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….

May, 2010 26

getting around, know how Exclusive…Your Personal Black Cab Driver While in London

Readers of this site have access to their own, personal Black Cab Driver available to them while in London. Read on… 

There isn’t a nicer way to get around London than by a Black Cab. As I’ve mentioned in the Getting Around Section, Black Cabs are the way to go when it comes to taking taxis. Black Cab drivers are licensed and registered and reliable. Each driver is a credit to London and is highly trained to know  the hi-ways and by-ways of the city like the back of their hand.

 A cab driver that I know has offered his services through this site and has given his direct contact information for you to make arrangements with him. Mick is a born and bred Londoner who is proud of his profession and shares his love of being a cabby with one of his brothers. The two brothers are one of 11 children (!) and they have lived and worked in London for most of their lives. 

Mick has kindly offered his services through this site which makes a great deal for you. An agency can arrange private cab drivers, but with a large fee attached that makes it a less attractive and affordable option. Dealing with Mick is a good way to go as his rates are fair and he takes obvious pride in showing visitors around his city.

 Mick’s Rates:  ½ day (4 hours) or 1 whole day (8 hours) being ferried around London @ the rate of 25 pounds per hour**

 Rates from Heathrow: One Way~ 55 pounds**

                                               From/To Heathrow~ 100 pounds**

** Mick says that a 5%-10% tip is nice, however, it is never expected.

TO CONTACT MICK DIRECTLY: Dial from the US :  01144 782 518 2164,  Dial from London:  0782  518  2164

 NOTE: when dialing from London, you leave the 0 that is in bold and underlined. Please also note that when dialing from the US you leave that 0 off.

To make your arrangements from the US: and if you don’t have an international dialing plan, you can find international calling cards for as little as $5.00 @ Costco, BJ’s, Rite Aid, Walmart , etc. Dial the 800 number the card provides, then dial as above.

OR MICK’S E-MAIL: He can be contacted through his wife’s e-mail @ janettebutler@hotmail.com

To phone from London: consider renting a cell phone as suggested in the previous post (also located under Know How), or telephone from your hotel.

If you have trouble reaching Mick, please contact me and I will help if I can. Please note that he will be out of the country 6.July through 13. July. 2010.

Come along with me….London calling….

Apr, 2010 27

getting around, sports Walk Like a Londoner… (or like an Egyptian if you prefer)

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….

Jan, 2010 11

getting around ZOOM! Getting from Heathrow Airport to Central London…in 15 mins.

Especially if arriving  from the US in London on an O’dark:30 flight, the kindest, gentlest way to get to Central London is on the sleek, super-quick Heathrow Express. 

A round trip ticket can be bought and printed ahead of time from the US. The Heathrow Express is always quicker than the Tube or bus or taxi. Why not put your bleary-eyed self on the express train and travel with ease? : http://www.heathrowexpress.com/Home. The ticket can be bought at the airport and on the train, as well, but those options are a bit more expensive. 

The Heathrow Express is comfortable with plenty of room for your luggage and can be caught downstairs at Heathrow, Terminal 3, with wide walkways, escalators and elevators to get you to it after you enter the arrival hall at the airport. It’s fairly well sign-posted at Terminal 3. As you come into the arrivals hall at Terminal 3, look up for a blue sign that says trains to London. The Heathrow Express leaves from Terminal 5, too, and takes 21 mins. to Central London from Terminal 5. 

15 minutes later, you are at Paddington Station located in the center of London. It’s a hive of activity there from sun-up to sun-down and provides Tube links to all over London, as well as a taxi stand, often with countless Black Cabs to take you directly to your hotel. 

Tube lines are well marked when you come off the Heathrow Express at Paddington. When coming off the train and into the main part of the station (about 20 yards), look up  and right  in front of you will be the round red, white and blue sign with the logo for the Underground (Tube). For the taxi stand, come off the train into the main part of the station and then look to your right. There will be hallways leading outside where the taxis are queuing waiting for you. 

