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

Navigating the London Underground

Not simple this – not simple at all. First off – London is a very expensive city. Expensive to live in, expensive to eat in, expensive to travel around in. On the other hand – it does have a wonderful bus/tube system (don’t call it Metro or Subway – folks will look at you bewildered).

You can get anywhere you want by bus or tube – and while it might not be fast – you will get there. On the bus – you can only move as fast as the traffic – which is generally slow walking pace thru most of the inner city. On the tube, you move much faster – but there are frequent stops. From our lodging to downtown is over 20 stops – and we’re only in Zone 3. And there are no ‘express’ trains on the Tube lines. So it’s stop and go, stop and go, repeat and repeat.

On the other hand – the trains run smoothly. Very few of those jerks and bounces that are so hard on aging knees.

And it is clean – amazingly clean. In over 10 days of riding the bus/tube – I’ve seen someone eating on the tube just once. People are generally very polite, even during rush hour when the trains can feel more like sardine cans than transport. And there are trash bins – mostly 1/2 empty – everywhere. I’ve seen folks sweeping and picking up trash constantly. And the elevators never smell bad.

They even have toilets. And Lifts. Not in all stations – but often enough to realize it’s a reasonable thing to expect to find.

One thing about the lifts – the stations that have lifts have clear labels (the international wheelchair sign) to let you know. What they don’t tell you is if there will be escalators or just stairs at the other stations. That’s a huge difference – I do wish I knew which stations had only stairs – vs those that offer at least an escalator to get you up or down to street level.

But this blog is about the fares, not the lifts. And the fares are seriously confusing.

All over the metro there are signs advertising the ‘new’ capping system. The idea is that if you use the tube and the cost totals over 7.7 GPB on one day, the rest of that 24 hours is free. It’s a great idea.

Doesn’t work as far as we could tell unfortunately. We were averaging aound 10 GPB a day of money coming out of our ‘top-up to pay’ cards – I never spotted the cap being applied. Very frustrating.

They also have a 7 day travel card – and there’s a cap on the amount spent for 7 days. So one would assume that the cap and the card were the same. Not so. The card is a MUCH better deal if you are going to be staying outside of the Central area of London and will be using the tube/buses at least twice a day, occassionally during ‘rush’ hour. And of course you will be using the thing during rush hour. It takes a pretty amazing tourist to avoid doing that – at least in the afternoon!

Another reason the 7 day card is the better deal – it starts on the day you first use it. That means you can get 7 days from Monday to Monday, Tuesday to Tuesday – you get the idea. On the other hand, the cap only works from Sunday to Sunday. So unless you arrive on Sunday morning – it will never work out.

And here’s the most annoying thing about the CAP. Even if you qualify for a refund – you’ve spent more than 38.50 GPB in travelling around Zones 1-3, the refund only appears on Thursday of that week. So for a tourist – it’s a complete waste. You spend the money to front load the card, and by the time you get the refund- you are ready to leave.

If you even get the refund. We haven’t seen it yet. I don’t think it’s going to happen. And we spent over 90 GPB in one week before we smartened up and bought the 7 day card.

And it wasn’t for lack of asking! We must have chatted up 6 different agents on the tube line – each time getting a slightly different story. Only twice did we get the right advice. The gal at the Underground Information Booth at Victoria Station knew the ins and outs of the program, and she promptly told us – if you are here for 5 days or more – the 7 day pass pays! The gal at the airport information booth suggested it at first, but never clearly explained why spending 38.5 GPB up front was the smart idea.

Anyway – that 90 GPB is spent, and now we have the 7 day card – and life is much easier.

Signing off to go ride the Tube…
The Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveller

Oh Bummer – They closed the Ski Hill!

How could this happen? We’d planned a wonderful 6 week ski holiday – 3 weeks in Deer Valley, Utah, 2 weeks in Jackson, WY, then back to Deer Valley for one more week before hanging up the skis and calling it a season.

Everything was going perfectly too. We arrived as scheduled in Deer Valley – Well – Park City to be honest – and stayed in two different timeshares. Ok, and not so OK. But we knew what we were getting into – and hey – it’s location first and second right? So ignoring the self flushing toilets of Park Plaza and the kinda crummy tiny spaces of the Park Regency – we skied and movied. Well – I skied, Victor movied. It was the Sundance Film Festival – and thanks to our good friends Kit and Mike, Victor had tickets to over 24 movies. He ended up only seeing 19 – even the most fanatic of movie goers runs out of steam I guess.

Meanwhile – I skied. I generally got on the hill at 9:00 – tried for first tracks (yum), then headed into the trees if there was powder, or stayed on the groomers when the powder got skied out. I had a blast. A blast and a half to be honest.

Three great days were spent with Jeff – a friend I met in an intermediate tour who wanted to have more challenge in his life, but not ski killer stuff. I was happy to oblige. I skied him all over Deer Valley – we found powder shot after powder shot – and I even got him back to his palace (in comparison to the shack I was staying in) on time. It was a Blast I tell you.

After the movies ended, Victor and I even got a couple of ski days together – and a lunch at Stein Erikson’s that was amazing. All the crab claws I can eat – and trust me – that’s a lot of crab claws! Awesome bread pudding for desert too. Of course you can’t ski after such a meal – but hey – I’m on day 19. I’m cool.

Then we rented a car – a Fab Jeep Grand Cherokee – with 4 wheel drive and tons of space – and drove ourselves down to Salt Lake for the Regency Romance Ball. It was a ton of fun too. I adore the caller from Old Glory Vintage Dancers, she is best. We danced, we ate – and Victor was given the Mr. Darcy Award – 2nd year in a row! He’s so adorable in his uniform, and he guarenteed the win by sweeping the floor with his plume when he bowed for the ladies. Sigh – I’d take him home even if I wasn’t married to him!

Next morning – it’s up and at’m. We have a long drive today – we’re headed for Jackson, WY. Home to Jackson Hole Ski resort – one of my favorites. And they have tons and tons of snow – I shall have a ball.

We actually drive thru the Teton Pass – skirting around droves of cross country skiers, snowmobilers, and snow shoe fanatics. There is even a car tipped over on its side to be avoided – but our Jeep shows it’s true blue colors, shifts effortlessly into 4 wheel drive and motors on.

