Ice Skating and Forest Walking

Pop-up ice skating rinks are a big deal around Christmas time in London, and in most instances you have to book early to get a slot on a weekend, especially at the main event, in Hyde Park’s ‘Winter Wonderland’. Blake kindly surprised me one weekend with an afternoon skating session where we got the basics down, and the following week we took ourselves to the Canary Wharf ice skating rink which was also very nice, for an evening skate session.

As two people accustomed to Decembers involving wearing as little clothing as possible so as to not die of heat stroke, as well as googling ‘ways to keep cool on the train home at the end of a hot Australian summers day’ which I have definitely not done at some stage, Christmas themed ice skating was a big novelty. We would have loved to have gone more than twice but were trying to save money at the time – but next year, watch out London pop up rinks, we’re a-comin’! As newbies in the iceskating world, we spent a bit more time than most holding onto the edge of the rink for dear life. Blake did at one point entertain the idea of getting one of the big plastic penguins that lots of our fellow ice skaters were using to hold onto but unfortunately they were for ages 8 and under only. Maybe one day.

 

Nighttime skating

Nighttime skating

 

 

A cash-saving activity we found ourselves on several times during winter was venturing out to the many forests dotted on the outskirts of London to walk around and exploring. The great outdoors in England is quite different to Australian bush although we’ve definitely replaced one of our favourite Aussie weekend activities, bushwalking, with … forest walking? Hiking? I’m not quite sure what you’d call it, but whatever it is, I love it. It’s really refreshing to get away from the hustle and bustle of London, which seems to be switched on 24/7, and instead wander through beautiful trees and idyllic pathways set between row upon row of majestic trees that seem to overpower the English forest land here. Also, there are deer reserves in a lot of English forests!

We are very used to this being the constant weather... I really like it!

We are very used to this being the constant state of weather over here now… I really like it!

I will never get over this kind of view being  standard during any walk in this part of the world

I will never get over this kind of view being standard during any walk in this part of the world

One particularly excellent explore was to Epping Forest, which we have visited a few times now. We were almost thwarted by the really intense wind and the fact that I am a fool and didn’t bring a hair tie with me [flashback to the time we hired a boat and went out fishing on a freezing cold day and I only had a flimsy cardigan] which was quickly remedied by Blake’s suggestion of using an iPod charging cord. Ladies, it works. It doesn’t work well but it will get you out of dire situations such as hiking on a stupidly windy day without a hair tie. If that’s not a first world problem then I don’t know what is. We found the perfect lunching log to eat our picnic lunch (including home baked pumpkin choc chip cookies courtesy of an obsession I was having with pumpkin flavoured things at the time), and spent a good 4 hours walking through the forest and chatting. It was pretty glorious.

 

A weekend in Norwich

Sandwiched between two busy weeks, the kind of busy where stopping for just one moment is impossible because there’s simply no time to stop, we found ourselves traveling to the city of Norwich, about two hours out of London. Wikipedia is telling me that it’s the second largest city in England, second to London, so there you go. Also Stephen Fry is from Norwich and he’s pretty great.

We visited a dear friend of Blake’s and her insanely cute little daughter (we got to sleep in a Princess themed room with the most amazing giant Disney princess dolls, so that was a huge plus!) and although we were primarily there to hang out with our friends, we also managed to get some solid sightseeing in amongst the hanging. It was relaxing, interesting, entertaining and generally the perfect cure for a stressful few weeks. Thanks for having us Beki! We can’t wait to go back!

My first impressions of it were that it was adorable. We spent an hour or so wandering around and seeing what we stumbled upon before meeting Beki after she finished work. Cobbestone streets, beautiful old houses, tiny alleyways leading to who knows where, I fell in love with Norwich in about five seconds.

A terrible photo BUT it encapsulates the whole cobble street situation quite nicely!

A terrible photo BUT it encapsulates the whole cobblestone situation quite nicely!

Our first trip was to lunch at Wetherspoons, a popular family pub chain in the UK that serves decent, gourmet-style pub food at very good prices. After devouring some burgers, chips and bevvies we then wandered around the main streets of Norwich, visited the Norwich Castle museum (which has a really impressive collection. It happened to have one of the world’s largest collections of taxidermied birds (?!), a real sacrophogous, and a military section dedicated to the local troupes which goes back to the Crimean war and the British/American war a very, very long time ago. Blake was particularly impressed by this element and Beki and I actually lost him at one stage so the girls all headed to the fun kids section of the museum, where there were dress-ups, colouring in and games. Almost fun for Beki and I as it was for the little one!

I actually don't remember where we were when this was taken but it was definitely in Norwich!

I actually don’t remember where we were when this was taken but it was definitely in Norwich!

After our adventure we stocked up on dinner groceries and a gigantic box of Roses chocolates, and headed back to Beki’s place to hang out for the evening and watch British TV. During which time Beki and I managed to eat almost the entire box between the two of us. No regrets!

After a surprisingly lengthy sleep-in the following morning we got on the road (bus?) and went back into the centre of town to visit the Norwich Cathedral – and I’m so very glad that we did. It was actually the first church/cathedral we had visited in England and was stunning. We walked around the grounds, got into conversation with other fellow Sunday morning walkers, and finally visited the cathedral which was moving and beautiful and generally a wonderful experience.

The grounds of the Cathedral

The grounds of the Cathedral

photo 2(1)

Hogwarts, is that you??

Hogwarts, is that you??

photo 4(1)

 

Blake being a dork

Blake being a dork

Inside the cathedral... stunning.

Inside the cathedral… stunning.

photo

After a final late lunch back at Wetherspoons (we liked it that much.. tragic!) overlooking a lake in Norwich centre, we farewelled our lovely friends and jumped on our train back to London. We’ll definitely be back in Norwich, it was the perfect opportunity for relaxing and laughing with a friend, and taking a step back from the craziness that is London.

We didn't visit this pub but I would so love to next time. Look at it!

We didn’t visit this pub but I would so love to next time. Look at it!

Mash-up of things!

