Tag Archives: Leicester

LONDON… My Favorite BIG City in the World!

L O N D O N - E N G L A N D - 2001

If you gave me 10 seconds to name my favorite BIG city in the world… I’d answer LONDON in less than 5 seconds. Primarily for it’s magnificent history, unbelievable entertainment, fantastic culinary efforts, unparalleled cultural diversity, and arguably the BEST people watching on Planet Earth. I can’t even imagine what London’s going to be like for the 2012 Olympic Games coming up this Summer. Where else can you see 10 people from 10 different cultures in 10 minutes? OK, maybe New York City or Singapore; but, I think you see where I’m going with this… LONDON IS ALIVE! And I LOVE it!

The London Eye

When you’re as sarcastic as I am… it becomes quite difficult to take someone serious when they ask you a question that inevitably would be best answered with a smart ass answer. Living in Texas for the past 30 of my almost 42 years of life, and British by birth (England from birth to almost age 12)… if I had a $1 US Bill for every time somebody said “ENGLAND? Have you ever been to London?” I’d have enough money to buy a plane ticket from Austin, Texas to London, England. I was born in a place called Leicester, England about 100 miles North of London in The Midlands. It’s not pronounced “Lie-Chest-Er” either. It’s pronounced “Less-Ter”. Not sure why. It just is. Anyway, I’m not a grammar student and don’t even pretend to be one on TV, so we’ll move on. Hey, so guess what this blog is about? Yep. You guessed it. Czech Republic. Just kidding.

The Union Jack - British Flag
Union Jack - British Flag - 2004

For the 7 of you (or is it 8 now?) who follow my blog, I can honestly say that I have traveled to some fantastic places and built incredible memories across this vast globe; but, hands down, one of my favorite places in the world to return to over and over again is LONDON. I find it difficult to comprehend that there are people who would travel to England and NOT see London. While downright outrageously expensive… It’s a must see on any travel “Bucket List”. Up to this point, it has been very difficult for me to construct a substantial blog about my love of London, and I still don’t think I’m prepared to do it any justice. There will be criticism and opinions; therefore, the best thing I can do is tell MY story about London. Basically… London epitomizes my Austin GlobeTrekker blog slogan to TRAVEL | EXPLORE | DREAM | DISCOVER.

Chad, Mario and Jason (me) - Tate Modern Museum - London 2003

Story time…

On October 3rd, 2001… my grandad died. On October 4th, 2001… I lost my job in Austin, Texas and became unemployed. Less than a week later, I found myself on an airplane with my family to Mandeville, Jamaica for my Grandad’s funeral. Do I need to recap what happened a few weeks prior to all this on September 11th, 2001 in New York City? Didn’t think so. Bottomline, it was one of the lowest points of my entire life with a wealth of opportunity for me to to do the only thing I knew how to do… Keep getting up. Keep fighting. Stay positive. Be optimistic. The glass is half full. Don’t give up! Who invented liquid soap and why? We all know the cliche’s. All sounded a bit cheesy as I sat there on a beer crate in my grandfather’s backyard, drinkin’ a Heinekin, eating curry goat with rice ‘n peas, while sweatin’ my ass off in a black suit in the middle of Jamaica at a funeral reception. I know… you’re wondering “Why weren’t you drinking a Red Stripe?”; but, if you’ve been to rural Jamaica, you already know… Jamaicans LOVE Heinekin!  If you haven’t been to rural Jamaica… Jamaicans LOVE Heinekin!

Picadilly Circus - Jason (me) and Cousin Jules - 2004

My Dad came over and sat down with me. He gave me one of those “Fatherly Lessons” that I will never forget. He basically told me “When we get back to Texas… sell what you can, get out of your apartment lease, move what you want to keep to our house, pack a suitcase, buy a plane ticket, and go see your cousins and family in England. The world is uncertain right now, and nothing is going to happen between now and 2002. In fact, don’t be surprised if we go to war after what happened. It’s coming. Texas is your home. So is England. You can come back when you’re ready. For now… you need some time away from all this.” He won’t remember it. I do. And always will.

St Paul's Cathedral - London, England - 2003

Keep in mind… this is the same brother that had these wonderful “words of wisdom” a few years back during a conversation with my wife:

Anna (wife): Hey! What is that he has in his mouth? (referring to our son Cameron when he was 18-20mo old)

Dad: Huh?

