Italy Part 2: Rome

Wow! Hey guys! So here I am about 3 years after returning from Italy finishing up my Italy blogging…Tuscany and Florence was published shortly after I returned in 2013, but I am just getting around to Rome! Italy was a country I will definitely never forget, but as I mentioned, I was sick with strep and pink eye…so there were some parts I tried to forget! So basically I’m convinced that Italy hates me, more specifically Rome…like I have a serious personal vendetta for Italy now, but I know I’ll return and get it right the second time! Don’t get be wrong, I loved the country, but it would have been a lot more enjoyable if I hadn’t been slowly dying inside…so now I travel with lots of Vitamin C!

So Italy was our first big trip out of the country, and we learned a lot of things first hand -most the hard way- but it has made us better travelers. Below is the Altare della Patria, a monument built to honor the first king of unified Italy. It’s close to the Colosseum and Roman Forum and is within this huge intersection of some very busy roads (strada) in Rome. It’s a great area to catch street artists!

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Altare della Patria


Where we stayed

Rome was more big city hustle-n-bustle vibe, so very different from Florence, the laid back Renaissance capital. We stayed in a neighborhood called Trastevere, which is where you’d find yourself mixed with middle class working Italians among narrow cobblestone streets…a true Italian neighborhood. It’s across the Tiber River from the Trevi Fountain and Colosseum areas, so complete opposite side of the city from most busy-ness. It’s most well known for Santa Maria Piazza, which includes the Basicilica of Santa Maria-one of the oldest in Rome!

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What we did

Our first day in Rome, we booked a tour to the Colosseum and Roman Forum through the USO. My husband was military at the time, so an added perk was being able to use the USO, and their facility was a block away from the Vatican-PERFECT! It was nice to have some familiarity in a foreign country ya know. The tour lasted about 3-4 hours, and we had a local Italian lady show us around the city. It’s a shame that the Colosseum has been destroyed so much over the years…it was torn down little by little by different Popes for supplies to build their monuments or homes…greedy much?? It’s hard to capture it all in a picture while inside. You can see the catacombs below where the animals and gladiators were kept before fights. We all love a good gladiator & lion story, huh?20140619_162425 (2)

The Colosseum was massive and beautiful, even in it’s destroyed state, but they had scaffolding around the entire outside of it for some restoration (Reason #1 Rome Hates Me), so forgot those stunning views as you’re walking down the hill to the plaza ha…Proof that famous monuments don’t always look like your favorite Instagram photos!

The tour also took us by the Spanish Steps and the Roman Forum, which are the ruins that sit adjacent to the Colosseum. The Forum was the city center of ancient Rome and holds some really old structures (we’re talking like 7th and 8th century BC!). They are constantly excavating the area and reassembling buildings, so it’s always a work in progress. The tour was about $80/person, which included all the perks of the USO facility too. It’s also totally doable to buy the separate entrance tickets and just see everything yourself, but I liked having a local guide helping you understand everything.

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Roman Forum

Palatine Hill stands overlooking the Forum and contains the most ancient parts of the city where palaces and temples were built. You get some awesome views of Rome from the Hill, and you could easily spend an entire day wandering around the Colosseum, Forum, & Palatine Hill areas. We actually visited the Forum and Hill the following day because a bunch of tourism employees had gone on strike the day of our tour (which evidently happens frequently), and it was closed! Italy taught us to be flexible for sure!

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Palatine Hill

Definitely a highlight of our trip! The next day we spent wandering around to the Pantheon and Trevi Fountain areas. I love the skinny, wandering Italian streets…how you’re making your way through the maze, then suddenly a big piazza opens up and Oh Hey! there’s the Pantheon! The beautiful Pagan temple turned Christian sanctuary. We took a quick look inside and then chilled out front by the fountain with a beer where this street performer was playing some music. This is what Italian dreams are made of yall! The Pantheon has the largest un-reinforced dome in the world and was the largest until the the Duomo of Florence was completed in 1436. Best of all, it’s free to enter!

