Temporary Brit

My three months of adventures in London!

“It’s like a heat wave….” September 30, 2011

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From Google Images

 

London is in the middle of a major heat wave right now.  For days, it’s been over 80 degrees (I believe at least one record has been broken with others to follow before this is over), and I’ve seen more sun and blue skies since the middle of this week than I’ve seen in the past two months put together.  The sun part is fine, but here’s the thing about me: I HAAAAATE hot weather!  Hot weather makes me cranky and sweaty and it sucks the energy right out of me.  The Central Line of the Tube (which is roasting on most days) is like an oven.  People have actually fainted while riding the Tube in weather like this.  I’m just grateful that most of the tourist crowds have gone home; dealing with all those extra people would have made things even worse.

 

Londoners in general seem to cope a lot better with weird weather like this than I do.  I haven’t heard much complaining; people just put their sweaters away, bring out the shorts and t-shirts, and head out to the parks to make the most of this mini-summer.  I can understand that last part; days that are completely sunny are about as rare here as they are in Seattle, if not more so.

 

The hot weather isn’t all bad; the blue skies make for some fantastic photography.  I’ve been heading out later in the afternoon for the last few days and taking advantage of the pretty light.  Another note for you photographers out there: first thing in the morning and right before sunset tend to offer excellent lighting conditions.  Since I hate early mornings even more than heat waves, it’s all about the afternoons for me. 🙂

 

I’m just about to start my final month here, which is hard to believe.  That means it’s almost time for some of the stuff I’ve been putting off until the end of the trip: touring St. Paul’s, seeing Les Mis, taking a Beefeater tour at the Tower of London,spending the day in York and riding the London Eye at night are a few of the things I have planned.  That won’t take a full month, of course, but one thing I’ve learned on this trip is to expect the unexpected.  Who knows what other things I might still discover? 😀

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Worth a Thousand Words September 26, 2011

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Courtesy of Google Images

 

I think there are few travel souvenirs that are better than photos.  Good shots can really capture whatever you were seeing at any given moment, and bad ones can be REALLY discouraging, especially if you can’t figure out what you’re doing wrong.  I should know; I’ve taken PLENTY of good and bad pictures since I’ve been in London!  I’ve made mistakes and I’ve learned a lot, so I thought I’d share some of my “rules” for good travel photography with all of you.  I’m NOT a professional, and I’m NOT an expert, but if my mistakes (and the ones I’ve seen other people make) can help somebody take better pictures during their own travels, I’m happy to help!  Read on:

  1. Know your camera well before you leave home.  It can be awfully tempting to buy a fancy new camera before a big trip, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with that.  What isn’t so smart is not knowing how to use all of its features prior to leaving home.  Case in point:  not long after I got here, I was wandering around St. James’s Park.  A fellow tourist walked up to me and asked if I could help him with his camera; he’d gotten it stuck on the self timer and didn’t remember how to return to normal shooting mode.  Luckily, it was a Canon like mine, so I was able to help him out in about 2 seconds.  You don’t want to find yourself in a situation like that, just in case there aren’t any nice people around to help you out! 😛
  2. Shoot with the sun behind you.  The colors will stand out better, the pictures will be sharper, and you’ll be happier with your results.  This is one of those simple things that I NEVER thought to do for the longest time, and I couldn’t understand why so many of my pictures were washed out and faded, no matter what camera settings I used.  If you’re into people photography, you may need to tweak this rule a little.  After all, if the sun is behind you and your camera, it will be in the eyes of your subjects.  I’m not the one to talk to about people photography, though…not my forte.
  3. Get creative.  Shoot from different angles, at different times of day, in different camera modes, etc.  You never know what you’ll end up with!  Plus, you WON’T end up with the same old pictures of the same old landmarks as everyone else.
  4. Know your camera’s limits.  Everyone’s will do some things really well, and some things not so well.  Mine is great for flowers and wider architectural shots, but the lenses I have tend to compress things together.  That makes it very hard to get wide shots inside cathedrals that show all the fabulous detail.
  5. Accept that not every picture you take will be fabulous.  This is something else I’ve been kind of guilty of not doing; I want every picture I take to be perfect. 😛  That’s just not possible, even for professionals.  I remember reading that only 10 out of every 100 pictures that the best photographers take are good, and out of those 10, only 1 is excellent.  Not great odds, but it’s true. 🙂  There will always be times when the weather and light won’t cooperate, or you don’t have the right lenses for a particular subject, or you just aren’t in the right place at the right time.

