Trip Diary
Europe - July 2012

June 29 – 30 Day 1 Friday-Saturday

We met Karen & family at a McDonalds in Lynchburg & drove to NOVA. Lunch in Wendys before driving to Dulles. We parked both cars in the long term lot. It is so hot that my shoes actually got stuck in the pavement of the parking lot. It was melting in the over 100 degree heat.

We checked our bags, got thru security smoothly and walked around the malllike terminal.  A mid afternoon snack at the bagel factory & a lot of Internet. The tablet was a good idea. It's good to have access while on the road

Our flight took off on time and was uneventful, a good thing.  BritishAir does a good job taking care of passengers. I watched “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” - a good chick flick. Everyone else was equally entertained & tried to get some sleep.

We arrived at London Heathrow in the morning just a few minutes late & rushed off to make a time-short connection. Passport check, security check & a trainride to the gate where our flight was already boarding. We made it with only a few minutes to spare.

One & a half hours later we were in Munich, picked up our luggage and found our guide Peter waiting for us with his van. We drove to Fuessen where our hotel was just over the border into Austria at the base of a medieval castle ruin - Burgenwelt Ehrenberg. After lunch we explored the grounds & while I took a nap everyone else climbed up to the ruin.

Then back to Fuessen for dinner in a lovely medieval themed restaurant. The attire of the waitresses was serving wench dresses but the waiters wore tights & tunics like the old robin hood movies.  You have to be a brave physically fit guy to work there. Good German food & beer. In the short time we had to see the town we took lots of pictures & David even bought a beer stein.

July1 Day 2 Sunday (Fuessen)

Six hrs sleep last night & it seemed like a lot. Breakfast buffet at the hotel. Peter, our guide picked us up at 9:30 & we drove to Neuschwanstein Castle. Magnificent views of the castle, the valley & the gorge from Queen Mary's bridge. The pictures tell the story.

The castle was never finished since King Ludwig drowned under mysterious circumstances & it's been a museum ever since. I found the rooms luxurious but not ostentatious, lots of carved wood and murals. This castle was the inspiration for Sleeping Beauty's or Cinderella's castle at Disneyland. We rode up to the castle by bus, but down by horse carriage. Our fellow passengers were from VA, WI, and Japan. We weren't allowed to take pictures in the castle, so we bought a small souvenir book.

There are a lot of Virginians over here right now, very glad to have escaped the treacherous weather in VA - 100+ degrees and power outages. Bedford is not expected to have power restored until Thursday. Peter told us that power outages are rare here and last about an hour because all electric wires are underground.

Then we drove a short distance to Mt. Tegelberg & rode to the peak by cablecar. Some people were hiking up or actually rock climbing or paragliding off the cliff. At the top we had a panoramic view of the Alps and the countryside below and those people ascending/descending by more strenuous means.  We had lunch up there like we were on the top of the world. Then some bad news. A storm was rolling in and surrounding us. The black cloudy mist looked like something out of a horror movie - visibility zero. Soon tourists, hikers, climbers etc all converged on the cable car. The only people riding the cablecar up were emergency workers with gear & a stretcher, prepared if anyone needed rescue.

The storm cancelled our next planned activity, a bobsled run down the mountain, but still it was fascinating to see the power of weather as long as no one was hurt.

As an alternative, we visited a church in the forest built to house a statue of Jesus that was reported to have shed tears. Pilgrims visit here often.

Then it was dinnertime at a lovely country restaurant. Again we all opted for German food. Huge amounts of food.  Anyone who eats like this regularly would have to climb mts to burn off all the calories. Back to our hotel for a 2nd night

July 2 Day 3 Monday (Fuessen)

A quick morning run for me was cut short by the 12% grade.  Karen & Jacob kept going.

Today we visited Legoland just like a German family of which there were many enjoying the park. Pictures tell the whole story. I went on the 3rd and 4th rollercoaster ride in my whole life. It’s been 32 years since the last one.

Then on to Rothenberg a well preserved medieval city with a complete city wall. Our hotel is right on the wall.  We saw the city museum with its armor and weapons and other artifacts going back a thousand years. Then a quick walk through the oldest gate to show Karen and family what we remembered from our last trip here.

Dinner in the hotel was excellent and the rooms are exquisite especially Karen's.

