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Trip Report Trip Report London, Vienna, Prague - Part 1

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Trip Report
Part 1.

Flew non-stop JFK–London, flight arrived Saturday 7AM London time, right around the time we would be going to sleep in NY. Didn’t get any sleep on the plane, so, being as we had only 2 days in London, we were going to trudge on as long as we could, missing one night’s sleep. It wasn’t easy; I probably would avoid doing it in the future.

When we went to get our luggage, had a temporary moment of panic when it seemed like all the luggage had been picked up off the carousel and ours was nowhere to be seen. We went over to the airline desk and then realized we were at the wrong carousel. I guess tiredness can do that to you.

Retrieved our luggage and walked to the tube station and bought our oyster cards. I remembered that someone had said you can return the card at the end for a refund and that was what I intended to do. I calculated later in the trip and figured that I saved money using the oyster card instead of 2 all day travel cards.

Those of you who read my posts before the trip questioned my choice of hotel and the long trip from Heathrow to Stratford had me questioning it myself. However, once we settled in, I still think I made a good choice.

My goal for hotels, on this trip, was to get a highly rated hotel for a good price, away from the center of things, but near to transportation with fast easy access to the sights. I accomplished that with all 3 of my hotels, Westbridge in London, Rainers in Vienna and Hotel Julian in Prague.
Between the 3 I averaged spending only about $85/night for 9 nights.

While my wife was getting ready that first morning, I went to the lounge/business center of the Westbridge to print some information off the internet. The lounge reminded me of one of those stodgy club lounges where men sit around smoking cigars and drinking brandy. When I looked next to the computer keyboard there was a chocolate Easter egg. Turns out I had found one of the hunted Easter eggs they told me about when I checked in. When I took the egg to the reception I found out I had won a 25% off coupon for the hotel restaurant, which I wound up using the next day on Easter.

We set off on our first day in London, tired as can be, but excited to be touring. Knowing that the churches would be closed on Sunday, my goal was to see St Paul’s and Westminster Abbey.
The walk from the hotel to the Stratford station was very close. I was also able to see where I would catch the bus to Stansted Airport, right there on Monday morning.

My first stop was St Paul’s. My wife was fighting off a cold so she was asking for soup. As luck would have it there was a little soup shop as soon as we hit the street right behind St Paul’s. We walked past the Temple Gate, which the Rick Steves guidebook told me had been disassembled and relocated a couple of times. I had bought my ticket to St Paul’s online, so we were able to bypass the line. We walked around viewing the amazing interior; I was taking pictures and videos and only realized on the way out that picture taking was not allowed.

Next destination was Westminster Abbey. The line was rather long but we waited in the chilly weather, paid our 40GBPs and went in. Of course, this is something that should not be missed, but the admission is somewhat steep. I guess the free museums makes up for it.

After the Abbey it was time to eat. Being in London, what is the first thing is you want to eat. fish and chips, of course. Not having enough time to seek out any of the good shops I read out about, I asked a worker for a recommendation. He sent us to The Feathers which I see now that someone describes on Yelp ‘nice ales and lagers, comfy chairs and a traditional decor with plenty of brass to be seen’, an accurate description. I enjoyed my fish and chips and beer. I would have enjoyed a nap at that point but on we went.

We walked onto Westminster Bridge and took some nice pictures with Big Ben and The Houses of Parliament in the background. We then proceeded up Whitehall. Along the way we encountered marchers, in an anti-fascist demonstration. I’m all for that. Much better than a fascist demonstration. We took some pics of the marchers and my wife also posed with a couple of London Bobbies.

We came to the National Gallery, and I decided to pop in for a quick look around. I sought out a few of our favorite artists, Vermeer, Monet and Van Gogh. We always seek out Vermeer paintings, wherever we go, since there are only 36 in the world, I think, and he was a great painter. I, also, love Monet’s Gare St Lazare paintings. I had seen the one at the Orsay and now I’ve seen the one at the National Gallery. As Zola said ‘Monet’s work on the Gare Saint-Lazare is unparalleled in its evocation of steam and the smoke-filled station’. I would have loved to spend a whole day at the National Gallery, but being short on time we moved on.

