Archive for the ‘UK Trips’ Category

….is what the chap said to me at my hotel yesterday evening.

I’ve been staying at a capsule hotel – “hub by Premier Inn” – very near to St James Park tube station in Westminster. The rooms in these hotels – there are several in London – are very small but very well-featured. They have all the required elements – bed, bathroom, TV, air-con/heating, a bit of storage space – but all very modern and very high tech, and are extremely compact.

So I returned to the hotel after a meal out, walked in, and the lights came on automatically, exactly as they should have. Rather unexpectedly they went off again about 30 seconds later, leaving me in complete darkness. I found my way back to the door and opened it, and the lights came back on. Then the cycle repeated itself.

I did some experimenting with what was happening but eventually gave up and reported the problem, and a few minutes later a very helpful and polite chap arrived to ask me what was wrong. I demonstrated the problem which elicited the response “that’s not supposed to happen….. never seen that before, in fact!”. Then he said the unforgettable words – “I’ll need to reboot the room”. He opened a small panel and hit the Reset button, at which point everything in the room just shut down. Up to that moment I hadn’t realised just how hi-tech the room actually was – lots of systems all under customer control via a control panel on the bed head (or via an app on your smartphone). There are five different settings for the lights, for example. But right then all the systems were all off. There was silence (and darkness, of course). Then bit by bit the room rebooted and the systems came back up.

Sadly, the reboot didn’t resolve the issue – 30 seconds later we were in darkness again. At that point the problem had to go to Tier 2 support, and unfortunately they weren’t available in the evening; and as a result I got a new room in which I had an excellent night’s sleep.

Apart from the problems with the lights in the original room, this was an excellent stay. I haven’t mentioned the lounge by reception. There are no tea/coffee making facilities in the room; instead, there’s a ‘hot drinks’ point in the lounge where tea and coffee are available (from a coffee machine/hot-water dispensers) 24/7. The lounge is also where the continental breakfast is available – simple cereal, sour-dough bread, croissants, muffins, butter, preserves and a toaster, and also where they put out the same sort of things as a simple buffet in the evening. The evening buffet seems to be free, but breakfast was £4. You can also get drinks – they have wine and spirits available, but you have to get one of the staff members there to serve you.

All in all, this was a much better experience than my Airbnb in London experience last year, even with the lighting problem. I shall probably use something like this again.


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Airbnb in London

Now for something a bit different

Recently I was in London for one night at short notice, and the regular choices – Premier Inn, basically – were too expensive. So I thought I’d try Airbnb.

I booked a room online beforehand which came to £73. This was made up as follows: one night’s accommodation, £39; cleaning fee, £25; and Airbnb service fee, £9. The cost of the actual room therefore came to £64.  The cleaning fee is only charged once so this means that Airbnb is more cost-effective the longer the stay: a 4 night stay, for example, would have been (£39×4) + £25 = £181, which is £45 a night (plus the Airbnb service charge). That said, I expect there’s a weekly cleaning fee as a minimum.

The Airbnb information about the room all seemed OK but the on-line picture seems to be of a hotel front and indeed when I arrived that’s what it was – a small (single) room in a small hotel in Pimlico. It was OK, albeit a little basic. But after a slightly sticky start – it was cold when I checked in – it all turned out OK. The room warmed up later, it was very quiet, there was a private bathroom, and there was very good wifi. And it was just a few minutes’ walk from Pimlico tube station.

I got the chance to talk to the hotel proprietor the following morning. He was quite open that they were using Airbnb as an alternative channel for letting a few rooms in the hotel. These were their ‘classic’ rooms – they also had premium rooms which weren’t advertised through Airbnb. If you booked one of the classic rooms direct with the hotel then there was a room rate, plus separate charges for breakfast and wifi, but with the Airbnb approach all of these are included in the one charge. I was only in London for a few hours – from mid-afternoon one day until midday the following day with an evening appointment – and in that context it worked well. However, I’m not sure how I would have felt about it if I’d been staying for several nights as a tourist.

