Street Art in East London – Alternative Walking Tour

The Alternative London Walking Tour was a highlight from our trip to London. It is a tour that features the diverse culture and history of London’s East End all revolving around street art. A shout out to Abby Bean who recommended this tour to us and covered it on her blog – A (soy) Bean.

What is special about the art in East London is that there are incredibly intricate pieces, may of which are created with permission by the building owner, done by artists from all over the world. One such example is this piece by Belgium artist ROA:

Crane, ROA, Artist, London, Alternative Walking Tour

Crane by ROA in London.

ROA is well known and his works can be found all over the world in large scale. London is home to a few outstanding examples of his work. The Crane by ROA above was painted by hand in about eight hours according to Keir, our tour leader. That’s a fast brush.

ROA painting in London, Alternative Walking Tour

Painting by ROA in London. Not 100% sure what animal this is.

Many people associate street art with quickly scrawled tags and property damage. I think the pieces above and below break from these assumptions. There are a number of artists around the world such as ROA who look to elevate the art form and enhance the setting where it is found. Just look at this ‘Elephant Octopus’ mural recently completed by Alexis Diaz.

Alexis Diaz, Elephant Octopus mural, London , Alternative Walking Tour

Alexis Diaz mural in London. Looks like an Elephant Octopus to me.

This meticulously crafted piece is catching eyes in an alley just off of Brick Lane. I thought it was one of the more impressive pieces I have seen on our trip – in a museum or otherwise. These larger scale pieces you see above were created with permission from the owners of these buildings. Not all street artists have this luxury. They may look for other ways to quickly, and illicitly, display their work. A personal favorite of mine were the works of Invader, or, Space Invader.

Space Invader, London, Alternative Walking Tour

A Space Invader piece in London. Looks like this one lost a fight.

Invader uses ceramic tiles to enliven walls all over the world. Many of his pieces are inspired from the pixelated aliens from the game. The example above seems to have fallen victim to a chisel removal attempt. Others of his work are of larger scale and certainly go outside the box.

Space Invader, Star Wars, London, Alternative Walking Tour

Star Wars Space Invader in London.

Yes, your eyes do not deceive you. This actually exists on the side of an office building in East London for Star Wars (and Space Invader) fans everywhere to enjoy. Pieces from Space Invader are fairly common once you know where to look for them! Other artists also have signature techniques.  DALeast is an artist who also falls in this category.

DALeast, Mural, London, Alternative Walking Tour

Mural by DALeast, London

DALeast, Mural, London, Alternative Walking Tour

DALeast Mural, London

DALeast’s technique is instantly recognizable and translates perfectly to this format. I think that the surrounding setting is also a huge part for these pieces. Would they have the same effect in a gallery on a unblemished white wall? They certainly stand out in the city on their huge wall-canvases – much like this piece by Martin Ron.

Martin Ron, Mural, London, Alternative Walking Tour

Mural by Martin Ron, London

This mural by Ron is beautiful and also has a message. The animal in the lower left hand corner being pointed at by the huge hand is a badger. Did you know that there is a Badger cull going on in England right now? I didn’t until this mural started that debate in our group. Help do your part to stop this atrocity by signing the petition HERE. The goal of Ron’s piece is to get a message across, but other artists are pushing the physical medium farther. Vihls has a technique that does just that.

Mural, Alexandre Farto, Vhils, London, Alternative Walking Tour

Mural by Alexandre Farto (AKA Vhils) in London.

The depth created in this work by Vihls is stunning. His technique involves first plastering the whole wall and then physically removing parts of the wall (often using a jackhammer) to create an image with great depth. This portrait looked very realistic in person. Seeing his work up close in real life is quite different than looking at the picture above.

The Alternative London Walking Tour is pay what you wish. Whatever you choose to pay, you will get good value for your money. Just make sure you sign up in advance on the website. There is a rich world of art in London outside of the museums that you may walk right by if you don’t know where to look or what you are looking at. I found it quite liberating to see wonderful works in the open air instead of behind a rope line in a museum or gallery. In a museum you need some luck to be featured prominently. To be noticed on the street? Only talent and some passers-by. Our guide, Kier, is an artist himself and shared his knowledge of the local art scene and the provided insight into pieces throughout the tour. He really brought the art to life for us and opened our eyes to street art even beyond London. (Even the NYTimes is noticing that street art is news-worthy. Shortly after our tour they posted this article about New York street art!) We heartily recommend Alternative London if you are ever in London for a few days.

