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We’re funny (usually), controversial (sometimes) and insightful (always!). Our travel experts share their experiences below in hopes of hearing back from YOU. So read, comment and enjoy!

Posts in ‘Things to do in London’

The best long haul flight option? London – Florida.

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I would firstly like to note that this blog reflects only my personal views regarding certain air carriers and not necessarily the views of my colleagues; I write in hopes that you will find my experiences useful in planning your next trip from the UK to the American Southeast (specifically, to Florida) and that you will share your own pond hopping insights and experiences by commenting below.

 

Right…so, I was recently faced with the task of booking a last minute flight from London to America.  As, previously, I had only flown between Heathrow and Philadelphia or Baltimore (and subsequently travelled by car to my home in Delaware.  And yes, Delaware is a state…in which there are no major airports…), I never had to worry about domestic flight connections upon arrival to the US.  But, this time, I was going to visit family in Jacksonville, Florida.  Had I been visiting one of the major southeastern destinations—say, Atlanta, Miami or Orlando—a non-stop flight would have been feasible.  But for other popular vacation spots, such as St. Augustine, Charleston, New Orleans (and, in my case, Jacksonlle)—finding an affordable, low-hassle flight becomes quite difficult.

The point here is that you shouldn’t narrow your US travel destinations to cities that seem to pose the least complicated flight routes.  There are so many lovely, coastal spots in the southeastern states that require just a bit more effort—a few more minutes of crafty internet searching and an extra hour or two of travel time.  In my case, Delta Airlines provided the most affordable, reliable and comfortable way of getting from London to Jacksonville. 

First, a note on baggage…

Perhaps some of you, like me, have made the pond hop several times: then there’s a good chance that you, or people that you know, have experienced problems with recovering baggage.

Last time I flew from Philadelphia to Heathrow, using a certain air carrier that shall remain nameless, over $300 worth of valuables were stolen from my suitcase in transit, for which, the airline refused to compensate me.  The incident was, the customer relations agent informed me, not the airline’s fault, for I, the traveler, had chosen to place valuables in my suitcase.  Point taken, but with all of the hand baggage restrictions these days—and all of our technological obsessions—it is nearly impossible keep every digital device, Apple gadget, and Nintendo gaming accessory slung over our shoulders for a 17 hour door-to-door journey.

The moral of this story: proceed with caution when indulging in the dollar discount…

(My friend Natalie also wanted me to add: “mind the gap between the airport employee, and the conveyer belt: next stop, ‘Charring Loss’”—I can’t take credit for her genius).

Finding an affordable flight with easy connections…

With my normal go-to airline out of the question, I had to start from scratch. As always, my first points of research were skyscanner.net, and lastminute.co.uk.  Between these two sites, I was able to get a general idea of which airlines flew directly from London to Jacksonville…none!

 

I first considered taking a direct flight to Miami or Orlando…and then switching to a US low cost air carrier such as Southwest to get to Jacksonville (Florida is much bigger than it seems: Miami is a 5 hour + drive from Jacksonville).  The combined cost of these flights was way, way, way beyond my budget.

 

After about 2 hours of online research, I concluded that Delta Airlines was my best option: they offer several routes—with changes in Atlanta—to cities across the southeast, including Jacksonville.  Their prices were also the lowest, and, significantly, they offered plenty of layover flight times.  This is key, as, depending on the size of your travel party—and your country of citizenship—you may require more time to get through passport control and through customs before embarking on your domestic flight.  As a solo traveler with a US passport, 45 minutes probably would have been enough, but I chose a 2-hour layover, just to be safe.

The actual flight:

…was great!  We departed on time, my meals were decent (a choice between chicken and pasta, followed by pizza), and the movie selection was good.  We landed on time, and the Delta representatives were very specific and concise in their instructions for passengers needing to board transfer flights in Atlanta.  The route from the plane gate, to passport control, to baggage claim, through customs, to baggage re-check, and back through security was clearly mapped out and jet lag/idiot proof.  I was back through security with enough time to purchase a Father’s Day gift and to relax and stretch before boarding my connector flight to Jacksonville, which actually arrived early.

The take home advice:

Don’t be put off from planning a holiday to a non-major US city because of complicated flight routes.  Chances are, if you are traveling to Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Louisiana, or Tennessee, that Delta offers an affordable route through Atlanta

Good luck and happy planning!

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“Avenue Q” changed my life.

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Avenue Q BA English

“What do you do with a BA in English?

- Move to one of the most expensive cities in the world, clearly.

What is my life going to be?

- Unfulfilling!

Four years of college and plenty of knowledge,
Have earned me this useless degree!

