Finally the Viking Experience


During breakfast – Liz reminds us to be sure to walk the top of the walls of York – so we head out to do just that. I’m determined to find the Viking Experience, but I’m also determined to revisit one of the ‘charity’ shops we checked out yesterday – they had a lovely Silverplated Serving knife and fork that would be great for our Regency Dinner parties at home.

We are rewarded in many ways. The walk along the wall starting at BoothBar (which means Booth’s Gate – or the Gate of Booths – in reference to market stalls that would have existed here hundreds of years ago) is lovely. We are 30 to 40 feet above the ground, with clear views to either side of the wonderful gardens behind the homes on either side. Another York Must do!

We hit the Oxfam charity shop – and my serving knife and fork are still there. If they are there – I was meant to have them – so I buy them. Jill finds a gift for her daughter at the same time – so we are both happy.

We continue on walking the wall – and eventually end up at the King’s Pond – a water feature in Medevial times that protected a huge section of York from attack. Nearby is a decommissioned church that now serves as a ‘reservable’ place of meditation. You book ahead on line, and are given a code to enter in the keypad on the door.

We’ve been constantly impressed with how creatively folks here are dealing with the issue of old, but under used churches. Some are turned into housing of course, but others stay churches, albeit smaller, and house cafes, restaurants, or even public service offices. In this case – another less appreciated need is being met. How nice.

We are now back at the York Castle Museum – still no Viking Experience – and decide to finish what we’d started the day before. The highlight of this visit is the Prison Section with audio/visual projected lectures by 5 of the famous inmates of the Prison. They tell you their side of the story – and then in the end, you can read up on the historical accounts. Morbidly facinating. I’ll save you some time and tell you that none come to a very good end!

Ok – now I’m getting serious. I will find that Viking Experience or else!

And of course – it turns out to be a lot easier to do than our mis-adventures can explain. It’s hidden in plain sight down a narrow passageway into Coppergate. Ok – just a bit of Old Norse for you – gate means road, bar means gate. This area is called Coopergate because it is presumed that ‘Cooper’s’ worked here making wooden objects. That information is revealed during our Viking Experience.

Bit of York arcological history now – in 1976 to 1980 a huge cache of Viking material was found hidden for over 1000 years in the wet clay (aka oxygen deprived) soil of York in this exact location. They were digging the foundations of a shopping center – and everyone was shocked to find over 40,000 Viking remains. The wet soil had preserved them so well that even pieces of material – including a silken head scarf were perfectly preserved. Most dramatically – there was even a Viking helmet found – complete and in perfect condition. No swords were found however – this was not a burial site – these were the remains of an entire village street. Pig pens, wooden houses, personal grooming items, all the stuff of ‘comfortable living’ were found right here – right under our feet. Incredible.

So of course a museum was created to house the artifacts – and in doing so the Jorvik (York in Old Norse) center was started. It was always intended to be an immersive experience – aka Disney-esque ride thru time to the time of the Vikings – but by Christmas of 2015 it was getting old and tired.

So nature intervened with a huge flood. Ok – maybe not on purpose – but the result was the same. The entire center had to be refurbished and re-imagined – and it just reopened under a month ago. I can’t speak for the old display – but we can tell you that the newly opened display has a ton to recommend it!

You can choose to pre-book, which puts you in one line, or you can take your chances and queue. We did the latter, and were rewarded by entering before the folks that had pre-booked. Not sure how that happened.

One interesting note – remember that Serving Knife and Fork I’d bought? Well they were not allowed in the center – and thus had to spend time with the ‘Viking’ on guard at the door. All of the staff is dressed from head to foot like Vikings – From men with long beards that were either braided or tied, to gals sporting Viking shoes, dresses and head gear – the staff were impressive in not only their appearance – but also their knowledge of the place and the Vikings. All were either archologists or story tellers – and they were great – if you bothered to engage them. Here-in lies the rub. It is easy to run thru a museum without talking to a single interpreter – and if you read reviews of the center that earn it less than 5 stars – that is what happened.

It is not sufficient to just ‘ride’ the ride and leave. It should be about learning about the Vikings – but we can understand how folks could easily get confused by the ‘Disney’ feeling that the ride conveys. It’s wrong – but understandable.

Anyway – we enter down a staircase into a large space that has a glass floor. Under our feet are evidence of the dig – including re-created timbers, objects and the like. Video footage on the walls explains what it was like on the dig – and invite you to participate in a current dig happening only 200 or so yards away. In one corner is a costumed interpreter with objects that you can touch and handle, and in another corner is a computerized interactive exhibit on the challenges of conserving the materials of the primary items found – glass, wood, metal and stone. Most folks just line up for the ride – missing the good stuff in the corners. So sad.

The ride itself is amazing. The detail is incredible – sights, smells, sounds are all here to make sure you know you are visiting a living viking town. I actually ride the ride 3 times to try to see and hear everything. There are audio interpretations in 12 different languages – including an ‘adult’ English and a ‘child’ English. Of the two English commentaries – I actually prefered the ‘child’ version. In that version, a young male voice pretending to be a local of the period explains to you what you are seeing from his point of view. “Oh, there’s my friend Eric, he’s been learning how to make knives from his father – looks like he might be doing better.”

From the front of the ‘ride vehicle’ you can see that the ground underneath is complete with muddy footprints and sewage. There are rats hidden here and there as would have been the case in those days, and tiny details add to the realism in surprising ways. At one point, a figure in a boat suddenly looks up at me and welcomes me in ‘Old Norse’ – it’s actually a staff member!

But you can’t appreciate the level of detail in just one ride thru – good thing that the ticket they sell you is good for a year.

When the ride ends you are in a small, but very complete exhibit area – with at least 3 interpreters willing to take time to answer in great and loving detail any questions you might have. There is a young man making coins, the hard old fashioned way by slaming the dies with a hammer. We chat with him on the origins of coins in general – and Viking coins in particular.

This is a wonderful experience – but as with most museums – you take out what you put in. Take time to chat – it’s wonderful.

Lunch is a brief respite on a bench in Coopergate and a lovely chat with a Welsh gentleman who lets us know that he was very anti-brexit. We’ve actually not come in contact with folks who voted yes – but since it was a 50/50 vote – that’s not totally surprising.

Our next stop was supposed to be the Viking Exhibit in the Yorkshire Museum, but instead we opt for the physically closer and much less demanding Barley Hall. This is a medieval home that once belong to The Lord Mayor of York. Suitably large and painstakingly re-done – it’s now a quick and dirty history of Henry VIII. The exhibits are interesting, and I must admit that I didn’t know that much about Henry VIII coming in, but the lack of guides and the limited about of interior furnishings made this tour a very quick in and out. Not our favorite museum, but after the two ‘Must Do’s’ of the Jorvik Viking Experience and the York Castle Museum, it’s almost a good thing. We’re pretty wiped and keen to head back home.

