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Question for any of our English residents or frequent visitors?...


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#1 of 71 OFFLINE   todd s

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Posted September 15 2007 - 02:15 PM

My wife and I are looking to take our first trip to London and Paris next March. We are probably going to take a Virgin Atlantic Package (3 or 4 nights London & 3 nights Paris). I keep hearing how expensive meals are. But, just curious what restaurants like the Hard Rock and even something as simple as McDonalds charge for a burger? Also, any suggestions about excursions in both cities you would recommend? On a side note. The how is the locations for these hotels.. London- Flemings Mayfair Half Moon street in Mayfair section Paris- Mayfair Hotel on rue Rouget de Lisle Thanks!!!
Bring back John Doe! Or at least resolve the cliff-hanger with a 2hr movie or as an extra on a dvd release.

#2 of 71 OFFLINE   andrew markworthy

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Posted September 15 2007 - 10:40 PM

You can get a reasonable enough meal in a Hard Rock type eatery for about £15 (at the current rate of exchange $30) - that would be a moderate main course, beer or soft drink and a dessert. If you want a really good meal (and London has some of the best restaurants in the world, believe it or not) expect to pay a minimum of £80 ($160) per head (including a cheap bottle of wine). If, like me, you're quite happy to be on your feet for most of the day, then my advice is get a sandwich and a smoothie at lunchtime and spend extra cash on a decent evening meal. There are loads of sandwich bars in London. The safest bet, if you can find one, is one of our supermarkets (generally speaking, Marks and Spencers and Waitrose are considered the poshest brands, followed by Tesco and Sainsbury's). Tips are generally between 10 and 15% (I believe it's higher in the USA - hence why a lot of Brit visitors tend to be seen as tightfisted - it's not true; we just don't know your rules).

If you want to sample a traditional English pub in London, then you are likely to be disappointed. I believe there are 'traditional Cockney pubs' with pearly kings and queens and someone playing the piano that are designed purely for tourists. These are in no way representative of real pubs. A lot are violent and the rest tend to be over-priced and unwelcoming. Pubs outside Brit cities tend to be far nicer, but alas you're not likely to be near these on this visit!

If you want what is the favourite restaurant food of Brits, then you need to visit an Indian restaurant. The favourite Brit dish is chicken tikka massala (unique to the UK - the dish is unknown in India). *Don't*, unless you can eat a viciously hot chilli without crying, try a vindalloo or Madras curry. They are akin to eating a blast furnace if you're not acclimatised.

As for places to visit in London - it depends what you your interests are. Mine are the arts, and if I were you I'd aim to see: The National Gallery (tons of famous paintings) The Courtauld (most of the famous paintings that aren't in the NG are in there), The Tate (for early modern art, including a massive collection of the works of Turner). The Tate Modern (for really modern art). If you want to see the famous historical sites, then there's the Tower of London (expect interminable queues) and although it's a massive cliche, one of the tourist buses will take you around a lot of the famous sites. Also, Buckingham Palace is open during the summer (don't know about queues - I'm told that it's quite dull if you're familiar with English country houses). If for some strange reason you want to see Downing Street or the Houses of Parliament, you can't get nearer than the security gates to the former and with the latter, you *may* be able to look round if Parliament isn't in session. One of the big attractions in recent years is the London Eye - a massive ferris wheel type structure that slowly revolves and allows you to get a panoramic view of London (if you're a good head for heights!).

If you want to get out of London for a day, then the traditional city to visit is Oxford. This is easily reached in about an hour on the train (and everything bad you've heard about Brit trains is true). The charm of the place is the university colleges, and they don't show up their charms unless you walk round them - nearly all of them allow visitors at certain times of the day. The place to eat in Oxford traditionally is Brown's - a fairly relaxed sort of restaurant to the north of the city centre (expect a meal to set you back about £20 per head).


For listings of what's on, try the Time Out website: http://info.timeout.com/

Hope this helps, and enjoy your visit!

EDIT: just occurred to me that you will be here when the Tutankhamen exhibition will be on at O2 (what used to be the Millennium Dome - a vast building in Greenwich). Well worth seeing if you're into Egyptology.

#3 of 71 OFFLINE   Joseph DeMartino

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Posted September 16 2007 - 01:45 AM


Yes, here 15% is the minimum and 20% more common. It all works out, of course, since our restaurants are a lot cheaper. Even a quite decent place is unlikely to soak you $160 a head for a meal, and that's with a genuinely good wine. Of course there are four and five star restaurants that will charge you $80 for a cheeseburger, but I'm talking mainstream "good" steakhouses, upscale Italian and French restaurants in mid-sized to large cities. Your waiter ends up with the same money if you tip 20% on an $80 meal in New York as he does if you tip 10% on a $160 meal in London - $16. But your total cost for the meal in New York, even with the higher tip, is still only $96 as opposed to $176 in London.

