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UK Trip 2008

The Travelogue

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Introduction: I got a brand new pair of bifocal glasses the day before our trip to London, and I was afraid they might give me some problems getting used to, but they worked out just fine, and I actually got to see London a little more clearly than I expected. It was an eye opening experience, you might say.

We hadn’t been to London since 2004, and much of that visit was eclipsed by our longer and more involved visit to Germany, on the same trip, where we spent a good portion in Berlin, and also drove to the southwest of Germany for a reunion with six of Linda’s sisters. That was all wonderful and grand, but for years, I’ve been missing a good dose of London, and a chance to really absorb it and see if it is still mine. Well, this time we spent thirteen nights in London, and three on the road to/within Scotland, and I got the much needed fulfillment that I sought for.

The experience was bifarious, to stick with the glasses metaphor, in that some things still seem like the same London that I love, and yet, some things have definitely moved on and evolved. The population has grown, the traffic has increased, and everything seems to have picked up pace. Modernization is evident everywhere, while history & tradition seem to be a little bit harder to see because everything is so bright and shiny. London is stimulating, and esthetically pleasing. Hardly anything is dark and depressing anymore.

The London I knew was a lot older. The large World War II generation I remember, the eccentrics, and the mild mannered masses are passing away. Londoners, I remember, were more patient and orderly, but they could be rude at times, with only a slight hint of non-frugality, and materialistic wantonness. But today—man, it’s changed! London is a lot younger, and everybody seems as contemporary as the latest fashion show. Everyone is in a hurry, or stuck in a jam, and everyone is verbose, animated, and adept with modern technology as anyone in Times Square. London has gotten younger and more diverse by leaps and bounds.


The volume of traffic in London has grown dramatically since I started driving there in 1986! Most of the automobiles look very new these days, and reflect what is new on the market. There seems to be a lot of German-made cars, and other European brands. The once popular Ford models and Japanese models seem to be reduced to a smattering. We drove a Vauxhall, and I seemed to see Vauxhall’s everywhere. To my surprise, motorcycles did not seem to be more popular than they used to be, but bicycles are definitely on the rise. One of the biggest driving concerns in the UK, as ever, is parking. No matter where one goes, it’s hard to find, and it nearly always costs chunks of money. And on urban/residential streets almost all the parking spaces are reserved for permit holders. Petrol, by my calculations was about $10.00 per gallon, but the UK gallon is bigger than the US gallon. Public transport was pretty high too, especially getting one-day travel cards.

Sunday, 8 June: We arrived at Heathrow early in the morning on NW Airlines, took a shuttle to Europcar Rental, and went through Alamo to rent a Vauxhall Zafira. Their computer system was down, so this took a little longer than expected. Thank goodness the queue wasn’t too long when I got there. The weather was sunny and pleasant. Departing the airport was confusing, with so many round-abouts, but I quickly found the M4 and we were headed into London the familiar way via M4, A4, Chelsea Embankment, Vauxhall Bridge, and then Elephant & Castle and Old Kent Road to SE London. The traffic was surprisingly light, for a Sunday morning, and the congestion zone toll didn’t apply. We found Marissa & Serkan’s place without a problem, and quickly moved our bags in and got acquainted. We spent a couple hours talking and grilling pork chop kebabs in the garden, and then I took a nap. Linda watched the rest of the Men’s final of the French Open Tennis Tournament on TV, and I missed it. I was perkier after my nap, however. We went to New Cross to attend evening church service, and discovered they weren’t having a regular evening service, because of a change of plans, but since we were there, brother Eusell and a few other members held an abbreviated service. After that, we went to Sister Cherrie’s for some tea, and met an old friend, Sonya, and a new friend, Beverly. By the time we got home, it was 10:00pm, and Serkan helped me connect my laptop to his wireless Internet source, which turned out to be very handy for the duration of our stay.

Monday, 9 June: We slept in a bit, but Serkan & Marissa had to go to work and school. I went for a walk to check out our surroundings, and much to my delight, we were about a minute’s walk from the River Thames! In fact, this whole estate was built upon what were formerly the Royal Naval Yard, a ship building and repairing dockyard, located just west of Greenwich proper in SE London. Moreover, it was Henry VIII, who was born at Greenwich Palace in 1491 that built the Naval Dockyard. In 1698, Peter the Great, Czar of Russia, came here to learn ship building, and I found a tall statue of him here by the Thames as I walked along the River. I was really amazed with the location, and the views along the river, but the weather was sunny and warm, and we had to get started with our main activity of the day, which was going to London Zoo. Sometime after 11:00am, we took the DLR (Docklands Light Railway) and tube to Camden Town high street, and walked a bit, crossing over the Grand Union Canal, and looking at the lock. I never came to Camden Town before and I wanted to see more of it, but, alas, we had to move onto the Zoo posthaste, over at Regent’s Park, a twenty-minute walk. The Zoo was nice, and I won’t bore you with the details, but it involved an extensive amount of walking around and seeing all the animals in their various buildings and habitats, including the popular penguins. This was the warmest day of our whole trip, and the only “shorts” day for me. At 5:15pm, we left the Zoo and walked through a vast Regent’s Park to the tube station. I especially wanted Reanna to see the Georgian houses on Park Crescent, which were filmed in a scene from the movie Oliver (1968), but Reanna was so tired and cranky that it didn’t matter to her. We rode the tube and DLR back to Greenwich, but went one stop too far, and had to walk back, luckily having to walk past St. Alfege’s Church, which was built in 1714, but a church has stood there since the 12th Century. Monday night, we watched the first of several football matches, on TV, of the European Cup. Holland beat Italy 3-0.