Liz is shocked to see us this early – but we hand over our bottle of wine and tell her not to worry – we’re going to hide out in our room and nurse our feet and backs into better shape with a spot of tea.

A couple of hours later – and suitably refreshed – Liz annouces dinner. Again we are impressed. After bringing each other up on our travels today, our conversation centers around her desire to enlarge her Air BnB empire by buying another flat. We are keen to find out how that goes down – but of course won’t ever know if she doesn’t keep in touch. So I’m seriously hoping she will read this – and keep in touch!

Another relaxing evening enjoying the birds, the bees – and Liz’s wonderful backyard and it’s off to bed.

I think this is becoming a pattern!

Signing off – The Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveler

Still no Vikings – but the York Castle Museum is a Must Do


We are awoken early by the birds. Liz’s house is just outside the city walls – a 200 year old Victorian that she has carefully restored – and there are lots of trees – and lots of birds. A flock of geese call the open space behind her place home, and there’s a colony of doves that spend the night perched in a tree in her neighbor’s yard. Dawn at Liz’s home is a sympthony concert on steriods.

We head downstairs for breakfast, served at a table in her ‘living’ room. Delicious Quarker Oats, some yogurt, your basic local buns, coffee or tea, and a bit of fresh fruit combine for a perfect start to the day. Walking past Liz’s door alerts the excitable Bertie to our presence – and he’s perfectly happy to start the day too. Liz drops in to check if we have any questions about where to go and what to see – then sends us on our way with specific directions to return for dinner at 6:30.

We repeat our walk into the walled city, and wander around pleasantly lost amid the mydrid shops and wandering tourists. Our official destination is the Viking Experience, but the maze that is Old Town York is more challenging to navigate than expected. Liz had suggested that we take a ‘Squiggle’ or narrow part between buildings into the back area behind the ‘Hole in the Wall’ – one of zillions (yes I counted) Pubs. We are in the narrow laneway behind the Pub when the bells of the Minster announce 10:00 AM. No sleeping late in York I’m going to tell you! Peter (that’s what they call the big bell that sounds the hours) is seriously loud. You can feel the vibrations all the way from your feet to your head.

We wander in the gardens, quickly visit the old chapel (now library), and see the Treasurers House. We check out some of the ‘charity shops’ dotted amongst the more touristy offerings, buy a Cornish Pasty for lunch, then head toward the Viking Experience. We twist and turn – and eventually end up looking up at a castle on a mound.

It’s Clifford’s Tower – the site of one of the darkest days (not my words – that’s how they describe it in the history notes) of York’s long history. In 1190 approximately 150 Jewish citizens of York were trapped in the tower by an angry mob. Egged on by wealthy men who were in debt to the Jewish Moneylenders and had not secured Royal Appointments and thus could not repay their debts, the mob surged around the then Royal Castle. These events were cronicled by at least 3 different sources at the time. In the end, most of the Jews committed suicide, the men killing their wives and children, and then killing themselves. The men owing money to the Jewish Moneylenders then burned their notes, thus freeing themselves of the debts, and the land and possesions of the Jews reverted to the crown. (http://www.historyofyork.org.uk/themes/norman/the-1190-massacre)

The event is recorded on a plaque outside the tower for all to read.

But on to happier thoughts. Right beside the tower, which stands at the highest point of York, is the York Castle Museum. Not the Viking experience we were heading for – but it was on our hit list as well, so in we go.

The York Castle Museum is a huge winner. It occupies a former prision that was in use for over 400 years, and today contains not only information about the prision, but also a re-creation of a complete Victorian Street, an exhibit on the 60’s, a series of ‘demo’ kitchens dating from 1650 till 1960, and ‘demo’ Victorian Parlors from humble farmer to moderately well-off middle class. There’s a section devoted to toys from the 1900’s up to 2017 (truly fascinating), and a display on undergarmets that spans several hundred years.

This museum is almost impossible to leave! We can’t get enough of the complete Victorian Street scene – it extends for several blocks, is complete with period appropriate ‘smells’, and what really makes it great – knowledgeable guides in period clothes who delight in telling you about their times. Our favorite is a gentleman in a top hat who spends almost 30 minutes discussing his world. So cool.

We don’t finish – we simply run out of time and must head back to the Minster for Evensong, then on to Liz’s place for dinner. Fortunately, the ticket we got is good for a year – so we will definitely be back!

At Evensong, we are almost trampled by the rush of people trying to get good seats – but are rewarded for our slow pace by a young female priest who directs us up into the choir stalls. We are seated 6 seats away from the Dean of the Minster – the Very Revd Vivienne Faull – a lovely older woman whose face is featured on most of the marketing for the huge Cathedral. The Minster was spared by the German Blitz because it acted as a landmark for the German Pilots. We are told this by one of the tour guides, who was lucky enough to have given a tour to a former German Pilot! He told her that they would never have hurt it – if you were flying from the South and came upon a huge white cross in the middle of a green circle – you turned right to get home to Germany. And if you were flying from the North – it was a left turn.

And it’s actually a good thing that this lovely building was not hurt. The main tower is high enough to contain the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and the vast vault with it’s Gothic finishings is the 2nd largest such building in Northern Europe. It was built between 1220 and 1472 – and is justifably one of York’s main visitor attractions. But we are here for Evensong – and are rewarded by a 45 minute long service sung by a mixed choir of 18 children and 12 adults. Lovely.

Our dinner with Liz is equally pleasant. We again chat on various topics – and Liz tells us the recent history of her lovely home. She has lived here for 10 years, and it was in the spring of the 2nd year that problems began. Her ground floor (aka basement) was flooded – not just once but 3 times. And it wasn’t just her basement – all the basements in the area suffered, and the city of York determined that the fault was theirs – inadequate sewers. So the city decided to fix the problem for the entire area of several hundred homes and businesses – and a major hospital – by building a huge underground water holding tank in the vacant land to her left. They made one tiny error. They ignored the sandy soil that lay adjacent to the site of the new construction, and in digging out the tank, caused an earthquake. Liz’s home literally split in 2 – while she was inside!

The house between her home and the ‘hole’ suffered more – but since it was owned by the hospital, which in turn is owned by the National Health Service, it was less of a problem. Since her home was privately owned – and terribly damaged, after some litigation, the city paid for her renovation.

