Saturday, December 3, 2016

A busy 24 hours here in London

Yesterday I had a bit of a lazy morning and didn't leave the house until around 1.  I took the train to Balham (5 minutes away) and then hopped the tube to central London.   First stop - Trafalgar Square.  I had to see that tree!!!  It is the 70th anniversary of this particular kind of tree being in Trafalgar Square.  As thanks for Britain's assistance during the war Norway has gifted London with a tree every Christmas since 1947.  This tree is usually 50 to 60 years old and the cutting is attended by the British ambassador to Norway, the Mayor of Oslo and the Lord Mayor of London.  Yes it is a big deal.  While it may not be everyone's fantasy of a Christmas tree I personally love it.  It is decorated with white lights which is the Norwegian tradition.  The official lighting ceremony took place on Thursday evening which I had wanted to attend but canceled flights got into the way.  I was here but I was too exhausted to go.  

I dropped into St Martins in the Fields church which is across from Trafalgar Square to pick up my ticket for the concert that evening.  Then onto Leicester Square where I walked through the small Christmas market there which is new this year. (other years they have had rides such as a Merry Go Round)  

I then walked through the rest of Leicester Square heading over to Covent Garden.   A woman bumped into me saying "sorry".  At the time I thought "hmmm" but I was clutching my purse close to me so wasn't worried.  

First stop was Stanfords Travel Book shop - my mecca!  I went to pull out my kindle and noticed the zip was totally undone...on my bag there is a zipper at the bottom of a side pocket that you can open so you can put the bag over a handle. Luckily the purse was tight enough (ahem...full enough) that the kindle and my journal were still there.  So she did try to get into my purse because there is no way that zipper opened by itself!  In 27 visits to London that is the first time I have ever had anything like that happen. Claudia told me her mom has had her wallet stolen three times in Leicester Square without even being aware of it. They are professionals.  Then on to Covent Garden which was heaving with shoppers and tourists.  

They finally changed the decorations!  For years they had huge red balls.

Santa's Workshop; built with 700,000 Lego bricks that took three months to build! 

I just cruised quickly around the market as it was just too darn crowded and head over to the Seven Dials area where I always get lost!!!  And I did...  

A shop full of tea and tea things - what's not to love.  Lots of these around London but I loved their display so had to go in and have a snoop.  At this stage of the shopping game I am just checking things out but no doubt I will be swooping in for the kill before February.

Need I add that I loved these animal themed decorations...

The Seven Dials...meaning seven streets meet.  In a much quieter non Piccadilly Circus way.

Then it was on to Woodlands Indian restaurant which is a vegetarian restaurant.  Not that I'm a veggie but I do love my vegetable korma and it was close by and is never crowded.  So I had that along with some butter naan and a mango lassi.  Yum!  

Time to head over to Trafalgar Square to see the Christmas tree lit up in all its glory.

I will try to get back with my better camera before I leave for Spain. When I come back to London all the Christmas decorations will be gone. 

The concert was lovely and attended by the Norwegian Ambassador to the UK, the Mayor of Oslo and the Deputy Mayor of London.  Two young Norwegian men playing the viola and the piano played the first half and it was good although I felt myself getting a bit sleepy.  The second half was much more enjoyable with a "Boys choir" which consisted of a mix of men and young boys.  The boys were definitely the majority.  I am thinking there could even have been two girls in there or else boys with long hair - it was hard to tell as all the "boys" wore sailor suits.  Of course everything was sung in Norwegian. 

Back here on the tube and train and another good long sleep.  Much quieter here than at home - my room overlooks the back garden.  Quiet as the grave!  

Today just after 10 I headed off to see "Mary Poppins" at the "Back Garden Cinema".  I got off at the Elephant and Castle tube station and the fun began.  When I stayed in Brockley last year I used to have to transfer from the tube to the train here and always got misplaced. It's basically a huge traffic circle with streets going off in different directions with a sad shopping mall in the centre.  I kept asking people where Newington Causeway was until a kind local directed me - I didn't think I would ever find it!   

On the bright side I did see this girl - "Tess" is her name and she belongs to a homeless fellow.  Of course I had to give him money and take her picture!  She reminded me so much of my own dear departed doggie. 

Of course once I took out the camera she wouldn't look at me!!! 

Finally after a ten minute walk  I came across the cinema.  It was in a very interesting market with mostly Italian and Spanish food.  

