Five-Star Trip on a Three-Star Budget

Oct 23rd, 2014, 04:55 PM
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Five-Star Trip on a Three-Star Budget

My sister, my daughter, and I returned last week from three weeks in England and Scotland, my sister’s first trip abroad except for a week in London several years ago. Hotel rooms for three left something to be desired, mainly a good third bed, but what with using windowsills and toilet tank tops to hold the makeup for the three of us, we managed.

London:

We arrived at Heathrow early on a Wednesday morning and, contrary to my better judgment and on Daughter’s recommendation, we took the tube into town. It was okay when we got on; but the morning commuters had to have found our combined luggage a real nuisance, although we encountered the first of many, many helpful people (quite a lot of them young women) who just picked up a suitcase and lifted it off and on the tube and later trains quite cheerfully as if we were theirs to take care of. Maybe grey hair comes in handy.

We stayed at the Park International Hotel on Cromwell Road for five nights. It was already booked when I read here that the Piccadilly Line at the Gloucester Road tube station was closed, but we figured we could change lines and/or walk easily enough. That was before the whole line was shut down over the weekend. Packed sardines didn’t hold a candle when we came out from the theater. The whole tube station was full of people backed up to the street trying to get to their destinations. We let one train go by and then pushed with the best of them, got to South Kensington, and walked from there; but the experience changed our minds about going to St. Paul’s to church on Sunday morning. Instead, we went just up Gloucester Road to St. Stephen’s, a smaller and quite beautiful Anglican church. We chose the early service to have more free time in the afternoon, and we were the only three people there until a young man wearing his backpack came in about halfway through. It was quite a personal service!

I had prebooked the Buckingham Palace & Garden tour which was lovely. It was quite crowded inside, which might explain why I especially enjoyed the garden tour. We did a London Walks tour of Westminster Abbey, saw The Thirty-Nine Steps at the theater, went to Salisbury on a day trip, spent some time at the V&A Museum, walked in Kensington Park, and shopped at Selfridge’s and Harrod’s. Sis bought a pretty sweater on sale at Selfridge’s. The clerk asked if we watched the Masterpiece Theater show, so I suppose they are getting extra business from it. Mostly we just walked around in Harrod’s but did buy some metal Christmas ornaments filled with chocolates for gifts to take home.

Our first afternoon tea was at Richoux and the second at a Valerie's Patisserie in Salisbury, delighting Sis who asked if all the food was that good. I have been recommending Brown’s Restaurant on St. Martin’s Lane for years because we have liked their Steak & Ale Pie and the Sticky Toffee Pudding so much. I now retract the recommendation. We did their pre-theater menu, and the steak was not very tender and the gravy tasted like it was made from an envelope of brown gravy mix. Even the Sticky Toffee Pudding was not as good as in the past and not nearly as good as some we had later in the trip. We did enjoy our revisit to the Delhi Brasserie on Cromwell Road.

More to come.
carolyn is offline  
Oct 23rd, 2014, 05:13 PM
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Hi CAROLYN,

Thanks for sharing. Really enjoy reading about the adventures of others in London.

"The clerk asked if we watched the Masterpiece Theater show, so I suppose they are getting extra business from it." I watch very little tv but greatly enjoyed the series on SELFRIDGES.

Will follow along for the ride...
latedaytraveler is offline  
Oct 24th, 2014, 02:11 AM
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Yes, thanks for sharing, London's one of my favourite cities and I always love to hear about what others did there. I too am constantly amazed and touched at how helpful total strangers can be, IMO people are basically good and often simply walk away without even waiting to hear you thank them!
geetika is online now  
Oct 24th, 2014, 05:38 AM
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Glad you enjoyed your trip - London is always wonderful. But don;t get the 5* part - sounds like a 3* trip to me, Got stuck in that awful hotel once (on a free tour) and liked neither the hotel nor the neighborhood/location.
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Oct 24th, 2014, 06:00 AM
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ttt
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Oct 24th, 2014, 11:52 AM
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Oct 24th, 2014, 06:26 PM
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Thanks for reading, and nytraveler, the five stars are meant to represent our enjoyment of our three-star budget trip.

