London/Berlin Travel and flying advice

Discussion in 'Community Discussion' started by yg17, Aug 3, 2008.

  1. yg17 macrumors G5

    yg17

    Joined:
    Aug 1, 2004
    Location:
    St. Louis, MO
    #1
    I'm close to finalizing and booking everything for my trip next year, but I've first got a few questions (and will probably have more later, so be prepared)

    First off, the hotel I'm looking at in London is a Holiday Inn in Greenwich near the North Greenwich underground stop. Is this a good area? I'm looking for something near public transport, near the city, not too terribly expensive (but no dumps, I'm not on a tight budget here) and most importantly, in a safe area where I won't get mugged returning late at night.

    Ditto for Berlin. It's coincidentally a Holiday Inn in Mitte, near the Gesundbrunnen U-Bahn stop. Good area? It meets the criteria of being close to the city, reasonably priced and near public transport. So as long as it's a safe area, then I think that hotel's a winner too.

    What's the proper etiquette for someone who knows about 5 words of German, 2 of them being swear words? I asked in a previous thread about how screwed I would be not knowing the language, and you guys said I'd be fine. Do I say "Sprechen Sie Englisch?" before I ask anyone anything, or do I just go up to someone (at the hotel, restaurants, shops, airport, whatever) and just start speaking English?

    Flying: I'll be flying in to Heathrow, spending a few days in London, flying to Berlin, and flying home from there.

    Getting there isn't of much concern to me, I'm guessing I won't have much trouble getting through customs at LHR? I just need a passport and my ID, right? The LHR-TXL flight is going to be on British Airways since it's cheap and nonstop. So as someone who is not a British or German citizen, do I need anything special to get on the plane? Or will my passport or drivers license suffice? And once I land in Berlin, will the rules of the Schegen Agreement mean I don't have to go through customs, or am I a special case since I'm from a non-EU country?

    I also plan on taking the ICE train over to Wolfsburg to see the Volkswagen Autostadt (hey, I'm a VW enthusiast, I have to make the pilgrimage!) Since I'm not leaving Germany, would I need any special documentation to board the train as a non-citizen?

    The return flight I'm looking at is a United one, but it's actually a codeshare with Lufthansa from TXL-FRA, and FRA-ORD, then United from ORD-STL (Ironically, the exact same flights booked through Lufthansa are about $300 more, go figure). Will customs in the US give me any grief since I flew into the UK and flew out of Germany? Would a 2hr, 40min layover in ORD be enough to get through customs and go to the other United terminal to catch the ORD-STL leg (it's a Sunday afternoon if that makes a difference)? How does airport customs work anyways, this would be my first time leaving the country. Don't I claim my bags in ORD, take them through customs, and then re-check them for the flight home?

    Thanks, and prepare yourself for more stupid questions :D
     
  2. rhsgolfer33 macrumors 6502a

    Joined:
    Jan 6, 2006
    #2
    I was over there a few weeks ago, we had no problem speaking English at any of the places we went to, you should be fine. If some one doesn't speak any english the general pointing and head shaking system works alright. Knowing a few words may be helpful though. It would probably be nice if you asked if the person spoke English, but again, we had no problem just speaking English, as long as you are polite about it.

    We had no problems at customs in Heathrow, made it through quickly with no checks. Bring your ID, but we weren't asked for it, just the passport. You should just need your passport to get on any of the planes, but have the ID in addition. You may have to go through customs at the airport when you board to fly to Berlin or when you land there; when we flew from Vienna to Frankfurt we had to go through customs to enter Frankfurt, just go to the guy with the lowest rank at the customs office, I made the mistake of going to the guy with the highest rank and it took me about 3 times as long as all the others on our trip (this maybe because we were in the "international terminal" for a connecting flight at a later time, so you may not have to go through customs at all.

    We boarded a train from Paris to Berlin with nothing other than our tickets, so your train ride probably won't require it, but have it just in case.

    I've flow to a destination and flown home from another and never had any problem at customs in the US, I would be very surprised if you did. I don't have much of an idea about the bags, we've always flown to Frankfurt and then back to the west coast directly from there.

    I personally carry my passport with me at all times when I'm moving, you never know when you'll need it to board planes, trains, etc.


