Thursday, October 14, 2010

Across the pond, part one

Alan and I recently returned from nine days in England, and now that we have almost recovered from the Jet Lag demon, I think I will impersonate a travel blogger for just a bit. Why? Because:
  • Alan can't read my journal writing to look back at the details of our trip;
  • We researched our trip by reading several travel blogs and web sites and they were a great source of "do and don't" information. (I'll list some of those blogs and sites at the end of this post). Hopefully, someone will pick up a tidbit of information here that will help them with their plans; and
  • I can't read my journal writing to look back at the details of our trip.
Earlier this year, we sadly realized that our last vacation was six years ago. Of course, we've made brief trips to the lake and Alan's brother's beach house, but no big journeys to sights unseen. And that, my friends, is almost a fate worse than death for my husband. He lives to travel. He loves to see places he hasn't seen, and sometimes, but not often, he will even travel back to see them again. But the ultimate high for him is to plan to travel. His collection of charts, graphs, blogs, books, web sites, and maps all make me believe with absolute certainty that he is a direct descendant of Eugene Fodor. 

And so he began to get the travel bug. I admit, I was also ready for a getaway. Fortunately, we had just enough Sky Miles and Hotel Points to take a nice trip even though I'm still one of those pesky unemployment statistics you hear about everyday on the news. We began to talk about destinations and after much discussion and elimination, narrowed our list down to three: Israel, England, and a drive up the east coast to view the incredible red, orange, and yellow of the approaching autumn.

One day in June, as I was recovering from surgery (an anterior lumbar interbody fusion, i.e. a disc in my back was removed and replaced through an almost foot long vertical incision in my abdomen...and yes, everything in the surgeon's path was retracted up and out of my tummy), Alan asked me what I thought about making the trip to England. I foggily muttered that I needed another pain pill. He translated that to "yes."

From that point on, he was metaphorically off to the races and literally off to The Cotswolds and London. We (he) had 90 days to plan our trip to the Mother Country. More pain pills, phone calls, reservations, cancellations, reservations, inquiries, and consultations followed. And that was just the first day! I'll omit an account of the remaining 89 (but I will say "ditto") and share some information that we found helpful as we (he) planned our trip across the pond:
  • Our personal automobile insurance was not valid for a rental car. Our insurance agent strongly suggested that we get the optional rental insurance. Thankfully, we took his advice. (See next tip).
  • If I return to the UK, I will rent the absolute smallest car available. England's roads (lanes) are at least one foot smaller than their automobiles (carriages). And if the owner of the white van who lost their passenger mirror on September 24 in Bath is reading this, we're very sorry. Not that I'm relating that incident to the condition of our driver's mirror. (See previous tip.)
  • Our health insurance was valid in the UK. The caveat is that a claim must be labeled "urgent" in order to be covered. Just fyi, bleeding foot blisters and PTSD from driving on the opposite side of the road from the opposite side of the car and circling endlessly in round-abouts are not viewed as "urgent."
  • AAA does not offer a map of England (hence the first A).
  • The London Travel Card is more advantageous than the Oyster Card if planning to use multiple modes of public transportation. I can send you the Excel file to back that up, if you're interested.
  • Banks and credit card companies recommend that they be notified about your travel plans. Otherwise, they might think your card that has only been used in Birmingham, Alabama, is stolen if it's suddenly used in Birmingham, England. The result could be a "hold" on all transactions.
  • Prior to leaving Birmingham, we converted some dollars to pounds and also purchased Traveler's Checks. It was very difficult to cash the Traveler's Checks. It would have been better to use our ATM card. Note: you must contact your bank prior to departure to activate the card for foreign usage.
  • My iPhone ceased to be a mobile device when we left U.S. airspace. Of course, in free wifi locations, I could use my apps and Internet. As in America, there is a Starbucks on almost every corner in London, so free wifi was not a problem. AT&T offers a special travel package for those who must have phone and text access, and also a package for 3G. We purchased the minimum 3G package for the iPad thinking it would be helpful if we were lost. Looking back, that was $24.99 not wisely spent. We were lost in The Cotswolds at least 12 times and couldn't access 3G. Perhaps those freaky Stonehenge rocks blocked the satellite waves.
  • Regarding the 12 times we were lost in The Cotswolds: if you have a GPS, purchase and download England maps. The $24.99 spent (see above) for 3G seemed a much better bargain than $60 for England software for our GPS. Wrong, wrong, wrong. If you do not have a GPS, get one in the rental car.
  • To paraphrase an old joke, "How do you get to London?" The answer: "Preparation, preparation, preparation." Alan's endless work, paid off beautifully, as always. No unexpected problems (if you don't count getting lost), no worries, no "uh-oh's." Winging it, as I probably would have done, is not a good option. Thanks, dear.You're the best.
Next up in a few days: our trip through The Cotswolds. Until then, I'll be busy investigating the possibility of opening a Krispy Kreme in Bibury.

As promised, here are just a few of the blogs and web sites we found especially helpful:

England for Dummies and Fodor's England were two of the most helpful books we read.