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#CatTravels: My take on London’s tourist spots


London is one of the world’s top destinations for travelers — and no surprise why.

The city is packed with everything: world-class museums, Broadway shows, dozens of public parks, boutiques and restaurants galore, a historic castle in the middle of the city with dungeons and jewels, and a 443-foot-tall Ferris wheel.

More than 15 million people from all over the world visit The City every year, making it one of the world’s most visited areas in terms of international visits.

I’ve been to London three times now, and there’s always something new to see. This time around, I got to visit Borough Market, Harrods Food Hall and Warner Bros. Studio Tours London (read: the set of “Harry Potter”) for the first time. And there were a few other spots — Sherlock Holmes Museum on Baker Street, Kensington Palace and the Lamb & Flag, possibly the oldest pub in London — that I missed. But since this was my husband’s first time to London, we planned on hitting some of the usual spots.

I believe that there are some places, no matter how commercialized or crowded, are must-stops on any travel list. Can you really visit Paris without a stop at the Eiffel Tower? And why go all the way to Peru if not to stop and marvel at Machu Picchu?

Same goes for London.

There are some things you just have to see. Some are worth the long queues (British for “lines”) and others, well, are not.

Here’s my take on a few popular London attractions — and you can decide whether or not you want to put them on your list:

Tower of London, London. Phone: 0844 482 7777




What used to be called Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress is one of the top attractions in London, with more than 2 million people visiting every year. Interestingly enough, it has been a visitor favorite since at least the Elizabethan period with the most popular displays being the Royal Menagerie and suits of armor. Today, people wander around this complex of buildings, with the longest lines outside the torture chambers — of course — and the tower housing the Crown Jewels. There are beefeaters — yeoman warders — still working the castle grounds (though now more as tour guides), which adds to the whole experience. I’ve never been here without hoards of other people, so if you want to see this place, you’ll have to deal with that. But this historic castle on the north bank of the Thames is worth visiting at least once. As my husband said, “It’s a living, breathing history experience.”

British Museum, Great Russell St., London. Phone: 020 7323 8299


The British Museum is one of those things: It’s there and it’s free, so you may as well go. (The museums in London are all free, though it’s suggested — and advised, really — to offer up a donation.) But you’ll be surprised how much is crammed into this historic building on Great Russell Street. Its permanent collection totals some 8 million works, among the largest and most comprehensive in the world. And on display is everything from the famous Rosetta Stone to the stuff the Brits stole from the Parthenon in Greece. If you want a quick lesson in world history, this is the place to go. Cameras are allowed everywhere, and you can even touch Egyptian artifacts. Personally, I love the clocks and money exhibits.

Westminster Abbey, 20 Deans Yard. Phone: 020 7222 5152


Who doesn’t love Westminster Abbey, the stunningly beautiful gothic church in the City of Westminster where countless royalty have wed, including Prince William and Kate Middleton in 2011. While you could just photograph the exterior — it’s one of the most photographed buildings in London — you can tour some exhibits including a collection of royal and other funeral effigies and the graves of such significant historical figures as Jane Austen, Sir Isaac Newton, Charles Dickens and Charles Darwin. And with Parliament and Big Ben just across the street — not to mention the Tower Bridge and other attractions — a stop at the Abbey won’t derail your London plans.

Natural History Museum, Cromwell Road. Phone: 44 (0)20 7942 5000




This was the first time I’ve been to the Natural History Museum — or anywhere in that area — and I was pleasantly surprised. This museum is home to about 80 million life and earth science specimens in five collections, even some collected by Charles Darwin himself. The big draw here is its dinosaur skeletons, which weren’t accessible when we went. (The exhibit was closed for maintenance.) It was adequately interesting — but I probably wouldn’t go back.

Harrods Food Hall, 87-135 Brompton Road





The last time I was in London, people bugged me about not going to Harrods, the upmarket department store in Knightsbridge. This store, which sprawls over 5 acres, is best known for its food hall. Like the department stores in Japan, the bottom floor of Harrods is dedicated to all things food, from tapas to high tea to gastropub fare to high-end produce and goods. We actually didn’t have that much time to wander around, but the quick walk-through — with a nice meal at one of the restaurants — was enough to entice me to come back.

