Tales of the Texas Two; or, Ladies in London--A week (or so) in London with my daughter
Below is some intro and background; skip to actual TRIP REPORT if you just want to read what we did. My Trip Reports tend to be rather narrative with more context than some need, but I write them for me and my family as much as for you guys—ha—just being honest!
Background: For the 3rd time, I would be the group leader for some students (and adults) going on a student-tour-company-arranged 9-day trip to London/Paris/Alps/Munich in June 2015; we began signing up for the tour (to spread out payments) in early 2014. DD (R for this report), who also teaches at the small private school where I do, would be one of the 2 other faculty members going on this tour with me. In January 2015, DH and R and I decided that R and I would go ahead to London a week early, since DH would not be able to arrange a trip with me at this time.
So the planning began for our time in London! I made hotel reservations as quickly as I could, even though I knew we might have to adjust them. The tour company requires a 3-day window on either side of requested date, and I wouldn’t get confirmation until early March. When we got our travel dates, we ended up leaving 2 days earlier than requested, but we were able to adjust our hotel reservations.
Personal/prior travel experience info:R and I teach English/language arts and history, to 7th -12th grades. We love books, writing, history, walking (well, she does especially!), and taking pictures. And we fell in love with London in 2005 when she went as a student and I as a parent on a tour with the company we now use as teachers. Prior to this year, I had been to London 5 times, 3 with student tours and twice with DH. R had been twice, once on the student tour and once with her dad and me. So we had seen, sometimes more than once, the majority of “major” sites in London, but there are several we don’t mind seeing again, even on every trip!
Accommodations: In my previous London visits, I had stayed kinda all over, both in Zone 1 and –well, let’s say further out. This time we wanted to stay somewhere in Zone 1, but we were trying to keep the cost to its absolute minimum without giving up some things. We’d need twin beds; we didn’t want a modern/box hotel; we didn’t want (ok, didn’t require) fancy or lush accommodations; we didn’t need wi-fi or AC (although either would be nice); we’d want breakfast included; we’d want to be near Tube stop and maybe near train station; we wouldn’t be in the room much so it could be tiny; we didn’t want to rent an apartment.
I first tried the Bloomsbury area, but when I began to look in January for rooms to suit us, there was nothing available, in the many, many places I tried, for under $250 a night—which is not that much for London, but I was looking for less! Eventually, through Booking.com, we settled on Ashley Hotel near Paddington for £99/night; it appeared to meet many of our requirements/preferences, plus did have free wifi, so I made reservations, which were adjusted when we got confirmation of travel dates.
Planning what to see and do: We each made a list of things we thought we’d definitely want to do, including day trips. We had to make some compromises and choices, as we had enough to fill at least 2 weeks! We settled on taking 3 day trips in a row (see below about train passes) and left some wiggle room in the rest of our time in London, which actually became less wiggly when we made a few time-specific plans. I made sure to check web-sites for days and hours of operation.
• We’ve used both the Tube and Justairports car service to get us from LHR to our rooms in the past (and busses on the student tours). Ashley is extremely near Paddington Station, so I looked into all the options—and rediscovered (I’d read about but ignored) the Heathrow Connect train, which, while a bit more than a Tube ride, would be less than a car and way less than the Heathrow Express. So that would be our arrival plan.
• Then I researched again all the Oyster/Travelcard permutations! Thanks, Fodors experts! Anyway, since we’d be going to some places that honored the 2for1 vouchers, we would, on arrival at Paddington, purchase 7-day paper Travelcards—but I packed our leftover Oyster cards, too—and we brought our needed passport-sized pix.
• Also I investigated train travel; I’d used a BritRail Pass and a German RailPass in the past and really really liked them, as the extra cost over point to point is offset for me with the total flexibility. So in late March I purchased our 3-Consecutive-Days BritRailSouthwest passes for less than $157 a piece. For the trains we’d want at about the times we’d want, the prices 60 days out amounted to about $138-$140, so for me the convenience of the flexibility was well worth the $20 or so more per ticket.
