UK/Belgium holiday in planning

Very busy the last few weeks, which is why the blog has been so quiet.

Long-time readers would know that I like to write about my interstate and overseas holidays in almost excruciating detail. Well brace yourself for another one – I’ve got a European holiday in planning for later this year.

It’s looking like England, Wales, and Belgium, with catching up with various family scattered around the place being a key priority.

It’ll be the first big family holiday in many years, and my first time in Europe this century — previous trips were in 1999 and 1998.

Eurostar hadn’t even opened the last time I was there, so you can be sure we’ll be using it to get to Belgium! It’ll be my first journey on an actual High Speed Rail service (I used the Brussels to Amsterdam high speed “Thalys” in 1998, but it was at regular speed due to flooding) and my first time using Oyster card!

Daniel’s 1998 Europe trip highlights from Daniel Bowen on Vimeo.

Obviously the terrible events in Manchester this week (and previous incidents in London, Brussels and elsewhere) are a concern, but ultimately you can’t cower at home because something might happen.

On the list of touristy things already are various sights in London, Cardiff, Brussels, probably Bath and perhaps Stonehenge or Avebury since we’ll be visiting relatives in that part of the country.

Any must-see suggestions?

More notes as I ponder:

  • London transport accepts most overseas PayPass cards, which will save us buying Oyster cards for everyone.
  • I’m wary of Britrail passes – it sounds like roughly the same cost if you prebook flexible fares a few weeks in advance.
  • We’re looking at Air B’n’b for places we’ll be staying more than a day or two, as it’s useful being able to easily cook some meals and do laundry. Hotels for 1-2 day hops.
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    9 Replies to “UK/Belgium holiday in planning”

    1. Stonehenge is a bit meh. It’s something to see once in your life but it’s really just a pile of old rocks in the median strip of the road.
      Greenwich is a must see (go on the Thames Clipper from Embankment). Windsor Castle is worth a visit, as is Bath. Cardiff – nice feel about the place and the harbour is alright but it’s still a bit small-town and parochial. British Museum (go see the Elgin Marbles that the Greeks get so wound up about), National Gallery, maybe a concert in St Martin in the Fields.
      Depends how long you’re here really.
      Drink/dinner?

    2. My guess is that you would like to see the Doctor Who studios in Cardiff xD

      There is also the Harry Potter Studios to the North of London (near Hemel Hempstead), which also contains one of two Magic Roundabouts in the world (the other is in Swinston)

      A heads up though, you won’t need to use Oyster anymore – you can use (almost) any debit/credit mastercard/visa card on the TfL network. If you already have an Oyster, go for it, but there’s no need to shell out to buy brand new cards (except for concession).
      It also works with Apple/Android pay if you want to give that a shot (and even reminds you to tap off through your phone!)

    3. If you’re heading for the west country, Oxford is worth a look, if only to walk around the old town, stop in one of the pubs and absorb the atmosphere.

      Most of what I know is up north though, so you probably won’t get there on this trip. I second Vaughan’s recommendation for Greenwich while you’re in London.

      Agree that Britrail passes probably aren’t worth it if you can commit to a fixed itinerary and aren’t doing much long-distance travel. When I’ve been in the UK I’ve been going up and down a lot between London, Newcastle and Aberdeen, sometimes without fixed travel dates, and that’s where a rail pass really can be good value. Otherwise, individual tickets are the go – just make sure you book them at least a month in advance, especially for anything in or out of London. Not sure if the ticket collection arrangements have changed, but you may find you have to attend a station and collect them from a ticket machine after you arrive in the UK.

      If you have a spare day to kill in Belgium, the one hour train trip to Ghent or even the two hour trip to Bruges are potentially worth your while. And of course you can check out first-hand the pros and cons of putting (some of) the trams underground in Brussels itself!

    4. I think Stonehenge is worth the visit – yes it’s a pile of rocks (and I was there in 2012 while works were going on), but I liked the way it was arranged. Even though there were crowds of visitors, virtually none of them were visible in my photos – the barriers kept people well away and meant the view was unobstructed.

      Things in London – Albert and Victoria Museum, Hunterian Museum (Royal College of Surgeons), Sir John Soane’s Museum, Churchill War Rooms, Imperial War Museum

      In 2015 and 2012 we used the London 2 for 1 offer which is available if you buy a paper National Rail travel card (not Oyster card) (which from memory can only be done at major non-tube stations). You need a photo id and you need to print out vouchers for it (which we did before we left home). It saves quite a lot of $ on some of the big attractions (London Eye etc.) I remember finding a good explanation of the system on trip advisor which helped me because it was a bit complicated to understand at first.
      https://www.tripadvisor.com/Travel-g186338-c195600/London:United-Kingdom:2.4.1.Travelcards.Step.By.Step.html

      https://www.daysoutguide.co.uk/2for1-london

      Out of London – Cathedrals – Wells, Salisbury.

    5. Interesting that you are going to England and Belgium because a few months ago I mucked around on the GC Mapper website:

      MEL to AMS = 16532 km
      MEL to LHR = 16904 km

      And there is a high speed train station under AMS airport!

      So maybe some people can land at AMS and then take a high speed train to London? Perhaps that would ease congestion at Heathrow airport and allow Aussies to stretch their legs 30 mins earlier than if they landed at Heathrow.

      A single-seat train service from London to Amsterdam may not run before Easter 2018 though.

      Daniel, maybe you should visit the high speed rail station at AMS airport and see if it would be a good idea to have a high speed rail station under MEL airport.

    6. @Vaughan, I’ll be in touch about catching up for a drink and/or dinner!

      @Thede3jay, yes I’ve been reading about debit/credit cards. Sounds like almost all Mastercards work on TFL, some Visas.

      @Tony, we’re definitely looking at Bruges while in Belgium. We’ll be there for a few days, enough to look around a bit.

      @Michael, the York National Railway Museum is great! But most of us have seen it before, so I don’t think we’ll go back on this trip.

      @Alex, that looks GREAT! I loved Tim’s “Secret Life Of The…” TV shows.

      @Jacob, the Eurostar doesn’t currently run to Amsterdam, but apparently it will start from next year.

      Yes, I remember Amsterdam’s station. As I recall, it’s not just high speed though, they also have other platforms serving suburban/urban trains.

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