An old-fashioned English pub




The short answer? Yes. Pubs are a must. And it doesn’t really matter which one you go to. Most of them are the same, serving British ales (warm) and traditional pub fare like fish and chips and meat pies. We found this one — Jack Horner — by accident, walking around looking for another restaurant. It sounded inviting — who doesn’t love nursery rhymes? — and there wasn’t any line to get in (bonus). So we walked in, grabbed a table, ordered some grub, including a cottage pie and chips with London’s legendary Brown Sauce, and called it a night. A great night.

Follow Cat on her #FoxHoneymoon to England, Scotland and Ireland on Twitter @thedailydish and Instagram @catherinetoth. Track her travels at #CatTravels.

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#CatTravels: A visit to Borough Market


We had a late start to our first full day in London. (Blame jet lag and a very comfortable bed.)

But lucky for us, Borough Market, the most renowned food market in London near the London Bridge Station, was open until 5 p.m.

I had always wanted to tour this market, known for the breadth and quality of its goods and produce. But I was never in London long enough — or in the area at the right time — to visit it.

Until Saturday.

A little background: While today’s market is famous for its high-quality goods and unusual offerings — like mushroom pâté and exotic meats preserved in butter — it actually dates back to the 11th century, when traders would sell grain, fish, vegetables and livestock near the bridge. In the 13th century, the market moved to its current location on Borough High Street. In 1755, Parliament closed the market. It was reopened after Southwark residents raised 6,000 pounds to buy a patch of land known as The Triangle. (This is where you’ll find Northfield Farm — great steak sandwiches — and Furness Fish and Game now.)

Today, there are about 100 different vendors selling everything from fresh produce to dried meats to German sausages (top).

Here’s what the market looked like yesterday:

Love the colors of these greens.

Prosciutto (dry-cured ham) being sliced right in front of you!

There were a few bread vendors. We had the olive and cheese roll here.

We sampled the dried meats here — then bought a wild boar sausage. Not gamey at all — and perfect with the olive and cheese roll.

This vendor was selling gourmet (and delicious) cheeses. I love how knowledgable and helpful these vendors are about their products.

There were a few butchers here, selling a variety of meats from pork to wild rabbit.

The market also features vendors serving hot and cold foods, like this one selling paella and curry prepared in huge pans.

There were even stalls selling alcohol — like Pimm’s and champagne.How convenient!

And there were also several stalls boasting fresh fish like turbot, monkfish, mackerel, oysters, scallops and tuna.

My husband tried the lamb and mint burger from Northfield Farm, prepared with cheese and greens. If you like lamb, you’d love this.

There were even more vendors outside in the Green Market selling honeys, vegan cupcakes, sausages and lots of desserts.

This is definitely a must-see on any itinerary to London. Just to see the variety of foods available is worth the stop. Not that you should just look at the food. Eat. And eat a lot. You won’t regret it.

Market hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. for lunch on Mondays and Tuesdays; full markets run from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday.

Follow Cat on her #FoxHoneymoon to England, Scotland and Ireland on Twitter @thedailydish and Instagram @catherinetoth. Track her travels at #CatTravels.

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#CatTravels: Arriving in London


It really wasn’t that bad getting to London.

We flew on Alaska Airlines to Seattle, then Delta straight to Heathrow. Including the layover time — which, by the way, we strategically used to eat some of the best chili cheese fries I’ve ever had at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport — it only took us maybe 18 hours total.

Not bad for traveling directly around the world.


While we could have taken the Heathrow Express trains, which take you from the airport to Central London in 23 minutes, we opted for the London Underground, also known as the Tube. This rapid transit system serves 270 stations and has about 250 miles of track, half of which are above ground. Opened in 1863, it’s consider the world’s first underground railway upon which other systems — like in New York and Japan — are modeled.

It took us about an hour via Tube to get to our hotel in the Bloomsbury district, an area of the London Borough of Camden near the Euston Station. It was developed by the Russell family in the 17th and 18th centuries into a fashionable residential area noted for its garden squares. In fact, there are three within walking distance of our hotel.


I booked a room at the Ambassadors Bloomsbury, a modern boutique hotel just down the street from busy Euston Station and a short walk to the world famous British Museum.

It’s always difficult booking accommodations in a foreign city. You don’t know what to believe. Hotel websites say one thing, then guest reviews say another. I read mixed reviews on this hotel, with some complaining about the room size and unfriendly staff. My only requirements were simple: in a safe neighborhood near a Tube station and with a private bathroom. (Many hotels still have shared bathrooms.) And I have to say, so far, this hotel exceeded my expectations. I actually prepared my husband for what I figured would be uncomfortably small rooms. But if you’ve ever stayed in Tokyo or Hong Kong — which we both have — this is pretty spacious.