    I would recommend a good chunk of spending money as well, it seems like everything (especially in London) costs a good amount. The British Museum and Tate Modern are both great though, and free. You can just walk in the front of St. Paul's and get a peak inside without paying, but it was about eight pounds or so to walk around when we were there. Would definitely recommend going to the top of the Reichstag in Berlin, its free as well, we went in the evening about 7:30 and there was no one there. The Pergamon Mueseum is also very cool, they have the Ishtar Gate and Pergamon Altar/Altar of Zeus, both of which are awesome. They also have a very nice Jewish museum, Checkpoint Charlie, the Sony Center (really cool at night, good beer too), the remaining portions of the wall, the unter den linden (nice Bugatti dealer on it if you're into cars, plus it is very nice to walk down in the evening), Alexanderplatz, etc, its a great city with a lot to do.
     
  3. Ugg macrumors 68000

    Ugg

    Joined:
    Apr 7, 2003
    Location:
    Penryn
    #3
    Your driver's license is only good in Europe for driving, it isn't enough to get you on a plane. Even though the EU is borderless, non-EU residents need to show a passport when flying between two EU countries. The only time you go through customs is when you arrive in Europe. If you were to leave the EU to go to a non-EU European country, then you would have to go through customs all over again when you returned to the EU.

    All you need on an ICE is your ticket, but Germany requires that all non-nationals carry official ID at all times. For all intents and purposes, that means your passport. Don't leave home without it!

    Mitte is a pretty safe area.
     
  4. yg17 thread starter macrumors G5

    yg17

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    #4
    Cool, thanks everyone. Is Greenwich in London also a good area?
     
  5. Macky-Mac macrumors 68030

    Macky-Mac

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    May 18, 2004
    #5
    IMHO, Greenwich is going to be kinda an inconvenient place for a tourist to stay
     
  6. yg17 thread starter macrumors G5

    yg17

    Joined:
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    Location:
    St. Louis, MO
    #6
    What would be a good spot?

    Thanks to the value of the dollar, hotels in central London are probably going to be way out of my price range
     
  7. rhsgolfer33 macrumors 6502a

    Joined:
    Jan 6, 2006
    #7
    Yeah, Greenwich could be a little inconvenient. We stayed out in Canning Town when we were in London and definitely would have liked to be a little closer. All in all its not too bad, you just have to take the Tube everywhere and be weary of what time the last train leaves. Greenwich probably won't be terrible, just a little inconvenient, as long as you are close to a tube stop you'd probably be ok.
     
  8. iMacZealot macrumors 68020

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    Mar 11, 2005
  9. yg17 thread starter macrumors G5

    yg17

    Joined:
    Aug 1, 2004
    Location:
    St. Louis, MO
    #9
    Yeah it is
     
  10. Lau Guest

    #10
    yg17 – Greenwich is a great place to visit but it is quite a long way out. The problem with places like that is that you have to rely on the tube or the DLR (Docklands Light Railway) and the last trains are quite early (midnight-ish). If you look on the Transport for London website and fiddle around with the Journey Planner thing, you can see where it's easy to get a night bus to, and somewhere with a fairly short night bus journey might be a better bet if you want to stay out past midnight.

    Having said that, there is plenty to do in Greenwich, so there's nothing stopping you going into central London during the day and having dinner or drinks back out at Greenwich as well. I've stayed in places that are a little way out from the city centre (for instance, when I last went to Berlin, funnily enough) and it can be really nice – you quite often find nicer and more interesting bars and restaurants out where you are than in the touristy centre, and you can just walk back to your hotel. It all depends on what you want to do while you're there, really.
     
  11. Peterkro macrumors 68020

    Peterkro

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    #11
  12. geese macrumors 6502a

    geese

    Joined:
    Oct 23, 2003
    Location:
    London, UK
    #12
    Greenwich isnt a bad area at all to stay in, very nice in fact. But I wouldn't stay in North Greenwich- its in the middle of nowhere. (I live round the corner from Greenwich, in New Cross). I've just looked it up on Google maps- it really is in no-whereville.

    But if you can find something near the centre of Greenwich, that would be nice (near Greenwich and Cutty Sark rail stations). Or maybe you can try the Clarendon in Blackheath.

