Tea, Crumpets and the Queen

A complete guide to sightseeing in London

This is a long one. Consider yourself warned. London is a complete dream. I have always been a lover of it’s history, culture, and tradition. I grew up in New Westminster, which was named by the Queen, and would later be referred to as The Royal City. I think it is this connection that originally peaked my interest, and from there, it was love. C has been a number of times, but this was my first. I definitely expected experiencing a few cliche things, but I was completely overwhelmed with how many truly unique cultural experiences we had. I was also pleasantly surprised with how authentic and organic it was. We saw the queen. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that would happen, but we were so lucky to be in town for the State Opening of Parliament, which resulted in us seeing Queen E, Prince Phillip, Prince Charles, Camilla, and Princess Anne. TWICE! There were a ton of really unique experiences that had us looking at each other saying, OF COURSE that is happening. Of course they are filming James Bond on the London Bridge. Of course blah blah blah. It was amazing. We were only there for 3 full days and we did everything we wanted and didn’t feel exhausted by it at all. Our continued tradition of having perfectly executed agendas continues. I’ll leave the rest to pictures, but if you want a quick day-by-day run down, scroll to the very bottom.

The Royal Observatory in Greenwich, where you can stand on either side of the Prime Meridian. I don’t really understand time zones, but this was really interesting and helped me understand a teeny bit more. C on the otherhand thought it was very cool. IMG_0738

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The Crown Jewels. Worth the trip on it’s own. The exhibit is setup within the Tower of London and combined with a morning in Greenwich, filled out a complete day of activities. Our timing couldn’t have been better coming here, because if we had come the next day, we would have missed the crown, which would have been on the Queen’s head (pictured below) and missed her parade through town.

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If you want to see the Tower Bridge, it makes the most sense to walk along the Thames from the Tower of London

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As a lover of bears and shopping, this was a natural fit. Harrods is fun, even if you don’t have a shopping budget. There are a few great restaurants, and lots of beautiful displays to see. I think the secret here is to have a keen eye, and look for brands that you can’t find at home (wherever that may be). For us- Holts, Harry’s and Nordstroms has a lot of the same brands, and with the Canadian dollar, it doesn’t make sense to make those purchases in London. We did however manage to leave with quite a few bags, as there are a few brands that are exclusive to Harrods.

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Buckingham Palace. The Gates of Buckingham Palace IMG_0849

Canada House Doors

Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament

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Westminster Abbey. Definitely allow 3 hours for this tour. Also, buy tickets online in advance for this. We bought them the night before, and saved ourselves probably 2 hours in line. The tour itself was very interesting. Seeing the tombstones of Mary Queen of Scots, Saint Edward the Confessor, and the Coronation Chair were the highlights by far. IMG_0929

Westminster Abbey

Interior of Westminster Abbey

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From the top of the London Eye. Same thing as the Abbey- buy your tickets in advance!

View of Parliament from the top of the London Eye

The London Eye

The Churchill War Rooms is another must see. It is a two in one experience. The first part being the actual bunker where the administration safely over saw the war. The second part, is the Churchill Museum, highlighting his entire life, not just time in office. Again, probably plan for 3 ish hours.

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This was the door at 10 Downing when Churchill was in office. This was a neat addition, especially given that you can no longer see the iconic black door at number 10 since the IRA bombings shut down the block to the public. IMG_0955

Day – by – day:

