Jan, 2011 26

know how Give Me a Ring~Renting a Cell Phone in London

Solution: I love travel solutions and here is a good one: why not easily rent a cell phone in London to aide in making phone calls for dinner reservations, to connect with business associates or to order a taxi? As London is so vast and sprawling, having a phone if you are running late for a reservation or are lost is an excellent idea.

There is also the option of renting just a sim card for your US cell phone that will allow it to work in the UK.

It’s easy: BHRC (British Hotel Reservation Center) has locations in Terminal 3 (most US flights, other than British Airways flights arrive here, Terminal 5 (British Airways) as well as North and South Terminals at Gatwick airport. PLUS they have locations at these train stations in Central London: Victoria, Paddington and St. Pancras.

A large majority of US flights go Heathrow Terminal 3 and finding the BHRC kiosk for phone rentals there could not be simpler. As you leave the immigration area where your passport is checked, you walk out into the Arrivals Hall. Walk about 10 feet out into the hall and turn and look over your right shoulder. The BHRC kiosk is there.

Generally speaking, you can, using a major credit card, rent a cell phone for your stay for a 100 pound returnable deposit on your credit card. Then you can buy usage time for as little as 20 pounds and for any additional amounts in 20 pound increments.

The system is simple: Leave the deposit, buy some minutes, return the phone at the same place at the ARRIVALS hall and collect your deposit before you proceed to the departure hall when you are leaving London.

To contact BRHC in advance of your trip: http://www.bhrconline.com/

Come along with me….London calling…..

Dec, 2010 17

getting around, sports Map Out Your Own London Walk

City Walks is a series of decks of cards with small adventures you can do by foot. The deck on London is composed by Craig Taylor and published by Chronicle Books. It includes some areas that might not occur to you as a must see, but are very much worth a look. For instance,he does a walk on Bloomsbury, the area known as the home of the Bloomsbury literary group, which points out many a unique book shop and The British Museum along the way. I found this area of London with one of his cards and the British Museum and the pub across the street from its front entrance has become one of my favorite places in London.

I’ve had my deck for a few years now and love the feature of taking just two or three cards in my pocket and heading out to discover the already discovered and undiscovered parts of London. Each 3″x5″ card in the deck of 50 has a written description leading to your destination (“Follow Gower Place to Endsleigh Gardens and turn right onto Endsleigh Street. Soon you’ll reach Tavistock Square where Dickens wrote Bleak House”) Now those are the kind of directions I need when wandering around on my own. I can find my way to almost any museum, music venue or shoe shop in London; please just don’t ask me to look at a map to do it.

The clever little cards in the deck have the written description that point out places of interest along the way and do also have, for the non-map challenged, a close up map of the area on the flip side of the card. It’s such a great way to discover a new patch of London of a morning or an afternoon. I can’t recommend them enough.

I knew that the series of decks included Paris and New York as I have them, but was happy to see that the series now includes a deck for Walking in London with Children by Emily Laurence Baker and Steve Mack. It’s a clever idea for those parents who are training their child to be world travellers. And the cards are just the right size for a child to hold and read out the directions for their family to follow.

These decks may be available at amazon, but are definitely available here: www.chroniclebooks.com

Come along with me….London calling….

Dec, 2010 17

drink/eat, pubs Find the Hidden Pub in Kennsington~Delightful

Although London pubs can be found up and down lanes and streets, large and small, this London pub is in a bit of an unlikely location off Kensington High Street in  West London. 60 seconds walk from Kensington Hight Street Tube station, nestled in what looks like a typically residential neighborhood, you will find the Scarsdale Tavern, a pub of gracious Georgian design. Located at 23a Edwardes Square W8 6HE, this pub is especially treasured by the locals who call it their own. Lucky them, as it offers so much atmposphere inside and on its terrace. It’s absolutely perfect for catching a Spring, Summer or Fall sunset while having a “happy hour” of your own making at the end of your London day.

