5 Essential Apps to Help You Out in London

I thought this might be helpful to some people who are planning to explore London in the next upcoming months. I would have been lost without these apps/ tools. I don’t know how we did it years ago when there was no smartphone. I suppose there were our parents who were just magic and knew where to go all the time. There was also the maps and still is. You can see quite a few people going around with maps to find their way around. I prefer to have it all on my phone rather than taking out the map all the time. It’s handier in my pocket.

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Oyster Visitor Card

The Oyster Visitor card is the cheapest way to get around London. It can be used on all public transport including riverboats. So if I wanted to I could have taken the boat from Greenwich back into town but the cold put me off a bit doing that. One tube journey comes at a cost of £2.20 whereas when you pay in cash it’s £4.40. Another advantage is price capping. No matter how much you travel in London, you never use more than £6.50 credit in central London per day. Cheap, right? You can do so much sightseeing. There are many websites that send it to you worldwide.

Google Offline Maps

I really don’t know how I never came across using this before. I don’t have a roaming plan and my data plan is pay as you go. This means going online abroad can get quite expensive. If you run into the same problem as me, then Offline Maps might be just your answer. Before you start traveling to your destination, download the map/area you require via Wifi onto your phone. The GPS signal is picking up your current location and doesn’t require an internet connection. I used it so much and I never got lost because it shows exactly what direction you are going. You are the blue dot.

Booking.com

When I travel and I have to stay overnight, I always book via booking.com. The more you book with them, the more discount you get and if you register with them, they also offer you a secret deal which is only available to members. To access your booking, you do require internet BUT you can download the booking information to your phone as a PDF file or to your gallery before you leave.

Ryanair

I have to admit, I was never a fan of flying with Ryanair. Mainly because their fees for baggage is like twice the price than Aer Lingus. In the last year or so I found a liking to them though. Especially when it comes to short weekends away. Ryanair is known for cheap flights if you book them at the right time. And you don’t necessarily need big baggage, just a carry on suitcase with 100ml toiletries will do. The app allows you to manage all your trips as well as checking in and keeping your boarding passes.

Tube Map

The tube map allows you to view London’s underground map. They also have a section for tubes running at night and a rail section. You don’t need internet for any of them. The app does give you more advanced options also, such as route planner, and line status where you would need an internet connection but I have never used those. All I needed was a map to tell me where to go.

Celebrating 30th Birthday in London

On Saturday I turned the big thirty. Instead of celebrating with hubby and kids, I decided to go away for the weekend. I was undecided at first whether I should travel around Ireland or going to London. In the end I went for London. Last time I was only there for 24 hours when the Blogfest was on so I didn’t really have much time to explore.

I took the Friday off work which meant I had a good solid three days to spend in London Baby. My flight was pretty early. I left the house at 6.30am. The kids weren’t even awake at that time yet. So I sneaked off. My flight was with Ryanair which is always straight forward enough. I didn’t check in a bag. A carry on suitcase with 100ml toiletries is the handiest for a weekend trip. The plane got into Stansted airport at around 9.30am. The problem was that check in wasn’t until 2pm. This left me plenty of time to tick off a few sights.

It can be quite restricted doing sightseeing with a suitcase. My hotel was located near the Victoria Station. Buckingham Palace was in walking distance so I decided to walk up. I was just in time for the change of the guards. Hundreds of people had settled in front of the palace and around. Due to my suitcase I couldn’t go near the gate. I suppose safety reasons. It was really cold and chilly but the sun was shining which made it all worth.

Buckingham Palace

Shortly after I went back to Victoria and bought a dress for Chloe in GAP. I just couldn’t find anything online and rather getting it shipped, I thought I’d pick it up in store. Still loads of time left until I was able to check into my hotel which was not until 2pm. Down I went to London Eye and the South Bank. It was heading toward lunch time so I popped into a Subway on the way and had something to eat first to refill my energy. Unfortunately the London Eye was closed for refurbishment until Wednesday. That was that off the list then. I picked up a die cast taxi and bus for Matthew and a magnet for my collection and enjoyed the view in the beautiful but cold weather.

