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Just back from England-Thanks for all the advice!

Just back from England-Thanks for all the advice!

Old Nov 29th, 2000, 11:06 AM
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Just back from England-Thanks for all the advice!

I just wanted to thank all the wonderful contributors to this forum for their wealth of knowledge and support. I just returned from eight days in England with my rather large family. It was better than I expected (and my expectations were high). How often in life can you say that? In case anyone is interested:

We hired a coach to pick us up at the airport and drive us around for the first four days. We used Armchair London. They were wonderful. It cost 1400 pounds for four days which included a meet and greet at the airport, sixteen-seat coach, a driver/guide, his accomodations, gas, taxes, everything. It was well worth it, especially since my sister's in-laws brought 4 suitcases each (I wish I was kidding).

We spent our first night in Winchester, at the Royal Hotel (88 pounds). The Royal was a bit worn (very smoky) and the rooms were tiny, but the people were friendly and helpful and the location couldn't have been more central. I would definitely stay there again. I adored Winchester. It felt very medieval. The Cathedral was intensely beautiful.

The next day we went to Stonehenge. I didn't expect much, it was on the way and seemed the thing to do. I was pleasantly surprised. Even from the highway it was impressive. It probably helped that the weather was perfect: grey and windy with huge clouds tumbling across the horizen and a nice bite in the air. It made for a mystical afternoon. Oh, and their cheese scones are delicious!

Then we went to Bath. We stayed at Harington's Hotel (smoke free, 88 pounds). It was a charming, lovely hotel, very centrally located, good breakfast, perfect. Harington's was in the center of everything, and right across from what the porter swore was a rough biker pub. Well, I've been to biker bars (don't ask) and this was the quietest, best-dressed, most polite group of bikers I've ever seen. They looked more like preppies on scooters than Hell's Angels-maybe they get really vicious when deprived of Perrier?

Anyway, Bath was beautiful as everyone knows. We did the Roman Baths, had tea at the Pump Room, toured the Assembly Rooms (fantasized about Capt. Wentwerth) and Costume Museum. I preferred Winchester to Bath, but I was the only one.

The next day we stopped at Castle Combe at the suggestion of our driver, the charming Peter Swan. It didn't seem real, it was almost too quaint. We stopped for a pint at the local pub and talked about the St. Louis Rams with the bartender (it's a small world).

Then it was on to Thornbury Castle. I'll have to revert to my pathetic American vocabulary to describe it: awesome, cool, wow! It looked like Henry VIII was going to come round every corner. If you want to spend the night in a castle, I highly recommend this one. It's about 15 miles outside Bristol. Rooms range from 175-350 pounds, and are well worth it. I didn't want to leave, even though London was our next destination.

We stayed at the Travel Inn County Hall. Ugly, charmless motel, but 69 pounds a night within hearing distance of Big Ben...I'll definitely stay there again. We did all the main tourist sites. I loved them all, especially the National Portrait Gallery and Westminster Abbey. London was too overwhelming for four days, so I just made notes of where I'm going next time.

We all made it through the trip with little acrimony. Everyone went their own way when it suited them. And other than a few heated political debates (I'm a liberal, my brother-in-law is an idiot), we all got along famously. Everyone decided it was time for me to plan next year's trip: Rome.
Old Nov 29th, 2000, 11:34 AM
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Congrats on a successful trip; if you enjoyed yourself, and returned with the same number of people who started on the trip, you've had a successful trip. Unfortunately, you *were* successful; hence, the demand for Rome.

I bet your brother-in-law and mine are the same guy.

Thanks for the info (especially about the coach-hire; excellent thing to keep in mind).
Old Nov 29th, 2000, 11:39 AM
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Great report Erica!!! One I really enjoyed reading. Have never heard of Thornbury castle, how did you find it and how far was it from London? I seriously enjoyed your report. Good luck planning Rome!
Old Nov 29th, 2000, 12:13 PM
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Super report, Erica. Thanks for taking the time to do it. I was beginning to think my husband and and I were the only two people on the planet who had been to Castle Combe - no one ever mentions it.
We thought the town was really cute. We also liked Winchester a lot as well. Congratulations on surviving a family trip of that magnitude! Wow!
Old Nov 29th, 2000, 12:15 PM
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Thyra: I read about Thornbury Castle in a guide book, then did as much research as I could (also considered Amberley Castle, which is south of London). You can see a photo of the castle at www.thornburycastle.co.uk, but believe me it doesn't do the place justice. You can e-mail them and request a brochure.

It took us about 2.5 hours to drive from Thornbury to our hotel in central London. You could easily take a train from Bristol to London.

