Sunday, May 1, 2011

Travel Blog: London

The first stop on our Eurotrip in March was London. Part of the reason we chose to start our trip here was because flights were relatively cheap to LHR and it would also help ease the culture shock. After almost 20 hours of traveling from Honolulu, I was severely jet-lagged for quite a while after we had arrived in London. I don't think I got my regular sleep schedule back until the 4th or 5th day. Overall, I really loved this city and this is definitely on my list of places that I would revisit.
I think we got pretty lucky with the weather here. I expected a lot of rain, and while it was quite cold (anywhere from 1-10C), we didn't get rain at all. There were some foggy days but for the most part we had pretty nice weather the whole time.

AccommodationAs part of the pre-trip planning and to avoid any complications, we booked all of our hostels about a month and a half before we left. Hostelworld is a great place to look for hostels. Many hostels in London had mixed reviews and it took us a while to decide on one. We ended up staying at Palmers Lodge Swiss Cottage. We stayed in a 6-bed dorm with shared bathrooms for 14GBP a night, and we stayed for a total of 5 nights. I wish I had gotten a picture of the dorm itself, because we had a 3-story bunk and I slept on the top, which was an interesting experience when I had to use the bathroom in the middle of the night.
- Breakfast included, and 1-pound welcome drinks also included upon checking in. Bar and restaurant (only ate here one night but it was cheap and not so bad for the price) is in the basement.
- Very clean! Our dorm room was really clean and so were the bathrooms and showers for the most part.
- Social hostel! We met some really great people here, most of them were our roommates. I guess this experience will be different for everyone, but we had a really good time here, and met some nice people :)
- Location: this hostel is very close to a tube station (Swiss Cottage on the Jubilee Line which is very convenient). It's a 3-minute walk from the tube and there are many restaurants, convenience stores, drugstores and a post office within a few minutes walk from the hostel.
- Free wifi access in the lobby and there were also 6 or 7 computers for guest use as well. I took advantage of both. I wish there would've been wifi in the room, but walking down to the lobby for the wifi wasn't any trouble.
- Friendly staff helped us book our Stonehenge and Bath tour, despite having some problems with their printer. They also sell day-passes for public transport and offer a lot of different services at the front desk.
- Privacy: all the dorm beds had a curtain, reading lamp and an outlet next to the bed.
- Bathrooms and showers were on the other side of the building. The bathroom on our side of the hall was being renovated so it was inconvenient having to walk across the hall.
- There were a lot of school groups staying while we were here. A lot of immature middle school kids doesn't exactly make it the best experience, since the restaurant was always crowded at breakfast and dinner.
Overall I would definitely stay here again, and I recommend this hostel for anyone who's looking for a cheap place to stay in London.

I highly recommend getting day Travelcard pass. This includes all day use of the underground and public buses, amongst other things. The zone 1-2 card covers practical everything in the city (except Heathrow which is in zone 6) and that's the only pass we used our entire time in London. On the days we got an early start sightseeing we paid 8 pounds (peak fare), and 6.60 pounds (off-peak fare) on the days where we got a later start (usually after 930am). These passe were easy to purchase at the automated vending machines at each tube station (or at the front desk at our hostel).
We didn't use the public bus in London, and strictly only used the underground, which worked well for us. It was very convenient, user-friendly and always on time! Even if you missed a train, there would be another within a few minutes, so you never had to wait long.

Surprisingly, there were a lot of free things to do in London. I had expected to spend a lot of money sightseeing here, but I spent that money on shopping instead! Here is a list of places we saw in London:
Camden: lots of vintage shopping and we ate at a cheap pub here too.
London Eye: not free to ride, but the day we went it was very foggy and probably not worth the 20 pounds and the long wait anyway. But I've heard there are good views on a clear day!
Big Ben: honestly, it was smaller than I had pictured, but just a 10 minute walk across the river from the London Eye.
Westminster Abbey: we just walked around outside here, the admission fee was pretty steep.
St. James Park: nice park right outside of Buckingham palace.
Buckingham Palace: we made it in time to see the changing of the guards, but it had been canceled (for whatever reason) that day which was a disappointment. There is a schedule posted online, and it seems they do it every other day.
Oxford Street: lots of shopping here! Primark is a must-visit if you like bargains, but go to the Hammersmith store for less crowds.
Tower Bridge: free to cross the bridge, but I believe there is an exhibit you can pay to see.
Tower of London: admission is quite pricey, but I hear it's worth it. This is one place I wish we had actually gone to see so maybe next time we're in London...
Hyde Park: I loved this park! Lots of birds and squirrels! We rented paddle boats at the lake (8 pounds for 30 minutes) which was really fun.

I will end this blog here for now. If anyone has any suggestions or questions, feel free to leave a comment :)

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