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The road to Colchester – UK Trip Day 7

We hit the road in the middle of London. Our goal: to make it to Colchester from London with our car, our wits, and no damage to either.

We started out just after lunch and instead of doing the sensible thing and getting lunch, we hit the road straight away.

Driving in London is obviously done on the other side of the road from what we’re used to. So that’s a thing. It’s also all listed in miles instead of kilometers. Stops for pedestrians are different. There are some differences in street signage, etc.

All of this might make you wary of driving in London, but as someone who only drives maybe twice a year when I rent a car, I can tell you now it’s no big deal. Sure, you have to reverse a lot of things. Keep left if you’re a slower vehicle (but it’s still to the outer edge of the road rather than the inner edge for faster vehicles, same as North America.)

Traffic tends to actually let you merge, which is nice. In Toronto you have to really want it. Wedging your car in between two others and hoping neither of them want the trouble of a fender bender. In London there’s none of that. First of all the congestion charge seems to keep traffic away except in some circumstances. Secondly, it seems like they’re a bit kinder to everyone on the road.

Once we were out of London, the highways to exit the city were all marked with speed limits and cars seemed to roughly stick to them. Once outside of the greater London area, it seemed to be a free-for all. When getting onto the biggest part of the major highway it said it was a speed variable zone, and I did not see a single other speed posted until I arrived at another town.

I simply did what I always do and followed the flow of traffic. It’s the safest thing to do, and I have yet to find an officer to give me grief over it.

Victoria had a message from her mother about a farm where they had stayed, so we took a little detour to go see that. It was down some single lane roads where you have to pull off to the shoulder, or back up to the next spot where you can if traffic comes the other way. Thankfully this didn’t happen, and we soon found the farm! It was just on the other side of a railway crossing. When trains cross here, it seems like they get their money’s worth for putting the sign down, about 4 trains, maybe more, passed us by before the gates came back up. At this point there was a big line of cars behind us. I pulled off left to let Victoria take some pictures. After that, we hit the highway again.

We drove for quite a few miles and went through many round-abouts. The rules seem simple. There are lights at bigger ones to tell you when to join the circle. The signs tell you which exit is which. If there are no lights, there’s a line where you wait until there’s a gap and then you join the circle, and exit whichever branch you need to.

Closer to Colchester there were tons of roundabots. Every junction was a roundabout. They must be cheaper to construct and maintain than a typical north american overpass highway crossing. Maybe not cheaper than a regular stop light, but apparently this idea is better somehow. I’m not seeing it.

That said, round-abouts are nothing to be afraid of. The one at Trafalgar square was nothing special and the ones on the distant and unknown highways seemed more daunting.

My whole day was spent driving, which is why this log is and probably will be heavily focused on driving, unless we stop for quite a while somewhere. Today it was lightly raining and there was nothing interesting to do that we knew of, except…

We had a message from Victoria’s mother about the house she lived in when she [Victoria] was 4 years old! So we had to make a detour to find out what that looks like now.

The town definitely had a slower pace than London, but still seemed built-up in some ways. We found ourselves down an increasingly narrow and precarious drive until we reached a tiny car park, where I tried to turn around.

A lady who lived there told me how difficult it was going to be to get out of there, and gave us step-by-step guidance in getting out. It was a huge help in getting out of there quickly. I would have figured it out eventually, but she knew the size of the space and exactly how to turn to get a sedan out of there. Apparently she had helped many people out of that same situation.

We told her Victoria had possibly lived in one of the houses on that street and they talked about that for a minute and we said thank-you and left, looking for a car park, which ended up being right at the end of the street. The Butt Road car park. BUTT. ROAD.

We put in 2.45 pounds and were given until 6PM to park, which we knew would be plenty of time to get something to eat. It was now just after 2 and we were getting peckish.

We found a corner store which seemed familliar to Victoria and bought a sandwich combo, just one, to share for the both of us. I’m still not really sure why we went with that when we had only had a bit of oatmeal for breakfast, and nothing for lunch, but here we are.