So. I’ll now disclose various events from two or three weekends, condensed into one convenient blog post… let’s not focus too much on the fact that I’m still recounting events from October and it is now March. Being punctual has never been a particularly strong point of mine…

Various weekend afternoons in our local park across the road, Clapham Common
These sessions include such events as finding a strange beaten-up circus, discovering little popup Christmas Markets around November, eating home-made bread in a secret garden section of the park that we found, watching lots of people fly kites (that is a big deal in this place! They love kites! It’s a little bizarre actually!), and enjoying many walks at dusk. Also there is an entire pond dedicated to people who like to sail model boats, but Sundays are for sailboats only, no electric model boating please 😉

£20 front-row tix to The Book of Mormon 

 

Fairly early on I discovered that there was a glorious thing called the ‘Book of Mormon Lottery’, whereby every day between 5pm and 5:30pm, anyone can enter their name in a ballot to win up to two tickets to that evening’s performance of The Book of Mormon, for a mere £20 per ticket. In the front row! Being one of the hardest shows in London to get tickets to, I of course became quickly obsessed with the idea of winning tickets to it rather than booking ten months in advance and paying £120 each. So, being a kind and dutiful boyfriend, Blake set out approximately once a week whilst I finished up at work and entered the lottery, sent me a text to say we didn’t win, and walked through Soho to meet me outside my work. This happened a good six or seven times before we finally got our front-row, £20, that-night tickets. I like to think it was totally worth it (although admittedly I’m not the one who had to fight the crowds and battle the elements to make it happen! So thank you, thank you, thank you B!). I loved it, what a hilarious show. A must-see for any South Park fan as the humour is very similar, having been written by the South Park boys themselves. It’s definitely not for the faint-hearted, with many dubious song titles and lyrics, but if you like crude and rude then it’s very much a laugh out loud fun night. I was excited to see something that has received so many awards and accolades over the years.

Geffrye Museum

This was a very cool little place. It’s a museum dedicated to ‘the home’, and as someone who regularly peruses the Ikea website creating virtual baskets of my dream future furniture, it sounded pretty good to me. It is built in an amazing old hospital building with insanely decadent gardens, and is everything you would imagine an old British hospital building to be. It displays various examples of rooms in the homes from the 1800s onwards, decade by decade. It’s very detailed and they’ve remembered absolutely everything from dubiously coloured wallpapers and tassels on everything that could possibly incorporatea tassel, to vases, glasses, trinkets, mirrors and more. You probably don’t need to spend more than a couple of hours here, but it’s an impressive collection and a lovely experience. We didn’t take any photos of the inside sadly, but the exterior of the building is beautiful enough to warrant a visit.

Image

Look at those gorgeous colours! And the vines everywhere! In my head this is very ‘In an old house in Paris that was covered with vines, lived 12 little girls in 2 straight lines…’ etc.

 photo 3(9)

Blake looking unimpressed outside the Geffrye museum.

Blake looking somewhat unimpressed with life yet also very London-esque outside the Geffrye museum.

The Emirates Airline

photo 4(10)

…what a bizarre thirty minutes this was… we travelled for about an hour total to the mystical thing we had seen on the tube map and wondered about. To its credit, riding the Airline meant we got to see the 02 Arena and have a wander around a new part of London that we hadn’t spent any time in. It also had some great views. To its discredit, it’s probably the most useless addition of transport/infrastructure London has ever built. It takes you from basically the middle of nowhere to the middle of nowhere, and is actually fairly expensive. I don’t really know who would use it as actual means of transportation other than having nothing else to do on a Sunday morning. Yep. Definitely not the top of my ‘favourite things in London’ list, but, here are some pictures nonetheless.

A thing of beauty

A thing of beauty

photo 1(8)

photo 3(10)

Looking like giant dweebs, thank you, thank you.

Looking like giant dweebs, thank you, thank you.

Natural History Museum

Somehow it took us three months or so to make it to a museum, which seems crazy given how many museums there are in London. The Natural History Museum is BRILLIANT. It is also free, which perhaps added to the brilliance. Commencing with a steep incline escalator which takes you through the middle of a gigantic model of mars (!) complete with flashing lights and sound effects, we spent a good few hours here one rainy Saturday afternoon and loved it. The collection is superb and there are some pretty cool dinosaur bones going on. Definitely one to visit.

photo 5(10)

photo 1(9)

photo 2(12)

Harry Potter Studio Tour

I am a mega dweeb of a Harry Potter fan, for anyone who doesn’t know that about me. I was going to make the Harry Potter studio tour a casual mention on the blog as this is a blog for BOTH of our adventures and I feel like perhaps I drag Blake along sometimes in my undying love of all things Harry Potter related (in the course of the last two years together I have indeed forced him to watch all 8 films, but am working on the books.. or at least the audiobooks…). But, it was too great to not give a proper shout out. So without further ado, feast your eyes upon the amazing experience that was the Harry Potter Studio Tour, Watford (which is also the suburb that we spent New Year’s Eve in, but that’s a story for another day….).

photo 5(9)

As I had a fellow Harry Potter fan in the same country for a short period of time, Davey and his lovely cousins from Australia, Blake and I booked ourselves some tix one Saturday morn to the studio tour. Commencing with a themed shuttle bus ride from Watford Station to the actual studio, I was sliiiiightly worried it was going to be a little pokey and old, a judgement I was making based entirely off the on-road entertainment video playing on the 20 min journey. How very wrong I was!

photo 4(7)

We turned up, knowing we were at the right place by the number of tweens and young people in coincidentally circular shaped glasses, and entered the tour where I died and was reborn. It. Was. Amazing. I’d been to the Harry Potter exhibition at the Sydney Powerhouse museum before, and as a bit of a crazy fan, had read basically everything there ever was to read about Harry Potter, but this place was full of things I’d never seen or read or even heard about, and better yet, is comprised of the actual sets, costumes, little bits of paper, everything, that was used in the making of the films.  It starts off with a very impressive door-opening ceremony leading into the actual great hall (not a fake great hall. The ACTUAL Great Hall where all of the Great Hall stuff was filmed for entire canon of films) where you can sit at the students’ benches, admire various costumes, music plays, look, it’s generally just a very exciting thing for any Harry Potter dweeb out there. But the real treat for me was the next room which features so many of the pieces of sets, props and costumes I could have spent three years in that place.

