AdventureNotes #19: Bath

When I first came to the UK, I didn’t know what Bath is. My friend, then, told me that it is a beautiful city and the home of one of the UNESCO World Heritage. I am not sure why I didn’t know about Bath because it is mentioned as one of the most beautiful cities in the UK and it is a must visit place. Therefore, I started to look into it, finding out information about the city, and finally decided to visit Bath.

I went to Bath during a summer break by train from London. As I was living in Hull at that time, the cheapest way to go to Bath is through London. However, it can still be quite expensive, around £30 for return ticket per person. Actually, Bath is easily accessible by train. However, if you want to get better deal on visiting this city, you can check day tours or Eventbrite because there are several day tours to Bath and Stonehenge, or other cities, from London. It can be a better choice if you want to visit more than just Bath.

Personally, I cannot find any city similar to Bath. I don’t know but I just don’t think it is comparable to any other cities. I think Brighton is the closest one, but Brighton is located on the seaside whereas Bath is mountainous. Moreover, there are actually so many attractions in Bath that I would suggest you to stay at least one night to really get to know the city. Therefore, I chose to make my own itinerary and spent a night in Bath.

Although it is advised to stay in Bath overnight, the accommodation price there is expensive. As it is a touristic place, like York, hiring a hotel room can be very expensive. I could not find any hotel offering a room priced less than £40. You are lucky if you are a solo traveler or you don’t mind to stay in hostels because YHA has a branch there. So far, it is the most affordable accommodation in Bath – well, except the AirBnB. However, I didn’t stay in YHA when I visited Bath. Instead, I slept in a university accommodation. How come? Every summer holiday, the University of Bath rents its student accommodation for visitors. The price is quite cheap, around £30 a night including breakfast. It is a dorm room, fully equipped. The only downside is that the bathroom is shared. I was quite happy to be able to spend a night there because then, I could also visit the university and feel how students live in dorms. The breakfast is quite good, too.

As I said, there are many tourist attractions in Bath. The most popular ones are the Roman Baths, Jane Austen Center, Fashion Museum, No.1 Royal Crescent, Bath Abbey, Pulteney Bridge, and the Circus, and the Royal Crescent. You can visit all of them, of course. However, at the time I visited the city, my constraint was money. Most of the attractions in Bath apply admission fee.

For the paid ones, I went to Roman Baths, Fashion Museum, and No.1 Royal Crescent. It was costly, but I think it worth the pay. In Roman Baths, I could see many Roman artefacts and get to know more about how Romans live in the UK at that time. Basically, it provides us with so many historical facts and stories. Besides that, we can also see the former Roman Baths, where people on that day take shower. It is very well preserved. This attraction is located in the middle of the city so it is hard to miss. Near the Roman Bath, there is a café called The Pump Room, where you can have tea afterwards. Well, I didn’t try it because I was in a low budget, but if you are interested you can absolutely try to have an afternoon tea here.

On my second day in Bath, I went to see the Royal Crescent and the No.1 Royal Crescent. They are located in the same area. The No.1 Royal Crescent is a show house, picturing how people in the Georgian era live. We can explore the different rooms of the house, including the furniture and else. There are guides there who will tell us stories and details about how people live back then. Unfortunately, most of the objects shown there are not really the original objects but loans from different museums and private collections. Well, it is good to know that people here really pay attention to history, saving meaningful objects, etc. But it will be good for the attraction to have collections on its own.

Although I didn’t plan to go to this museum, the Fashion Museum is certainly my highlight. The museum is rather dark, but the amount of the collection is imaginable. I could really see how fashion changes along time. The exhibition is enormous. I think, fashion lovers should visit this museum and will spend a whole day in this attraction. Again, despite its cost, it is very worth it.

Those are my picks, but you can explore Bath for more. If you are in a low budget, you don’t have to come into those paid attraction because strolling through Bath’s small alleys and streets is certainly charming. It is a city like no other.

Mar 19, 2016

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AdventureNotes #18: Oxford

A lot of people know that Oxford is a name of a university. Do you also know that this is the name of the city where the university is located in? Almost the same as Cambridge, Oxford tourism depends on its university. Therefore, traveling to Oxford means coming into the university colleges, museums, and libraries – well, at least most part of it. I visited Oxford twice, first by myself on a super tight budget and the second with my husband and his friends with an enough budget so that I can enter some of the colleges there.

Oxford is a city located in the south part of UK. The city is quite reachable by train and bus. For me, I went to Oxford by bus, both from London and Birmingham. The bus from London to Oxford can be as cheap as £1 for one way. The bus is called Oxford Tube, which everyone can take from the front of London Victoria Station. I don’t know how much it will cost if you just get on the bus and pay there, but I bought my ticket online and it was just £1. The journey from London to Oxford takes around 2 hours. The city is also around 2 hours journey from Birmingham, from which I took a MegaBus that costs only £7 return. Quite cheap, right?

