Europe 2014 (Part 4 of 6) | The UK – Not London

Saturday morning we checked out of the hotel early.   We ate breakfast at the hotel each morning because it was included.  Breakfast was good, because breakfast wasn’t an English breakfast.  I ate scrambled eggs on smoked salmon on an English muffin.   This was the last morning hear so I suggested Claudine try a traditional English breakfast.  You can see she was thrilled with it but she tried it, all of it including the baked beans and blood pudding.


Then we were off, out of London and into the countryside.


Which is amazingly beautify, and again questions why in the world so many people in London need to cram into such a small place.  Spread out for crying out loud.

Our first stop (of many) was at Burton on the water.


Where we had probably the worst meal of the trip, and the worst Fish-n-Chips ever.  Extremely fishy, and just not good overall.  When the best part of your Fish-n-Chips meal is the peas, something’s wrong, seriously wrong.  So beware, the restaurant to the left of ‘The Croft” is no good, at least their Fish-n-Chips are no good.

From there we hit Chipping Campden.   Which was cool, but people like live there.



And it’s crowded and I’m talking about right on the main drag are homes.   And if you live in a tourist trap, and you are going to sit on the couch in your undies and watch the tele, you should probably close your blinds.  Just sayin.



The little market hall in the center of town was built in 1662, so older than America which is amazing.

From there more driving, we didn’t really stop for long in any of the other little towns but we did roll through quite a few as we circled back around to Bath.



Bath, words cannot describe Bath.

We got into town about 7:30pm and headed straight for the Roman Bath.IMG_3001IMG_3002

We paid our money and took the tour of the bath.


Sadly you cannot bath, in the bath and looking at the water you can see why you wouldn’t want too.  The spring still flows but I’m not sure where that water’s coming from cause it’s pretty nasty looking.   There was a late night torch lit tour of the bath that we had planned to stay for, but we got a little museum’d out on the self guided tour and hadn’t eaten since 2pm and needed to eat.

We ended up eating down the street from the bath at Bill’s I had the fish pie and it was delicious.


That evening we stayed at the Bristol Royal Marriott.  I would highly recommend this old hotel, if you want an old hotel but don’t want all the old hotel things.   This has been very tastefully renovated.   We got in late and didn’t take any photos of the hotel, at least I didn’t.

We slept well, got up and headed back to Bath.

We toured more of the town, stopped at all the highlights, the Circus, the Royal Crescent, and the beautiful park in front of the Crescent.  There was a 1700’s garden recreated behind one of the homes that was on the Circus.










After spending a good part of the morning in Bath, watching street performers and doing a bit of shopping we headed south, to the Ocean/English Channel to get Claudine some beach time.

Our travels took us through the New Forest, which is an amazing area where cattle, goats, and horses run free, in an open range habited area.  We saw a lot of cattle including bulls, literally on the roads.  I don’t think Claudine believed me about horses running free until we encountered a heard grazing by the road on the way out, some of them, on the road.

We finally found beach at Milford on the Sea.


Rocky beach, but beach none-the-less.

We stayed there for about an hour.




Then we beat feet back to the Marriott at Heathrow for an early flight to Munich the next day.   Returning the rental car was a real treat, the rental car company’s drop off is at the airport or along side of it.  They give you a free shuttle back to the airport, not to a hotel.  From the airport we took a normal bus using our Oyster card left over from the trains to ride back to the bus stop in front of the Marriott.  Thanks for nothing Eurocar/Alamo.

The Heathrow Marriott has been renovated/cleaned up since the last time I was there.  The restaurant food was good, expensive but good.

Europe 2014 (Part 3 of 6) | The UK – London

As mentioned previously, Seapine Software has an office in Kew, near Kew Gardens:



Given our office’s location, and Claudine’s desire to see the Cotswolds’ (aka Merry Old England) our sight seeing would be focused on this the highlighted area.

Our flight to the UK was mostly uneventful.  We left Dayton Ohio around 2pm headed for Washington DC.  In DC we had a short layover and boarded the flight to London on time, then were held on the runway for about an hour due to weather.

We got into London, picked up our Rental car, and headed to the office.  The first few miles driving on the wrong side of the road, after 10 hours of flying and little sleep is always tricky.

I talked with the guys in the office, and prepped the hardware that I was going to replace that evening, while Claudine visited Kew Gardens.

She returned to Kew and we had a late lunch at Pizza Express next to the office:IMG_2882

Then she went out shopping and touring Richmond area while I worked that evening.  We ate a late dinner at the hotel/restaurant.   Dinner was good.

On Thursday I returned to the Office, for the first half of the day.  Claudine returned to Kew Gardens, apparently it’s an amazing place.

