Baileys Take Britain | London

London is where we began and ended our trip to the British Isles, and it ended up being where we spent the most time. Admittedly, I wasn’t too keen on London from my impression of it during my first trip there. It was just so big and sprawling, and not to mention dirty (Copenhagen is nearly spotless, and completely spoiled my expectations of what European capitals should look like). But London was a practical place to fly in and out of, since Dulles has a direct flight, and it was a great gateway to the rest of our locations. I obsessed over the underground map, stalked Tripadvisor endlessly, and I think we did London justice, overall. We ended up really liking the city, and managed to make some significant tracks in and around central London.

I chose Notting Hill as our place to stay, since it was reasonably central but tends to be a quieter neighborhood. It was also a good bit cheaper than similar areas of London. Our Airbnb was steps away from the tube station, so equipped with our Oyster cards, we roamed the city under and above ground. Our street was charming and very English, and our Airbnb host was very nice and helpful as far as letting us leave our bags on check in/check out days, and we ended up staying with her at the beginning and at the end of our trip. It was nice to have that sense of familiarity when we returned to London at the end of our trip.

IMG_5985IMG_4930IMG_4931IMG_4960

When we first arrived, we dropped our bags at the Airbnb and headed to Tralfagar Square to catch a hop on-hop off bus tour of London. We went with the Original Tour Company and with the online bonus of a free extra day pass, I would recommend it as a way to get your bearings in the city and to get a feel for which sights you might want to spend more time exploring and which you can skim over. It also gave us a chance to rest, since we got next to no sleep on our overnight flight. We hopped off at Buckingham Palace and then walked to Westminster Abbey and the Parliament building. We hopped back on the bus after meandering the Westminster neighborhood, and hopped off again at the Tower of London before walking to St. Katherine’s Docks for dinner at a pub. We avoided the only real downpour that happened on our trip while we were inside for dinner, which was lucky!

The next day we climbed to the top gallery of St. Paul’s Cathedral – this was our favorite thing that we did in London by far. The climb up the 500+ stairs was pretty intense, there’s a set of maybe 175 stairs that’s just spiral staircase after spiral staircase where you’re in the rafters between the inner dome and outer dome and Joe and I were both pretty shaky when we reached the top. Going down wasn’t nearly as bad, but let’s just say this isn’t for the faint of heart! We grabbed (you guessed it) fish and chips for lunch, then hopped on a bus (bonus day pass for the win) over to Marble Arch. We then took our time walking the length of Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens as we made our way back to our Airbnb for our bags, then hopped on our train to Cambridge for the weekend!

IMG_4983IMG_4995

We returned to London a week later, after a whirlwind visit in Cambridge and some incredible sights in Scotland, and it was great to know that we already had a baseline for the sights of the city. We dropped our bags at the Airbnb and hit up Nando’s for lunch (our food preferences towards the end of the trip really dropped off – we just wanted easy food). We found the TARDIS stationed in London for a quick photo-op (allons-y!) before heading to the Science Museum. Most major London museums are free, with a few special exhibits that you can pay to get into. We couldn’t say no to the Da Vinci exhibit at the Science Museum, so we took our time exploring that before breezing through the rest of the first floor. There were a lot of interesting and interactive exhibits, and would definitely recommend it if you’ve got the spare time. We then headed to a run of the mill movie theater to see The Secret Life of Pets (it came out in the UK before it hit the US!), which made us laugh and miss Luna terribly.

The next morning we went to the British Museum (my top recommendation if you’re only going to one museum in London) and gazed at the Rosetta Stone and the Elgin Marbles. My inner art history nerd gave a slight eye-roll to the flyer available in the Parthenon section that states how the British Museum has rightful claim to the marbles and should be praised for housing them, but hey, it was definitely more convenient than Athens currently is, so I’m partly glad that they were there. We went for lunch at a nearby pub before heading to Westminster Abbey for the 3 PM Evensong service, which was so incredible. If you have an extra afternoon, Evensong is offered daily and is such a treat. It’s also a free way to see the Abbey, but be sure to maintain a respectful countenance as it is still a religious service. After the hour-long service we hopped on a water taxi to Greenwich village, where we walked the market and downtown area. Greenwich was super charming, and we walked the main park to find the Prime Meridian line, then grabbed a quick dinner and headed back to Notting Hill.

