About Emma Wells

Emma Wells

After living in America and New Zealand, Emma Wells moved to London where she began to cover life, work and travel in and around London on her blog On London Time. She shares advice for newcomers, travelers, and visitors alike. Beyond London, she writes about traveling on the cheap across Europe and around the world as well as food, books and tea.


Latest Posts by Emma Wells

London’s Fireworks That Brought in the New Year

January 1, 2013 by  

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Happy 2013! On my third New Years Eve celebration in London, I finally managed to bite the bullet and attempt braving central London.

And if you live in London, there are horror stories of central London on New Years. Think elbow-to-elbow crowds, freezing fingers, and waiting patiently for hours and hours in the icy cold to see the fireworks. Once the fireworks finish, think hours of queuing to get onto the street from the bridge you chose, queuing to get into the tube stations (which promptly close from overcrowding), and then queuing to get onto the tube platform, and then jamming yourself quietly into the corner of a tube train to make it home.

But it turns out all the queuing is simply not worth it. Those people are confused and lost.

Because the fact of it is, you can see London’s fireworks without all that. You just need to get to a bridge that’s a bit further up the river. Instead of crowding onto Westminster bridge or winding your way through the heaving crowds under the London Eye – head to a different part of the river.

If you make it to Vauxhall Bridge or even Chelsea Bridge, you’ll have a fine view of the fireworks. And even be able to move spread out your arms and not touch anyone else! Now that’s the definition of personal space in London.

If you had to one of these bridges, all you have to do is stroll up ten minutes before the fireworks go off. There’s no jockeying for position, or shoving your way through. Just easy viewing (provided you get the angle right – make sure that you have a good view of the London Eye where they shoot the fireworks off).

Then, it’s as simple as just making sure not to take any public transport for at least another 60 minutes – everything will be busy and horrible.

Instead, after watching the fireworks, slip into a nice local pub for a crowning glass of champagne to welcome in the new year (try The Warwick or Cask pubs – just double check they’re open past midnight).

Easy, right?

Now the hard part is just remembering all this when 2014 starts peeking its little face out.

Thanksgiving Menu Planning: One Girl’s Opinion

November 21, 2012 by  

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If there’s one thing I love it’s a good list. Or a good stack of cookbooks just waiting to be read – and made into Thanksgiving shopping lists!

This year I’m celebrating Thanksgiving with a dinner party – turkey and all the “fixins”. Which includes in no short order:

  • Pie
    • pumpkin
    • pecan
    • apple
  • Turkey
    • gravy
    • stuffing
  • Cranberry sauce (with orange zest and Thyme)
  • Potatoes Dauphinoise
  • Green beans
  • Sweet potato casserole with pecan crumble
  • Cornbread …or  regular yeasted bread…to be decided
  • clam chowder (to start)
  • green salad
There are just a couple of rules about Thanksgiving in my mind; namely, there has to be some over-the-top turkey themed decoration. And there has to be cranberry sauce and at least 3 kinds of pie. You can’t have Thanksgiving without pie in bulk – it’s just one of those facts.
Also, everyone has to say what they’re thankful for. It’s what separates a Thanksgiving dinner party from just your average dinner party (And pie. Did I mention pie? Lots of pie.).

Best Places for Beer in Belgium’s Brugges

November 9, 2012 by  

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A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to take a quick weekend trip to Bruges. Did you know Belgium is a scant 2 hour train journey from London? This is quicker than getting to Plymouth – a monstrous 4 hours in a trundling train to the coast. 
It turns out that when you book a Eurostar ticket to Belgium they give you one free transfer. You can actually just wander onto a train to any destination in the country and they will accept your Eurostar ticket. Not bad!
Naturally I went to Brugges – the fairytale city that plays the backdrop to the shoot-up (comedy?) movie In Bruges

And naturally the thing to do when in Belgium is drink beer. I’m not normally a beer drinker (weirdly, that’s failed New Year’s resolution in 2010). But this changed – albiet temporarily – when I got to taste the beer in Belgium! I guess it has its reputation for greatness with good cause.
The thing is the beer in Brugges is not like any other beer I’ve ever tasted.
Rather than a lager which is sort of bitter and watery and boring (OK, that’s my take), beer in Belgium is a drink like wine. There are loads of different kinds, and each one is presented in its own special way.
In fact, every single beer has its own special glass to drink it out of. Which is impressive considering there are over 350 beers available.

