Free Things to Do Abroad

Interesting ideas to consider when planning your next travels– best part, they are free!!

Lonely London

I’ve recently had to redefine what it means to be on my own in this world, and in doing so decided to take the opportunity to redefine myself in the process. I thought to myself, if I was happy to travel around the world for two years on my own before, what’s to keep me from being happy living in and exploring London independently? I decided it was time to rediscover the true me who was happy to be anywhere in the world even if it was just me, myself, and I.  I realized that in order to be truly happy with myself, I needed to focus on things that were important to me and doing things that made me happy, even if it meant doing these things on my own. It is these reflections which led to my desire to rediscover London while rediscovering myself. 

So I did what I rarely ever do–I got lost in a book.

In a mad Amazon hunt to find the perfect book that would give me a stronger appreciation for the city I love most, I discovered “London’s Hidden Walks” by Stephen Millar. He now has three volumes and I decided go out of order and start with Volume 2 since reviews indicated that the 12 walks featured in this book were located in and around my London neighborhood, Clerkenwell.

I started out with walk #4: the Strand, Embankment and Fleet Street Walk. As this is a rather big time commitment, I decided to split the walks within this walk up and tackle one area at a time. I’ve just finished the walk from Fleet Street to St. Paul’s Cathedral and what most consider a bustling area for investment banking and law, I now appreciate as a history-heavy filled street which served as the hub for press and publishing in London from the 16th century.

I’m not going to take you through the whole walk, but here are some highlights:

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Standing in the middle of Fleet Street with the Royal Courts of Justice seen as the pointy white building to the back right and the dragon statue in the center marking the original sight of Temple Bar (see below for photo and info on this gate’s history) and start of Fleet Street.

Royal Courts of Justice: The Gothic-styled court building was opened in the late 19th century by Queen Victoria and continues to operate today housing both the Court of Appeal and the High Court. The building is open to the public at certain hours to explore the courts and corridors as well as a hallway lined with displays featuring the history of court attire on the second floor of the Main Hall. If you’re lucky, you may just have the chance to sneak your head into a court in session and see the lawyers dressed in the traditional garbs still worn today.

Dragon Statue and Temple Bar: 

The dragon statue stands at the original site of Temple Bar which served as a gate into the City of London. The gate was originally wooden but was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666 then rebuilt as a stone gate by Sir Christopher Wren. Due to traffic congestion Temple Bar was taken down in 1878 and relocated to a wealthy man’s estate in Hertfordshire, but due to vandalism was once again taken down. In 2004, 125 years later, the gate returned to London and can now be found next to St. Paul’s Cathedral.

The dragon, which serves as the City of London’s Coat of Arms, marks the start of Fleet Street.

Gruesome Fact: The spikes atop of Temple Bar were originally used to to display the heads of executed prisoners. It was common for street vendors to sell viewing glasses for a penny to those who were looking from further away could get a better view.

Twinings Tea Shop: The first Twinings Tea Shop to open in 1706. The figures of Chinese tea merchants adorning the top of the tea shop are representative of China’s role as the main supplier of tea to England at that time.

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St. Dunstan-in-the-West: This medeival church was saved from the Great Fire by the Dean and scholars of Westminster School using buckets of water. The church’s clock is the first to feature a minute-hand. The two figures above the clock, known as Gog and Magog, are traditionally known as the guardians of the city and would strike the bells every hour and quarter hour.

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The Red-Brick Building: The only traditional publisher left on Fleet Street.

Dundee courier building, the former Sweeney Todd's shop on 186 Fleet Street, London (UK)

Hen and Chicken Court: The creepy and narrow alleyway leading to the fictitious location of the barber shop belonging to the character, Sweeney Todd.

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Fleet River: Believe it or not, water used to flow through here. Imagine those two people who today cross the street having to cross over Fleet Bridge to reach the other side. What remains of Fleet River is now covered by New Bridge Street and Farringdon Street and the hidden river flows into the Thames just down the road below Blackfriars Bridge.

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Ye Olde Chesire Cheese: One of the most famous taverns in London dating back to the 17th century. The tavern was frequented by Charles Dickens, Mark Twain and US president Theodore Roosevelt among other intellectuals and writers.

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So there ya have it folks, my first of many lonely walks around London. This is not meant to be thought of as a depressing reality, but rather enlightening. I am OK with being alone. Because it is when I am alone that I get to feel a part of history that is so often left undiscovered. In that instance, I am surrounded by a reality unknown to others walking past me. And I am happy being with me in a world filled with endless possibilities. 

