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Tag: London

Setting off

I am on my first of many, many trains. For the time being, this means my stomach has stopped going all flipped. I have my passport. I have a lot of chocolate (host gifts). I have what I think is probably just enough money in the bank.

I suspect I have too much stuff, but I also have a bag that is bigger than it looks, Mary Poppins style. There was a plan to do a big post on packing and how I conquered it, but I don’t feel I actually conquered anything – just barely managed more like. Perhaps once I’ve been away a few weeks I’ll hit my stride with being master of my luggage. For now I just hope I put everything in sensible places.

Chaos, more or less.

Believe it or not, most of this is on my back.

I’ve loaded my Kindle up with stuff, which I’m quite excited about. And in my first hour on the train I got through the third quarter of a book I started reading IN THE SUMMER. I’ve not had that kind of idle time since then. I am perhaps disproportionately excited about this.

Here’s what’s in store so far:

  • Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain – Oliver Sacks
  • Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Everest Disaster – Jon Krakauer
  • The Once and Future King – T.H. White
  • Sunset Song (A Scots Quair) – Lewis Grassic Gibbon
  • Natural Born Heroes: The Lost Secrets of Strength and Endurance – Christopher McDougall
  • Midnight in Siberia: A Train Journey into the Heart of Russia – David Greene

The book I’m finishing is Trumpet by Jackie Kay, and I also have War and Peace and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, because of course I do.

Edinburgh has gone mild on the weather for the past few days, which has provided a good few  late-night walks home, Arthur’s Seat and the Crags silhouetted against the clear, nearly-full-moon-lit sky. I’ve eaten and drank in the best pubs in the city. I’ve danced with all my friends. I’ve had lots of cake. Mim has already won future flatmate of the century by rescuing me with a functioning washing machine two days before I left. Kristina bought me the most stylin’ wooden Scandinavian travel mug in the city. I had a good cuddle with a puppy before leaving the keys on the table.

There is nothing here to stay away from. It’s much easier to leave when you have all of that to come home to.

But just to give me a little shove on my way, once I got to Waverley, the heavens opened up and dumped all the water they could find. I narrowly escaped a soaking, but being in the station was like going through a car wash in a car with a very high, zigzagged sunroof.

I suspect that’s Edinburgh being all ‘I’ll bust out the good stuff when you come home, now eat your overpriced M&S salad and git outta here.’


There are sheep in this picture, they’re just a bit blurry.

So I’m on my way. I ate my overpriced salad and then enjoyed an equally overpriced cup of train tea while watching England roll by in the low winter sun. Then I FINISHED that book.

I did try to post this from the train, but I’d like to point out that Virgin Trains were offering fully free WiFi in standard class today. For the ridiculous reason that it’s Black Friday, which has been adopted by the UK for, I don’t know, Capitalism. I have so many issues with this, including the fact that the WiFi basically was not working because I assume it wasn’t prepared to handle everyone using it for free. Whatever. At the very least, we could officially get in on Thanksgiving if they’re going to foist made-up American shopping holidays on us.

In any case, I can survive without interweb connections and resolved to upload later. I arrived at Kings Cross at 5 and it was already dark and a bit misty from the humidity of the rain outside. I walked nearly the full length of the platform since my carriage was at the back, which I kind of love because it gives me more time to think about Harry Potter, which I always do when I come in to Kings Cross.

In the books, the station is a sort of arena for transition and major decisions, which isn’t anything profound, but I do always think about it when I arrive or depart there. It certainly seemed even more appropriate today than it normally does.

Platform I'm-Going-To-Russia.

Platform I’m-Going-To-Russia.

Paris/London 2015

NOTHING BESIDE REMAINS. (Ok except some wine, but that was short-lived.) #canard

So my quick trip to Paris and London was pretty full-on. I crammed a lot into less than a week, but it was good fun. I don’t have any pictures of the London portion, but this whole trip grew out of the need to go down there so I could get a bridesmaid’s dress from David’s Bridal in Stratford. And that went just about as you’d expect spending two hours in a large American chain bridal store on a Saturday would go. Eeesh. I did pick out a nice dress though, and I didn’t even have to carry it home because it needed ordering, so that was pretty successful.

I then headed straight for the chaotic centre of London to check out the Revival Retro boutique, which was the complete opposite experience. Absolutely lovely and everything on the sale rack was in my size (NEVER HAPPENS). I straight CLEANED UP in terms of vintage style early birthday presents to myself, including this dress, which I love love love.

New clothes!

If only I were so lucky every time I had to get new clothes.

Anyway, after that, I grabbed some gelato at Gelupo to bring back to my fantastic hosts’ place for dessert. I stayed with David who I went to college with, his husband Jason and their housemate Krysta. They made me dinner and cocktails and had great chat and wine (Jason is a wine seller, check out his shop if you’re in London!) and were pretty much impeccable in every way.

Sunday, I met my friend Chloe and we had an epic Sunday roast in a pub then a walk along the river in the sun before wiling a away the afternoon before my flight out of London City in The Understudy, which is a great new bar at the National Theatre looking out on the river. Excellent beer AND coffee.


My full Flickr set for Paris.


I couldn’t remember if I’d factored in the cost of the bridesmaid’s dress when I set the budget for this trip, but I’m going to guess that I did because the dress was £110 and all my other spending was about £120 short of my full budget, which was £600. I did not count the money I spent on clothes in London in budget spend because it was just kind of normal shopping I needed to do (ALL of my clothes are falling apart at the same time, ergh.)