Tuesday, 10 June: Today was warm, and sunny, but a bit breezy. We decided to go tour Westminster Abbey, so we took a little walk to the train station (luckily, children ride for free) at nearby Deptford high street (known for the murder of Christopher Marlow, and a lively street market), and rode the train to Charing Cross, where we walked to Parliament Square, via Victoria Embankment. Well, there was a big crowd all around Parliament Square and at Westminster Abbey. The cost of admission was nothing to sneeze at; for two adults we had to pay £ 24.00 ($50) for the self guided tour with audio headsets. The historic value of the tombs and architecture are magnificent, but the headsets are hard to keep in sync with what you are looking at. By the time we reached Poet’s Corner, we were a bit burned-out by all the history of the legendary Kings and Queens buried here. One annoying policy is that no photography is allowed, but I sneaked a couple photos of the nave. When we reached the cloisters, we were hungry for a snack. Upon exiting the Abbey, we were accosted by Reanna to visit the souvenir shop. This was to become an absolute imperative from here on, to always visit the souvenir shops to see what sort of banal plastic souvenir she could find that would inevitably cost an arm and a leg. Next, we hoofed it all the way to Trafalgar Square, passing Downing Street, of course, to see what sort of new protective devices they have installed to keep Number 10 safe. I remember when there were no iron gates or crash barriers. At Trafalgar Square, Reanna and I ascended Nelson’s Column (1842), so she could climb the bronze lions. Reanna is usually an expert climber, but the lions proved to be too big for her and she backed off. She later regretted this. Next, I persuaded Linda and Reanna to go inside the National Gallery and look at the famous paintings. This is the best art museum in the world, IMHO, and it is free, but it was about to close in forty-minutes, and no photography is allowed. What a pity! We quickly saw some fine 18th and 19th Century paintings and then some fine Impressionistic paintings and had to leave. We ate dinner at a Pret A Manger Café (French for “ready to eat”), and then went back home on the train. Marissa & Serkan left a message that they were going to get some Chinese take out and go eat at Greenwich Park. So, we called them, and met them with the car at the top by the observatory. Serkan & Reanna became obsessed with feeding a squirrel as we sat and chatted on the grass. Greenwich Park is a lovely place, and I have many fond memories of walking its hills and pathways. As for its view of the Thames and Canary Wharf—it is brilliant! We drove home, and then played Monopoly with a British game board till midnight.

Wednesday, 11 June: Today, we took Marissa with us to Leeds Castle, in Kent. Serkan had to work. We left at about 10:40am, and drove the A20 and M20 a little past Maidstone, and exited for Leeds Castle, a beautiful fairytale castle that has been in the Royal family for eons. We walked through the lovely grounds, past a duckery, and took a self guided tour of the castle. The stonework and woodwork was exceptional throughout, and, being built on two islands inside a small lake, the setting is unforgettable. The castle has been used for some famous conferences, such as the middle-east peace talks between Begin, Sadat, and Carter. Next, we went to Canterbury. I somehow missed the more direct A28 and ended up finding the way via the B2068, a two-lane country road with some hills and farms. I hadn’t been to Canterbury since 1991, so I was a little disoriented once we got there, but we parked the car (at a pay & display parking lot by the medieval wall), and walked through the old town. It was after 4:00pm, so we were hungry and looked for a place to eat. We wanted something charming, but settled for an Italian restaurant near Cathedral Gate, where I had a risotto. In the compact square were lots of young teenagers on a school trip. Canterbury, we found out, is so proud of its literary ties with Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, that it has even named its hospital after Chaucer. We walked around some more, admiring the shops, the Cathedral, the odd shaped tutor buildings, got an ATM, and then drove back to Greenwich. This was a 144 mile roundtrip. Tonight, we watched Turkey beat the Swiss 2-1 in heavy rain on TV, and finished the Monopoly game, which Serkan won by attrition.

Thursday, 12 June: The first cool, rainy day, we decided to go to Wimbledon to see the tennis museum, but we got a bit sidetracked, and improvised a lot. I never thought driving south of Greenwich would be so congested, but it seemed every way I went, the traffic was horrendous. We made our way down to South Norwood by car, and decided to park the car on a residential street and take the train to Wimbledon. This seemed like a good idea, but we ended up having to park a good distance from Norwood Jct. Train Station. We used to live in South Norwood (1992-1994) so we were pleased to see it again, and had plenty of patience. We were going to need it because we had to change trains twice, and walk a good distance to get to All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC). We had to wait a while for the train to East Croydon, and then we had to walk to West Croydon Station, at least a half-mile away. This was ok, because we wanted to see North End High Street and see how it looked today, compared to back then. We used to frequent Croydon for its shopping, besides which, South Norwood didn’t have much. Today it is more pedestrian, has all the big department stores, and even has trams. Next, we ate lunch at McDonald’s, and then took the train to Sutton, where we changed for Wimbledon. Linda used to ride the train to/from Epsom quite a bit, and always went through Sutton. When I would take her to school in the car, I always drove through Sutton as well. At Wimbledon, we had to come to terms with the fact that it is over a mile from the station to the AELTC, and you have to go uphill to Wimbledon Village, and then downhill to the grounds. Not sure where the buses went, we paused, it started to sprinkle, and we spontaneously sought refuge in a Public Library. After a quick look around the library, we started to walk up the hill. We eventually made it to AELTC by 3:30pm. The museum was open till 5:00pm, but it didn’t include a peek into centre court like it used to. Next, the attendant persuaded us to come back tomorrow at Noon, and take a formal tour of the grounds. This was, he stressed, the only way to see inside the grounds, and we would be privileged to see inside court no. 1, and centre court. Linda was totally sold on doing this, so all we could do was head back from whence we came and consider today a “joy ride” on the trains. It wasn’t a total loss. I did enjoy the trains, but now I had to figure out how we were going to get back to Wimbledon by Noon tomorrow! Public transport would take too long, so we would have to drive, and we would have to leave early! Easier said than done! Anyway, when we got back to Norwood Junction, we decided to buy some groceries at our old Safeway (now Somerfield) grocery store, particularly some lamb and vegetables, and take it to Cherrie’s to cook for dinner. Driving through Crystal Palace, the South Circular, and Brockley was unbelievably slow. All my old shortcuts were futile. Every direction was moving at a snail’s pace. The volume of traffic was just unreal! When we got to Cherrie’s it was after 7:00pm. I took Reanna to Hilly Fields Park to let her play while Linda cooked. There’s plenty of playground equipment for Reanna to play on there, and the park has fine vistas of Canary Wharf to the north and hills of row-houses to the south and SW. It also has plenty of the quintessential chestnut and plane trees (sycamore in the U.S.) that are typical of all the parks in greater London. Friend, Sonya came over for a bit of dinner, and when it was all prepared, the lamb tasted wonderful. We went home about 10:30pm.

