The Olympics start in London today so I thought I’d gather up a few of my American chums, and a Kiwi, who live over here and ask them for their top tips for the capital, what they would advise friends to do or avoid if they were coming here for the first time. So thanks to David (Maryland), Jen (Ilinois), Supriya (Michigan) and Jasmine (New Zealand) for helping me out here.

London calling

Get an Oyster card to get around – don’t pay cash for tube or bus tickets. An Oyster card costs £5 which is refundable at the end of your stay.

Crossing the road, look right

Get an A-Z map – central London is very walkable if you have a vague idea of where you’re going.

On tube escalators, stand on the right unless you want to get an umbrella in the back of the knees from angry locals. And please, don’t wait for the ticket gates to close after the person in front of you goes through on the tube…just put your ticket in or oyster pass on the reader and go.

Know that the tube map does not necessarily reflect accurate distances – look at a regular map first (see above), it may be faster to walk somewhere than to take the tube.

If you’re coming from Gatwick airport you don’t need to take the expensive Gatwick Express train into town: Southern Trains also run every 15 minutes from Gatwick to Victoria – they are about 10 minutes slower, but much cheaper.

Hidden museum: the Wallace Collection in Marylebone.  Nice museum, nice size and nice setting. Have a coffee in the atrium before or after visiting, then walk up Marylebone High Street and  visit Daunt Books.

Cheapskate advice: London is very expensive for eating. Don’t feel pressured to order a £3 bottle of water in a restaurant. Just ask for tap!

Try to avoid taking taxis.  Although it’s tempting when it’s raining or when you’re in a hurry, traffic is often miserable and the tube will be faster. Also – second cheapskate alert – taxis in London are ridiculously expensive.  Over US$3 before you’ve even shut the door.  A 10-minute ride can easily cost you US$30, and more at night.

Skip the half-price ticket booth for theatre tickets in Leicester Square unless you really just want to see anything AND you don’t mind a crick in your neck. The seats sold at the booth tend to be first row seats 5 feet below the stage. The money you save on the ticket will need to be spent on a chiropractor the next day fixing your neck. Better bet is to go straight to the box office of the show you really want to see and try for same day tickets.  If there is a hot show you want to make sure to see, book online months in advance to avoid disappointment.

It’s an unfair myth that food in England is bad.  That may have been true 20 or 30 years ago, but now London is one of the most exciting food cities in the world. Just avoid obvious tourist traps and ancient pubs where the food will inevitably have come out of the microwave.  Look instead for nicer “gastro” pubs, which are doing really exciting things with traditional dishes.  There’s also great Asian food in London, Indian and Thai in particular.

Buy water from the grocery chains…bottles are WAY marked up at the off license shops or sandwich chains.

If you want to know what’s going on Time Out magazine comes out every Tuesday evening

The takeaway sandwiches from Harrods are fantastic and really reasonably priced….plus you get to look around the food halls at other gorgeous food.

Don’t try to compare any bagels in the UK with what you get in the US.  Even the best ones here aren’t as good.

Packing a picnic lunch or dinner and sitting in Hyde Park, Primrose Hill, Regents Park or the Heath will be one of your best meals.

Kenwood House on Hampstead Heath has a FANTASTIC lunch that you get cafeteria style then eat out in the gardens and it’s really reasonably priced.

If you go to Boots chemist, Berocca solves a lot of self-induced health issues.

Catch the river ferry from Embankment to Greenwich. You can see all the sites from the river and the crew give a great commentary about the history of the city.

Head away from the crowds of Borough Market and visit Maltby Street – it is open from 9am to 2pm every Saturday and is a foodie’s dream.

Just back from the Amalfi Coast south of Naples. And what’s not to love? Great hotels, views, food and, of course, very very stylishly Italian.

Positano

As my flight got into Naples late, I stayed at the Palazzo Caracciolo hotel, which I’d definitely recommend – friendly, stylish and a good location for around 100 euro a night. They’ll pick you up from the airport in a limo for 30 euro if you don’t want to risk a dodgy taxi driver at the airport.

