Intro

First, a disclaimer notice that you find on the Europe trip discussions on this website since I often get email on this subject.  You may notice that all of our trips to Europe seem to include a trip somewhere in the U.K. every year, and other times we add Ireland or France. There's a good reason for this.  We have been traveling to the U.K. for years, mostly due to the ease of getting a non-stop flight from Denver, Colorado to London, England, either at Heathrow or Gatwick (depending on where the airline arrives).  We really have the travel down pretty well and usually know what to expect so currently we travel to London first, then on to other areas.

Some folks ask me why we keep going to the U.K. year after year and why we don't try somewhere else.  The reason is that the U.K. has a long rich history that cannot be fully appreciated by going there once or twice for a week at a time.  Our families are from England, Ireland, Wales, and Scotland, so for us, it is a way to reconnect with our heritage.  I imagine that when it becomes somewhat boring we will probably stop going to the U.K., but I don't really see that occurring in this lifetime since there is so much to see and learn about these great countries.  I've listed some of the trips over the years that we have made to the U.K. on this website as well as a few trips to Ireland and France since 1999, with the descriptions of what we saw and how we felt on each trip dating to the year of our vacation. 

You can read our impressions of the vacations as they have changed over the years by using the navigation bar at the top of this page, or you can go here where we list our trips since 1999.  I expect that if you read about our various trips, you too can pick up some ideas for your vacation to these wonderful countries.

So welcome to our England and France trip for 2006.  We decided to return to north England after not having been there as a family since 2002 (although I was in York in November of 2003 with cousin Mikey).  We also decided to follow up our 2004 France tour in the south-central area around Amboise since there were many more chateaux to visit.  Since the trip to York was a follow-up trip to an area we really like, I don't provide quite as much description of the trip.  Chris ended up getting sick in York and had to go to the emergency room at the York hospital via an ambulance so it made our journey to York very limited.  We did get to see the Lincoln area which is a place we wanted to visit but had never fit in to previous plans.

The description of our trip to France covers more info regarding the various chateaux we visited but mostly through the pictures.  This time I included a ton of pictures from the thousand I took while in France.  I supplied more information around the Lincoln trip, but the trip to the Loire Valley area in France was rather extensive and would take quite awhile to describe so you won't find as much in the descriptions, but will find many pictures.  The trip descriptions below reference these wonderful places and I hope that you find them informative and enjoyable. 

Quick Links

Castle Information - Check out this site to find info on various Castles in England.

England - 2006
England Pictures - 2006

France - 2006
France Pictures 2006 - Loire Valley

 

England - 2006

We began our trip by flying on Tuesday, June 6th, from Denver, Colorado to London Heathrow on a British Airways 777 non-stop flight and arrived in London on June 7th.  As usual, we spent the first day recuperating from jet Lag by walking around the area followed by a trip to The Swan pub for some nice English beer at 9PM and then to bed around 10:30PM.  We got up the next day (this time it was a Wednesday as opposed to a Saturday in past years) and picked up our car at the local Hertz rental place for our drive towards York with our first stop in Lincoln.  We didn't run in to any real delays driving up the M1 before we veered off towards Lincoln, an old Roman town.  We missed our exit and while trying to recuperate from the mistake, ended up driving to Nottingham on the way to Lincoln.  This slowed things down a bit that resulted in an hour delay, but it was OK.

Lincoln B&B
This year we decided to stay at a B&B in Lincoln known as the Bailhouse and Mews.  It is centrally located in Lincoln (the old part of the city is somewhat small) and was easy enough to find once in the city.  It's located about 5 minutes from the Lincoln Cathedral and within a couple of minutes of the Lincoln Castle (literally right around the corner) so it seemed like a nice place to stay.  The accommodations were quite good and the full English breakfast was fine.

We paid 240 GBP per night for the four of us which seemed reasonable given that we used two rooms.  They didn't have air conditioning but when we were in Lincoln, the temperatures at night were nice and cool, so not having an air conditioner wasn't that big a deal.  We did get a couple of fans and used them for the first few hours at night to flush out whatever heat had built up since we were located at the top floor facing the street.  Normally, I don't like a room overlooking a street because it can be quite noisy, but the noise really wasn't an issue for us.  A tip for those of you that haven't read my trip advice page is to use a white noise sound generator to mask unwanted sounds.  We take one with us every year (actually we take two sound generators since we are used to them).  Parking was around back in a secure gated area with an electronic lock so this worked out well too.  The staff was fine and there was a lot of room to hang out and read or just chat.  We will stay there again if we return to Lincoln.

