M & K in San Diego

the west coast adventures of two east coast kids

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Epic UK Adventure: Day 8

Day 8 was our final day abroad. (Technically there was a Day 9, but it was spent packing, eating breakfast, and leaving for the airport - then freaking out about last minute ticket changes, finally getting things sorted out, and then flying from London to Los Angeles, watching lots of movies and reading some books and sleeping a little bit along the way. But I digress.)

Back in London, M & K and Michael wanted to run around the city doing things we hadn’t done before. K’s dad and Claudia decided to take a day trip to Oxford, and word has it they really enjoyed their visit - but that’s another story. Ours began with a quick ill-fated jaunt up to King’s Cross Station (subway closures forced us to figure out alternate routes and we were not altogether savvy in our methods) to visit Platform 9 3/4. Clearly we had to get the touristy Harry Potter photo op, no matter how long it took us to get there!

Having traveled a good distance in one direction for a five minute photo op, we then turned around and headed an entirely different one. We wanted to go tour around famous St Paul’s Cathedral, listed on the floor of St Peter’s Basilica in Rome as the second longest cathedral in the world, although this is apparently a matter of some contention (apparently the floor needs an update). And of course, by “we” I mean “K” wanted to tour it. M and Michael mostly wanted to hurry through the building and climb the enormous dome. They were troopers and allowed K to read some of the more interesting tidbits out of her guidebook, but the dome was definitely the highlight. After 530 steps to the very top, with a few stops along the way, we were rewarded with amazing panoramic views of London.

After climbing back down from the top of the dome, we left the cathedral behind, instead wandering down the street until we made it to London Bridge. Guidebook in hand, K shared that there has been a bridge over that exact point in the river for nearly 2000 years - quite a history! While crossing the bridge, K snapped a quick quintessential tourist-in-London picture: the red double-decker bus crossing the London Bridge with the Tower Bridge in the background!

We went to the London Eye with the intention of riding it, but the lines were too long and our time too precious. Instead, we turned our feet in the direction of Buckingham Palace, and on the way, stopped for food at St George’s Tavern. This was the best decision of the day, we later decided. We had a fabulous Polish waiter who regaled us with stories of London, himself, and pub antics, and who made all our food and drink decisions for us. We told him we wanted beer; he brought us a surprise sampler and made us taste them all before he would tell us what they were. Michael told him he wanted the chicken burger; he insisted that Michael actually wanted the sausage. (This turned out to be entirely correct.) He told us jokes and gave us pop quizzes (why do the beer mugs for the men have handles and why are they so heavy? because when men get into bar fights they can club each other with them OR break of the handles and have a handy little sharp weapon. awesome). We could have sat there in our little corner booth for hours just listening to him talk, but eventually, after taking some pictures with our new friend, we did head back out into the London afternoon.

Our timing actually turned out to be pretty good - we got to Buckingham Palace just in time to see the (miniature) changing of the guard - certainly not the level of the daily spectacle as all of the troops change shifts, but the minor changing of the guards at the front of the palace. Still pretty nifty to see.

That night, for our last night in town, we met up with some friends of K’s dad and Claudia and went out to a place near Covent Garden for dinner. We had a great time and the food was fantastic, and afterwards, K & M and Michael had once last adventure as we sought out the first ever Hard Rock Cafe. M has always liked to collect t-shirts from places he visits, and he quickly discovered that Hard Rock Cafe shirts last, while those from street vendors… well, don’t. So we try to visit a Hard Rock anytime we’re in a city that has one so we can get a souvenir we’ll actually be able to use later, and we were both excited to see the first ever Hard Rock Cafe. Little did we know what we were in for: there’s a whole rock and roll museum across the street, with memorabilia that they literally could not fit into the Cafe! We took the quick free tour they offered, and the boys especially were blown away by the musical history captured in the small space. We took lots of pictures, bought our souvenirs, and ended the day - and, essentially, the trip - with smiles and laughter and the feeling that, while we hadn’t seen it all, we’d definitely made our time in the UK count!

Filed under travel epic UK adventure family trip london Harry Potter king's cross station platform 9 3/4 st paul's cathedral london bridge st george's tavern buckingham palace hard rock cafe the end

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Epic Uk Adventure: Day 7

The seventh day of our grand adventure was mostly devoted to traveling from St Andrews back to London, which took most of the day. We caught the train on a morning that dawned clear and bright - we could have been sad to miss the gorgeous weather, but instead chose to value our True Scottish Experience (rain) and look ahead to a fun night out in London!