And the home was saved – and better than saved – restored to it’s former glory. She took that opportunity to move the kitchen into the basement, making an extra bedroom on the ground floor. The work was only completed about 2 years ago – and she’s been doing Air BnB only since March.

We mentally observe that one would never have a conversation like this in a hotel – one of the reasons Air BnB is such fun is the delightful chance you have to really get to know a local!

The Intrepid Traveler and I eventually toddle upstairs to bed. Tomorrow we are definitely going to find the Viking Experience.

Signing off – The Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveler.

Fabulous York – a walled city with style – and Awesome Museums


Friends of the Intrepid Traveler told us that York was worth at least 4 days – and our sources had better be right – We’ve paid for our Air BnB lodging, so we’re going to be stuck if our sources are wrong.

But confident travelers that we are – we head out bravely – figuring that at worst we can finally get a much needed break. We’ve basically been on the go since we left Montreal May first – and frankly getting up and at’m every day is wearing a bit thin.

So York – here we come! The view from the train ride between Manchester and York is very different from the scenery we’ve been seeing during all our previous trips. For starters – suddently there are no dry stone fences. None. There are a few stone fences held together with morter, and lots of wood or wire fences – but no dry stone fences. Clearly – when the glaciers went thru, they dropped stones all over the fields west and south of Manchester – and had none left to drop when they receeded from York. How interesting. I’m sure my friend Thea Alvin – stone mason extraordinare – could explain it, but we just note the difference – and continue our ride. The types of animals in the fields change as well. Before this trip, we were looking only at sheep. Lots and lots of sheep, with maybe the occasional cow. But now cow herds seem to equal sheep herds in popularity – and there are lots of horses as well.

Our arrival in York is nothing special – thank goodness. I’m not sure I’m up for anything special right now. We get off the train, find a lift, find a map, find the street – and start navigating ourselves to Liz’s house. Despite her detailed directions, we’re slow walkers. And we constantly stop to double check that we haven’t missed a turn. Our path takes us around the wall of the city – and a wonderful wall it is too. There are stone gates – just one car wide of course – in various locations, a beautiful river with those distinctive canal boats on our right as we walk, and flowering bushes everywhere. We’ve clearly arrived at Springtime. We drag our cases pass signs for various museums – several of which feature Vikings as a theme. That should be fun. I don’t know anything about Viking occupation of the UK, wonder what they will tell us?

Our Air BnB hostess Liz is waiting for us outside of her house – and graciously invites us into her lovely home. The entrance way and the main ‘living’ room has the traditional super high ceiling of the Victorian houses – and correspondingly, the stair case up to our loft room is steep and winding. But she helps us with our tiny carry-ons – and we are quickly installed in our new home.

There is just one tiny problem. We count on having access to the kitchen of the places we stay in order to fix our meals. We can’t afford to eat out on our budget. And somehow I’ve overlooked the fact that at Liz’s place – the kitchen is strictly off limits.

I’m stunned by this news. What will we do? How will we cope? We have made no provisions for dealing without a kitchen. The angst must be visible on my face because Liz quickly realizes something is wrong.

To our everlasting delight – Liz offers to settle the problem by feeding us dinner. We’ll deal with the cost later – right now we are simply relieved beyond measure. She tells us to come back by 6:00 – so off we go.

Our plan for the rest of the day is simple – get our bearings in York and perhaps check out the newly renovated Viking Experience. We wander to the Minster – which given that it is a huge Cathedral – isn’t that much of a challenge to find. We check out the times for Evensong figuring that’s a good way to get a peek inside – and enjoy some music. Turns out that Monday night is just a prayer service, but tomorrow there will be Evensong. We will return.

We wander a bit more of York, noting the abundance of thrift shops and thinking that those are also places to come back and check out more carefully. We then wander thru the ‘Shambles’, an aptly named winding little road packed with shops on either side.

We stop at the Sainsbery Local to pick up a bottle of wine – our offering for dinner – and arrive just in time to join Liz. She serves us a dynamite salmon dish – apparently she’s been taking cooking courses and loves the idea of having guinea pigs. We sit out in her just finished garden full of blooming flowers and comfy furniture. We soak up the last of the sun, eat and chat. 3 hours flies past. By 9:00 we’re ready to call it a night – so we amble off up stairs to bed down. Tomorrow we will find that Viking Experience – it has to be here somewhere.

Signing off – very very full of yummy salmon and a nice pudding for dessert – The Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveler.

Day 2 in Lake District – Beatrix Potter and some details about those Cows…


We wake to birds singing outside of our windows – and hustle downstairs for a lovely British Breakfast. Surprisingly – there’s no toast cooler. I do fondly remember those from my previous (50 years ago) trip to the UK – and had thought for sure they would be using one.

These are metal holding racks for toast, carefully designed to make sure that the toast gets cold. But Rose and Andy are ok with hot toast, and honor us by offering, in addition to margarine, some of Rose’s home made Orange Marmelade. It’s yummy.

Breakfast isn’t fancy – but it is ample – lots of different cereals and what I’m being to see is a Rose Signature Item – a fruit plate! I adore fresh fruit, and she’s being incredibly generous with what I know is expensive fruit. We do try to leave some for them – really we do.

After breakfast, they announce that they have packed a picnic lunch, and we’re heading off in the car to the Lake District. Andy has mapped out a route he wants us to follow, winding thru tiny villages, and including a ride on the Bowness Ferry across the only ‘real’ lake in the Lake District – Lake Windermere.

But the plans of the best oft go astray – and so it is with Andy’s plan. Turns out there’s a marathon being run around the Lake District today – and roads are blocked here and there and everywhere. Interesting thing about UK detours – they rarely tell you where the detours are going – nor when they will end – at least for marathon runs! So we wind our way up to Gummer’s How (How is Hill apparently) and admire the view over the rolling countryside. Some absolutely tip-top shape bikers stop to admire the view with us – and quick enough we’re sharing laughs over the challenges involved in detouring around the marathon. Opinions shared, we are all off – us to the ferry – they are headed to parts unknown.

The ferry is on a pair of tow lines – so no steering is needed. Just turn on the engine and pick East or West. The challenge is paying the fare. They have installed a brand new ticketing machine – and no one is sure how to use it! It is made more challenging because the screen is angled into the sun – and virtually unreadable. But Andy works thru it – and when the ferry arrives – we’re ready to board. A short time later – we’re off the ferry on the other side of the lake and heading up winding narrow laneways towards Hill Top – the home of Beatrix Potter.

