Norma found the first ammonite. She found some very nice specimens with great detail. See fourth photo, first column.

    The most common fossil we found were sea urchin spines. These looked like cylindrical rocks about a quarter to a half inch in diameter and maybe about an inch long. In some areas, they were so plentiful that I stopped collecting them. I believe some were also embedded in rock. See fifth photo, first column.

    Also embedded in rock were ammonites. See sixth photo, first column. Unlike the small, one inch diameter fossils we found, the ones in rock were sometimes up to five inches in diameter!

    The second most abundant fossil we found (after sea urchin spines) were belemnites. These are shaped like bullets or pointy sea urchin spines. They are what a local kid called an "ink fish." He was right. I later read that in 1826, Mary Anning
    discovered what appeared to be a chamber containing dried ink inside a Belemnite fossil. She noted how closely the fossilised chambers resembled the ink sacs of modern squid and cuttlefish.
    - from display at Lyme Regis Museum

    Considering how long we searched, we didn't find a lot of ammonites. Most were broken. But we certainly found enough to make me happy.

    The most rare fossil we found were stems or stalk from crinoids, aka "sea lilies." Both Sara and I found one. A good specimen looks like a blunt star-head drill bit with ridges on the side.
    Crinoids are unusually beautiful and graceful members of the phylum Echinodermata. This is the phylum that brings you starfish, sea urchins, and sand dollars. The crinoids are a breed apart however, they resemble an underwater flower. Some even have parts that look and act like roots anchoring them to the ocean floor. Their graceful stalks can be meters long.
    Crinoids are alive and well and living in an ocean near you! They are also some of the oldest fossils on the planet.
    Crinoids of today tend toward deeper waters. You won't see them on your next snorkeling adventure. The stalked varieties are usually found in water over 200 meters deep, though some can be found 100 meters deep. The unstalked varieties, comatulids also live in deeper waters though generally not as deep as the sea lilies.
    So the really cool thing is that scientist can study living relatives of fossils that are 450 million years old. While these living crinoids are not the same species or orders as those of the past, there are enough similarities to help us understand how these plant-like animals lived.

    - from Crinoids - Past Meets Present

    Fossils weren't the only thing we found. I was hoping to find some starfish but instead, Norma found a couple of strawberry anenomes which exposed themselves under rocks at low tide. See first photo, second column. Special thanks to Ralph for identifying them.

    While the morning started out cloudy, things cleared up nicely and we had ideal sun for fossil hunting.
  • Second photo, second column: Norma on the hunt.
  • Third photo, second column: Norma intensely studying a small section of the rocky beach.
  • Fourth photo, second column: Norma and Sara make their way back to the car, keeping an eye out for fossils along the way.

  • Once we got back, we rinsed what we collected and assembled them.
  • Fifth photo, second column: These are all the things we found. Most are fossils while a few are interesting rocks.
  • Sixth photo, second column: Some of the ammonites that Norma and I found.
  • Seventh photo, second column: Some of the fossils that Sara found. The cylindrical thing with ridges is a sea lily stem.

  • This was my favorite day of our trip!
    Click thumbnails to enlarge.

    Day Six, Thursday, July 28, 2016

    On our final day in the Cotswold area, Norma and I said farewell to Don who was off to work. Then Norma, Sara, and I brought Bailey and Newcastle (first photo, first column) along for a hike at Cleeve Common.

    Like our other hikes, we passed through open fields and farmland. But what was a little different about this walk was the circular area we saw on a hill. We never found out what it was. See second and third photos, first column.

    Sara pointed out a sheep washing pool (called the "washpool") that the dogs had once bathed in, much to her disapproval. See fourth photo, first column.

    It was a cool, cloudy day with light rain. But all the rain kept things really green. See first photo, second column.

    At a high point (Cleeve Common is the highest land in the Cotswolds), we had a nice view of a town below (second photo, second column) along with a train passing by. See third photo, second column.

    Sara took Norma and me to a place where we then caught a bus to London. Our stay with her and Don was truly fantastic!
    Click thumbnails to enlarge.

    Norma and I did one transfer before making it to our destination. Unlike the greenery, pastoral views, and quaint townships in Glouchestershire, London was crowded and urban with very little parking. It was also very multi-ethnic, like Washington D.C. Like any big city, it has its share of litter and graffiti but also plenty of things to see and do.

    We got off the bus in or near a suburb called Sutton. Gabriela picked us up and took us to her house. She is the wife of Tomasz. We met their lively son, Szymon (sp?), who we hadn't seen since before he could speak. But today he made up for lost words.

    It was interesting speaking to Gabriela and comparing her experience with life in England to that of Don and Sara. Their views are quite different with Gabriela much preferring life in Washington D.C. to England.

