Showing posts with label Tips for Visitors. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Tips for Visitors. Show all posts

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Sabrina's London Diaries- The End of an Era ~ The End of Part 1

Dear Reader of Sabrina's London Diaries:

I went to London in September 2008 just for a 3 week vacation. I was in my third semester of Graduate school, getting my MFA in Creative Writing at Goddard College and writing a Musical.  On the first night I arrived, the man I went to visit,  told me, " I'm sorry your not the one !"  I decided to not go home with my tail between my legs and decided to make the best of a bad situation and live there. Being what I laughingly, call, " dumped upon arrival", was the best thing that ever happened to me, I took my feelings of rejection and remorse and turned things around for the better. I realized this man was not my enemy, but my manivater ( a man that motivates) and catalyst for making me do my Human Revolution I ended up living in London  for two years and it was the best two years of my life ! 

 This blog is part travel journal, part personal memoir, sometimes private and sometimes not. I write about my initial culture shock of living in London, in articles, such as: My Initial Impressions of the Drinking Habits of the English and Some Language Differences I find Funny.

I also write about my Dating conundrums and mishaps in a self-deprecating blog (blog series within this blog),called, "Finding Mr. Darcy"---- a serious Austenite my dating blogs look at the romantic life of a single girl through a 18th century lens looking backwards, but then racing towards the future with exuberant optimism.   Having the opportunity to date and experience men from all over the globe, I write as a Romantic Anthropoligist, in blogs such as: Are Italian Men Really Great Lovers ? Israeli Soldier vs. English Gentleman, The Rugged vs. The Refined, and Dating in London: American Cowboy vs. English Bloke

Being absolutely nutty about History and it's great people, I also write about some of History's greatest people: Shakespeare, Winston Churchill, Jane Austen, and of course, Harry Potter

This blog evolved from someone telling me that I should write about my experience in London. One year and a half later, I am still writing about my experience in London. I came back to Los Angeles in 2010, after a 2 years sojourn in London, and I found that it has changed so much. But, it's like in the movie, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Benjamin Button, says in the movie as he narrates his story, after he comes home for being gone so long and traveling all over the world, " It's not that Tenessee has changed it's that I have changed."  And, so, it's not that Los Angeles has changed so much, or even America, it's that I had changed. My views and perceptions of life and the world have changed along with that and I will never be the same. Living in London has changed the way I see the world, and now the way I see myself in the world and that is why I must share what I learned !

Living in London for me, was an absolute dream come true. In my blog, I live to tell the tale and I am still telling it after all these years, and plan to publish my memoirs.


Sabrina Grace~

p.s. This is the End of the First Part of Sabrina's London Diaries. In the future, I will be publishing more blogs on Jane Austen, Book Reviews, Dating in Los Angeles, Culture in Los Angeles, Food,  and Green Living.  As well as, anecdotal commentary on society in English society and my new perspective on the world, living and thriving again in Los Angeles, California as a Language InstructorChef and Writer.

All blogs are written by Sabrina Rongstad-Bravo More Tales and Adventures in Sabrina's London Diaries

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Thursday, 3 June 2010

re: PART 1: Tips on Visitors coming to London: Transportation

PART 1: Tips on Visitors coming to London: Transportation

A great way to see London would be just buying an Oyster card for 3 £ and then topping up as you go along. You can register your card online, just in case it gets lost. When you aer done using your card your £3 deposit will be given back to you. Your Oyster Card is King in the travelling business in London. The bus is the cheapest route to see London, it's just £1 one way. It's also the the best way to see London, high on the second floor of the double decker buses you can see all of London. Here you can see the architure, people, fashionistas, tourists,great monuments, parks and more people. You can just sit back and relax and see it all from the vantage point of the big double decker bus!!! You can also use the tube to get around the only thign is tube can be quite expensive, usually £2.00 one way. Also, the tube is hectic and cumbersome, they are high traffic areas. During rush hour it's hard to get a seat, so what you do is pretend like you are a Londoner and always always carry a book. This way you can pretend your deeply entranced in your book and can avoid any eye contact with people. Just in case, if they want to ask you where you are from, or ask you for directions or maybe complement you or strike up a conversation. If you hide behind your book, you look chic, intellectual. Reading a book on the tube is the height of sophistication. And,like you can't be bothered.

