Highly Acclaimed Musical of the Year – Les Misérables

The Queen’s Theatre production of Les Misérables is a thrilling musical experience that has been shared by thousands of theatre-goers over the course of many years. Indeed, the show has seen over 10,000 performances in London, over 3000 of them at the Queen’s Theatre.

Based on the classic novel by Victor Hugo, the musical stage production of Les Misérables has been delighting audiences all over the world for over 25 years. Written by Claude-Michel Schönberg, Alain Boublil, Jean-Marc Natel and Herbert Kretzmer, the play follows the story of convict 24601, Jean Valjean, over the course of two decades. Over the years, Valjean attempts to redeem himself for his past crimes by becoming a respectable pillar of the community, a fair-minded employer and a loving father, all while being persistently followed by Javert, a man of the law whose strict beliefs allow no room for mercy or compassion.

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The Surroundings Make the Experience at St Ermin’s

Whenever you decide to book into a hotel in London, the first thing you’ll consider is the location. This is everything when you want to be sure you spend as much time exploring and as little time getting from A to B as possible. St Ermin’s Hotel in central London is popular for this reason, situated as it is close to St James’ Park. However it isn’t the only reason a stay here is an experience in itself.

St Ermin's
St Ermin’s

Attention to detail at St Ermin’s

As soon as you walk into St Ermin’s Hotel you’ll realise why it is much loved by many people. Everywhere you look there are fine details that make this hotel a refined and comfortable choice to stay in. From the beautifully carpeted hallways and rooms to the relaxing chairs and the antique books filling the walls of the library, you’ll certainly be in for a thrilling experience.

There are special and attentive details to look for in other ways as well. For instance if you happen to be staying in one of the spacious and appealing suites we have to offer at St Ermin’s Hotel, you’ll be able to make use of the Club Lounge. This is where a tempting buffet breakfast can be found each day, along with the day’s newspapers. What better way could there be to start the day?

Dining at the Caxton Grill

Many people look for a hotel that provides a tempting restaurant as well. You’ll certainly get that at St Ermin’s, as the Caxton Grill is close by. Whether you want a light meal or something more substantial, you can be sure of finding just the right dish at the right time.

The hotel is also used to catering for all kinds of guests. There are those in a hurry to make a business meeting, who like the convenience of the Wake & Take breakfast from the hotel lobby. And there are those who are in London to enjoy the sights it has to offer. Whichever group you fall into you can be sure of enjoying the surroundings the hotel is known for.

Down to the finest detail

From the stunning welcome you get as you approach the hotel itself, to the staircase that sweeps up to the first floor, you’ll notice the finest details in every area of the hotel.

You can eat your meals in beautifully modern surroundings, and relax in stunningly appointed rooms. Everything has been taken care of in these four star surroundings, so whatever you get up to during the day you can be assured of returning to a relaxing, calming and laid back room to enjoy a good night’s sleep.

If the highlights are in the details, you can be sure of seeing many highlights as you settle into the hotel for your stay in London. St Ermin’s is a hotel you’ll want to come back to over and over again, so make that first booking today and you’ll see what there is to appreciate.

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Olympics: Never Mind the Jeux Sans Frontières, It’s All about the Money, Stupid

If you can’t beat ‘em, confound them! That seemed to be Danny Boyle’s mantra as he unleashed his fantastically whimsical, crazy-mad, nostalgic bells-and-whistles-of-a-British-history-lesson to an astonished world at the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympics in London.

Remember Beijing? So pristine, dignified, awesome and, well, staid? There was no way that ‘Great’ Britain could even come close to matching the jaw-dropping spectacle, precision, and spending power of the Chinese, so why even try?

That seemed to be Boyle’s attitude as he elected to celebrate Britain in its glorious idiosyncratic miscellany. Hence, the spectacle of a ‘parachuting’ reigning monarch, appearances by real, fictional and hackneyed ‘celebs’, a hodgepodge of musical genres and the biggest faux self-mocking cum self-aggrandising, barnstorming circus in town.

