We’re heading to London!

by Christy on

Now that Roadtrip 2.0: The Mayhem Edition is officially over, we’ve started considering other travel options. While we knew we’d be leaving the U.S. sometime in the next few months, we really hadn’t gotten around to figuring out those pesky details (like when, where, or how).

And then we discovered housesitting.

A few months ago Dalene and Peter of Hecktic Travels posted their Housesitting 101 tips and inspired us to give it a whirl.

We signed up for a few websites, emailed approximately a bajillion people throughout Europe, and eventually connected with a fabulous couple in London who asked us to housesit during the month of August.

London City by odetothebigsea via Flickr Creative Commons

Yep, not only do we get to chill in one of the most awesome cities evah during one of the best months to visit, but the accommodations are free and THERE’S EVEN A CAT!

How fracking rad, right?

But I’m not writing this post just to brag about our incredible luck — we also need some help.  Specifically:

I’m not talking about the obvious stuff; of course we’re going to harass the guards at Buckingham Palace, check the time at Big Ben, and eat some gawd-awful steak and kidney pie.

But what else?

  • What are your “off the beaten path” recommendations?
  • What neighborhood has the best coffee shops (with the hottest baristas)?
  • What places do we have to eat at?
  • Where do hip twenty-somethings go to chill on a warm August afternoon?
  • What are your favorite day-trips from London, or places to see the English countryside?

We have an entire month in London, and we’d like to explore all its nooks and crannies. So please, dear comrades, give us the 4-1-1!

{ 83 comments… read them below or add one }

Dalene Heck June 16, 2011 at

I take back all our awesome tips until you learn to spell my name right. :)
Dalene Heck recently posted: The Beautiful People of Latin America

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Christy June 16, 2011 at

Hahaha, touche! Fixed, with a hearty apology for the oversight. :)

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Dalene Heck June 17, 2011 at

First beer is on you… :)
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Christy June 17, 2011 at

Deal!

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Claire June 16, 2011 at

I lived in London for six months once, and visit it constantly. There’s some awesome places. Unfortunately I never found a great coffee shop, but foodwise, I really like World Food Cafe in Neals Yard (Covent Garden) and the posh food markets in Harrods, Fortnum & Mason and Selfridges. In terms of day trips – go west to the Thames Valley – lots of the little countryside towns are on the Thames Path, meaning lots of walking by this beautiful river. In London, relax in Regents Park and Hyde Park.

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Christy June 17, 2011 at

Wow, thanks for all the suggestions Claire. The Thames Path sounds like a great area to explore. :)

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Turkey's For Life June 17, 2011 at

Unfortunately we’re not well up with our country’s capital (oops) but congratulations on the house sitting thing. A great way to explore a new place – with a bit of extra cash in your pocket, too! :)
Julia
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Christy June 17, 2011 at

I agree, housesitting is such a great deal. In London especially housing is so darn expensive and difficult to find for short-term leases.

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leeanna June 17, 2011 at

There’s a small Georgian [yes Georgian] restaurant that you have to try…it’s super yummy and very unusual :) just google it there’s only one and i don’t remember the name :(
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Christy June 17, 2011 at

How exciting! We’ve eaten a lot of different cuisines over the years, but never Georgian! I just googled it, and it looks like there are a few Georgian restaurants in London, but I’m okay trying to track down the best one. ;) Thanks for the tip!

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jill- Jack and JIll Traveltwitter: jacknjilltravel June 17, 2011 at

Awesome news, guys! Congrats! The very same article made us thinking of looking for a house sitting gig in Argentina (while waiting for winter in Patagonia to pass) – we just need to put our act together and stop thinking about it.
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Christy June 17, 2011 at

That can be the hardest part. ;) We just used MindMyHouse.com and had pretty good luck; a lot of them list the dates as “variable”, which is kind of a pain, but we found something after only two weeks of looking.

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Tricia(Geeky Explorers)twitter: geekyexplorers June 17, 2011 at

Congrats! We went to London in 2000 and loved it. Only had one week so not enough time to do all we wanted by any means. We thought the Indian food that was fantastic and we enjoyed a trip out to Windsor Castle. Other than wandering around random parks, we focused on touristy stuff. We did sit in on a session of parliament which was interesting. Can’t wait to read about your adventure!
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Christy June 17, 2011 at

We both studied Political Science in college, so sitting in on a session of parliament sounds ridiculously appealing.

