Friday, October 30, 2015

Looking Back on the Iron Lady

I am watching the biography of Margaret Thatcher.  She’s always been one of my heroes, and has been both reviled and revered by the English for her leadership. 

I lived in the North when Margaret ran the country.  This was a time of great internal tension within England.  The Unions ensured that civil workers, miners, etc. were earning a decent wage at the same time that the cost of the goods delivered by the workers could not support the wages.  You could not mine coal and make money.  Anyone who has watched Billy Elliot will know a little of the story.  The government sent police and military to bust the unions.  In the end, the miners caved and the mines closed.  Government workers also went back to work.  Things ran, but families were put out of work and on the streets.  It was a harsh reality.

Margaret believed in a conservative government.  She was a Tory who didn’t think the government should take on the role of a nanny state.  Children at the time were given free milk for their lunches even though they might be well able to buy the milk.  Keeping true to “only financing the essentials” Margaret backed a bill that had already been in the works to stop the flow of free milk.  For that, she got the nickname “Thatcher the Milk Snatcher.”

It was Margaret Thatcher who stood up to Argentina in the Falklands and regained territory for the citizens of the island thousands of miles from London.  I was there through it all and experienced anger from the English that America had not joined in the war.  We were protested against and denounced in the media and in real life.  Still, I thought she had a real backbone.

When I was in England, I saw the wheels starting to come off and then reset under her leadership.  She built strong ties with the most powerful countries in the world.  She brought Britain kicking and screaming into the 20th century.

At one point, she was nearly killed by an assassin’s bomb at a holiday beachfront hotel.  She walked into Parliament on a daily basis knowing that she would receive verbal abuse, ridicule, and those that would debate her to death over even the smallest issues.  She not only broke the glass ceiling, she pulverized it into sand.  I can only stand in awe.

Memories run long in England.  At her death, many rejoiced.  As for myself, I mourned silently.  I collected English newspapers from the day, and I thought that, sadly, another piece of my history had been laid to rest.

Margaret Thatcher is buried at the Royal Hospital in Chelsea.  Her shadow is still cast over Parliament by a bronze likeness located at the Palace of Winchester.  You can view the statue and have a tour of Parliament along with afternoon tea

Margaret Thatcher viewing her statue at Parliament

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Trip 2016 - In the Works

Hello there, and welcome to the preview of my 2016 England trip.  I'm at the beginning of crafting the thing that will become a memorable vacation.  I hope it will outdo even the magnificent 2014 trip with April and Sharmon!  That was probably the most beautiful vacation I've ever taken.

But, to get on with the 2016 version of "An American in England"...

The plan is to leave the U.S. on a Friday in late spring.  My friend, Sharon, expects to be traveling with me, so I've booked lodging accordingly!  We arrive in London on Saturday, and will be making our way to the Travelodge I became acquainted with in 2014.  Very low cost (for London), spacious rooms and showers, decently clean, and all within a stone's throw of the Tower of London!

For three lovely days, we will be having tea, exploring museums, visiting historic sites, attending West End shows, and shopping.  I can feel the excitement building!

At the end of our time in London, we will leave for the city of York, if only briefly.  York is an old friend of mine, and the minster is my favorite mega cathedral - hosting the world's largest collection of antique stained glass!  Our ultimate destination this day is Knaresborough.  A place I visited many times when I lived in nearby Harrogate and Ripon, but which I've not seen for years.  It rivals Keswick on my list of top villages to see in England!  Our lodging is a lovely B&B near the centre of town.

Knaresborough is a great base for all the fun things I know of in the area.  There's Fountain's Abbey, my favorite little jewel of a town, Kilburn, Thirsk, Ripon... and a host of other beautiful spots that I plan to see. There will be market days and shopping and moors and dales!  Maybe even tea at Betty's!

I also want to visit my wonderful friends Linda and Chris if we can swing it!

Linda and Chris

From Knaresborough, we will be heading north to see Hadrian's Wall and then sweeping down to Keswick for a brief visit in England's lovely Lake District.  We're staying in a new B&B (to me) called Seven Oaks!  It looks lovely.  I'm hoping to see the Cumbria gang on Saturday or Sunday for a short hike and perhaps head out with Sharon to see Derwentwater by boat and do a little shopping at Keswick's Saturday market.  And, who knows... maybe we'll meet up with the elusive Greg and Kim, or the effervescent Sandra Penney with husband, Neil!

