London, England with the London Pass

I’m just going to come right out and say it.

I love London.

So when we were discussing where to go with the family after Shane’s Ph.D. defense, I jumped at the opportunity to go back. The direct flight from Groningen settled it and off we went for 5 days in London!

Obligatory airport us-ie. It was getting late, I’m not sure everyone was genuinely thrilled about this.
Our small plane from Groningen.

As I mentioned before, Shane and I have been to London a couple of times now, but his family hadn’t and it had been a while for my mom, so we decided to do something a little different this time.

We bought the London Pass.

These type of passes you can find in most major European cities. In fact, we bought the Budapest Card when we spent a long weekend there a few years ago.

In short, with the pass you have access to over 80 attractions in London – some with fast-track entry, it provides discounts at participating restaurants, and you can choose to have it act as your transportation card. The pass can be delivered to your house as a physical card before you travel (which Shane’s family chose), or you can have it delivered to your phone where you can access it with or without internet (which we chose).

All in all, it can be a one stop shop! For this post, I thought I’d go through a few advantages and disadvantages of the London Pass.

Advantage:

You have access to *almost* all of London’s major attractions.

Which means you’ll do things you probably wouldn’t have done if you were paying individually. For instance,

The Beefeaters Gin Tour (£15)

I love gin, my mom loves gin, but would we have slugged ourselves across town for a gin tour without the pass? I’m not so sure.

Was it worth it and should you do it?

Yup! (well, if you like gin that is…) The tour includes a few tastings and a G&T at the end so… 😉

A Hop-on Hop-off Bus Tour (£34)

Shane & I are walkers. We will have blisters & bleeding feet before we think *DUH*, public transportation. Don’t ask me why, it’s just what happens. This is why I say that the hop-on hop-off bus tour is something we wouldn’t have normally done.

It ended up being great though – a nice overview of the city on our first day there. And, it ended up being double great since Shane’s mom tore her meniscus in TWO PLACES in a freak wrong-stepping accident on the plane to the Netherlands. Needless to say, she was happy to sit & see the sights at the same time!

The tour guide says “Want me to take a picture of your group with The Shard in the background?”
I mean, I guess it’s technically in the background – but not quite what I expected. *facepalm*
The Monument (£5)

To the great fire of 1666 that is!

Fun fact: Because of the fire, which basically wiped out medieval London, to this day buildings are not allowed to be built with wood.

311 stairs will take you to the top with sweeping views. And don’t worry, you get a certificate to show you made it.

View from the top of The Monument.
The Churchill War Rooms (£22)

This museum was crazy cool and something we’ve been wanting to do. If you’re into WWII history, then the bunkers where Churchill strategized during the war is a must-see.

Maps used to track during WWII.

And you’ll definitely do the well-known stuff such as,

The Tower of London (£28) & the Tower Bridge (£10)

Would you brave the glass floor in the Tower Bridge?

Westminster Abbey (£23)

Another must-see. An audio-guide is also included in the admission price.

St. Paul’s Cathedral (£20)

FYI – there are no pictures inside St. Paul’s. A sign I missed until I was essentially tackled by my mother who was concerned about me breaking the rules…

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Kensington Palace (£20)

We had intentions of touring Kensington Palace, but our walk through Hyde Park was slower than anticipated on account of a heavy rain storm. Heavy enough it resulted in us hiding out in the women’s bathroom for 15 min to let it pass. By the time we got to the palace it was almost closing time, but it is indeed included!

…stuck in the bathroom.
Kensington Palace. Wonder if Will & Kate were home?

For me, the most impressive and exciting thing included in the pass was

The View from the Shard (£32)

The Shard is the tallest building in Western Europe. It’s called The Shard because the top is kind of jagged, like a shard of glass.

A view OF The Shard – the tallest building across the river.

I’m a sucker for a good view, but I just couldn’t bring myself to pay £64 (for two people) to go to the top of a building. I mean, we only payed £55 (for two) to go up the Burj Khalifa – the tallest building in the world. See my problem?

Lucky for me, it was a non-issue because it’s included in the pass!

And, even if you don’t have to, go to the restroom at the top. #loowithaview

Disadvantage:

You have access to *almost* all of London’s major attractions.