The evening highlight was the night watchman's tour  - an especially entertaining fellow. Interesting fact - the town was spared during WWII because the American officer in charge didn't want to destroy the lovely historical city his mother had visited as a girl and convinced the German officer in charge to abandon the city. He agreed since his superior officer, who had been ordered to defend the town to the death, was absent at the moment.

I returned to the hotel to get started on our AAA travel card problem while the others walked the town & wall.  Problem not yet solved - very frustrating to have to try again tomorrow

July 3  - Day 4 Tuesday (Rothenberg-Heidelberg)

We all liked Rothenberg so much that we changed our planned itinerary to spend extra time here. The Criminal Museum told the history of crime and punishment since the Middle Ages. The military museum outlined the defense of the city including the 30 years war. Karen & family climbed the tower of the Rathaus & viewed the countryside.

Shopping was a popular activity for all and finally we got on the road to Heidelberg. The original plan was to drive to Stuttgart first and see the Mercedes-Benz museum. We all opted for more time in Heidelberg.

We needed this time to see the extensive castle ruin. After a cablecar ride to the castle, we took a tour of the interior rooms some of which have been renovated and rented for weddings etc. The exterior is impressive as well with walls 21 ft thick.  However this was not sufficient to avoid destruction by the French. We walked back down over steep cobblestones.

Then after a bakery stop we walked around the central city. Beautiful views from the stone bridge. Dinner was in a restaurant on a boat on the Neckar river. As always the food was excellent.

Our hotel is close to the river. Our other hotels were excellent like little apartments, but this one is 5 star.  We each have a suite. Our living room has a leather couch, 2 easy chairs, a large desk and a dining table, coffee table with a bottle of wine and a china closet. The bedroom looks like a noble sleeps here. We have thick robes and a separate Jacuzzi room. No reason not to get a good nights sleep tonight

July 4 - Day 5 Wednesday (Koblenz – Boppard)

We began the day early. I went for a run along the Neckar river. Joe went for a walk since no one else was ready for breakfast. Karen and Jacob were out running too. We continued for 30 min.

After a shower it was time for breakfast. We were the only ones in the dining room.  This was a very interesting meal. Everything was brought to us. All kinds of food, some of which we would never order like raw salmon. Joe ate that. We tried most stuff, all kinds of meat,cheese, rolls, eggs, yogurt, musli, spreads, unusual juice flavors etc. Perhaps this is how the nobles were served breakfast.

We drove to the Marksburg castle, the only castle that was never attacked in its entire 700 year history. The tour guide was excellent, showing us all the interior rooms and even the torture chamber.

While on the terrace viewing the river, David performed a good deed when he retrieved a large dog which got away from its owner and ran to confront another leashed dog. It seems common for Germans to bring their dogs along when site seeing.

Next we drove to the town of Koblenz, at the confluence of the Rhine and Mozelle rivers. The German Corner where the rivers meet is dominated by the HUGE statue of King Wilhelm sitting on his horse. If you look closely at the water you can see the different colors coming together.

Then we walked to the town center, had lunch and visited the main sites - the spitting fountain, the city history fountain, the houses dating from the 1600s and the statue of the mailman and woman with vegetables.  Too bad that I forgot the story going with that last one.

One more van ride - to the city of Boppard on the Rhine River. Here we met Astrid the director of the tour company with whom I had planned this trip. We were also joined at this hotel by another of her tour groups, about 18 people in this one.

It was fine just not as spectacular as the meals we had been used to having so far. It was also very hot. I tried to go outside for some air, but the smokers sent me running back inside. Heat is preferable to second hand smoke. Steven was feeling sick, probably allergies were the problem for both of us, so he & I returned to the hotel while the others went for a walk along the river.

July 5 - Day 6 Thursday (Boppard)

We got an early start with breakfast buffet because our boat tour left at 9:00. There was a slight problem. A boat had run aground upstream and because it was carrying chemicals, river traffic was stopped in both directions   This wasn't a problem for us since Peter got us tickets to go as far as possible then arranged to meet us there and drive us past the stranded boat to the next town where we continued our cruise. He also bought us maps so we could understand what we were seeing. We would be lost without him.

