Tuesday, March 14, 2017

London: Crows, Crowns, and Convicts.


We woke up fairly early on our second day in London and immediately headed out for a tour of London via the double decker bus, hosted by Big Bus Tours. What we discovered was that our tickets lasted for 48 hours, and its hop off and on. It allowed us great flexibility for getting off the bus and wandering when we wanted and riding close to our next destination when ready. Since it hits most popular tourist destinations, it was perfect!

A View From The Top

We first took it past Tyburn, the infamous site of executions of a general nature. So, highwaymen and all around bad boys. If you spent a month in the company of gypsies, you may have been hung there. My favorite story is of Jack Sheppard, a notorious highwayman and all around bad boy hung there. Its said he was quite good-looking and a bit of a player with the ladies. If you hear the term, he is a Jack The Lad in Britain, its attributed to our heartthrob, Mr. Sheppard and means the man in question is a heart breaker. His hanging attracted over 200,000 viewers. The most ever. I imagine mostly women, some crying, some laughing and the rest relieved husbands and fathers.
Right next to where the hanging tree was, which could hang up to 28 people at once, 12 times a year, is now a beautiful horse head statue.
10m high bronze Marwari horse head by Nic Fiddian-Green  

The Marble Arch is also next to this area. Built in the 19th century by John Nash, it was meant to be the state entrance to Buckingham Palace but has since been moved to the same island as the Marwari horse head sculpture.


We next traveled along Oxford St and found out that if an area has crowns on their street lights, they still pay a portion of their taxes to the Queen. She makes a small amount of money off of it. Something like 40,000,000. :)

Interesting side note, but the same topic...the City of London, pays the Queen quit rent for two parcels of land that no one recalls where they are located. The terms of the rent has not changed since it was created in the 1200's. An axe, a knife, six oversized horseshoes, and 61 nails. Talk about loving their traditions! No one remembers where the land is, and the only reason they continue to pay it is, its tradition. I love these Brits.

Our last stop of the day was the infamous Tower of London. Famous for brutal executions and housing the crown jewels. 
Sadly, you aren't allowed photography in the room with the crown jewels. And the rumor is, if you touch the glass, the doors close around you immediately. I'm not sure its true, but I wasn't tempted to find out. 



Three queens were executed here, as befitting their station in life. Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard, and Lady Jane Grey.  Otherwise, most people were executed close by at Tower Hill, not in the Tower of London as commonly thought. 
One great story we heard about the Tower of London, is its believed that 6 crows must sit on the walls of the Tower or London will fall. To make sure thats always the case, there are 8 domesticated crows with their wings clipped that live there. 

                                        
                                                                Two crows on the wall

These are just a few highlights of our day touring London. There is so many more stories I can tell and would love to share in a future post!

I hope you enjoyed these ones!


Sunday, March 12, 2017

And the adventure begins!


We flew into London at about 11AM their time. Customs was shockingly simple and to be honest I had been worried about it from the before we even landed. With todays world issues, and President Trump making travel difficult for others, I had considered other countries making it uncomfortable for us as well. My hands were sweating as we rolled up to the customs officer with our carry on luggage and I was convinced that by that sheer fact alone, Id look suspect and need to be interrogated. "Her hands are sweating, she's clearly up to more then just visiting Loch Ness and taking selfies with Big Ben."
The reality is always much less interesting then my imagination and we sailed right through. The customs officer was very friendly and funny and we went through within minutes. He also humored me when I proudly declared how excited I was that the UK was my very first passport stamp! *Swoon*
We dragged our carryons out to our car and was met with a very talkative driver full of tips for our stay. I highly recommend Blackberry Cars.  Not only was our driver friendly and knowledgeable, the car was a well taken care of Mercedes and the price was very fair. Much lower then the traditional Black Cab, and although more then The Tube, much easier when dragging around multiple bags.
Our first stop was at our hotel, The Rubens At The Palace and I cannot say enough things about the hotel and staff there. They go out of their way to ensure your stay is perfect. From the doormen to the reception to the concierge. It was all amazing. Very clean with amazing views of The Royal Mews. Its located right across the street from Buckingham Palace and a short 10 to 15 minute walk to Big Ben and the London Eye.

