All the Castles: United Kingdom Edition

Today we are heading back to the United Kingdom for our All the Castles blog post. I loved almost all of the castles that we visited during our Summer Holiday to London and Scotland, with one exception (more on that later). I am bending my own “only castle” rule with including Holyrood House in Edinburgh and Balmoral (although technically that is Balmoral Castle). 

Dover Castle (MORE INFORMATION, BLOG POST)

Known as the “Key to England” Dover Castle dates back to William the Conqueror and the 11th Century. The current castle was rebuilt by Henry II in the late 12th century and has withstood two sieges (1216 & 1265). In the 18th Century a network of tunnels dug into the castle and those tunnels became most famous in World War Two during Operation Dynamo. Dover Castle also became the Regional Seat of Government during the Cold War and was garrisoned up until 1958. 

Dover Castle was really cool because not only does it have the long history, but it has still played a large role in our more recent history (like many of the castles in the United Kingdom). I really enjoyed wandering the courtyard, the main tower (which was a signature of William the Conqueror) as well as the various outlying embankments. You are able to wander the tunnels; however, you will want to do that at the beginning of your trip, otherwise you will be standing in line for quite a while (it’s one of the most popular attractions within the castle). 

The Tower London (MORE INFORMATION, BLOG POST)

The Tower dates back to William the Conqueror as he set out to build a might stone tower at the center of his fortress in London. The Tower is the most secure castle in the United Kingdom and is the largest & strongest concentric castle. Its defenses have only fallen once, in the 14th century during the Peasants Revolt. The Tower has had several different uses throughout its time from a prison (800 years), to Luxurious apartments for Royals, to housing a menagerie of wild animals, to an execution ground. It is most known for being a prison and for the executions of three queens, Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard, and Lady Jane Grey. Now The Tower is home to the Yeoman Warders (they’ve lived in The Tower since Henry VIII decreed they stay there) and their families, a Resident Governor, a garrison of soldiers, a doctor, chaplain, and a small pub. It is also home to the closely guarded Crown Jewels. 

Probably one of the most talked about, most popular, most famous and infamous castles in our history, The Tower of London is incredible. There is just so much to see and do within the walls! We ended up spending almost half a day between the Yeoman Warder tour (which I highly recommend), the changing of the guard, and just wandering all of the various spots. You can see so much and such a wide variety of stuff and time periods.  

Edinburgh Castle (MORE INFORMATION, BLOG POST)

Edinburgh Castle has noted human occupation since around the 2nd century, with the castle dating the 12thcentury. Even though its location was prime for a fortress of defensive castle, it did not become a primary military garrison until the 17th century. It is the most besieged castle in Great Britain, topping out at 26 sieges, and is the most attacked castle in the world. In the 15th century a large canon called the Mons Meg was delivered and set up on the rampart, and you can still see that today. You are also able to walk through St. Margaret’s Chapel which is the oldest chapel in Edinburgh (12th century). Finally, Edinburgh Castle is home to the Scottish Crown Jewels which have quite the history themselves (amongst other things, they were hidden in a bathroom during World War II!). Finally, Edinburgh Castle did not actually house many royals for long periods, it was a very cold, very damp castle and most royals preferred the comfort of Holyrood House located at the other end of the Royal Mile and Arthur’s Seat. 

I LOVED Edinburgh Castle, the history, the brooding castle on the hill overlooking the city, the just darker, grimmer defenses, the history, it’s just one of my favorites. I really enjoyed our time there, walking the castle ramparts, through the church, and listening to the audio guide. We did get to see the canon get fired during our time there, which I would recommend (it’s just a fun thing to do).

Balmoral Castle (MORE INFORMATION, BLOG POST)

Balmoral Castle is actually a family home, tucked in the Scottish Highlands, for the British Royal Family. It came into the family’s possession in 1848 (first leased then purchased) and they promptly built a new home on the property. The foundation stone was laid in 1853 and it was completed in 1856. This particular castle is a favorite of the Royal Family and I can see why!

The grounds themselves are incredible (you are only able to walk the grounds and see the ballroom, nothing else), not to mention the way the house is just tucked into the beautiful Scottish scenery. It was incredible and, like I’ve said, I can see why the Royal Family loves it so much. 