Some highlights included the Mirror of Erised, the door of the Chamber of Secrets (which actually works! The snake heads moving that you see in the films is not CGI, but an actual mechanical doorway), a good 20 prop tables laden with various props including Luna Lovegood’s earrings, fake food, wands, shoes and more – all instantly recognisable from the films, the Gryffindor common room set, Dumbledore’s office set, the potions lab, Hagrid’s hut, The Burrow, The Knight Bus, Privet Drive, the jaggedy bridge that sits over the lake, cars, motorbikes, brooms, the entire Diagon Alley set, animatronics such as Hagrid’s head, Buckbeak the Hippogriff, and a giant model of Hogwarts that was used to film pretty much every exterior shot of the castle.

I bring you… Lots of photos! Probably more photos than I put in most posts!

 

Dumbledore!

Dumbledore!

 

photo 1(2)
photo 1(5)

Diagon Alley!

Diagon Alley!

 

Invisibility Cloak.. With green screen underneath.. of course!

Invisibility Cloak.. With green screen underneath.. of course!

 

photo 2(8)

 

Makeup table

Makeup table

Dumbledore's office

Dumbledore’s office

 

photo 3(8)

photo 4(6)

photo 5(6)

Other highlights included pretending to ride broomsticks, wearing cloaks, against a green screen. There was photographic evidence of Blake doing this too in a car, but sadly fate worked against me this time as I don’t have the photos.

 

Dork Numero Uno

Dork Numero Uno

 

Dork Numero Dos

Dork Numero Dos

You can also order Butterbeer (I recommend!).

photo 5(7)
Along with some fizzing whizbees to share, Blake bought me a gift at the end of it all, which I am absolutely in love with – a time turner necklace (featured in Harry Potter and the Prizoner of Azkaban). I have wanted one since I read the book age … 12? And, it’s a really great way to make friends surprisingly. Anyone who recognises what it is from and comments on it is instantly a buddy in my books!

The experience is not super cheap at £30 per adult, but it is definitely a full day of activity and is a must-do for any Harry Potter fan – or boyfriend/girlfriend/husband/wife of Harry Potter fan – who finds themselves with a spare day in London.

photo 2(9)

Ireland Part III – Northern Ireland

It was a pretty crazy thing driving from Ireland to Northern Ireland. I was (and still am) fairly ignorant about the conflict and the history between the two, and couldn’t believe that one minute we were following speed limits in kilometres, seeing petrol stations advertising in Euros and having fun attempting to read the street signs in Gaelic, and the next thing we knew we had crossed into Northern Ireland and were operating in miles, pounds and strictly English. Very bizarre.

Our trusty hire car took us to the Premier Inn in Belfast, where we had about 5 minutes to go up to our room, slam my iPad (our equivalent of a DSLR) into a charger and head back down to commence our Black Cab tour of Belfast which had been recommended to us by the bride and groom from Part II of our Irish adventure, and was such a brilliant experience. Our driver, a lovely Northern Irelander named Joe, had a huge breadth of knowledge and was happy to answer any questions at all. We felt a little awkward about what questions we could ask (given the half-joking-but-we-couldn’t-quite-tell warning to wear a bullet proof vest in Belfast, and not to wear particular colours in particular streets) but Joe was really happy to answer whatever came his way. We never found out for sure whether he was on the Catholic or the Protestant side of the fence but he was fairly unbiased in terms of both his responses and the tour itself.

20140125-104556.jpg

Firstly, Belfast is beautiful. It reminded me of London, but more peaceful and spread out. After driving through the city with some great sights pointed out, we first stopped off on the Protestant side of the Peace Wall (which I will get to in a second!), parked the cab and stepped out for 45 mins of so of wandering around. Our guide showed us some of the more significant murals which have been painted onto the sides of houses. The area is adorned with union jacks, signs, the colours of their football teams, and it’s impossible not to feel slightly intimated by the passion and strength in beliefs.

20140125-104740.jpg

Some of the murals were quite intense, such as this one, with a gun pointing directly at a tall Catholic church, with a steeple just in view.

20140125-104953.jpg

Next we drove around to the Peace Line. It was built in 1969 and has been built up and extended over the year. It was built originally to stop violence by literally separating the two groups. They would often find ways to get around it and violence and deaths continued to occur, but the wall helped somewhat. The concept seems flawed to me; building a wall to separate two communities in order to promote peace? Something about that doesn’t quite sit right. But, it’s still incredible driving the length of this massive wall which has thousands and thousands of signatures and messages written across it. Blake and I signed our names too.

20140125-105047.jpg

Next we visited the Catholic side which noticeably less aggressive but still very much adorned with Irish flags, colours, signs and murals. We visited a memorial site, saw the headquarter’s where Blake’s grandfather’s football team began and learnt a lot about the area and its history.

20140125-105059.jpg

20140125-105336.jpg

I can’t recommend this tour enough. Joe dropped us off at a local pub for lunch, and we then walked through Belfast back to our hotel. Conveniently, ‘A Belfast Story’ had just been released and obviously we can’t be staying in Belfast and not see A Belfast Story, so we saw a late session at the local cinema. It had some terrible reviews, but I didn’t think it was too bad personally. It was interesting to get further insight into the history and community in the form of a film!

The only setback of the night was that even though it was about 11pm on a Saturday night when we left the cinema, there was nothing open, and we hadn’t had dinner. Woe! We wandered around looking for even a convenience store for a nutritious dinner of Doritos and salsa, or MAYBE even macaroni and cheese if we were lucky, but there was nothing anywhere in the vicinity. We did, however, find the Titanic quarter and took some photos of the fancy buildings, then went back to our hotel and ate dinner from the vending machine. Quite a different experience to the meals at Kilronan Castle the previous day!

We woke up early and left to head to Dublin (which we had to limit ourselves to 2 hours free time in due to wanting to make our flight back to London!). I would love to spend more time in Dublin as I’m sure there is a smorgasbord of amazing things to do there. But we had to pick just one, and upon recommendation from my grandparents we headed to Trinity College and saw the Book of Kells.

20140125-210525.jpg

The campus was stunning, and it was fascinating to see the book and learn about its history. The Long Room library was also very, very impressive. You know the bookshop that Belle frequents in Beauty and the Beast, and the bookshop guy comes swooping in on one of those cool ladders on wheels? Yep, I was imagining that and then had the ‘Bonjour, bonjour, bonjour bonjour bonjour!’ song in my head for the rest of the day. I’ve since seen The Long Room pop up on various blogs about amazing libraries (nerd alert) online several times since visiting, and it’s always a thrill (nerd alert) to see it mentioned.

