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Mrs. Hvaces42's Surprise London Birthday Adventure So I figure I’ll give this TR thing a whirl. First time TR so bear with the lack of proper captions and photo formatting issues. And away we go...

With my wife’s birthday fast approaching (and it being a very significant number, 21, of course) I was stumped as to what gift I could possibly get the woman who has everything. Jewelry, what woman needs more jewelry? Clothing, eh, a closet full of clothing is more than enough. Fancy restaurants and surprise parties, old hat. Hmmm…Dan’s Deals Twitter Notifications to the rescue!!!

BA’s Business Class Sale came at the perfect moment. My wife and I hadn’t been overseas in 5 years and the last time we were, we transited through LHR without exiting the airport. The initial sale notification didn’t really get my attention. Then the pay with Avios information started filtering in and this began to look like, and actually turned into, a steal.

I was sitting on a pile of Avios after having been F/R’d by Amex and having to choose wisely between the programs I would transfer my soon expiring MR. I chose to transfer a chunk to my already sizeable Avios account. So the 60k Avios were really a drop in the bucket compared with the $1,700+ in airfare that it saved me.

After signing up for AARP membership, I quickly booked the 2 seats on BA’s latest flight out on Motzei Shabbos, her actual birthday, returning Tuesday evening on the latest BA flight out of LHR. Only after I was booked and confirmed did I realize that I could have reserved on AA’s 77W and still made it on Motzei Shabbos or pushed the return to Wednesday, but I guess you live and learn.

Now came the planning stage. As this was to be a surprise birthday trip plus I needed to work out some kinks and a high level security clearance list of people who could help me pull this off. In addition, we needed hotel, food, work schedule adjustments and child care arrangements.

My schedule is flexible and not much of an issue. Mrs. Hvaces42 on the other hand works weekends and per diem so I needed to make sure both her employers could have coverage for the days she wouldn’t be here and that she wouldn’t be asked to come in per diem on the days we would be away. Took care of that with both her workplaces.

That being covered it was time to do some research. DDF Destination and Trip Planning Forum is an invaluable tool. Additionally, being that so many people had taken advantage of the BA sale, including Dan, it was great to see itineraries in progress.

Based on the recommendations I got, it was a choice between the Hyatt Regency Churchill and the Andaz. A quick check of the Regency website made the choice easy. They were under construction. Who wants to deal with that? So the Andaz it was. (I couldn’t be that far off because the Rebbe Reb Dan also considered the Andaz ) I tried to see if a DSU was available but there was none and I held no hope as it was a holiday week and the regular rooms were actually selling out fast.

Transferred 25k UR to Hyatt (I know, poor use of UR, but I don’t have any Hyatt points or Chase Hyatt) and booked a Points + Cash booking for a King room 12.5k per night plus £99. After booking the room rate dropped had some more buyers remorse for using the points, but what was done was done. Around Thanksgiving Hyatt had a 15% off sale on Certificates. I purchased a $300 certificate for $276 on my Capital One Venture card, hoping to use it to pay the cash portion. Used 27,600 Capital One points to erase that certificate purchase.

Contacted Hyatt Concierge through Twitter to see if we could get room upgrade in celebration of Mrs. Hvaces42’s birthday. Was not promised anything. Contacted the Andaz Concierge directly via email and gave them the rundown of what I wanted to do for the birthday including flowers and kosher cake. They suggested I order cake directly and have it delivered. They provided me with the option to purchase flowers for £25, which I found very reasonable so I ordered through them. Andaz Concierge was very responsive and helpful even though they screwed up after the fact.

Next it was figuring out what we must see and what we could get away without seeing. I modeled my itinerary on Dan’s with some modifications for the short nature of our trip versus his 5 days and kid-friendly itinerary.

This is what the final itinerary looked like. Of course it changed upon arrival but it gave us some guidance.

Sunday 12/27:
Arriving at LHR 9:30am Pickup from LHR
Private Driver to Windsor Castle.
Driver to take bags to Andaz Liverpool Street
Underground/Train to Golders Green
Dinner at Kaifeng 
Underground to Andaz.
Monday 12/28:
Tower of London  and Tower bridge.
Lunch 1701 at Selfridge’s
British Museum
Emirates Air Line Cable Car
Dinner LaFiesta.    

Tuesday 12/29:
Underground to Changing of the Guards tour
London Eye
Churchill War Rooms
London Dungeon
Underground/Train to LHR 7:30pm Departure

Finally, some loose ends needed to be tied up; cell phone, food recommendations and transportation.