IMG_1316IMG_5868IMG_5898IMG_5889IMG_1423

For our last full day in London, we began with the Tate Modern. It was free, so it made sense to pop in and see some classic works of modern art that I knew of from my art history minor days, but I’m not the biggest fan of modern art, specifically that unsettled feeling some works leave you with. I appreciate that it challenges the mere concept of art, but in terms of personal preference, it’s not very high on my list. I did appreciate seeing Duchamp’s Fountain. From the Tate Modern we walked along the South Bank, stopping for lunch at Gabriel’s Wharf, and then on to the London Eye. Riding the London Eye was not originally on our list, but the giant wheel appealed to Joe and we had the time, so we splurged and decided to hop on. It wasn’t really worth the price tag, but it was a nice view of London. From the Eye we walked over to Tralfagar Square and over to BB Bakery for a cupcake break! I had found this bakery when I was looking for places to do a proper tea, but Joe is not a tea fan so we opted out this time. I’d highly recommend BB Bakery as a spot to do an afternoon tea though, and would definitely go back for that in the future! From there we walked over to the West End to grab some football paraphernalia and a quick dinner before seeing the Book of Mormon at the Prince of Whales Theater! The play was hysterical and sharply sarcastic, and we absolutely loved it. I’m so glad we had the extra time and were able to work that into our itinerary.

IMG_5920IMG_5928IMG_5931IMG_5951IMG_1465IMG_1493IMG_1496

The next morning we rounded out our last breakfast in the UK with McDonald’s (total tourist move) before walking and biking our way through Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens. We spent over two hours meandering the beautiful paths, talking about our trip and our favorite sights and places, and made our way back towards Notting Hill for an easy lunch before headed to Heathrow. It was a nice, relaxing way to end our trip, and while we could have shaved a day or two off of London in favor for more time in Scotland, I’m so glad we were able to do and see so much of the city!

If you’ve made it this far, give yourself a nice pat on the back, because that was a doozy! For the short list version of what to do or see in London, here’s the highlights I would prioritize if I were going again:

  • Bus Tour right away to get your bearings of the city – research stops ahead of time to know where you might want to hop on or off (a bike tour would be another good option, but you’d cover less ground that way).
  • Climb St. Paul’s – there’s three different galleries to climb to, all stunning.
  • The British Museum – well executed and really wonderful selection of classic works there.
  • Dinner at St. Katherine’s Docks – feels like a tiny little neighborhood on that end of London with a great variety of dinner spots.
  • Walk the South Bank, explore Gabriel’s Wharf, then walk to Tralfagar Square (afternoon tea at BB Bakery if you have time, reservations required).
  • Walk or bike in Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens – Santander bikes are free to rent for the first 30 minutes.
  • If you have the bonus days, a Westminster Abbey service and a play would be excellent additions, along with Greenwich Village (a little out of the way from central London, but a lovely town).

 

And some additional travel tips:

  • Buy an Oyster card ahead of time – you can have it shipped to your home before you leave for your trip, and it works on buses, the Underground, and water taxis! You can reload it at any Underground station if needed.
  • For restroom stops, have some change with you for the public toilets (they usually range from 20 pence up to 50), or pop into a cafe or coffee shop to buy a bottle of water and use their bathroom for free (ask if they have one, first!). Also, it’s called a toilet, not a bathroom or restroom. And a bin, not trash can. Chips, not fries. Crisps, not chips.
  • Travel like locals and take the Underground – it’s cheap and easy, and they’ve got plenty of maps posted in the stations so you can figure out the necessary route if you don’t know it ahead of time.
  • Embrace the pub scene and try local brews – when in doubt, ask your server. And for tipping, almost none of the places we ate had a line to add tip on the receipt, so if you plan on using a card, have some backup change to leave your server (10-15% is appropriate when the service is good, but it’s really up to your discretion – there were times when we didn’t have any change on us, but we tried to tip on most sit down meals).
  • Wear shoes you can walk at least 8 miles in comfortably. More on that in our packing post later.
  • When flying within the UK or leaving from there, you should actually put your liquids in the separate baggie. They’re super strict about that, but it’s something I never do in America.
  • Know the major sights you want to see, but leave room for bonus stops that you can make spur of the moment, you might surprise yourself with what you stumble across!