20140125-210540.jpg

20140125-210749.jpg

And so ends our Irish Extravaganza. We’ll try to make it back at some stage whilst we’re living over here, I loved the experience so very much and can’t wait to see more of it. Although our list of countries we want to visit is growing faster than we can save (and we are moving into a new apartment soon!) so we’ll have to see…

Ireland… Part II

So it turns out that staying for 4 nights in a castle in Ireland is every bit as glamorous as it sounds. I literally felt like a princess, and may have requested that Blake refer to me as so a few times in the five days. Well, it was the closest I will ever be to one!

Kilronan Castle

Kilronan Castle

We checked into Kilronan quite late after a slight struggle finding the place after our drive from Newgrange, but were delighted to join the wedding party on the tail end of their dinner over a glass or two of wine, and caught up with extended family who I had been missing very much. Our room was huge and very luxurious, we had a beautiful view out over the grounds, and the whole place was decked out like a scene from a Disney movie. In a good way.

Two gigantic fancy beds. Why not.

Two gigantic fancy beds. Why not.

The castle itself was huge too, and everything you would expect of an Irish castle complete with old stone, turrets, flags, velvet, gold tassels everywhere, the whole shebang. It was pretty great.

After a lazy breakfast the following morning, we slowly got ready to drive 5 mins away to the local parish for the actual wedding ceremony. Emma was an absolute stunner of a bride and her dashing husband-to-be scrubbed up very nicely himself.

Walking down the aisle

It was wonderful for me to watch one of my childhood babysitters marry the man she loves! And Gracie was also a pretty adorable flowergirl. It was a perfect ceremony and we felt honoured to be welcomed as guests.

A very beautiful bride

A very beautiful bride

The best flowergirl ever!

The best flowergirl ever!

There were many, many photos taken outside the castle, courtesy of the amazing lake and expanse of green (Ireland is full of that colour!), followed by a great reception celebrating the matrimony of two fabulous people. Many excellent memories were forged that night, including some father-of-the-bride tabletop dancing which was widely featured on Snapchat that night, lots of smiles and lots and looooots of dancing the night away. As seems to be our style at weddings, we found ourselves sitting cross-legged on the dance floor chatting at 2am.

Outside the church

Outside the church

Wedding party, reception guests and Kilronan Castle from afar

Wedding party, reception guests and Kilronan Castle from afar

The next few days involved lots of chatting over breakfast time (the breakfasts were amazing, for anyone who cares to know. Smoked salmon, pastries, eggs, tomatoes, bacon, croissants, yoghurt, fresh fruit, beautiful cheeses, etc, etc, etc…)

A long walk around the castle grounds with Blake

photo 5(4)

1174778_10151943090679434_1432445685_n

A fancy dinner with our own private waiter with some of the wedding guests.

1374063_10151943091354434_1909042828_n

A night spent singing and smiling around the castle’s grand piano courtesy of Maestro Spud. Lots more delicious food, and in Blake’s case fancy drinks at silly times of the morning. Lots more generally sitting around and enjoying each other’s company in the castle.

It was a lovely few days filled with lovely faces and memories. Thank you Shane and Emma for getting married at a fairytale castle in Ireland!

Ireland, Part I – Newgrange

Image

We were humbled and excited to be invited to our lovely friends’ Emma and Shane’s Irish Wedding Extravaganza in September, and jumped at the chance to attend as we knew we would be in the UK by then. There’s nothing like a wedding as an excuse for international travel (in fact, the Canadian wedding we were attending was the catalyst for our move to London in the first place!).  We booked with Ryan Air which I had heard mixed reviews about, but found it to be a fantastic experience for our non-lux needs. As long as you stick to the baggage allowance and don’t expect any food/entertainment (most Ryan Air flights would be 2 hours max, so seems over the top anyway), the cheap prices far outweigh any inconveniences.

We hired a car which we picked up from Dublin airport, Blake lost his headphones (hehe hi Blake!), the man at the hire car desk warned us to wear bullet proof vests if driving to Belfast, it was all very exciting.

We had a reservation awaiting us at Kilronan Castle, which was the most amazing place I have ever stayed at in my life, but as we had arrived early in the morning decided to take the day to do a bit of driving and exploring en route to Co. Roscommon, where the wedding festivities would be held the following day. Shane and Emma had told us around a year before the trip about a place that sounded too good to be true to us – Newgrange {link}. After a lovely 2-3ish hour drive through the Irish countryside we arrived at Newgrange, which has officially taken first place in the vote of Most Incredible Thing We Have Ever Seen. We were totally blown away. Words, pictures, descriptions do not do the place justice. After arriving at the main office, you jump on a shuttle bus and drive for about 10 minutes to the actual site, which is away from any main roads and actually situated between private properties. Understandably there is no public access to the site which is beneficial not only in minimal disturbances to neighbours but also minimal disturbances to the landmark itself.

Image

What is more amazing in this world than a 5300 year old (older than the pyramids!) tomb structure that was only fully excavated 50 years ago, has remained pretty much intact for 5,300 years? And is constructed in such a specific way and facing such a specific direction that on the winter solstice every year the sunrise light penetrates through a tiny window and completely illuminates the inside of the tomb, but ONLY on the winter solstice? ‘Pretty much nothing’, is the answer to that rhetorical question. Not bad, humans, for figuring that out 5,300 years ago. The ingenuity and brilliance required in figuring that out before modern technology blows me away.

Image

This is a must-see in life, really. You can wander inside the tomb in small groups where they simulate the display that occurs naturally on dawn/dusk of the winter solstice and explain the various features inside the monument. One thing that particularly left me flabbergasted was that the tomb is completely watertight – in 5000 + years of Irish weather, being buried under layers of soil and rock and who knows what else, not a drop of water infiltrated the architecture. Amazing, huh? You can walk all the way around the outside of it and admire the incredible rock-carvings that feature on its walls. There is much speculation about the rock-carvings’ origins and meanings, with no real answer. It is an important, special, spiritual place that really makes you stop and think. I can’t recommend this highly enough and am so glad we were able to check it out.