From there it’s about a 15 minute walk to the central rail station, then an hour-long train ride to Sorrento for 4 euro with great views of Mt Vesuvius and the Bay of Naples. If you want to travel onwards along the Amalfi coast you can catch a bus that runs every hour, but it fills up quickly and isn’t ideal if you have luggage. I looked around on the internet and found Positano Taxis (+39 339 830 7748) – highly recommended – who shuttled straight to the hotel in Positano in a comfy Merc for 55 euro (and, as I found out on the return, will go from Positano to Naples airport for 100 euro – yes not cheap, but it saves a mountain of faffing around).

Hotel Poseidon

In Positano I stayed at the family-run Poseidon, which I picked for the pool (big bonus). It was nice and friendly (lovely staff, great views, top breakfast to start the day) but not without a few niggles – the bedroom felt on the dated-side of quirky and charming, plus it was a schlep up a steep road and steps to get to it from the bottom of town and the beach, especially so in 36 degree c weather. And most of all the chap who supervised the pool area had a curiously combative approach to customer service in a hotel where rooms start from around 300 euro a night in high season. If you had the big, big bucks your choice would probably be Le Sireneuse, although TripAdvisor’s top choices – and make of that what you will – are the Buca di Bacco and the Albergo Punta Regina, both of which I went past and certainly seemed nice.

Food is a big part of any stay here – I enjoyed Le Sireneuse (seriously wallet busting but definitely the place to come with a significant other and a picture postcard view from the terrace to die for). Next2 was also recommended by several people I met. Down by the beachfront, you pay for location and the nightime vibe – any of the restaurants you pick down there won’t be the meal of your life, but they’re all fun for the buzz and you can have a gelato and a stroll after. Some of the restaurants higher up in town were more hit than miss – great view but so so service and only just so so on the food: Cafe Positano for example. Also there’s only one road through Positano, down which drive cars and even small buses – but some restaurants higher up the town have tables actually on the road itself. At best disconcerting, at worst just not great to have some diesel fumes with your spaghetti. My advice – ask fellow hotel guests who’ve been in town for a few days for their recommendations.

For day trips, head down to the beach and take a boat to Capri or Amalfi (the latter, 8 euro one way), and from there a bus up to Ravello. If you do the later, lunch at Villa Maria hits the spot – nice food, awesome views. Have to say though that in the 38c heat, with the crowds and the irregular bus schedule, I’d think twice about going from Amalafi to Ravello at all – it was a bun fight to get on the bus and the alternative is a way-overpriced 30 euro taxi.

Guido on Fornillo beach renting sun loungers - the best 7 euro you'll spend in Positano (except on ice creams)

If you stay in Positano and your hotel doesn’t have a pool, avoid the main beach, and head along the rather-hidden path to the right (look for signs to the Polpetto restaurant and hotel) and after a 5-10 minute walk you’ll get to Fornillo beach, which is busy but more secluded and just more pleasant. In the middle Guido (yes really his name – see photo above) will rent you a sun lounger and umbrella for 7 euro a day, and you’ll find him waiting tables during lunchtime at the cafe just behind (in photo below) where you can grab a mozarella & tomato panini at a reasonable price.

Snack bar at Fornillo beach

If you want a bespoke package organising to this part of the world you absolutely can’t go wrong with Bellini Travel, or for something a bit more “everyday” and easier on the wallet, try Citalia

 

I live in Finsbury Park, North London – it’s very up and coming apparently. We now boast a Subway sandwich shop AND a Costa Coffee. So there!

But take a 10-minute magical journey away from the mosque, the abandoned Lidl bags, the drunks and the permanently-flooded intersection outside the Twelve Pins pub, across lovely Clissold Park and you enter, almost Narnia-like, a magic kingdom of indie record shops, non-chain clothes stores and organic cafes, where people wear Birkenstocks with pride and children are pushed proudly in their designer prams by their Guardian-clutching parents: Stoke Newington.

