Saturday, July 15, 2017

London: Day 1

I must admit that there is a part of my heart that will always be in London.  Somehow it feels like the European counterpart to my home city of New York.  While culture-filled activities might be one thing these cities have in common, expensiveness is another.  That's why I like to try to plan to take quick side-trips (or stopovers) to London when I am going somewhere else.  I don't try to do everything, I just hit a few of the highlights, and remember:  I can always come back again, and swap out something I've already done for something I have not yet tried.

There are a number of nice hotels in the Hyde Park area, which I particularly like. So, I typically like
Hyde Park 
to stay in that area for a couple of reasons.  There is easy access to the Tube (the local subway system), and I love to take a walk or jog through the park; especially in springtime, it is filled with beautiful greenery, and bustling with people.  If you decide to stay at an Airbnb or a traditional Bed and Breakfast, just be sure to consider location so that you don't spend all of your time on transportation.  Also remember, London hotels are tiny.  Once you've checked in, you could ask if there are any complimentary upgrades available.  Sometimes, you can get a bigger room for no additional cost.  Also, when booking hotels outside of the U.S., make sure you know whether or not the bathroom is private.  While it is standard in the United States to have a private bathroom in your hotel room, this isn't the case everywhere (and again, this is an area where prices may vary).

Once you are up and ready to start your day, take full advantage of the Traditional British Breakfast offered by your hotel.  You are likely to find many items that resemble the Traditional American Breakfast, such as eggs, bacon, sausages,  bread products, porridge, coffee, and juice.  You might also find a few pleasant surprises.  Black pudding is common, as are roasted tomatoes and sauteed mushrooms.  While I occasionally try dishes that contain meat on my travels, I am of the vegetarian persuasion.  I was thrilled about the tomatoes and mushrooms, but I didn't try the black pudding.  Black pudding is not actually a pudding.  Traditionally, it is a sausage made of pigs' blood, onions, herbs, spices, and oatmeal or barley.  It is also something you are likely to encounter at your breakfast buffet. You might also find rice and curry (remember, there is a large Indian population in the U.K., and the culinary influence is very much present), and you will absolutely encounter black tea.  I am a great lover of both coffee and tea, and as such, I can tell you that drinking black tea in the U.K. is more satisfying than what you get in most places in the U.S..  The tea is fuller bodied, and I would recommend that even your average coffee drinker give it a try.

Outside of Victoria and Albert Museum
Once you've finished your breakfast take a stroll through Hyde Park on your way to the V & A (Victoria and Albert) Museum (or take the Tube, depending on where you are staying).  Admission is free, and it is open daily from 10 AM until 5:45 PM.  There is frequently a special exhibit that carries it's own separate admissions fee, but you can simply bypass that part in favor of the remainder of the museum.  Offerings include a plethora of collections that span over 5,000 years of human creativity.  There are displays on everything imaginable ranging from furniture, pottery, and textiles from around the world, to fashion throughout the ages.  For any lover of the history of culture and art, there is sure to be something for everyone.  My personal favorite is the Theater Collection.  There are costumes and other theatrical artifacts that represent London's great legacy of theatrical tradition.  There is a cafe in the museum in case you need to stop for a refreshment (though I personally, prefer to pack a granola bar and keep going). 

Once you are successfully able to peel yourself away from the V & A Museum, take a walk down the street to Harrods.  Harrods is the world's most famous luxury department store.  This department store is a landmark itself.  It was first established in the 1800's  and has alternated between private and public ownership over the years.  In 1985, it was purchased by Mohamad Al-Fayed and his brother Ali, who added some visual interest to the already iconic store.  They added the Egyptian room, which features memorials to both his son Dodi and Diana, Princess of Wales  after their tragic deaths.  The gorgeous Egyptian artistry alone is ample reason to take a ride up the escalators (which also have historic implications, being the one of the world's first set and all).  If the memorials and Egyptian artistry aren't reason enough, the Harrods website is well organized, and contains a section that is specifically geared toward helping you to plan your trip.

Afternoon tea treats
In the late afternoon we recommend you treat yourself to afternoon tea. While this is experience is classy, and delicate in it's own right, you will not leave hungry.  This is why I like to book the absolute latest time available for my afternoon tea, and make tea-time my dinner.  This is one of those experiences that I feel is worth the splurge.  I particularly like the Fortnum and Mason Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon.  You will need to make a reservation ahead of time.  Vegetarian and Vegan options are available (you have to make sure to make note of this at the time of your reservation).  Remember, afternoon tea is a time to slow down and enjoy.  It is meant to take time, so take your time, and take in the experience.

Aerial view of Skypod Bar
Once you've finished your tea, make your way to the Skypod Bar.  You will need to make reservations in advance even for the bar (30 days or so), and there is a dress code.  Walk-in guests are accommodated, provided there is space.  While dinner would be a fairly spendy endeavor, the bar is a beautiful space that offers one of the best views in London, all while enjoying a cocktail or a glass of wine.  Just be sure to time this appropriately to catch the Tube back to your hotel if you prefer to avoid cab-fares.

For London, Day 1, here are our SLURGES and SAVERS:

  • Use public transit (prices vary)
  • Hotel Breakfast (included)
  • Lunch (grab 'n go or pack a granola bar)
  • V & A Museum (Free)
  • Harrods (Free, unless you shop or eat there)
  • SkyPod Bar (the drinks aren't cheap, but no cover charge, and it's less expensive than dinner)

  • Afternoon Tea
Special Notes:
  • Make sure you know what time your last train is or you will find yourself taking an extra taxi-cab.
  • Also, make sure your credit card has a chip in it so that it can be read.  Additionally, you need to know the PINN that goes with it; signing isn't generally the manner in which the transaction is completed.
What are some of your favorite London tips for saving or splurging?

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