An American in London

February 17, 2014 — 49 Comments

I am in desperate need of a holiday – for lots of reasons. Despite the fact that the office was closed between Christmas and New Year’s, I am feeling extremely run down and a bit foggy. I am currently sitting in my preferred “blog-writing” spot on the couch, it’s Sunday afternoon and rather than finish the post I’ve started, I’m more in the mood to work on my vacation plans.

Why not do both … a blog post on my vacation? Genius.

Spring break is rapidly approaching for those of us who have children. Kate, my 9-year-old daughter, has her break in March and we have frequently taken that time to go on some sort of family vacation. I’m not sure if we start feeling tired because we know holiday is coming or the other way around, either way, I am ready to go on an adventure. This year, we are going to holiday in England, spending a majority of our time in the English countryside followed up by a few days in the city of London. This will be the 4th time I’ve been to London – and my wife was actually an English citizen for a while since she was born in Lakenheath, a village in Suffolk, England. However … my daughter hasn’t ever been to the UK so this will be a fun trip if only for the opportunity to show my daughter a new area of the world.

We are actually going to be spending most of our time in the country once we arrive – an area called Amesbury, a town and civil parish in Wiltshire, England. Most of my time has always been spent in London proper so we are going to rent a house out in the country for most of our trip and go exploring in other surrounding counties. If you are somewhat familiar with the area, yes … we are going to visit Stonehenge, my daughter made a special request. I suppose we’ll also pop over to Woodhenge as well.

The countdown now stands at three weeks time so vacation planning has really begun – luckily, my wife Michelle is a heat-seeking missile when it comes to researching our vacations. I consider myself extremely lucky because my wife is a woman of style, substance, and character, and knows where my interest lie. That means she allows for architectural excursions, while also allowing for more family centric activities and things where my daughter might have a higher tolerance level. I have attached my wife’s Pinterest board where she has been collecting images of places to go and things to see. [for the record, if you are on Pinterest, you would be wise to follow my wife there … she’s does a pretty good job and you’ll get an inside peak at the things the wife of an architect finds interesting. Michelle Borson on Pinterest]

You can click on this next image and it will open in a new window at twice this size if you are so inclined.

Borson Family England Pinterest Board

Wow … I wasn’t kidding was I? Unlike my wife, I have been a teensy bit more lackadaisical about organizing my thoughts and plans. I have a few things in mind but I was really hoping that the friends and the readers I have in the United Kingdom would come through and let me know what I should be doing.

So how about it … care to make some suggestions and recommendations for me?


I’ve already heard from a few people who it will probably be raining on my the entire time I’m there. I’d rather it not but if it does, I’ve no room to complain. Of all the trips and time I’ve spent in London, it has NEVER rained on me … so I think I might be due. I looked ahead at what the weather might be like –

March Weather in England

Not too bad, a little chilly but certainly not anything I haven’t been dealing with this winter here in Texas (yes, it does in fact get cold here in Dallas). If it’s damp and in the upper 30’s/ lower 40’s that will make being outdoors a little less awesome. I am about to look for some underlayers of clothing to supplement my wardrobe. Layers is the key!

So there you have it … I need your guidance, recommendations, and suggestions (other than “get thermal underwear” … I’ve got that one covered. What would you have me do once I get to England?

Tally Ho!

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  • Jonathan Stevens

    Bath has free guided walking tours lasting two hours or so leaving from outside the Roman Baths/West end of Abbey at 10.30 and 14.30. Went on one this week; well worth the time for the anecdotes alone, let alone the architecture.

  • KatieBoBatie

    If you can get to Devizes — it’s about a 30 minute drive from Amesbury — the Kennett and Avon Canal has an elaborate, 29-gate lock that’s pretty amazing! (And if you go, stop by “The Bell By The Green” pub, too, for some good food and drink. Tell managers Eddie and Elvie that their old bartender, “American Katie,” says hello!)

  • BearSummer

    Stonehenge is great, don’t get me wrong, it’s a WHS after all. But for a little more variety Avebury, Silbury Hill and West Kenet long barrow are all within a short distance of each other (and also a world heritage site) and then a short trip up to the White Horse of Uffington and a stroll along the ridgeway to Wayland Smithy (another chambered tomb) would finish the day nicely. Ancient history at its best in a day.

  • nbc

    The model shop at Norman Foster’s Hester Road office. Avebury over Stonehenge. Not London w/o the rain, though.

  • Steve

    If you are still in England on the 14th go see John Otway, “Rock-n-Rolls Greatest Failure”. He is a hilarious wonderful piece of England and it’s sense of humor. He is playing a solo gig in Norwich that night. I saw him in 2005 and never laughed so hard in my life. If you can’t there are You Tube videos that will give you a sense of it. Have fun!

