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London, England

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London, England

Perhaps it was just because of the upcoming 2012 Olympics that the city of London was bustling with tourists. But something tells me it’s a little bit more…..

Portobello Road, Portobello Road,
street where the riches of ages are stowed.
Anything and everything a chap can unload,
is sold off the barrow at Portobello Road.
You’ll find what you want at the Portobello Road.

You may recognise these lyrics from the popular film ‘Bedknobs and Broomsticks’. The lyrics speak for themselves. Keen bargain hunters, both locals and tourists, lurk around Portobello Road. Anything from earrings to antique sewing machines is available for purchase at Portobello Road!

If you’re looking for a more tasteful experience, visit a rather unique store in Leicester Square. Everyone’s heard of M&Ms, but what about a whole store dedicated to them? London’s Leicester Square has done just that! In London’s 4-story M&M World, there’s more than just candy. You’ll find merchandise such as chess sets, kitchenware, clothing, jewellery, clothes and glassware. Located at the back of the building is a humungous wall of chocolate where you are able to create your own M&Ms selection from over 100 choices!

For a more historical feel, I would recommend visiting the Tower of London. In the early 1080s, William the Conqueror began building a stone tower at the centre of his London fortress at Tower Hill. Through the centuries, other monarchs have added to the reinforcement of the tower and left us with a wonderful historical precinct. The Crown Jewels can be viewed here. It is also said that the ghost of Anne Boleyn (Henry VIII’s second wife) loiters around the Tower of London, as she was executed in this fine structure.

Finding a restaurant in London isn’t testing, as there is a multitude of restaurants to suit everyone’s taste around every corner. One restaurant I would recommend is Garfunkel’s. It was at this restaurant that my parents shared their first date when they lived in London, in 1994. Seventeen years later (2011), they accompanied my sister and I to that same place. Garfunkel’s menu includes something for everyone. Not only do they include London classics on their menu, but fabulous cuisine from all over the world. A Garfunkel’s Banana Split is a ‘must-have dessert’!

For something a little fancier, visit Fortnum & Masons. I adore this place as it consists of several different restaurants of such diversity. These are, The Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon, The Fountain, The Gallery, The Parlour and 1707. What is now known as The Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon was undergoing renovations when I visited, however, on 1 March 2012, the restaurant was opened by Her Majesty the Queen accompanied by Their Royal Highnesses The Duchess of Cornwall and the Duchess of Cambridge. The Parlour, located on the first floor, is a favourite of mine. It allows you to indulge in sublime sorbets and incredible ice-cream. Their well-known hot chocolate is a winner in many eyes. Made by one of the greatest chocolatiers in the world, it sure makes for a mouth-watering experience. For customers that prefer savoury over sweet, The Parlour’s special sandwich is always available.

For the vast majority of travellers that visit London, Buckingham Palace and the Changing of the Guard is on their list of things to do. This was the same for my family and I. We found this ceremony anything but great. My family and I arrived 30-40 minutes early, yet we still barely caught a glimpse of any of it. As you would most likely have your back pack with you carrying valuables like cameras, it’s quite risky due to the large amount of pickpockets lurking about. I would certainly recommend rubbing this off your to-do list!

There are lots of things that London is famous for: films, celebrities, history, shopping etc. But sitting quite high on that list would be musicals. For a great bargain, head straight to the Half-Price Ticket Booth in Leicester Square. You may have to line up for a while but it’s well worth it. The two musicals I viewed were ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ and ‘Jersey Boys’. The Phantom was remarkable. The singing was fantastic as well as the instrumentals and acting – certainly my favourite musical of all time! Jersey Boys was impressive; however, I wouldn’t recommend it to children due to numerous scenes with coarse language. The songs were lively though and got the audience pumped.

The laughter of both children and parents rings through your ears as you enter Hamleys, the finest toy store in the world. From stuffed toys to magic tricks, Hamleys features everything you want. Staff are willing to do your nails with their special nail polish or let you paint just to lure you into buying their merchandise. With several floors of fun, hours can be spent looking at everything in Hamleys!