 

When in Paris, eat baguettes. When in Brugges – drink beer.
There are two places I went in Brugges that I thought were just right for experiencing the beers:
1. De Halve Maan
The last brewery in the city boundaries, De Halve Maan (The Half Moon) offers tours and a lovely sunny courtyard to relax in. The price of a scant €5 includes one free beer (which costs about €4 without the tour), plus a tour of the historic parts of the brewery.
Just be sure to book your tour a few hours in advance – especially if you are trying to visit on the weekend.
While you wait, be sure to ample the beer on tap. It’s unfiltered and fresh straight from the brewery. Even the 10% dark beer is delicious!

 

2. Cafe Rose Red
As quaint and tacky as can be, Cafe Rose Red is an amazing little bar that offers over 300 beers. Its beer menu is a small book unto itself.
Not to mention that it has easily the best, most beer-crazy staff you could ever wish for. All the tasting notes are clearly explained  when you ask – and in English which is helpful after staring blankly at a menu of 300 beers. . .
On top of that, the recommendations are expert! Their staff seem to have tried every single beer on the menu, and know about each individual one. From my end,  I would especially recommend a dark cherry cuvee brut beer…or maybe the raspberry beer which arrives in its own small wicker basket. But you can always ask them. I suspect they will have just the something you are after.
This little bar was so good that I went back both nights for further samplings and recommendations. Not  noisy place, but pleasantly full throughout the evening with a mix of tourists and locals (and locals are hard to find in this town).

Northern Spain’s Sos Del Rey

October 3, 2012 by  

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Happily back from a beautiful 9 days in the North of Spain, I have learned that I can speak a bit of Spanish, but not understand it, tapas make the best meal in the world, and every day should end with a beautiful glass of red wine. As a result, we ended up in the beautiful village of Sos Del Rey.  Situated in the mountains in Aragon in the north of Spain, it’s unlike anywhere I have ever been in my entire life. The North of Spain is often described as a window into old Spain, and that’s exactly what we found in Sos:

We arrived at the base of the medieval town during the siesta period – the town is on such a steep hill with such narrow twisty streets that all cars have to park at the bottom. We got out, and walked up and into the village. The entire experience was totally strange- clearly people were living here, but amongst the ruins and slate windows, we didn’t see a single sign of life. I guess everyone had closed up their shutters and gone for their daily nap.

We were in the town for a few hours, and didn’t see another living soul – just silence with massive buzzards wheeling overhead.

There was also a total lack of shops or commerce- usually no matter where you go, you’re kicking cigarette butts and see a couple signs for Coca Cola. Instead, we walked quietly up to the top of city, climbed some leftover castle turrets and had lunch.
Not a bad view:
Talk about walking into another age. It seems time doesn’t really touch this village (minus some TV aerials going up).  I imagine it’s the same as when King Ferdinand II was born here (yes that king- the one who married Isabel, kicked out the muslims, funded Christopher Columbus and unified Spain).
So if you’re passing through Aragon – stop and stay a while. Enjoy the wheeling birds and windy turrets. Have some cheese and bread and soak in the silence.

Outside London, Your Next Stop NEEDS to be Bath

September 30, 2012 by  

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“If your only going to visit one other city in England besides London, make it Bath” – Lonely Planet.

Now that’s some advice I am willing to take! Continuing with my New Year’s resolution to travel more around the UK, this past weekend I headed to Bath. The downtown area of Bath is a dedicated UNESCO world heritage site due to its beautiful architecture.

Simply imagine the setting for a Jane Austin novel, add some cars and tourists, and you pretty much have a perfect picture of the town:

Pulteney Bridge

Continuing with my New Year’s resolution to travel more around the UK, this past weekend I headed to Bath. The downtown area of Bath is a dedicated UNESCO world heritage site due to its beautiful architecture.

