Oxford

The City of Dreaming Spires

As a house that is obsessed with Tolkien and Harry Potter, Oxford seemed like the perfect location for a house trip. 3 trains and 2 hours later we were in the famous university city, on what we assume may have been graduation day, that or they have very fancy uniforms that include mortar boards.


University Oxford Botanic Gardens.

Founded in 1621, the oldest botanic garden in Britain,  this small but beautiful place was out first stop. It isn’t anywhere near as big as Kew Gardens but is just as beautiful. It has over 8,000 different plant species in it’s gardens and green houses. Lots of people were sitting and relaxing, while people were being punted down the river beside it.

It cost £5 to get into, but offers student discount.

I personally liked the giant lily pads and seeing the pineapple grow.


Bodleian Library

Oh my goodness! This was just incredible and a must see. You can either get an audio guide or a guided tour – I would definitively recommend a guided tour. It is still a working library, so you’re not aloud to take photos inside and you have to be very quiet. Our tour guide was really knowledgeable, telling us about the library, how the books were made and about the filming of the Harry Potter films – both the library and the Divinity School were used for the Library, Hospital wing and for the Yule ball practice dance. It was really interesting to hear about the history of the library and how a lot of it was destroyed due to Edward VI and the reformation. I would love to gush to you about all I learnt but that would completely spoil it for you!

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Bodleian Library Treasury

Opposite the library, inside the Weston Library, is the treasury. This is definitely worth a visit – and it’s free! It displays some amazing collections of work including handwritten letters by Kenneth Grahame and JRR Tolien. We all found the Morse Code letter from the Titanic incredibly interesting. It’s also got a 1217 engrossment of the Magna Carta. Simply incredible. We all walked out stunned.

J.R.R. Tolkien, A letter from Father Christmas


Bridge of Sighs

As this was right outside the Library, we had to all have a quick selfie!

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Eagle and Child Pub

How could we not go to Oxford and drink in the same pub as the Inklings? We hunted this narrow, dark pub as our last stop. A frequent meeting place of many famous writers, including Tolkien and C.S.Lewis, we were all eager to go here. I must admit, it was a lovely pub, but I was expecting more mention of the the writers. There’s a few memorabilia above the fire place, and a plaque as you come in, but not much more else. It was still a lovely place to eat – and very yummy.


There are lots of other lovely places in Oxford that we missed, but as it was only a quick day trip we definitely did a lot! Alex was thrilled as he was able to buy 3 classics from the Oxford University Press shop!


Have you been to Oxford before?

What did you enjoy most?

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Barcelona

I have just flown back from a couple of days in Barcelona. This is slightly shorter than what I would usually spend in a city so we had to just do the highlights.

As you’ve probably gathered from my previous posts, I spend a lot of time walking around the cities rather than getting public transport but Barcelona has so many steps I had to cave and get the Metro to save my poor legs! The Metro is super easy to use – you get a T-10 ticket that lets you have 10 rides on any form of public transport.


Park Guell

A lot of Barcelona is designed by the same architect, GaudíWe had been pre-warned that this sells out quickly so to book online, on the day we arrive all tickets for the day were sold out by 10:30, so unless you’re getting there super early and willing to wait/come back later, definitely book online. The gardens around the main Park are open to the public and are beautiful, I especially enjoyed the balcony walkways and the mound with three crosses on. Inside Park Guell itself is phenomenal. Incredibly busy, but totally worth it. There are mosaics everywhere, including the houses and the iconic lizard. I particularly loved the tall white marble columns with the mosaics on the ceiling. This was definitely one of the highlights of my trip!

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La Rambla

At one end, closest to the sea, is a giant statue of Christopher Columbus pointing out to sea. I had great fun pretending he was singing different songs (I want you, you and you). If you walk down La Rambla it is heaving! It has lots of pavement cafes and souvenir kiosks. What can be more touristy than drinking Sangria and eating Paella on La Rambla! Only downside is there are lots of people selling things illegally and lots of warning about pickpockets, including by our transfer.


