Travel report: Rome

Travel report: Rome

It took a while for me to do this blog post, but I seriously had no time to go through my pictures to make a selection on what to use for this blog post. But even though it’s been almost three weeks since I went to Rome, all those memories are still fresh in my brain to be sharing them with you. You may have already seen my beauty haul with all the bits I picked up while I was in Italy. Today I will be telling you all about what I actually did. It’s a long one, so grab a cuppa and enjoy!

River Tiber with St. Peter in the background

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London travel tips

London travel tips

Last month I made a blog post with travel tips regarding my favorite city in the world: New York City. Today I thought I’d bring you my tips for traveling a bit closer to home if you live in the Netherlands. It also happens to be my SECOND favorite place in the world and that would be good old London town. I’ve been to London several times, the first time being 1998 when I was on vacation with my parents as a teen. I later went on a mother-daughter trip when I mom and after years of not having been to the city of red doubledecker buses and Big Ben, I found myself booking a trip in 2009 to see no other than Britney Spears perform her Circus Tour at the O2 Arena. I went, fell in love and have been going back every year since. My most recent trip was October 2013, so that makes a grand total of 7 times that I’ve been here. These tips include the standard ‘this is what you have to do’ type of tips, but also some more off the beaten path ones. So I hope you enjoy.

Houses of Parliament with Big Ben (June 2009)

As with any trip you take time is your main constraint when visiting London. Also whether you’ve been there before or not is a defining factor in what you will want to do during your trip. In my experience, the best times to visit are October (crowds & weather if lucky) or May (weather). My 2009 trip was a very short one, so I did something super duper touristy and hand when you have little time to explore the city, but you do want to see most of the city: take a tour bus. If you have some more time on your hands my advice is you walk as much as possible and only take the tube back to your hotel when you are too tired to continue.

I’ve stayed at several hotels, from budget hotels to more midclass hotels. London is fairly expensive when it comes to hotel prices, and rooms are small, so don’t be surprised if you’re housed in something that looks like your broom closet at home. Every hotel I’ve stayed at in London so far came with a breakfast of some type, which is a nice benefit. If you’re flying into London I can recommend you looking for hotels that are close to the train stations that service the airport you’re arriving from. Heathrow Express goes to Paddington Station, Gatwick Express arrives at Victoria Station, and regular trains arrive at St. Pancras/ King’s Cross, but usually only run weekdays. I personally like the express trains. They’re a bit more expensive but they do get you to and from the airport quickly.

Tower of London (October 2013) – St. Paul’s Cathedral (October 2013) – National Gallery

When you’re only visiting London for 2 – 3 days I suggest you at least visit these places:

  • Houses of Parliament/ Big Ben. There are tours available for the Houses of Parliament, but only in July and August and apparently you can only go on one if you’re a UK citizen. Your best photo ops are from ACROSS the river Thames, so cross that bridge and take a right. Afterwards you can also walk along the South Bank and go to the London Eye if you’d like, though personally I am not a big fan of the ferris wheel.
  • Westminster Abbey (including tour). One of my main highlights of one of my London trips was Westminster Abbey. There are tours available at additional cost and I really loved the one I was on. It gives you a lot of information on the rich history of this very special church.
  • St. Paul’s Cathedral (including tour). St. Paul’s is a must even if it’s just for a peek inside. You can climb the stairs and go up to the Whispering Gallery or you can take a tour which is done by a local volunteer. Very informative and also very interesting to hear more about the building of the Cathedral, which is nothing like a traditional cathedral at all.
  • Tower of London. The Tower of London is a must on every tourist’s list, but my advice is: don’t go inside. Unless you like shelling out over 20 pounds to combat long lines and gaze at less than spectacular crown jewels. The Scottish one are apparently not only better, but they also house the crowning stone that is placed underneath the throne (which is in Westminster Abbey) when a new King or Queen is crowned.
  • Tower Bridge. But when you’re at the Tower of London anyway, you will also be very close to Tower Bridge. Which is far more impressive than the fortress itself. You can walk across it to the South Bank and if you’re up for it you can hike all the way to London Eye and get some nice views of the city while you’re at it.
  • Buckingham Palace. Not necessarily to see the changing of the guards, but just to have a peek. Is the flag up? That means that the Queen is home. Walk along The Mall to Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery (or turn right and walk up to Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament).

