Thursday, May 31, 2012

London on $98 a Day - Our London Flat

The street in front of our flat.
When I tell you that the most comfortable chairs in the house were the plastic lawn chairs we brought in from the garden, you'll have some idea why this apartment, where we stayed the longest during this three-week trip, was our least favorite.
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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

London on $98 a Day - Using the Tube

London is preparing for the Olympic Games and signs are already warning people to get ready for traffic jams. One stockbroker we spoke to, originally from Florida, told us her thirty-minute commute would turn into three hours. She was thinking about getting a bike! 
But unless you're there during the Games, you will find this city fairly easy to navigate by using the buses and the Tube.  You can either buy a Travel Card or an Oyster Card (Both have advantages and it probably takes a semester's course to decide which is better for your needs.  Do your research in advance via the Internet because both cards save you money on all forms of public transportation.); if you use the Oyster Card, as we did, you can refill it as needed.  We particularly liked the card because it stayed in its little plastic holder and all we had to do was place it for an instant on the semicircle to magically open the Tube admission gates. 
There's a fascinating subterranean world in the Tube underground with escalators that seemingly rise to the heavens, elevators that take you a zillion stories deep into the earth, and signs that tell you to Mind the Gap before you search for the Way Out. And all the while, there is, somewhere in the labyrinth of twisting hallways, an entrepreneurial musician who serenades you with Beatle songs. 
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Monday, May 28, 2012

London on $98 a Day - Harrods

Remember not to wear your crash helmet. And forget about going topless. You simply can't get away with any funny stuff at the poshest store in London.

I can't imagine anyone's having enough of a death wish to ride a motorcycle in London traffic, and I have great difficulty believing it ever gets warm enough to reveal even a bare arm let alone an intimate body part to the elements, but those rules are part of the restrictions imposed by Harrods so that, "....every single visitor who passes through our doors has a positive, pleasurable and memorable experience." So, cover up your body while keeping your head bare. You don't want to miss seeing Harrods.

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Sunday, May 27, 2012

London on $98 a Day - The Natural History Museum

Dinosaur Hatchlings
The Natural History is the best Museum for your child or grandchild because an elevated bridge allows you to walk at head-height with dinosaurs that come to life snarling and glaring at you as you sidle past. Any question you ever had about these ancient creatures will be answered here by the many displays.
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Saturday, May 26, 2012

London on $98 a Day - Portobello Market

Portobello Market teems with people, products, and produce. On Saturday market day, stalls stretch along the road of the same name from the Notting Hill tube station north for almost two miles. The stores lining either side of the road are open six days a week, but it's only on Saturdays that tables clutter the sidewalks and people clog the street. Here, people-watching is often more intriguing than the shopping.

At the beginning of the market are the antique stores but some items, both second-hand and new, cover the sidewalk tables. Much farther along are the fruit and vegetable stands. There is also a fashion section, but David and I never got there as we were ready to head home after four hours.

Portobello was originally a farm that was named after Puerto Bello, one of the first silver-exporting cities in Panama to fall to the British in the war with the Spanish in 1739, but today the only silver you'll see is the expensive jewelry in the antique shops. Or, there is a sapphire and diamond copy of Kate Middleton's ring that can be yours for only 5£! But whether you buy jewelry, some wildly colored tights, a scarf from Scotland or nothing at all, you'll enjoy the experience visiting one of the best markets in Europe.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

London on $98 a Day - London Fashion

When traveling, I try to be fashion forward without being trendy, but on this trip I ended up looking more like Nanook of the North than Heidi Klum. Wind, rain and 48 degrees will do that to me.

