This weekend in London was high costing, high in the sky and high(ish) up in the hotel!
by tvordj on May 29, 2011
This weekend in London was to be the final three days of my holiday. We took the train from Manchester, arriving at Euston Station around 12:30 and got a cab to our hotel, the Melia White House. We chose this particular hotel because it was handy the train station for G. to return to Manchester after I flew back to Canada and because I got a pretty good rate from the Air Canada website. ($155 per night, approx. 95 pounds, with our exchange rate being excellent these days)As it was too early to get in a room, we had to drop the bags with the concierge. We had places to go and things to see! First up was the Olympia exhibition centre on Hammersmith road. I'd sussed out what the bus number was we'd need (C1) but the trip by bus seems quite long. Mind you, it's a good little distance across the city past the other side of Kensington Park. We had tickets to the Doctor Who Experience, a multimedia and exhibit on one of our favourite shows. The exhibit is in the newer Olympia Two building and the tickets were timed entry for 3:30 so we decided to head over straight away and have a coffee somewhere nearby until the appointed time. There was a cafe/restaurant just past the venue, called Mirabell, and we parked ourselves there for a hot drink and a custard tart. Over to the venue a few minutes early but as they weren't busy we could go straight in. I don't want to spoil the multimedia part so I won't go into what happens but it was very cool! We browsed around the exhibits of Doctor Who memorabilia for awhile after, taking photos. Had another sit down in the little cafe and then it was off to find a bus to Victoria Station. We had to walk a few long blocks to find a bus stop for the bus we wanted and we had to change at Hyde Park Corner which involved a bit more walking to cross over to the other side of that busy intersection to the other bus stop. The theatre for Wicked is the Victoria Apollo and was immediately visible once we got off the bus but we wanted to find somewhere to eat first. You get a bit overwhelmed there, as there's a lot of places *and* a lot of people. Victoria is one of the busiest spots in London for transport with a large bus terminal and the train and tube stations as well. We ended up going into the Shakespeare pub right by the bus terminal as the menu looked ok and we could get seated. The food was fine though the pub was quite noisy. The dining area was ok, it was the bar area that was generating the party! It was easier though, to eat there and just walk across to the theatre. We enjoyed the show though did think the songs weren't quite as memorable as some musicals we've seen and loved. The story was wonderful and funny and the actors were amazing as were the costumes. We finally got back to the hotel after 11. The clerk checking us in seemed to be taking his time and wasn't overly friendly but did offer us a room upgrade which was nice. The bellboy brought our bags up on a cart and we collapsed in the room after checking it all out. And it was quite nice. It was a comfortable size with a super large king sized bed. Nice decor, spotless bathroom. The windows opened and since we couldn't figure out how the air conditioning worked, we opened them to get some fresh air. We are on the 7th floor so the traffic noise wasn't too obtrusive. We did, however, realize why we got the upgraded room. Well, maybe why. There was a periodic rattling or clattering in the wall behind our head, every minute, or two. We realized we were right beside one of the elevators! It might be a superior King room but maybe these were some of the last ones to be filled and as we came in so late, we hit the jackpot! Thing was, though, we were so tired for the long day that it didnt' keep us awake and the later it got, the less it happened anyway. Breakfast isn't included in our room rate so it doesn't really matter if we get up early. Do Not Disturb on the door and off to dream land.
