2018 Trip Wrap Up

Falls Church, Virginia – My flight back to the U.S. on Virgin Atlantic went smoothly and I emerged from Dulles Airport into even hotter weather. A third day of temps in the high 90s with humidity making it fell like 103-105. Welcome to Virginia in the summer. I was very happy to discover when I opened my front door that my AC was working well.

As usual after my trips, there are a few days of unpacking, sorting through, laundry, and the other things required to get back to home life. And there’s the writing of this post, which is drawn from a collection of random notes I make during a trip.

– Sign seen in the Deacon’s Cafe in Edinburgh: “We Have No Wi-Fi, We Talk to Each Other”  Bravo!

– The Hilton Paddington was closed, refurbished, and re-opened more than a decade ago and the rooms are showing their age a bit. But it’s still a great hotel; it still has a retractable clothesline over the bathtub and an extension phone next to the toilet. Does anyone really use the room phone anymore?

– From a Smile to Stone: What happened to the cheerful and friendly barmaid’s face at The Maltings in York when I asked if they offered a discount to CAMRA members. It was almost comical.

– I like the system in pubs generally where you pay at the bar when you order drinks and/or food. You take the drinks with you and they deliver the food to your table. When you’re done, you get up and go – no waiting around for the check and perhaps waiting again for your change.

The 2018 Beer List

My promise to you: at least one pint, and sometimes several, of these were consumed:

– Boltmaker (Timothy Taylor – 4%)
– Yorkshire Terrier (York Brewery – 4.2%)



– Cream Ale (Roosters – 4.7%)
– Minster Ale (York Brewery – 4.2%, made with three American hops)
– Birdman (Roosters – 4.3%)
– Black Sheep Bitter (Masham – 3.9%)
– Yorkshire Sparkle Pale Ale (Treeboom – 4%)
– Boss Hog (Gibsons – 4.1%)
– Cragg Vale Bitter (Little Valley – 4.2%)
– Edinburgh Gold (Stewart – 4.8%)
– Pale Ale (Nicholsons – 4%)
– TBA Best Bitter (Sherfield Village – 3.9%)
– 6X Best Bitter (Wadworth – 4.1%)
– Jet Black Heart (Brew Dog – 4.7%)

– Extra Special Bitter (ESB) (Fullers – 5.5%)
– Abbot Ale (Greene King – 5%)
– Tribute (St. Austell – 4.2%)
– Doom Bar (Sharp’s – 4.2%)




As always, thanks for following along. Cheers!


Whirlwind Day in London

London, U.K. – I said farewell to Poole and took a Southwestern Rail train north Sunday morning. My original plan was to take this train straight to London’s Waterloo station and then use tube/taxi to get to Paddington. I reconsidered this plan as overly complex and simply retraced my steps to Reading and Paddington, changing trains twice. The trains were great and all went exactly to plan, and it was a good thing I changed my mind – I heard that central London was a traffic mess and that there were delays on the tube. So I gratefully settled into my luxurious Hilton Paddington room (with killer air-conditioning).


After dropping my bags, I went up to the Bishop and Bear pub for a nice, refreshing pint of Fuller’s ESB.

Renovations to the “Lawn”, the enclosed shopping area, in Paddington have been finally completed after several years and I picked up a few essentials like toothpaste from Boots and some provisions from Marks & Spencer for a light, in-room dinner.

Monday dawned as another hot, sunny day in London and after  breakfast at the Hilton, I was off on a whirlwind day of visiting old favorite, and new, sights.

First stop, the British Library’s Treasures Room. It contains some of the library’s priceless artifacts, such as manuscripts, musical scores, and rare books, many written by hand by their authors (i.e. not copies). Some of the authors today included Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde, William Blake, Chopin, Beethoven, Handel, the Beatles, Hobbes, Karl Marx, Gandhi, Shelley, Michaelangelo, and da Vinci. Other documents included one of the original four copies of the Magna Carta (1215), the original King James Bible (1611), and many beautiful illuminated books. Think of it – you can see up close the original handwriting of these geniuses, see the paper they held as they composed their amazing works!


