Saturday, June 29, 2013

One Happy Island

*This is a Sponsored post written by me on behalf of Aruba Tourism Authority. All opinions are 100% mine.

We love to cruise.
In fact, our next cruise is only eight weeks away and I'm getting so excited.

Recently, someone told me that cruising doesn't count as travel.
Uhm. Excuse me?  What did you just say?  Doesn't count as travel?
Pfft.  Whatever, dude.

Cruising is one of the best ways to travel!
It's like the Taster's Menu of travel.  You get to visit five countries in one week.
Sure, it's a short stay but you get to experience someplace completely new.
And if you fall in love, you add it to the list of places to revisit for a longer stay.

Aruba is the perfect example.
We spent a wonderful day in Aruba in 2011 while on a Caribbean Cruise.

Aruba is an island about 20 miles long and 6 miles wide in the Dutch Antilles.
With a year round temperature of 82 degrees, it's the ideal place to getaway.
Not to mention that it’s located just below the hurricane belt so is usually dry.

We spent a few hours with a small group touring the interior of the island.
We stopped at the California Lighthouse, rock formations,
and one of the oldest churches on the island.

Then we spent a few hours relaxing on one of Aruba’s beautiful white beaches, Eagle Beach.

On an island of beaches, Eagle Beach is one of the best,
voted the top beach in the Caribbean in a USA Today survey
of frequent travellers and travel writers.
With a wide, expanse of soft white sand and gentle turquoise water it was the ideal spot.

We spent most of our time watching a huge pelican dive for fish
right in the middle of all of the swimmers.
I love watching them dive bomb, they’re so agile and precise.

It's definitely on the list of places we'd love to revisit for a longer stay.

How would you spend your time in Aruba?
Visit  Aruba travel to check out all of the options.

Visit Sponsor's Site

This is a sponsored post which means I was compensated.  All photos, writing and opinions are my own.  The video is via the Aruba Tourism Authority As always, I promise to be open, honest and transparent with my readers.  If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to ask.

Friday, June 28, 2013

I Spy Friday featuring Mudchute City Farm

Like a girlfriend with a new guy,
I'm sure I'm getting on your nerves gushing about my love for London.

And I don't want to be that girl.
So, I will admit that sometimes you just need a break from
the hustle and bustle that is the big city.

It was time for a little breather, a visit to a city farm for a taste of the
"country life in the heart of East London"

Horse Mudchute Farm East London

When my dear friend Erin, invited me to visit the farm with her I jumped at the chance.
I took the tube and the DLR out to the Isle of Dogs in East London
and met Erin for a few hours enjoying this 32 acre site in the middle of London.
It's such a great place to check out the furry creatures, take a stroll and just breathe.

This unused piece of land was earmarked for high-rise construction
but the local inhabitants decided they had other plans for a "people's park."  And over 30 years ago,
the Mudchute Association was developed to preserve and develop the area.

Pig at Mudchute Farm in East London

Goats Mudchute Farm London

Chickens at Mudchute Farm London

Free Range Children Mudchute Farm

Turkey Mudchute Farm London

Look at all of these adorable faces!
We couldn't stop smiling.  We might have even talked to most of the animals in that voice.
You know, the one you reserve for animals and babies.
Goat Mudchute Farm

Red Rose Mudchute Farm London
Donkey at Mudchute Farm London

  Beware of Squirrels Mudchute Farm London

Alpacas at Mudchute Farm London
Walking Trails at Mudchute Park London
Squirrel Mudchute Farm London

Llamas at Mudchute Farm London

There is also an Equestrian Centre and a riding school.
This is little Millie.  She is so gorgeous I had to show you two pictures of her.
I must have taken 20 of them them.  She had the sweetest face!

Horse Mudchute Farm London

Horse Mudchute Farm London

We planned to have a coffee at the Mudchute Kitchen,
but our timing was a bit off.  Next time.
They operate on seasonal hours so check the website before you go.

Mudchute Kitchen London

Planning your visit:

They do not have parking.  Public transport is the easiest way to get there.

The farm and park are free to visit.

The farm is open every day from 9am to 5pm.
The park is open all day every day.

