Sunday, July 7, 2013

Fronczak Family Fun Week! Part 2 - London Trip #5 and a taste of Liverpudlian life

"Let's do London on a Thursday."  In retrospect this was a terrible idea.  While the touristic attractions may be about 5% less crowded relative to a Saturday, the traffic is 100% more congested.  I truly feel bad for anyone who must commute south on the M1 from the Midlands down to London for work.  We had to navigate around 3 crashes, and one actually blocked us into the service station for 30 minutes!  What Google says will take 2.5 hours took nearly 4 hours, and that was just to the East Finchley tube stop.    

Technically this station is in Zone 3 on the north side, but for some reason we had to buy a Zone 4 tube travel card (?), maybe I was hosed.  As much pity as I felt for myself, Jim and Maria had even worse traffic on the M6 heading south from Tamworth, crawling along taking almost 5 hours to arrive at our predetermined meeting point. 

 I now know that most commuters find alternative routes into London to avoid the congestion.  But you have to be savvy enough to know where you're going, as the Garmin isn't that customizable.

I wasn't completely dumb about M1 morning rush hour traffic, I can see it every day when I go to work, as I have to navigate the Junction 25 roundabout to get into Derby.  That is why I proposed we get out the door by 7:30 or wait until 9:30.  The group decided for the former, with the hopes it would get us into London early.  Those hopes were dashed unfortunately, but we still made the most of the day and once we were parked and on the train, our day started looking much more favorable.   I should mention that we almost had a repeat incident with the parking.  I chose East Finchley for its large carpark, but by the time we arrived, only 20 spots remained.  Jim and Maria took the last spot in the whole lot!!!  Wow, almost a repeat performance of the Derby train station fiasco, talk about a near miss.

Looking for a place to sit and wait for Jim and Maria, we were kicked out of this private McDonalds across from the station. It turns out it is a training facility restaurant.  I just thought it was really fancy, but we missed the sign that said "private property".
At the Costalot further down the road we had tea and free wifi, waiting for Jim and Maria to arrive.

After everyone got their travel cards for the day we finally found ourselves in London city center.  Everyone expressed large interest in seeing London Bridge (the very plain, boring bridge next to the fantastically ornate Tower bridge).  Who am I to turn down a very specific request?  We made our way to my favorite London institution, that I've mentioned many times before, the London Borough Market.

Lunch was the first stop

And dessert...those brownies are hard to beat

On our last trip to the market with Doug and Tara  the exotic horsemeat hamburger patties were in short supply.  Today they were fully stocked with many varietals of minced mammal. 

With Sir Francis Drake at the helm, the Golden Hinde circumnavigated the globe in 3 years from 1577-1580.  Here she is advertising scaffolding, although in her former days she advertised an armament of 22 guns, including 2 Peteras on the poop deck.

Most of this day repeated sights from our prior visits to the city, but we did manage to hit a few things that we had missed previously, such as walk across the Millennium suspension footbridge, which had some excellent views.

The requisite panorama shot of the city from the Millennium bridge
While the bridge originally opened in 2000, it was closed for nearly 2 years until 2002 to fix a "wobble" problem that earned it the appropriately British nickname "Wobbly bridge"

I found this WWI statue to be very dramatic (near St. Paul's at the end of the bridge)
After we poked our heads in St. Paul's for the free views before the ticket desk, we started a short walk along Fleet street, essentially London's core, which I thought everyone would appreciate, even though we didn't listen to the Rick Steves audio tour which gave all the historical details.  I did force everyone to pull over at the Temple Church at the Inns of Court - the center of English law - where I paid the 4 pound entry fee to properly view the fascinating effigies of the Knights Templar.  Everyone else waited for me outside.

The church was initially used by the powerful Knights in the 13th century until Edward II abolished the order and took over in 1307.  I'm still blown away by the age of things here.

Close up of an effigy tomb of a Knight Templar.  Some restoration was done after the German bombs severely damaged the temple in 1941.

