England, Europe

A perfect week in London

The bf is coming to visit me from Toronto on Thursday. He’s never really been to London before, except for about seven hours on either side of our European adventure in August. So, I tried to plan out a perfect week in London for him so that he falls in love with the city.

I thought I’d post it here in case any of you are planning a trip to London and need some ideas of things to do. I’ll be working during the day of his first two days here, so I only planned things for the evening.

Day 1 (Thursday) – Dinner at an English Pub on the Southbank and walk along the Thames.
Day 2 (Friday) – Ride on London Eye, followed by curry on Brick Lane
Day 3 (Saturday) – Traditional English breakfast, sightseeing around Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, Piccadilly Circus, Oxford Street, Trafalgar Square, Hyde Park, Kensington Palace. Evening – Ministry of Sound
Day 4 (Sunday) – Borough Market, British Library to see the Magna Carta, and original manuscripts of many British classic novels – Beowolf, Alice in Wonderland and music scores (several Beatles pieces), British Museum to see some of the best artifacts in the world.
Day 5 (Monday) – Party in Camden (The part of town where Amy Whinehouse use to live.)
Day 6 (Tuesday) – Buy half-price tickets for a West-End Show from the TKTS booth in Leicester Square, show in West-End in the evening.
Any other things that I should work in?
England, Expat, Personal Finance

Fixing the finances

One thing that I didn’t expect would be different when I moved to London was the way I got paid. In England, it is standard to only get paid once a month.

When you are used to getting a top-up of cash every two weeks, it can be pretty hard to budget your money to last the entire month. So far, I have sucked at it.

As soon as I get paid, almost half my money goes to rent, then more disappears to pay my cell phone bill, pay the gym membership, and pay for my transit pass. (I also put a bit in savings for emergencies.)

By the time I’ve paid all my bills, I have about £300 left to last me the rest of the month. Of course, I end up spending £225 in the first two weeks and then trying to make £75 last the other two — it’s doable, but not very comfortable.

I realized today that my problem was I didn’t think about my monthly budget on a daily basis. I ended up spending too much because I wasn’t doing the math of what I would need to last the month.

So, I’m taking a new approach.

From now on, I am going to take out £10 in cash every morning and only let myself spend that much for the day. Of course, I’m going to carry over any amount I don’t spend in a day to the next. It’ll also force me to save up a few days if I want to go out partying on the weekend. (Though to be honest the only way I’m having a night out this weekend is if someone pays for it!)

I will let you know how my plan goes. I think I will even start putting up a weekly tally on here to keep me honest. What do you think of my plan?

England, Europe

Up close and personal with a World Wonder

Stonehenge. One of the Great Wonders of the World. It has stood in some form on the same spot for about 4,000 years. Its circle of stones each weigh as much as 44 tones and it’s mind-boggling figuring out how they were transported to their site. It is also one of the items of my list of things to do before I turn 25. Well, yesterday I finally went and saw it.

This photo was taken at about 1:30 in the afternoon. If you decide to go visit it yourself, I would recommend going earlier in the day than I did, because there were a lot of people around. I didn’t have much choice on the time as I visited Stonehenge with a tour group. To be honest, going with a tour was actually pretty good as it meant I got to jump the line.

My tour bus left King’s Cross Station at 8:15 in the morning, which meant I had to wake up at 6:30 on a Sunday. Brutal! The tour was worth it, though.

We started the morning by visiting Windsor and seeing the front of the castle. I didn’t actually get to go inside because we didn’t have much time in the town, but I did see the lane where Queen Victoria would “get some air” every morning. The fog was actually so dense when we first got there that we could barely see.

But it cleared up a little later.

I wouldn’t recommend going to Windsor, unless you are going to go inside the castle. Because to be honest, I was only there two hours and I was bored.

After leaving Windsor, we drove an hour on the bus to Stonehenge. Admission to the site costs £7.50 for adults or £6.80 for students. You get an audio guide with the price of the ticket.

I definitely think that it is worth the money, (especially considering that sites like St. Paul’s Cathedral in London costs £12) and I felt I actually learned something from the audio guide. The guide does a good job of explaining the theories behind what researchers think each part of Stonehenge was used for, what the people who used it were like, its history, how it was built. It was very comprehensive.

My last stop of the day was Bath. I had heard from several people that Bath was absolutely beautiful, but I hadn’t realized how magnificent it was. The buildings are all gleaming white and the architecture of the cathedral reminds me of the style I saw in Prague (amazing!).

For those of you who don’t know, Bath got its name because it was the site of the Roman baths 2,000 years ago. The baths actually still exist today and I visited them on my trip. They were declared a UNESCO World Heritage site along with several of the buildings in the downtown core in the 1980s.

Inside the baths

This is a city I will definitely visit again. Next time, I plan to bring a picnic lunch with me to enjoy in one of the many parks that dot the city.

My last stop of the day was a quick tour of the Cathedral. At £2.50, I’m not sure if it was worth it, but I did get one good picture out of the deal.

The grand total cost for my day including the entrance to the Bath Cathedral and an ice cream cone was £53.20 (£39 for the tour £10 for entrance to the Roman Baths, £2.50 for the Cathedral and £1.70 for the ice cream). I probably could have done the journey a cheaper if I had planned it myself, but considering all the travelling was taken care of, I thought it was worth it.

England, Europe, Expat

Thanksgiving in London

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

I am proud to say that today I cooked my first-ever Thanksgiving dinner. I’m living with four English housemates and, of course, none of them have ever had a Thanksgiving dinner. So I felt it was my duty to cook one for them.

Trying to find a turkey in London, however, is an exercise in frustration. I heard from my housemates that everyone eats turkey at Christmas, but it’s pretty much non-existent the rest of the year. I must admit, that I only started looking this morning, but I went to three supermarkets and Harrod’s and everyone looked at me like I was crazy, when I asked for a whole turkey. I would have had more luck if I wanted pheasant or quail.

Eventually, I decided that my best option was to buy turkey breast for the taste, and a whole chicken for the appearance of a turkey dinner. I took a picture, so you can all let me know if it looks authentic.

I guess I can officially say I can cook

The chicken was already pre-seasoned, so I just popped it in the oven. The turkey, however, I seasoned myself. During a quick Skype call home, my mom informed me that the proper spices for poultry, can be found in the old Simon & Garfunkel song, Scarborough Fair: parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme.

I ended up using parsley, rosemary, thyme and onion, but it was just as good. In case any of you want to make yourself some turkey breast tomorrow, all you have to do is put them on a piece of aluminium foil, line the bottom with water, add your spices, then roll the foil over the top. One hour later, you have perfect turkey breast.

Of course, you can’t have turkey (or chicken) without stuffing, so I made that too. I mixed some pre-made stuffing with bread, red onions, almonds, apples and more of the same spices. It was delicious if I do say so myself.

Anyone else celebrate Thanksgiving outside of Canada this year?