Category Archives: London

Traveling with Parents

National Lampoon's Vacation - Courtesy of NYMag.com

National Lampoon’s Vacation – Courtesy of NYMag.com

I’m convinced that a switch is flipped during adolescence and/or young adulthood that acts like a headlight on an orange traffic cone in the rain, cautioning and repelling any parent or authority figure who approaches.

While I’m not a parent, I can only imagine there’s a little bit of hurt experienced when a young adult, who used to enjoy family vacations, litters the road with traffic cones and detour signs, warnings to their parents to proceed with care or to take another road altogether to avoid bumps and potholes.

Until my 40th birthday, I didn’t think much about traveling with my parents. We had great times when I was younger–weeks in the Outer Banks and day trips to historic places like Jamestown and Williamsburg–but the switch flipped in my 20s and I wanted to see the U.S. and elsewhere on my own or with friends. Back then, parents were no different than the added weight I used to throw in my hatchback to get through snow, ice, and other dangerous road conditions.

It was when I was contemplating a trip to Norway two years ago that I stepped back and thought about asking my parents if they wanted to travel overseas.  Naturally, England (specifically London) came to mind because none of us had ever visited, and there’s a comfort in going somewhere where there aren’t language barriers.

England is also a great primer for individuals who want to dip a toe into overseas travel. It’s rich with history; has a diverse landscape; a comfortable climate; and depending on where you live in the U.S., isn’t too difficult or expensive to get to. Seemed like a perfect segue for them into international travel.

When I broached the subject, my mom was instantly on board.  My dad (like me) asked dozens of logistical questions.  I get it.  The apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree.

With a little persuasion and reassurance, they agreed to go.  I was floored, excited, and a little nervous.

Having now traveled with my parents twice overseas as an adult, I have some tips based on my experience (in no particular order):

#1:  Include them in the planning:  My parents don’t have access to the Internet on a regular basis, so trip planning rests on my shoulders.  I don’t mind; I’m a natural planner, down to the laminated checklist I keep in my suitcase of “things not to forget”.  However, our trip wasn’t all about me.  Since my parents prefer to touch and leaf through books, I sent them a few London guides via Amazon. This made creating a loose itinerary easy because all three of us were able to give input on what to see and do while leaving room for unexpected changes in weather, rest and relaxation days, and unforeseen holidays (e.g., bank holidays).

#2:  Pay attention to physical limitations:  My mom had had surgery months before we left for London. While her doctor had given her a clean bill of health without any restrictions, the plane ride to London was agonizing.  Our initial flight was canceled and we were put on a later flight.  I begged and pleaded with United Airlines to provide her with something that wasn’t a cramped middle seat, which was what she had been assigned with the rebooking.  United came through and she was given a middle seat—in the front row of an aisle in the middle of the plane cut off by lavatories.  She had more than plenty of space to stretch.  Silver linings.

#3:  Speaking of, get space!:  Cities such as London and Paris are very expensive to visit and accommodations are usually cramped.  We decided to stay in the East End of London and rented a two-bedroom apartment with creature comforts. While not expansive by any means, separate rooms helped the three of us decompress and re-collect after a long day of touring.

#4:  Respect differences:  Traveling with anyone involves a lot of negotiating. Traveling with family can add another layer of stress because there’s history. A lot of it. For example, my mom and I wanted to visit the Tate Modern. My dad wanted to visit the Churchill War Rooms. Maps in hand, we parted and no feelings were bruised.

Furthermore, spending can be tight especially if your parents are retired and/or on a fixed income. The same can be true for a son or daughter who is saddled with college debt or other expenses that come with adulthood. Set a daily spending limit that is agreeable with everyone and try to stick to it. Chances are, anxieties will be lessened and everyone can get on with enjoying the trip.  There’s no use fighting about money while traveling.

#5:  Recognize when the road is rough:  There may be times during the trip when nerve-racking, parent-child interactions from decades ago rear their heads. There may be bickering. There may be immature behavior. There may be days ruined as a result.

Get away or recommend doing so.  You may be traveling with one parent or two.  Plan your itinerary and let them plan theirs. Agree on a place to meet later over a meal, beer, or coffee. Mutually share the day’s experiences, sights, and impressions. The breathing space keeps nerves from getting frayed and makes for good conversation.

If you’re able to travel with your parents, I highly recommend it. Parents bring a different perspective and years of personal experience to the table. They see things differently and may challenge your opinions or world viewpoints.

