So many worlds and cultures in one place and all easily accessible to you on the train or with shuttle flights. If you have never been to Europe before then this tutorial will help you immensely and if you have, it will be a refresher course loaded with secret spots you should check out when you decide to visit again.
Before you go you want to stock up on calling cards. Sure you can get them there but sometimes the best rates are the cards you buy in the States and take with you. I know that Costco has a 670 minute calling card for a mere $20 dollars and this will serve you well in Europe.
Tip: get all the access numbers BEFORE you leave the States. What this means is if you plan on traveling to England, France and Spain, then on the back of the calling card there is a customer service number. Call it and get all the various phone numbers to access the calling card for the countries you are going to be visiting.
I learned the hard way once when I was in Spain trying to get the local access number to use my calling card to call the States. It was a headache so get them all before you go.
When I travel I don't, as a rule, go to the tourist spots. In fact I prefer to stay in town where the locals live and this is so I can observe how real life is, and not just see things from a tourist standpoint because as always whenever I am operating in the world it is always with a view for a new potential place to live. This is how I approach my travels, so you will not find me in some Holiday Inn or any of those type places. I like being where the real people are.
The advantage to this is you learn alot about what everyday life is like in the country you are interested in. Also, you get good information from the locals, stuff you would not read in some newspaper or travel magazine. As I always say, networking is still the name of the game in any country.
I would suggest
flying into Heathrow in England (LHR airport code). I say this because
if you don't speak French, German, Spanish or anything else for that matter
it is best to go into a place where they speak your language. Now that's
not to say you can't be adventurous. By all means you can be, but again
it's better to ease into a new culture.
You would think after a ten hour flight you would not want to be on a train going to another destination but the fact is you will love it, guaranteed! It will give you a chance to see English neighborhoods and areas. The houses are all so quaint, most being made from old brick, so much old world character you will see! Not like riding the train in the states where all you see are poor people's backyards.
If you are like me and don't want to stay in a touristy type of hotel and you want to be around the real people then I can suggest a good place to stay. The Newham Hotel which is located on my favorite street in all of London, Romford Road. The address is 349-353 Romford Rd. Forest Gate, London E7 8AA. Phone number is: 020-8534-8400.
It's a bed and breakfast type of place and very family oriented. The staff all know and love each other like family and if you happen to stay there for awhile as I did, they will take you into their embrace and make you feel like family. In fact when I first went to England it was the staff at the Newham Hotel that encouraged me to stay there and find a place to live and not go back to the States. They even helped me to stay there!
The rates fluctuate but a single is about 30 pounds, which is about $48 dollars a night and that is pretty good. Some of rooms are kind of small but very cozy. Definite thumbs up if you are not alone and on a romantic getaway! If you do stay at this hotel, bring some wash cloths because they do not have any.
Breakfast is done serving at about 9am so if you want to eat then you have to get up, which I always found so hard since I was most comfortable sleeping in. If you do make breakfast don't order bacon. They don't have it and it is something you will not find in great supply in England anyway, and it is a sure fire dead giveaway that you are a 'yank' or an american.
The English breakfast usually consists of toast, jam, tea, some eggs, maybe a few slices of cheese, and some ham. I am a bacon and eggs kind of guy, so for me this was a bit of a transition but like I have said in my previous articles and books, when in Rome do as the Romans do.
There are pubs
all along Romford Road and most are local establishments where you will
have a pint with real people and not tourist types. There are small stores
along the way in case you need to purchase items like soap, toothpaste
or even a nice bottle of wine. Most everything in this part of town closes
at midnight or thereabouts. If you run short of cash, the hotel will exchange
a few dollars for you but usually not more than say $50 dollars at a time.
There are several good eateries along the way and one of the best Chinese restaurants is on Romford Road. Right down from the Newham Hotel. It's called the Eastern Palace. It's at 278 Romford Road, Forest Gate, London E7 9HD. They open late in the evening about 7pm but stay open till about 1am. The food is excellent! I would suggest Lemon Chicken with some Sweet and Sour Pork. For those of you that are die hards, yes there is Burger King, McDonalds and all the other popular fast food chains.
I always suggest to people to buy a cell phone when you go abroad. Having a local number can sometimes make all the difference. The best place to buy a cell phone is at a store called The Link. You can find one in the Stratford Mall and all over. They have all types of cell phones, new and refurbished. I would suggest buying a refurbished prepaid phone.
