Barbie & the Seagulls Woskerski street art London

Exploring London

London Calling?

This August Bank Holiday weekend was recorded as being the hottest ever here in the UK and, after several weeks of near constant rain, was just what we all needed to liven us up a bit. Very fortunately, this was the weekend we’d booked to visit London, to take in the sights and soak up the atmosphere in this historic yet fast-paced city.

Having visited London a couple of times before, once as a child and once only a few years ago on a flying visit, I had a good idea of what I definitely wanted to see and do whilst I was there. This time, however, I was taking the family, so as much as I might have wanted to immerse myself completely in all the fabulous history London has to offer, I did have to temper my enthusiasm and engage in at least a few more modern moments for the sake of their enjoyment of our city break too.

Accommodation

We stayed 3 days/2 nights in a basic guesthouse for less than £200 for 3 adults and a child in the middle of Whitechapel, self-catering using the travel site, Booking.com. Whilst we could have been more central, this location offered us interesting sights that otherwise we wouldn’t have seen and which made up one of the most enjoyable parts of our trip.

Street Art

For instance, the street art in this area is everywhere – for free! We roamed around the Bethnal Green and Shoreditch areas which reminded us of Manchester’s Northern Quarter, just on a far grander scale, and absolutely loved it, managing to discover an artist I’d not come across before, Woskerski (https://www.facebook.com/woskerski/). There’s a bit of a cryptic clue in the photo below (bottom left-hand corner), where it says “@blankwallcollective 31.08.19” and I’m really looking forward to finding out more about this in 4 days time!

Barbie & the Seagulls Woskerski street art London
Barbie & the Seagulls – Woskerski

Traditional Sights

My main reason for wanting to return to London was to re-visit the Tower of London, to see the Crown Jewels again and to take part in another entertaining Beefeater tour. Costing £85.00 online booking for 3 adults and a child, it took us around 3-4 hours to go round which could easily have taken longer but the family were clamouring for a break by this point!

With it being 1000-years old or so, I find the Tower completely captivating and always have. As a child, I first discovered the Princes in the Tower through visiting the fortress and on this visit discovered that 3 queens, Anne Boleyn, Katherine Howard and Lady Jane Grey were all buried at the chapel, St Peters Ad Vincula, until Queen Victoria insisted that, as former Queens of England, they be respectfully moved to somewhere more fitting their station in life. Fortresses like the Tower also played a significant role during the Second World War with Hitler’s second-in-command, Rudolf Hess, even being held here briefly.

Sightseeing on a Budget

For those on a budget, as we were, there are also plenty of sights and buildings completely free to access such as the ones we visited including:

  • The British Museum
  • Trafalgar Square
  • National Gallery
  • Tower Bridge

I’ve just included the ones here that we made it to – there are of course numerous others such as Hyde Park, Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace and quite a variety of guided walks and tours, including Jack the Ripper tours for any budding Ripperologists.

It was a LOT of walking so bear this in mind for little-legs, breaking it up with lunch stop-offs and a bit of shopping in the afternoon when everyone’s starting to flag a bit!

Shopping

I’m not the biggest fan of shopping for something specific but I do like a good stroll around some interesting and/or unique areas. Particular favourites for us were Leicester Square and the M and M shop, as well as along Piccadilly Circus and Oxford Street where we found a shop my 18 year old is a huge fan of, Lush, which introduced the rest of the family to this fun, animal-friendly shop too. We also managed to sneak a visit in on the way back to Covent Garden to see the street performers and visit the stalls choc-full of interesting mementos.

My husband got to visit one of his favourite shops, Forbidden Planet, and almost directly opposite was The Astrology Shop where I probably spent far more than I should have done but probably not as much as I wanted to!

Soaking up the atmosphere in Leicester Square
Shopping in Covent Garden

Eating & Getting About

As you’d expect, there is a lot of travelling about and needing to re-fuel so it’s worth looking into travel options before you go. We tended to travel by taxi which can get expensive but made life easier and more manageable when mixed in with using the Tube (which I was massively impressed with!), other forms of public transport and walking. There are various passes you can opt for to help cover transportation costs but after a full-day of walking around London, we were glad to just get in a taxi when it all got too much.

Food-wise again we tended to mix it up so stopped off at restaurants and cafes but also kept the cost down sometimes by heading to fast-food outlets too such as McDonalds or heading to the local Sainsbury’s to buy some essentials like bread, coffee, cereal and milk for breakfast.

The Takeaway

For anyone with a love of history, art and culture, I’d strongly recommend London as a place well worth visiting at least once. We’re already planning what we’d like to do next time we visit, Windsor, London Zoo, Legoland…

Always open to ideas though, so where’s your favourite place to visit in London and why?

London Bus Outside MI6

“All Spies Alight Here”

And Other Secrets!

As someone who doesn’t watch much TV, relatively speaking, the one time I do tend to put on my favourite type of programme, a documentary, is when I’m doing the ironing each week. This week I decided on the PBS show, Secrets of Her Majesty’s Secret Service, part of the Secrets of Britain series, which actually originally aired some years ago but is now showing again on Netflix. I have to say, I found it absolutely captivating!

The Secret World of Espionage

I’ve always found the idea of espionage, usually a government-sanctioned spying, an enthralling concept. Something akin to the pirates and privateers of old, such spies seem to exist in a world that does not play by the normal rules experienced by those outside of its parameters.

History of MI6

The programme begins by taking us through the creation of Military Intelligence Section 6, aka MI6, with some intriguing glimpses into this mysterious yet world-famous organisation.

Traditions

Most of us will be familiar with the fictional spy, James Bond and the almost equally famous character of M, the commander of the organisation in the book and films. What I didn’t realise until watching this programme was that the idea that the commander of the organisation would sign off using their initial was actually based in fact from a habit of the first commander of MI6, Sir Mansfield Cumming, who would sign off his communications as “C”, something all commanders of the organisation sign off as to this day. Another tradition of writing in green ink was also credited to being instigated at MI6 by Sir Mansfield Cumming who had brought the habit to the organisation from his days serving as an officer of the Navy.

The Most Famous “Secret” Location in the World!

Talking of James Bond, it is an interesting paradox that one of our most secretive organisations here in the UK is also one of the most famous in the world, mainly thanks to the success of the James Bond franchise. One of my favourite stories from the programme was how when MI6 was housed in one of its previous buildings, whilst its location was meant to be a secret, it was such a badly kept secret that when buses passing close by would stop at the nearest bus stop, conductors were known for sarcastically saying:

“All spies alight here”!

Secret Identities & Poisonings

The programme also takes us briefly through disguises and aliases used in modern-espionage, as well as the invaluable service those serving in MI6 provided in World War II in particular, before bringing in the dark days of the Cold War and some of the more recent famous examples of espionage on the streets of London, such as the poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko amongst others.

Similar Viewing

I’ve added a link to the PBS website page for the series below. So far I’ve managed to get through Secrets of the Tower of London, Secrets of Underground London and Secrets of Scotland Yard, all of which I strongly recommend as a really interesting take on some of the UK’s most well-known places and organisations.

There’s also a Secrets of the Manor House series which include famous homes of the aristocracy including Chatsworth House and Althorp, the latter of which was the childhood home of the late Princess Diana, all chock full of interesting anecdotes and stories of past and present former inhabitants.

If you enjoy historical documentaries and you’re looking to watch an interesting series, why not give these a go on Netflix and let me know which stories you find most intriguing?