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Pre-Best of London Tour Trip Report: Amsterdam and London, February 14 – 19, 2023

Before our recent Best of London tour, we spent about 5 or 6 days in Amsterdam and London. We were only in Amsterdam for 2 nights (and less time than we had intended; see below) so there won’t be much about that here.

The first section will sound like a sad sack pity party, but it wasn’t really; just a travel day whose plans went awry. We had a wonderful time, once we got there and had a night’s sleep.

Briefly: our flight from Tulsa to DFW was running late, and was uncomfortable enough that I could see grumbling ahead (I believe the “no grumps” policy doesn’t actually take effect until the RS tour begins,) so as soon as we got to DFW I headed to the British Airways desk and upgraded us to business class for the rest of the journey. It was a splurge, but in retrospect, I’m glad we did it.

The flight from DFW to Heathrow was running late, but I had hopes we could make the short connection at LHR to catch the third leg of the journey, to Amsterdam. Well, the weather put paid to that. LHR was socked in with fog; our plane had to circle for quite some time, and when we were finally able to touch down, we had to wait on the tarmac because the plane occupying our arrival gate couldn’t leave! We actually set foot in the airport 2 hours late, and our flight to AMS had already departed.

I wasn’t worried, though, because I had planned an early afternoon arrival in Amsterdam, so even if we had to leave a bit later, we’d still arrive in time to enjoy the city a bit, right? Right?

Well, maybe not. BA had a table set up at the gate for those of us with missed connections. They had indeed booked us on a later flight to Amsterdam, but it left from the London City Airport. “You just have to get there; here are your boarding passes and 2 food vouchers.”

This is the kind of situation that would be simple, had we had any advance notice. But when you’re tired, stressed, and confused, it might be a bit more unsettling. We went through passport control, and I headed to a booth with a big sign: “Information.” Great. I explained our situation, and the young woman said, “Well, the easiest thing to do would be to take the train.” “That’s fine, point us in the right direction,” I said. “But they’re not running today,” she responded. “You can take a bus, but you probably won’t get there in time.” “A cab then?” I asked. “I can book you a car; it’ll take you right to the door.” Ok, fine.

I thought she was calling a cab; it turned out to be a private car service, which cost £130. It took about 20 minutes before our driver arrived, which had us nervous, but he did come, and the drive although long, was pleasant. Traffic was very heavy, the entire week being school holidays. As we drove past various museums, the crowds were enormous. The car was lovely, a Jaguar with a clear roof, so we got to see a lot of London. Our driver made observations about sights along the way.

He did take us right to the door of the London City Airport, and we had enough time to find something to eat. We were glad of this, because neither of us had wanted breakfast on the plane, it was now midday, and now we weren’t getting into Amsterdam for hours after our planned arrival.

We had a good lunch at “The Cabin” in the airport; I had good sausage and mash, and Stan had a chicken sandwich and chips (fries.) Both plates were generously filled; we could easily have split one. Oh, those vouchers? The restaurant wouldn’t take them. “They’re not valid; there’s no bar code” said the cashier. By that time the fellow who had told us they would take them had disappeared, so we just handed over our debit card. £40.

The flight to AMS was quite pleasant; it was actually funny. We had been upgraded to first class, and were the only people in that section of the plane! The cabin steward was our personal attendant, which was creepy, but we all (he included,) laughed about it.

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Tuesday, continued: Need I mention that the plane was late arriving? By now we were running about 5 hours behind schedule, and even though we had eaten we were tired and cranky. I knew our hotel was just a block or so from an airport bus stop, so we’ll just take the bus, right? Right?

Sigh. Again, with more notice, or a better attitude, this would have been not a problem, but the booth that sold tickets was closed; we couldn’t find the right bus stop, and finally just flagged a taxi. €52.

Did I mention we had dinner reservations? As it happened, we were arriving on Valentine’s Day. I had emailed the hotel and asked if that was a big deal in the Netherlands, and should we make dinner reservations or just trust our luck? “Everything will be crowded, make reservations” was the response. So I did. For 7:00.