Prior to this tour we were already noticing pieces from other cities on our trip. I will post some others that caught my eye soon. In the meantime, you can read some more about London! Please check out some of the great vegan options in London in our series of one, two and three posts!

A fun, alternative day in Glasgow, Scotland

Jumping forward about a week from Dan’s post about vegan food in Dublin, we finally arrived in Scotland. Glasgow is so beautiful it hurts. It’s what I imagine New York City looked like at the turn of the 20th Century. Our lovely hosts explained it to us this way; the old Medieval city was knocked down and a Victorian (mostly) gridded city was built in its place. So it is a nicely preserved Victorian city. In other words, it is freakin’ beautiful.

Beautiful victorian building in Glasgow

Beautiful Victorian building in Glasgow

But as long-term budget travelers, we can’t just see the main sites everyday. That would mean lots of money (though all of Glasgow’s major museums are free, a big plus) and lots of museums. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good museum, but my brain can only handle so much each day before it shuts off, so everyday cannot be filled with museums. What to do instead?

How about a day that few tourists replicate. It starts with one of the few places on the south side of Glasgow that tourists ever get to – the Burrell Collection. The Burrell Collection is located in a park called Pollok Park on the south side of Glasgow. Few tourists travel to the south side of Glasgow. Not for any scary reasons, just because there is enough to do in city center, which is on the north side of the River Clyde. We went to the Burrell Collection, where we desperately used the bathroom hand driers to dry out our socks and shoes which had been drenched in a rain shower earlier that morning. We also spent a while in the beautiful cafe warming up with tea, coffee, and vegan split pea soup!


Burrell Collection cafe

Burrell Collection cafe

After we had been adequately warmed up and seen all of the things Burrell collected (which was a lot of things!) we left the Burrell Collection and walked to the Pollok House (which is apparently Scotland’s answer to Downton Abbey. I think it looked too small to be comparable, but what do I know?). The park is obviously also named after the same Pollok. His house, however, is not free. But you can walk in and go downstairs and see the servants’ quarters. Those are free. I guess that makes sense… But it gave us a little peek at the house without having to pay to go into the upstairs rooms. Then after that we walked the grounds around the house and started our walk east through Pollok park, and then eventually, once we were out of the park, north towards city center. On our way east through the park, we saw this guy:

Highland cattle in all his/her adorable fuzziness. I wanted to pet this guy's nose, but Dan didn't think it would be a good idea...

Highland cattle in all his/her adorable fuzziness. I wanted to pet this guy’s nose, but Dan didn’t think it would be a good idea…

Highland cattle are kept in Pollok park. I’m going to take a wild guess here and say that they are native to the Highlands in Scotland (and Wikipedia confirms this theory). I think it is likely that they are in Pollok park for the human visitors’ amusement similar to how buffalo are kept in Golden Gate Park. But the Highland cattle seemed to be happily munching away, so hopefully no harm, no foul.

If you are planning on doing this walk yourself someday, exit the park onto Pollokshaws Road and take it north straight back into city center. Along the way you will pass beautiful neighborhoods:

Nice neighborhood on the south side of Glasgow

Nice neighborhood on the south side of Glasgow

Some sort of country club with people play whatever this sport is (bocce?):

Bocce (?) on the south side

Bocce (?) on the south side

You will pass Queens Park, which has a farmers market on Saturdays. It was across the street from the park that I found a hair cut place willing to give me a hair cut for a price I could actually afford!

Pre-hair cut:

Bye bye hair!

Bye bye hair!

Unfortunately, I don’t have a good after shot… Needless to say, it is now shoulder-length, not gross and fried at the ends, and much easier to manage! I’d say that it was the perfect 10 pound ($15) haircut!

After 15 minutes of walking past Queens Park the area gets a bit more industrial. But that’s in the home stretch! Plus you get to see insane things like this:

Bob the Builder tombstone??

Bob the Builder tombstone??

