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Back from England yesterday!

Just came back from 10 days in England and thought I would share my experiences with the people, places and travel equipment I used. This was my first overseas trip and I will never forget the experiences that I had. I packed my Aeronaut 45 with my clothes (4 button up shirts, 2 t-shirts, underwear, socks, 2 pairs of pants) umbrella, toiletries, day bag, and iPad. My girlfriend used the RS Classic Convertible with a small Bagillini purse. The Allett nylon was perfect for the front pocket and was large enough for my driver’s license, ATM card and credit card. I ditched the waist security wallet after the first day. I pre-ordered 300 pounds from AAA and that lasted the entire trip along with using my Chase Sapphire Card.

We stayed in an Air B&B (VRBO) in West Kensington less than a block from the W/K tube station and a block away from the Barons Court station. We were in Premium Economy on the flight over and flew coach on the way back. To be honest, Premium Economy was not worth the money. The seat’s padding wasn’t any better. Only a little more leg room. We hit the ground running once we got our Oyster Cards at around 7:30am. First stop was the South Ken station and three free museums (V&A, National Science, and Natural History). We stowed our bags at the Natural Science Museum for a small fee until the apartment was ready for check-in. We then went to the Grenadier Pub for a late lunch/early supper, then went to Harrod’s. Tons of American bills were stapled to the ceiling. BTW, this place was VERY hard to find. Without too much detail, here is a list of the other places visited during our stay: Harry Potter Studio tour, British Library, British Museum, Tower of London, Tower Bridge, St. Paul’s, Borough Market, National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus, day trip to York to see Yorkminster and the National Train Museum, day trip to Cambridge, Westminster, Big Ben, Parliament, Temple Church, Buckingham Palace, bus tour (International Friends) to Stonehenge, Bath and Lacock.

Visiting York was my favorite part of the entire trip. I could have spent 3 days there. Yorkminster was gorgeous, the small restaurants and specialty shops were great. When you think of small English cities, York is your place. The best fish & chip and mushy peas are there (Drakes). The city is surrounded with a walkable Roman wall, a Roman tower that allows you great views of the city. Unique church ruins and a great train museum that offered a live demonstration of a train accident using large scale models of both the trains and switch controls. The day trip to Cambridge was pleasant, though I don’t think you need to spend an entire day there. Perhaps 4 hours. The area around the college is beautiful, but you will be ‘harassed’ about punting tours in every direction you step. The International Friends tour gave us a nice taste of the Cotswolds, Bath and Stonehenge. Antonio (Tony) was our guide and he was absolutely perfect. Great knowledge and a spot on sense of humor. Our driver was able to get us around horrible traffic and into Bath ahead of schedule. So we attempted to go to Parliament on a Wednesday due to the presence of the Prime Minister to watch the House of Commons in action. The entire area, including Westminster, was shut down and had a lot of Constables in dress uniform surround the area. We enquired with one of them and to much of our surprise, the Queen was soon to arrive to open Parliament. So we decided to stick around for another hour and a half to see her. Every “Bobby” that we spoke with was completely professional, friendly, engaging and far more approachable than American cops (in general). So we did get to see the entire royal ‘parade’ including the arrival of the international ambassadors, the royal band, guards, horse patrol, and of course, Prince Charles, Lady Camilla, and the Queen.

I'm limited on the characters remaining, but message me for my complete review.

Posted by
1087 posts

What a nice review. Your enthusiam shines through. The descriptions of London attractions reminds me of when I kept trying to go to Europe but ended up back in Britain! Love it.

Posted by
193 posts

Great review! How cool to see the "Royals" as well!! My closest encounter with something like that was in Washington DC during Reagan's funeral - that was pretty incredible. We were right on Constitution Ave as the entire event happened. Amazing event to see in person.

Posted by
840 posts

Agree, great review and glad you had a good time. York is indeed special. I've also noticed that police and transit employees are often more approachable and articulate when explaining situations than their American counterparts. Had to laugh that you thought Harrods was hard to find. Or maybe you were joking or I misread your sentence :)

Posted by
78 posts

Regarding Harrod's, I meant to say that Temple Church and the Grenadier Pub were difficult to find, certainly not Harrod's LOL.

