Check out my previous Wanderlust Wednesday posts.
It's taken three weeks, but I finally did it - I have a trip recap! Warning: it's a really long post! I tried to keep it as short as possible, but it is two weeks' worth of stuff, and I didn’t want to leave anything out. I hope this will interest some of you and that a few of you might even get through the whole thing. ;-) I've highlighted the highlights in case you don't want to read the whole thing, but just want to know what I did, where I went, what I saw, etc. There aren't many pictures, but most of my Wanderlust Wednesday posts from now on will be themed posts about my trip, including lots of pics. Next week’s WW is the British Fandom Edition, where I’ll share pictures of 221B Baker Street, Gower Street, Platform 9 3/4 at King’s Cross Station, and the TARDIS we found! In the meantime if you want to see more pics, visit my Instagram, because I posted some pics as we went, and I'm still posting pics there fairly regularly.
Here we go!
Marie and Krista Do the UK and Europe
Day 1 - Bye bye Canada!
- We left around 3pm for Pearson International Airport in Toronto, which is about a 2-hour drive. Checked in, got through security (I'd been worrying about security for months, not knowing what to expect, but we breezed through it in minutes and it was super easy, proving that I am often neurotic for no reason). Grabbed some food, charged our phones, people-watched, then boarded our plane. We didn't want to pay $35 each for reserved seats when we booked our flights, so we ended up sitting on opposite sides of the plane - boo! I sat with a lovely woman and her teenage daughter from Texas, and Krista sat with a guy from London, so she got lots of tips and tricks for the trip, which was great. We had a yummy dinner (I always hear how plane food sucks, but I thought the food was delicious), I watched Paddington, slept a bit, and overall had a pretty good flight.
Day 2 - London, baby!
- We arrived at Heathrow shortly after 8:30am, got through customs, grabbed our bags, then went through the airport to the tube (subway), where we bought our Oyster cards (a travel card you put money on and then simply tap to ride the trains - best thing ever, for so many reasons. If you're travelling to London and you're curious about this - or anything else I talk about in this post - please don't hesitate to contact me to ask questions). Luckily the tube runs straight from the airport to our stop, so we didn’t have to change, but the ride took about an hour, and we ended up standing, balancing against our luggage, for the whole ride. We went straight to our hotel (less than a five-minute walk from Russell Square station, yay!) and miraculously were able to check in right away, despite check-in technically being at 2pm. We were both tired and felt gross (my eyes were so tired and dry, I could barely see), so it was nice to get settled into the room. We had planned to do a ton of stuff that day to avoid jet lag, but unfortunately, we were both so out of it, it took us ages to work up the energy to leave the hotel.
- We finally dragged ourselves out and wandered around the area. I was specifically looking for Gower Street, where BBC’s Sherlock is filmed, since I’d read it wasn’t far from the hotel. We kept getting turned around, but we ended up seeing some really pretty parks and interesting buildings, and finally ended up at Gower Street by accident. It was so cool to see the facade of the building where Sherlock is filmed, plus Speedy’s Café, which you can see in every episode. Very cool! From there, we grabbed the tube. We’d intended to get to Tower Hill, but ended up in Leicester Square, where we decided to wander around. We discovered we were in the City of London, which was one of our goals; Krista's brother sent her this video before we left, explaining the difference between London and the City of London, and we were fascinated. We were completely lost, looking for a place to eat, and I just happened to see one of the City of London crests, so that perked us up right away. We finally found a place to eat (my first meal in London? Fish and chips, naturally!), then headed back to the hotel.
- Took the tube to Piccadilly Circus. Wandered around, stopped at Caffé Nero, had a real British scone, complete with clotted cream and a tiny pot of strawberry jam - heaven! I also had my first ever macchiato, which was also really good.
- Went to the Household Cavalry, saw the cavalry guard, went through the museum
- Saw Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey went through St. James Park (where we stopped for ice cream and sat to watch the birds and ducks), saw Buckingham Palace, Wellington Arch
- Around 5pm we went to meet my friend JK. She moved to London last November and is working as a librarian in a school on a 2-year visa. We met her after work at Baker Street tube station, went to see 221B Baker Street (the museum was closed, but we hadn’t intended to go in anyway, although now that I’ve seen the outside and peeked in the windows, going inside is on my list for my next trip to London), then went for dinner, wandered around Oxford Street, and then parted ways since it was getting dark and we were all tired.
Day 4 - Day trip out of London
- We left early in the morning to meet up with a tour going to Windsor Castle, Bath, and Stonehenge.
- We did a tour of Windsor Castle, which was huge and beautiful. AND...Queen Elizabeth was in residence! We were there during the Royal Ascot, and I guess the queen is always at Windsor (her favourite home) for that. It was exciting knowing she was there. On our way out, we saw part of the changing of the guard, but we were in a hurry to catch the bus, so we couldn't stay long. I definitely want to go back to Windsor, do a more thorough tour of the castle, see the chapel, and check out the town itself.