This charming cottage was the inspiration for most of her books after the success of Peter Rabbit provided the money to finance it. In every room are copies of illustrations she drew that clearly reflect the furniture and window views around her. Since she died without heirs, she left all her land and her cottage to the National Trust – and they were charged with always keeping the fire in the parlor going, and leaving the house as it was when she died. And so they do, and so it is. A cottage frozen in time – filled with the knick-knacks she collected over a long and interesting life.

Well worth the visit.

But its getting on to lunch – and our next stop will be for our picnic. Naturally the rain, which had been holding off admirably, decided at this time to play games – and we decide to enjoy our lunch in the car park at Hawkshead. Hot tea, Ham and Cheese sandwiches, and snack bags of chips or crackers satisfies the inner need.

One curious incident – a black Jackdaw lands near us and begs for crumbs. Rose throws a few his way which he gobbles up – and then suddenly flings himself into the air and over the car to grab a mouse! We watch in horror as the Jackdaw enjoys a much better lunch then our paltry crumbs. Biology lesson over – we pack away the picnic things and stroll around the extremely touristy but very cute town of Hawkshead.

Our route now took us thru Ambleside – a name that in Galic means Amble’s Pasture, past the stragglers in the Marathon (one of whom was being helped by an Ambulance crew), past 3 lovely smaller lakes – Rydal Water, Grasmere and Thirlmere.

We then leave the Lake District to head to Penrith. Jill’s family claims a great-great-great aunt who was a lady in waiting to a Queen and lived near Penrith. We check out the Penrith castle for clues – but after Richard III (who lived here prior to becoming King), there’s no evidence of an Queen in this area. We check out the church yard as well – but aside from the Giant’s Grave – there’s not much to see.

Our stroll thru Penrith is unexciting too – the shops are all closed and the church locked tight. Good thing too – I saw lots of stores that I would have visited – so having them closed definitely saved us some money. It’s a 128 mile round trip – long by UK standards, a normal days commute in North America.

Back in Morecambe, dinner is at The Lodge – Rose and Andy’s Local. It’s a long thin restaurant/pub with an interesting menu of many traditional British items – including Steak and Ale Pie, Fried Pork Belly (yummy!), and Fish and Chips. The Intrepid Traveler and I opt to share a traditional British appetizer platter which has 2 slices of thick cut ham, two delicious pieces of country bread, two hunks of local Lancaster cheese, a wonderful home-made relish, some pickles, a small meat pie and my favorite – pickled onions. That plus the fried Pork Belly is more than enough for us. I’m too full even for dessert – which is saying something because they have a bread pudding that sounds yummy.

Andy asks if we’d care of a bit of walk since even though it’s past 8:00 PM – it’s still light out. The Intrepid Traveler and I agree – and Andy takes us to Barrows Heights. This is exactly like the place where Harry Potter and the Weasleys find the Port Key – except instead of a Port Key – we find cows. And this is THEIR pasture – not ours. We hike up to the top of the heights, where the cows have gathered to catch the last rays of sun, and it’s only when we’ve pretty much arrived that I realize that the cows are free to roam as they will. Seconds after that – the cows decide to come over and see if we’re family. I’m hiding behind the Intrepid Traveler – who bravely stares down the lead cow. Andy simply solves the problem by going – ‘Shoo’. Works with cows apparently. They Shoo.

So do I. Enough of going nose to nose with an animal – no matter how friendly – who weighs several tons. They would squish me if they just sat on me. We hip hop back down, avoiding the remains of cow pies, cross the still – and head home.

Whew – TV and Bed have never looked so good.

Tomorrow we head out to York by train via Manchester. Should be an interesting day.

Signing off – The Intrepid Traveler and the Soup Lady.

Lancaster Castle is Cool – Or thoughts on Getting eyeball to eyeball with a Cow


Cows look a lot larger when you are standing in their field – and they are inches away. Good thing I had the Intrepid Traveler along – she’s just tall enough to hide behind! But I’m getting way way ahead of myself – so lets backtrack a bit!

We left Birmingham by train – which meant a trip to their absolutely outstanding new train station. It looks a lot like a giant foil covered Jelly Bean – with wavey bits, and entrances on the underside. But inside, it just looks like a train station – and from that perspective, it’s a bit disappointing. I mean it’s modern and everything – just not up to the foil covered jelly bean look in terms of fancy. Signs everywhere explain that the building has won awards for being eco-friendly – and apparently somewhere there is a green space that is reducing the carbon foot print. But mostly – it looks large and foil covered – and maybe a bit out of place.

But it works great. We take a lift down to the tracks – and board our train for Lancaster. Despite the modern trappings – they still haven’t figured out how to label doors by seat number – so once inside we have to struggle the length of the carridge to get to our reserved seats – which are facing the wrong way. I know I reserved seats in the direction of travel, but apparently the trains flip around so much that it’s impossible to be sure which way the train will be heading when you eventually get on board. Oh well – at least the ride is so smooth that the reverse orientation doesn’t really bother me.

The countryside between Birmingham and Lancaster is lovely – green fields with dry stone fences carving up spaces. Like the earlier ride to Birmingham from Oxford – the sheep dotting the slopes resemble musical notes an a giant scale. Up close they look a bit shaggy – but from a distance – with their black faces and white coats they look like a child’s version of sheep. They look like every stuffed animal you’ve ever seen – warm and fuzzy and soft.

The trip goes by fairly painlessly. We are seated across from an older woman who is headed up north to see the puffins. She’s a serious bird watcher (her description), and this is her last chance to see the birds with some very famous birder. We wish her luck, and go back to reading our books – or in my case – staring at the passing scenery.

Getting off the train in Lancaster turns out to be a treat. Not only are Rose and Andy (Jill’s son-in-law’s parents) there to greet us with hugs and kisses – but there’s a group of men walking down the platform in front of us wearing suit jackets, short shorts and red high heels. I’m impressed. I can’t walk in those things – and these guys are doing great! And they have great looking legs.

Turns out it’s Lancaster’s Gay Pride Parade today – but Rose and Andy are worried that the traffic will be tied in huge knots – so they insist on going the back ways to their house. No Gay Pride Parade for us. We rest up, and when they deem it safe, we take a car tour of the seaside of Morecambe (beautiful), and then end up at the Castle of Lancaster.What a treat that is! We opt for the optional tour – based on the guality of the guide we run into – and it’s a brilliant decision. He gives us a ‘family’ rate – and takes us into the inner workings of the Castle. He’s a wonderful story teller – and there are lots of stories to tell.

We walk into one section and the alarm is ringing. I say “What’s that noise?” He says “The Castle is backing up”.