Friday, 13 June: I woke up at 6:00am, and immediately began lobbying for an early start. Today we had to go get the tour of Wimbledon, and then find our way to Soho’s China Town to meet Marissa & Serkan for dinner, and then we had prepaid tickets for the ballet at Royal Opera House. Luckily, we left home by 9:05am, and proceeded to Wimbledon in the Zafira as fast as I could muster the thing, taking the South Circular west toward Clapham Common and then south on the A24 through Tooting and Merton, and the A219 through Wimbledon, etc., making it in a decent eighty-minutes. We had to park off Church Road, mind you, and then walk the rest of the way, but we made it in plenty of time to see the museum, somewhat hurriedly, and then make our tour at Noon. The tour was with about twenty other people, lasted ninety-minutes, quite generously, and included Court No. 1, Henman Hill, the Press Centre, where Linda got to sit in one of the seats where they interview the tennis players on TV, the player’s cafeteria, the hallways passing by the training rooms and dressing rooms, and the coup de grace, Centre Court. It was humbling and soul-searchingly unbelievable that we were actually in Centre Court, but there we were! Our guide did an excellent job of talking about all the places we had seen, and didn’t make us feel like we were being rushed at all. This seemed too good to be true a mere ten-days before the tournament starts! Next, after bludgeoning my debit card on a few souvenir shop items, we made our second Le Mons-style race of the day in the Zafira to New Cross Gate, where we parked, and rode the train to Charing Cross. We were right on schedule, but I forgot how to get to China Town, and after asking no less than four people for directions, we finally made it, as a nice Chinese man pointed the way. We met Serkan first and then Marissa came along, and we ate at a Chinese restaurant that I chose, called Wong Kei, which used to be special to me and my two coworkers the first time I lived in London. We got the meal for five, which included five different types of Chinese food, and was like a buffet on our table. Next, we walked slowly to Covent Garden, which is a fabulous area for its markets and live street performers. We would have loved spending the evening absorbing the atmosphere, but we had a ballet to go to. Before we parted from Marissa & Serkan, Serkan took Reanna into a Disney Shop, and kindly bought her two stuffed Disney characters, while Marissa, Linda & I listened to a Reggae playing busker. I purchased our tickets for the ballet online a couple of weeks before tonight, and all that was left were seats in the upper slips along the right side. They were way up there, but I felt the high caliber of the production, of Romeo & Juliet, made it all worthwhile. The main problem was the length; three hours was too long to sit through with Reanna getting hungry and restless, so we left early at 9:30pm. Covent Garden was mostly shutdown, by this time, but lots of young people were still mingling about, so we got a latte, and slowly walked to Charing Cross station. We had to change at London Bridge, to get a train to New Cross Gate, to retrieve our car, so all this delayed our getting home till about 11:30pm.

Saturday, 14 June: This morning we slept in and washed clothes. Today, Marissa & Serkan accompanied us to the Queen’s River Walk, a route along the south-side of the Thames, from Shad Thames to London Bridge, and then we walked over to the north-side of the Thames, to the Gherkin, and back to Tower Bridge. We drove to Butler’s Wharf and parked in a garage, then walked parallel with the Thames. The old wharf buildings of Shad Thames Street have been renovated into amazingly posh shops and apartments. We went to City Hall, an ultramodern glass building that was designed by Norman Foster, ala the Gherkin, and Berlin’s Reichstag Dome. Beside City Hall, a submerged outdoor amphitheatre called, the Scoop, was featuring some event called, Street Vibe; musical entertainment with kids and adults, some playing real instruments, and some clanging on improvised instruments. Reanna decided to join this spectacle, and beat on a cowbell. Well, we had no idea the following act would involve a Guinness World Record. An actual GWR representative was there to verify that the organizer’s of this event had indeed manufactured the world’s largest whoopee cushion! They measured it, inflated it, and emptied it with the help of the kids and a microphone, and sure enough, it was awarded with the official GWR certificate. Next, we went to the top of City Hall, admired the view, and came down via the internal circular stairway, which gave one an inside view of offices, and a conference room at the bottom with sleek purple carpet. For many years, City Hall was the domain of popular London Mayor, Ken Livingston, but now is the auspices of recently elected Boris Johnson. Moving on, we were getting hungry, so we stepped into Hay’s Galleria, a renovated wharf that used to receive sail-powered tea clipper ships, but now receives lunching Londoners and tourists under a super tall atrium roof. We ate bagel sandwiches and crepes. At London Bridge, we crossed the Thames and ambled through the financial district, albeit a quiet one, because it shuts down for the weekend. We went through the ornately Victorian Leadenhall Market, which I remember fondly, but it was all-quiet. Next, the grotesque stainless steel Lloyds of London building came into view, and then we saw the Gherkin. We walked completely around the 591 foot tall building, dubbed the “Gherkin,” because of its somewhat phallic appearance. Officially known as, 30 St. Mary Axe, being the street it is on, the Gherkin is regarded affectionately as one of the most visible features of London’s modern skyline. From here, we completed our circle back to the river, and crossed over Tower Bridge. Simply put, admiring Tower Bridge NEVER gets old. From the car park we drove home and had a quiet evening with the TV, watching a Goldie Hon movie on the new multi-channel selection that is now available to the masses (when I lived here we only had four channels), and the laptop.

Sunday, 15 June: This morning the weather was bright and beautiful, and we went to church at New Cross Church of Christ. There was a good crowd there, and we were especially interested in seeing some of the older members we used to know. Zoe, a dear sister we have known a long time, was there and was about to travel to Jamaica the next day. We met brethren, who had started coming since our last trip in ‘04, from Nicaragua, Brazil, Paraguay, and Cameroon. Many of the old timer’s had come from parts of the Caribbean, such as Jamaica, Barbados, Grenada, Montserrat, and Trinidad. And many had come from Nigeria, Ghana, Ukraine, and the Philippines. After church, some of us went to Cherrie’s house to eat dinner. We got fried chicken from a Turkish take away and a few items at a grocery shop in Brockley, and carried it to Cherrie’s to contribute. I noticed at the take away that they had a photo of Turkey’s national football team on the wall. The young man who worked there was from Turkey, so I complimented his team and wished them good luck in tonight’s match. Sonya, Beverly, and her two daughters ate dinner with us. After dinner I took Reanna and one of Beverly’s daughters to Hilly Fields Park to play, which was actually a bit crowded with lots of young people. Then I went back to Brockley high street to buy a “congestion zone” pass (£ 8.00) for tomorrow as we planned to go north on a car trip. We stayed at Cherrie’s well into the evening, passing the time talking, and looking at Cherrie’s garden. We went home at 7:30pm, and watched most of the Turkey v. Czech Republic match on TV which Turkey won 3-2 in dramatic come-from-behind fashion. Serkan was very animated about the match, and understandably excited, as we all were. Next, I called Peter Hodge, in Skelmersdale, who we were planning to visit tomorrow evening, to confirm our plans. With all the excitement about our impending trip tomorrow, we got to bed a bit late.

