Our Airbnb Experience in Nice, France

An invitation to a friend’s wedding in Nice was just the incentive I needed to begin planning a fifteen-day trip to Europe. This time I would be traveling with my brother and sister-in-law. We hit a slight bump in the road when we began searching for accommodations in Nice; not a hotel room could be found! By chance, my brother was watching HGTV and happened to hear mention of Airbnb. I recalled one of my friends (an avid traveler) recommending it several years earlier, so we began doing some research. We settled on a two-bedroom apartment just steps from the Promenade des Anglais in the heart of Nice. From the Airbnb web site, we sent a request to book along with payment authorization. We received a prompt response and confirmation from our host, Laura, along with directions and helpful information about the apartment and the area. The entire experience was well organized and painless. We exchanged contact information (cell phone and email) with Laura and, upon our arrival, she met us at the apartment in person. In addition to handing over the key, she gave us a tour of the apartment and passed along pertinent information regarding it, the building, and the neighborhood. Fortunately, we had no problems and, thus, no further contact with Laura. The apartment was spacious and clean and offered us the opportunity to relax, spread out, and recover from a week of hotel life. Granted, this was our first and only Airbnb experience but, based on our level of satisfaction, I expect to enlist their services during future travels. The company’s Community Standards—Safety, Security, Fairness, Authenticity, and Reliability—reflect a belief that “you should feel at home no matter where you are in the world.” In this case, we certainly did! 24/7 Customer Support is available, so you never have to feel alone in a foreign land!

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If you find yourself in Nice, I highly recommend this Two Bedroom Listing in City Center. It is fully furnished and equipped with a double bed in each bedroom and separate baths—though that was a little different by American standards. One bedroom has a shower and sink; there is a separate bath with a tub and sink; the toilet is in a separate room with a sink. That’s right…only one toilet, but we managed! (The supply of toilet paper was rather meager, so we made a quick trip to the corner market.) The living, dining, and kitchen areas are spacious and there is also a small balcony with a side view of the sea. There is also a washing machine and a drying rack, so we were able to do laundry while we were there. The building is quiet and the location is ideally situated for sightseeing on foot. We walked an average of seven miles a day while in Nice and never used public transportation.

We found the whole Airbnb experience to be simple and straightforward. Just follow these easy steps if you are beginner:

  1. Set up an Airbnb profile
  2. Search for a place (be sure to include your dates and number of guests to get the most accurate pricing)
  3. Make a reservation (some hosts allow instant booking; others prefer to approve reservations before confirming)
  4. Communicate with the host when contacted

Here are a few things you will probably want to know:

  • You will be charged for the total cost of your reservation when it is confirmed.
  • Some hosts require a security deposit, cleaning fee, etc. so be sure to read the terms thoroughly before booking.
  • There are several ways to pay, depending on your country of origin, but case is not accepted at all. Click here for more details.
  • You may write a review for your host within the 14-day period following your visit.
  • Cancellations are subject to the Cancellation Policy indicated by your host.

We were delighted with our Airbnb experience but, as I said, we have only used the service once. I would love to hear about any Airbnb experiences you may have had. Happy travels!

Traveling Abroad? Be Sure to Cover Your Medical Bases Before Taking Off!

Travel Health Checklist

Recently, a friend was visiting Paris and broke her ankle on a staircase leaving a restaurant. Needless to say, her vacation came to a screeching halt and she was soon on a plane back to the U. S. to see an orthopedic doctor. I would guess that ranks high on the list of travelers’ worst nightmares! It made me think about the whole health and wellness aspect of traveling and consider ways to prepare for a safe and healthy trip. The U. S. Department of State offers these guidelines:

  • Read up on your destination at travel.state.gov. Learn about medical care in the countries you are visiting.
  • Find out about health precautions. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) provide recommendations for vaccinations and other travel health precautions for your trip abroad.
  • Get a letter from your doctor for medications you are bringing. Some countries have strict laws, even against over-the-counter medications, so read about your destination before you go.
  • Make sure you have health insurance whenever you are traveling abroad. If your U.S. health care plan does not cover you overseas, consider buying supplemental insurance to cover medical costs and emergency evacuation. Foreign hospitals and doctors often require payment in cash, and Emergency medical evacuation can cost up to $100,000. Social Security and Medicare does not provide coverage outside of the United States.
  • Read more at Your Health Abroad.