Unfortunately, Buckingham Palace and the London Eye are not included in the pass.

We did have a stop from the hop-on hop-off tour in front of Buckingham though, and chose to pay extra to ride the Eye.

Buckingham Palace.
Mom and I took the “portrait mode” directive a little differently… ha!

And, if you’re interested in the theater, tickets are not included in the pass, but you are entitled to a discount – up to 25% off! We checked off one of Shane’s lifetime bucket list items and saw The Lion King. It was INCREDIBLE!

Advantage:

Mobile Pass Access

Just download the London Pass app and you’re ready to go! I say this as an advantage, because if you lose the physical card – for instance, on the tube like this suave guy below did – then you’re kind of screwed. My advice, especially if you’re prone to losing things: do the mobile version!

Disadvantage / Advantage:

The Price

It’s a double-edged sword. In my opinion, the pass itself is expensive, but then again London is an expensive city. We had 5.5 days in London, so we bought the 6 day pass. For this amount of time, I think the price was reasonable (~£135 pp); by day 4 we had made up for the price of the pass without having to kill ourselves to make it worth the money. For one or two days, I’m not so sure.

It does seem like it goes on sale quite frequently, we bought it with a 20% discount at the time, so if you’re considering it then watch for sales. And, the more days you purchase the cheaper the price is per day.

In summary – I’d buy it again.

There are other great things included that we didn’t do for various reasons: Hampton Court Palace and Windsor Castle if you’re looking for a day trip, or a bicycle tour and a walking tour if you’re feeling active.

Whatever you decide to do, next time you’re in London you should find this light tunnel because it was magical.

Tot ziens,

Whitney

A Harry Potter Weekend in London

It’s the blog who lived!

All thanks to my good friend Harry and his cursed child.

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You may (or may not) have noticed that things have been pretty quiet around here. Shane has been feverishly writing and trying to wrap up this Ph.D. thesis. He’s in the phase now that I like to call “edit purgatory”, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel and it’s getting brighter. Hopefully, within the next month – month and a half there will be some good news to report!

While Shane’s been working his a** off, I’ve been doing important things too, ya know. Like making sure I know how my friends on Jersey Shore enjoyed their family vacation, and fully investing myself into the career of our beloved American princess – pardon me, Duchess of Sussex – Meghan Markel. Which could have potentially come in handy last weekend because we headed to London to see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child!

In case you don’t know – I love Harry Potter. Last summer, my sister, mom and I did a pretty serious HP tour of London and Scotland. We weren’t able to see the play though; tickets just weren’t available.

I bought these tickets in February 2017. So, after our travel drought (darn you, thesis!) and the long and much-anticipated wait, I was itching to get out of Groningen for a weekend!

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We arrived pretty late on Friday, so we didn’t really do much. This time we stayed near St. James Park in a hub – by Premier Inn. Wasn’t sure what to expect out of this hotel (it’s advertised as a budget hotel that emphasizes technology), but it was great! The rooms are small, but it reminded me of what (I assume) it would be like to live in a tiny house – clever storage and layout – the bed was comfy, it was across the street from the tube, and (most importantly) there was free coffee. All in all, it was a win.

Anyway, the next morning we were up bright and early to find a good ‘ole English breakfast! And we won the breakfast lottery thanks to this gem.

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It was the English equivalent of a hole-in-the-wall American diner – delicious & cheap. Dutch breakfast just doesn’t do it for me…


The play didn’t start until the afternoon, so we had all morning to do something new in London. Our intention was to visit the Churchill War Rooms, but we severely underestimated the line for this museum (mostly due to online ticket sale and the size of the museum itself) so we abandoned ship and ended up walking around St. James Park and down to Buckingham Palace.

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You may notice all the barricades in the background. They were clearly setting up for something in the future. Little did I know that in only two short days the entire royal family would be out on that balcony for a flyover celebrating 100 years of the Royal Airforce. I always seem to be just a bit too early or just a bit too late for these types of things…

We did get to see some of the Guards up close though as they marched down the street. I (naturally) ran to the road for an up-close view.

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Shane felt just fine staying where he was. (hah)

We continued our pre-show wanderings and ended up at the Wellington Arch.

