Exploring Dover Castle

26th February 2017

What do you think of when you hear about Dover?

Well, it’s not just a place to escape from England in your car over the sea to the wonders of France, Europe and beyond! On my recent trip I discovered there’s a lot more to the area than meets the eye. Plus, combined with the hourly high-speed train that whisks you from King’s Cross to Dover in under an hour, it makes it a great destination for a day (or a weekend) trip from London.

First thing that should be on your schedule: Dover Castle. Sitting atop the White Cliffs of Dover, it’s an amazing site where you can easily spend 3-4 hours walking around on the grounds and exploring the medieval tunnels, the Great Tower, taking a tour of the underground hospital and the World War II tunnel complex.

The medieval tunnels, which you can explore on your own, were great to transport you back to medieval times. As I ventured beneath the castle I imagined how hard it must have been to run around in the freezing winter with armour and weapons and walking up the tall stone staircases. Brrrr. You might have spotted them in Avengers: Age of Ultron where it was used as part of the interior for the Hydra Outpost in the Sovokia. Sadly I didn’t spot Iron Man, Captain America, or even a sighting of Thor’s mighty hammer…but there’s always next time (Avengers 3?)

My favourite bit had to be the Great Tower where English Heritage transformed the interior as if Henry II and his court was residing at the castle. I felt a bit like a presenter on MTV Cribs: Medieval King Edition. From the traditional kitchen to the dining hall and the bedrooms: the interiors give you an idea of how the castle looked and an insight of how lives were when it was used as a royal palace, but left enough room for fantasy and your imagination to weave your own tales.

For those who won’t be seen exploring anything that’s 200+ years old, there’s plenty for you too. There are two tunnel tours for you to embark on.

The Wartime Tunnel Tour takes you deep under the cliffs to the cavernous complex, which has been used for hundreds of years. Originally constructed to fend off Napoleon, they were later used as a base for WW2 – focusing on Dunkirk, and also secret operations hub during the Cold War until 1984. The network of dark cavernous corridors was gargantuan, and I couldn’t believe how much rock had been moved to create the place – I think there were 4 miles of tunnels in total – you get to explore a small section of this, and it takes around 45 minutes.

If you want a bit more of a personal story, the Underground Hospital tour is your best bet and is around 20 minutes. Here you get to hear the insights and experience the sights, sounds and smells of the underground hospital, told through the story of an injured pilot getting treated during WW2. They don’t allow taking photos on the tours, but you can take photos on the rest of the site.

A bit away from the main castle area lies The Saxon Church that’s still in use, and a still standing Roman lighthouse where you realise how far back in history the place goes. I’d recommend checking out a map of the place before you get started, as there’s a lot of routes you can take within the walls, but don’t worry there’s lots of signposts and useful information boards explaining the what/when/where of each building.

The opening hours vary, depending on the season, so do make sure to check out the website before heading to Dover. They also close during extreme weather! During the holidays there are also period displays with actors and other activities.

monumentally big changes you’ll face in London in 2017

9th February 2017

london polaroid impossible projectHey guys, how is everyone surviving in these times of change?

Well if you are heading to London to catch a breather anytime soon I have to give you a warning:

Things are changing quicker than before and I’m not even talking politics wise – here are three monumentally big changes you’ll face in the capital in 2017…

london piccadilly circus

The Piccadilly Circus billboard lights have been switched off until autumn. Yes, the UK’s answer to NYC’s Time Square and the selfie background of millions will be a no-go zone for months. Until then you’ll have to do with a temporary advertising banner that will replace the lights. When work has finished it will feature a 4K screen, so you can see every tiny pixel of that Coca-Cola logo – is that progress for humanity or what? While you are there you can tell your friends/company that it’s the first time since World War Two the lights have been turned off. Scary!

The Queen Elizabeth Tower and its even more famous bell, Big Ben, will be silenced and scaffolded for urgent repair work that’ll take up to three years. So bad news if you want to take that one shot to prove you’ve been in London. The powers that be seem to realise this is a marketing no no and have said they’ll ensure the clock dials are visible for as long as possible during the works and have promised us that at least one clock face is visible! Will it be the same? We’ll see…

Has it been your dream to stand in the hall of the Natural History Museum and get up close and personal with one of their most iconic attractions?  Too late, after more than 100 years of service Dippy the Diplodocus has been replaced by a Blue Whale. If you really want to get your bone-fix on with Dippy, you should check his tour schedule as he is on a UK goodbye tour (I kid you not). Let’s hope he’s not donated to Battersea Dog’s Home! Though to see the looks on the dog’s faces would be worth it..

To end the post on a more positive note … London now has the night tube AND Fabric has re-opened! Which means you can pull an all-nighter, party til the small hours and run to catch your 7 AM plane at Heathrow.

 

LONDON HOOD YOU’LL LOVE: BLOOMSBURY

16th 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. 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!