Discovering London, For the First Time

by Jim Halterman
Monday Sep 12, 2011

I had never been to Europe. There, I said it. But I can’t be the only one out there since, come on, doing a trip overseas in the right way requires both money and time and, if you’re like me, you seem to regularly have more of one or the other, but never enough concurrently.

And so, finally, I figured it was time to bite the bullet and just do get to Europe. And I decided London was a great place to start.

A trip to the United Kingdom (or anyplace outside the US borders, really) is a big undertaking so my goal here is to walk you through the basics of how to get there and, more importantly where to stay, eat, be entertained, find the hot boys and even be a tourist.

Grab your passport (yes, you need one of those) and let’s venture across the pond!

The Friendly Skies via Air New Zealand

You know you’re in for an enjoyable flight experience when the first thing the flight attendant says to you as you’ve settled in your seat is, "Bubbly?" That’s how my flight from Los Angeles to London started out when I stepped for the first time on a direct Air New Zealand flight.

But why Air New Zealand over other airlines? Champagne is a great incentive but it was a bit more than that. The direct flight was a very big consideration since it’s an 11-hour flight from Los Angeles but when I thought of the ’musts’ of my flight, Air New Zealand met every single one of them.

First, Premium Economy is NOT the same as Coach! Thank you, Travel Gods! The appearance of the aforementioned champagne - and a genuinely cheery flight attendant; they were all happy and seemed to actually enjoy their jobs! When was the last time you experienced that? - was just the start of what would be an array of delicious non-airline-tasting food, beverages, snacks and desserts that were there for the consuming (with real cutlery!)...and this was all-inclusive in the Premium Economy ticket.

Also, for the long-haul trips, you’ll receive an amenity kit, which includes slippers, socks, toothbrush kit, earplugs, eyeshades and lip balm! Sadly, we’ve all gotten so used to the shoddy service on most domestic airlines but everything on the Air New Zealand flight, I found, was truly to make the passengers 110% happy. What a concept!

Second, each seat has its own television, which isn’t unique but what is special is the in-flight TV service features 100+ movies to choose from and a plethora or both current (Modern Family) and past (Arrested Development) television series.

Once I was settled in and we were in the air (and I had switched from Champagne to a lovely chardonnay) I wanted to put my head in the right UK space and chose to watch all 7-parts of the brilliant BBC series Downton Abbey. (If you missed it when it aired on PBS, find it, be ready to bow at the acting altar of Dame Maggie Smith and watch it...the second season is coming soon).

Third, the seating was divine. I should note that beginning in April, Air New Zealand debuted new planes with Skycouch seats, which is a trio of three Economy seats that can be used as three regular seats or, when putting up the arms, can become a space for you to stretch out and, yes, even take a nap. Perfect for traveling with small children that either need to rest or have a small play area.

Also, for a little extra money, you can purchase a Twin Seat, which is essentially an extra seat in case you want some extra space or prefer to have some solitude on your flight.

Also, in Premium Economy, I melted into my SpaceSeat, which is also a new feature. While you are seated next to another person, the slightly turned angle of the seats truly make you feel like you’re in a space all by yourself. And with more overall space and ample recline room, you can make your own space as comfortable as possible.

Also, besides the happy crew, each Air New Zealand flight also has an in-flight concierge who can answer any question about your destination. Truly remarkable and something all airlines should aspire to have!

To book your Air New Zealand trip, visit the Air New Zealand homepage.

Where to Stay: The Five-Star Hotel - THE LANGHAM

So you’ve made it to London and it’s off to the hotel to drop off bags and rest up before exploring the city. Like any trip you might take, budget comes into play in a major way. Some of us want to live in luxury and hit only the five-star accommodations while others are more apt to pay less for lodging and put more of their dollar (or pound, in this case) into food or entertainment.

Thankfully, I did a little of both on my London trip first settling into the five-star radiance of The Langham ( Langham Hotel UK

Located at the city’s West End, The Langham is majestic in stature on the outside but the interior lives up to that promise of luxury and class and not only in the décor but also in the impeccably mannered and attentive staff. Personally escorted to my junior suite with a view of the city’s West End, I was shown all the unique components of the room from how to work the big screen television, turning off the power from the master switch near the main door and where the plush robe and slippers were waiting for me.

Also, one thing I had forgotten about is that electrical outlets in the UK are not the same as the US so in most places you’d have to have an adaptor just to charge your IPod. However, the Langham was two steps ahead and actually had both US and UK plugs available near the room’s spacious desk. No wonder The Langham has been a crème de la crème of hotels since it opened in 1865!

While it would be easy to just kick back in my suite, the rest of the hotel was waiting for me to explore it. Once you try the food at the Roux at The Landau you more than likely won’t want to go anywhere else to eat during your stay. Breakfast can be as simple as a continental breakfast or you can also choose from a variety of international flavors (English, Chinese, Japanese or Lebanese). Lunch and Dinner are just as plentiful with choices including wonderful foods ranging from soups to seafood to meats.

And you’ll be doing yourself a huge disservice if you do not partake in the Palm Court’s Afternoon Tea, which is better than any other spot in all the UK. Awarded the Top London Afternoon Tea in 2010, the Palm Court’s Afternoon Tea is not merely a lovely sitting room with a cup of tea (which is what I thought was all an Afternoon Tea consisted of) but a food and beverage experience. The best specialty sandwiches, scones, pastries, the best teas and, of course, if you choose, more bubbly!

For some (myself included) a trip anywhere needs to come with a massage of some kind and the Langham doesn’t disappoint with Europe’s first Chuan Spa. The style may be steeped in Traditional Chinese Medicine but that includes wonderful, soothing massages, skin treatments and something as simple as a mani/pedi. The spa is incredibly serene even being in the middle of a busy city and the staff is there to accommodate in any fashion. There are also a variety of offerings for couples that want to indulge together. For more, visit Chuan Spa homepage


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