K. and I are somewhat “go our own way” kind of girls, so when we realised we still had one day we could use for a trip out of London, we checked to see if we could do another trip just by ourselves. We quickly realised that the destinations we wanted to see were hugely inconvenient for us to reach without a car. So we looked up alternatives and finally decided on booking an organised tour. This turned out to be a huge success. Really.
We booked the Windsor Castle – Stonehenge – Bath tour two days in advance. It was a matter of maybe 10 minutes of research followed by 3 minutes of online booking. We booked the tour by Evan Evans.
This agency provides you with a complimentary pick up, so we managed to find a location that was literally just across the street from our hostel and saved us a lot of time coming to the station by ourselves.
The tour included the bus ride to the sights, a guide, and entrance fees as well as audio guides for Windsor Castle, Stonehenge and the Roman Baths in Bath. Our guide was a lovely lady named Fiona who talked in a casual and funny way about general history as well as the sights we were going to see. Within the sights we were left to our own devices and could divide up the time as we saw fit.
Sometimes the time we had in certain points was a bit short, and I know I would like to return to Bath and explore it a bit more but all in all it was a great trip.
We also managed to save quite a lot of money, booking this trip, as train tickets and entrance fee for Stonehenge alone would have been around the same price of what we paid for the whole trip.
[Above: Surprised face while trying the water from the hot springs in Bath.]
[Above: We unleashed our inner tourist and did some hardcore posing in Stonehenge. My pained expression in all other pictures we took is because of the wind and funny enough: being annoyed with fellow picture-taking tourists. I’m a traveling hypocrite, apparently.]
Our third day in the United Kingdom took us out of London and across the beautiful (but very dreary) English countryside to Dover.
Writing this may be a bit hard as opinions obviously vary and I don’t think we got the best impression of this town as it was super rainy, windy and cold, but it’s safe to say that one day, or even afternoon is more than enough.
Upon arrival we made our way to the tourist office to get some maps and folders about activities. Then we made our way up to Dover Castle. You can easily get there by foot. It takes around 10-15 minutes from the town centre. At the castle you can do various tours.
I’d recommend the tours that lead you through the Secret Wartime Tunnels that were used during WWII.
I did the one of the wounded soldier. It took around 20 minutes and you follow the story of a wounded soldier who’s brought in to the infirmary. The tour is complete with sound and light effects. They also use chemicals to recreate the original smell, which can be nauseating at times. There’s a second one that takes around one hour, which we decided not to take because the wait would have been too long. The tours are included in the entrance fee you pay and definitely worth doing!
When you go further up the castle, you get to know more about the earlier history of it. The insides are done very nicely and it’s fun and educational for children as well as for grown-ups.
Afterwards we meant to hike around the cliffs for a bit to a lighthouse, but the horrendous weather thwarted our plans. There are boat tours around the harbour offered as well, but this too, might be nicer if it’s not pouring cats and dogs ;-)
When asked where we’d get the best view of the cliffs, we were told that it would be from down at the boardwalk. This was partly true. We got a nice view but still had the port in front.
After that, we still had a few hours left in Dover but nothing to do really. The city centre also seemed to lack nice, cosy cafés or restaurants. (At least we couldn’t find them. If you disagree and have some tips and cool locations, please let me know!)
How to get there:
Initially we looked up trains from London to Dover, but found that taking a bus was much, much cheaper (one way train tickets would have been 75£/person whereas the bus ticket was 12£/person for a return ticket). The bus ride takes around 3 hours and I’ve only ever had good experiences with National Express. The buses are clean, comfortable and barring any major traffic jams they’ve always been on time.
We woke up on our second day in London feeling slightly delicate. Most probably due to the combination of lack of sleep, not enough food, too much wine and general exhaustion of being on the move for the entire day.
In other words, nothing a proper Full English Breakfast cannot cure ;-) We started a day of visiting museums, walking through Hyde Park and finally saw Van Morrison at the Royal Albert Hall.
The first stop on our list was a visit to one of my favourite places in London, the Saatchi Gallery. I have such a deep love for this Gallery and all the quirky pieces of art you can find in there, I cannot even tell you. Admission to the Gallery is free (as it is the case with most of the bigger museums), but I’d advise you to check beforehand as prices can be quite high for some sights.
