London...several excerpts from my real travel journal

Little glimpses into my last trip to London, in which I budgeted tourist attractions, ate affordably yet well, and stayed in my first hostel

London...several excerpts from my real travel journal

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by girlytraveler on April 1, 2007

London is fabulous any time of year, but if you're like me, and need to travel on a budget, try the off-season (roughly October-April). The weather is still nice during most of it, and the queues are considerably shorter.

If you do find yourself in London, give yourself at least four days, and plenty of free time. If you have your itinerary jam-packed, you'll end up worn out. Also, a lot of your memorable experiences probably won't be at the "Place to See."

I remember heading into the local grocery store, Sainsbury's, with my friend in order to pick up a cheap dinner. It was a different experience, being asked to bag my own groceries, and if I wanted to use the plastic bags, to pay extra for them! It was a little look into the local culture, and completely unlike anything that I'd experienced before, as grocery shopping in the United States is slightly different. I was also amazed at the flavor selection for the crisps! Some of them were definitely unique, like miso flavor!${QuickSuggestions} If you want to have high afternoon tea, without the high cost, try the Bramah Tea and Coffee Museum. You can have full tea service (cucumber sandwiches, hot crumpets, tea cakes, and your choice of cake and tea) for only 9 GBP. For hours, reservations, and directions:

If you want to catch a West End show for less, try just showing up at the theater an hour or two before the show. Many are looking to fill seats and you can normally get them for a good price. You might not get a seat at the popular show, but there are so many talented performers, and so many good shows, that you're bound to get tickets somewhere. We did this, and ended up get 30 GBP tickets for only 12 GBP! And, although it wasn't our first choice, it was still fabulous.${BestWay} London is huge (much larger than NYC), but the best way to get around is still a combination of public transit and walking.

Transport for London has just made it easier to get around too! If you live in select countries, you can buy an Oyster Card online and receive it before you even leave for your trip! Oyster gives Tube riders discount fare (1.50 instead of 4.00 GBP) and caps off at 4.50 GBP daily, regardless of how often you use it.

Oyster also works on the bus system, so if you'd prefer that, you can easily use it as well.

Check pricing. Just getting an Oyster card with a preloaded amount of money may be cheaper than paying for a Travelcard. Oyster itself will be reusable each visit you make too. You'll just need to "top up" online before your next visit!

Check it out:

Yo Sushi

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by girlytraveler on April 1, 2007

While traversing London, we needed a cheap, but satisfying place to eat lunch. We found it in Yo Sushi. The location we ate at was right outside the London Aquarium, but there are various other locations throughout London.

Yo Sushi serves fresh sushi in just about any incarnation you could possibly imagine (over 100 varieties). The hallmark of the place is its conveyor belt bar. All sushi are plated on brightly colored plates (different colors=different prices), and you pick out what you want from the belt. There's a handy pictorial menu, so you know what everything is, and how much it costs. The only problem is choosing!

Yo Sushi also caters to just about anyone. While my friend and I were there (we're college students), we were seated next to a young professional, but there were also a group of teenagers, and a middle-aged woman (wearing expensive clothing) that were eating as well, and all seemed at home.

The food was incredibly tasty, and fresh. The only bad thing was that we ate too much!

Unlimited miso soup for 1.75 GBP
Unlimited water or green tea for 1 GBP.

NOTE: Yo Sushi also does affordable take-away boxes.

To view the whole menu, find locations, and check for special offers (like 50% coupons), visit:
Yo Sushi
Fulham Broadway Centre
London, England, SW6 1BW
+44 (20) 7385-6077

Pret A Manger

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by girlytraveler on April 2, 2007

Pret A Manger has some of the tastiest sandwiches that I've ever had. That's probably why I make it a point to head there at least once whenever I'm in London. The sandwiches are made fresh daily, and whatever isn't sold is given to charity that night. They're prepackaged for the busy Londoner on the go, and the whole Pret experience exudes an air of efficiency.

When you enter Pret, you'll notice cool cases (not unlike those you'd see in the supermarket) filled with sandwiches, wraps, and other take away delights. You simply pick out the one you want, and then proceed to the drink cooler, where you can choose from juices, water, and various sodas, before heading to the cashier. (You can also pick up snack food, like nuts, or crisps on your way to the cashier.)

Once you reach the counter, you'll be asked whether you're eating in, or if it's take away. Note: You'll pay extra to eat in! We always get ours take away, and in a matter of moments, you've paid, and you're all set with a ready-to-go meal.
While some might be apprehensive about the idea of prepackaged food, what you'll find at Pret will hardly fit your stereotype. There are flavors like Smoked Roast Salmon and Egg, Chicken and Avocado, and a myriad of weekly specials that will make you want to come back to try them all. They're all incredibly fresh tasting, and full of flavor... definitely worth the 5 GBP give or take that you spent for your whole meal.

On my last visit, I bought a chicken Caesar sandwich that came on whole grain bread, with tomatoes, mixed greens, fresh chicken breast, and fresh house Caesar dressing; a bottle of fresh pomegranate juice; and a cup of fresh fruit. It cost me about 5.50 GBP total, and was absolutely delicious.

I'd recommend Pret A Manger to anyone that would like a simple alternative to pub grub or the usual restaurant fare. There's normally something for everyone, and is suitable for any age range. They can also feed any group size, as you're just grabbing food to go. Pret isn't fancy by any means, but the food tastes great and the prices aren't bad either.

Of interest: Pret caters to the sensitive diet, so you'll see labels like sesame-free, genetically-modified-free, contains nuts, suitable for vegetarians, etc. to help the person who has special dietary needs.