We tour the Royal courts (used only for Civil cases – and not much for those these days), and the Criminal Court – which is still very much in use. I peek into the ‘dock’ – reached by the accused from underground in a holding cell – and seriously scary – and admire the elaborate Gothic Design. The Civil Court was designed 2 years before the Houses of Parliment – by the same architect. I think he was practicing.

We visit the ‘hangman’s’ cell – conveniently weather protected, so all the hangman had to do was push the accused out of a window – wait an hour while he/she slowly died, then haul them back in. No getting wet in the horrid weather on this side of England. And plenty of time for a good lunch since hangings were always at noon.

Our guide tells us that a ‘slow drop’ death is long and drawn out because your neck doesn’t break – so sometimes friends of the accused would try to help him out by grabbing his legs. Hence the term ‘Hanger’s On’.

Told you – wonderful story teller.

We end our tour in the ‘modern’ prision which dates back 200 years, and was last used in the 70’s. Rose and Andy remember being unable to tour this part of the castle because it was still a prision.

I am reminded, not for the first time, that this is a seriously old country with a history that overwhelms our poor excuse for a history in North America. Written records date back to the Romans for goodness sake! So a castle that dates from Norman times (1066 onward) is considered young indeed.

Home we go – to a very traditional British Roast Beef and Yorkshire pudding dinner. Rose pulls out all the stops – and makes carrots, broccoli, and sugar snap peas for veggies. For dessert – it’s rubarb fresh from her garden in a sponge cake crust. Bed time for us comes soon enough. Tomorrow will be a big big day!

Signing off – The Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveler

Manchester Bombing at Ariana Grande Concert hits achingly close to home


Andy Warhol might have thought that everyone would have 15 minutes of fame, but for most of us – life is better lived outside of the limelight. So finding ourselves even remotely close to what may well be a history changing event like the Terrorist Bombing at the Ariana Grande Concert on May 22, 2017 is gut wrenching. It’s not our style. But it happened.

We had boarded the train in Lancaster and were headed towards Manchester-Picadilly where we are to change trains for York.

Again with the poor labeling – and despite our best efforts, we find ourselves dragging our luggage down the entire length of the coach to find our assigned seats.

Across from us sit a very quiet, very cute mother and daughter. We’re hard to ignore, so eventually they start to chat with us. The daughter has just turned 14 and as a birthday present – she and her mother are heading to Manchaster to go to a concert. They are going to be seeing and hearing Ariana Grande. Some brief chit-chat about how exciting this is – and how we should listen to her music when it turns out we have no idea who Ariana Grande is – and the train pulls into the station in Manchester.

Typically quick goodbye – hope concert is swell – and they head off toward the exit while we figure out where to catch the train to York.

Fast forward 20 hours – I’m lying in bed in our BnB in York when the phone rings – it’s my daughter Adrienne checking up on us. Where are we, and are we OK?

It’s the first we’ve heard about the bombing in Manchester-Picadilly – not a mile from where we’d been standing not 20 hours before. The Intepid Traveler and I let friends and family know we are ok – and not near Manchester – but it makes one wonder – were the daughter and Mom we met impacted – We are going to guess yes, because even if you were not hurt – you were still there and still scared.

Their pictures are not on the news, thank goodness – But worse news is still to come. We now know that in addition to the children killed or wounded, there were parents killed, two of them from York. And Sam, the son of our hostess, knows the York family well and is very upset and demanding retribution. It’s not an easy situation. The grocery store where the mother worked is collecting money to help the two young girls who are suddenly orphans – thru absolutely no fault of their own. We are sure this is 15 minutes of fame they could have lived without.

The British news is filled with reports on what happened, on the US leaks of information, on the British reaction, and all the museums we visit are implementing a tighter bag check policy. But this is not what bugs us.

We can not help but think that anyone, on either side, who thinks this kind of behavor will be rewarded by G-d is going to discover how very wrong they are. And until the entire world understands that ‘an eye for an eye’ leaves everyone blind, we fear that the world is moving not towards enlightenment, but into the Dark Ages.

I walked past a young lady today here in York who was wearing a face covering. Only her eyes were exposed, and for some reason I do not understand she threw me a very angry look. I wondered if she was angry at me, angry at life, tired of being judged by the actions of others, or if perhaps I’d mis-interperted her glance as angry when all it was was curious.

I hope we will never know.

Signing off – The Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveler

Getting the Low Down on Birmingham’s History


We wake to the Doves in the Peace Tower just outside of Sameer’s flat when we get up in morning. They make the most wonderful sounds – and as we are on the 6th floor – watching them fly by is up close and personal.

We were joking last night – and asked Sameer if he had bats in his belfrey – but he didn’t get the joke! Instead he told us about how bats are protected animals in London. Nice to know – but not what we were laughing about.

This morning, Sameer dashes out before we are up – leaving us to fix our own breakfast from the fixings he left us – blueberries, bananas, oranges, milk, and an excellent Granola. There are also eggs – but we opt for a simple breakfast, lunch will be a bigger meal.

We have reservations for a tour at 10:15 at the Birmingham Back to Back Houses. We’ve been reading up on these houses – and the ones we will see are the last in existance – as late as the 1940’s there were thousands of people leaving in Back to Back Houses. They could be crammed in – up to 14 in what is effectively a 3 room house – under 900 sq feet in total – and some of that taken up with narrow spiral stairs that go from the first to the third floor.

Today these houses are in the heart of China Town, and adjacent to a large restaurant and bar complex, but in their day they were the key stone of lively neighborhoods. We were excited to take the tour.

The visit starts in front of a sweetshop, and our guide, Jane, begins by explaining that just before these houses were finally demolished in the 1970’s, they were mostly used as shops – and the sweetshop was what was in this location at the turn of the century. Back to Back Houses were built – surprise, surprise – back to back. So there are 3 houses with windows facing the road, and three more built against their back walls. These 3 houses have windows only on the ‘courtyard’ side. The entrances are street or courtyard level – and most of these houses had no running water and no toilets. Instead the toilets are located in the shared courtyard. In earlier times, these shared toilets were modified chamber pots, but eventually they were renovated to have ‘flush’ toilets. But you are still outside! In one of the houses, running water had been added – but only on the first floor. Water was never available above the first floor.

There is basically only one room on each floor – a living/dining/food prep room on the ground floor, a bedroom on the 2nd floor, and a 2nd bedroom on the third floor. The floors are linked by steep narrow twisting staircases – hard to go up, and frightening to go down. There is only one window in each room – depending on the house, facing either into the courtyard or into the street.

