European Adventure 2011 – First Stop England!

So this is going to be a long post….just a warning.

So to continue with my Where in the World Wednesday series I have decided to jump back to 2011. One of my mom’s DREAM trips was overseas to visit England. She had told us about it since we were little that one day she was going to visit there. With the expense of 2 kids and life, she never really made it on her own there. After we graduated college we moved back in with our parents. At the time I had just started my full-time job and was making ok money. In the beginning of 2010 Cheryl and I thought how great it would be to take my mom to Europe as a Christmas present. We mentioned it to our dad (who did not fly) and he said it would be expensive. Cheryl made a spreadsheet of airline costs, hotel prices, tours, food, etc. and we figured out how much money we would need to save….and save we did.

For a full year we would each put money away every paycheck to our Europe fund. On Christmas in 2010 I made a video to play for my mom to tell her we were taking her on her dream vacation! She cried of course and said it was too much, but we told her we had been saving and we were going. After we mentioned to our friends the trip and they asks if they could come too. We are big planners and they wanted to go with someone who would plan it for them (I had an hour by hour timeline I am that crazy). My mom said sure so we recruited our friends Kier and Karen and Karen’s mom and aunt.

We planned our trip for September of 2011. Kids would be back in school and the weather there was supposed to be comfortable. We also decided since we were flying all the way to England, why stop there. We made it a 10 day adventure and visited England, France and Ireland. Here is leg 1 of our journey…England!

London 2011

We took a red-eye flight from Newark to Heathrow on Thursday night. Our friends live in Philly so they flew from there. We all met in London in the morning on Friday. We convinced everyone to take the tube to our hotel since we had the unlimited cards. Lugging suitcases up and down stairs during rush hour though was not fun. We decided to stay on the top of Hyde Park near Lancaster Gate at the Royal Court Apartments. Since we were going to be there for a few days we wanted a place with a lot of space and a kitchen area. It was also a good price. The rooms were nice!

After we arrived we decided to go for a walk while waiting for our rooms to be ready. We went into Hyde Park.

Hyde Park

Our first stop was the Peter Pan statue. It has been in a lot of movies and I wanted to make sure we visited on our trip. The walk through the park there was really nice. The weather was perfect!

Peter Pan Statue

Then we walked down the path along The Long Water and past the Serpentine Bridge.

Serpentine Bridge

We made our way over to the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain. There were a lot of people walking around in the water or sitting with their feet in it. Not sure if you were allowed to but I did anyway. It was actually really hot out!

Princess Diana Memorial Fountain

After we stopped for some water and snacks at a coffee bar right on the water. Then we decided to walk to the closest tube station. Along the way we found a phone booth and a cool taxi. I wish NYC taxi’s looked like this!

London 2011

Then we went to the Knightsbridge tube station to head over to Buckingham Palace. Mind the Gap!

Knightsbridge Tube Station

Then we were there! Buckingham Palace! It is crazy huge.

Buckingham Palace

After we decided to head up to the British Museum. When I was looking into stuff to do I noticed they had something called the London Pass. It included an unlimited tube travel card for the length of your stay as well as a bunch of the major landmarks we were planning on visiting. The British Museum was one of the places you could use it and it was the only day it was open late. I wanted to see the Rosetta Stone!

British Museum

It might seem crazy, but the entire year before going I was subscribed to the Living Social daily emails for London. One day they had a deal for spend £30 get £70 at Rowley’s. Seems like a good deal. The best part was that the voucher was for 2 people and you could use up to 4 vouchers per table! That’s £280 worth of food and there was 7 of us. I made a reservation for Friday night and it was soo worth it. The food was amazing. We sat there eating and drinking for hours. We also left a nice tip for the waiter (I had not yet learned of the European tipping less policy). He was a happy camper!

On Saturday we took a day trip to Paris. First train there and last train home! More on that next week.

On Sunday morning Cheryl and I had originally looked into running the London Half Marathon. Sadly when we found it they were already sold out. We thought it would be cool to run a race while we were there so we looked into other ones. We found a little local one called the Starfish Breakfast Run in Clapham Common. There was a 5K and a 10K. My mom wanted to go so we signed her up for the 5K and we signed up for the 10K. We took the tube there early Sunday morning. It was a nice, local run. I loved hearing all the accents. My mom was bummed she was the only one that walked the 5K (even though the lady I emailed said a lot of people walk) but she still had fun. The 10K was a double loop of the 5K and my mom was waiting at the finish line for us. A nice start to the morning!

Starfish Breakfast Run

When we got back we showered and changed and headed out to do the Harry Potter walking tour. This was before they opened the Universal set tours :( The tour was fun and we visited a lot of places from the movies, like King’s Cross Station. We didn’t go inside. They set up an area outside with a wall and buggy so people could pretend they were going to Platform 9 3/4. I can’t imagine how many people were tying to do this inside!

Harry Potter Walking Tour

After the tour we split up. We went to the London Eye and everyone else went shopping.

London Eye

The London Eye was awesome. There was a decent wait, even if you have tickets, since it goes so slow. I liked it going slow once I was inside so I can see everything on all sides.

London Eye

While we were inside it started to get dark out so we headed for dinner after.

London Eye

I had read about a great Indian restaurant near the London Eye. All the booths were old train cars! It was called Bangalore Express, but I am reading now that it is closed. Such a shame the food was delicious! Everyone else went back to Rowley’s because they had purchased another deal and the food was that good!

