Monday, July 8, 2013

London trip: Day 1 (July 4): Getting and staying there

My friend C. invited me along for a trip to London for a long weekend. I love trips and I love London, so I immediately agreed.

I was charged with finding us lodging since my friend found us a good flight, and was that ever an undertaking! I usually travel on the off season so it really didn't dawn on me that it could be difficult to find a place to stay during the height of tourist season. I spent about three hours on the weekend collecting information on places to stay and I spent an hour calling places. Out of the 15 places I had identified as possibilities, only one hotel had a vacancy and one bed and breakfast knew of a possible homestay situation, which is similar to a bed and breakfast but not as commercial; someone rents out space in her home.

We ended up at the homestay and paid 85 pounds a night with a continental breakfast included for both of us. For last minute accommodation, it was an okay price for a twin room, and it was two stops on the Tube to Wimbledon. Somehow, we chose the Wimbledon weekend so we we were lucky to have found a place as everything was a madhouse. One of these days, I will actually plan a trip out farther ahead so there's not a mad scramble at the end to find places.

We flew with British Airways from Frankfurt. The flight there was awesome; we had center seats and there were only two of them per row so it was quite comfortable. We were even given the little packet of a sleeping mask, a toothbrush, and socks. I felt so posh.

From the Heathrow Airport, we were able to take the Tube, or the London Underground (subway), into central London. If one plans to ride the Tube multiple times per day, it usually makes the most sense, cost wise, to buy a travel card. They are available for one, seven, or thirty days of travel. I did the math and because we were going to be there for four days, it was the most cost effective to buy a travel card for seven days instead of buying it per individual day for four days. We also had to buy a ticket to get from Heathrow (zone 6) to where we were staying in zone 3. It made no sense to buy a more expensive travel card for zones 1-6 for the whole weekend when we'd only be using zone 6 for two journeys on the tube.

It is necessary to decide what zones you'll be traveling in; the more zones you cross, the more the card will be. We stayed in zone 3 but planned to sight see in zones 1-2, but to get home at the end of the day, we needed to include zone 3. The problem is that when we bought the travel cards, the guy at the counter didn't ask us what zones we wanted and only gave us zones 1-2. We realized the mistake later when a negative balance appeared on the gates as we were leaving the Tube after we had entered zone 3. We rectified that by going to the customer service window the next morning and the clerk sorted everything out and we paid for the additional zone. So, when getting transportation tickets, make sure they're for the correct zones! The London Transport website has great maps and information about fares to figure this all out and it's really quite easier than I'm making it sound. I recommend figuring it out before arriving to allow for a less stressful commute.

It took more than an hour to take the Tube from Heathrow to the stop near Wimbledon, where we were staying. It isn't that far of a distance but the journey requires changing lines and there are many stops along the way. Once we arrived at the homestay, we met the owner, dropped off our luggage, received the key, and were on our way.

We saw this motorcycle parked on the road and had a laugh. It was missing its license plate so the owner scribbled the plate number on a piece of paper and stuck it on! I'm not sure that the police would be too amused by that one.

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