It was heading towards 2pm and I walked back to check into my hotel. The hotel I stayed in was called Park Plaza Victoria. It was only a few steps from Victoria underground and rail station. Very central as I was getting the tube from there to wherever I needed to go. The hotel was very impressive. I think it’s four star. I had breakfast included because I can never function without a proper breakfast to start the day.

My room was very impressive I have to say. First of all I had a king size bed. A whole bed to myself, with uninterrupted sleep for two nights. Second of all, how cool was the remote on the table and on the wall to control temperature of the room, the light for reading, or the light for the night. But to control the curtains via the remote to open and close them was the coolest thing. You can probably imagine I played with that for a bit. By the way, check out the carpet they have throughout the bedrooms and hallway.

As it was getting close to sunset, I took the tube to Tower Hill to see the Tower of London and Tower Bridge while the sun sets over the Tower Bridge. It was a different photo opportunity rather than a boring photo of the bridge during the day. Before heading over onto the other side, I’ve done a quick pitstop at Starbucks for a hot chocolate. It was cold after all and that was the right medicine for a cold winter day. That day I did a good bit of walking and my body is still aching now particularly my legs. I went from Tower Bridge to London Bridge. 21000 steps that day.

I took the tube from Monument station up to Kings Cross. I was planning to go and do the Harry Potter Studio Tour, but because it was over seven hours long, I decided against it as that would have been a whole day gone. Instead I went to platform 9 3/4. I didn’t queue to get my picture taken though, which I do regret now. I bought a mug that changes to the secret map when it gets hot and Bertie Botts Beans. There was so much stuff you could buy, even wands!

It was time to go back to the hotel, put the feet up and decide where to go for dinner. There was an Asian restaurant just around the corner. I am glad I went because it was the most delicious Asian I had in a long time. As the starter I had duck spring rolls and main course was Chicken Teriyaki with noodles. Divine. I would definitely recommend it to anyone. The place is called dim t.  Seems like a great place for bigger groups as well. They have little couch corners.

Saturday morning started at around 8am. My inner clock doesn’t want to sleep in whether there are kids or not. Anyway I had a good uninterrupted sleep which is worth a lot more. It started off with an English fry, some fruit, a chocolate muffin and of course a cup of coffee. Shortly after I got ready to head to  Greenwich, where East meets West. First of I went to see the Cutty Sark, then off to Greenwich Park, making my way to the top of the Royal Observatory and see London from way up high. The walk up the hill was killing me. Out of breath for sure. You had to pay admission to be able to access the meridian line. I didn’t pay but if anyone is looking to visit, it’s £9.50. I also visited Greenwich Market. It’s like every market in London to be honest.

As this was my actual birthday (Yay I turned the big 30) the rest of the day was spent shopping, eating and drinking. I took the tube to Oxford Street. Nearby where Oxford Street meets Regent Street I went for lunch in Kingly Court which was on my list. It’s a cute little food court. I went to Pizza Pilgrims for some well deserved pizza. Generally I don’t manage to eat a whole pizza but this pizza purely Italian and so delicious. Definitely worth a visit. I was lucky enough to get a seat because after me it was getting busier.

After some successful and some not so successful shopping, I drove back to the hotel and chilled out a bit with some TV. I planned to have my birthday dinner in London’s Hard Rock Cafe. Yes, on a Saturday evening which is probably the most busiest time. It can be quite handy when you’re dining there on your own. I mean you have to sit at the bar and eat your dinner but you certainly get a chair almost instant. People who require a table could wait for an hour. I was able to get in straight away. I got the usual which is the Big Cheeseburger. They do new chips with garlic and herb. I had to try them our and they were the most delicious chips I have to say. I couldn’t manage to eat it all unfortunately.

With my meal I treated myself to a cocktail too. You only live once after all. I was chatting away to the waiter and he asked why I was in London and he soon found out I was here to celebrate my birthday. Well, that evening I even received a free birthday Sunday Ice Cream with a candle in it. It is a thing they do when it is someone’s birthday. How cool is that. (At least one treat off someone !! )  Like every other Hard Rock Cafe, I had to pick up a T-shirt from London’s one too after.