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Ariana June 17, 2011 at

The Indian food options are FANTASTIC.

My suggestion for the perfect afternoon is to just wander. My favorite part of London was taking turn after turn in an unknown part of town and then eventually stumbling on something beautiful, even if it was just a park for people watching or a really funky old church building.

Pick up a copy of the London magazine (it’s basically a magazine about everything happening that month) and start from there. I spent a lot of time people watching and that was amazing.

Oh, and finally: Cornish Pasties. O.M.G.

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Christy June 17, 2011 at

Haha, thanks Ar! Cornish pastries have been added to the list. ;) So has getting lost – one of the best ways to travel, imho.

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Jessica June 17, 2011 at

Hi Christy and Kali
As you know I was just there (literally left this morning) and I’ll be moving there for a PhD in September — so sad I’ll just miss you two! Here are a few of my tips:
Check out the amazing museums (most of them free) — Loved the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum. Partially enjoyed the Tate Modern (but some of the “art” was… well, not art to me — like a canvas with a mirror attached that looked like a bathroom mirrored cabinet).
I love the vegetarian restaurant called Food for Thought on Neal Street at Covent Garden http://foodforthought-london.co.uk/ (cash only)
Also check out a restaurant called Little Bay (they have a few locations) http://www.littlebay.co.uk/london.html for cheap but delicious eats — eat like royalty, pay like paupers.
I love the coffee and desserts at http://www.patisserie-valerie.co.uk/
For pizza, I was impressed with Pizza Express http://www.pizzaexpress.com/ It’s a chain, but it’s good and there’s one located near the Abbey Road Studios crossing (if you’re interested in getting your picture taken at the zebra crossing ala The Beatles)
Dim Sum was good at Leong’s Legend in Chinatown — beware that serving shark’s fin is legal in London apparently, so I purposely chose Leong’s because it wasn’t on the menu (at least not when I was there) and because it was fairly well reviewed on Yelp.
Go see Much Ado About Nothing staring Dr. Who’s David Tennant and Catherine Tate — it’s playing through September 3rd and I am so sad that I missed the chance to see it.
Go shopping on Oxford street (and make sure there’s space in your luggage for the fun things you’ll find)
My biggest suggestion is just put on some walking shoes and explore the different neighborhoods and parks. I’ve been to London twice and I’ve never walked so much through any city as much as I have in London (and happily). I’ve even gotten off at random tube stops and explored the area without any destination or purpose in mind.
Enjoy!!!
Jessica

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Christy June 17, 2011 at

Holy wow, Jessica, you are the best ever! I’m also super bummed we’re going to miss each other, but it’s likely we’ll be traveling through London later on… so eventually we’ll come pull you away from your Ph.D. work. ;) You’re also the god of food recommendations, so I can’t wait to try all these suggestions of yours!

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Caanan @ No Vacation Requiredtwitter: NVRguys June 17, 2011 at

That is excellent news. I have never been, so will be looking to you to suss out the best o’ the best.
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Cathy Sweeneytwitter: TravelingWithS June 17, 2011 at

How cool! For day trip ideas – head up to Cambridge or Oxford. I love visiting universities and these are great — fun and lots of history, too.
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Christy June 17, 2011 at

I really like universities as well; if we ever settle down it will be in a college town… or at least in a city with a couple of universities. :)

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Christinatwitter: christinahegele June 17, 2011 at

Great stuff! Congrats on the housesitting gig. There is tons to see and do in London. If you want to visit other little towns outside, go to Cambridge, Oxford, Windsor (and W Castle) for old buildings galore or Brighton (by the sea), which are just about an hour away by train or bus, or to Bath (roman baths), which is about 2 – 2.5 hours away. Go punting in Cambridge.
Camden Market is a must, with its recent re-vamp, it’s great for shopping (clothes, jewelry, arts and crafts, decorative stuff), for its alternative scene, and food stalls.
Holland Park is a lovely little park just off High St. Kensington (shopping), with Japanese gardens (small but good).
If you want to shop, go to Europe’s biggest mall, Westfield, in West London near Shepherd’s Bush, just opened two years ago.
Go out in Fulham or Putney, plenty of twenty to thirty somethings, especially from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.
Make sure you go to the Proms, the world’s greatest classical music festival. Tickets from GBP 5. http://www.bbc.co.uk/proms
And if you want a fancy restaurant, go to Dans le Noir, where you eat in complete darkness.
Want to meet up? Would love to show you a few favourites!
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Christy June 17, 2011 at