Visiting Lincoln Castle
The Lincoln Castle is in very nice shape and is in the heart of downtown Lincoln.  I think the best aspect of visiting the castle was the tour guide we signed up to follow.  He was quite knowledgeable and was great at keeping the interest of the ten people that were in the tour with us.  We all remarked how really good he was at doing his job, and considering the tour lasted a full hour, he was just as energetic at the end of the tour as he was at the beginning.  He had a real passion for the tour and the rich history associated with the castle.  We walked around the grounds of the castle, along the walls that overlook the city for a fantastic view, and the inside of the castle to show us the various rooms.

The Lincoln Castle is not really in ruins as the many medieval castles we have visited on past trips.  William the Conqueror began building the castle in 1068 and the castle remained as a court and prison for the next 900 years. A major attraction of the castle is one of the 790 year old original Magna Carta documents.  This original document was sealed by King John after his meeting with the barons at Runnymede in 1215 and can be found in the Victorian Prison Building located in the castle.  I don't have pictures of the document since photography is not allowed, but I did find the exhibition quite interesting.  This is the second original Magna Carta I've seen with the other one being in Winchester Cathedral.  The Winchester Cathedral exhibition claims their version is the best of the four remaining originals but from what I could tell, it basically looked the same to me (I'm no expert of course).

The castle also has a court room where the judge sat up high and looked down on the prisoners.  As part of the tour, the tour guide let us put on hoods similar to what the prisoners wore and sit in spaces where the condemned were seated.  The "system" used for this seating area was rather interesting.  Basically, there are a lot of swinging doors along a row that allow hooded prisoners to file in and after they enter their small space, a door is swung shut behind them, followed by the next prisoner and so on until a whole row of prisoners have entered the court room.  They can't see nor speak to each other in this configuration yet the judge and lawyers can look down on all of the prisoners from their high perch above the small "rooms" where each prisoner is located.  Click HERE to see a picture of the prisoner area from a view where the judge was seated.

Lincoln Cathedral
Lincoln Cathedral is a beautiful cathedral with a rich history that has taken centuries to build.  The original design was in the shape of a cross with the entrance being on the West and the altar on the East.  The entrance on the west front features some of the original Romanesque cathedral dating back to 1072.  The Lincoln Cathedral was consecrated in 1092 by Bishop Remigius.  Much of the rest of the cathedral was rebuilt in the 1200s (13th century) inspired by St. Hugh (the Bishop from 1186 to 1200).  The church survived a fire in 1141 although it did require rebuilding.  The church also survived (of all things) an earthquake in 1185 that caused the rebuilding of the church in the gothic style.  Somewhere around 1237 the central tower that could be seen for miles, fell due to the builders not quite having all the details in place for building a gothic style church.  Around 1255 Henry III was petitioned in order to tear down some of the city wall that was in place to enlarge the cathedral. The central tower was heightened around 1311 making it the tallest building in Europe, and the two smaller towers were also heightened around 1400. Unfortunately, a wind storm in 1549 caused the central tower's spire to fall down.

The cathedral as you see it today is a fine example of the gothic style.  The cathedral includes a fine library containing among other objects, the Lincoln Chapter Bible (circa 1100) and a school book from 1410 that shows the first recorded rhyme about Robin Hood (of Sherwood Forest fame).  The cathedral has a rich history that in more modern times includes a setting for the Da Vinci Code movie.  Filming the movie included parts of the nave, the cloisters, and the chapter house to film the scenes, which in the book, took place in Westminster Abbey.  If you've been to Westminster Abbey, you can imagine why filming would not be allowed to occur there due to the sheer volume of people traffic in the Abbey.  When we visited the Lincoln cathedral they still had a canvas that was painted to mimic a backdrop for an area in the Westminster Abbey.  It was nice of the cathedral to let the filming take place in this wonderful building if for nothing else to draw tourists to witness a truly great and historic cathedral.

