The Bright Skies of London

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On Sunday 10th November I headed tentatively into central London, expecting large crowds for the Remembrance day ceremonies and parades.  Apart from having acquired a handy app of the London Underground tube network on my phone – something I wholly recommend to any London tourist – I had not really prepared a plan for my first day of sightseeing, I thought it would be fun to see if I could just walk around the city and ‘connect the dots’ on foot between famous landmarks. At East Croydon Station, I hopped on to the first train that I saw on the platform. It was headed to London Bridge – however I got off at Elephant and Castle, a station which is named after an old coaching inn and is situated near the Imperial War Museum. My stop off was a spontaeneous decision based purely on the novelty of the name – you can definitely tell I’m not a Londoner! – but I must of looked quite confident in my decision as it wasn’t long before I was being asked for directions by American tourists… I loved the red elephant placed on a pedestal outside the station, a statue which dates back to the 1960s.

From Elephant and Castle, I was off on the tube to Charing Cross, the stop for Trafalgar Square,  home to The National Gallery (a monument in its own right, most recently filmed for the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary episode). Trafalgar square also plays host to the four iconic bronze Trafalgar Lions, placed around Nelson’s Column. I had previously visited the nearby Canada House on a school trip way back in 2007, and it was an awesome feeling to relive the excitement of the busy area again. Trafalgar square has four plinths, one in each corner of the square – the fourth plinth is dedicated to temporary contemporary artworks (that rolls off the tongue!) and this colourful cockerel was installed on the plinth in July 2013, making it a relatively new addition to the Square! It’s a cheeky statue which fully embraces British humour (although I think it looks a bit Gallic in nature and it was in fact created by a German Professor of Sculpture!).

Instead of heading into The National Gallery, which has over 2,300 paintings on display and (… perhaps most importantly for a girl on a budget) offers free admission, I got sidetracked spotting the flags of various Embassies that flank the streets around the square. I soon found myself outside Her Majesty’s Theatre, which has hosted Andrew Lloyd Webber’s hit musical ‘The Phantom of the Opera” since 1986. The original novel, written by frenchman Gaston Leroux, is one of my favourite books. Being a hopeless romantic with a passion for gothic novels, the story of a tortured artist who sulks for his lost love in Parisian catacombs was always going to be right up my street. When I accidentally came across the theatre, I  definitely felt a frisson of excitement and promised myself that I would return later in the week to watch it. The theatre box office is open from Monday – Saturday from 10am-6pm and I definitely recommend buying your ticket in person if you are a lone ranger, rather than purchasing online or from a half price ticket booth – some amazing deals can be had at the last minute and the attendants at the box office desk are extremely kind and helpful.


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I sauntered onwards from Haymarket to the Mall. Again, not knowing the streets of London very well, I ended up in this area completely by chance – I didn’t even realise that I was near Buckingham Palace! Due to the Remembrance Day parades, I was met with a Mall closed to traffic and full of pedestrians quietly enjoying the Sunday sunshine. The autumn leaves of St James’s Park looked glorious against the bright blue skies and the calm serenity of the area was fitting for such a poignant day. London is famous for its beautiful parks and St James’s Park is no exception. It is an iconic location, having served as the backdrop for many films, including the James Bond film ‘Die Another Day’ and the live action version of Disney’s ‘101 Dalmatians’ – I was half expecting to see dalmatians frolicking under the trees! London is renowned for being an expensive city, however if you are willing to put on your walking shoes, there are many sights and locations that can be enjoyed for free.

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It was great to be able to approach the Palace on foot via the Mall. As it was November, the Queen’s guards were wearing their grey Autumn/Winter coats over their famous red tunics – the overcoats are thicker and longer in length than the tunics, providing more warmth and protection against the oncoming British cold. I thought that the Guardsmen were looking rather stylish…
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I had made plans on Saturday night to meet up with Daryl, a friend from University, for an afternoon of ‘adventure’. Just before he came to meet me outside the Palace, I chanced upon a Canadian Remembrance ceremony by the Canada gates in Green Park, just to the side of Buckingham Palace. I mentioned earlier in this post that I’d participated in a 2007 school trip to the Canadian Embassy in London.  This excursion was later followed up by a trip to France and Canada, thanks to a project run by the Imperial War Museum called ‘Their Past Your Future’ – the aim of which was to analyse the way in which Canadian soldiers, who fought in World Wars 1 and 2, have been commemorated from the past to the present day. The Canadian Remembrance ceremony at Green Park in 2013 brought back emotive memories of the war stories from that 2007 trip and I feel grateful that I was allowed to observe the ceremony and have a quiet moment of contemplation on the sidelines.