Simply imagine the setting for a Jane Austin novel, add some cars and tourists, and you pretty much have a perfect picture of the town:

Pulteney Bridge

Just 1.5 hours from London, Bath is the perfect destination for a day or weekend away from London. It’s amazing how, living in London, you forget what it’s like to have vistas and views. On a typical day in London, you can’t see further than the next block. It’s all buildings and houses, stacked up against each other.

Heading out of the city by train, it was amazing just to rest my eyes on green and hills and views stretching off into the distance (there was a distance you could actually stare off into!).
Bath has a few main sites to see – we managed to spend the best part of 6 hours simply walking around the town…
walk or rent a bike to go down the river path

 

But far and away, my favourite part of Bath was their museum. The city is truly ancient, with its origins going back to pre-Roman times, when ancient Britons travelled to the natural hot springs. Upon invasion, the Romans made a bee-line for Bath, probably drawn by the hot springs, which they saw as a direct connection with the gods.
They then built an amazing complex of baths and temples around the hot springs. These were restored in the 19th century, and have been a tourist attraction ever since.
The pillars and balustrades you see here are Victorian – the ground level shows the original Roman ruins
The museum was pretty pricey, charging about £12 to get into a museum that takes 2-3 hours to see at a leisurely pace. But luckily Great Western offers two-for-one discounts if you print out a voucher and show your rail tickets. So that takes the price down to a more decent level.
Regardless, I would highly recommend this museum! It is extremely modern, and full of multi-media displays. Each ticket comes with two different audio tours you can listen to – either the standard museum tour, or Bill Bryson’s thoughts and reflects. I was greedy and listened to both at each stop.
 My favourite part was in some sections (keeping in mind 80% of the museum is underground) they had projectors on the ruins. Every few minutes the projectors would come on, projecting over the ruins exactly how those ruins would have appeared originally, complete with paint.  In some of the baths, they would project images of Romans walking through the baths every few minutes, giving a very clear idea of what the baths would originally have felt like.
cold plunge pool with projection
Getting There and Away
We booked in advance with First Great Western rails, costing just £25 round trip. Book the day of a trip though, and your liable to spend a minimum of £60 per round-trip ticket! First Great Western is a lovely train – just be sure to book yourself into the “quiet carriage” to avoid screaming babies piercing your ears for the duration of the journey.
Where to Stay
If your planning to stay overnight, it’s quite difficult to find cheap backpacker-style accommodation. From the hotels available, it looks like Bath is the destination for romantic couples staying in splendid hotels – not backpackers looking for a cheap place to drop their bags.
However, we did manage to find a lovely, and cheap(er) place to stay at Glenade Guest House. This was just £50 for a nice double room, and we were picked up at the train station, and dropped in the town. Not to mention an amazing breakfast of cereal, tea, coffee, juice, yoghurt, cold cuts, cheese, toast, breads and pastries…!  The only draw back here is that it’s a guest house, not a hotel. This means we were actually staying in our hosts home – something to consider.

Greenwich, a Great Day Trip From London

September 29, 2012 by  

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This year, I visited the London borough of Greenwich for the first time. Famous for the home of Time – Greenwich Mean Time or GMT-  as well as it’s harbour and meridian line.

The borough, located just south of the Thames is the perfect destination for a sunny afternoon.

Unlike many areas of London, in Greenwich it’s almost as if you have entered village or town- rather than just another bit of London. It reminded me a bit of being in Windsor - but much easier to get to of course. Mainly, the streets were not packed with camera-snappy tourists, and there was green and quiet – it felt apart from the general hustle-bustle of central London life.

While there, we bought some pastries and wandered through the National Maritime Museum, and saw some sweet boats, pieces of boats, historical facts about boats, and tools used on boats. Not bad for a quick 30-minute spin through the museum.

We then climbed up the hill through a beautiful park – with the first hints of sunshine and a promise of spring on the air.  The hill offers beautiful views of the city of London’s financial district, although it’s a steep walk up the hill!

As always with London, there’s a pleasing mixture of the old and new in the view: from the Queen’s house, and a royal park, to the powerhouses of banks like HSBC housed in glass towers. Quite a skyline!