 

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Categories: All Blog Postings, Free Things to Do Abroad, London | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Columbia Road Christmas Wednesdays

Columbia Road Christmas Wednesdays are back! For three special Wednesdays during the month of December only, the shops in the hidden gem of East London are opening their doors from 5-9pm for late night Christmas shopping, mulled wine, and caroling.

Though famous for its Sunday Flower Market, Coumbia Road is home to some of the most unique shops in London! The shops feature an array of items from vintage jewellery and clothing, home & garden essentials, art, and even old-school candies. There are many delicious restaurants offering a variety of foods sure to satisfy your palate as well. Shops are typically only open on Sunday during the hours of the flower market from 8-3pm, hence making Christmas Wednesdays an event not to be missed!

The first Christmas Wednesday took place on December 3rd. The last two events are on December 10th & 17th so be sure to save the date!

Visit Colombia Road’s web site to learn more about happenings in the area, including the famous Sunday Flower Market—another must-go event!

Location: The road can be tricky to find which adds to its allure. Easiest to reach by bus but can walk from Bethnal Green tube or other nearby train stations.

Cost: FREE (and the Sunday Flower Market is too!)

‘Tis the season to be shopping!

Kristmas Cheer

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Trafalgar Square Oslo Tree Lighting

The 68th Oslo Tree lighting took place in Trafalgar Square on 4th December 2014. This event marks the official start of the Christmas season and the Oslo tree symbolizes the friendship and peace between England and Norway. In 1947, the City of Oslo gave the Norweigian Spruce as a gift to London as a thank you for British support during WWII. The tradition has continued ever since and will continue for years to come if, as said by a speaker of the evening, ‘they keep taking them, we will keep sending them’.

Known as the Queen of the Forest, the Oslo tree stands at 20-25 metres tall (this year the tree was 21 metres) and is between 50-60 years old. The tree is selected from forests around Oslo and cared for for months, sometimes even years prior to the big event! In November, the tree is taken down at a ceremony which the Lord Mayor of Westminster, British ambassador to Norway and the Mayor of Oslo attend.

The tree then travels by sea to England and is secured by a well-trained rigging tree in the coveted spot of Trafalgar Square. The Oslo tree is then decorated in traditional Norweigian fashion with vertical strands of 900 LED lights draping the tree and a bright star is placed on top.

The event was hosted by the Lord Mayor of Westminster and the Mayor of Oslo did the honors of the switching on of the lights. St Martin in the Field choir filled the Square with traditional hymns and carols throughout the evening.

The tree will continue to light the heart of London until 6th January 2015, otherwise known as the 12th Day of Christmas.

Nearest Tube: Charing Cross

Cost: FREE

Also in the area: National Portrait Gallery, Covent Garden piazza and Christmas lights, Southbank Christmas Market, Somerset House ice skating

‘Tis the season to be blogging!

❤ Kristmas Cheer

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Regent Street Christmas

The Regent Street lighting on 16th November 2014 was quite a spectacular! With family friendly activities, live dance performances, and photo ops in the Night at the Museum inspired photo booth kicking off the event from noon, there was something fun for everyone.

Surprise guest stars included a performance from the cast of Jersey Boys, Jessie Ware, The Jack Pack (Britain’s Got Talent winners), and the British boy band, Union J. These celebrity guest stars entertained the crowd for hours and Union J joined Emma Bunton, formerly known as Baby Spice, and Heart Radio co-host Jamie Theakston on stage in the countdown to the turning on of the lights!

Not only did the lights brighten up the whole of Regent Street, but a special fireworks show illuminated the sky with radiant colors abound. Check out Regent Street’s lights by 6th January 2015…and while you are at it, check out the hanging arrangement of lights set-up along the whole of the ever so popular Oxford Street just around the corner!

Nearest Tube: Oxford Street

Price: FREE

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Carnaby Christmas Shopping Party

Just a short walk down the alley ways behind Oxford Circus station lies the hidden gem of Central London–Carnaby Street! This year Carnaby kicked off Christmas in style with their Christmas Shopping Party on Thursday, 13th November.

