Hello, London!…The Eurostar from Paris under the English Channel…The hotel peculiarities…Tom’s reprimand!…

Our train came into the station. Tom, my railroad guy, explained that the train is operated from either end never having to turn around for the return trips.

Every country has it’ss own peculiarities in comparison to the American way of traveling and of simply living life.  As we experience more and more cultures, we quickly attempt to adapt to avoid being regarded as the “ugly American.”

Our new hotel, the London Regency, has a few characteristics that are different from what we’ve encountered in the past when staying in hotels in many countries. In this 4.5 stars rated hotel, in a matter of minutes, we find ourselves realizing how quickly we’ll need to adapt.

While we waited for the train.

For example; there are no ice machines available to guests in the entire hotel. We either have to order ice from room service (pay a tip each time) or go to the bar to have the bartender get it for us. The expectation of tipping several times a day for ice is frustrating, to say the least.

Another unusual feature is the fact that there are fees for using the health club. My principals make me flinch at the idea of paying for this normal inclusion when the “gym” is located directly in the hotel. It’s not a lot of money at US $16.69, £10  per night for the entire 15-night stay. But, it irks me. After all, we’re paying over US $200, £120 per night. That would cost the extra US $269 on top of the already pricey fees.

The station while we were still in Paris.

There are no bars of soap. I was thrilled when Tom called me into the bathroom to see the roomy bathtub. But, the only soap is a built-in dispenser high up near the showerhead. Am I to stand up every few seconds while taking a bath, to pump another tiny dollop of soap from the dispenser?

Overall and to our pleasure, this hotel is upscale in the lovely Kensington neighborhood close to many points of interest, including the Royal Palace, a short walk, several museums, and many fine restaurants.  Complaining? Observing, I’d say. I’ll ask for a bar of soap. If none is available, we’ll find a grocery store and purchase one. 

Tom was finally smiling again when I told him we wouldn’t have to “walk” the bags downs the steep steps.

There is a daily fee of another US $16.69, £10.   encouraged them to reduce the fee to US $13.35, £8. At this reduced rate, it adds an additional US $214 to our hotel bill. Anyway, enough “observing” for now and onto the Eurostar, the train under the English Channel from Paris to London. We had a great time! It was easy compared to flying, excess baggage fees, and long lines a thing of the recent past. 

Taken from our seats, which were wider than airplane seats. I had pictured four-seat configurations with a table in front of us which was not the case with our seats.

As usual, we arrived at the train station too early after a quick drive through Paris with light traffic on Saturday.  We’d looked online for answers to some of our questions about taking the Eurostar with conflicting answers on various websites. 

One question was regarding baggage handling and storage. The second was purely out of curiosity; how long does the train actually travel under the ocean across the English Channel? 

The scenery along the tracks was mostly limited to industrial areas, although we passed a few areas of the French countryside.

Based on Eurostar reviews we’d read online, we made a plan how, without the use of a large cart or porter, we’d handle all of our luggage ourselves, something we’d never done for any distance. Tom hauled the two large rolling bags and I hauled the rolling cart with the two smaller bags and the duffel bag containing my purse and the pill bag. Tom kept the computer bag over his shoulder.

Eurostar allows two bags each and one carry on. We each had two bags and one carry on. For once, we complied. Weight wasn’t an issue. 

A church steeple at a distance through the glare of the glass window.

With two new bungees wrapped tightly around the contents of the wheeling cart, I was able to pull it behind me using both hands without any problem. My bad shoulder prevented me from using only my right hand and the left is simply too incompetent to manage the wobbly wheels.

Off we went, surprisingly at a decent pace with little difficulty, if at all. To finally be able to handle all of our worldly possessions on our own was uplifting. Once we checked in with UK immigration, getting our passports stamped, we unloaded everything for the security check without incident.

Cows. Not really wildlife but, we enjoy seeing animals wherever we may be.

In all, it took 10 minutes from showing our tickets to entering the waiting area where we searched for a place to sit for the 90-minute wait for our train’s departure. 

As we sat there checking out our surroundings, it appeared that the only way to get down to the platform was a steep stairway. Oh, no. The idea of maneuvering those steps set my mind spinning. 

Within seconds of entering the tunnel, I took this shot of blackness resulting in only a reflection of the seats in the glass.

