By , July 9, 2012 11:00 am

If you know me and my love of numbers, you were probably wondering where all the stats were in our one year travel post.

Well, here they are!  I never meant to disappoint.  I simply had so many wonderfully awesome and arguably useless stats that they needed their own post.  And don’t worry… I’ve managed to contain myself to just a single pie chart.

The BIG Number: Budget

We (ok, I) have meticulously written down every penny spent in the past year… the cost of each hotel room, pupusa, dive lesson, tube of toothpaste, bandaid and bottle of water has been carefully recorded in a notebook and then transferred to the nifty little site, budgetyourtrip.com.

So, at any given time, I know our spending to the penny.

Drum roll please…

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Total Spending after One Year of Travel (for 2 people): $20,040.68 CAD (16,013.46 €)
Average Cost per Day (for 2 people):  $54.76
(43.76 €)

Our original budget goal was $100/day, so it seems we’re doing pretty good spending wise.  Obviously, that goal was too high for us. Having realized that about 6 months ago, we decided to make it our spending cap goal for expensive places.  Our new budget goal is $50-55/day, but as with everything else on this journey, even that’s a work in progress.

Here’s a breakdown of where we spent the money:

Year One Expenses
But wait, there’s so much more…

Countries & Transportation

Countries visited: 11 (Visited means we spent at least 24 consecutive hours in the country) – Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, El Salvador, USA, Spain, France, Austria

Border crossings: 17

Number of times we were turned back at a border: 1 (in Costa Rica, but they let us through after making us spend $50 on overpriced return bus tickets)

Total Distance Traveled: 29,764 km

  • by plane: 9492 km on 6 flights
  • by bus/automobile: 9444 km on 98 buses/colectivos/pick-up trucks/vans/tuk tuks
  • by train: 185 km on 4 trains
  • by boat: 9662 km on 32 boats
  • by foot:  923 km
  • by bike:  58 km

Most memorable mode of transportation: other than walking the Camino, definitely hitchhiking and getting a ride in the back of a pickup with dozen other people in Mexico

Accommodation:

Average daily accommodation cost: $12.94 CAD

Most expensive bed: $78 CAD for dorm beds in Paris (but it included breakfast and supper!)

Least expensive bed (excluding free places): $3.65 CAD for a private room ensuite in San Pedro La Laguna, Guatemala

Number of different beds slept in:  98 (39 of these were on the Camino)

Number of nights spent sleeping in:

  • Private Rooms: 146
  • Dorms: 95 (most of these, 52, were in Europe – while on the Camino and to cut costs in cities)
  • Apartments: 84
  • Five star cruise ships: 14
  • Work exchange programs: 11
  • Friends’ Homes: 5
  • Couch Surfers’ Homes: 5
  • Buses:  2
  • Airports: 2 (both in Barcelona… and let me tell you, it’s a lot more comfortable when you’re past security!)
  • Private Islands: 1
  • Climbing a Volcano (ok, there was no sleeping), then watching the sun rise:  1

Food

Average daily food cost: $10.51 CAD

  • Meals cooked/purchased in grocery stores & bakeries: 61%
  • Meals eaten out: 30%
  • Meals included with accommodation/tours: 8%
  • Free meals: 1%

Favourite foods:  tacos, Guatemalan pineapple, baleadas; Jewel Cay donuts, gingerbread, banana tarts, and pizza; pupusas, gallo pinto,  fried yuca balls, mangoes, cashews and cashew fruit, French Brie, Paris baguettes, aged Spanish sheep’s cheese, lentils (yup, our home province is the second largest producer of green lentils worldwide, and we had to travel halfway across the globe to try our first taste of them), chocolate croissants, dinkelbrot, and really any bread in any bakery in Austria

Health

Weight Lost:  56 lb (Mike – 22 lb, Ashley – 34 lb)

Sick Days:  20 (17 for Ashley, 3 for Mike)

Bouts of Traveller’s Diarrhea/Food Poisoning: 3 (Ashley – 3, Mike – 0… man with the iron stomach!)

