Travel 2017: B.C. and Hawaii

Vancouver skyline

Vancouver Skyline from the North Vancouver ferry

We didn’t do a lot of traveling last year though we did fit in a couple of road trips. I did go to the UK at the end of March to bring my husband back to Canada for good but there were no other travel opportunities involved aside from driving to Ipswich to spend some time with his family.  We made a quick trip to the Canadian/US border to validate his permanent residency visa and did a road trip around Nova Scotia’s south shore in September which was a lot of fun.

The first trip to book is to go on our delayed honeymoon in November to coincide with his milestone birthday or just before it, actually, since his birthday is late in the month and the later it gets, the more there’s a possibility of weather-related travel delays. The plan will be to fly to Canada’s west coast, visiting Vancouver, Victoria and maybe Parksville and Tofino. We will be able to see some family and friends and do some sight seeing there. We also plan to fly to Hawaii for 4 or 5 days for the “just us” part of the trip.

The first bookings for the trip have been made. I browse through the Aeroplan site frequently, checking out availability and dates and last week I found the best combination. Fail: there was no availability for flying on Aeroplan points in coach class anywhere near the dates. Win: No problem if we want to fly business class on points. Win: I had more than enough points for business class. Win: Every flight we needed has business class seats in exchange for my hard earned points. Booked! Now we can look at specifics for the rest of the trip.

English Bay, Vancouver

English Bay, Vancouver from UBC

An aside: Aeroplan is strange. Some times I’ll search for flights and there will not be anything, and other times there will be and I’m checking the same dates or close enough. What I really find irritating, though, is that you might not get business class for part of the trip but they’ll still charge you the full whack for all those points. I say no. It’s wasting my Aeroplan points if I don’t get to fly business class all the way.  Now, a free flight isn’t free exactly, because they still charge you for taxes and any fees but Aeroplan has changed things. Now you can use points for the taxes as well. Fail: It uses almost as many points for the taxes as it does for the ticket! I don’t think that’s fair but it’s a step in the right direction. Luckily, taxes for two business class tickets to Vancouver only ended up costing under $200 per ticket. Still a win in my book considering the price of those tickets paying cash is over $4300 return.

Market Square, victoria

Market Square, Victoria

Decisions, decisions…

Planning a major trip is all about decisions and then you worry if you’ve made the right ones. Do we rent a car at all and if so, when? What dates will we fly to Hawaii? Earlier in the trip or later? Maybe we should do that at the very end, fly back to Canada  and then home the day after a night in an airport hotel. If we fly back to Victoria, we could actually leave the big suitcases with my aunt and uncle and just go to Hawaii with our carry on rolling bags which would be more convenient.

In the end, I think we’re going to fly to Hawaii from Vancouver even though it will mean taking all our luggage. It looks like we’ll go at the end of the holiday, then stay overnight at an airport hotel on return, and fly home the next night on an overnight flight to Toronto where we’ll change to fly home. Next will be to get the Hawaii flights booked and once that’s done, the rest can fall into place, including picking hotels. In Victoria, though, we’ll stay with family.

Steam clock

Vancouver’s famous steam clock, in Gastown

As always, it’s frustrating trying to decide where to stay. You read many reviews,  you try to read between the lines of the ones that aren’t as good. If a hotel has quite a few negative reviews, it’s off the list. Most places will have some people complaining and then you decide if their complaints are valid and if so, are they deal breakers for you? For instance, I really don’t mind if a hotel room is small but some people do. I want a comfortable bed, free wifi (!), breakfast included if at all possible, and an en suite bathroom. Those are top priorities. A kettle or coffee maker is nice to have and a mini bar  or fridge is a bonus because we can then use the fridge for our own drinks and milk for coffee/tea.

Budget of course matters. I don’t stay at hostels but we can’t spring for anything expensive. For Vancouver, I think it will likely be something along the lines of a Best Western, Comfort Inn or that sort of thing. I’ve no idea what to choose for Hawaii and might actually go to a travel agent for some suggestions. They often can get good deals.

victoria inner harbour

Victoria Inner Harbour

Once the hotels are sorted, we can make lists of things we want to do and see. That’s always fun! It looks like five nights in Oahu with, we hope, 3 full days and a good part of a fourth. We will probably stay 6 nights each  in Victoria and Vancouver, visiting friends and family and seeing the areas. I’ve been to both cities before, but my  husband hasn’t and he’s really looking forward to it.