Suddenly, Tom became grumpy spewing out a dozen possible scenarios: injuring ourselves, dropping and breaking something, and on and on. He does this at times. I usually ignore him but this time, I said in a calm voice, “Quit being overly grumpy!”

Without a moment of time to think, he blurted out, “Quit being overly bubbly!”

Hahaha! I couldn’t stop laughing! In seconds, he was laughing with me, tears in our eyes over the irony. Quit being “overly bubbly.” Oh, would that all of those whom we love biggest problem is being “overly bubbly.” An eternal optimist that I am, I could easily accept his accurate assessment of me. 

Within seconds of departing the tunnel.  We were now in the UK.

After our good laugh and to put his minds at ease I jumped up and found a guard who explained that we could use an elevator down a long hallway.

Luckily, when the time arrived to board as we made our way down the hallway we were able to see that there was a moving ramp, an escalator without steps that we easily managed. We didn’t need to use the elevator after all. 

We arrived in London at the St. Pancras station.

Tom managed to lift the heavy bags from the platform onto the train into the small storage area.  We only had to manage the duffel, the computer bag, and the cart to our seats. 

The seats are comparable to an airplane seat, only slightly roomier with a helpful retractable footrest.  Immediately, we grabbed for our seatbelts, out of habit. We looked at each other and laughed. Habits. They never fail to unconsciously overtake us.

After exiting the train station we had to walk a distance to the next street and around the corner in order to flag a taxi. No taxis were allowed to stop at the main entrance.

Food and beverages were served in two other train cars. We noticed several passengers walking past us loaded up with paper bags filled with fried foods. We had no interest.

After the first hour and twenty minutes of the total two hours and seventeen minutes, we’d yet to enter the tunnel. Although, in several instances, we thought we had as we passed through several other tunnels.

On the way to our hotel, we passed Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum.  Not quite our cup of tea.

Moments later, an announcement was made that we were indeed entering the English Channel. My heart skipped a beat with excitement. What was I expecting? Water to flow around the train?

I was expecting “black” and, black it was. It was dark as night when looking out the windows. Moments after we entered the tunnel a kindly steward stopped to ask if we needed anything, giving us an opportunity to ask a few questions. Here’s his response:

  1. The trip under the English Channel takes approximately 20 minutes.
  2. The maximum speed of the train is 300 kilometers per hour, 186 miles per hour, less through the tunnel
  3. The deepest part of the tunnel is 195 meters, 640 feet below sea level.
  4. There are three tunnels, two for trains and one as a service tunnel.
  5. There are multiple trains per day to Paris, London, and Brussels. 
  6. No passenger trains other than the Eurostar brand may use the tunnel.
There are lots of double-decker buses in London.

We thanked the steward for the information and for stopping by, sitting back enjoying the odd experience. For a moment I felt like a kid at Disneyland on a ride through a dark tunnel fearlessly enjoying the ride.It was amazing to be on a train traveling under the ocean.

In no time at all, we were at the station ready to disembark (Tom said “de-train”). Once again, he managed to haul the heavy bags. As always, we’d planned to be the last off to avoid blocking the line. In no rush, all we needed to do was flag a taxi to our hotel.

Although London was bombed in World War II many beautiful historical buildings remain.

With most taxis requiring “British Pound Sterling” to pay the fare, the driver stopped at an ATM where Tom loaded up enough of yet another new currency to learn, to last to few days. A short time later, we were checking into our hotel, paying the huge amount for 15 nights, the WiFi fees, and a refundable deposit for extras.

There’s our travel day story, folks. Last night, we had a fabulous experience we’ll share in tomorrow’s post!

Taking photos from a taxi is always tricky and we were unable to determine the name of this building.

By the way, this morning we blew yet another power strip and both of our pricey international adapters (UK certified), tossing them all in the trash. Tom grumbled about how we wouldn’t be able to use our equipment while in London; no computers, no camera, no books.

I replied, “Take your shower, honey. Your “overly bubbly” wife will go see the front desk for a solution.”  Problem solved. A new day begins in London.

Our hotel in the Kensington area of London is close to many points of interest.

Photo from one year ago today, August 17, 2013:

Due to Internet connectivity issues in Boveglio, Italy we weren’t able to post on this date one year ago. We’re fast approaching the time, a year ago, when we began to post every day with photos. Stay tuned.