I had so much more to write, but didn't have the room in my original post. I wanted to stress for those using the tube for the first time...Londoners are very pushy and can be a bit rude. This doesn't reflect on all Londoners and certainly not all Brits. But the tube is an aggressive "everyone for themselves" type of place. They will bump into you, push, pull, and cut in front. Just know it's not personal and it's just the way the tube can be. Regarding being worried what to wear...don't be. I wore on occasion, Columbia convertible pants. Yes, I did look like a tourist, but you will see a ton of tourists, so you don't really stick out horribly. Wear comfortable clothing. The heat of the tube rail cars (jam packed) combined with walking all day, will make things a bit sweaty and sticky. I do recommend moisture wicking clothing. This will make you much more comfortable. The only time I stuck out as being overtly American is when I went to the Borough Market (London Bridge tube stop) and ordered a Scottish Venison Burger (yum!) and said, "hold the onions". He laughed and said, "you must be American". Good natured ribbing of course.

I want to stress again the importance of renting an apartment. Unless you have expendable money (and good for you if you do!) and stay at a very upscale hotel, I think apartment usage is a smart and economical way to stay. You immerse yourself in the local neighborhood by doing so. We got to utilize the local grocery stores and coffee shops. It felt like we actually lived there. And please don't be disappointed with the size of English apartments. Europe is crowded and space is a premium. Just enjoy the coziness and atmosphere and realize you have far more room in your apartment than you would in the hotel. I even had the District Line tracks behind my bedroom and decided to "enjoy" the sound rather than despise it for 10 days. Get the free London Evening newspaper at the tube stations every day, read up on current events, and even turn on the BBC news when you return each day. You can watch all the Big Bang Theory, NCIS, etc., when you get home. One last tip; don't overpack your toiletries. There are many Boots and other local pharmacies in your neighborhood or Heathrow. So buy those last minutes things when you get there. Oh, I also found the Canadian and UK counterparts to the TSA to be far more friendlier and efficient. Be polite and friendly with them, and they'll reply two fold. Before I part...if you use cash, you will collect a lot of coins in a hurry. They have coins for their 1 and 2 pounds, 50 pence, 20 pence, 10 pence, 5 pence, 1 pence and yes...even the 2 pence. I think the 1 pound coin would be great here in America. Anyway, I routinely carried the 1 and 2 quid coins and 50 pence pieces with me for small purchases. As far as food goes...Brits have a reputation of bland, boring food. Bullocks! The Cheddar and Pickle sandwich is good, as well as Churizo sausages, and Colman's mustard. Eat at the local markets and establishments. I ended up getting a chance to speak a little Italian, German, and French at these small restaurants/markets when ordering.

Posted by
23587 posts

more, more, we want more.

If you have more to share, spill. Just keep replying to this thread and it will build up....

It was a nice list of what you saw.... what did you think of those places and what they contained? More more!

BTW - you say that you immediately ditched the money belt that you had. Did you walk around with £300 in your wallet?

Posted by
3811 posts

I'm positive I encountered $1 coins when using the subway in NYC...this was 2011 so maybe my memory is foggy - I'm sure I got some back as change from ticket machines...and in Canada, we have both $1 and $2 coins (the loonie and toonie). Lets just say - if you are like my husband and don't spend your change a lot, you need to have your pants pockets sewn up! (I can't tell you how many holes get worn in his pockets! He's so used to using a certain pocket, he ends up forgetting about the hole and drops coin everywhere...teehee). On the positive side - you may thing you are broke but then discover you have $20 in your change :)

Great review!

Posted by
1846 posts

Wonderful report, Mike. You obviously enjoyed your trip. Add me to the list of those who would like to hear/read more. How exactly would one find the Grenadier Pub? My family and I will be in London for 10 days in July and it sounds like just the place for my son. Thank you for posting a very engaging report!

Posted by
7689 posts

It sounds like you had a terrific time! So exciting to see the Royals!

