All aboard the Eurostar!

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And so, the time came to bid farewell to London, embark on a journey through the Eurotunnel and say a big hello to beloved Paris…

 Going on the Eurostar was one of the events on my trip that I was most looking forward to.  Considering that I often make trips to Paris to spend time with family who live in the city, a lot of friends were surprised by the admission that I’d never been on the Eurostar before. The ultra speedy train journey from the heart of one city to another was to be a new experience for me. Living on Guernsey, you become used to travelling primarily by ferry and by plane (my first flight was to France at the age of three months old!) – when I was younger, going on a train journey was something very exciting indeed.

I was particularly looking forward to a journey from one country to another without stringent baggage restrictions – you can take up to two cases and a piece of hand luggage (which can contain liquids) on the Eurostar. Being able to pack as much as I wanted, however I wanted (without having to remove the majority of my clothes at security) felt quite refreshing. The Eurotunnel and Eurostar service were both established in 1994 and so it is has been possible to get direct trains from London to Paris (and even direct trains to Disneyland Paris in Marne La Vallée) for two decades. Eurostar will celebrate its 20th anniversary later this year – Happy 20th Birthday Eurotunnel and Eurostar!

I spent the morning and early afternoon with Ellie (who made sure that I ate some food by treating me to Lunch, thanks Ellie!) before I left East Croydon for the last time and got the train to London Victoria. My friend Nick was in central London for the day and came to see me off, helping me with my suitcase from Victoria to King’s Cross St Pancras tube stop – what a gent! We had a bit of time to spare before I had to go to the Eurostar departure lounge, so we decided to soak up the atmosphere of Europe’s “destination station” for a while.

Stepping into St Pancras International, which was built in 1868 and renovated quite recently during the 2000’s, is a perfect way to escape into a sophisticated little bubble just a few steps away from a tube stop. St Pancras is widely considered to be the crown in the jewel of London’s railway stations, and has even been referred to as being the “cathedral of railways”.

A trip to St Pancras really is a magical experience – although you find yourself surrounded by the hustle and bustle that comes with any station or transport link, when you look at the beautiful Victorian architecture, it’s almost as if you have stepped back into the sepia toned glamorous heydays of traveling. With bilingual signage in English and French, it really does feels like a gateway between London and Paris. Last minute presents and souvenirs can be bought from the beautiful boutiques (such as Fortnum & Mason, which opened a new shop and tea salon in St Pancras on the 8th November 2013) found downstairs in the atrium. Alternatively, you can wait for your train with a flute of champagne on the Grand Terrace, listening to the sound of piano playing drift up from the floor below. Nick and I decided to do just that – we stopped at Searcys Champagne bar, which is situated opposite Searcys St Pancras Grand (restaurant and whiskey bar). We had a great view of the famous golden platform clock – this opulent clock is the handiwork of Dent London – the clockmakers behind Big Ben. Dent London had the task of building a replica of the original station clock which smashed in the 1980s (you’ll be pleased to know that the original clock has since been restored – you can read more interesting facts on the St Pancras did you know facts page http://stpancras.com/the-station/did-you-know/ )

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After our champagne break, it was time for me to head to departures… via Marks and Spencer’s! I was going to be staying with a friend in Paris who has a bit of a soft spot for mini bites – mini bites are little petit four sized cakes that Marks and Spencer’s sell in plastic tubs (ooo glamorous) . They come in varieties such as rocky road, flapjack, chocolate cornflake clusters and chocolate mini rolls… and are quite the party pleaser. I also bought some lilies, which would sit next to me throughout the duration of my Eurostar journey. The train left at 17:45, so it was already dark by the time we left London. I settled down with a copy of Eurostar’s in-house travel magazine “Metropolitan” – written in both French and English, I found it both fascinating and informative – just my kind of culture magazine. After a brief stop at Ashford international station, I could vaguely make out the lights of Dover before we entered the Channel Tunnel. It wasn’t long before we were in Paris, and I was reunited with Florence!

We escaped the rather hectic Paris Gare du Nord and got on the tram – the Parisian buildings passed by in a blur a bit too quick for my tired eyes, so I can’t precise too much other than to say that everything looked beautiful. After a Mcdo meal in Paris’ Chinatown, we made our way to Florence’s twin sister’s apartment, where we were greeted by amazing floor to ceiling Jacques Demy ‘Les Parapluies de Cherbourg’ film posters and freshly brewed tisane. The twins fell asleep, whilst I stayed up a bit later to work on an article – happy to be in the City of Light once again.

I really enjoyed travelling with Eurostar and hope that there will be more opportunities to do so in future!

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Skating at Somerset House

There’s nothing like starting off the festive season with a bit of Bambi on ice – yes, I’m referring to my iceskating attempts. On my last full day in London, I got the chance to go iceskating on a beautifully lit outdoor iceskating rink – surrounded by the neoclassical façade of the wonderful Somerset House, which has served as a backdrop to two James Bond films, “Tomorrow never dies” and “GoldenEye”, both starring Pierce Brosnan as James Bond, the super smooth intelligence officer with the famous code number of 007.

After meeting Brendan at Euston, the day started off quite early with a walk around Leicester Square – you remember how I mentioned that I definitely didn’t cave into the temptation of buying peanut M&Ms from M&Ms World?

Image I caved. Oh, how I caved. You can see that in my shame (and euphoria) I couldn’t even look straight at the camera. London tourists, heed my advice – Definitely don’t go into M&Ms world on an empty stomach – as they say, a fool and their (or in this case, her) money are easily parted! 

After a short break for lunch, the next pit stop was Ladurée in Covent Garden to buy some macarons – I’d failed to locate the Ladurée café in the labyrinth of Harrods the day before and I wanted to buy some to share with friends. I hasten to add that by this point, I had hidden the sealed M&Ms in a deep, dark recess of my satchel and had blocked out their purchase from my memory.  Despite appearances, I am not the ultimate sugar junkie.

