Goodbye London, Hola Barcelona! Day 89 to 94

Goodbye London, Hola Barcelona! Day 89 to 94

Well it’s our last day in London before we fly out, and what better way spend it then packing, packing and a little bit more packing. I take everything out of the suitcases and remembering my Tetris skills start maneuvering clothes, shoes, souvenirs and everything else we overpacked. After three hours I am finished! A sigh of relief as I head downstairs to tell Josh the good news, who has spent his last day watching reruns of shows on the food channel. I join him before we get ready to head out to dinner.

It’s our last night so of course we had to squeeze one more restaurant in. Tonight we dine at Restaurant Story, a one michelin star restaurant near London Bridge. This restaurant is so new it hasn’t even been open a year and the most exciting part is it’s location, inside the middle of the road in an old toilet block. Did I say exciting? I meant interesting! Although after arriving and seeing its transformation my mind immediately wanders back to exciting. Chef Tom Sellers heads the team at Restaurant Story and having worked at Per Se, Tom Aikens and Noma you know his newest venture is sure to please. The food was innovative and beautifully presented, starting with bread and dripping that was set as a candle that melted right in front of us. Restaurant Story was a great experience and I can see this restaurant going very far. As always Josh will write an amazing review of Restaurant Story so stay tuned!

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With our tummies full from the night before it’s time to pack up our bags, say our goodbyes and head to London. Now with cash a little tight it takes two tube rides and a bus to get to the airport, let’s also remember that I hate carrying luggage and the tube has a lot of stairs. I start to winge and I see the vein on Josh’s forehead begin to pulse. I’m sure you can guess that day 90 was highly stressful and not very productive. We arrive in Barcelona, check in to our hotel and get some much needed rest.

The sun is shining in Barcelona. It’s our second visit to this beautiful city so the next few days are spent relaxing, enjoying tapas, walking along the port, eating gelato at the beach and shopping at markets along La Rambla. I even convinced Josh into watching the Magic Fountain of Montjuïc dance to disney.

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If you love culture, great food, buzzing atmospheres and stunning views then you will fall in love with the city of Barcelona. There is so much to see, eat and explore and I can’t wait for my third visit.

Time for some more Spanish culture because in the morning it’s off to San Sebastián.

Jess and Josh

Heading to Hogwarts. No, seriously! Day 88

Heading to Hogwarts. No, seriously! Day 88

So since we’ve been to Harry Potter world in the U.S we have been itching to re watch the movies, re read the books and basically re nerd ourselves in the wonderful world of wizardry and witchcraft. Warner Bros Studios London houses the full movie sets and props for all 8 Harry Potter films; costumes, sets, gadgets, wands. The magic is definitely in the air. Now rather than explain to all of you what we’ve seen we thought we would let you guys do the hard work. This is a post for the fans, seen the movies, read the books, you’ll know what you’re looking at. It’s pretty much our first photo post, let us know what you think!

Hop on your broomsticks.

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Raise your wands wizards.

Josh and Jess

London – The Highlights Reel. Day 72 to 87. Part 3.

London – The Highlights Reel. Day 72 to 87. Part 3.

This is the final chapter of my wandering a in London and I’ve saved the best till last! Is doesn’t include museums, artwork, sculptures or armoury, but showcases some of my favourite London cultural activities. It’s not for everybody but some definite highlights for me.

Leicester Square and a West End Show

Ever since we saw Wicked on Broadway in New York I have been waiting for another show to come along, and where better to see one than West End in London. Getting the tube there are posters for shows everywhere and there was one that always caught our eye. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Josh and I are huge fans of the original movie with Gene Wilder and read the Roahl Dahl book as kids, so what better choice for us.

We head into Leicester Square and try to find last minute tickets. This square is the broadway capital with half price ticketing booths everywhere and lists of shows you would never even know existed. I also spot the multilevel M&Ms store but one look at Josh and I know I’m not allowed in. With Charlie and the Chocolate Factory only starting in the Fall, there are no discounted tickets but we find the best price at the TKTS stand, and score some of the best seats in the house in the royal circle.

7pm and it’s showtime. The show is held at the Royal Drury Theatre on Drury Lane and after a few clever muffin man jokes from Josh we enter and take our seats. This lower balcony allows you to see the entire stage and as it’s raised, there is no obscenely tall man or wide headed lady to obscure your view. A young boy walks on stage, no more than 12 years old, and immediately we are captured by his voice. He is incredible and this is the word to describe the rest of the show. You are sitting in the edge of your seat, singing along to the tunes you are so familiar with and watching the amazingly talented cast re-create your favourite scenes. If you are ever in London or the show comes to your city, it’s a must. Yes there was a few lines dropped by Charlie but the show is only a few months old, and it’s only going to get better with age.