I spoke with Sprint and they have a phenomenal plan which charges $0.20 per minute of talk and unlimited 2G data included in my plan. They offered me a plan with 500MB of 3G data for $50, but I declined. Andaz offers free wifi and leaving four kids at home we were able to Skype and Whatsapp call with them from the hotel and communicate regularly throughout the day using the phone when we needed to do so.

After some fits and starts regarding food recommendations and even a nice suggestion from some DDF users to cancel my trip because I was frustrated with Bevis Marks closing and other poor food reviews I just picked a few choices and figured I’d give the birthday girl her choices of where we would eat.

DDF user ZOW was kind enough to send me some Oyster Cards pre-loaded with a few pounds each which are required for entry (and exit) from the Underground. I did some research and couldn’t figure out how to load the cards online as it required activation by “tapping” in at an Underground station. I figured I had enough on each card to get me where I wanted to go. Then I learned that there is a maximum charge that you can be charged per person each day when using the Oyster card on the Underground. So I was basically good to go.

Lastly, I needed a driver to pick us up from LHR and take us to Windsor Castle, bring food, fetch the surprise birthday cake from Stamford Hill and drop the cake and our luggage at the hotel. Every one of my English friends had a driver for me, until I needed a phone number?!?!? I finally got one who wasn’t available on that day and he referred his friend who was very competent and helpful. He charged us £100 plus disbursements. I asked him to bring sandwiches as well as rolls. He only brought us rolls. Otherwise he was prompt and got the job done. A bit of a steep price, but a reliable, frum, driver to deliver my luggage, which I was not going to leave to an Uber driver.

We left JFK Terminal 7 on BA 0114 which is “Sleeper Service”. We checked in and were directed to the Lounge Dining Room where we were served pre-flight dinner. I think this was very smart as it maximized the amount of time we could get to sleep on board.

The meal was Borenstein standard business class food. Not too great. The appetizer was some kind of cold fish dish, which is not something I would eat anyway. My wife tasted it and it was dry and tasteless. The main dish was a very tasty chicken in a bbq type sauce. It was filling.

As it was Motzei Shabbos we left a bit later than we normally would have so we didn’t take in the full lounge experience including the free Elemis spa and showers, which we took at home.         

We flew on a 777-200 with a 2-4-2 configuration in J. We sat in seats E-F middle seats of the 4 seats. The seats did not have aisle access but one aisle seat was empty so it wasn’t too bad. The seats were comfortable and we were quickly asleep. I slept for most of the flight, my wife not that much.

Davened on the plane. Had a quick breakfast of fruit (nothing else offered). We were given landing cards and Fast Track Immigration entry. Had a quick immigration and customs experience and we were out in no time. Driver was waiting so we couldn’t use the arrivals lounge and wanted to get going.

We left for Windsor Castle right away. The weather was a bit drizzly, but not too cold. We arrived in Windsor in 20-25 minutes. The left side driving was a bit disconcerting to me.
IMG_1298 by hvaces42, on Flickr

IMG_1295 by hvaces42, on Flickr

IMG_1292 by hvaces42, on Flickr
St. George’s Chapel

IMG_1291 by hvaces42, on Flickr

IMG_1289 by hvaces42, on Flickr

IMG_1286 by hvaces42, on Flickr

IMG_1287 by hvaces42, on Flickr

IMG_1283 by hvaces42, on Flickr

At Windsor Castle we waited on line for tickets for about 10 minutes. The tickets were approximately £25 each adult. You can rent headsets for an audio self-tour. We didn’t but it definitely looked worthwhile. There is a full airport style security check after you buy tickets before you get in to the actual castle.

The Castle is one of the official residences of the Queen. It is actually used by the Queen regularly. The place is basically a museum that the royal family gets to live in. Artwork, china, room after room of unbelievable excess. As an American it was eye-popping. Everything is old and regal. Obviously there is much more but here is a taste.

20151227_120200 by hvaces42, on Flickr

20151227_120135 by hvaces42, on Flickr

One of the highlights is Queen Mary’s Dollhouse. You are not officially allowed to photograph it so the pictures I have are all low light cell phone shots taken surreptitiously. The detail in the dollhouse was astounding. From the perfectly packed linen closet to the miniature Rolls Royce’s parked in the garage.

20151227_113310 by hvaces42, on Flickr

20151227_113309 by hvaces42, on Flickr

20151227_113149 by hvaces42, on Flickr

20151227_113120 by hvaces42, on Flickr

20151227_113105 by hvaces42, on Flickr

Seeing the Queens Guards standing guard was a welcome surprise. They look like dolls off in the distance until they started marching. It was really cool to watch them. The march every so often without the benefit of looking at their watch and no clocks in sight. St. George’s Chapel is one of the most magnificent buildings I’ve ever seen.

