Archive for the ‘Best Bets’ Category

Controversial Logo for 2012 Olympics in London

Renting in London for the 2012 Olympic Games

London’s Bid for the Olympic Games

It’s been so long since the Christmas we were in London with family, when the campaign for the 2012 games was going strong.  It was 2004, and there were signs plastered all over the city, clever slogans and reminders about the upcoming vote. Soon the newspapers would be filled with images of the tsunami in Indonesia, but still the little Olympic games logo appeared in the lower corner of the papers, with snippets of news about the bid. There was an interesting energy about it, and even the somewhat stoic Brits we spoke to on the topic seemed to have a slight glint in their eye about the competition, even if their overall opinion of the games themselves fell more toward the “Bah humbug” than the “Go Team!”

Controversial Logo for 2012 Olympics in London

At the time, 2012 seemed like such a long time away, it was strange to see a city so concerned with an event 8 years ahead in its collective future. One of us remembers reading about the success of the bid the following July, surprised that Paris hadn’t won in the end as anticipated. And now here we are, 2012 is fast approaching, and it’s finally time to begin reserving some of the flats, houses and holiday homes available for rent during the famous games.

Book accommodation now for London 2012 Summer Games

As tends to happen with large international events, the prices are going up on most holiday rentals, and private homes that have never been available for vacation rentals are cropping up as available for rent as well. At Elegant Retreats, we are doing our best to make sure that our owners receive a fair market price for their in-demand properties, that guests in their flats or houses will be respectful and careful as those we usually send to them, and at the same time we are trying to ensure that our clients do not get gouged by the rates for the popular and highly competitive rental period.

After months of waiting lists and impatient checking in (“Are you ready to book summer 2012 yet? How about now? Now? Are you ready now? What about now?”), many owners are finally beginning to look ahead to next summer in preparation for renting during the London games. We are so pleased to offer the first crop of available home and apartment rentals for the summer games in London.

London Apartments Available from Elegant Retreats for Rent During the 2012 Olympics

Here is a start for the options that are coming available. We have not yet visited all of them, but will do so on a visit in September/October 2011. In the meantime, our partners in London have visited each and recommend them all highly for comfort, convenience, amenities and reasonable prices even in the busy and competitive Olympic season.

Roper’s Orchard 3-bedroom river view flat, Chelsea
Abingdon Road 4-bedroom terrace house, Kensington (Booked for some Olympics days, please enquire)
Pont Street 1-bedroom flat, Knightsbridge
Ovington Court 2-bedroom (plus study) air conditioned (!!!) apartment, Knightsbridge
Rosary Gardens 2-bedroom flat, South Kensington.
Chapelside mews 2 -bedroom house, Notting Hill
Chepstow Road 3-bedroom house & 1-bedroom apartment, Notting Hill (Booked from 27 July 2012)
We’ll continue to update as more self-catering rental homes in London become available. In fact, there are several more that we have available, but have not visited so they are not yet up on our site (but will be after our next inspection trip in October 2011).

A note about prices: Generally speaking, owners are asking double their usual weekly rate for rentals during the 2012 Games. Which is quite reasonable compared to the triple and quadruple rates being asked for the Italy games several years ago, and the Vancouver games, where so many of the properties were so far from the actual action! Most require booking in week-long increments (rather than 7-night minimum rental with pro-rated additional nights). So a 10-night request will need to book for either 7 nights or 14 nights.  And finally, many owners are requiring full payment up front rather than the customary 50% deposit. They know they possess a hot commodity and have no incentive to compromise. Luckily, if we’ve visited the property, you can be assured that what you are booking is what going to be just as described to you. In a world with few guarantees, we aim to give you some peace of mind about your Olympic holiday home.

Protect Yourself Against Fraud, Scams & Con Artists

In the meantime, a word of caution: One thing we’re concerned about for potential Olympic visitors is not only price gouging, but scam rentals. As you are no doubt perusing your options for Olympic accommodations (we know you have many options to choose from, and we hope you’ll give us a chance to earn your business), please take care with private owner listings on Craigslist or other direct-to-owner sites. While many of these are completely legitimate most of the time, these are exactly the sorts of sites that are easy hunting grounds for predatory scam artists and the nefarious types that will ask for a wire transfer and then abscond with your money, never to be heard from again.

