Posts Tagged ‘Hotels’

Edinburgh: In Hindsight

I’m delayed in the airport by an hour… somehow I’m not surprised. After a couple of flight cancellations and snow ravaging all UK airports, an hour delay seems like the least of my problems.

With my short jaunt in Edinburgh, hotel stays in the Old and New Towns, loads of sightseeing and a day trip to the Highlands, I crammed a lot into five short days and there are some things I would have done differently, had I known before-hand. Don’t get me wrong – everything was amazing and Edinburgh really is a fantastic city, but cities this beautiful come with loads of tourist traps! Here are a few tid bits I’ve gained from my recent excursion:

Getting to Edinburgh

Ohhh… Lord. After so many flight cancellations and delays, I would now opt for taking the train from London! Obviously your plan of attack for getting to Edinburgh is going to vary based on your current location, but be aware that there are a number of ways to get to the city.

1. Fly. Something I’m not fond of anymore, but it’s quick if you’re going from London (1 hour, 20 minutes). With EasyJet, BMI and other discount airlines, you can get some seriously good deals, too!

2. Take the Train! Virgin Trains, East Coast… they’ll all get you there, and most for under £40 – £50 if you book in advance! Sometimes they have some really great deals! Expect it to take 4-1/2 to 6 hours depending on the number of stops, but you’ll get to take in some of the English countryside and some trains (East Coast) even have wi-fi!

3. Jump on the Coach. With National Express, you can get funfares for as low as £12 – £15 if you book at the right time… they’re definitely good for the budget traveler, but be ready to spend a loooonnng time on board. 7 – 10 hours is a good estimate depending on the weather.

New Town vs. Old Town

My first temporary home, the Royal British Hotel, was in the New Town on Princes Street directly across from Waverly Station. Looking down the road, the street was very reminiscent of Oxford Street in London: loads of shopping mixed with a bit of culture (Royal Scottish Academy, National Gallery, etc.). A few minutes walk into the New Town, you hit St. Andrew’s Square where you can catch a bus to Rosslyn Chapel and visit the likes of Louis Vuitton and Harvey Nichols. Definitely a modern shopper’s paradise! [The picture below is of me on Princes Street in front of the Christmas markets.]

My second stop was Jury’s Inn in the  Old Town of Edinburgh, right off of the Royal Mile. Like I had mentioned right after my jaunt over, there is a palpable difference between the Old and New Towns. Instead of Harvey Nichols and H&M, you’ll run into St. Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh Castle and loads of kilt makers and Celtic jewelry stores. The roads are less perfectly paved and have more of the cobblestone and narrow alleys that you would expect of the old world.

[This shot was taken from the St. Giles area, looking down the Royal Mile in Old Town.]

Although it’s a matter of preference, I found the Old Town a lot more charming. Keep in mind, the invisible line that separates New from Old in Edinburgh is the rail station, essentially. If you cross through Waverly Station or cross over North Bridge, you can move easily from one area to another. If you’re on Princes Street or the Royal Mile, you’re pretty central!

Hotel Recommendations

Our two-day, unplanned stay at the Royal British Hotel was actually a pleasant surprise. Due to its proximity to the rail station, I wasn’t expecting much, but was quite surprised by the size and comfort of the rooms, the free wi-fi (never to be underestimated!) and cute café downstairs (Princes Street Café) where you can get a morning coffee plus a morning treat for £1.75. The prices were more than reasonable considering the last-second booking and the holiday season. You’re looking at between £51 – £65 per night and a comfortable size for two people.

Jury's Inn Room

The Jury’s Inn in the Old Town is also great, but for different reasons. My room was huge and my view was incredible. With three massive windows peering out into the snow-capped city, I really felt like I ended up with someone’s suite! The bathroom was also huge, with a full-sized bathtub for actually taking a bath (something I haven’t done in months)! It’s proximity to Old Town (the Royal Mile is in the hotel’s backyard) make it a prime location, plus it’s around one-third of a mile from the train station! The downside? Wi-fi is far from free. I had to rely on the web on my iPhone and the free wi-fi from the pub down the way [The Mitre] for most of my online needs. I would recommend this place for its comfort and spaciousness, but be aware of the internet situation – that was almost disappointing enough to nullify my love for this place. I got a great deal when I booked with Expedia (£200 for R/T tickets + 3 nights at this hotel), but a room here normally goes for £99+ a night.

