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Trip Report Laconic in London, Besieged in Belgium, Foggy in France, Happy in Hastings.

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Back from a two-week circuit from London, to Belgium, to Normandy, and back through Paris and Southeastern UK. Will try for concise report by category.

To and from:

We went on this trip because we got terrific price for Business Class/Club World tickets from American Airlines traveling on British Airways from SFO to LHR for under 4k. We are feeling old and tired and don’t do coach from west coast to Europe at this point.

BA business: we were on main deck; we like the window/aisle better than the two middle “traveling together” seats. Full recline/flat bed. Efficient service without incessant overhead announcements.

--Travel within: we don’t like to drive on our time off and took trains everywhere. Got second class mostly this trip to save expenses, but prefer the quiet and low density of first class train when we can—upgraded last couple of legs for health and work reasons,

-WIFI – excellent everywhere except Bayeux hotel where we stayed. DH has to work couple hours a day and I like to stay connected.


Clubs, hotel, B&Bs. We stayed at military affiliated clubs for 5 of our 13 nights; they are a fantastic deal. If you’ve served in the military and were honorably discharged, you can join the Marines Memorial Club in San Francisco and then you have access to reciprocal clubs all over the world! There are 3 in London alone – we stayed at the Naval Club in Mayfair, a block or so from Berkley Square; and at Victory Services Club near Marble Arch. Averaged 130 Euros a night in prime areas! In Paris we stayed at a 4 star equivalent place in the 8th, near Saint Augustin Metro and Church, for $130. Check it out if you qualify. You can also join some clubs for a modest fee.

B&Bs – found fabulous ones in Brussels (X2Brussels) and Hastings (Swan House).

Normandy – first stay at a Mercure – good location, set-up, services, but expensive additional fee for breakfast. Lion D’Or in Bayeux was accommodating and historic but I’d give it a pass next time.

Specific Locations:

London: We were there right after Olympics and people were still pretty much geared up and positive, which was nice to see. It was HOT! Tate Gallery and South Bank area were great – DH wanted to do the London Eye and I was glad we did – we used the Fast Track ticket process since we were short of time and the lines looked long—paid a bit more but got in right away. Worth doing, once. It was hot when we were there and we were still jet-lagged but made it to Thames cruise after the Eye—a bit longer than we planned, since it was about 3 hours round trip (up to Greenwich before turning back to Embankment etc.).

Palaces: we were staying right near Buckingham Palace and enjoyed walking through Green Park and heading over to the gates here. The tours were booked so we didn’t get inside. We did have tix to see Kensington Palace – interesting, but could have passed. The gardens and tea at the Orangery were more fun for us. Easy to walk in for afternoon tea there—it’s up a little hill in a separate building from the Palace, though there is also a casual food place and gift shop right next to the entrance for tours.

Brugge – spend 3 nights here and were glad we did – slower pace, lovely setting, stayed at Aragon Hotel in a reasonable room (499 euros for 3 nights, including breakfast). Couple of good meals, away from the main square, mostly using Tripadvisor “near me now” or just wandering; excellent beer and chocolate of course!

Brussels – got robbed a block from midi-south train station after Taxi refused to take us to our B&B since it was “two minutes” away (actually 20 minute walk). Punks grabbed neck chain and pendant, and probably headed right over to one of the cash for gold shops. Not a good introduction, and we never did hit it off with Brussels; it was interesting to file a report at the police station; I think police are pretty much the same the world over! The main square of course is glorious and we enjoyed local beer at an outdoor table before buying more chocolate.

Rouen – “wow” cathedral and environs, but it was closed Monday morning, until 2 p.m.!! Poor planning on my part, as we were heading to Bayeux, DH’s choice, after Rouen and needed to catch a train.

Bayeux – I passed on a repeat of the Tapestry. DH did get to see the tapestry again and enjoyed the movie and presentation. I shopped along the main drag and picked up some kitchen towels and sachets, as well as a couple of small bottles of 15-year-old Calvados for gifts. Also stopped for a croissant and café crème; delish!!
In Bayeux we stayed at the Lion D’Or where we had a fabulous, memorable meal 12 years ago; it was a good meal but not out of this world; we wouldn’t go out of our way to go there again; same good appertif but no more cheese cart! Sacre Bleu!

Paris- we hope to be here next March on a free trip via miles on Delta, so we didn’t spend much time here on this trip. Most of our first day there was unfortunately after skipping breakfast in Bayeux, taking an early train to Paris (2 hours nonstop), and then desperately seeking Laduree, which we never did find until later that day, after finally trudging our way to the Louvre and enjoying Croque Monsieur at Café Marly, mercifully in the shade. We stayed at the excellent Circle D’Armee hotel/club in the 8th, again, a reciprocal club to ours in SF.

Hastings --We were back on the train through the Chunnel to Ashford, then a train to Hastings. We wanted to stop in the south of England on our way back to London and we are both Foyles’ War fans, so we stayed over in Hastings. It’s not high on the tourist circuit so we weren’t sure what we’d find but we loved it.

We stayed at Swan House, a fabulous ca. 1490 B&B updated to an excellent standard with modern art co-existing with the great old bones of the place—includes a lovely terrace where we had tea upon arrival. I HIGHLY recommend it. It’s a block from old town (so quiet as well as good access) and also a block from the house used as DCI Foyle’s in the PBS Series.

Wonderful rocky beach area with old timey “arcade” which is perhaps cheesy but gives a peek at the sea-side resort town ambience. No usable ATM in the old town except in a small market which probably charges for it. B&B owner referred us to excellent restaurants in town, which were both combo pubs/restaurants frequented mostly by locals and food was terrific! Porter’s and the Dragon, if memory serves. People were very nice, from taxi drivers to restaurant staff.

After a lovely, peaceful stay over here, we headed back for last night in London, at the Victory Services Club near Marble Arch. Terrific place to stay! I think people can join as members and stay here as well as using reciprocal club privileges. Can’t recommend it enough. Great service; took care of everything, wonderful breakfast buffet, the porter really knows his business. We paid 132 eu including breakfast.

What I learned:
- first week was much easier staying in only two places. We love the trains but wanted to see too many places in our second week. Painful though it is I would cut out either Rouen or Bayeux.
- health issues: we had several, not life-threatening but really annoying (back spasm, kidney infection, kennel cough from the plane, and second to last day, probably a broken toe when DH pulled his back off train rack and someone’s heavy back of pipe fell on his foot). We work out and work FT and thought we were in pretty good shape, so it’s amazing how fast things can go south. Next time will bring back up antibiotics; not sure what else to do except beef up immune systems.
- we will alternate first class with second class train travel, especially if one of us needs to do some work – costs a bit more, but sometimes we need the lower density and the work space.

- The airfare was a great deal – the time window was limited but we were able to make it work. I saw premium economy “sales” for one ticket that were the price of our two tickets, so I was glad I grabbed them.

- We saw far, far fewer fellow Americans on this trip than we usually see in Italy. We don’t often travel in August, so perhaps with more Europeans on vacation that’s why we saw more of them and fewer of us, or perhaps it was staying in the clubs for half the time, or perhaps it was just not going to Italy.

The jet lag from west coast of US is not trivial; as we get older recovery takes longer. Also, when we have to take work it really makes me question the resources we are spending for a semi-vacation. Just an ongoing challenge.

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