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Shane noticed you could go up, and a trip surely isn’t complete without dragging him up a few flights of steps for a nice view. He might complain (especially when there’s an elevator available) but it’s always worth it. We even got lucky and saw the Royal Calvary coming through for the changing of the Guards at Buckingham Palace.

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Arch horses up close and personal.
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And of course, there’s always time for a pint!

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To top off the weekend, it was Pride day AND England was playing in the World Cup. It’s safe to say the city felt quite festive and was super busy! We were in the play for most of the England match, but we were out for the very end…. not that we could see anything though. You definitely weren’t getting into a pub, and there were crowds watching TVs through the windows.

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And, when England won… chaos! In a fun way.

Now, for the crème de la crème: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child!

Unfortunately, I can’t say much. JK Rowling sent a personalized email after the show asking to #keepthesecrets. And what JK asks, JK receives. What I can tell you is that this story is supposed to be the 8th of the series, and picks up where the books left off – Harry sending his 2nd child, Albus Severus, off to Hogwarts on Sept. 1st, 2017 (which is also why Sis & I lived the dream last year and went to King’s Cross station on Sept. 1st).  I can also tell you that the magic in the show was fantastic. It really felt like the world of Harry Potter, and if you’re a fan and have the chance to see it, then do it!

I’ll be honest, it’s a long play; Part 1 and 2 are ~2.5h each. It really doesn’t feel like it though. Shane was also happy because they serve ice cream at intermission.

We had a few hours in the morning on Sunday before we flew home, so we headed to the British Museum. Fun fact: it’s free. Another fun fact: if you go in the back entrance then you avoid the long lines in the front! This was quite by accident, but thanks, Google maps!

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We eventually made it to the front of the building.

We only had about an hour and a half before we needed to start heading to the airport, but conveniently enough the museum was prepared for this! And let’s be real, the average person’s attention span for looking at old stuff is probably only about 1.5 – 2h anyway.

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So we hit the highlights, the Rosetta Stone, an Easter Island man, and we took our time through the Egypt section just because we like Egypt.

All in all, I love Harry Potter, I love London, and we’re already looking for an excuse to go back!

And keep those fingers crossed and positive thoughts coming – hopefully next post I’ll be reporting a submitted thesis. 😉

Tot ziens,

Whitney

A Fangirl’s Harry Potter and Outlander Journey Through the UK

aka: The Best Darn Mom & Sis Trip: Part 2

London & Scotland! 

To fully understand the importance of this trip we need to take it back a decade (omg) to 2007 when the final Harry Potter book was released. The epilogue was titled “19 Years Later” and given the age of the characters and the time of the book release the math worked out to be 2017.

Spoiler warning! …if for some crazy reason you’ve never read/watched/heard the end of the HP series.

On September 1, 2017 Harry Potter takes his son, Albus Severus Potter, to King’s Cross Station to send him off to Hogwarts for the first time.

Sis and I promised ourselves back in 2007 that ’19 years later’ we would be in London at King’s Cross Station lookin’ for our main man, Harry.

We kept that promise!

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In the 10 years between then and now we’ve also developed a love – thanks to mom – for the historical fiction book series, Outlander, which is based in Scotland during the Jacobite rising of 1745. Therefore, our trip mostly centered around important Harry Potter and Outlander locations.

What?

Isn’t that how everyone plans their vacations?

anyway….

I’ll start with Harry Potter.

King’s Cross Station,  Where: London, England

I’ve covered why King’s Cross is important above, but King’s Cross was a filming location as well. During the first movie the wall between platform 3 & 4 was used as the entrance to platform 9 3/4. In reality, platforms 9 & 10 aren’t next to each other inside the station.

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Tour for Muggles, Where: London, England

If you’re a HP fan and in London then DO THIS TOUR! Our lovely tour guide, Greta Granger (below) was seriously THE BEST (I mean, she carries her wand with her to pubs. New bestie). We saw HP filming locations, and real life spots that inspired J.K. for places that appeared in the books, like Knockturn and Diagon Alley. We also got a bit of London history to top it off. You will not regret this tour.

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The Millennium Bridge, Where: London, England

This bridge, known to locals as the ‘Wobbly Bridge’, was featured in the beginning of the 6th movie when it was destroyed by Death Eaters.

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Doing a little scene reenactment, naturally.