There was a fireplace in both the kitchen and ‘master’ bedroom – but while the kitchen fireplace was on from dawn till bedtime, the one in the ‘master’ bedroom was lit only when someone was feeling ‘poorly’. As for those sleeping on the third floor – crowding was the solution to a cold night. Families were known to put 6 kids in one bed, sleeping head to toe, and then renting out the other bed in the third floor bedroom to strangers!

So – no running water, no toilets, no sewer, and a central washing area that each family sharing the courtyard got to access once a week – life in the Back to Backs was not easy. There are audio tapes of folks who used to live here talking about what life was like. There was no reason to go home until bedtime, because there was nothing to do in the house except sleep. So kids ran wild and wooly all over the area – keeping themselves busy until going to bed was unavoidable.

And jobs, while plentiful, were neither well paying nor safe. Birmingham was at the center of the Industrial Revolution in England, and had more than it’s share of stuffy unsafe factories and challenging work environments. So Dad and the older boys would work all day – while Mom and the girls did the washing, cleaning, cooking, and sewing needed to keep the family together. Young boys went to school – a priledge rarely available to young girls in the UK until after 1870.

Back to our tour. The small block of back to back houses that has been saved has been extensively renovated. Of the three houses facing the street on the northern side, the bottom left is the sweet shop – and above that is ‘holiday’ let.. The center one is also a ‘holiday’ let, and the last one is used for storage by the National Trust. Of the back 3 houses on the north side, the one to the right is set-up to show life in 1840 – when this block was first built. The middle house is set-up as 1870, and the left most house is set as 1920. Of the 3 houses on the East side, the left most has been left as it was in 1970 when the last resident – a tailor – left. The center and right houses are now the welcome area, space for staff and an exhibit area. In the exhibit area you can see the 28 layers of wallpaper that were removed from one wall. Turns out it was much cheaper to just paste on new wallpaper – and that’s what happened.

We totally enjoyed the tour – our guide was very informed, the houses are very interesting, and unlike most museums – you are welcome to touch everything. I found the clock making tools in the house from 1840 particularly intriging.

Our tour finished, we decided to visit the rag market – which quickly gets boring, and then stop for traditional English Fish and Chips. Yum.

Now we stroll just a few blocks North and West – on our way to the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. The city changes drastically as we work our way these few blocks North. As we leave the ‘Rag’ Market – we also leave the majority muslim crowd and the boarded up and abandoned shop fronts. We pass the dramatically new Central Train Station – a huge Silver sphere shape that dominates the western view from St. Martins in the Bull Ring. Once on High Street – we are on a Pedestrian Mall with fancy shops, folks in nice dresses, and a general sense of well-being. What a drastic change from the rather scary feelings of the area near the ‘Rag’ Market!

Within minutes we are at Victoria Square – dedicated by the Princess of Wales (Diana?) in 1970. And just past that is the museum. And a glorious museum it is too. As with most of the museums here, it has a bit of everything – from Egyptian artifacts, a brief history of the Irish in Birmingham, to a room dedicated to the Stratford Hoard. The Hoard is impressive – and the rooms dedicated to the Pre-Raphaelite painters contain art that is both extensive and beautiful. But the absolute best part of the museum, despite the lack of any marketing, even on the museum map – is the 3rd floor display on the history of Birmingham.

We’ve seen histories that are as dull as paint drying, but this is not one of them. This series of rooms takes the history of Birmingham and makes it personal – entertaining – and facinating. The curators have used every trick in their books to make these displays interesting, and they are amazingly successful.

The fun starts in the Medieval Past – over 1000 years ago. There’s a model of the town showing clearly that the Bull Ring Market, St. Martin’s of the Bull Ring, and the High Street were already known in those days. A series of short videos featuring kids from a local drama department explains why Birmingham was growing by leaps and bounds in those days – a combination of a belief in freedom of religion, and the lack of a town charter. Without a charter, guilds couldn’t operate – so a free-for-all attitude took hold. Anyone could do anything – and folks flocked to Birmingham in response.

To cover the years during the industrial revolution the display becomes a ‘tourist guide’ to Birmingham. Hints include finding the best places for food, and cover the ‘building boom’ with humor and attention to detail.

Moving historically forward, there is a series of puppets who demonstrate how to make a musket, and a display of the hand made buttons that made Birmingham famous in the 1800s. There are model kitchens from the 1900s for kids to play at, there are build it yourself models to practice town planning in the 1920s, and a multi-screen video presentation on Birmingham’s participation in WWI and WWII.

The display ends with a nod to the issues of the present – including the recent announcement by BMW to close their plant, putting 6000 out of work.

It’s an outstanding example of the curator’s art – and a fabulous examination of the history of Birmingham in particular and England in general.

We are thrilled to have wandered in!

But now the museum is closing around us – and we are gently escorted out by the guides who have appeared from nowhere.

So it’s home, a lovely roast chicken dinner with wine at Sameer’s flat – and early to bed. Tomorrow we travel – and we need our rest.

Signing off to get our beauty sleep – The Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveler.

Getting down and dirty in Birmingham


Birmingham is definitely not on most tourists hot lists. In fact – when we’ve told folks we were headed this way after our visit to Oxford – they were either surprised, stunned, or bewildered. Why would anyone want to visit dirty old Birmingham? It’s not known for anything really – except being the center of Industry for the UK.

But we’re museum buffs – and there are two noteworthy museums in Birmingham. The National Trust Back to Back Houses were on the very tip top of our list of places to see – and the reviews of the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery with it’s huge collection of Pre-Raphaelite paintings sounded intriguing. So we planned to hop a bus from Oxford and spend 1 day, 2 nights in this under visited part of the UK.

But first we must start at Lovely Lucy’s in Oxford. Our charming hostess bids us good morning and runs out leaving us to fend for ourselves. Breakfast finished, bags packed, and Lucy’s doors locked and the keys put in her post slot – we are off to repeat the walk back to the bus station in Oxford. It goes much much easier this time – there is simply nothing like knowing your way around to make dragging suitcases easier.

I pop in for a quick coffee at a lovely shop called Coco Loco. It’s claim to fame is it’s view of Christ Church Collage – and a lovely view it is too. Suitably coffee’d up – we drag ourselves to the bus station, guided by ‘Maps’ on my iphone. Surprisingly – it directs us into a square that has been taken over by a lively silver market – and while The Intrepid Traveler stays with the luggage – I do a quick round of shopping – finding a delightful buy in a Salt, Pepper and Mustard Silver Plated Service set. Perfect. I have little time to haggle – the bus is leaving – so I make the gal an offer – she accepts – and the service is mine.

