London

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. 

 

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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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

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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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A Local Tourist

It was 4 months ago that I arrived in London unsure what the city had to offer. After visiting the previous summer and leaving rather disappointed by the lack of European culture I so eagerly embraced in countries such as France, Holland, and Norway all summer long, I felt slightly disgruntled by my decision to return to the city I had previously dubbed a “wannabe New York”.

However, it took less than a week to realize that I only wannabe in London. Having done the typical tourist things the previous summer, I opened my eyes to the real London only to discover a surprisingly unique city. Decorated buildings older than America; hidden side streets leading to quiet solitude along the busiest of roads; the natural beauty of parks that, though situated in the center of the hustle and bustle, make the city feel so far away; English culture complimented by an International flare. I experienced all this and more in a different way every time I stepped out the door.

There were many days spent visiting different areas in or outside the city center of London exploring unfamiliar areas. But my favorite days were the ones spent feeling like a local with a routine while observing the London lifestyle as I strolled carelessly through the streets. These days typically began with a Cafe Mocha from the  local Euphorium bakery followed by a 45ish minute walk into the city center via Primrose and Regent’s Park, a route that was never the same one twice. And then there I was..in the city center. With no plans but to wander I often wondered, “Where to now?” After discovering random off the path places that I couldn’t even tell ya how to get to, more times than not I’d find my grumbling tummy leading me to Sacred Cafe, an eatery favorite of a friend which quickly became “my place”.

Located off Carnaby Street,  I frequently enjoyed planning my next adventure or catching up with a friend over tea in this edgy yet classy cafe. The menu is good, yes, but it is the feeling of detachment from the fast paced city which the cafe exudes that I crave. The small block of restaurant and shopping lanes residing along Carnaby Street make the quiet and sophisticated area a city in and of itself. Sitting in the Sacred, one would have no clue that they were in fact sitting in the middle of one of the busiest places in London—Oxford Street.

Hours passed by as quickly as Londoners rushing to the pub after a long day of work, and before I knew it it was 4:30pm and the sun, if there was one to begin with, was gone. Allowing my stomach to act as my brain like always, I’d head home for dinner with my work friends. Riding home on top of the double decker, I’d people watch from the coveted front window seat as at least 3 different languages being spoken around me flowed in one ear and out the other.

After a lovely quiet day out and about it was social time with the girls at a local pub or wine bar. The neat thing about London nightlife is there’s a location suitable to anyone’s style. Artsy and eccentric crowd—Camden Town; College kids-Shoreditch; Men in business suits (always a winner)—Bank; Posh and rich—Chelsea and Kensington.

The pubs are one of the most well known and unique aspects of the English culture. Good for Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, and a socially acceptable brew at any time of the day, these intricately decorated establishments put the college town hole-in-a-wall bars (sorry Gainesville) to shame; however, both venue styles contribute the same energy as a happy hour. Pubs are not just places to “go out” at night. They are a socialize anytime type of place. Friends and colleagues gathering for a drink, families savoring a Sunday roast, couples enjoying a date night. Pubs are a part of the lifestyle.

My “favorite days” may not sound as exciting and glamorous as some have imagined my London life to be, but it is for me. It is the routine I created for myself. It is how I fit into the London groove. It is how I made the city my own. It is how I came to know and love the unseen beauty that lies within. I am a local tourist: living like a local with a touristy sense of appreciation for historical
landmarks that surround me.

What I have gained from my time in London is the realization that it is not until you have lived somewhere and really created a life for yourself that you can understand the true culture of a city no matter where you are in the world. For this, I am thankful for the second chance to call London my home away from home.

And for a visual tour of my London Life, follow this link:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l8k44K-y1_I&sns=em

“Open your eyes, your heart, and your mind to the new experiences life gives you everyday.”

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Running Through the Heath

My richest childhood memories reside in the house I grew up in. Surrounded by a forest of oak trees, the neighbors, siblings, and I spent hours exploring the woods in our own backyards. Climbing trees, finding animals, flying off of tree forts from rope swings…we were (and still are) care free children with endless adventures.

I live in Hampstead borough, home to the rich and famous with a lifestyle too expensive for a student such as myself to afford. Though I do not spend too much of my free time in this wealthy neighborhood, some of my favorite times are spent running through a place that brings me back to my fond childhood memories, Hampstead Heath.