Another key note, many major cities in the world have the exact time arrival of the trains and departures, here in London, all you have to do is stand by the platform, and look at the screen as a guide. As far as schedule times, forget it. Just know that each tube takes about 2-3 minutes between stops. So, let's say if you are going to Oxford Circus on the Picaddily Line and you start at Greenpark. You'll arrive in just 2 minutes. Those trains are bloody fast. If you are changing lines, you have to allot for time travel inside the tube station itself, that could take another 10 minutes depending which tube station you are at. If you are at the major stations where other trains go outside London, it might take you ten minutes to go from one side of the station to the other. The major train stations are Waterloo, Paddington, Kings Cross, and Victoria.

Also, these train stations are enormous by the time you reach your destination, you'll probably have to use the loo at this point you'll want to make a beeline to the bathroom. They weren't kidding when they said London is an expsensive city, because once you get to the Bathroom or as the English say TOILET( taken from the French, as an American I still think the word bathroom is more elegant, I detest saying the word Toilet), there is gate that will charge you 30 pence each way. If you have to go to the bathroom on your way to depart the train station and then upon arrival, that could cost you just 60 pence just to pee. Multiplied by 5 days a week, that could be £3 a week. Multiplied by the many weeks in a year, that 's about roughly £10 a month. That's about £120 a year in Bathroom usage. (That's enough money to buy a one way ticket from LA to NYC) See, I told you London was expensive. Anyway, keep a lot of spare coins just in case you have that irrisistable urge. On a positive note, it's a good thing they also have showers just in case you want to be fresh for your next meeting or hot date. I think that cost about 1£. But, on a positive note, the pound you spend on a good old fashioned shower, is probably worth it because by the time you are done running around the tube and train stations like a chicken with your head cut off, dodging stressed out people with their luggage, handbags and big umbrellas, not only are you ready for a pint of Guinness you are ready for your second shower. of the day !!

Next London Diaries
Harry Potter's London
Dating in London Part 2


Saturday, 21 November 2009

My Top Eleven Things to Do in London for Free

1. Art Galleries
London has some of the best art on the planet.The Tate Modern focuses on contemporary art while Tate Britaindisplays British Art from the sixteenth century to the present day.Other major London art galleries include the The National Portrait Gallery,The National Gallery,both in Trafalgar Square.I would also recommend, The Wallace Collection,which is a great respite after a hectic day of shopping on Oxford Street. And remember,many musuems and galleries are open late on Friday night.

2.London Museums
Visit and enjoy many of the London museums which happened to be free.
These Museums not only are free,they offer a great way to see world class art, sculptures.In Kensington you can hit three museums in one afternoon on musuem row:
The Victoria and Albert Museum,
The Natural History Museum,
and The Science Museum .

At The British Museumin Russel Square one
can see Egyptian mummies,ancient Roman,Greek and Oriental artifacts, Elgin marbles(involved in an ongoing cultural tug-of-war between the British and Greek Governments),and the Rosetta Stone(the key to translating hieroglyphics).Much of it was stolen from other countries.Not only is it the oldest museum in the world but, since its inception in 1753, the institution has managed to build an unrivalled collection of exhibits from the ancient world, many of them gifts from wealthy collectors.

3.London Churches
You can see insideWestminster Abbey
for free.The Abbey never charges people who want to worship but they rely on admission fees from visitors to cover running costs. Evensong is the most beautiful of services where the Abbey choir sings. The Choristers of the Choir are educated at Westminster Abbey Choir School and are all extremely talented. Evensong is at 5pm on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays, plus at 3pm on Saturdays and Sundays.

