Travel – London

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First travel tip: Choose your travel buddy well. Yeah, it’s all smiles and giggles when you take pictures but sometimes travel gets stressful and you definitely want someone you can count on and get along with. Linn and I are excellent travel buddies! We tested it out on a Stockholm trip last year so it wasn’t a surprise.

Second: Know your travel buddy. Are they a morning person? Do they need coffee to survive? Do they get fussy when hungry? Sleepy? What stresses them out? What are they looking forward to about the trip? Museums or clubs? Plan this stuff.

It’s also important to know which one of you is the navigator. Linn is an excellent navigator. She loves maps and she’s not afraid to ask questions. BUT she can get peeved when hungry and has a sweet tooth, so I carry candy when we travel together just in case. (Phong gets particularly fussy when hungry but doesn’t respond well to sugar dips, so I carry protein bars for him when he’s my buddy. Oh, and if you have a friend/loved one that gets angry when hungry, don’t ever tell them until they’re well fed and happy again.)

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Our hotel! We stayed in Earl’s Court. We were just around the corner from a subway station and a block of restaurants and cafes. It was a great location! The staff was about a 50/50 split as far as helpful went. Half of them were great and cheerful and the other half we weirdly offput and barely looked at us let alone spoke to us.

The only real problem with this hotel, and it was a pretty big and odd problem, was a mysterious puddle that would bubble up from the drain in the ground to fill that concrete space between the step and the door in the right hand picture. It soaked the carpetting inside the hallway and smelt bad. BAD. We, unfortunately, had the room to the right of that picture on the other side of the puddle. I didn’t get a picture of the actual puddle when it was full. It was dark and I was peeved.

There was no way around it and because of the angle, we couldn’t jump over it either. Sometimes it was there, sometimes it was gone. Some of the staff would be helpful and come down and make it go away and some insisted they had no idea what it was or where it came from (yeah, we totally believed that) and that there was nothing to be done about it.

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At least the room was nice. The TV didn’t work but we didn’t really have time to use it anyway. We really just came back at night, showered, and fell asleep and then were back up and out as soon as we could muster it.

Oh! Showers! The showers (not sure if it’s an English thing or not) were on a platform. You stepped up into them. A little odd, as I’d never seen that before.

Breakfast: I’m not sure how hotel breakfast works in your country, but here in Sweden it’s included in your stay and it’s amazing. It’s one of those things that hotels compete over and Swedes take very seriously in their ratings of hotels. Everything else could be great but if you have a shabby (or non-existent) breakfast buffet, you’re not going to get a good rating. And we’re not talking a few pastries and some cereal. Hotel breakfast in Sweden is a beautiful thing.

Alas, fantastic included breakfasts does not seem to be the way of things in London. Our hotel had a breakfast included in the price of our stay, so we dropped by the first morning to check it out. Luckily, Linn had been in London before and we had already lowered our expectations. It was a dungeon with toast. Seriously, just toast and cereal. So, being the spoiled Swedes that we are, we left in pursuit of cafes.

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Oyster card. Get one! We used the subway constantly on our visit and it worked out great. We took it from Heathrow in to London central when we arrived. There were machines to get your card and load it with money right there at the first platform in Heathrow and personnel to help explain if you’re confused. We put £30 on our cards, plus £5 for the card itself. We used them a lot to get around in London and after four days, we still had money left on them when we came back to Heathrow. And we could return them and get a refund on what was left, including the cost of the card!

The subway was easy and fast but if you have a problem with crowds or tight spaces, probably try to avoid the weekday morning rides. There are lots of signs to show you the routes, plus personnel at the entrances and even these nifty help boxes on the wall on the actual platform. You push a button and an actual human person answers your questions about how to get where you’re going.

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It was our experience that the people in London were very pleasant and helpful. We didn’t have any bad experiences except for some of our own hotel staff (Weird right? Hotel staff are usually so delightful.) and one very forgetful waitress who was still quite nice.

Tip: Trashcans seemed to be far and few between. If you’re taking your coffee to go, be prepared to hang on to that cup for a while.

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As you might have gleamed from my previous posts about our London trip, Linn and I are daytime tourists. We’d rather go to museums, cafes, parks and shops than nightclubs so we didn’t see much of London after dark.

We did a lot of walking and found London to be delightfully flat and full of cafes.

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This trip was a great experience. Hopefully it won’t be my last visit to London. We barely scratched the surface of things to see.

All pictures of me were taken by the amazing Linn– photographer/travel buddy extraordinaire!

This should be the last of my photobomb blog posts about our trip.

On to this months adventures! Getting married and visiting Phong’s family!

 

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The POD

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pod2Despite all of the fun things we did on this trip to London, the POD might have been the most fun!

Our flight back to Sweden was leaving Heathrow around 6 in the morning on Sunday, so we stayed at a hotel by the airport on Saturday night.

We took the subway out to Heathrow, knowing that our hotel was close to Terminal 5, and from there asked someone what the best way to get to our hotel would be. They suggested the elevator up to the POD. We kind of assumed this was the name of a bus or train but it turns out it’s an actual pod.

They’re not on tracks like trains. Both sides have seats like the picture to the right, fitting up to four people. And it drives itself between the terminal and a special parking lot. IT DRIVES ITSELF! On it’s own cute little road!

I want one of these to take me everywhere! It only took about five minutes and costs five pounds and is incredibly cool!

 

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Cafes in London

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That’s a strawberry marange cookie! It was amazing and I don’t even like marange. Oh, and my name isn’t Sharol.

