Showing Posts From: travel

24 Jul, 2015

Cardiff Castle

/ posted in: travel

Cardiff Castle is in the middle of the city. It is an easy walk from the train station through a pedestrian only shopping area to the castle.

The stone keep seen above was built on the remains of a Roman fort and was started in the 11th century.  Over time more buildings surrounded this structure until the 18 century when all the surrounding buildings were either torn down or renovated in an incredibly elaborate style.

The mansion was home to a wealthy Cardiff family who eventually gave it to the city of Cardiff.

It was rainy and cold when we got there. There appeared to be some sort of program that was supposed to be going on but the rain was complicating things. No one knew actually what was supposed to be happening.

We started our tour in the mansion.

Every surface is decorated.

I particularly liked the Arab Room.

P1020833

As the two guys in front of me said, “That’d be a bitch to dust.”  What kind of person do you need to be to think, “You know what this place really needs?  Crazy elaborate ceilings.”

There is a library that I could get used to though.

There was a falconry with some dry but cold and grumpy looking birds on display.

Then we went up to the top of the stone castle. When we tried to come down though, we couldn’t.

The rain had let up a bit so they went ahead with the ceremony. Turns out it was for the 70th anniversary of VE Day. We couldn’t come down because there was a trumpeter positioned on the stairs leading up to the castle for dramatic intrigue. There ceremony was on the lawn with a choir and a cannon (A little kid waiting with us happily yelled, “Fireworks!” every time they set off the gun.). Then the attention (and TV cameras) shifted to the lone trumpeter on the stairs playing a song. Can’t have tourists going up and down the stairs ruining the shot so we hung out with the trumpeter in the first room until it was his turn.

P1020840

Cardiff Castle

Website

Open 9 AM – 5 or 6 PM depending on season

Admission £12

17 Jul, 2015

The Doctor Who Experience!

/ posted in: travel

The whole point of going to Cardiff was to get here.  I stressed about this part of the trip more than anything else.  The website says that you need to get a ticket for a specific time.  I didn’t know exactly when we would get there so I didn’t want to buy tickets ahead of time.  But, the website said they might run out.  I was horrified at the thought that I might not be able to get in so I aimed to get there as soon as they opened so I could get tickets.  It was no problem though.  We got right in.  Of course it was a Friday in May so not exactly peak visiting hours.

To get here from the train station we took the number 6 bus.  There is a huge bus depot just outside the station.  That isn’t where you get the bus. You turn right when you leave the station, go to the next big intersection, turn right, and the bus stop is down the road on the left.  You can remember that or you can ask the cop outside the station like we did.

My mother has no Doctor Who knowledge. She also doesn’t understand how into it I am. I spent more time deciding what to wear on this day than on all the rest of my clothes. I went with the Bad Wolf t-shirt but then had to layer a lot over it because it was the coldest, rainiest day of the trip.

We got off the bus in front of the building and my mother says to me, “I think there are enthusiasts behind us.” She made enthusiasts sound like some sort of contagion. I looked behind us expecting to see someone in full cosplay but there were just two people. I was thinking, “You’re walking around with the person in a Doctor Who shirt. You might have the enthusiast.”

While we were waiting for our tour to start I motioned to a Weeping Angel in the lobby. “I need you to take a picture of me with that at the end.” She asked if it was because I was such an angel. I decided to ignore her snark and said that the angels were bad guys who can only move if you aren’t looking at them and if they touch you they send you back in time. She looked concerned about what type of thing I had dragged her to.

The tour starts with a mandatory trip through the interactive part.  I could have done without this.  I’m not really an enthusiastic joiner.  I would have preferred more displays instead of marching through a canned adventure with a group.

Most of the displays are from 2005 on.  There is an older TARDIS set but not much else.  That’s ok with me because I’ve never seen the older shows but I would think other people would like to see the older props.

There isn’t as much signage as you’d expect either.  Some of the costumes were not labeled at all.  I sort of surprised myself by knowing exactly what most of the costumes were even if there weren’t signs.

 

I did get this dress wrong though. I thought it was one of Madame Pompadour’s but it was Queen Elizabeth I’s from the 50th anniversary.

Other props and costumes from the 50th anniversary.

Bille Piper’s costume

The War Doctor

I was majorly geeking out in my head, quietly so as not to alarm my mother. I got pretty excited though about the TARDIS control center from Doctors 9 and 10.

More Doctors

Costumes from 9 and 10

The 12th Doctor

Good Guys

The Ood

Madame Vastra

Bad Guys

I took my Weeping Angel picture with this much scarier angel inside the exhibit.

Me – saving the world

I told my mother exactly what picture I wanted of me staring at it. I was standing there and she said to me, “Get closer to it.” I actually panicked a bit. “What! No!” But, I also looked over at her when I said it so it would have totally gotten me and I’d be dead.

