London: Some of our favourites

One of the best things about being stationed in the UK is being so close to one of the most amazing cities in the world, London.  We are approximately 90 miles away (if we were to drive directly into the city).  To give you an idea of how exciting this is compared to where we used to live, it was approximately 90 miles from Clovis, New Mexico (where we were last stationed) to the closest “big cities” (Lubbock and Amarillo, Texas)–neither of which were exactly tourist traps!  So to have one of the biggest, most captivating cities in the WORLD at our fingertips has been amazing!  Though we could drive into the city of London, we don’t do this for a variety of reasons: parking, congestion charges, traffic, and just general ease of travel.  We typically park at Epping Tube Station, which is about an hour away, which puts us on the Central Line right into London.  We purchase all-day travel cards for myself and B (Benjamin rides for free :)) so that we can hop on and off any of the trains all day.  London is huge, so this is super helpful.  When Benjamin was smaller, wearing him in the Ergo was the easiest way to travel, but now we use our lightweight stroller, and he loves being able to watch everything!  Some of the tube stations have lifts (elevators), but others don’t- in which case B and I haul the stroller up and down the stairs.  We are pretty much pros at it by now, and it doesn’t bother us a bit.  There was one time {and only once with reason} that we took our large jogging stroller and we immediately regretted it, as it is so large and bulky.  Taking the stroller on the actual train is a piece of cake.

Anyway, there is definitely no shortage of things to do in London .  I think anyone and everyone could find something to do there!  Living so close allows us to visit often enough that we don’t feel like we have to rush and see tons of stuff each time we go.  For the most part, we have seen most of the touristy things, even if we haven’t gone inside or done the tours and such (Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, Tower Bridge, The Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, etc.)  Eventually, we want to do at least some of these tours, but so far we’ve been pretty content wandering and seeing what we can find.  Below is a non-exhaustive list of some of B and I’s favorite things to do in London…

**I apologize in advance if you are a Harry Potter fan, I am not {gasp!}, and therefore have no information on anything HP-related in London, though I know there is a lot!  

The British Museum

The British Museum definitely ranks in both of our top five places to visit in London.  First of all, IT’S FREE!  {We always make a donation, but it is not required.}  Second of all, IT’S HUGE!  Seriously, I don’t even think it’s possible to see everything in one day.  B is a huge history nerd, and I just love museums, so we could spend hours here.  I think our favorite exhibits have been the Egyptian displays, including the Rosetta Stone!  A helpful hint: don’t go on Boxing Day {it’s closed, as we found out after walking 2 miles…whoops!}.  Anyway, it’s a must-see if you are any sort of history lover!

Borough Market

B and I try to make it to Borough Market almost every time we travel to London, usually for lunch.  It is located near London Bridge, not to be confused with Tower Bridge.  It is chock-full of produce stalls, vendors, and delicious eateries.  We often stop for a yummy pie from the Pieminister stall and eat it while wandering around or find a seat near Southwark Cathedral to people watch.  The market is a bustling, colorful, exciting place to be, especially on beautiful weekends!

Camden Market

Another market I love (B was not as impressed) is Camden Market.  This area is a relatively large “hipster-y” part of London with tons of shops, restaurants, bars, vendors, etc.  I think I mostly loved the vintage feel of everything in the area, as well as the great photo ops.  You could definitely get lost in this part of town, and spend the whole day there!  After wandering and shopping, we had an amazing lunch at Porky’s, a BBQ joint nearby.  You can pick up some great vintage goods at Camden market and just enjoy the atmosphere and people-watching.

 

Trafalgar Square

Trafalgar Square is the centre of it all.  It is a tourist hot-spot with statues, fountains, and many restaurants and museums nearby.  B and I just love the authentic big-city London feel here, and the people-watching is fantastic.  There are often street performers in this area, and sometimes demonstrations or protests.  The National Gallery is located here, which is a huge, free art museum.

Shakespeare’s Globe

We just recently actually went inside Shakespeare’s Globe and did the tour, which we loved!  One of our friends from the states was in London, so we met up with her and took the tour of the theatre.  There is a museum outlining the history of Shakespeare, and there were actors practicing sword-fighting inside!  Our tour guide was fantastic and hilarious, and gave us some awesome information about the theatre and history.  The open-air theatre was pretty amazing, B and I agreed that it would be cool to see a performance there sometime!  There is so much history in London it just blows my mind.

