A Day in London

Every year I try to spend at least one day in London as a tourist to see what’s what with our nation’s capital.

So for this Easter weekend, I stayed at the Premier Inn York Way that’s just opposite King’s Cross station.  It’s conveniently located to everything – there’s a Tesco Metro just around the corner if you’re looking for snacks and drinks, but the Premier Inn itself has its own steak restaurant and Costa Coffee if you’re feeling peckish.  I decided to buy a Meal Deal for the two nights I was staying – this entitles you to a 2-course dinner and breakfast.  Breakfast is an all-you-can-eat buffet-style service and offers free Costa Coffee alongside the usual fare.  The restaurant offers a great choice of meals – I enjoyed the 8oz Sirloin for the first night and a very generous portion of fish and chips for the second.

Sock choice is important if you’re visiting London.

I booked a Big Bus tour for the Saturday and picked up the green route bus from directly outside of King’s Cross station which took me to Waterloo where I changed to the red route.

This was an opportunity to test out my new camera kit before I take it on my P&O cruise coming up later this year.  I have got to say that I absolutely bloody love my Sony RX100 M5 compact camera.  I’ve had the M3 and M4 (albeit briefly) and found them to be worthy cameras – but the M5 knocks my socks off with just how easy it is to use.  The autofocus and shutter speed on this thing is so fast and accurate (even in full auto mode) that practically all photos have come out super sharp.  When you’re on a bus, you’re a limited amount of time to frame and take a picture – and when you’re moving, it’s even more difficult!  But the Sony RX100 M5 is just a beautiful, beautiful piece of kit.

King’s Cross Station – where my adventures started

The camcorder, the Sony FDR-AX53, is also a wonderful bit of kit.  I haven’t had a chance to get to edit together the footage, but it’s super sharp and the sound (especially using the external hot-shoe microphone with dead cat) is spot on.

The London Eye, taken while the bus was travelling at a fair pace along the Embankment

The bus tour itself was hugely informative.  The blue route has earphone-based audio commentary (as it’s intended for multi-lingual tours), but the red route has a live English guide.  Both routes weren’t packed, and I even got to sit up front at one point which allowed me to take some great photos (albeit slightly reflective).

I was giving serious contemplation to taking a Duck Tours trip, but decided to leave this until another time

London itself was doing very well.  Despite that absolutely horrible atrocity that happened at Westminister recently, people were out in full force.

Westminister Bridge
Richard the Lionheart at Westminister. This shot really surprised me, since the bus was moving at speed and I just literally pointed it generally in the statue’s direction & hit the shutter button. It came out much better than I could have ever hoped.

I also used my “backup” phone, a OnePlus 3T, that I bought that I’m intending to use with the Samsung Galaxy S8+.  I wanted to have a spare phone in case I smash, lose or – heaven forbid – have the S8+ stolen.

The 3T is a lovely Android phone.  It’s much, much cheaper than most other flagship phones – but it has a decent spec that doesn’t compromise on anything.  My only complaint with it is that updating the thing is a pain in the rear end, and the battery life isn’t super great.  But it charges exceptionally fast using the proprietary Dash charger.  That said, the camera is pretty decent, and it’s now running the latest version of Android.

The following photos were taken on the OnePlus 3T as were passing Knightsbridge and other posher parts of the London.  As with all photos on this blog, click to enlarge – but please be aware that for optimisation purposes (to make things load faster), all photos have been lossy compressed on upload to the blog.  They should all look pretty decent, though,  I’m looking to make them all available in original formats at some point soon.

Heading back to Westminister and the Sony RX100 M5:

Not the Nine O’Clock News.
A recently wedded couple taking a horse drawn carriage just by the Queen’s stables.
This made me chuckle a lot more than it should have.
National Gallery, St. Martins-in-the-Field, Trafalgar Square & the Canadian High Commission in a single photo
Directly opposite Downing Street

It was a good day, and I look forward to spending more time in London next year – perhaps more than a day.  When I was booking back in January I completely neglected to notice it was Easter weekend.  That said, everything was open and it wasn’t as busy as I thought it would be.

The Hub by Premier Inn: The future of the hotel

This post was originally published in April,2016.

As a frequent(ish) traveller, I like my technology, and having had my fair share of staying in Travelodges and Holiday Inn Expresses and whatnot, it’s frustrating seeing the same old stuff every time one stays at these places: all too small TVs (at least they’re flatscreen, right?), inconveniently located light switches and wall sockets, and having to remember to stick your keycard into the wall to make sure that the lights and AC remain on. And then you have a thermostat that’s probably older than you and that it never gets the right temperature that you want, so you’re fiddling with it constantly.

Then you have to wait 600 years in reception checking and checking out.

Yawn, yawn, yawn.  But at least you get a decent bed, and a good night’s sleep, yes?  Maybe.