Theatre: The second thing we did after getting confirmation of dates (after changing hotel dates) was to investigate theatre ideas. We decided we’d “splurge” by getting tickets ahead of time and not risking finding no tickets left or having to use our time to get tickets in London. Her first choice was Warhorse and I agreed. Our second choice was a Globe production if possible; The Merchant of Venice was playing. Having taught that to 7th graders, she was happy with that, although it’s not our favorite play. Then I looked at The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. We both love this book; when I’d checked in January, the play was scheduled to end its run in the spring; but when I checked in March, it had extended to the fall, so YAY! We got tickets to all 3.
Other planning things:
• In March I became aware of the exhibit at the British Library on Magna Carta, and as the BL was already on our “going to see again” list, I made reservations on-line in early April.
• In early April we got confirmation of our tour-arranged flights; we were set to arrive at LHR at 6:55 AM which meant we’d have much of Day 1 to use! Yay! I contacted the Ashley to confirm we could leave our luggage, if early check-in proved unavailable on our arrival.
• Also in early April I took a hard look at our packed itinerary ideas AND re-looked at London Walks; I decided to make some adjustments and deletions and scheduled in 2-3 Walks.
• In May I printed 2for1 vouchers and double-checked everything I could think of.
• Then right before we left there came the news of a threatened National Rail strike (industrial action) this would seriously affect our plans, so I explored how to rearrange days and looked at alternate Tube routes; in the end the strike was cancelled, so it was back to original plan. Good reminder to have some flexibility!
Last minute prep/things.This was my 11th trip to Europe and I don’t know how many trips, mostly on business, that DH has made, so a lot has become sorta routine—scanning passports, leaving all info with someone, printing out any and all documents needed, calling financial entities, moving plenty of extra money into seldom-used bank that serves as backup debit card resource, etc. We unlocked R’s Samsung Galaxy in mid-May and made arrangements for it and my Blackberry to be usable while in Europe. We gathered all our camera equipment and plug adaptors. We loaded up the Nook with a couple new books and some travel stuff/maps. We packed a very small laptop which would be our photo-backup-thing more than an actual computer; I get a bit paranoid about backing up photos, and no, I don’t use nor want to use a “cloud” thing. (I did purchase a travel power strip because with 2 phones, 2 cameras, an e-book, and a computer, I was concerned we’d not have enough plugs.) We packed our clothes to layer and wear several times to fit in two 22” bags. (I became determined to have only a carry-on and a personal bag, a new thing for me, so I did a lot of “packing light”-video watching and passed along tips to encourage all my students to do the same.) Since DH would be left at home, there was less to do to arrange for house care; R made arrangements for doggy care and mail pickup. The extra thing this trip was making sure that my fellow faculty member (ST) who would be the chaperone for the group traveling a week later had duplicates of all the paper work and info for that tour.
NEW FAVORITE WEBSITES ABOUT LONDON: I began to check regularly (almost daily sometimes) the Londonist http://londonist.com/ and When You’re Tired of London. http://www.tiredoflondontiredoflife.com/ I found these two also interesting--http://www.londondrum.com/ and http://ianvisits.co.uk/
NOW THE ACTUAL TRIP REPORT--This trip report will be about R’s and my week+ in London; I’ll begin another about the adventures with the students on tour
(And DD/R is going to comment on my comments; her perspective will be in italics if I get those html instructions done correctly!)
Day 0—Travel begins
One of our students (S) was going early like we were, accompanied by her mom (J) who would not be staying with us for the student-tour days. So we all met at the airport a couple hours before flight and left on time for Houston on United. The previous week had seen disastrous flooding in Texas and bad storms around Houston, but we had fine weather this day. Our flight from IAH to London was an hour late leaving, but in the end landed 5 minutes early, before 7 am! We had a stiff tailwind. I had tried the almost-no-caffeine for a week idea for thwarting jet lag, but I didn’t sleep but maybe an hour on the 9ish-hour flight. The flight was ok, bit bumpy at times; and it was the worst airline food ever. And when we arrived, I learned that the rail strike was cancelled. Whew.
That airline food, though. *Everyone laughs*. I finished a book on the plane and became a little worried I would run out of ways to keep myself occupied for the next two weeks during all of our travel time.--R
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Tales of the Texas Two; or, Ladies in London
Tales of the Texas Two; or, Ladies in London--A week (or so) in London with my daughter