Also, if you’re super budgeting, there are loads of hostels along the Royal Mile that would be worth checking out… do a bit of homework though, sometimes the £10 per night saved isn’t worth sharing a bathroom with 8 strangers!

Tourist Attractions

There are loads of attractions nearby: Edinburgh Castle, Camera Obscura and world of illusions, Haunted Tours, Rosslyn Chapel, Christmas Markets, Lyceum Theatre, Highlands tours, the National Gallery… the list goes on and on. So, if you’re here for a few days, what was worth the money? Well, that’s a matter of preference of course, but let me give you the down low on where I spent my money and where I would take it back, if possible. Keep in mind, in the winter the days are incredibly short with the sun disappearing entirely by 4P or 430P. With only a few hours of sunlight, you probably want to make the most out of every minute!

Freebies to Note:

There were a few freebies that I wasn’t aware of before heading to Edinburgh. I wish I would have known about them before my adventures, but they’re worth noting:

  1. A free tour of Edinburgh on foot! Although I didn’t partake in the tour, it leaves from the Starbucks in Old Town and it’s about 2 hours of sightseeing around Edinburgh. It’s definitely something that would be worth checking out early on in your excursion; good way to get acquainted with the area before undertaking your own adventures.
  2. National Galleries of Scotland. If this is anything like the National Gallery in London, it’s worth checking out. Plus, it’s free so even if it’s not exactly what you’re expecting, your only loss is a few minutes of time.
  3. Free ghost tour from Deacon Brodie’s Pub. Edinburgh is widely considered to be one of the most haunted cities in the world, so why not check out a ghost tour? There are tours like this that you can pay for (£5 – £10 depending on the company and length of tour), but there’s also this freebie! I probably would have checked it out if I were with someone… I didn’t want to scare myself silly while traveling alone. :)

Edinburgh Castle

£11 for entry with discounts for children & seniors but no discounts for students! If I had to go back and do it again, I probably would have saved the £11 and spent it elsewhere. You can walk up to the Castle and take some amazing pictures from the ticketing area without having to pay the entry fee. The views from the top are seriously gorgeous and worth the trek, but the money to get into the castle is only worth it if you’re with someone who loves the history that you’ll find within the castle. If I were with my dad, I would have been 100% more satisfied with the entirety of the situation. The pictures of the façade are what you want anyway, so only go in if you’re wanting to check out old chapels, museums, etc. See the amazing picture above? No entry fee required & it’s my favorite one of the bunch!

Camera Obscura

[If I were tall & had crazy cankles?]

If you have kids, this is a super fun little place! You’re looking at £8.50 for adults, £6.75 for students and seniors, £5.75 for kiddos (5 – 15) and under 5’s go in free! The building is comprised of five floors of illusions (holograms, crazy mirrors, optical illusions, etc.) with the top floor containing the ‘camera obscura’ where you can get a visual tour of Edinburgh in 15 minutes! It’s actually really cool and the views from top floor are superb! Some of the best pictures that I got of the city were from the rooftop. Check these out:

I mean seriously? How great are these pictures? I have a lot more where that came from — the views are really unsurpassed. I had more fun in this building & ended up with cooler pictures than I did at the Castle!

Highlands Tour

As your recall from my recent post, I undertook the longest day tour available in all of Britain a few days ago! From Edinburgh, we traveled all the way up to Loch Ness and Inverness, the capital of the Highlands. The tour was £34 (£36 for non-students) and comprised 400+ miles and 13 hours of tour time. The tour showed me a completely different side of Scotland, plus I got to do a Loch Ness cruise! How many people get to say that? I would say that the tour was definitely worth the money considering how much was covered and the quality of the tour guide. My only recommendation though would be taking Timberbush up on their 2 or 3-day Highlands tour, instead! I thought we covered a little too much in one short day — for a bit more money you can have a much more full experience.