Looking up into the round dome above the effigies.

The Temple church is noted for its fine acoustics, which I agree with in my expert opinion.   I was lucky to visit during an organ lesson.  The organ was initially placed in the temple by Sir Christopher Wren, but  was also restored after the war.

Here I am outside the church 
I've picked up on the London men's fashion going on around this area.  All the judges and solicitors (or possibly interns) wear blue or grey pinstripe suits with brown leather shoes that are long and somewhat pointy.  These guys are usually tall and slim with spiky hair, so they can pull it off well.  Although I'm bald, I wouldn't mind at least trying on one of these suits, but I've struggled to find a pair that can contain my thighs; I'll need to get a custom tailored pair, but not sure I can be bothered.

A pit stop at the Cheshire Cheese for some Sam Smiths - this was our second visit to the old pub that is popular with Americans thanks to Rick Steves.  
Dave and I after a few pints

If you know this tube stop, you should be able to guess what everyone is taking a picture of.

The Iconic London photo:  Big Ben, the Eye, clouds, and some flags
We made our way down the very green Birdcage walk in Westminster past Parliament and the Abbey toward Buckingham palace.  As we walked under the trees, the wind picked up and I noticed a haze in the air.  Earlier I was aware of a lot of organic material in the air that was causing some occasional sneezing and minor eye irritation, but we just entered the belly of the beast here.

Only Kerry was immune to the attack of the trees.
Some further research leads me to believe the Birdcage walk is lined with Plane trees - known for their ability to thrive in inner city environments.

Here's what the seed pods dangling from the London Plane tree branches look like.  The sligtest breeze causes them to disintegrate and get lodged in your eyes, nose, and throat.  Not an enjoyable experience.

We broke through the forested area and made our way to the Palace, slightly more miserable than when we entered it, but our symptoms were alleviated.

The young guards with their big guns marching along the entrance to the castle.

After this it was a vote to go to the British Museum or go to Leicester square for some souvenir shopping.  Shopping won.

Cool Britannia is a one-stop shop for all things Union Jack
This area is crazy busy with tourists and I was feeling a bit agoraphobic.  We retreated to Trafalgar square, but it was mostly blocked off in preparation for a free concert that night.

Free opera tonight at Trafalgar square
At this point in the evening, after struggling to find a proper place to sit and eat, we cut our losses, some members of our group grabbed some fast food, and then decided to head home.  Fortunately the drive back was much faster!

I had to work on Friday but the rest of the group had a relaxing day around town.

Harley-rider Dave found Harley-Davidson of Nottingham and picked up some souvenirs.
Friday night we were invited over to our wonderful neighbors Phil and Christine's house for a traditionally-prepared Shepherds Pie, and maybe a drink or two, as we've learned is customary from past visits.  The night was thoroughly enjoyable, and we stumbled back home late and passed out pretty quickly.

The best neighbors we've ever had will be dearly missed when we return stateside.
Let's jump to Saturday - our final day with the group - where we made a day trip to Liverpool!  I was happy since this would be a new place for Kerry and I to add to our list of visited cities.

Reading Fodor's England 2012, Deb found an insert mentioning "Another Place" in the Liverpool section, so we decided to check it out before heading into the city proper.

Crosby beach looking out to the Irish sea north of Liverpool.  Who are those people standing in the distance?

Getting closer - what is that guy doing?

Here we are - the beach was full of these nude statues of "iron men", Antony Gormley's modern art sculptures are casts of his own body facing the sea.   Not sure how many of them there were, but the whole piece stretches for miles, and the front row are completely submerged when the tide is in.  Luckily we saw it when the tide was out - very fascinating, but I don't understand it.

This jellyfish that missed the tide was equally as fascinating to me.

Some nice beach houses nearby

On to the order of the day.  Make a reservation and roll up...

The Magical Mystery tour is hoping to take me away!

