We have more London days to tell you about! To catch up on how we’ve been getting on in London so far, read this blog post. If you don’t care, just keep reading here!
Day 5: Ramsgate Tunnels, White Cliffs of Dover
Enough of the city, it’s time to get outta town! We rented a large-ish (for Europe) car, thinking that we’d keep it until Wednesday when we left for the train to France. I wasn’t thrilled to have a big car on the small streets of London but Dan is much better at judging distance and size than I am so I trusted him. Off we went to the east coast of London, to Ramsgate Tunnels.
Ramsgate is a small town that really took a beating during World Wars 1 and 2. It’s just really in a very unfortunate location. Not only is this town able to be reached from bombs fired from mainland Europe, but it’s vulnerable by sea as well. To make matters worse, with the additional aerial bombing in WW2, the German planes would drop any bombs not used on London on Ramsgate, as it’s the last area of England before flying over the channel back to Germany. Poor Ramsgate, they are just in the wrong place at all the wrong times.
One of the city officials was in Barcelona during a WW1 bombing and saw how the underground shelters were really critical for saving lives. Realizing the war drums were beating leading up to England’s entrance into war with Germany, this Ramsgate city official kept petitioning the War Department to fund fallout tunnels for their city. FINALLY, about 4 months before the war with Germany started, they were able to receive funding for an underground shelter. Using existing tunnels from the defunct railway, they built a 2.5 mile-long tunnel system that was accessible within 5 minutes from anywhere in the city, including special entrances from the hospital and the elementary school. The city official was right on time. The tunnels were usable by September 1939. The month England declared war on Germany.
Suffice to say, this was pretty interesting. We toured the tunnels, learned about how the residents lived when they were displaced above ground and got an idea of the different shelter options. Great stuff.
After Ramsgate we decided to have our obligatory English fish and chips since we were right there on the water. We ordered the jumbo portion which was really quite a bit more jumbo than we needed. It was OK. Pretty greasy, but tasty nonetheless. I was disappointed that they served the tarter sauce in little packets. Wasteful, messy, and a lot of work to get the massive quantities of sauce I like for
all my food fish.
On our drive to Ramsgate we noticed the White Cliffs of Dover were nearby so we set off to see them after our tunnel tour, hoping the on-again off-again rain would hold out long enough for us to visit them and stay dry. Success!
The White Cliffs of Dover, part of the North Downs formation, is the name given to the region of English coastline facing the Strait of Dover and France. The cliff face, which reaches a height of 106 metres, owes its striking appearance to its composition of chalk accented by streaks of black flint. – Wikipedia
We had a lovely walk along the cliffs, took some great pictures, tried unsuccessfully to buy some hot chocolate (too late!) and then headed home.
It sounds so simple: “Let’s head home” but in reality there was traffic. So much traffic. It took hours to go such short distances. We thought that because it was a Sunday it would not be too busy on the roads but we were wrong. We inched our way home, taking hours longer than we expected. We also discovered that parking the car near our flat in London was not as easy as we thought. There was a large parking area but when Dan downloaded the app, the app said it was full so he couldn’t park there. Even though he was sitting in his car, in the parking area, where there were dozens and dozens of open parking spaces. Foiled. We settled for parking on the street and getting up at 7:30 a.m. the next day to feed the meter. If you know Dan, you know that this is his LAST resort.
Windsor Castle and Stonehenge
Well, the car is handy for getting places out of the city so now that we have it, let’s use it! That’s logical, right?? When planning our day we thought we’d head out of London, drop by Windsor Castle and check out the changing of the guard, grab a quick selfie with the guys in furry black hats, then continue on to Stonehenge. This sounds like a fantastic, very productive, logistically organized plan. Until it wasn’t. #europe
You cannot underestimate London traffic. It’s there, all the time, day and night. I don’t know if it was an accident, construction or just peak hour, but our GPS said we would arrive at Windsor several hours after the changing of the guard had taken place. And from there we still had a few hours to get to Stonehenge. So we altered our plans and headed directly to Stonehenge. Even that took quite a bit of time but we made it.
Stonehenge reminded me a lot of Chichen Itza. There was still a lot of speculation about why it was built and how it was used, but it was fascinating nonetheless. We checked out the stones and the museum and the very varied gift shop. This was perhaps the best gift shop we’ve ever been in. Other than the fact that it was WAY too small for the crowd that was in it, it had such a variety of things. Very well done! I got a wooden spoon for my eventual kitchen in Arizona. A wooden Stonehenge spoon!!!
