Friday, October 26, 2018

Autumn in London means it’s barely sunrise when I head to work and quite dark by the time I head home.

The days are shorter, and the nights are longer; but sometimes you find a couple of crisp autumn days that truly show off London’s colorful splendor. I’ve taken the photos below the last few weeks, often when I’ve been cycling around or running around the city.

Here are my 10 Autumnal Views Around London:

Battersea Park
Luckily, we live close to a lovely park, Battersea Park, which I’ve come to call my Central Park after my years of living in New York City. No matter what the season, I’m happy to walk, run or cycle through this 200-acre (83-hectare) green space located on the southbank of the Thames River.

Richmond Park
Since we got mountain bikes this past spring, going to Richmond Park has become much easier. Now, I just wish that cars were banned traveling through the park or there were better designated cycle paths. If you visit this spatial park during October or November, you may see the local deer population during rutting season.

Richmond Hill overlooking Terrace Field and Gardens
After cycling through Richmond Park, you’ll probably find us at the local pub sitting on top of Richmond Hill overlooking the Thames River. Again, this is a lovely spot no matter the time of the year, especially at sunset.

St. James Park
The other Sunday we actually had a full day out in London. On the weekends, I’m often working and when I’m not working, we try to travel around the UK or in Europe. But on this particular day, we started out by watching a BFI film in Embankment Gardens, then we strolled through the city and ended up in St. James Park. Honestly, I tend to avoid this part of London because it’s filled with tourists, but I guess, now and then, it’s kinda fun to play tourist in your own city.

Hammersmith Bridge
Back down by the riverside, Hammersmith couldn’t feel more different than other parts of the city. Check out the old-fashioned pubs or enjoy a relaxing stroll by the Thames and the Grade II historical listing Hammersmith Bridge.

Bishops Park
I find that Fulham is a slightly bizarre area to reach by public transport, but much more accessible by bike. Bishops Park, formally opened in 1893, was originally part of the grounds of Fulham Palace. At the end of the nineteenth century the population of Fulham was increasing rapidly and there was a call for public spaces to be made available to improve public health and to provide an alternative to the pubs…funny enough. (Guess this would have been about the time of the Temperance Movement.) The park is a strange shape with a long area beside the river and a spur reaching up to the Fulham Palace Road, but it’s a decent green space to wander through. 

Wandsworth Park
Another large park that was created around the same time is Wandsworth Park, formally opened in 1903. At the end of the nineteenth century, Wandsworth was a heavily polluted suburb centered around the River Wandle with its iron mill, brass industry and brewery, and there was a public demand for green space. Today, Wandsworth Park is one of my favorite areas to cycle through because of its large plane trees lining the path.

Kynance Mews in Kensington
I had no idea that this SW7 location was so famous on Instagram. This Kensington archway, with its tumbling red leaves, has become one of London's most photographed autumn spots. We just happened to wander by, and I thought, ‘how pretty.’ I stopped to take a photo and had to wait for young gals to finish modelling in front of the red leaves!

Covent Garden
From now until Halloween, check out the humungous one-tonne pumpkin located inside Covent Garden. The pumpkin comes from a farm in Lymington, Hampshire, and took 110 days to grow to its current size. This is another London location where you must fight the queues to take a decent photo. Ugh!
Afterwards, get away from the crowds and find a peaceful autumn presence at St Paul's Church. 

Westminster Bridge
Though Big Ben is still under major renovations, it pays to stroll down the Thames near the Westminster Bridge. I’ve seen photos online showing the trees here with bright red leaves, which is clearly doctored. The oak trees here shed yellow, green and brown leaves and are just as lovely.

Where are you enjoying autumn right now?


Saturday, October 13, 2018

You know you’ve had a fantastic time at Oktoberfest in Munich when you are literally running from the beer tent to the train station out to the airport while still wearing your traditional dirndl and lederhosen outfits.

During the first week in October, hubby and I met up with some fellow American and German friends in Munich to attend our first real Oktoberfest in Germany. (I say real because the Oktoberfest events that we’ve attended in the US and elsewhere in Europe don’t really count.) Planning for said event had been in the works for nearly a year, and we have already talked about meeting up for the 2019 Oktoberfest.

This year marked the 185th Oktoberfest in Munich. 

Since there are so many blog posts out there providing tips on Oktoberfest, I’m only going to provide a few lessons we learned:

Get into the Bavarian spirit and buy a traditional outfit!
Our German friends highly recommended that we buy an outfit in advance. In fact, you’ll feel out of place in Munich if you aren’t wearing a Bavarian outfit during Oktoberfest. EVERYONE wears one! After a bit of online research, I found that the German website,, had some of the best offerings and shipped to London for a reasonable 20 euros. Expect to pay at least 100 euros each for a decent outfit, and be sure to take actual body measurements as European sizes differ slightly from American ones.

