Rising above the Thames on the London Eye

Thames view of London Eye

View of the London Eye from the Thames cruise

In the year 2000, the Millennium Wheel was unveiled along the Thames. The enclosed Ferris Wheel welcomed the new century by adding a modern structure to the landscape of this old city. For more than ten years, the cab would drive along the Thames on the way to the office in The City and I would look across the river and say “I need to ride that sometime soon”.  In 2011, I finally found time to experience The London Eye, the new name of the Millennium Wheel, a much better name in my opinion. The London Eye is located across from Big Ben & Parliament on the South Bank of the River Thames and its 32 capsules can carry up to 800 passengers per rotation. The views were just magical (and pretty cool) on my first ride – a nice change from the inside of a conference room I was accustomed.

When my niece listed the London Eye on her must do London list, I was all good to ride it again.  As it was summer and specifically Wimbledon week in June, the crowds swelled with school groups, tour groups and tourists like us.  This area of the Thames is teeming with people enjoying the restaurants, boarding river cruises, on the bridge taking selfies with Big Ben, etc. With this in mind and not wanting to commit to a specific day online (where tickets are cheaper if you buy in advance), I opted to do the “Fast Track ticket” when it was a nice, sunny day.  The hotel concierge arranged the tickets but did not book online as I thought he would for £26.55 each (online discount), he instead used a tour company (for which he gets a commission) for £29.50 each and gave me a paper voucher that I would need to exchange at the ticket office fast track desk.  This disappointed me and I did mention this to the hotel manager when we had our long chat about my hotel experience (this is another story for another day).

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Categories: Activities/Experiences, London, Travel, Travel With Children, Travel with Niece(s) | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

The 19k mile itinerary – London, Philly, Paris, London, Portland, Seattle in 6 weeks

When I was asked for my room number in Seattle, I had no idea, I looked in my purse for the room key and pulled out key cards from Portland, London, Paris and Philly (an indication that I need to clean out my purse!).  I was at the end of my six weeks of travel  staying at eight hotels during this time.  It was understandable that I was confused, it had been a busy travel schedule.  My purse was full of three currencies, boarding passes and key cards.

Similar to my crazy two months of travel last October/November (see  “Two Months – three trips, 16 flights, 43,000 miles and I’m exhausted), I would fly over the pond twice in a month.  This big trip would not involve a round the world trip after London but rather just a West Coast trip, a bit more manageable.  This all sounds fun in theory and it was until I came home to the bills (an 11 yo is expensive to feed!), my work emails and had to re-enter my normal life, one without room service and housekeeping. Immediately all of the travel goodwill and relaxation quickly faded and I immediately wanted to get back on a plane and fly away but I need to work to support my travel life so back to the real world I go albeit reluctantly.

For the past few weeks, I’ve posted a lot about the trips and still have more pending.  So here is the itinerary that kept me and my TripIt Pro busy for June and July:


Business Trip

London Tower Bridge

London Tower Bridge with temporary South Bank Art installation

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Categories: London, Paris, Portland, Oregon, Seattle, Travel, Travel with Niece(s) | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Confessions of a Hotel Chipmunk and the $45 Bottle of Shampoo

Hotel housekeeping feeds my addiction – they know it’s not possible to use three bottles of shampoo a day but continue to restock the bathroom without question or judgement.  I’d like to think that my daily tip is a bit of “hush” money to ignore my addiction.  The addition is so bad, that I need to check my luggage.  While my bag certainly qualifies as carry-on only, the many ziploc bags of hotel toiletries in my luggage are over the 3-1-1 limit.  Thankfully, my credit cards and/or business class ticket waive the checked baggage fees.  Yes, I’m addicted to the hotel toiletries, preferring the luxury items!  When I asked Jacob Tomsky, hotel expert and author of “Heads in Beds” (a must read! it had me laughing the entire flight from Seoul to Singapore), via Twitter if there was a hotel term for my addiction, he said there wasn’t a term, but if there were he’d call me a “hotel chipmunk”.   This made me laugh – I am a (luxury) hotel chipmunk – sounds much cuter than toiletry thief or shampoo addict.  It’s much easier admitting the cookie addiction as people understand chocolate chips moreso than shampoo.

Gilcrist Soames Toiletries

You can’t take these home…being environmentally friendly

It all started on that first Club World British Airways flight when the business class toiletry bag included Molton Brown (airline chipmunk).  Molton Brown was the first luxury toiletry company that I had encountered and quickly became a fan.  With one or two flights a year to London, I thought that was enough to satisfy me but I quickly became addicted (years before the U.S. stores opened) and began visiting the shop on Regent Street.  I would shop for the full size versions and ignore the cost (you have to ignore the exchange rate otherwise you will agree with people who label you “crazy” for paying more than $50 for shampoo – actually you may now judge me insane for spending that, I’m starting to wonder myself now too!).

