Hometown Tourist: You Know You are a Londoner when…

I love living in London and have been lucky enough to call the city home on and off for 11 years now. In fact I would proudly walk around the streets wearing a “I Heavy black heart LDN” t-shirt if they were not so commercially touristy! As with settling into any new city, you slowly adopt the mannerisms of the locals. So below are a list of some of the tell tale signs you are changing. Eventually you will know you are a Londoner when…1. You don’t stop at pedestrian crossings.

 Londoners are always in a rush and despite the international reputation that the British enjoy queuing /waiting  it certainly is not the case in London. As Natalie liked to remind me “we are Londoners, we just go!”. A red crossing man is purely a light hearted suggestion to a Londoner. Like a red rag to a bull it just incites us to cross the road a little faster. Buses, lorries (that’s a truck to the rest of the world) and emergency services vehicles will have no influence on our desire to get to the other side of the road as quickly as possible. In fact next time you are waiting for the lights to change watch the locals as they make the dash, many will be shaking their heads at everyone waiting.

2. You will start to complain about all the tourists.

As London streaks towards becoming the world’s most visited city in 2014 the huge increase in tourism means the streets of central London are bulging. Saturday shopping in Oxford or Regent streets can be more like a contact sport and a venture into Primark? Forget it! Despite the need for the influx of tourism dollars, Londoners all secretly wish for the streets to be ours again! Could we really be turning into our arch rivals the Parisians?

Blimey!
Prepare to fight with the masses if you want this shot

Prepare to fight with the masses if you want this shot

3. You know a better curry house than anything in Brick Lane.

While the beloved chicken korma is now considered to be one of the UK’s national dishes, most visitors intent on experiencing British Indian food head down to the famous Brick Lane in the East End. As a Londoner you will proudly state that nothing in Brick Lane comes close to the curry house on the high street around the corner from where you live. To be honest, you are probably right!

A London institution, but you know a better place to go!

A London institution, but you know a better place to go!

4. You hit the parks at the first sign of the sun!
There is no better city in the world when the sun comes out than London. Fact! The city comes alive, the convertible roofs on cars are lowered, everyone spills into the parks (of which London has World class options) or green spaces and the streets in front or behind the local pub become THE place to be. I still find it mildly amusing that people will be sunbathing in the park as the mercury hits a stifling 18 degrees Celsius, but we have to make the most of the sun when we see it! (Maybe I am not a fully fledged local just yet). Oh and often Tesco’s sell out of burgers – sun=BBQs!

5. You will walk 10 minutes past multiple coffee shops to visit your favourite coffee chain.Costa, Cafe Nero and Starbucks monopolise the coffee shop scene in London and most Londoners have their favourite. Sometimes you will drop your standards to the second choice but everyone of us has one of the big three we wouldn’t be caught dead in. Sometimes that 15 minute walk (it would have been 20 if we waited for the lights) was worth it.

Sometimes it is worth the walk to stay loyal

Sometimes it is worth the walk to stay loyal

6. You don’t talk to strangers on the Tube.
Seriously! During London 2012 the vibe in the tube was incredible but as soon as the Olympics finished that spirit disappeared faster than Usain Bolt in the 100 metres! Whether you are on your own, travelling with your friend, boyfriend, girlfriend, wife husband or even kid, most Londoners pile onto the tube in deathly silence. No eye contact is made, a look of disdain will be flashed at the overly noisy tourists and no word uttered until the cone of silence ceases when the tube doors open and you step onto the platform!
The smiles will stop and silence ensues as the train pulls up

The smiles will stop and silence ensues as the train pulls up

7. You don’t catch black cabs.
Sure they look cool and are one of the symbols of the city but do you know how much they cost?! Unless you are a high flying banker where (our) money is no object, most locals will walk, tube or if a taxi is a must, take a mini cab. There are always exceptions but if you do have to take a ride it is never a very long one.
The Black Cab, icon of London but too expensive for most locals

The Black Cab, icon of London but too expensive for most locals

Of course this is not a definitive list. There are numerous other tell tale signs you have evolved merely from living to in London to becoming a true Londoner. Do you have any more? If so, leave a comment below or share with us on Facebook.
– Dean

 

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Hometown Tourist: The London Pass Review

 

“Nothing is certain in London but expense”

– William Shenstone

When it comes to sightseeing around London, William was right.  A quick search of “what to do in London” is invariably followed by the gasp of shock and horror at some of the entrance prices.  For visitors, a full day or two of sightseeing around the UK’s capital can easily set you back a pretty penny.