Sunday was the day of checkout. Breakfast first. I checked out at around 11.45am and drove to Kings Cross to see what the queue is like for the platform 9 3/4. It was massive so I decided against queuing. After that I took a few tubes to get to Harrods. Unfortunately they have the policy not to take any suitcases into the building and to leave it in a lock. I couldn’t be bothered with it and left to go back to Oxford Street and visit Europeans biggest Disney Store store. Here I picked some small gifts for hubby and the kids. I was a bit disappointed because there was a lot of princesses and Moana going on. I was struggling to pick something up for Chloe.

It was on route to Liverpool Street. That weekend the trains were replaced with buses. I treated myself to a small Mc Donalds meal and took the bus to London Stanstead airport. A bit earlier than expected. But better early then too late. Overall I really enjoyed three days away and just do whatever I want.

My Most Eventful Journey Ever

About 9 years ago a friend and I traveled from Dublin to London. We stayed in a hostel for a couple of days to go to a concert and do some little sightseeing around the city. Back then I was only in Ireland a year working as an Au Pair. This meant I had little money, so it was hard to save in the first place. I suppose the meals were provided but even so living on 100 EUR a week can be hard for anyone.

London

The day of departure came. We were flying from London Stanstead which is quite a distance away from London city centre. To get to and from the airport we used the bus. It is advisable to be at the airport 2 hours before departure. On the day of our departure just 3-4 hours before heading off to the airport, we decided to look at the bus timetable to see which bus would be best to take. Well, this is where the disaster comes in. It turned out there was no bus leaving between a certain time for 3-4 hours. It meant we would completely miss the flight even if we would have taken the next bus available.

So what do you do in a case like this? First thing that came in mind was to take a taxi to the airport. Now you can probably imagine the cost of going from London city centre to London Stanstead Airport. As far as I can remember he said something like £100. Looking back on it now, we should have gone with that option. Anyway, across from the bus station was another bus station that brings you out to the ferry.

We ended up buying a ferry ticket each. The bus didn’t leave until the next day which meant we had to book accommodation nearby. The next day we took the bus somewhere near Manchester to get on the ferry to Belfast. To make it worse, there was absolutely no available ticket to go to Dublin. On a brighter note, this was my first ever trip on a ferry, so I guess you can see a positive side in it.
This trip was definitely my most eventful one for sure.

Did you ever run into trouble while abroad?

*Disclaimer: This post was written to enter the Jurni Blogger Competition.

My World Travel Bucket List 

Following on from my post about what places I still have to visit in Ireland, I thought I’d share with you which places I want to explore around the world.

It’s hard to achieve this with two small children but luckily I have a great hubby who let’s me travel abroad once a year on my own.

My bestie Karo from Germany is big into traveling just like me. She wants to see the world but on your own it can be hard sometimes so that’s why we are traveling together every year to achieve our goals and tick off the destinations. For example this year we went to New York for a week. I have visited twice in the past but she has never been and there were still some sights that I didn’t manage to visit.

Without any further stories, read on about the beautiful places on earth I still need to visit…

World Travel Bucket List

Road Trip To Las Vegas/San Francisco

Being the far West of the USA, it’s not easy to tick off this destination. It has been on my mind so many times though that I do need of travel here in the next 5 years, if not even less. While in Las Vegas, we could rent a car and travel the west coast like you see it in the movies and include San Francisco on it too. Los Angeles has to be included too

Florida

Well…why Florida? I want to go to Disney World. I’m such a child right? But you’re never too old to like Disney. This one I will definitely experience with my kids though when they are a bit older.

Explore Dubai 

I’ll be visiting this city sooner than I think if it all goes to plan. My 30th birthday is coming up in January. I don’t do parties so instead I want to travel. As January is quite cold in most countries, Dubai is the ideal spot to travel to, enjoy some sun but also do a bit of sightseeing in and around.