As the city is quite small, if you don’t explore the whole museums there, most people visit Oxford for only a day trip. As I said, the main attraction is its university. As most cities in the UK, the city has more than one university, but the one that is the oldest university in the UK and the most popular one is called University of Oxford. Similar to Cambridge, the university is divided into many colleges. Each college has its own complex, with accommodation, classes, halls, and sometimes its own library, too. Some of the colleges are open for visitors because of its beauty. Some of them are free, and some requires visitors to pay a “small” amount of money. Well, the most expensive one in Oxford is Christ Church College. It is indeed, the most famous college of all because its hall is the inspiration of Harry Potter’s Hogwarts Great Hall. When I visited the college, I had to pay more than £5. At that time, the college also opens a Bed and Breakfast so that visitors can try living in the dorm and having breakfast in the Great Hall. I must say that the place is beautiful, starting from the meadow outside the main building up to the inner part of the college complex, which includes dorms, library, chapel, and halls. However, I think the hall is not as I expected. In reality, I think it is quite small. It is still functioning now, holding dinners and breakfasts for the students. When I went to see the hall, the university staffs were preparing dinner as they set up the tables there. I also saw the accommodation building, which is in direct opposite of the library of this college. There, I saw a student who just wears pajamas to visit the library. I think the students basically live in the library and just go to their accommodation when they need to eat or shower. Haha… Well, actually you can choose to not live in the colleges but rent an accommodation a bit far from the city. It is cheaper.

Other Oxford attractions are also related to the university, such as the All Soul’s College (we cannot get in here because it is closed for public), University Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Bodleian Camera, and Radcliffe Camera. Those places can be visited by paying an admission fee. If you are really interested in knowing what’s inside, maybe you can buy the tickets. However, I am not. So, although I’ve visited Oxford twice, I only see those places from the outside. I heard that it is quite useful to join walking tours around Oxford to get to know the city better. Some of the walking tours are free, but some are not. If the tour is not free, it is a good chance that the price includes the admission tickets to several places.

Is Oxford really that expensive? Well, no. If you are on a budget, you can always go inside the museums. There are several museums in Oxford, which most of them are managed by the university. I went inside one of them just to pass by, and I think if I have enough time, I’d love to explore the place. Again, as many other museums in the UK, the place is arranged interestingly so that the image of dark and gloomy museum vanishes from my mind.

Well, the last place that I visited on my latest visit to Oxford is the Covered Market. It is basically an indoor market full of different kinds of stalls. This place is so interesting because you can find anything, from cookies to uncooked chicken. Some of the small bag shops and accessories shops are unique, I don’t know if they have branch elsewhere. There is also a really interesting cake shop with different decorations on the cakes. I love the place! I think it’s worth the visit.

For me, Oxford is… yeah, Oxford. I cannot find an exact adjective to describe it. I think it is quite interesting, although the city center is so packed. My husband doesn’t really like it because he thinks it’s vague (I don’t know why), but if you’d like to see how ‘the bright’ students live, you can visit Oxford.

Mar 12, 2016

AdventureNotes #17: Mainstream London

After a week off last week, this is the last AdventureNotes article about London. Yeay! This last article will explore about the mainstream London. London’s first visitors certainly must at least pass along these places to really prove to the world that they have visited this wonderful city! The whole passing along these locations can be done in a day and cheaply if you are not interested to go inside those places. However, the museums and galleries listed in my version of mainstream London can take up to one day visit. Therefore, allocate enough time if you really are interested in going into the museums and galleries.

Everyone’s list of mainstream London can be different from one to another. I make this list of mainstream London based on my experience and the Visit London website. So, here’s the list and brief explanation about each of them:

1.      British Museum – a must visit place in London. If you only have limited time, I would suggest you to pick one or two galleries to visit. The place can be very crowded during the peak season, so beware of not being comfortable inside this museum. It is a good photo spot, especially inside its famous center hall.

2.      National Gallery – if you are an artistic person and are interested in paintings, you can go inside. The place is huge and again, you have to allocate special time for you to visit. I like to sit around the Trafalgar Square, instead. It is located in front of the National Gallery. Sometimes there are celebrations or special occasions held there.

3.      Natural History Museum – this place is huge! I think people can go again and again to this place because it is so interesting! The admission is free, another advantage for budget traveler.

4.      London Eye – this spot is one of the iconic places in London. Strolling near the London Eye in the Southbank is already satisfying. It is indeed worth it to pay the price for the London Eye ticket. It is quite expensive, but there are promotional options to get a better price. I love the view from the London Eye at night. It is so beautiful!

5.      Tower of London – The place is located near the Thames River and it is now a museum. There are galleries and tours for you to choose when you are visiting this place. You have to pay for the admission ticket, though.

6.      Tower Bridge – this iconic place is a must visit in London. You can just walk along the bridge, take pictures near it, or even come inside the towers of the Tower Bridge to see exhibitions. Again, you need to pay for the admission ticket in this attraction.

7.      Madame Tussauds – there are Madame Tussauds in other cities, indeed. I don’t really know the difference between those Madame Tussauds, but if you haven’t been to one, you surely can visit the one in London. The admission price is quite expensive and the queue can be very long, but you can take pictures, a lot of them, inside.

8.      221b Baker Street – Sherlock! For Sherlock Holmes fans, this is a must visit place. However, I was disappointed coming inside this place to see the exhibition because it is not that interesting for me. With the price and the queue, surely I wouldn’t recommend you to come except you really a hardcore fan of Sherlock Holmes. I think, taking picture in front of it and visiting the shop is quite enough.

9.      Buckingham Palace – an attraction that you can see when you visit this place is the changing guard. It happens daily or once in two days at 11.30. The procession lasts around 45 minutes. Quite interesting, but not that much. During the summer, the palace is open for public and you can see the inside of the building. Again, it is not free of charge.

10.  Parliament House – definitely cannot go inside, but taking picture in front of the Parliament House is a must. It really shows that you’ve visited London. The best place to take your picture in front of it is from the bridge just next to the building.