Number of Doctor’s Visits:  1 (needed physicals for divemaster program)

Number of Times We Probably Should Have Seen a Doctor, but Didn’t: 3
Surprise, surprise, it’s all Ashley here – 8 consecutive days of Montezuma’s revenge in Mexico (should have self-medicated), nasty sinus infection in Utila (did self-medicate after I realized it wasn’t going away), and food poisoning on the cruise ship (they require that you report all gastrointestinal issues to the ship’s doctor, but I self-quarantined myself while I was sick instead of a forced quarantine)

Unintentional Changes to the Gear List

Number of Times We Were Robbed: 3 (camera pickpocketed in Quetzaltenago, Guatemala; bag stolen from overhead bin of bus in Costa Rica; wallet with ~$15 pickpocketed in Antigua, Guatemala)

Number of Items We Lost:  5 (Ashley’s hat, both our Nalgene bottles, camp soap, Ashley’s quick-dry Northface t-shirt)

Number of Items Broken: 2 (Ashley sat on her Kindle in Antigua, Guatemala and Mike’s (cheap) beard trimmer)

Other Stuff

Money Earned from Working:  Mike – $30 (divemaster job = $5, cutting the grass at our apartment in Austria = $25), Ashley – $0

Number of Photos Taken:  6071 (actually, this is the number we’ve kept… many many more were taken)

Books Read:  96 (Ashley – 56, Mike – 40)

Postcards Mailed Home:  34

Souvenirs Purchased: 0 When I left home, I fully intended to buy something from each country or region and mail it home.  That way, when we eventually settled down, we could have a house full of cool stuff from our travels.  I even made Mike promise me that he wouldn’t harass me about the money when I did the souvenir shopping.  But, to date, I never saw anything that I just had to have. I’m 100% satisfied with the memories (and maybe a few photos) of our experiences… no stuff necessary!

Number of Times We Paid to Get Our Laundry Done:  1 (Rio Dulce, Guatemala… I’ve never seen it rain so much for 3 days straight… we had no hope of hanging our clothes to dry)

Mountains Summited:  4 (doesn’t include mountains crossed on the Camino, as they weren’t summited)

Total Time Spent Underwater:  74 hours, 30 minutes (each)

UNESCO World Heritage Sites Visited:  19

Like these stats?  You can find just about all of them, updated year-round, on our permanent stats page.

By , July 6, 2012 6:00 am

366 days ago today (no, I haven’t forgotten how many days are in a year… 2012 was a leap year), we stepped off a plane in Cancun, Mexico with no idea what the future would hold.  Literally.  We had no plan past getting to our Couchsurfing host’s house and even that turned out to be an adventure in itself.

Here we are, one year later, with a totally different perspective on life and travel.  If you’ve been following along the whole way, you’ll know what a journey it’s been.  Here’s a little summary for you.

Where Have We Been?

After a year of ever-changing plans, we’ve discovered the only itinerary we can claim to have is the list of places we’ve already been.  Everything else is up in the air and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Before we left, we posted a rough itinerary that we haven’t really looked at since.  So here’s a visual of where we’ve actually been.

Click for larger image

Where We Are Now?

The literal answer to that question is an apartment in Loosdorf, Austria.  But you could have read that on our sidebar.

Digging deeper, I can say we are happyAnd that’s all that really matters, isn’t it?  We now value happiness in a way that we never did before.  We wake up each morning excited to experience the day. We hope that no matter what happens, this will be true for the rest of our lives.

We have both explored spirituality to a deeper level than ever before, particularly the ideas and values of Buddhism (Ashley) and Hinduism (Mike).

We are now happy, healthy vegetarians.  Contrary to popular belief back home in Saskatchewan (the land of meat and potatoes), we CAN get enough protein, iron, and all that other good stuff from plant-based food.  Not only are our bodies not suffering from four months of being vegetarian, they have never felt stronger or more energetic.  And our heads are clearer too.

