Montag, 5. August 2013


Parliament and Big Ben on the Thames



This post is part of my Travel Picks and Tips from my recent visit to England, Ireland, Switzerland, Austria and Bavaria in April/May 2013. To simplify things, I have divided up my posts into areas in each of these countries. This post is about London, England. Click on any of the following links to take you to other regions/countries of your interest. I hope to enlighten and share with those who wish to travel to these areas with some of the highlights of my adventures in these beautiful parts of the world.


This post: LONDON
Also see  Oxford & Chester, England / Dingle & Galway, Ireland

As a preface, see my bio and full Itinerary  for this trip in the post:
Landing at Heathrow
On a picture perfect morning with brilliant blue skies, I landed at Heathrow Airport. Ahhh....back home again, I thought to myself while I joyfully collected my bags, breezed through customs, and emerged into the Arrivals Lounge of Terminal 1.

While awaiting my bags, I dug out my British Mobile (Cell Phone) which I would be using for the entire month I would be traipsing about England, Ireland and the Swiss & Austrian Alps. I did this on purpose, as upon entering into the Arrivals Lounge, my first stop is always the SIM Local Shop, where I purchase a SIM card with my new European number for this year's trip (the numbers expire unless kept active after 6 months from purchase). If you already don't have a Euro phone, you can also purchase a very inexpensive one at the SIM shop, which will include the amount you pay for the phone in credit! The staff are very nice there, and offered to charge my phone while I had an amazingly large Cappuccino at the Costa Coffee right across the way.  

TRAVEL TIP – It can be VERY expensive to use one’s American Mobile in Europe…although the phone companies offer to “put you on a plan” for only $5 per month. The reality is that every text and every call costs $$$ a minute …not to mention “Data” which I highly recommend NOT using at all unless one has an open wallet.
Heathrow Express Arrival in Paddington
Once my phone had charged enough to begin texting my friends my new number, I hopped on my pre-paid Heathrow Express train, which whisked me into Paddington Station and into the heart of London. 

TRAVEL TIP - The Heathrow Express is the quickest way to get into and out of the heart of London, taking a mere 15 minutes and avoiding traffic and expensive cab fares. Upon arrival at Paddington Station,  one can easily catch a cab, bus, or Tube to their final destination. In my case, I have a short walk to my favorite little hotel where I have stayed on and off over the years.

TRAVEL TIPForeign Currency Exchange: I DO recommend using a banking card and ATM's for local currency as opposed to purchasing Traveler's Cheques or using those very expensive Foreign Currency Exchange Kiosks. With the prevalence of  ATM’s in Europe, one can always  easily get cash and the bank rates are very competitive and a much better rate than the Exchange "Sharks" one sees in all of the tourist spots. I DO recommend drawing out larger amounts of cash, as there is a "per withdrawal" fee associated with the ATM's.

The Rhodes Hotel - my favorite "small hotel in London" is adjacent to a quaint London neighborhood, not far from Paddington Station and the beautiful Hyde
The Rhodes Hotel
Park, with Lancaster Gate and Marble Arch…the beginning of the famed Oxford Street shopping area, within walking distance.

The hotel is reasonably priced, clean and friendly with nicely appointed rooms and complementary Wi-Fi. They offer a fully cooked breakfast as well as traditional “continental” fare and they have had the same  delightful staff working the breakfasts for the 5 years I have been frequenting this hotel - which says something about how good its management must be. They even seem to remember me each time I stay there, which is a nice feeling to have when first arriving in the UK after sometimes a year or more being back. I tend to ask to be accommodated in the ANNEX  (No. 16 Sussex Gardens)
Swans in Hyde Park
which is just around the corner from the main hotel, but in a quieter street and a block closer to my favorite Pub, my favorite Bakery, and  the beautiful, greenery of the Royally appointed Hyde Park – where I love to go for a stroll before breakfast in the mornings.

