Tuesday, December 23, 2014

My 10 Ten Things to do in London

So, I’ve had a request or two for my top 10 things to do in London. So, here’s a list if you only have a few days in London, these are the things I’d recommend doing  (in no particular order):

  1. Afternoon Tea: Really. This is a must do. For a nice tea for your money, Bea’s of Bloomsbury was lovely. Mad Hatter’s Tea if you want something a bit more fun (but pricey). Modern Pantry for a foodie tea. Really you can’t go wrong. Have tea!
  2. Westminster Abbey. This place is amazing. You must go inside and appreciate all that it has to offer.
  3. Do something related to the British royalty: Tower of London, Buckingham Palace, Hampton Court or Windsor Castle. I think if you did one of these things, you’d get a sense of the history/importance of the British royalty. It likely depends on how much time you have. They’re all really cool places, but it just depends on what you are interested in.
  4. Go to a free museum! So many choices. Something for everyone. Just go. The art is fantastic. Tate Modern was my favorite. The Science Museum/Natural History Museum are good for kids. V&A and British Museum for people that like a mix of things. Pick one and check it out!
  5. Parks: Oh I love the Royal Parks. Go to Regent’s Park. Or Hyde Park (if you want something more traditional). For something less crowded, Battersea is great. So is Greenwich.
  6. Walk along the Thames: It’s a great walk from about Westminster Bridge to Tower Bridge along the Southbank. You get great views of the city. You can walk across some of the great bridges. See St. Paul’s. The Globe. City Hall. The HMS Belfast. Really nice stuff.
  7. Theater: You must go to a show! A play, a musical. Something! So many great choices.
  8. Markets: Again. Must do. Depending on what day you’re there. Camden is always open so, that’s a good option. Covent Garden too. Borough is a must do if you’re there Thursday-Saturday. Delicious! The Sunday markets in East London are also great.
  9. Kew: I love Kew. So fun and beautiful and peaceful. A great way to escape the chaos of the city.
  10.  Have a drink: London has a great bar/pub scene. Go to a pub and have a pint. Or go to London during Cocktail Week and live it up. I loved it. Or choose a cool bar with a view of the city and have a drink (the Shard has some bars up high as do many other buildings in London). Or go to Gordon’s Wine Bar for a glass of wine.

Advice for future London facutly

This is just a quick post for those faculty friends considering the London program. Here are some thoughts:

1. GET A CHIP AND PIN DEBIT CARD! Oh my! My swipe card worked fine in the UK, but I always had to sign for my stuff and people rarely had a pen. It became annoying. In Germany, my card didn’t work at all. SO, do whatever you have to do to get your bank to give you one of these bad boys.

2. Clothing: Layers. Nothing too heavy. It’s hot! Also, I brought 3 dresses, but only wore 2 of them. You don’t really need fancy clothes. You also don’t really need sweaters. It just doesn’t get that cold and even when it does, you’d rather have some layers and such than a sweater. Plus, you can buy anything you’re missing at Primark or H&M for crazy cheap. I definitely packed too many clothes and/or the wrong clothes. You’ll also want a rain jacket. Umbrellas are pretty useless. It’s too windy and/or it’s not really raining, just spitting. So, definitely bring a rain jacket (or buy one there). But, buy one that’s breathable or you’ll get too hot. I had my long rain jacket and only wore it once or twice because it was too hot. I ended up buying a weather proof jacket mid-semester and that was perfect. Also, it’s hot if you go in July. Take some summer clothes! No A/C means it’s hot!!

3. Shoes: You need like 2 pairs. Tall boots and comfortable walking shoes (for me these were my Toms). Really anything else is a waste. I wore my other shoes very rarely. Well, except for my running shoes. Whatever you bring, make sure you can walk in them. You’ll walk a lot!

4. Packing: Bring less! You’ll be taking back a lot! I had to pay for an extra bag (both ways), but on the way back it was also a bit too heavy. So, more fees.

5. Class prep: The more of this you can do before you arrive, the more you’ll enjoy London. I spent way too many hours prepping classes. Partly because they were new and partly because they weren’t subjects I have a huge background with. Either way, if you can do some of that before hand, you’ll be glad you did!

6. Depending on how well you want to be connected to the world, some advice on technology: I loved my T-mobile free international texting and data! It was so crucial at some points. Really great. Not sure I’m excited about my coverage when I get back home, but maybe they have improved. Facetime/Skype/Google Hangouts are great for family/friends. The Ooma Box was great for work calls and dealing with life stuff (banks, doctors, etc.). I also super enjoyed my Slingbox. Watching stuff on my DVR at home was always a nice way to relax at the end of a long day and gave me a little taste of home. I also got to catch some Aggie football and a bit of the beginning basketball season.

7. Grocery shopping: If you don’t live near a grocery store, I can’t recommend the online grocery shopping enough. It was lovely having that stuff delivered to my house and not having to worry about navigating the bus/tube. There were times when I went to the store because I wanted to pick something out in person, but otherwise it was great for getting big stuff delivered.

8. Museums. There are so many! I thought I’d save them for when it got cold, but it wasn’t cold long enough to really see them. So, start early. Even if it’s nice outside. Go on a weekday to avoid crowds.

9. Be ready to spend money. London is expensive. Just accept it. Save money before you go. I eventually stopped thinking about it because I wanted to enjoy my time there. You definitely want to be aware of the price of things, but also don’t be afraid to enjoy the food/events/excitement of London.

10. Speaking of excitement, always get a Time Out magazine on Tuesdays. Also, check their webpage every day for what’s happening in the city and for great deals. Groupon is also good. So is Travelzoo UK. Check them all out! Some of my favorite things came from those deal sites.

11. Run/walk for fun: The city has so many great parks and places to run/walk. Even if you’re not a runner, go for some long walks. Early in the morning. Really. You can see some great stuff.

12. Put a QR scanner app on your phone and carry a set of headphones w/ you. So many museums and statues and other things around Europe have these now as an alternative to the audio tour and I was bummed whenever I didn’t have a scanner on my phone.

German Christmas Markets!

I’d been waiting for this all semester. I love Germany at Christmas time. It’s magical. There’s something in the air.

Wednesday I flew to Munich and then took the train to Regensburg (my old study abroad home). I had a yummy butter filled pretzel at the train station while I waited for my train. Pretzel-check. Then, it was off to Regensburg. When I first arrived, I didn’t recognize much. But, once I got into the part of the city I lived in, it began to look familiar again. It was fun to see some of the places I used to hang out. I also stopped at the tourist information office and they hooked me up w/ a map of all the Christmas markets in Regensburg. Genius! A map just for markets. Perfect! I spent the rest of the afternoon strolling around looking at the cute booths, while eating my doner kabab and drinking gluhwein. I took a break in the early evening for a conference call w/ work (it was a good thing because I couldn’t feel my fingers any more). After the call, it was off to see the last market on the other side of the river. On my way it started snowing! Magic!! This market was crowded. Maybe people having their gluhwein post work? I opted for hot chocolate w/ rum this time. Also delicious. Then, I went to a little Italian place and had a huge pizza for dinner. I was able to eat half. I was proud of myself. Love the German pizza.

Thursday: Woke up early and went for a run around the city. It was fun to run around and see some of the other parts of Regensburg. Then, I had breakfast at the hotel and planned everything down to the minute. I planned to arrive at the train station at 10AM or so and head over to the attached mall to get some Bears and Friends gummy bears. These were our favorite back in the day, but the store in Old Town was gone, so I decided to check the one out in the mall instead. Well, things didn’t go according to plan. They couldn’t take my swipe card at the hotel, so I had to pay with cash and I was 10 euros short. Ack! The closest ATM was about a 15 minute walk away. So, with all my gear I ran into town and ran around like a crazy person until I found an ATM. Then, I ran back to the hotel. Paid. Then, ran to the train station. I had about 5 minutes to spare. Ridiculous! So, needless to say, I didn’t get my Bears and Friends and I’m still angry about it. But, I guess I got a second run in that day.

Then, it was about 5 hours on two different trains as I headed to Cologne. I took these train rides to grade finals. It was a good way to pass the time. After checking into my hotel, I went to have a nice German meal (schnitzel and fries w/ mayo) at the corner pub. Then, I went to check out one of the 8 markets there. This one was cute. Had a local feel. I had some gluhwein and strolled around a bit.

Friday: Had a leisurely morning. No running. Nothing to do until 11AM. Had breakfast. Then, it was off to see the Dom. A beautiful cathedral. Massive! Very different than the stuff I’ve been seeing in the UK. Then, I checked out the market at the Dom.

Walked a bit to two other markets that had a gnome theme and an ice skating rink in the middle. I had some wurst for lunch (along w/ my gluhwein).

I got some of this bread. It looked cooler than it tasted.

Then, I headed to the Museum Ludwig to take a break from the cold. It was a great modern art museum with a big collection of Picasso and they had a special Pop Art exhibit that was fabulous. Lots of Warhol, Jasper Johns, and Liechtenstein. Great stuff!

After the museum, I went to one more market in front of the Chocolate Museum. On the way there I passed the love locks bridge. GIANT BRIDGE…all covered w/ locks. I can’t believe how big it is! I know these things are everywhere now, but this one was super impressive. I should read about its history.

Anyways, the market in front of the Chocolate Museum was a bore. White tents instead of cute German wooden huts. Boring. So, I left there pretty quickly and the museum looked like a tourist trap, so I skipped it too. I went back to the hotel and took a little nap while I waited for my REU friend, Cathy to arrive.

After her arrival it was time to hit the final 3 markets. We checked out the two near Rudolphplatz. Got our token mug. Tried some sort of weird punch at the Gay/Lesbian market. Their booths were all decked out in shiny stuff. Fancy!

A Father Christmas sighting!

Then, to the oldest market in Cologne. We had Flammkuchen there. Tasty. Then, it started to really rain. It had been raining most of the night, but it was really gross now. So, we went to a wine bar near by and had some dinner and a glass of wine. Then, it was off again. We went back to the markets I had attended that morning (the gnome ones) so I could purchase a Christmas pyramid. It’s amazing. I’ve wanted one for so long and now I have my very own. I just hope it makes it home in one piece.

Then, we called it a day. We were exhausted and wet. Went to sleep about 10PM ready for our adventure the next day.

Saturday it was off to Aachen for one final market. We took a 9AM train and were in Aachen by 10 or so. We put our luggage in lockers and went to explore the city. We stopped at a few crowded printen cookie stores on the way to the market. This city is famous for this particular type of cookie and it’s pretty good. Tastes like Christmas!

Then, we checked out their Dom. Impressive and super different than the one in Cologne.

By this time, we were cold and wet again, so we stopped in a café and had a tea and some of the printen cookies we bought.

After that, it was time to explore the Aachen markets. They were fun and the mug was cool. Cathy ordered us some different version of gluhwein. They lit it on fire. Crazy.

After a few hours it started to get really crowded. The rain had stopped, but there were SO many people! I did get a nutella crepe and an assortment of other German cookies. But, by then we’d had enough of the crowds. It was only like 1PM and Cathy’s train didn’t leave until 3, so we headed back towards the train station hoping the printen cookie museum would be open. Not the case. It’s not really a museum. More of a bakery that you can get a tour of if you call in advance. Bust. So, we had almost 2 hours to kill at the train station. It was fine. We got a little table at the café and enjoyed being indoors and resting a bit.

After Cathy left, I went to a Thai restaurant across the street and had a glass of wine and some summer rolls. I found something fascinating in their bathroom!

I still had another hour to kill after that, so I just sat on the floor of the train station and did some more grading. Kind of a bummer, but the market was too crowded and too far from the train station for me to want to go back. So, lesson learned: avoid tiny town Christmas market on a Saturday. Total bust. But, I’m glad we went and seeing Cathy for the first time in 10 years was super fun!

I took the Eurostar from Brussels and was back in London by 10PM or so. Another great trip!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

My last days in London

After my return from India, it was time to see more of London for my final few days in the city. There was no time to waste! Plus, I had many thing to do on my list!
Sunday: After getting back from India, I took an amazing shower and did some blogging. Then, it was off to the movies w/ Pete. We went to see Interstellar w/ some of my Groupon vouchers. I didn’t get around to using all of them, but I think the cost of that one movie would have almost totaled the cost of the voucher for 5 movies. After the  movie, we went to have dinner at Honest Burger because I wanted some meat. Delicious as always. The rosemary fries were amazing and my burger was super tasty. We did have to wait an hour or so for a table, so we went down the street and had a glass of wine before dinner. After that, I went home and fell fast asleep. I was exhausted.

Monday: Shopping day! Got up early and went for a run. Thankfully it was a down week in training again and I only had to do about 5 miles. So, that was good. After my run, it was a full day of shopping! 10AM-4PM. Harrod’s. Hamley’s. Stopped at IES to pick up my exams. Souviner shops. Lunch at itsu. Tea Shop. Strolled through Covent Garden, but apparently Monday is antiques day so that was a bit of a bust.

Took a little rest and then it was time to meet up w/ Pete for Monday night fun. We went to dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant that was okay. Then, it was off to see Potted Sherlock. This was a little play in which they did all 60 Sherlock stories in 80 minutes. It was good, but I was so tired I kept falling asleep. I’m glad I choose this one though and not a 3 hour musical like I originally planned. I just couldn’t pass up one more theater experience in London.

Tuesday: Pete took the day off of work so we could explore the city together. It was very sweet and I was happy to have him with me on my adventures. We were at the Natural History museum by 10AM and I finally got to see those stupid dinosaurs. Plus, they had just unveiled the new stegasarous that is the most complete skeleton of one ever. So, that was cool. OH and the Earth escalator was open. Sweet! After dinos, we did the Wildlife Photography of the Year exhibit. It was gorgeous. So many beautiful photographs. Loved it!

Then, it was across the street for a cup of tea and some gifts for friends from the Science Museum. After that, we went to a chocolate store for some gifts and then went to have some bubble tea. Pete had never had bubble tea, so it was a must do. I got a hot one for the first time and it was interesting. Salted caramel. Pete got taro because it’s obviously the best.

After bubble tea, we strolled down to the National Gallery. We explored the museum for an hour or so.

Then, we took our time getting to our afternoon tea at Sanderson. This hotel does a Mad Hatter’s Tea and it’s amazing. Fun little potion bottles w/ the different teas in them so you can smell them and choose one. We did mint chocolate chip and apple pie. The sugar cubes were in a music box. The menu in an old book. The little cakes were adorable—clock shaped, tea cup shaped. There was a drink me potion that had 3 different flavors in one bottle. Yummy scones (one sweet, one savory). So fun. And it was outside under a tent and some heaters. Very fun.

After tea, we stopped at the Tate Christmas Market to pick up a few more gifts and then it was home for me to pack. I had a 6AM flight the next day to Germany, so I tried to go to bed by 10 or so I could get a few hours sleep.

Then, I went to Germany for 3 days (see later post).

Sunday was my last full day in London and I wanted to make it count. I got up around 7 and went for a final run along the Thames. It was lovely. The sun was rising just as I was finishing my run, so that was awesome.

Then, it was home for a quick shower and a trip to the Cereal Killer Café. Nash had posted a link about it on my Facebook page and it opened while I was in Germany, so I knew I had to go. It was amazing! Pete and I both tried one of their cereal cocktails. His was cinnamon toast crunch/golden grahams/honey. Mine was Crunch berries (just the berries) and fruity pebbles and the marshmallows from Lucky Charms w/ strawberry milk. So good! And we got a pop-tart. Yum. I loved eating some cereal that I would never buy a box of. So good!

Random guy outside cafe while I tried to take a pic.

The café was on Brick Lane and Pete hadn’t been there before, so we stopped at the famous bagel shop and had a bagel while strolling through the market. We walked through Old Spaitilfeilds Market and then I headed home to get my cleaning/packing done. That took a good 4 hours or so.

Then, it was time for one last night out in London. First, Hotel Chocolat to buy some gifts. Then, dropping off some unwanted clothes at H&M. Then, Pete and I headed to Gordon’s Wine Bar. My IES colleagues said this place was a must do and they were right! SUPER cool. It’s like a dungeon down in there w/ low ceilings and candlelight. Very romantical. It was fun being there w/ Pete on my last night in Lodnon.

Then, we headed a few blocks over to have dinner w/ Ed at 6PM at a restaurant called One Twenty One Two. We had a lovely 3 course meal w/ champagne and I enjoyed getting to share one last meal w/ Ed and Pete. Then, it was a nice walk home across the Jubilee bridge and I had to get back to packing. It was a great day and a great last day in London.