But it’s not cheap. I couldn’t find room rates for less than $250 USD a night in Central London. And yes, I was going to pay more for a private toilet in our room.


And there are tons of restaurants in this area, serving everything from Indian to Chinese cuisine.

My husband has an obsession with fish and chips, so we, along with two friends from London, headed to North Sea Fish Restaurant, about half a mile away.


It’s not a swanky place, but it had good reviews online. This restaurant started as a small takeaway (British for “takeout) serving fresh fish and chips with hardly any seats. But in 1977, a new owner transformed this into a bona fide restaurant that included a liquor license and a renovation that added 60 seats.

Today, the restaurant is even bigger, and the Beauchamp family still runs it. (His widow still makes desserts, starters and soups for the menu.)


Of course we had to try the fish and chips!

The fish here is delivered fresh every day. The fish is deep-fried in pure ground nut oil in a crispy batter and served with chips (or fries). And unlike other places we’ve been to, you can actually choose the kind of fish you want, from dover sole to Scotch salmon to the traditional cod.


My husband couldn’t have been happier eating one of his favorite English meals — and in London!


Here’s the tuna, one of the daily specials, soaked in a tomato-based sauce with carrots and broccoli.


I had to order the onion rings, which came in an incredibly light batter. But I was polite and shared. (smile)


After dinner, we decided to take a walk around London. We headed south to Covent Garden, a lively area in the West End filled with restaurants, bars and shops. It’s in an old fruit and vegetable market in the central square, surrounded by theaters and the Royal Opera House.


Though we were full from dinner, I couldn’t resist getting a macaroon — OK, I bought four — from Laduree, the famous French bakery that has an outpost here.


Then we walked through London’s very small Chinatown on our way back to Bloomsbury.

There are more than 100,000 Chinese Brits in London. This area, in the city of Westminster, is packed with restaurants, bakeries, supermarkets and souvenir shops.


On our way back, we passed the British Museum — it was our landmark to make sure we were heading in the right direction — and stopped for a beer at the unassuming Museum Tavern.


It definitely felt like a traditional London pub, with a nice selection of beers and spirits including Harvey’s Sussex Best, Timothy Taylor Landlord, Theakston Old Peculiar, Daleside Spring Frenzy, Young’s Gold, Hobgoblin and Fuller’s London Pride.

We found a table but had to order from the bartender working at the gilt-mirrored back bar, a nod to its predecessor, the Dog & Duck, which was in operation from the 1700s.


Not a bad way to finish a long day of traveling, Tube-riding and eating.

Tomorrow is another day!

Follow Cat on her #FoxHoneymoon to England, Scotland and Ireland on Twitter @thedailydish and Instagram @catherinetoth. Track her travels at #CatTravels.

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#CatTravels: Heading to the U.K.


It’s always the case, right.

I’m scrambling to finish my work, clean the house, and run errands before we leave for Europe — and everything that can does go wrong.

My computer won’t back up my photos.

My laptop get hits by some kind of weird virus and I can’t book anything online.

And my credit cards — yes, both of them — get compromised.

All on the day before we leave for our two-week adventure in the United Kingdom.

Luckily for me, I don’t stress that easily. (OK, I stress, but you’d probably never know it.) If I forget anything — save for my passport and iPhone — I can buy abroad. And whatever I can’t finish, oh, well.

This trip has been a long time coming.

We actually had this planned honeymoon before we even discussed our wedding. (And let’s be real, there wasn’t much to discuss in that department. Beach, minister, marriage license and we were set.)

My husband traveled around Europe with his family when he was a kid, making a circular, two-month trek from Amsterdam to Paris to Hungary — and everywhere in between.

Everywhere except the U.K.

So when we talked about places to visit, this area — England, Scotland and Ireland — ranked high on the list. (In case you’re wondering, we also considered New Zealand, Alaska and Peru.)


I’ve been to London (above) twice. And while it’s a big city with all its urban flaws, there’s still an old-world charm to the place, with castles in the middle of modern buildings and cobblestone pathways where you’d expect paved roads.