Image
Image

ImageImageImage
I would have loved to have spent the whole day there but we had a castle to go to, so off we drove for another hour or so after some sporadic texts from other wedding guests warning us not to go the way that we were in the process of going, as it involved dirt tracks rather than roads, dubious street signs and generally feeling like we were driving into a scene of a horror movie. But, we made it, and so part two begins…

Bike ride / Royal Observatory

Dotted across London it’s hard to miss row upon row of blue Barclay’s bikes, affectionately known as Boris bikes (it’s something to do with the mayor?), for hire to the public. It’s one of those systems where you pick one up, pay electronically and then return it to any rack in London and you’re charged for the time you used it. It’s a great system which seems to be used quite heavily. We’ve used them a couple of time ourselves, definitely a ‘recommend that you do this in London’ situation as it’s fairly inexpensive and lots of fun.

The first time we hired the bikes was a beautiful afternoon, dappled sun, light breeze, basically the perfect combination for bike riding in Hyde Park, so bike riding in Hyde Park we went! It seemed that many people had the same idea as us, as it took about 45 minutes of walking around the outskirts of the park to find a rack that had spare bikes left. I had even gotten to a point where I was considering following a couple who had been zooming around, to get their bikes as soon as they dropped them off. No shame.

photo 5

We rode for hours through Hyde Park, and across to Kensington Gardens and Kensington Palace, via Royal Albert Hall, and various pit-stops to take pictures because it was just so beautiful.

photo 3

photo 4

photo 1(3)

photo 2
We were exhausted by the end of it, so naturally treated ourselves to a meat platter for two at our local Bodeans, a popular BBQ restaurant, which probably completely overrode all our calories burnt from hours of bike riding. Worth it. That place is delicious – Blake thought it was better than Hurricanes.

photo 1
The next day after waking up from a bike-riding-meat-eating slumber, we decided to hit Greenwich and the Royal Observatory, and to visit the prime meridian line which when I learnt about it in year 9 Geography classes I didn’t believe truly existed… I mean, surely there isn’t an actual, tangible line. 15 year old Jemima was wrong. It exists and you have to wait about an hour in a queue and pay £10 to be able to take an official photo with it! But, because we are excellent at avoiding exorbitant costs, we found a section of the line that didn’t require a queue or an entrance fee so took our own photos.

photo 4(1)

                     The queue to take a photo ! Crazy!

The observatory was beautiful in itself, with the added bonus of an incredible view of London. We saw a great show at the 120-seater planetarium and wandered through the observatory museum. I love a good observatory and this one did not disappoint.

photo 5(1)

The meridian line!

Greenwich as a suburb was gorgeous too. We discovered Les Mis scenes were filmed there (Do You Hear the People Sing, etc) and it is very, very impressive. Another solid London weekend.

photo 2(1)

photo 3(1)

photo

The Woods of Woking

Everyone I’ve mentioned Woking to here has been really surprised that we’ve been – not just once, but twice – to Woking… I almost can’t believe it happened either.

Just kidding, Woking is actually a nice little place. We initially went there with a specific goal, on a bit of a nerdy pilgrimage {Disclaimer: this time driven by Blake, not by me, to the surprise of anyone who knows me…} We journeyed to Woking to see the birthplace of the War of the Worlds series, which was written by HG Wells when he was living there, and is set in Woking too. There are nice little references to him and to the story dotted throughout the town, seen in really obvious sculptures of aliens in the middle of the town centre and a mural depicting the events of the story as well as less obvious street names, and a tiny plaque on the house that he lived in during his time in Woking. You wouldn’t know unless you went there searching for it. Blake was stoked to be there and I was enjoying visiting a new place. I was also enjoying the vast number of puns that can be made from the name ‘Woking’. You know, classic lines like ‘It’s really nice woking around here with you Blake’ ‘What time are you woking tomorrow?’, etc. Ahhhh, glorious.

Blake and the inconspicuous alien statue in the middle of the town centre

Blake and the inconspicuous alien statue in the middle of the town centre

 

photo 2

We went for a long walk and a picnic in Horsell Common, and listened to the original radio broadcast whilst we ate our olives, prosciutto and bread. There were lots of people in the common, walking dogs and playing with kids etc. The story goes that the aliens crash landed on the Horsell Sands, which is precisely where we sat and had our lunch.

Horsell Sands

Horsell Sands

 

photo 4

It was the perfect day for a picnic – overcast and grey so no risk of sunburn (although, is that as much of a thing in the UK as it is in Australia? I feel like maybe the hole in the ozone layer isn’t as big an issue here?) but not in a depressing way, and it was one of the first cool(er) days we’d experienced, so it was lovely to go wandering through the woods together and experience our first UK-style great outdoors.

I got my hair cut btw. So short. I love it!

I got my hair cut btw. So short. I love it!

photo (2)

Then, you better believe it, we went back to Woking… again… a mere three weeks later (!), to go … to… a … MODEL TRAIN EXHIBITION! I know, could anything be more exciting?!?!?!?!? (Sorry Blake!) Yet another nerdy pilgrimage lead by B-boy himself, not me! Not me I say! So next time anyone decides to judge me for making him go to the Harry Potter Studio Tour (aka the best place ever) with me, I’ll say three words. Aliens. Model trains. Woking.

The train exhibition was actually really nice. There’s something peaceful about watching miniature trains tooting around miniature villages, and also the fact that the crowd was all smiling old grandpas and their grandsons – who were thrilled to be surrounded by other kids and trains. A pretty good combo for an 8 year old boy I would imagine. We spent an hour or so looking at all the various exhibitions (there were so many!) and admiring all the gear you could buy to create your own model railway. It totally converted me from not really having any emotion towards model trains, to actively wanting to build one someday. A Harry Potter themed railway, of course 😉

I would genuinely recommend walking through Horsell Common for a nice day trip that isn’t too far out of London but feels a world away.