11.  Big Ben – attached to the Parliament House, this is also the icon of London. Take a picture of yourself in front of this place!

12.  Westminster Abbey – located just on the square of the Parliament House, Westminster Abbey is famous as a place for the Royal Family to do their religious activities. You can take a picture in front of it, and you can also come inside to see the place.

13.  St. Paul’s Church – I love this building! Walking across the Millennium Bridge and seeing this building is just magnificent! You can take pictures and come inside the church. All free of charge.

14.  Piccadilly Circus / Soho – it is not a building but an area. The place is so famous and is always crowded. I like to just walk along the streets in this area. It is nice!

15.  Oxford Street – shopping! That’s the word comes to my mind every time I hear Oxford Street. Lots and lots of shops here, where you can just have your retail therapy.

As I said, it only takes a day to visit all these places if you are not going inside and just take pictures of them from the outside. Most of the places are located along the Thames River, so it is not difficult to reach them. I would suggest people to go to the Buckingham Palace first, and then walk through the St. James Park to reach the Parliament Square, where the Parliament House, Big Ben, and Westminster Abbey are located. You can walk across the bridge from the Big Ben and follow the pathway to the London Eye. Then, cross the bridge again to reach the National Gallery and Trafalgar Square. From there, I usually take the tube to the Tower of London, quite near to the Tower Bridge and St. Paul’s Cathedral. The other places left are the British Museum, Natural History Museum, Madame Tussauds, 221b Baker Street, Piccadilly Circus, and Oxford Street. I like to categorize the places into their location. For example, the British Museum is not too far from the Oxford Street, which is adjacent to Piccadilly Circus. Then, Madame Tussauds and 221b Baker Street are close to each other. Finally, the Natural History is located in the museum quarter of London, where there are also Science Museum and Victoria and Albert Museum.

It is very easy to visit the mainstream London points of interest. If you like to take the bus, you can take London Bus Route 4, which passes along the Waterloo, Houses of Parliament, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and Barbican. Another bus route, London Bus Route 88, passes along the Regent Street, Oxford Street, Piccadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, and the House of Parliament. See? You can even just stay inside the bus to pass these iconic locations. The district and circle lines of London Underground are also the main route if you prefer to use the tube as your mode of transportation.

That’s all about London – well, up until now. I am sure that there will be loads and loads more after I visit the city more.

Mar 04, 2016

AdventureNotes #16: Harry Potter London

Who doesn’t know Harry Potter? The book, the movie, everything about Harry Potter is famous! Thinking about Harry Potter makes people think about the UK, too. Indeed, the movie set is also located in various places throughout the UK. However, the Warner Bros Studio is located near London. For you who are mad about the story, welcome to the magical world!

To visit the Warner Bros Studio, we have to buy tickets in advance. The place is very popular and in peak seasons, the ticket is likely to be sold out or limited. Therefore, I would suggest people to really consider the time they are going to visit. Besides the date, we should also pick the time of the day we want to enter the place. I’ve visited the place twice, once at night time and once during the day. For me, both times are perfectly fine. It has its own charm on different times of the day. Therefore, don’t worry if you get a slot at night to visit the studio. The official website to book the ticket to this studio ishttps://www.wbstudiotour.co.uk/. However, if you cannot find any ticket on your chosen date, you can also google other tours that may have the tickets, too. Usually, these tours also include the transportation price from central London to the studio location by bus. The price to enter this attraction is not cheap but it certainly worth it.

I wouldn’t say that the Warner Bros Studio is exactly in London. It is located near zone 7 London, which is called Watford Junction. From my city, Birmingham, it is almost half way to London. From central London, I think the journey can take up to 45 minutes by tube or probably 1 to 1.30 hours by bus depending on the traffic. From the Watford Junction station, we should take another designated Harry Potter Tour bus to the location. Minding the journey, I would suggest people who want to visit this attraction to start their journey around 1 to 2 hours before their allocated entry time. Sometimes you can enter a little bit before your allocated time. And don’t worry if you are late, too! You can still come to the place with your ticket!

Entering the studio is like entering a magical place, indeed! If you are a Harry Potter fan, you will love it! The entrance to the great hall, looking at the set of different places of Hogwarts, and taking pictures all around, all are unforgettable experience. There are indoor and outdoor areas of the studio with an additional area just opened last year. Nowadays, people can also see the Hogwarts Express that had just been exhibited there! OMG I SO want to go there again! I can spend hours and hours there. Don’t worry, you can spend as long as you want inside the studio.

What’s so amazing about the studio? Hmmm… not the Daniel Radcliffe or the Emma Watson part because they’re not there. For me, it’s the process of filmmaking. I can see how the people involved in the production were very dedicated to their work. I am amazed of the details, of the expensive tools and appliances they buy to make the movie ‘real’. I am amazed on the robot Buckbeak and the 2 meters tall Hogwarts miniature and the thousands of wand boxes hand-written by the crew. And surely, I am so fond of the butter beer! You should try the butter beer! It is non-alcoholic so as a Muslim it’s safe for me. It is rather expensive but for the sake of trying it!

I think coming out of the studio, I was left speechless. It is very amazing. But, you can also crave for more! Well, not many other Harry Potter setting is located in London, but there are some places you can visit to re-visit your experience watching the movie. You can join a walking tour or you can just visit them yourself.

