Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The Thames Clipper and The London Eye

In the last 7 years, I have been to London 16 times.

Guess how many times I have been on the London Eye?

Zero. Until now.

In the past I would always look at it and think "I wonder if that thing could fall into the Thames" or "It honestly doesn't look like much is holding those pods on" I'd also admire  the fireworks on New Years Eve, they truly are phenomenal. But In all of my trips, I couldn't bring myself to actually buy a ticket and get on that big ole Ferris wheel.

This year though, when I took my children to England for the summer, I knew that this was going to be the year of the London Eye. 

We traveled from Tower Bridge to South Bank, where the London Eye is located. Instead of taking the underground, we decided to take a River bus, also known as "The Clipper". It's a huge boat with seating like any airplane, complete with pull down trays. It also has a small canteen that sells simple drinks and snacks. 


The Clipper is roughly £7 per person, one way. It's not the cheapest form of travel in London, but the experience is wonderful, London is a whole new city when viewed from the Thames.

When we arrived my 13 year old teen took one look at it and said "I'm not going up there"... 


He had me telling him "Oh don't be silly, you'll be fine!"


I booked our tickets online. It's a much better deal and I also got tickets to Madame Tussaud's at the same time, The more places and tickets you book, the better the deal!
In fact, you can save up to 40% if you book 3 different site seeing tours. 


It's a pretty fascinating experience, as the London Eye NEVER stops... you have to hop on it while it's moving. As a huge pod approaches the bottom of the wheel (see photo above) everyone exits, next a security crew quickly goes aboard and uses mirrors to check under seats and after clearing the pod, the next group of people board. Kinda Quickly.


Once you're on board, you have a feeling of "Phew!"... Made it!
And as you begin to turn, you realize that you can't even feel the wheel turning, and the mechanics of the whole machine is very cool, then... you see central London. You stand in awe and begin to soak in all of the majestic views.


I counted how many people were in the pod that we were in, but in all of the excitement I forgot (Some blogger I am :), however I know it was close to 25, there were a lot of people in there! But rest assured, it's a huge pod!


 There is even a big bench in the middle



To my surprise, I did get to see,
(And it took me a second to work out what it was)
An upside down Cow!


 (After our trip I looked this up and found out it was part of the Udderbelly Festival)
Ahhh the things you see in London eh?

Everything was going so wonderfully
And then
THEN
I felt ill, the pod we were in made it to the top and here I am freaking out. Only on the inside of course, and my son? He was just fine and walking around, But I did say to him "Stay away from the door!!!"... People must have thought I was a complete idiot. But at the top, 443 Feet UP...I felt panicky! Surely the door can unlock from the inside??
Luckily, I only lost my mind for about 3.2 seconds.
I had a quick word with myself
"Come on Tammy, this thing is made really well!"


I was amazed by the London Eye's construction


We were so high,
443 Feet Up!


I had to do some serious self calming talk at the top, but as we came back around, and down, I reminded myself I was higher when I went to the Sky Garden, on top of the Walkie Talkie Sky Scraper.

After about 30 minutes, we were back on the ground again.
And I ask myself (like I do after every plane ride), "So what was the big deal?" That was easy!
(Heights aren't my thing... have you noticed?)
However, I'm not one to let a little fear stop me from travel, and experiencing such magnificent experiences.


The London Eye is worth the ride and the pennies, we rode it during July and only had to stand in line about 30 minutes. Besides, you can buy Ice Cream while waiting, so no complaints from me or the children!

The London Eye Website for discounted advanced purchases is HERE
And HERE you can book tickets or get information regarding the Thames Clipper

Thank you for stopping by, I love writing and talking about London and I'd love it if you said hello!
Have a great week,
Tammy

Thursday, September 3, 2015

The Citymapper App

When I was in London this past summer, I went equipped with what I just knew would be the best apps for a summer in London, ready and installed on my phone. I knew I'd have no problem whizzing around the city and finding cool things to do.

Then, (there is always a "then" when traveling) my son decided he didn't want to get on the underground. He didn't like it. Not one bit.
How do people travel in London without the underground trains?

I quickly learned.

We got so lost on the buses, trying to get from King's Cross to The Natural History Museum, that we gave up and went back to our flat. I turned to facebook to vent my frustrations.

That's when a friend told me that I couldn't live without the citymapper app.

She was right.

It boasts about being "The Ultimate Transport app", and, after 2 months of traveling in and out of London, I'm a firm believer, it IS the Ultimate transport app.

If you are going to be in London, download the Citymapper App, it's free! 