Our new home is another timeshare – Jackson Town Center. It’s basic – very very basic – but at least they use wood for decor not antlers – and there are 2 bathrooms and 2 bedrooms. Unfortunately – there are bunk beds in the 2nd bedroom – not sure how Alex and Rachel – who are coming next week for a couple of nights – are going to love that.

But worst – it’s unit 13. Lucky 13. It’s on the 2nd floor – diagonally oppositive from the parking lot – and up a full flight of stairs. Did I say this place is basic? Well – there’s no elevator, no luggage carts – no nothing. It’s lift and drag everything from the car to the condo. And we have 6 weeks worth of supplies – including stuff for 6 meals. It’s a lot of stuff.

But it’s Jackson – and the skiing is amazing. I’m excited.

Monday morning I’m up bright and early – Victor decided to work, I’m going to ski. Victor helps out by bringing all the skis and poles into the locker room – and promptly gets his Carbon Fiber Leki poles stolen. Well, probably just borrowed actually – whoever took his poles, left a pair of Leki poles (not the fancy ones), in their place. Bummer. But hey – these things happen.

I leave a sign at the Locker desk – maybe the ‘thief’ will notice – and get in my first day at Jackson. The ski trails are great – powder almost everywhere – and super easy skiing. But I have a problem. On what turns out to be my last run of the day – around 1:00 PM – I have a relatively bad fall on flat icey ground. I was going a bit fast, caught an edge – and oops – down for the count. My knee gets bent under me – and it hurts. Fortunately the skier behind me stops and helps me get untangled – but the damage is done. My knee wants no more of skiing – and besides – they are closing lifts due to high winds. I carefully ski down, and head home. I’ll be fine tomorrow.

Tuesday I wake up – my knee is still a bit achy – so I opt to stay in the condo and ice and heat it to get the ligment back in place. Not a bad plan – but I didn’t count on what happened Tuesday around 6:30 PM.

I’m watching TV and the lights flash – TV reboots – lights flash – TV reboots – and all seems fine.

But it wasn’t fine at Teton Village where the ski hill is located. 17 Huge Metal Power Poles are blown flat in a freak flash wind storm. They are guessing that the wind was up to 90 Mph for just a few seconds – long enough to completely down the poles. No powder. None.

We get up Wednesday AM to discover that the Ski Hill is closed until they can get power back – as is all of Teton Village. We’re staying in Jackson – and are completely uneffected – from here it looks great. But it’s not so hot in the hotels in Teton Village. They are sending their guests on to other lodging, and telling their employees to go home. And the ski hill is closed. Shut down. No power, no lifts, no grooming, no nothing!

We had bought 7 and 10 day ‘passes’ – which at first they said they would not be refunding – after all – with a pass we can return – but I just got told today that they have rethought that – and whatever days I don’t use – they will refund. Right now it looks like the Ski Hill might be reopening on Monday – which is pretty amazing actually. I’ll be lucky to get 3 days of skiing in – and Victor will be lucky to get two out of the 10 and 7 we’d expected. On Wednesday Feb 15, Alex and Rachel arrive – and we are so keen to see them we aren’t planning to ski. We shall take it easy and probably see the Wildlife Art Museum here – it’s reputed to be spectacular.

But that’s looking forward – meanwhile it’s Wednesday Feb 8th – the Ski hill is closed – and we’re sitting in Jackson. And it starts to rain. Guess what – rain on fresh snow is what they call a recipe for Avalanches – so now all the passes in and out of Jackson are closed. Teton Pass in particular is a no go – but even the ‘lower’ passes are blocked by Avalanches. The gal at the front desk here at Town Center had gone home to Idaho Tuesday night – and just got back to work on Saturday! She’s been stuck in Idaho because the passes were all closed.

What to do? Well – I play bridge one afternoon at the Senior Center, we have tickets to theatre for 3 nights, there’s another bridge game on Monday evening – and we opt to take a snow coach tour of Yellowstone.

We’d done a snowmobile tour of Yellowstone some years back and hated it – you can’t drive off the rutted road – so the snowmobile bounces and bangs you for hours on end. We figured a snow coach – heat bus with giant fat tires – would be fun.

It was underwhelming. I did like watching Old Faithful, and it’s pretty cool that they can predit when it will errupt with in 20 minutes – but you aren’t exactly close, and the sky was grey – so the pictures are – well – dull.

My favorite part of the entire 12 hour adventure was the 20 minutes we took to visit the Sapphire Pool. That was cool. Rest was a waste. We spent more time eating then seeing sights – had only an hour total to take pictures otherwise we were stuck in the coach with rain drops on the windows – so photos were yucky. And it was expensive. Bottom line – waste of money and time. My frustration was increased by the boorish behavoir of some of our fellow travelers. One gentleman in partcular decided to describe – in a very loud voice – all of the other trips he had taken. We got to hear about his 40′ fifth wheel, his career choices, his trips scuba diving, his home, his marriage – etc. etc. Twice I worked up the nerve to say – I can’t hear the guide – which would shut him down for a bit – but soon enough he’d be back at it.

So 12 hours trapped in a 12 seater bus with a boor, a guide who tried to talk over him, rain streaked windows, and little in the way of heat at my seat. (The heater did manager to melt the boot of one of my fellow travelers – so I guess it was on. Just lousy circulation.) It was such a relief to get out of the bus – even for a few minutes.

Oh well – at least I can definitely cross Yellowstone off my list of National Parks to visit.

Back to our ski hill – the latest news is that they have managed to get replacement wooden poles set up – and are predicting getting power back to Teton Village by tonight. The mountain is hoping to have skiing on Monday – and we will be there.

Today we walked the village – and bought a pair each of Yaktracks – things you attach to your shoes to walk on ice. They really work too! Tonight there’s a comedy show, tomorrow a talk on Grizzley bears – and then – finally – skiing again!

I can’t wait.

Signing off to make dinner – The Soup Lady.

London Scavenger Hunt – Oddities you must find!

I’ve been roaming London – or at least some parts of London for several weeks now – and have decided that my readers need a London Scavenger Hunt!