Lyceum Theatre

I must say, just a few days ago I was so proud of myself for snagging my Peter Pan tickets for £11 with my student ID card! It seems like a great deal at the time considering adult tickets normally go for £22. Sadly, the play was not only a waste of £11, it was also a waste of three good hours that I could have spent elsewhere, taking in the sights. I don’t know if I had particularly high expectations or if the show was just a bit of a let down, but there are definitely better ways to spend your money. Some locally made Scotch, perhaps (Dalwhinnie)?

Christmas Markets

Who doesn’t love to feel like a kid during Christmastime? Ice skating, a German market, loads of fun Christmas goodies, a ferris wheel and mulled wine… Mmm… The whole area can be accessed from Princes Street (at The Mound) and it’s 100% free to meander! Bring some cash for mulled wine and Christmas treats, though!

Rosslyn Chapel

Ahhh… Rosslyn Chapel. Who has read the DaVinci Code and not wanted to visit this place? I had planned on visiting (you can easily access it by hopping on Bus 15/15A from St. Andrew’s Square in the New Town), but decided to save that for my next journey to Scotland. With my dad and Chris visiting within the next few months, Edinburgh Round II will definitely be in order and I would like to see something new! You’re looking at £7.50 for adult entry, £6 for students and seniors and free for under 16s! Not sure if it’s worth the money, but pictures of the outside at least are worth the £1 – 2 bus fee!

Hope some of that helps someone out there somewhere who’s interested in hitting up magnificent Edinburgh. It’s truly an amazing city…

Lots of love & Merry Christmas Eve!

Old Town Love!

Alex finally managed to get out of Edinburgh this morning around 10A, which left me with my first day of solo sightseeing. I started by hitting up a few shops on Princes Street (H&M, TopShop, etc.) to pick up some warmer clothing for my trip seeing as how I only had clothing intended for the Mediterranean warmth. Afterwards, I grabbed my luggage from the Royal British Hotel, where Alex & I stayed for two nights and moved them over to a hotel in the Old Town, where I’ll be staying for the remainder of my journey. I was actually a bit sad to be moving out of my Royal British Hotel residence — the people were great and the rooms were super comf for the price! Though the New Town really isn’t that new, there is definitely a stark contrast between Old Town and New Town. After crossing the bridge, I felt like I’d fallen through a rabbit hole into old world Scotland: narrow streets, cobblestone roads and kilt makers galore. The architecture is absolutely stunning and the shops were entirely too cute.

My hotel in Old Town is way better than I expected (despite not having internet). The room is massive, the bathroom is practically as big as my room in London and the view is stellar! Check this out (this is just half of my room!):

The view:

After walking down the main thoroughfare, the Royal Mile, I stumbled across St. Giles Cathedral (and a statue of Adam Smith)! The Cathedral was absolutely gorgeous and admission was free so I was able to pop in and take a quick look around.

I grabbed some tour information and am working on planning out the next three days of my adventure. I think I’m going to hit up Rosslyn Chapel first thing in the morning (10A) and then check out Edinburgh Castle in the afternoon from 1 – 5P or so! After that, I’m heading to the Lyceum Theatre to check out Peter Pan around 7P! I’m so excited to see all the history in the town — it’s seriously amazing! Thus far, I would have to say that Edinburgh is the most inspiring city I have seen. Just stepping outside and looking around is breathtaking — the history is palpable and the buildings are incredible. Plus, the pride Scots take in their country is pretty exciting — so many fun Scottish stores and proud, haggis-eating Scotsmen.