Clissold Park

And it’s here you’ll find 32-year old Ole Martin Hansen, who’s just your average 6ft 6″ Norwegian salmon smoker and musician, so I popped across the park last week to pick his brains on a variety of subjects including his top tips if you’re heading to his homeland.

Ole Martin Hansen at his smoke house in Stoke Newington

Where are you from in Norway?

I’m from the north but grew up near Stavanger in a place called Sandnes, which I called “Sadness” because it’s very industrial. I found people there are very small minded whereas London is great in terms of its multi culturalism.

How did you end up here?

I was studying and playing music – I’ve played the accordion since I was five – and set up an experimental music workshop in Stavanger just jamming and working with bands, but I had a friend who was in London studying Sound Arts at the London College of Printing, so I came over here to do that. Surviving as an artist in London usually means 30% work for your art and then 70% work just to pay the rent so I decided to do something 100% that I wanted to so I could fund my own art in the future, so here I am and it’s been nearly three years now.

The smoking room at the back is an old boiler room from the 50s, which was completely filled up with garbage when I first got here, but it’s connected to a chimney so I thought this was the perfect space for a smoking chamber. I had a budget of £300 so it was kind of mission impossible but I went for it. It’s very close to art – you have to be creative and use all your skills.

My great grandfather used to smoke salmon in Kirkenes and my grandfather, who was an engineer with the mines up in the north, he took over and my chamber is the same design as his.

He believed the salmon should hang in the sea air and sway in the wind for 12 hours. As they were still therefore moving he reckoned they weren’t completely dead so there was something happening to their protein and the enzymes. It’s a beautiful thought, and maybe it’s not the case, but I think it adds to the story and the experience. When something moves there’s energy being added to it so I’ve started playing Edvard Greig and my own little jams to the salmon when they’re hanging.

I’m smoking several tonnes of salmon a year and sell to restaurants, directly at markets such as Broadway Market and shops like Melrose and Morgan and Daylesford Organic and elsewhere. It’s all in hand-wrapped packs, which takes a lot of effort, so it’s all about aesthetics and being tactile. And then there are private orders from all over the world, as far away as Kuwait.

The salmon is sourced from a family-owned farm in the Faroe Islands – from people who care what they do and how the salmon are treated, the wood chips are from Denmark and the salt comes from Guérande in France.

Lofoten Islands

Where are your favourite places to visit in Norway?

I love Lofoten – it’s the Alps of the north, so beautiful. The people are great, the scenery is lovely. You can go fishing and catch your own cod, poach it with wild garlic and butter and serve with potatoes and then just fall asleep. Just rent a rowing boat, you’re guaranteed to catch fish. And if you don’t fancy that, try lamb and cabbage – just layer lamb, then cabbage, lamb, then cabbage, and simmer away – delicious. And in summer the berries are amazing.

We’re very lucky in Norway to have a huge network of cabins, run by a non-profit organisation, the Norwegian Trekking Association. All based on trust. Leave them as you’d wish to find them. No mobile signal. After a week you don’t want to come back. I’d definitely recommend those.

A network of cheap cabins for hikers and tourists across the country - Norway? Yes way!

Where’s your favourite place to travel?

I go down to Biarritz in France but my favourite favourite place has to be Istanbul. It’s such a great city – you’ve got the sea, the Bosphorus, the islands, the wooden houses, all the history, and of course loads and loads of culture.

Takk Ole!

wwww.hansen-lydersen.com , www.visitnorway.com, www.norwegian.com

Ole plays Edvard Grieg and his own musical jams to his salmon while they're hanging.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Most people know London is a series of villages that have, over the centuries, mashed together.

But in some ways Londoners still very much have a village mentality, in that they are extremely reluctant to visit a new or different part of town. Go south/north of the river – are you joking?!?!

So I wouldn’t normally venture to Southwark especially -shudder – Elephant & Castle (a gritty area that’s having £1.5bn invested in it) but I was invited to see the rather swish new hostel Safestay and go on a tour led by Blue Badge guide Sophie Campbell.