Big thanks to Jim and Dave for dragging me along on the Beatles tour.  I initially told them that Kerry and I would pass and meet up with them at the end, but they insisted we join and covered our admission.  So, just as Rick Steves pretends he's Catholic to better enjoy the St. Peter's Basillica, I pretended I was a huge Beatles fan and enjoyed myself on the tour through the beginnings of the band's life in Liverpool as we drove past significant areas in the outskirts of town.

We filled up the back row of the Mystery bus

Kim and I accepted the invitation for the tour to come take us away

There beneath the blue suburban skies, Jim poses for a photo with Penny Lane, very strange.
Our knowledgeable (to the point of weird obsession) tour guide told us that for a long time, the Penny Lane sign was painted on the bricks because the sign kept getting stolen.  Finally, many years later, the city decided to start using a sign again, thinking that the sign-stealing craze would have died off.  This sign we see above was only 3 days old..

Literally, Penny Lane.   If we go to the end we'll see the shelter on the roundabout, the barbershop, the firestation, and the bank.

Here I am at the birthplace of George Harrison, a red house that is actually someone's private residence, that gets photographed by tourists every day.

The gate to Strawberry fields, a gate to a garden by the Salvation army orphanage. It's nothing to get hungabout.  Meaning, that as a child, John Lennon's aunt instructed him not to play in Strawberry Fields, to which he replied "they can't hang you for it."

John Lennon's childhood home (in passing)

"The last residence owned by Paul Mccartney in Liverpool"  Huzzah!

We pause to note some English garden landscaping for inspiration back home when I return

The tour dropped us off and we grabbed a curry.  Something that we were excited to do with Kerry's family, but they could have easily passed on.  I think it went alright, but at the same time I doubt they're in a hurry to find another Indian restaurant back home.  After eating we went to the...

Down 4 flights of stairs...

In the cavern, the temperature was warm and steamy.

The more exclusive lounge required special advance tickets with different musical acts

A display of the Beatles gear:  a Hofner violin bass (McCartney), a Gretch 6128 semi-hollow body electric (Harrison), a Ricenbacker 325 (Lennon), a vintage Vox tube amplifier, and the drums (Star).  Their contract with manager Brian Epstein is on the right.  Brian was the real success story of the band, taking 25% of their income as his fee!
The acoustic act plays here frequently and is crazy talented.  He even did an acoustic 1-man rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody, which sounds ridiculous, but he managed to pull it off.
We made our way back home after this experience.  Liverpool was getting rowdy at 7 pm with hen-do's and stag-do's aplenty.  

The Cavern Quarter was getting lively while the sun shone.  Many already had "a few too many"
We split off.   I had parked on the outskirts of town at the park-n-ride.  The train that took us to the city center cost around 3 pounds with return, but for 5 people I realized this was a terrible idea.  We could have easily found parking for 15 pound for the day!  In fact, Albert Docks parking was only 5 pounds, which Jim and Maria smartly took advantage of.  We did avoid having to deal with inner city traffic, but I don't think it was too congested.  Lesson learnt - check for the park-n-ride group ticket beforehand.  If one does not exist, then it's probably better to just park in city center for a flat daily rate.

Since the family had to return to Manchester airport for a very early 8:00 flight, I talked them into getting a hotel at the airport.  Manchester is right next to Liverpool, and we've already covered hundreds of miles this week.  This way they could grab an extra hour and a half of sleep and have a stress free short walk or shuttle to the airport to check in. 

It was an excellent trip all said.  Jim and Maria had a few extra days on their own for further exploration, while Kerry and I returned to our regularly scheduled programming.  The Fronczak's really had a different kind of experience to their usual vacation, which could be described in the lyrics to any Jimmy Buffet song.   But I had a great time in additon to more than a few pints.   Thanks for visiting guys!

Feeling right at home!


  1. Liverpool is fun even tho the locals didn't seem to like it. Glad to hear the family talked you into doing a tour. We didn't fit one in but it looked fun. Enjoy your last weeks in England Mate!

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