Sunday, August 15, 2010

Day 1 - London

As promised, here is the first post on my recent (okay, 8 months ago isn’t all that recent) Contiki Tour. For a bit of background, we chose to do the European Discovery (Winter), partly because that was when the money was available, and because Adi would have holidays then, and also because we’re completely used to summer holidays, and wanted to experience something completely different to what we’re used to – hence Europe in the middle of freezing winter. We chose to leave on Christmas day – this meant we would have Boxing Day in Amsterdam, Venice on New Year’s (a significant factor, though unbeknownst to Adi at this point), and would also have time to catch Liverpool game on the 9th of January.

So, after all the planning was done and Christmas had, it was time to make our way to the airport. Adi and I were on different flights – she gets a freebie business class ticket thanks to her dad flying with SAA (incidentally, he was flying her plane there), and I got the cheapest ticket I could find: Virgin. Since Adi and I would be going through customs together, I didn’t want the scanner to pick up the engagement ring, so I gave it to her dad to take with. We would then arrange to exchange it in London somewhere. Cool spy stuff!

So, the flight was actually not bad, the Virgin airhostesses were pretty hot, and I watched some cool movies on board. Landed in London round about the same time as Adi, even though she left an hour earlier, that was quite cool. Apart from leaving my snuggy snoozer on the plane, everything about the flight was fine. After a bit of searching, Adi and I met up, and then got on the underground to get to Russel Square. A most uncomfortable 45 minutes later (that train was packed) we arrived in Russel Square, and fought through the masses to get out and into the lift to get to street level.

The first thing I noticed when I got to ground level ready to go find our hotel – London is COLD at 8:30am on the 26th of December. After finding the hotel, we then found the Contiki Basement to go check in. Unfortunately, the CB doesn’t open until 11, so we left our bags in storage and went exploring Russel Square. The Russel Hotel is an awesome building, and otherwise Russel Square / Camden is quite a cool little area. After walking around we met up with Adi’s dad for some breakfast (and to exchange the package while Adi went to the bathroom), and then went back to the CB to check in. This time, we were told check-in was only at 2pm, so we opted for another walk, this time to Oxford Street for the Boxing Day sales.

We missed Oxford Street, however, and carried on walking till we hit the Thames. We saw the sights, took tons of photos, and then finally made our way back for check-in. We stayed in the Royal National Hotel, which is the standard Contiki option in London. Point of information – do NOT stay in this hotel, it is absolutely horrible, and is the worst hotel I have ever had the misfortune of staying in. The beds are terrible (we got 2 singles, instead of a double), they have big wheels on them which means even when rolling over the bed rolls around, they squeak when you breathe, and they are thin and uncomfortable and horrible. The hotel itself is not much better than the quality of the beds. Given the option – rather sleep on a bench in some park.

After our nap we went to a pub nearby and met some people going on our Contiki Tour, had a beer and some chips, and then went to our pre-tour meeting where we met our tour manager, driver and some other tour mates. There were lots of South Africans and Australians, and then a fair sprinkling of other kinds too. The pre-tour meeting was helpful, so I would suggest not missing this when going on your Contiki Tour.

After the meeting, we decided London wasn’t that cold and went off to Fulham to meet Adi’s dad and a friend at a pub, leaving our jacket outers, gloves, scarves and beanies behind. We missed our stop, and discovered that our bus didn’t go back, so we walked for 30 mins in the rain to get to the pub, freezing our arses off. Note: even when you think you’re warm enough, bring a jacket in London. After that ordeal, we had a beer and made our way back to the hotel for the worst night’s sleep in living memory.