Urquhart Castle (MORE INFORMATION, BLOG POST)

Urquhart Castle is a ruined castle on Loch Ness in the highlands of Scotland. It dates the 13th-16th century, with an intentional destruction by the owners in 1692 to prevent Jacobite use. Its major note was playing a role in the Wars of Scottish Independence in the 14th century. These days the castle is mostly noted as a romantic ruin, hosting visitors and events every day. 

I think, on the whole, this is probably my least favorite of the castles that we saw. While it was cool to see and walk through and provided some really beautiful pictures, I don’t think that it was really worth the cost. It’s definitely overcrowded at times as well. There are other spots to see the castle from that might be better. 

Palace of Holyrood House (MORE INFORMATION, BLOG POST)

The final spot on this All The Castle’s edition is not a castle, but the royal home of Holyrood House. Holyrood House is the official residence of the Royal Family in Scotland. The abbey was founded in the 12th century and James IV built the first palace on the property in the 16th century. On the tour you are able to see various works of art, but the real draw is Queen Mary of Scotland’s royal rooms. These rooms have been at the heart of intrigue and assassination and are a real treat into the history of the area.

I really loved seeing and wandering Holyrood House. The rooms are beautiful with a lot of historical information and artwork, the rooms of Mary Queen of Scots are incredible to walk through (along with the staircase), and the gardens are beautiful. We were also able to see the wedding display from Meghan and Harry’s wedding (including the outfits they wore!) which was really cool. 

And that wraps up this edition of All The Castle’s! Have you been to any? Which is your favorite? Which would you most like to visit?

Travel Bucket List

I figured it would be a fun way to pass the time, dream of the days when life is back to normal, to talk about our Travel Bucket Lists. I have a lot of places that I would like to go in my lifetime, as I’m sure a lot of people do, and I figured it would be fun to compile a master list of places. I am going to mark this down as a page on the site as well so that when I cross a destination off, I can link the blog post to that specific page and maybe give someone else an easier way to find by destination. Honestly, I am starting to get that wanderlust, that ache for travel, and I figured this would be a good way to feed that a bit.

I am going to break this down by “continent”, then by places I would like to go back to and re visit other areas, and then by the places we’ve already been (for linking purposes). I WILL NOT be going into super specifics on cities within countries or such on every location as I am still researching specifics. For now, this will be countries/states/and some cities if there is something specific.

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So, here we go, starting with Places I would Like to Go

Europe

Greece

Romania

Hungary

Croatia

Slovenia

Slovakia

Poland

France (I know we’ve technically been to France, but it’s only one city for one night, doesn’t count)

Ireland

Spain

Switzerland

Lichtenstein

Portugal

Denmark

Sweden

Norway

Finland

Latvia

Lithuania

Russia

Iceland

Greenland

Africa

Morocco

Egypt

Israel

Cyprus

South Africa

Asia

India

Thailand

Vietnam

Myanmar

Malaysia

Philippines

Japan

South Korea

Indonesia

Australia

New Zealand

North America

Canada

United States (again- I’ll have to break this one down as I’m from the USA and have already traveled several states)

Mexico

Belize

Cuba

Dominican Republic

Costa Rica

British Virgin Islands

Turks and Caicos Islands

South America

Colombia

Brazil

Argentina

Chile

Those are all the “new” places. Now I am going to touch on the places we’ve already been that I would like to go back to (and link the original posts about those places). Most of the places that you may have noted as missing above are actually places that we’ve been, and I would like to go back to.

Here are those places:

Britain (our first trip was to London and Dover, I’d like to go back and go to Bristol, Cotswold’s, and a couple other spots)

Scotland (our first trip was to Edinburgh and Inverness, I’d like to go back and go to Skye, Galloway, Aberdeen, and many many more spots.)

Italy (our first trip was to Rome (Parts: 1, 2, 3 ) and Vatican City, but I’d like to go back and go through the Tuscan region, as well as down the southern coast)

Czech Republic (Our first trip was Karlovy Vary, Prague, and Lidice, I’d like to go back to Prague, and to Pilsen).