Also to the right, you will see an office with several people in windows waiting to sell you over-ground, mainline train tickets to other parts of England. 

Paddington Station has a number of places for a quick coffee or drink and a Boots chemist (drug store), plus a newsagent or two where you can purchase the all important A to Z (ask for the A to Zed) portable London street map, etc. 

Keep in mind: if you take the escalator upstairs to the Sloe Bar and Café for breakfast, that there is no down escalator to assist in moving your luggage. 

Also keep in mind that the public restrooms at Paddington all seem to be down a flight of stairs with no escalator around, and for which you will need British coins. It is something to be considered if traveling alone with much luggage. So, do plan accordingly. 

Keep in mind, NEW: You can now do a self-check-in for your airline at Paddington on your way back to the airport. The machine to do so is located between platforms 6 and 7 at Paddington.

Come along with me…London calling….

Jan, 2010 09

getting around The Best Walking Tours in the World-without a doubt

One of the best ways to get around London is by walking. Knowing London intimately is greatly helped by going on a walking tour with London Walks: http://www.walks.com/ .

Fodor’s praises them, many other guide books do, too. They have won many awards and deservedly so. As someone who has gone on at least a dozen of their walks, I can pipe up and say they well deserve all the praise they get. 

Their two hours walks through various parts of London are professionally, often amusingly led by stage actors, barristers or otherwise experts in the area they are guiding you through.

Each day, an array of walks from a stroll through Little Venice and surrounds, a walk near and about the houses of Parliament, a Beatles walk or three, a walk by all the Royal residences and more take place. I can’t stress enough what a class act this company and their guides are. 

The system is simple: they conduct the walks everyday of the week, rain or shine. The web-site, and their pamphlet, that can be found in various tourist shops around London, tells the time the walk begins and what entrance at what Tube station to meet.

When you turn up on time, there will be a guide holding a London Walks pamphlet above their head. Line up, pay your small fee of 7 pounds, (don’t forget to bring cash) and off you go. It’s always a great tour and so worth tipping the guide 2-3 pounds after the tour. They are experts and will delight you with their tales, their singing and their acting, too. You will discover things that you never would have  found on your own and there is plenty of time for photo taking. 

If you are lucky enough, you will get Shaughn as a guide. He is beyond brilliant and talented and will entertain and inform at the same time. Tell him, April, the American who has been on so many of his tours, has sent you.

Come along with me…London calling…. 

Jan, 2010 07

getting around Using the Oyster Card in London~ IN GENERAL

 

Oyster cards are used for travel on the London Underground (the Tube), on buses, The Docklands Light Railway (DLR) and, as of January 2010, London over-ground trains to outer London. The Oyster card system is clever in that it allows you to buy the Oyster card once, for a one time 3 pound fee (which is refundable at the end of your trip if you are willing to stand in line at a Tube station window and ask for the refund). The card can also be saved for future trips to London and can be “topped up” with additional funds the next time you are there.

Under any circumstances, it is a wonderfully easy system to use. You can buy the Oyster card at any Tube station and put any amount of money on it that you would like. Using the card makes each trip on a bus, Tube,  trains or the DLR approximately 30% cheaper than it normally would be. If you have access to a computer while in London you can go to www.tfl.gov.uk to register the number on your Oyster card so that the amount on the card could be refunded should your card be lost or stolen.  You can also top up your card through the tfl web-site (address in the line above).

A WORD TO THE WISE: Oyster is a great idea, but there is currently an annoying flaw in the
system. When you are topping up your Oyster card at a ticket vending machine in the stations,
make sure you touch your Oyster card onto the reader twiceONCE before you
load your credit card or insert cash and AGAIN once this is done.  This
ensures the credit is loaded onto your Oyster card.  If you forget the
second
touch, the machine  may take your money without crediting your Oyster card.

