Wednesday, December 19, 2007
I mistakenly thought that since we were visiting the UK in October the hostel scene would be quiet. Wrong. Maybe it was noisy because of thirty rowdy French men gathering together for the Soccer World Cup contest between England and South Africa, maybe it was noisy because of a school holiday, maybe it was noisy because of that reunion of Australian guys. All I know, it was noisy!!!!
All I know is that doors slammed 50 times a minute. Drunk men relieved themselves in the female bathroom showers, and what sounded like hundreds of seventh graders screamed and giggled up and down the halls. There hasn't been a sleeping pill made that could drown out all that noise. Besides, sleeping pills and coed dorms in hostels are probably not a good idea!
On the positive side, I never felt unsafe. The rooms and beds were clean and the staff was friendly and helpful.
All that said, I recommend staying in a B&B if at all possible. However, If you decide to stay in a hostel, here are a few tips:
*Of all the hostels we stayed in I recommend the Globetrotter Inns. The beds were comfortable and had curtains you could close for privacy. There was also a reading light. They use a cashless system which was nice. You put your money in a machine and stick in a card they provide and it "loads" the amount on your card which you swipe for each transaction. We stayed in the Globetrotter Inn at Edinburgh. It was situated on the Firth of Fourth. Beautiful. There were wonderful walking trails, a quaint little town close by with a delightful pub. If you want to go into city centre, there is a shuttle. They also had a 24 hr. bar. Which the Australian fellows enjoyed until the wee hours of the morning, and the rest of us were ready to stuff socks in their mouths! Which brings me to my second tip:
*Do not get a room close to the bathrooms! Or under stairs.
*It is worth the money and your sanity to get a double room far away from the main floor, or a room that sleeps four, max. Be careful though. For what you pay for a double room in a hostel, you may be able to stay at a B&B.
*I took locks and a sleep sack (full sheet, folded in half and sewed up one side) I didn't need them. Globetrotter had lockers in the rooms and provided the key. All the hostels provided clean sheets and duvet covers.
*My flashlight was a great idea!
*When you first arrive pay for only one night. Most do not give refunds. We payed for two at the Edinburgh Backpackers Hostel. Our first night was horrid! That's were the drunk French men made the female showers their urinals. Because of how the hostel is built, noise echoes up the stairwell that spirals to the top floor, reverberating in every room. After a night of doors slamming I wanted to move to another hostel, but we were stuck. Arrrrrgh!
All in all, I'm glad for the experience of hostels. And I as I mentioned earlier, I would stay in the Globetrotter Inns again. However, as far as all the other hostels go, I will leave the adolescents and twenty-somethings who are nocturnal by nature.
I have to have my beauty rest!
Sunday, December 2, 2007
The train ride from London Gatwick to York England was a little over three hours. They have a little concessions area on the train that sells hot and cold drinks, including beer. They also have sandwiches, breakfast breads, snacks, sweets, and “crisps” (chips) that you can enjoy while watching the pastoral scenery zip by. I know I fatigued all around me by constantly pointing out flocks of sheep all along the way. But hey, all I see around my area of the U.S. are cows.
After arriving in York late in the afternoon, we walked a little less than a mile to our Bed and Breakfast called the Holmlea Guest House. They provide you with a key for 24 hour access. The proprietors are not on the premises but for a few hours a day, but should you be arriving after the time they leave you will be given an access code and your key will be waiting for you.
We found our room clean, comfortable, and reasonably priced. They charge by the room, like in the U.S. instead of the more common, “per person, per day.” This was nice because the three of us were able to split the cost three ways. Even better, they didn’t have a triple room available, so we stayed in a less expensive double and put the youngster, my daughter Olivia, on a futon mattress on the floor. This helped our budget tremendously.
As in all the B&B’s I’ve stayed in while visiting England, there was a variety of teas, instant coffee, and a hot pot provided along with china cups and sauces. We refreshed ourselves and rested a while before walking back to city centre to find our first and only real meal of the day. Fall is a beautiful time to visit this city. Walking through the parks and down the quaint streets is a feast for the eyes.
