We look back on 2016, a difficult year for many, and reflect on our past articles, challenges, and hopes for the new year.
London isn’t a budget destination but there are a few tricks to save money in England’s capital city.
Today, I share my top photography tips for avoiding the crowds at gardens and tourist attractions.
Spring is here and our thoughts are turning to visiting Europe’s best gardens. Today we share photos of our 10 favourite gardens in Europe.
England may be rainy (like our beloved Belgium) but that moody atmosphere makes for some great photos, if you’re prepared to get wet. Today we share a few of our favourite photos from our last trip to England.
I travel often, and for that, I am immensely grateful. Most of my trips I would relive in a heartbeat, however, there have been a few nightmare trips from hell. This was the case on my last trip across the pond, the weekend London tried to kill me.
Although I’ve made several trips across the channel to London, England, Friday was the first time I visited Kew Gardens. Although I had been looking forward to it, Kew was even better than I expected.
For starters, it’s enormous; 132 hectares to be exact. There was no way I’d be able to see everything in the few hours I had to spend, so I decided to focus on several attractions and take the time to enjoy exploring and photographing them.
It’s a beautiful spring day here in Everberg, despite a little haze… (that would be the polite way of saying smog). The birds are singing up a storm and the sun is blazing through my skylight. The temperature is supposed to go up to 17 today and it feels like the dark, wet shackles of winter can finally be thrown off.
Speaking of dark and wet, Andrew and I got back late last night from our trip to London. Unlike our previous trip, we had a fantastic time. We had very little rain and mild temperatures; no “Terror on the Tube” or reports of radiation – all things I look for in a successful trip.
We took the Eurostar early Thursday morning. It’s a two hour trip but you only lose one hour because of the time change. We parted ways at Waterloo station, where Andrew continued on his way to work and I hopped the tube to Leister Square. The skies were a bit on the grey side so I deemed Thursday ‘Gallery Day.’
My first stop was the National Portrait Gallery. It seemed like an interesting concept to me – an entire gallery of portraits of famous people. Although I knew it could go either way; an entire gallery of boring, dead, white, male politicians (there was a wing of the gallery that fulfilled this but I skipped through it fairly quickly) but for the most part, it was an interesting display.
Like many of the galleries in London, this one was free; with the exception of a special exhibition that I opted to see called “Face of Fashion,” which documented fashion photography since the 1980s.
I spent a good while at the Portrait Gallery and when I finally stepped outside the sky was beginning to clear a bit. I emerged in Trafalgar Square beside the National Gallery. I noticed a poster for an Impressionist Exhibition and wandered inside. To my delight, the National Gallery is also free.
The exhibition was small but good. Once I finished with it however, I was tired and galleried out. It was nearing four o’clock to I decided to jump on the tube, find our hotel and check in.
This time, we stayed at the K&K George Hotel and I must say the location was perfect. We were right around the corner from the Earl’s Court underground station on a quiet side street. The hotel was small, nice and modernised. The rooms were quite tiny but adequate and very clean. For the price (and being London) it was great.
I chilled out (and watched cooking shows on BBC) until Andrew got back to the hotel. Then we went for a late Indian supper at the Bombay Brasserie. The food was good and there was plenty of it. The atmosphere however was rather like dining in a very busy train station… at rush hour. It was very loud and smoky (England still hasn’t joined the club to ban smoking in public). We crashed late with overly stuffed bellies.
Friday was shopping day and involved the usual London suspects. I wandered through Harrods and Harvey Nichols and then took the tube to Selfridges. While these stores are always fun to wander through, my budget doesn’t allow actually buying anything at any of them. Finally I found myself at a huge Mark’s and Spencer’s were I let myself go a bit and bought a pair of pants (desperately needed) a blouse (not so desperately needed, but very cute) and some comfy summer sandals (also much needed). M&S caters to real people and their pants all come in short, medium and long lengths. The short size is perfect for me and these are the first European pants that I won’t have to hem. The shoes also come in wide sizes so I don’t have to cram my feet into narrow shoes. It was chubby girl heaven.
