London: Off The Beaten Path

Off all the cities I’ve been to so far, London is my favorite. You can be walking along a busy street filled with modern shops and then duck into a tavern built in the 16th century.  The mix of old and new is invigorating and makes exploring the city  an adventure through time. The main tourist attractions are what come to mind when you think of London: Big Ben, Tower of London, and Buckingham Palace. But what to do after you’ve crossed those off your list? Wander around aimlessly sipping tea and dodging cabbies? Bollocks! Here are a few lesser known attractions that are a must-see on your next London adventure:

  • Churchill War Rooms:churchill

For anyone with an interest in World War II, this will be hands down the coolest “museum” you’ll ever visit. Hidden beneath the streets of Westminster, the Cabinet War Rooms were used by Churchill and his government as a bunker during the Blitz. Used from 1939-1945, the  secret underground rooms allowed the government to operate while German bombs rained down on the city above. It’s quite eerie roaming the dark halls and imagining people living and working there while war raged outside, with only slabs of concrete for protection. The Map Room is especially interesting because it has been left in the exact condition as it was when the lights were turned off after Japan’s surrender in 1945. A huge map on the wall is dotted with thousands of pinpricks that showed the location of Allied and Axis navy ships. Papers litter the desks, untouched for over 60 years. The whole experience is sort of spooky and makes you realize just how close Germany came to taking London, which would have altered the course of history.

Visit the Churchill War Rooms: Clive Steps, King Charles Street, London

Closet Tube Station: Westminster

  • Spitalfields Marketspital3
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    Not sure what kind of look he was going for here…

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    If you like pina coladas…

Spitalfields is the place to see and be seen in London. The streets are lined with trendy shops and street vendors selling everything from vintage cameras and handmade jewelry to pina coladas served in fresh pineapples. The crowd, specifically on Brick Lane, is young and very well dressed, the stereotypical London hipsters. Everyone seems to be taking pictures of each other on their DSLRs to post on Instagram later.  The Old Spitalfields covered market has been there for over 350 years and now houses food vendors from exotic locales like Morocco, Mexico, and Japan. Pungent sauces simmer in large woks and hungry young professionals line up to grab bows of take away. Outside, groups of people sit on the curb to wolf down their lunch before scurrying back to work. The people watching, food, and vintage shopping make Spitalfields an afternoon well spent.

Visit Spitalfields Market:  16 Horner Square, Spitalfields, London

Closest Tube Station: Liverpool Street

  • Dennis Severs House

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This house tour is one of the weiredest things I’ve ever experienced. An antiques collector named Dennis Severs lived in the historic house and used the rooms to display his antiques as a living still life painting. The home is furnished as it would have been in the 1800’s around the time that Queen Victoria ascended to the throne. There is no electricity in the home , only natural light and candles which makes you feel as if you’ve stepped back in time. The house is a total sensory experience,  and as you silently move from room to room you’re exposed to different smells (firewood, oranges, potpourri) that accompany the visual displays of the room. Each room is opulently furnished and is decorated to intentionally portray a certain scene and to make it seem like you “just missed” the people who actually lived there. For example, in one room there are chairs knocked over and empty wine bottles and gaming cards littering the table. The lingering stench of liquor in the air makes it seem like you just missed a fabulous party. At 10 GBP a person it’s quite expensive for a house tour but a unique experience that I have not encountered elsewhere.

Visit Dennis Severs House: 18 Folgate Street, London

Closest Tube Station: Liverpool Street

  • Hampton Court Palace

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For fans of The Tudors, this royal palace is a definite must-visit. Built in 1514 by King Henry VIII (yes that King Henry, with the six wives) for his friend Cardinal Wolsey, the palace is a pristine example of Tudor and Baroque architecture. After Wolsey fell from Henry’s favor, the king repossessed the palace and it is one of only two remaining royal residences of Henry VIII. In the 1600’s, King William III expanded the buildings in the hope of rivaling Versailles Palace in Paris.

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“Pimpin’ ain’t easy,”-King Henry VIII

Now a tourist attraction, the palace offers a glimpse into royal life of 17th century England. While tourists can only stare through the gates at Buckingham Palace, here you’re encouraged to wander the corridors and explore the grounds. Costumed actors portray various characters from the building’s history, and involve the audience to help bring their stories to life.

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Wish my lawn was this well maintained…

Highlights of the palace include the Royal Tennis Court that Henry, an avid tennis player, built in the mid 1500’s, and the exquisite hedge maze first planted in 1690.  Easily accessible from the other attractions along the Thames River, Hampton Court is a wonderful place to explore.