Tower Bridge (October 2013)

If you’re there for a bit longer, there are other landmarks and places you can visit. But of course, a bustling city such as London also has plenty of activities you can do. Many museums in London are free of charge so it’s super easy to gaze at amazing art or brush up your knowledge on a rainy day.

  • Kensington gardens/ Hyde park/ St. James’ Park: London parks make for a great stroll on a nice day. They are inhabited by tons of squirrels which eat out of your hand if you feed them something they find interesting enough.
  • Camden market. For those of you who are into ethnic cuisine and wears and a bit of vintage, you have to visit Camden Market. One of the places where London’s melting pot becomes most visible. It’s a vibrant place and if you walk all the way to Camden Lock you’ll find some great food places as well.
  • Old Truman Brewery/ Spital Fields market. Calling all vintage lovers: this is where you have to go.
  • Marble Arch. On Oxford Street. Just go there, grab a picture and get your shop on!
  • The Mall. Close to Buckingham Palace so chances are you’ll go there anyway.
  • Trafalgar Square. See Nelson stand on his column at one of the busiest crossroads in the city.
  • The Strand. Street where you will find some book shops, Somerset House and some coffee shops. Leads away from Trafalgar Square.
  • Bloomsbury. This is a really nice part of London. There are some independent shops around and there is a university located as well as some museums.
  • Visit the big/ old stores: Harrods/ Fortnum & Mason. Just to be awed by all that extravaganza and expensive wears.

Things to do:

  • Visit museums! They’re free. Recommended: British Museum, National Gallery, V&A museum
  • Do a musical (there are discount ticket offices in the city, mostly situated around Leicester Square – Billy Elliot is great!)
  • See a ballet/ opera performance at the Royal Opera House. Just be sure to book tickets in advance as they sell out quite quickly.
  • See a play at the Globe Theatre. Also something to book in advance. The Globe Theatre features plays which are performed in true 16th/17th century fashion. It was built after the original Globe Theatre where many of Shakespeare’s plays had their debut. The Theatre is open roofed which means it only shows performances through spring and summer.
  • Watch the changing of the guards.
  • A tour from walks.com. I’ve taken several tours with this company and it’s brilliant. You check the website, show up with the fee at the designated tube stop at the designated time and you go on themed walking tour around part of London. I can highly recommend the Harry Potter tour.

Temple Church interior (February 2012)

Of course there is plenty more to do and see when you visit London. Here are my tips after you’ve done the true and tested London must sees.

  • Highgate cemetery: unused Victorian Cemetery in Camden. It’s a super pretty location. You can walk up and visit the East cemetery any time. The West cemetery is only accessible by tours, but it’s well worth it.
  • Do a concert @ the O2 Arena. Tickets sell out fast, but you plan on seeing anyone play there anyway, you might as well book a longer trip.
  • Tour of the Royal Opera House. If you care for seeing how a huge theater operates, then this is for you. The Royal Opera House also houses the Royal Ballet and on this tour you have a chance to see the dancers go through their classes and warm ups. Each tour is different as one room in every tour is changed up every time. If you’re lucky you’re allowed to go into the main auditorium.
  • Somerset House. Has a lot of fun, more off the beaten track exhibitions.
  • Greenwich. It takes a while to get there, but Greenwich has more to offer than the meridian that gives us GMT. There are the Royal Naval Colleges which are used in tons of different movies (Les Miserables and Pirates of the Caribbean were filmed there) and the town itself is small, quaint and comes with vintage clothing stores and record shops.
  • Tour of the Globe Theatre. If you have the time, take a tour of the Globe. It’s fun, informative and they have a great little store.
  • Take a day trip to Oxford. Not London, but close enough that you can go there for the day.
  • Visit Brighton. Same as Oxford. In case you need to get away from the business that is London you can visit this forlorn British seaside town.
  • Walk through Belgravia. One of the nicer neighbourhoods of London. Same goes for Notting Hill and Chelsea.
  • Temple Church. For Da Vinci Code enthusiasts, or just those of you curious in history and culture. A bit difficult to find and with strange opening times, but well worth a visit.

