Category Archives: uk

5 things to do in London in a day

Over 30 million tourists visit London every year. 30 million. That’s nearly half the UK population (and doesn’t even take in to account the residents). One city with so many people? Somehow it works.

As a Brit, I’ve had a bit of a love/hate relationship with the city, and after brief breaks to the place I’ve always been happy to retreat back to ‘normal’ England. Now, though, I was seeing it through tour guide eyes, showing D-man around and trying to pack in as much as possible within a short amount of time.

So here is a list of what you could do in a day. More realistically, you will probably want to spread the activities out over a couple of days. I’ve not even included museums or galleries, gardens or markets or shops. The Science Museum, Tate Modern, Kew Gardens, Brick Lane, and more and more and more. So much more. Ah, another time, another list.

For now though, let’s run with this very standard tourist list of things to get the London experience started:

1. Start your day by swinging by some famous streets, sights and places

Watching the shooting of a Bollywood music video in Trafalgar Square

Watching the shooting of a Bollywood music video in Trafalgar Square

Trafalgar Square cliché?

Trafalgar Square cliché?

Picadilly Circus curves

Picadilly Circus curves

Of course it exists. At King's Cross train station.

Of course it exists. At King’s Cross train station.

Big Ben put into perspective

Big Ben put into perspective

2. Squish in amongst the crowds to watch the changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace

When did this become such a HUGE tourist attraction?

When did this become such a HUGE tourist attraction?

Crowds start to gather outside of the palace

Crowds start to gather outside of the palace

Fighting our way through the crowds at Buckingham Palace

Fighting our way through the crowds at Buckingham Palace

Perfectly in time.

Perfectly in time.

3. Boat trip down the River Thames

Let's go join to procession

Let’s go join to procession

Spying St Paul's Cathederal

Spying St Paul’s Cathederal

Tower Bridge and the Shard

Tower Bridge and the Shard

One less thing to worry about at the Tower of London

One less thing to worry about at the Tower of London

Every room has a river view

Where every room has a river view

4. Watch the sun set over the city from high on board the London Eye

Ready to join the queues?

Ready to join the queues?

Views down on to the South Bank

Views down on to the South Bank

Time it right to get the best dusk views.

Time it right to get the best dusk views.

5. Wind down in one of London’s many theatres

Cultured. We can but try.

Cultured. We can but try.

And then you could finish the day and party on until daybreak at Fabric or one of London’s many clubs or squat parties. We didn’t. Wiped out from a day of flights and now a day in London, D-man, me and my mum headed back to our comfy airbnb find.

My guess is that at the end of the day you too will be tired. Your feet will hurt. You may decide that you don’t like the shuffling crowds, that this city of 8 million people and hoards of tourists is too chaotic and the depths of London’s underground belly too claustrophobic. You may groan about high prices, about sold out shows, about the fact that this city doesn’t seem to sleep.

But stop. Take a breath. You can’t really deny that London is a bold, beautiful city, alive with diversity and culture, can you?

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Terror threat touch down at Heathrow Airport

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Walking towards the unknown

The airport had been shut down. No one was allowed in. Police pointed us along cordoned off walkways, away from Arrivals, away from where my mum would be waiting. We were displaced ants, stumbling confused inside a massive, empty anthill.

D-man was here with me, his first trip to Europe. What a welcome.

We queued as per usual for passport control and customs. People muttered. No one knew what was really going on. No one would tell us. Something about an abandoned car? A car bomb, maybe?

Dusk was falling. Like a scene from a post-apocalyptic film we dragged suitcases up the centre of a road sided by concrete towards silent flashes of blue and the next set of instructions. Neon yellow policemen jackets stood out against the low light greys, orders barking out of big guy mouths.

‘Going saaarf, get in that line. Norf, ova there’. Arms flailed.

I didn’t know how I’d find her, but I did, holding a place in a queue of people trying to push on board a snaking bus.

And finally, after nearly two years, I got my mama cuddle.

