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London and the Cotswolds!


anachronistic
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Hi,

I’m a little intimidated to start the first topic in a club and I actually have no business being in a travel club at all as I very rarely travel. But for my birthday last year my mom promised me we could go to England as I’ve always wanted to go and have never left the country. (I’m in the US, outside Boston.) And this year it’s happening - last year my sibling had a nibling and it wasn’t feasible. We have rented an Airbnb in Little Venice in London for the last week of May then hope to rent a car and go to the Cotswolds for a weekend.

I’m looking for any and all travel tips and favorite places, recommendations, etc. We plan on getting 7 day Tube passes via here before we go https://www.visitbritainshop.com/usa/travel-and-transport/london-transport/

I like: historic homes, seeing how real people lived and live, British accents, (they all/ you all sound like music to me, beautiful, unintelligible music) nature, babies, dogs, servants lives, details, trains, some musicals, and chocolate.

I don’t like: very loud things, boats, spicy food, smoking, very scented places, and people in costumes who won’t step out of character when I politely explain that I’m scared of them. 
 

I’m autistic and have pretty intense fibromyalgia, sensory processing disorder and a lot of mental health stuff, which is why this trip will be a challenge. But it’s a lifelong dream and I’m determined to do it. Unfortunately I understand that I can’t access most disabled accommodations without a Blue Badge. I do plan on carrying a cane with a seat attached so I can give people a visible sign of being disabled, even though I don’t actually need the cane at all. I do need to sit down a lot, though - I can either walk or sit but standing is hard for whatever reason.  (My fibro primarily affects my arms.) Also my mom, who’s a very young 72, will be there to help translate for me, help when I go nonverbal, start a meltdown, etc. 

Specific questions:

- I’ve never been to London and am interested in one of the big red bus tours where you sit on the top and see things and hear a guide. Anyone have any favorites? Preferably leaving from near Paddington station?

- any favorite historic houses/castles/servants quarters tours?

- we will be there during school vacation week for Britain (oops.) Will the Victoria and Albert museum of childhood be completely overrun? Will it be weird to be an adult there? I’m genuinely interested in old children’s things.

- do you need to bring your own bags to the market? We are planning on cooking at the Airbnb because of my issues with food tastes. Is there a huge advantage/price savings in shopping at a Tesco as opposed to the corner market?

- any recommendations for the Cotswolds? I was SO disappointed to find out that we couldn’t take a train there and rent a car - the train is feasible but there’s no car rentals once you get there, and then we’ll have to get back to Heathrow from London on the morning of Monday, June 1.  I love trains. Oh well. My mom will be driving, not me.

- any general big etiquette no no’s that make you wince when clueless Americans do them? Will people understand autism or will they just think I’m yet another stupid, ignorant American? Would buttons saying stuff like ‘I swear I hate him and work against him all I can’ help?

Thanks in advance! I know this is a lot! This will be the Trip of a Lifetime for me and I can’t waif!

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I haven't lived in London or the UK for years but have advised many American tourists.  Also I think you are very brave and hope you do have the trip of a lifetime.  You have some great ideas already.

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- I’ve never been to London and am interested in one of the big red bus tours where you sit on the top and see things and hear a guide. Anyone have any favorites? Preferably leaving from near Paddington station?

The Hop on Hop off tours get very good reviews from most people.  They have a few different routes and you can avoid the ones that have boat rides included.  Given when you are going (school break) I'd avoid the Tower of London and the Crown Jewels.  Holy claustrophobia, Batman.   https://www.hoponhopoffplus.com/london

Given what you have said about yourself, I think central London will be rather challenging but also definitely doable.  London is huge, bustling, and can be intimidating for anyone.  I hate crowds but can cope there by avoiding rush hour, pacing myself, and knowing where most of the green spaces are in my usual haunts.  You can then pop down a side-street into a fairly peaceful little square and take a few deep breaths before facing the crowds again.  Like Woburn Square, near the British Museum  or Golden Square, near Piccadilly,  The Embankment Gardens are also quite calm if you are in the West End.  Get a map and look for the green spaces. 

Other than at rush hour the Tube is actually OK.  The map just looks intimidating.  I think most people are more courteous on the Tube than on the Boston T at any time of day.  ;)

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- any favorite historic houses/castles/servants quarters tours?