It’s pub food/bar menu which, while not offering shockingly unique cuisine,  does offer very decent “pub grub” and a few appetizers to have with your drink.

First glance at the Scarsdale’s exterior, and those on the hunt for cozy, eclectic, non-touristy places to eat, drink and hang out under the stars will think they have found a tiny slice of pub heaven. One of the quaintest pubs in London, it  just happens to have “good ales and a wine list that dips into the old world and new” as one reviewer noted.

Another reviewer of the Scarsdale wisely noted that this is not the place to go for gourmet, many courses type of dining, but rather: a good pint, a nice glass of wine, a bar snack, or some “pub grub” all of which they do admirably.  But, without a doubt, it is the atmosphere, at this hiding-in-plain-sight pub that will draw you back.

TO GET THERE: The  Scarsdale Tavern is literally a 60 second walk from the High Street Kensington Tube stop. Google the name of the pub and the first thing that comes up is a very close-up map that takes you from the Tube right to their door. I happened upon it one evening and knew it was something I had to share. You will love it.

Come along with me….London calling….

Dec, 2010 16

drink/eat, know how Drink Like an American~in London

Pubs abound in London, of course, and there is nothing better than a pint while you rest your weary legs from all the urban hiking that London offers.

But, if your mood at the cocktail hour is for something a bit fancier in uber glitzy surroundings, think about a visit to the very famous American Bar at the Savoy. Yes, it is a very touristy thing to do, but there is no doubting that the places oozes history along with the over-the-top glamour. As it is located in the West End, home of theaters galore, it is also a fun place to have a pre-theater drink.

The bar is within the newly refurbished (to the tune of over 200 million pounds and three years of labor) Savoy Hotel which is another London place hiding in plain sight. If I have walked by it once, I have walked by it 50 times and only noticed it a few months ago.

Supposedly, this hotel is the first in the world to have been lit by electric lights and the first with electric elevators. More impressive, is the list of people who have stayed there: The Beatles to Lena Horne to Led Zepplin to U2, along with Claude Monet and James Whistler before them. Apparently, Churchill often took his cabinet here for major power lunches. Imagine. If only the walls could talk.

It is said that the first cocktails ever served in Europe were served at the Savoy’s American Bar many, many decades ago. So famous were the cocktail recipes at one time, that a book was written in the 1930′s in homage to the classics: Old Fashioned, Sazerac, Singapore Slings and Grasshoppers. The Savoy Cocktail book can be bought here: http://www.amazon.com/Savoy-Cocktail-Book-Harry-Craddock/dp/1862057729

TWO MORE FASCINATING FACTS about the Savoy….Bob Dylan stayed there in 1965 and filmed the video clip of Subterranean Homesick Blues in an adjacent alley. And, perhaps, most delightful of all, the hotel’s restaurant, The Grill, possesses a 3 foot tall black alabaster cat which they use as an extra guest if a dinner party’s guests number an unlucky 13. The cat, Kaspar, is sat at the table with his own place setting to ward off any voodoo that might be lurking.

TO GET THERE: Take the Bakerloo, Northern or District and Circle Tube lines to Charing Cross station. Go above ground and outside the main entrance to the station. You will be facing the Strand, the busy avenue directly in front of the station. Turn right and walk along the Strand on the same side of the street as the station. Walk for about two mins., past Super Drug and Top Shop; looking always on your right. There, set back about 45 feet in a very posh alley, you will see a large sign that says SAVOY. The bar is inside the front doors and to the left.

WORD TO THE WISE: Cocktails are very expensive, perhaps $15 each. But for a one time pre-theater lark or an oh-what-the-hell afternoon drink it could be a bit of fun.

Come along with me….London calling….