We also visited the Science Museum, where you can easily spend a day or more. The museums were packed, though. Lots and lots of people. They have a couple of late night openings throughout the year and I was advised to go to one of them, but couldn’t do so because we already had plans for the evening. If you do have the chance I’d say: take it. The atmosphere in museums in the evening is always great and it can be a lot of fun! (Plus, I guess there are fewer children around ;-))
In the evening we dressed up and headed to the stunning Royal Albert Hall to see Van Morrison. When we were looking for a quick bite to eat we literally stumbled into a small Lebanese restaurant not far from the Paddington tube station. We were super surprised at how nice the food was and a little annoyed at ourselves that we didn’t have more time to spend there as we were in a bit of a rush.
Arriving at the Royal Albert Hall was…. crazy. The inside is just so beautifully stunning. Add that to the fact that I’ve been dying to see Van Morrison live for years now … it was a great evening at a stunning location.
“When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.”
~ Samuel Johnson
I’ve returned a couple of times and so, when my parents gave tickets to see Van Morrison live at the Royal Albert Hall for my birthday I could not have been more excited to return to London. It has only been one and a half years since I’ve been but there’s always so much to do and see in this city. You can never, ever get bored.Still, there was the question of what a girl should do who’s going to London for the sixth (!) time.
The great thing about having been there for so many times already is that we’ve pretty much seen all the major sights. This left us the luxury of returning to the sights we loved while also having enough time to discover and explore things and places we haven’t been to yet.
Since we saw this as budget travel we booked a cheap hostel in Paddington. It was centrally located and it was also (-drum rolls-) attached to a pub.
The staff was friendly, the rooms clean, and breakfast was included. This saved us some money as well. Plus, when you check in they also hand you some vouchers, so you get some meals cheaper, or a free tea or coffee etc.
Click here to visit their website.
We spent most of our first day shopping. I don’t know about you, but here in Austria we don’t have half of all the stores London has to offer so we always make the most out of it and splurge on things we wouldn’t be able to buy in Vienna.
This time we skipped Camden Market and the Portobello Road Market in favour of Oxford street.
[The Wrapchick near Carnaby Street is apparently still fairly new. We stopped by for a quick bite to eat and were surprised at how well Mexican and Indian food go together. Definitely worth a visit if you’re in the area!]
[How cute is this shop? They had different kinds of hand lotion on the door and outside of the shop window so you could use them without even having to enter! (Though you might want to anyway :))]
For dinner we went to The Wharf, a restaurant on the south bank of the Thames, quite close to the Tate Modern. From there you have a great view and can see St. Paul’s in the distance.
We ordered fish and chips, shared a bottle of wine, and then made our way to a wine bar in the most obscure location. Gordon’s Wine Bar is located in a vaulted cellar is pretty small, quite narrow, dimly lit, and very crowded. Oh, and I loved it.
I’ll be leaving for London tomorrow so I’m not sure when I can update this blog again as I’ll be busy walking around and discovering new corners in a city that has conquered my heart so completely.
In the meanwhile though my granddad and I carved some pretty cool pumpkins yesterday. Halloween is not a huge tradition here. In fact, it seems like the hype that I experienced when I was a kid is slowly dying down again. This tradition is something we want to keep though as it makes for a perfect granddad/granddaughter bonding time.
Mind you, I’m not allowed to actually touch that knife. I could cut myself. Yup. When it comes to my granddad I’ll forever be five years old :)
We usually have two stencils we like to do each year. One was a pretty cool bat, the other one a quite scary looking face. This year, however, we braved two motives we’ve never done before. Personally I quite like the simple lantern kind of carving we did. The cut outs could maybe be a bit slimmer and some more of them but for a first try I’m quite pleased. The other one is for my grandmother, who said “I want a happy one!” but I insisted that usual happy faces are boring and said that if she wants a happy one it needs to be at least somewhat cool. This was the point where my granddad told me no to almost every motive I showed him because they were too intricate. Finally my gran conceded and said the pumpkin could be either happy, or really, really scary. Her wish, my command. :)
(Not sure the scariness translates that well on these pictures but seriously, the teeth are quite cool, non?)
Happy pumpkin carving, you guys. And be safe, don’t cut yourselves ;-)