We’ve talked about the physical changes we’ve gone through many times before, but here’s a quick reminder. Mike has lost nearly 20 pounds (9 kg) and I’ve lost about 35 (16 kg).  We’ve gained muscle mass.  Our hair has grown out and been bleached by the sun.  Our skin has a healthy glow, instead of the pasty whiteness of people who spend all their time indoors.  Even though we’re a year older, we look and feel significantly younger.  (In fact, we have a hard time convincing fellow travellers that we’re not fresh out of university.  One lady was sure we had just graduated high school!)

Here’s a little photo montage of us in each country we’ve passed through… notice the evolution from the chubby faces and glazed expressions in the first ones to the happy, healthy people at the end?

A Year of Ashley

 

Where Are We Going?

This is a loaded question.  We have learned a lot about our travel style in the past year.  Ask either of us what our favourite experiences were, and we won’t hesitate to list the Camino de Santiago in Spain, becoming divemasters in Honduras, working on an organic farm in El Salvador, and learning Spanish in Guatemala.  We saw some amazing things in between, but we always come back to the list above.  What do all of these things have in common?  Two things… 1. they required us to STOP moving around and STAY PUT for a while (okay, we were constantly moving during the Camino, but we were always on the Camino) and 2. we were DOING something.  So there you have it… as we travel the world, we want to stop, do something, and really experience a place.

Which brings us to our next “plan”.  On July 26th, we have to leave Austria (and the wider Schengen visa zone).  We’ll spend a few nights each in Zagreb, Croatia; Belgrade, Serbia; and Sofia, Bulgaria to break up the bus rides, before settling in for at least a month at an organic farm in north central Bulgaria.  There, we will help harvest grapes, learn how to make rakia, play with their dogs, and train in combat jujitsu.  Sounds pretty great, right?  We think so too.

After that, who knows?  We’re not heading home yet. The world is our oyster and we plan to take our sweet time exploring it.

By , July 4, 2012 3:04 pm

This is our HOW TO guide to walking the Camino de Santiago  (a.k.a. The Way of St. James) via the Camino Frances route. This path begins in Saint Jean Pied de Port, France and finishes in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. If you are looking for inspiration, you can read about our experience on the Camino by following the links at the bottom of the post. If you have already decided that this pilgrimage is for you, read on my friend.

As all good guides should, I’m going to start by acknowledging that we don’t know everything, and refer you to the same guide book that we used.

Walking Guide to the Camino de Santiago History Culture Architecture from St Jean Pied de Port to Stantiago de Compostela and Finisterre by Gerald Kelly

This is a Kindle book, which we’ll come back to. There are no maps, just a listing of all the towns (with places to stay) that you’ll be passing through, a description of the hostels/albergues (with prices), a brief bit of history, and some notes on various buildings and buildings. Most importantly for us, it had notes on which places had kitchens for our use. This book is updated every year, and we thought it was pretty good.

What to pack:

Ah, the eternal question. Follow our advice, and you’ll do well. Take nothing more, and nothing less. Seriously.