I was awake early so I got up and wrote up yesterday's travels in my journal, got a shower and figured out how the air conditioning worked (controls by the other side of the bed). I woke up G. and when we were both ready, we headed out to find breakfast. After asking at the desk where a nearby cafe might be, we were directed to Warren Street, not far away. Warren St. is parallel to Euston Road between Great Portland St. and the Warren St. tube stations and there are a few places to eat along there. We found Cafe le Midi and thought it looked fine. The owner greeted us and we went in to check out the menu board. Wow! Cooked breakfast for only £3.50! Two eggs, two rashers of bacon, toast, tea. You can get extra sides for a small amount on top but that was fine for us for today. Sadly, though, we discovered he wasn't open on Sundays. He found working 7 days a week non stop a bit much, and I would agree there. He must run it all on his own. It's a beautiful sunny day, a rarity for any of the many times i've been in London. I'm used to a cloud cover, if not rain. Too nice to do anything inside. We decided on the Zoo, walked back by the hotel where the bus stop is and caught the one we needed. I'd done some research before we got there on what busses were near the hotel and where they went and at the train station, when we topped up our Oyster cards, i got a bus map as well. We keep the Oyster cards to use any time we're there as they don't expire. I also lend them to friends going to London. They're so convenient! We topped them up with 10 pounds and took the busses all weekend. We weren't sure which stop to get off for the zoo but luckily, two ladies must have figured out where we were headed and told us to get off at the stop we needed. From Albany Street, though, it was still quite a bit of a walk to the zoo entrance around the top of the "Outer Circle" road at Regent's Park. We first went in where the car park was but were directed down the road a bit further. In spite of the lovely day, the ticket queues weren't too bad and moved quickly. What a shock we got when we got to the ticket booth, though. At 20 pounds per person, it was a bit higher than I expected! Still, it goes to the animals so we paid and went it. High prices are already proving to be the theme this weekend! We seemed to hit all the high price attractions this time around. The theatre tickets and the exhibition were pre-paid but still added to the total. Prices in London are not cheap for the most part, for food or attractions though there are lots of cheap and free things to do or places to eat. We just didn't do a lot of them!We enjoyed the zoo though at mid day, a number of the animals we wanted to see seemed to be sleeping out of the sun or in it. The gorillas and monkeys were all active, though, and we could have watched the darling little meerkats for hours! The giraffes always fascinate me, too and the otters were fun! We had a cold drink in the large cafe for a rest and continued on. Finally, across to the other section, and eventually we'd had enough of the zoo. We exited at the north side of the zoo and thought we'd take in Camden as it was handy. Camden is a very busy spot, especially on Saturday when all the markets are on and all the tourists come to browse along with the locals. It's an alternative scene and has a very different feel from the posher shopping areas in the West end or even the east end markets. The locals tend to be more colourful for one thing, as it's a place where the younger crowd go for club gear, tattoos, goth and punk music, and of course, the markets are filled with artisans, ethnic crafts and food, vintage shops, fruit and veg stalls. You can find pretty much anything you want if you look long enough. We browsed the Stables and the Lock market in particular. There are several street markets as well but we didn't have the energy to hit them all. We found a restaurant called The Diner for lunch which we did enjoy though it was also a bit more pricy than usual because sides like salad or fries weren't included with sandwiches or burgers and had to be ordered separately. Doh. Good food though. Mostly, we browsed, keeping a prudent hand on our handbags/wallets. You have to be careful in crowds like that! There were lots of interesting things to look at and we did buy a couple of items but mostly we just soaked in the atmosphere. You could spend all day in Camden on market day. Late afternoon and we are pretty tired now with aching back and feet. We decided to get some premade sandwiches, drinks and snacks from somewhere and hit the hotel. Doctor Who is on soon and we were done with fresh air for the day. That's exactly what we did, feeling like we are getting old to be spending Saturday night in London in our hotel room but we'd walked miles today and yesterday was a long day. We really aren't into clubbing and we'd already gone to the theatre last night. We put our feet up and relaxed. One more day in the Smoke.