The places in London that are used in Harry Potter movies include Kings Cross Station and St. Pancras Station. Both are next to each other. The famous 9 ¾ platform is located in the Kings Cross Station. If you can bear the queue, you can take pictures of yourself posing in front of it! Besides that, there are also Millennium Bridge, Charring Cross Road, and Leadenhall Market. The two mentioned last are the places that represent Diagon Alley. Gringot’s exterior is Australia House just near the Covent Garden. There are also Westminster Station, Piccadilly Circus, and London Zoo Reptile House that you can visit.

That’s not enough? There is another Harry Potter attraction coming up this June 2016. It’s Harry Potter theatre! It is actually an extended version of the Harry Potter story. Coming up in June, the ticket for the show is now sold out until March 2017. If you are planning to visit and want to see this, do make sure that you are coming after March to get the ticket.

I think there will be more and more additional attractions related to Harry Potter in London, considering how popular it is. Indeed, London is a good place to start feeling the real Harry Potter experience!

Feb 19, 2016

AdventureNotes #15: Budget London

This article is the second part of the London series in AdventureNotes. London is notoriously known as an expensive city. Indeed, based on the figures from Expatistan reported by the Independent UK, it is the third most expensive city in the world (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/london-is-the-third-most-expensive-city-in-the-world-to-live-in-just-behind-billionaire-playgrounds-10422924.html). It is also placed on the third place for its property cost according to Telegraph (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/property/pictures/11450782/The-worlds-10-most-expensive-cities-2015.html?frame=3220484). These facts sometimes make people think more than once when they are planning to visit this city. Is it too expensive to visit? Will it worth the money? It surely will! There are numerous ways to visit this city when you are on a budget.

As its property price is so high, staying in London can be very, very expensive. The normal chain hotel price in zone 4-5 London is around £60. How can I afford that? Well, there are some other options for you who want to get the best bargain. If you are Indonesian, there is always Wisma Indonesia. The place is very cheap, around £15 per night. However, the location is quite far from central London where the attractions are. Combined with the transportation price, etc., I would say that there are other options. If you are travelling alone, hostels can be more affordable. There are various choices for hostels in London. I usually use this website, http://www.hostelworld.com/, to book hostels in UK. It’s pretty handy. However, you may want to check the hostel’s website to compare the price. Hostels can also be useful when you are travelling in groups. Besides that, there is also AirBnB that offers various properties to be rented in London. Want some more privacy? Why don’t we try the budget hotel chain? There are many budget hotel brands, such as EasyHotel, Tune Hotel, or Premmier Inn. Those hotels have properties in various central places in London. It’s quite a bargain if you want some more privacy and be close to London highlights. I visited London last December and stayed in EasyHotel in Victoria for just £25 per night. The room is very small but it’s okay for couples. I recon if you are travelling with kids, the other budget hotels might be better although a bit pricey.

Moving on, London’s transportation ticket is the second most expensive in the world. Having Oyster Card surely helps, but still, it can be as high as £8 per day. Want to get cheaper option? Santander bike (https://tfl.gov.uk/modes/cycling/santander-cycles)! You can cycle around London for only £2 per 24 hours. So much cheaper, right? So much more tiring, as well. Hahaha… Anyway, if you are in fit condition and don’t bother to be tired at the end of the day, I think you should at least try the Santander bike. It’s not only cheap, but also a good way to explore the city.

London offers many attractions free for entry. Most of the free entry attractions are museums and art galleries. Educational, right? Hahaha… Don’t imagine the museums to be boring places. In here, the museums are very interesting. The layouts are planned carefully so that the visitors can really enjoy the places. Besides that, you can always take pictures in front of famous places, like Big Ben or Tower of London. All are free! You can also look out for offers like 2for1 or advanced online tickets. It can be quite a bargain.

Living cost always includes food and drink. Personally, I would suggest us all to have a certain budget for food and drink. Why? Because sometimes I can get carried along, thinking that it is a primary need so that I shouldn’t pay attention on how much it cost. Turns out that, it can be the biggest chunk of all of the spending! I usually put my limit on £20 per day if I am travelling alone. Together with my husband, my budget for food and drink is £30 per day. There are cheaper options of food and drink if you are on a budget. For me, bringing my own drink is very helpful. I don’t have to buy those costly bottles of mineral water. Sometimes I choose sandwiches or other cold food so that I can avoid paying the restaurant tax. If I want hot food, I usually go to Piccadilly area where there are many choices of cheaper street foods. I think it’s just a matter of finding the right place to eat. Avoid restaurants or places near to famous attractions and you will be safe!

London may be expensive, but we can always plan our itinerary based on our budget. Find out more inhttp://www.visitlondon.com/things-to-do/budget-london?ref=nav-dl. See you next week on more about London!

Feb 12, 2016

AdventureNotes #14: Artsy London

As promised, this one, and the upcoming AdventureNotes will be about London. I think, London is a city in which art is a major part. Therefore, this first exploration about London will be on art. Artsy London. If you are an art person, London is heaven. The city offers many choices of activities for you, whether you are into visual arts, crafts, music, or theatre. For me, the best part of London is its theatres. I love it so much, especially the musical plays. I am not so much into visual arts, but I quite like seeing crafts and street music. Here’s my experience being an ‘artsy’ person in London.

