Road Scholar 19320

The weather forecast for this trip isn't what I had expected - its worse. Through much of April, it's been raining "every day" and the temperatures are running about 10F below "average". Getting out and doing lots of walking around may be a problem: both cold(er) and wet(ter) than expected. So much for "global warming." The forecast is:

DateTemperature/actualRain %forecast \ actual
May 1, Tuesday
48-62 / 52-63
90%heavy rain \ correct
May 2, Wednesday
46-58 / 47-55
30%showers \ light sprinkles
May 3, Thursday
44-54 / 44-47
80%rain \ cold, gloomy, late showers
May 4, Friday
44-57 / 42-46
60%rain \ more of the same
May 5, Saturday
43-48 / 41-48
30%partly cloudy \ cold with light rain
May 6, Sunday
43-49 / 38-46
30%rain \ gloomy and frigid
May 7, Monday
44-51 / 41-53
60%showers \ showers but warmer
May 8, Tuesday
44-55 / 45-57
60%showers \ gloomy AM, nice PM
May 9, Wednesday
44-56 / 48-57
80%rain \ gloomy and scattered showers
May 10, Thursday
44-61 / 43-57
60%showers \ ?

Day 1, Tuesday May 1 In Transit
At least there is no rain forecast for Houston as I leave. I have an afternoon pickup by the StuporShuttle about 2:50 PM. Then off on an overnight flight. I chose to pay extra for "Economy Plus" seating with more legroom (on exit row) for the nine-ten hour flights. It is a direct flight both ways with no layovers. Now if the heavy rain in London this morning doesn't delay the flight arrival here ….

United UA 4Houston - Heathrow6:25 P - 9:40 A9:15

Day 2, Wednesday, May 2 Arrive in London
The flight left, then subsequently arrived about 15 minutes late; arrive in London, my favorite city in Europe, and transfer to the hotel. The Road Scholar office in London made the arrangements for the airport <-> hotel transfers for both arrival and departure. This saves me from the hassle of taking the airport -> city shuttle, than a taxi to the hotel, and a similar double-trouble hassle on departure day.

However recent (April 28) news reports say that the lines to get through the formalities at Heathrow Airport are absolutely horrendous and may take as much as two hours. Fortunately only our plane had just arrived so the lines were relatively short. I "raided" an ATM to get £100. I go through London again twice on the Greece trip so extra £ can be used for meals then. I don't get to London again until 2015.

Fortunately it's not raining, but rain is forecast for later in the day. Since I got through the airport quickly, I arrived at the hotel about 11:30 and by a mracle, my "closet" was ready. The room is clean but VERY basic - not even drawers to store things, luggage stand, almost anything except a bed, desk, chair. From the propaganda description I had expected something very nice, ornate, roomy, etc. but it doesn't match any of that. The main floor matches, but that's as far as it does.

A light lunch (soup and finger-sized nibble-sandwiches) is served about 12:30 in the hotel for those arriving in time. As usual, the afternoon is at leisure to unpack, struggle to find places to put everything (not successful), and take a nap. We have a welcome meeting at 5 PM with our Group Leader, John Garrod, and Course Director, Kevin Flude, which preceeds a set-course dinner in the hotel. There are 28 of us on this tour. The evening is at leisure (1). Actually, to bed early to catch up on missed sleep. We stay in the same hotel "closet" for the entire program: Radisson Edwardian Vanderbilt (LD)

Day 3, Thursday, May 3 Medieval London. The Guildhall
We have a full English and/or continental breakfast each day in the hotel. It was nice this morningI thought that they would be using the Underground for the local transportation - what with all the traffic causing troubles driving around by bus, but it's quite a bit of both coach and walking. This morning (9:30) we have the lecture: The Medieval City and Repositories of History - Royal London. It is the only actual lecture. The other activities are field trips with extensive commentary.

Then at 12, we take a coach to our first destination and do a field trip (1) A Walk Through Time - Smithfield to the Guildhall. Smithfield (once Smoothfield) dates back to the Middle Ages when it was used for jousts and tournaments such as St Bartholomew's Fair. It was also a place of execution and in the 17th century it became a cattle market.