Discover The Islands of Hawaii

I have always been a fan of Hawaii. Even more since watching Hawaii-Five-O. Maybe one day… There are about 5 different islands you can discover as well as several volcanoes. The dance of Hula looks also quite appealing.

Scandinavia

I actually can’t believe that I have never been to either Denmark, Finland, Sweden or Norway. It’s so close to Ireland and even closer to Germany. In Finland they have these glass igloo hotels which look pretty impressive.

Italy

I think everyone needs to do a trip to Italy. Simply for the hospitality and the boats riding on the river.

Snorkel In The Great Barrier Reef Australia

This continent has so much to offer. You probably have to spend a whole month over to discover all the places. I’d be happy enough with just Sydney and the Great Barrier Reef.

Climb The Eiffel Tower In Paris 

I have been to Disneyland as a child but I’ve never visited Paris itself. Eiffel tower is definitely on my list, everything else is a bonus.

Walk on the Great Wall of China

I got a little taste of China when Karo and I went to Chinatown in New York. That was mad enough. I can only imagine what it’s like to be in actual China. The China wall is something I have in mind for sure.

Visit the Pyramids in Egypt

I’d love to visit the pyramids. I am generally not a big fan of history in itself but this would certainly be interesting. A cruise on the river Nile would be another great adventure or a safari into the Great Sand Sea.

Explore a Rain Forest in Brazil 

I always dreamt of walking through a rain forest… guided of course. You never know what you find on the way. It just sounds so exciting. For example the Amazon rain forest.

Take a Safari in the Serengeti of Tanzania – Africa

The Serengeti Park is very popular and what else can you do other than a safari through it.

Take a Cruise 

In the last maybe 2 years I seem to have got attracted to going on a cruise ship. Previously to that I didn’t like being on a ship. Probably because I may get seasick. Even so I’d love to be on one one day. It doesn’t have to be the Atlantic Ocean… The Mediterranean Sea or near Norway will do. I’ve also read a lot of good things about the Disney cruise.

Holiday in Dominican Republic

What I would give for a two week holiday in the Dominican Republic. Just lying on the beautiful white beaches, jumping into the blue ocean, having a cocktail by the beach bar. It’s okay to dream right?

You Baby Me Mummy

A Family Holiday in Spain

It has been just 2 days since we got back from our 10 day trip to Spain. This was a holiday I have been looking forward to the whole year. Mainly because of the hot weather, pool time, the beach and the warm evenings walking along the beach. We booked this holiday at the very beginning of this year. Originally it was our family moon but now we treated it as a normal summer holiday. Also our first time ever taking the two kids abroad on a nearly 3 hour flight. Matthew has been to Germany twice when he was a baby but I don’t really count that as a holiday because I went over to visit family.

In the beginning I was a bit worried about taking the kids on the plane. Matthew can be a weird with things he doesn’t know and is not sure of. A few days beforehand I mentioned it to him that we are going on a holiday and that we will be going on airplane. He was really excited about the whole thing but I wasn’t still so sure until the actual day of departure.

We decided to stay overnight in a hotel near the airport because our flight was at 10am. I wanted to give us plenty of time and not rush.
The day of the departure came. I already had us all checked in online for both flights. The airline was Ryanair. I don’t fly with them too often because they can be a bit of hassle sometimes but to my surprise, everything went really smooth. I might consider using them more often in the next few years. To be safe, I had also purchased seats online to ensure that we all sit together. As Chloe is still under the age of two, she shared a seat with me.

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Once we checked in our bags and went through the security gate, we enjoyed some well deserved breakfast while waiting on our gate to be displayed. At the same time, we met one of our neighbours who live only 3 doors down from us and were on the same flight as us. What are the chances?

It was time to get on the plane. Matthew was super duper excited. He was such a good boy on board. Same goes for Chloe. Of course there was the odd complaint at the end of the flight but what do you expect? Kids will get bored sitting in the same seat for nearly 3 whole hours eventually.