As I run through the mountainous acres of grass and paths covered in autumn leaves I am completely at ease. There are people around, but there is no one to tell me what to do or to disturb me from my peaceful state of mind. Instead, I run past these individuals only to observe them in their own happy moments. A woman sits against a tree overlooking the water as she contemplates life; two lovebirds cuddle on a blanket with a bottle of wine and cheese; two dogs chase each other around while two children do the same; a man practices guitar on a fallen down tree; a mother and father watch in awe as their toddler takes one of her many first steps.

I run away with these pleasant but fleeting moments and begin to think about my own life at that instant. What do these strangers see when they look at me as I pass on by? Initially they would probably say, “Who’s that crazy girl running in shorts and a t-shirt in freezing cold weather?”. But if they take a closer look, they will see a girl running in her own direction.

Some people go abroad in search of something, often themselves. Since being abroad, I have reconfirmed that I have a pretty strong handle on who I am and where I am going in life. But what I’ve come to realize with each passing day is that there is no right or wrong way to reach my destination.

The most unique aspect of the Heath is that it has no end. I’ve ran through the park countless times and when I do there is always a new hidden trail to explore and more nature to discover. I begin to run along the leafy walkway and within minutes I hit a crossroads. Do I turn right and follow a new rocky walkway, stay straight onto the now grassy path with footprint indents, or do I wander left into the maze of forest and trees to discover where it leads. For those of you that know me well, you’ve probably already guessed that I typically choose option 3.

With a choice between the safe option, following in other people’s footsteps, or paving my own way, I choose the latter of the three. I always finish my run in the same place, the only difference is the route I took and what I saw along my way. That’s the beauty of dreams. If you have goals, you will achieve them. You’ll cross that finish line with a gold medal in the end. But what you do during the in between is what you’ll always remember…so make it good. Don’t be afraid to do your own thing. Trust me, it’s more fun that way 😉

As I end my workout with a cool down atop Parliament Hill, I overlook the entire city of London from a distance. It isn’t until that moment that I snap out of my childhood forest and back into reality to realize I’ve been in the city the whole time. As I stretch in silence, I take in my own moment of happiness and serenity and I think to myself, “This is my life.”

“Right now you are one choice away from a new beginning – one that leads you toward becoming the fullest human being you can be.”
-Oprah Winfrey

The view of London from Parliament Hill in Hampstead Heath!

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London Life So Far

As I wander casually through the city of London with nowhere pressing to be, I see more than I ever thought I could. Unique parks filled with happy people in every neighborhood, the rooftops of buildings that have their own story and place in history,  a city complemented by international cultures while maintaining one of its own, opportunities around every corner, and endless exploration. These are only a few reasons why I have fallen in love with London.

Many have asked me “Why would you leave warm and sunny Florida to come to cold and rainy London?” And I follow that question by asking, “Why would you leave your country to go to America?” the answer is always the same—For A Change. A New Experience.

Besides, I’ve never liked Florida weather. There’s a reason why I’ve dipped out of the state and escaped to the mountains of North Carolina and the cities of Europe for the past four summers—-because I hate the heat! So bring on the cold and the snow London! I’m ready for ya…well I will be once my winter wardrobe is complete. Short sleeve knits and lightweight jackets aren’t going to keep this Florida girl too warm during the winter.

In other news, I finally have a closet!

One of the reasons why I haven’t written in a while is because I felt like I was still living out of a suitcase. Traveling around Italy week after week was an incredible experience, but I never felt settled…I never felt like I had a place.

And that’s how I felt the first few weeks in London.  Apart from family and friends, a routine is what I have missed the most about my life in Florida. Though it took some time to adjust to my new life in the city, I have finally eased into a routine of my own. A church I love, a social life, a busy work schedule, a chance to grow into the city lifestyle, and finding time to run around London have become a part of my everyday life now. I finally  have a place here, I finally have a closet.

And I’m bringing the Florida sunshine with me everywhere I go : )

“If nothing ever changed, there’d be no butterflies”

Gorgeous Parks EVERYWHERE! (Regent’s Park)

Amazing musicals and friends!

An incredible city!

Reunions and new friends : )

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