London on a Budget – Day Two – 36 Hours to Explore

36 hours in London, a budget of 150 GBP and a mission to re-discover the best parts of the city. This is part two in my two part look at London. Learn more about the challenge behind this trip, issued by Tune Hotels, in part one as well as a brief overview of my long-standing mixed relationship with the flagship of the British Empire.

My second day in London got a late start. As a general rule of thumb, I’m a B person. This means I prefer late nights and late mornings to early evenings and early starts. So, Tune’s late-checkout was perfect.  My flight back to Copenhagen departed from London Gatwick at 20:35 PM. That left me the majority of the day to relax and explore before catching my train back to the airport around 5:30PM.

Lunch

London is a Mecca for travel writing talent, so when Dylan of The Traveling Editor and founder of The Ripple Movement heard I’d be in town, he invited me to join him for a quick chat about travel and local’s guide through Soho for lunch.  The day started with a light rain – the type that I’ve become accustomed to in Copenhagen, and which some might say defines London.  You know the type – enough to bespeckle your glasses, but not enough to merit an umbrella or running for the nearest doorway.

The plan was to meet Dylan at Oxford Circus shortly after 12:30. The trip from Liverpool Street Station was effortless and took no more than 15 minutes. Planning to jump around town more than I ultimately would I opted for a full-day metro pass (12 GBP). This, ultimately, was a 9 GBP mistake as I once again only utilized the metro once during the day…not good…but, hindsight is 20/20, right? Live and learn.

Despite the mild rain, the intersection that Oxford Circus ejected me into was alive with people shopping and rushing about their weekend business. Dylan found me without effort and we set off with that most primitive and classic of missions – food.

As we zig-zagged through a number of streets, Dylan pointed out places of interest, the most comical of which was the John Snow. This old pub is still alive (for those of you who may be GoT fans), but has the unfortunate distinction of being the most homophobic pub in Soho.   So much so that I was reminded of an article I had read a year or two before about a grand kiss-in, staged in protest of the Pub’s obnoxious intolerant bigotry. Needless to this, this John Snow is definitely NOT a relative of GoT’s Jon Snow.

Other stops along the way included lovely old streets, the regally named Kingly Court, spunky coffee shops, and a fun mixture of quirky London venues. We eventually found ourselves at one of Dylan’s favorite local eateries – a small, busy, ramen shop quirkily named Bone Daddies. Upon our arrival I was forced to confess something rather embarrassing travel blogger to travel blogger – as I’ve yet to visit Asia I have only the most basic experience with ramen.  The vast majority of my noodle-based dining has focused instead on Thai and Vietnamese variants. So, acting on Dylan’s advice I opted for a seafood heavy ramen dish and waited in curious anticipation.

What arrived was a massive steaming bowl that included not just ramen, but shrimp, muscles, kimchi, egg, corn and a number of other ingredients. With my mouth watering, I dug in and was delighted by the range of tastes, the potent but not over-powering spice, and the salty-sweet balance that was perfect for the noodles while not undercutting the flavors of the seafood.

Dylan and I discussed travel, travel blogging, caught up on life, and the rewarding experiences he was garnering from the launch of his latest journalistic project – the Ripple Movement.  A very interesting initiative and collaboration between a number of leading bloggers and travel journalists, well worth exploring.

Mouth still ever so mildly on-fire, we finished our noodles and transitioned from the ramen shop to a nearby cafe. The cafe was the perfect taste of Soho – a hip/relaxed style with a varied crowd that ranged from college kids to folks doing traditional coffee shop business meetings.  Our waiter was a friendly, but obviously heavily hung-over cross-dresser who had no doubt thoroughly enjoyed the previous day’s grand festivities.

Our coffee’s complete, and with me eager to explore further we wound our way out of Soho and down to Green Park. As part of our discourse we delved into politics, social behavior, and social engineering – it served as the perfect appetizer for my planned visit to Buckingham Palace.  I was introduced to Social Impact Theory, which artfully sums up several recent revelations I’ve had about political discourse/change making and which is something that may interest some of you as well.

Over the course of our meal, coffee and walk to Green Park the weather transitioned from rain to a mostly sunny day that was the perfect temperature. At Green Park we said our goodbyes, and I once again made my way across the sprawling green space, taking in and enjoying the sight of Londoners out soaking up the fair weather and reclining in beach chairs. Green Park is massive and lovely as a park in the strictest sense but, the nearby St. James Park is far more charming and beautiful.

So, with minimal delay I cut down to Buckingham Palace where I paused for photos, a chat with a few other tourists, and to enjoy the sight of the Royal British Guards with their bizarre marching style and fancy uniforms.

Music in the Park

My initial plans for the afternoon had ranged from doing a bit of shopping, to making it to one of the grand British museums – hands down some of the best in the world.  However, in the face of the weather and utterly intoxicatingly charming appeal of St. James Park, I instead found myself enjoying a 20 piece orchestra crammed into a small pavilion.  The orchestra was playing free music and quite talented. Perfect for my relaxed mood.