I think the hardest part about taking buses in London is actually FINDING your bus stop, they are all labeled, A, B, C... so on and so on, but London is a huge city. Just around King's Cross there is an endless sea of bus stops. However, if you're like me, and you get turned around easily, it's okay. Wherever you end up, just let citymapper tell you the best way to your destination, no matter where you are. Bus stops in London have wonderful maps and are good at letting you know where they go and where they stop (mostly), but if you're a stranger in any city, you want specifics!! After getting citymapper, I felt at ease. 


Not only will this app tell you the quickest way to go, it will give you the option of walking, using the tube, the train, a car, a bus or a bike. It even tells you how many calories you will burn walking and how much a taxi will cost.


Upon returning to Austin, I investigated to see if Citymapper had an App for Austin, no such luck. But I did make a suggestion, and hopefully they will soon be in my home city!

Here are the other lucky cities to have this great app.
Mexico City DF, Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington DC, Toronto, Philadelphia, San Francisco Bay Area, New York, Montreal, Boston, Vancouver, Manchester, Birmingham, Lisboa, Sao Paulo, Randstad, Paris, Madrid, Brussels, Hamburg, Lyon, Barcelona, Berlin, Milan, Rome, Tokyo, Hong Kong and Singapore.

If you want to be able to use this app where you are, you can go to the Citymapper website and vote for your city to be added!

There are a lot of great London apps, but of all that I used, this is the only one that I used almost daily. It made navigating around London (children in tow), so easy!

If you have other travel app suggestions, please let me know, I'm always up for a good app!
Have a great Labor Day Weekend!
Tammy


100 (73) Things by 2019

This original posting was from 2013. Though it wasn't easy, I actually came up with 100 things I wanted to do. However, it turned into just... a meaningless, Froot Loop list, floating around cyberspace. I couldn't even remember what I had put on my 100! A lot of good that did me, forgetting what I wanted. But that's just it, the list was full of mostly un-thoughtful "wants". So after a small blogging sabbatical, I have returned with goals. REAL goals, things I have thought about, researched about and mulled over in my mind.

Setting goals is a healthy way to grow and discover, (with some hard work, of course). I have learned that goals aren't a destination. They are a constant journey, because in setting and achieving our goals, we set ourselves up for further accomplishments and a much richer life.

By posting my goals on my blog, It's a way of holding myself accountable. I live to seek knowledge and to understand, setting goals opens up many portals for personal insight.

Here are my 100 73 goals Some easy, Some frivolous, Some serious.
I will seek to accomplish them by 2019.

Why 2019?
That's 5 years. Every 5 years is a good time to re-evaluate and goal plan.
Why 73? Because these are the things that are important and meaningful to me, in my life, right now.

Besides, I CAN change my list. It's after all, MY list!!

Goals to be completed by December 31st, 2015 
(Physical)
  1. Lose 10lbs.
  2. (Then) Make is to losing 25lbs.
  3. Climb 1300 stairs in 30 minutes.
  4. Walk a mile in 15 minutes.
  5. Eat 3 Vegetarian dinners every week.
  6. Go One whole week without refined sugar.
  7. Work out 4 days a week EVERY WEEK for at least 30 minutes.
  8. Eat fresh vegetables every day (Not frozen or canned)
(Personal)
  1. (Begin the lessons) To re-learn french
  2. Make an honest effort (to learn how to and try) to publish one of my children's books.
  3. Hand write one personal letter a week to a friend or family member (Everyone loves happy mail) (In Progress)
  4. Bake or cook a new dairy free meal each week. (In Progress)
  5. Crochet a blanket (Though I have taken it apart twice now, It's In Progress!!)
  6. Crochet Wash Clothes
  7. Crochet Dish Clothes
  8. Volunteer at the Recycling Center in Austin, Texas
  9. Educate myself on Environmental Laws
  10. Volunteer at a Food Kitchen
  11. Make gift bags (blessing bags) for the homeless at Christmas (Currently collecting Items)
(Blog Goals)
  1. Find a new blog to read every week. (Very muchly so enjoying this "In Progress")
  2. Participate in Travel Link up on Emma's Blog for Sept, Oct, Nov and Dec. (In Progress)
  3. Write (at least) one Environmental Blog Topic every week
  4. Research, Research Research!! AND Contact major airline companies and blog about the most environmentally friendly airlines.
(Financial)
  1. Set up an Etsy store and sell recycled and up-cycled products
  2. Donate to a different charity or organization every month.
  3. Set up a separate savings account JUST for travel.
(Travel)
  1. Visit 2 new places in Austin, Texas every month
GOALS FOR 2016