  • 40 L or smaller backpack with frame - You want the frame so your hips can carry the weight instead of your shoulders. Also bring a rain cover if it is not a part of your backpack. We used our 38L Osprey Kestrels and found them very roomy.
  • Sleep sheet or Sleeping bag - we brought sleep sheets, and wished we had sleeping bags. Then again, the weather was much cooler than normal for our camino, and pilgrims we met who had done the pilgrimage in other years recommended the sleep sheet. Both work.
  • Long underwear top and bottom - It gets cold, even in Spain. If you only have a sleep sheet, this is essential.
  • 2 quick dry shirts – Synthetics, or very thin cotton
  • 2 quick dry bottoms – a pair of zip-off pants, and a pair of shorts
  • 3 pairs of underwear
  • 3 pairs of liner socks
  • 3 pairs of wool socks
  • Sweater
  • Fleece
  • Rain coat
  • Wide Brim Hat
  • 2 packing cubes, and a couple of zippered bags for organization
  • 1 Pair of flip-flops – This is a necessity, most albergues will not let you wear your walking boots inside.
  • Bottle of shampoo
  • Bottle of sunscreen
  • Deodorant
  • Partial bar of laundry soap
  • Toothbrush, floss, toothpaste
  • Toilet paper (mostly for females) – for those times when you just have to go.  For the bushes, carry an empty ziploc and pack the paper out to the next toilet.  Albergues usually  run out of TP in the ladies room by morning, so it’s handy there too.
  • Quick dry travel towel XL (this can double as a flimsy blanket if you wake up shivering)
  • 12 Clothes Pins or portable rubber clothesline
  • First aid kit – Include tape, gauze, band aids, mole skin, iodine, needle, thread.
  • Swiss Army Knife – The smallest knife that has scissors, a can opener, and a cork screw.
  • Headlamp
  • Passport and Pilgrim Credential
  • Digital Point and Shoot Camera – Light weight & small; also bring rechargeable batteries and 8 GB of memory cards.

Optional but recommended:

  • The Kindle from Amazon This is our favourite travel item of all time. It’s lightweight, the battery lasts a really long time, it’s easy to read, and there are a lot of books for it. On our Camino, Ashley read 6 books, and Mike read 5. It would not have been pleasant carrying all those books around in paper format.
  • MP3 player – The only catch here, is you will need one large enough that you won’t get bored of your music. 4 GB at a minimum.
  • Sunglasses
  • Spices – Namely, salt and pepper.  You can buy the cheapest shakers and dump half of it out to cut down on weight.  We also recommend curry powder – it makes lentils just a little more interesting.
  • Light weight bowl and a half dozen plastic spoons – great for making hummus, salads, or oatmeal when you have no kitchen.
  • Reusable grocery bag

Things you should not pack without consideration:

  • Laptop – Unless you are blogging, or need to be connected, don’t bring it.  Even if you are blogging, consider the weight carefully (we did opt to carry our netbook with us).
  • Travel SafeAbsolutely awesome if you bring a computer, otherwise a bit big/heavy for a walk like this.
  • Compass/map – Not essential – you are not going to get lost.
  • SLR Camera – Too heavy for our liking.  Invest in a good quality point-and-shoot – your shoulders and knees will thank you.
  • Day bag – Use your pockets.
  • Padlock - Don’t bring it, there are no lockers.
  • Deck of playing cards – hardly used.
  • Extra shoes or heavy sandals – Stick to flip-flops. There are a lot of shoes/boots that get left behind because of weight.
  • Rain pants - not necessary, but a creature comfort nonetheless.  We didn’t have them, but they would have been swell on exactly two days.

Just remember, the lighter your bag, the happier your Camino. If you don’t expect you will use something you’ve packed every day… leave it at home.

Oops, I brought too much stuff. What now?

No problem, so did we. Head down to the post office in St-Jean-Pied-de-Port and mail it on to Santiago de Compostela. For a fee, the Pensión Badalada will store them for you. We used them, and had no trouble. Details can be found on their website http://pilgrimhelper.wordpress.com/luggage-storage/

Getting Prepared – Physically:

It’s just walking ladies and gents. It’s time consuming, invigorating, blissful and divine, and if you can walk to the grocery store, you can walk the Camino de Santiago.

Please don’t think you need to be young like us. We were the exception. A typical pilgrim is closer in age to 60 than 30, with plenty in their late 60′s or 70′s.

Physical fitness is also not the biggest concern. Again, we met plenty of people who would be considered clinically obese along the way. They may have been a bit slower than us, but they got there just the same.

My point is, no matter what kind of shape you are in, regardless of your age, you can probably walk the Camino. All you need to do in preparation is walk.  A lot. Try loading up your backpack at home, wear the same shoes you plan to wear on the Camino, with the socks you plan to use, and head out for an hour or two each night. After a couple of weeks, I think you’ll be as prepared as can be, and more prepared than we were.

