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Report 1958: Friends and Family: Two Weeks in London and Northern Ireland

By Mischievous from CA, Fall 2011

Trip Description: Two weeks in September 2011, staying with friends for a week outside of London and touring the city and surrounding area, followed by a week touring about Northern Ireland and reconnecting with family.

Destinations: Countries - United Kingdom; Regions/Cities - Cotswolds, London, Northern Ireland

Categories: Family/Friends; Hotels/B&Bs; Day Tours; Garden Visits; Shopping; Sightseeing; Walking/Hiking; Independent Travel; 2 People

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Page 1 of 19: London Calling!

photo by

Ricardo, Pam, Keith and me

My dear friend Pam, who sang at my wedding two years ago, moved to the London area with her husband Ricardo and teenage daughter Monica last year for Ricardo's work. When she issued an open invitation to all her friends to come visit, I knew Keith and I had to go.

We chose September 2011, after the kids on both sides of the pond had gone back to school. This turned out to be a stroke of genius. In August, when Pam's other friends visited, they had horrendous lines everywhere. We had none.

Getting There

We flew AA economy, using miles, from LA to JFK and then on to Heathrow. It was cramped of course but not too bad. I took Ambien and a full-size pillow with me and managed to sleep a bit on the plane. Both flights and our plane change in New York went smoothly.

Pam and Ricardo met us at Heathrow. We collected our two checked bags and drove to their spacious, comfortable townhouse in the London suburb of Virginia Water and settled in. We went to a nearby pub for lunch and then Keith napped while I went errand-running with Pam.

Day One - Errands

At the grocery store, which was in a small outdoor mall, we had to wait to get into the parking lot. Two lines of cars queue up, each behind a gate arm. Other cars have to leave the parking lot and free up parking spaces before you can enter. When the electronic sign on the gate arm flashes "SPACES" in green, you can deposit your money, pull a ticket to raise the gate arm, and drive in. It's a bit of a race with the other line of cars to deposit your coins and be granted entry before the sign flashes "FULL" in red and you have to wait again.

In addition to grocery shopping -- which entailed unlocking a cart with a 1-pound coin that you only got back when you locked the cart back up again (a very smart idea when you think about it) -- we went to "T.K. Maxx," the UK version of "T.J. Maxx." We also popped into the local Carphone Warehouse to put some money on a pay-as-you-go SIM card Ricardo loaned me.

The Sim Card

Verizon had unlocked my Blackberry and Ricardo's SIM was perfect for my needs, which was simply making phone calls. It was on the Lebara network, which apparently uses the Vodaphone infrastructure. I'd heard some negative things about Vodaphone, but the SIM worked great for me, both in London and later in Northern Ireland.

When we got back to the house, Keith was up from his nap but I was developing a migraine so I napped. The headache got worse, so I skipped dinner and slept. I finally felt better about 10pm. I got up for an hour, we all socialized, then went to bed around 11. Keith and I both slept soundly through the night and woke up the next morning with all of our symptoms of jet lag gone.

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