Best Things to Do in London

by Beth Whitman (July 31st, 2015)

Big BenIn June, Jon and I took off for London to experience as much of the city as we could in about eight days. That seems like a long time to be in a city, right? But there was so much to do, that we still had things on our list that went unexperienced. (Bwaaaaa – a reason to return!)

We started our planning by buying the DK Eyewitness Guide to London. I love these guides because they are photographically-rich and that helps me decide what I want to see (and likely why there were so many things on our wish list for London).

For the first part of the trip, we worked with our friends at Expedia who arranged our hotel stay with an Expedia +VIP Access property. (By the way, +VIP Access gets you some nice little perks such as late checkout and a welcome drink). We stayed at the Mondrian London which sits on the Thames River, though you don’t know that when you first enter the lobby. It isn’t until you walk through the building to the restaurants and bar that you realize the hotel is located on the waterfront with beautiful views and with restaurants and popular sights very close by.

Stonehenge

For our first day, we chose to take a day trip out to Bath and Stonehenge with Premium Tours. Jon and I sat in the upper portion of a double-decker bus and had amazing views of the countryside as we made our way to Stonehenge.

Boy, there’s nothing like going to a place that has loomed large in your imagination for years, and then experiencing it firsthand. No, we weren’t there for sunrise or sunset and no, this wasn’t a private tour. But that didn’t take away from the magical experience we had of walking around these stones.

Roman Baths

From Stonehenge, we drove onward to the village of Bath, where the preserved Roman Baths are located. Nope, we didn’t jump in. But we had plenty of time to tour both the Baths as well as the town itself (adorable!).

Back in London, we took the Highlights of London Walking Tour with City Wonders Limited. With an awesome (and funny) guide, we walked the city for a couple of hours and got schooled on the highlights.

Downing Street

I love to walk a city on my own, but there were lots of little things that were pointed out to us that I would have definitely missed if I didn’t have a knowledgeable guide. Sights like Downing Street, which sits pretty unceremoniously off a busy street. In other words, this was nothing like 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

High Tea St.Ermins

At the end of the tour, we had English tea at St. Ermin’s Hotel. It was the highlight of the tour, for sure, but not just because of the treats and delicious tea. It was a chance for us to sit down with our guide and ask all sorts of questions about London and what it’s like to live in the city.

Paul A Young Chocolates

On Day 3, we took a Chocolate Walking Tour with Celebrity Tours. Oh my gosh. There was so much chocolate (no complaints!). During the 2.5 hour tour, we sampled chocolates from about a half dozen of London’s best chocolate shops including at least two samples at each stop. (Side note – at some point, you just have to stop sampling and start putting those little chocolates away in a bag for later consumption.)

Because it was a walking tour and because we had another excellent guide, we got to learn a lot more about the city and visit areas that weren’t included on the Highlights tour. We stopped at famed department store Fortnum & Mason and walked through a number of arcades (mini malls with specialty shops–including more chocolate).

My favorite was Paul A. Young Chocolates. Everything looked delish but my favorite was Sea Salted Caramel. (Another side note – my mouth is watering just thinking about these.)

London Shard

Later in the week, we took the Hop-on Hop-off bus with City Sightseeing. Buses stopped at specific locations every 10 – 20 minutes so we were able to jump on, go visit a sight (such as The Shard, above, or Harrods) and then get back on to continue out guided sightseeing tour.

Beth Jon Hop on Hop off Bus

I’ve become hooked on hop-on hop-off buses and if there’s one thing you do in London, do this. The bus travels around the city enough that it gives you a great overview and you’re able to see a lot of sights if you choose to jump off at the many stops. On a nice day, sit on the upper deck!

So…we saw a lot. Ate a lot. Walked a lot. But I left London feeling like I could return in a heartbeat and spend another eight (or 16!) days there.

Be Bold,

Beth

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Ahnu Serena Sandal ~ WanderGear Wednesday

by Beth Whitman (July 29th, 2015)

Ahnu Serena sandalsSummer has been glorious in Seattle and, as a result, there have been lots of opportunities for me to wear my Ahnu Serena sandals.

Adorable, right?

But not only are these great to have in Seattle’s warm weather, they are lightweight and small enough to pack away for any warm weather destination.

With travel to Bali and Java coming up in September and Hawaii in December, it looks like I’ll have many more chances to wear these throughout this year. YAY!

So…besides their total cuteness, what makes me love these:

  • With a soft leather upper, I was able to slip them on and, from Day One, never got any blisters.
  • The back has some elastic in it which makes them easy to slip on (the button is simply for show).
  • The footbed is a soft microsuede and it’s contoured to provide comfort and support for my arches. Though I don’t generally have problems with my arches, I appreciate this as it makes it easier to spend all day in them.
  • While they do get smashed up a bit in my luggage, they spring back to life easily enough and don’t look any worse for wear once they’re on my feet.
  • They are really lighweight – perfect for packing in my carry-on luggage.

These look great with a pair of shorts, pants or a dress so they help limit the number of shoes I have to pack.

