I love London markets, they are one of my favourite parts of living here. But today I discovered that I have been doing them entirely 100% wrong. I was asked by Camden Market to do an Instagram takeover which was really flattering. I am the girl who refused to join Instagram for so long because I thought it was going to be a flash in the pan trend (yeah, slightly wrong on that count), so to be asked to do a takeover was awesome. I made the rather radical choice to take a day off work and even went to the extent of deleting work emails off my phone (I will wait for you to get over your shock and pick yourself off the floor before I continue) so I could have an uninterrupted day in Camden.

I had been to Camden market in 2008 (on the ten year anniversary of the Spice World movie coming out on VHS in New Zealand, not relevant to this post but I thought it was worth a mention) on a Saturday at lunchtime. I made a half ditch attempt to crowd dodge before getting fed up and declaring it a lost cause (not before going to CyberDog because Mary-Kate and Ashley went there in one of their classic movies). The sea of humanity was just too much. But some very credible sources (Talonted Lex and Pack your Passport) have raved about Camden over the last few years so something in the back of my mind said maybe I ought to give it a second chance.

I was going to do something I had never done before, I planned to spend the entire day at a market. The plan was to start with breakfast at Cafe Loren (amazing menu full of shakshuka), wander round the market, work from the Interchange co working space and then visit Half Hitch gin distillery (because gin and also because gin distilled with tea). It was in the middle of this day that I realised exactly what I have been doing wrong when it comes to markets.

On a Friday morning Camden Market is super chilled out, most of the stalls have opened but by morning tea time the crowds are already starting to file in, mostly on the hunt for food. Somehow though, the crowds weren’t bothering me this time.

It really puzzled me for a while, but in between my third coffee for the day and a family sized helping of churros I realised why it this market experience was different. Normally I am on a time crunch, I have a target and I go from A to B to get to it. I am so busy trying to get to that stall that sells waffles, or that coffee van where the guy gives me a free flat white and a hug (connections are important), that any mere hint of humanity in my way sends me into a rage. I want to be in and out in a hour and eat all the samples possible.

But this time I was going to be here all day. I meandered. There was no rush to get somewhere and so people being in my way didn’t impact me in the slightest. I had the time to look at the stalls, investigate the food options (while managing to drop churro sugar all over my camera) and hang back and people watch for a bit.

Turns out when you treat a London market as an experience rather than a goal you actually have more fun [insert quote about smelling roses here].

It had never occurred to me to spend an entire day at a market, but I am really glad that I did.

Regents Canal art

Since I am slightly addicted to escape rooms I have an updated version of this post for you! Read on my brave escapees.

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I am a HUGE fan of escape rooms. They are an ‘all involving’ activity that get you out of your own head. Escape Rooms appeal to so many types of intelligence that I have not found a group that they didn’t work for, they suit code crackers, out of the box thinkers and Neanderthals all in the same game. Your first one will be a little overwhelming but if you do a second or third you tap in to how the games makers think and it becomes 100% enjoyable and ever so slightly obsessive.

My issue so far in London has been that there are no real reviews of the Escape Rooms because they ‘don’t want to give away hints’; I call bullshit on that. Therefore I give you non-spoiler but containing useful information reviews of the escape rooms I have done. No photos because I’m not a jackass.

And FYI next time I invite you to be locked in a tiny room with me and I tell you to try and escape, its endearing not creepy.

JM’s Offices at Hint hunt

Hint Hunt was my first and I am glad that I started with it. The game that I have done (they have two different stories) is set in a detectives office so you get into the mystery/escape mood right away without being scary. It has a really good balance between practical ‘finding stuff’ and code cracking, although toward the end we found a little hard to piece it all together (could have been because it was our first). I loved that they never used the same solution twice (some rooms you have to find keys for everything, or number codes for everything) and that all players had to be totally involved to solve it, but didn’t like that they used so many red herrings.

The Killer at Enigma Escape

This goes down as the scariest room I have done, and also the room that really looked at things in a unique way. Basic premise is that you are trying to escape a serial killer – this room has its Dexter moments. After doing a few rooms the group I was in really had our method down pat, but the very first minute threw that out the window and forced us to just be god damn practical (I.e. We had to figure out how to turn on the lights). I would recommend that you take an easily frightened friend with you to this room (as my friends did with me) so that you can laugh when they scream, try to run away, run into a wall and fall on the floor. Oh and they gave us popcorn and drinks at the beginning, what’s not to love.

School of Witchcraft and Wizardry at Enigma Quest

This is one of the easier rooms I have done so could be a really good first room to try. It will be a favourite of any Harry Potter fans and yes the first thing we did was put on robes (I’m an out and proud Ravenclaw). Rather than trying to ‘escape’ you are trying to pass your Hogwarts exams, which means that so many bits of the Harry Potter universe are involved that it is seriously delightful at every turn. Don’t worry if you haven’t read the books since you were 10, all the puzzles are still based on logic/puzzles/’trying till you get it right’ so you will enjoy it regardless of if you know that Dumbledore was born in 1881.

Time Run

Don’t make time run your first room, it is just too epic and you won’t appreciate it. The score on the door is you travel through time trying to collect an ancient artefact that has gone missing before the baddies get it. This is the most elaborate set up I have seen in an escape room, and each new set just tops the previous one – completely feels like you are going from the set of Apollo 13 to Indiana Jones. There are no bored uni students running this shindig either, they are in character as Victorian/steampunk assistants from the moment you walk through the door. They have some really unique puzzles here too, that require a fully switched on team to tackle. WARNING: Time Run now has two rooms (The Lance of Longinus & the Celestial Chain), Lance of Longinus is the original and the one I was talking about above and I highly recommend it. The new game Celestial Chain is terrible,  you feel really rushed, the story is a waste of time, and because of the new format no one really ever wins so you leave feeling completely flat.

