November 9-16, 2013 - London, England
This ended up being a fairly last minute trip. I hadn't planned to go overseas again this year (I'm usually lucky to go overseas once per year...not 3 times!) But I'm definitely not complaining! My friend Kylee had to cancel our weekend trip to Portland (which we will make up for next year!), so since I needed to use the vacation days I figured why not go to London. I booked the trip - basically had airfare and a hotel - and other than that I just planned on winging it once I got there. I got a few recommendations from friends, but otherwise I was ready to just explore and see what each day brought.
After a very long travel day from Los Angeles, I made it to London! The tube was undergoing maintenance, so it took almost two hours to get from the airport to The Park Lane hotel on Piccadilly St. After a very long day and 8 hours time difference, I took a long nap and then walked around to find dinner.
I headed out from the hotel about 9am. I walked through Green Park to Buckingham Palace. It was Remembrance Day, so they were getting ready for a big parade. After navigating through the various closed streets and parade traffic, I made my way through St. James park and over to Parliament square. I walked around the outside of Westminster Abbey and the House of Parliament and then continued down to the river. I crossed the Lambeth bridge and walked up the river, crossing again at Westminster Bridge. I kept walking up the Victoria Embankment and over to Trafalgar Square and finally made my way up to Oxford Street for the shopping! My big purchase was some new black boots. After realizing how cold it was in London I knew I had not packed warm enough! It made for a good excuse to buy new shoes. ;) I continued with my shopping and window shopping, working my way down Oxford and Regent Streets, and then I finally headed down Piccadilly St back to my hotel. Later in the afternoon I decided to go check out Harrod's (wow!) - then had an early dinner and crashed.
I got out in the morning and took the tube to Leicester Square to buy theater tickets at the Half Price tickets stand. I managed to get Les Miserables tickets for that night and Billy Elliot for the next night. After securing my tickets, I got back on the tube and headed to the British Museum. I explored it for about an hour and then got on the tube to St. Paul's. I took the audio tour of St. Paul's cathedral and then grabbed a quick lunch in their cafe down in the tombs. From St. Paul's I walked in the very light rain down to the Millennium Bridge and crossed it to the Tate Modern Museum. It was a good museum, but some of the stuff considered "art" in modern museums just makes me shake my head. The Globe Theatre was just next door, but I decided not to take the tour. I walked to the Southwark Station and took the tube back to Green Park by my hotel. I decided to have afternoon tea in the hotel and then I got ready for the theater. I grabbed dinner at Kettner's and then saw Les Miserables at 7:30.
I started my day with a walk through Hyde Park, which was great! I walked along the Serpentine Lake until I hit the bridge at Kensington and then cut off back onto the street to head towards the Victoria & Albert museum. I have the say the V&A museum was by far my favorite! Really neat exhibits, but my favorite part was just the architecture of the building itself. After the museum, since I was near Harrod's I took another walk through the store. Grabbed some quick lunch and my easiest go-to-spot Pret a Manger. I then walked down Constitution Hill to Buckingham Palace. Today since there was no parade you could actually get up to the gates and see the guards, etc. So I took some pictures and headed on my way to Westminster Abbey. I took the audio tour of Westminster Abbey and wow...that place was must amazing! No pictures were allowed, but I stared up at the Nave for so long, I really hope it's ingrained in my memory forever. After Westminster I walked up to Trafalgar Square grabbed a coffee in a bookstore to rest my legs and warm up. I walked through the National Portrait Gallery and afterwards I stood on the top steps of the gallery for a while and just got a kick out of watching the various street performers in the square. On my walk back to the hotel I stopped in Fortnum & Mason and tried really hard not to buy everything! That night I went to see Billy Elliot and it was just amazing!
I got up and took the train out to the London Bridge Station. I walked over to the Tower of London, joined the short 30 minute tour, and then explored on my own for a bit. The crown jewels were pretty great. After that I walked along and over the Tower Bridge. The best part was jumping up on the wall along the river and sitting there with my feet dangling over to take my feet picture. I was really glad I didn't fall in the water! After that I grabbed some lunch and then got on the train and went out to Kew Gardens, about 30 minutes away. When I got to the gardens I had about an hour and a half until closing, which I thought was enough until I realized how gigantic this place was! I raced my way through it fairly quick, didn't get to see everything - but what I did see was great. With all that green surrounding you it felt like you had been transported somewhere else. I headed back to the train about 4:30 and on a weekday with rush hour it took quick a while to get back to the hotel. The trains kept getting delayed with congestion at the stations. I was going to try a local pub tonight, but when I got to one that was recommended by the concierge and I noticed that the pub was so crowded half the people were standing out on the street drinking I changed my mind! I grabbed some easy dinner and called it a night.
