2 Chicks Take a Trip to London

Because Lesli and I flew from two different locations to meet in London, our take on everything was from very different perspectives.  For example, this was her first trip out of the U.S., so she was thrown off by driving on the “wrong” side of the road and by our Heathrow Shuttle driver’s creative weaving through traffic at top speed.  I flew from Colombo, Sri Lanka, where we drive on the same side of the road as they do in England, and far more creatively!  So the poor girl had her every comparison sprinkled with the further comparison of my experience as an American expat.  Ah well, that’s why I am more than just the average tour guide!

Our first order of business, after getting to our lovely hotel, The Hesperia London Victoria, was to find dinner.  The St. George’s Pub at the end of the block was so packed that people were standing outside to enjoy their pints, so we found ourselves something that seemed authentic inside a nearby shopping center.  I had fish and chips, of course.  The next morning’s breakfast was not so authentic…we skipped the £13 English breakfast of eggs, ham and baked beans offered by the hotel for scones and a hot beverage at the nearby, familiar and much beloved Starbucks!  (We don’t have them in Colombo.)  Then onto the hop on-hop off bus, The Original Tour.

Our first stop was the only place I really insisted on seeing – The Sherlock Holmes museum!  I’ve been in a Victorian era state of mind lately (perhaps since moving to Sri Lanka in 2000 actually, where it seems some are keeping the era of British rule alive). 

Loved it! 

At the same stop was Madame Tussaud’s, where I’d never been and had no intention of going. Lesli wanted to compare it to the one in L.A., so we went, and I had A BALL! 

 

LONDON LESSON #1 – Sometimes it’s the stuff you didn’t plan that turns out to be the most fun.

While Lesli stuck with more contemporary stars, I traveled through time, fiction and cultures, cuz that’s what I’m all about.  (I don’t really spend much time in reality….) 

Then it was back on the bus to see the sights of London town. One of Lesli’s priorities for London was to see a palace, so we did Buckingham Palace one day and Kensington Palace the next.  Unfortunately, the tours inside Buckingham didn’t start until later in the summer. Kensington Palace offered tours, but not merely of the palace rooms.  While they are refurbishing it, they’ve created an art installation called The Enchanted Palace that was AMAZING.  It was such a highlight that I’m going to delve into it in a separate post.

After shopping in the Buckingham souvenir shop, we walked back to our hotel near Victoria Station, and happened to notice that the musical Wicked was playing nearby.  Lesli and I saw Wicked together in L.A. … twice… and LOVED it.  I was quite obsessed by it, actually.  But we had tickets for the ballet that night – another of Lesli’s requests for the trip. The Northern Ballet was performing Cleopatra at Sadler’s Wells across town.  My lovely cousin, Nazra, was meeting us at our hotel with a print out of exactly how to take the Tube to the theater, how long it would take, and where to walk from the station.  Once we were all dolled up and ready, Nazra showed us the way.

We found our place on the train and then heard an announcement, but couldn’t understand a word.  People started leaving the train, so we asked someone.  Apparently, the Victoria Line was closed until further notice. Gasp!  Back up from The Underground we rushed, trying desperately to hail a cab (and apparently not very politely—we got told off!) until we realized there was no way we’d make it in time.  That’s when we found ourselves standing in front of the Victoria Apollo Theatre, staring at the sign for Wicked. We took it as a sign from the great and powerful Oz, and in we went. 

Having the soundtrack from the original Broadway cast committed to heart and memory, we were absolutely delighted with the performance. Not just because of the British accents of the characters, either.  The young woman playing Elphaba, who we later learned was Rachel Tucker, held up to Idina Menzel and then added her own magic.  We were so thrilled by the performance!  If you want a taste, check out this clip on YouTube:  http://youtu.be/XQAsv6ZnGFo

Afterward, we lingered, trying to find just the right souvenirs to represent our London Wicked experience. We were there so long that the staff began turning off lights and locking doors.  Oops! They ushered us out, and as we started toward our hotel, we noticed a small crowd gathered. And just as we walked by, out popped the star of the show fromt he stage door, Rachel Tucker!  Lesli told her how impressed we were with her, even compared to the two previous people we’d seen in the role (Lesli knew their names) and then we got her autograph on Lesli’s souvenir poster, and we took a photo with her!  See?

LONDON LESSON #2 – When plans go wrong, sometimes the alternative turns out to be WAY better than the original plan!