Planning a vacation adds to the fun, I always found. I make lots of lists but in the end, other than a few things we *must* do/see, the rest if flexible. Stay tuned for more organizational notes and please, if you have any hidden gems for Oahu, or Vancouver, please let me know!

 

The Travel Agent Kiss of Death

Greek Helmet, British Museum, London

Greek Helmet, British Museum, London

This is *not* a rant about travel agents. I’ve mostly always had very positive encounters with these knowlegable and lovely people that help me book trips and hotels. I do like to do my research online and I will often book things myself but if I have a larger combination of things to book, I will drop in to an agency and use their expert services. It’s done me well in the past, too. They have obtained some good hotel deals and can get flight bookings in combinations that the airline and booking sites don’t always present  after a search.

No, the “kiss of death” is me.

Over the past 25 years or so, I can tell you that nearly every travel agent I’ve ever used leaves me one way or another. They change branches, they retire, they just disappear and most recently, the whole agency closed down. I’m telling you, I’m getting paranoid.

Some people tell me they’ve used the same agent for decades. Lucky them! I never have managed to built up a rapport with a travel agent. I have a cousin that was a travel agent but I didn’t dare use her services for fear of her losing her job! I think the most I’ve ever used any individual agent was twice. The third time I went to book something, I hear “Oh they don’t work in this office anymore”. Of course they don’t.

I really don’t think it’s me that drives them away. Most of my bookings are straight forward. I’m not forceful, or pushy and I’m always polite. My credit card has never been declined (yet! knocking on wood just to keep the Travel Gods on my side).

I’ve been using the Flight Centre branch near my office over the last few years even when one of the agents I’ve used has moved on. I came into the shopping area at work one Monday morning a few weeks ago and the whole office was closed and the glass storefront papered up. There was no warning sign that I remembered seeing. I just shook my head, not really very surprised.

There’s still an agency in the shopping area and another one across the street. I’m going to be planning a trip for late this year. Do I dare? In fact, I probably won’t need flights booked because I’m going to be using Aeroplan points for one of the main flights and my best friend’s husband who works for another airline, offered to try to get us tickets on our other flight at a discount. All I need from there is deciding when I will need hotels and possibly a rental car for one or two days. Still, they can find good deals on hotels that may not be available online. That’s happened to me before.

We need a plan first. Then we will have to pick the hardiest looking agent, not one too near retirement age and not one too new. Someone tenatious, someone “hard”, someone with staying power. A Warrior.

The quest continues.

Ready to go

Air Canada's 777-300, Not as big as the double decker planes but pretty frigging big all the same

Air Canada’s 777-300, Not as big as the double decker planes but pretty frigging big all the same

In the past, I’d have my suitcase out and would have started throwing things into it a good 2 weeks ahead of my departure date, things like my maps and books, UK electrical gear, that sort of thing. The weekend before leaving would be laundry day and then I’d pack most of my clothes, leaving pieces I rarely wear for the few days leading up to the date to wear to work. Last minute stuff goes in my carry on bag the night before and just before zipping up. The most important things go in my handbag, including, obviously, passport, wallet, medications. I take a different wallet than my normal everyday one. It’s got fewer pockets and card slots, a bigger pocket for change and usually two separated places for bills. Foreign currency goes in one, Canadian in the other because I’ll probably need some at the airport.

Over the years, the advance time that the suitcase is on the bedroom floor seems to be shorter, often I don’t get it out until the weekend before. I’m leaving this week for the UK again but only taking my rolling carryon bag. The trip is about 10 days long but I think I can manage with what clothes I can fit plus my electronic gear and assorted cables. The number of those grows! I’m not taking my small laptop this time since it mainly isn’t a trip where we’ll be doing any other traveling or sightseeing so I won’t be writing a travelogue or probably taking too many photos that i would want to back up.

passport_leafWe will, though, be visiting Ipswich for a couple of days with a hop over to Bury St. Edmunds for a lunch/brunch. I don’t know how much of the cities we’ll get to see, though I’d like to have a look at the city centres of both even if just for an hour or so. Both are quite old and would probably have some really nice architecture. My husband will have a laptop with him so if I do take some photos, I can always load them on that for safekeeping and if we have wifi access, put them on one of the cloud services like Google Drive, Dropbox or even Microsoft.