Cheers!

IMG_5979IMG_1511

Advertisements

Baileys Take Britain | Getting There

IMG_5469

We’ve just returned from an amazing two weeks in England and Scotland – I can scarcely believe it’s happened already! Time spent traveling flies by so quickly, but the time on the front end of things, well that’s another story. Before I unpack our trip (literally – bags are waiting for me upstairs), I wanted to share a little behind the scenes of everything that went into us getting there.

Let’s back way up to when Joe and I were engaged. We spent the first four months of our engagement separated by an ocean because of my love for travel – I chose my college experience based on the travel exposure it would allow, and worked hard to create those opportunities for myself. I’m firmly in the idealist camp when it comes to travel – I really and truly believe that gaining experience outside of ourselves makes us better human beings and citizens of the world. This is one of those mountains I’m willing to die on, and my hopeless optimism on the subject has carried over to my darling husband, who is the perfect exploring partner.

When I returned from study abroad and we began planning our wedding and our life together, we had a lot of space to dream and decide what some of our family priorities would be. We worked together to determine our own family model and what those values might look like, and sure enough, travel fell high amongst the ranks. With everything else in stride, we began tackling our first few years of marriage and started saving away money for our untitled travel fund – we didn’t know where we would go with that money or when it would be used, but we saved anyways, letting it grow year by year. We let all of our travel for the next four years be family based (read: family funded) and decided to forgo vacations for just the two of us in order to keep adding to that little travel fund. We were faithful in protecting that money, even when we bought our house last year and I wanted to put every dollar we had into a decent sized downpayment (and also wanted new furniture, let’s be real). We kept our heads down and just kept on saving.

Last year it finally felt like time to do something with our travel savings. We daydreamt of Greek ruins and Norwegian coastlines, but when our friend Joseph began studying at Cambridge, we thought it would be a perfect opportunity to visit the British Isles. I began reading up on Scotland and quickly fell in love with the thought of the place, so we decided on England and Scotland as our visit. Since we’re both teachers with sizeable summer breaks, June made the most sense for our trip, and I quickly got to work booking and planning and researching. I made a six page itinerary, with more detailed notes to add now that the trip is over, and I practically memorized the London transport system. I logged countless hours scouring Tripadvisor and blog reviews. I began packing in my head at least one month prior to the trip. Finally though, it all fell into place, and we left our familiar lives behind for two weeks while exploring some of the most beautiful new places.

IMG_5191

If I’m being totally honest, there was a fair amount of internal conflict that came along with this trip. I worried that I was posting too much about it, that maybe it would all seem like a brag. I worried that we could have been better stewards of that money, putting it to work outside of our own gain instead. I worried about what people might think of my experiences or my priorities. I worried that I might need to add a thousand disclaimers – about our finances or how we haven’t taken a vacation since our honeymoon four years ago. I worried that I would regret not going to more cities or different countries. I worried that I would wish we went to Copenhagen instead. I worried that I should have done more research on those anti-theft wallets. I worried about what my hair would look like without being able to style it at all for two weeks. Hell, I worried about what I would look like in pictures, whether I’d feel good about myself in all of the photos we’d surely take.

And let me just say, those worries melted the moment our feet hit foreign soil. I remembered all the reasons why Joe and I chose travel as a priority for our family. I remembered what it was like to navigate a new place with just a map, to be unplugged (between free wifi spots), and to be in a new place. I wouldn’t describe myself as a thrill-seeker by any means. I’m scared of a ton of stuff. But I love new places. I love learning their history, their secrets, and their streets. I love the interactions with people who have a different view of the world and grip on life. I love finding the rhythm of a new place and, for a brief moment, adding myself to that flow. I love the experience of it all, and I especially love experiencing it all with my partner by my side (or slightly behind, since I tend to walk quickly through streets and crowds when I’m excited).

So that’s how we got there. A lot of time spent waiting and saving and dreaming. Even more time reminding ourselves that this is our priority as a family and that it’s right for us. A couple months of planning all the details. Then, finally, two weeks of spending it all, seeing it all, eating it all, walking it all, taking in the sheer wonder of it all.