London is set to be the world’s most visited city in 2014.  So we decided to try a cost saving alternative and look for a way for the cash strapped tourist to cover the best London has to offer.

Introducing the London Pass.

The London Pass comes in various formats, from a one day pass (£49) to mammoth six day option (£166) or for an extra cost, a pass that includes a daily travel card on London public transportation. There is a “cap” on how much you can see depending upon the length of your pass and everything is explained in a very thorough and well put together little handbook. For those of you who are a little more tech savvy there is also a great App for your smartphone which we used as we traversed London.  Here you can check out opening times and even favourite certain landmarks as you plan your day.

Skip the lines and save money with the London Pass

Skip the lines and save money with the London Pass

The London Pass gives you access to over 60 different London attractions.  They include everything from the big-ticket sights such as Westminster Abbey, The Tower of London and Kensington Palace to further flung, but equally as impressive, sights such as Hampton Court Palace and Windsor Castle. For sporting enthusiasts the pass also grants you access to Wimbledon, Stamford Bridge (the home of Chelsea football club) and the Emirates (home of Arsenal). Most of the attractions are free with the pass and others offer a discount rate for pass holders.

So armed with our handbook and our App we decided to see just how much we could see of London in a day and the London Pass certainly proved to be excellent value for money. We researched some of the things that should be on every visitors must see list and a couple of off the beaten path sites that appealed to us as Londoners. First on the list, Westminster Abbey.

It is embarrassing to say it, but in 12 years of using London as a base and now calling it home I had never been to Westminster Abbey. We arrived early, or so we thought and joined the queue to enter. One of the bonuses of the London Pass is not having to line up to buy tickets, only for the necessary security check. After having my bag less than thoroughly searched we just handed over our Pass and in seconds it was scanned and we were in!

Lined up at Westminster ready to start exploring.

Lined up at Westminster ready to start exploring.

To say Westminster Abbey was amazing is an understatement. The audio guide poured over the history and after leaving the church we wandered through the cloisters including seeing Britain’s oldest door! After just over an hour we had exhausted the audio guide, wandered the cloisters and it was time to move on. (Attraction value so far for N&D £18, London Pass £49).

Just around the corner from Westminster we decided to visit another attraction that was free on the London Pass and was more up my alley than Natalie’s. The Churchill or Cabinet War Rooms (£17.50) were the underground headquarters of the UK Government during WWII. Left in their original condition the museum shows the former living quarters, conference rooms and map rooms where the D-Day landings were planned and where the British planned the downfall of Nazi Germany. To be totally honest we probably could have spent a little longer there but we had a plan for the day and had to keep moving. This was just a bonus visit – something that you can easily do when you have a ‘pass’ to get you into places!  (Attraction value so far for N&D £35.50, London Pass £49).

Time to go underground

Time to go underground

Now from the Westminster area we had two options, we could have taken a Thames River Cruise, free with the London Pass (normally £18) or Tube down to our third destination, the Tower of London. For the sake of speed and a few other things we wanted to see we chose the Tube. According to tourism statistics, 2 million people visit the Tower every year, or approximately 6,000 a day! No lining up for tickets for us it was straight to security and in we went.

The Tower was packed, school groups galore and every nationality you could imagine (and lots of Australians!). Despite the crowds, there is plenty of space to explore and the only thing we had to line up for was the Crown Jewels. With plenty to see the Tower easily ate up the majority of our time, but luckily enough our next site was only a stone’s throw away. (Attraction value so far for N&D £55.50, London Pass £49).

Selfie with one of the Beefeaters at the Tower of London

Selfie with one of the Beefeaters at the Tower of London

Natalie has always raved about the Tower Bridge Experience, so we thought why not take this opportunity to visit the top of one of the most iconic bridges in the World. Sadly only part of the bridge is open to the public until the end of the month as the other half (with the best views of London’s skyline) undergoes a facelift and new glass-bottomed floor (you heard it here first). That being said it was a great little visit and certainly complements the Tower.  Best of all even when the second walkway is reopened it does not take a long time to visit, so a great inclusion on your pass. (Attraction value so far for N&D £62.50, London Pass £49).

