Wednesday, January 29, 2014

london, england: part one

It's no secret, there are a million things to do and see in London. We were there for a couple months and my husband was working a lot, so I spent a lot of time visiting the sites. So rather then going through all of them, I want to share my some of my favorites!

Most of our extended stay in London was at the Park Lane Sheraton. We're Starwood people at heart (and probably forever) and always love staying at their properties. I definitely recommend this hotel for anyone visiting London--it may be a little bit pricier then some other options BUT the service was wonderful and the location is more than ideal--literally right by Hyde Park, Buckingham Palace, Marble Arch and Piccadilly Circus. You are a block away from the tube which is very convenient. Our room was older but large and very comfortable. We had a wonderful view of Green Park from our window and the hotel is beautifully styled. You feel as if you are in a London fairytale every time you walk through the Park Lane entrance into their afternoon tea room, and if you are interested--their breakfast buffet is delicious (we always appreciate a good breakfast when we're travelling)

(Picture of the Park Lane entrance of our hotel. Pretty grand, right?!)
Okay, so now we get into the list of my top 5 favorite sites/things-to-do in London (and these aren't in order, I love them all and it's hard to actually rank them...but get as many of these in as you can!)

1. Hyde Park

Maybe it's because I spent a lot of time there, but I love Hyde Park. First off, it's huge--so it's a great place to go on a run. I'd usually go on a run later in the afternoons when it warmed up a bit. It was pretty chilly and grey most of the time we were there, but I've been back to London 3 times--once in the fall, once in winter and once in the spring--and have maybe seen blue sky once for about twenty it's either just grey all the time or I've just been really unlucky! Probably the latter ;)
The Peter Pan statue was one of my favorite reading/relaxing spots. It was always a dream of mine to visit this statue, so one day I ventured out on my own to find it. I'm not sure why the map was so difficult for me, but I am not kidding--it took me over two hours to find this little guy! It's located within the Kensington Gardens in Hyde Park and it became a favorite of mine! I went back quite a few times. It's right across from the water and there are nice little benches to sit on and enjoy the scenery. Something about sitting alone in Hyde Park, thinking about the little boy who never wanted to grow up...looking back on my life and how scared I always was to grow up but how magical the experience has been. It was quite whimsical.

*For any of you who don't know the history of this statue, read about it here!

Another fun thing to do in Hyde Park is rent bikes! They are located all over the city, and you can actually reserve them ahead of time if you'd like, but when we were there they were all over a place and we didn't have any problems finding them. You can see more about them on the official Barclays Cycle Hire site here.

Confession, I smiled for the pictures here but my husband will give me such a hard time if I don't admit the truth to you--I was FREEZING cold during this bike ride. It was one of our last days there, and not ideal conditions for a bike ride (freezing-cold-icy-stupid-rain and chilling winds) but we wanted to get out and ended up deciding on bikes. Let's just say, I wasn't the happiest camper! But now I'm grateful for the pictures and the memories ;)  andI'm grateful for a tough husband that keeps me going even when I get grumpy.

That being said, check the weather conditions before your next trip to the UK--you'll probably be needing some sort of jacket and an umbrella for sure.

The tree's in Hyde Park are so magical--one of my favorite characteristics of the area. 

One of my favorite pictures that I captured on a rainy afternoon run through the park down by the water. I stopped in this tunnel to try and wait for the rain to calm down and was caught of guard by how beautiful it all looked.

And of course, the home of William and Kate...and being that I truly idolize Kate, I was pretty excited about this one. Technically Kensington Palace is located in Kensington Gardens (but to me it's pretty much all the same Hyde Park)

Also, I did not take the inside tour of Kensington Palace, but you can see the reviews on it via TripAdvisor here.