It was a great day, until we started driving home. So. Much. Traffic. It just doesn’t end! At one point I was sure the GPS was lying, thinking it couldn’t possibly take us that long to get home. Oh yes it could. We inched along through the city and finally arrived home, exhausted and carsick from all the stop and go driving. We had more struggles finding parking and the idea started to form that maybe we didn’t want this car after all.
Day 7: Windsor Castle
If you’re paying attention this is now TWO failed attempts to see the castle guards – one at Buckingham Palace and one the previous day at Windsor Castle. The fam was not as dedicated to this venture, but I decided that I really really wanted to see this so I declared that I was going to Windsor Castle the next morning, by public transportation. Whoever wanted to go with me could go but I was prepared to go solo. The early risings were doing a number on Haley but Zoe was enthusiastic so she and I set off, planning to go see the guard changing and get back to the apartment around lunch time. Best laid plans! But in a good way.
It took us 5 trains and about an hour to get to Windsor but we did it with no hiccups. When we arrived in the town, the castle was literally across the street from the train station. And it was gorgeous! It was also a lovely day with mild temps and no rain so that helped. We found a good spot on the route of the guards and soon they came marching down the street. This is so cool! And with bagpipes too. I love bagpipes. I was so happy!
But soon we realized that Windsor was an adorable town and worth some of our extra time. It was absolutely charming. So we explored the town for awhile, then decided that we wanted to get even CLOSER to the guards, so we bought tickets to tour the castle. It was a very interesting castle and at the end we managed to get up close and personal with our red and black-dressed friends. Selfies were taken, giggles were happening. We were pleased. Bucket list item: CHECK!
It took 6 trains to get back to our apartment but we made it right about the same time as Dan and Haley, who had gone into London to have lunch with a friend of Dan’s, and… you guessed it… return the rental car. We weren’t using it that day and we decided that it would be easier to just call a big taxi to come get us and take us to the train station the next day. That proved to be an excellent decision. We did some organizing and packing, ate up the rest of our food and tried to get to bed early in preparation for a logistically full travel day planned for the following day.
Day 8: Transition to France
And so, our time in London had to come to an end. We got up early and took a very easy taxi to the train station. Much easier than trying to return a rental car and navigate the station with all our luggage! We were dropped off at the door and even had enough time to go to the train station next door and get a few photos at platform 9 and 3/4 at Kings Cross Train Station. Harry Potter fans will recognize the significance of that. It’s cool that London has made this a thing for the Harry Potter fans across the world.
The train was easy and smooth. I’ve always wanted to go on this train that departs England, goes under the channel and comes up on the other side, in France. I will take this opportunity to give you a few random facts about this tunnel.
The Channel Tunnel is the longest undersea tunnel in the world: its section under the sea is 38km long. It is actually composed of three tunnels, each 50km long, bored at an average 40m below the sea bed. They link Folkestone (Kent) to Coquelles (Pas-de-Calais).
Eurotunnel Shuttles, Eurostar and freight trains runs on two monodirectional single-track tunnels. They are connected every 375 meters by cross-passages to a service tunnel, a road tunnel for maintenance operations and eventually emergency rescue.
The two rail tunnels are 7.6m in diameter and 30m apart. Each rail tunnel has a single track, overhead power line (catenary) and two walkways (one for maintenance purposes and the other on the side nearest the service tunnel for use in the event of an emergency evacuation). The walkways are also designed to maintain a shuttle upright and in a straight line of travel in the unlikely event of a derailment.
In normal operations, Eurotunnel shuttles use the south tunnel in the France – UK direction, and the north tunnel when travelling from the UK to France.
This is important to note because French and English drive on different sides of the road!
And so, we did the chunnel! Another bucket list item: CHECK! It was only 1 hour between London and the port of Calais, in France, where we were picking up our rental car. A very easy trip! I almost wish it lasted longer, I was enjoying the view. Until we went under the water, that is.
When planning our travel to France, we decided to get off the train at the port city of Calais and pick up our rental car there, instead of trying to navigate this transition at the busy Paris train station. This was a wise move and the nice lady at the rental car agency gave us a bigger car when she saw our luggage. We are in France, we have our rental car, it fits us nicely… we are set. We can now rule the world!
And so, we set off in our car to our Airbnb in a tiny town west of Paris. And that means London is officially in the “done” category. We hope you enjoyed eavesdropping on our London diary. But don’t stray too far. Soon we’ll be updating you on all our excursions in France.