At 7:00 we were just arriving at our hotel. More tired, even grumpier, and downright discouraged. Not a great start to our adventure. But hey, we were here! We checked in, had the hotel receptionist call the restaurant and cancel, and checked out our room. It was fine. We didn’t unpack, but went out to find something to eat. I knew that we were only about a 10 minute walk from Leidseplein, so surely we could find something to eat, right? Right?

Well, yes, if we had turned left out of the front door instead of right. I usually have a great sense of direction (except in Rome; I always get lost in Rome) but not this time. We finally found a doner kebab place, and said “Happy Valentine’s Day” over falafel and a gyro.

Luckily, we found our way back to the hotel, made our way up to the room, and collapsed. The bed was wonderfully comfortable, and a good night’s sleep made everything okay again.

We loved the hotel, by the way. I posted a review of it on the Forum last week: https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/netherlands-reviews/hotel-alexander-in-amsterdam-a-pleasant-and-affordable-stay

First full day, Wednesday: Breakfast was very good, and we had plenty of time to make our 10:45 appointment at the Rijksmuseum to see the Vermeer exhibit. The hotel is about a 10 minute walk from there, and the weather was lovely; a little cool, but bright and sunny.

Have I mentioned that the Vermeer exhibit was the point of the entire trip? I had wanted to go from the first moment I heard about it, but it looked like we wouldn’t be able to. We had so many other obligations and activities here at home. Stan said we wouldn’t be able to take any trips until after June, because of some of his activities. “Well, I could go…” I suggested. ….

Luckily, I noticed that Rick had some early trips on sale; that got Stan’s attention. “Does he have anything in February? I can go then” As a matter of fact, yes. There were two, one of which, the Best of London, had easy connections to and from Amsterdam, so we booked it. And I was ecstatic when I found we could get tickets to the Vermeer exhibit the week before the tour.

So now, here we were, in Amsterdam, on a beautiful morning, actually standing in front of the Rijksmuseum with its giant “VERMEER” banner. I lost it at that point. I had thought we weren’t going to make it, but here we were.

And it was wonderful. I know they’re sold out now, but anyone who is at all interested, keep checking back with the museum.

I posted a bit about it here on the Forum; here’s most of what I had to say:

Reporting: Just back from the Vermeer exhibit, and my recommendation
is: go. Go. Whatever you have to do, go. OK, I'm more than a little
biased, with Vermeer being my favorite European painter, but I was
certainly not the only person there this morning with a smile, and
even tears.

They are sold out, once again, and they currently do not
have a waiting list, but hopeful ticket buyers are urged to keep
checking the Rijksmuseum website for updates.

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Wednesday, continued:

The way it's set up, you have a specific entry time. Once you're in
the exhibit you can stay as long as you want, (!) but can't return
once you've left. (I'm still wearing my wristband from this morning,
but don't have the nerve to see if I can get in again. Tempting,
though.)

After you've viewed the Vermeer, you can then visit the rest
of the Rijks, without buying a separate ticket. And yes, "The
Milkmaid" is still my favorite, but "Woman with a Balance" is in
contention. Also "Woman Reading a Letter" (the one in the blue smock.)

Biggest surprise: "View of Delft." I've always dismissed this one as
being dark and uninteresting (sorry, Johannes,) but it is magnificent.
Bigger than most of his works, surprisingly bright and full of detail.
Ditto "The Little Street." Much more interesting and finely detailed
than I've ever noticed in a reproduction.

I still don't care much for
"Woman in a Red Hat;" I had hoped she too would surprise me, the way
"Girl with a Pearl Earring" did when we saw her in Den Hague a few
years ago.

We had mid-morning entry time, and it wasn't too crowded,
but after a couple of hours the rooms filled up. People were very
polite and respectful of others, especially early, before the crowd
expanded.

Overall impression: definitely worth the trip.

There are several threads on the Forum dealing with the exhibit; check them out.

We had a late morning time slot, and stayed for several hours. Once you’re in you can stay as long as you want, and after a couple of hours the crowd definitely thickened. The pleasant time we had perusing and studying the paintings became less pleasant, having to struggle get through the crowd and get close to the works.

