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Archive for April, 2018

I grew up in Anaheim, California, just two miles from the original Disneyland park.

My family lived so close to Disneyland that during the summer, we’d open our curtains and watch the fireworks from our living room.

The older I got, the more I went to the Magic Kingdom.  One night, a friend and I went there for a private party, and it rained so hard nearly everyone went home early.  For several hours, we went on any ride we wanted without a line.

But three years ago … the last time I went … it was so crowded … and expensive … that I wasn’t sure I wanted to return for a long time.

Besides, I had gone on every ride multiple times over the years.

But I have a “happy place” that I have returned to repeatedly … and I tell people it’s better than ten Disneylands … because there’s always something I haven’t seen.

That place is London, England.

If you haven’t been to London, but you’d like to go someday, please keep reading and pay special attention to my planning tips at the end.

My wife and I have had the privilege of traveling throughout Europe.  We’ve walked the streets of Amsterdam …

Paris …

Prague …

Rome …

and Venice, to name just a few cities.

But I love London the best … so much so that I’ve visited there ten times … and just returned from a seven-day London adventure with my daughter Sarah.

I’ve also been there with my wife Kim … our son … two mission teams … and by myself … and London excites me every time I go.

As a California native, I’ve walked the streets of San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego many times … but I’m far more comfortable in London than anywhere in the US.

Let me share with you five things that make London special for me:

First, the city has incredible variety.

Want entertainment?  London offers world-class plays.  The tickets are less expensive and easier to obtain than those on Broadway.  I’ve seen Mary Poppins, Les Miserables, Beautiful, and Mousetrap (twice), among others.

Want history?  You can tour the rooms where Sir Winston Churchill managed World War 2 …

visit a house where author Charles Dickens wrote three of his novels …

see the famed Rosetta Stone in the British Museum …

visit the house where Handel wrote The Messiah

and visit the dreaded Tower of London.

Want shopping?  I’m not a shopper (I brought home souvenirs totaling $40 in US currency from our recent trip) but London offers Harrods …

Bond and Oxford Streets …

  

Selfridges …

Covent Garden …

Regent Street …

and an incredible number of unique and fashionable stores.

London has something for everyone … including you!

Second, the city is a walker’s paradise.

My daughter Sarah brought her Fitbit along.  On Easter Sunday, we walked fifteen miles together after church.  Overall, we both walked around eighty miles in one week.

Although London is covered with surveillance cameras, there’s a feeling of freedom rather than oppression on the streets.

There are beautiful parks everywhere:

Green Park, adjacent to Buckingham Palace …

St. James Park, across from the palace …

Regent’s Park …

and, of course, King Henry VIII’s hunting grounds … Hyde Park.

It’s also fun to walk the bridges across The Thames.

There are signs and maps everywhere to keep you on track … and everything is in English.

Walking is the best way to see the city because every time you turn a corner, there’s another discovery to be made.

I’ve been watching the British-made Poirot TV shows recently, and stumbled upon this monument in Covent Garden to their author …

and happened upon this monument to Charles Dickens on another site where he lived …

and discovered some Roman ruins after visiting the Museum of London …

and found a sign commemorating a building that was lost during the Great Fire of 1666 …

and found the entrance to the Sky Garden, a building where the public can view London from the top of a huge tower … for free!

If you love Sherlock Holmes (as I do), you can visit his pub near Trafalgar Square …

or the Sherlock Holmes Museum at 221B Baker Street …

or the giant statue of Holmes on Euston Road.

If you love the Beatles, you can visit the zebra crossing at Abbey Road (and it’s always hilarious watching the interplay between vehicles and pedestrians) …

or see 3 Savile Row, the site of their final rooftop concert …

or visit Sir Paul’s house (discreetly) …

or see the Asher house where Paul lived in the mid-1960s (writing “Yesterday” upstairs and “I Want to Hold Your Hand” with John Lennon in the basement) …

or see Sir Paul’s offices in Soho Square …

or visit the Beatles Store (the line is for the Sherlock Holmes Museum next door).

My daughter Sarah finally talked me into accompanying her on a Jack the Ripper Tour which starts above the Tower.  It was eerie yet fascinating.

You can also explore World War 2 sites … or locate and walk through famous churches … or see some Harry Potter sites (like the 9 3/4 platform at King’s Cross Station) … or find discarded Tube stations … or explore Sir Winston Churchill’s haunts.

The list seems endless!

This is why walking through London is my favorite activity in the world.

Third, the city allows for day trips to many famous sites.

This time, my daughter and I took a day trip to two places: Canterbury Cathedral, where Thomas a Becket was killed before the altar (last photo) …

and Dover Castle, which Hitler refused to bomb because he wanted it for himself.  It’s probably the best castle I’ve seen in Europe … complete with underground tunnels and all kinds of staircases and passageways.

You can also visit places like Cambridge …

Oxford …

 

Greenwich …

Windsor Castle …

Stonehenge …

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Bath …

 

Chartwell (Churchill’s home in Kent) …

and the quaint old villages of the Cotswolds.

   

You can take the train from one of London’s stations to most of the above sites.  My wife and I took an Evan Evans bus tour to Bath and Stonehenge last year and loved it!

Fourth, the city features what may be Europe’s greatest number of world class sites.

The British museums are all free (donation requested) so you can enter and exit them at will.

I’ve entered most of the art museums … the National Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery (my favorite), Tate Britain, and Tate Modern … but I never stay long.