Bangalore Express

After dinner we met up with everyone else at a bar near where they had been shopping. The first bar we went to was in the process of closing…at 11pm! Our parents (old people) were getting tired (and drunk) so they went back in a taxi. We headed to a bar next door to get another drink. As we were sitting and talking Cheryl noticed her chair move and then realized her purse was gone. She sprang up from the table and ran after a man leaving the bar. She confronted him and grabbed her purse back (which he had in his hand) and then freaked and ran back inside. This happened all in a matter of seconds. I didn’t even realize what was going on. After considering it she was very lucky he didn’t have a weapon! Luckily she got her purse back (which had all our passports in it). She was a superhero! Now I am so crazy about knowing where my purse is at all times. Beware of pickpockets!

London 2011

On Monday we booked a bus tour out of London into the country.

Leeds Castle

Our first stop was Leeds Castle. It was really pretty inside and outside. The old British castles are so amazing!

Leeds Castle

Next we went to the White Cliffs of Dover. This was one thing my mom wanted to see so we made sure to book a tour that went there. We even went to the beach. The pebbles of the beach were pretty hard to walk on. I almost fell a few times!

Dover

Next we had a traditional fish a chips lunch. It was soo good I didn’t have time to take any pictures I was shoveling it into my mouth.

Then we stopped off at the historic Canterbury Cathedral. The church was HUGE! The architecture and details everywhere was so amazing to look at. I could have spent hours inside exploring.

Canterbury Cathedral

Our last land stop was Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich. I am almost positive one of the Thor movies was filmed there.

Old Royal Navy College

After that we got on a boat and headed on a tour up the River Thames. At this point it started to rain so we mainly stayed inside. It was harder to see what he was pointing out on the sides of the river though. Once the tour was over we got some dinner at a chain restaurant (I know I hate that too) and then went on a Jack the Ripper walking tour.

Jack the Ripper tour

Technology really enhanced the tour. She used a projector to show images and videos of certain areas we visited.

Jack the Ripper tour

On Tuesday we started the morning by touring Buckingham Palace! I am not sure if they still allow it. I know it’s only certain times of the year, but we got tickets early.

Buckingham Palace

You can only visit certain rooms of the palace and most stuff is topped off or has plexiglass on it. The old pairings and furniture was really cool though. You also cannot take ANY pictures inside.

Buckingham Palace

We had an earlier tour slot, so we visited the Royal Mews while we waited for everyone. That is where you can see all the cars and the horse carriages they use for parades and stuff.

Royal Mews

Then we walked over to Westminster Abbey. If only they let us take a horse and carriage.

You also cannot take any photos inside the Abbey. I saw a lot of people getting cameras taken away and yelled at. There are a lot of famous people buried there and a lot of tombs. It was VERY crowded though so it was hard to see everything.

Westminster Abbey

Then we decided to jump on a double decker bus instead of the tube. It was still so nice out and the busses were also part of our transportation with the London Pass.

Bus

We headed over to the Tower of London.

Tower of London

Our first stop was to see the Crown Jewels. I would love to wear some for just a minute.

After we tried our had at being guards.

Tower of London

We obviously can’t be.

Tower of London

Then we walked around and learned about the history, saw some cool guns and cannons and even cages where all the animals were kept. The Tower of London used to be a zoo!

Tower of London

One the other side of the Tower is the Tower Bridge. This is the most ornate bridge and most people think it’s London Bridge, but it’s not. London Bridge is a plain old ordinary bridge (we crossed it).

Tower Bridge

Even though we were all exhausted and hungry we wound up walking FAR to get to Wapping Food. A restaurant in an old hydraulic power station. The food was ok, but we could have found just as good closer. The decor was ehh.

On Wednesday morning we started the day with a traditional english breakfast. I LOVED this and wish they had it in the U.S. I am also a big fan of tea,

English Breakfast

Then we took the tube down to Big Ben.

Big Ben

After we walked over to see the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace. We made sure to get there early.

Buckingham Palace

A lot of people show up for the Changing of the Guard because they don’t do it all the time and it’s a pretty big spectacle.

Buckingham Palace

We made sure we were on a railing area so we could see. The band marching through reminded me of high school. There were also a lot of police out making sure everything went smoothly.

Changing of the Guard

Then we jumped on the tube for a long ride up to Abbey Road. It’s funny to watch the crossing camera of people trying to impersonate The Beatles. I am sure we looked just as crazy! It was difficult to cross because people driving could care less what we are doing and they fly through the road. After we signed the wall.

Abbey Road

I had wanted to see the Millennium Bridge they showed in Harry Potter. It is such a cool looking bridge, but was far from where we did the Harry Potter tour. Cheryl, my mom and myself broke off and headed down.

Millenium Bridge

I wanted to visit St. Paul’s Cathedral after, but it was closed by the time we got there. We decided to call it a day and head back to finish packing. We had an early flight to Ireland the following day!

One of the saddest moments was when I was in the tube and saw this sign for the Doctor Who Experience.

Doctor Who Experience

I had not seen anything about it online when I was doing all my research or that would have been a definite! I was also the only one at the time that watched the show. When we got back from vacation I convinced my mom and sister to start watching it and now they are hooked! They were so bummed I didn’t get them into it before we went!

England was an amazing experience. We were able to cram a lot of stuff into a short period of time. I did a lot of pre-planning to figure out when things were open so we wouldn’t try to go somewhere only to find it closed. We also had amazing weather almost the whole time. It rained once for maybe 3 hours! I actually didn’t have a lot of short sleeve options since I thought it would be rainy and cold and dreary. I loved London! I would love to go back again.

Next week I will bring you along on our trip of Paris, France.

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