03 August 2011

|| London//Part 1 | Jibber Jabber ||

This is a long, long post. If you find yourself going to London in the future or want to know what I have to say about our London experience you will want to read on. I know that when I travel I like to know as much detail from someone who has been to help me because there are somethings you just can't google. I hope this post doesn't come across as me being negative towards London, well I guess there is some elements of negativity, but I just want to be informative. It really is a great place, but there are some behind the scene things I wish we could have done different and somethings I feel people need to know about or think about before going on trips. I am just one of those snobby/picky travelers only because I want to enjoy it so much and enjoy the sites so much that I don't like when other annoyances put a tad of a damper on it. Sorry, but I don't want to "work out" to see sites. Being sweaty and feet hurting at Big Ben is not my idea of fun. I loved that we went and we had a great trip for sure, but I am determined to make our next holiday a piece of cake.
Let me tell you about London. London, it came and went. It is amazing how a week of being on holiday{that is what the European's call it, "holiday" as opposed to "vacation". Saying "holiday" sounds so posh to me and that is why I have adapted it into terminology} can feel like a really long time away. While it felt like we had been gone for a long time, it also felt like our days flew by. London is extremely busy. So many people, everywhere. I think the amount of people made it less fun really. There was never a relaxed feeling. I would never recommend London for someone wanting a relaxing vacation and I would for sure never recommend this destination as a honeymoon destination. There is so much walking and going from one place to the next that it is more work than you should be doing when you should be relaxing together as a new married couple. I feel. I have never really understood people's desire to travel to Europe on their honeymoon anyway, and this trip just confirmed that thought of mine. As I said, there was a LOT of walking going on. Each day we probably were on our feet for an average of 8 hours each day. The first couple days I quickly realized I didNOT pack the right shoes. I brought shoes that turns out are only comfy for short distances and not for HOURS of being on my feet and climbing a MILLION steps. For the most part we were either standing, walking or climbing up and down stairs. So damage had already been done to my feet the first two days. I was kicking myself for not bringing the tennis shoes I contemplated bringing and decided I didn't need...they just didn't go with my outfits. On Friday, our third day I was finally able to get actual walking shoes, but by then my feet hurt in every spot so buying new shoes only helped to not get more soars instead of magically repairing my already hurt spots. The reason why there was so much walking going on is because from our hotel room we had to walk, not to far luckily, to the nearest train station. In every train station you are pretty much either climbing or going down a bunch of stairs or walking in long hallways and you might have to take a few different trains to get to where you want to go so that process is then repeated. Then once you get to your station of destination, you then have to climb out of that station to get up above ground. THEN you walk around to find what you came to do. Another thing I kicked myself for was not figuring out a head of time EXACTLY where each shop or spot was. I just figured if I knew the Tube station or the street something was on that we would find it. Not the case. Some things took us a bit to find and sometimes we had to walk back and forth around town to find something. Some places we knew exactly where to go, but other times we had to search for shops/bathrooms/a place to sit and eat. Not to mention when we had to walk and walk to find where a bus was or to find the nearest tube station, however we usually knew where the tube stations were. Thus more walking. Thus more soar feet, ankles, shins etc. There were moments of sitting and "relaxing" those times for us were IF we got to sit on the tube, taking a bus or a few places at museums, eating at a restaurant or after searching the streets for somewhere to sit and eat our lunch. A few days into our trip we found that taking a bus outside our hotel was better than taking the tubes. The tubes were stuffy, hot, too many people and like I said all the walking we had to do on our hurting feet to get to the actual train inside the underground. So, we found out that taking a bus eliminated that plus we were able to actually see the city. It was great fun sitting on top of the double decker buses. The only disadvantage of taking the bus is we knew where the bus was to take us out of our hotel area, but it was always a PAINNN trying to find a bus stop that would take us back home, or anywhere else. The map that "shows" where bus stations are is pretty vague and when your feet already hurt it was pointless to search for the bus stations. We tried a few times searching for a bus and those times just turned into my limping around town longer than desired. Luckily, blisters weren't our problem I think those are the worst. There were so many people wearing heels, sandals or other varieties of potential feet hurting shoes. I don't know how they did it, they either suffered through it or they didn't have to walk around 8 hours a day like we were. Let me tell you a little more about the tube stations. Were we grateful for them? Yes, they are very convenient, thank goodness they had them or DEATH. However, they were just not enjoyable. Sometimes there were just too many people and we would have to wait for the next one, luckily not for more than 3 min for the next one. The tube stations are very windy which actually was great considering how hot the rest of our days were, we experienced hot weather our week there, they were windy from various fans in some places, but mostly the effect the trains and tunnels created. But, I