Sunday, 30 June 2013

Eric's Uninformed Travel Tips: The London Edition

I put this one off in my first entry about England and swore that I would come back to it later...and dammit if later hasn't arrived...!

We found ourselves on our way back to Jolly old En-ga-land for a second time in the 2012 in the latter half of August, and I guess I need to take this opportunity to write about London.  Also, I took literally, not a single, solitary photo to remember this trip by...So, I have decided that instead of posting London photos I am going to post photos of things that are stereotypically British.
I believe this kid has since become the Earl of Grey
 I am also going to stray a bit from my normal format in this blog article, but before I get too off topic I will dispense with the usual basic travel information.

Trip to London, England: August 24-26th 2012

How did we get there: Eurostar Bay-Bee!

Where did we stay: We stayed closer to the Leicester Square this time at the Radisson Blu Edwardian Mercer Street Hotel.  The choice to stay closer to the action was a great one, however, it has to be noted that the closer to the center of London you get, the higher the already crazy hotel costs get...I can't recall the exact price on this one but I know it was over 200 Pounds/night!!!  Bottom line, if you are not prepared to get fleeced for your hotel fees, you shouldn't expect to stay in a convienient locale in London...

Now onto the meat and veg...the bangers and mash...the bubble and squeak...To the point, I say!
Bangers and mash....mmmmmmm...
I have made allusions throughout my blog posts that there is one place in particular that seems to never get old for me...One destination I have been to that I can always go back to and never feel like I have run out of things to do, or spent too much time, or simply gotten enough of.  That place for me is London.

I realize that this is the part of my post where any English (from England, not people who speak English) are itching to point out all the deficiencies that plague the city...I find that, like the French from parts of France outside Paris like to trash talk the city, so too do the English from parts of England outside London (for that matter, see my own opinion on Toronto...or as I like to refer to it "A hell spawned from the nightmares of a coked up Steven King...AKA the worst place imaginable").  However, as you can see, it seems that this thought process is pretty much universal in every country with a major central city, and is nearly always a load of hooey (mine included Torontonians...mine included...).  Yes your city has deficiencies, the rent is too damn high, public transport is too crowded bla bla bla...Pick any city as large, historical, and important as London that doesn't have similar problems...I dare you.
What fresh hell is this?!?
So, instead of focussing on the negatives, I prefer to look on the bright side of life ;)  Yes folks, I like to look at the stagnant pigeon poop filled puddles as natural bird baths, bird poop facial included...And when crossed against the overall grandeur and spectacle that is London, can you blame me?

Why do I love it so much you ask?  Well, let me give you some of my reasons....

1.  Mix of old and new:  I have travelled to quite a few European cities now (more than I have written about unfortunately as I am incredibly lazy), and though almost all of them get the old part down, very few get the new part mixed in there to the extent of London...And, the new adds to the old in London, it doesn't take away from it...The Gherkin may look strange hanging out there in the skyline, but that strangeness makes a photo of London instantly identifiable, even if that building is all you see.  Likewise the London Eye not only adds to the skyline, but gives the patient tourist a whole new way to experience it.

2.  An Anglophile's dream:  As a student of history, particularly European history, I spent a lot of time and...well, at least a little effort studying English history and literature.  And when it comes down to it, there is no better place to see that history, that culture...our culture, come to life.
The original London Bridge was a bit less "bridge-y"
3.  Europe's Broadway:  If you like plays and musicals, London is a mecca.  I honestly didn't realize the extent of this until my first trip, but on any given night there are some 50+ musicals to be seen...take your pick!  So far, I have seen Monty Python's Search for the Holy Grail and Rock of Ages...both are super funny and very well done.  Tip - Buy your tickets from the street vendors that are all over the place.

4.  Shopping mecca:  I am not a great shopper in the traditional sense of the term, but I have heard from pretty much all my lady friends that the shopping is incredible in London.  And based on the bit I have done, I would agree.  If you like your more traditional shopping (clothes, brand names, etc.) then you have the areas between Oxford St. and Trafalgar Square. If you like everything in one place then hit up Harrods, and if like me, you wish you were born 100 years ago and had money, hit up the snooty man shops around St. James Place.  This is where I found the (and bought) the same model hat (from the same store) that Sean Connery (as James Bond) wears in Dr. No...Amazeballs!
This bad boy
5.  Royal chasers:  Buckingham palace, Westminster Abby, The Crown Jewels and all that...I'm not super huge into it, but it is still pretty cool that they are right there.
How come when I wave like that it just comes out looking pompous...?
6.  Pubs, pubs, pubs:  I have written about my love o pubs in about half of my blog posts at this point so I won't go into it any further here...I love pubs!  Ok, sorry...that slipped out...I really do love them though...done.