Since the cafe wasn't open on Sundays, we thought we might as well just have breakfast in the hotel though we'd have to pay for it. And boy, did we pay! Another shock to the pocketbook, it cost £23 per person for the full buffet breakfast! Ok, we could have walked away and tried to find somewhere else but sod it, we did it anyway and had a good breakfast. We had to be at a pub near Trafalgar Square at 12:30 to meet friends but had the rest of the morning to do something. G. wanted to Fly the Eye, the London Eye so we decided to go there. By bus. Probably should have gone by tube as there was quite a bottleneck at Parliament Square but we were stuck by then. We got to the Eye and assessed the queues. They weren't excessive but we worried they might have been long enough that it would have prevented us from getting back up Whitehall in time. I spotted a booth that said "Fast track" and noticed a much shorter queue at the Eye for that. Hmmm.... Let's investigate.Fast Track tickets were available alone or with combinations of other attractions but they cost nearly 10 pounds more. I thought about it but we were there and G. did really want to go though he'd have not complained if we didn't. It would have felt a bit of a waste of time, though as we were there now. Oh sod it again, let's do it. More extra expense but it's not going to be something we would do again and the day was pretty clear. Not quite a clear blue sky but the views would be good. We paid and got boarded within 5 - 10 minutes. It takes 30 minutes to do the circuit and we had great views up and down the Thames and across London in all directions. I've done this once before, about 10 years ago and though I probably won't do it again, it would be neat to see it at night with all the lights. Time was short, We decided to take a taxi up Whitehall and again got caught up in that traffic on the other side of Westminster bridge. I hadnt' thought we would have to go through that to get around and back up Whitehall but we did. However, we did get to the pub, the Lord Moon on the Mall, with a bit of time to look for a bank machine which we found just on the corner. Our friends arrived shortly and we had a lovely visit and a meal there later in the afternoon. After they all had to leave, we thought we might walk across Trafalgar Square and have a browse through the National Gallery. Neither of us had been there in years and we both enjoy galleries and museums. The National Gallery, at least, was free! It's also enormous with lovely big rooms and high ceilings. The building is absolutely beautiful but there's so much to see that we didn't see it all before our feet gave way. We went over to St. Martin's in the Field church but it was closed to tourists as there was a Sunday service on so we walked abit and decided, in the end, to do what we did yesterday. We picked up some sandwiches and drinks in a Pret shop and walked a ways to find a bus stop that would have one that would get us back to the hotel. We had to walk over past Leicester Square, Piccadilly Circus and past Haymarket to get to it! It doesn't look like much on the map but when your feet hurt, every foot feels like a yard! Our evening consisted of spending as much quality time together as possible. We won't see each other until September again. Thus is the life of a long distance relationship. In the morning, we were up pretty early. I had booked a private car to the airport rather than an airport bus that picks up at various hotels which would have me up at stupid o'clock. That cost £55 which is still about the same or a bit less than a taxi ride but more than the shuttle or the train. By this point, I didn't really care and the car was clean and very comfortable. I got right to the terminal door rather than having to slog my bags through the underground tunnels from the train station. Some things are worth the extra money! I had something to eat at the airport and G. returned to that little cafe for his breakfast before going to Euston station for the train. *sigh* holiday's over. Now we will start planning the next one!
by tvordj on May 28, 2011
We got a pretty good rate for the Melia from the Air Canada hotel booking site. The location was good with transportation handy and close to the train station. The lobby is gleaming with marble and quite large. There is a bar and a couple of restaurants and a fitness centre as well. There are a few steps into the lobby but the concierge has a luggage lift if you have problems with stairs. It's a very large hotel, too. We checked in late and were given an upgraded room which was nice. It was decorated in gold and red with a large king size bed, big desk, and large cabinet containing the television, tea tray and a mini bar which we didn't use. The bathroom is small but gleaming in black and chrome. The tub is a bit high to get into but the shower is lovely. They give you some very nice gels and shampoos and also a dental, sewing and shaving kits. The windows open and the room has air conditioning controls which are turned on by a switch by one side of the bed. The room power is triggered by the room swipe key card. The staff couldn't be nicer and more helpful. We had breakfast one morning as our little cafe that we used was closed on Sundays. Be aware that though it's a nice full breakfast buffet, it's very expensive at 23 pounds per person! That's probably not out of the ordinary for a good hotel in London but still a bit of a shock! We had one complaint, our room was next to one of the elevators so there was a rattling in the walls but it was mostly quiet at night and we got used to it so didnt' bother changing. Your mileage may vary. Overall, a very good hotel.
The Diner decor is fairly plain, with cream coloured walls and booths. There's classic rock on the sound system and the menu is full of burgers, tex-mex, paninis, chili, burritos and that style of food. Graham had a double cheeseburger that was enormous and looked really good with nice fresh beef. I had a fajita which was nice as well. The prices are a bit high, because side salads or chips/fries are extra, not included. This is London after all, so it's not going to be cheap. There's an outside seating area and an upper terrace as well. we were really surprised that although it was busy, there wasn't a queue to get in considering how busy Camden was that Saturday. It's on a side street off the high street, perhaps that's why. Definitely would recommend.
