***This is long. Go make a cup of tea, then settle in!***
Our flight from Denver to Toronto was delayed 45 minutes, our flight from Toronto to Dublin was delayed three hours - thereby fully missing our connection to London. It's a long story, but in short: Air Canada did nothing to book us on a new flight, and we had to do it ourselves with Aer Lingus (our final flight was with them anyway). What this resulted in: arriving in London five hours late and lost luggage (both of us). I had a claim number (I filed with Aer Lingus upon landing), but no one was calling us back. I had an anxiety attack in the middle of the night, called home - luckily, my Dad talked me down. The next morning, we decided to change our plans (seeing as we were beginning day three in the same clothes, no toiletries or anything), do less sightseeing and more damage control (H&M for t-shirts and underwear, Boots for deodorant and the like). At the end of the day, I surrendered any hope of hearing from anyone at the airline, and talked to our concierge at the Hilton London Kensington.
If you've ever seen "The Grand Budapest Hotel", you will understand: always go to your concierge. He got a hold of the airline immediately - our bags were still in Dublin. It took another 24 hours (just before 9pm) for our bags to arrive at the hotel, but they did, thanks to Tim (concierge) and the Divine. Thus, four days after we took off - we had our luggage. I've never felt so lucky as when I looked at everything in my suitcase.
Aside: it was during these stressful days that we visited Oxford Circus, Picadilly Circus, Leicester Square, and Covent Garden. I have a couple of pictures, but wasn't really feeling like myself. Our international charger/converter was in my luggage, our phones were dying (we charged through the USB ports in our hotel room's tv, but it was only 5 volts - not the 110 volts needed. Thus charged very little, slowly) and I wanted to save my camera's battery in the event that our bags never made it.
The morning after we received our luggage, we checked out and went to pick up our car. I did buy international data, but limited usage to Google Maps - and only when off course. Before leaving each destination, I mapped our next location using wi-fi (yes, I had paper map directions but I'd recommend both) and let the navigation load. Even with no wi-fi or data on, Siri will still tell you where to go (unless you get off course, thus turn data back on). It helped make our driving experience so easy.
Back to where we stayed: all rooms were two twin beds with en suite bath. The Hilton was a splurge (and I am SO GLAD I booked it for our first three nights in England), but I caught a good deal on Travelocity: 30% off. Five stars for the concierge and free shampoo & soap alone.
In Windsor: Innkeeper's Lodge The rooms you see in the photos are accurate, they have free parking, free wi-fi, quiet, carb heavy continental breakfast (I had three types of toast... and different jams).
In Salisbury: CityLodge Budget for a reason, because the building is on the historical registry - they don't want to repair anything. Windows and window sills were covered with another piece of glass attached the wall. Stuffy, moldy, paper thin walls (I heard the entire discussion the foreigners had all night). No pictures on the website also for a reason. I'd love to visit this city again, but I'd stay elsewhere. Unrelated picture, but from Salisbury:
In Southend-on-Sea: Hamilton's Boutique Hotel. Lovely, comfortable, and breakfast served on blue china (I ate toast, hashbrowns, tomato half and mushrooms). Coffee served in a french press. Photo:
Our last three nights in London, we stayed in the budget Comfotel GRN Good location on the tube, nice people, accommodating breakfast (they brought out soy yogurt and non-dairy margarine for my toast), but our room was on the fourth floor - in the attic. Sloped ceilings, the bathroom was in the closet, and skylights - no ventilation. Our last night - at the end of the hottest day, my brother (albeit dehydrated by his choice, as I was constantly buying water) woke up with heat stroke around 3am. Our room was close to 100 degrees, so we went down to the street to bring down his temperature (he was nauseous, couldn't feel his left leg, dizzy, racing heartbeat - called Mom, who talked him down.) We left for Heathrow earlier than needed in the morning!
If you go: Oyster Card, The London Pass, English Heritage Pass
The Oyster Card is a pre-paid card, which you can reload, for discounted Tube fares. I still have about $8 worth on it, so if you need one - let me know. The London Pass included most major sites in and around London. You can buy the amount of days you'll need, and in some cases it acts as a "fast pass" with your own separate entrance to popular sites. We bought the two day, and had "paid" for our pass in two and a half site visits (we used it six times total). The English Heritage Pass (we bought the oversea's visitor pass) saved us $20 each, and we only used it twice: Stonehenge and Dover Castle.
Souvenirs: Harrod's tea towels & oven mitt ($35 - No wonder we couldn't afford anything nicer! Ha!), English Toffee from Selfridges, Earl Gray Tea - with Prince Charles seal from Windsor Farm Shop (even though the bag says Buckingham). All given to parents.
My souvenir: scarves bought from street vendor on Oxford Street. Medium blue with black butterflies, Cream with brown horses. I had been eyeing different stands for a while, then settled on these. They are very soft!
I learned a lot about myself during this trip, and I'm so glad I got to share this experience with my brother. I would go back in heartbeat, two bad hotels and all....but on a direct flight. ;)