As I was wandering around in geek bliss, my mother was watching another woman who wasn’t as quiet of a fan as me. She was taking pictures of everything I was. I think she might have been my soul mate. At one point my mother whispers to me, “I think she is more than an enthusiast” just I as rounded a corner and screamed in my head, “IT’S THE FACE OF BOE!!!!!” I’m sure my mother can’t understand where she went wrong that her adult daughter was so excited to have her picture taken with a disembodied head. He is my Facebook picture now and my blog picture on the upper right.

I don’t know if she ever fully understood that I’m just as weird if not weirder than the other people.

As we left, there were two ladies sitting in the snack area waiting to go in. They appeared to be mother and daughter. The daughter was saying to the mother, “The angels are actually evil…”

The Doctor Who Experience

More Information

Tickets £16

10 Jul, 2015

Day Trip to Cardiff

/ posted in: travel

As soon as we knew we were going to England, I started working out how to add a trip to Cardiff. Why Cardiff? I could say it is because my mother’s grandmother was Welsh but honestly, it was all about Doctor Who! I’ll apologize in advance if you have no idea what I’m talking about with my Doctor Who fan speak.

We caught a train from Bath Spa in the morning and it took about 1.5 hours to get to Cardiff. My main goal was to see The Doctor Who Experience (blog post about that next week) and to see some of the locations from Doctor Who and Torchwood. My mom has never seen these shows but she decided to play along. We also scheduled in time to go to Cardiff Castle.

We started out the day at Cardiff Bay to see the Doctor Who sites.

On the other side of this fountain is the secret entrance to Torchwood. Don’t believe me? Check out Google Maps.

If you zoom in on Roald Dahl Plass, the plaza near the Bay, you see Torchwood labelled. It is a little off on this screenshot but I was thrilled that the location of the fictional base on a television show was labelled. Roald Dahl Plass was used a lot in Doctor Who. Here’s an example of The Doctor, Martha, and Captain Jack during the Face of Boe discussion.

From here

I was so excited to be here. I spent the whole day completely geeking out – quietly, in my head so as not to alarm my mother. She was already alarmed from The Doctor Who Experience.

You can also see in the lower left corner of the map Ianto Jones’ Shrine. SPOILERS

Ianto was a character on Torchwood. The fans were angry when he died. All but one character on that show died but Ianto’s death angered people. So now there is a shrine.

People bring offerings. This was my mother’s favorite.

There’s a memorial book to sign. Some people don’t realize that Ianto wasn’t real. There are entries like, “I’ve never heard of you but you must have been a stand up guy to have this many people sad about your loss.”

I had picked out this restaurant to go to ahead of time. It is a Turkish restaurant but I picked it for the exterior.

This exterior shot was used when the Ninth Doctor took the last Slitheen out to dinner before returning her to her planet. Yeah, I ate there just for that.

Upcoming Cardiff posts:

The Doctor Who Experience
Cardiff Castle

03 Jul, 2015

Bath Abbey

/ posted in: Photostravel

There has been a church in Bath since the 7th century. This building was built in the 12th century. In the early 1500s it was left to decay and most of the expensive decorations were stripped out of it. By the end of that century a decision was made to preserve it. A major restoration started in the 1860s.

The building is famous for its vaulted ceiling.

I didn’t enjoy visiting churches in England as much as I like churches in Catholic countries. There is a very different aesthetic. The Catholic cathedrals are over the top with decorations paid for by taking money from people but at least they are pretty. The churches in England just aren’t.

There are pretty details but the overall look is cluttered. There are 617 wall memorials and 847 floor stones.

I also feel like I shouldn’t be walking on ancient engraved stones but that is the whole floor.

Bath Abbey isn’t as overdone as Westminster. I was really disappointed with that church. When we came to a less memorial-laden part, I whispered to my mother. “I’m going to say something offensive.”

She said, “Go on.”

“This feels like what happens when a hoarder gets a fancy pretty new house and then fills it up with crap they bought off the Home Shopping Channel.”

“It also wouldn’t hurt if they dusted it occasionally,” she added.

I’m a minimalist through and through. I do love the eagle though.

They did have a very nice display of quilts on the side. They were paired with paintings done by the same artist.

PumpRoom
26 Jun, 2015

The Pump Room and Thermae Spa

/ posted in: travel

Tea at the Pump Room was the first thing that we decided that we had to do on the Smut Tour.  After all, if you are going to do a tour of England to see everything you’ve read about in Regency Romances, you HAVE to go to the Pump Room.

The building was built at the end of the 1700s and was a gathering place for members of high society.  It is discussed in Jane Austin’s books and any other Regency book that takes place in Bath.

We had the champagne tea which was completely wasted on us because we don’t like champagne but it was part of the Spas Ancient and Modern Package that we had.