We saw one castle after another overlooking picturesque towns. Each had its own story like the castles of 2 feuding brothers who built a wall between them.  Eventually they killed each other in the town church. Two others were nicknamed the Cat and the Mouse.  Many of the castles that were in ruins were destroyed by the French in one of the many wars with Germany. Pictures tell the story.

We got off the boat in the town of Rudesheim. This was a town Joe and I had visited before, but this time we took the cablecar to the monument marking the unification of Germany where we could see all the way to France. Supposedly, the position and gesture of the statue show the Germans attitude toward the French at that time.

Peter met us at the monument and took us to our final stop - the Rheinfels castle, an amazing and fun place where you wandered outside and inside often in total darkness,  through narrow and steep passageways. It was more memorable when a storm came up, complete with thunder and lightning. We were careful to avoid metal rails and the highest battlements. We had a great time with new "games" such as the archway relay where we ran from one stone protective arch to another. Then there was the follow the leader with the flashlight through the tunnels. David led the way with our only flashlight. Steven used his cell phone for illumination and I documented our trail by taking flash pictures in the darkness. The final result reminded me of the Blair Witch Project. Again, pictures tell the story.

Back at the hotel it was time in the pool again. The kids enjoyed swimming against the waterjets and standing under the waterfall. Then we had a very fancy dinner, more gourmet than we are used to but not as much food as we have been used to, so we went out to a bakery for additional more dessert. Of course, no one ever needs more potatoes or vegetables, just more cake and ice cream.

July 6 Day 7 Friday (Burg Eltz, Cochem, Goettingen)

We left Boppard and drove to the Burg Eltz castle. This one is very unusual because it is located in a valley, hidden from the surrounding area. This was the home of 3 families, descendents of the Eltz family, the owners since the 15th century.  The family still owns the castle and at least one branch lives nearby. Each generation had many children who became engaged to surrounding families so alliances were built adding to the safety of the castle.

Our next stop was the city of Cochem on the Mosel river. It has a castle on the hill, but here we just ate lunch and shopped.  We had a long drive ahead of us since we were headed east toward Wolfsburg. We stopped for the night in the city of Goettingen, a modern city, not a tourist attraction, but a good stopping place for us.

July 7 Saturday Day 8 (Wolfsburg-Berlin)

Wolfsburg the home of Volkswagen was a destination David had been looking forward to this whole trip. First we toured the old museum with its classic cars. Then we visited the Autostadt - huge "autocity" with fantastic architecture housing everything automobile.  People actually come here to buy their cars.

Finally our last trip with Peter to Berlin.  He delivered us to our hotel and we said our goodbyes.  We will miss him.  Now we are on our own.

This is a large city hotel down the block from the one Joe and I stayed in last year.

So our first stop was the local supermarket where we stocked up on snacks and drinks.

I was not hungry but I was tired so I just stayed in the hotel while everyone else went out to see the sites and have pizza. The Wall and Checkpoint Charlie were their destinations although the explanatory exhibit along the wall was closed at that hour. A return trip will be needed. David and Joe so liked the beer glass that they bought them.

Some final thoughts of our castle tour while still fresh in my mind.

SUMMARY. Ranking of castles

#1 Neuschwanstein - primarily because of its size and location.
It was the newest of the castles, 19th century, so the history of most interest was the owner/builder King Ludwig who died under suspicious circumstances. The location with St Mary's bridge over the gorge and nearby Mt Tegelborg made a complete package.

#2 Burg Eltz
This castle built around the 15th century remained in the hands of the same family through to the present day.  It had a real family feel including photos of the current family as well as the portraits of their ancestors. It was also different in its location in a valley, not easily seen and providing safety for the family. Three branches of the family lived there. One still lives nearby.

#3 Marksburg
This was the only castle on the Rhine that was never destroyed. The guide was excellent and very patient with the family of 7 running all over - more patient than I would have been.

# 4 Rheinfels
This castle is a ruin and would be just another ruin on the river except visitors are sent in on their own with a map and flashlights. Narrow, low, pitch-black hallways or tunnels as we would call them lead from area to area both inside and outside. We were up on a high battlement when a storm rolled in. Pictures tell the whole story as the flash from my camera was the only way I could find my way forward. The sequence looks like the movie the Blair Witch project.