Next, I took the tube down to Russell Square and the British Museum, for its special exhibit Rodin and the Art of Ancient Greece. Rodin is one of my favorite sculptors and it was interesting to learn that his many classical works were based largely on his exposure to museum collections in France and at England (including the “Elgin marbles” – friezes taken from the Parthenon in Athens and on display in the British Museum); he never went to Greece. Like so many exhibitions now, there are things in it that you’re encouraged to touch. Interesting, if possibly germ-laden.

After the exhibition, I tried to visit the Egyptian Hall but the crowd was unbelievable. Hordes of tourists and middle school groups made it impassable so I split.

IMG_2484 (2)

It was lunch time so, I headed for the nearby The Plough pub. Unlike the tourist-jammed pubs directly across the street from the museum gates, this restored Victorian gem is a block further away, blissfully air-conditioned, and was nearly empty.

I had a nice sandwich and a pint of Abbot Ale and rested my weary legs. In the picture at right, note the little jam jar in front of the pump badge – some pubs put them in front of all their real ale (cask) taps so that you can see the color and clarity of the beer. I think it’s kind of a nice thing.

Next, I hopped on the tube and made my way to the Tower Hill station (overlooking the Tower of London) and from there walked out onto the Tower Bridge, headed for the Tower Bridge Experience. This was something new to me, and the view up the Thames on this sunny day was very nice.



During this tour you learn about the building of this iconic bridge, get to walk the high, enclosed walkways between the two towers, and enjoy the view down through their glass floor sections. You get to watch vintage film footage from the early 1900s, and a cool animated short film showing the bridge’s construction. And, the grand finale, is a walk through the nicely restored and organized Engineering Rooms, which explains the machinery that opens and closes the bridge spans for ship traffic.


Having escaped the adjacent Gift Shop with wallet intact, I walked over to the south end of nearby London bridge and to my old favorite The Market Porter pub. I was delighted to find that they had Sharp’s Doom Bar on tap and lingered over a tasty pint, watching World Cup soccer action on their TV.

It was getting into rush hour when I got back into the tube at the London Bridge station and made my way back to Paddington. That took three different trains and none of them were air-conditioned. One was packed to the gills and really hot. The Hilton AC was most welcome! Tomorrow: homeward bound.



Learning about the RNLI

Poole, U.K. – I thought I’d add a quick post about the Royal National Lifeboat Institute, (RNLI) which is near where I stayed in Poole. In fact, you can book a room there and I wish I had. As you may know, the U.K. is an island nation, so that means a lot of coastline. Lots of boats and a lot of beaches and swimmers. The U.K. has an official Coast Guard but it also has a system of local lifeguards and sophisticated local lifeboat (sea rescue) teams. The RNLI is the national guiding organization for this scheme and even offers a “college” where teams are trained and certified. It’s also a charity that raises funds for the necessary equipment.

The RNLI campus is very nice and, as might expect, is on a marina with an outlet to the English Channel, south of Poole. They also have a very nice restaurant/bar and I had dinner there one night. The restaurant was ingeniously designed, with a modern look that cleverly incorporated nautical motifs. The staff was terrific and the food was outstanding, and the sunny view over the marina and port at dinner time was a bonus. 

Amazing TankFest Event

Poole, U.K. – This is Armed Forces Weekend in the U.K. It’s also the weekend when the Tank Museum, in nearby Bovington, throws TankFest, a three-day celebration of motorized armor. For those readers in the D.C. area, it’s something like the Andrews Air Force Base Air Show, but with tanks.

The Tank Museum is next door to a British military base that specializes in tanks, personnel carriers, and such, and the two have a close relationship. The weather was on the warm side but there was a breeze and the sky was clear – a perfect day. There were thousands of attendees and the event was very professionally organized.

The VIP tent

I splurged for a VIP ticket, which got me fast-track entrance, food and drink all day in a special tent, and a seat in a covered area for viewing the action in the arena. The latter was really important as everyone else sat or stood in the blazing sun for hours.

The museum is a very large, modern, well-run institution that has been around for decades. It’s filled with tanks, armored personnel carriers, etc. – anything with tracks or wheels and a big cannon. Many of them have been restored in a huge center on the premises.