A 20% discount was offered at over 100 shops, restaurants, and bars in the area, and event goers enjoyed free goodie bag giveaways, photo shoots, and make-overs! At 6:30pm, Carnaby Street was lit up with the help of the upbeat DJ group, the Fox Problem Girls, who kept the party going for the rest of the evening. Music and snow foam made for the perfect Christmassy atmosphere!

Other freebies included free drink (which I am assuming was a refreshing mojito), wine, hot dogs, and mac ‘n’ cheese!

Make sure to check out Carnaby Street’s beatboxing Christmas theme before it’s gone on 6th January 2015! And for more on how to celebrate your Christmas in style, visit Carnaby Street’s site.

Nearest Tube: Oxford Circus

Price: FREE!!!

Merry December 2nd!

❤ Kristmas Cheer

Categories: All Blog Postings, Free Things to Do Abroad, International Christmas, London | Leave a comment

Covent Garden Christmas Lighting

Covent Garden got Christmas off to a festively early start with the big tree lighting on November 4th! Some may say this is too early to start celebrating, but let’s be real–when do we ever get to appreciate the holidays anymore with our hectic and busy schedules? What a change of pace it is to be encouraged to slow down and take in the Christmas spirit early as a little reminder that the holidays are right around the corner and if we don’t appreciate it now, it will be over before we know it.

And besides, with London turning from day to night at the early hour of 3pm in the winter time, it is nice to have some Christmas lights brightening up the cold, dark city for a full 2 months!

The lighting event was complete with a childrens choir singing carols, snow to accompany the turning on of the lights, mulled wine, and FREE donuts from Crosstown Doughnuts!

Visit the Covent Garden Piazza through January 6, 2015 and enjoy the beautiful lights surrounding the market while splurging a bit at the shops! BONUS!– Every Saturday from noon-4pm, there will be a LIVE reindeer to take pictures with and feed a few nibbles!

Want even more fun?? On Saturday, December 6th, Covent Garden will host the 34th Great Pudding Race! Proceeds go towards Cancer Research UK so round up that team of yours, suit up with matching costumes, and let the games begin!

Merry December 1st!

–Kristmas Cheer

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Real Life London

Hello long lost friends!

My it’s been awhile since my last post in JUNE! But post-Colombia, my summer faced a whirlwind of change. Between moving from Florida to NYC—switching from one job to the next in NYC—then deciding to attend grad school in London with just 3 weeks to get my visa and uproot my life all over again—and now full-force into my Master’s program for Speech and Language Therapy/Pathology—things have been busy to say the least.

But now here I am, 5 months into my 2.5 year program and new life in London. And on this cold and rainy winter day in London, I’ve decided to take a much needed brain break and revisit my abandoned baby with some new material. Despite my busy school and work schedule, I’ve continued to adhere to my mantra– ‘Maintain a balanced life’. After all, what would be the point of moving ALL the way to London and not even taking the time to enjoy it a bit?? So here today, I bring you my top experiences in London since arriving in September! The best part (as always)— IT’S ALL FREE (or affordable)!!!!

September: The Serpentine Gallery Pavilion

Named after the Serpentine lake in Hyde Park, the Serpentine Galleries feature contemporary art year-round. Since 2000, the Serpentine Gallery Pavilion has been designed as a temporary summer structure by renown architects worldwide.  2013’s pavilion was designed by Japanese architect, Sou Fujimoto. Fujimoto’s pavilion captivated tourists and locals alike as they explored this interactive 3D masterpiece. Make sure to visit London between June-October to experience this cultural phenomenon unique to London!

October: Sir John Soane

The Sir John Soane museum is undoubtedly one-of-a-kind. Though usually free and open to the public, the time to visit is on the first Tuesday evening of the month where a crowd of people will queue starting at 5:30pm hoping to be one of the 200 lucky people to explore the wondrous house by candlelight. Inside you will find treasures from Soane’s travels and his house transformed into a museum with relics, sculptures, and secret passageways leading to art from around the world. More of Soane’s architectural works can be found throughout London.

November: Abbey Road

Beatles fan or not, Abbey Road is an exciting find! Hidden at the ‘junction’ of Abbey Road and Grove End Road in NW London, it wasn’t hard to spot with visitors dodging cars to recreate the famous photo. Scared you may get hit or have your camera stolen by a stranger? Don’t be. If you have the same luck as we did, there will be a friendly man with dreadlocks sporting a reflective jacket personally labeled ‘Free Help’ to assist and direct you during your 10 second photo shoot. Your 10 seconds of fame doesn’t have to end there–add your photo to this Web site for the world to see!