I took a day tour with Golden Tours. I signed up the day before, so I was lucky to get a spot. The bus picked me up at 7:30, and after picking up a few more people and loading up at the bus terminal, we departed closer to 9am. I met a girl traveling on her own from Nebraska, so we stuck together for most of the day, which was fun. Our first stop was Windsor Castle, where we took a tour. Next we drove about an hour out to Stonehenge. It was crazy windy and cold, especially being out in the middle of a gigantic open field - but it was worth it! We walked around for about 30 minutes, taking pictures, etc of the stones. I didn't have any "wow" moment out there looking at them, but I felt like it was something you had to see to check off the list. Our last stop was Bath. In town we went to the Roman Baths and took the tour. Then we had a little free time so we found this glass shop where I bought a necklace pendant and then we admired the views of the Pultney Bridge over the river. We got back on the bus at 4:30 and made it back to Gloucester Rd station at 7:30 - a little later than expected due to heavy traffic. I grabbed dinner at a place near my hotel - Richoux - and headed back to the hotel afterwards.
My last day in London and I decided I had seen enough stuff, so I would just take it easy and enjoy the day. I started with a train ride out to Notting Hill. I walked up and down Portabella Road for about an hour looking at all the various market stands. It wasn't a Saturday, so it wasn't the big market, but I still thought it was pretty impressive. After that I took the train back to Covent Garden and spent the rest of the day walking around and window shopping, working my way through town over to Piccadilly Circus, up to Oxford street and back down New Bond street. On my way back to the hotel in the afternoon I stopped in a pub very close to my hotel that I had been passing by for days - Henry's Cafe & Bar. It actually ended up being great - got a pint, a snack and best of all they had free wifi. That night I took the train to Leicester Station for dinner. I was going to try a place Bella Italia, but the wait was really long. The hostess was so nice - knowing it was my last night in town - and she recommended another place Barrafina, but unfortunately the wait was over an hour there as well. I finally gave up and went next door to Siam Thai restaurant. It ended up being great food. After dinner I made my last walk through town back to the hotel and called it the end to a really great week in London! I definitely can't wait until I go back someday soon.
You can check out more of my pictures from London here - London Photos
For my Mom's 60th Birthday I took her to Scotland. Her birthday was in November, but we booked our trip for March. We knew it would be cold, but apparently they were having unseasonably cold weather (January temps at the end of March). We just bundled up, I bought a silly but warm hat and we enjoyed the cold weather and snowflakes every day!
We arrived in Edinburgh and checked into the Sheraton Grand Hotel & Spa. We took it easy our first day - we walked to the Royal Mile, shopped a little (for my warm hat!) and then had dinner at The Beehive Pub.
The next day we walked to Edinburgh Castle. We joined a short tour and then walked around the various areas, buildings and Prisoner of War rooms...which were pretty creepy, but cool. We stuck around until 1pm so we could see the One O'Clock Gun go off. After that we grabbed some lunch and then walked around for a couple hours along the Royal Mile and the New Town area. That night we ate at a small family run Italian restaurant - Bar Frizzante. It was delicious food and the owners were so friendly. Great place!
On the following day we walked down to Holyrood Palace and did the audio tour. Then we walked over to the Scottish Parliament Building to look at the neat exterior architecture. It started snowing pretty hard on us, so we ducked under some cover to not get too wet. We found a little cafe for lunch - Serenity, and each had a sandwich. Next we took a tour of Mary King's Close...which was pretty awesome. Then one of my favorite parts of the day - the Whiskey Experience tour! The best part was probably seeing my mom's reaction to tasting a sip of whiskey. Ha! I did a tasting flight after the tour. Drank a little of it - some were ok, some (like the one that taste of burnt wood) was just horrible! We made our way back to the hotel after that, enjoyed the spa services at the hotel that evening and then had a late dinner at Nando's just across the street.
Our next day we got picked up by Timberbrush Tours for a day tour the concierge had recommended for us. It turned out to be one of our favorite days! They picked us up in the morning and we first stopped at the Forth Bridge for a photo op. Then we stopped at Dunfermline Abbey to take some pictures around the grounds...it was just beautiful, especially with the snow on the ground. Next we stopped at Glenturret Distillery for a tour and a taste of the Famous Grouse Whiskey. Another great part to the day was driving to the The Hermitage for a nature walk through the trees and along the falls. It definitely fulfilled my need for outdoors on the trip! Beautiful scenery - and such great contrast of snow, green and water! Our last stop of the day before returning to Edinburgh was the Dunkfeld Cathedral, from 1318.
March 29th was my birthday! I've never been out of the country on my actual birthday...I kind of enjoyed it!! We decided to take a bus to Leith to tour the Royal Yacht Britannia. We grabbed some lunch in Leith and took the bus back to the Royal Mile. We walked up the stairs to Calton Hill to enjoy the view, and I climbed up Nelson's Monument for an even better view. We did some more souvenir shopping on our walk back to the hotel and that evening we had a special birthday dinner at Wedgewood. Yum!!
On our last day we were running out of things to see, but we managed to visit the National Museum of Scotland and the John Knox House. We indulged in some more shopping and then headed back to the hotel in the late afternoon. We relaxed in the spa one more time and then grabbed dinner at the same place we went the first night - The Beehive Pub. And that ended a really great trip with my Mom!
Check out some more photos from my trip here - Scotland Part 1 & Scotland Part 2