Sadly, we'll have to leave Keswick - but happily it's for the Cotswolds!  On the way, we plan to see Judith Yates, my artistic friend from Coventry.


After seeing Judith, the Cotswolds might seem anti-climatic for some, but that's where we're going!  We'll be staying in a beautiful little cottage in the picturesque town of Bibury. What a trip, eh?  We'll be tripping about to see thatched cottages, the town of Glastonbury for a metaphysical fix, and round about the middle of England.

The final leg of our trip is to head back to Tintagel.  I had such fun there last year!  We re-booked the fantastic room at the Avalon B&B.  I'll be heading back to all the magical places and hopefully seeing some new stuff (the Agatha Christie Walk?).  There's all sorts of Cameloty things to do on the tour this year, for sure!

We'll be waving goodbye to our awesome B&B and heading back to London for one night.  I picked my favorite little hotel on a sweet little tree-lined street... the Best Western Palace and Suites. It's right on the tube line for Heathrow, and close to Kew Gardens and Wimbledon if we decide to tour about one last time.

Most of our trip will be by car (with yours truly driving).  Sharon has offered (generously) to navigate, and we will have Beavis (my GPS of Beavis and Butthead fame).

I will definitely miss the packing skills of Packing Annie (April Fager) and the giggles from Googley Eyes (Sharmon Blank), but we hope to make new memories this year that will last a lifetime.

Cheers, my dears! I'll keep you posted!

Friday, July 31, 2015

Bucket Lists

I passed a milestone this week.  Over 100K frequent flyer miles in my skinny little MileagePlus account.  I stop, savor the numbers… One-one-seven-eight-five-eight.  That’s a LOT Of numbers!  It means the world is my oyster.  I could travel to Tibet, Tasmania, or Taiwan.  I could sip sake, savor snails, or slurp sangria. 

I could go a.n.y.w.h.e.r.e. on 117,858 frequent flyer miles.

But, damned if I don’t find myself hitting default.  Heading, rather, for the land of fried fish, pickled eggs, and Marmite. 

It does cross my mind that it’s crazy… I have so many places on my bucket list.  Hobart, Tasmania! Alaska! Hawaii (my sister has even been to Hawaii!).  What is wrong with me? 

Perhaps, it’s the history of England?  The magic? The brilliant swath of color across a verdant valley on a gorgeous spring day?  Perhaps it’s the baby lambs, the West End shows, the mystery, the never-ending surprises that greet me on each trip.  Just when you think you have England sussed, you turn a corner and she proves you know nothing at all.

I sigh and turn to Trip Advisor.  What new routes should I pick?  Perhaps a more in-depth look at Cornwall and Devon.  Oh, and while I’m at it… let’s add more of the Cotswolds with a pinch of Yorkshire and cup of Cumbria.  Mix it all together and see what the result will be.

In 2014, I created my most brilliant masterpiece.  An all-out, balls-to-the-wall super overview of England, Scotland, and Wales.  We visited places I’ve never been before and places I’ve loved.  England, once again, wraped me in her arms, welcomed me, charmed me, and left me wondering… what next?  And what next?  There is always a next.  If I go to Hobart or Christchurch or Tripoli… I might miss something.  I will have blinked and I will have missed the magic – perhaps forever.

So, I begin to wonder if my bucket list will ever be realized because England (in its entirety) IS my bucket list.  In the end, it’s not so much where you go, but what you gain from having gone.  And, with 117,858 frequent flyer miles… I daresay I will gain a lot in 2016!

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Skip Those Customs and TSA Lines!

I was looking through my Facebook feed the other day and noticed a friend posting about skipping through TSA checks by applying to Global Entry.  As an airport volunteer, I had guided many folks to Global Entry.  It’s used as a point of arrival for planes coming from overseas.  But, other folks had said something to the effect of, “I have my Global Entry interview – can you tell me how to get there?”

“Of course,” I’d say.  It’s down this corridor to the end of the hall.  Last door on your right.

But, I had no idea what sort of interview.  Perhaps a job interview?  Could be.  But, that’s not what it was.  It was all part of an application process whereby you can skip the long lines entering a country by being on a “trusted traveler” list.   

