Europe in winter

Visiting Europe in winter is great for a number of reasons. Firstly, it is incredibly cheap. Hotels, restaurants and tourist attractions are all off-peak prices. So if you are contemplating a European  holiday on a budget; winter is the best time for you. Secondly, snow. Enough said. Who doesn’t love a White Christmas?!  For people watchers and atmosphere addicts, a trip to Europe during winter will have you hooked, you will never want to visit during any other season again.

Here are some of the best places in Europe to visit during winter.

Berlin, Germany.

No one does Christmas better than Germany, with historic markets full of gluhwein (mulled wine), German sausages, gingerbread, pretzels, and candied nuts on almost every corner. The most famous being Gendarmenmarkt. A 1 Euro entry fee will offer sit-in restaurants, bars and entertainment. Eating (and for that matter drinking) at the markets is incredibly cheap. You can eat lunch and dinner on the go, leaving lot’s of money for gluhwein (the perfect way to keep warm), hot chocolate, or beer. It’s the best way to take in the cheerful atmosphere and magical winter wonderland that is around you.

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Prague, Czech Republic.

Home to possibly the best Christmas tree you will ever see Prague also has Christmas markets that will give Germany a run for its money. Trdelník is a traditional pastry cooked over hot coals, covered in cinnamon sugar and sometimes Nutella. This will become a staple of your diet in Prague, I promise. Prague is generally a cheap tourist destination in Europe and Christmas time, although certainly very busy, is no exception. Food portions are huge, beer is cheap and the baroque rooftops are beautifully contrasted against grey skies.

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Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

Winter in Amsterdam is quiet, there are almost no crowds and this is due partly in fact to the freezing temperatures it reaches. Cold air drifts off the canals and there is no escaping it. The locals are used it, still riding their bikes absolutely everywhere. Rug up and huddle in some tea shops to keep warm. Wandering the streets admiring the beauty of the city and the Dutch architecture is also a great way to keep warm.

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Edinburgh, Scotland.

Edinburgh has this old historic charm about it that undoubtedly makes it an underrated European destination. There are a so many things to do which make exploring this sleepy, snowy town so much more charismatic. Edinburgh has a dark history full of filth and violence, it is truly fascinating and visiting during winter brings that history to life.

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Rome, Italy.

The best time to visit Rome is during winter. Fountains freeze over and there are little to no crowds, which means you can get more out of your day by eliminating wait time in lines. Accommodation costs are at a minimum and you get a greater sense of Roman life as the stresses of summer (crowds, tourists and the heat) all but disappear. Not to mention the dappled light and sun spurs make for some spectacular shots.

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Europe is beautiful. No one can deny that and winter offers a great excuse to head indoors and absorb the culture of a city. Be it museum, galleries or a local craft shop. Sometimes it is so cold outside you find a cosy spot in a warm café or bar and simply watch the snow fall and the world go by.

London and the rain Part 2

London is synonymous with Museums and understandably as she has seemed to have found herself in the centre of modern history. Obviously visiting one of London’s many, many museums would be the most natural of choices if the weather was to be unfavourable. Although Churchill’s War Rooms are popular amongst history buffs I have never had the opportunity to visit the Museum myself so am unable to comment personally on the quality of the museum, however, I have only ever heard good things. I am certain though that the long list of Museums and Galleries that are available to visit in London are equally as good.

One of the only museums I had the pleasure of visiting whilst I was in London was the Clink Prison. If you are in to terrifying your children or the fascinating history of London then this should be high on your list of places to visit. The Clink is Medieval London’s most notorious prison, situated in Southwark, England. I have mentioned the number of things to do in Southwark in a previous post found here https://berlinstorm.com/2014/08/05/london-and-good-weather-part-2/ What is so fantastic about the Clink is that not only is it kid friendly in regards to the information provided but the Museum has been reconstructed on the original site. The staff have quite successfully (in my opinion) maintained the originality of the site, creating an interactive and informative experience at only £7.50 for adults and £5.50 for kids.