American Girl Will Show You London Tour
Chuck Lankford on The American Tour of Westminster Abbey

You can also enter St.Pauls Cathedral
to see the Choral Evensong. Like Westminster Abbey, it ususally starts at 5:00pm Monday thru Friday, and it's free! Also, The Brompton Oratory has free concerts.The choir has appeared in award-winning recordings on DG Archiv and frequently sings for productions of the Royal Ballet at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. Enjoy beautiful polyphonic music and Gregorian chants while sitting in resplendent baroque Italian architecture.

4. Royal Parks
There are often free talks and guided walks in the royal parks so do check the What's On section of the Royal Parks website.Royal Historic Parks. There are 8 park. St. James Park. Regent's Park. Hyde Park. Kensingston Gardens. Bushy Park. Greenwich Park. Green Park. They often have wonderful walks and events that are free.

5.Changing of the Guard
No visit to London is complete without seeing this military tradition. The Queen's Guard in London changes in the Forecourt inside the gates of Buckingham Palace at 11.30am every day in the summer and every other day in the winter. Get there early and view the spectacle from outside the front gates.

6. South Bank
It really is amazing how many London landmarks you can see along this stretch of the River Thames including The ship theHMS Belfast,
Tate Modern, Shakespeare Globe Theater, and so much more.

7. Street Performers
The West Piazza of Covent Garden Market has street performers to entertain you every day.Covent Garden has live singers from The Royal Opera House and classical musicians. (All performers have a license and have gone on an audtion).Grab a hot cocoa or glass of wine, sit on the piazza and voila there you have entertainment for an afternoon and evening.You will find more street performers at the weekend along the South Bank, particularly outside the National Theater.

8.London Markets
London is well-known for its popular street markets. The most popular are Camden Market and Portobello Market, following closely by Greenwich Market. Find out about these markets and more:

London Street Market's
Camden Market
Portobello Market
Greenwich Market
Old Spitalfields Market
Brick Lane Market(Sundays only)
Petticoat Lane Market
Picadilly Market
Columbia Flower Market (Sunday mornings only)
Borough Market

9. Libraries
Many of the London Libaries are free. When you got the site seeing blues, check out your local London library and just relax among the books. Get a library card and then you can check your internet for free. But, the best library of them all, and probably the best library on the planet is The British Library.They care the biggest collection of the world of Jewish, Christian and Muslim books. Check out Shakespeare's original folios.See The Magna Carta. Find out how different people were effected by the Magna Carta.

10.Free Entertainment

St. Martin in the Fields Church offers free Concerts on Monday, Tuesdays and Fridays at 1 pm. It's very relaxing, just to sit back and relax and her a Brandenburgh Concert or Vivaldi's Four Seasons. Also, there are inexpensive concerts in the evening where you can hear French cafe music or live jazz. Usually it's quite inexpensive and tickets are usually £10.

You may also attend a Lunchtime Recitals at the The Royal Opera Houseat 1 pm. The tickets need to be confirmed 9 days before the show.And, can be bought online at It's a great way to spend an afternoon and take a break from your work day, or if you want to relax and hear some beautiful music.


You can't go inside the Tower Bridge for free, but you can look at it for free.
London Bridge was originally the only crossing for the Thames. As London grew, so more bridges were added, although these were all built to the west of London Bridge, since the area east of London Bridge had become a busy port.

American Girl(that's me),Will Show You London Tour

Lee Howard on The American Tour of Tower Bridge

Schedules for Events in London:

St. Martin in the Fields Concert Schedule

Changing of the Guard
Westminster Abbey Music and Choir Schedule
St.Paul's Choral SongSchedule
The Brompton Oratory Choir Schedule
London Market Schedule
For More Free Things to do in London

One of the few things I do in life is give TOURS OF LONDON,
American Girl Will Show You London

-How to be A Romantic Romeo on a Date
- Green London
- Ghosts of London Walking Tour
-What to do if your in London for awhile and have seen all the major sites

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Parks of London: Sunday St. James Park

St. James Park is one of the many parks in London. It is also one of the Historic Royal Parks. London has eight royal parks: Bushy Park, Richmond Park, Hyde Park, The Green Park,Greenwhich, Kensington Gardens, Regents Park and St. James Park. London is a very green city, because of the constant rain the parks are lush with wildlife, flora and fauna and many animals.

