Top 10 things I learned from our recent London UK Trip

Discussion in 'Travel' started by Shane, May 23, 2010.

  1. Shane

    Shane Active Member

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    Some of you may know that I recently went to London, UK for a week(just got back Saturday). Here's my report

    10. I found out that English weather isn't dreary. . Perhaps I got lucky but beyond the first 2 days of spotty rain and clouds, the skies opened up for the last 4 days of my trip and gave us superb weather. It was 65-68F during the day.

    9. "Pub Food" gets old quickly. After the 2nd lunch meal, I was longing for something else.

    8. Everyone is friendly. I don't know about the other European nations but I found the English people very friendly and very helpful.

    7. They serve "Chips" with everything. I've had enough "Chips" to last me a year.

    6. They don't know where to put a road sign at. I met Chris White in London as well and he mentioned this frustration. For those that haven't been, they are up on the side of the buildings and require a bit of searching to find. I found this terribly frustrating. It took me several days to figure this out.

    5. My Blackberry doesn't work there. Sadly, LarryB found this out the hard way when Chris W tried to call me. He didn't have my number so he called Larry at 5am(not thinking about the time zone differences). Sorry Larry :(

    4. If anyone tells you English food is terrible, they are 1) Lying 2) have bad taste or 3) don't have good friends who have visited there :). Anytime we went to a place recommended by our friends or colleagues, we had a stellar meal.

    Kensington Place in Notting Hill was superb.
    The Ivy was awesome except you must get a reservation. We learned that the hard way.
    Tom's Kitchen in Chelsea is also amazing english food. It's a 5 block walk from the South Kensington Tube stop but worth it.

    English food service is SLOW and tipping is inconsistent. Be prepared unless I just got unlucky. Most of the time, my drink was needing replacing or a refill. It took a long time to get the bill etc. Sometimes the tip was included and sometimes it wasn't and when it was, they went with 12% as a common amount. This is odd to me as normally I tip 15% or up to 20-25% if the service is superb. I guess they pay their people more on salary.

    3. Don't try to take the tube to and from your hotel. We tried this from the Airport and frankly found ourselves beat by the time we reached our room. We took a car (prebooked thru the hotel) from the Hotel to the airport on the return and it was a breeze. The cost was right in line with what the Heathrow Express ran so I had no problems coughing up the 45 pounds to hit the airport in style.

    2. Don't miss Windsor Castle and Kew Botanical Gardens. Both of these are out of the way places that require some effort to find but they are the 2 best sights in London IMO. Windsor required a train/subway trip with 3 changes on the way but it was a relative breeze to get to. Kew was also a bit of a pain to find but once you got there, it was breathtaking. The photo guys would have a field day and then some there.

    1. Same Day travel > Overnight flights. I was perfectly fine after a 9hr 25 minute flight to DFW from Heathrow but the flight over was brutal. Even following the advice of Hayes and a few others, jet lag hit me like a freight train on Monday(we arrived Sunday).

    Honorable mention: The Tube is wonderful. It's clean(not nearly as clean as DC's but very nice nonetheless) and efficient. I just wouldn't rely on it to get me to the airport and back especially when a Chelsea FC celebration parade ends at the same time as our train hit London...

    I'll post up some photos but we had a great time and will be going back. Thanks Hayes for everything.
     
  2. Allen

    Allen Active Member

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    Shane: 4) and 9) seem somewhat contradictory - or is "old" just b/c it's the same, not b/c it isn't good?
     
  3. Graeme

    Graeme Active Member

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    This is common in Europe (at least where I've been in Europe). It's also common in most of Japan. It is definitely not as convenient as the North American style of signs on posts on the side of the road.

    A good friend of mine who, up until last year, lived and worked in London for several years believes this is because of the spike in the service industry over the past couple decades. Basically, if you want to work in a restaurant it is dead easy to find a job.

    Not sure if it is a cultural thing, but I'll tell you that in Paris and Japan (both locations where service charges are in the bill) my service experience was phenomenal. From 10 Euro Crepe restaurants to 100 Euro restaurants, in Paris I found service to be polite, fast and often friendly. Basically the exact opposite of the stereotype. It hadn't been topped, until I went to Japan. :)

    So all stereotypes don't hold water. English food isn't all crap (which I can agree with 100%) and French waiters are not all assholes. The Japanese are, however, polite to the death. I guess two out of three dispelled stereotypes ain't bad. :)

    Graeme
     
  4. jasn

    jasn Well-Known Member Donor Top Poster

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    Great advice Shane (even minding the pundits ;)), so thx and glad you had a good time. One of my lifetime favorite meals was beef and kidney pie and several ales in a little pub outside Southampton, BTW.
     
  5. Shane

    Shane Active Member

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    Allen,
    It's a bit of both but I can't say they are contradictory and here's why. Pub Food could be called bar food in the US. It's just a different spin so I can't say it's England specific. To me all pub food to me tasted the same. They all have the same menu (ignoring the trendy gastropubs). I don't think it was that good either. Lunch menus tended to feature "Pub food" so it did get old. I ended up skipping lunch twice.

    When we hit the restaurants(see the list above) and fine dining establishments where they served traditional English menus(fancied up of course), the food was killer.

    Graeme,
    Your post is good stuff. I'll remember that as we plan our trips in the future to Europe.

    Considering how small American Airlines seats are, I'm strongly considering paying the extra coin for Business class or I've even considered flying up to Toronto and flying Air Canada from there if the cost was right. Air Canada's coach seats are HUGE by comparison. They had more than enough room and spoiled me rotten while I flew up there.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: May 23, 2010
  6. Hayes Preston

    Hayes Preston Member

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    So glad you got to go to the Ivy!
     
  7. Hayes Preston

    Hayes Preston Member

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    So now I have a little more time to respond now that LOST is over.