After this many hours of sun, Scotland was beginning to get confused by the weather so it drizzled a bit as we crossed the Clyde, hence the crazy dark picture below:

Crossing the Clyde

Crossing the Clyde

But without a drizzle, we couldn’t have had this!



We ended our walk with a much deserved dinner at one of Glasgow’s 5 (!!!) vegan restaurants, Stereo. The food was delicious and the venue was super-warm (too warm? Is that possible?). And as a bonus, free wifi! All of Glasgow’s vegan restaurants feature free wifi and lots of tables. I hear, after speaking to a waitress at one of the restaurants that they were all at least founded by the same guy which you can sort of tell as all of the vegan restaurants feature similar interior style. But each chef gets to do as he or she wants, so the food is different. At Stereo we got the dishes below to refuel after our long day out.

Vegan haggis pizza, salad and house coleslaw

Vegan haggis pizza, salad and house coleslaw

TLT with salad and chips

TLT with salad and chips

Assuming the weather is on your side, this was a fabulous day in Glasgow. I highly recommend going to the south side and seeing what few tourists get to see. You won’t be disappointed!

Our day off in Derry, Northern Ireland

If you, dear reader, ever decide to go on a trip like Dan and I are on, after a few weeks you might notice something. It’s just a general fatigue. Your legs are tired all the time from walking an average of about 8 miles a day. People keep you up at night at your hostel by coming in at 3:30 in the morning and chatting for an hour (rude…). The day tours keep adding up. You simply cannot see another church as they all begin to look the same and are all very old. What should be the greatest thing ever at all times is starting to feel a little, well, tired. How do you get the spark back in the trip?

You take a day off. Think about it. Working a full time job is exhausting even though most people generally aren’t really doing anything physical at all. You need the weekend, both for practical reasons like running errands, and also to recuperate from an exhausting work week. Well, when you are traveling long term, there are no weekends. Every day you are somewhere new and exciting so “taking a day off” would feel like wasting your precious time at whatever location you are in. Dan and I have gone over 3 weeks without a day off. I’m certainly not asking for pity (that would be crazy), I’m just explaining how travel can become exhausting when it is supposed to be awesome.

So we decided to take today and not overexert ourselves. We are lucky, Derry is a small town and we walked a lot of it yesterday. We felt like we wouldn’t be missing too much by taking it easy today.

So, what does one do on a day off? I decided that I needed a hair cut. I don’t know if you can tell from the pictures in the other posts, but my hair is long. Way too long to be anything but annoying to me. Plus traveling has damaged the crap out of it. The problem is that hair cuts are expensive! And I personally don’t think my hair is worth $50 or more… So with the help of a guy who works at the hostel we are staying at we found a hair and beauty school here. This morning, after breakfast, Dan and I walked over there. Unfortunately, they are out of class for summer so the long hair will remain until further notice. Much to my chagrin…

Then we continued our day off by checking out the Guildhall here in Derry, going to the Centre for Contemporary Arts inside the walled city, and finally we went to hear an organ concert at St. Columb’s Cathedral. (yes, I recognize that the last one is yet another church, but the recital was part of Fleadh Cheoil, an event to promote Irish culture, not just we went to the church to see the church.) I know it sounds like a lot, but really these events took place over 4 hours and none of them took up even an hour of time. It was a leisurely mid-day.

We had lunch back at the hostel, with groceries we picked up at Mark and Spencers (vegan options in Derry are slim, fyi. Best bet is to cook for yourself!), then we went out for our real Day Off activity! We went to the movies!

Minions in arcade game at Derry movie theater

Minions in the arcade game at the Derry movie theater

Things you should know about the movies in Derry: 1) It costs 4.50 pounds. For an adult ticket. That’s only $6.75!! Our movie tickets added together cost less than one ticket to a movie in NYC right now. 2) there are 20 minutes of commercials – not previews, but commercials – before the movie and then only 2 previews. A bit of a disappointment. 3) the movie times were weird. We went to a 4pm movie on a Wednesday. Who goes to a 4pm movie on a Wednesday?! The answer: No one. We had the entire theater to ourselves. Which meant we chatted and laughed very very loudly during the film. Fun!

