Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The Thames Clipper and The London Eye

In the last 7 years, I have been to London 16 times.

Guess how many times I have been on the London Eye?

Zero. Until now.

In the past I would always look at it and think "I wonder if that thing could fall into the Thames" or "It honestly doesn't look like much is holding those pods on" I'd also admire  the fireworks on New Years Eve, they truly are phenomenal. But In all of my trips, I couldn't bring myself to actually buy a ticket and get on that big ole Ferris wheel.

This year though, when I took my children to England for the summer, I knew that this was going to be the year of the London Eye. 

We traveled from Tower Bridge to South Bank, where the London Eye is located. Instead of taking the underground, we decided to take a River bus, also known as "The Clipper". It's a huge boat with seating like any airplane, complete with pull down trays. It also has a small canteen that sells simple drinks and snacks. 

The Clipper is roughly £7 per person, one way. It's not the cheapest form of travel in London, but the experience is wonderful, London is a whole new city when viewed from the Thames.

When we arrived my 13 year old teen took one look at it and said "I'm not going up there"... 

He had me telling him "Oh don't be silly, you'll be fine!"

I booked our tickets online. It's a much better deal and I also got tickets to Madame Tussaud's at the same time, The more places and tickets you book, the better the deal!
In fact, you can save up to 40% if you book 3 different site seeing tours. 

It's a pretty fascinating experience, as the London Eye NEVER stops... you have to hop on it while it's moving. As a huge pod approaches the bottom of the wheel (see photo above) everyone exits, next a security crew quickly goes aboard and uses mirrors to check under seats and after clearing the pod, the next group of people board. Kinda Quickly.

Once you're on board, you have a feeling of "Phew!"... Made it!
And as you begin to turn, you realize that you can't even feel the wheel turning, and the mechanics of the whole machine is very cool, then... you see central London. You stand in awe and begin to soak in all of the majestic views.

I counted how many people were in the pod that we were in, but in all of the excitement I forgot (Some blogger I am :), however I know it was close to 25, there were a lot of people in there! But rest assured, it's a huge pod!

 There is even a big bench in the middle

To my surprise, I did get to see,
(And it took me a second to work out what it was)
An upside down Cow!

 (After our trip I looked this up and found out it was part of the Udderbelly Festival)
Ahhh the things you see in London eh?

Everything was going so wonderfully
And then
I felt ill, the pod we were in made it to the top and here I am freaking out. Only on the inside of course, and my son? He was just fine and walking around, But I did say to him "Stay away from the door!!!"... People must have thought I was a complete idiot. But at the top, 443 Feet UP...I felt panicky! Surely the door can unlock from the inside??
Luckily, I only lost my mind for about 3.2 seconds.
I had a quick word with myself
"Come on Tammy, this thing is made really well!"

I was amazed by the London Eye's construction

We were so high,
443 Feet Up!

I had to do some serious self calming talk at the top, but as we came back around, and down, I reminded myself I was higher when I went to the Sky Garden, on top of the Walkie Talkie Sky Scraper.

After about 30 minutes, we were back on the ground again.
And I ask myself (like I do after every plane ride), "So what was the big deal?" That was easy!
(Heights aren't my thing... have you noticed?)
However, I'm not one to let a little fear stop me from travel, and experiencing such magnificent experiences.

The London Eye is worth the ride and the pennies, we rode it during July and only had to stand in line about 30 minutes. Besides, you can buy Ice Cream while waiting, so no complaints from me or the children!

The London Eye Website for discounted advanced purchases is HERE
And HERE you can book tickets or get information regarding the Thames Clipper

Thank you for stopping by, I love writing and talking about London and I'd love it if you said hello!
Have a great week,

Thursday, September 3, 2015

The Citymapper App

When I was in London this past summer, I went equipped with what I knew would be the best apps for a summer in London, ready and installed on my phone. I knew I'd have no problem whizzing around the city and finding cool things to do.