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Pantheon in Piazza della Rotonda

Later that day, we made our way to the Trevi Fountain, hoping to throw a coin and make 3 wishes or whatever the song says. I’m sure it is beautiful without the scaffolding, but instead we got this…Reason #2 Rome Hates Me.

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I attempted to throw a coin over my shoulder into the water-less fountain, but there were 15 feet tall barriers around the outside too (not pictured), so the penny probably never made it in…so I guess I’m damned eternally now?…oh well…

Another site we loved and visited on our last day in Rome was the Castel Sant’Angelo (Castle of the Holy Angel). It’s on the west side of the city close to the Vatican. It was originally built by Roman Emperor Hadrian as a mausoleum for himself and eventually used by the popes as a castle and fortress-it even has an ancient underground tunnel connecting it to the Vatican! Today it’s a museum that offers some great views of Rome and the Tiber River.

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Castel Sant’Angelo

Here’s some more views around and inside the Castel. You get great views of the Vatican from the rooftop and can see just how close it is to Vatican City. We spent a good half day here and entrance was only 7€/person.

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View of Rome and Ponte Sant’Angelo


Food

One of our favorite restaurants in Rome was Piccolo Arancio (little orange). It was actually recommended to me by my dentist (see it always pays to have travel connections!) and was only a block away from the Trevi Fountain. We had some appetizers and pastas and a super delish chocolate mouse dessert. Is your mouth watering yet? We were always walking somewhere, so most other food we just got a grab and go meal…our favorite stops were little pizza shops in Trastevere! And of course, we couldn’t forget our nightly gelato fix!

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Dessert at Piccolo Orancio


I had some super cool moments in Rome, but how could you not with so much rich history! It was for sure a site on my bucket list, but it didn’t move me like Florence…I know me being sick played a part in this, but I don’t know if I’d ever go back to Rome. Been there, done that thing but honestly I enjoyed the smaller cities of the Tuscany region so much more! We actually never visited Vatican City or saw the Sistine Chapel…I didn’t feel like I needed to for my “Roman Experience.” If I’m not feeling it, I have no problem passing up famous landmarks out of obligation, but I encourage everyone to plan their trips around what they want to see. Don’t visit places just because Google says it’s in the “Top 5 things to do in Rome.” Be sure to learn some basic Italian words and phrases before visiting because it makes things a lot easier. People are instantly more receptive and friendly when you at least try to speak Italian, even if you’re using a translator app like my husband. Thanks for coming to Rome with me, and be sure to check out our first 5 days in Italy here where we visited Florence & Tuscany region.

England & Scotland Part 4: Northumberland, England

Hey guys! Thanks for sticking with me through this series. This is my final post from my 2016 trip to England and Scotland and will cover my day tour to the Northumbria region of the English/Scottish borders, which includes seeing 3 castles in 1 day! Be sure to check out my posts about London, the surrounding cities, and Edinburgh, Scotland if you missed them! I would have loved to spend a full day at each of the sites we visited on the tour, but we were on time constraints and had only 1 day away from Edinburgh-perfect for a long day tour! I know a lot of people don’t like scheduled day tours (not always my first choice either), but this was the best way for me & my best friend to see some sites without renting a car.

We found this great tour for about $75/person through Timberbush Tours, a long-running Scottish tour company based out of Edinburgh and Glasgow. They had excellent reviews on TripAdvisor and featured Alnwick Castle (seen in Harry Potter and Downton Abbey) as the highlight of the tour, which was a huge deal to us! Northumberland is technically part of England, but is close to Edinburgh, Scotland, and this was the departure point for the tour. Kinda ironic how we spent a week and a half in England, then left for Edinburgh, Scotland, and then ended up on a day tour that took us back to England!