Daryl found me at the gates of Buckingham Palace and we were off to meet another friend from University at Trafalgar Square… however, we got a little bit lost on the tube but eventually, via Piccadilly Circus, ended up at our intended destination. From Charing Cross, we hot footed it to Covent Garden Market, which is one of my favourite areas in London. It features stunning architecture in the form of the Piazza,  which is surrounded by the lively buzz and hubbub of ‘Theatre land’, buskers, acrobats and musicians, making for a animated and magical atmosphere which changes from day to day.

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Daryl took a moment out from our frantic tube hopping to pose by the Piccadilly Circus underground signage…

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Now, I knew that the Moomins had their own theme park in their native Finland, but I was intrigued (and thrilled) to see that there was a miniature Moomin land within my reach in Covent Garden! The shop is accessed by a set of stairs, flanked by artistic Moomin silhouettes and postboxes for ‘Moomin Valley’ with beautiful attention to detail. I didn’t buy anything… but was definitely impressed with the concept! Definitely head to Covent Garden and have a look at the quaint market shops if you are looking for unusual christmas gifts or stocking fillers.

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After a brief dash into the Disney Store, we hit the road once more, this time I was told by my London savvy companions that we were headed to a magical place on Regent Street…

Hamleys Toy Shop! I was told en route that it is a childhood rite of passage for British children to go to Hamleys – the world’s oldest toyshop which has thousands of toys spread out over an impressive seven floors. Not being a frequent visitor to London as a child, I obviously missed out on that experience, but don’t weep for me too much… 😉 As you can tell by my enthusiasm for Moomins and the Disney store, it wasn’t too late in life for this big kid to visit the flagshop London toy shop.

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And I clearly wasn’t the only one to enjoy the experience! I wonder if anyone will wake up this Christmas with this £2000 + Bear from Steiff under their tree?! (Perhaps due to size issues it might have to be placed alongside the family tree!) I loved the displays and the peppy enthusiasm of the Hamleys staff who were to be found on each floor performing demonstrations of all the gadgets they had on offer to wide eyed children… and their equally wide eyed parents. It must be impossible to go into Hamleys with children and leave empty-handed, but luckily there is a choice from thousands of toys that cater for every budget. I can vividly recall reading about the exciting London toyshop experience in Jacqueline Wilson’s books when I was about nine… Now 14 years later I have finally experienced the Hamleys magic – and seen Prince William, Prince Harry and the Duchess of Cambridge incarnated in Lego.

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After the excitement of Hamleys, it was time to head to Ellie’s parents in Bromley via London Victoria for an amazing Sunday roast – I really was spoilt by Ellie (who had spent the entirety of her Sunday slaving over lesson plans) and her family! After dinner, we returned to the Ritz of East Croydon, I gratefully removed my heels and already started thinking about what activities to take on next…

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St Peter Port

Monday afternoon, I found myself in town with a few hours to kill. The sun was shining and although there was quite a strong breeze (i.e. strands of my hair were dancing in the wind like the tentacles of a hyperactive octopus) I decided to soak up some much needed vitamin C.  I bought some vegetable sushi and headed over to Havelet to look out over the Channel.  It was high tide and the waves were hitting the shore quite aggressively, however I was feeling happy about the sunshine and so instead of catching the bus home, decided to kick off my shoes and go a paddlin’.  The temperature was surprisingly mild for October and I almost wished that I’d brought swimming stuff with me. I say almost. Being a weekday, most people were indoors, leaving me alone with… the gulls.

THE GULLS.

