Road Trips

We recently returned from a road trip to Utah.  And to tell you the truth road trips are so different now then what they were before.

This was the first time that our teenage son got to drive.  Some might think, “how scary!”  All I have to say is that Nebraska is mighty long and it gives him lots of hours of driving.  We chose to let him drive in the less busy parts of the highway when we normally would be getting tired. 

Another big difference than the days of yore is the speed limit.  As you go West, the speed keeps getting higher and higher.  Making the trip shorter.  (Remember Nebraska is mighty long).  What used to be 55mph now is 75 mph.  I like that they have signs that change the speed limit depending on the road conditions.  So if it’s freezing rain it’s slower, if it’s sunny it’s faster.  How smart. 

Now motels are mostly chain hotels.  It’s difficult to find the mom and pop motels that used to line the highways.  One good thing is that you know what you are getting.  The bad thing is that you get generic hotels all along the way.  But the advantage is that now you can make your reservation online with your smart phones and you don’t have to waste your time stopping in every town to see if they have room.  One trip we had to drive from Washington DC all the way home because there were no motels anywhere. It was bad.  Now we just decide how far we want to drive, look up the hotels in that town and make the reservation online.  We can even state when we are planning on arriving so they don’t give our room away. 

A friend of mine said that she still stops in the rest areas and gets the coupons for motels.  I haven’t done that in a long time.  But you can still get some pretty good deals that way.

The final way that road trips have changed for our family is the entertainment.  We’ve had our van with a DVD player for a long time now.  I don’t think my kids would be able to survive a cross country trip without a Harry Potter marathon.  We can stop along the way and get a new movie from redbox and return it somewhere else.  We can listen to satellite radio all the way.  No more searching for radio stations in the middle of Nebraska (sorry Nebraska) and all you could find was country stations.

Some things haven’t changed for us.  My kids will not go on a road trip without doing a license plate bingo.  They still write down all the states that they see.  They compete to find all the states and get really excited when they find a Hawaii license plate or Delaware.  We still try to pack our meals and stop to have a picnic in the rest areas.  Some of the rest areas are fantastic.  Some places have been must stops for a long time: Little America in Wyoming and Wall Drug in South Dakota.  You really look forward to that $.50 ice cream or that free glass of water.

Don’t stop taking road trips because air travel is faster.  Sometimes the journey becomes an integral part of the trip.  Plus your kids need to know what it was like for you when you were growing up. 

 

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Departing London/ Arriving in the US

I love to people watch and the airport is one of the best places to see all kinds of characters.

There was a young woman in front of us.  Her suitcase was gigantic and it was overweight.  She had to pull out a bunch of stuff out to make it less than 50 lbs.  I wondered why she didn’t wear some of the clothes.  Her shorts barely covered her bum, her see thru tank top was tiny.  She did have a really cute hat and shoes on.  But I think some pants and a shirt would have helped her with the baggage weight problem.  Just a thought…

Since we have to go through security I propose that we all wear flannel pajamas and slippers.  We’ll be comfortable, warm and it will make security a breeze.  But I can see some people wearing negliges if I suggest that.

Back to departing London.  I am amused by how each country sets its own rules for security.  In the US we need to remove our shoes but not in Europe.  Didn’t the shoe bomber fly from Europe to the US?  That just doesn’t make sense to me.  In the US we are not going through some x-ray machines but not abroad.

After going through security I was waiting for my husband and so they decided to swab my bags for bombs.  They just swab the bag and run it through a machine.  It only takes a few seconds. I know they make this ramdon but I don’t think I fit into any high risk profile.  I don’t see it as an invasion of my privacy but I see it as a waste of time and resources.

You can breath easily once you are through security, board your flight, sit for countless hours and then you arrive in the US.  We went through Newark this time.  It was my first time at this airport.  The passport control was fairly quick but they only had a handfull  of people working.  If they had more flights coming in, that would not have been adequate.  If we want security we should be investing in it.  Where are the 9/11 fees going to?