Also, there’s pretty stitching on both the leather uppers and the footbed.

The Ahnu Serenas come in a wide range of colors including Eggplant (pictured), Black, Brick Dust, Agave Green, Chocolate Chip and Colony Blue.

Available on Amazon for a variety of prices depending on color.

Be Bold,

Beth

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Disclosure: Ahnu provided these sandals to me for review. Regardless, everything I have said in the post reflects my honest opinions.

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Tips for Opting Out at the Airport

by Beth Whitman (July 28th, 2015)

Body ScannerWith the exception of two times, I opt out of going through the millimeter wave scanners at airports in the U.S. Those two times were both when I was at an airport for a layover and had to leave the terminal and re-enter but had a tight connection and didn’t feel like I had time to opt out.

It’s a personal choice I make based on my doubts about whether these scanners are safe. I accept the sometimes unpleasant consequences as a result, which is usually nothing more than an aggressive pat down by a cranky TSA agent–but even that doesn’t happen very often.

A friend who knows my preference for opting out recently asked me for tips for opting out. That got me to thinking about how I handle these situations.

Related posts: ABC’s of TSA Pre✓has  and ABC’s of Global Entry

First, I’ll admit up front that it can be an unpleasant experience to be patted down by a TSA agent. Especially when it’s in front of everyone at the airport. But I think it is equally as unpleasant for the TSA agent. So I try to have some compassion. I try.

1) As nicely as I can, I let the TSA agent, the one who is ushering people through the millimeter wave scanner, know that I’m opting out. At that point, he or she yells out, “Female assist.”

I then wait for a female TSA agent to come escort me through a gate, passing the body scanner. During this time, I always keep an eye on my items that have gone through the x-ray machine. I have a slight concern that someone may decide to pick up my laptop but more so I’m concerned about the way items get jammed together after going through the x-ray and how easily my things (specifically my laptop) could get dumped on the floor.

2) I always ask the agent how she’s doing and if she’s having a good day. If it’s early morning I might make small talk about how early she has to come in to work. In other words, I try to break the ice, knowing that she probably wants to do a pat down less than I want one.

When Jon opts out (which is also most of the time), he quips to the agent that he’ll try not to laugh (as if they’re tickling him). Again, nice ice breaker to let them know he’s not being hostile about the circumstances.

Dont Touch My Junk3) The agent will ask if you’d like a private screening. I’ve learned to decline this because it means she will have to find a second available female for the screening and this just takes too long. So I opt for the public screening. Choosing this option makes me hopeful that they won’t be as aggressive about the pat down. In reality, I don’t know if it matters because I’ve had some pretty aggressive female assists even when opting for a public screening.

4) The agent will then describe the process and how she’s going to pat me down, including using the back of her hand (although according the ACLU site, this is no longer required) to touch under my breasts.

She’ll lift up my shirt or ask me to lift it up so she can stick her fingers around the perimeter of my waist to check for… explosives?

5) She’ll also check up and down my legs, up my inner thighs and, if I’ve got an aggressive agent, she’ll remind me who’s in charge by going as high as my groin. This has only happened to me three times but each one was quite memorable (the two most recent times I reported to the ACLU).

6) Once the patdown is complete, she’ll swab her latex gloves and run the sample through a machine to check for explosive(?) residue.

Usually the machine beeps OK and I’m on my way.

On my most recent trip to upstate New York, I had a crazy stupid experience at Sea-Tac. I had TSA Pre✓ so I was able to simply walk through the metal detector. I didn’t have to take off my shoes or remove my laptop or liquids from my carry-on bag.

Easy peasy, no?

No.

As I walked through the metal detector I got randomly selected for additional screening. This meant they wanted me to go through the millimeter wave scanner. So, I opted out.

I went through the regular pat down. But instead of the machine clearing me of explosives, the machine went off and I had to have even further screening, meaning that many of the items in my carry-on bags had to be removed so the TSA agent could check not only my electronics (which I could understand) but also my shoes.

Really? Like the shoe bomber? What about my underwear?

Beth Whitman Opt outMy TSA agent was really nice but I was not a happy camper. What should have been a relatively easy walk through security with TSA Pre✓ turned into a 20-minute ordeal.

Some people have suggested that I just get over my concern about going through the millimeter wave scanner. Suck it up, Beth. After all, these are used to protect us all.

But I have the ability to opt out. So why would I go through a machine that is known to cause DNA damage, even if the alternative is the possibility of an unpleasant pat down?

Yes, the technology in these machines has been found to cause DNA damage.

Just think of that next time you’re at the airport. And have some more compassion for those TSA agents because those poor folks are exposed to those damaging scans throughout their work day.

P.S. – If you’re traveling internationally, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll be given the chance to opt out in other countries. I tried it in Australia and they all but laughed at me. I’ve heard similar stories from people going through security in other countries. I guess we are the land of the free. :-)

Be Bold,

Beth

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Photo credit:
Body Scanner – Andrew Pilloud via Flickr
Don’t Touch – Charles Fettinger via Flickr

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