 

Again, I’m not a professional, so take everything with the appropriate grain of salt.  There are plenty of good books out there (some specifically geared toward travel photography), and I recommend picking one of those up if you DO want advice from the pros. 🙂  Happy shooting!

 

Goodbye, Bath! September 23, 2011

 

Day #3 in Bath was pretty abbreviated.  Checkout time at my B and B was 10am, but my train wasn’t scheduled to leave until 2:45pm, so I still had a good amount of sightseeing time.  Unfortunately, I had to carry all my gear with me the whole time; both of the owners of the B and B were going to be gone during the time I would have needed to go back to pick it up.  That part wasn’t fun, but I survived. 🙂  I walked through most of the city again, taking a few last minute pictures.  I also made it down to the riverside, which is where I took the picture above.  The river is the Avon, in case you were wondering.

 

I went back up to the Royal Crescent and walked through Royal Victoria Park, which is just below.  Again, I kind of regretted not scheduling Bath for next month, right before I leave, because the fall colors are going to be amazing!  I also peeked inside the Pump Room, just to say I did for the sake of all you Jane Austen fans out there. 🙂

 

I like to get to train stations somewhat early, even when I have a reservation.  I didn’t need to do that today, though; all trains were either delayed or cancelled due to a “tresspasser” somewhere else down the line.  Not sure what that means, but I’m just glad my train was still running!  I managed to get some reading done for school on the way back, when I wasn’t looking out the window and enjoying the English countryside. 🙂

 

Finally, I have to put in another good word for the Apple Tree Guest House (www.appletreeguesthouse.com).  I had a great experience staying there, and I would highly recommend it to anyone needing a place to sleep while in Bath.  The couple that owns the place couldn’t be nicer, and the house is very well maintained.  The breakfasts are great, too.  They weren’t doing full cooked breakfasts while I was there, but the continental breakfast offered a ton of options.  The toast was seriously the best I’ve ever had. It’s a short walk (no hills) into town, and a short walk from both the train and bus stations.  There ARE lots of stairs, though, and the internet connection can be a bit shaky, depending on where you are in the house.  Those things should only be problems if you’re there on business and need reliable internet all the time, and the stairs aren’t a big deal unless you have mobility issues.  Also….they leave hot chocolate AND mini Cadbury bars in the room. 🙂

 

I’m back in London now, and it feels like ages since I left.  It was really only two days, though. 🙂  Time to get back to the daily grind of sightseeing and schoolwork!

 

Bath, day 2 (and then some…) September 22, 2011

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Today, I took a side trip from my side trip and went to Wells.  The main reason I wanted to go was the cathedral (see above).  I had heard it was pretty fantastic….and it was. 🙂  Quite frankly, I’m surprised that they don’t charge admission for this one; they easily could!  Photography is allowed, too, if you pay 3 pounds for a permit (which I did).  I also took advantage of the free guided tours, and learned where the phrase “get down to brass tacks” came from. 🙂  I’m not into tours overall, since I prefer to do things independently, but there’s something to be said for these free talks.  They CAN add a lot to the whole experience.

 

One of the most famous features of the cathedral are the scissor arches.  They were added hundreds of years ago, when the tower started to sink.  To keep it from collapsing completely someday, they added the scissors.  Since then, no more problems! (I learned that on the tour, too.)

 

 

I spent quite a bit of time wandering around the town after I was done at the cathedral.  It’s small and quiet and peaceful, and exactly what most people think of when they picture and English country town.  The bus ride for Bath was nice, too.  It takes between 70 and 90 minutes to get from Bath to Wells, depending on the time of day.  It’s bus 173 from the Bath bus station(if anyone is thinking of going), and you want to ask the driver for an all day ticket.  It’s apparently cheaper than just buying a return ticket to and from Wells.  The route itself runs along a lot of VERY narrow roads, and past lots of cows and sheep grazing in little squares of pasture, fenced in by stones.  Again, it’s very stereotypically “English.”  It’s nice to see that the picture of traditional country England that so many people have in their heads still exists.

 

It was to Bath for the afternoon and evening…and time for a little Jane Austen nerdiness.  Several of her books were partially set in Bath, which means that the movies were filmed here, too.  My favorite is the 2007 version of Persuasion, which also happens to be my favorite Austen novel as well.  Both the Assembly Rooms and the Pump Room were used in the movie; I didn’t go into the Assembly Rooms, since they were closed for a private event, but I DID peek in. They look just like they did in the movie. 🙂  The Pump Room is a restaurant , so I didn’t go in there, either.  I DID, however, go up to the Royal Crescent.  The exterior shots of “Camden Place,” where the Elliotts lived while in Bath, were actually shot here:

 

 

Bath is supposedly having a Jane Austen Festival right now, but I’m not seeing much that’s any more “Austeny” than normal.