York:

On Monday morning we got a taxi to King Cross and went by train to York where we stayed at The Groves, a Victorian guest house within walking distance of the Minster, which was the first place we went to see. As I’m sure you know, it is the largest Gothic cathedral in northern Europe and very, very beautiful.

After seeing the Minster, we walked through the Shambles and had a late afternoon tea at Betty’s which was ample enough to serve as our supper, and then walked on a portion of the old city walls. From the wall, we could see down into lovely gardens and admire the old houses from above. We then went back to the cathedral again for the evening service where the attendance was small enough that the congregation sat in the quire. It was an experience that is really hard to describe; I can hardly call it cozy, but it was warm as well as awe-inspiring.


Edinburgh:

The next morning we were back on a train to Edinburgh. I had booked our train reservations early enough to get the low rates as well as senior rates for Sis and me. Thanks to Fodorites’ info, we had downloaded and filled out the form for senior rail passes and picking up the tickets was a breeze. Only once in our seven segments of rail travel were we asked to produce the actual senior card in addition to our tickets. Again, the grey hair must have been a clue.

We spent a week in Edinburgh at the Holiday Inn Express on Cowgate. It was just a block off the Royal Mile and close enough to Waverley train station to walk but not pulling wheeled suitcases over cobblestones, so we used a taxi which I’m pretty sure the driver didn’t consider to be worth his time even with a generous tip.

The first day we just had lunch, walked and looked into shops on the Royal Mile, and had tea again at a Valerie’s Patisserie. The next day we toured the Castle, and DS and DD went to Holyrood Palace. Since that was another repeat for me, I found a hairdresser and got my hair done by a young Polish woman who gave me the best shampoo I’ve ever had in my life, complete with a scalp message I’ll remember in my dreams.

The third day we did a day trip to Melrose Abbey and Rosslyn Chapel. We all loved the Abbey ruins and climbed to the very top of the steep spiral stone staircase, some of us puffing more than others, and took lots and lots of photos. Rosslyn was both beautiful and interesting, too, and crowded with sightseers thanks to the Da Vinci Code, I’m sure. Our lunch stop was at a garden center/home improvement store called Dobbies that had a huge cafeteria at the back. I had the world’s biggest and best cheese toastie to eat, and if Lowe’s or Home Depot ever incorporates that idea I will never see my Mr. Fix-It husband again. He loves those types of stores, and food into the bargain would be sheer bliss.

The next two days we spent in Edinburgh, seeing the Museum of Scotland; the Writer’s Museum that is in an old building with three floors, one each dedicated to Sir Walter Scott, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Robert Burns; Mary King’s Close; and St. Giles Cathedral where we sat down to rest our feet and listen to the choir practicing.

Next day was a day trip across the Firth of Forth Bridge to Anstruther and St. Andrews where we explored the castle and abbey ruins, bought the obligatory stamped golf ball to bring home, and just enjoyed walking around the town.

On our last day we did another day trip to Glasgow, through the Trossachs, to Loch Lomond, and to Stirling Castle. We walked along the loch far enough to be out of sight of the town and the boats, and it truly is a bonnie, bonnie place. Many more photos and on to the castle. It sits high up on volcanic rock and is visible for miles. It has lots of Mary, Queen of Scots, history included in its long list of kings and queens and a beautifully furnished Queen’s Bed Chamber. One more important sight of the day was a “hairy coo” named Hamish.

Then it was back to the hotel to pack up for Cornwall. The luggage is growing what with cashmere scarves and sweaters, jewelry, and miscellaneous souvenirs.
carolyn is offline  
Oct 25th, 2014, 10:13 AM
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I am thoroughly enjoying your report and am happy you had such a great time.
KTtravel is offline  
Oct 25th, 2014, 01:12 PM
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oh Carolyn, what a pleasure to find your TR and read about your travels.