    Day Seven, Friday, July 29, 2016

    Gabriela had to go to work but Tomasz and Szymon joined Norma and me for the day. We walked around their town a bit before heading off to Mayfield Lavender Farm. It was nice though I preferred the one in Cotswold. Like Cotswold Lavender Farm, this one was full of Asians.
  • First photo: A lone oak(?) tree in the field.
  • Second photo: Norma and me in a field of purple.
  • Third photo: Tomasz, Szymon, Norma, and me.

  • We explored the area on foot and eventually crossed the road to Oaks Park where we saw some gardens and wooded trails.
    Click thumbnails to enlarge.

    Our next stop was Epsom and Walton Downs, a horse racetrack.

    The horses run on a loose, dark material that looks like a mixture of peat and chopped up tires. See first photo.

    Ominous clouds hovered over the stands. See second photo.

    I tried to photograph a raptor hovering in the air but my weak camera and limited photography skills were no match for Don and his camera which shot what I believe is an award winning photograph of a hovering kestrel.

    Nearby, Szymon and I kicked around the soccer ball. We could see the downtown London area in the distance. See third photo.

    Eating lunch back at Tomasz's house, I was introduced to Maryland Cookies (fourth photo). The corporate website says
    The Maryland secret recipe was introduced to the UK from the US and the first Maryland cookies were baked here [Great Britain] in 1956.
    Maryland [cookies] is bought and enjoyed by more than 1 in 4 households, which makes Maryland the 6th biggest sweet biscuit brand in the UK.

    I did some web searching to find out how the cookies got their name but came up empty-handed. Perhaps the recipe came from Maryland. It is interesting that they are virtually unheard of here in Maryland. The company does not have cookies named after other states. This made for a nice "fun fact" at work.
    Click thumbnails to enlarge.

    Norma and I headed out into downtown London on our own. We checked in at our AirBnB destination. It was a condo just south of the Thames River. See first photo. We met our hostess, Dora. Later we would meet her husband, Paul. Our room was small but certainly big enough for the two of us.

    We walked a short distance to a restaurant called Simply Indian. Norma found her food too bland while mine was too spicy. Maybe we should have switched dishes.

    The two of us saw the HMS Belfast, a cruiser. See second photo.
    HMS Belfast is one of only three remaining vessels from the bombardment fleet which supported the Normandy landings on 6 June 1944.
    - from 8 Things You Didn't Know About HMS Belfast And D-Day

    As the sun set, we walked across the London Bridge over the Thames into the downtown area. The bridge was disappointing in that the modern bridge (third photo) was not very impressive to look at. But previous bridges at this location date back to the Roman Empire. So obviously it was important...significant enough to be recognized by a children's song.

    We had a nice view of the London skyline. See fourth photo.

    We explored the north side along the river before crossing back over on a different bridge to the west.

    Hearing music, we saw a two guys playing trumpet and bassoon. They were really good. See fifth photo.

    A little later, we saw Winchester Palace and the Golden Hinde II, Sir Francis Drake's famous galleon. See sixth photo. This is
    a full-sized reconstruction of the ship Sir Francis Drake used to circumnavigate the globe between 1577-80.
    - from Golden Hinde II
    Click thumbnails to enlarge.

    Day Eight, Saturday, July 30, 2016

    Norma and I walked a short distance to the Borough Market. See first photo, first column. This place is a real gem. Fresh fruit, vegetables, and a variety of food items in a small area. There, I bought a skewer of crocodile, ostrich, and zebra from the Exotic Meat Company. I believe the meat was ground because the texture of the crocodile wasn't marbly as I've had in the past. It was quite good though the ostrich and zebra tasted like lean beef.

    Twice in London, I saw a sticker that read "SATO." I don't know the significance. In the second photo, first column, it appears on what I believe is a public utility box along with other stickers.

    On the north side of the Thames, I saw the White Tower which was built in 1080. See third photo, first column. We would get a closer view of this later.

    On the south side of the river was the Shard, a 95-story skyscraper. See first photo, second column. Standing 1016 feet high, it is the tallest building in Great Britain.

    We passed an eighteen inch mortar built in 1684. See second photo, second column. I was a mortarman in the Marines. Glad I never had to carry anything like this.

    In my opinion, the most attractive and memorable part of London is the Tower Bridge. See third photo, second column and the photo at the top left corner of this page.
    Click thumbnails to enlarge.

    The two of us went into the Tower of London. Entrance was not cheap so we made sure to spend a lot of time there to get our money's worth.
    William the Conqueror created the first fortifications after the conquest of London in A.D. 1066.
    Throughout its history, the tower has served many purposes: it housed the royal mint (until the early 19th century), a menagerie (which left in 1835), a records office, an armory, and barracks for troops. Until the 17th century, it was also used as a royal residence.
    [It] is notable for housing the crown jewels and for holding many famous and infamous prisoners.