  • Brad Feinknopf


    You are a lucky man. Would love to be tagging along for the ride. I took my wife and kids to London in the summer of 2012 and it was quite a trip. It had been in planning for about 16 years as my wife and I had planned a trip to London when we found out we were expecting out first and everything was put on hold. My wife’s grandmother was born in Putney (a London suburb) and we even visited the street. The are many things I would do, many of which you have probably done before but I would try to get tickets to the play War Horse while in London. We took our two boys and my youngest was roughly the age of your daughter and they both loved it. My patently, when I was about 14 took my sister and I to England and to Stafford Upon Avon and we saw Shakespeare’s Henry V. I remember it to this day and I hope my boys remember War Horse similarly. There is nothing like seeing real theater on the stage and the Museums (though AMAZING) become a blur. The “event” of theater is special and I am sure your daughter will leave with a special indelible memory.

    All the Best,


    • AlmostJane

      Brad, you are spot-on. “Henry V” – my favorite of Shakespeare’s dramas. Before I read it as a sophomore in college, my attitude toward Shakespeare was basically “boring-snobby-phony-rich-people-stuff.” I shut up after that though. If you can’t see it on stage, check out Kenneth Branagh’s film version [1989]. Excellent and with a bonus – an awesome soundtrack.

      • Brad Feinknopf

        I have seen Kenneth Branagh film and do agree entirely.

  • Amy

    I’m not sure what all your travels will entail, but while I was in school there (one glorious summer during grad school) I took a long weekend to Cornwall to visit the Eden Project. DEFINITELY worth a go and great trip for the kiddos too. If you end up in Cornwall, make sure to have tradition Cornish tea and scones with clotted cream. Another great place a little off the beaten path is the fishing village of Mevagissey (also in Cornwall I believe). This little place was just what I needed after a hectic two months in London. Its all ‘higgil-dy-piggil-dy’.

    In London, Kew gardens is always a great reprieve too – and Kate could be free to roam and be entertained. Have a great trip – I really miss England.

  • ashok babu

    Hey Bob, Only last July I made a 40 days trip to UK. Took my daughter and wife. The family tend to get tired on long trip with us (architects) make sure to balance it right through. I had planned my schedule under 3 categories. 1. Architectural (strictly for me ) 2. Historical & Entertainment (entire family, especially the wife – like beaches, Museums, Castles, Shopping streets) 3. Kids specials ( like Lego land, Beatrix Potter Museum, Science Museum, Childrens Musicals)….And make sure to evenly space them.

  • Michael McCord

    Bob, long time, no see, old friend! While in London, you might take in the Royal Academy of Arts. They are having an exhibition titled “Sensing Spaces: Architecture Reimagined” from 25 January to 06 April and the reviews have been outstanding. I visited the Royal Academy during one of my summer cruises while at the Naval Academy. I was impressed by the regular artwork – paintings, etchings, sculptures (especially the sculptures) – but the architectural section was even more eye-catching and enjoyable. On the lighter side, you could always purchase a vintage Smiths “Strangeways, Here We Come” t-shirt, make your way to Manchester and have your photo taken in front of the Manchester Prison, nee Strangeways. Have a great vacation, Bob! I’m pleased to have found your blog, and I thoroughly enjoy your writing.

    • Hi Michael –

      I hadn’t thought of visiting the Royal Academy of Arts – wonder if I could sneak some time in to go? (There’s a limit to the amount of architectural field trips I can subject my family to on any given trip).

      Thanks for the comment, glad you like the blog and I appreciate the tip.


  • Lizzie

    I’m going to put my neck on the line & say if you can, skip the Henges. Honestly. They are actually boring. I know I’ll get flamed but it’s not like the 1970’s when you could walk amongsth the stones. Now it is remote & you cannot get even close.
    There are so many nicer things to see… The Home Counties are fabulous. The East End of London is amazing now – shoreditch etc. Norfolk & Suffolk are gorgeous & flood free.
    Also, Harrods is now awful. Truly a hideous tourist hell hole. Liberty is gorgeous. Oh & if you can – treat Kate to see Matilda on stage. It’s honestly the most fabulous musical we have ever seen. Truly.

    • Can’t avoid Stonehenge, it was a special request from my daughter. Besides, you know you can submit paperwork that grants you access outside of public hours that gets you inside the ropes?

      I’m thinking that due to the flooding, we actually will be making an effort to get into the Norfolk and Suffolk areas.

      I was in Harrods last year and it was a madhouse and not particularly pleasant.