Yes, the London Eye is one of the most expensive tourist attractions in London. It's probably not something you're ever going to do more than once. Should you do it? If you're going all that way and it's a nice, clear day, why not? The views are spectacular. Sometimes, you just have to splurge and if you're going to splurge, this is as good as anything. In our case, it was more expensive than normal. We had a time constraint and decided to buy "fast track" tickets which allow you go to into a faster queue. The queues weren't overly long that Sunday morning but longer than we thought we might have to wait when the 30 minutes ride was included. The fast track tickets cost nearly 10 pounds more so we probably needed our heads examined but we likely wouldn't get back over there after the other things we had to do. We got the tickets at a little booth not in the main ticket hall. The booth also allows you to combine the fast track tickets with other attractions but we bought it on it's own. With less than 10 minutes wait in the fast queue we were in a pod and slowly rising to the sky. You don't feel any vibration and don't feel the movement but your eyes tell you you're going up. Even if you don't have a head for heights you may not mind this. there's a bench in the centre to sit if you don't want to get close to the glass walls. The views are amazing, and at the top you can even see as far as the Tower Bridge if you look carefully. The taller buildings beyond at Canary wharf are also easy to see as well as other views north and south for quite a way on a good day. It would be lovely to see the city lights at night, too!Tickets can be bought online with 10% saving. Regular prices adult tickets are just under 20 pounds at the ticket office on the day. You can buy a timed ticket or a flexible ticket. Wheelchair accessible with a carer ticket free. Opens at 10 a.m. closing at 8:30 winter, 9 spring, 9:30 summer.
The Lord Moon on the Mall is a good sized pub ina lovely old building on Whitehall. It's only a few steps from Trafalgar Square and is part of the Wetherspoon's chain. The food is pretty good, pretty reasonable though not overly generous. You always know what you're going to get wtih a Wetherspoons, though, and it's pretty good. Nice location, larger eating area in the back, toilets are downstairs.
The National Gallery, housed in an early Victorian building on Trafalgar Square, has many rooms filled with high ceilings and beautiful paintings on the wall. The paintings date from the 13th century to the very early 20th, taking in Impressionism, British landscape, Italian and Dutch masters and more. The gallery has no admission fee though has donation bins. There is no photography allowed and there are several nice shops and cafes in the building, including the newer Sainsbury wing. The location was chosen due to it's central location, easily accessible on foot from the poorer East End and by carraige from the upper class West End.
Camden is the alternative neighbourhood of London. Colourful sights. Colourful people. And lots and lots of tourists. Camden suffered a bad fire a few years ago but has most definitely bounced back. Saturdays and Sundays are the busiest times, Mondays are pretty quiet. Many of the market stalls and shops are open through the week but the weekend is the real experience. The high street has lots of colourful shops and shop fronts to see as well but the markets themselves are the attraction. There are actually a number of markets in the area, from two on the streets, the high street and Inverness Street, the huge Camden Lock market overlooking Regent Canal and the older and just as interesting Camden Stables market . All the markets have a wide assortment of booths and stalls where you can buy new and old, vintage and up and coming designer. The weekends will be crowded, mind you, so if crowds make you feel claustrophobic, it might not be the place for you but if you brave the throngs, you could be well rewarded. There are lots of treasures to be found and plenty of food stalls for a cheap meal. You can try many types of ethnic cuisine at affordable prices.
The London Zoo is another of the most expensive attractions in the city. At 20 pounds per adult during peak times, summer, weekends etc, it's a dent in the pocket book but somehow you don't mind as much since you know the money goes for the upkeep on the animals. There are senior rates and family rates as well. We went on a sunny May saturday. The zoo was busy and many of the animals sleeping in the shade! That was a bit of a disappointment but we did see a fair number of them up and about as well. You takes your chances but earlier and later in the day are probably better times to go than mid day. There are lots of outside enclosures but also many are behind glass and chain link fences that make taking photos a bit difficult but that can't be helped. The zoo covers a lot of ground so prepare to have lots of sit downs, either on benches or in a cafe. One thing we were disappointed in was that there were no elephants but they do have a few big cats and they have my other favourite, giraffes. We had a chuckle at the otters and could have watched the little meerkats for hours. The old penguin enclosure was closed and a new one was about to open but was not yet so we didn't get to see those funny little birds. It should be open soon, though. There is an expensive car park across the road from the entrance and down a little way though probably the best way to get there is by bus. The 274 stops outside the north edge, across the road by the canal and the C2 bus goes up Albany Street on the east side. C2 travels across from Victoria up into Camden. The stop at the top of Albany Street is still about a 10 or 15 minute walk to the entrance around the top of the park on the "Outer Circle".
