Highclere Castle

Highclere Castle was our last tourist destination on our visit to Europe.  Marcia had prepared us well for the visit.  We watched the PBS special on the Highclere Castle.  We watched several episodes from the second season of Downton Abbey in the weeks prior to the visit.

The girls have become accustomed to waiting in a long queue.  There were no complaints that we were waiting too long to get in.
While on a highway we saw a sign, “Caution Soft Verges”.  From the loose gravel at the edge of the highway, we assumed verges are shoulders. Subsequently, the dictionary indicated a verge is an edge, border, margin, rim, or lip.


We observed the caution not to take an pictures inside Highclere.
Winged dragons were a feature below second story windows.
UNG IE SERUIRAY means “One will I serve”.  Google indicated a different spelling from Old French, “Ung Je Seruiray”.
Marcia at the back of the Castle.
The grounds of the 5,000 acre estate were as impressive as the Castle.



Roman Baths: Bath England

We arrived in Bath a couple of hours before our Roman Baths dinner and tour.  We explored the pedestrian streets and window shopped.

A pedestrian street in Bath.  The umbrellas were particularly apt.  It rained on and off while we were in Bath.


Eventually we found the Apple Store.  Sarah went to one of the new iPads with the Apple Pencil.  She found the Sketches app.  Within in 15 minutes, Marcia, Ella, and I were on iPad’s creating creating drawings with the Sketches app.  The feel of the Apple Pencil was uncanny.  It glided across the surface and appeared to be pressure sensitive.  The harder you pressed the thicker the line.  It turns out there is a bluetooth pairing between the iPad and the Pencil.

Upon exiting the Apple Store we went to a plaza where a crowd was watching the Wimbledon men’s single final.  In the press, Andy Murray had been mentioned as Britain’s hope. We enjoyed the moment as the hopes of British citizens came true.

Moments after Brit Andy Murray beat Canadian Milos Raonic on Centre Court of Wimbledon.  Just before the picture was taken there was joyful cheering and clapping for the match point shot by Murray.

Based on the website, we assumed the dinner would be held by candlelight in the Roman Baths. Although the rather plain restaurant was across the street and the meal was less than stellar, we enjoyed the actual Roman Baths.  Rachel and Ella were listened intently to their audio guides.

The main pool.
I am enjoying a moment with Roman enactors. It turned out that the man next to me was familiar with Marcia’s hometown in Indiana.  One of his mentors was a prof at St Joseph College.
One of the larger pools that is fed by a hot thermal spring.


The five of us headed out to Stonehenge at 9:00.  Several people had warned us that you can no longer get close to stones.  I thought it might be a let down to visit what Sarah said was “just a bunch of stones”.  To the contrary it was quite impressive because even 500 years before 2500 BCE, there was significant human activity at the site. There was a circular ditch and earth bank.  The ditch was filled with caulk and had a diameter of 110 meters. Before the stones, it was one of the first cemeteries in Britain. From the perimeter of Stonehenge, we could see several large dirt mounds on distant hills.

Marcia’s sister, Marla, encouraged us to go into the huts by the exhibition hall.  Good advice. A fellow tourist was posing while his wife took a picture.  Since our kids refused to pose, I included our smiling fellow tourist.

From the car park, Marcia picked up our tickets in the short line for those with the foresight to book online months in advance.  Thanks to Marcia for doing the reservation six months ago! The car park is several kilometers from Stonehenge. So, there are multiple buses running back and forth to the site. They fill them.  Once the seats are full, they encourage people to keep moving to the back until the aisle is full of people standing.

Rachel next to a model of one of the large vertical stones.  It is hypothesized that it took one hundred men to move a stone.  A rope would be attached and 100 men pulled the rope, while others positioned the rolling logs from back to front as the stone stone crept alone.  It is difficult to imagine the commitment and level of organization required to move the stones long distances. 
Some folks from Atlanta were kind enough to take this photo. The large “bluestones” stand up to 7 meters high and are extend two and half meters into the ground.
This photo was taken from the Heelstone.  On the summer solstice, from the center of Stonehenge and at sunrise, the sun appears precisely over the Heeling Stone.  Imagine in 2500 BCE, they had enough insight to know the exact movement of sun and to know time of year that marked the summer solstice.
The Heelstone.
After the girls walked around the perimeter, they took a break in the grass.  They were content to wait while Marcia and I listened to audio tour.

Later the girls decided to they had sat long enough and made up their own version of football.