No wonder there are so many places that claim to be haunted and several popular ghost walks. York was founded in 71 AD and has a history of being captured by violence. If you take one of the ghost walks you will hear all about it. We took the “Original Ghost Walk of York.” Actors take you on a historic walk after dark and tell ancient folklore and history. You won’t see any ghosts. It was interesting, but, be sure to count your change. The guide we had wasn’t really good at it—to his advantage, if you know what I mean.
Golden Fleece Pub
Evil Eye Internet Cafe
The next morning we woke to Holmlea’s continental breakfast of boxed juice—I was rather reluctant knowing how bad boxed juice tastes in the U.S., but it was surprisingly fresh—yogurt, croissants, and fruit. After a leisurely breakfast we dressed and went back to city centre to find an internet café and see York West Minster. While walking around town we asked locals if they knew of an internet café. Surprisingly, no one could tell us where to find one. Then we remembered to check our “Let’s Go” book and found the Evil Eye Internet Café. Interesting place. We sent our loved ones cyber messages of our safe arrival and set out.
Because we were on a tight budget and couldn't afford to pay all the admission prices, we went to only one "must see" in York, The York Minster, the widest Gothic cathedral in northern Europe.
If you are like me, plan to spend hours there. But if you are with fleet-footed traveling companions, as I was, try and stay at least 45 minutes. It is well worth the money.
Oscars Wine Bar and Bistro
Of course after all the thrilling tingles that danced all over my skin and brain, I got hungry. We decided on a little place called Oscars Wine Bar and Bistro on 8 Little Stonegate. Wow! Amazing food. So fresh! I had the Feta and Sunblushed tomato salad. Incredible. Chee Chee had Chicken Tikka with minted yogurt and Liv had the veggie cheeseburger. Each of our tabs were under ₤5.
I forgot to mention another neat thing about eating in pubs. You order at the bar and pay. They bring your food to you. No waiting for the check! Just eat and leave.
Early the next morning we left to catch the train to Edinburgh, Scotland. I left with mixed emotions. There were so many things yet to do and see, so many more places to eat! If you have the money and the time, stay longer and see all you can! For more information, go to http://www.visityork.org/ and http://www.picturesofengland.com/
Thursday, November 15, 2007
Back in the crowd, there were a lot of coughers, snifflers, sneezers. Thank goodness, I drank a lot of O.J. and Airborne fizzy tablets. The ride was rough. A lot of turbulence. Which surprised me since my flight there in '06 was so smooth. There were a few times I almost prayed, "beam me up, Jesus!" I stared at the attendants to detect any sign of fear. They kept their "poker faces" so I couldn't determine if we were seconds from the ocean or still safely suspended thousands of feet in the atmosphere.
I finally settled in for the thirteen hour journey. Since my seatmate was from the US, I didn't bother him--much. He was a lawyer on his way to meet friends in Brighton. Funny, he didn't look old enough to be a lawyer. And, since I must have appeared motherly, he asked me to wake him when the food came by, he didn't want to miss it. My nurturing genes kicked in and I totally forgot all the airy "potholes" we were hitting. He didn't miss a meal or a drink.
We landed and after a quick pass through customs, I found my daugher, Olivia, and sis-n-law, Terry (known to us as Chee Chee) We hopped the train and headed for York. Our great adventure as two old women and a young lady had begun!
- Airborne really works!
- STAY HYDRATED. Studies have shown this helps prevent getting sick on jets.
- If your flight is delayed, relax. It happens all the time. Don't let it get your trip off to a bad start. Find an interesting person and the time will go by fast.
- Wear something stretchy and comfortable. Ladies, I like Chico's travelers line. I know, I know, they are expensive, but you only need two pair, one clean and one dirty. They wash and dry so easily and if you keep them for traveling, they will last a long time. Think of it as a "clothing investment." At least you won't look like an unmade bed when you arrive. Gentlemen, my husband wears those nylon pants found at sporting stores like Lewis and Clark or Bass Pro.
- Again, pack as light as possible. Especially your carry on. You will thank yourself while running through airports! Remember, airports are really picky about what you carry on, so as much as possible, put all your liquids in your check in bag. For updated info go to: www.tsa.gov/press/happenings/9-25_updated_passenger_guidance.shtm
- NOTE: if you are flying out of London on your return trip, they now only allow ONE carry on.
