A first-timer’s guide: London

Visiting a country for the first time can get a little scary and I am very thankful for the little preparation I have done before the big adventure. I am a first-timer to London myself and I will share how I “winged” it in the British country if ever you’re going there for the first time as a tourist.

1. Flights and getting to London

Coming from the Philippines, you can imagine how far the UK is. I’m really not a fan of connecting flights, so we booked a direct flight instead. A direct flight from Manila to London Heathrow Airport will take about 14 hours. That’s if you can manage to stay inside a plane for 14 hours lol but do not fret! there are also connecting flights from Manila to London. Emirates has one I think but since we wanted to get there fast, we booked a direct flight with Philippine Airlines. Keep in mind though, when you book returning flights with the same airline, remember your point of entry. Our point of entry for our Eurotrip was in London, which means we go back to London for our flight back to the Philippines because we booked a returning ticket with the same airline. If ever you’ll be coming from another european country, there’s the option of taking the Eurostar train to London or going to London via Plane. If you’re taking a plane to London, you can choose British Airways or perhaps you’d like a more chill journey (but longer), then take the Eurostar. There are trains going in and out of London. Just make sure you have the right visa though.

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2. Where to stay

You have lots of options in London when it comes to lodging. You have three options. Hotels, Airbnb, Backpacker Hostels. Of course, when we say Hotel it’s not always cheap, but you get the luxury of staying in comfy beds, clean bathrooms, room service and sometimes free breakfast. I would most definitely recommend staying with Airbnb. Sometimes I could find flats/houses that are much cheaper than hotels and it has like a room or two, a common room and your own kitchen. If you’re rather adventurous and on a very tight budget, there are also Backpacker Hostels in London. You’ll surely meet new friends there. I did consider though, that our lodging should be in Central London and quite near train stations. So we got a hotel near Regent’s Park. Your life would be easier if you consider these things.

3. Plan ahead and download apps 

Thank god for the advancing technology right!? Believe me when I say your phone will be your bestfriend in another country. Before going to the UK, I have downloaded offline maps of London and apps for the tube (train). I also did my own research and written down notes on how to get from Point A to Point B. What station is nearest and where to go down. Trust me, Google Maps will help you. But if ever you don’t have data, make sure you have your offline map on your phone. If you are fond of another language, you can also download english translator apps. List down things you’re going to do, directions and addresses. You’ll be glad you did so. I used this offline map called Ulmon. It also has a London Tube map and recommendations for activities.


4. Transportation in London

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Getting around London is quite easy. There are cabs, buses and trains you can catch. The tube is London’s underground train system and it will be the most convenient way for you to go around. You need to use an Oyster card for both the tube and the buses. There is also the option of taking a taxi but it’s ~*expensive*~. Well, everything in London is expensive lol. So let me teach you how to use the London tube.

  • Buy an oyster card: Since it’s your first time, you might get intimidated by the self-automated machines. It’s rather easy to navigate. You can buy new oyster cards from there as well as paper tickets for a whole day use. Take note of the Zones when buying paper tickets. Most attractions are usually included in Zones 1 and 2. Don’t worry, you can ask questions and assistance, there are people there ready to help. Some stations have ticket offices too if you don’t like navigating through a machine.
  • Reloading your oyster card: On the ticket machines, there’s a spot there where you touch your card and it reads how much credit you have. If you want to top-up (add credit) you can simply choose that option. Choose the amount you want to add, slide in the coins/bills/credit card, and then touch your oyster card again to the reader to add the credit (It will indicate in the screen). Keep in mind that some machines only accepts coins and credit cards, some don’t accept bills.
  • Getting inside: Simply touch your oyster card on the reader so the gates will open. If ever you’re out of credit, it will not open up.
  • Knowing what train to ride: Here’s the London Underground Map
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    You will be guided by the colors of the line. Once you know what line/train you will be using, all that’s left to know is which train goes in that direction. It will be either north, south, east, west bound. Once you go inside, every train line has two different directions. Make sure you enter the right platform. You can also check the big maps there before entering a platform. I’m gonna give you an example on how to ride the train. From Warren Street Station, I want to go to Victoria Station.  If you can see, there are two train lines stopping in Warren Street Station. One is the Northern Line (Black line) and the other one is the Victoria Line (Light Blue line). I need to ride the Victoria Line (Light Blue line) going South bound to go to Victoria Station. I will then go to the right platform and wait for the train. Inside the train you could also see the stops so you are aware when you’re getting down. As you arrive to your destination, you can follow “Way Out” signs to exit the station. You will need your oyster card or tickets again to exit the station.
  • Buses: You can also use your oyster card on buses. Every bus stop has a timetable and a list of buses stopping at that area. That’s why it’s very helpful if you check what bus you’ll be riding before hand. Same procedure with touching your oyster card on the reader next to the driver. Though, some buses have readers on the other entrance at the back of the bus. If you have a paper ticket, kindly show it to the driver.