Picasso Museum

We turned up on the first day around 4pm and the wait for tickets was 2 hours! SO we turned up at 9 the next day and we only had to wait 5 minutes – so definitely get there early if you don’t want to pre-pay or wait for long. I was really surprised by the vast amount of work by Picasso in this museum, and the range of styles! I’m only use to his iconic cubism and surrealism but he was disciplined in many forms. We got audio guides and went into the exhibition, both of which I would recommend as his more well known pieces were on display in the exhibition.

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Montjuic

At the top of a mountain, there is a way to walk up to it, but there was no way I was going to do that! There is a funicular you can get on that takes you to the top! I was very excited to go on the funicular for the first time. Turns out they sound more exciting than they actually are! At the top there are some beautiful gardens (with yet more steps) and the Olympic Stadium. We also found the Magic Fountain but unfortunately they only do displays on certain times and it wasn’t on during our stay – this is definitely something I’d like to come back again to see.


Parc de la Ciutadella

This park was gorgeous! In the middle is the most gorgeous fountain and steps. It’s so splendid that my little camera couldn’t get all of it in. There is a cute little pond that had boats on so you could go rowing and, absurdly, a giant mammoth you could have photos with. At the other end of the park is the zoo.

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Sagrada Familia

This is quite possibly the most breathtaking building I have ever seen. We booked tickets online to go inside and got the audio guide, which is definitely worth the money. The building is still not complete, construction began in 1882 and isn’t due to be complete until 2026.

On one side of building it depicts the Nativity – Mary begin chosen and Jesus being born – and the other side depicts the Passion – the death and Resurrection of Jesus. Both sides are completely different and utterly breathtaking. Even if you’re not going inside, seeing the Sagrada Familia is phenomenal.

Inside is a stark contrast to the outside but just as beautiful. It’s very white with large, colourful stained glass windows. The pillars were built to replicate trees, and designed so that sound can’t echo.

My only sad point was that we booked to go up the towers and they were closed because it had rained a bit! Would definitely love to have gone up them!

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As per tradition, we also went to the Hard Rock Cafe. We also went to see Casa Batlló but didn’t realise it was still open so didn’t go in!

If we were to go again I would love to go into Casa Batló , see the Magic Fountain, go up the towers in the Sagrada Familia and I know Daz would want to go to Camp Nou.

Have you been, or like to go, to Barcelona?

What did you do / would you like to do?

See my other travels, including Paris and Rome, here.

When in Rome…

Last year we were lucky enough to spend a few days in Rome. We booked a hotel in the North East of the city – this was perfect as it meant we did the South of the city on one day and the West, towards the Vatican, on another day.

Italy is wonderful for students and young adults – if you are 18-25 and a European Citizen, you can get free/discounted entry into lots of top attractions! So take ID with you!

Although Rome is meant to have very good transport links we walked the entire time!

The Colosseum, The Roman Forum and Palatine Hill

When you buy a ticket for the Colosseum, you also get entry into both the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill. When in Rome, the Colosseum is a must see! There are a few signs when in there but I would definitely recommend getting the audio guide as you get to find out lots of really interesting facts – did you know it was mainly used for animal fighting? They found a giant blue whale on the beach, so they brought it in and used it as a stage prop. It’s mouth opened and bears came running out!

As it is a super popular attraction, the queue was very long! So get there early to avoid the huge wait!

For all three attractions, have sturdy shoes as it is all cobbled and uneven flooring. It is also all outside, so take suncream!

As they are included in the ticket prices, The Roman Forum and Palatine Hill are worth doing too. They are both very close to the Colosseum, so you can’t miss them. The Roman Forum was where the old parliament met, and there are lots of remains still there. Palatine Hill is where, in Roman mythology, Romulus killed Remus, and thus Rome gets it’s name.

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The Pantheon

Free to get into, this is really interesting place and a must see! It is the resting place of many famous people, including the Renaissance painter Raphael. The dome is, along with the main door, the only source of light, and is a thing of beauty to look at.