There’s a new kid in town, and it’s aiming to make staying a budget conscious (usually – subject to supply and demand and seasons, etc.) a tech lover’s dream.

Edinburgh Waverly station - the Hub by Premier Inn is a mere 4-5 minute walk away.
Edinburgh Waverly station – the Hub by Premier Inn is a mere 4-5 minute walk away.

For my trip to Edinburgh, I booked The Hub by Preimer Inn.  As the name implies, it’s a sister hotel to the regular Premier Inn, but with more emphasis on technology and efficiency.  But not at the expense of either (nor comfort for that matter).  From check in through to turning the lights on and off, you’ll be exposed to the future of proper hotel comfort using a contactless keycard and a mobile app to control your room’s temperature and lighting.

But that’s not all.

You get a huge comfortable bed, a desk and chair (sometimes the desk is hidden away, sometimes you’ll get a slightly bigger room with the desk in a permanent position), a 40″ smart TV with a dedicated panel for HDMI, RGB connectors and USB in, a control panel that controls all the lights, temperature, and the “Do not make up room” and “Do not disturb” electronic signs that light up outside your room.

Check-in was simplicity itself.  There’s a QR code with your booking that you scan in the check-in machine (don’t worry – there’s staff on hand to guide you through the whole process) and you then confirm a few details on the touchscreen.  You then take a blank, contactless room card and then put it into the reader/writer.  You’re then checked in.  Two minutes!  No queues!

But you can control all that through The Hub’s own iOS (or Android) app if you wish.  It’s a tiny bit buggy, but works more or less most of the time.  It’s perfectly possible, when connected to the hotel’s superfast (and I do mean it) Wi-Fi and sitting downstairs in the deli seating area to set the temperature ready for when you get back to your room.

When you do leave the room, lights and AC are turned off/or set to a low level.  On your return, everything comes back on without you having to stick your contactless room card in a slot or do anything else.  It Just Works(tm).  No more thumbling around for that light switch.

The Hub by Premier Inn's superfast Wi-Fi is superfast. Good enough for streaming Netflix and Amazon Prime content.
The Hub by Premier Inn’s superfast Wi-Fi is superfast. Good enough for streaming Netflix and Amazon Prime content.

Speaking of food, I ordered breakfast for all 4 days that I was staying at the hotel.  Breakfast consists one of four choices and comes with a sandwich, bagel or muffin, a hot drink (from Costa – so I could enjoy my favourite mochas every day), and a cold drink (typically orange juice).  I tended to combine this with a pain au chocolate (£2 extra).  The Great British breakfast was delicious – bacon in a toasted sandwich.

The Great British breakfast
The Great British breakfast “box”. Pain au chocolat extra £2.

I also tried other items on the menu (a tuna/cheese toasted sandwich and a decent, hearty soup containing chickpeas) and I can attest that the quality of the ingredients is excellent, The in house restaurant/deli is effectively a branch of The Proven Dough.  It’s not a brand I had heard of before, but would certainly be happy to use again.

The rooms, by the way, don’t have any kettles (they do have hairdryers, however).  But that’s okay.  You have 24/7 access to unlimited coffee and tea downstairs in the deli/reception area.  I tested this by heading down at 1am and there were still members of staff milling around.  I went back to the room and promptly tripped, emptying the entire contents of the tea onto the floor.  Sigh.

As The Hub’s deli is that – a deli – if you want something a bit more substantial, the location of the hotel in Edinburgh puts you right at the Royal Mile.  Literally a two minute walk.  But you can also use the regular Premier Inn restaurant – which is 30 seconds away, but I would recommend booking in advance wherever possible.

If you’re waiting for somebody, or need to look something up, or are holding an impromptu meeting – there are Android tablets in reception for you to play with. I struggled with the browser (which oddly told me it was a trial version).

The only downside was that I couldn’t get AirPlay to work with the Smart TV.  I suspect that the implementation by Samsung/Premier Inn isn’t quite compatible with iOS 9.3.  I still had that superfast Wi-Fi, and the 12.9″ inches of my iPad Pro to watch Netflix and Amazon.  So it was no big deal.  A nice idea from Premier Inn, however.

As you can see, The Hub by Premier Inn offers people like me a hotel that makes sense. The Hub by Premier Inn is perfect for the business traveller (the deli/seating area has built in chargers for phones, and electrical sockets for laptops).

Travelodge and Holiday Inn (Express) ought to take note.  The Hub by Premier Inn is the future of the modern mass market hotel.  While still only available in limited locations for now, I hope that Premier Inn will roll out more Hubs to other cities and towns.

I absolutely loved my stay at The Hub by Premier Inn (Edinburgh Royal Mile) and I’m already planning on going back later this year.  What was even better was the price.  For the four nights I was away, it cost me only £218.  Had I stayed at a local hotel, it’d have cost me £320, and given the experience of my manager who popped up to go to the same conference as me (I combined a working day with a holiday) had, I definitely made the right choice.