I am amazed at just how much effort is put into making the Christmas season so very special here in London. I guess we are no different in New Zealand but the largeness of this place just seems to make it all the more extravagant!
Firstly there is the ‘Winter Wonderland Show’ at Hyde park. Judy and I walked through on a Monday night after it opened over the previous weekend. Fortunately Monday night wasn’t too popular, and it was an easy walk through and very enjoyable. By the next weekend when I went again, it was crowded. You could hardly move with all the people, but there was a great atmosphere. People were happy and having so much fun. I took heaps of photos but think this you tube clip will help show just how BIG the place is!
The streets are all lit up with amazing Christmas lights but the shop windows have become like a super competition to see who produces the most WOW factor. Let them fight it out I say while I wander through the crowded streets and admire their efforts!
There are plenty of you tube movies about each store as well, especially as they finally unveil their window displays to the public. Here is a Harrods video…
And another store that is very well known. It was voted the best department store in the world!
Here is a sample of their in store decorations! They really are amazing!
Another store with the big reveal is Fenwicks. This Fenwicks is in Newcastle but there is a huge store in Bond Street, London.
Walking home one night C2 and D2 took us into the store Fortnum and Mason. I’d never heard of the store before but I was certainly in for a treat. This store is for the RICH! I’ve attached a you tube clip of this store. Its by a chap who seems to make a living making You Tube videos about London.
John Lewis is another big department store and it’s Christmas lights are turned on with the Oxford Street light up, but they have an advert which is televised during the Christmas season. The little penguin named Monty has become very popular. Everyone wants a Monty Penguin and his little girlfriend Maude.
I frequently buy online from Debenhams Store for presents for London friends. Here is their Christmas advert and you can see some of their instore decorations as well.
Here is a link I found with a write up about each shop and their window display.
And here is what Covent Garden got up to getting their 2014 Christmas decorations up! And believe me it all looks amazing!
We were lucky enough to wander through Covent Garden and see these wonderful decorations in person.
Another big thing is when the Christmas lights get officially turned on. The public come out in force to celebrate the event. It’s like a huge concert and goes on for hours. Here is Regent Street lights switch on 2014
I could only find a longer video for Oxford Street but what a celebration it was!
This short video is a general shop window one…
Libertys of London had a real celebration for the window display reveal. Once again it’s quite a long video but shows the excitement involved in this Christmas season at Liberty. It’s a wonderful store but once again quite expensive!
And if you walk along Southbank, the River Thames walkway you will also see the Christmas Markets. Actually this guy has done heaps of video clips on You Tube about Christmas in London.
I have noticed that there is a huge lack of Nativity scenes in London’s Christmas Celebrations. How sad is that! We are definitely seeing Christ taken out of Christmas, and with the stores each competing for sales, I guess ‘Jesus is the reason for the season’ doesn’t help provide them with store purchases. The meaning of Christmas has become buy buy buy! Gift giving even when you can’t afford it. Well gift buying anyway!
The best gift of all and it doesn’t cost a cent is the gift that God gave 2014 years ago. It was in the form of a little baby, God’s son Jesus Christ. He died 33 years later as a sacrifice for our sins, and so that we could have eternal life. This gift of salvation is free, you only have to accept it! John 3;16. For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, so that he who believe in Him should not perish but have eternal life.
Having attended Hillsong London a few times while in London, I have been amazed at their influence in this city. The church is huge and is growing daily! Now they are having a Christmas celebration and it does include Jesus! It does has Father Christmas but would certainly share the true reason that Christmas is part of our lives today. Here is a video of last years production. It is 29 minutes long but a great look! If that sounds too long for you though, there is another link on my page for this years service, go to that one 🙂
To find out more please open/download the link below and check out the provided information 🙂
So… it will be at Wembley Arena again and the cost is 5pound per person. The 7.30pm Carol service is full already but there is another service at 3pm. This will be a Christmas celebration that you won’t forget in a hurry. In fact it could be life changing for you 🙂
Have a look…
I’m actually really sad that I can’t go to this Christmas service. I leave London on the 19th of December, but for those of you who live in London, don’t miss out!