The Guildhall has been the City's powerhouse since the 12th century when the King and upper merchant class held court. Built to reflect the wealth of the rulers, the Guildhall remains a spectacular site. The medieval crypt is the largest in London and the imposing medieval Great Hall, the largest and most impressive room, is where royalty and state visitors have been entertained down the centuries since it was originally built in 1411. It is also home to the colossal figures of the famous legendary giants Gog and Magog who were said to have founded London. Actually, it's never pointed out and we certainly didn't get any chance at all to go inside. Bad deal!

After this about 1PM, we take a break for lunch but Lunch is NOT included (1). This afternoon we take another short walk and then do a field trip (2) to the Museum of London where we discover prehistoric London, see how the city changed under Roman rule, and wonder at medieval London. For learning about this period, it's a great place to visit. In the newly refreshed gallery focus on the turbulent years of the the story of London from the Elizabethan times, through the ravages of the English Civil Wars, to the cataclysmic disasters of the Great Plague of 1665, and the Great Fire of 1666. The newly opened (2010) upper galleries tell the story of London and its people from 1666 to the present day.

This evening we have a Pre-theatre dinner (included- seafood but they came up with a reasonable alternative) then walk next door to the theater to see a performance in one of London's West End theaters. Since we don't go back to the hotel either befrore or after our dinner, and it's a long way back to the hotel "at night", we HAVE to go to the show. I had hoped for some really nice show, but the show we are condemned to see is "The 39 Steps". However this one is a parody (almost a slap-stick comedy) of the original book, movie, and Masterpiece Theater production.

I've seem several shows over the years ranging from "Cats" to "Phantom" to Shakespeare to comedies, but this was a wasted evening. I wish I could have just gone back to the hotel and stayed there. Back to the hotel about 10:30. (BD)

Today's weather was cloudy, cold, and damp. No chance for any pictures either yesterday or today. I'm glad we didn't have to do lots of walking in that weather, but the only way to see London is by walking. Just driving by somewhere on the bus just doesn't do it. Hopefully it gets better, but that's doubtful.

Day 4, Friday, May 4 The Tower of London and Westminster Abbey
We start another gloomy day at 9AM with a field trip (3) to the 900 year old Tower of London where we see the Crown Jewels, the White Tower, the Bloody Tower and the Medieval Palace dating back to 1220. I've been here several times before, but it HAS been quite a while so it's a very nice experience. It's not a guided walk, just an orientation then do our own thing for about 2 hours.

Lunch is at 12:30 at the Royal Armouries café at the Tower of London - I've never eaten there before; chose our own sandwich, drink, and desert. At 1:45, take the usual narrated "scenic" boat trip along the Thames from the Tower to Westminster. I had hoped that one of our leaders (Chris) would do the narration (she's super good), but it was the usual crew member. More or less ho-hum.

Then this afternoon (2:45) the field trip (4) continues to Westminster Abbey, resting place of Britian's monarchs. I've only been here once before - a long time ago. The Abbey is one of the finest examples of medieval architecture in London and houses a world famous collection of monuments and tombs. Styles range from the French Gothic nave to Henry VII's Tudor chapel and 18th century monuments. This turns out to be an excellent, comprehensive tour and is very nice, plus our Road Scholar tour guide (Chris) and VERY good. At 5 we leave to drive to our dinner which is in one of London's most historic pubs The Cheshire Cheese, an unwelcome (to me) change from The Old George Inn. (Darn!!!) I've eaten at the Cheshire Cheese before, but not the George Inn. At least the set-menu meals turns out to be very good. Almost all our Road Scholar included meals turn out to be set-menu. Back to the hotel about 8:15. The rest of the evening such as it is, is at leisure (2).I managed to get a few pictures today despite the weather (which the tour guides admit is horrible - worse than usual, and extremely cold, particularly for May. (BLD)

Day 5, Saturday, May 5 The City and St. Paul's Cathedral
This morning (very cool and breezy with a light sprinkle/shower), we're off at 9:30 to learn about Sir Christopher Wren and the Great Fire of London on a walking field trip (5) of the City from Monument, built to commemorate the Great Fire, to St Stephen Walbrook, one of Wren's finest churches and a forerunner to St Paul's, to St Mary-le-Bow. We basically just wander around shivvering in a light drizzle. There are lots of little churches to see in the "City" (square mile). We do finally get to see the Guildhall, but as we often find, it's closed to visitors.