This is not a radical idea – there’s actually a game in London – the newest version is called “Mind of the Maker – a cryptic trail for 4 people”. They charge 60 pounds (that’s about $80 US) and you get a series of text messages that lead you arround London. Reading the fine print – you’ll walk about 3 miles – and it will take about 3-4 hours. I think it sounds awesome – but hardly 3 week old baby friendly! So here’s my quick and dirty version.

Find these in London:

1. Sleeping Policeman. These are omni-present and fairly easy to find. Just drive a bit fast on any of the London roads and soon or later you’ll be thrown skywards as you sail over a hump in the road. Some stretches have 4 or 5 between blocks. I guess when the speedlimit is 20 KPH – that’s around 15 MPH – you need to constantly be reminding folks – slow down!

2. The “Way Out”. What happened to old fashioned “Exit”. Why are Emergency Exits called – “Exits”, but non-emergency – run of the mill – you always go this way – exits called “Way Out”. Way Out of here – Way in to there… Not sure – but it’s pretty consistent. You won’t have trouble finding these. Start in any Tube (Underground) Station and look around.

3. “Guard my Parking Spot” – Parking is a challenge in London – and if you’ve ‘paid’ for a spot, you don’t want to arrive home to find some horrid person has usuped your space. So – how do you prevent this from happening? Well – here in London – they have posts that are positioned in the middle of the front of these ‘parking spots’. These posts are about 2.5′ high – made of metal, and about 4″ in diameter. What makes them interesting – besides how effectively they guard your spot – is how they ‘disappear’ when the owner arrives. I spotted at least 2 options. There’s a manual version – you stop your car, get out, unlock your post, fold it down into a nifty under the ground trench, get back into your car and then park. To leave, reverse the process. These ‘manual’ versions can be spotted by the fairly substancial locks they have on the sides. But there is also a remote controlled version. In this case, the parking spot owner presses a remote, the door to the trench opens, the post falls down into the trench, the door closes. Then the owner parks. Londoners are very very serious about guarding their parking spots!

4. Swans. And Canadian Geese. And Ducks. But mostly Swans. There are lots of Swans that call London home – and I’ve been told that officially they all belong to the Queen. If true – she’s not doing a wonderful job of feeding them – but it works out. I’ve spotted kids and adults feeding swans – which generally results in a avairy feeding frenzy. The London Pigeon population is clearly growing – and they target the Swans as feeding companions. Feed me, feed my Pigeon.

5. Odd Clothing Sightings. I mention this in another blog – but really – it’s worth listing on a scavenger hunt list. Find 2 people dressed for opposite weather. Bet it won’t take long either. I’ve seen folks in Fur Coats followed by folks in Shorts more than once, kids will wear all manner of odd things – from fairy wings to pink Tutus. And the T-shirt collection on display is amazing. I’m wondering if anyone in London throws away anything remotely wearable. Speaking of which – there is an awesome 2nd hand market in Deptford on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. We stumbled upon it by accident – but it’s written up everywhere. It’s a hoot – and you can probably spot anything your heart desires there.

6. Brellies. Londoners love their umbrellas – and sport them constantly – regardless of the actual weather. Be prepared for rain seems to be a universal motto – that basically all Brits follow without fail. There are big ones, folding ones, silly ones, standard ones – you name it – there’s an umbrella walking someplace close by – just keep your eyes peeled.

7. Bobbie Hats (the dome shaped variety please). Amazingly – these have not gone out of fashion! While phone booths are becoming hard to find (who besides Dr. Who uses one anyway), Bobbie hats aren’t that hard to spot. I asked for the rules on Bobbie hats – from a friendly Bobbie on my way to the Southwark Fireworks – and he explained that they are only worn by foot patrol officiers – as they are uncomfortable in a car! And they are intended to prevent ‘bad guys’ from bopping the Bobbies on the head. I suspect that they are also protection from horse riding, sword wielding fighters… but that seems to be perhaps a bit too historic.

8. Grenadier wearing a Bear Skin – on his HEAD. My husband owns several of these hats – tall, and terribly imposing, they are the standard head gear of the Grenadier’s of the British Foot. I’d start in front of the royal palace actually – but I actually spotted one at Picadilly Circus. The Coldstream Guards famously wear these when on parade duty.

9. Buskers. Not as many of these around as I’d kinda hoped actually – but again a good starting place is Picadilly. There are also ‘musical’ buskers in the tubes – particularly in the sections with long walks – check out Green Park when you change from the Jubliee to the Picadilly line.

10. (A good Scavenger hunt always has at least 10 things to find) – a ‘local’ with a crazy name. This should be a ‘walk in the park’ objective – there are pubs on every corner – and apparently they all have crazy names! I can never walk past the St. James of Bermonsey without thinking of going to church – and I really can’t understand what the owners of the “Jolly Taxpayer”, the “Blind Pig” and most famously the “Hung, Drawn, and Quartered” were thinking. But famously crazy isn’t really important – it’s what hits you as odd that satisfies this hunt objective.

Signing off to go look for more ‘oddities’ in London – The Soup Lady.

Doing Air BnB in London – the great and the not so good…

Why am I doing Air BnB in London you ask? My daughter lives here, she has a 2 bedroom flat – surely that should be enough. But I want to give my daughter, her fairly new husband and my adorable new grand-daughter space on their own – so I opted to stay near, but not too near.

Sharing space with family is a challenge – but surely sharing space with strangers would be easier.

And in many ways it has been. I’m on my 2nd Air BnB location – out of 5 or so that I thought looked acceptable, and I’ve been very pleased. What I haven’t been pleased about is how challenging it’s been to get an Air BnB booking.

Lets look at the process.

In theory, you go on line, you zoom in on the area you’d like to be in, you check out the options. There are pictures (often so amazingly amature that you wonder if they even look at their pictures before they post them), there are glowing descriptions (everyone loves their home of course), and there are reviews. And prices.

First off – the prices. What you see when you zoom in are prices that are never in fact what you will pay when you book. Never. For some reason, known I’m guessing only to the folks at Air BnB – they don’t include their fee in the displayed prices. And even so – the prices are often off. $50 Canadian a night on the dispaly turns into $55 Canadian a night when I try to book. And then the Air BnB fee is added on top. Why? It’s clearly a mystery, but it is consistent. Every single place I tried to book changed price between the initial look – and the actually – book me now phase.