We also had dinner at the castle (39 pounds), very yummy. The castle was our big splurge. We got the suite and it was almost obscene. Dark paneling, tapestries, fireplace, massive fourposter bed, stone turret with a spiral staircase leading to the room. It even felt haunted, I was a bit uneasy after we turned out the lights!
Old Nov 29th, 2000, 04:51 PM
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Say, Erica, could you maybe postpone your trip to Rome and maybe consider a trip to Ireland and Scotland next summer so I can use YOUR trip report to plan MY family's (5-6 members) trip in 2002. Sounds like you all had a marvelous time. (Mummy and I are going to England this coming summer and reports like this are so helpful.)

I totally agree with Elvira. If everyone came out alive, it is counted as a successful trip. BTW, I think we also share the same B-i-L!!

Old Nov 30th, 2000, 05:11 AM
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What a great report - it's so much more interesting when people post their personal responses to what they've seen, rather than just a listing of places they went and how they got there. Thank you!
Old Nov 30th, 2000, 05:22 AM
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I love posts that make me chuckle! Thanks! By the way, how many were in your group?
Old Nov 30th, 2000, 07:00 AM
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Thanks everyone. There were eleven people in our group. My mother, my 11-year-old niece and I stayed together most of the time. The three of us were interested in museums, history, music and art. The others spent more time at shops and restaurants.

One of the highlights was a free lunchtime concert at St. Martin-in-the-Fields. It was a concert of Bach played on period instruments. The music was beautiful, but hearing it in that atmosphere, surrounded by the ghosts of Mozart and Handel, made it very special. It was also a nice, calm break from the chaos of Trafalgar Square right outside.

Funny you should mention Ireland, Alice. While at a pub in London, we met a nice young lady from Ireland who was visiting London on business. She's a cheesemaker ("blessed are the cheesemakers? what's so special about the cheesemakers?"). Anyway, she was trying to talk us into Ireland next year instead of Rome. So, maybe we can plan 2002 together!

One more thing: we decided to take a bus tour in London. The buses stopped right outside County Hall. We had four companies vying for our business and ended up getting a 15 pound ticket for 4.80 ("you've got to haggle! 'Ten for that, you must be mad' "- all roads lead to Monty Python). In the off-season you might want to haggle a bit for a bus tour. Don't expect them to come too often. We waited about 20 minutes for a London Pride bus, but the people next to us waited as long for Big Bus Company. I wouldn't do it again, but I'm glad I did it once.

And I'm glad to know that I'm not the only one with an annoying brother-in-law. He's not vicious. But he's one of those people who was born on third base and acts like he hit a triple.
Old Nov 30th, 2000, 11:56 PM
Patti Suttle
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ERica-your trip sounds wonderful! Esp. the castle. I would love to do that someday...but for now I am deep into planning a trip for 10 of us to Ireland, London and Paris for next summer. So, I was really interested in what you had to say about the number of people. We are all adults and are friends but none of them have been overseas, one is REALLY picky on his food, etc. So, it will be interesting!
I am almost ready to book us into The Travel Inn County Hall because it is close to the Waterloo Station and we will be leaving on the Channel Tunnel train to Paris (we will only be in London 3 days). Is it *that* ugly? But, you said you would stay again-is that because of the price? Also, did you find it convenient to get to other sights in London OK?
Thanks for any information.
I just want my friends to have a great time, a wonderful experience. I am the "tour guide" for the group too.
Old Dec 1st, 2000, 08:16 AM
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The Travel Inn is ugly relative to the other places we stayed. It's not charming, there's no character. We went from the castle to the Travel Inn, which was quite a drop.

That said, it was extremely clean and comfortable. Our room was large, much larger than our other hotels. The bathroom was big, clean and modern. The hotel has an okay lounge and restaurant that was perfect for meeting in at the end of the day. The beds are comfy, but they only have a fitted sheet and a duvet (no top sheet, no blanket) and a very small pillow. It was very much like a newer motel off a U.S. highway (Red Roof Inn).

When we started planning this trip, many people advised us to get an apartment. We found several very nice apartments for about the same price as we all paid for the hotel. But most of them were in more residential areas. And there was a concern that if we stayed in a nice apartment, with a living room, we'd end up hanging out too much instead of getting out. My sisters and I can easily spend all day around a kitchen table with a bottle of wine and have a blast. We didn't want to waste our precious time in London doing that.

The Travel Inn was perfect for us. It was perfectly nice to sleep and shower in, but not pleasant enough to make us want to hang out there. And it was smack dab in the center of everything. We walked almost everywhere. It's right on Westminster Bridge, across the river from Big Ben and Westminster Abbey. You can hear Big Ben from some of the rooms. The London Eye is right next door. It was an easy 10-15 minute walk to Trafalgar Square, National Gallery, St. Martin. Waterloo Station is about 3 blocks away. You can take the northern line from Waterloo to Tottenham Court Rd. for the British Museum. And a bit longer of a stroll, down the south bank of the river, is the Globe Theatre and Southwark Cathedral. Also, if you want to take a river cruise there's a dock in front of the London Eye just steps from the hotel (we took one from the Tower back to the hotel). I thought the location was perfect.

