Sunday, November 14, 2010

Alright Gov'ner

This is the first of a number of blog posts I have written about my overseas travels in 2009-2010. Backpacking around Europe for 4.5 months and living in Canada for 8 months in Canada has left me with some stories so I thought I'd send them into cyberspace. Any feedback on these articles is welcome, otherwise - enjoy!

Destination: London, United Kingdom.

Picadilly Circus + Shopping bags.

Population: Roughly 7,556,900
Currency: The almighty British pound.
Language: English, but don’t be surprised to hear Indian, Armenian, and pretty much every other language on earth (about 25% of Londoners were born in another country)
Trivia: Host city of the London 2012 Summer Olympic Games, London is also home to the Topshop’s Flagship store and hot mess Russell Brand.

How I got there: I flew from Brisbane to London on Qantas with a quick stopover in Bangkok. I left in the afternoon (Brisbane time) and arrived in the morning (London time) so jetlag wasn’t too bad. The flight was long…but movies, lollies and a good book made it bearable.

Where I stayed: I stayed in ‘Wapping Palace’, my friend’s flat in East London. Now it goes without saying that staying with friends in London is possibly the best and easiest way to save some money (this rule applies wherever you go). On other visits to this fabulous city I have stayed at hostels including: the relatively nice Palmer’s Lodge in Swiss Cottage and the decidedly average Phoenix Hostel near Edgeware Tube Station. Palmer’s Lodge had a decent breakfast and was close to the tube and the movies but the Phoenix was pretty rubbish (despite the included breakfast and the fact it is above a pub).

What I did: While my friends slaved away at their jobs I relished my unplanned days. I spent my time taking in the sights; walking to Tower Bridge, riding the London Eye, sunning myself (yes the weather turned it on for me!) on the grass outside Westminster Abbey and of course shopping the high street. In the evenings, we would have dinner together and watch Britain’s version of ‘The Apprentice’, occasionally accompanied by a cheeky cider or two.

Burrough Markets
It was easy to become accustomed to this new life of street wandering. Who wouldn’t enjoy gorging on brownies at Burrough Markets and browsing the stores and stalls at Portobello Rd or Camden? Indeed, in the rarity that I did feel slightly overwhelmed by the fast pace of the city, I would simply retreat to the grassy comfort of London’s many parks and gardens. Kensington gardens and Primrose Hill being two of my favourite spots.  

Wapping Palace proved to be a cosy home away from home and staying there gave me the chance to get a real feel for London life. This first taste would leave me wanting more. I soon found myself a tad obsessed with Girl’s Aloud and coveting the Topshop dress Fern Cotton wore to the Glamour awards. I would eagerly grab a free paper from the tired looking souls at the tube entrance, whipping my Oyster card out of my bag and swiping it with purpose. Yes I could see myself fitting right in here. It seemed like a much more vibrant existence - and so much more exciting! Fancy a week in Montenegro? Why not! A getaway to Egypt? They’re on special in TNT magazine! Not enough money to leave the country? No problem, there’s gigs, shows and bars galore! Yes, London had wooed me with her many charms. This was my kind of city.

Highlights: Now some of London’s most popular tourist attractions include Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. Of course, you can’t leave without getting a picture in front of them all but let’s be honest here – they aren’t that exciting. So once you’ve taken your snaps why not check out he following:

Big Ben
  • Marvel at the iconic Tower Bridge and visit the beefeaters at Tower Hill for one of London’s authentic tourist experiences.
  • Portobello Road and Notting Hill – pretty, upmarket houses, delicious antique shops and overcrowded market stalls make for a fun, if not slightly exhausting day out.
  • Camden is where music and art collide. Tattoo parlours, piercings and punks are all pretty common here. It’s renowned for its market stalls and amazing live music scene.
  • Oxford Street is the main shopping street in London. Here you’ll find everything from Primark to Urban Outfitters, the Disney Store and Adidas.
  • Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park are two of the best public spaces in London. With roses gardens, lakes, and plenty of space for everyone they are beautiful and a great place to relax.
  • Primrose Hill offers a great view of Central London and is a favourite haunt for many celebrities including Kate Moss, Jamie Oliver and Rachel Weisz
  • Soho in the West End is the perfect place for a night out. Grab dinner before seeing a show (I saw Billy Elliott) and follow it up with drinks at one of the millions of bars nearby.
  • The British Museum is a great place to spend a rainy day, and in and it’s free!
  • Westminster Abbey: note my worn boots...
  • Of course Madame Tussauds is cheesy but it’s also one of my fondest memories from London. Where else can you get that close to Johnny Depp without being labelled a stalker?
Another quick note; if you’re trying to choose between waiting in a queue for an hour with a bunch of high school students and paying too much for an activity? Look no further, you can get both of these on a visit to the London Eye! On a fine day you can get a nice view of the city but it’s nothing special. Save your pennies for an extra cider at the pub.

