Mr. Selfish and I arrived in the City of Lights last night. We are staying here for a glorious six weeks. Although our apartment in Montmarte is quite small, we have two balconies and one of them has a wonderful view of the Sacre Coeur. We moved in as the sun was setting…
Mr. Selfish and I are all about the bargains and deals, especially when you’re in an expensive city like London. I’ve already gone over the 2 for 1 deals, as well as the free parks, museums, and markets available for lounging, learning, and browsing in London.
1. Shakespeare Globe Theatre – You can buy tickets to any show for 5 pounds. Mr. Selfish and I watched “Taming of the Shrew.” For a 5 pounds ticket, you have to stand in the Yard for the entire performance and are subject to the elements since it is uncovered. But hey, it’s 5 pounds. What other performance can you see for 5 pounds in London? Not much.
Aside from the standing and being subject to the elements, the view from the Yard is the best in the Globe. You can see everything clearly and the actors direct their voices toward you. Another plus is that you can bring in food and drinks (in plastic containers) to enjoy during the performance. It’s a bargain at 5 pounds!
Mr. Selfish and I visited Machu Picchu in September 2011. Because Machu Picchu is at about 8,000 feet elevation, it is recommended that visitors acclimate to the elevation in Cusco, Peru prior to visiting Machu Picchu. Cusco’s elevation is approximately 10,000 feet. We therefore stayed in Cusco for the recommended three days prior to venturing to Machu Picchu.
Cusco is a lovely town in which to take it easy and learn to acclimate to the elevation. You can just walk around and enjoy the beautiful architecture. There is also a market selling a variety of goods and different types of foods. Moreover, the ladies in their bowler hats and llamas were quite charming.
Mr. Selfish and I enjoy a good curry. Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time to stop in India on this trip. We decided to search for the ultimate curry in the next best location – London.
1. Lahore Kebab House is a restaurant off of Brick Lane, and no, it is not just a kebab house. My little cousin, Mr. Selfish, and I had samosas for an appetizer and then enjoyed the Bindi Lamb and the Chicken Tikki Masala as our entrees. The spiciness was just right but I typically like my curry to be a little on the spicier side. The naan was also perfectly cooked, and they even let us into the kitchen to show us how the naan was cooked.
Verdict: The best naan I’ve had yet, and the bindi lamb was spiced just right.
Mr. Selfish hadn’t traveled much around England, so he was happy to do most day trips. However, I had done quite a few day trips, so I wanted to go somewhere I hadn’t been before. I discovered that Brighton was a beach town that was only about an hour train ride from London. Mr. Selfish saw the photos and was skeptical. He’s not much of a beach guy and always claim that beach towns are trashy. I convinced him to go anyway, but unfortunately, this time – he was right.
Oddly, Brighton doesn’t have sand but has pebbles instead. I couldn’t imagine actually lying on the pebbles but people were doing it. They were also pretty drunk so that may have been a contributing factor.
The Days Out Guide provide some great 2 for 1 deals in London. All you have to do is print a 2 for 1 voucher, buy the ticket to the attraction at the site (as opposed to online), and enjoy your savings. But be sure to read the fine print. In order to retrieve the 2 for 1 voucher, you are supposed to show that you have used some kind of public transportation in London.
During the Olympics, there were 2 for 1 deals with the Oyster card, which is used for bulk travel on the Underground. All you had to do was print a 2 for 1 voucher and show your Oyster card when you purchased the tickets for the attraction, and voila, you received two tickets for the price of one! One attraction we used a 2 for 1 voucher for was the London Eye.
We heard that the lines for the Eye could be dreadful so we showed up when it opened at 10am. It was a beautiful clear day, and surprisingly, the lines weren’t so bad. The total experience took about 50 minutes with 30 minutes on the actual Eye itself (so 10 minutes for the line to buy tickets and 10 minutes for the line to get on the Eye).
Mr. Selfish and I went on a hunt for delicious scones in London. In the States, I always think of scones as overly sweet and dense. However, in London, they are as they should be – flaky and delicate. Unlike biscuits, which are made with animal fat or shortening, scones rely on cold butter for their texture.
Mr. Selfish and I have enjoyed many cream teas in order to rejuvenate in the afternoon. Cream tea consists of combination of scones, clotted cream, and jam. Therefore, the key to eating the scones is to lather them in clotted cream and jam. Mmmmm…here are some of our favorite scones in London:
1. Yumchaa – We tried three different scones here – (1) date, fig, and pistachio, (2) smoked cheddar and chive, and (3) feta cheese and olive. Although the savory scones were different, I preferred the traditional sweet one. I like Yumchaa scones because they have a different more crumbly texture than the other scones we sampled in London. Also, they toast the scones in a panini maker. Another bonus is that Yumchaa has an extensive tea selection. Mr. Selfish and I tried the Chelsea Chai and the Chilli Chilli Bang Bang. Both were delicious and the flavor was just right – not overwhelming.