After my shopping extravaganza I went back to the hotel to wait for Andrew. Friday night we decided to go for Italian and found a spot in the theatre district called Getti. Again, the food was good but not spectacular. We were one of only four tables filled at the restaurant though and the huge staff was tripping over each other to serve us. We could hardly lay our forks down without someone whisking our plates away. I can’t say that I’m looking forward to this North American style of dining out when I go home. After supper we called it an early night so we could get up in the morning and try to score some theatre tickets. And score we did.
We arrived at the Tkts booth just before it opened for the morning and the line wasn’t too long yet. We managed to get tickets for Blood Brothers for 7:30.
With that out of the way we headed to the National Gallery to check out an exhibition that I had noticed the posters for on Thursday and thought Andrew might like to go. We shelled out 12 pounds each to see Renoir’s Landscapes, but it was well worth it. The collection was fantastic and the write ups were informative. I did a bit of art book shopping in the huge gallery bookshop and then we grabbed some lunch in the café.
After lunch we stopped in at the Photographers’ Gallery. It’s a tiny little spot compared to the monstrous National Gallery but the exhibits were interesting and it was also free.
By now our feet were tired and we decided to go back to the hotel to rest before getting ready for the musical. We grabbed some hamburgers for supper (tasty but way too huge) and then got the tube back to Leister Square and found our Theatre.
Blood Brothers was great. The music was good, the story was interesting and the acting was superb. The only problem was the drunk, fat, cow (believe me I’m using much stronger words in my head) that sat directly behind us and talked through the whole thing. Everyone around her was telling her to shush which she flat out ignored. Andrew finally turned around and flipped out a little (which was quite funny) at which point she told him to fuck off. I couldn’t believe someone could behave that way in public really. She must have been well over 40 and was dressed and behaved like a sixteen year old. We all hoped she would leave at the intermission because clearly she wasn’t enjoying the show… but no, she just got more liquor and soldiered on until the end.
Fed up with the human race, we went back to the hotel for a drink in the relatively quiet bar.
Sunday, after we checked out of the hotel we took our suitcase to Waterloo Station to pick up again before we caught the train. We then went back to Leister square one more time to see if we could get any matinee tickets. Most of the musicals are closed on Sundays but there are a few shows with matinees. We got tickets to see Stomp and I’m very glad we did.
We had time for a bit more shopping before the show and I found myself at another M&S where I scored another pair of pants. Andrew found some socks, undies and a belt (so practical) and then we window shopped a bit in the glorious sunshine.
If you don’t know anything about Stomp, it’s not so much a musical as a performance. There is no singing, just dance and percussion. The performers play household objects and stomp and clap. It is high energy and lots of fun. We had a great time.
After the show we decided to enjoy the sun and walk over the Thames to Waterloo rather than taking the tube again. We arrived early and got some food at the station before we picked up our bag and went to the Eurostar section.
For some strange reason when I had booked our return ticket, it was 10 euros cheaper to take first class than regular (who was I to argue) so we had plenty of room and great service. I had forgotten however that we would also be served supper. We were both still stuffed from our late lunch but enjoyed the free wine and nibbled a bit at our dinner. We got in to Brussels late but it was much more relaxed than flying. Now Andrew is back in the UK for the day but hopefully will be home for most of this week. I’m crossing my fingers that the sun will continue to shine.
Well we survived London and London seems to have survived us. It was an interesting weekend to say the least.
Andrew and I met up at suppertime and headed to South Station to catch the Eurostar. We had no idea what to expect but we were pleasantly surprised. Security and customs was a breeze compared to flying. Our seats were assigned so there was no rushing to sit together and it was much more comfortable than a plane. All in all, it was quite civilized. Now, if only they would Chunnel to Halifax…
The train trip took two hours and twenty minutes. When we arrived in London we had planned to take the tube to our hotel. Then we discovered that several lines were shut down for construction works (of course the easiest way to our hotel was inaccessible). We had just figured out a new more complicated way of getting there when an announcement came on saying that the station we needed to get to was closed (turns out someone fell in front of a train there – eek). So, defeated, we caught a taxi.
The next morning, Andrew was off to work and I set off on foot (after the tube fiasco I wasn’t braving it on my own). I walked – boy did I walk. When I look at the map now I can’t believe how far I walked (my knees are still recovering).
