When this writer's great-grandfather (10 times over, if math is correct) traversed the Atlantic, he couldn't have possibly known what lie ahead in Marblehead, Mass. Beyond the obvious fascination with how and why Capt. Richard Norman left Dorchester, is the allure of England.
While it's true that airline tickets can be pricy -- a round-trip from LA to London in June will run you about $1600 -- you'll be able to see the country for relatively little if you plan well. You can also take an Easy Jet or Ryan Air flight to another European city for fewer than a hundred bucks.
But let's start with England itself. Here are my top five don’t-miss destinations:
- London - Spend three days taking the tube and walking all over this historic, charming and modern city. Twenty-first century London is not your grandmother's Blighty: it has skyscrapers rising along the Thames, world-class cuisine (not that supposedly foul British food, that got an unfair wrap around the 1980s, but the country's trademark Indian specialities, just for starters), theater, smashing architecture and unrivalled artworks. If you're on a budget, stay with Host & Guest, which I've written about before and can't say enough about. I usually stay with a woman out in Parsons Greens (a simple tube ride from Victorian Sta. or elsewhere) but find your own "home away from home"). Eat fish and chips of course, walk across the Tower Bridge and then duck inside the pub on the Southbank for a pint (or half pint, ladies). When I say duck, I mean it: I hit my head on a low-hanging beam after ordering my drink, reminded that London is not just a couple hundred years old. Note: don't miss Borough Market, especially on weekend mornings during extended hours, where I once said "foodies go to die". I fell in love with a grilled cheese by Kappacasein, a.k.a. the cheeseman, but you'll find your inner bliss amidst rows of fruits, veggies, oils, flowers and all manner of spices.
- The Lake District & Lake District National Park - In Northwest England, this is not only a land famous for its lakes and pastoral beauty but as the home of 19th century poet William Wordsworth. If you're not intimidated by driving on "the wrong side" of the road, rent a car in the city and drive about five hours to Cumbria. Click here to chart your course. Check Google Earth to find interesting sites. I like a stopover in Liverpool, if only to see the hometown of the Beatles. It also breaks up the trip since it's just three and a half hours northwest of London. Skittish about driving? Take the National Rail, and enjoy the sites without flinching at roundabouts.
- Stonehenge - One can actually see this on Google Earth, which seems queerly counterintuitive considering that one is looking through 21st century tech at a prehistoric site, erected sometime between 2,000 and 3,000 BC. (Speaking of Google, don't you dare wear Google Glass while visiting! The standing stones are far more fascinating than anything you'll spy walking down Sunset getting your smart-tech on.) Click here for nearby lodging in Amesbury, one of the closest towns to the site.
- Castles - They're everywhere in Britain, so on one trip it would be impossible to see more than a smidge. I recommend three biggies: While in London, see the Tower of London after you've walked across that aforementioned bridge. Secondly, see Windsor Castle, 20 miles west of London, where the Queen weekends (you may have seen her and her Welsh Corgies traipsing about the green.) Fourteenth-century Bodiam Castle is also wistfully romantic, and if you have time, well worth the trip out to Sussex.
- Jane Austen’s House - Now a private museum in Chawton, Austen spent the last eight years of her life here, writing her last book Persuasian as well as Northanger Abbey and Emma, while also seeing Pride and Prejudice published anonymously in 1813. Austen died in 1817, and ever since her legacy has grown increasingly storied and popular. Her book lovers and yes, fans of movies, keep Austen alive through the Jane Austen Society, both here in the US and the UK, as well as internationally.
For information on Tube travel in London, click here.