Kiwi’s European Adventure

 

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When you travel, you will talk endlessly about the many wonderful people you meet along the way. It’s pretty hard to stay in touch with them all, especially the ones that live in other countries. I’m lucky enough to not only have met some of the world’s finest people, AND stay in touch with them, but for one unassuming Kiwi I’ve managed to keep him in my life on a more significant level.

I met Kazimir whilst travelling New Zealand, and though we got along so well and had the best time together, I continued on with the plan and kept travelling. This is the hard part, because you wish you could adjust and stick around a little longer, but where do you draw the line? We kept chatting, and eventually talked on the phone thanks to Asia’s abundance of high speed, and more importantly FREE, Wifi. Once I got home, we realised that it sucked that he lived all the way in Christchurch, and me in Surrey. How could it ever work?! And then the fantasy that still feels like a dream happened: he booked a flight. We would have to wait another 4 months, and it was agony to endure, but now he’s spent the last 6 weeks in little old England while I attempted to show him the sights that the UK has to offer. Although I’ve had to continue working in London during his visit, here are some of the highlights that we managed to pack into the far too brief Great Kiwi Visit 2016™.

His first (and very jet-lagged) week was a little chaotic, with naps, tube rides, sightseeing, work, and shuffling about the city all thrown together.  As a ‘Welcome To England’ treat, I decided we would try our first experience of an Airbnb, which was was delightfully pleasant. London Airbnb’s can be understandably pricey, so at just over £100 for two nights in Islington we were pretty pleased with our find! Having spent 6 months in nothing but dorms, it was quite the treat to try out an alternative! The autonomy and privacy that you get from this method of accommodation might not suit those wishing to meet like-minded travellers, but our host was more than happy to offer any tips, and we exchanged numbers in case we needed anything. Being from the Home Counties myself I know London pretty well, so it was more of a convenience for us more than anything at this point.

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Big Ben on an Autumn day

Kaz’s first real day in the city just so happened to also be his birthday! So after the most wonderfully indulgent brunch at St Pancras Hotel where platters of cheese and deli meats were mingling alongside an entirely edible miniature vegetable garden (I kid you not, and it was amazing) we went for a meandering walk around the main sights of London. We had a great time, but I think by mid-afternoon the sleepy Kiwi was feeling the effects of a 30 hour journey. The rest of the week was spent enjoying great food, exploring all the best touristy spots (complete with hoards of holidaying school kids), a return to work for me, and a lot of chatting. It was rounded off with attending the launch event for a drama podcast and sitcom called Wooden Overcoats which was just the right balance of bizarre fun, lovable characters, and witty writing in the quirky back room of the Phoenix Artist Club at Leicester Square. The live reading of the first episode was a great treat, it felt a privilege to be a part of the exclusive evening!

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Dippy the dinosaur at the Natural History Museum
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Kazimir at the Natural History Museum

Week two saw us head over to stay in Chislehurst, in south London. Being such a rural area near Bromley it’s hard to believe that the village is within the Oyster Card zones, as it truly feels like the stereotypical, leafy countryside of England. More work for me and day trips into the many amazing museums on offer for Kaz, and suddenly it was the weekend again. We took an evening train from Kings Cross up to York, which is a surprisingly easy journey to make once you get past just how many people travel on Friday evenings.

The quaint, historical city of York is always such a joy to visit. There’s plenty to see and do, and the friendly, relaxed attitude associated with The North is always such a welcome break from manic London. We stayed right near the centre, just off the River Ouse (where my brother lives) which was perfectly convenient for making our way around. We started our frosty weekend walking the city walls, which takes around 45 minutes if you give yourself time to stop occasionally and acknowledge the historical insights displayed along the way. A fleeting peek inside the York Minster (you have to pay to really look around or go up the tower), and just as the weather began to turn, we headed to the National Railway Museum which is a completely free, and excellently curated space which makes for quite the day out. There’s certainly plenty to see, and for anyone interested in history or engineering (or both!) it’s absolutely worth a visit on a rainy day. A quaint lunch in the “dining carriage” and after a few hours exploring, we headed back to the centre to recover with a sit down and a cuppa. The Stonegate Teddy Bear’s Tea Room is the essence of York: tiny winding staircases, with never ending rooms tucked away, and sloping floors all adds to the historical atmosphere, and of course delicious treats and a wide selection of hot drinks available make for a lovely weekend afternoon.