After we left the exhibit, we were free to wander the museum. Stan wanted to see the Night Watch again, so we headed to the Rembrandt area. We also enjoyed a special sculpture exhibit.

By now it was almost mid-afternoon, so we headed to the museum restaurant for lunch. Unfortunately, it required reservations, so we left the museum grounds and went to the nearby Leidseplein area. The first place that caught our attention was Hans & Grietje, Spiegelgracht 27. Some people were eating outside, but I wanted warmth and a hot meal, so we went in. We had a very good lunch; this place specializes in traditional Dutch cooking. I had a very good pea soup with sausage and speck, and Stan had a smoked salmon sandwich and fries. Wine and sparkling water to drink. We enjoyed the restaurant, which actually seems to be more of a pub. It’s on our list to return to on another trip.

After lunch we ambled through the area, stopping at “The Pantry” to make dinner reservations; that’s where we were supposed to have had our Valentine’s Day meal. Then we scoped out the tram stops to figure out how to get to the train station, and bought tram tickets; we’re leaving tomorrow for London.

After a quiet, restful afternoon, we went back to the Pantry, Leidsekruisstraat 21, and had a lovely dinner. It’s quite small, and I suspect had we not had reservations we would not have been able to get in. The tables are so close together that when the people next to us were leaving, Stan and I both had to get up and move our table so they could get through. This was another of those places where you can’t help but hear other people’s conversations. The clientele was definitely mixed; mostly tourists at that hour. The couple sitting closest to us seemed to be a French woman and a German man; they spoke English most of the time, but drifted into their own languages from time to time. The two on the other side of us were Americans, a couple of businessmen, possibly.

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Still Wednesday: The food was very good, well worth the wait. I had excellent sea bass with vegetables and potatoes; Stan had hutspot, a traditional Dutch mix of meats and mashed vegetables. Wine and water, of course, and Stan had a lovely ice cream and mousse combo for dessert.

Back to the hotel for coffee (available at all hours in the breakfast room,) hot shower, and bed. A wonderful day.

Thursday, travel day: Up early, had breakfast at the hotel, and finished packing. Since we were there only one full day, we never really unpacked, so packing was easy. We walked the 7 minutes or so to the tram stop (#2) to the Central Station. We were taking the Thalys to Brussels, then switching to the Eurostar to London. The Thalys was very crowded; I didn’t see a single empty seat. We boarded the train almost as soon as we arrived at the station, since it was already there.

The ride was uneventful; we enjoyed seeing the outskirts of Amsterdam as we passed through. Our transfer time in Brussels was just under an hour; I figured that would be time to find a sandwich at the Brussels station, then saunter to the Eurostar platform, since we had reserved seats. Easy, right? Right?

Ummm… except for arriving late in Brussels, because of an accident on the line ahead of our train. We got to Brussels only about 10 minutes before the Eurostar was to depart. The first announcement we heard in the station was “Boarding is now closed for the Eurostar to London.” Wait, what?

Then we saw a mass of people hurrying toward the Eurostar platform; evidently a number of our fellow passengers were going to London, as well. Station attendants chivvied us all along “Hurry, hurry!” Security resembled that at airports, and people were beginning to sweat. Luckily, they held the train. I don’t know if that was because Thalys now owns Eurostar, or because they realized a large portion of their passengers were still in the security line.

We finally got through security, and raced to our seats. The train waited a bit longer, allowing the rest of our cohort to board. Finally it pulled out of the station, and we could relax.

And finally, London! Hurrah!

Our favorite London hotel was booked that weekend, so on the advice of a Forum member, we booked the Celtic, 61-63 Guilford St, in Bloomsbury. This was in easy walking distance from St Pancras; no need for a taxi or tube. As soon as we crossed Euston Rd from St Pancras we saw a bank with an ATM, so we could get some cash. One block away we saw a pub, and were we ever ready! By now it had been about 7 hours since breakfast, and O’Neill’s on the corner of Judd and Euston was a welcome sight.