The food was ok. The sandwiches were sandwiches. It is hard to make those exciting. The scones were very good and inspired me to make some when I got home. The desserts were good but so sweet that it actually hurt your teeth to eat them. I didn’t think I’d actually ever use those words but I could only take a few bites of each. The tea was incredibly good though. I’m not a huge tea fan. It mostly tastes like weakly flavored hot water to me. We had the pump room blend and it was amazing. We had to figure out how to work it since it came with filters and things. We are so American. I also now know that I take two lumps in my tea in case I’m ever transported to a Victorian drawing room and need to have an answer to that question.

There was a pianist playing when we were there. His playlist included a lot of Elton John and the Muppet Show theme.

There is a fountain in an alcove where you can drink the famous spa water.

In my Bill Bryson audiotour of the Roman Baths next door he said that whoever decided to drink this water was a bad person. I’ve been to other spa towns like French Lick Indiana where the water is mostly sulfur so I was prepared to be very brave when trying the water.

It tastes like water. Supposedly it has 43 minerals and all kinds of stuff in it but it tastes like normal hot water. I was sort of disappointed.

 


That night we went to the Thermae Spa.  It is a new spa that lets you bathe in the thermal water that Bath is famous for.  Our package was for 2 hours.  When you get there you are given slippers, a towel, and a robe.  One floor is a bunch of cubicles where you change into a bathing suit and then stash your stuff in lockers.

Downstairs is the Minerva pool.  It is a warm pool with a small lazy river and massage jets.  Everyone gets a blue pool noodle to float around with.  After walking all over London and dragging around suitcases it was nice to just float in warm water for a while.

Upstairs there is an amazing steam room.  It is an open room with four round glass steam pods in it.
Each one was about 10 feet in diameter.  Each room has a different aromatherapy scent in it.  There are concrete benches around the walls of the steam pods.  These are the hottest steam rooms I’ve ever been in.  Sometimes the concrete was almost too hot to sit on.  I loved it.  Outside the steam pods there was a waterfall shower to cool off.  I would soak in pools for a while and then come here to warm up.  My mother doesn’t like steam rooms so she avoided it.

On the roof of the building in an outdoor pool.  This was the most crowded when we were here.  I didn’t like it as much so we went back to the Minerva pool.

This was a great way to spend a few hours relaxing in the middle of a vacation.

19 Jun, 2015

The Roman Baths

/ posted in: travel

romanbaths

The first shrine at this site was built by the Celts who dedicated it to the goddess Sulis.  When the Romans invaded, they equated Sulis with Minerva and built a temple complex on the site.

Today the Roman part of the structure is below the modern street level.  The site is a combination of Roman ruins and excavations and 19th century buildings above it.

Entrance to the site includes a very good audio guide.  There are channels for kids to use and a separate one for adult commentary.  From the entrance you head out onto the 19th century balcony that overlooks the main pool on one side and Bath Abbey on the other.

The balcony is lined with statues of Roman people.

Both Julius Caesar and this tourist are displeased.

I was walking around the balcony taking pictures when I came across this sign.

This needs to be an option at ALL tourist destinations!

I punched 86 into my audioguide hoping that this meant what I thought it did. Yes! Bill Bryson’s voice came through giving his take on the baths. I followed his commentary for the rest of the time. I’m sure my mother was listening to fine grown up lectures about archeology while I heard about how much he loves petty curse tablets and the effects of coed naked bathing.

From the balcony you head down into the museum. Here you see the best of what was been dug up. It also explains how the baths and the temple complex appeared and functioned.

A decoration over the temple

It was crazy busy. We were there on a Thursday afternoon and it was hard to move in the museum. I know that if my husband had been there he wouldn’t have been able to handle the crowds. I don’t know if that is typical or if we got there at the same as a bunch of tours. I wouldn’t want to try it on a summer weekend.

At the end of the museum you get to walk through some of the partially excavated site and see this head of Minerva that was found in the 1700s.

Bill Bryson says she doesn’t look very nice at all.

Outside on the lower level you can walk past the pools and see the side rooms that housed the hot and cold pools.

This pool is so hot that people hung onto the rings on the side to stay out of the superheated center.

The water is green and you aren’t allowed to touch it. It is coming through the original lead pipes and people have gotten sick from various pathogens in the water. If you want to experience bathing in the waters you need to go to one of the modern spas that use the water from the aquifer through modern bore holes and plumbing.

King Bladud – legend says he and his pigs were cured of leprosy by bathing in the spring and mud on this site.

More Information

The Roman Bath Website
Discount Packages

Time Spent

1.5 to 2 hours if you listen to all of the commentary and look at everything

18 Jun, 2015

Adding a trip to Bath

/ posted in: travel

Bath vacation London

Our idea for a vacation to England started with the idea of going to Bath.  As the trip planning evolved, we decided to spend most of our time in London and take a side trip to Bath.

Here’s how we did it.

The trains from London to Bath leave from Paddington Station. Paddington also has an Underground Station so it is easily accessible from anywhere you are staying in London. There is a bit of a walk from the Underground portion of the station to the train station so pack light. (While you are at Paddington train station, check out the statue of Paddington Bear near the Number 1 train. You don’t need a ticket to get to it.)