Throughout history, the Northumbria region has changed hands between England and Scotland too many times to count, and a lot of people will still argue over who the land should belong to (like our tour guide who was a true Scot!). It is the northernmost and least populated county in England, but also the county with the most castles! Our first stop on the tour was the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, a tidal island off the coast of England with a monastery dating back to 635 AD. It has deep roots to the beginning of Christianity and a known location of Viking invasion-definitely a lot of rich history! The small town also features a castle that was built on the actual island in 1550. Here’s some pictures of the town and the Holy Island Castle…shout-out to the sheep for making this photo perfect!!!

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Holy Island of Lindisfarne

These beautiful dry stone walls, characterized by their interlocking stones, are super common in England and Scotland and are constructed completely without mortar.

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You can only get out to the island during low tide, and the tide was acting funky that day, so we weren’t able to walk all the way out to the castle (or we would have been stuck there all day!). The town is also known for it’s mead, which was originally produced by the medieval monks.  We were only able to get a quick look around the town and then headed off to Alnwick Castle. The tour usually spent longer at the Holy Island, so the tour guide was cool enough to stop us by another castle on the way to Alnwick. Below is beautiful Bamburgh Castle on the shores of the North Sea.

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Ya’ll… How gorgeous is this castle! We were in a small van, so the tour guide drove us to this cool spot in the dunes, and I got this amazing shot that most probably don’t see. Below is Bamburgh Castle from a different view.

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Finally, we made it to our main stop on the tour-Alnwick Castle (pronounded Ann-ick)! The castle is housed within a visitors complex that includes the castle and gardens, and you walk up to the castle seeing this phenomenal shot with the blooming daffodils! Ahh…this is what castle dreams are made of!

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We wandered around the castle for a couple of hours and caught a movie tour that introduced us to the specific locations on the property included in films/TV, like the first broom lessons in Harry Potter & The Sorcerer’s Stone and the scenes in Downton Abbey season 6 where the castle is featured as “Brancaster Castle.”

The inside of the castle was gorgeous, but no pictures were allowed because it’s an actual residence. The Percy family has called Alnwick Castle home for over 700 years, and the current Duke of Northumberland and his family still live on the property. Super bummed I can’t share pictures because there were sets of Downton Abbey all around the house, and they even had a huge dining room set (right down to the china and name cards on the table!) featured in Downton.

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The castle courtyards are so green and the buildings are beautiful! Here are some more pics around the castle.

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Our last stop on the tour before heading back to Edinburgh was Flodden Field. The Battle of Flodden in 1513 was the a major turning point for the Kingdoms of England and Scotland and the largest battle fought between them. Perfect way to wrap up our tour of the borders! There is a memorial on the hilltop that looks out over the supposed battle field.

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Flodden Field

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So WOW what a great way to wrap up 2 weeks abroad! Like I said before, I would have loved to spend more time at each castle, but we were so excited about everything we got to see that day! Lindisfarne Castle and Bamburgh Castle are a must-see if you’re in Northumberland, and I hope to visit the insides of both some day! Alnwick is freakin castle perfection and blew away all expectations we had! I was bummed that we didn’t have time to see the Highlands while staying in Edinburgh, but it’s also on my list of things to do when I return. The Scottish Highlands have their own beauty that is different from the coastal regions we visited and feature several castles as well.  Sometimes I catch myself getting caught up in all the things I didn’t get to see (that were on my radar) while in the UK, but look at all the things we DID see!

TRAVEL TIP: You can’t do it all, so don’t try! You can ruin a good vacation with planning too much to do. Pick what is really important, and plan everything else around that, leaving you reasons to return to the destination later.

Traveling and experiencing so much history is like nothing else, and now I have places to look forward to when I come back. I’m so thankful I was able to go on another European trip and share it with my best friend. I’m doing some updating on my blog, so be looking for updated posts and new posts including my Jamaican honeymoon from 2013 and Rome, Italy from 2014.