Time to conquer the Tower Bridge

So from the banks of the Thames we decided to finish our day up at the Olympic Park, bur first we made a brief stop at the Monument to the Great Fire of London. After a lung busting 311 steps to the top we were greeted with an amazing vista of…. Cranes! Nestled in the heart of the City of London the view from the Monument dating back to 1677 showed us just how much construction was taking place across the capital. (Attraction value so far for N&D £66.50, London Pass £49).  A short walk to Bank and it was a chance to get off our feet as we Tubed away from the city centre.

The Monument and a crane, something you will see a lot of from the top.

The Monument and a crane, something you will see a lot of from the top.

The Orbit is the UK’s largest sculpture and during the 2012 Olympics it was virtually impossible to get tickets to the top. Natalie had said during the Games, we would have to come back and do it one day. Today was the day. The park was like a ghost town, bereft of the pulsating energy that London 2012 was so famous for. However a few locals strolled amoung the now well established trees and gardens.  We made our way to the entrance and The Orbit itself.  When we reached the top we looked down upon the skeletal remains of the Olympic stadium as it is transformed into a future football stadium. The scene is like something from the run-up to the games, and it seemed hard to believe we sat in the stadium and cheered on our athletes.  Further round we were treated to views across London and inactive displays to help point out what your are seeing.  The experience was great fun, and would be amazing to visit when the stadium was in full swing. (Attraction value so far for N&D £81.50, London Pass £49).

Reliving the good times at  the London 2012 Olympic Park

Reliving the good times at the London 2012 Olympic Park

As we strolled down the circular ramp of the Orbit our day exploring London was drawing to an end. Without a doubt the London Pass worked out to be great value for money. In fact our day full of sightseeing ensured we saved £33.50! Now in all fairness we did have to push a little and your average tourist would have taken a lot more photos in between destinations, but still if you had a plan the one day pass was certainly a great option.

If we were asked by friends visiting the capital, we would recommend perhaps the two or three day pass. You could easily see everything we saw and with the extra time you could add a Hampton Court Palace tour, a Thames Cruise and throw in a Kensington Palace tour as well. For those of you short on time, budget conscious and desperate to see as much as possible then the London Pass is for you. Most importantly, if you are organised, have a plan of what you want to see then, like us, you can prove poor old William Shenstone wrong!

-Dean

The London Pass can be bought online or at the museums/attractions as well as numerous souvenir stands throughout London.  Just look out for the ‘buy the London Pass here’ flag!

Keep  look our for these signs to buy your London Pass

Keep a look our for these signs to buy your London Pass

 

Our Favourite European Underground Systems

One of the most rewarding challenges of exploring a new city is mastering the local public transport system. In Europe we have them all, the good, the bad and the downright confusing! This week we look at some of our favourite undergrounds from around the continent.

 1. The London Underground

Ok so maybe we are a little biased as it is our hometown, but ‘The Tube’ not only is the oldest underground in the world, one of the most used undergrounds in the world but also regularly voted one of the best undergrounds in the world. All Londoners’ have a love hate relationship with the Tube but without it we would be in a whole world of trouble, just try and get anywhere when there are line closures for maintenance works! In fact it is only when it is shut or not working do we truly realise how much the city relies on it. Best bit of advice, buy an Oyster Card, fares are much cheaper than paying for a paper ticket, oh and don’t forget to ‘Mind The Gap’.

Going underground...

Going underground…

 2. Berlin U-Bahn & S-Bahn

Ever since living in Berlin I have always loved the rail network here. The rickety old carriages rattling along the tracks elevated above the roads below or perhaps trundling through the old ‘Ghost Stations’ from when the city was divided between east and west. When you are riding the Berlin metro it feels like any minute James Bond or Jason Bourne will come bursting through your carriage is some cold war spy drama. Our tip, check out the Mohrenstrasse station, the red marble walls come from Hitler’s former Reich’s Chancellery building, and don’t forget to validate your tickets before jumping on the train it is a hefty fine if you get caught!

