It is hard to miss the pubs when in London, they are located on almost every corner. On my third night in London, one of my good friends from Spain arrived and we met up at a Pub near the Gloucester Tube station.
The Pub culture is still alive and well in England, but it is important to know a little about the pubs. We quickly figured out that there is a few chains of pubs (all owned by the same company), the food is all the same and the drink selection is basically the same. These chain pubs are easy to spot, they have a chalkboard advert outside that says “Best Fish and Chips” & “New Menu“. Not that I’m against a chain of pubs, if they came to the US, they would make a mint. But I think we really sought out a more genuine experience… and soon we were able to pick out non-chain pubs. I personally enjoyed some of the ‘family’ run places.
The food was actually pretty good at most pubs, with one exception… I finally broke down and ordered the fish and chips at one place… look like it was run by a couple of sisters. At first they said that they were all out… but the cook found one last piece of fish – that was my last and only clue. I could have gone the whole trip without going down the bad food isle.
They all seemed to have Bulmers Pear cider, and on a few occassions, I even found my beloved Swedish Pear Cider.
That First night, I just could not sleep… After walking all over the Queen’s city, drinking a few pints of pear cider, and being jet-lagged, I was physically exhausted. But the adrenaline pumping threw my veins prevented me from getting a good nights sleep. doubt I got more than an hour of sleep. I laid there looking at the ceiling, and wondering what would happen the following day, when I checked out of the Holiday Inn, and ventured into the low cost option of a Hostel. Would I find it absolutely miserable? Would I end up on the street because of poor planning? would I tramp all over the city again, or would I be disappointed by the sights because of high expectations?
This was the exciting part of this trip, the unknown. Some people reading might think, “What is so unknown about visiting a huge city like London, and staying in a Hostel, by yourself?” – While I’m sure some of my friends and family where wondering why would you want to stay in a budget accommodation? and see the city alone? Truth is that I would have much preferred sharing this experience with my wife, and or kids. But I still felt this was something I needed to do just to prove that I could do it. That it was no big deal, since people do it all the time. After all, when you plan a vacation getaway with the Family – you plan for convenience, comfort, it really becomes a different kind of adventure.
7 am came mighty early, and felt like I had only just drifted off to sleep. I certainly did not want to waste time exploring the back of my eyelids on this trip. So up and showered, packed up, and quickly sampled the free breakfast downstairs. After another quick walk around the neighborhood, and a visit to the Internet cafe, I returned to the Hotel, and checked out. A pleasant employee handed me my bill, with a Zero balance. I couldn’t help but grin, and blush thinking about the nice breakfast, I felt I had just gotten away with something.
The map I had referrenced indicated my next stop was not that far away. All loaded up, I headed down Cromwell street towards the Hostel (the ACE Hotel). Turned out the scale on the map was a little decieving and with a 45lb pack on my back, what looked like a 10 or 15 minute walk became a nice 30-40 minute workout.
When I arrived I’m sure I looked a little like a beached middle aged man. The hostel was a flurry of staff activity, they were busy running around and cleaning, updating, unloading boxes of supplies from a vendor truck outside. It seemed like they were getting ready for a tea party with the Royals. I didn’t see any other patrons… So I inquired about check in, eventhough check-in wasn’t for a few more hours, I wanted to leave my bag, and start some more exploring. The staff was very nice, we smalltalked a little, and I looked around and decided this place was pretty nice. They set me up in a four bed dorm with an ensuite bath. I found the room to be very adequete, there was another guy there from Germany but we didn’t get a chance to talk much. It wasn’t loud and roudy, there were actually several families with school age children staying there (apparently I had come to London during semester break) All in all I give the Ace Hostel two thumbs up, although I missed breakfast the next morning. Spending £20 vs £150 per night at the Holiday Inn, was in my mind incredible value. Suddenly this whole budget accomodation thing looked like a no brainer, why hadn’t I tried this before?
Brook has finished his latest film, “One Day in Africa“, which premiers later this month at the Cleveland film festival. Unfortunately I will not be there, but judging by the trailer it promises to be another hit. As always Brook brings a very insightful, moving documentary about the lives of ordinary folks in everyday Africa, in HD this time.