England & Scotland Part 3: Edinburgh, Scotland

This is the third post in my England & Scotland series, which I’m finishing literally about a year after returning…because just life in general is mostly crazy…but hey we’re getting there. Be sure to check out my two previous blog posts about London and the surrounding cities if you missed them! This post will include everything we did with our 2 days in Edinburgh, Scotland, and my fourth and final post in this series (coming soon) will include our day tour through the Northumbria region of the English/Scottish borders. Stay tuned for castles coming soon!!!

Wow! So here we are in Edinburgh, Scotland in May 2016 after spending a week and a half in England. My best friend and I trained from Huntingdon (mid-England) after spending a couple of days with some family friends who were stationed at a military base outside of London. There were major train delays across England that day because someone got hit by a train, eek! So once we finally made it on the train, it was about 4 or 5 hours up to Edinburgh, and we arrived smack in the middle of the city at Waverley Station.


Where we stayed:

First, we made our may to the Airbnb we booked in the Grassmarket/West Port area of Edinburgh, which is an awesome area to stay! Airbnb has become my favorite way to find accommodations in foreign countries…how could you pass up an entire flat, including a full kitchen and a washer/dryer for about 1/3 of the cost of a regular hotel room? Check out the flat we booked here, complete with courtyard and a direct view up the hill to Edinburgh Castle. JAWDROP. You could not have asked for a better view, and each night only $85…you can’t beat that!

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The Grassmarket area was only about a 5-10 minute walk up to the castle and Royal Mile (Edinburgh’s main road). It had a lot of cool pub-type places to eat, so we ate here almost every night except one. Per our Airbnb hosts we also got some ice cream at Mary’s Milk Bar up the street. If you’re ever in Edinburgh, go out of your way and go to this place! We ate local pub food, Italian food, and French food all in the Grassmarket area too, and everything was delicious! We ate at one nicer restaurant (also recommended by our hosts) called The Outsider a few blocks away from our flat; it had a cool modern vibe.


What we did:

Everything we did was centered mostly around The Royal Mile, which is the mile or so long road connecting the historic Edinburgh Castle to the Palace of Holyrood House, the Queen’s official residence in Scotland (but really, she only comes here once a year…) Of course a visit to Edinburgh Castle was on our list, and with the castle up on a hill, you get great views across Edinburgh. Some parts of the castle were founded as far back as the 12th century, including the notable St. Margaret’s Chapel, and other parts were added on later. Cost was £16.50. We took one of the free tours offered by staff, which was a great overview, and we stayed here a couple of hours.

It definitely felt just like all of the pictures look here: cold and dreary! It rained most days, just like England. A popular attraction right next to the Castle is The Scottish Whiskey Experience, where you can sample different types of whiskey and learn how they are made, but we opted for something different and went to the Camera Obscura, a kinda illusion/fun house. We didn’t spend too much time here, as most things were geared more toward kids, but some of the illusions were cool, and it also had a great rooftop view over Edinburgh. If you can climb to the roof and get a city view, you better believe I’ll be there! It really puts the city into perspective. After that, we spent the rest of the day hanging out in cool shops around the Royal Mile.

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Illusion Room at Camera Obscura

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View across Edinburgh (rare sunshine!!!)

My best friend and I had some common things we wanted to do, but I really had my sights set on one thing: climbing the Scott Monument in Prince’s Street Garden. Prince’s Garden is around Waverley Train Station, and it houses this huge, ornate, gothic monument dedicated to the Scottish author Sir Walter Scott. Not only does it look hella cool, but once I found out it had steps…oh yeah! …and then we got there…and it was closed for maintenance, so my hopes and dreams were crushed…like seriously…anyways here’s a beautiful picture of my favorite site in Edinburgh.

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Customary Scottish bagpiper on the Royal Mile!

