Wednesday, December 19, 2007

ONE YOUNG THING AND TWO MIDDLE-AGED BROADS IN HOSTELS

Okay, here's the scoop. If you want cheap, stay in a hostel. If you want sleep, stay in a B&B.

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

YORK!

Since returning from the UK, I’ve contemplated all my “preplanning” to decide what were good decisions and what I could have done to make the trip better. One decision that was excellent and that I highly recommend to those who are traveling on a budget and have decided to stay in hostels is to spend the first two nights in a nice B&B. After 24 hours of planes, trains, and hikes, one needs to rest and refresh. And hostels ARE NOT the place to do that. More on that in the next post.

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.


Holmlea Guest House

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.

Micklegate Bar
Of course, my imagination runs wild while passing through the Micklegate Bar, the most frequently used entrance to the city. This was the preferred site to display the severed heads of traitors. Not a real appetizing thing to imagine before supper. Some parts of this gate are as old as 12 century. Amazing!

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
We found the Golden Fleece, proported to be one of England's most haunted sites, and decided to give it a try. This was my first introduction to “pub grub.” Now, if you are on a tight budget, pubs are by far the place to eat. It’s comfort food that made this southerner want to lick her plate if her southern manners would have allowed it! I had roast beef Yorkshire pudding and roasted potatoes. I ate the entire plateful. My only consolation was that I had a long walk back to the B&B that would help with a few of the calories I inhaled! I highly recommend this pub! After we got back, we crashed, and as I drifted off, I knew that this trip was going to be amazing.


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.
York Minster
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.


There hasn’t been a word created to express what happens to you when you first see this structure. The beauty, the history, the hidden stories, all weave into a delicious, sensory experience that involves your body, soul, and spirit.
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.
MY APOLOGIES TO VINCENT MCLEAN, OWNER OF OSCARS WINE BAR AND BISTRO. I INADVERTENTLY PUT THE WRONG PICTURE OF HIS ESTABLISHMENT ON THIS REVIEW. I'VE CORRECTED MY MISTAKE AND ENCOURAGE ALL WHO VISIT YORK TO MAKE OSCARS WINE BAR A "MUST SEE!" So sorry, Vincent!

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/
Tips:

* check into a York Pass. This will give a little discount and also encourage you to see things you might not have heard about. http://www.yorkpass.com/discountattractions.html

* Pubs are great places to eat and to meet the locals
*Give yourself at least three full days to linger in this city
Next post: HOSTELS—the good, the bad, and the just plain ugly!