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  • Writer's picturethetravelingartemis

England, Paris, and Scotland! Oh My!

Trip Occurred: September 2010 Blog Written: August 2020

This was my second trip to Europe but the first time I actually took a crack at trip planning. I did this through detailed research, mainly travel books with some internet on the side, and I created my first Excel spreadsheet to keep track of everything. As a novice, I completely overbooked myself. In fact, I ended up scheduling a return trip the following year for my 30th birthday to see some of the things we missed on this trip. I've learned a lot since then about pacing and the importance of downtime.

And here it is! Ain't she a beaut?

There's actually 4 more days on the back!

The following is a detailed recollection of my trip as well as a look back on how I did trip planning with some lessons learned. I'm going to guess we did about 70-80% of what I planned and were still completely exhausted. I think I overbooked us for two main reasons:

  1. The fear I'd never return to the place I was visiting, and therefore feeling this was my own shot to see an entire country.

  2. I didn't really understand how much time it takes to do things and how tired I'd be, which has only gotten worse as I get older.

The other interesting thing about this schedule is that not everything was booked/planned out. That lead to some unexpected bumps in the trip (more on that later). And with that let's get started.

I'm going to skip over the plane ride there (and back) but it was on Virgin Atlantic in Coach and was a freaking nightmare. I've heard great things about Virgin Atlantic but given this has been my only experience with them, I honestly don't know what the buzz is about. When the person in front of my mother reclined their seat, she almost had a panic attack (and my mother is a very calm person). It was a very cramped, uncomfortable experience and honestly has put me off Coach. I've managed to use points ever since to fly Business Class on British Airways. SUCH a more comfortable experience.

Once we arrived at Heathrow, we braved driving on the left-side of the road and made our way to Broome Park Hotel & Golf Course in Kent. It's a beautiful manor house with some single dwellings you can book (both of which are pictured below). The single dwellings come with a kitchen, washer/dryer, and make a fantastic home base for the south of England.

And with that we arrive at hour first full day of the trip, beautiful Dover Castle.

It may be my favorite castle. I love the Tower of London quite a lot but there's something about Dover. On a clear day you can see France across the channel, it's got a Roman lighthouse, "secret" underground tunnels (where operation Dynamo, for those of you who saw Dunkirk, was mastermind), and a medieval palace to explore. That's quite a span of history all in one place (and a nice view to boot). Highly recommend a stop here. It's close enough to London you can do it in a day trip. Or stay in the Garden of England, Kent and it will be right on your front door.

I mean seriously, look at those views!

And here's the Roman lighthouse. Not the looker of the castle but in its defense it's way older!

Okay. So, I know I called Dover Castle beautiful but that was until I saw Leeds Castle.

While Dover is the superior castle, unless you really like more modern design, Leeds with its moat is hard to beat in the looks department. I'm happy I saw Leeds but I probably will never go back, not even to show my husband who has never been. I'm not sure I recommend it for a first trip to England either. Really depends on what you're trying to see/accomplish. I think I was a castle novice at the time so I was trying to see all the castles I could. Having seen a few at this point, this one goes lower and lower on my list. But again, depends on what kind of castle you're in to.

Or I guess if you're really into dog collars. That's right! Leeds Castle has a dog collar museum (or at least they did in 2010). Why? I'm not really sure. But it's there.

So that's Day 1 in the books. We completed 50% of the itinerary. I told you I overbooked it!

The following images are from the town of Canterbury.

I didn't have much have an opportunity to explore this city. I'm hopeful to return to it someday. It has an amazing cathedral, which I've only seen from the outside. While I don't have much to say about it, I'm including it because it was the closet hub to our hotel and I wish I would have seen more of it. If you have a chance to visit Canterbury, DO IT!!!!

Day 2 almost didn't happen.

There was a mix up in the kind of gas we put in the car and our car broke down. Apparently, this happens often enough in England that there are trucks you can call that will come, remove all the bad gas from your car and put in the correct gas. Crazy! Anyway, this caused us to be delayed in our trip to Stonehenge and Bath. We weren't sure we were going to be able to do both (if you remember from the itinerary above, we also had Avebury on the list, which did not happen). Fortunately, we made it into Bath before the Roman Baths closed. But before I get to all that, this is a quick glimpse (image above right) into what rest stops look like across the pond. They are WAY nicer than what we have in America, have more options, and better signage outside before you pull off. I really wish we'd take a lesson from them and improve our own rest stops stateside.

