A Brief Diversion

Some of you, dear readers, have wondered where I have been this year. I am well, thanks for asking, but due to some pressing expenses related to my house, I had to repurpose my 2017 travel funds.

So, the beers and joviality I’ve been experiencing lately have all been at my favorite locals. For example, that’s a pint of Hitzig Frau Oktoberfest at The Mad Fox in Falls Church, Virginia, USA, a brewery and pub I highly recommend if you’re in the neighborhood.

I do have some plans for multiple trips overseas in 2018, so your continued interest in this blog will not go unrewarded. Among them will be a testosterone-laced WWII tour and a first-time tryout of AirBnB and other such rental systems.

Cheers and, in the immortal words of Rick Steves, “keep on traveling”.

The England 2016 Beer List

Yes, by popular demand, here’s this year’s England 2016 Beer List. Our guarantee: I had at least one 20-oz. pint of each and many of some.

  • Butcombe “Rare Breed” (3.8%)
  • Ascot Ales “Alligator Ale” (4.6%)
  • Timothy Taylor “Landlord” (4.3%)
  • Zero Degrees “Black Lager” (4.6%)
  • St. Austell “Tribute” (4.2%)
  • Sharp’s “Doom Bar” (4.0%)
  • Grafton “Blonde” (3.6%)
  • St. Austell “Proper Job” (4.5%)
  • St. Austell “Trelawny” (3.8%)
  • St. Austell “HSD” (5.0%)
  • Taylor Walker “1730” (4.0%)
  • Box Steam “Chuffin Ale” (4.0%)
  • Wychwood “Hobgoblin” (4.5%)
  • Three Daggers “Daggers Ale” (4.5%)
  • Morland “Old Golden Hen” (4.1%)
  • Fullers “HSB” (4.8%)
  • Wyland Smithy “White Horse” (4.4%)
  • Courage “Directors Ale” (4.8%)
  • Bad Company “Love Over Gold” (4.1%)
  • Marstons “Pedigree” (4.5%)
  • Shepard Neame “Spitfire” (4.5%)

One of my favorites Sharp’s Doom Bar.

Coda: Home Again and Trip Reflections

And now it’s Saturday morning and the day of my departure for home, and off we go to the airport. My rail pass is even good on the Heathrow Express, a special train between Paddington Station and the airport, which I highly recommend.

Virgin Atlantic’s huge lounge at Heathrow has got to be one of the best places to wait for a plane, with all its amenities and comfortable seating, and my flight home was pleasant and uneventful. I was a bit concerned about breaking my rule concerning flying on dates near September 11th but there was, obviously, no problem.

I think this trip, downsized compared to my usual longer Fall tour including Europe, was just what I needed. All logistics arrangements went perfectly, the few unknowns worked out well, and it was definitely less stressful and cheaper. As I get older and look ahead to retirement, I’m looking for different approaches to travel that will let me keep going on a fixed income, and this was a good experience in that regard.


Ah, England! It’s a beautiful country. If you’ve never been, I highly encourage you to go. Imagine someone asking you, as they did me, to talk a bit, because “I just love your American accent”! We don’t know at this point what upheavals Brexit may cause in the future but, come what may, I’m sure we and our dollars will always be welcome in the U.K. I look forward to returning next year and I hope you’ll join me then, right here on this site, too.

And now, this is also the post where I review all those little notes I make during the trip about this and that, and share them with you.


The lovely British people look like us, walk like us, and put their pants on one leg at at time, like us. But they’re just nicer. They’re more polite, more open, and less casual about civility and authority. Yes, I realize I’m not really exposed to the lower end of English society but nonetheless I think I can extrapolate my experiences into a comfortable sweeping generalization without fear. Why not? They also wear great scarves and hats. It’s always a pleasure to visit and talk with them.


Now, I’m not as ancient as the fellow here to the left, but I am sporting a lot of gray hairs these days. So, it was something of a surprise during this trip to find I was getting some age-related deference. For example, the young man who offered me his seat in a full subway carriage. When that happens, my first, internal reaction is “heck, no, I’m not old, but thanks”. Yet, there were a few times when it was really tempting to take advantage of that deference. I did take advantage of the fact that “senior discounts” in the UK usually begin at age 60 – so much more generous than in the U.S.


I like to collect paper bookmarks, usually from museums, during my trips. I actually use them while reading my library and other books and it’s fun to remember where and when I got them. I probably have 40 or 50 of them. So, it’s with a bit of dismay that I’m seeing what may be the start of their disappearance. I realize they’re probably not very profitable for museum shops, but I will miss them. It seems they’re being replaced by more expensive versions – magnetic bookmarks, leather-clad bookmarks, etched metal bookmarks. It’s a pity.