Getting Around: There are double-decker buses to take you home after a night on the turps and black cabs if you’ve got the cash, but the best way to get around? The London Underground of course (more commonly known as ‘The Tube’). Grab yourself an Oyster Card for £3, load it up with coins and swipe it to travel at a cheaper rate.

In my opinion there is no better way to see a city than to wander through its streets. London is no exception. Take advantage of a walking tour or simply grab a snack and head out on your own and you’ll be pleasantly surprised by this lively city.

Street Art

Food: London is home to thousands of amazing restaurants and cafes but some of the best food I ate was from markets. Spitalfield Markets provided me with a heavenly Carribean Rainforest Rostis and free samples of fudge and brownies. Whilst, Burrough Markets has pretty much any food you would want to eat, 100% tasty and fresh. As most backpackers would agree: why buy lunch when you can sample for free?

Hummingbird cupcake
For the cake lovers, a red velvet cupcake from the infamous Hummingbird Bakery is a must on the London to do list. Of course the chocolate, vanilla, and carrot cakes are equally as delicious…why not try them all? After all, a slice of heaven has never been so affordable (or as adorable).

If savoury and spice are more your thing make tracks to Brick Lane. As much a cultural experience as culinary, this is the place for curry. Use your bargaining skills with restaurant staff and you can easily score yourself free entrees, wine and even dessert!

Mistakes and un-pleasantries: I didn’t pay enough attention to the overall geography of London when I was exploring it. This meant I ended up spending more on transport than necessary.

I was followed by a creepy man while walking along the Thames one day. My friends informed me that this was quite common in London and not to worry too much about it. I just jumped on the closest tube and made my way across the city…far far away.

Drink: It’s extremely easy to fall in love with English cider. Bulmers and Magners both do amazing apple and pear ciders which you may miss for months after returning home.

Nightlife: If you’re in the mood for a quite drink or a big night on the town, London is your town. I frequented Dirty Martini in Covent Garden with my girlfriends as well as a few cocktail bars in Clapham Common (2-4-1 cocktails on Friday arvos). There is also a huge number of homely pubs serving pints of beer and my beloved cider.

Biggest surprise: Portobello Markets was full of stores selling knockoff goods. I was expecting more individual and unique upcoming designers. Whilst there were some great designers selling their wares, they were vastly outnumbered by stores full of plastic sunglasses and cheap t-shirts.

Cute dress + stockings + cupcakes = HAPPY!
Don’t forget to take: Umbrella, A to Z of London (or a map), an ipod or book for travelling on the Tube, camera and a jacket (it can get pretty cool by the Thames even in Summer).

Where I shopped: I spent many hours trawling market stalls and shops at Portobello Road and Spitalfield markets (Spitalfield proving to be more fruitful for quality vintage scarfs). My main shopping took place on Oxford St at Urban Outfitters, Zara, H & M,

What to read:
  • Weekly TNT Magazine: this is a magazine primarily targeting South Africans, Kiwis and Aussies living in London but you can find amazingly cheap travel deals, and news about what’s going on in London.
  • Intimate Adventures of a London Call Girl by Belle de Jour (fun and sexy it will leave you wondering about the secretive side of the city)
  • One of London’s many free newspapers (in the loosest sense of the word). Because reading about Cheryl Cole’s new haircut and the infidelities of the English Football team are secretly very satisfying.
  • Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle, for a little bit of mystery.
  • Have a peak into London’s past with anything by Charles Dickens (think Oliver Twist, Great Expectations, A Tale of two Cities).
Portobello Rd
What to wear: London is no doubt one of the most fashionable cities in the world. However, thanks to the diversity of locals and the endless hoards of tourists; anything goes. My get up consisted of skinny jeans paired with ballet flat or flat boots, cute t-shirts, a blazer/jacket and a scarf. On the warmer days (of which there were luckily quite a few) I got away with footless tights and a summer dresses with a cardigan in tow. Oh and don’t forget sunglasses; mine were black Ray-Ban Wayfarers. On my digits I wore OPI’s Peru-B-Ruby and Rimmel Pro’s Blue Vogue nail polish.

What I listened to:
·         Bloc Party, Pnau, Jamie T, Sia, Empire of the Sun, Andrew Bird, Born Ruffians, Katy Perry, MIA, Santogold, Britney (she was on her comeback tour or 2009).

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