    - from Live Science - Tower of London: Facts & History

    When we stayed with Don and Sara, we spent one evening playing a board game called Outrage. It is the Tower of London board game. Interestingly, playing it helped give me a good background for what we would see today.

    We spent quite a bit of time being led on a tour by a Yeoman Warder (Beefeater) guide. This is a prestigious job for Brits with at least 22 years of military service. When they aren't serving as tour guides, their job is to look after any prisoners at the Tower and safeguard the British crown jewels, though I don't expect any prisoners are still kept there.

    The castle walls were very impressive.
  • First photo, first column: Nice masonry work.
  • Second photo, first column: Notice the figures of archers.

  • We got to tour the Jewel House (third photo, first column), where the Crown Jewels are kept. Armed guards ensured there were no shenanigans (first photo, second column). I was not allowed to take photos inside.

    Norma and I walked through the White Tower which housed various military antiquities. Just outside the White Tower, we saw an elaborately decorated bronze 24 pound cannon weighing 5.75 tons. It was estimated to be built in 1607. See second photo, second column.

    One weird superstition about the Tower of London concerns the ravens that they keep. See third photo, second column.
    Legend has it that should the ravens ever leave, the White Tower would crumble and the kingdom would fall.
    - from sign at the Tower of London
    Click thumbnails to enlarge.

    Norma and I set out to explore the city on foot. She has amazing walking endurance and I was starting to regret bringing my heavy backpacking boots but they were the best waterproof shoes I had. Considering it never rained hard, I would have been better off with my trail running shoes but of course hindsight is twenty twenty.

    We walked through Chinatown and Soho where we found a Thai restaurant called Busaba Earthai. There, I had my best meal of our trip. Isn't it interesting that my favorite meal in England was Thai and my favorite meal in Germany was Turkish?

    I saw something that I could hardly believe. There are public urinals right out in the open in the heart of London. See photo. If you gotta go, then you gotta go. But where do the women go?

    We saw some street performers. One was quite good.

    Later that evening we saw the show Thriller - Live! at the Lyric Theatre. It was quite good. The singing and dancing was very impressive though there was no plot. They had one guy that looked so much like Michael Jackson that you would have thought he never died. We are pretty sure he was wearing a very expensive rubber mask. He had the best moon walk I'd ever seen. Which makes me wonder why it is called a "moon walk." When I see astronauts walk on the moon, their legs don't even bend.
    Click thumbnails to enlarge.

    Day Nine, Sunday, July 31, 2016

    On our last full day, Norma and I set out on foot again to explore. My legs were feeling a little tired.

    We saw a peculiar butterfly that I could not identify. It had what initially appeared to be an extra long torso but on closer examination, I believe it was mating and for some reason, its mate died. See first photo, first column. So now it must live with the lifeless torso of another butterfly attached to its own. Surprisingly, it was still able to fly.

    Like many big cities, a lot of people get around on bicycle and this is pretty easy to do since they can be easily rented. See second photo, first column. One thing I noticed about London is it looks like there are many more scooters than motorcycles.

    From Westminster Bridge, we were able to see the London Eye, a giant ferris wheel, popular with tourists. See third photo, first column.

    Also on this bridge, we saw Big Ben, the House of Parliament's clock tower. See first photo, second column.

    Next to Big Ben was the Palace of Westminster. This is the meeting place of the House of Commons and the House of Lords, the two houses of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. See second photo, second column.

    I never saw any kayaks or paddleboards on the Thames. It looks pretty dirty, the current is strong, and there is a lot of large powerboat traffic.

    We passed the Household Cavalry Museum where we saw horse mounted guards.

    There were several memorials and monuments to military leaders and veterans from various wars. With all the sacrifices made, it is good to know they are being remembered.

    A 100 mile and 46 mile bike race was taking place so many streets were closed to traffic.

    Norma and I walked along Saint James's Park Lake where we saw coots and this bird which I could not identify. See third photo, second column.
    Click thumbnails to enlarge.

    I bought a Cornish pasty at the train station. It wasn't great but it was certainly good and satisfying.

    Norma and I met up with Tomasz's family at the station. Then we walked around the city and had Italian food at the very noisy Carluccios.

    We ended up at the Natural History Museum. Like most normal boys, Szymon is interested in dinosaurs.
  • First photo, first column: Stegosaurus.
  • Second photo, first column: Giant ammonite.
  • Third photo, first column: Dodo birds.
  • Fourth photo, first column: Ichthyosaur found at Lyme Regis.
  • Fifth photo, first column: Fossils of ammonites that lived on the ichthyosaur skeleton.
  • First photo, second column: Plesiosaur found in Yorkshire.
  • Second photo, second column: Mosasaur skull.
  • Third photo, second column: Group photo at the museum cafe. Shortly after, Tomasz's family left and Norma and I toured more of the museum by ourselves.
  • Fourth photo, second column: Gray whale.