The next day, we were off to see Westminster Abbey before meeting Nazra for tea at The Orangery at Kensington Palace.  The weather was great, so we enjoyed the walk from our hotel, then took the Tube– successfully this time—to Kensington Park, where we strolled until we found Nazra.  She joined us on the tour of the palace too, until it was time to part ways. Then to the Tube again to meet my husband’s cousin, Jani, and his lovely wife Angela (and their adorable little Isabel!) to experience Portobello Market. 

Turns out we were too late for the market. So after the obligatory tourist photo, Angela was only too happy to help Lesli cross another thing off her list – Harrod’sI’m glad to have seen it, but honestly found it a bit overwhelming. Lesli, however, had found a palace she could fully appreciate, and thankfully, a willing and able tour guide in Angela. I was quite happy to check out the décor with Jani and Isabel in the stroller. 

Angela knew of a lovely little pub nearby where we could have a dinner of Bangers and Mash and some cider, and then helped us find our way back to our hotel, where we had to pack for an early airport pickup for our flight to Paris!

 

In the next posts about Paris and Rome — be sure to check back discover how we took photos when they weren’t allowed!  Muah ah ah!

Written by Malayna Dawn for the Women on World Excursions blog , which she co-manages with some fabulous, world-traveling, women friends.

Chick Trip Planning 3 – Top 5 London Hotels

It seems like it should be easy to find a hotel I like, which fits my needs and falls into my budget, but I found it to be a challenge…that became a time-consuming obsession!  
 
 http://mappery.com/map-of/London-Underground-Transportation-Map
 

 

 

In London, it almost doesn’t matter if you’re not smack dab in the city center, as long as there’s a tube stop (London Underground – their subway system) nearby. So I checked the ones I liked on a map to make sure I wasn’t booking us too far from easy mobility. And then I checked the reviews at TripAdvisor.com

I looked at about 40 hotels, according to my notes, but I suspect I looked at more and just decided not to keep notes on many more than that.

Starting with Price
The rationale for an inexpensive hotel is that we’d be so busy sightseeing and soaking up the atmosphere, we wouldn’t be spending much time in the room. So I started the search at Hostel World.com, because a well-traveled friend assured me it includes hotels and B&Bs as well as hostels and the reviews are spot-on. It was, indeed, a great resource for affordable hotels. She also suggested EasyHotel.com  –  for just the basics.  Other friends suggested Premiere Inn and Holiday Inn hotels. 

Premiere Inn London Eye

BUT I found I wanted someplace a little bit special. This was going to be my friend’s first trip outside of the U.S. and I wanted her to feel like she was in London.  We’re also the kind of girls who like to nap or perhaps sleep in and get a slow, languid start, so we’d probably spend more time in our hotel than most. 

Sense of Style
Therefore, I did a search for “unique, boutique hotels in London” and found Secret Places.com.  It wasn’t as easy to use as some sites, but had lovely suggestions.  Unfortunately, most of these were either outside of our price range ($200 or under) OR too far away from public transport options. Still, I fell in love with the Lime Tree Hotel and hold out hope that it works out for a future visit. 

Lime Tree Hotel

Once I had fallen in love with a hotel that had a sense of design that felt good, it was impossible to go back. I wanted to be excited about where we stayed.  The Hotel Guru had some nice choices as did Epoque Hotels, but they either didn’t have rooms with 2 beds available (called Twins) for our travel dates, or were too far away from tube stops. If they had, we might be staying at one of these:

Tophams Hotel

 

• The warm and cute Tophams Hotel 

• The lovely New Linden

New Linden

• The very hip Hoxton Hotel which periodically offers a £1 sale.

Finally, it was down to sharing a bed at the clean, modern, Euston Square Hotel or not sharing a bed at the Hesperia London Victoria, which had everything we needed and a great location too.  

Overall, I found that Agoda.com and Expedia had good rates and were easy sites to use in the search, which was at times, completely overwhelming.

So, after much research, here are my top 5 London Hotel recommendations:

1. The Hesperia London Victoria – wins for great price, great amenities and great location.  
2. Tophams Hotel –  Very cute, good price and location.
3. The New Linden – Nice, with good rates and location.
4. The Hoxton – very cool, but a bit far away.
5. Lime Tree Hotel – far away but so lovely!

I’ll report back when I’ve actually been to London and experienced the room for myself!

2 Chicks Planning a Trip – Part 2

http://www.zazzle.com/san_sebastian_postcard-239052563112264807

San Sebastian postcard from VictoriaShaylee on Zazzle.com

 

In Part 1, we tackled the first few steps of travel planning: imagining the ideal, researching the costs, and finding a way (financially).  Now that we’ve found our way, it’s time to get into specifics and fill in the blanks.

