More Museums

The day started with a trip to Earl’s Court to see one of the few remaining police boxes in the wild (I’m a Doctor Who fan, this had to be done). Afterwards, we headed to the Churchill Arms, a cozy pub decorated with artifacts of the former Prime Minister and Britain in general. One room featured pictures of U.S. Presidents and bedpans hanging from the ceiling (I will leave it to my readers to decide if these are connected). The pub served Thai food, and very good food at that.

Our travels took us to the Science Museum, where we saw exhibits on space and communication technology.

We then took in the Victoria and Albert Museum, keeping our focus on European history. Two galleries were entirely of plaster casts of other artifacts, including a life-sized cast of Michelangelo’s David.

Our last museum trip was to the Natural History Museum, solely to see the dinosaurs. I liked how the exhibit mounted the dinosaurs close to the ceiling, to take advantage on the floor space for more information displays.

The evening finished with pints at The Admiralty, The Harp, Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese and The Lamb. The crowds made it next to impossible to get food, but a local restaurant was able to provide adequate sustenance.

Continue reading “More Museums”

(Tate) Modern Love

After breakfast, we paid a visit to the Tate Modern gallery, which, as its name implies, showcases modern art. Pieces by Picasso, Dalí and even Warhol can be found here. My favorite was Babel 2001, a massive tower of radios each tuned to a different station, creating a cacophony reminiscent of its Biblical namesake.

After lunch at the Prince William Henry, we vidited the Imperial War Museum. My favorite exhibit there was on World War I, not only because it showed the conflict from the perspective of soldier and civilian alike, but because it offered a view from a country that had been in the conflict from the beginning, rather than joining later as the United States did.

We them walked along the Thames, getting our views of the Houses of Parliament, the Elizabeth Tower (which holds Big Ben, the bell), Westminster Abbey and the London Eye.

I had intended to step into the National Gallery to buy a birthday gift, but the gallery was closing and I had picked the wrong shop of several in the building. I did, however, get the chance to see Trafalgar Square, with all its hustle and bustle around Nelson’s Column.

After a pint at the Craft Beer Company, we headed to Foyle’s Bookstore, where Dad checked out Ray’s Jazz and I was able to find the gift I wanted.

After dinner at the Argyll Arms, we headed back to the hotel for an early night.

South Bank

Some culture interspersed with pubs today.

The Tate Modern on the south bank has been a target for Ryan and I since we started planning this trip. It’s an easy underground to Blakfriar’s Station and walk across the Thames to the museum.  The free admission policy always surprises me, especially for such a well-respected museum.  Good stuff – a lot of really special modern work along with some pretty wierd installations.

After lunch at one of the Fuller pubs (The Prince William Henry), we hike down to the Imperial War Museum – about a 30 minute walk .  The WWI and Holocast exhibits are outstanding and quite moving.

It’s a pleasant, but cool evening so we take our time walking  back to the hotel with an occasional pub stop along the way.  Thankfully, there’s plenty of CAMRA rated places to choose from!

pics: ‘3 eggs’ at the Tate, Parliament, Ben, Argyll Arms 


London Walkabout

Our hotel is well situated – close to a number of under ground stations, restaurants, and pubs.   Breakfast is in a common area with full English or more healthy options.  They provide a same day laundry service at 7 GBP per load that should keep me from having to wash socks in the sink for the rest of the trip.

We toured the Tower of London in the morning.  It looks quite different from when Mary and I were there in ’14 during the WWI centennial.  Then, the entire moat was filled with red poppies in remembrance of the war dead.  Our tour guide was hilarious – he really got into the gory details of the executions and tortures.  The kids loved it.  We did the ‘Tower Bridge Experience’ in the afternoon which included a visit to the engine room.  Reminded me of the 4-stand mill basements at Gary Works.

Shaun hooked up with us at the Euston Tap after he got off work.  After a few pub stops and an excellent Indian dinner we bid him farewell and headed back to the ranch.

Pics: Euston Tap, Bree Louise, Eggs, Tower scene

To the Tower!

After breakfast, we made our way to the Tower of London. Sitting on the north bank of the Thames, the Tower has served many purposes, including fort, royal residence and prison. Our excellent tour guide was a Yeoman Warder (commonly nicknamed Beefeaters), who showed us the moat, several streets and towers before ending at the chapel where several nobles are buried, sans heads in most cases.

While there, we also saw the Crown Jewels, a wonderful exhibition of armor and foreign gifts, and a small area displaying implements of torture.

Lunch followed at the Hung, Drawn and Quartered, possibly the best pub name in existence. We then headed to Tower Bridge for its Exhibition, which included short films on its construction and footage shot in the 1890s. We also walked along the top walkways; both had a section in which the floor was replaced with glass, so you could see down to the deck and water. I am not in any way ashamed to admit I walked around that section. The Exhibition also featured a tour of the bridge’s engine rooms. 

We headed to Borough Market, just south of London Bridge. The market has just about any foodstuff one could imagine, tucked away among various arches and overpasses.

After a pint at the Rake, we walked along the south bank of the Thames, pausing to snap a picture of Shakespeare’s Globe Theater. We headed north on the Millennium Bridge and made our way to Euston, stopping for a half-pint at the Swan along the way. We met our friend Shaun at the Euston Tap, then went for Indian food. After a couple more pints at the Hope and Jerusalem Tavern, we parted company and returned to the hotel for a nice rest. Continue reading “To the Tower!”

Back in England

We had a few hours to kill in Chelmsford before we catch our train back to London.  

Neither of us felt like a hotel meal. so we headed down to one of the local pubs, the Plough, across from the train station for something with a more local vibe.  Great place with a CAMRA designation, cool interior and a fine full English for breakfast.   We walk to, and tour the beautiful Chelmsford cathedral.  Gorgeous. The stained glass on both sides of the entry are a tribute to the American military.  