The other thing to say is that this wasn’t what I was expecting from an Airbnb booking, which would be a room in someone’s apartment or house, so it may not be typical. Next month I’m staying at an Airbnb in New York City, and that, I believe, will be a more typical stay. More details at the end of April when that trip is over.

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In the last week in April we had a short holiday in Bath, and from there we did a couple of day trips. One of these was to Stonehenge. I’d been there once before, many years ago – nearly 50, in fact, which is a scary thought – but my memories of the visit are quite faint. I have recollection that we could go right up to the stones at that time. As I say, my memories are quite faint – I was actually on a trip organised by a college course I was doing in connection with my first job and I think that in the time-honoured way of lads I was more interested in chatting and playing around with my mates, and perhaps locating a pub, than in the site.


I’d frequently wondered about going back, but whenever I read up on it I got the feeling that it wasn’t that great a visit with traffic on most sides of the site and a basic and too-close visitor centre. Fast forward to recent years, and there have been changes; one of the roads along the side of the site has been closed and grassed over, the old visitor centre has been replaced by one much further away and out of sight of the stones, and the visitor centre itself contains a wealth of interpretive material. So when the opportunity presented itself on this holiday we took it.

There is a significant charge to visit the site – £14.50 for an adult (£16 with Gift Aid) but we’re National Trust members so there was no charge for us. We did however have to book a time slot for our visit on their website which is full of dire warnings of what will happen if you don’t hit your slot. In the event, on the day we were there I don’t think they were paying any attention to that. We arrived, parked the car – there’s a huge car park – went into the visitor centre area (which is where we passed through the ticket barrier) and had a cup of tea. Then onto the shuttle bus from the visitor centre to the stones. It’s about a mile and a half from the visitor centre to the stones. You can walk it, either all the way from the visitor centre or from a point about half way. We didn’t – I had been hoping to but it was cold and a bit wet that day so we took the bus all the way. At the end of the bus ride you alight from the bus and follow a path over to the stones; the path circles the site, and there are various interpretive notices along the path. These link to an audio guide (the cost of which is included in your admission fee) which give you detailed commentary on what’s in from to you.

So how was my Stonehenge experience? well, at first I was a bit disappointed – I was cold, a bit damp, surrounded by other people and the switch from being on a bus to looking at a four and a half thousand year old monument was jarring. But slowly I was able to attune myself to the site – that’s the only way to put it, to be honest; actively ignore all the other people and concentrate on the site itself – and I began to appreciate it. This was one of those occasions where having the camera helped – the pathway runs 30 to 40 yards away from the stones so I put a long zoom lens on the camera (70-200 for those interested) and was able to use that to not only take pictures but also examine the stones. We stayed at the stones for maybe 45 minutes before getting the bus back to the visitor centre.

Once there we spent some time looking at the displays of objects and of the history of the site. The latter was particularly interesting; the displays explained the history of the construction of Stonehenge over about 1000 years, and also explained what was already in the landscape before it appeared, what was added to the landscape afterwards, and how Stonehenge fitted into other ancient locations e.g. Durrington Walls.

In the end I was pleased I made the visit. However, you are always aware that you are on a managed site. I fully understand the reasons for the access restriction to the stones, but I couldn’t help wondering how it would be to walk along the Avenue from Durrington Walls to the river Avon and then onto and into Stonehenge. Unfortunately it’s not do-able these days.

After lunch we looked around for something to do for the afternoon. The drizzle had stopped and the sun had come out and we found a NT property not far away, Great Chalfield Manor. This was an absolute delight – built in 1480 in one go, and still today pretty much as it was then. There are also lovely gardens and even a moat – though not for defensive purposes, there was originally a watermill in the vicinity. The building (which is still lived-in) is used on occasion for films and TV programmes; most recently it was seen as Austin Friars, Thomas Cromwell’s home. This was a lovely spot, very quiet and down a very narrow and quiet country lane, and we enjoyed it enormously.

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