Friday, 29 February 2008

Underground Music

Yesterday I went to London, unfortunately not for sightseeing or pleasure, but for work.

I jumped off the mainline train at Tottenham Hale and as I walked through the station towards the underground I could hear music all around me. At first I thought it must be one of the famous London buskers but soon realised it was a full blown orchestra! It took ages to work out where the music was coming from - it was being piped through an intercom system. Everyone was bustling along as usual, and nobody seemed to take much notice of the classical music presumably intended for their ears!

So today I did a quick search on the net for more information about London Underground music. I was curious to know why Transport for London is providing this unexpected but pleasant service. Is it to educate people or enhance their travelling experience? Well, it emerges that trials of playing classical music on the Underground started in 2003 and now extend to forty stations across the tube network. The original and official reason was to discourage anti-social behaviour. This makes sense but I have to say that the tube really seems to have cleaned its act up since I lived in London. It is a lot brighter and cleaner and, as a single woman travelling alone, I didn’t even feel vulnerable coming home late last night (yes I went for a few cheeky drinks after work!). Anyway, the powers that be now say that classical music is played simply to provide a more relaxing and calming environment for travellers in London and that “it is part of a package to improve the ambience of stations”.

I’m sure people will have their own views on the genre of music but I think it’s a lovely concept and suitably quirky for this diverse city. Don’t forget to listen out as you pass through the London Underground stations and see if you recognise your Beethoven from your Bach!

Incidentally, I have noticed that my big Ding Dong Discovery also offer travel cards when buying a London Pass. This includes use of all underground and overground trains within London zones 1-6, as well as regular red buses, the Docklands Light Railway and even the overground train to Windsor. This means that you could visit the Royal Albert Hall, look around the Cutty Sark exhibition or take the kids to London Zoo and then travel outside London by train to see the Queen’s other home - Windsor Castle. Pretty impressive! If you are going to London on holiday and buy a six day London Pass you get a seventh day of travel for free which is a great bonus for tourists who want to spend their last day shopping for bargains and souvenirs! If this all sounds a bit complicated then have a look at where they explain it much better than me!

If music be the food of London Underground… Play on!

Thursday, 28 February 2008

The Problem With Surprises

Today I’ve been looking at and planned our Mother’s Day sightseeing trip. They have thought of everything on this site from interactive maps, good descriptions of each attraction, and even pre-planned itinerary suggestions. What really amazes me is that as well as the popular tourist hot-spots like the Tower of London, Tower Bridge and Kensington Palace, they also offer entry to lots of smaller and less famous attractions. So, in the morning you could be visiting Royal Palaces and art galleries and in the afternoon you could head to the Bramah Museum of Tea and Coffee, the Cartoon museum or even the Old Operating Theatre Museum and Herb Garret. As I haven’t heard of any of these places I’m assuming they’re not particularly well known but the descriptions and pictures make them seem well worth a visit. This is what my rediscovery of London is all about – finding these little gems and getting to know the secrets of the city.

Now for the bad news. Having spent several hours investigating some of the offers available on I thought I should phone my Mum to make sure she kept Sunday free. I had barely said “hello” when she said “I can’t talk for long, we’re about to leave for Dorset.” It transpires that my parents are going to stay with my sister for the weekend! Obviously I’m hugely disappointed but I must learn not to leave these things to the last minute and remember that surprises are not always a good thing! I didn’t tell Mum what I had planned so I can reschedule for another date. Next time I’ll check well in advance!

My research won’t be wasted as Project Ding Dong is still going ahead. In fact, I have just bought myself a London Pass which I’ll use next week for a day of solo sightseeing. So all is not lost. I’ve found a cheap way to visit London and with the help of the website and the free guide book (another bargain) I can get this show on the road.

As for Mother’s Day: my top tip is to communicate with your siblings and, if you’re an only child, phone your mum now to check her plans for Sunday. If the coast is clear then get yourself to and make your mum feel special for a day! My mum will have to make do with a sentimental card this year!

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Ding Dong Discovery ~ The London Pass

I know it’s only a few hours since my last post but I’ve been doing a massive search for discount theatre tickets and places to take my Mum for afternoon tea on Mother’s Day.

All the usual ticket agents appeared in the search results but none had the right show at the right place on the right day! It’s all my own fault for leaving it til the last minute!

Anyway, as per usual I got side tracked and started looking up other things about London when I found

This site offers theatre tickets, sightseeing, museums, galleries, tours and goodness knows what else! I can’t really believe my luck – a quick look at the prices and it’s obvious that the London Pass is a bargain for days out and sightseeing. Basically you buy one of these London Pass smart card things and you can get into loads of attractions and famous places without paying again. So you only pay once for the whole day. Brilliant! This must be a godsend for tourists and holiday makers in London. The places I plan to take Mum are included in the Pass and there’s a few ideas for afternoon tea as well as special theatre offers.

There’s so much on the site that I only really looked to see if I could save money on Sunday with a 1 day pass (they do 1,2,3 and 6 days) and I can!

