Museums and Art in London

The cool thing about London is that it is famous for being full of literature and art. Literally, from Shakespeare to The Beatles, England has some stellar writers, add in artists like Thomas Gainsborough and Henry Moore and England and you should understand why artists and writers alike strive to make it to London. And the British are HUGE fans of keeping a strong hold on their history because, well, they’ve been kind of a big deal in the history of the world. You don’t have to go into a building to see modern literature and art, just walk along the banks of the Thames and you’ll see some pretty amazing literature. This is a pretty unique exhibit where the papers are supposed to look like birds flying away into the sky, scattering the words with them. Each writer is so talented and worthy of such a notable location. 

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If you want a good interactive museum in London, I suggest the Victoria & Albert Museum. They have little areas where you get to try on hoop skirts and armor, and even draw faces using the Renaissance formulas.

It’s not a huge museum, but they have some really interesting things. I specifically love it for the up-close-and-personal style feel of it. The V&A was established in 1852, settling into it’s permanent location in 1857, and contains artifacts spanning across two thousand years. The artifacts range from the most amazing, to-die-for victorian dresses to coffins and paintings, armor and full bedrooms. What will strike you, if you are a true history buff, is that with the exception of the clothing, you will rarely be staring at it’s beauty behind a fence or rope. There is nothing stopping you from leaning in and exploring every inch of King Richard the Lionheart’s wooden face. 

You can try on hoop-skirts and metal armor, and even try your hand at sketching in the style of the Renaissance artists! imageAdmittedly mine look a tiny bit more like a bird woman, but they give you measurements and technique and you get to try your hand at a sketch. I love interaction with the exhibits because it keeps interest piqued, especially with children and people who are less into history and more into having plain ol’fun. 

The V&A runs  on voluntary donations, but like all museums, needs some help along the way- so if you can afford it, definitely drop a few pounds in the bin and go and take a look. You can visit their website for more information on the new exhibits and interactive events. 


I see London…

London is interesting because it has places for everyone. For the chic, expensive lifestyle, places like Chelsea are top notch. I enjoyed walking through Chelsea although I would never be able to spend massive amounts of time there, I’m just a little too much of a small-towner to REALLY fit in. But it is cool to see. For me, I really more enjoyed places like Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens-

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Which frame the Serpentine, a lake created in the 1700’s for Queen Caroline. The Serpintine is beautiful to walk around, especially as the sun is getting low in the sky. But, in all seriousness— I dont want to start any rumors or anything, but in my opnion, attempting to do any swimming in the lake will result in instant death…. or at least an arrest.image

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- both are exceptionally great for a beautiful long walk, run, or picnic. You will have to get out of the way of the horses that go trotting by, or join them if you’re interested in learning how to ride. 

Kensington Gardens is also the location of J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan statue, which was sculpted by Sir George Frampton and erected secretly on May 1st, 1912, as a gift from Barrie for the children of London. It is said that the statue was set in the very spot that Peter Pan landed after he flew out of his nursery.  I walked by the statue probably six times throughout my two months in London, and every time, there were children clinging to it as they played and giggled. A view I think that Barrie would have probably loved to see as he was writing the story.

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To get there, you can get off at a number of stops, The Marble Arch, Lancaster Gate, Hyde Park Corner, Queensway, and Notting Hill are probably the closest, they surround the park and gardens depending on which route you take. 

Bloomsbury is also worth a walk through, as it has amazing gardens and is famous for writers and other literary connections, as well at for its famous schools and old buildings, such as the Senate Library. Something cool to note about these types of areas is that often when you walk past a historically relevant house, there will be a placard on the outside explaining it’s significance. I quite enjoy that because it’s like  your own guided tour. 


London Calling

There are so many interesting places in London and the area surrounding it. I think that tourists often anticipate seeing a city similar to New York or LA, or any major city. And there are similarities— big buildings, unnerving cab drivers…. but London does have a scene all their own, and every part of it should be appreciated. 