Guernsey gulls, by the way, are quite savage feisty creatures. They have no fear. They will rip a sandwich from your hands in a flash ; many a St Peter Port office worker has been left alone on a harbour bench to mourn the loss of their M and S Prawn Mayo on malted brown. After about a minute of poking the water tentatively with my foot, I decided to walk around to the Bathing Pools. The pools in question are two historic Lidos that look out towards Castle Cornet and the islands of Herm and Sark. Originally they were intended to be used separately by the Victorian sexes i.e.. one pool for ‘gentlemen’, one for ‘ladies’, however they are now open to all members of the general public all year round and also feature as an arena for….. underwater cycling. Apparently, footage of this sport taking place was featured on Blue Peter, back when I was at school in Guernsey. I don’t remember being very aware or concerned about the cycling at the time, just being a bit miffed that I didn’t get to miss school to go and admire Gethin Jones, who was presenting the segment.

ANYWAY. At the bathing pools, I soon found myself encircled once more by a circle of the sea vultures, who were very intrigued by the sudden appearance of another creature with food. They looked at me with their beady eyes and razor sharp beaks approaching closer every time I turned my back. Eventually they realised that all I had to offer was a bit of chargrilled pepper wrapped in seaweed and they lost interest. I can’t really blame them. Chargrilled pepper is a little bit of a letdown if you’ve set yourself up for an M and S sandwich. I almost got hit by a wave (the pictures above look deceptively tranquil) and I headed back home with a smile on my face and sea-salt in my hair.

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A glimpse of Hogwarts

Took a little stroll in the early evening, off the beaten track, through the graveyard meadow that overlooks the River Weir… and Durham Cathedral*. Stopped to take this photo of the Cathedral framed by a canopy of leaves. It was a beautiful day, warm, the town teeming with people – a mix of locals ready for the weekend, and students relieved to have finished their exams…
I still have one exam to go, but I am glad to have the extra time to do a bit more revision. It’s hard to frown when the weather is so beautiful, the city so magical and when you realise that southern fried chicken is for tea!

*I got an invite to dinner in the Cathedral recently which was followed by drinks in a Victorian pub. This city has a lot of character, that’s for sure.

Memories of Mountains and Mint Choc Chip

This time last year, I was living in Konstanz, southern Germany, on a glorious lake. During the six months or so that I lived there, I spent so much time strolling around and running to catch last minute buses and trains that I managed to wear out several pairs of ballet flats – including my sparkly Dorothy style ruby red flats They turned from being wonderfully sparkly to quite grungy and started to look like a house had fallen on top of them. But enough about shoes.

My apartment, if you can call it that (it was more of a box, but a very joyous box) was five minutes away from the University, and was set against a dramatic woodland backdrop, but was within reasonable walking distance of the lake. Everytime I walked to Uni, I felt a little bit like I was channeling Katniss Everdeen, and that I was in ‘The Hunger Games’. It was only a five minute walk, but the hilly winding trail would envelop you with trees, trees that seemed to be amongst the clouds and I would always feel as if civilisation was miles away. I’ll always remember those morning strolls, the days where I didn’t decide to ‘surf’ on the bus to class. Sometimes I’d walk with my romanian pal Codrin, and we’d talk about buying a horse to share with the residence, so that we could ride to and from the campus. Perhaps not one of our better ideas. From the town centre, I could walk to Switzerland and back in half an hour (“Sorry I’m late, I got lost in Switzerland“, “We thought we’d walk home after the club, but we accidentally ended up in Switzerland” became pretty common Erasmus student utterances during my time in Konstanz)

The town centre of Konstanz itself was quaint, with a beautiful grey Cathedral in the old quarter, the main street being home to buskers and bizarre sculptures. On my very first full day in Konstanz, I saw a camel in the street. I do not lie. It was surreal – I’d just been to a swiss IKEA with my friend Isabella and we returned to Konstanz to find a camel just casually standing there in the street being all sassy. What is more, on the way home from our journey over the border in Isa’s car, we got a bit side tracked in the swiss mountains – and once you’re in the mountain labyrinth, you can not just simply turn back. You have to keep going, onwards and upwards, travelling on the narrowest roads with hairpin bends. In the blink of an eye, from being on the German motorway, you feel suddenly as if you are in an alpine picture postcard. We saw so many chalets with swiss flags, and snow covering the highest peaks of the mountains. The weirdest part was seeing a snowy part of the mountains covered in llamas. To return from witnessing llamas in Switzerland to seeing a camel in Germany was quite bizarre. I wouldn’t say that either of those animals were creatures that I would associate with either country…

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A photo of beautiful Konstanz. A serene lakeside harbour, surrounded by snowcapped mountains…

And ice cream parlours! Did you see that coming?

