London Recap

My brief trip to London already feels like it happened in a dream. It might feel more real when I get my Visa statement… 😀

I decided that I would only be there a few days and that therefore I didn’t have a budget (within reason), a huge decision for me considering the price of food! I am so grateful that I happened to be in London at the first time in my life that I could make that decision, which was further aided, of course, by knowing I had almost no bills ahead of me in Bulgaria.

I got to London with very little knowledge of the city and even fewer expectations. I’m glad I made the decision to not take a London crash course that would have had me trying to cram even more into my brief stay, but rather explored at my own pace. I still managed to pack in a lot and am exhausted, so I can’t imagine have been to fit more in anyway…

Food and attraction prices not withstanding, I found London very accessible. It is very easy to get around in, the locals are incredibly friendly, and I felt safe.

Service in restaurants was always stellar. I liked that I didn’t have to tip since there was always a service charge included. The food was generally fantastic. My two favourite meals, not counting my ultra special afternoon tea, were, for a sit down meal, the curry platter in Kensal Rise, and, for takeaway, the falafel on Baker Street.

One of my big treats while there was that I took advantage of my body not knowing what time it was to wait to have coffee until I got to Central London and then buying espressos at proper sit down restaurants (except my last one at Victoria London). I didn’t have a single “fast food” drip coffee my whole time in London (even my last one was an espresso made just for me). My coffee expenditures averaged £2.50 per day. My best coffee was the cappuccino at Speedy’s and my worst (which was still excellent) was the Americano at Café Rouge.

The attractions I paid for offered good value even if they were expensive. I would have regretted paying for the admission to the aquarium, but since it was free, I’m glad I went. I still think Madame Tussaud’s wasn’t necessarily the best use of my time in London, but it’s something I’ve wanted to do at least one more time in my life and I got a good deal on my ticket. I don’t have a favourite attraction I visited, but have to say that the London Eye and St. Paul’s are must dos! The Eye should be done early in a visit to London to give an idea of the city’s layout. St. Paul’s is worth a visit for the architecture. If you’re fit enough to climb to the Golden Gallery, you will be rewarded with another amazing overview of London. The Roman amphitheatre is off the beaten path and not well-known, so I feel like I discovered a secret bit of London to call my own.

When I go back to London, because that feels like a certainty to me, I hope I will be able to afford to stay in Central London so I can check out the nightlife. But considering how little I knew of the city when I booked my Airbnb, I did a stellar job of choosing it. I would never have been able to enjoy London as much as I did had I paid much more than the 55.50CAD a night I ended up paying! I have to say that I enjoyed staying in a house in the suburbs as it felt like I was living as a local.

To sum up, London absolutely charmed the skirt off me!

Which reminds me of a funny story I forgot to tell. I don’t remember at which tube station this happened, but my skirt got caught in the escalator mechanism. It didn’t rip, thankfully (although it got very greasy), but I ended up flashing my drawers before I managed to rescue it!!! Needless to say, I was VERY careful to hold my skirt up on all future escalator rides!

London to Sofia

Before I get caught up, I want to thank everyone who expressed concern at my not checking in. I think I finally have proof that the Internet is sentient and hates me since I landed right as the local Internet connection point got hit by lightning and shorted out! Since I got in very late, there was no time to get me set up with a SIM card in Sofia, which we didn’t feel there was a huge rush to do since we thought there would be Internet at home. The next day, we were promised the internet would be back up by the middle of the afternoon. But then, there was a problem with my connection at home and getting online took much longer than expected. What did we ever do before the days of instant communication?! I am touched that Croft was all set to command a rescue operation! 😀

So London to Sofia!

I made the mistake of buying an airport transfer with my plane ticket. It seemed like a decent price and convenient as it would pick me up at Baker Street and take me right to Luton airport, which seemed difficult to get to. But when I tried to get confirmation on where to be picked up at Baker Street and around what time, my airline contacts said they couldn’t help me and I had to figure it out on my own! I had no idea what to Google and decided to just go back to Victoria London and take the coach there.

My exhaustion was catching up with me Wednesday morning and getting up and going was sheer agony. Packing was an ordeal since I forgot several things I needed and had to repack several times! I finally managed to leave my Airbnb at 11:00, with the aim of being at Victoria London for my 12:30 bus. I didn’t fly out till 4:30, but the bus information said to take the bus four hours before my flight.


I loved my set of keys in London. Look at the old fashioned room key!

At Victoria London, I turned in my Oyster card and got almost £10 back in unused balance and also my deposit. The latter confused me since I got to keep my Oyster card. I do have an Oyster post in the queue, but I know you’re all more curious about Bulgaria, so I’ll do the Oyster later.

