Jordan and I just finished an extraordinary European adventure. We were gone for two weeks, and were able to visit 4 countries: the United Kingdom, France, Italy, and the Netherlands where we went to London, Paris, Cinque Terre, Pisa, Rome, and Amsterdam.
I spent a bunch of time researching before we left. I think I read almost every single blog post ever written about the cites we were visiting, as well as a few travel books from the Library. We started our trip in London and we were there for 3 nights (about 3 1/2 days). Here are a few of my favorite London blog posts and resources online: My London List: Tips for Your, Trip, Itinerary Planner and Travel Guide (on the bottom), and London on a Budget (this is one of my favorite Travel Blogs), and of course Rick Steves' Itineraries. You can also find a bunch more great resources on my Europe Inspiration Pinterest board. Also, here is our London Google Map. I always like to make a Google Map before we visit a new city to help me get acquainted and oriented.
I was always really interested in itineraries so I of course have to share ours:
Day 1 [Wednesday]: (Very tired and jetlagged)
Hop on/hop off bus tour of the city (We did ours with Big Bus)
Tour Westminster Abbey (purchased tickets ahead of time, tour with audio guide)
Walk to Buckingham Palace via the Mall and St. James Park
Walk home via Piccadilly, Regent, and Oxford Streets (Hamley's Toy Store and Cath Kidston)
Day 2 [Thurdsay]:
Tour Tower of London (purchased tickets ahead of time)
Start with the Crown Jewels to avoid the line
Follow with Yeoman Warder tour (they start every 30 minutes)
Walk across Tower Bridge
Lunch at Borough Market (full market Wed, Thurs, Fri, and Sat)
Tour St. Paul's Cathedral (purchased tickets ahead of time, tour with audio guide)
Thames River cruise (tickets came with hop on/off bus passes)
Wicked (purchased tickets ahead of time)
Day 3 [Friday]:
London Eye (purchase tickets ahead of time) - fast pass not necessary line moves very fast
4D London Eye Experience (came with our London Eye tickets)
Walk over Jubilee Bridge
Lunch from Food Halls at Harrods
Browse Harrods (women's clothes, houseware, toys, electronics, kids clothes, and gifts)
British Museum (Free! We did "Must See's" but we wish we would have purchased an audio guide)
Day 4 [Saturday]:
Portobello Market (Saturday mornings, arrive early to avoid crowds)
Alice's Antique Store
Flight to Paris (Air France)
I will talk about this a bit more later on, but we stayed in an Airbnb about 5 minutes away from Paddington Station, near Hyde Park. We stayed in Airbnb's in all but one of the cities we visited and overall we had good experiences with all of them. I will write a whole blog post about what we packed but for now I'll just mention that we each only brought 4 outfits and 4 sets of underwear. So we looked to stay at places with washers and dryers and planned on doing laundry before we left each city.
This is also mentioned more below but to stay connected we purchased an international SIM card with unlimited data, and each place we stayed had Wi-Fi.
In London we did a lot of walking but we definitely loved the Tube. I loved that it worked so well with Google Maps and using an Oyster card made it pretty slick. We bought our Oyster cards at Paddington Station right before we took out first ride on the Tube.
And now the nitty gritty with approximately 1,000,000 photos:
As I previously mentioned we snagged first class tickets to Heathrow. (We had to fly from Salt Lake to Boston, and then Boston to Heathrow. Our coach tickets to Boston cost more than our first class tickets to Heathrow. The airline industry is weird!) We thoroughly enjoyed first class, obviously. What's not to like about lay flat seats/beds, a 4 course dinner plus breakfast, and movie watching? It was amazing. Our flight got in at 7am. (We tried to sleep on the plane but neither of us got more than about 2 hours, even with the lay flat seats.)
When we got to London and through customs we went to the first class arrivals lounge and showered before finding a SIM card store at the airport. I bought a 3 (That's the name of the company) SIM card for €40 with unlimited data. The plan covered the UK, France, and Italy (plus a bunch of other countries). It worked great! (Until my phone was stolen in Pisa...more about this later...) (Read this and this for more information about SIM cards abroad) I had read that it was better to withdraw money from an ATM in Europe than to withdraw it in the States and carry lots of money with you while you're traveling (reading these articles was helpful). Plus, I guess the exchange rate is better in Europe. So after buying the SIM card we withdrew some pounds. Then we found our train into the city. We opted for the Heathrow Connect instead of the Heathrow Express to save a little bit of money. This train goes from Heathrow to Paddington Station. Our flat was a 5 minute walk from Paddington Station. We stayed in a lovely London mews that we found on Airbnb (Here is where we stayed).
