We are hurtling along northbound train tracks at 100mph, heading for Edinburgh, Scotland. We are on a Virgin Train, sitting in first class (see TripBits, below for details) enjoying comfortable, reserved seats, a large table with power, wifi, and food service, (snacks, hot and cold drinks, breakfast or lunch). We chose lunch, but were still offered croissants or toast and juice with our coffee. What a comfortable way to travel, and it didn’t hurt our budget at all.
This is goodbye to England, at least for now. Here are a few thoughts about our two months here, that haven’t yet made it into other blogs.
Even in small villages, there is usually a variety of large grocery stores available. Since the country is so small, and everything is so close, a 30-minute drive can bring you to larger cities with even more options. Most villages seem to have at least one or two market days with farm produce, cheeses, meats, etc. In the grocery stores, there is an amazing variety of prepared meals or easy-to-put-together options (some quite healthy if you choose well) at very reasonable prices, which is fantastic for when we aren’t staying long enough to make it practical to purchase lots of condiments, spices or other ingredients that we would just have to leave behind or toss out. Dining in and out has proven to be much less costly than we expected.
We had read that 10% was a customary and expected tip at restaurants in the UK. In the almost 2 months we’ve been here so far, only once have we been offered the opportunity to indicate a tip on a credit card machine. In pubs, it’s customary to order and pay at the bar for both food and drink. In our first weeks we tried to offer cash tips, but rarely could find a tip jar. We asked once and the woman serving us said that she had one but there’s no way she would leave it up on the bar. At a chain pub, Wetherspoons, we tried to leave a tip on the table and were told by the server that they were not allowed to accept tips–restaurant policy. We asked our Huntingdon host about tipping, and she put it quite simply: Brits don’t tip.
What you see–in almost all shops and restaurants–is what you pay. We’re much more used to a restaurant bill being the sum total of the items we ordered, 10% liquor tax on alcohol items (if we’re in British Columbia), 5% GST on everything , and a 15 to 20% tip. It’s a treat to pay only the price listed on a menu or in any store.
It is likely that all 3 of these factors–food prices being reasonable, no taxes, little tipping–together leave us feeling that we are getting a lot of value for our food investments.
Roundabouts–once you figure them out, they’re pretty great and definitely keep traffic moving.
Traffic lights with a pattern of green-yellow-red-yellow-green, so you know when the red light is about to change to green and you can prepare to go.
Fast, on time and cost effective if you book about 12 weeks ahead (Brits seem to complain about the price of train travel). Multi-train itineraries, at least for us, have worked like a well-oiled machine.
Train from Huntingdon to Edinburgh: We decided to splurge on first class tickets on the 2nd leg of the trip since this was a long trip (4 hours), we wouldn’t have to worry about packing food, and it still seemed incredibly inexpensive at £80 for two of us with our Two Together railcard (regular fare at the time we booked was just over half of that).
To demonstrate the value of booking ahead, I just checked pricing for the same trip we are on if it were booked for tomorrow. Even with the discount card, the regular fare for two is £163.60 and the first class fare is £293. Without the discount card, tomorrow’s prices would be £247.80 regular fare for two, and £444 for first class (remember, we paid £80). At any of those prices, we would have given serious consideration to flying!