I’m still hoping to do a trip to the Highlands & Loch Ness on Tuesday and I’m leaving Wednesday to figure out what tickles my fancy. Despite the fact that my bones are frozen, I’m loving this town! Hoping to catch the Ghost Tour tonight at 930P. Edinburgh is supposed to be the most haunted town in the world… hoping I don’t get too frightened :)

Lots of love,

Want to see more pics of snow-covered Scotland? Click here to see the album! Also, keep up with my tweets in the Play-by-Play section to the right. I’ve been tweeting loads of pictures as my adventures continue!

Viva Munchen! {Part I: Oktoberfest}

Ahhh… back in London after nearly four days of German madness. Due to the fact that we had three(ish) days in Munich, we decided to spend one day at the beer tents, soaking in the debauchery that is Oktoberfest. Let me say this as a preface: even as a non-beer drinker, Oktoberfest is something all people should experience once in their life. We stayed at a place aptly dubbed “The Tent;”  inside of a massive tent (surprise) filled with glorious orange bunk beds. Some people opted for the cheaper alternative: bringing their own tent and sleeping outside.

The TentThe TentAlthough Germany gets a bit cold at night (even with three blankets and insane layers), The Tent was definitely a good choice; I paid a grand total 57 euros for three nights in Munich. I took 200 euros out at the airport, hoping that it would be enough for the four days, and actually left the country yesterday with nearly fifty euros in my wallet!

When we landed in Munich on Thursday night, Sarah & Lois (our Nova Scotian partners in crime/tour guides) led us down to the beer tents to expose us to the madness that would ensue on Friday. By 830P, of course, the scene was a bit calmer — many people had already gone home to pass out (or just walked into the street to pass out) so we managed a pretty good sneak-peek at the tents.

HippodromThe Hippodrom (complete with champagne bar) had been our dream tent. We managed to get inside and see the masses of drunkards enjoying themselves, but ended up hitting up two different tents on Friday due to the crazy line that formed Friday afternoon. I don’t know what my vision of the tents was exactly, but I was beyond amazed at the set up — it was like the biggest, greatest, brightest fair ever! The area was covered in beer tents, food stalls (pretzels, sausage, currywurst, nuts, etc.), and rides!

We spent Friday morning exploring the city centre and checking out some of Munich’s sights and architecture before hitting up the actual tents. We discovered that Munich has an obsession with H&M; we (seriously) saw seven within a quarter of a mile! Bargain shopper heaven, I tell you.

Munich CenterTown Hall{Their town hall was seriously amazing.}

After exploring, we finally felt ready to hit up the tents around 230P. We joined up with our two new Aussie friends that we had met at our hostel and hit up the Spatenbrau tent for some massively huge steins.

With Francesco from Napoli
We ended up finding a table surrounded by some seriously drunken/creepy Italianos and a few sweaty Danes; it was glorious, to say the least. Although getting hit on/harassed by drunkards is foreseeable, there is definitely a line between drunken banter and grossness. Unfortunately, Francesco from Napoli (pictured above) ended up being a super d-bag and developed a minor obsession with Alex’s shoulder/purse/general being. I’m not 100% sure what happened next, but some intense dialogue between said Italianos & our Aussie friends ensued and a mini fight broke out. Fighting is, of course, not desirable at tents of happiness, so we were evicted. The tent cops escorted all of us out of the tents. Francesco decided to make a break for it when we’d barely made it out of the tent; fortunately, one of our Aussie buds happened to be a cop and took him down so quickly it was amazing. It made for some amazing pictures and a truly impressive scene; you can try to piece this madness together:

Crazy Italian ManMark's Amazing Take Down!

Aftermath.Needless to say, we had to leave the area after some questioning.

We ended up hitting up another tent down the way where we witnessed at least three more fights (none nearly as amazing as Mark & Francesco’s). We ended up sharing a table with a group of seventeen year old Germans who proved to be hugely educational. First, they taught us how to toast properly:

To the titties, {raise stein to chest}
to the sack, {lower stein to nether regions}
tac-tac! {cheers!}

Sweet tee & cookie necklace.