By the time I’d stopped for a ham and cheese croissant and coffee, it was noon. I had to walk a few blocks from the train station to Victoria London coach station (very well marked). So by the time I got to my bus platform and bought some water, it was coming on 12:30. Perfect timing!


The bus ride took a full two hours, most of it spent stuck in London traffic.


You have to wear a seatbelt on UK coaches.

It would have been much cheaper and faster to make my own way from Kensal Green on the Overground and then a few buses, but I did enjoy seeing other parts of London and not having to worry about navigating.


That fuel is about 2CAD per litre or 6USD per gallon.

Most of the people on the bus did not pay attention to the note that said to take the bus four hours prior to your flight and got to the airport within 20 minutes of their flight taking off. There were a lot of very angry and rushed people on that bus!


UK motorways look a lot like interstates in the US and highways in Canada. I was on the right side of the bus and couldn’t see much signage, but I did catch one that showed that there was Starbucks and McDonald’s at the next exit.


Crappy caravan/RV park? Sales lot? I wish I’d had my camera ready when I passed a house in Hampstead with a HUGE 5er parked in its teeny driveway!

I wasn’t flying out till 4:30, but I was also nervous as I didn’t get into the aiport until almost 3:00 since the airport parkway was a driveway and nothing was moving. I let all the truly rushed people off when we finally reached our stop, then set off at a fast clip myself. I’d already done web check in, but the fine print said that, as a non-EU resident, I still had to go to the departure desk to show that I had all the correct travel documents. That went smoothly, although I fear for the UK education system… I was asked how long I plan to be in Bulgaria and when I said 85 days, the woman sharply told me that, as a Canadian, I need a visa to be in Bulgaria longer than 90 days. “But 85 days is less than 90…” I replied. The clerk did a double take and said, “Oh, yeah. Right.” Oh, boy… She gave me a physical boarding pass and I was cleared to go to security.

Wizz Air and its insane baggage policy will also get its own post, especially since I beat them at their own game by exploiting a loophole that people will want to know about. My host here, Max, flies Wizz Air all the time and did not know about this loophole, so it’s worth sharing.

Security was relatively painless, but my electronics bag is packed really tightly and it’s a pain to get my computer and iPad out. Other than that, I got through very quickly, with no secondary check. I am going to get myself a very thin cloth bag to hold my electronics and liquids when I go through security. I thought of packing one so I’d have a shopping bag, but forgot. I’m sure I’ll find something locally.

I had just enough time to grab a bite to eat before embarking, but all the fast food options had egg or mayonnaise. Even all the sushi had an egg centre! What?! I ended up finding a very good noodle bowl at the sushi place, something not too heavy, but still sustaining.

And then, it was time to go to departure. I’d paid the extra for priority boarding (hint at the loophole), but that ended up being a joke since we were all crowded into an area on the tarmac for about 20 minutes in the whipping wet and cold wind while they got the plane ready for us. When we were finally able to board, I was pleased that they have both rear and forward access doors since my seat was right at the back.

The flight was uneventful.


The bottom line is Bulgarian. I could understand the second word as being that for life vest because it is so close to the French word.


Apple Photos says that this picture was taken over Hammersbach, Germany!

There was no free beverage service and I’d neglected to buy a bottle of water before getting on the plane. So I bought a meal for 6 euro (drink, sandwich, and free chocolate bar) so that I’d have something to eat when we got closer to Sofia seeing as I was fairly certain I wouldn’t have a chance to eat when I arrived (I was correct). I used my Visa for that, but when I asked for a bottle of water later, they said I could pay with £2 worth of British coins, which was very convenient. I didn’t end up with too much British cash left, thankfully!


Gornya Baths natural mineral water… Google tells me the last line says “for every day use.” 🙂 A good example of how I can read Bulgarian and understand a bit of it, but that being able to read does not mean understanding!


This is the first time I saw the city name of Sofia in Cyrillic! It’s the first word in the clear line. София.


I don’t eat candy bars anymore, but my sandwich and water came with one, so who was I to say no to free chocolate?! I had no preference and told the flight attendant to give me whatever. I have now had Scottish, Canadian, US, and Bulgarian Snickers. 😀 These are such a rare treat for me that I actually remember buying one in Scotland all those years ago! That red word on the label in the yellow area is literally pronounced “sticker.” 🙂


Flying into a sunset as we approached Bulgaria.

We’d left about 20 minutes late and so were a little late coming into Sofia.



I’m really here!!!!!!!

I’d told Max to be there for 10PM. It was 9:50 when I got in line for passport control after taking a bus from the plane to the terminal.


It would have been much quicker to just walk from the plane to the terminal than to wait for the bus to fill. But it was nice to be greeted with a bus after being made to stand on the tarmac at Luton and then walk to the plane!

