Thursday, September 11, 2008

Must Sees and Discounts

I'm starting to feel a little guilty...I have *work* to do (its all busy work like updating databases with 3 year old information) but I feel like I've already checked out here.

On the upside, I'm going to be so ubber prepared for the UK it will be a piece of cake. I've meet some other Bunac-ers on Facebook, and even read a girl's travel blog that covered the whole summer with Bunac. The two best tidbits I found in the blog were a link to The Number One Internet Site for London, which has listings for theatre ticket deals, things unique unto London, discounts, and free activities, exhibits, museums, etc. Very handy site.

The second thing is a list of the top 100 things to do in London. She had highlighed the ones she had done, and maybe I'll do the same at the end of my 6 months. Let me know if there is anything missing, or something that doesn't need to be bothered with :)

Later Days,

1. Visit the Big Ben.
2. Photograph the Thames River.
3. Take a river cruise on the Thames.
4. Visit the Prime Meridian at the Royal Observatory and the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich. You can take a river cruise to get there!
5. Ride on the London Eye, the largest ferris wheel in the world.
6. Stop by Grosvenor Square.
7. Immerse yourself in culture at the British Museum.
8. Watch a Broadway show.
9. Buy gifts for friends and family at the over 300 shops located on Oxford Street.
10. Stroll down The Mall, a road that leads to the Buckingham Palace.
11. Visit the Buckingham Palace.
12. Experience the changing of the guard ceremony at Buckingham Palace.
13. Hike up the geometric staircase at a St. Paul's Cathedral tour.
14. Take a bus through one of London's largest transportation hubs: Victoria Station.
15. Pub much? Be sure to visit one of the J.D Wetherspoon chain pubs.
16. Take the London Underground: These trains have cushioned seats and there's a nice LED display overhead that gives riders the estimated time for the next train.
17. Make sure to "mind the gap."
18. Go on the Circle Line ... in a circle.
19. Witness the fountains in Trafalgar Square, or photograph the great Christmas tree that is erected during the winter months.
20. Tour the Tower of London, where you can see the very precious Crown Jewels.
21. Find out where British Prime Minister Gordon Brown lives: 10 Downing Street. Visit his residence.
22. Sherlock Holmes fan? Visit the Sherlock Holmes Museum.
23. See hundreds of books, writings, and photographs related to the Holocaust at the Wiener Library.
24. Be amazed when you visit Stonehenge, which is outside the city.
25. Grab lunch at the Porter's English Restaurant (17 Henrietta Street, Covent Garden).
26. Enjoy the scenic nightlife in Piccadilly Circus, which is likened to the Times Square of England.
27. ...and spend some time with the teenager in you at the Funland or Golden Nugget Casino located within Trocadero. The centre is packed with dining and other entertainmnent venues as well.
28. Visit the global headquarters of Reuters at Canary Wharf.
29. At the Victoria and Albert Museum, walk through rooms filled with ceramic and glass designs, as well as beautiful paintings.
30. Take the family and have a picnic in Battersea Park.
31. ...then take the kids to the Battersea Park Children's Zoo.
32. Experience the diversity of the Golders Green borough, with a mix of Kosher, Japanese, Turkish, and Italian restaurants.
33. Get seen on the London cam.
34. Check out Belgravia's beautiful streets of townhouses and famous embassies.
35. Go shopping at Harrod's in Belgravia.
36. ...and sample some ale at the Grenadier pub in Belgravia after you finished shopping (18 Wilton Row).
37. Stop through Bayswater.
38. Explore the galleries at the National Army Museum.
39. Set aside at least two hours to explore the extravagantly decorated rooms at the St. George's Chapel in the Windsor Castle.
40. Witness Evensong at the Windsor Castle. (Be sure to check the schedule!)
41. Embrace the vastness of Queen Mary's Dolls' House, which is also located inside the Windsor Castle.
42. Check out the wax sculptures at the Madame Tussaud's museum.
43. Step through the academic city by stopping in Bloomsbury.
44. ...then enjoy the lunch you packed for your trip at Bloomsbury's nearby Russell Square.
45. Absorb the history of Covent Garden in central London.
46. Wake up early and experience the local flavor of Spitalfields and be sure to check out the fruit and vegetable market!
47. While in the Spitalfields area, go to Dennis Severs' House.
