Category Archives: Amateur Reviewer

Parents in London: the how to edition

At some point in their stint in London, most ANZACs will experience the big life experience of the parental visit abroad. Yegads. In my hemisphere-hopping circle of friends, these visits are ALL HAPPENING AT THE SAME TIME as we all hit the one year mark (and therefore halfway point that conveniently falls in ‘Summer’) fairly simultaneously.

There are several types of parental-invasions, including:

  • The Parenthood of the Travelling Relatives: the brief visit on the way through to other places, other family, places to go daahhling. These parents have done it before. They might stay for a weekend, but they’ll probably put themselves up at a hotel in the city. You will of course perform your childly duties by playing tour-guide, but you’ll have to do better than the Eye and the Tower, as they’ve been there, done  that, child.
  • Family Planning: don’t you even open Google hunny, they’ve got this covered. The shows are booked, the shuttles are paid for, and the timetable is set in stone. You were thinking about checking out the markets that day? Well too bad, you’re off to Buckingham Palace, whether you like it or not! Chances are, they’ve found a hotel on your street or already arranged with your flatmates to stay at your place, so you can spend every waking moment together. Yay.
  • Parental Guidance Recommended: these parents are delicate wee birds, who’ve never flown the coop before, and are easily spooked. With their limited knowledge of the outside world, they will be easily influenced by snippets of advice from others, and you will feel afraid to leave them alone for more than 5 minutes. They WILL be staying with you, because the thought of them getting lost between the hotel and your house is both terrifying, and likely. But watching them step off the branch for the first time will fill you with such pride as your wee parents go off on their own.

My own lovely parentals are watching none of the above. But despite their obvious perfection (Hi Mum!), there have certainly been several stages in the preparation for their visit:

  1. Freak out. My mother hasn’t seen me in a year! She will see that I’ve got old (thanks London water and pollution), not cut my hair, drunk too much, eaten like crap (thanks £2 pizzas). She will see all the holes in my clothes that I haven’t sewn up. She will see that I have 14 scarves but one towel. What is my life?!
  2. Breathe.
  3. Talk parentals through their own freakouts. Yes that’s enough money for a month. No you won’t get mugged. No don’t buy a belt-wallet, that’ll get you mugged. Yes you’ll figure out the Tube. No don’t buy a smartphone just for the trip. Yes bring some warmer layers (it’s London). No don’t bring a duffel coat (it’s Summer). Yes you can buy anything you forget here. You are not leaving civilisation mother. In fact, have I told you about Boots?
  4. Breathe.
  5. Give you parents a tutorial on helpful websites including Google Maps, Skyscanner, and trains.anything. This will help to answer questions such as ‘how many days will it take to fly from Paris to Berlin’ and other gems such as ‘should we hire a car to drive from London to Paris?’
  6. Freak out again about all the things that need to be booked – flights, hostels, trains, cars! Shows, plays, brunches, Harry Potter World!
  7. Prepare your room. Take out the rubbish (clink, clink), display everything they’ve ever sent you, calculate the exact moment you will have to wash your bedding in order to have both the sets you own clean and dry for both them and your couch-bed.
  8. Prepare your house. Warn your flatmates of the invasion, stock the fridge with actual foodstuffs (yeah, I eat Bok Choy every day Mum!), make your couch bed, clean, Clean, CLEAN.
  9. Get excited about all the cool ‘real London’ stuff you can show the parentals and blow their minds! Work in all that stuff you’ve been meaning to do for a while, too! Then consider just how much you can make your parents do in any one day…
  10. Make a wish-list from home. Oh my gawd. What should I ask for? This is a once-in-two-years opportunity. There are limited space and weight restrictions to consider.

Despite months of prodding from my mother, my list only contains 2x Glassons cardigans (every Kiwi female understands this request) and 2x jars Promite (no one in the world understands this, but I stand outside of the marmite vs vegemite debate). I just can’t think of anything else that I couldn’t buy here (if I had the money) or is worth bringing across the world…

If you had a mum-sized parcel winging your way, what would you request?