The hotel is full of tourists from Germany, the Middle East, America, and other places in the UK. It's not the kind of place where you'll interact much with others. Most of the people working there don't use English as a first language, so it's hard to get directions, etc. And, be prepared for a LONG walk from the elevator to your room. County Hall is a massive building.

One other plus, if you have a picky eater, the hotel restaurant has lots of dull American-style food (burgers, nachos, sandwiches, fries). For the more adventurous, across the street is a yummy noodle restaurant (Ned's Noodle Box) and high-end seafood place (Fish!). Hope this helps!
Old Dec 1st, 2000, 01:02 PM
Patti Suttle
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Erica-I can't thank you enough! That REALLY does help-tremendously! I can really picture the whole experience now.
I think that should do it. Most of our group is on a budget and that fits the budget, its close to Waterloo and from what you have said its near other places we would go to as well (one couple for sure wants the Globe). I guess we can manage w/0 the sheet (does sound kind of gross though...) and small pillow-but because you have told me we now know and won't show up and be surprised! I will warn them! The restaurant sounds perfect for our "picky eater" friend-he loves Denny's type restaurants (we forgive him). So, thank you, thank you, thank you!
I will be posting my whole trip report when we get back because I've had such great help with ALL my questions! Of course we don't go until June...
Old Dec 1st, 2000, 01:23 PM
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Why not just pack a extra old sheet and then toss out when you leave.
Old Dec 1st, 2000, 03:16 PM
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Regarding the Travel Inn. When we stayed there we requested extra flat sheets and put them on the beds ourselves. This solved that no-top-sheet problem for us.
Old Dec 1st, 2000, 06:33 PM
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we stayed in a hotel 1 walking block from the main station in Rome & within 1 mile of the Colosseum. It was the Hotel Genova Via Cavour 33. 011-39-476951. The Room was big enough for 4 people, on the main drag, had it's own spacious bath, but was dimly lit & a little noisy for light sleepers. had an ok buffet breakfast that if you wanted to pay more included bacon & eggs. Whatever you do---don't take a Carrinau tour! They were terrible! Old, or disinterested tour guides who either walked too fast, talked too low, or just didn't care about their groups! Complain in groups if you get a bad tour ----that is the only way they take note & resolve it somewhat to your satisfaction!
Old Dec 2nd, 2000, 01:10 PM
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Your trip sounded terrific! I would like to second your reference to Castle Combe. I had lunch at the Inn there and it was delicious and lovely. Did you se "Ellen's Cottage?" My daughter is Ellen and she was fascinated by the cottage sign.
If you are near Bath, Lucknam Park is LUXURY PLUS and the royal horses gambolling next to the park don't hurt either.
Old Dec 4th, 2000, 07:25 AM
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Thanks Terry and Roger. I considered bringing a sheet next time, but if they'll give you an extra one upon request, well, problem solved.

Gardenbabe: Thank you for the Rome info. I've already pasted it into my new file on Rome.

Your warning on guides reminded me that I would be remiss if I didn't recommend a guided tour of Winchester Cathedral to anyone who is in the area. We scheduled a tour (via their website www.winchester-cathedral.org.uk) for the day we arrived. We were all tired and jet-lagged. But this was the best tour I've ever taken. Our guide was a volunteer who knew everything about the Cathedral. She was kind, thoughtful fascinating and perfectly British. If you're in the area, schedule a tour.

Kathy: I didn't notice Ellen's Cottage. We weren't in Castle Combe long enough, I'd love to go back. Since we only had an hour or so, we spent it the way my family knows best: at the bar. It was a lovely place.
Old Dec 4th, 2000, 12:26 PM
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The apartment we had in London just had duvets on the beds, but the duvet cover was a pretty zip-on sheet-type fabric. We assumed they were washed between visitors.
Old Dec 4th, 2000, 05:51 PM
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Sorry to shatter illusions, but I have stayed in enough small hotels with duvets and no top sheets and seen those duvets airing out in the window while the maid does the room to know that you are being naive if you really think that the duvet covers are always changed and/or washed between guests.
Old Dec 5th, 2000, 06:46 AM
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Yeah, I gotta admit the lack of a top sheet creeped me out a little. Since it was winter, it didn't bother me so much (sleeping in long sleeve pajamas, socks, etc.). In the summer it would be kind of gross. I think Rick Steves sells some kind of sheet/sleeping bag that's easy to transport and clean. I hope to never have to travel in summer, but if I did I might look into something like that for the TI.

Patti: I completely forgot, I don't think the TI is air conditioned! I remember reading complaints about it being hot in the summer. The windows only open a crack. It wasn't a concern for us, but if you're going to be there in summer it may be. I can get by without air, but I know many people who would be completely miserable. Perhaps some in your group are that way. I'd find out if I were you.

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