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Where to stay and more practical information

London is vast. And it is an expensive city. If budget is not an issue, you will have the best choices of the world's top hotels, close to the West End, or city center, or in trendy areas.

One crucial issue is that public transportation is divided into Zones. Zone 3 is further out than Zone 2 etc., and fares or farecards are based on the no. of zones traversed. If you decide to stay further out, the proximity to the tube (underground) station is also crucial. Try not to get into a situation where you have to hoof a mile or two to get to the station or even to take the bus. Buses are prone to delays, and are not the most reliable. If you are on a tube line that takes you directly into an area like Piccadilly Circus without any line changes, that's even better. You will find that the lines going directly into Central London tend to be faster, and the further out you are, the more subject to the vagaries of canceled trains and London Transport delays.

So, you will want to stay as close in (zone-wise) and as close to a tube station as possible. Also, it is imperative that you check on the amenities e.g. shared bathroom or communal bathroom and location of bathroom. There tends to be a huge variation of amenities and acceptability in the city. (Outside the city, bed-and-breakfast accommodations tend to be more lovingly cared for. Note that the English breakfast is a FULL breakfast with bacon/sausage, eggs, toast and the works. In general, England is more a tea-drinking country than a coffee-drinking country i.e. you are likely to get outstanding tea, and you could hedge your bets on coffee, although chains like Starbucks have already colonized.

The major online booking agents like Orbitz, Expedia and hotels.com all offer booking services for London. For a more local booking service, look into http://www.hotel-assist.com/.

For a currency converter, use http://www.xe.com/ucc/

How to get around

Transportation (and the costs thereof) is a very major factor of living there or even visiting for a few days. While the best way to explore certain areas is still on foot, the most efficient way to cover ground is still on the London Underground, an extensive network of trains which is easy to use, and, if you are not unlucky enough to be in the middle of a strike, relatively efficient. Transportation costs can add up, and so it is also imperative that you plan your visit and decide (according to where you are staying) the most cost and time-efficient method of traveling.

As mentioned above, London is divided into zones. Travel cards are determined by how many zones you intend to traverse. Also, they are determined also by whether or not folks wish to travel at "peak" times or not. So advance planning is a good idea. For example, if you will not be going to Zone 3, except when you are taking a trip further afield, there is no point in getting a 3-zone pass, and you might be better off just getting a day off-peak travel card for the day when you plan your foray to, say, Kew Gardens.

You can get detailed information on tickets, types of passes, zones, off-peak travel and maps for the entire system on http://www.tfl.gov.uk/tfl/

Note: The best way to get from the two major airports into the city is by public transportation and not by cab! There is a Gatwick Express train that serves Gatwick Airport that takes you directly to Victoria Station in London, from which point you can find your hotel. There is also a new Heathrow Link that takes all of 15 minutes to get you into Paddington Station. On your way out, you can even check in ahead of time, as the major airline terminals have facilities at Paddington.

And a quick note about luggage: if you are planning to use public transportation with your luggage, do consider that the underground stations leading to the outside are not always equipped with working escalators or elevators (lifts). Thus, wheelies are good, and even better would be those that can also double as a backpack, as you may also have to negotiate stairs!

Dining in London

London is full of every type of restaurant imaginable, especially if you are wandering around the "touristy" areas. Because of its vastness, people generally do not take a train across London to explore a different restaurant, but plan the restaurant according to the place they are in. Or, folks will just look for a place within their specific locale. Check this site for some dining information: http://www.london-eating.co.uk/

If budget is a consideration, there are some broad options for inexpensive eating. The first is ethnic food, foremost among which is some of the best Indian food in the world. You can find a decent Indian restaurant just about in any neighborhood of London. Chinese food in Soho (or Chinatown) is also inexpensive, if not always the most elegant, and there are other pockets of places with Chinese restaurants e.g. the Queensway/Baywsater area. Also, there are things like kebabs etc. Quintessentially British is the pub meal. English pubs are special institutions, very characterful and some of them dating back a while. Many serve basic food, sometimes stodgier than at others. Picnics are also quite the thing to do, given the many lovely parks and outdoor areas in London, weather permitting, of course.

One last thing that has to be tried: the legendary English fish'n'chips.There are stalls that do this all over, or you can get a goodly helping in a pub. You will get piping hot cod and chips which you can flavor with salt and vinegar, and more than likely, the vendor will be quite a colorful character.

Notes

For more information, it is worth picking up a not-too-bulky copy of any number of guide books published by Frommer's, Fodor's, Lonely Planet etc. Again, your book of choice will depend largely on whether you are planning to visit more than one European city and how much time you have.

Public phone service is not terribly reliable either, although you can get very inexpensive phone cards off the street to call internationally. However, if you have pressing concerns and responsibilities even on vacation, bear in mind that it is sometime hard to find a phone booth that is in working order. (Such is the darker side of London...!)

 




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