Outside is a lovely courtyard, surrounded by lots of lovely gelato shops! Yum!

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Trevi Fountain

Unfortunately, while we were there, parliament was in session and we couldn’t get to the fountain as armed police were blocking the way! But it looks like it is a thing of beauty!


Vatican City

The walk to Vatican City is beautiful, passing by lots of shops (mainly touristy and gelato) and castles, along the river. Unfortunately, you are plagued by people trying to forcefully sell you stuff until you get to the gates. Once you are in St Peter’s Square, they are not aloud to sell – wahoo! The outside is very impressive, with a semicircle with large statues of Saints looking over you. There is quite a long queue to get in, mainly due to bag searches, but it is free once you are in (do not let the people at the desks try and con you into giving them deposits or your passport!) The inside is beautiful, but incredibly busy. I personally got very annoyed I found people incredibly disrespectful – I saw people posing for photos outside of confession boxes, talking on the phone and posing for photos in cornered off areas for praying! A colleague said they went very early in the morning and had a far more pleasant experience, and were blessed to be witness to four separate masses going on at the same time all in different languages!

When in the country, the Pope does an audience on Wednesdays, but you have to get there early!

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Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel

There is an entry cost, but it is definitely worth it. We were fooled into thinking it was just the iconic  Sistine Chapel but it is far more! You walk through mazes of rooms, filled with gorgeous artwork from the likes of Da Vinci, Raphael  and even Matisse. The ceilings are phenomenal. Finally you get to the Sistine Chapel! This was far more respectful as once inside you were not aloud to take photos as it is still used as a practicing church. Michelangelo’s iconic artwork is clear and pristine, and I was shocked to see was only a small portion of the much bigger artwork! It truly is breathtaking. You leave through the iconic spiral stair cases at the end of the gift shop.


Piazza del Popolo

Here they have a really tall Egyptian statue (similar to the one outside the Pantheon). While here we popped into a Da Vinci museum – which was not worth the money! They had no/limited original things! You could play with the wooden recreations of his designs (at least, I did, whether we were meant to or not…) but I was expecting a lot more!


Spanish Steps

These were very close to our hotel, so we went there numerous times. Unfortunately, once again I got very frustrated with people selling things as they wouldn’t leave us alone! Especially when trying to get pictures, they would shine the green lazers at the Vatican.


We had a super time and would definitely recommend it to anyone and everyone.

 

Have you ever been to Rome? What did you do?

Is Rome on your bucket list?

London

I have visited London numerous times so I thought I would share some of my favorite things and hidden secrets for those who are visiting!


 

Travel

Although the Tube system is fantastic, a lot of London can be walked, and I would definitely recommend doing so. We are spoilt with a rich history, meaning everywhere you turn there is something beautiful to see.

People who regularly use public transport in London will have Oyster Cards – these can be topped up and the money is automatically taken off for each journey and will cap you when you’ve reached the tariff for the day. You just tap them on the yellow button to get in and out of the barriers. You can now also use contact-less cards on the yellow buttons and they will work in exactly the same way! Alternatively, you can buy tickets from the machines at most/all underground stations – I would buy a day ticket for zones 1-5, as most people are unlikely to go out of these zones, and this can be shown on buses too.

Buses no longer take cash, so an oyster card or contact-less card must be used to get on the bus. You tap the yellow button with your card as you get on and this pays for the single journey. It caps you off after 3 journeys.


 

Things to see

For many of the big attractions, such as London Zoo, Madame Tussauds and Tower of London, you can get 2 for 1 entry with National Rail – You need to print the voucher off online and show your train ticket when you buy the ticket at the attraction.

Waterloo:

  • Walk along the Thames river towards Southbank – there are lots of lovely little shops and an open book shop under the bridge.
  • London Eye – ££
  • The London Dungeons – ££
  • London Aquarium – ££
  • National Theatre – book tickets online.
  • ITV Studios – you can apply to see shows being recorded here via SRO Audiences – Shows I have seen: Jack Whitehall’s Back Chat, Big Fat Quiz of the Year, Alan Carr: Chatty Man and The Last Leg.

