Food, Coffee, and People

Coffee lovers: relax. Tea may be the morning cocktail of choice for many, but there are plenty of bean havens throughout the land. Also, most hotels offer both at breakfast, but if not, just ask. British and Irish hospitality is superb, and it's almost a guarantee that piping hot coffee will be served on request.

Another popular misconception is about the food. In Britain, it's true that some recipes are simple, maybe even a little on the plain side, but that's not true for the entire gamut of dishes served up, especially in larger cities. As in many other large cities, you'll find a host of restaurants specializing in international cuisine. Lebanese, Ethiopian, Indonesian, Italian, French, Japanese, Chinese, Thai, and the official EuroVacations favorite, Indian, is available all over London, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Manchester, and Dublin, but don't miss an opportunity for fish-n-chips, Scotch eggs, Shepherd's Pie, Kilted Salmon, wild mushrooms, boxty, blackberry torte, or crumpets with clotted cream.

Get ready to start talkin'. When the offices close, the taps get greased and everyone becomes an old friend. In the land of Joyce and Shakespeare, two of literatures most garrulous scribes, English was one of the tools used to unify an empire that once covered more than 40% of the world. Although not ancestrally native to most people outside England (and not native to them, either, if you go back far enough), the language is used by nearly everyone and remains one of the unifying forces at work in what can be a tense part of the world. Conversations will start up at the drop of a derby, just be sure to keep religion and politics at the curb.

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European England0and0Ireland0Travel0Guide

· First Things First
· Where to Stay
· Getting Around
· At Your Hotel
· Around Great Britain and Ireland
· Food, Coffee, and People
· Top Ten
· If You Have Time

First Things First

The land of kings and knights, Shakespeare and Sherlock Holmes, moors and manor houses, Britain is one of those places that have fascinated Western minds for hundreds of years. Across the Irish Sea, from the Blarney Stone to the Book of Kells, the Emerald Isle if Ireland never fails to bewitch even the most seasoned traveler.

The unit of currency in Britain is the pound sterling (£). Ireland is a member of the Eurozone, the group of countries that uses the Euro currency (€). Prices below are expressed in U.S. dollars for convenience; check the rate of exchange prior to arrival in Europe. You shouldn't have any trouble communicating, but remember the hard and fast vocabulary differences (brolly, bobby, banger, etc.) in Britain, and don't be ashamed to ask folks in Ireland to slow it down a bit. They'll smile, but they probably won't slow it down.

Where to Stay

Here's the part of the world that introduced us to crisp linens, huge breakfasts, B&Bs, castle stays, and classic hospitality the world over. In the countryside you'd be hard pressed to find a place that wasn't at the very least memorable. In larger cities such as London, Manchester, and Dublin, for example, you will always have to make hotel reservations in advance. This is especially ture duribg peak travel periods (summer months and winter holidays).

If you're traveling around Britain and Ireland, staying near a rail station is a good idea, since you'll have access to a tourist office, ATMs, and other services t'boot.

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Getting to Your Hotel

...From London Heathrow Airport
Getting downtown from the world's busiest airport is easier than you might think. Most flights from the United States arrive in Terminal 3; the rest in Terminal 4. The best route is the Heathrow Express non-stop rail service between the airport and Paddington Station. It's a 15-minute ride and leaves every 15 minutes from all terminals. Fares are about $16.

From 6 a.m. to midnight, you may use the Underground--the Circle Line, which connects to the District Line to downtown London. This will set you back a little more than $6. At the tourist information center in the terminal, you may ask about bus service between Heathrow and the many bus stations downtown. Of course there are taxis--about $70 for a black cab each way, or roughly $40 for a mini-cab.

...From London Gatwick Airport
From the South Terminal, take the convenient, speedy Gatwick Express directly to Victoria Station. This is the most popular way to get from the airport to downtown, takes about 30 minutes, and costs about $18. If you arrive at the North Terminal, take the free shuttle to the South Terminal to connect to Gatwick Express.

If you don't have too much luggage and you can spare the time, save a few bucks by taking the regular British Rail service. The trip takes only a few minutes longer and costs a few pounds less. You may also try the Thameslink, regular rail service to Blackfriars, Farringdon, and Kingscross stations in central London. Check the BritRail office in the terminal for more information on both services.

And the taxis... about $70 for a black cab each way, or roughly $40 for a mini-cab.

...From London's Waterloo, Liverpool, Victoria, Kings Cross, Paddington, or other rail stations
Rail stations of London are all served by the London Underground. Pick up an Underground map at the information center or tourist center once you arrive.

...From Dublin International Airport
Buses run at most sane hours of the day between the airport and the city center bus station. From there you can board either a double-decke bus to all points of the city. Schedule information and route maps are located at the tourist information booth right in the bus station. The fares are just a few euros, depending on where you're going. First-come, first-serve taxis line up outside most terminals for a more private, but $27-dollar fare into town.

...From Dublin's Heuston, Connoly, and Pearse Stations
DART, Dublin's rapid transit system, serves all three of Dublin's main train stations. DART uses very economical tickets available in one-trip, one-day, or four-day packets.