With it's Royal Political and Literary Associations St James Park is at the very heart of London and covers about 58 acres of land. It has a beautiful lake, pelicans, rare birds and a charming fairy tale inn keepers house in the middle of it.St.James is also home to the MALL,the event for many ceremonial parades and national events. From St.James Park you can see the crossing of the gaurds that takes place every day at 10 am.

I had fun just taking photos in autumn. Seeing the many birds in the park. The leaves are changing. There's a brisk feeling in the air, but it's not too chilly yet, just cool enough to wake you and make you feel alive. St.James Park borders Buckingham Palace on one side,(if you begin your walk there) and then on the other side it borders Winston Churchill's Cabinet War Rooms. If you walk about 5 minutes heading towards the Admiralty Arch you'll see Trafalgar Square and the famous National Gallery. London is a great walking city. But, more than that, it has amazing parks. For me, autumn is the best time to visit, not too cold and not too hot. Just perfect for lounging on the grass, reading a book on the park bench, all bundled up in your gear with a cup of hot tea from your thermos you are set. A stroll in the park in the morning hours is great to wake you up get you started on your day. Here's a few of the 100 photos I shot on one sunny Autumn afternoon. I love autumn, it's my favourite time of year!

Some Important Links:
Historic of St. James Park.

For Walks in the Park.

A Guided Walk: Gun Powder, Treason and Plot. The Story behind Guy Fawkes Day.

Events in the Park

05 Nov 2009
Guided Walk - Gunpowder, Treason and Plot
St. James's Park (Victoria Tower Gardens)
Discover the truth about Guy Fawkes and the plot to blow up parliament over 400 years ago.


Places are limited so booking is essential. Contact the St James's Park office on 020 7930 1793 (Mon-Fre 8am-4pm).

Walks will last about 1 hour and are aimed at adults with a general interest. Please come dressed for being outdoors.


Saturday, 26 September 2009

Part 2: How to Save Money in London: To Top Up or Not to Top Up

Another way to save money is to buy a mobile phone and then buy TOP UP vouchers. Many Londoners don't have a regular phone plan that you pay a set bill every month. Instead they use the Top Up system and pay as you go. But, be sure to get a good plan. I am with Vodaphone, they will charge you just £20 a month with unlimited texts and 300 minutes of voice time. That's pretty reasonable. Before, I found out about this I was buying TOP UP vouchers and paying £5 every 2-3 days. It was aggravating because what if I needed to text someone and I ran out of Credit. I would have to go out in the middle of the night just to TOP UP. Also, it would equal about £50 a month. Often, I end up with more time left over for voice messages. You will need to Top Up, that in American terms means to add credit. The British are fabulous for topping up this and topping up that. The whole culture is based on a top up system including being able to top up your electricity bill as you go along. All this is taken place at your local Off License Store, which is equivalent in America as your local Liquor Store. They are usually open up until 10 or 11 pm. You top up your MOBILE, you top up your credit card, you top up your electric bill, you top up your Oyster Card and then when you go a party the host will ask you as she sees your champagne glass empty. She'll come up to you and say politely to you, " Would you like a top up? " At this point you just SMILE real big and say, " Certainly darling I would love a TOP UP , and thank you very much !! "


Next London Diaries

Dating in London Part 3

Friday, 26 December 2008

To surf or not to surf that is the question.

When I had planned my trip to London, because
I was right smack dab in the middle of Graduate School
I didn't really have a lot of time or money to plan things properly.
But, one thing I did do that I am really happy about
was sign up a profile on
My time spent on CouchSurfing was unforgettable and I was inspired
by the open generosity and love of so many strangers.