# 5 Heidelberg
This is an impressive, large ruin which Joe and I toured in April. This time we saw some additional interior rooms, however the guide was so slow, quiet voiced and boring that it was hard to maintain interest. He was a nice man, however, and really enjoyed his job.

July 8 Sunday - Day 9 (Berlin)

The day began bright and sunny in Berlin as we as we made our way to St Helwig's Cathedral. Mass was in German of course, but we could follow along quite well. Then we walked to the main sites of the central city. We saw the Gendarme Platz with its matching French and German churches and the square in front of the Humboldt University Library, the site of the massive bookburnings of the Nazi era. A memorial of empty bookshelves is underground and visible through glass. A walk down Unter der Linden Street took us past Frederick Wilhelm's statue and down to the Brandenburg Gate.  Then we walked through the park to the huge field of blocks representing the memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe. Walking among the rolling ground of blocks of various sizes the designer intended that we understand how people disappeared and reappeared during the war. Afterwards we walked to the nearby site of Hitler's bunker where he committed suicide. No memorial here only a parking lot for an apartment complex and a playground.

After lunch in a local cafe, we walked to the Bundestag where we had tickets to the dome. Lots of security, but a very efficient operation with automatic audioguides that explained everything as we viewed the city from above.

Our final walk took us through a large train station where we ate ice cream and to the Berliner Dom by way of a street fair where David bought a painting of a cat for his mother who is taking care of their cats. While shopping, a young guy popped on a clown nose and made a show of following a few inches behind Steven no matter which way he turned.  This drew everyone’s attention except mine.  Being suspicious, I glared at him, clutched my purse closer and kept a close eye on their belongings too.

The Berliner Dom is a magnificent church and the burial site of royalty - the Hollenzolens, both in the church and in the crypt below. Finally a climb to the Dome. Like my last visit I stopped when the spiral stairs got really narrow with the destination being a narrow walkway on the OUTSIDE of the dome. Karen  & family went the whole way and saw the whole thing.  A storm was looming so we returned quickly to the hotel to stay dry and rest before dinner.

We walked toward Alexanderplatz for dinner. Our only complaint so far has been the small size of the drinks at large prices. But one place had unlimited refills - McDonalds! One little touch of home to avoid dehydration.

Afterwards we walked around to check out the sites. We found the Marx-Engels statue, a bit of Communism left over, but historical nevertheless. Also we saw the little known memorial to the only successful protest against Hitler when hundreds of German women married to Jews marched repeatedly to gain the release of their husbands from internment. They were successful just as the men were being taken to the train station.

July 9 Day 10 Monday (Berlin)

After all the walking yesterday, we got day passes for public transportation and traveled to further points of the city. First stop was the Berlin Zoo, the largest in Europe and the one housing the most different species. Jacob loves zoos and all animals and donates money to the International Wildlife Fund so this was a natural place for him. I am not normally a fan of zoos, but this one was wonderful. Many more species than I have encountered anywhere and unusual occurances. When the rhinoceros was far away, a lady called to it and it came over to her, like it was accustomed to posing for photos. The whole site was shaded and clean with nice restaurants and good, reasonable food.  Very efficient.

After about 4 hours, back on the train we decided to go a few more stops to the Olympic Stadium, the site of the infamous games of 1936. The stadium is still used for soccer games and concerts.

Then back toward the city to Potsdammerplatz, a huge train station that looks more like a suburban shopping mall.  Here we had ice cream before proceeding to the site of the preserved section of the Berlin wall. On the east side we viewed the Topology of Terror display and a tiny bit of the museum. We knew from our last visit that much of that would be too intense for children.

Our last stop was a guard tower or sniper tower, one of many that were once located along the wall to keep East German people from escaping to the west - deserting the republic as the 'crime' was known. Then back on the train to the hotel to rest before dinner. Dinner was at the same Italian restaurant of 2 nights ago - pizza for everybody. Then back to the hotel to pack.

July 10 Day 11 Tuesday (Berlin-London)

We have a van to take us to the airport at 9:30 so the morning was spent gathering up and organizing our stuff. He arrived as scheduled and delivered us there quickly.  Checkin etc went smoothly. This old airport is much more pleasant now that the new one is functional and has taken some of the pressure off. We took off just about on time and for the first time I'm using an eletronic device in the air.

