London Wrap-Up

by Karen

We managed to squeeze in a lot of sight-seeing during our precious little week in London (our AirBnb hostess even marveled at our “sightseeing stamina”), and yet we hadn’t even begun to scratch the surface. We’ll definitely be back!

Speaking of AirBnb, we really loved our hosts, and we considered the little amount of time we were able to spend with them to be one of the highlights of our week. Their house was a bit far from central London, but it really felt like a cozy home, and it was nice to be in a place that didn’t feel like a hotel or dorm. So if you happen to be reading this, thank you for being awesome, Bill & Philippa!

And now, a quick list of our likes & dislikes about London—

Likes:
– so much history!
– the London Underground and ease of public transportation
– the diversity of people and neighborhoods
– the markets
– free museums
– everything is within walking distance
– plethora of ethnic foods
– local television
– the “internationality” of it
– tourist-friendly maps on every street corner

Dislikes:
– everything is pretty expensive (compared to America)
– air pollution & quality is very bad (gave us black snot)

The weather was actually gorgeous while we were there, so can’t complain about that!

Ultimately we enjoyed our time in London very much, and are eager to go back again (don’t worry Edinburgh, we want to give you more love next time too). We made the (somewhat) tough decision of skipping Stonehenge, Bath, and York, simply because there was already so much to see and do in London, and we had a short amount of time. We had already crammed so much into a few days, we were starting to get exhausted by the end of the week.

We’re actually considering returning to London after Barcelona at the end of our trip, since both our UK stamps are valid for 6 months (and it would give us an opportunity to get Mark a visa for Ireland). It would be a lot more expensive to fly back from London than Barcelona, but since we’re already on this side of the pond anyways…….

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Stay fresh, London! Til next time!

Traveling from London to Paris on Megabus

by Karen

There are a bunch of different ways to travel to Paris from London, the cheapest most likely being a bus. There are also many different bus companies going to Paris (probably at around the same prices), but we ended up choosing Megabus because we didn’t realize how many others there were at the time of booking (we booked our Edinburgh-London bus at the same time).

Unfortunately, London-Paris does not offer a sleeper option yet. So we had to get a regular seater bus for £18/person.

Our bus left from Victoria Coach Station at 9:30pm on time (yay!). But we had to get to the check-in line about an hour earlier. Holy crap, the station was absolute chaos. It was like someone started throwing free money around and everyone was crowding around doors.

The seats are like normal coach seats and the bus is a duplex. It’s pretty full in contrast to our Megabus from last weekend.

Cheap bus full of (predominantly young) people traveling in groups = bring earplugs if you want to sleep. (I almost feel like the older I get, the more anti-social I become.) Fortunately I was tired enough to just pass out.

Two hours into our journey, we had to get off the bus and go through passport control. Mark said that it was like going through Communion for him; everytime he gets a passport stamp, he feels “blessed”.

We got off the bus again after that to get a sandwich while waiting to board the ferry, and again after the bus parked on the ferry. The ferry feels pretty huge, it was almost like being on a cruise ship, and had a large cafeteria and small slot machines. It was about a 1.5hr ride to the French shore. Goodbye, England! Unfortunately, it was too dark to see anything outside.

Our bus arrived in Paris around 8am and dropped us off in Porte Maillot, which is supposedly a giant concert hall & shopping mall area.

Nothing special about the bus, but it was pretty darn cheap. The ferry made us really sea sick though. 😦

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London – Signs and Beasts

by Mark

Brilliant things to look at in and around London. The area, compared our trips to Iceland or Scotland, has a lot more beasts incorporated into their symbols. Their text-based signs are very similar to the other countries. However, London has more of a tendency to info-cluster bomb people with mosaics of signs.

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London – Food!

The best food in London isn’t from London, it’s from around the world.

Makan – Malaysian food on Portobello Rd, £5 for a plate of all this:
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Kaslik – Lebanese food in Soho, £6.50 for their awesome lunch box20131012-014112.jpg
Kati Roll – Indian street food off of Oxford St.20131012-014146.jpg
Borough Market – a food market open Thurs-Sat near London Bridge.20131012-014202.jpg
Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese – English pub hidden in an alleyway off Fleet Street. Lots of locals, lots of lawyers, and great pub food. Even if you don’t eat here, you should go downstairs and look at the building, it’s very interesting.
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Mogul – Indian food in Greenwich. Oh wow, best Indian food ever.
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London – Oyster Card

If you plan on staying in London for more than 2 days and want to go exploring, GET AN OYSTER CARD. It is totally worth it!

