UK Trip: Day 3 and 4, Exploring London & Nottingham
Tower of London
Thursday was our only free day in London so we explored the Tower of London and Westminster Abbey. This was the third time I've been to London, but since I stayed with friends the last two times, I never really did many tourist-y things. Both the Tower of London and Westminster Abbey were right at the top of my must-see list. In the morning we grabbed breakfast at Pret, which Luke is a huge fan of. We have Pret in some major cities here in the US, but the ones in the UK have a huge vegetarian-oriented menu which I love!
After our quick bite to eat we took the tube to Tower Hill and walked to the Tower of London, we got there around opening time which I highly recommend as it gets quite busy in the afternoons. Right inside of the gates you can join a free Beefeater tour, which we didn't do but I wish we would have. The Tower of London was founded in 1066, and the White Tower (pictured below) was built by William the Conqueror in the early 1080's. Inside the grounds are many buildings of different ages, and this is also where the Crown Jewels are kept. I wasn't very interested in them, but many people are and I'd recommend seeing them first as it's the busiest part of the Tower. Throughout the Tower you can find wire statues of exotic animals, which commemorate the animals that were given as gifts to the Royals by other Royals over the centuries. A polar bear once living at the tower was chained but allowed to wade into the River to catch fish, and other animals at the Tower included lions, monkeys, a leopard, zebra, and an elephant. In the 18th century the price of admission to see the animals was 3 half-pence, or you could bring a cat or a dog to be used as food for the animals (which tore my heart out when I found out). Eventually the animals were moved to what is now the London Zoo, or they were sold off. It's definitely an interesting part of the Tower of London's history that I had never known before.
The White Tower is the oldest part of the complex and it houses the Royal Armories collection. Inside we were able to see a very small armor set dating back to 1610, belonging to either a child or a little person. Right beside it stood a set of armor that looked like it belonged to a giant, which is believed to be from the mid 1500's. This part of the Tower has been a museum for a very long time, and a lot of the armor housed here has been on display for hundreds of years. One of the most popular pieces is King Henry VIII's armor c. 1540 which included a special piece to protect his man parts (and by it's size, I think he had also hoped to impress the ladies with it). We spent a couple of hours exploring the grounds and learning about what the buildings were used for. We even visited the part of the tower where two young princes were kept by their uncle, who ultimately took the throne for himself. The princes disappeared, and it's likely that they were murdered here. The Tower of London is a must see if you're visiting the area, you can spend hours exploring and learning about the centuries worth of history that was made here.
The second half of our day was spent at Westminster Abbey. After hearing my aunt talk about it on her recent trip, I couldn't wait to go and I wasn't disappointed! The present church dates back to 1245, but there was another church on this site since the 7th century. Many coronations, Royal weddings, and burials have taken place here. There were so many monuments inside that I couldn't even look at half of them! They're everywhere - on the floor, the walls, everywhere you look. Among the first graves that we noticed were Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin. We spotted the tomb of The Unknown Warrior, who was buried in Westminster Abbey in 1920. His is the only grave you're not allowed to walk on. Geoffrey Chaucer is buried next to the Poets Corner, where many famous poets and writers are memorialized. We stood next to where Mary Queen of Scots was laid to rest, which is close by to where her hater cousin, Elizabeth I is buried. Inside of the Abbey there is what's thought to be the oldest door in all of the UK, c. 1050 (pictured below on the left)! It amazes me that something so old is still around, and that I was able to see it in person - even something as common as a door. I'm a huge history lover, I even majored in history for a short period of time before I left college.
On Friday morning we had breakfast and then packed as it was our last day in London. Our Airbnb checkout was easy, and we headed to the train station to catch a train to Nottingham to visit a friend. I met Twikki (or George) on Tumblr 7 years ago, and he has visited us once before back in the states. We weren't able to do much because we had a train to Edinburgh to catch, but we stopped at a pub that claims to be the oldest in England, Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem. It rests against Castle Rock, where Nottingham Castle is located. Luke and Twikki had a drink while we chatted, and we eventually made our way up the hill to look at the Castle, which was closed. We had an early dinner at Whetherspoons and said our goodbyes at the train station.
