The definitive guide to being annoying tourist in London Part 2

Rain? What rain? Only glorious London sunshine! We lucked out some how and caught five days of excellent weather. Which is most fortunate as neither of us thought to bring an umbrella.

To me, London is the witty, chic, and charismatic cousin of Vancouver (where I hail from) The similarities in climate and people really helped to make me feel welcome in the big city. Something I didn’t realize I really needed after relocating across the globe away from everything I know and love. A big part of which may, or may not be Starbucks. Aside from our aggressive tourism, London already feels like home. We’ve mastered the tube system (Hello, Oyster card!) sampled the espresso at local coffee shops (though I stubbornly cling to my skinny vanilla lattes) downed cold pints of cider in warm and cozy taverns and I’ve also learned that the British take their meadows very seriously.

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This is an electric fence

I know I sort of hinted at the annoying tourist bit when I went all Harry Potter on you in the last post, but did you really get just HOW touristy one can be? This is me attempting to take a photo for the cover art on my upcoming album.

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Just kidding about the album. This is THE famous cross walk used in the Beatles album cover just outside Abbey road studios. Getting here was relatively easy if you’re willing to walk a fair way. If you look carefully, you can see all the annoyed Londoners in their cars waiting for us tourists to walk back and forth across the cross walk in an attempt to get a good photo. It’s impossible to stand in the middle of the road to get the shot they did, and the alternating traffic made is extremely difficult to get any photo at all in the end we all looked a little bit mental as we walked one way and then the other, repeatedly.

The great thing about traveling with a foodie, is not just a superb selection of dining experiences, but her wide knowledge of cuisine means she can sniff out the most authentic Vietnamese in the city. Not only did this place smell amazing as we walked by (and exactly how it SHOULD smell according to Bev) but the food was flavorful, the broth aromatic and had great depth of flavor. Pho Cafe is definitely worth making a stop in if you’re around any of their 19 locations.

They’re also really considerate of your white blouses and give you this fetching blue bib number to wear as you eat your red soup. Which is not at all funny to your traveling companion with the big camera.
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We happened to visit the Tower of London on the one day that threatened rain. The imposing fortress is well known but entirely worth the visit. 1000 years of history is yours for the exploring. Immediately to your right when you enter is the gate the important visitors would have come through, hard not to imagine King Henry the 8th walking through it on his way to visit Anne Boleyn who lived there prior to being made queen (probably led by the enormous codpiece he favoured) I was extremely surprised to find that people live in the tower grounds. The torture chamber and graffiti carved into the stones by the unfortunate souls who met their end there juxtaposed by the cheery welcome mats and red geraniums at the threshold of the yeoman abodes.

Luckily for us the rain never came and we were treated to exceptional views of the Thames and London Bridge.

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Contrary to what I was led to believe, the bridge showed no sign of falling down what so ever.

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There is an English Heritage Visitors pass that can be purchased for your trip to the UK. This pass enables you to enter National Trust sites either for free, or at a serious discounted rate, visit just three sites with the pass and it will have paid for itself. Not only can you visit stately homes, roman ruins and other landmarks but it gives you access to events put on by the English Heritage such as reenactments of the Battle of Hastings. It can be purchased for the length of your visit and bought on-line here. If you’re travelling to England and plan on seeing Deal Castle, the home of Charles Darwin, or Stonehenge (to name a few of the included sites) it’s definitely worth it.

We attempted to see the only home of Charles Dickens still standing and now a museum. We didn’t make it in time to join the last house tour, despite all our hustle, likely because we were weighed down by our giant pho meal. But we were able to look through the gift shop. So I will have to go back and try it again.

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I couldn’t agree with you more.

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Our final night as tourists closed with the wildly hilarious Book of Mormon in London’s West End. Not knowing what to expect when Bev bought the tickets insisting we would love it and we had to go, I sat down with some apprehension in my heart. I love musicals, but I don’t love ALL musicals. What would this be like? Would I even like it? Could I pretend I liked it when Bev asked what I thought? Turns out I didn’t even have to pretend. I couldn’t say enough about it. It was hands down the BEST performance I have seen in a long time. I never stopped laughing. Yes, it’s about Mormonism, it touches base on controversial issues including faith and indoctrination. Is it racist? That’s not for me to decide. I opened my mind and let the song flow in and I found that it was good.

