LONDON HOOD YOU’LL LOVE: BLOOMSBURY

17th January 2017

From quirky bookshops to amazing architecture and some of the prettiest streets in London, Bloomsbury is bloomin’ full of stuff to do.

If you like architecture, then Bloomsbury will hit the spot. For art deco lovers there is Senate House, a magnificent art deco structure and one of the first ever skyscrapers in London, back in the 1930s when they were actually cool. Despite being the inspiration for the Ministry of Truth in Orwell’s 1984 – the place where propaganda and brain-washing are the norm – no amount of mind control could get me to love the place.

The Brunswick Shopping Centre is a concrete mega structure and is brutalist as they come. If you can pry yourself away from the sci-fi style white facades, you’ll find a cinema chock full of foreign movies and documentaties that the bigger chains seem to skip on.

Another design highlight is the McCann office, built for a luxury car company hiring out chauffeur-driven limousines to the rich and famous – the 1930s art deco building can best be described as a real life Fisher Price Garage (90s kids will know), complete with a circular ramp where cars were driven up to the showrooms on the upper floors, you won’t be able to see that, but the exterior is a gem.

If I had to make my top 10 London streets that will transport you in another time and era then this one would be on it. 

The area is famous for being home to some great writers in the 1920s and 1930s known as the Bloomsbury group, so you can image the area is one of the best places for lovers of the written word on paper and you’ll see a lot of bookshops. A must visit is Skoob Book Shop, just off the Brunswick Shopping Centre, it’s one of those enchanting places where you can spend all of your hard earned wages, thousands of multi-coloured book spines layer the walls like bricks, creating a literary maze you never want to escape from. It’s much cooler than any kindle and smells a lot better too.

You can’t eat or drink books right? So for that head to the pubs where you can grab a bite/pint, or one of the chain restaurants in the Brunswick Shopping Centre. You might want to go to 49 Cafe to gorge yourself on the best breakfast for a reasonable price in central London. They also do an amazing cannoli which is the perfect accompaniment for your daily coffee.

If you’re after a healthy lunch, you won’t be able to resist Alara. Alara is a one of those health stores that comes with a cafe where the excuse of ‘it’s not healthy” does not apply!

The British Library is the national library of the United Kingdom and it’s not the average library that holds your discarded copies of 50 Shades, but more of a research library, holding over 150 million items from various countries, in different languages and in many formats. The museum itself might not be interesting for everyone – unless you have a libraries bucket list, but they occasionally do hold interesting exhibitions, like the current one on maps and the 20th Century.

Ah … The British Museum: the place the British store everything they’ve stolen from their travels or the place where they keep stuff safe. Depending which side you are on. Either way it’s a amazing museum. Admire the glass dome in the Centre Court, discover Aztec art and Egyptian mummies and explore higher floors for rooms that are less busy. Beware the long queues and security checks though – can make visiting on a time limit difficult.

New Year’s Resolutions For Travellers

4th January 2017

I hope you are having a great start to the new year! How many of your resolutions have you broken? It’s never too late to add new ones and with that in mind I’ve put a few travel related ones together we can actually keep this year.

Travelling should be fun, not stressful so let’s promise each other to check-in the night before and avoid the madness at the check-in counter on the day of travel. While we are at it: print your ticket out or make sure you have enough battery if you use an app to avoid the budget airline £60 printing fee. Spoiler alert: they don’t print it on gold.

When on a budget trip don’t ask for the cheapest wine – if wine is not your fuel then switch it for something else. If you don’t do it for yourself, do it for your taste buds and enjoy at least one thing.

So many countries, so many currencies, so much money wasted on exchange rates. This year plan ahead and get familiar with the exchange rates or get an app so you know how much you’re spending at all times.

I know this is a hard one for about half of us, but we can at least try to pack on time. Also … overpacking – the rule of thumb should be: if you haven’t worn those 12 inch heels for the past 10 months you’re not going to need them for your next city trip.