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Now it should be a crime to be in London and not see a show in West End. The link to the current and upcoming shows has been provided below and my recommendations are as follows: Wicked, Billy Elliot and Les Miserables, although I hear that the Book of Morman is quite excellent as well. Oxford Circus and Picadilly Circus are the best stations for either the West End Theatre Bookings or a majority of the theatres.

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If you have a couple of hours to kill before a flight or the rain is just making you too miserable to get out and explore then Harrods Department Store will certainly keep you and your family entertained for a number of hours. Arguably a London institution, a visit to Harrods in Knightsbridge is a jaw dropping, spectacular experience with lavishly decorated themed rooms and staircases. You will find a section/floor for every member of the family. The Millionaire Gallery is well worth a visit if you are a fan of self-torture by eyeing off things you cannot afford. If and when all that exploring makes you hungry then pay a visit to the Food Hall which will most certainly satisfy your needs.

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That’s all for the London series for now.

Enjoy!

http://www.iwm.org.uk/visits/churchill-war-rooms

http://www.clink.co.uk

http://www.westendtheatrebookings.com

http://www.harrods.com

 

 

Harry Potter Studios- London

It is no secret to those who know me or read my blog that I am a huge Harry Potter fan. I couldn’t be in the birthplace of Harry Potter and not visit the West London Studios where the films were made. To see the sets, costumes and props as they were when they were filming and all the behind-the-scenes elements truly takes your breath away. It was the definite highlight of my trip. I got to see Diagon Alley and Hogwarts Castle as it appeared in the last films, costumes and props and learned some insider secrets to filming. It inspires a Harry Potter movie session upon your return home. In fact, it worked well in unison with the Muggle Tours walking tour of London that I did the following day. However, the Studio Tours fits in here because 95% of it is inside. There is an outside lot that houses Privet Drive, Godric’s Hollow, the chess pieces and much more including a snack stand which sells Starbucks and Butter Beer. Be prepared and bring a rain jacket or similar to the studios regardless. You will be outside briefly as you make your way through the Studios, besides it is freezing inside as it is basically a giant warehouse.

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There are two direct and simple ways to get to the West London Studios if you don’t want to hire a car for the day. The Warner Brothers website, provided below, provides a detailed description of how to get there. I took the public transport option and caught the overground train from Euston to Watford Junction. This took about 30 minutes as it stopped at every station, however, I was lucky enough to get an express train on my return which was much quicker. Once you arrive at Watford Junction, exit and make your way to the bus stands, you can’t miss the giant Harry Potter double decker bus. For a small fee (around £2) you can buy a return transfer ticket. The other option is to buy your ticket, including transport, through viator.com, direct link provided below. The public transport option costs only a few pounds extra, however, you are not limited to a tour schedule and have the freedom to leave the studios whenever you wish.

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When you book your studio tour ticket, which costs around £31 for an adult and £23.50 for kids, you select a time you would like your session to start, first one being at 10am. If you decide to take the public transport option via train and shuttle bus, allow 1 hours travel time to make this session, or they will make you wait for the next one. I suggest booking the 10am session as the tour is self-guided, no one will rush you or push you out (unless they are closing). Please note that although it is self-guided it is a one way system, so be sure you have seen everything you want before moving on. There are also upgradable options for your ticket, including audio guides and passport activities for kids, which involve them finding checkpoints and stamping a collectors Harry Potter Passport.

