Tower Bridge London on a fantastic day!
London doesn’t need to be expensive if you do the research and have a sense of humor along the way.
You’ve just landed at Heathrow on the overnight flight from the U.S., walked what seems like forever from the gate (if you were lucky to get a gate and not a remote gate with the bus shuttle) to immigration where you waited so long you’ve made new friends to meet at the pub later. You’ve collected your bags, walked past the duty free shop into the T5 hallway (famous from movies like Love Actually) and now what? You want to get into London but are not sure which way is best. There are a few train options – the Heathrow Express, the Heathrow Connect, the iconic London Underground (Piccadilly line), a bus option, the National Express bus to Victoria and a plethora of black cabs and private cars. Which train option from Heathrow is best for your journey to London depends on your patience, budget and how many pints you want to have at the pub!
Simply stunning coastline views at Hondoq in Gozo
“What do we do on Gozo” I asked my friend. He replied “we relax”. Relax? As a solo traveler for so long, relax isn’t usually in my vocabulary as I try to see as much as I can in a short period of time. I’m not quite “check the box” traveler but the over the top Type A, need a vacation from my vacation type of traveler. Sometimes, I will schedule a spa day to relax (notice I have to “schedule” a relaxing day, oh the irony!) Here I was traveling with a longtime friend for the first time and being told all I’m going to do is relax – “You need to chill out” he said (easier said than done) knowing that I had run away from home. For any East Coast, city Type A girl, like me, being told you are doing absolutely nothing for the next twelve (ended up as nineteen) days is scary. It was a test I was likely to fail, or so I thought.
On day three, I was full of stress, nowhere near a relaxing state at the nightmare Airbnb house. I didn’t anticipate fracturing my foot on day three but the universe decided I needed a “push” to relax. Getting hurt and not being able to walk without pain and swelling isn’t the ideal situation for a vacation, however, it was my reality. With all of my plans and schedules shot to hell, I had to just wave the white flag and surrender to this island life and chill out. If you look at the Visit Malta website, their Gozo page states “For those who wish to switch off and regenerate, Gozo is the place to be“. Fair enough, let’s see…..we hit “reset” on our holiday at the five star luxury Kempinski Gozo hotel.
The five stay luxury Kempinski Gozo to relax and reset our holiday
As the holidays approach, the airports will be teeming with people trying to get home to family for dinner, for celebrations, for presents or for escape (Maui sounds nice right now). Many will not be accustomed to the rhythm of holiday travel and the airport experience especially if there are delays or disruptions so it’s a reminder to me to be patient and help out where I can. Over the years, I’ve had many people help me when I needed it on the road, today when asked what I’ve done to help someone, I was reminded of this holiday travel story.
Peacock feather lights on Bond Street in London
There was snow on the East Coast and I was going to be stranded in London. I had planned for this when I changed to the earlier flight from Paris (reason to have a great travel agent), where the snow had also fallen and the unusual weather caused Eurostar trains to be stranded in the Chunnel (reminder to travel with a good bag of snacks and accessories). Planning to be stuck at Heathrow gave me more options as I had many offers by colleagues in London to stay and/or work if necessary.
The Art of the Brick by Nathan Sawaya
If only sitting at our desk was our dream job, chances are it’s not but you don’t know what to do or are afraid of the massive risk to chase your passion. One New York city corporate lawyer did just that, he left the boardroom and found his passion in the small colorful bricks of Legos.
If you heard the blurb – New York City lawyer leaves his corporate job to follow his passion for Legos, you might think it sounded a bit crazy, that he was crazy leaving a high powered, high paying, prestigious job. But that’s exactly what Nathan Sawaya did and the result of his passion is astounding. The Art of the Brick is a traveling art exhibit which highlights the artist’s work with Legos. Yes, the toy you played as a child, those square bricks that you tried to be creative with but generally built just squares and shapes. Legos have really evolved over the years as evident by the plethora of interesting kits now sold as well as the success of the wildly entertaining Lego Movie. Looking at the various art pieces shown in the exhibit, you have to hope that the artist gets a discount on his purchases of Legos.
