Archive for the 'Tips' Category

In Search of Banksy: 30 pounds and 48 hours in London

DSCN2994There´s nothing like a good ole map-less search for illegal art through the streets of a foreign city to get you off the tourist track.

Call it my guide to ¨spending less and seeing more¨: extend your flight connection from an hour and a half to 48, crash with a family friend in Brixton, and set out on a scavenger´s hunt through one of world´s most expensive cities for illusive works of a notorious street artist. Arm yourself with nothing more than a transit day pass (5.6 pounds), a scribbled scrap of notes from a Banksy locations website, no guidebook or map, and a long-time London resident down for the quest. You´ll trapse through the heart of the city, through 2 ethnic neighborhoods, 2 gentrified hipster havens and an unabashed tourist trap; take 4 tube rides, 3 buses and walk an estimated 5 miles; pop into 2 galleries and 1 museum; sip cappuccinos on a roof-top cafe (2 pounds), munch on Jamaican patties at an Afro-Carribean market (2.5 pounds), and down some killer dal at a Pakinstani restaurant (17 pounds, with hella leftovers). You´ll venture down abandoned tunnels and crumbling back alleys as you tour the city´s sweet, tender underbelly, swollen with bright colors and pealing wheatpaste. And all for less than the Lonely Planet shoestringer budget.

Bristol-native Banksy has become synonymous with street art, his satyrical, subversive large-scale stencils offering poignant and humorous statements on politics, culture, capitalism. While his pieces have popped up in cities around the world (an apparent traveler himself), London is one of the hotbeds. The ephemeral nature of street art makes finding his work a kind of wild goose chase.

DSCN2972New Zealand native, world-travler and 30-year London resident Dave served as my gracious host and personal guide extraordinaire. We began at the Waterloo tunnel, once a Eurostar passageway, once abandoned, now a designated graffiti area. None of Banksy´s work remains, but lots of other bright colors and politized stencils fill the surprisingly clean, un-urine-smelling underground area. We rambled along the brown, gurgling Thames to the Tate Modern, sister museum to the Tate Britain, one of the museums hit in Banksy´s guerilla art hanging. We checked out the excellent Futurism exhibit (which warrants its own post), making use of Dave´s free +1 entry.

Our search took us through two once-funky, now-trendy gentrified neighborhoods, the Angel and Old Street areas. We passed a crosslegged girl working on a legit piece on the exterior of a hip nightclub, a one-time poppin gay bar that was ¨the perfect mix of seedy and interesting,¨ Dave sighed in bittersweet nostalgia. Amid the antique stores and vintage shops of Angel, we at last found a Banksy. Preserved under plate glass like the Mona Lisa, I posed next to the children pledging a Tesco shopping bag (of course, I forgot my camera cord at home, so you´ll have to wait for the proof).

DSCN3006We found another Banksy on a quiet sidestreet off of unabashed tourist trap/hipster hangout Brick Lane. The first half of the blocks we walked were wall-to-wall Indian restaurants, with pushy male touts outside jostling for patronage; I think they´d find more success if they employed the Latin American method and used smokin hot girls in skimpy clothing. The street morphed into uber-cool bar and pub land, and that´s where we found the most street art of our mission. My favorite was a collage of corporate logos composing the now-commodified famous image of Che. The Banksy we found was several blocks from the hubbub, a painter sitting next to a large yellow flower. The words ¨vandals found vandalising this vandalism will be prosecuted¨ appeared right beside the large spray of paint covering the stencil´s face.

One of my visit´s sub-missions was to find one of those Cockney ATMs; while that searched proved unfruitful, it did bring us to bomb-ass Tayab, a Pakistani restaurant doing a cafeteria-style smorgasborg for Ramadan. I wisely stocked up on minced meat pastries for my next day´s flight, as well as enough leftovers for a spicy breakfast.

DSCN3018Another culinary and culture highlight was our next morning´s stroll through the Brixton Market, the pulsing heart of the Afro-Carribean Brixton neighborhood. African flags and fabrics, produce-selling mom and pops, Bob Marley tapestries, Obama t-shirts, Rasta onesies and pot-leaf-adorned everythings filled with multi-block indoor/outdoor bazaar of bad-assedness. There wasn´t a single corporate logo in sight, and as I sipped on a Buffalo-milk cappuccino and watched passerbys, I couldn´t help but feel my 48-hour powertour had provided me with a pretty good glimpse of the London in which locals live, graffiti-adorned, cumin-scented and throbbing with life.

The Itch for Ink

My new article came out on Matador Nights, just as I was taking off. I was so bummed about missing the London Tattoo Convention (by two weeks!) that I wrote a quick round-up of tattoo travel destinations I´m currently stoked on. More than anything, it´s a list of places I´m already in to, or what to go to. (Milan´s kinda random, but sounds fresh.) There was a fair amount of editing and word change, but I can still hear an echo of my own voice.