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Show me some Melbourne street art

www.travelola.orgI first became aware of street art tours when a fellow blogger posted photos of a trip that they’d been on in Buenos Aires. Street art seems to be growing in popularity and gaining acceptance; it’s been associated with enhancing community cohesion and giving disenchanted youths an outlet to express their frustrations. Of course there’s far more to it all, but I’m not the one to talk about this sub-culture. What do I know? I just like looking at some of the stuff. Little more.

With the rise of street art acceptance, street art tours were always an inevitable progression, and they’re too gaining in popularity. Go to London, San Franscisco, Bangkok or Melbourne and you can find a tour that promises to give you a taste of the latest contemporary art trend.

Whilst I have some questions about how such an underground scene sits within a commercial and mainstream context, I do lean towards street art over concept art, and so, following a tip off from a local, I skipped the tour and just went to the art direct.

This is easy enough for anyone to do as Melbourne’s laneways are infamous and printed up guides tell you exactly where to go. You’d struggle NOT to see any street art. But there is a good chance that without a guide you might miss the really good stuff, just like I probably did.

I’m also pretty sure, though, that there are walls of undiscovered street art away from the tourist eye, and like with any industry, what the mainstream get access to is hardly representative of the overall scene.

For now, this was all I was getting.

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Do you reckon they’d let me buy the Ganesh spray job from Hosier Lane (see top pic)? Would anyone really notice if I bought those bricks, say for $1000,000? I’m just going to hunt down a Monopoly set.

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Speed boats vs. sailing boats

It was a fun way to start this trip away, spending Sunday morning bouncing across a bit of chop on a little speedboat. Out at sea you get such an alternative vista of the world – of the land at least – back towards Poole and the surrounding coastline. You step outside your norm, you observe and escape at the same time.

But which is the best way to go about doing it – under motor or sail?

I don’t really know the politics, but have observed quite a split in opinions. If I had taken my Day Skipper teacher’s advice, I wouldn’t have stepped on to a boat called Delirium, but I wasn’t going to start getting funny with friends. I’ve noticed how often speed boats seem to take on more hedonistic, dangerous names whilst sail boats rely on more romantic, playful names like Restless or Kids’ Inheritance. These names seem to be an extension of the differences between sail and motor.

Whizzing along in a speed boat is fun – the wind whips your hair into a knotty, exciting mess, the spray blasts into your face, you feel alive. Speed boating is thrilling and naughty; you burn fuel, you create excess noise, and if you’re honest, you pose a bit (or a lot, in some cases). In terms of sailing, physically interacting with the elements and successfully harnessing the breeze gives you a huge sense of achievement.

Sailing is often viewed as being much more smooth, real and rugged; there is dignity in sailing, – something upright and honest about its nature.

My hippy side pulls towards the hard graft and reward of sailing, of a communal effort to get the yacht moving, of the peace created by nature carrying you over the water; but don’t get me wrong, I do get why people love their speed boats.

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Not so Megabus

Driving a bus all day isn’t everyone’s ideal career, but don’t take it out on the customer!

Having left Middlesbrough a little late, we still made it to Leeds in good time. Just as the leaving announcement blared out over the tannoy, a lady turned up at the door. ‘Is this the bus to Birmingham?’ she asked, ‘Yes, but you need to be here 15 minutes early, you could be refused entry on this bus, you know?’ he barked. She protested, he reiterated his point and wouldn’t let it go. Even as he loaded up her bags he repeatedly shouted at her, pitch rising each time he outlined the potential delay she had caused. Her child clutched a little rucksack and looked bewildered. On board people bristled and muttered, and a toddler started to cry. ‘Make sure you fasten your seat belts’, he pointedly instructed before booming it out again as the bus pulled away.

I tried to understand him, tried to imagine the annoyance of late comers, of having to drive all day, of the monotony. But something in his tone, in his manner seemed harsher with this woman than it had been with others and I couldn’t help but sense a bit of a racist undertone. Driver No.2 was perfectly cheery, and suggested that as Driver No. 1 was from Manchester, he would have of course been moody and short. Discrimination lives on.

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