Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Did You Know?

Queen Anne Boleyn was reported to have had six fingers?  This was refuted, but it’s quite possible she did have two nails on her right little finger.

Churchill and Hitler were both artists.

Margaret Thatcher, once a chemist, assisted in the creation of soft serve ice cream.

It is normally thought that Henry VIII finished his marriages as follows: Divorced, beheaded, survived.  It is commonly believed that Catherine Parr (his last wife) was the only queen to survive him.  However, both Anne of Cleves and Catherine of Aragon survived his royal malfeasance.  Catherine of Aragon was never divorced by the Catholic church nor was the marriage annulled by them.  King Henry was excommunicated from the church and pushed an annulment through after the reformation.  He ordered that Catherine should have the title of Dowager Duchess of Wales.

The queen owns the sturgeons, whales, and dolphins in the waters around the UK.

George II died on the toilet and may have shared the same fate as Edmund II who was rumored to have been stabbed to death by a Viking hiding in his privy.

The queen is the only person in Britain who legally drove without a license or number plate on her car.

Owain Glyndwr was the last native-born man to hold the title of Prince of Wales.

Queen Victoria used chloroform as an anesthetic during childbirth.

Shakespeare’s father made gloves for a living.

During Elizabeth I’s time, makeup containing lead was used as an anti-aging cosmetic.

In 1952, the Great Smog encompassed London and killed anywhere from 4,000 to 12,000 people.  The “Big Smoke” is still used in reference to London.

Wales has more castles than any other country in Europe!  With over 600 castles, you might think the Welsh loved building them, but in truth, many were built by the English to keep the Welsh under control.

Queen Elizabeth I was reputed to be a man! (Of course, a woman couldn’t have been such a strong monarch!)

A folly (virtually unknown in the U.S.) is an expensive ornamental structure with no practical purpose.

Queen Victoria was the first monarch whose likeness was pressed on a postage stamp.

Edward VIII, the king who abdicated his throne for an American divorcee, was a Nazi sympathizer.  Upon the Nazis winning the war, he would possibly have been replaced on the British throne as its monarch.  He also encouraged an infamous picture in 1933 of Princess Elizabeth and her family performing a Nazi salute!

Queen Boudica of the Iceni is rumored to be buried under platform 9 at Kings Cross Station.

Shakespeare was a great propagandist for the Tudors.  His Richard III had little bearing on the real Richard III who was by all reports a handsome and well-liked ruler.  There is a lot of controversy over Richard’s involvement with the Princes in the Tower, but he certainly wasn’t freakish or sporting a withered arm.  He was, however, judged to have had severe scoliosis rather than a hunched back.  All this propaganda ensured that the public viewed the Tudors as rightful heirs to the throne and the northern kings as abhorrent.

Do you have any trivia to add?  Let us know in the Comments section!

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Intelligent Packing: What Questions Should You Be Asking?

You're packing for an overseas trip, and you want make sure you only take the essentials.  This list of questions should help you hone your packing skills and cull your master packing list.  Please feel free to add some of  your favorite tips and tricks to the list!

Is this a need or a want?
Have you packed color coordinated clothing?
Have you packed clothing you’ll wear?  
Have you packed clothing that is weather appropriate?
Check the web for historical weather information for your destination.
Have you packed multi-purpose clothing?
Have you packed comfortable shoes suitable for walking? 
High heels are not always appropriate.  Ultimately, two pairs of shoes should get you by: one for daily walking and another pair for going out in the evenings.  If you can get by with one pair, kudos!
Is this on your packing list? If not, should it be there?
Is it really necessary? 
If you lose medications – that could be a hassle.  If you're missing a toothbrush, those are easily replaced.
Can you get it at your destination?
Can you rent it at your destination? 
Instead of packing hiking boots, poles, tents, etc.  Look for a place at your destination that rents them.
Is your travel partner already packing this?
If you’re traveling with others, do each of  you need one? (Think of things such as maps, hair dryers, or toothpaste.)
Do you  really need this gadget? 
If you’ve got your smart phone, do you really need a camera or video recorder?  And honestly, it’s your vacation.  Can’t you leave the laptop at home? It may mean less stress and more time happily enjoying the sites and sounds of your vacation.
Does every item have a purpose (and hopefully more than one)?
Have you packed too many medications? 
You’re not going to be gone that long… do you really need all those supplements?  Most of the time you can get things like Ibuprofen, Benedryl, antacids, etc. at  your destination. For a fee, many drug stores will pack a week's pills with prescription number for travel in blister packs. Make sure you have your pills in the original container or that you have your doctor's prescription on hand.  TSA doesn't require it, but you could have trouble in foreign countries whose laws are different than ours.
Have you packed too many beauty supplies? 
You can usually get hairspray, makeup items, and such at your destination.  I typically take the minimum: foundation, brow pencil, face powder, mascara, and lipstick.
Have you limited liquids. 
You are allowed 3.4 oz bottles of liquids in a one quart bag per person. Remember that you can split toothpaste or purchase toiletries at your destination.
Have you completed a trial pack and eliminated all the items that don’t work?
Have you tagged your luggage inside and out?  You may also want to take pictures of your luggage and the contents in case your suitcase is lost or misplaced.
Have you left space for holiday purchases?
Tips:  Pack a plastic shoebox for breakable items.  Roll up a daypack or Rick Steves convertible carry-on.  When you get to your destination this extra bag can be used for souvenirs or gifts.
Have you updated a master packing list to include all the items you're taking?

