2019 – A Year in Review

How have we already reached the 30th of December? It seems like the year was just starting yesterday. And we aren’t even going to get into the fact that this is the end of a decade…what?! I’m still trying to wrap my mind around that one.

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2019 was quite the year over here at A Cuppa Cosy. We did an international move, lived out of a hotel and 6 suitcases for 5 ½ months, visited (as of the date of this post) 10 new to us countries, and experienced new highs and lows with two very rambunctious and active {not so} little boys. Looking back on our year for this post it’s hard to believe that this is our life now (we are going to be visiting The Vatican…what?!), but here we are.

In terms of highs, our move tops the list. In February we moved to a little spot in the German state of Bavaria. We left behind hectic, heavily populated D.C. for the rural countryside life. It was an absolute dream come true and we have well and truly made a home here. The people have been incredibly welcoming as we struggle to learn the language (German is no joke) and I feel like we have overall adjusted really well. For all the good that moving to Germany has done, living in a hotel for 5 ½ months was really hard at times. It’s tough not having your own belongings, having two boys who are used to a certain amount of space and who have a never-ending amount of energy, as well as not being able to have things as we like them.

Another high point of 2019 is the sheer amount of traveling that we have done. As I said, we visited 10 new countries and have really learned the art of short weekend trips (but we’ve also mastered long term travel too). My top place that we’ve visited is Scotland (is anyone surprised? Blog posts are HERE and HERE), followed very closely by Austria, which I’ve now visited twice (HERE and HERE). London was a dream come true (blog post HERE) as was seeing the Tulip Fields at Keukenhof (HERE). So far we haven’t been anywhere that we’ve not liked, although I wasn’t the biggest fan of Amsterdam (still enjoyed my time, just not the top of the list, blog post HERE). I’m definitely looking forward to more travel over the next two years.

We have experienced countless cultural events here in Germany including both Oktoberfest (HERE) and a Krampus show (blog post to come), but also the little festivals in between for random celebrations and Christmas Markets (you’ve seen all of these, but my top two are Gutenek and Dresden).

The boys grew…A LOT over the past year. Colton has really come into his own with his words, his likes/dislikes, and his energy level. He went to his first couple days of preschool (getting evaluated to determine if he needs/could use preschool due to speech) and he loved them. He handled drop off’s like a champ and looks forward to going every time we go. He has really started speaking properly and we are loving seeing his little personality shine (although sometimes he is a LITTLE too much like his father haha). Andrew has really started to come into his own too. He has a voice and definitely knows how to use it, as well as learning how to wrestle with big brother (and win). He has been loving going to our local playgroup and has become such a chatty social little boy. He still has a really sweet and soft side that comes out every time he comes up to give hugs or tries to help with everything. The time is passing all too quickly.

We had one really low point in the year, that I have kind of talked about, but also kind of haven’t. I had one month that I just struggled, that I just broke down. We were still adjusting to the schedule, had just come off of our long Summer Holiday, and I just really struggled the entire month. I had a couple of low days where I was incredibly low energy, crying, and in a dark place for a bit. Thankfully things balanced out and the rest of the year has been great. I say this to show that while our life is incredible here and we are so grateful, it hasn’t been a year of sunshine and daisies.

One of my intentions for 2019 was to be open. Be open to new opportunities, new adventures and to say yes more. I think that I’ve actually really accomplished that. I’ve tried to be more spontaneous this year, and just go with whatever happens as it happens. My word was Adventure and we have most definitely had some of those. Overall, I think this was one of our best years and I know that we are in store for so many more.

So, that was basically our 2019 in a nutshell. A move, lots of traveling, a very happy couple and two wild boys. Our not-so-perfect perfect life.

Making the Most of Long Weekends

It’s happened…Europe has turned us into weekend travelers. I think we’ve traveled 90% of the “long” (3-4 days off, Fri-Mon, Thurs-Sun) weekends. It’s so easy here to hop into the car and just go somewhere new, spend a couple of days and return home. As easy as it is to do, it can seem daunting. There is always so much to do and so much to see that doing it in such a short period of time can seem…overwhelming. I like to think that we’ve got a fairly good system down for how we tackle long weekends and am going to share some of the tips that we’ve picked up over the past months of living here.

