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Opinionated London: Day 1

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Jul 13th, 2013, 04:55 AM
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Opinionated London: Day 1

My wife and I recently spent a week in London. It was my fourth visit, although two were just brief stop offs on the way to some place else. We really like the place for many reasons, all of which were reinforced by this trip.

Day 1

We took an overnight flight to Gatwick, which will be my last red-eye ever. The seats were especially uncomfortable and airlines apparently believe that people don't want to sleep on such flights, since they insist on meal services and announcements every 10 minutes. Really, what in the world is wrong with these airline morons?

We crawled out of the plane and found our way to the Brit Rail Gatwick ticket window, where we stopped to get out pre-ordered tickets train tickets into town. Then we asked for our train tickets for the a trip to York, and received 9 little orange cards. I was sure that it as a mistake, but it wasn't. British Rail has this very bizarre system of printing out separate cards for just about everything. Since the cards look nearly identical and have no obvious explanation of what they are for, it is a major task of keeping track of what card is for what. Really, really, bad system.

Arriving at Victoria Station where we bought 1 week travel cards. (We came prepared with our passport photographs). This was one of our best decisions, since we never had to think about topping up Oyster cards and never had to decide whether to walk or to take transport, and got reduced rates on some things. It is a great leg saver. The also came with a 2for1 book of coupons. Having been to London before and having been to the biggies (Tower of London, St. Paul's, Westminster Abbey, etc.), we didn't use it very much.

We arrived at out hotel, the Doubletree in Westminster around noon. It is hard to assess this hotel. I booked it because I got a deal for $200/night, cheap for London. I asked for a quiet room. The clerk asked if I were a Hilton member, so I pulled out my Hilton Gold card, which I had got online through some promotion, but had never used before. Ding ding ding ding!! It was like hitting the jackpot in Las Vegas. The bells went off and the coins came pouring down the slot! First, they gave us an upgraded executive room with a view of the river. Next, they gave us free breakfast every day. And their breakfasts are very substantial. And then I thought that I heard the clerk say they that we had free access to the minibar. I asked her to repeat it a couple of times so that I could be sure that I had heard right. Yes, free liquor and snacks for our entire stay. The cost of this alone would have been equivalent to the cost to our airfare.

The room was nice enough, but not all that large. I had heard that the rooms here were very small, which I can believe judging by what they considered an executive room. I had also heard that this was a high tech hotel. The most notable feature of the room was that it had no TV. Instead, it had an Apple Mac that guests used to watch TV, surf the net, etc. They were supposed to have free Skype calls, but I never try it since I had my own Skype.

The hotel's location not great, however. It is just off the edge of Tourist London and there is nothing around the hotel, no shops, no restaurants, no pubs. The only exception is the Tate Britain, a few blocks away. It is a 10 minute walk to the closest tube station at Pimlico. While not terrible, it gets to be a trek. I knew this going in, but assumed that we would just take the 88 bus that runs right by the front of the hotel. Unfortunately, but construction across from the hotel forced a route change so it didn't go by the hotel anymore. We never did take it and just trekked to Pimlico or slightly farther to St. James.

Anyway, the room wasn't ready so we wandered down to the Tate Britain blocks away to kill some time. I wasn't expecting much, but surprising found the place fairly interesting. The main attraction was an installation in the big main hall. In the very subdued light, a huge screen showed a series of pictures while this weird, low frequency music played. Excellent effect.

We returned to the hotel and after checking in, traveled to Oxford Circus via the Pimlico tube. What a bore. We checked out the big departments stores, but a department store is a department store. Some are fancier than others (Selfridges), but they are exactly the same everywhere in the world. My wife did get a bit nostalgic over Marks & Sparks, since she used to shop there years ago. But now it was just Sears with a slightly British accent. The other stores were same-old, same-old. Nothing unique, especially British or remotely interesting. Example: I wanted to buy one of those classic British woolen caps, but none of the stores even stocked them. Of course, London being so expensive, there was no point in buying anything since we could get the same stuff back home cheaper.

For dinner we walked a bit north to the Golden Hind, which has a very good rep. It's fairly plain, no-nonsense place. We were in and out fairly quickly. Also, we don't know that it is a BYOB place, so we were unprepared. As for food, the chips were ordinary, but the fish was superb. We both had haddock, which was velvety smooth and cooked perfectly. It's high reputation is definitely deserved. Of course, we have come to expect nothing less than top food in London. This trip did not disappoint.

We returned to the hotel to recover from our flight. Thus endth Day 1
popov is offline  
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Jul 13th, 2013, 10:54 AM
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A little belated welcome to Fodors Popov.

