Why travel? Why not!

Travel is food for the soul! Thanks for whoever reads my blog posts-at least I know I’m not talking to thin air! I’ve decided to do an entire post on why I love to travel and what I feel like travel adds to people’s lives.

Too many people are just satisfied with having 4 kids, a 9-5 job, and living in the same town they grew up in. But this is not me! I think about: what happened to enjoying your 20s before you truly settle down? Backpacking across Europe? Seeing Wonders of the World? Spending time on yourself and creating the person you want to be? It seems like no one thinks this way today, and I can’t figure out why. Although I have all of the above mentioned (except the kids!), I’m excited about the possibility of moving next year and traveling this year and next year…because let’s be honest…the world has so much more to offer than Northwest Louisiana. Personally, I wouldn’t be happy with kids right now or any time in the near future…most people know this about me…and there’s nothing wrong with that! You’ll definitely run into criticism from your typical Southerner though, as if society has written a book describing in detail how you should live your life after college and marriage, and any deviation from “the plan” is weird.

Society restricts us to certain standards created by itself. And a lot of people say they envy traveling, wish they could do it, etc. but really they never take the time or the risk to explore something different from “normal.” I’m not talking about some nomadic lifestyle like the travel bloggers I follow, because I do love and gravitate toward my normal bubble (house, dogs, my American lifestyle), but I enjoy getting to have both: adventure and my normal life. So this works best for me. There is nothing wrong with society’s “normal,” but I hope I can challenge or inspire someone to break the norm.


And to get a bit cheesy…I’ll let ya’ll know why I feel travel is so important and what it has brought to my life.

1. Travel develops skills you didn’t know you had!cropped-13582_3553026403231_1049382814_n.jpg

 

Sometimes it takes traveling far from home for you to realize that you have certain skills you were not aware of or should work to sharpen other skills. Adapting to a new language…spending a week in Italy when you did not study any Italian…not recommended, but a learning experience nonetheless.

TIP: Locals are always so much more receptive when you at least attempt to speak to them in their language, even if it’s with a translator app! You expect those visiting the U.S. to speak English, right??

Traveling throws you out there and makes you uncomfortable, cautious, and aware of your surroundings. It forces you to use basic skills like reading a map and using public transportation, especially today when we rely on phones and GPS for everything. I have to add that my husband was a master navigator in Italy and had most cities on lock down within a day or two; he is always my favorite travel partner!

2. Travel means adventure and having cool stories to tell!

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Zip-lining in Florida, exploring Chicago, successfully navigating the streets of Florence or Rome, snorkeling in Jamaica, visiting castles across England and Scotland, catamaran cruising and diving for sand dollars in the Bahamas: these are adventures worth having. People are hardwired for the thrill of adventure, and travel is the best way to tap into that. You never know when your travels could lead to a connection or conversation.

3. Travel gives you perspective and shakes things up!

13240674_10204728132802084_8216273132134453153_nSeeing different cultures will teach you that the way you’ve been looking at the world isn’t the way everyone else does. You might want to improve the way you shop or consume after visiting a European city, because we should all be more conscience of the environment. I feel like most Americans have a narrow vision about customs or traditions and not aware that cultures around the world can operate very differently. Travel is also a great way to shake up your mundane schedule and enjoy a vacation away from it all. It should give you an appreciation for what you have in your life in America, which is commonly overlooked. I’ve been to several countries, and I still say I wouldn’t want to live anywhere beside the USA.


As usual, I’m always wanderlusting and am planning to travel within the U.S. this year and take another European trip in 2018. France and Germany, I’m coming for you…might even mix in some Switzerland or Austria. Sights are set, which means I’ll make it happen! Thanks for reading!

2 Weeks in England & Scotland: Part 2 – What to do in England outside of London

Thanks for reading my posts! Click here if you haven’t read Part 1 of my England/Scotland blog posts, which included what I did for a week in London! This post will cover places we visited outside of London during my 2 week stay in Europe. Many surrounding cities or sites are within a short train or car ride outside the city, so they make great day trips. Because, let’s face it, you can’t generalize all of England by just seeing London-that’s like visiting New Orleans and saying you know what all of Louisiana is like…yeah no! Every place we went was very different from the crazy London hustle-and-bustle, so it’s worth taking time to see other places around England.

While in London, we did a lot of the site-seeing ourselves, including Windsor Castle, but guided day tours were the best way for us to see different places in a short time. Since we didn’t rent a car or have many free days away from London, we did day tours out to Stonehenge & Bath and Oxford University, Stratford-upon-Avon, & the Cotswolds. I found an awesome local tour company based out of London called The English Bus who we used for the two day tours, and they ended up being one of my favorite parts of the trip! I know a lot of people don’t like “guided tours,” but it’s so convenient to see 2-3 places in one day with a knowledgeable local guide! We also spent time with some military family friends who were stationed north of London, and they took us out to Cambridge University, the Burghley House, and on a cool tour of the Harry Potter Studio Sets. *All photo creds to yours truely!*


Stonehenge and Bath Day Tour

I did a lot of research on tour companies, and it was so hard to find a good company until I stumbled across The English Bus tours! They are legit one of the only companies I found that had small tours (max 16 people, so no huge coach buses!), almost perfect ratings on TripAdvisor, and guaranteed not to cancel any tours for lack of attendance (because I was NOT going to travel across the world and have a company cancel on me!). I would recommend them to anyone traveling to London, if you have a day or two to spare away from the city! The tour was actually advertised as “Stonehenge, Bath, and Secret Place,” so they throw in a little extra stop on the tour. The Secret Place (which I’ll just call a cute little village, so I don’t give it away) was our first stop on the tour…definitely felt a little rushed because we got out of London late due to traffic, so we only got to walk around for about 15 min before we left.