After getting settled we headed out to explore the town. Because we were so tired we decided to buy tickets for the Hop on/hop off bus (we did ours with Big Bus, if you're curious). I'm still not sure if this was a good decision or a bad decision. It was a good decision because we were literally falling asleep on the bus so I'm sure walking around the city wouldn't have been very fun. It was a bad decision because the day we arrived was the Opening of Parliament so the roads were crazy. The bus kept having to take detours and the traffic was ridiculous. We rode from Marble Arch to Westminster (not directly South, the very round about way) and it took about 2 hours. The other reason why the bus was a good idea was because it was pouring rain, so at least on the bus we were staying dry and seeing the city at the same time. By the time we got to Westminster it was mostly done raining.
Everyone always wants to make sure you know that Big Ben is the bell, not the tower/clock. So if someone asks if you saw Big Ben, you're supposed to say no, you didn't see it you heard it. But given that...Big Ben is truly gorgeous. Both Jordan and I thought it was cooler than we expected it to be. And all of the gold accents make it look so regal!
After ogling at the Palace of Westminster and Big Ben we headed to tour Westminster Abbey. (Since this was pretty much the first attraction we saw in London we liked it but thinking back we enjoyed St. Paul's way more than Westminster Abbey.) The whole trip we were blown away by the history, in the States we don't really know what an old building looks like.
After Westminster Abbey we walked over to Buckingham Palace via the Mall and St. James Park. The way our schedule played out we weren't able to watch the changing of the guards but while we were there this particular evening we saw lots of marching guards so that was good enough for us. We were looking at the Palace and all of the sudden we heard a band start playing the James Bond song and all of these guards marching over to the Palace. We never quite figured out what was going on but we though it was pretty awesome.
While we were riding the Hop on/off bus we saw lots of stores I wanted to check out on Regent and Oxford Streets so we headed there after the Palace. One of the stores we loved was Hamleys where we bought Reagan a cute little tea set. I also fell in love with Cath Kidston. We spent a bunch of time in the huge store on Piccadilly before heading to Hamleys. From then on out I started noticing her stuff all over London. It seemed like every other person had a Cath Kidston bag.
We had dinner off of Regent Street and then continued on back to our flat... Stopping to take pictures of everything that looked especially British, of course. I loved their taxis. They just seem so much cuter than the cars in the States.
The next day we had bought tickets for the Tower of London. I had read that it's good to go straight to the Crown Jewels and see them first thing in the morning before the line gets super long, so that's what we did. It was especially fun to see the Crown Jewels that day because like I mentioned earlier the day before was the Opening of Parliament and the Queen has a special crown she wears just once a year on that occasion. We thought it was cool to see the crown the Queen had been wearing just the day before. We asked the workers what was in it's place the day day before and they said a little sign was put in the display case that said, "Currently in use."
We followed the Crown Jewels with a Yeoman Warder tour. They are free with your admission to the Tower and I think they start a new tour about every 30 minutes. I had heard the Beefeaters were hilarious which ended up being completely true. It was a great tour. Our guide was funny.
After the tour we walked through the White Tower, the Torture Chamber, and went to see the ravens. At this point it was just about lunch time and we wanted to eat at the Borough Market. So we walked across the Tower Bridge and then over to the market. Loved that bridge. So pretty.
I hadn't totally read up on the Borough Market I had just heard that it had good carrot cake. We were very pleasantly surprised at what we found once we arrived. Luckily we somehow went on a full market day and enjoyed walking around the whole thing looking at all of the different booths.
We never did find the carrot cake but we found lots of other really tasty stuff instead. We got the Borough Club from Hash, some juice, a mini strawberry cheesecake, and
After Borough we had tickets to tour St. Paul's Cathedral. We loved St. Paul's. It was completely amazing from top to bottom. Our tickets came with the audio guide and we loved learning about this cool church and especially climbing to the top.
^^Jordan did not carve his name in the door, it just already had his name on it...
We didn't have anything planned until Wicked that night at 7:30, and this seemed like the perfect chance for us to use the Thames River Cruise tickets we got with our Hop on/off bus passes. We rode from the Tower of London to Westminster. Before we got on the boat we grabbed some fish and chips and ate it on our cruise. We really loved the cruise, we had a funny guide and loved this different perspective of London.