  • I especially enjoyed the museum's arthropod room where I learned about centipedes, millipedes, and things like robber crabs that are strong enough to crack coconuts.

    They also had a good variety of taxidermy animals on display such as a Tasmanian devil and a wombat.

    Norma and I could have spent much more time in the museum but they were closing for the day so we had to leave.
    Click thumbnails to enlarge.

    Norma and I continued walking around the city.

    We found the Goethe Institut whose mission is to promote German culture. See first photo, first column.

    Our next stop was the 350 acre Hyde Park. We spent some time near a body of water called the Serpentine.
  • Second photo, first column: Mute swans.
  • Third photo, first column: Coot.
  • Fourth photo, first column: Paddleboats and waterfowl.

  • In one area of the park, we saw several rabbits. See first photo, second column.

    I saw magpies which always remind me of Sacramento.

    We saw a community garden called the Allotment. In a corner of this garden were several chickens. See second photo, second column. In the third photo, second column is Gerald, the rooster. He was missing some feathers on the side of his neck which tells me he's been henpecked.

    Up to now, I'd been saying that I had not seen any exotic wildlife. The one exception to this were parakeets. See fourth photo, second column. I saw several perched in a tree in the park.
    How does a bird that looks more suited to warmer climes cope in the UK? "They actually originate from the foothills of the Himalayas, so they don't need it to be that warm to live comfortably."
    The population numbers about 30,000 across London.
    In the Big Garden Birdwatch 2006, the ring-neck parakeet was among the 20 most-sighted birds in London.

    - from How do parakeets survive in the UK?

    We walked through the north side of the park. This section seemed to be populated almost exclusively by what appeared to be people of Middle Eastern descent. There was a lot of arguing taking place at Speakers' Corner. Nobody was speaking English. Again, everyone looked Middle Eastern.

    Since it was Sunday night, we were having a hard time finding a place to eat that Norma wanted. I would have expected places to stay open later in London. We ended up eating at Indian City. I had the chicken shanazi, which was excellent. That was my second favorite meal on our trip.

    On the walk back to the condo, I saw a scooter with two tires in the front. It looked very strange. The front tires were only about 10-12 inches apart.
    Click thumbnails to enlarge.

    Day Ten, Monday, August 1, 2016

    Norma and I walked to the nearby Imperial War Museum. See first photo. It is a very big place and one could spend a lot of time there. We decided to focus our attention on their World War One exhibit which was created to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the war. I don't exactly have a great attention span when it comes to reading but the exhibit really held my attention. I learned some interesting things.

    One display mentioned height restrictions.
    By September 1914, the [British] Army was overwhelmed and could not cope with the rush of volunteers. The minimum height for recruits was raised to 5 feet, 6 inches. Thus, I would have been too short to enlist at that time.

    From November 1914, special units specifically for shorter men were formed. They were known as 'Bantam' battalions.
    I guess that's where I would have served. Those guys made for smaller targets.

    Ghillie suits are camouflage used by modern military snipers. Where did they originate?
    From late 1915, the British set up special sniper schools. Among the first instructors were ghillies, gamekeepers from Scottish estates. They taught marksmanship, stealth, and camoflage.

    Just as I have a hard time comprehending how old some man-made structures in England are, I also find it hard to believe how many people died in battles during World War One.
    The Battle of the Somme resulted in over 600,000 Allied and an estimated 500,000 German casualties.

    The immediate effect of U.S. entry into the war was not military but economic. Britain and France's credit in the U.S. had fast been running out. Now they were saved from bankruptcy and could continue to borrow.

    At the museum, I also learned of a movie called "The Monuments Men" that is now on my list of movies to watch. To bad it isn't available on Netflix streaming.

    Outside of the museum, they displayed fifteen inch guns developed for Queen Elizabeth class battleships. These date back to 1915. Each weighs 100 tons and could fire a 1938 pound shell a distance of 16.25 miles. I've never seen guns this big. U.S. battleships have 12 inch guns which is the biggest I'd seen until now. See second photo.
    Click thumbnails to enlarge.

    Norma and I took the subway to Heathrow Airport. She's really good about getting around in a city and using public transportation so I just sit (or stand) back and follow her.

    We flew out of terminal two which is called "The Queeen's Terminal." But we didn't see her.

    I finished watching "Ip Man 3" on the flight home. It was just o.k. Not as good as the other Ip Man movies.

    It was good to be back in the states. As we walked through the parking lot at Dulles, I enjoyed hearing all our noisy insects. That's the sound of nature!