IMG_1304 by hvaces42, on Flickr

IMG_1303 by hvaces42, on Flickr

20151227_122458 by hvaces42, on Flickr

20151227_122238 by Hvaces42 hvaces42, on Flickr

We spent approximately 2 hours at Windsor Castle. We left the castle grounds and checked out the touristy shops right on Castle Hill. We actually bought some English wool scarves which were rather decently prices at 2 for £20. You can buy souvenirs in the many shops there. I found that the best souvenir shops were in Terminal 5 at LHR. 

At that point, my wife having basically missed a night of sleep I made an executive decision and changed the plan from taking train and bus to the Andaz to trying out Uber for the first time. I ordered an uberX which quoted at £41 - £55. The wait was about 9 minutes and the driver called us when he had an issue finding us. He showed up in an older Ford minivan but it was clean and the driver was friendly.

The trip back took us through central London past Parliament Square where I got my first look at Big Ben, the London Eye and Westminster Abbey. We arrived at the Andaz in a little over an hour. Total Uber charge £46.34 which translated to $69.26 (£1 = $1.4946) on my Capital One Quicksilver card. I always thought that the 20% off Uber on Quicksilver was for USD charges only. I was surprised to get a $13.85 credit. So that trip cost me $55.41, a bargain for that length of trip.

We got the Andaz and checked in. This began our birthday cake saga. The Andaz has this fluid check-in desk with computers on both sides of a conference table in the lobby and concierge associates milling about the lobby. Its very awkward as you dont know where to stand during the check-in process.

So the associate we got had no brains whatsoever. Chatty, flamboyant, flirtatious are a few of the choice adjectives I’ll use for this family friendly site. He’s just talking up a storm and casually tells my wife, “oh I see from the notes here that there was a cake delivered for you, Happy Birthday”. Surprise ruined!!! Oh well.

He did upgrade us to a “Large King” room which wasn’t too large but we didn’t need much of a large room anyway. Having ruined the surprise I asked him to send up the cake right away and the flowers I had ordered through the hotel. We went up to our room on the 5th floor which had views of a courtyard.

Andaz Lobby by hvaces42, on Flickr

20151227_140421 by hvaces42, on Flickr

20151227_141259 by hvaces42, on Flickr

20151227_141256 by hvaces42, on Flickr

20151227_171227 by hvaces42, on Flickr

IMG_1379 by hvaces42, on Flickr

We relaxed for 2 hours and then decided to go to Golders Green for dinner. Still no cake to be seen.

To be continued very soon…       

January 07, 2016, 11:25:00 PM
Re: Mrs. Hvaces42's Surprise London Birthday Adventure Next Installment

We left to Golders Green using the Underground (Moorgate Station, about a 10 minute walk from Andaz). You have to “tap in” and “tap out” of the Underground using the Oyster Card. Make sure you do because they have station monitors watching at each station and there is a fine if you don’t do it. Its also important because the is a maximum charge you can be assessed each day. So its almost a flat fee for unlimited usage of the Underground. I think it depends on what zones you go to. Most of the sites in central London that you will want to see are within the zones that will cost £6.80 – 9.60(I think) per day.

We arrived in Golders Green in approximately 25 minutes. It was one train direct to Golders Green Road Station. Golders Green Road was all lit up for the holidays so it was easy to identify the main street when we got out of the station.

We decided on eating Chinese. Our choices were between Kaifeng, which is a bit further in Hendon (really just a bit up the road) or Met Su Yan. On the walk from the Underground we passed by the other kosher restaurants including Isola Bella, Novellino, White House Express, Pizaza, a schwarma joint and some others that I cant recall off-hand. They were all packed at 5:30 in the evening, granted it was Sunday and a holiday weekend.

We arrived at Met Su Yan and asked to be seated. Met Su Yan is a nice, newer restaurant, seats approximately 70 people. The waitress asked if we had reservations and of course we didn’t. The place was deserted except for two couples sitting in the back. They said they would see if they could seat us. After a minute or so they said we could have a table for two if we promised to leave by 8:00pm. We agreed and were seated smack in the center of the place. A shame I didn’t take pictures of the seating. They were a bit rude to a party of 5 that arrived towards the end of our meal too, moving them from table to table because of later reservations.

They offer a prix fixe menu, three courses (Appetizer or soup, Main, Side dish and Dessert) for £27.50 per person or four courses (additional Second Course or Sushi) for £32.50. We went for the three course meal.

