What’s in the bag! Packing for Europe.

Packing for this trip has probably been the most challenging part of planning so far. I’ve never backpacked before, I’m more of a suitcase on wheels and wear sweat pants all the time kind of traveller. I’m not just packing for a quick tour of England, I am travelling Europe and then moving to London. How are you supposed to pack for the frequently cold English weather, dry heat of the mediterranean, party clothes for nights at the disco, and professional clothes for the inevitable job interview, all while fitting it in my 60L MEC backpack? I kept praying for the angel of packing to take care of it for me, but to no avail.

I started taking a serious look at my wardrobe. Would I really need three different party dresses? Do I even wear those shirts anymore? I had to really be willing to part with of a lot of my clothes. I donated 5 garbage bags full of clothes I just don’t need anymore. I packed and repacked my bag 6 times before I was satisfied. Space is precious in my bag and every item I bring had to really be worth it.

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Space is precious but seven pairs of shoes are absolutely necessary.

Seven pairs of shoes. Yes, seven.

  • 1 pair of flip flops for the hostel showers
  • 1 pair of runners because I like to stay active when I can
  • 1 pair converse sneakers for street wear
  • 1 pair of Blundestone boots which I love so much. They’re super comfy and waterproof and I wear them when I travel from place to place.
  • 1 pair of black heels for the dancing times
  • 1 pair of ridiculously cute ballet flats because I love them and I refuse to leave them behind.

IMG_33195 Dresses 4 light and summery for hot weather and 1 fancy one for going out dancing.

  • 7 T-shirts
  • 6 tank tops
  • 4 button up shirts I’m Canadian, of course I have plaid.
  • 4 pairs of pants, 1 for going out and 3 for day wear.
  • 4 pairs of shorts 2 for day wear and 2 swim shorts
  • 2 swim suits
  • 1 denim jacket. This is my favorite piece ever. I wear it with everything
  • 1 wool coat I should have ditched this before leaving the UK for south Europe. I’m glad I had it in Hampshire but now I’m questioning just how attached I am to it.

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My eagle creek compression cubes are the best decision I have ever made for travelling. I can keep my clothes organized and sorted instead of pulling everything out of my bag to find something, it’s there in neat little cubes. They’re like drawers for my backpack!

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This is it. This is all the toiletries I need for my trip. You’ll notice there’s no bottle of shampoo or conditioner. I have really long, super fine and thick poker straight hair, making it do anything nice is a challenge. So for me my shower ritual is sacrosanct, but I didn’t want to deal with the weight of liquid shampoo and conditioner. I needed an alternative. On the recommendation of a fellow traveller I decided to try Lush’s bar shampoo. That tiny little round tin holds the power of 200 washes and I love it! It lathers up and makes my hair feel so soft and clean.  I’m not sold on the conditioner. It’s ok. It leaves my hair soft and fluffy, but I think my high maintenance locks require a little more conditioning than the Lush bar can provide.  Instead of a loofah, I use the exfoliating glove. It’s small and dries fast after use and takes up little space. So far I only use the disposable razors. My favorite are gillette, which are geared towards men, work exactly the same as a woman’s and cost less.

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I keep my makeup bag pretty simple. Back home I had all the different brushes, eye shadow, blush, setting spray, the whole shebang, but even at home I rarely use any of it. These are my essentials and the ones I cannot live without. A primer, a cover up, foundation and powder. I don’t usually wear eyeliner or mascara because I don’t like cleaning the mascara off the delicate skin around my eyes every day. I feel I can get enough vavavoom by just brushing and curling my eyelashes but on those special occasions it is nice to have, so I brought them with me. IMG_3303

Looking at other travel bloggers my electronic set up is pretty sparse! I have my Canon EOS DSLR, which I got on craigslist for $300. I did splurge and bought myself a macbook and I am so glad I did! It’s light and it’s made it so easy for me to make these blogs and post them online. Originally I intended to use my iPad with to blog from, but since I bought my computer it has largely laid unused in my bag. Now I think I’ll only use it when I finally get an apartment and I would gladly have left it behind. I brought my iPhone since I would be working the in the UK and wanted to have something reliable with me.  Travellers frequently pick up a cheap pay as you go phone for making local calls and texts. This hasn’t been necessary in my travels. I have met with little difficulty in using my iPhone, which I leave on airplane mode and connect to wifi either on the streets or in coffee shops. I can use the map even when not connected (I downloaded google maps) and I frequently use my phone to translate when I am struggling with the language. Not only that, but my phone takes pretty awesome photos. It is my life line on the road. It has my calendar which I share with travel companions and my mother (who is doing a great job at being supportive despite her concern.) All of these life line items are kept really close to my chest. Literally. When I’m on the road they live in my Herschel backpack which I wear in the front.

There are professional bloggers that have awesome underwater camera cases, go pros, and lenses and filters. If you have the good fortune to come across Alex in Wanderland’s fabulous blog, check out her What’s in my bag? Series where she covers her essentials in great detail for a variety of destinations.

Some travel essentials not pictured but included:

  • 2 Locks, both combination, one for my locker the other my backpack
  • Power adapters
  • Headphones and the various chargers and cables that keep my electronics going
  • Wallet and passport. These I keep really close to me. My wallet has a loop that goes over my wrist and helps me feel more secure about having it out when I’m in public
  • Eagle Creek bra clip money pack. This is a low profile way to keep a backup stash of money when travelling through major tourist centers.
  • My sketchbook which also contains my travel documents in the back pocket
  • Journal…yes I write about my adventures in two places.

I think I have included everything! I know I’ll pick up a few things on the road, I already have my eye on a laundry bag and a better travel towel and face cloth.

So what about you, what things do you find impossible to leave behind when on the road?

 

 

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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!

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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