About 12:30, enjoy a traditional lunch (not "fish and chips") at The Olde London pub out near St. Paul's. In the afternoon (2PM), the field trip (6) continues to Wren's masterpiece, St Paul's Cathedral, the medieval cathedral rebuilt after the Great Fire. Samuel Pepys had written that it was in flames during the great fire, but actually, "heroic efforts" had saved most of it and its contents. The tranquil interior is majestic in its Baroque splendor. It's much more what we would expect from a church than the rather clutttered conditions (due to all the monuments, plaques, tombs, etc., in Westminster. We have an "early" return to the hotel about 4PM but after all the walking, it's a welcome change, particularly with this weather.

Not many pictures today: a) morning weather; b) no photos allowed in St Paul's. We're on our own for the rest of the day; and this evening, the dinner is NOT included (2). Instead, I just go to a little near-by grocery store for a sandwich, chips, and a drink. The evening is at leisure (3). NOTE: We have "possible frost" warnings for the next two mornings. (BL)

Day 6, Sunday, May 6 Hampton Court Palace Refrigerator
This morning, in 38F weather, leave at 9:30 for an hour drive to our field trip (7) which is Hampton Court Palace built for Cardinal Wolsey but handed over to Henry VIII who extended it as did William and Mary through Sir Christopher Wren. Tudor turrets and the Great Hall sit alongside Wren's Classical State Apartments surrounded by Wren's formal baroque landscape. Knowing from previous visits that a) photos weren't allowed in the more interesting places, and b) where photos are allowed, it's too dark to get anything useful, I didn't even take my camera.

Lunch is NOT included (3). There is relatively inexpensive food (Cornish Pasty, etc) available at Hampton Court in the Privy Kitchen Coffee Shop.

. In the afternoon continue our exploration (depending on the weather) spending the time either back in the Palace or perhaps (don't) enjoy the 60 acres of famous gardens (because it's too gloomy and really frigid) including The Privy Garden - the re-creation of William of Orange's Privy Garden, based on a design of 1702. Or the 20th Century Garden - contemporary style plantings with trees and shrubs in an informal setting that creates a place of peace and tranquillity away from the busier areas of the gardens. See also the Tiltyard Walls, the Deer Park, the Maze and "Capability" Brown's Great Vine. The most interesting person we learned about was "The Royal Groom of the Stool." He's the one responsible for wiping the King's (xxx) each time the King (xxxxx).

About 3:30, start the hour-long drive back into London and our hotel. Dinner is NOT included (4). I'll go back to the little grocery store which is just around the corner from the hotel. Otherwise the evening is at leisure (2). (B)

Day 7, Monday, May 7 Legal London Walk and the British Museum
It's another rainy morning. Leaving the hotel at 9:30, we venture on our field trip (8) into Legal London at Lincoln's Inn Fields, once a site of public execution in Tudor and Stuart times, now a playground for nearby lawyers. Lincoln's Inn itself is the best preserved of the Inns of Court and dates back to the 15th century. Our field trip (9) continues as we travel yet again through historic Fleet Street which began as the road from the commercial City of London to the political hub at Westminster. The length of Fleet Street marks the expansion of the City in the 14th Century. At the east end of the street where the River Fleet flowed against the medieval walls of London; at the west end is the Temple Bar which marks the current City of London / City of Westminster boundary, extended there in 1329.

Many famous men are associated with Fleet Street, either by living there or in one of its many side streets, or by being regular frequenters of its taverns. Amongst these should be mentioned expecially Ben Jonson, John Milton, Izaak Walton, Joyn Dryden, Samuel Johnson, Edmund Burke, Oliver Goldsmith and Charles Lamb. We are scheduled to visit Dr. Johnson's house at 10:15, then at 12. However Kevin had booked entry to Lincoln's Inn and Johnson's house totally ignoring the fact that today is a bank holiday and everything is closed. So we walked in the rain to the British Museum.