Benefits include:

  • No processing lines
  •  No paperwork
  • Access to expedited entry benefits in other countries
  • Available at major U.S. airports
  • Reduced wait times
  • TSA Precheck Eligibility

To apply for a trusted traveler/global entry card:

1.       Go to the Global Online Enrollment System(GOES). 
2.       Register as a new user.
3.       Log into the site.
4.       Fill out the application.  The following will be required:
Personal Information
Other Names Used
Date and Place of Birth
Contact Information
Citizenship Information
Admissibility Documents
Primary Residence
Driver's License
Current Address
Address History
Current Employment Status
Employment History
Travel History
Additional Information
Conveyance Information
Final Review
5.       After filling out the application, you will be asked to submit along with a $100 filing fee.
6.       The Customs and Border Protection (CBP) will review your application to determine if you are conditionally approved for global entry. 
7.       Upon conditional approval, you will be contacted by the CBP to set up a Global Entry interview where any inconsistencies in your application will be discussed.
8.       When all application questions have been discussed and your global entry approved, you are sent a trusted traveler card.
9.     You must activate this card at the CBP GOES page.  

A TSA pre-check is automatically assigned to all Global Entry card holders.

Countries that are part of the global entry program include:

  • U.S. citizens, U.S nationals and U.S. Lawful Permanent Residents
  •  Mexico
  • Netherlands
  • Panama
  • Republic of Korea
  • Germany

Global entry kiosks are located in designated airports where your card and fingerprints will be scanned.  You’ll also fill out a customs declaration form before being directed to baggage claim.
For more information, see the trusted traveler guide HERE.

Happy trails!

Thursday, June 11, 2015

I Love Airports!

Airports are tiny microcosms of our lives.  I like airports. I walk into an airport, and I’m *happy* because I know I’m about to embark on an adventure.  No one is expecting anything of me other than to make my flight.  Gotta love that.
Airports have unique shops, though some are better than others.  They have eateries and drinkeries and local entertainmenteries.  You can spend a lot of quality time at an airport.
Many airports have shoe shiners and massagers. And, my most recent discovery, VIP lounges!  I never knew what I was missing until the doors opened, hosannas rang in my ears, and I stumbled forward into the light.  Free drinks, free eats, free newspapers and magazines, places to watch tv, beds, wifi, and showers! Admirals clubs and Executive clubs… it’s like Eden at the airport!
For the most part, the personnel at the airport are nice and helpful.  The same can be said of travelers, by the way.  I volunteer at a visitor information booth on the weekends, and I can tell you that what makes my day is knowing I’ve helped make some traveler’s life a little less stressful.  Even if it’s only to smile and hand them a map or local magazine.  But, sometimes, it’s more than that.  Like helping a deaf kid whose ride didn’t show up.  Between us and the airport police, we got him where he needed to be.  Or the soldier from Fort Hood who lost his wallet (and was reunited). 
Travel weary folks who just landed from far off lands (and some not so far off) have been helped by our customer-service conscious staff.
I hear that airports stress some people out.  That all the connections and layovers are anything but a happy experience.  I think the difference is the attitude you show up with.
If you show up thinking your trip should go one way and it takes a 90 degree turn, it’s just part of the package.  It can either be an adventure, or your worst nightmare… but YOU get to choose!  Once, at Newark, I explored and found a multi-faith meditation room.  I loved the idea!  At Heathrow, there are more shops than you can find on Oxford Street.  In Austin, one of the best-known BBQ restaurants is the Salt Lick… you guessed it… at the airport!
So, plan on not planning once your feet hit the automatic doors at the departures entrance. This is a gift you’ve been given.  A chance to meet people you’ve never met before.  To lend a smile or encouraging word as you shuffle through the TSA lines.  Decide that you are going to start this adventure… with the grace, finesse, and humor of a seasoned traveler… and expect travel karma to respond in kind!

 Austin Bergstrom International Airport (ABIA)

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Thursday's Class

I am working on my class for Thursday night.

“Hi there!  How are you tonight?  

I’ll be your instructor for Beyond London.  Is everyone in the right class?”

"Think of England," I tell them, "then quickly tell me the first thing that comes to mind."

While I’m preparing the class, I’m trying to understand the points I want to make.  I quickly realize how difficult it is to say “this is England”.  

When we travel to England, we think we know what England is… that it is Big Ben or Buckingham Palace, or the Queen.  It's kind of like the story about the elephant:

Once upon a time, there lived six blind men in a village. One day the villagers told them, "Hey, there is an elephant in the village today."