So, it was with only the slightest of hesitations that I decided to do as the Londoners were doing.  I found a dry spot of grass near the back of the mixed gathering that had come together to listen, laid down, and dug around in my pack for gift my Dad had left with me during his recent visit to Copenhagen.

The gift: one of two cigars to be enjoyed when a special or particularly opportune occasion arose.  As I laid there, the sound of the orchestra in the background, the soft tickle of the wind blowing the grass against my skin, the sounds of children at play in the distance, and the sight of grand old trees framing passenger jets rapidly descending as they prepared to land somewhere far off in the western part of London, I found myself lost thought.

It served as the perfect backdrop to enjoy the cigar – a cigar fittingly rolled in 1990, some 25 years previous.  My relaxation and reflection wandered through time. To thoughts of family, of what I’ve accomplished, where I’ve fallen short. It brought to mind thoughts of women I’ve met, and many of the musings I’ve previously outlined in my The Sojourner’s Dilemma blog post and my Turning 30 musings, reflections, and advice post. The cigar served as a catalyst for my thoughts that helped me re-visit the constant balance and nagging challenge that goes with living far from family and loved ones. Tempering that sense of longing with the joy of discovery and the rich life experiences – not only that allow us to discover and explore new places and experiences, but new sides of ourselves and which drive us to excel and develop ourselves in new ways.  As I relaxed beneath a blue sky I enjoyed a mental exercise I was taught while growing up.  I walked backward through time re-tracing the path through life, the decisions, and everything in-between that had brought me to that moment. It is a daunting, humbling, but also invigorating mental exercise. One that forces one to accept not just the positive, but the neutral and negative events and decisions that we’ve faced over our lives.

So, it was with a deep sense of relaxation, reflection, and satisfaction that I finished the cigar – a useful catalyst and tool for exploring how different my life could have been. After all, that cigar – just five years younger than I was, with its layers upon layers wrapped and rolled, had been transported halfway around the world, across numerous borders while passing between a smattering of owners.  It may also sound a bit morbid, but as the last embers of the cigar burned out I was also reminded of the friends I’ve lost over the last few years and the fragility of life. In our modern age of unparalleled medicine it is easy to assume we’ll all live well into our 80s if not far beyond. Yet, already the number of friends I’ve lost over the last decade to disease, accidents, and I’ll fortune number beyond the count that fits on one hand.

As I stood, hoisting my bag over my shoulder, I glanced at my watch – somehow it was already 5PM. Time to make my way to Victoria Station where I’d once again make the less-than arduous journey out to Gatwick.  The 20 minute walk from the park to the station was effortless and enjoyable.  In some ways the day hadn’t been as productive as I had anticipated, and yet it felt as though it had been every bit as enjoyable and rewarding as it would have had I found my way to the nearby British Museum or the National History Museum.  I shrugged as I walked, perhaps talking to myself in the mildest and most sane of ways – those would have to wait until next time.

Final Thoughts

The trip back to Gatwick was an opportunity to take stock of my whirlwind visit.  How had it changed my relationship with London? The truth is, the trip had helped me re-discover London’s charm. When the next opportunity to return arises, I won’t hesitate.  Though, I’ll do it with the knowledge that to enjoy London, I have to be selective in what I see and embrace the sides of London I like while avoiding those that leave me apathetic or disappointed. London worked beautifully as a weekend getaway. Even though my budget of 150 GBP was, perhaps, a bit generous by some standards, it was also far from unreasonable.

I grabbed dinner at the McDonalds at London Gatwick upon my arrival and despite a poorly handled power outage that set my flight back an hour and pushed my arrival in Copenhagen to well after midnight, I left London in high spirits.

Dinner at Gatwick cost 9 GBP and brought the grand total for my daily expenses and transport to 136 GBP a full 14 GBP below the challenge amount allotted by Tune Hotels for my #LondonOnABudget visit. For this trip I prioritized food and the theater.  I also blew 9 GBP on an ill advised metro ticket purchase. Had I decided to take an even more stringent budget-approach to the trip, or to prioritize attractions over food, I’d have easily been able to afford entrance to some of London’s greatest attractions.  Never the less, I think this trip highlighted that even without investing in entrance fees or expenses like the London Eye, you can see and enjoy London in-depth.  One of the key tricks to experiencing London on a budget is to minimize your transport costs. Transit in London is painfully expensive.  Take a good pair of walking shoes and enjoy the opportunity to discover the streets, alleys, and squares that stretch between each metro stop. It’s not only cheaper, it’s a far more authentic look at the city.

Missed part one of this post?  Jump to the beginning now.

Tune Hotels Pricing July 2015

 

A special thanks to Tune Hotels and their Liverpool Street Station location for hosting me and inviting me to London for this challenge.  Tune Hotels provide a ultra-budget alternative to hostels that delivers all of the benefits of a regular hotel while using a – pick and pay for exactly what you want – model. You pay for your basic room, and then choose what services and items you want to add on (late check out, wifi, a towel, TV, air conditioning).   