Ladurée have beautiful display boxes – once empty, macarons devoured, the glamorous boxes are perfect to keep jewellery or mementoes in. I had my eye on a mint green cylindrical case covered in gold baroque swirls – it looked as if it would make a great glasses case.

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After I splashed a casual fifteen pounds on pastries, we carried on our walk from Covent Garden along towards the river and ended up walking around Somerset House. We had already discussed the possibility of going ice skating, however ended up at the Somerset House rink completely by accident – it must have been fate! We booked tickets for a skating session at 16:45 –  that gave us a bit of time to wander around the Embankment and take in the sights around the Tower of London and London Bridge.

Image  Somerset House by day….
… and the Tower of London by sunset…

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 It was a beautiful yet wintry day. Above you can see some photos of The Tower of London buildings, bathed by the rays of the setting sun. We didn’t go into the tower (where the Crown Jewels are on display) as we did not want to be late for our iceskating rendez-vous – however it is well worth a visit, being a world heritage site and an interesting record of London’s history. At the time we visited, an iceskating rink was being constructed for Christmas – London seems to be full of picturesque rinks! The Tower of London rink is open until the 5th January 2014… however there are a few others that are open later into the year. The ice rink at Canary Wharf is open until February – for more information on places, dates and to book tickets you can check out the following article by Time Out London.  http://www.timeout.com/london/things-to-do/ice-skating-in-london

The Tower of London is a major tourist attraction or honey pot – the buildings are allegedly haunted by the ghost of Anne Boleyn (the second wife of bloodthirsty King Henry VIII). The wire sculptures of lions pay homage to the lions that were once kept at the tower in the Royal Menagerie. Across the river, we could see the HMS Belfast – an impressive floating museum which is operated by the Imperial War Museum (it was also the filming location for a hilarious Christmas Special of the BBC sitcom “Outnumbered” a few years ago).

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I was basking in the beauty of the view. After gazing a while at sparkly replicas of the crown jewels in the Tower of London gift shop, we scurried back to the tube in order to be on time for our skate session. We had to make a quick trip to Accessorize en route to buy some gloves – sounding suspiciously like my mother, I insisted that I had to wear gloves to go ice skating… in case I tripped, got my fingers stuck to the ice and someone subsequently skated over my hands, severing my digits. This was perhaps not the most rational of explanations for needing to buy gloves…

I left my bags behind in the cloakroom (this cost me one fine english pound but was really practical) we exchanged our shoes for skates and hit the ice. It was pretty magical – I felt as if I’d been whisked away and transported into Disney’s Fantasia. Classical music was played – it was a relaxing and chic experience, gliding along a rink lit up in purpley pink hues whilst excerpts from Tchaikovsky’s ‘Waltz of the Flowers’ from ‘The Nutcracker’ and Beethoven’s ‘Pastoral Symphony’ were played. Much to my relief, there were no dodgy British Christmas Classics played (Slade and Wizzard, I’m talking about you) – I love the festive season but those kind of songs bring out the Grinch in me!

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You can tell from the photos that I was loving my time on the ice! Towards the end of the session, the music transitioned to 50s pop – we skated off the ice to The Chordette’s ‘Mr Sandman’ and went in search of beverages. There was a cool drinks marquee to the left hand side of the rink, however there was not enough seating inside so we decided to continue on our travels – first to Trafalgar Square (where we clambered over the lions) and then onwards to Planet Hollywood (which is just around the corner from Her Majesty’s Theatre, at 57-60 Haymarket). Brendan and I are both big fans of Hard Rock Café and so Planet Hollywood seemed like a good choice of grazing post. I’d been a few times to the Paris Planet Hollywood (which has since closed down, boohoo) and the Disneyland Paris Planet Hollywood for pizzas and burgers – this time I atoned for my macaron sins and ordered a big salad. We were placed next to Halle Berry’s rather fetching orange bikini from James Bond flick “Die Another Day”. If you want to dine out at a restaurant with a buzzing atmosphere then definitely book a table at Planet Hollywood – apparently you can often get good deals if you buy a set menu and West End ticket package…

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Before we headed back to the train station, we took a quick glimpse into British memorabilia shop “Cool Britannia” which was very quirky and sold everything from cuddly toys and snow snowglobes to life-size One Direction cut outs. I didn’t buy anything, but it was a colourful shop which left a fun and vivid impression on me – just like vibrant, cosmopolitan London really! It truly was a lovely last night in London.

Fun & Frolics in Theatreland

Musical Theatre has always been a big love of mine. If you’ve been following my blog recently, then you will probably have noticed a few comments here and there about my eagerness to catch a West End show whilst I was sightseeing in London.

 I decided to designate my sixth day in the Capital as “Musical Day” and woke up with the sole aim of hunting down a cheap theatre ticket. No booking online or in advance for me – it was all to be done on the spot. My tactic of turning up for things at the last minute (but always on time, I hasten to add) has been frowned on a lot throughout my life – however, there are some perks to living in organised chaos… (For one thing, I have learnt how to apply eyeliner on a moving bus without gouging an eye out) and you’ll see later how I lucked out with tickets. Going to see a West End Musical or show is one of the typical activities recommended (…by travel guides, newspapers and social media etc.) for tourists wanting an unforgettable experience on their London trip. 

