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travelgirl2 Jun 15th, 2006 01:31 AM

Travelgirl's Trip of a Lifetime
Hello Fodorites! We are about to embark on our trip of a lifetime. 11 weeks travelling through Asia and Europe. First stop... London.

Muchas gracias for all the suggestions and advice. I will try to post little reports as we go along. We are a family, with boys aged 11 and 13. We are staying at a combination of hotels and apartments. Looking to experience different cultures and hoping to last the summer without experiencing complete exhaustion!

Carrybean Jun 15th, 2006 02:52 AM

What a grand time you'll have. Enjoy every second.

Margo_Chester Jun 15th, 2006 03:45 AM

Have a wonderful, safe journey! Looking forward to a few reports "from the road"

SuzieC Jun 15th, 2006 04:30 AM

Where is home Travelgirl2? Going "around the world"?

travelgirl2 Jun 15th, 2006 01:13 PM

Home is New Jersey, so I guess, yes, we're going 'round the world.

Right now, we are facing the challenge of packing. It seems that we are running to this store and that store for all the things we need for our trip. New bathing suits, watches, snacks for the plane ride, a new suitcase, sunscreen, some clothes, sandals, etc., etc., etc.

There was a fun thread a couple of months ago about everything you have to do at home while preparing for the trip. I feel like I'm doing everything that was on everyone's list!

We are also experiencing the last few days of school, with all the attendant celebrations, gifts, etc. 3 more days to go and we'll be aloft!

travelgirl2 Jun 16th, 2006 08:58 AM

Ok, now that we are just about to leave, our house is falling apart. Five days ago, our dishwasher broke. Yesterday afternoon, we noticed that the leechfield around our septic tank is flooded (that can't be good, can it?). Last night, I heard a tremendous "boom" resound throughout the house. After verifying that DH was still in one piece, we hunted for the source of the noise. Turns out the garage door spring broke. Now, the garage door won't open and my car is a prisoner in the garage!

I have spent all morning working on the most pressing of these problems. Every repairman in New Jersey is fully booked today, even those that advertise "emergency service". Wish me luck!

HappyCheesehead Jun 16th, 2006 09:04 AM

Hi Travelgirl2 - Best of Luck to you for a great trip -you deserve it after a bizzaro week! We have been in the position of hearing that crazy boom and trying like h to figure out just what happened.

You might want to make sure the water is turned off to the house before you go, we once had a basement flood on a quick 5 day trip to Charleston. With your luck.......

CRAZY4TRAVEL Jun 16th, 2006 09:04 AM

Good luck travelgirl2. Getting ready for the trip is a marathon but half of the fun. Sounds like life is throwing you some curve balls though which is not fair. I hope you get your troubles worked out so you can have a carefree and wonderful holiday.

tower Jun 16th, 2006 09:47 AM

Travel girl...super news! How about sending us an itinerary so we can "follow" your exciting trip! The boys are the beneficiaries of a lifetime experience at a tender age! Enjoy!

Stu T.

escargot Jun 16th, 2006 10:27 AM


Think of it this way.

1. You won't need your dishwasher for 11 weeks anyway, so before you leave and when first back home, paper and plastic and no washing until the new one is installed.

2. Your septic will get a rest for 11 weeks, maybe the water table is high, maybe it's nothing too drastic. An 11 week rest will tell or a quick pump out before you go, and then bed rest for it for the 11 weeks. :)

3. hmmm...the car....borrow a friends, rent one, forget about it ! ANything you don't have, you can buy if you need it or do without.

4. No one is sick, your trip is still on - it's warm out...the boys can shower with a hose outside until you leave :)

Think....this too shall pass......leaving...escaping....soon....excitement ....exploration...leaving all worries behind !!

BON VOYAGE and keep good notes - can't wait for the trip report....

travelgirl2 Jun 16th, 2006 11:54 AM

No success in remediating anything. Everything will have to wait until we get back. Good thing I drove to the store yesterday and bought more paper plates and toilet paper. Well, I guess we don't need the toilet paper since no one is allowed to use the bathroom for the next 2 days!

Thanks for all your encouraging posts! I will definitely check the water. And, escargot, I am so pumped up after reading your post. You should be a motivational speaker.