After that, we headed off to our fist major site, the ancient city of Bath! Home to some original Roman Baths…a lot of very ornate, historical buildings in the town, but only one or two of the original Roman Baths still stands. It is a cute little town that kinda reminds me of the spa town Hot Springs, Arkansas. We stopped to see The Crescent at the edge of Victoria Park (the English LOVE Queen Victoria), which looked like a cool place to hang out, although we didn’t get a chance to walk through the park.

Then we went more to the center of town for a small walking tour and look into the Roman Baths. You can have free entrance in to see the Sacred Pool and sample some mineral water from the King’s Spring, which we did with the tour guide (tasted some 1000 year old mineral water!). They have a larger museum you can buy tickets for and see The Great Bath and spa pump rooms.

I lot of people travel to Bath for the cool spa experience, but the town has other unique sites too. We got a couple of hours to explore on our own and eat, and per our tour guide, we first ate at Gourmet Scoffs-we had a pasty (which is like a Southern meat pie filled with different meats & veggies), and it was super delish! We also did a quick walk through the Bath Abbey, which has the largest stained glass window in England (if I remember right!). While Cassandra was in the Roman bath museum, I walked down the River Avon and chilled for a while. Over the river is Pulteney Bridge (below) which was modeled after the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, Italy with little shops across it.

There is also a Jane Austen House museum in Bath (if you love her books). We didn’t have time for anything else because we had to get ready to travel to Stonehenge! If you are travelling around England on your own, you could spend a full day or two in Bath, and Bath is about a 2 hour drive from London. Here is a beautiful pic of the English countryside on the way to Stonehenge…England is so green!

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Stonehenge was in the middle of a big field, so you’re totally exposed to the elements…it was flippin FREEZING and windy, but so worth it! When you come up to the Stonehenge complex, you are greeted by a huge modern visitors center with a cafe and gift shop, and there you wait for a bus to drive you out to the stones. You could walk out to the stones if you wanted, but it’s about 1.5 miles away from the entrance…yeah we took the bus! We spent about 30 min out around the stones, and the audio guides explained the suspected history of the countryside and the stones. It really doesn’t need an explanation, so just see the pictures below… It was snowing and sleeting in Bath and on our drive to Stonehenge, but once we arrived, the sky was gorgeous there!! For real some crazy English weather…

Although we only visited Stonehenge, it is actually just one monument among many within a couple miles of each other.There are also Woodhenge and Bluehenge to check out, if Neolithic stones are your thing, and it’s just under a two hour drive from London. Definitely worth seeing a “Wonder of the World”! We absolutely loved this tour, and I can’t recommend the tour company enough! Stonehenge checked off the bucket list!


Stratford, Oxford University, and Cotswolds Day Tour

The next day, we were off for another full day of site-seeing outside London with the English Bus tour company! Our first stop on this day tour was Stratford-upon-Avon, the birth place of Shakespeare. A few days before we visited, they had just celebrated 400 years since the death of Shakespeare. The city was all decorated, and they had a big festival honoring him. At the center of town is Shakespeare’s childhood home in the typical Tudor style. We didn’t tour inside, but here is a quick shot of the outside of his home.

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Shakespeare’s childhood home

We then went on a walking tour of Stratford with our guide (which was a lot better than the tour of Bath the previous day). We saw more of the old-school Tudor style homes and walked by the Royal Shakespeare Theatre on the banks of Avon, where they specialized in the performance of (duh!) Shakespeare’s plays! One of my favorite pictures was this one of the boats docked by the river. If you know any Shakespeare plays, you should recognize the names!

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Boats on the River Avon | Stratford-upon-Avon

And right up the road from the river was the beautiful Holy Trinity Church, which dates back to the 12th century. It has a cool old graveyard you can see as you walk up to the church, and it houses the tomb of Shakespeare…like for real his dead body is in there. I’m a nerd, so it was super cool to me! FUN FACT: His body, but not his head is in the tomb…they did a scan a while back and found out that his head wasn’t attached…so no one knows where it is. Creepy.

After that we walked around the town and ate some lunch at Hobsons Patisseries which is a great place to stop if you love cheesecake! The picture below doesn’t do it justice, because they probably had about 50 different types of cheesecakes! We grabbed some lunch and then were off for a drive through the gorgeous Cotswolds country cottages!

The Cotswolds is an area of England that has beautiful, green rolling hills and cute little cottages. It’s not really a set location, but more an area of the countryside. We went through a cool little village first…and ended in Bibury village. Below is a picture of Arlington Row in Bibury and the little weavers’ cottages date back from 1380s! You feel like you’re walking around some hobbit houses in a Lord of the Rings movie…

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Our last stop of the tour was Oxford University! We had a walking tour with our guide and got to see some really incredible architecture there. One of my favorite buildings we saw was the Radcliffe Camera…it was starting to rain, so the picture doesn’t do it justice.

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Windsor Castle

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On our last Saturday afternoon in London, we headed out to Windsor Castle! We visited Westminster Abbey in the morning (because we had to reschedule it from a previous day when it closed early)and then jumped on the train to Windsor. If you purchased the London Pass, which I reviewed in my previous post, the round trip train ride was included; yet another added BONUS from the Pass! Check out this link which will explain how to travel on the train because you will have to enter at a certain gate and change trains at Slough on the way to Windsor/Eton Central.

