Belated Winter Wonderland…

Bundle up, cause, baby, it’s cold outside!

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Winter Wonderland. Hyde Park, London, England. December 2014.

Yes, we’re through most of the holiday festivities for 2014, with only a few days left before we all slip into the new year and our new resolutions (if you’re still thinking about yours, feel free to check out mine here!), but that doesn’t mean the celebrations have to stop yet!

I talked a few weeks back about various winter festivities going on and, while the last few are coming to an end, there is still a little bit of time to head out into the cold and enjoy yourself.

This past week I walked along the Thames as I trekked to Hyde Park and the biggest winter carnival I’ve ever seen: Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland.

If you are in London, or if you ever end up here between November and the end of the year, this is truly an event to head out to. While the whole park is packed with people of all shapes and sizes, whether you are strolling through soaking in the atmosphere and taking pictures, running about with friends/family to see how many rides you can hit, or chilling with a mulled wines and listening to some local talent, this is a wonderland with options for everyone.

I wanted to walk around and see what there was, watch some skating, and maybe grab a bite to eat,but I ended up wandering for well over an hour (and that was without skating, sitting around, or going on rides!). If you are going to partake in this event, you’ll want to really devote your day to it or plan to come back a few times to enjoy all aspects of this brilliant festival.

Like I said the other week (and can now attest to), it’s not hard to see how an event like this could empty your wallet. Everything basically runs off of a cash system and there are plenty of cash machines located throughout the park for this reason. However, as most cards have fees for withdrawing money from these kind of machines, to keep from breaking the bank and avoiding fees, I suggest pulling out your spending limit of cash from your bank before heading out. Once you hit your limit, tap out of at least the spending portion of your evening. And don’t forget, it’s a free event to come and go as you please, so you shouldn’t feel the need to just spend money because you’re there.

When it comes to eating, you are mostly limited to walking around food, a nice option if you want to keep moving (it’s warmer and you get to see more!). If you want to sit down and enjoy some of your choices, there are areas throughout the park for this as well, including a bar located on a spinning carousel platform and what looked like a heated hut (which unfortunately was too crowded for me to actually take a closer look at.). From chocolate fountain stands (with three or four different chocolate fountain choices) to mulled wine and sausage stops, one thing I can definitely say is you’ll have your pick from a wide variety of options. Don’t feel like if you’re not hungry right near the entrance, you should buy something you’ll want later. There are duplicate food type stands throughout the park, not just the first few feet (that first thoroughfare, however, does present a lot of options). The only option that may be all by itself is the lone veggie stand I saw—they sell only veg, but it might be good to mix some of that with the rest of your pickings!

While wandering through these food areas, don’t forget to check into the booths between eateries for any gift items or souvenirs. From hats and glasses to Christmas decorations to nick-knacks, you have plenty to look through!

Last—but certainly not least—we’ll talk about entertainment. The park’s Winter Wonderland has the largest non-permanent, pop-up rides I have ever seen with a range that suits all ages. From rollercoasters to swings to fun houses, you’re sure to find something no matter who you happen to be spending the day with. If you do plan on indulging in this entertainment, don’t for get to stop by the ticket booths first (and plan that into your budget!). On the other hand, if you are more inclined to spend your time in a more classic holiday tradition, there are ice rinks you can skate the day away on or watch others enjoy (not all of us are skaters and that’s okay).

If you don’t want to spend extra money on your entertainment, but you don’t mind sitting and spending your money on more food and drink, you can head to one (or hop around) to any of the live band stages and sitting areas. There are at least four I counted throughout the park, so take your pick and enjoy.

There’s the rundown for you and if you’re around, Winter Wonderland is open until the 4th of January. Go out, have fun, be safe, and don’t forget to bundle up; it’s cold out there!

As always,

I’m Leave on the Wind, helping you soar.

Belated Winter Wonderland…

The Pumpkin Hour….

Where will you be when the clock strikes midnight?

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Along the Thames. Thames River, London, England. December, 2014.

While I know we haven’t hit Christmas yet, if you happen to be traveling or abroad this holiday season, you should definitely already be asking yourself what you will be doing this New Year’s Eve. What I love about New Year’s (besides it being the one holiday that won’t be a first for me without my family), is that no matter where you go in the world (at least as far as I know) you are probably going to be able to find a crowd of people to be with (even if you are alone-together with them).

From Times Square in New York or the bank of the Thames in London, you’re sure to find somewhere to be, whether you are all on your own or traveling with someone(s) to kiss at midnight. The thing to remember, however, is that wherever you end up, doing your planning beforehand can save you.

I know in London (at least), this year is the first time that crowd control measures are being put in place for various events, meaning that areas of the city will be locked down and only accessible for people with tickets or wristbands.

Not only does this mean you’ll want to look at getting tickets to events like firework shows ahead  of time (like, now would be a good idea!), but you’ll also want to look at the areas around the places you’ll be this New Year’s Eve just in case you can’t get somewhere due to these kind of blockages. This year’s Mayoral Big Ben firework show is already sold out (told you you should plan ahead!) but here and here are some other options if you are in town. And when it comes to travel, go public and plan ahead. New year’s means drinking so stay safe, have someone sober if you are out, and know where you are going and how to get there (in London there is free transport available from 11:45 pm to 4:30 am New Year’s Day!)