 

I’ve got a few more hours in Bath tomorrow morning before I catch my train back to London…I’ll try to squeeze in a few more adventures before then. 🙂

 

Bath, day 1 September 21, 2011

I’m one day into my only overnight stay away from London on this trip: Bath.  Bath is about 1.5 hours southwest of London by train, and I’ve really been looking forward to seeing the place.  Much of the town is Georgian, and it’s very pretty.  It’s not hard to see why it’s so popular with tourists, and why all the posh people in the 18th and 19th centuries chose to spend their time here. 🙂

 

I got into town at about noon, and headed for my B and B first.  I’m staying at the Apple Tree Guest House (www.appletreeguesthouse.com), and it gets two thumbs up from me so far. 🙂  It’s just outside the city center, but since Bath is not exactly a large city, that doesn’t matter much.  Both the train and bus stations are right down the street, and there are plenty of shops close by, too.  Les and Lyndsey (the owners) could not be nicer, and the house is neat and tidy and updated.  Plus…free wifi! 🙂

 

My first sightseeing stop was the Roman Baths.  This was a must see, since I’m currently taking a class in Roman history.  The baths are where Romans used to gather, socialize, and (duh) take baths.  The complex originally included cold pools, hot pools, tepid pools, a changing room….you name it, they had it.  The audioguide was very informative, and I was pretty amazed that so much is known about exactly how the various parts of the baths were used.

The downside to the baths?  PRICE.  Admission isn’t exactly cheap.  If you’re planning on going to the Fashion Museum, though, you can buy a combo ticket that saves quite a bit of money.  Speaking of the Fashion Museum, that was my next stop.  🙂  I’m no fashionista (give me a t-shirt and jeans any day), but I LOVE seeing things that people wore in times past.  The oldest dress in the collection is this one, from the 1600’s:

If you’re a Jane Austen fan, this is what her characters might have worn:

The clothes in the Fashion Museum are in remarkably good condition; it’s tough to believe that they’re authentic. Authentic they are, though!

 

Next up was Bath Abbey.  You know what I like about Bath Abbey?  Two things, really: it’s free, and photography is allowed inside:

What isn’t free are the tower tours; they’re well worth the 6 pound fee, though.  You feel like you’re getting a “behind the scenes” look at things, and you get view like this from the top of the tower:

I’m kind of in love with Bath right now; it’s pretty, and historic, and small, and easy to walk through.  Plus, I continue to be amazed at how CHEAP housing is everywhere else in the UK except London.  I had heard before coming here how touristy Bath was getting, but I don’t that kind of vibe from it.  It’s definitely worth it!  Oh, one final note for all of my fellow Jane Austen fans out there: I’ll be posting a little more about Bath’s connections to her books (and the movie version of them) either tomorrow or the next day (I’m here until Friday afternoon).  Until tomorrow… 🙂

 

“That’s what I like about you…” September 19, 2011

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Things I like better in the U.S. than in London

  • TV.  I just can’t get into most British tv shows, with a few notable exceptions (more on that later)
  • Opening hours for stores.  It IS possible to find places open late over here, but it’s not as prevalent as it is in the U.S.  I like being able to go to the store whenever without having to worry about whether or not it will be open.
  • The price of public transportation.  Even though the bus systems back home keep jacking up their prices, it’s still cheaper than taking the Tube over here.
  • The weather doesn’t change QUITE as fast at home as it does here.  In other words, I can actually look out my window in the morning, decide what I need to wear and bring with me for the day, and not regret my decision later.  Not so easy to do that in London. 😛
  • The safety aspect of being a pedestrian.  As I said in an early post, just crossing the street can be RIDICULOUS in London.  I hardly ever almost get run over at home. 😀
  • Return policies in stores.  Most of the shops here only give you 28 days to return something.  A lot of U.S. stores give you as much as 90 days with a receipt.
  • My church.  The one I’ve been attending regularly on Sunday mornings is nice, but I DO miss Mill Creek Foursquare.

 

Things I like better in London than in the U.S.

  • The sweets.  No surprise there; I’ve already done two separate blog posts on candy, and I have plans for a third.  It’s not JUST the candy, either.  It’s the cookies, and the doughnuts, and the biscuits, and even the cake.  I’m not much of a cake person, but it’s just BETTER over here.
  • Everything about public transportation EXCEPT the price.  It’s going to be awfully hard to go back to waiting half an hour or more for buses at home when I’ve never had to wait more than 10 minutes for the Tube here.  Even 10 minutes is an unusually long wait.
  • Costume dramas on tv.  Two words: DOWNTON. ABBEY.
  • The architecture.  It’s not really Seattle’s fault that it’s not as cool to look at as London.  London has had a lot longer to work on its image!
  • Everything about walking except the safety issue.  There’s a lot more to look at that’s actually interesting here than back home.
  • Clothes shopping; see previous blog post.
  • The fact that so many of the fun things to do here are FREE!
 