When you arrive in Windsor, the train station will be just on the edge of Windsor Royal Shopping center revamped from an old Victorian railway station. It’s filled with cool shops and restaurants. We walked through the market and then headed up to the castle. We spent a couple hours at the castle, but I have limited pictures because you can’t use cameras inside…so it’s really hard to explain how ornate everything is inside!

You can walk through the Royal Apartments and State Rooms, which are used for events hosted by the Royal family. You can also see Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House (a multi-floor huge doll house built for Queen Mary in the 1920s), and St. George’s Chapel, home to the Order of the Garter and burial place of King Henry VIII and other famous monarchs.

After we left the castle, we walked down by the train station and ate dinner at Gourmet Burger Kitchen in the Windsor Royal Shopping center. I guess we were just itching for some “America,” and they served burgers & shakes, so we couldn’t pass it up! After that, we caught the train back to London and got ready to meet our family friends the next day.


Burghley House and Cambridge University

We had so much fun with our friends the Cullens who were stationed at Alconbury AFB in England, which was actually an old English AFB. (It was around Huntingdon, UK). We trained about an hour and a half north of London to get to them, and they took us to some great places while we were visiting. I never met them until our trip, but they have been family friends of my best friend for a very long time…by the end of the trip, I felt like I had known them forever!

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My favorite place they took us was the Burghley House (which really should have been called a castle if you ask me!). It was the coolest place…so it was originally built for Queen Elizabeth I and kept up and decorated for her…and then she never came before she died! It’s since been restored, and I mean, LOOK AT IT-stunning! We had some lunch and tea at the Orangery Restaurant within the complex, overlooking the beautiful gardens (totally quintessential England). I never got tired of having tea in England! Then we went on a self-guided tour that explained what all the different rooms were for in the house. I’m usually not into art too much, but dude! this place had some super crazy ornate paintings-some rooms had murals on every wall and up covering the entire ceiling!

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This is probably the most well known work of art at the House: the “Hell Staircase,” which shows the ceiling painted as Hell with the entrance to Hell through a large cats mouth and a bunch of people in torture. and the grim reaper hanging out on the ceiling too…I can’t make this stuff up yall! Below are some other pics from around the house.

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The next day, the Cullens took us to beautiful Cambridge University. We went on a little walk around the college and went punting down the river (with our own personal English Fabio driving the boat). Along the river, we got to see many famous colleges like Clare College, Christ’s College, and Trinity College. Cambridge is not all one school; it’s made up of 31 individual colleges-each governed separately with their own admissions. Super cool to see where people like Charles Darwin and Stephen Hawking studied!…below is King’s College and King’s College Chapel.

Over the river you can also see some famous bridges like the Mathematical Bridge and the Bridge of Sighs at St. John’s College. This random lady is in all of my pictures…

After a short walk around the college, we ate lunch at The Eagle pub, famous as the site that Watson and Crick announced their discovery of the DNA structure. We sat in the back by the RAF bar that had a bunch of cool WWII graffiti on the walls and ceiling. Everything in England just has so much history attached to it…


We had a blast in England, and I really feel like I got a good grasp on England as whole. I loved all the guided tours we went on, but you could definitely take time and explore each place more! Rent a car and spend a day or two in each town it. I would have loved to stay for a month or two and hang out, but there’s the whole job and house and bills thing I have going on back home! I will definitely be back one day and can’t wait to come back with my husband! I checked so many places off my bucket list with this week in England, and I have a list of things to do when I come back one day! Stay tuned for my FINAL post in this series, which will include Edinburgh, Scotland and a tour out to the English/Scottish borders of Northumbria!

 

2 Weeks in England & Scotland: London Part 1 – What to do in London

Thanks for reading my posts! My two week vacation to England and Scotland was one I will definitely never forget. I traveled in April and May of 2016 with my best friend Cassandra, and although we almost killed each other a few times, we had an awesome vacation! We spent an entire week in London, which included tours to many neighboring cities and towns in England. We also stayed with family friends just north of London around Huntingdon, and we ended our two week trip with a three day stay in Edinburgh, Scotland. Aaaand best of all, we did it all in CARRY-ONS! Check out my post on packing for long trips in carry-on luggage…I’ll never travel international any other way because it’s so easy! Travel with me to England in this first blog post and discover what to do in the city of London. All photos were taken by yours truly!

What to do in London…It really depends on what you enjoy doing on your vacations…are you really into museums? city tours? interactive sites? Even though I can appreciate art and history, I can only handle so many museums before I go a little insane. Since my best friend is an Interior Designer, she was super into the architecture and museums, something that can get a little (or a LOT) boring to me. We compromised to make sure that we visited sites that were important to each of us, and we actually worked pretty well together for people who are so different. If you travel with someone, make sure you are on the same page about what you want to see and do. I would say we ended up doing about half museums (history & art) and half tours/interactive sites!

Everything was super easy with the London Pass! It is a prepaid card you order (visit site here) which includes free admission to almost everything you will want to visit in the city of London, except St. Paul’s Cathedral and the London Eye. You can also add an Oyster Card (for travel) when you order your pass. At least half of the sites even let you have fast track entry, so you can bypass the hour long wait lines. Everything was so convenient because all you needed was your London Pass & Oyster Card when you went out for the day. During our 8 day stay with the London Pass, we visited/toured the Tower of London, Tower Bridge, Thames River Cruise, Westminster Abbey, Windsor Castle, Kensington Palace, Churchill War Rooms, Victoria & Albert Museum, Old Operating Theatre Museum, and Benjamin Franklin House. All these along with about 50 other places are included in the Pass, so it’s an extremely good deal if you’re staying in the city for a few days.