      I’ll do a search on Matilda and see where/ when it’s playing – it might be something that we check out.

      Thanks for the wonderful tips!

  • AlmostJane

    PS – English food is given an extremely bad rap in the US. But it is marvelous if you still clear of chains and franchises. Not that encouragement is needed, but seriously, visit the pubs. You’ll have some of the best meals of your visit there. Highly recommend “Sunday Roasts” on [duh] Sundays in most pubs. Roast beef, pork or chicken with the world’s best mashed potatoes and all the trimmings, plus desserts for which the Brits [and their teeth] are infamous. Also, be sure to try pear cider. Once again, that’s PEAR CIDER. You’ll thank me for it. :>) And have a great trip.

    • Very familiar with pub food in England – I ate it almost exclusively when I was going to school there in the early 90’s.

      Based on your recommendation, I will order a pear cider at least once, we’ll see how things go from there.

  • AlmostJane

    Of course the current floods there may alter some of your options, but if you haven’t firmed up your plans yet, take a look at “A Fine Romance – Falling in Love with the English Countryside” by a very good friend of mine, Susan Branch. Published last Summer, it was #1 on Amazon’s UK travel books for a quite a while [maybe it still is]. Sue & her husband took the Queen Mary 2 to England [second trip] in May/June 2012, rented an SUV & did their own English-garden/National Trust type tour, visiting a lot of historic spots plus a number of those planned countryside walking tours [which they really loved]. They rented flats at several spots as well. Sue blogged about it while they were there, then came home & wrote the book [which she also hand-lettered and watercolor-illustrated]. Very informative, lots of great tips, and well-written to boot. Highly recommend!

    • I will definitely check out that book – sounds like something I should read before I go –


      • AlmostJane

        Yepper. Read before you go then carry along as reference [it’s travel size]. VERY garden-oriented but as you know, most of England’s sumptuous gardens have equally-sumptuous architecture close by. If your wife is a garden-type, you’ll both score. Have fun!

  • Mark Bischak

    Come to Onekama, Michigan. It’s just like London . . . but different. You’ll barely notice the difference.

    • Mark Bischak

      Where did my image go?

    • let me add that to the list and see how things sort themselves out.

  • Kerry Hogue

    London is neat. I actually went there for work a few years ago to our London office, a week each trip, 15 times in a year.
    now for vacations that involve that type of travel. I look at travel, and all vacations, in the metric of bills-to-thrills. and needless to say, I have a hard time justifying the costs, so end up not going because there are other things I need to do with my money besides garnishing a few photos and stories to last me lifetime. I know, my perspective is skewed. But you go ahead and have a great time.

    • other than paying my bills, trips like this are very high in bills to thrills to me – if for no other reason than I get to experience new things with my family, show my daughter that there are different sorts of people in the world and they do things differently than we do. Give me the option of remembering something for later over a fancy meal out or that no-whip frappicchino any day.

      Then again, I don’t really travel for work (does Austin count?)

  • Brett Wolfe

    You won’t be far from Bath. It was my one of my favorite stops in England. Old roman settlement, lots of great architecture.

    • It’s on the list but nothing pieced together as of yet. I wonder if I could convince the family to visit Grimshaw’s Thermae Bath Spa?

      • Kitlond

        The famously much delayed and over-budget Thermae Bath Spa ? 😉 Not the building industry’s finest hour…It’s somewhere I’ve always wanted to go, but haven’t quite wanted enough if you know what I mean…

  • CC Hampton

    You’ve said you have London fairly well covered but, my family literally stumbled across the opportunity to tour Trident Sound Studios while on a different walking tour. It was literally the first tour they had ever given. One of the most memorable parts of our Spring Break in London. Use the history tab on the website to amp up your interest and to Inquire with them if a tour is available.

  • Kieran Patrick

    Hi Bob
    Ensure you visit the The Royal British Institute of Architects headquarters and library when you’re in London, I recently spent about 5 hours browsing thought the archives and all the books, it was fantastic, it’s also a great building, and nice area to walk around.

    • I’ve received a number of emails that have recommended the RIBA headquarters. Sounds like that is something I need to get on the agenda!

  • Don’t forget Strawhenge while you’re at it. A three hour drive is Tintagel (the legendary ruin that is not really associated with King Arthur) regardless one of my favorite places to sit and stare at the ocean. You’ll drive through the Dartmoor which is lovely for hiking, wild horses viewing and there are additional henges that are actually quite beautiful. Or if you feel like a day trip in the other direction, there’s always Brighton. Tim can be your tour guide. As architect you won’t want to miss the pavilion.

