Travel Flashback: Southbank Christmas Market

There’s nothing like the Christmas season (festive period, I mean) to make me quite sure that I will never get over missing London.

Not that there was really any doubt. I still haven’t unsubscribed from the TfL Weekly Updates emails, even though there is no reason for me to know which tube lines aren’t running and which Boris Bike stations are closed.

But anyway, I’ve been feeling especially nostalgic lately about London at Christmastime, and I realized there was one bit of it that I didn’t share in last year’s “Christmas in London” post. I thought this week would be a good chance to take a quick break from roadtrip posts for a bit of holiday cheer!

As you might guess, it takes place in my favorite spot in London – Southbank. Come November, a full German-style Christmas market springs up along the Thames, vending everything under the sun.

The first time Amity and I discovered it was right after we’d gone to see a production of Much Ado About Nothing at the Old Vic, starring James Earl Jones. His voice was just as good in person as you’d imagine it to be.  You could tell he was only speaking at conversational level, yet his voice boomed around the entire Death Star theatre as though he was using a megaphone!  I loved it.


We decided to walk up to the river after the play was over, and we discovered the Southbank Christmas market. I went back a handful of times later on, after or between classes, since it was just over the bridge from LSE. I basically couldn’t get enough.

First of all, the entire place is draped in fairy lights!

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The river walk is lined with little wooden stalls selling food, drink, and festive goods. There’s even a stall selling more fairy lights. Very meta.

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The spread is pretty diverse.  There are, of course, roasted chestnuts and hot chocolate (did I mention Bailey’s hot chocolate? HELLO.), as well as plenty of stalls selling sweets, fudge, and all manner of warm gooey desserts.

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One time last year, Nausheen and I wandered over with a couple of hours to kill before our pub quiz night. We split a handful of hot chocolate samples and picked up a few holiday gifts for family. I loved these handpainted candles with scenes from all over the world on them, and the “smallest book in the world” stall which had holiday classics printed barely larger than a postage stamp (pretty sure it was leftover Flourish & Blotts inventory).

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Past the snacks & goodies, there’s a magical lit-up carousel before you start smelling the mulled wine and hot cider. That’s when you know you’re getting close to dinner…

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Nausheen and I got sucked over to one of the stalls that had steam billowing out from under the eaves, and found skillets the size of car tires overflowing with sausage and stuffing.

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She went with brisket on brioche and I had the turkey dinner sandwich, which was stuffed so full that I trailed shredded turkey behind me all the way back across the bridge. Ah well.

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After walking up the steps to the Golden Jubilee Bridges, we stopped for a last glance back over the twinkling roofs with hoards of happy holiday folk roaming among them.

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Of course, this was last year’s Christmas market. I’ve heard from friends and former classmates that it’s been arranged a little differently this year. Whatever the setup, I’m craving some peppermint cocoa and glühwein straight from Southbank. Londoners – go have some for me, okay? Today’s your last chance! And for more ideas on how to spend the holidays in the British capital, check out Jen’s guide to Christmas cheer in London.

I’ll be comin’ at ya with more western roadtrip excitement soon. Until then, Happy Christmas y’all!

At the End of the World

Hey!  My post about our disastrous roadtrip out to Cornwall has been featured on a great travel site called See Something!  Head over there to check out their awesome collection of travel stories from people and places around the world.

Following a morning of nearly being swept into the sea at St. Michael’s Mount, we decided we hadn’t had nearly enough of it, and off we went to the edge of the map.


Land’s End (the inspiration for the one of polo shirts & yoga pants fame) is the aptly-named westernmost point of the English mainland, meaning there’s absolutely nothing between you and America when you stand on the cliffs.


The stormclouds were rolling in mighty fast, but my dad & I couldn’t pass up the chance to venture out a little further.


It was pretty windy on the point…


The waves were crashing like crazy against the cliffs on either side of us.



It was hard even then (and moreso in pictures) to get a feel for the true size of those waves because of how high we were and how vast the rest of the ocean was, but they were massive.  The kind of waves that would’ve turned a boat to matchsticks in minutes.


(Ooooh!  Everyone marvel at my impressive crashing-wave GIF.  Thank you.)


There’s a visitor’s centre and restaurant atop the highest cliffs near the carpark.  It’s a pretty big sprawling complex, but it looked so little from out on the point!


Once in a while, a wave would hit the coast just right and spray up higher than the cliffs themselves, and seawater would rain down on us from overhead.


Oh, want to see?  Okay:


(Guess how much I love making GIFs now.  A lot.)

The ominous cloudline (scroll back up to the first GIF to check it out) had been charging straight at us when we first arrived, but after about fifteen minutes it dissipated and blue sky began to peek through far out over the ocean.


Up the hill, behind us, the sky was still that weird cloudy yellow that usually precedes a big summer thunderstorm.  The threat of being swept out to sea was not completely gone yet.


And to up the creep factor even more, we spotted a cave where LORD VOLDEMORT MOST DEFINITELY HID ONE OF HIS HORCRUXES!  Whoa, sorry.  I was very scared.


One of the coolest features of the view was the Longships Lighthouse out on the horizon.  It’s actually 40 feet tall, but it’s over a mile offshore so it looked tiny to us.  A few times, the waves slammed into the rock that the lighthouse is built on and burst upwards, completely obscuring it for a few seconds.  Every time it happened, it looked like the spray from a gigantic whale’s blowhole, and I could imagine how legends of sea monsters used to spring up from waves hitting invisible rocks or shoals.


This spot reminded me so much of Nugget Point in New Zealand.  I’ve often said since that Nugget Point is one of my favorite spots in the entire world.  I love “edge of the map” places.  Something about staring out at that much ocean is just exhilarating.  It makes you feel so, so small – but not in a bad way.  (Alright, let’s reign it in – getting a little philosophical here.)