So there you have it, it appears that this one is all about Harry Potter Studios, it is such a great experience that it is worthy of an entire post. It will be an enjoyable experience even if you are not a fan as you get to see some behind-the-scenes aspects and secrets to filming, such as green screen and forced perspective.

http://www.wbstudiotour.co.uk
http://www.viator.com/tours/London/Warner-Bros-Studio-Tour-London-The-Making-of-Harry-Potter/d737-5461POTTERSTUDIO

London and the rain

Google “how often does it rain in London” and the general response is uhhhh often! If you travel there, even during Summer, and you get a rainless, sunny, cloudless day, then you are extremely lucky. You travel overseas unprepared for rain once (as I did when I travelled to the United States in 2012) and as a result have to buy things that you own an abundance of at home, and you never make that mistake again. Hence why I always travel with a few particular items. I will write about what I pack in another post after this series. Not only do you need to be prepared for rain in what you pack, but what you plan to do. Some activities need to be bookmarked under “play it by ear” and these are all view related activities such as the London Eye or the Shard. This applies more so in London where the weather changes often and suddenly.

I decided to start with one of the most popular tourist attractions in London, the London Dungeon. A very entertaining, educational and good value for money attraction. The London Dungeon is an iconic attraction with interactive sets and live actors who guide you through the site. The entrance fee is a reasonable £25.20 (or £17.50 if you purchase online beforehand) and includes 2 rides and 18 interactive shows that walk you through the dark and gruesome history of London, including the infamous Jack the Ripper and Sweeney Todd. There will be laughs and screams all round and is not for the faint hearted. A definite day out for the family as the emotion aroused from this activity will create resonate memories for a lifetime.

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For those who are in London for some shopping, Oxford street is the place for you, as it is home to one of my favourite shops in London, Primark. The best station to access this glorious centre of cheap, well made clothing is Marble Arch. Here you can view the triumphant Marble Arch structure, which stands close to the former site of the Tyburn gallows (sometimes called ‘Tyburn Tree’), a place of public execution from 1388 until 1793. Primark is a budget shopper’s mecca. Good, long lasting, quality products that are a very reasonable price. Primark stocks something for everyone: Children’s, men’s, and women’s clothing and accessories (shoes included). The only tip I have for anyone visiting this store is this: it is hot, it is busy beyond belief, and do not try anything on in the change rooms as there is a limit of items per customer and a line so long you wouldn’t believe me. If you have the time, by all means try things on but I could never justify wasting my precious holiday time waiting in a line to try clothes on that may or may not fit. I find myself a mirror in a discreet corner of the shop and try on things that don’t require me having to remove any items of my clothing. This is a secret between you and me of course as we don’t want too many people doing it. Oxford street is where you will find a myriad of shops and you will also connect with Regent street which has an equal number of places  to spend your holiday money, including the famous Hamleys toy shop.

Happy shopping!

http://www.thedungeons.com/london/en/

http://www.primark.com/en/whats-new

http://oxfordstreet.co.uk

http://www.regentstreetonline.com

http://www.hamleys.com

London and good weather Part 3

For Geography lovers, or those that like to make the most of their time travelling, Greenwich Village is luckily a short boat ride away. Here you will find the Greenwich Observatory, home to the Prime Meridian, where else can you stand where time starts….ahhhh nowhere but Greenwich! The link provided below gives you a number of options to get to Greenwich either by train, bus or rail. My suggestion is, if the weather is fine do not take any other transport option other than by boat. The trip down the Thames is largely spectacular, filled with archaic buildings bleeding with history and heritage. Once you arrive, spend the time to explore this quaint, truly underrated village. There are plenty of boutiques and cafés to discover, and you can either return to London by boat again or by train.

Home to the Crown Jewels and the history you travelled half way across the world to see is the Tower of London. There are not many places left in the world where there is a maintained castle in the heart of the city, part of the reason why London is so great! Entry into the Castle can range from £20- £22 (depending if you buy online or at the gate) and there are countless amounts of attractions once inside, not to mention various viewpoints of London’s iconic sights, namely the ever popular Tower Bridge. The most popular attractions inside the Tower of London are Traitor’s Gate (where they bought Traitor’s in from the ships before they tortured and most likely hung them), The Torture Tower, where you can view the various torture methods to gets criminals alike to admit to crimes they did or did not commit, and the Crown Jewels (the most popular and biggest wait time). Whilst you are there don’t forget to get a photo with a Beefeater.

