Leicester and Richard III

Saturday began our last full day in England, and we caught the train to Leicester on the way back to London so I could see my favorite monarch of English/British history: Richard III. If you follow my Instagram you may have seen my epic r3 Halloween costume, and if you’re on Twitter, you’ll know fake r3chard has retweeted me like 3 times now. We’re basically best internet friends.

Mom and I got into Leicester and decided to try to find a place to leave our luggage. If anyone is looking for a lucrative business to open: start a found luggage in Leicester. We carried our giant bags all over the town with no luck. The Visitors Center couldn’t help us; the museum couldn’t store bags for insurance reasons (fair). We had already bought our tickets, I was tired and hangry, and nothing was going our way. My mom, saint that she is, decided to hole up in a café with tea and cake and babysit our bags while I went to the museum. Not ideal, but at least I got to see what there was to see.

The Richard III Visitor Center is built around the archaeological site where in 2012, archaeologists found the remains of the last Plantagenet. The archaeological story itself is fascinating, because it is not at all usual for an archaeological investigation to find exactly what it is looking for on the first try; but that’s just what happened in this case. There is a Smithsonian documentary all about the discovery available on YouTube here.

The visitor begins in a display about the history of the War of the Roses, family lines, and the reasons for the turmoil that surrounded Richard III’s reign. From there, you travel through the War of the Roses, RIII’s short reign, and his burial at Grey Friar’s Priory. Heading upstairs, visitors encounter a display that discusses the portrayals of Richard as a villain throughout popular culture, from Shakespeare to the recent Benedict Cumberbatch portrayal.

Next, the display walks the visitor through the entire story of the dig from its beginning through to the discovery and analysis of the Richard’s remains. This was great! The timeline included artifacts from the dig, video interviews with the archaeologists and others involved in the venture, and diagrams. The exhibit then represents scientists’ analysis of Richard’s bones through medical testing and forensic recreations. One controversy was that of Richard’s scoliosis; many proponents of R3 have relegated the story of the hunchback king to a tale made up by Shakespeare and other detractors to vilify and lessen the monarch in some way.  When the skeleton was uncovered, it was obvious that the scoliosis was a fact after all.

The visitor center experience ends with a visit to the site where the bones were found in the parking lot that used to house the church. The websitedescribes it as, “the site of King Richard’s burial, preserved in a quiet, respectful setting and with a contemplative atmosphere, fitting for the last resting place of a slain warrior and anointed monarch.” The room is quiet and simple, and a hologram shows where the bones were found within the unit. The volunteer in the room when I visited was incredibly knowledgeable and helpful, pointing out features in the dig that helped to date the remains.

Across the courtyard from the visitor center stand Leicester Cathedral, where the remains of Richard are interred. The church also has a display about Richard and his discovery and subsequent reburial (and a giftshop, too!).

Behind the church another gem is hidden: The Guildhouse. This is a medieval timbered building dating back to 1390 in its oldest part. The architecture and features throughout are gorgeous, from the soaring timbered ceiling to the mantels to the upstairs library. The site is also supposed to be one of the most haunted buildings in Britain, as the helpful museum employee told me as I walked through the building on my own. I managed to scare myself nearly to death when I looked into an old jail cell and saw a mannequin in the darkness.

Through hordes of football fans on their way to a match, we made our way back to the train station and headed back to London, content with our few days in Yorkshire and our day in Leciester. We were back to London for one more night, a classy McDonald’s dinner, and a trip to the Sainsbury for a literal duffel bag full of candies and presents (yet I still managed to forget a can of treacle). Mom and I made it back to South Carolina with no issues, and are already planning our next trip together!

Highlands and History Part 2: Electric Boogaloo

After the great vacation injury of 2016, I was convinced we had to return to the Highlands of Scotland to finish the Great Glen Way.  We had some great adventures in Edinburgh at various museums and cemeteries, and then it was time to get on the train to the north.

