Goth Panda

June 28, 2013

Day Ten: Westminster Abbey and Hampton Court Palace 2008

I traveled to the U.K. in June 2008 on a combination work/vacation trip. I posted about it on my old group blog Population Five. Now that I am writing more about traveling at Goth Panda, I am reposting these here for thematic unity, and also because reading them reminds me of the trip. I want to go back! Anyway, that explains some of the dated references.

How I was addressed in England:

  • Madam
  • Miss
  • Mum (as in Ma’am, not as in Mummy)
  • Luv
  • Lass

I was kind of hoping for “milady,” but it didn’t happen. Also, the already-mentioned Scottish waiter called my beverage a “wee half-pint” (since everyone else ordered full pints). I believe there may have been collective swooning at that. Except for Mike, of course.

The last day might be the easiest day to recap, because we weren’t allowed to take photos in the morning, at Westminster Abbey. If you want to see what it looks like, just go back a few entries. Or, you know, use Google.

Westminster Abbey was kind of amazing, because the whole time I kept thinking, “There are countless numbers of dead people all around me.” We saw all the famous dead people there were to see. We stopped in Poet’s corner, where I touched the plaques for Jane Austen and the Brontë sisters (none of whom are actually buried there), and stomped a little extra hard on the gravestone for D.H. Lawrence (who is). I hadn’t bought any souvenirs from the other places we visited, but I did get the tour guides for Westminster, because I wanted to see exactly how many dead people I had walked over, and who they were.

After that, we boarded the short train for Hampton Court Palace, which Henry VIII appropriated from Cardinal Wolsey (again, a spoiler for The Tudors). The palace started to be renovated in the Georgian era, but they ran out of funds. So today it is half medieval and half Georgian.




And the Georgian side….



It says on their brochure that you can see Hampton Court Palace in three hours, but I am here to tell you that is a lie. We did not see all of the house tours in three hours, and you need even more time if you want to go into the gardens. There are a lot of gardens.





We also went in the real, honest-to-God hedge maze, where we discovered French high school students snogging, but no Goblet of Fire. Unfortunately.

June 26, 2013

Day Nine: Tower of London and British Museum 2008

I traveled to the U.K. in June 2008 on a combination work/vacation trip. I posted about it on my old group blog Population Five. Now that I am writing more about traveling at Goth Panda, I am reposting these here for thematic unity, and also because reading them reminds me of the trip. I want to go back! Anyway, that explains some of the dated references.

Things I miss about England:

  • Cider with ice
  • Hobnobs
  • Having a pub down the street
  • Mars Planets candy
  • Everyone being polite
  • Cadbury chocolate bars (Can you get those here?)
  • Trashy British celebrity news. Explanation: For the week we were there, the Daily Mirror was offering Doctor Who stickers every day in the paper. So we bought it, and sometimes I read it, and I became kind of fascinated with the crazy British celebrities that we never hear about over here. How will I find out what Peaches Geldof is up to? And what about Roo and Coleen’s wedding?

On Thursday morning, I took an informal poll of the group: what of the things on our list to do was the most important to them? The overwhelming consensus was the Tower of London.

Because it was expected to rain and because I was a little sick of lugging it around (I don’t mean that, baby, I love you!) I left my 20D at home, and contented myself with my little PowerShot for the day. We got to the Tower and had breakfast in a forgettable little diner place. Its most important quality was that it had seating. By this day, as I remember it, the pace was catching up to us. The periods of time that we could actively sightsee without resting were getting shorter and shorter.

Tower of London

Tower of London

As we were passing by, they had actors doing a comic historial re-enactment for the kids about a Scottish prisoner who escaped from the Tower dressed as a maid

A faux-CNN report on the Gunpowder Plot

Prisoners’ graffiti from the cells

Crown Jewels
Where the Crown Jewels (real or fake?) are kept

These schoolchildren in their oddly archaic uniforms — kneebreeches for the boys, skirts for the girls, covered with almost a cassock — were everywhere

This was a memorial on the execution site to the people who had died there

Spoiler alert! Now you know how the second season of The Tudors ends


I kept calling the White Tower White Castle, to which Mike responded, “Where are Harold and Kumar?” Inside the White Tower: guns and more guns


City Wall
Part of the original Roman city wall

After the Tower, we went to Bloomsbury for lunch, and then the British Museum. On the way there, we got a little sidetracked, which will be explained when you see this:

Can Mike pass up a comic book store? No, he cannot


We did eventually make it to the British Museum.

