And so it begins… UK/Italy…

Stanfield International Airport, Halifax
Departure Lounge

For the first time, I’m traveling with a laptop (well, no, not the first time,had it with us on the train to Quebec in the spring. But it’s the first time flying). The European trip begins for this year’s sojourn to see my sweetie and do a bit of traveling outside the U.K. as well. Followers from the start of this blog know I’m spending next week in Rome and the next week based out of Salford, the city next to Manchester.

Some might say Manchester is the home of famed football team Manchester United (or Manchester City) but for me it’s the home of Coronation Street and Salford is where my fiance lives. We’ve been together for 8 years now and we visit twice a year, alternating who gets on the plane. It’s usually a longish haul and I’m very glad he doesn’t live in Australia!

So here I am at the airport with my lappy on a table, a decaff latte from Starbucks in their Christmas cups (already!!) and they have the winter treats on the menu so I’m having my first Creme Brulee latte of the season. Decaff so maybe i can get a little sleep tonight. It’s an overnight flight direct to Heathrow and then transferring to Terminal 5 for the BA flight to Manchester. First time transferring to T5 so it will be a bit different.

BA didn’t let me check in online either so I’ll have to do that when i get there but …

Good thing #1:  Air Canada was able to check my suitcase all the way through. That means I don’t have to slog through the cattle call of T3 passport control and drag my bag on the shuttle train and recheck it. I just have to transfer by the little bus to T5, but I still have to check in. That’s ok.

Good thing #2: Creme Brulee latte (see above)

Good thing #3: Not a squeak going through security. Sometimes it buzzes for me and the only thing the wand beeps at when they swipe me is the underwire on my bra! I’m a good girl and I empty out my pockets first and don’t wear big chunky metal things. Gold and silver and my watch don’t seem to bother the metal detector.

Bad thing #1: I really don’t like to fly overnight. It’s not comfortable and I can’t really sleep. I sometimes can doze off or slip into The Zone where I’m almost asleep but I can still hear everything. It isn’t jetlag that bothers me as much as it is lack of sleep. I’ve been up since 6 a.m. this morning for work and by the time I get to my second home, it will be the equivalent of about noon in my time zone. Gotta be done but I pray for the day we get telportation technology!

And the flight is going to be pretty much full tonight, too. I had a seat with an empty beside me but when I checked in online, the middle seat was taken. There was one other spot with two empty seats out of the three in the middle so i snagged that aisle seat. Pray to the travel gods will you, that the empty seat stays that way?

Right. That’s it for now. More from the other side.

London: What is there to do?

Recently I wrote about thinking about the prices you see in London as the same as at home (for North Americans, anyway) and not calculate in your head how much it really costs with the exchange rate. That’s not to say you shouldn’t be careful about how much you pay for meals, shopping or attractions. Some things just aren’t worth the extra money. Some things are.

Some of the attractions are very pricey but they might be worth it to you if it’s something you *really* want to see. The Tower of London currently costs almost 21 pounds for an adult!! That almost takes my breath away. But you know? You can spend all day in there looking at things. It’s a lot more than just the Crown Jewels. Maybe it’s worth the price in that case if it’s something you will be interested in. The London Eye is almost as expensive and you might not think that’s worth it for a 30 minute ride with the spectacular views. The Zoo is also hugely expensive but you have to remember you’re supporting the upkeep of all those animals.

Other high priced tickets include Madame Toussaud’s, St. Paul’s Cathedral, London Dungeons, Hampton Court, Kensington Palace, Westminster Abbey, all starting from 12 pounds and up. That really adds up! Most of the major musuems and galleries are now free for the regular exhibits, with a fee for special and temporary exhibitions. Some, like the Dungeon are out and out rip offs. The London Aquarium has higher prices during school holidays and summer. Most have cheaper prices for children, students and seniors.

You have to pick and choose according to your interests and evaluate whether it’s worth it *to you*. As always, your mileage may vary.

Major museums and galleries that are free:

British Museum
Victoria and Albert Museum
Natural History and Science Museum
Imperial War Museum
National Gallery
National Portrait Gallery
Wallace Collection
Sir John Soane’s Museum
Museum of London
Tate Britain and Tate Modern
More free London listings here

Types of rail tickets you can use for the 2For1 Deals

In addition, if you have a rail card, there are two for one deals and coupons you can download and present along with your rail card. And that *includes* the Tower of London or the Zoo. You can get a travel day pass at a train station and it will look like a rail card type ticket even if you haven’t traveled to London by train but you can’t use the electronic Oyster card. In the photo above, you’ll see one that has orange stripey borders, that’s the most common one. Check out the 2For1 website to get more details and find the coupons you want.

London usually has a lot of free things to do, like the many street festivals, concerts in the parks, street entertainers and the traditional Speaker’s Corner always has an entertaining budding opinionist or two. On Sundays, along the fence of Hyde Park on Bayswater road, artists set up their paintings and crafts for sale. It’s like having a free gallery set up for viewing. You can buy food in a market or grocery store and have a picnic in one of the parks and you can even take alcohol if you wish, something that’s frowned on here where I live.

Another thing to watch for is the one evening a week that an attraction stays open late. Sometimes you may get a bit of a discount then and there’s usually not as many people either. Check that out for both free museums and paid ones.

Wander the neighbourhoods, find hidden corners like the remains of a bombed out church behind an office building in the City of London, a quiet little oasis in the midst of chaotic traffic. Or find a quiet churchyard or park off a side street. If you have a little pocket map, you won’t get too lost. I wandered a bit through some back streets in Pimlico and did get a bit turned around. The little map I had only showed the main streets and I wasn’t sure where I was. But I knew once I saw the smoke stacks of the power station across the river that the Thames was in that direction and once I was on that main road, I knew in which direction I wanted to head.

London Pass

London Pass:

London has an attraction “pass” called the London Pass. I’ve never taken advantage of that. I have always found for myself that passes of this type, available in many cities for attractions or just museums, are not worth the cost. I’m not the type of person that can cram a couple of attractions in every day, for 3 days in a row to make the pass profitable for me. I just don’t have the stamina!

If you plan out your sightseeing like a military operation, and I know people that do, and you do have the stamina to run from one to the next during the daytime opening hours, it will be worth it for you. Check out what the pass covers and decide from there. They’re usually only good for sequential days, so you can’t work on a three day pass over a week.

They do have the advantage of being able to skip the lines or queues sometimes and it comes with a transport pass as well but you can always get the transport pass separately anyway. Buying tickets online is an increasingly popular option and that often will give you a bit of a discount.

London has things to do and see for all budgets. Most hotels have small brochures for what’s on in London each week. TimeOut London is a good magazine on the news stands to find out everything too. It lists everything from theatre to clubs to concerts to festivals and special exhibits and Time Out has mobile apps for your phone or tablet.

Set your budget, decide if there’s any of the big ticket items you just can’t miss and look for discounts or deals.

You’ll love London! I keep going back and there’s lots of good reasons for that. Everyone’s London is different, you will find yours.