We then checked Victoria’s messages and her mother had clarified the street where she had lived when Victoria was 4. This was not 100% consistent with what she had said before, but it was more of an omission. We took this new information and headed for the old homestead.

It’s now painted purple and seems to be under a bit of renovation.

The cute little street seemed like a nice place to live with a young kid. We were satisfied with our photos so we headed for the town centre to see what that was like and find a place to eat our sandwich.

Once in the town square, we found many cute little shops, and a larger area with some name brand stores. Here there was also a Crepe stand.

We had our sandwich and decided that was clearly not going to be enough, so what else to do but buy crepes!

They were delicious and probably not the most nutritious choice, but we’re on vacation so we get to indulge, okay!

We took our crepes and walked along the streets and admired the stores when it began to rain. I had a hooded rain jacket from Muji with me, so I flipped up the hood and kept mostly dry until the rain picked up. Then my jeans started to get a little damp, but not much. Victoria only had a hoodie on, but since we had a car, we just returned to the car and were able to be dry again.

This is where the trip gets a little freaky. The roads as we neared our cabin got windier, stranger, and narrower. Each turn seemed to bring a new challenge and the distance to our next stop was actually about as much as the distance between the edge of London and Colchester. Maybe more. We seemed to go on so many winding paths through round-abouts and wavy roads, over a huge bridge, it seemed to never end!

We finally arrived at the cabin, where I sit now, and Victoria decided we had better go out and get dinner. I think she was getting hangry. I was ready to just relax. I had been driving all day in a foreign country, on tiny rain-slick roads, and I just wanted to have whatever we had on hand to eat and rest.

We walked about a mile down the road before we realised there was no sidewalk and the cars were passing awfully quickly. The walking was my idea, but I didn’t fully grok what 1.8 miles on a strange country road with no shoulder looked like.

We would have had to walk basically on the road so we turned back.

Along the way we had found many neat little bits and bobs, and many blackberries which were ripe and ready for the picking. Victoria picked them as we walked along. Some of them were very sweet.

When we finally had walked the mile again back to the car we were ready to go inside and cook soup or something because we still had some from the grocer in London, but I headed for the car. I gave in and drove us back along the road we had used to get to the cabin to Halesworth. We found some public parking and right beside it was a pub called the White Hart with wonderful food.

I had sausage and mashed potatoes and Victoria had fish and chips. Her meal was huge and mine was pretty big, but the right amount it seemed. We had a half pint each of a Southwold cider that was quite sweet and tasty and their stout.

Once we had sat and talked a while and had our dinner, we headed back to the cabin. A shower under the rain shower head was wonderful and we’re now both tapping away our adventures and relaxing. A rest well earned, I think.

Lazy Saturday – UK Trip Day 6

Saturday was a more relaxed day than the others. Victoria woke up feeling under the weather and I had felt a bit achey from all of the walking we had been doing, so we decided to take it easy.

We left the hotel and went for a short walk to check out the laundry facilities we could find. There are actually quite a few along Shepherds Bush road. We stopped into one to see that it’s actually quite expensive to do your own laundry here.

After that, we dropped by Spice Grill’s Curries & Grill’s (sic).

“Do you want the basic service, or the deluxe service where we spell check it for you?”

A certain joke by David Mitchell about sign painters comes to mind. Anyway…

Having experienced a “medium” piri piri in Britain I asked the owner if he could give me a medium spice according to him, not Britain. He obliged and it was delicious. It matched about what you’d find in Toronto for medium spice level at a good curry restaurant, and was full of flavour.

Delicious! We shared this plate as well.

We nipped into the Costa for a quick coffee and to share a square with each other, and beside it was a Superdrug where we picked up some insoles for me as I had neglected to add them to my Blundstones before leaving Canada.

After that, we headed to the park again. It was such a lovely day, we took a slow walk through the tiny park and then sat at the far end for a while.

We took it all in and watched people pass by. One man’s dog was a big fluffy malamute and seemed especially sad that he was not allowed to play with the other dogs. He circled the area where we were so I saw him twice huff, dejected, that he was not allowed to play. I smiled, and the man taking him for a walk kept his same, unimpressed expression.