 

5. What to do in London

Harry Potter Studio
If you are a fan of the magical world of Harry Potter,  then this is the place for you. I was giddy when we went here. Seeing the set and the stuff they used for filming were there. It truly is a heaven for Harry Potter fans. You may purchase tickets there if you’re going on your own. If you’re coming from central london, I would recommend joining a tour. You can google tours that go to Harry Potter Studio. Great thing about tours is that transportation is included. You get to ride the bus together with other tourists and the guide would give out the tickets on-board. No more hassle of lining-up in the ticket office! If you’re planning to buy souvenirs from the studio, let me warn you that they’re rather expensive. Well, it’s Harry Potter.

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Portobello Market/Notting Hill
If you have a knick for antiques or just want to visit the site where they filmed “Notting Hill”, Portobello is an interesting place to be. You can also find cheap souvenirs there. When I say cheap, it’s like the “divisoria” type items that are sold £15 for 3 items and the like. If you want a food journey, Portobello Market has a wide selection of food stalls, cafés and restaurants. You can check out my Portobello Blog <– here

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Westminster/London Eye
Seeing Westminster will give you quite the London feel. You will find the Big Ben there and the Westminster Abbey, so don’t forget to take pictures, for it will be your one true proof of London hahaha. When you get to Westminster, you will already see the London Eye by the bridge. It’s quite a near walk if you want to get a closer look, or even ride the London Eye. There will be a long line though.

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Sherlock Holmes Museum
Cue Sherlock theme lol but if you are an ultimate fan of Sherlock, I know this will be on your go-to list. Just having your photo at the facade in Baker Street is already an achievement. They also have guided tours if you want to go up the apartment. You can purchase tickets inside the souvenir shop.

The London Beatles Store/Abbey Road 
That popular pedestrian lane would most definitely ring a bell to Beatles fans. Abbey road is just a walk away from The London Beatles store in Baker Street which just beside the Sherlock Museum. They can provide you with a map if you’d like to visit Abbey Road to get your picture taken while crossing. But please be mindful of the cars passing by, it’s still a normal street after all. Don’t make people wait.

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Windsor Castle
This place is quite far from Central London. I would also recommend getting a tour for this so you won’t have problems with transportation and tickets anymore. Sometimes you can even catch the queen in Windsor Castle! I’ve learned that whenever the flag is up, it means that the queen is there. It’s really a marvelous place with all the great structure. There are also guards in red uniform, marching around the area. Please respect them and don’t poke them or something, they’re doing their jobs in peace.

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Roman Baths
I would still recommend getting a tour for this. We got a packaged tour for Windsor, the Roman Baths and Stone Henge. Well,  that’s if you don’t mind going on and off a bus and feel like being rushed. The Roman Baths can get crowded and it’s quite hot in this area. Be careful of the slippery rocks though so you don’t slip. You’ll find many performers outside the baths which was more enjoyable for me. I’d rather chill outside next to the abbey though. It was already like being in Italy.

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Stone Henge
Well, what can I say. It’s a bunch of rocks in an open field lol but still it’s a piece of history though. Once you get to the entrance, you’ll get to ride a bus to the actual stonehenge. To be honest though, I was more fascinated by the vast open field around it. I wanted to roll over the fields and just lay there.

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6. Don’t be afraid to ask questions

I cannot stress this enough. DO NOT BE AFRAID TO ASK QUESTIONS. People in London are rather nice. Well, most of them. They would be willing to help you out with anything. Just say thank you afterwards 🙂

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So yea, these are some of my experiences in The Great Britain. I hope I helped you somehow. London is a very clean city, so please follow the rules and don’t throw rubbish everywhere. Seat belts are very important! Even in taxis. Don’t forget to wear them. Enjoy your first ever UK trip! You will have loads of fun. If ever I forgot some more places to go to. Please comment them down below. Thanks!