Dr. Shilpa Vaidya of Houston Methodist Hospital adds these recommendations:

  • Schedule an appointment with your physician about two months before your departure date.
  • Get the necessary immunizations for your destination.
  • Obtain a letter from your physician regarding your health history, medications, allergies, and immunization records.
  • Have an ample supply of medication in original, labeled containers. Do not use pill cases or an unlabeled container. (I admit, I do this all the time for convenience!)
  • Carry along the generic names of your medications—pharmaceutical companies overseas may use different brand names from those used in the United States.
  • If you wear glasses, take an extra pair with you. (I would think the same goes for contacts, and it might be wise to also have a copy of your prescription with you.)
  • Pack your extra glasses and medication in carry-on luggage in case checked baggage is lost.
  • Consider wearing a “medical alert” bracelet if you have allergies or reactions to medications, insect bites, certain foods, or other unique medical problems.
  • Pack a traveler’s first-aid kit for emergencies.

Source: Vaidya, S. (Spring 2016). Have a Safe Trip! Vacationing Abroad? Don’t forget to pack good health. Leading Medicine, Houston Methodist Hospital, p. 7.

Basic Items to Include in a Travel First-Aid Kit:

  • Anti-diarrhea medication (Imodium, etc.)
  • Antihistamine and/or Decongestant
  • Cold medicine
  • Antiseptic Wipes
  • Anti-motion sickness medication
  • Pain Reliever (acetaminophen, aspirin, or ibuprofen)
  • Mild laxative
  • Cough suppressant/expectorant
  • Cough drops
  • Antacid
  • Antifungal and antibacterial ointments or creams
  • Hydrocortisone (anti-itch) cream
  • Bandage strips in various sizes
  • Gauze pads and medical adhesive tape
  • Moleskin (for blisters)
  • Tweezers
  • Small scissors
  • Sunscreen
  • Bug spray

The following web sites offer additional travel health and first aid information:

International Travel Health Guide 2016 Online Edition

Travel Health Journal: How to Assemble the Perfect Travel First Aid Kit 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Travel Health Kits

Lonely Planet: How to Make a Top-Notch Travel First Aid Kit

Johns Hopkins Medicine: Traveler’s First-Aid Kit

World Health Organization: International Health and Travel, General Precautions

Safe and healthy travels to you!

Doing London in Two and a Half Days: Our Itinerary

No, you will not be able to see everything, but you can cover a lot of territory in London in a little more than two days. Here’s how we did it…

Buckingham Palace - St Jame's Park

 

Day One: Arrive London, early afternoon; Check into hotel; Attend the theater

Arrive at Heathrow Airport. Find an ATM machine and withdraw money to cover your expenses for the next day or two. [Click on link above for practical tips.] Grab a cab to your hotel (we always make arrangements ahead of time through the hotel to have a driver meet us at the airport). After checking in, secure your valuables in the room safe and walk to the nearest Tube station to purchase your Oyster card.  If you have time, stroll around and familiarize yourself with the area near your hotel. [I find it is better not to rest and lose my momentum.] Check TripAdvisor or another reputable travel forum ahead of time for restaurant recommendations near your hotel or the theater. [If time is short, order room service, if available, at your hotel.] Take the Tube or a cab to the theater for a 7:30 p.m. show. Be sure to arrive at the theater in plenty of time to be in your seat before the lights go down. After the show, walk around the West End and take in the nightlife before catching the Tube back to your hotel. [We made a habit of popping into a snack/souvenir shop at the entrance of South Kensington Station each evening to pick up snacks and drinks to eat in our room.]

Leicester Square

 

Day Two: Changing of the Guard; St. James’s Park; Thames River Cruise; Tower of London; Tea at The Ritz

After flying in from Ireland the previous day and then staying out fairly late, we decided to forego the planned Open-Top Bus Tour and snooze for an extra hour or two. We ate breakfast in our room, then caught the Tube to Green Park Station, arriving about 10:00 a.m. We approached Buckingham Palace through Green Park and had plenty of time to look around before staking out a spot with a view on the steps of the Victoria Memorial. It became quite crowded by 11:00 a.m. and we were glad we had arrived early. [Several spectators climbed onto the low walls surrounding the monument, but were made to get down, so while that may seem like a fabulous perch, sitting on the wall is not permitted.) After the ceremony, the crowd dispersed fairly quickly and we walked from Buckingham Palace through St. James’s Park where we stopped to eat ice cream and hang out with the pigeons. From there we walked to Trafalgar Square and on toward the Thames. As we ascended the Golden Jubilee pedestrian bridge, we got our first glimpse of Big Ben off to the right. From the bridge we had an excellent view of the London Eye, Big Ben, Parliament, Whitehall Court, and the wide Thames River. On the opposite side, we meandered along the South Bank, a hub for London’s arts and entertainment crowd. We boarded a Thames sightseeing boat next to the London Eye and cruised up to the Tower of London, getting an up-close view of Tower Bridge in the process. [I recommend purchasing tickets for the Tower online ahead of time, though they are available onsite and in other locations around London.] We had to decide whether to head straight for the crown jewels or take the Beefeater tour. We opted for the tour, which leaves the entrance gate every thirty minutes. Our Beefeater (Yeomen Warder) tour guide was super personable—witty and very informative.  The tour lasts about half an hour and then you are free to look around on your own. We went inside Beauchamp Tower, but saw everything else from the outside. The line to see the crown jewels was incredibly long, so we opted to skip that and cover more territory. We hopped on the Tube in time to return to our hotel, change clothes, and take a cab to The Ritz Hotel for Afternoon Tea (even though it was actually evening by then.) I had heard that the British cabbies are quite chatty, but that was not the case with ours. A quick fifteen-minute ride got us from South Kensington to the Ritz in plenty of time for our 7:30 p.m. tea time. Afterward, we caught a cab back to the hotel and got some seriously needed sleep!