They ask that you follow their hygiene code to reduce the risk of infection to the animals.
There is a hand-washing station and toilets on site.  

You are welcome to bring a picnic, just make sure to eat in the designated areas
and not the grazing paddocks or riding trails.

For you WWII history buffs, there is also a wartime battery site on the farm
with a restored ack-ack gun that was used to defend the London Docks.

If you'd like to follow along with what's going on at Mudchute read their blog
or follow them on Twitter or Facebook.

Erin at Mudchute Park

Thanks for the invite, Erin
It was the perfect way to spend the afternoon, not to mention it was followed by Rib Night!

 Where do you go to escape the city?

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Within this wooden O...

*I received two complimentary tickets to Shakespeare's Globe Exhibition and Tour for the purposes of review.  

For the months of June and July, we don't have any trips planned.
London is typically at its best this time of year,
so we decided to stay home and explore our hometown instead of gallivanting off somewhere.
Not to mention our move to Blackheath in a few weeks.
There is so much to do in London, we will never get to it all.

After visiting The View from the Shard, next on the list was
Shakespeare's Globe for the Globe Exhibition and Tour.

Shakespeare's Globe London

Since our weekend in Stratford-Upon-Avon, I've been dying to visit The Globe.
I must have walked by it dozens of times as we've strolled along the south bank of the Thames.
This time we we got to stop and go in.

Shakespeare Bust

Our visit started with some time exploring the Exhibition.
It's not massive, but extremely informative and interesting.
It starts with the fascinating history of the area of Bankside.

Our tour guide later told us that
"Bankside was the Vegas of it's day."
With the City of London and the Tower on the North side of the river,
the south bank of the Thames is where everyone went for a party.
It was where Tudor London gathered at brothels, animal baiting pits, pubs and theatres
for a little debauchery and entertainment.

The Globe Timeline London Shakespeare

The Globe was one of those theatres.  It was built in Shoreditch in 1576 and was the first 
purpose built playhouse in LondonShakespeare joined the company in the 1580's.
In 1598, after a legal dispute over the property, the theatre was moved south of the river and reopened.  
In 1613, the theatre burned to the ground when the thatched roof caught fire during a performance (luckily no one was killed.)  The Globe was rebuilt the next year and thrived until London's puritan leaders closed all theatres in 1642.
 The second Globe was demolished in 1644.

Model Shakespeare's Globe London

300 years later, a young American actor and fan of Shakespeare, Sam Wanamaker
visited London eager to see the sight of the theatre where the great bard wrote and performed.
He was disappointed to find not much commemorating the spot.

Thus began his life-long ambition to rebuild Shakespeare's Globe.
Which is exactly what he did, just a short distance away from where the other once stood.  Shakespeare's Globe was opened in 1997, sadly four years after Sam Wanamaker's death.
It now welcomes people from all over the world and is dedicated to arts and education.

Shakespeare's Globe 
After the history of the area and the theatre, 
the exhibition took us through the history of the performances, costumes,
special effects, military props, instruments, sets and more. 
They are dedicated to learning and preserving the original techniques used in Shakespeare's day.

Emboridery at Shakespeare's Globe

Exhibition items at Shakespeare's Globe

props Shakespeare's Globe

 I love the costumes.  Often productions will use sets and costumes made entirely with 16th Century techniques.  Which means these beautiful, elaborate works are all made painstakingly by hand using only materials that would have been available during the late 1500's.

Costume at the Exhibition at Shakespeare's Globe

Costume Exhibition at Shakespeare's Globe London

Costume Exhibition at Shakespeare's Globe London

Musical instruments at Shakespeare's Globe Exhibition

Another favorite spot was the audio booths.
You stand in a small space and push a button to hear some of the greatest actors of our century recite some of Shakespeare's best lines.  I just closed my eyes and soaked it up.  I want one in my house.  I would spend hours in there pushing buttons.
There is also a booth where you can record yourself reciting lines.

Audio Booth at Shakespeare's Globe exhibition

After walking through the exhibit for about an hour with our handy-dandy audiotours,
(I never get why people skip the audiotours.  So much information and added fun.)
it was time to meet up with our guide for a tour of the the open air theatre.