First, before solidifying dates, be sure to check if there are any public or bank holidays that will fall during your trip.  This can put a damper on your time if everything is closed.

Getting from A to B

 Doing this helps solidify decisions regarding timing and budget, because as with life, travel is a constant balancing act between time and money to get maximum joy.  After you get the general sketch, you can start coloring in the lines!

With airfare covered to our first stop in London, it was time to see how much else we could squeeze in.  I knew it was cheaper to take a car across the channel to France on the ferry, but how long would it take to get from Paris to Rome?   Ahh….time to examine logistics  – the thing that usually gets in the way of my grand plans.

A friend mentioned that the Eurostar gets you from the center of London to the center of Paris in about 2-1/2 hours. It would save us the trouble of getting to and from the Dover to Calais ferry and when I researched it, it costs the same as just the ferry ride without a car.  Sold! 

Image from GE Tours.com

Then, it turns out the driving distance between Paris and Rome is about 950 miles, or around 1530 kilometers. That’s a lot of driving. And then I found one travel website that said: 

“The blunt reality is that even for experienced Europe travelers, driving in and around some of the major cities, especially Paris and Rome, can be very, very challenging for driving, parking, etc.  Are you ready and experienced for this type of driving adventure?” 

I flashed back to my last trip to Paris when I drove just from Paris to Monet’s House in Giverny, on to Versailles and back.  It was all fine until we tried to get back to our hotel in Paris and couldn’t find our way off of the highway called the Peripherique! There was a tantrum involved.  I’d like to avoid tantrums.  So I’m NOT up to this driving adventure.

The Eurail from Paris to Rome takes 11 hours. We can save on one night of hotel expense if we take the night train, but we wouldn’t be able to enjoy the sight of Provence’s fields of flowers at night. And we aren’t so into flowers that we’d want to waste a day that way. 

Luckily another friend told me that flying costs the same as the train – and she was right!  And it gets us there in about 4 hours, even with a short layover in Switzerland.  The airfare wasn’t that much more to fly us back to London to catch our flights home either, even with stops in Germany.  Time and budget balanced. Sold!

The moral of the story:  Talk to your friends!

(The wonderful vocalist for this video/TV ad is Nadia Ackerman. Check out her stuff on Facebook!

Getting around A, B & C

A great way to get an overview of a city is from the hop-on, hop-off tourist buses. They give you the highlights and a bit of history, allow you to explore what interests you and offer a day or two of easy transport options for one price. They range from $13 – $36 and some offer discounts on museums and such too! 

In London: The Original Tour

In Paris: The Red Bus  OR L’Open Tour

In Rome: Trambus – 110 open tour

I then suggested top my friend that if at all possible, we should try to stay 3 nights in each city. That might enable us to get out of the city to see something else, like Stonehenge, Versailles or The Vatican.  She made it happen!

Where to Stay

We have the option of staying with friends in London and saving a few nights of hotel costs, but it would also limit our freedom a bit. We’d worry about imposing upon their time and might cut our evening revelry short to accommodate their schedules, so we decided against it for this trip.  But it’s always a good option if you’re traveling alone and have to keep the budget down. 

After the travel expenses, we can afford about $150-$200 per night for 9 nights, but we want aren’t necessarily comfortable with the idea of a super-budget hotel.  Instead, I began looking at any and all available discounts at my disposal.  Frequent flier miles and their partners, credit card points, discounts available from professional organizations, etc….  I’m still working on that.

In the meantime, Trip Advisor.com is a great resource for the hotel search.  I’ve found Yahoo Travel to be useful as well.  Both let you select by price, amenities and location and offer reviews. It’s a bit of a science distilling all the information into something useful, but it’s a money-saving endeavor that can assure a quality stay!

Next time, we’ll hone in on things we definitely want to do and see in each city.  Until then, here is some homework for you: watch these movies to put you in the mood and help you decide! (Mouse over the links to see who was in it and what year it was made.)

French Kiss with Meg Ryan and Kevin Kline '95

London: Notting Hill, Love Actually, and Bridget Jones’ Diary 

             (and these from IMDb)

Paris: Amelie, French Kiss, An Education, Da Vinci Code (and these from IMDb)

            for Versailles, Marie Antoinette, and The Affair of the Necklace 

            (and these from IMDb)

Rome: Only You, Eat Pray Love,  Angels and Demons, and Jumper 

               (and these from IMDb)

Eat Pray Love 2010