Don’t be afraid to remove the traffic cones and deal with a few bumps in the road during your trip. You may discover a new-found dynamic in your parent-child relationship that had never been there before.

Do you have any suggestions on traveling with parents?  Feel free to leave them in the comments.

Play: Victoria Park Has Picked Up Speed

Victoria Park - London (Photo Courtesy of londonhubguide.blogspot.com)

Victoria Park – London (Photo Courtesy of londonhubguide.blogspot.com)

I’ve been a runner since I was in my late 20s.  I’ve logged 5ks, five-milers, 10-milers, and a half-marathon.  I only run now for personal satisfaction.

When I travel, I like to pack my running shoes and get out early to explore, even if I’m going to be on foot most of the day sightseeing.  Given our surprisingly sunny weather in London, I was able to strike an even balance between our daily tours of sights on concrete and cobblestone with a fast-paced and scenic sample of the lush and soul-calming Victoria Park.

The location of Victoria Park is 1.3 miles from the Bow Apartment and one of its entrances sits at the end of Grove Road, giving you options to sleep, eat, and play while in the East End.

Since I stumbled upon Victoria Park during a run (the guide book I brought didn’t give it a mention), the following are some fun facts and a link to year-round activities that will make you want to pack your tennis shoes, carefree spirit, and visit.

Fun Facts:

  • Victoria Park is London’s oldest public park.  Created in 1845, its space spans 212 acres.
  • The park is situated entirely in the borough of Tower Hamlets.
  • Victoria Park is also known as the People’s Park and locally as “Vicky Park”.
  • In a 2012 poll, Victoria Park beat 1,424 parks and green spaces, becoming the nation’s number-one park.
  • The park’s Chinese pagoda is a replica of a former pagoda that was moved from Hyde Park to Victoria Park in the 19th century, but later destroyed in World War II.
  • The park has over 4,000 trees.

What to Do and See:

  • If you are a runner,  walker, or cyclist, take advantage of the wide pavement, walkways that pass through mature trees, and flat surfaces.
  • Victoria Park has waterways, a pavilion, and hosts sporting events and concerts.  Want to keep up to date on goings-on?  Be sure to check the Tower Hamlets site for fun events during your visit.
  • Forget driving to Victoria Park.  In fact, when I visited, parking looked scarce.  Cars aren’t allowed unless you qualify for a Blue Badge permit.
  • Get there easily.  Take the Central line to Mile End and walk down Grove Road.   You’ll reach the entrance in minutes.
  • Thinking of cooking out while visiting?  Think again and take a picnic lunch or dinner.  Barbequing is not allowed in Victoria Park, so ditch the Hibachi.
  • Forget to pack a picnic and find yourself hungry while walking around and taking in the park?  Check out the Pavilion Café  or The Crown, located at the end of Grove Road near the entrance to the park.  The Crown is cozy and its seating is varied to accommodate your mood.   The pub offers a variety of traditional British dishes.  Grab a pint and enjoy.

Victoria Park is active, large, and set apart from London’s guidebook attractions.  Make sure you visit if you like outdoor activities.  Enjoy sprinting, slow walks, mature trees, pick-up games, and other outdoor activities.

Special thanks to Tower Hamlets for additional insights while staying in Bow and visiting Victoria Park.

Eat: Gettin’ Greedy in Mile End – East London

Greedy Cow - East End, London (Photo Courtesy of @greedycow - Twitter)

Greedy Cow – East End, London (Photo Courtesy of @greedycow – Twitter)

If you’re visiting London’s East End, you must eat at the Greedy Cow.  Period.

Let’s step back for a second.

A lot of first-time visitors to London may be worried about food choices given the long-held generalization that British food is bland and boring.

However, over the years, London has traded in its tarnished medal of culinary dishonor for a shiny gold star–and in many cases, several.  The city is culturally rich and there’s no better place to take advantage of its diversity than in the East End.

I mentioned in my last post that I had been traveling with my parents in London.  After a lot of walking and sightseeing, we needed a restaurant that served hearty food to accommodate everyone’s palates.

The Greedy Cow on Grove Road, located a block from the Mile End Underground Station (Central, District, and Hammersmith & City lines) offered fresh, satisfying food, a comfortable atmosphere, and choices ranging from new twists on old British favorites to the exotic.

The restaurant’s website states that its mission is to provide food that “fills your stomach without emptying your wallet”.  The Greedy Cow delivered on its promise.

We started with the fish cakes and an order of potato wedges.  The portion size was just enough to sample without all of the greasiness of traditional fish and chips.  The side condiments of garlic mayonnaise and dill sauce were great complements and didn’t weigh down the food.