One thing London has no shortage of are these bicycle share services. This one appears to be the leave-anywhere kind of service, except that there are actually proper parking zones for them. The bicyles all had red tags hanging fromm them saying you had to park in a proper zone to avoid a fine of 20 pounds!

Having our fill of sun, we headed back to the hotel to rest again. Victoria was a little better but still not feeling 100%. I took our clothes across to one of the laundry facilities—for only a pound or two more we could have them do the laundry for us—and we both relaxed for a bit.

At dinner time we decided to try the nearby Thai food place. We shared a pad-see-ew and spring rolls with a mixed berry cider. The whole meal was a bit pricey, about $36 CAD, but that was only really one meal we payed for.

The ambiance was worth the price of admission at least once. It was a cute restaurant.

In the evening we took a little walk south to the other park, Brook Green.

This park was also quite nice, and the same huge trees we sall all over London were here too. We sat in a fenced large open space where some man was playing kick-ball with presumably his children as well as any of the neighbourhood kids who wanted to join.

We played a little bit of Pokemon Go here as Victoria had dropped a lure and she noticed one of the stops was a composer’s old stomping grounds.

Then we stood outside this pub and beat the Blissey out of a yellow gym. Take that, paste-eaters!

When we finished up with that, we walked the diagonal path through Brook Green home having noticed that our friends in cosplay were sword fighting with light sabers again. Apparently they are a club, whom you can find here!

Satisfied with our sleepy day adventures, we retired to the hotel. Instead of watching something we brought with us, we took in British TV and they were showing the story of Eddie the Eagle, the British ski jumper from the 1988 Olympics. It was a real life wild story shoehorned into a save-the-cat adventure formula, changing bits of history to make it fit. This actually made it… worse than it could have been. The real life story of Eddie the Eagle is worth a read.

Sunday we start our first road adventure ending in a farm-house cabin! See you then!

Climate Protest, Tate Modern, and the Thames – UK Trip Day 5

We started out by heading toward the climate change protest. Since we were headed via the Victoria line, we took a few photos of Victoria in front of her line sign.

On the way to the protest we found Penguin Random House UK, which was a nice surprise for Victoria. She’s trying to get published and she’s always been an avid reader.

One nice thing I noticed is that there are some raised and separated bicycle lanes. That seems much safer than just a line painted on the road, and pylons which drivers seem to enjoy running over.

I didn’t know this but we were headed for the Thames, so I was able to see it too for the first time. It is very brown, with many impressive buildings surrounding it.

We didn’t have to use the map as there were already swarms of people making it toward the protest site. We passed the Tate Britain along the way, but didn’t go inside as we had a mission.

Victoria pointed out more palm trees, which would never work in Toronto, so that was novel. We had finally arrived at the site and this was much bigger than we had anticipated. Protests in Toronto are not typically even close to this scale.

There were a lot of good signs and the protest took over a street and the adjacent park. There was a giant stage where the leaders of the protest said their piece, followed by a live band, which was a bit different from how the protests we had been to happened.

We were standing directly in the sun and after we had enough of that we made our way back, stopping for a walk along the banks of the Thames along the way. Victoria and I found quite a few interesting bits and pieces including a large black molar! Maybe from a cow?

Fully exhausted, we had planned to go back to the hotel for a nap, but London had other plans. A jumper cancelled all of the subway trains between ourselves and our hotel. We didn’t know this at the time, so we spent 10 or 15 minutes waiting on the sweltering tube station platform and took the train 1 stop before exiting onto the street.

We tried to find somewhere to go to the loo, and maybe have lunch, but there was really nowhere good/inexpensive. We found out that the bus on the surface went our way anyway, so we finally had a ride on a double-decker bus!

Lots of traffic and police sirens. We could have walked quicker, but were exhausted and enjoyed the sit. The bus was very slow, so I took some photos of Hyde Park, which we had also not seen yet.

After a brief nap, and Victoria with practically no rest at all, we had to head back out to meet Victoria’s friend Nick!