(Physical)
  1. Continue to get fit with a goal loss of losing 50lbs.
  2. Then 75lbs.
  3. Rounding up to 100lbs lost 
  4. Work out at least 4 days a week EVERY Week for at least 30 minutes.
  5. (Will add another goal after completing workout goals for 2015)
  6. Make an effort to eat clean.
(Personal and Environmental)
  1. Upcycle a piece of furniture.
  2. Continue to take classes to earn my Environmental Science Degree
  3. Make pierogies from scratch!
  4. Volunteer in a classroom to teach an Environmental or Recycling lesson
  5. Start a Compost at home
  6. Stop using ANY stretchable plastic, including plastic sandwich bags
  7. Start to build a plastic free kitchen (We all know that appliances have plastic, but I'm talking about needless plastic use)
  8. Contact major companies and ask them how they plan to cut down on packaging to help the environment
  9. Switch to all cloth napkins at home
  10. Send letters to local school encouraging them to start a campaign to recycle their markers, pens and crayons.
  11. Write an article for an Environmental Magazine.
  12. Donate coats and blankets in the winter, to those in need.
  13. Plant a garden, even if it's in containers
  14. Learn to can food.
(Blog Goals)
  1. Share blog love by reading and sharing other great blogs on social media
  2. Continue to blog about Environmental issues at least once a week
  3. Find and read other Environmental blogs
(Travel Goals)
  1. Travel to Boston and check out Bean Town (Summer)
  2. Travel to Maine (Summer)
  3. Travel to the Florida Keys (Christmas)
  4. Travel to the Bahamas and swim with  pigs (Exuma, Bahamas) (Christmas)
  5. Watch Sea Turtles Hatch (Spring, Texas shoreline)
  6. Enjoy snow in Colorado (January or February)
  7. Travel to Paris for Spring Break (March)
  8. Travel to London in the Summer
(Financial)
  1. Donate to a new charity or organization every month.
  2. Set aside one day a month to actively look for scholarships and apply for them
  3. Enter a contest at least once a week (Read this on a blog... Hey, I might win!)
  4. Actively pay off student loan even though I'm still in school.
  5. Every month go one week without spending any money on "wants"... Remind self that I love to travel!
  6. Set up a special savings account to save for a flat purchase in England. 
GOALS TO BE ACCOMPLISHED BY MAY 2019

(Financial)
  1. Pay off my student loan (Or at least put a huge dent into it)
  2. Purchase a flat in England
(Travel)
  1. Travel by car along the Wild Atlantic Way, in Ireland, and take at least 2 or 3 weeks to truly enjoy the journey! Taking as many of my children as will go!
  2. Visit St. Michael's Mount in Cornwall
  3. Visit Tintagel Castle in Cornwall
  4. Visit Holland in the Spring to see the flowers
  5. Travel to a Greek Island
  6. Travel to Venice, Italy
  7. In May of 2019 Travel to Bora Bora! (A dream I've had for years)
As I seek my goals, I will date them on my blog. 
Where do you see yourself in 5 years? What are your goals?

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Limestone, Maine... Always on my Mind.

I am taking part in a travel link up this month, the theme is to blog about a "Place you can't get out of your head".

If you know me, you know that London is a big part of my life...And Always on my mind... Heck, I have a whole blog dedicated to it and I can't seem to stay away for more than 4 months at a time.

But there is another place, that my mind wonders to. It holds a huge place in my heart and is where years of memories linger.


Growing up my dad was in the US Air Force, we lived on the Island of Guam for 5 years, and though I remember bits and pieces, the biggest impact of my life was when we left Guam and headed to Maine.

We had no idea what we were in for. We were leaving a tropical island and headed for a place, where winter temps hit 60 below zero, with the wind chill!!

Limestone, Maine is about as far up as you can go in the United States. In my back yard, there was literally a marker that read "United States" on one side and "Canada" on the other.


There were no high fences, no border patrol marching up and down with machine guns. Honestly, then... in the 80's, we were worried about war with Russia, the big scare was the nuclear bombs on Loring AFB and WW3. In the 80's we came and went across the Canadian border without thought. In Canada it was legal to drink at 18, in the States it was 21, so going across the border to Canada made you feel all grown up! When I was 18, my boyfriend and I would go dancing at the night clubs.

But back up, Back up. I'm getting ahead of myself.
Let me paint you a picture.
If my memory serves me correctly, there were 69 people in my graduating class. 
Here is the town center of Limestone, where I grew up.


