Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Spring Break: London

Wearing lederhosen to Oktoberfest was #1 on Eric's bucket list, but a very close second to that, was to visit London!  If the man could have worn his lederhosen to London, his entire world would have been made!

We just got back from 10 days in London and Scotland, which is why things have been so quiet on here lately.  Sorry about that!
This was our most expensive trip so far.  There is just nothing fun about converting dollars to pounds.  We planned this trip for months, I did a lot of research and made a spreadsheet of the things we wanted to do and how much it would all cost.  Once we had an idea of the overall cost, Eric and I sat down and set a daily budget for each day we would be in the UK, then, I booked most everything in advance, so that by the time we landed in England the major things were completely paid for and all of our spending money was set aside.  If we don't have it, we don't buy it, so all of our trips are always paid for before we leave home.  In order for us to be able to afford to go to the UK we had to lay low on all other traveling, which is painful to my wanderlust, but essential to our finances.  So that's why things have been so boring on here lately.  I'm sorry about that, guys!  But we're back and I'm excited to tell y'all about our trip!  

It is impossible for me to narrow our entire trip into just one post, so I'm going to break it up into two.

First, LONDON! 

I took two thousand pictures on our vacation.  Basically, it was just like: "how many pictures can I take of the same damn thing?"  And, "how many times can I stop abruptly to take a picture and frustrate the heck out of my husband?"  
645 pictures of Big Ben?  Sure!  
433 pictures of Stonehenge?  Ummm...yeah
Oh, I only got 53 pictures of that one angle of that one castle? Well then, I need 72 more!
Sorting through two thousand pictures about made my eyeballs explode, so a few are edited, but most are straight off the camera.  

My sister-in-law met us in London for our big Spring Break vacation!  She had a heck of a time making her way to London, but that's a long story and hers to tell.  Nikki eventually made it safely though, and her brother let out a big sigh of relief!
We had all of the typical tourist things planned- for me, I wanted to see the Tower Bridge (again), for Eric he wanted to see Big Ben, for Nikki it was the Tower of London, and for Isabelle, the aquarium.  Each day we were in London was packed with things to see and do!  We definitely kept busy and made the most of our time and budget!

For our first day together we went to Buckingham Palace to see the changing of the guards.... we attempted to see the changing of the guards, anyway.  The crowd began to form pretty much right after we arrived and it just got crazy from that point on.  We couldn't see anything.  The best seats with the best views were the small children who had tall daddies.... Eric said I was out of luck; no, I could not sit on his shoulders. {pouty face}  But!  I got a selfie stick for my birthday!!!  So there, tall guys with small children on your shoulders, my selfie stick is taller!

They are so alike!  Even making the same face when taking a picture.

My selfie stick is so awesoooome!!

Even though we couldn't see the actual changing of the guards, it was really neat to see Buckingham Palace.  It's so much more royal than any other palace or castle we've visited... if that makes any sense. 
We left the palace a little disappointed and then went to Big Ben and Westminster Abbey, but then it turned out that the abbey was closed for Good Friday.  So we gathered up a little bit more disappointment and headed over to the Tower of London instead.

The Tower has a dark past- the guide said something about executing people by chopping their heads off, putting the heads on stakes, then putting the stakes up for the townspeople to see, he said they'd even applaud!  Applauded what, exactly?!  That someone's head was chopped off?!  Yikes!  He also said that for one particular guy it took 5 chops to. the. neck, and his head still hadn't come off, but he was moaning, the poor guy was still alive!!  It took something like another 6 chops while he kept moaning before he finally died!  I started to feel queasy at that point so I quit listening and concentrated on my camera.

Our tour guide. 

I guess this is where King Edward is walking across in a part of the movie, 'Braveheart.'  I've seen the movie but I don't remember that scene- we're renting it (and Skyfall) and I've bought wine for a movie night this weekend. 