DSC02162

More new photos…Total Expenses for 16 nights in Paris….Hotel review…Tom’s pizza and dessert for the last dinner n Paris…

Of course, we had to end with a photo of the Eiffel Tower.  It seems to have a personality of its own, offering varying views based on weather, crowds and time of day.

By adding every last Euro we spent for the 16 nights in Paris, our grand total is as shown below with a breakdown of the expenses. We were over the budget by US $250, $187, the approximate amount we paid at the airport for our overweight baggage.

Included in the total is the following:

US $3352, EU $2511 Hotel Eiffel Seine
         211, EU $158 Taxi, train fare
         644, EU $483 Tours and sightseeing
       1438, EU $1077 Dining and groceries including all taxes, fees and tips
         959, EU $719 Airfare and baggage fees

Grand Total:
US $6604, EU $4948 Grand total at an average cost per day for two of US $413, EU $310.

Wow! The architecture is breathtaking.

The total cost for this period of time in Paris is comparable to the estimated cost per day of our upcoming cruise on August 31st of US $417, EU $312 including Internet fees and non-inclusive alcoholic beverages.

It is these expenses that motivate us to stay put for two to three months at a time when we have time to recover from the higher costs for hotels and cruises. At the end of the year, it all averages to an average monthly cost we’d budgeted long ago, so far, very close to our target.

Hand made pasta in the window of a local restaurant/deli.

Where are the days of “see Paris on $20 (EU $15) a day? ” Or even US $100, EU $75 a day? In what century was that possible? 

We stayed in a mid-range hotel, dined in mid-range restaurants (except for three occasions), walked everywhere seldom taking a taxi, and made no frivolous purchases.

There’s a pharmacy every few blocks.

In all, the VAT taxes, city taxes, and built in “service charges” attributed to the high cost of our grand total, which is as much as 40%. It’s no wonder that travelers stay in Paris for short periods. 

The total cost for the outstanding two and a half months on the island of Madeira, Portugal was US $10720, EU $7979 at an average daily rate of US $139, EU $104. 

We were able to flag down a taxi as we stood at this corner after dining at La Fontaine de Mars on Tuesday.

Also, the total cost for the extraordinary three months we spent in Marloth Park, South Africa was US $11070, EU $8294 at an average cost of US $123, EU $92 per day.

Is it any wonder that we’ve chosen to stay put as often as we can? Without doing so, we’d hardly be able to continue traveling for the long term.

With almost 13,000 restaurants listed on Trip Advisor in Paris, it’s tricky deciding on where to dine.

Of course, these decisions were made long ago when we knew full well that cruising would always require staying in a vacation home for two to three months. We’ve had the good fortune of having mostly extraordinary experiences in the vacation homes we’ve rented. 

As for the Hotel Eiffel Seine, we’ve found it to be a good boutique hotel with excellent front desk service by knowledgeable English speaking staff always willing to help in any manner. The cleanliness of the hotel was superb, although the room was seldom cleaned by 2:00 pm.

Most of this perfect-looking fruit has been imported to Paris as is the case in many other cities throughout the world.

As is the case in most boutique hotels, breakfast is available at an additional cost per person at US $12, EU $9 for continental and US $21, EU $16 for a small buffet with few options: scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, cold cereals, toast and basic French pastries, juice, coffee, tea, and milk. 

We only had breakfast once, early on, provided gratuitously by the hotel when our bathroom ceiling had been leaking for days. Had it been more appealing, we may have had it again, especially when we booked late dinner reservations in finer restaurants and for the River Seine cruise. 

Beautiful fruit for sale along the boulevard. 

Yes, we’d recommend this hotel without hesitation. With its free WiFi, high level of service and cleanliness, the most comfortable bed and covers in which we’ve slept in two years, proximity to the train station (across the street) and buses. Of course, the three-minute walk to the Eiffel Tower and the River Seine, the Hotel Eiffel Seine only adds to the motive to stay in this hotel for the mid-range traveler.

During our 16 day stay, occasionally we had entertained the thought of having breakfast in an outdoor café. But, after many less than memorable dining experiences in the neighborhood, we decided against it. Why pay for less than desirable food when one isn’t hungry?