There are over 40 theatres on London’s West End and the area has come to be known over time as “Theatreland”. There is something inherently magical and glamorous about a trip to the theatre – the excitement truly begins when you’re stood on the grey London pavement and suddenly get the first glimpse of  bright theatre lights. As we’re still currently in the festive whirl between the lead up to christmas and New Year, it’s the perfect time to sit back on a plush seat and let yourself become completely immersed in the glitz and emotion of London’s shows. You can even get involved in the theatrics afterwards by voting in the WHAT’S ON STAGE awards online – the voting closes on the 31st January 2014. http://awards.whatsonstage.com/awards/vote

After reading several theatre reviews and checking out the publicity for lots of different shows, I had my heart set on seeing two shows in particular. “The Phantom of the Opera” and “Matilda the musical”. The shows differ wildly in style.  “Phantom” was adapted for the stage in 1984 from Gaston Leroux’s 1910 gothic novel  and is a melodramatic love story set at the turn of the 20th Century. It’s a classic, decadent musical that has been at “Her Majesty’s Theatre” for 27 years.  The extravagant costumes, stage design and mask of the phantom have become iconic and the musical is still being nominated for awards to this day. “Matilda the Musical”, on the other hand is a contemporary musical – it has been at The Cambridge Theatre for just over two years and has wickedly comic lyrics by Tim Minchin. It’s a bubbly and enchanting adaptation of Roald Dahl’s 1988 book “Matilda” – the young actors and actresses manage to channel Dahl’s mischievous wit through the music, lyrics and script with aplomb.

I was quite torn between the two shows as I had initially only budgeted to attend one, however it was my lucky day… as I managed to see both! By turning up 1 hour 30 mins – 30mins before a show, I ended up having the opportunity to see not one but two West End Musicals on the same day for the price of one premium seat – making a grand saving of £85.50 in total. I turned up at 1:00pm to inquire about Matinee tickets at Phantom’s box office. I was feeling a little bit awkward about turning up by myself and bracing myself to be shown the door, but really needn’t have been apprehensive as the attendant put me at ease by offering me a seat straight away.

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Whilst randomly turning up at a theatre alone definitely doesn’t guarantee you a ticket, it does increase the chances of getting an awesome seat for a fraction of its original price*. The majority of people go to the theatre on a group outing and as such, there are often quite a few pesky gaps in the seating plan (often caused by groups of odd numbers) just waiting to be sold at a discount to ‘lone rangers’. It’s a lottery which seats will be available last minute on the day – my seat was sold to me for £29.00 (including a £1.00 booking fee) – which was a reduction of about £36.oo. The attendant showed me a seating plan before I purchased my ticket and assured me that the view was not restricted by any pillars (My seat was M10, if you’re curious). It’s a good idea to check the plans of a theatre’s seating before you book/buy your seats as you can sometimes find yourself in a seat with a restricted view (although this is often labelled on your ticket if this is the case).

Ticket carefully tucked into my bag, I left the theatre, had time for a bit of popcorn chicken from KFC in Leicester Square (always the novelty for an Islander with little access to fast food) and returned at 2:00pm to Haymarket. I was quietly buzzing with excitement. Programme in hand, I was shown to my seat and patiently awaited for the show to begin. 

*This is a particularly useful tip for students, however theatres can sometimes offer special discounts, so it is always a good idea to inquire.  ‘Matilda the Musical’ releases 16 pairs of Matinee tickets available for £5 every morning at 10am for 15-25s. 

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The first sight that you see upon being seated in the theatre is the scene of an eerie auction, where long forgotten artefacts from the fictional Opéra Populaire are being split up and sold to punters. It is quite a macabre ghostly start to the show, with poignant lines uttered by the character of Raoul (played by Sean Palmer).  When the line “Perhaps we may frighten away the ghost of so many years ago with a little illumination, gentlemen?” is exclaimed by the auctioneer, the magnificent chandelier (previously hidden underneath a cloth) is swung up to the ceiling from the floor of the stage, dazzling the audience, and setting the scene for the bright and decadent heydays of the ‘Opera Populaire’. It is a truly impressive and literal “Flashback” back to the 1880s – the days when the Phantom reigned supreme. The show is full of beautiful (excuse me for using a cliché) show-stopping and spine-tingling moments – the descent into the catacombs of the opera during the title number “The Phantom of the Opera” and the glitzy party that takes place during the number “Masquerade are particularly impressive. It truly is a feast for the eyes and ears – The majority of the cast are operatically trained.

The Phantom was portrayed with pizazz by Gerónimo Rauch. I expected great things from a vocalist called Gerónimo (he has also played the title role of Jean Val Jean in Les Mis on the West End) and was blown away by his voice. The role of Christine Daaé was played by Olivia Brereton, who was an alternate/understudy for Sofia Escobar – not that you’d be able to tell. The understudies and alternates on the West End are brilliant, and deserve just as much accolade as the actors and actresses that play the title roles. In the interval, I was nudged by the Brummie gent sat next to me  – he was equally entranced by Olivia Brereton’s voice and stunning appearance on stage (… which brings me to another point – I want lustrous curls like Christine Daeé – and I’m sure that there were quite a few girls in the audience who were also experiencing major hair envy) The costumes and set, designed by the late Maria Bjornson, are fantastic and will transport you completely into the Phantom’s operatic parisian world.  I really didn’t want the magic to end – I left the theatre after the performance was over in a hazy daze, humming “Think of Me” under my breath and already making mental notes to revisit the Opéra Garnier (upon which the Opéra Populaire is based) in Paris. If you want to see a big sumptuous show whilst in London then “Phantom” definitely ticks all the boxes – I really want to take my mum to see it. I think that she’d be blown away by the performance – and not only because she hails from the same place as the fictional character of the Phantom (Rouen). The show really brings 1880s Paris to life. 

