A Travellerspoint blog

The End of the Road

Arriving Back in San Francisco

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After more than six months on the road, we left London on the 3rd of January headed "home" to San Francisco. We were excited to be headed back, but it could hardly be called "home" given that we were returning to no more than a five foot by eight foot storage unit with all our worldy belongings and a PO Box crammed full of unsolicited credit card offers.

We were convinced, however, that forces were conspiring to keep us in London. First, our taxi didn't show up to take us to Heathrow, resulting in a frantic dash across - or should I say under - London. On the bright side, we were too stressed to be sad about the end of our trip, but arriving at Heathrow with forty minutes ahead of an international flight isn't to be recommended. Suffice to say I almost concluded the trip by getting arrested for being a little too enthusiastic with my 'encouragement' for progress in the security line. But the real tragedy was that I didn't have any time for a final English Breakfast or to stock up on the British chocolates and biccies that will prove all too elusive back in the US.

Having made it to the gate in time (just), the conspiracy to keep us on the road just seemed to deepen when our 747 was grounded for almost two hours pending technical faults. Frankly, this plane seemed to have so many faults, we thought twice about staying on it - but in the event our 11 hour flight passed without incident.

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Final Destination: San Francisco

I couldn't help but smile when we stepped back onto American soil. Excited about what lay ahead? Of course. Pleased that we'd soon find ourselves in the same bed for more than two nights? Definitely. Content about having to worry less about tap water, ice and ice cream? Yup. Delirious about the prospect of being reunited with my cat? Absolutely!

Lloyd's good friend, Dave, who has supported us in innumerable ways during our exodus was generous with his time - once again - and met us at the airport. If you have to return to the real world after an adventure like ours, then it's definitely better if you have a friendly face to console you in the arrival lounge.

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For too many kindnesses to mention: thanks, Dave!

The weather wasn't quite as friendly and it quickly became clear that we were lucky to have landed in San Francisco at all - indeed, later flights were diverted as a ferocious storm moved through the entire Bay Area. Not quite the California sunshine we had been looking forward to! Smarter souls would stay indoors on a day like today, but Dave braved the storm to drive us the hour or so down to our until-last-June-home-town of Los Gatos.

Before I could be reunited with my cat, Lloyd had to be reunited with his baby. Would she reject him after being abandoned for six months? Would she hold it against him that he hadn't so much as let her stretch her legs during all that time? Nope! She purred right into action, with only one low tyre to show for six months in solitary confinement.

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Lloyd reunited with his baby, on the left. On the right, checking to see if our worldly belongings survived...

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And reunited with my baby.

So - what's next for us? Well, Lloyd goes immediately back to work, and I start looking for my next opportunity. In the meantime, we need to find somewhere to live and - most importantly - settle back into real life. It'll be interesting to see how smooth - or otherwise - this adjustment is. We'll keep posting from time to time to let you know! And now the work begins of reviewing all the photos and videos of the trip, so you can expect some lists of favourite and least favourite things too.

Posted by jacquiedro 16:49 Archived in USA Tagged round_the_world Comments (1)

London: Tips and Tricks

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Having lived and worked here for quite a while in the 90s, London will always have a special place in my heart. Here are some tips and tricks based on what I learned then as well as what we came across on our most recent trip.

1) Buy an Oyster card as soon as you arrive. It's basically a smartcard that you use to pay-as-you-go for the underground, DLR, buses etc. You can buy them at most main stations and you'll need to add some credit to it as soon as you get it. It's super convenient, but the best thing is that it can offer savings of up to 50% on single fares. Additionally, having an Oyster card entitles you to discounts at a range of museums. Offers change from time to time, but we were able to get into the Museum at Docklands for half price, as an example. Visit www.tfl.gov.uk for more information.

2) Research what museums etc you want to visit before you arrive. Although we had seen the complete Tutankamen collection in Egypt and the Terracotta Warriors in Xi'an, we wanted to compare notes by seeing both the related exhibitions (at the O2 and the British Museum respectively) while we were in London. Unfortunately, tickets were sold out for both.

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Not something we saw in London... but you could if you plan ahead! The British Museum has a number of them, until April 2008.