Wow, Christina, these suggestions are awesome! We’d definitely love to meet up when we’re there; I’ll shoot you an email when we get to London. :)

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Christy @ Ordinary Traveler June 18, 2011 at

Good for you guys for making it happen and finding a place for free in London! I have yet to visit, so I can’t give you any suggestions, but I look forward to reading about your adventures.
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Christy June 18, 2011 at

Thanks, Christy! We got really lucky with the housesitting situation. :)

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The Travel Chicatwitter: thetravelchica June 18, 2011 at

Wow! That was quick success with Housesitting. I’m going to have to look into this.

I only spent a week in London, so I am certainly not an expert. I would say you definitely have to hit Brick Lane for Indian food (they actually compete for business and you can negotiate prices before you go in – never take the first offer). Try to explore as many of the open-air markets as you can. They are all over the city and various days. Just ask the locals when you get there. You can make yourself a nice picnic and sit on a bench and relax.

Also, Stonehenge and Bath are worth a day trip.
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Christy June 18, 2011 at

Indian food is our favorite cuisine, so I’m pretty sure we’ll be spending most of our time on Brick Lane. Thanks for all the great ideas!

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Stephanietwitter: Findthefreeway June 18, 2011 at

I am sooooooo excited for you guys! A little jealous….but excited ;) Are you nervous at all? I know you will, but you have to be sure and keep us posted…I wanna see pics of where you’re staying and tips on what YOU guys found to do while you’re there!

Any ideas where to after that???
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Christy June 18, 2011 at

We’re a little nervous, but mostly excited! And if nothing else comes up, afterward this gig we’re thinking about taking the train from London to Edinburgh and renting a flat there for Sept/Oct…. but if any other cool opportunities come up (like another housesitting option!), then we’re open. :)

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Andrea June 18, 2011 at

I’ll be keeping an eye on the comments here as well. We only have four days (in early August – let us know if you have time to grab a drink!) but this will be John’s and my first time in London on our own. In the past we’ve stayed with friends or visited with a parent, so we look forward to seeing London in our own way together.
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Christy June 18, 2011 at

We’d love to grab a drink while you two are in the city! Just let us know when and we’ll make it happen. :)

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Scott - Quirky Travel Guytwitter: quirkytravelguy June 18, 2011 at

I’ve never even thought of this as an option. What an awesome opportunity!
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Christy June 18, 2011 at

Same here; if it hadn’t been for the wonderful travel blogging community, we never would have thought about housesitting!

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Kelly June 18, 2011 at

Wow, awesome! This will be really fun to follow along to. Can’t wait to see what adventures you get into. Also… housewarming party? London? I’m thinking it’s a great idea!

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Christy June 18, 2011 at

Haha, I don’t know how much our hosts would like a huge housewarming party at their house, but we would of course welcome housewarming gifts. ;)

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Melissatwitter: longhaulproject June 18, 2011 at

First of all, congrats! What a great opportunity. You will love London (I lived there for 8 years and that’s where I met Tom).

London’s parks and markets cannot be beat. Our favorite park is Hampstead Heath. As for markets, Borough Market on Fridays and Saturdays is a food lover’s dream (and you can do a whole walk down the glorious South Bank with a stop at the Tate Modern afterwards) and for shopping, Portobello Road on a Saturday or Spitalfield’s Market on a Sunday are excellent for one-of-a-kind finds, people watching and great atmosphere.

Here’s a blog post I wrote after our last visit to the city, with a few other beloved places you might want to check out: http://thelonghaulproject.com/2010/06/tlhp-in-londonparks-pubs-and-polar-bears/

Can’t wait to read about your adventures!
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Christy June 18, 2011 at

Thanks so much, Melissa! I’m really excited that we’ll be there in August; hopefully the weather will stay awesome the entire time so we can explore all these markets and parks. :)

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Camels & Chocolatetwitter: LunaticAtLarge June 18, 2011 at