Riding horses back from Hyde Park down a
quiet "Mew" in central London


Be sure to check-out their on-line deals directly on their web-site where you will find the best rates on the Internet! Also, for regulars, they give out appreciation vouchers for additional savings - which can also be gifted by you to someone else!
Rhodes Hotel 195 Sussex Gardens, Hyde Park, London W2 2RJ Tel. 0207 262 0537

The Victoria

My favorite pub is just a 5 minute walk up the road from the Rhodes Hotel. Originally built around 1838 when Paddington Station was being built, the pub is called the Victoria, where legend has it, Queen Victoria is reputed to have stopped in on her way to Paddington and thereafter was renamed "The Victoria" in her honour.

Double Rainbow from the Annex
of the Rhodes Hotel, hallowing 
the Victoria Pub

Whether popping in for lunch, dinner or an evening pint, one is guaranteed to be surrounded by real “London locals” who live or work in the neighborhood (as opposed to the “Tourist” crowd around Paddington Station). The food is fabulous and the atmosphere genuinely British.

The "Ladies" Room

19th Century Loo - Click Pic
for Detail

I even had to take a photo of the “picturesque” Loo, situated up a steep and windy set of traditional 19th Century London stairs! The bar staff and the General Manager of the pub, Chris Cochran, are all lovely, and I highly recommend popping in at some point during your trip to London. I had dinner here the first night which was just perfect and not far from my bed, indeed within stumbling distance just up the road - perfect when one is tired & jet lagged.  

The Cozy Victoria Pub

If you do pop into the Victoria, please tell Chris 'Hi' and that I sent you! I am sure that he will take well care of you.

The Victoria 10A Strathearn Place, Paddington, London W2 2NH  Tel. 020 7724 1191
Completely Pet Friendly - Indoors and Outdoors
Beautiful Afternoon Tea
A “Fine Chocolatier & Artisan Baker” - Cocomaya  has become my favorite café each trip for an afternoon tea or coffee, accompanied of course by one of their hard to choose from, in house made delectables. Located equidistant between Marble Arch and the Rhodes Hotel, Cocomaya, offers irresistible cakes, chocolates and my favorite London  Afternoon Tea - Mary Dawn style, consisting of Sultana (Fruit) Scones, thick clotted cream, fresh strawberry jam and a pot of Earl Grey Tea.  I love to take my Tea outside, sitting Parisian style under their stylish awnings, whilst watching the people in this colorful neighborhood.

Many fine baked goods and
chocolates to choose from
Cocomaya was the brainchild of two highly influential players in the London fashion industry, Liberty Joel Bernstein and Walid al Damirji, so who knows who one might "bump into" whilst sitting there sipping their refreshing tea. After 10 years in business, they now have three locations in London, and a spot at Heathrow Airport – Terminal 5. Perfect for that last true English style tea before departing the country.
Cocomaya Café  12 Connaught St, London, W2 2AF Tel. 020 7706 2883

Pet Friendly Seating Outdoors
Who says the British don't have fashion!?! On my brief stay in London, I always try to get my initial fix on the latest European Fashions, by strolling around Oxford St, Regent St,  and new and old Bond Streets where there are a plethora of every clothing shop one could ask for. For me it is initial “eye candy” and inspiration for what I will be treating myself to at some point during my stay.

Latest Euro Fashion - Bavarian Version
On this trip, I was intrigued to see that everyone…. and I mean everyone were wearing flat, flat, flat shoes…namely in the form of “designer” sneakers. No boots, no pumps, no sandals…just flat, trendy light weight sneaker type shoes!  I was not in the “shopping” mood during my stroll, however did eventually come away from Europe with a very trendy sneaker shoe, which I now carry in my shop – because I liked them so much!