Night had fallen, and inspired by the decadence of “The Phantom of the Opera” I took an improvised visit to Harrods in Knightsbridge to look at self-playing pianos and fancy clothes. I did not find the pianos, but glamour was to be found everywhere throughout the department store. Having not put any make up on that day, I felt a bit bedraggled and out of place – however I mustn’t have looked TOO shabby as I was welcomed through the doors with a smile. The seasonal shop windows were inspired by a voyage on “The Midnight Express” – Ladurée macarons being the order of the day. 

 

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I snapped out of my Phantom/Harrods induced reverie at about 18:15, suddenly deciding to head back to Theatreland to see if I could get a ticket for “Matilda – the musical”. Very last minute – risky business. Walking around without a map, I ended up at the Lyceum Theatre (home to “The Lion King” – which is a brilliant family musical, you can trust me, I’ve seen it twice) where a helpful usher told me I was going in the wrong direction. Hopping into a cab, I found out that The Cambridge Theatre was just around the corner on Earlham Street – resulting in the cheapest cab fare I think I’ve ever had to pay. The London cabbie was very charismatic – riding in a London cab is always a pleasant experience. I ran out of the cab and into the theatre at 19:00, with the cabbie ‘s cry of “Good luck, darlin’!” ringing in my ears.

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I went straight into the Ticket Office, a little out of breath, expecting again to be out of luck – however, imagine my delight when I was offered a ticket in the stalls worth £85.00…. for £28.50 including booking fee! If there hadn’t been glass blocking me from the ticket attendant, I would probably have given her a hug (ok, maybe not, British sensibilities and all, but I felt ridiculously happy – my total savings on tickets came to £92.50! I spent £57.50 instead of £150!). 

I was around five or six when Danny Devito’s American adaptation of ‘Matilda’ starring Mara Wilson was released – the film quickly became an international cult childhood classic. I read the book by Roald Dahl at around the same age (although I was far from reading “War and Peace” like Matilda) – my dad was an english teacher who wholeheartedly encouraged me to read as much as possible (he still does!) and he often used to cut up several bits of different chocolate bars and make me write down Dahl-esque descriptions and reviews (à la ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’) for each chunk tasted. As you can guess, Roald Dahl was a big favourite of mine – he was a really magical author (also a spitfire pilot!) who understood children and wrote captivating (and more often than not, ‘a little bit naughty’) stories for them in his garden shed. ‘Matilda’ is the story of a remarkably clever little girl with telekinetic powers who gets neglected by her ignorant parents – the moral of the story being that adults are not always right – wisdom does not necessarily come with age. 

The Cambridge Theatre was packed with excited children clutching programmes and wearing ‘Matilda’ hoodies – it’s clearly a popular show to take your children to as it serves as an excellent introduction to theatre. It must have been a massive treat for the children that I saw as I have never seen so many impeccably behaved children in my life.The theatre is quite small and quaint-  the first thing that you notice upon entering the auditorium is the excellent attention to detail.The auditorium walls are daubed with chalkboard paint and chalk scribbles, with multicoloured scrabble style tiles suspended all over the stage and ceiling – before the show starts the letters M A T I L D A are perched on swings on the stage. 

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Everyone seated around me whiled away the time waiting for the show to start by gazing up at the letters and seeing which words they could make out. When the show started, it literally began with a bang (of several balloons) as energetic children burst out from under a table laid out for a birthday party and leapt into the song “Miracle” with witty lyrics and sharp choreography. It was at this point that it really hit home to me just how innovative the show was going to be. It wasn’t long before Matilda’s ludicrously flamboyant and ‘loud’ parents were introduced (Kay Murphy and alternate Mike Denman – who were both brilliant) and got the crowd laughing. Towards the end of the first number, Matilda appears, unloved and melancholy, not in the least bit self-indulgent (unlike the birthday party brats). Matilda is portrayed by four different girls – I saw 10 year old Cristina Fray, who was fantastic – instantly capturing the hearts of the audience from her first moment on stage with her statement “Mum says I’m a good case for population control”. Due to laws regarding the hours that children can perform, the team at Matilda must have their work cut out with the different combinations of children performing each night – not that you’d ever be able to tell, the performance was that polished and perfect. It is no wonder that the show has won so many awards. I predict great things for all the children involved – especially the enchanting Miss Fray.

One of the big attractions of “Matilda” for me was the fact that it was penned by Tim Minchin – I’m a big fan of his ‘beat poem’ ‘Storm’ – and he did not disappoint. The writing almost stole the show – the Trunchball’s hilariously over the top statements were particularly memorable “He should have thought about that before he made a PACT WITH SATAN and stole my cake”. Miss Trunchball was played in drag by the incredible Alex Gaumond. I’m sure if anyone thinks back to their schooldays (especially if you happen to have attended a British public school) then you can think of one or two teachers who derived sadistic pleasure from striking fear into everyone. Alex Gaumond both terrified and delighted the audience with his deathstares, rants and comedic gymnastic routines – and deservedly got one of the biggest rounds of applause at the end of the performance. The beastly Trunchball was perfectly juxtaposed with the delicate doe-eyed Miss Honey (played by Haley Flaherty).

The show ended with showers of confetti (almost as if the scrabble tiles were raining down on the audience, reminding them of the importance of words) and standing ovations for the cast and creative team. It’s a show that truly captures the naughty British comedy of Roald Dahl. I was so thrilled by my day – both by “The Phantom of the Opera” and “Matilda the Musical” – that I walked to the tube from the theatre picking large square shaped confetti off my clothes with an enormous cheshire cat grin on my face. Am I tempted to return to the Cambridge Theatre and bring my ex school teacher Dad, mum and teenage brother? Definitely! It was an unforgettable evening.