Sunday night: arrived at Heathrow at 8pm. Loaded up our oyster cards, and rode into town. 40 minutes later we were all checked in, changed and ready for supper. Something that was totally new to me- pubs close at 9pm so that put a damper on our starving tummies. After attempting to go into 5 different local pubs/restaurants we found ourselves at Nobu Old Park Lane, which we knew would be open, and delicious as always. This was by far the stangest Nobu we have been in. During the day I imagine it has a great view over Hyde Park but at night you couldn’t tell. It was very bright, and not nearly as intimate and trendy as some of their other locations. The food was still divine, but atmosphere is pretty important to me. After supper (10:30) ish we decided to go for a walk rather than heading back to the hotel. C had been telling me that the city was very walkable, but I underestimated what that meant. We left Nobu and over the next couple of hours ( we didn’t get home until after 1am! eeep), we saw so many sights! First stop was Buckingham Palace which was very emotional. I didn’t really realize where we were going so when we walked out of the park and it was standing there, I was completely shocked. It was dead quiet, and not a soul was in sight which totally amplified the beauty of it. I strongly recommend going to see it at night when there aren’t a bijillion people there. From there we saw Westminster Abbey, the Palaces of Westminster, Big Ben, the London Eye, walked Whitehall, and saw them FILMING JAMES BOND! Can you believe it? It was so cliche, but since C is such a huge fan (remember THIS James Bond themed birthday we had?) it was a really exciting thing to see. We stood and watched for a bit, but sadly for me, no shirtless Daniel Craig sightings. After so much excitement for us in one night, back to the hotel we went for a good nights sleep.

Keep an eye out for this scene…

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Monday/full day 1: We rode the tube from Hyde Park to Greenwich to check out the Royal Observatory before making our way back to the Tower of London to see the Crown Jewels. Greenwich itself is a bustling little village to spend time in. It’s the maritime hub of London so if you are interested in boats, this is a good place to spend the day. We went just for the Observatory so left fairly quickly. I was worried this would be a long trip out to from downtown but we were in and out within a couple hours. The one thing I would note for other travelers is that it is quite a steep hike up to the top. It’s not too long, but very steep, and for any able bodied person isn’t a big deal but I did see a few seniors who really struggled. If you think you might have difficulty, or are traveling with someone who will- I would reach out to them and see what options they have.

From there we rode back a few stops to the Tower of London, checked out the whole prison, and it’s exhibits, most notably the Crown Jewels- pictured above. Afterwards we checked out the Tower Bridge, and walked back along the Thames all the way to the London Eye. I can see how people think this is a bit toursity, but honestly we bought our tickets in advance, so we didnt have to wait in line, and I think it was totally worth it. It was a hot sunny day, and the view was endless. I totally recommend doing this. In fact- next time I would upgrade and do the champagne version. I was worried about them shoving each car full to the brim, but they’ve got a great system, we had lots of room, and made friends with other riders as we all snapped pictures for each other.

Day 2: we visited the Churchill War Rooms, and Westminster Abbey which have both been covered above. We had a picnic in Hyde Park, and then walked down Oxford Street and checked out some shops. This was our favourite dining night as we checked out two awesome spots. First stop was Sketch. One of the most creative spots in London. The restaurant is made up of 4 rooms with entirely different themes and designs. The Gallery, or as many people affectionately call it- the Pink Room , is an artist conceived restaurant that will keep it’s design for two years before being entirely re done by a new artist. Everything from the silverware, to the menu and the furniture were carefully selected by artist David Shrigley. I was pleasantly surprised when we walked in there not really knowing what the deal was, that they were super warm, and didnt make us feel like idiots. They asked if we had been before, and when I responded with a no, they were quick to give the whole downlow. They encouraged us to walk around, check out the different rooms and settle on one that we wanted to dine in. It was obvious for me before even looking, I wanted to sit in the pink room, but opted to check them all out regardless. My biggest compliment, which I don’t often hand out, its that there was ZERO pretentiousness. The staff were all sooo friendly, and as one of them told us, they have all worked there for 4+ years because they are treated so well.The food was incredible, the drinks were divine, and the experience was an overall A+. From there we walked through Oxford Circus and hopped on the tube for The Shard, the tallest building in London, and for our second round of supper.  The closest station from there was the London Bridge Station on the Jubilee Line. This was something I really wanted to do- though I am certain C could have done without it. I think we were both thrilled with my decision because the view was superb. We weren’t able to get a spot in the restaurant we wanted ( there are 6- but you definitely need a reso). We ended up at Oblix, and when they said “ohhh but we dont have any tables, do you mind sitting at the bar ?” my heart kind of sunk, until they took us to our table and it was a bar, up against the glass wall, looking out from the 32nd story over all of London! Trust me- it was as awful as it sounded… 🙂 That wrapped up another fabulous night of great food, wine, and company.