**Squeal!!**  There's the Tower Bridge!  I just love it! 

Our first two days in London were the worst for weather, but it wasn't terrible, just pretty much what you would expect- gloomy and a little rainy.  We toured the White Tower, saw the Crown Jewels, took a Yeoman Tour, had seen Buckingham Palace, and waited for more than an hour to not see the Changing of the Guards.  By the time we were finished at the Tower it had started to rain and we felt like we could call it a day.  We were all pretty exhausted from Nikki's ordeal the night before, so we didn't feel bad about calling it a day after our tour of the Tower.
Stonehenge was a big must see for us, and I can't really tell you why.  I guess it's just one of those things- like Mount Rushmore, the Eiffel Tower, the Great Barrier Reef, or the Great Pyramid of know, the wonders of the World, the UNESCO World Heritage sites... those places, those things that make our world pretty darn interesting; those places that you learn about in school but don't think you'll actually ever see with your own eyes.  But Stonehenge was within our grasp, we just had to go!

We booked a day trip from London to Windsor Castle, Bath, and Stonehenge... in that order.

First, on the agenda for a very full day: Windsor Castle!

 Looks like that tower is wearing a tiara, doesn't it?

If photography was allowed, I promise I took pictures, if not, then I didn't.  Unless a picture of me exists with something hanging out of my nose, it's on my blog.  (If there is a picture of me with something hanging out of my nose, I'm not sorry to tell you that it is in the deleted picture graveyard.)  
I'm just telling you this because I feel like I have a lot of pictures of the outside of buildings, but not so many on the inside.  Mostly, it's because photography is almost never allowed inside castles/palaces/art galleries, but also it's because I'm super super new at using a speedlite and I haven't had the best luck with it in situations where I'm having to hurry through something like a tour group.  But also, if photography is allowed, a flash usually isn't.  So what you end up getting from me are a lot of outdoor pictures. I promise we actually went inside all of these places! 


Windsor Castle is where the Queen lives most weekends, and she was there when we were!!!  No, we didn't see her, but I did wave just in case she was peeking out her window.  These pictures are of the part of Windsor Castle that Queen Elizabeth actually lives in!  The doors and arched windows in the center are her front door!!  

I'm not embarrassed to say that I am absolutely obsessed fascinated with the royal family!  They live a life that, to me, is the least empathizable.  I don't know if that's even a word, but do you know what I mean?  I mean I just don't get it.  
If I'm not able to empathize or feel something, my brain cannot process it and I can't relate, so pretty much, it doesn't exist to me.  Their world is opulent and seemingly extremely secluded from everything else.  Do they watch regular TV?  Do they drink cheap wine?  Do they shop for their own groceries?  Do the even cook their own meals?
I can't help but think that there isn't much that bothers the people that live in this house.  I can't help but think that the Queen has a perfect life, her life isn't stressful, and a queen with a weekend home like this doesn't have miscarriages to make her heart sad...ever.  And I think that is fascinating.

Bath (with the English accent it rhymes "goth," which I like better than saying it with an American accent) is the home to three hot springs that were used as ancient Roman Baths and has been a spa resort for centuries.  The baths are no longer in use but there is a museum and you can still sit by the pools, although, I personally wouldn't want to touch the water, it looked a little too radioactive & toxic, and I think the baths were closed because someone contracted meningitis from the water not too long ago.  But hey, its your brain if you want to risk it.
I was too lazy to put my wide angle lens on my camera.  Isabelle came to London with a nasty cold, Eric and I left with it.  The day we were at the baths was the day the cold hit me hard and I felt terrible.  I was conserving what little energy I had in distracting myself from the insane amount of crud my face was making, and I felt like it was a very real possibility that if I used any energy to search for my wide angle lens in the abyss of my purse, my face would fall off.

Can you see the steam?  The baths were fed by hot springs so the water was warm (according to my sister-in-law and daughter, I wouldn't touch it!)

There was more than just this pool, there was a really great museum and indoor pools on the inside with very dim lighting- it was the most perfect opportunity to try out my new speedlite!  But, would it surprise you if I told you that on my second time ever using my speedlite that I botched every single one of those pictures?!  Yep, I totally did.

