First out-of-the-country trip visiting London, Bath, and Stonehenge in the United Kingdom Oct 8-11, 2015!
After attending our Thursday morning Irish class like the good students we are, Kate, Megan and I headed to the airport to take our first flight out of Ireland and over to the neighboring UK! The bus ride from Stansted airport was basically as long as our flight so we were relieved to finally arrive at our hostel in Paddington. We had quite an adventure with this hostel. Pros:- Right next to the tube station – 10% discount at the pub it was located above – free printing! (we didn’t print our boarding passes because apparently only EU citizens can use the RyanAir app) – friendly staff. Cons: – NEVER STAY IN A 24 PERSON ROOM, trust me. – breakfast was free but just really sad (can you say carb overload?) – the “free wifi” didn’t actually work anywhere. Anywho, you live and you learn, that’s what traveling is all about, right?
Additionally, my parents and grandma were actually in London (flying there the day after I left them in Dublin) so we decided to meet up in Covent Garden for (a late) dinner. Next adventure: mastering the tube system. Thankfully we asked our new bartender friend for the best way to get there, otherwise it may have taken longer than the 45 minutes it ended up taking anyway. We needed to switch lines however the second line ended up being delayed. After standing on a stalled train for 5-10 minutes we went back one station then hopped over to another line that took us to a station on the outskirts of Covent Garden. From there it was only a 10 minutes walk to the restaurant where we arrived with big appetites. After dinner we took in London at night while walking along the river near the London Eye with Big Ben in the distance. It was until then that it actually hit us that we were in London!! This was also when I realized my phone camera is awesome in day light and not so much at nighttime.
Instead of jumping straight into London sightseeing the next morning, we had bought a day tour to see the city of Bath as well as Stonehenge! After getting little to no sleep in our hostel beds, we welcomed the two 1.5 hour rides between sights in our luxury coach bus seats. Our first stop was Stonehenge where we had audio guides and perfect sunny weather to take in the sight of the giant ancient stones. After taking the Irish Archaeology course in August, I now feel I have a better appreciation for sights like this. Plus, it’s just really cool to say I’ve visited Stonehenge. Besides seeing the stones, the exhibition had replica Neolithic huts and a cafe where we grabbed some sausage rolls for a snack before heading back on the bus toward Bath.
Bath is a gorgeous city nestled in the English hillsides and home to the Roman Baths – of which the city derives its name. Now with no roof to keep the water out of the sun’s reach, you wouldn’t want to actually bath there. Now exposed to the elements, the main pool is a rich green from growing algae and all that other fun stuff. Even though we were told MANY times not to touch the water (and why would I want to?) a surprising number of people were constantly stooped over poking a finger into the water. AT LEAST, they didn’t try to drink it. There is a fountain of warm mineral water that you can taste prior to leaving the baths. The mineral water is said to have healing powers which is one reason Romans would make the trek to be bathed in these special baths in the first place. The water has a slightly sulfuric taste but wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be. Megan, however, enjoyed it so much that she filled her entire water bottle with the warm liquid. Kate also felt a lot better after drinking it so who knows, maybe it does have special healing powers. Our tour guide, Stacy, was quite happy that we believed in the magic of it.
Another recommendation was to try cream teas. Basically, you get two scones with a personal pot of tea then add as much cream and jam to the scones as you’d like. We could a cute little cafe with an outdoor courtyard to sit and enjoy our afternoon snack. They were quite delicious and not a bad price either! Also, strawberries are SUPER expensive so I was super happy to have a couple come with my scones. 🙂
I wish we had more than an hour and a half to explore the baths and the city but that’s the downside of day tours, you only have enough for a taste of the experience until you decide to go back for a longer holiday. There are so many cute shops and gardens in the city of Bath. Jane Austen called Bath home for a while so there’s a museum dedicated to her life and written works. We strolled around for the time we had left and, of course, grabbed some gelato before getting on the bus for our lovely three hour nap on our way back to London.
Saturday morning we put on our tourist hats and headed for the heart of the city. Nothing quite like starting your day with a coffee and Big Ben in the background! When we arrived at Buckingham Palace it happened to be right on time for the changing of the guard! It was a really neat experience to see the men up on their horses and the band following them into the square. We did a lot more “seeing” than actual touring of the main London attractions. The one tour we did go on was the Tower of London.
We began with the first part of the guided tour but it was such a large group with a little man yelling the gruesome tales of the Tower so we broke off on our own to go see the Crown Jewels. The display set-up was actually quite interesting and well done! Waiting in line, I felt like I was in an amusement park with the videos on the walls to keep you occupied. Sadly, you can’t take pictures but the jewels were mighty impressive and the doors to the main room looked like the classic safe doors you see in crime movies. We continued around the outside of the tower and through smaller exhibit rooms before heading on our way over Tower Bridge.
Many people assume this is the London Bridge but that’s actually a lot smaller. You can actually pay to climb to the top and walk across the glass floors over the bridge. It’s a cool sight but we decided against it due to the long line and -mainly- because we were being a bit stingy with our money. Other cool bridges are the London Bridge and the Millennium Bridge (aka the one that the dementors destroy in Harry Potter).
Just walking through the side streets and along the river felt like a whole other world. There is so much to do but we made the best out of our one day. We passed by Shakespeare’s Globe Theater but tours were done for the day and none of us knew the story of the play that was showing that night so we didn’t stick around too long.
We ended up in Notting Hill for dinner at John Oliver’s. The two-story store and cafe was adorable and operated cooking classes in the center of both floors. After dinner we wandered past Kensington Palace and embassy row. It would’ve been a lot cooler if it hadn’t been so dark with few street lamps but we did brush up on our world flag trivia! After walking over 23,000 steps and almost 10.6 miles (see picture on the left), we were exhausted and spent the rest of the night relaxing and eating cake at our hostel’s pub.
Our bus to the airport wasn’t until noon so we, again, took on the typical tourist look, grabbed our bags and headed to the streets to find a place for (a more filling) breakfast. Only a couple blocks from Baker Street, we decided to head that way and pass by the Sherlock Holmes museum. It seemed ridiculously expensive for a museum so we didn’t venture inside but it was neat to see where the stories were based! From there we wandered through Regent’s Park which was absolutely beautiful and filled with birds and squirrels and morning runners. After a few interesting paths, we finally made it to a cafe along the main stretch (picture those stereotypical musical sequences through Central Park, NYC) and near some sports fields. Finally, we rolled our bags along toward Baker Street to catch our bus taking another autumn-colored garden path. The trip definitely had its ups and downs but this kind of traveling helps to strengthen your ability to roll with the punches and enjoy the adventure that awaits you.