York Minster and Kaz sizing up a train

Another relaxed wander around the cobbled alleyways of York, and it was time for the most indulgent and deliciously rich pie and chips at the Lamb and Lion (a pub, restaurant, and inn). Needless to say, we were positively stuffed. A European pub to meet a friend made for a good chance to wash down all those carbohydrates, and enjoy a catch up and reflection on the busy day. That day also happened to be Bonfire Night, and as I understand Guy Fawkes was born in York, and so there were plenty of fireworks displays around in the many park areas. For us however, it was an early night to try and rest.

A lie in and tasty breakfast and we were off home on our Megabus journey back to London (delayed, of course). It seems crazy to just spend a couple of nights and one full day in York, as there is so so much to do and see. Being such a small city however, it is easy to get a great feel for the area, and see most of the main attractions in the small amount of time. My top recommendation for York would be to look at historical things (there’s LOADS, see Visit York for info) and eat lots of food. Seriously, there’s so many amazing places to eat out in York, whether it’s breakfast, brunch, meals, afternoon tea, snacks, vegan, vegetarian, they have a huge variety and most are independently owned.

Coming to the middle of the 6 week visit, we took the chance to spend some time enjoying the evenings in London meeting friends (both British and Kiwi) for dinners, which was so lovely, and of course another chance to indulge in amazing food. We decided this weekend we would relax, as with me working full time and us both being busy a lot anyway, sometimes you just need to take a break. It had been intended to be another weekend away, but boy were we pleased to have a lie in, slob about and barely leave the house for a couple of days. We did venture out to explore Chislehurst in a beautiful autumnal weather, but we were straight back to bed for movie time after!

Entering into week 4, we started off the week with a pretty unusual event. We were fortunate enough to attend a charity auction for Thomson Reuters, which was held at Landing 42 at the Leadenhall Building, an iconic building of the London skyline which offered us some stunning views across the city. The delicious free canapés and drinks were a bonus to be allowed to hear the stories behind some of Reuters’ most famous photographs ever taken, and to be there as they were auctioned off to a lucky bidder. We ended up having the silliest, most wonderful evening together. I couldn’t have asked to spend it with anyone else but Kazimir.

The view from Landing 42, and examples of the works up for auction

The days were passing by quickly (clearly having too much fun), and eventually we were heading off back to Surrey to spend the last couple of weeks in my home town. I was slightly relieved to be going home, it’s a bit strange staying somewhere that’s not yours but also living your daily life! We were blessed to another beautiful (but cold) weekend in Surrey. Where we drove to the Surrey Hills, Newlands Corner and Shere, Godalming, Guildford and of course Woking. We went for short walks, enjoyed exploring Guildford Castle and wandering around the parks and generally taking in all that leafy Surrey has to offer. It’s a different way of life to London, with a little more fresh air and space to breathe. An incredible Sunday Roast at my favourite local pub was the setting for a momentous occasion: Kiwi’s first Yorkshire Pudding! Almost unbelievable, as any Brit would tell you they are an integral part of the nation’s diet. They’re basically an essential to living, let’s be honest. With such amazing food at The Cricketers pub, we were stuffed! A rummage around an antique fair we stumbled across was a good excuse to avoid a food nap, because I certainly needed one!

Surrey walks and Guildford Castle

The penultimate week flew by just as quick as the others. It’s mad to think 6 weeks can go so fast, because it sounds like a lot longer than it really is! Kaz was able to spread out around England a little more, as the great transport connections from Woking allowed him to get a quick train down to Portsmouth and explore all the naval history on offer there. On the Friday evening, we met after work and headed to the Southbank for the ultimate tourist activity: the London Eye! I’ve been on before, but not in the evening. On such a lovely clear night we were able to see all the main icons of London throughout the 30 minute ride. A novel experience, and it actually ended up feeling pretty romantic. The Southbank has always been a favourite spot of mine, and for a gentle stroll afterwards this evening was no exception. The Christmas market stalls and seasonal decorations made for a lovely way to round off the evening, before we came home for an early night.

