One of my many distractions lately is travel planning. After spending several months living in the wilds of Lower Alabama, I'm getting to take a bit of a vacation. Right now, face a 60-minute round-trip commute to get to the nearest bookstore (a marginally acceptable Barnes and Noble). If I'm going to make a longer trip to restock the larder, I might as well go the full Monty and hit the Waterstone's on Piccadilly Circus.
So I'm off to Europe for a few weeks at the beginning of April. I've got the rough outline sketched in, and I'm hoping that some of you can help me fill in some of the details before I go. Here's what I'm looking at so far:
On the morning of 5 April, I arrive in London. I have a hotel booked in Central London for the following week. I also have a BritRail England pass, which gives me unlimited rail travel through England for that week. On the morning of 12 April, I depart for Frankfurt. I'll be staying with friends there for two nights, and heading on to Paris on the 14th. On the 15th, my wife and children will be arriving in Paris. We're planning to head to Normandy for a couple of days, then meet up with my parents back in Paris, head down to see some of my wife's family in Auvergne, and then get back to Paris on the 20th or 21st. On the 24th, I'm taking the train back to London, and I'll be flying home early on the 25th.
Right now, I've only got some tentative plans for the week that I'll be basing out of London. I'd like to make sure I get my money's worth out of the rail pass, and I'm very much open to advice on ways to do that.
The last time I was in the UK, I got out to Oxford, Cambridge, Stonehenge, and Down House. Here's what I'm thinking about for this trip, in order of priority:
Nottingham. This one's actually a bit of a priority for me. I'm a long-time Warhammer and 40K geek, and I'd like to get to Warhammer World, if only for a few hours. I'm probably going to do this on the 7th, and only for part of the day.
York. I'd like to see at least York Minster, the walls, and the Railway Museum. (Yes, I'm also a transport geek. In fact, I have lots of hobbies, and all of them are geeky in one way or another. At the moment, this is a very good thing, because it helps me compensate for the fact that I seem to have somehow wound up making a living in sports and aquatics.) I'm not sure if I'm going to go to Jorvik or not - if anyone's been there, and has a review, please let me know. I'm strongly considering DIG, or at least the Hungate tour. (Again, opinions from those who've done any of those are very welcome.) At the moment, I've tentatively decided to head to York on the 6th.
Dover. Dover Castle, in particular, has a lot of appeal, and I'd like to take an hour or two to walk along some of the paths that head toward the White Cliffs.
Canterbury. I've wanted to see the place since I read Canterbury Tales in high school, but somehow didn't get around to it last trip. I might stop there the same day I go to Dover.
Those are the places I've got the strongest feelings about, at least for the moment. I'm considering a number of others - Bath, Salisbury, Bristol, Liverpool, Manchester, Colchester - but haven't settled on any of them, or even tried to sort out which I want to get to most yet. I also wouldn't mind getting back to Oxford or Down House, but I don't know that I want to sacrifice going someplace new to get back to either of those.
London. This will be my third time in London. Last time, Matt Brown (who was then working at Nature Network, and is now at the Londonist) took us on a couple of fantastic walking tours that covered a good bit of the scientific heritage of the city. But, London being London, there are still a lot of places I haven't seen yet, and quite a few that I have, but want to see again. Suggestions here would be good - I've been to most of the major sights already at least once, but I'm open to any sort of suggestions here. About the only thing on my "I'm definitely not skipping out on again" list is Kew Gardens. Everything else is open.
Germany. I really haven't done much planning on this one. One of my local hosts was going to ask for advice on another blog. I'll link that when it goes up.
France. My family is doing most of the planning for this part of the trip. Since they're being nice enough to let me go off and explore on my own for 10 days, I'm not going to argue with them much. Still, suggestions, particularly for Paris, would be appreciated.
Just off the top: Royal Armouries (http://www.royalarmouries.org/home) in Leeds. Nearby is the National Media Museum (http://www.nationalmediamuseum.org.uk/) in Bradford.
(I'm a Yorkshire lass, so a little biased)
If you're in to castles: (http://www.castlexplorer.co.uk/northeast.php#map) Castle explorer.
There's so much to see in England. Pity your travel pass doesn't extend to Scotland.