We booked our holiday through Travelrepublic. It’s a website a work colleague suggested to me as he used them multiple times. And honestly, I can’t fault them. They were so helpful all the way through. On top of hotel and flights we also booked our own private transfer to get from and to the airport. Benidorm is 40 mins from Alicante airport. Our hotel was pretty much in the middle of the town and only 300 metres away from the beach. Great location in my opinion. The hotel we stayed in was called Sol Pelicanos Ocas. It’s a hotel with two buildings which I didn’t know at the start but they are both connected via the pool area.

Our family room was located in the Ocas building which required us to go around because we arrived in the afternoon and it would have been too difficult to walk through the pool area with all the people in it. The room had a King size bed, a double bed and a cot bed in it. To me it felt a bit cramped.

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One thing that did quite annoy me about the room was the bathroom. We might have had a big shower that could fit 4 people but with a 18 months old baby in tow, a shower is not ideal at all. Bathing a baby was non existing. A bath would have been nice to have which in my opinion means they shouldn’t call it “family room”. I am really trying to keep it to myself when I am with hubby. He knows I like complaining a lot. Only for him I would have gone downstairs and requested a different room with no additional charge.

Our first evening we enjoyed a dinner buffet and walked down to the beach to have a look. Matthew got stuck into the sand when we reached the beach.

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Everyday was pretty hot and no day was really a day for doing an excursion to see places. We soon found our daily routine. In the morning we walked down to the pool area and took Matthew swimming. We did the same thing in the afternoon around 4pm. I tried to ignore the hottest sun which was around 3pm. Unfortunately Chloe wasn’t a big fan of the pool. Mainly because the water was too cold for her. Instead her holiday was spent sleeping, playing and looking around in her buggy.

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In the facilities of the hotel grounds they had a big playground for children at all ages. As well as that inside they had a games area with different arcade games. Matthew loved these and we spent a lot of time there everyday during the peak sun. Mammy and daddy even got to play a round of pool. Matthew’s favourite game was the gun game where you aim balls into holes. As a reward you get a bouncy ball at the end. The amount of bouncy balls we ended up with…

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arcade games

One of the days we discovered a huge mini golf facility. An evening we walked to it to give it a go. There were 19 holes in total. Matthew played mini golf previously on our mini holiday to Cork in April so he knew well what to do. He really had a ball and Chloe loved watching us all and maybe steal one or two of our golf balls. The competition was really only between hubby and myself. On the last hole I beat him by one hole which made me the winner of the game.

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The last few days on our holiday Matthew spent a lot of time in the smaller pool as well as the children’s pool. He saw children with water guns and he wanted to get one too. Off we went to buy one and he was having water fights with a few kids from Belfast but he was also causing trouble with bigger children in the big pool. At least he enjoyed himself which was the main thing.

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The last 3 days were not as warm and would you believe it last Wednesday it was raining for 5 mins. You could tell because everybody was out on the streets. It was nice to walk around and not sweat. On this day we decided to actually do something more fun other than pool time. Around 5-10 mins from our hotel there is an animal park called Mundomar. It can be easily accessed by taxi or bus. We decided to take a taxi because it was only 6 EUR. Just a little tip if you think of going… the tickets are generally more expensive at the door than they are in town at the tourist information desk. We paid 24 EUR for the two of us. The kids were free because they are under 4 years of age. At the door you would pay 30 EUR per adult.

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Throughout our stay Matthew enjoyed a lot of slushies. Sugar rush for sure but it was our holiday after all and I let him have a few. You could get this penguin bottle and top up the drink for only 1 EUR which was very handy. I on the other hand had a lot of Fanta Lemon. For some reason the drink tastes way nicer and is more refreshing than it is in Ireland. Despite drinking it daily, I found myself buying another bottle at the weekend.

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During the day they always had activities on for the kids. Matthew was still a bit young for it, plus he preferred going swimming anyway. They had the characters from the Flintstones on stage some of the days. One of them was the pink dinosaur. Chloe absolutely loved him. She called him “Baby”. It’s the cutest thing ever. The hotel had Flintstones merchandise so we bought Chloe a teddy dinosaur to have with her at all times.