If it all gets too much, use London as a base and do day trips.  From London, I definitely recommend Hampton Court Palace.  The station and most buses are accessible and there is a tour of the kitchens.  Like most ancient historic buildings the original builders didn't plan for accessibility.  However, most places open open to the public try to be accessible.  Most have wheelchairs and lifts (elevators) available but you should probably check in advance.    

I also recommend Greenwich (you can take a train there from Charing Cross to Maze Hill) because it is so often neglected by American tourists.  It might be too much walking for you though. 

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Unfortunately I understand that I can’t access most disabled accommodations without a Blue Badge. I do plan on carrying a cane with a seat attached so I can give people a visible sign of being disabled, even though I don’t actually need the cane at all. I do need to sit down a lot, though - I can either walk or sit but standing is hard for whatever reason.  

This is true.  Especially for parking.  However, take any US disability access ID with you as well as the cane with the seat.  Even without the visual sign of the cane, asking politely in any National Trust property will get you access to seats if you need them, and you may have to refuse offers of mobility scooters and wheelchairs so you can see the gardens.  The English really love to show off their gardens!

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- we will be there during school vacation week for Britain (oops.) Will the Victoria and Albert museum of childhood be completely overrun? Will it be weird to be an adult there? I’m genuinely interested in old children’s things.

I've never been there, so if you go please report back.  No it won't be weird to be an adult there.  I'd go in a second.   I hope it isn't too crowded.

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- do you need to bring your own bags to the market?

Yes.  Or you pay extra for single use bags and get filthy looks.  Pack a few reusable grocery bags or buy some there.

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We are planning on cooking at the Airbnb because of my issues with food tastes. Is there a huge advantage/price savings in shopping at a Tesco as opposed to the corner market?

Yes, but I recommend Sainsbury and M & S for reasonably priced food too.

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- any recommendations for the Cotswolds? I was SO disappointed to find out that we couldn’t take a train there and rent a car - the train is feasible but there’s no car rentals once you get there, and then we’ll have to get back to Heathrow from London on the morning of Monday, June 1.  I love trains. Oh well. My mom will be driving, not me.

The Cotswolds are beautiful.  I rather admire your mom for offering to drive.  But then I hate driving in the UK and driving in or out of London or Healthrow would terrify me.  

My strong recommendation is to take the train to Oxford and rent a car there to explore the Cotswolds.  There are rental cars available in Oxford especially if you book in advance.  Warn your mom that most rental cars in the UK are stick shift so if she wants an automatic she should book well in advance.    https://www.rentalcars.com/us/city/gb/oxford/

Do you have an AirB&B booked in the Cotswolds?  Woodstock is nice, and most tourists think Blenheim Palace is a must.  I haven't been there for years though, and don't like baroque personally.

If you like gardens:  Hidcote Manor Gardens.  It is a National Trust property as is Snowshill Manor and I really highly recommend that!

 I really love Snowshill because I like eccentric stuff, model villages, and ancient priest's houses.  And there are some toys there too!  https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/snowshill-manor-and-garden

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- any general big etiquette no no’s that make you wince when clueless Americans do them?

"Stand on the right; walk on the left!" is still in place at UK airports and the Tube.  Although there was a campaign to try to get people to stand on both sides of the escalator a few years ago.  Also, never jump a queue.   

But if you are reasonably polite, and not loud and critical you can fade into the background.  Probably no-one will know you are American unless you wear a Maga hat.

Quote

Will people understand autism or will they just think I’m yet another stupid, ignorant American? Would buttons saying stuff like ‘I swear I hate him and work against him all I can’ help?

Some British people also have autism and I'd say understanding is at about the same level as in the US.  Which is to say, could be better.  But there's no guarantee of course that you don't run into an asshole. 

And LOL on Trump.  If anyone mentions Trump to you, tell them you are terribly sorry for people in the UK about Brexit and Boris Johnson.

Quote

I don’t like: very loud things, boats, spicy food, smoking, very scented places, and people in costumes who won’t step out of character when I politely explain that I’m scared of them. 

Other than spicy food (I like that) we completely agree!