Tip#1: Narrow your travel list down to places that are 4-day places (with a realistic total of 2 ½ days of sight seeing) and places where maybe you want to spend a little more time at. This is where people can get stuck the most, because, honestly who wants to feel rushed when traveling? There is also SO MUCH to see and do here that that in itself is overwhelming. Here’s the thing (in my opinion/our perspective)- we are going to be here for three years. We will have numerous long weekends to travel (as opposed to a week or longer) and numerous places to go. If there are spaces that we want to see, but don’t have as much “sight seeing” to do, those are places we can go to on a long weekend. Our first long weekend was to Berlin. Totally doable on a 4 day weekend (in my opinion), our second was to The Netherlands. Both of those fit the 4 day mold fairly perfectly (although there are a couple of spots in The Netherlands I’d like to see one day) as there were sights to see, but we could go, go, go to all those sights.

Tip #2: Pick your top 5. When we decide to go on a long weekend trip we will pick our top 5 before we even leave the house. What are the things that we have to do? What do we absolutely not want to miss if we could not come back here? This lets us narrow down our list of spots to see (so less overwhelming) and when we head back home, we feel like we hit everything we wanted to. 5 is the perfect number and totally doable over a roughly 2 ½ day time period.

**I recognize I keep saying 2 ½ day, that’s what I’ve calculated out as actual sight seeing time on a 4 day weekend. You typically spend a day or so traveling to and from your destination, and then sleep and eating). **

Tip #3: Be ruthless in your packing. (Seems ridiculous to even include this tip) When we have long weekends, I take the bare minimum of what we will need. I grab 4 outfits for each of us, toiletries (that we already have pre packed and travel sized in a suitcase at any given time), and one book (the most important part haha). I pack the day before a trip so being able to just grab and go for a long weekend is super helpful. There have also been a couple weekends where we have literally decided the week before that we wanted to go, so it’s a much faster option to just grab a few outfits and pack the medium suitcase for all of us. Also, it’s a long weekend, you don’t need a lot (I’m talking to all of us women- we tend to overpack).

Tip #4: Don’t be afraid to be flexible. Here’s the thing, travel is all about flexibility. Sometimes you don’t get to everything, sometimes you’re priorities change with having little ones with you. Sometimes the weather impedes. Life happens. It’s more important to enjoy your time and do what you can than stress everything else. Just roll with the punches as they fly. I know that seems different from what I’ve said above, but honestly keep your spirits up and just go with it.

I think, above all, it is important to know what kind of a traveler you are. If you are a go, go, go traveler, long weekends are probably a breeze for you. For reference- we are typically go, go, go travelers, especially on long weekends. We like to see as much as we can with whatever time we have and aren’t keen on sitting around. Our kids have just kind of folded into that mold, being up for whatever we are up for. They nap/eat/live life on the go when we travel and they love being able to see all sorts of different things.

Once you know what kind of traveler you are, and what kind of traveler those with you are, it is easier to figure out what long weekends look for you.

What tips do you have to make the most out of a Long Weekend of travel?

Recommendations and Tips For: Edinburgh, Scotland

We have recently come back from our Summer Holiday in England and Scotland and I’ve been recapping all of our travels for you in the past blog posts. Today I am going to share some of my tips and recommendations for a stay in Edinburgh (you can see the “what we did” post HERE).

Edinburgh is such a cool spot because it perfectly melds the old world, dark, dreary city with pops of bright colors and trendy spots. It’s quite obviously a tourist spot, but you can certainly find the little gems that are maybe off the beaten path a little bit. Even with all of the tourists, Edinburgh holds a special sort of charm in its way of life and we did love our time there.

Recommendations:

Edinburgh Castle. I think this one is a fairly obvious choice, but there is quite simply SO MUCH history here in this castle. There is A LOT to see (not as much as say The Tower, but still a fair amount). They also fire a canon from the rampart every day at 1PM, and that is something you will definitely want to see. Stop in the gift shop near the Soldier’s Memorial for a little whiskey tasting and then wander through the main square. You are also able to view the Scottish Crown Jewels, which have quite the history.