The View from the Shard London

Tower Bridge from The Shard

Sunset over London from The Shard

View of the london Eye from the Shard

Day 3: This is the one day we didn’t have any plans other than to knock off the last few items on our too see list but it ended up being a total highlight. It was the day we saw Her Majesty (among many others). We just so happened to get lucky and have the State Opening of Parliament take place while we were there. Our flight was at 6pm this night, and we wanted to leave around 3pm. I strongly suggest giving yourself this half day or so with no plans so that you can push things to it if you get to busy on your other days. We really liked having the flexibility to change our plans or decide to delay something until another day, it left us feeling totally in control and not at all rushed.

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Queen Elizabeth

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Princess Anne

Prince Charles

Camilla

Where we stayed: Park Lane Mews

Where we ate (don’t remember all the little pub names but I tried):

The Admiralty– the steak and stilton pie was possibly the best thing we ate on our trip

The Old Express

Oblix– located in the highest building in London, this view + a perfectly cooked steak made for a great last meal

Nobu – thoughts above

Sketch– thoughts above, under day 2

Sketch, London

Sketch | London

Sketch | London

Sketch | London

Sketch | London

Sketch | London

Sketch | London

Harrods Bears

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PS check out my previous posts from a number of years ago with more recommendations!

Kirsten xo

Joshua Tree National Park

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Joshua Tree National Park is an absolute must for anyone in the Palm Springs area. It can be done quickly as a scenic drive, or leisurely with a number of options. You can drive the route, stop and do hikes along the way. Or you can take your gear and actually camp over night in a number of spots. We drove through and stopped at all the scenic points, getting out and casually walking around. The day we went we hadn’t actually planned on it, so if we had been slightly more prepared we would have done one of the many hikes.

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Kirsten xo

 

The Parker, Palm Springs

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This place is everything and more. We are pretty lucky to have the house in Palm Desert but if you are looking for a place to stay, or like us just looking for a great happy hour atmosphere then this is your spot. For fair comparison I will be checking out the Viceroy next time I am there as I have heard they are very similar.

The Parker, Palm SpringsThe Parker, Palm Springs IMG_4849 IMG_3170 IMG_3168   IMG_3159 Lemonade Stand at the Parker IMG_3146 Kirsten xo

Indian Canyons, Palm Springs

Indian Canyons, Palm Springs

Indian Canyons Hike

Palm Springs is this perfect haven for rest and relaxation, but if you are looking for adventure you don’t have to look very far! Indian Canyons are a 25 minute drive from Palm Desert and offer numerous routes that vary in difficulty, time, and environment. Palm, Andreas, and Murray Canyons combined offer countless days of hiking possibilities. We did the Andreas Canyon which offered a very comfortable 1 mile hike through beautiful scenery that included the only fresh running water we saw the whole time we were there. It was incredible to see such a sight in the middle of the blazing hot desert.

Indian Canyons, Palm Springs Hike Indian Canyons, Palm Springs Hikes Indian Canyons, Palm Springs Hikes Indian Canyons, Palm Springs Hikes The Indian Grinding Mortar at Indian Canyons, Palm Springs Original Indian Mortar and Pestal   Indian Canyons, Palm Springs Hikes Kirsten xo

The conveniences of home

Brands for the on the go gal

Image by Inslee

In my recent travels, and as I plan upcoming trips I have noticed a growing trend that I think deserves acknowledgement. It’s the idea that I can have the conveniences of home with me (almost) wherever I go. I absolutely love franchises and it’s for this exact reason. 3 companies that I show extreme loyalty to both home and abroad have allowed me the comforts and conveniences of home wherever I go. The key however is to not just offer the same service or brand in another country or city but to have a shared information system that provides the same ease wherever I am. This way I can buy my annual gym pass, then when I show up at any location I just have to write my name down and I am in. I love knowing that not only will I get the same service but I don’t have to give my phone number to yet another hair salon.

