Throughout the year, Rail Europe coordinates and hosts varied group press trips in order to give editors first hand exposure to the amazing array of products we offer. Most recently, I had the opportunity to act as a representative of Rail Europe on one of these 5-day journeys and thought you might like to hear about our itinerary and trip highlights. I’ve included recommendations to help you plan your next European adventure.
The focus for our trip was the high-speed Eurostar train, which we took from London to Paris. This allowed us to showcase the art, architecture, and culinary delights of these two world-renowned cities.
A great time is near…
Our great rail experience started early with Rail Europe providing everyone in the group Heathrow Express e-tickets for airport transfer to London’s downtown Paddington Station, and a Visitor Oyster card to explore the city.
Our journey began in London, with each of us arriving individually and having a little free time to settle in.
..thanks to the Heathrow Express
I arrived at Heathrow airport, and completing the immigration/customs formality, which was pretty quick, made my way to the Heathrow Express platform. The signage leading to the platform was clear and easy to follow.
At the platform, I couldn’t believe how clean and orderly everything was. Overhead, computerized boards not only showed the schedule of the next train, but a countdown of its arrival time. The train itself is very modern and spacious. I had my Heathrow Express e-ticket printout ready for the train personnel who simply scanned it, and that was it! (I had printed the ticket that was emailed to me – easy and convenient!).
Fifteen minutes and one smooth train ride later, I was in Paddington station. It’s a huge bright and airy station with majestic arch ceilings, food stalls, foreign exchange counters and shops. It’s a very bustling place.
From here, a quick taxi ride brought me to the One Aldwych hotel. This is a luxury 5-star hotel located in the heart of London, and a member of The Leading Hotels of the World. The staff was warm, welcoming, and helpful throughout the 2 nights I stayed here (with the rest of the group). I had a nice size room with a view of the street.
Our group gathered in the hotel lobby where we were met by the hotel PR Director, Howard Romboug, who welcomed and greeted the editors. After we had all introduced ourselves, we were off to the Victoria and Albert Museum, a fairly short taxi ride away.
Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) – English Finery Through History
I couldn’t have imagined how much I’d enjoy the Victoria and Albert Museum. It’s the world’s largest museum of decorative arts and design with over 4.5 million objects, and named after Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.
Our Eurostar representative, Lucy Drake, met us at the museum. After the welcomes and greetings, we headed to V&A cafe for a light lunch. Our special “dessert” was a guided tour of the Fashion Collection Exhibit, which consists mostly of fashionable, couture clothes made for special occasions. I thought the dresses were simply gorgeous not only for the bright beautiful fabrics, patterns, and the intricacy of the delicate handwork, but also in terms of their overall elegance. Pictured below is one of my favorites – it’s a miniature silk jersey evening dress. This museum is not to be missed!
Harrods & Hyde Park
After the museum we had free time to enjoy. What better way to spend free time than in an expensive, luxurious, one-of-a-kind landmark department store? Harrods was close by, about a 10-15 minute walk from the museum. It’s huge, comprised of 7 floors and 4.5 acres. Yet each individual store within it is beautifully designed and has its own style and uniqueness.
From Harrods, I walked to Hyde Park. It’s one of the Royal Parks of London, and one of its largest. The park is famous for the Serpentine Lake, Speaker’s Corner (an area for open-air public speaking, debate and discussion), and Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain. To be in this natural setting with its manicured gardens, was very relaxing.
Using The Visitor Oyster card
Next, it was time to head back to the hotel where the group was meeting for cocktails and dinner. I had done a lot of walking, so it was also the first time (of many) I used my Visitor Oyster card. It’s an electronic pay-as-you-go travel smart card for London that’s good on almost all of the city’s public transportation including the Tube. And it always gives you the cheapest fare for your trip. I highly recommend it, as it’s extremely easy to use; just scan it at the entrance to the Tube (subway) line that you intend to take and you’re on your way. But remember it’s just as important to scan the card when exiting the tube station. I mostly used the speedy Underground. The Visitor Oyster card is also valid on the double-decker city buses, particularly good for getting a feel for the city. And here’s the bonus: once you reach the price of a day travel card, no further credit will be deducted from your card for the rest of the day, regardless of how many times the card is used that day. Note that the Visitor Oyster card is not valid for the Heathrow Express.
To make my way back to the hotel, I took the Piccadilly Line to the Covent Garden stop, as it was closest. I was pleasantly surprised to see that it’s a vibrant busy square with lots of people around, and there’s a very positive energy. The square is filled with shops, and has markets, restaurants, pubs, and street performers. It’s such a lovely place, bustling place. I loved it!
The Perfect End To The Perfect Day
Back at the hotel, our group met in the hotel lobby for welcome cocktails, hosted by the hotel and Polly Crossman of Mango PR who represents the hotel. Then the press group, Lucy & I, headed to the Hotel’s Indigo Restaurant for a sumptuous three course dinner with a wine selection.
After dinner, I was more than ready to call it a day!
Other Attractions & Activities
On the second day, after breakfast, our group had a leisurely walk to the London Waterloo Station to take the Tube (using the Visitor Oyster card) to Canada Water Station.
Once at Canada Water station, we took a taxi to meet our tour guide. For the first part of the day, our group had a scheduled privately guided bike tour with Artouride, who specializes in art & design cycle tours in London. Our guide showed us the architecture and design highlights, while we rode along the Thames River. This is definitely a great activity for adventurists! And, if you’re by Trinity Buoy Wharf, take a break at the charming Bow Creek Cafe. It’s a little cafe by the water, serving delicious baguettes, soups and coffee at very reasonable prices.
After the bike tour, the rest of the day was free time. Some of us took a taxi back to the hotel. I rested for a while in my room and called room service for some proper English tea. Then I was ready for another round of sightseeing!
For the second time that day, I walked to the London Waterloo station, this time taking the Tube to London Bridge for a nice a view of the Tower Bridge. I walked by the quay a bit, the strip that leads from the London Bridge to the Tower Bridge. A little further down I bought my souvenirs – London’s red Post Office Box and a red Telephone Booth.
From London Bridge, I took the tube to Green Park station and walked through Green Park to Buckingham Palace. Truly a sight to be seen.
A London Hotspot: Dinner As Art
Back at the hotel that evening, our group met and took taxis to one of London’s most stylish and design oriented restaurants – Sketch. This chic restaurant has an artistic and fun decor, a pleasant staff, and good food described as “New French”. (BTW: don’t miss out on seeing the loos!). Its traditional looking 18th century exterior holds many surprises inside.
Eurostar Train to Paris – Traveling Up To 186 mph!
Day three. Time to say goodbye to London and to travel to the city known to be fashionable, chic, and rich for its art collections – Paris. And what better way to get there than by Eurostar, the high speed train that travels through the Channel Tunnel (aka The Chunnel).
We left from London’s St Pancras Station, a centrally located, very modern and sophisticated train station. After a quick check-in and security check, we toured Eurostar’s Business Lounge area before boarding our Eurostar train for Paris. We traveled in Business Premier which includes a meal, and as ours was a morning departure, were served breakfast on board. It’s such a relaxing and smooth train ride that you don’t perceive the speed at which you’re traveling, which is up to 186 mph! And before we knew it, we were in Paris.
Paris! Stay tuned for my next blog entry on this amazing city.
Have you been to London and used the Heathrow Express or the Visitor Oyster card? How do you get around in London? What advice would you give a fellow traveler?