A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about tips and tricks

London: Tips and Tricks

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Having lived and worked here for quite a while in the 90s, London will always have a special place in my heart. Here are some tips and tricks based on what I learned then as well as what we came across on our most recent trip.

1) Buy an Oyster card as soon as you arrive. It's basically a smartcard that you use to pay-as-you-go for the underground, DLR, buses etc. You can buy them at most main stations and you'll need to add some credit to it as soon as you get it. It's super convenient, but the best thing is that it can offer savings of up to 50% on single fares. Additionally, having an Oyster card entitles you to discounts at a range of museums. Offers change from time to time, but we were able to get into the Museum at Docklands for half price, as an example. Visit www.tfl.gov.uk for more information.

2) Research what museums etc you want to visit before you arrive. Although we had seen the complete Tutankamen collection in Egypt and the Terracotta Warriors in Xi'an, we wanted to compare notes by seeing both the related exhibitions (at the O2 and the British Museum respectively) while we were in London. Unfortunately, tickets were sold out for both.

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Not something we saw in London... but you could if you plan ahead! The British Museum has a number of them, until April 2008.

3) Unless you want to see the latest and greatest musical or play in the West End, don't even think about paying full price. Try www.londontheatredirect.com for tickets where we paid significantly less for great seats.

4) Don't miss a cruise up the Thames! I lived in London for five years, and have visited dozens of times since I left, but had never done this. It offered a completely different perspective of the City and simply shouldn't be missed. If you're short of cash and don't care so much about the commentary, take a commuter boat rather than a tourist boat. You'll also save if you mention your Oyster card.

5) We still love the London Eye (the big ferris wheel at Westminster) which offers great views over the City. Try it at twilight for a different view!

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The London Eye. Still impressive after all these years....

6) We're BIG fans of the Imperial War Museum in Lambeth which has an impressive collection of military hardware in addition to very high quality rotating exhibitions and a fabulous collection of war themed art. Even if you don't think you're interested in the military, it's a guaranteed thought-provoking and entertaining experience. We wouldn't miss it and used to pay good money to visit it several times a year. It's now - happily - free to enter!

7) For the third time during this trip, we walked along the Thames from Westminster to London Bridge. It's a fabulous walk that takes in many key sights: from Big Ben and the Eye, past the Tate Modern, the Globe, with great views of St Paul's and Tower Bridge. There are plenty of restaurants and bars along the way, in addition to free entertainment including skateboarders and buskers. If you're interested, this itinerary could easily include a flight on the Eye and visits to the horribly overpriced London Dungeon. And it's an easy walk over the pedestrian Millennium Bridge to St Paul's and the City.

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8) Don't miss the Docklands. It's an easy trip on the DLR (Docklands Light Railway), and there's SO much happening out there. The recent opening of the massive entertainement complex, the O2, has made it even more hip. We loved the Museum at Docklands which gave us the historical context of an area that struggled to find tenants back in the 80s an early 90s! Now, the area is booming and still growing. Get a ticket to a concert and give yourself an excuse to get out there. And while at the O2, check out Tapa Tapa where we enjoyed a fabulous pre-show dinner and after-show drink.

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9) In terms of budget accommodation, check out chains like the Travel Inn and IBIS which offer basic but immaculately clean rooms. Public transport is SO incredibly good in London that you don't need to pay too much for a tiny, dirty room in the centre.

10) Finally, take out a second mortgage before you go. With the exchange rate hovering around US$2 for every british pound, you will find the city very expensive. The good news is that so much of London is free: it's fabulous parks (don't miss Speaker's Corner at Hyde Park every Sunday!), markets, the walk along the Thames, Greenwich, just about all the Museums and so on.

Posted by jacquiedro 13:59 Archived in England Tagged tips_and_tricks Comments (0)

Mummy Tummy Cures and Other Travel Tips for Egypt

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1) Use the metro in Cairo. It’s cheap, fast and gave us a perspective on Egyptian life that we didn’t experience anywhere else. (Like kindness, respect and generosity . . .)