In the city of Paris, we never saw a free standing single home. Literally, all the housing consists of apartment buildings such as this. We’ve found living in apartments such as these unappealing to us. We’re glad we stayed in Paris for this shorter period than our usual two to three months. Apartments such as these are very expensive.

Tom and I calculated how much more we could have spent if we were like most travelers eating three meals a day. It could easily have been as much as an additional US $100, EU $75 per day (for two) for an extra US $1600, EU $1196 bringing the grand total up to US $7604, EU $6644.

We realize that most people coming to Paris as a vacation/holiday don’t stay for over two weeks. From what we’ve gleaned from sitting in the lobby posting each morning, many from the US for example, stay for a weekend or a maximum of five nights. However, the average daily cost would be the same.

Carved door to a city business center.

We’ve spoken to others stating they’ve allocated $1000’s for a special occasion trip to Paris to celebrate an anniversary or a birthday. Simply put, one must be prepared to spend approximately US $500, EU $374 per day to do so comfortably, in a mid-range hotel with more than one meal per day and one bottle of wine per day, including airfare, hotel, dining, transportation, tours, and entertainment.

I must add that Tom drank alcoholic beverages less than four times at dinner, our only meal, usually having one 50ml beer averaging US $11, EU $8.24. I don’t drink alcohol and on a rare occasion, I order tea or mineral water at about half the cost of beer. It’s our responsibility to research restaurants before choosing them to ensure they fit our guidelines.

Tom was ready to dig into his large pizza at Amalfi.

Had Tom consumed three beers each night, the additional cost would have been approximately US $352, EU $264.  We can only imagine how much more it would have been, had we ordered wine or two to three cocktails with dinner. (Tom doesn’t avoid ordering a cocktail due to the cost. It is his dislike for the available options.  Often, I encourage him to have a beer or cocktail but he declines, content to drink water with dinner).

Oh sure, we sound “nitpicky,” nickel and dime-ing ourselves to the hilt. However, we tend to order food off the menu that we truly want, not the lowest priced items, and never making any type of fuss about the bill or prices of the food, services, or products. 

The dish of Italian grilled calamari (squid) in a gluten-free chunky tomato sauce with a side of green beans and salad was one of the best meals I’ve had in Paris.

Diplomacy. This is crucial for us, for our personal enjoyment and integrity.

We may seem as if we’re “tightwads.” We’re not. We’re careful and most of all appreciative of the opportunity we’ve created for ourselves to travel the world for as long as we can, for as long as we chose, only possible with our diligent record-keeping while maintaining a budget that impacts every expenditure.

Last night Tom had this pizza topped with an egg at Amalfi, our favorite local restaurant.

So, dear readers, that’s the scoop of our time in Paris. Today, we’re off to London on the Eurostar, eyes wide open for pickpockets and for the excitement of traveling on this unbelievable train that travels under the English Channel. 

By late afternoon, we’ll be situated in our London hotel, expecting similar expenses with very otherwise different experiences.  We’ll be back tomorrow morning with our first post from London, photos, cost, and description of traveling on the Eurostar plus, our first peek at the London scenery.

Tom’s last dinner in Paris was topped off by a banana split. Our total bill for the above dinner US $50, EU $37.50 which we considered reasonable especially including this US $12, EU $9 banana split. Tom said it was well spent. Nary a taste for me but, the viewing was lovely.

Thank you for “virtually” traveling along with us as we continue on our worldwide journey. Pack your imaginary bags (not too much stuff) and prepare yourself for the next leg!

                                             Photo from one year ago, August 16, 2013:

The view from the 300-year-old stone house where we lived for two and a half months, located in Boveglio, Tuscany, Italy. We wrote about Tom’s frustration over the poor Internet signal preventing him from watching the Minnesota Vikings football games after paying US $169, EU $126 to the NFL website for viewing games while outside the US.  No refund was provided. As a result, he has given up hoping to watch the games. For details from that date, please click here.

Tom’s evening photos…Fine tuning future bookings…One year ago today….Multiple photos from Mykonos, Greece…Wow!

Tom’s getting good at taking these sunset photos.

Shopping for food is more productive when by myself than with Tom pushing the cart. No offense intended for my DH who’s intentions are always thoughtful and supportive.

Sun and shadows, typical of the island of Madeira.