- From there we drove to Bath. We saw the cathedral from the outside, and got to do a tour of the Roman Baths. Krista and I both drank from the spring, which is apparently full of minerals and healing properties. It was hot and gross, but it’s fun to say we did it! Next time I go to England, I’d love to spend at least a full day, if not a couple days in Bath. It was so beautiful, but we didn’t get to do anything other than the Roman Baths.
- From there, we drove to Stonehenge. I’ve wanted to see Stonehenge my whole life, and it didn’t disappoint. We took our time doing a full loop of the circle before making a mad dash back to the bus.
- After that it was time to head back to London. It was a whirlwind day, and it didn’t feel like we had enough time to see everything properly, but considering it was a 12-hour day and we spent over half of that just driving from place to place, it would have been impossible to spend more time in each place. I’m happy I got to see what I did, plus our tour guide was incredible, and gave us several tips for things to do in London, some of which we actually ended up doing.
- We met JK in the morning and headed to Buckingham Palace to see the changing of the guard
- Wandered the streets for awhile (okay, we got totally turned around, but we ended up seeing some pretty cool things, including the London Ritz, where I’d love to go for high tea someday).
- Said goodbye to JK, then Krista and I headed for the British Museum. We were there for several hours, then got some yummy waffles from a cart outside and sat and watched people come and go.
- 6pm: Contiki group meetup! We met our tour manager and the people on our tour, then had a group dinner before meeting our coach driver and setting out for a quick tour of London. We ended up at Buckingham Palace at dusk, which was nice because there were only a few people milling around instead of the usual massive crowds.
- We set out with some of the people from our Contiki group and started the day at the Tower of London. This little history nerd was very happy! We did one of the tours guided by a Beefeater, had ice cream while we waited in line to see the Crown Jewels, and then went up in the White Tower.
- From there we went for lunch, then did a cruise on the Thames River. We got off at Westminster Pier, where we took the tube to King’s Cross Station and...saw Platform 9 3/4! We had to wait in line for quite awhile, but it was totally worth it once I was up there, wearing a Ravenclaw scarf, holding a wand, and going off to Hogwarts (at least in my own vivid imagination)! I got a few neat little things in the gift shop for myself and my nephews, then we headed back to the hotel to drop everything off and head straight back out to meet our Contiki group for...
- A Jack the Ripper walking tour! We walked through the streets of Whitechapel, seeing the murder sites and the buildings from the 1880s that are still standing, and heard about the murders, theories about the murderer, and what life was like in the late 1800s in London. I’ve had this sick fascination with Jack the Ripper for years and our tour guide was fantastic, so this was definitely a highlight for me.
- After the tour, we walked to a nightclub, where about half the group got in, but then the rest of us were turned away because it was too full. We headed down the street to a pub, which was PACKED. We were like 'meh' and so were the girls we were with, so we caught the tube at Piccadilly and headed back to the hotel, where we met up with a few other people who had skipped the bar, and we had dinner and drinks with them in one of the hotel’s restaurants.
- Did a tour of Westminster Abbey. We spent probably two hours exploring. I got to light a candle for my dad, Grama, and Poppy. Again, the history nerd in me was happy...and it was exciting to walk down the aisle where Duchess Kate walked to marry Prince William!
- Had a delicious lunch at a pub near the Abbey (I had steak and ale pie, which was one of the best things I ate on the entire trip), then walked through St. James Park again, but it was a different section than Day 3 and we got to see pelicans! We just happened to be walking by and the guy who feeds them was coming out and they all rushed out of the water, along with a bunch of herons, for feeding time. They were massive! I’m so glad we got to see them.
- Went back to the Household Cavalry (Krista’s obsession - cute, uniformed boys on horses), and this time we were in time to see the changing of the guard, so she was extra happy.
- More wandering led us to Trafalgar Square
- From there we went to Kensington Gardens and saw Kensington Palace
- On our way back to the hotel, we ended up having to change trains at Earl’s Court, which is where our tour guide from Day 4 told us the TARDIS was...so we did a lap of the station and found it! There was definitely some squeeing on my part!
- Back to the hotel to get ready for a night out to see Mamma Mia! We knew a West End musical was included on our tour, but we didn’t know what it would be. Mamma Mia was my top choice/wish, since I love Abba and the movie is one of my favourites, so I was beyond excited, and it exceeded my expectations.
|Kensington Palace, current home of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (aka Will and Kate) and their beautiful little munchkins Prince George and Princess Charlotte, as well as Prince Harry|
- We left London early and drove to Dover to cross on the ferry to France...or at least that’s what we were supposed to do, but when we reached the port, we were told the workers in France were striking (something we’d soon learn they love to do), and we couldn’t cross.