Nov, 2010 29

know how, sports Skate Amongst the Landmarks~in London

I knew that there were outside skating rinks in London each winter: imagine the idea of skating amongst the historic landmarks of London. How very romantic is that? But, who knew there are 17 places to ice skate in London-town from November to March? And who knew the Queen’s Ice Rink was open to us all?  Well “View London” says it is, but I am pretty sure that the actual Queen does not skate there. However, this very rink has 10 pin bowling on offer as well; so something for everyone.

View London has put together this comprehensive list, with times and rental prices provided through their links, for all 17 places that you can skate in London:

http://www.viewlondon.co.uk/whatson/ice-skating-london-feature-335.html

Why not add skating at Hampton Court Palace or at the Tower of London to your London winter travel plans? Get your skates on and…..

Come Along with me….London Calling….

Nov, 2010 26

culture, know how Follow Me into the Tunnels of London for Art & Theater

London’s venerable theater institution, The Old Vic made an intriguing purchase in the winter of 2010. Nestled beneath Waterloo Train Station and aptly named the Old Vic Tunnels, it is one of London’s newest and most eclectic performance spaces.

Imagine seeing a play, attending an exhibit of interactive art, or hearing a band perform in the tunnels previously owned by British Rail and now showcasing some of London’s finest, most provocative talent.

A fascinating sounding  performance runs from 4. December until the 22. December 2010. Called Cart Macabre, it is described as a “nightmare fairground ride through a dream-like landscape”.  Billed as a “restless exploration of isolation and disorientation”, Cart Macabre is part theater and part installation.

There is a “Volunteer Scheme” at The Old Vic Tunnels aimed at 16-25 year olds who are hungry for hands-on theater experience. There is need for help in the areas of marketing, front of house, production and behind the scenes technical assistance, as well as set creation, etc.  What a great experience for a budding thespian. The web-site below further explains the volunteering opportunities.

A steady stream of events occurs now in this new venue. Find out what happens next here: http://www.oldvictheatre.com/whatson.php?id=63

TO GET THERE: Take the Jubilee, Bakerloo or Northern tube lines to the Waterloo stop. Then, follow the directions from Waterloo to the tunnels as provided by the Old Vic, here: http://www.oldvictheatre.com/pdf/FromtheOV.pdf

Come along with me…London Calling….

Nov, 2010 22

drink/eat, know how Let the View (and Champagne) Take you to Dizzying Heights

Why not get dizzy at Vertigo 42, a reservation only, champagne cocktail bar in EC London? Teeter 590 feet above street level, if you dare, with the most spectacular panorama of London gazing back at you through the bar’s almost entirely glass walls.

Vertigo’s chic and slouchy chairs and tiny glass tables invite you to settle in for an afternoon or evening of sipping and peering over the city. It would be impossible to not be impressed. Having just gone to a champagne wedding reception at Vertigo, I can say that the sights from its windows are from the most spectacular vantage point that I have seen in London (except for, perhaps, the views from the London Eye positioned over the River Thames).

The cuisine in the bar is of the hearty and not so hearty bar snack variety, described by Vertigo as “Modern European Cuisine”. While I did not sample the food, I did sample one of the 30 varieties of champagne that they stock and was wowed by the whole experience, especially the gracious host, Stephan who has called Vertigo his home away from home for ten years.

THEIR HOURS:  Monday-Friday noon until 3:00 p.m. and then 5:00 p.m. until 11:00 p.m. On Saturdays they are only open in the evenings from 5:00 p.m. until 11:00 p.m. Remember: reservations only.

TO GET THERE: Take the Central or District and Circle Tube line to Bank Tube stop or Liverpool Street Station and follow the map as provided  by  www.squaremeal.co.uk.  Just put Vertigo42 into the search box there; a detailed map is provided.

Come along with me….London calling….

Nov, 2010 20

drink/eat, know how Anyone for Tea at the Palace?~almost

One of the most enchanting places in London for afternoon tea, a light lunch or cake and a glass of wine is hidden in plain sight 50 feet from Kensington Palace, in Kensington Gardens. It’s called The Orangery and it will charm you with its views and simple beauty right outside its ceiling to floor windows.

