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Traveling to Europe in September, could use some advice!

Traveling to Europe in September, could use some advice!

Old Jul 11, 08, 6:34 pm
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Traveling to Europe in September, could use some advice!

Here's my rough schedule.

London: I arrive on August 29th and leave on September 1st. Staying at the Copthorne Tara Kensington, a stone's throw away from FC Chelsea.

Paris: Arriving by train on September 1st in the afternoon. Leaving on the 3rd. Staying at the Mercure Paris Porte De Versailles (15th district), which is unfortunate in light of the fact I could have had a room at the Holiday Inn in the Latin Quarter (6th district) had I waited for two more days. Oh well, no use crying over spilt milk, Priceline doesn't give out refunds.

Luxembourg: in (also by train) on the 3rd, out on the 4th, staying at the Alvisse Parc Hotel.

Brussels: In on the 4th (once again, by train, but I am picking up my rental car at the station), staying at the Holiday Inn Brussels Centre.

Leuven: in on the 5th, staying at the Holiday Inn Garden Court Leuven.

Aachen: in on the 6th, not yet sure where I am staying, but most likely at some friends'.

Spa: the Formula 1 race is on the 7th; after that I will hopefully return to Aachen for the night. Also in the plans are a visit to Michael Schumacher's hometown (Kerpen) and a romp around his go-kart track that same night.

Cologne: in on the 8th, staying at the Renaissance Hotel Cologne. Unless I wear out my welcome in Aachen, would like to return there to spend the night on the 9th, then off to walk around the Nurburgring in the morning (yes, I plan on walking or biking the entire 23 km Nordschleife if I'm allowed). Then, provided my legs still function, I'm off to Bruges, spending the night of the 10th at the Apollo Arthotel Brugge.

Delft: in late on the 11th, staying at Hotel Coen Delft.

Since Amsterdam hotels come in around 200 Euro/night around mid-September and rarely include parking, I'm staying in Noordwijk on the 12th and the 13th (de Koningshof Hotel). Thankfully, it's right on the coast, as well as close to both Amsterdam and Zandvoort.

Flying back home from Amsterdam on the 14th.


Now, for questions. Of course, I will welcome any and all suggestions you guys might have as to what to see on the way, what to pay special attention to, etc, etc, but I do have specific questions, as well.

1. As of right now, I am now renting a car at Brussels and dropping it off in Amsterdam. All in all, it's going to run me $495 (Europcar; compact; diesel). Insurance not included, but I hope I'll be alright with Master Care Rental. I have already had a claim with them locally and it was handled swimmingly. Am I right to assume I'll be OK in Europe as well? The Master Care Rental agreement says so, but what have your experiences been like? Also, I haven't been able to find a deal any better than the one I've got (picking up at Brussels, dropping off at Amsterdam)...if you have any idea where I can find some coupons that would be valid in Europe, do let me know. I've tried Hertz and Sixt so far - not too much luck.

2. Phone calls. I have a few options: Skype (I am bringing my laptop along), my cell phone (AT&T, $1.29/minute), a calling card (no clue what to get) or an international roaming SIM card (also, no clue what to get). I plan on calling at least Germany, England and France, as well as the States. What would you suggest?

3. Luggage. I'm flying Virgin and KLM direct, so I won't be paying extra for luggage, but still, what's a good size bag that's both inexpensive and not too cumbersome to drag along? This is my first trip by myself, so I want to have all the bases covered.

4. Credit card. I am thinking of getting a Capital One card (0% foreign fee), but which one is the best: points/miles/cashback? Can points be converted to cashback?

Anything else I need to pay attention to? Local traditions, good places to eat, things to DEFINITELY see? I've driven through Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands before, so I'm not a total newbie, but this will definitely be my first trip by myself.
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Old Jul 11, 08, 11:44 pm
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Welcome to Flyertalk, highlanderfil. There is a Forum dedicated to Europe (see Travel & Dining>Europe). I believe that some of our European-based Flyertalkers will be happy to assist you. I am moving this over to the Europe Forum. Please follow there.
All best wishes,
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Old Jul 12, 08, 4:13 pm
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How much of this are you actually committed to (i.e., how many non-refundable hotel reservations have you made?)

