Ask the bloke on the corner, luv…



Map of our section of London. Note how the streets change names every block or so.


Just because you own a map, or two (or three)…

Just because you’ve read Frommer’s and Steves’ and have an excellent sense of direction…

Just because you’ve prepped for weeks doesn’t mean you’ll be able to find your way around the streets of London on foot without seriously pissing off whoever you’re sight-seeing with!

Actual conversation between me and my hubby:

“Give me the map! You’ve obviously gotten us lost!”
“Yeah, well you figure out where we are!”
Fifteen minutes later.  “I give up!”
“See, I told you!”
“Let’s stop at a pub and get a beer.”
“Oh yeah. That’s a good plan – have a few beers and then try to find our way home!”

Save your time, money and marriage and just ask for directions.


Trafalgar Square which we stumbled upon while looking for something else!

No, strike that. Londoners, though for the most part friendly, are much too busy getting wherever they’re going to stop and give you directions.  They’ll just shrug their shoulders and say “Sorry Mate!” …if you’re lucky.  If not, they may send you in the wrong direction (not on purpose, of course). We even ran into a policeman walking the beat who claimed he didn’t know where he was. “Ask the bloke at the fruit stand on the corner, luv,” he said. “”He knows the area.” But there was no fruit stand or bloke on the corner.


Another thing we just happened upon – the Changing of the Guard (literally at the tail end!) This event happens only on nice days. When it’s raining they do what’s called “a wet change” (sounds like diapers may have been involved doesn’t it?) They look a bit like Klu Klux Klansmen from this angle, don’t they?

The problem is the city’s flat.  There’s not one mountain on the horizon in any direction  to provide a north/south, east/west orientation.  And, if that weren’t bad enough, there’s this river running through town (the Thames) which does not run in a straight line. No, it winds through the downtown in a giant ‘s.’


The Tower Bridge. I must admit the many bridges along the river are handy for navigation. And they don’t change name mid-span.

Sometimes it will be to the north of you, sometimes to the south and God help you if you have the map upside down (a very easy thing to do). Instead of heading south, you could be heading north, soon winding up miles from where you wanted to be.

If the attraction you’re trying to find is on the Thames, no problem. Just walk along the water until you find it.

But if you’re looking for the British Museum,  which is somewhere at the intersection of Piccadilly, Soho and Covent Garden, God help you.  The area is full of alleyways and streets not on any map.  In addition, there appears to be an ordinance that a street cannot have the same name in Piccadilly as it does in Soho!


The lobby of the British Museum

Remnant of one of the four horse chariots from the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus - one of the seven wonders of the world now preserved by the British Museum.

In contrast – a remnant of one of the four horse chariots from the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus – one of the seven wonders of the world.  It’s sad to see it here and not in the country where it was built but then perhaps it might not have survived.


Here I am, to the right, all layered up like a bloated tick!

Weather-wise, we were very lucky. The first couple of days the weather was (as the Brits would say) brilliant.  Sunny and so mild that we left the windows open at night.  I’d followed the weather reports carefully for weeks before the trip and thus packed appropriately (or so I thought) – no winter gear. My plan was to layer if the weather changed. I didn’t think my husband would be so cruel as to actually take pictures of me all layered up.  Let me tell you, it’s not a good look for anyone who weighs more than ninety pounds.

The day we decided to see Dover Castle started out sunny and our hopes were high. By the way,  if you want to witness the efficiency of the British, just visit Victoria Train Station.  There are lines on the floor leading you to the trains, the bathrooms, the ticket counters.  It’s truly idiot proof.  And the trains are clean, run on time and keep you well informed of your location.  (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been stuck on a train in the US which, after being delayed for days, quickly dissolved into a scene from some zombie apocalypse movie when the food ran out and the toilets overflowed.)


There’s the castle – now where are the signs telling us how to get up there?

Dover Castle, according to Rick Steves (who was losing credibility by the day), is an “easy, well-marked,  fifteen minute walk from the train station.”  Ha!  It sits on top of a hill overlooking the the English Channel.  You can see it as you enter the small sleepy town but can you get to it?  Aye, there’s the rub.  After cavorting around the town for over fifteen minutes searching in vain for the “well marked” route,  we ran into a lady carrying groceries who showed us the path to the castle.