UK Trip Posts
* All photos are my own unless otherwise stated.
UK Trip: Day 1 and 2, Arriving In London & Bath, Cotswolds, Stonehenge Tour
We chose to fly out of JFK airport in New York because the price of our flights to London and back were unbeatable, about $600 per person round trip (compared to my last two travels to the UK when the cost was around $1200 per person). I'm absolutely terrified of flying. I'm not sure when or why exactly it happened, but within the past few years I've developed major anxiety before and during flights, and it gets so bad that sometimes I even end up crying while we're on board. This time was different, and I think it had to do with the fact that we chose an overnight flight that I was able to sleep on, and the ride was so smooth and easy.
We landed in London on Tuesday morning and took the tube to Shoreditch where we met our Airbnb host. The flat we stayed in was on Brick Lane in East London. It's a trendy area with a lot of nice places to eat, vintage stores, street art, and food carts. It was quite a bit away from the places we visited in London, but the Underground makes it easy to get to where you need to be that it didn't bother me. This was our very first Airbnb experience and it wasn't bad! Our host, Lorena, was so sweet and she had a helpful booklet explaining the area and even had restaurant recommendations. The flat itself was nice, though due to it's location, a bit noisy. The kitchen was well equipped with everything that we needed for our short stay, and the whole place was very spacious for a flat in London. We spent the rest of the day relaxing, and while we were out later on picking up some food for the flat, we stopped at Las Iguanas for dinner. I chose the halloumi skewers which were amazing! I love halloumi, and it's VERY pricey and hard to find at home, so when I'm over in the UK I tend to eat it as often as I can. Luke got a smoky chipotle butternut squash enchilada which he enjoyed. If you're vegetarian or gluten free, Las Iguanas has a great selection to choose from! Back at the flat we had a few of our favorite Kopparberg ciders (strawberry & lime flavor!) which we can't get in the US, and headed to bed.
On Wednesday we took a City Wonders tour to Bath, the Cotswolds, and Stonehenge. The tour was a bit pricey at around $500 for the three of us (included travel, lunch, and Stonehenge admission), but we got to see some places we otherwise wouldn't have been able to see. Early in the morning we met with our tour guide, driver, and our tour group which included a Canadian couple and the three of us, so it was a very intimate tour which I liked a lot (I think we were lucky in this sense because it was the middle of the week, if it were a weekend or in the summer I'm sure it would be a much larger group). The ride to Bath from London was a couple of hours, so we chatted with the other couple while the driver set off to Bath at an alarmingly high rate of speed (seriously, he was crazy), and our tour guide slept. We kept getting the same question over and over again while in the UK: "So, what about that Donald Trump?" It's weird to know that the whole world is watching what's going on over here regarding the US election, and I'm just as afraid as the rest of the world.
Our first stop was Bath, where we had some free time to explore on our own. Bath is a beautiful city, and most of the buildings are made from the same golden-colored Bath Stone in Georgian style architecture, giving it a uniformed look. Many sidewalks in Bath were made to be very wide so women in the 18th century could leisurely walk together with their wide, Gerogian style dresses. During our trip to the UK I noticed that a lot of windows were boarded or bricked up, and our tour guide explained that in the 18th and 19th centuries there was a window tax, and you were taxed on how many windows you had. To avoid paying more than they were willing, many people boarded up some of their windows, this was common all over England and Scotland and you can see many examples of this to this day. We passed by the building where Sally Lunn, a famous bread maker from france, lived and baked in 1680 (though the building was built in 1482!). Jane Austen also lived in Bath, though she wasn't a fan and wasn't afraid to express it in her writings.
During our free time we visited the Roman Baths, which sit below street level. We paid admission to enter the Roman Bath museum, which sits above ground and allows you to go underground and explore where the Romans relaxed and bathed. You can see the water steaming, though you're not allowed to touch it. There's a little fountain that you can drink from, and Luke was the only one brave enough to try it. He said it tasted chalky but otherwise wasn't bad! The museum allowed you to easily picture what it looked like in the place that you were standing over 1000 years ago, and if you're ever in Bath, it's a must see. We didn't get a chance to explore the inside of Bath Abbey (pictured below), but the building itself is stunning. It was founded in the 7th century, but rebuilt in the 12th and 16th centuries. In the photo on the bottom right you can see the "stairway to heaven", which I thought was lovely.