My immediate comments would be

- It's a very hectic schedule, you're trying to pack in an awful lot and not really staying anywhere long enough

- Unless you are particularly fond of unpacking and repacking why up sticks so many times? Several of the places on your itinerary are very close together, much easier to stay in one and go to the other one for the day.

- You generally pay a LOT more for car hire if you hire in Country A and drop off in Country B. You may want to look into prices for dropping off in the same country.

- While you probably need a car for some parts of your trip there are others for which you are much better off going by train.

OK... specific points:

Brussels: In on the 4th (once again, by train, but I am picking up my rental car at the station), staying at the Holiday Inn Brussels Centre.
I wouldn't use a car in Brussels if I were you - traffic is pretty terrible. It's much easier and quicker to go to Leuven by train. And I would pick either Brussels OR Leuven as a place to overnight as they are very close to each other.

Aachen: in on the 6th, not yet sure where I am staying, but most likely at some friends'.
Brussels (or Leuven) to Aachen is a very easy train journey - much easier than going by car. Why not take the train and hire a car in Aachen?

Spa: the Formula 1 race is on the 7th; after that I will hopefully return to Aachen for the night. Also in the plans are a visit to Michael Schumacher's hometown (Kerpen) and a romp around his go-kart track that same night.
Sounds a bit much for one day...

Cologne: in on the 8th, staying at the Renaissance Hotel Cologne. Unless I wear out my welcome in Aachen, would like to return there to spend the night on the 9th, then off to walk around the Nurburgring in the morning (yes, I plan on walking or biking the entire 23 km Nordschleife if I'm allowed).
Again, two towns that are very close together. Unless you want to give your friends a break for a night why not just stay in Aachen throughout?

Then, provided my legs still function, I'm off to Bruges, spending the night of the 10th at the Apollo Arthotel Brugge.
Another journey that's much easier and more pleasant by train.

Delft: in late on the 11th, staying at Hotel Coen Delft.

Since Amsterdam hotels come in around 200 Euro/night around mid-September and rarely include parking, I'm staying in Noordwijk on the 12th and the 13th (de Koningshof Hotel). Thankfully, it's right on the coast, as well as close to both Amsterdam and Zandvoort.
Why not just stay in Delft for three nights, rather than move again? Or pick somewhere that's somewhere between the two such as Leiden? Train travel is SO easy in the Netherlands...

So... my suggestion would be:

- do everything by train except the bit between Aachen, Spa, Cologne and Nürburgring (for which you could get a car in Aachen)

- cut down on the number of towns that you stay in overnight, and take day trips instead (e.g., between Leuven and Brussels, between Aachen and Cologne and between Delft and Amsterdam)
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Old Jul 12, 08, 4:31 pm
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Your London hotel sometimes gets beat up in reviews. I've stayed there and found it very workable though, and quite close to a tube station.

I did learn the rooms get nicer as one gets higher. So I'd suggest de-scruffing yourself as much as possible after an overnight flight, using your best manners, and asking for a room as high up as possible. This also gets you away from street noise.

Tea/coffee maker in the room and I think I recall a fridge.

I like to get one of those "all you can ride" cards so I can jump on those trains without fumbling for change and showing a ticket each time. And I can jump on the right one after I've gotten on a wrong one, without buying another ticket.

The British Museum is free, and an incredible collection, IMHO.

Romelle
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Old Jul 12, 08, 6:12 pm
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I'd drop the rental car plans.

European cities and rental cars REALLY don't go together.