Fascinating stuff – tales of poverty, regeneration, Dickens, Chaplin, London’s oldest apothecary and some quirky shops & cafes (I definitely want to go back and check out the Electric Elephant).

I think my pics concentrate on the gritty side of things too much but it was a fascinating journey and reminded me that there’s much of London I have yet to explore. Next stop – the Hindu temple in Neasdon!

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Brits love New York – by which really we mean Manhattan.

Few of us venture over to Brooklyn though, the Shoreditch’y, Hoxton’y part of the Big Apple, which is a shame as it’s home to a gobsmacking amount of trendy little shops, cafes, restaurants and bars. And it’s all a short, easy subway ride away – or just take a stroll over the Brooklyn Bridge. Plus you get great views of the skyscrapery Manhattan skyline.

So here, foodie resident Erika Rose – founder of Musette Bakery – takes us for a stroll round her ‘hood.

Erika Rose - and may I say, never have wiser words been spoken Ms Child

Born and raised in upstate New York, Erika moved to the hustle and bustle of Manhattan at 17, and spent the next 7 years at university and law school there, before moving across the pond to London to practice law.  After four inspiring –  and delicious – years eating her way through Europe, she found her way back to New York, settling in Brooklyn in 2011 to pursue her dream of baking for a living.  She now runs Musette Bakery, co-founded with her brother, which aims to bring home-made baked goods to athletes and spectators.  She lives in Park Slope, where she is carrying on a love affair with brownstones.

Complete this sentence: Brooklyn rocks because….

To me, Brooklyn rocks because it combines the best of what I loved in London with what I love in New York.  I can live on a tree-lined street with a quiet backyard, have a neighbo(u)rhood and a park next door, and yet still have access to Manhattan when I want to experience the energy and noise that bring so many to the city.  People in Brooklyn are creative and unique, the food is astounding, and yet it’s still a bit of an escape for those of us who don’t necessarily want to live in a cramped space in the center of everything.

Don't be a dumbo - cross the bridge!

For the geographically challenged Brit reading this, how long does it take to get from central Manhattan to Brooklyn on the subway? What are the main trendy drags in Brooklyn for shops, cafes, bars etc.

It depends on where in Brooklyn you’re going: it can take as little as 5 minutes or as long as an hour.  Brooklyn is quite vast – if you annexed it from New York City, it would be the 4th largest city in America!  You can easily get to downtown Brooklyn in 10 minutes or so from lower Manhattan, and get a great view of the city from Brooklyn Bridge Park.  It’s a good start.  And, depending on the neighbo(u)rhood, there are many different main drag options.

Locally, I walk down to 5th Avenue in Park Slope, but I often find myself hopping on my bike to Court and Smith Streets, and Atlantic Aveune, where there are a whole host of antique and clothing stores, including Steven Alan and Jonathan Adler.  You could spend the whole day walking these streets, and would manage to wander through four neighborhoods in the process (Carroll Gardens, Cobble Hill, Boerum Hill and Brooklyn Heights).  Red Hook has Van Brunt Street.  Fort Greene has Fulton Street.  And, Williamsburg has Bedford Avenue (Williamsburg also has the added benefit of being only a few stops from Union Square in Manhattan, so it’s an easy afternoon trek if you want to get a feel for the hipper side of Brooklyn in a short amount of time).  Each of these neighborhoods is close enough to Manhattan to make a quick trip, and each have something unique to offer.

Where should I be drinking right now?

My newest discovery is The Ides, a rooftop bar with a stunning view of Manhattan, in the trendy Wythe Hotel – I’m excited to try their restaurant, Reynard’s as soon as I can.  Radegast Hall and Biergarten in Williamsburg has high ceilings, great lighting, and is an all-around top place for a drink, especially with a group.  I’m also a huge fan of everything at Roberta’s, especially in the summer and fall, when you can hang out in their back garden.  Their gin & juice is downright addictive.  And the Clover Club is hands down my favorite local spot, with creative drinks and an amazing old-school atmosphere.  And for those in the mood for a non-alcoholic drink, the Tootsie Pop Float at the Brooklyn Farmacy, an old-school soda shop, hits the spot.