I prefer to push the cart myself in my less than a methodical pattern of flitting from one spot in the store to another in a somewhat haphazard pattern only I can understand. Yesterday, I asked Tom to bring his phone in order to read his Kindle book while waiting in the car for 40 minutes while I shopped. He made no objection. He hates to shop. 

A distant view of our house which is to the left of the white house next door to us, both of which are owned by Gina’s brother Carlos.

I slipped the half Euro coin into the slot to release the red plastic shopping cart and off I went. Having learned where most items are in the medium-sized grocery store, my cart was full by the time Tom found me 40 minutes later. With only a few items left to add as shown in the grocery shopping app on my phone, we were done in no time.

White hydrangeas.

Two hours from the time we’d left the house, the groceries were put away, the vegetables were washed (in bottled water) and drying on paper towels. I had put a dent in the chopping and dicing for dinner and finally, we could get to work on the future bookings that had been nagging at us these past few weeks.

The following items were on the “to do” list:
1.  Book tickets on the Eurostar, formerly known as the Chunnel, the under-the-English-Channel-train from France to the UK. (Apparently, it’s tacky to continue to call the train, the Chunnel). On August 16th we’ll be leaving Paris after a two-week stay to then make our way via the Eurostar to London for yet another two weeks. Are we really going to be in Paris in a little over two months?
2.  Arrange a driver from London on August 31st for a two and a half-hour drive to the pier in Harwich, UK for our next cruise, UK to Boston, USA. It’s hard to believe that we’ll be cruising again in a little over two and a half months.
3.  Rent another car online for our upcoming next 30 days in Madeira. On Saturday, we’ll return the current car and if possible, extend this particular car’s rental once we arrive at the airport in Funchal, which is easy to find.  (I apologize if this sounds confusing but, we must book the next 30-day car rental online first for the better rates). If we do it this way, we save 25 to 30% as opposed to extending the booking online or phoning. This is as a result of the long term booking.

It changes so quickly, it’s easy to take several photos.

Simultaneously, we went to work researching online in the above order, booking one after the other. With Tom’s experience in reading reviews on Cruise Critic, he found a suggestion on how to save on the price of tickets on the Eurostar at this link. We ended up paying US $210.89, EU $155.56 as opposed to US $300, EU $222, a savings of 30%.

Tom enjoys taking photos of the changing sky at sunset.

Several months ago, Tom also found a suggestion at Cruise Critic for a reputable company to drive us to Harwich, UK to the cruise pier. This was a bit pricey at US $252.21, GBP $150, EU $185.65 but was our only option unless we shared with others. We’d have gladly done that had it not been difficult to find passengers coming from the same general area in London.   

Next, we got to work on the link on our site to Expedia to book a rental from June 14 to July 15th. I handled this booking and totally screwed up the booking, making the dates from June 14th to August 15th, when we’ll be long gone from Madeira. 

At the end of the day, the ever-changing sky.

Good thing I caught my error (after the fact) and was able to cancel it in order to rebook it for the correct dates. Luckily, we weren’t charged in advance for the car rental making the cancellation seamless. I clearly knew the correct dates but I’d hit the wrong key.

He captured a puff of pink from the setting sun behind us.

The only other must-do booking in the next few weeks is our flight from Madeira to Paris on August 1st which is only a little over seven weeks away. It’s amazing to see how fast the time flies, especially when we’re loving Madeira.

By the time we finished these three tasks, it was time to finish making dinner, take a Skype call from my sister in Nevada, USA. 

Easter lilies growing nearby.

After dinner, I received another Skype call from my other sister living in California, a TV producer who was recently nominated for an Emmy Award (already a past winner).  Congrats, Julie!  Win or lose, you’re a winner in our book!

The evening zoomed by. By 11:00 pm, I was ready for bed while Tom stayed up until midnight as usual.

Colorful.  What are these?

Today, is another busy day with household tasks, laundry, and cooking, all of which I’m finding pleasant these days, more based on the expenditure of energy than the accomplishment of getting things done.

No complaints here. Not a one.
                                                     _________________________

Photos from one year ago today, June 10, 2013:

Mykonos was so amazing, we couldn’t resist posting multiple photos.
We walked through narrow paths like this for a few hours in a maze-like fashion, enthralled with the beauty of this island.
Mykonos was beyond our expectations. For more photos and details from that date, please click here.