By the time, I got to London I had a few couchsufing hosts lined up.
That's right, sleep on someone's
couch. When I first heard of the idea from a friend
in Berkeley I thought isn't couch surfing about
some creepy guys trying to get with some willing
damsels? She assured me that was not the case at all,
( although it can happen)and that many of the hosts
are very kind people that have testimonials
and references on their profiles.

Well, I thought can't be all that bad
if my friend, who seems very sensible, thought highly of it.
I put up my profile and researched a few hosts.
So, I thought to give it a shot and signed up with
Why not? And, to my great surprise I found Couch Surfing
to be a very fun rewarding experience in which I got
to meet many people from all walks of life.

In my couch surfing experience
I met some interesting people and I am glad I visited
London this way, because I was able to see some really
interesting London neighborhoods this way.
Let's say I just was going to visit London and stay
in a posh hotel in High Street Kensington, I would
never get a chance to see how the real Londoners live.

I got to stay in all sorts of neighborhoods with really
weird names. I stayed in Dalston Kingslad with two
British Blokes Richard Herring and Hamish ( from
Scotland). Dalston Kingslad is an interesting neighborhood
in North East London. Not the most desirable neighborhood,but
it was fun and they had this great market, where you can buy
knickers for £1 and avocadoes for 50p. Richard Herring
is a graduate from Oxford. He lived in this flat with his
friend Hamish. Both are pionneers and are creating a media
television show called http://www.

I stayed with two Italians near Liverpool Street, just south of the Thames.
They were really nice and checked up on me when I was sick and brought me
some paracetamol. The weekend I was there one went out of town to Italy and
let me stay in his bedroom. It was nice for a change to sleep in
real bed, instead of a couch. They were really generous and gave
me the keys to their flat so I could come and go as I please.Lucky Me!

What I got to learn is people's different hospitality styles.
Some people were comfortable with me going in the fridge
( I was not particularly comfortable with that because
of the way I was raised),and did not mind if I helped myself
to the pots and pans. One man didn't want me to touch his stuff in the kitchen,
but then he took me out to a really posh restaurant for dinner.
Another man, waited on me hand and foot, cooked
me dinner, made me midnight snacks and porridge for breakfast.

The couch surfing experience was fun, adventurous and
terribly insightful. I would recommend it to anyone.
It's a great way to experience a city,
and see an insiders view. I would have
never got to see those tiny little referigerators
and tiny stoves that everyone talks about
when they visit Europe from America.
Every single house I have been to has one
thing in common, a kettle for tea.

Do, I recommend that women couch surf? Yes,
absolutely !! Everyone, not just women,
should be advised to have plenty of money
and the numbers of other hostels and hotels.
Of course, the phone numbers to taxis.
Just in case, of an unlikely idiot that wants
to take advantage of a damsel. Many,Couch Surfing
Hosts view as a dating machine.
Also, keep the numbers of a few taxi, in case
you have to flee in the middle of the night.
Bring a bottle of wine or perhaps
chocolates. Marks and Spencers sells Great Truffles
for about a tenner. Read thoroughly your hosts profiles,
get to know their tastes. Use the time as a couch
surfer as you would if you were an anthropologer.
Study, Observe, Excavate Politely and Learn !
You get to see inside the homes of Londoners,
and this is invaluable experience. Anyone,
can stay in a posh hotel ( or maybe not),but
by slumming it you get a chance to be a real
thinker and adventurer.When you are done try
to send a Thank you note.

Just got started in April 2008.
I am in London now. My first month in London
I stayed with several CS hosts, they were all kind, loving and generous. I am very grateful to the CS community. In addition, I have found that this is a great network to meet people. Since, I am no longer a guest I am meeting friends with common interets.

I think this is a great way to learn about people and especially their culture. Hell, in London, I have stayed with a Chilean man and a Colombiano. I have stayed with 2 British gentlemen Hamish and Richard, they are both super smart and nerdy so we got on famously.

Here is this cute, sweet Argentinian Juan Vaccari
He's a Phd student and was living with the two
Italian Guys. I am really happy to have met him.

Stay Tuned for more LONDON DIARIES


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