2nd – the reviews. I know folks are desperate to get reviews – and if you are new – your options are limited. So often I suspect you ask your friends to book a stay – and for the price of the Air BnB fee – they get to ‘review’ you. Bottom line – beware the glowing reviews – particularly if there is only 1 or 2. These might not be real. It’s really a process of reading between the lines. If the reviewer has no ‘creds’, and the reviewed has no ‘creds’ – be careful.

But more interesting are the honest reviews – and the owner responses. One place I considered seriously mentioned that there were animals, and a tolerance for pets would be appreciated. I’m Ok with pets. So I read on. One of the reviews (very critical) mentions cat poop everywhere, urine everywhere, and continued with a complaint that the owner was exceeding slow to return her money. The owner response was typical – she had warned the guest that her cat was suffering kidney problems and wasn’t in control of her bowels. Wasn’t that enough?

Nope Hon, I don’t want to suffer thru your cat’s bowel issues. Even with a warning – I’m not that much of an animal lover. Take your unit out of Air BnB until the issue is cleared up. What were you thinking…

Ok – so lets say you’ve found a place that looks good, it’s in the right location, the reviews are ok, and the price hasn’t increased too much between first look and booking – so you click the ‘book now’ button. Only to find out from Air BnB that you don’t actually have a booking. The owner has 24 hours to respond.

Ok – so you wait. And in my case – twice – you wait and wait and wait. Do these people not check their email? Aren’t the messages Air BnB sends sufficient? Do they not look at their messages? Aren’t they serious about being hosts? What kind of hosts can they be if they just don’t respond to an inquiry. I’m trying to give you money – at least give me the respect of a response!

And I have to tell you – saying that you’ve been on holiday and are sorry it took so long doesn’t really make me feel that much better. All I can imagine is that you’ll ignore my emails as we get closer to my arrival date. Folks – if you are reading this and doring Air BnB – reply to inquiries. I beg of you.

My first stay was pretty painless – I was looking for a fairly long stay, the price was right, the location acceptable – they got back to me quickly – so I booked. Place was exactly as described – what wasn’t described were a couple of relatively small issues. The one bathroom, which we shared, had mold and water problems – which I was willing to ignore – and despite being in a large apartment building – the flat was on 4 floors! Enter on floor one, down a 1/2 flight to the living/dining/kitchen, down 1/2 flight to the bathroom, down 1/2 flight to the two oh so tiny bedrooms. Another oddity – they have lived here for 2 years – but there are empty picture hanging things on the walls. Everywhere. Did they take off art they thought would offend me? I asked – nope – they just hadn’t gotten around to putting pictures up on the hooks left by the last owner. Guess plaster and paint was too complicated. But I survived – and was willing to rebook for another 2 weeks. But after saying OK, I got an email saying that the host’s uncle had decided to visit – no room at the Inn for me.

Back to the Air BnB drawing board. I found several options that would work – and since I don’t want to double book – I pick one – and say book now. I wait the 24 hours – no response. So I go looking for another option. Not quite as convenient – but maybe they will answer. I say book now. Air BnB says – hey – you’ve tried to book two places for the same dates – it’s a risk that you shouldn’t be taking – so cancel one. So I cancel the first one.

And of course – the first one – who clearly reads cancelations faster than bookings emails me back – oh, I’m so sorry – blah, blah. So I say – You were my first choice for location – will you accept my booking – because if you will, I’ll cancel my 2nd choice (who is also ignoring my email) and book with you. Two attempts to get clarity later – and the answer is no. I’ve decided I need my space to work in for that period. Now I’m wondering – was it something I said? Because if I go back on Air BnB he’s still showing availability. I have 5 star ratings as a guest – so I don’t think that was the issue. Maybe it’s my desire for no smoking…?

Anyway – you don’t want me, I don’t want you! So I wait for the other guy. It says on the listing that smoking is permited, and I’m very non-smoking. So I ask about that. Turns out it’s a shared flat – all the bedrooms are occupied by guests (the host lives elsewhere), and one of the guests is a smoker. So Nope – that one isn’t going to work out either.

Back to the drawing board.

There is one unit that is located according to Air BnB in the middle of a waterway. Which is odd. But the waterway is close to my kids – so I decide to give them a try.

Turns out they are literally 50 yards from my kids – they just don’t know how to use the locate me option on Air BnB. That’s cool. And they sound good. I share a bathroom (bummerj), but I have my own bedroom – they both work all day so I have my run of the flat, the location is perfect – and they are non-smoking. No reviews – but I’m getting a bit panicy and no reviews is better than fake reviews – So I book it.

Some back and forth about how to get me the key ensues. They are firm about my coming only after 6:00 PM – they work – and they want to meet me. They won’t leave the key with the conceige, they won’t give the key to my daughter – they need to see me. I’m thinking new to Air BnB – and sure enough – I discover I’m their first guest.

But they are doing most things right. I’m actually impressed. They give me a shelf in the fridge for my use, they show me where the plates are kept (oddly – this is across from the kitchen in a side board thing), and they offer me a drink when I arrive. My room is lovingly furnished Ikea style – but there’s art, and a desk, and a nice double bed. I’d have loved a warmer blanket (I might ask for that tonight), and it would be nice if the pillows were firmer – and I have no where to hang my towel when it is damp – but otherwise – I’m happy.

And they seem quite friendly. It’s a BOYB (bring your own breakfast) place – but they supply coffee and milk, I can help myself to sugar, and there’s even Rice Krispies if I’m starving. It works.

So all is well that ends well. I didn’t get my first or 2nd choice – but I think that was for the best. This place is great.

Signing off to go hang out with Abigail Louise… The Soup Lady

The London Theatre Scene – So many options it’s amazing…

I can’t help being impressed with the London Theatre Scene. It feels a bit like NYC – so many options at so many different price ranges it’s almost too confusing for words. And it’s all in English – sort of.

Which is one of our first problems. We’re here for 5 nights, so 4 nights of theatre seems reasonable – but there are some issues.