48. Explore the city by water (and in comfort) by taking a lunch or dinner cruise.
49. Learn about the Bank of England at its museum.
50. Set your sights on the beautiful architecture at Westminster Abbey.
51. ...and be sure not to leave without viewing the monuments at Poets' Corner.
52. Relive the life of The Beatles.
53. See a show at the Shakespeare's Globe Theatre.
54. Buy your children toys from Hamleys Toy Store.
55. Go to Hampstead Heath to see the city from afar.
56. Catch a movie premiere at the cinema in Leicester Square.
57. Take a train to Dover, and witness the famous White Cliffs.
58. Witness the protestors at Speaker's Corner in Hyde Park, and take a guided tour or attend the London's fair during the winter holidays.
59. Prepapre for an expensive dinner at the highly regarded Michael Moore restaurant (19 Blandford Street).
60. Stroll down Whitehall.
61. Contrast the city lifestyle to the village life in Canterbury, home of Geoffrey Chaucer's famous tales.
62. See where the Mayor of London lives: City Hall.
63. Get overwhelmed by the massive monuments at the London Wall.
64. Photograph one of the many red phone booths on the city streets.
65. Read a book at one of London's specialized libraries.
66. If you're in London between March and October, check out Legoland Windsor with the kids.
67. Book a night for a show at the London Palladium Theatre.
68. Step into royal history at the Hampton Court Palace.
69. Enjoy an organic meal at the Lavendar Lady restaurant (644 High Road, North Finchley).
70. Stroll around the aisles in the National Gallery and see some of the greatest European artwork.
71. Wine and dine at the House on the Bridge Restaurant.
72. Take advantage of free admission to the Science Museum.
73. Pay tribute to the late princess Diana by visiting the Diana Memorial Playground where you can dash by teepees, see a pirate ship, and then enjoy a light meal at a cafe.
74. Relax and have a drink at the Salisbury Pub (90 St. Martin's Lane).
75. See the city on a Original London Sightseeing Tour: book your ticket (which includes a free cruise) online at a discounted rate.
76. Watch a judicial hearing at the UK Parliament.
77. Walk through the newly transformed London's Transport Museum.
78. See the animals at London Zoo.
79. Ride in a traditional London black cab.
80. Shop at the elegant Burlington Arcade, which has its history dating back to 1819.
81. See where Princes William and Harry went to school by stopping in Eton.
82. Be up close to The Da Vinci Code movie and explore the Temple Church.
83. Relive the Harry Potter books and movies by stopping at Platform 9 3/4 in the Kings Cross station.
84. See the exhibitions at Tate Modern, a museum of international modern and contemporary art.
85. Get spooked at the London Dungeon.
86. Visit the Notting Hill district.
87. Take the kids to a puppet show at the Little Angel Theatre.
88. Sample some Italian food at Carluccios.
89. Feed the ducks at St. James's Park.
90. Cross the River Thames on the Millennium Bridge.
91. Read Charles Dickens much? Take a Charles Dickens Museum stop to see paintings, manuscripts, and more memorabilia relating to the famous author.
92. Explore Chinatown at night.
93. Plan an adventure at Chesssington, one of England's most famous theme parks (it's 12 miles outside of London!)
94. Eat lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe (150 Old Park Lane).
95. Take a tour of Wimbledon, even if you don't love tennis!
96. Go to Bath and see the magnificent Roman bathing complexes that give the city its name.
97. Enjoy the culture at the Somerset House.
98. Feel scholarly after taking a trip to Oxford.
99. Buy some Cadbury sweets.
100. Watch a live Gilbert and Sullivan operetta performance at the historical Savoy Theatre.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Booking Take 2

OK, so I think we can all agree that now and then we rush into things. One of the things that I may have jumped the gun on was this hostel. As much as I want to stay in a great hostel and really experience that lifestyle, I also have to consider the fact that I'll be living in London, one of the most expensive cities in the world, for the next 6 months. Furthermore, the hostel is temporary. I am there to experience life and meet people and all the things that can happen there, but I am looking for a more permanent arrangement, whether that be settling into a long term hostel, or hopefully finding an apartment. Plus I need to find a job, and to do that, I need to be closer to everything London has to offer.