Packing Made Easy!
Tip #1: Save on your baggage weight by putting heavy things in your pockets rather than in the carry-on.  You can transfer them to your luggage at your convenience.

Tip #2: After your trip, edit your packing list to reflect what worked and what didn't.

Safe and happy travels!

Friday, November 11, 2016

Off the Beaten Path: Kilburn

County: North Yorkshire

I thought I might start highlighting some of the towns I recommend when I’m telling folks about travel in England.  You may already know that I lived in N. Yorkshire ages ago, so that’s why I feel such an affinity with the county.  It’s also just a beautiful place to visit!

If you google Kilburn, make sure you look for the one in North Yorkshire.  England may be the size of Mississippi, but they may have several villages with the same name in different counties! There is a story I could tell here… should I, Rob Kane?  ;)

Several friends had met up in Thackthwaite to start a hike up Low Fell.  But, where was Rob? He said he was coming.  Our cell phones were iffy at best on reception.  But, when we finally got hold of him, he was actually in Thackthwaite.  North Yorkshire (not Cumbria)!  He drove like fury for an hour to get to OUR Thackthwaite for the hike.  He will never forget (because we always remind him)!

Anyway, the hike was a success, but back to Kilburn.

When I lived in Harrogate, North Yorkshire in the 80s, my first trip to Kilburn was to pick up a puppy.  I remember thinking it was a nice little town, but I didn’t know any more about it than that.  I’m not sure when I made my first trip simply to visit Kilburn.  Perhaps it was due to my history instructor, Sid Brown.  Or maybe one of my friends on a day off thought we could do some shopping at the Mouseman shop.  But, from the first time I spent more than a few minutes there, I fell in love with the place. 

Kilburn lies just east of Thirsk (which I’ll feature in another article soon).  It’s a tiny town.  No market to speak of.  It does have a lovely pub (the Forresters Arms) and a small café inside the Mouseman Vistor Centre.  Make sure you plan your meals based on the hours of the pub and café as there are times during the day that they might be closed. 

The first thing you’ll notice as you drive toward the town is a white chalk horse figure cut into the face of a hill. Unlike  the prehistoric horse at Uffington, the Kilburn horse was carved in 1857 with some argument as to who originated it.  It was either a school teacher named John Hodgson or Thomas Taylor, a Kilburn native.  At any rate, the site has been maintained since that time by  volunteers who refresh the figure by applying white chalk chips from the Yorkshire Wolds.  Continued maintenance is funded by public support and the efforts of the Kilburn White Horse Association.

Visitors can take the relatively easy path to the top of the White Horse cliff for a panoramic view of the countryside.  There is a parking lot at the base of the hill for easy access.

Also nearby is the gateway to the North Yorkshire Moors National Park.  Visitors can find information at the Sutton Bank National Park Centre (free entry)  which is located about 26 minutes east of Thirsk.  Spend a day of hiking or biking the trails with fantastic local views.  You can rent bikes from Sutton Bank Bikes who also offer classes.  

The North Yorkshire Moors National Park covers 554 square miles of North East Yorkshire.  It includes a range of hills (including the scenic Cleveland Hills).  With large swaths of heather-laden fields, the panorama may sometimes appear purple!  It’s well-worth a visit for the outdoor-minded.