Houses of Parliament – Highgate Cemetary – Tower Bridge

Whenever I go to London, I at least reserve one day for shopping. Because apart from tons of history and culture you can shop till you drop in London town.

  • Westfield shopping centre. There are several locations in the city, some outdoor and some indoor. So even when it’s raining cats and dogs you can shop all major highstreet stores.
  • Oxford Street. For your highstreet shopping featuring Primark, Forever21, Urban Outfitters, Topshop flagshipstore, HMV, New Look, etc etc etc.
  • Soho. If you are into music and vintage shops, then Soho is the place to be. It has independent music stores, stores for instruments as well as London’s redlight district (which compared to Amsterdam’s is a complete joke btw).
  • Carnaby Street. Features the MAC pro store as well as Illamasqua. There are also a few fashion shops such as Monki.
  • Covent Garden. For all major chains. It also has a Dr. Marten’s store and more boutique type shopping.
  • Camden market. Vintage/ Ethnic market place. If you’re looking for more unique finds.
  • Vintage shopping is done in East London mostly though. The area around Brick Lane (also good if you dig Indian Food) has some great vintage stores.
  • Selfridges. Large department store with the best beauty departments ever. From Tom Ford, Nars, Laura Mercier, Bobbi Brown, Illamasqua and Charlotte Tilbury: it’s all available from Selfridges. It’s located on Oxford Street almost across from Marble Arch.
  • John Lewis and Debenhams are two other department stores on Oxford Street where you will find make up brands such as Urban Decay, Stila and Smashbox.
  • Waterstone’s near Piccadilly Circus = 5 floors of book heaven.
  • Victoria’s Secret is located on a side street off Oxford Street and in one of the Westfield Shopping malls. Look up the address, because you won’t just stumble across it.
  • There is a Kiko store off Oxford Circus, but it hadn’t opened yet when I last was in London so I can’t tell you whether it’s any good.

View over Greenwich and London from the Greenwich Observatory (May 2011)

Last but not least, a few tips on going out to eat.

  • Garfunkel’s: a cheap place for steaks and burgers. It’s a chain which you can find all over the UK.
  • TGI Friday’s for American burgers, just know you’ll be in for a wait. In 2013, I didn’t want to wait too long and I found a diner across the street which was a Jamie Oliver pop up restaurant. Not sure whether it’s still there.
  • Covent Garden has some great places to eat. Just have a browse and you’ll find something you like
  • Camden Town does some great ethnic dishes of all scents and flavors
  • Brick lane is the place to go for Indian cuisines
  • Soho is the place to be for veggie places. I found the address for a great hummus restaurant before I went last time, but I didn’t have the time to go there.
  • Pubs! If you are looking for a true English meal, just pop into a pub and have some traditional English food. Fish and chips anyone?

What’s your favorite thing to do in London?

London 2012: Day 2

London 2012: Day 2

Day two in the English capital turned out to be a great day. The weather was amazing, with a slight breeze but plenty of sunshine making it perfect weather for walking. And walk I did. I set off from my hotel around 9 AM. My first stop was the Twinings tea shop on The Strand. It’s the only official Twinings-only shop in the world and they have many varieties that aren’t available in Holland. Argyll Square – View from my hotel room

Houses on Argyll Square

Tudor style houses near Chancery Lane

Clock of the Royal Court of Justice

After picking up nearly 10 different teas including a ‘vintage’ Darjeeling I walk about for a bit as I wanted to go to Temple Church but it wouldn’t open until an hour later. I found myself walking along the River Thames and found a bench bathing in sunlight. I sat there people and boat watching while listening to music and waited until I could go to Temple Church.

Chestnut tree (?) on Victoria Embankment

Fierce looking dragon near Middle Temple lane

I had heard that Temple Church would be difficult to find and while trying to find it, I figured why. The church is surrounded by other buildings that are part residential area and part offices. It is completely encased and I found it by walking into a narrow alleyway. If I hadn’t I would have most likely walked passed it. Temple Church is quite a strange place. It’s only a stone’s throw away from the heavy traffic of Fleet Street/ The Strand, but yet it’s so quiet and peaceful when you walk into the courtyard. It doesn’t even feel like you’re in the middle of London.

