Thursday, 16 August 2018

Sightseeing in Shoreditch and the City of London

On one of the mornings that we were in London with Kirsten, we decided to cover the City of London, St Paul's Cathedral and some of the sights around Bishopsgate and Shoreditch. This area is very different to Westminster, but it's still an exciting part of London to visit, as there are lots of cool places to visit that are off the typical tourist tracks. With a mini itinerary in hand, we arrived at Liverpool Street station just after 10am and hopped straight onto the Central Line to St Paul's. Normally I would have walked, but we had an 11am reservation at the Sky Garden and we only really had time for a flying visit to the Cathedral. We showed Kirsten the outside of the Cathedral and its grounds before heading on the tube to Bank for the Sky Garden.

St Paul's Cathedral, London

The Walkie Talkie building, located on Fenchurch Street only a short walk from Bank, hosts the Sky Garden. The Sky Garden is one of the free attractions in London and it's well worth a visit if you like flowers and seeing views of cities from above. We spent nearly the whole hour at the garden enjoying the atmosphere and taking lots of cityscape pictures from the balcony. It was definitely a unique place in London to take Kirsten.

The Sky Garden at the Walkie Talkie building, London

From the Sky Garden, we walked back to Liverpool Street before taking a different direction towards Spitalfields Market. As we were visiting on a weekday, Spitalfields was very quiet, but there were still lots of art and craft stalls to browse, something the market is famous for. We were only there for a short while as we wanted to move onto Brick Lane for lunch, and in hindsight I should have penciled in more time for the market as Kirsten really enjoyed it, but that's always the risk you take if you try to cover a lot of places in a city in one day. Sometimes it's better to try and not cram so much in, so that you have time to spend longer at the places you enjoy.

Spitalfields Market, London

Nonetheless we ended our morning in this part of London at the famous Cereal Killer Cafe. A nostalgic all day breakfast bar, it's the one place in the city where you can eat the sugary cereals for lunch that you enjoyed as a child. It's popular with locals and tourists and they offer special 'cereal cocktails' which feature a mix of popular cereals and sweet treats. We each ordered different cocktails and mine included chunks of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. Cereal Killer Cafe really is a novelty, especially to new visitors to Brick Lane.

Cereal Killer Cafe on Brick Lane

Cereal for lunch at Cereal Killer Cafe, London

By about one thirty it was time for me to leave Stuart and Kirsten for a few hours and head over to Leicester Square for Aladdin The Musical. I met up with them in the evening at Notting Hill, where we showed Kirsten the colourful houses on Portobello Road. We had some really busy days in London whilst she was staying with us!

The City of London is definitely worth a visit, and as you can see from this post there really is quite a lot to see in the area. From Bishopsgate to Shoreditch, there are plenty of places to visit which are only a short walk or tube ride from Liverpool Street Station.

Have you ever visited this part of London? What places did you visit?

Thanks for reading my blog today.


Thursday, 9 August 2018

Winning the Aladdin Lottery

A couple of weeks ago I was fortunate enough to win Aladdin The Musical tickets through the show's online lottery. I entered the lottery after realising that I had a few days in London during my week off work, and much to my delight, I won tickets for one of the days that I'd applied for. Our tickets were for the Thursday matinée performance and it started at 2:30pm so on Aladdin day I headed straight over to Leicester Square in the early afternoon.

Kat Last outside the Prince Edward Theatre in London which is home to Aladdin The Musical

If you enter the Aladdin Lottery you can win up to 2 tickets, so my Mum came to see the show with me. It wasn't my first time seeing Aladdin as I got tickets for my birthday in 2016, but it was my Mum's first time and I couldn't wait to show her all the glitz and glamour of the show.

Our Aladdin The Musical tickets

We picked our tickets up at the box office an hour or so before the performance, which is the earliest you can go to the box office if you're a lottery winner. As someone who always likes to have their tickets in advance this was a brand new experience, but given that there was only a week between the lottery and actually going to the theatre, I didn't want to risk the tickets not getting sent to us in time. It was such an easy process though as I just walked up to the box office desk, showed the lady my card and booking information and voila, we could go into the theatre.

Inside the Aladdin London auditorium

Lottery winners are allowed to purchase £20 front row tickets, so finding our seats was exciting. We were positioned slightly off centre, but we were as close to stage as we could be and throughout the show, the view was amazing. From the dancing to the sparkly costumes, there was so much to look at and take in whilst the performance was on.