We also took a trip on The London Eye, but missed our scheduled tour of St. Paul’s because of a sucky dining experience…but don’t get me started on that! Other places we passed for photo opps included Buckingham Palace, Big Ben/Parliament, and Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. We also toured a variety of museums including The British Museum, National Gallery, and Tate Modern (very brief) and even got to see The Phantom of the Opera Broadway Musical.


Tower of London & Tower Bridge

The Tower of London is  easily one of London’s most iconic sites. We visited the Tower first thing in the morning and caught a free tour with an official Neoman Warder/ Beefeater, the Queen’s bodyguards and keepers of the Tower grounds. They give very entertaining tours (about every 30 minutes) and are very knowledgeable about English history and recommending what to do while inside the Tower. While in the Tower complex, we visited the beautiful Crown Jewels and the White Tower, which houses a variety of old weapons and armor suits. No cameras allowed in the Jewels! Then we made our way to the Tower Bridge, where we walked 138 feet up (eek!) on the glass floors above the Thames River. You can also visit the pump rooms, that show you how the bridge is raised and lowered for tall boats to pass through. This was one of the top sites for me, but my poor bestie almost passed out over the glass…she’s so scared of heights…so yeah I kinda felt bad after that…but not really because we got her to conquer her fear for about 5 seconds!

I recommend visiting Tower of London at the beginning of the day because it can get very busy in the afternoon. Spend a couple hours at the Tower, have lunch, and then head to the Tower Bridge. Make sure to get pics on the glass bottom floors above the Thames! Both are included in the London Pass with fast track entry.


Buckingham Palace & Westminster Area

Buckingham Palace/Westminster area is also another full day out, and all the sites are within easy walking distance of each other. Buckingham Palace changing of the guards, which occurs daily at 11AM, is great to pair with Westminster Abbey and The London Eye, especially since the London Eye is open late. The Changing of the Guards was really a bunch of hype to me-way too crowded and hard to see anything! I can appreciate the history and tradition behind it, but if you decide to go, legit get there about an hour before. Otherwise, you won’t be able to see anything!  Right around the corner from the Palace is also The Imperial War Museum-Churchill War Rooms, the underground bunker used by Winston Churchill and his cabinet members during WWII. Across the river is the London Eye, which is Europe’s largest ferris wheel! You get to hang out for about half an hour above the city in enclosed capsules getting one of a kind views of the city.

I recommend visiting the Palace, walking through Green Park or St. James’ Park (surrounding Buckingham Palace) on your way to the Churchill War Rooms, taking a visit to Westminster Abbey, and then ending the day with an afternoon or night ride on the London Eye. The only thing I would have changed was to spend more time inside the War Rooms (if you like that sort of thing)…you could easily spend hours there! Parliament & Big Ben are also right next door to Westminster Abbey, so you can get your pics in here too! We had tea at Westminster Abbey on this day and actually visited the Abbey on a different day because it was closed early. I don’t have pics of the inside of the Abbey because again cameras were not allowed. The Abbey has a neat little cafe called the Cellarium Cafe, and we sat on the glass top roof terrace and had afternoon tea. Everything except the tea (although you still get a discount) and London Eye ride was included in the London Pass. The London Eye was also one of my favorite sites for the stunning views of the city, but again not for Cassandra…but like an awesome friend, she was a trooper and went for me!


Kensington Palace & Hyde Park

Kensington Palace is within/on the edge of Hyde Park, London’s biggest park. We actually stayed in Paddington, which is a neighborhood next to Hyde Park, and since it was so close to our flat, we visited this area on our first day out. We walked through beautiful Hyde Park to the Palace…London is the best city to visit if you love parks and outdoor spaces, and Hype Park was full of dog-walkers and bike-riders.

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Hyde Park on a chilly day!

Kensington Palace has been home to royalty for over 300 years, so you get a chance to explore the King’s and Queen’s State Apartments (do your history research, so you aren’t lost in the lineages) and visit where Queen Victoria spent her childhood. The Palace contained a big tribute exhibition to Queen Victoria and Prince Albert and included a lot of the Queen’s old writings and dresses, not to mention the big statue in front of the Palace of her. A lot of places around the city paid tribute to Queen Victoria I noticed…apparently everyone loved her. Also inside the palace was an exhibition containing the dresses of The Queen, Princess Margaret, and Princess Diana…can you say gorgeous! 

I recommend walking through the park to the Palace and spending the afternoon here and hanging out around the park. And again, Kensington Palace was included in our London Pass. They also had a cool cafe to get a snack and chill overlooking the park, which was nice considering it starting raining…which it did…every. day.


London History & Art Museums

Like I said before…too many museums will make me go insane…but they were a really big deal to Cassandra to visit them. Even if you aren’t a huge fan of museums, there are some artifacts in a lot of the London museums that you can not see anywhere else in the world. The more well known museums we visited were the Victoria and Albert Museum, British Museum, and National Gallery. If you really love museums, you could easily spend a full day (or more) in each of these. We spent a good half day in each, and I would highly recommend all 3 of them if you have time! Like a lot of other major museums, the British Museum and National Gallery had free entrance, they just want a donation for the maps of the museums.