I'm so sorry that we missed each other in Cornwall. Life intervened I'm afraid, but I'm looking forward to reading about your impressions of us. hopefully the 5 star theme will continue!
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Oct 25th, 2014, 06:20 PM
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Penzance:

The train from Edinburgh to Plymouth was delayed 25 minutes by some trouble coming from Glasgow, which meant we were playing catch up but were consistently behind the trains that were running on time. This meant we got to Plymouth late for our quick change to Penzance; but, fortunately, there were a lot of people on our train in the same situation so they held the Penzance train for us. It was a mad scramble, the PZ train didn’t have reserved seats, and it did have a ton of school children on their way home--polite school children who got up and gave their elders their seats. Not only was I impressed, but our seats were on the side of the train from which we got to see the “lovely bits” of scenery that Annhig had told me to watch for.

One note for posterity: If you are on a through train over lunch, get your sandwiches early. We didn’t know this, and they ran out of sandwiches. We got crisps and soft drinks and had a stash from our raid on Sainbury’s of Cadbury bars and Jaffa Cakes so we weren‘t going to starve, but then the trolley girl who had been very sympathetic brought us a big cucumber sandwich cut to share and three packaged slices of fruit cake at no charge. I’m telling you, this grey hair is wonderful and so are the polite British people. Another note: Cadbury bars made in England are still creamier and better than the Hershey-produced U.S. ones, even if Kraft did buy it.

Our B&B in Penzance was the Carnson House, just a block from the train station (uphill--everything seemed to be uphill after York). The owners were great, and the house was 270 years old and somewhat quirky. It had been built as a dwelling and used down the years as everything from a brothel to a bakery. It has been a B&B for the past forty years. Our room(s) consisted of a bedroom with a double bed, a closet, a TV, and a chest of drawers. Then up two steps was another little room with a twin bed and a vanity, off of which was the long and narrow bathroom that had a sliding door because there wasn‘t room to open up a regular door. The room had everything we needed; it was just--quirky.

After breakfast the next morning, we set off to explore PZ and then walked along the promenade to Newlyn, about a mile away, which is a variation of my husband’s surname. It’s a small fishing village and art colony with its own Newlyn School of paintings. I had to go get my picture made standing in front of a town sign and buy DH a sweatshirt personally imprinted for me with a small lighthouse and the name at a printing charge of only £5. He loves it, and after all it was only one more thing to pack. Anyway, it rained on us walking over; and then it rained on us again coming back with a wind so fierce it blew our umbrellas inside out. It bent a rib on mine, leaving it with a sad droop on one side but still usable. We did enjoy the public gardens along the promenade

The second day we took the bus to Marazion and went to St. Michael’s Mount. We really enjoyed St. MM even with the warning that the wind was high and we should avoid becoming Mary Poppins at the top. The walk across the causeway is made of big, uneven stones, and the climb up to the castle is steep and fairly rugged. The ticket office said if anyone decided it was too tough, to come back and they would refund the ticket price. Oh, and the British have quit calling seniors OAPs (for old age pensioners) and now lump us with children and call us Concessions. We are a tough bunch and made it to the top, took lots more photos, and I snapped one of each wall in my favorite room, the library. While being quite posh and lovely, it was such a comfortable looking room it just made me want to curl up with a book and stay there. One room has a picture of Queen Elizabeth on her visit during her Jubilee year. The guide said they brought her in a golf cart and she was laughing when she got out. After the tour, we walked back over the causeway, had some lunch, and explored Marazion before getting the bus back to PZ.