For lunch we stopped in Lacock (pronounced Lay-cock) and ate at a 14th century pub!  One way that we maximized our daily budget was by eating one large meal every day and getting something very small in the mornings to get us going for the day.  As long as I had coffee, and Isabelle had a muffin & juice, we were good to go!  We walked and power walked so much that when we did eat, I ate whatever I wanted!  I ordered a large glass of wine every day, ate fried food, and managed to lose 5lbs on vacation!!!  

Then, it was off to Stonehenge!

If you think that Stonehenge is just a pile of rocks, you'd be wrong.  It is so much more interesting than that!  I don't think things always need to provide entertainment to enjoy it or appreciate it.  I think that sometimes it's fine to just see something that the world has created and for our spirits to contemplate for a minute.  There are a lot of theories as to how and why the stones are there, but there really is no definitive reason that anyone can prove, and I for one, love the mystery!

Eric was reading the information signs- he doesn't like his face in this one, but I love it!  I love watching his brain process things.


No, my lens is not zoomed in, you can't touch the stones anymore, but you can get pretty close!  I knew that we couldn't touch the stones so I had assumed that we wouldn't be able to get that close, but we did!  And they are so interesting and neat to see!  Isabelle had been learning about Stonehenge in her Social Studies class, so she was really excited to be seeing it with her own eyes.  Isabelle told us more about Stonehenge than the information posts along the sidewalks!
Stonehenge capped off our day trip.  It was a great way to see the English country side and experience riding in a car on the wrong side of the road (which is backwards and confusing and I don't know how they do it).  But it was a very full day so we went back to London late evening and very ready for bed!

We spent Easter Sunday in London but did not make it to Easter mass.  We had hoped to go to mass at Westminster Abbey (even though it is not a Catholic church) but Isabelle and I were pretty sick, and Eric was just starting to come down with that damn cold.  The windy weather didn't help our colds at all, and Isabelle had gotten worse.  We slept in a little and got a slow start, but gave glory to God and praise for Jesus' resurrection in our hearts, then spent the morning at the London Eye and aquarium.

Don't let the smile on Isabelle's face fool you, she was miserable!  She had the body aches, head aches, and runny nose, but thankfully, no fever.  She does what I do when things get tough, she distracts herself, and the giant ferris wheel and water animals worked perfectly to distract her from how she felt.  After we were done though, she just couldn't go any further.  If you know her, you know that she is not a complainer.  If Isabelle says she's sick, she's sick.  We knew that we had six days left in our vacation and we didn't want to push Isabelle so much that she wasn't going to enjoy any part of Scotland.  So we got her lunch, took her back to the apartment, got her into comfy PJ's, and let her sleep the rest of the day.  Poor kiddo :o(

While Isabelle slept, Eric and I met Nikki at Kensington Palace- the home of Prince William, Kate Middelton, and baby Prince George!  I was so hoping Kate would go into labor while we were in London, buuuut she didn't.  

Behind that fence, wall, an electric fence, and barbed wire is where the Duke & Duchess actually live. 

Since we spend most holidays with my in-laws, and since she could not be with us this year, my mother-in-law treated us to Easter dinner at the Goat Tavern- Kensington's oldest pub.  We ordered traditional English food: sausages & mash, fish & chips, and Shepherd's Pie, it was incredible!  LeAnn you were with us in spirit, and we can't wait to see you later this year!  After dinner Eric and I hurried back to the apartment to tend to Isabelle.  

Isabelle is a pretty spectacular traveler (when she isn't sick, or puking her guts out on a bus) but we have to make sure to balance out our vacations a little.  She loves museums and art galleries, but there's only so many castles and guided tours the kid can take before she turns into a whiny, gloomy 12 year old, and we're reminded that she isn't the little adult that we sometimes treat her as.  
We took her to an aquarium, she rode the London Eye, and she got to see Stonehenge.  So after an afternoon, evening, and night of sleep & Tylenol, we all set out for the Warner Brothers Studio where Harry Potter was filmed! 

No, Isabelle has not read the Harry Potter books, actually, I am the only one who has read them.  But who doesn't love Harry Potter?!  A magical world filled with witches, sorcerers, and monsters?!  No 12 year old could resist!