- Went to Dover Castle to put in time, then drove half an hour to Canterbury, where we spent a couple hours waiting for word on the border opening so we could leave England.
- We ended up leaving Dover around 5:30pm, which was the time we were supposed to be arriving in Paris. It was a 90-minute ferry ride to Calais, then another 5-ish hour drive to Paris, where we arrived around midnight, checked into our hotel, and called it a night.
- We were supposed to have a group dinner and a coach tour the night we arrived in Paris, but since we arrived so late, we were reimbursed for the dinner. Our coach driver had exceeded his driving hours the day before and wasn’t allowed to drive until later in the day, so we all hopped on the Metro to Trocadero to see the Eiffel Tower from a great picture-taking vantage. We were supposed to go up the Tower that morning, but they were striking (ha!), so we had free time.
- Went to the Arc de Triomphe (which we climbed to enjoy the view of the city), then Notre Dame Cathedral. Saw the Louvre (we didn’t go in because we didn’t have time; luckily I went on my first trip to Paris in 2001, and Krista and the girls we were spending the day with ended up going in that night while I went to Moulin Rouge).
- Met up with the group at Place de la Concorde (where they were setting up for the Tour de France) and had the city tour we missed the night before.
- That night: Moulin Rouge! This was another highlight of the trip for me. A gourmet 3-course meal, wine, a glass of real champagne, and a show like no other. It was incredible. Afterward, the coach was there to take us back to the hotel or we could go out, so a bunch of us went next door to a famous bar called O’Sullivans for drinks and some dancing.
|View of Paris + the Eiffel Tower from the top of the Arc de Triomphe|
- Did a tour of the Palace of Versailles.
- Went to the Musée d’Orsay. I love Monet, Renoir, and Van Gogh, so this was another highlight for me.
- That night we had our farewell dinner since we were all parting ways. Some people were going home, some were staying in Paris, some were going on to Amsterdam, and others were going to Rome. We climbed the stairs in front of Sacre Coeur Basilica, then went to dinner at a fancy restaurant in Montmartre.
- How we ended our evening: Eiffel Tower by night! We finally got to go up, see the city, then watch it sparkle, which it does every hour on the hour from dusk.
- We flew from Paris to Rome, where our comedy of errors continued. There was a fire that morning at the airport we were supposed to land at, so we were detoured to the other airport in town, where we were supposed to be picked up, but there’d been a mix-up so we ended up camping out on the airport floor for several hours. It was actually kind of fun because we all bonded while we were sitting around sharing food and stories.
- That night we went for dinner with some of our group. I was looking forward to eating ALL THE FOOD in Rome, and the gorgonzola pizza, tirimisu gelato, and prosecco didn’t disappoint.
- Country #4: the Vatican! Went to St. Peter’s Basilica, then climbed the dome, which seriously just about killed me. We took a lift partway, but still had to climb 320 stairs in an airless, tight, windy tower. I wanted to kill Krista for making me do it, but the view of St. Peter’s Square and Rome were incredibly, plus I was so freaking proud of myself when we got back down and I knew I’d accomplished something amazing and concurred a huge challenge.
- Back to Rome, where we wandered around the ridiculously beautiful city, ate gelato, and visited Santa Maria del Popolo Square and the church.
|St. Peter's Square (which, as you can see, is actually a circle) from the top of the Dome at St. Peter's Basilica|
- Roman Forum
- Palatine Hill
- Spanish Steps
- Trevi Fountain - There's a legend that if you throw a coin in the fountain and make a wish, you'll return to Rome one day. The fountain is under construction, which I knew beforehand, but I thought it would be much worse because in the last pictures I saw, it was under heavy construction and covered in scaffolding. I was so, so happy when we got there and saw it wasn't as bad as expected. Even though there wasn't water in the fountain, you could still throw your coin over the glass into the empty basin, so we did!
- The Pantheon (which was closed because it was a holiday, which nobody bothered to tell us. We were so bummed!)
- Lots of wandering, visiting squares, a bit of shopping
Day 15 - Arrivederci, Rome!
- Flew home! One of the longest days of my life, with a few more hiccups (because why not, consider we had them the whole trip lol), but we made it home safely and were extremely happy to be back on Canadian soil after a whirlwind trip.
Three weeks later, I'm at the point where the whole thing feels like a crazy, amazing dream. I still can't believe I got to do and see so many things I've fantasized about my whole life. I've been so busy with work I haven't had time to sort through all 2,100 of my pictures, but I'm working away at it and setting aside the ones I want to share for future Wanderlust Wednesday posts. I hope you enjoyed reading about my trip! If you have any questions, you can leave a comment, email me, or chat with me on Twitter!