    • Genius – I didn’t think to ask Tim. All the London area stuff I can manage, I’ve been there many times. The country side is uncharted territory. Also pretty sure that if I told my daughter there were wild horses ANYWHERE that would end up on the itinerary. We have a car at our disposal so road trips will assuredly play a role in our activities.

      Thanks V

    • Kitlond

      I’m not entirely convinced by Tintagel. It’s a nice enough spot but there is very little castle left and if it wasn’t for King Arthur no-one would go there. I’d recommend Corfe castle instead. A much larger and more romantic ruin, like Tintagel it also has a lovely village and it is also near Dorset’s lovely coast (if nit quite on it).

  • Emily Hooper

    The Stonehenge visitor’s site is undergoing renovations so wear mud-friendly shoes! The path around the site is just hard packed mud, so yeah. Mud.

    • Got it. Mud.

      (cause you know we will be walking around Stonehenge…)

  • I went to England in May, and took the train to the Cotswolds. I ended up staying in Moreton-in-Marsh, but LOVED Bourton-on-Water. Absolutely my favorite town in the Cotswolds, and if you’re looking for something a little bigger, Avon-upon-Stratford is great, too. Enjoy!!

  • I grew up with a British mother who came over in 1964 to marry my father. She’s been gone since 2004. Boy I miss her. I visited England 2x as a child to visit family.

    What I most remember are the small towns with windy roads that represented a culture that was truly British.

    London was amazing, but it is so cosmopolitan it’s hard to think of it as English alone, much like Toronto, NYC or any other major world city.

    Find a small town, a small pub and eat fish wrapped in newspaper and drink a pint. The rest will fall into place.

    • Since I’ve spent so much time in London previously, that’s why we decided to stay out in the country and explore … and the pints will take care of themselves. I am planning on walking around very rural areas which is why I’ve just ordered myself a pair of Sorels!


  • Jwkathol

    Back in ’95 another gent and myself, along with 5 lovely ladies we just met, toured the English countryside in a minivan we dubbed The Space Cruiser. Oxford, Stonehenge, Bath, Bristol. Nice cathedral at Salisbury. The Stonehenge area has been recently redesigned for a better visiting experience. Wish I could remember some of those little pubs and places we stayed…

    • Jwkathol

      Oh and in preparation for your holiday you may want to watch the 1971 film Straw Dogs with Dustin Hoffman.

      • Jwkathol

        Ahh one more thing go to Stourhead Garden! It’s a charming landscape/fantasy world with lots of ponds and little architectural follies to visit. Sorry about all the extra posts!

        • I’ve never heard of Stourhead Garden – that’s sounds like something my wife and daughter (and myself) would really like

          • … and there’s no such thing as extra posts

          • Jwkathol

            I loved Stourhead. Mrs B and Kate would love it. Also apparently some scenes from Pride and Prejudice were filmed there in ’05 and a few other English movies over the years.

  • Kitlond

    Well you’re not asking for much are you…;-) First off there are two major architecture exhibitions on at the moment. ‘Sensing Spaces’ at the Royal Academy which I’ve been to, is fun and in my opinion child friendly (I have no kids only niece, nephew and goddaughter). The second is on ‘The Brits that built the Modern World’ I.e. Norman Foster, Richard Rogers etc. and it is the launch exhibition of the new gallery at the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA). My favourite London buildings, in no particular order are, Westminster Abbey, Westminster Cathedral (Roman Catholic), The National Theatre, St Stephen Walbrook (Wren’s finest interior), Christchurch Spitalfields (Hawksmoor’s masterpiece), St Martin in the Fields, Southwark Cathedral, the Albert Memorial, Westminster Hall (oldest, largest and best medieval hall in Europe), Kings Cross Railway Station (Harry Potter), St Pancras Railway Station, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Natural History Museum (Waterhouse’s masterpiece) and the British Museum. Don’t forget all the great museums are free and will all have children’s programmes. In addition to the three mentioned above I also love the National Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery, the Wallace Collection, Tate Britain and the Museum of London. You can’t escape history so embrace it. The Tower of London has the Crown Jewels and a gory history, a winning combination with kids. Westminster Abbey, aside from the architecture has so many famous kings, queens and others memorialised within it that is a history book in itself. I also recommend going to evensong to hear one of the best choirs deliver a uniquely English service. Finally try and see a show – London is all about the Theatre! I think Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane is good for kids plus it’s important Georgian interiors have just been restored.

    • I certainly wasn’t asking for this much – thanks! We are debating on which Museums to attend, I suppose the final decision will be made once I look up and see what’s currently visiting them. I have started a list and I’ll run it past my daughter Kate to see what she kicks back (I’ll keep you updated!)

      • Kitlond

        Hahaha I just love London!