Ice cream is a big thing in Germany. It seemed to be a habitual thing in Konstanz to go out for a chat with friends and grab an ice cream instead. Not so good for the waistline but a great boost for your wellbeing! That’s how I viewed it anyway. Priced between 80-90 cents for a scoop, I got to try lots of great flavours, from standard ones such as banana, to less conventional flavours such as kiwi and kinder chocolate.

Apparently, when I was younger, I always wanted to travel to America, purely so that I could have an ice cream party. I blame this on perhaps reading too many “The Saddle Club” books. They were not my favourite series of books growing up, I generally preferred boarding school stories, like “Malory Towers” or classics like “Heidi“, “A Little Princess“, “What Katy did“, but when I was about 10, I thought that I had discovered the wonderful life of a modern American girl through “The Saddle Club“, endless chronicles of girlhood which I would read tucked into an alcove at the library, or at sleepovers with a torch when everyone else at the party had finally crashed out. The characters in the books would invariably end up in an ice cream parlour after a day of capers riding their horses and setting the world to rights. They’d tuck into insane sundaes full of sprinkles, chopped pecans and maraschino cherries.

I dreamed of those sundaes. Maybe one day, I’ll get to eat a real north american style sundae – I remember ordering a hot fudge sundae in Canada, taking one bite and my taste buds exploding with rapture, but sadly not being able to tackle anymore than that one spoonful. I guess the moral of the story is not to fill up on a burger and fruit punch beforehand, otherwise there will be not even a millimetre of space for glorious sundaes.

As a reward for reaching this far down this post, I’ll tell you a secret… my all time favourite ice cream. *Drumroll….. takataktakataktakatakkkkkkk*

Citron/Fraise, glace à l’italienne from Manuel – a sweet shop in La Baule. The ice-cream of nine summers. The Holy Grail of ice creams.

And if I can’t have that, then I guess I will settle for a mint choc chip cornetto…

Well, that’s all for now! I apologise for the random dashes from topic to topic. I guess my blog posts reflect my character. Just like Mary Poppins, you’ll never know what miscellaneous object I’m about to pull out of my purple satchel….. or what topic I’m going to write about!

Train Journey

I was at the station, sat down at a table, nervously eyeing the clock and my suitcase. My hands clutched a diabolo fraise, a childhood favourite, a drink that could have easily  been prepared at home in advance,  but the purchase  justified my use of a table and more importantly, a seat, in the crowded station café. I didn’t want to sit on my suitcase in a drab corner. The drink was extortionately priced, although looking back now, I can’t remember offhand how much I paid, but I do remember savouring each drop, hoping to make my lemonade and syrup last for another half hour. My nails had been painted with alternating layers of two new polishes, and they glittered blue, like rays of sunshine catching waves on the sea, every now and then, glimmers of little fish swimming underneath. The nails clashed with the bright red bubbles of my drink and with my hot pink book on the table in front of me, but I was excited and felt sophisticated – leaving the lush green volcanic hills of Clermont for a little while to return to Paris. Paris, a city of elegance, with grungy and crowded metro trains, busy streets and the grime that you will find in any major city lurking underneath the glossy lacquer of chic that is advertised in tourist brochures. Paris, where lovers, artists and ambitious workers go to join the rat race, and to find the dreams that they seek…

Growing up Guernsey

‘Sarnia Cherie. Gem of the sea.
Home of my childhood, my heart longs for thee.
Thy voice calls me ever, forget thee I’ll never,
Island of beauty. Sarnia Cherie.’

 As a little girl, growing up in the Channel Islands, I always used to gaze out to sea and daydream of places that I had visited and other lands yet to be discovered. I caught the travel bug at a young age – having family that lived abroad meant that my first ever flight was at the age of three months old, and now at the age of 22, I find comfort in travelling – comfort in the routine of waiting in airport departure lounges and harbours and in the thrill of embarking on a new journey.

My late grandfather was an aircraft engineer, who lived a stone’s throw away from the airfield in Guernsey, and I remember always feeling secure in the knowledge that I would be able to catch a glimpse of my grandparents waving ‘goodbye’ (or ‘hello’ on the return voyage) when I was in a tiny tin can of an airplane. Voyaging is something I savour. I am always going to want to travel, yet I also love the feeling of ‘coming home’. Gliding over the sea in a plane and having the whole of Guernsey suddenly come into sight is always something that makes me catch my breath.