Monday, 16 June: I got up at 6:55am and started getting ready. We just managed to push out the door at 10:20am and embark on our trip to Scotland. I drove to the M40 Motorway via Vauxhall Bridge, Victoria Station, Hyde Park Corner, the A40, etc, and only got off track once by making a wrong turn. Driving in London is not easy, but one wrong turn and you could end up winding around and around for several minutes to get back on track! Luckily, my mistake only took five minutes to rectify. With the radio, and its several different BBC regional stations as our only entertainment, the M40 was smooth sailing all the way to the M42, south of Birmingham, and then I got on the M6 Toll Road, and continued past Birmingham, where we stopped at Road Chef Services and ate sandwiches. Motorway “Services” in the UK resemble very nice “Rest Stops” in the USA, but include spiffy cafeteria style restaurants, newspaper shops, and petrol stations. The weather was fine, and as we departed, I got a latte at a Costa (a coffee bar chain similar to Starbucks), and thus started the habit of buying at least one latte a day, if the urge hit me. The speed limit is 70 mph on the motorway, but a lot of speedy drivers go 80 mph. I rarely saw any police, but there are supposedly lots of cameras watching. There are always at least three lanes on each side; a fast lane, a medium lane, and a slower lane. It works quite well. Trucks are not nearly as aggressive on UK motorways as they are in the states, and they almost never hog the fast lane. The traffic started to slow down around 4:00pm, as rush hour started, and as we approached M58, I called Peter on a cell phone, and he met us at a round-about. He actually lives in Up Holland, so we followed him to where he and his wife Dulcie live, which was about 240 miles from London this morning. The Hodge’s used to live in London and we worked together at the New Cross congregation, 1991-1994, and have stayed in touch ever since. They became missionaries in Albania, 1997-2005, and then returned to England and began working with the congregation in Skelmersdale. We visited with Peter and Dulcie, talked about old times, and whatnot, and they took us, accompanied by their Shih-Tzu, named Charlie, to a big park called, Beacon Hill, which had a fantastic view all the way to the west coast, where one could see the mountains of north Wales, Liverpool, and as far northwest as Blackpool. We went back to their home for dinner, and more conversation, and then went to Jill & Brendon’s for the night at 9:15pm. Jill is a member of the church at Skelmersdale, and she is a nurse. It had been a long day, and I was ready to sleep at 10:40pm.

Tuesday, 17 June: I got up at 6:30am, and started getting ready. We ate breakfast with Jill & Brendon, and got to know them a little more, and then it was time to go at 9:30am. They were very kind to allow us to stay. Today was a bit cool, rainy and breezy. Again, Radio BBC was our main entertainment with music from the British charts, news, and various radio interview/chat shows. It was pretty acceptable as far as entertainment, and we got accustomed to hearing a lot of the same pop songs all the way to Scotland and back, but I had to keep changing the stations often because they would fade in and out. As we continued north on the M6 and entered Cumbria, a beautiful area, aka the Lake District, Linda asked if we could exit and have a look. Knowing good and well how amazing the Lake District is (it’s one of my favorite places in the UK) I had to quickly decide what we had time to see on such a whim. Well, I thought we could exit at the north side of the LD and see Lake Thirlmere, and maybe Castlerigg Stone Circle near Keswick. This worked out ok, and we didn’t sacrifice too much time as we made haste to Edinburgh. There is no denying that the LD is wonderful for its stony-mount-rural charm and a little bit of it goes a long way. As we entered Scotland, the M6 turned into the M74 which goes to Glasgow. We continued to the A702, and then took that the rest of the way to Edinburgh. It is surprising that no motorway exists to Scotland’s capital, but the A702 is a nice road that goes through some neat and tidy little towns. All my desires of seeing the Highlands were already dashed by this time, for I knew full and well that we didn’t have enough time to go far into Scotland, but hopefully, we would get a good intro to Edinburgh (for Linda and Reanna, since they had not been there before), and maybe we could still make it to Dunnottar Castle, 115 miles north of Edinburgh. We rolled into Edinburgh at 4:30pm, and worked our way to an area south of the center, and started looking for a guest house. This was totally impromptu, I’ll admit, but I had a good idea what I was looking for. The main problem was getting oriented to the street pattern, and getting to slow down enough to look around, since the traffic was moving rather swift. Once you make one wrong turn, you end up spending time trying to turn around and get back to where you started, which is always a challenge. B&B’s and guest houses are well marked so I just kept my eyes open for the right kind of sign. The first one I saw, on a side street, I knocked on the door, and they were full, but I asked where to go and a man said to try the next street. Next, I happened upon Cluaran Guest House on Leamington Terrace, opposite Meadow Park along Bruntsfield Place, where a tall, dark-haired lady answered the door, and said they had a room for three. We looked at the second floor room, with a double and a single bed, bay window, high ceiling, TV, bathroom/shower, and built in bookcase, with tea kettle, and said, “Yes.” So, we moved our bags in, drove to George Street, grabbed a “pay & display” parking spot, and proceeded to see as much of Edinburgh as we could, and eat dinner, all in one evening. The weather was cloudy, cool, and breezy, but not too bad. The streets were busy with workers going home, and tourists looking around. The main shopping street is Princes Street, and we began our search for a restaurant one block above, on Rose Street Lane, a nice pedestrian lane with several restaurants. We walked the length of Rose Street, and to my surprise, didn’t find anything very fetching. All the eatery’s either had too much of a bar atmosphere, or the food choice was too this or the other, or it had the word “Devil’s”, “Arse”, “Witch”, or something else inappropriate in the name. This was taking longer than expected, so we opted for a Pizza Hut. Any notions I had of eating haggis, or anything uniquely Scottish were dashed, but then, Reanna would most certainly have been hard to please at a more national restaurant. After dinner, we wound our way to the Walter Scott Monument, and then up to the Royal Mile (high street), and walked the whole length, plus some, because we started at about the half-way point. The architecture and shop windows were exceptional, plus, all the interesting signs, and “closes” with stairs and dark, shadowy passages leading off the high street. At the bottom end we saw Holyrood Palace, and the newly constructed Scottish Parliament Building. Then, we walked back up the Royal Mile, stopping at a Starbucks for a latte, and to St. Giles Church, and then on up to Castle Hill. All the souvenir shops were closed by this time, unfortunately, and all there was to do was walk around. The only place where we heard any bagpipe music was at the Scotch Whiskey Experience Museum, and it didn’t last long. The Castle was closed, and we were coming back to see it tomorrow anyway. Because of Edinburgh’s northerly location, it stayed light till about 10:00pm, so at dusk we made our way back to the guest house, and had to park quite some distance away at the Park in a pay & display spot. I was able to set up my laptop in our room and download my photos before going to bed. The room temperature was actually cool enough for blankets, and I slept pretty well, thank you guest house.