- Indeed.

I can’t pay the bills yet,
‘Cause I have no skills yet,
The world is a big scary place.

- So, take out a loan…and go to grad school?

But somehow I can’t shake,
The feeling I might make,
A difference,
To the huuu-maaan raaaaace…..”

Avenue Q is probably the most life-changing work of art that I have encountered since moving to London. I bow in piety to writers Jeff Marx and Robert Lopez: your words are my new gospel, your songs my holy hymns, your Trekkie Monster, my Messiah…

Trekkie Monster Avenue Q

Beyond re-connecting me with my homeland and re-kindling my love for Sesame Street, this masterpiece of a musical actually transformed my perspective on what it means to be alive. I stand reborn.

“It sucks to be me!”

The key underlying question/theme of show: how does one reconcile the pervasive feelings of unfulfillment that characterize life post-college?

A series of hilarious coping strategies are delivered to you by a mishmash of over-stereotyped characters, colorful puppets, fuzzy monsters, and even a pseudo-Gary Coleman…

The worst thing about Avenue Q? A lot of people might cite the scandalous puppet sex scene. Others might have a strong distaste for hit song, “The Internet is for Porn.” But in my opinion, the worst thing about Avenue Q is that: the more controversial and offensive the lyrics—the more ludicrous the puppets’ behaviours—the more real it actually becomes.

Marx and Lopez have brilliantly extrapolated the most unutterable desires and contemplations of the human psyche, transcribed them into a kitschy, musical parody, and hurled them into the public arena, full force. It is impossible not to laugh out loud when you see one of your own life obstacles being candidly recreated by a furry puppet.

If you haven’t already, you must. If you already have, go again—it’s even funnier the second time. Oh, and did I mention that Avenue Q is one of the most affordable musicals playing in the West End? Get cheap tickets here.

Do it.

Cast of Avenue Q London

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Thank You, Sex and the City

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FIRST OF ALL, I want to thank Sarah Jessica Parker (and Candace Bushnell) for making my name so trendy and cool. I am sure all of the (real!) Carries and Aidans out there can relate: we are now the (tragic!) victims of subconscious associations with sex, good looks and high fashion.

It’s amazing, the responses I get when I introduce myself to people—it’s almost like the general public has been hypnotized by SJP’s flouncy skirts and witty voiceover rants.

When I was a little girl, I never, ever imagined that when I grew up, a notable percentage of my introductory handshakes would involve the word “sex.” Instead, I was brainstorming ways to resolve the ongoing confusion in my family home: I was named after my dad (whose mother was incidentally a Cary Grant fan).

This may sound endearing—a baby girl named after her father—but picture yourself as an awkward preteen. What would you do if all incoming calls from potential suitors were filtered by your goofy dad, who refused to acknowledge the word “boyfriend” as a part of the English language?

“Yes, speaking” he would chirp into the receiver; “of couse this is Cary. Who did you think…?”

And the infamous: “oh, I see…you must be looking for Little Carrie. This is Big Cary. Why didn’t you say something sooner?”

(You’d probably think about changing your name to “Boyfriend,” too…)

SECONDLY, I’d like to thank the producers of the beloved Sex and the City Movie for spreading the buzz overseas, thus securing my sex appeal abroad. You even followed me to London with your glamourous international premiere, which was amazing! PICTURES HERE.

Right. It was actually terrible—I couldn’t see a thing, and I think that I experienced the second most claustrophobic moment of my life (first being Mardi Gras ’03) when I was trying to exit through one of the side streets. That was the last movie premiere I’ll go to in Leicester Square, or maybe anywhere…ever.

I applaud those who braved the cinema queues for the film’s 28 May opening night in London…I really do. I just might have to settle for the reviews (and a few good photos of Carrie’s wedding dress, of course.)

LASTLY, I would like to thank my co-worker Daniele for suggesting, to the sheer delight of the girls in my office ( – not!), that we be featured in the recent “Sex in Many Cities” Newsletter (which went out to over 600,000 people) as corporate counterparts to characters Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte and Miranda.

For all of you die hard fans, the newsletter, which can be viewed here, discusses several behind-the-scenes and personalized Sex and the City Tours.

Sex and the City, you sure do make life interesting!

Let the Carrie Bradshaw Madness continue.

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Planning Your Bank Holiday Weekend

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Phase 1: Destination Selection + Flights.

If you’re anything like me, you probably waited until the last minute (i.e. NOW) to start planning a trip away for the upcoming May Bank Holiday (weekend of the 24th). A few of your friends probably came back suntanned and smiling from their early spring Moroccan and Andalusian getaways, thus inspiring you to embark on a fun little beachside excursion and of your own…

And then you saw the flight prices. Eek!