London on a Budget – 36 Hours to Explore

There are cities you love the moment you step foot in them.  Then there are other cities that take you a while to warm up to.  Of course, the flip-side of this is that there are also cities you hate instantly or fall out of love with.

My relationship with London has been a complicated one.  It’s not a city that I can say I love, but at the same time it’s also not a city I can say I hate. I’ve now visited London a number of times and each visit seems to launch me to-and-fro from loving the city to mildly disliking it and then somehow winning me back once again.

Of the many European cities I’ve visited as an adult, the city of London is the one I have the most complex relationship with.  In 2004 I returned to Europe for the first time as an adult.  The trip was done through Arizona State University’s Barrett Honors College and was a guided six week whirlwind taste of the British Isles with the first three weeks spent in London. Despite the incredible amount of ground we’d covered during the year-long visit to Europe my family and I had engaged in when I was 11, we’d never crossed the channel to explore the British Isles.  This made London extra exotic and the ideal place to re-launch my wanderlust as an adult.  As you might imagine, I loved London as I wandered from the Tower to its grand Museums and then out into the countryside to Stonehenge, Bath, and the White Cliffs of Dover. Each cobblestone street teased my imagination and inspired me to explore further.

Since then my visits have typically, but not always, been more utilitarian.  A trip to London for a conference, to see friends, or for a wedding.  These visits are likely at the heart of my mixed love affair with London. The visits that have given me the best taste of the city of London as an entity were the ones where I was most involved with as a tourist. It was on many of the  more utilitarian visits that I found myself disgusted by London’s sprawling, slow and at times grossly over-crowded public transportation system. By the ludicrously short hours for the Metro, and by the sense of dystopian bleakness that defines some of the city’s suburbs. Suburbs that often remind me very much of a scifi megalopolis designed for three or four million but now lumbering under the weight of four or five times that all colored by an aging infrastructure, crime, and urban decay. While this, and the reality that Londoners in some areas are lovely, while Londoners in others are…not, is all true but I’ve come to realize misses what the city has to offer.

So, it was with some interest that I received an invitation from Tune Hotels to do a weekend getaway to London.  Their invitation was simple; They’d take care of my flight, and put me up in exchange for a challenge: re-do London as a tourist, but on a budget of 150 GBP for the duration of my 36 hour visit.

Challenge accepted. What followed was a visit to London that left me eager to return and reminded me that when we struggle with a destination, it is often the side of it we’ve exposed ourselves to or the approach we’ve taken.  Not the destination itself that is ultimately to blame.

The Arrival

I arrived at London Gatwick late in the evening.  I’d left work in Copenhagen, grabbed my bag, and caught a mid-evening flight to London that deposited me at the Airport somewhere around 10 in the evening. With no checked baggage it took me roughly 30 more minutes to find my way through immigration and to the central train hub. A quick inquiry at the nearly empty train station cue left me with directions to Liverpool Street Station, which was a brief 5 minute walk to the Tune Hotel Liverpool St. location where I’d be staying.

To my surprise the ticket was only 15 GBP (weekend-off peak), a welcome discount compared to the exorbitant price that transit to and from London’s Airports often extorts. Ticket in hand I had a 15 minute wait for the next train and then a forty or so minute trip into the city center. The trip from train to metro was straight forward and took minimal guesswork, though upon arrival at Liverpool Station I did learn that apparently I should have also picked up a metro ticket for the final leg. As an indicator of how the trip was going to go, the gate attendant took pity on me, outlined my mistake, and let me through the gates without any hassle.

At this point it was passing midnight and the walk from Liverpool Station to my hotel took me through an area with vibrant nightlife. People were in the streets enjoying the weather, partying, and heading towards the plethora of late-night eateries in the area to refuel and sober up. The walk felt safe and had I arrived an hour or two earlier in the evening, would have had me depositing my bag and heading back out for drinks and a taste of the local nightlife.

Though I’d read up on Tune Hotels a bit before hand, I didn’t want to overly bias myself one way or the other.  They position themselves as a budget add-on hotel with excellent locations and “five star beds”. It’s an interesting model that competes with hostels and hotels alike.  You get what equates to hostel pricing, but have the benefits of your own private room, bathroom, and quality facilities. But, at the same time, prices are low because everything – from towels to TV and wifi – is an add-on price. This includes the basics, but also includes some nice additions like late checkout at a fairly reasonable price.

My room was small but clean and they’d given me the full-package to try out which apparently would have cost around 90 GBP total for my two night stay.  Water pressure was great, the wifi-worked without issue, and a bit of TV was perfect after a long work and travel day.  Previously I had stayed with another similar hotel chain when traveling for business – this room was better all around. Particularly in that the room was larger and the bed WAS definitely significantly better. Having said that, was the bed really on-par with a five star hotel?  Definitely not.  It was decent, better than you’d find in most cheap hotels and definitely your average hostel, but it was far from the type of bed that left me eager to sleep in late or wondering how I could get a version of my own for home.