And promise that you won't use your AT&T sim in Europe. There are countless better ways to do this.
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Old Jul 12, 08, 9:53 pm
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Originally Posted by roberto99 View Post
I'd drop the rental car plans.
Not an option. I like being my own chauffeur.
European cities and rental cars REALLY don't go together.
I've done it once already and loved it. So this would definitely be a classic case of "to each his own".
And promise that you won't use your AT&T sim in Europe. There are countless better ways to do this.
Now this one I can promise. But what are my best alternatives?
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Old Jul 12, 08, 10:09 pm
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Originally Posted by Aviatrix View Post
How much of this are you actually committed to (i.e., how many non-refundable hotel reservations have you made?)
Non-refundable are London, Paris and Cologne (Priceline). Brussels and Leuven are kinda-refundable in a sense that I made the reservations using Priority Point Breaks and I'd only get 10,000 back which is useless, really.
- It's a very hectic schedule, you're trying to pack in an awful lot and not really staying anywhere long enough
I know. I don't have a problem with that, though. I knew going in it was going to be like that, so that's not a problem.
- Unless you are particularly fond of unpacking and repacking why up sticks so many times? Several of the places on your itinerary are very close together, much easier to stay in one and go to the other one for the day.
True. I kinda wish I'd have gone for two nights in Brussels or Leuven, but I kinda wanted to experience two different towns. I hear Leuven has a college-town reputation, so spending the night there would be cool.
- You generally pay a LOT more for car hire if you hire in Country A and drop off in Country B. You may want to look into prices for dropping off in the same country.
True. Sixt, for example, charges an extra 120 euros. EuroCar's website is being finicky, so I couldn't tell you how much the premium is.
- While you probably need a car for some parts of your trip there are others for which you are much better off going by train.
That's why I'm taking the train from London to Paris and from Paris to Luxembour. From there on, though, if I want to stop by and see the little towns in Belgium and Netherlands, I'm free to do so on my schedule, hectic though it may be. So let's leave the rental car in and of itself in place, if you know of better deals than $50/day or have any suggestions re insurance - sweet, if not, let's just call it my own whim.
I wouldn't use a car in Brussels if I were you - traffic is pretty terrible. It's much easier and quicker to go to Leuven by train. And I would pick either Brussels OR Leuven as a place to overnight as they are very close to each other.
I might e-mail Holiday Inn to see if I can switch my Leuven reservation to Brussels or vice versa. That might be a good idea.
Brussels (or Leuven) to Aachen is a very easy train journey - much easier than going by car. Why not take the train and hire a car in Aachen?
Sounds like a good enough idea on the surface, but what I neglected to mention was that a friend of mine might be joining me in Brussels, so I'd rather be my own boss if I'm going to be picking her up, etc. Luggage ain't light...
Sounds a bit much for one day...
I thought so too, but then I looked at the map and Kerpen is very close to Spa. The race is not even two hours long, so I'll have to find things to do in the evening anyways.
Again, two towns that are very close together. Unless you want to give your friends a break for a night why not just stay in Aachen throughout?
First of all, you're absolutely right on about me wanting to give my friends a break - I feel bad making it into a three-night stand at their place as it stands. Plus, I do plan on sampling Cologne's finest hops and don't want to drive to Aachen while inebriated.
Another journey that's much easier and more pleasant by train.
Now this one is true, but that would necessitate two different car reservations (Brussels to Aachen and then Aachen to Brugge) and I just don't want to do that.
Why not just stay in Delft for three nights, rather than move again? Or pick somewhere that's somewhere between the two such as Leiden? Train travel is SO easy in the Netherlands...
Ideally I wanted to stay in Noordwijk for three nights - the hotel was booked on the 11th, though. Amsterdam area hotels were kind of ridiculous around this time - very tough to balance price and comfort level. And it was substantially cheaper (and closer to Amsterdam) to stay in Noordwijk than Delft. And since I want to explore the coast of Belgium and the Netherlands,
- do everything by train except the bit between Aachen, Spa, Cologne and Nürburgring (for which you could get a car in Aachen)
doesn't work.
- cut down on the number of towns that you stay in overnight, and take day trips instead (e.g., between Leuven and Brussels, between Aachen and Cologne and between Delft and Amsterdam)
Yeah, I'll look into ditching Brussels (thinking about it, the parking cost there is higher than in Leuven).