Covent Garden Cuisine (with a little bit of cruising around Camden Market)

On the fifth day of my trip, I found myself accompanied through the London streets by some pals from University – three physicists and a mathematician, to be exact. Nick, Tom, Caleb and Daryl (Daryl of Hamleys teddy bear snuggle fame) managed to organise a London meet up day with relatively short notice and it was great to catch up with what they’d all been up to over the summer. We met in the morning at London Victoria –  Nick, who was busy with his fancy jet-set number-crunching job (or so he’d have us believe…), joined us later in the evening. With so many scientists in the entourage, you’d think that the day would have gone ahead with logical precision, however apart from a request from Daryl to visit Chin Chin Labs in Camden, it was a relaxed freestyle day – which was more than ok with me, as you can tell from my previous posts, “magical mystery tours” of random discovery are just the way I like it.

We had a mosey around several different areas of London throughout the day – As the only girl, I found myself outnumbered by the boys, however used this newfound manly troupe as the perfect excuse to finally try out Five Guys burger restaurant. I had finally worked out where the building was and had a hunch that it would be a crowd-pleaser  – from experience, messy burgers tend to be a hit with men. Of course, I have a secret weak spot for a good barbecue bacon cheeseburger (but shush, no-one must know!) and was really intrigued to see if Five Guys lived up to the hype.

I had decided to take my new shoes from Forever 21 for a test drive – they would come to be referred to throughout the day as the “disco shoes” by Caleb and Tom, who both seemed to have an affinity for their apparent 70s look (or more likely, the 70s in general). It took a while for everyone to get used to my new height, as at first glance it seemed as if I had grown about seven inches over the summer. It was a lie. Fashion can be deceiving, folks.


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After traipsing around London Victoria for a while, looking for an “edgy café” for Caleb to get a coffee from, we decided to do a bit of sightseeing, starting with Buckingham Palace. We zipped from Victoria to Green Park on the tube and caught some action at the Palace gates. We were actually lucky enough to see some ornate carriages leaving the palace, which was quite exciting. I think one of the things that I love most about cities, is that even if you visit a landmark several times, you never have the same experience twice as there is always something different to observe or take part in. It was interesting to see the ceremonial dress of different dignitaries – I believe that the blue national costume pictured below is the attire worn by the Mongolian ambassador to the UK.

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After witnessing some artistic Instagram photography attempts at the Canada gates by a certain member of the gang (who is in denial of his passion for Canada and subsequent status as aficionado of all things canadian), we headed to Covent Garden to catch a bit of street magic and busking.  Whilst we were en route to Five Guys – we had decided that we were pretty ravenous by this point – we spotted the official Tintin Shop, which can be found at 34 Floral Street. The street name indicates Covent Garden’s early origins and roots as a flower market (the pun is unintentional this time, I swear). “Les Aventures de Tintin” is a comic book series which was created by Belgian cartoonist Hergé in 1929 and the shop on Floral Street was established in the early eighties. The Tintin comic series has since been adapted into a major feature film and still enjoys popularity today. I remember walking past Le Grand Rex in Paris whilst visiting a friend on my year abroad in 2011 and being awestruck  that the façade of the cinema had been magically transformed into the exterior of the fantastical boat La Licorne.

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Tintin is a classic character known all over the world – on one of my first ever trips to Germany, I stayed in a host family and instantly felt at ease when I spotted a Snowy poster on the wall of the lounge*- Tintin ended up forming the basis of one of my first German conversations.  The comic books have in fact been published in over seventy languages, which just goes to show how international a character Tintin has become over the years. I have good memories of spending the christmas holidays (in particular the night of ‘Reveillon’ – Christmas Eve) as a little girl watching the animated Tintin series (from the early nineties) with my dad, uncle and grandfather – the series was often broadcast on French TV!

Once the boys spotted the Tintin Shop, we all thought that it would be rude to walk right past without taking a glimpse inside… just for the sake of nostalgia of course… 😉

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These tourists walked into my photo with lightning speed – however I do like how these London ladies coincidentally match the colour scheme of the shop! Inside, Daryl and I got sidetracked by the fluffy Snowy toys, whilst Tom and Caleb checked out some of the books – I think that’s what they were up to at any rate, I was too busy being entranced by fluff.

*Snowy’s name in German is Struppi, in case you were wondering – his French name is Milou.

Once we had torn ourselves away from the fluffy Snowys, we were back on track on the hunt for food. Five Guys turned out to be not far from Floral Street and surprisingly there was no queue outside – there wasn’t even much time to enjoy the heaps of free monkey nuts that line the restaurant before we were served with our burgers and fries. Of course, I can’t complain because if we had indulged on the peanuts then we would not have had enough space for the main event! The menu at Five Guys is quite simplistic, however there are several different combinations that you can create from the ingredients on offer. I decided to go for a ‘little’ burger – which was a wise choice, as the portion sizes are massive! I would not have been able to cope with a normal sized burger and I hadn’t even eaten breakfast! Look at the cheesy barbecue bacon deliciousness below, pictured on the bottom right – if I could choose any adjective in the world to describe this burger, I would not go for little! Decadent, perhaps?

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I naively ordered a “regular” diet coke, but soon discovered the novelty of the Five Guys refill ‘coke freestyle’ system – where you can choose from hundreds of different drinks options including combos such as Grape Sprite, Strawberry Fanta, and Raspberry Coke. It was mind-blowing for the first five minutes… until I found myself craving the normalcy of a plain diet coke! When it comes to being served your food, you have to present yourself to the counter to receive your order when the number on your receipt is called. The food is then handed over to you in a plain brown paper bag. The burger is wrapped tightly in foil; as soon as you unwrap it, the squishy bun expands (a bit like a slinky or a sponge) to reveal itself piled high with your chosen fillings.