Last Wednesday I took my sister to Heathrow airport and said goodbye to her! It was a really sad time! And for a couple of days I missed her terribly. Having someone to share my everyday moments with had been so very special. Talking to a baby all day just isn’t quite the same. And because I am only here in London for three months, I haven’t the same friendship base that I have back home in New Zealand. I must drive Daniel and Marysia to despair when they get home from work. I chat about every little thing that Sophie and I got up to during the day, and believe me it’s not all that interesting. But still, I am loving my time here and I do try to make the most of every day. And, I am happy 🙂
Judy had flown over from New Zealand to London to keep me company for three weeks, and we certainly made the most of our time together. Not only did we see some amazing places, but being together did something in my soul. I felt such joy at being able to share my ‘life in London’ with her and also seeing new places with her by my side to chat over details and laugh! Boy did we have some good laughs! I am so spoilt to have a sister that I get on so well with and we enjoy each others company…. lots!
Judy arrived on her birthday, the 4th of November, and that is the day our fun together started. Sophie and I got up early to catch a bus to the train station, and then the Piccadilly underground to Heathrow airport, terminal two. The trip takes approximately an hour and a half on the tube, and ten minutes on the bus. It was a good trip and we stood at arrivals and waited excitedly to greet Judy as soon as we could see her. And then it was back on the tube with baby in pram, and my sister and suitcase in tow! Then dragging that suitcase on and off the train, up the escalator, on the bus, off the bus, and then down the road to home 🙂 All to be reversed the day Judy left hehe 🙂
The next day Marysia stayed home with Sophie, so Judy and I could spend the day in London together. Our first stop was Harrods!
Our plan was to go and book in for the tour of Buckingham Palace. Both of us have been to London before and had the celebratory photo taken outside the palace gates, but we hadn’t been inside. We ventured off feeling very excited at the prospect only to be told once there that the palace was now closed to visitors until after Christmas!!! How disappointing! But we were told we could tour the Royal Mews instead. The stables with carriage houses? Why not? So off we went and if you have a look at the photos, you will see that we had plenty to look at. Actually it was really quite interesting.
And as we were going to Piccadilly Circus for tea and a show so we just had to have a look at M&M world!
Our next venture into London was to meet up with my friend Bessie. We decided that Westminster Abbey would be a great place to start. Unfortunately we didn’t realise that there was a huge ceremony going on in town to remember the soldiers from world wars one and two. The town was crowded and the two places we wanted to see were just packed with people.
And a little video of my visit to Wesminster Abbey in October…
And then as it was getting late in the day we caught the bus to london Bridge and the Tower of London. the traffic was horrendous and the bus trip took way longer than it should have. We arrived as it was getting dark but we still managed to see all the wonderful ceramic poppies that were ‘planted’ in the Tower of London, also to help us to remember the lives lost in wars.
Now there is a train station by the Tower of London but it was packed with people. It also had steps and we had Sophie in the pram. So after a long walk Judy and I managed to get to another station that had a lift and us three very tired people managed to get home again. What fun!
On our next venture into London we visited the Sherlock Holmes Museum.
We wandered down to Oxford Street and walked through Selfridges. Selfridges is voted the best department store in the world and has all the designer collections and must haves (toys and gifts) for the whole family.
Here is a link to their very cute Christmas advert…
On the last Friday that Judy was in London, we caught the train into London again, but this time we were to meet up with Dan and Marysia after work.
I crossed this bridge earlier in my time in London with Sophie after visiting the Tate Museum.
Here’s a short film of Sophie with the gorillas at The rainforest Cafe…
On Judy’s last Saturday we all went to Winchester to have a look at their Christmas markets. It is a two hour drive south of Barnet where Dan and Marysia live, but it was definitely worth the trip.
So on the Sunday, the last day Judy and I could venture out without Sophie we decided to do all the other things we had planned to do, but just hadn’t had time. We left nice and early and caught the tube to Baker Street station. The first place to go was Madame Tussards Wax Museum. What a lot of fun!
The wax museum was very interactive. You could pose with all the models and the 4D movie experience at the end was all laughs. Judy and I had so much fun and were so thrilled we went!
And after that fabulous experience we went on the London Dungeon Tour. I have seen this advertise the last twice I was in London but thought it would just be all touristy and not really worth going to, but it was well worth it. It lasted an hour and a half and was entertaining the whole way through. Great actors and also great scene sets!