My favourite parts of the show were the genie singing 'Friend Like Me' and the magic flying carpet scene ('A Whole New World'). The staging for both of these tracks was unbelievable, from the jazz dancing in the Genie's song to the fact that they actually 'flew' a carpet across the stage during Aladdin and Jasmin's duet. The songs were on either side of the intermission too, so the excitement was held the whole way through the performance.

Kat Last and Mum outside the Aladdin The Musical theatre in London

After over 2 hours of Disney magic and glitter, it was time for us to leave the theatre. My Mum and I really enjoyed spending the afternoon together, singing along to Aladdin songs. If you know you're going to be in London soon, definitely try and get tickets for the show through the lottery. At £20 a ticket, it's the cheapest way to get tickets for Aladdin.

Have you seen any of the Disney musicals in London?

Thanks for reading my blog today.


Thursday, 2 August 2018

Free things to do in London

When my Canadian friend came to stay with us, we spent a lot of time sightseeing in London. Like most of the world's major cities, tourist attractions in our capital are expensive and when we were in the city with Kirsten, we tried to prioritise free tourist attractions. A trip to London can be a lot cheaper than you first expected, if you're prepared to do some advanced planning and sightsee outside. Today's post is going to be dedicated to the free things to do in London, which are scattered across the city just waiting to be explored.

Kat Last at the Sky Garden in London

1. Watch the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace.

Watching the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace

Crowds wait outside Buckingham Palace every morning so that they can get a glimpse of the famous Changing of the Guard parade. It's a bit corny if you're a local, but it's something everyone should watch at least once in their lifetime, as the Royal Family are such an important part of our national identity. We took Kirsten to see the Changing of the Guard and the atmosphere was electric. Seeing the historic procession definitely made me realise why tourists from all over the world head to London.

2. Wander around the Southbank Centre.

The Southbank Centre in London

The Southbank Centre is located next door to the London Eye and in my opinion it's the most chilled out place to visit in central London. There are lots of food stands, gift shops and seating areas which overlook the Thames, making it a really lovely place to visit if you need a break from the London hustle and bustle. I recommend stopping at the Southbank Centre when you're exploring Westminster as it's really close to the Houses of Parliament and Trafalgar Square.

3. Walk across the Abbey Road zebra crossing.

Beatles Coffee Shop at St John's Wood tube station near Abbey Road

Regardless of whether you're a huge Beatles fan or you just like a few of their popular hits, Abbey Road is the place to visit if you want to walk in the footsteps of the iconic 60s band. The Beatles were photographed walking across the zebra crossing on Abbey Road for their 1969 album that they named after the famous London road, and since then tourists from all over the world have wanted to copy the iconic image. What's nice is the fact that London hasn't made a huge paid tourist attraction out of the crossing, as they have with Platform 9 3/4 at King's Cross station. You can literally just walk straight up to crossing, have a picture taken and then leave, making it a special experience in London that won't cost you any money. I went to Abbey Road for the first time a couple of weeks ago and as a Beatles fan, I don't know why I hadn't made the trip over there sooner. Aside from visiting The Beatles' home town of Liverpool, visiting Abbey Road is probably the most popular Beatles tourist attraction in the UK.

4. Get tickets for the Sky Garden at Moorgate.

Flowers at the Sky Garden in London

I cannot recommend the Sky Garden enough, as the tickets are entirely free. You have to book a time slot through the Sky Garden website a week or so beforehand, but tickets are relatively easy to secure if you look on the website as soon as they get released. The garden is filled with beautiful flowers and plants, which really help to create a tropical oasis in the heart of London. It's well worth a visit if you want some spectacular views of London but you're looking for a less touristy viewpoint than somewhere like the London Eye.

5. Walk around Covent Garden.

Covent Garden's Jubilee Market

Covent Garden has such a fantastic atmosphere, with lots of street performers, musicians and outdoor restaurants. The famous London square is also full of markets which you can browse, as well as lots of popular British gift stores. Covent Garden is a great place to visit if you want to explore London at a slower pace. You could easily spend a couple of hours walking through all of the market halls.

6. Look around the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich.

The National Maritime Museum in Greenwich

Greenwich's National Maritime Museum is one of my favourite museums in London. The permanent collection is free to visit and when you explore the museum you get to learn about Britain's Maritime history. 'The Great Map' exhibit is located on the first floor and you can quite literally walk across the world's seas when you visit the map. If you're visiting Greenwich for the day, I definitely recommend making time for a trip to the museum.