December: Kensington Hotel High Tea

Every girl (and guy!) wants an excuse to get dressed-up! But on a student budget, fancy outings can often feel out of reach. But there is always a way! Afternoon tea became an English Tradition in the 19th century and has become a scrumptious identity of the the British culture. So I thought, what better way to ring in my 25th birthday than with a classy high tea in Kensington!  The best part, thanks to afternoontea, my friends and I were able to enjoy a tea with champagne for £18! For Kensington and afternoon tea, that’s a steal!

January: Ceremony of the Keys

The Ceremony of the Keys at the Tower of London has taken place every night for the past 700 years!…despite the rain or WWII! From 9:30-10:05pm, 40-50 guests have the privilege of watching this gate-closing ritual in which the guards, known as Beefeaters, escort the Chief Yeoman Warder with the keys during the ceremony. Admission is free, but sign-up months in advance or spots may be gone! (By post in London, my tickets arrived within a week. Give more time if posting from elsewhere and be sure to read the rules of submission online carefully or else you will be asked to post again….like I had to (oops)).

The Tower of London and Tower Bridge.

The Tower of London and Tower Bridge.

February: Chinese New Year, Frost Fair, and Poetry Slam

Wow so much has happened in February already!

Chinese New Year 2014, Year of the Horse
Known to be the largest CNY outside of Asia, London’s China Town extends into Trafalgar Square and other areas of Central London on the Sunday following CNY. Complete with a parade, traditional lion and dragon dances, and delicious eats, this event is also not one to be missed. Though a word of caution, hundreds and thousands of people attend the celebrations and human barricades are unavoidable…trust me. But I still think it is worth it!

Frost Fair
Forget hiding away by the fireplace on a frigid winter day, have a party! The first known Frost Fair took place in the early 17th century after the ‘Old Father Thames’ froze over. The frozen river was turned into a once and a lifetime event for some where Londoners partook in trade, enjoyed a carnival, market stalls, and bars for just a few days before the ice melted away. Due to climate changes, the last Frost Fair was held in 1814 where an elephant was seen trekking across the ice! This year, the very first Frost Fair in over 200 years took place in Shoreditch at Broadgate Ice Rink with live entertainment, life-sized board games, free ice-skating, and market stalls selling goods and delicious eats!

Poetry Slam
Looking to experience the artsy side of London? Check out poetry slam and spoken word events happening in London. My friend and I attended a poetry slam at Genesis Cinema, a free event that takes place every first Thursday of the month. We even got to be 1 of 5 sets of judges!…little did they know it was our first poetry slam and my first attempt to embrace my artsy side. We got the hang of it though (aka, stuck with a score range of 7-10).

Angel Comedy Club

Located around the corner from Angel station at the Camden Head is a free nightly comedy club featuring new and established comedians in London. And it is quite a good show for some free laughs! Just a heads up, no cameras or filming allowed…I learned the hard way!

Check out my Free London page and the Londonist for more free and cheap London! That’s where I find all my goodies : )

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Taipei By Night

From intricately decorated temples to gorgeous seaside sunsets, Taipei, Taiwan offers a plethora of tourist attractions. But it’s when the sun goes down that Taipei comes to life. With the blazing hot and humid climate, the 7pm sunset makes the heat a bit more bearable thus creating the perfect environment for Night Markets found all over the city.

Trying Stinky Tofu at the Taoyuan Night Market

A happy oyster omelette from Taoyuan Night Market

Traditional Taiwanese foods such as steamed buns, shaved ice with fruits, and the infamous pig’s blood cake and stinky tofu (yes, it’s as smelly as it sounds) are sold from stall carts lining the streets of the market along with clothing items, jewelry, and colorful knick knacks. (Note**– Those wishing to buy clothing from the night markets are required to be hipless and bootyless).

Our fabulous tour guides and friends showing us around the Taoyuan Night Market

If you have the opportunity to go with locals, do it! They will show you the Night Market experience done right! Around every corner, a new mysterious food was purchased and placed into our hands. We tried foods such as an oyster omelette, soup dumplings, and of course the stinky tofu. We never would have thought to purchase these fine delicacies on our own and we are more cultured because of it! The Taiwanese love to meet and entertain foreigners in their city and show them the true Taiwan so don’t hesitate to make friends. They will love you!