The queue was long, but moving quickly since most of the folks in the queues were either EU residents or Bulgarian citizens. I’d had several people tell me that Bulgarian authorities are very thorough and that I should have my address in Bulgaria, proof of health insurance, and proof of a ticket out of the country handy. I had everything, but that last bit. Well, I got asked how long I was staying, the purpose of my stay, and told welcome! It was faster than a good return into Canada! But to be fair, in both the UK and Bulgaria, passport control and customs are separate procedures while in Canada, it’s one.

I didn’t have to wait for luggage, nor did I have anything to declare, so once I was through passport control I breezed through the “nothing to declare” line and found myself in the arrivals area, where my host was waiting with a sign. It was exactly 10PM!

It was already very dark, of course, so I didn’t see much as we drove through Sofia and then got on the highway towards Yablanitsa. We stopped for fuel, which was much cheaper than in the UK. We arrived at the village at just past 11:00… as the power went out. It was dark. Max sorted out a flashlight and candles and did his best to show me around in the dark. The yard felt like a tripping hazard because of the cobblestones and I was really grateful that the power didn’t take long to come back on so I could properly see where I would be staying. More on that in a future post, too. 🙂

I met my dogs Mechka (bear) and Sausage, a sister and brother pair, who recognised me as the new housesitter and promptly adopted me. It was pretty much love at first sniff on their side and first cuddle on my side! Max made me a cup of tea and then I headed to my place to unpack, have a hot shower, and make sure I could get going in the morning since he was going to take me to “town” first thing to get some essentials before hurrying off on holidays. Unfortunately, the Internet was down…

I Couldn’t Leave London Without Having Curry!

By 8:30 this evening, I’d gone almost straight from “I’m never eating again!” to “I’m famished!” I was going to grab a burger and a pint at the nearby pub when I decided that I had to have curry and didn’t want to chance that I’d have time for it tomorrow. I Googled something like “curry Kensal Green” and found the highly rated Curry Nights in Kensal Rise, a mile away. Ignoring my aching legs and badly blistered little toe (that I really should get amputated), I hoofed it over there and found a surprisingly posh looking decor. That would be two very expensive meals today, but whatever, I wasn’t going to worry about such things. 😀

And then I looked at the menu and blinked. I don’t know if I’ve just gotten used to prices here or what, but everything seemed very inexpensive! I ordered papadums as a starter for £1 as well as a Kingfisher Indian beer for a mere £2.95:


The sauces were so good! The green stuff, the chutney, and the raita (white) were my favourite. The red sauce at the top was a bit earthy, but still enjoyable.

I was going to do chicken tikka masala for £6.95 and add plain naan and rice when I spotted their non-vegetarian platter, which was at the most expensive price point I saw on the menu, including the seafood, £11.95. It had five dishes, fancier rice, naan, and raita.


I could have easily split this meal in two and brought home leftovers! My favourite dishes were the tandoori chicken at the top (an insanely generous portion) and whatever that is on the far left below the naan. I thought it might have coconut milk in it. At eight o’clock, there’s a cumin-heavy chicken that was very tender. The red sauce is their chicken tikka, which was actually too sweet for my taste. I enjoyed it in combination with everything, but would have been disappointed to have it on its own. The last dish was ground lamb, which I did not finish since I don’t like lamb. I made a valiant effort, though, since the spices it was cooked in were so good!

No, I did not eat the entire thing. But I didn’t leave enough to justify taking home leftovers. 🙂

Service was as attentive as at The Wolseley, making this a perfect meal for my last night in London!

I don’t fly out till 4:30 tomorrow, but was advised that I should be picked up at 12:30 and it looks like I have to go all the way back to Victoria London even though I’d been told originally I could be picked up at Baker Street… So all that said, I figure I might as well have a lie in tomorrow since I am completely exhausted, pack (not looking forward to doing that again), and head straight for Victoria London at about 11AM. I’ll have my bags and won’t be up for doing anything anyway.

Afternoon Tea at the Wolseley

I just happened to find myself in London on the anniversary of five years of running my transcription business and wanted to do something special to celebrate surviving all those lean years. Afternoon tea felt like the right thing, but I was intimidated by the prices and the fact that you have to dress up. I did a lot of research my first night in London, during those long hours when I couldn’t fall back asleep, and The Wolseley seemed to be perfect for me. It was the least expensive tea I found that was still in an upscale, by my standards, place and they didn’t seem too snotty about people dressing up. The cost was just over £30 with the service charge. I could have had tea for £10 (or more!) less at a small informal café, but I wanted the whole experience.

The Wolseley is located right next to the Ritz, between Piccadilly Circle and Green Park, but much closer to the latter.