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The Tower of London is situated next to the non-coincidentally named Tower Bridge, which is absolutely beautiful and on a fine day makes for a glorious walk over to South London. The north tower holds a museum (and not to mention a spectacular view down the Thames). It is well worth a walk across this Bridge as the southern side of the bridge houses not only the London Eye, but Hay’s Galleria, which allows for a perfect lunch stop. There are numerous places to eat, such as Café Rouge, Côte Brasserie and The Fish Restaurant at Balls Brothers. There is also a water sculpture for big and little kids alike.

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Last but not least for my London and good weather series (I will be moving on to what to do if the weather is not so fine next) is something close to my heart. Harry Potter fans around the world travel to London to view a number of HP related sights and involve themselves in various activities. One such activity that I enjoyed doing was a Walking Tour of London by Muggle Tours. A small, privately owned company that hires dedicated, knowledgeable Harry Potter fans who provide a historical and factual tour of places around London that inspired author J.K. Rowling. Muggle Tours is aware that some participants may be dragged along beyond their will and thus provide information of a non-HP matter to provide them with some relief. You will need a valid Oyster Card or Day Ticker for the Tube, as the tour does involve one train ride. If at the very least you are not a HP fan, have faith in the fact that you are provided with an insiders tour of London, and some not-so-commonly known facts about this fascinating city too. A highly recommended tour for any Harry Potter fans, also very good value for money at only at only £12 fir adults and £10 for children.

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http://www.rmg.co.uk/visit/get-here/by-river

http://www.visitgreenwich.org.uk

http://www.hrp.org.uk/TowerOfLondon/

http://www.towerbridge.org.uk/TBE/EN/

http://www.haysgalleria.co.uk

http://www.muggletours.co.uk

London and good weather Part 2

London is synonymous with bad weather, sorry Londoners but it’s true. Well let’s say “unfriendly”. For Australians we associate our winter with your summer. When I visited for the first time last summer I had to wear 5 layers, 5! I was also still freezing. So it’s safe to say that when the weather is good in London (which is often rare) you make the most of it.

I imagine The Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace as one those Bucket List items on many peoples list, the problem with wanting to view this when the weather is fine is that so do all the other tourists that are visiting London. This iconic ceremony is only worth your time if you can see anything, so if you have the patience then arrive at Buckingham Palace well before the scheduled 11:30am start and position yourself near the golden gates that mark the entry to the palace. I have provided a link to the website with days/times for the ceremony, also information about the phone app available.

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For food connoisseurs the Borough Markets is the place for you, London’s most renowed food market that is guaranteed to have something for everyone. The full market is open Wednesday-Saturday. Word to the wise, don’t go on Sunday as you will be thoroughly disappointed if you wanted to experience the bustle of the market, although various surrounding café’s will be open. If you do go on the Saturday hold out on your coffee fix until you get to Monmouth Coffee, arguably the best coffee in London. There is a queue, and quite frankly if that many people are willing to wait in a line for coffee, then it must be good! London’s Southwark is a fantastic place with countless activities for young and old. So I will write about the various things to do in this not-so-hidden gem.

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Crossbones Graveyard is an unholy burial ground dating back to the 12th Century when the land-owning Bishop of Winchester granted prostitutes in the borough legal permission to practice their trade. Needless to say they were not free to be buried on church ground and their bodies were buried in Crossbones Graveyard. The Golden Hinde is a rebuilt ship that has been turned into a museum and guided tours are provided by staff dressed in period costume.  Visitors can also stay on the ship overnight to get a hands-on taste of what life as a crew member would have been like.