Did I miss anything? I’ll be back in London in September and would love to hear your suggestions for things not to miss on my second go around!

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The definitive guide to being an annoying tourist in London Part 1

Warning: This is NOT an insiders guide. You will not blend in with the local population or fly under the radar as inauspicious wanderers bored by the splendor and bustle around them. If you follow my lead and nerd out as hard and as often I did, you will likely experience more than one eye roll and a raised eyebrow or two. Why nerd out, you ask?

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Fifteen years of fandom and still going strong. Gryffindor represent! Originally we had only gone to Euston Road to pick up our BRP’s but, wouldn’t ya know. King’s Cross is just across the road what a crazy random happenstance…

Ahem.

There was a long line but it’s totally worth it for the die hard fan. The photographer was very energetic and upbeat the whole time “Yer a wizard!” he would exclaim periodically, it’s like he knew what we wanted to hear (Total Hufflepuff) and the assistant, who magically floated our scarves spoke at least four languages (I sense a Ravenclaw.) We met a fellow Canadian while waiting. She told us of the Harry Potter walking tour where you find the various film locations throughout London and get a bit of history on it. She gave us her print out, I can’t wait to use it when I go back to London!

IMG_8979I would have spent all my money in the shop, but refrained only because my backpack was already terribly heavy and I had been having daydreams since day one about throwing half of my stuff. There was no room for the wand and Bertie Botts Every Flavour Beans, my house scarf, and owl I had my eye on. I did allow myself to purchase digital copies of the photos we took, but I wouldn’t do it again. The photo quality was absolutely terrible. Bev took better photos on my phone with better resolution. They’re blurry and not worth the £15. Sorry, Harry.

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One of the best things about London is the free museums. I’m a total history nerd. I love knowing about the historical events that shaped the culture of each place I visit. Fashion has often reflected the political happenings of its nation and is even shaped by the events of the age. As a costume designer, The Victoria and Albert Museum has a special place in my heart. Their beautiful collection of historic garments photographed and published in beautiful detailed books have always been there for me when I needed to escape from modernism into history. Anyone who has seen the V&A books will recognize this gown from around 1780, even though in this time period having a small waist wasn’t the goal, this dress is extremely petite. I am 5’2, this woman must have been just 5’0 and had a 24″ waist. They also host many paid exhibits and luckily for us “Undressed: A brief history of underwear” was still on display. Sadly, photography was not allowed. The pieces were amazing and included an Alexander McQueen. All hail the fashion gods! Crying optional.

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After seeing all the dainty small waisted gowns we found ourselves suddenly very hungry. Comptoir Libanais was pretty close to the museum and had tables outside for us to soak up the rare English sunshine. The food was excellent so full of flavour and fresh, and it turns out Comptoir Libanais is pretty much everywhere. It’s nice to know we could find a healthy light lunch around London because the food in London is delicious, too delicious. Have my pants always been this tight?

I’d like to say that I’m going to focus on being a lean, healthy travelling machine and find a way to incorporate fitness and a fresh food into my diet on the road, but at the end of the day, when that pedometer reads 26,000 steps 25 flights of stairs and 17km travelled, eating that chicken pot pie and collapsing into bed is extremely appealing.

Do you find yourself wondering how one does THAT many km’s in London in one day?

Behold the icons!

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Buckingham Palace. That famous royal balcony where the queen does her queenly wave. I didn’t get to see the palace on my first visit to the UK so I was glad to finally make my way to the historic palace and cross that off my bucket list. But that’s about all we did there. I don’t mind visiting the tourist places, but I didn’t want to pay to see a fine house richly furnished, but the grounds surrounding the palace are delightful. I would rather just wander around and find things that the locals do or strike a balance between being a tourist and living like a Londoner. I say this and yet somehow, I don’t know how…Well, at least Beverley doesn’t know how, we ended up on Baker Street! What a coincidence! Since we were so close it only made sense to visit 221B! I didn’t know there would be a museum there, but there it certainly was.

