I added comments from today and some other sections about “what people in London wear”. It’s updated and a repost combined into one.
Hopefully, I won't kill you by reading this...:-) It's long, be forewarned!
Setting the stage:
Our luggage & getting ready:
- we each had 1 backpack and 1 wheelie bag (all carry-on) that we could each manage on our own without assistance from the other or anyone else
- We used “Rick Steves” London 2005 book for most of our planning.
- We are a couple in our late 20’s, early 30’s with a lot of US travel experience; both have been abroard a few times.
Arrived way too early at Cleveland Hopkins Airport, and ended up having a lot of beer at a Max & Erma’s restaurant! Of course, the day that we actually plan to have time to encounter traffic or construction, we breeze through. That’s fine…we’d rather wait than be rushed.
Our flight took off at 7:30 p.m., and we were giddy with excitement through our first drink. Note to anyone traveling Continental: drinks in economy class are NOT free! We used many Continental Currency coupons from our days of traveling too much for work to get “free drinks”.
We were shortly served dinner, and after 2 drinks plus the beer, I promptly fell asleep for a couple of hours (poor husband did not!).
We arrived at Gatwick a bedraggled mess. No bathrooms until you get to the passport control area...go on the plane beforehand.
I had packed – in advance – what I called “plane bags” in Zip-locked bags. These plane bags (one for each of us) had:
- a toothbrush (we saved ones that we were about to throw away/ exchange for a new one)
- a “sample” pack of toothpaste that the hotels give you that is good for 1 use
- a string of floss
- some mouthwash – disposable pack
- sample pack from Oil of Olay of 1 “waterless” wash cloth (disposable)
- some wet naps
- sample pack from Oil of Olay of 1 use of SPF 15 lotion
- deodorant (which was saved and then put in our regular toiletry bag)
We cleaned up in the toilet room and then threw away the bags.
Note: I am obsessed in life with free samples, and receive many in the mail which I use for traveling purposes ;-)
We used the ATM at Gatwick to take out approximately 200 GBP, and got a couple of coffees (bad mistake as you’ll soon see).
We took the Gatwick Express train to Victoria at approximately 9:30. I had purchased the Return tickets online before leaving the US and had printed out the confirmation number. We boarded the train without having to queue, and the ticket-taker punched our confirmation number into her handheld computer…no money transfer required.
We *assumed* that we would have a seat. We did not, and promptly spilled coffee on ourselves, the train, and luckily, no other passengers! Better to sit down, drink the coffee, and then take the train. The train was quite warm, warmer still with the coffee!
I recommend sitting down, getting a drink/snack/meal and composing yourself at the airport prior to moving…especially after such a long flight.
I saved a ton of money by booking a cheap, inflexible national rail return ticket to Bath. We arrived at Gatwick about 30 minutes early at 7 a.m. vs. 7:30 a.m. and spent about 40 minutes in line for passport control. I had prepared for about 1 hour in customs, a 30 minute breakfast, and some time in transit. I had booked a 12:00 train from Paddington to Bath. We arrived at Paddington about 10:30. I tried to exchange the tickets, and realized that I would have to pay approximately double what I originally paid, so we waited. Moral of the story: I liked how much money I saved (I paid 48 GBP for 2 return tickets instead of about 80 GBP), and we planned accordingly for travel delays, but had plenty of time to check out various stores at Paddington. However, after a long flight, the last thing that you want to do is wait in a train station and look at the pigeons!
The train ride to Bath was peaceful.
Once in Bath, we “alighted” the train and wheeled our luggage and walked to Harington’s Hotel in the City Centre. I’ll do a full review of the hotel, but we were very pleased with the hotel.
I recommend showering, as we did, upon arrival…it really woke us up when we were ready to crash. We decided to keep moving…
We toured the Roman Baths and had dinner at a pub “ Crystal Palace Pub”. Good pub-grub. I liked the Baths, but I was pretty tired and therefore not having a lot of patience with waiting in line, too many details, or pushy tourists!