Stone (not a) Henge

I’d had so many people tell me about their lackluster experiences of driving past Stonehenge and looking for a few moments through a chain-link fence that I wasn’t particularly enthused about bothering at all. But L’s stories about her day in Wiltshire with Pat Shelley (and a subsequent perusal of the many 5 stars on Tripadvisor) inspired me to fork out what seemed like a lot at the time. I know from the experience of many cliche tourist destinations that a great guide makes all the difference. KJM could certainly tell you about the difference between the Kremlin with Tatiana versus Aleksander.

As many other reviewers have said, Pat makes the effort to make every trip personal and like a temporary family of travelers, by knowing everyone’s name and finding out all about them. His impressive memory obviously also extends to his knowledge of Stone[not a]henge (in-joke, you’ll find out!), and he’s been on the scene for so many important moments in the area’s archaeological history that you can tell this topic is in his blood, and I can see him doing these tours until the last moment he is able.

The real difference is that you actually learn and think about what you are looking at, you see other examples of henges and other landscape adaptions (e.g. the ‘cursus’, a most inaccurately-named archaeological feature) of the time, and this puts it all into a pre-historical context that a tourist-laden spot can’t do. You also get to trapse around a field of sheep and manure – closed-toed sturdy shoes advised, my jandals definitely not. The end-goal of this is that you end up walking up to Stonehenge from the exact same angle that we know – from the discovery of ‘The Avenue’ – that the original occupiers approached the monument from, offering a glimpse of a time we can only wonder about. I don’t want to spoiler anyone’s visit, but it is certainly more impressive to watch the stones appear with the sunset behind them as you mount the hill, until you approach along the ley-line (mystics swoon), than to rubberneck on the drive through.

Being a poor traveler, I understand if price is prohibitive, but if you actually have any interest in Stonehenge and are not just blithely ticking it off the list of must-sees, then I recommend you wait until you can afford it.

My favourite Pat-ism: Ditch-Bank-areaofflattenedland-bank-dtich!

Visited September 2012

Amateur Reviewer: Jack the Ripper

Groupon inadvertently got me on to this tour by offering pretty cheap tickets to a slightly inferior company – when I checked with Tripadvisor it looked like an obvious choice to pay a couple of pounds extra for the 5-star-rated (17th out of 265 tours in London) Ripper Vision tour. And I knew fellow dweeb L would come along for a wee fright-night.

I greatly enjoyed the touch of the historical clothing and the vivacity with which we were whisked about the east end, but mostly I appreciated the depth of knowledge and enthusiasm of the tour-leader. It’s like having a history-criminology-psychology-drama major lead you around an already interesting area of London and expose its seedy (and bloody, gouged, de-organed) underbelly. I was a little unsure of the sidekick actor who came and went throughout at timed moments – while he cut a fabulous sad-drunk figure, and wretchedly added timely clues, it jarred slightly with me that he was in full character at all times, whereas the guide had an air of the 1880s but never postulated to be from that dark time except when his companion flitted over from a side street. I guess the leader couldn’t fully perpetrate the past or the Ripper Vision would rankle with those who cannot abide by anachronism outside of the steampunk fad.

The price is extremely reasonable for around 2 hours of entertainment, and I would absolutely recommend. My only slight drawbacks are that a smaller group would have afforded slightly better viewing/hearing. This also added to the issue of the ‘ripper vision’ projectors being harder to view than the held-up paper versions used before the sun set (low-tech won for me, tho other tripadvisor reviewers felt differently), but probably because of the group size again. The pictures (in either format) really did add a lot to the experience though, and I was especially impressed/horrified to view actual photographs from the post mortems of the victims. It made me feel that it’s not really a suitable tour for kids, but then the 6-ish child perched on his Dad’s shoulders seemed to be the most rapt and least squeemish of the group.

This is certainly a great way to see the neighbourhood, especially if you sneak in an Indian meal on the infamous Brick Lane (don’t take the first deal you’re offered!). Sometimes I think you need to have at least a moderate interest in a subject to do a tour, but in this case I’d say that even if you know nothing of the notorious murders, you’ll have a suspect in mind by the end.

Visited August 2012