One of Berlin's former 'Ghost Stations', closed off during the Cold War and division of the city

One of Berlin’s former ‘Ghost Stations’, closed off during the Cold War and division of the city

 3. Moscow Metro

Difficult, confusing and amazing are just some of the words to describe Moscow’s enormous metro system. Built to showcase the might of the Stalinist Soviet Union, many of the metro stations look like they belong more in a palace than an underground. Finding the right stops can be tricky but rewarding with mosaics of Lenin, space aged themes and a statue of a soldier’s dog whose nose you rub (in the Red Square Metro) but a few treasures awaiting the brave! Our tip, get a good map and learn to read Cyrillic!

Waiting to board the Moscow Metro

Waiting to board the Moscow Metro

One of the many murals showing the strength of the former Soviet Union throughout the Moscow Metro

One of the many murals showing the strength of the former Soviet Union throughout the Moscow Metro

4. Budapest Metro

While not the best metro system in Europe it was the first on the continent, dating back to 1896. The reason we love this underground is the old communist feel when you go underground. Instead of turnstiles ore relying on German honesty, as soon as you validate your ticket at the validation box you are met by a handful of heavy set black clad metro guards demanding to see your validated ticket, (which they have just seen you validate). Then you head to the platform and you can almost guarantee to get checked again or perhaps as soon as the doors of your carriage close a badge is flashed “tickets please” yelled out and you are subjected to another check. Our record? In a three-stop journey we had our ticket checked five times! Better validate that ticket!

Entrance to the Budapest Underground, the oldest underground on the continent

Entrance to the Budapest Underground, the oldest underground on the continent

Do you have a favourite metro or underground in Europe, or better yet do you have a ‘worst’ underground or underground story? If so we would love to hear about it, leave a comment below or drop us a line on Facebook.

 

– Dean

Hometown Tourist: Travel Inspiration in the Heart of London

The best thing about living in London is there is always something going on regardless of what you are into. So with a day off work together and a quick Google search we discovered that the Travel Photographer of the Year exhibition was on at the Royal Geographic Society, how could we not go?!

The best thing about this exhibition is it is free!

The best thing about this exhibition is it is free!

The exhibition showcases the best photos and some honourable mentions of the 1000’s of photos that are sent to the Royal Geographic Society every year. From stunning landscapes, incredible wildlife shots and intimate local interactions, the winning photos come from all around the world.

Every year there are different briefs and categories and you can even win an award taking photos with your mobile phone. If ever you where in need of some travel inspiration, this exhibition is for you!

Set in the courtyard of the Society’s London headquarters, there are about 50 photos on display. Combine that with books on show of previous years’ award winners the exhibition makes for a great escape for an hour or two. There are umbrellas on hand should you need to borrow one (we did!) to continue browsing the pictures in the outside courtyard. Wandering around an outside gallery was a novelty in itself!

The Society's courtyard

The Society’s courtyard

Sadly the Exhibition finishes this Sunday (August 17th) before it begins to tour the UK and then the world. However it is a great prelude to our favourite photo exhibit every year, the Wildlife Photographer of the Year at the Natural History Museum which starts every October. If you have a spare hour at lunchtime, then its well worth a wander!

 

Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines: RAF Museum London

We continue our Home Town Tourist series with a look at one of London’ s unique historical museums a little out of the city centre.

London is full of museums, and the best thing about them is most of them are free. You can marvel at dinosaurs a the Natural History Museum, discover the Rosetta Stone in the British Museum and even explore London’s oldest prison in the Clink Museum (you do have to pay for this one). However, one of our favourites is the RAF Museum in Hendon.

 

The entrance hangar with numerous pre-WWI planes

The entrance hangar with numerous pre-WWI planes

Originally a RAF airbase in North London, the museum now houses over 130 aircraft tracing the history not only of the Royal Air Force but also of aviation in the UK.

From the early years of flight up to modern day fighter jets, the RAF Museum has it all

From the early years of flight up to modern day fighter jets, the RAF Museum has it all

Split across four hangers all interconnected the museum contains loads of audio visual information, a chance to sit in several of the aircraft, flight simulators and air traffic control simulators, all designed to bring the various aircraft to life.