 2. Changing of the Guard & Buckingham Palace

I really enjoyed seeing the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. It's pretty spectacular. However, I did not go prepared. I showed up about 25 minutes early and it was already packed. Luckily, I was by I was able to sneak up to the gate and snap some pictures but I advise anyone going in a group to show up 45-60 minutes early to snatch a good spot.
You can see here that they block off some of the street to direct the guards marching in. And you can see how packed the sidewalks are with people! I was amazed at how full it was, especially since the weather was pretty awful that day. Make sure to get there early. It's totally worth it.
 Buckingham Palace is gorgeous. And my husband is pretty easy on the eyes as well :)
If you are interested in tours of the palace, you can book them here:
And there are certain days and times the Changing of the Guard happens, so plan ahead and check their calendar here:
3. The Churchill War Rooms
We loved this experience, and I have to be honest--I often find guided walking tours to be boring with headseats but this one was so worth the time and money! You use a headset/walkie-talkie thing as you walk around the facilities. It is extremely well done and educational. You get to see and experience the Cabinet War Rooms that sheltered Churchill and his government during World War II.
Make sure to check the times before you go--it takes about 60-90 minutes--so the latest they let people in is 5pm. Visit their website here.
4. Tower of London
We were told to visit the Tower of London by a friend and I'm so glad we took his advice, because he told us we needed to get the guided walking tour by the Yeomen Warders/Beefeaters. We are always hesitant to do tours but this one is another that is 100% worth your time and it is free with the price of an admission ticket! It will completely enhance your Tower of London experience. The Beefeaters are hilarious, so entertaining and educational. A tour is a MUST! 
This was our tour guide. He was fantastic, and even though it was freezing outside, he kept us entertained and laughing. His jokes about Great Britain and France were hilarious. He took a few good shots at the United States as well--all in good fun. We loved him.
Outside the Tour of London where you purchase your tickets (before the temperature dropped like 10 more degrees and I had to borrow my husbands jacket)

Inside the grounds, we were able to explore for a while after our tour ended. It's here you can see the Crown Jewels, which are gorgeous--of course.
Only good picture we got of us at the Tower of London--for some reason we kept running into the most camera-challenged people here. No one knew how to use our was blowing my mind. It's a pretty basic Canon Rebel and it was set to automatic. You literally just click the button and it focuses's amazing how difficult that concept can be.
We really enjoyed this experience and definitely recommend taking the Tower of London tour.
Buy your tickets ahead of time here
(I wish we had done this, because the wait was REALLY long to purchase tickets!)
5. Shopping on Oxford Street :)
I never turn down a good chance to shop, and Oxford street is a pretty magical place to spend some $$$. My main stop was TopShop--I had never actually been to the store (only online) and it was definitely a good time. The store on Oxford is almost too big--it's a bit overwhelming but pretty unreal. Also it's important to note--if you're looking for bargain shopping or good deals, this probably isn't your ideal stop. I'm fairly certain everything is more expensive on Oxford Street, but it's all about the experience! 
Oh and if you need a perfect mid-shopping break--stop at Ben's Cookies, sit down, take a deep breath and prepare to have one of the most delicious chocolate chip cookies you will ever taste in your entire life. This was one of the highlights of my trip (I consider myself to be a connoisseur of chocolate chip cookies. They are always my first choice of dessert)

Stay tuned for my next London post! You can follow me on Bloglovin' or subscribe via e-mail over on the sidebar.
In the next post I'll talk about Abbey Road, Beatles History Tour, and our other favorite sites and activities in London! I'll also be posting about some of our outside-of-London day-trip adventures, including The White Cliffs of Dover, Canterbury, and Warwick Castle.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

scotland adventure, part two

Our next stop on our Scotland weekend road trip was the famous Edinburgh!
To say we fell in love with this charming and historical city would be an understatement. We spent a day and a half in Edinburgh and were able to squeeze in most everything that we wanted to see.
You could definitely spend more then a weekend exploring this area, but if it's all the time you have (like us) here are some main stops/highlights that we hit.
We stayed right in the heart of Old Town, that way we could pretty much walk everywhere we wanted to go, including Edinburgh Castle. See more on Old Town here. I definitely recommend staying there if you want to be close to everything. We loved the location.
However, I don't recommend the hotel we stayed at. It was fine, but nothing great and it had a weird atmosphere. It was more like an apartment building rather than a hotel, but it was very clean and it was a lot of space for the amount of money we spent. 
Also, they ended up double charging our credit card in the end and we had to deal with that once we got back to the states. It has good reviews on, but we wouldn't recommend it--The Holyrood Aparthotel
Okay, now back to the fun stuff!

Look at those charming roads! Oh my, I fell in love with that place...and that handsome guy in the middle too :)
Just make sure to check the weather and dress accordingly--it's usually pretty grey from what I hear. We got lucky with some blue skies, but it was still a very chilly trip!
Some stops to make in Old Town:
Edinburgh Castle

(P.S. People were not actually taking pictures with this bagpipe fact, the crowd was mainly just standing around listening, but Rob insisted on hopping on in there ha ha. That's one of the many reasons why I love him. He never cares what other people think)

Something about the grey buildings and streets with those colored doors! How charming, right?!