Lastly for the day we wandered through Hyde Park and the Winter Wonderland. Luckily this was the first weekend it had opened. We were able to wander around and enjoy the place. I went again the following Saturday night with Marysia and Sophie in her pram and it was a nightmare. The people were squashed in like sardines! And we had to find Daniel. Consequently we didn’t stay long!
Monday we relaxed, Tuesday we walked to Alexandra Palace and Wednesday was the trip to Heathrow Airport by the Piccadilly underground line!
Now in amongst all the above places and things we saw, Judy and I also went to two shows, both were wonderful! We went to Les Miserables after our first dinner at Rainforest Cafe. Both great experiences! And we also went to Billy Elliot. That was actually Judys Birthday present as she arrived in London on her birthday 🙂
We also had the three day weekend in Switzerland. So all in all we definitely had three amazing weeks together. And can you see why I missed her so much when she left?
Actually no matter how much I try to describe our trip to Mt Pilatus, I will never be able to help you understand just how marvelous the experience of going there really is. It is a place that you have to go and experience it for yourself to fully understand what it is like.
Now if you don’t know anything about Mt Pilatus, the first thing you need to know is that in order to get to the top of the mountain, you can either walk one of the tracks which will take approximately four hours (if you are fit and healthy), or by the cogwheel railway. In fact the cog railway track up the mountain is the steepest in the world with 48 degrees at the steepest part! The way down is by the same railway or by gondola. The Goldola was being refurbished at the time of our visit so we did the trip up and down via the cog railway.
The highest point of the mountain is 2128 meters and the next highest point is 2119 meters. Between these two points is the landing point for the cog railway system, two restaurants and a hotel!
Now I am going to add some photos, they are great, but still not good enough to show the reality of the experience. I’ll just number the photos rather than describe each one 🙂
The views are spectacular! the zig zag pattern you can see in some of the photos are the paths that the trampers use to climb up and down. There is another walk along the peak of the mountain that is very dangerous to walk, but is used by many and it leads to a place that can be reached by road. But it is only walked by expert mountain climbers. We wanted to go up the path on the other side of the restaurant/cog railway station but it was closed because of the snow. We walked up to the highest point on the opposite peak and while we were taking photos it started to snow! It was such a special experience to be there and have it snow as well. Just amazing!
Having just spent a day wandering through Zurich, I didn’t think I could find another city in Switzerland that would thrill me more! But honestly Lucerne is wonderful, especially the ‘Old town’.
On Saturday we had booked in for a bus tour which included a trip to Lucerne and also Mount Pilatus. The tour company picked us up from our hotel at 8.30 am. We met up with the rest of the other tourists, and by 9.30 we had left Zurich and were on our way to Lucerne. The views of Zurich as we climbed the hills were amazing, and the countryside was very typical of the Switzerland I had seen in movies and on television as I was growing up.
We arrive in Lucerne and the first place to visit was the Lion Monument. This sculpture was made in 1820-21, and was made in honour of the nearly 700 Swiss Guard who died while defending the King in 1792 during the French revolution. The dying lion is portrayed impaled by a spear, covering a shield bearing the fleur-de-lis of the French monarchy; beside him is another shield bearing the coat of arms of Switzerland. The inscription below the sculpture lists the names of the officers and gives the approximate numbers of soldiers who died.
From there we were all taken to the Lakeside and given and hour and a half to wander around and have a snack to eat. Lucerne has two wooden bridges that you can walk over that take you from the New Town over to the Old Town, although a lot of the New town is really old as well. The whole place is just a delight to walk around. I took hundreds of photos (well not quite, but nearly). Here is a sample for you to look at and to entice you to visit Lucerne yourself one day 🙂
I’ll start with photos of the buildings…
And now some photos of the bridges…
Other photos from and on the bridges…
Can you see why we loved Lucerne? A most picturesque town! We both felt like we were in a dream wandering through the place. The thing that brings you back to reality is the fact that hundreds of other tourists are there as well. As many tourists as the number of people that actually live there… almost daily! It’s still worth it, we loved our visit 🙂
I cannot believe how simply spoilt I am! I have had a wonderful tour of the Balkans from August to September, and then flew to London to look after my grand daughter, and then while in London I manage to get a fabulous weekend away in Switzerland. I know! So super spoilt and so extremely blessed!