Next day, we went, again by bus, to St. Ives. It’s such a pretty place with different colored shops curving around the beautiful bay that has different colored boats both anchored and sailing around on the sea. We explored the art studios and shops and bought some more Christmas gifts and had a cream tea when we were tired of walking. Cornish clotted cream is the best! Back in PZ, we ate dinner at the Admiral Benbow, It has been in existence since the 17th century and has a fascinating collection of maritime artifacts rescued from numerous shipwrecked vessels which foundered on the Cornish coast during the last 400 years. The room we ate in was mahogany wood and looked like the hold of a pirate ship. We enjoyed the meal and the experience very much.

On Saturday, our last full day, we saw the Morrab Gardens and the Penlee Museum and Gallery, and I found the blue Wedgwood saucer in a little gift shop that was the reason for going to Harrod’s again in London. I had dropped and broken the one I had from years ago, and Harrod’s told me Wedgwood has discontinued their original blue jasperware products. But there it was, just waiting for me on my last day. For dinner that night, we walked up a different hill to the Sea View for a last meal of fish and chips (of which we had had a lot). It really was a sea view, too, for we were up high enough to look out over the rooftops to the water.

Sunday morning we went to the early service at the Chapel Street Methodist Church that we had seen on the way to the Admiral Benbow. The minister was a vivacious older man, and we liked the service a lot. The train back to London left about 1:30, so we were smart enough this time to ask our B&B hosts to make us box lunches to take with us. After a puzzled look and a “Oh, packed lunches,” they made us up sandwiches, fruit, and crisps that we ate while passing those lovely bits of scenery again. This time we had seven minutes to change trains in Plymouth, but it was just a few steps across from one track to another and again nice people grabbed up our even fatter bags and transferred them for us.

Annhig, I want to thank you again for your Cornwall recommendations. I took a copy of your comments with me, and we used a number of your suggestions. I'm sorry, too, not to have been able to meet you. Why don't you come to Kentucky?

Back at Paddington Station, we got a taxi to the Hilton Double Tree near Heathrow where we had the first bathtub of the trip and a bigger room but without the charm we had become accustomed to. We also declined their £17 breakfast! At about 8:00 on a Sunday night, the taxi fare was £57 for the three of us and a welcome relief not to have to drag those suitcases around any longer.

We got the Hoppa Bus to the airport Monday morning. Our flight was delayed an hour and a half while we were boarding as someone already on the plane had some kind of seizure. They gave him oxygen and called the paramedics who worked with him and then took him off the plane into an ambulance. The late departure meant we missed our connection in Atlanta and got on a later flight by the skin of our teeth. We arrived home after a 23-hour day, very tired but still happy.

My sister’s favorite part of the trip was Scotland and especially “Scott’s View,” the place where Sir Walter Scott stopped every day on his way home to look out over a very scenic spot with rolling landscape and mountains in the background--Scotland in a Nutshell, I suppose. The guide told us that the horse was pulling his casket to his funeral and automatically stopped at that spot.

Daughter’s favorite was a long day trip she took by herself to the Highlands that included Glencoe, Rannoch Moor, the Great Glen, Loch Ness, Loch Linnhe, and more I can’t remember.

My favorite sites were Melrose Abbey and St. Michael’s Mount, but the very best part of the trip for me was after we got home when my daughter told me that when my sister stopped by her house to pick up some things she had brought home in her suitcase for her, she hugged her and thanked her for helping make this the trip of a lifetime and started to cry. She is widowed and doesn’t have a lot of travel money, and DD had used airline miles to buy her ticket for her as well as taking her travel stuff all summer like packing cubes and a passport wallet and pill pockets with the little mesh zipper bags to put them in. They have always been close and my sister has done lots for DD down through the years, but this was a special payback and a special trip for all of us.
carolyn is offline  
Oct 25th, 2014, 10:09 PM
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wonderful report for what sounds like was a wonderful trip.

Were you in London the last weekend in Sept? If so I was there are the same time staying just a block up Cromwell Rd. What day did you tour Buckingham Palace? I was there Sunday sept 28.