Posted by
78 posts

So the Grenadier Pub is not far from Harrod's and Knightsbridge. Belgravia area? The pub is located down a tiny street and around the corner. Tiny place but big atmosphere. Google the name and you'll find more. I did become quite agitated with the RS maps for navigation purposes. They're great for trip planning, but not for detail directions. Road/street signs are nearly nonexistent. You'll occasionally find the street plaques on the corners of buildings if you're lucky.

I think I forgot to mention my trip to 221B Baker Street and the Sherlock Museum. A lot of fun to see this masterful recreation of his 'study'. Got to sit in front of his fireplace...in Sherlock's position, of course, lol. It still drives me nuts to see his profile used with the calabash pipe....grrr... A long line for that place, but it went quickly. Also, take a walk across the Millennium Bridge to the south side of the river. Walk from there to the Borough Market and along the way you'll get great views of the River and pass the Globe Theater.

Posted by
5817 posts

Hi Mike, glad you had a good time in the UK and sorry you had a bad time on the tube, but there is an easy explanation, most commuters really hate tourists! :-) Nothing makes a jaded commuter's heart sink more than the entrance of a cheery group of tourists to a tube carriage!

Writing as someone who has 20+ years experience of commuting on buses/tubes for 1.5 hours each way to work, it's not so much that it is "every man for himself", more that there is a list of unwritten acceptable tube behaviours that most tourists don't pick up on. So as advice for future visitors.....

Simple things like keep moving! When you go through a ticket barrier, enter a tube platform or get out of a train carriage don't just stop, keep moving! There are people behind you! If you don't immediately know which way you need to go (and often locals won't either) step to the side out of everyone else's way. similarly when entering a tube carriage, unless you are only going 1 or 2 stops, move down the carriage don't block the door. If you just stop you will face a barrage of ( not so) passive aggressive "excuse mes" and people will barge past you.

Generally tube stations at the interchange with main line stations ( eg Paddington, Waterloo, Victoria etc) will have the most stressy and grumpy commuters. People are rushing to make or leave trains where they are treated like cattle. Seriously, some lines are horrendous. You will not receive a cheery hello from these people. Avoid rush hour like the plague!

Many commuters ( myself included) have there journeys planned,if not to the second,to the minute. A slowly moving formation of dawdling tourists blocking the way puts a finely balance journey at risk! Again expect the traditional British " excuse me!" And ........get out of the way! :-)

Some tube lines are worst than others. Lines like the jubilee have trains every 2 minutes in the rush hour so if one comes in crowded it is not a great problem to wait for the next one. The district line might only have a train every 10 minutes! In that case no matter how crowded it is I am getting on it and I will use elbows. move down the train!

Commuters don't really talk. We are each in our own personal world. We don't want cheery chat, even listening to other people having a nice time can be annoying! Eye contact is to be avoided. This is not about being grumpy or intentionally unpleasant. It is how you deal with being treated like a sardine day in and day out!

We sound like a delightful bunch don't we?!

Seriously, public transport in London is excellent. Locals whinge about it incessantly but we know it is pretty good (most of the time). Avoid the rush hour and don't expect pleasantries and witty banter, and you will find travelling on the tube and buses safe, cheap and efficient, just remember to keep moving!

Posted by
193 posts

Mike - my daughter is a HUGE Sherlock Holmes fan (of the Benedict Cumberbatch type). If she can make it to 'his place' I know she will be thrilled. If we are in 'central London' or near Victoria Embankment Gardens - what is the best way to get there? Find a cab? walk? The kids can't take the tube/subway so it's cab or foot. But she'd probably walk whatever distance possible to see that site!!

Posted by
5817 posts

Advocatecare, London also has a superb bus network that can get you pretty much anywhere in town.
The sites are quite spread out so attempting to walk everywhere will be pretty exhausting, and waste alot of your time. The cost of cabs will also add up pretty quickly, they really aren't cheap!

To get from the Victoria Embankment gardens area to Baker Street by bus walk to Trafalgar Square ( 5-10mins) then take the 453 bus towards Marylebone, getting off the bus at Baker Street station.

The Baker Street that appears in the Benedict Cumberbatch version isn't Baker Street. It is actually North Gower Street, next to Euston Square station. You can get there in about 10 mins on the 18, 30 or 205 bus from Baker Street station.

