Guoman Tower Hotel - London England TravelogueFriday morning I again woke at 7:30am to be ready for the 8am walk with Peter. We had a relaxing breakfast and I caught up on email and notes on my laptop. Soon it was time for me to take the train into London!
Peter drove me in to the St. Albans station and I got tickets not only for my train ride into London but also for the ride on Monday from London into Gatwick Airport. That way I was prepared for both things. They had an automated machine but I waited in line to talk with a human to make sure I got the right tickets. The one I needed for today was a First Capital Connect train, to London Bridge.
Once I had the tickets, I had to go through a gate. The gate has you put the ticket into the front of the machine, then it pops out the top and the gate opens. You retrieve your ticket and take it with you. Then I headed out onto the track.
The way the trains work here, they keep coming by every few minutes without any signs on the trains to indicate where they are going. You have to decipher the electronic signs hanging up to know which train to get on. They only stop for 2-3 minutes before they get going again. So, to me, this was a bit stressful. A train came in which seemed to be at the right time, so I asked a nearby man if this was the train to London Bridge. He said it was, so I got on it.
Here's a layout of how the trains work for First Capital Connect. Note that many different train companies use the same lines, so half of my challenge was making sure I even got on the right train company's train :) My aim was to get on at St. Albans, on the top left, and take it down to London Bridge, on the bottom right.
Peter had explained to me that the train would go along for a while, then cross the Thames river, them make a sharp left hand turn, and then I'd get off at London Bridge. So the train did cross the Thames and then make a sharp left turn. I felt comfortable. However the next station was Elephant and Castle. Hmmmm. At the next stop there was no label at all so I asked the only other woman in my car if this station was London Bridge. She said the train didn't stop at London Bridge and that I should get out here! The door wasn't open so she showed me how to hit a button to open the door, and out I went. It turns out I was at Loughborough Junction.
Shoot. A really long flight of stairs down to the street level, no lift (elevator) in sight, and I had two very heavy bags. So I carefully lowered them step by step down to the bottom. There was no station here at all, in a sense of someone to talk to. It simply dumped you onto the streets. I asked a street worker if there was a taxi stand nearby and he said no. So I asked what direction the Tower of London was in. I figured I'd start walking and a taxi would pass me eventually. He pointed me, and I was off.
It was a hot day, and I trudged and trudged. An hour later, no taxi at all had passed me, I was exhausted, and Peter hadn't answered my text messages. I didn't have a data plan for my phone - apparently a big mistake. If I had one I could have realized how far I had to go, and then called a taxi myself by looking up a number. On the map below, after an hour I'd only gotten as far as Camberwell Green, shown with the tree symbol about 1/5th of the way along my trek from A to B.
So at this point I called Bob at home to ask him to give me a hand. He figured out where I had to go so at least I could keep hiking forward. Then I tracked down the hotel information and called them. They told me to give up on walking and also that they couldn't call a taxi for me. They would have been charged for it. So they suggested I take a bus. I asked for the taxi phone number so I could call them myself and they insisted a bus was the best way. I did indeed see a bus stop. I said the busses all looked full, and I had heavy luggage, but they said I'd be fine.
OK so issue #1, I didn't have coins. The bus ticket machines required coins. So I had to drag my bags into a tiny pet shop, wiggling my way down the aisles, and buy a cat toy so I could get change. The staff was grumpy about simply handing out change when others asked so I decided not to try asking. OK I now had some coins. I then went to the bus ticket machines. They didn't like my coins. I tried for a while at one machine then walked down to another station and machine. Finally it took my coins and I had a ticket.
Now I waited for the #42 bus - which was indeed full. So I had to stand with my heavy bags as it started and stopped down the road. It was fairly hot in there. This went on for a full hour as the bus slowly inched its way towards the hotel. I definitely would have preferred the taxi :) Finally I got to the hotel. Thank Goodness Ian, my Pagan editor, was there literally right as I came down the stairs of the bus, and I gave him a gigantic hug. I was so happy to see a friendly face!!
Ian being there at the bus stop was exceptionally a good thing because there was a huge flight of stairs down from the Tower Bridge to the hotel. So I'm not sure I would have made it down those with my two heavy bags at that point. He was an enormous help.
Check in at the hotel was incredibly smooth. No line at all, they got me my room card, and up I went. The room was *gorgeous*!! A perfect view of the Tower Bridge, they had UK and American power outlets! It was lovely. I took a quick shower and then headed downstairs.
Ian was there with Joanna, my hotel contact. We had drinks out on the patio overlooking the bridge and talked about the hotel. It was lovely. I finally began to feel relaxed and content.
I was too late to have an afternoon tea by this point, but Ian and I headed out on the Tube to get to Charing Cross. We were going to review the Guoman hotel out there as part of the weekend. I bought a ticket at the human counter and then just like with the trains I put my ticket into the gate machine and retrieved the ticket as the gates opened to go through. We took the tube (subway) over to Charing Cross, just a few stops, then headed up the busy bar-laden street to get to the hotel. It was just after work hours and all the locals were relaxing on a lovely Friday afternoon.
The Guoman hotel here was quite elegant - candles lined the hallway and soft music played. The lounge was lovely and elegant, and the dinner service was great. I had herring which was chock-full of bones :). That was to be a theme for my trip. I enjoyed the flavor but not the picking out of bones. Ian was nice enough to finish mine for me and said it was delicious. Then the main course which was also great. The view out the window was of the streets of London which was certainly authentic for the area but I have to say it wasn't nearly as fantastic as being right on the river. We definitely chose the more perfect hotel for our get-together.
Then Ian and I took the Tube back to the Tower Hotel, he headed off to his B&B, and I went to sleep!
Photos of the train ride, Guoman Tower Hotel, and Guoman Charing Cross Hotel
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