I always have two pieces of advice for anyone on their first trip to any major city:

1) Don't try to do everything in one trip. You'll exhaust yourself and all of the sights will run into one big blur.

2) Do go to as many of the the "cliche" stops as you can easily manage. There is a reason that some things have been tourist attractions for hundreds (or in some cases thousands) of years. If you go to Rome, see the freakin' Colosseum. In Paris see the Eiffel Tower, in New York the Empire State Building (I lived in New York half my life and never went to the observation deck of the State Building until my last working day in Manhattan, two days before I moved to Florida. I had been in the building, visiting the lower floors on business, several times, but as a native I would never have done something that "touristy". Posted Image You're going to be a tourist. Doing this stuff is your job. Posted Image)

And there are two other pieces of advice I'd add:

3) Use you first trip as a "scouting expedition". Do research on the spot, get s sense of where things are located, what they cost and how much time they will take, so your second visit (if there is one) can be more productive.

4) Take everything told you by a tour guide with about a pound of salt. There seems to be an international plot to use tour guides at historic sites as the prime vectors for urban legends - the more ludicrous, the better. Especially don't believe any story that has to do with the origins of a common word or expression, or any common object or custom. This advice applies doubly to any attempt to assign such origin to Royal Navy. (So, "son of a gun" has nothing to do with a ships cannon, there was never any object on a British warship called a "brass monkey", neither Henry VIII nor any other king ever knighted a cut of beef and dubbed it, "Sir Loin" and there was never any law, in England or anywhere else, that allowed a man to beat his wife with a stick provided it was no thicker than his own thumb - "Rule of thumb" [obviously] refers to "rule" as in "ruler" as in "measuring device" and the analogy in actual usasge is to approximating a measure by rough and ready means, like pacing off a room in "foot-lengths" to estimate its size or measuring an object against your thumb - remembering that the inch was originally defined as the distance between the tip of an average man's thumb and the first knuckle. Sorry about the rant, pet peeve. I've endured this sort of nonsense from Rome to Philadelphia to St. Augestine and numerous points in between. Posted Image)

Regards,

Joe

UPDATE: I'd also recommend the Tutankhamen exhibition. I saw the original "Treasures of Tutankhamen" when it toured the U.S. in the 1970s - the first time the antiquities had been permitted out of Egypt, if I'm not mistaken. It was spectacular. I waited four hours starting in the pre-dawn darkness to see it on opening day at the National Gallery in Washington, D.C. I was going to college in Maryland and my roommate lived just outside D.C. in northern Virginia. A bunch of us drove to his house the night before then woke up around 4 a.m. to take a bus downtown and join the queue - which already went completely around the (very big) block the National occupies when we got there, and which would circle it again by the time the doors finally opened.

Once finally inside the exhibit, I was gently rushed through the exhibit by tour guides who were carefully rationing time to accomodate the greatest number of people. You got enough time to get a decent look at everything, but there was no time for lingering stares. Posted Image

A couple of years later I walked through the exhibition again at the Metropolitan Museum in New York. I think the Met was the show's last stop in America, and by that time there were no lines at all, so I had all the time in the world to look at each piece that really caught my attention. But I'm still glad I saw when I did in D.C. I had no way of knowing at the time that I'd be able to see it again in New York, and I would have been angry if I'd missed it.

#4 of 71 OFFLINE   todd s

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Posted September 16 2007 - 02:21 AM

Thanks for the info. Some family members are like "It's going to cost $200 for a simple meal." I say only if we go to a real nice restaurant or eat in a hotel. My wife and I are not looking to eat fancy. I might to a tour thats like 3 hours. They travel 2 hours driving showing all of the major sites and then 1 hour on a boat cruise.
Bring back John Doe! Or at least resolve the cliff-hanger with a 2hr movie or as an extra on a dvd release.