Posted by
1846 posts

Thank you, Mike! I agree with you re the Rick Steves maps. I did try google and now that you have provided me with more specific directions, I bet the google map will make more sense to me! Thanks for the info. Blackfriars has been our favorite "arrival day" pub; maybe this one will be right up there on our list of favorites.

Posted by
78 posts

I will have to try Blackfriar next time i'm there.

To the other poster...even if you're a Cumberbatch fan, 221b Baker Street is great fun.

Posted by
78 posts

Also...Emma,

I did my homework regarding the tube before arriving. I always stayed to the right of the escalator queue and was always courteous towards everyone. I also treat public transportation like a public restroom (loo)...I'm there for business and don't expect or want conversation, lol. I don't mean to make Londoners sound like a**holes...I just view using the tube as playing a competitive sport. :)

To all: As soon as I get all my travel photographs posted to my Flickr account...i'll try posting the link here.

Posted by
5817 posts

That's where you went wrong Mike, being courteous! :-)
It's a London thing, we're just getting on with it, it doesn't mean we have to enjoy it.
When my relatives visit me from the North I am permanently embarrassed. They strike up conversations with strangers!
I must admit I have never known London to be quite so crowded so early in the season, so it isn't much fun for anyone at busy stations at the moment.

Posted by
2393 posts

Mike, So glad you had a great time, and thanks for the trip report! Also glad you enjoyed York, one of my favorite places. So many who come here with their trip itinerary plan to spend only a half day or one day in York. I'm glad you devoted some time to see it properly. York is a gem!

Posted by
840 posts

Re: maps - one of the best maps I have of London is a 2012 deal that was sponsored by Selfridges. Not sure where I got it--a tour guide may have handed it to me or maybe I picked it up at a hotel (it's printed by Where--same folks who do the city guide mags they have at hotels). It has street detail, attractions, Tube stops, building profiles, theaters, parks, Benedict Cumberbatch (kidding), it's been folded, rained on, written on, and it's awesome.

Look for something similar. Rick's maps are ok to a point, but something with more detail that can be easily folded is worth it's weight in gold.

Posted by
5817 posts

If you are in London for a few days it is worth buying an "A to Z" as well as/ instead of a map.
These are easy to use street atlas's of the city,cheaply available in any newsagent.
They come in a number of sizes and the smallest one, covering the centre of the city will fit into any tourists pocket.

Until the recent growth in the use of the smart phone, virtually every London house and office would have one.
A quick search in an A to Z is often quicker than using a smartphone with no need for data or wifi!

It was also invented by a pretty amazing woman!
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phyllis_Pearsall

Posted by
660 posts

Such a helpful report/replies! Thanks so much, Mike. We're taking our first trip to London and York. I'll take some tips from this.

Posted by
8889 posts

advocatecare,
"The kids can't take the tube" - may I ask why?, especially if they have never tried.
As Emma and other posters say, the next choice is buses, slower but you get to see more. Make sure you have researched Oyster Cards and all have one, they will save you a packet on bus fares. Click here for a tourist map of the main bus routes and here for a more detailed map.
Avoid getting cabs everywhere, unless you are made of money.

Posted by
23587 posts

Chris F

You may have missed the previous threads some time ago. This is a musical group and the organisers have placed some weird restrictions on the group which doesn't allow them to take the kids on public transport. Apparently they think that herding a group of kids across a selection of London streets with heavy traffic coming from an unusual direction is safer than taking them down the escalators into the Underground and back up at their destination. Don't ask me why, but this was hashed out in great detail some time ago. I'm not even sure that they are allowed to use buses either. Walk or a taxi, or perhaps a fleet of taxis.

It isn't the poster's fault. They tried to do it the better way but were not allowed to change that policy.

Posted by
5817 posts

Advocatecare, I didn't realise that your query related to the group that are "unable" to use public transport.
To save excess walking(!) I would suggest that if your daughter is only really interested in the Cumberbatch Sherlock she just makes the trip to Upper Gower Street rather than all the way to Baker Street. Baker Street has more to see etc but it tends to relate to the traditional Sherlock rather than the modern one. Upper Gower Street is just a photo opp outside the building but i am sure she will love it.