Arthurs Seat. This hike was one of the most incredible hikes. If you even have a little physical experience you could make it to the top, however there are a couple of different false peaks if you’d like to just stop and admire the beauty around you. Once you’ve finished the hike and you are on the way down, there is a little lake that has ducks and geese that would be the perfect stopping point for lunch (just be aware that there are also fearless pigeons).

Holyrood Palace. This is the official royal residence in Scotland (Balmoral is a “country home/private residence”) and it is really cool to walk through the halls where they host dinners and foreign dignitaries. What might be cooler (depending on who you are) is walking through the very rooms of Mary Queen of Scotts, and hearing about the attempt on her life by her husband- you can even walk the very staircase they did to get to her chambers!

If you had to choose between Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood Palace, I would go with Edinburgh, much more/wider variety of history, but I do think it is worth it to do both.

Finally, if you are a Harry Potter fan, then you will be familiar with Victoria Street. This is the street that inspired the “look” for Diagon Alley and it is indeed one of those good spots to walk along and browse the shops. It embodies the feel of dark, old world, with the bright pops of color and shops. I would recommend walking up the street (as you will have to regardless) on your way to Edinburgh Castle or the Royal Mile.

Tips:

Walk. Honestly, Edinburgh is laid out in such a way that it lends itself to walking or riding a bike. It is such an easy way to get around and you are never super far from anywhere really (or a bus stop). We didn’t actually use any of their public transportation, but they do have buses for ease of use or if you don’t want to walk in a Scottish Downpour.

That brings me to my next tip, bring a rain jacket and some sort of water proof shoe (or at least something that won’t have water seeping in). Our rain jackets really came in handy the whole second half of this trip. Scotland is super rainy and, to be honest, it is a rain that really just soaks you. There is also no real telling when it comes in or when it will start, it just does. So, make sure you pack at the very least a rain jacket, if not an umbrella too.

Finally, check out the little café’s and diners that are in the city. For our two breakfasts, we stopped at cute little café’s that were not only the quaintest little spots, but were absolutely delicious. Our favorite dinner was at a little spot that filled up quickly. Know that these places will fill up quickly and so consider potentially eating an “early or late dinner”. I know that some of the spots would take reservations so that is something to think of too. I just find that you get such a good idea of what the local life is when you dine in their own spots, rather than sticking to the main tourist attractions.

Feeling Settled

Ah…home. We are home at last and home for a while…at least until next month. I can’t tell you how good it feels to be home. To be in our home, with our furniture, our bed, our kitchen. In fact, it feels so good it has me reflecting back to how I’ve actually felt over the past few months. That and our new neighbors and I have been discussing the overseas move process (they have just recently arrived).

Regardless of how you move, where you move, when you move, doing an overseas move is tough. And honestly, the hardest part is that everyone on the outside looking in tells you how great it is, what an opportunity, you must be so thrilled, etc. While that is true and is the correct assumption in most cases, most people on the outside overlook the actually move portion. We (myself included) all focus on “OMG you are going to live in Europe, that’s so awesome! You’ll get to see all these things, you’ll get to do so much, such a great opportunity” and yet there is also the whole concept of experiencing culture shock, upheaval of your routine, time difference, being apart from family and friends, looking for a home in a foreign country, not even to begin to mention the amount of time it takes for your household goods to come.

We’ve been lucky, I’ll not deny that. I feel like my outlook and my attitude has really been a game changer (notes for future moves!), along with the fact that we weren’t staying in a standard hotel room, but a hotel 1-bedroom apartment. We’ve also done a bunch of traveling (as much as we reasonably could and then some), BUT I’m not going to try and tell you that this has been a walk in the park. And honestly, I think the thing that I struggled with the most was not having a home. Not having our things. Not having that “we’re settled” feeling.

When you don’t have that home base, that place that you know you are going back to, your own bed, your own furniture, it makes a world of difference in your psyche.

I’ve come to realize that having the home feeling, the home comforts is important. It doesn’t have to be a lot, it can be one or two things, it can simply be a place, but we all need to have that feeling. I’ve heard a lot about “home is who you’re with, not where you are” and yes there is a large amount of that is true. We had our little family and that was a lot, but still, there is something to be said for having YOUR OWN PLACE. Somewhere that is yours. Somewhere that you can have your own belongings, deal with your own food, clean in the way you’d like to clean (whether it’s doing it yourself, hiring someone, whatever).