Austria (we’ve been to Salzburg, but I would love to go over to Vienna, Linz, and Innsbruck)

Germany (gosh, where to begin? We are currently living here and have done Berlin, Dresden, Neuschwanstein, and a bunch more castles, but there is so much more I want to do in this country)

And now, last but not least, the places that we’ve been (most of these are linked as places above that I would like to go back to):

The Netherlands (we’ve done Amsterdam and Keukenhof– which I would actually be very up for a return trip to as I LOVE it in the Tulip Fields)

Calais, France

Belgium (I would be a for a return trip here too to see more of the country)

England (Dover, London)

Scotland (Edinburgh, Inverness)

Italy (Rome 1,2,3 and Vatican City)

Czech Republic (Prague, Karlovy Vary, Lidice)

Germany (Berlin, Dresden, Neuschwanstein/Fussen, Nuremberg, Hohenzollern, Lichtenstein Castle, Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Berchtesgaden 1,2)

Austria (Salzburg)

Round the Kettle Ep. 22- Entering February (finally!)

Oh hi. It’s been a while since I’ve done a Round the Kettle chatty post. They are still happening (as if you were really worried ha-ha), but I really felt the “workload” of the Christmas Season at the end of November and through December. I didn’t want to inundate your feed and email boxes with a ridiculous amount of posts, so I let them go until after the New Year past. This is probably going to be a “thing” that I do every year while we are in Europe. There is just so much to do and see around Christmas Season that I want to share, that they just aren’t possible.

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Let’s start with a little catch up…how are you doing?

So, a brief catch up…as you will now know we spent our New Years in Rome on a weeklong holiday that still seems just so surreal in my mind. I can’t believe that I can say that I’ve been to Rome…just like I can say I’ve been to Scotland, London, Dover, The Netherlands…I mean the list goes on. It’s even more surreal and reflective as we are starting to come up on our one-year mark of living in Germany (that post is coming up this coming week). It’s funny because we are just living our normal lives, day to day, and then going on these incredible adventures that we only dreamed about.

I digress…

January passed by as January always seems to, dragging by, giving all of us that New Year’s funk at the end and making us wonder…will February ever come?! Don’t worry, February is here, and we’ve all survived. In a way January wasn’t too bad for me this year, a couple rough spots here and there, but overall pretty good. But February? I anticipate February being a rough one. We’ve got quite a few changes coming our way starting on Monday and I just feel like settling into a new groove is going to be…interesting. Our oldest is starting his preschool program, my husband has been much busier with work in January and into February, and I’m trying to figure out what our “normal” is going to be moving forward once again. It’s all good things, but it just means we’ve got a bit of a transition to make.

With that being said, I am going to be taking a little step back from the blog for a couple weeks in February. This week there will be posts as normal, and then there will be two weeks where I am not going to have any blog posts going up. I will be active as normal on IG/FB, but in terms of blog content, it’ll be quiet. I really try to take a week or two weeks “off” a couple times of year as I find that it helps me quiet my mind and refresh my brain. I’ve been writing pretty consistently for a few months now without a break (I posted a 14 posts in December where I normally average 9-11 posts a month) and I really just need to take a minute, not stare at a blank word document, and just breathe. February tends to actually be a pretty good time to do this as it is slow and quiet as it is (we aren’t traveling at all this month) and with these couple things changing at home, I need to just be able to focus on life.

How was your January? Did you have a good month or are you just ready for February?

 

Planning Big Trips

Untitled Design 5Today I am going to talking about something that we have done and will be doing in the next month and that is planning big trips. We have taken summer vacations for three years in a row now with our little family to all different destinations (Maine, Canada/New York, United Kingdom) and are planning a Christmas/Winter getaway over the next few years too. There is a definite difference in planning between planning these bigger travel events than with planning Weekend Getaways. Not only are these usually further distances away, but they are usually intended to be to see more and do more. I have talked about long weekends (HERE) so today, I’m going to talk just a little bit about how we plan our longer trips.

I’m going to be using our Summer Holiday as an example as I work through this post which you can read about in these posts: Calais and Dover, London, Edinburgh, Inverness, Bastogne, Luxembourg, and Heading Home.

The first step is determining where we want to go. This is actually one of the most overwhelming bits as there are a lot of travel options. We have a very large list of places we want to go while we are over here in Germany, and are adding more to that list every day, and we split that into two categories. These two categories are places that we want more than a day or two and places that we don’t need much time in. So, we knew that we wanted to have a decent amount of time to explore London and Scotland, and since those are neighboring countries and it made sense to take one longer trip to visit both, than two or three “shorter” trips. The same will be for our future trip to Italy. Italy is a country that we want to spend a longer amount of time in to see more to the country, rather than taking a few 4-day weekend trips to. If we can combine spots, we will combine spots, but more on that later.