Lunch is NOT included (5). Due to the rain, eating at a pub is not an option so we have to eat in the Museum food area. I had planned to also check "across the street" at CoinCraft for another coin or two for my collection of British Rulers coins but it also is closed for the bank holiday. I'll plan to get back to them on Wednesday..

This afternoon, after a 2-hour lunch break, our field trip (10) is to the nation's treasures (the highlight is the Rosetta Stone) in the British Museum, home to artifacts from around the world and the oldest museum in the world. Kevin gives us a long rambling 2-hour (was to be 1 ¼ hrs) guided walk around the museum. We see examples from Prehistoric and Roman Britain and medieval, Renaissance and modern objects. At 5, after a 3-hour visit to the museum, it's back to the hotel.

We have another dull blah set-menu dinner in the hotel. They're so cheap that even after asking twice, I couldn't even get a refill of my water glass.. The evening is at leisure (4). (BD)

Day 8, Tuesday, May 8 Victoria & Albert Museum
Start the day a bit earlier (9AM) with a walk (field trip -11) through Dickens' London. Since it is the 200th Anniversary of the birth of Charles Dickens, it seems as if all the shops in London have "gone to the Dickens." There are Dickens' souvenirs, books, etc. "everywhere."I skip a bit of the morning walk and spend some time in Lincoln Inn Fields which is very nice. I remembered enjoying the "Squares" so much on earlier visits.

Then about 12:30, we have lunch out in a London pub, the Zetland Arms. The meal (set plate again) is far superior to what we had last night at the hotel.

About 2PM, Step back into the Victorian Age as Kevin rambles us through a field trip (12) to Albertropolis: the Albert Memorial, the Royal Albert Hall and the V&A. Oops, we just visit the V&A, not Albert Hall. The Victoria and Albert Museum houses one of the world's widest collections of fine and applied art, much of which stems from the British Empire. I found the British Museum far, far, far more interesting.

Late this afternoon, 4:30, oops, make that 5:15 which ruins part of what was planned for tonight, venture into London's underworld with a (13) bus tour of Jack the Ripper and Sherlock Holmes' ("drive-by-shootings", not a walk. But considering the weather, definitely better though very disappointing.). Also, scratch the Sherlock Holmes part - due to the delay at the V&A, we don't have a chance to stop at the Holmes Pub where they have a reproduction of Sherlock Holmes' study complete with figures of both he and Mrs. Hudson. After that, stop at Spitalfield Market for dinner but Dinner is NOT included (6). It actually turns out to be a nice, remodeled, place with a nice choice of eateries. We get back to the hotel after 9. (BL)

Day 9, Wednesday, May 9 Cabinet War Rooms and Churchill Museum (deleted/skipped) / on my own
It's the last full day in London for the trip. There isn't all that much of interest today so for a variety of reasons, I'm going to do something different on my own. We were scheduled to do/visit:
1a) Churchill War Rooms (cancelled - closed for renovation);
1b) Substitute a "Blitz Walk" with Kevin (not another walk with him!)
2) Churchill Museum (ho hum)
3) Princess Diana's Kensington Palace (definitely nothing of interest here)

So instead, despite getting almost "rained in," since lunch isn't included anyway, while everyone else is trudging around in gloomy, rainy London, I first headed over to the British Museum area to that coin shop, but without finding the coins I wanted (at least that I could afford), then made a rest-of-the-day trip to get out to the Greenwich Maritime Museum and the Observatory.

Routing: Take the Piccadilly Line Tube to Russell Square for CoinCraft which is my first stop. Then take the Piccadilly Line Tube north to Kings Cross; transfer to Circle Line East/South to the Tower Station and from there take the River boat to Greenwich. For the return, take the River boat back to the Tower and from there the Circle Line Tube to Gloucester Square and it is just a 2 blocks walk to the hotel. Quite a bit of "exploring" but it went well.

I certainly enjoyed the Maritime Museum (and ship models) but the Observatory is my favorite part of the complex. That was MUCH more interesting than the scheduled activities despite all the pre-Olympics construction (just as at the Hampton Court area). The only bad deal for today was that due to the forecast of (lots of) main, I didn't dare take my camera; it had already been "soaked" on a couple of other days and I didn't want to have that happen again.