Checked in, unloaded, but not quite ready to call it a night – it was time for an old tradition: Kebab. So, down to the reception I went.  The staff were friendly and knowledgeable, they immediately steered me away from the hot-dog peddler on the corner and directed me to a kebab place a three minute walk down the street.  The kebab cost me four pounds and was served up by spunky middle eastern immigrants that had that had that sharp-tongued banter that always reminds me of New Yorkers who are fully in-the-zone.

After downing my kebab it was time to unwind and to get some sleep.  Despite a mild disclaimer on the website that there might be periodic rail noise, my room on the fourth floor was completely silent and I slept like a baby.

A Day Spent Re-Discovering London

My morning started with a mission. During my early visits to London I was exposed to the body-tingling, ear caressing, mindgasm of great theatrical performances. I started with the classics; the Phantom of the Opera and what still remains my all-time-favorite, Les Miserables. From Much Ado About Nothing in the Globe, to Cyrno, Tango Fire, and the Lord of the Rings one of my favorite parts of any proper visit to London is a show. For this visit to be complete a show was non-negotiable.  The big question became one of price and last minute availability.  A quick Google later and I was browsing a list of the day’s shows, their minimum price, and availability. Ultimately it boiled down to Mama Mia, the Lion King and Wicked. Wicked, which had an early evening showing at Apollo Victoria Theater/Station would run me 40 GBP for a cheap seat and beat out Mama Mai due to slightly cheaper pricing and its standing as one of my brother’s favorite shows. Lion King, on the  other hand was nearly sold out and ultimately outside my budget.

Ticket secured I set out for lunch and a long-day of wandering. The weather was brilliant – sunny, but with just enough of a breeze to keep things cool. First on the list was the nearby Brick Lane market street, famed for its shopping and selection of ethnic (predominantly Indian) foods. However, as I ambled towards the area marked on my map – less than 10 minutes walk from the Hotel – I was intercepted by a Mexican restaurant.

For any Americans from the Southwest reading this, you’ll know that one of the hardest parts of being abroad is the lack of quality Mexican food. Since, at this point, I’d been away from the US for more than two years and limited to Copenhagen’s tragically lack-luster assortment of Mexican cuisine, continuing on towards the market street wasn’t an option.  Five minutes and 9 GBP later and I sat in DF Mexico devouring a large, flavorful burrito that reminded me heavily of Chipotle. The shop had a fun vintage retro-fusion feel and looked out on a small converted parking lot that had been turned into a hipster-sheek food-court with shared pick-nick benches and several semi-permanent food trucks, all decorated with smashed cars and quirky massive video game-ish characters. It was funky and fun.

Burrito devoured, I made my way through the food court, which in short order dumped me down a narrow street and onto Brick Lane.  Despite being a bit perturbed at myself for opting for the not-so-cheap Mexican, when a street full of amazing dive and street food was right under my nose I swallowed the urge to stuff myself with a second lunch. In its place I sated myself by wandering the length of the street pausing often to admire and photograph the wealth of dynamic and engaging graffiti that lined the side streets.  The shops were a charming mishmash of corner stores, small shops, grocers (Durian sitting on the street outside the shop included), and barbershops.

One of my favorite pieces of graffiti consisted of two Star Wars characters. Traditional Imperial imagery was juxtaposed with that of Corporatists resulting in a dynamic take on the Corporate/Star Wars mashup.

A quick glance at the cached map on my iPhone showed me the right direction to head in and I slowly wandered from Brick Lane to the business district and then down towards the Tower of London and Tower Bridge.  The route took me between London’s massive modern architectural models, providing numerous opportunities for fun structural shots.

As the sun kept me warm, I wound through central London before finding myself passing the Royal British Mint and then getting dumped out at the Tower of London. The Tower of London remains a building that fascinates me. The structure, with its series of towers, moats, and squat brick defensive structures mirrors the Tower’s complex history.  My visit to the outside of the Tower brought back memories of 2007 when I toured the interior and came across a medieval re-enactment, replete with knights clad in armor engaged in a swordfight.

A quick stroll out onto Tower Bridge left me chuckling, remembering the  old wives tale about Lake Havasu  which had purchased the London Bridge, and had it re-located brick by brick to the US where it was re-constructed. The old story, which is likely manufactured, goes that the unlucky Americans bought the bridge thinking it was, in fact, none other than the Tower Bridge.

The view from the bridge offers a grand vista of London. While some tourists opted to stand in line, pay their fee, and to take the skybridge I saved my pounds and took in the free view.  The vista includes a retired battleship dressed to kill in its Dazzle camouflage, the “Egg”, the Tower, and the rest of downtown London’s skyline.  I  also found myself surprised by the sheer amount of traffic traversing the Thames, most of which consisted of tour boats navigating the swift currents and difficult breezes that made it clear which captains were old veterans and which were likely newcomers to England’s mightiest river.