Secondly, they taught us not to accept gifts from strangers. Earlier in the night we had been given heart-shaped cookie necklaces (see sweetness above) with German phrases written on them. The lady who gifted them to us prefaced the gifting with the following question: “Do you speak German?” After responding that we did not, in fact, speak German, she gave us said necklaces to adorn ourselves with. One of the kiddos at our table informed us that these cookies could be translated as such:

After sex, we do it again.

Needless to say, we had an all around amazing day at Oktoberfest. It was incredibly eventful from start to finish and we met some of the coolest people ever.

Stay tuned for Part II of our trip — an incredible trip to Dachau & our attempt to hit up the Erotic Messe.

Lots of love,

Signature Stamp - Shannon

I’ll Take That Dissertation To Go, Please!

If you’ve read any/all of my previous posts, you know by now that I am one plagued by grandiose dreams. I can’t visit France, I have to rent a flat in France for a week and explore the Louvre from top to bottom. I can’t book a weekend in Rome, I have to pre-schedule visits to art galleries and find a slew of restaurants I will be hitting up per Rachel Ray’s recommendations. I’m a planner. A planner who plans big. That being said, I have tentatively (very tentatively) planned a little map of fun for next summer. I specifically chose an accommodation provided by LSE that had a contract of 40 weeks (instead of the standard 52). July 3rd, which marks the last day of Lent Term, also marks the last day of my housing contract. After speaking with my graduate department, I have been assured that being in the UK is not mandatory during the summer. The only thing that is mandatory is that one’s dissertation is completed and submitted by September’s end in 2010. Well, being the advantageous Californian that I am, I have a well-thought out plan of attack for the 12 weeks that I would be homeless: Euro trip + hostels + rented villas = the life!

WEuropeMap

My plan from the beginning has been to spend the summer in hostels and/or homes that provide Wi-fi, so I can travel and see the world whilst working on my crazily important dissertation. I have no intention of letting my studies or responsibilities fall by the wayside, but I do think that if doing my dissertation in London isn’t required, then I will be using those 12 weeks to check out a load of European countries. With discount airlines like EasyJet and RyanAir providing amazing flight deals (£1, £5, £10, etc.), a little flexibility and an internet connection is all I will need to have a super fun-filled summer. Plus, with fellow students being interested in this madness, I know I have some partners in crime with which to share the costs of a villa.

On the list for next summer:

1. Portugal
2. Spain
3. France
4. Italy
5. Switzerland
6. Germany
7. Czech Republic
8. Belgium
9. Netherlands
10. Denmark
11. Turkey
12. Greece

With the amazing deals on hostels and on vacation homes, traveling is actually super affordable. Considering I am paying about £160 ($265) per week to have a place to live in London, any place that offers housing for the same amount (or less) per week, will fit into my plans perfectly. At that rate, anything that costs less than costs less than $35 – $37 per night is in my range and most hostels are much less than that (depending on the country)!

Amazing what discount airlines and one-star accommodations can afford us!

Signature Stamp - Shannon

Pleasant(on) Weekend.

I’m currently sipping some delicious coffee in our Pleasanton, California hotel room and am pleasantly surprised by how comfortable our hotel has been! I joined Chris in the East Bay for the weekend and though it’s only 2:50P on Saturday, it’s already been amazingly relaxing. Surprisingly so, actually. We checked into the Residence Inn on Dublin Canyon Road last night and the room is spectacularly roomy, especially when you consider the price range of these rooms ($89 – $129ish per night).

IMG_5909This is only half of our room — the ‘bedroom’ part of the place.

IMG_5907IMG_5917There’s also this fully equipped kitchen!
Fridge, freezer, microwave, toaster, coffeemaker, stove, plus pots, pans and silverware for cooking.
{Plus, there’s a big screen TV and lounge area, of which I didn’t get a shot.}

After checking in, we headed out to grab some dinner — sushi! — my new most favorite food. After a two-year stint as a strict vegetarian, I have switched to pescetarianism to increase my protein intake; accordingly, sushi has jumped back to the top of my favorite food list. I have never really met sushi that I didn’t like. Perhaps I have only eaten at good sushi places, though, and have thusly taken the quality of sushi for granted because last night’s sushi was far from good. Even the edamame was overcooked — soft and mushy. How do you mess up edamame?!