Edinburgh

photo 1

On our fourth week, a buddy of ours from Sydney came to stay for a night or two. It’s pretty five-star at our share-house in Clapham Common, as he slept on our bedroom floor and had to use some clothes in a pillow case as a pillow. …Sorry Davey. He had plans to go to Edinburgh for the weekend and do a tour of the Highlands and see some shows at the Edinburgh Fringe Fest, so Blake and I at the very last-minute decided to join him and jumped on a train after work one day… A few hours later, we were in Edinburgh! My mind was blown by that one, and I’m still not accustomed to the fact that we can wake up in one country, jump on a train and be in a new one in just 2 hours.

photo 2(2)

It was quite late when we got in so didn’t see much that night, but woke up to a lovely surprise the following morning – which is that Edinburgh is gorgeous. We wandered from the apartment where we were staying with David and three other friends, over to the heart of the city where Fringe Fest fever was happening. I never thought Edinburgh would be more hectic than London, but it was. Pamphlets being thrown at us every 30 seconds, desperate comedians (and some actors… but mostly comedians!) walking around trying to get people to see their shows, pop-up-vendors everywhere selling food and drinks and merchandise… It was mental. We managed to see five different shows in two days, some more amateur, some more professional, with audiences ranging from about 6 people to 100.The highlight for me was a production of Harold Pinter’s ‘The Dumb Waiter’ set in a kitchen. We didn’t have dinner as we had read that the space was a kitchen, so went in hungry expecting a little cafe with some tables and chairs where you could order food and drinks and have a merry old time… But when we arrived we wandered into literally, a kitchen. A commercial chef’s kitchen with no seating, and definitely no means of ordering food or drinks. The audience of around 30 surrounded three walls of the room, with the two actors doing their thing in the middle of the room, at times less than a metre away from audience members surrounding them. I thought I could be tough and stand for the whole piece, and realised about 5 minutes in that that wasn’t going to happen and experienced an uncomfortable moment when I tried to sit down as at the precise moment that one of the actors ran in my direction, not knowing I was in the process of trying to conspicuously move a piece of the set to sit down, almost ran into me.

It was surprisingly stressful navigating the giant crowds all day but an amazing experience to see so much performance coming together in one place. We did a lot of walking and saw Edinburgh castle from probably every angle of the city. We had dinner at a little Italian place before heading back to the apartment to do it all again the next day.

Edinburgh University

Edinburgh University

We had lunch on the Sunday at the Elephant House cafe, which to my dismay used wooden spoons as a centrepiece on the tables, but to my delight was also a place that JK Rowling used to frequent when she was writing the Harry Potter books. The bathrooms in that place are some kind of ridiculous shrine to JK, every single possible surface that could have a message on it, has a message on it, written in sharpies and pens by HP fans across the world who make a similar pilgrimage to the place where the story evolved!

Blake and the wooden spoon centrepiece

Blake and the wooden spoon centrepiece

The view of Edinburgh Castle from the Elephant House cafe - hogwarts..?!

The view of Edinburgh Castle from the Elephant House cafe – hogwarts..?!

Edinburgh was a real surprise in terms of beauty – it’s much more picturesque than London, and everything is gorgeous and old. Every single building had incredible detail and looked like it had a story or two to tell. We spent a lot of time just wandering around and checking it out. Next year for the Fringe Fest we plan to be back, for longer, and will explore more of Scotland too.

 

photo 1(2)

photo 5

photo 3(1)

Events from the early days…

photo(1)

The whole first month in London was a bizarre time. So exciting, but also overwhelming and intense. We were doing as much as humanly possible whilst trying to settle in and find our feet, and I, in a fluke occurrence of events, started working on our sixth day here so suddenly was back into the swing of normal, crazy TV land life, but in a place I was completely unfamiliar with. For the record, it’s quite hard of set up film shoots within your first week in a foreign country when you can barely get yourself to work without getting lost. I’ve since gotten a handle on things though! Blake soon found himself a job a few weeks in and got into the swing of working life too after a very much deserved 5 weeks of travelling and sleeping in every day. So although back to the daily grind, on evenings and every weekend we have consistently seen and done lots of great things, so many that I’ve lost track! So, as I’m recapping from over two months ago, I’ll just briefly explore some of our highlights from the early days…

Curry in Brick Lane

London’s ‘Indian quarter’ is an incredible place. It’s busy, with people harrassing you left right and centre to come into their restaurant for an ‘amazing deal’. Amazing deal after amazing deal after amazing deal! We went on recommendation from several Australian friends who’ve lived in the UK at one stage or another, and were super excited about our first really delicious curry. What we weren’t told was that the guys standing out in the street trying to entice you to go to their Indian restaurant as opposed to the other 68 of them on the street, are ruthless, and would do ANYTHING to get a customer.

Not knowing this was how it worked, we genuinely tried to decline the first man who came up to us and accidentally successfully bartered for a great price without knowing that’s what we were doing. He pushed. We said no and kept walking. He pushed again. We said no and kept walking. Etc. etc. He eventually got to such a low price that it seemed crazy to keep going, even though we genuinely had no intention of bargaining anyone down! In the end we were offered an entree, two mains, rice and a bottle of wine for £10. Not bad.

Lining up for Wicked tix

Because I was at one stage completely obsessed with Wicked, naturally it was the second show we saw. Having done my research on the Theatre Monkey website (very handy for anyone travelling to London who wants to research cheap, last-minute tix to shows) I knew that every morning, a queue of die-hard-fans would appear on the steps of the theatre to nab some of the 24 front-row tix to that evening’s performance, at a stupidly cheap price. I also knew that it ws important to get there early because of the vast number of crazy Wicked fans that exist in the world. We arrived at 8am, and weren’t the first there… The box-office didn’t open til 10! Cut to me leaving to go to work at 9:15 and leaving Blake in the queue with a hoard of nerdy 17 year old girls. Thanks Blake!

Needless to say he successfully acquired two tix for us, and it was mind-blowingly good. The production is much the same as it was in Australia several years ago {NB I may have seen the show 6 times in Sydney… :D} but there were outstanding performances from the girl playing Elphaba – who was the understudy – and the rest of the leads. Honestly one of the best voices I have ever heard.

Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club

We booked tix with two friends to Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club. Blake selected from one night from a week full of probably amazing performers, and we ended up with tix to see Jon Hendricks.. Such a blast. You know you’re onto a good thing when Mr Hendricks asks an audience member to come up and have a sing with them towards the end of the gig… the audience member being Van Morrison….