- Remember, don't exchange money at airports!
- FYI, If you want to buy something on the jet, they will take USD or GBP. I wanted something that cost either 3lb or $5. I didn't have enough of either, so I offered a combination of pounds and dollars. They didn't go for it. The kind man next to me (the one I spoke to non-stop from London to Dallas) offered to buy it for me. :)
- Try and sleep on the jet. I said try, I never can. There are sleep aides, but I'm afraid I'll snore, no, I will snore. Besides, I always get hung up on a movie.
NEXT UP: YORK!
Me and Chee Chee in York
Friday, November 2, 2007
Saturday, October 20, 2007
But, if you ever have enough travel points you must come to Scotland. I'll post pictures, tips, and experiences when I get back.
Thursday, October 18, 2007
Tonight we are taking a Ghost Walk. I'll fill you in on that and pictures later.
Monday, October 15, 2007
Tuesday, October 9, 2007
“Not to worry,” said the banker. “You can exchange currency at the airport.”
We both breathed a sigh of relief. And that was good because we were going to need the extra oxygen.
The next morning we checked and rechecked to make sure she wasn't forgetting anything and finally made our way to the airport. She was all smiles, I faked it. After a cherry "fair well" I watched her till she disappeared behind security. When I got to the car I cried all the way home. I don’t know what it is about putting my babies on jets that breaks me up so. Okay, okay, so she’s twenty-five.
When Olivia arrived at George Bush International in Houston, she went to terminal D to exchange her money. At this time the current exchange rate was 1 to 2.04.
Olivia handed over her $800.00 and the lady returned to her 350 pounds!!! We calculated she'd get 392 pounds. Olivia called me, panicked. I asked her to read the receipt and found the ratio they used at the airport was 1-2.24.
“What’s the number there?” I said. “I’m going to call and see what’s going on.”
“No, it’s $5.00.”
“But, you charged a ratio of 2.24.”
“Well, yes, that’s our conversion.”
“But the current conversion is 2.04.”
“But that’s the conversion we charge.”
I could see that this conversation wasn’t going to save my daughter any money. But, at least I can get some satisfaction in warning all of you future travelers, DON’T EXCHANGE MONEY AT AIRPORTS!
In fact, in any foreign country, whenever possible, use an ATM or exchange in banks. Make sure that it is a bank. Not a place with a sign in the window advertising currency exchanges, or else you will pay big time.
I’ve gotten a lot of opinions on how much money to take. The consensus is that you :
- Take around 200 pounds, more or less depending on how long you are staying, to pay for food, pubs, and anywhere charge cards are not accepted.
- Take a debit card. Use it at ATM machines and when travelers checks are not accepted. The beauty of a debit card is that it is easy to cancel if lost or stolen.
- Use a credit card. That way you immediately get the current exchange rate. Who knows, you may catch it down 1/1000th of a cent! Check with your credit provider to see what they charge for overseas purchases. And use a card with milage rewards for your next trip!
· Go to the bank early for pounds
· DON’T EXCHANGE AT AN AIRPORT
· Exchange at a bank, use an ATM, or a charge card. (preferably one with miles rewards for your next trip!)
· Study the country’s coinage.
Next up, packing for your trip!
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
Roundabouts are only one of the many reasons I refuse to drive in Britain. Heck, if I can’t walk on the sidewalk without running into people, can you imagine me behind the wheel, much less in a cyclonic pattern of a roundabout? Lord have mercy!!!
If you are the brave sort, rent a car. That way you wouldn’t have to depend on anyone and your schedule would be your own. However, in the best interest of my fellow man, I prefer someone else doing the driving.
Following are the ways I traveled during my first trip to London in 2006:
Rail Passes: I purchased a Britrail pass. You can only buy them online. Go to http://www.britrail.com/. They offer seven plans to suit most needs. For instance, if you know that you are going to travel to a new destination every day it is best to get a consecutive pass because they are cheaper. If you are going to a destination and staying a few days before leaving for another, then you would do better with a flexipass. If you are going to stay in the vicinity of London, then you would need a London Plus Pass. There are plans if you are going to one country and staying there, like Scotland, or if you want to visit all of Britain. Also, if you want to see all of Britain plus Ireland the pass includes the ferry ticket.
