Travel Diary 5: England
Part 5 of the Travel Diaries sees me head to Europe with Peta. From January 2nd to January 19th we travelled through London, Bristol, Gloucester, Rome and Paris, seeing, doing and eating as much as we possibly could. Here's a little overview of our time in London:
St Paul's Cathedral
A beautiful church right on the water in London city, St Paul's is staggering in its size and beauty.
Dedicated to the Great Fire of London, you can pay a few pounds to walk up the monument to the top and enjoy great views of London.
Shakespeare's Globe Theatre
A great one for all the English buffs out there, and if you've got the time you can also see a Shakespeare theatre show in the Globe. It's the closest you can get to seeing what his shows would have once been like.
Big Ben & the Houses of Parliament
Possibly one of the most iconic parts of the London skyline, Big Ben stands grandly at one end of the House of Parliament. We didn't pay to go in and explore, but you can if you so choose.
Complete with a small museum at one side and the option to climb up one of the towers, Tower Bridge is the most iconic bridge in London. At the very least, you could do as we did and simply walk across it.
Tower of London
The ultimate attraction for fans of royalty, history or war and gruesome tales of beheadings. The Tower of London is so fascinating it is very easy to spend several hours wandering around, seeing everything from very old gates and docks to the Crown Jewels from the royals of the past few hundred years.
The most famous church in London and probably all of England, it is here that all royal ceremonies (marriages, funerals and coronations) take place. It is also home to the graves and tombs of hundreds of very important people, from royals to poets and much more. I would recommend taking the audio guide so that you can learn a little more about what you're actually seeing.
You simply cannot visit London without checking out Buckingham Palace, which is the official (although apparently not the preferred) residence of the Queen. During peak summer season (i.e. not when we were there) it is also open to visitors.
My tip for this is to book tickets in advance to avoid waiting several hours for a round on the London Eye. A perfect way to gain panoramic views of London from the comfort of a warm and cosy carriage.
Located at one end of Hyde Park, this palace is the current working residence of many royals, including Will, Kate & co, Harry and Princess Fergie. You can take a look around inside the museum part of the palace and enjoy wonderful views of the garden from the King and Queen's apartments. According to one staff we chatted to, Prince Harry is also known to occasionally wander around Hyde Park in a baseball cap, so keep your eyes peeled!
The biggest of the many royal parks and gardens in London, Hyde Park is a treasure trove of quaint English gardens and sprawling open greens. There is also a large lake complete with paddle boats (which from what I saw appear to operate only in the warmer months).
I am a big fan of the classic film Notting Hill and so after making Peta watch it I insisted we visit the area. It is a quaint residential area, with gorgeous pastel coloured facades along and off Portobello Road. A quick Google search reveals the location of the famous blue door, where a photo is all but mandatory.
Romeo's Sugar Free Bakery- 100% GF & SF bakery
Peta and I literally hiked about 6km to reach this bakery, but both agreed it was well worth it. We tucked into delicious homemade quiches, complete with gluten free pastry and then polished off a gluten AND sugar free slice of cake for dessert.
Bea's of Bloomsbury - GF High Tea
A quick Google search revealed that many places in London can cater to a gluten-free high tea, however after tossing up the menus and prices we decided that Bea's of Bloomsbury was the best option for us. We were certainly not disappointed, we enjoyed delicious sandwiches on soft gluten-free bread, followed by warm, freshly baked scones and a selection of sweet treats. Add in the bottomless tea and we were sold!
Hobson's Fish & Chips - GF Fish & Chips
Not only do Hobson's do fish of your choice in gluten-free batter, but they even go to the effort of using a separate fryer to prevent cross-contamination. Another plus? They do sweet potato fries. Needless to say it satisfied our childhood nostalgia for crunchy and succulent battered fish.
Wild Food Cafe- raw cakes and vegan meals
Nestled in a tiny little lane in the Covent Garden area, we were suitably impressed with the eccentric and relaxed atmosphere of Wild Food Cafe. We had sweet potato wedges and a slice of raw pumpkin pie, both of which were utterly delicious. The only downside - this place is pretty pricey!
Peta and I naively visited Harrod's thinking it was like a regular Australian department store... how wrong we were! This shopping centre glimmers with every designer item you could possibly imagine, from shoes, to gowns and everything in between. Even if it is well out of the price range of the average person, the inside of the store is so stunning that it is definitely worth a visit. And don't forget to check out the Egyptian staircase.
Portobello Road Markets & Notting Hill Bookshop
On the more quirky (and affordable) side of shopping in London is the Portobello Rd market, where you can buy hand crafted bits and bobs and antiques. Whilst there I picked up some gorgeous earrings from Nepal for a friend and fell in love with at least five different bags (none of which I purchased, mind you).
And while you're there, if you're a book fan then head to the Notting Hill Bookstore (upon which the Travel Book Co was based) and pick yourself up a good read or four (!) in my case.
Another famous quirky street market, this is the place to go for cheap clothes and accessories, particularly if you are a fan of stereotypical tourist t-shirts or cheap sunglasses.
This area is great for mid-range shopping, with street after street of shops off which little lane ways are located containing an even greater range of boutiques and chain stores. If you have room in your luggage go for it!
Aside from London, we were fortunate enough to have a tour of the countryside with my friend who lives in Bristol. Here are a few of the gorgeous little (and not so little) places we visited.
Bourton on the Water
This was probably my favourite place in all of England, even though we only stopped for a classic cream tea (scones, jam, cream and tea). The little tea room we went to was called Green & Pleasant and offered a fabulous gluten-free cream tea option and gf sandwiches too. The staff were beyond helpful and cheerful and I would highly recommend a visit if you're ever in the area.
Deservedly voted the second cutest village in all of England, this place is the perfect spot for a little respite from the madness of cities. Breath in the fresh air, watch ducks wander down the main street, duck into a little cottage for tea and watch out for the "free range" children.
A 2 hour bus ride from London, this is another rather large city in England, which has great shopping and restaurants if that is what you're looking for. It is also surrounded by lush greenery if you venture just a short way out of the city.
I'm not entirely sure if this is classified as a city or town, but Cheltenham was another charming English place. We only stopped here once for brunch, at Boston Tea Party, which offers a fabulous range of gluten-free and vegan options.
If thermal pools are up your alley then you can't miss a trip to Bath. You can check out the cathedral, then wander on into the ancient Roman baths before going around the corner to the modern day Bath Thermae Spa for a few hours of R&R.
And that completes London & England, but of course we barely scratched the surface of this wonderful historic country where drinking several cups of tea daily is not only acceptable but standard. Come back next Friday for Travel Diary 6: Rome!
Love Erica x