One of the greatest military aircraft of all time, the Submarine Spitfire

One of the greatest military aircraft of all time, the Submarine Spitfire

There are several highlights of the collection including the Battle of Britain Hall showcasing the famous old war birds, the Spitfire and Hurricane that helped defeat Nazi Germany in the Battle of Britain. A Lancaster Bomber and Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress take pride of place in the Bomber Hall as well as the cold war nuclear deterrent the mighty Vulcan (our personal favourite).

The enormous Lancaster Bomber taking pride of place in the 'Bomber Hall'

The enormous Lancaster Bomber taking pride of place in the ‘Bomber Hall’

A special mention must be made of the Canberra Bomber, which my Grandfather was one of the chief engineers on. There is an amazing sense of pride I feel every time I see her, and was a real buzz visiting with my Dad last year when my parents came over to the UK.

The Canberra, the plane my Grandfather worked on.

The Canberra, the plane my Grandfather worked on.

It is easy to spend several hours wandering through the hangers marvelling at everything from early RAF Bi-planes, to modern day search and rescue helicopters. There are several free 30 minute guided tours throughout the day to help bring alive the amazing history and is a fantastic museum to visit with family and children. The RAF Museum in Hendon is a must for military history buffs, for pilots and aviation fans and also the perfect big boys toys museum.

For opening times to the RAF Museum Hendon click here

For directions and location please click here.

-Dean

 

Hometown Tourist: Mind The Gap, Fine Dining on a Victoria Line London Tube

Ask any Londoner and everyone has an opinion about the tube. Increased travel costs, tube strikes, signal failures and closures due to maintenance works, we have a love hate relationship with the world’s oldest underground system. However fine dining on the tube? You have to be joking!

Well, Alex and the team at Basement Galley turned a disused London icon into an amazing pop up restaurant experience.

As we continue to explore our hometown and uncover quirky and different experiences around London, Natalie had booked the Underground Supper Club and had cryptically only told me that ‘we are going out on Saturday night’.

Whilst we walked from the Blackhorse Road tube station on the Victoria Line, I wondered where Natalie was taking me. We arrived, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, but the treasure trove of the (currently) closed Walthamstow Pumphouse Museum awaited. A miss match of semi restored London Routemaster buses, fire trucks, Bedford lorries and old military trucks greeted us, and our restaurant for this evening, a former Victorian Line tube carriage was parked up ready for boarding. This was a playground to be explored!

Not your standard restaurant entrance

Not your standard restaurant entrance

I won’t lie, when we arrived at the barbed wire gates behind which sat the skeletons of these trucks, trains and buses and Natalie proudly announced ‘We’re here!’ I was a little sceptical. I truly wondered where she had brought me. However as soon as the staff greeted us, we could tell we were going to be in for a unique experience and a great night.

It was a beautiful spring / summer evening as we milled around nursing a G&T and explored the yard of old relics. Chatting to a local enthusiast, we loved hearing all about his restoration projects with two Routemasters taking all his spare time. One had been ‘rescued’ and when he found it there was a tree growing off the back platform – he had his work cut out!

One of the Routemaster London buses currently being restored

One of the Routemaster London buses currently being restored

At just gone 7pm,we were invited to ‘mind the gap’ and board our tube carriage. Head Waiter Chi welcomed us to the Underground Supper Club before Head Chef Alex introduced himself and explained some of the history of the Basement Galley and the idea behind their pop up restaurants.

The tube carriage set for dinner

The tube carriage set for dinner

What followed was without doubt one of the most enjoyable dining experiences we have had in London. Five courses of Alex’s finest creations, with each course raising the bar, all set in the unique ambience of the tube.

Dinner is served...

Dinner is served…

The menu for these evenings changes monthly, with refinements made each time they host evenings. It was one of these experiences, much like the Melbourne Tram Car Restaurant, where you sit back and ‘think how did they produce this in that tiny kitchen’! Alex’s small team were busy bustling away in the museum cafeteria. The results of which would not have looked out of place in a Michelin-Starred restaurant. The joys of a supper club mean, generally speaking, you eat a set menu and mingle with other diners. Out of five courses the only thing Natalie and I left on our plates was the duck bone. Alex is a graduate of the Le Cordon Blue School in Paris and trained with some of France’s top chefs. Fuse this French cuisine with some Heston Blumenthal style ways of combining flavours, and the results were magnificent. Whoever knew that Green Pea soup could hold such hidden surprises (I can’t spoil the surprise!), that Kohlrabi made a great substitute for mash and that strawberry and black pepper are a match made in heaven, to name but a few.   The whole package was just brilliant, and we loved Alex’s idea of teaming up with other local specialities and business such as coffee served from local Camden coffee company ‘Black Sheep Coffee’.