My mini holiday plans have become exponentially less exotic since I began researching, er, 5 days ago. I’m travelling from London with an Aussie, beach-loving friend of mine: we started out with grand ideas of jetting down to Tunisia or to the north coast of Sardinia.

But then…we saw the flight prices.

Okay, we thought, maybe somewhere a bit closer to home would be more feasible. The north coast of Spain? A bit of Basque country action in San Sebastian? Or perhaps a surfing excursion to Biarritz, France?

Still, no flights under £300. Unless, of course, we opted to depart at 6:00 am on a Wednesday from Stansted Airport, which, as many Londoners know, is a complete nightmare to fly out of—even at a decent time of day. However, the discount air carrier flights from Stansted can be worth the headache (brought on by complicated transfers, massive queues) for longer trips, planned well in advance. But for the busy professional seeking a quick weekend break: Gatwick and Heathrow all the way.

We gave in to the reality that our trip would have to be driven by the whims of the low-cost air carrier market, and we thus narrowed our destination selection to a few coastal, European cities that we deemed would pose more affordable flights: Lisbon, Bilbao, Nice, and Marseille.

Still, nothing within our budgets…with the exception of the touristy package holidays we found on lastminute.co.uk. It was time to let go of the ‘beach holiday’ idea and focus on the high-traffic ‘city break’ destinations: Amsterdam? Madrid? Rome? Paris? Prices were looking much better, but, unfortunately, one or both of us had already been to each of these cities.

Hmm…Wales? Brighton? The Isle of Wight…?

Where would we go?

“It’s too bad you’ve already been to Ireland,” we both said at the same time.

We quickly discovered that both of us had always wanted to go to Dublin! We ended up booking our flights (fist spotted on skyscanner.net – a very useful site!) with Aer Lingus, which not only offered competitive prices, but also provided flexibility in departure times and crucially, given our desire to depart post-workday, departures from Heathrow.

In conclusion, some tips for those planning budget, last minute weekend getaways from London:

- It’s not too late to book something affordable, but you can pretty much forget trips to locations that your great auntie in America hasn’t heard of.

- Unless, of course, you are willing to take a risk with an all-inclusive travel package. For this, try lastminute.co.uk.

- Use skyscanner.net to get comprehensive overview of the various airlines and available flights to your destination. Beyond Ryanair, Easy Jet, etc., there are often smaller, region-specific companies to choose from, depending on your destination.

- If you can’t possibly miss a day of work, forego the appealingly-priced flights out of Stansted, which are not worth the extra travel time, transportation costs and the massive queues that you will face upon arrival to the airport.

- Stick to the major ‘city break’ destinations – Paris, Rome, Berlin, Amsterdam, Dublin, etc.—for better deals and more flexible scheduling.

Happy Planning!

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My New Favourite Sunny Day Pub…

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I spent the last Bank Holiday Weekend exploring the sights and surrounds of a delightfully sunny London.My adventure began on Saturday morning, when, like 80% of the tourists in the city, I ventured to Notting Hill in hopes of perusing the famous Portobello Road Market (which only happens on Saturday mornings). Full of antiques, jewelry, scarves, knick knacks, gizmos and gadgets, the market is one of my favourite things to do in London—it’s the perfect place browse and shop …to admire colorful buildings and quaint cafes. But the crowds were just a bit too much for me last weekend; I was in the mood for something a bit more relaxing…

My friends and I thus decided to venture further west, away from the bustling markets and tourist sites…and south, towards the river! It was time for a Saturday afternoon pub jaunt.

Pimms, lemonade and lager…yes, please!

We arrived at what immediately became my new, favourite afternoon watering hole: the Old Ship, which is situated along the Thames, near Ravenscourt Park tube station.The delightful little pub seems to have more outdoor seating than any other pub in London, namely because its happy customers tend to sprawl out on the adjacent green:

Old Ship Pub-goers relaxing on green.

The Old Ship Pub in London

And along the riverside wall:

Old Ship Pub Wall

We enjoyed a relaxing afternoon of chatting and people watching over refreshing beverages. Their menu looks great; they even have an upstairs dining room, available for private parties, that opens out onto a balcony.

Thank you, Old Ship—we will be back!

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Oops! We just stumbled across the best Mexican food in London.

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Earlier this week, I was feeling super homesick and so decided I would embark on a quest for the best American Café in London. I know, I know “they’re on every corner,” but I can only go to Starbucks twice a day, alright?