1. Figuring out what to see.
2. Figuring out how to get tickets
3. Figuring out where the Theatre is
4. Figuring out how to eat dinner before a 7:30 show

Trust me on this – #4 on the list is pretty important. You can’t enjoy a play if your stomach is growling, and for some reason we’ve been getting a late start – aka late breakfast – every day. So lunch is delayed – we’re not hungry at 6:00 – and finding something quick to tide us over is a challenge. In the end, we decided to eat after the Theatre – which worked successfully twice. Hurrah for small sucesses.

But – ignoring our stomachs – lets just stay calm and carry on shall we?

Picking a show is a huge part of the fun, and there are dozens and doznes of options. There are the big shows – long running American Shows like “The Book of Mormon”, “Wicked”, “Mamma Mia”, and the like. There are popular NYC transplants like “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night” and there are chestnuts – “King Lear” or “Amadaus”. There are ‘big’ plays I’ve never heard of – “The Libertine”, “The Woman in Black”, “The Ghost or Who is Sylvia?”.

And then there’s the National Theatre who has three stages – and we found out – discount ‘day of’ tickets. Playing there was “Amadaus”, “The Red Barn”, and “A Pacifist’s Guide to the war on Cancer”. But the season constantly changes so you must check when you arrive in London. Coming up there’s Hedda Gabler, Peter Pan, Romeo and Juliet, and Love. They also have several ‘West End’ theatres which keep their longer running productions – like “The Curious Incident of the Dog” – which is on it’s 4th staff change!

In the tube and on the buses – you just see ads for the ‘big’ guys – and that spoke strongly of which shows are money makers, vs which shows are more about theatre.

Plus there are smaller theatres – ones harder to find out what is going on at because of the number of hits you get for the bigger shows. Time Out in London is an excellent fast resource (and it you sign up – they sometimes email you interesting discount offers). There’s also a great “off the West End” site to check out – – which bills itself as the ‘all em-bracing site for independant Theatre’. They cover an amazing 124 different theatres – none of them in the “West End”. Included on their list is the Old and New Vic, and the Globe. Again – sign up to be kept in the loop by email.

Getting tickets – ah ha – there’s the rub. The worst place in the world to get tickets is thru an on-line reseller. They are often priced much higher than the theatre originally asked – and the ‘time is running out’ pressure can lead to bad decisions. The best place to get tickets – in my opinion – is from the theatre box office – or at worst the Theatre’s website. Those are priced as the Theatre thought they should be – and represent a bargain over the re-sellers. Some theatres even release a block of inexpensive tickets on the day of the show to clear up any empty chairs. We ended up having to use wholesalers for 2 of our 4 choices – only for the National Theatre Performance of “Amadeus” and “The Curious … Dog” could I buy tickes from the theatre itself.

Now – back to our 4 actual choices.

Unlike the Intrepid Traveler, my husband wants to go to theatre that has been pre-approved to be worth his time. And that means either a story he knows, or a story that appeals to him on some inate level, or something that has won numberous awards.

This explains our picks:

The Libertine – a “West End” production in elaborate period costumes that tells the story of a morally questionable young gentleman and his ‘reward’. Given that the play is quite old, we expected that the moral judgement would be quite harsh. But our issue with this play was one of accents. Our British isn’t that good apparently.

The Book of Morman – another “West End” production – winner of countless awards – which after have seen the show makes me wonder about who exactly hands out these things. Maybe it was a bad year for competition. My advice, ignore the marketing – avoid the Musical.

Amadeus – an absolute stunner of a production with a live orchestra that wanders the stage – ‘acting’ as well as playing glorious music. But the killer part belonged to the young man (Luciani Msamati) in the role of the vicious Salieri. Words simply can’t describe how outstanding his performance was. Breath-takingly glorious production with an outstanding cast in a fabulous theatre. What’s not to love.

The Curious Case of the Dog in the Night – I’d seen this in NYC with my sisters – and loved it. The computer and light effects are stunners – and I found the story wormed its way into my heart. At first the plight of the young man seems outside of our experience – but he gradually becomes more clear, more open, more worthy of our regard. It’s a strong play that can work that magic on an audience – and while not the stunner of Amadeus – this was a good runner up for best night out in London.

It turns out finding the Theatres was super easy – The Map option on my iphone even shows me the fastest transit option – including locating the bus stops! We only got confused when we arrived at Piccadilly Circus – which has become a Circus of epic proportions. Thank goodness for Ripley’s Believe it or Not – it’s such an obvious landmark you can easily use it to rotate your body and map to find the Theatres.

So there you have it – what we saw – and how we found out was was playing – and what we thought of the plays we saw.

My advice – try the website for listings, and call the theatre directly. And stay away from those mega shows. They are on their 3rd and 4th castings – the original performers are long gone – and even the crew is getting a bit tired. Do new I say!

Signing off to check on more theatre options here in London – The Soup Lady

H10 London – Mutterings about 4-5 Star Hotels

When is a 4 star hotel just not 4 stars?

What makes a hotel 4 stars anyway? I think that’s an interesting question. It’s easy to define 5 stars – over the top everything. But 4 stars – clearly you are almost there – just not quite. And from that perspective – maybe the H10 is a 4 star hotel.

But even if I start from the perspective that the H10 London close by Waterloo station deserves it’s 4 star rating – the next question to ask is – Why was I so disappointed in my recent 6 night stay?

And I was very disapointed. You don’t start a stay in a hotel disapointed – you start with high hopes and high expectations. And I admit to have had high hopes. We’d found this treasure on HotWire – and perhaps too good to be true sums up what went so very wrong. But I digress from my story – let’s start with checking in.

Our trip by Uber from London City Airport was long, but uneventful. The driver avoided all the congested areas of London – and for London, we made good time. We opted for the cab because we had so much luggage – in hindsight – using the wonderful London Public Transit system wouldn’t have been that hard – but that’s water under London Bridge.

Our arrival was painless, but there was a short line-up at the check-in counter, so we quietly waited our turn. A giant bowl with ice and drink pitchers caught our eye – wonderful – orange juice, cranberry juice, and champagne – just the trick after a long cab ride. And clearly what you’d expect from 4-5 star hotel. Perfect.

Disappointingly for 4 stars – no one at the front desk acknowledged our arrival – no quick glance to say hi – be with you in an instant – and no mention – help yourself to a drink. But they were clearly busy. So we helped ourselves and waited.

And waited.