Molton Brown toiletries

Molton Brown started me down this luxury toiletry addiction

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Categories: London, luxury hotel, Musings, My Favorites, Travel | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments

Movie Magic for Muggles in London – The Harry Potter Studio Tour

JK Rowling Quote

This JK Rowling quote welcomes you in the Harry Potter Studio tour queue

The Harry Potter Studio tour opened to the public in 2012 in Leavesden, about eighteen miles outside of London and since then I’ve wanted to visit with each trip to London. Sadly, my boss has had other ideas, namely meetings, dinners and such leaving little “free” time to explore the city.  So on my “to do list” it stayed until my niece asked “can we go to London too” on our Paris tour.  Now, I had the free time in the city and rather than go solo, I had the required child for appearances sake.  Let’s be clear, I was more excited to go The Harry Potter Studio tour than she was given that I’m a film geek. I understand all the categories (even the tech awards) at the Academy Awards, watch all of the short films (animated and documentary) and yet never win the Oscar pool! I also love attending film festivals and have met many directors, actors and crew along the way.

So in addition to loving the Harry Potter films, I was loving the meticulous detail of the props, costumes, background, make up, set design, construction, art design, etc.  My niece didn’t appreciate all the little details like I did – she saw the big things and just wanted her picture here and there which made sense as she is eleven.

Harry Potter Studio Tour

My niece at the Harry Potter Studio tour – Griffin Stairwell

Since I was unable to get tickets to the tour online  (£31 Adult and £23.50 Child admission only, you need to arrange transit from London to the train station and then transfer to the studio tour shuttle),  I had no choice but to book with Golden Tours, the exclusive Harry Potter Studio tour operator in London.  The Golden Tour cost was £59 Adult, £54 Child, which included admission and transportation from London.  Upside is that you don’t need to worry about transit/shuttles, downside is that your visit is limited to three hours (If you want to stay longer, then either drive yourself or do the train/shuttle combo).

Harry Potter Studio Tour Shuttle Bus

The Harry Potter Studio Tour shuttle to/from local train station

Traveling to Victoria Station, we of course, exited wrong, walked around the entire building before finding the Golden Tours office/queue (hidden in the courtyard). Despite our early arrival for the 10 a.m. departure, we were queued up toward the end of the line.  We would be the last people on the double deck bus, sitting together on the lower level without a view.  The rest of the folks were put on a regular tour bus behind us.  The eighteen mile journey would take almost an hour, luckily we did not have to stop at the second pick up point on Baker Street as we were full.  TIP: Board at Victoria to get seats together and arrive first.

Harry Potter Studio Tour

The entrance to the Harry Potter Studio Tour outside of London

Warning: This is a long post with many photos – if you want the short version – IT’S AWESOME!  A MUST SEE! Visit the website for interactive fun facts or “read more” and enjoy my tour.

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Categories: Activities/Experiences, London, Travel, Travel With Children, Travel with Niece(s) | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

5 Days in London, the Leisurely Tween Edition

Big Ben London 5 days in London

Big Ben and Parliament in London

Over the past ten years, I’ve visited London generally once a year for work or for a stopover on an award ticket during vacation.  I’ve become comfortable with the city and have my favorites so when my niece asked “can we go to London too?”, I said “yes”.  I said “yes” because we were already on a British Airways award ticket which gave us a free London stopover anyway so it wasn’t much of a stretch to visit the city as I had Starwood points for  a hotel redemption. So keeping in sync with planning a first time visit for a tween to London (taking into account all of the issues I dealt with in the Paris itinerary) here was the leisurely schedule for 5 days in London, the tween edition.

Day 1 –  1/2 Free Time

Arrive St. Pancras mid-day from Paris on the Eurostar train, we would take a classic black cab from the train station to the hotel to check-in, drop bags and go explore the city (code for tween shopping).  We were staying at the Park Lane Sheraton on Piccadilly (across from Buckingham Palace) which was a short walk (15 mins) to the shopping on Oxford Street.  My niece had a set amount of money to shop with in London and having spent the last three days in Paris with no money (after spending it all in one day shopping), she was ready to go crazy!  It only took one store to hit all the marks – TopShop!  We spent about two hours and she was in tween shopping heaven (me, well I was in shopping hell). Luckily, she (I) found great stuff just as she (I) had in Paris. Spending all of her money at once meant I didn’t need to browse/shop again for the rest of the stay (woohoo!).

TopShop Happy Tween London

TopShop is all it takes to make a tween happy in London

Byron Burger London 5 Days in London

Byron Burgers in London make people happy too!

We then walked down Oxford Street to Wardour Street (Soho) to pick up chocolate, red velvet cupakes and have an early dinner at one of my favorite burger shops (sure to please any kid), Byron.  Ordering burgers and fries, my niece went for a milkshake.  Byron doesn’t quite make a small milkshake – they use six (6!!!) scoops of ice cream.  My niece loved it all – shopping and burgers in any language, in any country is generally a home run!

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Categories: London, Travel, Travel With Children, Travel with Niece(s) | Tags: , , | 3 Comments