IMG_20170515_132244868_HDR-01.jpgWe started the Great Glen Way in Fort Augustus this time, about halfway through the walk. Last year, the section between Fort Augustus and Invermoriston was our favorite, so I was happy to start the trail with some of the best views in the Highlands. Fort Augustus is home to the mouth of Loch Ness, a fascinating set of locks in the Caledonian Canal, and some great pub food. Up, up, up from Fort Augustus, we set out for Invermoriston, my favorite town in the Highlands. Views of Loch Ness and the surrounding hills were just as lovely this time.

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Avoiding Injury

Into Invermoriston, Charles managed to avoid injury and I was a nervous wreck our whole time exploring the trails and paths around town. We made it down to the shores of Loch Ness after seeing it from up high all day. A wonderful dinner at the Glenmoriston Arms closed out our first day back on the trail.

IMG_20170516_123922534_HDR-01.jpgThe following day we started a new (to us) section of the trail and headed towards Drumandrochit. What a day of hiking. We did some of the steepest sections of the trail, reached the highest point of the GGW, traveled through dense forest, trekked across a bleak moor, and finally made it into town. I believe my fitbit counted around 16 miles in this day and the most steps I’ve ever done in a single day (over 40,000). It was worth it! In Drum, we ate more great food, walked along some nice bluebell paths down to the river, and enjoyed the Fiddler’s Restaurant .

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Attempting a trip through the stones

Our GGW booking with Macs Adventure included a transfer for the last section of the trail, which is over 20 miles. We were taken to the top of the hills between Drum and Inverness, and we walked down the hills towards town. What a relief! The people going towards Inverness spent their day walking uphill while we went down the hill happily past them. After the previous grueling day, this hardly felt like cheating.

Our last day on the trail saw us back in the cab to head back down the hill towards Inverness. This was another easy day of walking mainly downhill towards the capital of the Highlands. We passed an old asylum being turned into apartments, a set of standing stones, and the last of the River Ness before it empties into the sea. We wandered Inverness, checked into our lovely hotel along the river, and rested up so we could be ready for an early flight back to Ireland the next morning.

We did it! We finished the Great Glen Way! It only took us 2 years. Next up: West Highland Way, England’s Lake District, Japan’s Kumano Kodo,  Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way, Speyside Whiskey Trail… and plenty to do in the US as well.

 

 

Egypt in Edinburgh

I was so, so, so excited to visit Edinburgh while the new The Tomb: Ancient Egyptian Burial exhibit was on. Egypt, mummies, museum, and death customs; what’s not to love?

IMG_20170513_141345816.jpgAt the time of writing this, the exhibit has closed, but luckily the National Museums of Scotland have an excellent web presence, with information, interactive, videos, and even games and learning materials.

The exhibit is described on their website as such:

The Tomb was constructed in the great city of Thebes shortly after the reign of Tutankhamun for the Chief of Police and his wife. It was looted and reused several times, leaving behind a collection of beautiful objects from various eras. These are displayed alongside objects found in nearby tombs, giving a sense of how burial in ancient Egypt changed over time.

The Tomb’s final use occurred shortly after the Roman conquest of Egypt, when it was sealed intact with the remarkable burials of an entire family. The exhibition comes ahead of the new Ancient Egypt gallery, opening at the National Museum of Scotland in 2018/19.

Interactives in use!

When I visited in May 2017, the gallery was a bit crowded, especially with children.  This limited my ability to try out the interactive elements of the exhibits (get off my lawn – adults like play, too), but it was nice to see kids excited about history.

Like Jameson Distillery, the exhibit used multi-sensory engagement and technologies so visitors can learn more and connect with the past.

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Touch, see, and smell table

I also really liked the exhibit text and content, which isn’t praise I give out lightly. I’m generally easily bored or uninterested in text, but the detail and translation of ancient funerary texts was fascinating! They also include a youtube video explaining the text on their website:

Next time I visit the museum, hopefully the new Egypt gallery will be open.  I can’t wait!

Auld Reekie: Murder, Cemeteries, & Plague… again.

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View of the Royal Mile from our AirBnB Flat

The death theme continued once we got to Scotland, which was perfect for kicking off my new research agenda.

We arrived in Auld Reekie, known as Edinburgh in the modern age, and checked in to our 17th Century AirBnB rental off the Royal Mile. Once we got settled in, I read in the guestbook about the history of this close and the courtyard behind our flat.