Visit Hampton Court Palace: East Molesey, Surrey

Closest Tube Station: Waterloo

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How To Ski Colorado Like A Local

Base of Beaver Creek Resort. Stop by at 3 PM daily for free chocolate chip cookies!

Base of Beaver Creek Resort. Stop by at 3 PM daily for free chocolate chip cookies!

It’s no secret that Colorado has some of the best ski resorts in the world. The words Vail, Aspen, and Breckenridge have become synonyms for world class skiing.  What may be less apparent to tourists planning their dream ski vacations are the consequences of Colorado’s popularity, mainly traffic on I-70, absurd lift tickets, and long lift lines. Coloradoans know when and where to go to avoid those hassles. Do as the locals do and have a stress free ski trip in the Rocky Mountains.

Not the worst view to be stuck in traffic with!

Not the worst view to be stuck in traffic with!

  • Beat the Traffic

The only way to access the ski resorts from Denver is on I-70. The very acronym sends shivers up the spines of the most seasoned winter drivers. If it’s snowing, the winding interstate can become an ice skating rink of semi-trucks and sedans inching forward in white out conditions. With the exception of a new tunnel, the road has not been updated to match the increasing volume of skiers that trek to the mountains every weekend. Without traffic, the drive from Denver to Summit County takes just over an hour. On a Friday evening, the commute can increase threefold. To avoid being stuck in bumper to bumper traffic plan your arrival for a weekday morning. According to the stats on the  Colorado Department of Transportation website (http://www.cotrip.org/) , traffic spikes at 2pm through 7pm for both eastbound and westbound. A common mistake is to jump on  I70 at 4pm right after the lifts stop running, which basically guarantees being stuck in a traffic jam. Delay your departure for a few hours by hanging out at the resort base and grabbing a bite to eat .

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  • Lose the Crowds

While Colorado boasts over 20 ski resorts, it always seems that everyone chooses to go to the same resort as you. While there’s no secret to bypassing long lift lines (unless you’re confident in your ability to pass as a ski instructor) , don’t let the crowded lifts at the base discourage you. Beginner skiers tend to congregate on the easy runs at the bottom, which clogs the base lifts.  Locals know to get as high up on the mountain as possible as soon as they get there. This may mean hopping from lift to lift for a half hour or so, but once your away from the base crowds thin out. So study the trail map to see how to get as far away from the base as you can. Always bring snacks (and maybe a pocket beer or two) to make long lines more bearable.

Another common mistake is to stop at a lodge to eat lunch. Between 12-2, tourists rush to buy $15 sandwiches and $8 coffees, leaving many parts of the mountain deserted. Lunchtime is the best time to get a run to yourself. Take advantage of the mass migration inside by eating outside of those hours, or better yet bring a sandwich to eat on the lift. Bringing your own food saves a lot of money, especially if you’re skiing for multiple days. Maximize skiing time by minimizing stops and save the Irish coffee break for après ski.

  • Buy A Pass

Buying a season pass is a winter rite of passage for Coloradoans. While buying a ski pass may seem like an unnecessary expense for a tourist, it pays for itself if you ski for more than four days.  The most popular passes in Colorado are the Epic Local Pass and the Rocky Mountain Super Pass. The Epic pass covers Vail, Breckenridge, Beaver Creek, Keystone, and Arapahoe Basin in Colorado as well as resorts in Utah and California. If you want to try multiple resorts it is a great value at $589. That figure may seem steep, but keep in mind that a single day lift ticket for Vail is now an absurd $159. Four and 7 day passes are also available if you miss the December deadline for the season passes.

If you’ve grown tired of the Vail resorts and seek more challenging terrain, the Rocky Mountain Superpass is for you. This option accesses Copper Mountain, Winter Park, Eldora, Steamboat, and Crested Butte. An adult pass is comparable to the Epic Pass, at $579, but offers a greater diversity of terrain. Steamboat is farther away than the other resorts but the quintessential ski town and epic powder make the journey well worth it.

The crowds and cost of skiing Colorado are easily avoidable by planning ahead. Plan your drive outside of rush hour, avoid the base area and buy a pass. Then relax, drink a PBR and have fun out there!

An Insider’s Guide to Renting Apartments in Denver

So you’re looking for a new apartment in the mile high city. You may envisage your search as an episode of House Hunters, being led from one gorgeous apartment to another by a patient real estate agent. Reality is quite different. When you finally get a leasing agent to call you back, not only has the apartment you’re interested in been rented, but there won’t be another one available till May. There’s no denying that the Denver housing market has become increasingly cutthroat as prices skyrocket. So what can you do to increase your chances of actually renting a decent apartment? Lucky for you, I am a Denver leasing agent, and I’m here to spill the secrets.