Then, (there is always a "then" when traveling) my son decided he didn't want to get on the underground. He didn't like it. Not one bit.
How do people travel in London without the underground trains?

I quickly learned.

We got so lost on the buses, trying to get from King's Cross to The Natural History Museum, that we gave up and went back to our flat. I turned to facebook to vent my frustrations.

That's when a friend told me that I couldn't live without the citymapper app.

She was right.

It boasts about being "The Ultimate Transport app", and, after 2 months of traveling in and out of London, I'm a firm believer, it IS the Ultimate transport app.

If you are going to be in London, download the Citymapper App, it's free! 

I think the hardest part about taking buses in London is actually FINDING your bus stop, they are all labeled, A, B, C... so on and so on, but London is a huge city. Just around King's Cross there is an endless sea of bus stops. However, if you're like me, and you get turned around easily, it's okay. Wherever you end up, just let citymapper tell you the best way to your destination, no matter where you are. Bus stops in London have wonderful maps and are good at letting you know where they go and where they stop (mostly), but if you're a stranger in any city, you want specifics!! After getting citymapper, I felt at ease. 

Not only will this app tell you the quickest way to go, it will give you the option of walking, using the tube, the train, a car, a bus or a bike. It even tells you how many calories you will burn walking and how much a taxi will cost.

Upon returning to Austin, I investigated to see if Citymapper had an App for Austin, no such luck. But I did make a suggestion, and hopefully they will soon be in my home city!

Here are the other lucky cities to have this great app.
Mexico City DF, Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington DC, Toronto, Philadelphia, San Francisco Bay Area, New York, Montreal, Boston, Vancouver, Manchester, Birmingham, Lisboa, Sao Paulo, Randstad, Paris, Madrid, Brussels, Hamburg, Lyon, Barcelona, Berlin, Milan, Rome, Tokyo, Hong Kong and Singapore.

If you want to be able to use this app where you are, you can go to the Citymapper website and vote for your city to be added!

There are a lot of great London apps, but of all that I used, this is the only one that I used almost daily. It made navigating around London (children in tow), so easy!

If you have other travel app suggestions, please let me know, I'm always up for a good app!
Have a great Labor Day Weekend!

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Limestone, Maine... Always on my Mind.

I am taking part in a travel link up this month, the theme is to blog about a "Place you can't get out of your head".

If you know me, you know that London is a big part of my life...And Always on my mind... Heck, I have a whole blog dedicated to it and I can't seem to stay away for more than 4 months at a time.

But there is another place, that my mind wonders to. It holds a huge place in my heart and is where years of memories linger.

Growing up my dad was in the US Air Force, we lived on the Island of Guam for 5 years, and though I remember bits and pieces, the biggest impact of my life was when we left Guam and headed to Maine.

We had no idea what we were in for. We were leaving a tropical island and headed for a place, where winter temps hit 60 below zero, with the wind chill!!

Limestone, Maine is about as far up as you can go in the United States. In my back yard, there was literally a marker that read "United States" on one side and "Canada" on the other.

There were no high fences, no border patrol marching up and down with machine guns. Honestly, then... in the 80's, we were worried about war with Russia, the big scare was the nuclear bombs on Loring AFB and WW3. In the 80's we came and went across the Canadian border without thought. In Canada it was legal to drink at 18, in the States it was 21, so going across the border to Canada made you feel all grown up! When I was 18, my boyfriend and I would go dancing at the night clubs.

But back up, Back up. I'm getting ahead of myself.
Let me paint you a picture.
If my memory serves me correctly, there were 69 people in my graduating class. 
Here is the town center of Limestone, where I grew up.

The nearest mall was a 3 hour drive, there were a couple of clothing stores in the near by towns of Caribou and Presque Isle, but all in all, fashion didn't come to these parts like it did the cities. If we were really lucky, some of us would travel to other parts of the States in the summer, and buy really "cool" clothes. Bands like Duran Duran were popular and we would buy teen magazines to show us what the rest of the world was wearing... Imagine when we saw pictures of Boy George for the first time! If he would have walked down Main Street (this very street pictured above), I'm quite sure there would have been a seizure of shock from a person or two. 

