Friday, November 08, 2013

WHAT WE DID RIGHT, WHAT WE DID WRONG

We've been home now for several days and I thought I would report on what we did right and what we did wrong.  For the most part we did it right, but there were a few hiccups.

TRIP PLANNING AND LODGING

We started planning this our 3rd trip to Europe at least a year in advance.  Mostly using the computer, researching places to go, things to see and where to stay.  For the first time on any of our European trips, we had reservations for every night.  I relied heavily on Trip Advisor, both for reviews of B&B's we were considering and the forums for answers to some of my questions.  I also used these web sites for research.

Slow Travel
Fodors
Silver Travel

Silver Travel is a British travel site and was a great resource for information about what to see and where to go in Great Britain.

We picked B&B who's reviews on Trip Advisor were current and in the top 10%.  It was a good move as all the B&B's we research on the site were excellent.

Our London B&B was a disappointment.  B&B's in London are few and far between.  You can find lots of hotels with breakfast included, but that's not what we wanted.  Also hotels in London are very expensive for anything that is halfway decent.  We found our B&B through a service, At Home in London which lists numerous locations throughout the city. The only reviews were reviews on the At Home web site and none could be found on the individual B&B's on any other web site.  Our B&B was in a great location in Central London, and we knew in advance that we would be below street level, but the bathroom was in the laundry, the carpets were dirty, and the breakfast didn't change for 6 mornings. The description on the web site was misleading, but has been changed since I wrote a less than stellar review.  Of course you won't see my review on the web site.

We rented an apartment in Paris to save money.  Hotels are expensive and we wanted a place where we could stay with our friends Hansjorg and Silke.  We rented this apartment through Perfectly Paris after communicating with two different people who had stayed there.  They spoke highly of the apartment and the rental service.  The photos in on the web site don't tell the whole story.  When you look at the photos, read the reviews on the site you would think it's a great place.  We knew going it that it was old as are most buildings in Paris, but  this place was run down and in need of a major cleaning.  There was a leak under the kitchen sink, where someone had put a pan under the drip.  Problem was no one was emptying the pan and the water was running on the kitchen floor.  The leak had been there long enough that mold was beginning to grow in the area of the leak.

There was mold in the tile grout and the grout was filthy.  Guest reviews in the book in the apartment made no mention of any of this, but most only spoke about their experience in the city.  I couldn't understand how previous tenants put us with the situation.  We were stuck and couldn't change so we made the best of the situation.





Bathroom pullman water damage






 
When I told the rental service they said if we had told them of these issues they would have rectified the problem.  The thing is, this mold  has been there for some time, so why didn't the rectify the problems before?

We stayed in one hotel on the entire trip.  On our return to London before taking the Eurostar to Paris I booked a room at the Thistle Hotel because it was close to our rental car return and within walking distance of St Pancras Station where we caught the train to Paris.  Small but comfortable room it was a great choice for one night.

TRANSPORTATION

We flew on British Airways because they have a direct flight to London from San Diego and who wants to change planes in Chicago, Dallas or on the East Coast.  We sprung for Premium Economy which in our opinion was worth every penny.  Board before the masses, bigger seats with more leg room, and better food.  We were actually able to get some sleep on the flight.

We bought Oyster Cards before we left for London which allowed us to used the Tube and buses while in the city.   The Oyster Card is a plastic smartcard you can use instead of paper tickets which you preload with cash.  We took the tube from Heathrow to a station 10 minutes from our B&B.  Fast and efficient, the Tube or Underground is the way to travel in London.

We took the train from London to York and purchased our tickets 4 months in advance for a reduced rate.  The closer you get to your travel date, the more expensive the tickets.

We rented our car through Auto Europe, a car rental broker and an American company based in Maine. We have used them on previous trips and have always been satisfied with their service.  We picked up the car at the train station in York from National Car Rental or Eurocar as they are known in Europe.  We were upgraded to a fully loaded Volvo which was a pleasure to drive, even on the wrong side of the road.

From London to Paris we to the Eurostar or as many call it the Chunnel.  Again by buying our tickets in advance we got a great price.  I far as I'm concerned, this is on only way to travel between London and Paris.  2 hours and 45 minutes to and from the center of both cities.  Although you go through a metal detector, it's still faster than traveling by air.

OTHER STUFF

In Paris, Hansjorg had pre-purchased the Paris Pass for all of us.  It includes entrance to most of the museums, monuments and cathedrals in Paris plus some of the other attractions.  Also included was a metro pass for the subway and buses in zones 1 and 2. (central Paris)  Doing the math after we returned home, it was a break even on the cost, but it did allow us to bypass some lines at some of the attractions.  If we had been willing to hit two museums a day and rush around more than we did, it would have saved a bundle.

I made on bonehead mistake that I'm willing to talk about. On the Sunday we arrived in Paris, I went to the bank down the street to use the ATM.  Some banks allow access to a machine inside a secure door where you to use an ATM that's not out on the street.  I did this, but the machine I used turned out to be for deposits only and it ate my ATM card.  I had 40 euros from a previous trip and my credit card so not to worry.  I would just go back on Monday and get my card.  Well, banks are closed on Monday in France. So I returned on Tuesday and they said I could get my card on Wednesday.  Hansjorg loaned me some cash to tide us over and on Wednesday I did get my card back.  I have since learned what d√©poser in French means.

When using a credit card in Europe and probably in other countries too, you are sometimes asked it you want to be charged in dollars.  This is not a good option as the merchant is then doing the currency exchange and it's a much higher rate than you would get with your bank.  One time at a restaurant in London, I was not given the option and the restaurant did the exchange at a rate about 10 cents higher than the bank rate.  I should have had them cancel the charge and just pay it cash, but I didn't.

Luckily we didn't make any serious bone head moves.  We were pre-warned about scams in Paris and by staying aware of our surroundings we did not become victim of any.

If we were to change anything, we would make sure we took a day off every once in a while.  We were go-go-go for most of the trip and towards the end we were dragging.  But we still had a great time.


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