At least I will have a backup copy on the laptop. I learned that lesson well when we went to Rome. I transferred my photos to the laptop nightly. A few days after we got back, my camera died and the SD card got corrupted. I only lost a few pictures I’d taken that day and still had all my photos of Rome on the laptop.  (And you know what? The replacement camera I got, same make and model, started going the same way after another 2 years, though the first one had started dying after only a few months. But that’s another story.)

Since I’m leaving midweek, my rolling bag is nearly packed and there’s a stack of things I need to put in my handbag ready to go. All my papers and reservations are printed out, saved on Google drive or Gmail and I’ll double check that before I go, as well. Online check in a few hours before getting to the airport. Pray to the travel gods that the flight is relatively ok and that I can maybe keep an empty seat beside me. That’s a 50/50 crap shoot since the airline usually oversells but I am hoping a mid week flight will be somewhat less busy. March break is over, the tourist season has yet to really kick in. I always try to get an aisle seat in the middle section of three. The center seats are usually the last ones people pick or they try to move out of if they can once we’re airborne.

I love to travel, but I really don’t find the transport aspect of getting there all that much fun. At least after this, for future overnight flights, my husband and I will be traveling together and I don’t mind getting up close and personal, sharing a confined space with him.

1954 MG

1954 MG. Not my rental car this time but it would be pretty cool if it was!

Once I hit the ground in the morning, I have to get into London which means a hike through the underground tunnels under Heathrow to the train station and then a cab from Paddington to Euston station where I should have a few hours’ wait until the train to Manchester. I bought an advance first class ticket so I will be able to take advantage of the first class lounge! While I’ve made the journey in first class in the past, I’ve never been in the station long enough to bother with the lounge so if there’s enough time, it’ll be something new! A free cup of tea at the very least and, according to the website for the station, the possibility of free “light” snacks. There’s lunch sorted. Arrive at Manchester Piccadilly and over to pick up the rental car and then home.

It’ll be a long day.  Bring it on.

What to do, where to go

View down the harbour

View down the harbour

For the first year in a very long time, I have no specific travel plans. In May, I’m getting married and for the two weeks my fiance/husband will be here in Canada, we will be busy with wedding/post wedding stuff so it’s not likely we’ll be going anywhere or doing any day trips. I’ll visit him in the UK in September and we have some wedding stuff to do, because we’re going to have a small reception there for our friends and family on that side of the Atlantic who weren’t able to travel here for the wedding. We will probably be able to do some day trips though, maybe a few days’ road trip, even. So I guess we can get our heads together and start thinking about where we could go for a 3 or 4 day road trip. I don’t think we’ll have the funds for a flight/hotel type trip to The Continent but who knows?

There are still plenty of destinations in England that I haven’t been to and would love to see. There are some interesting spots in the North of England including Hadrian’s Wall with a Roman museum, and there’s a few castles and abbeys as well. Or we could head to the Midlands, the Cotswolds, Oxfordshire, all around that part of the country.  Any suggestions would be lovely.

I’m also planning to take a couple of days off in July which will make a 5 day weekend in early July. I’ve been thinking of some sort of road trip, maybe with my Mom. The next question is where? I did look at the map and wondered if she’d be interested in a trip to Campobello Island, just off the coast of New Brunswick. We might even be able to do a bit of cross-border shopping while we’re there and visit some relatives in Saint John, NB either on the way out or on the way back. Or both.  We could go to Prince Edward Island, instead. We have relatives there and there’s some nice places to visit on the Island. Cape Breton is another good choice.

It’s lovely to be planning something even if I don’t really know anything definite. I’m just wool-gathering on a very frosty day and thinking of ideas. No doubt you’ll hear more if and when I do decide on something!

The Next Road Trip – Maine

Our next trip is going to be a road trip. We decided to head down into New England, with the end destination being Salem, Massachussets where there be witches! We really enjoyed the Museum of Witchcraft in Boscastle, in Cornwall (UK) and wanted to see the American version. The museums around here will focus on the Witch trials, no doubt and be just as interesting. We’re also going to take the train or the ferry into Boston for a day as well. I’ve been to Boston but he’s not been there and it’s quite a nice city.