The nearest mall was a 3 hour drive, there were a couple of clothing stores in the near by towns of Caribou and Presque Isle, but all in all, fashion didn't come to these parts like it did the cities. If we were really lucky, some of us would travel to other parts of the States in the summer, and buy really "cool" clothes. Bands like Duran Duran were popular and we would buy teen magazines to show us what the rest of the world was wearing... Imagine when we saw pictures of Boy George for the first time! If he would have walked down Main Street (this very street pictured above), I'm quite sure there would have been a seizure of shock from a person or two. 

But this beautiful town... this tiny Northern town...

It's where I grew up.

My parents never had to lock their doors at night, and there wasn't a whole lot of trouble to get into. I remember wanting to leave, because it was just so boring! Now, that I raise kids of my own, I realize that my mom had it pretty easy raising teens in Limestone, Maine!

My first job was working on a potato farm.
Now THAT is work folks, I have great respect for farmers.
The season started with "rock picking", we literally walked the fields and picked up big rocks and threw them in the back of a cart, being pulled by a tractor. 


The pay was great for a 16 year old, and I picked rocks with my best friend, she's one of the funniest people that I knew and still know!

Then came the REAL work.
Picking the potatoes at harvest time, I stood on the back of one of these with my friend, picking out bad potatoes and more rocks, making sure the good potatoes survived the journey.


Potato picking in Maine, happens in the Autumn, it was so cold and we were up at 4am. 
Did I mention the respect I have for farmers?
Every year during harvest, school let out in Limestone for 3 weeks. I went to school with so many farming families,that the students would have missed school to work on the farms, so it was a given holiday every school year.

In my 7 years of living in Limestone, Maine
I saw plenty of snow. In March I would think "please no more snow, please please please NO more snow", but it lurked, and some of it could still be seen in clumps, left behind by snow plowing, until May. Flowers grew alongside piles of snow and when it hit 70 degrees my girlfriends and I would think it was summer, we would lay out in our chairs, snow beside us and lather up with baby oil... Sometimes, I'd like to slap my younger self!!! SKIN DAMAGE ALERT!!


There was so so so much of this...

Very high snow drifts were not uncommon...
I have shoveled more snow than I care to remember... 
I grew up with frost bite warnings.
And wind chill factors.


I learned to drive in snow, with a stick shift!


I remember the first time I saw the Norther Lights.
Seeing Aurora Borealis frightened me, I didn't know what it was, I had never heard of it, and all I remember was bright streaks of light quickly whipping across the sky. My mom told me what was happening, I was young, I thought the world was ending!
It was, however, Breathtaking


When driving in Maine, you see many of these, just sauntering across the road. Every time you see a Moose, your heart does an extra little pitter patter, they are massive creatures.



I also met and married my husband in Limestone. He was a soldier at the time, working on Loring AFB. We married on the base and had our reception in my parents home, that looked similar to this.


Sadly it burned down a year later, and the barn that stood behind it. It was the largest barn in Aroostook County. Arson was suspected, which makes it a hard pill to swallow. But I do have my pictures, and my memories.

Coming from a small town means that people are close, and that everyone knows everyone else. I have kept in contact with 90% of the people that were in my graduating class. From what I understand, since the base closed, the town has more or less disappeared and there are only 1,075 people living in Limestone now. It wasn't a big town to start with, now it's nearly obsolete.

 My plan is to return in the summer of 2016. I want to show my children that I grew up in a place where, for miles and miles, you see this...



Sure, we do have big open spaces in Texas, but we don't have the four seasons of Maine. And we rarely leave the city. Unless of course, we are traveling to another city. 
Thinking of Maine reminds me of peace.
Of quiet.
Of a pristine wilderness.

27 years of memories.

At 18, I left Maine and moved to England with my husband.
Can you imagine the culture shock? 
I soon adjusted from being a small town girl, to a world traveler.

Sadly, for this blog posting, my photos are all in storage, so these are photos I found using google.
However, they perfectly sum up, my every memory.
See you soon Maine!

If you would like to take join in on the travel link up, please check out the blogs  by EmmaKelly Rebecca Or Liz.
They have amazing travel blogs, and you can find the link to join in!

Sunday, August 30, 2015

My Summer 2015 Favorites...

We had a phenomenal summer, we very were blessed.

I have very special friends that live in England and Ireland, they are the kind of friends that just make you feel loved and accepted, the kind of friends that make you feel like there is no one more important than you. I have such amazing friends.