We then collapsed into bed around 9 p.m.!
Lunch: Old Green Tree Pub on Green Street, where we ended up having a drink with some older Welsh guys who were hilarious. The lunch was great food – good atmosphere. I tried a Ploughman’s Lunch (mixed) and it was enough cheese, bread, and salad for 2. My hubby had fish and chips, and they were also great! Reasonably priced.
We toured the Bath Abbey (beautiful) and the Georgian House Museum (very interesting to see the interior), before departing on a 2 p.m. Mad Max tour to Stonehenge. We had booked the tour in advance via email (GBP, travelers cheques, no CC). We went in a van-bus that was not air-conditioned (it was almost uncomfortably warm, even with the windows open) but the guide was terrific. Stonehenge admission was not included. It’s about a 60 minute trip to Stonehenge, and then you get 1 hour there, followed by about 30 minutes in Bradford-on-Avon. The 1 hour at Stonehenge was more than adequate, and we enjoyed seeing a bit of the beautiful English countryside. The audio guide is interesting, but I felt like I could have lived without it. You *can* see quite a bit of Stonehenge without actually paying admission…admission is 5 GBP. Many people were parked on the road and walking up the fence. Bradford on Avon was cute, we saw a Saxon Church that is quite old…and were ready to go back to Bath.
Dinner: Martini Restaurant at 9 George Street. Italian food. I had a pizza, which the waiter said was for 1 person…um, we could have shared it! It was huge.
We did a lot of wandering around….also had a drink at Boater pub on Argyle Street. Seemed like it could be a “hopping place” in the evenings. Had one random beggar approach us while sitting in the Boater beer garden. We declined and were not bothered further.
We had breakfast and took a 10:15 train to London Paddington. We ended up walking from Paddington to our hotel in Bayswater because 1) we’re crazy 2) the taxi line was long 3) we wanted to see a bit of the city.
We deposited our luggage at Vancouver Studios (would definitely recommend!) and took off for Westminster Abbey. We took a tour of the Abbey, but really, probably wasted some money by taking the tour. Our guide really wasn’t very interesting or particularly sociable) so we could have followed the leaflet and done just fine.
We then went to the National Gallery (amazing to see paintings that you’ve studied in school…highly recommend).
Lunch: Pret a Manger
Dinner: forgettable meal at the Whitley’s Mall in Bayswater (Potter).
Buckingham Palace and Queen’s Gallery. We tried to attend “Changing of the Guards”. We arrived at about 11:00, and it’s true…every tourist in London was there. We were hot and hungry, so we skipped and went to lunch at Crumpets deli, a block away. Inexpensive (relatively) good quality sandwiches, which we ate in the park.
We booked tickets in advance for the State Rooms online which arrived promptly (within 1 week). If you have London Pass, you can just go straight to the Queen’s Gallery – no need to go to the Ticket office. Lesson learned, the hard way!
Dinner: Belgo Central at Neal & Shelton Intersection near Covent Garden. Recommend highly. From 5 p.m. – 6:30, there is a “beat the clock special” where (for a couple of selections) you get a beer + meal for the time = clock time. The half-chicken is a ton of food. I got a plate of mussels, fries, and a lager for 6.05 GBP. There is also a beer garden which looked like a lot of fun.
London Eye. The view was spectacular and I recommend it (although it was very pricey). We did not book online as we were unsure of the weather.
There is an air-conditioning unit in each of the capsules on the London eye, but the capsule was almost uncomfortably warm on a sunny day.
Tower of London (randomly saw a friend’s brother at the Tower of London!). Awesome, just awesome! If you’ve got a London Pass, go directly to the entrance. No need to queue.
Lunch: Anchor Tap in Southwark area (Todd worked in the area for a while and used to eat dinner at the pub each night)
Dinner: Wagamamma Noodle in Piccadilly Circus Area. Loved it – big portions, very busy, reasonably priced. I want one in Columbus!