This is so cool, you guys! I’ve never heard of a housesitting website–I’m super excited to hear all about how it goes! Alas, I have been in London a half dozen times but have never done much off-the-beaten-travel stuff. You should check out my friend Holly’s blog (nothingbutbonfires.com) as she’s a Brit living in San Francisco and goes back a time or two a year to visit. I’m sure you can dig up some stuff on her site.
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Christy June 20, 2011 at

Holly’s blog looks awesome – I’ve already dug up some interesting ideas, so thanks for the tip! :)

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Alouisetwitter: Alouise_D June 18, 2011 at

I went to London for a few days a couple years ago, did mostly tourist stuff. i will say that if museums and artifacts are your thing, then you have to go to the British Museum. It’s massive, I spent about 3 hours just in the Egyptian and Greco/Roman section alone. Plus like a lot of museums in England admission is free, although donations are welcomed. A lot of sites around London are easy to walk to, and if not I found the tube was really easy to use, and easy to get around (at least where I was staying).
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Christy June 20, 2011 at

Kali and I aren’t huge museum people, but free admission is quite the draw. I also have a mild obsession with ancient Egypt (dating back to my childhood), so the British Museum sounds like a great fit. Thanks!

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Jeremy Branhamtwitter: budgettravelsac June 19, 2011 at

In all of my travels, I have yet to go to London. House sitting sounds like an awesome idea and what a great way to experience a city as you will get to meet locals and neighbors. Look forward to hearing more about this trip and a little jealous at the same time! :)
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Christy June 20, 2011 at

Thanks, Jeremy! We’ve heard great things about housesitting, so hopefully our experience meets our high expectations. :)

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Nina June 19, 2011 at

Awesome! England was my home for 4 years and sis still lives there (in the SW) so I love everything about it. I didn’t get to spend too much time in London, but really recommend Indian food (just about anywhere!) and a trip to The Globe…a classic old theatre there.
Nina
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Christy June 20, 2011 at

I just discovered that Tikka Masala has been called the national food of Britain, so we’re really excited for all the delicious Indian food we expect to find!

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Grace June 19, 2011 at

Doing a dance of joy with you guys. Living in a house in London sounds so posh. I’m definitely looking into this house sitting thing! What’s going to happen to Koa?
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Christy June 20, 2011 at

Haha, I know – it seems so surreal! We’re leaving Koa with Kali’s parents in Oregon; he’s adjusted really well this last month, and now all we have to work on before we leave in July is his issue with cats (the family has three) and his tendency to leave the property and “play with” (i.e. harass) the neighboring horses. Oiy! :P

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Lisa June 19, 2011 at

Congratulations! London is amazing, it’s been a while since I’ve been so I can’t make any recommendations. But enjoy every minute!
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Christy June 20, 2011 at

Thanks, Lisa! :)

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Jim June 19, 2011 at

Great way to travel, and what an awesome place. Hey, got any plans for downunder?
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Christy June 20, 2011 at

Nothing set in stone, but we’ve definitely tossed around the idea of buying a campervan to explore NZ and Australia (maybe early next year?). If we find ourselves heading over that way, I’ll shoot you an email!

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Norbert June 19, 2011 at

I wish I could help but I’m a stranger to London myself… so I’ll be learning a few things through the recommendations you get!
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Christy June 20, 2011 at

Awesome. :)

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Lorna - the roamantics June 20, 2011 at

YIPPEE!!! great one guys! what an awesome way to follow up the road trip! haven’t been yet, but hoping to go next year as i have a few friends living there (and well there are those free flights ;) ) i’ve always heard that camden market is really cool. and i’d likely go see a ton of live music! sure you’ll have a blast with loads of great suggestions from peeps! :)
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Christy June 20, 2011 at

Good idea about live music! I bet there are some great things playing in the month of August (and maybe a concert in the park series? I’ll have to look that up), and Camden Market has been added to our list.

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Jadetwitter: vagabond3live June 20, 2011 at

Yay- London is my absolute favorite place! I wrote a bunch of these kinds of things for Kelly’s site- I’ll find the link and send it to you, basically great places to watch sports, where to grab a pint, where to grab a pint on a sunday night and listen to awesome jazz music, where to shop, etc, etc,… i’ll find the link! haha…

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Christy June 20, 2011 at

That would be awesome, Jade! Though it’s always hard to track down those links, lol…

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Sharon Fielding June 20, 2011 at

You definately have to check out the “Notting Hill Carnival” – towards the end of August I think. Been going for about 45 years and over the weekend in excess of 2 million people will go ( apparently). You will get to see some great entertainment, taste some fab food and party away in the street of London.
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Christy June 20, 2011 at

Wow, that sounds like a blast. Kali teases me for enjoying festivals so much (boooths!), but there’s just so much energy. And the Notting Hill Carnival sounds huge!