They had not seen each other in about 20 years, so even when we were standing about 10 feet away from each other it took a few minutes for them to recognize each other.

When we had said our hellos, we made a plan and walked over to the bust of Joseph Bazalgette, an engineer who is notable for finishing probably the first and last London public works project on time. He was responsible for the first major sewer system in London, and it was no small feat. We of course took nerdy appreciation selfies in front of the monument.

Nick’s next suggestion was a cafe in the crypt of St. Martin in the Fields. It was very crisp and clean for a crypt. There were interesting curved ceilings which lead into the columns. The floor had a few plaques which were completely unprotected, worn away under foot from years of foot traffic.

We crossed the foot bridge at Embankment station which was wavy and seemed to sway with the foot traffic. Nick suggested we take some touristy photos in front of the eye of London, which we did, as well as capturing a few photos of Big Ben during its face-lift. We all need a little care sometimes, it’s okay.

We walked along the other side of the Thames, past the National Theatre for a great view of the variety of modern buildings London has to offer. We were set on seeing the Tate Modern, which is free to enter and has some interesting displays.

Once we had our fill of culture, we headed for the Founder’s Arms pub nearby. We each had 1 pint and a very good chat. It was a great spot to take some night shots of the skyline, so Victoria grabbed my camera and took a few.

Nick had to get home to his family, and was taking a train from Paddington station. We were under the misapprehension that we had seen Paddington, but we had not. We had seen a tiny section of the tube station attached to it. Paddington station is huge. Nick insisted we take a photo with the real statue of Paddington if we were to take any at all.

We all wanted chips, but the nearby options were slim, and we headed into the McDonalds for some fries. There was no gravy and cheese curds, however. No poutine for us!

We spoke with Nick awhile until he had to get onto his train, said our goodbyes and headed home. What a nice day. Thank-you Nick for showing us around.

Culture for DAYS! – UK Trip Day 4

We started the day by going out in search of a towel. We had both dyed our hair before leaving and Victoria worried about leaving dye on the Airbnb towels, so we hit up a Primark. Victoria’s friend who works as a flight attendant had said it was a good place to get supplies.

We had a quick coffee at Cafe Nero and headed over to the mall to find the towel. There was a small market outside made of vendors in tents. Inside it was… a typical mall. We found a towel and a few more odd bits and bobs inside.

We picked up some apples from the outdoor market and tried Windsor apples for the first time. They are pretty good! Very juicy.

After a short pause in the hotel to write yesterday’s blog, we headed out toward Leicester Square on the Picadilly line. This train seemed to be one of the trains which exemplify, “Mind the gap.”

Some of the trains are at a different height from the platform, enough to be a significant step down when entering the train.

There was a lot to see at Leicester Square. We hit up Chinatown by accident, with the intent of getting some fried chicken at Good Friend. It turned out to be Taiwanese, and delicious popcorn chicken as well! We drank bubble tea and wandered the street for a short time on a roughly direct path toward the British Museum, stopping only to check out a comic book store (“Forbidden Planet”) on the way.

The buildings all seemed old and full of history. We walked through the theatre district on Shaftesbury Avenue. This was remarkable to us as our friends had once lived on Shaftesbury in Toronto. So we took a selfie under one of the signs to send them.

One of the theatres had a giant display for a Harry Potter show.

Once we arrived at the British Museum we were struck by the sheer scale of it. It is truly massive, and quite a sight to behold inside and out, with it’s stone columns and vast corridors. The organic styling of the skylight around a giant circular center makes for great selfies.

I took too many photos inside and I’ll leave you with a taste of them here.

We stayed until closing time, which is at 5:30PM on a Thursday apparently. So before we were rushed out we tried to find the Royal Game of Ur replicas in the gift shop but were informed they hadn’t made any new ones for a while.

Victoria was a little sad, but we left to head back home. Our legs were aching from all of the walking we had done so far on this trip. Apparently we had surpassed the WHO recommendation for “weekly active minutes” for the week by Tuesday!

On our way back we took a diverging path and happened to find the Phoenix Garden by accident but it appeared to be closed.