My old friend and former work colleague Mike Mather joined me and we had a great time meeting other attendees. For example, there was a man and his recent-college-grad son from Oshkosh, Wisconsin that sat across from us in the tent. For that matter, there were lots of dads and kids there.

German Tiger tanks in the museum, and yours truly among a bunch of tanks in the Restoration Center.

The tanks themselves were awesome. In the arena, tanks and other vehicles were put through their paces on a weaving course, over hills, and around the perimeter. It was amazing to see how fast some of the modern tanks, like the 62-ton Challenger, could move, and how deadly they looked. There was an announcer who kept up a running commentary on the vehicles’ histories and stories, and there were separate programs in the arena featuring vehcles from different countries and eras.

I chatted with a few other visitors from the U.S. and many said this was a “bucket list” event for them. 


Many of the vehicles were driven by instructors from the military base and I was able to talk with a few of them in the arena staging area (above). Boy, did these soldiers seem young. But they were very friendly and knowledgable, willing to answer questions. We were also allowed in this area to get a look inside (even get inside) some vehicles. Great fun!

What a great day out – fantastic weather, great experience, and a sea of testosterone. Cheers!


Enjoying Reading and Old Friends

Reading, U.K. – It’s currently Friday morning and I’m compressing several days into this post. As you may remember, I left Edinburgh Wednesday morning, headed by train back to London. Unlike last Sunday’s trip up from York, the train was fairly empty. From King’s Cross station  in London I caught a “black cab” (mine was actually painted pink and driven by a woman – bravo, a first for me) over to Paddington Station, then I rode west by rail to Reading. It’s amazing to think it’s been 10 years since I lived in Reading. 

That night and the next day I had various meals with current and former work colleagues, sampled some good beers, and discovered a few new pubs. I had lunch yesterday at a quintessential English eatery: Sweeny & Todd’s Pie House. 


The macabre name notwithstanding, the several dozen traditional meat pies on offer left me spoilt for choice. I settled for Chicken, Broccoli, and Stilton, and was not disappointed. No barber chair to be seen.

Last night was the World Cup soccer match between England and Belgium and pubs were braced for large crowds. English lost 1-0 but the weird thing was the match was of no real consequence to the overall Cup competition – both teams “rested” their best players. I watched from my Novotel room, over the Kindle edition of C.J. Sansom’s latest Tudor-era thriller.

It’s a heat wave in the U.K., with unusual temps into the 80’s. Everyone’s enjoying the sun but it’s hot and there are consequences. For example, I read that the rails in the train system get too hot (?) and so trains occasionally have to run at slower speeds. 

I hope that won’t affect my train today. This afternoon I’ll be taking one down to Poole, on the south coast near Bournemouth. I’ll stay the night, then be off to TankFest in the morning Saturday. 


Check out TankMuseum.org for more information. I’ll surely have some interesting reportage and photos Sunday. Cheers.

The Museum, The Castle, and the Dog

Edinburgh, Scotland – As I mentioned earlier, I’m staying in an Airbnb rental in the heart of the old town area. 


As you can see it’s a large flat (windows outlined above) in an old building; areas like the kitchen have been nicely updated but other rooms are bland and musty. The shower is new but in a tiny stall and dreadful to operate. It’s still an old building with peeling wallpaper, creaking floors, and noisy neighbors. Like so many places in the U.K. there’s no air-con and no window screens, and forget fans. So it’s a choice of stuffiness or flies. On the other hand, the mattress is great and it’s at least $100 cheaper per night than the cheapest hotel. It’s clean and it does the job. 

After cappuccino and a bagel for breakfast at the delightful Deacon’s House Cafe across the street, I set out for the National Museum of Scotland.


On the way, I passed The Elephant House coffee shop, where J.K. Rowling wrote much of her early Harry Potter novels. It’s also frequented by other well-known writers, such as Ian Rankin.

Going through The National Museum of Scotland is a fine experience and a nice way to spend half a day. 


