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London, the final stop on our mini European vacation. Stephanie, Mom and I planned to take Steph's car to a train station out near their home, park, and ride the train into London. In theory, perfect. In fact, and for your information, do NOT count on a parking space at any and all train stations with extended parking in the English countryside. We drove to 3 stations, drove around their lots, and finally (and very luckily) spied an open spot. Whew! Driving and parking in London are challenging and expensive so the train was the best choice. Just a head's up that parking cannot be guaranteed, so don't plan a tight schedule upon arrival.
We had an amazing time. Our hotel, again booked through Booking.com was not too bad. It was clean but the room was very small for a triple. No space to put luggage and the bathroom reminded me of a cross between a airplane bathroom and a Japanese bathroom. So very tiny and efficient. If you put a shower in an airplane bathroom, that would be a good description. I was just happy it had hot water. We stayed in the Paddington area, an easy walk to the tube station. This is a reasonable location as you can get anywhere on the trains/tube. We also spent a lot of time walking which is easy to do in London.
Some of the highlights of London for me were Westminster Abbey, the boat tour on the Thames, and of course, Billy Elliot, the Musical. Best of all it was just grand to explore with Mom and Stephanie.
Westminster Abbey was so very interesting. It was founded in 960 by Benedictine monks who continue to worship there to this day. It has been the coronation church since 1066 and is the final resting place for 17 monarchs and over 3000 people, some of them the most famous in England's history. The present church was built in 1245 and is filled with paintings stained glass, tapestries, and more. Pictures were forbidden so you will just have to visit it yourself to appreciate the history contained within its walls. (some text from website: http://www.westminster-abbey.org) Westminster Cathedral is also impressive to walk through. We had hoped to get to the top of the tower for the viewing area but it was closed. If that is an option and you have a fairly clear day, I'd recommend it. If you don't feel like hiking up multiple stories, just viewing the cathedral's main floor is worth your time.
There are a few options for viewing London from the Thames river. This is worthwhile and we meant to get the hop on, hop off boat but ended up on an hour tour with a hilarious narrator. His commentary was worth the error and we laughed about some of his jokes for the rest of the trip.
Camden Markets is a unique and cost effective option to grab lunch or early dinner and do some shopping. There are many food booths, representing multiple nationalities. Some of the vendors are located in the Stables Markets which is an old stable area that has been handsomely remodeled to house the vendors amid the doorways and arches.
We all thought Billy Elliot was Fantastic!! The Victoria Palace Theatre was rebuilt in 1910 and is a classic building. The musical Billy Elliot has been playing there since 2005 and is also a movie so if you want to smile and laugh, rent and enjoy.
Don't forget to click on the title of the blog to open in your browser so you can enjoy the slideshow below.
Happy New Year and may 2016 find you just where you want to be, with a happy heart and a smile on your face.
Stay tuned for more adventures back in Asia as I will be returning there just after New Year's day to join Corey in Langkawi Island, Malaysia. This is a new location for both of us and should provide some interesting blog fodder.
Don't forget to open this blog in your browser so you can see the slide shows.
Our Euro holiday ended in London but for a few days prior we stayed with my lovely niece Stephanie and her hubby Alex, near Lakenheath. Mom and I took a train down from Edinburgh to Cambridge to catch up with Stephanie as Cambridge is about an hour's drive from their home. I had always wanted to see this famous collegiate town so we spent one night in a less than lovely hotel before heading back to Lakenheath. It bears mentioning here that I used the phone app for booking.com fairly exclusively while booking on the go and have decided that if you do not want to spend the time and effort cross-referencing reviews on Trip Advisor or other website do NOT expect much from a hotel on booking.com with less than an 8.8/10 review. When reviewing, I’ve noted that you really have to dish hard on a property to get them rated under 8.0/10 so I believe the reviews are skewed towards highly positive.
Cambridge is beautiful! We had a sunny, crisp fall day to wander about and enjoyed taking in the historical vibe of the city. To enter most of the college grounds and historical buildings there is a charge so that was a bit off-putting, especially with the exchange rate not in our favor. I was looking towards a few days in London and was feeling a bit pinched on the travel budget by the time we arrived in Cambridge. We did cough up the fee to walk around Queen’s College, founded initially in 1446 and “refounded” in 1475. Outstanding buildings and grounds! The back of the property had a wooden bridge across the Cambridge River. A great place to watch the Punters float by.
You might wonder, what is Punting? Take a look at the slideshow below to see the slender wooden boats guided by young men with long sticks. That is punting. We didn’t go, which is the one thing I actually think we should have done on the entire trip that we skipped. It was entertaining to watch and listen to the young men providing their narrative as they slipped under the bridge below us.
We also went into the Fitzwilliam Museum and ate lunch in their cafe. It has wonderful collections of everything from armor and paintings, to porcelain and more. Really worth the visit and it’s free.
From Stephanie and Alex’s place we took day trips around the area. We visited Cromer, a lovely seaside village. We toured the Surf Lifesaver building on the pier and walked through the shops. Again, we were lucky to have a cool, sunny day at the shore.
Stephanie also took us to Bury St. Edmund. I loved this charming village for it’s history and for keeping itself up so nicely for visitors. The Cathedral, St. Mary’s Church, and the ruins of the nearby Abbey were all excellent spots to explore. Bury (for short) also boasts Britain’s Smallest Pub--The Nutshell. I didn’t stop for a drink but then, there weren't 3 seats available! Some of the burial crypts in the ancient cathedrals have stone figures on top. A few looked quite a bit like Voldemort. I wondered if these figures inspired the artists for the Harry Potter movies.