...From Edinburgh Airport and Waverly Station
Double-decker Airlink buses take you to the city center from the airport. They depart every 20 minutes for as little as $6, while a taxi could cost upwards of $20 per ride. Once in town, pick up an Edinburgh Freedom Ticket, allowing one day of unlimited travel on the city's bus routes for less than $4.

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At Your Hotel

Free city maps and other information can usually be obtained in hotel lobbies or from the front desk.
Check in, freshen up, and, with your bags unpacked, your room key in your pocket, and ready to lose a few pounds, pence, euros, and cents, Britain and Ireland are yours!

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One of the easiest ways to see as much of Britain as possible is with a rental car or BritRail pass. And though it would have made former monarchs bloody mad, the Channel Tunnel now provides an easy link between Britain and France and the rest of Continental Europe. Britain is the perfect place to begin your vacation in Europe, as well as a fabulous destination all by itself. In Ireland, more and more people are taking "self-drive" tours, renting a car and heading out to the open (but narrow, windy, thrilling) road to see the lush countryside of the Emerald Isle.

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Top Ten:

Tours: It's hard to say which will be the best, but there are fantastic half-day walking tours and, if you don't mind feeling like a tourist, double-decker bus tours of London. It's a great way to get oriented and plan your days ahead. Walking tours are about $7 per person; bus tours vary but start at about $14.

British Museum: It's been said that the inspiration behind Britain's centuries-long colonization of lands all over the world was a quest to fill London's museums. It's hard not to consider this among the spoils from the farthest reaches of the globe in the museum's millions of artifacts and more than 2 miles of galleries. The lines to get in look a little scary sometimes, but they move. Admission is free; there is a small charge for certain exhibits.

Victoria and Albert Museum: Of all the treasures stored at the V&A, some of the most interesting are located in the Fakes and Forgeries gallery--a bona fide collection of counterfeits. Take time to explore the endless other galleries. A small donation is requested for entrance.

London Eye: The ultimate Ferris wheel is comparatively new to the city and is already quite popular. You may make reservations in advance for a pod "flight" and get a 360 view of the whole kit-n-caboodle. Book online in advance to save a few pounds, or buy a ticket on site (you may not be able to get a ticket for the exact day you wish, though). It costs about $16.

Buckingham Palace: Unless you have Windsor someplace in your string of last names, forget hanging out in the royal residence in a smoking jacket with your elbow on the mantle. But informative tours are available. Also check out the Changing of the Guard at 11 a.m. Pack breakfast and get there before 10 for a good view.

Parliament and Big Ben: The House of Lords and the House of Commons, along with scattered other halls and galleries, make up the Palace of Westminster, otherwise known as Parliament. The lines are longest in the afternoon, as throngs gather to witness Question Time (you've probably caught this occasionally on C-SPAN). As for Big Ben (which is actually just the bell, not the whole tower), views and postcard-perfect pictures are available from the opposite side of the Thames. Don't forget to listen for the chimes.

Cabinet War Rooms: Churchill and his staff conducted operations from here during World War II. You'll be amazed at what was accomplished with what seems today like so few resources. Reserve an afternoon, at least, for this; if you happen to move through quickly, the Cenotaph, 10 Downing Street, and Westminster Cathedral (not Abbey) are nearby. Admission to the war rooms is about $7.

Tower of London and the Tower Bridge: Come to see the royal armory, royal jewels, or just admit that you're hoping to catch a glimpse of Anne Boleyn or the little princes. Nearby is the suicide-proof Tower Bridge, with new exhibits in each tower house at either end. Admission is about $11 to the Tower of London and $7 to the bridge exhibits.

Westminster Abbey: Edward the Confessor rebuilt this 8th-century chapel, which has since become a repository of many of England's most famous citizens and a treasure trove of English history. Admission is free and photography is allowed on Wednesday evenings (check for exact times), otherwise admission is about $6 and shutter snapping is forbidden. (See our "In the Know" tip below.)

Trafalgar Square: Get there, then decide what to do... the National Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery, and the church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields (anyone hear a choir?) are all off the square. Climbing up on Admiral Nelson's lions to get your picture taken is technically illegal but popular all the same.

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If You Have Time:

Harrods: Once again, if you don't have a roman numeral after your first name, you can forget buying a lot here, it's very expensive. But it's a great place to browse and get some nosh material to go; eating in the store is a no-no. If you're in London around Christmas time, stopping here to admire the holiday displays is a must.

Kensington Palace: The former "official" residence of Prince Charles and Princess Diana, the palace is still open to the public. Former state apartments and the Court Dress Collection are included in a tour, which leaves four times an hour and costs about $6.

Mayfair: There's a lot here: Marble Arch, Grosvenor Square, Piccadilly Circus, Oxford Street, Bond Street, the Shepherd's Market, and Berkeley Square.

Westminster Abbey: Make sure you save time for Edward's Chapel, the site of the coronation of English monarchs. The coronation chair has been marred by graffiti artists over the past few decades. Although its defacing is unfortunate, take a peek at the chair and its 20th-century "artwork" so you can have a little chuckle when it's finally time for Charles to be crowned on it.

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