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Alight Here (series): Richmond

Alight Here (series): Richmond

It’s been sunny and warm lately – almost, dare I say it, Aussie-like! We’re gearing up for the big Europe trip and taking advantage of our last few days in London, and so today finally ventured to the ‘other end’ of the Overground line to Richmond. What a beautiful part of the world this is! I’d urge visitors in London to take a ride to this region on the river. Elegant homes, cute pubs by the water, quaint shops, the gorgeous Kew Gardens (stop prior to Richmond) and a short bus ride to the delightful Hampton Court Palace, one of Henry VIII’s favourite haunts… well it was back in the day, but perhaps he’s still ‘haunting’ there, who knows? ;-) I must say, I was looking forward to my visit to this palace, and it didn’t disappoint. Unlike The Tower of London which can be a bit creepy (although I love that too), this place is bright, magical and maintains a regal air about it. It’s easy to imagine Queens wandering around the lavish rooms, up and down the staircases, through the famous outdoor maze…

Travel tip: When we first moved to London I invested in a Royal Palaces membership card which not only provides some funds towards the upkeep of London’s lovely old properties, but allows unlimited entry into the likes of Kensington Palace, Kew Palace, The Tower of London and Hampton Court. Brilliant value for money, and offers many options for nice days out.

Hampton Court Palace

palace pics.

Alight Here (series): Waterloo & WiFi

Alight Here (series): Waterloo & WiFi

Monday morning and I am in need of inspiration (and motivation) so decided yet again to embark on a quest to find the ‘perfect’ external workplace. The bonus of freelance life means that I can set up anywhere I choose. In London, the prerequisites include:

1. Coffee

2. Free internet (WiFi), and preferably a power outlet to keep my laptop charged

3. A nice atmosphere (water view ideally, although not quite discovered yet) and/or decent soundtrack

4. Coffee.

Southbank_Centre_-_The_OvertureI realise from a simple web search that there are many other freelancers and students out there in the same boat as I, and it was with their help that I found today’s spot overlooking The Thames, Golden Jubilee Bridges and Embankment Pier across the river – The Southbank Centre.

Presently I sip on a much-needed and rather delicious latte, pondering the energetic surrounds (and stalking two girls who are utilising the power supply… their table is mine when they eventually depart…). The day outside is grey although the sun is doing its best to poke through the clouds. It’s easy to find The Southbank Centre from busy Waterloo Station – just follow signs outside towards The London Eye, Festival Pier, Royal Festival Hall or Southbank then walk with the crowds towards the Eye and water. Even I can’t get lost, and the Southbank area itself is lovely – alive with visitors, playgrounds, entertainment, restaurants, art, music, and shops overlooking the water.

The Southbank Centre is the ideal place to base because ‘Level 2’ (where I’m sitting in the cafeteria) boasts a quintessentially ‘London city’ view. Although it is a little noisy, it is comforting sound – people chatting, working and being productive with their day.

jon-arnold-hungerford-bridge-and-river-thames-london-england

I’ve found London to be very accommodating when it comes to free WiFi. Many pubs and cafes offer the service – just check for signs or with staff.

McDonalds and Starbucks are pretty good options for reliable internet of course; and this morning I found a handy ‘free London WiFi’ locations map via The Londonist.

I’ve got my eye on a couple of other places to try this week too. Apparently there is a gorgeous spot called ‘5th View’ which is above Waterstones book store between Piccadilly and Green Park, and another closer to home, Cafe Brera on the water at Canary Wharf.

Waterloo, originally a location of interest to Cooper and I for a very important reason – the opening scenes of The Bourne Ultimatum were filmed here – but now as we follow in Matt Damon’s footsteps (thankfully not being chased by the CIA… that I know of…) we enjoy the area for so many reasons. It’s a perfect spot to begin a day of exploring in London because from Waterloo (and Southbank precinct) you can not only link to many key bus or train routes, but you can explore much of the city by foot, indulging in breathtaking, historical 360-degree London scenes, passing by destinations like Tate Modern and the new Shakespeare’s Globe.

The area where I’m working this morning has been developed to its present state since around 1951, when the Festival of Britain was held here to celebrate recovery from World War II. It seems to me that – as the girl with a strong Spanish accent practices English beside me, recent graduates wearing black and fuchsia academic gowns have their photos taken by the river outside, other artists tap away on their computers, locals and tourists alike line up for lunch, and the gaggle of Japanese teens wearing insanely high heels for this time of day stroll past me – the precinct maintains that same free, happy, vibrant energy today. A perfect WiFi spot to work, watch, wander.