Thames River

Day 3: St. Paul’s Cathedral; Open-Top Bus Tour; The City of Westminster; Westminster Abbey; London Eye; Harrod’s

By Day 3, we felt like old hands at navigating the Tube, traveling from South Kensington to St. Paul’s and even changing lines—an accomplishment for two small-town, greenhorns! Again, I had purchased advanced tickets online so we were able to go right in without waiting in line. No photographs are allowed inside, which is always disappointing. You can opt for a guided tour or choose to use an audioguide; both are included in the admission charge. After completing the audio tour we made the climb all the way to the top of the dome, stopping in the Whispering Gallery and the Stone Gallery on our way to the Golden Gallery—a total of 528 steps! The view is well worth the climb, but make sure you are in good shape as there is no elevator to get you up or down. We ate lunch in the Crypt Cafe (good food, reasonably priced) before doing some souvenir shopping in the gift shop, also located in the crypt. When we left St. Paul’s, we hopped on the Open-Top Bus for a guided tour of the city (live guide). [I had pre-purchased those tickets as well, which may or may not be a good idea since we ended up using only one day of a two-day pass…but it did save time standing in a ticket line.) During the tour we crossed Tower Bridge and London Bridge, and saw a number of other significant historical and cultural landmarks. We got off the bus near Westminster Bridge and crossed over to the Houses of Parliament. We walked around and looked at the enormous building from the outside, stopping to take a few pics with Big Ben, which is actually not the name of the clock (or the tower). From there we went to Westminster Abbey, which we toured; it is extensive and magnificent. We crossed back over Westminster Bridge and walked along the South Bank to the London Eye. I had purchased a fast pass ticket online ahead of time, which moved us along to a certain point, but we still had to stand in line for quite awhile before boarding our capsule. The thirty-minute rotation above London was well worth the money and the wait; the view was fantastic! [The capsule was fairly crowded, but not as bad as I feared it might be.] No trip to London is complete without a visit to Harrod’s, so we penciled that in as our last stop of the day. We took the Tube to Knightsbridge and walked from there to Harrod’s, which was a little confusing despite our map and mapping app. We eventually located the store right at dusk, but were disappointed to discover the restaurant we hoped to eat at was not open. Nor was our second choice, and our third choice was about to close. After a quick sprint through the store, we ended up at The Tea Room where we were served a tolerable meal by a less-than-attentive waitress who was more concerned with closing than with serving us dessert. But, that is another story… We took our last journey on the Tube back to our hotel where we packed and fell into bed, quite worn out but happy.

IMG_6168

Of course, there is MUCH more than this to see and do in London—palaces, parks, museums, galleries, libraries, cathedrals—but we covered a lot of ground in a little over two days and felt that we got a good overview of the city. We spent three and a half days in England, but chose to devote one full day to touring Bath, which I do not regret at all!

I highly recommend purchasing Rick Steve’s Pocket London as it includes tons of information, recommendations, and traveler tips as well as a foldout map and several walking tours. His accompanying podcasts are great as well.

Rick Steves' Pocket London

London is an exciting place to visit and, with careful planning, you can see a lot of it in a short time. Happy travels!

Related Posts:

Where to Stay in London: The Ampersand Hotel

Mind the Gap: Navigating the London Tube

When In London, Afternoon Tea at The Ritz…

A Stroll in St. James’s Park

Big Ben…or whatever it’s called!

Paris vs. London…What say you? (Part 1)

 

Where to Stay in London: The Ampersand Hotel

Ampersand Hotel

I feel that if I am going to take the time to plan an international trip, save the money to make it happen, and fully enjoy the experience once I arrive, fabulous accommodations are a must. I adore boutique hotels and have stayed in some lovely ones across the United States and Europe!