Wednesday, 18 June: I got up at 5:55am, and we made it to breakfast downstairs at 7:30am, where we sat shyly next to a young Indian couple at the next table. We stuffed ourselves on a traditional breakfast and left Cluaran Guest House by 9:30am. The mileage on the car was 500 since leaving London. We drove closer to Castle Hill and parked on the south-side at a pay & display. Parking is expensive at these machines, and it’s easy to mess up one’s estimation of how much time one needs, but definitely DO NOT let the time expire before you get back because there are LOTS of little parking meter police walking around checking for expired stickers. It is ridiculous! So, by the time we walked up to Castle Hill and went to one souvenir shop, I figured we didn’t have enough time on the meter to last us through the Castle and back down again! So, I sent Linda and Reanna to a coffee bar at “The Hub”, located in an old church that has been converted into the headquarters of the Fringe Festival, and I jogged all the way back to the car to put more money into another, longer parking sticker; a tedious, but necessary drudgery. By and by, as we made our way up to the Castle, we noticed that there were a lot of police out and about stationed along the high street, and we picked up on the fact that a major military funeral was taking place at St. Giles today, perhaps before Noon, for some fallen soldiers in Afghanistan, one of which was a woman soldier. Linda was very keen to see a military parade, if there was one, but I just wanted to get into the Castle, look around, and then leave Edinburgh. Not only were there a lot more people on high street than usual, but the Castle was much more crowded today than the previous two times I have been there (in 1986, and 1993). We got our obligatory pictures of the city and the Firth of Forth in the background from the Castle, saw the Crown Jewels, the banquet hall, and the dungeon prison museum, and then we walked to St. Giles to join the crowd of onlookers who were waiting for the funeral inside to be over and for some figure heads to walk out. This was mighty riveting, but once people started coming out, they just mingled around, and left. One old lady who was dressed in light purple with a big brimmed hat looked a little like the Queen, in my zoom lens, but I don’t think the Queen was there. At a little past Noon, I declared that we must start moving towards the car, because our meter was set to expire at 12:35pm. At the corner of George IV Bridge and Candlemaker Row we stopped to admire, first the statue, and then the tomb of a little Scottish terrier called, Greyfriars Bobby. Departing Edinburgh, my route was a little wobbly finding my way to the big Firth of Forth Bridge, but before long we were heading north on the M90 as fast as we could go without making a scene. Our next destination was Dunnottar Castle, an old castle ruin on a dramatic cliff dwelling beside the sea, which has an amazing history, and is little known to most tourists because it is privately owned and mostly in ruins. This was, for some strong, emotional reason that I can’t explain, the “Monument Valley” of this entire trip for me. What do I mean? Well, in 2006, we went to the southwest part of the USA and even though we saw many amazing sights, such as Sequoia National Forest, Death Valley, the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Mesa Verde, and Four Corners, I wasn’t satisfied with the trip until I’d seen Monument Valley! That was the one truly amazing thing I had to see to validate all the rest. Well, Dunnottar Castle was the one truly unique thing I had to see in Scotland to make this trip a success. I had seen everything else we’d seen so far before, and I wanted to see something truly awesome and historic. Dunnottar’s physical appearance alone is awesome, but the history that goes with it is truly amazing. The most amazing bit took place in 1651-1652, when the castle protected the Scottish Crown Jewels from being destroyed by Oliver Cromwell’s invading army during an eight-month siege. They were eventually smuggled safely out, and later taken to Edinburgh Castle for safe keeping. As a matter of fact, we had just seen the Crown Jewells this morning at Edinburgh Castle under protected glass. We reached Dunnottar by 3:00pm, and the sky was mostly clear and sunny, a bit windy, but absolutely gorgeous. The long walk from parking lot to castle was exhilarating because of the anticipation of seeing the precipitous cliffs and rocky ruins. At the ticket booth, the proprietor boasted of visiting Chattanooga, TN a few years ago, but I was preoccupied with what I was about to see. To make a long story short, the castle and setting was amazing. We took a lot of pictures and slowly covered all the ground and buildings, most of which, were in various stages of ruin, but one could definitely get a feel of the way things used to be here. The birdlife was noticeable as well, for many, many seagulls, cormorants, and puffins live along the cliffs (although we didn’t see any puffins). Clouds came and the sky changed to overcast by the time we were ready to leave, but it was unforgettable. We opted for the seaside route to Dundee, which stayed within sight of the coast and passed through small towns. Linda is a bigger golf fan than I am, so we decided to head for St. Andrews to look for a guest house. I came to St. Andrews for a brief two-hours back in 1986, and I have wanted to go back ever since, so this was the ticket! We found a suitable guest house called, Yorkston, just a short walk from the ancient West Gate. Initially, the owner was reluctant to have guests, but I sort of talked him into it, since the sign on the window said “Vacancies.” Anyway, they had a nice big room for three upstairs. We got moved in, and then took a walk to West Gate, and walked around in the light rain for a good bit. We ate dinner at Le Rendezvous Café on Market Street, and planned to have a better walkabout in the morning. We went back to the guest house and I downloaded today’s pictures, as Russia beat Sweden 2-0 on TV, but we were tired, and not particularly interested.