We saw The Heat. Dan loved it, I liked it. Action movies really aren’t my thing, but at least it was funny! Regardless, it served its purpose. Our day off was a success. Plus the beauty of movies is that they are the same everywhere. We could have been at the Regal in Union Square, NYC for all we could tell once that movie was rolling. My scientific opinion is that this helps stave off home sickness as well, but who knows?

Now we will play board games and surf the web for the rest of the night and then tomorrow, back to the grind. Another long travel day as we head out of Derry by bus, bus, ferry, and a bus to Glasgow, Scotland. Thanks, Derry, for being small enough to give us a day off. We needed it!

Affordable Activities in Dublin

So, I’m not claiming that Dan and I are Dublin experts, but we did spend 6 days in Dublin searching the nooks and crannies for affordable things to do.

The very first thing we did in Dublin was FREE. We actually came to Dublin to support my friend Sarah and her sister C.J. while they ran the Rock ‘n’ Roll Dublin half marathon.

That's Sarah in the middle. Go Sarah, go!

That’s Sarah in the middle of the picture, at the start of the race. Go Sarah, go!

Sarah is actually planning on running another half marathon right around Halloween this year to benefit the ASPCA! What a do-gooder! Help her out by supporting her and and the ASPCA HERE.

While they exerted themselves, we walked around a very quiet Dublin as this was relatively early on a bank holiday.

We went to St. Stevens Green which was right next to the race start, and like all of the parks in Dublin, free. We had breakfast while watching the birds.

This cutie sat next to us at St. Stevens Green. Looking for a snack, perhaps?

This cutie sat next to us at St. Stevens Green. Looking for a snack, perhaps?

According to our AirBnB hosts, Claudia and Kevin, Phoenix Park in Dublin has lots of cool animals to see including rabbits and deer! We didn’t have time to go check, but it is free and the biggest city park in Europe, so maybe you can go check for us. Also, while you are there you can go to the free Irish Museum of Modern Art, right nearby. We obviously didn’t get their either, but if we had had one more day, we would have gone to Phoenix Park and the art museum.

Now on to cheap and free things in Dublin that we actually did do. My number one recommendation would be Dublin Castle.

Dublin Castle

Dublin Castle

Don’t get over-excited, it isn’t really a castle. Well, it was at one point in history, but most of the castle part is now gone. It is, however, an extremely historic and important site in Irish history (and present). Every Irish president since the state became independent has been sworn in here.

Where every Irish President gets sworn in.

Where every Irish President gets sworn in.

Our guide was great. He answered all of my inane historical questions and entertained the group. The cost of the hour or so long tour of Dublin Castle is 4.50 Euros. Honestly, I was really under-informed about Ireland when I got to Dublin. This tour on my second day there helped me feel a little more knowledgeable and informed.

Two free things to do in the main tourist area in Dublin (at or right near Trinity College) are the Science Gallery, and the National Gallery of Ireland. There is currently an exhibit about illusion at the Science Gallery which was fun, and it’s free so you really have nothing to lose be spending some time there. The National Gallery had some lovely paintings by Irish painters, but it wasn’t my favorite national gallery ever. I did appreciate that it was well organized, though, and small enough that you didn’t feel guilty for only spending an hour there.

Also, all of the National Museums of Ireland (3 of the 4 are in Dublin) are free!

Finally, Dublin is home to many churches. Let me help you navigate which are worth the cost and which aren’t (in my opinion, obviously). Dublin’s two most famous churches are St. Patrick’s Catherdral and Christ Church Cathedral. St. Patrick’s is 5.50 Euros and Christ Church is 6 Euros. We reviewed the reviews on Trip Advisor (since I can see those without internet access. Again, I highly recommend the Trip Advisor app!) and took a peak into each church and decided that the church we were going to pay for was Christ Church. They both have fabulous history (and you can get into both for free for services), but Christ Church has a crypt full of cool things (and a cafe in the crypt. What??).

Christ Church interior

Christ Church interior

But then, as we were walking down the street from Christ Church, we spotted another church which looked mighty old. We walked down the steps of St. Audoen’s Church just to see what the deal was and it turns out it is run by the state and free to get into and view.

St. Audoen's Church

St. Audoen’s Church

We just walked around and read some of the info ourselves (we had had a long day at that point. I believe I told Dan that I was all read-out at some point), but apparently the staff will tour you for free if you ask. It really is a beautiful and interesting place.