20151227_183032 by We ate some of the nuts before I took pic…tasty salad
, on Flickr

For the appetizer I ordered the Deep Fried Wontons and my DW ordered the Chicken and Shitake Mushroom Dim Sum. Wontons were not real wontons, they were chicken wrapped in spring roll skin, not wonton  wrappers, served with sweet sauce. Dim Sum was four pieces served with ginger based sauce. A bit doughy but tasty.     

20151227_183657 by Wontons
, on Flickr

20151227_184033 by Dim Sum
, on Flickr

For the main dish we shared the Sweet and Sour Chicken and Szechuan Chicken. Portion were tiny. Sweet and Sour very good dish, crispy and properly spiced. Szechuan chicken was tasteless boiled pieces of chicken in jalapeno based pepper and onion mix. Sides were Fried Rice with eggs.

 20151227_184758 by Sweet and Sour Chicken hvaces42, on Flickr

20151227_184754 by Szechuan Chicken hvaces42, on Flickr

20151227_184800 by Fried Rice with Eggs hvaces42, on Flickr

For dessert we had the hot chocolate cake with ice cream (sorry for the half eaten pics) and the Toffee Apples, which were apple slices deep-fried in a batter with hard glaze served boiling hot!!! Cake and ice cream were phenomenal. Apples started off very bland but by the time I got to piece number four it was quite tasty and I was overdosing on the sugar.

20151227_190700 by Chocolate cake and Ice Cream hvaces42, on Flickr

20151227_190705 by Toffee Apples
, on Flickr

All in all ambiance was ok. We got out in time. Felt a bit pressured, but my fault for not making reservations. Food portions were small and we left a bit hungry. Some dishes hit the mark others did not. Pricey by any standards, especially us being from New York and knowing the Chinese food is not that expensive or unique.

I get the sense when we spoke to other local people that they know this restaurant is over-priced and doesn’t serve decent portions. Final bill was $99.13 (don’t recall how many pounds), including 12.5% tip already on the receipt with no place to add or subtract on final receipt, as chip and signature payment doesn’t allow for final receipts to be signed manually.

We made our way back to the Andaz via Moorgate Station. Got absolutely lost on the 8 minute walk back to Andaz it took us 40 minutes. Google Maps was no help due to the 2G service and lag in time it took to get our location. It was downright scary to walk that area on deserted streets (it is the financial district and very quiet at night and on the weekends). Learned our lesson for the next two days taking Underground, with switching trains once (or twice) to Liverpool Station was a much better and safer alternative.       

January 08, 2016, 11:34:14 AM
Re: undo a membership rewards transfer to delta Beg, plead...and dont waste your time. Miniscule chance you get it reversed.
August 30, 2016, 12:22:34 AM
Re: Vote: Keep Or Ditch Likes?

September 05, 2016, 03:40:59 PM
Re: JetBlue 2 day sale
New sale posted, with fares from LGA to BOS at 38.10 nonstop each way.

Travel Oct. 31 - Dec. 15, 2016.
Travel on Mon., Tues., Wed., Thurs., and Sat.
Blackout dates of Nov. 10 - Nov. 14, 2016, and Nov. 18 - Nov. 29, 2016 apply.
Getting to LGA will cost you way too much (physically and emotionally) to make flying out of there worth it. 

September 07, 2016, 07:25:30 AM
Re: Comments That Leave Me Speechless...
I can take that to mean Jews say one thing but do another that does not follow the laws/rules of Judaism. Care to clarify for me?  :P
Individual Jews may not follow the rules. That does not mean Judaism is flawed. That means individuals may be flawed but they do not speak for the entirety of judaism. 

September 07, 2016, 10:20:36 AM
Re: Budapest Master Thread
that depends on what you want to see, but I would vote for Prague
Prague is the nicest, vienna probably the most expensive and Budapest the cheapest. Food choices are pretty similar.

September 08, 2016, 03:57:50 PM
Re: Comments That Leave Me Speechless...
The reply was great though

September 08, 2016, 05:57:50 PM
PRICE MISTAKE! Curved 27 inch LED Monitor for only $39.20 reg $255.00!
September 11, 2016, 10:49:43 PM
Re: Dispute Credit pull?
Sure, but after two months, no one has been able to cite a single statute that backs up their assumption.

(I agree that it's not worth losing sleep over.)
Maybe off topic...what year of law school are you currently in?
Your hangup with citing chapter and verse is very interesting.

November 27, 2016, 10:16:01 PM