The below image was my first glimpse of Stonehenge!

It's funny to look back on these pictures because I was in England in 2017 and they've completely changed this now. I don't even think the road we turned on to still exists. The Visitor's Center is in a completely different place and way larger. It actually has some pretty cool displays and exhibits. Currently, you can also pre-book tickets online for specific times for Stonehenge, which I do recommend. Earlier is ALWAYS better. My trip recommendations: Get up early and plan on napping later. Turns out, you're not the only one who hates getting up early. Trust me! The lack of crowds in the morning will make you thank me later.

Here are some other, closer pictures of Stonehenge along with an unappetizing candy. Now I'll give you a warning: Some people don't like Stonehenge. They think it's just a bunch of big rocks in the middle of nowhere. I'm not one of those people. I've gone back since this visit (hence the updates mentioned above) as I was traveling with my husband who had never been. At this point, I'm not sure I'll ever visit Stonehenge again BUT I HIGHLY RECOMMEND IT FOR PEOPLE WHO HAVE NEVER BEEN. I love it! I find it to be a very spiritual place (and I say that as someone who is not religious) and calming place. It's just so beautiful. And while it's not as old as Newgrange in Ireland (a similarly spiritual site), it's still pretty cool.

On to the Roman Baths!!!!

Finally, BATH! We managed to arrive in Bath just before the Roman Baths closed. I seriously love this city. It's probably my favorite city in all of England. It has history but also great beauty and honestly, it's a very comfortable city. After the tourists have gone back to wherever they're staying and it's just the residents left, there's a peace that descends. Don't just get on a tour bus and visit Bath, STAY THERE. It's about an hour and half train trip from London. This is a totally doable stay.

The Roman Baths for those unfamiliar is more than just a big bath (that you cannot get in). There's a whole museum attached full of Roman artifacts discovered at the baths including mosaics and busts. It's very cool. Plan on spending an hour to two here. Also, if you have the time, go next door to The Pump Room and have afternoon tea. It's a great experience. If you feel adventurous you can drink the pump water as it's supposed to have healing abilities BUT everyone I watched drink it made a disgusted face so I personally recommend skipping it.

Below are more images of beautiful Bath!

Seriously, if I can ever afford a second home, which I won't, I'm buying a house here.

Day 2 down - 67% of the tasks planned were completed.

Okay! On to Day 3!

Buckingham Palace. We arrived to catch the Changing of the Guard...and I HATED EVERY SECOND OF IT!!! THERE ARE PEOPLE EVERYWHERE!!! Every time I thought I managed to get a little bit of room the woman in front of me found the same space. I thought I was going to have to slip her some dollar bills for the lap dance she was giving me. I was very close to having a panic attack.

LOOK AT ALL THOSE PEOPLE! Fortunately, before I completely lost it, we ditched the crowd and bought tickets to actually go inside Buckingham Palace. It's not open year-round so check for opening times before you go. I enjoyed it, though not enough that I think I'd go back. Probably something you see once, unless you're really into the Royals.

Next, we went to Churchill War Rooms. This is a nice little museum if you have any interest in Churchill or WWII. It's set up with dummies showing you what the rooms looked like during the war and then empties into a large space with a lot of various letters from Churchill and wartime exhibits.

Ah! Westminster Cathedral! My second favorite place in London. You're not allowed to take pictures inside but everyone who was anyone is buried here. From queens to poets to scientists. I will forever find it funny that rivals, and sisters, Elizabeth I and Mary I spend eternity next to each with Mary, Queen of Scots buried across the way.

Just getting in a shot of Parliament and Big Ben (I know! I know! The bell is called Big Ben not the clock tower).

We ended the night on a Jack the Ripper walking tour. I believe it was just my dad and me. My uncle, aunt, and mom stayed back at the hotel. It was a cold London night and we were drizzled on a bit. By the time I got back to my room I was frozen solid. It was a very interesting and atmospheric tour. I can't remember what company we went with but they weren't over theatrical, which I know some of the companies are. I appreciated that about them.

While we were in London, we stayed at The Landmark in the Marylebone area. It's a beautiful 5-star hotel with a glass roof interior that provides light regardless of whether you have an exterior or interior facing room. Not the finest picture of my unmade bed but hey this was probably taken before things like Instagram were a thing. While I haven't returned this hotel, I do recommend it. I have the strongest memory of coming back after the very cold Jack the Ripper tour and taking a nice hot shower, getting into PJs, and ordering Sticky Toffee Pudding (my first time having it). While the ice cream was cold, the cake itself was warm. It was delicious. Such a strong and wonderful memory.