Our guide was so friendly and obviously passionate about the theatre and Shakespeare.
He took us into the round theatre and told us all about the structure and how it was built.
He even recited a few lines of prose for us in his rich, booming stage voice.
There is just something about hearing Shakespeare in a British accent that makes it come to life.
(I'm obviously a sucker for a British accent.)

Shakespeare's Globe London

Shakespeare's Globe Stage London

Shakespeare's Globe Stage London
Shakespeare's Globe London

As you can see, the theatre is beautiful.
It has the only thatched roof in London built after the great fire.
It was only allowed because of new technology and flame retardant materials.
And see that flag?  Back in the day, the theatres would hoist up tall flags
to let everyone know on the opposite bank of the river that they were open for business.

Shakespeare's Globe London

And the flag is flying high because the current season is running through October 13th.

Shakespeare's Globe London

Season of Plenty at Shakespeare's Globe London

Planning your visit to the Exhibition and Tour:

Shakespeare's Globe is a working theatre
and the only way to visit the theatre and the exhibition is with a booked tour. 

Be sure to check the schedule online before you go because 
they sometimes have to adjust things around an event or performance.  

Opening Hours

Exhibition: 9.00am – 5.30pm
Tours: 9.30am – 5.00pm

Tuesday – Saturday
Exhibition: 9.00am – 5.30pm
Tours: 9.30am – 12.30pm

Exhibition: 9.00am – 5.30pm
Tours: 9.30am – 11.30am

Guided Tours depart every half an hour between the times shown.
These times apply from 22 April – 12 October 2013.
The Exhibition & Tour is open all year round except 24 & 25 December. 

You don't need to pre-book.  Tickets can be purchased at the admissions desk.

Exhibition and Globe Theatre Tour Prices

Note that this is just for the Tour and Exhibition not for the performances.   

Adult: £13.50
Senior (60+): £12.00
Student (with valid ID): £11.00
Children (5-15): £8.00
Children (under 5): Free
Family (up to 2 adults & 3 children): £36.00

It's fantastic to see that the south bank has once again been restored
to a place where Londoners and tourists flock for fun and entertainment.
A stroll along the Thames path here is one of my favorite ways to spend a day.

And now I can not wait to see a performance at The Globe.

What do you think?


 *I received two complimentary tickets to visit The Globe for the purposes of review.
All photos, writing and opinions are my own.
As always, I promise to be open, honest and transparent with my readers.
If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to ask.

You can find this review and many others in my
London Attraction Guide.

Monday, June 24, 2013

It's all about The View

*I received a complimentary ticket for the purposes of review.

If you've read more than a few of my posts,
then you probably know about my major fear of heights
(And closed spaces.  And swimming. And Spanx.)

But, I've decided that I'm going to work really hard to overcome those fears.
And none of this "baby step" stuff, I'm going Hard Core Fear Management.

I decided to start by taking a little trip
to the top of the tallest building in London and Western Europe.
(Seriously, somebody stop me.)

The View from The Shard London

The Shard is the newest addition to the London landscape.
It was designed by Master Architect Renzo Piano and soars over 1,000 feet above the London Skyline.
You can see it from all over the city.  At first, like many Londoners, I wasn't quite sure.
But, I've come to really love the jagged, glass spike reaching for the clouds.
The View is located on Floors 68 to 72 and is twice as high as any other viewing platform in London.

The Shard London

I scheduled my visit for a Monday morning a few weeks out and then
spent that time hoping that I would have the courage to go up and also hoping for a beautiful London day.

Success!  I awoke to beautiful, blue, sunny skies, put on my big-girl panties,
and made my way to London Bridge Station and The Shard.
(Insert moan about the inconsistencies of British weather here.)

Luckily, I had my friend Gina along for moral support (and to perform CPR, if necessary.)

The View from The Shard London
Mary Poppins The View from The Shard London

The entry on Floor 00 is open and welcoming with plenty of staff to assist.
There was no line at all the morning we were there.
You will find quirky artwork featuring both the iconic London skyline
and iconic English personalities. 