As the group will be walking a lot I REALLY advise getting an A to Z. London is a warren of backstreets and short cuts which are easier to navigate with an A to Z than a map, or even a smart phone.

Posted by
193 posts

And of course the A to Z book was part of one of the Sherlock episodes - so we should get a copy for its usefulness & as a souvenir!

Yes, we are 'the walking or taxi' group. I didn't want that to hijack Mike's report though. We have accepted our reality and plan on generously supporting the London economy each time we hail a cab :)

Thanks for the tip on the newer Sherlock Holmes street - if we can fit that in, we will & I'll try to figure out how to share pictures!

Only 10 days to go - it's going to be fabulous!!

Posted by
8889 posts

Sorry advocatecare, I remember that post now, but I had forgotten it was you!
Trying to move around London without using tubes or buses will be a real pain! I agree with Nigel's comments. I hope you have a nice time anyway.

Posted by
193 posts

No prob! ive been looking at the Tube info - my husband and I are not chaperones on the trip (thank Goodness!) so if we decide to do our own thing - we might break the rules and ride the Tube!! We just won't tell the kids or City Coordinators ;)

Posted by
23587 posts

((but you can tell us .... quietly!!))

Sorry, Mike in VT

Posted by
78 posts

Something I just remembered...regarding WIFI in London:

Unless you're staying at a hotel or Air B&B, getting connected is a little tricky for an overseas visitor. London has turned many of their phone boxes into Wifi hotspots and of course there's the usual coffee shops as well. However, on many occasions, you must have a local phone number and zipcode to sign up at each of these locations. The sign up pages do not accept US addresses or phone numbers. To be honest, it was refreshing not having 'data' during our ventures out until we got back to our apartment, but there were times I really needed specific directions or an establishments information. Oh well...it didn't negatively affect our trip.

Just something to keep in mind.

Posted by
78 posts

Yet another addition to my trip review...

This time regarding my Chase Sapphire Visa. It's a chip and signature card and it worked perfectly in the UK. I did not at any time need a full-on chip and PIN card. Sure, I had opportunities to use the self-serve train/tube kiosks, but there is no need for US visitors to Europe to go scrambling for a PIN card at this time.

Posted by
7689 posts

Mike, really great pictures! I love your interest in doors, gates and sky. I loved going in to the Temple Church, so interesting. Thanks for sharing the link.

Posted by
78 posts

thank you for that :)

Temple Church is my favorite church by far. So very peaceful in between those barister buildings. Nice place to sit and take a break from the city.

Posted by
80 posts

I stayed in a hotel across from the Blackfriar Pub in 2013 and noticed it is jam packed Monday through Friday in the afternoon and evening. To the point people are sitting outside at the tables provided as well as in the grass. On the week-end it is a ghost town. I'm glad to hear you enjoyed your trip and I appreciate your report. And how awesome that you were able to take in a royal outing as well. Well done! My first trip to London was a day trip in 2004 from Ely, Cambridgeshire and I distinctly recall the heat, the jam packed crowds and the pushing and shoving in the tube as a group of 4 adults and 4 children. I now know we were every commuters worst nightmare as we were clueless. Now when I visit I try to use the tube during off times. I love London and can't wait to visit again. Regards, Pam

Posted by
1846 posts

I, too, thank you for posting your photos link. They are wonderful! I think you have a real eye for composition. My favorites were those focusing on the architecture and the everyday scenes-like the stop/stop/wait light. Oh, and the trains.......fish and chips and (maybe?) mushy peas? Nicely done!

Posted by
78 posts

I want to thank everyone for their kind words regarding my trip report and the photos.

Posted by
18 posts

just an addition to the rude tube commuter comments - I actually had quite the opposite experience on the Tube! I have an obvious mobility issue (walking stick) and was trying to drag/carry my bag up and down the tube stairs, and 3 times, people stopped, briefly asked to help, quickly and efficiently carried my bag up or down and deposited it with my family members (who were already overloaded as my husband's back had gone out), and went on their way. Can't tell you how much that cheered me as I struggled up and down. I later discovered that the buses worked much better for me, and as we were there over the weekend, they probably weren't as slow as me trying to drag myself up and down tube steps :-)