And I was right!  (Aren't moms always right, though?)  No 12 year old could resist the magic of Harry Potter!  And boy did we walk right into Hogsmeade and Hogwarts!  We were actually in the Great Hall, and could almost touch the actual props & costumes!  And the potions and cauldrons were steaming and stirring just like in the movies!  We really felt like we were in a magical world.  Even Eric loved it!  And that is a mom-accomplishment if I've ever seen one.... mom books a tour, mom gets a double eye roll from Eric and Isabelle, they end up loving it, mom catches big fat grins on her husband's face throughout the day, mom gets a tight hug from Isabelle, and they both start watching Harry Potter the day after we get home!  SUCCESS!

We got to sit in the actual train cars that the actors sat in when filming scenes on the Hogwarts Express.  They played a little bit of the scenery on the green screen in the window and a Death Eater popped up on the screen and "looked" right at Isabelle.  It got creepy for about .2 seconds and you can see that Isabelle looked right at her step-dad to make sure that he was still there, Eric just reassured her by saying "it's alright kiddo," and just like that, the ride was over.  It's those split second moments that I live for! 

The staircase up to Dumbledore's office. 

Dumbledore in his office at Hogwarts 

Privet Drive 

The Harry Potter tour had turned into way more than we expected!  Actually, I didn't have any expectations, and since Eric and Isabelle haven't read the books or seen the movies, they didn't have any expectations either, and really, that's the best way to approach any experience when traveling.  No expectations opens your mind to whatever you might encounter, and I've found that that almost always makes for a better experience!  We had a blast!  We even got to try Butterbeers!

Butterbeers are the drink of choice in Hogsmeade (read the books and you'll know what I'm talking about) and I've always wondered what they tasted like.  I remember them drinking it at Christmas time in the book so I imagined a warm drink, but the drink we had was cold and bubbly, and the best way to describe it was like butterscotch cream soda....but better!  I could taste about a million calories in one little sip, I'm glad they only exist in Hogsmeade because my butt would hate me if I was able to get my hands on them on a regular basis.  SO SO good!
The tour lasted most of the morning and early afternoon, but I could have stayed there all day!  We had a blast!  With only a few hours left in London, Isabelle, Eric, & I headed back to the apartment to nap (Eric) and organize our suitcases (me) since we were leaving early the next morning for Scotland.  

For our very last night, Nikki and Isabelle went to a musical while Eric and I went on a dinner cruise along the Thames (rhymes with rams) River.  We got dressed up, took the tube to Westminster, and waited by the pier for the boat to arrive.  When we boarded we were given a glass of champagne and then seated next to the windows.  My husband is a very gentle, kind, and thoughtful man, but not romantic, and let me tell you... this dinner cruise was... romantic!

We were served a 4-course candlelit meal, champagne and a 1/2 bottle of wine...each!  We left Westminster Pier at dusk and enjoyed water-level views of London.  There was even live music and a dance floor!  Knowing that Isabelle was with her Aunt Nikki made for a nice, relaxing night- even Eric got swept up in the romance!

The aquarium we had taken Isabelle to the day before. 

The London Eye next to the aquarium

I don't know what it is but I LOVE THE TOWER BRIDGE!  Oh yes, I love it so much that it deserves all caps!  I have lots better pictures of it in this post--->click HERE.  I think it is very regal, very beautiful, and I just LOVE it!
Our dinner cruise lasted until almost midnight and then afterwards we hopped the tube to the Tower Bridge and took a midnight walk across the bridge and back.  I was thankful that the dinner cruise had infused a little romance into our night because walking across the bridge was special and the best way to end our trip to London!

I had been to London on a girls trip last fall and fell in love with the city!  But Eric....surprisingly...not so much.  This was his trip, London was on his bucket list, but it turned out that he wasn't as impressed with the city as I was.  But, to me, that's what travel is all about- discovery- we aren't going to love everything (well except for me, I tend to love most everything God has put on this planet), and I don't think there's anything wrong with Eric not liking London as much as he thought he would.

Thank goodness we still had Edinburgh to visit! {Spoiler: He LOVED Edinburgh!!  Stay tuned...}

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