Back to Jill who is patiently waiting by the bus driver who has already loaded up our suitcases! I have time to sit down – and we’re off. Our bus quickly gets out of the traffic jam that is Oxford – and soon enough we are driving hell-bent for leather thru the lovely British country-side.

I’m going to tell you now that there is apparently no auto-route from Oxford to Birmingham – at least no auto-route that we North Americans would consider an auto-route. We drove thru village after village – even passing quickly thru Stratford-upon-Avon – on our way. Green fields with sheep dotted on the hillsides like musical scores rolling by, puncuated by traditional british farmsteds. Nary a high-rise, nor glass enclosed modern structure to be seen.

So my first question – do they have rules about what kinds of houses can be built? Or does no one here like ‘modern’ design outside of the big cities – where modern is the go to option? But rules or no rules – there were no modern houses.

And not that much traffic either! Perhaps that’s why our driver chose back roads, but it did make for a very British riding experience.

Eventually we arrived in Birmingham, and at first look the concerns of all the folks we chatted with seemed very valid. The bus station was lovely and modern, but once you crossed that threshold you were plunged into the Bull Ring Market. There’s been a market on this site since Medieval days – and they have the archeology to prove it. The Market was a buzz of activity – one section devoted to fruits, vegetables, eggs of all sizes and to meat, another to the giant ‘Rag Market’ – which sold all kinds of objects – not just ‘rags’, although the cloth merchants were in great number.

What surprised us most was the very different look of the folks wandering the market. In London it was rare to see a hijab, let alone a woman in a Burka. But here – it was almost the norm. And they were young ladies pushing strollers, tugging on the hands of toddlers, and using cell phones. I was reminded – in a good way – of Istanbul. Anything goes, but modesty prevails.

And the street meat prices were so much lower! We enjoyed a lamb kabab, 3 skewers with salad and Nan for just 4 GBP. Definitely on our budget.

Refreshed, we tried to find our lodgings. Birmingham is a city of layers – there are under roadways and upper roadways – and the map you get for free at the tourist bureau doesn’t really have a chance of making this spaghetti easy to naviagate. In fact – they even call this area ‘Spaghetti’. Fortunately – there are traffic folks easily visible, and one of them took time to slowly explain exactly how to get where we were going.

She just forgot to mention one tiny thing. It was up a Steep Hill.

We dragged ourselves past industrial buildings, closed and deserted storefronts, and the occasional homeless asleep on the street to Holloway Circus. This is a giant round-about – under construction. So detour signs for drivers and pedestrians abounded. We navigated this hurdle, and slowly make our way up, and up, and up till we found the “Peace Garden”. This is a garden built on the remains of a church bombed out during WWII, and where our lodging was located.

Relying on the kindness of strangers, we find the conceirge, get the key – and examine our new lodging.

It’s designer minimalist. A two bedroom, two bathroom flat we’ll be sharing with out host – furnished with a combination of Ikea functionality and high design. The airplane coffee table is not terribly useful – but as our host expalins – reflects his passion for high adrenaline sports – from skydiving to road racing.

Floor to Ceiling windows form all the walls on the ‘view’ side of the condo – there are no windows on the other 3 walls. But the view is spectacular. We’re on the 6th floor – overlooking the “Peace Garden” and the city scape. At night, with the city lights aglow – it’s a stunner.

Our host, Sameer, is a charming young man (ok – not so young – probably in his mid thirties) who works for Jaguar in the marketing department, owns 5 fancy cars, another flat in London, and land in India. He’s elegant, well spoken, and fascinating. In our conversation – I ask him why he’d want BnB guests – and he admits – it’s for the chance to meet interesting people. Isnt’ that sweet? We chat over wine and dinner before he annouces that he must work tonight. He works, we sleep – tomorrow will be a busy day.

Signing off – The Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveler.

London to Oxford – Big City to University Town


It’s time to move on – we’ve spent 14 days in London, toured 12 Museums, saw 3 amazing plays, rode buses from East London to West London, attended Services in Cathedrals and local parish churches, worked at an Organic Wine Fair, even enjoyed a gourmet meal at “House” at the National Theatre. So – London done – we’re on to Oxford.

Oxford – town of 38 colleges that together make up one University – the University of Oxford. Not surprisingly – there sure are a lot of students here. And with all that youth comes plenty of coffee shops, lots of walking tours – and the 2nd largest library in the UK after the British Library in London.

The Bodleian Library has well over 153 miles (230 KM) of shelving, and adds 1000 books and 2000 periodicals a WEEK. It’s huge. And housed in bits and pieces, all connected by underground tramways, throughout all of Oxford, plus the new huge facility outside of Oxford in the town of South Marston for less used books. Clearly it’s a must do tour – and being the budget travelers we are – we opted for the lowest cost option – an audio tour that allowed us in to see only one small part – the Divinity College. And really only one tiny part of that – but a very nice part it was. For a bit more you can take a guided tour of the Humphrey Library – which is featured in Harry Potter when they are searching the ‘reserved’ section. But we were content with the Audio Guide and simply looking around.

Best part of the tour – and it was free to everyone – were the two special Exhibitions in the ‘new’ Weston Library (First built in 1937 as the ‘New Bodleian’ and extensively renovated and re-opened to the public in 2015 – it’s beautiful). The first was on Volcanos, and featured books dating from 1430 onward that had drawings of the supposed inner workings of Volcanos. Incredible to think that this library has kept these books safe for so very long. The 2nd exhibition, entitied Treasures of the Bodlian Library, is a revolving exhibition of rare finds. The version we saw featured contrasting items – in one case there was an original copy of the Magna Carta from the 13th century, complete with rodent chewed holes where the document had been folded for storage – and not properly stored at that. In the same case, the contrasting item was a book so small that it was shown chained to a life sized mouse – who could have easily dragged it around.

Other remarkable treasures – one of the First Folios of Shakespeare (not such a big deal as per the easy to read description – there are 233 known copies), and most impressive to me – a copy of Tycho Brahe’s “Astronomiae instauratae mechanica” dated 1598. This is the data collection that allowed his assistant, Johannes Kepler to formulate the laws of planetary motion. 1598. Imagine.

We then wandered over to the Oxford Museum of Natural History, known best for it’s outstanding glass topped building and wonderful displays of strange things – including the bones of the last Dodo. Famously, this is the spot known to have been visited by Lewis Carroll (aka Charles Dodgson), the author of “Alice in Wonderland”. The best section was a new exhibit hidden high up on a balcony and dedicated to new research on the brain. This very intriguing exhibit focused on the growth and development of the brain, carefully tracing it’s changes from pre-birth to old age. So interesting.