    Shane, good observations, I am glad you had a good time.

    The tipping thing is hard to figure, most people I atlked to (including waiters/waitresses) say the %10 is decent for good service, when it is not included by the establishment, which is hit or miss, sometimes it's included, somethimes not.

    I still am not used to the whole "I have to ask for the bill" deal, many people find this annoying, and it is ahrd to get used to, once finished, most places will not bring your final bill until you sepcifically ask, even if you have had dessert, coffee/tea, after dinner drinks etc. You could sit for hours and not get your bill.

    With regards to number 3, I usually take the Heathrow express to Paddington, then cab it from there, then again, I am usually there on business and by myself, if I am with others the cost of a car to/from the aiport is distributed among several people.

    I am so glad you had a good time, and I look forward to seeing pics!
     
  8. DYohn

    DYohn Bronze Member Donor Top Poster

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    I haven't been to Londin since the mid-80s. Your post makes me want to get back there.
     
  9. Shane

    Shane Active Member

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    Hayes,
    If I were alone, then the whole train to Paddington thing would have been better. However when I'm traveling with my wife and we both have 2 bags each (1 carry on + 1 normal bag), the cost for 2 of us was the same roughly as the train so I'm glad to pay 45 pounds for a luxury car ride to the airport. Our Hotel was 1 stop from Paddington Station so it was quite nicely located.

    That said, I might consider a different hotel next go around. The beds were atrociously hard. I woke up with back pain every morning. My wife seemed to think this was a good bed for Europe but given it's my only experience, I don't know how the other hotels like the Marriott, Holiday Inn or Hyatt would be comparison wise. I know in the states, Sheraton/Westin and Marriott have better beds than Hiltons. The location was pretty good but the Marriott was better located IMO as it was right on the main drag around Hyde Park. From where we were, it was a good 4-5 block walk to the Park which conveniently was where the on-off bus tours start from.

    The On off bus tour I can recommend. The London Pass...not so much. I didn't think we got our value from it.
     
  10. Allen

    Allen Active Member

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    That's true in much of Western Europe, I think - at least most of the big cities w/ sidewalk cafes seem to operate that way, in my experience. The operators there don't count on or create turnover the way we do here - so you see folks sit for hours over a coffee talking or people-watching and never get pushed to leave.
     
  11. LarryB

    LarryB Active Member

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    I was being kind to Dr. White and not disclosing his faux pas publically. ;)
     
  12. claud

    claud Well-Known Member Donor

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    I have been looking forward to your report since we go in about a month. What hotel did you use? I do hope you post some pics.
    How did you use/pay for the Tube? Oyster card or individual trip?

    Was the on/off bus tour a double decker? Open on top? What did you see while on that tour?

    Sorry for all the questions, but I'm getting reved up.
     
  13. Shane

    Shane Active Member

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    We stayed at the Hilton Metropole. This was not by choice but because of a conference my wife was attending. Typically I stay at Marriotts because of the large number of points i have accumulated over the years of traveling :)

    The tube card we purchased as part of the London Pass with Travel Option. A 7 day travelcard (covering all zones which we used) is £47.60
    http://www.londontoolkit.com/briefing/travelcard.htm

    According to the londontoolkit site, if you are going for 5-7 days or more, the travelcard is better.

    The On/off bus tour was a double decker which was open on top. We went with the Original London Tour company and got our moneys worth. Be sure to plug your headset in for information as you travel around. We did the red tour(http://www.theoriginaltour.com/tour_information/index.html) which took us pretty much everywhere in London.

    TBH, I wish we would have taken the Big Bus tour (http://www.bigbustours.com/eng/london/default.aspx) but that is only because they seemed to have more buses(ie coverage) where if you stepped off, you could easily get a bus. We would sit at a station waiting for a bus to come around and inevitably, we'd see 3-4 Big Bus Tour buses run around.

    I don't know if both are any different (service and what you see) but I can't imagine them being different. The cost for our trip was £25 per person. The buses were the same type(except they were brown).
     
  14. claud

    claud Well-Known Member Donor

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    Thanks Shane.
    Did you ride the London Eye?

    We only have 3 days of sight seeing. The other two are for watching the Wimbledon Finals.
    The bus tour seems to be a good value for one day.
     
  15. Shane

    Shane Active Member

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    For one day, the bus tour is a great value I think. We used it to determine our plan of action on what we wanted to do next. They do offer special pricing on the other places such as the Tower etc if that interests you. We had a London Pass so we were covered.

    I did not ride the London Eye. I really didn't think it was worth the time, effort and cash for the view. Cost was £17.88 for 30 minutes worth. The money IMO is better spent on the bus tour, trips to Windsor Castle(the train in included in the Travelcard), the Kew Gardens or the Tower of London.

    Wimbledon is on the outskirts so you'll definitely want a 1-6 travelcard.

    Additionally I would add I thought the "British Museum" was a big let down. I would call it the "stuff we looted from other countries museum" because there was a small amount of real British specific historic items there. Most of it was from other countries like Greece, etc. It was free so you can't complain too much...

    The National Gallery was neat but only if you are into art. If not then not so much..
     
  16. Allen

    Allen Active Member

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    PHOTOS - I want to see PHOTOS from sightseeing & Wimbledon.

    Have a strawberries & cream (or whatever the Wimbledon tradition is) for me, Claud.
     
  17. claud

    claud Well-Known Member Donor

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    Shane, Our tour includes 3 days of 1-6 Travel Cards. I guess we will do Oyster Cards for the other two. I do hope you post some pics in this thread.

    Allen, I will be drinking and lunching at the Gatsby Club right next to Centre Court(included in tour package). I plan on drinking lots of bubbly. Shane ought to have posted his pics before I leave so I will not post any pics of places he does.
     

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