Newark’s Customs is very thorough.  It seems that everyone on my plane either had their bags x-rayed or searched.  It makes it a much longer process than just going through.  But since I didn’t have anything to hide there was no problem.  The girl with the overweight bag had her suitase hand searched.  Poor thing, it probably took an hour.

After you exit customs you must go through security once again.  If you checked your bags you must put them in a belt and they will get it to your destination (hopefully).  I don’t understand why we go through security again.  We never left security but I guess you could grab someone’s bag and take it with you.  Who knows.  This time I was selected for a body scan x-ray.  Not too time consuming but always a bother.  Then we get to sit in the terminal waiting for our flight to Chicago.

So many steps, so much security but somehow people know how to overcome it.  How do we balance security and comfort?  Personal liberty and the common good?  Who knows, but I do know that I prefer to be greeted by friendly agents who treat me kindly.  Even though they are in the security business they are dealing with people who are on vacation and they should try making our experience the best it can be.  Plus for any college graduate who is looking for a job, the TSA is hiring officers.  Hopefully you had some PR, marketing or psychology classes and you can make a difference.

London Day 6

Today was our last day in London so we had only a few hours to do some things we hadn’t had the chance to do yet.  We were only a couple blocks from Buckingham Palace and while we didn’t walk down to see it, we saw it from a distance.  At St James Park I had the opportunity to visit with a police officer.   They had a very entertaining article on the paper about the police and how they are supposed to be friendly to the crowds during the Jubilee, Olympics and Paralympics.  They won’t have a day off for 70 days and will be working over time.  This particular officer said he won’t be like the dancing officer that has become an Youtube sensation but he’ll try being cheerful.  He was very nice to me.

This guard wasn’t as nice.  He didn’t even talk to me.

We had to do buy some things for our kids so we headed to Lillywhites in Piccadilly Circus.  They had every thing you’d ever want related to soccer teams.  Since our kids like Manchester United, Liverpool and New Castle United we were able to find great deals all in one place.  They also had great deals on t-shirts for the Olympics.  We were also able to find a great outdoor market near Piccadilly Circus that sold souvenirs and arts and crafts at great prices.  I felt much better buying from a nice older gentleman than from one of the many souvenir shops.  He was much more affordable and nicer.

We couldn’t finish our trip to London without stopping at Harrod’s.  I had committed to buying some golf gift sets for a golf outing.  But I was really disappointed to find out that it is much cheaper to buy it at the airport.  You don’t pay VAT and they had some great sales going on there.  Go figure.

But Harrod’s is a must see.  The Egyptian escalator makes you feel like a Pharaoh.  Plus the food hall is out this world.  I especially like getting some free samples of chocolates or other delicacies.  You can spend a whole day and a whole year’s salary here.  I wish they had made some of the special Jubilee fragances in travel sizes.  It smelled great and the bottle was beautiful but it just wouldn’t fit in my carry on.

Harrod’s and most other stores are all decorated in patriotic colors for the Jubilee.  I also think they’ll keep the Union Jack up for the Olympics.  Here are some pictures of Harrod’s windows.  Each vendor got to do a crown.  Some were made out of food, others out of jewels and others out of whatever.  Very fun.

We made our way to the airport after collecting our bags from the hotel.  We thought we’d need plenty of time due to the delay getting into London.  But we breezed right through.  Go figure.  We also went through security at Heathrow in about 5 minutes last year.  So we had plenty of time to sit in the departure lounge.  The good thing about the departure lounge at Heathrow is all the shopping.  All the fancy stores which I don’t shop at are there.  Plus there’s Harrod’s.  I was able to get some more the golf gift sets at a better price than at Knightsbridge.  There were some purses on sale and other Harrod’s merchandise at pretty good prices.  I guess I’ll leave my Harrod’s shopping to the airport.  But they only carry their merchandise and a small selection of other items there.  So if you wan to buy something specific you’ll have to go to their main store.

We ate some sandwiches from the bookseller but if you want to eat at a restaurants they do have some available.  Of course, airport prices apply.  Happy flying.