British Museum

Rosetta Stone
The Rosetta Stone, people!

Elgin Marbles
A piece of the Elgin Marbles

Elgin Marbles

Asian Antiquities


British Museum

June 24, 2013

Day Eight: Edinburgh 2008

I traveled to the U.K. in June 2008 on a combination work/vacation trip. I posted about it on my old group blog Population Five. Now that I am writing more about traveling at Goth Panda, I am reposting these here for thematic unity, and also because reading them reminds me of the trip. I want to go back! Anyway, that explains some of the dated references.

If you had asked Mike a few weeks ago where he would most like to live out the rest of his days, he probably would have said somewhere in New England or Arizona. Now, I am fairly sure the answer would be Edinburgh.

I wasn’t sure at first if it made sense to take a day trip up to Scotland, because we had a packed schedule as it was, and the train takes four and a half hours. So in the best case scenario, which is how it ended up working, we caught the 8 a.m. train, arrived at 12:30 p.m., and walked around until the 5 p.m. train back. But everyone who has been to Scotland convinced me that I had to go, and I think in the end, everyone was glad we went. It was also nice that we saw the three parts of the island: England, Scotland, and Wales.

But I do think Wednesday was when our hectic pace began to catch up with us. I thought originally that we should leave a free day to catch up and relax, but there were so many things to see, and no one wanted to leave anything out. Next time I plan a trip like this, remind me to schedule in some down time, internet.

Since the trip to Scotland was the farthest journey, the train we were on was the nicest. It had both a restaurant car and a cafe car, and Mike and I splurged on breakfast in the restaurant car. There were linens and waitresses and everything. It also had the first-class seats, which were much more comfortable (in both the squooshy sense and the adjustable sense). I began to wonder if next time, we should upgrade to the first-class tickets for the Britrail passes. I guess when you are on the train as much as we were, it might make sense. In any case, we enjoyed our pancakes with blueberry sauce (Mike) and cheese omelet (me), as well as the latest in a long line of pots of tea, and watched the countryside speed by. I didn’t realize this before, but there are quite a few nuclear powerplants in Britain. I think we counted at least eight on the way. They are not so numerous, however, as the sheep.

The best part about traveling by train into Scotland is that somewhere near the border the landscape dramatically changes. We went from typically English rolling green pastures and farmland to suddenly evergreen trees, steep hills, heather and some bright yellow flower that I had never seen before. The colors — dark green, purple, and golden — were deep and vibrant, and I hope at least some of the photos Mike was shooting through the window turn out. He was the official train photographer.

Our first order of business in Edinburgh was to eat lunch. We had determined beforehand that we wanted to see Old Town rather than New Town. New Town (established in the 1700s) was rather too recent for us. So we headed to the Royal Mile, where we found a pub that advertised itself as family-owned, and stopped in.

The three of us that were female in the group had already agreed that Scottish accents were incredibly sexy, and this was only confirmed for us by the young bartender who took our orders at the pub. We discussed the possibility of offering him several pounds to stand at our table and talk. Mike was apparently offended by our enthusiasm, and later he asked me rather plaintively if I thought Scottish girls would think American accents were sexy. Besides the Scottish bartender, this place was notable for having the best fish and chips (for those who like them) of the entire trip. Apparently they used haddock instead of cod, or something like that, which resulted in superior tastiness.

We wandered down the Royal Mile afterwards, heading for Edinburgh Castle. Since I am following the site’s policy of not posting photos of us, you will not see here the picture I took of Mike in a kilt. If you want to see this picture, and I think you do, I can send it by email upon request. He did ask if he had to go commando under the kilt, and I said I thought that would be most authentic.

Royal Mile
The Royal Mile

An alley off the Royal Mile

After a decent climb, we arrived at the Castle.

Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle

Looking down on Edinburgh from the Castle

Edinburgh Castle


Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle

After we finished storming the castle, we turned around to walk the Royal Mile down to its conclusion at Holyrood Palace. So far, we had had wonderful weather the entire time in the U.K., making a mockery of my insistence on buying a raincoat and waterproof shoes [an aside for Rob: I bought four pairs of Keens before embarking. I may be a convert.] The day we went to Bath set record high temperatures at 82 degrees. The only time it had rained was while we were at dinner on Saturday night, and it only rained while we were actually in the restaurant and had stopped by the time we left.