The train only carried semi-edible snacks and we were stuck on it straight through lunch, so by the time we got back to London, checked into our hotel, and quickly freshened up, we were MORE than ready for some food. Claudia got a recommendation from our hotel’s concierge for a place down the street and we practically ran there. Look how tired and hungry we were:

Which is why we what? Ordered alcohol, like any good family on vacation. Whoo!

The last half of the trip, we extensively documented our alcohol intake. You, faithful reader, may have already noticed this trend.

Anyway! Our little group had an engagement that night: we had tickets to a show! Now, we were in London. London theater is legendary. You might assume we would take the opportunity to go see a headline musical, like Wicked, Les Mis, or something of the sort. But K’s dad wanted to see something new, something out of the ordinary, and so, we saw…

In case you can’t read that, it says “Priscilla: Queen of the Desert”! It’s a show about a drag queen who travels across Australia singing disco and it. was. AWESOME. We (that is, K & M & Michael) were skeptical at first, but we were blown away. We had a great time, and the performances were superb! We got to the theater early and had drinks before the show, and then when it was all over, we weren’t finished having fun so we headed to Covent Garden and had some food and drink at a restaurant in the square. We may have spent most of the day traveling, but we made up for it in the fun we had that night!

Filed under travel epic UK adventure family trip train st andrews scotland london england theatre priscilla queen of the desert musical

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Epic UK Adventure: Day 3

On the third day, we traveled. Our original plan was to catch a mid-morning train up to Edinburgh, but sadly, as we were in the middle of tourist season and had neglected to reserve seats, we ended up having to wait several hours to leave. We made the best of the situation, found a pub where we could park ourselves and our stuff for a while, and K realized that the British Library was just down the street, so she and M headed there to take a look. For zero dollars (or pounds for that matter), we got to see two copies of the 1215 Magna Carta, a copy of the Canterbury Tales, and many other original copies of literary works that totally blew K’s mind. Both of us loved their music section, which included original pages of Handel’s Messiah, Mozart’s wedding contract, the sheet music for Bolero, and a whole case full of Beatles paraphernalia, including original sheet music and lyrics with notes from McCartney and Lennon. So cool! The Library was also featuring a new (temporary?) Sci-Fi exhibit which was full of interesting tidbits, copies of famous (and less-so) works of science fiction, and a variety of informational videos and interviews with authors playing throughout the exhibit.

We made our way back to the pub to join the others in a few pints before catching our train. I think all of us had perhaps one or two too many…

Ah, the joy of family time.

Our train ride to Edinburgh was fairly uneventful. We mostly read, napped, chatted with each other. We did see some lovely views, especially as we crossed into Scotland, but of course it’s difficult to capture those vistas from a quickly moving train…

Once in Edinburgh, we quickly made it to our bed and breakfast (where we all fell instantly in love with our beautiful, comfortable rooms), and then headed out to get some food. K’s brother Jack chose to befriend some locals, but the rest of us wound up at a place called Cafe Royal for oysters, wine, and some really delicious food.

Filed under travel epic UK adventure family trip london edinburgh tourists train british library magna carta cafe royal bed and breakfast

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Epic UK Adventure: Day 2

After a good night’s sleep, we were ready to conquer London once more. This time, we were starting at the heart of some of the bloodiest (and most interesting) history of the city: the Tower of London.

We got to the Tower grounds before the gates opened, so we were some of the first to enter the area. K had done her research and knew we needed to head for the Crown Jewels first, as the lines would get ridiculously long later in the day. Great success! We saw so many precious gems our heads were spinning, and all of us were amazed to think of the royal heads the various crowns had sat upon. (No pictures of the royal regalia, sadly, but you have to see the world’s largest cut diamond to believe it anyway, so we suggest you go to London.)

After viewing the Jewels, we joined a Beefeater tour that was just beginning. “Beefeater” is a term which refers to the Yeomen Warders who guard the Tower and have done so since the time of the Tudors. They are still considered to be “on guard” - they safeguard the Crown Jewels, live on the Tower grounds, and also care for the Tower ravens. In their spare time, they give tours. Awesome, hilarious, gruesome tours.

The Beefeaters make sure to dwell on the bloodiest, most shocking stories of British history - the story of Henry VIII and his wives, especially Anne Boleyn; the story of the two young princes who were murdered by their uncle in his quest for the throne, and whose bodies were eventually discovered walled up in a stairwell in the Tower; and of course multiple stories of torture taking place in the dungeons. It’s a great tour! Highly recommended if you ever visit London and the Tower. After the tour, we wandered the grounds some more, visiting the Beauchamp Tower (famous for the carvings in its walls from prisoners throughout the centuries), the execution site within the Tower grounds (where there is now a memorial to the executed), and the White Tower museum (which boasts displays of Henry XIII’s armor as well as the actual execution block, ax, and executioner’s mask).