Anna: You’re supposed to be watching him! Oh my gosh! Is that a bottle cap?

Dad: Oh my! How did he get that? No worries. It will help sharpen his teeth.

Wife: Sharpen his teeth? He’s not a WOLF!

River Boat Cruise on The Thames - London, England - 2003

Nevertheless, I took my old man’s advice back in October 2001, called my Cousin Roger in Northampton, England, bought a plane ticket, and jumped on a plane from Dallas, Texas to London. Quite possibly the most difficult time in the entire world to travel overseas. Security was beyond comprehension. Soldiers with guns. My greatest frustration and anger was that now WE had become the victims of terror. Cuz yeah… I was scared. I knew from that day forth… travel would NEVER be the same (and it hasn’t been).

"The Lion" - Trafalgar Square - London, England - 2007
"All about details" - Westminster, England - 2007

My only saving grace that day… Shaun. I can’t remember his last name. What I do remember is this… He was an Irishman, living in Australia, heading to London to meet his family where he was going to move his successful ice cream truck business across England. How bizarre is that? We had originally met at the airport bar in Dallas, Texas during our 2 hour layover to New York and quickly realized we were going to have a LONG day of travel together. We drank Heinekin.

"The Gate" - The Houses of Parliament - London, England - 2007

I’ll never forget flying into New York and not seeing the World Trade Center; but, more specifically FEELING the absence of the towers. CHILLING. HORRIFYING. SAD. We had an almost 6 hour layover in New York, so Shaun and I spent our time in yet another bar talking and drinking. Heinekin. By the time we got on the plane to England, Shaun and I realized we had stayed up the entire duration of the flight, talking until the flight attendant on the intercom said “Welcome to London Gatwick”. This was Day ONE of my London 2001 Adventure.

"Kids on a Double Decker" - London, England - 2001
Double Decker Bus - Oxford Circus - London, England - 2001

It had been just over 2 years since I had been back to London (May 1999); but, the feeling was the same. Home. The simple goal: TRAVEL | EXPLORE | DREAM | DISCOVER. Each and every day I would get up and do something different. Pretending to read a magazine while people watching in the middle of Victoria, King’s Cross, or St. Pancreas Train Stations because it’s FUN… and FREE. Striking up a conversation with a stranger over a pint of Boddington’s at a pub while catching some live music in Camden Town. Waiting patiently at 11:59am in Westminster for “Big Ben” to strike 12 times at NOON. Sitting on a park bench and eating a sacked lunch in Hyde Park. Tasting the best Indian food and curries in Europe and the Americas (arguably the world). Underground clubs, private parties and ultimate nightlife in SOHO with my Cousin Joules. Riding the RED – Central Line from end to end – because you have the time.

The London Eye from Thames River - London, England - 2003
"Stroll along The Thames" - 2004
"Look kids... Big Ben... Parliament" - London 2003

Walking along the Thames and watching a crew practice. Lining up at Busaba Eathi off Wardour Street (two days in a row mind you) to eat Thai food. Yes… it’s THAT good! Standing outside Buckingham Palace and watching the changing of the guard. Eating the best English breakfast with bacon, beans, sausage, toast, and a cup of PG Tips tea in a small dive around the corner from Euston Train Station. Observing a protest outside an embassy. Taking a London black cab absolutely anywhere in the city just so you can witness the fact that they are the BEST cab drivers in the world. Learning and traveling every route on The Tube (aka London Underground). Getting lost for hours in the Natural History Museum (my favorite place as a kid). Shopping on a Saturday morning at Portabello Market in West London. Chilling at a coffeehouse in one of my favorite places – Covent Garden listening to my first taste of Washington DC based Dynamic DJ Duo – Thievery Corporation. I could go on and on boring you. EVERY DAY something different. Something new. I was actually LIVING for the city and truly appreciating my environment. I LOVE LONDON.

"Coffee and Pastries in Covent Garden Market" - London, England - 2007
"Through the Gates" - Big Ben - London, England - 2007
"Controlling the Situation" - London's Finest - 2007
"No To Mugabe - No To Starvation" - Peaceful Zimbabwe Protest in London - 2007

My best days in London…

Just being a TOURIST. People really shouldn’t go so far out of their way to avoid being a tourist. There’s a reason you’re supposed to see certain things in a city, and London is definitely one of the best cities in the world to be a TOURIST. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve jumped on and off the The Big Bus Company – London sightseeing bus tour. Quite frankly, it’s the best way to see London. Especially if you only have a few days. Me? I’ve had years of multiple visits to London, and I still enjoy it. How else do you get an opportunity to see the cliche tourist sites like Big Ben, Houses of Parliament, Tower Bridge, Picadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, Tower of London, St Paul’s Cathedral, and The London Eye? WOW! Sometimes I take for granted and forget how many wonderful sites there are in London. Don’t be afraid to be a tourist.