Up until a few years ago, whenever I returned to the U.S. I always had to go through the lengthy lines at Customs. At Dulles Airport, there’s even a double-whammy: long lines to get to a Customs agent before you get to Baggage Claim, and then another, usually shorter, line to get out into the airport proper after you have your bags.


But, I finally bit the bullet last year and signed up for the Global Entry program and, boy oh boy, is it great. After getting to the Customs area, I now get to skip the first long, snaking line entirely and go directly to a kiosk, where my passport and fingerprints are scanned, and in about 1 minute I’m through to Baggage Claim.

This trip, after I collected my bag, I was appalled to see a huge line extending back from the agents at the second review point! But, oh my, yes, there’s a special lane for Global Entry folks with no delay! I almost felt guilty walking right on past the 200-300 people waiting in the other lines. If you travel internationally, even occasionally, then check out the CPB Global Entry program. It includes TSA Pre-Check and is good for five years. You have to shell out $100 and go through their background check. Would you pay $20 a year to breeze through all those airport lines? I’m sure glad I did. Cheers!

Sunken Cities and Hidden Markets


After a good night’s sleep at the Hilton, I fortified myself with a good breakfast at their lavish buffet. There’s a lot to like about this full-on spread and it has a lot more emphasis on healthy stuff (fruits, yogurt, etc.) than your usual American breakfast buffet.

After grabbing my hat and trusty shoulder bag (complete with Tube map, water bottle, and umbrella), I waddled down to the Underground station below The Lawn. This is why I like this location: a fine hotel right at a major rail station and on top of a big subway station – it’s extremely convenient. I joined late morning commuters on the Bakerloo and Central lines for a ride to Holborne Station and the nearby British Museum.

For the first time ever, I had to go through a new security/screening tent before I could enter the museum. This is a reflection of heightened terrorism concerns, no doubt.

dscn6320I proceeded into the museum and the special “Sunken Cities” exhibition. More than a thousand years ago, the cities of Thonis-Heracleion and Canopus, which lay at the mouth of the Nile near Alexandria, disappeared into the surrounding waters of the Mediterranean.

Named after the Greek hero Heracles, Thonis-Heracleion was one of Egypt’s most important commercial centers for trade with the Mediterranean world and, with Canopus, was a major center for the worship of the Egyptian gods. The exhibition includes hundreds of objects retrieved from the water that covered the cities after earthquakes and subsumed land. It was big, it was nifty, it was not crowded, and it was air-conditioned! Afterwards, I wandered through a few of my favorite galleries and then I got out of there before the midday crowd surge.



Another Tube ride brought me to the southern foot of London Bridge and a short walk to one of my favorite pubs, The Market Porter. This fine establishment has 12 taps with rotating real ales and four with ciders. Its walls are covered with pump badges and, now, with a Mad Fox sticker, courtesy of yours truly. The pub was featured in the latest Harry Potter movie, and the surrounding streets in many other movies, including Bridget Jones Diary.

imageI have a favorite spot in the pub, a stool tucked into in a corner with a beer barrel for a table. From there I can survey the scene but avoid the mob, which gets pretty large by 12:30, and enjoy a few quality pints.

The Market Porter caters to the workers at the Borough Market across the street, and is therefore allowed to be open from 6-8:30am, which is most unusual. Then it reopens for 11am-11pm.

The pub’s food looks good as it passes by me, but I always save my appetite for something from the Borough Market itself.

Borough Market is a wholesale and retail food market and is one of the largest and oldest food markets in London. In 2014, it celebrated its 1,000th birthday.


It’s big, it’s crowded, and it has amazing food. Lunch here is a must, whether it’s a free-range chicken wrap or a pulled-pork slider or a cheese and fruit plate. In truth, the real challenge is to avoid stuffing yourself silly.

After a late lunch, I took my traditional stroll along the Thames River Walk, past the Globe Theatre, the Millennium Bridge, and the Tate Modern museum. This is a popular walk way and very pleasant on a nice day. It also helped me digest lunch. I proceeded along to, and walked across, the Blackfriars Bridge, to the north shore with occasional stops to peer over the side at the ornate piers of an abandoned (or is it future?) railway bridge. Right in the vicinity is the famous Blackfriars Pub, in case you want to see it. I was sated, though, and semi-comatose so, instead of enjoying the pub’s great Art Nouveau decorations, I entered the nearby Underground station and took the District and Bakerloo lines back to Paddington.

