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Updated 02/18/04

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                                  skateboarding dog, Manly Beach, Australia
Welcome to the online home of travel columnist Donald D. Groff, who has dispensed advice and stories since 1988 in such publications as the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Newark Star-Ledger, The Kansas City Star, Newsday, Salon, Condé Nast Traveler, Consumer Reports Travel Letter, The Boston Globe, and Endless Vacation magazine.

Just back from . . . England
St. Louis & Metropolis, Illinois


The St. Louis Arch -- symbolizing the Gateway to the West -- rises 630 feet above the Mississippi riverfront and downtown. (Photo by Carol Clark)
The western view includes the Old Courthouse, where the Dred Scott cases were first heard. To the southwest is Busch Memorial Stadium, to be demolished and replaced by a new facility in 2006.
The narrow windows are reached by leaning -- or crawling -- on a sloped wall covered with what resembles floor carpeting. The five-person elevator pods go up in four minutes, down in three.
The line to the security checkpoint took 30 minutes to clear -- longer than than the wait for the ascent. The fee to ride up the Arch is $8. In fiscal year 2002, 3.3 million people visited the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, compared with 323,560 visitors at the Washington Monument.
Metropolis, Illinois

Leaving an Interstate 24 rest stop near the Illinois-Kentucky border,  we spotted a small sign with an arrow labeled "giant Superman statue" and followed it to nearby Metropolis, where indeed the Man of Steel stood tall on the town square. The city has been promoting itself as the Home of Superman since 1972 and hosts a big Superman festival in June. 




London & Rochester, England  
Photos by Donald D. Groff except as noted
The London Eye Harrod's holidays Rugby rally Dickens Christmas

From the London Eye, one can spy . . . Parliament houses

The 450-foot-high London Eye offers a stunning view of the Thames, with Parliament and the Tower of Big Ben nearby. Go just before dusk and you'll catch the city by daylight and nightfall. Each plodding pod holds 25 people, the trip takes 30 minutes, and the adult fare is 11 pounds, about $19.


Charles Dickens Christmas Festival, Rochester, England

The first weekend in December, hundreds of costumed residents of Rochester stage a festival saluting the novelist who lived part of his boyhood here, rued his family's move to London, and returned for the final years of his life. Dickens used many Rochester settings to build the scenes in his stories, including "Great Expectations" and "Edwin Drood."                              

All the spirits  of Dickens best-known holiday story, "A Christmas Carol," appear in the parade, including (left) those of Christmas present and Christmas past. After the procession, the same characters wander High Street, keeping in character to the delight of children and adults alike.


A colorful procession of Dickens characters starts at noon each day. In the moments before it rambles up High Street, shoulder space grows tight as thousands of visitors crowd the sidewalks.


Photo above /  Michael Arnold
A young chimney sweep leads the Pickwick Club (above); the haughty Scrooge struts (below). 

Church photo / Michael Arnold
Besides continuous street performances (left), festivalgoers sample the city's other key attractions, such as its castle and cathedral with both Norman and Gothic sections. 

Touring the festival with London Walks

London's best-known walking tours are offered by London Walks, but less known are a handful of tours called Explorer Days,  beyond London's limits. One is the Dickens Christmas Festival, and on Dec. 7 nearly 100 people gathered at Charing Cross station where two suitably attired guides, Alison and Simon, instructed them on buying round-trip tickets to Rochester, accompanied them on the one-hour ride about 30 miles southeast of London, then filled them with fact and lore as they sketched Dickens' own path through the town.  Tour cost was 10 pounds, about $17; the train ticket was also 10 pounds.

Simon (above), at the Dickens Center, pointed out landmarks from four novels. Alison (in photos at left and below) told of  the author's enduring affection for his boyhood home -- to which he ultimately returned as a wealthy man. 

Appearances notwithstanding, the guides' animated deliveries held the group's attention. 


England celebrates the rugby cup
England beat Australia in November to win the Rugby World Cup, and Dec. 8 more than 500,000 cheering fans turned out along a London parade route leading to Trafalgar Square for an extended moment of national elation. 

Photo / Michael Arnold
The team rode in triumph atop two buses. As the buses passed, the crowd fell in behind.

                               With a stage and giant video screens set up in front of the National Gallery, Trafalgar Square's mammoth lions and ornate light poles became bleacher seats for adoring fans. 

Photos /  Michael Arnold (right and below right) 


Ben Franklin, jetsetter 
At PHL's new international concourse we ran into Ralph Archbold, the embodiment of Ben Franklin, about to hop a flight to Germany.  When he heard we were bound for London, he didn't miss a beat. "The only one of my houses still standing is there," he said, noting a fund-raising effort is under way to restore the place, at 36 Craven St. behind Charing Cross station. Franklin dwellings in Paris  and Philadelphia didn't survive progress, though the memory of his Philadelphia home, razed in 1812, is preserved at Franklin Court
Archbold was en route to Garmisch to speak at the Marshall Center, flying, appropriately enough, Envoy class. 
We wonder:  Does he have to shed his Colonial jacket and watch fob when going through security?

Other destinations: 
 NYC Halloween; Maine; Georgia kangaroos; California; Flight 93 memorial; Atlanta; Nicaragua; London/Notting Hill



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          Last updated: 02/18/2004