am talking big winds like skirts up and hair messed up. Luckily, I never had either of those issues because unlike most people there I was not wearing too short of a skirt/dress and I never did anything cute with my hair to worry about it getting messed up. The stations luckily did have escalators as well, once you got near the exit. THE longest escalators of my life and steepest too. Anyway, so if you travel to London, just prepare for an unpleasant traveling around the city experience. OHHH and pretty much if you have kids/strollers/are handicap/can't walk well just forget it. Out of all the many tube stations we went to like 2 of them had elevators. Just count on carrying up and down stairs your strollers or luggage. Of course if we weren't then walking for hours after the train experience the trains really wouldn't be that bad, but the last thing you want after a day of walking is another bunch of stairs and walking to get home. ANND forget driving IN London because a. you have to pay to drive in that vicinity b. there is NO parking, I didn't see one parking lot or garage c.  scary, i would NOT drive in that city it looked super confusing and I would probably go down the wrong side of the road or run over someone. I am sure of it. I thought Switzerland roads/signs were confusing, but London wins.
We were there for 7 days and however long that was I really think it was too short to really fit EVERYTHING in. Granted the 5th day we were there I injured myself, so we were stuck in the hotel room for the following days, that is another story, but even so we had to quickly fit in things and really didn't get to you know enjoy it. {okay so maybe we could have left the hotel before 10 or 11 everyday then we could have had more time} That doesn't mean we didn't enjoy our trip, but there were somethings we could have done different to make it feel less like rushing off to the next place and more like just living the life of London. Does that make sense? When I think back on it there was one time I can remember not "rushing" off and just enjoying our walk back to the tubes and headed back to the hotel. SO my advice is to plan it out. Really, as annoying as that can be to plan a schedule for each day, it really will make your trip more enjoyable to know exactly where you need to go and how to get there. For example, actually there are a few examples of what I mean. The first one is, Friday the day we went shopping at Oxford Circus so that is when we finally were able to get me new shoes for walking around, less than ideal to spend money on shoes, but it had to be done. Neither of us know store names, we are both only familiar with the store names we grew up seeing, actually Jachen knows a bit more than I do since he lived in England. So it took us a few tries and asking people to find shoe stores. Jachen bought two pairs of shoes at the first shoe store we found, but we had to walk around searching for a good store for me to find shoes because if I was going to spend $$ on good walking shoes I was going to like them. So just not knowing what shops are around until you stumble upon them is a time waster. Second example is one of the things I wanted to do the most on my trip to London was eat a cupcake at Hummingbird bakery on Portobello Road{they don't make cupcakes in Switzerland, and I love me a good cupcake}. That is all the info I took with me, Hummingbird Bakery & Portobello Road. BIG mistake, I should have found out exactly where the bakery was on that street because turns out that was the longest street of my life. Portobello Road was great and it is famous for being an amazing market road with tons and tons of antiques, art and other nicknacks. It did not disappoint. We searched and searched on that street for the bakery as we walked down it, but could NOT find it and the road kept going. Where the heck was it? Finally towards the end of this massive market street, or maybe it wasn't the end but it was beastly so the road could have kept going for all we knew...I asked a girl who looked like she would know where this bakery was and she did. She said it was near the start of Portobello Road. THE START? GRR. So we passed it somehow. Death. Our feet were already killing both of us so there was NO going back up the massive crowds of people to find it, if we could have even found it. So we left. Bummer, but my feet were more important than a cupcake....at that time, now I wish I would have walked barefoot for it. Hardly. So point is, if there is a store or place you really want to go find out exactly where on that street or area that place is or you will waste time or kill your feet looking for it...or just not find it at all. Actually, you might not kill your feet IF you started out wearing better shoes. That was my problem.
Another issue with London/traveling by train instead of your own car where you can just drive somewhere and be done with it...is the tricky business of meals. I had a list of some places I wanted to eat while there, restaurants/food they just don't have here in Switzerland, but whenever lunch or dinner came around we were never near those places and it never seemed like a good idea to go through the effort to travel to find those places. One night we made it an effort to find this Thai restaurant I found online. I just didn't want to leave London without eating Phad Thai, my favi you see. Our biggest bonus was that our hotel was near two grocery stores so we always knew what to do for breakfast and we always packed food for lunch. Smart. But dinner we would just end up finding somewhere nearby. Which was great still, but would have liked more the experience of finding really great restaurants instead of how tired we were that most nights we just settled on something close to our hotel which was Burger King, KFC and the grocery store. Not my favorite choices, but the lack of wanting to go out and find a restaurant wasn't ideal for either of us. We actually, THE NIGHT WE SAW HARRY POTTER, I could cry for joy just rethinking about that movie, we ate at a yummy Mexican restaurant in the "mall" where following we saw the movie. So, if you ever go to London make sure to pick a hotel that is near a grocery store, I promise it will save your life and put more effort in eating at new fun places instead of your average Burger King, however cheap eating at Burger King might be.