For the full menu, prices, hours, and locations, check out:
Pret A Manger
51 Hanover Street
Edinburgh, Scotland, EH2 2PJ
+44 (20) 7932-5338

Kensington Palace

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by girlytraveler on April 1, 2007

After a fresh morning at Costa was fabulous... we headed to Kensington Palace to view the collection of dresses that once belonged to Princess Diana (this was a special exhibit, so check to see if its still there). We only had to queue for a few minutes, but it was off-season, so I'd imagine the line to be longer during the summer.

Our tour of Kensington came with a self-guided audio touring device, which contained fascinating details to go along with both the permanent exhibition and the specialty showcase that we were interested in. The audio guide was not bulky, and could be skipped through, or replayed, allowing each tourist his or her own preferences.

Overall, I'd say that the Kensington collection was fantastic, and well worth a visit. It gives a great look into royal life, and the evolution of high society along with it. The vintage clothing, furniture, and fine china were all interesting, and the audio tour did a great job at being thorough.

A walk through Hyde Park is a nice companion activity, or if you want, Kensington Palace has a little cafe where you can take afternoon tea.

View the Kensington Palace website for more info:
Kensington Palace
Kensington Gardens
London, England, W8 4PX
+44 (20) 7937 9561

Westminster Abbey

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by girlytraveler on April 1, 2007

As part of our self-initiated walking tour of London, we stopped by the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey.

We queued for tickets, and after receiving them from a friendly ticket agent, entered the famous House of God and House of Kings. We opted not to join a guided tour, which cost extra, and instead just walked through with the free brochure, which was more than enough for us. The free brochure does an excellent job of guiding you through the hundreds of cool things that Westminster has to offer. From tombs to thrones, the abbey has enough to make anyone happy.

There are however, several things that you should not miss. If the abbey garden is open, take a stroll through it, there's an excellent view of Parliament from the garden, and since you're once again outside, you can take pictures.

Also, towards the back of the abbey (down the left corridor) there is a little museum with the faux crown jewels that the monarchy "practice" with for their coronations, as well as medieval weaponry and royal clothing. The ladies that run the museum area were eager to offer up tidbits and trivia that just added to the visit.

When you exit the abbey, there's a nice gift shop, but try to shop around before making any definitive purchases... most London gift shops offer similar products, for a variety of prices. Thus, you can probably find it cheaper elsewhere.

For updated prices and hours:
Westminster Abbey
20 Dean's Yard
London, England, SW1P 3PA
+44 (20) 7222 5152

Harrods... Richly Overrated

Member Rating 2 out of 5 by girlytraveler on April 2, 2007

Harrod's, I'd heard rumor before, is famous for guaranteeing its customers anything their little hearts desire. I'd heard that one person wanted an elephant, and well, Harrod's got it for him! I'm not sure how true it is, and I never really asked around about it, but the idea of seeing a store with that kind of opulence seemed like a nice treat for a budget traveller like myself.

So, while visiting a friend in London, we went to Harrod's and I must say, prepare to be overwhelmed! There are so many people, and so much stuff, that it's almost a sensory overload. There are the food halls, jam-packed with people, there's the main floor, jam-packed with people, and there are several other stories of merchandise, all jam-packed with people!

I have to admit, I probably wouldn't go back again, just because it's so overwhelming, but there are two things that I think make it worth at least one visit.

On the main floor in the grand escalator/Egypt-themed area, there's a memorial to Princess Diana and Dodi Al Fayad. A champagne flute and engagement ring from the night of the car crash are on display, and it's a nice little memorial.

Also, in the basement, there's a nice gift shop, with some of the nicest quality magnets and key chains that I'd encountered in London gift shops. They featured London icons, and the keychain made a great gift for my sister, who just got her driver's license.

Other than that, I'd say Harrod's isn't worth a visit, unless you like the high-end merchandise, and the feeling of being in a cattle drive.

Info on visiting Harrod's:;resentationUnpublished
87-135 Brompton Road
London, England, SW1X 7XL
+44 (20) 7730 1234

An Afternoon Spent on Foot

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by girlytraveler on April 2, 2007

I'd been to London before, on a group tour, but I'd never really walked it. So, when my best friend mentioned that we could see quite a lot on foot, in one stretch of road, I agreed. Let me tell you now, if you don't like walking, or tire quite easily, this is probably not for you.

We started out at her flat, right around the British Museum, and headed down Charing Cross Road towards Trafalgar Square. We were momentarily sidetracked by a little alleyway of antiquarian bookstores, but after looking through all of their rummage bins, we continued onwards. We eventually passed the National Portrait Gallery, and then found ourselves in Trafalgar Square. The National Gallery is here, and it's quite popular to sit on the lions at the base of the Lord Nelson statue. We then crossed through the busy intersection, continuing on to Whitehall, the road that Charing Cross becomes.

We'd seen Buckingham before, but if you're interested, it's right down through the arches to the right of the intersection. Interesting fact about The Mall: The Mall is long enough to safely land a jet if the Queen needs to be evacuated by air!

While walking along Whitehall, we came to St. James's Palace, where the mounted guardsmen are. Did you know that the horses get to stop working at 5pm? After that, the guards continue on, standing for the night. If you look across Whitehall, from where you stand at St. James' Palace, you have a neat view of the London Eye.

We kept on down Whitehall, and we eventually reached the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey. Note: Big Ben isn't the clock, it's the bell!

After visiting Westminster, we continued to the left of the Houses of Parliament, and headed straight over the Thames, to get a picture of the back side.

After this, we were pretty hungry, so we stopped for lunch, and decided to take the subway back to the flat.

If you do walk, you get a viewpoint that you can't really get on a tour bus. You can stop, and get all sorts of neat pictures. So if you're up to it, try walking London, you'll see it as a Londoner does.

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