First off, walking around in London can get a bit confusing. Taking the underground is the easiest way to get anywhere, but don’t overlook the busses, which, though admittedly slower and a bit bumpier, give you a good opportunity to look around at the city as you go- you won’t get that so much on the train. You will have to buy an oyster card for the trip, most stations have machines to purchase the card, and so do a lot of the convenience shops in the area. You have to tap in AND out when taking the underground or above ground trains, and there are tricks to getting around it, but I wouldn’t recommend it since I’ve heard they can freeze your card. 

Something to note, and yes, if you value yourself, you will note it— For all of you who have visited places like New York, you are going to have to adjust your methods of catching transit, because unlike new york, and elevators in general, you can not simply stick your hand between the closing doors and know they will open again. They are not so gentle, and it will hurt. You are either in, or you wait for the next train.

Busses too. Yikes. I once heard a girl from London comment that “bus drivers would rather hurt one person, than a hundred.” Which means, folks, don’t stand in FRONT of a bus, or try to out run the bus, or any of those shenanigans. It’s almost always too close to call, and you do hear about quite a lot of accidents happening with pedestrians. 

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MY favorite places in London were found quite by accident. It is genuinely my favorite way to travel— plan-free. I enjoy wandering and absorbing and interacting with strangers. It’s a great way to experience the real city you’re in. And in a world where people would rather pretend to be on their cell phone instead of having to look alone, being forced to ask directions or advice is wonderful to me- and necessary. 

From my experience, people are genuinely friendly in London, they are willing to help you if you are lost, though their directions are often difficult to follow when the person you are speaking to is attractive and you’re having difficulty getting past the beauty of the accent…………. anyway, like I’ve said, people are friendly there, and can direct you towards just about anything. 


Just touched down in London town…

I had never felt a huge pull to visit London, partially because it doesn’t seem exotic or mind-blowing, it’s rarely featured beautifully in movies, and I can’t say I have ever been taken aback by pictures of it. But my best friend lives there, and finally, after trying to convince her to meet me in any of the other major cities within flying distance, I caved and booked a flight for two whole months.

Now, for the sake of full disclosure, I am quite in love with all things Jane Austen, Shakespeare, Tea, Men with Accents, The Beatles, Prince “Hot-Ginge”, Adele, Harry Potter (Mostly Rupert Grint), Castles, and Fish and Chips.  All of these things exist because of England, and so it’s kind of silly that I had never really considered visiting there, however I think part of it was the idea of paying $1,200 to fly 7 hours to a country that ALSO speaks English as it’s primary language. 

But I arrived, 11:30 at night (23:30 hours), completely exhausted from a 10 hour layover (of course I chose Iceland as my midway point) and then I had to figure out how to get from Heathrow airport to Earlsfield, a little town just outside of London. This feat was a bit of a headache on it’s own. 

Once inside and settled, I couldn’t help sleeping some 15 hours to finally get my patterns under control. The best thing to do, I learned, is drink massive amounts of water, and try to regulate your sleeping. It actually worked, and I didn’t have too many problems with the time change. 

Waking up was difficult, but I couldn’t seem to stop myself from throwing on some clothes, walking the two blocks to the Earlsfield station and hopping on the  ’tube,’ which is the train. It took less than 20 minutes to get into Waterloo Station, one of the larger stations in London. From there, I walked directly west to the Thames River, which is pretty famous for being the largest river in Southern England, and it flows through central London, allowing access to many of the most well known attractions in London. 

On my way there, I came upon a small outdoor market, full of cheeses and sausages, cupcakes and wines, all of course you could sample for free. Millions of tastes and smells to caress my senses with. These are my favorite kind of places to shop, I find them so much more charming than any sort of supermarket, and you really do meet the most interesting people. It’s open every weekend with nice weather, right by the Royal Festival Hall and the British Film Institute. The foods change, but it is a yummy place to stop. I got a cupcake and a glass of wine, sampled some cheese and breads, and considered having an entire container of the Jerk Chicken, which I decided against because it was my first day and I never know which places are legit until at least day two.  