Eventually – it was our turn – and only then did the front desk folks appear to notice us. Well – I guess it’s British decorum – although most of the staff was clearly not originally british. I’m guessing Spanish – based partly on the information about the hotel chain that was on display and partly on the accents and deamenor.

We’re given room 314. Were we demoted because we were ‘Hotwire’ guests – and thus were getting a deal? Maybe. But having what turned out to be the worst room in the hotel wasn’t completely unexpected – just disappointing. I admit that our nightly rate wasn’t insane by London Standards, but it would have rated a 5 star in Montreal or Chicago. And it was much higher than what we paid to stay in the 5 Star Trump Towers several weeks earlier. Plus – we were there for 6 nights – that’s a nice stay for any hotel! And I know the hotel offers tour bus deals because we saw several arrive and depart during our stay. So maybe it was just our travel stained look.

Back to check-in. Little in the way of information was given by the check-in crew. They were busy, working as fast as they could – so taking time to say hi, did you have a nice trip, I’m so glad you choose to stay here – just wasn’t happening. But they did impart the critical things – breakfast (not included in your room rate) is from 8-10 on the 2nd floor, and the WIFI password is written on your room key folder.

We go to the 3rd floor – to a room that is a sauna. Someone has turned the heat up to the max, and it’s hard to breathe. And rather alarmingly for a 4 star hotel, there’s a small but very obvious hole in the flooring right as you enter. Clearly what looks like tile that looks like wood is only thin laminte. But the immediate issue is the heat.

How do you turn down the heat? There’s a control on the wall – but we can’t figure out how to make it adjust downward. So we solve the problem by just opening the ‘window’. It’s actually a door sized opening, but blocked so it only opens about 2″ wide – too small a space for someone to get in. Whew – we’re just barely above ground level – so I’m happy to see that.

We also try calling the front desk – but no one answers the phone. Oh well – we know the front desk is busy – and leaving the window open for a while will do the trick. We did ask when next we walked past the front desk – only to be informed that all the thermostats were permanently set at 18 degrees – and the staff couldn’t change them. Hmm – really – 4-5 stars? That’s odd.

But back to the hotel and room 314. This is a very modern looking hotel – grey and white and black – and the room is exactly that. There is some interesting art, and the sliding glass door to the tiny bathroom is attractive. There’s no chest of drawers – we’ve learned the hard way that often hotels in Europe don’t provide these – instead there is a 2 sided closet. Hanging space with those horrid guest unfriendly hangers you can’t steal on one side, and widely spaced shelves on the other. The one shelf at eye level is completely taken up by a hotel safe, but we unpack successfuly. My husband’s clothes are living at knee level – but at least he has a shelf. The closet also offers up an umbrella (20 GBP if you take it), an iron, and a blow dryer. No cozy bathrobes, no slippers – none of the expected 4-5 star amenities – but at least we have the basics.

The bathroom has the smallest sink I’ve ever seen in a hotel room, but a lovely shower. Surprisingly – there are very few towels. 1 large bath towel, 1 hand towel, 1 face cloth. I’m guessing that this tiny room is generally offered as a single. But there are nice amenities in the bathroom – even a tooth brush and a shaver. No conditioner though – and I do like having conditioner. (When I compained on line about the lack of towels, the management response was predictable – I just had to ask. Which misses the point. I’m the guest – why should I have to ask for sufficient towels. This room is a double – shouldn’t the default be double towels?)

A desk squeezed in along a wall with a Fancy coffee machine, some ginger cookies, and a fair sized fridge with purchasable goodies rounds out the options in our room.

And there is a door to the adjoining room. This will prove the source of many problems later.

It’s not the nicest hotel room I’ve been in – but I know it’s London – and things here tend to be smaller and more expensive. I’m fine. The bed looks great – and we are not planning on spending hours in the room in any case.

I would have liked a hotel with some amenities – a pool, a hot tub, things like that – but in London – not really options. There is something below ground – I never ventured there to check it out – and later in our stay we found the 8th floor Sky Terrace – an outdoor space with an amazing view of the London Sky Line, and a handy bar. I think the below ground options might have been an exercise room and a Spa, but there was no mention of that during check-in – and if there was a guide to the hotel in my room – I never found it.

We opt to do the normal – arrive late and exhausted – things you do in a new city – we go by tube to visit my daughter and her new baby! Seriously – that’s why we’d come to London – and it was great. Our location is very nice – there’s a bus stop right out the door – and the major Waterloo station about a 10 minute walk away. Plus there are a variety of shops on the streets nearby. Lots of options and lots to explore in the morning. Location is perfect. So despite my minor issues with the room – I’m again having high hopes.

The next day we awake to the smell of bacon cooking. We’re right above the hotel kitchen, and with the window still open, it’s clearly time for breakfast. So we opt to check it out. There’s a buffet going on – plus an a la carte menu. Nowhere on the menu is the price for the buffet listed, and when I ask the gentleman who seated us – I get no response. He’s only interested in our room number. (ok – not 4 star here) I check out the prices on the a la carte menu – high for breakfast, but not insane – and ask again about the price of the buffet. Our waiter doesn’t know – so I ask again at the front desk. It’s 20 GBP. That’s about $30 US. Per Person. Nope – not doing that. So I eat a la carte while my huband has only coffee. They try to charge us for the buffet, we insist we didn’t have it – they correct the bill.

That’s enough for the hotel restaurant – I’ll eat elsewhere tomorrow.

As we leave – our hopes go back up! They have put out a tray of tiny dry pasteries and pitchers of OJ and Cranberry juice for folks to enjoy. That’s nice. And on the way out – the big bowl with iced juices is sitting out – so my husband gets a glass of 1/2 OJ, 1/2 Cranberry juice and annouces – delicous. That’s 4-5 stars. No free coffee – but I’m quite happy with the lovely touch of free juice!

We spend the day sightseeing – and come back to change for dinner. The maid has made our bed – but forgotten a pillow under the sheets. The bed looks hugely lumpy. How odd. And there are still very limited towels, so I guess news hasn’t gotten to housekeeping that there are 2 guests in this room. But the temperature is fine (the window is still open), and all is good.

No issues on night 2/day 3 – it’s night 3 when our problems really start.