At 16, I started working a weekend job in the tourism industry as a museum assistant – this became a summer job and is something that was a part of my life for six years. Through this student job, I met many tourists from different corners of the world and it led me to appreciate the island from a touristic point of view. For those curious as to what Island living is like, I will include a selection of photos that I took during the past summer in Guernsey in my next post… for now, here is a taster – a photo of Fermain Bay.


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‘Les Mis’ with a Guernsey Miss

For those of you that don’t know, I am a BIG FAN of Victor Hugo, a French author who penned many novels and poems, the most famous works being “Notre Dame de Paris” (The Hunchback of Notre Dame) and “Les Misérables”. Hugo lived in exile on Guernsey, my home island, from 1855-1870 and it was during this time in Guernsey that ‘Les Misérables’ was published – a book that would later become a renowned musical, often referred to by theatregoers as “Les Mis”.

Below, is a picture of one of the many beautiful views that Guernsey has to offer…

Smoke from the Red Arrows appearing as the French flag
Smoke from the Red Arrows appearing as the French flag

It will probably not have escaped your attention that this musical has recently adapted into a film, starring Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe and Anne Hathaway, amongst other big names. It was with unbridled excitement that I scampered off to the ODEON at the Metro centre this weekend, to watch the must see film of the year… in IMAX, no less.

During my time at school in Guernsey, I did a lot of musical theatre and also sang in several school choirs – now I can’t recall the exact amount of times I was forced to sing songs from “Les Mis”, but let’s just say that when I was sat in my plush seat at the ODEON this weekend watching the plot of the film unravel, I was lip syncing along. Yeah, that’s right, growing up in Guernsey means that you have quite an intimate relationship with this particular work, whether you like it or not… Luckily, I love everything to do with Victor Hugo, and this film adaptation was no different!

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If I had to sum up the film in one word, I would have to simply say… GLORIOUS.

It really was.

I didn’t notice the time passing. Hugh Jackman was awesome and Anne Hathaway was haunting in the role of Fantine (finally managing to convince critics that she is ‘Mia Thermapolis’ no more*) I particularly adored Isabelle Allen in the role of ‘Cosette’ (you can see from the above poster just how ethereal, vulnerable and credible she looks in the role). The whole film was a sumptuous feast for the eyes and for the senses – at the end I heard the men around me sniffling as they clapped when the credits started to roll. If you enjoyed the film ‘Warhorse’ and the emotions that it stirred up inside you, then please go see ‘Les Mis’… and bring an industrial size box of tissues. At the end, I had to be walked around the Metro centre a few times and shown happy sparkly things until I managed to perk up.

Would I go see it again?

YES, in a heartbeat.

I’m sure that Victor Hugo would have loved to see his novel make it to Hollywood. If you enjoyed the film and ever find yourself in Guernsey, then make sure that you visit Hugo’s old residence, Hauteville House, which has been kept as a monument to him by the City of Paris. if you’re interested in literature, stunning views or wacky interior design, his house really is a must see.

Knock on the door, make an appointment to visit, and you will find yourself stepping out of the hustle and bustle of St Peter Port into a sombre French hallway. You will be led on a visit into Hugo’s world by a guide who will explain how the objects in the house are not what they seem… Mirrors, ornate carvings and the repeated initials V and H alongside other symbols and motifs will reveal themselves to you and remain in your mind long after your visit. The stunning view of the Archipelago of the Channel Islands from the top of the house is worth the trip alone!

 *Although, in my opinion, ‘The Princess Diaries’ is a great film and I will hear no bad word of it!!!

PS. For those interested in reading ‘Les Misérables’, it is available for free on Kindle in both English and French – below is the link for the English version

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Les-Misérables-English-language-ebook/dp/B004GHNIRK/ref=pd_ts_zgc_kinc_341689031-f_3?ie=UTF8&s=digital-text&pf_rd_p=285525267&pf_rd_s=right-6&pf_rd_t=101&pf_rd_i=341677031&pf_rd_m=A3P5ROKL5A1OLE&pf_rd_r=1K7FY04R3W9VABBR7M2K