New friends Tiger and Vivian showing us around the Tong Hua Street Night Market

The most popular yet overly crowded night market is the Shilin Night Market. Though it is a must visit for all tourists, test out others on different nights for a more local and relaxed experience. Great locations include Tong Hua Street and the Shida Night Market. The Danshui Night Market in New Taipei City and the Taoyuan Night Market located just outside Taipei are great local spots as well.

Daringly trying Pig’s Blood Cake (just a bite) at the Shilin Night Market.

Sunset along the coast of the Danshui Night Market– New Taipei City

Categories: All Blog Postings, Asia, Free Things to Do Abroad, Taiwan, Travel Babble | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

A French Book Sale and a Free Panorama of Paris

Ever wondered what it would be like to read a book at the tallest point of Paris? Each year, Tour Montparnesse holds the 2-day Paris se Livres book sale on its 56th floor. Normally a €13 ticket to access this floor and the roof terrace for the magnificent 360* panorama of Paris, Paris se Livre is a FREE event that gives you automatic access to this beautiful sight. Every readers dream!

Paris se Livre event on the 56th floor of Tour Montparnesse, June 22-23, 2012

In addition to the variety of French books on sale, a select group of authors are also present for book signings and a friendly chat about their work. Present at the 2012 event held on June 22-23 were authors such as Gilles Thomas and Xavier Ramette, writers of Inscriptions des catacombs de Paris, and Matthieu Jung with his work, Vous êtes nés à la bonne époque.

Authors Gilles Thomas, Xavier Ramette, Matthieu Jung, and others gather for a book signing at Paris se Livre.

Towering Paris at 210 meters high, Tour Montparnesse is the tallest skyscraper in the city, and it’s also the only one. The 56-level dark building sticks out like a sore thumb next to the city’s authentic  white architecture averaging 7-stories high. If searching for the best panoramic view of Paris, climb Tour Montparnesse. You’ll have the opportunity to see every significant structure of Paris without the blocked view typically caused by Tour Montparnesse!

Tour Montparnesse

And during your visit, take some time to chill out on the roof terrace with a new read from Paris se Livre and an astonishing view of the city!

The roof terrace of Tour Montparnesse

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A Promenade to the Parisian Fountain of Sparkles

Just when I think Paris is done surprising me, another marvel is discovered! I thought a sparkling water fountain was something only dreamed about, but this dream is true! In September 2010, Paris installed its very own sparkling water fountain. This wooden hut found in Jardin de Reuilly offers both natural and bubbly water! The fountain is run by 6 taps, some mixed with carbon dioxide to provide the fizz. A local treasure not known too well of by locals themselves, many simply walk by the fountain never discovering the fantastic secret that flows within the pipes!

Cute Parisian man making his weekly visit to the Sparkling Water Fountain of Jardin de Reuilly.

During my visit to the fountain, a sweet Parisian man filled up his 10+ empty Pellegrino bottles (very suiting) one by one, a weekly chore of his since the fountain’s birth. He proudly stated that it was the one and only fountain of its kind in the city, a truly unique gem of Paris.

Paris does recycling right! Refilling empty sparkling water bottles with a fresh fizz in the Jardin de Reuilly.

After filling up my own 1.5 liter, friends and I contently walked along the Promenade Plantée hiccuping sparkles along the way. Promenade Plantée is an old railroad track that was renovated into a walkway filled with unique flowers, sculptures, sights, and parks along its path in the 1990s.

The start of Promenade Plantée near the Bastille.

Beginning at Bastille and ending at the Bois de Vincennes on the east side of Paris, Promenade Plantée is another rare gem that is often left undiscovered. Walking along the promenade, one is eye level with the 7-story architecture of Paris and can at any time look down at the rush of city life along the streets below.

A flawless blend of nature and city life along the Promenade Plantée.

Along with the sparkling fountain found in Jardin de Reuilly, the highlights of the promenade include the Viaduc des Arts, a copy of Michaelangelo’s ‘Dying Slaves’ statues located along the roof of the 12th arrondissement’s Police station, and train tunnels turned into decorated caves.

Michelangelo’s ‘Dying Slaves’ located at the top of the 12th Arrondissement’s Police Station.

The beauty of nature mixed in with architecture old and new along the Promenade Plantée is awe inspiring, and it is a sight that should not be overlooked. So during your stay in Paris, take a break from the busy tourist lifestyle and slow it down with a walk over the city and a fizzy water break in Jardin de Reuilly.

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