Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Shopping with the family in London

A beadle at Burlington Arcade by mharrsch on Flickr.  Used through creative commons.
A beadle at Burlington Arcade
An Afternoon Window Shopping with the Family on Regents Street
By Mark Fitzgerald

What I love about London is the combination of old and new where you can combine the tradition, pomp and circumstance with cutting edge fashion, culture and technology. Window shopping in London's West End pulls together architecture of the early 1800s and the styles of today.

We plan to spend a couple of hours just looking and taking a mile walk  (1.6 kilometers) starting at the Burlington Arcade, heading over to Piccadilly Circus and Lillywhites.  We then end up at Liberty department store.

The Burlington Arcade would be considered the precursor to the modern mall. Wikipedia says it was built "for the sale of jewelry and fancy articles of fashionable demand, for the gratification of the public." As you enter this arcade you will like be greeted by a Beadle, or an usher at the entrance, complete in top hat. This walkway will bring you past some spectacular windows of some very high end and interesting stores.

Start out on the north side of Burlington Arcade and walk south to Piccadilly. As you come out turn left and head down to Piccadilly Circus. Piccadilly has similarities to Times Square in New York, as it has neon lights, advertisements and the like. There is also the fountain and statue of Eros.
Piccadilly Circus with the Statue of Eros by Landahlauts on Flickr.  Used through Creative Commons.
Piccadilly Circus

Directly fronting Piccadilly Circus is Lillywhites. This sporting goods store, and common London tourist attraction, has been here since 1925. Wander around to see sporting gear and team memorabilia for soccer, rugby, cricket and other sports common to England. Afterwards work your way out on to Regent Street and head north.

Regent Street has a little something for everyone. You may be interested in Hamley's Toys, a monster seven story toy store.  Maybe a gigantic Apple Store is more up your alley. Or perhaps unique food is of interest to you. You will want to visit the East India Company. There is also an abundance of stores that may be in your neighborhood - Nike, Levi's, Bose and Tommy Hilfiger.

Liberty Department Store by Laura (move to Portugal) on Flickr.  Used through Creative Commons.
Liberty Department Store
We want to end up at Liberty's department Store.   Housed just off of Regent St, in a large Tudor facade building, Liberty sells unique gifts, novelties, clothes, and home-wares. You may want to stop in just to get a scone with clotted cream and jam at the Liberty Cafe on the 2nd floor. Or simply that you need to go and that ranked the ground floor bathroom in the shoe department as "second to none".

London Transport flanks the beginning and end points of this shopping route. Oxford Circus is the fourth busiest Underground station in the system. It is serviced by the Central, Victoria and Bakerloo lines. The other side is Piccadilly Circus, with the Piccadilly and Bakerloo lines, not to mention 16 bus routes that pass through. You can also use Green Park with the Victoria, Piccadilly and Jubilee lines.  If you are using Barclay Bikes, there is a station just to the north and east of Burlington Arcade on Sackville Street and another between Liberty and Oxford Circus station.

Map of walking route:
Walking Map of Regent Street, London

And for a bit of a preview of what Liberty is like:

Going on a family vacation builds memories, provides life changing experiences and helps teach about the world we live in. Take time to explore, enjoy and have fun. If this tour Regents Street sounded interesting, you may also like Fat Tire Bike Tours. You can also look at our entire list of London Attractions.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Visit Station Jim at Slough Railway Station

A landmark to see when passing through Slough Station
By Mark Fitzgerald

If your journey to Windsor Castle takes you through Slough Station take a moment to go over to platform 5 and find Station Jim.  Who is station Jim you may ask?  He is a Canine Collector of course.  A what?

The Dog Station Jim on display at Slough Station by JenGallardo on flickr.  Used through Creative Commons.
Station Jim on display at Slough Station
Station Jim was a dog that was found at the railway station in Slough in 1894.  The small puppy was taught tricks and to stay off the tracks.  He became a town mascot of sorts.  The people loved him.

Before long he someone strapped on a coin collection box to raise money for Widows and Orphans.  He started out slow until someone taught him to bark each time he received a coin.  Over two years he collected £40 (£40.00 in 1896 is equivalent to £3,822.71 in 2013).

But the good times didn't last.  He died in 1896.  The community paid to have him stuffed and put on display.  Over a hundred years later Station Jim is still with us standing guard over Slough Station.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Overlooking London with your family from atop the London Eye

London Eye by Herbsttag88 on Flickr.  Used through Creative Commons.
London Eye at Night
Tips for visiting the London Eye
By Mark Fitzgerald

The London Eye has quickly become an iconic experience for first time visitors to London despite being only 14 years old. This London attraction will give you a 30 minute ride to see the sites of London. It will top out at 443 feet (135 meters) with stunning views of Westminster and Lambeth.

The kids are excited to visit.  I think this is two fold - it is something they have heard of and it is a Ferris wheel (e.g. it moves).  Personally I would rather see London from the View from the Shard.  You are higher up and you get to stay until you are ready to leave.  