Don’t forget to inform your bank of your travel plans as a lot banks flag foreign transactions in case of fraud and they might end up freezing your account, so be sure you inform your company ahead of time.

Make sure to check the entry and exit requirements for the destination you’re headed to next. And check the expiration date on your passport to make sure it precedes the date of your flight home, don’t forget some countries require that passports be valid for six months past the date of your flight home while most European countries require that passports be valid for three months past.

Eco/green/sustainable travel is the trend for 2017 so why not jump on that bandwagon and travel more responsibly? I will go into this in another post, but it can be as simple as asking housekeeping not to change towels every day and invest in a re-usable bottle so you can stop buying plastic bottled water and plastic cups. Baby steps.

And last but definitely not least. Stop.comparing.yourself.to.other.travellers.on.social.media. Those fulltime travel bloggers you follow who go around from place to place? Well done for them! But it’s not a competition! Let’s raise a glass to realistic expectations.

What are your resolutions?

6 Places to Eat and Drink in Reykjavik

2nd January 2017

Despite the cold, Reykjavik is more than hot in the culinary department, with everything from artisan pizza joints to addictive lobster soup and cheesecakes so good you’d swap your grandma for one more bite.

So, whether you’ve been blasted by a geyser, are drying off after the Blue Lagoon or still in a daze from seeing the Northern Lights, you’ll find plenty to satisfy your belly while in Iceland’s capital.

For Something Quick
If you’re in the mood for a quick bite, look no further than Reykjavik Chips: delicious, crispy, and oooh so addictive – these potato-based gifts from food heaven definitely made a rather soggy, tiring day of trekking awesome again.

For A Cup of Damn Good Soup
A visit to Saegrefinn is ideal if you are looking for an energy boost in a cup, which for once isn’t coffee but a moreish Lobster soup.  All that with the company of a creepy waxwork figure (none of that Madame Tussauds crap)  plus a lot of fish skewers (including whale) are on offer at this harbour side restaurant.

For Your Artisan Pizza
The first thing you should know about this ‘hidden’ pizza place – so Reykjavik– is that it doesn’t have a name. But that hasn’t stopped the place being fully booked on even a Sunday night. The low light means you can barely make out your companions, so good for a major-date-zit-event, or if you want to slip out without your boring fellow eater noticing. And the pizza was pretty good too.

For Breakfast and Lunch
Whether you’re after breakfast, lunch or dinner, Bergsson Mathus ticks all the boxes. It’s a great option for someone craving a healthy veggie-packed meal at a reasonable price, I mean, it’s a little on the expensive side but the dishes are pretty large. And extra kudos for the fact that they make hot chocolate with actual chocolate and not just some instant nastiness.

For Coffee and Something Sweet
Craving some tea and sweets/cakes. Well, C is For Cookie is where you should be. I judge these places by the quality of carrot cake and the one I was served was incredible good, it comes in a little cup so you don’t feel too guilty and you can hide how much you’ve eaten so you don’t look like a starving person. Also a great spot for if you just want a basic, warm breakfast or brunch.

For Something Traditional
An Icelandic friend recommended I sink my teeth into a Klenat. And she was more than right, this Scandinavian take on the donut was well worth the giant queue in the bakery. I wish I’d bought a box full now!

Where to watch the 2016 New Year’s Eve fireworks in London if you don’t have a ticket

30th December 2016

Despite the fact everyone and their dog has written about where’s best to see the London New Year’s Ever Fireworks, I’ve still had quite a few emails about where I’d recommend, so I thought I’d unload some of my top tips, like a the travel blogging PEZ dispenser that I am.

Tickets for the Southbank are now sold out, but don’t worry if you haven’t got hold of those coveted tickets…

I’ve been up close and personal myself, having watched front row from Westminster Bridge, but in the end I wasn’t a big fan of the hellish crowds so I’ve avoided it since and discovered a mix of other vantage points. Now it’s been ticketed for the past few years (sadly the ticket doesn’t include a comfy couch and hot chocolate) more and more people have followed suit.