First, I’ll start with the British Museum, which is home to the Rosetta Stone, Parthenon sculptures, Lewis Chessman, Portland Vase, and others. the Rosetta Stone! I enjoyed this museum the most because it included a lot of ancient Greek, Roman, & Egyptian artifacts.

Later that day we visited The National Gallery, which contains works of art by di Vinci, Raphael, Rembrandt, Monet, Michelango, Velazquez, Van Gogh, etc. I would recommend skipping the National Gallery, unless you just LOVE classical European paintings. However, it was cool to see some paintings that I was familiar with like Vincent Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers,” but other than that it was all running together… The Gallery is located in Trafalgar Square (known for it’s large lion statues), and it’s a cool area to catch street performers!

The biggest and most impressive museum we visited was the Victoria & Albert Museum…all 6 stories! It houses the largest collection of Victorian artifacts in the world, and you can find everything from statues to furniture to clothes. Check out the HUGE blown glass chandelier by American artist Dale Chihuly at the center of the entrance! The museum has a huge cafe across the courtyard that is great for lunch too.


River Cruise & Other Museums

Our first afternoon in the city, we took a ride on the Thames River Cruise (pronounced “Tims River”) with our London Pass. The boat will actually travel all the way to Greenwich, but we stayed in London city. It was a good tour to take to get familiar with the city built around the Thames and get a great look at all the big sites from the river. The cruise departed opposite the London Eye and traveled down the river passing the Tower of London, Tower Bridge, Millennium Bridge, St. Paul’s, Shakespeare’s Globe, etc. Like I said, you get a better idea of where all the sites are in relation to each other, so if you have time I definitely recommend it.

During our stay, we toured some lesser known museums too. Per Cassandra, we visited the Sherlock Holmes’ Museum early in the week, which was a walk through tour of “Sherlock’s apartment” at 22B Baker Street filled with a lot of memorabilia and movie reference items…and obviously I’m a weirdo and have never seen any of the movies, so I was completely lost! I would recommend it if you are into Sherlock, but it was definitely not my thing, although Cass loved it! It is NOT included in the London Pass.

On the other hand, our visit to the Old Operating Theatre Museum was my absolute favorite part of our London stay! The museum (which was up a tiny spiral staircase in the attic of an old church) was filled with turn of the century medical equipment, so all pre-antiseptic and pre-anesthesia tools. It had an awesome old operating theatre from 1822, where doctors watched and learned medical procedures. I probably spent a good half hour chatting with the medical historians who ran the museum….my bestie thought it was gross, but I thought it was awesome! I would definitely recommend it to anyone how loves medical science, and best of all, it was included in the London Pass.

One museum we visited that I would not recommend, is the Benjamin Franklin House. It sounded really cool, especially since it is the last remaining residence of Franklin’s in the world still standing. The house was very well preserved, but the tour consisted of a walk-through monologue with an actress playing his family friend….meehhh. Zzzzz. I would have been fine just snapping a pic of the outside of the house. It was included in the London Pass, so at least we weren’t out any money (yes, always staying on that budget!)


Catching a Broadway

Because, let’s be honest, you can’t go to London and not go to a play or musical in the West End. We were traveling on Cassandra’s birthday, so I decided to get us tickets to Phantom of the Opera in London as her present. It was at the Queen’s Theatre in the West End of London, which is an area known for broadway musicals…and OHMYGOSH it was beautiful! The building is over 100 years old and covered in gold and red velvet…you can see a picture of it below (some crazy English lady was yelling at me, but how could you not try to sneak a pic!). They have so many other famous shows and theatres around the West End, so catch a show or two if you have time; you won’t regret it!

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The Queen’s Theatre


So that’s London city in a nutshell! I wouldn’t have changed anything except maybe leaving some more time to hang out in the gorgeous parks, but it was so cold (and rainy a lot of times) that it was hard to stay out for too long. I wished we had gotten the opportunity to see the inside of St. Paul’s Cathedral and a play at Shakespeare’s Globe. Even though we spent over a week there, we could have easily spent another in the city! Stay tuned for my next post which will include Windsor Castle and our day tours with The English Bus Tour Company out to Stonehenge & Bath and Stratford, Oxford University, & the Cotswolds cottages.

till next time,

CB

 

England & Scotland 2016

I can’t believe it’s finally happening again! It has been two years (too long) since I visited Italy with my husband in 2014, and I have been dying to get back to Europe. The opportunity came along when my best friend Cassandra asked me to accompany her on a trip she was planning. I actually originally said no several times for personal reasons, money, etc, but the more I thought about it, the more I knew that it was something I could work out for myself. I was determined by Thanksgiving 2015 that I was committed to making this trip happen, and we have been planning ever since!

We will be spending two weeks between England and Scotland, mostly staying in London. We have so much planned for London, and I still feel like I could spend another week in the city packed full of things to do! We are visiting all the major historical London sites like Buckingham Palace, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Westminister Abbey, Big Ben, Tower of London, Tower Bridge, and Windsor Castle and also visiting several museums including the Victoria and Albert Museum, British Museum, and National Museum. We also have plans to see a Broadway, take a loop on the London Eye, and take a Harry Potter studio tour. In addition, we will be visiting other areas in England with day tours out to Stonehenge, Bath, Oxford University, and Stratford-upon-Avon.

A few days in Edinburgh, Scotland are on our agenda as well. It will be a nice change from the “hustle and bustle” of London to a laid back town. The Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood Palace await us, along with a day tour out to the Scotland/England borders of Northumbria. On the tour, we will visit Alnwick Castle, which was featured in Harry Potter and Downton Abbey, and the tidal Holy Island of Lisdinfarne, which was an old monastery.

