Thursday, October 18, 2012

Pretty Great Britain

Last weekend we took a quick three-day trip to the UK!  It was pretty last-minute so not a lot of fun to book, but in the end everything went relatively smoothly.  We got to see friends, get a quick dose of London (always good for the small-towner), and check out a couple of new places!

Due to the last-minuteness, we ended up having to connect in Zürich on the way to London.  (It's not on the way!)  Although kinda sucky because I like to minimize my airport time, on the way to Zürich we actually flew - in a small plane, so kinda low - right over Mannheim, Ludwigshafen, and Speyer!  That was fun, and as another bonus we got to use up some Swiss Francs we had leftover from a long-ago trip - so our airport dinner was actually paid for a few years ago. ;)

We also had the rare privilege of flying into London City Airport - 2 years to the day after our first flight there!  Our landing wasn't as dramatic this time but it's still so nice to fly into such a tiny airport right on transit.  It was an easy ride on the DLR & Jubilee line to our accomodations at 274 Suites, right near a friend's place in West Hampstead.  Not sure I'd recommend the place, but it was the perfect location for us.

We spent Saturday in London with friends - the first half with the family of one of my oldest friends, and the second half with an old Boston friend who now lives in Norwich.  It's kind of crazy how many people we know who've moved to the UK.  For dinner we went to Dumplings' Legend in Chinatown - I had this craving for dumplings of any kind (not even necessarily Chinese) and it seemed to fit the bill.  The shrimp dumplings were amazing; everything else was fine.  Then we went pudding-crazy at some touristy English restaurant and I finally had the infamous spotted dick.  It's kind of boring as English puddings go.

Since most of our London time was just catching up with friends, I didn't get many photos, but there are a few here:
London Okt 12

On Sunday we picked up a rental car at  Heathrow and started heading up toward Birmingham, where my husband had some sciencey stuff to do on Monday.  Oxford is on the way and we decided to stop there for lunch and to look around.  Signs warned us to use a Park & Ride instead of driving into town and we ignored them.  That was dumb.  The route to park in the center is extremely circuitous and then parking costs almost four pounds per hour and the machines give no change.  Oops.  We ended up having lunch near the parking lot because we only had enough change for one hour and needed more from lunch to feed the machine for enough time to sightsee.  The town was very busy with shoppers and tourists but we really liked what we saw - I'd love to go back for longer sometime to spend more time looking at the buildings and go into some museums!
Oxford Okt 12

Sunday night we had curry in Birmingham with some science people.  It all tasted good to me, but I've probably lost my ability to assess Indian food since it's all either mediocre & expensive or cheap & terrible in Heidelberg. I hope the British know how good they have it! ;)  This was followed by a drink at The Fighting Cocks, where, shock of shocks, they actually have more ciders on offer than just Magner's or Strongbow!  Hurrah!

On Monday while my husband was sciencing I went to downtown Birmingham to look around.  I never really had a chance to do any research on what I might find there so there was mostly just wandering and luckily managing to find some of the main attractions that way: the canals, around which everything has been converted and updated in the last 20 years, the Back to Backs, which were unfortunately closed, Victoria Square, and the Bullring.  (See the photos!)  My impression of Birmingham was that it was more a place to live than a place to visit.  Almost everything marked on the plentiful wayposts throughout town was shopping and pseudo-upmarket restaurants.  Shopping, shopping, shopping, and ads, ads, ads, all broken up by big roads in awkward places.  In other words - it would make a very beautiful American city!  The canals were definitely a highlight - especially all the black-and-white bridges - and although there are plenty of places to eat and walk near them, they didn't feel well-knit into the rest of the town, which was kind of a shame.  But, that's just not the way Birmingham developed, I suppose.  The canal boats are really long and narrow with all kinds of colorful designs painted on them.  I didn't bother figuring out how I might get to ride on one but if I ever find myself there again I think that would be interesting!
Birmingham Okt 12

Our flight was out of Heathrow Tuesday morning so we left Birmingham Monday night at rush hour to stay in a B&B in High Wycombe - close enough to Heathrow to make it easy to get there in the morning, but far enough out to not have to deal with absurd prices.  We picked a place that was easy to access from the motorway, but ended up missing our one important turn and getting totally lost in town for - seriously - about an hour.  Finally, hoping to chill at a nice pub within walking distance (hating the shitty rental car at this point), it turned out the only places to eat in walking distance were a curry place, a TGIFriday's, and a Frankie and Benny's (a US-style UK chain).  Bummer.  We weren't in a curry mood so we ended up at Frankie and Benny's, which was sort of a sad end to the trip.  At least they did play good music - it was totally KIOA. :)

Tuesday we flew out and thankfully had a direct flight to Frankfurt.  Woo!  Security got me repeatedly on this trip.  On the way out my bra set off the metal detector and I got a disturbingly thorough frisking as a result.  Maybe I need to start traveling in a sports bra.  My backpack also seemed suspicious so it got taken to a special room to be swabbed for explosives.  I feel bad for whoever has that job.  It sounds really boring to swab completely safe bags all day for something that none of them are going to have - and this boring result is the hoped-for result.  Anyway, on the way back my bra made it through with no stir but both my purse and backpack got set aside as suspicious and needed a full rifle-through and swabbing by some poor guy who has to do this to a zillion bags, and then try to stuff all the things back in.  My purse has a tricky zipper and he seemed so relieved when I told him I'd put it back together and he didn't have to.

My first experience back in Germany was to get pushed on the train by someone behind me in the aisle.  And, being in Germany, that felt totally normal.  Welcome back.


  1. I love London so much. I seriously could spend a week there just wandering around. Too bad Cliff's not a fan...

    "We weren't in a curry mood..."

    I literally don't understand those words in that order.

  2. London really is great, except for the prices!
    Re: curry, we had literally been thinking for about a week about that pub food we were going to have in England (the entire planning period for this trip) and we never got it!

  3. I'm pretty sure spotted dick still exists as a thing because of its name only. It has nothing else of value to offer.

  4. "Too bad Cliff's not a fan."

    I wouldn't say that. I just need some points of interest to choose from defined before we set out on a visit.

  5. Sounds like a great trip! I loved London so much, but I agree, it's very expensive.

    Also, I ate at a Frankie and Bennys in Edinburgh. I quite liked it.


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