Saturday, July 23, 2011

The "Nuts and Bolts" of our holiday

Quite a few people have asked me who I booked various bits of our holiday through etc. so I thought I'd list it all here:


Transfers: Our airport transfers in London were done through Exclusive airports

I am a firm (very firm!) believer in private airport and train station transfers.  I know many people will argue that there are MUCH cheaper ways to get from the airport to your hotel - they are completely correct and if it works for them, cool beans!  BUT we are no good at lugging lots of luggage (and heaven knows we always have lots of luggage!) onto buses, tubes or trains and up and down stairs and escalators.  We get very grumpy.  There is shouting and cursing and sometimes there are tears…. 

Trust me, there is nothing nicer than seeing a man, in a suit, at the door, holding a board with your name on it eager to usher you and your (very heavy) suitcases into a nice clean vehicle and transport you to your hotel with the minimum amount of fuss!  It SOOO works for me! 

We did one trip (from Richmond station back to our London hotel) without a transfer on this holiday and I VOWED, through gritted teeth (and some tears) that we will NEVER, so help me, do it again!!  Next time there will be a man, in a suit, at Richmond station waiting to usher me (and my very heavy luggage) into his vehicle....

Oyster card:  We did all our travelling in London using our oyster cards.  It really is the way to go – you can use the oyster card on tubes, buses and trains – all you do is shove the oyster card against the big yellow disc that is prominently displayed as you enter the tube/climb onto the bus etc.  You can top the oyster card up via ATM-type machines in the tube stations or at many shops.  You can buy your oyster card at the visa application centre when you go to apply for your UK visa.

Hotel: This is a difficult one for me as I’m very torn about the hotel we stayed at.  It was the Luna Simone Hotel in Belgrave Rd.  This hotel gets RAVE reviews on but I’m in 2 minds about it.  There is indeed lots to like about it:  It’s a really small hotel, the location is excellent, there are lovely little restaurants and a good pub very close by, the breakfast is basic (egg, bacon, beans, toast etc) but very good, the hotel is clean, there is free Wi-Fi and a computer available, the No.24 bus stops literally at the door (The number 24 bus is brilliant because it stops at really convenient places eg Victoria station, Westminster Abbey, Trafalgar Square, Leicester square etc), the staff (I believe it’s owner run) are very friendly and helpful.  My problem with the place is that the rooms are really small and very basic (although I must say that the bathrooms, although tiny, are nice and mod) and there is no lift, so lugging your (very heavy) suitcase up the stairs is not a lot of fun.  Having said that, the hotel is very competitively priced for what you are getting.  Would I stay there again?  Probably

London walks: We LOVE the London walks.  You don’t need to pre-book, you just pitch up at the start of the Walk, pay your £8 and off you go.

Tickets for shows:  I bought our tickets for Ghost and Riverdance through Ticketmaster 


Rail Europe:  I bought our Eurostar tickets through Rail Europe (the South African site) BUT be careful, their prices aren’t always the cheapest, so check the Eurostar website as well.  Our Ellipsos Trenhotel tickets were also bought through Rail Europe, but it worked out literally thousands of rands cheaper for my friend in the UK to buy them through their UK website and for me to wire the money to her via a Moneygram. if you’re planning a rail trip, this is your go-to website!


Transfer: (Note: This was a VERY pretty "man in suit"!)

Hotel: Hotel des Grands Hommes The most fantastic hotel - it's got it all... location, decor, amazing staff.  I booked directly through the hotel's website. I had pre-booked our Paris Visite Metro cards, our train tickets to Versailles as well as our Seine Cruise and Illuminations tour through  and I found their service very good.  The envelope with all our bits and pieces was waiting for us, as promised, on arrival at our hotel and the tour we booked through them was excellent.

Paris visite cards: Work exactly the same as the Oyster cards, but come in the form of a little ticket.  Best way to get around the Paris Metro and you can use it on buses and the funicular at Montmartre as well.

Classic Walks Paris: The walking tour we did of the Latin Quarter was done with Classic Walks Paris the guide was a super chap and I would definitely do another of their walks.  They also do the Fat Bike Tours around Paris.


·         Getting there: Take the RER Line C, bound for Versailles Rive Gauche station. Come out of the station, cross the road and turn right, walk to the main road where you’ll clearly see the palace, on top of the hill to the left (alternatively follow the crowds!).  It’s best to aim to leave Paris at about 08:00 as you want to get to Versailles before the tour buses arrive.

