England: (For those who are curious about the travel not the stories)
I stayed too long in London. As nice as it was to get my feet under me seven weeks is too long unless you are planning on seeing a bunch of plays or productions which are expensive. The people are kind when you talk to them but a bit aloof (they love and only use the word ‘reserved’ to describe it). Despite the length of time, and going to same church, I didn’t truly bond with anyone whereas I bonded with some people that I only knew for a matter of days in Ireland and Scotland. But let’s talk the good and the bad.
Advice: Always remember why you are where you are and what your purpose is. What can you only see and do in that specific location vs. what is available to you in other locations as well. For example: You can go to a zoo in lots of places and see lots of the same animals. So unless the zoo is the best one in the world- by pass it and see something local or unique like a painting or special building or cathedral. Or if seeing zoo’s is your thing then do it. But make sure you are using your time wisely. You cannot see and do it all- no matter how much time you have.
*remember all of this is my opinion only and what I enjoyed. If you go- decide for yourself.
Top five (London):
- Tower of London
- Museum of London
- National Gallery
- Paul’s/Westminster Abbey
- British Library.
Tower of London: Best advice that I received in England was to go the tower of London at 9am. Not a minute later and go right to the jewels. After you have seen the jewels you can explore the rest of it. Even on a rainy, yucky, cold, off season day by 10am the line was getting really long to see the jewels. As it was I spent over an hour observing at them and was able to ask all sorts of questions and get really geeky. There are incredible stories about the jewels and meaning of the pieces. After taking your time with the jewels take a tour with the guides. Their humor will have you laughing if you want to or not and they are very knowledgeable. If you see a tour in progress jump right in and enjoy yourself without worrying about doing the whole thing if you are time pressed. But make sure to enjoy some of it.
Advice: Everywhere you go in London and almost everywhere in the UK the people who work at the sites are super geeks about the sites. You may think they are just standing guard to make sure you aren’t a stupid tourist, but I think most must have majored in history and their memories are incredible. They love it when you ask them questions about the things they love which are the sites, objects and history you are surrounded with. So ask them. Jewels are beautiful, but the stories and history behind them make the more than pretty objects and something you covet, they bring history to life and give you connections and links to another world. So talk the people. Use your time wisely and do not rush through anything. Better to absorb what you are doing than to see a bunch of things you won’t remember later.
Museum of London: Which most people don’t even know exists (how terribly sad). However I can see dinosaur bones in Ann Arbor and certainly in lots of places in the states, what I can’t see and learn easily is the History of London, which is exactly what this museum is all about. London! So learn about it while you are there and appreciate it. It will help you enjoy your time there so much more as you understand some of its history and culture. Plus they have fantastic tours which are free and you should certainly do if you ever go. I took one with someone who had the masters and was working on their PHD in anthropology and history- talk about informed about anything I could think of to throw at him. Bonus feature: there are two: Museum of London and Museum of London Docklands. Museum of London deals with London from the time of the romans till today. The docklands focuses on that section of the city and has more of an emphasis on WWII. This museum could not only be an all day trip but multiple if you let it. So plan your time wisely.
National Gallery: Again free tours people! Make the most out of them. Not too much to say as it is an art museum and everyone has different tastes, but outside of France and Rome- not a bad selection. The tour guides will point out some interesting facts about the paintings that will help them come to life. Paintings you would normally have walked by will suddenly become outstanding works of art. Note: this is where Van Gough’s sunflowers resides. Even if you don’t like him as an artist, this is an important piece you should check out.
St. Paul’s / Westminster: St. Paul’s is stunning! I am so glad that the Germans used it a point of reference in the war and therefore did not bomb it. Go for evensong. Do not pay for this one. The experience of evensong is a treat in itself and truly stunning. It reminds you that this is not just a tourist spot but a place of worship. Don’t forget to feed the birds at least once on the steps outside (thank you Mary Poppins).Westminster feels less like a place of worship and more like a piece of history to me. So pay the money and take the tour. And as always as the workers to tell you something fascinating that you wouldn’t know otherwise. I take great pride that I asked a question that no one knew the answer to and to find the answer they even had to pull out a book about it’s history that would make ‘War and Peace’ look like a children’s short story in comparison. Talk about a lot of History!