We dropped our bags in the room and then wandered over to Big Ben. Its very busy in that area with tourists from all over the world and of course, the occasional British worker trying to make their way to and from work/home through the masses. 
We took our required Big Ben pics:

Fun fact: Big Ben is the giant bell inside; the tower is actually called Elizabeth Tower, but no one calls it that. :)

Big Ben and my head.


Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament.


Next up, we walked over to The London Eye. The view from the top of it is amazing and its considered the number 1 paid attraction in London with about 3.5 million visitors a year. If its a clear day, they say you can see as far as Windsor Castle on it. 

Fun fact: Model Kate Moss has ridden it 25 times! 


A stow-away.



Next, as it was getting dark, we found our way to the pub The Two Chairmen. Its claim to fame, is its one of the oldest working pubs in Westminster, London. The name comes from the two men who would be hired to carry the wealthy through the streets of smelly, muddy, dirty London on sedan chairs. Across the street from the pub was a theater called the Royal Cockfight, where the wealthy would bet on cock fights. The chairmen would wait for their next fare across the street at the pub and then when called, two chairmen would pick up their next passenger and off they would go!
Its believed that yelling, "Chair Ho" was how the upper class would attract their attention and resulted in the word, "Cheerio", heard today.

The staircase in the Two Chairmen.

 Tha bar in the Two Chairmen
.

First Fish & Chips with peas.

Outside of the Two Chairmen


We ended our day at the hotel with some amazing tea and cookies! Only day 1 of 21 total days on our Whistle Stop tour of the UK!




Monday, February 6, 2017

Home Away From Home

     
    So last post I talked about our flights and how we get them cheaper. Not cheap, but cheaper. But that was due to my love of direct flights. Today, I thought I'd talk about our stays! I started booking them a year ago as well. Can you see the theme here? Again, I was told, ITS TOO SOON! YOURE CRAZY! However, I was able to use that time to find some interesting places and not just last minute, here's whats available type places. And since we know no one in the UK...its obvious we have to book somewhere, everywhere. I had a lot of different ideas for where to stay in all our destinations. Some I wanted for the experience, others for the location, and yet others cause they were inexpensive. Let me break them down by area:
Ireland
The very first place I booked for our entire trip was actually for our stay in Dublin! The criteria here was:

1. Close to sights; preferably walking distance to many.
2. Inexpensive
3. Provide a "Ireland" daily life feel.

This was my luckiest find. I found it on Air BnB after scouring tons of websites. The reason it stood out to me is that it has a balcony overlooking Patrick St and is right down the road from St Patricks Cathedral. Its also within just a few miles of Temple Bar and Ha'Penny Bridge, as well as the Guinness Storehouse. Since we will be there during the St Patricks Day festival, and the parade comes down Patrick St, its the perfect spot to watch the parade from. Right on the balcony!

Photo Credit: www.AirBNB.com

Next up is our stay in Waterford, Ireland. This choice was a little bit more about my long time fantasy to live in the medieval ages and be a proper lady. :) Staying in a castle at some point was also on the list of must do's, so I chose Waterford Castle in Waterford. It sounded lovely! You have to cross Kings Channel to get to it, as it sits on a 310 acre private island. Its a 16th century castle! Whats not to love? 

  
Last for Ireland is our farm cottage stay in Fermoyle. The criteria here was that it be close to Cliffs of Moher, and be inexpensive. I found this stay pretty randomly. I stumbled across it on www.tripadvisor.com while searching an area south of it. Its cute, charming, and what my imagination thinks any good farmhouse in Ireland should look like. Meet, Fermoyle Farmhouse, our 350 year old cottage for 1 night.



Northern Ireland
For Belfast, the criteria was also pretty simple:

1. Close to sights
2. Inexpensive

I found our stay here because I was entertained by the idea of staying somewhere haunted. I know, I know. (I found one of my Scotland stays the same way.) The Dobbins Inn started its life in the year 1200 as a castle tower house. It has gone through some different stages, including being split up as 2 townhouses. The rumor is, its haunted by an early resident, who was having an affair, and upon her husband finding out, he murdered them both! 

Photo Credit: www.DobbinsInn.com

Scotland
The criteria for Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland was:

1. Inexpensive
2. Scottish feel 
3. In old town

After relentlessly searching the internet for stays in Edinburgh, I located a flat in old town Edinburgh via www.EmbraceScotland.com Its a self-catering flat, close to the castle and other areas we want to see and I felt like this might be one of the closest ways to feel like I live there. Which is always my goal. Apparently this building was a 18th century coaching inn frequented by the cities candlemakers. Love that history!