LoveItaly Jun 16th, 2006 12:34 PM

Hi travelgirl, why do emergencies always happen at the worse times? Story of my life and many others it seems.

wishing you and your family a wonderful eleven weeks, what a summer you will have! Memories to last a lifetime. When you get on that plane just forget about everything and just think about having your family with you for eleven special weeks in very wonderful locations.

travelgirl2 Jun 17th, 2006 08:18 AM

I am reminded of what great friends and neighbors I have. So many people have offered to lend a car or even drive me around town. Such generosity. It reminds me why I love living here.

And, good news. I had reserved a 9 passenger van from AutoEurope for $1449 (manual transmission) for a week in Tuscany. (We have family joining us.) I found a better price on and AutoEurope agreed to match it. $1187 for an automatic. Yeah!

Things are looking up :)

kswl Jun 17th, 2006 08:56 AM

&quot;An 11 week rest will tell or <i>a quick pump out</i> before you go&quot; . . .

there is no such thing as a quick pump out of a too-full or non-functioning septic tank, alas. :(

travelgirl2 Jun 18th, 2006 04:36 PM

We flew from Newark to London this morning. We much prefer the 8 am flight to an overnight flight. You do lose the day to travelling, but you arrive ready for a walk and dinner and a late bedtime. The next morning, we'll be ready to roll.

The flight was uneventful. Due to the magnitude of the logistics for the trip, I was up late making various arrangements. At about 1 am, when I knew I would only get a couple of hours of sleep, since our ride was coming at 5 am, I decided to book a London airport taxi. I sent an online request to (based on several of your recommendations here). The response came back that I would hear in 24 hours. Uh oh. We would be arriving before then. So I called and was told they were fully booked. I tried another limo service and they were fully booked. It looked like we were going to take the Heathrow Express after all. Then, surprise, in the morning there was an email from justairports saying that we would need a larger vehicle for 4 people and our luggage. Now, I was confused. Was there a car available or wasn't there? So, I decided to act as if we had definitely arranged a car and sent back a note saying the larger vehicle was okay and that we would like to confirm the ride.

Then, we piled our luggage in the New Jersey airport limo and took off. I felt bad that we were half an hour late leaving our house and the limo driver had to wait. But then again, I had only had one hour of sleep. There were no hard feelings though, as the limo driver told us all about her year living in Japan and gave us lots of helpful advice. She said that where she lived, if a restaurant owner crossed his arms and raised them slightly while frowning, it means that he is refusing to serve you. She said that there are no laws to prevent someone from refusing to serve anyone they chose and that she saw it happen more than once. Interesting. In the US, that just wouldn't be pc (politically correct). Hopefully, we will only meet friendly restauranteurs.

We got to the airport in plenty of time. While checking in to our Virgin flight, we learned of the weight limit for carryon items. 6 kg. We pulled out an empty bag and stood in line, re-distributing the weight in our 5 carryons, spreading it among 6 carryons. (They allow 1 personal item plus 1 carryon.) I am afraid this is probably the first of many instances where we will not be completely informed. Because of the amount of arrangements I've made, I simply have not been able to be thorough about any one thing. We will have to live with this. So far, it seems that we are all taking everything in stride and regarding this as an adventure.

LoveItaly Jun 18th, 2006 04:55 PM

An adventure!! Yes travelling is travelgirl. Intersting comment about the restaurant owners/managers in Japan.

Enjoy..and I hope you will be be doing a running commentary during your trip. Best wishes and do enjoy every moment no matter what happens.

travelgirl2 Jun 18th, 2006 04:55 PM

Day 1 - London

We arrive at Heathrow at 8:30 pm. The other passengers tell me they saw ambulances and fire trucks as we taxi'd to the gate. We all agree that we think we have been circling for a while. I never find out what was going on.

As go through immigration, there is no line at all. We walk right up to an agent. He asks the kids all sorts of questions. How long are we in London, where we are going next, why we are here, what we want to see. He wants to hear the kids answer, particularly the youngest, who is so shy that he doesn't know what to say. He keeps us for what seems like 10 minutes, having fun with us. He is testing the kids on the difference between sushi and sashimi, what there is to see in Kyoto, etc. Oh, did I mention that we are in London for 2 nights and then on to Japan? Well, the agent is very funny, but we are tired and want to get to the hotel, so I am happy when he lets us through.