My route in and of itself wasn't much of a concern, I had planned it more or less to shake out like that (sorry, I don't mean to sound ungrateful for your advice because you clearly put quite a bit of effort into it), but I am looking more for ideas of things to do in the places I am planning to visit, not how to avoid them.
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Old Jul 12, 08, 10:18 pm
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Originally Posted by Romelle View Post
Your London hotel sometimes gets beat up in reviews. I've stayed there and found it very workable though, and quite close to a tube station.
Yeah, I've read those reviews AFTER booking. Hindsight being 20-20, I didn't book another hotel (well, save for Paris, that was all done in one day if memory serves) until after consulting Tripadvisor. Do tell me a bit more about the Tara, though - do the gym and Wi-Fi cost extra? How's the food?
I did learn the rooms get nicer as one gets higher. So I'd suggest de-scruffing yourself as much as possible after an overnight flight, using your best manners, and asking for a room as high up as possible. This also gets you away from street noise.
Will do!!! Thank you. Wonder what would happen if I showed up wearing an FC Chelsea shirt... Or would I just be one of those annoying Americans trying to fit in?
Tea/coffee maker in the room and I think I recall a fridge.
That might be useful. Is there a Tesco or similar nearby?
I like to get one of those "all you can ride" cards so I can jump on those trains without fumbling for change and showing a ticket each time. And I can jump on the right one after I've gotten on a wrong one, without buying another ticket.
Ooh, do extrapolate on that one. How does that work? And how useful to me is an Oyster card? My stay in London will probably look something like this:
-29th - an evening around Kensington
-30th - either going to where all the tourists go (Big Ben, museums, etc) or trying to go to the Arsenal-Newcastle game (wish I knew how to get tickets, though, their website is VERY confusing with regards to non-season seats) and the Eye either early in the morning or later at night (if Arsenal happens, if not, I'll just go there when it's light). By the way, I got a general admission voucher (Expedia) for the Eye good for either of the three days - am I in for a long line?
-31st - Brands Hatch in the afternoon, wherever my friends want to drag me off to later inn the evening
The British Museum is free, and an incredible collection, IMHO.
I'll see how culturally-inclined I am feeling.

Ooh, another one. What about currency exchange? I will have my credit and debit cards (Citibank) with me, but I get a feeling I won't be able to get away without having at least fifty pounds cash. What's the best way to go about procuring that?

Thank you!!!
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Old Jul 13, 08, 7:13 am
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Originally Posted by highlanderfil View Post
Spa: the Formula 1 race is on the 7th; after that I will hopefully return to Aachen for the night. Also in the plans are a visit to Michael Schumacher's hometown (Kerpen) and a romp around his go-kart track that same night.
Don't underestimate the amount of traffic for this event, it's staggering.

Even driving back to a local Spa hotel after the qualifying sessions can be long and arduous. In comparison to that, getting on a train and getting back to Charleroi for a flight back to the UK after the race was a breeze.

Spa Francorchamps is an amazing circuit (certainly my favourite for F1 races) and I'd definitely encourage you not to miss it, but do realise that the traffic in this area will be incredibly dense, especially in the hours after the race/qualifying sessions, getting back to nearby Aachen may take some time.

I'd encourage you to contact your friend to see if s/he has any advice about travelling between their home and the circuit - you may actually be better of taking the train for this route (seriously, once you see the F1 related traffic jams this will all become horribly clear)
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Old Jul 13, 08, 8:34 am
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London

http://www.millenniumhotels.co.uk/co...ton/index.html

is a pretty useful site. Maps and links to info on the transportation options. I usually just go to a place and then stand and read the options on one of those machines. Seems any of the advanced purchases involve extra fees and such, and the web sites don't always include all the possibilities. There are sometimes advanced-purchase/USpurchase deals but I think it tends to be a wash. I figure the locals are getting around somehow, and that will work for me. (Admittedly, this method can be trickier in other languages - once mistakenly read German "stunde" for student rather than hour and the whole thing then didn't make a lick of sense.) I haven't ever had an Oyster card so can't comment on the specifics of that. Nowadays you can usually even use your credit cards in the machines.

