Posts Tagged ‘london’
I used to visit London regularly, mainly for work, which gave me a great chance to see friends and explore all the different parts of the city where they lived. With time spent in London either in work mode or seeing friends mode, I rarely did “touristy” stuff, and on the rare occasions I have done I’ve been underwhelmed.
Instead, London’s the sort of place where it’s worth exploring away from the tourist trail, exploring the streets, markets, canal paths and parks of this big and very diverse city. Each corner of the city is different, and they’re all (mostly) well connected by the Tube and other forms of transport.
So I’ve never really done the iconic famous things like the London Eye.
A few hours to kill in London on our way back from Luxembourg before we caught the sleeper home allowed us to do something that is unashamedly touristy but which we both fancied giving a go.
The London Eye is a recent but now firmly established feature of London’s riverside and skyline, and taking its 35 minute or so circuit is a great way to see the sprawling city from above – not least as darkness fell, which was the time of day when we found ourselves there.
I was glad to discover they were able to take us with our wee suitcase and small rucksack that we had with us on the journey, incidentally. The left luggage at St Pancras and Waterloo (the Eye’s closest station) would not offer any reduction on the staggering £8 fee for 24 hours, which was absurd given that there must be people always looking for shorter periods. So top marks to the Eye staff for letting us on with them.
It’s an impressive experience, and I’ll let the photos speak for themselves. Though excuse the slight blur on one or two of them – it was hard to time the long exposure shots with the breaks in the slow rotation of the wheel.
After that it was time to grab some dinner not far from Euston station, and then hit platform 15 to board the sleeper for the long overnight journey home – one last train journey on the year’s last overseas adventure.
I’ve always maintained that Paris and London are incredibly alike.
They’re both big, proud, characterful cities that utterly dominate their respective countries politically and culturally, and they both are world famous cities that are centres of major world languages. Also, they share a similar feel – engaging, gritty and down to earth, yet with an architectural and atmospheric grandeur that comes from their size, scale, history and multiculturalism. They also share the basic geographical determinants of a river and an underground system.
I know I’m pretty much in a minority of one on this, but the more time I spend in each, the more firm I become in this conclusion. The comparison is, of course, much easier to make now that Eurostar links the two in a couple of hours or so, and I’ve been through a few times in the last few years.
Not to knock Paris, but I’ve also not quite got the whole lofty-eyed romanticism either. Yes, it’s a beautiful city, with some iconic buildings, great literary and musical traditions, and a reputation for love. But much stronger, more evident and more colourful is its gritty vibrancy – everything from the slightly unkempt feel about the place, the very evident homelessness and begging, and the graffiti, through to the social unrest it throws up now and then, all conspire to create a feel that is more in your face than in your heart.
And it’s all the better for that, I reckon. Who wants Paris to be some slick and sickly-sweet cinematic experience, when it could be much more interesting than that?
When your time in Paris is limited to a few hours on each infrequent occasion you pass through on the train, then there is always something new to discover. This time, as we returned home from our French and Austrian rail odyssey, the major attraction to be ticked off was the Louvre. Sadly it was closed on the day we were there, but that meant that the crowds were lower and the main courtyard more enjoyable.
Even if it was at the cost of being more likely to be harassed by the tiresome scam artists that hang around tourist sites. Next time, I am going to make sure I’m armed with some scambaiting responses to waste their time and annoy them in return.
A few hours easily passes in somwhere like Paris, where even if you’re tired as we were it’s easy to spend time in a cafe watching the world go by and relaxing at the end of a fun but packed holiday.
The rest of my photos from that brief day in Paris are here.
Soon, it was time to head off to London, where we had a few hours to kill again before our sleeper that night. We enjoyed the high-speed of the Eurostar as much as we could, knowing it would be a sharp contrast with the sluggish sleeper train northwards that night.
We were also aware that London would be at the peak of its Olympic busyness, the Games in full flow.
As we arrived back at St Pancras station, what I assume were Olympic volunteers were handing out guides to what was going on in London. We politely declined to the woman who was brandishing them.
“Oh, welcome back then,” she said, with a slight tinge of sarcasm.
“We’re not back,” we said.
We still had about six hundred miles to go.
|In November 2012, ScotRail changed how you buy bargain berth tickets, so the advice in this particular post is out of date. I’ve written a more recent post that explains (to the best of my understanding) how things have changed and how to now hunt the bargain berth fares.|
Since I wrote a recent post about attempting to get the cheapest bargain berths between Inverness and London, I’ve noticed I’ve been getting quite a few hits on my blog for people searching for terms related to those infamously elusive £19-£49 tickets between Scottish stations and London. That earlier post was a bit of a rambling narrative and probably not quite so easy for someone looking for tips about bargain berths to find what they’re looking for.
So I’m tidying up my tips into a neat, manageable and hopefully useful list, with a more search-engine friendly title.
- Mark the Friday twelve weeks before your date of travel. ScotRail releases pretty much all their tickets twelve weeks beforehand. Prior to this you cannot make reservations or buy bargain berths; after this they go very quickly if they’re popular (which the bargain berths obviously are).
