Saturday, July 30, 2022

7/30 More Thoughts on Traveling to England and Scotland

 Some more things I have been thinking about that I want to pass on:

Getting There

  • If you are older like me and sitting in an airplane seat for 8-12 hours is difficult for you, choose an airline that offers "premium" seats.  These are a class of seats that are better than coach, but not quite business class.  Generally, instead of the three-across coach seats, you get a seat that is only two-across and is very similar to a domestic first-class seat.  It will likely be wider than a coach seat by about 4", have a wide arm rest between seats, recline a little farther than a coach seat, and cost about 20-30% more.  (Check out the photos on my 5/27 post.) Typically, you also get to check two suitcases, and carry one on with you.
  • Also, check various airports to try to get a shorter or non-stop flight.  I once flew from SFO to London and ended up very uncomfortable during the 12 hour flight.  Better to fly from an east-cost airport and have only a 7-8 hour flight!

Transportation at Your Destination

  • Except for when you are in a big city, rent a car so you can really see the countryside. Yes, you can see the countryside from the windows of a train, but you really will not be able to experience driving through tiny towns and being able to stop at scenic places. 
  • Also, especially in the UK, you will want to rent an automatic because even if you can drive a standard transmission, you will need to focus on reading road signs and following different driving rules, like driving on the wrong side of the highway.  
  • Get the smallest automatic rental car they have and don't let them upgrade you to anything bigger.  Roads are narrower in the UK and parking places are tiny, so you will want the smallest vehicle you can get.  A serious bonus is a backup camera, but a lot of cars come with those anyway. 
  • However, it pays to do some checking on rental car prices.  On my recent trip, I checked prices for a 25-day rental at three places:  Heathrow Airport was $4,000,  Edinburgh Airport was $2,500, and York was $1,167!  Guess which one I chose??  I spent 5 days in London, took a train to Edinburgh, where I spent 3 days, and then took a train to York, where I picked up the rental car.  
  • There is no one to help carry your luggage in train stations and from parking lots to hotels, so you need to be able to handle your luggage yourself.  This means a small, carry-on suitcase with a minimum of clothing and a backpack or smaller case for electronics and things you cannot lose, like medications and cameras, etc.  
  • London has a fantastic subway system, so while it is fun to take a black cab once in a while, rely on the Tube to get you where you want to go.  You can use your credit card to enter and exit each station, but I MUCH prefer to buy an Oyster Card and put maybe £20 on it to start.  The reason for the Oyster card is that it is easy to drop and lose a credit card while you are pulling it out and walking quickly through the exit machines.  If you lose an Oyster Card, it is not as big of a deal as losing a credit card!!   (You just tap the credit or Oyster Card on the top of the gate machine as you enter and exit, and the gate will let you through.)  Also, if you are traveling with kids, you need a separate card for each, and giving kids an Oyster Card is safer than giving them a credit card!

Staying Someplace

  • If you really want to experience another country, avoid the Marriott, Hyatt, Hilton, and other hotel chains and stay where the locals stay.  (The exception would be if you positively cannot do stairs and need an elevator and someone to handle your luggage.)
  • There are some great budget chains in the UK.  My favorite is Premier Inn, which is similar to a Holiday Inn Express, except nearly all of them have restaurants.  Other budget chains I have stayed in are Travelodge, Ibis, and Holiday Inn Express.  If you are really on a tight budget, there are bed and breakfasts, even in London, or you can try a HUB hotel that is a subsidiary of Premier Inn.  HUB hotels have a very nice queen-sized, bed, place to put your luggage underneath, a bathroom with a shower, excellent large-screen TV and free internet, and a narrow walkway along the bed.  (Check out the photos on my 5/27 post.  I have paid as little as $100 per night for a HUB in London.  Try that in any big U.S. city!)
  • In choosing a hotel, don't get so carried away with price that you end up too far away from everything.  I try to choose a budget hotel that is no more than two blocks from a subway station and that is also near restaurants and shops.  The HUB I like best in London is on Tothill Street, near St. James Park Station and only 2 blocks from Westminster Abbey.  Being close to things will save you a LOT of walking!! 
  • The above mostly pertains to large and medium-sized towns, but in small towns and villages, you will mostly have a choice of bed and breakfast lodgings or small hotels.  Mostly, a bed and breakfast consists of a few rooms in a private home that are rented out to travelers.  Often, a home has been specially built to be a B&B so that all bedrooms have private baths and the owner's areas are very separate from the guest's. You used to be able to get a very nice, private room and bath for as little as £40-60 per night, including breakfast, but I found the prices have increased with the recent COVID issues.  There also can be problems with quality and cleanliness of B&Bs, but there are regional sites that rate these, plus you can use online sites like TripAdvisor to view customer comments.  Try VisitScotland or VisitEngland for ratings.
  • Another type of lodging available in resort areas are what are called "self-catering cottages."  These are nearly always rented by the week and may not exactly be cottages, but may be a part of an attached structure, like the two-story part of a stone barn I rented in Danby, or even a "glamping" unit.  If you rent one, just make sure what they include and do not include.  The one I rented in Danby had a living room, full kitchen with washing machine, upstairs bedroom, and full bathroom.  It came completely furnished with linens and cooking stuff, and it was spotlessly clean!!  