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You could really spend the day exploring the borough of Southwark, and although yes, technically this is meant to be a post about outdoors related activities, it would be irresponsible of me to ignore the other fantastic things on offer. Southwark Cathedral is spectacular for many reasons, its archaic design and welcoming staff (they encourage visitors even during a service), and historical links to Shakespeare, just to name a few. Which brings me to my final destination. Shakespeare’s Globe. It’s a crime to visit London’s Southwark and not visit Shakespeare’s Globe. I mean London, hell England itself is synonymous with Shakespeare “and where the offence is, let the great axe fall.” I couldn’t have said it better myself, Will.

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http://www.royal.gov.uk/RoyalEventsandCeremonies/ChangingtheGuard/Overview.aspx

http://boroughmarket.org.uk

http://cathedral.southwark.anglican.org

http://www.shakespearesglobe.com

London and good weather

I’m lucky to have found myself in a career that is transferable around the world, allowing myself to develop skills and qualifications in a job that will never become obsolete. That being said, the ultimate career goal for me is to live and work in London. Thus far I am finding it difficult to make that dream a reality but nonetheless I endeavour to make regular trips to satisfy my desires. London is incredible, and anyone who has visited it recently would not disagree. Like Paris and many other European cities it is abundant of history, beauty and people.

As is the case with many places in the world the best (and often busiest) time to visit is in Summer. In the case of London you get the most of your day with the sun setting around 10:30/11pm and rising much more earlier than I do. In general, opening times are no earlier than 10am so bear this in mind if you are an early riser. The lines are as expected, long and time consuming, so pre purchase tickets for non weather related tasks. For example, the London Eye or Shard viewing tower is heavily reliant on good weather. Sunshine and a lack of clouds qualifies for a fantastic view, so unfortunately these tasks need to be assessed on a day-to-day basis. Which ultimately means this may require some wait time, but it is so worth it.

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As London has such unpredictable weather I will make weather related posts for this series, starting with sunny weather as this is so few and far between. Please note, that even though there is sunshine in London, do not assume that this means you do not need an umbrella, as anyone who knows London weather will tell you.

Waterloo is the best station for the London Eye and the London Dungeon (which I will discuss in a later post) as it is the closest geographically, however, Westminster allows for you to view not only Westminster Abbey but walk along Westminster Bridge obtaining fantastic views and the picture perfect shot of Big Ben beforehand. Crossing this Bridge in particular is scary on occasions as it is always full of commuters and tourists all trying to get somewhere or take a photo. It can be scary and breathtaking at the same time. Anyone who has spent anytime visiting or living in London will know that more often than not, nobody cares about anyone, so take the time to let the view sink in. I don’t think I need to write a long paragraph about how fantastic the views are on the London Eye. Just do it! You will not regret it. Thousands of people don’t travel to London every year for just any reason, and they sure don’t queue in the line for the Eye for no reason either. You can thank me later.

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An equally extraordinary view is the one from the Shard. Law states that all view points in London must have the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral in sight, because of this someone at a viewing point in Greenwich must still be able to see the dome. When the Shard was being built, the traditional skyscraper shape would have obstructed this view so the building had to be shaped with a point at the top, making it look like a shard of glass, hence the name. The shard does have a significantly less queuing time and less people to obstruct your view, and it terms of what is seen, it is the same except that the London Eye will be in your sight.

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For those travelling with family and seeking an oasis from the city, or those who enjoy the outdoors, Richmond Park is the best place for you. This is the largest of the 8 royal parks in London and offers various activities to do, even the viewing of wild deer. You can hire bikes if you wish to go for a scenic bike ride, also a pen pond for the fishing inclined. There are facilities for golf, horse riding, sporting fields, and so the list goes on. Richmond park is public transport accessible and the website is user friendly, and provided below.

You will find a tube map here:

https://www.tfl.gov.uk/cdn/static/cms/documents/standard-tube-map.pdf

http://www.londoneye.com

http://www.theviewfromtheshard.com/en/tickets-packages/ticket-information/

http://www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/richmond-park