Bucket List


There should be a twelve-step program for people addicted to travel guides.  I did a quick count of books in The Closet today and calculated that travel books outnumbered “reading” books in our house 3:1.  It’s a good thing I didn’t move my cookbooks with me.  The household book ratio would be even more bizarre. Add in my travel blog/ flash sale reading list and my general need to do everything RIGHT NOW…I have trouble prioritizing my travel dreams.

When we moved to London, The Mister and I vowed we would make the most of living in a location that makes European travel as easy as traveling to …say…Vermont from Connecticut for the weekend.  The question is where to go and when and how to prioritize. For me, the consummate list-maker, the best way to organize this is with a travel Bucket List.

northern lights

I have a list of places I would like to visit/re-visit in the UK, but those are blessedly easy to do at the last minute since train travel is SO EASY here.  Other places require a little more planning.  I would love to visit these cities on weekend trips, a la Easy Jet, Eurostar and last minute flash sales:


I really, really want to see the Northern Lights, but I’m not sure that’s doable on a weekend.  Am I missing any?  How many weekends are in a year?

My “dream trip” would include an African safari and a week in the Maldives.  Then, of course, there is New Zealand and Australia. And Tibet.  And Iceland (summer or winter?)  and, and…. Do you have a travel bucket list?  I’d love to hear what you’ve added to your list!

No Room at the Inn? Accommodations in London

The New Year is nigh and that means only one thing in our household…time to update the travel calendar.  We are sorting through bucket lists, reading our new travel books and preparing to beg for vacation time.

In the meantime, we are blocking off sections of our “in London” calendar and making arrangements to host a steady stream of visitors, commencing with Youngest Daughter’s university friends.  I love uni kids…all they care about is a place to sleep (actual bed not required) and  a lot of home cooking. They have no standards for decor or space, which makes them perfect guests in The Closet.

We’re also excited to have and host guests throughout the spring and summer. How exciting and, well, a little stressful.  The Closet is perfectly suited for The Mister and Me.  Or The Mister and Me and The Children.  Or The Mister and Me and 2 guests who really, really, really like each other.  Anything in excess of that gets a little hairy.

Our solution?  Alternate accommodations.  I have a handful of favorite hotels in London (there is a post in the making) but when we travel en masse or need to host a family or large group, we let houses and flats.  It allows everyone to spend time together and it can be quite cost effective in places that only allow 2/3 people in a hotel room (I’m looking at you, London). Renting a holiday home is not everyone’s cup of tea, but I adore it.

luxury service hotel

Before considering a flat or home rental, do an honest assessment of your traveling personality.  Do you require nightly turndown service or are you happy to fluff your own coverlet and eat chocolate from a tin? Do you want your breakfast delivered by Pierre via trolley or are you content to munch muesli downstairs with the kids? Does the idea of exploring the local markets and making dinner every night (not necessary, but an option in a home rental) make you weep or rejoice?  Do you mind paying extra baggage fees to ensure you have enough clean knickers for a 2 week vacation or are you willing to risk the vagaries of a foreign washing machines?  Think long and hard about renting a home instead of booking a hotel.

favorite manor/somerset

The benefits of letting a holiday home/flat?  It allows you to live vicariously in someone else’s home/town as a local.  It allows you to have a nap in the afternoon without interrupting the housekeeping staff.  It allows you to have coffee in your pajamas or fix a snack at 1:00am when you are jetlagged and most importantly, it allows you some personal space.  We’ve rented tiny, thatched cottages in the Cotswolds, the wing of a manor house in Somerset (it had an Opium Den…long story), a manor house in its entirety in the Yorkshire Dales and a mill house (dated 1120!) in Devon.  All in all, we’ve let over 30 homes in the UK alone. Well over that if we include the US and other countries. Our children often told us that the houses we let were the most memorable part of our holidays!

Great Tew

Some of the most important issues when considering a letting is budget, location, quality of letting and the size of your party.  Ask questions, deal with reputable agencies, check property reviews online if available.  We’ve had consistently good experiences with the following agencies for country properties and plan on using them again for our spring travels.

Rural Retreats

English/Scottish/Wales Country Cottages

I find city flat and home lettings a bit more difficult, usually because there are fewer properties available. I am excited about investigating One Fine Stay, a relatively new company with an extensive collection of well-vetted properties and an excellent reputation.  You can use their website to search by location, party size, type of property, view, architectural and/or design preference.  If I win the lottery, I’m staying in all of them.

I’ve already written a review of the flat we stayed in when we first moved to London.  You can read my review about Bridge Street King’s Wardrobe apartments here...

If you have any questions, feel free to send an email @ explatLondon (dot) gmail (dot) com

Ceremony of the Keys/ Tower of London


 “Halt!  Who goes there?!” You, if you are fortunate enough to obtain tickets to a ceremony that takes place every night at the Tower of London. Ticketed patrons are allowed to witness the “securing/locking up” of the Tower by the Chief Yeoman Warder and the Tower Guards in a ceremony that dates back over 700 years. The Tower opens the gates to ticket patrons at 9:30pm (latecomers NOT admitted). The tourists are long gone.  The spotlights slowly click on and bathe the Tower in an eerie light. The group (appx 40 people) is escorted through the ancient gate and greeted by a Yeoman Warder, who explains the tradition and pageantry of the Ceremony as you wait by Traitor’s Gate.  He also reminds you not to take pictures OR use a cell phone.  They mean it.