When we return to the room on night 3 – we hear the guests in the next room checking out the adjoining door. They have opened it on their side, and can’t seem to figure out where it goes. There is loud discussion as to it’s purpose – but eventually they settle down and go to bed. We can’t tell from our side, but I suspect that they left the adjoining door ajar on their side – because the next morning at 5:40 AM we are rudely awakened by the sounds of someone on their side of the wall getting seriously ill. This goes on for almost an hour – eventually stopping at 6:35 by the clock on our bedside table. We go back to sleep finally – planning to let the hotel know at a more normal time.

When I go downstairs to report on the issue – the young man at the front desk responses with a very disbelieving ‘I’m sorry’ – and says – ‘We’ll check it out’. What – I’m telling you that we spent an hour listening to another guest vomit and you can only say I’m sorry. Is this my fault? Are you a 1 star hotel that caters to folks that get drunk and vomit normally? I’m not pleased. My husband helps himself to a glass of OJ and Cranberry juice – but I’m too upset. We walk out – and I turn around and walk back in to ask to speak to the manager. Another young man appears – listens to the story – and says – I’ll check it out. What exactly are you going to check out? Are you going to see if there are signs of vomit on the floor? Do you think I made up the story? What kind of construction allows for walls that thin?

I’m clearly upset – but we have plans for the day – and my husband steers me away from the ‘manager’ and out the front door. It is what it is.

Our plans for the day include some sight-seeing, and I’m going to be helping my daughter. We decide to meet at the theatre later that night – and when I arrive at the theatre (read my West End Blog), my husband explains that the manager had left a very nice note – appologizing for the problem, and offering us either a free breakfast or a room change. We clearly want a room change – I’m tired of smelling breakfast, and I don’t want to risk another paper wall experience. So as soon as we get back to the hotel after the theatre – we ask to change rooms.

The manager’s note has give me hope that this is a 4-5 star hotel – but our next experience at the front desk dashes it yet again. We hand the note to the unsmiling, very ‘unbusy’ clerk, who has clearly been warned to expect us. They are moving us to the 8th floor – an ‘upgrade’. She suggests that we go upstairs, pack our bags, take our bags to the 8th floor, then leave one of us on the 8th floor with the luggage and send the other one back to the front desk to hand over the old keys and get the new ones.

I’m stunned – again. Really. This is how guests are moved between rooms. Is she so busy she can’t bring the key to us? Why doesn’t she give us the new key and we’ll bring back the old ones when we finish the move? Oh no – they can’t do that is the response.

At this point the security guard (he’s not a doorman for sure – he’s sitting at the conceirge desk, but it’s way too late for him to be the conceirge) interruts to suggest that he will bring us the new key and help us move the bags. Just call down when you are packed.

That’s much better – but why didn’t the official front desk clerk think of this. What kind of training does this hotel give their staff about customer service that she thinks her suggestion makes sense? It’s a mystery. My husband drowns his sorrows with another glass of OJ and Cranberry juice – such a nice touch – and we head up stairs.

We make the move with no issues – and the new room is a definite improvement. It’s at a decent temperature from the start, there’s no adjoining door, and it’s a bit larger. Now we can slide past each other between the end of the bed and the desk, and the bathroom has a tub with a shower.

We settle in – and I’m feeling better about the hotel again.

Day 4 passes without an issue – and we even have a pleasant night. Whew – I’m back to feeling better about our selection.

Day 5 dawns like most days in London – a bit overcast and grey. I stop in on the 2nd floor to get a bit of OJ – but my husband prefers the iced OJ that is kept by the front desk. He goes to help himself – which he’s been doing regularly since we checked in – to be told – I’m sorry sir – that’s only for guests checking in.

Nice 4-5 star touch. We keep iced OJ, Cranberry juice and in the evenings a bottle of Sparkling wine visible to all guests – but we only allow checking-in guests to have some. If that’s the rule – I’m guessing a strange cost cutting measure since they provide exactly the same stuff on the first floor from 8-10 AM – then don’t make it visible to all guests. Put the bowl on the far side of reception – keep it in the closed off ‘office’ space, hide it under the counter. But if you’ve opted to make it highly visible – if a guest takes some – for goodness sake – don’t tell them to stop. That’s just plain mean.

I’ve stayed in many 4-5 star hotels that handed out free bottles of water to guests every time they passed the reception desk, I’ve had hotels at this level keep fresh fruit bowls available to all guests, I’ve stayed in hotels that provided afternoon fresh cookies to all guests, I’ve even stayed in hotels that gave guests (all guests) a ‘travel’ bag of goodies for the day – but I’ve never – until now – had a hotel rated 4-5 stars and costing at that level – tell me that something – anything – was for checking in guests only.

So – is the H10 London at Waterloo a 4 star hotel? Does Customer Service make or break a rating? Who is responsible for Customer Service Attitude. Should folks at reception make it their job to recognize guests staying more than one night and smile at them? Which guest contributes more to the bottom line – a one night stand, or someone who stays a week? Should front desk clerks discriminate between guests by price paid – folks who book thru the hotel website getting ‘better’ treatment then those using 3rd party booking engines like Expedia, Air BnB, or HotWire? What services can guests expect from 4-5 star hotels – should they be held to a higher standard than a 2-3 star hotel? Is great/bad Customer Service the fault/goal/responsibility of upper management?

And where does construction figure into the equation. If you look 4-5 star on the surface, but have construction issues like paper thin walls and tiny tiny rooms – can guests complain?

I’d argue that I’m not that fussy. I’ll forgive most lapses if I get a smile and a greeting. Recognize me as an individual, know that I’m a person too, live up to my expectations of basic friendly service – and I’m fine. I won’t hold construction issues against you. Don’t act like I’m in your way, that I made your day tough, that I’m making up problems, that I’m abusing the system by having a bit of OJ. I expect to be treated as a guest in your home. In today’s world of social media – you can expect me to publically call you out on your mistakes – so don’t make them! Everyone has bad days – but if you are on the front line in a Customer Service position – tough it out. Don’t ruin someone else’s day because yours is a bit rocky.

I won’t be going back to an H10 Hotel again for a while. And I’m not signing up for their club card either. And my ‘note’ to the manager has been ignored. Too bad – it had such great potential.

Signing off to find another hotel – The Soup Lady.