The cinema itself was in an unheated area and you walked through a narrow path in a "forest" of trees with fairy lights on to get to the seating area. Magical!!! Seating was in (low) bean bag chairs - I just kind of flopped in and hoped to hell I could get out again while preserving my dignity. There were cozy blankets on each chair and believe me I think we all used ours! I was in the second row.   Instead of previews of movies they played excerpts from Christmas movies such as "White Christmas". At the end of "White Christmas" white flakes came raining down on us!  Bang on time "Mary Poppins" started and what a great time - it has always been one of my favourite movies.  It was super to see it on the big movie screen again.   We all clapped at the end. (woke up the girl in the row opposite me who had fallen asleep in her blanket) Great fun! Oh and the young girl next to me hauled me up! :) 

Empty now - when I got out of the movie it was packed!!!

We entered through the wardrobe - how cool is that?

I then took the bus to Brixton as I was hankering for a look around Marks and Spencers Food Hall  After half an hour through an area I had never been to before we got there.  It was heaving!  I scurried into the Food Hall and got my three for ten pound ready meals, some soup, a Prawn and Mayonnaise sandwich and a few other things.  Tonight I had the sandwich (I actually made it 48 hours without having my favourite sandwich!) and the soup. (Cream of Parsnip)  Another great advantage of airbnb is that I can cook or in my case "heat up" meals.  When you travel for two months at a time there is no way I can eat out every day - even if I could afford it (which I can't) I would get sick of it.  I always buy  To me, eating out should be a treat. 

Tomorrow I am planning a quieter day...oh I'm still going out but planning to avoid the crowds and hang around "quiet" people.  Stay tuned!!! 

Friday, December 2, 2016

Hello from London - finally!

Well here I am - at last!  I've been here 24 hours now. I should have been here 48 hours but oh well... The flight left  pretty much on time and was uneventful.  The middle seat was empty which makes it always much nicer for spreading out.  Luckily the line for passport control wasn't bad however about 75 of us waited a long time for our luggage.  At the train station it was a mess with delays galore but was able to get a delayed train in a matter of minutes - it was absolutely packed and I had to stand until I got to East Croydon which luckily was the next stop about 15 minutes away. It was only for the kindness of a train guard that I caught the next train - as I was approaching and tottering as fast as I could the doors were closing and he put his hand in to stop it for me.  It was so kind of him to do this especially as it delayed the train a bit.  This train wasn't as crowded thank goodness so was able to sit down until I got to Streatham Common.  And here I am.

Claudia fixed me a lovely pasta lunch and we had a catch up. Then I talked myself into going out even though I was really really tired. The temptation to sleep was alluring but I knew I would be awake in the middle of the night if I gave in to the temptation.  I was able to get fixed up with a new SIM card at EE (and I actually got a helpful person there) and also popped into Sainsburys to pick up a couple of things.  I hung in until 8 p.m. and then had to crash.  Thanks to melatonin I slept for nearly 12 hours.  I know I will be dragging tonight though.

It's nearly noon and I am still in jammies as I type this.  Claudia, the other guest who is from Vienna and myself sat and had a great visit over coffee for about two hours!  I have all the time in the world. This afternoon I will head into town and hang around Covent Garden and Trafalgar Square - tourist land!  Tonight I will attend a Norwegian concert at St Martins in the Fields that is put on by the Norwegian embassy. I missed the unveiling of the Norwegian Christmas tree last night in Trafalgar Square as I was just too tired. I knew I would not feel safe in a very crowded situation with pickpockets and the like - you need to have your wits about you in central London especially at this time of year.  A pity as it's one of the reasons I came so early.  Ah well, I will see the tree tonight in all its glory.

Here are some photos of my room where I will be based for the next two and a half weeks and then four weeks in January/February.  It is warm and comfortable.

And that's all she write...for now!!!

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Well hello from....Calgary!

Yes I said I would not be posting until London but well what can I say.  I am supposed to be there but the flight was canceled and here I sit at the Clique Hotel at Calgary airport.

The day started out great.  My friend Marianne picked me up and we headed off to a restaurant on the way to the airport and had lunch.  I was very sensible and had feta chicken with rice pilaf and vegetables.  Yum and healthy.   The flight to Calgary was uneventful.