Exhausted after a couple of hours of soaking in the latest Euro trends, I found myself in the posh neighborhood of Mayfair - just south of the Oxford St shops. I had received some tips of some restaurants in this neighborhood from a friend, so thought I would do some exploring. In my hunt for his recommendations, I found myself, lo and behold, on the doorstep (literally) of memory lane and London’s finest luxury 19th century hotel: Claridges'. Many years before, when I lived in London, I was invited to a very posh society wedding and reception in the form of a proper Ball which took place in Claridge's.
I could not resist, and entered into this grand hotel to take a look around. Claridge’s is London’s “Art Deco” jewel, whose interior was redesigned to perfection in the 1920’s. I happened to notice the time, and it was 6pm…perfect timing for a before dinner cocktail.   I found myself in its cozy and quite sumptuous 1930’s Fumoir Bar whereby I could not resist a glass of fine champagne to toast to my memories of that magical champagne infused wedding ball, at which I had danced the night away like Cinderella some 20 years before.

The Fumoir ART DECO Bar
I learned that Claridge's was not only a jewel of a hotel, but that it was the favourite of Queen Victoria and Albert from the 1860’s onwards. Indeed, it has remained a favourite of heads of state and royalty throughout Europe throughout the  centuries. Unfortunately, I did not meet my “prince charming” on that evening, but I did relish the hour I sipped my champagne and observed London’s society meeting, greeting and quietly reading their newspapers, all dressed so handsomely in their London finery.
Someday, I plan on revisiting this hotel to do a proper review, detailing it as a residence in London, but until that time, I highly recommend popping in for its timeless ambiance, delightful staff  and a brief look at London at its best.

Claridge's - Brook Street, Mayfair, London, W1K 4HR

Pet Friendly only for dogs up to 15lbs :(

British Museum, Great Russell St.
National Gallery, Trafalgar Square
On each stay in London, I look to spend at least one day submersed in culture. Whether it be  a visit to see my favourite paintings in the NATIONAL GALLERY, a trip into London's past in the TOWER OF LONDON, or seeing a private exhibition in the heart of London at the magnificent GUILDHALL. For this trip I chose to visit a temporary exhibition at the BRITISH MUSEUM: Life and death: Pompeii and Herculaneum.
Educated Wife and Husband Portrait
Having never personally been to the two Italian cities, Pompeii and Herculaneum, which were destroyed by the catastrophic eruption of Mt Vesuvius in AD 79, I was overwhelmed by this exhibit hosted by the British Museum.

Upon entering, one is immediately transported into the daily village life of a seaside village in the Roman Empire. They have done a great job in recreating a good part of the two Roman cities, whereby every living organism was killed, but conversely were perfectly preserved under 4-6 metres (13-20 feet) of ash following the eruption. One sees frescos, furniture, statues, jewelry, and even perfectly preserved forms of figs on a plate that one family was to have as part of their lunch. They have also transported the preserved forms of a complete family as well as a household dog, whereby one can almost feel their agony in their last moments when the heat and ash hit.
Pompeii family in their last moments
Archaeologists have learned more through these excavations about how the ancient Romans actually lived their lives than any other ruins that have been discovered. One sees how their households were run, what they ate, where they went drinking, who were the learned ones and who were the transients. Indeed, these two cities were primarily occupied by what the Romans called "Freed Men"...who were once Roman slaves then set free.
Roman Garden Fresco
One thing that I found intriguing was how the exhibition takes one on a walk through the 2000 year old town life as well as the home life of this ancient civilization.  One of my favourite rooms in a typical Roman home is the Garden Room, found in the larger Villas. My favourite Fresco was taken from a Garden Room wall from the Villa Arianna. It reminisces of the peace and tranquility of  "nature" the family was trying to conjure up in this area of the household.
Other artifacts to see at the
British Museum
So, if  you are planning a trip to London before September 29, 2013 be sure to book your tickets well in advance to see this marvelous exhibit - they are selling out quickly. This exhibition was one of the highlights of my trip!Note: Even if you can't get in to see this special exhibit, one can spend days in the British Museum, learning about just about every great culture of the world through thousands of statues, artifacts and collectables, gathered by the Brits over centuries of conquest and exploration.
 British Museum Great Russell Street, London, WC1B 3DG