#5 of 71 OFFLINE   Joseph DeMartino

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Posted September 16 2007 - 04:46 AM


Do you really want to take a three hour tour that involves a boat? Posted Image

Regards,

Joe

#6 of 71 OFFLINE   andrew markworthy

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Posted September 16 2007 - 06:30 AM

The boat cruises along the Thames are a tourist staple and you do get to see quite a lot of the city (remember that until recently London's economic power other than from the financial sector largely came from its role as a port). When I was about seven I'd gone with my parents to visit my uncle (who although married used to go on holiday with John Schlesinger - and read into that what you will). The guide on the boat trip had been taken ill at the last minute and my uncle stepped into the breach. Being only a kid I took everything he said at face value, but my parents said that my uncle was (deliberately) producing a whopping distortion of the facts with every breath. They were helpless with laughter, but [and I mean this with the greatest respect] the unsuspecting foreigners lapped it up and tipped him very generously at the end of the trip.
Simple meals are not what you'd get for that sort of price. Confit of duck with a raspberry, fig and chocolate sauce or something of that ilk is what you'd get. If you're into food, it's worth saving up and going to a couple of our highly-rated restaurants, but otherwise, I promise you, prices aren't all that painful (though generally eating in an hotel is pricey). However, bear in mind that in London you usually have a decent English breakfast included in the cost and that should set you up nicely for the day. Remember that at breakfast time you get limitless coffee but *usually* (though there are exceptions to this) at other times of the day when you buy a cup of coffee that's it - one cup of coffee. And just to kill the old canard - English food really isn't that awful. There are some bad restaurants, but the days of institutionalised low quality cooking are (with some rare exceptions) over. You may find that the portions are smaller than you're used to, in part because we've always been a bit puritanical about gluttony, but also because of health concerns about big portions ('Supersize Me' and similar films had a big effect over here - as well it might; nearly 50% of the population is overweight or obese). Check a listings magazine like Time Out and you should be guided reasonably well. I'm afraid I can't personally recommend any places to eat because generally my visits to London are just for the day or we stay with friends and eat at their house. One other thing - if you want to go to the theatre in London, there are generally some excellent shows. Unfortunately, a lot of them at the moment are Brit productions of American shows, so the lightweight stuff may be old hat to you. You do have the prospect of the Royal Shakespeare Company (almost always called the RSC) which has a London branch (its 'proper' home, is, naturally, at Stratford upon Avon). I don't know what will be on next year, I'm afraid. The one snag is that the RSC usually perform at the Barbican theatre complex and this is a fair distance from the city centre. You can get a bus or a tube (underground railway) to it, but you may feel a little uneasy using public transport late at night. In which case, there are always the London taxi cabs. All the licensed taxi drivers in London have to pass an unbelievably rigorous exam known colloquially as 'The Knowledge' before they are granted their licence, and have to know - literally - every street, hotel, major building, theatre, restaurant, etc, in central London. You do get the occasional quiet one, but most like to chat. Tipping is expected (15% of the final fare).

#7 of 71 OFFLINE   Cees Alons

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Posted September 16 2007 - 07:29 AM

Boat tour to Greenwich could be nice then. Starts close to Parliament and Big Ben (and Churchill's statue). Takes a day (not the boat, but a visit to the Observatory, etc.), and there's a nice War Museum in Greenwich too.
You must see the Tower of London. That way you see the Bridge as well. Avoid the Eye. If you visit the Changing of the Guards, wait at the side of the "Mall", not in front of the building. Also enables you to calibrate your wrist watch.
Walk through St' James's Park (could be done after watching the Guards). Later: Leicester Square/Piccadilly Circus/Shops/Oxford Street. In the centre, use the "Tube" a lot, but buy a handkerchief (and walk there, don't run). No need to visit Buckingham Palace, and they won't entertain you anyway. Harrods could be worth a visit, especially the food section in the basement used to be spectacular, but no need to buy anything there.
Go see a play, you may like The Mousetrap, unless everyone in your company knows who dunnit.
If the weather is fine, have a diner "outdoors", at least once, at Covent Garden. Fun, but crowdy. Does not have to be expensive.
Several big museums. Pictures in the Trafalgar Square one (therefore named the National Gallery). Things (loot) in the British Museum. Dinosaurs in the Natural History Museum.