My friend Hazel at Procrastibake catered to us yanks and showed us proper Irish heritage (more on that later)! and her family even put on a couple of American BBQ's... YeeHaw! Thanks again Hazel and Mike!

My friend Selena (Call her new grandma GiGi) is a fellow Texan, living in London, her and her husband treated me and my children to proper English food... If you ever get a chance to visit a Bumpkin restaurant in London... Just yum!

And last but far from least. When I was 18, I met a man named Willie. He introduced myself and my then husband to all of his family, we were all very close when we lived in England in 88-92. The story continues... One of his sons, married a girl... They had children. Who knew that 27 years later, I would still be friends with said "girl"... who had girls of her own, who have also become friends, well... actually family. It is said that you can't choose your family, but that's not really true... After 27 years, people become family. I call them "My Corby Family" I miss them terribly.

Good thing there are such things as airplanes... :)


In closing I would like to add that my attempt to have an American themed BBQ for my family in Corby was amusing at best, oh we did have some great food... BBQ Beans, Potato Salad, Sausages, Ribs and Stuffed Cheeseburgers. Except, the cheeseburgers fell apart. Down through the BBQ slats they started to go, sizzling and becoming one with the coals, Corby family mom did rescue them though, and they finished cooking in the oven.. they were more like taco mince by the time we got them, but they were delicious nonetheless. Seriously though, what kind of Texan am I? What kind of Texan can't manage a stuffed burger? I totally need to step up my BBQ game y'all!!

Have a great week!
Tammy

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Preparing your children for London

Yes,
It's a good idea to prepare them.

This summer we spent 2 months in the UK. 4 weeks were spent in London. My glorious much loved London.

My son is 13. My daughter is 10.

My son... Well. He didn't like London. At all.

Seriously.
You read that right, Should I retype it.
Okay.

My son didn't like London.

HOW? CAN. THIS. BE?

Let me give you a quick little synopsis. I travel to London, and other countries, quite regularly, like more than twice a year, I love to travel. And recently, I have included my children. They LOVE to fly, they love to travel, and the seriously love to explore. This was their first trip out of the United States though. They loved that experience, they loved the plane ride, they loved sight seeing and they loved all of the cool places we went in London. They loved Ireland and they loved Corby (A smallish town, in Northhamptonshire),

So what's the problem you ask?

First keep this in mind, being a typical American family, we live in the suburbs, we come from Austin, a good sized city, but my children have never used public transportation. If we want to go somewhere, we drive. Most of America does. Most places are so spread out, and so far away, we just hop in our car and drive from store to store, from school to school. We sight see... We travel. We rent more cars. Sure, we do walk... But we don't use public transportation. At all. We have never needed to. In fact, I can only think of one person, that I personally know, that takes the bus. Everyone else owns a car. You can't exactly fit an entire family on the back of your bike, not to mention that Texas is a very HOT state, very few people want to ride a bike in 100 degree heat.

That being said, I told my children all about London.

But I left one thing out, I didn't even think about.

The crowds.

My son absolutely freaked out the first time we got on the tube (If you don't know, that's the underground, public subway system in London). He said people were "touching" him, and by touching, he meant they were brushing against him. I was actually taken back, and told him they weren't trying to be rude, they were all trying to get on the train before it left, and that many people were trying to fit into one smallish area.

No bueno.

At every single opportunity, he wanted to take the bus. Also a new form of transport, but he felt some how less violated. He also loved being at the top of the double deckers. I have used the bus on many occasions in London, but only to a few places, I mostly use the underground, if I can, as it's fast. This trip though, I learned the bus system pretty well.

It wasn't just the crowded underground trains, he didn't like the huge crowds in general.

You should have seen his face when he saw the crowd of people at Oxford Circus, he actually looked at me wide eyed and said "Mom we aren't getting off here are we??"
Here is the crowd...

Looking at this photo now, I do think to myself, "That's a lot of people", but it's summer in London. It's a busy city on the coldest and wet days, in the middle of winter. So you can imagine, summer is a sea of endless human bodies!
No matter what part of London you're in...

We could barely move in the Natural History Museum

Because I'm absolutely in lust with London, I have never considered any of the "bad" sides when addressing visiting this great city. I told my children about the phenomenal history, the culture, the tourist sites, the buildings, the diversity and the people... I did even tell them about the underground trains, but alas, I forgot to mention just how vast and crowded London is. It just never occurred to me, that it might be a problem.  

My son wants to go back to England, but he doesn't want to visit London. He said "There are too many people". When I think about London, from his point of view, I can see what he means. My guy doesn't like crowds of people to start with, he's kind of a home body. I think this is mostly due to him being ill for so many years, until we recently discovered he had a dairy allergy, he was honestly sick almost daily. Poor guy. And though he's feeling really great these days. He still detests crowds. And well... that's okay. Some of us love the Country life, and some of us love the beach. And then there are some of us, that don't mind feeling like a herd of cows being rounded up, when the train pulls into whatever tube station, you are lucky enough to be standing in.

Live and Learn.

If you are planning a trip to London with your children, and they or you have never been to a city of millions, You will be bumped, brushed against and sometimes shoved. On the tube you will most likely either have a butt or armpit in your face, especially if you hit the train around rush hour (take my advice and miss that time of day) and you will run into crowds of hundreds and hundreds of people, especially in the summer. These are things I don't mind. Because the pros in London, far outweigh the cons. 

As of 2015, there are 8.63 million people living in London, that doesn't count the people that commute in for work. Compare that to where you currently live, and decide how that stacks up. Then prepare your children accordingly!

I hope you're having a fantastic week!
Tammy

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Using an American Debit card in England

If you plan on using an American visa debit card, when you travel in the UK, there are a few things you might want to keep in mind.

Anyone here in the States will know, that it's only extremely recent (this year), that most people received a new debit card from their bank with a chip in it. Target has put in a whole new payment system in their stores, and they are asking people to use their "chip", it's so new here in the States, that my mom had no clue what they were talking about yesterday. when we were out shopping.

Chip? What? Put it where?

Anyway, in the UK, they have been using chipped cards since the beginning of time (give or take a few years!), when Americans traveled to the England before, it was all about stores having to "swipe" our cards for us.

However, things haven't gotten easier. Not for cards that aren't registered in the UK, and since my card is registered in the United States, I came across a few issues. They weren't huge, and they are manageable, but be prepared.

Here are some things to keep in mind.
  • You MUST have the back of your debit card signed. I know many people that don't sign the back of their credit and debit cards here in the States. This way. the stores are forced to ask for ID, after all, no one can forge your name if it's not there! That's not acceptable in England, if you plan on using your Debit card. Make sure the back is signed, before you shop! Mine was faint, and I caught grief for that, so I used a thin sharpie to re-sign my card.
  • You will need ID when you use your American card in the stores. Not only will they check the back of your card for a signature, wherever you shop may ask for ID. I only travel with my passport when I'm overseas. I haven't rented a car abroad yet, so I don't travel with my drivers license. Also, when I travel, I keep my passport locked up so that I don't lose it when I'm out and about. A manager was called when I went to Morrison's that approved my signature, but I was actually turned away by a manager in Matalan. How embarrassing. I had to leave the store and go to an ATM to get cash, and then return to the store. Also keep in mind, you will most likely be charged a foreign transaction fee, every time you use your debit card.
  • You won't be able to use your American registered card online. I did some house sitting when we were in the UK this past summer, I didn't know the area very well, so I decided to have our groceries delivered. It's a wonderful service offered in England. However, Sainsbury's, Tesco, Iceland and Asda do not take cards, unless they are registered in the UK. Even Matalan wouldn't accept my card online. HOWEVER... Places like Madame Tussaud's, Tower Bridge and The London Eye, will take your card! And you will save money by booking online.
  • Some places won't take your card at all! When flying Ryanair, they wouldn't take my card in flight and when we were in Corby and wanted to stop by McDonald's for a cold drink, (We don't actually eat their food), they wouldn't take my card either.
  • You will always be asked to sign your receipt. When people use their debit cards in the UK, they put their card with chip, into the payment machine, put in a PIN number and that's how they pay. Here in the States, we swipe our cards and then sign electronically or we swipe our cards and use a pin. Since there is no signature used in the UK, and they won't accept your PIN used in the States, they must print out a copy for you to sign. There lies the reason some businesses won't take your card, if they can't have you sign it, they can't accept it.
  • Some ATM's will not accept or recognize your card. But have no fear... All major banks, and they are everywhere... will take your debit card, and will give you cash. I suggest taking out 50 to 100 Pounds at a time, as you will be charged a fee by your bank, the foreign bank, and a possible foreign transaction fee as well.
Here is a typical credit and debit card machine, with electronic signature, in the United States.
Here is a typical credit and debit card machine located across the UK. No signature screen, only an amount due screen.
I want to stress that this blog posting is for debit cards only, I paid cash for our entire trip to the UK, minus 45 pounds that I put on a credit card at the airport. So I can't speak from experience when using Credit cards, as I only bring one on vacation for emergencies.