They do not call them "cell phones" in England, they call them "mobiles" but The Link has the best selection (www.thelink.co.uk). The refurbished used units are all in top notch condition and you would never know they were used or refurbished. The price for one is about 35pounds, a little over $50 dollars. Definitely worth it though. They will activate it in the store for you and add your prepaid time. The prepaid airtime cards are called "Top Up Cards" so if you see signs around town at little convenience stores that say "Top up cards sold here" you will know that they sell additional airtime.
They are very inexpensive. I usually just bought 10 pound cards which lasted a good while. Your phone time will last a while because as I mentioned in other articles and writings, the Euro system is the best for cell phones because there is no charge for incoming calls. Incoming calls are free! So pass out your number and let people call you.
If you are just on a visit, then make sure you email your number to your family and friends in the States.
You can go to all the readily available tourist spots but that's all boring and drab. Why waste your time with that? See the real London, England! Go to the pubs, find out what local nightclubs are happening and check them out. I warn you though, the English like their music in clubs deafeningly loud. Don't expect to meet anyone and have a decent conversation.
London is quite an expensive place. Don't even think about living there. Everyone wants to live in London and this is why it is so expensive. If you are exploring with a view to make it a place to live then look outside of London, in the suburbs. Yorkshire has very reasonable rents and is only an hour or so by train from the excitement of London.
This is where I first learned the lesson that what you pay for a day at a hotel you can easily find a furnished flat and stay for a month. Oh yes, flat is what they call apartments. No one says apartments, and they don't use the word "rent" if you are wanting to look for a potential place to live, they use the expression "to let". Another major difference in flats, is that in England rent is generally, paid on a weekly basis and not monthly like in the States. The average rent for a flat outside of London is about $65-$80 dollars per week depending on furnishings and amenities. I have found places for less also.
If you are walking past a window of an office and you see a sign that says "Places To Let" that means it is probably a rental agency. If you are, as I mentioned on a exploratory trip to see about making England your home, steer clear of these rental agencies and get a paper and find your own places.
Again, as I mentioned in my ebooks one of the best ways to find a place to rent is to talk to the local people. Once they know you are looking for a place to rent to stay in the country, many will help you quickly. Why? Well a great deal of London is made up of people who come from other places and they all know how hard it is too get started, so many will be eager to help you out.
In fact London is a proverbial melting pot of people, you will see just about every race imaginable represented. For the most part, everyone gets along pretty well but there are a few trouble makers within certain racial communities. I speak mainly of Africans, and no I am not being racist it is just a fact. Any bobbie (policeman) will tell you that they cause more than there fair share of trouble. Go figure?
When getting around one must remember there are two types of trains in England, the general trains to get you to other parts or outlying areas, pretty much the same as a commuter train in the States would, and then there are the ones for actual travel. The Waterloo station is the main station for traveling to other countries.
Main train stations are always in the center of town in any European city. Remember this one fact and you will be able to get around easily and well. The stations themselves are not the grungy dank holes you see in the States, no the Eurorail stations are bright, cheerful and quite modern. Most double as malls also, which will afford you great opportunity to shop.
Last minute travel on the train surprisingly is not that expensive. One morning I got up and decided to go to Paris, which is only three hours by rail and the ticket came to a couple of hundred round trip. The trains themselves are quite clean with all the amenities you would find on a plane. Food concessions are on board for snacks and whatnot. Traveling by rail in Europe is truly almost like traveling first class wherever you go.
You can purchase a Eurorail train pass for much of your local travel and for other countries in the EU. You can usually get a Eurorail pass at any good travel agency or at AAA in the States and if you are a member of AAA then there is a nice discount on your pass.
You have to know little tricks like this that will save you lots of money. Europe can be an expensive place but if you know a few secrets your money will go a long way. It is very possible to see Europe on a budget and enjoy it.
for this segment but in the follow up we will go into France a bit and
I will give you some secret spots for good food and cool things to check
out. You can reach me at my site or my email. My site is http://www.howtwovideo.com/travelogue
and my email is firstname.lastname@example.org
for any questions or comments. Look for the follow up in next monthís Escape
America. Until then, think abroad!