Category Archives: Great Britain

More About London

London is a city that can drive you nuts if you try to experience everything worth seeing. It’s definitely a city to revisit to discover what you didn’t have the energy for the first time. The first time we went there, we spent most of our time shopping. It was on subsequent visits that we began to understand this city’s other wonders. Ruth & I have experienced all of the attractions just below. We look forward to seeing the ones under them when we return after COVID is conquered. We will probably not have the time to repeat much.

Attractions we have seen and highly recommend.

  1. Fortnum and Mason. This shopping and eating establishment at 181 Piccadilly was established in 1707 and remains a royal treat. Its nickname that’s probably still true is “The Queen’s Grocer”. Dining there is recommended and will not break your travel budget.
  2. The very traditional Green Man Pub in Harrod’s Department Store was the scene of my best travel lesson of all times. Another pub not to miss is the Churchill Arms in Kensington, a 5 minute walk from the Notting Hill Gate Underground Station. The last time we were in London, we ate at the Harwood Arms, the only Michelin rated pub in this city. It’s still functioning somehow in a very traditional pub setting and is highly recommended. If you want to have a drink in London’s oldest pub, you’re on your own.
  3. Kew Gardens. This is no ordinary urban green space. Kew Garden’s other name is the Royal Botanic Gardens, and it is more about research than pretty flowers. You will find 30,000 plants here from all over the world while still admiring pretty flowers in season.
  4. The free Hunterian Museum was one of my favorite places in London and worth repeating. However, it’s currently closed for “a major redevelopment”. It will reopen in 2022 at the Royal College of Surgeons. The closest Underground stop to it is Holborn.
  5. Two of my brother-in-law Don’s favorite London attractions were Little Venice and John Soane’s house. On his recommendation, we went to the Soane’s but never to Little Venice, a series of usable canals from Hyde Park to Warwick Avenue near London’s center. Some boats are tearooms and food purveyors, and there’s a towpath to walk along.
  6. One of my favorite London experiences was walking under the Thames River via the Greenwich Foot Tunnel. When we got to Greenwich, we found 3 major attractions, the Cutty Sark, the National Maritime Museum, and the Royal Observatory. My favorite was the Royal Observatory, but the others were fine too. The Cutty Sark was a very fast 19th century clipper ship that underwent a major restoration after a 2007 fire.
  7. The Sir John Soane’s Museum is eccentric. Soane’s, an important man, died in 1837. He left his house to the nation with an interesting stipulation. It can never be changed. This has led to a house full of surprises. It reopened for 3 days a week on October 1 for those holding a free timed ticket.

There are at least 5 London attractions that Ruth & I have yet to explore. and hope to do so soon.

  1. The John Ritblat Gallery in Kings Cross’ British Library.
  2. Little Venice for a boat rental and towpath walk.
  3. Primrose Hill in a public park that opened in 1842. It’s on the 2nd highest point in London in Camden’s Regent’s Park and is said to offer the best view of all of London.
  4. The Kyoto Garden in 54 acre Holland Park.
  5. And I would like to return to the Soane’s Home in honor of Don and to see more of Soane’s collected treasures.
  6. Everywhere you go in London is near a historic church like St. Pancras Old Church & Garden or a major entertainment venue. Our 2 favorites are The Royal Albert Hall and The Wigmore.

Viral England

We are so focused on COVID-19 in the United States, that it’s hard to keep in mind that it’s a true global pandemic.  England, for example, has experienced more than 4,000 cases of it and 233 deaths, so far.  Great Britain has been a frequent destination for Ruth and me, so today I’m going to again feature a city there that we first visited in 2019, York, and really enjoyed.  It’s a delight to get my mind off of COVID for a brief time to write about a place we can’t currently visit.

York was the Viking Capital of England and the best place to experience this era while there is to visit the Jorvik Viking Centre.  I’ve written about this attraction and others in York, except for The Shambles.  King Henry VIII figures prominently in York’s history.  When he visited, he brought 600 horses with him, established a mint to make gold coins there, and reportedly played tennis.   The Overton Hoard containing 37 Roman coins was found in 2018.  Long before the Vikings came, the Romans were there during its empire years.  Romans called this settlement Eboracum.  You can still see evidence of their presence in York’s narrow streets made with Roman tiles.  A statue of Minerva, their goddess of wisdom and drama, still presides over what was once called Bookbinder’s Alley but is now Petergate.  York is threaded through with snickleways, the still used Yorkshire word for alleys.