Camden Passage / Markets

Once again the sun is shining. I check the list for anything that’s outdoors because I know I’m lacking my vitamin D and settle on wandering the Camden Markets.

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Just like all markets a lot of the products are the same from store to store however you can find some great bargains if you persist and keep looking. I managed to get majority of my souvenirs from here. As you wander through the bustling streets and check out the markets and shops you eventually end up at Camden Passage. This is another market but features unique items and the best souvenir store I found, it’s along the left hand side wall, if your in the area I definitely recommend it! Another great aspect of Camden Passage is the food. Wander along the stalls and chefs will so anything to get you to eat, including free samples. You could fill up on samples alone but if you’re in the mood for food, I recommend the bang bang chicken on the corner where the chef may even sing you a song while you wait. Camden markets is the perfect day out in the sun and the best place to go for great affordable souvenirs.

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Changing of the Guard

Buckingham Palace is the epitome of cliché London tourist activities and Changing of the Guard is just the icing on the cake.

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Held every second day around 11am, I mark it on my calendar. Josh has no interest so I embark on the tube alone while he heads to The Ledbury. Now every post that I have read about this says get there early. I arrive at 10am and I know I’m way too late! People are 10 rows deep along the palace gates and I’m one of thousands trying to get a good spot. I settle for the rope and wait. A commotion is occurring just to my left and I look to see the Queen in her jet black car leaving the palace, camera flashes are everywhere and I get pushed and shoved by people wanting a closer look. We then hear the band as it starts to enter. Horses trot in tune, soldiers march and the band continues playing until they enter the palace grounds. It’s quite exciting and I move to try and get a closer look through the gates. After a while I eventually give up, everyone is content in remaining where they are and I’m way too short to see over the top.

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All in all the experience was great and watching the soldiers and band enter is truly fascinating but if you’re ever too late to get a good spot, I suggest to come back another day because you really can’t appreciate the experience without seeing the whole show.

Sherlock Holmes’ House

There isn’t really much to be said about this then the fact that it’s Sherlock Holmes’ House. One of the most famous addresses in London, 221B Baker St! It’s so easy to find and a must if you are a fan, like Josh is.

There is a guard out the front who is more than happy to take a photo with you, some props if your interested and a fairly large museum focused on the life of Sherlock Holmes. Josh and I didn’t feel the need to go into the museum although we did spend some time looking through the store next door that was filled with unique and quirky gifts. My advice, go and grab a photo and when your there, check out The Beatles memorabilia store next door too.

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So that concludes my time in London, I have had some amazing experiences here and have learnt so much about history, art, culture and even architecture. I hope that if you are ever in London that my guide gives you a little bit of insight, an idea or just something to keep you occupied for a while.

Put on your walking shoes.

Jess and Josh

London – The Highlights Reel. Day 72 to 87. Part 2

London – The Highlights Reel. Day 72 to 87. Part 2

So the saga continues. Here is the second installation of my London wanderings and the best part about it is that all of these things can be enjoyed for free. When travelling on a budget, you never have to break the bank with these few tourist attractions.

Sir John Soane Museum

This is one of those off the beaten track museums that people like me love to find, and it’s right in the centre of London. Known for his work as an architect, Sir John Soane tore down and rebuilt three houses in Lincoln’s Inn Fields. This is where the museum stands today. The houses showcase the talent Soane had in his field with every room highlighting a different theme and design. The detail within the panelling, layout and even the staircases is all unique and I have never seen a house quite like it. Antique cupboards and furniture line the walls with knick knacks inside, paintings and portraits fill the walls and piles of other intriguing artefacts are spread on the floor. Soane’s collections are everywhere and each as beautifully crafted as the next. Unfortunately you cannot take photos inside the building so it’s hard for me to show you how alluring this museum is, but you’ll just have to see for yourself.

Interesting fact: Sir John Soane, in his later years, was a professor of architecture and would allow his students to visit his collections and house before and after his lectures. As a result of this, he created an act that states the house would remain open for free to students of architecture for their perusal. It is for this reason that the museum remains open today.

Wallace Collection

Walking in to the Wallace Collection only one word springs to mind. Hoarder. Not one of those crazy cat lady types with clusters of junk sprawled all over the house but a classy, more sophisticated version. It’s utterly incredible. I tag along to one of those free tours I keep telling you about and can’t wait to explore.