Thursday, 19 June: I got up at 6:30am, and we went to breakfast in the dining room by 8:05am for a traditional breakfast. We were the only guests in the house, I think, as the owner’s polite granddaughter served us. We checked out by 9:15am, and drove to South Street and parked. Instead of paying a machine, in St. Andrews, they make you purchase a “parking voucher” from designated shops. It took a few minutes to find a place to buy one of these, but all-said-and-done, it was much more reasonably priced than in Edinburgh. St. Andrews, after all, is only a small town, but it is a very famous small town. It’s the birthplace of golf, it has the oldest university in Scotland, Prince William was a distinguished graduate in 2005, and it is the birthplace of pop singer KT Tunstill. We didn’t have much time to waste, so we walked to St. Andrews Cathedral, which is in ruins. It was once the largest building in Scotland, and supposedly contained the relics of the Apostle Andrew, but it has been ruined since the Reformation in 1559, and has lost more and more of its bricks over the centuries, to local homes, I suspect. One thing I wanted to do was climb St. Rule’s Tower, which a couple pairs of Australians also wanted to do, but the people in charge wouldn’t let you climb the tower unless you bought a “combo ticket” for the nearby castle, the visitor’s center, and St. Rule’s Tower. Humbug! The Aussie’s were pretty miffed about that. We didn’t have time for all that either, so we walked on, and made our way to the golf course, even though it was quite windy. Don’t get me wrong, St. Andrews is a lovely town, with all its charming buildings and history, but for all the many tourists that come its way, it might be just a tad bit smug. Anyway, seeing the golf course was a treat, and we couldn’t resist walking on it a good bit. We went past the old stone bridge that is not far from the Royal & Ancient Golf Club, and made our way back to Market Street, where we went to a souvenir shop, then back to the car. We managed to leave St. Andrews a little before Noon, and thus begin our long drive all-the-way-back-to-London! Due to time constraints and whatnot, we had to drive the whole 504 miles back to London. We had hoped to return to London via the more easterly A1/M1 corridor, and make a special stop in Cambridge, but it just wasn’t to be. Bummer! Getting back across the Firth of Forth and bypassing Edinburgh to make our way south went well, except for a moment of sheer terror as I was on the M90, above the Forth, and I was jammed between a car entering the motorway, and a car overtaking me in the fast lane. A high speed collision was barely avoided, but fortunately I squeezed through, and the rest of our trip went swimmingly. From the A720 bypass of Edinburgh, we took the A7 south all the way to England and the M6. This may not have been the most direct or fastest way to the M6, I’ll admit, but it sure was scenic! It wasn’t until we got to Hawick that I decided to abandon the idea of taking the A1/M1 route (which I took in 1993), so this was all the scenery we were going to get. This bit of southern Scotland was charming. The border marker with England (below Canonbie) was just a simple sign with an English shield symbol, but I got out and took some pictures. Scotland had been great, and I wanted to see more of it, but something about returning to England is always comforting to me. Once we got back to the M6, it was motorway, motorway, and more motorway all the way back to London. We stopped for petrol twice today, and stopped for a dinner break at a Costa at Stafford Services. As we approached London, I decided not to take the M40/A40 from the northwest into London, but to take the M25 across north of London and take the A10 south to central London. This proved to be an interesting approach and took us through some sections we’d not been through before. It was a bit harry in places, but fairly straightforward, and by the time we got to Stamford Hill, I knew I’d been there before, years ago, and recognized it a little. We saw lots of orthodox Jews walking around, and I remembered seeing literally neighborhoods of them back in the early 90’s. Even on a Thursday night, it was impressive how many young people were out and about as we passed between Dalston and Shoreditch. We crossed the Thames at London Bridge and made our way back to Greenwich via Bermondsey, Surrey Quays, Deptford, and then home. When we arrived at 10:30pm, Marissa & Serkan were still up, and we went to bed at 11:30pm. What a day; 504 miles!