London Quotes The View from The Shard London

You know I'm madly in love with this city (except when I'm not) and I loved this wall of 
famous quotes about London.

The View from the Shard London

 After going through security and having our bags scanned,
we were ushered onto the first elevator that took us lickety-split to the 33rd Floor.
We entered another elevator and within seconds arrived on the 68th Floor.

Foor 68 The View from The Shard London

On the 68th floor the glass windows are covered with a cloudscape and examples of 
the various clouds that you might see.  It was a nice little buffer zone for a scaredy-cat like me.  I was able to regroup and take a few deep, cleansing breaths before taking the staircase to the viewing gallery on the next level.

We stepped up onto the viewing platform and were met with 360 degree views of London in all her glory.
There was ethereal music playing to add to the experience of seeing a whole new side of this massive city.

The View from The Shard London

London Eye The View from The Shard London

The View from the Shard London

St. Pauls Cathedreal from The View from The Shard London

At first, I was stuck like glue to the wall, but slowly ventured closer and closer to the 
floor to ceiling glass windows.  It's impossible to resist the views of famous London landmarks, to follow the train tracks out of London Station and to see the fabulous Thames river snaking its way into the distance.

HMS Belfast The View from The Shard London

Tower Bridge The View from The Shard London

The View from The Shard London

And check out these guys!
You could not pay me a million dollars to hang out on the side of this building.
Not even on the 2nd floor much less the 68th floor.
Can you even imagine?

Window Clearners The View from The Shard London

Window Cleaner The View from The Shard London

We took our time, getting comfortable and taking hundreds of pictures.
I was doing pretty good with the fear management thing until this lady walked by and said
"Oh, I can feel it swaying!"  (Um. No, you can't.)

So then I went up to her and thumped her hard on the nose.
Not really, but I so would have if she wasn't so close to the windows.

The View from The Shard London

After more regrouping and breathing, we took the stairs up to the 72nd Floor.
 I almost couldn't step out onto this level.  At this point even Gina, who isn't really afraid of heights,
was feeling a little bit queasy.  (Unfortunately, there is no place to sit down if your knees give out on you.)

But, we did it and I'm glad we did.  On this level you are exposed to the elements and the cool air.
You can look up into the shards of glass that make up the tippy top of the skyscraper.

Floor 72 The View from The Shard London

The View from The Shard London

The View from The Shard London

The ride down in the elevator was quick and we certainly felt it in our stomachs more than the ride up.
Thankful to be back on solid ground, it was time for lunch
and one (or three) glasses of Rosé to congratulate ourselves on our bravery.
That tingly feeling in my stomach turned into an adrenaline high that carried me through the rest of the day.

I'm so happy that I conquered my fears and did it!

Romeo Fox The View from The Shard London

 Have you heard the story of Romeo the Fox?
During construction, a fox spent two weeks living on the 72nd Floor of the building.
He was living on scraps left by the workers.
He was eventually captured and relocated to a new home a little closer to the earth.

Planning Your visit:

The View is now open daily from 9am to 10pm daily.
(Those hours are scheduled to change in October 2013, so be sure to check for current times.)

It is recommended that you book online to avoid long lines.

  The main reason to pre-book online is to save money as a visit is certainly not cheap.

Infant (0-3) are free.
Children 4-15 are £23.95
Adults 16+ are £29.95

You can save £5 per ticket by booking online 24 hours in advance.
(Rates as of June 2013)

They also take telephone bookings for a small fee but note that
that the pre-booking discount only applies to online purchases.

Finally, be brave!  You've so got this.
Where have you found the best views in London? 

(By the way, I didn't win the Brilliance in Blogging Award for Travel.  That honor when to The Family Adventure Project and deservedly so.  But I had a fabulous weekend at Brit Mums Live.  Thanks again for those who nominated and voted for me and  thanks so much for the sweet words of encouragement and congratulations.)


*I received a complimentary ticket to visit The Shard for the purposes of review.
All photos, writing and opinions are my own.
As always, I promise to be open, honest and transparent with my readers.
If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to ask.

You can find this review and many others in my
London Attraction Guide.