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This collection is located inside Hertford House on Manchester Square. It is known for being one of the best collections of fine arts including paintings, armoury and furniture and I couldn’t agree more. It has been handed down five generations, each adding their own special pieces until it finally landed in the hands of Sir Richard Wallace.

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Although the armoury and furnishings are exquisite, the European oil paintings spread throughout the house are a definite must see. Pay special attention to the paintings highlighted in the guide, especially “The Laughing Cavalier” which was my favourite because when you look closely he is actually not laughing at all.

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British Museum

From the glass dome ceiling to the exceptional range of artefacts, you can’t help but be in complete awe of this museum. Of all of the museums in London this is the one not to be missed. The collection is so large that I visited twice and still didn’t manage to really see it all.

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The museum offers an array of different free tours throughout the day that highlight different cultural sections of the museum or you can pick up a map that outlines the must see artefacts. I could go on for hours about the history and the intricate detail in the items at the British museum but you really must see them for yourself. If you are travelling around the globe like we are, then my hint is to focus on the artefacts that are significant to the area you are in or places you have not been. At the British Museum I focused on medieval Europe, Africa, Mexico, Ancient Iraq, China and Japan however ancient Rome and Greece are always fantastic to see. Best advice is to just grab a map and head in the direction your drawn too.

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My highlight: seeing the Rosetta Stone and being able to touch the replica.

Fulham Palace

Slightly off the beaten path in South West London you’ll find this little gem. From the 11th century until it was vacated in the late 20th Century it was home to the Bishops of London who mainly used it as a summer home. The house itself features many different design styles and stands today as a Tudor palace with a Victorian style chapel. Walking through the house you see this style replicated in the features within the rooms and through photos placed throughout the house.

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As well as walking through the house you can enjoy some history in the small museum with stories of previous Bishops and how they spent their time here and there is a coffee shop located in the back with some of the best coffee I had in London. If the weather is good (which it was for me) wander through the grounds of Fulham Palace. There are stables and my favourite part, the walled gardens. These gardens are surrounded by a large brick wall and inside you’ll find a glasshouse, vegetables patches and many seats to rest and relax. A perfect day out to wander around and take in some fresh air, away from the hustle and bustle of the city.

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Natural History Museum

I’m not really one for natural history but it’s something Josh is fond of, and with him having a day off I thought I best let him decide where we would go. Although when first walking in to the Natural History Museum I must admit, my jaw dropped a little. Standing in front of us was a replica of the earths core, bright red and orange, with an escalator heading straight into the centre and towards the first exhibit. Ok maybe I got a little excited.

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As we wander through the museum we move from the earths beginning to present day, reading about the development of the earth, animals and humans along the way. This museum is completely interactive and perfect for kids and adults who are children at heart, there was even a robotic T. rex that got Josh pretty excited. After you finish the earths journey you can explore the thousands of species throughout the museum, there are sections showcasing mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and everything else you can think of, including a life size replica of a blue whale hanging from the ceiling.

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But wait, there’s more!

Jess and Josh

London – The highlights reel. Day 72 to 87. Part 1

London – The highlights reel. Day 72 to 87. Part 1

Ok so I look like a lazy writer here but Josh is busy getting hammered at The Ledbury and I didn’t want to bore you all with my wandering about the often dreary streets of London. So instead I thought I would give you the highlights reel. Sort of like a lotto draw if ever you step into London. I’ll show you what I’ve seen whilst Josh has been at work and spare you the waffle that Josh loves to go into so much.

Somerset House

Located just behind the Strand and along the River Thames is Somerset House. This space was once the location of a Tudor Palace but in the late 18th century was rebuilt to house government offices such as the navy headquarters. Today it is an arts and culture venue and home to many temporary exhibits, educational workshops, weddings and even London Fashion Week. Although the initial building was not designed by William Chambers, he overtook the construction and it is his design that stands today. This building was constructed around a courtyard that throughout the winter is home to one of London’s favourite ice skating rinks, today it has fifty five singular fountains all dancing in unison.

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On one of the many free guided tours this house has, we are told that no matter where you go in London, always look up because a lot of construction shows different craftsmanship the higher up the building. It is the same case for Somerset, standing at the bottom of a staircase is the perfect example. When standing at the bottom the settings seem quite modest, then you follow the rail all the way up to the top and you notice it starts as a straight bar then changes to intricate patterns and designs. This is also shown on the exterior and interior walls all the way throughout Somerset House and was designed this way to show hierarchy throughout the building. Those of importance were stationed in rooms on the higher floors and those of less importance had offices on the ground floor or basement levels.

