My trip report

Old May 19th, 2002, 03:30 PM
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My trip report

As promised, here is my trip report. I greatly appreciate all of the assistance from people on this board. If anyone has any questions that I can answer please feel free to ask!

We went over on US Air on a direct flight from Charlotte to Gatwick. We got upgraded to first class in the two class 767 and loved it. We slept very little b/c we were too excited and busy watching movies. When we arrived, we took the Gatwick Express to Victoria Station, then caught a cab to the County Hall. I upgraded us to a better room that had a great view of the Thames, Big Ben, Parliament and the London Eye.

Saturday Sites:
Westminster Abbey - took the audio tour
Walked by Downing Street
Went to see the Horse Guards
Went to Leicester Square

Sunday Sites:
Went to mass at Westminster Cathedral
Took the lift up the bell tower at Westminster Cathedral
Victoria and Albert Museum
Albert Pub (not really a site, but still worth mentioning)

Monday Sites:
Globe Theater
Crossed the Millenium Bridge
St. Paul's Cathedral where we talked up to the first viewing deck
Tower of London - took the audio tour, saw the crown jewels
Covenant Garden market area
London Eye

Tuesday Sites:
Half price ticket booth first thing - tickets for Chicago
Buckingham Palace - cancelled the change of the guards so we walked in Green Park
Harrod's - didn't buy anything as everything was so expensive
British Museum
Bond Street - didn't buy anything here either
Saw Chicago at the Adelphi
Lamb and Flag pub - awesome 300 year old pub

Wednesday Sites:
Back to Leicester Square for tickets to Phantom of the Opera
Train to Hampton Court Palace - audio tour

Thursday Sites:
Caught train to York

Friday Sites:
Soho - just walked around
Back to Leicester for tickets to Blood Brothers
Somerset House
Cabinet War Rooms

We took the Gatwick Express back to the airport on Saturday and departed. I had again upgraded us to Envoy on one of US Air's A330's which was even better than the 767 b/c of the seats and the entertainment systems.

We found the people to be very friendly and helpful. Things that were a 'learning experience': little or no ice in drinks; no real diet soda's; some of the terminology like tube, lift and tap vs. still water; the food was a huge disappointment perhaps b/c we don't eat fish and refused to eat the beef; people have told me not be surprised but the expense of everything was a shock; the tube was easy to navigate; people seemingly smoked everywhere all the time; I was surprised at how much water flowed from the showers...Kyoto? No low flow stuff in the UK apparently; the toilets were generally dirty and didn't give me comfort about my servers or food prep folks having clean hands! One cool thing was that when I needed cash I just went to the front desk of the Marriott and have them advance it against the room.

Overall, a great trip. I think we'd go back in a heartbeat if the situation was right but we're ready to move on to Paris or Italy next. The history of the city and the country in general was completely overwhelming. Every direction we turned there was something that was a few hundred years old at least. The destruction from the Blitz was also incredible. It gave me an appreciation for the people of England and their resolve not to be defeated and to keep fighting. To see the damage on St. Paul's Cathedral brought a sense of loss to me.

That's about all I've got...a terrific week in a short story, but let me know if you want more details. I've documented the entire trip so I should be able to call it all up quickly!

Old May 19th, 2002, 05:01 PM
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Hi Mike, do you remember the cost of the cab ride from Victoria Station to County Hall? and how easy was the return to Gatwick from Victoria Station on the Gatwick Express, did you have to book in advance? lots of stairs, luggage hassle? I'm thinking of doing the same, and I'm travelling with 2 kids.
Old May 19th, 2002, 05:05 PM
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Hello Mike,
We will be taking the same flight (Charlotte to Gatwick) on USAir in less than two weeks (God willing USAir is still flying by then!) We have been debating taking the Gatwick Express to Victoria (we're staying w/in a 5 minute walk of the station) or hiring a car. How easy was the express and what did it cost?
Old May 19th, 2002, 05:20 PM
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The cab ride from Victoria Station to County Hall was right around 10#'s, but not quite that much to my recollection. The return as well as the departure to/from Gatwick was a piece of cake. The trains run every 15 minutes during most of the day, 30 minutes in the wee hours. The cost of the train is 11#. We didn't have reservations either way...just walked up, bought tickets and got on the next train. The return to Gatwick was a little crowded on a Saturday at 11:00, but the train from Gatwick around 9:00 a.m. was almost empty. Probably just a matter of timing. No stairs at all; one escalator and one elevator...piece of cake. My wife and I had two carry ons and the largest suitcase known to man and we managed just fine. If you can make it through the airport with your luggage, you're probably fine. The cab might get a little crowded, but I would recommend this method to anyone. Don't waste money on a private car or any other method.
Old May 19th, 2002, 05:22 PM
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Please see my post in response to Cathy's question; I'd not seen yours at that time. Again, this is the method I greatly recommend.
Old May 20th, 2002, 04:39 AM
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I was thinking about this again last night with respect to would I do this when traveling w/ children. I think it would depend on the age of the children and not having any of my own I don't know that I know exactly what that means! Anyway, if the kids are old enough to reasonably enjoy a 30 minute train ride and see some interesting sites my answer remains the same. If the kids are at the ages where you'll have a tough time keeping control of them, you may want to get a car...smaller confines might help.