    Or you can try this site: http://www.cheapaccommodation.com/London/3-star-hotel/
     
  13. BBC B 32k macrumors 6502

    Joined:
    Aug 5, 2005
    Location:
    London
    #13
    Hi there, first off I am sure you will have a great time in Europe. It is currently Summer here in London and therefore it is raining cats and dogs!

    You will need a Tube (subway) map. The standard one should do. They are available for free as a little pamphlet at all tube stations. Get one here though from the official site.

    Greenwich is quite far out from the main tourist areas. Obviously you will have the O2 Arena, so if there is a show to see that would be handy, otherwise you have the burnt out hull of the Cutty Sark. There is also the Maritime Museum and a wonderful big park with views over London. Quite a large shopping town centre and a large traditional market, but not sure on what day.

    You as a tourist would have to remember that the last tube does not run very late at night (about midnight). Also Greenwich is actually on the DLR (docklands light railway) not the tube. There is not much difference just that the whole Docklands area of East London was re-developed in the 80s and the DLR is an addition to the Tube network (mostly over ground in automated trains - think Johnny Cabs in Total Recall). You would also have to change Tube lines to get into the main areas. A taxi home would cost you a fair bit of cash - $75 would be a low fare!

    I live in the far NW of London. Pinner on the Metropolitan line. Takes about 45mins to get into the heart of London. You could try and stay in a town on the Central (red) line. Best locations are Queensway,Notting Hill Gate, Holland Park, Shepherds Bush then skip on to Ealing Broadway. These areas are generally nice enough and have good links to central London.

    Any other questions just ask. I may pick your brain after your trip as I am thinking of a trip to Berlin later on.
     
  14. geese macrumors 6502a

    geese

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    Location:
    London, UK
  15. daflake macrumors 6502a

    Joined:
    Apr 8, 2008
    #15
    I lived in Germany for 4 years (sadly I just moved back to the USA) and loved every bit of it.

    I do have a few tips....

    First, all Germans do speak some level of English. However, don't walk up and say "Sprechen Sie Englisch" right away as it is a bit rude. At least learn some basic greetings like "Guten Morgen, Tag, Abend" before you start with the English. If you are in Bavaria it is easier as it is "Gruss Got" all day long. Even if you screw it up you are more likely to get better service if you at least try. If it is so bad that you are butchering it, they will offer up English but you will at least have gained a little respect for trying. Germans are very proud people and any effort shows a level of respect. I have seen Americans ignored in restaurants because they won't even make an effort.

    This brings up the next point. Don't be in an American hurry. Many restaurants are slow going and it is not rude to start eating when you get your food if the others don't have theirs yet. Plan ahead for an hour or more if you go to a restaurant… Germans don't try to turn over tables like they do in the USA and you will easily spend an hour or two for an evening meal. Want the check? (Zahlen bitte “pay please”) will get you the bill. DON”T OVER TIP! Simply round your bill up to the nearest euro or two. Over tipping could be considered rude but a lot of folks are starting to keep it instead of returning it like they used to. 2 to 3 euros is fine for 4 people as gratuity is generally in the bill already.

    Train is a great way to get around and the public transportation is great. However, I would advise that you take an international drivers license (you can get them at AAA for cheap) with you. There have been disruptions in travel due to strikes over the last few years that could force you to take to the roads. Driving there is unlike anything that you have done. Germans follow the laws pretty well and use their turn signals as well. If on the autobahn, stick to the right unless passing. They are aggressive drivers so if you don’t go, a German will. Also, right is right. What that means is that traffic to the right of you has the right of way unless you are on a priority road. (parking lots included). Germans will not look to the left so be careful and watch the right.

    If I remember correctly, the area of Berlin that you will be in is pretty good. Berlin is a HUGE city with a lot of free museums there. The bust of Nefertiti is also there and a site that you should see if possible. There are some great walking tours that will get you acquainted with the city and give you a wealth of information. Dresden is not too far out and I highly recommend it as it has a more USSR feel to it. Also Leipzig is not to far either where Bach is buried.

    http://www.berlinwalks.de/tours_discoverberlin.html

    Germany is fairly safe but as a tourist I do recommend that you keep your money in several places on your body. Pick pockets are not abundant, but it will only take a split second for you and your wallet to be parted if you are not paying attention. When the Polizei ask you to do something, do it. I have seen them beat blood out of someone that refused to give blood for a blood/alcohol check. You have some rights but the Polizei have the right control things and if you become ugly with them, they will do what it takes.