I packed three black lightweight jackets. And wore all three of them, one on top of the other, almost every day. The rest of my ensemble consisted of my skinny black pants that ended up baggy after three weeks of almost continuous wear (I did wash them a couple times.) and a scarf from Coldwater Creek that was supposed to be casually draped around my neck but that I usually wrapped around my head to keep the wind out. The only spot of color in this mix was provided by the every-finger-a-different-color knit gloves I bought twenty years ago at TJ Maxx. 
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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

London on $98 a Day - London's Squares

London is crowded. Many of its thirteen million people live in narrow, four-story row houses with, if they're lucky, a walk-in-closet-size backyard. Others are stuck in tiny flats with no garden space at all.

But no one need suffer from lack of greenery in this Olympic host city because London boasts an abundance of parks, both public and private. The huge public parks are beautiful, but it's the 13000 smaller "squares" that David and I found most interesting.

The sister and brother-in-law of good friends of ours have lived in London for forty years; after enjoying coffee in their beautiful townhouse, they introduced us to their Ladbroke Square. The gate on this fenced property can only be unlocked by one of the people who live in the townhouses surrounding the Square. In other words, this park is only enjoyed by 500 people who pay dues (the British version of HOA's perhaps) to provide the resident gardener's salary (Yes, he and his family live in the Square!), and maintain the playground and tennis courts.
Gardener's Cottage

As we walked along the paths of this gardener's delight, our friend Ron explained that his sons had loved growing up with the Square right across the street. They'd clambered on the playground equipment as children and volleyed a tennis ball back and forth as teenagers. Guy Fawkes Night was always a special occasion, too, because the gardener, who'd been sent to fireworks school by the townhouse owners, put on a thirty-minute display that was the envy of the Notting Hill neighborhood.

We saw a man sitting in a chair enjoying the warmth from the sun. Ron said he sat there every day. Can you imagine a better way to spend a sunny afternoon than in your very own park? Me neither.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

London on $98 a Day - The Dickens Museum

After making three wrong turns, walking over forty minutes, and finally asking for directions, we found the Dickens Museum. It's Dickens' 200th birthday so you'd think that the museum would be in full regalia, but this is what we found.

A man walking his dog commiserated with us, saying that the Dickens Foundation had received a grant which would expire if it wasn't used by a certain date.  So, don't bother following this sign until December 2012, when the refurbishing project will be finished.

London on $98 a Day - The British Museum

As we toured the British Museum, we couldn't help but notice that many of the statues were missing key parts of their anatomies. Where did they go? Or had the artist somehow forgotten to include the one area of the male body that men hold most dear?

When I asked a guard, he explained that the genitalia either broke off or were intentionally removed during the Victorian era. It was considered improper to display statues that were anatomically correct, so the offending genitals were removed.

I thanked the guard for the information and was walking away when he came rushing back, tapped my arm, and said, "Don't worry. We've saved all the parts. They're in a box somewhere."
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Saturday, May 19, 2012

London on $98 a Day - The London Eye

I don't like heights.  Glass elevators give me vertigo and just watching a tightrope walker makes my stomach tingle.  You'll never catch me on the Grand Canyon Skywalk peering into the abyss below. 

But friends assured me the London Eye, the famous Ferris wheel built to mark the millennium, was different.  Being in a capsule with twenty other or so people, having the ability to walk around the capsule, and ascending and descending very, very slowly were all supposed to take the vertigo right out of the experience. 

And they were right!  David and I enjoyed every minute of the thirty-minute trip, and, even better, there was no rain inside the capsule.

Practicalities -
There is an independent ticket office outside the official Eye building, but they sell only packages.  You must buy tickets for two or three attractions (Madame Tussaud was advertised over the loudspeaker as the chance to see the British royal family, Barack Obama, and Brad Pitt!  How's that for an intriguing grouping?), so if you want only a ticket for the Eye, you must go inside the Eye building.  That building also holds a restaurant and free bathrooms.  

In the rain and cold, the line was quite short.  When the weather is balmier, if it ever gets balmier, then I'm sure the line is longer.  Still, since the wheel doesn't stop--you have to step lively to get in the capsule as it's moving--I imagine the line would move fairly quickly.
View from the top, complete with raindrops.