England, Europe

Hidden under The City


The City.

It is the oldest and most prosperous part of London. Walking down streets lined with white concrete-slab buildings, you’re likely to pass men in Armani suits and women in Louboutins. It’s the home of investment banks and the London Stock Exchange, and recently the Occupy London movement. It is also where I work Monday to Friday.

But it wasn’t always the financial district.

Back in 43 AD, this area constituted Londinium, the largest settlement in Roman-owned Britannia.
Londinium stretched about one square mile and had 20,000 to 30,000 residents.

Anyone who has seen Russell Crowe in Gladiator knows the Romans loved a fight. In fact, their main form of entertainment were massive clashes to death between pairs of slaves or slaves and wild animals.

The most famous building that housed these matches was, of course, the Coliseum in Rome, but the Romans built these massive arenas (or ampitheatres) everywhere they went.

Builders discovered London’s Ampitheatre in 1988, after being buried under the city for almost 2,000 years. At the time, they were digging a foundation for a new gallery to house the art collection at Guildhall.

Guildhall Main Square

So, the gallery incorporated the remains in its building.

I went to check it out on Saturday and it was pretty cool. The foundation stretchs about 20 metres and most of the entrance-way is preserved. There is also the remains of part of the original drainage system. The gallery does a good job of giving you the history of the structure and tries to recreate the feeling of the gladiator fights.

I really appreciated that the foundation is not hidden behind glass or cordoned off in any way. There simply a sign advising visitors not to touch. I found that type of trust really refreshing.

Best of all, admission to the Guildhall Art Gallery (and subterranean ampitheatre) is completely FREE.

Guildhall is about a five-minute walk from both St. Paul’s Station (Central line) or Mansion House Station (District line).

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Europe, Travel Tips

Getting Through Security in a Snap


I don’t normally admit this to other people, but I’m very proud of how quickly I can get through security at the airport. I should get an extra pat on the back because I often travel without any checked luggage. (It’s cheaper!)

On a good day, I can get all my belongings in the bin (laptop and 100 ml bottle-filled plastic bag separated from the rest) and go through the metal detector in about 30 seconds.

In case getting through security freaks the hell out of you, or you just want to limit the amount of time you spend there, here is my Quick and Dirty Guide to Get Through Security in a Snap:

(Using these techniques I have managed to start arriving at the airport an hour before the flight leaves (rather than three hours). It works as long as you already have your boarding pass and have no luggage to check in. Though, for legal reasons, I’m not recommending you follow my example.)

Step 1 – Sort – Remove all sharp objects (nail files), liquids, pastes, and gels (chap-stick counts) from your carry-on(s). Things like nail files, nail clippers, tweezers and razors actually are allowed in your carry-on, but you run the risk of getting pulled aside while they are pulled out of your bag and investigated. The goal is to get through security quickly, so just leave it out! As for the liquids, make sure they are in containers of 100 ml or less (remember things like eye-liner and deodorant count), then put them in your zip-lock bag and put it somewhere accessible, like the front pocket of your backpack.

Step 2 – Pick your outfit – Plan your outfit ahead of time. I like to choose something form-fitting so that the security people know there is no chance I’m hiding any weapons. I normally go for leggings and a cotton t-shirt, because they are comfortable if I’m on a long flight. I recommend skipping belts or boots; they take time to put back on

Step 3 – Organize your bag – If you are travelling with only a carry-on, you don’t want to accidentally pull out a pair of underwear while you’re trying to remove your laptop for inspection. Put all of your clothes at the bottom and any items that are likely to lead to questions easily accessible at the top or in outside pockets. Rummaging wastes time!

Step 4 – Use your wait time – When you are standing in the security line, take a look at the signs to see what needs to be separated from your carry-on, pull out your liquids bag and laptop, take off your coat and sweater, remove your belt if you have one or untie your boots. This way when it’s your turn, you can just dump and go.

Step 5 – Talk to the security officers – I think every airport has its own rules. Some require electronics in a separate bin from the rest. Some will let you leave your laptop in its case. When I was at the airport in Cork, I had to remove my umbrella and open it. You really don’t want to get all the way through the metal detector, think you’re home free, and then get sent back to the end of the line because your items were not arranged correctly in the bins. (It happened to me in Madrid.) There is always an officer near the bins, ask them the airport’s preference.

Belgium, Europe

Travel alone? You’re crazy


That, or something along those lines, was my answer when someone told me they were going backpacking alone.

I had a lot of respect for them and part of me wished I could do it too. But I knew I needed to have someone who I could talk to when I travelled, or I would go crazy.

I know people who enjoy being alone exist, but I’m definitely not one of them. When I was in Grade 11, I took an Intro to Psych and we took the Myers-Briggs personality test as one of the assignments. After diligently blacking the bubbles in the multiple-choice test for an hour, I discovered that I was 100 per cent extroverted. My teacher told me he didn’t even think it was possible to get that score. (In my defence, the test asks leading questions. I love reading, but, honestly, who is going to stay home with a book when the option to go to a party exists? I mean, come on!) The point is that I don’t like being alone.