Walking this area will definitely give you a work out. Old Town is up on a large hill, close to the castle which is at the very top of the hill. So you'll be walking up and down a lot of streets.

So Scottish :)
(One of the reasons we recommend staying close to Old Town--all of these sites are just about a 5-10 minute walk and it can save you on some cab fees)

Up next, we drove our rental car out to Campbell Castle. It was a bit of a drive, but the countryside was so beautiful we didn't mind at all--plus this was the place of my husband's ancestors! It was so cool to see and explore.
It is a small walk/hike from the parking lot to the castle, but it's nothing to be concerned about. Just wear some shoes that won't be ruined if they get a little muddy. Also, take some time to talk to the park ranger/attendant at the front. The man that was there when we visited told us some really interesting facts!

 Stunning, right?
View from the top, looking down on the small village below.

Up next, we went to Stirling Castle.
Here is a picture of Robert on top and then a view of the castle graveyard.
After visiting Stirling Castle leave some time to visit Wallace Monument, it is probably 5-10 minutes away and is the monument for William Wallace (aka Braveheart)
We didn't have time to hike up to the monument, but we did stop and take pictures from below.

We picked a great weekend to go. It was still a bit cold and a tiny bit of rain, but we had some really blue skies and it was absolutely gorgeous.
It was one of our favorite weekend trips while over in the UK. Once we finished up our day, we went back to Edinburgh and turned in our rental car and then caught a 10pm train back to London.
I loved this adventure, and we loved driving it in the car. My only word of caution is for anyone uncomfortable with opposite side of the road driving, it may be a little stressful but we got used to it really quickly and it wasn't a big deal.
 Please let me know if you have any questions or insights that you'd like to share. We obviously didn't get to see everything or spend as much time at certain destinations as we would have liked, but overall we were very pleased with our trip!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

scotland adventure, part one

Scotland was one of my very favorite destinations to visit!
While spending a couple months in London, we decided to take a weekend to explore the beautiful Scottish Highlands and city of Edinburgh.
For anyone interested in visiting Scotland, here is what we did
 (and keep in mind--I am breaking this up into two parts--this is part one)
We flew from London to the Scotland Aberdeen Airport and spent the first night there in the city of Aberdeen. From there, we rented a car and began our weekend adventure. I have to admit, we didn't stick around Aberdeen very long, because we had been told by many people that there really wasn't much to see. Here is the route we drove.
Our first stop was in Elgin, where we saw the beautiful old Elgin Cathedral
(See on TripAdvisor here)
 The Elgin Cathedral

This gate was across the street and I had to snap a pic because it was so darling. 

 After a stop in Elgin, we headed up to the Northern Coast of Scotland. We stopped in a city called Nairn. It was quite chilly, but it was one of the most beautiful coasts I have ever seen!
Nairn Harbor
My handsome Scottish husband...

One of the best parts about driving Scotland by car is that there are historical stops every 10-15 minutes. Below is one of our favorites! This castle is called "Brodie Castle". It has an interesting history that you can read about here
 During this stop we met the sweetest old lady walking her dog. She has lived in the area her whole life and told us a little bit about the history and also gave us some recommendations on other stops to make. She also was surprisingly good with a camera! (We've had some incredibly comical experiences asking strangers to take our pictures)

Our next stop was  in Inverness.
Below you will see a picture of Rob in front of Inverness Castle.


 Inverness was quite beautiful. We enjoyed walking along the river and seeing the scenery. We stopped by some authentic Scottish stores and also bought a "Campbell Plaid" blanket. My husband's heritage is Scottish, so it was really interesting to talk to the locals about the Campbell Clan and learn more about where he comes from. 
After a stop in Inverness, we ventured down the Loch Ness and took some pictures with a Loch Ness Monster statue (not pictured because they're slightly embarrassing ha ha)
 It was a beautiful river and it felt so surreal being there.
 Up next I'll cover our time in Edinburgh (one of the main Scotland attractions), exploring the beautiful Castle Campbell and our stop at the famous Stirling Castle.
Also, here is some more information on the area around Loch Ness.
Sadly, we got there later in the day and we were not able to see Fort Augustus, but if you head out there make sure you plan on stopping because it looks amazing! We were able to see it from above, but were too late to go in.
For any of you experienced travelers out there, please let me know any tips or questions you may have on traveling to Scotland!