If there is anyway to take the train, do it. When we were going I was apprehensious as the city I live in doesn't have subways nor any good train system. I think that is why I even gave it a second thought. They really know how to do trains right over there and it was just as easy as getting a rental car in the US...not that that is all that easy anymore.
Old May 20th, 2002, 04:55 AM
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Food will not be a disappointment in London if people would eat somewhere other than pubs. Few pubs really cook, it is mostly preprepared ; there a few good ones but not that many
Old May 20th, 2002, 05:13 AM
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Traveling with two kids, and probably dealing with sleep deprivation and jet lag, I would definitely hire a car.

The cost difference isn't so great. As Mike said, the train is £11 per person and the cab's another ten; London Transfers will take you door-to-door from Gatwick to your hotel for £54. I have heard that Swiss Cottage is cheaper, but I don't know anything else about them.
Old May 20th, 2002, 05:41 AM
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Mike, two comments on your trip....

I'm surprised at you not finding diet sodas! There's pretty much a diet version of everything and usually most restaurants will have at least diet Coke or 7-Up or something similar. Were you looking for drinks marked "light" - they're all called "diet" here!

Secondly, you say you refused to eat the beef. If you're not normally a meat eater then I apologise for this, but how many times do we have to tell you all.....


In fact, given the precautions that are required in the UK, I'd go as far as to say that beef in the UK is now probably the safest in the world. Foot and mouth was ended by killing all the cattle which came into contact with it - and was brought in to the country by imported beef anyway. As for BSE, all meat cattle are killed by 30 months whether or not they are needed for the meat. As far as I know - and I might well be wrong and I'm sure someone will tell me if I am! - there hasn't been a BSE case in the UK for quite some time. Ah well, at least it meant you didn't eat at the Angus Steak Houses....!

london chef's point is true though. On the whole (though there are some exceptions) pubs in central London aim their food at tourists and generally are of pretty poor quality - especially the fish and chips (see other posts.) My suggestions for food if you must eat in pubs would be to find an All Bar One or a Wetherspoons (no kids allowed, though) or a Hogshead.
Old May 20th, 2002, 06:23 AM
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what pubs pre-prepare the food?
We ate at the Albert,it was fresh and cooked on premises.And the pub on Beachamp Place,you could see the kitchen and they cooks.Fresh baked Baps!
Old May 20th, 2002, 06:32 AM
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I'm afraid it's true Curious. Whilst food in pubs is improvong, and some do have excellent chefs on the premises, many still have just a microwave and a deep fat fryer to throw their bags of frozen chips in.

It's worht buying a good guide on the subject so you don't get caught out. Time Out does a pub guide for London, and Hardens' "cheap Eats in London" covers the best pub fare available.
Old May 20th, 2002, 06:35 AM
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Sorry, Mike, there are still several hundred BSE cases found in cattle in the UK each year at the moment, though the total is falling each year. This does not mean that infected meat is entering the human food chain, but it is up to each visitor to make their own decision.

for a clear summary of the available evidence.
Old May 20th, 2002, 06:55 AM
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Londoner, I appreciate your comments on the beef and I don't doubt them at all. We just figured that we could go without for a week and despite all the precautions didn't want to regret our trip for a lifetime! There was a case of hoof and mouth in some pigs while we were there; not in the UK but in another EU country. On the plus side, because we didn't eat beef (and recall we don't like fish) we actually didn't spend much on meals while we were there compared to other vacations (holidays in the US.
Old May 20th, 2002, 06:58 AM
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I'm going to keep posting here as I remember fun things/interesting things from our trip.

One of the things we enjoyed most was going to a Starbucks (are there more in London than anywhere else on earth?), getting a paper and reading, talking, people watching. I especially liked the Starbucks in Leicester Square for the people watching and the Costa Cafe in Soho for more of the same.

We loved the Haagen Daas (sp?) in Leiceter Square. I'd never seen an ice cream shop that seated you and took your order. That was awesome.
Old May 20th, 2002, 07:26 AM
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Just wanted to 2nd or third Mike's info. I don't have any stats, but I suspect the Gatwick express is both cheaper and quicker than a cab, plus your children can (kind of) run around during the trip. It is very easy to board or unload luggage from the Gatwick Express, b/c the trains (at least at Victoria) sit there for a long time. We opted to forego the next train that was leaving and board the subsequent train. A 15 minute wait, but the train was empty we share our compartment with one other couple (and had plenty of space for our luggage). A cab from County Hall took us to the back? of Victoria, very close to the Gatwick trains. One thought: You may have to make arrangements to get a cab to pick you up at County Hall. The Travel Inn had a phone for one service, but not black cab. However, lots of cabs drop off at the London Eye (next door) and we snagged one of those.
Old May 20th, 2002, 08:11 AM
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We had stayed at the Marriott at County Hall and had no problem getting cabs whenever we wanted w/in two minutes. We left the hotel on a Saturday around 7:30 a.m. as I recall and the cab took less than one minute to approach after the hotel rep turned on the light indicating one was needed.

Getting on the trains at Victoria was a piece of cake and took less than five minutes to get out of the cab, go down the escalator, buy tickets (didn't pre-pay), stow the luggage on the train (very full train on the return actually) and get a seat. I was nervous about how long it would take and how long security would take but we ended up with about 2 extra hours at the airport. Security took all of about 20 minutes to clear on a Saturday at that hour.
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