Speaking of hotels. Okay, so this is one of those tricky traveling decisions. Go cheap because you pretty much just sleep there or pay a little more and actually get a legit hotel? What to do. Jachen could careless and I am sure most people could, but I am very picky about where I sleep. Some sleeping arrangements give me heebie jeebies...even someone handing me "the wrong kind of blanket" is not tolerated in my mind. We stayed in a hotel that Jachen stayed in last year with his mom so it was a place we/Jachen had already known which I think is a good way to go...either somewhere you have already been or somewhere someone recommends and can tell you about is a bonus when picking a hotel. Our hotel turned out to be barely bearable. It was not a dump or anything, but just had some annoying elements. I like to come back from a long day to a nice place and not one that makes me cringe. The good thing about our hotel was it was a pretty good price, near two grocery stores and was pretty close to a tube station. However, I wished we would have spent a few extra $$ to get a nicer place. Like maybe one that had the internet in the rooms instead of just down in the lobby and one that had hand towels for their guests. Really? No hand towels? Who does that? What they expect us to use our shower towels for our face and hands? Needless to say I bought some small hand towels. While the rest of the population might be okay with wiping their clean mouth on their used shower towels, I do not find that okay. Just typing that makes me feel/sound high maintenance, but I can't deny that in some aspects of life I am. Also, the rooms were okay. I didn't feel too many heebie jeebies about the place, but there is just something about the place that made me dread going back to it each night which I would like to change about the next time we travel. The shower was tiny, you were either eating the shower buttons or the shower door, so that made shaving my legs tricky. It was one of those places were I fear they never wash the sheets or pillowcases between customers, I am sure they do just got that vibe. So nice of them to provide us a TV even though the reception was bad on all stations. We enjoyed ourselves some CSI, Super Nanny, a couple time waster movies, annoying commercials that played over and over, and a weird British talk show. Those British, I tell ya. So, point is if you are like me and want to go to a clean feeling, nice, hand towel providing hotel you may need to pay a bit more. I just forget that I am like that until I was reminded this trip. OH especially since I spent a day and a half locked up in that room after I injured my ankle, it would have been nice to feel a bit of luxury while I hobbled around or laid there in bed. Another tip I would like to mention would be, maybe be over picky and request a room that isn't facing the busy street. Our room was facing the main street and when our window was closed at 6,7,or 8am we were hearing some noisy cars, buses and motorcycles. But oh my, when that window was open, every time I was shocked by how much louder it was. I couldn't believe how loud it could get with our window open. It would have been nice not to wake up so early every morning to really loud traffic, even though we were tired enough to sleep through most of it.
I mentioned at the beginning that London was "busy" and that there are so many people there. I am not exaggerating at all. Streets and stores were packed. It really is insane how many people were hustling around the city along with us. On Saturday our bus drove past the Natural History Museum and we saw the longest line formed. Jachen had the bright idea to not go to any museums on the weekend for that very reason. Like I said before as well, the sites would have been more enjoyable if there wasn't crowds of people, but that is what we get for going in the summer. There were a few places of course that we went that we didn't have to deal with huge crowds. At the British Museum as we were leaving bigger crowds were arriving. Perfect timing is what that was.
There were some rather exciting things about our trip too. I will share most of those things in the posts to come. It was sooo great being in an English country. There was a vast amount of non British there too. I heard a lot of French, American English, Italian and variety of other languages. But, I was oh so happy to hear the British accent on a daily basis. What a treat. I had not realized the variety of accents they have. There were some British accents I could hardly understand. We met some nice people while there. I think a successful part of any holiday, especially when traveling to another country is getting to talk to people who actually live there. I love a good insiders chat. Before our trip I was looking forward to feeling a bit like being back in the USA, and that did not disapoint. It sure was great seeing stores I knew, food I longed for, prices more like in the USA, an actual variety of shops and restaurants, a variety of people etc etc. I could probably spend hours, which I already have, on writing about London, but I should probably leave some of it for you to experience.
OHH might I add a word about LONDON FASHION. It is not a joke, people do walk around being the best dressed people you will ever see in your life. My biggest regret, bigger than spraining my ankle, would be that I didn't photograph every amazingly well dressed person that I came in contact with. If you have ever seen a fashion street photo in a magazine, or on a blog, or on a website of some random person in London dressed extremely hip...I assure you those people really exist and you would walk pass countless people just as hip. I remember telling Jachen, "anything goes here." I like that. However, I saw waaaay too many bras, boobs and almost bums. No thank you, keep all that stuff covered up please. And that is how I end this long post. More to come!