Tweedale Court, it turns out, is the site of one of the most notorious and infamous murders in Edinburgh’s history (and there have been a LOT of murders there). The close was home to the British Linen bank, and according the the stories, “on the evening of 13th November a girl went out to a well to get the evening’s water. On her way stumbled across something lying in the entrance to the court. It was the body of bank messenger William Begbie, lying in a pool of blood and with a knife stuck in his chest. Earlier that evening he had set out to deliver a package of £4,000 in banknotes to a branch in Leith. Despite a major search for the culprit no one was ever arrested for the crime, although months later most of the money was discovered hidden in an old wall, roughly where Drummond Place is today.”

Dun dun dun! We never saw anything spooky in our time in the close, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the beautiful flat if you’re ever in Edinburgh! Just be aware of the spiral staircase to the top of the building…

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Greyfriar’s Kirkyard

While in Edinburgh, we had to visit a few of our favorite spots: Greyfriar’s Kirkyard and the Frankenstein Pub (in an adaptive reuse church, of course!) nearby! After the last Scotland trip, while listening to the Lore podcast (seriously listen to this if you love spooky and history), we learned all kinds of folklore about the Greyfriar’s cemetery, so we had to revisit it. I love a good cemetery, and Greyfriar’s is one of the best. Supposedly, it’s one of the most haunted in the world, with “Body snatchers, violent ghosts, a loyal dog, and Harry Potter characters.” Don’t forget all the plague bodies, too.

 

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In front of the Mackenzie Mausoleum

One of the best stories about Greyfriar’s was told in the Lore podcast mentioned above. According to the tales, the Mackenzie tomb is the most haunted. The “Bluidy Mackenzie,” a real jerk while alive, is supposedly still seen wandering near his mausoleum, knocking people over, making them faint, and generally wreaking havoc. Things get really gruesome in 1998, when (supposedly, apocryphally, i.e.: I can’t find many sources on this) a homeless man broke into the mausoleum seeking shelter from the elements. As he sheltered from the storm, the floor beneath him gave way, dumping him into a plague pit below of the mausoleum. Regardless of the truth of this tale, we still had to see the famous tomb. It was gorgeous, and we did not suffer any ill effects.

Oh and the beautiful, sloping landscape in the cemetery? It’s not a natural slope. It’s the thousands of bodies (possibly up to half a million) underfoot, buried on top of each other than create the terrain.

Later in the day, we ventured to see some corpses that were even older – Egyptian mummies at the National Museum….

 

Ireland 2.0: More Travels to the Emerald Isle

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Ireland, December 2013

After last year’s travels to Ireland, Northern Ireland, and London, I’ve had an airport tracker on my email.  When a deal popped up last summer, I couldn’t pass it up, and we were off again!  We traveled again on St. Stephen’s Day, and spent New Years Eve in Dublin.  We stayed only within the Republic of Ireland this trip, so we got to see a lot more of the countryside, the West, and Dublin!

This year, I also had my FitBit, so I was able to track exactly how much we walked.  Last year I was obsessed with the maps of everywhere we went, and this time was no different.

Here’s the quick rundown of our trip:

Ireland, December 2014

Ireland, December 2014

December 27  – Arrival in Dublin

December 28 – Off to the West – Galway Bay, Quiet Man Bridge, Connemara, Killary Sheep Farm, Connemara National Park and Diamond Hill, Letterfrack, and Clifden

December 29 – Clifden Castle, Kylemore Abbey, Killary Sheep Farm (again!), Galway

December 30 – Dublin Museums – National Archaeology Museum, National Art Gallery, Irish Whiskey Museum

December 31 – Boyne River Valley, Hill of Tara, Bective Abbey, Trim Castle, Loughcrew Passage Tombs, Monasterboice, Drogheda, St. Oliver Plunkett’s Head in a Box, Dublin for New Yeas Eve Shenanigans

January 1 – A quiet day around Dublin and the shops and pubs

January 2 – Out west again to the Cliffs of Moher, Doolin, The Burren for a bit of hurling, Corcomroe Abbey, and Kinvara

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Ireland, January 2015

January 3 – Another day in Dublin for shopping (Penneys!), an adaptive reuse church/pub, and more shopping

January 4 – Glendalough, Wicklow, Kilkenny, and the greatest cultural offering that Dublin has: Sunday night Bingo with Shirley Temple Bar at The George.

