Thursday, October 22, 2015

London-on-a-Dime (Restaurants)

This is my second post on how to save money when visiting London. The first post was on free tours and this one is on food.

The quality of English cuisine has been a running joke for decades, but the Brits are rapidly overcoming their reputation for bad food because everything we ate was delicious (although expensive). Even though we are complete tightwads, we insist on one hot meal a day when we travel. So we eat very light breakfasts and suppers to make up for our "extravagant" lunches.

We spent one to two pounds a day ($1.50 to $3) for breakfast since our rented room had a hot pot for tea or instant coffee. Tea bags and sugar were provided so we usually had a hot drink, a large muffin and a banana in the morning (food which we purchased the night before). We ate out for lunch (suggestions below) and then had a snack supper, which we bought at the supermarket. Every grocery store (and some pharmacies) had a "meal deal" for $3 pounds ($4.50). It included a scrumptious sandwich, a drink and a bag of chips. In some cases we could switch the chips for an apple or a candy bar.

Now for the other meals... Since the food was delicious in every restaurant that we tried, we did not regret skimping on the other meals. Our favorite eateries were:

1) "The Crypt" (basement of St. Martin in the Fields Church off Trafalgar Square). The main dish there was nine pounds ($15) and was large. We probably could have split it and saved room for their fabulous fruit crumble with custard topping (which was also large enough to split). Free water.

2) Nando's - a restaurant chain all over the city that specializes in spicy chicken. Their meals were about 10 pounds ($15) and were delicious and filling. You could choose your preferred side dish and also the level of spiciness of your meat. Soft drinks were included.

3) Victoria and Albert Museum restaurant. This cafeteria was a total surprise because it was so elegant and chic. We ate egg plant moussaka and fresh sourdough bread for 9 pounds each. The place was gorgeous and jammed. We loved it! Bottled water only.

4) Byron Hamburgers - Most restaurants served chicken dishes and when we got a hankering for red meat, we tried this diner that boasted a "proper hamburger." We loved our juicy burgers with blue cheese melted on top. Each burger was 8 pounds ($12) and a side of onion rings was about $5. Free water.

5) On our very last day in London we discovered a chain called E.A.T. It was the first place we found with inexpensive hot food. It was a cold, drizzly day so it was nice to get chicken pot pie for 5 pounds each.

6) Lastly, there are a lot of places to have high tea, most of which are costly. I was happy to find a French bakery (Patisserie Valerie, #50 on Charing Cross Road) that served "tea for two" all day. It cost around $20 per person (less than most places), and was perfectly delightful.

We spent around $20 to $25 each day (per person) for meals. This is where most of our money went and that was okay. We enjoyed every bite.

Friday, October 16, 2015

D. E. Stevenson Books on Kindle

Dorothy Emily Stevenson (1892-1973) was a Scottish writer of light novels. She is a cut above the rest because of her beautiful writing and non-superficial characters. She is probably most famous for her Miss Buncle books, but I've also heard good reviews of her Mrs. Tim series.

Most of her books are out of print, but happily many are becoming available for e-readers. Although they are out my penny-pinching price range ($10), I was happy to see that one of her trilogies is available for less. Each book is $4: Vittoria CottageMusic in the Hills, and Shoulder the Sky 

Even better, those with Kindle Unlimited can read these for free.

Although these don't have "classic" Stevenson status, they would be a good introduction to her writing. I have not read the first two, but plan to give them to myself for Christmas.

(Shoulder the Sky is reviewed here and Miss Buncle's Book here.)

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

WWII Book Giveaway

For the next few weeks I'll be giving away some of my World War II books. The first one is The Righteous: The Unsung Heroes of the Holocaust by Martin Gilbert, which is about Gentiles who helped Jews during the war. It's a fascinating book. (My review is here). To enter please leave a comment on the Worthwhile Books facebook page.

Contest ends Wednesday, Oct 21st.

U.S. addresses only.

Good luck!

Thursday, October 8, 2015

London-on-a-Dime (Free Tours)

Way back in the '70s, my father owned a dog-eared copy of Europe on $5 a Day. He loved planning frugal trips for his family of six and Mom aided and abetted him by packing peanut butter and Tang in her purse to provide cheap meals. We stayed in dingy hostels, never bought souvenirs, and NEVER took any form of transportation if walking was feasible.

When my husband and I traveled to England recently for our 30th anniversary, my dad would have been proud. We pinched pennies so hard  you could practically hear them scream. But we had so much fun that I decided to devote a few posts to how we did it in case someone else needs suggestions.

On our first day in London, we took the free Sandeman's Tour. It was a three hour walking tour of Westminster (half of it in the rain), but it showed us how easy it was to walk around the city. Check the website for meeting times and places. My travel book said our tour was at 3 p.m., but when I checked online it was at 2.

Almost all museums in London are free, but did you know that many of the museums offer free tours? The museums are so loaded with artifacts that you don't know where to start, so a guided tour, focusing on a specific exhibit, was extremely helpful. Our favorite free tour (at the Victoria and Albert Museum) lasted just over an hour and took us through the Medieval and Renaissance rooms. The guide was terrific. We also took a half hour free tour at the British Museum on Assyrian history. Later we returned to that same museum armed with a pdf we had downloaded from the internet, "The Bible and the British Museum." This self-guided tour took us through the Assyrian and Persian rooms, pointing out archeological finds that confirmed biblical accounts. Unfortunately the second half was hard to follow since some of the exhibits had been moved and we couldn't follow the map. Still, it was great to see biblical history verified.

Lastly, we took a train to Oxford to do the C.S. Lewis tour. We felt deflated when we discovered it was only on Wednesdays. BUT all was not lost. I was in Blackwell's bookstore (where the tour originates) and looked down and saw an Oxford tour booklet for 3 pounds (about 5 dollars). The subtitle said "Self-guided Walking Tour" so I snatched it up and Dan and I wandered the streets of Oxford at our leisure, stopping in at restaurants and book shops as we followed the map around the city. Lovely! (The tours from Blackwells normally cost 8 pounds (about $12 each).

No trip to Oxford would be complete without a trip to the Eagle and Child Pub where the Inklings met weekly. This stop was not on our walking tour, so we sauntered across town to enjoy a glass of non-alcoholic ginger beer and to browse in a nearby book store.

Incidentally, we took one very expensive tour to Canterbury Cathedral, but these free ones are what we'll remember the longest.

(Other posts: dining and book shopping.)