IMG_5914

IMG_5910It actually looked decent when it was plated, but it was super bland. I’ve never had sushi that didn’t really taste like anything… possibly poor quality fish? I can’t be sure, but after spending $30 for our two rolls (plus an order of tempura) we were highly dissatisfied. If you happen to be in P-town, skip this joint. There’s a cool Indian place next door that’s much more enticing.

To make up for the grossness that was our sushi, we hit up Coldstone Creamery for a bit of ice cream. I haven’t enjoyed Coldstone’s amazingness for at least five years, so let me just say this: cake batter-flavored ice cream with butterfinger is possibly the most delicious morsel I have ever tasted in my twenty-three years of existence. Seriously. I don’t know what they put in that ice cream (highly-addictive drugs, perhaps?) but it hovers in another realm of deliciousness. Mmmm. They do have some healthy indulgences, but seriously: split a small and go for the good stuff. Ahhh-mazing.

After hitting Pleasanton’s 24 Hour Fitness this morning for a good sweat sesh, I spent the early part of the afternoon poolside, enjoying the amazing sunshine and catching up on my pre-sessional readings for classes in the fall. Such an awesomely relaxing weekend!

Hope everyone else’s is equally fantastic,

Signature Stamp - Shannon

I see London…

I was just browsing through pictures of our fantastic trip to London & realized that I hadn’t done the city justice! There were so many amazing sites and restaurants worth mentioning!

First, let me say, if anyone’s looking for a bargain of a hotel (sort of a B&B), check out the Oxford! It’s about a quarter of a mile from Paddington station and it’s surrounded by awesome pubs, cafes & shops. Let me also say — as to not mislead anyone — you definitely get what you pay for. This place is about 60 GBP a night for a double room & it’s a steal for the area. The rooms are decent sized but the bathrooms are really non-existent; smaller than a plane lavatory — and that includes the SHOWER! If you’re not a petite female, taking a shower can be a little… uncomfortable… but it’s worth the inconvenience. We both had a great experience there —  very friendly staff & they even have a continental breakfast with croissants, teas, cereal, etc. Worth a peek if you want something smack dab in the middle of everything.

That being said, we happened to be about three doors down from THE best pub that we visited, The Mitre. I tried to find a website to give these guys proper credit, but that link is the best I could do. They have really good food for a pub (the soup is delish!) and the drinks are well priced (and WELL made!) The staff there, too, was amazing and incredibly friendly. We even met some great locals who were more than happy to chat us up — they “love us Americans!” apparently :)

We only had a day or so in London so we were REALLY limited on time & there are a million things to see and do in the city. We planned it out before-hand so we could attack the city once we arrived, and that we did! The Tube is an amazing thing. Tickets are about 1.70 GBP each way (you can pick certain lines to take) and you can get a day pass for 6-8 GBP (TOTALLY worth it — you’ll save a bundle!) We got the day passes & took the tube (the Circle line)  from Paddington to the St. James Park stop. Let me just say this — if you only have a few hours in London, THIS is the place to get off. Within 5 – 10 minutes walking, we ran into Westminster Abbey (5 stars plus some!), Big Ben (not as big as I thought, but still iconic), the Houses of Parliament (amazing from the outside and cool on the inside only because of the history, otherwise rather bleh.) I know there are places for amazing shopping and other amazing sights, but for the few hours we had we got in some really historic stuff! That night we also took the Tube down to Buckingham Palace, just for kicks. Pretty cool. Very… big.

In any case, London was my (and my dad’s!) favorite city! It’s amazing, the people are wonderful (despite the rumors) and there’s a wealth of stuff to do. Next time, I’ll allot AT least four days to take in the many sights. I bet you’d stay more than occupied with a few weeks at your disposal!

Anyone have any recommendations on places to see next time? Tower of London, perhaps?

Big Ben!

Big Ben!

*****