Walking further we ended up at Picadilly Circus and I took a panoramic shot.

We decided to take in one more sight before going home, and stopped in at Trafalgar Square. Again there are many photos taken here. There is a lot to take in! Definitely one of the more touristy destinations. We also didn’t realise that Canada House was right beside it.

We had dinner on our way home at Rooster Piri Piri. I didn’t hear an option for spice level so I was given medium, which as it turns out is very mild. Lightly zesty at most. The sauce was delicious though and they made a mistake in our order and we ended up with free yam fries, so that’s a plus!

Wearily we returned to our hotel, grabbing some ice cream bars on the way to cap off an excellent day. I took a muscle relaxant and slept well for the first time in the whole trip!

Day at the Library : UK Trip Day 3

Today we headed out to see the British Library. On the way we stopped by a local market to see what it had to offer.

It reminded us of the market in Japan because both are right beside a transit line and curve along the length of the track, and both have small booth sellers. There really isn’t anything like it in Toronto. It was novel to us.

We had a very good iced coffee at The Italian Coffee Club while we waited for the man at the momos booth to cook some up fresh for us. They were also delicious.

A pleasant lunch in our bellies, we headed for the tube station. There were two police officers and staff at the door today. Strange.

I was a little freaked out, as I always am with police officers around, especially when they usually aren’t there, but I strode by passing my wallet over the gate and it let me in fine.

I continued to walk and turned to see if Toria were behind me. She was having trouble scanning her card momentarily. Then the transit staff lady told her to step back.

“It’s like I’m talking to myself…” she muttered. Is this some kind of British passive aggression? Seemed pretty odd.

The ride itself was uneventful. We rode the circle line around to the north end of it arriving at Euston Square. Here we exited and made a right and walked in a big circle around the next block or so to arrive at Speedy’s Sandwich Bar & Cafe!

Not familiar? I wasn’t either but I had been informed that it was the filming location for the newer Sherlock TV series. We took a series of photos and went inside.

Inside were more photos up on the wall and a drawing in the corner. A small display case was on the left and some very 20th century diner tables.

The food was passable but bland. Something we expected to find in Britain, but this place was particularly inoffensive. It hit the spot though, and that’s all that really mattered. We also had a pretty good ginger beer. Maybe not good to people who like a lot of ginger, but it was one which Victoria would actually drink. It was watered down and sweet.

Then we exited and headed back north and then west toward the library. There was quite a bit to see in here and I think you could spend a lot of time just exploring the library alone.

We happened upon the rare books display, which was kept dim and cool to preserve the aged and delicate tomes. Some were more delicate than others. I saw some people taking photos at some booths surprisingly some with flash as well, despite the message at the front about light damaging the books.

Kids were using phones, but some old guy with a standard point and click camera was using the autofocus complete with a visible light range finder shinning on the book. Oops!

I decided I could get away with at least one shot without any kind of light emitting from my camera, so I took this one to show off the pretty illustrated books seen below.

We took a look in the book store and the gift shop, didn’t find anything of interest and headed outside for a coffee. We were both quite tired at this point. Perhaps jet lag. Perhaps it was the 25000+ steps we took yesterday.

Victoria had asked me on our way over if I wanted to stop at Paddington station since I had made note of it on the way over.

I said that it wasn’t that important to me, because I was pretty tired, but we stopped over anyway to see what was there.

I did end up taking a lot of photos here. It turns out it’s at the eastern part of Little Venice, which we had previously intended to explore!

There was a great little art show here showcasing art that combines electronics and physical media such as metal, resin, plastics, and lights. I took a few neat looking videos of the pieces exploiting the depth of field control of my DSLR.

We did get video of some water fowl for Natalie. There, I hope you like it!

A duck, for Nat. (I think)

I saw this sign both misspelled and silly and decided to pose beside it with the shirt that Victoria had given me. (She decided she does not like graphic Ts anymore, and it was previously hers.)

Then we returned to the tube station and headed back home. We were very tired at this point, so we took in some UK television and headed for bed.

Goodnight!

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