I bought a few small items from the Paddington Sainsbury store for dinner and retired to my suite to reflect, write up some notes, and pack for the next day’s Virgin Atlantic flight home from Heathrow.

In the City Along the Thames


London is a leading global city in the arts, commerce, education, entertainment, fashion, finance, healthcare, media, professional services, research and development, tourism, and transport. It’s been a major settlement for at least two millennia. It is, for me, a small but significant pleasure to know my way around some of it and to feel comfortable navigating its trains, bridges, and walks.

There was a time in a much more recent past history, mine, when the evenings in the wonderful and distant places I visited were spent relaxing, reflecting, and maybe enjoying a little night life. These days I find I must instead at night serve my new master, The Keyboard. That’s a commentary on Modern Life and on myself, of course. My evenings in foreign lands are now spent curating the day’s photos and writing this blog, my Facebook postings, and the travel sites I contribute reviews to, such as TripAdvisor and Booking.com. And the hotels and restaurants I frequent all want reviews and surveys completed, too. Honestly, it’s almost a second job. And that is why I’m actually finishing up these blog posts after having returned home.


My train from Oxford pulled smoothly into Paddington Station and it’s kind of fun to meander along, with no particular deadline, while those all around me rush to get to wherever. “The Lawn”, an area at the station enclosed in glass walls, is still under renovation after over a year, I see. The Hilton I’m staying at sits atop the station and the lounge looks out over The Lawn, hence my interest. My Hilton Honors Gold status was rewarded with an upgrade to a suite and a few other benefits and I quickly settled in, then I set out on foot to check out the surrounding Bayswater area to see what changes may have happened in the year since I was here last.

After a leisurely stroll around the neighborhood and down to Hyde Park, working up a bit of a sweat, I went back to Paddington and into the pub on top of The Lawn, “The Mad Bishop & Bear”, and enjoyed one of their tasty real ales.


This is also a Fuller’s pub and can be jammed at times with rail passengers, especially at the end of the day, but they always have a good range of beers and the staff is great.


After a bit of a rest, I grabbed my Oyster Card and took the Tube to Piccadilly Circus. I checked out two pubs in the area (no decent real ales) before heading for my pre-theatre dinner at Cafe Monica. I cannot say enough good things about this restaurant – the food was excellent, the service great, and the price reasonable. And it’s right next door to the Gielgud Theatre. If you’re in the Piccadilly Circus area, I heartily recommend this eatery.

The show I saw was the The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. As it happens, it’s now just opening its run in Washington, DC, and it’s a wonderfully “theatrical” show. Fantastic on all creative accounts with a great script and a fine English cast. I really enjoyed myself. The audience even managed to behave themselves as far as cell phone abuse went. If you’re looking for a great evening of theater, go see this show.

Piccadilly Circus at night is a show of its own, of course. It’s sort of the “Times Square” of London, all lit up and bustling with tourists, townies, and panhandlers. I was glad to move through it quickly and get back on the Tube for my return ride to Paddington.

A Warm Return to London

After a nice breakfast and a leisurely reading of the Times, I paid my bill at The Head of the River and took a cab to the Oxford train station. There I caught the next train for London’s Paddington Station.

britrailI have to say that my BritRail pass has really worked out well. It’s a “flexi-pass” which allows me to ride as many times as I like on any 8 days within a 30-day period. Just get on a train and go. It has been really easy to use (some conductors don’t even bother to read it – they just wave me on once they see the outer sleeve) and I really appreciate the 1st Class carriage, which is very rarely full. My estimate was that I saved about 40% by using the pass instead of buying individual tickets. This is a pass, as far as I know, that can only be purchased by folks living outside the U.K. and must be purchased before you depart for your trip.

While on the subject of trains, I always travel in the morning and I’ve encountered very few delays. However, it appears that delays and cancellations do occur later in the day. So, early travel is advised. I’ve also seen many more freight trains on this trip than ever before. Perhaps something has changed in their timing or their routing; it was kind of a surprise to see several of them roll right through passenger stations.

About 50 kids who looked like they were coming back from (or perhaps going to) a camping trip got on the train, too. They had all the equipment: backpacks, hiking boots, walking sticks, etc. and I felt a bit sorry for them as the standard class carriages were packed and some of them had to stand.

My trip was comfortable and I managed to get on an express train, so there were only a few stops. We stopped at Reading briefly and then on we went, past all the little towns and landmarks I came to know so well when I lived here. And finally we rolled into the old familiar Paddington Station train shed and waiting for me just a short walk away, the Hilton. The temperature is really very warm, in the mid-80s.