I’ve been a huge fan of Brook, and one of the best purchases I ever made was his first film, “A Map For Saturday“. I continue to see references to how this movie has changed not only my life but numerous lives around the world. His approach to telling a story is inspirational in a way that I find hard to explain. If you are reading this, I encourage you to check out his movies. He has done some other good things since A Map For Saturday was released, like the Interview Point. I can not wait to see his latest work.
From my room on the Seventeenth floor, I can see Hyde Park off to the north… but not much else recognizable. First order of business… touching base with Home. Now if you’ve been to Europe, you’ll know cell phones are so prolific – everyone is on their phone, so calling home would seem to be a simple task, right? But take a look around the internet… there is a lot of information for Americans out there on how to get this done in a cost efficient manner. Let me tell you how I did it, I’m sure it wasn’t the cheapest method, but it worked and worked well. I brought along Two phones, my Iphone & an older GSM- tri band Razor phone (unlocked).
My goal was to use the Iphone as a wifi device – a way to check emails and look things up, since I decided not to bring along a laptop. This is a wise decision considering how lite I was traveling. I read numerous tales of Americans who returned home to thousand dollar phone bills because of the Roaming schemes overseas. So I had the cellular turned off and data roaming turned off, I was paranoid about this. It seems there is a lost opportunity here for AT&T to make a deal and capitalize on this market. In fairness AT&T does have an option for Americans to turn on International roaming… but it is a monthly option and the rates are not really that competitive. As far as using the Wifi, I found it challenging, I was able to find plenty of hotspots – but most of them required a user account or password to connect to the Internet. When I did manage to find an open hotspot, I could connect to the access point, but it would not connect to the Internet. It was only on my second to last day that I talked to a guy, who used to work for Apple, and he told me how to set it up. It took popping out the sim card and that did the trick.
So in the meantime, plan B – finding a local cell phone dealer where I could buy a prepaid sim card with good international rates back to the States. So I headed out into the Streets of London, I decided to just check out the area around the hotel that might have such a business. I quickly found a little shop and asked the shop keeper what he had, and he said he Had O2 cards, but there was a 5 £ charge just for the sim card, and then I would have to topup, instead he offered another option for about 30 £’s (about $45) where the sim card was free with 30 £’s of credit on it, and only 5 pence per minute back to the States. In the Past I have used O2 in Ireland, and I knew it was reliable option, but I was buggered by the 5 lb charge. In the End I know I paid too much – since I ended up only using about 5-10 £’s of the 30. I’m sure his commission was higher for this card as well. But it didn’t matter because it worked – and it worked well. I was able to pop the card in, activate it, and call home and talk to the wife and kids right there in the store. The only issue I had was all my phone numbers for my buddies in Europe where stored away in my Iphone or Email… Technology, isn’t it amazing?
My flights went well, the first flight was a short hop from Austin (AUS) to Houston (IAH). The Great Bargin that I had found was on British Airways – leaving from one of their departure cities, and Houston was the closest. Originally I thought I could just drive, but after a few quick checks, I found a 90$ roundtrip on Continental. This seemed like a better deal. If I had tried to book it all through BA, the flights from AUS->IAH would have been a couple hundred bucks… In this case it was much better for me to book separately, especially since I didn’t plan to check any baggage.
One thing I always marvel at is International Travel, I love walking thru the International departures and seeing all the people waiting for flights, it is usually one of the best people watching spots on the Planet. On this particular night, the Houston International Concourse was deserted. Except for one flight departing to Dubai, or Saudi Arabia – which was boarding when I walked by, there were no other Foreign carriers and no one waiting around. I think all the US based carriers just depart out of what ever gate they end up at. I still had about two hours for my BA flight and the plane had not arrived yet, so seeing nothing going on, I headed over to the Continental concourse, and grabbed a bite to eat.
Sleeping on a plane is always impossible for me, but I managed about 30 minutes here and there. The flight was practically empty, which was nice. When food was served it didn’t take long, I sampled it, but since it was mostly un-edible I also quickly gave it back… I tend to catch up on my Movies during flights.
Arriving at Heathrow, I breezed thru immigration – and into the main Terminal, the place was buzzing, I found the tube ticket counter and confirmed the best option for me was a 7 day travel card plus about 10lbs credit, all on an Oystercard. After getting some cash, I was off on the TUBE… it didn’t take long to fill up, it was about 12 noon, and everyone seemed to be headed into London. The ride actually takes a while, initially I had chosen a seat, there ended up being so many folks packed onto the carriage, that I didn’t bother to get off at my intended stop, instead I waited till it cleared out a little, and doubled back. Lesson learned… if carrying the pack, don’t sit down where you can’t get off.
