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Banks alerted, pounds converted, and our airplane diverted: Our London Trip Report

Banks alerted, pounds converted, and our airplane diverted: Our London Trip Report

Old Jun 10th, 2008, 08:04 PM
  #1  
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Banks alerted, pounds converted, and our airplane diverted: Our London Trip Report

I’ve been a regular reader and sometimes poster on this board for over 6 years, and I can’t begin to say how much I have gained from Fodorites, both in general planning and specific, detailed advice. Writing a trip report can be a daunting experience, as writing is not one of my strongest skills, and it can seem that I may be boring everyone with a rehash of pretty commonly expressed info and travel details.

We alerted all our banks that we would be out of the country, and made notes on the phone numbers to use in case we needed to communicate with them; I was surprised when I called our credit union that the person who made notes on our account had no idea that 1-800 numbers can’t be used outside the US and Canada. We put this information in a small notebook kept in one of our carry on bags, along with photocopies of our passports and return flight info.

We have learned to pack light, and having a washing machine in the flat was a help. We each took one rolling bag which we checked, and one carry-on bag each. Here’s where I pack all those things I want to have on the flight--ear plugs, eye mask, neck pillow, socks, reading material, and trip info. I put together a notebook with flight itinerary, map, directions to our flat, confirmation of rental, phone numbers for the owner, tips that I’ve collected from this site, and other info for the trip.

We live in Atlanta, so Delta is almost always our airline. The flight to London is direct, usually scheduled for 8.5 hours. I like to set my watch for destination time as soon as we go through security and arrive at our gate. This helps me to start mentally adjusting to the new time zone we’ll be in, and also allows me to go to sleep a little earlier on the flight. As part of this, we usually have a meal at the airport after getting to the international terminal. The airplane food is never anything to look forward to, so we have our meal before we board.


It turned out this was great planning, since our flight that was scheduled to leave at 6:45 pm was over an hour late to take off, then we learned after we’d been in the air for a short while that due to a mechanical issue, we were going to land in New York(JFK) where they would change us to another airplane, tranferring the baggage and catering materials while we waited in a nearly closed JFK terminal. Having left Atlanta at 8PM, we arrived in NY atfter 9:30, and it took over an hour to make the switch. There were no shops open, as only 1 or 2 more flights were scheduled to depart. Of course, the meal had not been served yet, so Delta brought soft drinks, water and crackers/snacks for passengers while we waited. I was glad we’d eaten earlier.

The flight arrived at Gatwick around noon rather than 8:15AM. We went through immigration very quickly, collected our bags, and headed for the train. Although we’ve taken the Gatwick Express on past trips, usually scoring 1/2 price tickets, this time we followed AlanRow’s advice and took the 1st Capitol Connect train to London Bridge Station, where we walked right across the platform to board the next train to Charing Cross. While at the Gatwick ticket counter, we bought our return train ticket, plus our 7 day travelcard, which is a paper card that qualified us for the 2-fer and discount offers for the whole week. The return train ticket was 22 pounds per person, and the 7 day travelcard for zones 1 and 2 was 24 pounds per person.

We had made arrangements to pay the 700 pounds balance due on our flat in cash; my husband did not feel comfortable waiting until our arrival in London to try to get this much at 1 time, so I picked up the money at an American Express office in advance. Their rate was high--$2.08 per pound, plus a $5 fee, but I wasn’t willing to fight my husband on this and risk spoiling the trip over the exchange rate difference. At his request, I also got 100 pounds for cash on hand. We only got cash once in London, withdrawing 100 pounds from our credit union, which charges no conversion fee at all--that transaction cost us $194.71.
We made all our other purchases with credit card, using Amex for all but 1 transaction, and Capital One Visa for that one.

We were so close to both Charing Cross station and Embankment station, that getting around was very easy. We tended to use Embankment station more, since its’ access to the Northern, Bakerloo, Circle and District lines took us almost everywhere. We got on a bus at Charing Cross once, but felt that was too slow going with the traffic congestion.

The flat we rented was www.vrbo.com/108571 located on York Mansions, located very centrally, right behind the Victoria Embankment Gardens, about 100 meters from Embankment tube stop. The gardens were lovely, and we enjoyed walking through them as we went about our sightseeing.