At exactly 21:52, the Chief Yeoman Warder leaves the Byward Tower carrying a candle-lit lantern and the Queen’s Keys.  He walks to Traitor’s gate to meet a company of waiting soldiers who protect him throughout as he locks the gates of the Tower.  The Warder locks the outer gate and retraces his steps to lock the Middle and Byward Towers. As the Warder approaches Traitor’s Gate, a sentry calls out “HALT!  Who comes there?”  He answers “The keys!” and the call and response continues in the same way it has for over seven centuries.  The Warder and the soldiers walk to the Bloody Tower to meet the waiting regiment of guards. The ceremony concludes with the Chief Yeoman Warder raising his hat in the air and calling “God preserve Queen Elizabeth!” The clock chimes and the bugler plays as the keys are returned to the Queen’s House. Visitors are escorted to the gates.

The Ceremony of the Keys is a magical way to experience the Tower AND witness an extraordinary part of London history. Highly recommend.

Tickets are free, but you must apply IN WRITING to:  Ceremony of the Keys Office Tower of London LONDON, EC3N 4AB Great Britain Tel: +44 (0)20 3166 6278

You must list, as part of your request, the names of all attendees, two dates you are able to attend (they recommend you make your request 2 to 3 months in advance) and a self-addressed envelope with full British postage or something called a “coupon-response international.”  I contacted the USPS to request a “coupon” and was told such a thing hadn’t existed in years.  In the end, I went to the Royal Mail website and printed off a self-addressed envelope at home.  Much easier.

For detailed booking information, check here.

UPDATED information for Residents of the US :  Please check the  link for information specific to US Residents.

Things to know/Interesting facts:

The Ceremony of the Keys continued on a daily basis throughout the plague, the Great Fire and the Blitz.

On December 29th, 1940 a bomb fell during the ceremony and literally knocked the Warders off their feet and caused the ceremony to end 3 minutes late.  They wrote a letter of apology to the King.

A Dickensian Christmas in London

When you imagine a Dickensian Christmas, what comes to mind? Austere surroundings? Dark, winding, lantern-lit London alleyways?  Tiny Tim and Ebenezer Scrooge?

Dickens House street-1

The Charles Dickens Museum opened its doors this week after the completion of a £3 million restoration and just in time for patrons to experience a true “Dickensian Christmas.”  The 5-story house, located at 48 Doughty Street, was Charles Dickens’ home when he wrote Oliver TwistBarnaby Rudge and Nicholas Nickleby. The restoration is exquisite, the rooms carefully curated and the house filled with items related to young Mr. Dickens and his family.

Dickens House entry-1

Letters to and from Mr. Dickens and framed first editions hang in the Entry Hall
Dickens House Dining-1

Personal artwork and family heirlooms are displayed in the dining room.

Dickns kitchen-1
Dickens Drawing Room-1

His favorite chair, a reading podium and items collected in his travels are displayed in the Sitting Room.
Dickens House Laundry-1

Much of what Charles Dickens wrote about was gleaned from his life, observations and experiences.  This innocuous Wash House copper bowl usually held the washing, except for once a year when it was scrubbed and filled with Christmas pudding as it was in A Christmas Carol.

“Martha didn’t like to see him disappointed, if it were only in joke; so she came out prematurely from behind the closet door, and ran into his arms, while the two young Cratchits hustled Tiny Tim, and bore him off into the wash-house, that he might hear the pudding singing in the copper”   A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Dickens Desk-1

Dickens_dreamHis writing desk, quill and inkstand used to create Fagan, Bill Sykes, Wackford Squeers and Ralph Nickleby sit in a library filled with signed editions and a stunning painting titled Dickens Dream.

Dickens personal effects-1

His personal effects; razor, moustache scissors and other toiletry items are encased in glass in his upstairs bedroom.  I took dozens of pictures today, but only included a few rooms here.  It’s tempting to post them all, but I think it a more personal and meaningful experience if you go and visit. As the Ghost of Christmas Present said …”Come in, and know me better,man!”

Dickens House tea-1

When you’ve finished the tour, make time to visit the tiny tea shop in the back of the house.  You can have a cup of tea and make a list of Dickens’ novels you need to read and re-read.  I had a cup of tea and toasted Mrs. Johnson, my 9th grade English teacher, who taught me to love them all.

A Christmas Carol-1

The Museum is hosting a number of special Christmas events.

Dickensian Christmas Walks  10:30 to 12:30 and 5:15 to 7:15 (The night walk…very atmospheric after a museum visit, but both are excellent). £7  There is a special walk and museum visit package scheduled for Boxing Day (26 December).

A Christmas Carol with Michael Slater  Highly recommended dramatic reading in perfect surroundings.  Tuesday, 18 December 6:30 to 8:30  Tickets £12. Not suitable for children under 10. Tickets can be booked here.

A Very Dickensian Christmas  December 24, 25 and 26th  Minced pies, mulled wine, festive readings and classic film screenings.  Highly advised to book ahead.  11am to 6pm (last entry at 5).  Admission £18 adults, £8 children

London During The Blitz/ An Interactive Map

In an effort to find and read everything I can about my new city, I stumbled across the most amazing website. Bombsight is a project funded by JISC, the National Archives and the University of Portsmouth and provides an interactive and stunningly visual map of every bomb that fell on London during an 8 month period of the Blitz (October 1940 to June 1941).

Full screen-1

Here are a few screenshots to give you an idea of the devastation inflicted on the city. Each red marker represents at least one bomb.

Med Screen-1

Close screen-1

Users can zoom in to an address or  particular location to view markers that represent the number and type of bomb dropped.  To view the fully interactive version of Bombsight, go here.

There are no words.