London Day 5

Today we went to the London LDS Temple in Surrey.  It’s a lovely temple, where the Spirit is so strong.  But it is very hard to get to.  We took a train from Victoria Station to East Grinstead and then a cab to the temple in New Chapel.  They sure weren’t thinking about public transport when they placed the temple there.  But we were glad we sacrificed to attend the Lord’s House.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The assistant temple matron was very gracious and took us back to the train station.  We walked into town and ate a cafe called Bluebells.  We had a great chicken stroganoff and tea with scones.  We even took some to go.

At night we went to the see Billy Elliott.  What a great musical about a boy finding out about his love for ballet and his desire to dance even though it went against his family.

London Day 4

Today we visited one of my favorite places near London, Hampton Court.  The train ride from Waterloo is easy and quick.  We first toured the Tudor palace and even got to see Henry VIII and Ann Boleyn. I was very impressed by all the interactive displays that were installed in this part of the castle.  I think it brings history to life and makes it fun for every one.  There were several school tours, as well as older couples.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of the favorite parts of the Tudor castle is the kitchens.  It shows how much food was required at court, what they ate and how they prepared it.  We always eat here too at the Privy Kitchen, Elizabeth’s I private kitchen.  We always seem to have soup and a big cookie. I love the ambiance, it feels like you are eating in a dungeon.

 

 

 

 

 

Then we travel through time and visit William III’s apartments.  William and Mary wanted to tear down this palace but thankfully added their own wing.  It’s from a much later time and the furnishings, decorations and needs were different.  One of the things that always impresses me is the rooms decorated with weapons.  What a clever way to use things that are utilitarian.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

However, the best part of Hampton Court is the gardens.  They are so beautiful, not nearly as big as Versailles but just as inspiring.  It always amazes me to see how big and beautiful the flowers are even though it’s only May.  We don’t get flowers like these in Northern Illinois.  The park has a lot of wild life.  We saw dozens of deer and lots of cute swans.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t forget to get lost in the maze and to see the world’s oldest grape vine and tennis court.  It makes for a great day out.

On the way back we stopped in Wimbledon.  Beware that the train ticket from Hampton Court does not allow you to stop in Wimbledon even though the ticket agent told us it did.  This was my first trip without a guide book so I have to admit that I got a little lost getting to the Tennis Center.  We went to the Wimbledon Stadium instead.  It’s where they hold greyhound races.  Not very exciting.  Because we were late getting there we didn’t get to tour Wimbledon (it’s very expensive too) but the guards let us take some pictures.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the evening we missed a bus so we barely made it to our show, War Horse.  I’m so glad we didn’t miss it because it was fantastic.  It’s the story of a horse used during WWI and his relationship with his young owner.  The horses are huge puppets and they come to life.  It was a great play and I would highly recommend it to anyone going to London.  Just remember to order your tickets several months in advance.

London Day 3

The day started with a fire alarm.  Yes, we had a fire alarm at 8:05 am on a Sunday morning.  It was the first time that this has ever happened to me while at a hotel.  I was a bit scarred so I just put on my bathrobe, grabbed my purse and went down stairs.  My husband put his clothes on.  I was glad to see that I wasn’t the only one wearing a St. Ermin’s bathrobe.  At least I did put on my shoes, there were so many people barefoot.  I am glad it wasn’t raining.  It was a bit difficult to get everyone to move away from the building and stay off the road but they managed.

After every one was outside a fire engine finally arrived.  I hope that they would have better response time if there was indeed a fire because half of the building would have burned down by then, including my suitcase.  Since it was a false alarm we were given the go ahead to get back to our rooms.

One of the things I enjoy the most in all of our trips throughout the world, is the opportunity to attend church.  You get to see the faith and good works of the people.  You get to feel of their spirit and you have something very special in common, the love of God.  This time was not any different.  I was especially touched by the message of being converted to the church and being converted to the gospel.  Sometimes we just go through the motions and miss out on the true reason- our Savior.  We even heard President Obama-woe speak.  How cool is that?  They have a President Obama!!!