This brings me to the highlight of Kilburn, Robert Thompson’s Craftsmen shop.  Now, I’m someone who can appreciate a well-turned wooden bowl or carved bookends, but this takes history and craft to an altogether different level.  Robert Thompson (1876-1955) was a furniture maker reknowned for carving small mice into his pieces.  Supposedly, the idea for the mouse came after a conversation about “being as poor as a church mouse”.  It caught on, and to this day, you can see evidence of his work in local churches and pubs. 

The workshop is still run by Robert Thompson’s descendents, and you can watch the artists at work carving pieces that will eventually go on sale in the shop and Visitor Centre (where you can also get a bite to eat).  Note that you must have a pretty fat wallet to purchase most of the items on sale, however, those items are also works of art that seem to appreciate over time.  I currently have a bowl, a set of book ends, and a pin dish from Robert Thompson.  I wish I still had the three-legged stool I purchased back in the 80s!

I hope you avail yourself of a trip to Kilburn if you happen to be in North Yorkshire. It’s one of those “off the beaten path” kind of places that bring a secret smile to my face whenever I think of visiting there!

Monday, November 7, 2016

A London Guide for the Uninitiated

by Joe Thomas

There are so many tourist attractions to see in London that it is best to plan out what you want to visit ahead of time, so you miss nothing. Then plot your route either on an Underground map, a street map or decide which open-topped bus you will hop on to see as much as possible, in the shortest time.

It’s often best to group attractions together, so for example if you are heading to the South Bank you can take in Tower Bridge, The London Eye, the London Aquarium and then move on to the Palace of Westminster and Big Ben. St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Natural History Museum and the Science Museum are all worth a visit as are Trafalgar Square, Kensington Palace, Buckingham Palace and the Globe Theatre. You can choose which of them you are just going to view from the outside and which you will spend longer touring.

Here’s a checklist for you, so you don’t miss anything:


  • Tate modern
  • London Zoo
  • London Eye
  • Natural History Museum
  • Tower of London
  • Churchill’s War room
  • Big Ben
  • Hyde Park
  • British Museum
  • National Gallery
  • Palace of Westminster
  • Globe theatre
  • London Dungeon 

Popular Watering Holes

All that walking and photograph-taking might have made you thirsty and a trip to London has to include a visit to a pub or two.

The pub is as much a part of British culture as fish and chips or a cup of tea and you can truly say you have mixed with the locals once you have bought a round or two at the bar.

Pubs can also tell you a great deal about British history and these five have just as much to say as a visit to a museum.

The Star Tavern, Belgravia: This establishment has seen many famous people pass through its doors including Diana Dors and Peter O’Toole. It also has the perhaps more infamous claim to fame of being the place where The Great Train Robbery was planned in the early 1960s.

The French House, Soho:
This pub was used as a meeting place for members of the French Resistance, including General de Gaulle, during the Second World War. Today it retains a French flavor and even the alcohol is served in measures used across the Channel.

The Dog and Duck, Soho
: It was here that the novelist George Orwell used to drink, maybe gathering ideas for his next book. It has been mentioned that in more recent times Madonna has dropped by on occasion.

The Lamb and Flag, Convent Garden:
This pub can also boast it has been the hangout of great writers with Charles Dickens frequenting the bar as well as 17th Century poet John Dryden. This pub holds regular celebrations with the bunting being hung out every St. George’s Day.

The Viaduct, Newgate Street:
Opposite the Old Bailey, this pub may have acted as a temporary gaol at one time. It is also the last surviving Victorian gin palace in London and the perfect place to visit for a G&T.

If you prefer cocktail bars, then the world is your oyster in London, especially in recent years as the trend for cocktails has seen a resurgence. Callooh Callay, Love & Liquor, The Lucky Pig, Mr. Fogg’s and the extravagantly named Opium Cocktail and Dim Sum Bar are all worth heading to. Party the night away without a care in the world as you can always burn those calories off with more sightseeing tomorrow. 

Hidden Secrets

If you like your drinking establishments a little more tucked away, try these out for size.

Tamesis Dock, Albert Embankment: Get on board for a pint or two at this floating pub. This 1933 Dutch Barge, that used to travel the waters of the Seine, now offers great food and cold beer and even better you can sit outdoors and watch the sun set over London as you eat. 