Shopping September 17, 2011

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As most of you know, I’m doing my best to travel cheaply.  That means watching my pennies even closer than I do at home, and not buying a lot of non-essentials.  I’m doing pretty well so far, but the fantastic shopping here isn’t making that easy!  London is home to a LOT of reasonably priced clothing stores that offer decent quality for your money, which is what I typically look for when I need to add to my wardrobe.  Another benefit, at least for me?  Things just FIT better over here.  I haven’t done a lot of  purchasing, but I HAVE done a lot of trying on, and I’ve hardly ever decided I don’t like something because the cut was awkward, or the style didn’t suit me.  I think it may be worth my while to pick up some things for future employment purposes while I’m here, rather than waiting until I’m back in the states. 🙂  At any rate, I thought I’d give you guys a little lesson in some of the stores I’ve gotten to know so far:

 

H & M, Topshop

 

These are two different stores, but I’m lumping them together because they’re definitely cut from the same cloth (ha, ha).  Both feature very inexpensive stuff that’s a bit more on the young, trendy side, and (gotta be honest) the quality of stuff at both these places doesn’t seem that high.  They remind me a bit of Forever 21, which (although American, I believe) is also available over here.  I’ve seen a few things at H & M that I thought were cute, but never anything at Topshop.  Maybe I’m getting old or something, but I think I prefer stuff that’s a little more classic. Plus, the inventory in both places seems more or less the same (another reason why I’m putting them together).  The accessories are decent, though.  I’m okay with cheap accessories. 🙂 For those of you who are curious about these places, both have U.S. locations.  There are two H & Ms in Seattle alone.

 

Next

 

Next is, by far, my favorite UK chain.  It actually reminds me of the Limited, which is my favorite U.S. store, in terms of price range and what it carries.  Next offers a good range of “wear to work” type outfits as well as jeans, shoes, and more casual pieces.  The price range is above that of H & M or Topshop, but the quality is better an the clothes are more versatile.  I don’t think they have any stores in the U.S. yet, but they DO ship internationally (thank the Lord! :D).

 

Primark

 

Primark is another, fairly inexpensive place. It’s like a slightly cheaper Old Navy (although Old Navy has, unfortunately, gone a bit downhill in recent years).  It’s a good place to get basics, but (as with H & M and Topshop), I wouldn’t expect anything you get here to last years and years.  Still, the deals can be incredible.  I’ve seen pairs of very cute earrings here for only one pound!  I wouldn’t recommend going in here during a sale or on a particularly busy day, though; you’d think a tornado had been through!

 

Department Stores

Like the U.S., the UK has some well-known department store institutions.  Debenham’s is my favorite so far, and I’d say that its closest U.S. counterpart would be JC Penney’s.  Debenham’s falls more or less in the middle of the price scale, although you can find both excellent deals AND expensive stuff there.  Plus, I don’t feel like I have to dress up just to shop there.  That’s the reason I haven’t been to Harrod’s yet. 😛  Marks and Spencer is pretty ubiquitous, too.  It reminds me most of Macy’s, although that comparison doesn’t seem quite right.  My favorite part of M and S is the food, which Macy’s does NOT have.  There’s usually a good grocery selection in the larger M and S stores, and you can find M and S Simply Food shops everywhere.  Last but not least out of the department stores that I’ve visited is John Lewis.  They are the British equivalent of Nordstrom’s, through and through.  That means, of course, that they’re pretty well out of my price range, and I doubt I’ll be doing much shopping there. 🙂

 

One thing to keep in mind when you’re shopping over here: sizes are different. When it comes to clothes, you’ll need to go two sizes up from what you normally wear in the states.  The smallest size I’ve seen anywhere is a 6, which would be equivalent to a U.S. size 2. So, don’t panic and think you’ve gained a ton of weight if you ever happen to be in the UK trying on clothes; it’s just different sizing. 🙂 Shoes are the opposite, though; you’ll wear a smaller size here than in the U.S.  For example, I wear a 7 or 7.5 back home, but I’m a 5 here.

 

There are other stores (chain and otherwise) beyond those I’ve mentioned, but we’d be here all day if I tried to describe them all. 🙂