2) If your itinerary allows, visit the Cairo Museum AFTER visiting Aswan and Luxor. It’s an inaccessible museum that – as presented - lacks context, and having been to the sites we were better able to appreciate content relevant to the places we had visited.

3) Don’t be concerned, as we were, that the travelling Tutankhamen Exhibition (currently at London’s O2) has borrowed too many of the key artifacts to leave the Cairo Museum lacking. We were able to see far more than we expected, including the gold (Funerary) face mask (etc)…

4) Be prepared for the expense of visiting the sites you will want to see: we spent somewhere around US$120 each on entry tickets, and that didn’t include more expensive options including Tutankhamen’s tomb in Valley of the Kings and the Royal Mummies’ exhibition at the Cairo Museum.

5) Be sure to take a balloon ride over Valley of the Kings (Luxor). The price has come down dramatically in the last twelve years. The going rate seemed to be around US$80 per person for a balloon that will hold sixteen or so passengers, but we were offered the same flight for US$50 so be prepared to haggle.

6) Don’t use Viator.com! Note that I pre-booked online and grossly overpaid at Viator.com which seems to think that 200% profit margins are reasonable. Don’t be fooled by their money-back guarantee (claims to guarantee a refund if you find the same service offered at a lower price locally), enforcement of which has turned into one of the most frustrating elements of the entire trip.

7) More on balloons. We couldn’t decide whether to go for a sunset balloon ride, or a shortly-after-sunrise balloon ride. In the end, and for no other reason than we thought we like to sleep late and get up at 5am rather than 4am (!), we went for the latter. There were a gazillion balloons out for the sunrise which meant that we were greeted with a beautiful sky filled with hot air balloons which – for me – was a wonderful sight to experience. I’m sure it was pretty awesome from the air too. Perhaps a benefit of the later ride was that – when we finally took off at about 7am – we were one of only three or four balloons.

8) Don’t miss Philae Light and Sound. It’s expensive at E£75 per person (about US$15), but it was awesome. To be fair, I haven’t been to the Karnak version which is also supposed to be quite good, but the opportunity to walk through Philae at night was unexpected and simply brilliant.

9) To get to Philae, you need to take a boat for a four minute ride. You should expect to pay about E£35 per couple, but we grouped up with three other groups to negotiate with a boat caption and ended up paying E£15 for the two of us!

10) Unless you follow my strategy and stop eating for the duration of your visit, the odds of a little Cairo Quickstep are not in your favour. Get ahead of the curve and buy ‘Antinol’ from any pharmacy as soon as you arrive. It’s an antiseptic solution (also available in tablets) that can be your fast track ticket to recovery. It worked for Lloyd!

Posted by jacquiedro 10:57 Archived in Egypt Tagged tips_and_tricks Comments (0)

General Travel Tips: India

Out of India

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We'd originally planned to make the journey from Jaisalmer to Delhi in one day, but it turned out that this piece of planning (to be fair, executed many months ago sitting in front of a laptop in California) was not terribly practical, not least because the distance between the two is about 800 kilometres! And so we took the advice of our driver, stopping overnight on Thursday at Bikaner, a little under halfway between the two.

We chanced upon Lalgarh Palace Hotel which was built a little over a hundred years ago for Maharaja Ganga Singh (a signatory of the Versailles Treaty, no less!). The Maharaja's stately home combines both European grandeur with more local design features such as wooden and sandston carvings. Our room, one of maybe twelve set around an open-air courtyard, had a four poster bed so high that steps were provided to get onto it! Many of the hotel's features, from our room's ceiling to the dining room, billiards room and bar are original and, although not terribly well maintained, it was a real treat to spend our last night in India here.

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We finally reached the parking lot that is Delhi on Friday evening, in plenty of time for our 11pm flight to Kuala Lumpur where we would pick up a connecting flight to Hanoi. Actually, with a few hours to spare, we headed into town to give Lloyd a drive-by of India Gate where, happily, there was a celebration of India's Territorial Army! Even though we arrived after dark, the mood was light with hundreds of Indian families enjoying the park. Vendors strolled by with colourful balloons, toys, candy floss and food.