Tower Bridge - London, England - 2003
"Beefeater" at Tower of London - 2003
The Infamous British RED Phone Booth
"Guarding The Crown Jewels" - Tower of London - 2003
"Marching Armed Guards" - The Tower of London - England 2004

I could write forever about London. Contradicting my earlier statement about going to England and NOT seeing London… is almost as bizarre to me as going to London and NOT seeing England. One of your best itinerary plans for a vacation to London are the DAY TRIPS outside of London. Just one more thing that makes London such an awesome city to visit. Saying that London is England, is like saying that New York is USA. It is a must see; but, there are plenty of amazing “nearby” places to soak in and enjoy like Oxford, Cambridge, Leeds Castle, Canterbury, Stratford Upon Avon, Warwick, Salisbury, The Cotswalds, Dover, Stonehenge, Windsor, and my favorite day trip… Bath. All definitely worth planning as excursions from your hotel base in London; but, we’ll save those tales for another blog. This one’s getting out of hand.

STONEHENGE - England 2003
Leeds Castle - Kent, England - 2004
The Grounds at Leeds Castle - 2004
Leeds Castle - Kent, England - 2004
Canterbury Cathedral - England 2004
The Cathedral - Bath, England - 2004
The Roman Baths - Bath, England 2004
Roman Baths - Bath, England 2004
Windsor Royal Station - Windsor, England
"Bobby & the changing of the guard" - Windsor Castle 2003
The White Cliffs of Dover & Dover Castle - England 2004
Birthplace of William Shakespeare - Stratford Upon Avon, England 2004
Cutty Sark - Greenwich, England
Warwick Castle - England
"Doorway to the Past" - Cambridge, England - 2004

In Summary…

My time in London/England during the 2001 late fall/early winter season was one of my life’s greatest blessings. It helped me learn a LOT about who I was. A genuine catalyst for my appetite to travel. Bottomline… The city inspires me. It was in London that I discovered my favorite quote in a small Notting Hill bookshop:

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only a page” ~ St. Augustine

So what ended up happening? I spent a week in Amsterdam, The Netherlands before heading back to England, and then inevitably came back to Texas for Christmas 2001 to be with my family. I had job offers to stay in London; however, Austin, Texas was where I was supposed to be and have since resided. Now I’m married to a wonderful woman with 2 adorable kids and have been working at the same high-tech company for the past 10 years since I returned from England. But that’s what travel is all about. Getting out there. Why? Because you never know. No regrets.

L O N D O N - E N G L A N D - 2001

AUSTIN: Hometown Cravings!

Texas State Capitol Building – Austin, Texas USA – “Don’t Mess With Texas!”

The name of my TRAVEL blog is Austin GlobeTrekker; yet, all I’ve blogged about so far in my one month of existence is the “GlobeTrekker” portion. Time to get LOCAL and talk about AUSTIN! This might very well be one of the most conceited and arrogant statements I’ve made in the past 24-36hrs; however, I must say… I live in a BAD ASS city! Austin, Texas might very well be one of the coolest places to call your home. And I rightfully call Austin my hometown, because even though I was born in Leicester, England, I’ve lived in Austin for over 30% of my life; Texas for over 70%. As much as I love to travel… Texas IS home. Don’t worry… I’m still going to ramble on about other countries too.

Texas State Capitol - Austin, Texas USA

I recently met some folks from Canada during a training session in Round Rock, Texas for my “real” job that I actually get paid to do. You’ll rarely hear me talk about “work” on this blog, because… we’re here to share stories and experiences about TRAVEL. Things I like to do when I’m NOT working. Sure, I’ve been to British Columbia (Vancouver, Whistler) and Alberta (Calgary, Banff, Lake Louise, Jasper) and met hundreds of Canadians (ok, like 10); But, it’s not so often that you meet them right here in your hometown and hear them say “I’ve ALWAYS wanted to visit Austin!”.  That TEXAS PRIDE kicks in, and an uncontrollable Southern grin crosses your face, and all you can think to say is “WELCOME TO TEXAS!”.