Secret Studio

This room is based around a movie production that has gone wrong, weird things started happening and you have to discover the truth. The room was another scary one that had me screaming and falling on the floor (a terrible evolutionary flaw in my fight or flight reflex). We were told to pay attention in the pre-room briefing and then promptly forgot the crucial instruction as soon as we walked into the room, so pay attention! The puzzles here lean towards the practical side which makes it fun for everyone because you can just keep jamming things in holes until you figure it out*.
*thats what she said.

Kill M.A.D

This is the first room I have done that is a psychological thriller and my god it was scary (NB: I am a wimp). A few trigger warnings because it is set in a mental institution, however if you are a big horror/thriller fan then you will LOVE it. It is the most technologically advanced room I have been in and it is fully automated with the music changing when you do something right. Rather than being a mad (lol pun intended) dash to find objects in the room, the puzzles make you work as a team and do some out of the box problem solving.

Being a spy at Bletchley Park

I have wanted to go to Bletchley Park since the Imitation Game came out because Cumberbatch. It was one of ‘those’ London activities that is on the list but I never seemed to get around to. Every weekend, exhausted from a week of work and staying up too late binge watching Netflix, the thought of having to get a TRAIN somewhere was just too much. So instead I did the usual London thing of brunching while complaining about the weather, even if it was sunny (it was too sunny). Meanwhile Bletchley remained a distant Cumberbatch infested dream, where computers and spies fought for his otterlike attention. But when my parents were over in July I bit the bullet and actually looked at the train times. Laden down with coffees we got ourselves ready to spy.

The train takes about an hour and then the park itself is only a two minute walk from the station. Why I did not do this earlier I will never know. Actually I do know, London is 100% exhausting and culture takes a backseat in favour of gin. Bletchley Park is an incredible piece of history, this is the actual location where they broke the enigma code, where they saved lives and shortened the war. After the war the site fell into ruin (like complete falling down type ruin), but a grant a few years ago meant they could repair all of the huts and turn it into a really great tourist attraction.

I of course being the excitable trollop that I am went in a black trench coat so I could hide around corners and spy on people. I then got entirely freaked out because they have hidden speakers in the trees that project the sounds of an active Bletchley Park (like the sounds of a motorbike roaring round the corner). After running away from an invisible motorbike I figured out I am not really cut out to be a spy. Unless this whole being on all the social networks is just an elaborate cover and this blog post is a double bluff…or is it???

One of the best parts of Bletchley is that they give you the option to learn about it in different ways depending on what interests you. You can learn about the technology, the codes or the people through the hand held video guides. I flicked between the people (code-cracking dorks ice skating on the lake in the middle of a war is a beautiful mental picture) and the codes, because what they managed to achieve is just phenomenal – I can’t even get my printer to work.

Bletchley park Bombe machinehl

TOP TIP: If you are going to head out to Bletchley Park make sure you do it when it’s not raining. You are walking around the actual sites so you spend quite a bit of time outside between the huts and the manor house. You also have to save time to see a demonstration of the Bombe (the big computer machine that broke Enigma); it is one of only three working machines in the world and is hella cool to witness.

I wish I hadn’t waited so long to visit, and I can’t wait to go back and do a more through job. This is a piece of recent history that we are finally able to talk about and will leave you in awe of what humans can do. Oh and they also have the bar that was in the Imitation Game set up, so if you take along a cardboard cutout of Cumberbatch it can be like all your dreams came true.

Piazzale michelangelo view florence

There are many things in life that I dislike; when a new t-shirt loses its shape after one wash, coffee spilling into the saucer, the continual disenfranchisement of minority groups in current political discourse. But nothing can quite send me into a two second rage like a crowd of tourists. I realised that in most cases I am also a tourist. But I am different, I am a special little snowflake with a blog and a spirit of adventure. Ok fine, I’m a ranty hypocrite. But it does mean that I have a great tip for you on how to avoid the crowds and get the best view in Florence.

My parents were amazing in Florence, they let me revert into true teenage sleeping habits and dream half the day away. And when they did see the need to wake me up just before lunch they approached holding a double espresso and a pastry out in front of them as protection. I trained my parents well. There was however one morning worth getting up early for; the morning we went to Piazzale Michelangelo.

There are a few places to go for a view over Florence, but since my fear of heights prevents me from climbing towers of death…my options were limited. And when my crowd hatred flares up, the options are even more so. But with the grace of coffee we were going to see Piazzale Michelangelo in the early morning light, and get there before any other tourist had raised their head above the parapet.

Piazzale michelangelo walk florence

The side benefit of the hellishly early start (8am) was that it was only 30°C when we left the house, an important factor when walking anywhere in the Italian summer (Piazzale Michelangelo is only about a 20 minute walk from Sante Croce or 30 minutes with a complaining Runawaykiwi in tow). The first part of the walk was delightful, the second part with the unending steps was not so. But if I made it then so can you. And the end result is worth it.

Piazzale Michelangelo is also home to a replica of Michelangelo’s David (hence the name) and some very cool modern sculptures that look like they have been bitten and cracked by giants. The real art however is the view, you can see down all the bridges to Ponte Vecchio and see the Uffizi, Duomo and Sante Croce all in one shot. It is the picture postcard version of Florence. Because we were so early (and it was a Sunday) we almost had the place to ourselves. I say almost because we were actually sharing it with the Florence Vespa club, comprised of middle age Italian men who were 100% adorable. I have never seen a group of tanned men look so proud of tiny, tiny bikes.

We took in every angle of the view, giggled at the posturing Vespa men and then started our decent to Ditta for brunch. This was our last morning in Florence, and I can’t think of a better way to have spent it.