By the time we got to Holyrood, there were sprinkles of rain coming down. We didn’t really have enough time to tour inside, so I just got a quick photo.

Holyrood Palace

Then we took a taxi back to the train station, and headed back to London. We did get delayed on the trip back from Edinburgh, so we arrived about twenty minutes later than we expected to. However, we did miss most of the rain by being on the train. On the trip back from Cardiff on Monday, the conductor reported that we were arriving a minute late when we pulled into Paddington, and apologized for the inconvenience.

June 21, 2013

Day Seven: Stratford-Upon-Avon 2008

I traveled to the U.K. in June 2008 on a combination work/vacation trip. I posted about it on my old group blog Population Five. Now that I am writing more about traveling at Goth Panda, I am reposting these here for thematic unity, and also because reading them reminds me of the trip. I want to go back! Anyway, that explains some of the dated references.

After a week in England, I was very nearly assimilated. Although I didn’t have the accent, I had adjusted completely to the time difference. I could distinguish between the many coins with ease. I was comfortable ordering at pubs and deciphering train timetables. But two things continued to mark me as an American: I always asked for ice with my soda and I could not correctly pronounce Stratford-Upon-Avon. I didn’t pronounce Avon like the American cosmetics company, but I did tend to give equal weight to both syllables, and it is correctly pronounced by stressing the first.

Thanks to the train and the Underground announcements, I also learned how to pronounce other mysterious things like “Madame Toussards” (strangely, Two-Swords), “Marylebone” (Marry-libin), and “Tottenham Court Road” (Tot-nam).

I also picked up the British habit of saying “Pardon?” when I wanted someone to repeat something to me that I couldn’t understand. Sometimes this was due to their accent and sometimes due to cultural differences. A nice Frenchwoman asked Mike and I if she could borrow our Helpy (? some kind of cell phone ?) at the Tower of London. We were flummoxed until we told her we were American, which seemed to let us off the hook.

So, Stratford-Upon-Avon. Apparently some guy named Shakespeare was born there.

And if there is anything in Stratford-Upon-Avon that did not have to do with him or with catering to the tourists who came because of him, I didn’t see it.

After we arrived by train, we went over to another tea shop for lunch, but I have forgotten the name of this one. All I remember is that it was on High Street in a half-timbered building, and they served me a lovely vegetable quiche.


It wasn’t baked in an open pie crust, but was instead enclosed in crust like a handheld pie. And it was delicious! The other choices were not bad, either. Here is Mike’s tea, with a lemon curd bun, a scone, and a tuna sandwich.


After that we walked down to the Courtyard Theater, where we had matinee tickets for a Royal Shakespeare Company understudy performance of The Merchant of Venice. This is where I was reprimanded for taking pictures during the performance. The pictures weren’t turning out great, anyway.


Then we headed to Holy Trinity Church. Guess what? Shakespeare’s buried there! I kind of made me feel sorry for the other church a few blocks away. It looked like a perfectly nice church, but did anyone ever visit it?

Holy Trinity Church

Holy Trinity Church

In front of each chair was a cushion for kneeling. They all had different religious sayings, and they all looked like perhaps they had been here when Shakespeare was alive

We had to wait a little while to get close to his grave, since there were plenty of other after-show tourists with us.

Yup, he’s dead


Still dead

Afterwards, we walked back along the river to his birthplace, where we passed Shakespeare-themed boats available for rent.


I was in the middle of taking some photo of scenic scenery, when Mike said, “Turn around.” And look at what I saw.


That’s right, people. David Tennant (and Patrick Stewart) in Hamlet this fall. Do I have enough money to go back to England?

We found Shakespeare’ birthplace, surrounding by upscale shopping…



…but we didn’t go in. We caught the train back to London, where we were unfortunately seated behind the most annoying group of American teenage girls on the planet. After they tired of playing MASH (and they were older teenagers, college-aged), they took up playing Kill, Fuck, or Marry, engaging in such politically-insensitive rounds as “Saddam Hussein, Osama bin-Laden, or Robert Mugabe?,” “Hitler, Stalin, or Mao?,” “Scottish, English, or Irish?,” and “Barack Obama, George W. Bush, or Bill Clinton?” For that last one, they overwhelming decided to marry Obama, fuck Bush, and kill Clinton. Since they were from a Red state (Colorado), maybe there is hope for Obama in the general election.

