Monday, August 27, 2012

London Trip #1: Embracing the inner tourist

I call this post London #1 because I am confident that we'll be returning for more weekends and/or day trips here, so I might as well start out organized. For our first trip over the bank holiday 3-day weekend, we decided to leave super early Saturday morning, stay the night, and return Sunday evening. The bank holiday is today (Monday Aug 27). While it would have been great to spend a 2nd night in London and a 3rd day of exploration before returning to Derby, we decided to use this day for recovery. As it turns out, if you're not careful, a London weekend is not only pricey, but exhausting.
I had no idea what I was looking at

A few side notes before I get started.
1. Bank holiday. I found out about this with about 2 weeks notice after I started work. The banks take holidays on certain days of the year besides the ususal Christmas and Easter. So now they're the national holidays similar to the MLKJr\Memorial\Labor\Veterans days in the US. By the time we got around to planning something, all the southern UK beach towns were booked solid (or required a 3 night min stay). Bummer, I'll have to use my PTO. 

2. Planning trips is hard. I'm not talking about the fun stuff like sightseeing, restaurants, etc. Its the pain-in-the-ass wallet-draining logistics. The conversation goes like this.
Me: OK! Hotel is booked, got a great deal! We can check in after 3 pm.
Kerry: Hm, well, since we wanted the least expensive roundtrip train, we leave at 6 am and get there at 8.
Me: Alright so it says here we can check our luggage for a 5 pound fee, we'll do that first thing, after we buy Oyster cards.  Oh and the bus to the train station doesn't run early enough so we have to park at the station over the weekend, that's 12 pounds.
Kerry: And after we check out the next morning, we'll have to store our luggage at the train station for another 8 pounds.
Me: Well there goes all my pint money.
3.  Oyster cards are great.  They're a 5 pound deposit (refundable) pay-as-you-go London travel ticket. The daily fee is capped at the cost for a single-day unlimited travel ticket, and it works on the underground trains and buses.   We went nutz with these, thanks to google maps on the iphone telling us where the underground stations were, what buses to take, and when to "alight".

4.  Walk walk walk!  From casual observation, I notice that incredible amounts of bread and sweets are eaten here (from my perspective, which is relatively low in flour consumption).  But I don't see the levels of obesity that is common in the States; in fact most of the young guys look straight-up emaciated in their jeggings.  I think this is because everyone is out walking.  Even if taking public transportation, there's quite a bit of walking and stairs involved.  Also, I notice way more smoking here than in the States, and I lived in a city that only put a public ban out last year (for reference some CA cities had smoking bans over 10 years ago).  I think that suppresses appetites.  I know I was ravenous after all the walking we did.

5.  We forgot to charge the camera battery, so half the photos are from an iphone.

Walker and tourist friendly

So the only thing we planned to do in London was go to the Tower of London.  Probably the most touristy thing to do in London besides the Eye ferris wheel, with the admission price to match.  It was worth it once though, and we spent a good 3 hrs looking at everything.  Its really a few museums inside a very very old castle, and there are 20 towers, fyi.

We had a nice cafe-style lunch, and it started raining.  So we stuck around the cafe and ordered some more drinks.  Once it cleared, the plan was to check out more old and famous buildings, but more rain came and sightseeing turned into a stressful search for public toilets.  We were prepared with our rain coats and umbrellas, but a lesson was learned about the consequences of ordering extra drinks at lunch.

Managing the tourist crowds like a boss
On our way to see the crown bling

Ended up at Harrods which is a wonderful madhouse filled with ostensibly rich Arabs.  I don't think any of the shoppers spoke English.  We found ourselves in the chocolates room, so I offered to buy Kerry something.   The selection was so overwhelming that her decision making ability shut down.  I randomly picked a few out of the nearest display case at 1.50 pounds each (yikes) - but they were top notch.  I also saw "American" dry aged ribeyes going for 15 pounds per 100 grams, which is nearly $120/lb.  Confusing I know - going from grams per pound (money) to pounds (weight) per dollar.

After checking in at EasyHotel, a low cost hybrid hostel/hotel room that got design ideas from cruise ships, we changed and headed out for dinner.  I made reservations at a mid-priced French restaurant that had good reviews.  The house wine was better than expected at a decent price.  Kerry had the grilled mussels, a perfectly cooked ribeye with Bearnaise sauce, and a lemon tart.  I had a goose rillette, a classic beef bourguignon, and a tarte tatin.  I successfully pronounced my entire order wrong, but the server was kind enough.  I am a bit worried to order when we get around to visiting France...

Bare bones, but at least we had a window
Across the street we found the London cocktail club that turned out to have some serious mixology skillz with an undergound bar feel.  They also played all 80's/90's music, including MC Hammer.  The server said he doesn't get a lot of tourists, so we felt pretty cool there.  Would have been better to have some friends with us, because by this time we were running out of things to talk about.

The next day, even getting up and out the door before 9, by the time we got the bag checked back at the station, it was already approaching 11.  Today was the start of the Notting Hill Carinval, a celebration and parade of Carribean culture, but I really think it's an excuse for the ladies to shake their booties behind trucks rigged up with huge sound systems as they crawled around the Chelsea neighborhood.  The crowd was crazy, and there was no shortage of police.  I can only imagine how crazy it got that night; at noon I was walking past guys that were halfway through their bottles of Courvoisier, and the shops had all preemptively boarded up their windows.  After we found some jerk chicken for lunch, we decided to get out of the crowd to give our ears a break and come down off our secondhand highs.

Booty Wurk by paint splatter dance crew

Hyde Park was a perfect option - wide, open, quiet, and sunny.  We made our way to the Serpentine lake and I rented a rowboat.  How very touristy of me, and I know Kerry thought it was very romantic.  It was quite pleasant as we watched the Muslim children feed bread to the ducks and pigeons.

And the swans weren't too shy either

Our last stop was a quick walk around Leicester square, Trafalgar square, and the Covent Gardens markets to watch the Sunday crowds and street performers.  I FINALLY grabbed a pint of London Pride, then it was off to the station to pick up our bag and head back to Derby.  We really did a lot  in a very short amount of time; and the next trip will likely be a day trip only, with only 1 destination - I'm thinking a rainy day at the National Gallery.  We'll see.

In the meantime it's back to work to make more money for traveling.  Today I had to buy normal stuff that I didn't pack which is boring and irritating (since I own this stuff in the States already).  But the goal is to keep that to a minimum and will hopefully be sufficiently used or worn-out before we return.

1 comment:

  1. Great new cover photo.

    Funny planning side notes - don't worry it gets easier to make decisions based on priority (cost vs. convenience) after a few trips. Some headaches just aren't worth the few pounds you will be saving.

    Great job finding the non-touristy cocktail bar.