Here are a few of my personal recommendations where you can have a good chance at a free view for the New Year’s Eve fireworks in London.

A few years ago, I – by accident- watched the fireworks from Blackfriars station platform and I had an amazing view, it almost beats the front row at Westminster Bridge. If I had to go out and see the fireworks I would try and get to Blackfriars Station – please note the station will be exit only from 9 PM onwards.

Closest Station: Blackfriars

Parliament Hill on Hampstead Heath will always be the best place to see the fireworks. However, crowds are getting bigger every year, and if you want a good viewing spot, you’ll have to get in early (10ish) to stake out your spot.

Closest station? Hampstead National Rail or Tube Station, or Belsize Park and Gospel Oak Tube Stations.

Primrose Hill is another crowd favourite and even closer to central London than Parliament Hill – plus you get to be near Camden and all its stuff to do before or after. Make sure you arrive early (10ish), because spots fill up fast.

Closest station? Chalk Farm or Camden Town

If crowds aren’t your thing you might want to head out further, to the south maybe? You probably might have to squint a little more, but Hilly Fields in Brockley is likely to be a little quieter and you won’t have to get there so early.

Closest station? Lewisham or Brockley

Notable mentions – A quick survey of my London friends found people had had a good time at Alexandra Palace (if you can handle the steep walk up!), and for a more historic time – Greenwich Park is also definitely worth a try (complete with the Cutty Sark and Thor-tastic Royal Naval College in the backdrop).

Wandering Around Empty Central London On Christmas Day: 4 Things You Need To Know

29th December 2016

Earlier this year I put together a ‘reverse wander list‘ post – comprising the bucket list worthy things I’ve already done, and as the year’s end draws near I’m more than happy to add another to the list: wandering around empty London a la 28 Days Later.

28 Days Later is hands down one of my favourite horror movies. Nope, not for the zombies, Cillian Murphy or the tense-as-hell soundtrack. But for the empty London. This scene is probably the best in the entire film, I love how they take the idea of a vacant London and turn it into something frightening, despite there not really being any visible scares.  If you haven’t seen it, this is the scene. In my head, I had this idea of seeing London when it’s very quiet and (in my head) at its scariest.

For some reason, I thought Christmas morning seemed to be a good idea for that. Spoiler alert: it wasn’t.

You Will Have To Get Up Super Early For the Full Experience
I got to frosty Westminster Bridge at 8 am and this was already too late, for the full experience (no/minimum other people and no cars) you will have to go for the 3 AM wake-up call. Which is reasonable in Summer, but on a cold December morning I could only justify 6.45 AM.

 

You Will Run Into People
Of the many scarf-wearing masses, you’ll find photographers and tours chasing for those empty shots – even it if takes 20 mins pinned to the same spot. Add to this mix are the tourists wanting to prove they’ve been in London by cosying up to Big Ben in that postcard perfect photo. Surprisingly, lots of people taking out their dogs – which they probably enjoy that more than any doggy gifts. There are the joggers who – I assume – dream of running through an empty London or prepping for that Christmas meal later the day.

Not Everything Is Closed
London isn’t in an entire lockdown over Christmas: for the sandwich deprived – I spotted two Prets that were open, an Italian place, a cake/coffee spot on Regent Street as well as a few gift shops (don’t worry you still can get that union jack flag magnet) that were open. The most useful thing is probably that you can rent a bike if you want to get from A to B a bit quicker and bus tours seemed to run, oh and though I’m not sure this is a positive – Ripley’s Believe It Or Not was ready for business.

The Side streets are the Best
Forget about vacant Westminster Bridge or completely empty Piccadilly Circus, it’s the little side streets where it started to get interesting and will give you the feel (and photograph) the best. I’ve seen Covent Garden empty early in the morning before, but seeing absolutely no one was there, and finally managing to get on the swing chairs was the highlight of my morning. Plus in the smaller streets, the silence you get is damn right weird – there was no sounds to be heard – which for London is like another world.

Would you want to see (or hear) an empty London?