Temple Church

The interior of the Church

Effigies of the Knights Templar

Temple Church is famous for being round on one end rather than having the shape of a cross. In the round part of the church you will find the famous effigies of the Knights Templar as featured in The Da Vinci Code. The ones you see in the picture above are actually plaster casts of the original which are on the other end of the room. The casts were made during the Victorian era for the World Exhibition and placed in the church after the originals were badly damaged during The Blitz in WWII. The Church is still active which is why it is only open at specific times a day.

Original entrance door of Temple Church

The reason why Temple Church is hard to find: courtyards and narrow alleys

Fountain with National Gallery

After the Church I walked via The Strand to Trafalgar Square and had a pit stop at Starbucks and Superdrug where I picked up some make up by brands that aren’t available in The Netherlands. I then went to the National Gallery where I walked around for a few hours viewing mainly Impressionist and Dutch 17th century art. The museum houses art from the 1200s till 1900 and since it is huge I picked two categories to go and see because I didn’t want to spend such a lovely day indoors all day.

The National Gallery is definitely worth a visit. If art isn’t your thing you should just step inside to see the interior. It is hands down one of the most majestic buildings I’ve ever been in, without it being preposterous. It’s a beautifully designed museum, especially the room called Central Hall and the rooms directly adjacent to it. Unfortunately you are not allowed to take pictures inside the museum so you’ll just have to believe me or go there yourself. The museum is free so just stop by and pop in to have a look whenever you’re near it.

After viewing Monets, Renoirs, Rembrandts and the like I felt hungry and had lunch outside in the sunshine with a delicious salad. With it only being 3 PM and having gone through my plans for the day already, I set off towards Leicester Square to see if I could catch a West End musical. Unfortunately nothing struck me as remotely interesting and there aren’t many movies out right now that I think are worth visiting so I decided to take a beeline toward Covent Garden. There I found the most amazing shoe store on Floral Street called United Nude. It was too pricey for me, but nevertheless these shoes are eyecandy in its purest form. The shoes seem to be a combination of design and architecture and seem impossible to walk in.

I had quite a browse around Coven Garden, bought a few things here and there and headed west again along Shaftesbury Avenue towards Piccadilly Circus. There’s a Waterstone’s nearby as well as an HMV (I like their book section there too) and plenty of food places. So I bought some books and quite exhausted found a table at TGI Friday’s as I was craving a burger. I finished my meal with an Oreo sundae icecream and took the Underground back to the hotel. My feet were killing me after walking around for nearly 12 hours, but that’s how I like London best: by foot.

Stay tuned for more blogs about my London trip later this week!

How is your week coming along?

London 2012: Day 1

London 2012: Day 1

On Sunday I left for London and here’s what I did on day one. I woke up early and left well on time to catch a train to the airport. I had checked whether trains were going and all seemed well, until I got to the train station. There had been a fire in the train station tunnel and no trains were going for a while. I got on the first train that left and after an uneventful journey I arrived at the airport well in time.

After a slightly delayed flight and another train into the city I arrived at my hotel around 1.30 PM. I freshened up and got reorganized in my room and set out into town right away. I took the underground to Liverpool Street Station where I grabbed a bite to eat and started walking towards Spital Fields Market and the Old Truman Brewery in East London (near Brick Lane). I knew there would be some markets there and Rough Trade East is located there as well so I was hoping to hit up all those places while walking around.

Livepool Street Station

Detail of Liverpool Street Station construction

The weather was luckily perfect for walking and browsing around. It got a bit cold at times, but plenty of the markets aren’t exactly outside. Most of the markets are in these big halls so there is a roof over your head and it only got cold when I got anywhere near the exit.

The first stop was Old Spital Fields Market. It is a market where you can buy some edgier items than at your average highstreet store. You could compare it to a festival fair or a goods market. I already knew it wouldn’t be packing many vintage stores as the vintage scene moved a bit further east, but I thought it would be worth having a browse. Around the market there are some other regular stores and there are also food stalls in case you get hungry. After buying the most delicious donut ever (covered in icing with coconut sprinkles and filled with jam)  and browsing all the stalls I set off towards Old Truman Brewery.