The day before we’d ‘done’ the Ashmolean. This huge museum has literally something for everyone, and then some. Our favorite section was on the challenges related to conservation, including detecting frauds, using UV to check for repair work, and a series of displays on making the decision to repair vs leave it as it is. Clearly being a museum curator isn’t as easy as one might imagine!

Naturally – I had to visit the Harry Potter ‘sights’ – including catching a glimpse into the courtyard used for learning to use your broomstick at New College (New in 1379). We also checked out Blackwell’s – billed as one of the worlds largest book stores with 7 km of shelving – and winding under Trinity college from a tiny and easily missed door front on Broad Street.

Our visit culimated in Evensong at Christ Church Cathedral in Christ Church College. It is ‘song’ nightly, sometimes by the church choir, sometimes by visiting choirs, sometimes by just male voices. We lucked into the male voice version – and it was glorious. Mostly done without organ music (A Cappalla) – the 14 choir members filled the huge space with wonderful sound.

What did we miss? We didn’t get into the Pitt River Collection – so we didn’t get to gawk at the shrunken heads. It was closed for a university function. We did wander into the Covered Market, but didn’t think it so remarkable. We checked out the college quads that were easily visible thru their wrought iron gates, and spent time chatting up a guide in St. Mary’s Parish Church – the official Church of the University of Oxford, with sections going back to the Medevial history of Oxford.

We skipped most of the modern part of Oxford, and sadly didn’t get to go into a pub. But lovely Lucy’s lodging, that we found thru Air BnB, was right on the river – so we did get to admire the boats on the water.

All in All – it was a great visit – but we need to get on – and Birmingham is our next stop. First thing tomorrow we will pack out bags and head on out to the bus station.

Signing off for now – The Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveler.

London’s Top 12 Museums – Rated and Reviewed for your Amusement


12 museums in 13 days – hours and hours spent walking up and down stairs and corridors – and the result is our list of the 12 Top Museums in London – in order from Best to least favorite. Enjoy – and let us know if you agree – or disagree!

1. Museum of London – This is one huge exhibit divided up into generations of London History, and it’s astoundingly well done. I loved strolling the Victorian Shop Street and evesdropping on the Regency chatter in the Secret Garden. I suggest skipping the pre-history and start with the Romans – walking through and around the displays is simply incredibly interesting. And take a moment to do the docent guided talks and tours. Super. Plan on 3/4 of day – maybe more if you watch every video and listen to every talk.

2. Natural History Museum – Dinausaurs, Human Biology, Creepy Crawlies are steller displays – and rate a “Must See”. This museum really needs an entire day – we had to skip at least one major secton – Human Evolution. Human Biology is a remarkable collection of interactive toys and videos and games. It is a challenge to leave. And the Dinosaur Display is justifably famous. The audio-animatronic T-Rex is worthy of Disney Land, and the multi-layered effects create a dramatic and exciting stage on which information about Dinosaurs can be displayed.

3. Somerset House – The Courtauld Galley – Outstanding collection of Impressionists. It’s hard not to love a museum that boasts such an extensive and well laid out colleciton of such magnificant works of art from Degas to van-Gogh, Monet to Manet and all the artists inbetween. Well lit, well curated, interesting tid-bits of information – what’s not to love. It’s really only two floors – so 1/2 a day is enough to see everything.

4. Design Museum – The only free section is on the third floor – but it’s outstanding. It covers Industrial Design from the Designer, Maker, User perspective starting in the 1700 and in a rather jerky fashion – moving forward till today. And it’s brilliant. Engaging, entertaining, and in some cases – down right funny. Since you only see one floor – you can do this one in 1/2 a day, easy.

5. Imperial War Museum – Only the WWI and ‘Family thru the War’ sections are worth spending time at – but the WWI exhibit is truly outstanding – probably one of the best and most complete museum treatments of WWI I’ve ever seen. I even enjoyed walking thru the Trenches. So see those 2 – and leave. Budget 1/2 a day here.

6. Tate Modern – it took us a day and 1/2 to ‘do’ the Tate Modern – there’s simply so much information crammed into the audio tour. But this is modern art – and not all of it is going to be your ‘cup of tea’. So it’s easy to skip past some very interesting exhibits because you just don’t understand or can’t appreciate what the artist is trying to do. Budget a day – but be prepared not to finish if you opt for the audio tour – which is highly recommended.

7. National Gallery – The individual talks about specific paintings by a curator are not to be missed. We lucked into one about a Rembrant – and she made the painting come alive in surprising ways. Highly recommend figuring out where/when these talks will happen. 1/2 a day was long enough to get the idea – they have a lot of art! Be aware that the Rembrants have been moved to the first floor to make room for a special exhibit – we ended up circling around twice before we found them.

8. Tate British – Like the V&A, this is a mother-ship of museums and could use a bit of sprucing up. The Turner collection is huge – and honestly, if you’ve seen 10 Turners, you’ve seen them all. I did love the small collection of Henry Moore pieces – donated in most part by the artist. And there are some stunning pieces hidden in almost every room – which makes the Tate British slow going. You skip ahead at your own risk. You will miss something amazing – you have been warned.

9. RA – Royal Academy of Arts – America after the Fall. This special exhibit was a block-buster – but since there are constantly new special exhibits, and no standard exhibit – we voted to demote the museum to the #9 slot. But given how great the exhibit was, I’m willing to suggest that this is one museum where paying the extra for the ‘special’ exhibits might actually make sense. How often does one ever come face to face with Grant Wood’s American Gothic.

10. Kew Garden – comletely weather dependant of course – but the Princess of Wales Conservatory is the star attraction – and possibly one of the best of these we’ve ever seen with over 14 different climate zones and simply incredible flowers. I found the 2 carnivore sections particularly interesting. The acres and acres and acres of wandering space is also wonderful.

11. Victoria and Albert – Great Tour, Great Restaurant – rest of the museum is more ho-hum. There is a lot of wonderful things inside, but it’s hard to read the signs, and there’s little to engage you unless you have a specific interest in the topic. One clear exception, the Display on Theatre and Staging. That we can easily recommend. We also enjoyed the free hour intro tour to the Museum. It was fast, but surprisingly entertaining.

12. Science Museum – terrible let down. Could’a been great – didn’t deliver. Skip it. You have better uses for your time – even if you are here with kids. Just watching the horse guards was more fun.

Ok – there you have it – the Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveler’s reviews of the Museums of London. I feel a bit like an ad for a financial planner – this represents our views – you might disagree completely. And past performance is no guarentee for success.

Signing off to go tour the museums of the rest of the UK – The Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveler.