London Wrap-Up

by Karen

We managed to squeeze in a lot of sight-seeing during our precious little week in London (our AirBnb hostess even marveled at our “sightseeing stamina”), and yet we hadn’t even begun to scratch the surface. We’ll definitely be back!

Speaking of AirBnb, we really loved our hosts, and we considered the little amount of time we were able to spend with them to be one of the highlights of our week. Their house was a bit far from central London, but it really felt like a cozy home, and it was nice to be in a place that didn’t feel like a hotel or dorm. So if you happen to be reading this, thank you for being awesome, Bill & Philippa!

And now, a quick list of our likes & dislikes about London—

Likes:
– so much history!
– the London Underground and ease of public transportation
– the diversity of people and neighborhoods
– the markets
– free museums
– everything is within walking distance
– plethora of ethnic foods
– local television
– the “internationality” of it
– tourist-friendly maps on every street corner

Dislikes:
– everything is pretty expensive (compared to America)
– air pollution & quality is very bad (gave us black snot)

The weather was actually gorgeous while we were there, so can’t complain about that!

Ultimately we enjoyed our time in London very much, and are eager to go back again (don’t worry Edinburgh, we want to give you more love next time too). We made the (somewhat) tough decision of skipping Stonehenge, Bath, and York, simply because there was already so much to see and do in London, and we had a short amount of time. We had already crammed so much into a few days, we were starting to get exhausted by the end of the week.

We’re actually considering returning to London after Barcelona at the end of our trip, since both our UK stamps are valid for 6 months (and it would give us an opportunity to get Mark a visa for Ireland). It would be a lot more expensive to fly back from London than Barcelona, but since we’re already on this side of the pond anyways…….

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Stay fresh, London! Til next time!

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London – Food!

The best food in London isn’t from London, it’s from around the world.

Makan – Malaysian food on Portobello Rd, £5 for a plate of all this:
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Kaslik – Lebanese food in Soho, £6.50 for their awesome lunch box20131012-014112.jpg
Kati Roll – Indian street food off of Oxford St.20131012-014146.jpg
Borough Market – a food market open Thurs-Sat near London Bridge.20131012-014202.jpg
Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese – English pub hidden in an alleyway off Fleet Street. Lots of locals, lots of lawyers, and great pub food. Even if you don’t eat here, you should go downstairs and look at the building, it’s very interesting.
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Mogul – Indian food in Greenwich. Oh wow, best Indian food ever.
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Free Walking Tours of London

by Karen

For the past few days, we’ve been spending 90% of our time exploring London on our own, without the help of a tour. While this is a great way to see the city, sometimes we want a bit more background info on various sites, just for a deeper appreciation of what we’re seeing.

Tours are really expensive (we learned that in Iceland) and you get herded around like sheep, but they can often offer more info and a tried & true itinerary you can follow to get the most out of your visit.

Thus, we started looking up self-guided tours or free walking tours of London. They are “free” in the sense that you don’t have to pay someone to show you around, but you’ll need to pay for the cost of public transportation to get to the start of these places.

Anyways, here are some free tours that we liked:

Sandeman’s Free Tour of Royal London

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This tour was a good 2.5 hours, and took us through the royal streets of the City of Westminster (“London” is really made up of different cities). The tour starts in Hyde Park and goes towards Buckingham Palace, Westminster, and Parliament Square. It also took us through smaller palaces, parks, the Horse Guard building, Downing Street, and Trafalgar Square. Our tour guide gave us lots of pub trivia and gave helpful tips on when to see different attractions. For example, the best place to see the changing of the guard is NOT at Buckingham Palace at 11:30am (where the procession ends), but at a smaller palace down the street (I forget the name) at 11am, where the parade starts and there’s less tourists.
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We were also a bit lucky on the tour today. When the Union Flag is not flying atop Buckingham Palace and instead you see a yellow-ish flag with lots of emblems (like we saw today), it means the Queen is inside Buckingham Palace, which is quite rare. As a result, the Royal Guards are out in full force. Our guide took us through a secluded alleyway and we found 2 Royal Guards stationed in front of a door…all alone. Photo op!
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Anyway, I’d highly recommend going on this tour. It’s free, you get good exercise, and you don’t have to book anything ahead of time, just show up.
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Rick Steves London Audio Tours
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Rick Steves is famous for being a really good tour guide. Anyone thinking of traveling to Europe should at least read one of his books, watch his videos, or listen to his podcasts. Thankfully, he puts out many self-guided audio tours that you can download for free. They are all walking tours, and he provides a lot of insight and history on things you see.

We listened to his London “City Walk” tour, which starts from a church near the Temple station, and ends on the London Bridge. He takes you through many different alleys, visited many churches, and points out buildings with a special history. The entire tour essentially took us through the City of London, the part that got destroyed in the big fire of 1666, and again during WW2 in 1941. The podcast itself was about an hour long, but with all the walks and pauses, it took us nearly three hours to complete it.

Here are some of the highlights: 20131012-010235.jpg20131012-010327.jpg20131012-010349.jpg20131012-010410.jpg20131012-010432.jpg20131012-010449.jpg20131012-010515.jpg20131012-010607.jpg20131012-010626.jpg

London for Free

Been using this a LOT. This is an amazing site with a list of free walks, museums, and markets you can go to for free. If you follow a self-guided tour from their articles, you’ll get plenty of good tidbits of history.

London – Tate Britain museum

by Karen

Made a quick visit to the Tate Museum today, which houses a collection of British-only art from 1500s-present. Admission is free to permanent galleries, and there are free guided tours available at different times of the day. The closest railway station is Pimlico, but we walked across the Thames from Vauxhall. Depending on how much you like British art, you could spend anywhere between 2 hrs to a half-day here. Mark & I were primarily interested in older artworks (pre-1900), so we finished in about 2.5 hrs.
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Unfortunately, the one painting we both wanted to see, Ophelia, is currently on tour in Russia. 😦

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What’s the meaning of Stonehenge?

What’s the meaning of Stonehenge? 

Something we hope to find out for ourselves in about a month! 🙂

UK Visa Approved!

Mark finally got his UK visa approved, so this clears the way for us to finally book our flights and accommodations. Luckily, Morocco and Turkey issue visas upon arrival, so we don’t have to worry about those beforehand.

Managed to finally sell our couch yesterday, after posting it on Craigslist for 2 months. I think we’ll be keeping our mattress though. Preparing to sell my desk.

Unfortunately, plans for lending my car out to someone fell through, so I will need to figure out a solution on what to do with my car. I guess out strongest option at this point is to go ahead and drive it all the way to Boston, otherwise I will need to see if I can leave it in a friend’s garage. I did some research on the cost of storing a vehicle in SoCal, and the numbers are ridiculous:

Self-storage: $380/month
Driving from San Fran to Boston: $320 gas
Flying from San Fran to Boston: $180/person

So the cost of flying vs driving is about the same, except that driving is 44 hrs straight, not including possible detours we will take. But on the flip side, we do get to see the US and possibly monuments we’ve never gotten a chance to see. It could be an adventure, but eat into the cost of our Eurotrip.