I decided to try the cajun fries as well as getting a burger (naughty, naughty). Now, I have a confession to make – I am the kind of girl who likes to slather tabasco and jalopeños over everything. When I was living in halls of residence I even had a little spice selection that I would take to meals to douse my plate with – one of my friends ended up calling me Tabasco girl – not my finest moment.  Although my taste buds must be slightly numb from all these years of chilli pepper abuse I actually found that the cajun fries tasted very spicy, so be warned! Again, a ‘little’ sized fries was a crazily generous serving – the cup you can see above was only half the portion, most of the fries were to be found at the bottom of the glorious brown paper bag. So many fries, so little space in my stomach – one portion ended up feeding three of us! We stayed in Five Guys for a while, tucked into an old fashioned 1950s style booth in the downstairs underbelly of the restaurant. The walls are plastered by endorsements from newspapers, bloggers and food critics – not really my taste of decor but the food was satisfying and great value for money. I guess the posters provide you with a bit of light reading if you find yourself on a solitary lunch break!

After leaving Five Guys, we had a look around Leicester Square and ended up venturing into M&Ms World. It was pointed out that it was a great marketing strategy to have such a large pick and mix of chocolates available next to one of London’s top cinema venues – the M&Ms building is vast – just about every kind of kitsch M&Ms memorabilia that you can imagine is spread out over four enormous floors. As you cross the doorway under a maquette of a London double-decker bus (given an M&Ms twist, of course) you are hit straight away with the cloying smell of chocolate. I think it’s probably a marmite experience, in that you either love the shop or hate it… maybe you even love to hate it, as evidenced by point number 3 on the buzzfeed link below …

http://www.buzzfeed.com/robinedds/things-youre-only-scared-of-if-you-live-in-london

I have to admit that I enjoyed looking around the shop –  I definitely didn’t cave into temptation a few days later and return  to buy a handful or three of peanut M&Ms….

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It was definitely turning into a “foodie” day by this point in our reunion – our next stop was Camden Market to visit the place where dessert meets science – the mysterious Chin Chin Labs. Place your order at the small counter, and you can watch as ‘test-tube ice cream’ is created before your very eyes using liquid nitrogen, being frozen into a delicious triangular slab just for you. This was definitely up the boys street – I, however, have not been near a pipette or beaker for years and tend to be scared that scientific equipment will break if I touch it, so it was a slightly surreal experience. There was a choice of four flavours – Tom and I went for Pondicherry Vanilla whilst Caleb went for a slightly more adventurous “limited edition seasonal” flavour, Szechuan Peppered Pineapple (which was actually the nicest in my opinion and turned out to be dairy free). Daryl chose a dark chocolate flavour which was around 80% cocoa and tasted extremely bittersweet. You can choose one sauce or topping from the pyrex beakers displayed on the lab shelves – I was a little bit greedy and went for grilled white chocolate bits AND salted caramel sauce. Caramel pretzels looked like an intriguing topping, but will have to wait for another visit. The tasting was an unusual experience – I find it hard to describe its exact consistency but it definitely felt a lot smoother than ‘normal’ ice cream.

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We walked off all our ice cream on the Camden cobbles – it was an interesting experience to navigate around over the said cobbles wearing the “disco shoes”, but I managed it, just about. Thanks for the patience, guys… the sun was setting over the Lock and the view was breathtakingly beautiful, so we stopped for a while to soak up the scenery. Camden is a very quirky open air market and residential area, which serves as a haven for all sorts of alternative fashion shops, one off street stalls, tattoo parlours, piercing studios and bars. It’s a good place to look for cds, a vintage look dress or if you’re feeling particularly daring, a steampunk-esque corset!

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It was here Daryl left us, as he had to be up early the next day to drive up to Durham to visit the Lumière light festival. And so, the remaining trio retreated to The Lockside Lounge to wait for Nick, who had text us to confirm that he was finally deigning to join us.

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 The Lockside Lounge is a cool haunt – and definitely has a boathouse vibe with its nautical beams. As you may have guessed from previous posts, I love buildings with character and this bar was no exception. I ordered a glass of Burlesque rosé and was informed by the bartender that the label of the wine was chosen because the lounge often pays host to burlesque evenings. Camden nightlife seemed to be pretty vibrant, and I reckon that The Lockside Lounge would be a great place to spend an evening as it had an awesome atmosphere. It also endorses up and coming indie, funk, blues and jazz performers.

The peace was shattered when Nick arrived – he was enthused after a day at work and obviously hadn’t had to go through the tiresome trials of tasting various foodstuffs all day…  We stayed in the bar for a little longer, being updated on his recent exploits in Lithuania and Latvia, before we found ourselves being frogmarched out of the bar and taken to Fire and Stone, a pizzeria on Maiden Lane near Covent Garden. I can’t personally vouch for the pizzas as I was still feeling pretty full from Five Guys and Chin Chin Labs so picked at a salad, but the boys seemed satisfied with their meal choices. Nick claims that it was “better than Nando’s” – high praise indeed.

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I took the opportunity to take a few snaps of the guys looking relatively refined, taking on the role of slightly overenthusiastic paparazzi photographer/a grandmother. Nick helped me accessorise my Mai Tai with aplomb.

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We ended the night sat in a Canadian sports bar called The Maple Leaf just a few paces away from Fire and Stone. We stepped off the street and found ourselves in a forest green canadian log cabin themed interior. Canadian flags and maple leaves were draped all over the bar and I felt as if we’d somehow managed to warp into The Hoser Hut from the popular TV series How I met your Mother. Caleb was in his element. It wasn’t long before he discovered the tempting array of Canadian beers on offer behind the bar…

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I guess you can say that we all had quite a diverse day of café, bar and restaurant hopping! After returning to Victoria via Covent Garden tube station (with its surreal lifts that transport you from the street into the bowels of the underground) it was time for me to head back to Croydon, reunite with Ellie and to begin planning another day indulging in pleasures of a different nature – the theatre! Thanks go to Caleb, Daryl, Nick and Tom for an unusual culinary themed day of sightseeing in the capital.