So, we are finally getting that feeling of being settled. Of having our home. Of being able to cook full meals, clean every day, spread out the way we want to, let the boys carry on how they want to, and just generally relax. While our home isn’t fully done, we are still waiting on all of the wall décor (another story for another day), it feels like home. I feel like I can breathe. We’ve been doing playdates, figuring out our routines, trying to see how everything fits together, and just overall enjoying our time.

While we may not be traveling this month, or until the end of next month (hopefully!), there is a certain level of bliss of “just being able to stay home”.

A Cuppa Cosy Summer Holiday 2019 – Edinburgh Scotland

Our second “long” stop on our Summer Holiday was to stop in Edinburgh Scotland. This was the one city in Scotland that I knew that we had to stop in. Edinburgh has a long history both in Scottish history and Scottish/English history. It also has a very unique feel to it (or so I thought when I talked to others/looked at pictures) of olde world meets modern times. So, when planning our summer holiday, I knew that our Scotland portion would include Edinburgh and then one area in the Highlands.

The drive from London to Edinburgh wasn’t too terribly bad. It’s a long-haul drive, but with stops and the pretty countryside it made for a very nice drive. We rented a flat in Edinburgh that was maybe a 10-minute walk from “old town” Edinburgh. It was a pretty in the middle spot for both sides of Edinburgh that we wanted to visit – the castle and the palace. The flat itself was a really cute set up with a surprising size kitchen and private entrance.

Weather wise we got exactly what I expected- rainy and grey. It was brilliant (I’m a person who loves the rain) and definitely added to our Scotland experience. We made great use of our rain jackets as we walked everywhere, even in the rain.

Day 1:

We started our day off with breakfast in a really quaint, but trendy café called Cult Espresso. We just picked up a couple of baked goods, coffee and a smoothie and were pleasantly surprised by how filling and delicious everything was! I loved the feeling of this little café and it was the perfect way to start our day off. Once we finished, we headed up to Edinburgh Castle. We had pre booked a morning at Edinburgh Castle and we still managed to spend 3-4 hours on the castle grounds looking through all of the different areas. They have their own set of Crown Jewels which were really cool and the history behind them was very interesting (lost, found, stolen, lost, found, etc.). We also managed to stay long enough to watch them do their 1pm Canon Firing, which they do at that time every day. The boys really enjoyed seeing that (after Colton got over the jolt of it) and we enjoyed doing a little whiskey trial.

Once we finished at Edinburgh Castle, we decided to just wander the streets with only vague destinations in mind. I wanted to walk down Victoria Street (which was totally worth getting us lost and having us walk all sort of back alleys to get back on track) and I wanted to try and make it to The Real Mary Kings Cross. We did not end up getting to go into that museum as the tickets were sold out until the evening time. (pre book, pre book, pre book!!!!) We stopped into the National Library and walked through the exhibit they held there (about enlightenment), as well as a couple shops along the Royal Mile. The Royal Mile refers to the mile walk and road from Edinburgh Castle to Holyrood Palace.

We also stopped in to The National Museum of Scotland. First, the interior of this building is so incredibly cool. Just the architecture of it makes it worth the stop. It’s a free entrance museum and we picked two exhibits to go in to. We started in the Animal Exhibit (so proper- I don’t remember the exact name) for the kids and they loved pointing out the different animals. The displays showed quite a variety of animals and we even got to stand on a scale to see what animal we weighed the same as. It is a very interactive portion of the museum very much for children and covers other topics, such as STEM topics and space/our universe. Once the boys had a little overload from there, we wandered up to the Ancient Worlds exhibit to take a look at the Ancient Egypt artifacts. Fun fact about me: I used to be obsessed with Ancient Egypt. Not sure what triggered that interest, but it used to fascinate me. It was nice to have the interest re ignited and look through the various coffins and mummified bodies they had on display as well as the jewelry and everyday items.

We decided to have dinner at a popular local spot called Gourmet Mash Bar. They do a lot of potato (as the name would suggest) with various meat options. I got chicken, the kids got sausage, and my husband got … We also decided to have some drinks, which gave me an excuse to try some Pear Cider. The Pear Cider was actually quite nice, although I learned that I prefer to drink it out of the bottle or lukewarm, not poured over ice. It got a little too sweet and bubbly when combined with ice. After dinner we were treated to a lovely Scottish downpour as we tried to find our way back to the house which gave us a chance to really embrace the rain and our rain jackets.

