Way back in November we had a plan for 24 hours in London to see the Christmas lights, shop, and buy some crumpets (did you know you can’t get crumpets in Berlin?). It was, without a doubt, one of those memorable trips that you just know some day in the future will be funny, but right now all it did was inspire the post – How NOT to go to London (very popular post by the way. I guess it is true that misery loves company. Or at least readers).
So after we got 50 euros from easyJet, time off from Hidai’s work, and diverted all of Hidai’s and mine Christmas gifts towards funding (ok, not all. We bought the really excellent John Bishop and Michael McIntyre DVDs and some phone accessories), we decided to finish the Christmas season in style, and with another weekend in London.
Because we can never stay far away from London for long.
We did learn from past mistakes, really we did. First of all, Hidai turned his phone off. For the entire weekend; Also we added a full day, so if one day goes wrong at least we’ll have another one; And finally, for the less-people-on-the-streets factor we flew after New Year’s. It all started well enough – we managed to call easyJet’s customer service in Germany and get an English speaking person who added Yon’s special assistance details on his card (not on the app though. Apparently that can not be done), our taxi braved the snow and ice on the roads (and it only cost us 15 Euros more than usual), I managed to eat almost half my breakfast before Ron decided it looked better than his and commandeered it, the kids hardly complained about having to run all the way to the end of the airport for the gate (in Schönefeld they have this really fun tendency to put the gate number about 3 minutes before boarding is officially closed, and it’s always a 10 minute walk away from where you are. I think it is like a game for them, maybe they are running bets who is going to get to the gate on time), and we boarded on time and without even needing the bus (it’s a sore point with Yon those airport buses).
Oh, yeah, and the plane was just an hour late for takeoff. Which isn’t a problem at all for people with mild claustrophobia and fear of flying. But we did get to see how the airport crew melts the ice from the wings for the first time (we actually managed to get the kids to divert their attention from their movie for almost a full minute there). We really did have it all together, we made it through the hour delay, the walking half of Gatwick, the queue at the passport control, all without batting an eyelash. We even kept our (relative) cool when we got to our regular airport Premier Inn and discovered we made a mistake in the order and though we do have a room, it’s just in a different Premier Inn. We made it all the way to the delayed Gatwick Express. But after we changed platforms for the third time, just to discover it was actually on the first one we went to, it started to feel personal. London has it in for us.
After all, how else can you explain the lack of a Sale at Next?
The purpose of the trip was simple – get a London fix. Regardless of budgetary constraints.
It only means two things really – Oxford St. (I know, I know, but do I love Oxford St.) and a musical (Wicked. What an amazing performance, and a great message. Just wish there was more of the flying part).
Ok, I did add some things to the list – lots of shopping (this trip was, after all, in lieu of proper Christmas gifts), Sandwiches at Pret, lunch at Itsu, coffee in Starbucks (I know we have them in Berlin, but it’s not the same), lunch at McDonald’s (I travel with kids), a visit to Covent Garden, crumpets (and those chocolate buckets) from M&S, doughnuts from Krispy Kreme, and at least three different Boots stores (I went into 4).
In short, everything that makes me smile.
It’s amazing what a year and 2 months living outside of London does to a person. That first day back, being in Victoria Station felt like being in a battle field – so many people walking the same path as you and they are very polite about it, but unless you move right this second they will trample you. But hey, we used to live here, and on the second day we hardly noticed it. One more day and we would have started being passive-aggressively-polite to tourists as well. When we moved out, all I wanted was to escape all of it, the hustle and bustle of London, the noise, the passive-aggressiveness, the feeling that you can’t breathe. Now I think that though I might have needed a break from it, the reality of it is – it fits me. I missed it. Just give me some hurried “excuse me”s on the way to the too-crowded Tube, and I’m happy.
What can I say, sanity has never been one of my strong suits.
The details of our trip (only interesting if you haven’t been to London a million times) –
We flew easyJet (because they have the best flight times, plus we got a 50 euros refund for last time).
We stayed at the Premier Inn Gatwick Airport. It’s been our third time there, and it was as great as always. We book directly through their site for best rate, and right now (because it’s really not the high season) it’s dirt-cheap. They have very good service, we paid an extra 5 pounds for 24 hours premium internet which was excellent, and they also improved their breakfast so now it’s worth paying for.
We took the Gatwick Express into town (2nd class of course. Who pays first class for the Gatwick Express?). They changed their website, and made it even harder to understand what’s going on (I’m sure it’s not true but I was so used to the old one) but they offered us best rate which was actually cheaper than we had last time, and they added the option of printing the cards at home instead of at the airport which was great (most of the pre-printed cards worked most of the time, but there was always someone there to let us through anyway).
I know it sounds weird staying at an airport hotel, but the cost of the hotel plus train cost less than a good hotel in the centre of town.
We booked our tickets to Wicked on lastminute.com, mainly because we needed four tickets to as far in the front as we could get, for a last minute show. It cost us less than through the official site, but if you order a few weeks in advance than the official website can end up being cheaper (and easier as you get your assigned seats on the spot and you don’t have to rush to the theatre on the day to find out where you are seated).
The food options at the theatre were a bit on the lacking side (and the popcorn was stale), and there was no point in being early to the show because they only opened the doors about 25 minutes before the start and there was hardly anywhere to stand, let alone eat and drink. We did get a booster seat for Yon from the cloakroom which helped, and the binoculars (which didn’t), and some angry stares from the people in the row in front of us (which leads me to say that maybe Wicked is not the best musical for 6 years olds).
We used the contactless option to pay for the Tube, instead of the Oysters, which worked great with our German credit cards. Actually we used contactless all the time, they don’t have it here in Berlin and for some reason it made paying really fun.
The free WiFi situation in London has not improved, sadly, but Selfridges has a really good one. Which also works outside their store.
The new(ish) toy store right across from the Disney Store (which is aptly named – The Toy Store) has better variety (especially for boys) for the same prices. And saved us a visit to both the Disney Store and Hamleys.
We only ate fast food, because that’s our favourite London food. The Germans are amazing with baking and pastries and pretzels, but they don’t understand the art that is the Pret sandwich. Or the fun that is an Itsu meal. Or how fast a McDonald’s service should really be. And don’t get me started about the fact that all the drinks here are sparkling (schorle). Why oh why would I want sparkling apple juice?
We ate at:
- Itsu – 15 Baker St, London W1U 8EG
- Pret – 3, Portman Square House, Orchard St, London W1H 6HJ, and at the airport.
- Starbucks – 23 Princes St, London W1B 2LY (Off the beginning of Regent St)
- Mcdonald’s – Victoria Place inside Victoria Station.
- Krispy Kreme – Victoria Station
- M&S Simply Food – Oxford St, Victoria Station and Gatwick airport.
We flew out of Gatwick Airport, which I love (and not just because it has a Pret, and a Boots) – they have excellent disability services, friendly and helpful staff, and a separate, fast and non-judgemental (very important if you try to pass 12 bottles of purple Otrivine through them) security queue for families.