While you will see it is very easy to find Oyster cards to buy at either the Tube station or at many newspaper shops (news agents), it is also an option to buy the card before you leave the US. This truly isn’t necessary as the cards are readily available in London, but if you prefer to have all of your arrangements made prior to leaving home, contact one of the following agencies to pay for your Oyster card with a credit card and have it sent to your home address:

Britrail

2 Hudson Place Suite 100
Hoboken 07030
New Jersey
Tel: +1 866 274 8724
Fax: +1 877 477 1066
Website: http://www.britrail.com/

Email: info@britrail.net

Visit Britain

www.visitbritain.us

Keep in mind that these agents will charge you an extra fee and will suggest Fed Ex-ing the card to your home for an additonal $15-17. However, if you specify that they send the card via regular mail in advance of your London trip, they will oblige.

If only in London for a day, you can purchase a one day travel card for approximately 6 pounds. These cards work on the Tube, buses, the DLR and over-ground trains.

For more specific instructions and other methods of travelling around London, please click on one of the options to the right.

Come along with me…….London Calling

Jan, 2010 07

getting around Traveling by Tube with the Oyster Card

Make sure to have the card in a very accessible place, such as the outside pocket of your travel hand bag or in your front pocket. When traveling on the Tube, the humans swirling around you extremely intent on getting to their destination can be over-whelming. I can not stress this enough. This is never more true than during commuting time (roughly 7:30 a.m. to 9:30a.m. and 4:30p.m. to 7p.m.).The thing that will most mark you as a tourist, and as possible prey for pick pockets, is standing in the middle of stampeding foot traffic hunting around for your Oyster card.

Keep the card handy and simply touch the card to the yellow round disc on the turnstile of the gates at the tube station. You do this again as you go through the turnstiles when leaving the tube station. The card comes in a plastic case which does not need to be removed for each use. Keep moving and put the card away once you are seated somewhere, or out of the way of foot traffic. The best way to draw attention to yourself and to become the recipient of frustrated “tsk-ing”- or worse- is to stop in the middle of the Tube station to get organized.

On escalators inside the Tube stations, and on the stairs, always, always keep to the right. On the escalator, you can move to the left if you want to speed things up and walk up or down the escalator stairs. This is a rule, which, if broken too obviously, can also make you the target of much “tsk-ing” and looks of supreme annoyance. Do follow the simple rules of etiquette and it will be so much more pleasant.

As the Oyster card is close to running out of money, a red lettered alert “seek assistance” will appear when you touch the card to the turnstile disc. At that point, or any point before, you can go to the Tube station window and offer credit card or cash to top the card up. This can also be done at the automatic ticket machines at tube stations and at most newsagents.

Theater on the Tube?:  My dearest London friend says that the best theater in all of London is “Tube Theater”. I couldn’t agree more. Just watch. In advance of your trip, have a look at the delightful, award-winning blog of a young London woman and her daily musings on the theater called the Tube. With tongue planted firmly in cheek, she gives commentary on some highly “stylish” passengers and their activities between Tube stops. I check in frequently to this much followed blog, just for a laugh; it’s a real window into London life. (And, truth be told, to check that I am somehow NOT included in the  amusing “what not to wear”  pictures !) : http://london-underground.blogspot.com/

Come along with me….London calling…

Jan, 2010 07

getting around Traveling by Bus with the Oyster Card

Traveling by bus around London can be a much more civilized method than the Tube in some cases, but never one that I prefer because the traffic is incredible in Central London. Going three blocks can take far too long for my liking. It is a perfect sightseeing method, of course, but not one I have found successful for getting from point A to point B in anything that resembles a timely manner. While my experience is that the Tube staff are all too willing to help, with a mostly extremely friendly manner, London bus drivers don’t seem to share that willingness; perhaps born of hours behind the wheel in highly stressful circumstances.  I, for one, would not take on London traffic, so I am sympathetic. And, let’s be fair: how many times in one day can you answer the question, ‘Does this bus stop at Harrods’s?” with a smile?

