Burghley House, Cambridge, & Harry Potter Studio Tour

Burghley House

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 and meet them about an hour and a half north of London in Peterborough, UK, and they took us to some great places while we were visiting.

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My favorite place they took us and one of my favorite stops the entire trip was the Burghley House (which really should have been called a castle if you ask me!) in Peterborough. 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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Cambridge University & Harry Potter Studio

The next day, we visited beautiful Cambridge University! We took 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.

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…

Later that day we also went to the Warner Bro. Harry Potter Studio Set Exhibits outside of London in Leavesden. The movie sets were basically dismantled and reassembled in this studio warehouse, so guests get to wander from the Great Hall and Dumbledore’s Office to Diagon Alley and the Hogwarts Express! I grew up reading and watching Harry Potter, so this place definitely satisfied my inner kid. It was definitely a “magical” experience, and you won’t be disappointed if you go!

Costumes, Hogwarts Express, Dumbledore’s office, & Ollivander’s Wand Shop!

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Super cool shot of the entire castle set! This exact structure was used for aerial views and panoramic shots of Hogwarts, and then colors and specifics were added in by film editors. The studio sets are a great spot to pair with Cambridge University as they are only an hour apart by car, but you could also take a train out of London for either (HP Studios is just outside London).

It was so nice to know someone while traveling abroad, ya know like a little taste of home away from home, so be sure to take advantage of connections you have when planning trips.


We had an unforgettable time 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, and remember that England is so much more than just London! 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, and I have a list of things to do when I come back one day! Check out my FINAL posts in this series, which include Edinburgh, Scotland and a tour out to the English/Scottish borders of Northumbria!

Oxford University, Stratford-upon-Avon, & Cotswolds

Come with me in the post as I travel to the birthplace of Shakespeare, a revered university, and the cutest English countryside villages, and be sure to check out my previous post here when I visited Stonehenge, Bath, & Windsor Castle. So many towns are just a small train or car ride away from London, and it’s relaxing to get away from the hustle-and-bustle of the city and wind-down in the countryside of England.


Stratford, Oxford University, and Cotswolds Day Tour

Here 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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This was definitely a busy full day, but we loved every minute of the rich history and beautiful architecture! I loved Stratford-upon-Avon and would go back in a heartbeat. I can not rave enough about The English Bus tour company, and I’m so glad I did my research and found them. However, again, if you love to travel independently, fell free to jump on a train or rent a car and travel to them yourself! All 3 cities are located to the northwest of London, so are easy to combine. Check out my next post here where we traveled to the gorgeous Burghley House and Cambridge University and took a Harry Potter Studio Tour!

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.

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.

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!

Windsor Castle, Stonehenge, & Bath

Thanks for reading my posts! Click here if you haven’t read Part 1 of my England and Scotland blog posts, which included what I did for a week in London! Many surrounding cities or sites are within a short train or car ride from London, 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!

I found an awesome local tour company based out of London called The English Bus who we used for the two day tours out of London, 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 took tours out to Stonehenge & Bath (which I’ll feature here along with Windsor Castle) and Oxford University, Stratford-upon-Avon, & the Cotswolds villages, featured in my next post.


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!!!


 

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 who lived north of London


Windsor Castle was an easy train ride outside London, and some people pair it with the neighboring city of Eton for a nice day trip. Windsor contains so much history and is stunning, so I definitely recommend a visit if you have time. Stonehenge and Bath are west of London, so they are commonly paired together for a full day away from the city. Bath is easily reached my car or train and Stonehenge by train/bus, so they can be done independently as well, although we loved the knowledgeable guides and this tour company. Check out my next post here as we traveled to Oxford University, Stratford-upon-Avon, and the Cotswolds!