The unmarked path to Dover Castle

This path led to a seemingly endless staircase which only got us half way up the hill. From there we followed the road up, up and up again. We’d barely managed to reach the top when the clouds menacing the channel suddenly appeared overhead, driven by strong and icy winds.  Then came hail.   Hail, I said. Followed by thunder, lightening and a wind strong enough to sweep you into the Atlantic.

Never travel to England in October without a winter coat!

A few pics for you…


Storms moving across the Channel. They move fast and hit hard!


Dover Castle

View of 12th Century Church and 1st century Pharos (Roman Lighthouse) from Dover Castle.








Never Joke with a Border Guard (no matter how cute he is)

It was almost noon by the time we finally reached the Spanish border somewhere high in the Pyrenees Mountains.  The air was thin and dry.  We were sweaty, hungry, and crabby, especially after noting that every car not displaying a Spanish license plate was being pulled over and the occupants questioned by men in skin-tight military uniforms standing upright and proud in the sweltering heat.

“Oh my God,” I whispered to Carolyn, “they really are paranoid.  But cute.”

She glared at me. “Just don’t say anything,” she hissed.  We were in a car with DAC license plates which, in Cold War Europe, was akin to driving around with a nuclear bomb on your back seat. The Department of Army Civilians, you see, was a front for the CIA or so many Europeans believed.   This belief was so wide-spread in Germany that the local politzei had invented a game called “harass the occupiers,” in which they would pull over people with DAC license plates for flimsy reasons and confiscate their licenses.  They caught my Uncle Bob several times (okay, in his case considerable alcohol was involved) which is why he didn’t need his car! He couldn’t drive it.

Anyway, back to my story.  As soon as our car was identified as belonging to the vile CIA, extra guards were called and Carolyn and I ordered away from the vehicle.


Spanish Military Officer – you may look but do not flirt!

“Do you have any drugs?”  One of the guards asked me.  His  brown eyes burnt through my sleep-deprived body like a lightening rod.

“Sure,” I answered, “The car’s full of them. Ha, ha.”

Next thing I knew Senor Passionate Eyes and his buddies were ripping out the seats of the VW, dumping all of our stuff on the ground and searching through it.

“It was a joke!”  I cried, as they pulled Carolyn’s sexy little undies from her suitcase and stuffed them into a bag (evidence?).

“Shut up,”  Carolyn scowled.  Men were pawing her underwear because I’d been stupid enough to flirt with a humorless hunk.

Hans and Klaus, who’d managed through the checkpoint with ease, waited for us and when the Spanish Inquisition was finally over, helped put the car back together. Hans even managed to convince the guards to return Carolyn’s undies which he gallantly handed to her one by one as she blushed. Then we followed them to the campingplatz.


Klaus, Jan and Hans on the beach in Blanes Spain

The campingplatz was indeed full of Germans of all ages, shapes and sizes, all of whom had arrived with the intention of wearing as few clothes as possible.  I can still remember the nightly parade of naked fraus on their way to the communal, out-in-the-open showers. Not a modest lady in the crowd.  Carolyn and I showered in our bathing suits.  Typical American prudes!

By the time we assembled Hans’ thankfully roomy tent, the sun had set and the temperatures cooled considerably.  The sound of a band playing nearby led us to an outdoor cafe where we ordered pitchers of sangria and paella and giggled as the singer massacred the English lyrics to the song Sugar, Sugar, sung by the regrettably forgettable band – The Archies.


“Stop you rascal!” Hans gets frisky.

The first night went well.  We were all exhausted so a couple of pitchers of sangria knocked us on our butts.  However, the next night  I awoke to:  “Stop, you rascal!”  Hans’ hands had  found their way over to Carolyn’s body.  In the morning he asked me what “rascal” meant and I told him it meant we must be going…

Next – Mont St. Michel and the Samwitch Stand.