On my way into town today it occurred to me that I can hardly believe I know my way around a city like this. Usually one to be timid with directions, and ever nervous about losing my way in unfamiliar territories, I can navigate the city with ease and comfort now, and it’s dawned on me that I have unexpectedly fallen in love with this place. Our time in Bayswater wasn’t pleasurable, and the energy was unwelcoming. However, nearly a year on and we’ve well and truly settled, having discovered the true homely beauty of England. I gaze around lovingly at all the old buildings, and I listen with an amused smile at the various accents passing me by, ‘innit‘.

While I was travelling around the area today by foot and on the bus, I noticed a couple of views that I’ve never really taken in before (possibly I was on the underground and simply had not been by the vantage points previously) – stop on Waterloo Bridge and Westminster Bridge – these sit on either side of The Southbank Centre, with the aforementioned Jubilee Bridge in between. The city views from these angles are just divine, and a wide angle lens might even squeeze sites like The London Eye, Big Ben, and a number of other famous landmarks into one photo! Now I understand that Wordsworth wasn’t being overly dramatic in his poetry, but was merely pondering and honestly describing this beautiful city as he saw it one morning in 1802.

Earth hath not anything to show more fair:
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty:
This City now doth, like a garment, wear
The beauty of the morning; silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, theatres and temples lie
Open unto the fields, and to the sky;
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.

Never did sun more beautifully steep
In his first splendor, valley, rock, or hill;
Ne’er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!
The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God! The very houses seem asleep;
And all that mighty heart is lying still!

(Composed Upon Westminster Bridge by William Wordsworth).

Feature image by Steve Harris, Flickr creative commons
Alight Here (series): About London Bridge

Alight Here (series): About London Bridge

I’ve always been drawn to water – it is peaceful and therapeutic – so unsurprisingly, when I have a ‘free’ day I attempt to find activities by my nearest body of agua. In this case, I’m quite fortunate to be close to the beautiful old Thames, so taking advantage of a ray of summer sun today, I jumped on a bus headed for London Bridge. Usually I would simply take the overground to Canada Water and then the Tube two stops to London Bridge, but if I have time I like to take the bus here because it allows me to enjoy all the streets and views of the city that the Underground journey does not.

London Bridge

London Bridge is a delightful place to alight because while it is hectic with contemporary traffic of all kinds (people, cars, buses, trains, bikes etc.) it still maintains a feeling of the old world, like Dickens’ London you read about as a child, and I love that the precinct offers paths to old pubs, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, The London Dungeon and many other ‘creepy old sites’, as I like to refer to them. My day from London Bridge station then really consisted of me following tourists around!

I briefly took respite from the London Bridge noise by stepping inside peaceful Southwark Cathedral (the oldest cathedral church building in London), lit a candle and wished for a nice future. Back out into the bustling busy world of Borough Market, I followed the helpful signs towards the river. Obligatory frappacino in hand, I walked along the Thames between London Bridge station and Tower Bridge (pictured below), wandering by the HMS Belfast docked in the river, and then happened across an interesting international photo exhibition on display as part of The City of London Festival.

london-tower-bridge-pictures

Today I also incidentally entered into a 1-minute game of soccer (football, in these parts) which was progressing in my path (it would be rude to not kick the ball being that it was passed to me!), walked to the top of Tower Bridge to check out the terrific ‘London in Black and Whiteexhibition (on until September 30 2011, for those interested), snapped a couple’s picture by the river, and waited 15-minutes before I could get my own clear shot of the Tower (minus city cruise boats in the foreground).

I stopped for a while to watch the peaceful body of water ebb and flow, and I attempted to record the scene in my mind. I recall children shrieking, dolled-up tourist photographing themselves in front of The Tower of London, and the hum of construction in the distance across the river as ever more buildings are erected. It was a nice day to play a lone explorer, being reminded of all the cool sites on my doorstep at home in London.