The Ten Bells

 After a long, educational day at the British Museum, I raced home to get changed to meet a friend for drinks and dinner in a very trendy, yet colourful area of central London. My friend, John had suggested we meet at the Ten Bells Pub, not far from Brick Lane where we were to dine later on that evening.
I Googled the Ten Bells to get directions and what an unexpected surprise awaited me. The Ten Bells, creatively named after the 10 chimes of a local church, was established in the 18th Century in what was once a relatively seedy area in London. Indeed, back in the day it hosted quite the crowd of rowdy drinkers and prostitutes, of which two were unsuspectedly picked-up and murdered by the infamous Jack the Ripper - his last two victims: Annie Chapman and Mary Kelly - RIP.
Almost two centuries later, the Pub still hosts quite a lively crowd, but now it is business men, bankers and the trendy East End London scene. Thursday through Saturday nights are its liveliest evenings. A vast selection of brews are on tap and Ripperana memorabilia line the funky chandelier lit stairs leading up to the bathrooms and a restaurant on the first floor.
Highly worth a visit if one finds themselves in the Shoreditch/Spitalfields area of East London. Perfect for a pint before hitting the Indian restaurants on Brick Lane, where we were heading next.

The Ten Bells - 84 Commercial Street, London E1 6LY  Tel. 020 7366 1721

Around the corner from the Ten Bells, lies road famous for its plethora of Indian restaurants. Named "Brick Lane" in the 15th century due to the local Brick and Tile manufacturers located here, the area went on to become an affluent Jewish neighborhood in the 19th and 20th Centuries. In the latter half of the 20th century, the area eventually became the popular neighborhood for Bangladeshi immigrants who proceeded to build restaurant upon restaurant on this narrow lane. There must be at least 50 restaurants situated on a mere couple of fragrant, curry smelling blocks.

I have been dining on Brick Lane since the late 80's and have never had a bad meal there. Just about every restaurant has multiple dining awards and newspaper clippings attesting to their excellence. 

Brick Lane Brasserie - where we dined
So, now the question is...where to dine with all of these choices? Well, my suggestion and part of the fun of the Brick Lane experience is to first wander up one side and then down the other, peeking at menus and listening to all of the "soliciting offers" one gets from one of the restaurant's staff standing at each entry. The secret, after listing to "free bottle of wine if you dine here!" or "20% off your entire meal", etc. is to barter with the restaurant that you think you might like to try. For example, John and I had singled out a couple of nice looking restaurants, so we then proceeded to ask the restaurant who was offering 20% off the entire meal, if they could "throw in a bottle of wine" like that restaurant across the road was offering. Success! We got both 20% off of our meal AND a nice bottle of quaffable French wine thrown in to boot.

Yum! Indian food at its best.
 What to eat? Well, to each their own, however since the '80's and my discovery of truly the best Indian cuisine outside of India located all across Britain, I always get the same dishes.

Starting with pappadoms and pickles, I peruse the typically vast menu, however then always end up ordering the same things: Half a Tandoori Chicken (beautifully marinated then baked in a clay oven), Saag Bhaji,  Bhindi Bhaji, Bhinjal Bhaji, Keema Nan and Pilaa Rice. The nice thing about Indian restaurants in Britain verses the States, is that they always have many wonderful veggie side dishes to choose from, instead of having to order a complete "veggie" meal as in the States. Therefore, all of the yummy Bhaji (veggie) dishes I love to order and of course to share at the table.