Tonight: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime at the Gielgud Theater.

A Pleasant Stay in Oxford

Oxford is one of my favorite places and I enjoy coming here whenever I can. My Great Western Railway train ride from Bath was fine except for a 30-minute delay, reportedly due to someone being hit by a train an hour up the line. My rail pass continues to serve me very well and, as trains become fuller nearer to London, its nice to be in 1st Class.

This year I decided to stay a night in Oxford and selected a pub with rooms called The Head of the River. It’s located at Folly Bridge on the Thames River, a few blocks south of town and it’s an idyllic location:




That’s the view from my window and that’s Folly Bridge. Yes, indeed, that’s not your typical “English” weather. It’s been fairly warm here this summer.

The pub is part of the Fullers brewery chain. There are 12 guest rooms and mine was #2 – The Sir Christopher Wren room. Wren was a successful 17th Century architect. Note the painted books and bookcases behind my bed.

The room was long on theme but short in many areas – the advertised air conditioning was non-existent (and it was warm here – 78F) and there was a shortage of places to put your stuff. In particular, the new wood-plank flooring creaked very loudly in several key places (apparently it was the same in some other rooms because I could hear their creaks in mine). The bathroom was modern, though, and it was a pleasant enough stay for 1 night.

The staff was very helpful, despite a few language problems, and seemed to be Eastern Europeans. They and the Russians have invested in the English hotel scene in a big way.

During Wednesday afternoon, I visited my favorite Oxford pubs and sights, including the replica Bridge of Sighs (built 1914), the Radcliffe Camera (1749), and Christ Church college (1532).

I whiled away the evening at the river’s edge, enjoying a few pints and the warm, clear air. Tomorrow, it’s on to London.


A Visit to the Roman Baths

Monday morning, bright and early, my taxi picked me up in Port Issac and deposited me back at the Bodmin Parkway rail station, where I caught the train for Bath. That’s pronounced “bah-th”. Once again, I had a lovely, comfortable train ride, enjoyed the rolling green hills and farms we passed, and arrived at my destination about three hours later.

I soon arrived at the local Hilton and found my room had a nice view of the River Avon. Bath is a small, easily-walkable town and I visited several excellent pubs in the afternoon.

The next day, I had a terrific visit to the Roman Baths. The restoration is very well done and the site is fascinating. The natural hot springs that fed the baths in Roman times are still percolating upward today.

A self-paced tour through the site goes down through four levels and features some great exhibits. An audio guide comes with the regular 15 pound entry fee and includes comments by curators, by imagined “you are there” Romans, and by one of my favorite authors, Bill Bryson (of “A Walk in the Woods” fame).

Like so many sites, the modern world has built up around it and that’s why the top terrace where you see people in the picture below is at street level. Everything else is on lower, excavated levels.

The original site had an arched roof over the entire area and, of course, the Christian church in the background came a lot later.

Here’s a scale model of the complex, with the cut-away arched roof over the pool scene in the previous above. Like most Roman baths complexes, it had hot and cold baths, hot and cold rooms, and massage rooms. It also included a temple complex dedicated to the goddess Sulis Minerva. Outside of imperial baths in Rome, this is the largest known bath in the world.

One really cool feature in the tour was at the bottom level. A metal catwalk lets you walk a few feet above the original complex paving stones and you can see the foundations of columns and an altar. Nearby video screens show a succession of views, starting with what you see now and slowly removing the modern features and replacing them with the ancient ones. It’s very well done and has great impact given that you’re standing in the very spot.

Despite the similarity to my “bed head” when I wake in the morning, this is actually a Gorgon carving, unearthed as part of the excavation, that stared down from the temple entrance.

Of course,the whole place was plumbed with lead pipes and we know that’s not good. However, this is a really well-organized historic site and I highly recommend it for anyone who visits Bath.

After a leisurely lunch, I strolled and then took a nap in preparation for the evening’s performance of The Libertine at the Royal Theatre. It was OK as shows go, but I really didn’t engage with any of the characters and found it a bit boring.

Tomorrow I head out for Oxford.

Fun Cornwall Facts

Port Issac is in Cornwall, a county in the far southwest of Britain. Like many counties, it has a rich history, an ancient language, and plenty of local pride. Here are a few things I learned while in Cornwall:

The Great Scone Controversy – Devon is a neighboring county and there’s a long-simmering argument between the two counties concerning how to properly prepare your scone.