The Lone Star Flag
The Lone Star Flag - Welcome to Texas!

Like most tourists (including myself), you do your research and have your rough itinerary of things you want to see in the city your visiting. About halfway through our conversation about the downtown Austin live music scene, the bats under the Congress Bridge, partying at the bars on 6th Street, eating real Texas BBQ (his words, not mine) and indulging in some authentic Mexican food (her words, not mine), I drifted off into a coma and started talking to myself about the things that I like to do in Austin. I started to tell them that if they REALLY want to see some live music… come back in September (16-18) for ACL – Austin City Limits Festival 2011 at Zilker Park. Back in 2009, I had the pleasure of watching one of my legendary favorites – Pearl Jam put on a spectacular show. This year promises to be incredible too. Stevie Wonder, Kanye West, Arcade Fire, Coldplay, and so on and so on. Skipped it last year… but, I digress.

Austin City Limits Festival 2009 - Pearl Jam on the Livestrong Stage

Unfortunately for them, they were staying at The Marriott – La Frontera, in Round Rock, Texas. I had to gingerly explain that this is NOT Austin. Saying you’re “staying in Austin” when you’re really in Round Rock, is kinda like the time one of my managers told us we were “staying in Manhattan, New York” when our hotel was really in Secaucus, New Jersey. True story. Similar… but different. It’s close enough that you can get there. But don’t fool yourself thinking it’s a 10min walk. More like an expensive cab ride. In honor of my new Canadian colleagues, I’ve added a photo of one of my favorite hotels in the world – The Fairmont Banff Springs HotelAlberta, Canada. Once again – Similar… but different to Round Rock, Texas. I’m just sayin’.

Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel - Alberta, Canada - Canadian Rockies

Naturally, it wasn’t long before I realized… our “Austin Agendas” are just a tad different. In a traveler’s defense… It’s hard to know a place in 2 days. God bless ’em for tryin’ though. For example… The best bars in Austin (in my opinion mind you) are DIVE BARS. I’m embarrassed on the borderline of sheer pride that MOST of the Dive Bars in (and around) Austin, Texas know me and my group of idiot friends we like to call “The Dive Bar Crew”. For the past 10-12yrs, we’ve frequented some spectacular joints like Ginny’s Little Longhorn, Lustre Pearl Bar, Poodle Dog Lounge, Buddy’s, La-La’s, C-Hunt’s, G&S Lounge, Dry Bean Saloon, Horseshoe Lounge, The Hideout, Deep Eddy Cabaret, Shoal Creek Saloon, The Water Tank, Dog & Duck, Posse East, Nasty’s, Crown & Anchor, Shannanigan’s, Draught House, Canary Hut, The PLT (Parmer Lane Tavern) Carousel Lounge, and my favorite dive bar in Austin, Texas… Donn’s Depot – just to name a few! Oh, and if you’ve got the time… and the courage… take a short trip just outside of Austin to an old biker bar in the Texas Hill Country called The Devil’s Backbone . CLASSIC!

"The Dive Bar Crew" at The Devil's Backbone - Texas USA

I then started to get thirsty. Then I just got flat out hungry after drinking all that cheap ice cold beer (in my mind), and could NOT get BOMB TACOS out of my mind! It was driving me crazy! So, I mentioned Lustre Pearl Bar. It’s a really cool laid back Texas style beer garden at 97 Rainey Street over by the Austin Convention Center. BOMB TACOS is a camper. No lying. It’s not a building establishment. It pulls up to the side of the beer garden in the back of Lustre Pearl Bar, and serves a Bad Ass Burrito. LITERALLY. It’s called the “Bad Ass Burrito”. Check the sign and menu. All Tacos – $3. All Burritos – $6. All Quesadillas – $6. And it’s fresh-cooked, TexMex heavenly cuisine when accompanied by an ice-cold cerveza! I recently got my Bomb Taco fix on my birthday party weekend (May 7th) before heading to Europe (May 9th) – Germany, Austria, Slovenia and Italy. Sometimes… you’ve just gotta have it!

BOMB TACOS - Lustre Pearl Bar - Austin, Texas - "Home of the Bad Ass Burrito!"