Honestly, it was kind of disappointing. Ok, not just kind of, it was really disappointing. If there is one thing I would definitely suggest you skip it would be this. First off, the entrance fee is £15 which is really expensive for four floors of 1820’s architecture filled with the cheesy wax figures one would find at a circa 1960 macabre Disney theme park and manufactured props of things from the fictitious memoirs.  I would have liked to see things from Arthur Conan Doyle’s life, his manuscripts or diaries, what inspired him to write about Holmes, the history of Holmes fandom from its first print until now. Anything real. It’s very much a tourist thing but with little reward. This Londoner/Tourist balance was totally off kilter. So we retreated to Regents Park to lick the wounds of expensive disappointment and eat our lunch in peace. Or relative peace.IMG_9018Canada’s national bird was NOT being very Canadian. He was pushy, and mean, and relentless. I had to eat my sandwich in a slight back bend to avoid his greedy insistence. Thank God for yoga.

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Seriously, Goose. This is chicken.

I have been to the National Gallery before. It was splendid then and it is splendid now. Some of the world’s most famous art works housed in its magnificent halls spanning 700 years of art history. We spent a little time in Trafalgar square having lunch and watching the goings on around us. Most of London seems to be in a big hurry and the square is one place where people mill about in no particular rush. It is vibrant and full of life from early morning to late evening. Buskers perform their tricks and illusions, musicians fill the square with music of varying quality. I have to say I love London it has a hustle and energy to it with history and fun around every corner. There’s so much to do, there’s a part two to the nerdy London posts!

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First stop, Notting Hill!

Home of the blue door, Portobello market, and Kensington Gardens, Notting Hill has been our very first taste of British life. The rows of elegant ivory terraced homes with their black wrought iron railings, coffee shops and patisseries, the cyclists and pedestrians with their myriad of accents and languages is so unique and fresh and yet somehow so very British. To this Canadian, at least.

We kick started our journey by getting lost. Because of course we did. It’s not really our fault though, we had been awake and travelling for 24 hours at that point! Fortunately, no less than three people took pity on us, I imagine the giant over packed backpacks we were wearily lugging up and down the hills were some kind of calling card to the empathetic that day. To one lady I am particularly grateful; she let us cut through her garden rather than direct us to go down the hill we had just achingly climbed only to walk back up the next one to our difficult to find hostel. Thank you British lady, thank you.

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Notting Hill is known for its diverse and cheery palette.

We lucked out our first week in London. The weather was warm and sunny bordering on hot. Even though there are advertisements joking you’ll never see a Brit with a tan, the sun was so hot on my face that I made a mad dive for my sunscreen as soon as we checked in. We really didn’t know what to expect from Notting Hill, we hadn’t done any research and none of our circle had ever been, but when we got there the locals and other hostel goers had many recommendations of things to check out that we were more likely to want for time than things to do. Top of the list was Portobello Market. People couldn’t stop raving about it and finding it was easy just follow the throngs of people and you’ll get there. All of Notting Hill seemed to converge in the kiosk lined streets to look at the treasures on sale there. Antiques and artisan crafts intermingled with the scent of roasting street meats, fresh produce stalls and refreshing beverages served in whole pineapples. The music playing from the various stalls, the buskers with their guitars, the whole market was alive and snaked along in this way almost endlessly.

IMG_8954IMG_8971I love pineapple. It’s delicious, tangy, sweet, exotic. It’s a key ingredient in Piña Coladas… Did I mention I love pineapple? These were super refreshing and the perfect treat to walk along the market with.

Charming antiques

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Hand made and extremely intricate pop up 3D cards!

The creativity and ingenuity found at the market was inspiring. Everyone so dedicated to making the most visually appealing display to entice the crowds and peddle their wares. It was pure sensory pleasure but a little exhausting. We had to refresh ourselves in the most British way possible, a pint at a cozy pub, and a hot chicken pot pie. I think when I am finally ready to look for a new home, after this homeless and unemployed thing I’m doing is done, Notting Hill is a top contender for a new home!

Maybe one of these!
Maybe one of these!

 

To goodbyes and new beginnings

We are here at the airport ready and waiting to go. Nine hours on a plane isn’t exactly my favorite part of travelling, but even I can’t help feeling some excitement that it’s finally here! Our parting words have been said, love expressed, the hugs and tears felt and shared by all that we take into our hearts. Now we are ready. The sense of adventure is tangible, the great unknown awaits! So, as a dear friend once put it:

People aren’t like keys, you know. They are so rarely just where you left them. They could be anywhere, be anything. Luckily, if you truly care about them, with time…
A person can grow so much bigger than you could’ve ever hoped or imagined.