The building has galleries off a large and open atrium, with convenient stairs and lifts for getting to different levels. Exhibits I enjoyed included the historical Kingdom of the Scots, Explore/Making It (many hands-on opportunities for kids of all ages), Technology by Design, and Animal World. The staff members I spoke with were friendly and pleasant. It’s a nice place to visit and it’s free.


Here’s something you don’t often see in museums: a rack of folding seats that you can use if you want to sit for a bit.

After lunch, I took myself off to the “Scotch Whiskey Experience”, a whiskey superstore that included an hour-long “tour” that explains how it’s made (though there’s no actual distillery on site). I came away with a new-found understanding of just how many scotch types there are and some miniature treats.

I spent the evening in my flat, reading the London Times and watching TV. It’s weird to watch my favorite BBC shows, like “Lewis”, while actually in the U.K. They’re now local TV, not some fancy-schmancy import.


This morning, Tuesday, I had the same breakfast again and headed for The Castle. I arrived soon after it opened and there were already huge crowds ahead of me. I spent 15 minutes in the sun in line for a 15 GBP ticket (because their online ticket system had a bug in it that prevent me from getting a ticket. Yes, me, personally, but maybe you’ll be luckier). Get your ticket online in advance!


They set up temporary stadium seating for 8,000 each July right in front of the castle gates for August’s “Royal Military Tattoo”, a huge nightly spectacle of marching, bagpipes, dramatic lighting, and fireworks. 


The castle is huge, and has a moat, and the street winds around and up to the palace at the top (more of the famous Edinburgh “uphill”). I presume no one dared to attack because they’d be exhausted after walking uphill that far with their arms and armor.



Here’s a rare selfie about midway up the interior of the castle. You can see part of Edinburgh way down below in the background. At the top, in the palace you can see the Crown Jewels (I passed – line too long), the Great Hall (massive, lined with wall-to-wall swords), and the more modern War Memorial.


Though I hesitate to criticize my hosts, and perhaps it’s a Scottish thing, I must say that I noticed the quotation above in the memorial, which is similar to Exodus 19:4. As a certified Grammar Grouch, I thought it should be “bear” not “bare”. What say you?

After having my fill of stone, pageantry, and inconsiderate tourists and their cell phones, I bade the castle’s many cannons and far too many swarming, overly-large tour groups goodbye and headed down, down, downhill to find a Scottish icon of another sort.


The “punk rockers” of the U.K. brewing scene, Brew Dog, is famous for tasty beer. The fresh Jet Black Heart milk stout shown above, served on a nitrogen tap, did not disappoint. Brew Dog is famous for brewing Tactical Nuclear Penguin, which has a 32% ABV rating! Later they got into a contest with a German brewery and eventually brewed up the winning End of History, the “World’s Strongest and Most Expensive Beer”, which came in at 54% ABV. Only 12 bottles were brewed and it was more a collector’s item (seen at 1,000 GBP for a bottle on eBay) than something you’d actually drink. Google it – you’ll be amazed/shocked at the “packaging” for the bottles.

I’m dining tonight at Howies, a nice upscale place, then tomorrow I’m packing up and taking the train south, back to London, then west to Reading, where I lived 10 years ago. Anniversary highjinks are bound to occur. Cheers.

On To Edinburgh

Edinburgh, Scotland – I had a pleasant and scenic 2.5 hour train ride from York to Edinburgh, some of it along very pretty coastal areas with nice white beaches. 

On arrival at Waverly Station, I readied myself for what I knew was coming: the News Steps, a daunting 124-step hike up steep stairs, with 35lbs of luggage, to my Airbnb neighborhood. What I didn’t realize was that it was all uphill right from the train platform: uphill ramps then uphill streets. I was almost ready for a nap when I got to the News Steps! But I told myself to take it in stages and gamely headed upward. It was steep and tough, and it was 78-degrees and I was wearing a sports coat.


At the mid-point, I was wheezing like an old caliope; at the top I knew my heart was in OK shape because I hadn’t had a coronary. But the old ticker was really thumping. There’s a business opportunity for some young person there, hauling folks luggage for them.