Visual art is closely linked to art galleries. I may not be the best person to give you suggestion on this, but I should say that art galleries in London are fabulous. There are many art galleries in London, from those displaying more conventional type of paintings to those displaying more contemporary forms of visual art. Say, National Gallery, Tate Britain, and Tate Modern. Those are just the famous names. I can think that every corner of London (well, at least in zone 1) has a dedicated art display. Anyway, I haven’t been to Tate Britain and Tate Modern, but I’ve been to National Gallery. My first impression: the place is huge! You surely have to spare one day alone to explore the paintings inside. If you like looking at paintings from hundreds of years ago, maybe you can go to this place. When I visited the place, I also saw a group of children having a tour specifically made for them. They were given drawing tools and they can try to copy their chosen paintings. That is kind of interesting because art galleries can be boring for children. This way, they can learn to love the art and explore the art gallery without judging that it is such a boring place to go to.

I kind of like crafts – just to look at. Don’t bother to ask me to make one, I will run away. Exploring markets in London can make you stumble upon unique crafts. I especially like to go to Portobello Market because there are lots of small shops and street stalls selling unique crafts. You can find rugs, bags, jewelry, and household stuffs there. Not that I’ve bought anything there, but the stuffs there are quite interesting! I don’t know if there is any place offering some kind of workshop there, but surely it is a good place to explore crafts in London.

Music! This is what I love about strolling on London streets because I can see street musicians performing. I love it! I think the best places to go to if you like street performers are Piccadilly Garden and Southbank area, near the London Eye. I once saw this group of female street musicians who are just wonderful! I can stay and stay and stay until they finish their performance. Well, that’s enough for me who don’t want to spend too much money on concerts. However, there are many music events held in London each year. You can look at Royal Albert Hall websites, the O2 arena, and other places regularly held musical performance. Sometimes, there are also music festivals in Hyde Park. If this is your interest, I think you should at least once feel the experience of coming to a concert in London. Where else can you see famous musicians with relatively not too expensive tickets?

My most favorite part of the artsy London is theatre! God, I love watching musicals! And London is the center of it! Every single time I went to London, I always find time to visit the West End. The area covering Victoria up to Covent Garden is the heart of theatres. Each theatre allocates itself for one type of performance. Say, you want to watch Lion King the musicals, then you have to go to Lyceum theatre. There are tens of performance shown each night and believe me, it is mostly fully booked. If you are into this kind of thing, I would suggest you to buy the theatre tickets way in advance to get the best deal. They sell theatre tickets online and there are lots of websites claiming that they offer the best price. One website that I would recommend is: http://www.tkts.co.uk/. If you are in a hurry and cannot book the ticket online, the cheapest way to see a theatre performance is by going to the ticket office last minutes as sometimes they still have some seats left or as some people may return their tickets for that night. If it is not cheap enough, you can always wait in front of the theatre until the performance begin, and they will sell the tickets in way cheaper price – although you may miss the beginning part of the show. I’ve seen two musicals so far, Wicked and Matilda. Both are great! I wouldn’t mind if someone asks me to watch those again, really. However, I would really love to see Lion King. Indeed, the ticket price never goes down! Poor me. I’d have to save my money before I can watch that show. Fingers crossed, I want to watch the show before I left the UK this year!

Of course, art is not limited to the parts that I discussed. Those are just the big parts. There are many ways to explore London in artsy ways. Look at unique places, festivals, and local art groups to know about it deeper. Next on: Budget London! Stay tuned!

Feb 05, 2016

AdventureNotes #13: London, the Introduction

Okay! So the Adventure Notes for London will be divided into several parts because it is such a big city with sooo many points of interest. Therefore, the articles on London will be based on different point of views, such as Artsy London, London on Budget, etc.

In this first London article, I will try to give you basic information about visiting London. Of course, you can always find all of the information in http://www.visitlondon.com/. However, I will try to elaborate some important things and tips based on the website, several other websites, as well as my own experience. Here it goes…

1.      Getting there

London is easily accessible from… well, basically all around the world – according to your budget, of course. Mostly, people from around UK come to London by train. There are many options for the train, starting from the cheap one up to the high-end one. I usually look out for the best fare here:http://www.thetrainline.com/farefinder/. Using the website, I can get the best deal on the day I plan to travel. I could also change my travel dates based on the cheapest available ticket. You can also visit by train from Paris, using the fast train, EuroStar. It can be as cheap as £20 one way. Again, monitor the website, http://www.eurostar.com/uk-en, to get the best deal.

From other far point of departure, such as Edinburgh, cities in continental Europe, and other cities around the world, flying may be the best option. Look out of the best airlines deal here:http://www.skyscanner.net/.

If those transportations are not cheap enough for you, you may find Megabus attractive. Haha! It can be very cheap sometimes. I usually try to find the deals on more uncommon destinations or the destinations very expensive to get to by train. It can be very tiring, traveling by bus, especially if it is far, but if budget is your concern, it can be an option. Check your price here: http://uk.megabus.com/.

2.      Staying

There are actually many options to stay in London. As I live not too far from London, it can be cheaper to just have a day trip from my city to London. However, if you really want to explore the city, stay overnight is recommended. Where you stay will much depend on how you are traveling and your budget. Nowadays, AirBnB is quite popular. I haven’t tried it, but if you are traveling in groups or with your family, it can be a good bargain. As an Indonesian, I can always book a room in Wisma Indonesia. It is quite cheap although the location is quite far from central London.

I visited London several times and all of those times I stayed in different places. When I was with my friend or with my husband, I stayed in budget hotel or bed and breakfast. There are several options of budget hotel, including for those with families, such as EasyHotel, Travelodge, Premier Inn, and Ibis Budget.