British Library: Okay books! Lots and lots and lots of books. Enough said! But also go to their ‘collections’ room. It is amazing. Guttenberg bible, letters from Anne Boleyn, Jane Austen’s hand written books, Beowulf, music, art! It is incredible!
Top 5 outside London:
- Windsor Castle
Windsor: Might be my favorite period in England. It is a must see and do. Make sure you go early in the day and if you can in the year. Apparently summer is crazy with almost 10,000 visitors a day. I think I liked it so much because I really talked to the people again and there is just SO much to see and learn about. Paintings, objects, rugs, everything! Talk about a place to get your geek on. Plus the grounds are lovely. Just a side note that I learned, I thought that soldiers who people try to take their pictures with were trained for that specifically. They aren’t. They are actual soldiers who have served in places like Afghanistan and they are on duty when you are trying to take their picture. You still can but for me I didn’t. I felt it disrespectful for someone who had served their country with honor and pride to be a photo opportunity and joke. Remember that when you go.
Bath: If you are going to have High Tea somewhere this is the place to do it! Right above the roman baths there is a restaurant with Afternoon Tea. It was lovely, yummy, traditional and there live music in the background. It doesn’t matter what you look like for it. But pay the money and enjoy. The Roman baths are awesome, as if the free tour again, and the fashion museum was a lot of fun. The only downside, it cost SO much money to take the train there. Try to book your ticket early for a savings otherwise you will wince to pay for it and your day will be a quite expensive.
Oxford: Boliden Library. That is all I have to say. For a book nerd it is the place to go. Take the tour again! So cool! There is much to see and do here. But that was my favorite.
Dover: this is the place to get out of the city and enjoy the countryside. Walk the cliffs on a sunny day and feel yourself breathe! They are stunning! I enjoyed them more than the Cliffs in Moher in some ways. (Not in others) But they are truly beautiful. Be prepared for a bit of a walk and on some rough terrain. Unlike the cliffs of Moher there is no real path for you to take but every moment is worth it.
Cambridge/Ely: Cambridge- really not my favorite. And I don’t highly recommend it. But I did not travel out of London all the much and I did not go to the North part of England, and I did enjoy it. But it is pretty. It is an active college campus so there is not too much for tourists. However about 10 mins away is Ely. I did enjoy that. The cathedral is amazing and it a is an adorable little town with an amazing tea shop called Samovar Tea House that had a huge and amazing selection of teas anywhere I have been. It is also the home of Thomas Cromwell. So worth doing if you are going to Cambridge.
Other places to note:
- Victoria and Albert museum: On Friday nights they open it late and there is a DJ and a bar. A party in a museum. Quite cool. Plus the museum is wonderful. Again it is really big- so plan accordingly.
- London Eye: Fun, but pricey. I don’t know if I completely recommend it but it was nice. If you do- just pay for the express pass. The few extra pounds are totally worth it to spend.
- The Temple area: The random thing on this list. For me I loved it because in the heart of the city it was a sanctuary. It was so quiet even at rush hour. And beautiful. And peaceful. I don’t know what else to say but this place was wonderful and you should check it out at least once.
- Tate: I hate modern art but the second floor was good it had some Picassos and other artists you would know. The rest of the floors were ridiculous for me. Someone actually a hung a mirror on the wall and said that made us all art. Okay- I agree the human body is art, but I hang mirrors all the time and no skill is needed- for me not cool.
- Natural History museum/ science/ other: The natural history is epically overcrowded. Long lines on weekends and as I said – you can see most of the exhibits all around the world.
Enjoy high tea once- otherwise try to eat in. Food is insanely expensive and not impressive. However- Clotted Cream- Why in the name of all that is yummy have we not adopted this! So good! Try on a scone and enjoy!
Walk don’t ride. Try as much as possible to walk the city. You see and experience so much more- if you do need to ridge though make sure you get an oyster card. A week pass will pay for itself quickly and you will not be hated for taking too long to go through.
I didn’t need a taxi once. Their system is decent if they aren’t striking of fixing things.
Shipping things back to the states: Royal Mail! Do not use FEDEX or DHL or UPS unless you have too! You save so much money if you don’t care about time. I tried to send something FedEx and they were going to charge £65. I took it to Royal Mail and they charged £12. Worth it to buy it and ship it!
As I mentioned, this is simply about travels. Stories to come soon I hope. Love ya!