My sister Judy came from New Zealand for three weeks to accompany me in London, and as air fares are very reasonable to Europe from England, we decided to spend the middle weekend in Zurich. Actually we had a variety of places on offer, but Zurich won out. Judy had visited Lucerne and Mount Pilatus a few years ago and she knew I would love to visit them both as well. So a trip to Zurich was booked with a day trip on the Saturday to Lucerne and Pilatus 🙂
So with great excitement and a huge lack of sleep (my mind was buzzing with plans) we got up at 4am to catch our very early flight to Zurich. What a lot of fun. I felt like a teenager doing a big ‘OE’.
Our hotel was about 2.5kms from the main train station and the best way to get to it was by tram. Zurich has trams and buses that cover the whole city and are very easy to use. So once we booked into the hotel, it was off to do our own ‘Discover Zurich’ tour. We weren’t disappointed! What a wonderful city to see, especially the ‘Old Town’. Have a look at these photos and I am sure you will agree with me 🙂
While wandering around we found out that we could climb up the stairs into one of the church towers. The steps started as a concrete spiral staircase and then changed to wooden steps that looked very old, and you could easily see through the steps and how high you are! I think we were very brave to keep climbing up to the top 🙂
So Zurich was a super town to stay for the weekend. Actually we could have stayed longer and seen much more of the place, but we had plans! Saturday was allocated to seeing Lucerne and Mount Pilatus. We went to sleep Friday night feeling satisfied with all the sights we had seen in Zurich. Little did I know that Saturdays sights would amaze me even more. I’ll share those photos with you in my next blog post 🙂
The final part of our journey, the wonderful ‘Tour of the Balkans’, and we arrive in Bucharest, the capital and largest city of Romania. We spend some time wandering around the places of interest within walking distance of the Hotel, followed by a trip by bus to the extremely large Government buildings! My job was to do the videoing on this day and Robin was the photographer. Judy took lots of photos as well. As the next morning was our last day in Romania, actually the last day in Europe, we had other things on our mind other than to load up all the days photos onto my computer. I was leaving early to start my new adventure in London, and the others were catching the plane in the afternoon to start their journey back to New Zealand! So today is the first day that I only have a very few photos.
I don’t think anyone can go to Bucharest and not visit the Palace of Parliament. Going into this place was like going through customs at the airport only even more official. We weren’t allowed to take photos inside but it was okay while we were outside on the Balcony.
You have no idea how huge this parliament building is! It was massive! The details…
Palace of Parliament is 270m by 240 m, 86 m high, 92 m underground, 1,100 rooms, 12 stories tall, with four additional underground levels currently available and in use. The floor area is 340,000 m2. The Architect was 28 year old Anca Petrescu (a woman) who also led a group of 700 other architects. It took 25,000 people, 3 shifts, 24 hours day to construct it. Building started in 1984, it cost €3-billion and was completed in 1997.
According to the World Records Academy, the Palace is the world’s largest civilian building with an administrative function, and it is the heaviest building! We were shown through a very small portion, but were still amazed by the number of enormous rooms inside. Most were available to be rented for Weddings or other occasions where Ballrooms were needed. Hugely extravagant and so very expensive to have built and no doubt to maintain!
So all the other photos of Bucharest are at home in New Zealand, but I guess you have seen and heard enough about this tour of the Balkans already. I know I have found it hard to stay enthusiastic to get this STORY completed, so can imagine it has been a bit of a trial for you, the reader, to see it through as well. Life has moved on and I have so many new events happening that I want to ‘tell’ you about… Hehe… aren’t you lucky 🙂 But I have loved the Balkans and will treasure the memories forever!
We finished the tour with a celebration dinner together. It didn’t feel like a celebration as we knew the next day we would be saying our goodbyes to our travel buddies. I am pleased that I can stay connected to the ones that have facebook accounts, and I can see what is going on in their lives even today (well a little portion anyway). They see a lot of me! I still have contact with friends from our last tour through facebook and it is really nice. You never know we may just meet again one day 🙂
Officially called Bran Castle, and definitely not Draculas Castle.
