For a lot of people travel outside the United States is a scary and, seemingly, insurmountable task. Too many logistics! Travel agencies are too expensive and handling every aspect of your visit alone leaves plenty of room for error. Or does it?
The fact is, you don’t really need to have your entire itinerary planned and scheduled before you go some place new. In fact, it can be quite fun to ‘let the wind take you where it will’ for at least a portion of your trip. For those that have never been outside the USA- but want to see the world- might I suggest starting with London?
There are many pluses to going to Great Britain as your first international visit. For starters, they speak English, so you already know the language. Sure, they have weird slang that makes absolutely no sense to us Americans (get used to them calling the U.S. “the colonies” when they want to be a snobbish prick) but overall they are easy to understand, and, let’s face it- those accents are fucking cool!
They will not call you ‘chap’ or even ‘mate’- unless you are considered a friend. ‘Spit-spot’ and other such dumb nonsense is not a part of their everyday real lingo. That’s either old as shit TV or some parody of the British Every-man. That being said there are a wide variety of words that they will use that you should familiarize yourself. ‘The boot’ is the trunk. ‘The bonnet’ is the hood of a car. Instead of elevator they say ‘lift’. Apartments are called ‘flats’. There are hundreds of such words that you can bone up on before you leave. Other oddities are; they call the second floor the First Floor and our first floor is their Ground Floor. Drinking outside on the sidewalk in front of the pub is not only acceptable, but an integral part of the London culture. Telly (television) in the UK is both more reserved while being less censored than our programming. The British “dry” sense of humor is 100% correct. You either get it or you don’t.
So let’s say you heed my advice and want to book a trip to London. Exciting isn’t it? You should be. London is a top destination for worldwide travelers and for good reason. London boasts 2 Michelin 3 star restaurants. Many more 1 and 2 star joints. Besides having Abbey Road to walk across and have someone snap a picture of (Beatles style) you can also take day trips out to Salisbury to qet your History Channel on (Stonehenge) and the surrounding monolithic structures at Amesbury. Since Scotland is conveniently attached to England in the North you can take a couple of days to travel by train to Edinburgh, or further North of Edinburgh to Lock Ness and sight-see for Nessy.
Or you could do things the way that we did it. First we rented a flat (apartment) for the entire trip. A flat was actually cheaper than spending 2 weeks in even a half way decent hotel. It was small- most flats in London are actually quite small- but it had our own loo (bathroom), a living room for the kid to sleep in while us adults took the single bedroom, and a modest kitchen that we were able to save hundreds of dollars by cooking most of our own meals. In all the flat ran us around $2500 (I will use all U.S. dollars here to avoid confusion). We got a secure second floor (remember that means the 3rd floor to us) flat in SOHO in the heart of the trendiest part of London for around $1000 less than a hotel.
We chose 1- count it- ONE major event per day to do- without question! No matter what the weather or what the wait we would do that 1 thing we planned for that day. One day it was the London Museum, another day it was taking the Tube (subway) to the Tower of London. Another day and it was Abbey Road. You get the picture. Now, around that single event- meaning either before or after we did the event- we would fill in with shopping the area, sight-seeing, lunches or dinners, anything that got us to see and experience London without the need for too much money or reservations. In this manner we had no pressure of a too tight schedule and we were able to relax and enjoy every day knowing we were seeing the best parts. Well, the best for us I should say.
We took 2 days out of London to travel to Edinburgh by train and back. While there we saw Edinburgh Castle, took a ‘Ghost Tour’, and shopped for butter cookies and Clan Tartan. Of course we had haggis while we were there too. Delicious. No, really, it is! we took a River Boat Tour down the Thames (pronounced Tems not thames and while we are on the subject Leicester Square is not pronounced how it is spelled but is pronounced ‘Lester’ Square). On the river we could see everything! The London Theater where Shakespeare made magic happen, The London Eye- one of the worlds largest ferris wheels, The Tower of London, Tower Bridge, Big Ben, and Parliament. And we walked! Holy shit how we walked! 5 or 6 miles per day at least!
We took part in as many London traditions as we could but my all time favorite was Tea Time. That mid-afternoon break where you get to drink strong tea with tiny sandwiches and buttery scones slathered in clotted cream (it sounds much more gross than it tastes) is simply divine! I drank Guinness for the most part. Pubs pride themselves on “bitters”, also called “pulled beer”. These ales are traditionally not too cold so if you like semi-chilled beer you will love them. I like cold beer and the Guinness in London is served, what they call, “super-chilled”. We Americans just call it “cold”. We sampled that ubiquitous platter ‘fish and chips’ in many places. Many. Everyone prides themselves on having the best fish and chips and in truth there are some subtle differences between all of them. I, for the life of me, could not tell you which one is best. Ask any Londoner, however, and they most certainty can tell you where the “best fish and chips in London”, can be had.
People are very friendly in London- well all over the United Kingdom really. Very few snobs but almost everyone seems to be super trendy or outright and full blown hipster. We bought our son a pair of Diesel Jeans and they cost $180. Per pair! And they were being sold like they were going out of business any second! Needless to say we did not splurge too often on extravagances like that! With France so close there is no shortage of great bakeries (patisserie) in London. I loved my morning croissant every day. I woke before everyone, walked a few blocks to the bakery, bought a croissant or two (never for anyone else however- screw ’em if they wont get up and walk with me!). Walk back to the flat, heat water in the kettle and enjoy my pastry with Earl Grey.
All in all I was deeply disappointed to be leaving London. If possible use Iceland Air as their service and their equipment is top notch. Total cost, for 4 people, flights, lodging, food, and entertainment was around $8000 for 16 days. London is one of the worlds most expensive places to visit, so $8000 was actually VERY good.