Earlier this month, I penned a blog that skimmed the surface of my recent European travels. In that blog I explained that my new husband and I were in the process of planning a Parisian honeymoon when my husband, who is a drummer, was asked to accompany Iowa-based singer-songwriter William Elliott Whitmore on a three-week tour that would take them all over the UK as well as mainland Europe.
The tour began in a small city just south of London in on Sept. 10, and as it would turn out, we'd have just enough time to squeeze our honeymoon in before meeting up with Whitmore in London on Sept. 9.
As my blog said,
We took the Chunnel from Paris to London where I jumped in the van and joined the guys for their first five days of tour, all of which were in southern England. I saw them plat in awkwardly set up performing art spaces, in crowded bars, in big, proper venues and on a gigantic stage to hundreds of people at the End of The Road Festival in Dorset, England.
Every night it was different and every night it was incredible. When, after a great show at London's Relentless Garage, they hopped a 2 a.m. ferry to the mainland, I had to catch a black cab and fly home because, after all, my OnMilwaukee.com duties were calling even louder than London was.
This was my journey.
London -- We arrived in London on Sept. 5, which meant we had five days to spend before meeting up with Will at Heathrow. We had a fantastic offer to stay with family friends in their condo on the Thames River, directly across the water from Shakespeare's legendary Globe Theatre. No, it's not his original (that one was destroyed by fire in 1613), but it's an amazing reconstruction of what his open-air theatre looked like when Shakespeare was testing our his material for the first time on audiences. Play tickets can get expensive, but for a mere £5, you can stand in the pit around the stage just like they did hundreds of years ago (though, presumably, you'll leave your rotting fruit and vegetables at home). If standing doesn't sound appealing, just remember that locals consider the theatre's troupe to be among the best in London.
While you're near the water, your possibilities multiply. Visit the free Tate Modern (and take a boat ride down the Thames to hit up the Tate Britain when you're done). Tour the Tower of London or take in the views from the stunning Tower Bridge (the iconic one that many confuse for the London Bridge, which is just down river and much, much less grand).
Tip: Get yourself a good guide book and spend each day in a different neighborhood, such as Greenwich, Camden, Chelsea, Soho and Covent Garden.
Reading -- I'd previously known nothing of this city in Berkshire, and to be honest, I'd been warned by friends in London that Reading was a small town with next to nothing to offer in terms of interest or entertainment. Nevertheless, the boys were scheduled to kick off their European tour at a small performing arts center there, so off we went. We were shocked on arrival at how disillusioned we'd been during the 40-mile car ride southwest from London. Reading was more alive with people and activity. It's not only got a population of just under 145,000, but it also has the University of Reading, a slew of museums, including The Reading Museum, The Museum of English Rural Life and the topical River and Rowing Museum.
And "The Office" fans, it's also the hometown of Ricky Gervais.
The main thoroughfare Broad Street is bustling with locals and visitors frequenting shops (you can't miss the mega-mall The Oracle), restaurants and pubs.
We took a chance on a small cafe at 35-39 London St. called The Global Cafe, which served fantastic Ethiopian food.
We were impressed with the cafe's selection of beers from around the world, fair trade and organic wines and spirits.
If we'd had more time to spend exploring, we'd have explored the Reading Abbey Ruins & Forbury Gardens, or a river trip (two companies offer them, Salters Steamers and Thames Rivercruise.)
We just missed it by a couple of weeks, but if you happen to plan your trip during late August, consider the Reading Festival of folk and progressive music.
Ramsgate -- We left Reading for Ramsgate and on our way east, we passed signs for the city of Sandwich, which made us hungry. But, we don't suggest trying to find a sandwich in this coastal town. When you hit Ramsgate in eastern Kent, you know you've reached the seaside, and, as a port town, fishing was its largest biggest industries. Today, thanks to its picturesque coastline and quaint town center, it's become popular as a tourist hotspot, though fishing is still a major part of life for locals, making it no surprise that this is the place to get your fill of fish and chips.
Peter's Fish Factory is at 96 Harbour Parade. Nearly everything here is fried and while its famous fish and chips combo reigns supreme, do not overlook the opportunity to try something new, like the pea fritter (think thick split pea soup balled up, breaded and deep fried to perfection. Warning: let it cool a minute before digging in.
Next door is the Belgian Cafe at 98 Harbour Parade, where you'll find the full English breakfast served all day long (as well as a rare vegetarian version) and more Belgian beers than you'd ever hope to try in a sitting.
If you enjoy the water, you'll have no shortage of fun options. Go on a Sea Searcher boat trip. Try surfing lessons. Take in a game of golf with stunning views of the ocean. There's also the Ramsgate Maritime Museum near the harbour quayside has exhibits showing the evolution of Ramsgate Harbour and East Kent maritime history.
Dorset -- Located between Devon and Hampshire, Dorset County is as far south as you can get on this island and the views of this mostly rural area are practically stripped right out of a fairytale. Will was scheduled to play a huge outdoor indie music festival called End of the Road Festival and end of the road it was. The bed and breakfast we stayed in wasdelicately placed amongst rolling hills and farm land and didn't even have an official address. It didn't need to; there were no other buildings around.
A day trip down to the Dorset Coast is break-taking. If the weather agrees, spend the day at one of many gorgeous beaches, including Durdle Door, named for the naturally occurring arch near Lulworth Cove is a fun day in the sun.
And speaking of Lulworth, the Lulworth Castle, in East Lulworth is a fun investigation into 17th century royalty life. Like Shakespeare's Globe mentioned earlier, this historical site was also ruined by fire and rebuilt for public consumption (in this case, as a museum).
Of course, if the kiddos are in tow, you might not want to rule out Adventure Wonderland Family Fun Park. Sure, it's a bit north of the coast you were just enjoying, but, compared to the expanse of the United States, nothing on this island is that daunting of a drive.
On our way back northeast to London, we stopped at Stonehenge, which is near Salisbury in the county of Wiltshire. We opted to pass on paying the £6 or so to get inside the fence because we noticed that, once in, you are still restricted to a guided pathway that makes a very wide circle around the rocks. In our opinion, we were getting just as good a view from our spot on the sidewalk on the other side of the fence.
OnMilwaukee.com staff writer Julie Lawrence grew up in Wauwatosa and has lived her whole life in the Milwaukee area.
As any “word nerd” can attest, you never know when inspiration will strike, so from a very early age Julie has rarely been seen sans pen and little notebook. At the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee it seemed only natural that she major in journalism. When OnMilwaukee.com offered her an avenue to combine her writing and the city she knows and loves in late 2004, she knew it was meant to be. Around the office, she answers to a plethora of nicknames, including “Lar,” (short for “Larry,” which is short for “Lawrence”) as well as the mysteriously-sourced “Bill Murray.”