They had no idea what an elephant is. They decided, "Even though we would not be able to see it, let us go and feel it anyway." All of them went where the elephant was. Everyone of them touched the elephant.

"Hey, the elephant is a pillar," said the first man who touched his leg.

"Oh, no! it is like a rope," said the second man who touched the tail.

"Oh, no! it is like a thick branch of a tree," said the third man who touched the trunk of the elephant.

"It is like a big hand fan" said the fourth man who touched the ear of the elephant.

"It is like a huge wall," said the fifth man who touched the belly of the elephant.

"It is like a solid pipe," Said the sixth man who touched the tusk of the elephant.

The truth is that England is like the elephant.  It can be viewed in so many different ways and is as unique as the person seeking to travel it.  Some of you will say that you want to go hiking.  Some will say you want to see the sights of London.  Some will say that the history draws you, or the music, or afternoon teas or whatever. 

My task is to give you a brief glimpse of England so that you can make up your own mind about what it is and what you want from your trip.

And how does someone do that in one class?  How does someone do that in a lifetime?

I get surveys back all the time that say, “but you didn’t cover xyz.”  

And all I have to say to that is, “I didn’t have time.”

So, I flash a few pictures.  I explain the currency, the transportation and lodging options.  And, though I’m not much of a geek, I attempt to explain SIM cards and smart phones.

I look into eager eyes.  Eager minds that want to be transported beyond the looking glass.  Avalon and Isaac Newton.  Wordsworth and the Beatles.

“I have an hour,” I tell them.

It's a start.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

And Why Not London!

I seem to evangelize a lot about getting out of London and exploring other places in the UK.  It’s true that there is more to England than London.  It is also true that London is a FABULOUS destination spot!  I love it and am happy as a clam exploring it when I have the time.  Below are only a few suggestions.  I recommend a lifetime of exploration. 

What do I love most about London?  Well, there are several things I could discuss:

  • Historical sites
  • Theatre
  • Museums
  • Shopping
  • Parks
  • Events

Historical Sites

Some of the historical sites I’ve visited and liked include:

  •   Greenwich (the Royal Maritime Museum).  I’ve seen the Cutty Sark from the land and WANT to go to the Royal Observatory at some point. There’s also a great little Market in Greenwich near the rail station. This couple did a great blog post of Greenwich.  
  •  Buckingham Palace.  I’ve seen it from the outside. You can also tour Buckingham Palace during the summer.
  • Overseas visitors can’t tour Big Ben, but you *can* now tour the Houses of Parliament and even have tea there!
  •  The Tower of London (go early as possible on a week day to avoid crowds – preferably when school is in!) 
  • Tower Bridge:  where they have a super cool highrise glass floor for you to look through.  Also a grand tour of the workings of the Tower Bridge.  Check times to watch the actual raising and lowering of the bridge.
  • St. Paul’s Cathedral: Where Charles and Di were married.
  • Westminster Abbey: A MUST for history buffs. 
  • Haven’t been here, and don’t care for cricket… but I would love to visit the mother of all cricket grounds some day.  Lords.


Why would you go anywhere but the West End for theatre?  You can usually shop for half-price or discounted tickets at Leicester Square.  



If you like to shop, this is the place!  There are so many options, there’s just not enough time in the day to explore them all.  Where do I always go?
  • Camden Market: It’s huge, it’s fun, and bargains can be had!
  •  Covent GardenShopping isn’t as good as Camden, but try the sticky toffee pudding at Battersea Pie Station… YUMMMMM. Also, I go there to see who shows up.  There are always impromptu performances at Covent Garden. Jubilee Market (attached to the Apple Market) will likely have some things a bit cheaper.
  • Fortnum and Mason:  is where I buy my tea.  It’s a smaller version of Harrods.
  • Harrods. I never shop there… can’t afford it.
  • This little market is always fun:  Located in the churchyard of St. Peters, Piccadilly.



  • I once caught the Horse Guard Parade by happy accident!  Highly recommended. 
  • Elizabethan Banquets.  There’s one in London proper that I’ve not been to, but I can highly recommend the one here:  Hatfield House is the residence where QE1 learned she would be queen.
  • London Eye.  Excellent views of London when the weather is good. 
  • The changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace.  This happens every other day.  See schedule here.


As I said, this is just a small sampling of London destination spots.   Check the following for further information:

British National Library (April and I, 2014)