Walk over the bride to parliament instead of getting the tube as the station is very busy.

  • Houses of Parliament
  • Big Ben
  • Westminster Abbey – £
  • Parliament square – lots of statues of important people.

St James’ Park:

  • St James’ Park – There are pelicans!
  • Buckingham Palace
  • The Mall
  • Horse Guards Parade
  • 10 Downing Street – you can see down the street but access is guarded by armed police.

Leicester Square:

  • Check online to see when film premiers are on.
  • M&M World
  • China Town

Leicester square is a very short walk away from Soho, Covent Garden and Piccadilly Circus.

  • Covent Garden – the Moomin shop, the street acts, The Royal Opera House.
  • Soho – nightlife.
  • Piccadilly Circus – Comedy Store, Shopping on Regent’s Street , Ripley’s Believe It or Not! £, Waterstones (largest in London).

Baker Street:

  • Madame Tussauds – ££
  • Sherlock Holmes Statue
  • Baker Street
  • Sherlock Holmes Museum – a must see for the book lovers – £
  • Regent’s Park – Beautiful gardens and open air theater.

Camden:

  • Markets and shops – huge range of clothes, food and music from all around the world- £
  • London Zoo – ££

Kings Cross:

  • Platform 9 3/4 shop
  • British Library
  • Speedy’s Cafe – For where they film Sherlock

Tower Hill:

  • Tower of London – ££
  • Tower Bridge – you can now climb it and walk along the top.

St Paul’s Station:

  • St Paul’s Cathedral – there are also lots of beautiful statues all around.
  • Millennium Bridge – For the Harry Potter Lover
  • Shakespeare’s Globe
  • Tate Modern
  • St Bartholomew’s Hospital – for the Sherlock lovers. 

Charing Cross:

  • Nelson’s Column
  • Fountain
  • Christmas Tree from Norway
  • The National Gallery
  • The National Portrait Gallery

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South Kensington

  • Royal Albert Hall
  • Albert Memorial
  • Kensington Palace – lived in by William and Kate.
  • Natural History and Natural Science Museums
  • V&A
  • Harrods
  • Hyde Park – The Princess Diana Memorial Fountain, Winter Wonderland, Peter Pan Statue

Outside of London

  • Harry Potter Studio Tour – A MUST see for Harry Potter lovers. Tickets must be booked online quite far in advance. Get the train to Watford, there is then a Harry Potter bus (£2 cash only) that will take you straight to the tour -££ – Watford
  • Richmond Park – The largest of the Royal Parks. Roam around the park for a pleasant afternoon, gorgeous scenery and you may even find Deer – Richmond.
  • Thorpe Park –  A fantastic theme park – ££- Train to Stains and then a bus
  • Windsor Castle– One of the official residences of the Queen. Visit the State apartments and see works by Shakespeare (until 2017). A walk from the station – £ – Windsor & Eton Central.
  • Lego Land – Various amazing scultures made from Lego and lots of rides. A train from Paddington and a shuttle from the station -££-  Windsor & Eton Central.
  • Hampton Court Palace – Most famously know as being the home of Henry VIII, William and Mary and for the Gardens and Maze -£- Hampton Court .

 

Museums and Galleries

Most museums are free although they politely request donations. You have to pay for most exhibitions, can can purchase tickets on the day or online.

V&A – A gorgeous museum hosting a range of art and design with regular interesting exhibitions, including: William Morris wallpaper designs, the largest holding of Italian Renaissance items outside of Italy, and fashion – South Kensington

Science Museum – Lots of different exhibits including cars, medicine, planes and contemporary science –South Kensington

Natural History Museum – Plant and animal specimens and fossils. There are also lots of plaster casts of Dinosaurs! – South Kensington

British Museum -A huge range of artifacts from all over the words including China, Egypt and Greece. Must sees: Mummies, Rosetta Stone, Sutton Hoo Ship burial. – Holborn