The Mayor of Scaredy Town, Spitalfields: This truly is a secret, hidden away beneath The Breakfast Club. On arrival you need to say you would like to see the Mayor and only then will you be led downstairs to discover the bar hidden behind a door disguised as a SMEG fridge.  

Putt In The Park, Acton: If you want a little exercise alongside your cold beer then head to the park next to Acton central railway station. Here you can enjoy a round of mini golf while enjoying a pint or two. This is a tranquil destination where you will be surrounded by greenery and the sound of running water from the small streams dotted about. 

Enjoy The Nightlife

When you want to enjoy the London nightlife you need not worry about being short on choices. Stand-up comedy, cabaret, clubbing or the enjoyment of fine wines or whiskies, it’s all on offer.

The following three areas of the Capital are worth exploring as they have a great deal to offer in terms of nightlife.

Camden is a great place to visit day or night as it is a hub of the arts. During the day Camden Market offers a wide array of stalls selling handcrafted wares including clothing, jewellery, leather goods and artwork. As the sun sets head to one or more of the quirky pubs, many of which offer live music. The Black Heart is the place to try locally brewed beer from the Camden Town Brewery, such as Camden Hells Lager.

The Dublin Castle is less about the look of the pub and more about the ambiance and the music. It is one of the pubs around London where new bands come to prove themselves and over the years it has featured Madness and Blur.

The Enterprise bills itself as the only true pub left in Camden and with its roaring fire in Winter and relaxed atmosphere, you may just agree. It also features unknown indie and alternative bands so if you want to discover new music, it should be on your tour.

There are plenty of nightclubs on offer in Mayfair although you may need a slightly larger bank balance to make the most of them. For Seventies Chic and a groovy dance floor head to Loop Bar. Trader Vic’s is all about the South Pacific and thus you need to enjoy a cocktail or two as you soak up the atmosphere. By the same people who brought us the Playboy Club, the Baroque has lush surroundings and a mix of party nights - often with live music on offer.

Head to Soho in the West End for a mix of high energy nightlife. The Box has seen many celebrity clients over recent years. Bar Rumba and the St.Moritz Club are famous basement bars, and the latter has been a hub of entertainment for decades. If karaoke is more your thing, but you prefer to do it in relative privacy, then head to the pods inside Lucky Voice Soho where drinks and nibbles are also on offer.


Museums Not to Be Missed

London is home to many national museums and art galleries, such as the Natural History Museum, the National Gallery, the Science Museum and Tate Modern. All of these are worth a visit but what happens if you want to experience something just a little different?

Sir John Soane’s Museum: Sir John Soane was the architect of the Bank of England and this, his former residence, includes a range of his architectural drawings as well as the art and antiquities he surrounded himself with, including the Egyptian Sarcophagus of Seti. 
Geffrye Museum: This museum is a fascinating insight into how we have all lived through the centuries. Taking us from 1600 through to the present day it explores the English Home with a focus on the living room, the place where we all spend the majority of our time. 
The Savoy Hotel’s Museum: Naturally you can enjoy a cocktail at the Savoy Hotel’s American Bar before heading next door to take a look around the museum. This features photos of many of the famous guests of the hotel and even a little vintage alcohol makes an appearance. 
The Grant Museum of Zoology: A wide range of specimens are on offer here and you can even take part in a ‘Dead Life Drawing’ class, although a glass of wine is on offer to lighten the mood. 
The Viktor Wyne Museum of Curiosities: This museum really does offer an eclectic mix of exhibits. Live petting evenings when you can meet millipedes is a highlight. 
The Pollock Toy Museum: If you find old dolls frightening this one might be worth a miss. However, if instead they fascinate you, make sure you don’t miss out on this museum. 
The Museum of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society: If medicine through the ages is one of your interests this museum doesn’t disappoint. Find out what patients experienced as they went through surgery before anaesthetics and pain relief were discovered and find out when and why leeches were used. 
Dennis Severs’ House: For an insight into life in the 18th Century for a wealthy family head to Dennis Severs’ House. This has been recreated with food on the table and unmade beds, just as though the family have gone out for the day. 