Now, the big question is - will there be a car waiting for us or not? As we exit, we see lots of men holding signs with people's names on them. We scan the crowd, scan it again, then walk a little further and scan a second group of waiting drivers. Nope, nothing. And we'd been so hopeful. Then I glance an internet kiosk. 1 GBP for 5 minutes. As I long onto my email account, hoping for a confirmation message, my son starts talking to me about something. I tell him, wait, wait, I only have 5 minutes here. I successfully log on and scan through the messages. Yes! There is one from just airports. But, will it say there is no car available? I open it and... it says our ride is confirmed and we should meet our driver in front of the Hertz desk. Hooray! So, we go there and there he is. And a delightful chap he is. DH sits in the front seat and they strike up a conversation the entire way into London. The kids sit in the back seat and take a cat nap. It turns out the driver has also been to Japan and he gives us more advice. He is big into the quality of life and makes several observations that strike home with me about how people work hard and are under so much stress. He recommends that we go to Edgeware Road to find a quick restaurant for dinner. When he drops us off at the hotel, I feel that we are friends and I have to restrain myself from hugging him goodbye.

We check into the Thistle Marble Arch. 2 rooms, but they don't have connecting rooms to give us. I read another poster who got connecting rooms, so that would have been nice for us. But, I got this hotel for $107 per night (including taxes and fees) per room on Priceline, so I can't complain. The rooms they give us are on the 7th floor and are much bigger than the 8th floor room I had last time I was here. This really is a decent hotel, especially at Priceline rates.

We drop off our stuff and head out for a 4 block walk to Edgeware Road. We go to the Beirut Express, at the corner of George Street. At 10:30 pm, it is packed and bustling and there is also a line of take-out diners waiting for their food. We sit right down, nodding and saying hello to two gentlemen next to us. It is a long table for 12 people, so we are right next to each other.

travelgirl2 Jun 18th, 2006 05:17 PM

There must be something about being on vacation. At home, we might exchange a few words with strangers. Here in London, we are having hour-long conversations with strangers. The 2 Indian gentlemen next to us are very friendly. One of them is a businessman from Dubai. He has been to New Jersey several times, so we exchange notes. He tells us all about Dubai. It sounds like a fascinating place.

The other man suggests what we should order. When we agree, he calls the waiter over and orders for us. As we eat, he asks us if everything is okay. When he notices that we are out of pita bread, he calls the waiter over and orders more.

He is a fascinating and gracious man. He has referreed at Wimbledon. His friend tells us he has been recognized by the Queen. It turns out his son (in New Jersey!) is in the same line of work as DH, so he gives us his business card. At the end of the meal, he disappears for a little while and when he returns, his friend tells us he has treated us to dinner. We are stunned. We repeatedly thank him for his hospitality. As they leave, we just sit there, still stunned. As we realize that we have licked every plate clean (metaphorically), we leave too.

When we return to the hotel, it hits me that we are actually in London and our adventure has begun!

LoveItaly Jun 18th, 2006 05:24 PM

Travelgir, A good beginning..which I am sure means a good eleven weeks. I enjoyed your post, and hope to see so many more!!

travelgirl2 Jun 18th, 2006 05:30 PM

Thank you LoveItaly. It is so much fun to make these posts. I am glad that they are being read.

I hope others are enjoying them too. I know that I love to vicariously enjoy other people's trips.

Sometimes it is discouraging to post and then not know if anyone has read your post, so thank you to everyone who has encouraged me by letting me know you were reading.

kenderina Jun 18th, 2006 05:34 PM

That's a good beginning, sure :) Waiting for your next chapter !!

SandyBrit Jun 18th, 2006 05:35 PM

travelgirl2 - What an adventure you are all on. You are all truly blessed.

Looking forward to your reports.


maryanne1 Jun 18th, 2006 05:38 PM

Enjoying your post. Keep it going. It is wonderful to have someone waiting for you upon arrival. What a wonderful experience you had at dinner!! So generous! It makes you feel all the planning and worry are worth it all. Will look forward to your further adventures.

Croque_Madame Jun 18th, 2006 06:20 PM

Hmmm..let me tally this up..

Dishwasher, kaput. Septic tank, questionable. Garage door, a goner.

Family flew across the ocean, arrived safely. Airport limo driver, immigration officer, London driver, all friendly. Free dinner, good. Cross cultural, genuine human to human connection at dinner, remarkable. Educational and entertainment value for children, inestimable.