The iconic London double-decker bus is a great way to see the city. Who could come to London and not ride one? These buses stop at many of the sites I have been writing about, and often give you some tips on what to do and see at your location.

So, I guess there is something more to the reason London is bustling, not just the coming of the Olympics…. after all, who wouldn’t want to visit such a magnificent city?

May the Travel – Bug be with you…….

Things to do and Places to visit:

Westminster Abbey = http://www.westminster-abbey.org/
Garfunkel’s = http://www.garfunkels.co.uk/
Harrods = http://www.harrods.com/
M&Ms World = http://www.mymms.com/merchandise/
Hamleys = http://www.hamleys.com/
Fortnum & Masons = http://www.fortnumandmason.com/
London Eye = http://www.londoneye.com/
Half-Price Ticket Booth = http://www.officiallondontheatre.co.uk/buy-tickets/tkts/

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San Francisco, America

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San Francisco, America

With it’s distinctive landscape and architecture, it’s no wonder tourists are naturally drawn to the city of San Francisco.

Perhaps one of the most visited attractions in San Fransico, lives in the sea.  The jagged form of Alcatraz Island, slowly appears wrapped in a deep sea of fog, as the boat nears what is commonly known as “The Rock”.   Pouring rain and fierce winds certainly made my experience on Alcatraz scarier, but did not at all affect the educational portion of the tour.  Whilst on the island, I was given a head set to wear.  These were a great idea, as instead of following a large tour group, I was able to gain knowledge about Alcatraz at my own pace. 

Back on the mainland, a sleepy bayside community, called Sausilito, lies tucked away over the Golden Gate Bridge. Unlike the city, Sausilito is crammed with boutiques, window shops and secluded fishing wharves.  Being only 10 minutes over the Golden Gate Bridge, Sausilito is a great escape from the noises of the city!

Sprawled throughout San Francisco are many cafes and restaurants.  The Rain Forest Cafe is my personal favourite.  This restaurant is best suited  for families with children.  Most other restaurants in the city just serve spectacular food, but The Rain Forest Cafe makes what could be a boring dining experience, extremely fun!  Instead of waiters and waitresses, my food was served to me by ‘Ranger David’.  The waiters’ outfits include khaki shirts and black pants.  Each kid’s meal comes with a gift pack containing a ruler, activity book, wallet and pencils, all with the Rain Forest Cafe symbol printed on it.  Complete with a souvenir shop (due to its great success), moving animals and half-hourly thunder storms, The Rain Forest Cafe is certainly one of San Francisco’s hot spots for a spectacular dining experience.

The beyond steep hills make it difficult to discover San Francisco by foot.  Therefore, I relied mostly on tour buses to make my way around.  This is a great way to see the city, as it ensures that you see everything and don’t waste time visiting non-worthy attractions.  San Francisco City Sightseeing Tours offers to take you to many different places.  I rode two of these tours, the Golden Gate and Sausilito Tour and The Night Loop.  The Golden Gate and Sausilito tour stops at Sausilito, the Presidio, Ghirradeli Square, the Palace of Fine Arts and of course, the Golden Gate Bridge.  The trip across the famous monument stops at both sides for fantastic photo oppurtunities. 

The Night Loop stops at China Town, Embarcadero, The Bay Bridge, Union Square and Alamo Square.  Alamo Sqaure is home to ‘The Painted Ladies’ of ‘Postcard Row’.  The yellow ‘Painted Lady’ is in fact from Full House, a popular 90s TV series starring the young Olsen twins.  Both tours are worthwhile, however if neither interest you, there are also many other tours available. 

May the Travel-Bug be with you……

Places to go and things to do:

Alcatraz Island=https://www.alcatraztrips.com/index2.asp?source=google&gclid=CMmfqL7olbECFedMpgod6S6UhA
The Rain Forest Cafe=http://www.rainforestcafe.com/
Sausilito=http://www.ci.sausalito.ca.us/
City Sightseeing Tours=http://www.city-sightseeing.us/allloopstour.html