7.  It's Alive!:  For the final point, it is simply that London is alive, people are out enjoying themselves and being loud about it!  They like to laugh, to drink, to be a bit silly and they don't care that people are looking.  Juls and I have often remarked that that attitude is something that is sorely missed in Paris, where is seems that everyone is too caught up in their public appearance to ever allow themselves to have too much fun...We have actually gotten to the point now though where we find the fact that everyone is so loud in London a bit shocking at first...Then of course, we realize that people are having fun, and that we used to be that cool too ;)

Well, that's it on London....I think I am going to let this one sit for a while now...There are too many other places to write about...I should note however that we have been back 3 times since this trip in August 2012...Oh well, if I think about anything I missed I will post about it in the future.

Oh, and if you are looking for my ratings on London, I've already done them in a previous post "ya tart!"...You can find them here Eric's Uninformed Travel Tips: England Edition.

And for the last English Stereotype...
Yeah Baby!
Next up, Ireland!

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Eric's Uninformed Travel Tips: Switzerland (and France) Edition

No excuses this time, I haven't blogged in 6+ months...I'm lazy, non-committal, and scatterbrained...I'm trying to look for a "but" in this statement...I'm...funny (see desperate attempt at humor below)...I hope...
There's your Butt...
Locations visited in July, 2012: Geneva and Zermatt, Switzerland and Chamonix, France

Dates of trip: August, 23rd-26th, 2012
How did we get there: Train, about 2.5 hrs from Paris to Geneva on TGV, as always, European train travel never fails to amaze me...  Got the tickets on rediculous sale prices for about 45 Euros return per person!  We also took a train to Zermatt as its the only way to get there (more on that later), and rented a car in Geneva for the rest of our travels.
Where did we stay: 
In Geneva:  Here we went simple and stayed at the Best Western Hotel Strasbourg in Geneva...I know the name makes no sense but work with me ok...What can I say?  It was a Best was ok, and it was cheap(ish).
In Chamonix: In this lovely little mountain village we stayed at a Logis called the Hotel Aiguille du Midi.  If you are not aware of Logis and are planning to do any amount of travelling in the French countryside you need to do yourself a favour and look them up (  They are a French chain known for great food in interesting locations and they seriously live up to the statement.  We have stayed several and they were all excellent. As with all Logis it was cheap for the level of service and accommodation, but it was still a mid level price.
In Zermatt:  We stayed at the Hotel Continental in this expensive tourist town...needless to say I was a bit dissapointed that "The Continental" wasn't staying at the Hotel Continental...Ah well they did have Cham-pag-na.  This area was very tourist-y think the Banff of Europe, and so the prices reflected that...not cheap.
So how did we spend our time you ask...? Yodelling in the Alps...?  Read on I say...!
We arrived in Geneva early'ish and so had some time to spend exploring the city which was great...For those of you who have been loyally reading my blog since it's inception, you should already know that this is was actually my second time in Geneva...My first being the day I started my European adventures as it is where I signed for my VISA.  Also, if you have really been reading my blog since the beginning...I am sorry...something horrible must have happened in your life and for that I am really, truly, very, sorry...Anyway...back to Geneva.
It was actually good that we came back because I can honestly say that the culture shock in my first trip was too much for me and I really hadn't explored the city at all.  En gros, as the French would say, the city has some beautiful skylines, but the only real reason I could recommend it would be to get out on the lake, it really is magnificent!  You can actually rent "speedboats" by the hour (about 40 Euros) and take them out on the lake, which we did, and we even went swimming...or at least one of us did.  BTW, "speedboats" is in quotes because depending on your definition of speed you may have a different name for them...AKA, they're not fast...

