Our First Europe Trip…. (The London Edition)

london-17When I say “Our First Europe Trip”, I really mean Brad & his mom. This was my 7th… I think.  Because of this, I knew some things that they had to see, and I knew that we would be using the underground, but I wanted to plan accordingly. I did my homework, and studied google maps to figure out the best area to stay in. With that, I went to the planning board. Among all my research I discovered something truly awesome. The London Pass. You pay a flat rate depending on the number of days you want to use it, and it includes specific tours, cost of underground passes, and gets you discounts at certain tour sights, restaurants, and shops. It’s amazing.

Anyways, back to our trip. This was when Brad had his first “Africa Contract” and was working overseas… We agreed the best thing we could do was meet in Europe, so I hit the planning books. Originally, I was planing a European roadtrip, but I was just getting too carried away. The other thing, was Brad was unable to un-invite his mom. Which made it rather interesting because she had never been out of the US. So, I we agreed that it was best to do a four part trip. London. Paris. Barcelona. Lisbon. Brad’s mom decided she would depart halfway through the Paris portion, which was in the best interest of all parties.

lond-2Sadly, for London, I wasn’t fully invested because this was my 4th or 5th time there. I slept… A lot… But, I do have some fun photos to share. …and some great places to check out.

 Also, I should note that my timeline is a little foggy, as it was close to 2 years ago. But I’ll walk you through everything that I can!

We stayed at the Tune Hotel in the Westminster area, and it was fantastic. It was a fairly short walk into the city center, or an easy underground ride, particularly because the underground was literally across the street.  Another European note: these hotel rooms in the older cities are TINY… 

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One of the greatest things you can do in European cities, walk along the rivers. It is truly one of the best experiences you can have in life.  There is always so much to see.

london-1In London that included the beautiful & iconic tower bridge. I’ve never done it, but you can tour Tower Bridge. Info on the tour can be found here.

One of the other fun things to do in London is to visit & tour the Tower of London. This is where the Crown Jewels of England are held. …but there is so much more, so much history of the country. There is armor from different historical eras, you can experience how they lived in the middle ages. It truly is interesting. You could easily spend a whole day here if you were feeling overly diligent. I’m the type that gets burnt out fairly quick.

The picture to the left sits in the center of the amazing fortress. When we were there we were able to enjoy the beautiful artistic tulip display that filled the historical motes along the outer wall, It is no longer there as it was removed that November (2014). You can read about the significance of it here. (I really wish I had better photos of it, haha)

london-6One of the amazing other things we did, was a first for me. It was walking through Westminster Abbey. We all know it as the famous Cathedral where the royal families have gotten married, but it is truly so much more than you could possibly imagine.The history & the decadence were astounding! So many exquisite people have been buried there. The list not only includes royalty, but also great minds like Sir Isaac Newton.  Photos were not allowed on the inside, so you can click on this link to google images to see interior photos, and also, I didn’t take a picture of the front of the Abbey either… Like I said, its something I have been working on. However, I do have pictures of the outer areas!!! That’s some success, right? Anyways, this picture to the right is of the courtyard attached to Westminster abbey. It’s overlooking one of the towers of the parliament building. The photo below is of the old paintings along the walls in the Chapter House attached to the Abbey. {TIP: In popular, busy tourist attractions, make sure you know where your wallet is. I wouldn’t suggest guys keeping it in their back pocket, same goes for you phone. & don’t cruise around with your passport on hand if you can avoid it. Ladies, carry only a bag that zips across the top if it hangs low, or use one that sits right under your shoulder. Be Smart.}

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london 12.jpgExplore the Gardens & Parks…. They are everywhere & full of scampering  wildlife. This picture to the right was taken in St. James Park across from Churchill’s War Rooms (below). I couldn’t believe that they had pelicans there! I would expect them to be closer to the coast.

If you or your travel companion is at all a WWI fan, Churchill’s War Rooms is a must see exhibit. You can explore the underground tunnels that helped Britain fight the war. You see the living quarters, offices, strategy rooms, communications rooms, dining hall, etc.  It was another first for me, and I found it to be a really interesting experience, and I would highly recommend it for anyone going for even just a few days. It’s a fairly short tour, and the price is reasonable. Every guest is given a headset for a guided tour in their native language.

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london-40Another option for your trip is to visit Kensington Palace (the home of the late Princess Diana and young Queen Victoria , and now the home of the Duke & Duchess of Cambridge aka William & Kate). Honestly, I wouldn’t rank this tour very high. I feel like it lacked authenticity. It was more like a historical clothing museum. Which was interesting, but not great. In addition to being able to see some of the insanely uncomfortable fashions of previous centuries, you are able to see some of Diana’s most iconic outfits. Interesting, but not fascinating.

One of the reasons, I was so intrigued by Kensington Palace was because ‘The Young Victoria’ is one of my favorite movies. I was genuinely hoping to see it in that light, but I was obviously unable to. However, one of the best parts of the Palace tour was exploring the private gardens. There were water features, beautiful flowers, there was a crane (the bird, not the machine), water features. It was truly the best part.

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{TIP: If you are wanting to do a Palace tour & if it is available, do Buckingham Palace instead (pictures were not permitted, they want you to buy the books). Buckingham Palace has far more to see & is much more interesting, in my opinion. I have done it twice now & would probably go again because it is so much to take in. That place is a maze.}

london 42.jpgIf you do have the time or opportunity, check out the  public fun Kensington Garden & Park surrounding Kensington Palace. It’s a very large area, where you can just hang out & read a book if you are just wanting to relax. There are several different kinds of birds which is fun, just beware of the swans. They can get a little to sassy for my liking. It’s also a great place to people watch. I would grab lunch from a local shop & enjoy it in the park.

SIDE NOTE: One of my favorite things about cities like London is that you have to complete freedom and capability to roam wherever you want. You will always find something beautiful to look out, or something that you can learn about. It’s a great way to relax & experience the culture as well. It always helps relieve some of the pressure to see everything & do everything, because in a sense it is almost more fulfilling to discover the city on your own terms.

Another fun & affordable activity for those art lovers or those looking for a little culture is to hit up The National Gallery. It was a great way to kill a few hours on our last day after we had hit everything else. It was quick & had several iconic pieces of art by several famous artist like Van Gogh & Monet .  The Impressionist art was my favorite. I found myself drawn towards it. The National Gallery is just off Trafalgar Square ( I didn’t take photos because there were so many people) & it’s next to St. Martin in the Fields, which is a small cathedral. If your feet are killing you, it’s a great place to stop in and take a seat. That is what we did, and were pleasantly surprised to have a strings orchestra practicing. It was a truly wonderful moment that I will never forget.

Below are some of the photos I took while we wandered on foot (click on them for a larger view & notes).

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LESSONS LEARNED:

1) Always know who you are traveling with. Meaning, understand their temperaments & know their travel experience level. 

2) Map out your journey. 

3) Check for tour packages that could save you money & present other options you may not have found elsewhere. 

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The Compulsive Traveler

out to see the world, and snap beautiful photos while doing so.

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