If you aren’t in London, the city’s details here may not help you, but you should be able to find details for wherever you are by looking at travel websites and city news outlets as well as any of the regular travel idea sites from travel sites to blogs.

For a few examples of New Year’s celebrations, look here and until next time, Happy Holidays.

This is Leave on the Wind, helping you soar.

The Pumpkin Hour….

These next few weeks in London town…

I’ve read the lists and kept my ear to the ground: here’s what I’ve found

Somerset House tree and ice rink. London, England. December 2014.
Somerset House tree and ice rink. London, England. December 2014.

This week, I’ve decided to give any of you fellow holiday explorers a list of all kinds of things you can do (and I’ll be around doing as well!) in this London holiday season rather than just my take on things I’ve done or seen in my time here.

Truth be told I’m not sure where I’ll be these next few weeks—I’ve got school work to complete and a small travel fund to spend on nothing but travel, so who knows where I’ll be or when! But in the mean time, I’ve taken the time to look around both London and all over the internet to find you all kinds of holiday cheer for all levels of funding.

Let’s get the more explicitly expensive plans out first: tour companies like Premium Tours (I’ve been on one and they are very good) are offering tours for people who want to travel on Christmas day to see sights outside of the London area – almost all of these include a traditional Christmas lunch. This could be a nice time to look into getting out of the city if you find yourself city-locked and going a bit crazy, but it does cost.

If you aren’t planning on going that far, ice-skating is one event you can do all over London: the rinks have popped up all over the place and, if you have stronger ankles than I do, you can go and have a fun day with friends or a romantic night with someone special skating (or stumbling) around the ice. The great thing about all the choices is no matter where you are or your budget, there is probably a rink somewhere not too far away that will fit your needs. Here’s a great list by the Londonist with prices attached (don’t forget to look at the comments for more options!). As always, look for easy ways to save money (if you are going to skate) by thinking and planning ahead. Some offer online ticketing which will save you, as will going on off times. Some also have deals not listed on the page linked here (Somerset House has a special ticket price for King’s students), so read ahead on the rinks you plan to skate at before you head out.

When it comes to winter festivals, unless you’re looking or willing to be a bit touristy or started your Christmas cheer in November, many of the events are over, at least around the wider London area. If you walk around areas like Southbank, the Tate Modern, The Tower of London, Hyde Park, or the Barbican Center, you’ll find festivals that are still going on. Just looking at the names listed, you can tell they are major traveler destinations, meaning the amount of people and prices can cost you (in both time and money).

While Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park is an event a local friend of mine said everyone has to do at least once, another said she took her daughter there when she was little and was out at least 100 pounds in the few hours they were there (between paying for food, trinkets and activities). A lot of the festivals I’ve looked at are basically Christmas-themed pop-up markets, so the whole purpose is to have you buying their wares. Just think and plan ahead with a limit to what you are willing to spend (remembering that you are in tourist territory) and you should be fine.

When planning your festivities, remember that for practically anything you do, you’ll also be paying for it. Where you decide to run around, however, is one major factor in how much things cost you. Trafalgar’s Square is a major tourist hub at the best of times so while running around and listening to caroling (the only event listed with upcoming dates), you’re more likely to spend more and be fighting a much larger crowd to do any of it.

If funds are low, whether you are staking out a new, local find or the larger Christmas time festivals/markets/activities, make a day of walking around. Visit a few ice rinks and the festivities surrounding them with a camera or sketch pad (if you are a bit more artistic), a friend or two, and a thermoses of hot chocolate. In a city like London, people watching can be just as much fun as actually spending loads to do things.

So that’s my plan for the next few weeks, wandering around London’s Christmas festivities and I’ll let you know what I find! Don’t forget to check out my other posts on Silk Sheets and Grilled Cheese for more non-travel related adventures.

As always,

This is Leave on the Wind, helping you soar

PS. Don’t forget, everything here starts early so if you are planning on doing things for New Years, start your planning! Some firework shows are now ticketing for crowd control, so do your research and I’ll focus on that topic soon!

These next few weeks in London town…

Travel Cards…

It’s break and I’m a student and I need the discounts.

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Tower Bridge at Night. Tower Bridge, London, England. December 2014.

It’s the first week of break and I am realizing I should have started this process earlier during the semester. As a student living off of loans in a foreign country, I pretty much need to save as much money as I can (the more I save, the more I can pay back – with less interest – in the long run!). On the life experiencing/balancing end of my world, I also want to travel since I am living in a new country closely surrounded by other countries I haven’t visited yet.

To summarize, I’m a student, I’m young, and I love to travel. Life is a balancing act.

So for young travelers and new wandering immigrants (especially those in the London/UK area), there are a few travel discounts to watch out for to help you do everything you want to do and not break the bank doing it.