Gloucester Road was my goal, and coming out of the Tube Station, I had lost all bearing on North/South, East/West even though I had studied maps and google earth before the trip. It’s hard to miss the Holiday Inn Kensington, as it seems to be one of the tallest buildings in West London. After checking into my Free Room, I quickly reduced to my carry along backpack and set off to explore. Look out London, here I come.
After only a few weeks of planning, My mini-adventure is set to start. I’m about an Hour out from leaving for the Airport, and I think I have everything I need, neatly pack away into my backpack. I’m a little nervous about the Backpack thing, not that it is any different than any other bag. I have at least 4 nights at the holiday Inn, the other nights I’m gonna try these Budget accommodations and see how that works out…
I’ve loaded up the Ipod with tones of podcast, so I should be able to keep myself entertained for the next week – if Les Stroud (survivorman) can do it, surely I can survive a week in London, right?
So looking at my checklist… I need to get a travel card once I arrive, make my way to hotel, get some money, and then start exploring – I’m going to try to come up with a more specific plan once I’m on the plane.
Long ago in my Bloggin Life, I decided that I would probably not become the infamous writer that I dreamed of. Oh, Mainly because, it takes a lot of talent, dedicated time, and a lot of adventures… So I decided as I go along this Voyage, I would always take time to point out the links and sites that really Inspire & motivate me.
One example is Where the Hell is Matt, Another one that I have become very fond of reading is Bumfuzzle – Check it out, these guys are living a dream! There are many more, usually found on my Travel Resources Tab, which I am always changing…
Ok, I ordered this backpack on Amazon Friday… got an Email Sunday that says it may not ship till Tuesday with a delivery time of 2-7 days. This is cutting it really close, since I leave a week from Tuesday. It was really inexpensive compared to the one’s at REI, so I plan on giving it a full Review – that is assuming it’s not made out of paper and gets here in Time.
Against my better judgment (I’ll explain later what that means), I’ve decided to take a Trip to London. The basic rationale is that I have a week of vacation left over, and need to use it by the end of Feb. So I started thinking… what could I do in a week? In Late January, I stumbled across a good Deal on British Air (thanks to Europeupclose.com), and Thought “Here is an Idea”. I knew the Wife has been to London, and the chances of us actually planning a trip there was not too high, after all there are many other places that are higher up on my List. Now, Normally I’d just take the week off, and spend the days reading about other folks on their RTW journey, Working on Honey-Do-Projects, and then deliberating about how to move in that traveling direction. So I started playing with the Idea… How could this work? how can I convince the wife to let me go and how can I do it cheaply? After all, this is not exactly like the boys trip to Vegas once in a while.
I decided that I had to do it on the cheap, and I’ve read so much about folks that are staying in hostels and guest houses and take the road less traveled and less exploited for Tourist, that I felt challenged. So, with some rudimentary planning, I came up with round trip tickets for about $500, and staying in hostels probably another $200. Sightseeing, and Eating another $300, coming to roughly $1000 for the whole trip, hmmm. So that was my initial budget… as the CFO in our family, that seemed doable. After all, I did just sell the boat, but London is one of the most expensive cities in the World and economic times are tough. Some might question “frivolously” spending money right now instead of stashing it away. It is something I grappled with also, but in the end, I felt that my daydreaming needed a does of reality… and I decided it was worth the cost.
It didn’t take me long to get real excited about the Idea. Now I had to figure out how to “ask” for permission, not that I need permission, but I’m very lucky that the Wife is very understanding and accommodating of my passions. Maybe she is just ready to get rid of me, but really in the end is was, ME:”hey what do you think of this idea?” Wife: “Sounds good, Go for it…”
Now back to the Judgment thing, What is a grown family man thinking, taking off for a week to venture around London on my own? After all, I’ve two children at home to raise! As I’ve hinted, there are lots of reasons to justify not going, but one main one is the Responsibility of a Parent. I remember when I was a kid, my dad went to some conference in London, and I remember pouring over a city map laid out on the living room floor. I had no idea the passion I would one day have, but I recalled how fascinated I was with that idea of my dad going to London. I hope to inspire my children in the same way.
More on the Trip coming up.