Then, guess what? At the top, more uphill streets, and then 50 more steps to get into my 3rd floor AirBnB flat. Why didn’t I take a taxi? Well, it was really too short a trip by car to make sense and all of the surrounding streets were closed anyway for a big bicycle race. Finally in my flat, I felt as if I had been in the race. 



And there I was, right in the heart of touristy Edinburgh, on the “Royal Mile”, with wall-to-wall throngs of summer visitors on the sidewalks (picture above taken at 7am this morning). There were bag pipers, buskers, and those peculiar “artists” that paint themselves gold and appear to hover in mid-air, too. Not unexpected – I knew what this area would be like. There’s also a lot of nice old architecture to enjoy and, after collapsing for a rest, I managed to find a nice, not-too-crowded pub for dinner. 

Slept like a rock.


Of Gothic Glass and Steam Locos

York, UK – I set off on foot across the river into the city, headed for the York “Minster”, the largest medieval Gothic cathedral in Northern Europe. The current building is 800+ years old and took 200+ years to build. It’s massive, and standing inside, with a deep breath you smell dry stone, incense, and age. Its mass, scale, and sweeping arches are stunning and the effect on people in the middle ages must have been truly profound.


In a world where bright colors were reserved for nobility, large scale stained glass like the tennis court-size East Window must have been awe-inspiring and uplifting. The intricate wood carvings in the Quire are typical of over-the-top Gothic decorative arts.


I especially loved the King’s Screen, with its line-up of statues of the 15 English kings on the throne, starting with William the Conqueror and ending with Henry VI, during the construction. All of them are scowling and nasty looking, except Henry VI who looks quite angelic (and who, not surprisingly, was in power at the time). The “undercroft” is a basement area with some nice archeological displays (the cathedral was built on top of the old Roman fort HQ), many of which are geared towards kids and are touchable/interactive. 

What’s worse than people walking about staring at their cell phones, paying no attention to where they’re going? People walking about staring at the cathedral ceiling. Some mirror-topped tables have been provided so that you can save your neck by looking down to see upward. 


Once I’d had my fill of Gothic wonders, I jumped on the little shuttle that took me to the National Railway Museum. This is a huge place, with dozens of real train cars and locomotives, from ancient steamers to modern bullet trains. There’s even a fascinating mock-up of the Chunnel with part of a Eurostar train in it. The place is also filled up with related artifacts: station signs, benches, lamp posts, etc. There’s even a huge turntable used to turn engines around. Once again, there are many kid-oriented things to see, touch, and do. My observation was that often the little kid was not as interested as was the “big kid”: his dad.

I finished up the day at a pub called The Maltings, enjoying a good pint and a nice conversation with a fellow from Manchester. It’s Sunday morning now and time to pack up and move on to Edinburgh. Cheers!


An Enjoyable Free Walking Tour

York, U.K. – I had a nice day of sight-seeing today, under incredibly clear, blue skies and comfortable temps in the 70s. At 10am, I joined one of the free walking tours offered by the city council. Our guide, whom I shall call “Jim” to protect him, was a retiree with a quick wit, an excellent knowledge of history and historical fiction novels, many good stories, a facility for sometimes getting off track, and a big chip on his shoulder regarding the local planning council.


York has three walls (city, abbey, Roman), all extant, and our walk included many views of ancient buildings, gardens, and a long walk on a walkway atop the inside of the Roman fort walls. There were great views from the walls, and you could look out through a crenel (gap) and imagine hordes of attackers being repulsed by defenders.

Jim regaled us with lots of history and, when we were near the huge cathedral, local lore and insider tidbits about it. It was an excellent couple of hours, easy walking with many stops, and just over two hours long. If you care, there were no bathrooms available and it made sense to bring a water bottle.


The tour ended in The Shambles area, a medieval street with many buildings dating back to the 1500/1600s. These often had successive stories built further out over the street, almost to the point of touching the opposing building. Looks nice in the picture but must have been pretty awful by modern standards.