·         It is a very good idea to pre-book your tickets to Versailles as the queues to buy tickets on arrival are very long.  If you have purchased your ticket on the internet beforehand you can by-pass the long queue and enter through Entrance A (you still have to queue, but not for as long!) I got our tickets direct from the Palace of Versailles website 

·         There is a little train that runs around the extensive grounds, stopping at the Petit Trianon and the Grand Canal, I would strongly recommend catching this train, or hiring a golf cart, as the grounds are HUGE.  The train wasn’t very well publicised on the day we were there (perhaps because of the rain?) but it’s worth looking for it, it’s parked a little to the back of the palace and you buy the tickets at a small booth nearby before boarding the train.  

Montmartre: So worth a visit, I still have much I want to do in Montmartre!  In my opinion, the best way to see Montmartre is to catch the Metro to Blanche station – come out of the station and you are at the famous windmill of the Moulin Rouge and the Little Train of Montmartre starts right there.  Buy your ticket, hop on the train either do an entire round-trip (which we have yet to do!) or get off at the huge dome of Sacre Coeur, stop to admire the view and then walk the short distance to Place du Teatre and wander the streets around there.  Once you have had your fill of that area (it’s yet to happen to me!) catch the funicular down the hill, turn right and walk to Abbesses metro station, stopping at the “I love you” wall right near the station.  Of course, this is just what I like to do in Montmartre, there are many other options including walking tours with various companies (incl Classic Walks Paris), guided tours and self-guided walking tours:   (this is a great one, even if you just use the map and wander at will)


Transfer:  I wouldn’t recommend the transfer company we used for our inward transfer.  Outbound we used the same driver that our tour company used to transport us to the start of our tour in Granada, who was great, but doesn’t have a website.  Next time I would probably use these people.

Top tours:  I booked our tours in Spain with Top Tours They were fantastic. 

Club La Costa:  We booked our timeshare in Spain through RCI and stayed at Club La Costa.  Prior to our holiday I had seen some rather grim reviews for CLC, so was expecting the worst, but we loved our time at the resort.  Club La Costa on the Costa del Sol is a really big resort, split into various sections, each with their own swimming pools.  There is a little “train” that goes round the resort and you can hop-on and hop-off at various stops.

There are numerous restaurants throughout the resort, ranging from more upmarket to poolside “hamburger and chips” type places.  On site you will find a small supermarket, a little deli and a gift shop.  There is entertainment provided each day of the week for children as well as adults – face-painting, quizz nights, archery lessons…. that kind of stuff.  Entertainment is offered in at least 3 or 4 of the restaurants each night – while we were there, there was a show with music from the 80s, a Latin American dancing exhibition, a karaoke night, another musical show of some sort, the Paella evening and flamenco show that we went to etc etc. 

The resort offers a full programme of excursions to various places – you can read about the excursions on offer here  There is also a shuttle bus to Fuengirola offered twice a week, another to Marbella and one to Puerto Banus, all very reasonably priced.  Free wi-fi is offered in the reception lounge as well as in some of the restaurants.

The unit we stayed in was lovely, not over the top fancy, but perfect for us.  We had 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, an open-plan lounge/dining area and a lovely big, private verandah, the kitchen was small, but had the basics there was a washing machine in our unit which was wonderful after 9 days without any laundry facilities.  Our unit was lovely and private, I think some of the units near the pools would have a problem with passers-by being able to see in.  Dad’s unit was also very nice, he had an air con, which we didn’t, but he only had one bathroom.

I really enjoyed our stay at CLC and would love to go back sometime.


Transfers:  Tour Dublin

Tour Dublin:  We did our private tour of Dublin with Kieran from Tour Dublin.  He was absolutely wonderful – friendly, knowledgeable and efficient.  He tailor-made our tour to our exact specifications… I’d highly recommend him to anyone wanting to tour Dublin or surrounds. 

Irish Highlights: Our tour of Ireland was with Trafalgar Tours  We’re great fans of Trafalgar!  


Transfers: Arabian Adventures - Booked by travel agent

Hotel: Hotel Al Manzil  This was a fantastic hotel, right next to the Dubai Mall.  The staff were the most friendly I have ever come across.  Highly recommended.

Desert Safari:  Orient tours  I booked through Viator

Half-day tour of Dubai:  Orient tours I booked through Viator

Ski Dubai:  I would strongly suggest pre-booking ski-lessons at this website.  You need to be there one hour before the lesson.

Taxis:  We got around Dubai by taxi – they are very plentiful and not too badly priced.  There is a metro, but the nearest stop to our hotel was at an awkward place, that would have involved walking in the heat, so we skipped the metro this time.

No comments: