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!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Preparing your children for London

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.

You read that right, Should I retype it.

My son didn't like London.


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!

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!