 

Alight Here (series): West Croydon / East Croydon

Alight Here (series): West Croydon / East Croydon

About Croydon

There’s been a little heatwave in London over the past few days, and evidently those who have suffered most have been commuters on the trains (especially those on the Tube – it’s sweltering down there, I can vouch for that much)! Many reading this new ‘Alight Here’ blog series might even scoff at my poor timing on writing about all the trains (and stops) throughout London because right now no-one wants to actually be on a train; but fret not, to put your minds at ease I’ve placed a special commemorative photo below – am sure it won’t be too long until it’s nice and brisk here again! ~ducks head as English co-workers hurl heavy books in this general direction – you see, they love the heat, I dread it… but that’s another story entirely ~…

While it might be unusual for any other traveller to feature an editorial on Croydon, it would be remiss of me as an individual to exclude it from my series on significant train stations/locations around London. Much of my working London life has revolved around ‘alighting’ at East Croydon (15-minutes from Victoria Station on the Southern Line, pictured below following winter snow fall) and West Croydon (about 45-minutes from Haggerston on the London Overground) stations. Croydon is located on the natural transport corridor between London and England’s south coast (hence, Southern Train service from Victoria heading to lovely destinations such as Brighton), and historically it was from Croydon to Wandsworth where the world’s first public horse-drawn railway ran (launched 1803), facilitating Croydon’s growth as a commuter town for the entire region. Train trips through the south towards Croydon are brimming with views of rows upon rows of old London homes, many pubs and local high streets, and large parks where I’d envy from afar those out for their early morning dog-walks. Croydon Town Centre itself (situated between the East and West train stations) was developed to its present (and rather busy) state from the mid 20th century. I suppose it would be considered ‘small’ by London terms, but the amusing thing (to me) is, the mall has a feel distinctly like that of the Queen Street Mall in Brisbane – centre of Queensland’s capital city, and a major shopping destination for locals from all around the south-east!

trainProbably not somewhere you’d end up as a tourist, but definitely a nice spot with friendly people, and great shopping (without the London high street crowds, I might add). Sentimental to me because it’s where I first trudged to work in snow (a novelty for me), where I enjoyed many a warm Starbucks latte on cold winter mornings, where I’ve learned some brilliant skills in PR (plus honed my tea making prowess), and where I’ve laughed with new friends – Wendy, Nick, Nicola, Tania, Kerry, Audrey, Lotte, Amy (and even newer friends as of very recently, Paloma, Jess and Rebecca) – along the way. S x

 

Feature image via Flickr creative commons
Alight Here (series): Green Park and London Bridge

Alight Here (series): Green Park and London Bridge

About Green Park and London Bridge

With only a few weekends to explore the parts of London we haven’t been to (and those we’d like to see again) we ventured out early to see how the ‘other half’ live in the wealthy Mayfair district. We researched the precinct and discovered that the majority of ‘tourist’ action and celebrity spotting occurs at the historical but chic Shepherd Market, a charming little piazza developed in the late 1730s, hidden away between Piccadilly and Curzon Street (just a few minutes walk from Green Park station; not far at all from The Ritz where Rhonda and I recently dined). The main road near the tube was buzzing and busy (as it usually is) with tourist buses stopping every few minutes to collect visitors for their trips around the city; and artists who were setting up dozens of paintings for sale along the walled entrance into Green Park itself.

piccadilly-art-london2

We wandered down a signed old London alleyway that pointed the way towards Shepherd Market but unfortunately when we arrived there wasn’t much happening, so we stopped for a latte, meandered around the square and admired the old Victorian pubs and quaint boutiques for a while, then consulted the trusty BlackBerry for alternative Saturday exploration options.

We’re on a budget at the moment so looked up ‘free London attractions’. Of all the options, the Kensington Roof Gardens seemed like a great idea, although apparently they’re closed until mid-week (so stay tuned for that update); we decided instead to head back onto the Jubilee Line to London Bridge where I’d seen some interesting old shops and pretty cafes a few weeks earlier.

As it turns out, London Bridge is absolutely humming on Saturdays because of the famous Borough Market – a gathering that we’d even seen featured on The Travel Channel but had never been to because we rarely ventured to this side of London (until moving to the east in April). The whole area was loud and busy, with motor vehicles, train traffic, and thousands of people all out to score a delicious bargain at one of the many poultry, fish, curry, wine, cake, bread, cheese, fruit and vege stalls – a trading tradition that dates back beyond 1014!

Borough_Market_cake_stall

We were in our element, sampling all manner of delights, and even found a stall that was promoting local wines – for a mere fiver we sampled six glasses (rosés, whites and reds) that are ‘home made’ in the UK, and learned about the history thanks to our lovely wine connoisseur, Dominique – a special shout-out to www.winepantry.co.uk for this experience, and FYI we did choose to purchase a lovely bottle of Biddenden Gribble Bridge Rosé (budget… out the window again this weekend!).