I rested my feet at the Pivni Bar with a nice pint of Cream ale, from the local Roosters brewery, then had a great lunch at the nearby Drake’s Fish and Chips. The batter was light and flakey and the fish quite fresh – it was probably the best F&C I’ve ever had. Highly recommended! The menu also mentioned its “Chocolate Policy”: if you want to bring in your own chocolate bar, they’ll batter and deep fry it then serve it over ice cream for you! Talk about a heart attack in a dish…

I finished off my day with a visit to the York Brewery, which was somewhat disappointing. The un-air conditioned Tap Room is in the attic over the brewery, where it was warm, even with the windows open, and featured swarms of flies. I had a quick pint and didn’t stay long.

A quick aside: the papers are reporting that there’s a Europe-wide shortage of CO2, that will very soon (in the next few days) affect food producers, carbonated soft drinks, and BREWERIES! As a fan of cask ale, which uses only natural carbonation, I am safe but I pity the others. Just imagine the U.S. without CO2 for moment…

The Hampton Inn bar was invaded last night with loud louts who needed their mommies to remind them to use “indoor voices”, and the breakfast buffet was overwhelmed as I was leaving it this morning by a horde of U.S. high schoolers. Ahh, the joys of the summer tourist high season.


Back to Britain and Off to York

York,UK – And… I’m back in England and feeling at home. All things considered, it was a painless journey. I rarely travel in the summer high season, so it was a surprise to see the crowds at Dulles airport. Thank goodness for TSA Pre-Check: short lines, no messing around with shoes, belts, tiny bottles of liquids, or pulling out your digital devices. If you don’t have it, I highly recommend it.

Virgin Atlantic Upper Class, which I can enjoy only thanks to reward miles, continues to be excellent (although these upgrades have gotten much harder to get). Many things about it have gotten smaller over the years, though, to increase profits and satisfy 50% partner Delta. For example, there are now 32 seats in Upper Class, and they’re noticeably smaller. I think there were 24 in the past. I know, I know – I’ll not get much sympathy from those of you who always fly steerage.


As you also know, pre-trip planning stress and tension can almost negate the positive benefits of taking a vacation at all. But, for me, there comes a time when I’m finally in the air, enjoying a cheese plate and some port, when everything settles in and the world looks pretty good.

News Flash! The pre-flight anti-jet lag scheme I have been following for years (based on, it turns out, 1983 science) and thought worked well was recently shown to be completely wrong! So for this trip I abandoned it, and the results have been excellent. Go figure.

We landed at Heathrow at 7am, whisked through the packed Arrivals Hall using the FastTrak lane (another Virgin Upper Class perk), and went onto the Virgin Revivals lounge. No shower for me, but I had a snack and a reviving pot of tea and digested the Independent newspaper. I like the red-eye flight but it arrives so early that I often have to kill some time before getting on.


At 10am I took the Heathrow Express (packed with summer tourists) to Paddington, and then a nice black cab over to King’s Cross Station. I whiled away 90 minutes in the Virgin East Coast Trains lounge (yes, Virgin has its fingers in so many pies) and then boarded my train. Two comfortable hours of watching the lovely English countryside roll by brought me north of London to York.

Founded by the Romans, York is a historic town with a fabled cathedral that figured prominently in the religious and civil strife of the medieval era. It’s also home of the National Railway Museum, many great pubs and breweries, and it’s my son-in-law’s Master’s Degree alma mater (hello Ryan!).


The York Tap is a perfect pub right at the rail station, with an “island” bar in its middle and beautiful stained glass. It was recently featured in a story in CAMRA’s Beer magazine. It has 16 real ales on tap (that’s “craft” beer, for you Yanks) and a very traditional feel.

For example, it has no Wi-Fi, so patrons actually talk to each other, read (gasp) newspapers, and behave in a civil manner. And the beer is great – it was my very first stop after getting off the train.

I’m now planted at the Hampton Inn in York for the next three days. It’s a very standard Hampton, with its own room quirks, but with an outstandingly nice staff and a great complimentary breakfast. English Sausage! Weetabix! Cappuccino machine! Six pubs on the next street! It’s a tough job but someone’s got to do it. Today: Taking the free walking tour and seeing the medieval part of town known as The Shambles.