Let me think a bit more about places to visit.  I like the regular V&A museum, the Museum of London, and various smaller art galleries too.  Is there any period of history that really interests you?

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Palimpsest I can see you reply now, don’t know why I didn’t before but computers are weird. Thank you so much for the tips! I truly appreciate them!

We are going to figure out car rental and trains, etc, when we have our flights. (I’m not in charge of those). We’d (okay, I) certainly prefer to take a train to Oxford and rent there but it depends on the time of our return flight. My mom is a fearless driver, drove to Boston for years during the Big Dig, and has many years of experience with a stick. Plus I’ll be navigating.

I was looking for one good castle/palace and Hampton Court it is! Great. And we will look into Airbnb’s /bnbs in Woodstock.  
 

I’m fine with just walking walking walking and wandering wandering wandering. I want to see how regular people live, as opposed to doing all tourist stuff. I figure a lot of that big, famous stuff has online tours, pictures, etc, but you can’t recreate the feel of the streets. My mom has been there before numerous times so I’m deciding our agenda and it’s going to be outside as much as possible, inside when it’s pouring. Or something like that.  Thanks for the tip on the bus tour. 
 

thanks again! So helpful! 

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First things first:

- Get an Oyster Card for TFL (Transport for London). Day tickets or weekly tickets cost an arm and a leg. The Oyster Card works like a debit card and winds up being cheaper.

- Depending on what sites you want to visit, look into becoming a member of English Heritage and/or the National Trust. Once you're a member, you get free entry to all sites and it might come cheaper. As @Palimpsest noted, I'm actually in Scotland, so I'm not clear on the rules, when it comes to English Heritage, but the Scottish counterpart's membership fees for a year mean that I can visit Edinburgh castle only twice a year and already get my money's worth.

- Yes, bring your own bags for the markets. Some places in the UK charge you for plastic bags, others have abolished them altogether. When in London, go saunter around Borough Market. It's a bit crowded, but great for food!

- A lot of museums in the UK are for free. I'd say you never have to worry about over-crowding.

- If you enjoy classical music in candle-light and quiet surroundings at a reasonably price in London: https://www.stmartin-in-the-fields.org/whats-on/

- Don't worry about etiquette. People are clued in on accents, so as long as you mind you say "Please", "Thank you" and "Sorry" at the right time, it'll all be great. You'll be fine!

Don't worry too much.

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Sounds like you’re pretty organised @anachronistic.  I’m Australian but have been to the UK several times. The cotswolds are lovely - if you can stay locally overnight you’ll have a chance to walk around it without the bus day tour groups.  

I second Hampton Court Palace. There are costumed staff wandering around, but they weren’t in your face. They have excellent audio guides of the place so you can explore at your own pace. 


In London I like to do guided walks as you learn so much more than just wandering on your own. I like the Original London Walks company - very knowledgeable guides and they’ve been going for decades (I went on my first walking  tour with them in 1996). They’re having a hard time competing with the not free “free” walking tour companies which now dominate tourist spots around the world. 


Bear in mind that you’ll hear a full range of accents in London - it’s a very multicultural city. 


If you can get out to York that’s a great place and definitely go to the Viking museum. 
 

The beauty of London is that there are so many little parks and squares (although many are private and locked) so if you need some space you don’t usually have to go far to find one. 
 

Have fun!

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You have every right to post in the travel section, @anachronistic - you're traveling to England!!! (And I am so envious!)

London is my favorite city on the planet - I have only spent five days there in person, but I have read thousands and thousands of hours and pages of historical fiction about it, so it was a true thrill to be there when I visited in 2012. (I don't really believe in past lives or DNA place-memory, but if I did, I would bet that I have some ancient history or genetic connection to the place. I was born in America, but my ancestry is overwhelmingly UK.)

Folks above have mentioned several of the things that I was going to as soon as I read your post - the hop-on hop-off tours (which I always find so useful in orienting myself within a new city), the Museum of London, guided walks, Hampton Court. Who knows, you may discover something during your city bus tour that you weren't counting on but want to end up visiting on your own. I think that at that time of year, the bluebells will be blooming at Kew Gardens. And I love the musical suggestion above regarding St Martin-in-the-Fields. That is one of so many other things that I would have loved to do while we were there!