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Mark Tisdaletwitter: tismark June 21, 2011 at

Ah, intense jealousy! I may have to investigate this possibility myself sometime! I adore London, but I’ve never been longer than a couple of weeks. I can’t per se speak to what the cool 20-somethings do, but I love London Walks, and you’re there so long that you could look at some of their explorer days. I’ve done a few of their walks on every trip until I had exhausted the local things I had an interest in and started doing their day out trips. LOL

Oh, here’s one I did on my second trip, go to “Little Venice” and you can take one of the canal boats up to Camden Town. The boat ride alone is fun, and the boats also go in the other direction, but you can spend the afternoon in Camden Market which was great fun, especially if you enjoy people watching.

And there’s just a never ending supply of galleries and museums if you enjoy art/history.

Ah, need to stop, I’m turning a wee bit green here.
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Christy June 21, 2011 at

Little Venice sounds so fun! And you’re the second person to mention Camden Market, so that definitely has to get added to our list. :) This will be our very first time in the U.K., so we’re ridiculously excited. I can’t even believe how well everything worked out, so I’m still pinching myself! Actually, we keep looking at each other in random moments and exclaiming “In one month we’re going to be in London! Aaagghh!” :P

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Mark Tisdaletwitter: tismark June 21, 2011 at

Camden Market is massively busy, at least my experience. I don’t know if they do this all the time or if maybe I was there on a weekend, but the tube stations when I were there were exit only! You had to walk several blocks away to get enter the tube. Very confusing whether you got there on a boat or came on the train! There are just so many people exiting the station that they have to do it that way.

Weather wise, you never know what you’ll get in London. I went in April the first time and had blazing warm days. May was a mix of sun and showers and the same with September. But I saw the other comment, yes, be glad you’re not there in January. I was there on the way back from Scotland a few years ago, and it was great gallery weather as otherwise you wouldn’t have enjoyed being out much.
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Mark Tisdaletwitter: tismark June 21, 2011 at

Ugh, forgive the disjointed reply that sounds like I can’t string words together. Got interrupted and should have re-read before hitting submit. ;-)
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Christy June 21, 2011 at

Haha, no worries. ;) And thanks for the tip about the tube stations near Camden Market; we don’t have a lot of experience riding subways, so I imagine we’d get pretty confused! And then of course think it was our fault and probably start bickering (the biggest fight we ever had was while trying to figure out the Paris subway). It’s a touchy area for us, lol.

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Mark Tisdaletwitter: tismark June 22, 2011 at

If you survived the Paris subway, London will be easy peasy by comparison! I was in Paris Jan ’10 and I have never been so turned around on any other subway! To me, at least, London’s are very simple. But keep in mind the tube is not always quickest, especially in central London. A lot of times you’ll be there faster just walking. The famous Tube Map inflates the distance between the stations so that they can all be seen, the ones in the central city are very close together. I had read that before I visited and still laughed at myself when I walked around a corner at my destination and saw I had just taken two trains to go a couple of blocks!
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robin June 21, 2011 at

VERY interesting. I would really consider something like this in the future. London is a great city, you´ll have a blast, especially in the summer as you should avoid the miserable weather.
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Christy June 21, 2011 at

We seriously lucked out with the weather. I just don’t think visiting London in January would be the same as spending the month of August there…. :)

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Sabrinatwitter: countryskipper June 21, 2011 at

I haven’t spent much time in London, but my sister lives there and loves going to Brighton for the weekend, so I’d say it’s probably worth checking it out :)
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Christy June 21, 2011 at

Thanks for the suggestion, Sabrina – I just googled it and have just decided we’re spending at least a weekend in Brighton. AH-mazing!