We are blessed to have a connection with some friends in England that are kind enough to let us spend a few days with them during our trip too! It is nice to know someone when traveling to an unfamiliar country for sure. AAaaanndddd, I will be dong all two weeks in carry-on luggage. Boom, shaboom! I made it 11 days in Italy with only carry-ons, so I know I can do 14 days.

I can’t believe that I am blessed enough to get to go on my second European trip AND with my best friend. I hope there are many more European trips in my future, especially for me and my husband; I will definitely miss him while I’m away! I will have a few posts to make after my trip, so please follow along with me as I take on England and Scotland.

till next time,

CLB

 

 

Walkin’ in Memphis

Hello travelers! For Labor Day weekend, I took a trip to Memphis, TN with my husband and best friend, two of my favorite people to hang out with. I couldn’t wait to leave town again, especially after returning from Italy…it seems like I was so antsy to get away and have another break from life and work. We were trying to pick a place that was only a few hours away and that we haven’t been to a dozen times, like Dallas, so my husband chose Memphis. 


 What to eat…

The first thing we did when we got there was eat BBQ, of course! We didn’t have enough meals in 3 days to try all the “best” BBQ joints according to Google, but we did make it to Central BBQ and got a whopping half pound pulled pork sandwich that was topped with coleslaw….It was legit! We also tried some fried chicken at Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken….not a huge fan of fried chicken, but it had good flavor and crunch. I would recommend both of these places.


 Where to go…

Memphis definitely had a wide variety of activities to keep us busy. On our first full day in town, we went downtown and checked out the Peabody Hotel, a fancy hotel built in 1869 and home of the cute little Peabody Ducks. Twice a day the Peabody Hotel puts on a ceremony (literally with red carpet and ropes) to bring the ducks back and forth from the roof top to the fountain at the center of the hotel. They even have a special designated “duck elevator” that the ducks use. I could tell it was obviously a big deal. We got there about 5 minutes after the big shin-dig, so we missed it, but you can still take an elevator up to the roof of the hotel and get a bird’s eye view of Memphis. Pretty! After that, we took a stroll down Beale Street, but it was raining so it wasn’t as much of a happenin’ place as we had seen the night before. Beale Street is a jazzy couple of blocks in downtown Memphis filled with music and bars. I heard people compare it to Bourbon Street in New Orleans…I don’t know if I’d say that, but it does seem a lot cleaner and safer than Bourbon for sure! I thought it would be a lot bigger than it was, but it seemed like a cool little place to hang out after hours. Later that night, we went to a Mary Poppins Broadway musical at The Playhouse on the Square, which was my favorite part of the entire trip! I was soooo good…even my husband loved it. The Playhouse was a great find, and I was surprised at how nice and how close you were to the show because it only had about 10 or 25 rows of seats and a few more rows in the balcony. If anyone is headed to Memphis, I highly suggest catching a show there.

On our next full day in Memphis, we visited the Memphis Zoo…I love zoos, and if there is one where I’m visiting, you can bet I’ll be there. It was definitely another highlight of our trip…they even had pandas! It was about $15/person, so not a bad price either, and you can spend a good half day there. We also heard about the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel, where MLK was shot and killed in 1968. Not going to lie, I really didn’t know what to expect, but I was pleasantly surprised. It was one of the nicest museums I have ever seen…very nice displays and really modern and interactive. You basically walk through the maze of the museum and get lost in the civil rights movement. It was about $12-13/person, and we spent a good couple of hours inside. Another one of my favorite places in Memphis was Sun Studio. WOW! Visit the studio where Elvis, Johnny Cash, and Jerry Lee Lewis recorded. The bottom floor is a little cafe where you can chill and have a shake or soda, and the tour upstairs and through the studio is a must! That little studio is packed full of music history, and it’s surreal to stand and see where stars have been and recorded. The tour is $12/person, and only lasts about 15-20 minutes, but totally worth it! At the end, you even get to pose and take some pics with an old school mic that Elvis supposedly used when he recorded there. 

The only thing I would suggest skipping in Memphis is Graceland…hate me if you want, but overrated…ugh…and the biggest money pit I’ve seen. Pay to park, then stand in line for hours, pay to be taken onto the property just to see the outside of the house, but pay more if you even want to go inside. You can see the house from the street, but can’t really get any decent pictures because of trees. I think it’s a better deal to go to Sun Studio where he recorded his music than visit where he lived, but remember these are just my opinions. Check Memphis out for yourself!

Til’ next time,

CB

Italy Part 1: Florence and Tuscany

Hello travelers! I’ve been so busy, so I’m just now getting around to an Italy blog post. I’m doing it in 2 sections because it is a lot to cram into 1 post, so my first post will cover the first half of our trip. About a month and a half ago, my husband and I spent a week in Italy, and it was definitely a vacation we will never forget! I’m not going to lie, it was a little overwhelming to be experiencing a new culture and language. With that said, I personally think it’d be best to try a country like England, where they actually speak the same language, for a first European vacation. Nonetheless, I found Italy to be a very chill and beautiful place. Remember this is my review on what I experienced, so others may have different experiences or opinions. So I really encourage people to get out there and experience it for themselves.