Currency in the UK: £ GBP (Great British Pound)

 

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Behind The Skyscrapers

This post is rather late but i’m still gonna share this experience of mine. One of the classes I took for my last semester was Cultural Anthropology. For someone who is taking up a culinary course, this became my favorite class. I was always all ears to every story our lovely professor tells us. There was one story I really found interesting, and it was all about “Pagpag”. My professor does her field work in Baseco, Manila. She kept telling us stories about people scavenging food wastes and cooking it again in order to eat but most of the time sell. As disgusting as it sounds, I loved studying about these things. Me and my friend Angela asked of we could come to one of our professor’s studies, and lucky enough she agreed. We went to Baseco with some UST Tourism students who were doing a feeding program among the kids. We arrived actually excited to do field work. Our professor was hesitant at first to bring Enderun students to that kind of place and I could see why. There really is this perception of Enderun students being all elitist-classy and yes I will admit 80% of the school is like that (just think of the Kardashians). Anyway, I’m glad that we changed that perception to our professor when we came to Baseco with her. We were instructed to bring rain boots for it was muddy and when it rains, the water can get knee-high. We didn’t risk not bringing rain boots. No need to be fashionable here because nobody would really care to be honest. As we ventured deeper into the compound, the cemented part was gone and came the muddy part. The rain boots were really helpful. Trust me you wouldn’t want to wear normal shoes or slippers here. There were seven of us, our professor and alongside with her some sociology students doing their thesis. First we visited Papay’s house, a small area with only ply wood keeping them apart from the outside, still exposed to the hazards around them. Papay was one of the people who makes a living out of pagpag. Unfortunately, when we got there they were already all out of pagpag. They sold everything early in the morning. It was rather surprising that everything got sold (knowing that it came from garbage), which made me realize how hard it must really be for them to get something decent to eat. There it was, poverty right before our eyes.

Papay

Despite the unfortunate state they were in, these people still know how to smile genuinely. Papay showed us around the seaside area with his grandson. This was home for them.

Genuine smile from Papay’s grandson

It was rather heart-breaking to see children exposed to so many infectious diseases. Children are starving most of the time. The lack of education left some of them resorting to illegal acts. I couldn’t do anything but observe and share their stories. Even though some people in Baseco rely on unlawful ways to earn money, I really couldn’t blame everything to them. There were still generous people who showed us the kind filipino hospitality we couldn’t see anymore today. This trip was a real-eye opener. My goal was to show the truth and nothing but the truth, and this is the Philippines’ state right now. The distance between the elite and and the poor is very far, and yet both numbers keep increasing, there is no in between. All I can hope for is change.

Hollywood



Hollywood, a set on Flickr.

Who wouldn’t recognize that big sign up a hill that says “Hollywood”. We went up to the Griffith Observatory Park to witness the majestic view of Los Angeles. At nightime, Hollywood is still alive with all its lights. We saw Hollie and Joshua from American Idol 11 walking around but they were about to cross so I couldn’t take a picture. Yes, first celebrity encounter of the trip lol and of course, the hollywood walk of fame!. We also entered Ripley’s Believe it or Not. There were alot of weird and interesting stuff inside.

Concrete Jungle

Yup, the city that never sleeps…New York. I was most excited for this part of our trip. My first visit was back when I was 6 years old and I couldn’t remember much. I’m lucky enough to be back here again 🙂

a New York experience wouldn’t be complete without watching a Broadway Musical. I finally crossed that off my bucketlist. We decided to watch The Phantom of the Opera because I really adored the story of this one. I’d make a  long blog review about this one but i’ll just describe it in one word. AMAZING. The production was beyond great and the orchestra was just amazing okay.

We also got to ride Circle line which took us to the Statue of Liberty and a tour around New York.

and for a better view of New York, Empire State’s observation deck is the place to be.

This Song Saved My Life

What a great way to start off the year with Simple Plan’s concert. It’s the 2nd time that I’ve seen them. The first one was with New Found Glory. Me and Jackie got media coverage passes which also allowed me to use my SLR. That was my camera’s first actual battle. Singing to their songs, Jumping and taking pictures at the same time was hard. Good thing I was at the barricade on the left side and believe me my camera was really heavy but It was all worth it. I had fun. It was also my last concert on being 17 lol my birthday is next week omfg

Here are the shots I took. I’m kinda proud of them.

I gotta say that Simple Plan also played a big role in my life. Their songs helped me too. I love this band for trying to connect to their fans with their songs. The second time around, they still know how to put up an awesome concert.