Once you’ve passed the market, if you can drag yourself away, you come upon the banks of the Thames, a muddy brown river that probably has more historically significant artifacts on it’s river bed than any of us could see in a museum. It’s an amazing place, full of artists and performers, and of course, the London Eye; image

It’s huge, and the line is obnoxious. If you’re going to buy a ticket, (and Do buy a ticket because it is worth it) buy the express ticket that allows you to skip the line. It’ll cost you about £29, which is pretty expensive if you’ve just exchanged american money, it comes out to about $45. Generally, the dollar is worth 2/3rds of British Sterling, so basically you’re adding 50 cents to every dollar spent. That’s the easiest way to estimate actual costs.

England is expensive, especially London, but so is New York, so I didn’t notice much of a difference of worth, however, because the USD is worth so much less, you are burning through money quite a bit faster than a normal UK citizen. Be wary of that, because unless you then move to England, a great pair of shoes that are £65 are actually $103 American Dollars. And when you return home from your trip, you will have spent quite a bit more than you realized. 

It is worth it though, I promise. The eye takes about 45 minutes once you’re on it, and it gives you excellent panoramic views of the river and the area framing it. You barely feel yourself moving as you ferris wheel up to the highest point of view in the area, giving you a beautiful shot of Parliament, and the bridges crossing the river. Small boats cruise beneath you, and people are milling around on the field below, a popular place to gather and have lunch or listen to music.  It is a beautiful sight, and if you’re lucky enough to not have a high school field trip in the egg with you, it’s a perfect place to take lots of photos.

The next best view you can get will be from the bridges, which are often crowded and have too many performers to get any good shots. But sometimes you do get lucky. image


I’m a wanderer… sorry

So It’s been a stupid long time since I’ve written anything. Not because I don’t like writing, or reading, but because I’ve been just going crazy these last few months. But I do have much to talk about, mostly England, Italy and New Orleans. It’s all coming. Speak with you soon. 

:)


Don’t grow up too quickly, lest you forget how much you love the beach.

Usually, in my opinion, the best time to go is August or super early September.

The sunsets during that time would make an artist weep- it is almost impossible to describe the beauty of the warm colors tangling together with the cool blues and purples of the ocean and sky.

After sitting out there on your deck with a glass of wine and your damp hair keeping your shoulders cool, you almost can’t believe there are things like war, poverty, or anything bad about the world. Nature may be red in tooth and claw but whether you believe in Heaven or not, you’ll feel like you found it in the peaceful beauty of the shoreline. 

And as the sun dips and the colors fade to the velvety night, hundreds- no, thousands of stars slowly reveal themselves, looking down on you in a way that steals your breath. If you want to really get a good view, walk on to the beach when it gets fully dark. Especially if there’s no moon. Because the ocean and the sky become one huge navy blue abyss, and the huge protective dunes block out all of the lights from the homes, and you find yourself in a natural amphitheater, where you can hear nothing but the waves crashing and your own breathing. 

Do watch out for fiddler crabs, they tend to get cranky when you trip over them. 

The other really interesting thing about night time on the beach is that, if you get a full moon, you may have enough light to see the newly hatched sea turtles scrambling towards the surf. It’s really an amazing thing to see, and they are SO unbelievably cute!

Sadly not all baby sea turtles make it, but there is a lot we vacationers can do to help. Emerald Isle’s website lays out a few tips to minimize our own impact on the turtles. 

A really fun thing about Emerald Isle is the piers. The one I most frequent is the Bogue Inlet Pier, which is attached to Bushwhackers restaurant and is completely filled with fisherman, both professional and vacationers looking to have some fun. Kids love the pier because there are so many interesting catches each day, and the fisherman take care of the fish right on the dock at the fish cleaning stations. 

That snotty Hurricane Irene knocked out approximately 230 feet of pier at the end, but I’ve walked on it since, and it’s fully operational and, in my opinion, safe. 