Quaint store near Spital Fields Market

East London is littered with old vacant factory buildings and it is here that you will find a lively community of vintage and edgy clothes, mingled with the occasional places selling music and food. Old Truman Brewery is one of those vacant factory buildings and on Sundays there is a large market with a good section of vintage to go around as well. It was quite busy, but the vibe was really cool. There was music playing and tons of young people going about trying on sunglasses or the odd sweater. Where Spital Fields was littered with tourists I felt Old Truman Brewery had much more of a local feel to it. Me likes!

I browsed around for a bit and bought a great navy blue woolen sweater. I then set out around the back of the store and quickly found what I came for: Rough Trade East. It was busy but it’s a cool place. If you like your music on vinyl then this is your place to be. Unfortunately for me, one album I really wanted had sold out and the other artist they had never heard of so I think I’ll have to hit up HMV afterall. It is still a cool store though with many in store live performances happening and they are stocking tons of artists and music styles that are not main stream so it was interesting to see.

Rough Trade East store front

Since I had now seen the things I came to see I decided to just walk around and see what I found. I quickly walked into Hanbury Street where I found some amazing vintage clothing shops. One was called Absolute Vintage which was exactly like what you would expect from a vintage store: walls lined with shoes, everything organized somewhat by color and that musty smell that comes with most vintage stores. I didn’t end up buying anything but it is still a great shop to have a look at when you’re there.

I then walked out and was handed a pamphlet for another vintage shop called Blitz. And OMG: it’s the BEST vintage shop ever. It is very well organized. It actually looks like a very comfortable store with soft lighting and all the items look pristine and the prices aren’t too high. They even had a sale going on in the downstairs area and I picked up a few things from there. I will make a shoplog once I get home so I will show you what I got later.

By this time I was quite hungry and I went into an Indian curry house and had real Indian curry for the first time in forever. Last time I had any Indian food was when I was at William and Mary and that was 2005. It was really good and after feeling full and content I headed back to my hotel and watched some TV before going to bed.

All in all, I think the first day was a good one. East London is definitely a place I can recommend to anyone interested in fashion/ clothes and just overall quirky items. The minute you cross Commercial Street the scene becomes more local and less touristy and that adds to a great vibe plus there are plenty of food places to keep you well fed.

My Perfect Sunday

My Perfect Sunday

Today is the last day of my vacation and so it’s the final day of doing absolutely nothing. Well, nothing, I will be attending a b-day later today, so in that sense today is NOT the perfect Sunday. My perfect Sunday usually entails doing nothing in particular. It’s my self-pronounced lazy day and I make the most of it whenever I can. Here is what my perfect Sunday looks like.

1. Sleep in

I think I’ve mentioned my love for sleeping before. That is why the number one activity on my perfect Sunday involves lots of it. On Sundays I won’t get up before 11 AM, and usually that becomes well past noon.

2. Big breakfast

Since I have plenty of time to make breakfast that is what I’ll do. I’ll make a cooked breakfast involving things like omelets, french toast, fresh bake off bread, croissants, freshly squeezed juice and the like. Not all in one go though!

3. Listen to music

This activity isn’t limited to just Sundays. I listen to music every day, but Sunday tends to be the day on which I listen to new things, go looking for new music and aimlessly skip through my playlist.

4. Watch movies & TV series

Preferably with some freshly brewed tea and some snacks to accompany me, I will lounge on my couch on Sunday afternoons watching my fave TV series or I’ll watch a movie that I haven’t seen before.

5. PJ-day

On Sundays I usually refuse to get dressed unless I have to. It PJ-day! The perfect way of expressing your laziness to me is to just lounge around in my comfy PJ pants paired with a baggy sweater and oversize warm fuzzy socks.

6. The Cow on Sunday

My one reason to get dressed (but sometimes I don’t even bother) is when I go to the Cow. The what? The Cow, or Café De Bonte Koe, is my favorite hang out in Leiden. I meet up with some friends and we catch up with each other while having a few beers. I usually go home rather early, since Monday is another work day.

That’s it! My perfect Sunday. Occasionally I will check my work e-mail on Sunday to catch up before Monday morning and make it less busy, or I’ll have a few chores to do like washing dishes and a bit of cleaning. However, I try to get those things done on Saturday.

Q: What does your perfect Sunday look like?