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Summer Breaks in Manchester: Screenfields 2012

Pick a weekend between now and 26 July, book a few days leave and a room at any of the Manchester hotels – Screenfields is back for 2012.

Begin a spring/summer weekend in Manchester with an open aired film screening in the heart of Manchester’s Spinningfields square. Shown every Thursday night from now until the final screening, Notting Hill on 26 July, films change every week and are just 2 GBP per person.

A full programme can be found on the Spinningfields website, along with other information about the area.

If you’ve chosen one of the Manchester hotels close to Spinningfields, in the centre of the city, Hey Little Cupcake! is an excellent start to your days.

Located on Little Quay Street, next to Nando’s, this little bakery cum café sells the most delightfully charming cupcakes complete with the Teapigs cuppa of your choice.

Hey Little Cupcake! can also play host to private parties as well as pre-bookable scheduled sugarcraft and decorating classes.

The shopping opportunities surrounding the Spinningfields area are sensational. The estate is located just a few steps away from Deansgate with its House of Fraser department store and nearby designer boutiques as well as high street names. The Arndale Centre is a ten minute stroll away.

There is such a variation of dining options in Spinngfields, even the fussiest of eaters will be spoilt for choice. From basic bagel bars to wondrous meals at Wagamama, whether you want a light bite or a full meal, all bases are covered.

A little distance away from the square, other eateries and bars such as Browns Bar and Brasserie and The Hard Rock Café give some additional eating options for your stay. The clubs and pubs on Canal Street are fabulous fun, but for classier cocktails head to The Living Room followed by Bijou.

The best deals on Manchester hotels are online. Book yours now for your Spinningfields, Screenfields summer stay.

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Best of Travel 2011

Thanks to Michaela at Awe Inclusive for including me in Budget Travel Adventure’s Best of Travel 2011 and giving me an opportunity to look back on the best of my 2011 travel adventures.

Last year was another fabulous travel year for me. I visited London for the third time and Paris for the first time, though it was my second trip to France. So here’s my Best of Travel 2011 roundup —

Best Domestic Travel Destination: To me, Washington, DC is the best domestic travel destination because it has so much to offer. The National Mall, the White House, galleries and (free!) museums, theater (not as many as NYC but still good and good bargains), restaurants, festivals like the Folk Life Festival, the National Book Festival, etc. Whether you’re looking for history or entertainment, Washington DC is the best place to be and the best part? It’s compact – you can cover a lot of territory over a few days.

Jefferson Memorial, Washington DC
Jefferson Memorial, Washington DC

Best Travel Experience: I’ve been fascinated by Stonehenge since I saw a documentary about it several years ago and added it to my Must See List. As soon as I decided on the dates for my UK trip, I booked a tour. The best part was that the group was small enough so that we weren’t tripping over each other. We could go into the circle and get up close (but not touch) the monument. The tour also took us through the bucolic English countryside and Bath, a very historical and picturesque town.

Inside the circle, Stonehenge
Inside the circle at Stonehenge

Best International Destination: My best international destination for 2011 was, without question, Paris.  I love Paris – it’s all of the things we’ve heard, and more — romantic, picturesque, fashionable, etc., and though I felt a bit intimidated by the stories I’ve heard about Parisians looking down their noses at people dressed in jeans, I never felt out of place or slighted. In fact, I met quite a number of friendly Parisians. One night, I got talking to a waiter and when he found out where I was staying and that I was traveling alone — it was nearly 10 p.m. when I finished dinner — he called one of the waitresses who was taking the same train and told me to wait for her so we could travel together. Although I could have found my way back to the hotel on my own, I was very touched by his kindness.

Eiffel Tower
Eiffel Tower at night

Worst Travel Experience: My worst travel experience in 2011 happened before I even left my destination. I turned up at the airport to board my flight on Spirit Airlines and got a huge surprise. I owed $93 in baggage fees! I was so furious at myself for not paying attention to the fine print — I know better (or should) — that I forgot that I wanted to buy a few gifts in the duty free shop. The worst part is that on the return leg, I couldn’t figure out how to pre-pay and ended up paying again. Suddenly, the deal that I thought I had worked out to be one of the most expensive New York/Montego Bay tickets I’ve ever bought.