Bram Stoker’s character, Dracula, is a Transylvanian Count with a castle located high above a valley perched on a rock with a flowing river below in the Principality of Transylvania. This character is often confused with Vlad Tepes (Vlad the Impaler), sometimes known as Vlad Dracul, who was a Walachian Prince with a castle, now in ruins, located in the Principality of Wallachia. Because Bran Castle is the only castle in all of Transylvania that actually fits Bram Stoker’s description of Dracula’s Castle, it is known throughout the world as Dracula’s Castle. In fact Bram Stoker never visited Romania. He depicted the imaginary Dracula’s castle based upon a description of Bran Castle that was available to him in turn-of-the-century Britain.
Have a look at their website! They have a wonderful movie of the castle to show you where it is situated and how big it is. And the above information is from that website!
If you read the info from the first photo you will get the history of the castle. It was built in the 13th century!
It was surprising just how many people were actually visiting the Castle. I think there was probably about four tour groups, plus individuals visiting. We all meandered through the little passages inside the Castle, and had a look inside each room. Then it was out onto the balcony and walking around to the stairs to the inner courtyard and then out again. The pressure was on to get through as fast as possible! I was kind of disappointed. I guess I had imagined the Castle would be a lot more spooky and maybe with cobwebs and bats everywhere. I also thought I would see people dressed up as Dracula running around the place. It was actually quite normal! Nothing like the movies giving me a false impression huh! There were some markets in the area at the bottom of the castle and they did have Dracula paraphernalia for sale, amongst some other touristy stuff.
So for those of you who are planning a trip to Romania, especially to visit Draculas Castle, and have thoughts that it’s going to be a real Dracula experience, it won’t be! But it is a very interesting Castle and well worth a look through 🙂
And we arrive in Brasov to a Hotel full of young people. The foyer even though huge, was full of them. We immediately knew that there must have been some big event happening in this Romanian city 103 miles North of Bucharest. (Yes we have passed our final city of our tour, but heading back after two nights stay). After getting our Hotel room numbers and passing heaps of young adults in the corridors as we locate our room, I decided to ask at the front desk why so many people were staying at the Hotel. Not only one but two big events! The Romanian Music Awards for 2014 were being held in the old town square this very night (our first night) and up the road a little further was a huge tent set up for Octoberfest. The town was buzzing and so were all the young people that had come here to attend either or both of the festivals. We were left wondering just how much sleep we were going to get? The town square was just behind the hotel!
And we did hear the music but it was actually okay. Apparently the top bands of all of Romania were at our hotel, and we saw them wander through the foyer when their turn to sing was getting closer. The girls were dressed up like it was not only the music awards but the fashion awards as well. We even had fans sitting in the foyer trying to get as many signatures as they possibly could. Later on in the evening as we were going up to bed we met one band member wandering from his room to another room in his boxers. I did get a little worried that the entertainment in the rooms late at night might be louder than the actual singing, but by 1.30am all seemed very quiet and we had a great sleep.
The next morning it was an early start to discover Brasov with our local guide. The whole town was sleeping except for the street cleaners. It was quite eerie, but we got some good photos of the old town without all the usual tourists.
After our wander through the town, we all boarded the bus and went out to visit Bran Castle. I will do a separate post for the Castle as there are so many photos to share 🙂
The optional tour for the afternoon was to a place called Sighisoara. We had heard that the trip was worth it as the place was known as an enchanting medieval gem of a town. We looked up photos on the internet and although it did look a lovely place to see, we were bused out, and it was a three hour round trip. Our afternoon was spent by having a lovely leisurely lunch first…
And then we decided to walk to the Gondola and go to the top of the hill. We wanted to get to the Brasov sign!
It was worth the walk both up to the Gondola and then from the Gondola station around to the sign.
That evening we all went to visit a traditional Transylvanian restaurant for an evening of delicious Romanian delicacies with music, dancing and wine. Our second to last evening together as a tour group.
Altogether another lovely day filled with wonderful memories! I love holidays 🙂
The border is actually at the Danube River. One side is Bulgaria and the other Romania. At each border, either our Tour director gathers all our 40 passports and takes them to the border control, or a border control officer comes onto the bus and gathers passports each one of us. The officers that came onto the bus take their job very seriously! I was always worried that there was going to be some sort of problem and that they would actually find something to stop us crossing the border! I can’t remember which country it was that we went into, but they held onto the South Africans passports for ages! David (our tour director) wasn’t sure if they would be allowed in at all. That had happened on a previous tour! But luckily we eventually were all accepted into each new country.