Once you reach the top, there is a surprising number of tourists milling around the top – taking pictures of themselves standing on the meridian, touring the Royal Observatory. While we were there – using a telescope to look at solar flares on the sun.

Getting there and away:
Greenwich is no more than a 15 minute train ride from central London.  We took the DLR to Cutty Sark station – these unmanned tube trains are a destination in themselves, winding in and out of glass-plated buildings and overlooking splendid views of the Thames.

Beigel Bake for Fabulous Bagels London

September 28, 2012 by  

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In England, one thing I have always missed from the USA is bagels. Proper bagels – pumpernickel – toasted with cream cheese, and fresh from your local bagel shop.

And I’m excited and over the moon to have finally found a bagel shop worth a mini-pilgrimage to in London.

Beigel Bake in London’s Brick Lane has fantastic fresh beigels -boiling and baking right under your nose. Just be sure to get the right beigel shop! Look for the blue and white sign, and avoid the yellow/red beigel shop next door (even though they claim to be London’s best…it’s all lies!).

The beigels are ridiculously cheap at just £0.25 per plain beigel, and you can buy by the dozen or half dozen. While I was there they only had a few flavours: onion, plain and poppyseed. I’m not sure if it rotates by the day?

I was recommended to try the hot salt beef beigel with mustard. Heaven! What was hot beef to them was corned beef to me, and the mustard cleared my sinuses right out (a new mustard experience for me). But it was one of those perfect food experiences!

I would recommend the place to anyone who has a bagel craving,  or just to hungry people passing through Shoreditch.

The only real downside here is a lack of anywhere to eat. There’s one narrow counter where you can quickly wolf down your beigel of choice, but nowhere to properly sit and savour it – as it deserves to be.

Beigel Bake, 159 Brick Lane, E1 6SB

Getting there and away
Your closest tube stops are Old Street or Shoreditch High Street. Although to be honest you’re in for a little , albiet pleasant, walk either way.

Welsh Cake with Cheese

September 27, 2012 by  

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I’ve had a bit of a baking drought for the past few months. There have been minimal cakes in my life, and too many store-bought biscuits (suitably dunked in tea of course- how did I not know about this before?!). I’m finally settled into my new flat, and a bit of baking is naturally in order. There’s nothing that says home like cake-baking.

Plus, I’ve recently been introduced to the concept of fruitcake and cheese. Wait! Bear with me here. Before you decide this is clearly a terrible idea, think about fruit and cheese for a minute . . . Fruit and cheese are a classic combination that’s widely accept as delicious.

So why not fruit cake and cheese? As long as the fruitcake isn’t too sickly sweet of course. This sort of situation and combination calls for specific types of cheese, and a specific cake.

You just need to make sure you bake a Bara Brith (a sort of welsh tea cake), and find the strongest, crunchiest cheddar cheese you can find.

This cake is apparently so classically Welsh so along with recipes for leeks and Welsh Rarebit, it must be serious! The recipe is nicely straight forward, and perfect for a Sunday afternoon watching the rain race down the window, drinking marathon cups of tea.

Recipe for Bara Brith

  • 450g (1lb) mixed dried fruit
  • 300ml (1/2 pint) tea
  • 2 tbsp marmalade
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 6 tbsp soft brown sugar
  • 1 tsp mixed spice
  • 450g (1lb) self-raising flour
  • honey to glaze

Soak the fruit overnight in the tea.

Next day, mix the marmalade, egg, sugar, spice and flour into the tea and fruit. Spoon into a greased 900g (1lb) loaf tin and bake in a warm oven (gas 3, 325ºF, 170ºC) for one and three quarter hours or until the centre is cooked through. Check from time to time that the top doesn’t brown too much, and cover with a sheet of foil or move down a shelf in the oven if necessary.
Once cooked, leave the Bara Brith to stand for 5 minutes, then tip out of the tin on to a cooling tray. Using a pastry brush, glaze the top with honey.
Serve sliced with salted butter and some tasty farmhouse Cheddar. Store in an airtight tin.

N.B. My cake only took 1 hour to cook, and used a lot less flour (these are probably related). The dough should be stiff, but not dry.

Plus, it’s the perfect accompaniment for your morning commute on the tube.

 

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