Most Embarrassing Travel Experience: Last year, my travel was embarrassment-free but 2010 wasn’t. I started to feel sick the day I was scheduled to return to the US from Johannesburg, South Africa. My body felt weak and I began to sweat. I didn’t know what was wrong – I didn’t think it was a cold but by the time I got on the flight, I was sneezing. I was so petrified of coughing that before I finished a cough drop, I’d pop another one. I felt awful. I still think of the people I know I passed my cold on to. Thanks goodness, it was a night flight so (hopefully) my no one remembers my face! The best part was, I was traveling with two friends who were also coming down with colds so I didn’t infect the people on either side of me. The worst part is, our row probably passed our colds on to everyone in coach.

Best Local Destination: Since I relocated from New York City to Jamaica last year, I’m going to take the liberty to name two best local destinations. In New York, the best location destination is Coney Island. It’s a place where you’ll find everyone – toddlers, young adults, couples, singles, grandparents – and there’s a variety of activities for everyone, from the hot dog eating contest over the July 4th weekend to summertime fireworks displays to roller coaster rides.

My best travel location in Jamaica is Treasure Beach. It’s laid back, it’s funky, it’s fun. It’s just a charming location that I’ve written about several times.

Treasure Beach boats
Treasure Beach boats

Best Travel Lesson: When I visited Paris last year, it was the first time that I traveled on my own to a place to a place where I didn’t know a soul and no one was meeting me when I arrived. Thank goodness, I know some French so I didn’t feel completely at sea. Interestingly enough, I was very excited the morning I left for Paris — it’s probably the most excited I’d been in a while about a trip. It turned out to be a very liberating experience and surprisingly, made me feel very grown up.

Now, I get the pleasure of inviting the following 5 bloggers to write about their Best of Travel 2011.

Travel Photo Thursday: Buckingham Palace Gate

Buckingham Palace Gate, London
Buckingham Palace Gate, London

I love to see places I recognize in my favorite films or movies. In Die Another Day, I was tickled when I saw the press conference Gustave Grave, the villain in this film, held in front of the gates of Buckingham Palace. The Palace Press Office handles all requests for permission to film on the grounds.

This is my submission to this week’s Budget Travelers Sandbox Travel Photo Thursday series. Be sure to check out other photo and story entries on their website!

Random Images: London House

London City Hall
London House aka City Hall

Designed by Norman Foster, London House also known as London City Hall, was opened in 2002. Because of its unusual shape, it has been referred to by the former mayor as “The Glass Testicle” and as “The Glass Gonad” by the current mayor, Boris Johnson. It’s popularly called The Onion.

Is a Tour Bus Right for You?

A tour bus gives visitors the option to disembark and re-embark at designated

Is a tour bus right for you?
London tour bus

points, makes it easy to cover a lot of territory while on vacation.  With knowledgeable guides and pre-recorded information available in several different languages, taking a tour bus also offers a quick overview of points of interest along the way.

But is a tour bus tour right for you? It depends.

If walking around a new city makes you nervous or uncomfortable, if a semi-structured tour is more your speed or if you don’t have much time, then a tour bus tour is your best option.

If you’re like me, however, and you like to be on your own schedule, wander around, stop, take photos, talk to people, don’t mind getting lost, etc., then a tour bus tour might not be your cup of tea.

I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve taken a tour bus tour. When I’m in a new place, I want to explore, preferably on foot. So a tour bus, for me, is like an expensive cab ride.

But after walking for what seemed like hours in both London and Paris, I decided to hop on a bus so I could cover a bit more territory. In London, the tour bus tour I selected was led by a pleasant and knowledgeable guide who had us laughing at his sometimes corny anecdotes. However, not even that kept me on longer than the first leg. The same thing happened in Paris.

