Finding savings in London

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Except for a stopover of a couple hours in 2008, a week-long visit to London, Sept. 14-21, 2010, was our first time there since 1997. My wife and I noticed a number of changes.

As we exited Immigration and Customs at Heathrow airport, a representative touted the Express Train service, at 15 minutes the fastest way into the city. But the price is £18 (near $29) and you’re deposited at Paddington Station, where you likely will need to change to the Tube or a taxi, adding to your cost and time.

Instead, we took the Tube, catching the Piccadilly Line from Heathrow — a 45-minute ride for £4.50. It’s a pretty good hike to the Tube station from Customs, but with roll-on luggage or a luggage cart it isn’t all that bad.

We exited at Gloucester Road Station, just two blocks from our hotel, the Park International Hotel on Cromwell Road, within walking distance of the museum complex of South Kensington.

Our room with bath and king-sized bed cost $180, including breakfast and 17.5% VAT. In a large, cheery room, among items in the breakfast buffet were cereals, fresh fruit, pastries, scrambled eggs, fried tomatoes, bacon and, of course, baked beans.

We were offered the choice of charging our room in pounds or US dollars. We opted to charge in dollars, thinking the exchange rate would be better, but it was not a savings.

When we saw the charge on our credit card statement, including the foreign transaction fee, we determined we would have gotten a better deal (by about $60) by having charged our bill in pounds. We’ve learned our lesson.

A few weeks before our trip, we took advantage of our AAA auto club travel service to procure seven-day London Underground passes and one-way Eurostar tickets to Paris.

Besides the convenience of not having to purchase individual tickets, the Underground pass ($73 each) is a pretty good bargain. The cheapest one-way Tube or bus fare in Zones 1 and 2 is £4 ($6.50), so, over the week, our 21 Tube/bus trips would have cost us about $131.

One day we took the Docklands Light Rail to Greenwich and Canary Wharf. When we were there in 1997, most of Canary Wharf had not been developed and the only way to Greenwich was to walk the tunnel under the Thames. Now the newly completed Jubilee Line extends to Greenwich and beyond.

We found the Canary Wharf area most attractive and interesting, with a couple of huge underground malls, highrises, restaurants along the waterways, a lovely park, etc.

In general, restaurant fare has improved in London, but prices are high. We did find a few bargains.

For lunch, after our large breakfast at the hotel, we found that a sandwich would suffice, and the chain Pret a Manger hit the spot. Serving soups, salads and sandwiches, these restaurants are as ubiquitous in London as Starbucks; we ate at four different locations. We would share one sandwich and a coke, and the price averaged £5.80 ($9). The sandwiches are prepackaged but are freshly made and the labels time-stamped.

In our hotel, we picked up the “London Smartsave Street Map.” On the front was a bar code and listed inside were 32 attractions and 33 restaurants at which we could receive a 20% discount (for up to six persons) when the bar code was scanned. There was no limit on how often it could be used, even at the same restaurant.

We particularly enjoyed Bella Italia. Although it is a chain, the two we visited looked like small, family-run establishments and seemed to be popular with locals. One night we shared a salad, two entrées and a bottle of wine and, with the discount, paid £35 ($56).

At another location, we had a “family portion” of chicken in a penne pasta, shared a salad, a huge sundae for dessert and a bottle of wine and paid £38.

We remembered Garfunkel’s, another chain. These are very pleasant and offer good meals at prices quite reasonable for London. We ordered a barbecue plate for two and got a 24-inch platter with a rack of ribs, half a chicken, chicken wings, onion rings and fries. This, plus a bottle of wine and a shared dessert, cost £38 ($61).

While many prices in London are high, one thing is not. All the state-run museums, such as the British Museum, the Natural History Museum and the Victoria and Albert, are free.

DONALD KINSER

Hillsboro, OR

Please login or subscribe to ITN to read the entire post.

Except for a stopover of a couple hours in 2008, a week-long visit to London, Sept. 14-21, 2010, was our first time there since 1997. My wife and I noticed a number of changes.

As we exited Immigration and Customs at Heathrow airport, a representative touted the Express Train service, at 15 minutes the fastest way into the city. But the price is £18 (near $29) and you’re deposited at Paddington Station, where you likely will need to change to the Tube or a taxi, adding to your cost and time.

Instead, we took the Tube, catching the Piccadilly Line from Heathrow — a 45-minute ride for £4.50. It’s a pretty good hike to the Tube station from Customs, but with roll-on luggage or a luggage cart it isn’t all that bad.

We exited at Gloucester Road Station, just two blocks from our hotel, the Park International Hotel on Cromwell Road, within walking distance of the museum complex of South Kensington.

Our room with bath and king-sized bed cost $180, including breakfast and 17.5% VAT. In a large, cheery room, among items in the breakfast buffet were cereals, fresh fruit, pastries, scrambled eggs, fried tomatoes, bacon and, of course, baked beans.

We were offered the choice of charging our room in pounds or US dollars. We opted to charge in dollars, thinking the exchange rate would be better, but it was not a savings.

When we saw the charge on our credit card statement, including the foreign transaction fee, we determined we would have gotten a better deal (by about $60) by having charged our bill in pounds. We’ve learned our lesson.

A few weeks before our trip, we took advantage of our AAA auto club travel service to procure seven-day London Underground passes and one-way Eurostar tickets to Paris.

Besides the convenience of not having to purchase individual tickets, the Underground pass ($73 each) is a pretty good bargain. The cheapest one-way Tube or bus fare in Zones 1 and 2 is £4 ($6.50), so, over the week, our 21 Tube/bus trips would have cost us about $131.

One day we took the Docklands Light Rail to Greenwich and Canary Wharf. When we were there in 1997, most of Canary Wharf had not been developed and the only way to Greenwich was to walk the tunnel under the Thames. Now the newly completed Jubilee Line extends to Greenwich and beyond.

We found the Canary Wharf area most attractive and interesting, with a couple of huge underground malls, highrises, restaurants along the waterways, a lovely park, etc.

In general, restaurant fare has improved in London, but prices are high. We did find a few bargains.

For lunch, after our large breakfast at the hotel, we found that a sandwich would suffice, and the chain Pret a Manger hit the spot. Serving soups, salads and sandwiches, these restaurants are as ubiquitous in London as Starbucks; we ate at four different locations. We would share one sandwich and a coke, and the price averaged £5.80 ($9). The sandwiches are prepackaged but are freshly made and the labels time-stamped.

In our hotel, we picked up the “London Smartsave Street Map.” On the front was a bar code and listed inside were 32 attractions and 33 restaurants at which we could receive a 20% discount (for up to six persons) when the bar code was scanned. There was no limit on how often it could be used, even at the same restaurant.

We particularly enjoyed Bella Italia. Although it is a chain, the two we visited looked like small, family-run establishments and seemed to be popular with locals. One night we shared a salad, two entrées and a bottle of wine and, with the discount, paid £35 ($56).

At another location, we had a “family portion” of chicken in a penne pasta, shared a salad, a huge sundae for dessert and a bottle of wine and paid £38.

We remembered Garfunkel’s, another chain. These are very pleasant and offer good meals at prices quite reasonable for London. We ordered a barbecue plate for two and got a 24-inch platter with a rack of ribs, half a chicken, chicken wings, onion rings and fries. This, plus a bottle of wine and a shared dessert, cost £38 ($61).

While many prices in London are high, one thing is not. All the state-run museums, such as the British Museum, the Natural History Museum and the Victoria and Albert, are free.

DONALD KINSER

Hillsboro, OR