That afternoon we took the tube to Covent Gardens for a little shopping, and entertainment.  It was about the only time it rained on us and it didn’t rain much.

The street performers were out:


The market was nice, very busy, and if you know me you know just how much I love a good crowd of people.

We had dinner with Ashley and his family at a pub in Richmond that evening.   The obligatory food shot:


On Friday our first real FREE tourist day we got up early and headed downtown London to the Tower.   We were told to get there early, get tickets, get in and head straight for the crown jewels so that’s exactly what we did.   It was raining when we got off the train so we bought tickets and umbrellas.


They are in the midst of celebrating the 100th anniversary of the start of World War 1 and have planted 888,246 ceramic poppies, one for each casualty in the war on the grounds of The Tower.


It was quite amazing.

Sorry, no photos of the crown jewels but you can read about them at the link.  They are rather impressive.  That 500+ carat diamond, well I didn’t think it was real, but it is.

Inside the main tower armory they have a really impressive display of armor.IMG_2916IMG_2917

After the Tower tour we walked across the Tower Bridge to another market.


That’s right, another CROWDED market, full of goodness but the lines were incredible, unless you wanted bread Winking smile


We had planned to eat there and I decided to grab a burger at one of the stands.  Claudine headed off to another vendor.  I stood there for 30+ minutes and never moved in the queue and I was only like 5th in line.  When the guy in front of me ordered basically what I was going to order and it was 20 quid, I lost it.  No way, no how am I going to spend essentially $35US on a burger and fries, it just can’t be that good.   After being ignored for about 35 minutes and bumped into about 45 times cause this particular vendor was on the main drag, that was it.  I was out.   No more crowded markets for me, just don’t see the attraction.

We walked back across the river to Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament.


Then up through St. James Park to Buckingham Palace



Then back on the train back to Kew to grab the car and go to one of my favorite places over there.  Pincho.   It’s like tradition for me to eat there when I visit.



This would be our last day in London, tomorrow we head out for the Cotswolds’ and Bath.

Europe 2014 (Part 2 of 6) | Planning

Travel Planning sucks, it just does.

Air Travel

For years I had traveled on US Airways, out of Dayton (closer to my home), they were price competitive and the flights were always nice.  Good clean equipment which always functioned.  In seat entertainment was better than the crap we had on one United Flight.   As part of the Star Alliance, those United miles counted.

So for years we’ve saved up miles.  We had a US Airways card at one point and racked up miles for our regular purchases.   We don’t really Credit Card, but we were playing the points game.   Every time we wanted to go somewhere and I tried to use the miles it was nothing but an exercise in frustration.  When we started collecting miles, it looked like it would take 35k miles for an international flight.   When we had 35k miles it now took 45k miles.  When we had 45k miles I needed 50k.   We now have 80k miles and I still couldn’t get Claudine’s ticket paid for.

And it gets better.   Since we’re doing a multi-city flight, not taking off and coming back to the same place, you can’t book that kind of ‘award’ travel online.   So you have to call.

I actually found the flights we wanted on US Airways, from DAY (Dayton) to LHR (Heathrow) to MUC (Munich) and back to DAY.

I called them and tried to use my miles for one of the tickets.   No can do, those flights no longer existed.   They weren’t really very interested in helping me either.  I was pissed.   And magically, the flights that I had found (Using KAYAK) actually no longer existed.  I could no longer find them, with any travel search engine.   Aggravated, I waited a day, they were still ‘non-existent’.

The next best deal was booking United Flights through Lufthansa, about $1700 round trip (multi-city for us).  Lufthansa (as is United) were Star Alliance members.  I talked this through with Kevin (who said, yeah, just book the seats and use your points for upgrades after the fact, that will probably work best for you).  He said, you should be able to get into First Class one direction for less than 70k miles.  Or so we thought.

Turns out that American had recently bought US Airways, which means, they were no longer part of Star Alliance, which means once again, no you can’t use your miles for anything good.   Grrr….

Rental Cars

Again using Kayak, I booked the best Rental cars deals I could find.  These ended up being booked through, something I’ll never do again.

First the Kayak deal wasn’t super great, it wasn’t half the price of booking direct with any of these places but it was still a deal.   Until it’s not.

The UK rental turned into a huge bait and switch.  I booked a car for almost a week (Wednesday through Monday morning and pre-paid $350.00 (US).   Upon arrival they ‘upgraded me’ from a car that cost $65 US to a car that only costs 45 a day, what they didn’t share with me until afterwards, or that I didn’t catch on too was that car was 45 GBP per day (aka $80 a day), and they charged all kinds of fees.   A fee for the shuttle, a fee for picking up a car at an airport depot, and more.  All of these things were supposed to be included in my pre-paid reservation.  They also really tried to snow me with the insurance.  In fact they initially said I had to have it to rent the car.   I explained to them, I spoke with my insurance agent, I’m covered, I’m also covered under our business policy since this is a business trip, I was told ‘Explicitly’ to deny any extra coverage.   They made me sign a waiver and acceptance that I was on the hook for a 17,000 GBP if anything went wrong, they don’t deal with any insurance companies other than their own.