P.S. Forget the riddle “Why is a raven like a writing desk?”. We had an incident on the tube where Caleb tried to persuade us all that lemon strepsils are as effective at cleansing the palate as chewing gum, much to the amusement of our fellow tube passengers. “Why is chewing gum like a lemon flavoured strepsil?” – the new riddle of our time.

Hustle and Bustle on the Baker-loo Line

After a day of glorious autumnal sunshine came a day of drizzle. My umbrella was whipped out of my satchel and had to report for duty as I traipsed the wet and foggy streets of London – however, the day didn’t remain too dark for very long as I soon found myself surrounded by THE FIRST FESTIVE LIGHTS OF CHRISTMAS. More on that later.

I spent the morning working out my interview route, which involved a stop at Finchley Road station. It’s a small but quirky stop that has a friendly cobbler and a mini fruit market stationed just outside. Once I’d successfully completed my ‘test commute’ I hopped back on to the tube and headed off to Baker Street in Marylebone.

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This street is most famous for being the residence of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s most famous fictional character, Detective Sherlock Holmes, who according to the books, lived at 221B Baker Street. 221B Baker Street used to be a fictional address as the Baker Street addresses only used to go up to number 100, however the address now belongs to ‘The Sherlock Holmes Museum’. Sherlock Holmes is an iconic character from British literature and I loved seeing the influence that his creation has had upon the street itself – from kitsch cameos of his face adorning the tiled walls in the underground, to Sherlock themed memorabilia shops on the street itself.

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Several actors have portrayed the character of Sherlock Holmes over the years – from Basil Rathbone, who inspired the 1986 Disney classic “Basil the great Mouse Detective” ( a childhood favourite of mine, although the film had some terrifying characters. The peg legged bat and the fat cat haunted several of my nightmares) to the most recent Sherlock, Benedict Cumberbatch, a British actor who has sparked the internet meme “Otters that look like Benedict Cumberbatch” and has achieved an impressive cult following… getting both otters and Sherlock Holmes trending worldwide.

Image(The picture is taken from The Huffington Post and is originally credited as Red Scharlach/Daily Otter) 

There is a new series of ‘Sherlock’ starting on January 1st 2014 with a mini episode previewing on Christmas Day, so if you’re in the London area, why not mosey on down to Baker Street and get yourself warmed up for some festive ‘Sherlock’ viewing!

Baker Street is also a short walk away from the world famous waxwork museum, Madame Tussauds, which is situated on Marylebone Road. I didn’t go into the museum as I think it’s probably an activity best enjoyed with friends or family… It’s recommended to take a camera with you to make the most of numerous photo opportunities with the famous waxworks. Remember – I was ‘the lone ranger’ at this point – I didn’t fancy being ‘that tourist’ taking selfies in the corner with a waxen Kate Middleton. The entry price is steep at around £30 a ticket, however the long queues and positive reviews speak for themselves. You can often save a few pounds by buying a ticket for Madame Tussauds in combination with tickets for other attractions (i.e. otherwise known as a *drumroll*… combination ticket). Definitely an attraction that I will try in future.

Onwards and upwards from Baker Street, my next destination was Oxford Circus. And here is where the bright lights come in! Oxford Street was full of  festive cheer and christmas light garlands – I popped into the Disney Store (those famous words, I can’t ever walk past without going in for a gander) where all the new merchandise for Disney’s new christmas release “Frozen” was on display. The Disney Store on Oxford Street is the largest in Europe – and of course was decked out accordingly for the Christmas season.

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The main aim of going to Oxford Street was to track down an elusive pair of Forever21 ‘Off Roading wedge booties’ (that name doesn’t sound convoluted in the slightest). It took me a while to find Forever21 (because I had been going along the street in the wrong direction, standard) but I got there eventually and made a beeline straight for the shoe section, WHERE ONE SOLE PAIR OF THOSE BURGUNDY WEDGES WERE ON THE SHELF. It was a ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail ‘moment, I was a bedraggled knight (without coconut shells) and those wedges were the Grail. All I had to do was pounce on them before anyone else could – shoes in hand, I was told by a shop assistant that they were indeed the very last pair on Oxford Street. It was clearly fate. Prancing around the shop floor like a show pony*, I knew that we were meant to be… they were even the right size…

*Or a duck. My 15 year old brother likes to say that I walk like a duck in heels. He’s started playing a ringtone of ducks quacking if I even dare wear them in his presence. Teenagers are so sensitive these days. He’s also a great fan of showing me the video clip below.

Slight digression there. I do apologise. Back to the Oxford Street story. Clutching my Forever21 bag contentedly in hand, I spent a good 45 minutes being entranced by the glitzy window displays of both Selfridges and Marks and Spencer. Fairytales and children’s classics are obviously a big trend this Winter when it comes to department store christmas displays. Selfridges have placed giant versions of iconic gifts being skied and clambered on by miniature snow people and the odd miniature reindeer in their displays. The objects vary from luxury items (such as Charlotte Olympia glittery cat ballet flats) to classic childhood toys (a vat of oversized bright pink play-dough, anyone?),  giving the Selfridges windows a ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ vibe.