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I don’t want to overload you with too many photos because my Dropbox folder is full with hundreds of them. Overall the kids had a great time on their first family holiday abroad and I am happy to report that the journey to and from Spain was smooth enough. When we landed back in Dublin airport, Matthew said to me “I want to go on a different airplane now. A red one”. There you go, he is already planning the next holiday. I am pretty sure this is going to be a yearly thing now. Only if hubby agrees of course.

Getting Ready for the Holidays

Our family summer holiday is just around the corner. 13 more days and we are in Spain checking into our hotel in Benidorm near Alicante. We are going for 10 days. I don’t really see the point in going for just a week with 2 small children. By the time you are leaving again, the kids are just settled in. So 10 days is absolute minimum. This is our first family holiday going abroad. I am planning to go somewhere hot with the kids every year from now on. (shhh, I didn’t break the news to hubby just yet) My mum and I went abroad every year from the age of 5. I would like to give my kids the same experience and let them see the world.
Apart from the mini heat wave we had over the weekend, Ireland isn’t exactly a place you can holiday in. It’s mostly raining and windy. I do like to take a mini holiday in autumn or Spring but the summer should be dedicated to places like Spain or Portugal.

The holiday we booked, was actually supposed to be our “family moon”. To anyone who doesn’t know what a “family moon” is… It’s a honeymoon really but you are enjoying it with your kids. As some of you may know, hubby and I were supposed to get married in less than 2 weeks. Sadly though, our venue closed down at the beginning of the year. This made it impossible for us, to find a venue we like last minute. For that reason we decided to push out the wedding a bit further and find something we like. Because I already spent so much time on organising it, we more than likely will have something small this time. We are like a married couple anyway, so why spend an extraordinary amount of money on something that will be just on an official piece of paper.

I like to be organised when going away well in advanced. It may have go to do with the fact that I am German. German people are efficient and organised.

I’ve been busy shopping for summer clothes for us and the kids. Generally I don’t have that many summer clothes in the press. Simply for the reason that we only get about 2 weeks of hot weather in Ireland. I think I am at the end of it now and should have everything. In the next coming days I am going to take everything out of the press to see if we have enough or if I have to purchase one or two more items for either us or the kids. Least thing you want, is not have enough clothes and end up washing on your holiday.

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Image Source: Melia.com

I have done a good bit of research before I booked this hotel. Originally I wanted to go to a place my mum used to take me. But the flights are very awkward. We have to change flights in Madrid and it’s just too much at Chloe’s age. I based the holiday pretty much on the flight times. Anywhere in Spain near the beach. Alicante was the best airport in this case. We are leaving 10 am in the morning and the flight back is in the afternoon which gives us plenty of time.

I am not a person for self catering at all. We booked Full Board. This gives us breakfast, lunch and dinner. I don’t like to cook anyway and certainly don’t want to do it when on holidays. We can still go out to a restaurant if we want to but at least we are covered for meals. There are theme dinners every week. Plenty for the kids to eat.

They have 2 children swimming pools and a playground based on a Flintstones theme.
The only thing that is going to be hard to deal with, is the room for the four of us. They do have interconnecting rooms but it’s not guarantee we get that and it costs extra. For that reason we decided to take turns when going out in the evening time. On this note… has anyone used the babysitting service abroad before?

Matthew Holiday

Chloe Holiday

The only way for me to keep track of the clothes and things we are taking with us in our 2 suitcases, is to create a list. I went out of my way this time and created a cute little list for each of us in Pic Monkey.

Daddy Holiday

Mammy Holiday

I am planning to buy a new suitcase in the next few days as well. Hubby’s suitcase has done a good job lasting about 7 years but it has a few bumps and scratches and needs to be replaced with a more sturdier one. I did order one from Samsonite but it turned out to be too small so I had to send it back. To be safe, I am just going to pick one up in Argos.

Matthew’s Trunki is his carry on luggage filled with snacks and entertainment. I might have a seperate post for it. I bought him these cool Superman headphones for kids at the weekend. He is always on about Superman and he absolutely loves them.

The countdown is on. Spain here we come. Have you got anything to add to our list?