On to the main dishes:  the Greedy Burgers.  The Greedy Cow serves beef that is raised in Britain, and also offers more exotic meats such as kangaroo and crocodile, to name a few.

I opted to stay a little on the safe side and ordered the Jamaican burger.  It had the kick of jerk seasoning mixed with a sweet, refreshing mango chutney.  I was overwhelmed by how clean and flavorful the burger was without the taste mixtures being too overpowering.

In addition to the new spin on old favorites, what I also liked about the restaurant was that it was intimate with well-paced service.

During our seven-day stay in Bow, we ate at the Greedy Cow twice for dinner and were not disappointed on either visit.

If you are staying in or visiting the East End and expect traditional food to be bland and unimaginative, think again.  The Greedy Cow delivers flavor, value, and pleasant service.

The Greedy Cow
2 Grove Road
London, E3
http://www.greedycow.com

Interested in snaps from London?  Visit the photo gallery.

 

 

 

Sleep: Bow Apartment in London’s East End

Bow Road - Underground

Bow Road – Underground

In my last post, I discussed some of the advantages of renting an apartment or house over staying in a hotel while on vacation.

A rental can be advantageous if you:  want creature comforts such as a kitchen or in-unit laundry; need more space if traveling with others; or are arranging a trip where you want to stay in a fixed location with opportunities to take day trips to nearby destinations.

Sometimes, you just want to stay in an unfamiliar part of a city to get away from the bustle and experience something new that the average tourist wouldn’t see.

All of the above defined our experience in Bow, in London’s East End.

The Bow district, where the Bow Apartment is located, is in the culturally rich Tower Hamlets borough of East London.  Suffering extensive damage from bombings in World War II and having a history of crime and poverty, the borough has been reinventing itself over the years and has become an attractive area to visit or call home.  In fact, nearby Stratford was selected to house Olympic Park, where the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games were held.

Bow shares the borough with nearby Canary Wharf, the redeveloped financial district of shimmering glass buildings; Whitechapel, home of the infamous “Whitechapel Murders” that took place in the late 19th century; and Mile End, to name a few.  The lush and expansive Victoria Park is also located in Tower Hamlets and offers plenty of green space for sports and relaxation.

The Bow Apartment is located less than a block from the Bow Road Underground Station on the District and Hammersmith & City lines.  It’s also a 10-minute walk from the Mile End Underground Station offering the fastest transportation to Covent Garden, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and Oxford Circus.  The Bow Church DLR station, located minutes east of the Bow Apartment  offers transportation to Canary Wharf and Greenwich.  Interested in enjoying late night London while riding a double-decker bus?  The 25 bus stops in front of the Bow Apartment, runs 24 hours a day, and will drop you off in Central London.

The secure apartment is on the first floor of a historic residence with only a few steps to climb, making it perfect for those who have difficulty climbing stairs.  The main entrance and unit are secured and are accessed with separate keys.

Inside, the apartment contains two chic and well-appointed bedrooms with ample dresser and wardrobe space, a small but functional bathroom, modern kitchen, and a comfortable sofa to stretch out on after a long day of exploring.  Interested in cooking?  The apartment has a range, oven, microwave, and dishwasher.  Plates, cups, and utensils are also provided.

Nowadays, customers are demanding Wi-Fi in every rental.  Wi-Fi is included in the Bow Apartment rental and I found the signal to be strong.

One important selling point not found in many of the apartments we researched was the in-unit washer/dryer located in the kitchen.  Use of the washer/dryer is included in the rental and helps to lighten your load, so to speak, creating more room in your suitcase for souvenirs.

Finally, what made our stay particularly enjoyable was the welcome we received from the owner Babs.  Our flight arrived early on a Saturday and we were weary from our journey, not to mention exhausted from dragging our baggage halfway across the city from the airport on the Underground.

Babs accommodated our earlier check-in and gave us a detailed tour of the apartment with instructions on how to use all of the gadgets and appliances.  He also gave us his cell phone number in case of an emergency.

We only had two complaints.  While the neighborhood is plentiful with restaurants and pubs, it lacks a decent market.  We had our choice between a neglected Tesco and a mini-mart connected to a gas station.  However, we took advantage of the Tesco and Sainsbury’s in and around places we were sightseeing and brought back fruit and snacks.  We also visited the Borough Market near the Southwark Cathedral where we bought paella with chorizo and homemade meat pies to take back to the apartment.  (They also traveled well on the Underground.)