Day 2:

Our second day was supposed to be a fairly clear day after some morning showers. We decided to have a bit of a later start (aka our kids slept in and we decided to just go with that) and it ended up maybe working in our favor? We started with breakfast at a little café called Consider It (Chocolate). This is a plant-based donut shop and we had some of the best donuts ever at this café. I also had a very delicious cup of tea and we had a little goof around with photo’s while we were here. It was a really nice, slow start to what would turn out to be quite the day.

There was still rain forecasted for the next hour or so, but we decided to just go ahead and leave the café and move forward with our plans. The main goal of our day was to hike Arthurs Seat and tour Holyrood Palace. Our original goal was to walk the ridgeline between the two, but as you’ll read and find out, that did not become an option. A little background first.

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Arthur’s Seat is an extinct volcano with an elevation of 251 Meters (823 ft) at its highest point. The Seat itself is the peak of a group of hills that make up Holyrood Park, which is what Holyrood Palace backs up to. You can hike up to the peak and get an incredible panorama of Edinburgh and it is actually a relatively easy hike. There are two options to hike up, one a “back and forth” gentle upward slope and the other being a staircase straight up the mountain. You can create a trail at just about any spot, but those are the two popular sides. Right now, climbing is not allowed due to rock slides. We decided to hike up using the stairs because that was the side that we came to, which actually worked out better overall, and we got about a quarter of the way up before we got hit with a torrential downpour.

Yep, we hiked that hill (I so want to call it a mountain) in a downpour. Honestly, it was epic, and I would not have done it any other way. It really added to the experience and the sun broke just as we reached the summit. It just made for the most incredible and empowering experience. I was a little worried doing this hike and these heights with both boys, but it was totally worth it. We hung around at the top for a little while, snapping pictures, and enjoying the view before heading back down. We decided against walking the ridgeline and instead do the gentle downward walk on the way down as the volcanic rock that you climb down had become very slick with the rain. This gave us a couple more spots to stop and admire and it also deposited us right at Holyrood Palace.

Holyrood Palace was another spot that did not disappoint us in any way. They had several exhibits about the history of the Scots Rebellion, Mary Queen of Scots, and information about the current use of the Palace. We got to walk through several bedrooms (hello Mary Queen of Scots and where the attempt was made on her life) AND they had a whole exhibition set up for Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s wedding, including the dress and everything!! I knew that there was an exhibition, but I guess forgot that it was at Holyrood. Talk about a pleasant surprise!!! We also got to hear about the disused Abbey that was/is a part of Holyrood, and walk through the gardens.

Overall an absolute gem of a day.

We stopped for a quick dinner in one of the little café’s just off the palace and then headed back to the flat for an early evening.

That rounds out our time in Edinburgh! I hope you enjoyed seeing Edinburgh through our eyes. What was your favorite thing to hear about? Have you been to Edinburgh? What was your favorite spot if you have been? What would you most like to see for yourself?

Recommendations and Tips For: London England

This morning I am going to be sharing some of the things that I learned from our recent trip to London. We spent a total of 4 days in London and saw quite a bit while we are there. I know we didn’t even come close to seeing a fraction of what is there, so I will only be remarking on what we did see, rather than anything else.

Recommendations:

Alright, we are going to start things off with something easy- I would recommend seeing The Tower. You don’t have to spend all day here like we did, the most would be probably 3 hours if you really wanted to do it. I would recommend doing the Yeoman Warder tour as they can give you quite a bit of information and then you can pick and choose from there as to what really interests you. If you do want to see everything and have the time to do so, I would plan for at least half the day spent here.

I would also personally recommend The Tower Bridge. Not only is walking the ramps cool, the view is dramatic and breathtaking in its own way. I would recommend going when they first open, rather than at the end of the day. Crowds can get big, lines can get long, and EVERYONE wants to get that perfect picture on the viewing bits. Save yourself the trouble and do this first on your day ha-ha.