St. Audoen's from the inside - kind of...

St. Audoen’s from the inside – kind of…

So, those are my recommendations. I’m sure I only touched on a few of the affordable things to do in Dublin (for instance, there is a ton of free outdoor stuff happening in the summertime in Dublin, plus it stays light out until after 9pm!), but I just wanted to give you a glimpse into the activities we chose to do on our limited budget. Did we miss anything big that you, dear reader, would recommend to future budget visitors?

London Eye Alternatives: Tower Bridge and ‘The Monument’

If you have ever visited (or have considered visiting) London, you have likely heard of the London Eye. If you haven’t heard of it, imagine a well-funded science project including a 27-story bicycle wheel with a line longer and more aggravating than LA freeway traffic. Or just look at the picture below.

London Eye

London Eye on a cloudy day 

It is beautiful to see the view of London from the top but the cost of £19.20 (about $30 US dollars – or a dollar a minute) may be too much for some.  Thankfully there are a number of alternatives that give you a similar experience with fewer tour groups.

Enter: The Monument to the Great Fire of London

The Monument to the Great Fire of London 1666

The Monument to the Great Fire of London 1666

“The Monument” is the tallest free-standing column in the world.  This was enough of a draw for me and the gorgeous 360° view of the city was simply a bonus.

Buyer beware: there is no elevator. You will need to walk up the series of 311 stairs pictured below. It’s not so bad.  There are periodic windows along the way which make the trip slightly more interesting than the stairwell experience of your friends’ Manhattan walk-up apartment.

The Monument, Stairs

Molly climbing ‘The Monument’ stairs

When you do make it you should expect to see views similar to those pictures below.

** London skyline spoiler alert**

View from The Monument, "Walkie Talkie Building" under construction

View from The Monument, “Walkie Talkie Building” under construction

The Shard, third tallest building in Europe

The Shard, third tallest building in Europe

Monument view of Tower Bridge

Monument view of Tower Bridge

Overall, The Monument is a unique experience which many tourists seem to be blissfully unaware of.  It only costs a few dollars (Adults £3; Student £2) and you can take your time and quietly enjoy the view.  We went early in the morning and there were only between 2 and 6 other patrons at the top while we were there.  Upon our exit there was a small line beginning to form.

Our next stop was the iconic and much-ballyhooed Tower Bridge Exhibition.

Tower Bridge, London

Tower Bridge, London

The Tower Bridge Exhibition includes a couple of interesting videos on its construction.  The exhibit also highlights the evolution of bridge construction techniques over time and has information on famous bridges from around the globe.  If structural engineering and bridge history don’t interest you, perhaps the scenery will.

** Another London skyline spoiler alert**

Western view from Tower Bridge, London

Western view from Tower Bridge, London

Another view up the river, Tower of London in foreground

Another view up the river, Tower of London in foreground

While notably more crowded than The Monument, the Tower Bridge was a lovely stop for beautiful views directly over the River Thames. At only £8.00 for regular admission it is a real bargain, since you can stay for as long as you like. As an added bonus, your admission grants you access to the engine rooms to the draw bridge.

Tower Bridge engine room

Tower Bridge engine room

Is the view of the city from either The Monument or the Tower Bridge better than the London Eye? You aren’t as high up and you are substantially farther East, but you still have an excellent vantage point.  Are the lines and price much better? Absolutely.  At either location you can ask about getting a ‘joint ticket’ which will allow you to visit both sights for a discount. It is well worth it to package both sites together.  They are within a short walk of one another and will take you directly past The Tower of London as you go from one to another.  Make sure you check out All Hallows by the Tower on your way. This is the oldest church in the City of London and has a a historic crypt and a number of historical artifacts. Admission is free and you might even get to hear the organ being played.

2013 Pricing Information for Tower Bridge and The Monument

The Monument and Tower Bridge joint tickets: Adults £9; Students £6.20

Monument Only: Adults £3; Student £2

Tower Bridge Only: Adults £8.00, Students £5.60  

Picture of the Day: Stairs from within the Tower Bridge

The Tower Bridge stairs remind me of an MC Escher painting

The Tower Bridge stairs remind me of an MC Escher painting