January 5 – Back home 😦

 

Stay tuned for the highlights!

Travel Wrap-Up and Summary

I was a geography minor back in the day, and I love a good map!  Plus, I really wanted to log all of the Km/Miles we logged on this trip.  We were definitely tired, and we are avid fans of walking, so this may not be for everyone.  Walking was a perfect solution for us to get exercise, see as much as possible, and get a feel for the cities we were in.  My impeccable sense of direction helped, too.  Next time I’m taking my FitBit to really log the miles!

Dublin Day 1 – December 26, 2013

Airlink Bus 747 from Dublin Airport to O’Connell Street.  An Adult single ticket is only €6, and it is a quick trip to City Center.  Worth it!

dublin airlink

Trying to stay awake, find coffee, and food:

dublin day 1 part one

After a rest, we headed out into Dublin again to do a little exploring:

dublin day 1 part 2

Dublin Day 1 Totals: 7.2 Miles

Dublin Day 2 – December 27, 2013

dublin day 2

*Note – we went to The Beer Club, JW Sweetman’s, not Messrs Maguire, but Google Maps wouldn’t let me choose that as a destination.

Dublin Day 2 Totals: 8 miles

Northern Ireland and Belfast – December 28, 2013

driving to belfast

Walked to Old Church to meet bus, and back after a stop for fish and chips!  Also spent a lot of time walking trails at the bridge and causeway Total Miles: Approximately 5 miles

Dublin -> Wales -> London – December 29, 2013

We walked to the ferry port, then took the ferry to Holyhead in Wales, then the train into Euston Station London, then to Waterloo:

house to ferry

ferry journey

We got slightly lost coming out of Waterloo, so I estimate our miles for this day at: 3 Miles

I got our tickets and information about this type of travel from The Man in Seat 61 – his website is FANTASTIC for travel in Europe.  He posts videos, pictures, maps, time tables, and everything else a true OCD traveler such as myself can enjoy.

London Full Day 1 – December 30, 2013

london day 1

We saw basically everything. Approximately 7.5 miles

London Day 2 – December 31, 2013

london day 2

 

Again, we saw pretty much everything.  Including fantastic fireworks and historic stuff and art. I added 1.5 miles to this day for our time spent walking around the tower and Tate and time spent wading through people after the fireworks. Approximately 7 miles

Last Day in London – January 1, 2014


last day in London

Last Day in London: Approximately 5 miles

January 2, 2014 –  another day of ferries, trains, and this time a cab from the ferry to the flat.  We only had one small mishap with the cab; our cabbie misheard us and we almost ended up in the opposite end of Dublin from where we were supposed to be.  The only time accents were an issue!  We walked maybe 1 mile this day, with train switches and a jaunt up the street to get a frozen pizza for dinner #exhausted

Last Day in Dublin – January 3, 2013

last day in dublin

This was the day all those miles were felt in my poor short little legs.  We worked through another 5.5 miles, and ended with a quiet evening at the flat so we could catch an early flight back to the states in the morning.

Back to the States – January 4, 2014

We woke up with ideas of walking to the Airlink, but this day was the only morning that there was a downpour of rain.  We opted for a cab instead, for which our legs thanked us.  To the airport, through customs, over the ocean and Canada, to Atlanta, and back to Knoxville – all in a day’s travel.  And I got my froyo fix in the ATL airport, which is always my #1 priority at an airport.

TOTAL TRAVEL SUMMARY

Total Estimated Miles Walked:  At Least 44.2 Miles

Sites Seen: All of the major ones.  Guinness, Christchurch, Kilmainham, Buckingham Palace, The London Eye, The Tower of London, British Museum, Tate Modern, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and so much MORE.