Castle Combe, England
Our next stop was Castle Combe, an old small weaving village in the Cotswolds. Castle Combe is named after a 12th century castle that once overlooked the village, and it is often called the prettiest, most picturesque place in all of England. A 14th century market cross still stands in the town, this is where the people of the village would go to sell their goods and livestock. The buildings are all well preserved, with no additions or things like satellite dishes allowed to be added even though people still make these ancient buildings their homes today. We spotted a bakery stand that works on a trust system, take a goodie and leave money in it's place. This would NOT fly here in New Jersey, but I thought it was so sweet! Our guide told us that many wealthy, retired people stay here during the summer and it's common to see expensive cars looking out of place in this tiny town. Castle Combe has starred in a few movies and TV shows, among a few are Doctor Dolittle (1967), War Horse (2011), Stardust (2007), and an episode of Downton Abbey.
We stopped by St Andrew's Church in the village, a portion of it was built in the 1200s, but the rest of the building was built in the 1400s. Inside there is a monument and burial place of Sir Walter de Dunstanville, who died in battle in 1270. He is thought to have fought in two crusades due to the fact that his legs are crossed in his memorial. We didn't get the chance to explore the graveyard, but many of the tombstones looked so worn down that I doubt we'd learn much from them. Lunch was included with our tour price, and we ate at the White Hart, a 14th century pub with very short doorways. Since two of us are vegetarian and one is gluten free, I figured we wouldn't be able to eat anything because it was a meal set up by our tour, but our server was understanding and immediately offered us jacket potatoes which were absolutely huge! They were without a doubt the biggest potatoes I've ever seen in my life, and they came with a nice side salad. My mom ended up trying jacket potatoes at many of the places we ate at along our travels, and she said none compared to the one we had in Castle Combe.
Our next stop was the 13th century town of Lacock. Pictured above is St Cyriac Church, built in the 1300s. I much preferred Castle Combe over Lacock, but it was still a lovely place to visit nonetheless. Many Harry Potter scenes were filmed in this town, including the home of James and Lily Potter, where they were murdered by Voldemort when Harry was a baby (pictured below, on the right). Snape and Quirrell's classrooms were filmed inside of Lacock Abbey (which we didn't visit but saw from afar), as was the Mirror of Erised, some Hogwarts corridors, and some Hogwarts courtyard scenes. In Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Slughorn resided in Budleigh Babberton, those scenes were also filmed in Lacock. We explored inside of an old 14th century barn (pictured below, on the left) and even had the chance to go into a small lockup from the 1700s where drunk, unruly people were sent to spend the night. There was only enough space for a wooden bed and an 18th century toilet. We stopped at the local tea room for some water and ice cream (let me tell you - English & Scottish people LOVE their ice cream - you can find ice cream stands all over). Luke overheard some old women gossiping Mean Girls style about a friend of theirs who sat at another table with someone they didn't like, all while they drank tea from their silver tea sets outside. I can't imagine living in a place so small that everyone knows everyone else's business!
The last stop on our long 12 hour tour was Stonehenge. Now, I've never been too interested in Stonehenge, and to be honest I wasn't excited that it was on our tour. However, I really enjoyed it once we got there (aside from the constant wind). Stonehenge itself seems like it's in the middle of nowhere - surrounded by fields, hills, and sheep all over, and I think that's what gives it this strange energy that I was feeling. In the distance you can see ancient burial mounds, assumably belonging to the people who once inhabited this area. No one knows exactly why or how these rocks were placed here 5,000 years ago, but it was interesting listening to theories from our tour guide. Apparently you're not allowed up close to the stones because of a rare type of lichen growing on them (the green moss-like forms on the stones), though after doing some research it looks like the lichen are very stubborn and not likely to be damaged! So in the end, I'm not exactly sure why tourists aren't allowed up close anymore.
After finishing up at stonehenge, we headed back to London and ended our tour. By this time we were so exhausted we just went back to the flat, ordered some food, and went straight to sleep!
UK Trip Posts
* All photos are my own unless otherwise stated.