What are your favourite weekend brunch spots?

My local standby is always Buttermilk Channel – their cheddar waffles and buttermilk pancakes are enough to make my weekend.  I love the biscuits at Egg, the pies at Bubby’s, the chilaquiles at Vinegar Hill House, and the brioche french toast at Applewood.  And if I want to get outside and try a bit of everything I head to Smorgasburg, a collection of some of Brooklyn’s best food stands that pops up every Saturday on a pier overlooking the East River.

Lobster roll with a view, at Smorgasbord

Favourite evening restaurants?

I like to joke that my second home is Prime Meats, and it’s not far from the truth.  As someone in an episode of Portlandia might say, the dream of the 1890s is alive and well inside Prime Meats.  The German-centric menu is incredible, the bar is gorgeous (so is the daily punch offering), and you feel a bit transported every time you step inside.  Their sister restaurant next door, Frankies, serves excellent Italian fare.  Now that summer has arrived, my second home has turned holiday beach home at Littleneck in Gowanus, where I can be found gobbling up oysters, lobster and clam rolls at an astounding rate.  For fresh, farm-to-table offerings, I love Seersucker.  And locally in Park Slope you can’t go wrong with Al di La, a Venetian staple in the neighborhood, and Talde, an Asian-American restaurant run by a former Top Chef contestant, and featuring my current favorite menu item in Brooklyn: Hawaiian bread buns.  These buns are not to believed.

Any cool shops near you?

Yes, plenty!  Get your records, antiques, and coffee all in one place at Black Gold, clothes from Bird, Stuart & Wright and Kill Devil Hill, anything and everything from the Brooklyn Flea on the weekends, vintage furniture from Re Pop, chocolate from Mast Brothers, bread from Bien Cuit, ice cream from Ample Hills Creamery, and birthday cake truffles from Momofuku Milk Bar.

Ample Hills Creamery

Best place for a slice of pizza?

Hands down, no arguments allowed, best pizza in the WORLD (a lofty claim, I know) is L&B Spumoni Gardens, in my mother’s old Brooklyn neighborhood of Bensonhurst.  It’s more than worth the trek for this thick, crusty Sicilian-style pizza, whose secret is in the unconventional method –  they put cheese on before tomato sauce, so the cheese and dough sort of melt into each other to form perfection).  And save room for spumoni.

What’s the most random / coolest thing about your neighbourhood?

It’s a little thing, but every night my neighborhood lights up with the comforting glow of gas-lit streetlamps.  The streets are transported in time, everything looks as though it’s in a movie, and it never ceases to make me feel lucky to live where I do.

Brooklyn - brownstones and street lamps

For a tourist, apart from eating, shopping and drinking are there any sights to see in Brooklyn?

One of the biggest reasons I chose to live where I do was its proximity to Prospect Park, and I’d recommend it to anyone who comes to visit Brooklyn.  It’s reminiscent of Central Park (and, like Central Park, houses a zoo), but smaller and not as crowded/touristy.  It’s also home to the beautiful Brooklyn Botanic Garden.  The arch at Grand Army Plaza (see photo below) is sort of like a mini version of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, and is a fitting entryway into this beautiful piece of Brooklyn.  If you have the time, I’d see a film or live performance at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, America’s oldest performing arts center.  Walk over the Brooklyn Bridge for stunning views of lower Manhattan.  Stroll through Greenwood Cemetery and pay a visit to the likes of Basquiat and Bernstein.  And for cycling enthusiasts, there’s a real hidden gem at Floyd Bennett Field, which is a former airport that now hosts a weekly cycling series every Tuesday on the airfield.  High winds and cracked pavement?  No problem.  Tour de France, eat your heart out!

The arch at Grand Army Plaza

Snowy Prospect Park

Thanks Erika! www.musettebakery.com

All photos are copyright of Erika Rose 2012.

www.visitbrooklyn.org , www.nycgo.com