Hop on Hop off Big Bus Tour
Portabello Road Market
Shopping in random locations
Lunch: Portabello Road Market vendor
Dinner: Prince Edward Pub in Bayswater area (good selection of ales, good pub grub, friendly staff)
Cabinet War Rooms (Loved it, very interesting! Took about 2 hours to go through exhibit + Winston Churchill museum). Winston Churchill museum confusing to navigate if you’re someone that likes to go in order – I’m not – I just went with it because I had a difficult time figuring out all of the order. I also found there to be a ton of information. You could be there hours just learning about it.
Walked around city
Navigated through various Tube constructions situations
Lunch: Pret A Manger
Dinner: Bella Italia on Bayswater (decent, reasonably-priced Italian food with a yummy-looking dessert menu).
Monday…our last day
We started the day with an easy (after yesterday’s Tube construction trauma) Circle line ride to the British Library. We toured the Treasures room – viewing various literary, musicale, and biblical documents and books. It was truly awesome – a master collection of British works -- Quran (sorry, spelling??), Magna Carta, Gutenberg Bible, Beatles handwritten lyrics, Handel’s Messiah…it was awesome, and free. I highly recommend. We didn’t get an audioguide, and due to the great map, terrific labeling, and Rick Steve’s tour in his book, we didn’t miss a thing. I wouldn’t spend the money.
We had lunch in the café at the library, and I’ve got to say, I wouldn’t do it again. My sandwich was a baguette with ham and whole grain mustard (read: spicy mustard), which was actually OK. My husband had the roast beef sandwich special and it was tough and he was not pleased. I also found it fairly expensive. We had 2 sandwiches, a carrot cake slice, and a brownie and it was 12 GBP. Filling, but I found it to be poor quality for the money. Atmosphere was great – seems like it would be great to eat outside (as many were doing) on the benches. Very sunny terrace.
We then took the Piccadilly line over to Piccadilly to do a little shopping. We picked up some wool fabric for Todd’s sister and a scarf for my Mom. At this point, we’re worn out. We stopped for tea at Valerie’s Pastry shop – it was very good. Not fancy, but great pastries, and pretty busy. For 2 teas and 2 delicious pastries, it was 10 GBP, including table service. We found it to be worth it.
We then decided to walk through St. James Park, Hyde Park, and Kensington Gardens. Beautiful day and nice leisurely stroll. We enjoyed the down-time, reminiscing on our trip. Here’s the thing…by the end of the peaceful stroll, we felt so dirty, it was nuts. First, there are pigeons and birds and geese and corresponding feathers and doo-doo EVERYWHERE, including in the water. Watch where you step, my friends. We saw people laying in the grass (which looked very comfortable) surrounded by geese, bird, and pigeon feathers. I thought that I would die – and I’m no germ phobe! To top it all off, we saw a man actually swimming in the pond in Hyde Park, in the swimming area, filled with geese and we imagined – geese poo!! Yuckkkkk!!! Wherever you are, man in red shorts, we want to wash you off!!
Anyway, back to reality. It was a beautiful stroll and a very relaxing way to end our trip.
We then strolled up Kensington Palace Gardens, and had dinner at Black and Blue on Kensington Church Gardens. We had some sort of steak for 2 people. It was our only “splurge” dinner – it was about 37 GBP for steak for 2 with fries and salad, 1 glass of wine, and 2 glasses of beer. I’d go there again. The steak wasn’t the best I’ve ever had (hey, I’m from beef country in the Mid-west USA!), but it was certainly very good.
We then came back to the hotel, where we’ve packed up and taken photographs for my future write-ups, and set the alarm for the morning.
We’re planning to take a cab from Bayswater area to Victoria in the a.m., and we’re told that the cost will be about 15 GBP and take about 20 minutes around 8 a.m.. We have our luggage and didn’t want to contend with commuters, luggage, and tired travelers. We love London – and we’ll definitely be back.