    Trains are pretty much on time (was a lot better when it was state run) and there is nothing but a ticket to ride them unless you are crossing a border. Carry your passport with you as it is your ticket into most of the countries around you. There is nothing special needed to get to different countries for the most part as the borders are no longer controlled in the EU area. Even Czech opened their borders for travel with no check.

    If you want to tips on different cities to see, please let me know.
     
  16. Macky-Mac macrumors 68030

    Macky-Mac

    Joined:
    May 18, 2004
    #16
    so what is your price range? And what kind of hotel do you want?
     
  17. yg17 thread starter macrumors G5

    yg17

    Joined:
    Aug 1, 2004
    Location:
    St. Louis, MO
    #17
    no more than about £100 a night if possible.

    As far as kind, something decent. No hostels, but nothing fancy. Just some place for me to watch tv and sleep at night and to shower at in the morning. Internet access would be great too.
     
  18. Macky-Mac macrumors 68030

    Macky-Mac

    Joined:
    May 18, 2004
    #18
    it's possible to find a hotel for less than £100 a night in central London but it takes some looking. They wont be luxurious but they'll be be well located for a tourist. Recommending specific hotels is a bit risky since one person's "clean and convenient" can be another's "bland and boring". What you'll find wont be as new as a typical Holiday Inn, but then it'll probably have more "character" (which depending on your taste can be good or bad :D )

    You're flying on British Airways? Then check their web site for hotel offerings. They negotiate discount prices with hotels and then offer their best rates to people who have BA tickets. I've had friends who were flying on BA get really good hotel deals thru their web site.

    There are also a number of hotel booking web sites. Geese mentioned one above, check it out. I've used a different one in the past, it's called activehotels.com.

    Have you checked out the travel book web sites? Frommers and the like? Not exciting perhaps but they've built their business over the years offering advice to people looking for moderate priced lodging.

    I've stayed in several different areas of London but have found I like the convenience of Bloomsbury (underground stops; Holborn or Russell Square on the Piccadilly line which also goes to Heathrow airport, very convenient). It's easy to get to many of the historic sites & museums you'll want to see, Covent Garden is walkable for shopping, theater, dining, etc. The less expensive hotels will be older but still quite acceptable (depending on your tastes of course) Some of the Hotels are like this, some are like this, and there are historic townhouses that have been converted to inexpensive hotels. Of course there are also plenty of places that are more upscale and expensive.
     
  19. Ugg macrumors 68000

    Ugg

    Joined:
    Apr 7, 2003
    Location:
    Penryn
    #19
    Why not a hostel? It's a great way to meet other people, maybe join up with them and see things you might not have otherwise. If you've never stayed at a hostel before, I'd highly recommend it.
     
  20. yg17 thread starter macrumors G5

    yg17

    Joined:
    Aug 1, 2004
    Location:
    St. Louis, MO
    #20
    Thanks, I'll look into those

    Nothing against hostels, but I like my privacy and I'm willing to pay for that. I'm not traveling on a tight budget, so I can afford a real hotel without breaking the bank, but I just don't want to spend everything I have on a hotel. I'm trying to find a middle ground
     
  21. Lau Guest

    #21
    That looks really great, by the way, Peterkro, thanks for the link.
     
  22. jonnyb macrumors 6502a

    Joined:
    Jan 21, 2005
    Location:
    London, UK
    #22
    I got chatting to a lady from LA who wanted Tube directions last week and she told me she was staying at the The Hoxton http://www.hoxtonhotels.com/

    Hoxton is an area just north of the City Of London (the name for the financial district as opposed to the West End which is the City of Westminster). It's a former industrial area that's popular with artists (a broad analogy being the Meatpacker district in Manhattan)

    It's very convenient for the City and West End and its rooms are £79. I agree with everyone here that north Greenwich is too far out.

    Hoxton itself is quite a trendy area with lots of bars and restaturants
     

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