Let’s Celebrate, England!
Back in September, I was rather unceremoniously chucked off of the cruise ship I had been working on due to a fractured wrist. A month later, I jetted off back to England to go cruising for a couple of weeks because I wanted to have the chance to actually say goodbye to my friends (I had to leave so quickly I barely had the chance!). Also, my boyfriend was still working on-board so I wanted more time with him. After two cruises, my boyfriend’s contract came to an end and I signed off with him in Southampton and then decided to stay a few weeks in Sunny England (my boyfriend is British so it was easy enough to just stay with him).
While the main purpose of the journey was to spend some quality time with my man, I of course took the opportunity to do some exploring! I’ve visited GB a few times now: a couple weeks in touristy London, a few days in historic Bath, a weekend in vibrant Liverpool, a brief visit to the shores of Brighton Beach and the quaint cottages of Brighton town, and of course dozens of turn-around days in the port town of Southampton … so where to next?
Well, my boyfriend lives in Essex (a bustling suburb of London) … I’ve also got some friends who now live in the coastal town of Great Yarmouth … and of course being so close to London, a few more visits were necessary. Here are the highlights:
Essex: Essex is an amazing little town with, actually, a ton of significance both historically and at present day. There is a killer nightlife scene (clubs, bars, restaurants) perpetuated by the hit TV series The Only Way Is Essex (think Jersey Shore meets The Hills only everyone has slangy English accents, bottle blonde hair, and fake eyelashes). The show has really put the town in the spotlight and brings in busloads of party-goers each weekend … so much so that they’ve had to build two massive new hotels in recent years. If that’s your scene, you can check out clubs like The Sugar Hut or Eclipse – both are often featured on the show and can be found on the streets of Brentwood (the beautiful town where my bf lives). Clubbing isn’t really my thing, though, so he took me to some of the local bars instead and I was not disappointed. The Swan has that great English Pub feel, great drink specials, and even a nice outdoor patio to sit and chat or have a fag (cigarette). My favorite spot for drinks, though, was a bar my bf used to work at that was recently renovated. It’s called The Merchant (previously, The Litten Tree) and is an amazing spot for drinks in a cool, vibrant atmosphere. With hardwood floors, mapped walls, and t-lights it’s definitely a step away from a pub, but still has a relaxed and young vibe. We didn’t do much “sight seeing” here as it’s my bf’s hometown, but his mom did give me a lot of information about the town’s historic significance including one of the oldest standing churches in England (she swears its THE oldest) called St. Peter-On-The-Wall and a beautiful fortress, Walthom Abby, which is the burial place of King Harold. ARE YOU AWAKE?!?! Sorry, history isn’t really my thing either but I wanted to give it a mention in case you were interested 😉
Great Yarmouth: Two friends who I met while working on cruise ships now live in the south of England in this beautiful coastal town. They work at a Holiday Park which is kind of like a campground only instead of tents, people rent caravans and instead of pavilions, there are big rec halls where they host game-shows, concerts, and parties. I had lots of fun hanging out around the park, but the best part of Yarmouth was definitely the seaside. Bright, flashing neon lights illuminate the streets along the shore revealing dozens of bars, restaurants, shops, rides, and arcades! It almost feels like Atlantic City, NJ only with no boardwalk and arcades instead of casinos. Most of the shops and the carnival-style pier were closed for the season, but I really enjoyed walking by the beach and playing the Two-Pence Machines in the arcades! We had a really great happy-hour at an *ah-hem* American style bar called Liberty’s Rock Cafe (apparently American means Tiffany Lamps, gawdy posters and tacky New York paraphernalia?? But who cares so long as the drinks were cheap!) Right across the street we found delicious food in generous portions at a place called Fatso’s (tried to ignore the name while I was scarfing down my friend shrimp!). Overall, Yarmouth was the epitome of a classic, touristy beach town with lots to do and see!
London: Well as I said, I’ve been to London a few times, but this time was so different because my visit overlapped with three big celebrations: Guy Fawkes Night (“Remember, Remember the 5th of November”), The Poppies at the Tower of London, and, of course, CHRISTMAS!
Guy Fawkes Night, also known as Fireworks Night or Bonfire Night, is a celebration in remembrance of the arrest of Guy Fawkes, who was caught guarding explosives that would have been used to assassinate the King. All over England, citizens lit bonfires to rejoice in the failed attempt on the King’s life, a tradition that continues to this day (only now it’s more about getting drunk and watching fireworks…). My boyfriend took me to a local school-fair that totally reminded me of The 4th of July celebrations I used to go to as a kid: fair rides, over-priced hot dogs, and hundreds of people gathering on the hillside to ooohh and ahhh at the explosive display.
The Poppies at the Tower was an art exhibition and charitable event that took place at the Tower of London. It was an evolving installation called Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red that marked the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War. Over several weeks, 888,246 ceramic poppies were individually purchased by the citizens of England and placed in the Tower’s moat. We arrived on the last day of the installation when they were starting to take down all of the poppies and pack them up to be shipped to the people who had purchased them. It was truly a breathtaking site to see the Tower smeared in a sea of red, and although the concept is rather sinister, the poppies were actually quite stunning.
Last but not least, CHRISTMAS!! In the States, it’s almost blasphemous to sing a Christmas Carol before the Thanksgiving Turkey hits the table, but in England they don’t have to worry about this and jump right into the holiday festivities as soon as the last trick-or-treater discards his zombie mask. London at Christmastime is truly a spectacular site to behold – not just the decorations, but the spirit in the air. It’s hard not to wander down some of the historic parts of town without imagining the face of Bob Marley on the old door knockers. But for me, the best part was a more modern feature: Winter Wonderland at Hyde Park. Every year, a massive Christmas extravaganza pops up in the park and opens to the public. It started as a small ice rink for a seasonal weekend activity and now it’s a full-blown fairground with artisan shops, spectacular rides, circus shows, and over-priced gaming booths with laughably huge stuffed-animals hanging from their rafters, daring you to even try to win their prestigious plushness. For some reason, this Christmasy Blowout even had a haunted house!?!? (Being a Nightmare Before Christmas fan, I didn’t mind though!) We had an amazing time walking through the brightly lit fairgrounds, sipping mulled wine, admiring the ice skaters, and we even got tickets for the late-night circus show (Cirque Berzerk). Here is one of the amazing acts we saw:
It was definitely worth riding into London for this amazing event, I only wish it would’ve stayed open a little later than 10pm!
All in all, another amazing trip across the Pond! Already looking forward to the next one 😀 Hopefully this inspires you to research your next travel destination and make sure you are aware of any local holidays/festivals/celebrations that may be going on during your visit!
Posted on November 30, 2014, in Europe, Travel and tagged art, bonfire night, christmas, england, essex, fireworks, fireworks night, great yarmouth, guy fawkes, holiday, hyde park, london, poppies, the only way is essex, tower of london, winter, winter wonderland, WWI, yarmouth. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.