Trains run often between the two stations — one or two an hour. It takes about 1 hour and 40 minutes to get to Bath. I used thetrainline.com to search the schedule.

You can buy tickets ahead of time if you know about when you want to go. That will save you money. I didn’t want to be tied to a time so we bought tickets the same day with a return on a specific date during Super Off Peak times. Peak time tickets are the most expensive and let you travel during rush hour. Off Peak is right before or after rush hour and Super Off Peak is late morning and early afternoon. On the weekday we traveled, Super Off Peak went until 4 PM.

In general seats aren’t assigned so you can sit anywhere you want. Some people pre-book assigned seats so if a seat has a paper ticket sticking up from it, don’t sit there.

The station in Bath is just south of the main touristy area. You can get taxis here or behind Bath Abbey to take you to your hotel. We used AirBnB to find a place about 1.2 miles from the station. Helpful hint – Once you get out of the tourist part, Bath is built on hills. Big Hills. Don’t think “It is just over a mile. We’ll walk.” Take a cab or else find yourself hiking a mountain while pulling luggage. Voice of experience here.

We bought the Spas Ancient and Modern Package for our first day in Bath. This got us discounted admission to The Roman Baths, champagne tea at the Pump Room, and two hours at the Thermae Spa. All these things are close to each other so it is easy to do even if you get to Bath in the early afternoon like we did.

Our Itinerary – Details to Follow

On Our First Afternoon

The Roman Baths
Champagne Tea at the Pump Room
Bath Abbey (These three are all next door to each other.)
Walk to The Circle and The Royal Crescent
Considered dinner at The Raven but it was so busy that we couldn’t get in
Two hours soaking at the Thermae Spa
Picked up some soup and microwavable rice at the Waitrose just past Bath Abbey because we were too tired to find a restaurant. Bath seems to close up fairly early at night at least in the central area.

 

Next Day

Day trip to Cardiff Wales

The Morning After – We dropped off our luggage at a hostel near the train station.  They keep bags for £3 a bag.

Jane Austin Center
The Fashion Museum at The Assembly Rooms
Lunch at The Raven – We got here when it first opened so we got in.
Headed back to London and arrived by 6 PM.

12 Jun, 2015

Trafalgar Square

/ posted in: travel
trafalgartitle
This is part of a series of posts about my vacation to Great Britain in May 2015.  Linking up with British Isles Friday.

At the end of our first full day in London, we had some time to kill after dinner so we wandered over to Trafalgar Square.

The most famous landmark in the square is Nelson’s Column.  It commemorates Lord Nelson’s victory at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.  The column was built between 1840 and 1843.  The bronze lions were added later.  All the bronze is made from French and Spanish cannons used in the battle.

The Fourth Plinth is a column in the square that doesn’t have a statue on it permanently. Since 1999 it has been used to showcase modern art. Since March 2015, Gift Horse has been on display.

gifthorse

Yes, that is a metal horse skeleton with a working ticker tape tied in a bow around its leg. Take from that what you will.


After having a quick look around the square, we headed to our ultimate evening destination.

Wicked

wickeddragon

05 Jun, 2015

St. James Park

/ posted in: travel

St. James Park is a 57 acres park that sits between Horse Guards and Buckingham Palace. It features a large lake with two islands.

Originally, the space was used for grazing cattle until it was redesigned as a more formal garden. Birds were kept here to be eaten in the palace. There are still a lot of birds.

We were walking around the lake and kept seeing signs that said not to feed the pelicans. This seemed extremely odd since there weren’t any pelicans to be seen. Finally at the very end of our walk we saw this. I yelled and pointed like a small child.

pelicans

The first pelicans were gifts from the Russian ambassador. What do you get for a king who has everything? Pelicans apparently.

The gardens were beautiful. We were there in early May so the tulips were everywhere.

Also there was a Shaun the Sheep.

There were 50 of these all over London. I posed by as many as we ran across.

26 May, 2015

Why You Should Visit the Household Cavalry Museum

/ posted in: travel

cavalry

The Household Cavalry Museum was something that I didn’t even know existed until I read about it on a website about the changing of the guard.  I knew immediately that we had to go.

It doesn’t seem like it now that the city has grown up, but Horse Guards Parade is considered the entrance to the Buckingham Palace grounds. (You can visualize that on the map above).  That’s why there are guards stationed here.  I found the guards here more interesting because until 4 PM they are stationed on horseback.

At 4 PM the horses go off duty.  There is a Dismounting Ceremony.  This was a punishment instituted by Queen Victoria when she found the members of the Guard drunk one day.  She said that they had to be inspected at 4 PM every day for the next 100 years.  Their punishment time is up now but they still do it because now it is tradition.

After 4 PM, they guard on foot.

 

There is an interesting small museum here where we learned a lot.