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The next day we walked down the Royal Mile to Holyrood Palace. We got a free tour around the grounds of the Palace and the Queen’s gardens and then headed inside. I’ve found a lot of major sites offer free tours at certain times throughout the day, so definitely take advantage of them. The Palace is considered a Royal Apartment (like Windsor), so no photos inside allowed yet again! But below are some beautiful pics of the outside. The inside also contained a dress exhibition dedicated to Princess Diana and The Queen, and connected to the back of the Palace, you can see the beautiful Holyrood Abbey ruins. You can easily spend a few hours here between the Palace and gardens, and admission was £12.50.

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Gardens | Palace of Holyrood House

From the Palace, you can also see Arthur’s Seat, which is within Holyrood Park. It’s rumored to have connections to the legendary King Arthur and Camelot and is a perfect location for hiking. Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time to climb it, and honestly I’m not sure we would have made it with all the walking we had done the past 2 weeks ha!, but I would go back to Edinburgh just to hike up Arthur’s Seat. How gorgeous is this place? A must-do in Edinburgh if you have time.

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After the Palace, we walked (or trekked really-ugh) to Calton Hill, which is on the same side of town as the Palace. It is the headquarters of the Scottish Government and contains some cool monuments and buildings, including an old astronomical observatory. It’s an awesome place to sit and chill, especially after climbing all those dang stairs to get up there! You can see the Edinburgh Castle and Scott Monument in the distance from Calton Hill.

FUN FACT: Arthur’s Seat, Calton Hill, & Castle Rock (Edinburgh Castle) were formed by an extinct volcano system, with Arthur’s Seat being the largest. 

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View from Calton Hill

Last minute looking for something to do, we found tickets to a symphony orchestra performance of The Rite of Spring by Stravinsky at the Usher Hall in Edinburgh. My first orchestra performance in a foreign city and sweet may to end my two weeks abroad. We had so much fun…but we were so exhausted from walking everywhere and just ready to be home. Yes…Europe is beautiful, but there is still nothing like being at home where you feel comfortable.


I absolutely loved Edinburgh and would go back in a heartbeat! It was a great contrast from busy London. We spent 3 days in Edinburgh, but a full day was taken by our tour to Northumberland, so we only had 2 days in the city. This was an ok amount of time to visit Edinburgh, but I would have loved another full day to hike Arthur’s Seat and explore a little more. We didn’t visit any museums (cause ya’ll know I’ll go crazy), but Edinburgh has several, including the National Museum of Scotland and the Scottish National Gallery, if museums are your thing. One museum I would have loved to see was the Surgeons’ Hall, which houses the largest collection of pathological specimens in the U.K…now that’s a museum I can get into! If you’re a Harry Potter fan, stop by The Elephant House – the coffee shop where J.K. Rowling wrote the first HP book. I already have a list of things to do when I come back to Edinburgh, but I’m so glad we added it onto the end of our trip. My final post is coming soon and castles will be included! Thanks for reading!

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!

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Seeing 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!

England & Scotland Part 2: 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 I visited outside of London during my 2 week stay in Europe with my best friend. 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!

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 truly!*


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.

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. We stopped to see The Crescent at the edge of Victoria Park (the English LOVE Queen Victoria). 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!

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. They have a larger museum you can buy tickets for and see The Great Bath and spa pump rooms.

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 traveling 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…Stonehenge check 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. 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 went on a walking tour of Stratford with our guide, where we saw more of the old-school Tudor style homes and walked by the Royal Shakespeare Theatre on the banks of the 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! 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 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 in a movie set…

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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 trained to Windsor. If you purchased the London Pass, the round trip train ride was included. 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 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. 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 who were stationed at Alconbury AFB in England, which was actually an old English AFB. 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.

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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 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, they 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 a 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. 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 posts in this series, which will include Edinburgh, Scotland and a tour out to the English/Scottish borders of Northumbria!

England & Scotland Part 1: 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, 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. When we went (end of May), it was still very cold, so I’d recommend going at a warmer time to enjoy all the outdoor spaces!

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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. 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 museum maps.

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 Her Majesty’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.

 

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