Might I make a suggestion - it is much easier for us to follow a trip report if you post it all on one thread. If you post a new thread for each day they become separated and most folks will give up trying to keep the pieces together.

Just post each installment as responses on the original thread.
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Jul 13th, 2013, 11:50 AM
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Those little cards are called tickets.
You usually get one for your seat reservation and one for your journey. The one for the journey will have your destination on it, if you look carefully. You need your ticket to get through the barrier to the platform.

It is possible that the shortage of woolly hats is because it is "Summer".
I sense the spirit of Mr. and Mrs. Ramsbottom hovering over this thread. To be fair, he doesn't slag off British food
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Jul 15th, 2013, 01:11 PM
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"Those little cards are called tickets.
You usually get one for your seat reservation and one for your journey. The one for the journey will have your destination on it, if you look carefully. You need your ticket to get through the barrier to the platform."

That's point. You shouldn't have to look carefully. That's very poor design.
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Jul 15th, 2013, 05:46 PM
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popov: >>That's point. You shouldn't have to look carefully. That's very poor design.<<

According to your various threads nothing in the UK meets your expectations/standards. Using trains there is a lot easier than most parts of the US.
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Jul 16th, 2013, 01:18 AM
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It's pretty easy to nit pick when on holiday, and compare your destination unfavourably with their home territory.

I have never understood the Italian system of paying for what you want and taking the receipt to the counter where you are served. But then I wonder why Americans persist with never stating the real price in shops, and adding some seemingly arbitrary percentage at the checkout. And don't get me started on compulsory tipping.

To make a whole thread on such petty niggles, while enlightening, is pompous.
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Jul 16th, 2013, 01:30 AM
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I think popov, makes some interesting points, I too bridle at some of his points (see the York trip) but it is worthwhile to see ourselves as others see us and I while I'm used to our tickets and find them far easier to use than the "airline" type used in continental Europe I also recognise they could be better. As could be the way of booking tickets.

Just for my interest popov, as I don't get to Gatwick as often as I used to, "Brit Rail Gatwick ticket window" is that the normal ticket window or is there yet another company selling special tickets outside the UK to foreigners?

Keep coming popov all interesting stuff and useful for others who follow on
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Jul 16th, 2013, 01:51 AM
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...I have never understood the Italian system of paying for what you want and taking the receipt to the counter where you are served...

I've wondered about that and think that it may be to guard against fraud in that you are guaranteed to get a receipt Mind you, there will be ways of getting round it.
I must say that I have found Mr. Popov very amusing. He reminds me of an American Victor Meldrew
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Jul 16th, 2013, 03:42 AM
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Why is the Italian system of paying for what you want and having it handed to you so puzzling? It is nearly identical thousands of quick eateries in the English-speaking world operate. You walk up to someone who is standing behind a cash register and order what what you want, pay for it, and they then assemble your order and hand it to you in a bag or box.

The only difference in Italy is that you deal with 2 different people: one is dedicated to taking your order and running the register and the other's job is assembling your order and giving you your food.

It is only places in Italy that serve coffee and other quick foods that follow this system. If you want to sit down at a table, a waiter will appear to serve you and hand you a check when you are done and you'll get a receipt when you pay.

It is done for the same reasons it is done in America: Efficiency. You can move customers through more quickly with this kind of assembly line operation. When everybody just piles up at the food service area, ordering and eating at the counter and waiting for a bill so they can pay and leave, it turns into a confusing snarl. Italians want to get in and out quickly when they pop into a bar for a coffee.
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Jul 16th, 2013, 03:56 AM
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>> Americans persist with never stating the real price in shops, and adding some seemingly arbitrary percentage at the checkout.<<

You mean the sales tax?

There are 50 different states in the United States, each with their own authority to impose a sales tax on retail goods (usually to pay for schools). The percentages are not "arbitrary", but they do differ from place to place. So if you buy $100 worth of goods in a clothing store in New Jersey, 3 percent sales tax will be imposed at the cash register, whereas in New York it might be 8 percent and in Connecticut it might be 5 percent. If you buy the sweater online, you probably won't sales tax at all.

I don't have a hard time understanding why stores don't put the sales tax on the price tag of the item hanging on the rack, and instead, tax your entire purchase at the cash register. But you can ask while you are in the store what the state sales tax is if you don't know, and roughly calculate for yourself what you will be paying at the register if you purchase a sweater marked $79,99.
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Jul 16th, 2013, 04:19 AM
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Enjoying the report Popov - very amusing and informative - thanks
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