We’ll probably do the hop on hop off tour and then wander around. Boston has a good Fine Arts museum, that’s a possibility or we could just soak in the atmosphere of the city.

I had thought we’d take the more southern route, crossing at st. Stephen/Calais, Maine and taking an older road, called the “Airline” (route 9), maybe staying over in Bangor but according to Google, it takes just as much time to go north further into New Brunswick on the Trans Canada highway, past Fredricton and cross over at Woodstock/Houlton and take the I95 down to Salem. I suppose, it’s all highway so it would be faster. I think we might do that and break the journey overnight at Woodstock, as it’s quite a long day to drive all the way through, even just to Bangor which is 3/4 of the way by the time you get that far.

Coming home, we do plan to travel along Route 1 along the Maine coast, exploring. Seaside towns, lighthouses and gorgeous scenery. Might even go to Campobello Island and come back into Canada that way, by ferry from there to Deer Island to the mainland. We can decide when and where to stop on the road and pick a little motel along the way, or two and take our time coming back. We will also plan to make a stop or two at the famed outlet shopping areas of Kittery and Freeport if time allows.

And Time Will allow for at least one shopping stop, if I have my way :)

We’ve got a B&B booked for Salem, Amelia Payson House which looks lovely. The lady I spoke to was very nice, too so I think we’ll be happy there. We’ll book a hotel in Woodstock but the other nights we will be on the road, we probably won’t book ahead of time. Could be interesting!

The Vikings are Coming

British Museum, London

Social media may have it’s skeptics and detractors but it has often come in handy for me. I’ve often seen links to really interesting things float by on my Twitter or Facebook feed, links to news, lifestyle, travel, books, movies, great websites and all kinds of other things.

When I joined Twitter, I followed a few Coronation Street actors. Well, I still do. One of them was also an artist and a man I would have liked to have a conversation with. He always seemed to have interesting things to say though he doesn’t seem to be tweeting much anymore. I own a portrait of one of the other Corrie actors that he did. It was part of an auction he did for charity. He also mentioned this very old library in Manchester that he’d visited. It’s in the city centre but it’s tucked away in a music school behind the cathedral and because he mentioned it, I made sure to go visit it the next time I went over.

Chetham’s Library Reading room, Chetham’s Library in Manchester. Apparently, Karl Marx worked at this very table.

I never would have known about this interesting place to visit had it not been for social media. The reason I’m bringing this up is that over this past weekend I saw a mention of a new exhibit coming up at the British Museum in London. It’s called Vikings: Life and Legend and it’s being put on in conjunction with the Danish National Museum (which we’ve been to!). Immediately I went looking for details and was gratified in discovering that it would be opening in March and ongoing while we are there at Easter.

I am lucky to have a man who really likes museums and galleries and I know he loves things like Vikings and ancient Romans, armour and weaponry. I would find this exhibit on Vikings really interesting, too. We both enjoyed the Roskilde Viking Ship Museum in Denmark a few years ago and apparently they have sent one of the ships, or remains thereof, to be part of this show. We are also both fans of the tv series Vikings which begins it’s next season soon.

Viking ship silhouette, Roskilde Viking ship museum, Roskilde, Denmark

Anyway, the upshot of it is, I didn’t even wait to consult him, I booked tickets straight away. The last time the British Museum had a big exhibit while we would be there was in 2008 for the Terra Cotta warriors from China. I waited too long and we couldn’t get tickets for the days and times that would work for us. I wasn’t taking that chance this time as it was again over Easter. The tickets are now booked and I sent him the link to the information the museum has online. When I spoke to him later, he was quite happy. We’re looking forward to the exhibit and I may even buy the exhibit book considering no photos will be allowed. These books are usually stunning in their content. I bought one from the Henry VIII exhibit that the British Library had a few years ago.

Isn’t the internet wonderful? Chances are that we would not get tickets if we show up on the day we arrive in London, and if there’s a chance, there would likely be long queues. We only have two days in London so would be limited in our dates so we probably would miss out if we couldn’t pre-book this far out. That’s what happened with the Terra Cotta exhibit. I did try to get tickets online but couldn’t and when we went to the musuem, all the tickets for the times we could get there were gone.  In some ways pre-booking does restrict you to dates and times but in other ways, you can skip the long lines, or not be disappointed by missing out.