The typical Oktoberfest Dirndl consists of a tight-fitting bodice over a puffy, white, low-cut blouse and a full skirt as well as a coordinated apron. Picture a sexy milk-maid outfit complete with cute braids, but buy the midi dress (knee-length) and not the mini. As far as footwear, anything goes. I saw women wearing everything from ballet flats and heels to hiking boots and popular trainers such as Converse and Vans. I opted for warm, black leather boots and black tights because it was cold during the days we attended Oktoberfest.
Also, instead of bringing a purse, I wore a jacket with multiple pockets and just stuffed everything in there. The tents are crowded and you don’t want to worry about losing anything.

For men, the classic Bavarian outfit is Lederhosen – short or knee-length breeches made of leather that include suspenders worn over a checkered, collared shirt. You can complete your outfit with a feathered hat, which we bought upon arrival in the village of Füssen for 25 euros.

Even if you don’t buy your Bavarian outfit in advance, there are plenty of pop-up stores in Munich selling dirndls and lederhosen. You can buy cheap dirndls, often made from synthetic materials, for about 50 euros. But, as always, you get what you pay for.

Visit Oktoberfest on a Weekday
At Oktoberfest, you can choose from 14 main beer tents plus more than a dozen smaller tents. All beer served at the Oktoberfest tents must be from one of Munich's six breweries —Paulaner, Spaten, Hacker-Pschorr, Augustiner, Hofbräu and Löwenbräu. The beer must also follow the Reinheitsgebot, the purity law of 1516, issued by the Duke of Bavaria, Clement IV.

Even if you don’t have a table reservation, you’ll have a better chance of getting into one of the main beer tents, especially during the daytime on a weekday. We planned our Oktoberfest trip on a Monday to Wednesday and had reservations for only two of those days. On the Monday, we had a table reserved from noon-5 p.m. at the Marstall tent with a group of American, German, a lone Irish man and British friends. We only knew one of those Texan friends that day, but we all quickly became friends at the end of three days together.
Here’s a great Guide to Oktoberfest Beer Tents                      

After our reservation ended, we wandered through a few beer tents just to see what the atmosphere was like. Inside the most famous beer hall internationally, the Hofbräuhaus, we found a very crowded tent filled with locals and foreigners alike. The tent can seat nearly 7,000 people. We found a few inside seats available for a couple, but not enough for our group of six or seven at the time. Luckily, we found a free table underneath an outdoor heater in the surrounding beer garden. But trust me, you won’t always be that lucky unless you are prepared to go early. On the next night, the Hofbräu tent was secured off by police and no more people were being admitted.
On the second day, hubby and I didn’t have any group reservations and we found long queues or ticketed only entrances at nearly every single beer tent. We finally snuck into the side entrance at one of the smaller Heimer beer gardens and found a beer-barrel table for two near an outdoor heater. Twas a wee chilly that night.

On our last day, hubby and I hung out at the Löwenbräu tent – the one with a 15-foot lion sign that lets out a majestic roar of “Lööööwenbräu” every now and then. We had booked an extremely good deal via our Citibank Premier Mastercard for a table reservation that cost 35 euros per person, plus tax, for a reserved table plus two beers and a half-roasted chicken. We shared our table with a few different German families and other couples who were impressed with our Bavarian outfits during the three hours we stayed.
Drink and Be Merry
By the end of our three-day Oktoberfest visit, we happily sung along to the “Ein Prosit” – the popular German song the bands seemed to play every 10 minutes and required mandatory toasts with your table mates. Here are the lyrics:
Ein Prosit, Ein Prosit, der Gemütlichkeit
Ein Prosit, Ein Prosit, der Gemütlichkeit
Eins, zwei, drei, g'suffa!
Follow with Prost, clink and drink! 
However, I don’t think our version sounded quite like that.
Bizarrely, the German bands also played several English-speaking songs like the “Sweet Caroline,” popular hits by Abba, “You’re the one that I want,” “Country Roads” by John Denver and the Lion King theme song – aptly played while we were in the Löwenbräu tent. I had a blast singing along to most of these with a giant stein of radler in one hand.

Book Early
It probably goes without saying that you must book your accommodation and flights early to Munich. In fact, we booked our hotel stay at the Four Points Sheraton Hotel, located right by the Oktoberfest grounds, 11 months in advance and cashed in credit card points to do so. Upon arrival, we also got upgraded because of our SPG point status. So my advice is that if you have any credit card points, now would be a good time to use them.
Our view of the Oktoberfest grounds from our fifth-floor room.

Oktoberfest was a fun and crazy event with new and old friends, and I would happily do it all over again.

Have you been to Oktoberfest in Munich?