I'd say you're definitely ahead of the game. Keep it going! You and your family are exactly the sort of ambassadors this world needs.

noe847 Jun 18th, 2006 06:22 PM

Your report is so great, travelgirl! What a wonderful start to your trip. I love reading the in progress trip reports. Where are you going on this trip? Are your boys keeping journals? They will certainly want to remember the different experiences.

rkyracr Jun 18th, 2006 06:39 PM

Travelgirl -
It sounds like your trip is now off to a good start (maybe the house just needs a vacation too!).
I look forward to reading your future posts, it is great that you are posting during your trip, as I really feel like I am along for the ride with you.
I would like to hear what you children enjoy while in London - I will be going there in December with my family.
Have a great time!

HappyCheesehead Jun 18th, 2006 06:48 PM

Hiya Tripgirl2:

I am in for the duration and loving it. It will be fun to hear of your adventures as you go. Hope you will have the time and inclination to keep in touch with us here in Fodorland as you make your way across this wonderful planet of ours!

Bailey Jun 18th, 2006 07:07 PM

Oh, what a grand first day!!!!

Have a trmendous time!!

You didn't miss anything here in Jersey today....very hot n' humid!!

degas Jun 18th, 2006 07:24 PM

&quot;When we return to the hotel, it hits me that we are actually in London and our adventure has begun!&quot;

Is that not one of the best feelings in the world? Hope you have a great time.

LCBoniti Jun 18th, 2006 08:35 PM

travelgirl -
I love the story about the Indian gentlemen! They demonstrated the true definition of the word &quot;gentlemen&quot;.

Please do post when you can. It's such fun for us to enjoy your trip with you!

annabelle2 Jun 18th, 2006 09:33 PM

Good for you for taking your family on this adventure. How long will you be in Japan, your next stop, and where are you planning to go? I lived there as a kid and it is a favorite of my family's. I think your boys will find it fascinating. What countries are on your itinerary?

Look forward to hearing more from the road...

christieCA Jun 18th, 2006 11:05 PM

What an amazing trip already! I can't wait to read more about it. My Dad took us on a couple 5 week vacations when we were the age of your sons. It was the greastest thing he could have done and I am addicted to travel because of it. Your boys will appreciate this trip forever.

kamahinaohoku Jun 19th, 2006 05:47 AM

Bookmarking this because I want to read the rest of your excellent report!

SiobhanP Jun 19th, 2006 06:52 AM

This is such a great experience for your kids as well. We always end up chatting to someone unusual and discover new places to see/eat and drink in a city. found a great restaurant when we went for new Years this past year through a doorman at a pub we chatted to all night. He was from Gujarat, India studying in London and reccommended a Lebanese restaurant (Tasty!) and a few Indian places to eat. Such a lovely person

Enjoy the adventure thats what its all about!

lolfn Jun 19th, 2006 08:20 AM

can't wait to read more!

travelgirl2 Jun 19th, 2006 02:57 PM

Day 2 - London

Ah, London. What can I say? A place where they remind you to &quot;mind the gap&quot;. Where the sign in the subway says &quot;please give your seat up to anyone who needs it more than you do&quot;. Charming.

We decide to sleep in. Then we work on our iPod. It seems to have crashed. We consider going to the Apple store in London, but eventually decide that there are other things we'd like to do. So, we have a late lunch at the Churchill Arms Pub. It is near the Notting Hill Gate tube stop. We love this place. It has Thai food and most (all?) of the dishes are 6 GBP. The dining room is very casual and atmospheric, with a canopy of hanging plants. We order 3 dishes for the 4 of us and enjoy them so much that we order another Pad Thai to share.

Then, we stop at a bookstore. Our next stops are: Tokyo (2 nights), Kyoto (5 nights), then China. I see evidence that the Europeans really do travel more than the Americans. Their travel section is amazing. I could stay here for hours, just browsing. But, we quickly pick up a couple of books for Japan. One thing I notice is that they have a lot of books covering 1 city, rather than a whole country. This is great, as I really want a book on Kyoto, which I was unable to find at home. Here, no problem.

Then, we head over to our &quot;event&quot; for the day. London is having an Architecture Week this week (June 16-25) - the &quot;London Architecture Biennale&quot;. There is a walking tour at 6 pm. We have to find the Smith House, which is near St. Bartholomew the Great (church). So we go to the church and start walking around in circles. Soon it is 5:50pm so I start asking people. No one has any idea. One fellow says he is going to a neighboring pub and he thinks someone there may know. We accompany him to the pub. DH does not hear this conversation exactly, so he wonders why I tell everybody that we are following this guy. Well, the friends at the pub don't know either. Then, one of the friends says he knows someone who may know - a policeman. We go over to another fellow sitting at the bar. He says he did see them renovating a house for the biennale and maybe that is it. We get directions and set off. The original man and friends say that if we don't find it, we should come back and have a pint with them.