The flat had a very spacious well-equipped kitchen, a comfortable bed(although it filled the end of the bedroom), and a reasonable sized living room. There was a folding sofa and a folding chair that made into beds in the living room. We originally thought my grown stepson might join us for a few days, but he couldn’t, so we had the space to ourselves. The owner/manager lives in the building, and was helpful, setting up our wifi and giving general neighborhood recommendations.
Barb_in_Ga is offline  
Old Jun 10th, 2008, 08:05 PM
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We bought a few supplies for breakfast and snacks--there were both a small Tesco and M&S close by. One day we made our way over to the Whole Foods Market in Knightsbridge, but left without purchasing, as we found their prices very high. We wanted a roast chicken, but I couldn’t bring myself to pay 8 pounds($16), when I buy them for $5 at home. We ended up eating our lunch and dinner meals out, and ate 3 times at The 4 Seasons Chinese Restaurant in Chinatown. They had fabulous crispy duck, service was quick and friendly, and prices moderate. With 2 starters, half a duck, another entree each time, rice, tea, bottled water, and wine, we usually paid about 40 pounds for the 2 of us.

Other meals were at Carluccio’s in Covent Garden, one of several locations in London, a pub meal our first night at Princess of Wales on Villier St, Trattoria Italiana Biagio, also on Villiers St, and barbecue at Garfinkels after the Sunday Matinee of “TheLion King”. None of the meals were fancy, but they were satisfying and modestly priced.

I won’t give a day-by-day blow, but we really enjoyed museums this trip: The British Museum, The National Gallery, The Courtauld Gallery at Somerset House, Apsley House, The Science Museum, the Natural History Museum, The King Tut Exhibit at the O2, and St. Paul’s Cathedral.

We made a trip to Borough Market on Saturday, buying some fruit and pastries, and while we were there, we ate a great breakfast of eggs, bacon, and potatoes from one of the stalls! The market is loaded with beautiful products, and was fun to visit. On our way out, we passed a little shop where the owner was cooking Paella in a huge pan. It looked so good, we took some home and had it for brunch on Sunday before heading off to our day’s adventures.

We made a trip to Harrod’s to buy some tea and biscuits to take home as gifts, then walked around a bit, glad that none of the “stuff” needed to go home with us. We ate lunch there in the New York style deli, which was very pricy, but just what DH was tasting.

We spent a fair amount of time in the early evenings strolling along the Thames, walking through the Parliament area, and up to Trafalgar Square, or walking to Chinatown for our repeat meals of roast duck. We had a great trip, and still have a collection of things to see and do for next time--Kew Gardens, Hampton Court Palace, the Wallace Collection, and Sir John Soames museum have moved to our “next time” list.

I really appreciate all the Fodorites who helped my planning with their ideas and suggestions. I hope I can repay the favor. Now, as always, we’ve settled on the next trip: Paris in October! I can’t wait!
Barb
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Old Jun 10th, 2008, 08:15 PM
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Hello Barb from a fellow Atlantan! Thanks for posting a report of your trip; it sounds as though you had an excellent time.

I have a few questions: was the paper travel card difficult to use? How were the crowds at Borough Market on the Saturday that you were there? It really has been a fun part of our visits to London.
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Old Jun 10th, 2008, 08:30 PM
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Borough Market got very busy as we were getting ready to leave. I don't remember what time we went, but it was early enough that the breakfast really hit the spot.

The paper travel cards were easy to use, you just inserted them in the turnstyle slot and they would come out for you to grab as you pass through.
We picked up a brochure listing over 100 savings opportunities using the travel card and the coupons. We used them at Apsley House, The Courtauld Gallery, and at the O2 for the King Tut exhibit. We went to the exhibit on a Monday, fairly early in the day, and did not experience a wait in line or any crowds. By the time we left, there was a line waiting for admission, and many people going up the escalators for the start of the exhibit. I was glad we didn't try to go on the week-end, and prices were less on Monday-Wednesday.
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Old Jun 11th, 2008, 04:25 AM
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Good report Barb, thanks - it sounds like you had a really nice time.

I had to reread that bit about chicken, though - "I couldn’t bring myself to pay 8 pounds($16), when I buy them for $5 at home" - £8 seems cheap to me for a good chicken ! I paid £22 for 4 (admittedly very large) breasts at our farmers' market last Saturday !! (I know a whole bird would normally make more sense but this was for entertaining.)
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Old Jun 11th, 2008, 04:41 AM
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Thanks for the nice report. Sounds like a fun trip.

Caroline, your post has me scared.
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Old Jun 11th, 2008, 05:05 AM
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Great report, Barb (from yet another Hotlantan). And a great tip about eating before you board for evening TATL trips.

High marks to Delta for distributing snacks and drinks during the wait. It seems like a no-brainer, but isn't necessarily the sort of thing that an airline will do in this type of situation. Was this while you were in the airport?
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Old Jun 11th, 2008, 05:17 AM
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Caroline, your post has me scared.>>>>

Don't be. Wholefoods is only patronised by ex pat yanks and yummy mummies. No sane person goes there.

