It didn't get off to a smooth start when my WestJet flight from Calgary to London Gatwick was canceled. Of course as with all these things you never know until pretty well the last minute. Maintenance issues were the cause which WestJet seems to have problems with on their London Gatwick route. After a lot of lining up and mass confusion (no WestJet staff to tell us where to go) and going through Canada customs again (because basically, we had been in "no man's" land) we were given vouchers for a hotel for the night as well as for meals and taxis. I was near the front of the line luckily. I was put up at the Hotel Clique which is above my usual standard so that was a treat. But I really had wanted to be on that flight to London! The next day (after a long day at the airport...) we took off without incident. Hello London!
The ugly? I deliberately went earlier than normal for a Christmas trip so I could see the lights being lit on the Norwegian Christmas Tree in Trafalgar Square. This is always done the first Thursday in December. Even though I arrived the morning of the tree lighting I knew that by 6:30 p.m. I would be very tired after being up all night. (I can't sleep on planes, trains or automobiles...) Being in a crowd and exhausted is not a good combination - your guard is down and that's when bad things happen So that is something I will just have to try for again sometime - and this time I will go a few days earlier!!
However stop your sulking Laurie - you're in London and it's Christmas! I've said it many times before, London is magical at Christmas.
London at Christmas!
The tree lit up - despite not seeing the deed being done I did see the tree lit up lots and it never lost its thrill. It's decorated in typical Norwegian fashion. Every year Norway donates the tree as a thank you to Britain for its help during the Second World War.
Loved this tree near St James Palace.
One of the things I love about London at Xmas is all the wonderful shows that are on. "The Snowman" was fun. "The Nutcracker" at the Royal Opera House was pure magic - I always make a point of seeing "The Nutcracker" every year even if it's just at the cinema.
Decorations outside Liberty's - one of those stores that is so posh I am almost afraid to go inside.
This dog reminded me so much of my Sandy I nearly cried.
I never get tired of photographing the ice rink at the Natural History Museum.
Mustn't forget the wonderful Christmas dinner I had at St Martins in the Fields cafe. Yes I went veggie as the turkey with sausages did not appeal to me. Roast potatoes, parsnips and brussel sprouts..yum!!!
Oxford St - I love this picture. And no, I wasn't in any danger of being hit!
I got this shot of the Tower of London when I arrived to attend the 900 year old Ceremony of the Keys.
These buildings are on the main square
Yes, I left a piece of my heart in Bruges....and I will be back. I am so glad I visited at Christmas though. Pure magic!! Who can resist a town centre that is so pretty and then there's the chocolate....
I must admit I never got tired of this view and most mornings when I looked out it was sunny and calm. My host Pilar was so sweet and helpful and picked me up what I needed when I was sick and generally fussed over me. Oh yes, did I mention I was sick? THE UGLY. I woke up on my first day in London with a sore throat and it progressed from there. It was tolerable in London but it became much worse in Spain. My energy was zapped and while I still tried to be out and about every day it certainly wasn't what I had planned. Some days were better than others but I tried to be the best tourist I could be! The cold went into my chest, rattling away and keeping me (and probably everyone else in the flat) awake at night. I worried about pneumonia. Oh well, at least I had this view to look at! The cold lasted for pretty well half of my trip and it wasn't until pretty well the end of my time in Spain that I finally felt my normal energetic self again. I happily said to Pilar "This is the real me, the real Laurie" as all she had seen until then was a hacking sniffly one with no energy. I think everyone would agree - being sick on holidays really sucks.
Despite that, I only have happy memories of my time in Andalucia. Will I go back? Doubtful as there are so many other places to see but as I've learned...never say never! A certain little place called Nerja pulled at my heart strings...
A day tour to Granada was interesting. Sad story...I had actually booked two nights in a hotel in Granada. Just before I left home I thought "guess I should book my ticket to the Alhambra" only to discover it was fully booked up until the day before I was due to leave Spain. There is absolutely no point in going to Granada and not seeing the Alhambra. So I booked myself a day tour from Malaga which of course provided reserved tickets and a tour throughout the Alhambra. I am so glad I did this. While I found the tour a bit fast paced I don't regret doing it. My mobility isn't the greatest right now and also I am a keen photographer so it was frustrating to have to snap photos "on the run" so to speak. Let's just say I was at the back of the pack! I will definitely be doing a blog post on the Alhambra.
I then had three nights in Seville in early January which was the perfect amount of time as I feel like I saw everything I wanted to with leisure time as well. I loved Seville and it was definitely one of the high points of my trip. By then my cold had pretty well run its course and I got some of my energy (and appetite!) back.
The huge cathedral that was impossible to frame in one picture. I found it more impressive on the outside than the inside. I stayed close enough to hear the chimes. Christopher Columbus is buried here.