When you are alone, the way you stay in London will be more flexible. I believe that hostel is the best option. Oh! And hostel is also a good option if you are traveling with several friends, say 4-8 people as you can stay together in a room for a cheaper price instead of booking several rooms in a hotel. People may think that hostel is… well, not clean, lack of privacy, and uncomfortable. In my experience, it basically depends on the hostel. Remember to read carefully the description of the hostel if you are looking for one. It usually mentions the ambience of the hostel, whether it is quite and businesslike or if it is hype and trendy with lots of parties around. Most hostels that I have ever visited are clean. The bathrooms are well maintained although it is a shared bathroom. Each bed will have its own access to an electric plug and each guest is given a certain locker with its key for the belongings. So, don’t worry, you can try to book a bed in a hostel!

My suggestion is, in looking for a budget hotel or hostel, do consider these things: price, location, room accessibility, and facilities in and around the hotel. For me, location is the most important thing. I wouldn’t want to travel far away to get to the places I want to visit. Therefore, I always compare the price with the location. Furthermore, London’s transportation fare may be quite expensive, so cutting the cost of transportation can help much of your budget.

3.      Transportation

The first thing about transportation in London is: Oyster Card. It is a must card if you are traveling to London. You can buy the card online or in travel information centers around London. It is a one-for-all ticket to get around London as you can use it to pay for the bus fare, tube, and waterway. Just top-up your card and you are ready to go! There are two different types of Oyster Card, the traveler one and the ordinary one. My suggestion is to buy the ordinary one. Yes, the traveler one has better design and cost less, but you can redeem your credit as well as the card when you finish using it. It costs £5 for the card and you will get your money back upon your redemption.

As you may already know, there are many means of transportation in London. There are tubes, buses, waterways, and bicycle. There is a London information website to find out live transportation report,https://tfl.gov.uk/. Using this website, I could avoid closed roads, late buses, etc. It is very helpful; especially to find out which tube line is in trouble or under maintenance.

Traveling around London is not difficult. Google maps and other mapping aps can direct you to certain places. What I need to be aware of is when it is difficult to get signal for my phone. A sense of simple direction, like North, South, West, and East, is important. Whenever you are going to get a tube or bus, think about your position and where you want to go to. Pretty simple, actually.

4.      Planning your itinerary

As I said, London is a big city. It is impossible to visit all places in one trip, believe me! Therefore, you itinerary should be made carefully. Choose the places you really want to go to, based on your interest. If you are just going to pass along some famous landmarks, you can do it in maybe 2-3 days. However, if you plan to visit museums, you have to allow one full day for one museum. Indeed, museums in London are big! British Museum has tens of galleries, the same as Natural History Museum. Just, don’t go too big in your itinerary. Be realistic, allow yourself to soak the London vibe. Oh, and a simple tips that I just figured out is that you can actually match your place of stay (hotel/hostels/others) to the places you want to visit. Visiting London per area is also a good option. For example, you can stay in Greenwich and visit only Greenwich attractions, and so on, and so on.

For this reason, too, the AdventureNotes on London is going to be divided into several parts, depending on the itinerary.

5.      Holiday season

It is pretty complicated to take this holiday season into consideration because most of us can only go to London during our holiday. BUT everything can be quite expensive during the holiday period. Besides, the city will be very crowded. I went to London during the Christmas holiday twice. On both occasions, the city was full – except on the exact Christmas date.

Another thing to be considered if you are traveling in holiday season is the availability of public transportations. They are usually limited on exact holiday. For example, I had to use the Santander Bike, https://tfl.gov.uk/modes/cycling/santander-cycles, to go around London on the Christmas day. It is okay for me, but for you with children or if you cannot ride bicycle, it may not be the best option. Another alternative is to walk. Yeaa… but you couldn’t go too far, could you?

Oh and one more thing! Not only the public transportation, other facilities such as toilets, shops, and restaurants are also usually closed on the exact celebration day. I really don’t want to experience the lack of those public facilities again during my trip, ever! It was quite horrible to not be able to find toilets and restaurants for a day.

6.      Budgeting

The last but certainly not least important thing to consider is your budget. London can be very expensive, so I usually set my daily budget to eat, etc. I also try to find the cheapest possible alternative to stay and travel. There are also lots of attraction tickets deals available for you. Do search for this and use the offers. It is worth to save one to two pounds, right?

Read the next AdventureNotes for more on London!

Jan 29, 2016

AdventureNotes #12: Milan

Fashion, festive, fun! Those are the words people use to describe this city. Milan! Milan is not only popular because of its status as the capital of fashion design, it is also popular because of football as the city has 2 famous football clubs, AC Milan and Inter Milan.

Honestly, Milan is hardly missed if you are traveling to Europe. Its strategic location makes it a transportation hub between the southern Italy and western Europe. In my first Europe solo travel, I landed in Milan and departed from Milan. My main reason? Cheaper flights!

I had a chance to explore Milan in one day. If you’re not that into fashion nor excited about football, like I am, I think a day is enough to stroll around the city – noting that you’re not going into museums or other attractions. That was what I did.

The same as traveling to other cities, we need to be aware of when we are traveling. I visited Milan during my Easter break. Unfortunately, it was the exact Easter day that I visited the city. Such a shame! Everything was closed! Well, not literally everything, but most places were. Adapting to the situation, what I did was sightseeing.

First, I went to see Sforzesco Castle. Obviously, I couldn’t get in. Fortunately, the view was quite interesting. It is basically a beautiful castle. I also walked around a park called Parco Sempione. There is a landmark at the end of the park called Arco della Pace.