Churchill’s War Rooms

By far one of my favourite ‘London things’ so far. We did a tour one afternoon of Churchill’s War rooms, which have been left essentially as they were left after the war. It is amazing. It has been done up in a great way so that you have your fair share of tourist-friendly informative touch-screen things and interactive elements for kids, but the impressive part is actually walking through the rooms. It’s literally like going back in time and you really get a sense of what it would have been like to spend time there with a war raging above you. Can’t recommend this experience enough. And definitely get the audio guide.

Chimerica

Another show we managed to nab cheap, front-row tickets to was Chimerica, a play our housemates recommended to us but that we knew nothing about. It’s a fantastic play, exploring the events of the Tiananmen Square massacre and the stories of a handful of people who were involved in one way or another. One element that really impressed me about this show was the set – a revolving metal cube in which differents sets are revealed, which spins progressively throughout the show.

It was thought-provoking, sad, funny, really well-written and also one I’d recommend to anyone.

The British Museum

This place is insane. It is a massive building with so much incredible history, filled with artefacts and collections that you can barely touch on in a few short hours – which is all we had to spend there. We saw the Pompeii exhibition (now closed, but really cool), and wandered through the Ancient Egyptian section but had to take a break being all museum-ed out. You can only be blown away by so many things built/made/invented thousands of years ago before it all starts becoming one big fuzzy meltdown of ‘WOWTHISISSOAMAZING’ and you need to sit down!

The Household Cavalry Museum – Changing of the guards

This was an accidental discovery, when we went for a walk after touring Churchill’s War Rooms. We timed our walk perfectly because we stumbled upon the changing of the guards ceremony at the Household Cavalry museum. We had tried previously to see the changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace, but couldn’t see anything due to the crowds, so was nice to see a more intimate version and really interesting too.

Changing of the Guard

Changing of the Guard

Kew Gardens

photo 3(2)

photo 5

 

I had never heard of these gardens, and don’t know why it isn’t more popular. Blake had read about this place somewhere and we entertained the idea of going, not knowing much about it. It was a surprisingly hot day for London,  sunny and warm. We were consistently deceived for the entire first month we were here weather-wise as I was all summer dress and sandals, and Blake was all t-shirt.  London, what about your stereotypical grey, dreary weather that we were looking forward to?!?! We’re definitely winter people.

Summer attire at Kew Gardens

We jumped on a train, wandered past some markets where Blake purchased a disappointing pork pie and I, failing in the blasting heat, was desperate for a coke and a soft-serve ice cream, and eventually after various pit stops made it to Kew Gardens. There weren’t many people there which was surprising for such a nice day, but it made it all the more amazing.

Kew Gardens is very impressive. It’s the royal botanical gardens, but is very different to the kind that I’m used to overlooking Sydney harbour. It was huge, you could easily get lost and spend hours and hours wandering through the various sections. We visited the biggest greenhouse in the northern hemisphere, which sadly is now closed for several years for renovations, but was great to catch it on its last weekend. We wandered around trying to catch as much of it as we could before we started to lose light.

Greenhouse @ Kew Gardens

There were manicured, ‘royal’ terrains, of course to a very high standard, but my favourite parts were the forest-y sections that felt like you could walk for days without running into anyone. We came across abandoned cottages and huts, some kind of giant ant mound, old benches with engravings, it was filled with things to explore. I spotted a sign saying there were bluebells around which I realised I’d never seen in Australia and was very excited by, but couldn’t spot them anywhere. There was a beautiful cottage which we swear we’ve seen in films but couldn’t pick which ones. There was an old palace where the royal families used to stay sometimes, hundreds and hundreds of years ago, the top level of which has had the wallpaper cut back to reveal the paint, wallpaper etc that was used when it was first built. It had been immaculately restored.

Beautiful sunflowers outside the Greenhouse

Beautiful sunflowers outside the Greenhouse

 

 

We could have spent weeks in that place walking around, napping in the shade and generally wandering about. A highlight for Blake included the moment when I saw a tiny stream and asked if it was the Thames. Hey, I didn’t know! Turns out the Thames actually does cross through Kew Gardens, and it’s only a small mouth of the river which looks not nearly as impressive as the city version of the Thames, so my suspicion wasn’t that crazy!

We’ll definitely be going back to Kew Gardens, maybe over Christmas as they decorate it with lights and Christmas markets and all sorts of other festive things!

 

photo

Week One…

We spent our first week in London primarily checking out places to live, and applying for jobs – and managing to squeeze in our fair share of fun things in the afternoons/evenings. We also discovered the wonder that is Sainsbury’s sandwiches, which two months on is still probably my favourite lunch item to have here. We got ourselves into a pretty solid rhythm of waking up at 8:30, breakfast in the little courtyard garden, applying for jobs and looking (online) at houses, ducking to Sainsburys for a ham hock and Piccadilly (that’s not at all what it’s called but I can’t possibly remember how to spell it if I can’t even say it) sauce sandwiches, and a bag of crisps to share (that is a mega popular thing here. Everyone eats crisps at lunch, and in restaurants they will sometimes even serve a bowl of crisps as a side to your main meal). We’d then go to a house inspection, and head out to do something touristey. Like walking around here.

We saw three houses in the first few days. I had my heart set on the idea of a tiny studio apartment, one room, the whole shebang, but the first studio we saw was in a building that looked like it was about to fall apart/if there was ever a fire, not even a chance of survival. After googling the address I also found a health and safety report online that declared it was essentially unsafe due to asbestos, and also being built on top of a WWII bombing site that was never cleared properly. Mmmm. A nice asbestos bomb ridden fire hazard home, no thank you. We looked at another that was far less likely To fall to pieces, but that would only take us on a 12 month lease which, both jobless at this point, was a bit too long a period to lock ourselves into at such an uncertain point.

We ended up settling in a share house in Clapham Common, which has ended up mostly being a great idea. Our room is huge, we have an ensuite shower and it’s an easy, fantastic location.