Trip total: £475.49

At 6 days, 5 nights, that’s an average of £79.25 per day. Higher than my average for Finland, which was slightly surprising, but I did pay for accommodation for part of this trip, and I didn’t do that in Finland.

I'm loving the updates to Trail Wallet by the way!

I’m loving the updates to Trail Wallet by the way!


 £187.90 on food and drink. I TOLD YOU this trip was all about eating. This was my biggest expense, and I’m perfectly happy with that.

£113.95 on transport. This is mostly local public transport, as I only spent £35 on the flights since I got them with BA miles/Avios.

£9.76 on entertainment. A ticket to the Louvre and a donation at Notre Dame. I did so much walking and wandering on this trip that most of my entertainment was free. The Louvre is kind of expensive, but I’d say it’s justified.

£125.00 on accommodation. My first Airbnb, which was fantastic! I’ll definitely be using it much more now.

£3.70 on stuff for me. This was some travel bits and pieces at Muji in London.

£35.18 on gifts. For my hosts and for a few treats to bring in to work.


Paris: Less money or less hurry?

In which I realise there IS such a thing as too much research

Paris plans

Paris, part one (and being a wimp)

Paris, part two (I am so very full)

In the headphones

Nina Simone

On the Kindle

H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald

In which I realise there IS such a thing as too much research

I have two trips I’m currently organising: Paris/London in February, which grew out of the need to pop to London to get a bridesmaid’s dress, and the US (again!) in May, where I will be wearing that dress. And recently I briefly fell into the travel research black hole of trying to find the best bargain for these trips to the detriment of all else.

I’m not sure I want to know how many times I checked flight prices and set up Skyscanner alerts for EDI-IAD return trips in the past month because it may well amount to more time that I’ll actually spend on the freakin’ plane. And I wasn’t even thinking about the ridiculousness of this until I called my friend Liam, who I will be staying with in DC, and asked him if he thought it was better to get a train back up north from North Carolina, spend the night and fly out the next day, or fly back up and go from Reagan to Dulles in a few hours. He and his boyfriend pondered this aloud for quite a while, my wifi dropped out, and when I reconnected, he said ‘Well, you could really debate this for ages and find good reasons for either way, so, I don’t know what to tell you. I guess just pick one.’

Talking sense.

And this is when I was like, ‘GAHHHH, WHAT HAVE I BEEN DOING?’

Getting a good price on flights and accommodation and all that is fairly important, but also, so is my actual time. I can’t really put a price on it or anything, but it kind of felt like those times at work where someone goes, ‘Well, if we have many more meetings about this, given the day rates of the people involved, it’s starting to get more expensive to talk about this thing than just DOING IT and seeing what happens.’

Sometimes money and time ARE good motivators.

So I picked one (train, overnight, flight). Then I got off the Skype and booked my US flight. And the next day I picked an Airbnb for Paris and booked that. And made a list of the other things I need to book and put deadlines on them and forbid myself to do any more than half an hour’s research on each one. And I feel a lot better about all of it now. And I’m pretty sure I will give zero shits if the price happens to drop again, because I got some life going on.

This kind of made me realise this is the exact reason people use travel agents. I like the planning, but the research DOES take time, and you can get carried away. If you can trust that someone else is going to do all the best research for you, then why not? I sued a travel agent when I booked Africa for the first time ever. And they were great! (Trailfinders by the way. Recommended.) But I totally didn’t do it right because I was still researching everything anyway. Not because I didn’t trust they’d get me the best deal they could, but I guess because I just didn’t believe it was possible to get a better deal with a company than on my own. But it IS. And I didn’t find anything better than what they got me. PLUS they had all the knowledge I do not. So maybe I’ll do it again. It doesn’t even cost extra!

But I can’t bring myself to use a travel agent for something as simple as a trip to the US, which I do regularly enough that I should be able to book it in my sleep. So from now on, no endless searching and price tracking. I know what it should cost. I need to just get on with it.

Paris: Less money or less hurry?

I’m going to London in February for bridesmaid dress acquisition, and I’ve been planning to use it as an excuse to go to Paris as well. Originally, I was going to get the train down and use some air miles for a Eurostar ticket. (I reeeeeally want to go on the Eurostar!)

Then I saw that I’ve already missed out on super cheap train tickets to London and if I do it by train, I’d spend way more on transport than if I used my miles to fly, because I can get a flight to Paris with a stopover in London on the way home for 9000 miles and £35.

The main problem with this is that I would SO much rather take the train. But I can’t justify spending nearly 3 times as much for the privilege.  Not this time anyway.

So I may be resigned to the flights. And now I’m trying to decide if I should just go for a more full-blown holiday in Paris as well.

Initially I was going to spend three nights in the cheapest hostel I could find and just wander around for two days. Now I’m wondering if 5 nights in someone’s lovely little airbnb’d flat is a much better idea. It will cost much more, but A: I’ve never done airbnb before (exciting!), and B: if I do 2 full days in Paris and one full day in London, I’ll be spending an equal number of days doing the actual traveling between them all.

On a train, that might be ok, but three days in airports, especially when one of them is effing Charles de Gaulle (my least favourite, thus far, in the world), does not a relaxing time make. And saving money is an important goal here, but so is meaningful travel.

And an excuse to sit at a different cafe every morning drinking coffee in no hurry to go anywhere at all.

And food.


I don’t want to go to Paris just to tick it off. I want to do it properly.

Sometimes I feel like I think too much about these decisions when I should just go for things a little more impulsively. But we’ll see how I feel about the price tag of this plan in the morning. (Be sensible, Kate, you just paid off your credit card!)

In the meantime, any Paris-related suggestions greatly appreciated.