But this beautiful town... this tiny Northern town...

It's where I grew up.

My parents never had to lock their doors at night, and there wasn't a whole lot of trouble to get into. I remember wanting to leave, because it was just so boring! Now, that I raise kids of my own, I realize that my mom had it pretty easy raising teens in Limestone, Maine!

My first job was working on a potato farm.
Now THAT is work folks, I have great respect for farmers.
The season started with "rock picking", we literally walked the fields and picked up big rocks and threw them in the back of a cart, being pulled by a tractor. 

The pay was great for a 16 year old, and I picked rocks with my best friend, she's one of the funniest people that I knew and still know!

Then came the REAL work.
Picking the potatoes at harvest time, I stood on the back of one of these with my friend, picking out bad potatoes and more rocks, making sure the good potatoes survived the journey.

Potato picking in Maine, happens in the Autumn, it was so cold and we were up at 4am. 
Did I mention the respect I have for farmers?
Every year during harvest, school let out in Limestone for 3 weeks. I went to school with so many farming families,that the students would have missed school to work on the farms, so it was a given holiday every school year.

In my 7 years of living in Limestone, Maine
I saw plenty of snow. In March I would think "please no more snow, please please please NO more snow", but it lurked, and some of it could still be seen in clumps, left behind by snow plowing, until May. Flowers grew alongside piles of snow and when it hit 70 degrees my girlfriends and I would think it was summer, we would lay out in our chairs, snow beside us and lather up with baby oil... Sometimes, I'd like to slap my younger self!!! SKIN DAMAGE ALERT!!

There was so so so much of this...

Very high snow drifts were not uncommon...
I have shoveled more snow than I care to remember... 
I grew up with frost bite warnings.
And wind chill factors.

I learned to drive in snow, with a stick shift!

I remember the first time I saw the Norther Lights.
Seeing Aurora Borealis frightened me, I didn't know what it was, I had never heard of it, and all I remember was bright streaks of light quickly whipping across the sky. My mom told me what was happening, I was young, I thought the world was ending!
It was, however, Breathtaking

When driving in Maine, you see many of these, just sauntering across the road. Every time you see a Moose, your heart does an extra little pitter patter, they are massive creatures.

I also met and married my husband in Limestone. He was a soldier at the time, working on Loring AFB. We married on the base and had our reception in my parents home, that looked similar to this.

Sadly it burned down a year later, and the barn that stood behind it. It was the largest barn in Aroostook County. Arson was suspected, which makes it a hard pill to swallow. But I do have my pictures, and my memories.

Coming from a small town means that people are close, and that everyone knows everyone else. I have kept in contact with 90% of the people that were in my graduating class. From what I understand, since the base closed, the town has more or less disappeared and there are only 1,075 people living in Limestone now. It wasn't a big town to start with, now it's nearly obsolete.

 My plan is to return in the summer of 2016. I want to show my children that I grew up in a place where, for miles and miles, you see this...

Sure, we do have big open spaces in Texas, but we don't have the four seasons of Maine. And we rarely leave the city. Unless of course, we are traveling to another city. 
Thinking of Maine reminds me of peace.
Of quiet.
Of a pristine wilderness.

27 years of memories.

At 18, I left Maine and moved to England with my husband.
Can you imagine the culture shock? 
I soon adjusted from being a small town girl, to a world traveler.

Sadly, for this blog posting, my photos are all in storage, so these are photos I found using google.
However, they perfectly sum up, my every memory.
See you soon Maine!

If you would like to take join in on the travel link up, please check out the blogs  by EmmaKelly Rebecca Or Liz.
They have amazing travel blogs, and you can find the link to join in!