We, of course, do not mean to be alarmist. As stated previously, most of the advertising entities on these sites are the real deal, but it’s the small few that are not that we want to help you avoid. Some of the ways you can do this include:
~Book with a reputable agency or large entity. Private owner rentals are great, we book them on our personal holidays all the time. But in busy, popular or chaotic rental circumstances (and the London Olympics will be all three and then some), it’s too easy to slip by in the system. If there is an agency, with a reputation to maintain and liability to avoid, guaranteeing your rental, you can be assured that they (like us) will work hard for your business and for your satisfaction.
~Pay by credit card. Though more expensive for the owner or business-owner, and often coming with a percentage fee on top of the rental price, paying by credit card gives you certain protections and the assurance or backing of your credit card company, most of which offer protections against fraudulent purchases or transactions.
~Purchase trip insurance. This won’t help you find accommodation if you show up in London and find your rented property doesn’t exist or is already rented to another, but it will make sure that you don’t lose the money you’ve spent in the event of unforeseen problems, interruptions or cancellations.
~Make sure there is a rental agreement or some sort of contract. Ask the owner or agent to sign it as well.
~Ask for recommendations or reviews from past renters, including persons that you can contact yourself directly to ask about the property or the company. If the owner or agency rep hesitates, reconsider. All should have several happy clients who have rented in the past and are willing to share their good experiences. If none can be produced, or if you are not able to get satisfactory answers from someone you do talk to, perhaps reconsider proceeding with the rental until you can be more assured of your protections.

We realize the above may seem terribly self-serving (book your vacation rental only with an agency! an agency… like…. us!), but honestly we can and will be glad to recommend other resources, legitimate agencies, colleagues or competitors in London with whom you will be in very good hands should you opt to rent with them. We would much rather see you rent with a competing company than be taken advantage of in the crowded marketplace, even if it means that we lose out on your business.

Because guess what? We’ve been there, as travelers, and it is the worst feeling in the world. As the saying goes: Fool me once, shame on you; Fool me twice, shame on me. It is a truism: All it takes is one time, and it will never happen to you again, because you will do whatever it takes to make sure it doesn’t happen again. But we at Elegant Retreats want to help you avoid the first time, skip right past that terrible sinking feeling in your belly as you realize that you have to hustle yourself and your entire group into any available hotel, whatever the cost, because night is falling and you’ve been up all for more than 24 hours, perhaps on an overnight flight, and everyone is tired and hungry and all you get is an out-of-service message when you call your contact from in front of the address that was supposed to be your flat rental and is instead an empty lot… you get the picture. But this scenario is completely avoidable, even in the crazy jumble of booking during something as large and crowded and (in)famous as the Olympics.

Have more questions about available vacation rentals, apartments or houses in London to rent during the Olympics? Want more tips about safely booking and traveling during the London games? Give us a call, send us an email or submit your enquiry. We’ll be glad to talk with you in more detail.

Go Team!


Embrace The Tourist Cheese (Why We Love City Bus Tours)


Historic Monument! Modern motel! Bus Railing!

Rules of Travel #1: Avoid Touristy Stuff

Generally speaking, we at Elegant Retreats are advocates of avoiding the usual tourist trappings while on holiday. The whole point of renting a holiday flat, cottage or home on vacation is to avoid the myriad costs, hassles and inauthentic experiences heavily marketed to visitors of any city, town or village. We cherish the sensation of living like a local as much as possible in the few short days or weeks that we get to spend in an area, and most of the tourist-targeting hoopla tends to detract heavily from that feeling.

There is one place where we quite emphatically and consistently contradict ourselves on the subject, however: City Bus (or Boat) Sightseeing Tours.

Rules of Travel #2: Periodically Ignore Rule #1

The first time you visit a famous monument and landmark-filled city, go ahead and hop on one of these delightfully garish tourist traps. Most large cities and some of the smaller, more popular villages in Europe have some version of these guided tours, usually on an open-top double-decker bus, sometimes on a small shuttle bus.  In cities with prominent rivers or waterways, there is very often a floating version of the tour via canal boat or other small craft.

These sorts of guided tours are the single best way to quickly and  easily get to know the approximate layout and major landmarks of a new destination. The best ones are manned by live guides, who spin tales of history woven with modern hints, tips and humorous facts about the places being visited along the way. Some versions feature taped commentary (which sometimes lowers the price of a tour) and ensures that you won’t be stuck with one of those bored guides who can no longer hide his disdain for telling the same story day in and day out. (To be fair, these sorts of sour guides are rare, and while they can dull the fun of a city tour experience, they can also rather funny to listen to in their own right – it’s amazing what a bitter, bored, had-it-up-to-here-with-this-nonsense person will come up with to amuse themselves or keep from karate chopping the 37,000th tourist who asks about leprechauns in Ireland, or where to find the best “coffee shops” in Amsterdam, or if it’s possible to attend high tea with the Queen in London).