Underneath the pier, handfuls of surfers come to spend their days and nights catching waves and chatting up the opposite sex. Something I’d recommend checking out if you want to see some truly talented surfers… or get chatted up. 

Another fun place to check out is the Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores. It’s smaller than other aquariums you may have seen, but it does have quite a few interesting things. You can bird watch outside, there is a touch tank (which lets be honest, is the only reason most of us go to aquariums) and a multitude of beasty jagged toothed sharks that stare you down as they swim through genuine excavated pieces of shipwreck- which, it’s important to note, is something that the Other Banks is known for. Throughout history, ships of all kinds- from pirate, explorer, trade and military- have run into sand islands and craggy shallows, leaving some interesting things to explore if you have time for a scuba trip while down there. However, if you’d rather stay dry to see leftovers of the old shipping days, just take a trip out to Corolla or Shackleford where wild “ponies” gallop along the shoreline. These Spanish horses, who are smaller than the horses we are used to in many countries, were a hearty sort, and really very docile.  It is believes that these horses, called Banker Horses, either swam ashore after Spanish shipwrecks, or were abandoned when, like many times before, a group of settlers found themselves ill, unwanted by the natives, and unable to survive the climate of the area. 

                           Ponies

*Photo taken from outerbanksblue.com

                                                              These “ponies” do roam free on the shores of some of the Outer Banks, though not where you’d be renting a home. Often times you will take a ferry to the island to see them. They are called feral because, while they are wild now, they once had domesticated ancestors.  While these horses are feral, they are closely monitored by the National Park Services and does run tests on them to make sure they’re healthy. They also control the population by moving some of the ponies when needed, or adopting them out.  

Now, full disclosure, while there have only been three fatal shark attacks and 42 reported bites in the last eighty years, sharks ARE in the waters everywhere you go (except for swimming pools) so be careful. I stay away from swimming by the piers. My house is over a mile from the closest pier, not only because of the large amount of fish and bait, but also because of the hooks and line- so be careful if you’re staying close by.

Now I really hate sharks. Like really, really, REALLY hate sharks. I am extra careful in any water, especially during those Summer months- what can I say, I watched Jaws at a very young age- But, of course you can do things to be safe. Don’t go in the water if you’re bleeding (I know, you almost can’t believe it has to be said)- don’t wear jewelry, don’t go too far out (too far out is past shoulder depth- remember there’s things other than sharks out there, and if you go out to a depth of more than five feet, you’re going into an area that has more sea life, and let me tell you- I have seen people step on sting rays, and yes, it “effing hurts.” So use common sense. Also try to avoid swimming at daybreak and dusk, because that’s when sharks are at their keenest, it’s also when you’re less likely to be able to see around you, and less people will be able to see you in the water. 

And one more thing, if we’re being honest here. Going during the late Summer months does practically guarantee you something that may be a deterrent, but hear me out before you cancel your trip. Just like Florida, Alabama, Louisiana, and many other states, North Carolina is situated in a bad spot sometimes. Because the Outer Banks are the outcropping in the South, they are often stuck in the path of, you guessed it, some nasty hurricanes. 

This is daunting, of course it is, hearing the sirens screaming, police preaching through loudspeakers that if you “do not evacuate, you WILL die!” Home owners boarding up windows and locking down stores. 

BUT. Hurricanes last a day. They hit, wreak havoc, and then leave. And let me tell you, yes- you can evacuate. There is a military base less than 20 miles away and plenty of hotels and strange pawn shops in the area. There are handsome military personnel and friendly places to shop and explore. And you’ll get rained on, but you’ll be safe and sound. Of course it depends on when the storm hits. I’ve never had to cancel my trips, it’s not something I would ever be able to do without considering my year a waste. However, I have had to evacuate twice, and this year we had to add a full 4 hours onto our drive so that we could avoid snarky little Irene- “the most expensive storm in history.” We did get to drive through the mountains in Virginia, which was one of the most beautiful experiences I have ever witnessed. Miles of blue mountains surrounding you, ohh I loved it, but that’s a whole nother entry. 