Culture Vulture

It’s time to experience a little more culture around London, but all of these are relaxing as well as fun.
Wilton’s Music Hall: Located in Tower Hamlets this music hall harks back to the good old days of variety and is the oldest surviving grand music hall in the world. Offering a range of theatre productions it’s worth a visit to see the interior of the building alone.
Temple: This is an area of London known for its connections to the practice of law over the centuries. The name came about because it was established by the Knights Templar in the 12th Century and because  of this it also played a central role in Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. It’s definitely worth a visit for any lovers of the book or film.
Fulham Palace: Surprisingly this is a National Trust property right in the centre of the capital. It is well known for the variety of events it runs throughout the year usually coinciding with seasonal events such as Apple Day in October and Bones, Bumps and Bats close to Halloween.
Guildhall Art Gallery: If you want to find out what life was like in Roman London then head to the Guildhall Art Gallery. During restoration in the late 1980s they discovered the circular walls of an amphitheatre which can now be viewed together with a fascinating insight into the history of the area.

There’s Always Time to Shop

London is packed full of world-renowned department stores such as Harrods, Liberty, Selfridges, Harvey Nichols and Hamleys and if you are visiting close to the Christmas season the window displays are not to be missed.

However, where should you head if you enjoy smaller boutique shopping?
Camden Passage: This is probably one of the most well known and loved centres of independent stores and it hosts a selection of shops and cafes. Many of the shops are catered towards vintage so this is definitely the place to head in London if you want to pick up something unique.
Little Venice: Little Venice is on the Thames and is a collection of waterside shops and cafes. What’s makes it even more fun is you can even hop on a canal boat and head off to your next destination, almost like being in Italy.

Let’s Get Outside

It’s not just the urban buzz that attracts people to London. What makes it so special is there is so much opportunity to get outside and experience green spaces in the fresh air.

The Thames Path: This stretches all the way from the Thames Barrier across the country to Cirencester. There are many shorter routes you can take within London to see the sights and if you head out by bike you could even make it to Windsor to visit the Castle. Stop off at any of the many pubs along the way for a hearty lunch to keep you going. 

Japanese Roof Garden at the School of Oriental and African StudiesIf you want the perfect place to relax then head to this garden which was built during the 2001 Japan Celebrations at the college. The theme here is Forgiveness, and this is summed up by the Kanji character engraved on the granite water basin in the garden. 

Postman’s Park: This park is home to The Watts Memorial to Heroic Self-Sacrifice. It was built in 1900 by George Frederick Watts and celebrates the heroism of individuals who gave their lives to save others. The park acquired its name because it used to be the place where workers from the old General Post Office ate their lunch.

Let’s Eat!

Street Food: Shoreditch is a great place to experience a wide array of street food. It holds many food festivals and markets, most notably the Urban Food Fest which happens every Saturday. This includes many street food stalls plus a changing selection of craft beers, wines and even cocktails. 

Another street food destination is Borough Market and this offers both food which is ready to eat straight away plus fresh produce. A foodies dream to find everything under one roof. In Fact there are many amazing spots dotted all around London, so wherever you are, there shouldn’t be one too far away from you. 

Restaurants: There are so many restaurants to choose from in London that before you head out, it’s best to narrow your search down by deciding what kind of food you are in the mood for.

If you are craving ice-cream then Chin Chin Labs in Camden takes this sweet treat to a whole other level through the application of liquid nitrogen.

A trip to London wouldn’t be complete without that traditional trip to the pie and mash shop. You can even try the local delicacy jellied eels, but be warned it isn’t for the faint-hearted.

One of the latest trends in London restaurants has been the upsurge in venues which are tucked away and offer seclusion. Back in 5 Minutes, Freud, Four O Nine and Old Tom and English all make it on to this list, but remember most will need early reservation.  

It’s All in the Planning

You will get the most out of any trip to London if you do some planning before you arrive. That way you can group together all the places you want to visit and waste less time on the Underground or in the back of cabs.

There are now several apps available you can download to your phone to help you get around and to find places worth visiting close to wherever you are, so you never miss out on anything. It’s also worth browsing the reviews on Trip Advisor or looking through Time Out London to find new places of interest.

There are many guides covering numerous sectors specialized to what you want to do. London on a budget, London as a couple, or London with a team are three.

Your friends and family can sometimes be the best people to advise you on what you will like so don’t be afraid to ask around in person and on social media to capture a wider network.

Lastly it’s important to remember that there is so much to see and do in London that it’s unlikely you will get to visit everywhere, regardless how long your stay is. So choose wisely and above all pace yourself so you intersperse sight-seeing with plenty of rest and relaxation in the pub or in the beautiful open spaces around London.