Costs:
Flights: Knoxville to Dublin, roundtrip $1895.00 total- $947.50/person
Lodging Dublin: $336.00 – 5 nights – $67.20/night – $168/person
Lodging London: $549.00 – 4 nights – $137.25/night – $274.50/person
Rail/Sail Tickets from Dublin->London->Dublin: $254.59 for 2 tickets – $127.30/person
All other costs – Meals, Souvenirs, Admissions, Et al: $1,379.46 – $689.73/person

Total: $4,144.05 – $2,207.02 / person = $220.00 per day per person for everything – not too bad!

But really: PRICELESS

London Day 2/2.5: New Years Adventures

1507445_10101545216840245_366034008_oAfter a full day of exploring the city followed by an exciting day at the Tower of London and Tate Museum of Modern Art, our third full day in London was a bit more low key. We slept in a bit to recover from the fireworks the night before…

New Years Eve in London

…is the craziest thing I have ever witnessed in person.  Here is the fireworks show, which was amazing in its own right (worth noting it features ELO, 1D (of COURSE), my favorite Coldplay song, and the Queen):

Some bloke getting knicked by the horseback coppers!

Some bloke getting knicked by the horseback coppers!

For some perspective, we were right behind the Eye, below the building with the countdown, on the south bank of the Thames.  Leading up to the show, we met a couple of really nice east enders, and bonded over the ridiculous drunken people camped out behind us.  We talked about the Olympics, One Direction, and the weather – they were great!

The real cultural experience began after the fireworks, though… Our usual route from the Southbank to the flat was less than half a mile.  Due to the crowds, however, the police had barricaded off all side streets to force the mass of people to go down one street.  The tubes all closed at midnight, and it was chaos.  We saw: teenagers street fighting, a man who I think was dead on the sidewalk, a lady trying to punch everyone, kids throwing fire crackers into the crowd, people in windows giving everyone a show, a man getting arrested by a policewoman who was on a horse… the list goes on. It. Was. Amazing.  We finally gave up, found some high ground, and just watched the show.

Eventually we made it along with the masses to The Cut, where I convinced a policeman that our beds really were just on the other side of his barricade, and that we weren’t up to any mischief.  Poor, silly little Americans, he probably thought.

Anyway, we got to bed, slept in, then headed out for our last full day in the greatest city I have visited (sorry Dublin, Toronto, and New York).

New Years Day in London

1502443_10101545219210495_1532383247_oSadly, the most interesting looking gallery, at Southbank Centre, was closed.  We looked around outside, and continued on to see a bit more of the city, and revisit our new favorites.  We caught part of the rainy and windy London New Years Day Parade near Picadilly Circus (lots of American high school marching bands – it felt like home!)

We saw the famous shopping districts, had MORE Cafe Nero of course, and had lunch at St. Martin’s in the Green Cafe in the Crypt.  This was the coolest spot for a lunch, and I had a most English lunch of treacle, tea, and a small meat pie.  We went up to see the church, where the creepiest baby Jesus statue ever was found outside (picture below).  The crypts were really interesting, and I loved the statue of the Pearly King!

Charles and I explored a bit more, saw the horses and military park, and decided to get dinner at the Sherlock Holmes!  They were out of a lot of things that night, including fish n chips, but I did get some delicious chicken liver pate, and Charles had yet another delicious meat pie.  It was a great atmosphere with the mist outside, a chill in the air, and the warm pub food and delicious pint.

Dinner at the Sherlock Holmes

Dinner at the Sherlock Holmes

We continued on to the southbank in the dark, where we saw our last glimpse of Big Ben, the Eye, and the city I grew to love.

The next morning, we got up and caught the tube to Euston, and back to Holyhead to catch our ferry to Dublin.  This was probably our roughest day, which an abhorrent man from the Tube harassing us about GMOs and America (like we don’t know there are problems) and a miscommunication with the cab driver in Ireland who spoke a strange Dublinese language.  We only had one full day in Dublin left, so we went to bed prepared to make the most of it before heading back to the states!

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So long, London!

So long, London!

 

So long, London!

I miss you, still!

The Tower of London: Preservation Conundrums

Better late than never on the blog!  I’ve had a crazy past month with work, traveling to Utah, and so much more.  Back to London:

After a fantastic day traipsing all over London, drooling over David Tennant, and visiting the British Museum, we were out for another day of history and art!

