Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Britain Sampler

Get settled and grab a cup of tea because this is going to be a long one folks!

Three countries. Five hotels. Thirteen cities. Ten days.

That was my vacation. My first trip overseas. My grand European tour.

My family and I started in London and made our way North throughout England, up through Wales and Scotland, and then South back down to London, and we saw amazing things. Because it was my first time overseas and my parents' first time to the U.K. we decided to join a pre-determined tour. If you're interested in that here is the website:

Britain Sampler. That's truly what it was. Some of the places we went we spent mere hours in. If I were to go back I think I would attempt to go to a few fewer places and spend more time in each one.

We started off in London which was a beautiful city. The mix of new and old architecture and the expanse of parks made me so happy. We saw beautiful art at the Victoria and Albert Museum, had amazing fish and chips, saw the Crown Jewels at the Tower of London, breathed the same air as the Queen at Windsor Castle, ate Spotted Dick for dessert, walked across the bridge Voldemort destroyed in the 6th Harry Potter, visited 221b Baker Street, and so much more in just two and a half days.

Our next stop was Stonehenge, despite it being rainy, windy, and freezing, and not feeling well, it was an unreal experience. Seeing something you've only seen in history books makes you feel really small.

After basking in the mysterious handiwork of the Druids we made our way to Bath, England. This city, built by the Romans, was one of my favorite places we visited. Each building is made from these amazing white stones and they look fantastic next to one another. We visited The Roman Baths, another place I'd simply read about. Walking through the entrance was like stepping into ancient Rome, I could almost feel Julius Caesar's presence.

We shopped around and I took 5,000 photos and then it was time for our next location: the Cotswolds. If anyone is a fan of the movie The Holiday, and you should because it's the greatest Christmas movie ever made, then you'll know that Iris lives in the Cotswolds. So going there had me hyped. We walked the narrow streets and I tried Lady Grey tea in a quaint cafe. The tea was gross but the views were stellar. Next time I'll stick with my usual Earl Grey.

After the Cotswolds, we made the pilgrimage to Stratford-upon-Avon to visit the birthplace of the bard himself, William Shakespeare. We got to see Anne Hathaway's Cottage, see the room where Will was born, and watch a group of actors perform in the garden outside.

That afternoon we crossed the border into Wales. I loved Wales. I am ready to move to Wales. Take me back to Llangollen and I will be content. The Dee River, the rolling hills, the abundance of sheep, the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, it was by far my favorite place we visited. We took a canal cruise over the aqueduct and it was magical. I felt so at one with nature, I really did. It was a shame we had to leave after only half a day.

Next, we crossed back into England and spent some time in Chester. We saw the remains of a Roman amphitheater and some Tudor architecture. We carried on to Grasmere which was a fairyland. Flowers and trees everywhere. We tried Sarah Nelson's world famous Grasmere Gingerbread and took in the beauty of nature before heading over the Scottish border at Gretna Green.

For those of you who may have never heard of Gretna Green, it was a place where couples used to run away and elope. There was a blacksmith shop where they would be married and then they would flee into Scotland to avoid their parents from England. Pretty badass. Now there's a small museum and just a lot of shops for tourists.

That evening we made our way into Scotland's capital city, Edinburgh (pronounced more like Edinboro). This was another one of the places I truly fell in love with. The bagpipes wafting through the streets, Edinburgh Castle, the view from our tiny hotel. I loved it all. We toured Edinburgh Castle, shopped around the Royal Mile, and saw amazing art at Scotland's National Galleries. I could have stayed in this city forever.

Our next stop in Scotland was Abbotsford, the home of writer and poet Sir Walter Scott. I am not a fan of Sir Scott but his gardens were beautiful and he had a Turnbull crest on his wall. So that was cool.

Then it was back to England. York, England. As someone who is originally from New York, this was a cool stop. York is home to an area called "The Shambles" and it is like nothing you've ever seen. Narrow streets, buildings leaning forward, tiny shops, tea rooms. When you picture the word idyllic in our head, it's The Shambles you are thinking of.

On our last day, we went to the market in Stamford and I finally got a good cup of tea and saw some amazing dogs. We then visited the University of Cambridge which is actually just a bunch of different colleges near each other. We saw students celebrating their graduation and learned that they are required to dress up for their exams. Can you imagine having to wear a suit or heels to take your finals?

That evening we returned to London. Full circle. We went to an Evensong service at Westminster Abbey and it was unreal. That choir is transportive. I felt like I was in a movie. We also watched the church install their first female Minor Canon (similar to a deacon), and she was a lesbian. My heart was filled with this beautiful display of acceptance in the church.

We got dinner at Pret A Manger or just Pret as the locals call it, and settled in before a day of travel.

This trip was the greatest experience. I am so grateful to my parents for giving me this opportunity and to Globus for allowing us to see so many places on a wonderful tour.

I'll be back.

View my photo album here:


Things I will miss about the U.K.

In one of my recent posts, I talked about things I wasn't expecting when I visited the U.K., here are some of the things I will miss the most now that I'm home.

1. Ancient architecture and I mean ancient.

The United States has only been a country for about 240 years which really isn't that long when you consider that Great Britain has been around since the 10th century. As someone who loves history (y'all know how much I love George Washington) being in castles and towers that have been standing for centuries was otherworldly. If you ever make your way across the pond to London you must go to the Tower of London and Windsor Castle.

2. Three-course dinners, every night.

Every time we had a dinner at our hotel we had a starter, a main, and a dessert. Every time. Dinner would start at around seven in the evening with wine and continue through three courses followed by coffee and tea. We would be at the table for two hours or more. It was nice not to rush since I usually allow myself 20 minutes to eat, especially when I'm at school. Once dinner was over you were ready to relax for the evening, it was lovely. As Americans, we could learn from this idea of slowing it down.

