Friday, October 21, 2011

What It Costs To Live In London

The hard numbers behind our four months in London:

Rent: We spent £750 per month on our small, furnished studio flat in the Cricklewood area (Zone 2, midway between Kilburn and Willesden Green tube stations).  This included mediocre Wi-Fi internet access and utilities (less electricity).

Electricity: We averaged about £40 per month, including television usage.

Television: A television licence cost us £29.10 per month

Entertainment: Our entertainment costs averaged £55 per month.  This included Buckingham Palace, Zoo Lates, outdoor film screenings, and an Elton John concert (and festival).

Travel: We averaged £370 per month.  This included our weekly Oyster card top-up (£28 per person for unlimited travel, Zones 1-2) plus our train rides to Eastbourne, Oxford, Hatfield, Brighton, and Bath.

Food: We went out a lot, especially during the last half of the summer.  We averaged £475 per month on dining out costs (including pints) and £160 per month on groceries.

I found London to be very affordable.  Although I was disappointed with our flat, at least we were able to find one within our budget which got us there (and the neighbourhood was safe and fun and convenient).  Once there, we found living expenses to be low.  There are plenty of dining options across the economic spectrum and we were always checking out new places.  There are also many attractions that are free (parks, museums, Thames Walkway, etc.) making entertainment very affordable.  Other necessities, like groceries and public transportation, are completely reasonable and, in both cases, cheaper in London than in Dundee (though public transportation isn't as necessary in Dundee).

Yes, you can definitely spend a lot of money in London.  But, the fact that we averaged only £2000 per month for all expenses, doing everything we wanted to do, shows that spending a lot of money isn't necessary to enjoy yourself.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Knock of Crieff

Crieff
For our October ramble, we headed west to Crieff, described in our Frommer's walking guide as 'an attractive resort town, situated on the Highland edge at the foot of the Knock, a hill with panoramic views over mountain, wood, and farmland.'  We were looking forward to this ramble for two reasons: 1, because we've yet to experience this part of the country and 2, because the ramble starts from the car park of the Glenturret Distillery, basically incorporating a distillery tour into our ramble.  Beginning a ramble in the Highland foothills with a wee dram of The Famous Grouse, Scotland's favourite whisky?  Yeah, sounded like the perfect day to us, too.

Getting to Crieff from Dundee required a 20 minute train ride to Perth (£7.50 return per person) and a further 45 minute bus ride (£4.10 return per person).  The distillery is a bit out of town on the main road but the walk is pleasant.  We left Dundee around 10am and arrived at the Glenturret Distillery around 12:30pm.  Upon arrival, we paid for the 1:30pm Experience tour (£8.95 per person) and then headed up to the restaurant to kill an hour.  The restaurant was disappointing, though we did enjoy a drink before moving on.  The shop was better and we walked away with a chunk of whisky fudge (£1.60) as our souvenir.

The tour itself was fun but, especially when compared to the free tour available at the Glenfiddich distillery in Dufftown, a bit expensive.  Our tour at the Glenfiddich distillery had a smaller group (though we were there in November) and ended with a proper tasting of their three whiskies (12, 15, and 18 years).  Our group at the Glenturret distillery was much larger (it sold out) and the tour felt fast.  Though we did get small samples of four of their whiskies (Snow, Famous, Black, and 10 year single malt), it was not a proper whisky tasting and I didn't leave respecting the flavours, as I did after the Glenfiddich tour.  The tour ended with a pretty cool short film and, overall, I'm glad we did it because we were there but, especially at that price, we'd recommend Dufftown and Glenfiddich for a cheaper and perhaps better, though similar, experience.

view from the summit
We began our Knock ramble around 2:15pm and finished around 5pm, just short of the book's estimated 3 hours.  The hike took us up a few hills (total elevation gain was 710 ft.), some of which were pretty steep, giving it a moderate rating from the book, which I agree with.  We encountered a few other ramblers but, otherwise, we were completely alone.  With a castle in the distance and the autumn colours, this was a particularly scenic hike and we would definitely recommend it, though we would suggest going on a clear day to take full advantage of the views from the summit.

Crieff itself was a surprise; we hadn't expected such a large town.  When we arrived in the early afternoon it was bustling with activity and we should've stopped then for a pint rather than heading straight for the distillery.  Upon our return, around 5:30pm, the town had already seemingly closed for the night so we didn't really get to experience much of Crieff.  We did find a couple pubs still open however, though the one we chose we weren't terribly impressed with.  There were a few takeaways to choose from too, but again, the one we chose we were disappointed with.  With nothing left to entertain us, we jumped on the 7pm bus back to Perth and were home before 9:30pm.

Monzie Castle
Although we experienced poor weather, our day was otherwise perfect and we highly recommend this itinerary including the distillery tour, but only if incorporating it into the ramble and not as an isolated attraction.

For more pictures, please visit my Facebook album here.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Glasgow

With a local Glaswegian as our guide (slash bodyguard), we spent this past Friday and Saturday in Glasgow.  The first (and last) time we were in Glasgow, we had stayed only a day, not wanting to be in the city after the sun went down.  Right or wrong, we had expected a rough city prior to that first visit and we were terrified of it, thus we had planned our travels to get us out of there well before sundown.  Happily, upon arrival our opinions instantly changed and, as the day progressed, our expectations wound up being proved completely inaccurate.  Nonetheless, we hadn't bothered returning until a new friend, Adam, convinced us to spend more time there.  This past Friday we returned.

We started our evening in the West End.  It was super cute and reminded us of Montmartre in Paris.  The scene was fun and normal (no street fights or thugs wielding pipes as weapons) and the bars Adam took us to, Grosvenor Cafe and Hillhead Bookclub, were both in old, gorgeous buildings.  I could easily see myself living in this neighbourhood.  It was a great re-introduction to Glasgow.

We started the next day with a hike up Gardner Street, the 'steepest street in Europe', on our way to the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum where we spent some time getting some culture.  It's nice to be able to stop into a free museum and see a Van Gogh, Monet, and Pissarro.  We were also able to catch a bit of the organ recital as we left.

Afterwards, we traversed the city on foot to the east end, passing The People's Palace on our way to West Brewery for lunch, which wound up being closed for a wedding.  Although a huge disappointment, we regrouped and headed to Home in Merchant City instead.  We had a lovely meal at Home and decided to pub crawl our way back to the West End.  We stopped at Waxy O'Connor's, an Irish pub in the city centre, and Chinaskis, a Bukowski fan pub on Sauchiehall, before heading back to Adam's for our bags.

We left Adam at the Partick underground station, on our way to Queen Street rail station where we would grab our train back to Dundee.  Adam had proven to be a great host.  We have similar tastes, so he knew exactly where to take us and what to show us.  We had a great time with him and recommend his tour guide talents to everyone.

Glasgow is a great city.  We felt safe the whole time and were never bored.  The plethora of pubs, beautiful buildings, and pubs in beautiful buildings could keep us entertained for weeks on their own.  The fact that Glasgow has so much more to offer than just those though, proves that we have many more eventful days to spend there.

For more pictures, please visit my Facebook album here.

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