Friday, 20 June: Today I made sure we slept in. I got up at 9:15am, and did some sermon prep for Sunday. We decided to wash some clothes and then go to east London to look around some old haunts. Linda decided we should look for a launderette, but after driving around Greenwich, we couldn’t find one, so we decided to go to the one we used to go to in Brockley, at Brookbank Road. On the way, we discovered the traffic was completely backed up for some reason, so I took shortcuts to Brookbank. We found out from the launderette lady that a terrible accident involving a child hit by a bus was causing the traffic jam. I took Reanna to Hilly Fields Park, around the corner, to play, and about 40-minutes later we returned and put the less-than-dry clothes back in the basket and we went home to hang them out to dry. The sky was overcast, and we probably shouldn’t have left the clothes on the clothesline, but we took a chance and left the house to go to east London. We walked to Greenwich and went past the permanently dry docked Cutty Sark tea clipper ship, which is still under wrap for restoration work following a fire that nearly destroyed it in May of 2007. “Cutty Sark” is a Scottish slang word that means a woman’s undergarment. Hopefully, they will get it looking like new again; it is one of the significant sights of Greenwich. However, we were about to use one of the most impressive engineering feats of its day, the Greenwich foot tunnel, opened in 1902, for workers of SE London to cross under the Thames to get to work on the Isle of Dogs Dock Yards. I love this tunnel for its novelty, and Linda and Reanna had not been in it before. So, we crossed under the Thames, snacked on cake and juice in Island Gardens, and then took the DLR & Tube to Aldgate East. Unfortunately, due to a mix-up between me and Linda at the time of purchasing the tickets, I had bought return tickets to Whitechapel (zone two). But, when we got off at Aldgate East (because it was closer to where we wanted to walk around, namely Brick Lane) the Tube official confiscated our tickets, and made us pay £ 2.00 extra because Aldgate East was in zone one. This was a bit harsh and ridiculous, because now we had to buy new tickets to get back to Greenwich, but never mind about that. What matters is that we were in east London, and in one of our favorite and flamboyant parts of it. In 2004, Linda was on a mission to see if we could find the Salvation Army Hostel that she stayed at in 1990, on Old Montague Street that she stayed at the first time she came to London for her nursing school interviews, but it had just been torn down a couple of weeks before we got there! This time, we went back, and they have built a brand new hostel right where the old one stood! Linda, wanted to make a small donation to the Salvation Army, and they brought out the superintendant of the hostel, and he personally received the donation. It all seemed a bit fussy, but Linda felt good about it. Next, we walked up Brick Lane, which is covered with Bangladeshi-Indian specialty shops and restaurants, to the Jamme Masjid Mosque. This unique building was built in 1743 as a Huguenot Protestant Church, then spent time as a Methodist church, and a synagogue, before becoming a mosque in 1976. This building, as much as any other, reflects the successive influx of immigrant communities to east London over the centuries. We walked back to Whitechapel Road and continued east. We crossed the road and saw the Church Bell Foundry (est. 1570), and for the first time, I heard bells ringing from inside. We walked to the side of the building, and there was an open door that one could look into and see workers testing the bells. Big Ben and the original Liberty Bell were both made here. Continuing down Whitechapel, we came to the Royal London Hospital (est.1750). This was where Linda had her first interview back in 1990, and she was interested in seeing how it looked today. Across the road one can see the corner shop where the forerunner to the Bolshevik Party got its inauspicious start with a group of rag-tag dissidents that were exiled in London, namely Lenin, Stalin, and Trotsky. It was raining lightly, so we crossed the road, entered Whitechapel tube station, bought new tickets back to Greenwich, and returned to SE London. We stopped by a grocery to get some items for dinner, went home, and found our clothes slightly wet on the line. Tonight, we watched Turkey defeat Croatia on TV, in exciting come-from-behind fashion. Turkey tied the match very late, 1-1, and then won 4-1 in penalty kicks at the end of a scoreless overtime.

Saturday, 21 June: I got up at 8:00am, it was rainy, and we stayed in this morning to show Marissa photos on my laptop. Marissa & Serkan both went to Serkan’s workplace, near Covent Garden, for something special. By Noon, we got going and walked to Deptford station to get a train to London Bridge and then the tube to Russell Square, where we walked to the British Museum. We were hungry, so we bought lunch at the Starbucks across from the BM, and carried it to the courtyard in front of the BM to eat. We spent about two and a half hours in the museum, mainly concentrating on Egyptian, Assyrian-Babylonian, Greek, and Roman artifacts, plus a room with a statue from Easter Island and some carvings from other Pacific islands. The biggest change I could see was, obviously, the new central atrium, or Great Court, completed in 2000, which housed a lot of new gift shops, and eating places. The Rosetta Stone, which has been on public display in the museum since 1802, has been moved into a new glass case in a more busy location. I noticed that some of the old, old artifacts have been moved and some have not, but the museum, as a whole, looks immaculate. Some of my favorites are the Black Obelisk, the Elgin Marbles, and the amazing Roman mosaics, which, sadly, have been relegated to the stairwell walls. Reanna especially wanted to see the Egyptian mummies. It was all good, just more time consuming than we had available time! We went back to Russell Square tube station and took the tube to Piccadilly Circus. Reanna still had not been there, so it was necessary for her to at least see Piccadilly Circus, right? We looked around, went into the Trocadero (a compact shopping mall), and got some more souvenirs. Next, I finally spied an open bureau de change where I exchanged a 50 Euro note I’d been keeping since 2004. I’d wanted to just exchange it to pounds, and though the rate was pitiful, I finally got my chance. By now, it was pushing 6:00pm, and we were hungry, so we reluctantly walked back to Charing Cross station, via Trafalgar Square, and took a train back to Deptford station. We thought about buying something to take home for dinner, and looked into an African shop for some inspiration but didn’t find anything. Then, we remembered that we hadn’t had any fish & chips on this trip, and low-and-behold, a fish & chips shop appeared right before our very eyes. We got take out and walked home from Deptford High Street. Just an observation about Deptford, which we found to be noteworthy, is how many Vietnamese and Chinese people we saw there. Apparently, they came to Britain, in the thousands, just prior to the handing over of Hong Kong back to China when the lease ran out in 1997. We spent a quiet evening with Marissa & Serkan, watched a movie, and the end of the Russia-Holland Europe Cup match, which Russia won 2-0.

Sunday, 22 June: I got up at 7:05am, and we made it to church in New Cross by 10:30am for Sunday school and worship. I spoke at the worship service on the topic of “God’s Dwelling Place,” and managed to obey the cue to end on time. It was great to be back with the New Cross congregation and Linda got some photos of several of the ladies. Apart from some windy conditions in the morning, the weather today was terrific. We went to Cherrie’s house for dinner, and had a combined effort, along with Sonya and Beverly, to cook some vegetables, and grill some chicken and lamb. Reanna played with Sonya and Beverly’s girls, and I managed to go for a walk by myself around the block for a few minutes. I do love to go for walks in London! We ended up staying pretty long at Cherrie’s, and didn’t leave till about 9:30pm to go home. We saw Spain beat Italy in overtime on TV, and Marissa & Serkan came home late. I went to bed at 11:00pm.