– You need to pay a £5 fully-refundable deposit.
– Any amount you put on the card and don’t use will be refunded to you when you return your card to a ticket booth.
– No expiration date.
– Can always refill the amount at kiosks in every station.
– There is a cap on how much you get charged per day, in order to avoid accidentally overpaying (how nice of them!). I believe it’s £7 for zones 1-2 (meaning, if you travel a LOT in the city in one day, you will not get charged more than a total of £7 for that day, regardless). It really helps, there have been days where we’ve used the Underground multiple times a day.

Free Walking Tours of London

by Karen

For the past few days, we’ve been spending 90% of our time exploring London on our own, without the help of a tour. While this is a great way to see the city, sometimes we want a bit more background info on various sites, just for a deeper appreciation of what we’re seeing.

Tours are really expensive (we learned that in Iceland) and you get herded around like sheep, but they can often offer more info and a tried & true itinerary you can follow to get the most out of your visit.

Thus, we started looking up self-guided tours or free walking tours of London. They are “free” in the sense that you don’t have to pay someone to show you around, but you’ll need to pay for the cost of public transportation to get to the start of these places.

Anyways, here are some free tours that we liked:

Sandeman’s Free Tour of Royal London

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This tour was a good 2.5 hours, and took us through the royal streets of the City of Westminster (“London” is really made up of different cities). The tour starts in Hyde Park and goes towards Buckingham Palace, Westminster, and Parliament Square. It also took us through smaller palaces, parks, the Horse Guard building, Downing Street, and Trafalgar Square. Our tour guide gave us lots of pub trivia and gave helpful tips on when to see different attractions. For example, the best place to see the changing of the guard is NOT at Buckingham Palace at 11:30am (where the procession ends), but at a smaller palace down the street (I forget the name) at 11am, where the parade starts and there’s less tourists.
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We were also a bit lucky on the tour today. When the Union Flag is not flying atop Buckingham Palace and instead you see a yellow-ish flag with lots of emblems (like we saw today), it means the Queen is inside Buckingham Palace, which is quite rare. As a result, the Royal Guards are out in full force. Our guide took us through a secluded alleyway and we found 2 Royal Guards stationed in front of a door…all alone. Photo op!
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Anyway, I’d highly recommend going on this tour. It’s free, you get good exercise, and you don’t have to book anything ahead of time, just show up.
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Rick Steves London Audio Tours
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Rick Steves is famous for being a really good tour guide. Anyone thinking of traveling to Europe should at least read one of his books, watch his videos, or listen to his podcasts. Thankfully, he puts out many self-guided audio tours that you can download for free. They are all walking tours, and he provides a lot of insight and history on things you see.

We listened to his London “City Walk” tour, which starts from a church near the Temple station, and ends on the London Bridge. He takes you through many different alleys, visited many churches, and points out buildings with a special history. The entire tour essentially took us through the City of London, the part that got destroyed in the big fire of 1666, and again during WW2 in 1941. The podcast itself was about an hour long, but with all the walks and pauses, it took us nearly three hours to complete it.

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London for Free

Been using this a LOT. This is an amazing site with a list of free walks, museums, and markets you can go to for free. If you follow a self-guided tour from their articles, you’ll get plenty of good tidbits of history.

London – Portobello Road Market

by Karen

Pro-tip: It’s probably not a good idea to visit Portobello Road at 5pm on a weekday when shops close around 6pm and the streets aren’t bustling. In fact, Saturday is probably the best time to visit.20131009-003859.jpg20131009-003914.jpg
That’s not to say the streets were deserted. It’s just not as vibrant as it would be on weekends.
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One good thing about our disappointing visit was that we happened to stumble upon a Malaysian restaurant called Makan. For £5 we got a large plate of food with rice and whateve toppings we wanted. I honestly didn’t know what I chose, but there were a lot of chickpeas and tofu involved, and it was amazing.
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Portobello Road can be accessed by the Ladbroke Grove station, or is a 15-min walk from Notting Hill Gate station.20131009-004803.jpg

Update 10/12 – We decided to go back to Portobello Market on Saturday at noon, and wow, what a difference it made! The streets were crowded and lively, shops were open, people were bartering, storekeepers were shouting out their wares—it was truly a festive atmosphere.

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