When you get to the beach post-hurricane, as long as the homes are intact, it is still one of the most beautiful things ever. The skies are open and blue, it’s usually NOT a thousand degrees and muggy, there are less bugs, less strong winds, there are awesome little shells that washed ashore, you almost couldn’t tell a storm had just hit besides the strong currents and possible damage to trees while you’re driving down there. 


Outer Banks, North Carolina

Although Iceland is beautiful, I’m going to shift over to the place I just left, Emerald Isle, North Carolina, USA. 

I know, I know, how can North Carolina compare to a place like Iceland? But the truth is, it’s not trying to.

Emerald Isle is different.

The Outer Banks, or OBX as you may see it plastered on bumper stickers, is like a hot fudge sunday- completely devoid of finesse or exotic excitement. Instead, it’s beauty, like hot fudge on vanilla, lies in it’s simplicity. 

Now, as a disclaimer, if you’re looking for a place to party, Emerald Isle is not it. So if this is all you’re into, cross it off your list of places to visit, because you won’t be happy. 

BUT- if you’re looking for a break from life, for one moment of weightlessness, it really is the place for a miracle. 

You wake up when the sun does, because how could you do anything else, and then you walk to the beach. I am spoiled and I get a house directly on the beach because I’d rather pay the extra $400 and not risk being misled as to how close the beach really is. 

Here’s the tips for renting a house down there:

If you go during the early or pre summer months, that’s April through early June, the water’s going to be a little chilly. Well okay, it could be REALLY chilly, but the weather will still be gorgeous, ranging from 70’s to 80’s.  The nice thing about going then is that while there will be less opportunity to float in the surf, there are almost no people there usually, so you really have a chance to enjoy the beach in it’s natural beauty. The other bonus?

The water is absolutely FILLED with dolphins. Dolphins!

Super amazing. (this picture was taken from the site of the home I stayed in.)

You do have to drive possibly 20-30 minutes to get to a grocery store, and if you’re a Starbucks addict like me- you’ll be fresh out of luck. But eventually you’ll run into a dunkin donuts if you really need, and there is a small coffee shop by the Food Lion on the southern side of the island.

Going in July is HOT! Hot like Florida or Texas- sometimes it’s 80’s, but sometimes it’s 100 or higher. Brutal heat that can be alleviated by going to the beach, but I can almost guarantee you’ll be needing some Aloe Vera at night. 

When choosing a house, everyone has their own likes and dislikes, the things I look out for are,

1. How close is it to the water? I’m not super interested in walking more than 5 minutes with my cooler and chair and beachbag and flip flops in the middle of the summer sunshine no matter how beautiful it’s going to be when I get there- and can you just imagine coming home? I go with my family, and we only have my nephew who is under the age of 10- but if you’re a full family with the expected 2.5 kids, it would just be a NIGHTMARE. 2nd or 3rd row is the limit, and it should say *across the street from beach access* or something similar to it, because the beach accesses are spread out, and they’re not always even remotely close to the house.

 It’s illegal to walk on the dunes, so remember, just because you can see the ocean, doesn’t mean you can get there. 

We always make sure we choose a house with a grill because we cook almost every night. Little charcoal grills are disappointing and often useless, so look for a house with a hearty grill. 

Because the most important part of any house down in OBX is the view, houses don’t build out, they build UP. Which leads to MILLIONS OF STEPS. Okay so not millions, but Jeesh, sometimes it feels like it. If you’re older or have knee problems, look in to the amount of stairs- there are homes with elevators- because I will guarantee that the home is a reverse floor plan, which means that the kitchen is on the very top. And man, even at 25, I think I’m going to die when I get the last of those grocery bags (for a family of 9) to the top floor. 

The benifit of the reverse floor plan is that any time you spend in the kitchen, living room or dining room will come with a mind-blowing ocean view. The view is best enjoyed while having breakfast. :)