 What to Bring

  • England and Scotland are WET and COLD, so bring a good raincoat and a sweatshirt, preferably a hoodie!!!  (Maybe buying the hoodie there as a souvenir is a better idea.)   You can bring a pair of shorts and a t-shirt or two, but bring at least one or two pairs of long pants.  
  • A couple of cheap washcloths.  UK hotels consider washcloths personal items, not part of the linens that they provide.  I usually take ones that are not white, so I can identify and remember to take them with me when I change hotels or B&Bs. 
  • Maybe a couple of small bars of soap and little bottles of shampoo.  Most hotels and B&Bs provide large wall-mounted containers of liquid body soap and shampoo, but I prefer bars of soap and my own brand of shampoo, so I either take some with me, or stop by a Boots pharmacy and buy some shampoo I put in a ziplock bag as I travel.  
  • You will also need some packable laundry detergent that you can use to wash things out in the hotel sink and maybe some folding hangers to hang things up in the shower.  British hotels almost never have self-service laundromats, and it is very hard to find one within walking distance, so you will have to wash and dry things in your hotel room.  (Option is to have someone do laundry in hotel or B&B, but cost can be as much as £15-20 per load.  I liked these laundry sheets because you could tear off as much as you needed.
  • Ziplock bags in large and small sizes.  These are handy to put things that might leak or melt when you pack.  Good for organizing things, as well.  They also saved my hotel room and nightgown when I got food poisoning and was sick all night in a hotel room!!  I took about 5 large bags and maybe 25 medium ones, and used nearly all of them.  
  • Slightly more prescription medications as you think you will need, plus some things like tylenol, cold meds and such in those little capsule packages, etc.  
  • You can buy almost everything else you need, but you will want a few critical things for times when you do not want to hike to a store.  There are lots of small and large grocery stores and pharmacy chains like Boots in major towns, and Coop grocery stores in small villages. 

Where to Eat

  • Bed and breakfast lodging obviously provide breakfast, usually a full English or full Scottish breakfast.  Many hotels also provide these, but charge for them.  My choice when it was not provided by the B&B or hotel, was to find a Pret a Manger or a Starbucks and grab a almond croissant and an orange juice or lemonade tea and eat on the subway or as I walked.  (Most fast food chains like McDonald's do not serve breakfast in the UK, by the way.)
  • Some small and most large hotels have restaurants, which solves the problem of where to eat, but I find I do not always want a large meal every time, so I eat a lot at takeout places.  
  • Take-out is very popular in big cities, and even smaller ones, in the UK.  Overall, they provide much fresher and better food than what you can find in the U.S.   My favorite is Pret a Manger, which is a chain that advertises all organic food.  They also give away all leftover items in the evening, so everything is made fresh the next morning.  They have all sorts of juices, pastries, salads, sandwiches, and snacks, all at reasonable prices.  (Note, however, that some Prets charge different prices for items depending on whether you want to eat it there or take it with you.) 
  • Almost all grocery stores and even some department stores also sell take-out food.  Even small-village Coop stores will have an area for take-out.  I often would stop there and buy a small bottle of milk or a soft drink, some fresh raspberries, a sandwich or salad, and take it home to the hotel for dinner.  
  • WARNING!  A few years ago, the British government passed a sugar tax on any drinks that contained more than a certain percentage of sugar.  To avoid the tax, manufacturers added artificial sweeteners to replace some of the sugar, and did NOT note it on the label, so you have to read ingredient lists carefully.  This also applies to bottled tea and fruit drinks that were not 100% pure fruit juice.  