Across the UK and Ireland; history comes to life. As someone who loves architecture, antiques, art, and all the rest, it was truly an exciting place to explore. We also visited an English Heritage site called Audley End. It is a massive house which was actually a palace all but in name. It started as an Abbey in 1538 and became a residence later in that century where King James l was entertained. It remains huge although much has been demolished. The gardens have an active stable built in the 17th century. The Kitchen Garden is run by an organic gardening charity. The home is full of paintings, books, and a bed the King slept in. It is well preserved and can be viewed on the self guided tour. The stable is well preserved as well and we enjoyed seeing the horses and playing around on the exhibit.
I hope you enjoyed this little section of our adventure. Stay tuned for the next chapter- LONDON!
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to our readers. Please comment and share. Thank you!!
History lovers, head to Edinburgh, Scotland!
My mom and I traveled to Europe this past fall and had a blast! We spent time in London, Dublin and Southern Ireland, and then had a few nights in Edinburgh, Scotland. If you missed the previous blogs check them out if you have interest. If you want to hear about our little taste of Scotland, read on! As always, open the blog in your browser so you can enjoy the slide shows please!
I didn’t think I could enjoy a bone chilling city as much as i loved Edinburgh. Remember folks, I have been living in SE Asia for the past year, fall in the UK and Ireland was downright cold. No worries, we powered through and enjoyed every little dram.
I mentioned previously that I’m reading the Game of Thrones series. This only made touring another castle even more intriguing as well as hanging out in “Old Town” which was founded in 1130 A.D. Edinburgh’s Old Town area is quite literally an ancient city built around the castle. It is a maze of cobblestone streets with colorful storefronts, pubs, and churches as well as the occasional stone archway entrance to a dark close (alley). I was visualizing knights, ladies, and commoners all mingling and carrying on their day.
Edinburgh Castle is the primary feature of the city and the rock it is built upon has been inhabited since the Iron Age. The castle has been in place since the 11th century at least. It’s of course, a must see, even if you don’t love history and castles… but then why would you be in Europe?
Again, the Hop on Hop Off bus was a win in Edinburgh. We were able to visit all the sites, including the Britannia, while being entertained by live Scots narrative. Some were easier to understand than others. One guy, I swear was Mike Meyers. He sounded just like the father in “So I Married an Axe Murderer” and had a crooked grin like an older Austin Powers or maybe a skinnier Fat Bastard. It was keeping me in giggles to listen to him although we truly only understood one in every 5-10 words. We definitely got more out of other narrators but none were quite as entertaining.
In Edinburgh we stayed in a wonderful B&B. It is called “A Georgian Residence” and it is run by Florence Shanks. http://morayplace.co.uk We could not have felt more at home. The 4 level stone row house is full of antiques and topped with a skylight. Mom and I had a room on the top floor which added a bit more exercise to our day but we needed it to burn off the amazing breakfasts served by Florence and her helpers. Kate Summerscale, an author, stayed with Florence to research and write “Mrs. Robinson’s Disgrace.” The subject is a wife who lived in the home in the 1850’s. The book is next on my list, after GOT’s of course.
A visit to the Palace of Holyroodhouse is well worth the time if you find yourself in Edinburgh. It is the Official Residence in Scotland of Her Majesty the Queen. Summertime may find her in residence, but when the royals are not about, it is open to the public. The 12th century ruins of the Abby next door made for some very scenic photos as you cannot photography in the House itself.
The Mary King’s Close Tour is an interesting view of Edinburgh, basically from underground. The tour gives you an overview of what the less fortunate had to deal with as many lived in the layers of buildings below the main road, accessed by a Close. These families lived in filth, poverty and often disease such as the plague. On a more cheerful note, we also took the Scotch Whiskey Experience Tour. I don’t usually go for such things but this was very interesting and we learned a lot about whiskey. In fact, I’d like to think I am now a bit of a whiskey aficionado. The only negative part of the tour is that they only give you one taste for the lower level price which is what we bought. All in all, it is still worth the visit if you have an interest in whiskey or think you might. It might be worth spending up on the next level of the tour, depending on your pocketbook. One of our favorite meals was at Howie’s on Victoria Street. We both had Scottish salmon and I had a flight of whiskey tasters. Such fun!
We didn’t get further afield than Leith which is a Northern suburb, made somewhat famous by an 80’s band, the Proclaimers. If you remember the song, “500 Miles” - that is the band. We visited the Royal Yacht Britannia which is permanently docked there. It was once the Queen’s 'big boat' and is well worth the visit especially if you fancy boats like I do.
Lastly, we were told the story of Greyfriar’s Bobby as we passed the statue of the little dog along the bus tour route and we also visited GreyFriar's Kirk (Church). The faithful little Skye Terrier belonged to a policeman named John Gray. The common nickname for a policeman is Bobby, and somehow that became the pup’s name as well. John Gray would often walk Bobby up Candlemaker Row in Old Town, and eat at No. 6 Greyfriar’s Place. John was also known as Auld Jock and died too soon at the age of 45, due to tuberculosis. Bobby was only 2 years old when his master was buried at Greyfriar’s Kirkyard (Churchyard) and according to tradition he was allowed to the funeral. Bobby then visited the grave daily, only leaving to eat dinner at 1pm and often play with children along the street. The terrier died at age 16, having stood vigil at his master’s grave for 14 years and a Baroness erected a memorial to the dog, now located near John Gray’s grave in the Kirkyard. There are many renditions of this story, all as sweet as the last.
Stay tuned for the last blog about the trip! Hopefully coming along soon.