Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Breaking the Seal

Hopefully, I've let enough time pass between my last trip post for us all to mourn the end! Anything I post now will pale in comparison to English countryside and London monuments. *sigh*  Thus, let's rip off the band-aid and talk about today:
Watermelon and a Vega French Vanilla / Frozen Banana / Frozen Mango / Almond Milk smoothie.

Everything bagel, toasted with cucumber and Tofutti (it's under there - this is a big cucumber).

Farmer's Market Root Vegetable (and bell pepper) Hash, with It's Better Than Sour Cream.
Rutabaga, potato, onion, and bell pepper sauteed in veggie broth and seasoned with pepper.

I did go to a midday yoga class at the now dying studio. Before I left, I was told that I could continue to use my fully earned passes.  The new owner cut my number of passes anyway, so I am trying to get in and take the free classes (and not cleaning) while I can. It's still hard to be there, as I've since talked to and seen many former instructors and the former owner herself - but I'm paying off an expensive trip, so free yoga it is.  My last pass expires in two weeks - I bought a Groupon for somewhere new, and will share that experience when it happens.  In the meantime, I'm feeling free (and surprisingly happy) as I walk away from this chapter of my life.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Trip Show & Tell

***This is long. Go make a cup of tea, then settle in!***

Air Canada: our journey to London Heathrow had two stops, each with an hour and a half on the ground (Toronto, Dublin).
Our flight from Denver to Toronto was delayed 45 minutes, our flight from Toronto to Dublin was delayed three hours - thereby fully missing our connection to London.  It's a long story, but in short: Air Canada did nothing to book us on a new flight, and we had to do it ourselves with Aer Lingus (our final flight was with them anyway).  What this resulted in: arriving in London five hours late and lost luggage (both of us).  I had a claim number (I filed with Aer Lingus upon landing), but no one was calling us back.  I had an anxiety attack in the middle of the night, called home - luckily, my Dad talked me down.  The next morning, we decided to change our plans (seeing as we were beginning day three in the same clothes, no toiletries or anything), do less sightseeing and more damage control (H&M for t-shirts and underwear, Boots for deodorant and the like).  At the end of the day, I surrendered any hope of hearing from anyone at the airline, and talked to our concierge at the Hilton London Kensington.
If you've ever seen "The Grand Budapest Hotel", you will understand: always go to your concierge.  He got a hold of the airline immediately - our bags were still in Dublin.  It took another 24 hours (just before 9pm) for our bags to arrive at the hotel, but they did, thanks to Tim (concierge) and the Divine.  Thus, four days after we took off - we had our luggage. I've never felt so lucky as when I looked at everything in my suitcase.
Aside: it was during these stressful days that we visited Oxford Circus, Picadilly Circus, Leicester Square, and Covent Garden.  I have a couple of pictures, but wasn't really feeling like myself.  Our international charger/converter was in my luggage, our phones were dying (we charged through the USB ports in our hotel room's tv, but it was only 5 volts - not the 110 volts needed. Thus charged very little, slowly) and I wanted to save my camera's battery in the event that our bags never made it. 

The morning after we received our luggage, we checked out and went to pick up our car. I did buy international data, but limited usage to Google Maps - and only when off course.  Before leaving each destination, I mapped our next location using wi-fi (yes, I had paper map directions but I'd recommend both) and let the navigation load.  Even with no wi-fi or data on, Siri will still tell you where to go (unless you get off course, thus turn data back on).  It helped make our driving experience so easy.
Back to where we stayed: all rooms were two twin beds with en suite bath. The Hilton was a splurge (and I am SO GLAD I booked it for our first three nights in England), but I caught a good deal on Travelocity: 30% off.  Five stars for the concierge and free shampoo & soap alone.

In Windsor: Innkeeper's Lodge  The rooms you see in the photos are accurate, they have free parking, free wi-fi, quiet, carb heavy continental breakfast (I had three types of toast... and different jams).

In Salisbury:  CityLodge  Budget for a reason, because the building is on the historical registry - they don't want to repair anything.  Windows and window sills were covered with another piece of glass attached the wall. Stuffy, moldy, paper thin walls (I heard the entire discussion the foreigners had all night). No pictures on the website also for a reason. I'd love to visit this city again, but I'd stay elsewhere. Unrelated picture, but from Salisbury:

In Southend-on-Sea: Hamilton's Boutique Hotel. Lovely, comfortable, and breakfast served on blue china (I ate toast, hashbrowns, tomato half and mushrooms).  Coffee served in a french press. Photo:

Our last three nights in London, we stayed in the budget Comfotel GRN  Good location on the tube, nice people, accommodating breakfast (they brought out soy yogurt and non-dairy margarine for my toast), but our room was on the fourth floor - in the attic.  Sloped ceilings, the bathroom was in the closet, and skylights - no ventilation.  Our last night - at the end of the hottest day, my brother (albeit dehydrated by his choice, as I was constantly buying water) woke up with heat stroke around 3am.  Our room was close to 100 degrees, so we went down to the street to bring down his temperature (he was nauseous, couldn't feel his left leg, dizzy, racing heartbeat - called Mom, who talked him down.) We left for Heathrow earlier than needed in the morning!