Day 3 done - 80% complete! We're getting better, people!

Day 4 begins with the lovely British Museum.

I love this museum. It's probably my favorite. I love that it's free so that all people have access to the history here (and I'm sure to slip some money into the donation boxes every time I go). Such amazing exhibits, some of which you can see in the images below.

And now on to my favorite place in all of London...

The amazing Tower of London. It's a castle in the middle of one of the largest cities in the world. So much history has happened here and it just keeps standing.

Of course, it's always a little bittersweet at the Tower. It is where one of my favorites, Anne Boleyn, was executed (along with others). Not exactly the happiest place on earth but seriously, it's so much fun to run around. It's like I'm a kid in a castle!

Speaking of Henry VIII, the White Tower has armor from the various kings of England along with weaponry. I recommend checking it out. Of course, the Tower also has the Crown Jewels. You're not allowed to take pictures of them, which is why I have none, but all that bling is very impressive. Kind of hard to believe it's real.

And right near the Tower of London, Tower Bridge. I love the blue. On sunny days it pops even more. And the details on the bridge...Perfect! It's absolutely perfect!

Day 4 done! If we count the optional activities (and add in the British Museum, which originally was the previous day's itinerary) we're down to a trip low of 29% complete.

Seriously, what was I thinking with all those activities on the same day!

Day 5 and we're on to Paris!

We took the Eurostar from Ashford International to Paris. It's kind of fun to go through the Chunnel (though man does going in and out of tunnels make my ears pop). The trip takes about 2 hours. Totally doable and highly recommend if you have the time. I also recommend the opposite. If you're in Paris and have some time, a quick train to London is well worth it.

The photos above are the first time I splurged on a hotel room. I've been in love with the Eiffel Tower for as long as I can remember and while I've learned I love England more; Paris will always hold a special place in heart. Anyway, I always dreamed that one day I would stay in a room with a view of the Eiffel Tower. This room was literally a dream come true. The hotel is called Hotel Brighton and while I haven't returned to stay at this hotel, I do recommend it. It's a 4-star hotel with fantastic views of the Eiffel Tower, Musee d'Orsay, and the Louvre. It's also next to Angelina, which has some of the best desserts in Paris.

After checking in to the hotel we headed to the Louvre and then the Musee d'Orsay. The Louvre is huge. Huge in a way you have to see to believe.

The Musee d'Orsay is where you go if you love Impressionists paintings. For this reason, I personally prefer the Musee d'Orsay to the Louvre.

We ended the evening on the Bateaux Parisiens dinner cruise. I've been to Paris three times at this point and all three times I have done this dinner cruise. The food is good (not fabulous) but the views! Oh! Those views! Paris at night is a thing to behold. And, conveniently, they put just about everything on the river. Seriously, DO IT!!

Day 5 down! Success rate? 75%!

The next day included The Arc de Triomphe and Notre Dame. Both great, iconic Parisian landmarks. I haven't climbed to the top of either but I've heard they have great views, particularly the Arc de Triomphe.

This is the Palais Garnier. It is a beautiful building that, funnily enough, inspired The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux. If you don't have the time to get out to Versailles, and you want to see French decadence, go to the Palais Garnier. They put gold on everything, which is something the French LOVE to do.

The Musee Rodin is a quiet museum in Paris. Maybe people have been here when it's crowded but neither of the two times I've been there has that been true. It's beautiful and full of sculptures, which I personally love.

We took the Eurostar back to England late in the evening to give ourselves a full day of Paris.

Day 6 = 80% complete.

At this point in the trip, we're about halfway through and EXHAUSTED! Today was a free day with the exception of the tickets to Les Mis we had in London. We took the train in from Kent and enjoyed a lovely show. We were told that getting a cab would be a piece of cake to take us back to St. Pancras. Turns out, we had a hard time with that sooooo...

We ended up taking a rickshaw. Seriously! That poor man carrying 3 adults. It may only be 2 miles but he was huffing and puffing. We ended up giving him double his cost for his effort and for the fact that he got us to the last train out of London to Kent on time. We made it by 10-15 minutes.

