The Painted Hall

SGMT | Painted Hall, London
SGMT Fb London reflecting mirror

Exactly a year ago, at the Painted Hall of the Old Royal Naval College, London.

It was our first day out and about in London. Our friends had asked us where we wanted to go and we’d said we’d like to see their favorite places in town, so Adam took us to Greenwich. The Painted Hall was one of our first stops. Originally conceived by Sir Christopher Wren and Nicholas Hawksmoor as a dining hall for naval pensioners, the Painted Hall has since been described as “the Sistine Chapel of the UK,” and its painted walls and ceilings by Sir James Thornhill are indeed a sight to behold. Mirrors, such as the one pictured above, are strategically placed around the building, enabling visitors to examine Thornhill’s masterpiece without having to keep their necks in perpetual hyperextension.

Fast forward a year later. I haven’t traveled overseas in a while — and I haven’t written much lately either. There’s just been so many things going on, responsibilities, old and new. Travel while you’re young, they say; travel while you can, before life’s commitments start weighing you down. But oddly enough, I don’t feel chained by my responsibilities at all. In a way, I’m glad that there’s more to my life than just me, than just what I want. I’ve said travel is the food of my soul, and it still is, and it always will be, but now my spirit draws sustenance from many other things too. And just like a simple dining hall can end up being a grand work of art, the little things in life, if you pour your heart and soul into them, can turn out to be a greater adventure and give you greater joy than any trip in the world.


Eating Cheaply in London: How to Spend Only £4 a Day on Meals


London pub

It’s surprisingly easy to eat cheaply in London — one of the most expensive cities in the world — if you’re not too picky and don’t mind convenience store food. It’s a big if, but when traveling you have to work with what you have, and if what you have is a food budget of £70 a week, you’ll be surprised how quickly Tesco and other convenience stores can become your best friend. To my plebeian tongue, Tesco food is sufficiently filling and tasty and, most importantly, cheap. Here’s a sample menu for the entire day.

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The Best Cheap London Hostels: 15 under 1500 php (Part 2)

London lodgings are expensive — even Sherlock needed someone to go halves with him on 221B! — but these 15 hostels strike a good balance between comfort, location, and most of all, price. Here are 15 London hostels with beds less than PHP 1,500 ($33/£23).

This is Part 2 of The Best Cheap London Hostels: 15 under 1500 php. (The list is in alphabetical order.) Please see Part 1 for the first 8 accommodations, and read until the end of the post to see a summary of the best hostels, as well as my personal pick.

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The Best Cheap London Hostels: 15 under 1500 php

London lodgings are expensive — even Sherlock needed someone to go halves with him on 221B! — but these 15 hostels strike a good balance between comfort, location, and most of all, price. Here are 15 London hostels with beds less than PHP 1,500 ($33/£23).

15 London Hostels Under 1500_Safestay London Elephant & Castle 03

“What are you up to now?”

“Looking for lodgings,” I answered. “Trying to solve the problem as to whether it is possible to get comfortable rooms at a reasonable price.”

It was Dr. Watson who actually said that — in a conversation in the beginning of A Study in Scarlet with Stamford, his medical colleague who introduced him later that day to Sherlock Holmes — but Watson might as well have been talking about what I’ve been up to.

I’ve been trying to put together a budget trip to London — not for me, for a challenge — and it’s been, well, a challenge. When my sister and I went to London last year, we were incredibly lucky because a high school friend invited us to stay in his flat. (Thank you Rey and Adam!) Unfortunately, not everyone has friends or family in London, so I set out to find lodgings within a Pinoy backpacker’s budget.

Here’s what I did:

  • I ran a search in for accommodations in London (I used my birthday as a sample booking date) and filtered the results to reflect only those properties that had a rating of 7 (Good) or higher. I then sorted the results from lowest to highest price. All rates under PHP 1,500 were for beds in hostel rooms that accommodated anywhere from 6 to 33 people per room — but none of us were exactly expecting a suite at The Goring for that price, right?
  • I cross-checked the ratings with each hostel’s rating and ranking at TripAdvisor.
  • Finally, I opened Google Maps and determined the distance of each shortlisted hostel to its nearest Tube/rail station.

So here it is: my 15 under 1500, in alphabetical order. A summary of the best hostels in each category — price, ratings, distance to Tube, etc. — as well the hostel I would personally choose to stay in if I were to go to London right now are at the end of the post.

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Where to stay in Inverness: Jean and Bill’s

[SGMT] Where To Stay in Inverness
Airbnb_Inverness_Jean and Bill

During our two nights in Inverness, we stayed at Jean and Bill Munro’s home, which we booked through Airbnb, and it was perfect. Jean and Bill are both retirees and they have a spare room in the second floor of their home which they rent out to visitors. The room had a double bed, a telly, a washbasin, a well-stocked fridge, an electric kettle, plates, utensils, the works. We had our own bathroom right next door, which was also stocked with everything we might need. And there was WiFi, of course. The house itself is only a 5-minute walk from the Inverness train station and 10-15 minutes’ leisurely walk to all the pubs, shops, restaurants, and other establishments along the River Ness. If you are ever in the Inverness area and need a place to spend the night, I would highly recommend staying here.

For more photos and details, check out the Munros’ Airbnb listing.

If you’ve never tried Airbnb before, here’s a quick introduction:

A Beginner’s Guide to Airbnb

For more about Inverness:


And for tours around the Scottish Highlands, I highly recommend Andrew MacDonald’s Hame Tours. You can read about our experience here:

The Highlands of Scotland


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It’s not about where you’ve been

SGMT Scotland Inverness St Mary's Catholic Church

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my travels this year, it’s this.

It’s not about what you’ve seen or where you’ve been.

It’s about what you thought when you saw it. It’s about how you felt when you got there.

It’s about who you were before that moment, and who you became after it.

It’s about the sudden shift in the earth, the tremor that went through your heart, the inexplicable feeling of being more alive than you were moments ago.

It’s about the light that suddenly brightened up your eyes, or the light that was just as suddenly extinguished from them.

It’s about realizing you’ve changed, or realizing you’re still who you’ve always been.

It’s about motion. It’s about stillness. It’s about the headlong rush into unfamiliar terrain, or the feeling of being the only one left standing in a whirling, swirling world.

It’s about a million different things, or a million different nothings.

But it’s never, never, never about where you’ve been. Because otherwise…what’s the point?

SGMT Scotland Inverness Graveyard

© Small-Town Girls, Midnight Trains. All rights reserved. 

Skye and Stardust


A books and crafts store in Portree, in the Isle of Skye, had several DVDs of the movie Stardust (2007) displayed prominently in one of its shelves. I thought the owner simply liked StardustI do, it’s one of my favorite movies, the book on which it was based is written by Neil Gaiman, one of my favorite writers, and it stars Mark Strong, who’s the absolute bee’s knees as far as I’m concerned. Anyway, it turns out a good chunk of Stardust was actually filmed in Skye, hence the merchandise. I recently re-watched the movie and every time I saw a familiar location I wanted to jump up and shout “Look! I was there!” — except that I was on a plane, alone, and watching the movie on my laptop, so it would have been weird.



The Fairy Glen

The Quiraing

Septimus (Mark Strong) and Lamia (Michelle Pfeiffer) at the Quiraing, planning evil plans

And Skye

The Fairy Glen

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The Quiraing mountain range:





Honestly, I’ve run out of superlatives for Skye. And for Scotland. All I can say is that I feel like a part of my heart is still there, and since I don’t know when — if ever — I can return, I guess for now I’ll have to stay just a little bit heartbroken.

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