We found a table, asked the staff how to order, and enjoyed a tuna panini (me) and a Philly cheesesteak (Stan.) We also had chips and beer. Perfect.

We then walked the 10 minutes or so to the Celtic, and checked in. We did love this place. I posted a review last week: https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/england-reviews/the-celtic-hotel-in-london-comfort-and-convenience-at-145-per-night

Since we were going to be there three nights, I went ahead and unpacked – need to shake the wrinkles out of our clothes! - and checked our email while Stan napped.

After a couple of hours, we went out to explore and find dinner. We walked south on Southampton Row, bustling with shops and eateries. Then we headed north, toward Bernard St. We were flagging by then, and nothing seemed worth the trouble to eat, so we grabbed a salad and sandwich at Pret-a-Manger. It wasn’t very good, but it was cheap, edible, and there. Back to the hotel to shower, rinse out a few things that we seem to have been wearing all week, and collapse.

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Friday: The included breakfast at the hotel was good; I gave specifics in the review. I had a sausage and oatmeal; Stan had bacon, toast, and some fruit. We had coffee, tea, and juice to drink.

We had matinee tickets at the Wanamaker Theatre, so as soon as we had eaten we took the tube to Southwark, using our debit cards to “tap in” and out. We knew we’d be given Oyster cards on the tour, so we didn’t want to have another set. Pam had told us about using contactless debit or credit cards instead of the Oyster, and it worked like a charm. (Thanks, Pam!)

It was still early, so we wandered through Borough Market, then explored Southwark Cathedral. Back to Borough Market for lunch; so many choices! We shared a Mrs King’s pork pie, which was fantastic, and found wine by the glass.

Time for the play, Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale.” The play takes place in two very different settings, the royal court in Sicilia and rural Bohemia. The Wanamaker and Shakespeare’s Globe actually split the production between the two theatres. All the scenes in Sicilia were presented at the Wanamaker; for the Bohemia scenes we got up, had a short break during which we could grab some refreshments, then we moved to the Globe. And finally it was back to the Wanamaker for the finale. It was a great idea; and certainly made changing the sets easier for the crew.

The play was very well done, which didn’t surprise us, having seen a magnificent performance of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at the Globe in 2016. I will say we were glad to have read “The Winter’s Tale” before we went, so we knew the story and were more comfortable with the language. I think we’re going to try to see “Macbeth” at the Globe when we’re back in London for a couple of days in August.

We walked a bit more in the Southwark area, then took the tube back to the hotel to clean up a bit. Then out to dinner. We had an excellent meal at Trattoria Verdi, 110 Southampton Row, just a couple of blocks from the hotel. The food was great, and the service was outstanding (something we found all over London, by the way.) Stan had fettuccine with smoked salmon in an Alfredo sauce, and I had grilled sea bream, one of my favorite fishes. We shared a bottle of the house white, as well as a bottle of sparkling water. Stan had a créme caramel, and we were offered a digestivo after our coffee. The amaretto was a perfect end to the dinner. Back to the hotel; what a wonderful day.

Saturday: Breakfast at the hotel; the server remembered what we had had the previous day, and even reminded Stan to order some fruit when he forgot. Then we were off to Greenwich via tube and DLR (Dockland Light Railway.) This would be our first time seeing Greenwich. We spent a fair amount of time checking out the Cutty Sark, although we didn’t go aboard. We did visit the Royal Observatory and the Maritime Museum. I wanted to see the Queen’s House, but it was closed. We skipped Greenwich Market, and opted for excellent fish and chips at The Pier; this was an actual fish and chips establishment, not a pub. Would it be a “chippie” then?

We decided to return by bus rather than the DLR. It took considerably longer, but we certainly saw a lot of London! And the route terminated at Russell Square, one block from our hotel.

