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Trip Report Opinionated London: Day 1

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My wife and I recently spent a week in London. It was my fourth visit, although two were just brief stop offs on the way to some place else. We really like the place for many reasons, all of which were reinforced by this trip.

Day 1

We took an overnight flight to Gatwick, which will be my last red-eye ever. The seats were especially uncomfortable and airlines apparently believe that people don't want to sleep on such flights, since they insist on meal services and announcements every 10 minutes. Really, what in the world is wrong with these airline morons?

We crawled out of the plane and found our way to the Brit Rail Gatwick ticket window, where we stopped to get out pre-ordered tickets train tickets into town. Then we asked for our train tickets for the a trip to York, and received 9 little orange cards. I was sure that it as a mistake, but it wasn't. British Rail has this very bizarre system of printing out separate cards for just about everything. Since the cards look nearly identical and have no obvious explanation of what they are for, it is a major task of keeping track of what card is for what. Really, really, bad system.

Arriving at Victoria Station where we bought 1 week travel cards. (We came prepared with our passport photographs). This was one of our best decisions, since we never had to think about topping up Oyster cards and never had to decide whether to walk or to take transport, and got reduced rates on some things. It is a great leg saver. The also came with a 2for1 book of coupons. Having been to London before and having been to the biggies (Tower of London, St. Paul's, Westminster Abbey, etc.), we didn't use it very much.

We arrived at out hotel, the Doubletree in Westminster around noon. It is hard to assess this hotel. I booked it because I got a deal for $200/night, cheap for London. I asked for a quiet room. The clerk asked if I were a Hilton member, so I pulled out my Hilton Gold card, which I had got online through some promotion, but had never used before. Ding ding ding ding!! It was like hitting the jackpot in Las Vegas. The bells went off and the coins came pouring down the slot! First, they gave us an upgraded executive room with a view of the river. Next, they gave us free breakfast every day. And their breakfasts are very substantial. And then I thought that I heard the clerk say they that we had free access to the minibar. I asked her to repeat it a couple of times so that I could be sure that I had heard right. Yes, free liquor and snacks for our entire stay. The cost of this alone would have been equivalent to the cost to our airfare.

The room was nice enough, but not all that large. I had heard that the rooms here were very small, which I can believe judging by what they considered an executive room. I had also heard that this was a high tech hotel. The most notable feature of the room was that it had no TV. Instead, it had an Apple Mac that guests used to watch TV, surf the net, etc. They were supposed to have free Skype calls, but I never try it since I had my own Skype.

The hotel's location not great, however. It is just off the edge of Tourist London and there is nothing around the hotel, no shops, no restaurants, no pubs. The only exception is the Tate Britain, a few blocks away. It is a 10 minute walk to the closest tube station at Pimlico. While not terrible, it gets to be a trek. I knew this going in, but assumed that we would just take the 88 bus that runs right by the front of the hotel. Unfortunately, but construction across from the hotel forced a route change so it didn't go by the hotel anymore. We never did take it and just trekked to Pimlico or slightly farther to St. James.

Anyway, the room wasn't ready so we wandered down to the Tate Britain blocks away to kill some time. I wasn't expecting much, but surprising found the place fairly interesting. The main attraction was an installation in the big main hall. In the very subdued light, a huge screen showed a series of pictures while this weird, low frequency music played. Excellent effect.

We returned to the hotel and after checking in, traveled to Oxford Circus via the Pimlico tube. What a bore. We checked out the big departments stores, but a department store is a department store. Some are fancier than others (Selfridges), but they are exactly the same everywhere in the world. My wife did get a bit nostalgic over Marks & Sparks, since she used to shop there years ago. But now it was just Sears with a slightly British accent. The other stores were same-old, same-old. Nothing unique, especially British or remotely interesting. Example: I wanted to buy one of those classic British woolen caps, but none of the stores even stocked them. Of course, London being so expensive, there was no point in buying anything since we could get the same stuff back home cheaper.

For dinner we walked a bit north to the Golden Hind, which has a very good rep. It's fairly plain, no-nonsense place. We were in and out fairly quickly. Also, we don't know that it is a BYOB place, so we were unprepared. As for food, the chips were ordinary, but the fish was superb. We both had haddock, which was velvety smooth and cooked perfectly. It's high reputation is definitely deserved. Of course, we have come to expect nothing less than top food in London. This trip did not disappoint.

We returned to the hotel to recover from our flight. Thus endth Day 1

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