We landed ontime and were able to see some London landmarks from the air. As we were exiting customs our cab driver was calling my phone to inform us of his location. All went smoothly exiting the airport and then we hit a pre-Olympics detour and the London rush hour traffic. UGH!

Fortunately our flat is lovely and the WiFi blazing fast. We ate in the Wapping neighborhood, bought groceries,  washed clothes and just settled in. A sudden rain discouraged us from anything further, but taught us to take our raingear with us everyday no matter how clear the sky looks in the morning.

July 11 Day 12 Wednesday

We walked the 1.2 miles to the Tower Hill Railway station & bought 7 day travel cards. New rules required us to have photos for ID cards and the ticket agent was very efficient in seeing us through the process. With these cards we were eligible for 2 for 1 tickets at the Tower of London, our first stop.  There was only one person ahead of us in line and we joined a Beefeaters tour immediately. He was very entertaining. We enjoyed the history, armor, weapons and the crown jewels in a pleasant uncrowded environment although we could tell from the designated queue areas that this site can be very crowded. In the Fusselaires Museum it was interesting to see Major

Andre (Benedict Arnold's accomplice) described from a different point of view.

We spent about 4 hours there walking the ramparts and exploring the various towers where people out of favor with the king were often imprisoned and even executed. The chapel was a historical and current place of worship and a burial place of important people.

While in the courtyard, we saw the Tower Bridge opening along with the raising of the Olympic Rings to let a boat through. We took pictures of this in progress and later learned that it is a rare occurrence and once not often seen by visitors or even residents. We just happened to be in the right place at the right time. We had lunch in the castle and rode the Tube to Westminster station with Parliament, Big Ben and related sites with many photo opportunities. Iconic red phone booths line the street.  In the Harry Potter movies these served as the entrance to the Ministry of Magic. 

Nearby was the Churchill Museum and War Rooms where we used our 2 for 1 coupons for a realistic view of that dark period of history. In one of the original battle maps I located the pins that marked the Russian advance at the battle of Svidnik in Slovakia during which my cousins fled their homes into the forest.

St James Park was inaccessible since it was being prepared an Olympic, Beach Volleyball I think.  Buckingham Palace and the Queen Victoria Memorial were next.  The Union Jack was flying but not the Royal Standard since the queen was not in residence.

Then it was time for the London Eye, the huge ferris wheel on the Thames. Once again, we were lucky. Only a few people in line for tickets and a 10 min wait to ride. Joe & I stayed on the ground, but Karen and family loved it.

July 12 Day 13 Thursday

Today we had tickets to the WB Harry Potter Studio Tour so we took the Tube to Euston Station where we bought GroupSave National Rail tickets to Watford Junction. We arrived early since everything ran perfectly on schedule so we walked to the town square for an early lunch. This nice little town will be remembered for the ultra old and new bathrooms, one that seemed to be a converted outhouse and one in McDonalds that was so high tech that there were 3 buttons on the sink, one dispensed soap, one turned on the water and the 3rd dried your hands – all without changing your position.

A doubledecker shuttlebus took us to the studio where all 8 HP movies were filmed. All the sets, costumes, props etc are there organized with video and commentary in an extraordinarily interesting and efficient production. Timed entry tickets control the crowds and you can stay as long as you want and take all the pictures you like. The final roomsize model of Hogwarts takes your breath away.

On our trip back we exited the Tube at St Pancras/Kings Cross station and Platform 9 3/4. These stations were used for the Hogwarts Express journey. We took pictures at the platform along with others who kindly arranging themselves into an efficient queue.

Our next destination was Olympic Park viewed from the Westfields Mall and lots of Olympic souvenirs. However, since our passes only covered zones 1 and 2 and the park was one stop into zone 3, we exited and took bus 25 directly to the Mall. It was cool to see where all the action would be very soon. The John Lewis store is the official source of Olympic souvenirs. Everyone found something appropriate.

The park is located in the East End and a 265 store shopping mall has been built next to it. So along with viewing the park and buying souvenirs, we had dinner in the food court before catching a bus that took us one tube stop from our flat.

July 13 - Day 14 Friday

Where to spend Friday the 13th? How about Stonehenge?