There are two units working here — The Life Guards, in red tunics and white plumes and the Blue and Royals, in blue tunics and red plumes. These are not soldiers whose only job is acting as guards. They are also operational regiments that operate armored vehicles. Most recently they were in Afghanistan.

Most of the soldiers have no idea what to do with a horse. They start with a 10 week intensive riding course. For the first 3 weeks, they ride without stirrups! That will teach you quickly. There are videos to see in the museum about their training. As horse people that amazed my mother and I. We figured these were people who wanted to work with horses and had asked to be in this regiment.

There are also videos about the horses. They are Irish Draughts. They are brought in from Ireland as untrained 4-5 year olds. They go through police horse training and then come to London. They have a vet and a team of farriers on staff. They have summer vacations at the beach and compete in dressage and eventing. Between 16-20 they retire and spend their lives at a retirement farm lounging in the pastures. Because they are horses, sometimes things don’t go as planned. There are stories about horses acting badly like the drum horse who took off during an inspection, jumped a fence, and ran through the rest of the regiment.

The rest of the museum is about the history of the regiment as a cavalry unit. We were there during the anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo where they played a large role.

As a kid I like learning about famous horses.  That’s why I was a bit taken aback by this.

Marengo was Napoleon’s horse. I remembering hearing that his foot had been made into a snuff box but that seems like a made-up story. Whelp, here it is.

Not to be outdone by a French horse, they also have this.

Not a snuff box at least

Sefton was severely injured in an IRA bombing that killed several of the horses and soldiers while they were on parade. He survived. But, when he died someone decided to memorialize his foot. Weird.


They also have a changing of the guard ceremony here at the same time as a Buckingham Palace but this one is better because of the horses.  There aren’t huge crowds so you are very close to it.

Honestly, it wasn’t that interesting.  One side comes in and stands for 15 minutes.  The major entertainment there was the middle horse in line subtly picking on the horses on either side of them and getting them in trouble.  Then the other side rides in and they stare at each other for 15 minutes and then we left.  The horse in the picture above kept looking towards the Palace where there were drums.  He liked the noise.

Getting Here

Underground stations Westminster or Embankment

Cost of the Museum

Adults £7.00 including the audioguide

Included in the London Pass

Changing of the Guard is free

Changing of the Guard

11 AM Monday – Saturday

10 AM Sunday

More information at ChangingoftheGuard.com and Household Cavalry

22 May, 2015

Tower of London

/ posted in: travel

The Tower of London was where we headed on our first full day in London.  In doing family research I found that my mother had relatives on both sides of her family imprisoned at the Tower.  I was hoping going here didn’t awaken some latent genetic desire to overthrow a monarchy in her.  (Try to overthrow the monarchy – be bad at it and get caught – get executed and have your family in disgrace – be descended from the female side of the remaining disgraced family who are able to find anyone to marry them at all so you eventually fall into poverty – and that’s why you head to the colonies as soon as they open for business and I’m American instead of in line for the throne in England.)

The Tower is a huge place with a lot going on.  We went first thing in the morning so we could take our time and not feel rushed.  We used our London Pass to get in.  There is an audioguide available for £4.  This was the only place we went where the guide wasn’t included in the ticket price.

A view of the Tower from outside

One of the first things that you see is the Traitor’s Gate. I’ve read enough historical fiction to know that this is where the prisoners came into the Tower. We paused here to see if my mother was going to be revealed as some sort of sleeper agent but she was fine.

If you are bad enough you get your own entrance from the Thames.

There is so much to see here that you really have to use the map to make sure you aren’t missing anything.

The Tower Green is the central area. This is where executions happened if the prisoner was so high profile that going to the regular place outside on Tower Hill was going to cause too many crowd control problems. The Green is surrounded by former Royal residences and homes of the current commanders of the guards and other Tower officials.

Guarding the boss’ house

The Yeoman Warders are military veterans who work here and live onsite with their families. (Read more about it – The Tower, The Zoo, and The Tortoise) You can see a lot of their houses from the Wall Walk.

These are some sassy gnomes!

The Crown Jewels are on display here. You can’t take any pictures. This is a very crowded area so try to hit it at a time when there aren’t a lot of tour groups going in.

The Line of Kings is billed as the world’s oldest museum display. It shows armor and weapons throughout British history.

I just paid attention to the horses.

There is a dragon!

I always knew there had to be dragons in Britain!

We were so excited that there was a dragon that it wasn’t until we read the sign that we realized that it is made entirely of weapons. He has chain mail and shields and helmets. His toes are pistols.

This is my favorite museum sign of the trip.

I call this one “Sore Losers.”

I read it, pointed it out to my mother, and backed away slowly and tried not to be obviously American until I was a safe distance away.

Plan on 3-4 hours at least to visit the Tower especially if you are listening to the audioguide. We took time to sit on benches and listen to get a lot of the history.