This oasis of bright calm directly off the sometimes frantic High Street Kensington will welcome you after a tour of Kensington Palace, or perhaps before a walk through the gracious paths of Kensington Gardens. This garden is a vast expanse of gorgeous trees, a duck pond, a pirate ship playground for the under 8′s (sorry ladies Johnny Depp does not hang out here); all on the edge of Kensington Palace, the former home of Princess Diana.

The Orangery feels a bit Venetian in architecture, offering shelter for fruit trees growing inside with its windows overlooking the back of Kensington Palace and the edge of the garden. The food offerings are limited to light lunch and snack items along with wine and tea, but it’s the atmosphere in this quiet spot that will offer you something a bit special for a short rest and chat with your traveling companion. It’s perfect if you are on your own, too. A couple times I have gone on my own and enjoyed a glass of wine while reading my newspaper and pausing to look out at the gardens just outside the expansive windows and have felt most welcome and comfortable.

Then, you can say that you had tea at the palace~almost.

TO GET THERE: Take the  District or Circle Tube line to the High Street Kensington Tube stop. It’s about an 8 minute walk to the Palace and the Orangery from there. As I recall, you come to the top of the escalator or stairs and go out the main exit of the Tube station and turn right heading down High Street Kensington for about 8 minutes. The Palace and the Orangery are on the opposite side of the street as the Tube station exit.

HOURS: March to October, everyday from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. and November to February 10:oo a.m to 5:00 p.m.

Come along with me….London calling….

Nov, 2010 20

culture, know how Have Potential, Will Travel…

…If your London trip allows some time for feeding your mind with a one day course, or a multi-day course, think about this fantastic mind and soul nourishment as provided by the London newspaper, The Guardian. They have formed an international group of “Master Classes” covering everything from “poetry to food writing” taught by luminaries such as Carol Ann Duffy, the English Poet Laurete or Food Writing by Tom Parker Bowles, son of the Duchess of Cornwall (Prince Charles’ wife), who is a food writer for Tattler magazine and the Mail on Sunday newspaper.

What could be better than being taught cocktail making, garden design, fashion photography, food writing or film appreciation by those in the trenches who are working in those fields everyday? Theory is one thing, but to learn the nit and the grit from those who are actually practising their art or skill currently surely offers a level of inspiration worth exploring.

To make a reservation for upcoming classes, you can phone Patrick at the Master Class office. From the US you would dial:

01144 203 353 2616, or email them @ masterclasses@guardian.co.uk.

Their web-site is here: http://www.eventbrite.com/org/684756979  or the recent article about the courses from the Guardian newspaper here:  http://www.guardian.co.uk/guardian-masterclasses?&CMP=EMCGBLEML2210

Come along with me….London calling….

Sep, 2010 07

know how EASIEST & BEST Way to Choose Your London Hotel

Every London-bound American staying in a London hotel needs to know about this wondrous travel tool on the internet-STAT!

(It’s a bit personally heart-breaking as I had an idea for an “invention” some-what like this about four years ago and never followed it through. REALLY.) But, I am just so impressed with what they have done with this hotel map over at:  http://www.londontown.com/hotelmap/

London Town have done an absolutely brilliant job of  showing where available hotels are located in relation to landmarks that London travelers will recognize by name (Trafalgar Square, Hyde Park, etc.) and when you click on the map, further details and a small picture of the hotel pop up on the right of your screen.

HOW TO: Go to London Town’s site, put London Hotel Map in the search bar at top right, fill in the box with your info about dates, nights you are staying, etc.. Then, click on Show Hotel Map. The hotel icons dotted around the map show the price for the hotel per night according to the dates you enter. If there is no availability for your dates, it says “Fully Booked” next to the hotel’s icon.

Amazing, simple, visual guide.  Now, why didn’t I think of that?

Come along with me….London calling….