1008431_10101545160293565_11292607_oOne place in London that I absolutely had to see was the Tower of London – it has so much history!  I have to admit, as I walked through, I just touched all of the walls and doors and exposed material possible.  People have done that for a thousand years; don’t you judge me.  I remember walking down one spiral staircase and just running my hand down the wall the whole way down – I felt up all of the history.

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The wibbly wobbly Harry Potter bridge, with St. Paul’s ahead!

We walked along the Thames through the mist, saw the current London Bridge (I lamented the fact that it is totally lame compared to the Elizabethan version), and finally turned the corner to the ticket queues for the Tower.  Along our walk we also got to see St. Paul’s in the day light, walk across the wibbly wobbly Harry Potter bridge, the iconic Tower Bridge, lots of giant boats, barges, and bouys, and even the Globe Theater.

From a museum professional perspective, I do have to say their ticket process is ingenious – the cost of the ticket was, say  £17.99; the ticket person asks if you would like to round up to and even  £20 with the rest as a donation towards preservation.  Duh!  We did, of course, and I’m trying to implement the same among my staff.

my favorite monarch!

my favorite monarch!

Moving on, we walked through the gates, past the yeomen warders, and into the heart of 1,000 years of English history.  You can read about the entire history elsewhere, but historical highlights for me were: William the Conqueror, Richard III (allegedly) murdering the princes, and Anne Boleyn.

It was a bit crowded while we were there, but it didn’t dampen my excitement.  Charles loved the armor and weapons displays, I loved the animal displays and Traitors Gate, and we both loved the cooking demonstration, even though the stag’s head sat there and watched itself being butchered.  We didn’t bother with the crown jewels since the line was long, and I had promised Charles time to visit the Tate Modern across the river.  Another disappointment was the lack of info torture chamber – the yeoman laughed at me when I asked where it was; something about Americans and their love of violence.  The interactives, living history, and touch stations really made a difference, though.  Charles and I both tried our arms at the long bow – we weren’t too shabby at it!

yummy. It really did smell delicious!

yummy. It really did smell delicious!

Reading about the Tower, I was a bit surprised to find out that sections were torn off that didn’t look “old” or “new” enough. I don’t know why I was surprised since this is a common practice, but it did still hurt my heart a bit.  I deal with the same type of things (on a MUCH smaller scale) at my own site, where the historic house has undergone MANY renovations, changes, and owners in its 200 years.  What period do you interpret?  Can you tell all the stories?  What color do you paint the walls – the color from 1200, 1500, or 1850?  Should you tear down a building from 1700 in favor of the view from a 1300 building?  I don’t have the answers, and I don’t know if there is a right answer.  Preservationists – what are your thoughts?

My general demeanor throughout the Tate

My general demeanor throughout the Tate

We left the tower to head to the Tate Modern.  I originally thought I would write a blog about that, but I enjoyed it so little that I don’t even really want to think about it that much.  I saw a Dali, which was ok, and I ate an ok muffin from the cafe.  Charles saw a couple things he liked, but over all, it just wasn’t that great.  As you know if I read this blog, I have feelings about art museums anyway, so this shouldn’t be a surprise.  I have nothing against art, obviously, since I’m engaged to an artist.  I like a lot of contemporary art and old art; something about modern art just irks me, though, in general.  I like van Gogh?  And now I’ve dedicated a whole paragraph to that place. Fin.

From the Tate, we tried to find a place for dinner, which we hadn’t anticipated as a problem, until we realized it was New Years Eve.  We went to the Sainsbury’s by the flat, watched the premier of Sherlock on the BBC online, and then headed out to Southbank for the fireworks….

london day 2

Our day in review

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London: A Walk Through History and Modernity

We woke up the next morning, December 30, after a pleasant night full of chicken curry and great sleep, ready to take on the streets of London.

LondonWe started the day with Cafe Nero (thanks for the suggestion, Kelsey!) hot chocolate and espresso.  Cafe Nero quickly became a twice-daily part of our time in London.  There was one right across the street from the flat, and the public restrooms in the cafes throughout the city were an added bonus.  We also stopped by a little bookstore to buy a pocket map of the city.  Luckily, I have an impeccable sense of direction, AND I was a geography minor, so we didn’t even come close be being lost (not that we could have been, since we were just wandering!).