Getting Here

Tower Gateway stop on the District or Circle lines of the Underground

Things To See

The Crown Jewels

The White Tower with displays of armor and coins

Tower Green where high profile executions were carried out

The Ravens – While the ravens are at the Tower, it will not fall

Royal Residences

Exhibits on Torture, the ravens, and the former zoo. The zoo one was closed when we were here and I was very sad.

More Info

The Tower’s website

 

 

Travel to England on a Budget
15 May, 2015

How We Saved Money on Our UK Trip

/ posted in: travel

I’m just back from my trip to the UK with my mother.  I’m going to doing a series of posts about the trip on Fridays in time for British Isles Friday.

Airfare

When I started looking for flights from the U.S. to London I was getting quotes of $1200 – $1500.  Then I checked on Icelandair.  That airline doesn’t show up on websites like Kayak.  I knew about it because a group tour I was on in high school used it.

Because our travel dates were flexible, we were able to take advantage of a great deal.  We flew from Pittsburgh to Boston to Reykavik to London for $300.  For that price I was concerned that our seats may have been on the outside of the plane but they weren’t.  The return trip was $550 so we flew round trip for $850!

That price includes 2 checked bags for no additional fees too.

Icelandair advertises stopovers too.  You can stay in Iceland for up to 7 days with no increase in airfare.  I wanted to spend a few days playing with horses and soaking in geothermal pools but we couldn’t make our schedules work this trip.

They only fly from limited places in the U.S. but if you can get to those cities it is worth looking into.

Lodging

I was traveling with my mother and not the husband so I wanted separate rooms.  I love to sleep and I snore and she is an insomniac so that would work best.

London hotel rooms are expensive so we weren’t going to get two.  I checked into AirBnB.  We ended up finding a one bedroom flat with a pull out couch for $150 a night.  That’s way more than I like to spend on lodging but it was cheap for London.  It wasn’t in the center of the city but it was near the Tower of London on the east side of town.  It was less than 5 minutes to an Underground stop (Tower Hill) so we could get anywhere.

In Bath we got a one bedroom suite in a house about a mile from the center of town for $122 a night.  It had a pull out couch too and a wonderful bath tub.

Trains

This is a place where we could have saved more by planning ahead but I didn’t want to be tied to a time that we had to get on a train.  We bought our train tickets on a day of travel.  If being scheduled doesn’t bother you, you can google train times and buy tickets in advanced at a reduced rate.

London Pass

We debated this one for a while.  The London Pass is a card you buy that lets you get into a lot of attractions at a free or reduced rate.  I’m generally skeptical of “deals” like this but I sat down and figured out what attractions it covers that we were planning on going to.  I added up their admission prices and that total was more than the cost of the pass so we bought it.  If you aren’t planning on doing a lot of touristy stuff, your mileage may vary.

It helped psychologically too.  We are cheap people.  Having to pay every time we went somewhere would have worn me down.  Flashing a card and pretending we were getting in free was much better.

I just added it all up to see if we saved.  We had a six day London Pass that cost £116.  We got a 10% discount so it was £104.40. (Google for discount codes.  They seem to be available often. )  We would have spent £112.50 on regular admissions.  That isn’t a huge savings but it was easier than having to pay each time.

You can get an Oyster Travel Card with the London pass. We didn’t.  We got a separate Visitor Oyster Card for the Underground.  The card that you can buy with the Pass is limited to travel in a few zones.  Most of the touristy stuff is in zone 1.  We knew that we were going to be taking the Underground from Heathrow which is zone 6.  We could have bought it at the first stop but it just easier to not have to negotiate everything when we’d been traveling for most of a day. We had a travel card preloaded with enough money to get us to our flat.

01 May, 2015

Travel Reading

/ posted in: Readingtravel

On Monday my mother and I leave for England and Wales.  I haven’t given any thought to what I’m wearing yet but I have obsessed over the important stuff – What am I taking to read?

This is the hardest part of planning for me.  How many paper books and how many on the iPad?  I am taking a very small suitcase so there isn’t room for extra just in case books but I worry about iPod battery life on long flights with layovers.  I’m a total mood reader too so I worry that I won’t want what I have when I get to the time I planned on reading it.

Here’s the plan so far.

The Storied Life of A.J. FikryThe Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

This is my paper book. I found it at my neighborhood Little Free Library.

Since the trip was inspired by my grandmother’s Regency romances, I figured I had to have a few of those. I downloaded two from my library. It was hard to choose. I’m not up on the genre to know what is good. Obviously, I picked so well that the titles I chose don’t even show up on Goodreads.

Then I figured I need a good book for our time in London. It took some thinking but I came up with one where London is definitely a character.

NeverwhereNeverwhere by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There is never a wrong time to reread Neverwhere. I love this book but always felt like I’m probably missing some of the jokes because I don’t know London well. This seemed like a good accompaniment to walking around London.

How do you choose what kind of books to take on a trip?