Since I was staying in the London area I chose the London Plus Pass, enabling me to travel to Oxford, Cambridge, Arundel, and Dover. For my trip coming up in October I chose the flexipass since our travels will take us all over England and Scotland.
Buy an Oyster! An Oyster Card is the most economical and easiest way to get around in the tube, on busses and trams. Go to: www.tfl.gov.uk/tickets/oysteronline/2732.aspx
Taxi! I would only take one if I had no other choice. Be careful about taking taxi’s to airports. EXPENSIVE! They not only charge for the distance, they also charge for the suitcases. Proper etiquette is to talk to the driver first before getting in.
Be mindful of Bank Holidays, public holiday’s when the banks shut down. It is typically more expensive to travel during those days. For a schedule of these days go to: www.dti.gov.uk/employment/bank-public-holidays
This week I’m tagging along with my husband on a business trip in Branson, MO. We are staying at the Chateau on the Lake—a great place by the way—and I’m taking time exploring the best way to get to Ireland. Frankly, I’ve been pretty frustrated because it is expensive both moneywise and timewise. A friend had mentioned flying to Ireland on a small airline like Ryanair or Easy Jet. After looking at their websites and reading comments made by some who flew on Ryanair, I’ll admit, Iwas skeptical about this option. However, as fortune would have it, while on the Chateau’s patio looking over the lakeI met three lovely people from Ireland.
Bat and Peggy are from Dublin, Peggy’s sister, Sheila, is from Northern Ireland. Peggy said they fly on Ryanair and have had reasonably good experiences. Of course, any time you fly on any airline there will be frustrations. I went back to my room and checked the price of tickets. They are about the same as a ferry ticket, but instead of traveling ten plus hours the flight would only take around an hour (barring the normal airline delays.)
I’ll do some more thinking on this. I may just see how things go when I get to the UK and decide whether I'll go then.
Monday, September 24, 2007
The difference between the British and the people from the USA is this:
People from the USA think 200 years is a long time.
The British think 200 miles is a long way!
Be looking for my next "Preparing to Leave" tip this week!
Friday, September 14, 2007
Well, when I got there I found out that all that advice is a bunch of hooey. In fact, I wore so much black that a college student that I shared a seat with on the train asked me if I was a lawyer!
For all of you who are thinking about going to the UK for the first time, I will spend the next few postings on giving PRACTICAL TIPS FOR YOUR FIRST TIME TRIP to the United Kingdom
I'll start with some ideas for you to do in preparation for your trip. Today I'll address planning.
- Go to your fav local bookstore, buy a cup of coffee (or whatever) and grab a travel guide book like Let's Go (for the budget minded traveler) Frommers, or Lonely Planet. These are the ones I have used. There are many more. Just go to the travel section. Enjoy the moment and read about all the places you want to go. You will find a treasure chest of information. What to see, how to get there, where to eat, sleep, entertainment, tourist traps to avoid, what to do to protect yourself, and much more! The books will list attractions in surrounding areas. You may find more "must see" things.
- Go to http://www.picturesofengland.com/ That is a GREAT sight for planning your trip.
- If you don't have one, get a MySpace account. I didn't want to miss a thing on my first trip to the UK, however, no one can see all of England in the span of one week! For that matter, a year! So I knew I had to make the most of what little time I had, and who better to ask about the "must sees" than the locals? So I went to my MySpace and hit the "browse" button and indicated I wanted to see all the women with pictures from the UK who were between the ages of 40-70. I figured this would help weed out most of the crazies out there! Then I read their profile and if I was comfortable with them, I emailed them this note: Hello, I'm Linda Apple from the United States. I will be coming to your country in a few months. If you have time, would you mind writing me your opinion of the sights that are a "must see?" I'm interested in history, architecture, gardens, and I am a writer. I got a lot of great responses. Two of the ladies were particularly gracious and we continued to communicate. By the time I got to England, I had two tea dates! Now, two years later, I still keep up with them!
This is enough to start with. Next post I'll give more Planning Tips.
How about all of you who have traveled to the UK? Do you have any tips to share?
If you have any questions or comments please feel free to send them.