Nottingham. I don't think much of Nottingham myself - rather dull, in my opinion, but then you have a special reason for visiting it. If you're into interesting pubs, I recommend the Trip: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ye_Olde_Trip_To_Jerusalem
York. One of my favourite cities in England. Attractive streets in the centre, lots of history, and fantastic pubs. If you're into English beer, I recommend the Yorkshire Terrier and the Three Legged Mare in the centre, and especially the Maltings near the railway station.
Dover. Not a place I recommend. The town is mostly dull and depressing. Nothing much to see (though I admit I've no idea what the castle and its museum are like).
Canterbury. If you do do Dover, I think it's worth taking in Canterbury on the same day. Not really a fun city, but the cathedral's worth a visit.
London. Although I'm a Londoner originally, I always have difficulty recommending anything as there's so much.
Also, I recommend Brighton (very easily accessible by train, best to travel from Victoria) for a fun day out if there's room in your schedule.
Bath and Salisbury are worth checking out. The last time we were in London, we took a day tour. Both are incredibly beautiful and worth checking out. As touristy as it is, I recommend the Tower of London as well.
Henry Gee and I both spent our undergrad days in Leeds (at different times!). The Armoury in Leeds is good, and it also has (or had - I haven't been there for 10 years) the best second-hand bookshop ever. It's down a backstreet in the Hyde Park area. Oh, and the London-Leeds train has wifi. Other than that, it's a big post-industrial city, and you're probably not interested in the hallowed turf where Boycott strode. Move on to York quickly: if you're going to stay there overnight, I have a friend who knows the B&Bs (and the pubs!), so I can pass on her details. Harrogate is also close, and might be pretty.
You might also be interested in Norfolk - Dr. HG of Cromer can advise better than myself, but Thetford Forest is rumoured to be nice as is the coast. And Norwich is rather pretty in places. But remember it's traditional to go to the main office of the CRU and ask to look at their email. The refusal and swearing is customary: any physical violence means that they appreciate the attention you have given them (I did my PhD in Norwich, but not at the CRU).
Definitely, whatever you do, DO NOT go to Scunthorpe.
If you are a transport geek, check out The London Transport museum.
Go to York for sure. I haven't been to Jorvik but have been told that it's starting to show its age.
My son found Warwick Castle fascinating - exhibitions of jousting, archery, falconry, a giant trebuchet, etc but check to see what is in season. Also Chatsworth House but I'm not sure how accessible that is by public transport.
Norfolk is rather uninteresting outside the little villages unless you get on the Broads, but boats can be rented a few minutes walk away from Wroxham station (and no doubt at other places).
The west side of the country is quite different in character. I think you would be interested in the slate mines in Blaenau Ffestiniog (the reason for the Festiniog Railway, the first narrow gauge railway to get steam power).
The railway from York to Whitby is a very nice line.
I haven't been to Jorvik but have been told that it's starting to show its age.
Well, it is 1000 years old. :-)
I'm seconding Ian's recommendation of Brighton. a mere hour from Victoria or London bridge by Rail and really is a fab day out by the seaside! Also there are some terrific walks along the nearby South Downs Way if you're looking to escape the crowds.
To be honest I'd stop at Bath rather than going all the way to Bristol. If you're going to Notts and York then Bristol is much of a muchness. Bath is beautiful though, as is Salisbury and you could probably see them in the same day, though you might be rushed!
*first time commentor, but regular visitor to the UK*
Bath & Salisbury are very nice (Salisbury has an original Magna Carta-something you dont see every day).
For London there's the British Museum and Natural History Museum, and the British War Museum has a very powerful Holocaust exhibit.
Music lovers can take a day long Rock & Roll bus tour around town, and the Hard Rock cafe has a museum area that lets you fondle the items (I played one of Jimi Hendrix' guitars there!)
Paris: WALK! There are towns where walking pays off, and there are US towns, where you get arrested for it. And then there are towns, cities, metropoles, where walking gives you a totally different picture. Paris is one of them. Thus: WALK!
You probably need a day in York, but if you plan to stay overnight, go on to Durham in the morning - it's only three quarters of an hour by train on the same line, so you can get back to London just as easily, and it's an amazing little place.