The other complaint (which is more of a suggestion) is that the owner requires the tenants to wash and dry all of the towels and linens, clean the kitchen and bathroom, and sweep the floors prior to departure.  Given the stress involved in repacking for an early flight the following day while wanting to enjoy the last night at the Bow Apartment, I’d suggest hiring a cleaning crew and either include it in the rental or give the tenant the option to choose if he or she wants to add the service or clean the apartment.

All things considered, our stay at Bow Apartment in the quirky and out-of-the way borough of Tower Hamlets provided us with an opportunity to live like a local, knock around a side of London not usually experienced by tourists, and bounce west within the city by tube and bus and even farther west by train to Wales.

Booking details can be found here.

Interested in snaps from London?  Visit the photo gallery.

Sleep: Your Home Away in London Town

Bow Apartment - London

Bow Apartment – London

A few years back, pop star Gwen Stefani’s song “Rich Girl” featured a line that talked about booking a first-class ticket to a fancy house in London town.  (I’m paraphrasing.)

Chances are, Gwen Stefani is neither reading this post, nor does she have to worry about money.  However, if you’re like me, are on a budget, and traveling with parents, you may be wondering how to maximize your experience without worrying about spending a lot.

Let’s put it out there.  The British pound’s exchange rate has been worse for Americans than the Euro’s. London is also an expensive city to visit.

Should that dissuade you from visiting and taking advantage of the history, culture, sights, and diverse gastronomy?  I’m biased because I love to travel, so I’ll say no; don’t let higher expenses stop you.

Aside from getting to London, your biggest expense will probably be sleeping in London.  You have several choices:  friends, hostels, hotels, guesthouses, or apartments.  Since I was traveling with parents, and none of us had ever been to the U.K., I wanted to set up house, so to speak, somewhere that offered space, good transportation, safety, and local flair.

Web sites like VRBO, Airbnb, and HomeAway, and Booking.com, to name a few, have exploded in popularity, offering several, often cheaper alternatives to hotels and hostels.  The sites offer anything from full-service aparthotels and studio apartments for one person, to larger apartments and homes for several.  To date, I’ve had positive experiences going the non-hotel route when staying in Brussels, Rome, Montréal, and London.

If you don’t mind doing a little research and asking questions, you can find your perfect vacation rental in London town or anywhere else you decide to visit.

Here are some tips:

  • Read reviews and cross-reference them.  If you are on one site such as Home Away, visit another like Trip Advisor to see what people are saying about the property that interests you.  Chances are, if it’s an apartment or house, reviewers tend to be honest and detailed about the location, check in/out process, and amenities.  Large hotels, on the other hand, can receive a smattering of positive and negative reviews simply because people have different experiences based on the room they’re in.
  • Use a reputable rental site such as VRBO or Home Away.  Both provide rental protection in case you need to cancel or if you arrive and the property is not as advertised.  I steer clear of Craigslist for rentals since many have been known to be scams.  You don’t want to arrive in another city halfway around the world with no place to stay.
  • Contact the owner with your questions first before booking.  Sites such as VRBO and Holiday Lettings, among others, have a contact form where you can ask a few simple questions and get a response by e-mail.
  • Be mindful of the check-in/check-out guidelines for each rental.  If your flight, for example, arrives at 7 a.m. and check-in is at 3 p.m., ask for an earlier check-in or if there’s a place to store baggage while the apartment or house is being prepared.
  • Most rentals I’ve used require a deposit for booking.  Never send cash or wire money that can’t be traced or re-claimed (e.g., money order, MoneyGram, Western Union etc.). Many proprietors in Europe, for example, ask for money to be wired to them through a bank transfer.  This process is safer because your money can be traced and you can take action to try to get a refund if you suspect fraud.  Always check with your bank first on their guidelines and ask questions about “what ifs” if you are using a wire transfer for the first time.  My experience is that transfers can cost up to $35.  It’s worth looking into to send money safely.  Other options are Paypal and Google Wallet.
  • Finally, be aware of your online “social presence”.  Airbnb, for example, asks you to create a simple profile when you register.  Property owners can get a glimpse of who you are and your interests.  Like any social media-related site you may use, impressions can be indelible.  Make sure you have an appropriate photo and description that shows you’re responsible and would be a good caretaker of a property rental.

There are certainly more and if you have any suggestions, leave them in the comments.

London town, or wherever you land doesn’t have to break the bank.  Your accommodations can even provide you with creature comforts of home if you want to just kick back and relax.  Isn’t that what vacation is for?

Up next, I’ll review our apartment rental in East London.