I had arranged for a private van tour of the main sites of the London countryside with David's Day Tours. David was a very nice, knowledgeable guide who shared a lot of stories and history with us as we drove to our destinations.

Our luck is holding as we arrived at Stonehenge before the tour buses and walked directly to the site. Our photos have no tourists in them. The audio guide was very good with just enough detail.

Next stop Avebury, a huge site with less well known stone circles. The stones have a natural, local feel right next to the village and you can walk right up to them.  Just be sure to avoid the sheep grazing about and watch where you step!

Silbury, the highest mound in Europe is here also, but there its purpose is somewhat mysterious like the stones themselves. Not likely a burial site, since excavations have never found human remains, more likely for defense.

From there we visited the Cotswold region where the villages look like we have stepped back in time with their thatched roofs.  One village Sandy Hill looked like it could have been inhabited by Hobbits. Our destination was the village of Lacock. The Abbey here was also a Harry Potter site. The village itself with its 400 year old houses looks like one in the movie, especially the church and cemetery.  We had a traditional English lunch in a tea room.

Our final stop was the city of Bath, originally built by the Romans and the location of a large bath complex and temple because of the existence of a hot spring. The audio guide was very good with a special band for children complete with videos and costumed characters.  I actually liked that one.

The large Abbey was adjacent to the baths. Also of interest was a bridge with shops on both sides like one we saw in Florence.

Finally we headed back to London. David took a route through the city so we could see a few areas we had missed, notably Trafalgar Square.

July 14 Saturday Day 15

Today we have tickets to Windsor Castle. However, I received an email that the Conquer the Tower tour was cancelled. We would be given a refund for that part. Two reasons were given. It had been raining and the slippery conditions made the climb

too dangerous. Also the Queen was in residence and no one can be in the tower during those times. Well, her house... Her rules. The line for ticket holders was short, about a ten minute wait. The line to buy tickets stretched all the way down the hill. Fortunately, I had purchased our tickets online in advance.

This is the oldest continuously occupied castle in Europe, begun by William the Conqueror in 1066. It had all the trappings of a royal residence. No crumbling walls here. The State Apartments had the luxury expected of a royal head of state, with the paintings, furnishings, china and exotic gifts from around the world. No photos were allowed inside. The great hall contains the shields of all the Knights who ever lived. Those who were disgraced after knighthood had their shields whited out.

St George's Chapel is part of the complex. Among those  buried here is Henry VIII and his true love, wife #3 Jane Seymour.  The shields of the living Knights of the Garter surround the choir area. This is their official church where each has his own ceremonial chair.

We took a lot of photos outside and followed the guards around but no official changing of the guard ceremony because of the rain. The woolen uniforms don't take rain well. Another attraction missed was Queen Mary's doll house. Although it is said to be quite exquisite, no one was interested enough to stand on the line.

We ate lunch in a covered market area in the town which on further inspection was one of the train stations  - very nice. It was a 50 min train ride back to London. This is the National Railway which is separate from but connected to the Tube - nice roomy seats. Once back at Waterloo station, it was a short tube ride to the north side of the river to the Monument to the Great Fire of London, a tall tower designed by Christopher Wren. Supposedly, if it were laid on its side toward the east, the top would fall at the exact spot the fire began in 1666 and destroyed 80% of the city

Then we went to Trafalgar Square to see the monuments, Admiral Nelson, the Admiralty Arch etc. One of the "Bobbys" the police put his hat on Jacob for a photo. We had dinner in a pub recommended by yesterday's tour guide David - Lord of the Moon. Good food and reasonably priced, but I didn't care for the dark beer.

Since it was still early evening and clear weather we walked over Jubilee Bridge and along the Thames on the South side. Lots of street performers. The fire juggler is memorable. We crossed back to the North side on the Millennium Bridge with the Dome of St Paul's in the background. This was a scene from a Harry Potter movie when the Death Eaters swooped down from behind the dome and destroyed the bridge. Then back on the Tube to the flat. We are certainly getting our money's worth from these travel cards.

July 15 Sunday Day 16

Churches and museums were the plan for the day. We began at 10:00 Mass at St George's Cathedral, a large Gothic building on the south side.  With the organ, a dozen screeching children and the accent of the priest all reverberating in the rafters, we couldn't understand anything. I am very tolerant of children, but these were running up and down the aisles and even hiding under the altar cloths of the side altars. This must be part of the accepted culture since there was only minimal effort to restrain them.