Having the feelings

Having the feelings

The day started out perfectly misty and damp, just how London should be.  We crossed the mighty (brown) Thames to the Embankment where we saw a beautiful World War II memorial, a great view of the Eye, and Parliament and Big Ben.  This is a great intersection of the modern and historical sides of London.  The Thames has been the center of life in London from the time of Henry VIII,  William the Conqueror, and even earlier.  The Millennium Wheel, or London Eye, is a once controversial sign of modern London.  The timelessness (ha!) of Big Ben is iconic, and the history made in and around Parliament is also impressive.  Needless to say, I was overwhelmed with all the feelings about history.

An accurate depiction of me outside Westminster Abbey. Thanks, Sherlock.

By the time we turned the corner and saw Westminster Abbey, I was having even more feelings. Let’s just take a second here to recount just a few of the things that have happened here.

  • Construction on the present church began in 1245 by Henry III (he’s also buried there)
  • Before that, William the Conqueror and his successors were coronated on the same site
  • Survives the Tudor era and all the there and back again of Catholic/Protestant rule
  • Weddings: Henry I of England to Matilda of Scotland, Queen Elizabeth II to Phillip, and Will and Kate of course!
  • People buried there: kings and queens (excluding 2 of my favs: Henry VIII and Richard II),   Geoffrey Chaucer Isaac Newton, and  Charles Darwin
Charles and the Arch

Charles and the Arch

We didn’t pay the fee to go in, but I did fangirl appropriately outside, and buy a tiny gargoyle and some tea in the giftshop.

Next, we decided to go ahead and see Buckingham Palace and see where the day took us from there.  The weather cleared up, and the sun even showed itself!  We walked through the park, saw some geese, then turned the corner to the iconic palace.  I didn’t have as many feelings here, but I did try to keep an eye out for the queen!  We walked along the royal apartments, took a picture with the changing guards, saw Charles’ favorite spot up to this point, Admiralty Arch, and then continued on to Trafalgar Square.

and we'll never be royals.. that kinda lux just ain't for us.

and we’ll never be royals.. that kinda lux just ain’t for us.

In Trafalgar, we stopped at yet another Cafe Nero, saw the lions and Napoleon, and a big blue chicken.  Since we were already out and about, we made the quickest of stop at a McDonalds (reminiscent of our first morning in Dublin) for a cheeseburger on the go – no stopping for real food on this day of site-seeing! At this point, we figured why not go on and go all out – we walked up Drury Lane (of muffin Man fame!) to the British museum (where I again had all the feels – but that’s a topic for another blog, coming next week!). – Spoiler alert – I got emotional about the Elgin Marbles.

From the British Museum, we walked on to the Barbican Centre for one of the many highlights of the trip: David Tennant, the 10th Doctor himself, starring in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s performance of Richard II.  Seriously – what a day of emotions, and I am not an emotional person (it’s the Britishness I inherited – stiff upper lip!). I mentioned in a recent blog that he is my dream guest blogger – still waiting on that call, Davy!  The performance was great, we loved it, then we waited out by the back stage door for him to emerge in all of his hair-extension-ponytailed glory.  I was so close, that had I not been so polite, I could have touched him.  The ponytail served as a great repellent.

Instead of a tackle or full contact hug, I just did a weak little wave.  Safe, but lame.

Instead of a tackle or full contact hug, I just did a weak little wave. Safe, but lame.

Walking on air, we went over to the Jugged Hare for the best dinner of all time.  Charles had the slow roasted rump of a Hertfordshire Fallow Deer, and I had a meat pie.  I don’t think this one was cooked by Mrs. Mooney or Mrs. Lovett, but it was certainly deserving of a song of how great it was.  The deer rump was the most delicious piece of meat I have ever tasted.

We started back to the flat around midnight, and passed Saint Paul’s Cathedral along the way.  This was one of the (if not THE) most impressive sights we saw on the trip – and we saw an awful lot of stuff. We had seen it in the distance earlier in the day, and it is an iconic part of the London skyline.  Seeing it in person, bigger than life, was something else.  None of the pictures can do it justice.

