Howells take time to explore London

Published 10:52 am Saturday, August 22, 2015

Changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace  -- SUBMITTED

Changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace — SUBMITTED

by James D. Howell

I’ve moved past my probationary period and feel a certain independence that comes with the decrease in pressure. We look at ways to enjoy some of the travel benefits of my job. For some time, my wife has been reading about England. We’re conditioned to call it all England, in spite of the fact that it is the United Kingdom.

We search for a bed and breakfast hotel close by a London Underground station. We know that access to the famous “Tube” can get us around London and environment in minimum time. We purchase “Go as you please” passes for all trains and buses in the greater London area. It looks like our best bet for all transportation for our visit. It’s a very good deal.

We settle on the Camelot Hotel, located on Norfolk Square, just a block away from Paddington Station, a major train and underground junction. A letter to the hotel brings a fast response and we send the necessary funds for a week’s booking. We apply for and receive necessary passports. We are really going to do it; we are really going to do some international travel.

Our planning uses Continental Airlines to Chicago to connect with British Airways to London’s Heathrow airport. We get to experience a touch of Britain beginning with the flight over; it’s a Boeing 747, the largest commercial aircraft in the world.

Long hours of earphone music, dozing/sleeping, eating, staring out a window, staring at other passengers, staring at the smoking section, trying to sleep later, we arrive in London, clear customs and find a taxi to our hotel on Norfolk Square. We are bleary eyed and tired. Our host at the hotel is very understanding; he’s probably seen all this a time or two. We decide to take a couple of hours rest before attacking the sightseeing part.

Still somewhat out of it from the flight, we venture into the neighborhood of the hotel. We’ve pored over maps for months and have a general idea about what’s out there. The reality of actually seeing, hearing, smelling street life in this bustling, mostly residential section of London is exciting — wondrous even. We learn quickly to walk to the left, cross with the lights, and try to not look so out of place. It’s a challenge.

We have chosen the location well; Kensington Gardens (Park) is just a couple of blocks down the street and provides the perfect place to ease into London’s city life. We walk to loosen our travel-weary bones and to allow the kids to run and play and work off some pent up steam. Tomorrow will be soon enough to hit the tourist trail. Along the way to and from the park, we find a neighborhood food store, a fish and chips shop, a few restaurants and a bank. The bank is especially important. The exchange rate is currently around $2.82 to the English pound. Banks have the best rates without an exchange charge.

The next few days finds us in a whirlwind of travel; the “tube” provides quick transport to major tourist sites. We check out the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey and Big Ben. We locate and visit Buckingham Palace, experience all the pomp and ceremony of the changing of the palace guard, and the parade and noise of the changing of the horse guards. They are separate, spectacular events.

The weather cooperates during most of our ventures. We say “Good morning” to the Yeoman Warders (Beefeaters) of the Tower of London. We find that the Tower is a rather large castle and the “Tower” part is an inner fortified residence or palace. It is made with different, light-colored stones, with even lighter-colored stones for corners and decoration.

It is also called the White Tower, and is the current location of the Crown Jewels. Yes, they really are worthy of their name. We learn that local officials actually check out and use some of the articles for official functions. Imagine that.

We break from the museums and historic trappings with play time at Trafalgar Square, the memorial to England’s most famous seafarer, Lord Admiral Nelson. Our visit is probably not all that respectful. We laugh at hundreds of pigeons, eager to feed from tourists hands. We climb on the huge bronze lions at the Nelson monument. We enjoy rare London sunshine.

Speaker’s corner, shopping at Harrods, Selfridge’s, and Marks & Spencer department stores fill in gaps between historic interests. Petticoat Lane flea market is huge and wonderful, despite the warnings about pickpockets.

Each day is ended with a walk in the park at Kensington.

There will be another visit; there’s just too much to see and do for a single week. The trip home is anticlimactic and uneventful.

JAMES D. “ARCHIE” HOWELL is a Southampton County native and 1955 graduate of Franklin High School. He can be reached at