Short distances:

Oyster cards and oyster discounts are quick and easy ways to save money and time on shorter distance travel (ie. Tubes and buses—the latter doesn’t really work without prepaid tickets like the oyster). Instead of buying individual tickets for every trip you take, you put money on your oyster card and pay at an automatic, discounted price every time you use it. On top of the basic benefits of having a card (which can be topped up online or in a tube station via machine or at the ticket counter), you should look to see what extra discounts you can get on these cards. If you or a person you are traveling with is between 10 and 17, you should check out the discount area as there are age based ID card discounts with a wide range of benefits.

I fall into the 18+ Student Discount photo card because I am a graduate student at a recognized university. The whole process is quick and painless and completely online. You are eligible for this 30% discount on travel with your new oyster if you are with a school, college, or university that’s registered on the TfL scheme, on a mandatory work placement in London, or on an eligible full-time or part-time course (you can find out if your university is included when you fill out the online paperwork). To fill out the forms, you’ll need: a color digital photo to upload; your student enrollment ID from your school, college or university; your course start and end dates; a credit or debit card to pay the £10 fee; and an active email address. If you have an oyster card already in the system, you can go to one of the counters and return your old card for a refund of the oyster’s cost.

If you are an older traveler or are working or otherwise don’t fit the parameters of the discounts above, check out the adults’ discount page and see if any of these can help. All you have to do if fit the parameters, fill in the paperwork, get your card, and be on your way!

Longer Distance:

When you are going further than the distance covered by the aforementioned transportation, the rail station and Rail cards (and their discounts) are what you are looking for. Unlike other transportation methods, the only way to get discounts for the railway is to purchase a rail card (for others you can get discount tickets with a student id, though you save more—especially time—with a card).

As a 23 year old, I purchased a 16 to 25 year olds photo rail pass which has two length options: 1 year at 30 pounds or 3 years at 70 pounds (at least for now). If you are older than 25 but have the documentation showing that you attend University and are approved with all the proper documents, mature students may also apply for this discount travel card. Then, if you apply for the 3 years by the day before your 24th birthday, you get the same discounts on tickets for the extra year you technically fall out of the age limit. You get up to 1/3 off normal ticket prices, but always look at the terms before buying as they dictate when you travel as well as what kind of travel you do.

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For smaller trips with less day to day travel, you should look at the other travel package options I outlined in the early days of this blog and again, don’t forget to look at your options early as your card will be mailed to you and you can’t save on travel costs until you have your card!

Until next time,

This is Leave on the Wind, helping you soar.

Travel Cards…

Happy Holidays from London…

2nd day of December and already in full swing.

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Somerset House Ice Rink. Somerset House, London, England. December 2014.

As an American living in London, I’ve learned a lot about the way we all divide up our final few months of the year between all our holidays; one month each for Halloween and October, Thanksgiving and November, and, finally (and in its due course), Christmas in December. Each has its time and place on the calendar, in our minds, and the way in which our lives are broken down in time.

This is a whole other worldview than I’ve found here in London:

Halloween seems smaller; a fun opportunity to binge drink no matter the day of the week, but this time in costume. I don’t know if it’s a ‘life in the city’ thing or dorm life thing or a wider non-America thing (maybe even a grown up thing), but there seems to be smaller appeal here.

Thanksgiving, as an exclusively American tradition (at least, on our date – other’s have their own), isn’t celebrated here. Instead, you go about your average day tasks like work or (for me) school, and if you want to cook and celebrate, you work around that schedule. For me, this meant three days of cooking between the other tasks I had to do, but I had a lot of fun (Check out my other blog—shared with my sister back in the US—for more on this Thanksgiving which will go up on Friday, and for other Lifestyle oriented posts of two twenty-somethings living half a world apart!), and of course, way too much food! However, one must remember that there are a lot of Americans in the UK, and in London especially, so, if you are planning on making pies, I’ve been told to shop in advanced as your ingredients will be out of stock on the day of unless you are very lucky!

Because there is no Thanksgiving, Christmas comes early here—a full month early. My graduate program celebrated its Christmas party already, specifically on November 26—the day before Thanksgiving!

As an American, this just seemed wrong. Things were not in there designated months and my more local friends didn’t understand my freak out – mostly because most of them forget that Thanksgiving is an actual things for Americans and because Christmas for them simply starts this early. I’d say the season here picks up a bit after Guy Fawkes Day (November 5th) and then just keeps going.

I, for one, am not sure how they sustain the season with all the enthusiasm which appears in shop windows and around holiday festivities, like the ice rinks and carnivals that seem to have sprung up what seems like overnight.

So, as my first semester in London comes to a close, I’ll be going out over break between writing my final essays and sharing more of these winter treats to check out if you are ever in the area, as well as seeing where else I can get to. In the meantime, don’t forget to check out the other blog—Silk Sheets and Grilled Cheese— where I’ll be bringing an LA and London experience perspective of food, fashion, and anything else I encounter here.

This is Leave on the Wind, helping you soar.

Happy Holidays from London…