London-0630

St. Paul’s at Night

We continued along the Thames, which was the only time I was slightly uncomfortable in London – along the river, at midnight, under bridges.  Maybe we should have taken a different route.  Things were a wee bit confusing as the city was preparing to set up for the fireworks on New Years Eve.  Regardless, we made it back to the flat and passed out from a day full of excitement.

To sum it up, looking back on the day’s events, this was possibly one of the very best days of my life (surpassed by the day before when I got engaged in northern Ireland and that time I graduated with a PhD).

Next time:

  • Actually go in Westminster Abbey
  • Climb to the top of St. Paul’s
  • Ride the London Eye
  • Museum of London
  • Go back to the Jugged Hare
london day 1

Day 1 in London

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Wales, Snowdonia, and Entering London

NIreland-mapAfter our full day in Northern Ireland, we returned to Dublin.  We grabbed some quick fish n chips, then rested up for our full day of travel to Wales and London.

Rather than take a cab to the port, we decided to walk from the apartment.  It wasn’t a terribly long walk, but it was early, and we hadn’t had our coffee or tea yet.  Dragging our backpacks, we finally entered the gangplank to board the Ulysses and cross the Irish Sea to Holyhead.  We booked our rail and sail tickets thanks very much to the advice of The Man in Seat 61. I was a little apprehensive at traveling by boat, train, and tube all in one day, but we did it successfully!

After boarding the ferry, we grabbed some seats and a quick breakfast.  We had all the best intentions to go out on deck and see the sea and the approach to Wales… but we took Dramamine and promptly fell asleep in our seats. I woke up just in time to see the British Isles from the window, and watch the boat maneuver into Holyhead Port in Wales.  We had a little bit of time to look around Wales, but being neurotic and worried about missing our train, we limited our selves to a quick view off the bridge and a jaunt around the giftshop (dragon key chain and ALL the tangfastics, wine gummies, and galaxy minstrels!).

The train from Holyhead to London was PACKED.  Apparently Virgin Trains overbooked, and we felt lucky to have seats, even if we weren’t next to each other.  People were standing in the aisles, and we didn’t even get trolley service (I really wanted some Harry Potter style roving snack cart action – so this was a huge disappointment).  Luckily we had stocked up on candy in the giftshop so we got all sugared up as we rode along the coast, through the mountains, and across the beautiful countryside.

The Man in Seat 61 posted this video, which shows the journey from beginning to end (only in the opposite direction that we went in):

As you can see in the video, it is a gorgeous way to travel, with castles, seas, and TONS of sheep along the way.  The Snowdonia Mountains were particularly gorgeous, and occasionally we would spot a ruined castle atop a hill – perfect. Snowdonia National Park is the largest in Wales, and one of the original 3 National Parks established there.  Wales is arguably one of the most beautiful places we saw in our travels, and I’d love to spend more time there off the train.

The weirdest part of the trip was definitely Will Ferrell/Ron Burgundy narrating the bathroom experience. We also passed what seemed like the world’s biggest trailer park.  We also heard some of the dumbest words ever uttered on the train: American Man: “What language do you think that is out there on that sign?”  American Man’s Girlfriend: “ummm, Welsh?”

I navigated this ish like a boss

I navigated this ish like a boss

Finally, we pulled into Euston Station, changed some Euros to Sterling Pounds, and headed down to the famous Tube stations to catch a ride to Waterloo Station in Southbank… we had no trouble navigating (or staying on the standing side of the escalators so as not to incur the wrath of angry Londoners) and made it to our home neighborhood for the next several days.  By this time, we were exhausted from travel, hungry, and not thinking terribly clearly.  Our host’s instructions were fantastic, but we managed to come out the wrong exit and get turned around.  Luckily, a kind Liverpudlian walked us to the correct street and virtually patted us on the head as he sent us on the correct path to the Cut (everyone was SO NICE there – if a bit snarky).

We got in the flat, threw our stuff down, and headed to the closest pub, the Windmill Tavern for some pints and chicken curry.  Rather than explore, we settled in to prepare for a full day of London the next day…