One of my favorite of the exhibit – tearing yourself apart to rebuild anew
“Art makes better humans, art is necessary in understanding the world and art makes people happy. Undeniably, art is not optional” Nathan Sawaya
A bit of lego humor as we wait along with the green lego man
The Magic Gardens are quite stunning and even more as background to people
Back when I was wearing suits to work, my friend and I signed up for an art class after work. We were going to try mosaics. Sound fun right? Fast forward as I’m at the first class, in said suit with jewelry and new manicure, and told that I need to go buy ten pounds of clay as we will be learning how to make tile from clay to use in class. This was not mentioned in the brochure as I removed all of my jewelry, found an apron to wear and took a big clump of wet clay out of the bag to roll out and be artistic with. We still laugh about this class many years later as my friend still has our toolbox of glass, tools and creative things in her garage. My memories are of cursing as I rolled out the clay, tried to “think” artistically cutting the clay, shaping it, painting it and leaving it to be fired until next class. I wanted to find my artistic side which I thought was hidden deep (very deep) down under all of the finance and accounting skills. A second career in mosaics was not in my future as evidenced by my sad tiled flower pots and soap holders. I knew my limitations back then so when I finally visited The Magic Gardens on South Street in Philly, I was in awe of the sheer scope, dedication and artistry of the tile and mosaic murals.
A statement from the artist, Isaiah Zagar
A view of the Gozo streets
My friend said to “book the quirky Airbnb house on Gozo” when I gave him a few choices for our last minute trip as he was more familiar with the island than I was. He wanted a private pool and a farmhouse. I still blame him for our calamities!
Walking past the pool and into the house after 10 p.m. as we missed the ferry, we immediately had a bad feeling about this place. The host made up only one of the four bedrooms (we wanted our own bedrooms) and showed us around, indicating what items were broken. I saw something move in the dark, the host stepped on the bug and said “we are in the country, there are bugs”. With that, she was off and we were hungry after a very long travel day full of delays and a missed ferry to the island. We would need to drive to another village on the island in the hopes of finding food near 11pm on a Thursday. Lucky for us, the café just agreed to let a table sit down and would serve us. Back at the house, in the dark we promised to explore the house and property more in the morning. Full of wine, with fans on and windows opened we passed out exhausted from the stressful day.
Pretty on the outside
So I reluctantly left the great Fenice Flat with my gondola view. Lucky for me, the owner, Maurizio (an Airbnb Superhost), had a few other properties in Venice and could host me for one night in the Venice San Marco Apartment. Unlike the boutique designer inspired flat, I’m now in a standard apartment on the canal (different gondolas and experience here). I was still in the area of the Fenice flat – just five minutes away – but closer to Rialto bridge.
The Venice canal view from the San Marco apartment
Francesca, Maurizio’s wife, would meet me at the Fenice flat at check-out to walk me to the San Marco apartment. With another maze of zigs and zags (and photos taken as reference points along the way), we turned down an opening in the wall with a few more zigs and zags before arriving in the courtyard. I’m always amazed at what lies behind the walls. This time I’m on the 1st floor (for Americans that means the 2nd floor and one flight of stairs to haul my luggage). If arriving by vaporetto, you would exit at Rialto from the #1 or #2 line and it is then a ten minute walk with no bridges.
The courtyard view from the apartment
Notre Dame Paris
The day started off picture perfect – I slept in, had breakfast and checked out of Hotel Atmospheres in Paris. My Eurostar train to London was scheduled for 1 p.m. so I had time to leisurely stroll around the city one last time before bidding adieu. The sun was shining and the skies a gorgeous blue as I walked without a care in the world. The Paris taxi strike was a memory, my injured foot was healing and I had a planned to enjoy the last few hours by taking photos and pick up a takeaway lunch with sweet treats to bring on the train. I was going to London specifically for the Ceremony of the Keys at the Tower of London. This historic ceremony has continued every night for over 700 years as they lock up the Tower and while the tickets are free, they are also limited and tough to get as they are sold out generally six months or more in advance. I had found one ticket prior to leaving on my travel sabbatical and was super excited to finally attend the ceremony.
Back at the hotel, I ordered a taxi to take me to Gard du Nord. This is when my picture perfect day started to melt away.