Cruisin' about 5km/hr
 After the first day and the morning of the second we were all boated and Geneva'd out, so we picked up our rental car and headed to our next location, which was actually back in France.  We set off for Chamonix, France, which is actually only about 45 minutes from Geneva.  If you are like me, you will have never heard of this place before, but you have likely heard of the famous mountain that it is known for...Mont Blanc.  As the closest village to the tallest mountain in the Alps, Chamonix is a bit of a tourist trap in the same way Banff is in Canada, but also in the same way as Banff, Chamonix oozes charm and is an outdoorsmans dream!  If you are at all interested in hiking, skiing, paragliding, mountain biking, rock climbing, rafting etc. make this place a part of your plans.  Unfortunately, I should inject that because we were literally there for about a 18 hour span, and during that span Julia got quite sick and had to go to the hospital (just outpatients, no worries), we got to do none of these things...I do however know they are there and recommend them, just book more time than we did.
Finally, on our third day we set off from Chamonix in France for Zermatt in Switzerland...I must admit it was kind of cool to be going from one of the worlds most famous mountains, to another, in the same day, by car...Who'da thunk you can drive from Mont Blanc to The Matterhorn in a few hours...That shit cray!  Also, the roads through the Alps (especially on the Swiss side) are absolutely spectacular!  If you are a driver, and like road trips, these roads should be must-drive's for you.  Where the roads on the French side cut through valleys and tend to stay on the bottom, the roads on the swiss side are much less efficient and more beautiful...For anyone who has done it, I would compare it to the difference between driving the TransCanada in AB versus BC...except inject a couple gallons of old world charm.
It took us a few well spent hours to reach our destination...which was actually not Zermatt, but a town called Visp, which is where you need to park your car and take the train to Zermatt...Oh, did I not mention?  There are no cars (with the exception of service vehicles) in get there, you have the train, or an 8 hour hike up a mountain! I have been to many a mountain town having lived in AB for 5 years, but I must admit that for me, Zermatt is the pinnicle of these tiny mountainside villages...I could go on about this place for hours, but instead I will list what I thought separated it from other mountain towns I have been to:
1.  You can actually go inside a glacier on top of one of the was literally and figuratively cold at the same time...encroyable!.
2.  You can take a gondola to 5,000 meters up...they sold oxygen cannisters at the souvenir shop!
3.  Summer 5,000 meters up, snow don't melt.
4.  Running down the Matterhorn, apparently this is what they do, they literally run down the mountains...Crazy Swiss...
5.  Seeing one of the most perfect mountain peaks closeup.

When we had finally finished our Fondu-ing and running around on mountains, we hopped on the train, then in our car, then on another train...and headed back to Paris...Swiss family Atkinson, out!
 So what were my top 5:
1.  Renting a boat and going for a cruise on Lake Geneva...awesome!  Wish I had brought my trunks.
2.  Driving the Swiss Alps, intense!  They know how to make an entertaining drive.
3.  Going inside an actual glacier...such a crazy experience.
4.  Hiking DOWN the Matterhorn...emphasis on down...
5.  Gondola to the top of a mountain (the mountain next to the Matterhorn to be more exact).  lets just say it beat the hell out of Sunshine in Banff...And yes I did buy an oxygen canister...and no I didn't need it...but you never know...

The hills are alive...and really high...

Affordability: 7/10 If you want to shop you can spend some serious dough, but hotels and entertainment were reasonable.Entertainment: 7/10, the lake is magnificent, but in all I would say you are best to give this city 2 days max.
Ease of Travel:  10/10, Direct, short and cheap train from favorite kind!
Overall:  6/10 It is a good doorway into the Swiss Alps, and for that I rate it 7 but really, judged on its own, its a pretty forgettable city by European standards.


Affordability: 7/10 in summer, 4/10 in winter, seriously I have heard it is insane in winter. Entertainment: 9/10 if you like outdoor activities in winter and/or summer. 
Ease of Travel:  6/10, you can get there by train though it takes several connections, otherwise its car or bust.
Overall:  8/10 I love me some mountain towns so I have to rate it reletively high.


Affordability: 6/10 in summer, 3/10 in winter, they know what they've got here and they make you pay for it. 

Entertainment: 10/10, See my notes for Chamonix and then take them up a notch.
Ease of Travel:  4/10, you can't just show up to this will at the very least have to take 2 trains or a train and a car.
Overall:  10/10 if you can afford it, 8/10 if you are pinching pennies. (in that case I recommend staying in Chamonix).

Hello from inside a glacier!
 Wow!  I am almost as surprised I finished a post as you surely are...let's keep this rolling...Nah, I probably wont...But if I do, it will be the All things London post!