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Glenfinnan Viaduct, Where: Glenfinnan, Scotland

Which you might recognize as the Hogwarts Express!

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…or the Jacobite Steam Train. Either one.

Initially, we planned to ride the Jacobite train which you can catch in nearby Fort William. It’s a full day trip from Fort William to Mallaig and back and the views can supposedly be spectacular. Overall though, the reviews online were hit or miss. Basically, if you were really into old trains it was great. If you wanted to see the viaduct, it was OK, since it passes over the viaduct fairly quickly and to get just the right view you needed to be on a particular side of the train. We opted to go to the Glenfinnan Visitors Center, which has not only a nice exhibit on the Jacobite Rebellion & Bonnie Prince Charlie, but a guide to walking trails taking you to the Glennfinnan Monument and various viewpoints of both the monument and viaduct.

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You can walk right up to the viaduct and the views are fantastic, even on a day when it was literally pouring rain. Perhaps it’s also good to know that the visitors center sells umbrellas…

The Elephant House Cafe, Where: Edinburgh, Scotland

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The “birthplace” of Harry Potter since J.K. Rowling spent a lot of time writing here. We intended just to walk by, but we went in the evening and there was seating available so we channeled our inner J.K. and stopped for a coffee.

And, I was amazed to find that the bathroom was covered in HP graffiti! Fans over the years have come and written notes on the bathroom walls. Apparently, the cafe used to paint over it and discourage people from writing on the walls, but eventually they realized it was never going to stop and just embraced it. So if you happen to find yourself here, go check out the bathrooms. It’s quite overwhelming – all the HP love!

Greyfriars Graveyard, Where: Edinburgh, Scotland

Voldy’s Grave!

Ok, ok, not really. But Thomas Riddell was the real life inspiration for the name Tom Marvolo Riddle – aka: Voldemort.

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now, on to Outlander!

Oh Claire! Oh Jamie! ….seriously if you haven’t read these books you NEED to. It’s also a show now on Starz (which is surprisingly close to the books) but let’s be real. You can’t replace the books. First up…

Glencoe, Where: Glencoe, Scotland

The opening scene of Season 1, and other great shots throughout the series.

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This view is of the “Three Sisters” mountains. We were staying in a B&B about 15 min. away, and had nowhere near enough time here. Some of Scotland’s best walking/hiking is in this area, including the highest peak in the UK – Ben Nevis. We were able to do one short hike in Glen Nevis, but if you’re into the outdoors you could easily spend a week or more and not be bored.

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Steall Falls hike in Glen Nevis.

“Craigh na Dun”, Where: Kinloch Rannoch, Scotland

So, unfortunately for us Craigh na Dun, the stone circle where Claire is transported back in time, is only fictional. Fortunately for us, where the filmed the scenes for fictional Craigh na Dun is real! With a little email help from blogger Susanne from Adventures Around Scotland, we headed down some windy-two-lane-but-really-only-big-enough-for-one-car roads we found THE spot!  (clearly the top image is not mine)

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We also saw TONS of darn cute sheep on the way. It never got old.

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Blackness Castle, Where: Linlithgow, Scotland

Blackness Castle acted as the Fort William headquarters during the 1st season of Outlander.

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Linlithgow Palace, Where: Linlithgow, Scotland

Real life residence of the Stewarts, and the birthplace of Mary Queen of Scots. Wentworth Prison in Outlander.

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Doune Castle, Where: Doune, Scotland

This one was a triple whammy! Not only was it used as Castle Leoch in Outlander, but most of Monty Python and the Holy Grail was filmed here as well as the interior scenes for Winterfell during season 1 of Game of Thrones. The audio guide here was quite entertaining, as it was narrated by Terry Jones (Monty Python actor/director) & certain areas by Sam Hueghan (Jamie in Outlander).

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Glenfinnan Monument, Where: Glenfinnan, Scotland

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As one might expect, the monument is not part of the Outlander books or a filming location as it was built after the Jacobite rebellion of 1745. Regardless, this place marks an important piece of history because it was here where Prince Charles Edward Stewart, the Bonnie Prince who lead the ’45 rising, first landed in Scotland. Essentially, this location marks the beginning of the rebellion that eventually lead to the Battle of Culloden and the end of the Scottish clans.