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Applying for the UK Tier 5 working Visa

 

The countdown to our departure has officially begun! Our flight takes off in less than a week and yet, things are quiet and settled. A complete contrast to the whirlwind of preparations undergone only a week ago -this being a mad scramble to pack up my life in a neat little box, culminating in a stress detox at the homestead before hopping on a plane set for London. It’s all ready, however! Now, with the cat in jealous proximity (as I am in her favourite arm-chair) I wanted to write about my experience applying for the Tier 5 Youth in Mobility Visa.

As a Canadian under 31, I qualify for the tier 5 visa. This allows me to live and work in the UK  for two years with access to health care and most amenities of a UK citizen. This visa is supposed to be very simple to attain as it is designed to enable young people to travel between the Commonwealth countries with relative ease, and this turned out to pretty much be the case for me.

In order to apply for the Visa you have to meet a few qualifications. Which, at the time of this post are fairly straightforward:

  • Be 18-30
  • Have £1890 in your bank account, this can be in the form of cash savings or a line of credit.
  • Be from a qualifying country.
  • Have a valid passport with blank pages for the visa

We completed the online application after setting up an account here. this took approximately 60 minutes to go through and included questions such as: Are you/have you been associated with a Terrorist Organization? Which made me wonder, would someone of malintent actually answer yes to that?

We paid the user fee of $78 USD, then paid the visa application fee of $338 USD. After THAT was done, we were required to pay the UK health care surcharge. The cost of which varies based on the time you anticipate spending in the country. We paid for the two-year plan which cost us each  £300. This allows us to access the National Health Services while in the UK. We then had thirty minutes after paying this fee to return to our application. No dilly-dallying!
Once we finished the application, and the fees were paid, we were asked to book an appointment for the BRP data collection. This is the appointment where we get our fingerprints taken and someone reviews the application and supporting documents before sending it off to be approved. No problem…unless you’re like me and you book your appointment for Tuesday morning after applying online the Sunday evening before and you realize you have only one day to get ALL of the paperwork and photos together. Don’t be me, don’t do this.

The appointment ready checklist! What we brought to our application:

  • Passport sized colour photo. London Drugs took and printed mine fast and easy with no waiting.
  • A letter of verification from my bank certifying that I had the £1890 I claimed in my bank account. It turns out this wasn’t really necessary.  Most banks charge a fee for this service, but you can just print a bank statement from your online account and that worked just fine for me.
  • The application printed out.
  • Appointment confirmation printed out.
  • Visa application fee receipt
  • VAC receipt
  • Points form printed out. Even though some places on their website said they don’t use it anymore, I included it and it was sent as part of my application.

At the Visa Application Centre we arrived on time for our appointment and they showed us in together. Our security guard was helpful, but for a professional space that has probably done this countless times, I was surprised to find that I was expected to fill out the forms on my lap as no hard surface was provided. We filled out the last minute details under his guidance and he showed us one at a time into a separate office where our photo and hand prints were taken. We were asked to review the application once more before all our passports and documents and the biometric information was sent off in an overnight express to New York for processing.

Hurray! All done! I didn’t anticipate having any difficulties with the approval process, but I did not expect the amazingly fast turnaround I experienced. My application was sent out Tuesday morning, on Wednesday afternoon I received an emailing saying they had received it. Friday morning I had received the approval email and my passport was back on its way to me and was in my hands on Saturday afternoon.
I wish I could say Beverly had the same experience. Hers took an additional week to process, though we filled them out and sent them together. Then, once it had arrived, it was misprinted! They had filled out her departure date as March 11 not May 11! She had to get it changed and fast, otherwise she would have to refile (a very costly option) or leave within 30 days of March 11. She is going to detail her process on cleaning this mess up on her blog http://beeavixen.tumblr.com/
Now all the bits and pieces are together, me, my passport, my little bar code sticker -DO NOT LOSE THIS. Bring it with you when you go to pick up your Visa at the prearranged site. We are ready to go! Next up, packing.