York’s biggest attraction remains York Minster.  The world’s largest Gothic cathedral, York Minster took 250 years to build in the French style.  Like Paris’ Notre Dame, it has been almost destroyed by fire.  The most recent large one was in 1984.  Just one example of its large amount of real medieval glass is the gray, intact Five Sisters window installed in 1260.

The Shambles is a mostly-outdoors market area that’s fun to explore and is close to a chocolate factory.  The Shambles was once a place of butcher shops and is thought to be one of the inspirations for Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley.

In the past, York was an especially important city.  The spot where the Theatre Royal now stands was once the location of the largest hospital in Europe in the 13th century.   Recent archaeological work, the digging up of the theater’s floor, uncovered a lot of the hospital that was thought to have been demolished.  When York’s railway station opened in 1877, it was the largest in Europe.

There are many reasons why 7 million travelers come to York each year but probably not in 2020.



Old but New Hereford Cathedral

I have written about Hereford Cathedral’s Mappa Mundi and chained library.  They remain the best reasons to visit it.  The library contains one of 4 original versions of the 1217 Magna Carta.  It’s a copy seldom displayed due to age.  Despite its early founding in the 8th century, the cathedral seen today is largely the result of a 19th century restoration.  It looks far older and has many modern touches that makes it worth touring.  During our walk with a new guide named Jenny, I spent most of my time looking for what was the result of this redo, like a rare Victorian Warm Air stove, or at least something added fairly recently.  I found some interesting updates.

Experts say the oldest parts of this cathedral, which was severely damaged in the 17th century Civil War, are the south transept and the bishop’s chapel, but no one knows for sure.  Hereford had always had benefactors like Lennox Lee for upkeep and restoration and it shows.  King Charles II, for example, diverted collected rents for repairs after the war.

Unlike other English cathedrals that seem more like museums than active churches, Hereford Cathedral remains a definite place of worship.  We tried to hear its famous mixed-age, male choir but learned that it was resting after performing in France for the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings.  We attended an evening prayer service instead.

Hereford Cathedral celebrates 2 saints and 2 citizens of Hereford that make it unique.  Seen above and in the cathedral is a contemporary scene from the life of St. John the Baptist.  He is a patron saint of this place of worship and considered one of the last great prophets of the bible.  This cathedral also dotes on the Virgin Mary and reveres St. Ethelbert, the boy king who was beheaded at the age of 37.  Ethelbert was born in 779 and came to Hereford later.  The colorful but basically blue and red memorial column seen above tells his story.  The other saint honored here is St. Thomas of Hereford, a much loved bishop who was born in 1218.  Many healing miracles are attributed to him.  The other local was Thomas Traherne, whom I had never heard of.  There is more about him below.

A lot of Hereford Cathedral’s interior is not accessible and not seen on the free tour that’s offered every day except Sunday.  Also popular is the Tower Tour that takes visitors up 218 steps for a fine view of Herefordshire.  Because this climb includes several stops in areas not usually opened to the public, there’s a fee required.  This cathedral’s gardens are also unique and can be visited for a fee.  The cathedral tour also does not include Mappa Mundi or the chained library.  Enough of this massive red sandstone building dedicated to Ethelbert is seen, however, that one does not feel cheated.  A 12th century chair brings the distant past to mind while some contemporary stained-glass windows entertain, like the mostly blue 2017 installation below that commemorates the founding of the SAS (Special Air Service) in 1941.

Thomas Traherne was a local priest, poet, and mystic in the 17th century.  Much loved, he often wrote about the sources of true happiness and remained local.  Four of his prose works weren’t rediscovered until the end of the 20th century, and some think a lot of his writing remains unfound.  Traherne said, “You are as prone to love as the sun to shine”.  His chapel in Hereford Cathedral was dedicated in 2007.  That’s him below.








The Outstanding Cardiff Story Museum

Looking back, I have judged Cardiff, which didn’t become Wales’ Capital until 1955, to be a 5 Compass city having many worthwhile attractions with the exception of its huge art museum.  I’m not a huge fan of castles.  After the first 3 or 4 they all seem similar, but Cardiff Castle and others outside this city are superior.  The one in Cardiff, a 3-part wonder in city center, is this city’s best overall enticement.  Another stop that I really liked was not in any of my travel literature but also turned out to be a 3-part gem–The Cardiff Story Museum.  Local residents told me about it with dazzlement in their eyes.  I now understand their enthusiasm and support.