Right across the road was the Imperial War Museum, something Joe always wanted to see in detail. Two massive 15" naval guns stand in front of the impressive building. The displays inside are very well done. In addition to a V2 rocket which once rained down on London killing 60,000 people and General Montgomery's tank from the battle of El Alamein and all kinds of other military hardware from WWI to the present, there were excellent exhibits about the effects of war both at the front and at home. I spent a lot of time in the Family during the Blitz area. Through film, photos, interviews and multimedia, you got to experience what life was like being bombed and living day to day in fear. I took Steven and Jacob to sit in the tiny Anderson Shelter while sounds of an attack raged outside. The interactive touchscreen of the family home was also well done.

WWI was represented by the "Trench Experience" complete with sights, sounds and smells, yes smells. We ate lunch in the museum cafe - very good and fortunately far away from the trench.

The British Museum was next. I had laid out a quick tour of just the main items - the Rosetta Stone, The Elgin Marbles (from the Parthenon) etc, but once inside that magnificent building everyone wanted to stay longer. Here we split up so everyone could wander at their own pace with a plan to meet up later at a designated location.

Our final stop was to be the 6:30 service at Westminster Abbey. We took photos of the exterior and learned that this particular service was a special one for the Olympics and you needed a ticket. So we contented ourselves watching the well dressed people waiting in line.

Finally, back in our neighborhood we had dinner in our local pub which is the oldest riverside pub in London, built in 1520 with quite a history as it saw the reigns of 500 years of monarchs. The atmosphere, location on the river, friendly service and good food and drink were a great end to our time in England.

The rest of the night was for packing and organization for tomorrow's trip home.

July 16 Monday Day 17

Our flight is at 2:30, but our cab company suggested we leave at 9:00. Today is the first workday that the dedicated Olympic lanes will be closed to general traffic on the M4, the main road to Heathrow. We assume it only means closed AWAY from the airport since 10 to 26 thousand athletes and others are expected on the 1st day the Olympic Village opens, but the announcement wasn't specific.

Because we were cautious, we made it to the airport in 1 hr 10 min. Our driver pointed out some of the lesser known sites of London along the way.  As we sat down to wait, a TV news crew began filming right in front of us, very cool. I recognized the reporter from the BBC. 

Check in and baggage drop went smoothly, no waiting, lots of stations open. However in security both Karen and David were stopped for a complete check. They emptied their whole backpacks since Karen forgot to put a small tube of sunscreen in the freezer bag and David's souvenir keyring and magnet set off an alarm. Actually, it's nice to know that they take their jobs seriously and all this is not just for show.

Once in the departure area we looked for lunch. Our flight was delayed 30 min til 3:00 so no reason to hurry. We walked to the furthest, least crowded end of the terminal and had a nice relaxing lunch, noting that when our gate was finally posted we would probably have a 20 min trek to find it. The travel gods smiled upon us and we were shocked to discover our gate was posted as A18, the exact seats in which we were sitting!

Our flight was smooth and uneventful. Upon landing even baggage claim etc was quick. I've never seen passport control without a line.  We walked right up to the counter.

Outside the 95 degree heat was a shock to the system. London had been in the low 70s. As we approached the shuttle station, the gold shuttle pulled up and whisked us away to our cars. We were not sorry to have missed the record setting heat wave since our tires had sunk deeply into the asphalt. We had reserved rooms at the Best Western right at the airport so we didn't have to drive while tired and jet lagged. We learned our lesson last summer 

Random final thoughts:
"As the Cookie Crumbles" - Our name for Joe's soap opera when offering snacks.

"Stonehenge Workfare Social Program" - This could be a Monty Python skit. Steven suggested that 5000 years ago those without jobs could have been put to work hauling rocks in exchange for room and board, kind of a prehistoric WPA.

Archway Relay - our new olympic event to avoid getting wet in sudden cloudbursts.

Windsor Castle:
Why does the queen being in residence cause the tower tour to be closed?
Floor repair after the 1992 fire - turn the boards over!

London flat:
Fresh flowers - roses!
Super thick towels
Fancy dishes & furniture
Large flat screen TV
Super fast free WiFi.