So I will be doing London on a budget for Mother’s Day but now we can do more sightseeing and tourist things too because I know how much it’ll all cost!

It’s late now and I’m all excited at my little discovery! I haven’t had time to find out much more about the London Pass but tomorrow I’ll go back to , look at the site properly, plan the whole day and buy these little magic cards. I’ll tell you all the details when it’s sorted. Project Ding Dong is suddenly becoming an affordable reality!

Mother's Day

It’s Mother's Day on Sunday so I thought I’d take my Mum up to London as a surprise. If, like me, you were planning to take your Mum to the Savoy Hotel for afternoon tea then think again – it’s closed for renovation. But I’ve done my research (what did we do before the internet came along?) and discovered some great places to go. I hope this saves you trawling through a million and one websites for ideas.

My Mum has two passions in life – Art and Gardens. Unfortunately the Chelsea Physic Garden re-opens later than usual this year on March 19th so we’re going to Kew Gardens, the largest Botanical Garden in the world. Despite my deep-rooted aversion to gardens, greenhouses, plants and foliage (this is not the time or place to divulge my strange psychological problems so maybe I’ll start a separate blog about botanical bête-noirs!) I am prepared to take a deep breath and face the flora! I know Mum hasn’t been there for years and will enjoy getting inspiration for her own garden. We’ll get to Kew in time for the 11am guided tour and have a snack lunch in one of their cafés afterwards.

Then, for old time’s sake, it’s on to the Tate Britain art gallery. There is an interactive display showing how Turner revolutionised watercolour painting and printmaking. Mum will enjoy this as she’ll be able to try out some of Turner’s techniques for herself. Being such an altruistic daughter (and rather than make a fool of myself) I shall encourage Mum whilst watching from a safe distance! There are several exhibitions at the Tate so if Mum wants to see something else we can do that then take the tube into the West End for afternoon tea at one of the smart hotels.

You can’t go to London without going shopping (even if it’s of the window variety!) so a walk down Bond Street may be a good idea after our calorific cream tea and then, depending on the cost, we will either go home on the train or go to a West End show.

I know I’ve left this incredibly late, I know I’m supposed to be doing London on a budget and I know theatre tickets will probably cost a fortune but we are meant to spoil our mums on Mother’s Day!

I may have got a little carried away but having decided where to go, I just have to book somewhere lovely for afternoon tea and find a special offer on the internet for theatre tickets! If I can’t bag myself a bargain then I promise to embrace the natural world and start talking to the sickly looking plant on my window ledge!

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Discovering London

The majority of my life I have lived within 40 miles of London.

As a small child, my Mum would take me on the train and we’d visit galleries or museums and sometimes we’d visit my Dad in his London office and he’d take us out for lunch. In our teens, my friends and I spent a whole weekend chasing our favourite boy band (New Kids On The Block… ssshhhh!) all around London from Wembley Stadium to their hotel near Harrods and everywhere in between!

I dreamed of living and working in the “big smoke” and inevitably joined the throng of penniless London students. After graduating I rented a quaint mews house in the Royal Borough of Kensington and, for three years, enjoyed a relatively quiet, almost village-like existence just a stones throw away from all the action. But, life has a habit of turning upside down and inside out and, before I’d had a piece of that London action, I had swapped the big city for the beach. I moved to Spain belatedly regretting my apathy towards London life.

Eight years later I am back in the UK and realise that, all around the world, people take their location for granted. Living in or near a big city like London, we should grab all that it has to offer us but, because it is and always will be there, because we spend most of our earnings on our rent/mortgage, because we spend hours travelling every day, because we are tired, because we have family commitments, because we are too busy, because we can’t be bothered… because, because, because… whatever the reason, we don’t make the most of it. It is a travesty that visitors to London, tourists on a sightseeing holiday, learn more about this wonderful city in a few days than I have in 34 years.

So here is my plan. Project: London Ding Dong! I am going to become a home-grown tourist and will “rediscover” London. Ok, so unless you count school trips to the Tower of London and the Cutty Sark, walking past Kensington Palace every day for three years and shopping in Oxford Street as a discovery, I admit I never really discovered London the first time around but please allow me a little poetic license! With time on my hands, I am going to do the sightseeing, the theatres, the restaurants, the festivals, the exhibitions and the concerts. I am going to take everything that London has to throw at me but hopefully without spending all my money! London on a budget? Maybe it’s a pipedream but time will tell!

Some people have a mid-life crisis and choose to rediscover themselves; I’m having a London-crisis and so, on behalf of all those who feel they’ve let London pass them by or who wish to avoid that fate, I am going to rediscover London just for you… and me, and the
tourists, the visitors, the holidaymakers, the sightseers…

I hope you’ll stay with me for the duration of my project and send me your suggestions and comments. I have one small request: please tell your friends, family and colleagues about “ London Ding Dong” as I am only doing this for fame! Ha ha!

Did I really just admit to following New Kids On The Block around London?!?!?