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View of the Glenfinnan Monument from above.

Inverness, Where: Inverness, Scotland

Modern day Inverness also wasn’t a filming location, but it was a prominent setting in the books. Quite a charming city, and well worth the visit.

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Culloden Battlefield, Where: Inverness, Scotland

If you’re an Outlander fan, then you know that this is the location where sh*t goes down. In real life, this was the location of the final battle of the Jacobite rising which resulted in the slaughter of the Scottish, and the end of Galic culture and clan system.

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Today, you can walk the battlefield. Blue flags indicate the position of the Scottish troops, red flags for the English. Stones mark the location of mass graves for each of the clans who fought in the battle.

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And that was about all the time we had! And don’t worry. We WERE able to fit in other things not related to Harry Potter or Outlander. (hah) We saw Kinky Boots in London, stumbled upon some Kelpies, looked for Nessie from Urquhart Castle, toured Fort George in Inverness, admired the views over Edinburgh, and took it upon ourselves to learn the ins and outs of Scottish whiskey. 😛

Take home message?

  1. Read Outlander (& Harry Potter if you really haven’t!).
  2. Go to Scotland.

Sláinte (cheers)!

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Tot ziens,

Whitney

London, England

As you can probably derive from the title, we went to London!

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We had a 4 day weekend here in The Netherlands, so we decided to take advantage of it and hop one of Groningen’s daily flights over to London to visit my aunt & uncle and explore the city!

…. and explore the city we did! I’ll break this up into days, because thanks to my Aunt Ann, aka: the ultimate London tour guide, we saw (and learned) a lot! Let’s begin.

London 101, Day 1: Lots. of. Walking.

and that’s not a bad thing! You might have noticed this from other posts, but just wandering around a place is one of our favorite ways to get to know it. And what a better way to start the day then with a walking tour!

We did a fantastic walking tour of “The City” with a company called London Walks. In case you’re like me and have no idea what “The City” of London is (I mean… aren’t we already in the city??) it’s actually a city within London itself. It’s also referred to as “The Square Mile” because it’s area is a square mile. It’s here where the London that we know today began.

Our tour started at the monument to the great fire of 1666. I vaguely knew that London burned at one point, but I didn’t know that the city (or various part of it) burned over and over and over. Seriously, if something was damaged or no longer around, and someone asked you what happened to it you could just tell them ‘oh, it burned’ and it would probably be true. 1666 was particularly bad, since it wiped out all of London. Hence the name ‘the great fire’.

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The rest of the tour walked us through the major highlights of The City. This part of town is known now for a few particular buildings: The Cheese Shredder, The Gherkin, The Walkie Talkie. We saw all of these, as well as a few other spots, learning some history & architecture along the way.

After the tour, we refueled with a little lunch, and then headed to the Millennium Bridge (built for the millennium), passing St. Paul’s Cathedral along the way. We only walked by it, but it is such a beautiful place. It’s on our list of ‘must sees’ when we come back.

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We walked along the south side of the river until we hit our next big stop; the Tower Bridge! Shane and I were particularly excited about this because 1) it’s iconic, and 2) you can walk the upper portion of the bridge where they’ve installed a glass floor.

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Naturally, we had to do it. Aunt Ann, being the smart lady that she is, sat this one out. Something about being 42m (138ft) above the Thames with only a piece of glass under her feet didn’t sit too well. And I won’t lie… it was reallllllllllly creepy. I literally tiptoed over the thing. Kids are out there dancing a jig and i’m over here holding the railing like it’s going to save me if the glass breaks. (Which apparently, it has before. Glad I saw this after). Eventually, we warmed up to it and took this fun shot!

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After the bridge, we hopped on a boat up for a short trip down (up?) the Thames to the London Eye! Shane wasn’t exactly thrilled for this one, but he didn’t have a choice. It was cool, nice views, I enjoyed it but it’s not something I need to do again.

London 101, Day 2: History Day

We woke up on day 2 with (not surprisingly) sore feet from the day before, but ready to go! If you noticed in the pictures, the weather at this point in the trip, and for the remainder of the trip, was absolutely PERFECT. It made up for the sore feet.

Anyway, first stop of the day, The Tower of London!

