I returned from my 6-day trip to the UK just a few days ago. It was fun, though quite exhausting (which I knew it would be). I wanted to thank many of you who answered my questions, made suggestions, and those of you who have written trip reports to these places. I want to express special thanks to janis, who is so ever helpful and knowledgable; and also to julia_t whom I met up for lunch in Bath. She drove for an hour in horrid weather to Bath for this mini-GTG!
Briefly about me. I'm in my mid-30s and travel to Europe solo a lot. DH is too dedicated to his work so he usually cannot take so much time off. This is my 15th trip to London, and my last trip there was just 8 months ago. This is my 2nd time to Bath (last trip 15 years ago) and first time to Stonehenge/Salisbury.
This trip was a last-minute decision, as I could not resist the temptation of an AA NetSaaver fare of $600 all-in from Boston to London. I booked the flight just one week before departure.
I wanted to spend a few days in London but also venture outside of the city. I had a hard time picking a destination (there are so many options!) but finally decided on Bath & Salisbury.
I borrowed several guidebooks from the library, read trip reports, looked up train schedules + opening times for attractions, checked out concerts/festivals etc.
The only guides I brought with me were:
Lonely Planet London 2008 (which I actually like)
Streetwise London map
Map of Bath (which I had from 15 years ago)
Printed google map of Salisbury
Things I booked prior to departure
6 nights of lodging
2 train tickets (much cheaper to buy in advance)
Royal Opera at Covent Garden
Chelsea Flower Show
Symphony concert in Salisbury (part of the Salisbury Arts Festival)
Money Matters & Tipping
I used my CC to book all the things listed above in advance. However, after I arrived, I never once used my CC. I used my Bank of America ATM card to get cash from Barclays. I never had any trouble finding a Barclays ATM machine. In fact, there is one at Heathrow - just across from the entrance to the Tube Station of Heathrow Term 1,2,3.
As far as restaurant tipping is concerned, most places do not add on any tips to the final bill. Only 1 or 2 restaurants I went to automatically added 10-12.5%. In those that didn't add a tip, I tipped 9-10%.
Transportation in London & Beyond
Since I was traveling alone and not visiting any 2-for-1 offer sites, I didn't bother with any paper travelcard. I had a Oyster PAYG from last trip still with some money left on it. It really is a godsend because when I was at the Heathrow tube stop (~9:30am) the station was completely packed. The lines for tickets were incredible. With the Oyster, I saved a tremendous amount of time not having to wait in line. The station was so crowded that I had to fight my way thru the crowds in order to get to the turnstile.
I tend to take the bus in London whenever I can if I'm not in a hurry. A lot of times, taking the tube involves changing lines, which can lead to lots of walking. OTOH, I can almost always find a bus line that gets me to my destination without changing. Plus I enjoy seeing the streets of London. The bus stops in London have improved drastically in recent years. Most of them have route maps & schedules which makes it very easy to figure out which bus to take to a certain destination. Lastly, the one-day bus fare caps at £3 vs £4.80 for the tube.
It has been quite a long time since I had taken the train outside of London. It was quite confusing given the vast # of train operators. The pricing of tickets was insane. The same day cheap return ticket usually costs the same as a one-way. For one-way tickets, it's much cheaper to purchase in advance. E.g., my one-way ticket from London to Bath was £9.50 in advance, but £47 if bought the day of. By buying the 2 one-way tickets in advance, I saved over £40.
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