Which leads me to another quick story (not really). My friend Sal lives in Munich, Germany. LOVES it there, and I can clearly see why. FANTASTIC city, culture, people, food, beer and overall scene. BUT… Sal told me how he was craving Mexican food like a banshee! Not really sure how a banshee craves food; however, dude was clearly desperate enough to get into an altercation with a Bavarian over the definition of Mexican food. Sal ordered a quesadilla. Dude gave him a burrito. Similar… but different. Sal’s response – “Hey man! I’m FROM Texas… I know Mexican food!”. So I said, “Sorry you didn’t get your Mexican fix! I wish I could package some TexMex and send it over for you.” His response… “Oh, I ate the burrito! And it was damn good too!”. Hmmm… me thinks NOT! He’s been away from Texas too long. They don’t know TexMex food; But… The Bavarians KNOW beer! PROST!

Bavarian Beer Garden - Munich, Germany - May 2011 - PROST!

So, I’m still stuck in this freaky coma of complexity, dreaming about my local palette, and it leads me to ice cream. While we were recently in Venice, Italy, I think I may have had the BEST mint chocolate chip ice cream in the world! Seriously. No exaggeration! OK… maybe a 3.742% exaggeration. Sometimes, food is just about location. location. location. Ice cream in The Rialto Market on a warm sunny May day in Venice, Italy… that’s almost perfection for location. It was sooooo good, that after completing the generously portioned scoop… I wanted to go back and get another one. If you’ve been to Venice before – good luck getting back to where you were in The Rialto if you never knew where the hell you were in the first place.

"The Rialto" - Venezia, Italia! - BEST mint chocolate chip ice cream in the world!

But, back to local. As great as that ice cream was in Venice… there is almost nothing like a true frozen dessert experience at Amy’s Ice Cream here in Austin, Texas. These artisans are like Wizards of Dessert. I remember a few years back when my cousins Roger, Amanda, Polly and Ella came over from England. Music blaring, “Keep Austin Weird” signs around the place, college students on their laptops (pretending to study), and an ice cream server who looked like his beard should have had a hair net on it for health code reasons. BUT, that’s Austin my friends! After getting all kinds of candy bars and fruit crushed up in her ice cream, my cousin Polly was shocked, yet excited like a cast member of GLEE, when they threw her ice cream over the counter for her to catch in a bowl. Like I said… it’s a true frozen dessert experience.

Amy's Ice Cream - Austin, Texas - "A True Frozen Dessert Experience!"
Amy's Ice Cream - Austin, Texas - Cousin Polly catching ice cream from "The Wizards of Dessert"

By now, I’m starting to come out of the coma, and I realize that the Canadians are still talking. Probably something about hockey and asking “why is it so bloody hot down here in Texas!” 103F today. Well, I’ve been drinking beers at dive bars, eating bad ass burritos at Bomb Tacos, and eating Amy’s Ice Cream. It’s like I was in The Matrix. Plugged in… but, more like a robot of “yeah”, “sure!”, “oh definitely”, “you don’t say?”, “uh huh”, “you go girl!”. I’m just ready to go to bed by this point; but in “coma land”, it’s late night 2am in Austin, Texas, so I started thinking about blueberry pancakes at Magnolia Cafe on Lake Austin Blvd. This place is so good! And it’s a true local Austin diner. Like they say… Everybody Knows – Everybody Goes! I had a ridiculously fantastic strawberry syrup with ice cream pancake at The Pancake Bakery in Amsterdam, The Netherlands a few years ago; but, it still wasn’t the same nostalgic experience as a late night closer, or morning hangover remedy at Magnolia Cafe. Ironically, less than half a mile down the road from my favorite dive bar – Donn’s Depot, and across the street from yet another one of my favorites – Deep Eddy Cabaret.

Magnolia Cafe - Austin, TX - late night with my friends Robyn & Jaime

As I’m now fat, full and drunk… I join reality once again, only to hear the Canadians closing comments: “THANK YOU! So I guess we’ll see you tomorrow night!”. As of right now, I have absolutely no idea what I signed myself up for (or THEM for that matter). I guess we’ll find out tomorrow now, won’t we! If they truly want to hit 6th Street… I’ll take them to WEST 6th Street. Who knows… maybe we can grab a slice of good ol’ late night pizza from Roppolo’s Pizzeria!

Late Night Pizza from Roppolo's Pizzeria - W. 6th St - Austin, TX - my friends Cooksey and Maui Meg

OK… I’m done rambling. Stay Tuned for more adventures of Austin GlobeTrekker. Until then… Join the Conversation!