Our hotel was in the West Kensington area. I walked from the hotel to the Kensington High Street and checked out some of the shops (I did manage to get to a few grocery stores). I bought a pair of gloves at Mark’s and Spencer and some Christmas decorations.
Then I made it to Kensington Park. I walked all over the park and saw: Kensington Palace, The Royal Albert Hall and Monument, the Peter Pan Statue, The Italian Fountain and the Diana Memorial Fountain. Oh, and the world’s biggest squirrels… evil squirrels that could eat you for lunch… you think I’m joking…
Once I was parked out, I made my way to Harrods. It is quite an amazing store, particularly the food hall. The building is beautiful. The wares are… overpriced. Speaking of overpriced, my next stop was HarveyNichols. Same song different verse.
When I could window shop no more, I grabbed a late lunch and then I made my way to Buckingham Palace. I took the obligatory photos although the sun was starting to go down at this point (3:30… God, I hate winter). I was pretty exhausted by this point so I grabbed a coffee and sat to wait for Andrew. He took longer than my coffee so I did a wee bit more shopping near Green Park.
Finally we met up and went for Indian food. It was totally different from our usual fare and very good. I was beat from all of my walking so we grabbed the tube back to the hotel.
The next morning we got up and went to see about theatre tickets. London had been kind to me on Friday. Saturday she was an evil bitch. It rained, and rained and rained. We managed to get tickets for the Producers. They were in the back row of the floor but they were cheap and pretty much all that was left for anything that night. By the time our tickets were in hand I was so wet and cold I was miserable. We decided to go back to the hotel and change.
With dry pants I decided that Andrew had to see Harrods. We lunched on Tapas there and then sampled champagne in the wine cellar. (Now we have our Christmas beverage). I also tasted (and subsequently bought) the smoothest vodka I have ever imbibed. Andrew will be mixing some killer Martini’s for me now.
After Harrods we made our way to the theatre area and did some more wandering and window shopping. Finally we went to see the show. Despite what I’ve heard about the movie version (terrible) the musical was very good and a lot of fun. If you don’t know the story the cliff notes version is this – two guys decide to produce the world’s worst musical so they can take the money and run. The musical they choose is called Springtime for Hitler and it actually turn out to be a satirical hit… antics ensue.
After the show Andrew found a nice little Italian restaurant and we filled up on pasta and Chianti. Then is was on the tube again and back to bed.
We weren’t sure what to do Sunday as our train left at 6 but we had to check out of the hotel on the other side of town. We decided to take our bags to the train station first, put them in lockers and then go to the Tate Modern art gallery. We trudged to the tube station (about a 15 min walk) only to find it closed due to flooding. So after more trudging to the next station we found our way to Waterloo and dropped off our bags for an astronomical fee.
The Tate was only one tube stop away. When we arrived we stood in the queue like good English descendents only to discover that the museum is free (donations are encouraged) and the line was for the giant slides in the middle of the building (I’ve promised that Andrew can go on them next time).
The Tate is in a converted power station. It doesn’t look like much from the outside but inside I would say it is one of the best galleries I’ve been to. The great thing about it is how everything is presented. Instead of chronologically, like most galleries, The Tate groups works by theme or concept. The explanations of each piece are fantastic. Modern art is difficult for many people (myself included) to ‘get.’ The Tate’s explanations are very helpful. If only every gallery could do this so well.
The restaurant at the gallery was also very good. I had the classic English fish and chips (I’m still trying to burn off the batter) and Andrew had a burger the size of his head. Which brings me to some conclusions about London – it’s the most American city I’ve been to in Europe. In fact, it hardly feels European at all. It’s very fast – everyone is in a rush. Service is of the get in, rush through your meal, get out variety. People are good at standing in line (yay!), portion sizes are enormous (boo) and did I mention everything is very fast?
I enjoyed London and think it’s a great place to visit – loads to do, tons of theatre, great shopping (although very expensive if you have to do the conversion), good food (especially the Indian) and transportation is relatively easy (as long as the tube stations are open). Would I want to live there? I don’t think so. I hold out hope that London isn’t indicative of the rest of England (just as Toronto isn’t indicative of Canada). Someday I hope to see some of the country besides London and test this theory.