- Do a lot of walking/standing prior to departure in the shoe(s) that you plan to bring with you
- I wore my wedding band, but not my diamond engagement ring. Why? Because it was one more thing to mess with. After a week here, I have never been in a situation where I would have felt weird with my diamond on my finger.
- You know, I brought a neck wallet and wore it between Gatwick and Paddington, and then between Bath and Paddington. Other than that, I used a messenger bag. I actually “linked” my neck wallet to the inside of my bag with a keychain and let my husband carry our cash in his money belt. Otherwise, our passports and valuables stayed in the room safe. Same as any other big city. I really wouldn’t have felt uncomfortable with having the major cash in my “purse”, but as a general practice, I always spread credit cards, cash, and ID around so to always have some of all…in any situation.
- My husband carried the driver’s licenses (for ID), and our passports stayed in the safe.
- Careful with bag across front of body with a button shirt (ladies). Lesson learned. Although, I bet that I gave quite a show!
- We brought 2 1GB memory cards. We needed to use 2 on 1 day. We brought a laptop (ugh, work) but had WI-FI in hotels. We secured the laptop with a lock down cable to the bar in the closet. Fool-proof, no…but it worked for us.
- Hand on bag in crowded situations.
- No wallet in back pocket (men). My husband carried his “major cash” in a money belt, and his day’s spending money in a front pocket.
- Be prepared for tube construction on weekends and keep a tube map handy for plotting your travels.
- Keep your train/tube tickets available – you’ll have to use on the way in and way out
- Be prepared for bag checks at all tourist sites (Westminster Abbey, Cabinet War Rooms, London Eye, Queens Gallery, Buckingham Palace).
- if you are an “overview” kind of person and are with someone who is more detail oriented, you may become overwhelmed when visiting the museums if you’re with someone who likes to read everything. Take evasive action!
- Booking online saves time, headaches, and sometimes money. However, if you are a flexibility person, this is not the right thing for you. It does, however, give your trip a structure.
- Always have a form of ID on you…to do VAT forms, you’ll need to show proof of citizenship. We carried our driver’s licenses (passports in hotel safe).
- You will need to ask for the ticket/check in a restaurant. The waitstaff does not want to appear to be rushing you. We Americans seem to take a lot less time to eat than the rest of the world. We showed up to eat a meal at Belgo Central at 5:45, and the waitress told us that she needed the table back by 7:30. We looked at each other in bewilderment…!? We could eat dinner and dessert, and be halfway across London and not even be rushing in that time
- Please, hold onto your small children or elderly companions on the Tube. I saw a few go tumbling when not used to the movement.
What people in London wear:
- I did not see anyone naked. People wear everything. I actually had a difficult time, until people spoke, telling who was who.
- The tendency of some younger ladies/girls to wear jeans such that their waist/belly fat is pushed up and over their jeans (am I the only person that this bothers??) and stuck out of their shirt has leapt over the pond.
- Jeans of all types everywhere on young and old.
- Messenger bags and big hobo purses.
- Lots of boho skirts and tank tops
- I saw a lot of 20’s/30’s women in a Ralph Lauren oxford shirt (various colors), untucked, with jeans.
- Saw some waist packs.
- Saw some people wearing money belts outside their clothes (hello, they are not cute anyway???)
- Men actually were typically more conservatively dressed than women – polo style shirts with jeans and other pants were very popular. Very few men in shorts.
- Lots of women in skirts of all lengths. Lots of women in pants and skirts at the same time (I’m not fashionable, I’m sure that I’m missing something). Not a lot of women in shorts at all.
- Lots of trainers, sandals, flip flops, walking shoes…
- I did not see a lot of British women with polished fingernails. They typically had well-cared for hands, but not polished. Lots of toe-nail polish. I notice weird things.
- I have very curly hair. I am frequently asked “do you straighten it?”. I do not, and seem to be somewhat of an anomaly in the US. I saw many “British sisters” with curly hair. I was very happy to see them “au natural” as well!