Step 1: Do Your Research

The word “research” may bring up terrible memories of high school History papers, but housing research is a whole lot more fun. Use the map feature on craigslist.com and Zillow.com to zoom in on the area you’d like to live in to see the available apartments. Look up the address on Google street view so it’s not a huge surprise when you arrive for a showing that the building is right next to a garbage dump. People always ask me what the closest grocery stores, bus lines, and restaurants are. Find all this out beforehand on walkscore.com, and determine if the neighborhood is a good match for your lifestyle.

A common question is what the other tenants are like. Due to the Fair Housing Laws, leasing agents are forbidden from telling you anything about the neighbors. So we can’t say if they’re young or old, if there are lots of kids, or there are mostly college students. To get a feel for the building and neighborhood, show up early for your showing and scope out the area. Stalking residents from your car with binoculars is optional.

Another frequent inquiry is whether the building has bed bugs or cockroaches. Now I rarely know which units are infested, because that information is sent to the property manager not the leasing agent. Our job is to sell you the apartment, so the chances that we’d tell you if it was infested even we knew are small. You can see if any bedbug issues have been reported at the building you’re interested in at http://www.bedbugregistry.com/  .

Step 2: Read the Ad CAREFULLY

Before you contact the leasing agent, make sure to read the entire ad. I always make sure to post the pet policy, lease terms, and tenant qualifications. Any decent property management company will have that information on their ad or website. Please don’t leave a message that says, “Hey uh, saw that apartment online. Don’t know the address; think it’s around $900 a month…Yeah so I have 2 felonies and 5 dogs hope that’s okay. Call me back.”

Step 3: Have Realistic Expectations

We’d all love to live in a newly renovated flat with exposed brick walls and stainless steel appliances. While those apartments certainly exist, be prepared to shell out the big bucks for it.  The average price of a 1 Bedroom in Denver is currently $1080/month, so finding a nice place for less than that is a steal.  From what I’ve seen, if you’re looking to stay under $800/month, you’ll end up in a 400 square foot studio that hasn’t been updated since 1940. These will be advertised as “cozy” and “vintage.”

Step 4: Ask ALL The Questions

Before you contact the ad poster, be sure to know your credit score and the management company’s income requirements. When you finally get in contact with the leasing agent (texting works best!), be sure to clarify the following:

-When will the unit be available?

– What is the pet policy and fee?

-Do they accept cosigners?

-Is it street parking?

-How much is the application fee?

-What is needed to take the unit off the market?

While all the information should be on the ad, it never hurts to make sure everybody’s on the same page.

Step 5: Like Scar said, Be Prepared!!

The most important things to bring to a showing are an open mind and your checkbook. By this stage you should know if the apartment is in your budget and in an area that you’d want to live in. Even the nicest apartments can look weird while empty, so use your imagination. Where would your furniture go? Would a few precisely placed paintings cover the ugly yellow walls? If you think the place is decent enough to crash there for a bit, snag it immediately. If you decide to mull it over for a day or two, chances are it will be rented by the person who saw it after you. Have enough time eked out in your schedule to go to the leasing office immediately after your showing to pay the application fee and put down a deposit.  In most cases that’s the only way to prevent someone else from snagging it from under your feet.

Finding an apartment in Denver is difficult, but not impossible. There are deals to be found if you’re willing to look a bit outside of the most desired neighborhoods like Capitol Hill, and Lower Downtown. Looking just a few miles farther may save you hundreds of dollars in rent. Know your budget and what you need in an apartment, as opposed to what you may want. Happy hunting!

Five Amazing Place to See While Studying Abroad

So you have your flight booked, classes registered for, and suitcases packed (let’s be serious, you’re taking more than one). You’re ready to study abroad and hope to see as much of Europe as possible during the semester. That prospect can be a bit overwhelming, there’s so many amazing places waiting just across the pond! This guide will highlight some lesser known gems that should be on your must-visit list when in France, England, or Spain.