Sancerre: Canal Boat on the Thames

It was less than an hour from London to near Marlow that we received the orientation and checkout for the canal boat that was our home for five days. Part of the orientation was going through a lock. Normally there is a lockmaster available to help. It worked out well that the lockmaster was not there. David, the owner of the boat showed me which buttons to push to raise and lower the sluice, and to open and close the gates. The Sancerre weighs 30 tons and is 60 ft long and 11 ft wide.  The boat was surprisingly challenging to drive.  It was like driving a truck without power steering.  A lot of vibration came through the tiller. I expected it to easy.  No way.  It took some muscle to Negotiating 180 turns on a river, dogging scullers rowing with their backs to their forward motion, and trying to figure out which channel to take for the lock were what complicated the being at the helm of the canal boat.

The bow of the long canal boat.


IMG_2314During our first full day, we travelled from Bisham Abbey to Windsor. We were headed down stream and managed to successfully pass five locks. Two of the locks were unstaffed, so I had the opportunity to try my hand at operating locks. It was comforting that David said the controls were set up so you could not make a mistake. Nevertheless it was a relief when everything worked as designed. The bow thruster made steering the 60 ft boat into the lock easier. The hard part was controlling the stern. During orientation when I was entering the lock the stern scraped the side of the lock. My comfort level increased as we passed each lock. By the next day it was relatively easy to enter the lock straight and stop where directed by the lockmaster.


Rachel on the walkie talkie.  Marcia was at the bow which is just under 60 ft in front Rachel.  The walkie talkies were needed to communicate.

David had mentioned that the locks were designed two centuries ago when the pace of life was much slower. The canal boat travelled a hair faster than a person could walk. This allowed us to attend to the rural nature of the countryside. There were pastures and forests abound.


Windsor Castle
A church along the banks of the Thames.
A view of the Thames from the bow.
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The boat on the left was interesting. The stern slopes to the waterline. 
A view of Windsor Castle on the way to docking on the Eton side of the Thames.
Off in the distance I’m bent over driving a stake that we will be used to the tie the bow docking line.  Rachel is working the stern line.  We are anchored on the Eton side of the Thames.  Marcia, Rachel, and I walked into Eton and crossed the bridge to Windsor. 
In Windsor, they apparently drive a Ferrari to the ubiquitous Scottish restaurant.  
After fish and chips in Windsor, Rachel and I feed the swans.  They were highly competitive and aggressive with each other.
In a lock as it fills up.
In a crowded lock.


In a different lock next to another long canal boat. Our boat is the one on the right.



At the end of the last day on river, Marcia and I headed to the Bizzy Wash to do laundry.
We arrived back at the boat to catch the sunset. Marcia took this photo on our last night on the Thames.  A lovely sunset to end our river trip.

Last day in London: Brick Lane Market


On our last day in London, Marcia and I visited The Brick Lane Market.  Sarah, Ella, and Rachel choose to take a day off.  They stayed in the apartment. The market is huge.  There is a covered area.  Several streets are closed to cars for the Sunday market and the sidewalks are full of vendors and their new and used wares.  The best part of the market was the array of food vendors from all parts of the world.


We had Gosleme, a Turkish dish. The free sample made the decision to stop

There was fresh fruit galore.
This part of the Sunday Brick Lane market was on a side street.


After perusing the market, we returned to the Underground to get to the Tower of London.

Tower Bridge.


London City Hall viewed from the Tower Bridge.
A view of the Gerken that looks like a rocket ready to blast off.
In Harry Potter, this was the scene of the Wobbly Bridge.  Our Muggles guide pointed to this mentioned that when it was first built, it actually wobbled from people walking on it.  They had to close it and re engineer it.  Officially it is the Millenium Bridge.
We enjoyed a pleasant chat with these two gentlemen. Both were German citizens but working in London doing visual effects for movies and tv show.  They had worked on Game of Thrones. 
Another bridge on the Thames

London Eye and walking along the Thames

Marcia, Ella, Rachel, and I enjoyed a sunny day.  Everyone else thought it was a great day to buy tickets to ride the London Eye. Marcia stood in line to buy vouchers, then in another line to convert the vouchers to tickets. Then we approached the line that looked like a two hour wait.  So, off we went to have lunch in hopes that the line would be shorter when we returned. Much to our delight, the line was about half of what it had been.DSCN3242

A view from the London Eye
Unlike a Ferris wheel the capsules were very steady.  There was no sway or movement as function wind or people walking about the capsule.
Another view from the Eye.

We walked along the Thames and came open sand sculptures.  The artist had sheets laid out for tourists to toss coins.




Day Three London: Aladdin

The focus of the outing today was a trip to the Prince Edward Theatre for Aladdin.  We arrived early enough to have time to have lunch before the performance.  We found the Theatre and Marcia braved the line to pick up the tickets at will call.


Before the performance, we wandered into Chinatown looking for a restaurant.  There were many great options.  We examined many menus.  Some were too expensive, others were missing Szechuan dishes that I was hoping to see.