One of the many side streets in Seville where you can sit at an outdoor cafe and enjoy tapas which Seville is known for. I tried quite a few different combinations.
The Real Alcazar (means "Royal Palace" in Spanish) was just a three-minute walk from my hotel and while there were lines every day I purchased a ticket online which the desk clerk kindly printed for me. I highly recommend doing this as I walked past the long line up and walked in. I spent about four to five hours there looking at things at my own speed. It is absolutely beautiful.
I will definitely be writing a blog post on the Alcazar and lots more on Seville.
And then there was Plaza Espana....lots more on this as well as the pretty park that is close by. Definitely not to be missed!
I enjoyed Malaga and staying with my host Pilar. As I have mentioned many times I do love Airbnb. It's not for everybody I realize but it's definitely for me. Living in a local's home I feel like I am experiencing more rather than the anonymity of a hotel room. I love taking the bus back and forth to town and feeling like a local. Being as I was there three weeks I was able to totally unpack and make myself at home.
I sometimes sat at the window, had my morning coffee and "people watched".
One of the highlights was seeing the Christmas lights that Malaga is famous for.
By the time my three weeks drew to an end I must admit I was ready to get back to London.
It's a Surprise!
Prague did have one big advantage though - I finally got to see Český Krumlov which I totally fell in love with.
Like a fairy tale right? I am already planning a return trip (in my mind that is...my mind has lots of trips going on in there) where I will stay a couple of days and roam this place in warmer weather. I fell hard for this charming little place - in my heart that is and I came pretty darn close to falling for real on the icy cobblestones!
I was pleased with my hotel in Prague even if I seemed to always have trouble finding my way back to it. Over a month later I can say that yes, I would try a Surprise trip again when I am in the UK. If I have the time that is...this time Prague will be on the "no go" list! (you are allowed to list three places) They booked me so I would have maximum time with flying out at 9 a.m. and back at 9:30 p.m. three days later (which turned into 10:30 but let's not go there...it all worked out in the end)
I'll be writing more about both places including the Jewish area of Prague where my hotel was located.
Of course my love for London doesn't mean I don't love the rest of England. I did manage to get out of the city twice. Once up to York (for probably the tenth time at least) on a cheap ten pound return ticket and then to Winchester (for the first time) in south west England on a "seat sale". Both cities are steeped in history and now Winchester is slotted into number three (behind London and York) on my list of favourite cities in Britain. I can't wait to take you for a "walk" around these two cities.
Some of the highlights of my January/February time in London? Doing the Womens' March in London in January, visiting Charter House which has only recently been opened to the public, attending musicals like "The Girls" and "School of Rock" and just getting in the morning up knowing that I was in my favourite place in the world. Of course staying with my friends Claudia and her ten year old son Alessandro in Streatham was wonderful. We yakked over cups of tea, shared stories and laughs over morning coffee while watching for our greedy squirrel friends Chip and Dale to show up for some peanuts, had movie nights and even had afternoon tea at Browns.
I was always getting scolded for bringing back so many treats but it was fun to buy them as then I could share - not as much guilt (or calories!) that way! It was so comforting to be in a home environment knowing a friend was nearby yet I had the independence of bopping around London or just settling in for an evening of telly in my room. I can say without hesitation that despite a bum knee I had way more energy than some of her younger guests.
My mobility issues made stairs difficult and to say I tired much more easily is an understatement. I have always had lots of energy so this part is hard for me to accept. However I took lots of breaks (I should write a guide on all the places to park your butt around London as well as the best place to find a free loo) and paced myself and I was fine. It has made me appreciate what disabled people go through on a daily basis - mine is nothing compared to others and it is temporary. I have to admit it was frustrating not to be able to take part in walking tours or heading off on a path to explore what's along the way. I've always been a keen walker and I do miss it dreadfully. However my beloved Thames Path will still be there next year waiting for me.
Now I am home for seven to ten months while I await knee replacement surgery which they tell me is approximately three to five months away. The optimistic part of me hopes for surgery sometime in late April/early May with time to recuperate and get that knee ready to do more adventure by mid autumn. (I've been asked to dog sit my little buddy Casper in Chicago in mid October and I would certainly like to do this..followed of course by trips to foreign climes) And then just try to catch me! I will keep everyone updated on what's going on. When I get a surgery date I will be shouting it from the roof tops - living in limbo is really not my thing!
I'm making the most of my time at home (because I sure as hell don't intend to be at home for this length of time again if I can help it) and have made a vow to lose weight and become healthier. On Friday I joined Weight Watchers as to me it is much more realistic and I will be monitored weekly.
I have made a goal to produce at least one blog post weekly. These posts will go into more detail on the places I have gone to with more photos and much more information. I hope you'll follow along and enjoy until I can produce fresh content near the end of the year.
A big thank you for reading my blog - it means a lot!