I was also going to suggest taking the train to Oxford and renting a car there to visit the Cotswolds. For that matter, you may want to just stay in Oxford for a few nights and do a day trip or two from there, especially if you enjoy walking around and seeing historical buildings. 

It sounds like you will be there right around the time of year that I was, so I hope you like blooming things, because there were so many beautiful flowers and trees!

Very excited for you and your mom! I hope you have an amazing time. Oh, and as for food, my husband and I ate a lot of what we called triangle sandwiches, which we got from the closest grocery store. Very handy when you're out and about!

Edited by scoutsadie
riffles
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I admit that I’m very sad that the finances to make a train trip don’t add up. But 2 tickets to Oxford and back cost more than renting a car in London for 4 days, plus we’d have to add the car rental from Oxford, too, which is roughly the same as renting from London. It makes no sense but you can’t have everything I guess.

Any other good castles/palaces/great houses in London besides Hampton Court? They’re not Tube accessible and are having a jousting festival the week we are there. I’m scouring Atlas Obscura and making lists. @samurai_sarah you were of course right about the Oyster vs weekly tickets, thanks for steering me there. It does make me wonder why those weekly tourist tickets exist when even I can do the math that 7days X the daily cap is less than the weekly ticket. Weird.

We booked our airline tickets and are beyond impressed at how British Airlines accommodates neurodiverse passengers. 
 

Thanks again for your wonderful tips!

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On 2/15/2020 at 4:14 PM, anachronistic said:

I admit that I’m very sad that the finances to make a train trip don’t add up. But 2 tickets to Oxford and back cost more than renting a car in London for 4 days, plus we’d have to add the car rental from Oxford, too, which is roughly the same as renting from London. It makes no sense but you can’t have everything I guess.

Any other good castles/palaces/great houses in London besides Hampton Court? They’re not Tube accessible and are having a jousting festival the week we are there. I’m scouring Atlas Obscura and making lists. @samurai_sarah you were of course right about the Oyster vs weekly tickets, thanks for steering me there. It does make me wonder why those weekly tourist tickets exist when even I can do the math that 7days X the daily cap is less than the weekly ticket. Weird.

We booked our airline tickets and are beyond impressed at how British Airlines accommodates neurodiverse passengers. 
 

Thanks again for your wonderful tips!

Glad I could help a little. "Transport for London" makes good money off the weekly tickets, because a lot of tourists don't realise just how much they'll end up walking. Tourists who don't know the distances will take the Tube from Leicester Square to Covent Garden. But it actually takes longer to navigate the maze that is Leicester Sq station than it takes to walk five minutes.

Bear in mind that you can use the Oyster card (and naturally weekly tickets) on all forms of "Transport for London", which includes ferries. You don't get the commentary, but you get a good deal to go from central London to Greenwich. Greenwich is famous for the "Cutty Sark", for "Greenwich Mean Time" and there's a good market, if I recall correctly.

As for palaces that are free of charge: https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/winchester-palace/

English Heritage also offers a scheme where you buy a limited-period membership- as far as I'm aware- that allows you to visit a certain amount of properties, regardless of the property's individual entrance fee. I'm with their Scottish sister organisation, so I'm better with their prices, hence for example: Edinburgh Castle will set you back £19.50 as an adult, with no concessions, if you buy a single ticket. Other properties cost anything from £3 to £15. See where I'm going with this? :)

Try the National Trust as well. They're more about gardens than buildings, but own some gems.

If you want to see St Paul's Cathedral on a budget, attend a service. Worshippers get in for free, I'm told. Of course, you won't be able to wander around during the service, but it sounds like quite the atmospheric experience.

In case you are of the ghoulish/literary persuasion, head to the East End. Spitalfields doesn't only host a wonderful market, but is also home to "The Ten Bells", a pub. It's associated to Jack the Ripper, and all the murders took place around there in Whitechapel. Brick Lane is about two minutes away. It's home to seriously good Indian curry places and an East London institution: The 24 hour Bagel shop. (Not saying that the bagels are great, it's just an institution.)

For literary ghoulishness head to Bunhill Fields Cemetery in Moorfields. It's Daniel Defoe's last resting place. It's a tiny, quiet spot in the middle of the city.