Of course when anyone travels abroad, they want to have the best experience possible, that's why I am writing this post. When traveling to any part of the UK from the United States, make sure you have picture ID on you at all times, and also... Keep some local currency on you. 

The weekend is fast approaching, I hope you have a great one!
Tammy x


Monday, August 17, 2015

Ryanair ... My Experience

Ryanair boasts CHEAPEST FARES IN EUROPE... And they probably are, but only IF... 

And there will be a lot of IF's in my experience.

I don't make it a habit to sit around and complain, but some things, are just ridiculous and they need addressed.

I'm not knocking Ryanair, (Okay maybe I am a little), but before you fly with Ryanair, be prepared to pay big fees if you aren't perfectly prepared. There is no room for error, and if you do error... Ryanair doesn't care. You will pay. A lot.

If you live in Europe, then you probably are prepared, but if you are traveling from abroad, like from the United States, then you are most likely using Ryanair for a quick hop to another country, and you're most likely not traveling with a printer in your pocket. I'll explain...

When you receive your reservation confirmation from Ryanair, you're told that if you don't print out your boarding pass before arrival at the airport, you will be charged £15 PER person for a boarding pass. I was traveling with two of my children, so that's £45. £45 for three little boarding passes, three little pieces of paper about 3" x 9"... Give or take. You have the option of scanning your smartphone. I didn't want to pay the fee, so I tried that. However I couldn't, for the life of me, get my phone, with the bar code, to scan. It was probably my fault, user error. No biggie right? EXCEPT THAT IT COST ME £45! Maybe to you that's nothing, to me traveling the UK for two month with two children in tow. That's roughly $70. For  three  little  teeny  pieces  of  paper. Not amused. Strike One.

I paid the £45. Put it down to experience. I'll let it go.

We didn't even bother checking luggage, I had a friend that let me store our cases, and we just traveled with our carry-ons. Luggage check-in starts at £50. 



The actual flight itself, wasn't bad, the plane had enough leg room and ample space for a short flight from London to Limerick, Ireland. Of course, we aren't in the States any longer, so a simple glass of water or coke wasn't free... Expected, so no problem. However the payment system, whichever one it was, would not take my American credit card... That's weird you say? Not really, I ran into the same problem several times in England, if a debit visa card isn't registered in the UK, you may have a hard time using it. I had enough sterling left on me to get the kids some breakfast. Was I expecting the food to be of fine quality? No. I was expecting the food to be edible. Hannah had cereal, can't go wrong there. But Andy had a hot dog... LAWDHAMMERCY! Since he has a dairy allergy, he didn't take the chance with the bread. Good thing, it was hard as a rock. Seriously? Did I mention the food served should be edible? StrikeTwo.

Plane Food!

We stayed in Ireland for one week.

Then I made a big mistake...
I booked my flight to leave one day earlier than I was supposed to. My flight was for a Saturday, but I meant to book it for the Sunday. I messed up big time. I haven't ever done that before and when I realized my mistake, I contacted Ryanair immediately. I had already missed the flight, and to be honest I wasn't really expecting miracles from Ryanair, but I wasn't expecting them to take the piss either. Ryanair told me I would have to book three new tickets, they said it would cost me €800 for three tickets, one way, Ireland to London. That's roughly $885. ARE THEY EVEN ON THE SAME PLANET? Anyway, I decided to go to check the two apps that I always use when I travel "Cheapoair" And "Skyscanner", It's a good thing I did, Skyscanner got me the same exact tickets for $397, that's more than a 50% savings. My Fault. But 800? One way? Really? Strike Three.

Remember how I learn from my mistakes? I borrowed a friends computer to print our boarding passes for our trip home. And guess what? The printer ran of ink, just as I was printing... (What happened to the luck of the Irish?? I guess you have to BE Irish, and not just in Ireland :)
One boarding pass made it, the others did not. Guess who had to pay an extra €30 for two more boarding passes? Yes, that would be me. 

No more strikes...You're out!

One fee I didn't get hit with? There is a £45 check in fee, but I always check in on-line, no matter what airline I'm flying. So I dodged that one!

What would I like to say to Ryanair? There are many low cost airlines around the world, perhaps book a flight? Fly the "other" airlines and take notes. I flew a low cost airline from Austin to NYC, not only did they check my suitcases for free, they also gave me free boarding passes and free in flight drinks. 

