Sunday 15th July Stephanie B and I were lucky enough to go on a trip to London with free tickets for Hard Rock Calling - Paul Simon.
Having to book coach/train tickets so close to a trip to London can be hell. 9-12 weeks before your trip is the best time to get cheap train tickets anywhere, otherwise you're looking at at least a £40 return from Manchester to London. Coach tickets can be incredibly cheap in advance. We, however, used the National Express Funfare service around 5 days before the actual trip and settled on £20 returns. The journey was 5 hours long each way so you have to prepare for lots to talk about (something we don't have trouble with) and things to do/food to eat.
When we got there
London is fast paced. Manchester is to a point, but London is meaner than Manchester and the underground service is insane! If you can, get to know the different underground lines and plan your route.
The main areas are within Zone 1 and 2 and a day saver for that is currently £7.
We got off the coach in Victoria Coach Station and on the same road is the entrance to the Victoria Tube Station. Luckily it was a straight journey to Bayswater from there which was the nearest station to our hotel.
Where we stayed
We used LastMinute.com to find a place to stay. I searched specifically for somewhere near Hyde Park as that is where the gig was and we didn't want an awful trek back after it. You can be this specific, you don't just have to put the city in. Think about what you want to be near and go with that. We chose the cheapest one which was Leisure Inn on Leinster Gardens. It was £46 for one night in a basic non-smoking small double room with breakfast included.
There was a shower and sink but the toilet was a shared one just down the hall. We never really bumped into anyone and it was very quiet. There was tea and coffee, a double bed, television and wardrobe.
I never usually eat breakfast but in the morning I was eager to see what was on offer. It was simple but perfect for us. There was cereal and muesli with options of milk or yoghurt. Tea, coffee and juice. Then there was toast or bread with options of boiled eggs, cheese, nutella, jam or just butter. I went for muesli with yoghurt followed by a strange but tasty cheese and boiled egg toasted sandwich mash up! I was really happy with the breakfast, Steph is also a vegetarian so it was perfect for her!
On the Sunday we checked out the surrounding area of the hotel and tried to work out some routes for Monday.
In the process we wandered down some streets and (happily) got lost. I always had google maps which we turned to if we ever needed a quick route back but today was more of a chilling out session so we just checked out the lovely buildings and tried to find somewhere cheap for food.
And did we find somewhere cheap! Just by chance we passed a patisserie called Bonne Bouche on the corner of George Street and Marylebone High Street selling a variety of baguettes for £1.50 and cakes for £1.
I had a Chicken, Spinach and Bacon baguette and a slice of their Chocolate Cheesecake. Both were absolutely delicious! We were also supping Bacardi Oakheart and Coke from cans. So inconspicuous!
We then returned to the hotel to get ready and get my hip flask for the gig. (Naughty but I succeeded. Nicola 1, Hard Rock Calling 0). Now this is where I stress that you plan a route, however lovely the weather was, we walked all the way around Hyde Park to find an entrance that was just down the road from the hotel. Achey feet galore!
The gig was everything we dreamt of and more. It felt so surreal seeing Paul Simon. Stephanie has loved Paul Simon ever since she was a wee child and I've worshipped the magic of S&G since senior school. I can safely say we had some moments where we questioned whether it was reality and there were some serious moves going down. Jimmy Cliff and Ladysmith Black Mambazo were welcomed on stage at different points of the gig. If we had paid for the tickets I would be saying right now that we got more than what we paid for, by far. The gig all round was just incredible and from what I hear about the Bruce Springsteen gig, it seems that it is standard practice for the main artist to bring on surprise musicians at Hard Rock Calling!
We woke up at 8am, went down for breakfast and we were checked out by 9am. Leisure Inn actually has an 11am check out so it would be great for if you went to London to party.
On our way back from Hyde Park the night before we discovered that the hotel was actually a 15 minute walk from Oxford Street. We couldn't believe our luck and so had planned on walking today.
We decided to take some back streets to discover some beautiful buildings (and doors, we're big lovers of doors here at Ma Bicyclette).
We wandered down Oxford Street, browsing round Primark, Waterstones and checking out the window display at Selfridges - a bike display, how fitting!
We went crazy in Forever 21, possibly our current favourite shop (can not wait for the Trafford Centre branch to open!).
The plan for the trip was to meet up with fellow Ma Bicyclettian Bekka Simpson and her boyfriend/my friend Jake Fletcher at the gig the night before, but as that didn't happen we met them in Covent Garden today instead. We then moved on to Camden where we came away with a few items of jewellery from a shop on Chalk Farm Road called Namaste. Camden is an incredibly cool place, every corner has something interesting and it caters for a really diverse mix of people.
One of my favourite shops was Unique Home which sells Turkish hand crafted mosaic desk lamps, lights, ball light sets etc. The shop was mesmerising and for me the prices were just right. In London everything can seem overpriced. Vintage clothing you can literally find in your local charity shop for £3 some how finds itself with a £20 tag on it. The whole of London isn't like this though, you just have to have the patience to discover the better shops and once you do you'll be jumping up and down with excitement.
Before we knew it it was time for Steph and I to get the coach back to Manchester so we bid farewell to Jake and Bekka and got the tube back to Victoria Coach Station.
We had such an amazing time in London and when we go again I'd be glad to stay in the same hotel. However, as for travel, the train is a much more suitable option and booking in advance is key! Plan plan plan!