Be sure to catch an Evensong that occurs every day at 5:30PM since the acoustics, like other cathedrals, is absolutely wonderful to hear in person.  Every time I attend an Evensong at a cathedral, I find myself in awe of the monumental effort it must have taken to create such a wonderful specimen of craftsmanship.  Lincoln as a city, is somewhat out of the way when traveling in England, but the opportunity to view a fine castle from the time of William the Conqueror and a truly magnificent cathedral make the trip very pleasant and one I would highly recommend.

Leeds - Royal Armouries
We left Lincoln and headed towards York but planned to stop in Leeds along the way to see the Royal Armouries.  What a treat!  This is THE place to go if you like weaponry from centuries ago to today.  You will find signs along the M1 that indicate which exit to take for the Royal Armouries and the Armouries is located very close to the highway making it easy to find.  I would say to allow at least 4 hours at a minimum to see the various floors of displays.  We also got to see a jousting contest that was entertaining.  You can buy food there at the Armouries and there are many exhibits and "shows" to see that are demonstrated by period actors.  This is a huge place and I could see someone easily spending an entire day just to see all the exhibits and shows.  We naively thought we would include nearby attractions such as Thackray Medical Museum, Armley Mills Museum, and Selby Abbey on the way to York, but the Armouries requires more time than we thought.  I think we'll stay in York as a home base for a couple more days next time and hit these other places as part of a day visit to Leeds since the cities are rather close.

York B&B
This time we decided to stay at a different B&B than the Feversham Lodge where he stayed in past years.  We chose "23 St. Mary's" as our B&B and it's close proximity to the walls of York and the fine hosts made it a good choice.  It's very easy to find and is near the end of a rather quiet street.  You can walk within the city walls within 5 minutes of the B&B and this makes for a good choice as a place to stay.  There's also a park about 100 feet away which provides a scenic shortcut to the old medieval city of York.  The price of the B&B was 320 GBP for four of us staying in two rooms and staying two nights.  This is a very good price in my opinion for the location of the B&B coupled with the very helpful hosts and the fine English breakfast.  Our room had a double poster bed which was very nice too.  The sad thing was that Chris got violently ill on our first night's stay.  The owners of the B&B did everything they could to help us through this difficult time.

Chris Gets Sick In York
It's bad enough to be in a foreign city, but to get sick enough to go to the hospital at 4:30 in the morning in an ambulance has got to be the worst scenario for any traveler.  Turns out that Chris got some kind of food poisoning or a severe stomach virus that caused a rather bad case of nausea and .... let's just say a digestive track problem.  It started around midnight and as the early hours progressed, it got worse and worse.  Finally, we decided that the best thing for Chris to do was to go to the hospital outside the city walls in York that was maybe 5 minutes away.  Her blood pressure had dropped due to being dehydrated and we decided it was best to call an ambulance since she was getting worse by the minute.

I fumbled around trying to figure out the number to call the hospital and decided to just dial 911 as we do here in America.  Stupid me learned a valuable lesson when it comes to dialing an emergency number.  ALWAYS understand the number to dial for emergencies when you go to a foreign country.  It turns out that they don't use 911, but instead, they use 999 as their emergency number.  One thing that helped us was that our former B&B where we had stayed in past years was right next to the York hospital.  We passed it many times when walking in to the city so I knew exactly where to drive.  This should also be a good point to remember when traveling abroad.  Find out where the hospital is located in case an emergency situation arises!  I don't know what I would have done had I not known where the hospital was located since the ambulance left within moments of arriving at the B&B and I was forced to drive there by myself.  As it turns out, I could have walked there as well although the walk would have probably been about 20 minutes long.

The ambulance arrived within a few minutes and Chris was taken away to the hospital where they treated her for severe nausea and dehydration by using medicine and several bags of fluids via an IV.  I drove from the B&B to the hospital and found myself sitting in a rather packed emergency room at 4:30 in the morning. Where did all these people come from?  They already had her in the back room hooked up to an IV by then and she was resting.  I hung around for a couple of hours and drove back to the B&B where I told the B&B owners what happened (they were beginning preparation for the morning breakfast).  The kids and I ate a quick breakfast and we all returned to the hospital where the staff told us that she was resting after having some blood work done.  Since there was nothing more that we could do at that time, we returned to the B&B and walked over inside the city wall to get some tea and clotted cream and then toured the York Minster until it was time to return for Chris at the hospital.  We arrived and were able to leave with Chris and the real shocker came when I attempted to pay for our emergency room visit.  Since England uses a national healthcare service and emergency room visits are free, there was no way for them to accept payment or an insurance card.  Basically, they told me to just move on since they thought Chris would be fine.  There was a very friendly staff at the hospital and I found myself leaving without having paid anything.  I wish they had national healthcare here in the U.S.

