07 December 2013

York and London

In the several trips made to the U.K., I rarely go far beyond London.  On this trip, despite the season, I decided to venture north and visit York and Yorkshire.  My intent was to visit something that I had always wanted to see since I first saw it on the original "Brideshead Revisited" series on PBS -- Castle Howard.  My plan was to fly to London and then take the train to York, stay there two nights and then return to London for two nights before heading back home.

My evening flight left on time from SFO.  There was no wifi available on the flight, but there were new programs to watch on the video-on-demand system to get me through dinner before I would try to get some sleep. The food was just okay, but the sundae is always appreciated.

I managed to get a few hours sleep and we landed at Heathrow Airport a little bit ahead of schedule.  I packed lightly for this trip, so I only had carry-on luggage.  There was no queue at immigration, neither in the Fastrak Lane nor the regular line.  My processing was quick and I headed directly to ground transportation.

To get to York, I would have to take a train.  There is frequent service between King's Cross Station and York.  After pricing out individual tickets when planning the trip, I decided to go ahead and get a first class BritRail Pass for three days.  The pass was actually sent from Canada, so delivery to me was very quick once I had made the online purchase.  I even purchased the ticket protection package, which included free shipping, and replacement for a lost or stolen pass.  At first I was not going to opt for this, but regular shipping was going to cost almost as much as the trip protection package, so it made sense to get the package.  The other thing the rail pass would do is let me ride Heathrow Express (which I almost never do because of the cost and availability of other reasonable options).

Before I was able to use the pass, I needed to validate it.  At the airport, this can be done at the Heathrow Express ticket desk.  Once I made the long trek to the train platform, I did not have to wait long for the next train.  I hopped on to the First Class car, which is more spacious than the regular cars due to 1-2 seating.  And every seat has a table.  There were no other passengers in my car.

Once I arrived at Paddington Station, I had to change to the Underground, as I had to get to King's Cross for the York trains.  To do this, I had to walk a bit back towards the Hammersmith and City line station platform at Paddington.  The rail pass is not valid on the Underground, but I had an Oyster Card with funds on it, so I was all set to ride to King's Cross (about 5 stations away).

Once at King's Cross, I looked up at the board for the next York-bound train.  In particular, I was looking for an express to York, as some trains will service intermediate stops.  I spotted a departure leaving in 5 minutes and hurried toward the platform. The conductor was blowing the final boarding whistle and I just managed to jump on.  Fortunately, the First Class cars are at the back end of the train, so I was already in the right coach.  The train was fairly well occupied, but there were a few single seats still available.  I found one that had been reserved, but not until after York.  In additional to being an express train, another nice thing is that in First Class, they will serve a meal if the ride is longer than an hour (it would be 1 hour 51 minutes to York).  For the time of day that I was riding, they offered an afternoon tea service, with sandwiches, cake and fruit.

It was well after sunset when the train arrived at York station.  I knew the general direction I needed to go to get to the Hilton York, but I still had to pull out my phone and locate myself to make sure I was getting close to the hotel.  It took about 20 minutes to reach the hotel, which is right next to the old section of York.  The York Hilton is a small Hilton without an Executive Lounge.  But it was not busy when I arrived and check-in was fast.  There's nothing fancy about the hotel, but I did get a room that faced the York Tower.

The next day, I planned to take a bus out to Castle Howard.  It's not that far from York, but if you go by bus, it takes a little over an hour to get there. And if you take the bus, they give you a discount on the entrance fee (about half off).  The bus stop was easy to find, as I was a block from Piccadilly, where most of the buses have a stop.  I went out a little early to locate the stop and then walked around old York for a bit.

The bus ride take you through the Yorkshire countryside.  Not very many people were on the bus, even though it was the first run, going from York and terminating at Castle Howard with several intermediate stops.

At Castle Howard, the grounds open at 10am and the house opens at 11.  So I started out wandering around the extensive open areas around the house.

It was amazing to be there finally after all these years.  It was at once very familiar but also different.  The way certain scenes were constructed in the miniseries and in the movie led me to think the house and rods were arranged differently than they actually were.  The house sits in the middle of 3,000 acres, and the grounds are not all flat, with some of the peripheral structures located a decent hike away from the house.  There weren't very many people there in the morning (the tour buses hadn't arrived yet), so it was like I had much of the grounds to myself.

When the house opened at 11am, I went in.  It seemed a little smaller than I had expected.  We were allowed to wander though selected rooms upstairs and downstairs.  I learned that the house was gutted by a fire in 1940 and that in the filming of the miniseries and the movie, selected rooms were restored as part of the filming, such as the Garden Room:

There were exhibits and descriptions around the house about the residents and about the production and filming of the "Brideshead Revisited" story.  The house was decorated for the holiday season (it just reopened for the season), which was generally a nice touch, although it sometimes distracted me from seeing the house as it would have been normally.

I spent about three hours in total at the castle.  I caught the return bus to York and was there in time to walk around York proper for a bit, including part of the old wall.

I stopped off at one of the Betty's Tea Room located in old York for a traditional afternoon tea service. I also stopped by the train station to reserve a seat on my return train to London.  Reservations aren't required, but I decided on a specific train that I wanted to take, and I wanted to make sure I had a specific seat saved for my trip back.

The next day, after a nice breakfast and a little more shopping, I headed to the train station to catch my train.  On the way back, the meal service was lunch, for which there were a couple of hot options, as well as tea sandwiches.  It was an express train back to King's Cross station, so in less than two hours, I was back in London.

I was back in time to check in and rest up a little before heading out for my Thanksgiving evening dinner reservation.  I didn't really have a Thanksgiving dinner, even though an American was part owner of where I dined that evening (Kitchen Table -- click here for the write-up).

While in London this time, I wanted to try and get to a place called Kenwood House.  It supposedly has an interesting collection of artwork in a historic house on Hampstead Heath. I heard about it last March when I visited the Seattle Art Museum in March.  They were displaying part of the collection there while the house was undergoing renovation.  Using a couple of Underground trains and a bus, I made it there pretty easily. Admission to the house is free.


This bridge can be seen from the house at a distance.  However, it was just an aesthetic piece to the landscape.  Upon closer inspection, it is really just a facade of a footbridge.

Afterwards, I headed to Oxford Street to check out the holiday decoration (and crowds!).

For this evening, I went to a Japanese restaurant that a friend of mine told me about that was near Berkeley Square called Umu.  At Umu, I decided to have my first traditional kaiseki dinner.  For the write-up, click here).

The next day, I boarded a Heathrow Connect train back to the airport (no Heathrow Express for me as my pass was expired).  When I went up to the Global Services desk to check in, they told me that they were oversold in First Class.  They also added that while they probably wouldn't move me, they most likely would have to downgrade some people.  they were offering the option of taking a later flight on British Airways.  I thought about it for a bit, but I wasn't sure whether I would get the lifetime miles if they moved me to another flight (I suppose I could try to make a case for them, but I'd rather not have the hassle).  I also was not too enthusiastic about trying to get to Terminal 5 at this stage of the game. I ended up telling them that I wanted to stay on the United flight.

During the time between checking in and the flight's boarding, my seat changed twice for some reason.  I guess it had to do with whether someone else was staying on the flight or not.  However, I did get the window seat I had moved myself to the day before.  After that, and a slight delay, we had an easy flight back to SFO.

1 comment:

  1. Brings back memories of a great city visited long ago. It is wonderful to read of your adventures...we love to travel but the next best thing is "arm-chair traveling." Thanks.