Edit: This text doesn't try to contradict andrew in any way, it was written in parallel. Posted Image

Paris:
Round boat tour on the Seine shows a lot. You can start at every stop (including the Eiffel Tower) and stop where you like. Don't try to climb the Eiffel Tower by foot (although we descended using the stairs once, I cannot recommend it and you will hardly get to the first "floor" when going up).
Visit The Scacré Coeur (and Montmartre), the Place de la Concorde used to cost some people a head, but is rather safe now (except for the traffic). The Tuileries garden is nice to visit and stretches to the Louvre. Splendid museum, but will cost you a day to do it anywhere near properly. There's a smaller one in a former train-station: Musée (used to be "Gare") d'Orsay, next to the Seine.
If you decide to go to Versailles: use the Métro to go there (needs some additional walking), but it will certainly take one whole day to do it nicely. The Métro will not get your nose dirty and you could run safely there to catch a train (but it's almost unnecessary to run: the next one will promptly arrive in a few minutes). But beware of pick-pockets in the Métro.
You may like visiting the Cemetery of Père Lachaisse. Takes one morning. Ladies go shopping in Lafayette (or anywhere else). A special place to visit is the Arche de la Défense (by Métro). When you're there you can still see the Arc de Triomphe very clearly.
Lunch could be done at a café near one of the central bridges of the Seine, on both sides. But the Quartier Latin (students area) is the nicest. Walk along some of the boards of the Seine to go there.No need to buy any of those pictures, unless you want a souvenir. Dining is never a problem at all in Paris (don't ask for a non-smoking table: it's the one in the broom closet or at the toilets level; most are non-smoking by law now anyway).


Cees


If you happen to visit Amsterdam, don't ask me these things: I live there.
C.

#8 of 71 OFFLINE   andrew markworthy

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Posted September 18 2007 - 12:58 AM

I can firmly recommend Amsterdam. We took the kids on thier first overseas holiday there - and before anyone asks, it's perfectly possible to spend an entire holiday there without the slightest whiff of cannabis smoke or sight of the red light district. Without trying to crawl to Cees, I've always loved the Netherlands and the Dutch so maybe I'm biased. In fact, we're probably going back there next year (Rotterdam, The Hague and some big bird park south(ish) of Amsterdam).

#9 of 71 OFFLINE   todd s

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Posted September 18 2007 - 07:16 AM

Andrew, I am a history buff. I love the idea of seeing buildings that are a 1,000 years old. Most of our historic structures are "new construction". Posted Image
Bring back John Doe! Or at least resolve the cliff-hanger with a 2hr movie or as an extra on a dvd release.

#10 of 71 OFFLINE   Henry Gale

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Posted September 18 2007 - 08:47 AM


Joe,
Posted Image

Thanks, my first really great laugh in a week or so.
"I was born to ramble, born to rove
Some men are searchin for the Holy Grail
But there ain't nothin sweeter 
Than riden' the rails."
-Tom Waits-

#11 of 71 OFFLINE   todd s

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Posted September 20 2007 - 08:21 AM

Well I booked the trip today. I leave March 21st for 3 nights in London (Herrington Hall which is in the Kensington section) then a trip through the Chunnel for 3 nights in Paris (Mayfair Hotel). I am very excited I have never been to Europe. The farthest I ever have gone out of the US is Mexico and the Caribbean. I am 38 and have been planning a trip like this since High School. But, things always got in the way...Wedding, kids, kids always wanting to go to Disney, etc. Posted Image
Bring back John Doe! Or at least resolve the cliff-hanger with a 2hr movie or as an extra on a dvd release.

#12 of 71 OFFLINE   Kirk Tsai

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Posted September 20 2007 - 10:00 AM

Hope you have fun Todd. I just came to this side of the world for the first time too. Enjoyed both London and Paris a lot. Question for those familiar with London: can you direct me to some repertory or revival movie theaters? Except for the BFI, so far I have not found any online easily. Are there even such theaters existing? If so, how are they? Thanks.

#13 of 71 OFFLINE   andrew markworthy

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Posted September 20 2007 - 09:30 PM

I only know of the BFI, I'm afraid. Sometimes some of our arts complexes (e.g. the Barbican) run retrospective screenings of arthouse movies, but I don't know of anywhere else that does this on a permanent/regular basis.

#14 of 71 OFFLINE   todd s

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Posted September 21 2007 - 07:52 AM

Andrew, Thanks for the info. I plan on doing Tower of London and Museum of London. My aunt is a travel agent and suggested seeing the musical based on the music of Queen. We want to take a day trip outside of London. I mentioned Bath/Stonehenge. But, my wife went to London for a school trip in HS. And she said that for Stonehenge you drive for hours to see rocks behind a fence, but Bath was cool. I want to go to Portsmouth. Since I would love to see some of the old ships docked there. But, we will see.
Bring back John Doe! Or at least resolve the cliff-hanger with a 2hr movie or as an extra on a dvd release.