Unfortunately we didn't get to spend much time in York this year due to the problems we encountered with Chris having to go to the hospital, but it gives us another reason to return another year.  One thing I did learn (other than emergency numbers and hospital location) was that our stay in the area was too short.  We spent the first day driving from Lincoln to Leeds where we saw the Royal Armouries and then on to York but our second day was really too short a time to fully enjoy that long of a drive (from Lincoln to York).  There's enough to see around York that a three night stay is probably the shortest time to spend if you plan to see much outside the city of York as we had planned.  We planned to drive to see Rievaulx Abbey, Fountains Abbey, and Skipton Castle but missed all of it.  Had we allowed for an extra day we could have seen these places.

Return To London
I ended up driving about 500 miles during the trip from London to Lincoln, York, and back to London, so once again I felt like I got some good driving time in on the left side of the road.  I'm up to over 10,000 miles of driving on the left side of the road after this trip.

England Lessons Learned
The main thing I learned as it relates to Lincoln is that the city is somewhat out of the way and a lot further away from London than I thought it would be.  It also took awhile to get back towards the M1 to continue on to York.  I think we didn't do the area around Lincoln justice and our stay was too short given that there were many other sights of interest in the nearby area that we missed.  I would say to stay in Lincoln for at least three nights and see nearby sights other than just the city itself.

We spent quite awhile at the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds, but even that wasn't enough since we got there in the afternoon.  I would make the visit an all-day affair to see everything there is to see.  I'd suggest getting there when it opens and plan on staying until late afternoon before moving on.  Leeds isn't too far from York, so if using York as the home base, note that another full day could be spent in the Leeds area seeing other interesting sights.

Chris got extremely sick and needed to go to the hospital via an ambulance.  In past visits to York we stayed right next door to the hospital so I knew where it was and could easily drive there, but what if I didn't know where it was located?  Imagine trying to follow an ambulance at 4AM that is in a hurry to get to the hospital.  What would you do?  You need to know where the hospital is located when staying at a home base because you may need the information.  Also, do the owners of the B&B mind you contacting them at 4AM for an emergency situation?  What do you do if you can't contact them?  You should also learn the emergency number to dial if an ambulance is needed.  I spent quite awhile trying to figure out the emergency number since I didn't know what it was and it wasn't "911" as we use in the states.  By the way, the emergency phone number is "999" in England.

Because we only stayed in York for two nights and didn't arrive until after 5PM, our plans were completely blown for the next day when Chris was in the hospital.  I didn't allow enough time in the area, especially given how far we had driven, so another night's stay would have allowed us to see something in York.  Instead, we didn't get to see anything other than the Royal Armouries Museum which was on the way to York.  Next time, I won't drive that far for such a short stay.

 

France - 2006

We decided to go to somewhere different in France this time other than Paris.  It was our fourth trip since 1999 and we felt that we probably saw just about enough of Paris to last us for a few years.

Leaving England
Starting our trip to France, we took a Taxi from the Bonnington Hotel in London (near British Museum) to the Waterloo station for about 20 Pounds.  The guy dropped our luggage and us off at the entrance to the train station.  It was similar to the last time we took the Chunnel so the drive there was uneventful.  We gave ourselves a couple of hours to get there but as it turns out, Steff was sick and we had to take her to a local doctor near the Bonnington Hotel which made things tight.  It also left Derek and me standing around outside the hotel since check-out time was upon us and we were waiting for Steff and Chris to return from the doctor's office.  Once inside the Waterloo station events moved along quickly.  It appears to me that only an hour's advance time is all that's needed when using the Chunnel since the check-in process moves quickly.

