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…

photobombed.
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

The Best Darn Mom & Sis Trip: Video Version

Hi all!

Considering we took this trip in September, these videos have been a long time coming. They’ve been ready for a little while now, but I was waiting until after my trip home to the U.S. before I posted about them here. I wanted to share them with my mom and sister first! 🙂

This was also my first attempt at making the GoPro video mash-up. Usually, Shane is the video maker, but since he “didn’t go on the trip and can’t tell my story” (yeah yeah – I guess he’s right) I did it, and ended up loving it.

So, here they are!

Part 1: the Netherlands and London

fullsizeoutput_15a2

Part 2: Scotland

fullsizeoutput_15ea

(I would also like to pre-warn you – all the music is from the Outlander series which, of course, was part of the reason we went to Scotland.)

Hope you enjoy!

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!

kingscross

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.

fullsizeoutput_15d7

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.

IMG_4870

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.

Screen Shot 2017-09-23 at 19.20.21

Doing a little scene reenactment, naturally.

Screen Shot 2017-09-23 at 19.14.39

Glenfinnan Viaduct, Where: Glenfinnan, Scotland

Which you might recognize as the Hogwarts Express!

IMG_0359

…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.

fullsizeoutput_15ee

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

IMG_0365

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.

IMG_5197

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.

IMG_5013

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.

fullsizeoutput_15f3
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)

outlander stones
fullsizeoutput_1666
fullsizeoutput_1663

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

fullsizeoutput_1665

Blackness Castle, Where: Linlithgow, Scotland

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

fullsizeoutput_15e2

Linlithgow Palace, Where: Linlithgow, Scotland

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

fullsizeoutput_15e0

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).

fullsizeoutput_15ea
IMG_4943

Glenfinnan Monument, Where: Glenfinnan, Scotland

Screen Shot 2017-09-23 at 20.22.07

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.

fullsizeoutput_15f0
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.

IMG_5120

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.

IMG_5133

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.

IMG_5131

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)!

IMG_4953

Tot ziens,

Whitney