We heart London!

I read an article in the Telegraph this week that asked, ‘Is London really the most dangerous place for students?’, and had a little giggle to myself. As someone who moved to the big bad city from the Emerald Isle three years ago, I find London to be one of the safest places I’ve ever lived. Fortunately, the journalist who wrote the piece seemed to share my sentiment, going on to list the reasons she felt safer in the busy city than in her quiet hometown.

After reading the article, without realising it, I started running through everything I love about London in my mind. There are lots!! But rather than list them all (and bore you to tears I’m sure!), I decided to share my top five with you:

Friendly locals – Yes, really!! I’ve never had complete strangers come up and compliment me on a pair of boots I’m wearing, or a painting I’m carrying…until I moved to London. I pass people on the street and they smile or wave when we’ve only crossed paths a few times, and have had people personally walk me to an area when I’ve asked for directions on the street. The vast majority of Londoners I’ve met, are extremely friendly and happy to chat, which is perfect for me as I love hearing the different accents too!

Individuality – Londoners always look so cool to me. The eclectic mix of styles and individuality you see on a daily basis, whether you’re pottering down Oxford Circus, or grabbing a coffee in Camden Market, is fantastic. People just seem comfortable in their own skin and completely content in dressing exactly how the want to, which I really admire.

Hidden gems – It is impossible to be bored when you live in London. There are hidden gems to be discovered on a daily basis; last weekend I popped into a new social club, The Effra Social, that opened in Brixton recently only to find the most amazing jazz duo playing to a small crowd in the back room. And two weeks ago I stumbled across a group of elderly dancers, waltzing, jiving and fox-trotting for passersby in the middle of Regent’s Park.

The food! – Whether you’re craving Cantonese Duck, Mexican inspired tapas, fruity frozen yoghurt, fresh sushi prepared right at your table, or a plate of pasta exactly like mamma use to make, London has a restaurant for every appetite.

My Mangos – Soppy but true! I don’t think I would have lasted three minutes, let along three years, without the lovely girls here at Mango. They’ve made London really feel like a home away from home for me!

What are the things you love most about London? We’d love to hear from you (and I’d love hear any recommendations you have for spending a Saturday in the city!).

The world = a giant classroom

As a bit of a travel nut, there isn’t much about the world around me that I don’t want to see, experience and learn about. Our planet is chock-full of destinations that inspire, educate and make us realise that the world is a lot bigger than we can ever imagine as a child. With the longer summer holiday, it presents a perfect opportunity to take our families and children out into it – with trips that have an additional educational benefit!

I’m not alone in thinking this; a survey from Tripadvisor earlier this year, found that the majority of those questioned see travel as part and parcel of holistic learning. As many as 97 per cent said they consider travel to be important for their children’s education, with 70 per cent among these claiming it to be very important.

Whether you choose to go with informal learning as you go along, or pick a more organised educational trip, the outcomes can be rich and the memories long-lasting.

Here are just a handful of suggestions that come to mind:

The Somme, France
For those with only a day or two to spare, a visit to the battlefields and war graves of the Somme provides a haunting reminder of the sacrifices of a generation. As we approach the 100 year anniversary of the start of the First World War in 1914, schools throughout the UK are being encouraged to educate young people of ‘the war to end all war’. While younger children might not realise the significance of the place, for those older students who will learn about WWI in school, seeing it for themselves brings an event that seems so far removed from their day-to-day existence, a little bit closer.

Pompeii and Herculaneum, Italy

The story of Pompeii and Herculaneum is a fascinating one; two cities in the Bay of Naples buried by a catastrophic volcanic eruption in AD 79. While it marked the end of the cities, it preserved them in a way never seen before until they were rediscovered nearly 1700 years later. Taking a walk through the cobbled streets takes you back in time as you explore grand houses, baths buildings and amphitheatres, and even see the casts of people captured in their final moments. There is nowhere quite like it.

Florida, USA
While the word Florida screams ‘theme parks’, for the budding young astronaut or scientists there is another attraction altogether to be found in the Sunshine State. The Kennedy Space Center, the site that has been used for every NASA human space flight since 1968, is the only place in the world where you can walk under the world’s largest rocket, touch a moon rock, meet a veteran NASA astronaut, experience the International Space Station and stand face-to-face with Space Shuttle Atlantis in one day.

N.B – Being left-handed myself, a fact that grabbed my attention is that despite only 10 per cent of the world being left-handed, 40 per cent of the early astronauts (Mercury to Apollo eras) were left-handed!

The Galapagos Islands
Those with a sense of adventure looking for somewhere out of the ordinary could consider the Galapagos Islands? Made famous by Charles Darwin who used his findings here as the basis for his theory of evolution, this series of volcanic islands off the coast of Ecuador are a world heritage site, marine reserve and a biosphere reserve. They are recognised for their huge number of ‘endemic species’, species that cannot be found anywhere else on earth. Because of the islands’ isolation and remoteness, many of these have not changed much since prehistoric times, and the birds, lizards, giant tortoises and sea lions have no fear of people. What better hands-on learning opportunity for young people about the world around us and how important it is to look after it is there than this?

Let’s not forget about the opportunities provided with a ‘staycation’ too. The relatively small scale of the British Isles means that you can fit a lot into a week or two. This might be exploring one of our famous castles (Windsor, Warwick, Chepstow, Edinburgh for instance), spending a rainy day in the Natural History Museum or Eureka!, or getting back to nature in the Peak District, Lake District, or New Forest. For those stargazers out there, you might be interested to know that the Brecon Beacons is one of only 5 ‘dark sky’ destinations in the world; this means that the dark sky is protected to allow the stars and constellations to be that much clearer.

With the opportunities for travel at a younger age increasing with each generation, children throughout the world have a chance to ground learning in real experiences, sights, sounds and smells. Who wouldn’t want that?!

I would like to leave you with one final thought – travel is said to be the one thing you can buy that makes you richer. I couldn’t agree more.

Rebecca