If you’ve been following along with my travels, then you know I had quite the European trip! I was away for 3.5 weeks and visited 11 countries (seven of them with my dad). The trip began in Romania, where my wife and I went on a lower Danube cruise with AmaWaterways. When my wife had to go back home to work, my dad flew in. We boarded Uniworld’s ship River Beatrice in Budapest and went on an upper Danube cruise to Passau. After eight days of sailing, we spent two nights in Munich and Lisbon before going on another cruise. This time, it was on an ocean liner and the industry’s newest ship: Viking Star! We sailed five nights to London with a stop in Normandy, France. To cap off the amazing journey, my dad and I spent a night in London before flying home. Here’s how our 30 hours in London played out.
Greenwich to London
Viking Star arrived bright and early, around 7:30am, into Greenwich, England which is just outside of London. We sailed up the Thames River and I woke up around 6am to see the sights. But it was a chilly, misty, miserable morning and there wasn’t much to see until a few minutes before mooring. Greenwich is where the Royal Observatory is located and it’s the home of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) and the Prime Meridian of the world. It seems like a cool little village but we had way too much luggage and it wasn’t the kind of day you wanted to spend touring.
We jumped in one of London’s iconic black cabs with two new friends from the ship and headed to our hotel in Mayfair. London’s black cabs aren’t cheap and the fare for the 30-minute ride was £45 ($70 USD). If I wasn’t with my dad, I would have taken public transportation (the DLR to the tube) but having large and heavy suitcases made it almost impossible. Taxi tip: Be sure to ask the taxi driver before getting in if they take credit cards or not. Ours didn’t so I had to give him a combination of GBP and euros; he was reluctant to take the latter.
Intercontinental London Park Lane
We checked into the Intercontinental London Park Lane (One Hamilton Place; Tel: +44 (0)20 7409 3131), which is in a fantastic location. It’s right on the corner of Park Lane, a block north of the Hard Rock Café and across the street from Hyde Park. Our room was ready so my dad took a nap (he’s 86) and I worked since I finally had some fast Internet. The hotel offers free basic Internet but it was slower than the ship I’d just gotten off of, so I reluctantly upgraded to the good stuff for £15 ($23 USD). If I hadn’t had a ton of photos to upload, I would have stuck with the basic Internet … but what can you do?
Ninety minutes later, it was difficult to wake my dad since the hotel sheets are ridiculously soft and he was pooped from nonstop eating at the cruise buffet. I lured him out of bed by telling him we were going to get some lunch. On the way out of the hotel we stopped by the clubroom, which we had access to, and where they have the best blueberry and cranberry homemade cookies. They also have one of the best clubroom breakfasts that I’ve had. Other hotel notables are that the bathroom tub fills up super fast but it’s a high step to get in and out so it’s difficult for seniors. One thing is for sure: the Intercontinental provides great service – especially the doormen who are impeccably dressed.
The sun came out and it turned out to be a gorgeous but nippy day. The temperature was only in the high 50s but Londoners were acting like they were in the Caribbean. We grabbed a couple of sandwiches from Pret a Manger (the brie, tomato, and basil is so tasty) and ate them on a bench in Green Park, which was just a few blocks from the hotel. We then took a leisurely walk through the park to Buckingham Palace, which is always fun to check out.
Savoy Grill and Theatre
By the time we made it back to the hotel, it was time to get ready for an early dinner at Gordon Ramsay’s Savoy Grill with two of my friends. It’s the perfect place to have a dinner if you are going to the Savoy Theatre for a show, since it’s just 20 yards away. We ate some traditional British food and I had something I’ve never had before: Chicken and smoked ham knuckle pie with parsley and tarragon sauce (£20) – it was delicious. And my dad loved his Dover sole. We didn’t have time for dessert so we went straight to the theatre for the 7:30pm curtain call to see the musical Gypsy starring Imelda Staunton. It’s a good show and it has just been extended by three months.
Uber in London
Since I wasn’t having much luck finding taxis that accepted credit cards, I decided to use Uber X. I used it a few times this trip and have come to the conclusion that the drivers in London take a lot longer than the GPS initially indicates. Often times, when I logged on, it would say a driver is five minutes away but with London traffic it was more like 15. And the drivers always seem to have to call to find out where you are located since Uber’s pin drop isn’t accurate. The good news is that it’s cheaper than traditional taxis, you can use the credit card you have on file and they don’t charge a credit card fee. Just make sure your credit card on file doesn’t charge you foreign transaction fees. This is my go to international credit card.
Shopping in London
The next day, my dad wanted to do some shopping so while he was buying gifts for my sisters at Fortnum & Mason, I went to Tesco Express to stock up on my favorite hot pepper sauce, Encona. They only charge £1 ($1.57 USD) per bottle so I bought eight!
London to Los Angeles
My dad and I both had Club World tickets on British Airways so we had access to their top-notch lounge in T5. We had a light lunch and then headed out to the gates. It was pretty much perfect since our flights were fifteen minutes apart and the gates were next door to each other. I put him on his flight to New York and I flew back to L.A. on one of British Airways’ new A380s.
My flight ended up being delayed by an hour because two passengers from South Africa didn’t board the plane but their bags did. So they had to find their bags in the cargo hold and take them off. In doing so, one of the baggage handlers got hurt (I think the cargo door fell on him) and we needed to wait for the ambulance. Luckily, he was alright.
British Airways Mindfulness for Travel Series
After a delicious chicken curry dinner, I slept most of the 10-hour flight. Part of the reason I slept so soundly is because British Airways has introduced its Mindfulness for Travel series. It features videos that BA passengers can use to get in a relaxed state of mind. The initiative was developed for the launch of British Airways’ new A380 service between San Francisco and London. Mark Coleman, founder of The Mindfulness Institute in San Francisco, worked with British Airways to create this cool program, which is available pre-flight, mid-flight, and pre-arrival. The videos can be found onboard British Airways’ new aircrafts as well as at www.ba.com/wellbeing. Here’s more on the subject.
The whole trip was incredible and I can’t believe I’ve visited 11 countries and seven of them were with my dad, who has never traveled like I’ve been able to. I’m very thankful for the time we’ve been able to spend together and my dad is a wonderful man. The other day he almost made me melt when he said, “Do you know what the best thing about seeing all these countries is? That I get to do it with you.”
I truly believe that travel makes people better human beings. It not only overpowers prejudices and stereotypes but also brings out the true colors in people. The best way to get to know someone is to go on a trip with them—which is why I always recommend going on your honeymoon before getting married!