While in London, Linn and I visited a handful of chain cafes for quick sugar boosts and breakfast. England had two of it’s own, Costa and Nero, and then of course Starbucks. Starbucks, we’d expected to be the same here as it is in the States and Sweden. As far as drinks and those fun surprise misspellings of names, it was! A few different treats, of course. But the actual cafes weren’t as cozy. The interior design was a little more like a Subway than a Starbucks as we’ve come to know them.

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Costa was the first one we tried for breakfast.

Tourist note: In Sweden hotels have AMAZING breakfast buffets that are included in your stay. If you’re used to this, you may be incredibly disappointed with London hotels. Ours offered breakfast but it was in a crowded, windowless dungeon and pretty much just a toaster machine with white bread and butter, some cereals and coffee. We’re spoiled, so we went to a cafe instead.

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I mean, look at that! Who would stay in a gloomy room fighting over toast when you could get this?

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Breakfast! We tried Costa twice (two different locations). The food was good but in both cases the staffs were incredibly unhappy and stressed and the coffee wasn’t very good.

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Which is a shame, because my latte was so big it had two handles.

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Nero ended up being our favorite. The staff was great, the coffee good, and they had scones with clotted cream just in time for Linn’s clotted cream love.

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We also tried Nero a couple times in different locations.

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And we really liked their cozy decor. We’re suckers for comfy chairs and wallpaper.

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In the end, for us, it was:

Nero – Yes.

Costa – No.

Starbucks – Drift through for frappuccinos. No, I do not live a healthy life when I travel.

 

All pictures of me were taken by the amazing Linn!

Upcoming posts: The POD and Travel in London.

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Food Adventures in London

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Yo! Sushi. This is a chain of conveyor-belt sushi shops. We saw a bunch of them while walking around and finally stopped at one to scratch Linn’s sushi itch. I, unfortunately, do not like sushi. Don’t get me wrong, it’s pretty and tidy and I’d love to love it- but I don’t.

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Our hotel was in Earl’s Court and there was a bunch of restaurants (plus Earl’s Court Station) just around the corner. On our first night we were so hungry that we checked in, dropped off our stuff, and then picked the nearest open place we could find that looked good.

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Zizzi was a great pizza and pasta place in Earl’s Court. They had a huge pizza oven you could see and a bunch of different choices. I went adventurous and took a white pesto sauce pizza with pine nuts, balsamic vinegar, spinach and sweet potato. I also tried a lemonade. It was tart. Very tart but very good.

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Mooboo! We tried bubble tea for the first time. Tapioca bubbles in fruity tea. The staff was super helpful and explained our choices and the difference between the kinds of bubbles.

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Linn liked it. I did not. Despite not liking it, I drank it all because, well, it had a straw and was cold and London has almost no trashcans.

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On our second night we were in Soho looking for a place called PingPong but ended up finding Masala Zone instead. There were a few vegetarian choices. I really wanted to get the paneer but it had a three chili rating that I was told by the waiter was serious and could not be altered so I decided not to tempt fate and picked a one chili dish instead. I was right to be careful. The one chili rated dish was a good level of spicy and I did not need spicier, not even for cheese.

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Linn got a mixed plate that looked really good. I was a bit jealous but mine was good too.

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For dessert we had chai teas. I haven’t really been a fan of chai in the past but this was really great.

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The next day we found PingPong in time for lunch! It was warm out and we were pretty excited to start off with iced teas.

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The baby bok choy was AMAZING. Everything was really good and the menu is set up so that you can order small amounts of multiple things in order to try a lot of different dishes.

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Mushroom stuffed bao and two different kinds of vegetarian dumplings! Of course they had lots of meat dishes too. I know Linn had as many dumplings/bao as I did but with meats. Clever, because then I couldn’t steal any of hers.

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This was probably our favorite restaurant of the trip. The others were all really good, we didn’t have any bad experiences with our food adventures, but this was just extra amazing. There’s a pretty good chance we’d come back again next time we’re in London.

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Last was Byron in Earl’s Court. We were wiped out and hungry after a full day running around London so we decided to go back to our hotel, drop off our stuff, and then try another place close by. This time we went for burgers.

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I had a mushroom burger. The patty was a grilled portobello mushroom with goats cheese, roasted red pepper, spinach and aioli sauce. I also had mac&cheese and fries. Linn had a cheese burger and sweet potato fries.

All of our food experiences were really good. There was always vegetarian options (and not just one) and we never ran into anything we didn’t want to finish.

Pictures of me were, of course, taken by Linn.

Our cafe experiences will be in another blog post, coming up soon!

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Afternoon Tea at The Orangery

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The Orangery is located just on the other side of the Kensington Gardens, so we booked a teatime there, planning to take a look at the palace first. It worked out great and afterward we took a walk around the gardens.

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We had afternoon tea. I took Assam tea and vegetarian sandwiches. We each had our own pot of tea, which is good because when we share we run out quickly.

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This is the Royal Palace tea set! So pretty but so pricy. It was available for purchase in the Kensington gift shop.

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Scones, clotted cream, and jam. I was not overly impressed by clotted cream but Linn liked it.

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Finger sandwiches! They were cuter than they were tasty. I think the cheese one was my favorite and the pickle one my least favorite. Of course that meant that I got two of the pickle sandwiches because that’s just kind of how the world works–even when having afternoon tea in London. But because it was afternoon tea in London, and a new experience, I ate both of my pickle sandwiches quite happily.

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Desserts! So pretty. The cake was spongue with a raspberry filling and the macaron was, well, a macaron, but the chocolate-orange mousse was really nice.

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Upcoming blog posts: Food Adventures in London and A walk through the Victoria & Albert Museum.

 

 

 

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