That being said, I have switched reservations to Astor Hyde Park Hostel in South Kensington, London. The reason for this is that a) they are cheaper by $50 for the 5 days; b) they are more centrally located by Kensington Garden; c) they have a higher rating at 93% from Hostel World, as well as being listed as #1 on the top 10 hostels. It is a bit smaller-33 rooms-and are listed as strictly as hostel, aka ages 18-35 only. I will miss some things (the privacy curtain and reading light, the attached pub and grocery, the socialization rooms) and especially the chance that others from Bunac will be there. But I get free Internet, breakfast and linen included, a newly renovated Victorian house, more luggage storage, and the better location and cheaper price. Hopefully I'll still meet people, but the point is that I'll be able to get more out of the overall experience instead of that first week if I do this...I think :)

Here are some pics from Hostel World of the Astor Hyde Park Hostel:
The hostel from the outside

The oh-so-popular bunk beds with storage lockers under (this is the one thing I feel like I'm really missing out on by leaving va)

Guest Kitchen and dining area

Shiny New Kitchen Facilities

Proof of nice clean bathrooms--very important

The winding wooden staircase inside the Victorian house. Pretty.

I was talking to my parents last night, and they did all their traveling in Europe on $40 a day. That was for 2 people, including hostels, food and travel. Knew I should have done this in the early 80s....wait...wasn't born yet. THAT'S why they could do that! :-P

With that in mind, look for a budgeting blog soon. 45 days!!


Thursday, September 4, 2008

Booked The First Week

After doing more research then I care to say, I finally picked and booked a hostel for my first week in London. The Bunac program says that after you attend orientation, it can take people 3-10 days to find work and a place to live, but if you really put all your efforts into it, it is do-able in 5 days. So I booked my stay at The Globetrotter Inn London for 5 days.

I realize that this is a little bit hopeful, but I feel prepared and ready to do everything I can to find a job and secure a place to live in a week. Yes, it is ambitious. Yes, it's going to be hard work. But this is my life-I want to start living it to the fullest extent as soon as I can. Worse comes to worse, I can always stay a few extra nights, or switch to another hostel in a more central location.

I decided on the Globetrotter for a few reasons. One, Hostel World gave it an 81% review. Now, that may seem a little iffy to some people, but it is based on reviews by travelers. Those reviews are based on what the traveler wanted out of the hostel, and what their understanding of what staying in a hostel is like. It's important to note that hostels (especially the 6 bed Female Dorm style I'm staying in) are not hotels. There are shared bathrooms, public areas for watching movies, eating, and hanging out, and since they are so cheap, there are many different age groups. The main reasons for the Globetrotter to have an 81 are due to reviews that stated that the location wasn't ideal (it's 30 minutes from Heathrow, and 20 minutes from Central London--each by tube) and that the party atmosphere wasn't as strong as other places. Works out fine for me :) I want to meet people and explore, but I don't want to come back to my room filled with 5 other chicks drunk off their asses and banging around until 6am. It got excellent ratings for security, staff, and cleanliness, and also offers free continental breakfast, free linens, and the beds are built into the walls with privacy curtains and individual reading lamps. Plus it is located by a grocery store (the hostel has a kitchen that can be used and they do your dishes for you), has an in-house pub (you get a 2 for 1 drink voucher on arrival, they have weekly pub crawls, and game nights), Internet cafe, movie and TV rooms, game room, and luggage storage with locks. Overall, I think I did pretty well for $35 bucks a night.

Also, and this was a big condition for me, it's on the list of hostels that Bunac recommends. This was important because as much as I want to meet all kinds of people from all walks of life, I also want to meet people going through the program and experiencing the same thing that I am. That way, when Bunac does trips, events, or pub crawls, I'll know someone from the program and be able to have someone to hang out with. I don't have much trouble making friends, but its nice to have ones that are doing something similar to you. I think that was proven with the kind of bonds I formed with my sorority sisters.

So I'm even closer out the door! 46 days and counting! Once I get back the Entry Clearance from the British Consulate, I'll be ready to rock and roll.