Day 7 was a rare 100% completion rate. Mainly because we chose not to do any of the optional activities on the itinerary and instead just did the one thing we had already paid for.

Today we head to Brighton. I'm going to admit, I was a bit let down by Brighton. It was crowded and I thought a little dirty. Maybe I just caught it on a bad day but I feel no need to go back (despite how beautiful the beach above is).

Okay. You may be asking why I'm showing you a picture of an apartment building. Well that's because it's an apartment building on top of a 3-5 story parking lot. I've never seen anything like it before and was shocked to see it the first time.

After our time in Brighton we headed back to our hotel, which shows how exhausted I really was. The whole point of coming out here was to see the Seven Sisters (beautiful white cliffs). But after driving out to Brighton I was too tired to continue on to the Seven Sisters...and I wasn't even the one actually doing the driving!

This put this day, Day 8, at a 33% success rate.

So, Day 9 was the day the itinerary went upside down. This was something that could have been avoided if I'd done some more research. The original plan was to take a passenger ferry from Dover to Dunkirk and maybe cross the border over into Belgium and maybe see Bruges. Then we learned, the day before, that the ferries that go to Dunkirk only take cars and bikes, no walk-ons. The only boats that allowed walk-ons were the ones that went to Calais. As part of the reason for the decision to go to Dunkirk was just to ride a ferry, and since we were so close to Dover and the channel, we decided we'd alter our plans and go to Calais.

Now I get people arguing this isn't a bad turn of events and that it's all a part of the adventure of traveling. I agree with that to a certain extent. Given its location across the channel, and that it used to be a part of the English empire, Calais is a town with great history. As an Anglophile, it comes up a lot and it's kind of nice to say I've been there. However, I'd still have much rather gone to Dunkirk and the process of changing the plan from Dunkirk to Calais was a bit stressful. We tried many different ways to get to Dunkirk and, outside of taking a train, it just wasn't possible. My advice, particularly for those of you who don't like surprises, is to do all of your research before you travel.

Back to the trip...

The photos above are Dover Castle and the famous white cliffs of Dover. While I think England has prettier white cliffs, they're still a sight to see. When we made it across the channel, we caught a bus into the city center and stopped to have a lunch in a cafe. We also witnessed a waiter's race!

After this we hopped back on the ferry, back to Dover, with some extremely drunk Englishmen and caught some beautiful sunset views.

Day 9 in the books with 0% completed from our itinerary.

Day 10 brings us to Shakespeare Country. This day is a 100% complete day as this was a tour we went on. I go back and forth on tours. It's nice to not have to worry about anything and just sit back and relax BUT you have no freedom. I sparingly take tours as a result. However, for planning purposes, I often look at tours as I can confirm what is actually realistic to see in a day.

Also, I messed up when booking this tour. I believe I did it through Gray Line and they had multiple options for the same tour. I couldn't tell the difference between them so I booked the cheapest one and when we arrived, I learned that meant that we hadn't pre-purchased admission tickets to any of the sites. It ended up being fine, we just bought tickets when we got to each site, but I definitely felt dumb. I honestly don't know how I did this exactly. Maybe it was just being a travel novice...but I do know how to read...

Anyway, our first stop of the day as at Oxford University, a beautiful college campus where they happened to shoot parts of Harry Potter.

Above are just some pretty pictures of Oxford I just had to include. They include the Radcliffe Camera, a replica of the Bridge of Sighs, and the door that inspired CS Lewis to write the Chronicles of Narnia. In all honesty, I haven't read the books but it's easy to see how this inspired Lewis and as a lover of books, I think that's pretty cool.

For lunch we stopped in the Cotswolds, specifically The Cotswold Arms in the beautiful town of Burford. You probably don't need me to tell you about the beauty of the Cotswolds. If you can go, do it.

After lunch we went to Anne Hathaway's cottage (Shakespeare's wife) and then Shakespeare's birthplace. While the countryside is beautiful, I'm not sure I really recommend this part of the tour unless you're really into Shakespeare. If you're not, just do an Oxford/Cotswolds tour. They were really my favorite part. Having said that, it's kind of cool to have walked where Shakespeare walked.

Like I said before, Day 10 = 100% items complete!

Day 11 we take the train from King's Cross in London to Edinburgh Waverley. Edinburgh is one of the most beautiful cities I have been to. I'm bummed I only got 48 hours there. I will go back one day and spend the proper amount of time there. I love the stone with all the gold lettering. Seriously, perfect.