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The Ampersand Hotel in South Kensington is no exception, offering affordable luxury in a prime location. The hotel’s main areas are elegantly decorated in pristine whites and grays with pops of bold color in the drawing rooms and guest rooms. A soaring tree of white lights forms a central pillar for the beautiful curving staircase. Guest rooms are decorated according to five themes: botany, music, geometry, ornithology, and astronomy. Fittingly, ampersands are seen throughout the hotel, from an intricately carved wall piece to the rubber ducky in our bathroom. We stayed in a Deluxe room which was gorgeous as well as spacious. Our room had a full bath with a bath/shower combo and also a small balcony which was not actually accessible beyond being able to open the French doors a bit.

The hotel offers many amenities, comforts, and conveniences.

I found the concierge to be more than helpful in arranging our visit beforehand, scheduling transportation to and from the airport, acquiring theater tickets to a show of our choice, and emailing me regularly with information and updates. The desk staff were helpful if a bit remote; the bellmen, on the other hand, were extremely helpful and friendly.

In 2015, The Ampersand Hotel was named by TripAdvisor as the second-best new hotel in Europe and the eighth most-highly rated in the world. I concur and would readily stay there again should my travels take me back to London.

Related posts:

Mind the Gap: Navigating the London Tube

When In London, Afternoon Tea at The Ritz…

A Stroll in St. James’s Park

Big Ben…or whatever it’s called!

Paris vs. London…What say you? (Part 1)

Mind the Gap: Navigating the London Tube

Oyster Card

First and foremost, I recommend purchasing an Oyster card if you intend to use public transportation while in London. This travelcard gives you access to all London Transport Networks (Tube, bus, and rail) and allows you to easily negotiate your way around central London. Though fairly pricey, there is a daily charge limit which means you can travel as much as you like within 24 hours for a set fee. It is possible to purchase an Oyster card online, but I found it simple and convenient to purchase mine at the ticket window at South Kensington Station upon arrival. The card is easy to use…just tap in and out of the ticket barriers to validate each time you ride the Tube. [Be sure to tap in and out.] You rarely have to break stride as you pass through the ticket barriers; just make sure you enter where there is a green arrow and not a red X. The card reader is typically on the right side as you approach the ticket barrier. [Once, the automated reader would not acknowledge my card, but I went to the ticket window and the agent quickly resolved the issue.] There is a base charge for the card and you can top up at the station or several other locations (Visitor CentresOyster Ticket Stops, Emirates Air Line terminals, the Tramlink Shop in Croydon). At the end of your visit, you can receive a refund for the balance on your card, minus the base charge. Be sure to treat your Oyster card like you would cash, credit cards, and other valuables as pickpockets and thieves will happily relieve you of it! Click here for more information and frequently asked questions about Visitor Oyster cards.

London TubeNow, about the Tube itself. As a suburban gal from the southern U.S., I had no experience with public transportation and was more than a little intimidated at the thought of navigating the Underground. [I was relieved to find it virtually painless, and even fun!] Before we arrived in London, I researched various apps to help us find our way around and settled on London Tube Free – Map and Route Planner by Zuti.

London Tube AppIt made our life so much easier with routing capabilities that do not require internet connectivity. We relied heavily on the app throughout our stay in London. I usually researched our route ahead of time and took a screenshot of the map, but also used the app on the fly.

London Tube
Finding our way around on the Tube was not stressful at all. The signage at each station is prominently displayed and very informative.  All lines are clearly marked and color coded. We were never far from a station and had no trouble hopping on the Tube whenever we needed to. I will admit I prefer seeing London above ground, but it is not always practical or time efficient to travel that way and the Tube is the perfect means of getting from one location to another quickly and easily.

Incidentally, our favorite part of the whole experience had to be “Mind the Gap!”

Related Posts:

When In London, Afternoon Tea at The Ritz…

A Stroll in St. James’s Park

Big Ben…or whatever it’s called!