My my, look at that codpiece!

We had a brief moment of terror when K realized she had put her (nice, expensive) camera down and forgotten to pick it back up. Frantically, we raced around trying to find it. Finally, K asked one of the Beefeaters where to find lost and found items, and just at that moment, he got a message on his walkie talkie that a camera had been found and turned in. Crisis averted! Thank goodness for the Beefeaters. (And the kindness of strangers.)

We had spent several hours at the Tower by the time we were leaving, so after enjoying the view of Tower Bridge we headed to the Dickens Inn for some fish and chips and beer.

After a late, leisurely meal, we headed to the famed British Museum. With not much time left before it closed, we prioritized and headed for Egypt. We saw the Rosetta Stone (SO COOL), amazing Egyptian statues and art, and of course, the mummies.

Sadly, after an amazing day of touring, M & K (K especially) were amazingly exhausted. So, we all headed back to the hotel, where M & K ended up crashing for the rest of the night, while K’s dad and his wife went to Covent Garden for dinner and K’s brothers went out to a couple of pubs. M & K were disappointed to miss out - but the rest was sorely needed and definitely helped them to get in the groove for the rest of the trip!

Filed under travel epic UK adventure family trip london exhaustion tourists tower of london tower bridge beefeaters crown jewels british museum dickens inn rosetta stone

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Epic UK Adventure: Day 1

At the very end of July, M & K embarked on a nine-day journey through England and Scotland with K’s two brothers, her dad, and her dad’s wife. Full of crazy adventures, ridiculous family togetherness, and amazing experiences, it was an unforgettable trip.

Day One: We dropped the dogs off at camp, picked up Starbucks and sandwiches, and drove to the LA airport, where we hung out for several hours waiting for our flight. Thankfully, we had a nonstop flight straight to London, so once we boarded we were home free. M watched a total of four - yes, four - movies (Just Go With It, Battle: Los Angeles, Source Code, and Water for Elephants) on the way there. (K watched the first and last of those with him, read some, and slept as much as she could.) We discovered a passionate love of Virgin Atlantic and highly recommend flying Virgin at any opportunity. (Free drinks! Good food! Goody bags!!) As exhausted as we were by the time we finally reached our hotel (the Melbourne House Hotel) in London, we were still ready to go exploring (and get some food) - after all, it was the middle of the day there! We were staying right down the street from Parliament, Big Ben, and Westminster Abbey, so that’s where we headed first.

We had planned to go to Westminster Abbey for the evensong - but as we walked over, we saw signs that it had been postponed until later. So since we were already there, we decided just to tour it instead. K was especially fascinated by all the history inside, and was strangely moved to see the tombs of Elizabeth I, Mary I, and Mary Queen of Scots, as well as those of such pillars of music and literature as Handel and Chaucer.

As we left that area, waving goodbye to Big Ben (and having visions of Peter Pan and Wendy flying around the face of the enormous clock), we headed up Whitehall and saw the remnants of Whitehall Palace (another geek moment for K). Just before reaching Trafalgar Square, we realized we could not go any further without sustenance and good beer, so we headed into the Lord Moon of the Mall for some fish ‘n chips and British ale. First, of course, we had to take a touristy photo.

After getting food, we pressed on. We saw the building that stood in for Gringotts in the Harry Potter movies, the Royal Courts of Justice, St Paul’s Cathedral, and the Millennium Bridge. We stopped along our walk for another pint, because, you know, that’s what you do. Also because it was called Ye Olde Cock Tavern and had a fun poem in the entry way.

By the time we crossed over the Thames by way of the Millennium Bridge (with a lovely view of the Tower Bridge lit up by the sunset), we were all a little loopy from exhaustion. In our delirious state we entered the Tate Modern. This may not have been the best plan, in hindsight - we younger folk ended up playing in the kiddie area, making up new names for the modern art we saw everywhere, and basically making a nuisance of ourselves.

Yeah, by then it was time to go back to the hotel, get some food at the Italian place down the street, and collapse into bed. After an approximately 30 hour day, it was definitely time.

Filed under travel epic UK adventure family trip london exhaustion virgin atlantic melbourne house hotel westminster abbey london parliament big ben lord moon of the mall tourists