Brick Lane Brasserie  67 Brick Lane  Banglatown London E1 Tel. 020 7377 8072

After treating ourselves to a most decadent Indian meal at the Brick Lane Brasserie, we strolled through the vibrant Friday night Brick Lane scene in search of an after dinner drink. We were drawn into the sultry vibe of the Hookah Lounge, where one finds themselves transported from Bangladesh to Morroco. Lavishly decorated with low laying comfy couches, tapestries and soft sultry lighting, the place has an inviting feeling of "chill" and relaxation.
Cozy bohemian atmosphere

Taking its name from the Hookah pipe (also known as a shisha), it turns out this is one of London's most popular tea rooms. They have a vast selection of fresh teas as well as fantastic cocktails and amazing home made food. I chose an exotic spicy Chai Tea blend which was aromatic and very flavourful. It was just perfect. John chose one of their signature cocktails and we sat and sipped on a comfy couch whilst watching the laid back people also relaxing in this Morrocan oasis in the heart of the hustle and bustle of Brick Lane.
 Hookah Lounge 133 Brick Ln, City of London, Greater London E1 Tel. 020 7033 9072

Love my European rental cars & driving
on "the other side"
My two days and nights in London came sadly to an end, and it was now time to move on to Oxford for the next stage of my trip.

I do not recommend renting a car if one is planning on staying in London, rather I suggest renting the car when one is ready to hit the road to other destinations in Britain. On this occasion, I walked up the road to Marble Arch, which is one of Central London's car rental spots. In no time, I was in my lovely little, but nippy, rental car, drove by the hotel to collect my bags and was on the road to Oxford, and my "home away from home" in Europe.

CAR RENTAL ADVICE Which company to rent from? I recently had a very BAD experience on my trip with one of the main American based car rental companies called AUTO EUROPE.

I only rented with them on the last,  most expensive and longest leg of my trip - from Geneva to Munich. When I went into the Avis Geneva office, I was told by Avis - the rental company Auto Europe had arranged my rental with, that they could see my reservation, however that Auto Europe (who had taken my money months before when I made my reservation) had never paid them, and that I would have to pay AGAIN and then have Auto Europe reimburse me! I had them call Auto Europe and we got some American agent who did not know what to do apart from tell me that I would have to pay AVIS in order to rent my car and that they would eventually refund my money back - which took 10 days...during which I had to pay double for a rental car. I was not very happy with Auto Europe for their lack of support while I was in Europe and for me having to carry the burden of the cost of two rentals for ten days. In addition, I was two hours late for a very important meeting with one of my suppliers due to all of the back and forth between Auto Europe and Avis, until I eventually settled the dispute and paid double for the rental to get a car to get me to my meeting. I was not very happy that day, nor was my Swiss supplier who had been awaiting me at an Autobahn service station for hours.

RECOMMENDED! The other company I used to book cars for (England and Ireland) and my internal European flights on my trip and whom I had a great experience with was OPODO . They have some great deals, and once paid, the vouchers actually "work" for a hassle free car rental or flight experience. 

INSURANCE TIP! If you have a US issued VISA card and book 100% of your car rental on your card, VISA will cover your insurance! Note, that you must DENY all offered Insurance that the car rental company offers.  Be sure to keep all of your paperwork, even after the rental, just in case they try to ding you for a small scratch or scrape which can turn out quite costly. I had an experience with this with a small scrape on the rim of the wheel, whereby they immediately charged me 600 Euro's on the spot! I took the claim to VISA with all of the paper work...also the original paper work showing that you had denied the rental agencies own insurance, and I was reimbursed immediately.

The ONLY country which does not accept Insurance coverage by VISA is The Republic of Ireland. It is highly recommend to take out the offered insurance when booking one's car on-line, otherwise, the insurance at the time of rental can be much more than the car hire itself, topping 30 Euro's PER DAY! Ouch! I made this mistake and don't want any of my followers to fall into the same trap.

Check out all pictures from my trip on

Also See Oxford / Chester /
Spring Euro Trip 2013

Evening in London on the Thames
with Big Ben and Parlaiment
Enjoy your visit and please don't hesitate to EMAIL me with any questions when planning your own trip to England or Europe! I love to help and recommend when I can!
Mary Dawn DeBriae
European Tips and Picks - Alpen Schatz

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