So, we know where we want to go. The next step is deciding how to get there. Here in Europe there are a couple different options: driving, flying, or train. There are pros and cons to each option, and we tend to weigh kids, luggage, timeframe, and cost into our decision. Flying is something that we will probably be doing more in the winter months as it starts to snow, and the roads get a little more treacherous. Trains are something that we are having to hold off until the boys get a smidge older, Andrew is just a little bit too young to really understand. Driving usually seems to be a…”dull” and longer option (although we like it), but you also can control your timeline a little bit more as well as your luggage situation. The other benefit of driving or taking a train is the ability to add more stops to your itinerary which may change your mode of transportation.

Perfect Segway into our third step, which is mapping a route. This goes hand in hand in some ways with how to get there. This also happens to be one of my favorite parts of the planning process. There are two ways to do this, depending on what you prefer: electronically or physically. What you will want to do is map out your trip. We start with our main points. For our Summer Holiday we knew we wanted to go to London, Edinburgh and Inverness. Those were our main spots. We also leaned towards driving due to cost, ability to control our schedule a little more, and the ability to see a little more. So, we pulled out a map and started to look at different options. You are actually able to do this electronically on Google Maps (plan a trip) which we have done, but you can also do this on a physical map, which I prefer. Looking at a map we kind of eye balled our distances and eye balled what countries we would be traveling through or bordering up against in this travel. We knew that we would probably have to stay a night in Calais and potentially somewhere between Inverness and Dover and then again Calais and home. We also tried to look if there was anywhere that we wanted to stop on our route, which was how we managed to visit the American Cemetery at Luxembourg and the War Museum in Bastogne (also Dover, but that would have been too obvious not to miss). Look at your destinations and if you are driving or taking a plane is there anywhere on your route that you want to stop? How much time do you want to spend in this location? How feasible is this?

So, we know where we are going, how we are getting there, and what stops we want to make roundtrip, it’s time to find a place to stay. This is more my husband’s forte than mine and he typically handles all of our accommodation. I’ll give you an idea though from what we’ve talked about and the little bit that I have seen/tried to do. Depending on where we go we will either book a hotel or an Airbnb. We prefer Airbnb’s as we can typically get a little more bang for our book, a little more space to stretch out, and some version of a kitchen for us to put all of our snacks and such. The only time we really stay in hotels is in bigger cities where it just makes more sense (London and Berlin). We filter our searches on Airbnb based on location and just map where the locations are to where the things are that we want to see. We like to use Public Transportation as much as we can when we travel to new spots, so somewhere nearby either a station OR walking distance to what we want to see is perfect. I wish I had more to say on this one, but I really don’t. We just hunt through Airbnb, our Credit Card company, and then Trivago and sites like that.

Finally, the optional fifth step: planning activities while you are there. This is completely dependent on what kind of traveler you are. When it comes to big trips I have a little bit of an itinerary problem in that I like to have at least one or two ideas for each day. I don’t plan to the last minute, but I do like to have a bit of a plan going into these longer trips. For London, we had planned on one day of just walking London seeing all the sights, one day at The Tower, and one day at the Globe and any last-minute idea’s that we had. This allowed us to have a little structure, a list of things we wanted to do, but still have a little flexibility with the kids. At the very least I would suggest just looking into and maybe making a list of different things to do, you don’t have to come up with any schedules or anything like that, but at least an idea of what to do and when is best to do it ahead of time will be a help.

And that is it! That’s how we plan our longer trips. Do you have any tips for planning long holidays? Let me know down below 🙂

A Cuppa Cosy Summer Holiday 2019: Calais and Dover

Good morning and happy Friday!! Today marks the start of my many many blog posts about our Summer Holiday. I think this is going to end up breaking down into 5 “what we did” posts and 3 “tips/recommendations” posts. I just have so much that I want to share about our trip, tips for future trip takers, and things that I want to look back in and reflect about. It would just simply be too long to only do one or two posts…SO…

I am going to break it up by “location” or Day. This means that there will be separate posts for London, Edinburgh, and Inverness and then two additional posts about the stops we made WHILE traveling to and from. The individual cities will also have separate recommendation/tips posts, but the travel day posts will just have the tips within the post…

If that makes sense? Hopefully it does because this is going to be a long post and I’ve already blabbered on for 151…152 words.