In the park, I had a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I saw a wedding! With the bride and the groom, and the bridesmaids and the family. Wow! I know that I won’t or have a very little chance of seeing such thing. A wedding in the park. Cute!

Then, I went to see Milan Cathedral or the Duomo. I have to admit that it is so grand and so beautiful. Located in the middle of an open space, it was just mesmerising. Anyway, I saw another wedding outside the Duomo. Two weddings in a day, it must be a sign, right?

Near the Duomo, there is this shopping arcade called Galleria Vittorio Emanuelle II. The place was quiet that day, but I figure that it is very chic and trendy on normal days, with its cool restaurants and cafes and high-end stores.

After struggling to find a place to have lunch – believe me it’s not easy, especially wit the Easter day, my friend and I had some kind of Turkish food for lunch. Then, my friend suggested us to go to Navigli. Navigli is an area near a canal. There are many cafes, restaurants, and indie shops there. I like the environment.

So those are the main places I visited in Milan. However, as I walked or took public transportation to explore the city, I got to pass some other attractions, such as Santa Maria delle Grazie, where Da Vinci’s Last Supper painting is located and Chiesa di San Maurizio al Monastero Maggiore. I couldn’t get into those places due to the celebration.

I didn’t visit any stadium in Milan, but if you are planning to, do consider about the weather, the location, and the cost. Doing a stadium tour can be expensive and can take a lot of time. Most stadiums are also located quite far from the city center so you have to allocate time to visit them.

I’d really like to visit Milan again some other time. I’d like to see the city when everything is business as usual. I want to see the fashionable Milan!

Jan 22, 2016

AdventureNotes #11: Verona

Padlocks? Really? Padlocks are quite popular in many tourist attractions nowadays, right? Well, this one is different because the picture was taken in the Juliet House, Verona.

Verona is a city famous because of its Romeo and Juliet setting. Well, despite its fictional nature, people still come here to see what’s life in Romeo and Juliet story. What’s in it? Hmmm… let’s see…

Despite of its rather confusing attractions, the made-up attractions to match up the setting in Romeo and Juliet story, Verona is a quite nice place to visit. Actually, I decided to visit this city by accident. I originally wanted to go to Florence or Venice, but the train ticket for both places were costly at that moment – I traveled during the Easter break, anyway. Then, my friend suggested to go to Verona instead.

We can take a train from Milan to Verona. The journey is around 2.5 hours. As I arrived in the train station in Verona, I took a bus to the city center. Unfortunately, I took the correct bus, but to the wrong direction! Haha My trip to Italy was full of this kind of experience. As my friend and I realized that we went on the wrong direction, we hoped off the bus and caught the correct one. Thankfully, I got to the city center. Oh, a little tips for you traveling to Italy, almost all transportation offer day ticket so it might be a good bargain. Anyway, the problem was that it was pouring rain that day! Such not a good day to travel.

Despite the weather, my friend and I decided to still explore the city. It’s Europe, people! When can we expect to not be surprised by the weather anyway? So, we walked pass this building, similar to but smaller than Colloseum. I figure that this kind of building was popular in Italy back on those days. The building is called Arena di Verona.

Under the pouring rain, we walked along the small streets of Verona. We passed this very crowded place, Cassa di Giuletta – Juliet’s House. Well, the story of Romeo and Juliet is fictional and so is the house. I think people just made it up for the tourists. There is also Romeo’s House but I think it is located quite far from the city center. Interestingly, there are loads of people who are even willing to pay to go inside the house. Well, I didn’t. The ticket is too pricey.

I just saw the house from its garden where there are many “love” padlocks attached to the wall. What’s so gross is that there are also some bubble gums attached there. Euwh.

After taking some pictures, we decided to go to Piazza delle Erbe. The piazza is located in the middle of the city. At that time, there was an outdoor market held. We bought calzones for our lunch and they were delicious!

Another interesting tourist attraction worth to enter in Verona is Castelvecchio. Basically, it was a castle, which now is used as a museum. Again, entering the museum is quite expensive so we explored the castle from the outside. The scenery from the top of the castle’s wall is beautiful.

As we walked back to the train station, we passed some churches. It is typical Italy that churches are everywhere and are considered to be tourist attractions. Some churches worth to visit are Basilica di San Lorenzo and Verona Cathedral.

To conclude, Verona may be an alternative city to visit while traveling to Italy. It is small, so day trip should be enough to explore the city. It may be useful to read Romeo and Juliet before visiting this city so that we can absorb the spirit of this city.

Juliets, find your Romeo here!

Jan 15, 2016

AdventureNotes #10: Special Edition, Family Euro Trip

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Despite the picture, no, I’m not going to write about my own family trip to Europe. Instead, this article is dedicated to ‘emak-emak rempong’ in Birmingham. It’ll consist of tips and other things to consider in preparing for travel and in traveling in Europe (well, most of the countries in Europe, anyway).

Maybe for most Indonesian, traveling to Europe is a dream. Having read many encyclopedias about European countries, seeing pictures of European typical scenery, and listening to other people’s story of their experience traveling to Europe made me promise myself that someday I will go to that continent. Maybe this is also the case of many people. Besides, the dream to explore the world is always tempting, right?

The world is getting narrower and narrower. The access to move around and to visit the far-away places has been opened. And now, as I live in the UK, I automatically think that it is such a good opportunity to explore Europe! Such an opportunist, I am indeed. However, it is a logical choice as the cost to travel European countries from the UK will be much cheaper than from Indonesia.