Museum of London – My personal favourite – an interactive walk though of the history of Britain beginning with the stone age passing though Romans in Britain, Tudors, Victorians, World Wars, leading to Britain today. A must see and great for children. – St Paul’s Station

Tate Modern – Cross over the Millennium Bridge to find the Tate Modern for International modern and contemporary art. It also hosts art from artists such as Dali, Picasso and Warhol – St Paul’s Station

National Gallery – A range of paintings from many famous artists including Monet, Van Gogh, Raphael and Giotto – Charing Cross

National Portrait Gallery– Collection of Portraits of historically famous and important British people –Charing Cross

Tate Britain – British art from 1500 to the present day including pieces from Tracey Emin, Turner, William Blake and Henry Moore. – Pimlico

Sherlock Holmes Museum -A must for the Sherlock Holmes lover. The museum is a house full of artifacts and recreations of the books and the old TV series. Tickets can be bought in the shop downstairs. – Baker Street

Other Museums/Galleries that I have not been to, but have been recommended, are; The Saatchi Gallery and Imperial War Museum.


 

Shows

There are many fantastic plays and musicals in London – Tickets can be bought in the box office on the day, but these are limited and can be very expensive. For the seats and prices to suit you, book online in advance.

Great Plays and Musicals:

  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – running for one more year.
  • Matilda – If you are between 18-25 you can buy £5 tickets on the day. There are only a limited number, so you need to get there as soon as the doors open at 10am.
  • Les Mis – a must see.
  • Lion King – an incredibly popular musical, so must be booked online.
  • Wicked – another incredibly popular musical, so must be booked online.
  • Aladdin (my review) – a new, but very popular musical, must be booked online.
  • The Book of Mormon
  • Jersey Boys – about Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons.
  • The Woman in Black – more chilling than the film.
  • The Globe Theatre – everything Shakespeare. It is open air and the benches are wooden, so definitely buy a cushion and blanket/wrap up warm.

Theatres

The Barbican, The Royal Court Theater and The Old Vic are among some of the theaters which host some fantastic plays. Many of them star famous people, so keep your eye on their websites and book early!

Comedy

London has a huge amount of comedy clubs and bars all across the city. Although we have the huge venues such as The O2, Wembly and  Hammersmith Apollo, I personally prefer smaller venues and quite often see works in progress.

For smaller venues and works in progress, I look at:

  • Soho Theater
  • Leicester Square theater
  • The Comedy Store
  • Live at the Chapel, Islington.

 

Shops

The are a huge range of shops all across London, you could find anything you are looking for!

Books

  • Daunt Books – Edwardian bookshop on Marylebone High Street.
  • Foyles – four floor and over 200,000 books! –
  • Goldsoboro Books – rare first editions and signed books
  • Oxfam – charity shops that Europe’s biggest high street retailer of second hand books, in various locations.
  • Southbank Book Market – underneath the bridge, lots of second hand books.
  • Waterstones, Piccadily – Europe’s largest books store – check online for book signings.
  • Leicester Square – When you leave the tube station, there are a row of lovely old book shops, most containing; old books, collectors books and second hand books.
  • Orbital Comics – huge seller of comic books and manga.
  • Forbidden planet – Huge seller of merch, books, comics, manga etc. Check online for signings.

Popular

  • Camden Markets – Lots of shops and Markets with a range of clothes, foods and products from all over the world. Lots of indipendent shops. I personally love going to Chin Chin Labs which sells Liquid Nitrogen ice cream
  • Covent Garden – Lots of shops, including the Moomin shop and food. A beautiful place at Christmas.
  • Regent Street – Home of Hamleys and Liberty, Burberry.
  • Oxford Street – Home of Selfidges and Forever 21,.
  • Harrods – Knightsbrige or a short walk from South Kensington.

Hidden Gems

  • Ice Bar London – bar, table and walls are made from ice! Book online for a slot
  • Evans & Peel Detective Agency – Can the detective help your case? Secret cocktail bar.
  • Enigma Escape – 1 hour to solve clue to escape the room.