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The London Eye

 

Kaz’s fifth and final weekend was a particular highlight for both of us. We were up horribly early to drive to Gatwick, for a weekend getaway to Madrid! Europe has plenty of great qualities, but one of my favourites has to be the proximity to and ease to reach other countries. Where else can you fly just a couple of hours and be in an entirely different culture so easily?! The short two hour flight and we were in rainy Spain. Knackered from travelling and it still being early, we grabbed lunch and headed to our Airbnb for the weekend. Another wonderful place to stay, we couldn’t have asked for a better location in the centre by La Latina Metro stop, as we could walk practically anywhere in the central city. An extremely affordable price too, at just £60 for two nights! Our host was very busy while we were there, but again the independence and freedom was a great chance to get out and explore for ourselves. We enjoyed a delicious spread of tapas between us at a sweet and authentic feeling restaurant just by Plaza Mayor, and afterwards had a chance to catch the Christmas light display in the square, just by chance!

Our full day in the city was also rainy, but before the heavens opened we had a chance to explore the El Rastro market right around the corner. The usual flea market set up, but also there were arts and crafts from local artists and after finally deciding on a few gifts to buy, we wandered around the many beautiful antique stores open too.

After feeling pretty accomplished for the day already, we aimed for the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía to explore the massive four storey building filled to the brim with some of the finest artworks on offer. Dalí, Picasso, (in particular, the extraordinary Guernica is housed here), Miró, and other fantastic international and Spanish artists’ works are displayed here. The sheer size of the gallery makes for a tiring day out, and so we decided to grab some lunch there. This is way easier said than done, it took forever to find the restaurant, and once there we realised we were hugely unprepared for the fancy, and exceedingly overpriced dishes on offer! Kaz practised his Spanish and ordered the cheapest thing possible while we felt completely on edge and out of place, when they brought over a bucket (yes, a literal bucket) of butter, much to our confusion, which only added to the ordeal. We laughed and joked about it, and it’s become a great story to tell now. So here’s our Madrid top tip: don’t go to the restaurant at the Reina Sofía!

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Exploring the gallery
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Butter anyone?!

Back to the room to refresh and relax before an evening out, and before we knew it our tummies were rumbling. We headed out to Puerta del Sol and to Gran Vía to see the main sights nearby such as the Metropolis Building, and Palacio de Cibeles (the old post office) before finding the best thing about Madrid: cheap, delicious food and drinks! El Tigre is somewhere I knew of from a previous visit to Madrid, and it is AMAZING. For just €5 you get your drink of choice (beer, sangria etc.) and with that comes a plate piled high with a variety of tapas! Word on the street had been that you can even get a second plate for lingering long enough, and as luck would have it me being a slow drinker meant that we were gifted two more plates. It more than made up for our pricey and unfulfilling lunch, and what better way to spend an evening than with tasty food, great drinks, and with the best company in a beautiful city?

Puerta del Sol’s Christmas tree, and the Metropolis Building

Our final day in Madrid was what we had been waiting for: SUNSHINE! We packed up our things and left the Airbnb so we’d be prepared for our evening flight, and went full tourist heading to ALL the spots around the city. Through the stunning Plaza Mayor, all the way to the cathedral and palace. From there we took ourselves back to El Tigre for lunch (that deal is just too good to resist) and after a very filling tapas session, enjoyed letting our food go down by relaxing in the beautiful Buen Retiro Park. After sufficiently warming up, we looked around the park and found Palacio de Cristal, a beautiful yet hollow feeling building which houses occasional art exhibitions. The one we went to was a sound piece, so not much to really see, which didn’t matter as the glass structure gives you more than enough visual stimulation to see the beautiful park around you. We were glad to have so much spare time to not feel rushed for this day, and it meant we headed off to the airport feeling like we had really utilised our time in Madrid. Unfortunately, an hour delay on the flight meant we didn’t get home until verrrry late, a shame for me as I was working the next day!

Clockwise: Plaza Mayor, Almudena Cathedral, Palacio de Cristal, Puerta del Sol, Buen Retiro Park

And then we entered our final week. It was mostly quality time together, relaxing and enjoying each other’s company. Our final night we went for a wonderful romantic dinner, and checked out a fun rooftop bar, before cuddling up one last time. We even managed to squeeze in a nice lunch on the day Kaz flew home, pretty much summarising the trip as one of great food, and even better company to eat it with. It’s been a week since he left now, and it’s been sad and quiet of course. I’m so grateful for the time we can spend together, because we’re never quite sure when the next time will be. It’ll be my time to head back over there next, which of course I am beyond excited about. It still amazes me how I met someone so special to me all the way across the world, it makes distance seem so insignificant, yet also such a hurdle. I can’t wait to be reunited, and despite the organising and logistics of arranging it all I know it will be worth it.

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The last supper. Heaps humps and pineapple lumps until next time!
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