Monday, June 16, 2008

Some Final Thoughts

After a delayed flight, etc., I'm home. It feels good. I figured I'd do a recap for those who might be considering a trip to the UK sometime in the future:

1) Use the local trains to and from Gatwick or Heathrow. They cost £9.95 or so compared to £17.90 each way. The Express takes 30 min. The train I took from Gatwick on Saturday took 34 min. Go figure.

2) Buy food at the supermarkets or local weekend markets for the occasional evening meal.

3) Pay attention to the station announcements before you board the train. The train I was taking to Gatwick was to split into two separate trains further down the line. If you are in the wrong group of carriages you go somewhere unintended.

4) The Oyster Card is the way to go. You buy them from a vending machine at the Underground stations and can top it off as you need (add more
£). The card allows you access to the Tube, trams, buses, Dockland Light Rail and on some rail services. You tap the card against a flat surface and the charge is deducted and then you tap when you exit the station (but not the bus). You HAVE to tap the card or they will charge for the highest amount allowable for that trip. I think it's £1 to use the bus. Great value. You will receive the cheapest going rate for travel within London with the card. Every now and then someone will wander onto a bus or through a train and ask to see your Oyster Card (they scan it) or your ticket. Just don't bury that stuff very deep.

5) Remember that if you purchase higher ticket items (not food) in the UK to have the vendor fill out the paperwork so you can reclaim the Value Added Tax (17.5%). I hadn't bought anything of that nature for years and forgot to do this when I bought my new digital camera. You have to have that form filled out by the vendor and then stamped by the Customs folks on the way out of the country so you can file for your refund. In my case I lost about $25 worth of refundable taxes. Bah.

6) If you have trouble with stairs you need to take the bus. They have wheelchair ramps and low stairs. A large number of the Tube stations were built during the Victorian Era and do not have lifts (elevators) or escalators so the only way out of the ground is by trudging up two or three flights of stairs. The Underground map shows which stations have wheelchair, etc. access. The modern stations aren't a hassle.

7) The Underground is the Tube. A subway is a tunnel that gets you from one side of the street to the other. Crisps = chips. Chips = fries. Brits use milk in their coffee and will ask if you want it black or white. I'm starting to see the use of ice cubes in soft drinks. That's an accommodation for us Yanks I suspect. Real ale is something different than the usual ale you drink. Give it a try.

7) Some of the restaurants use those portable credit card machines to process your payment (I didn't see one in a pub). Very cool. I was clueless the first time I used one. They're slowly being
introduced at home.

8) You will most likely need to mosey up to the bar in a pub to order your food and you will need to tell them what table you're sitting at. They'll bring you the food. Waiting at a table can be a futile experience. The good thing is that once you have that table they don't rush you out.

And lastly, just in case you think I might never find a modern building I actually like in London, see the photo at the top of the blog. This one sits across from Big Ben on the Westminster Bridge. It's Neo Victorian, a unique combo of old (echoing the endless chimneys) and the new. It fits the surroundings. And that is everything.

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