Our gate was announced 90 minutes before the flight and one hour before the flight was due to take off we were told the flight was canceled due to maintenance issues.  I had read about these "issues" AFTER I booked my (super cheap) flight with WestJet. Cancellations and late flights are not uncommon with the London route. We were told that the flight would go tomorrow but absolutely no details. Due to people yakking I could not hear exactly what we were to do.  I heard the word customs and that was it.  I was sitting beside a woman who had recently had hip surgery four months ago and was meeting a friend in London for ten days. We had been having a good chat about London and I was giving her a list of things to do and just chatting about life. One of those people you meet in life that you "click" with.  People were going every which way and some were in line. It was all very confusing until they told us to get in we did.  And the meantime the woman I had been sitting with decided to try and get a flight with Air Canada..(she was meeting a friend from the U.S. in London and was worried on her being on her own for a day....) We were then told to proceed to Customs through another gate so there was a stampede.  We had to put our name, flight number and sign a customs form.  Shortest trip I have ever been on!  And yes we had to hand it to a customs officer - because while at the gate we were in "no man's land" I guess.  Then we had to get our luggage.  At this point we knew nothing - there was no one from West Jet directing us.  I must point out that the International Terminal is brand new as in less than a month old so no one seemed to know their way around.  We handed our forms in and proceeded to the arrivals area.  From there we were told to go to the International departures - well where is that?  To the left of the exit there was a line with about 100 people in it and I asked if this was for the canceled flight...yep.  It said transfers and I inquired is this it for sure.  Yep, even the Air Canada agent standing around said yes wait here.  And there was ONE WestJet person dealing with it!  Then all of a sudden we were told to go upstairs and waved in a direction.  Well I decided to go up the escalators that the person was vaguely pointing to - good move.  The people that went up the escalator closest to us had to go through security again complete with luggage!

Gong show! gets better.  We then found out way to the International departures counter for Westjet where there were four agents working (yay) and about 75 plus travelers ahead of me.  Once again not one person from WestJet to direct us where to go to get here. This is where I heard horror stories about WestJet's London service.  One fellow traveled in July and was stuck in Iceland for three nights and another one was stuck in Iceland for one night but was not allowed to leave the terminal. (and I'm thinking "and you're using them again"?)  Once at the agent I was given my boarding pass for the next day as well as a voucher for the hotel, taxi vouchers and $60 worth of meals.  So then it was "where do I go now to get out of here"?  The line by this time was HUGE - while I was waiting I could not even see the end of it.  I could not find an exit to this area and as I was wandering past the line the lady I had sat with saw me and called out.  Turns out Air Canada wanted $1500 for a one way fare so needless to say... I told her what the agent had told me and about the vouchers.  Well!  People around her overheard and were all asking me what was happening.  I felt like a star making my way down a row of fans - ha. I kept getting stopped by frantic people. I felt so sorry for them as they had a long wait ahead of them.  Finally after what seemed like ten minutes I got clear and asked a fellow driving one of the buggies how to exit to get a taxi. Well even he didn't know.  By this time another fellow was walking with me so we both hopped onto the buggy and he dropped us off a fair distance away. This fellow had a voucher for the shuttle bus and I had a taxi.  We were being sent to the same hotel and figured we could take a taxi but then mine said "one" which had us thinking only one person?  I think the buggy driver thought we were "together" so was quite confused as to how we had different kinds of vouchers - ha!  We got dropped and told to take the elevator down. Once there my "companion" said he was going to look into getting a taxi voucher at the agents desk in departures.  Okay...(too bad, he was cute) He was absolutely exhausted as he lives in Hawaii so had flown in from there that day before flying on to London.   Of course this is the time I decided to be "smart" and not have any Canadian money on me at all so couldn't even give the taxi driver a tip - he wasn't impressed anyway at such a "short trip" and a voucher at that let alone no tip! I guess I could have given him a tip on my debit card but it was in my money belt and I was too tired and frazzled to think of that then.

Once at the hotel another line up but about 25 minutes later I got my room key and what a room.  Very nice.  The one good thing about this whole fiasco I guess. I had bought a sandwich at the airport so had that last night and relaxed.  Even a TV in the bathroom!!!  And a bathtub/shower that you need instructions how to use!  I figured out this shower this morning but could not figure how to run a bath last night - I really wanted to so I could say I watched TV while in the bathtub!!!

Very comfy bed - wish I could sleep in but one of the downs of old age.  Not being able to sleep for too long. So here's hoping the rescheduled flight this afternoon goes.  After hearing other people's stories I can handle it.  There is a woman trying to get to see an elderly relative who is not well at all and people who only have as little as five days over there.  Losing a day is huge...for me not so much.  I will miss seeing the London Christmas tree being lit for the first time this season in Trafalgar Square tomorrow night - one of the main reasons I am going so early.  Yes I could go but a very crowded event in central London is not the best choice when you are tired and jet lagged. You need your wits about you in a packed crowd.  I am tired already so hate to think what kind of shape I will be like by the time I get there.  I was very upset last night with all the confusion (especially as WestJet should be quite experienced in these matters now) but have calmed down now.  Fingers crossed I am in London this time tomorrow!!!