Over the next few days and weeks, I’ll break down our trip into a few more posts, because #allthephotos. And in the meantime, a million thanks for all of the support and encouragement along the way!

Cheers!IMG_5039

 

The One with Chincoteague

One of the biggest perks to being best friends with a nurse is taking advantage of those days off in her schedule! My sweet Sarah and I jumped at the chance to sit our bums on the beach for a few days, so last week we packed up Sage the Subaru and hit the road to Chincoteague! This was our first time there, and we loved exploring the little town, lounging in the sun, and spotting the wild ponies.

IMG_0457IMG_0512IMG_0513

The instant we arrived at our Airbnb we dropped our bags, threw on suits, and headed to the beach. It was overcast and a tad windy, but it was just so nice to sit in the sand and listen to the waves. After a couple of hours we ventured back towards town to grab dinner at The Farmer’s Daughter – my favorite meal of the trip. The food was fresh and the flavors were right on point (I’m looking at you, mango chutney paired with cabbage slaw on my crabcake sandwich).

IMG_0514IMG_0517IMG_0519IMG_0520IMG_0523IMG_4507

The next morning threatened clouds, but they quickly cleared as we headed towards the reserve for another day of sitting in the sand. We stayed on the beach for hours, and despite applying SPF 50 every two hours, I managed to get burned (hands + behind my right knee? cool). We grabbed a late lunch at Pico Taco before exploring more of Main Street.

IMG_0566IMG_0562IMG_0568IMG_0572 2IMG_4538IMG_4543

Since the ponies are kept separate from people on the Virginia side (Assateague, the Maryland side, does not enforce the same rules), we opted for a sunset cruise of the island so we could experience the ponies in their natural habitats. The clouds threatened rain, but we avoided the bad weather and had an awesome time on the boat. Plus our sunset was gorgeous! The boat ride was a definite highlight of the trip.

IMG_4572IMG_4613IMG_4629IMG_4681IMG_4751IMG_4761IMG_4874IMG_4881IMG_0608

The next morning we hit the road early for some outlet shopping on our drive home. All in all, #chicksdochincoteague was a success!

The One with Sparkle City

IMG_4376IMG_4384

We made yet another venture south on Memorial Day weekend, this time to celebrate the wedding of college friends! The groom was Joe’s roommate for three years of college and was a fellow chemistry major, so we were beyond thrilled to celebrate his marriage to Emily, another Wofford chemistry gal. The whole wedding weekend was relaxed and fun, and you could really see God at the center of it all. Throw in some line dances and visits with old friends, and Joe and I returned to Baltimore filled up and refreshed.

IMG_0367IMG_0364IMG_0362

Since the holiday allowed for a long weekend, we snatched the opportunity to spend an extra day in my hometown. Our Sunday consisted of moving from meal to meal, house to house, as we sat around living rooms and kitchens and caught up with some of our favorite people.

IMG_0408IMG_0409IMG_4434IMG_4447

We kicked off our tour with breakfast at Sarah and Chad’s house – complete with mimosas and a puppy playdate! They were dog-sitting the adorable Bruno, and the pups played nonstop for the three hours we were there. Sarah is a longtime best friend, and truly one of my people. When you can go a couple months without seeing each other, but send a text at 8 AM that says “let’s cook breakfast in, I’ll bring my wild animal and some extra eggs” and she doesn’t blink before opening up her home, that’s a treasure.

IMG_4451IMG_0374

Breakfast was followed by burgers at my dad’s house, where we tried our hands at fried pickles and simply gathered around the kitchen as we slowly worked our way towards a nice, fresh meal. I was glad to catch up with him and Cindy and hear all about their recent trip to Jamaica.

IMG_0410

And the cherry on top was bonus time with my sweet momma (and some of Pete’s BBQ) at her place, which we used as home base the whole weekend. We got to love on her and Johnny (and they soaked up the extra puppy snuggles) before heading back to Baltimore the next morning.

IMG_4455IMG_4471

Traffic was nuts, but we loved every minute of our time down south. Until next time, Carolina home.

IMG_0407