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Sabrinatwitter: countryskipper June 21, 2011 at

Nice :) I hope it’s gonna be as much fun as it looks!! By the way, I know kite surfing is big down there… just in case you guys are into water sports.
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marie June 22, 2011 at

Wow, an entire month in London! Fresh from the royal wedding hype, Buckingham Palace would be a good place to start. I bet you can find some hidden gems from the royal family heirlooms there if you’re lucky. I’ve read about London’s five symphony orchestras and opera shows are great too, just to have a taste of Victorian entertainment you know. Your choices of simply checking Big Ben and scouring the English countryside is a good idea too! Enjoy.
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Christy June 22, 2011 at

Hi Marie, thanks for the comment. We’ve never actually attended a symphony or orchestra (despite living within five minutes walking distance from the theaters in San Francisco for a year… oiy!), so it would be fun to give that a shot.

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Laureltwitter: ExpatGermany June 22, 2011 at

What a fun way to “travel” and I love that there is a cat, so homey. While not really off the beaten path, I love all the theater in London, and the locals always know how to get the cheapest tickets. Have fun, what a great opportunity.
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Christy June 22, 2011 at

I know, the prospect of having a cat to play with for a month is making me so happy! Koa has an issue with cats (to put it mildly… though we’re working on it), so we’ve essentially been cat-free for the last few years. Time to fix that! :)

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Kris Koellertwitter: kriskoeller June 22, 2011 at

The UK isn’t famous for its cuisine, but its improving. One of the best meals we had in London was at its oldest restaurant, Rules. They do a marvelous English roast beef, mash potatoes and Yorkshire pudding. Highly recommended!

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Christy June 22, 2011 at

We’ve heard that quite a bit – that UK cuisine isn’t great, but also that it is improving. I would love to try some Yorkshire pudding though (okay, and the roast beef), so we’ll definitely have to try out Rules! :)

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InsideJourneystwitter: InsideJourneys June 24, 2011 at

Was just there in April.
Highlight of the trip was Stonehenge, Bath and the Roman Baths, Lacock (where Harry Potter’s filmed).
If you like the beach, check out Brighton. Also, Bristol, which could be combined with the jaunt to Bath.
I agree with the others – Indian food is very popular in London and Brick Lane is the place to go. Try the steak and ale pie – I did and it was great!
Try a pub or two. One thing I discovered about pubs – sometimes you place your food order at the bar and they bring it to you at your (numbered) table or sometimes it’s the other way around. I found it a little frustrating and confusing having to figure it out while you’re in the pub and of course if, like you, you’re famished! I considered doing a few posts on British pubs but didn’t get a wide enough sampling.
Of course, I’m jealous – a month in London! Enjoy, enjoy, enjoy!!!
Marcia
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InsideJourneystwitter: InsideJourneys June 24, 2011 at

FYI – I booked my Stonehenge tour with Premium (I just noticed an ad on your site) and I did the private tour because I wanted to be up close with the stones. (Another person on the tour did the regular tour one day and did Premium’s tour the next day because she said, the other one didn’t get close enough.) If you’re into stone circles, check out Avebury as well. Pretty close to Stonehenge.
Museums are also fabulous and free.
Again, have fun,
Marcia
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Christy June 25, 2011 at

Wow, thanks for all this great information! We had completely forgotten about Stonehenge, but that’s something we definitely want to experience. And thanks for the heads up about the pubs; I find that kind of thing super annoying – you never know what’s going on when you walk into a place! But at least now we’ll be prepared for it. :)

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Faithtwitter: faithmckay June 30, 2011 at

I haven’t been to London, but my sister has been many times (she’s even there now). I can’t think of any specific things she said she liked that weren’t child involved (she just had a baby) so I’m no help.

But this is exciting! Housesitting in such an exciting and generally expensive city is a really lucky break! What a great way to start your international adventures :D Congratulations!
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Christy June 30, 2011 at

We were so happy when we got the housesitting gig in London – we had been looking for flats to rent in the city for a few months, but so little was available and it was all astronomically expensive. So we just gave up and decided to look at other places instead…. until this opportunity came along! Funny how it all works out in the end. :)

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Eriktwitter: eriksmithdotcom July 7, 2011 at

I love love love Greenwich. Perfect place for geography geeks like me.

It’s a few hours by train, but I also love Cardiff, Wales. Cute as a button with a great old castle downtown.
Erik recently posted: Falling in Love with HDR

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Christy July 11, 2011 at

We’re down for the long train rides, so Greenwich it is! And, uhm, we have a mild obsession with castles, so Cardiff sounds great as well. :) Thanks for the suggestions, Erik!

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