3) Unless you want to see the latest and greatest musical or play in the West End, don't even think about paying full price. Try www.londontheatredirect.com for tickets where we paid significantly less for great seats.

4) Don't miss a cruise up the Thames! I lived in London for five years, and have visited dozens of times since I left, but had never done this. It offered a completely different perspective of the City and simply shouldn't be missed. If you're short of cash and don't care so much about the commentary, take a commuter boat rather than a tourist boat. You'll also save if you mention your Oyster card.

5) We still love the London Eye (the big ferris wheel at Westminster) which offers great views over the City. Try it at twilight for a different view!

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The London Eye. Still impressive after all these years....

6) We're BIG fans of the Imperial War Museum in Lambeth which has an impressive collection of military hardware in addition to very high quality rotating exhibitions and a fabulous collection of war themed art. Even if you don't think you're interested in the military, it's a guaranteed thought-provoking and entertaining experience. We wouldn't miss it and used to pay good money to visit it several times a year. It's now - happily - free to enter!

7) For the third time during this trip, we walked along the Thames from Westminster to London Bridge. It's a fabulous walk that takes in many key sights: from Big Ben and the Eye, past the Tate Modern, the Globe, with great views of St Paul's and Tower Bridge. There are plenty of restaurants and bars along the way, in addition to free entertainment including skateboarders and buskers. If you're interested, this itinerary could easily include a flight on the Eye and visits to the horribly overpriced London Dungeon. And it's an easy walk over the pedestrian Millennium Bridge to St Paul's and the City.

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8) Don't miss the Docklands. It's an easy trip on the DLR (Docklands Light Railway), and there's SO much happening out there. The recent opening of the massive entertainement complex, the O2, has made it even more hip. We loved the Museum at Docklands which gave us the historical context of an area that struggled to find tenants back in the 80s an early 90s! Now, the area is booming and still growing. Get a ticket to a concert and give yourself an excuse to get out there. And while at the O2, check out Tapa Tapa where we enjoyed a fabulous pre-show dinner and after-show drink.

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9) In terms of budget accommodation, check out chains like the Travel Inn and IBIS which offer basic but immaculately clean rooms. Public transport is SO incredibly good in London that you don't need to pay too much for a tiny, dirty room in the centre.

10) Finally, take out a second mortgage before you go. With the exchange rate hovering around US$2 for every british pound, you will find the city very expensive. The good news is that so much of London is free: it's fabulous parks (don't miss Speaker's Corner at Hyde Park every Sunday!), markets, the walk along the Thames, Greenwich, just about all the Museums and so on.

Posted by jacquiedro 13:59 Archived in England Tagged tips_and_tricks Comments (0)

Out of Time and On the Wrong Line in Greenwich

London: Old and New

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The Docklands - once a much-mocked regeneration programme targetting London's East End - is today a burgeoning and undeniable success story. The high rise office buildings and expensive water front apartments that beautifully litter the landscape today were built on land abandoned by the ports throughout the mid 1900s as technology pushed ports further out of the City of London. Since the government initially refused to support its own regeneration initiatives with an underground network (although the Jubilee Line was later extended), an overground line - called the Docklands Light Railway or DLR - was built instead. Again, this was a mockery in development, but is today a highly efficient operation that impresses me more each time I use it.

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Just can't get enough. Massive construction projects continue in the Canary Wharf Area.

A third unforgettable embarrasment in the Dockland's history was the Millennium Dome - an ill fated project modelled on the 1951 Festival of Britain which accelerated development of infrastructure - including an extension of the Jubilee Line underground network - into the North Greenwich peninsula. While the building of the Dome and the surrounding infrastructure was a success, the contents of the Dome were generally found wanting, resulting in the labelling of the Millennium project as a failure. Since then, the Dome has been taken over and transformed into an Entertainment Mecca. Visit the O2 today - as we did - and you can't fail but realize the importance of the Millennium Dome project as a basis for today's business success.

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The Millennium Dome now called 'The O2' after the communications company.

With Lloyd and I camping out at the new Mr and Mrs Ross's Docklands' apartment in their honeymoon absence, we decided it would be fitting to learn more about the area with a visit to Museum in Docklands. We were really pleased we did! This museum presents - chronologically - the story of London, including the mysterious abandonment of the town by its creators - the Romans - in around 400AD.