Monday, 23 June: Our last full day of the trip. Sigh! I got up at 7:15am, while all was quiet in the flat, and though it was a bit chilly, the sky was blue, and I decided to go for a long walk by myself along the Thames Path. The Thames Path is a long, designated route along the whole length of the Thames River, from source to end, which is marked with signs and history markers. I have wanted to walk on it since our second day when, I first saw it, and explored a bit of the area by the river. The path skirts the river as much as possible, but sometimes has to weave through housing estates and parks to stay parallel with it when there is no proper promenade, or access to the embankment. I was astounded by the amount of history that I encountered, among the history markers, as I walked almost to Surrey Quays. I got as far as Greenland Dock, which was dotted with docked sailboats, and a few old men fishing, and decided to turn around. In addition, I got to see a fair cross section of Londoner’s waking up to the day, and making their way to work and school. The walk lasted a little over two-hours, and by the time I got home, I was hungry! Linda and I talked to Marissa in the garden for a while, and then by 12:30pm, we finally got started with our plans for the day, which were to go to Lewisham Centre to do some shopping, and then go visit Cherrie. We drove to the parking garage in Lewisham and took the lift down to the shopping centre. Lewisham is where I did a lot of shopping back in the days when I lived in New Cross and Brockley. We shopped in one clothing store, and then a book store and we were hungry. So, we went to McDonald’s for lunch, and while at McDonald’s, I hatched a plan for us to walk to Lewisham Register Office, and see where Linda and I had our civil wedding ceremony in 1992. This was agreeable to Linda, so we walked there, which wasn’t as short a walk as I remembered it, but it was nice to see it again. It was nice to relive the memory, and for Reanna to see it, as well. For years we have kept a wedding picture of us, with our group of witnesses, outside of the doors at the Registers Office on top of our TV set. (Incidentally, we also had a church service that same day, but without a proper vicar, which is required for a ceremony to be legal.) I stepped inside the entrance of the Register Office, and there was a considerable amount of commotion going on with civil ceremonies scheduled for the day, and even a number of people in wedding parties dressed up and waiting, so I slipped back out. We walked back to the Lewisham Centre, Linda did some shopping in Sainsbury’s, and Reanna and I had refreshments at a coffee bar. Next, we drove to Cherrie’s to check on her for she was supposed to have a cataract surgery on one of her eye’s this morning. As it turned out, she didn’t have it today because she had some inflammation in the eye. Beverly was there with her younger daughter, so we left Reanna with them and ran some errands for Cherrie and came back. We visited till 6:30pm, and then said a tearful goodbye to Cherrie, and went home. Marissa & Serkan were there, and we had made plans with them to go to the O2 Dome, aka the Millennium Dome, in north Greenwich this evening. I have wanted to see the O2 Dome for quite a while and we still hadn’t seen it. We drove over in the car to where it is located on a narrow peninsula of land right beside the Thames River, and as it turned out, there were a lot of people going there tonight for a Neil Diamond concert! The place was filling up fast, in fact, and in spite of the unbelievable £ 20.00 charge for parking, we decided, since we had come this far already we might as well pay it and see what the dome looked like inside and see what was in there. It is mainly an arena for concerts and exhibitions, with a considerably large area set aside with restaurants, a cinema, and bars, with unusual sounding names and mesmerizing lights. When the crowd had gone into the concert hall, the rest of the place grew quiet, and we practically had the place to ourselves. Unknown to us, there was a very special exhibit about King Tutankhamen, ruler of Egypt 1333 BC – 1324 BC, there at the same time, but it was closed for the day. At first it seemed like a pity to miss this exhibition, but since we had just been to the British Museum on Saturday, we weren’t too disappointed. The official gift shop was, however, still open for a few more minutes, so we went in and looked around. We had some fun trying on souvenir copies of Tut’s famous iconic headgear, and of course, Reanna had to have something. Next, we filed into an empty Starbucks and had some pricy refreshments--Serkan’s treat (I had a latte, and a cookie)--and we carried on conversing till it seemed like a suitable time to leave. On the way out, an old Neil Diamond tune blared from a bar, and with a touch of nostalgia, I wished I could have seen Neil, but it wasn’t to be. I said, “This is the closest I’ve ever been to Neil Diamond, and probably the closest I’ll ever get!” We slowly walked away from the Dome, with a faint amount of twilight in the sky, and it looked truly magnificent. We headed back to Marissa & Serkan’s, stopping at a petrol station to fill up for the last time. We went home, and then I did some last minute emailing on my laptop, packed, and went to bed rather late. We had to have things ready to put in the car extremely early in the morning, to get to Heathrow on time for our flight.

Tuesday, 24 June: Needless to say, I didn’t sleep well. I lay awake from 2:00 – 4:00am thinking about what was going to happen trying to get to the airport on time. I got up at 4:05, and did everything I could to ensure that we left by 5:05. It was daylight, and Marissa & Serkan got up to say goodbye. It was a quick goodbye, unfortunately, but a necessary one, because a million-and-one things could happen on the way to Heathrow airport! The traffic was light, mostly, and I drove as fast and as deftly as I could to make sure we weren’t delayed for any reason. It wasn’t until we exited the M4 at the Heathrow exit that I felt like I could relax. With so many possible obstacles out there colluding to impede our progress, you never know what to expect in London. Then, the long, long drive around the terminals to the car rental place made me worry I’d taken a wrong turn somewhere, but in due course, we saw the rental place and I breathed a sigh of relief. We parked (6:00am), got our luggage out and over to a shuttle stand, and within minutes a shuttle came along to take us to terminal 4. Check-in at Northwestern was smooth, so we had about an hour to kill and went to a Costa and had coffee and pastries. Our NW flight went well, across the Atlantic, and I watched the movie Fool’s Gold, with Matthew McConaughey, Kate Hudson, and Donald Sutherland, which seemed rather adventurous, with a modern-day pirates of the Caribbean theme. We changed in Detroit, without a hitch, and made it back to Nashville by 4:10pm, where my dad found us, and I drove home, with the sensation of having driven on the left in the morning to Heathrow and on the right in the evening to home.


So much went well with this trip that many of the little problems, inconveniences, and disappointments seem minor by comparison. The Neil Diamond song, “I Am I Said” comes to mind, here, where Diamond tries to explain his philosophical longing for a “home” betwixt his New York upbringing, and his LA found fame. For me, London can’t really be “home” anymore ever again, but it can be “mine.” Is it still mine after all these years of separation, change and modernization? Yeah, I think so. I still love it, and it still feels like it’s mine after all these years. But there is another sense that it is moving on. It doesn’t seem as mature as it used to be. I think London is getting newer and younger by the day, which is remarkable. I know I have changed some, like the bifocals on my face, I will continually see things in the distance much the way I’ve seen them in the past, but the close up vision is revealing new discoveries and diversities all the time about life. London is still like a museum to me, like a treasure house of history, impressions and experiences, but I have to realize that places change like people change. The face of London is definitely looking more youthful, and fecund.

London Zoo
Wimbledon Tennis Championship
Dunnottar Castle
British Museum
02 Dome