From the Tower Bridge I worked my way along the waterfront past the other side of the Tower of London, pausing to record a few quick videos, and then cut towards what I suspected was Trafalgar Square.  However, before I’d made it too far I noticed that a series of cones were being set up to divert traffic.  As it turned out, my visit overlapped with London Pride and I had the good fortune of stumbling into the path of the march and festivities.

No matter what city I’ve stumbled on Pride Parades in – London, Copenhagen, Dublin, etc. – they’re always a fantastic party full of happy people embracing vibrant characters and identities. The London Pride Parade was no different, though the sheer size and scope of it was amazing.  Over the course of the day I’d stumble upon the serpentine meanderings of the parade numerous times – each time finding the streets absolutely packed shoulder to shoulder as vehicle and accompanying pride marchers made their way by. Of the wealth of themes I saw, my favorite was an entire team from Fujitsu carrying signs paying tribute to Alan Turing.

Though I never made it into Trafalgar square (properly) I let the flow of the parade take me down towards Big Ben, which provided an incredible view of the boulevard lined by vibrantly dressed folks as an “Americans in London” themed Pride bus made its way down the road, framed by Big Ben, and shouting with extra exuberance in celebration of the previous day’s Supreme Court announcement, delivering Marriage Equality to the US.

Eventually the march route turned, but I continued on making my way down to Big Ben, Parliament, and Westminster.  Despite the roaring, churning, mass of humanity a few blocks away the area around Big Ben was not excessively crowded. I strolled leisurely taking in the sight, snapping photos, and marveling at the unique architecture that defines several of the world’s most iconic structures.  Feeling a bit foot-sore, but far from done, I crossed the bridge for a different view of Big Ben and Parliament before re-tracing my steps and locking eyes with the London Eye. The eye spun, I marveled at its size, and then we both continued – going back to the business of exploring London.

A glance at my phone told me I was near several of the great parks.  At this point the afternoon was starting to race past and I made the decision to continue my urban trek, skipping the metro and hoofing the remaining distance from Big Ben to Victoria Station and the Apollo Theater.  So, with a bit of a jump to my step I made my way across to St. James Park – one of London’s wealth of gorgeous green spaces – and then wound up the external edge, hunting for a market where I could buy some water and a pop.  This took me past the Churchill War Rooms, 10 Downing Street, and the Horse Guard’s Palace with its vibrantly uniformed guards sitting astride gorgeous parade horses.

To my left St James Park boasted beautiful botanics and an assortment of large White Pelicans.  But, deadset on finding something to drink, I resisted the urge to delve into the park deeper and instead cut northward across The Mall, and past the London Library where I once again rain into the Pride Parade. Still failing to find what I was looking for my path took me westward past St. James Palace up to Piccadilly and the Green Park metro.

Spot checking my map told me I was closing in on Victoria, and as I still hadn’t eaten dinner, I decided to tighten my belt a notch, ignore my parched lips, and trek on through Green Park – which was full of sun-bathers. To my surprise I also passed two folks hidden in the bushes doing what I can only assume was Heroin.  Saddened, I was reminded that there is incredible contrast in our lives, and the lives we, as individuals, choose to embrace.

Before long Green Park gave way to the Wellington Arch, and its multi-monument park.  The mini-park consists of the Arch, the Australian War Memorial, the New Zealand War Memorial, the Machine Gun Corps Memorial and a War Monument dedicated to Artillery.  Each of these are stunning and impactful monuments that are artfully crafted.  As I paused to browse the names and reflect, I felt an especially keen sense of regret and awe as I’ve recently gone through extended history podcasts covering World War I and key parts of World War II (see my post about great historical Podcasts). Knowing some of the history behind these monuments and the horror they commemorate gave me goosebumps.

The final leg of my walk took me from the Wellington Arch down to Victoria Station – a marvel in and of itself with its historic feel that blends with more modern architecture, and a cavernous interior.

Dinner and a Show

The Apollo Victoria Theater which is currently home to Wicked, is located immediately kitty-corner to Victoria Station.  A quick glance at my phone indicated I had roughly an hour and a half to eat and grab my tickets. A five minute wander down Wilton Rd. brought me to a Pub advertising 50% off all dishes. Keeping my budget in mind, I sat down, found a table, recharged a bit, and rested my very tired feet while enjoying a burger and soda. In total Dinner cost me 9 GBP and left my stuffed.

Picking up my ticket for Wicked and finding my seat went smoothly and took no more than 15 minutes.  The cheap seat I had opted for provided a great view from the balcony, minus a partial obstruction caused by the banister. Given the seats next to mine were 2x the price, and all I had to do to see past the obstruction was lean forward – I was anything but bothered.