A short train and metro ride and we’re at our lodging, the family-owned Jemson Hotel in Bloomsbury.  The British Museum provides hours of stimulation. Thanks to our personal pub planner, Ed Vidunas, we locate and enjoy some of the best London has to offer.  Thanks Ed! and also thanks for a great write-up of our evening’s activities by Ryan .

Pics: the Plough, Chelmsford glass, British Museum



London (No Fog Yet)

After an excellent breakfast at The Plough in Chelmsford, we visited the Chelmsford Cathedral. Centuries old, the cathedral was beautiful and serene; an organist played during our visit as well. The cathedral grounds were well-manicured and featured some well-worn gravestones as well.

We then hopped on the train to London, where we decided to take in the British Museum (after a quick pint at the Museum Tavern across the road). The Museum is massive; no one could expect to do everything in one day, so we opted for the Egyptian, Mesopotamian and early European areas. Two particular highlights for me were seeing the Rosetta Stone and artifacts from the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, one of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World.

Dinner followed at the Resting Hare, followed by pints at the Lord John Russell, Marquis Cornwallis, Friend at Hand and the Princess Louise.

The Princess Louise was interesting because it had been built with many two- or three-person compartments around the bar, closed off by doors; they were very similar to tiny opera boxes. This was apparently so the upper class could have a drink in the same bar as the lower class, but not have to interact with them. And at the Cornwallis, I particularly enjoyed a painting of a Revolutionary War battle, but with lightsabers and the Death Star in the sky. I had no idea we Americans were the Sith.

Vaarel Belgie

A nice finish to another fine Podge tour.

As always, the bus stopped at the incredible ‘Dranken Geers’ beer store in Oostakker so the English folk can avoid local taxes and load up on some of the beers from Dranken’s fabulous collection of Belgian and French beers. The prices are crazy – 1.5 euro on average for beers we would pay 8-10 dollars for in PA.  Of course, Ryan and I are constraind by PA’s medieval import restrictions and luggage weight.  Breaks a traveling man’s heart.  Our friends, Shaun and Carol, show no mercy and load up to the max.

Our luck with the weather, until now, has been wonderful with blue skies and mild temps.  Not so today as we got the full monty – rain, sun, hail, wind.  Just like home!

Our last brewery tour was at the smallest producer in Belgium – the Microbrouwerij Urthel in Oostakker, a very rural farming community. No GPS here – they might not have electricity!  Inspite of the nasty weather (rain, hail, gale force wind), we enjoy a tasting of Urthel’s micros and a tour of the brewery (mine might be bigger).  Really cool, creative people who also run a restaurant in a nearby town where we share our final meal as a tour group.

Our drive to Calais and through the Chunnel were uneventful.  We bid our traveling companions a fond farwell on arrival in Chelmsford and have a last pint with Shaun and Carol before our short walk to our lodging near the train depot.  One of those trips you wish could never end.

Pics:  Microbrouwerij Urthel, Vikings at Dranken Geers, Podge & Ryan & Siobhan, De Hoppeschuur  

Goodbye Belgium

The last day of the Belgian tour started with a trip to Dranken Geers in Oostakker. The beer warehouse advertises itself as the best in Belgium, and I’m inclined to agree. The selection and prices were both incredible. I did not pick up anything, however; there are limits to what I can carry with me on the plane, and I would have been too overwhelmed with the selection to decide, most likely. Most others on the tour did not have the same issues, and many bought several cases to take back with them.

Our last brewery stop was to Microbrouwerij Urthel in Ruiselede, where Hildegard the brewer and her husband, Bas, ply their trade. Bas made sure to personally greet everyone as they came off the bus, and then made sure we all got a beer right away, which made for an intersting experience drinking a pint on a porch in a rainstorm.

The brewing space at Urthel is only about 120 square meters, but they accomplish a lot in that space. Bas even instructed us on how to make vinegar out of less-than-desired beer.

We then went to the couple’s restaurent, De Hoppeschuur in Knesselare, where Hildegard is also the chef. The food was excellent, as were the beers we sampled, with one beer being paired with our chosen dish. We also got to try some liqueur distilled from one of the stronger beers.

Due to time constraints, we were not able to have a final beer at Grote Markt in Veurne. We headed back through the Channel Tunnel and disembarked in Chelmsford. A couple more pints and a meal at The Woolpack and it was off to our hotel, where we ready ourselves for London tomorrow.

The Red-Brown Beer Tour

A myriad of weather Sunday: sunshine, clouds, rain and sleet all made an appearance during the third biennial Rondje Roodbruin, or Red-Brown Beer Tour. Four breweries known for their traditional Flemish Red-Brown beers opened their doors for tours.

The first stop was Brouwerij Rodenbach in Roeselare for a private tour. We got to see all phases of the process, and wandered through a small forest of oak barrels used to age the product.

Another private tour followed at De Brabandere Brouwerij in Harelbeke. The brewery is perhaps best known for Petrus, including Aged Pale, Aged Red and Oud Bruin. The tasting was unusual in that we were allowed to create our own blends of the three if we so chose.

After lunch at Track 75, an old railway station in Harelbeke, we visited the Verhaeghe brewery in Vichte, perhaps best known for the Flanders red ale Duchesse de Bourgogne, followed by the Omer Vander Ghinste brewery in Bellergem. Both tours were more open houses than guided affairs, but were still enjoyable.

After out return to Aalst, many of us went to the Ambarosa beer café, which the owner agreed to keep open to accommodate us. The beer selection was wonderful, as was the cheese and charcuterie plate we enjoyed before heading back for a good night’s sleep.