Of course, I should have specified that these were modern tattooing destinations; the first comment makes a good point about traditional tattooing destinations missing. And, um, what´s up with the fourth comment? You don´t sound very educated yourself, uncle whatever.

Check out my picks, and the comments, here.

How Many Dyslexics Does It Take to Rewrite the Travel Rules?

god forbid

god forbid


Well, actually, you’d need at least one non-dyslexic to transcribe the edict. But that’s not the point, at least not of my latest article on BootsnAll, which explores untraditional travel techniques I’ve learned from my brother.

Aaron’s a severe dyslexic with a disarmingly positive outlook and tireless work ethic that’s enabled him to do all sorts of difficult things—things most of us take for granted. This includes traveling. Imagine trying to decipher a foreign language when letters mischievously switch themselves, or trying to understand unusual sounds through an auditory processing system full of static and interference, with all the wires crossed and smoking. Enough to make you want to stay at home, huh?

But for someone with such seemingly insurmountable obstacles inhibiting him, Aaron’s managed to get on the road a fair amount; he just hasn’t done the usual guidebook, itinerary, sight-seeing kind of travel. He’s traveled home with friends from Cuba and Guatemala, traveled up the West Coast into Canada, arrived reservation-less in New Zealand. An incredibly outgoing person, he’s relied on his own gregarious personality to get him along, rather than the clutches a lot of travelers lean on. I’ve tried to incorporate his seat-of-the-pants approach to travel into my own Lonely-Planet-endeared style, and the article was my attempt to share those lessons with other travelers.

The Editor at BootsnAll wanted me to go light on the dyslexic angel, and that’s understandable: it’s not something a lot of people relate to, and they want to publish articles with compelling titles that generate page views. And the article met a largely positive reception from readers. But there’s always that one comment, that one nay-sayer, and this time, I’ve got to say, I could see her point.

I realized that, for me, the real story wasn’t the travel tips, but my brother. My whole life I’ve watched him struggle to do things that were absurdly easy for me: writing essays, reading text books, enjoying novels. His determined, un-self-pitying efforts to intellectually engage as an adult have continued to inspire me. His natural curiosity led him slug through Open Veins of Latin America, not light material for anyone, let alone a person at a 6th grade reading level. He watches subtitled movies three times—once to just absorb the images, a second time to pause and read all the subtitles, and a third time to weave it all together. Yes, he travels, but he also makes it through daily life, and usually with a giant grin on his face.

Travel’s about a lot of things, and one of them is inspiration. It can come from a variety of places, in totally unexpected forms. And beyond trying to get off the guidebook and ditching the streetmap, my brother’s inspired me to push myself beyond what I think is possible for myself. And that includes, for me, traveling.

So that’s the almost-as-long-as-the-article backstory; you can read the actual story here.

Down-dogging for No Fee

For the final assignment of my five-month editorial internship with the trip-planning site NileGuide, I got to indulge my increasingly nerdy obsession with donation-based yoga.

NileGuidance, NileGuide’s blog, features weekly travel themes; I scratched my head and made several trips to the water faucet while considering what to write for fitness week. Then I remembered the inferno of an afternoon in the East Village, when Alicia and I jammed ourselves in a mat-to-mat studio and power lunged our hearts out (and thighs off). We took a pilgrimage to the mother studio of our beloved Yoga to the People, who had earlier that year reached its well-limbered tentacles to the West Coast. Our little Berkeley studio had been getting increasingly crowded (class sizes now edge over 50), and we wanted to get a taste of what the New York studio was all about. So, while spending a week in the most killer city in the US, we popped into a noon class. As the windows fogged up and our sweaty hands slid us out of our down dogs, we felt right at home.

Yoga to the People’s new San Francisco studio opened in May. It’s on the fifth floor of an industrial building that, in a previous incarnation, served as the venue for raucous illegal punk shows (carrying amps up five flights of stairs: not fun). Now, the space gleams with new hardwood floors and nearly floor-to-ceiling windows that display the San Francisco skyline with the effortless panache of a French girl.

Donation-based yoga is catching on like a California wildfire. Studios are sprouting up all over the country, all with the common goal of making yoga accessible to everyone. Not bad. And you can be sure I’ve downloaded Yoga to the People’s free podcasts, and will be busting some half-pigeon on my upcoming trip.

Check out the full post, or just google “donation-based yoga”—my post is coming up second! (SEO is a beautiful thing.)

Lauren Quinn is a writer and traveler currently living in Hanoi. Lonely Girl Travels was a blog of her sola travels and expat living from 2009 to 2012. She resides elsewhere on the internet now.

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