It was my first time seeing Wicked, though I had heard the soundtrack countless times on family road trips with my brother. Still, I was only vaguely familiar with the story – this let me enjoy the play fully. The sets were absolutely fantastic and took full advantage of the space, both in the use of depth and height.  The performers were skilled and their vocals strong. The story itself was engaging, fun, and I can definitely see why it quickly became a crowd favorite. My one gripe, and this may have been due to the seat location, or just my tendency to be a bit of a finicky audiofile, was that the audio was over-amplified and poorly balanced.  This meant that instead of getting that authentic feeling of powerful vocals and a skilled orchestra, it had the feeling of speakers that failed to balance the performer’s audio, thus depriving it of its richness and subtle inflections.  In its place was the overly amplified sound of the orchestra constantly teetering on the edge of sliding from rich audio into flat disappointment.

Despite my subtle grumbles about the sound, I left humming the songs and would highly recommend Wicked during your visit. It may not trump Phantom or Les Mis, but it is a wonderful option, especially for anyone on a budget.

My trip home consisted of a 4.50 GBP metro ticket, and a few quick hops on the metro line. It was convenient, and a welcome respite for my exhausted feet. I settled into bed at Tune Hotel grateful that it wasn’t a noisy hostel bunk bed and slept like a baby.

Stay tuned for Part II in this two-part series. In it I chronicle meeting up with a fellow travel blogger, a local’s tour of Soho, and a budget-friendly afternoon spent relaxing in London before catching my late-evening flight back to Copenhagen.

For the 36 hours I spent in London my total expenses (excluding hotel/flight) were 127 GBP.  This broke down the following way: 40 GBP for Wicket, 15 GBP LGW -> Tune Hotel, 16 GBP Tune Hotel -> LGW, 14.50 GBP for amazing Ramen in Soho, 12 GBP for a 24 hour metro pass, 9 GBP for a pub dinner, 9 GBP for misc. items and drinks (water/soda etc.), 8 GBP for Mexican lunch, 4.50 GBP for a metro ticket.

Ready for Part II of this post? View Part II now.

This trip was sponsored by Tune Hotels and their Liverpool Street Station – my itinerary, dining, and entertaining choices are mine and mine alone with the sole stipulation that I limit my 36 hour budget, including transport to and from the Airport to 150 GBP or less. You can find updates from the trip on Twitter and Instagram using the #Londononabudget hashtag.

Nordic Eats – Digesting Uformel, BROR, Marv and Ben

There are foods that our eyes tell us must certainly be mouth-wateringly delicious. They are beautiful, they are aromatic, and the ingredients are a collection of meats, vegetables, and spices that are familiar and nonthreatening.  Then, there are other dishes assembled with ingredients or in a fashion that leaves even the most stalwart culinary adventurer skeptical.

My favorite is the Icelandic dish, Hákarl. It is fermented shark that has been buried to slowly rot for at least six months before being dug up for preparation and consumption. I always chuckle thinking about the long road of experimentation that led to that discovery. After all, there had to be some folks that dug up the shark at 2 months, 4 months, or 24 months to give it a go.  The horror and comedy of it gives me goosebumps.

I have to admit that I haven’t tried Hákarl but, quite often I find that many of the New Nordic dishes end up embracing many of the same principles that led those early pioneers to sample Hákarl.

I’ve mentioned New Nordic, though now that more than a decade has passed since Noma launched the New Nordic movement, there is pressure to move away from the term simply embracing “Nordic” or even more specific niche terminology invented by a plethora of restaurants, many of which have been founded by Noma disciples. Each of these restaurants shares some common traits and approaches – a focus on local ingredients, freshness, a head nod to fusions, historic dishes, ways of prep, or hyper-local foods. Yet, each has distinctly unique approaches to how they assemble their menu, the meals they seek to inspire, and how they prepare dishes.

One other compelling hallmark of the Nordic culinary scene is its sense of camaraderie and collaboration.  In an era where most chefs are glorified for being overly flamboyant hyper-competitive petulant tantrum-prone assholes, the Danish food scene is, as far as I can tell, extremely supportive, nurturing, and widely collaborative.  Traits I find mirrors the organic and healthy nature of the food and which makes me feel good about supporting the chefs and their undertakings.

In the last few weeks I’ve had the opportunity to sample three of Copenhagen’s Nordic restaurants. One of these visits was for work, one upon the invitation of Visit Denmark, and the third, a celebratory birthday dinner with a friend at a restaurant of my own choosing.  These restaurants were Uformel (the new sibling to Formel B, Marv & Ben (Marrow and Bone…not two men’s names), and BROR (which means brother in Danish).

Given the focus of each of these restaurants on seasonal ingredients, it was interesting to see and experience commonalities between many of the plates. Things that stood out in particular were the use of burned cucumber and mushrooms. The burned cucumber was tasty and good across the board with a fairly similar taste, though each had their own unique way of preparing the cucumber.

Dark Matter Theory and the Rate of Technological Evolution

Today’s post is a change of pace from my usual travel material.  While on the road and commuting I often enjoy musing and listening to various podcasts. I’m also voraciously curious which leads to soaking up a wealth of different science news. There have been two ideas that hit me while out and about a few months back and which have been nagging at me ever since. Today during dinner I found myself listening to Priyamvada Natarajan‘s Edge.org talk about “The Exquisite Role of Dark Matter” which reminded me of my hair-brained Dark Matter theory (see below) and which in turn re-surfaced thoughts surrounding my musings on the role population growth has played in changing our rate of technological innovation as a species.