Winter Wonderland

If you are in London around Christmastime, I highly recommend visiting Hyde Park for Winter Wonderland.  From November through January, Hyde Park is magically transformed into a wonderland full of carnival rides, restaurants, bars, and food vendors, craft stalls, even an ice rink and circus!  We have been twice in the three years we have been here and will probably go back again.  Entrance to the actual park is free, but the various rides and events cost money.  The first year we went, it was just B and I and we ice skated.  It was fun, but I don’t know that it was worth the money we paid for it.  It is cool though, that we can say we have ice skated in Hyde Park in London!  This past year we took Benjamin and went with our friends Lindsay, JD, and their three-year-old.  They ice skated (well, until their little one decided it wasn’t for him) and rode some carnival rides, and we ate lots of yummy food and bought some cool stuff from the craft markets.  We also went to the Zippos Circus.  It ended up being way cooler than I expected, and Benjamin loved it!  Winter Wonderland is definitely not an all-day event, unless you plan on riding lots of rides and doing all of the different activities, but it is a fun-filled few hours!

Street Feast

Ahh, Street Feast.  I almost don’t want to give out this delicious secret.  It is one of B and I’s most favorite {and yummy} things to do in London.  Set in various locations, Street Feast is basically a gathering of street food/drink vendors in warehouse-like areas.  The atmosphere is amazing, the people-watching is fabulous, and the food and drinks are to die for.  We have been a few times and hope to go back many more times!  We love trying different types of foods, as there are always vendors from all kinds of cuisines, from BBQ to South American grub to Asian dishes and everything in between {including delicious desserts!!}.  It is free to get in between 5pm and 7pm, and costs something like £3 after that.  Though it is kid-friendly, if we have Benjamin with us, we usually try to get there relatively early and get out before it gets too rowdy.  I think the first few times we went, we were child-free and though I was pregnant, B thoroughly enjoyed the whiskey roulette bar, where him and some buddies spun a wheel to determine what kinds of shots they had to take.  At one point they came back with empty whiskey bottles, which scared me a little, but it was all in good fun 🙂  I am pretty sure that most of the times we have been I have been pregnant, so I have yet to fully enjoy everything Street Feast has to offer, but you can bet we will be back so I can enjoy some wine and yummy beer!  Check it out if you are in London on a weekend!

Again, this is by no means an exhaustive list of things to do in London, just a few of our favorites.  I’m sure I will continue to add to this list as we experience more and more there!

Happy New Year {and Groundhog’s Day while I’m at it :)}

Today is February 1, 2014 (in case you couldn’t read the date next to this).  I can’t believe it is already the second month of this new year!  We shall, as always, play catch up…hopefully with some pictures this time!!

Christmas was different this year.  This was my first Christmas spent away from my family and friends in Ohio.  Even when I lived in Atlanta and New Mexico, I was fortunate enough to be able to travel “home” to Ohio for Christmas to be with my family.  (Being a teacher certainly has its perks…and I am talking about the time off, not the *baller* paychecks that afford me to travel, haha)  Anyway, this was, like I said, my first Christmas away from my family in Ohio.  This was also my first Christmas as a married woman, and the first Christmas Day I have spent with Brandon, who is now my official family too.  So lots of change, but not all bad.  My last post was about being thankful, so to add to that, I am thankful for such an amazing, understanding family.  They have not once made me feel guilty about being so far away, and have been nothing but supportive.  We are a super tight-knit family, but we are not phone-talkers or skypers, so we texted our Merry Christmases and such, and sent love in our own way.  B and I received a package from my sister and her husband filled with some awesome goodies they got for us in Hawaii, and just recently, my parents sent a package with some of our wedding gifts and surprise Christmas gifts 🙂  {by the way mom & dad, your package is still sitting in my car ready for the post office….this week, I promise!}  It was perfect.  Brandon and I had some people over Christmas Eve for dinner, drinks and relaxing, then spent Christmas morning opening a few gifts for each other.  We have decided we would rather put our money into traveling here, so we are cutting down on how much we spend on each other (VERY difficult for B, he loves to buy me things!!).  The rest of the day was spent at one of B’s coworkers house, chock full of delicious food.  Like seriously, more food than you could imagine, especially for a bunch of single airmen!!  It was nice to be around lots of people on a day usually filled with family and excitement, so I am glad we’ve made some good friends here.  We made it an early night, because we were heading to London the next morning.

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Boxing Day (12.26) was spent in London, exploring the city and Winter Wonderland.  We booked a day trip through ITT (travel group on base), so we got on a bus early that morning and headed down.  Taking a bus from base had its pros and cons, but overall it was fairly convenient.  It dropped us off right at Hyde Park, in the middle of London, where the Winter Wonderland was located.  The Wonderland was basically just a big area in Hyde Park blocked off for food vendors, shops, lots of beer & mulled wine vendors, carnival rides, and various winter activities.  It was super cute, but definitely geared more for kiddos and/or people planning to get proper snockered.  In the morning, we headed away from Hyde Park with the intention of going to the British Museum.  After walking over two miles, we arrived at the museum to find that it is closed on Boxing Day [duh, something we should’ve checked before!]. We decided on a British pub for beers and chips instead.  We were happy to just walk around London and sightsee, as the last time we were there it was pouring!  Seeing London all decorated for Christmas was gorgeous– lights, wreaths, and trees everywhere!  This year, I want to go back and stay the night during the holiday season to see it all lit up at night!  In the early afternoon we headed back to the Winter Wonderland to ice skate.  We found a pretty cool war memorial on our way back, and of course, took some pictures.  Once we were back, B and I both discovered that we are pretty awesome at ice skating, especially compared to some of the klutzes we ran into (quite literally) in the rink.  I’m not sure that the hour of skating we paid for was worth the exorbitant amount of money we shelled out, but hey, we can say we ice skated in Hyde Park in London now 🙂

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We wrapped our day in London up with a German beer from one of the vendors, and headed back to the bus for our ride back to base.  Overall, it was a lovely day 🙂

Somewhere in the mix of December, we also went to Windsor Castle.  Windsor Castle is the largest and oldest occupied castle in the world.  The Queen resides and entertains here during different parts of the year.  There is more info here:

http://www.windsor.gov.uk/things-to-do/windsor-castle-p43983

The castle is about 45 minutes outside of London, and about 2 hours from where we live.  It’s crazy because it is basically situated in the middle of a town, and is massive.  We did an audio guide {hence the sweet headphones in the pics below}, and learned a ton about the castle, both historically and how it is used today.  The sheer size and grandiosity of it left me speechless, let alone the incredibly over-the-top decor.  Many of the rooms in the castle are still used today when the Queen is there and is entertaining.  The elaborate, ornate furniture and authentic, famous paintings blew me away!  It boggles my mind that someone actually lives  in such a place!  We weren’t allowed to take photos inside the castle, so these are only from the grounds:

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The castle was also all done up for Christmas, with HUGE Christmas trees in many of the rooms!  Gorgeous!

So those were our exciting outings for December.  We had a relatively quiet New Year’s Eve, hanging out with [very drunk] people that B work with.  Since the new year, I have just been working, trying to get back into a gym routine, and trying to do better at meal planning.  This week I will be starting a long-term subbing position at the same school I currently work at, which I am looking forward to.  I will be teaching SureStart, which is a preschool program.  The teacher retired in December, and there was a long term sub in there until this past Friday, but she PCSed (moved), so they needed a certified teacher to sub until the permanent replacement comes.  As of now, I have no idea how long I will be in the classroom, but I am excited to have a little more responsibility and hopefully get some experience and get my foot in the DoDs school system door a little more 🙂

B was also gone for work for about a week and a half in early January, which seemed super long.  At the moment, we are planning a trip to Edinburgh for my spring break, a possible weekend trip down to Bath and Cardiff toward the end of April, and a summer trip to Brugge, Brussels, and Amsterdam.  We are also expecting some visitors in both April and May, which is exciting!  I suppose that is enough of me rambling, hope y’all enjoyed!