1.) Eze, France

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Imagine a medieval village perched on top of a cliff surrounded by the sparkling blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea. Now add a luxurious hotel, a breathtaking sculpture garden, unique shops, and you’ve got Eze. This quaint village is a perfect day trip, only 15 minutes by train from the metropolitan town of Nice. From the train station you can hike up to the town on the Nietzsche trail, named for the famous philosopher who supposedly hiked the trail daily. The intense summer heat apparently caused hallucinations that inspired some of his philosophic works. To prevent any dehydration induced revelations, make sure to bring a bottle of water because the trail is steep! The panoramic views of the French Riviera at the top make the exertion well worth it.  Spend a few hours exploring the cobblestone alleyways and the fabulous Jardin Exotique, a cliffside botanical garden decorated with sculptures. Finish off the afternoon with a cappuccino at the ritzy Chateau de la Chevre D’Or restaurant before hiking back down to the train station.

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2.) Carcassone, France

Located on top of a hillside is the quintessential fairy-tale castle of Carcassonne. A UNESCO World Heritage site, the fortified town is a must see for any history buff. The restored medieval walled city is exciting to explore, you can climb up many of the towers and work on your Rapunzel impersonation. Restaurants and gift shops line the narrow streets, breathing life into the ancient castle. A fantastic stop while on the way to the French Riviera cities of Nice and Monaco.

Carcassone Castle

Carcassone Castle

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3.)  Cordoba, Spain

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If you like tapas and the movie Aladdin, you’ll love Cordoba. Located in Andalusia, or the Southern region of Spain, this small medieval city is filled with beautiful Moorish architecture and winding streets that just beg to be explored. Once the capital of the Islamic empire, the town boasts the coolest
mosque you’ll ever see, the Mezquita. After catching up on your religious history, roam the white washed alleyways to find hidden courtyards fragrant with orange a lemon trees. Spend a few hours roaming the gardens at the Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos, a medieval palace where the King and Queen of Spain once lived. Grab a delicious traditional dinner at La Fracjula, a restaurant hidden in the old Jewish Quarter where wine bottles are stored in crevices in walls and a guitarist serenades dinner guests.

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4.) Oxford, England

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For die hard Harry Potter fans, Oxford is a definite must-see. Various scenes in the movies were filmed on campus and the whole town has a Hogwarts-esque feel. University students even have special dress robes that they’re required to wear while taking exams.  A short train ride from London, Oxford is the quintessential English town filled with pubs and people playing cricket in the alleys. After taking a free walking tour of the town and university, pop into the Oxford Covered Market for lunch. First built in 1774, the market has dozens of cafes and food stands to choose from. Grab a pint (or two, or three) and explore the lively town while perfecting your jaunty British accent.

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Dozens of restaurants, shops, and taverns line the streets. Name yer poison!

Dozens of restaurants, shops, and taverns line the streets. Name yer poison!

5.) Cinque Terre, Italy

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You’ve probably seen pictures of these cliff-side villages but may not have known how easily accessible they are. A scenic 4 hour train ride from Rome, Cinque Terre is increasingly popular with tourists, and for good reason. Cars have been banned, so the only way to get from one village to another is by train or by foot. Hiking the trails connecting the villages trail is definitely the more scenic option, and you’ll work up an appetite for some locally made pesto. The trail hugs the coastline so panoramic views of the Italian Riviera make the steep, rocky terrain worth the effort. Wandering through lemon groves, a local farmer may even offer you a refreshing glass of lemonade! The beautiful pastel villages are home to friendly locals that will make you feel like a member of their family. Be sure to check this gem out before it becomes completely overrun by tourists.

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15 Definite Signs You Live in Capitol Hill, Denver

  1. You’re wary of parking on a street sweeping street even in the winter…what if your calendar is wrong?
  2.  You know to park in the secret overflow lot at Kings Soopers
  3.  Sometimes you walk by Whole Foods just to pet the dogs always leashed up outside
  4.  One lap around Cheeseman Park counts as enough exercise for a week, right?
  5.  You know how to sneak onto the roof of your apartment building for optimal sunset viewing
  6.  You could easily walk to dozens of restaurants and grocery stores, but you order delivery instead
  7.  Your apartment building and your grandmother have the same name (Elaine and  Geraldine, anyone?)
  8.  You go to Thump to people watch
  9.  You don’t blink at spending $7 for a Chemex coffee
  10.  You’ve paid so much in parking tickets they should name a street after you
  11.  4 way intersection+ 2 stop signs = accident
  12.  You’re not entirely sure where Capitol Hill ends and the other neighborhoods begin (Cherry Creek who? Congress Park what?)
  13.  Your rent is $1000 a month for a studio that makes Harry Potter’s cupboard-under-the-stairs look spacious
  14.  Your apartment building’s no pet policy is more of a guideline
  15.  Your car gets a mysterious new dent every week