Queens and Leprechauns
London, City of Angels
April 29 to May 3, 2012
8 hours (overnight, 10pm to 10am) (PHL to LHR)
When you book your flight, pick a custom meal (vegetarian, gluten free, etc) and you’ll get your meal hand delivered first instead of waiting for the staff to trawl food carts around the entire aircraft.
Oceanic flights always have nicer planes than local domestic hoppings. US Airways uses an Airbus A330-300 for their PHL to LHR route. Standard economy configuration is two seats on the left, and aisle, five seats in the middle, an aisle, then two more side seats.
On longer flights aisle seats are nice so you don’t have to bother people when getting up (plus, you can stretch out and trip people in aisles for free). But, you’ll be bothered when other people have to get up.
If you get a window seat, there’s probably space between the hull of the plane and the seat in front of you to stretch one leg in there, so you won’t be crammed sitting bent-kneed the entire time.
After getting off the plane (obviously?), follow the signs to the subway/Underground, use one of your no-foreign-transaction-fee credit cards to get a ticket to your destination, then board the next train. Couldn’t be easier.
You’ll jump on a Cockfosters bound train and head out pretty quickly. The train is above ground for half the ride, so you get to see some non-prime British real estate along the way.
The trains are well thought out enough to have dedicated luggage sections near doors so you don’t have to block aisles with your bags.
It takes about an hour to get to central London from LHR on the Underground. There’s also an express train taking only 15 minutes, but it’s four times as expensive as the Underground. You’ve got time. Don’t waste your money yet.
I picked the YHA Central hostel just based on some online reviews. It’s equidistant between Oxford Street and Regent’s Park, so you’ve got access to shops and greens.
YHA Central is a large hostel in a central London business district. You’re around the corner from a BBC office which sometimes has lines of fangirls waiting for One Direction to come out of the studio.
I had never stayed at a hostel before, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.
I booked a four person room with in-room bathroom, and that’s what it was: two bunk beds, four lockers, and a bathroom.
Their beds are some of the nicest bunk beds you’ll find. The beds are sturdy and have strong non-shaking construction so someone moving above or below you won’t shake the entire bed.
Their lockers are huge and can fit your backpack easily. The beds are high enough off the ground to slide luggage under.
YHA lets you pick your own bed, and you just place your room receipt (with your checkout date on it) on the bed frame so the cleaning crew knows when to remake your bed (because now you’re gone). The on-bed receipt model also makes it great to figure out when annoying people will be leaving without having to talk to them.
So, I arrived, put my luggage in my room, selected a bed, then went to grab a bite to eat. I got back and slept from 6pm local time until 9am the next morning. I hadn’t slept on the plane. But—now, my sleep got completely reset after one extended sleep. No multiple days of getting tired at 4pm. Success!
YHA rooms have a proximity card system for room access and after hours building access that works reliably.
Unknown to me when I started all of this: hostels have full kitchens.
Remember to use a non-foreign-transaction-fee credit card when paying for your services out of your home country. Many places will ask you if you want the payment processed in local currency or in dollars. Always pick local currency so your credit card uses the best exchange rate for the purchase. If you pick dollars in a remote country, their system will use a higher exchange rate where the payment processor gets a percentage of your purchase. Stay local.
As for cash, I changed some money into GBP in the US before my flight and that lasted me the few days I was in London.
Also of note: overseas, credit cards aren’t as popular as in the US. Foreign cards don’t use magstripes on cards, so rarely, but especially if you are outside of a tourist area, they won’t even know what to do with your non-local magstripe card.
Try to deal in cash unless you have large purchases for lodging or groceries.
M&S is the name of the game here. M&S (Marks & Spencer) is a department store chain with a grocery store hiding on the lower floor. They have plenty of pre-made things you can take back and warm up as needed.
Walk walk walk. Hop on the subway if you want to get further out or somewhere quickly.
Things To Do
Walk up and down Oxford Street. Walk up and down Regent Street. Visit the Regent Street Apple Store. Grab a meal at Oxford Circus. Walk around Regent’s Park. Walk to the palace. Walk to the palace gardens. Walk to the eye. Walk the Thames. Walk to the British Museum (free admission). Walk to the West End and see Wicked. Walk to Covent Garden.
Leaving is arriving in reverse. Find a close tube stop, drag your luggage down, and head towards the airport. The Underground goes directly to the airport, so you’re all set.
Dublin, City of Redheads
May 3 to May 8, 2012
1 hour 20 minutes
Dublin’s rail transit service Luas doesn’t reach the airport, but they have a well-run, cheap airport bus into the city. The airport bus has plenty of luggage space and stops anywhere you’d need to go. The bus even has handy next-stop screens so you know what’s coming up next.
Upon arriving and trying to purchase a bus ticket, I realize I have both no local currency and, in fact, no currency at all. Whoops. Also, I don’t have a debit card to my bank account.
Thus began an hour long trek to find bus fare. How could I get €6 for the Airlink 747 into town? Singing? Dancing? Bathroom shenanigans?
I ended up calling my Amex Platinum support number (collect, as I had no money for a pay phone). They quickly informed me the card can function as a debit card with complete passthrough to my bank account. It couldn’t be more perfect. It’s not a credit card cash extraction with high fees, and it’s cheaper than fees my bank would charge for overseas debit card transactions anyway. (They just charge a 3% currency conversion fee, which is the same my bank charges except the bank also charges a $5 foreign transaction fee per occurrence).
I gave the Amex Platinum Member Services phone rep my bank account and routing information, they gave me a temporary PIN good for one use and up to €100 (they mailed me a permanent PIN a week later). I ran over to the local ATM, took out €100, bought a bus ticket, and was on my way five minutes later. Crisis averted.
Hostel here again. Kinlay House. I picked a private room here. When I arrived, they didn’t have any available private rooms so they gave me a six person room to myself.
They have M&S here too, except all the prices are now in Euros. Same products, pretty much the same prices just converted to a proper currency.
You can also try local delicacies like horrible salmon and cream cheese balls. Proceed at your own risk.
For local fish ’n chips, use the takeaway shop Leo Burdock off Lord Edward Street. There’s another one north of the river in a food court, but it’s not as well run. You can also hit up a local chinese chain advertising fish n chips with curry sauce for a little cheaper, but still quite good.
Luas for far-going. Dún Laoghaire (pronounced “done leery”) is a nice place to walk around and easy to visit on the Luas.
Walk for near-going. Walk around Trinity College, pay for the tourist trap of the Book of Kells. Walk to St Stephens Green. Walk to the Spire. Walk Grafton St. Walk Wicklow St. Walk Lord Edward St.
Things To Do
The process for leaving is the arrival process in reverse. If you didn’t get a round-trip bus ticket when you arrived, purchase another bus ticket for the Airlink 747. Find your to-airport bus stop. Wait. Get on bus. Process ticket. Store luggage. Sit until arrival at airport.