kaitlin said...

first of all, i want to see that london fashion. i wish you had some pictures of that.

2. for hostels, i think it is part of the adventure. it's cheap which is a benefit, but it was also way fun. i am glad we stayed there for all of our trips. sketchy, and sometimes less than ideal, but we had FUN and i have never done anything like that before and it was for sure part of our experience.

3. what in the heck happened to your ankle? you briefly mentioned it and i never got to ask you about it when we were chatting (sorry, sometimes chatting on my phone sucks, well always, because i forget i'm doing it)

4. being sweaty and walking miles to different sites is i feel like what you get when you go to these kinds of places. if you want a relaxing vaca then go to hawaii. not london where you have 2344 things you need to see.

5. such a bummer you missed out on that cupcake place!! dang it.

6. is the train system (tube system? aren't they just trains basically?) alot different there than in switzy?

loved the detailed post. loved the pictures.


stephanie said...

I'm glad to have gotten some more details of your trip. However, it reminds me of reading a review on Yelp where someone give a place 1 Star when everyone else gives it 4 or 5.

To be honest, the things you didn't like sound like what I have experienced on trips to big cities and what I would expect. But I can see if you didn't expect that then it would be tough. AND I know what you mean about not wanting to bring better shoes because they don't go with your outfits. I HATE that decision when packing! I never ever want to wear my tennis shoes on a trip! Lately the only walking vacations I've been to in the last couple of years have been to Disneyland and my flip flops and crocs have been fine. I really don't remember what I did about shoes to NYC, DC, etc. I know in Moscow & St. Petes I wore ugly tennis shoes, but I wore ugly clothes to Russia, in general.

I'm glad you put the "disclaimer" at the top and said that you really did have a good trip. I'm glad - and super jealous that you live so close to so many places!

Monica said...

i wasnt comparing it to any other place. i am full aware thats what is going to be like, NOW. which is my point. i didnt realize how much walking we were going to be doing each day and how much of a work out it was going to be. BUT i know some of that was poor planning...so hence i made suggestions to others who might not think of these things when traveling. so no need to get all "you sound like a yelp review" the point was to relate MY experience and not sugar coat anything. and someone elses experience can be different of course. but walking around with hurt feet and not finding places easily was annoying and something we could have avoided if we would have found where places were before leaving the hotel. we had a great time, but it was also hard for many reasons.