Why i’ll always be a Londoner at ❤… (and never be gone for too long!)

I often think how sad it is that I’ll never get to experience London as a tourist.

It’s the most eclectic, multicultural, amazing city I’ve ever been to. It’s just so varied, full of culture, heritage, sightseeing opportunities and iconic landmarks. That being said, I love being a Londoner. This is something that has come to my attention more recently, showing international friends around the city I know and love so much…

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Here’s a lovely candid, happy pic I took of my American/Spanish friend Layne enjoying the full tourist experience on Westminster bridge last weekend.

I was born in the London Borough of Bexley- with the rate that London is growing and sprawling more and more, i’m sure one day Bexley will be considered more central than peripheral- But I grew up with it very much on the edges of the city. Close enough to the feel the buzz and experience the benefits of being a Londoner (better public transport, refuse collections and regionally inflated wages for my parents) and far enough out to feel comfortable and suburban.

The local train station, just a few minutes walk from my parents house, where I lived from the ages of 7 to 18 (and still frequent as a cheeky visitor) is in Zone 6. That probably won’t mean much to you unless you’ve spent some time in London. The transport network in London has its very own authority (Transport for London, or TfL) with the London underground and overground, privately owned regional train providers and vitally over 700 red bus routes serving the capital. It’s really so easy to get from one place to another, though not as cheap as other international transport links, it is quite efficient when you think about how much of a gargantuan operation it is to move London’s 8.64 million inhabitants everyday, (plus the 31.5 million visitors we see every year (that number was from 2015 alone)!!)

When I moved to provincial Guildford and the lush Surrey countryside for University three years ago… the lack of buses every 4-9 minutes hit me hard. What’s more, the need to carry around small change or risk the wrath of bus drivers when you sheepishly wave them a £10 note… and pray they let you ride!

When I moved to Frankfurt last summer, I was struck by the lack of ticket barriers… HOW DO YOU KNOW THAT EVERYONE HAS BOUGHT A TICKET?! The truth is you don’t… and Schwarzfahren or freeloading/riding is pretty damn common. That is something difficult to reconcile with my will to be a good person… do the right thing… and pay for a ticket… and the overwhelming temptation to see if I can get away with it. The only deterrent is a 60 euro fine if caught, which isn’t really enough to dissuade many people, though it’s definitely worth buying a week or month pass if you travel often because they are far cheaper than the fine. What i’m getting at with that point though, is that London is my yardstick for everything. 

I frequently find myself saying “Oh this would be atleast twice as much money in London” (in the case of most food/drink I buy in central Europe) or “Goodness, you could get two of these for this price in London” (In the case of beer in Iceland– which is really saying something, as beer in London is not at all cheap by international standards!)

I see a ferris wheel and think… “that’s cool, but it’s no London Eye.”

I see a river and think- “that’s lovely, and much cleaner than the Thames!”

I see a clocktower and think of the Queen Elizabeth bell tower/ St. Steven’s tower (Big Ben is the name of the bell inside, actually!)

I find myself thinking- “The air is so clean here I can run without choking… must be far from home!”

As with most things in life, the place I grew up in is my imprinted scale for comparison when I travel.

It’s a blessing and a curse, having London, a great, influential sprawling city for a hometown.

Whenever I’ve been away for a while, even just in Guildford, I get a wave of relief from Heimweh I didn’t even notice I was suffering from, wash right over me as I see the skyline pulling into Waterloo.

 

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Flying into Heathrow on a sunny afternoon in April.

I took a really cool photo from the window of an aeroplane back from Frankfurt a few weeks ago and the guy next to me asked me (in German) if I was going on holiday to London too. I just smiled and told him something like, ‘No, i’m just going home. But it never gets old.’

ttfn

Han xoxo

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Overpr-iceland- something you should know before you go to Reykjavik…! £$€

I had a wonderful, unforgettable trip to Iceland with my family at the beginning of April. We saw a good deal of Reykjavik itself, but spent a large portion of our trip hunting down the northern lights at all hours (to no avail) and visiting some of the most famous natural wonders of Iceland (The Golden Circle, The Blue Lagoon, to name a couple!)

I think something none of us had quite bargained for before we embarked upon our holiday, was just how exceptionally pricey Iceland would be. This is something you should know if you don’t already, though you’ll probably have a rough idea from a little research.