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As one might assume, the Tower Bridge leads to the Tower of London. The original castle, The White Tower, was built in 1078 and now it’s still the official palace and fortress of Queen Elizabeth II. The crown jewels are in the Tower of London, which we saw, and were quite impressive. Go figure, you’re not allowed to take pictures. Anyway, we continued our tour of the tower with this guy!

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Who is he you ask? A Yeomen Warder, aka: a Beefeater! And a quite hilarious one at that. These guys are the (now ceremonial) guards of the Tower of London. Back in the day they once watched over prisoners, and generally kept the place safe. Today they still keep the place safe, they actually live there, but with no prisoners. They also lead free tours, which we both highly recommend. We learned about the various murders and executions that once took place there, and saw the chapel (which you can’t do without the tour). It’s in the chapel where Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s second wife, was buried after her execution. After the tour, we did a little castle-wall-walking and then we were on to our next adventure!

Can you guess what this is? heh.

Next stop, Westminster Abbey!

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Again, no pictures were allowed inside, but Shane and I were both really excited about this place. Even though it’s just looking at stones and inscriptions, seeing the burial places of people like Charles Darwin, Issac Newton, Jane Austen, & Charles Dickens was a pretty neat experience. Not to mention, the Royal wedding was held here! The free audio guide gave a great highlight tour, but even without it you could stay there for hours just admiring the greatness of things. Well worth the visit.

We topped off the afternoon with a little stroll by the Parliament buildings and St. James’s Park, took a quick look at Buckingham Palace since that’s all you can really do, and then headed home for the day.

London 101, Day 3: Hampton Court Palace

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Saturday morning, our last full day, the four of us headed out of town to Hampton Court Palace. This has been home to a number of people, but most notably to us was Henry VIII and William of Orange (he’s Dutch!).

Most of the day was spent touring the palace (again, audio guides! Highly recommended). It was quite striking the difference between the part of the palace that was constructed during the Tudor times of Henry VIII vs when William of Orange lived there. By the time Willie moved in to the palace Henry VIII’s choice of decor was soooooo last century. He needed to keep up with those French Jones’ so he redid 3 sides of the palace. Unfortunately for the Dutchie, he didn’t have much money (he invested heavily in wars) so he could only afford to redo 3 sides, and had to opt out of the gold gilded ceilings.

We thought inside the palace was quite spectacular. Even more so, were the gardens. Not to mention it was the warmest day so far & perfectly sunny. We also saw the largest and oldest grape vine. Didn’t take a picture of it, but it was large. And a grape vine. I’m sure you can imagine it.

After spending most of the day in Hampton Court, we headed back into the city with a pit stop at Trafalgar Square before heading home.

We thought inside the palace was quite spectacular. Even more so, were the gardens. Not to mention it was the warmest day so far & perfectly sunny. We also saw the largest and oldest grape vine. Didn’t take a picture of it, but it was large. And a grape vine. I’m sure you can imagine it.

After spending most of the day in Hampton Court, we headed back into the city with a pit stop at Trafalgar Square before heading home.

So! A few take aways from London:

  • London is an awesome city. You should go there. We forgot how much we missed the hustle and bustle of a big city. And public transportation! I know that seems silly since it’s not like we drive anywhere, but I just really liked using the Tube. And yes, I minded the gap.
  • Cask Ale is Shane’s new favorite style of beer. I didn’t really talk about this, but of course we had a few pints. One place in particular was part of a ‘go back to real ale’ movement, which means un-carbonated beer. Sounds weird (to me at least), but it was good.
  • Walking tours are the way of the tourist world! I know we said this to you already, Aunt Ann, but you have made us a believer! We have the bad habit of wandering around and not knowing what we’re looking at. It makes the trip much more meaningful when you actually DO know what you’re looking at! Go figure.
  • Audio guides…Use them! Again, we usually avoided. Mostly to not be ‘those tourists’. But ya know what? YOLO, and get an audio guide because you’ll actually learn something. And who knows if you’ll ever go back to that place again.

So, we had a fantastic time in London with gracious hosts! And actually, we will get to return the favor and show them around our stomping grounds here in a few weeks! They will make the trip from London to Groningen. But, until then…

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 Tot ziens!

Whitney