Based on conversations with other people who had traveled to Europe (cc: Mbak Magda & Mbak Ari) and my own experience, there are some points to consider in planning the trip and in traveling, especially when you are going with your family. It is going to be different from my usual tips in other AdventureNotes articles because traveling with family is definitely a different kind of challenge.

1. Transportation

The first step to plan your family travel is to find budget-friendly flight or train tickets. Other European countries are easily accessible by flights or train from London to Paris. We can search for the cheapest plan and train tickets using the ‘holy’ technology. I would recommend http://www.skyscanner.net/ as the website offers the comparison of plane tickets throughout the year so that we can really see the cheapest date to travel. Another way to get to European countries is by train. The fast train tickets from London to Paris can be found here: http://www.eurostar.com/uk-en. There is actually another way to travel, which is by ferry. Not too many people know this, but the port in Brighton and Hull offer ferry rides that connect those two cities to some cities in France, Netherlands, and Belgium. It can also be an option to consider. Plan your trip ahead to get the best bargain!

2. Accommodation

As I would suggest hostels for solo travelers, my friends who traveled with their family suggest AirBnB as the best accommodation option when traveling with family. The website, https://www.airbnb.co.uk/, enables you to search suitable accommodation for your family. The process of renting an accommodation from AirBnB is pretty simple, actually. Just search for the accommodations, compare the available options, and book the chosen one! There are just some things we might need to consider as we are actually renting a place owned by a person. It is recommended to check the guest reviews and contact the owner beforehand to see the owner’s flexibility – for instance when we are going to arrive late at night and such.

3. Car Rent

As most countries in Europe are located closely to each other, many modes of public transportation are available to help us move from one country to another. There are buses and trains connecting one country to another. As they are easily available, they can be considered as an option for your trip. However, traveling with family sometimes requires high level of flexibility, which does not go hand in hand with public transportation. Renting a car may be the best deal for families traveling to Europe. Some people are worried because they don’t have an international driving licence, but actually Indonesian driving licence is widely accepted here. Renting a car is also a simple process as you just need to book the car online and pick it up in your chosen place. The most convenient place to pick up the car is in the airport so that you don’t have to think about how to get into the city from the airport. Choosing the car that you want to rent is also a crucial step because you have to match the car with your needs. The chosen car should meet the number of seats needed, its GPS readiness, and whether it is in manual or automatic mode. Again, your preference will affect the cost.

4. Food

This is an inevitable expense during traveling. And sometimes, it cost a lot, probably a huge percentage of the total traveling cost. To reduce this expense, people who travel with families can consider to cook their meals throughout the journey. As AirBnB accommodation usually provide kitchen, it is quite an easy thing to do. Local shops and amenities will provide quite good range of groceries and food supplies. Easy peazy! For Indonesians, bringing ready-made food is also a good option.

5. Inner City Transportation

As in some European countries parking spot is a difficult thing to find, it may be a good choice to park your car outside the city and commute using the inner-city public transportation in order to explore the city. For some cities with bad traffic, such as Rome, it is also a very good option. You can usually buy inner-city public transportation tickets easily. Some cities offer family tickets, some others offer day tickets. It is an advantage to know these things beforehand to avoid unnecessary cost. A thing to consider in mind for families with children under 5 who may still be in stroller, it is better to commute by bus than metro or tube because bus is easily accessible whereas metro or tube requires you to go underground, sometimes without adequate facilities.

6. Attraction Tickets

For some families, strolling down the streets of beautiful cities or enjoying the scenery is enough. For some others, going into a tourist attraction is a must. Most tourist attractions offer group or family tickets. Ask for this when you are purchasing your ticket. Sometimes there are also city pass, which enables your family to enter several attractions with only one ticket. Sometimes, there are also 2for1 tickets or other promotions offered by companies or the attraction itself. Do search and take advantage of those promotional tickets!

With those points explained, there is no one-fit-for-all explanation. Each family should consider different aspects before deciding on the travel itinerary. There are three crucial factors need to be taken into account when planning your Euro Trip:

1. Time

Consider when you are going to travel. Is it a long school holiday? Is it winter? Is it summer? The time you are traveling is important because it will affect how you choose your outfit, whether it is easy to drive a car (it can be very slippery when the road is frosty), and if the day is going to be longer or shorter. It will also affect whether you enjoy the atmosphere or not – traveling during summer school holiday can be uncomfortable if you don’t like crowds.

How long you are going to travel is also a factor to be considered. Is it worth it to rent a car if you only travel for 5 days? How many cities do you want to visit? It is mostly important to determine your destination cities. Most Indonesian tours aim to visit as many cities as possible. Is that what you want? Or do you want to absorb a city’s spirit so that it’ll take you some times in one city?

2. Budget

I think this is the core of all travel plannings. How much do you want to spend for a trip? If it is okay for you to spend millions, probably you’d choose a nice hotel in the center of a city instead of AirBnB. I would suggest to budget every single detail of your trip. For example, I budget the food cost for each day to be GBP 20 or the cost of attraction tickets to be GBP 100 for the whole trip.

3. Condition

Traveling is an exhausting activity. Yes, despite the fact that it is fun and enjoyable and blablabla, it is exhausting! Therefore, you need to consider you and your family’s physical ability. It is especially important when you are traveling with very small children. You won’t want half of your trip cancelled because you are too tired, won’t you? Measure your pace and plan your trip accordingly.

So, plan your next trip now! Don’t worry too much because you are the only one who knows what you want and what you are capable of. And as a wise man says, when there is a will, there is a way.

Jan 10, 2016