Blister Care:

You are going to get blisters. They are going to hurt for about four days, and you will walk on them. Don’t worry though, you can think of it as character building, and it’s not too bad. It is bad enough, but not too bad.

If your blister has not popped, don’t pop it. What you want to do is sterilize a needle and a bit of thread by boiling it in water. Next run the thread through your blister from one end to the other. Trim the thread so about 1/2″ of thread is sticking out either side of the blister skin and leave the thread in your blister. The thread will allow your blister to continue to drain while you walk. If your blister continues to fill, give a tug on the thread to loosen it, and the puss will start flowing again. When you need to walk on it, cover with gauze and tape. Change the gauze when it gets wet. When you don’t need to walk on it, leave the gauze off. When the blister stops filling (you’ll know because the thread stops sticking), you can take out the thread.  That’s it. Thanks to Shawna from http://getupandglobe.com for the advice – we followed it and it worked well.

If your blister has popped, you want to buy a Compeed from any pharmacy. They’ll be prominently displayed along the Camino. You should be able to find one designed to fit the exact spot of your wound. Make sure your skin is clean and dry before applying. The Compeed will become a second layer of skin. You can shower with it, sleep with it, in fact you do everything with it -  just don’t rip it off! It’ll fall off on its own after four or five days.

Weather:

We had a huge range of weather over the month we walked the Camino. In the mornings, it could be as cold as near-freezing (we needed to walk with spare socks on our hands to keep the blood flowing), in the plains it would reach the mid 30′s, and then there were the days where it poured rain. If you’ve got the equipment in our packing list, you should be fine. We walked every day regardless of what the weather threw at us.

One tip, if your boots get soaked from walking in the rain all day, fill them with balled up newspaper when you get into the albergue, and change the newspaper before bed. Most albergues have paper sitting by the boot rack on rainy days.  Your shoes will be dry by morning.

Accommodation:

The cheapest, and therefore best, accommodation are the pilgrims albergues. Expect to spend between 4€ and 10€ per night per bed. You’ll be sharing a dorm room but have a bunk bed mattress to call your own (although occasionally it may be touching a complete stranger’s mattress… just remember, the Camino’s a great chance to make new friends). There will be a curfew, usually 10:00pm at night, and a checkout time of about 8:00am. This is a very good thing, as you’ll be able to go to bed early, and wake up early to beat the day’s heat. If you can not tolerate hearing the snoring/flatulence of dozens of other pilgrims, consider earplugs.

You don’t need to book accommodations in advance (in fact, often you can’t).  The albergues open between 12:00pm and 1:00pm for the most part, and it’s a good idea to get in early for a few reasons. For one, they can fill up, meaning you may be forced to walk several kilometres farther than you had planned that day. Second, hot water is usually hot when their doors open, but may not be so hot after 100 other people have showered.

Upon arrival, we would usually shower ASAP, then do our laundry. It was best to do laundry early every day so it had a chance to dry. Every albergue expects that you will do your own laundry, so they provide washing sinks and clotheslines. If it’s raining, only wash your socks and underwear. You can drape them over your bunk bed rails to dry inside (may take two days).

Food:

We didn’t really eat out, preferring to make our own vegetarian food. However, there are a lot of restaurants and cafes on the cCmino, so there is always a place to eat. Pilgrim menus are available for 10€ and include a starter, a main course, desert, and wine. For lunches and snacks, most cafes will make you a sandwich called a bocadillo for 2.50€.

If you are going to prepare your own food like us, there’s good news and bad news. Finding food is not that hard. Just about every small town has a store for pilgrims, though the smaller centres will have very high prices and very small selection. For whole grains, you will be able to find whole wheat bread at a little less than half the bakeries, oat flakes at a similar percentage of grocery stores. Whole wheat pasta is also available, though slightly more rare, and very very rarely you’ll stumble across whole rice.