Florence and Tuscany

The first 5 days of our trip was spent in the Renaissance city of Florence, or Firenze, which was my favorite of the two cities we stayed in. Florence was all about the beautiful architecture and traditional Italian culture. My husband learned how to navigate it in a day, and you could basically walk anywhere in 15 min or less. We stayed in a great family-run B&B named La Casa dei Tintori, (http://www.casadeitintori.it/en/) which I would recommend to anyone! Great location, just a block from the Arno River, and far enough away from the “tourist” center.  The owners were natives of the city and the same age as me and my husband. They made dinner reservations almost every night for us and always had suggestions on what to do in the city. My husband and I aren’t really big on doing museums, so we looked for other things to do to enjoy our time, while also staying in our budget.

The first day we were in Florence, we left for a day trip to Tuscany, which was our favorite part of the entire week. The tour included visiting 3 cities and a 3 course lunch and wine tasting at a GOURGEOUS wine estate in the countryside. Our first stop was the Gothic city of Siena that had one of the most awesome cathedrals I’ve ever seen and a big open piazza at its center.

After Siena, we went to our lunch and wine tasting at this great little organic farm that was a B&B too. For lunch, they served us a pasta, salad, and various cold cuts and cheeses, and we tasted 2 reds wines and a white wine that were absolutely delicious! The farm sat on 200 acres and looked out on a landscape I swear was from a movie. This place was legit! If you look closely in the distance on the first pic you can see towers that belong to the medieval city of San Gimignano, our second city on the tour.

After San Gimignano, our last stop was Pisa to visit the leaning tower. Yes…it really leans!! If you can get there without security spoting you, the best leaning pics are in a little grassy area to the side of the tower. They have it roped off, so you’re not supposed to walk on it, but it’s where you can get that great cliche leaning pic. This really was a great tour and took up the entire day…about $250 for both of us, but totally worth it. Day tours are great to be able to see as much of Italy as you can because it can be overwhelming to try to see or navigate all of Italy in a week on your own (we still missed many cities). If you are looking to get away from everything and enjoy a peaceful vaca, stay in the Tuscan countryside; it is a very different vibe from the cities. If I ever go back, this is what I’ll do!

One of our favorite places to visit in Florence was the Boboli Gardens across the Arno River. It sits up on a hill and has some awesome views of Florence and the surrounding hills; you can literally see the entire city and a great view of the cathedral far away.  About 10-15€/person, and you can exit and re-enter at any time during the day.

We also loved visiting and climbing to the tops of the Duomo and Belltower attached to the Florence Cathedral. WOW! One of the most beautiful things to do in the city. It took us a couple of hours to wait in line, climb, and hang out at the tops, so it took up about half a day. Only about 10€/person for 1 ticket that includes the Cathedral, Belltower, and Duomo.

Looking back, I would suggest spending only about 3 days in Florence because that is all I think you need to experience it. Be sure to relax too…I felt like we didn’t take enough time (which I regretted later) to take it all in and appreciate the “chillness” of the city. Bring a book and sit and relax by the river, or people watch in one of the many piazzas. Don’t just do a bunch of museums either…you’ll spend half your day waiting in line anyways. We actually didn’t even go see the David statue by Michelangelo at the Ulfitizi Gallery because there were a dozen replicas around in the city. Some of you will probably be shocked at this next one, but I didn’t have any amazing food there either; it was just ok or good. The pizza was good, but the pastas seemed to lack flavor. The best food I had the entire trip was from a sandwich shop by our B&B that had a 30 min line outisde every day for lunch and dinner. I mean come on, this is Italy…I wasn’t expecting to eat some food from Olive Garden, but I had way higher expectations for my taste buds! Gelato, of course, was great…didn’t think it tasted any different than ice cream, but still ate some every day. All in all, Florence was a beautiful, slow-paced Italian city, and I would definitely go back if I am in Italy again. Be on the look out for Rome and the last half of our vacation soon!

’till next time,

CB

Packing for a week in carry-on luggage…

Hello travelers! As you know, my husband and I just returned from the biggest/longest trip we’ve ever taken out of country. It required LOTS of planning and organizing, which happen to be strong points of mine. Whether it was Pinterest inspiration or people doubting me, my goal was to pack for the entire week long trip in carry-ons. I didn’t create any new ideas, but these are some that I think are most important. In this post, I’ll go over how I packed and include some extra tips.

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1. STICK WITH CARRY-ONS ONLY…

I’m definitely an over-packer, and I love a challenge, so this seemed like the perfect opportunity. I actually doubted myself at first, but it all worked out awesome in the end! We weren’t worried about lost luggage, damaged possessions, waiting at baggage claim areas, lugging huge, heavy suitcases around airports and destinations. We had all of our possessions with us at all times on the airplane. It also allowed us to skip a lot of time going through customs departments, which required you to collect any checked bags, run them through security, then recheck them. Obviously, you will buy things, so you will return with gifts and souvenirs. So I suggest not over-stuffing your bags; leave yourself some room. We also took a smaller empty bag that we could check if needed on the way home. I’ve had a lot of haters/doubters along the way, but people should remember that trips aren’t about all the crap you bring and more about the wonderful things you will experience and souvenirs you will take home on your vacations. Enjoy being away from home; don’t try to bring your house with you. Downsizing is so much more convenient!

2. LOOK UP LUGGAGE REQUIREMENTS…

Most airlines let you carry 2 bags on the plane: a carry-on suitcase (within dimensions) and a personal item (large purse, laptop bag, packback, etc.). So for us, this meant 4 bags total, which, I’m convinced, was totally possible! No, we didn’t have 3 different outfit choices per day, 3 hats, 5 belts, etc, but we didn’t need all those things.  My husband and I each had a rolling suitcase, backpack, and a neck pillow. Most airlines will allow extra items like jackets, blankets, and neck pillows and not count them as a separate item. Below is a pic of the luggage that I took. This 21″ American Tourister rolling suitcase, which I borrowed from a family friend, is absolutely amazing…lots of compartments to organize and separate clothes, shoes, and toiletries. I will definitely be buying one for future vacations.