What I learned from my brief tour bus experiences

  1. Get on the bus early. Typically, tickets for tour buses are valid for 48 hours from time of purchase – they are time-stamped. The earlier you start, the more you’ll get to see. (It’d be interesting to find out how many people do take advantage of the full 48 hours.)
  2. Plan your route carefully. You don’t want to have to loop back.
  3. Pick a seat on the top deck. Weather permitting and if you don’t mind heights, select a bus with an upper level. It’s a whole different experience seeing a city from one story up.
  4. If you want photos (and who doesn’t?), choose a seat at the front of the upper level or take a tour bus with few people on top. That way, you’ll (hopefully) avoid other people’s heads when you go for that all important shot. Unfortunately, if you’re sitting in any other seat and you’re not quick, by the time you get into position and line up the shot, the bus has moved on or someone or something else is in your way.
  5. If you decide to leave the tour bus early, pick a spot that has a lot of different attractions or is well-populated.
  6. Know when and where the last tour for the bus you’re on finishes and avoid being stuck too far away from anyplace you’re familiar with.
  7. Consider taking a tour bus to get a general orientation of a place, then explore on foot the following day.

A tour bus is a great way to get the lay of the land. But walking allows you more freedom to see the sights, interact with people and adds new layers to the memories you’re creating.

A few of my missed tour bus shots.

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London-Paris via Eurostar

Train travel is definitely a lot more popular in Europe than it is in North America, where we tend to drive or fly more.

When I heard about the tunnel that was being built under the English Channel to connect Britain and France, I was fascinated. I marveled at the vision and the incredible feat of engineering it took to bring it to life and wondered what it was like for the people who worked on building it.

More than anything though, the idea of traveling in a capsule 250 feet under the English Channel sent my imagination wild. I was particularly curious to experience that part of the trip. How would it feel?

As soon as I booked my trip to London, I purchased a ticket to Paris on the Eurostar. For me, there was just no other way to go.

When the day arrived, I was excited. I couldn’t wait to get on the train. Once I made my way to King’s Cross, I followed the signs to St. Pancras International Station. Since I had purchased my ticket beforehand, all I needed to do was check-in. There were several Eurostar employees helping and directing us so the lines moved smoothly. Eurostar warned that check-in closes 30 minutes before departure but I got there about an hour before.

After going through immigration and baggage check, I found my car and assigned seat – unfortunately, it was not near the window. I read a little, especially during the 20 minute under the Channel. I didn’t know what to expect but I was disappointed by how normal it was!

French countryside from Eurostar - Maynefoto

Once we were above ground again, I kept my eyes peeled as the beautiful countryside rolled pass my window. Approximately 2 ½ hours later, I was in Paris.

Getting There —

Book your ticket online at eurostar.com up to the day of departure – provided there’s availability but be prepared to pay more. For the best prices, book well in advance, say a month prior, and stay away from peak times: weekends, holidays, mornings and afternoons.

There are three categories of tickets: Standard, Standard Premier and Business. Within Standard and Standard Premier, there are two options: Non-Flexible and Semi-Flexible. As the name implies, Non-Flexible offers no flexibility to change, exchange or refund your ticket once you’ve purchased it. Semi-Flexible tickets can be refunded or exchanged up to 2 months after purchase for a fixed fee of Twenty-two Pounds plus whatever the difference is in the ticket you wish to exchange for.

On board –

There are power plugs for electronics however, there’s no wifi. Free internet access is available at St. Pancras, paid at Gare du Nord in Paris.

Meals are served in Standard Premier or Business. If you’re traveling Standard, you can purchase snacks, sandwiches, drinks in the club car.

Visas —

If you require a visa, make sure to get one before you leave your home country. France is one of fifteen Schengen countries that are signatories to the Schengen Agreement which allows travel among the Schengen countries on one visa. The visa is issued by the country that you arrive at first, so if you’re going to France, you’ll need to visit the French Embassy for the visa. If you’re landing in Spain first, go to the Spanish Embassy, etc. To avoid delays, check the visa requirements carefully before you go.

For me, traveling by train in Europe brings on a nostalgia for a time when I wasn’t even born, that I see glimpses of in brochures and old movies. The Eurostar brings me a little closer to that time.

Have fun!