If you position yourself without the rock or the lighthouse in view and just look straight out over the ocean, it’s easy to understand how past explorers thought that it was possible to sail off the edge of the earth.


With another batch of dark clouds rolling in ahead of us, we raced the rain back up the hill and towards the glorious sunset that was emerging.


With a final glance back at Land’s End, we bundled ourselves into the car and drove back into charted territory.  It was definitely a magical way to start off 2014.


Visiting Land’s End was a completely last-minute decision for us, but it was one of my favorite parts of our trip to Cornwall.  I think I might embark on a lifelong quest to visit all the edges of the world that I can.  If you’ve been to a spot like this, let me know and it’s going on the list!

New Year’s Day in Cornwall

After a pretty crazy and exhausting New Year’s Eve, I think all five of us were more than ready for a calm and relaxing New Year’s Day.  We decided to take it easy, and after breakfast we all threw on wellies or sneakers and headed out our own front door to explore the grounds.

Since we’d arrived at The Old Vicarage after dark, we hadn’t been able to tell what the bed & breakfast or surrounding area really looked like at all.


It’s a lovely little collection of old stone buildings surrounded by meadows, horse pastures, and even a little stone church with a crumbling cemetery.


Pitted dirt roads and mossy stone walls wind through the whole place, and we all just kept picking paths as we came to them, splitting up and meeting again at the next corner.

The church on the grounds is Saint Hilary Church which dates all the way back to the 1200s.  Parts of the building and the cemetery are much newer, but we still spotted gravestones from the late 18th century.




We were wandering along the path that leads around the church when a sweet lady came bustling out of nowhere in her wellies & dressing gown and asked if we’d like to see the inside.  She unlocked the church with a big old-fashioned iron key, told us we could stay as long as we liked, and showed us how to turn the lights off when we left.


The entire floor was a beautifully tiled clay mosaic and the Christmas decorations were still up from the week before.



We flipped the lights off and pulled the heavy wooden door shut behind us before we continued our exploration of the property.


The gloomy weather actually added to the feel of the place, and everything looked brilliantly green against the gray sky and gray stone.

Doesn’t this just look like quintessential old English countryside?


Having enjoyed a sufficiently leisurely morning stroll, we figured that we should probably extend our experience of Cornwall at least slightly beyond the boundaries of our accommodation, so we piled back into Hip Hop Yellow and drove along the coast.

Just offshore from the little town of Marazion (or Marzipan, as my dad called it) is St. Michael’s Mount, a tiny island that’s home to a castle, chapel, fishing harbour, and even its own little village (sorry my spelling is so mixed up now – there are just some words that look better British).


The island has been inhabited for over 1500 years, and used to be the Cornish counterpart to Mont Saint-Michel in Normandy, although the official connection ended when Henry V went to war with France in the 1400s.

Fun fact time, everybody!  Mont Saint-Michel was the inspiration for Minas Tirith in The Return of The King and St. Michael’s Mount is its English twin, so basically we visited the capital of Gondor that day.


During low tide, the island is accessible by a stone walkway from the mainland.  We lucked out and happened to get there while the walkway was fully exposed, so even though it was misty and wet, we decided to check it out.


Not much was happening on the little ol’ island that day, but on Tuesdays and Fridays you can take a tour of the castle, and during nicer days in the summer there are cafes and little shops in the village.  St. Michael’s Mount also has its own underground railway through the island, which is still used to transport goods between the harbour and the castle.


It was raining lightly but very consistently at this point, and we were all soaked after about five minutes on the island.  Just then, the top half of the closest house’s Dutch door swung open and a guy in a big knit sweater leaned out.  The world’s most perfect Cornish fisherman told us that we’d better scamper on back to the mainland if we wanted to make it, or else he’d worry about us in this weather.

Apparently the tide was coming in quicker than we’d realized, and the island’s last residents were currently hurrying home in a little white van before they were marooned for another cycle.


We quickly thanked the fisherman and started our mad dash back along the walkway.  Before we were halfway along, the water was already lapping at our toes.


The rain was coming down in earnest by this point, and the rocks were slippery with seaweed and slime.  The wind was picking up and the waves were getting bigger, and being swept off the path and into the sea did not seem that far outside of the realm of possibility.  If I were a mermaid I would not have been concerned.


We made it back to shore with a little slipping and sliding, hightailed it away from the beach, and dove headfirst into the first open coffee shop we came across.

It was The Coffee Lounge attached to The Marazion Hotel and we spent the next hour warming up our toes and letting our jackets drip dry while we had tea and scones and chatted with the manager, Susie.

By the time we were ready to venture back outside, the rain had stopped and the sun was desperately trying to poke through the dark stormclouds.


The walkway out to St. Michael’s Mount was just barely visible as it slid off the beach and into the water, and after a few more minutes, it was nowhere in sight.


There were a few daring kiteboarders taking advantage of the wind and swells.  It made me miss my Outer Banks friends & coffee customers – I know so many of them would’ve been out there, too, despite the rain and freezing temps!



Paul, Amity, and I hopped back in the car while my parents decided to brave the three-mile coastal walk to Penzance.  Good on them, but I was getting brainfreeze from the wind.  By the time they met us back at The Longboat Inn, us kids were properly warmed up and a couple pints ahead of them.

We all relaxed in the pub, caught a bit of whatever football match was on, and were glad to fulfill our promise of returning and giving those fine folks some patronage after they’d been so jolly nice and helpful to us during the previous night’s wild goose chase!

The afternoon held another exciting adventure for us, but I have altogether too many pictures of it to keep going right now, so you’ll have to come back again soon…

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