To be clear, these are just very general “theories” based on my musings and a random assortment of connections I’ve drawn between different material I’ve been consuming.  I’m presenting them here, as briefly and simply as I can, because I’d love your discussion, input, and help in finding existing theories that they align with, research that disproves them, or input on what aspects are genuinely of interest to help me progress the mental exercise which both represent. So, I want to reiterate – I am not a scientist. I am not an astrophysicist. I am just a curious Communication Major with a few years of post-degree dust between my ears and a wild imagination.  The “research” and “science” these theories are based on, is only minimally investigated (by me), very possibly utterly misunderstood (by me), and/or my conclusions could be entirely based on causation not correlation.  So, with that heavy disclaimer in mind, my challenge to those of you who are interested is to A) educate me OR B) put on your research caps and see what supporting data you can find for one or both of these ideas.

Galileo Jovilabe

Theory 1 – Dark Matter Black Hole Conversion Theory

Recently Stephen Hawking proposed that matter can escape the event horizon of a black hole. Simultaneously we have Dark Matter which is an invisible form of matter that has a significant gravitational impact on the universe, seems to be increasing, and potentially shapes the expansion of the universe.

The theory, in a nutshell, is that once a black hole is formed, the gravitational pull swallows up matter from the surrounding universe. However, if we stick with the assumption that matter cannot be destroyed, it can only change states, then we re-visit two of the most common explanations for what happens to matter that enters a black hole: explanation 1 has been that it is infinitely compressed as time slows infinitely. Explanation 2, which I’ve always liked, is that it tears a hole in space-time and generates a White Hole in a parallel universe. This essentially creates a Big-Bang like event which is fed by matter coming through the black-white bridge.

Both of these presume that matter cannot escape the event horizon of a black hole.  But, what if it’s not that simple. What if matter CAN escape the event horizon, just not in the state it enters in. Extreme pressure creates all sorts of changes in the state of matter. Take extreme pressure, and combine it with gravity based time-distortion. What if this is actually how Dark Matter is formed – a form of matter that changes states and becomes a new form of matter that then escapes (or is ejected) from the event-horizon of the black hole.

This escaping Dark Matter retains its metamorphosed state after exiting the black hole, but still has sufficient mass to interact with other/existing dark matter and visible matter simultaneously. Only the impact of the dark matter’s gravity is partially cloaked by the pull of the black hole which counteracts whatever ripple or circular dispersion effect you’d otherwise expect to see.

The Dark Matter is not being ejected into a void, but rather into an existing sea of Dark Matter. Similar to the air inside the earth’s atmosphere, or water in the oceans, natural currents and eddies form. These are influenced by the mass and composition of Dark Matter, but also – same as the impact of weather and existing landmasses on the sea’s currents, are impacted by visible matter and black holes with their own gravitational pulls.

In this way, the origin, dispersion and coalescence of Dark Matter is explained while accounting for what happens to matter that has been consumed by a black hole.

Related: Visualizations of Dark Matter “pools”.

Istiklal Avenue - Istanbul, Turkey

Theory 2 – Population Growth’s Impact on Human Innovation

I’ve always been fascinated by Moore’s Law and just how much my paternal grandfather saw over the course of his lifetime (1900-1987).  Why? Moore’s Law, which turned 50 this year, predicts that generally speaking computing power will double every two years. My Grandfather, who was born in 1900, lived during one of the fastest periods of innovation in the history of humanity and saw and adapted to a lot of amazing things. I find the thought of what he lived through to be captivating. Especially when compared to my own life and what I have already witnessed and can expect to witness over the next 60 or so years.

I’ve seen quite a bit of research that focuses on individual efficiency and effectiveness when it comes to innovation. After all, a computer most definitely increases what a lone individual can accomplish. As does a University education. But, at the end of the day, there is no greater or more efficient engine for innovation than the human mind.

The theory I’ve been toying with revolves around population growth:

Population Growth

(Source data)

Throughout the majority of human history population growth has been relatively limited and fairly stable. However, around 1800 we passed the 1 billion population mark.  Not too long after 1900 we doubled that and have seen meteoric growth ever since.  My curiosity and hypothesis is that this growth should also translate directly into human innovation. If in 1800 we had 1 billion people living, working and innovating, and in 2013 we have 7 billion people living, working and innovating even if the base technology and level education remained the same (which it hasn’t) we should in theory see a similarly expansive uptake in innovation across our society. Right?  In effect, meaning that at the very least, we should be experiencing and seeing innovations at a pace 7x faster than we saw in 1800.  Innovative growth which in turn will further be supplemented by each newly invented technology (books, internet, computers, etc.).