Cornwall says you put the jam on first, then the clotted cream on top, while Devon says the reverse: clotted cream, then jam. Yes, yes, seems silly, but they take it seriously here. There was even a little reminder on my plate when I ordered a Cornwall Cream Tea at the Krab Pot Restaurant:

A national poll a few years back favored the Cornwall technique 57%-43%.

The Great Pasty Dispute – If that’s not enough, there’s also quite a bit of contention over who has the best pasty (that’s “past-ee”). A Cornwall pasty is folded over sideways and crimped along the side edge:

Devon’s version, however, is shaped more like a baked potato that’s been closed up and crimped along the top seam. Cornwall is even trying to trademark the name “pasty” – “Outrageous!” say those from Devon.

Brits Like Their Dogs – It seems Britains must bring their dogs with them on holiday to the seaside. Port Isaac was flooded with them – I counted 21 different dogs passing below my balcony in one 30 minute stretch on Sunday – and most were well-behaved, and well-policed by their owners. Many breeds, from tiny Dachshunds to giant Irish Wolfhounds, paraded by and it seems that most establishments, even pubs and restaurants, welcome them.

It’s Still a Small World – I encountered, in Port Isaac, in my small pub/hotel’s dining room, sitting two tables away, Mr. Tom van Poole, Yorktown High School, Class of 1970, and his wife Mimi (I was Class of ’69). They live in Arlington, Virginia, about 3 miles from me. We remembered each other pretty well and marveled at the coincidence. Tom sends a shout out to my other YHS alumnae friends.

Tomorrow: Back to the Great Western Railway for a ride to Bath.

Welcome to Portwenn – Home of Doc Martin

For those unfamiliar with it, Doc Martin is a British TV comedy-drama series starring Martin Clunes and shown in the U.S. on PBS. The Doc’s character is a former London surgeon super-star who develops a blood phobia and flees to the fictional seaside village of Portwenn to become the town’s new GP. His Mercedes, expensive suits, typical surgeon’s arrogance, and low tolerance for idiots don’t sit well with his new small-village patients and good comedy ensues.

The show has aired for seven seasons (the eighth has been filmed) starting in 2004 and is shot every other year on location in the village of Port Isaac, Cornwall, with most interior scenes shot nearby in a converted barn. I’m a fan of the show and that’s why I traveled across England to Port Isaac for the weekend. The Poldark series is also shot nearby, a little further south.

Port Issac looks like this on a beautiful sunny day… Mine was an overcast weekend but that was OK. That large body of water where the boat is floating is very tidal and half the day the boats are sitting right on the exposed bottom. Here’s a shot of that from the other side of the harbor:

Yes, that’s the same body of water.  Fishing is a primary profession here – mostly crab and lobster.

I stayed at the Slipway Hotel, right down at the water on the “main drag”, Fore Street. It’s a nice place, a bit worn and funky, only 12 rooms, but its pub was good, the bathroom was modern, and the staff was friendly and helpful. My room had a balcony and I enjoyed people-watching from it. The old village is tiny and many of the houses are vacation homes.

I do mean “tiny” – as I said earlier, there are places where the clearance between buildings for cars to get through is just 6 feet.

Because of the TV show, the town is something of a tourist destination. When the show is filming, I was told the crowds are huge and they can be in the way. I purposely scheduled my visit for when they were not filming, but even on a cloudy, cool weekend right after the  big end-of-summer holiday weekend, there were still a lot of people there and most appeared to be fans of the show.

I took a group walking tour with a local fellow who’s been an extra in quite a few episodes of the show. I’m embarrassed to say I failed to write down his name and can’t remember it. He was a charming older man who retired to the town after 23 years as a London cop, finishing up as a Detective Sergeant. He was an excellent guide and related lots of interesting information about the show. I was amused that the rally point for the start of the walking tour was a shop called “May Contain Nuts”.

The photo above, taken from my balcony, is the store the show uses as “Mrs. Tishell’s pharmacy”. In reality, it’s a confectionery shop and they re-do it as a pharmacy for filming. Zoom in on the bust of Lord Nelson over the door. The Mrs. Tishell character always wears a neck brace and, when the show is not being filmed, Lord Nelson wears one, too.

Here’s a rare selfie of me in front of Doc Martin’s house in the show. It’s also a summer rental home and renters have to put up with fans, unaware that the interior is shot on a set in a barn a few miles away, peeping in the windows to see “the surgery”.

It was great to see all of the locations I’ve become so familiar with, and I’m looking forward to seeing the show again more than ever now.