Stan stayed at the hotel while I went to church at nearby St Anselm’s, then we regrouped to find dinner. We considered trying an enticing Indian restaurant in the neighborhood, but since we moving on tomorrow, we returned to the Verdi again. The staff recognized us, and greeted us warmly. We had another wonderful dinner. I had tortelloni with butter and sage, and Stan had spaghetti with veal meatballs, as specialty of the chef. I must say that all the pasta we had there was perfectly cooked. Wine, water, coffee, digestivi, another lovely evening, and a great end to another wonderful day.

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Sunday: Up early to pack, it’s moving day! We’ve had a wonderful few days here in Bloomsbury, but it’s time to move on to Mayfair to the Washington hotel to join our tour group.

If you want to find out about our Best of London tour, check out my trip report at https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/trip-reports/trip-report-best-of-london-february-19-25-2023 That report also has details on what we packed, which I know interests many people on this Forum.

Once again, thanks for sticking with me. I’ll be delighted to answer any questions you have.

Posted by
2211 posts

You write the best trip reports! I especially appreciated the part about your flight over. We’re flying British Airways out of Las Vegas to France in May. After flying BA from Seattle for years, we’re adjusting to a much later departure time and how that impacts connections and arrivals on the other end. You have reminded me to check what potential issues we might run into and how to be best prepared. Eventually we’ll be taking the RS “Loire to the South of France” and I think I’ve read your trip reports 3 times.

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1951 posts

Thank you for posting. I love reviews.

I will be flying from Austin to Heathrow in October. Booked with Delta but being put on Virgin through Delta.

I hope my flight is just a little smoother than your flight was and my journey from Austin to London is a lot less complicated. Mine is direct and non-stop. Maybe that will help, just maybe???

Did you have insurance? And if so did they reimburse you anything?

.

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2485 posts

Jane,
What a terrific trip report, I empathized with you on the bumpy start to your trip. But you proved the old adage, money can solve most problems. Which you did. I’m glad you saw the Vermeer exhibit and that it was relatively uncrowded when you first arrived. It’s tiring to have to continually work your way through a throng of people to get closer to a painting!

I also enjoyed your account of seeing The Winter’s Tale and switching back and forth between the two theaters! Fun!
In 40 days I fly to London on Virgin Atlantic booked through Delta. I will be there for 4 nights before my RS Southern England tour. I’m working my to-do list and now my attention is turning to the clothes I will need. Maybe I need to go shopping and buy a couple new outfits!

Thanks again for sharing.

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1243 posts

Thanks so much for your report. I appreciate and enjoy the details.

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2453 posts

Another great report, Jane! You managed to pivot well through all of your travails. It will be helpful for others who are not experienced travelers to read this report and learn from it. Things never seem to go as planned these days when we are traveling and it’s probably a good idea to have a plan B if possible beforehand. Although anticipating the situations you found yourselves in would have been difficult. I am glad you managed to get to the Vermeer exhibit as that was the plan from the get go. It would have been so disappointing to go through all of that difficulty and then not see it. Re: restaurants - On our recent trips to Europe we found that reservations for dinner are a necessity even (and especially) in small towns where the pickings are slim. You were there in winter and needed reservations. Summertime would be even more crowded. We will be in Oslo and Bergen in July. I will be scoping out restaurants sooner rather than later.

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6360 posts

bostonphil, we do have trip insurance, and I have not yet made a claim. That's on tap for this week; I will report back on what happens. I suspect they'll tell me to go through British Airways first.

And yes, I suspect a non-stop flight would make things easier. You at least won't have to worry about making connections. People on the Forum have been suggesting lately not making any firm plans for the day of arrival; after our recent experience, I can see the wisdom of that.

Judy B, I think back to the days when we would not have been able to afford a private car or a taxi, much less upgrading plane tickets. I remember sleeping on a bench in a train station, for example. These situations make for good stories later, but for me were seldom fun at the time. We do appreciate our situation, and are grateful.

Mary, we noticed last summer in France and Italy that making restaurant reservations was a good idea. Almost every restaurant we approached asked "Do you have a reservation?" Several times we were seated anyway, but we soon learned to plan ahead, especially for dinner. We were surprised that we were turned away from the Rijksmuseum restaurant for lunch that day; it never occurred to me that reservations would be necessary. There was a café in the museum, but the line was horrendous. Since we were done exploring the museum for the day, it made more sense to just leave and find a good meal elsewhere.