I purely love riding that London underground. A little scruffy, but I figure it is an authentic London experience. And some of the stations and trains and areas are lots nicer than others. With an all-you-can ride card, you can explore freely. Again, it's been years, but I seem to recall the area around where you catch the Chunnel train especially interesting.

A fridge is included according to their web site. I didn't test the wifi or gym situations.

As I recall, there is a regular grocery store up on the street where the entrance to High Street Kensington tube is. Cross Kensington High Street and break left (west) about a block or two (it's been years though, my memory may have slipped, and it may have moved). Do ask somebody there - clerk in the nearby Boots? Also lots of other food options in the area. Department stores seem often to have grocery stores in their basements. Lovely fresh pre-made sandwiches, pastries, fresh fruit, etc.

Cash - I usually just pull a reasonable amount out of the nearest ATM when I get off the plane. Check your cards for the fee situation though. There is a lot of variance from one to another and you might learn one is better than the others.

I did the Eye years ago. An amazing experience and I loved it. Don't remember the lines as being a problem, but that will vary by time, date, etc. I'd guess the locals have already done it, and you will just be competing with tourists.

Sounds like a wonderful trip. Don't overplan. Some of the fun comes from seizing the moment while you are there - concert in a park, street musician, ??

Romelle
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Old Jul 13, 08, 9:24 am
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highlanderfil - if you really want to do this trip by car then it's not my place to try to persuade you otherwise! :-) You'll either come to regret it, or you won't... and I guess this will largely depend on how many traffic jams you'll get stuck in!

I don't think Noordwijk would have been my first choice as a place to stay... I attended a conference there some years ago and I remember it as being rather boring and a bit of a dump. It may have changed, of course. Maybe someone else has more up-to-date information.

Turning now to the London part of your trip - I think Oyster is definitely the way to go transport-wise. AFAIK (but you need to double-check on this) the maximum that will be charged to your Oyster card on any given day is the amount that you would have paid for a One Day Travelcard, so you no longer gain anything by buying a Travelcard, neither financially nor in terms of convenience. Romelle's advice would have been the correct advice a few years ago, but things have moved on.

Also...

I seem to recall the area around where you catch the Chunnel train especially interesting.
I presume this refers to the area around Waterloo where Eurostar trains used to depart from. They now go from St Pancras (as of last November) which is in a completely different part of Central London. Also... no one here calls it the "chunnel", the name just never caught on.
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Old Jul 13, 08, 9:28 am
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Originally Posted by highlanderfil View Post
Not an option. I like being my own chauffeur.I've done it once already and loved it. So this would definitely be a classic case of "to each his own".Now this one I can promise. But what are my best alternatives?
I had some ideas for stretching your budget but now I'll save the bandwidth.