We looked for a cafe near our hotel and were directed to Warren Street, just a block or so away from our hotel, one block south of Euston Road. Indeed there were a few little places along the short street. The first one looked as if there was construction impeding people going in but the next one, Cafe le Midi was quiet, with the owner standing outside catching the morning sun. They do a hot breakfast of 2 eggs, 2 rashers of bacon, toast (homemade bread!) and tea for 3.50 which is amazingly cheap for London. You can add on side items for small amounts (beans for 40p, mushrooms for a little more). They also had a menu of basic cafe food including sandwiches and jumbo jacket potatoes. If you are staying in the Euston area at a hotel without breakfast included, you can't do better than this and it would be a great place for a quick lunch as well. Basic decor with hot pink walls, 4 or 5 tables. Open 6 days a week, closed Sundays. I'm pretty sure they do take out as well.
We were going to an exhibit at Olympia Two on Hammersmith Rd and were early so we thought we'd find somewhere for a coffee. We found Mirabell just past Olympia. They have take out and sit in and we only stayed for a coffee and a cake but the service was good and the cakes tasty. The menu is Italian and the prices all seemed very reasonable for London. It's located across from Olympia Two exhibition centre on Hammersmith Road. It's not a large place nor a fancy one but could probably seat about 40. You can take out or sit in and according to their website they do catering and cook everything fresh. I'd believe it.They aren't open in the evenings, however, just during the day from 7/8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekends and 6 p.m. on weekdays, generally serving the attendees of the Exhibition centres, the main Olympia around the corner and Olympia Two, I should imagine.The Olympia tube stop is around the corner and there are busses stopping nearby on Hammersmith Road.Judging from the menu online, the prices are also reasonable for London, with pasta or risotto dishes under 10 pounds, paninis and wraps around 6 pounds, salads between 5 and 7 and main courses under 15. You could have a light lunch for under 10 pounds or have a 2 course meal with a glass of wine for under 20 pounds. Price selected for this tip is without a drink, 2 course mea
We were going to the Victoria Apollo theatre to see Wicked and wanted somewhere in the area to have a meal before hand. We didn't really take the time to walk too far afield due to wanting to get back for the performance and next to the Victoria Bus station is the Shakespeare Tavern. It was bound to be a bit filled with tourists but the outer part of it is a sit down dining area, where the back of it was a regular pub. We were able to get a table so we did it. The pub was rather noisy so it's not really a relaxing place to have a meal but the food was pretty good and the service was decent. It had the advantage of being able to see the theatre from the window so it couldn't be much closer. Price wise, not as bad as I expected, costing 28 pounds for two meals and a drink each. Would i go again? probably not but only because it's noisy and i'd rather find a quieter pub away from the main drag but for convenience, it was not a bad choice at all.
We don't always take in a show in London but this time we decided to. Our final choice was Wicked which is playing at the Victoria Apollo theatre, one of London's largest, seating over 2000 bums. Tickets were purchased online via Ticketmaster where we could pick our seats. The best thing about the theatre is it's location. A large number of busses go to Victoria bus station. Three tube lines cross there and it's a major rail station as well. The theatre is on the corner of Wilton road and the large square in front of Victoria station. You can't miss it. There doesn't seem to be a bad seat in the stalls, no posts to impede the view no matter where you sit. I can't speak for the balcony. There are two bars and two sets of toilets. The ones near the theatre seating are better, at least for the Ladies' as there are quite a few stalls so the queues move quickly. The theatre lobby is bathed in green light, in keeping with the Green theme of the play (Oz - emerald city!) There are lots of places to eat in the vicinity though they will likely be pretty busy.
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