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Interesting fact: One of Chambers’ main requirements was the lack of greenery present in the house. He requested no greenery to be placed within the walls of Somerset House and still to this day, there is no grass, trees or even plants inside. A very interesting place to visit, slightly off the beaten path.

Hyde Park

Now I know a lot of you won’t be interested in wandering a park but when the sun is shining its kind of the only thing I wanted to do. It’s a Sunday and with my trusty list I see the perfect way to start my morning. Speakers Corner. It starts in the north east corner of the park where there is a gathering of passionate people who like to speak freely among those that will listen. Now I’m normally not one for listening to a preacher but thought it might be fun. When I arrived I was not expecting to see a hundred people crowding the speakers, but I did. Standing tall on their podiums the speakers preach about what’s important to them, one preaching about God and the other preaching of his non existence. Whether you are religious or not it’s great to see the passion these people have and the crowds that they attract.

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Hyde Park is filled with tourists, joggers, bike riders, photographers, ducks, dogs, the occasional cat and many falling autumn leaves. It’s beautiful and even if you don’t head to Speakers Corner you must walk through. I decided to walk around the inner edge to take in the sunshine and fresh air then I headed to the lake that consumes the middle, the Serpentine. This area is a great place to people watch and even grab something to eat, the pizza is delicious. Towards the middle of the park there is also a free gallery that showcases local artists and even though the artwork inside didn’t really excite me, the seating on the outside is also designed by artists and is well worth a look.

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Victoria and Albert Museum

If you are interested in design, decorative arts and little knick knacks then the V & A museum is a definite for your London list. Entry to the museum is free and there are a number of tours to choose from that showcase the best this museum has to offer. It’s six levels of unique artefacts, textiles, jewellery, ceramics, fashion and metalwork, and the list goes on. There was so much to see that I visited twice! This museum is the perfect way to escape the weather and you can spend as much or as little time as you like.

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British Library

Now I know that the British Library is not for everybody and I didn’t spend that much time here myself, but it was one my list so I just had to check it out. It’s one of the biggest libraries I have ever seen and not only is it lined with books but it showcases a number of exhibits that are free for you to wander about. People young and old are lining the walls, the smell of fresh books and coffee is in the air and the sound of university students typing can be heard in the distance.

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Interesting fact: King George III started a collection of books specifically for the ruler of England. It was later named The George Collection and is housed inside the British Library under the name the kings library. It is a tower centred inside and runs the height of the entire building. Although you cannot gain access to it you can walk around the outer wall, looking at the titles of very old and important books.

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To be continued…

Jess and Josh

Off with their heads. Day 71

Off with their heads. Day 71

Now you have all heard of William the Conqueror right? Well if you haven’t then a quick trip to Wikipedia is a must. One of his greatest achievements is the building of Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress, known by us today as the Tower of London. Built in 1078, this historic building is one of many must see attractions in London and is on our list for today.

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Now remember when I told you about all the wonderful free things London has to offer, this is not one of them. It will cost you around £20 to get in, however you can spend the entire day here if you want and every half hour a free tour is offered. Led by one of many Yeoman Warders or Beefeaters as they are commonly known, this tour allows you to wander through the tower listening to stories of events that have occurred and get a history on the people that have walked the beaten paths before us. Our guide seemed to have fun when talking about executions on Tower Hill and even added a few beheading puns along the way. He mentioned tails of those who were imprisoned here and those who died a painful death. Anne Boleyn being one of the executed, is said to still haunt the White Tower as a ghost carrying her head under her arm. I definitely recommend this tour to anybody interested in a visit to the Tower of London, you will not be disappointed.

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Looking around the fortress it is easy to envision what once stood here. A moat once flowed around the outer wall and the entrance, now known as Traitors Gate is still standing tall. At the top of the towers are metal archers where guards once stood and within the towers themselves are exhibitions of artefacts and stories of the history of the Tower. Pitch black Ravens in the courtyard remain caged due to the superstitions of previous kings and queens. A giant Wooden trebuchet sits menacingly beyond the Stoney walls.

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Standing in the middle of the fortress is the White Tower. This palace was home to many kings and queens throughout English history and is now the location of the armoury and weaponry exhibits. Walking though the White Tower, personal armour of King Henry VIII is on display surrounded by canons and guns once used to hold down and protect the Fortress. Across the courtyard is the Waterloo Barracks, also known as the Jewel House. It is here that the Crown Jewels are housed and Josh and I cannot wait to go inside. We travel along observing the service ware, royal orbs and ceremonial swords until we finally see the crown. My jaw drops. My eyes widen. My smile grows. Some of the largest jewels I have ever seen are embedded in this crown made entirely of gold. It’s a magnificent sight, I wish I could look at it forever. Looking down I see my own diamonds sparkle and my smile grows even more.

imageThe Tower of London is not complete without standing along the outer wall and gazing along the River Thames towards the Tower Bridge, one of the most spectacular bridges in London. I get a bit trigger happy with my camera before we head home to get ready for dinner. A dinner we have been waiting for since we booked all those months ago.