In the meantime, our group refrained from talking so they wouldn’t realize we were American, too.

June 19, 2013

Day Six: Bath and Doctor Who 2008

I traveled to the U.K. in June 2008 on a combination work/vacation trip. I posted about it on my old group blog Population Five. Now that I am writing more about traveling at Goth Panda, I am reposting these here for thematic unity, and also because reading them reminds me of the trip. I want to go back! Anyway, that explains some of the dated references.

I wonder how the release times for U.S. movies and television shows are determined in the U.K. While we were there, they were showing in theaters movies that had just been released in the States (like Sex in the City), and movies that had been out of theaters for months here (like Gone, Baby, Gone). They were also advertising TV shows that I had never heard of as “phenomenal hits” in the States. Not that I am always on top of U.S. pop culture, but I suspect some marketing genius at work.

This is all working up to say that I forgot to add something else we did on Saturday night: we watched Doctor Who on one of the BBC channels. The episode we saw was three weeks away from being shown in the U.S. So we have seen the future, and it was pretty awesome.

On Monday, we went to Bath.

Bath was one of the places that I knew I had to see in England. It has been a tourist destination for about two thousand years. The Romans built a bath over the natural hot springs, and Bath got a name and a claim to fame.

Roman Baths

Roman Baths06
The water doesn’t look too appealing, but the signs say that’s because of the sunlight. The baths were covered in the Roman era, and it prevented algae from growing

Hot Spring
The heat coming off of this water fogged up my camera lens. I did dip my hand in the water in the baths, despite the signs saying not to. It was pleasant, and no where near as hot

Wishing Well
Part of the Baths is now a Wishing Well

Roman Graves
Roman graves excavated near the site

When we got out of the Baths, we were starving. I had read about a teashop named Sally Lunn’s that dated back to the 1600s. I really wanted to go there, but I didn’t know where it was.

Around the Baths is a maze of crowded shopping streets and alleys. One of my favorite authors, Jane Austen, famously despised Bath. If it was as crowded then with the early 19th-century equivalents of the Gap and Crabtree & Evelyn, I suddenly knew exactly why. I asked two different shop people how to get to Sally Lunn’s, but they could only give me vague directions. I was about ready to give up on the idea, but I came across a map affixed to a wall near the Abbey that had it listed.

Sally Lunn's

I was exceedingly glad afterwards that I hadn’t given up, because I think Sally Lunn’s was the only authentic English teashop we went to. We all ordered pots of tea, which came individually steeped, with an extra pot of hot water to pour into them. They also provided little strainers for the cups to strain out the leaves — this was the only place we went to that used loose leaf tea and not teabags. I got the light lunch, which included a pureed vegetable soup and a sandwich. The sandwich I chose was Brie with cranberry sauce and it was delicious. You can see the rest of the daytime menu here.

Sally Lunn’s also gave me the opportunity to see clotted cream up close. I have never been exactly sure what clotted cream is. Now I know it is something like supercharged butter, even taking into consideration that the regular butter in Britain is much richer than the kind we get here.

After the lunch, we went back to Bath Abbey because I am a sucker for flying buttresses.

Bath Abbey

Bath Abbey

Bath Abbey

Bath Abbey

We couldn’t stay long because we had to catch a train to our next destination. Here’s a clue:


Didn’t help? How about this one:

Millennium Center

That’s right, we went to Cardiff. We first tried to visit Cardiff Castle, but we were too late. So we took photos from the outside.

Cardiff Castle

Then we made our way to the waterfront to soak in the sights. Unfortunately, Torchwood and the Cardiff Tourism Board make Cardiff out to be a much more happening place than it seems to actually be. We were not, however, too late to get admission to the Doctor Who exhibition.

The Tardis looks a little worse for the wear

The Dalek was easily worth the price of admission alone. You pressed a button, and its head would swing around, its “ears” — hey, that’s what they called them on the sign — would light up, and it would shout, “Exterminate!”

But despite all the Doctor Who-themed tourism stops, I did not manage to run into David Tennant.

Stay tuned for Day Seven, in which I eat a lovely vegetable quiche, am reprimanded in a crowded theater, and David Tennant starts stalking me for a change.