This trip coming up looks to be quite a cultural one, with lots of museums and galleries. We’re planning on seeing Giverny and Monet’s house, also the Orangerie museum in Paris which has a lot of Monet’s Water lilies, and we’re going to see the Bayeux Tapestry. Other places on the list, and we will get to at least some of them, include the Musee Carnavalet, Sainte-Chapelle, possibly the Concergerie as well, and Les Invalides with the Army museum and Napoleon’s tomb. We’re also going to Rouen for a day as well. Monet painted the Cathedral there and it’s also where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake.

Back to the original point of the post, social media. It’s not just all about following celebrities or news feeds. You can find something to match any interest you might have. If you don’t follow something specific, you may still see it shared or re-tweeted by someone else which is how I think I saw the Viking exhibit. I didn’t follow the British Museum (but I will now) on Twitter but I do follow the BBC History Magazine and I think that was the source of what I’d seen.

And while we’re on that subject, the British Museum shared this from the Guardian’s site, 10 Best Vikings from books, history, movies and even cartoons. Wonderful!

We got Day trips

Day trips, we got day trips. Now that we have a rental car booked for my trip to Manchester, we are starting to think about day trips to make. I fancied seeing Chatsworth house again. I visited there with a group of friends back in September, 2000 on a rainy day. Wasn’t very good for walking in the gardens, just the house and a quick trip to the cafe. It’s a beautiful manor house, home to the Cavendish family, the  Dukes of Devonshire. In recent years, it’s been featured in both the movie about Georgiana, the Duchess of Devonshire (“The Duchess”, played by Keira Knightly), and in two recent appearances, it has represented Darcy’s home Pemberly in a remake of Pride and Prejudice (also with Keira Knightly) and in a television series, Death Comes to Pemberly.

There’s been a house here since Tudor times when it was first owned by “Bess” of  Hardwick from 1549. The house that’s there now dates from around the turn of the 18th Century. It’s pretty spectacular inside, with painted ceilings, elaborate plaster work and the gardens are extensive, with fountains and outbuildings. The stables and greenhouses can be visited (I believe the cafe and gift shop are now in the stables as well as some little shops).

I fancy another visit to see it again and update my photos and it isn’t that far to drive across the beautiful Peak District from the Manchester area so, weather permitting, I think that’s on the cards. We can go in the morning and find a nice country pub on the way back for lunch. In fact, I did some judicious Googling, as you do, and found one called the Royal Oak near Buxton that will suit requirements perfectly.

Not sure yet on other day trips though we’ve discussed taking the train over to Liverpool perhaps. I thought about Ripon and Fountains Abbey in the Yorkshire region or maybe just another visit to one of our favourite cities, York. We’d like to find somewhere where we could meet up with friends that might come from the Sunderland/Newcastle area.

We have pretty much everything booked for the France/London trip. The rental car is reserved, the theatre tickets for The Mousetrap are bought, the tickets/voucher for the Tower of London also bought and printed. We thought we’d stay at an airport hotel the night before we have that really early flight to Paris so that’s booked, too. Maybe we won’t have to get up *quite* so early though it still won’t be much more of a lie in. Every little bit helps and we can drop off the car at the airport the night before as well, after we check in with the luggage.

Itinerary building – Accommodations

Abbesses Metro, Paris

Abbesses Metro, Paris

Step one: Book the main flight to the U.K. ….. check
Step two: Book the one way flights to Paris….check.

LeavingParisEurostarStep three:  Pick and book a hotel in Paris (five nights) and one in London (two nights).
Step four: Book the Eurostar Paris to London.

The Eurostar website won’t let me book their own hotels with the ticket as a package unless I book a return ticket. Too bad because you can get some very good package deals from Eurostar with a return ticket.

Requirements: Location, and budget. Budget is very slightly flexible, depending on what’s included we could go a little bit over if necessary. Wi-fi is a must and having a safe deposit box in the room that will fit the laptop is desireable. Breakfast included would be nice but not a deal-breaker.