- What’s the deal with colored bras under white shirts or bras that show? I am perplexed about this phenomenon --- in the US and abroad.
How I saved/should have saved money:
- We are “have a drink with dinner” people and typically even have a drink at home (you know, it’s good for you these days). We could have saved more money by not having alcohol with dinner, but that’s part of what we enjoy, so for us, it wasn’t realistic.
- Be specific about “tap” water vs. “still water”. One costs money, the other doesn’t. Lesson learned.
- Bread, generally free in the USA with dinner, is not…remembered a tip read long ago when I saw it notated on the bill.
- I am a “have to eat when I get up in the a.m.” person. My husband is not. One of the hotels (Vancouver Studios, in Bayswater, London) did not have a breakfast. We buy the ba-zillion pack of individually packaged Quaker oatmeal from Sam’s Club warehouse store, and I threw in a pack for each day that I would be in London. The Vancouver Studios had a kettle, fridge, microwave, and 2 burner kitchenette. They provided coffee, milk (creamer) packets, sugar, tea, and wonderful cookies …replenished daily. I had oatmeal each day and we made coffee in the room. That was breakfast! We also bought some small groceries at a local Tesco – a couple of muffins, juice, bagels, water, beer, etc.
- Originally, we were planning on doing a lot of touring/sightseeing. We bought the London Pass with the intention of doing a ton of “stuff”. We actually used it 4 times: The Queen’s Gallery, Tower of London, for a 3 GBP/person discount for the “BigBus tour, and a “free gift with 20 GBP purchase” at the Hard Rock Café ( 2 neat luggage tags with “Hard Rock Café London” stamped on it). We ultimately decided to not do so much sightseeing and taking more time in pubs, hanging out, etc. So, it was a loss…however, at the Tower of London and the Queen’s Gallery, it was nice to not have to queue – which is definitely worth something!
- Re-filled water bottles and drank that at lunch instead of having ale or Coke.
- Portions at Wagamamma noodles are HUGE. Sharing is a real possibility, seriously.
- I had pizza 3 times while in the UK. In each instance, it was enough for 2 people.
- Remember the VAT forms when making purchases. Ask for them!
- Once, when the department store was out of my foundation, they gave me a container out of their “trial” stuff. Before we left, I asked at my local department store make-up counter for a “container” in which to put my foundation. They gave me a small tube which was enough for well over 3 weeks of foundation (I don’t wear much makeup). Saved some weight and room.
- Pared down the make up case, removing all the stuff that you “sometimes use”.
- Prior to leaving, I went to our local library where they have a “friends of library” sales and you can buy “new to you” books for either 50 cents or $1 USD. I buy books to read during travels. If I like it, I keep it. If I like it but won’t read it again, I give it to another traveler or donate to the hotel library for a future reader.
- Loved the Christmas store at Harrod’s!
- Great bathrooms at Harrod’s!. Bathrooms at Borders were completely disgusting. Women’s bathrooms anyway…3 other women in front of me refused to use 3 of the 4 available stalls due to dirty, gross, situations.
- Before I left, I made a chart in Excel with name of attraction, store, etc., and their tube stop and opening hours each day of the week. This helped to figure out if we were in an area, and we had some time, where we could pop in for a few minutes. I am happy to share, so let me know an email address. I don’t claim to be 100% right, but you can definitely review and customize to your own liking.
What we brought and were happy about: (I know that these can be bought here, but it was easier for me to plan to bring and carry)
- Burt’s Bees foot creame
- Makers Mark nips (!)
- Snack bars /mini candy bars (I have a blood sugar issue and when I need to eat, I need to eat!)
- Small container of Downey Wrinkle Release
- Rick Steves book
- Temperature conversion chart
What we brought and should have left at home:
- Sweater (in our defense, the weather looked like a sweater was needed!)
- Umbrella (just wore rain jackets)
- Extra books ( I usually go through books like nothing you’ve seen) as I didn’t spend much time reading on the flight or in the room