Upon leaving the National Gallery, we walked past Leicester Square, and on to Piccadilly Circus.
The energy of the mass of humanity around that area is fantastic. We enjoyed watching a group of young male hip hop dancers, taking turns and doing their jumping and flipping type dancing. It was, also, amusing to watch a couple of overweight Sikh tourists, with pretty good rhythm, join in on the dancing. Everyone was having a good time.

Later in the day we wound up in the Covent Garden area and I sought out a vegetarian restaurant that some guy on yelp had listed, ‘Food for Thought’. We went down into the cramped basement where a bunch of mostly young folks were chowing down. The place was closing up but we were able to get some food. They serve you a bowl of anything, cafeteria style, for 5 pounds. I had a vegetarian chile which I liked, my wife got a stew, but she said she didn’t like it.

At this point we had done so much walking that our legs were in pain, and my wife was starting to get PO’d. I pushed it and made her take a quick look at the Covent Garden market. I guess it’s something you should see. Ready to keel over we walked over to the nearest tube station only to find out it was closed and that we had to walk a few blocks more to the next station. Just when I thought I might have to call a bicycle taxi. I saw the entrance to the next station and we made it onto the train and back to Stratford.

To be continued..

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    Great start to your report - you write well!

    >>" I calculated later in the trip and figured that I saved money using the oyster card instead of 2 all day travel cards. "

    You're clearly cost-conscious, so curious why you chose not to use the 2 for 1 offers for Westminster & St Paul's?

    Looking forward to more of London, then take us on the the continent!

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    Part 2 – Easter Sunday London

    As can be expected, we took our time getting going on Sunday. That is, my wife took her time. She can fall asleep as soon as her head hits the pillow and sleep straight through. Myself, I toss and turn all night then get up early, especially when I’m in a foreign country, I’m not going to waste the morning sleeping.

    So I left her in bed, and went out with my cameras to discover a little bit of old Stratford. The day started out gloomy and cold, but later would turn sunny. I took a walk on High Street taking pictures of interesting looking buildings, a Tudor style pub, ‘The Builders Arms’, the ‘King Edward VII’ , an early 18th-century pub with pedimented doors and bay windows, ‘St. Johns’ church from 1832 built in “the early English style”. To someone who lives around there, these are probably just ordinary looking buildings, but, to someone from the States, these old buildings are fascinating.

    I walked further on until I found an open grocery store and bought some oranges, bananas and a pack of dates to take back to the room. I was surprised that the dates only cost about 50 pence; in the U.S. those dates would be about 2 or 3 dollars. I walked back through the neighborhood looking at the salt box row houses; one was particularly nice with a pebbly type facing with vines growing on it.

    We got out of the room around 11, so I decided to use my 25% coupon which I won the day before in the hotel Easter egg hunt, at the hotel restaurant. The kitchen was not quite ready to serve lunch yet, so we killed a little time taking pictures in front of the fireplace and sitting in the plush leather couch, in the hotel ‘Club’ room. The lunch turned out to be very good, we both had appetizers and delicious broiled baby lamb chops with chips, or as we call them in America, french fries.

    Although it was way late to see the changing of the guard, we started out to see Buckingham Palace. I was glad in a way that I wouldn’t have to deal with a crowd. A short walk over to Stratford station and a quick ride on the tubes and we were exiting out near Victoria Station. Being an iconic name known worldwide, we went over to see what the station looks like. With its large clock and mansard roofs, it’s a beautiful old building.