Farmer's markets are expensive - a chicken at my local one is around £8. But for that you get a chicken that was free range, only fed with Harrod's chicken meal and died surrounded by it's family with it's affairs in order.

Your local supermaket will do you a cooked chicken for around £4.
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Old Jun 11th, 2008, 05:22 AM
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Barb_in_Ga

Excellent report.

Is this the first time you have stayed at this particular flat and would you return? Is cash the only form of payment that the owner accepts? Still you worked that out o.k.

Glad you had a great time and already planning your next trip - Paris in October. You are very blessed.

Sandy

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Old Jun 11th, 2008, 05:28 AM
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nice trip report. Thank you for sharing.
MomDDTravel is offline  
Old Jun 11th, 2008, 05:34 AM
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Therese--The Delta people brought out the snacks while we were waiting in the waiting area at JFK. They put crackers, pretzels, peanuts, granola bars, and Biscoff cookies, along with cans of soda and juice, and bottles of water. Everyone could take what they wanted.It was a nice touch, since the JFK shops were closed. It was also nice that we weren't immediately herded onto the new plane, only to wait the hour+ while bags and catering were transferred. At least once we boarded, we took off, and the meals were served shortly after. I put on my mask and slept, because my watch said 4AM, London time, and I did sleep through the meal service and for several hours during the flight, getting up a couple of times to walk to the toilet, then settling in again.

Caroline_Edinburgh--I live in Atlanta, where the 2 main local supermarket chains battle constantly for market share, and going for a piece of the pie also is Costco. Fabulous rotisserie chickens are available everyday for $3.99-$5.99. I usually buy at Costco, as they use a larger, plumper chicken. This is my 2 young grandson's favorite Sunday meal, so we do this frequently. We also buy uncooked large chicken breasts for $2.00/lb, so I would never be able to pay USD 44 for 4 breasts. Just my good fortune to live in an area where food is fresh, abundant and cheap!
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Old Jun 11th, 2008, 05:49 AM
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CW- Caroline didn't shop at Whole Foods, that was Barb. Caroline, who lives in Edinburgh, said £8 sounds cheap to her. I'm headed to Edinburgh, and staying in Caroline's neighborhood, so I'm thinking we'll be living like my daughter and eating noodles for a week.
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Old Jun 11th, 2008, 06:00 AM
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Barb, thanks for the report. I havge a question about your apt. Was it on a lower floor or is there and elevator.

I'd have a hard time paying 8 GBP for a chicken even if it did leave this world piped out with a kilted band! My $5.00 Costco chickens suit me just fine!
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Old Jun 11th, 2008, 07:40 AM
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Great report, Barb. Brought us right back to some of our favorite spots and we envied you the convenince of your flat.

The price of chicken, however, made me think we'd have to visit London vicariously from now on. When we were there in April we bought rotisserie chicken in our local Sainsbury's for about 5 GBP and lived on it -- with side dishes --for two days. Maybe staying in Kensington is the London equivalent of visiting in New York and staying in Jersey.
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Old Jun 11th, 2008, 08:06 AM
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At the risk of sounding poncey - £2.50 chickens are available in our supermarkets too, I just wouldn't want to eat them.
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Old Jun 11th, 2008, 08:08 AM
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My $5.00 Costco chickens suit me just fine!>>>

There's a reason some chickens cost $5 and some cost £8...

You gets what you pays for.
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Old Jun 11th, 2008, 08:53 AM
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You all have just never had a Costco chicken, they are totally yummy!
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Old Jun 11th, 2008, 09:32 AM
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yk
 
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Barb - thanks for the report! Any complaints about that apartment at all?

Did your husband change his mind about getting £ from ATM in the future rather than changing money back home?
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Old Jun 11th, 2008, 09:40 AM
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I know that I will be spending more but I do plan on getting currency before I depart. I realize it costs more and I realize it is "anti" Fodors, but I am traveling alone with my daughter. I was very stressed last time we went to Europe trying to get enough Euros from the ATM in order to pay for our apartment. I have a few places in the start of our trip that require cash payment - I am trying to pay for most of the accomadations in advance but some of the smaller, less expensive places that is not possible.

I believe I will order through AAA. I will also check with American Express.
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Old Jun 11th, 2008, 09:42 AM
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Weighing in on the Costco chicken, since I had one for dinner last night. They are now $5.49 at my local (Seattle area) stores, up from $4.99. They are plump, expertly seasoned, taste great and usually provide two dinners and a lunch for my husband and myself.

I am surprised that pre-roasted birds are so pricey in the UK...in my experience there last year, most grocery items were pretty comparable to what we're accustomed to paying.
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