This was Eurocar/Avis in the UK, and I’ll never rent from them again.   The car was fine, but the service was horrible.

The deal in the UK (with Budget) went exactly as planned.   No bait and switch, no other add-ons other than a 6 Euro fee to add Claudine as a driver.   I will happily rent from them again.

Now, do you need a car in London/UK?  Well driving on the wrong side of the road is a thrill but it’s not for everyone.  You don’t, unless you a) have a ton of luggage which we did and that makes train travel a real pain.  I was carrying some equipment in a pelican case that made train travel not worth while.   A 100 GBP taxi ride both directions, for me was 2/3rds the cost of a rental car and then I have a car.   We also needed/wanted a car to drive through the Cotswolds, and western UK.   But now, if I’m not doing those things, a taxi/or train ride will do ya.   Especially if you stay near the Office.  There’s a nice boutique hotel that’s reasonable and it’s a two block walk.

In Germany, you’re on the right side of the road, driving there is no different than here.  The Marriott is about ~20 mins from the hotel, and about ~20 mins from our office so a car is needed there unless you’re going to be with the sales guys all day and have them chauffer you around.  Since most of my work was happening off-hours for them, that wasn’t going to work.

We also planned to do a little road trip in Germany too.  Down to see some castles and drive through the Alps.  So yeah a car was needed.


We did a couple things here.  I’m a Marriott guy.  I like Marriott I have had good results with Marriott properties.   They are clean, and if you shop around they aren’t over priced IMHO.

We also play the points game with Marriott.  The other credit card I use for fuel mostly earns me Marriott points, plus for the $69 annual fee that they always waive for me when I ask I also get a free stay every year.   I use these free stays on motorcycle trips and shoots.   This year I used our free nights stay at the Bristol Marriott Royal Hotel.   It was a $250 room after currency conversions that cost us $0.00.   We also stayed at the Marriott at Heathrow the night before our trip to Germany for $0.00 on points.

So in the UK we stayed at the Kew Gardens Hotel a nice little boutique hotel in Kew, two blocks from the office.   We have a negotiated business rate there and it was ‘cheap’ and it included breakfast.   The wifi in the hotel room was OK, but not great.  There was no wifi and no Cellular coverage what-so-ever in the restaurant/pub.   We stayed there for 3 nights, the last two nights in Bristol and by the airport.   In the past I have stayed at the Marriott in Twickenham but it was completely booked so Kew had to do and it was fine.

In Germany, the office is in a business park just outside of Hallbergmoos, there’s not much in Halbergmoos so we typically stay at the Marriott in Freising and we stayed there again.

It’s been recently renovated which means it now has AC, it didn’t use too and previously it sucked when it was hot out.    I have a few bones to pick with them, but overall the room was spectacular, and the service was pretty good and the price with breakfast was fair for what we got in return.    They neglected to let us know that the pool/hot tub/spa was unavailable.   When you walk 10 miles a day seeing stuff a hot tub is a nice thing to have and in fact we had looked forward to using it.

Sight Seeing Planning

We sort of had a travel agenda, but we didn’t have any plans for anything that required reservations, or so we thought.    We needed to stay flexible because this was a working vacation.   We needed to make sure that if work was required we didn’t loose any money on something we couldn’t get too.

So our loose agenda was this.

Tuesday: Travel
Wednesday: Arrive in UK in the AM
– Go Straight to the Office we couldn’t get into the hotel yet anyway, Claudine could visit Kew Gardens on her own
Thursday: Finish work in the UK, then do some evening sight seeing.
Friday (v): Do London for a day, London Tower and surrounding things.
Saturday: Drive out through the Cotswolds, then to Bath, and into Bristol for the night.
Sunday: More Bath, then south to the ocean/English channel, through the New Forest.
Monday: Travel to Germany
– Visit the Office, Office work Late Monday Night
Tuesday: More office work about half the day
– Tour Munich in the afternoon
Wednesday (v): Road Trip to Neuschwanstein Castle, visit the Austrian Alps, and then back to the hotel.
Thursday (v): Sight see around Freising/Landshut TBD, but take it easy for early Friday AM flight
Friday: Travel back to the US.

So, 2 complete days lost to traveling, 9 days in-country, about 4 and a half of those working[tm], leaving about 4 and half days to enjoy the sights, 11 days in total.   (v) denotes days taken as vacation days.