Our final destination for the day was to get to Brasov, but part of our tour was to visit the town of Sinai and also the Peles Castle. This castle cost approx US$120 million to build finishing in 1883. Although major improvements were made until 1914. The Castle was built for Monarchy, and owned by the crown. Now it is a heritage site and opened to the public, with an entry fee! To be able to take photos inside there is another cost and a label must be worn to prove that you have paid the fee. We all decided that I would buy a ticket and use my camera as it always takes fabulous indoor photos without need of a flash, and as you weren’t allowed to use the flash, it was perfect. Now I always take photos on fully automatic and people are always commenting on my great photos. So now you know my secret! It’s not because of my skill at all that I take good photos. It’s the fabulous camera that I have. A Canon EOS M. Have a look at the specs! It really is an excellent camera to use. Just copy and paste the link below in your internet browser 🙂
So after having a good look at the outside of the Castle and admiring all the Frescos in the courtyard, David finally got our tickets to enter the Castle. I was so happy to have a pass to take as many photos as I wanted!
Now I have put up a lot of photos, but believe me I could have put up heaps more! Sadly I have to confess that for the first time I touched something on my camera and changed the settings from automatic to manual. Now if I had time I would have fiddled around and managed to change the setting back but the tour guide kept moving on from room to room, and I was already at the end of the group, and panicking about keeping up, and trying to see everything and also trying to get the best photos I could get with minimal light and no idea how to focus the camera in these conditions! It was awful! I was angry with myself and sad that I wasn’t getting the best photos that I could get. And I nearly got lost! The group had moved out from the last room and I had no idea which way they went! The Castle was so big and had rooms going off in all directions. Luckily there were a couple of others from our tour still with me and taking photos, and we managed to get advise from another group leader! Phew!
So we wandered on back to the bus with me still being mad at myself for messing up the camera. One day I AM going to learn all about how to really use a camera on manual settings! One day I will!
Peles Castle was certainly a wonder to see. It was great to get the extra photos inside and well worth the seven Euros fifty for that pleasure! But we still had more to do and that was to travel on to Brasov. So once again we load onto the bus and think about what we will see next. Our minds are already full of wonderful memories of this Balkans Tour. Just as well we are nearing the end as I am thinking that I am getting quite overwhelmed with all the information I have heard and the wonderful sights that I have seen.
We do live in a wonderful world and I am feeling very thankful. What an amazing experience 🙂
The windy roads continue as we travel to the former medieval capital of Bulgaria, Veliko Tarnovo. A trip of approximately three hours from Sofia. We left Sofia after breakfast and arrived at Veliko Tarnovo with plenty of time to do some sightseeing. Our local guide Yama directed our Tour bus driver through the town and pointed out many historical monuments, and then directed him seven kilometers out of town to a place called Arbanasi.
Arbanasi has a population of around 300 people. It was very old, dating back to the 17th -18th century, and is known for it’s rich history and some very old buildings. We wandered the narrow streets stopping firstly at 17th century merchants house.
We then wandered on to the Church of the Holy Nativity, dated 1632. We weren’t allowed to take photos inside the church, but it was highly decorated on every wall with biblical scenes. It is also well known for it’s enchanting acoustics.
And even though Arbanasi was only a small village type of town, there were about four restaurants on the main street and we all dispersed to have lunch before heading back to Veliko Tarnovo.
Veliko Tarnovo was known to be one of the strongest Bulgarian fortification between the 12th and 14th centuries. The whole place is surrounded by walls as you will see in the photos.
The most popular landmark is the historic hill Tsarevets which Robin and Len went and visited and took several photos for us.
Judy, Teresa and I went and had a look at the shops. It was very hot and we were actually feeling a little weary from the bus ride again. It was nice to just have some free time and wander around. We ended up sitting at a local cafe and just enjoyed doing nothing in particular.
Our Hotel was really quite nice and after a very hot day I went down the three floors to the swimming pool and had a half hour swim before tea.
We had a lovely meal at the Hotel with the rest of our tour group and ended up having a sing along and dance. A super ending to another lovely day of ‘Touring the Balkans’ 🙂