Ryanair doesn't hide their fees, in fact, they blast them on their website

I don't think that many travelers expect an airline to charge them for a couple of pieces of paper. I think that's the one thing, that ticked me off the most. So that's me, and my experience with Ryanair. This isn't my first trip to Ireland, nor my first trip to England. I have flown many different airlines, but this one is the only airline that I have really been disappointed with. Which is a shame, as their airport staff, their flight attendants, their planes and both flights themselves were good. But their fees are just ridiculous. 



There are some very heated articles and comments about Ryanair on the internet, you might want to do your own research before booking a flight with this shady airline!


Ryanair aside, Ireland is an INCREDIBLE country, more on The Emerald Isle later!
Tammy

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Everyday London

You know those photos ... The ones you've uploaded from your camera to your computer, the ones that you're organizing and putting into folders... You know the ones.

And then there are those few, you aren't quite sure what folder to put in?

As you can imagine, I have hundreds of photos of London, I'm not going to such a fabulous city without a memory capturing device!

So as I am organizing, I find that, some are just ordinary. However, they were extra-ordinary to me at the time. Obviously they provoked some feeling within, or I wouldn't have snapped them. Looking at them now, it's because, they really are... Different. By different I mean, not home, not America. They are old, they are unique. 

They are London.

A lot of London's buildings are covered in this...
Green.
Mold.
London smells different, especially in the old buildings, you can smell the earth and the old.
I love how I'm reminded of the history of this great city, just by looking. No text books needed.

 

I love that England is preserved, by every possible measure. Even if it's a wall. A lonely wall standing, among the technology and hustle passing it by.


I love walking passed old Royal mail boxes


And I'm ever so slightly obsessed with these red phone boxes, red is a bold and confident color. Perfect for London.

Though not everything is red, I love the ever dwindling police boxes that can still be seen lurking about on the streets of the city. (The damaged wall is from a bomb during WW2, also, take note... more aging green.)

The every day bus travel of London



And the homes... I love these Townhouses ...
Though I'm unsure what they call them in England


Some of the amazing flats...

Bikes. All of the bikes. Though not as bad as in Cambridge. There are bikes everywhere in London. I'd be scared to death to ride them, but you see people zooming in and out of traffic all of the time, biking right along side the cars and huge buses.


When in London, you will always pass tearing down... and building back up. Large cranes seem to have become iconic in this grand city!


In the last 5 years, I have seen many skyscrapers go up.. The Shard took months and months...


But they are all so beautiful when they're finished, I took this one just a few months ago.



How about that Cheese grater?


I love the side streets of London



I love that every single time I'm in London... I see street performers, I've seen fire eaten, I've seen magic tricks... I've seen these guys...



We must not forget about Quirky London. Quirky is as relevant as the history of this great city.
I mean... There are so many amazing street artists like Boa and Banksy, but there is hidden art too... Like mushrooms on a building. Who would have thought?


Turning a corner in London, often means seeing old passages... Often hundreds of years old.
But this one is near Tower Bridge and the Tower of London.


Did I mention it's really really OLD?


How about this... A part of the Original London Bridge, (NOT to be confused with Tower Bridge)


London.
It's old, It's new, It's eclectic, It's diverse, It's proper, It's colorful, It's grey, It's rainy, It's sunny. It holds many secrets, It has Boris, It has a Queen. It has a past and it definitely has a future!

But My most favorite part of London?
Just regular ole London.


Why am I going through past photos and reminiscing? It's only 4 months until I leave for England with my 2 children. I'm so excited. They are excited, though I know they have no idea what a culture shock they are visiting! Even with technology, things are quite different across the Atlantic.

The plan was to stay a year, Not just in England, but traveling, England, Ireland, Scotland, Europe. I have saved up and the plan is to WWOOF and House sit, visit friends and take at least a year long sabbatical. (Hopefully finding a job in that time). Now, well. I'm not sure how long we will stay. My son has been sick a lot, tests are being done to rule out several different illnesses. When a child gets sick it stops a mom in her tracks. My son doesn't have anything life threatening, but traveling, and leaving the private health insurance of America, is a scary thought when you're not sure what test results will bring. 

So, I'm taking it one day at a time. 
We plan to leave on June 9th, and stay at least the Summer. 
If it's meant to be, we will stay longer.

There was a time when I was uneasy if I changed my mind about something, but now, I know... Life isn't a regulated book, and the more flexible I am, the less stress I endure.

We will see you soon England!
I hope you're all having a fantastic weekend,
Tammy x