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Saturday, July 30, 2011

Live and Learn: London 7.30.11

Last time we talked about all the things we learned on our trip to Ecuador. This time, you can learn from my own experiences in London. I feel like there will always be a learning opportunity whenever I travel, but this was my first time abroad, so maybe it was  just easier to find things I didn't know about. London is a beautiful city and it's easy to just assume it's the same as any other big city. With a giant park, an underground I really didn't know much about and packing mistakes, it may have been amazing that our trip went so well. Luckily, they speak English there. For the most part. That helped a lot, unlike when we went to Paris…But that’s another post altogether.

Carry a compass – Even when you’re in the middle of a city, you never know when this might come in handy. We had a map, but trying to cross Hyde Park to get from our hotel to Harrod’s wasn’t as easy as it looked, especially when you take the sidewalks and then end up in the middle of the park and can’t figure out which way you were headed in the first place. Amazingly, I remembered the compass and we were on our way – in the right direction, at that – in no time. We even made it to Harrod’s on time to meet my uncles.

Dress in layers – So, going on the knowledge that London and the Pacific Northwest have similar weather, we packed for cold weather, since we were traveling late October to early November. Well, we didn’t plan on it being unseasonably warm for the first four days we were there. How I wish I had packed a few t-shirts and cardigans instead of full-on sweaters and long sleeved tops. I could take off my coat, but couldn’t do much else about my too-warm clothes. Now, I always pack in layers: tank tops and tees that can go under something with long sleeves, like a ¾ zip fleece or similar. Columbia and ExOfficio have become my go-to online stores for great looking travelwear.

Never wear boots on a long plane ride – While this seems to be logical, I didn’t really think about it. I had some fantastically comfortable boots and left them on the entire flight from Portland to Dallas to London Gatwick. My feet swelled on the plane and by the time we got to our hotel room I had to peel them off my legs. They went back in the suitcase and never came back out until we came home. I simply could not get them back on. Luckily, I also brought along some great walking shoes, which I proceeded to wear everyday for the rest of the trip. Ideally, having two pair of walking shoes would get you by: One for casual outings and one for dressing up a little.

Cold weather travel clothes are a must – Do you know how long jeans take to dry after you wash them? Forever, might be an appropriate response. Had I known then what I know now, I would have bought and packed an array of travel clothing, instead of normal every-day clothes. This would have eliminated the need to spend almost $20 at the Laundromat down the street and we could have easily washed our clothes in the bathroom sink and hung them to dry. Even if we didn’t hand wash, we wouldn’t have needed to use the dryer three or four times in order to get everything dry enough to take back to the room, because it would have easily dried overnight.

Figure out how to get to your lodging from the airport before you leave – I’ve since learned this is smart. We didn’t do any research before we left on how to get from Point A to Point B and Day 1 turned into the day that we both hated each other and needed a break. Great way to start a honeymoon. I threatened to heave my bags into the street and get a cab, while my husband insisted the hotel was “right down the street”. It was NOT right down the street. The problem started when we got on the Underground and only had one plan on where to get off. That stop ended up being under construction, so instead of figuring out we could go one stop further, we stopped at the one before our intended station and walked a few miles before we finally did make it to our hotel. I was cranky and starving and I think the folks at the front desk could tell, because they kindly offered to hold our bags and gave us directions toward food. Halfway around the block, we saw an underground station that was fully-functional and would have been perfect to get off at. We used it for the rest of the trip to get to and from our hotel. A little bit of research would have been helpful in this situation.

When you see something being filmed, stop and see what it is – You’ve heard me complain about this before. Leaving Waterloo Station with our newly purchased London Passes to go to the aquarium, we saw an entire film crew and some very familiar looking people. We assumed it was for some commercial that we would never see and then months later found out they were filming the Bourne Supremacy and Matt Damon himself was on set and we walked right past him. Crazy!

Look at Eric savoring the experience
If you want a drink with ice in it, head to The Hard Rock – Seriously, Europe has some aversion to ice cubes. You order an ice tea and you get 3 cubes that have all but melted by the time it makes it to your table. You order a soda and you get a bottle (no refills!) from the cooler and a warm glass. If you want a refill, you order another bottle and pay another $4 for it. It’s better just order bottled water everywhere you go. Ask for still water if you don’t want it carbonated. On one of our last nights in the city, we made the pilgrimage to the very first Hard Rock Café. We took a chance and ordered sodas, since they claimed to be bottomless. When the waiter came back, we couldn’t believe our eyes. Giant glasses filled to the brim with ice and super cold diet beverage! I think this visit gave us a soft spot for HRC and we seek them out wherever we travel.

Don’t bring your whole closet – This is something that I’ve learned since traveling abroad. You’ll likely be traveling to your accommodation via public transportation. Be advised that these usually come with massive amounts of stairs. If you can’t lift your own luggage with ease, you have too much stuff in your bag. This was the first time I had ever even ridden the subway, so at the very least I had wheels on my bags, but that doesn’t help if you have to run up and down three or four flights of steps. My husband can’t be expected to carry 2 large bags like a mule. Pack light, carry-on and everyone will be so much happier. If you forgot to pack it, either you don’t need it or you can get it at your destination. Also, unless you use the space under your hotel bed, there’s no place to put full-size suitcases in your room. They’ll just take up valuable floor space that you need for standing and walking.

There are so many things to see and do in London and I can't wait to go back with all my new travel techniques and enjoy it even more. This time I hope to hit up the zoo, Wimbledon, Windsor and Stratford-Upon-Avon. If you are interested on how to do it on a budget, check out my previous London posts here, on Jetsetera and My Itchy Travel Feet

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