From Westminster we walked over the The Apollo Victoria for Wicked! I was VERY excited about this (especially considering we tried really hard to get tickets from the raffle in Salt Lake when it was here last summer but weren't able to). We both loved it. I had forgotten that it was such a funny show. We were both already loving it and then during intermission I started googling the actors and we found out that Glinda was played by Savannah Stevenson who played Mary in the Bible videos the church recently made. This made us love the show even more. It was just so good, I honestly got emotional there at the end because I was just so moved. On our way home from Wicked we stopped at a little restaurant by Paddington Station for an ice cream sundae. It's so fun to be on holiday.
The next day we started out at the London Eye. We bought regular tickets on my phone on the way over there. When we got there and saw the long line we were a little worried that maybe we should have bought the fast pass tickets. Once we got in line though we realized that it moved super fast because 25 people went in at a time. The London Eye never stops moving, you have to hop on as it slowly passes by. It takes about 30 minutes to do the full rotation.
Harrods was definitely on my London list and I had heard that the Food Halls were amazing so we decided to get lunch there. We had already had fish and chips in London but we had yet to have a meat pie, so we got one of those and a warm roast beef sandwich with mango chutney and of course some (beautiful) chocolates. We didn't like the meat pie, mostly because it was served cold. I'm sure we would have loved it had it been warm. Such a funny cultural thing. I would never guess that the temperature of food would make that big of a difference in flavor. Harrods was crazy. It did not fit into my schema of what a department store is supposed to be like. We walked through women's clothes, housewares, toys, electronics, kids clothes, and gifts.
From Harrods we went to the British Museum. I'm not sure if it was because we were tired, or because it was pretty packed, or because of the completely overwhelming amount of stuff there but we didn't love it. We grabbed a map and only looked at the "must see's" The Rosetta Stone was cool to see and we also liked the Easter Island statues (it was kind of funny because we saw another one at the Louvre a few days later). They also had this really interesting instillation called Cradle to Grave that displayed all of the pills two people took in their lifetime, labeled with what was going on with their health at that period of time. It was very interesting.
Because I hadn't bought anything the day before at the Cath Kidston store I wanted to make sure we made it back so I could buy a purse. After the museum we went over to the Covent Garden store and then got dinner in that area. After dinner we went back to start some laundry at our Airbnb. We went back out later that night for some dessert at Zolio. Jordan did some research and found this place because of it's awesome creme brule with banana split ice cream. It was divine. We walked home on Oxford Street and bought some souvenirs along the way.
Like I mentioned before, we stayed in a street of mews. I didn't know what mews were before this trip, but learned that they were stables, right off the main streets now converted into houses. They were darling little buildings all painted charming colors. As you can imagine, I loved them. Walking home from dinner we actually saw some still with horses in them.
Here is what the inside of our place looked like. It was a basement turned apartment with everything we could have needed. It was lovely, cozy and clean. We tried to cook most of our breakfast at our flats to save a little bit of money and this place had great breakfast amenities.
Originally we were planning to fly out of London Saturday morning so we would have the most time in Paris possible, but then I read about the amazing Portobello Market and I really wanted to go. Plus, Jordan introduced me to Bedknobs and Broomsticks while we were dating so it was double fun to be on Portobello Road. We changed our plans and flew out Saturday afternoon, so we could spend the morning at the market. I read that the market usually sets up around 8:30-9:00, I think we got there around 8:40-8:45 and the vendors were still setting up and not very many people were there and by the time we left there were swarms of people everywhere. It was shoulder to shoulder down the whole road. We got breakfast and lunch at the market, a crepe for breakfast and some fries and a bratwurst for lunch. We got the fries at Poptata, cheddar and herb, and they were divine!
^^I LOVED all of these old cameras. I'm kind of kicking myself for not buying one, but I'm just not sure how I would have transported it...
^^This was the craziest, coolest store I've ever been in. I was so bummed, you weren't allowed to take pictures inside but it was floor to ceiling filled with stuff. Every inch of that store had the coolest antiques. The whole ceiling was filled with hanging antiques. So cool.
^^Best fries ever!! Cheddar and herb from Poptata.
I loved everything about London. I'm ready to pack up my family and move there tomorrow. Even in such a huge city every thing seemed so charming. I felt completely safe and it was different enough from home that it was fun but similar enough that I felt comfortable (probably mostly due to the fact that I spoke the language).
Our next stop was Paris. Stay tuned!
Oh and if you have any questions I didn't answer please let me know, I'd love to discuss further!