I am talking about authentic American cuisine: huge, diner-style breakfasts, layered club sandwiches, juicy burgers, and real salads, the kind that are loaded with jumbo shrimp (not tiny, frozen ‘prawns’), cheese and fresh veggies….mmm, yummy…

After some crafty Google searches, I was sure that I had found my place: the Chelsea Bun Café, between Fulham Broadway and Sloane Square in SW10. The description was perfect: independently owned, hip, happening, and, most importantly, serving all of my favorite dishes from home. They even had Breakfast for Dinner. Awesome.

I immediately phoned my friend Talina with the news: we had to go to find this little oasis of American glory after work. Certainly she could relate to my enthusiasm: after all, she is from Mexico and has spent much time in north of the border. She agreed. I was pumped.

I cheerfully printed a map and charted a route. Despite the rainy weather and the café’s slightly obscure location in relation to the underground system, we met at Sloane Square, and we were off.

Dearest employees of Chelsea Bun, I hope that you can tell me this: at what time, exactly, does dinner occur in your homes? Because last time I checked, most people in this country dine at 6pm, earliest. Make that as late as 10.30 pm if they’ve had a prolonged, post-work pub jaunt

You’ve advertised yourself as an American/British café that serves dinner. So why, oh why, were you closed at 6pm, after Talina and I trudged for 30 minutes through the rain to find you? And I thought you were American—what a scam.

FINE then, we said, we’ll find someplace EVEN BETTER.

That we can afford…in the poshest neighbourhood in London…right…

After perusing four of the most expensive Italian menus I have seen all year, we were both, officially, starving. “The next place we see, no matter what,” we agreed.

And so we stopped at a brightly lit venue with a yellow awning: Azteca, the window decal read. Talina was elated. Mexican food! But where’s the menu?

Damn, it’s a tequila bar. Tempting, but no way are we throwing back straight Cuervo on empty stomachs.

As we despondently turned away, the door swung open, and a smiling man with a little goatee and a long, shiny ponytail greeted us: “come on, have a drink!”

But we want food. Do you have food?

Talina, take it away…

¿Si? ¿Tienes buena comida? Si…si…pero…pero no hay mucho dinero!

Translation: Really? You do have food? Good food, you say? But listen up dude: we’re cheap.

¡Pero tenemos hambre! But we’re hungry!

And so we braved the menu-less tequila bar in posh Chelsea for dinner. And I satiated my hunger for home with the most American of non-American foods (next to pizza and Chinese takeout): tacos.

Tacos gobernador, to be exact.

Governor’s Tacos. Holy wow, they were awesome. Crispy, handmade flour shells filled with fresh, marinated shrimps, vegetables, salsa and melted cheese.

Talina deemed them exceptional, even in comparison to the tacos back home. She was glowing. At least one of us got to cure a bit of homesickness!

Talina at Azteca Latin Lounge in London

But I’m still a bit confused. Hey, goatee man, the food’s great, but why don’t you have a menu?

“Because we’ve only been serving food for two weeks,” he informed us,“it’s an experiment.”

Well, well…aren’t we privileged to be among the first to grade your taco test.

Azteca, we give you an “A.”

A for Amazing; A for Americans, forget cafés with crappy hours. Go to Azteca!

Don’t you worry, goatee man, we’ll be back for more gobernadores… and maybe even a bit of tequila, too.

Azteca Latin Lounge in Chelsea

¡Que maravilla!

 

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Nintendo Wii Fit Launch, London’s South Bank

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Has anyone else in this city experienced the thrills and joys of the Nintendo Power Pad?

Europeans may recall its sister product, the colorful, interactive Family Fun Fitness mat, which, like the Power Pad, was wired with (then) cutting-edge movement sensors. Both devices provided competitive, humorous exercise outlets for the whole fam. Born in the late 80’s, these wonderful gadgets were, to my knowledge, the first and only of their kind.

“Power Pad Day” used be the highlight of my week—my friends and I would gather in front of the basement TV, ceremonially unroll the sleek, smooth electronic mat and stomp our ways to virtual Track and Field victories. Indeed, it was the classic Nintendo Entertainment System that provided us with our favorite form of indoor fun. We would scheme for hours on end: how to master the triple jump? The hurdle relay? Can we “trick” the system by sneakily stepping off of the Pad, thus extending our Long Jumps to superhuman distances? Oh, the possibilities…

After its seven year tenure, the Power Pad was (circa ’95) sadly discontinued (in conjunction with its game system counterpart). But I, of course, proudly looked after our NES and beloved PP through my late teens; for, though my brother and I were privy to the graphic wonders of N64, nothing compared to a bit of old-fashioned, World Class Track Meet fun. continue reading

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