7. Stand on either side of the Meridian Line in Greenwich.

The Meridian Line in Greenwich

Strictly speaking you have to pay to go inside the Royal Observatory, but if you're happy just having a peek at the Meridian Line itself and not going inside the museum, you can put a foot in the Eastern and Western hemisphere for free. Once you walk up to the top of the hill in Greenwich Park, you will see a little side gate in front of the Royal Observatory. If you walk through the gate you'll find a little section of the Meridian Line which isn't cornered off to ticket holders only. This is where you can get your touristy photo on the line for free.

There are lots of free things to do in London and they're scattered all over the city. Whether you're spending a day in London or a week, you will never run out of things to do.

Are you planning a trip to London anytime soon?

Thanks for reading my blog today.


Wednesday, 25 July 2018

5 authentic British experiences that we organised for my Canadian friend

Having friends that live abroad means you often get to have a more authentic holiday experience when you fly out and visit them, compared to if you were going to visit that country on your own. Last year when we visited our friend Kirsten in Calgary, I wrote a post about all of the authentic Canadian experiences that we got to have when she showed us around her home province of Alberta. This year when she came over to the UK, we tried to return the favour and organise some authentic British experiences for her. Fortunately for us it didn't take much research to find some restaurants that offer traditional British food, but we also tried to provide some at home experiences so Kirsten could see how we organise dinner parties over here too.

United Kingdom flags in Covent Garden, London

1. Afternoon tea party in collaboration with Talking Tables.

Truly Scrumptious afternoon tea in collaboration with Talking Tables

This experience took the most planning as my Mum and I spent the day before the event baking. From Victoria Sandwich cake to scones, and cheese straws to finger sandwiches, we arranged a traditional tea party for Kirsten in collaboration with Talking Tables. Talking Tables kindly gifted me some of their Truly Scrumptious party decorations and these helped transform my Mum's kitchen table into a traditional tea party table. This event was so much fun to plan and it was definitely much more personal than taking Kirsten out for set afternoon tea.

2. My Mum cooked a traditional roast dinner.

A traditional roast dinner that my Mum cooked for us

We've been having roast dinners at home for as long as I can remember, so I asked my Mum if she'd prepare a roast dinner for us all on one of the evenings that Kirsten was here. She cooked roast beef with all the vegetables and Yorkshire puddings for us, and it went down a treat. We couldn't let Kirsten visit the UK without having a traditional Sunday roast, so it was added to our trip itinerary very early on in the planning process.

3. We watched the World Cup semi-final at an English pub in Canterbury.

Watching England's World Cup semi-final match at The Cricketers pub in Canterbury

Conveniently Kirsten arrived in the UK on the day of England's 2018 World Cup semi-final match, so we were able to take her to a pub in Canterbury to see the game. Football is the biggest sport in the UK and watched by so many people. At the pub she was able to see how dedicated England football fans are.

4. Battersea Pie Station for dinner in Covent Garden.

Vegetarian pasty with a side of mash potato at the Battersea Pie Station restaurant in Covent Garden, London

After googling British restaurants in London, I discovered the Battersea Pie Station: a pie restaurant located in Covent Garden's market hall. The restaurant stocks pies and pasties, so it was an ideal place to take Kirsten for dinner when we were sightseeing in London. I had the three cheese, spinach & red onion pasty with a side of creamy mash potato and it was delicious!

5. Sherlock Holmes themed restaurant for dinner on Baker Street.

Holmes Fish and Chips: a Sherlock Holmes themed restaurant on Baker Street

This experience involved no advance planning as it was simply a back up plan after we couldn't find somewhere to eat on Portobello Road. Nonetheless, we ended up having a ball on Baker Street at Holmes Fish and Chip shop. For a local fish and chip shop, we were really impressed by the restaurant's movie theming. The walls were decorated with Sherlock posters and black and white checkered wallpaper, which really made the restaurant fit in with it's iconic London location. Holmes wasn't cheap for what is essentially comfort food, but the theming made the price tag worth it.

Most of the experiences were food related, but we really tried to organise authentic British activities and meals for her whilst she was here. The trip took a lot of planning, but seeing how happy she was at all of the tourist attractions made the effort so worthwhile. Showing her around the UK has definitely made me feel appreciative of all of the places on our doorstep. There is so much to see on our little island.

Thanks for reading my blog today.