Paris vs. London…What say you? (Part 1)

 

When In London, Afternoon Tea at The Ritz…

Afternoon Tea at the Ritz

One thing we wanted to do for sure while in London was indulge in a traditional English Afternoon Tea. The big question was, where?? After doing our research we settled on Tea at The Ritz Hotel. I would have preferred a true “afternoon” Tea, but that was not possible for two reasons: 1) I made the reservation two weeks before our visit and all afternoon time slots were filled, and 2) it would have been difficult to pause our sightseeing mid-day, change clothes for Tea, and resume our sightseeing afterward without losing precious time.  (We were in London for only two full days). Sooo, we made reservations for 7:30 p.m. We took a fifteen minute cab ride from our South Kensington hotel to The Ritz, arriving a few minutes before our scheduled time, as instructed. While waiting, we enjoyed the music of a string quintet situated just outside The Palm Court. Once seated, we were attended by a rather haughty, but efficient, black-tailed server. The table was beautifully laid out with pristine linens, delicate china, and gleaming silver. We made our tea selections from an extensive array of loose leaf teas—18 to be precise—and were served an assortment of sandwiches with various fillings, freshly baked scones with strawberry preserve and clotted Devonshire cream (to die for), and a sumptuous variety of afternoon tea cakes and pastries. Honestly, I think the tea and scones were my favorite part of our London visit! [Access the full menu here.] Tea lasted one hour and forty-five minutes and was quite an elegant affair. Because of the hour, this served as our evening meal and there was more than enough food for that. The Palm Court itself is magnificent with its gilded ceiling, massive mirrors, amazing chandeliers, and towering fresh floral arrangement. This was such a fun cultural experience and I highly recommend adding it to your London itinerary!

Afternoon Tea at the Ritz

Here are a few pointers to help you plan for and schedule Tea at The Ritz:

  • Daily Tea times are: 11.30 a.m., 1.30 p.m., 3.30 p.m., 5.30 p.m., and 7.30 p.m..
  • There is a dress code: “Gentlemen are required to wear a jacket and tie (jeans and sportswear are not permitted for either ladies or gentlemen) for afternoon tea in The Palm Court.”
  • There are several Afternoon Tea options to choose from—Traditional, Epicurean, Celebration, Champagne, and Seasonal. For more information, click here.
  • The current prices start from £52 per adult and from £30 for children. Click here for up-to-date cost information.
  • You can book your reservation via the booking widget on the Ritz website.
  • Reservations require a credit card guarantee. If you fail to honor your reservation, cancel, amend or reduce the amount of guests within 48 hours, your card will be charged the full price per guest. Reservations for 6 and more guests require a full non-refundable pre-payment seven days in advance of your booking. Cancellations without charge can be made up to 7 days in advance only.

Incidentally, our hotel offered a scaled-down version of Afternoon Tea, but we wanted to experience the “real thing,” and the price difference between the two was not significant enough to deter us from booking at The Ritz.

Related Posts:

A Stroll in St. James’s Park

Big Ben…or whatever it’s called!

Paris vs. London…What say you? (Part 1)

 

A Stroll Through St. James’s Park, London

St. James's Park - London

Given the current exchange rates, now is a good time to plan a visit to London!

A ramble through St. James’s Park, the oldest of London’s eight Royal Parks, should be on your list of things to do while visiting the British capital. Encompassed within the heart of the city, this sprawling park is beautifully laid out and meticulously maintained. It is situated in close proximity to two royal palaces:  Buckingham Palace and St. James’s Palace. A brief history of the park will enable you to better visualize its storied past and appreciate its continued prominence and appeal. Originally, this property was home to a leper’s hospital for women, named for James the Less (thought by some to be James, the brother of Jesus; by others to be James the son of Alphaeus, one of Jesus’ disciples). The property was later purchased by Henry VIII who erected St. James Palace and converted the swampy land into hunting grounds. During the 17th century reign of King James I, the marshland was drained and landscaped and became home to his exotic menagerie which included an elephant, crocodiles, camels, and exotic birds. Later that century, Charles II had the gardens redeveloped to resemble those he had seen at Versailles during the time of his exile in France.  Today, St. James’s Park is a reflection of a modernization project carried out by John Nash in 1828 and includes a Chinese-style bridge, extensive lawns and gardens, paved walking paths, a small lake, and several monuments.  There are also swans, ducks, geese, and plenty of pigeons in the park as well. (The pigeons are not shy and will land on you without batting an eye if you are eating or have food in your hands.) Ice cream vendors sell their sticky treats to the millions of tourists who descend on St. James’s Park in the summertime. Deck chairs are scattered invitingly across the green expanse from March to October but beware, fellow Americans…there is a charge for sitting in them, a fact we were unaware of until already seated and licking away on our ice cream cones. The park attendant was forgiving of our ignorance, however, and cheerfully collected £1.60 from each of us and allowed us to remain in our chairs. (That is the cost for one hour.  Sadly, we did not have anywhere close to an hour to loll about in the park.) For more information on Deck Chair Pricing, click here. If you visit Buckingham Palace, be sure to stroll on over to nearby St. James’s Park!