One nice thing about our life of travel is that it occasionally puts us where we need to be professionally. First, being in Budapest last summer opened many screening opportunities, then Japan this spring brought us our first interview for the new movie, and now back in Europe we were able to schedule three interviews in London and to be at a conference where one of our subjects was speaking, which led to a fourth interview.
So although it meant cutting our time in Romania a bit short, we happily headed to western Europe in early September for stops in Spain and England. And while our main purpose for these trips was work, we managed to find time for some sightseeing too. Even though these trips weren’t on our initial itinerary for this leg, I have to admit the extra stops worked out really well.
Santiago de Compostela, Spain
Santiago de Compostela is best known for being the end of the El Camino de Santiago pilgrimage trail, an ancient Christian pilgrimage to the cathedral there, which contains the remains of the apostle James. It is called as one of the three most important religious sites in the Christian world (Rome/Vatican City and Jerusalem being the others). However, we chose to fly in and out of the town of A Coruna, which is on the coast about an hour away from Santiago.
We picked an Airbnb (review below) outside the old city but walkable (though a long walk) and luckily we had a car to take us and our equipment to the convention center for the live shoot. Our first full day we walked to the old city in the afternoon and saw all the pilgrims (aka, hikers) coming in off the trail, some of whom had walked 500 miles to get there. The old city is very pretty, though very touristed. The words of one of the conference attendees we worked with, that Santiago is a very special place, kept coming into our minds as we wandered around.
The next night, after our main shoot, we had our biggest revelation about this region of Spain, which is called Galicia. We went to dinner with several people from the conference at a Galician restaurant. The food was phenomenal and we were told that Galicia prides itself on quality in everything – food, wine, products. We definitely want to come back and spend more time in Galicia, though we might choose a less touristy city than Santiago.
We managed to find time the next day to walk a bit of the El Camino ourselves, which was neat. Our last day, we drove back to A Coruna in the afternoon and enjoyed seeing its main attraction, the Tower of Hercules, which is the oldest functioning lighthouse in Europe, before our early evening flight to Heathrow.
It was a short flight from A Coruna to London and I had pre-purchased Heathrow Express tickets to take the fastest train into Paddington to catch the Tube to our Airbnb. Still, because it was an early evening flight, it was 9 o’clock before we met our host, who was very warm and friendly. Our neighborhood was right by Maida Vale metro station and we were able to pick up a few things at the 24-hour minimart just around the corner from our Airbnb (review below).
We were in London for nearly a week in order to fit all the interview shoots in, so we had a couple of free days in between shooting days that we used for sightseeing. One great thing about London is that nearly all of the museums are free. Our first sightseeing day we walked through Hyde Park and Kensington Garden, then visited the impressive collection of artifacts at the British Library (highlight for me: Jane Austen’s writing desk). From there we went to King’s Cross station to see a little more literary trivia – taking a picture of Harry Potter’s platform 9¾. We found an Indian restaurant nearby called Dishoom for an amazing long lunch.
Later in the afternoon, we went to the Tate Modern Museum and then to a performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Shakespeare’s Globe Theater. The play was a phenomenal cap to a perfect day in London and I highly recommend all of these sights, especially seeing a play at The Globe. It was a really cool experience. And, pro-tip, you can bring your own concessions to the theater to save money, as long as you don’t bring glass. So, we dumped a bottle of wine into our water bottle and picked up a few munchies from the minimart around the corner, which worked out great.
Our second sightseeing day (three days later) we started at Piccadilly Circus and walking down one of London’s main shopping streets down to Green Park, where we enjoyed the picnic we brought. Then we saw Buckingham Palace, St. James’ Park and Westminster Abbey. We had a reservation to go up into Sky Garden at 2:15, which is another nice free activity, though you have to plan ahead to reserve your time. Honestly, we found Sky Garden underwhelming compared to other observation decks we’d visited, but the views were nice. From there we explored a couple of other neighborhoods (Tower Bridge and then took the tube up to Hamstead to get coffee at a cafe where one of our friends worked many years ago). Because of the great public transit and mostly free nature of most attractions, plus so many wonderful parks, sightseeing in London on a budget is really easy and rewarding.
The biggest revelation about London was our high quality of life there and just how affordable it is (well, except housing). Since our Airbnb was a business expense, we didn’t worry too much about paying a lot more than we normally would for a place to sleep (about 2.5 times more). But other than that, we were shocked by our inexpensive grocery bills, affordable meals out (like at a lovely neighborhood Iranian restaurant), and even beers at the pub. We were expecting NYC prices and instead found it less expensive than home. And instead of feeling like a huge city, London felt very accessible and easy to get around. The daily rate for public transit is capped, and there are fabulous parks all over the city. Paddington Recreation Ground was on our street and we walked there nearly every day.
Having stayed in a neighborhood around the corner from Abbey Road, it seems appropriate to bring up the John Lennon lyric, “Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans.” We had to change our plans to fit in these interviews for the film, but I’m really glad we did. It all worked out.
Santiago de Compostela Airbnb – We found this to be a really nice apartment with a great kitchen and fast wifi. Everything was very clean and comfortable. Communication from the hosts was excellent. It was a nice walk to the historic center. The only slight challenge was parking – there were limited spaces for nonresidents and sometimes required some creative parallel parking. But we were always lucky enough to find a space during the four days of our stay!
London Airbnb – Wonderful apartment. It is more spacious than the pictures make it appear. Very quiet in a lovely neighborhood close to a Tube stop. Great park nearby for walks and plenty of restaurants and pubs and supermarkets within a 15-minute walk, as well as convenience markets and a few restaurants very close by. Nadeem met us as planned and was very kind. We highly recommend it!