Rules of Travel #3: If Ignoring Rule # 1, Embrace the Elements

Dark and fairly useless photo of Edinburgh Castle taken from the tour bus - one of our favorite useless bus top snapshot memories.

What’s so great about these tourist tours, with their tourist price tags and their potentially snarky-at-tourists tour guides, you ask? They are, in just a word, great:

– Designed for broad appeal: They hit the hottest spots and most ubiquitous landmarks in every guidebook. You can get a cursory lay of the land quickly and without having to think too much about it.

– No thinking skills required: The absolutely perfect thing to do straight off the plane, require zero effort beyond finding a stop and purchasing the ticket (which can often be done ahead of time online and with a discount!), and can be enjoyed in the fog of jetlag while waiting for the sun to go down so you can finally collapse into bed on the day you’ve arrived.

– Inspires serendipity: A great way to figure out what of the major attractions you might feel most inclined to visit or experience more in depth. (For example, we had no desire to visit the Whisky museum in Edinburgh until our bus guide pointed it out as we drove down the Royal Mile away from Edinburgh Castle and told us that it featured an interactive carnival-type ride in a whisky barrel, carrying passengers through 3-D diorama scenes explaining the history of Scotch in Scotland and ended with a fancy shot of booze… off the bus we went, picking up the another one about an hour later, now very well informed about the intricacies of Scotch whiskey making in the various regions of the country and very pleasantly buzzed!).

– Dual carriage: A nice, low-stress way to get around on your first day in town. Passes are usually good for 24 hours and let passengers hop on and off at any spot.

– Reasonably priced for something that rolls sightseeing and transportation into one easy package. Some tickets come with discounts for the monuments and attractions along the route. Prices vary only slightly between competing companies in any given city. It seems that most offer a fairly similar experience, though in larger cities like London, routes and major attractions may vary by company, or even within a single operation.

Rules of Travel #3B: Embrace the good, avoid the bad, try not to worry about the smaller details in between.

Awkward photos of people's heads and various monuments from the deck of a double decker tour bus!

The caveats: Yes, you will see the city in a bit of a blur. Yes, you will take terrible fuzzy photos of famous monuments and interesting sites from very odd and ultimately unattractive angles. Yes, you may very well be a bit chilly in the open top bus (but it’s really the best place to sit, so bring layers!). Yes, you will laugh at the corny jokes of your guide and immediately forget all the interesting historical anecdotes you found so fascinating in the moment, that you wanted to remember to write down in order to pass along to others later, perhaps at a dinner party or a wedding reception. Yes, the price of the ticket will feel a bit extravagant if you are trying to keep within a daily travel budget.

And yet: we cannot over-emphasize the value of these wonderfully cheesy, terribly informative, exceptionally tourist targeting sightseeing vehicular experiences. Once your 24-hour pass expires, you can continue on your merry trying-to-blend-in way, and no one (except those who might one day look at your cockeyed photos) ever has to know you indulged in such a guilty tourism pleasure.

More Information about Various City Tours

DUBLIN:
Dublin Sightseeing City Tour
City Sightseeing – Dublin

EDINBURGH:
Here’s a round up of several of the bus tours in Edinburgh, that includes the following:
City Sightseeing – Edinburgh
Edinburgh Tours
MacTours City Tour Edinburgh

LONDON:
The Original London Bus Tour
Big Bus Tours
The London Tour Bus Company

Boats versus buses: more leisurely pace, less car fumes to breathe, none of the urgency of careening through city traffic! Often warmer, though sometimes views are obscured if raining heavily on the glass roof top above.

PARIS:

Paris A La Carte (Bus AND Boat package)
Paris L’Open Tour
City Sightseeing – Paris

AMSTERDAM:
City Sightseeing Amsterdam
Canal Boat Tours

We don’t have any particular tour operating recommendations. In every city, these kinds of companies seem to be well regulated by the local tourist board, well managed, legitimate operations and thoughtfully (if not sometimes cheesily) entertaining.

You could always sift through online reviews of various operators in your destination location in order to make your decision, or you can wing it and jump on the one that looks best when you stumble into town or is select one that lets on/off closest to your apartment.  Research ahead of time is worth it for large groups when group or pre-booking discounts might be available.

Rules of Travel #4: Have Fun!

This is really rule number 1, of course. Have fun, take lots of wonderfully terrible snapshots and perhaps send us a few pics from the road!