I wore a long black skirt, a plain dark grey top, my walking sandals (not too sporty), and earrings and felt chicer than most of the patrons there, many of whom stood out from the elegant art deco surroundings in their jeans and sneakers. I was greeted like a valued customer and promptly seated and served. They don’t like folks to take pictures, so I respected that (although I did sneak a picture of my meal!). The atmosphere was comfortable. Definitely upscale, but not intimidating.

When I booked online, I had made a point to say that I have an intolerance to eggs, so I didn’t want mayonnaise, egg salad, or meringue, but a bit of egg wash or egg in a cake was fine. Someone came out to confirm that the kitchen got my order and told me the proposed menu, which was fine.

There didn’t seem to be that much food when it all came, but it was enough even though I was offered more!


I was surprised that they replaced my egg salad sandwich with a second of smoked salmon instead of something cheaper, like cucumber. All the sandwiches were great. I think the chicken with tarragon (on my plate) was my favourite, but the smoked salmon with butter was a close second!

The cakes layer had a chewy chocolate and nut thing that I didn’t care much for (difficult to eat), but I loved the strawberry tart and the cake with marzipan around it, so much so that I did accept a second piece of it! I finished my meal with the two raisin scones with jam and clotted cream.

For tea, I chose their Wolseley afternoon blend. It seemed really pale in the cup, but had a good strong flavour that paired beautifully with my food.

Service was stellar and attentive all throughout the meal. I had asked for water and every time my glass was empty, it would magically fill up.

My celebratory afternoon tea at the Wolseley was even better and more special than I could have hoped for. It will be my fondest memory of my brief trip to London.

I then decided to go check out Piccadilly Circus. On route, I checked out a menu that reminded me of something I wanted to share that has surprised me. Look at the coffee and tea prices.


Coffee has been consistently cheaper than tea. I wonder if that’s because you get a whole pot of tea?

I passed Fortnum & Mason, but wasn’t tempted to go in.


So strange to see a Mexican bank here in London.



Piccadilly Circus was hopping and there were buskers…


Until it started to rain. My rain coat is great!



I wanted to go check out Soho, but it really started to pour, so I headed home. Piccadilly Circus is on the Bakerloo line, so I didn’t have to change trains again until Queen’s Park. For some reason, even though the Bakerloo line goes much further, you have to do it in two trains. Kind of a pain when I’m only one station from Queen’s Park.

It was an awesome last day in London! Now, I am trying to work up the energy to walk the 20 minutes round trip to the nearest pub for a final pint…

I will do a sum up post of London later, as well as a write-up about Oyster. I don’t think I’ll do much tomorrow since I’ll have my luggage with me.

St. Paul’s Cathedral

Next stop today was St. Paul’s Cathedral. But on the way…


First glimpse!


In the gardens at the rear.







It was only here that I realised that I hadn’t budgeted my time to include waiting in a long queue! Well, to my surprise, there was absolutely no queue!


Photography is not allowed in St. Paul’s, so you’ll have to go here to see some of the wonders within. It was more beautiful than I could ever have imagined… The £18 entry fee included a very good audiovisual guide that let me explore at my own pace.

One thing I didn’t realise you could do was climb the dome! You start up a wooden spiral staircase to the interior Whispering Gallery, then climb to the exterior Stone Gallery through a narrow stone staircase. I thought the Whispering Gallery was alarmingly high up until I got to this first exterior gallery…




You then climb a series of metal spiral staircases to the Golden Gallery. Total steps from the ground: 527. OUCH. But the view!

















The main things I took away from St. Paul’s:

-How controversial the design was for the day. The Protestants were used to Gothic architecture with its arches, not the domes of the Baroque style;

-This ornate church was more Catholic in style, but was very much tailored to Protestant practice;

-St. Paul’s survived the Blitz almost undamaged thanks to a fire brigade that patrolled the roof. Only one bomb got through.

-Almost nothing of ancient London survived the Blitz. This is why the city looks so modern and is so drivable as it was rebuilt after the Second World War.

Last glimpse!


I had about an hour and a half to my tea reservation when I came out St. Paul’s. When I had set out in the morning, I regretted scheduling tea for midafternoon, but it wound up being perfect timing since I was famished when I came out of the cathedral!  I wandered around the area a bit, stumbled onto another major Sherlock shooting location that delighted me, and then took the Tube from St. Paul’s Station to Oxford Circus on the Central line, then I rode one block south on the Victoria line to Green Park.

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That reminds me that I forgot to give my Oyster update! A newsagent on the way to Kensal Green Station was able to sort out half of my Oyster problem, ie. putting money on the card so I could travel today and tomorrow. I’ll sort out the other half when the charges post…