Literary London

For a self-professed book nerd what could be better than spending three days exploring the literary treasures that our capital holds?

My journey began leaving for a super early train to make the most of my time to London; getting in for 10.30 to meet my friend who unfortunately lives miles away down south. With plenty of time to explore she suggested we headed to Covent Garden, and after wandering the markets we discovered this beautiful little French café, tucked away downstairs. After a delightful lunch which featured plenty of goat’s cheese, we headed off to some of the high street shops. Deciding to wander over to where I was staying in St Pauls took us on a bit of a tour of the city, passing Drury Lane and heading down Fleet Street. 12556973_565507416939323_1641107278_o

A hurried departure took place and I headed into the youth hostel I would be staying in to meet the group the trip had been organised through. We got to know each other while waiting for everyone to arrive and eventually began our Literary Tourism: heading over the river for a visit to The Globe theatre. The exhibition was really interesting and really informative on the history on the theatre and productions are often done using traditional methods of stage effects and costume design. Then we got to the actual theatre which was incredible and has only stoked my desire to see a show there.12557775_565507386939326_1979556165_o

After tea at Pizza Express and a quick refresh at the hostel we began our ‘literary pub crawl’. This took us to The Wheatsheaf, The Marquis of Granby and The Duke of York which were favourites of writers like Dylan Thomas, Virginia Woolf and George Orwell.

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Day two got even better with our first trip being the British Library. Here we saw the brilliant Alice in Wonderland exhibition which showed original manuscripts and illustrations and told the story of how the tale has developed through the ages and its adaptations. After this we made our way to the Treasures which are the very best in artefacts of our literary history, with first editions, manuscripts and annotations from some of the most famous names in British writing.12557675_565504943606237_2006558685_o

The afternoon brought a walking tour where we visited Bloomsbury, and saw various writers houses, inspirations and tributes to their legacies. This eventually led us to Charing Cross Road for our bookshop crawl! We hopped from store to store, some old second-hand, others full of rare finds and all smelling beautifully of books. We ended these few hours of bliss in the flagship Foyle’s store which, other than the local Border’s of which I hold fond childhood memories, might well be my new favourite bookshop. Pockets lighter and bags heavier I walked away with a beautiful hardback copy of fairy-tales as written by Angela Carter.

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One of the main parts of the trip was our evening trip to the theatre for which our wonderful organisers got tickets to see A Christmas Carol starring Jim Broadbent! Perhaps belatedly festive but still within the twelve days of Christmas it was completely allowed! I was worried when the show first started; how well could this translate to stage? The true answer is not very unless you are very clever which was exactly the case in this performance. Rather than take itself too seriously almost every part of the play mocked its own terrible stage effects and farcical humour.  Without wanting to give out any spoilers the ending was so cleverly managed that it brought an entirely new perspective to a story that is at the very least, a little tired, which completely pulled the rug from under its unsuspecting audience. Even more praise comes for Broadbent who is even more brilliant in the theatre.2016-01-06 19.17.25

The last day started early for a tour at Dr Johnson’s house. This was a lot more interesting than expected and our guide was so knowledgeable about the man and his works. Even for someone studying modern and contemporary literature this was such a key moment in the history of both literature and our language that I couldn’t help pouring over the copies of his dictionary to see the shape our words took over two hundred years ago. The next and final stop as part of the organised trip was the National Portrait Gallery, where we were particularly looking for famous writers. I love art galleries and some of the works were beautiful, I could have spent a whole day there. But in an effort to find the writers, I did speed round a little.  I particularly enjoyed the more modern 20th Century section with combinations of abstract art and photography.

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Lunch-time brought an end to the trip and time to say good bye to some of the fantastic people I had met. However I still had several hours to kill before my very late train home, so me and another girl, who also had spare time, went for a wander to see a few more sights while we could. A Conversation with Oscar Wilde happened to be just round the corner and is quite a cool, if somewhat hidden, tribute to the great writer. A fairly quick tube ride then took us to 221b Baker St to see the house in which the fictional detective lives, which is currently home to the Sherlock Homes museum. We didn’t go round the museum but did take plenty of photos and popped in the shop which has a very Victorian parlour room atmosphere.

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The other girl headed off and I was left with still time to spare so I headed over for a wander in Regents Park which was cut short by a sharp and very cold reminder that it was January, so I headed in search of somewhere warmer. My plan had originally been to visit the Dickens Museum, based in his home in Holborn but unfortunately it was closed to take down the Christmas decorations. So instead I made my way back to the British Library for the West Africa exhibition which we had missed the day before. This was utterly fantastic and I spent hours here perusing all the displays, recordings and reading material. I learnt a lot and am definitely inspired to add some of these authors to my reading list when my course reading is over!

Evening came and finally brought my train home, unfortunately not for Hogwarts, despite a quick peek on Platform 9 ¾ . It was a fantastic three days which felt like paradise to an English student and more than anything I wanted to sit with my chai tea latte and read all my new purchases rather than being jolted back into the real world of uni and work. But I at least had some great experiences and many memories, and would truly recommend a similar literary tour of London to any book lover out there!

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Weekend Break: Edinburgh

I was up at the crack of dawn on Friday morning, sorting my last bit of packing before lugging my bags to work so that, as soon as I clocked off work at 4pm, we could get on the road.

The journey up to Edinburgh in the car took about two and a half hours which wasn’t too bad, though I was a little gutted that I missed getting a photo of the ‘Welcome to Scotland’ sign! We arrived at ‘The Northumbrian Hotel’ around 8ish and got signed in and settled easily. As my boyfriend booked the hotel I had no idea what to expect and his disclaimer that it didn’t have great reviews worried me. It was actually totally fine, however… I wouldn’t rate it highly but it was clean and comfortable which is all we wanted.