    We walked on over to Buckingham Palace, passing a large metal statue of a man upside down with his head buried in the ground. At the Palace the changing of the guard was over, but that didn’t matter much as we could get up close to the fence and take some long distance shots of the guards that were still standing there. Suddenly one started to march on over toward the other guard, like he wanted to tell him something, but he suddenly turned and went back to his booth. It was good to get some movement though, for my video. We took some nice pictures of the gates around the palace and walked around the area seeing the big archways in the road and the mall. We went into Green Park and saw some nice fields of yellow daffodils. They were starting to wilt, but were beautiful none the less. Especially, since the sun had come out. It was turning into a beautiful day for sightseeing.

    We walked on over to St James Park, it was nice to observe the locals out enjoying the weather.
    We looked at the ducks, geese and swans around the lake. I have never seen such big colorful ducks. One of the geese looked like he was posing and I got a nice picture. You don’t see that European breed of goose in America. They’re way more attractive than the Canadian geese that we have. We were enjoying the park but it was time to move on, more to see.

    We got in the tube to get over to the Thames to see London Bridge. It was actually Tower Bridge that we wanted to see, but I’m sure I’m not the first person to make that mistake.
    I’m probably not the first person, either, to get off at that station singing the ‘London Bridge is falling down’ song, but I was having a good time.

    Walking over to London Bridge we stopped at a food stall and bought a crepe with chocolate and strawberries. The vendor complained she was so busy that day. I joked with her that she must be making a lot of money. It was good that I joked with her because I got her to like me and she would later give me a good restaurant recommendation, which also caused me to walk in an area that I would have, otherwise, missed. We ate our crepe and walked out on the bridge to take some pictures with Tower Bridge in the background. My wife complained that there was a naval ship in the way, I joked that I would go tell them to move it. My wife got mad at me for being sarcastic. To appease her we walked along the promenade toward Tower Bridge getting some nice views across the river looking at the ‘Cheese Grater’ and the ‘Gherkin’. Why do the English like to name their buildings after food? We could also see the Tower of London, which was good because I had no plan of visiting it. We walked far enough to take pics of the Tower Bridge, without a ship in front of it. Then we started walking back to look for a place to eat.

    Not knowing where to go, I stopped back at my friend the crepe lady and asked her for a restaurant recommendation. She joked that I could come eat at her house. Then in her heavy English accent she asked her husband where we she should send us and he said go to the Anchor on the banks on the other side of the bridge. So we went that way and were pleasantly surprised to see the area called Bankside. Lo and behold I was inadvertently doing one of the walks recommended in the guidebook. We passed Southwark church and I got a nice picture of the old church with the new Shard building behind it. I really enjoyed that walk and was glad I didn’t miss it. We found the Anchor and accidentally came in the wrong way from the upstairs entrance and there was an empty table so I asked the bar tender if we could sit and he said yes.
    It was fortunate we got that table because I noticed after that there were no more available tables and people were being turned away.

    We sat there at the table for a while, the chairs were old and deep , hard to reach the table but comfortable for lazing in. After sitting there for about 20 minutes I realized there was no waiter and I needed to go to the bar to order my food. I liked that style better as there was no waiter that needed tipping. I ordered us a couple of pints. I had the fish and chips and my wife had an assortment of fried foods. We sat back and enjoyed our last evening and meal in London, in that ancient pub.

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    Marking to read later (I'm getting ready to leave for London myself in a couple of days so no time right now). Was wondering how you managed -

    Just one quick comment: I notice you started another thread w/ the Easter Sunday report. That looks like you plan on posting lots of threads for your TR. It is usually much better to just tack each installment on to this thread. If you start multiple threads they all get separated, some get read, some don't. Much easier to follow along on one master thread.

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    LCBoniti, Thank you for reading.

    janisj, We had a good time. I'd like to go again some day, and do it at a more leisurely pace. That first day was really hard, going without sleep and killing our legs.

    Except for the long ride from Heathrow, the Westbridge is an excellent low budget option. The ride into the city didn't feel long at all. You've got the tubes, bus and dlr all right near by.

    I reposted separately, because it didn't seem like the part 2 was getting read by anyone. I also edited it a little.

    Hope you have a good time. What area are you staying?

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