When we originally planned this trip, I picked out the three cities we wanted to visit, knowing one would be London, one would be in the Highlands, and I wanted to do an “old school” Scotland spot. After quite a bit of back and forth and weighing our options, we ultimately decided that driving would be the best option for our family. When it comes to cost, enjoyment, and ease driving was just what fit for this particular trip. This meant having to cross the Chanel with our vehicle.

There are two ways to cross the channel, the Euro Tunnel or the Ferry. Both options have you drive your car into a train or ferry in Calais and then be whisked across/under the water to Dover on the other side. There are pros and cons to both options, and we weighed both choices for a long time. Ultimately we decided to take the train across. The benefit is that it is quick (about 35 minutes), but you stay with your car and do not have the gorgeous views and café that you get with the Ferry. I am not sure how often the Ferries get “cancelled” or pushed back on the time’s, but that is something else to consider. We had cancellations or delays on both sides of the crossing (this was handled very well though, they have a service spot with a lot of shopping, and they will automatically sort your vehicle into the next available train).

So, once we determined that we would be staying a night in Calais, I started to look around and see what we could experience while we were there. The drive to get to Calais for us is an almost all-day drive, so I knew that there wouldn’t be a lot of energy/time for us to really explore. This was fine as Calais is a port city, which means there is a lot just right on the pier if you don’t want to go far/the time is getting late (and you have little ones like we do). We ended up with a couple of free hours, so we wandered over to the Lighthouse, climbed to the top and looked out at the city below. This was an absolutely beautiful view for us and a lovely way to get our bodies moving after being cramped in the car all day long ha-ha. I’m starting to really love these aerial city shots that we’ve been doing a lot of, it’s nice to see a city from above.

We also decided to walk along the pier of Calais, watch the cars board the ferry’s and watch the water of the channel crash in and out. It may not be the most exciting thing, but watching the sun slowly start to go down while listening to the waves is just so incredibly relaxing.

We actually ended up eating dinner at one of the stand-up shacks right near the pier, choosing burgers, fries and cola’s for dinner. We stayed in a hotel in Calais, choosing the Holiday Inn Calais for our one night there. The hotel is actually right on the water and is a completely fine choice to sleep for the night.

Once we reached England and the other side of the Channel, we decided to take a stop at Dover. I’ve always wanted to see the seaside town of Dover and its beautiful White Cliffs. As soon as I had seen that no matter which choice we made, we would be right near/in Dover I knew that we had to stop there. It was a no brainer for me.

We did two stops in Dover, Dover Castle and The White Cliffs of Dover. Exploring Castles, both intact and ruined, have quickly become one of those “things” we do while traveling. They hold such a wealth of information, history, and can be some of the prettiest spots to walk.

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Dover Castle was no exception to this. Not only is the castle stunning and the displays full of information and objects from the time period (found on the property), but they have a cast of period actors that roam the grounds/are in the buildings as you walk through. It just added such a good touch to the castle, without feeling cheesy or cringeworthy. There were two exhibits that we were not able to see, the underground tours, as the queue’s got to be too long for our two very tired little boys. This isn’t anything that we weren’t aware, when purchasing the tickets, the attendant said that they were expecting a high volume of visitors and those two tend to go quickly. Regardless, I would still recommend a stop to Dover Castle, it’s the perfect stop to stretch your legs and learn a little history.

The cliffs are actually right down the road and you can see it from the overlook point at the castle, so make sure you take a look from the distance before you head over.

Oh, the cliffs, the White Cliffs of Dover… I got to live out every Victorian/English Drama Movie/TV Show I’ve ever seen and stand at the precipice of those cliffs dramatically staring out to the abyss….ok I’m exaggerating just a little bit, but it was a dream spot and a definite must see. Not only are the cliffs themselves incredible, but the water- oh the water- a stunning blue/green combo that makes one swoon at the site. Now, we only had time to go out to the lookout vantage point, BUT you are able to hike out to the cliffs themselves, the lighthouse, and have a lovely afternoon tea at the café near the lighthouse (which I so so so wanted to do). Another perfect  stop if you just want to get out and stretch your legs for a little while.

So that was the first, short leg of our Summer Holiday. I hope that you enjoyed seeing Calais and Dover through our eyes! Let me know if you have any questions, and if you’ve been there, is there anything you would add? What was your favorite spot?