I love the British Library, where the Treasures Room has a copy of the Magna Carta … ancient Bibles … and original manuscripts from famous composers and authors …

Trip to London May 15-21, 2009 2 599Trip to London May 15-21, 2009 2 601

the British Museum, which is always crowded but enlightening …

the London Eye, which is expensive but worth it …

Buckingham Palace (which is only open to the public in August and September) …

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King Henry VIII’s Hampton Court Palace …

and, again, the Tower of London.

The city also has some of the greatest churches anywhere, including:

St. Paul’s Cathedral (my favorite church building in the world; the interior is breathtaking) …

Westminster Abbey (Charles Darwin is buried below the entrance; you can step on the grave of King James I inside) …

the Metropolitan Tabernacle, where Charles Spurgeon preached …

All Souls Church, where John Stott pastored for years; we celebrated Easter there this year …

Westminster Chapel, where Martyn Lloyd-Jones preached …

 

and Holy Trinity Brompton, home of the Alpha Course.

Possibly the most thrilling thing I’ve done in London was climbing to the Stone and Golden Galleries at the top of St. Paul’s Cathedral.  I had a terrible cold and little energy but still managed to reach the top … a more exciting event than anything I’ve done at Disneyland.

Trip to London Oct. 6-13, 2008 089

Finally, the city can be enjoyed at a reasonable cost.

London can be expensive, but there are many ways to minimize the costs.

If you’ve never been to London, and you’d like to go, you don’t need to go on a tour or spend a fortune on expensive hotels.

Let me share with you seven tips that can make your first trip to London doable:

*Buy Rick Steves’ book London 2018, preferably as an e-book.  That way, you can click directly on his attraction/hotel links.

 

 

Go to Rick Steves’ website as well.  Watch his videos on London.  Master his tips and you’ll master London.  The sooner you do this, the sooner you’ll start making plans!

*Set a date when you want to go.  Don’t let money make the decision.  Say, “We’re going to London in October 2019.”  Talk and act as if you’re going, and things will fall into place.  Have an adventure!

*It’s cheaper to travel in the spring or fall.  Plane fares can double in the summer.  I’ve traveled over spring break the past three years and secured excellent fares.

Research until you discover a reasonable plane fare.  Aim to fly nonstop.  Find an online service that tracks fares to find the cheapest one.  Wait until you’re ready to buy … and when that fare returns, pounce on it.

I once found a fare from San Francisco to London for $548, but I wasn’t ready to buy.  I waited for weeks, and the fare kept increasing.  Two weeks before my trip, that lower fare returned one night, and I grabbed it.

This last trip, I bought my ticket from Los Angeles to London just before Christmas for less than $650 … and had my choice of seats.

I’ve flown Virgin Atlantic across the pond twice, but I prefer to fly United because they don’t charge for as many extras.

If you buy directly from an airline’s website, you can earn frequent flier miles.  And make sure to buy the insurance … it’s not that much, and definitely worth it.

If you’re an anxious flyer, most trips I’ve taken across the Atlantic have been non-events.  Other than takeoffs and landings, I’ve had flights where the seat belt sign only came on once or twice the entire flight.  From Los Angeles, the whole flight is just short of ten hours … a little longer coming back.

If you book early, you can choose where you’ll sit.  It’s better to book an aisle seat than a window seat on a long flight.  (You have better access to the lavatory.)

*Book your hotel from the US as soon as you set dates.  Consult TripAdvisor and sites like Travelocity (which lets you cancel for free up until a week before your trip.)  You can get cheaper rates if you purchase a non-refundable room, but it removes your flexibility.

The more spacious your room … and the closer to London’s center … the more it will cost.  Figure that unless you’re ill or exhausted, you’ll spend little time in your room.

When I go with my wife, she wants more space.  Last year, we stayed at the Ibis Hotel at Earl’s Court.  We were “off the map,” but it worked out great, except we had to hunt for food all the time.

When I went with my daughter two weeks ago, we secured rooms at a small hotel behind Victoria Station.  The rooms were cozy, but they had everything we needed … for about $100 a night.  (Yes, there was a bed and a TV, but I couldn’t get them into the photo!)

*Eat cheaply.  Some places offer breakfast with the price of your room.  Then you can eat a deli-style/fast food lunch and enjoy a heartier dinner.

This last trip, I ate at Burger King, McDonald’s, KFC, and Pizza Hut to save money … just for a week!  (Five Guys has moved into London as well.)

Victoria Station is full of places to eat, especially upstairs.  If you stay nearby, you’ll have access to all kinds of food at reasonable prices.

*Fly into Heathrow Airport if you can.  The cheapest way to travel into London is on the Underground, also called The Tube.  Go to Heathrow’s Visitor’s Centre and buy an Oyster card for Zones 1 and 2 for the duration of your stay.  You’ll save money on daily tube cards and have access to the entire Underground system.  It’s fun … safe … and efficient … unless the Tube workers on a particular line are on strike.

 

*London always feels safe to me.  While I’ve been disheartened by several attacks inside the city over the past few years, I don’t give it much thought.  I try and return to my hotel by early evening most nights so I can get organized and get a good night’s sleep for the next day.

There’s so much I haven’t talked about: visiting Parliament (the House of Commons or the House of Lords); climbing The Monument; seeing the Imperial War Museum; touring Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre; perusing the Victoria and Albert Museum (the largest decorative arts museum in the world); visiting Leicester Square and Trafalgar Square … and on and on.

Like I say, London is better than ten Disneylands.

Why don’t you make plans to see it yourself?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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