Sunday, July 3, 2022

7/2 THE END - Comments After Making it Home

This has taken me a while to write, but I wanted some time to think after making it home safely.  So, here are some good and some bad things about my long adventure in the UK:


  • Renting a car is always a good thing.  You really cannot see or experience the countryside from a train or bus.  It takes a little courage to drive on the "wrong" side of the road under slightly different rules for driving and parking, but with a little caution anyone can do it.  One tip is to rent a car in a smaller town, NOT at a major airport where you will find a lot of traffic.  It is also likely to be cheaper to rent in an out-of-the-way place.  The first day you drive in the UK will be very scary, but it does get a lot easier in a few days, and pretty soon you will become much more comfortable.
  • A really good experience was the experience with UK system of nationalized medicine when I got sick with food poisoning.  I knew the Brits had such a system, but I did not know that it also pertained to visitors or any non-residents.  When I asked the hotel people to call a doctor, I did not expect a full ambulance crew and the through exam they gave me in my hotel room.  This saved me a long wait in the hospital and the cost was exactly $0!!  Amazing.
  • How homeless are treated in London.  Almost every homeless person on the streets in London has a sleeping bag and a small tent which they pitch at night on the sidewalks along main roads.  These are not tent cities because in the morning, they take the tents down and fold them up.  I am not sure of the process of handing these out, and I am not sure of what happens in other big towns, but I was impressed with this in London.  
  • Take-out food.  Even small towns in the UK will have a small grocery or convenience store that carries refrigerated take-out food that is much higher quality and variety than in the U.S.  I cannot eat large meals and end up throwing away food in most restaurants, plug I do not always like eating alone, so I often took advantage of take-out food.  
  • Co-op groceries stores in small towns.  While you can find Tesco and Sainsbury's supermarkets in larger cities, there are often tiny Co-op groceries stores in small towns that carry essentials, and of course non-essentials such as take-out and ice cream!
  • Tablet and Thornton's Special Toffee.  These are two of my favorite candies anywhere.  Tablet is a Scottish specialty that is made of condensed milk, butter, and a lot of sugar--what is there not to like???  And Thornton's is an old chain of London candy stores, but unfortunately is almost out of business.  I was happy to find a huge supply of their toffee in a Heathrow shop and stocked up!!
  • London theatre and nightlife.  Musicals and plays are relatively inexpensive in London because half-price tickets are often available the night of or a day or two before a performance.  The old Half-Price Ticket Booth is for sale, but such tickets are still available on line.  And going out at night and coming home afterwards is very invigorating because of the crowds and enthusiasm of the crowds!  If you get lost, just follow the crowd, and it will take you to a subway station! 
  • Sheep and hairy Highland cattle.  Especially in the Moors, sheep and their lambs were everywhere.  And even in towns and cities, an occasional sheep would be found wandering around all sorts of places they did not belong.  Fun to watch.  And, there is nothing like the study Highland cattle with their long hair hanging in front of their faces!


  • Most hotels in the UK give you the option of a lower price for a pre-paid, non-refundable reservation.  I went cheap and ended up not being able to cancel a couple of hotels when I needed to change my reservations.  Next time, I will pay the higher price to get the cancellation option. 
  • I still do not understand the Brits' dislike of ice for drinks.  I do understand that in a cold country, hot drinks are preferred, but I really, really missed not being able to get ice for drinks or buy a cold drink from a machine or in a convenience store that was cold instead of just "cool."  I also could not get my favorite drink of iced tea anywhere but a Starbucks.  Hey, you Brits, give me a hotel with an ice machine, and I will be glad to pay a couple of pounds extra for the privilege.
  • The sugar tax.  The UK government implemented a tax on sugar in soft drinks back in 201 with the intent to reduce the amount of "fizzy" drinks consumed and the potential for weight gain.  This has been successful in reducing soft drink consumption by 10%, however, it has had a huge negative effect in that soft drink companies have avoided paying this tax by reducing sugar but increasing the amount of artificial sweeteners in their products.  The problem is that many regular soft drinks contain some sugar and a dose of artificial sweetener without making that clear on the labels.  Hence, a "regular" Pepsi or Dr. Pepper is likely to contain aspartame or another artificial sweetener without that being noted on the label.  You have to read the list of ingredients to find this information and need to avoid bar or fountain soft drinks entirely to avoid such sweeteners. 
  • Washing clothes in a hotel sink.  Many, if not most, U.S. hotels provide coin-operated laundromats in their hotels, but the Brits never, ever do this, to my knowledge.  So you end up surreptitiously washing things out in the sink and hanging them in the shower or on the heated towel rack.  This gets really tiring and nothing really feels clean.  It is not easy to find a laundromat in most towns and paying $25 to have a B&B owner wash and dry two pairs of pants, one pair of shorts, and three t-shirts is just way out of the budget for most people.    
  • Traffic.  England is worse than Scotland, but most British drivers drive MUCH too fast, especially on the lovely little single-track roads.  Partly, I think, this is the fault of the government that puts a 60 MPH speed limit on almost all but roads that go through villages and towns.
  • Road hazards and narrow roads without shoulders.  These include bicyclists, pedestrians, and sheep on country roads.  Bicyclists and pedestrians could benefit from at least small road shoulders.  Cannot control sheep, especially in the Moors where there are no fences, but somehow the grass always seems greener on the edge of the road.  
  • "Mind the Gap" and "See it, Say it, Sorted."  I got really sick of these warnings in the subways, so I can imagine that the British are really, really tired of these warnings.  At least someone needs to put a bit of humor in these or vary the message.    