We find the house, which is the Smithfield House, purchase tickets and sit to wait for the arrival of the guide.

travelgirl2 Jun 19th, 2006 03:30 PM

Everyone around us is enjoying a beer. We sit in the courtyard and notice the hip vibe. Soon the tour guide comes along. His name is Benedict O'Looney. He tells us he is a professor of architectural history. We set off on the walk.

The walk turns out to be fascinating. Although a little heavy on architecture and a little long (3 hours) for DS1 and especially DS2 (dear son 1 and dear son 2). There were about 20 of us, including 5 architects, in the group. It was billed as family friendly and it truly was. He was an excellent tour guide, very informative while still light and entertaining. We walked from Smithfield Market to Clerkenwell Green to Exmouth Market to Kings Cross.

One thing he pointed out is that London has a &quot;jump in perspective&quot; from one building to the next. Due to the different historical periods in which buildings were built, they may be only 3 stories or 6 stories, for example, but they are right next to each other. I began to notice this over and over as we were walking. We stopped to look at various buildings as he pointed out things that made them unique to their period in history - type of building materials, how recessed the windows were (related to new fire regulations in the 1800s), decorative elements, etc.

The biennale is set up as a walking path, with various exhibits along the way. There are red circles on the ground to show you the way. You can pick up a map at Smithfield House (at the corner of Lindsey and Charterhouse). One unique exhibit is &quot;Urban Oasis&quot;. A modern architect has set up a spaceship looking plastic and metal structure which is self-powered. It uses fuel cells, methane gas, moving solar panels and I don't know what else to power lights and sound. I cannot describe it adequately. I guess you have to see it to believe it. Very strange yet oddly beautiful in design.

From our tour guide, I also learned a new word. He told us if we had a chance we should &quot;circum-ambulate&quot; a certain area. It took a moment to realize he was saying we should walk around.

I was amused when I was chatting with a Londoner who was also on the tour. He said that the tour guide had an American accent. Huh? He sounded English to me. Maybe with somewhat less of an English accent. We learned later that the tour guide did indeed spend a large amount of time in the US. Interesting. I will have to listen more carefully.

We crossed paths with another of the Biennale events. A local cycle club had arranged bicycle tours along the Biennale route. We actually wanted to do one of these, but didn't know how to go about renting a bike. Probably better, because we stopped to listen to their group for a while. They were quite serious, debating the social implications of public versus private squares over time.

At the end of the walk, we finished at the building of the architecture firm that sponsored the walk. YRM. They have designed much of Gatwick Airport. They have recently converted an old brass foundery into a loft-type work space. They hosted a cocktail reception for all of the walkers and showed us around their office. In designing their own building, they seem to have thought much about the social implications of the architecture in the workplace. They designed an open floorplan, under huge crossbeams. No one is allowed to eat at their desk, to encourage interaction. Everyone is to clear their desks of extra papers every Friday afternoon, in order to have a clear head on Monday morning, not a messy desk. They have an open second level overlooking the first, which is designed as the meeting center, coffee room, lounge, library, etc. The purpose of this is to encourage interaction between co-workers. The gentlemen from YRM were very gracious and delightful to answer all our questions and chat a while.

The guide was very sweet to come up to the kids after the tour and tell them that they'd done quite well for all the grownup architecture talk that had been going on.

Then, even though DS1 had said at lunch that he would never eat again (something about being too full), we had a quick bite at a fish and chips and kebab place (only in London).

Tomorrow, we will spend the day on our 12 hour flight to Tokyo. Later in the trip, we'll be back to London for a 6 day stay. I'm already looking forward to it.

travelgirl2 Jun 19th, 2006 03:40 PM

The edit function is not working...

I meant to say that they did a lot of design work at Gatwick Airport, not that they designed much of Gatwick Airport (I don't know if that would be true)...

Vera Jun 19th, 2006 04:01 PM

Terrific and interesting report. How nice of you to take time from your trip to write this. Seems you have enough on your hands with two boys to keep up with!


laartista Jun 19th, 2006 04:13 PM

I second Vera, Very interesting report.Looking forward to the next installment.

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