It’s really, really expensive. I’m not exaggerating.

If you’re from anywhere with a currency that isn’t a roughly comparable Kroner (like NOK, SEK or DKK), prepare to feel financially pillaged. The exchange rates are unfavourable from pretty much any major western currency at present, especially the weak-ass Great British Pound £, but you’ll probably feel the sting of the ISK (Icelandic Krona) regardless… Everything is really expensive. Not just because of exchange rates, in fact, they aren’t even half of the story.

The average salary in Iceland is far higher than in most other developed countries… The average Icelander earns almost 3000 euros a month before tax… compared to the average UK earner, coming in at a little under 2000 a month (still talking in euros here, just for ease of comparison.)  According to some sources, Reykjavik is actually THE most expensive capital city in the world. So don’t go without being prepared for the squeeze on your wallet. I went on a family trip, and my parents by no means scrimped, but we still felt consistently conscious of the seemingly ludicrous prices…

On our first afternoon we went to nice little cafe in Reykjavik, Stofan, (which I had previously spotted on tripadvisor)… It was cosy, warm and made a forgiving escape from the relentless freezing rain and icy wind… all was well until my mother figured out that the toastie my sister wanted to order (a veggie one, with mozzarella, tomato and pesto), which you would never pay more than £7 for in even the swishest London cafe (of equivocal centrality and vibes)… was going to set us back around £25. Roughly 27 euros. $32 USD. For a vegetarian toastie… To say it was a shock to the system would be an understatement.

You really wouldn’t believe the cost of alcohol in Iceland, either. A lot of the priciness comes down to the fact it is a tiny island nation in the arctic circle… But perhaps the shock was so distinct as Reykjavik certainly didn’t feel rural at all to me, quite comparable to many other European coastal cities I’ve visited. They don’t import that much by way of finished products… so it’s expensive to buy Icelandic, but even more expensive to buy imports.

There are *some* things you can do and see in Reykjavik on a budget. We made the decision to buy a hop-on-hop-off bus ticket… as taxis are pretty extortionate and we wanted to see all the city highlights in a day.

The Hallgrímskirkja is a stunning feat of modern architechture, probably the most recognisable landmark in Reykjavik and is free to visit. For a small fee you can ascend the tower for panoramic views over the city (although by this point in our trip we had decided to conserve our Krona for food wherever possible to avoid accidental starvation.)

 

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Leifur Eiríksson stands majestically mounted in front of the Hallgrimskirkja

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Icelanders seem to have a good sense of humour, atleast!

We also ventured to the Harpa, a stunning glass building by the Old Harbour, complete with visitor centre, theatre, gift shops and great photo opportunities.

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The geometric facade of the Harpa is mesmerising, even on a grey day.

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The Harpa comes complete with obligatory funky modern sculptures, inside and out.

DSC_0500.JPG There’s a stunning view of the Esja Mountain from the coast of Reykjavik- a unique backdrop for a busy city.

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Though largely frowned upon by Icelandic authorities, colourful graffiti provides a free attraction in central Reykjavik for thrifty travellers, and brightens up a grey city on a grey day no end.

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The breathtaking views of the sea and mountains from the city centre are certainly a free bonus worth enjoying if you visit overpriceland!

You’ll pay a lot  for excursions too, but I would say they are definitely worth it once you’re there. The only thing i’d say was a waste of money for us was our ‘northern lights tour’ (we never saw any, and stood in the cold, deserted and perfectly dark lava fields of rural iceland two nights in a row at 2am). But naturally, that’s something i’m sure those who have gotten lucky would say is worth taking a chance on.

If you want to go on trips to places like the Golden Circle (which I would recommend entirely) or the Blue Lagoon (which was also pretty cool), book in advance to save money. The two main coach trip providers are Reykjavik Excursions and Grayline. We used the former for our trips and were not disappointed.

Finally, something that may give you a little giggle- I mentioned briefly in my post on The Golden Circle that i paid the world’s most expensive toilet a visit. On the topic of overprIceland…. here’s the view from the sink..!

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If you do decide to take a trip to Iceland, make sure you’re prepared for the prices… once you’ve got your head around that as an investment, you’ll most likely be pretty impressed with the place. I certainly was!

Tata for now,

Han xoxo