- Be quick on the day of release. There are only about four tickets at each price level (£19, £29, £39 and £49) on each route, so once you have the date in the diary, make sure you’re free around 9am with a good internet connection (or two) as they are released. The ScotRail site slows right down once the fares go live, but do persist. You can also follow ScotRail on Twitter to see when they announce the releases, though sometimes this is a minute or two before the tweet goes live, so you’re best just following the website.
- Bookmark the precise page and do a practice run the week before. This, for instance, this is the current page for Inverness-London. If you check prior to your intended purchase date you can see how sales are going. And just in case…
- Check the page regularly – as this comment on my other post says, sometimes and quite without warning tickets can go on sale at other times of the week.
- Travel midweek if you can. Not only are tickets less sought-after (people more often tend to seek the weekend get-away) but for some unfathomable reason the Friday dates particularly are unreliable. Maybe it’s just the sleepers between Inverness and London, but the Friday dates seem to be released anything up to twelve hours later meaning it’s hard to pounce on the very cheapest ones. Don’t bother querying ScotRail about this; I’ve tried tweeting them about this and they’ve replied by simply stating that the fares have been released (when quite obviously they haven’t), so it must be something computery that takes a while to automatically update.
- Split your ticket if need be – for instance, if you want to go to Inverness and the tickets are all sold out, maybe there are still some bargain berths available to Glasgow, Edinburgh or Aberdeen and you can change on to an early morning train from there which itself might only be about £15 single or less. Not ideal, but still probably cheaper than a regular sleeper berth.
Do your experiences match up to this? I’m not actually that regular a sleeper traveller, and I know of some folk who do it most weeks, so I wonder how they cope with getting the best fares. So if you have any tips in addition to these, do please share them in the comments section below.
Nicole and I are heading off to France in September. It’ll be a chance to catch up with a few friends we have over there, and while we both really like the country I’ve not seen too much of it and my French could do with some significant practice.
We’ve decided we’re going overland, which even from the Highlands of Scotland isn’t as arduous or expensive as it sounds. The sleeper from Inverness to London arrives with plenty of time to catch the 9am Eurostar to Paris, meaning you can go to bed in Inverness one evening and be in Paris before lunchtime the following day.
Who says the Highlands are remote?
There’s something inherently more fun and adventurous in taking the train than flying, and given the time it takes to check in for a flight or get the bus or train to or from an airport, it’s probably not significantly slower by train.
Of course going overland can be expensive if you don’t plan ahead, but then again so can flying. In any case, we’ve been on the ball: we got the Eurostar tickets sorted for great value some days ago, and the second step was booking the sleeper to London.
That can be over £100 each way if you book late, but I’ve been watching the bargain berths like a hawk recently – where if you’re quick you can get berths for £19 each way. It does, however, require the sort of stealth and persistence of a ninja Jehovah’s Witness.
Last week, the tickets for the week before we aim to travel were released, and I did a “dry run”, watching carefully for the precise moment when the Inverness to London bargain berths were put online, checking my information against things I found on various travellers’ forums online. The tickets went within about 45 minutes, so I knew I’d have to be quick.
The battle plan confirmed in my head, I had every web browser I use at home and at work primed with a bookmark so I would be ready to go one week later for the bargain berth tickets we wanted. That day – BB-Day, if you will – was yesterday.
Judging by the previous week, it should have been 9am that the tickets were released, though I stayed up until midnight the previous night just in case. Nothing. 9am yesterday came, then, and as I checked and rechecked the Scotrail website it soon slowed down, frequently timing out – clearly I wasn’t the only one watching, and presumably down in server room there’d be some mangled-accented engineer exclaiming that she couldnae handle it, captain. The tickets did appear, the whole week’s bargain berths released at once as scheduled, but not the Friday’s which I was after.
I waited, watching the cheapest of the other ones disappear with still no sign of the Friday ones. It was impossible they’d all completely disappeared in a second, though they certainly would sell out fast.
I tweeted Scotrail to ask what was going on and when they’d be released, and they replied saying that they were released at 9am – when patently they hadn’t been. I even tried that date in the other direction and on other sleeper routes from Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Fort William. They were out and selling fast, and yet the Inverness ones weren’t. Very odd. The whole day went by before I eventually gave up watching, assuming that they would be out at midnight or perhaps 9am the following day.
I did check a couple of times through the evening though, more out of hope than expectation, and to my surprise they were out! The cheapest £19 tickets had gone but the £29 ones remained. Quick as a flash, I grabbed my credit card and nabbed two of them. Sighing with relief after a day of nervous web-watching, I’d done it: two tickets to London – effectively eleven hour train journeys and overnight accommodation rolled into one – for a total of £58.
I think I’m entitled to feel just a tiny bit smug about that. Though if I ever discover the person who got the £19 ones, I’ll throttle them.
Now it’s just a case of waiting a couple of weeks to do the whole thing again for the return journey…