Ok, now for City Tours. If you’ve read my “What We Did” post (you can catch it HERE), you know that we decided to just walk the streets of London. London has a wide variety of ways to see the city from walking tours to the Hop On, Hop Off buses and it is very unique to what works for you and your family. I heard from several people that they really enjoyed the bus tour as they got information that you wouldn’t get just by walking (such as where buildings were hit during World Wars, different routes for royals, parades, etc.). I also know that there are several different walking tours geared toward a variety of interests. For us, walking was what we chose and what I would recommend. The architecture and street scene of London is just so incredible that I feel like bus tours and such don’t do it true justice.

Now, I’m going to give what will probably be a VERY unpopular opinion…The London Eye is not a “must see” attraction. <gasp> What?! I totally thought that it would be a must-see thing, and while I really loved it and had fun looking all around and seeing the city from above, I didn’t find it to be anything truly groundbreaking or incredible. I don’t know if that is just because of what all we have done or what we like to do, but it just wasn’t…”it” for me. The queue’s move fairly quickly, my husband timed it out to waiting in the queue for 35 minutes and the wheel itself is 30 minutes. If you want to do it, do it, but I found Tower Bridge to be a slight bit cooler.

Tips:

Public Transportation. Public Transportation. Public Transportation. The London Tube is one of the most efficient public transports I’ve ever been on. Trains run every 5 minutes or less, if one station or line has an issue there are several other options, all of which are detailed on various boards when you walk into the station, and everything is very organized. We purchased day passes every day, which were not too terribly expensive, and they covered our entire travel for that day. It didn’t matter how many times we got on and off, as long as we stayed in our zones (which were extensive and big) we could just use the one pass. It’s super easy and straightforward to navigate and, honestly, I think the rest of the world could take a lesson or two.

Book-Attractions. This is honestly just a Europe thing that we’ve now learned about in the past couple times we’ve traveled. A lot of places have the option to pre book tours online and if you have the option take it. Often times the prices may be cheaper by booking online, you are guaranteed of your entrance time as queue’s can get busy or tickets may actually sell out(two places, The London Eye and a Museum in Edinburgh didn’t have open entrance times until several hours after we got there and doing the Warner Bro’s studio tour was completely sold out months ahead of our trip date), and it’s easy with either printing your own tickets or doing a will-call and picking them up on site.

Budget Appropriately. London isn’t expensive necessarily, but it also isn’t the cheapest place to stay. You pay for everything (except table water, which was a nice surprise after Germany), and the costs can add up quickly. Parking is a cost that most people don’t think of, but even to just park your car at the hotel will have a charge. Overall, I found the cost of travel wasn’t terrible, but it is something you will want to budget a little bit.

A Cuppa Cosy Summer Holiday – London, England

Our first “long” stop on our summer holiday was to spend 4 days in London England. I’m a massive Anglophile and have pins all across England of places that I’d like to visit. In fact, I’ve said in the past that I’d love to just take a few months and work my way through England and Scotland. HOWEVER, I have a husband who is interested, but not that interested in England and two children who don’t understand, so we had to make some priorities with our trips. So, we decided to give it our all in London for a few days and see/do as much as we could.

I want to preface this by saying I don’t think you could ever “run out” of things to do in London. There is just so much and, honestly, I feel like we didn’t even scratch the surface in that general area. There was a lot more on my list that I would love to see, but, again, husband and children so we tried to stick to the popular things for this visit. Who knows, I may go back sometime soon…

First and foremost- we decided to do a hotel stay while we were in London. Here’s the thing, for us we love staying in little flats or cottages booked through AirBnB. It’s what works well for our family and having the little separate spaces for us and the boys really just helps keep everything cohesive. BUT London is a very expensive place to stay and Summer is a very popular travel season. This leads to prices going up and we simply struggled to find a flat that would fit our needs, but also be budget friendly and ended up deciding that a hotel would be the better fit for us. We picked another Holiday Inn, this time the Brent’s Cross location and we were very pleased both with the staff, the room, the breakfast, and the shuttle taking us to and from the Tube Station. Highly recommend them if you are needing a hotel there and don’t’ want to necessarily be in the hustle and bustle of central central London.