Photo Credit: www.tripadvisor.com

Next was our stay in the Highlands for 2 nights. I didnt have too much criteria for it to meet except inexpensive. I stumbled across our stay here, the same way I found the Dobbins Inn. Looking at haunted locations. :) I'm pretty excited to meet the ghost of the Green Lady they say hangs out there, and it also checked off castle stay as well! So we get two castles! Yuuus! Queue me pretending to be a lady of Downton Abbey or, since we are in the highlands, queue me preparing to touch stones to see if I can travel back in time like Outlander. The stay in the Highlands is in Dingwall in the 12th century Tulloch Castle

Photo Credit: Tulloch Castle

England
And last but certainly not least our stays in lovely London. London is the first and last legs of our trip. Criteria for London was:

1. Location
2. Location
3. Location

We will be at The Rubens at the Palace on the first leg. Its right next to Buckingham Palace, with some rooms overlooking the palace. I'm super excited about this stay, also thanks to its great central location and close access to the things we want to see. 


Our last stay in London will be The Eccleston Square Hotel. Its a tech nerds dream. It comes with a iPad for use, walls of glass that you can swipe to make clear or opaque, etc.



All in all...I'd say I found some great places to be! Some have romantic histories, some have murdererous histories, some are haunted, and some are super modern. They all appeal to me in their own their way and I cant wait to explore and share them all!




Saturday, January 14, 2017

Up, Up, And Away

Okay! You've done your research and decided you want to fly to London Heathrow from Seattle, WA in March of 2017. You start looking for flights. You know you want a non stop cause you want to be there as fast as the plane can get you there. Checking the normal sites like Expedia, Hopper, & Skyscanner, you see the prices vary from $800 per person to the sky's the limit. You want the best deal, so let me tell you about what we did to get a pretty decent deal on our flights.
We opened a British Airways Credit Card a year prior to booking our flights. We basically ran every single bill we could through it to earn over 100,000 Avios. Since they are bills we have to pay normally, why not?
Avios are the same as miles with other cards. With this card, you earn 1 Avio for every $1 spent. We earned our extra rewards as well, such as a bonus 50,000 Avios when spending $3000 in the first 3 months and a "free travel together" ticket for spending over $30,000 in the first year that is good for up to 2 years. Travel together is a ticket where when you purchase one ticket, you get the second for "free" when you book the same flight and seating. The reason I say "free", is that unfortunately, you still get to pay British Airways super high taxes and fees for the ticket. More on that in a bit though.

So lets show an example of how I saved $600+ on our tickets. Right now, if you look at their website, for the same dates I chose, you see this result:



















                                                                                                                              A total of over $1900 for both flights. When I originally booked about a year ago, it was over $2400. By using avios points to pay for my flight and using our travel together ticket, we got the flights themselves for FREE. We do still have to pay taxes and fee, however. That totaled about $1300. Now, I know what you are thinking...that's still kinda high! I agree, if you are just looking for the cheapest flight possible with layovers and odd times. Lets look at that next.
Please keep in mind, that I booked us on a direct flight, no layovers, with more ideal times to arrive and leave. No late night departures, or 3AM arrivals.
I took a peek at Expedia, putting in the same criteria and filtered by cheapest flights.  I've also used some of my other favs, such as Hopper, and SkyScanner with similar results. Here's what I got for cheapest:















                                                               



Not only is it $300 more, it also has a 2 hour layover in San Francisco. I don't know about you all, but I tend to avoid layovers if it can be helped. I want to get to my destination quickly!
I know credit cards aren't everyone's favorite thing, but in this case it helped us get the flight we wanted with no layovers, for at the very least $300 or more in savings. The Avios can also be used for hotels and rental cars, with rental cars being a really good value. I'll speak more on that on another post.
Last, lets talk about taxes and fees. British charged me $680 per person, so that's about what it was per person per flight. When I compare to other carriers, they tend to be higher on British. I wish I could say why. Maybe their food will be better? One can hope.
Let me know your thoughts! Do you use a travel rewards card you love?