This year, though, I’ve decided to change my tune. Next weekend, I’m going to travel to Brussels alone. (I came across the deal at about 4:30 a.m. on a Tuesday morning a few weeks ago – £66 return… couldn’t pass that up.) And I’m also thinking about going to Dublin alone for St. Patrick’s Day, because I really want to go, and nobody seems to want to go with me.

For the Brussels trip, I’m taking the Eurostar (super-fast train) from King’s Cross Station at 7:45 a.m. on Saturday. It gets me to Brussels a little after 11 a.m. local time. I get back to London on Sunday night at about 10 p.m. For the night, I booked a spot in a hostel that had some good reviews, though I have no idea where it is. I’ll be staying in a 6-bed all-girls room. So I’m hoping at least one of the girls is friendly.

I tried travelling alone once before and it didn’t go very well. Actually, If I’m honest, I hated it. I went to Edinburgh in November 2010 for the weekend. For that trip, I also caught a train from King’s Cross. Though, I think I was in a hostel room with 11 other girls that time.

Throughout the trip I went to several museums alone. I went to the coffee shop where J.K. Rowling wrote Harry Potter alone and I ate dinner alone. Actually, I didn’t speak to anyone the entire weekend. By Saturday night, I was pretty lonely.

I even tried to make some friends (though, in retrospect, I could have tried harder.) I went down to the lounge on the Saturday afternoon to see what was happening and I found everyone in the room engulfed by the rugby game on the TV. If I remember, correctly it was Scotland vs. Ireland and I guess that’s a big game. I sat (silently) through the game and then was quite disappointed when everyone filed out immediately after the game was over. Granted, I probably could have made friends in the bar, but I was a little to shy to walk up to drunk people and start a conversation. (I know shame on me!)

At least I know what I don’t want to do on this trip. This trip, I’ve promised myself that I’m going to try to have a conversation with everyone I meet. (Even if it feels awkward.) A girl randomly started talking to me while I was in Berlin two weeks ago and I ended up having dinner with her and her friend. Half the fun of travelling is getting to meet lots of interesting people, right?

This trip I won’t actually be entirely alone. My dad has a friend living in the city. I’ve spoken to her on Facebook and we’re going to meet up in the evening for either coffee or dinner or drinks. So at the very least, when it is over I’ll have spoken to one person more than my last solo-trip.

I think I’m going to try to get over my nerves of travelling alone by planning several solo-weekend trips over the next few months. That way I don’t have to wait long if I want to abandon ship. Eventually I want to be brave enough to go back-packing alone for several weeks. (That way I can knock off travel alone in a country where I don’t speak the language and go on a back-pack trip of at least three weeks of my list. https://thriftyabroad.wordpress.com/2011/04/30/25-things-to-do-before-i-turn-25/)

I’m thinking of going backpacking by myself for at least a month before I go back to Canada. (Even though the idea, kind of scares the heeby-jeebies out of me.)

England, Expat

London – Seven months later


As of yesterday, I have officially been living in London for seven months. (Not counting the two months I spent here in 2010.)

I haven’t quite decided if it feels like a long time or not. Though, I have started thinking about going back home.

Looking back at the time I’ve spent here, I can definitely say that this experience has changed how I view the world. Probably the biggest thing I’ve learned is how to make do with a very small budget. I’ve learned how to cook for myself and have cut back on the amount of eating-out I do in a week. (Definitely good life lessons for the future.)

I’ve also learned not to worry so much about where I live. I share my house with several mice, and somehow it doesn’t really bother me.

I got a few messages from friends of friends who are planning to move to London themselves in the near future and were hoping for some advice. I thought I’d share some of what I learned, so far with all of you.

Things I wish I knew before I got here…

1) It is standard to only get paid once a month

2) Most rent prices are advertised by the week

3) There is no summer.

4) Apartments disappear quickly; when looking at flats, bring money with you and prepare to make an offer right away.

I was also quite shocked by the disparity in this city when I moved back the second time. The first time I lived here, I was in Bayswater, which is one of the most expensive neighbourhoods in London. Everything is very leafy and clean and massive Hyde Park is only a 10-minute walk away.

Now that I’m living in east end, I realize how little money people have to survive on.

There are, of course, plenty of cheap or free things to do in London, (https://thriftyabroad.wordpress.com/2011/03/04/free-things-to-do-in-london/), but sometimes it’s just nice to have money.

For example, I was looking at the prices of the Ice Bar in London earlier today. It costs £14 for 40 minutes in the bar. Now this bar is pretty cool, the entire thing is made of ice, but I could almost buy a week’s worth of groceries for that money. I guess my next project should be to find more cheap underground places to go out.

As for any advice…

I would recommend looking for a houseshare in zone 3. I’m living in zone 2 and it’s really expensive. In case you are wondering, I used Spareroom.co.uk to find the house I’m living in now. I love my roommates, but I wish I had gone for something cheaper.