I did spend some time out of Harry Potter World in the rest of the Universal Parks.

There are stacks of books in Seuss Land.

This guy guards The Lost Continent.

Dinosaurs

Puppy dogs

Oooh, shiny!

Linking up with West Metro Mommy Reads.

31 Jan, 2015

Universal Studios – Saturday Snapshot

/ posted in: Photostravel
17 Jan, 2015

Saturday Snapshot-Epcot

/ posted in: Photostravel

I am a Disney hater. I don’t like crowds or commercialism. I paticularly hate the idea of Disney because I have a stepchild whose autistic brain is obsessed with Disney. She has the parks, the hotels, and the cruise ship layouts memorized and talks about them nonstop. She has no other topic of conversation.

But I was Orlando with a free day and decided to see if anything had changed.

I did 2 hours at Animal Kingdom where thankfully most people don’t care about the animal exhibits so those areas weren’t crowded. I went to the Magic Kingdom but left after 20 minutes. Those are not my people. I fled to Epcot which was the least crowded and happiest.

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Now I have long days of conferences until Thursday when I go to Universal where the Harry Potter megafans are MY people!

Next week I’ll post photos from Animal Kingdom. Linking up with West Metro Mommy Reads.

30 Nov, 2014

ABCs of Travel

/ posted in: travel

Inspired by Amy

A) Age you went on your first international trip:

17.  I went with a group of language students from my mother’s school on a trip through Germany, Switzerland, and Austria.  It was a few months after the Berlin Wall fell and the big debate in Germany was about reunification.

B) Best foreign beer you’ve had and where:

I don’t like beer no matter where I’ve tried it.

C) Cuisine (favorite):

South American.  I learned to LOVE beans and rice and fresh mangoes and fried plantains.

D) Destinations–favorite, least favorite, and why?:

I really loved Portugal.  It was beautiful all the way down to the street mosaics.

I didn’t like Jamaica at all.  I can’t quite put my finger on why but I always felt very claustrophobic there.

E) Event you’ve experienced abroad that made you say “wow”:

The night we arrived in Costa Rica we were exhausted because it had been a long day.  It was dark by the time we got to the farm where we were staying for a few days.  We just collapsed into bed.  The next morning we got up and looked outside.  We were in the mountains and it was breathtakingly beautiful.  I remember each person coming outside and being struck speechless.  We all just stood there and watched a rain storm slowly come in over the mountains.

F) Favorite mode of transportation:

European trains, not in any way to be confused with South American trains where you take your life in your hands in the melee to get on.

G) Greatest feeling while traveling:

Getting there after a long trip and dropping your suitcase and collapsing on the bed after hours or days of travel.

H) Hottest places you’ve traveled:

Bolivia in September. I was so glad whenever it rained.

I) Incredible service you’ve experienced and where?:

I don’t know about this one. There isn’t anything that stands out as spectacular but I’m not a very needy traveler so I don’t usually ask for help. I know the worse service ever was at a resort in Florida that kept us locked out of our room for hours.

J) Journey that took the longest:

Probably my first trip to Europe.  We went by bus from western PA to JFK, then flew to Iceland and then to Luxembourg.

K) Keepsake from your travels:

I don’t buy any keepsakes anymore.  I just have pictures.  I do have a quilt that I made from t-shirts I bought in Costa Rica and Bolivia.

 

L) Let-down sight, where and why?:
Mount Rushmore.  We saw Crazy Horse the day before and it made Mount Rushmore look so puny.

M) Moment where you fell in love with traveling:

I’ve always loved it.

N) Nicest hotel you’ve stayed in:

My parents have a time share membership to some amazing hotels all around the States.  I would never pay for them but since I get to use them for free, I indulge.  Left to my own devices, I’d stay in cheap places.

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This is the living area of a three bedroom, three bath suite in Florida at one of my parents’ timeshares.

O) Obsession–what are you obsessed with taking pictures of while traveling?:

Old buildings and landscapes and seascapes.

Zion National Park February 2014

Villefrance-sur-Mer, France October 2014

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P) Passport stamps-how many and from where?:

Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Lichenstein (I had to pay for that one!), Costa Rica, Bolivia, Peru, Spain, France, Jamaica, Virgin Islands – but not all in the same passport.  I don’t like the fact that you don’t get stamps for all the countries in Europe you go to anymore and I never get anything from Canada.

Q) Quirkiest attraction you’ve visited and where?:

Maybe the salt mines in Germany where you get to ride a little train and then use slides to go down levels in the mine.

R) Really Frightening: where’s one place you’ve visited where you felt unsafe or uneasy?

The bus ride from San Jose, Costa Rica to Orotina, Costa Rica.  You start in the mountains and go hurtling down the mountains to the coast.  There are huge drops off the sides of the roads and no guard rails.  Everytime I’d convince myself that we weren’t going to die because the buses do this every day, there’d be another cross to mark the site of an accident.