In Paris, we were thinking of staying around the Opera district, the 8th or 9th district. We want it to be fairly central and we don’t want to be right on top of the train stations (Gare du Nord and Est) because I’ve heard that area is a bit rough even if the hotels are cheaper. Probably a good reason for it, you get what you pay for! The right bank of the Seine will be more convenient this time because we’ll be using Gare St. Lazarre for our day trips and leaving via Gare du Nord on the Eurostar.

I did look on the British Airways site to see if I could get a deal on Paris hotels with the flights but they were still all very expensive. Fail, B.A.

For London, I thought either near Euston station or Bloomsbury might be the most convenient as we’ll arrive at St. Pancras and G. leaves from Euston to go back to Manchester (oh, note to self, make sure he books that train ticket, too!) I will probably get a taxi to Paddington and then the train to Heathrow from there. The Canadian Dollar has taken a hit against the pound lately so hotels are going to cost a bit more than usual but the Euro is still a good exchange rate at this moment in time.

I have been scouring websites like Expedia, Trivago, booking.com and hotels.com, making notes of likely candidates and making the mistake of looking up the TripAdvisor reviews which only further confuses me unless overall it’s generally not so good. Reviews, as I’ve said before, are so subjective and you really have to read between the lines. A lot of people whine about small rooms. I can handle small rooms unless they’re like a closet. Were the rooms as dirty as some people complained when others have found it spotless? I am a bit skeptical of that one as am I about scattered reviews about rude staff. In my mind, it takes two and in general most hotel staff are professional, sometimes a bit business like, and often very friendly,  but never rude.

Yesterday, I visited the hair salon and after that, post-coffee break with some relatives I bumped into, went to the travel agent. The woman I usually deal with wasn’t in and I wanted to get this sorted so sat down with one of the other agents. I have her the list of possibilities but told her I was open to anything else she found that was in the budget range and location. They don’t always have the access through their booking agents to everything you could find online but often they can sometimes get better deals with their sources.

The Welcome Hotel, Paris. It's on the left bank near Odeon stop. Rooms were small, but not closet-sized and it was in a great location.

The Welcome Hotel, Paris. It’s on the left bank near the Odeon Metro stop. Rooms were small, but not closet-sized and it was in a great location.

One of the Paris hotels I’d noted was in one of those sources and she also found another one not far from it which I think I’d seen on my web surfing. She couldn’t book straight away. Some hotels through her booking system are “On Request”, that is, she has to request the availability and wait 24 hours or so until the hotel replies so she’s put in for that for these two hotels: My Hotel Opera St. George, and Hotel Opera Lafayette. I gave TripAdvisor a cursory glance and overall either sounds ok, they’re in our budget range albeit very slightly over the top end. Breakfast is included in both so I think that makes up for the little over-budget because you’d have to buy it anyway. I think we’d be happy with either one.

Ok, so we’re waiting for availability on those. Crossing my bits that at least one of them will be a go.  Next step: Eurostar. That’s pretty straight forward. I knew the time and the class of the ticket we wanted so it’s booked and pre-paid. Check.

Melia White Hotel, London. We bagged a great rate that time. Possibly through the Air Canada website, I seem to recall

Melia White Hotel, London. We bagged a great rate that time. Possibly through the Air Canada website, I seem to recall

On to London. Here’s where I ended up being delighted I had gone to the agent because what we ended up booking was far nicer that I would have found on my own.  I had given her a few names for hotels I’d chosen including one, a Hilton, that had been in the budget range earlier in the week but which, I thought, was a sale that had just ended. She came up with another name, and said it looked like she could get a very good rate. It was just a little over our budget but  it had free cancellation (barring a fee of one night’s accommodation and taxes) and a full breakfast buffet. The location is perfect, the hotel is a luxury four star and I didn’t hesitate. We’re staying at the Radisson Blu Edwardian Grafton. I looked at the cheapest room through the website’s booking widget and we’re paying almost 25% cheaper than that. The equivalent booking on Expedia was a little more expensive again. Result! I never would have considered this hotel otherwise. Booked and prepaid! Check.

Yeah, that’s the other thing, most of the time you get the best rates if you prepay the whole thing. Often you still get free cancellation, sometimes with a fee of one night’s accomodation or even less. Sometimes, though, it’s non-refundable. If you have trip cancellation insurance that will cover you.