The Chunnel
Using our experience from the 2004 Chunnel trip to Paris, we knew to stand up close to the entrance to the trains, have our tickets ready, and be prepared to move quickly so that our luggage could be in the same train car we would be riding in.  If hungry, start moving towards the meal car since when they announce the meal car is open for business, a bunch of people will get up and start moving towards the car.  The line for food can be long.  So either start moving towards the meal car after passing through the Chunnel, or wait until after things die down.  You can also bring sandwiches and drinks on board but note that you will also be pulling luggage as you first head towards your train car.

Arriving In Paris
We learned our lesson last time when it came to getting off the train and getting a taxi.  Walk quickly when the train stops and head for the taxi area.  There are may people arriving along with you and many others will be wanting to take a taxi just like you.  The line for a taxi can be quite long.  We also checked in advance with the hotel to determine the price for taking a taxi from Gare du Nord to their location.  Unscrupulous taxi drivers will approach you while you are standing in line and offer to take you to your location for a much higher price than you would normally pay.  If you don't mind paying a 400% premium, go ahead and take it, but I wouldn't.  Point here is to know what the taxi cost should be before you arrive in Paris and ask the taxi driver the price to take you to your hotel.  If it sounds way off the price you were told by the hotel, tell the driver what you expect to pay.  If the driver doesn't like it, tell him no.

Per other visits, we chose to stay at Bersoly's Hotel again.  We like this hotel, the owner, and especially the concierge named Said (pronounced sigh-ed).  Both of the kids can speak French now so it was a treat for them to practice their French.  We know the area quite well and walk to nearby sights and restaurants with ease.  The Louvre is about a 20 minute walk to the other side of the Seine river, Musee D'Orsay is about a 15 minute walk from the hotel, and the restaurants are within about a 10 minute walk.  I like the rooms at Bersoly's but especially the air conditioning.  It's also a very quiet place.  I highly recommend the Bersoly's Hotel.

Train To Amboise
We decided to take a high speed train down to Tours in the Loire Valley area rather than drive and it was a very easy experience.  The Hertz car rental agency is right there at the train station and is maybe a 5 minute walk when leaving the train.  Going to Tours was easy, coming back wasn't so easy.  We had trouble with dropping off the rental car when we returned since the staff didn't show up after lunch (at least an hour late from lunch).  I asked around and decided to walk over to a nearby hotel where they told me I could leave the keys with them.  I didn't know this information when I picked up the car so next time I will ask when I pick up the car.

The other thing we didn't expect was what to do when the train showed up late.  It turns out that the TGV folks don't like running late so when they do arrive late, they expect the passengers to quickly get on the train and leave immediately.  I misread the number on the train car and headed the wrong way.  A train conductor was walking along by the train and I asked him where the train car was located and he told me there was no time - hurry up and get on the car where we were standing because the train was going to leave.  We barely got on the train and it left immediately.  We paid for a first class car and the one we got was a second class car but the accommodations were the same.  The only difference was how far we were from the end of the train that arrived at Gare du Nord.  This meant we had to walk quickly to get to the taxi area.  Had we been in the first class car as we should, we would have had a much shorter walk to the taxi area.

Visiting Chateaus And Renaissance Castles
We used Amboise as our home base and traveled to most of the popular Chateaux and Renaissance Castles in the area.  I have included a number of photos from our trips to the various chateaux in the area which can be seen here.  Although I spent some time above describing the area we saw in Lincoln, I think I will skip it this time since we saw a lot of chateaux in the area and it would require writing a small book to explain what we saw.  Suffice it to say we saw a lot and there is much to learn and see in the Amboise area.  I would highly recommend the trip to the Loire Valley area for viewing the many beautiful chateaux and castles in the area.  Everything is close to the river and all the sites are easy to reach.  Unlike the U.K. and Ireland, people in France drive on the same side of the road as Americans so driving is a lot easier.  Very scenic area.