If you want to take the time to amble and muse as you travel around London, consider the bus for a more leisurely approach. As with the Tube, you touch your Oyster card on the disc next to the driver’s window inside the bus when you get on, but unlike the tube, not when you get off. As in most cities, the bus schedule is posted at the bus stop. That is as helpful as I can be, as I have never come to grips with the London bus system. However, Transport for London: http://www.tfl.gov.uk/ has a wonderful journey planner which works beautifully. When planning your London day trips in advance, you simply put your departure point in one box and your destination in another and it plans the best route(s) for you.  The Transport for London site is incredibly helpful on a great number of subjects and is easy to navigate. Click, at the bottom of the page, on the Transport for London logo.

What I can say on the subject of London buses, is that the much noticed and chronicled British penchant for queuing (forming an orderly line) is most definitely in evidence at most bus stops. This feature alone makes traveling by bus a more genteel experience, perhaps, than the sometimes cut- and- thrust experience of the Tube.

Kate Fox, (an English writer), in her brilliant 2004 book, Watching the English writes so amusingly about the British willingness to queue and their excellence at it. She did a social experiment for her book on queue-jumping. Reading it had me, by turns, cringing and laughing when I realized I had observed the behavior she chronicles too many times to count. She parrots the often made remark, that given the opportunity, an Englishman will form an orderly queue of one!

The major difference between Americans and Brits when queue-jumping occurs? You guessed it: we are far more vocal than our British counterparts about the offending behavior, but the British are no less offended when it happens. Just quieter.

Jan, 2010 07

getting around Driving in London

Don’t

Jan, 2010 07

getting around Getting Around London by Taxi

IMG_0205IMG_0273IMG_0331I could wax lyrical endlessly about traveling by Black Cab around London. It is one of the London experiences that is so London, so British and so fun. It is an enchanting experience to see London from the back of a Black Cab, especially when it is raining. The cars are diesel and make the most delightful idling noise while they chug their way along the avenues and lanes of London. I could hear that noise with my eyes closed and know that I was definitely in London.

Each cabbie must take “The Knowledge”, a test which requires up to two years of preparation to pass. 25,000 London streets and their locations must be memorized. In addition, they must know the location of all train stations, theaters, hospitals and Tube stations.  The average London cabbie knows a bucket full of useful and useless facts that will keep you entertained on your journey. My observation is they will not take the liberty of making much conversation with you, unless you start asking questions. But do ask: they are the city’s unofficial tour guides and delightful raconteurs rolled into one.

You hail a taxi in the street by raising your arm when you see the yellow sign illumnated above the windscreen. A Black Cab that is for hire cannot, by law, refuse to take you to your destination, so long as it is in central London. They can refuse if you are too intoxicated for their liking, however. If you don’t see a yellow light/sign on the cab, you are looking at a minicab.

In a Black Cab, the meter starts at one pound forty pence (1.40) and increases by every 219 meters traveled. After 8pm there is a 60 pence surcharge and a 90 pence surcharge after midnight. Tipping is expected. About 10% is a fine tip, but if the cabbie has lifted my bags in and out of the cab, I always give 20%.

You can phone Radio Taxis at 07272 0272 to order a cab, but you’ll pay an extra £1.20 per journey for calling ahead. Lady Cabs are a good option if a woman is traveling alone at night: http://www.ladyminicabs.co.uk/

When hailing a cab in London at a train station, it’s easy enough to find the taxi stand where there are lines of taxis just waiting to ferry you around. You simply wait your turn in the line and get into the first taxi in the line. It is permissible to ask, before getting in, for an estimate of what the ride might cost. 

A word to the wise about Mini Cabs: they are unregulated and not part of the reliable, accountable system that governs Black Cabs. They charge by the mile and often their drivers don’t know the city as the Black Cab drivers do. I wouldn’t recommend using them, or their more shady counter-parts, the “gypsy cab” drivers who frequent Covent Garden and other tourist areas offering rides for reduced rates. Do be careful.

Come along with me….London calling….