We found ourselves an impressive local park which is huge, and filled with families a and kids, sometimes people rehearsing awesome hip hop dance numbers, the odd hooligan here and there, and often Blake and I wandering around now too. There is a huge rave/trance music festival there every year in August, we found out, too. Free trance music on our balcony. Heaven. 😉

Clapham Common - Our local

Other fun activities from our first week – other than attempting to move house by foot – include:

Somerset House: the first building in London that I declared was my ‘favourite building so far’ (NB: it has since been surpassed by about fifteen new ‘favourite buildings’ but is very impressive! And in winter they turn it into an ice rink which is pretty cool so that may regain 1st place for a little while in December!), where we went to a brilliant photography exhibition and sat and people-watched for ages one afternoon:

Somerset House

Buenavista: On our last night in Clapham north, before we migrated down the road to Clapham Common, we had dinner at this little place, which was Cuban food, with some rad live Cuban music playing throughout the dinner as well. Although our waitress was weirdly unfriendly and had zero interest in serving us or paying any attention to us, in fact, the food was delicious and fairly cheap. We accidentally over-ordered in the chorizo department, with two giant chorizo-filled dishes glaring at us after we were well and truly full. Not wanting our evil waitress to curse our first born child, we powered through… Evidence found in this photo:

Chorizos. And Blake.

Kew gardens: this one will get a whole blog post because it was very special and definitely one of my favourite things we’ve done here at all

A job interview at a fantastic production company, which I proceeded to then start at the next day

A trip to the not so fantastic Job Centre (kind of like Centrelink) which was stressful and unpleasant

London Day 2

Still jet-lagged and exhausted, our first few days in London are something of a blur… but in a good way! It was beyond exciting finally having arrived. We took it easy on the first day, enjoying breakfast at our temporary home and slowly headed out for the day in the early afternoon. Not getting dark until 10pm was a bonus as our days somehow meant we could sleep in every day but still get a full days worth of newly-arrived-in-London-esque activities.

photo3
On our second morning we strolled over to Brixton to set ourselves up with UK mobile numbers (incidentally Brixton is actually a fantastic place, though we didn’t know it at the time!), as well as a trip to Starbucks. Our first London ‘thing’ was a pretty typical one… Buckingham palace. We were looking for something fairly chilled-out to do, that would allow us to see some sights – it was definitely a good choice. We had a wander around the grounds, took some token photos in front of the building and kept our eyes peeled for Queenie. We were hoping to see the notice of the royal birth which had happened around one week earlier but were too late!

Blake at the Palace!

 

Buckingham Palace

The next day we indulged some of my favourite things and went to Kings Cross St Pancras station, the filming location for Harry Potter ‘Platform 9 and ¾’ scenes in the various films. An incredibly exciting thing for me! They had a setup outside of the actual platform, where people could pay to take photos. The handful of times we’ve been to Kings Cross, whether in transit or on a Harry Potter pilgrimage, there has always been a very long queue to get that photo.. so I settled with a sneaky one taken from the side 😉

We saw our first West End show on Day 2 in London, The Lion King. After purchasing tickets from a guy out the front of the theatre, we were slightly concerned that they wouldn’t be the real deal, but got into the theatre without a hitch. I had seen it a few times in Sydney but Blake hadn’t seen it – in fact he hasn’t even seen the movie (I’m working on that one) – so it was a great treat for both of us. The show itself maybe wasn’t as amazing as we were anticipating. The fact that it was on the West End implies being the greatest show you will ever see in your whole life, but to be honest, I think the Australian production was better! Nonetheless was great to see a show.
At the end of the night as we tried to make our way back to a tube station in the rain, following google maps on a temperamental iPhone, we found ourselves on the street of the Noel Coward theatre. Blake made a general coment, something like ‘I think this is where Daniel Radcliffe’s play is’ as we grew closer, naturally my spidey senses were tingling at the very mention, and lo and behold it seemed as though Harry Potter himself was just about to walk out of the theatre having finished his play that night…. There was a growing crowd of 15-year-old-girls, some bodyguards appeared, a fancy car pulled up, so I found myself at the front of the small crowd with Blake very kindly waiting with me for a glimpse of Mr Potter…

Platform 9 3/4, AND harry potter himself!
woomph, there it is!

Blurry, can’t really see him, in fact it may not even be him (just joking, it was, I promise!), but it was such a blast. I used Blake’s new favourite app, Picframe, (Seriously he has made a picframe for EVERYTHING), to create a collage of all the Harry Potter elements of my day! So exciting! 

Arriving in London

The trip from Vancouver to London was hard. We did find ourselves scoring exit row when checking in after Blake was polite and courteous to the dude serving us – and he rewarded us for calmness and manners! Yessss! Despite the ability to stretch our legs, it was an exhausting trip, probably because we were so tired after two weeks in Canada. When stopping over at Frankfurt, the flight attendant said something to me in German and handed me three red roses that had previously been in the plane’s bathrooms as air refresheners – but they weren’t so fresh after an 11-hr flight…….. Being toilet refreshers and all… I was confused and a little grossed out, but accepted them and politely departed the plane until I could find a bin far enough away to not offend the lovely air hostess!

After a glorious 1.5 hours at Frankfurt airport which we still talk of fondly, we jumped on our next, much shorter flight across to London, during which Blake tried to sleep and I analysed what those three toilet red roses meant. Before we knew it, boom, London! After catching our breath at Nero cafe, Heathrow airport, we had something to eat and dragged our lives-condensed-into-two-suitcases over to the Heathrow express train to Paddington. The express train was quite lovely, but getting on the tube was a different story…. The tube is hectic enough on a good day. After 15 hours in transit, two giant suitcases and not much sleep on a very hot London day, it was a different story – I think I vowed to never, ever catch the tube again [edit: I have since caught the tube every single day!] . Although we almost got separated several times, one particularly fun time in which Blake jumped on a train and I was dawdling behind so had the doors literally close on me, we made it to Clapham North and settled down in our temporary place (a room with a lovely lady named Sophie and her dog, Miffie, who we found through Air BNB and highly recommend as a place to stay).

Having heard about how good the Indian food is in London, we decided to try the local Indian restaurant on our first night. We weren’t too sure if it was the real deal at the time (and we’ve since discovered that indeed it wasn’t, and the real deal is actually an amazing strip of Indian restaurants called Brick Lane in East London), but shared a curry or two, went back to the house and promptly fell asleep.

And so the London adventures began!

<img src="http://blakeandjemima.files.wordpress.com/2013/09/20130917-212003.jpg" alt="20130917-21

2003.jpg” class=”alignnone size-full” />

Blake on our first night in London