Gentrification in London – Surrey Quays in particular

We all know about Gentrification – when old neighborhoods become cool places to live – and people with money arrive and take over buildings, renovating them to make them acceptable living quarters – by their standards of course. I’ve read all about – but now that I’m staying ‘long term’ with my daughter – my perspective has changed.

Living in the area near Surrey Quays in London is about living in an area undergoing Gentrification while you watch. The old neighborhoods are still holding on – but just barely. There are betting storefronts, restaurants that have clearly seen better times, and a wonderful brick building with a huge plaque stating that this model low-cost housing was built in 1916 by the good will of William Richard Sutton. In 1984, he left 1,500,000 pounds – a fortune at that time – for the establishment of low-cost housing for the poor of London, one of which is located right where my daughter has just bought a brand new flat.

So one of the issues – do you tear these down to make more of the much more modern flats like my daughter lives in – or do you recognize the heritage value of these old fashioned – but extremely well-built buildings and leave them standing? They have survived two world wars – it seems wrong to trash them because they have no elevators, the flats are small, and the layout hardly the modern style that today’s kids require.

But then – I’ve read that in the 50’s average houses were under 1000 sq feet – today they are over 2000! (don’t believe – check it out here:

So while the Sutton flats are hardly palaces – should they be replaced just because someone could make more money? Tis of course a question that I’m not going to answer. Interesting one though.

Back to the neighborhood – there’s a ‘high street’ – that’s a main shopping street – and parts of it are quite nice, a lovely fish and chips shop, a coffee shop, two DIY shops that never have what I need, and a local pub. But there is also an area of big box stores – a huge grocery store, a sporting goods store that runs on for several thousand square feet – and of course the requiste huge parking lots. I think it’s the parking lots that seem wrong somehow. Flat expanses of what was once grass – now paved and mostly empty.

Her area is also home to Canada Waters – an extremely upscale section of the city that is built over the tube stop. Now there they have elevators. And surprisingly – or I guess actually not surprisingly – we are hard by the Thames. My daughter took me into the Mayflower – an absolutely lovely pub with great beer – that is actually on the Thames! It overlooks the location of the wharf from where the Mayflower was launched.

Best of all – the Simplicity Cafe and Restaurant –

We’ve eaten there twice – and it’s a wonderful example of a tiny destination restaurant in a crazy location. You aren’t going to wander in off the street – you either have read about it – or you don’t go. My daughter had walked by many times, and since they were open on Monday night – when many restaurants are closed – decided to take me there on my first night in London. It was perfect. Maybe 40 seats total – the chef behind the helm of the ship – and portions so large that even though we’d ordered one to share – we thought they had brought us two!

Again – Gentrification at work. This isn’t a restaurant for the working class – as Londoner’s would define that term. They serve fabulously fussy food – hardly what a guy looking for a quick dinner of peri-peri chicken or fish and chips would enjoy – but the increasing amount of Gentrification in the area means that there are more and more DINKS (Double Income No Kids) family – and they can definitely afford the splurge.

Speaking of kids – I’ve never seen so many fabulously fancy carriages in my life as I have since I arrived in London. Not just in the Surrey Quays area either – in fact I think I’ve seen fewer there. But at some of the markets – the in thing is to take your 2 kids in a huge stroller – one standing in back, the other sitting in front – or in one alternative – one sitting in front and the infant hidden from view tucked into the back basket – for a market stroll.

My daughter is conflicted about the Gentrification. On one hand – she loves areas that have already been gentrified, lots of nicer restaurants, cute shops, cobblestone streets and big sidwalks. On the other hand – gentrification means the loss of the lower cost options – no DIY shops, no inexpensive fast food options, no Thai Box take-aways with one chef and his wife as cashier. You win some and lose some with Gentrification.

My wonder – I wonder where the people who are displaced by people like my daughter go to live? Will they sell, take their money and run to the country? Will they move further away from the city – trading commuting time for living costs? Or will they move in with their friends – creating even more crowded conditions in tiny flats that are valued at far more than they can afford in taxes.

At the heart of my daughter’s area is the real prize – the huge park called “Southwark”. It’s huge – and her daily walking commute to the Arch of Crown & Queue ( takes her (and me) straight thru it. I love that part of my “commute”. I get to enjoy a deep refreshing breathe of green grass and old trees between sidewalks and street crossings.

How do I feel about all this?

I’m glad my daughter lives in a place she loves, and I’m really really glad she has an elevator in her building. And I’m very pleased that they carefully bought a flat that has a guarenteed view. And her location couldn’t be better – there’s a smallish, but well stocked, grocery store about 50 feet from her front door, a tube stop a 10 minute walk away – and the park is under a 10 minute walk as well. I love walking her current ‘high street’ – I find the mix of classes fun to see.

But will this last?

The presence of the big box stores with their huge parking lots is an eyesore – and I’m sorry they are there. And the loss of the ‘working class’ will change the feeling of the area.

Signing off to take a walk in Sutton Courtenay. I hear the area near the Thames is awesome.

The Soup Lady

There are foxes living in London

And almost no stray cats. Think these might be related? I certainly do!

Every morning for the last 14 days, I’ve been walking from my daughter’s flat to the Arch where Crown & Queue is based – and almost every morning I’ve seen at least one fox.

And these aren’t the shy, hard to spot foxes that I’m used to seeing in Vermont. These very smart, very fast, very agile animals think they rule their spaces – and they show off their ownership of their domain by running directly across the road right in front of my eyes.

A quick google search reveals that I’m not alone in noticing the foxes – according to a British Research Group at the University of Bristol – the Mammal Research Unit – there are about 35,000 foxes that call London home. Also according to them – these foxes leave a brief but exciting life – their only enemies are cars of course – but cars and trucks definitely shorten their average life span.

But how did London become a city of foxes?

My guess is that as the city expanded – the outlying areas that had been fox habitat became part of the city – and the foxes adapted to their new neighbors – much the way raccoons have become part of the landscape in Canadian cities.

In any case – there are few stray cats – and lots of foxes.

I did find an article on the topic if you’d like to read more –
but the point of this blog is just to say – early morning walks in London are perfect for fox spotting – just walk quietly – and keep your eyes open.

Signing off
The Soup Lady