We took a leisurely stroll from Hyde Park to Lush Spa in Chelsea.  We saw several lovely squares, beautiful houses and had fun looking at all the Fiats.  (I want a Fiat cabrio for my 40th birthday).  At the Lush Spa I had the Good Hour Massage.  My masseur was David.  It was a very good hour.  He beat me up good and while I hurt for a day or so my carpal tunnel feels a lot better.  The spa is in the basement of their King’s Road store.  As soon as you enter it feels like you are in someone’s kitchen.  The treatment is explained to you, you get to choose your massage bar and then you go to the treatment room.  They drop one of their yummy bath bombs into a fog machine so you get a mist.  The music is nautical to accompany the treatment.  It is a very deep tissue massage hence the pain.  I loved the attention to detail, the coziness of the spa and the welcoming feel.  After your treatment is over you are treated to tea, biscuits and some fruit.  It was a great way to relax after tax season.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We had a great pizza at the Chelsea Farmer’s market nearby.  We also window shopped at some great home decorating stores.  I simply love English style.

This trip we have taken the bus more than the tube.  Our hotel is a central location and makes it convenient.  I have to say I have enjoyed seeing more of town and not having to transfer between lines.

No trip to London would be complete without eating at a Pub.  We ate at a pub near our hotel.  We ate one of their specials, it included fish and chips, bangers and mash and Yorkshire pudding, peas and some other fried seafood.  I am too old to eat fried food and prefer eating lighter.  But it is a cultural experience that every one must enjoy.

London Day 2

We took a boat to Greenwich.  What a glorious way travel!  You get to see all the sights, observe the comings and goings of ordinary folk from a privileged seat.  I took the walk from londonforfree.net. It shows the most important sights of this favorite Tudor place.  As soon as you disembark you are greeted with the Free Tunnel which was built so workers could come and go from Greenwich.  You cannot miss the Cutty Sark, once England’s fastest ship.

Downtown feels like a small village with quaint shops and pubs.  We were lucky to be there on a Saturday and thus be able to tend the Greenwich market.  A license for it was given in 1700 for a thousand years.  So you’ll be able catch it any weekend.  There are many stall selling food and arts and crafts.  I bought some hand printed postcards and saw some really cute crafts but the vendors usually did not like having pictures taken.    The walk to the Royal park is not far.  Up the hill lies the reason to come to this quaint little town, the Royal Observatory.  After getting your ticket, you walk through the court yard where the prime meridian lies.  It is interesting to watch the people taking pictures on the line, on one side or the other or  straddling it.  The house that Flamstead lived is interesting but his study even more.  It explains of the hard work he did every night recording the position of the stars.  There was also an excellent exhibit on the problem it was to calculate the longitude.  In the day of GPS we take  for granted the difficulty it was to calculate time and distance.  We become too complacent in our comforts to think of the difficulties overcome to get us where we are.  There is also an excellent exhibit about our knowledge of the stars, from the beginning of time to space exploration.  A most delightful day.  I would highly recommend this site for anyone traveling with kids as there are lots of fun activities for them.


We also had a chance to visit the Queens House.  It was a house built for a queen, finished for another, turned into a school and today serves as a museum.  It houses a collection of nautical themed paintings and some paintings of Greenwich most famous children- the Tudors.


We decided to return via light rail.  It was a beautiful journey back because we were given a privileged view of Canary Wharf.  Something we would have missed seeing if we had taken the tube.
No trip to London is complete without buying discounted theater tickets at Leicester Square.  We went to see We Will Rock You.  It was entertaining.  Being in Soho the night Chelsea played the finals for the UEFA championship was entertaining.  Thankfully they won because the throngs of drunk fans were very happy.  Some even risking their lives taking rickshaws downhill at break neck speed.  What a merry crowd.  Too bad no restaurant was open late because we had to find something to eat.  This is something very weird about London, their restaurants and pubs close rather early and you better eat before going to the theater.