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Marks and Spencer, meanwhile,  has been attracting a lot of attention with their Christmas advert starring the gorgeous Rosie Huntingdon Whitely.  If you haven’t seen the advert yet, then you can watch it outside Marks and Spencer on Oxford Street, as it is being played on a loop on a giant screen in one of their windows. Throughout the course of the advert, Rosie transforms from Alice (in Wonderland) to Dorothy, looking fantastic from head to toe, clad in her Marks and Spencer glad rags, naturally. The windows of Marks and Spencer on Oxford Street are clearly inspired by ‘Alice in Wonderland’ and feature a decadent Mad Hatter’s tea party, complete with Alice (aka. Rosie), the  Mad Hatter (ie. the dashing David Gandy) and the other usual suspects…

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 I snapped out of my trance/alice in wonderland reverie when I realised that I had to go and buy my Eurostar ticket for my trip to Paris before the price increased threefold. Arriving at St Pancras International, I was immediately awestruck with the beauty and grandeur of the station… so awestruck that I walked straight past the Eurostar ticket desk and went to the check in instead. Whoops… The queue for the Eurostar ticket desk was quite fraught with tension and melodrama, with several passengers being teary-eyed about missing journeys or having to pay large price differences on their tickets. It didn’t put me at ease …. After half an hour in the queue I was imagining being stranded in London and actually having to live out of my suitcase or on top of the St Pancras street piano. But, I managed to get a relatively cheap ticket for the Saturday, thanks to a lovely member of Eurostar Staff who had the patience of a saint and helped me at the ticket desk. After making my purchase, I decided to buy Ellie some roses and headed back to East Croydon, Eurostar ticket tucked safely away in my satchel, tired but with a big smile on my face.

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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…

Capital hopping with ‘La Valise de Louise’ – London Calling

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As you can tell by the title of this post… I’ve been a bit busy. But fear not! It’s all been worth the while. Read on to voyage with me and learn of my latest ventures… it all began once upon a November…..

November is a strange month, sandwiched between the autumnal novelty of Halloween (which arguably dominates October) and the unavoidable festive buzz of December. November  stomps in and announces the beginning of Winter with fireworks and the ritual burning of things. In some ways, it is like an eager child begging for acceptance –  encouraging us to embrace the warmth of bonfires on cold nights, and to let the decadence and glitz of the Christmas season slowly creep up upon us. It all starts with those fireworks.

November was a rather spontaneous month for me, bathed in the glow of the premature Christmas lights of London and Paris – forget about Christmas tiptoeing into my 2013, I have already spent the past few weeks being duped into believing that Christmas Eve has come early. I’ve been raptly listening to jazzy festive tunes being pumped out of sleek city sound systems and gazing up in awe at big bling-bling baubles.

Rapture? Awe? Being captivated by baubles? I’ve written a lot of posts on this blog (the majority written when I was a student, held captive by the shackles of studying) about my yearning for travel and more importantly, my desire to live life to the full as much as possible. This has been the first Winter in the past decade where I have not had to pull off the dreaded ‘nuit blanche’, those indeterminably long nights where students become essay writing machines in order to meet harrowing end of term deadlines. For me, this has often meant necking back dubious cocktails of diet coke, black coffee and Proplus tablets, silently willing the dawn chorus to pipe down and setting up over 21 alarms on my phone just in case I didn’t wake up from that ten minute power nap. Thoughts of Christmas were always on the back burner until those gloomy essays were done and dusted. However, this year there have been no academic papers to submit. I can completely focus on glittery Christmas sparkles!

So a few weeks ago, when I was asked to go to an interview in London, I decided to turn a day trip into a fully blown holiday and embrace my newly found festive freedom. I packed my suitcase (although I would later find myself cramming most of my belongings into my bright purple satchel as I surfed from sofa to sofa, hopping from tube to metro) bought a last minute ticket, got on a plane and was on my way – on the run! Ready for a big glittery adventure… first stop… London!

I arrived on Saturday 9th November, leaving a deserted Guernsey airport on a cute little local plane with puffins painted on it – I was one of five passengers. Forty five minutes, a copy of ‘The Guernsey Press’ and a free diet coke later, I was warped into a different pace of life, surrounded by jets and queues for passport control. After being ‘stranded’ for a couple of months in Guernsey, it always takes a couple of minutes to adjust to the comparative hustle and bustle of … *in melodramatic tone*   the Mainland.  After walking for miles, I located my case and got on the train to East Croydon – home of Dub-step, ‘the Croydon facelift” and Kate Moss – where Ellie, a friend from Durham University was waiting for me. I had forewarned her of my intentions to visit London and she had very kindly offered me a place to stay. THANKS ELLIE.

Ellie welcomed me into her very fancy student house (which was the Ritz in comparison to the house we shared together during our second year at Durham) where we had the quickest of catch ups before heading out to … Clapham. I was getting to know quite a few boroughs of London in a short space of time.  We sat down in a restaurant and ordered food at 10pm after a little traipse around the area ( i.e we got a bit lost on Clapham High Street), ate with Ellie’s fellow teacher pals and then all of a sudden our plates were whisked away and the place turned into a dance bar. The staff pushed the tables to the wall, and a torrent of people appeared from nowhere and started jiving away in faux fur coats to 1direction. It was slightly surreal. I found myself being handed cocktails, accepted my fate (…having to listen to 1direction) and the night was off on a roll.  We ended up leaving the bar in the early hours of the morning to get the train – we were entertained whilst we waited at the station by the characters of East Croydon who were asking us incessantly for ‘cuddles’ (no cuddles were had) and fighting over pasties – obviously a rare delicacy at three o clock in the morning. Unfortunately I don’t have any photos of this pasty frenzy – you’ll just have to take my word for it.

When we got back to East Croydon, I crashed into bed… my head full of plans to see musicals, sightsee, be reacquainted with KFC popcorn chicken (no KFC on Guernsey *woohoo*) and perhaps most specifically to head to Forever 21 on Oxford Street and track down a ridiculously high pair of burgundy wedges that I’d fallen in love with on the internet. Did I find those wedges? Did I get to see a musical (or… two?) You’ll have to wait for my next instalment to find out! 😉 Although in the meantime here is a picture of an excited tourist in front of Buckingham Palace… yep, it’s me.

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