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Shark Bait

In my first blog post, I said I'd be posting some flashbacks, throwbacks, waybacks, whatever you prefer to call them about our previous adventures! Since its officially #TBT, here's the first one! Its from when we were on the island of Oahu in Hawaii and as a gift to my daughter, granted her wish to swim with sharks. :O Honestly, although I signed all 3 of us up for that experience, I was terrified! All sorts of scenarios played out in my head. For example, if I accidentally stuck my hand out, would one feel compelled to remove it for me? However, I gathered what courage I had and went.  Team No Fear, Emily and Keith, were never more ready for this adventure in the seas. Just so you all know, I am the worrier, the shy one, the scared one. They are Team No Fear and all that implies. I like to think I keep them from doing anything TOOOOO crazy or dangerous basically a superhero without a cape, not that I just add the boring Mom element. :)
Lets get to it! I booked our swim with Hawaii Shark Encounters in Haliewa, Hawaii. For those of you that are familiar with the epic surfing that happens in the North Shore, this is that area. If you check out their blog here: Hawaii Shark Encounters Blog They have some awesome information about sharks, why they attack and why the actual chances are extremely low.  (As a side note: No, I am not being paid or asked to review them.) I would highly recommend them! They were super friendly, knowledgeable, and made the whole experience very easy and comfortable. When we arrived, after about a 45 min drive from Waikiki,  we found their boat easily in the Haliewa Boat Harbor.


Sadly, in our enthusiasm, we forgot to take a picture of the boat to share. Its a smaller boat and held us, the two men taking us on the tour, and about 7 other swimmers. The only things we had to bring were swimwear, towels and maybe a jacket to stay warm. It was 8AM and about 75 degrees when we went out. The video that's next will speak for the rest of the experience. It was amazing and the sharks are beautiful creatures. Surprisingly, once I was in the cage, I felt no fear. Only a deep curiosity. Enjoy and let me know if you have questions. Have you ever swam with sharks?

video



Monday, January 2, 2017

Memory Maker

Some people believe that spending time behind a camera, sharing pictures of your location, your experiences, and the people you are with takes away from being in the moment. That ideally, you may leave the camera, or cell phone behind. Although I do believe you should be in the moment, enjoying everything around you with all your senses, seeing the colors, feeling the weather, smelling the flowers, hearing the sounds of life around you, I also believe preserving those moments so that you can relive them again later and share them with your loved ones or those who are interested, is just as valuable if not more so. When we die, we only take our memories. Having a tangible way to relive those moments is so incredibly important to me.
On that note, I'm spending today learning my memory makers for our upcoming trip! The Canon Rebel T5 (DSLR), Ricoh Theta 360° cam, and the Olympus Tough. (I added the links, cause I know some of my peeps like to check out tech specs). If anyone wants examples pics, cause they are in the market for a new toy, let me know and I can share some with you!


To this end, I've spent some time today watching the Canon Australia YouTube Channel for my own education. Not only do I get to listen to a fabulous accent, #winning,  I also get to learn the fundamentals of my camera; which I have not elected to do in the last year. I've been a bit of a Auto Setting, point & click gal. I recently received a wide angle lense for better landscape photography. I haven't used it much yet, as I don't really understand it. Thus the reason for todays lessons. The Canon will provide the best overall quality pictures for landscapes such as Cliffs of Moher, buildings or monuments such as Edinburgh Castle, or a day of street art hunting in London. 
The 360° cam is pretty easy to use and learn. Just stand or sit in the middle of what you want to have a 360° pic of and click! I love it, its exactly my type of technology. :) I cant wait to use it in busy city centers or in beautiful gardens. It also very small and portable, making it awesome to take quick pics inside of restaurants or museums. 
And last, the Tough. The Tough is a action camera. Basically a good quality point and shoot with a 5x optical zoom in armor. We have used it underwater when swimming with the sharks off the coast of Oahu, when snorkeling, and some landscape pics. Its a great little point and click and also easy to carry around if we decide we don't want to lug around the Canon and all its parts everywhere for a day. Its also waterproof, which may come in handy in rainy London, freezeproof, and shockproof. It really is...tough. I think we have our bases more then covered! Between cell phones and cameras and the lovely invention of cloud storage, we will have all the pics and videos any person could ask for! 
What type of memory makers do you travel with? Any recommendations for me?