Thanks everyone, for your comments.

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3289 posts

Well this report proves that getting there is never half the fun. Glad it all worked out and funny, we forget those hard parts after time and just remember the fun we had.

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6360 posts

Tammy, absolutely! We had a wonderful time; I have fallen in love with London, and can't wait for our next trip (this fall!)

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1384 posts

“ We were surprised that we were turned away from the Rijksmuseum restaurant for lunch that day; it never occurred to me that reservations would be necessary. There was a café in the museum, but the line was horrendous. ”

It seems that the restaurant you were turned away from is Rijks, the restaurant right next to the Rijksmuseum. Rijks isn’t just like any other museum restaurant. Rijks has 1 Michelin star and a Gault-Millau rating of 17/20 with 4 chef’s hats. They offer delicious high end food and great wines. As with most, if not all, other high end restaurants in Amsterdam you definitely need to reserve well in advance if you want to have lunch or dinner there.

The cafe inside the Rijksmuseum, located right on top of the museum shop, offers “regular” museum restaurant food and can indeed be very busy.

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2453 posts

Not going to lie, your travel woes have me sweating a bit as I'm travelling next weekend 😓😬🤞

Lucky, lucky you to see the Vermeer's!! What a highlight!

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6360 posts

Dutch_traveler, you have once again demonstrated the value of doing one's research carefully! Thank you. Next time, we'll be better informed. (Well, probably not, but hope springs eternal...)

roubrat, Fear not; chances are excellent you'll have an uneventful trip. And if not, you can come pour out your woes here on the Forum!

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6360 posts

Tammy, it's complicated. I'm sending you a PM.

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6360 posts

Thanks for the link, Carol. I'm also submitting a claim through trip insurance. They sure want a lot of documents! I'll try BA, as well.

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104 posts

I enjoyed reading this post. It was a good reminder that life doesn't always go as planned!!

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6360 posts

Thanks for the link, S J. That's useful information; I'm not sure if the delay qualifies in this case, since it was primarily weather related.

I'm going to try to get reimbursed through British Airways first, using Carol's link. I started the process with our trip insurance, but some of the info and proof they want, I'm sure BA already has. And when the employee handed me the envelope with our boarding passes and food vouchers, she said "Save all your receipts!" And I have.

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33123 posts

you have good attitude of rolling with the punches - wish I did

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6360 posts

I just submitted a claim with British Airways for our transportation and meal expenses in London. I'll let you know what happens. Thanks for the link, Carol; filing with BA was much simpler than with the trip insurance.

Posted by
14157 posts

Jane, when will you be in London this fall? We will be there for 11 days……another meet-up?

What?? Another meet-up? Do I need to plan a trip to keep you all from talking about me?

Posted by
14157 posts

Unfortunately Jane and I will miss each other in London

Well, darn. We need to do better planning!

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6360 posts

Pam, if we hadn't changed our departure point, it would have worked out! We found a good flight out of Amsterdam, so we changed our plans of flying both into and out of London.

But hey, we can talk about you anyway; that's what PMs are for, right Tammy?

Posted by
14157 posts

Jane, when will you be in London this fall? We will be there for 11 days……another meet-up?

What?? Another meet-up? Do I need to plan

Posted by
2783 posts

Great trip report, sounds like you had a lovely time. For me I would not pay the price for that tour, when you could do all that on our own for so much less.

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8500 posts

@Robin Z, two different ways of travel, two different sorts of experiences. You can’t compare them directly. I’m just glad there are a variety of travel possibilities out there for everyone.

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6360 posts

Thank you, Robin Z; yes we had a wonderful time.

We find a mix of tours and traveling on our own suits us well.

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6360 posts

Just heard back from British Airways, having filed a claim with them just few days ago. They're refunding me the entire amount I asked for (transportation and meals)! Thanks, Carol now retired, for the link and the encouragement.

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33123 posts

Now you're cooking, Jane, congratulations. !!!