From the moment we started planning our vacation I knew I wanted to
take the train from London to Paris. I think I had images of the Orient Express in my mind when I booked the trip. It wasn’t quite that romantic, nor was the scenery as impressive as I had pictured. Though I can now say I’ve been through the Chunnel, which of course wasn’t very impressive either. So I guess my advice is don’t bother with the train unless you find a good deal but make sure you shop around, the plane tickets are surprisingly reasonable from London to Paris.
Our First Fabulous Meal in France
The restaurant was Auberge Des Deux Ponts, it was located a block away from our apartment on the Ile Saint-Louis. The carpaccio, the duck the steak, the wine and the creme brulee, it was all perfect.
Our Vacation Apartment
The Île de la Cité where Notre Dame is one of two islands in the Seine. The other island is Ile Saint-Louis where our rental apartment was. We went through Homeaway.com for this one and the stay went much smoother then our apartment stay in London did.
Here’s the view to the left of our little island. You can see the Ile de la Cité where Notre Dame is. Tomorrow I’ll post pictures of inside the apartment.
Since we only had five days in London we tried to get in a much sightseeing in as we could all in one day. It was fun to play the part of a ogling tourist for a day, usually I try to blend in as much as possible.
Traveling around London wasn’t difficult, all you need is an Oyster Card and load it up whenever you get low. (Or as they say in England top it up) The card gives you access to the tube system and the buses. We never tried any of the buses, we stuck to the tube for long distances and then walked everywhere else.
The London Bridge … or is it?
This is easily the best known bridge in London and the most misidentified because guess what, it’s not the London Bridge! It’s actually called the Tower Bridge. The current London Bridge is much more modern looking. So it’s very easy for tourists to get confused and lost by assuming that the Tower Bridge is the London Bridge.
There have actually been many London Bridges over the years, the one from the nursery rhyme fame was likely the one built between 1179 and 1209, though many of them did have a habit of falling down, that’s way the bridge had been replaced so many time. One London Bridge was bought by an American in 1968 and now resides in Arizona!
Tower of London Grounds
A short walk from the Tower Bridge is the Tower of London. This is where they keep the crown jewels if you want to pony up the £24.50 it takes to enter. We didn’t venture inside but we did take a look at the grounds. While we were there they were installing red poppies to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I. The 888,246 poppies were suppose to represent each British serviceman killed during the war. It was both beautiful and sad.
Our Second Day in London
Whoever said breakfast is the most important meal of the day was right, however I don’t think they were thinking of Cronuts when they said it. If you haven’t yet experienced the croissant/donut combination you are really missing out. We tried out first in a little bakery on Connaught St. It had flaky, layers of dough and icing and was too good for words. Some people might consider this small but I assure you it was so sweet I almost couldn’t eat it all.
Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre
Now for all you history buffs, let me clarify and say, no, this isn’t the original Globe Theatre. The original burned in 1633, however this theatre was painstakingly recreated by a man names Sam Wanamaker.
Tours were 13.50 pounds for each adult and was well worth the money, our tour guide really made the history come alive. The tour was about 30 minutes long and they welcomed questions at the end. We were so enthralled with the place we considered getting tickets to see a performance but the shows for the day were already sold out.
There were a few British meals that I knew I had to try, a meat pie and mushy peas were two items on the list. Borough Market was the perfect place to find both. If you want to sample some great local cuisine this is the spot for you. If you visit make sure you arrive hungry and bring someone who will share with you so you can sample more food. The prices are reasonable and the choices are abundant, make a few rounds before you settle on what you want, otherwise you might stumble upon something you really want to try but no longer have the room for.
On our first full day in London we visited the British Museum. We took a guided tour, which I highly recommend because the museum is so large that it’s overwhelming unless you’re a history buff.
There’s a very nice gift shop in the center of the museum. I’ve always had a hard time buying souvenirs to bring home for family and friends. It’s not that I don’t want to, I just always worry if I buy something early in the trip then I’ll come across something later in the trip that would’ve been better for them, and on a limited budget I wouldn’t be able to buy both. I’m also not a big fan of knick knacks, I like practical gifts that people are going to be able to use.
So I cheated. I shopped online at places like the British Museum gift
shop to get ideas of what we would be coming across, for instant I had already decided that I wanted an umbrella from Harrod’s in London, I thought it would be very fitting and every time I use it I think about our trip.