Local Camden coffee provided by Black Sheep Coffee

Local Camden coffee provided by Black Sheep Coffee

The one thing that struck us was the incredible passion everyone had for their job. From the drinks and wait staff who mingled, chatted and appeared so proud to be involved, to the amazing food Alex and Christelle (Sous Chef) had created in the primitive museum cafeteria kitchen. That love and passion really shone through.

Head Waiter Chi, Natalie, and Master Chef Alex

Head Waiter Chi, Natalie, and Master Chef Alex

Now I know what you are thinking, how do we experience this for ourselves? Sadly the Underground Supper Club is coming to the end of the line. In two weeks time Alex and the team host their final weekend in the disused carriage. Following this they have some other exciting projects up their sleeve and plan to ‘pop up’ in other new settings around London.  Never has the term, ‘quit while you are ahead’ been so true. We can’t wait for their next restaurant to ‘pop up’! Our advice, if you haven’t done so already, is to sign up to the mailing list. Who knows where we may meet and in what unconventional setting in the future!

–       Dean and Natalie

You all know how much we love trains

You all know how much we love trains

P.S At the time of writing there were still some seats available for the final Friday evening of their last weekend (30th May 2014). You can buy your Travelcard for dinner here.

 

The Butler did it… Or did he? 

“Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door” – Ralph Waldo Emmerson

Well Ralph was not wrong! When locals and tourists alike discuss the London West End theatre scene, there is one performance that towers above all. Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap.

Murder at The Mousetrap

Murder at The Mousetrap

Now this is not because of its incredible sets or the stunning choreography of an Andrew Lloyd Webber masterpiece, but for the plays sheer longevity.

This year The Mousetrap celebrates 62 years of performing in London.  This makes it the longest running play, not only in the West End but the entire World!

So with this in mind and as we continue to discover our amazing home town we decided it was time to pay our respects to this London institution.

Within minutes of the theatre darkening and the cast of characters being introduced, you could feel the tension and mystery build as if a thick cloud had descended over you. As with any Agatha Christie story The Mousetrap cast consists of an assortment of misfits and shady types, all with a hint of murder in their eye.

A worthy commemoration in the heart of the London theatre district

A worthy commemoration in the heart of the London theatre district

The first half builds up to its intriguing peak, and like any good soap opera or drama series you are left hanging as the curtains fall and the theatre ice cream sellers tempt you with their treats for you to ponder over.  As you see the ‘to be continued’ sign, you hear  your mind start whispering different conspiracy theories.

Unlike the good natured musicals that normally appear in the west end, intermission at The Mousetrap is totally different. Groups huddle together discussing in hushed tones who the likely murderer is and the case for and against each of the characters. As if accomplices to the murder itself, there are uneasy looks around the theatre, suspicious stares and the occasional “it has to xxx” wafting over the audience. The intermission almost adds to the rising intensity with the dark cloud of murder hanging over Monk Manor (the setting).  With ice creams finished, everyone quietly and watchfully takes their seat to see whodunit.

The second set is faster paced and even more tense than the first, with you sitting on the edge of your seat until the murder is revealed. Whodunit? Well we can’t say (and if we could, we wouldn’t as we want you to go and find out for yourself!).  At the conclusion of the performance the audience is sworn to secrecy to ensure the mystery of The Mousetrap lives on, but I can tell you it wasn’t the Butler!

Sure there are better shows out there, larger sets, bigger names and famous songs but there is something mesmerising about The Mousetrap. Others have tried, but no one had succeeded.   In Agatha Christies’s case she ‘built the better mousetrap’ and 62 years and over 25,000 performances proves that!

– Dean

The Mousetrap performs Monday to Saturday at 19:30 in Martins Theatre and afternoon performances on Tuesday (15:00) and Saturday (16:00).  Click here for more details.