Queue at the London Eye by by cuttlefish on Flickr.  Used through Creative Commons.
Summer Line at the London Eye
One of the most challenging aspects of visiting the London Eye is figuring out which ticket to buy.  I find it fascinating that you need a buying guide to select which ticket is best for your Ferris wheel experience.
  1. You have to decide if you want to buy online or in person.  You have to do this at least 4 days in advanced, but it saves money.
  2. Then you have to decide if you want a standard or fast track ticket.  The fast track allows you to go to the front of the line - kind of like Disney's fast pass.  
  3. Next you have to decide to buy the flexi option.  This allows you to visit without having to preselect an arrival time.
One of the reasons for the complexity of ticket prices is the weather.  No one really want to sight-see in the middle of a rain cloud.  The cheapest option is to buy a standard ticket online 4 days in advance.  This will tie you to a day and a specific time - rain or shine.  Flexi options allow you to either select a day within the week or a time with a specified day.  

The fast track sound appealing but with a capacity of 1,600 people per hour, it isn't always needed.  The line moves pretty quick.  London Eye is at its busiest during the months of July and August. In the off season the Eye opens at 10:00 AM and goes until 8:30 at night.  The busiest time of the day would be from 11:00 am to 3:00 pm.

A video from London Landmarks highlights the London Eye.

Apart from buying online there isn't a lot of discounts.  You can get a family pass that will cover a family of four.  There is no help from the London Pass on this one.  If you buy online you print off your tickets at home and go straight to the boarding lines.  If you are buying on site the ticket office is located inside County Hall, which is the building directly next to the London Eye.

Bathrooms are also located in the County Hall building.  Since you may be in line for 20 minutes and there are no bathrooms on board the 30 minute ride you may want to hit the facilities before starting.

The closest London Tube station is Waterloo. When you exit follow the signs for South Bank. You can also arrive via Riverboat at the Millenium Pier or if your kids are older consider using Barclays Cycle Hire bicycles.

London Eye Attraction's map:

Map of area around London Eye:


Thursday, January 9, 2014

Go see the Roman Wall when visiting the Tower of London

Roman Dude London by uktripfor2006 on Flickr.  Used through Creative Commons.
Trajan at the Roman Wall
A landmark to see when visiting the Tower of London
By Mark Fitzgerald

London Transport makes it easy to get to the Tower of London. Several bus stops, a London Tube station and connection to the Docklands Light Rail (DLR). Most of these converge just to the North of the Tower of London. This is also where you can find remains of the great Roman Wall that surrounded the City of London.

Nearly 2000 years ago the Roman’s occupied the City of London and made it a fortified walled city. It became a major center of trade. The wall was nearly 3 miles (5 kilometers) long and in places was 20 feet tall (6 meters). The City of London (not to be confused with London – see below) is still defined by where the wall was.

So when visiting the Tower of London take a few minutes to explore before going in. Most people cross Tower Hill road by using an underpass. The wall, along with a statue of Trajan, is right next to this underpass. Also in this area is the Tower Hill Sundial. Along the perimeter is a history of the area starting with the Roman Conquest in 43 AD and the walls being built.

To fully understand the difference between London and the City of London please make sure see this short, yet highly entertaining video by CGP Grey:


Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Using Barclay Cycle Hire to Speed Your Family Along

Tips for using Barclay Bicycles in London
By Mark Fitzgerald

Barclay Cycle Hire appears to be a wonderful alternative to getting on the tube for every little trip. For about the same cost as a ride on the bus you can gain access to bicycles all over the city for the entire day.

Here is the quick version of how it works - For the purposes of our blog we have planned staying in a flat right next to Paddington station. Just outside the station is a fleet of blue bikes with a computer terminal next to them. You walk up to the terminal and you insert £2 and you go an unlock a bike. You can then ride the bike anywhere you wish.
Dock Bikes at Barclays Cycle Hire by swanksalot on Flickr.  Used by Creative Commons.
Docked Bikes at a Barclays Cycle Hire

Let's say we plan to go to Banqueting House to start your day. This is 3.2 miles (5.1 kilometers) through the parks and will take you 25 minutes.  Once you get to your destination find the nearest dock and lock up your bike with the other Barclay Bikes.

As long as you are under 30 minutes the trip does not cost any additional money and you can check the bike out as many times during the day as you need. You do not always get the same bike back. It is a pass to use the system. If you go over the 30 minutes you will be charged £1. Make sure when you dock the bike, the green light comes on. This indicates that the bike has registered as being returned.

There are two downsides for our family - first insurance will not cover you if you are under 14. Though tall and could handle the bikes, half of our clan would not qualify. The other down side is you can only checkout 4 per credit card. We would need to go through the hassle of using multiple cards.

The system is part of London Transport and is an excellent alternative to taking the London Tube.  London Transport put together a YouTube video on how this all works.