Once the Paris hotel is booked, we can book a rental car for the week I’m in Manchester because we like the flexibility for day trips, visiting mates and getting groceries and shopping. That’s pretty much the main items on the list, then we turn to a new list, our itinerary, both in Paris, the Paris day trips, London and things we might do while in Manchester. But that’s something for a future blog post!

Weekly Photo Challenge: Beginning

The first WordPress Weekly photo challenge of the year is appropriately “Beginning”. There are a lot of ways you can interpret that. Beginning of the day, beginning a fresh start, beginning a brand new book or opening a new calendar are all things that come to mind. But as this is a travel-related blog, I guess what I need to talk about is beginning the plan for a trip

Expedia screen shot

Expedia screen shot

We start, of course, with a discussion on where we’d like to go. The internet is our best friend as we surf for flights and hotels, things to do and see, maybe places to eat or shop. We make a priority list, because there are always “must do” things and “if we have time” things.

Bookstore Bounty

Bookstore Bounty

Guidebooks are good tools as well as websites because we often find things we didn’t know about to add to the list. How much is it all going to cost and how much can we save and then pre-pay items?

And then there’s packing, making lists of what to pack, taking things out that we don’t really  need to make it a bit lighter and tagging the bags, too, of course.

The ultimate beginning is getting to the airport and we’re on our way!

Flight Connection Centre, Heathrow Airport, where you change terminals and flights.

Flight Connection Centre, Heathrow Airport, where you change terminals and flights.

This year’s first trip is in April. I fly to Manchester then we will both fly to Paris, stay there for 4 or 5 nights doing day trips up into Normandy by train and then taking the Eurostar back to London where we’ll spend the Easter weekend. I’ll head back to Canada from there. I love to plan trips so for me, the fun begins!

Quandaries

Here’s the quandary I’ve been tossing about in my head. We are planning to go to Paris from Manchester next spring. There are two ways of getting there and each has advantages and disadvantages. Cost wise and time wise, I don’t think they will be all that far part and both have some messing around and schlepping a big suitcase. We’re planning to do this on the second of the two weeks that I will be overseas and I will be leaving from London to come home at the end, that’s why I’ll have my full size suitcase. I am not capable of living for two weeks out of a rolling carry on size bag. It just won’t happen.

Method 1: Fly from Manchester to Paris, (early arrival at the airport). Go through customs and wait for baggage. Get to the RER train and into Paris, Gare du Nord (there should be elevators from the train to the concourse, right? Or escalators at least?) Taxi to the hotel because lugging a heavy case up stairs from the underground/Metro isn’t going to happen either.

Method 2: Take the train from Manchester to London Euston. Taxi to St. Pancras (I know it’s not too far but we’ll have that luggage to contend with which also leaves out trying to get underground tickets, dragging around on that and up into the train station. Taxi it is.) Get the Eurostart to Paris Gare du Nord and a taxi to the hotel.

Getting to London to Paris  will definitely be on the Eurostar.

The second way sounds like less messing but with both ways, there’s two legs of the journey, either plane to train or train to train, both ending in the same place. Time wise, probably the train to train will take longer, with each train journey a bit over 2 hours plus the time in between that you need to check in to the Eurostar terminal. Cost wise, hard to say. You can get fairly cheap advance tickets for the Manchester to London journey if you’re on top of things and the Eurostar can be fairly cheap too, with advance tickets.

Sometimes you can get good prices on the one way flights. But you have to be at the airport over an hour early, and then wait for your bags at the other end, hoping they arrive. Still, that way will probably take a little less time overall but then, the last time we flew to Paris, we were stuck waiting on the Manchester runway for over an hour and a half with a delay. Planes and trains both get cancelled but I think planes have more chance of delays. Can’t really use that as an excuse though.

Comfort wise, flying is cramped and crowded. The train in second class still has seats with not a lot of leg room but it’s perhaps a bit more comfortable. First class is nice if you can afford it! Perhaps lots of advance booking might get the Eurostar first class in an affordable range, not so sure about the British trains. I know I have signed up in the past for email notice for the cheap seats in second class when they are released but I can’t recall if they do the same for the first class seats.  I’m still kind of leaning to the train except that it will make the journey longer.

I get myself all in a tizzy over little details like this, long before I even need to think about it! My partner will just say he’s fine with whatever I decide.

The next tizzy will be choosing a hotel! That’s something for a whole other blog post!