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On the left, an example of the Museum's multi-media approach. On the right, a picture we loved since it flawlessly combines the area's history with its future.

But the Museum's real strength is in its use of multiple media to communicate the story of the Docklands. We were impressed with touch screen monitors and sophisticated audio-visual presentations in addition to the static exhibits. We'd loved to have stayed longer, but had to leave after two hours to allow time for our Greenwich visit!


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View of the Old Naval College (in the foreground) and Canary Wharf (in the background). A snapshot of Old and New.

And we didn't have too far to go, with Greenwich Just across the Thames from Canary Wharf. Since 1675, Greenwich has been home to the former Royal Observatory, Greenwich (not to be confused with the Royal Greenwich Observatory - don't ask). Just as we were running out of time on our World Trip, we thought homage to a site that once played such an important role in the management of time would be appropriate. Arriving on the simply fantastic DLR, we sought out the famous brass (actually now stainless steel) strip that marks the old astronomical prime meridian that is also the basis for longitude.

At the old Observatory, tourists queued to have their picture taken astride the line. What could we do but join in the fun?

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It would have been rude not to....

Actually, it's perhaps not so surprising to learn that modern calculations actually result in the prime meridian being some 100 metres to the east, so all those people being photographed in the belief that they were half in the east and half in the west are sadly mistaken. They're actually firmly in the west.

After our quick wander around the Observatory (long since abandoned to escape light pollution in London's night skies), we headed down towards the Thames, via the Old Naval College which is a World Heritage Site. If the domes look familiar, it's because the College was designed by the same architect as St Paul's Cathedral, Sir Christopher Wren.

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The buildings have been used for a myriad of purposes since being built around 1700. Until 1869, it was used as a hospital after which it was used by the Royal Navy for training until 1998 (hence the name). Since then, parts of the glorious campus have been used by the University of Greenwich, while others have simply been opened to the public. Over the festive season, the Old Naval College is one of several historic sites around London that offer ice skating!

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We'd probably have walked around longer, but the weather had taken a turn for the worst and we found ourselves in literally freezing winds which left us all with some frozen body part or other. Fortunately, we were able to catch a boat from Greenwich Pier, heading towards Westminster, where the parents were able to thaw out while Lloyd and I braved the weather (for which we were woefully ill-prepared in terms of clothing!) to enjoy the view top-side.

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Entrance to the Greenwich Foot Tunnel which links Greenwich to the Isle of Dogs. The Tunnel was opened in 1902.

I'm embarassed to admit that this was the first time I'd ever been on the Thames! The ride would take about 35 minutes and - even if it was bitterly cold - we were treated to a stunning sunset, a fitting end - we thought - to the final daylight of our adventure.

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But our day wasn't over yet! As twilight approached at 4pm, we arrived at Westminster just in time to hear Big Ben sing. I used to work seconds away from here, but I will never tire of the beauty of the Palace of Westminster. The addition of the London Eye, just across the Thames, has undoubtedly rejuvenated the South Bank and the County Hall which, until 1990, housed government functions, notably the Greater London Council which was abolished in 1986.

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Today, County Hall houses a variety of residential and entertainment concessions, including the London Aquarium. We're also guessing that current exhibitions include something to do with Star Wars and Dali (no, not together although I can definitely see that working....) although we didn't look into it.

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And there were two more storm troopers that day, with my parents braving the freezing weather and my overly optimistic distance estimates to keep Lloyd and I company. Thankfully, a hearty prize awaited and - after an hour long walk along the river bank in sub-zero temperatures - we stumbled into a pub in between the reconstructed Golden Hinde and the Globe. With a river view, we enjoyed traditional british fare (pie and chips, fish and chips... you get the idea!) and a few drinks to wash it down and warm us up. I guess I'll start my New Year's Resolutions in February this year...

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A large area has been given over to skateboarders and grafitti artists in the basement of the Festival Hall. Fantastic! On the right, a view of St Paul's Cathedral.

Thanks to my parents for a truly fantastic day which perfectly wrapped up our visit to England, and - indeed - our World Trip. After our very full day, we fell into a fitful sleep, no doubt disturbed by dreams of challenges ahead.

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Posted by jacquiedro 01:38 Archived in England Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

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