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

All sorts of stuff to talk about...

15 more sleeps!!!  It never gets old...never.  I don't  take traveling for granted and I never stop getting excited and I am so grateful for that.  I know I am lucky to be able to have the life I have.   It's not all luck; I've made it happen but that's a post for another day.  In the meantime,  I AM SO EXCITED!!!

Family time 

I'm just back from a weekend visit with my cousin and her family in Lethbridge which is a city of about 100,000 in southern Alberta.  I flew there and back on air miles I have accumulated on my credit card.  I still have a few more of those burning a hole in my pocket!  It was wonderful to spend time with family and meet the newest member of our crew - 10 month old Maisie.  My cousin and her husband have a beautiful new home right beside the coulees (valleys).  We went for a walk through a bit of them one morning and then early on my last morning I did a spontaneous short walk up a nearby hill to get a better view.  It was a fab weekend!  And after being at home for nearly three months (yow!) it was a welcome break.

I extended my trip! 

So now in between social get togethers with friends and binge watching Netflix and this (I can't stop watching it and I fear I am a bit obsessed) I have to start getting ready for my 10 weeks away.  Yes I don't think I told you that did I?  I extended my trip by two weeks - the main reason being I want to see a hunky adventurer (Levison Wood) at the Destinations Travel show the first weekend in February.  Yes, I know...I have a problem with being obsessed about things.  It only cost me $37 Canadian to change my West Jet flight home. Sold!  Let's not talk about the two extra weeks of accommodation, food, transport okay?  It just means two more weeks out of a Saskatchewan winter and in London which is all good.  Of course, I will be taking day and multi-day trips out of London but I will have my base in Claudia's warm house in Streatham.  Let's put it this suitcase will be spending 7 weeks in my lovely (did I mention "warm" )bedroom in SE London.  Me and my backpack... we will be a bit more adventurous!

A surprise trip!!!  

And you also probably hadn't heard that I am going on a "surprise holiday" in mid January.  I booked through Surprise trips. (run by Expedia)  Basically you tell them when you want to go and for how long, what airport you wish to fly from, how much you want to spend and they do the rest.  So on January 16th I am to be at London Gatwick airport at 7 a.m. and around that time frame I will get an email telling me where I am going and where to check in.  My airfare and hotel (3 star and up) is paid and the rest is up to me.  I was warned not to check my credit card statement but who doesn't do that?  All I know is I am flying Easy Jet which means it could be a (huge) number of places in Europe.  I got to select three places I don't want to go so I picked three places I have been recently...Nuremberg, Ljubljana and Seville. (where I will be in early January)  Please, please don't send me back to Belfast, Vienna or Prague either I am silently begging but other than that I am okay with wherever I go.  Hopefully,it will be a place I've never been before.  Being as I only paid 137 pounds I am not expecting an expensive country nor one too far away.  However will be very exciting and for this planner it will be a challenge for sure.  I hope there is enough time to run into the airport bookshop and purchase a guide book!

A fun filled December 

My December calendar is getting very full with activities ranging from a night at the Royal Opera House watching The Nutcracker (a Christmas tradition for me) to attending the Ceremony of the Keys at the Tower of London (unless it's horribly cold and/or raining - it will still go on but without me rain or shine) to going up to Birmingham for the day to visit the German Christmas market.  And loads more.  I have printed out a full-size calendar for December and January and have been busy filling it in so I don't double book myself.  I can't wait to see London decked out in its Christmas splendour. I have booked to see a Christmas flamenco show in Malaga (which is known for its beautiful Christmas lights) just before Christmas and have booked three nights in a hotel in Seville and two nights in Granada.  I can't wait to learn how they celebrate Christmas in Spain.   In mid December I am heading off under the chunnel via Eurostar to Bruges which is a new place for me.  I've briefly been to Brussels but I barely remember it so I don't even like to say I've been to Belgium.  I plan to stop off in Brussels to at least check out the "pissing boy" fountain again (that I remember!) and the Christmas market.  And I hope to get to Ghent as well - yes I will be one busy lady for those 48 hours!  Of course I will be busy shoving chocolate in my face as well.