Our stay in Amboise was across the bridge from the city center in a small hotel (Hotel La Breche) located in a residential area.  For just a little more money, our stay included a five course French dinner.  Breakfast was also included and was quite nice.  We enjoyed the stay at the hotel and especially the staff.  They were friendly and the food was great.  Most everything we wanted to see was within an hour or so from the hotel and was easy to reach by car so this turned out to be a good home base.  Parking was off street but it was never a problem finding a parking space.  A bakery and a prescription shop were also within blocks of the hotel.  Rather than walk across the bridge to the old city of Amboise, we drove across and parked at the parking lot by the Tourist Information center where we could walk around the small city area.  The city is quite small so you could easily walk it within an hour.  The large Amboise castle is in the city and if you time it right, you can see a fantastic light show on the castle walls.

Top chateaux to visit as we saw on this trip?  All of them were interesting but I would say that you should definitely see Amboise, Chenonceau, Azay-le-Rideau, Blois, and Villandry (especially if you like gardens).  Be sure and check our 2004 trip to the Loire Valley area and note the other chateaux we visited.  I would also recommend (based on our 2004 trip) seeing Chaumont, Chambord, and Cheverny.  If you can, see them all.  You won't be disappointed.

Steffanie Goes To The Hospital
Steff had already shown signs of a kidney stone back in London but things got worse.  While driving to one of the chateaux, we noticed the location of the hospital right outside the city.  As it turns out, we needed to take her to the hospital since she was in some serious pain.  After dropping Chris and Steff off at the hospital, Derek and I drove back to the hotel to wait for their call to pick them up.  She was there for a couple of hours and they gave her some medicine to help alleviate the pain with an antibiotic prescription we were able to fill at the nearby pharmacy.  Steff speaks French fine, but one area of French she didn't know was related to human organs.  She didn't know the names of the organs in French and they didn't speak English so it took a sketch or two to get the message across.  I don't know what we would have done if Steff didn't speak French since they could not speak English.  Not even a little.  Steff began feeling better and we decided to take it easy that day (a Saturday).  We continued traveling to other sights after her bout with the kidney stone and it didn't linger as a problem for the rest of the trip.

France Lessons Learned
Once again, there was an illness involved in this trip.  We learned our lesson in York and this time paid attention to where the hospital was located.  As it turns out, we needed it.  So be prepared when staying at your home base.  Know where the hospital is located in case an emergency arises and also note where the local pharmacy is located to pick up drugs if need be.

The return trip on the TGV train from Tours to Paris was more eventful than we are used to.  Quickly find your rail car but if you find yourself standing around unable to find the train car, you better get on any car or you may not make the train ride at all.  Also, when picking up your car rental, make sure you know where to leave the car and keys in case someone is not at the rental agency.  Don't believe them when they tell you there will be no problems, that someone will be there.  Just ask them what you are to do if for some reason no one is at the rental agency and make sure you know where to leave the car and where to drop off the keys.  We spent entirely too much time standing around waiting for rental agency people that never did arrive after lunch and found that we could not get in to the gated area where we first picked up the rental car because we didn't know the combination.  There was a speaker phone to call someone but they didn't understand English and wouldn't let us drop off the car.  I found out where to leave the car by walking over to a hotel and asking them if they knew anything about where rental cars could be left and they told me the details on what to do.

Although Steff had to go to the hospital and didn't feel well enough to go sight-seeing, we spent enough days in the Amboise area to still see most, if not all, of the sights we planned to see.  Unlike the problems in York, we had enough time to still enjoy our vacation.

Conclusion
From Tours, we took the high speed train back to Paris which took us a little over an hour to reach, then about 30 minutes to Bersoly's for another two day stay in Paris.  After spending two nights in Paris, we left for London via the Chunnel where we stayed a couple more days before returning home.  In conclusion, I would say that once again we really enjoyed the trip to France and think we've seen quite a bit of the Loire Valley area.  We thought the biggest highlight of the trip was the various illnesses that Chris and Steff encountered and despite these setbacks, the trip to Lincoln was good and the trips to the various chateaux in the Loire Valley area pretty much completes our visits to the Loire Valley area.  There are even more chateaux to see, but we've probably seen about enough in the Loire Valley area for awhile.  The next time we go to France it will probably be to the eastern side near Strasbourg or down to Provence.  The setbacks put a damper on things, but we learned a lot in the process.

If you'd like more info on what we saw and our recommendations, send me an email and I'll try and answer your questions.

Remember to check out my page on European trip advice to align expectations that you may have about traveling to Europe as well as ways to make your travel experience a little simpler.

 

 

 

 

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