#15 of 71 OFFLINE   Claudia P

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Posted September 21 2007 - 03:13 PM

Centre Georges Pompidou and the Stravinsky Fountain are worth visiting if only for the unusual architecture. If you enjoy seeing a city by night (I love Rome & Paris after dark) then the Paris Illuminations tour is a great way to see the monuments all lit up. You will see Place de la Concorde, Place Vendome, Place Pigalle and Place Blanche, Opera, Madeleine Church, rue Royale, Champs-Elysees, Arc de Triumph, Trocadero, Invalides, Notre-Dame, Place du Chatelet and the Eiffel Tower. Tour duration is approx 1.75 hours.

In London you might enjoy Madame Tussauds and the Planetarium, the Farmer's Markets on Pimlico Road or Notting Hill if you're there on a weekend. To sightsee London take a hop-on, hop-off double-decker bus tour. These have a set route and good frequency and allow you to spend as much time as you like at each point of interest. How about the London Dungeon tour? Web link: http://www.thedungeons.com/ Ack, so much to see, so little time!

#16 of 71 OFFLINE   todd s

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Posted September 21 2007 - 03:47 PM

Claudia, My wife mentioned the London Dungeon. Also, our package comes with the hop-on, hop-off double-decker bus tour. Is their a web site for that?
Bring back John Doe! Or at least resolve the cliff-hanger with a 2hr movie or as an extra on a dvd release.

#17 of 71 OFFLINE   Claudia P

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Posted September 21 2007 - 04:00 PM

There sure is: http://www.theoriginaltour.com/

#18 of 71 OFFLINE   andrew markworthy

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Posted September 21 2007 - 10:50 PM

I resolutely DON'T want to pour cold water on other people's suggestions, but I feel beholden to offer counter-opinions when I know there is a strong view in that direction. All I would say about Queen: The Musical is that most Brits would say that there are far, far better shows on in London than that. However, whatever lights your candle... Madame Tussauds and The Planetarium - all I can say is that I don't know a single person who has been to either who has liked them.
Tell your wife she is bang on the money about Stonehenge. It's a national ****ing disgrace. I was lucky to see Stonehenge before the National Trust [the body that controls most of our famous monuments] went all nannyish and stopped people getting amongst the stones. You now can only see them from a distance, the visitors' centre is a shambles, and it's a complete waste of time and money (plus a fair distance from London). And in any case, everybody expects Stonehenge to be enormous. Okay, it's not quite a let-down on the scale of that scene in Spinal Tap, but it's not far off. The stones simply aren't that big. Bath is a wonderful place to visit. My parents-in-law only live ten miles from there and I take as many chances as possible to visit as I can. If you go, you MUST visit the Roman Baths. Incidentally, there are some excellent automated guides (they look a bit like clunky mobile phones). Also make sure you see the famous crescent of Georgian houses. The shops too are very pleasant, and there's a very good photographic museum/gallery. If not Bath, then I'd suggest Oxford. Easy to get to on the train, the colleges are well worth visiting (try especially to see St John's, Christchurch and Magdalene - pronounced 'Maudlin'). There are also two world-class museums - the Ashmolean and the Natural History Museum (with the Pitt Rivers Museum part of the same complex). There are also some superb shops. Don't however make the classic tourist mistake of asking where the famous university is - the university is simply a representation of all the colleges. And if you want even better architecture than Oxford, try Cambridge (the chapel of King's College is easily in the top ten of the world's greatest architectural achievements - you just have to see it 'in the flesh' - no picture can ever do it justice). I personally wouldn't recommend Portsmouth. Apologies to any inhabitants of Portsmouth, but it's a surprisingly long journey from London, and IMHO the presence of a couple of ships will NOT compensate for the journey or the rest of Portsmouth.

#19 of 71 OFFLINE   Claudia P

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Posted September 22 2007 - 06:43 AM

[quote=Madame Tussauds and The Planetarium - all I can say is that I don't know a single person who has been to either who has liked them..[/QUOTE]

Mme Tussauds would not still be in business if they did not offer a quality attraction. Falling visitor numbers to the Planetarium, however, were the catalyst for recent change. The original Planetarium show no longer exists; the Planetarium itself is now known as the Star Dome. The owners have revamped the show in collaboration with Aardman Animations (Wallace & Grommit, Creature Comforts). I have enjoyed both attractions and do not hesitate to recommend either one.

http://www.madame-tu...thestardome.htm

#20 of 71 OFFLINE   Kirk Tsai

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Posted September 23 2007 - 02:07 AM

Any good database, newspapers online, or sites that have search-able reviews of London shows?




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