Now, I fully realize that you have to take into account various secondary factors – a starving child (or adult) in the Central African Republic may be somewhat less likely to be in a situation where they can take equal advantage of the education and tools that a well-fed child born into a College educated family in the US can. But, that more people currently live in more widely disparate conditions than during previous generations, also means radically more opportunities for innovation. There may be barriers to the dispersion of those ideas (eg: war / poverty) but those are still less likely to be barriers than what humanity faced historically. More voices also does make it more likely that a lone voice gets ignored, but it also provides more ears and opportunities for that voice to find sympathetic ears. Again, another trade-off with as much upside potential as downside potential.

I find it strange that this approach to looking at societal innovation has not been more widely discussed or codified in existing theory or that if it has, it hasn’t made it into our cultural discourse. Particularly around technological and scientific innovation.  This is where I’d love your input and guidance on what theories currently exist that may have expressed, explored, and more scientifically investigated the overlap between population growth and species-level innovation and knowledge creation.

Remember, this is just a bit of fun. So, let’s have it. What do you think?

Nyhavn Transported Through Time

Copenhagen’s picture-perfect old harbor is an enchanting sight to see even on the gloomiest of days.  Nyhavn (the New Harbor) as the old 17th century waterfront is called, is lined by popular cafes, a vibrant mixture of multi-hued historic buildings, and a floating of museum with historic sailing vessels moored along the harbor’s stone docks.  It’s a favorite spot among both tourists and locals alike for food, sightseeing, and a six pack of beer or bottle of wine to be enjoyed in the sun with friends.

However, this past spring Nyhavn was transformed. The metamorphosis was unlike anything I’ve seen during my four years in Copenhagen and, with a bit of celluloid magic, Nyhavn and all of its charm was transported back through time nearly 100 years. Pavement was replaced by gravel and cobble stones, the sails on the old wooden vessels were raised, the sound of wagons and fishmongers suddenly echoed off of the old stone walls and the modern world suddenly gave way a romanticized version of Copenhagen’s past.  As part of the filming of the movie, The Danish Girl, which is being directed by Tom Hooper and stars the likes of Alicia Vikander, Amber Heard, and Eddie Redmayne, and in partnership with the city the majority of Nyhavn was transformed into a a detail-rich movie set.

Copenhagen – Embracing Technology, Exploiting Tourists

Recently we saw the phase-out of Denmark’s klippekort (Clip Cards).  These klippekort allowed commuters to get significantly discounted public transit tickets by purchasing bulk trips 10 at a time.  Like many systems around the world, on-site pricing for buses is higher than tickets purchased in advance.  This discourages people slowing down the loading/boarding process and encourages people to participate in transit programs. All of which is great. However, unlike other programs where the increased pricing is only applied to time-sensitive transit situations (eg: buses) – the Danish system charges the same high rate across the board regardless of if you’re purchasing a one-off ticket on a bus, from a kiosk, or at an automatic vending machine.

It typically costs you 24 DKK for a one-hour two zone ticket in Copenhagen. When calculated using a 10 ticket klippekort the adjusted price typically averaged out to 15 DKK or less. From a pricing standpoint, 24 DKK is quite an excessive price (even by Danish cost-scales) for a ticket, while 15 DKK may not be cheap but is still quite a bit more reasonable.

A Black and White Photo Tour of Copenhagen in Spring

Spring in Denmark is amazing.  The seemingly endless  dark depths of winter are quickly replaced by brilliantly long days that seem to stretch on forever bathed in the amber hues of golden evenings and freshly invigorated mornings.  The parks blossom and bloom in an explosion of color while Copenhagen’s population revels in every ounce of warm spring sun.

While I’m constantly taking photos of Copenhagen and uploading them to flickr and Instagram I’ve realized I’m not posting those photos here on the blog nearly often enough. So, without further adieu,  are 45 black and white images of Copenhagen in Spring taken during Spring and early Summer of this year. You can view this post’s sibling, which contains 45 photos of Copenhagen in Spring, but in color HERE.

Have favorites?  Make sure to let me know! I love hearing how the photos capture your attention, inspire you, or ignite your memories!

Historic Nyhavn in Black and White

Nyhavn

Walking Copenhagen

Frederiksberg

A Spring Photo Tour of Copenhagen

Spring in Denmark is amazing.  The seemingly endless  dark depths of winter are quickly replaced by brilliantly long days that seem to stretch on forever bathed in the amber hues of golden evenings and freshly invigorated mornings.  The parks blossom and bloom in an explosion of color while Copenhagen’s population revels in every ounce of warm spring sun.

While I’m constantly taking photos of Copenhagen and uploading them to flickr and Instagram I’ve realized I’m not posting those photos here on the blog nearly often enough. So, without further adieu,  are 45 color images of Copenhagen in Spring taken during Spring and early Summer of this year. Prefer black and white?  See my parallel collection of 45 black and white shots HERE.

Have favorites?  Make sure to let me know! I love hearing how the photos capture your attention, inspire you, or ignite your memories!

Norreport Bicycles

Norreport

Nyboder - The Old Barracks

Nyboder

Dancing Beneath The Cherry Blossoms