I discovered the best thing in the Cardiff Story Museum by accident.  Since its inception in 2011, this museum has been in an old library building in Cardiff’s center.  It tells the story of its citizens from their own perspective on 2 levels.  The upper one is a traditional city history museum with some unique features. The lower one is designed for, but not exclusively geared to, children.  This is the only small museum I’ve been to that actively solicits guest participation with shared memory boxes.

Cardiff was a small market town in the 14th century but grew to be one of the world’s largest ports in the 1900s when it became perhaps the world’s most important coal exporter.  At that time the Bute family owned Cardiff Castle. The 3rd Marquess of Bute was as rich as Queen Victoria and hired architect William Burges to oversee the renovation of his residence in the castle.  Their Victorian home here, which we and all others saw on a tour, is so lavish that it’s said to only be topped by their flamboyant country house on the Isle of Bute, where the world’s first heated pool was installed.

Because the Cardiff Story Museum found a home in a former library, it kept the Hayes’ original entrance intact.  I found it by wandering around, and greatly appreciated its tiled and highly decorated features.  The story of this city is told in both the upstairs and downstairs portions.  Like a dollhouse for adults, the cleverest exhibit upstairs rotates to show the passing generations of a typical Cardiff home.  Children and adults learn about their city through workshops, special events, creating memory boxes, etc.  Sessions are held regularly in which Cardiffians choose a decade and literally fill a box with objects, memorabilia, and photos that tell their story.  Many personal tales are told in the adult section of this excellent, and original, museum in Cardiff’s city center.  I hope you get to see it in your own journeys.




Schizoid Wales

Wales and it capital Cardiff are not easy to write about.  Wales is a part of the United Kingdom, but will it remain so?  I read recently that one of the unintended consequences of Brexit might be the dividing of this European nation into 3 separate countries–England, Scotland, and Wales.  This might happen because the alliance is uneasy.  Since the Tony Blair days in the 1990s, Wales has had a semiautonomous legislature, and Scotland has voted on whether to remain in or leave Great Britain.  The Welsh assembly now makes laws that affect only this part of the United Kingdom.  Wales mostly sends its own teams to international competitions.  Leaving won’t be easy or fast.  Wales was incorporated into the United Kingdom only after a series of wars, and the Welsh people retain a strong sense of their separate identity.

Most of the citizens of Wales that is only on average 60 miles wide and 170 miles long live along the Bristol Channel in the southern part of this kind-of country.  All signs here are in both English and Welsh even though the King’s English predominates.  The committed Welsh speakers live in the north, which is hard to get to from the south.  To go to the north part by train by the fastest way requires leaving Wales and traveling  through England.  Ruth and I were told that to avoid offense while there we should think of and refer to Wales as a separate country.


Cardiff seems like 2 cities.  There’s the old part with the main train station, the castle, and most of the regular shops.  Then there’s the Wales Millennium Centre that requires a trip on public transportation or a rental car to reach.  It’s south of Butetown on Cardiff Bay and contains several important attractions, some of which are relatively new.  There’s the old, historic Norwegian Church where native son and international celebrity/writer Roald Dahl was baptized that is now an arts center.  South of it are the World of Boats maritime museum and the Doctor Who Experience.  This long-running and still popular TV series has been made in Wales since 2005.  There are lots of restaurants and public sculptures here, but the 2 entities that dominate the area are a modern shopping center with a movie theater and an arts complex that everyone calls The Armadillo.   This is appropriate because this building providing lots of live entertainment looks a bit like an armadillo.  The materials used in its construction represent Welshness.  The front of it looks like a lot of carved words that make no sense but they do. They read, “In These Stones Horizons Sing” in English and Welsh.  When we were there a huge car show was in progress on the large expanse of concrete in front of it.  This is a must-see part of Cardiff.

I would like to go back to see the scenic part of Wales between the south and north and experience the flavor of Welshness that I was told exists only in the upper part of this somewhat restless country within a country.


ps  The painting up top represents the historic opening of the Queen Alexandra dock in Cardiff in 1907 that Alexandra and her husband, King Edward VII, attended.