There are lots of options for legumes. Just about every store will sell precooked garbanzos, lentils, and white beans for less than 0.60€ a jar. You can also buy dry lentils and cook them in your albergue without pre-soaking in a reasonable amount of time.

As for fruits and veggies, Spain is the right place to be. Everything is very delicious, and reasonably cheap. Make sure you eat a banana every day, but don’t stop there. Try the cherries, oranges, grapes, apples, peaches, nectarines, and especially the tomatoes. If you find very small, very ripe, natural looking Raf tomatoes. Get them. They are delicious.

Speaking of cooking in albergues, most kitchens are only equipped with a few pots/pans and a single 4 burner stove. You’ll have to share with everyone else, so expect a lineup unless you eat at very strange times.

On the topic of sharing, don’t be afraid to buy too much, and share it. We often were the benefactors of partial bottles of wine and pasta. We also left behind partial packages of lentils, and other uneaten foods that we didn’t want to carry with us the next day.

Walking:

The heart of it all. We walked at about 5 km per hour, and found that 25 km or less in a day felt easy, and we woke up feeling very good. When we walked 26 km or more in a day it felt long, and our bodies felt a bit sorer the next morning. We spoke to quite a few pilgrims, and everyone seemed to feel the same regardless of age or general fitness.

How far you walk in a day is completely up to you. For the most part, albergues are spaced about 5 km or so apart, giving you lots of options on where to start and end your day. We’ve met people who walk 50 km days, and those who walk 15 km days. Whatever you are comfortable with is fine. There are no rules. However, if you walk too little in a day, you’ll be waiting for your albergue to open and if you walk too far in a day, you’ll be hoping you can find an unoccupied bed.

Breaks are also a personal preference. We tried long breaks, short breaks, and no breaks at all. After 37 days of trial and error, this is what we settled on; walk the first 10km without break. From then on in, rest for 10 minutes every 5km.

You’ll need to carry water and snack foods with you while you walk. We each carried 1L of water split into 0.5 L of drinking water, and 0.5 L of emergency water. We refilled our waters at the numerous fountains along the way. Only rarely did we actually need to touch our emergency supply. For snacks we brought a variety of mixed nuts, bread, cheese, dried figs, and Ashley’s favourite – double stuffed Principe chocolate cookies.

If you have more questions, just stick them in a comment, and we’ll do our best to answer them. The rest is just following the arrows. Like I said, you won’t get lost and ¡Buen Camino!

Some of the Many Many Way Markers

Some of the many many way markers on the Camino de Santiago

Want to read more about our Camino?  Check it out…

Our Camino, Your Camino… Our Challenge to You
Camino de Santiago Week 1 – Beautiful Landscapes & Unexpected Challenges
Camino de Santiago Week 2 – Getting Past the Pain
Camino de Santiago Week 3 – Feels a Lot Like Home
Camino de Santiago Week 4 – Easy Walking
Camino de Santiago – We Made It to Santiago, But We’re Not Finished Yet!
Camino de Santiago by the Numbers – Our Budget and Stats
Guide to the Camino de Santiago

By , July 3, 2012 8:03 am

This is a guest post brought to you in cooperation with Hollie Gibson.

It’s a good year to be British! Our Queen’s celebrating her 60th year on the throne, we’re hosting some pretty major sporting events and we’re getting a thorough work out in our own national sport: moaning about the weather.

And, in the afterglow of the Jubilee celebrations, the British Museum has decided to enter into the ‘Greatest of Britain’ spirit of things. They’re running a major exhibit in collaboration with the Royal Shakespeare Company that celebrates the life of perhaps the greatest British playwright and poet of all time: Mr. William Shakespeare. The idea behind the exhibit is to give an insight into how London became a world power, through the unique perspective of the Bard’s plays.

Of course, it’s a city that’s rich in Tudor and Stuart history, and many of the sites and the sights that inspired Shakespeare are still around today. So, in the lull before London’s full of all things athletic, why not get a bit academic? It’s the perfect time to head to the capital and walk a mile in Shakespeare’s shoes.