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3. PLAN YOUR CLOTHING…

Don’t just throw a bunch of random clothes into a suitcase! This doesn’t apply to men…my husband did the exact opposite of what I did, but hey, that’s how they roll. A week before I left, I did all my laundry and began to set out my outfits. Anyone that knows me knows I’m a huge fan of neutrals and more simple clothes, so I chose items that could be mixed and matched with each other or dressed up with jewelry. I only brought along outfits and shoes that were cute, comfortable, and didn’t wrinkle. I included a variety of casual and a few more dressy items, because you never know what kind of situation you will be in. Even include those t-shirts and basketball shorts for days that you feel like being a bum. At the end of my planning, I ended up with about 15 outfits, 7 sets of pjs, and 5 pairs of sandals/shoes. We actually found a self service laundry place and did laundry half way through our trip, so I recommend this too. Looking back, I would have brought a few less outfits (didn’t even wear 5 of them) and only one pair of sandals (we walked most of the time anyways & needed more comfortable shoes). Below is a picture of all the clothes and shoes that ended up in my bag…I had a good bit of clothes along for the ride!

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4. USE THE ROLLING TECHNIQUE FOR PACKING…

At first, I was skeptical about all this “rolling technique.” Did it even make a difference? But now I won’t pack any other way. It is the best way to squeeze clothes together in a suitcase and keep them from getting wrinkled too. Some people spend money on packing cubes also, which are just smaller, thinner, mesh zipper bags that you roll and squeeze a lot of clothes into and then squeeze those into your suitcase…but I’m a cheapo! I used gallon ziplock bags for some items, and it worked the exact same way. And you can squeeze the air out of them, sort of like a space bag. The main compartment of the bag was two layers deep with rolled clothes. I was definitely impressed!

5. UTILIZE TRAVEL SIZE ITEMS…

Remember, you are most likely NOT going to a third world country, so you should be able to purchase anything you run out of or forgot. You may not get your exact brand of shampoo or toothpaste, but hey don’t be so high maintenance. 🙂 We had no other choice but to bring travel size items, because regulations only allow 1 quart-sized bag of liquids of 3 oz or less in carry-ons. So I had to make it work! I think you can get ripped off easily if you go buying sample sizes of everything (because it almost got me), so I just bought clear plastic bottles and filled them up with soap, shampoo, etc. that I already had. .

6. BRING A FEW “WHAT IF” EXTRA ITEMS…

The “what if” item is the…well if that happens then I’ll need this…item. Like I said, don’t get carried away with packing your entire house, but do plan for some unforeseen circumstances. The most important, I think, is a rain jacket or mini umbrella. You never know when an afternoon shower could come, and it actually rained every day that we were in Italy. I also like to bring some meds & band aids just in case you get a stomachache, headache, blisters from walking, etc. And my last would be aloe vera (and sunscreen if you wish). A sunburn can make for a miserable vacation…

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I also think those nifty neck pillows are a MUST, especially on overnight or longer flights. If at all possible, leave those hairdryers at home to save a bunch of space. Most places have them, so just check before you go. I do, however, recommend bringing a straightener. They pack great and can be used to straighten or curl your hair. If you don’t know how to curl with a straightener, look it up on YouTube…very easy!  All of my clothes and toiletries were packed in the rolling suitcase, and money, documents, camera, phone chargers, etc. were in my backpack. We also had an extra camera SD card and batteries with us.

I hope this will help some fellow travelers out there. Be on the look out for my review of Italy and tips on traveling abroad!

’till next time,

CB

 

Upcoming week in Italy…..

Il_Duomo_Florence_Italy

Good morning world!!! I’m so excited to begin my travel blog and share my passion for travelling the world with everyone! My husband and I will soon be enjoying a week in Italy in mid-June…it’s our first trip to Europe together (He recently returned home from deployment and got to visit Germany on the way home), but it’s our second trip out of country. For our honeymoon in 2013, we chilled in Jamaica, the country of “no worries mon,” but I know that a European vaca will be very different from anything Caribbean. We’re spending 5 nights in the Renaissance city of Florence and 3 nights in Rome. This passion to travel the world just kinda sprung on me all of a sudden because I didn’t always feel this way…I guess it started after I officially entered the work place and discovered that the 40 hour work week of slaving away and 30 min lunch breaks isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. If I’m going to have to work like this for the rest of my life, I might as well find someway to enjoy life, right? For me, travelling seems to be the only way to catch a break from the hustle & bustle of the busy American lifestyle. A vacation doesn’t have to always be a trip out of the country like a big trip to Italy like we are doing, but it can be a little weekend getaway or just visiting a local place you’ve never been. Through this blog, I hope I can inspire someone to get out there and see what the world has to offer; discover something more than the 100 mi radius around your house.  My husband and I set a goal to travel abroad with one big trip a year before we settle down too much, have kids, etc. This year I picked Italy…people dream about pasta and wine and the rolling Tuscan countryside…and WE are actually going there! It still seems surreal. Other places on our list include Germany, England, France, Scotland, Ireland, Spain, St. Lucia, and Tahiti. On this blog, I’ll be sharing my trips with you and offering advice as I learn it, which will most likely be by trial and error……but hey, that’s the fun in it! Till next time,

CB