S) Splurge-something you have no problem spending money on while traveling:

Food!

T) Touristy thing you’ve done:

All of it.  I have no shame.

U) Unforgettable travel memory:

Can’t pick just one.

V) Visas-how many and for where?:

I haven’t ever needed one.

W) Wine–best glass while traveling:

Good wine is wasted on me

X) eXcellent view and from where?:

Peering over the edge of Pike’s Peak during a thunderstorm was impressive.

Y) Years spent traveling:

Internationally, off and on for 25 years.  In the U.S. forever.

Z) Zealous sports fans and where?:

Nothing beats being a college student at an SEC school when you have a top 5 football team.

Linking to:
Sunday Traveler

23 Nov, 2014

Nice Modern Art Museum

/ posted in: travel

I like modern art better than older art usually. The husband is the opposite. We usually meet in the middle around the Impressionists.

I went to the Modern Art Museum by myself in Nice. He was going to the bar next door.

I wasn’t overly impressed with this museum. It was a very large space that didn’t have much in it.

This shroud is made entirely of bones. I’m not sure where you get that many bones. The sign said that they were human and animal bones. It certainly shows dedication to collecting.

My favorite piece was this dress.

It is made entirely from plastic pop bottles.

There was a section on Niki de Saint Phalle. This is Fontaine aux Quatre Nanas.

I got out of the museum and couldn’t find the husband. Turns out he got bored and decided to go into the museum too but had no way to tell me that. I could have killed him. He actually liked the museum better than I did.

08 Nov, 2014

Saturday Snapshot – Playground in Nice

/ posted in: Photostravel

The Promenade du Paillon is a new greenspace in the heart of Nice’s downtown. The Paillon is a stream that runs through town and was historically the cause of a lot of flooding. It was covered over in stages from 1868 to 1972. In 2011 the central bus terminal was demolished. It was supposedly very ugly and this park was put in.

It is a very narrow space, fenced in between two busy streets, but it is peaceful inside. One section is a marine animal themed playground.

I love tortoises. I would have totally sat on this tortoise for the picture but I was getting glared at by French people for being a horrible tourist for touching it.

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There is also a large whale that you can go inside. Towards the back of the whale there are some hanging cylinders that I can only imagine have to represent whale poop. I was perplexed and even more amazed to find that I don’t have a picture of them.

Linking up with West Metro Mommy, Sunday Traveler, and

Dreaming of France Meme Eiffel

02 Nov, 2014

Villefranche – sur – Mer

/ posted in: travel

Dreaming of France Meme Eiffel

Our first trip out of Nice was to Villefranche-sur-Mer. This was the trip that made me insist that the husband read the guidebook entry for any place we were going from then on. We missed a lot here because he kept insisting that there wasn’t anything there.

It is 6 km east of Nice and is a port that a lot of ships use. We were lucky to hit it on a day with no cruise ships. Every other time we went past there were at least two cruise ships in the harbor.

It looks like there is sand on the beach but it is actually rocks. Most of the Riviera beaches don’t have sand.

We climbed up a hill and found this nice square to sit in.

At several places around Nice there are installations of art that has been done featuring the place you are visiting.

The husband never mastered the name of this place. He insisted on calling it La Mer. I told him he couldn’t do that. He said that he could say that he had a great meal in La Mer. I told him that that meant that he had a great meal “in the sea” which was entirely untrue and that he was not the boss of the town and was not allowed to change its name. He tried and tried but never could say it.

We took the train there which only took a few minutes but because of strikes when we tried to go home we had to wait 1.5 hours at the station to get a train. There is supposed to be one every half hour. After this we used the buses a lot more. They were more reliable.

 

27 Oct, 2014

Musée Marc Chagall

/ posted in: travel

Dreaming of France Meme Eiffel

We visited the Marc Chagall Museum in Nice. It was a bit of a walk from our hotel but not difficult.

“The museum was created during the lifetime of the artist, with the support of the Minister of Culture André Malraux, and inaugurated in 1973.[1] It is also known as the “National Museum Marc Chagall Biblical Message” (“Musée national message biblique Marc Chagall”) as it houses the series of seventeen paintings illustrating the biblical message, painted by Chagall and offered to the French State in 1966. This series illustrates the books of Genesis, Exodus and the Song of Songs.” – from Wikipedia

They had a free audio set you could get that gave very detailed explanations of each painting. It was too detailed. I didn’t listen to the full explanation of any of them.

I really liked this stained glass window.

When we wanted to leave it was raining so we watched a lot of the hour long movie on his life. It was all in French so the husband said he learned that “Marc Chagall was a man who lived through a lot of different styles of clothing” and “He kept himself busy.”

I’ve been working through the pictures I’ve taken bit by bit to make digital scrapbook pages. This is the one I made for this museum.

Other French posts this week:

Travel with a Sociopath – The bus ride from Nice to Monaco

Village of Secrets by Caroline Moorhead

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