There’s no need to enter into the spirit of things with too much gusto – who needs a ‘second-best bed’ (as Shakespeare famously bequeathed his wife in his will) when there are plenty of fantastic hotels in central London to get a good night’s sleep in before a day of exploring?

Bright and early in the morning, head to the British Museum for an entertaining look at the great entertainer. Then, head out to into the capital at large and see its biggest attractions in a completely new light. To whet your whistle, below are potted Tudor/Stuart histories of some of London’s must-sees! To paraphrase one of Shakespeare’s more famous lingual legacies, ‘London is your oyster’…

 The Globe

 Let’s start with the obvious. The Globe was Shakespeare’s theatrical home from 1599, the site of many famous premiers and just as many real-life dramas – including the time it burned completely to the ground after a stage effect in Henry VIII went wrong.

Visit for a fascinating historical tour during the day or book well in advance to get tickets to one of its sell-out shows. Later this year, the renowned comic, writer and actor Stephen Fry will be playing the tragically ridiculous Malvolio in Twelfth Night; you might get very lucky and manage to grab a returned ticket! A play at the Globe is best experienced in ‘the pit’, a standing area which extends right to the lip of the stage. In Shakespeare’s day, audience members in this section would have been known as ‘groundlings’.

Hampton Court

When Elizabeth I died and her nephew, James the VI of Scotland, ascended to the English throne, Shakespeare was quick to adapt. A mere two months after the queen had popped her clogs, his theatrical company was no longer ‘The Chamberlain’s Men’; they’d adopted ‘The King’s Men’.

Hampton Court was the royal household at this point, so James rolled down from north of the border and made himself at home in the sprawling palace. Royals wouldn’t dream of attending the theatre with the riffraff (who were at worst dangerous assassins, and, at best, smelly), so Shakespeare and his men performed multiple times in the privacy of the ‘Great Hall’ in Hampton Court.

Hampton’s open to the public today, maintained by an independent body. Go on a ghostly tour to see Tudor spirits, or learn about the lively courtesans of James’s grandsons, Charles II and his dashing brother!

The Tower of London

The most extroverted of London’s gruesome attractions may be its dungeons, but if you’re looking for an experience that’s more than just cheap shocks and drama students in zombie makeup then take a trip to the Tower of London. There, you’ll find the history of more than a millennium of gore including a frank overview of the Elizabethan capital at its most cruel and its most bizarre (fyi, the view is much nicer from the nearby Grange Tower Bridge hotel).

The ‘tower’ of the castle’s name was originally built by William the Conqueror, fresh from his successful invasion in 1066. A complex of towers was soon evolving around it, creating a castle that was to be the site of the most infamous tortures, murders, imprisonments and executions in British history.

As a place where political prisoners were incarcerated and quietly ‘offed’, its reputation would have been fearsome in Shakespeare’s day. Even one hundred years before Shakespeare wrote Richard III, the play that damned its titular character’s reign and reputation, it was rumoured that the ‘wicked’ ruler had ordered his two young nephews be murdered in the Tower. If this wasn’t enough, the Tower was also where his patron, Queen Elizabeth I, was imprisoned during part of her half-sister Mary’s stint on the throne, and where members of his extended family were held after being accused of plotting a Catholic rebellion.

It wasn’t all bad, though; for a long time, the Tower was also used as a zoo to house all the exotic animals gifted to the royalty by foreign ambassadors – lions and a polar bear were among its more famous captives! And today it is home to the Crown Jewels, so in between hearing about this and that murder you can have a look at something pretty.

And finally, for a bit of fun, here are a few landmarks which wouldn’t have been around in Shakepeare’s day…

Big Ben was only built in 1858, 200 years after Shakespeare died.

Downing Street was built in 1680, so Shakespeare was a few decades too late to see the future home of the UK’s heads of state.

The Millennium Wheel was built…well…this one’s a bit obvious, isn’t it?

This is a guest post brought to you in cooperation with Hollie Gibson.