We may have crossed paths several times . . .

You squeezed in a lot - Glad it worked out w/ the senior rail passes.
janisj is offline  
Oct 25th, 2014, 11:28 PM
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Sounds like a five star trip indeed. Thanks for sharing it with us.
Nikki is offline  
Oct 26th, 2014, 03:29 AM
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Carolyn - how lovely for you all to have been able to enjoy the trip together, and I'm really sorry that we didn't have a chance to meet. I'm glad that my suggestions worked out, though I can't claim responsibility for the quirky PZ B&B - you found that all by yourself!

I'm amazed that you managed to walk across to St Michael's Mount AND back. You must have been really lucky with the tides as every time we've done it, we've had to get the boat one way or the other, and you frequently see people running across to beat the water as it laps round their ankles - a typically cornish experience.
annhig is offline  
Oct 26th, 2014, 03:39 AM
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Great trip report, so glad you had a wonderful time!
jamikins is offline  
Oct 26th, 2014, 06:17 AM
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Thank you for this wonderful trip report Carolyn. Reading about your sister and how she loved the trip was very touching.
Micheline is offline  
Oct 26th, 2014, 07:14 AM
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Carolyn - Maybe you mentioned this and I missed it, but how long did it take you to get from Edinburgh to Plymouth and then on to Penzance? I'm interested in your itinerary because I'd considered trying to go to Edinburgh and Cornwall in one trip and thought it was probably too much, so it's interesting to hear from someone who actually did it!
BBgt is offline  
Oct 26th, 2014, 07:26 AM
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BBgt - Carolyn and her party preferred the train, but you can actually fly from Edinburgh to Newquay with Flybe. It takes just over an hour. internal flights so very little fuss and bother.

http://fi-en.flybe.com/
annhig is offline  
Oct 26th, 2014, 10:23 AM
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Thanks Annhig - I'll look at Flybe. I don't want to hijack Carolyn's thread - sounds like she had a lovely trip!
BBgt is offline  
Oct 26th, 2014, 11:20 AM
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Thanks, everyone.

BBgt, it was an all-day trip from Scotland. We thought it was easier by train than going to the airport early and then having to get from the Plymouth airport to the train to go on to Penzance, and we enjoyed seeing the sea views and the countryside, as well. We were scheduled to leave Edinburgh at 7:07 am (but actually left about 7:30) and arrive in Plymouth at 3:40, then leave Plymouth at 3:57 pm and arrive in PZ at 6:06 pm. It was a long trip, but we all like to read and eat Cadbury bars and look out the windows and talk, so the time passed pleasantly. There is a fast train from Edinburgh to London, but you have to change train stations from King's Cross to Paddington to get to Cornwall, which seemed like a big deal considering our luggage and another connection in Plymouth.

Janis, we went to the Palace (doesn't that sound lah-di-dah) on Thursday, Sept. 25. We most likely did pass each other. You didn't happen to see three women buying out the sweets section in Sainsbury's, did you? I saw in your TR that you stayed at the Fraser Suites. That looks very nice.

Ann, our B&B man looked up the tides for us for St. MM. The sea was rough enough that the boats were not running that day, and the workers were very serious about telling everyone what time to leave the island. There were still people coming over, though, when we left. We figured they didn't know what they were in for with the climb up to the top plus the tour and getting back. I'm getting a great mental picture of them fleeing back across with the tide lapping their feet.
carolyn is offline  
Oct 26th, 2014, 12:01 PM
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>>we went to the Palace (doesn't that sound lah-di-dah) on Thursday, Sept. 25<<

I arrived in London on the 25th - wanted to take the champagne tour (sounds even MORE lah-di-dah ) that evening but the very last available slot for the season was @ 5:30 and I landed at LHR at 2:30. Didn't go into Sainsbury but we were bound to be on Cromwell Rd/Gloucester Rd station/South Kens station at the same time a few times . . .
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