The Lido was our selection for lunch.  The girls have become more adventurous in their eating habits.  Ella ordered Lemon Chicken and Sarah ate Sweet and Sour Chicken that did not have the characteristic red sauce common in the US.
The pre-performance view from our seats.  The girls gave thumbs up for the performance of Aladdin.


In the aftermath of the Brexit vote to leave the EU, there is considerable angst in the UK. We happened on a park where citizens were about to gather to voice their desire to remain in the EU.

Setting up before the demonstration.
These folks arrived early.
The police were prepared for the march.

Universal Studio London: The Making of Harry Potter

Rachel with the ponytail at the center the picture.  Ella in pink is to Rachel’s right.  Sarah is in the white shirt on Rachel’s left.

While the girls have resisted early morning excursions, they made an exception for the Harry Potter Studio Tour. Everyone was up and ready before 8:00 am, a first in four months.

The grand entrance to the Great Hall.  It was also our entrance to the studio.
The great hall where the students of Hogwarts dined.
The sorting hat that determined which of the four houses a student was assigned.
The Gryffindor common room.  Harry was a Gryffindor.
The Gryffindor bunk room where Harry slept.
The headmaster, Dumbledore’s office.
4 Privet Drive where Harry spent his childhood. His small room was under the staircase.


After Harry’s uncle destroyed multiple acceptance letters, the owls brought a flood of letters that they sent down the chimney.
Sarah driving with Rachel in the sidecar.  The bike did not have an insignia on the gas tank.  There were two motorcycles used in the films, a Triumph 650 T-120 Bonneville and a Royal Enfield. This one is probably the Royal Enfield.
Marcia on the Hogwart’s bridge that connects two mountains.
The model used for shooting various scenes of Hogwarts.  It looks small in the picture, but the towers are about 30 ft high. In the background on the right and left are people .  They can provide an indication of the scale of the model.
The Knight Bus.

The video includes samples of animatronics included in Harry Potter films


On our first morning in London, we visited the light cruiser, HMS Belfast that is moored on the Thames.  It is part of the Imperial War Museum and includes wax figures to depict life on the ship.

HMS Belfast that entered service as WWII began.  It was still in service for the Korean War.

Marcia is smiling at one of the cooks.

After the HMS Belfast, we headed to the Muggles Tour.  We arrived two hours early for the tour.  Plan B turned out to be a great option.  We headed across the street and to the Borough Market.  From the first step into market we were bombarded by the most delightful aromas.  Initially it was paella, and then chicken and beef cooked over a wood fire.  Eventually we were

During the last four months we visited many markets.  The kids raved about Borough Market as their favorite.


Initially Ella ordered one chicken skewer on a tortilla.  Even though Rachel and Sarah had shared a large portion of Teriyaki noodles, they sent me back for a second skewer of chicken.  The barbecue chef asked about our travels and told me he was from Kosovo, Albania.  He mentioned that almost every household in Albania has a picture of Bill Clinton hanging in their living room.  He was not a fan of Trump.
An ATM in the market.

Then it was on to the Muggles Tour.  The guide was well steeped in Harry Potter trivia.  He clearly had theater training and had much practice guiding groups to see locations where the Harry Potter films had been shot. There were approximately 20 people in our group. I believe we were all from the US, as I did not detect any British accents. The group ranged from one 11-yr old boy who had read the entire Harry Potter series six times to a grandmother who had not read or seen a Harry Potter movie.  When the guide asked a question, the young boy had the answer.  There was a college age couple who were also Harry Potter fanatics.  He had an entertaining trivia throwdown with the guide. The guide prevailed.

On the Muggles Tour, this was the first site we visited.  It was similar to other sites in that you had to use your imagination.  In the movie, the set crew built a wooden arched door where the metal roll up door is.  At another point in the tour we went to the spot where the red British telephone box was located for one of the films.  It wasn’t there, but we stood on the spot.
We passed by a replica of Sir Francis Drake’s boat.  The guy with the bushy hair and white jacket is doing Muggles Tour for a competitor.  We saw two other Muggles groups while on our tour.
As we walked by this building, the guides mentioned that at one time it was home to MI6, Britain’s secret service.  The next photo shows who occupies the building now.
Apparently the UK recognizes the reality of climate change.
Urban art we passed on the tour.
It was on this street that the triple decker knight bus appeared in the movie.

The 10-second video shows another bus on the same street.

We ended the day with a visit to Platform 9 3/4 of Kings Cross station.  The site where Harry went through the wall to catch the Hogwart’s Express.

Rachel as she passes through the wall on Platform 9 3/4. Since Rachel turned 11 in May and received her acceptance letter to the prestigious Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, this was the last we saw of her.