We only book two tour times for our time in London as we wanted to have a little bit of leisure time/didn’t really want to be bogged down by having to be at certain places at certain times our whole trip. We like to have a semi structured travel plan to our travels (picking what we want to do, but sticking to a fluid timeline to do it) so I tried to keep booking times to either earlier mornings and only do one per day. This gave us a chance to have one “free” day in London as well as a full afternoon to just wander as we pleased and see whatever sights we wanted to see, while still getting a chance to do some of the things that were better to have scheduled.

*I do want to say- there are a couple different reasons to choose to book ahead online, some places it is cheaper, some places sell out of time slots, some places require it.*

I also want to say, real quick, that we got very lucky with our weather while we were there. Most days were sunny all day, warm temperatures (think 80’s at the height of the day), and no rain in sight. The day we left started a few days of straight rain (typical London weather), so we did really get lucky!

Day 1:

Our first day in London was the day that we had nothing scheduled so we decided to just…walk the streets. We had gotten a lot of tips about what the best way was to do touristy things in London, all of which I’ll talk about in my Tips/Tricks, but we ultimately decided that walking was the best for us. This gave us the freedom to pick and choose what we actually wanted to see and to explore as we wanted to. Plus we like walking and I feel like you can get a really good feel for a place simply by walking through its spaces.

Anyways, we did a walking trip through what I guess would be central London, as well as hopped on the Tube to get to a couple other spots that were a little far for us to walk. We hit up the following spots: Parliament, Big Ben (under construction currently), The London Eye, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, St. James Park (stopped for a little picnic lunch), St. James Palace, Downing Street (walked past), Piccadilly Circus, Hatchards (did a little shopping), Platform 9 ¾ and Kings Cross Station (they were filming there!), Trafalgar Square, and the Marble Arch.

 

Whew. It sounds like a lot just typing it. I can remember the exhaustion in our hotel room now haha. Seriously though, we had so much fun just having a wander through the streets, admiring the different architecture from the everyday buildings to the ornate hotels to the palace’s and beautiful parks in between.  Our day ended at The Marble Arch, which is right near Hyde Park and we decided to eat dinner in this area as well before heading back to our hotel. We chose to go to Cote Brasserie for dinner and had quite a lovely meal outside on the terrace (which is actually set in the front, on a little cobblestone street filled with art and jewelry shops).

Day 2:

We slowed down only ever so slightly on Day 2 in London by taking a trip to The Tower.

Known mostly for it’s illustrious execution and torture history, there is actually quite a bit longer more in depth story to the Tower. Known as “London’s Castle” it has had numerous uses in the past, but is currently a historic spot for tours, viewing of the Crown Jewels, and a way to have a great day out. It’s a landmark that I have always wanted to tour and I would say it might have been one of the true highlights of our time in London. We started with the Yeoman Warder (aka Beefeaters) tour, which gave my husband a good background on the history of the Tower and was a good refresher for myself. The Beefeaters are highly knowledgable and provide little gems of information both about The Tower and their roles within the Tower.

The tour lasted approximately an hour and we immediately turned our sights to The Crown Jewels. This meant standing outside in a queue for quite a bit of time (not a horrible amount, it gave the kids a chance to nap in the stroller/on our shoulders) waiting for our chance to take a little peak. The Jewels are, of course, absolutely incredible. You’ll see several different crowns, the scepter, and much more. The really nice thing is that you are viewing the jewels on a moving walkway so there is no extra standing and gawking or not being able to see things due to other people. Thankfully when we went, most of the items were not in use, so we got to see everything that they would put out for display.

IMG_6739 2.jpgWe then headed over to the White Tower, which is an internal tower within the gates and holds a lot of exhibits detailing the fighting and knighthood of the time. There were exhibits on the different King’s and their metal wear, the horse sizes as well as war tactics, and defense strategies.

The White Tower itself also has a full floor dedicated for kids (and adults) to explore in their own way. There is a canon they can practice firing, an arrow practice stand, an artifact exhibit with buttons showing where different bits were found on the ground, and a knights stand that had helmets and chain metal to touch.

The boys loved having some items geared more towards there age and spent a good bit of time running to each thing over and over again.

From the White Tower we wandered over to the different prison and torture chambers, learning the history of Richard III and the little boys of The Tower, Sir Walter Raleigh, and the many wives of Henry VIII. We also wandered through the turrets and towers on the outer wall. This gives a glimpse into the actual battlements of the Tower and how it was used as a fortress, as well as a pretty good view of Thames River and London across.