Friday, July 1, 2022

6/27 London Eye

I still had a lot of time left after visiting the two churches in Pepys old neighborhood, so decided to take a ride on the London Eye.  First, it was pouring rain most of the time after I got there, and second it was the tackiest and least-Londonlike thing I did in my visits to London.  

Why was it so unlike other London "attractions"??  Mostly because it seemed as if the hoards of tourists lining up and paying £36 or about $45 for a single revolution of the wheel could have better spent their money doing a lot of things that would have helped them understand this city better.

However, here are some photos of my experience, for good or for worse.  First, I took the underground to the Monument stop and crossed the Thames on the Golden Jubilee Bridge. 

This photo was taken BeFORE it poured down rain for a couple of hours. London weather is very changeable, to say the least. 



As you go up, you get good view of Westminster, the nearby railway station, and Buckingham Palace.

Did some walking before I got back on the underground to head back to hotel and saw this restaurant owned by Gordon Ramsey.  Could not tell if it was open or not, but the building was undergoing some renovation.

6/27 Two Pepys Churches--All Hallows by the Tower and St Olave's Church

This is my last day in the UK, so I wanted to make sure I got to visit the inside of the two churches that Samuel Pepys knew and visited.  Sadly, most of this area was destroyed in the Great Fire of London or WWII, so the area looks nothing like what Pepys saw in the mid-1600s, but these two churches help you gain a little imagination.

First, it is important to remember that London began as a Roman City.  So underneath all of the central city, known as The City, is Roman Londinium.  Londinium was a walled, military city of about one square mile and was the capital of Roman Britain.  The location was chosen by the Romans because of the narrowness of the Thames River, across which was built a rough bridge. 

Based on archeological evidence and documentation left by the Romans, it probably looked like this:

As you walk around central London, you will still see bits and pieces of the old Roman walls, like this section near the Tower of London.  Think of London as a city of layers--the Anglo-Saxon city was built upon the Roman city and the Medieval city built on top of the Anglo-Saxon city, with Pepys city built upon that, and the modern city built on the top of the layer cake. 

This is All Hallows by the Tower I posted about in the last post.  This church is known as the oldest church in London and the tower of which Samuel Pepys climbed to view the Great Fire in 1666, when nearly all of the central city burned.

Unfortunately, the entire center of this church was bombed during WWII and rebuilt, however, the original church walls on the sides of the church survived.  

In this photo, you can see the fire-darkened walls of the church from 1666.  


An interesting baptismal font that looks as if it is made from marble, but is actually made of wood.  This is a cover which can be winched out of the way when it needs to be used.  

One of the positives of the WWII bombing of this church is that the remnants of the Anglo-Saxon upon which the Medieval church was built came to light.  The arch shown in the second photo was originally covered with plaster.

You can go down underneath the church to see the layers in the crypt.  This is a section of Roman road, for example, discovered during the rebuilding after WWII.  The road and arches are several feet below the current street level because as the city has been destroyed and rebuilt, rubble is built upon, raising the level of new layers.

The crypt also displays items discovered in the church from Roman to more modern times.

This is a small, more modern chapel in the crypt in a room containing many boxes of cremated remains.

Across the busy street in front of All Hallows is Seething Lane, the street that Pepys lived on and the church that he and his wife attended regularly--St Olaves.

This plaque memorializes Samuel Pepys, who wrote often about attending this church.  He and his wife are buried in the nave, but it is all currently covered by carpeting, so nothing can be seen.

Elizabeth Pepys died a few years before Samuel, but he had this memorial to her designed.  The fun part is that her bust shows her looking directly at the Naval Department pew keeping an eye on her husband. 

The Naval pew is the one in the front on the left.

The location of the Naval pew is confirmed by this carving on both ends.

If anyone in that church needed to be watched, it was Pepys, the great philanderer!!

I originally was going to post about my experience on the London Eye on this day, but decided to put it in a separate post.