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Unfortunately, we didn't have time to wait around for the band to actually start playing their bag-pipes! If you look closely, you can see Lloyd featured in the big screen......

The traffic didn't allow us anymore time for sight-seeing, so we headed to the airport and checked in for our Malaysian Airlines flight. After ten days of - well - not much to eat at all, the 'Subway' sign after security was too much of a temptation for us. Apparently the diet of lentils and chipati had failed to satisfy more than just the two of us; as we turned the corner into the store, we saw about twenty caucasians busily ramming sandwiches down their throats as fast as they could. Within a few minutes, we were racing through a turkey salad sandwich, and - yes - we did rejoin the line to order a second sandwich....

Next stop - Vietnam! But first, a few tips if you're planning a trip to India:

1) Partly due to fewer language barriers and in large part due to a strong rail and (relatively speaking) road infrastructure, India is one of the easiest places to get around, so FTG*. This is absolutely a place to travel independently, and we loved the freedom we had during this leg of our trip.

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Fewer language challenges, sure, but it's far from a sure thing. It took us a while to realize that this sign was for CHILLED beer...

2) Travel on an Indian Train at least once. Even though many of the long-distance trains are overnight (limiting what you can see of the countryside), there's something unique about Indian trains versus the (many) others we've been on. Don't miss it.

3) But bear in mind that if you go 2AC class (2 tier bunks, air-conditioned), you'll at best have yellow tinted windows that don't open. At worse - like us - you'll have yellow tinted, cracked windows that don't open. Again, it just restricts your ability to see anything.

4) Train experience aside, hire a car and driver to take you around. Shop around online and you'll probably get a better deal than we did just showing up. That said, you don't want to scrimp too much. Indian roads are - absolutely - the most dangerous we've seen and you want to be sure both the vehicle and driver can deal with it. We insisted on seat-belts (hey, it made us feel better) and you'll probably want AC too.

5) Don't miss Varanasi. This was my second trip to India and I have to say that Varanasi continues to top my list of favourites (at least of the India I've seen so far!). It's the spiritual heart of India, and reveals a side of India that you don't see if you are otherwise sticking to the Golden Triangle and Rajastan as we did.

6) One night in Agra is enough! We wouldn't have missed our stay at the Oberoi Amarvilas because of the once-in-a-lifetime view of the Taj (we got the best rate we could online through the hotel's website), and also because this kind of hotel offers important insight into India's history. We can't tolerate this kind of deferent service for too long, but it's something that should be experienced once. And one night is enough. There's NOTHING in Agra but the Taj Mahal and the Fort. Get in, get out, and don't waste any more previous time than you have to. If you're staying at the Amarvilas, the bank manager will also be happier.

7) Special tip for the tea drinkers out there. I'm one of those travellers who takes her own teabags and expects the simple pleasure of a good cuppa in the morning. Even with your own teabags, India isn't the kind of place where you will get a good cup of tea. By ordering hot water rather than coffee or tea, I had the unfortunate 'benefit' of seeing exactly what was in the water, and I'm afraid - even though no doubt perfectly safe in nearly every case - it was enough to put me off drinking at all. If I was to do this again, I would take my own mini-travel kettle and boil my own bottled water. Lloyd really wished I had ;o) - with my routine caffeine fix, I might have been more pleasant to be around.

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On this lucky morning it only took three attempts to get the perfect cuppa

8) Ladies: if you're going anywhere on a camel, wear a sports bra! I had no idea camels could trot, but when they do.... ouch!

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9) Don't miss Jodphur's Mehrangarh Fort.

We may add some more as we have more time to reflect on our time in India. Please don't hesitate to get in touch if you have questions on any of our comments!

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A creative street vendor's advert in Jaisalmer.

*FTG = "F-the-Group" (i.e. "Forget"-the-Group, or "Forego"-the-Group, or ...).

Posted by jacquiedro 17:20 Archived in India Tagged tips_and_tricks Comments (2)

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