Pain relief - at last!  

I've had a cortisone shot in my knee which has provided me with some relief.  It looks like my knee replacement surgery could be as early as March.  I am already worrying about how I am going to keep this blog active while I am recuperating but I guess that means I will have to visit lots of places so I can write about them in more detail later, right?  After all, my next blog post will likely be about another place I visited in Scotland which was over six months ago!

New domain name for the blog 

I do intend to get my own domain name very soon.  So if you have this site bookmarked and can't reach it in the near future try   I have decided to stay with the blogger platform for now at least.


I'm in shock.  I think I got about three hours sleep the night of the election.  This affects the whole world...and to my way of thinking it's not a good way to go forward.  And that's all I will say. (add pouty face)

And I guess that's all my news...hopefully I will get a post or two out before I hit the road on November 29th.  Stay tuned!!! 

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Brompton and Kensal Green Cemeteries - two more of the Magnificent Seven

I have recently discovered I like visiting Victorian cemeteries - the elaborate graves and history intrigue me.  Normal cemeteries...not so much but the Victorian ones are so over the top I love it.

The Magnificent Seven cemeteries were created due to parish church yards becoming over crowded.  This was because of London's population boom in the early 1800's.  In the first fifty years of the 19th century, London's population went from 1 million to 2.3 million.  Overcrowding in the cemeteries led to decaying matter getting into the water supply and the grisly sight of children  playing with the bones of the deceased.  Rats defiled the bodies as well.  Yes, I know....gross!!!! Something had to be done so in 1832 the government passed a bill encouraging the establishment of private suburban cemeteries.  Seven cemeteries were established and much later in 1981, were dubbed "The Magnificent Seven" (after the movie) by architectural historian Hugh Meller.

Last year I visited Nunhead Cemetery as it was within walking distance of the airbnb I was staying at in Brockley, South London.  I had visited the nearby Brockley and Ladywell cemeteries and my airbnb host mentioned that Nunhead was close. I then visited the East side of Highgate Cemetery (still have to visit the west side but heavy rain stopped my visit last time) in March of this year.  Earlier this year a fellow guest at my airbnb in London got me interested in visiting all the Magnificent Seven cemeteries and together we took a Sunday afternoon tour of Brompton Cemetery in West London.  Thanks Loraine!

I must say I am now well and truly hooked so before I left London in May I visited Kensal Green Cemetery in Kensal Green.... it was a rather quick trip as it was one of those days where I couldn't decide what I was going to do and I had a timed entry to an exhibition at the British Museum later that I probably spent only an hour there. In this post I will cover both Brompton and Kensal Green.

Kensal Green, established in 1833 is the oldest of these cemeteries so let's go there first.

I got off the underground at Kensal Green station and walked for about ten minutes along the perimeter of the cemetery before finally finding an entrance!

Bond, James Bond!  Hey, close enough! 

Could there be a knight in shining armour in there?  We know how I love my knights in shining armour!

I thought this was so beautiful. 

I would like to take a tour of this cemetery to learn more.  One day!

Earlier in May (the day after I got back from Scotland) I met up with Loraine at Brompton Cemetery on a sunny Sunday afternoon to take a tour.   Brompton Cemetery was opened in 1840 and is Grade 1 on the list of English Heritage Register of Historic Parks and Gardens.  It is located in the borough of Kensington and Chelsea...a (much) rather more "posh" area of town than Kensal Green.

Brompton Cemetery IS like a park and is a handy "shortcut" or at least a pleasant walk between Old Brompton Road and Fulham Road.

I thought this crypt was beautiful.

John Snow...a leader in the adoption of anesthesia and medical hygiene. He discovered the source of a cholera outbreak in London in 1854 which led to changes in the water and waste systems in London. These were adopted in various cities around the world.  We have a lot to thank him for.

Yes it is a park that families use as well.  I love that idea.

Beatrix Potter lived nearby and it is generally thought that she came up with her character Squirrel Nutkin from this grave.

 The "handshake" is a common Victorian symbol on gravestones.  It can mean the bond between man and wife and represents the parting as well as unity in life and death.  It is one of the most common symbols on Victorian gravestones.

Both visits were so interesting but a tour is definitely the way to go.  I've already made note of the times of the tours for the three remaining Magnificent Seven cemeteries I have yet to visit (four if you include the West side of Highgate Cemetery which needs to be booked and paid in advance) and hope to visit them on my upcoming trip.