While there’s lots to do there — British Museum, Westminster Abbey, Harry Potter Park — we decided to take a side trip to Bath in southwest England, a World Heritage site and major tourist area. It’s also closer to Stonehenge — read about the latest findings about what’s underneath it here — and the WWT’s Slimbridge Wetland Centre, where we can feed nēnē (Hawaiian goose). (The organization was responsible for breeding the goose and staving off its extinction.)

And then there’s Scotland (top photo) and Ireland, two places neither of us have been, and likely the highlight of our trip. The Highlands, Edinburgh Castle, the search for Loch Ness, the Irish countryside — we’re going to see it all.

And yes, we’ll be in Scotland for the historic independence vote on Sept. 18.

So whatever happens, it should be interesting.

And whatever happens, I’ll definitely be blogging about it!

Follow Cat on her #FoxHoneymoon to England, Scotland and Ireland on Twitter @thedailydish and Instagram @catherinetoth. Track her travels at #CatTravels.

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#FieldTrip: A walk on the west side


It’s been a couple of years since I’ve been out to the westernmost point of O‘ahu.

So when some friends and I were discussing different trails to tackle this past weekend, I tossed in Ka‘ena Point as a suggestion.

And to my surprise, one hadn’t been there in a decade and the other two had never been there at all.

So it was unanimous, we were going to Ka‘ena Point.


We got to the trailhead on the Wai‘anae start of the hike by 7 a.m. And to be honest, that was a little late. This isn’t the kind of trail that you want to be still on when the sun is high in the sky. It’s dry, it’s brutally hot, and you won’t find any relief from the heat.

If you follow the highway to the end of the road, you will hit the start of the trail. There are places to park, trash cans for rubbish and signs everywhere telling you what you can and cannot do. For example, no dogs. I made a special note of that one.


Ka‘ena Point is one of the last intact dune ecosystems in the main Hawaiian Islands. Located on the westernmost point of O‘ahu, at the end of Farrington Highway, this wild and rugged lava shoreline with sweeping views of the vast Pacific Ocean in every direction is nothing short of magical.

You can feel a kind of purposeful spirit here, walking the uneven 5-mile dirt trail from Makua on O‘ahu’s western coastline to Mokulē‘ia on the North Shore. This is the place of Hawaiian lore, where souls of ancient Hawaiians would jump off the point and into the spirit world and meet the souls of their ancestors.

That wasn’t in our plan.

We just wanted to walk the wild coastline dotted with tide pools and sea arches, talk story, and breathe in the beauty of this sacred place.


The trail leads to Ka‘ena Point Natural Area Reserve, a remote and scenic protected area harboring some of the last vestiges of coastal sand dune habitat on the island, and home to native plants and seabirds. Whales frequent this shoreline during the winter months, and sometimes you can see spinner dolphins playing in the waters offshore.

Back in 2011, a 6.5-foot-tall predator-proof fence was installed to keep out invasive species that have been devastating the populations of native and endangered plants and animals. Animals like dogs, cats and mongooses have killed ground-nesting seabirds and rats eat their eggs.

Since this stainless steel, marine-grade fence — a dark brown to blend in with the natural surroundings — went up, wedge-tailed shearwater fledglings increased from 300 in 2010 to more than 1,700 last year. Laysan albatross fledglings went up 25 percent this year. Native plants such as ‘ōhiʻa and sandalwood are now covered in fruit.


We were lucky enough to see a nesting wedge-tailed shearwater (above).


Once you pass through the predator fence, the landscape changes. The volcanic rock coastline softens into sandy dunes lined with naupaka.



To walk around this area is like a visual lesson in Native Hawaiian ecology. The coastline is dotted with native plants such as ‘ilima, naio and hinahina kū kahakai, with 11 species that are federally listed as endangered ʻāwiwi, puʻukaʻa, dwarf naupaka and ʻohia. And the point, a nature reserve closed to motorized vehicles, is home to rare and endangered coastal plants and seabirds. The critically endangered Hawaiian monk seal and green sea turtles are regularly spotted resting along the coastline.


Closer to the shoreline, we found small tide pools, little marine ecosystems bustling with fish like lama (baby goatfish), alaihi (squirrel fish) and sergeant majors.


We got to the point in about 90 minutes — and that’s with stopping to shoot photos.

It’s not a challenging hike at all. In fact, it’s a well-traversed trail with hardly any incline save for one spot where the original road washed away. But we didn’t go there for a workout. We went to see the stunning scenery and marvel at the native ecosystem that’s alive and thriving.

And that’s exactly what we got.

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