Since we arrived so late and we pretty hungry we headed straight out to a local Chinese restaurant ‘Good Year’. As a veggie I often struggle with Chinese restaurants but this one was great, it was small but there was plenty of choice and it was reasonably priced. As it was ‘Bring your own’ we also indulged in a gorgeous bottle of wine from a local down the road. We didn’t want to have too late a night so it was back to the hotel and a movie for us to chill before a big day ahead.

The Royal Mile from Camera Obscura
The Royal Mile from Camera Obscura

The excitement really started on the second day. Heading into town on Edinburgh’s very reasonably priced bus service we wandered through town and up to the Camera Obscura. For a photography lover it was a brilliant experience! We headed straight up to the top floor where we got some amazing panoramic views of Edinburgh before heading into the show. This was done in a dark room where they projected the camera onto a wooden table and gave us a tour of the city. It was a little dim as it was a gray day but it was still incredible, with the ability to zoom in and show us important landmarks as well as play with the projection.

After this we made our way downstairs to the various levels which had different exhibits on types of photography, images and visual illusions. It is a beautiful place full of lights and interactive displays. Highlights included their visual illusion sets where you could be part of the illusion in your photos, and the light tricks which had me mesmerised.

After we has spent a photography-filled morning there and some time lingering in their gift shop, we decided it was time for some lunch and walked back through town to the Elephant House cafe: the birthplace of Harry Potter. As an elephant lover and a complete literature geek this was a must-see. There was quite a queue but we persevered and we didn’t have to wait too long. Inside looked fantastic… so many elephants! It had a really chilled out cafe feel even though it was so busy. We got seated by the staff who were lovely, and both ordered lasagna; mine was delicious! This was followed by some lush waffles and maple syrup and accompanied by traditional leaf tea.

Feeling very full we left and rambled back up to the castle for our afternoon there. Exploring the castle and visiting the museums was really interesting but the entry was quite expensive considering it didn’t
take us very long to get round. It’s a tough decision as to whether you would choose to do this on a budget but I’m glad we did; it was fun and I learnt a lot about the history of the castle that I was totally unaware of before.

Edinburgh Castle
Edinburgh Castle

With a good chunk of the afternoon left we wandered into town just to see a bit of the city. Taking a stroll through the park would probably have been more fun on a warm summer day, however it was pleasant and made so much more fun by some brave squirrels who came looking for food. We then went for a little bit of an explore in the shops along Princes Street, only to walk all the way back up and along the Royal Mile to visit a book-shop that I found on a guide to Edinburgh for book lovers called ‘The Old Town Bookshop’. It was a book-lover’s dream!

After a peruse in the shop we wandered back along to catch a bus back to the hotel so that we could change and freshen up before going for food. Except with no knowledge of Edinburgh’s bus network we landed quite far away from the hotel! We trundled back, had a chill and change, then made it out to walk along to the restaurant. We were intending to get mezze at a Turkish place but once we arrived they said we needed a reservation. So we headed back a long to a Nepalese and Indian restaurant we had found called the ‘Yak and Yeti’ which was absolutely fantastic. For a small restaurant they had a good drinks menu, their food was delicious and the service was high; we left very happy and satisfied.

We returned to the hotel to relax and recuperate for another early start. Checking his pedometer app, my boyfriend informed me that our wandering had taken us over ten miles! We had literally wandered in circles going between places; no wonder we were spent! So top tip to anyone thinking of a trip to Edinburgh: plan where you are going and when!

Day two we rose early again, packed up the car and headed straight to the zoo. We had booked a panda viewing slot at 2.30 so the plan was to make our way round the rest of the zoo first, including a break for food and then reach the pandas last. This worked really well, we managed to do the zoo in a nice circuit, only doubling back on ourselves when we went for lunch. We both really enjoyed seeing the animals, as we are such big kids and I loved taking photos.

My personal favourites were the meerkats asleep in a pile, the quite elusive sun bears, the penguins (obviously) and the very sleep giant panda! We got a great view of the penguin parade, where three of the penguins decided to waddle out and join the keepers on the walk, just before out panda viewing. Getting into the panda area, I was worried they wouldn’t come out but we were lucky enough to see the male panda, Yang Guang, asleep in a wooden hut like shelter. He slept the whole time but did wriggle around enough for us to be able to see him properly and get some good photos, so we were very happy.

Yang Guang, the Giant Panda
Yang Guang, the Giant Panda

A quick sweep through the gift shop rounded off our visit and we drove over to Holyrood Park to checkout Arthur’s Seat. We got some brilliant views even from the field, but a combination of it being quite late for getting home, feeling pretty tired and sudden rain meant we didn’t get to climb it. This was a bit of a shame, but it wouldn’t have been great to do considering the weather so that was probably one for the summer.

Arthur's Seat, Holyrood Park
Arthur’s Seat, Holyrood Park

Getting back in the car we set off for home to make sure we didn’t get back too late for work the next day. We were both tired and physically knackard from a pretty jam packed weekend so kudos to my boyfriend for driving home too as he was definitely more sore than me!

We had a brilliant weekend; it was fun, exciting and interesting. Considering the weather forecast we were very lucky on that front. Edinburgh is a beautiful city and in 48 hours we only just scratched the surface of what you can do there! But my boyfriend asked me on the way home what I would have done differently, and other than maybe some better pre-planning,  I honestly wouldn’t have changed a thing.