"Penny wise...pound foolish."
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Old Jul 13, 08, 9:50 am
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Originally Posted by LapLap View Post
Don't underestimate the amount of traffic for this event, it's staggering.
Trust me - I'm not! I'll be leaving Aachen as early as I can only wake up.
Even driving back to a local Spa hotel after the qualifying sessions can be long and arduous. In comparison to that, getting on a train and getting back to Charleroi for a flight back to the UK after the race was a breeze.
Hm. I might look into leaving the car in Aachen and taking the train then.
Spa Francorchamps is an amazing circuit (certainly my favourite for F1 races) and I'd definitely encourage you not to miss it, but do realise that the traffic in this area will be incredibly dense, especially in the hours after the race/qualifying sessions, getting back to nearby Aachen may take some time.
Yeah, Spa has been a dream of mine for a LONG time. Hell, I'd walk there from Aachen to watch the race.
I'd encourage you to contact your friend to see if s/he has any advice about travelling between their home and the circuit - you may actually be better of taking the train for this route (seriously, once you see the F1 related traffic jams this will all become horribly clear)
Hey, I didn't read this part before writing what I did above, I swear!
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Old Jul 13, 08, 9:58 am
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Originally Posted by Romelle View Post
http://www.millenniumhotels.co.uk/co...ton/index.htmlis a pretty useful site. Maps and links to info on the transportation options. I usually just go to a place and then stand and read the options on one of those machines. Seems any of the advanced purchases involve extra fees and such, and the web sites don't always include all the possibilities. There are sometimes advanced-purchase/USpurchase deals but I think it tends to be a wash. I figure the locals are getting around somehow, and that will work for me. (Admittedly, this method can be trickier in other languages - once mistakenly read German "stunde" for student rather than hour and the whole thing then didn't make a lick of sense.) I haven't ever had an Oyster card so can't comment on the specifics of that. Nowadays you can usually even use your credit cards in the machines.
Thanks, I'll check out the link for sure.
I purely love riding that London underground. A little scruffy, but I figure it is an authentic London experience. And some of the stations and trains and areas are lots nicer than others. With an all-you-can ride card, you can explore freely. Again, it's been years, but I seem to recall the area around where you catch the Chunnel train especially interesting.
Yeah, I like visiting New York for the same reason.
A fridge is included according to their web site. I didn't test the wifi or gym situations.
Alright. I remember reading on TripAdvisor that the gym cost extra, but that sounded a little weird, so I wanted verification.
As I recall, there is a regular grocery store up on the street where the entrance to High Street Kensington tube is. Cross Kensington High Street and break left (west) about a block or two (it's been years though, my memory may have slipped, and it may have moved). Do ask somebody there - clerk in the nearby Boots? Also lots of other food options in the area. Department stores seem often to have grocery stores in their basements. Lovely fresh pre-made sandwiches, pastries, fresh fruit, etc.
Excellent. I am always wary of hotel food (both about the price and quality), but it sounds like I won't starve.
Cash - I usually just pull a reasonable amount out of the nearest ATM when I get off the plane. Check your cards for the fee situation though. There is a lot of variance from one to another and you might learn one is better than the others.
Yeah, I might have to resurrect my old Washington Mutual account - or put money into my dad's and use his card. He hardly uses it anyways.
I did the Eye years ago. An amazing experience and I loved it. Don't remember the lines as being a problem, but that will vary by time, date, etc. I'd guess the locals have already done it, and you will just be competing with tourists.
Yeah, if locals are over it already, going on the weekend won't make a difference. I'm scared of heights, but this is something people have recommended so overwhelmingly, I'll get over it.
Sounds like a wonderful trip. Don't overplan. Some of the fun comes from seizing the moment while you are there - concert in a park, street musician, ?? Romelle
For sure. Thanks again!

Last edited by highlanderfil; Jul 13, 08 at 10:03 am
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Old Jul 13, 08, 10:01 am
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Originally Posted by Aviatrix View Post
highlanderfil - if you really want to do this trip by car then it's not my place to try to persuade you otherwise! :-) You'll either come to regret it, or you won't... and I guess this will largely depend on how many traffic jams you'll get stuck in!
I live in L.A. Traffic jams are my life:-D. But I like driving enough to do it. Plus, I'll never pass up an opportunity to hop behind the wheel of a Peugeot or something else we don't have here in the States.
I don't think Noordwijk would have been my first choice as a place to stay... I attended a conference there some years ago and I remember it as being rather boring and a bit of a dump. It may have changed, of course. Maybe someone else has more up-to-date information.
Well, I'll only be there to sleep, so perhaps that won't be an issue. Certainly does explain the reason for the hotel being only 50 Euro, though.
Turning now to the London part of your trip - I think Oyster is definitely the way to go transport-wise. AFAIK (but you need to double-check on this) the maximum that will be charged to your Oyster card on any given day is the amount that you would have paid for a One Day Travelcard, so you no longer gain anything by buying a Travelcard, neither financially nor in terms of convenience. Romelle's advice would have been the correct advice a few years ago, but things have moved on.
Alright, I'll research this further. I do have some local friends in London, so maybe they can be of some assistance.
Also...

I presume this refers to the area around Waterloo where Eurostar trains used to depart from. They now go from St Pancras (as of last November) which is in a completely different part of Central London. Also... no one here calls it the "chunnel", the name just never caught on.
Yeah, I saw the bit about St. Pancras when I booked the tickets. If I remember correctly, though, it's a straight shot on the tube, no?
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