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.
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.
Ready for some picture overload? I’ll try not to bore you too much and give only the most pertinent of details.
This is a picture of our stopover in Iceland. Not only do I recommend stopping in Reykjavik (It was nice to get out of the plane and stretch our legs a bit) but I wish we had taken a few days to explore Iceland. Icelandic Air does a fantastic job of selling its tourism industry. They have Hot Springs, volcanos that you can climb into, and of course a good shot at seeing the Aurora Borealis. Iceland really sounds like a fascinating country.
I also highly recommend Icelandic Air, they were the cheapest flight and they also were a great airline. I made a mistake imputing my passenger info, I got confused with the European way of recoding dates and put my birthdate in wrong, They do day/month/year while we here in the States do month/day/year. I was afraid this would somehow mess me up if someone noticed the discrepancy, I contacted the airline and they quickly fixed it for me without any hassle at all.
Here’s some of the souvenirs and snacks at the Reykjavik Airport. I kind of regret not getting the dried fish.
Next up: Landing in London
(Other side note; I’m glad we didn’t fly on the Irish airline, when their announcements were made at the various airports I had no idea what they were saying! Their accents were great, just too thick for me to understand over a PA system.)
Oh were oh where do a group of fussy/eclectic eaters go for good food? Well that would be Borough Market of course!
It’s safe to say that since Borough Market’s first appearance in the eleventh century, many have heard of this bustling selection of food and household-goods traders but here’s my guide to perfect day at the market.
If your in need of a sweet treat to pick you up, i suggest a bag of Comptoir Gourmand macaroons who trade in the Green Market. They are rich, tasty and cheaper than many banal, mass-produced delicacies. They also come in an array of strong colours which certainly keep me happy on rainy afternoon. Comptoir Gourmand also offer a selection of creative meringues, brownies, tarts and more patisserie staples to a high standard like French éclairs.
Veg in all colours
Paul Wheeler (fresh supplies) LTD and The Tomato Stall are great…
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.