Due to the routing and since I had to get back by 5:30 for a Road Scholar meeting rather than 6:30 - late change - I had to cut the visit a bit over an hour short for coming back into town. I easily made it back to the hotel by 5:30 for a Farewell meeting and 6:30 for another very blah dinner (another one-glass-of-water dinner.

However, another big Road Scholar OOPS! Our Course Director, Kevin, fouls up again and decides that there is no meeting. The 5:30 meeting that I rushed back to get here for is cancelled. I could have stayed for another hour. Overall, this tour has been poorly organized / run. Between the schedule change hassles and a knowledgeable but disorganized course director, I'm pretty well disgusted. Of the 6 Road Scholar trips I've done, this was far the worst. In fact, out of now 60 commercial trips, it ties for worst organized and run.

The rest (??) of the evening is at leisure (5). In other words, get everything packed since I have to get out of here early tomorrow morning. (BD)

I had had very high hopes and expectations for this trip; after all, London is my favorite city in Europe. But the weather didn't cooperate at all - and just doing "drive-by-shootings" of places is NO SUBSTITUTE for getting out and walking around. Sad.

A couple of suggestions to Road Scholar: 1) skip Kensington Palace and go out to Greenwich instead since its another World Heritage Site - or make the afternoon a "free afternoon" to let us have time to do whatever else is of interest, and/or 2) add a day or two to the tour so as to have more time for the do-it-ourselves excursions. A third option would be leave the Kensington visit in, and use the 1 or 2 extra days for 2 - 4 half-day free-time excursions.

Day 10, Thursday, May 10 Departure
There was no time for a full English and/or Continental breakfast in the hotel before my 7:20 departure for the airport. But I stopped by that little grocery store yesterday and got something I can eat as soon as I get up. The London Road Scholar office (local name: JAC tours) made the necessary arrangements for the transfer to the airport for our departure. Again I chose to pay extra for more leg room in an exit row. As usual, the return (westbound) flight takes longer.

The flight is delayed about 35 minutes for paperwork hassles, then for another 25 minutes sitting on the runway waiting for clearance to take off. This made us about an hour late getting into Houston.

United UA 5Heathrow - Houston11:40 A - 3:50 P
12:15 P - 4:40 P

Arriving about 4PM, oops, 5 PM means I didn't get home until about 7PM. At least it's not raining. That's saved for tomorrow.

Thursday1A Walk Through Time - Smithfield to the Guildhall
2Museum of London
Friday3Tower of London
4Westminster Abbey
Saturday5Sir Christopher Wren and the Great Fire of London
6St Paul's Cathedral
Sunday7Hampton Court Palace (all day)
Monday8Lincoln's Inn Fields
9Fleet Street
10British Museum
Tuesday11Dickens' London
12Albertropolis: Albert Memorial, Royal Albert Hall and the V&A
13Night pub tour of Jack the Ripper and Sherlock Holmes'
Wednesday14Cabinet War Rooms (closed) and Churchill Museum
15Princess Diana's Kensington Palace (skip)
XX >>>Greenwich Maritime Museum and Observatory

Selected pictures
Click to enlarge

OUR GUIDES/LECTURERS (IMO best to poorest)
1 - Chris Green, Tutor
2 - John Garrod, Group leader
3 - Becky Wallower, Tutor
10+ - Kevin Flude, Course director

Kevin Flude is very knowledgable, but as a leader he is awful. He is extremely disorganized and a very poor planner. If you are thinking about a trip to London with Road Scholar, check to see who the leader is. If its Kevin, don't go.

Hotel: Radisson Edwardian Vanderbilt 68-86 Cromwell Road; London, SW7 5BT UK England; phone: +44 20 7761 9000. TGloucester Road station; District, Circle, and Piccadilly Lines. The hotel was once the London residence of the Vanderbilt family. Many original features have been carefully restored to their former glory including stained glass windows (?), wood paneled rooms (???) and its magnificent artistic ceiling(?). Each "closet" (room) offers air conditioning, in room safe, satellite TV, and complimentary WiFi access. Other than the very cramped "closets", the biggest problem here is the "extreme-opposite-from-express" ele-micro-vators which hold at most 3 sardines, er, people.