Mr. Selfish and I wanted to take a day trip to a castle that wasn’t too popular. After some searching online, I came across Arundel Castle, which is about an hour and a half by train from London. The castle was founded on Christmas Day in 1067. Beginning in 1787, serious renovations on the castle began, and in 1846, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert visited Arundel and stayed at the castle. It was recently used in the filming of “Young Victoria” starring Emily Blunt, whom I adore.
We took a tour of the inside of the castle, including the Keep. No photography was allowed inside the castle, which has been magnificently restored, but we were allowed to take photographs of the Keep.
On those days that Mr. Selfish and I stay in Highgate Village, we have sampled the food and drink in the area. The following are our favorite pub, tea room, and coffee shop in Highgate:
The Flask – About a one-minute walk from our flat is the Flask, our local pub. Not only is there free wi-fi but there is delicious beer and yummy fish and chips. I can’t get enough of their mushy peas!
In May 2010, Mr. Selfish and I went to Brussels with our two good friends, Mike and Tini. We didn’t spend that long in Brussels to really take it in, but here are my thoughts on what is the best of Brussels:
1. Chocolate – It’s everywhere, and the quality is amazing. I guess the standards in the U.S. concerning cacao content being lax are true. The chocolate in Brussels was rich and dark – just the way I like it. Plus, the hot chocolate is pure melted chocolate – not that horrible powder stuff.
In Part 1 of this series, we discussed the merits of the large institution museums here in London – British Museum, the National Portrait Gallery, the Natural History Museum, and the Tate Modern. Now, we will review the four smaller museums Mr. Selfish and I visited during our stay – the Wallace Collection, the Victoria and Albert Museum of Childhood, the Hunterian Museum, and the British Library.
5. The Wallace Collection – This is a smaller museum containing an exquisite collection of fine and decorative arts from the 15th to the 19th century. It houses a painting which I’ve adored since college – “The Swing” by Jean-Honoré Fragonard.
I adore smaller museums since I don’t usually have the stamina for a really large museum. The Wallace Collection was the perfect size and contained beautiful rooms with lovely exhibits. I highly recommend it!
As I write this post, the conversion from pound to US dollar is 1.58! With that conversion, living in London can be pretty steep. Mr. Selfish and I have accordingly become very fond of the museums since the vast majority of them are free.
We went to eight museums during our time in London. This post will review the four larger museums we visited – the British Museum, the National Portrait Gallery, the Natural History Museum, and the Tate Modern. Part 2 will review the four smaller museums that Mr. Selfish and I visited during our stay.
1. The British Museum – Established in 1753, this museum focuses on human history and culture. It contains over 8 million items in its permanent collection. Mr. Selfish and I personally enjoy the Egyptian and Asian permanent exhibits. We also visited the temporary Picasso exhibit, which contained over 100 etchings by Picasso.
It is always worthwhile to visit the British Museum. Mr. Selfish and I have been here separately and together on a number of occasions. The only downside is that it can get pretty swamped by tourists, especially the Egyptian exhibits. I would recommend not visiting the British Museum on the weekends but going during the weekday.
Mr. Selfish and I discovered another cost-efficient way to spend an afternoon – browsing the markets. From foodie heaven to antiques to alternative clothing, London has the market for you.
1. Borough Market – Mr. Selfish and I could eat every day at this market. Not only was the variety tremendous, but everything was fresh. By far, the very best food stall at this market is Kappacasein, which sells the most delectable grilled cheese sandwich I’ve ever had. Other yummy delights were from Pieminister for Cornwall pasties, Northfield Kitchen for salt beef sandwiches, and the Guildable Manor for their mixed grill sandwich. Although there is very limited seating, you can always grab your food and head to the area in front of the Southwark Cathedral to nibble down.
After airfare, accommodation costs are probably one of the highest expenses you’ll incur when traveling (with the possible exception of food, if you’re like Mrs. Selfish and I!). For stays over 5 days we like to rent apartments, but for fast travel we usually stay at a hotel.
For our trip to Ireland, however, Mrs. Selfish and I planned on driving through 6 cities in 7 nights. This entailed staying at 6 different hotels – a booking feat which I used to loathe, but now enjoy. Why? Because of Expedia’s Best Guarantee.
What is the Best Rate Guarantee?
Expedia claims to have the lowest price for all hotel rentals and flights everywhere and even go so far as to back it up with a Best Rate Guarantee:
“We’re so confident you’ll find the best price for your trip on Expedia that we guarantee it. Find a cheaper identical trip within 24 hours of booking and we’ll refund the difference–and give you an Expedia travel coupon worth $50.”
That’s right, in the event that you manage to find a cheaper rate, not only will they match the price, but they’ll give you a $50 coupon for your next Expedia purchase! This seems ripe for exploitation…
My little cousin, who works for Google, was in town and wanted to check out the new London office. Since we were with her, Mr. Selfish and I also toured the office. As usual, Google’s office seemed like a great place to work.
There were nifty submarine style doors, funky decorated areas, lots of places to eat, and tons of video conference rooms.