As for the Cotswolds, I've got nothing. But I'm glad to hear that BA is so accommodating to your needs. I hope you have a wonderful time!!!

 

P.S.: Under no circumstances buy sandwiches from "Boots"! If you can't find a nice independent place, go for "Pret-a-manger" or "Marks & Spencer". They're a bit more expensive, but don't taste like despair. Oh, and bring a canvas bag for your shopping, because plastic bags cost and some places no longer do them.

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  • 4 weeks later...

Unfortunately, after all of our planning and reservations, this stupid virus means that we aren’t going.

Covid19 is currently running rampant in Massachusetts, about to get a lot worse. We are doing social distancing, with schools, libraries, churches, etc, closed and people asked to stay 6 feet away from each other at all times. The only reason we don’t have more actual diagnoses is because of an extreme lack of testing, but that will change this week. It is expected to get much worse, hospitals are preparing to be inundated and kids will be out of school until the end of April Based on my research London is a few weeks behind us and will be facing the same thing in May.

I’m currently arguing with Airbnb because until yesterday they said that anything in X areas was covered for a refund and now they’re saying just until April 14. British airways will give us a voucher good for a year that we will hopefully be able to transfer.

I know that this is absolutely nothing compared to people whose loved ones are dying but I am devastated. My dream is gone. We most likely can’t reschedule because my mom is very busy and my family is too. I’m supposed to move next winter which will be expensive. I’m really, really upset, like a knife in my gut. I had bought new shoes. They are walking shoes, they are blue, they are beautiful and perfect for a city. I’m going to keep the shoes but damn damn damn. I hate this virus. I’m terrified of me and my friends and family dying so I feel like losing this trip shouldn’t be such a big deal but.....damnit, it is.

London, I will love and admire you from afar.

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I'm so very sorry.  I was thinking about you and wondering whether you would have to postpone your trip.  I think you are wise to put it off, because COVID-19 is not going away in a few weeks.  It will get worse (more cases) before it gets better, but hopefully by people voluntarily using commonsense methods like social distancing, not gathering in large groups, staying home if they even suspect the are sick, and above all washing their hands, the spread can be controlled.

Note, I said postpone not cancel your trip.  I know it will be very hard for you and your mom to reschedule, but I have every hope that you can.   And London will still be there waiting for you.

The UK is actually ahead of the US both on timing and the number of known cases.   They believe far more people have been exposed and infected so far in the UK than in the US, so please bear that in mind.  It is a small and densely populated country.

Thank you for doing your bit in helping to control the spread of the virus internationally by not travelling for vacation.  Please accept a socially distant cyberhug from me.  You must be so disappointed.

But also please try not to panic.  It is common sense to be very worried about this pandemic, but (at least in MA) the state government and many businesses are trying to do their best to control the virus.  Unlike the POTUS.  

This is actually the most reliable source of info I have found so far.  https://arstechnica.com/science/2020/03/dont-panic-the-comprehensive-ars-technica-guide-to-the-coronavirus/#h1

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Unfortunately, Palimpsest, that won’t happen. We lost a LOT of money because Airbnb is only doing full refunds for those checking in before April 14, and our hosts (understandably, but ouch) declined to offer full refunds so we’re only getting half back, minus fees. A British airways voucher is no good when I’ve no idea where the virus or my own or my moms health will be a year from now. The stupid trip insurance doesn’t cover pandemics. (I could probably get a doctors note to say I shouldn’t travel with my OCD this bad, but my OCD is so bad due to the damn pandemic, so it’d be cheating and I’d feel I was breaking the law.) I have several older relatives whose health grows more precarious each year and makes us not want to travel so far. But mostly....

I just can’t do this again.

I just can’t get SO happy and anticipating and joyful to the point that I can’t sleep. I can’t make plans and spend savings because a disaster *will* happen and the pain of losing the trip is that much worse for having had the hope of it. I can’t spend the money when I know I’m moving and will need my savings for that. I feel really stupid because I *knew* about the virus when we booked our tickets in January, I just stupidly thought that it would burn through the world by then because May is so far away. Now I’m looking at 8 weeks indoors and realizing that pessimists have it right. Don’t ever expect joy, just be happy when it comes unexpectedly. Don’t be optimistic, because it’s too far to fall.

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