Here are three brands that make my travel that much more comfortable:

Blo Blow Dry Bar

Blo– my best kept secret! As someone who thinks a great hair day can make or break me, I sure got stuck with the worst possible match. Curls and frizz like you wouldn’t believe. In fact, you wouldn’t believe it because you will never see it! I always say that I could be in my pj’s with  no make up on, but if my hair is done, I could go to the Oscars! It’s the one thing I am happy to spend my time and money on- even more so than any clothing. In comes Blo. The greatest concept going. When I look back on memories of my Grandma I will always remember her sitting in rollers under her hair dryer. Well this is just the modern gals version! It’s a hair salon, but they don’t cut, and they don’t colour. In fact I am pretty sure they don’t even have scissors. All they do is blow dry. Now that is my perfect match. I can straighten and I can curl at home, but I think most women can sympathize that the hardest thing is to get a perfectly smooth blowdry. They are magicians. I love that I can bulk purchase a tab when they have a sale, have them on my account, and then use the tab at any of the locations worldwide. Whether I have a gala dinner, a birthday party, a work trip, or a vacation with my hunny- my last stop is always a Blo. Exciting news for them is they just recently launch Body by Blo so now they can, as they say, take care of all your business.

Uber

Uber– the luxury car service that will save you from hailing a cab in the rain, and make you feel like a celeb, all at the same time! This is definitely not a new industry. Limo and town car rentals have always been available, but what I have learned is that most people think “oh that’s too expensive”, or “it’s just as easy to get a cab”. Well now it’s not- it’s actually easier to get a luxury vehicle from Uber than it is to get a cab. Pull up the app, GPS will auto locate you or you can set your pickup location, pick your car from one of three levels and voila- there it is! The best part? No cash exchanged. When you install the app you enter your credit card info in and you get automatically billed for your trip. All from the touch of your phone. Now it is slightly more expensive than a cab, so if you are just going from point a to point b not far away and you see a cab, you may want to go that route. But when we are in a city all dressed up for a fancy dinner, you bet I am getting a town car. Or going from your hotel to the airport with 4 bags and a set of golf clubs? An SUV it is! I love the ease and comfort of knowing they handle everything, I don’t have to dig my Amex out of my wallet, and I especially love that I don’t have to stand on a street trying to hail a cab. This is a very new company but the rate in which they have expanded has been fascinating. You can view the complete list of cities available here . They are everywhere from Dubai to Palm Springs, and constantly expanding.

 

 

 

30 Minute Hit Kickboxing Circuit for Women

30 Minute Hit will forever be known as my life saver. The one thing that actually got me exercising again! My whole life I was incredibly athletic. I played softball competitively, volleyball semi competitively, and exercised like crazy. My routine was pretty much this: get off school, walk 2 km to the gym, work out for 2 1/2 hours, swim for 45 minutes, sit in the sauna and sweat anything left in me out, shower, go home have a quick bite and go to bed. It was incredibly time consuming, but it was all I did. As the years have gone on I not only don’t have that kind of time, but I lost interest in going from machine to machine.

Enter 30 Minute Hit. The name says it all ladies- 30 Minutes of the hardest workout you will ever do, and you’re done! My Mom and Sister started going to the location near them about two years ago and it was only a matter of weeks before I saw a drastic change. Eventually my Sister started working there and just watching their transformation I was sold. The model in which they operate is not only very interesting, but also very unique. It is circuit training with a boxing base. Here is how they describe it “Each of 13 stations lasts for a 2 minute interval and when the ladies are not hitting the bags, they are working hard with the swiss balls and medicine balls. Interval training is an excellent way to burn fat as well! Don’t worry if you have never boxed before or if you are new to core work. Come on in, put on your gloves, and experience the 30 Minute Hit”. There is always one trainer on the floor who encourages you and keeps you motivated. It really feels like you have your own personal trainer, but you aren’t paying personal trainer prices! The other main thing I love about this gym is the structure. I found towards the end of my going to the gym phase that I was wondering around, chatting, and making excuses not to continue. With the Hit I know where I start and where I finish. I move from station 1 to station 2 when the buzzer sounds. All the decisions are made for me which allows me just to power through and get it done. If anyone finds they are really lacking motivation, then this is definitely the exercise for you! I also love that when I visit my Mom I can go to her location, or when I am traveling, I can pick my closest location.
What brands do you love to make life a little easier? Would love to hear your thoughts!

Kirsten xo