Some thoughts from our trip to England in July:
Best English Breakfast: At Kenilworth Guest House, Windermere. Eggs (to your specification), bacon, sausage, mushrooms, stewed tomato, toast and jams, cereals, fruit, juices, coffee, tea, milk, all served in a friendly atmosphere with other guests from around the world.
Best Hotel English Breakfast: The Royal National, London. The best organized and staffed to handle the large numbers of guests.
Best dessert: Blackberry Crumble, at a Grasmere cafe whose name we failed to note.
Most refreshing moment: Watching cattle graze on lush, green pasture grass, like they used to do in the U.S. before the sickening, inhumane mammoth cattle lots.
Best Lodging: Tavistock Hotel, London. One of the Imperial Hotels chain that dominates the lodging scene in Bloomsbury. Clean with good service and a modest price of 91 pounds ($135 US per night). Centrally located and across the street from Tavistock Square Gardens, a quiet park with a statue of Mahatma Gandhi in the middle of a beautiful flower bed. The English Breakfast is only a slight notch lower than the Royal National’s and inconsequential. We separated it out from our other lodging mainly because it has reliable Internet connections.
Internet Service: Most hotels charge exorbitant prices for use in the rooms. The Royal National charges 5 pounds an hour. But you can access the Net for free in hotel lobbies. We had a favorite place at the Tavi Bar at the Tavistock, with a high table and stool, an electrical outlet, by a window looking out on the street and across into the park. Of the two B&Bs where we stayed, one had no Internet connection and the other was unreliable. (We were able to reach the inn’s network but not the Internet no matter where we positioned the laptop). If I had it to do over, I would leave my computer at home and use Internet cafes, especially in London. The cost is as little as 2 pounds an hour and most have printer connections.
The pounding of the pound: The exchange rate of the US dollar is $1.50 to the pound at least. That said, you can still find relatively cheap lodging at B&Bs. We had two very nice ones. A small but adequate room in The Kenilworth at Windermere, for instance, was only $105 a night, with breakfast, much more affordable than many places in America.
Asian women: A real plus for a country not known for its good-looking people. Europe like the U.S. is changing demographically. A year ago, we noticed Italy had many Africans, especially in Rome and the South.
Who does the menial work: Apparently it is largely East Indians. They are what Hispanics are in the Arid Lands of Arizona. The English Breakfasts at the two hotels we stayed were serviced strictly by Asians, many who do not speak English well.
What is a sunny day? In London, it is a day when the sun breaks cloud for a second or two. In Windermere and the Lake District, there apparently is no such thing.
Best train trip: From Birmingham to Shrewsbury. I don’t believe there is a single ugly place in all of Shropshire. At least we didn’t see one.
Setting your clock: If a train is scheduled to leave at 10:43 you can fine tune your clock by it. We did not experience a single late train. They were always on time, always waiting for us to board. But when we related our experiences to a retired electrical engineer in a Cambridge book shop, he shook his head, unbelieving.
Women’s dress styles: Tight and short, especially if you’re under 25. Many though wear the minis with jeans underneath and high heels. Many like the “wave,” dresses that do not have straight hemlines. They are usually worn with the short side in front, baring the knees.
Best restaurants: Loch Fyne (seafood), in Shrewsbury, Lazy Daisy’s and Francine’s in Windermere and, far back, Prezzo, in London.
Worst experience: A Sunday 11-hour bus tour to the Cotswolds. The weekend crowds, the many tour buses and cheap tourist shops destroy the beauty and the moment. To visit the region, try the fall or spring.
Don’t do what I did: Trying to decipher what an East Indian railway agent was telling me, I stupidly purchase a year’s senior pass for 26 pounds. It knocks off 1 pound on each trip. We made only six trips by rail and could have saved 20 pounds. Unless you’re staying for a long time in England and plan to travel extensively by rail, forget the senior pass. It’s a rip-off.
Most shocking: In our 19 full days in England, we did not see a single cat. Plenty of dogs though. That we have more cats in our house, two, than we saw in all of England is amazing.
The Poet, Playwright, Scientist Industries: Tourism is greatly enhanced by those who come to touch the celebrated past. In Stratford Upon Avon, of course, there is the grave and various sites connected to the bard, William Shakespeare. In Shrewsbury, it’s the “home-boy”, Charles Darwin, the so-called Father of Evolution, who is the big attraction. See the home of his birthplace on The Mount, take “The Darwin Walk” around town or visit the large two-floor Darwin Shopping Centre. In the Lake Country it is the poet, William Wordsworth, who has drawing power. Visit one of his homes near Grasmere, like Dove Cottage, and the museum, or stay at the Wordsworth Hotel. There are maps showing the many walks Wordsworth took in the fells and around the lakes of Cumbria.
The Best “My gosh” Site: The Dingle in Shrewsbury. A world-class flower garden amid a manicured lawn, a pond with fountains and numerous benches to sit, relax and reflect among statuary. I discovered this idyllic spot below St. Chad’s Church by accident while doing “The Darwin Walk.” It staggered me to walk down a path into it and suddenly see this unexpected beauty emerge.