 

Are you planning on going to London?

What were your favourite things to do?

Paris

I recently spent a few days in Paris (thank you tax rebate!) The city was absolutely gorgeous, so I thought I would share a few highlights.

We enjoy walking a lot. Unlike Rome and London, Paris is much more spread out! So I would definitely suggest using the metro if you go to Paris. You can buy single tickets for 1.80 or a book of 10 single tickets which works out as being cheaper.


 

Notre Dame Cathedral

Notre Dame was beautiful. As expected, there were a lot of people taking photos of the iconic front but do not neglect the rest of the building! If you walk around the outside of the church you can get beautiful pictures from all the different parts. The is a lovely garden behind it, where there even people taking engagement photos. It is free to enter the Cathedral, but as it is an active cathedral there are services going on thought the day, which makes it quite strange as you’re going around. Definitely have a look at the beautiful stained glass windows. It is also possible to climb to the top of the Cathedral but there is a very, very long queue.

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Luxembourg Gardens –

Jardin du Luxembourg

We stumbled across these gardens on the first day and just had to return! Even on a Sunday it was bursting with life – runners, people sailing toy boats on the water, tai chi, people sitting and talking. The park is absolutely beautiful, especially on a sunny day, and there are lots of chairs around to sit and relax.

*Book Lover Note – In Les Mis this is where Marius first sees Cosette.


 

Louvre

If you are under 18 it is free entry to the Louvre. It is also free is you are an EU citizen between 18-25, so remember to take your passport!

I was really thrown off at first. When I think of the Louvre, I think of the iconic glass pyramid. As we were walking down the river I was expecting to see it. However, that is just the entrance and it is in the middle of a courtyard surrounded by a grand building.

The Louvre is huge with lots more beautiful pieces than just the Mona Lisa. Although some plaques were in English, most of the information is in French, so I would recommend getting an audio guide if you are interested in learning more about the pieces.

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Catacombes

When the cemeteries began to get too full, the Parisians decided to move the bodies under ground, deep below where the train and sewer systems of today. The opened up holes and dropped the bodies into the tunnels.

They now contain the remains of over six million people within the 200km tunnels and quarries. However, only a small portion is open to the public.

There is one entrance to the catacombs and only a certain amount of people are aloud down at a time. It is very popular – the queue went around the corner and we ended up queuing for almost two hours. Information in the catacombs is in English and French but it was worth getting the audio guide for extra information.

As it is underground; there are quite a lot of steps, the floor is uneven, it can be dark and have low ceilings at times and it was very chilling. It definitely isn’t for everyone.


 

Eiffel Tower

We went twice and decided to go up the Eiffel Tower in the evening, and I’m so glad we did. At night the Eiffel Tower is lit up and it is beautiful to see the city at night. The queues to go up during the day are a lot longer than at night. You can walk  or get the lift (we didn’t even attempt the stairs!). The down side was definitely the amount of people trying to sell you stuff, some of them were relentless.


 

Disney Land

We booked the tickets online before we went, depending on when you go (Peak time or not) depends on how much you pay – buying them online is a lot cheaper than if you buy it on the day.

The park is about 30 minutes out of central Paris but was easy to get to as we only needed one train. The entrance to Disney land is right next to the train station.

We spend a solid 11 hours in the two parks and it was MAGICAL! There is lots to do for everyone, the maps state whether rides are for children, families or thrillers. I would recommend looking up what rides are going to be closed before you go and checking what time the parades and the closing ceremony (definitely worth waiting for) it as.

There are lots of food places and shops all over the parks – as expected these are very expensive. We took our own water and some snacks but should have taken more as we ended up spending a lot on food.

Definitely worth going to!!!


 

We also went to the Hard Rock Cafe (becoming a tradition), the Arc de Triomphe, the Pantheon, and over the gorgeous Alexander Bridge towards the Grand Palais.

If I went again, I would love to go to Moulin Rouge (too expensive for me this time!) and to a few of the book stores.


 

Have you been to Paris?

What would you love to see/do?