3. Sticky toffee pudding.

Need I say more? Look it up, it will change you.

4. Farmlands and fields.

We have plenty of farms in our country, I see them every time I'm on the PA Turnpike, but the English and Scottish countrysides are insane. I have never seen so many sheep, cattle, pigs, and ponies in my life. Miles upon miles of just trees and mountains and fields of grazing livestock. It was perfect and peaceful.

I could easily make this list go on and on, but I won't. Just know that the U.K. has a lot to offer even if it just seems like a more polite version of America, it is worth visiting.


Minor misadventures

If you've ever seen the movie National Lampoon's European Vacation then you know that a lot can go wrong when a family goes on vacation.

And although we didn't get stuck in traffic near Big Ben for hours or drive directly into Stonehenge, we had a couple minor mishaps of our own. Who doesn't when you're traveling?

We began our journey to London with a delayed flight from Pittsburgh to Boston that would surely make us miss our connecting flight. In an attempt to remedy this we switched our first flight to Philadelphia. And got delayed. Again.

When we finally made it to the Philadelphia airport we had miles to walk to our gate and not much time to do it. Thankfully, a kind airport employee transported us via golf cart and we even had time to get bagels at Bruegger's. But guess what? Our flight to London was delayed too.

The seven and a half hour flight wasn't too bad. I had the window seat, they fed us, and there were places to charge phones and screens with movies to watch.

We arrived at Heathrow airport around eight in the morning London time, about three in the morning Pittsburgh time. Full of excitement we made it through border security only to find that American Airlines had lost my luggage and sent it to Italy. What are the odds my suitcase got to go to Italy before I did? With nothing but the clothes on my back, we checked into our hotel. I was distraught. I will never bring a carry on that is too small to fit an extra outfit ever again. My luggage arrived a day and a half later after I had gone shopping and bought clothes.

Traveling back to Pittsburgh from London was only slightly less chaotic. We got up at five in the morning London time and left for the airport at 6:30 a.m. for our 10:30 a.m. flight. We stopped for coffee (a chai latte for me) and read some British newspapers which I brought back with me to show all my journalist friends. We made our way through security and guess who's carry on had tot get the extra check? This girl! They leafed through all of my things and ended up having to scan my mascara and concealer under the machine again. I got held up because of mascara and concealer but they didn't even make me take off my shoes. Confusing.

The plane ride to Raleigh-Durham airport was great, except for the man next to me who kept dropping his used tissues onto my lap. They fed us four times during the flight and I watched Jackie and The Girl On The Train, both of which were excellent.

We arrived back on U.S. soil around noon and successfully made it through customs security. And my suitcase even arrived with us! With plenty of time before our flight to Pittsburgh, we meandered through the airport stopping for snacks and checking out one of the airport's many bookstores.

The plane to Pittsburgh was small. One seat, an aisle, and then two seats. Nothing like the monstrosity we had flown overseas in. We boarded on time thinking "maybe this flight won't be delayed." Guess what? It was delayed. Three of the seats on the plane were broken and we had to deplane and wait for maintenance to fix them. By the time we got back to Pittsburgh we had been traveling for 20 hours. I had never known true exhaustion until that moment, between the jet lag and the aching in my legs from sitting so long, I truly felt like a weary traveler.

This is not meant to be a laundry list of complaints, I had an amazing time on vacation, but it is an accurate picture of my travel experience. What travel misadventures have you had? I'd love to know.


Monday, May 22, 2017

Things I didn't expect in the U.K.

I just got back from a whirlwind 10 day trip throughout England, Wales, and Scotland. It was phenomenal. Before departing I knew there would be some cultural differences between the U.S. and the U.K., but there were a few things I didn't account for.

Here are my top four:

1. Public restrooms, or "toilets," are not free.

This was shocking to me, each town we visited had a public toilet with a coin-operated entry. There was even an employee at the door to give change if you didn't have the right coins. Using the restroom costs 20 pence, which is about 26 cents in American currency. The U.K. is willing to employ someone to give people change at a restroom. Let that sink in.

2. Hotel beds only have one sheet.

Those of you who know me well know that I love Hampton Inns. I can't explain it, I just do. So when I first arrived at the Hilton London Metropole I figured I knew what I was getting into. However, I soon discovered that no matter what city I was in, one thing was the same. The bed only had one sheet--the comforter. No top sheet, no light blanket, just the thick, heavy comforter. I about died from heat stroke my first night.

3. Turning on the lights is a multi-step process.

You walk into your hotel room to turn on the lights, you press the switch (yes press not flip), and nothing happens. You notice then that next to the light switch is a place to insert your hotel room key. You insert the key and the lights come on. You think you're in the clear and remove the key, a few seconds later the room is pitch dark. You realize then that you must leave your key in the slot the entire time you want the lights on. Why is this necessary?

4. Breakfast is an event.

I'd heard of the famous "Full English Breakfast" before, I am a Gordon Ramsay fan after all, but I didn't think that it was an everyday thing. Each hotel had a buffet of eggs, bacon, toast, pastries, grilled tomatoes, mushrooms, fruit, yogurt, juices, coffee, teas, oatmeal, etc. As someone who has a hard time eating much before noon, eating such a heavy meal each morning was something I was definitely not accustomed to.

I had my moments of culture shock but it was easy to adjust after a couple days. This is a great place for anyone who wants to go overseas for the first time. Stay tuned for a more lengthy post about all the places I went and for photos.