If you go: Oyster Card, The London Pass, English Heritage Pass  

The Oyster Card is a pre-paid card, which you can reload, for discounted Tube fares.  I still have about $8 worth on it, so if you need one - let me know.  The London Pass included most major sites in and around London.  You can buy the amount of days you'll need, and in some cases it acts as a "fast pass" with your own separate entrance to popular sites.  We bought the two day, and had "paid" for our pass in two and a half site visits (we used it six times total). The English Heritage Pass (we bought the oversea's visitor pass) saved us $20 each, and we only used it twice: Stonehenge and Dover Castle.

Souvenirs: Harrod's tea towels & oven mitt ($35 - No wonder we couldn't afford anything nicer! Ha!), English Toffee from Selfridges, Earl Gray Tea - with Prince Charles seal from Windsor Farm Shop (even though the bag says Buckingham).  All given to parents.
My souvenir: scarves bought from street vendor on Oxford Street. Medium blue with black butterflies, Cream with brown horses. I had been eyeing different stands for a while, then settled on these.  They are very soft!

I learned a lot about myself during this trip, and I'm so glad I got to share this experience with my brother.  I would go back in heartbeat, two bad hotels and all....but on a direct flight.  ;)

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Day Trip - Dover Castle & Southend-on-Sea

From Salisbury, we made the trek to the coast.
 (Dirty windshield, not a UFO.)

Dover Castle
Roman Lighthouse built in the first century, below:
 Rooms inside the castle were set up as they would have been when the castle was used.
 From the roof:
 Looking at the main entrance: guard's house next door
 Can you see France? It is visible, but a little hard to see here.

Our next stop was Southend-on-Sea.  Prior to our trip, I researched seaside towns in southern in England.    I do regret this choice, as I think Brighton or Portsmouth would have been better.  Live and learn, I suppose! Southend has a boardwalk, casinos, and an amusement park.  All of which were empty.  It's possible that not being there on a weekend was part of it? Their other claim to fame is the longest pier in the world (1.34 miles out into the Thames estuary, where the river meets the North Sea).  Our B&B though, was the best one of the trip!

 Walking down the pier...
 We reached the end, and this was the view back to the shore:


Chronologically speaking, the Harry Potter exhibit followed in the morning and then we returned the car.  You've already seen that, and our remaining three days in London! So what does this mean? Tomorrow I'll have bonus photos, stories, and reviews.  I can't believe I'm almost finished recapping this trip.  I want to go back!  Thanks for letting me relive it with you! 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Day Trip - Highclere, Stonehenge, & Salisbury

Upon leaving Windsor, we headed for Highclere Castle - the setting for Downton Abbey.  We knew the castle would be closed to the public, but you can enter the grounds to take a footpath around the property.



It's moments like this where an extra lens would have come in handy! But, nonetheless - there it is!

Stonehenge: the photos can do the talking



As you can tell, the beginning of our visit to Stonehenge was quite soggy, but it did dry out towards the end.  We were there for about two hours, then drove 15 minutes to Salisbury, where we would stay the night.

Salisbury is known as a "cathedral city",  and is quite ancient in its roots. It has evidence of a Neolithic settlement, and was occupied by many people including the ancient Romans.  Our (super budget and not great) hotel was in a 17th century hunting lodge.  We strolled around the city before dinner, and here are some shots I snapped (including the 900 year old cathedral!).






Tomorrow: Dover Castle & Southend-on-Sea

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Day Trip - Windsor

We rented a car from Avis for three days, and drove 500 miles - not even emptying the gas tank.  I did not know this about diesel cars.  Regardless, we were happy to not have to fill more than once, as "petrol" is £5 a gallon (that would be $8.50 a gallon... No complaining about our prices, America.)  Audi A1 Sportback.

First stop: Windsor



 When we arrived, it was time for the "changing of the guard", and so we joined the crowd to watch.  Imagine having a marching band announce the start of your shift!




We took the City Sightseeing Bus Tour, and it whisked us around the town and on to Eton College.  Our biggest regret was not booking a full day in Windsor, as we wished we could have seen the castle on the inside. Our stop (closest to the car) was at the Windsor Farm Shop - the queen's land is used to grow food for Her Majesty and also supplies this store (and adjacent cafe).

(However, the soy milk added to my coffee was most likely not from the farm!)

Lastly, inside the cafe were hung pictures of the royals in Windsor.

And that was only the first half of the day... We then drove to a castle, some ancient rocks, and saw a 900 year old cathedral.  Any guesses?  See you on Tuesday with the answer.