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Josh has many culinary idols that inspire him every day to be the best chef he can be. One of those idols is Gordon Ramsay. Not because he is a tv superstar or because he screams and shouts, but because he has built an empire based on his skills and abilities as a chef and businessman. One of his restaurants has the title of holding three Michelin stars consecutively for the longest period of time and this is where we will be dining this evening. Tonight dinner is at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay on Royal Hospital Road.

Restaurant Gordon Ramsay is not what I expected at all. The interior is warm and inviting with guests seated on round tables sprawled across the room. Crisp, long white linen dresses the tables and napkins are wrapped in gold. This restaurant screams elegance and we cannot wait to begin with the food. Restaurant manager Jean-Claude greets us with a friendly welcome and wishes us a pleasant evening. With Champagne in hand it’s time to look over the menu. Something this restaurant does is offer a different menu to the host than the rest of the table. The difference being that the hosts’ menu includes prices and the others do not, I think it’s a nice touch. Spoiled for choice we decide to choose from the al a carte menu, something we have not done in a long time.

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House made bread, canapés and amuse bouche begins to flow to the table. Josh is in food heaven and he only gets more excited as more and more food comes through the kitchen door. “This is the best fish dish I have ever eaten!” Did I hear that correctly Josh? Such a statement is well deserved as Josh devours his turbot before I could sneak any from his plate, so you’ll have to wait for Josh’s review to hear how it tasted! All the food at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay was cooked without fault and each flavour was perfectly balanced. When you dine at Royal Hospital Road you are very likely to run into famous chefs or celebrities, tonight we dined tables away from Katy Perry and John Mayer. I have fallen in love with Restaurant Gordon Ramsay and we can see why this restaurant receives the accolades it does.

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Before we leave we are offered a tour of the kitchen, something we never refuse! Walking through the doors we see Head Chef and Ramsay’s protégée Clare Smyth having a conversation with one of the waitstaff. We thank her for an incredible meal and watch the kitchen team as they work in unison, the clean down is so thorough even Josh is impressed. Our experience at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay was unforgettable and we will be recommending it to all of our friends, family and readers.

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Feast!

Jess and Josh

Souvenir shopping in street markets. Day 70

Souvenir shopping in street markets. Day 70

What a beautiful day outside it is today, Josh however is so tired from work we spend the morning in, again. Sooner or later we will see London before lunch but for now we laze about waiting for Josh to once again leave for work. Because of the rare London sunshine, I decided to join Josh on the venture to Notting Hill and then start my day from there.

Located a few blocks behind The Ledbury is Portobello Road. Most know this spot is the place to go for great coffee, funky restaurants and bargains in the street markets. I start with a coffee and what a coffee it was. It was rich and creamy, perfect temperature and finished with a pattern on top. It has been so long since I really enjoyed a coffee, and at £1.30 it was a bargain too. I sat in the window, drinking my coffee, reading the local paper, eating a caramel slice and watching the people stroll by. Before now I never use to sit alone in a coffee shop but it has become my favourite thing to do.

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Perked up on caffeine I head onto the street. It’s almost closing time and fruit and veg vendors are shouting new prices for their produce. All boxes for one quid! If I didn’t have to carry them back on the tube I would have bought the lot. All of the produce you could think of and more was on sale here and it all looked fresh and vibrant. There was fennel, radish, carrots and beetroot, all thrown together like a colourful artwork from Picasso. As well as produce, a lot of antique stores are along Portobello Rd along with leather goods, clothing and lots of London souvenirs. A little secret when dealing with vendors … all prices are generally the same store to store however no one wants to lose out on a sale. Ask how much, if you have seen it cheaper somewhere else or just think it’s too much, say no and walk away from them. One in three will come back and ask you what price you want for it or they will discount it. I managed to get a few presents a little cheaper than advertised which is always good when holidaying on a budget.

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The markets go on for several blocks, never being a real fan of markets I get tired of seeing the same things in all store and head back towards the tube. I can see my mum really loving London for these little street markets as there will be plenty more to come I’m sure.

Shop till you drop.

Jess and Josh