The final thing we got to see while we were at the Tower was a changing of the Guards.

This was quite a sight to see as the march along the front entrance path, then up to the Crown Jewels tower, yelling commands, before the actual changing of the guard. We got incredibly lucky to be in the places we were at the times that we were to see the entire process. It was definitely a cool experience to see how another country handles these changes.

All in all we spent a total of 5 hours at The Tower. Yep, 5 hours. To say we were spent at the end of it would be pretty accurate. We wanted to do something else, but didn’t want to travel far, so we decided to head over the Tower Bridge.

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This was something that my husband had seen on a London Documentary of some sort (a tourist one of like things to do or something along those lines) and he picked it out based on one thing. Not only is Tower Bridge just a sight to behold, but you can actually go up into the towers and walk across a clear portion of the floor, looking at the road and water beneath you. Insert freaked out face here…

IMG_6797.jpgI will say, as someone who is terrified of heights, this wasn’t that bad. It didn’t freak me out near as much as it probably should have or could have. Andrew absolutely loved running across the clear portion (he loves those things) while Colton was a little bit more apprehensive about the whole thing. You can look at the sides and see a really dramatic view of London and the Thames, which was just beautiful.

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As part of admission, you are also able to go down to the engine room and get some information and insight on how the bridge operates and how that operation has changed throughout the years. I will say- if they are in the process of raising or lowering, you are not actually able to go in, but they do have the times posted while you are purchasing tickets so you’ll know ahead of time.

We decided to stay in the area and had a lovely dinner at Vapiano’s. This is a chain restaurant that we actually quite enjoy, it’s one where they make your food right in front of you and we had a lovely time eating and people watching.

Day 3:

Our final day came with an early start, the earliest of our holiday (aside from the first day driving) in order to make our ticket time. Now, when I was picking out things that I wanted to do on this trip I tried to keep my husband and children in mind. There are so many things that I would want to do, but they are just not interested, so this particular experience was my one thing that I think I was the only one truly interested bit and I didn’t want to miss it.

IMG_6867.jpgThat one thing was getting a tour of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre and let me tell you, it was entirely worth it. I love Shakespeare’s works and while this isn’t the original (or even the second, this is the third rendition), the impact was still the same. It was breathtaking to walk along what was the best recreation they could do and what was even better was they were having an active rehearsal while we were there and the show that the stage was set for was a personal favorite of mine, A Midsummer Nights Dream! We were very lucky to even be able to take pictures inside the theatre as that is typically not allowed while there is a rehearsal. It just added to the entire experience and I just feel so blessed to have been able to do that. It was just so cool.

Once we finished that tour we headed back towards Buckingham Palace (thank the lord for the Tube!) and to Churchill’s War Rooms.

This was my husbands “one thing” for us to do. We waited in line for a little while to get in, but used the time to do snacks and naps. The museum itself is actually a really cool stop. Nothing has truly been touched in the rooms themselves, except to add manicans at certain points and before you get into the full rooms, you can walk through an exhibit talking about Winston Churchill’s life. I found the most interesting part being listening to the secretaries that worked for/with him. Such a good insight into who he was and what he was like.

Our last London stop was to visit/ride The London Eye. We purchased tickets the day of for a late in the day time (wait for my tips post for more information on my thoughts for this attraction) and were able to see the Mounted Guard and the retiring of the Mounted Guard (for the evening), which was an interesting sight to watch.

The London Eye itself is quite a marvel. It’s basically a large Ferris Wheel with enclosed carraiges that take you up quite high to give you a birds eye view of the city. You can see almost all of the landmarks of central London and you get pictures galore throughout the experience. You can also participate in the 3D experience (included with a Standard ticket), which just takes you into what you see and the various celebrations.

We had dinner at Steak & Co with an old friend of mine whose trip just happened to overlap with ours in London for a night. It was such a lovely way to end our few days in London!

That wraps up the first full section of our Summer Holiday 2019. I hope you enjoyed seeing London through our eyes! Have you been to London? How do you feel our trip compared to yours? Did you have a favorite of your trip? I think my favorite was probably The Globe if I’m being totally honest or walking through St. James Park. What would you want to do if you could do a trip to London?