As luck would have it Harrod’s was our next stop. Even if shopping isn’t high on your list of things to do, you have to see the food hall at Harrod’s. It’s gorgeous and mind-boggling the variety and amount of food. Anything and everything you can imagine is there and a lot of stuff you never imagined. Of course being surrounded by all that food made us suddenly very hungry.
There’s no shortage of restaurants to choose from, we decided on the Tea Room. I ordered a platter of tea sandwiches and little pastries with a cappuccino. Hubby ordered the duck which was also delicious. It was a bit of splurge but totally worth it. It was very fancy and fun to pretend that we lived like that on a daily basis.
Something exciting happened on the way to Harrod’s, we were stopped and asked for directions, this would happen to us a few times during the trip which thrilled me because where ever I go in the world, I love to blend in, I hate looking like a tourist.
Here’s a few pictures of us eating at Harrod’s, do I look like a Londoner?
Before we left for our trip I arranged for a car to take us to our vacation apartment rental, after traveling for about twenty hours straight I was worried about being coherent enough to get a taxi, however having a car service wasn’t much less confusing. When we landed we couldn’t find our driver. We first switched out the SIM chips in our phones so that we wouldn’t get slammed with international charges by our cell-phone carrier, after we did that we had no luck getting the number we had for the car service to go through.
Here’s a BIG warning for trying to make calls in England, it’s very confusing. I think we were suppose to use the country code but not the area code? If anyone can clarify please leave if in the comment section. Thankfully someone at a kiosk helped us get the call to go through and we discovered that our driver was at the terminal looking for us. Next up was getting the key to the apartment which was another fun little adventure but eventually we got the key.
We weren’t thrilled will the way the person with the key handled the transaction, he wrote down our credit card and told us he would give us a receipt later. This was a big red flag for us, with all the technology for card readers out there we weren’t comfortable with this person writing down our credit card number. The only thing that made us feel a little better was that because of a Home Depot hack our credit card had to be replaced with a new number anyway. At the end of our trip we had to fight to get a receipt to show that we did indeed pay the remaining amount. It wasn’t a great first experience with staying at a vacation apartment. If you’re more concerned with convenience then saving money, I would recommend going the traditional route and stay at a hotel. We however thought that the extra effort was totally worth it, especially because hotel rooms in Europe are very small.
I love that phrase “letting an apartment”, it always reminds me of Pride and Prejudice, in American English it translates to renting an apartment.
Why rent an apartment on vacation?
Why NOT? When I first started researching hotels in both Paris and London, the few hotels in our price range were a bit old and wilted in my opinion, especially London with it’s leftover olympic village feel hotel dorms. I figured why not save the money and stay in a hostel, they seemed to be of the same quality, but hubby refused. Stupid horror movies giving hostels a bad name.
Then I stumbled across a website called homeaway.com and a few others offering all sorts of options with nice, clean, homey feeling places to stay. Yes, some are just a room where you are staying with your host family but there are also plenty of apartments that are completely yours for however long you stay, complete with your own bathroom, kitchen facilities and sometimes even a washer. Hubby was still a little leery of giving quite a bit of money to some random person and then traveling to a foreign country just to discover the place didn’t even exist, so I did a lot of checking and found only good things about such reputable sites as Homeaway.com or Flipkey.com (Which is run by trip advisor) I would be a lot more hesitant to risk my vacation with craigslist or other less monitored sites, they seem to have more of a horror story potential.
I booked both our Paris and London apartments through homeaway.com. Their website was very helpful with tips and suggestions for people trying vacation renting for the first time. I have been in contact with the apartment’s owners and feel pretty confident about our upcoming stay. Both required half of the money upfront, one went through paypal and the owners of the second apartments is more of a rental company and only took credit card which was fine. Obviously NEVER give out your bank account information or send a money order if you’re going to book an apartment.
I’m really hoping all goes according to plan because another benefit of staying in an apartment is you get to live like a local, which is one of my goals in traveling, I don’t want to be a tourist! I want to blend in I want to soak up the culture and the surroundings. How about you, do you have an experience with staying in a vacation rental or do you prefer a traditional hotel stay?
This October my husband and I will be checking off a european vacation from our to do list. We’re planning a week in London and a week in Paris. If you have an suggestions on what to see or where to eat please feel free to share them with us, it would be very much appreciated. I’ll be sharing some of our planning with you as we go along.