Hello all! Inna and I are back from our latest Europe adventure! Here’s a post all about it!
For those who don’t know, Inna and I spent the last two weeks in England, Scotland, and Ireland. Then, after she went home (she has limited vacation days), my buddy and I jetted off to Poland. That’s right, England, Scotland, Ireland, and Poland. Half the Europe “lands” in one trip. (While we were in England, we did swing by Wales, but that doesn’t fit in the the “land” part of “Europe-land!”)
DAY 1 – We took the red eye from Los Angeles to Heathrow, arriving in London at noon. After checking into our hostel, we checked out the city. But first, our first authentic British meal: bangers and mash. Yum!
Inna and beer and bangers and mash.
After lunch, our first day in the city. A whirwind of adventure, especially since we were jet lagged and overwhelmed by this insane incredibleness. Los Angeles may be a huge world-class city, but it is nothing compared to London. Block after block of amazingness, it never lets up. Just on this day, wandering somewhat aimlessly and without our guidebook, we saw: Piccadilly Circus, Leicester Square, Chinatown, the British Museum, St Pancras station, Kings Cross (including platform 9 3/4), the British government offices (including where the Prime Minister lives), the royal guards, St James park, and tons of tributes, statues, and memorials (they are everywhere).
Leicester Square, London’s main theater district. Never have I seen such a support of the arts. Theater is everywhere (this picture alone captures four performances: Thriller, What You Will, Chariots of Fire, and Les Miserables) and the people love it, none of that “get a real job” attitude that permeates the US. No wonder so many great musicians, actors, and directors come from England.
Piccadilly Circus. A tourist attraction just for being busy and crazy and filled with people! Note the double decker bus. London was filled with those, constantly getting in the way of my pictures.
As night fell, we walked along the Thames, checking out Big Ben, the London Eye, some cool bridges and a food festival where Inna bought caramelized onion cheddar cheese, an English staple.
The London Eye and Big Ben/Parliament at night.
DAY 2 – The sights. Armed with our London Pass, this was our day to see all that London has to offer. We saw: St. Paul’s Cathedral (although since it was Sunday, we couldn’t go in), the Millennium Bridge, Shakespeare’s rebuilt Globe Theater, the new London Bridge (the original is at Lake Havasu in Arizona), the Tower Bridge, and the Tower of London (including its museums and the crown jewels). We also walked by some other cool sights, such as the Clink Museum, the Tate Museum, the new government offices, some under-construction narrow glass pyramid which is already the tallest building in Europe, ancient Roman ruins, the HMS Belfast, Hay’s Galleria, a replica of the Golden Hinde, and another medieval church that isn’t famous but was beautiful nonetheless. To end the day, we took a boat ride along the Thames, docking back at the food festival, where we had dinner. By this point we were beat, and so it was bedtime.
The Millennium Bridge, St. James Cathedral in the background.
Inside Shakespeare’s Globe Theater, a modern reconstruction of the original theater, built in 1599.
Tower Bridge, not to be confused with the (new or old) London bridge, which is much less pretty and recognizable. Did you know: the Tower Bridge was not bombed by the Germans during WWII because they used it orient themselves when flying over London.
The Tower of London, built by William the Conqueror after his conquest of England in 1066. Pretty much all of England’s 1100-1900 history (minus the enlightenment and the scientific and industrial revolutions) is contained in this castle/fortress/prison/museum.
One of dozens of England’s crown jewels. You aren’t allowed to take pictures, but this one was in a separate exhibition. Not sure why, but I wasn’t asking questions. Just snapping my picture and on my way.
DAY 3 – Okay, so London was amazing, but it was also exhausting! Taking advice from our friends, we left the city for the day. All aboard a three stop bus tour: Windsor, Stonehenge, and Bath.
Our tour bus.
Windsor Castle. In this picture you can see Inna carrying one of our Rick Steves guidebooks. Those things are amazing and I will write more on them in another post. Also, not pictured, we saw the changing of the guards here.
Stonehenge as a whole is smaller than I imagined, but the individual boulders are much bigger. It is a weird place; I can’t even imagine how it was made. I know it wasn’t, but it really feels like it was built by aliens.
Our bus driver called the cops on some of our fellow tour members. That combined with him getting lost resulted in us arriving late to Bath, after the Roman baths had closed. We still got to see the city though!
Bath, the prettiest city in England (it’s actually in Wales, but they’re all part of the United Kingdom).
After arriving back in London, we met up with my buddy Anmol, a filmmaker friend, who was living in London at the time.
DAY 4 – Our last day in London, our last chance to see everything we hadn’t seen yet, including: Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, Parliament, Trafalgar Square, the National Gallery, and lots more statues, tributes, and memorials.
Buckingham Palace, the second grandest palace in Europe (after Versailles)
Westminster Abbey, depending on who you talk to, the second, third, or fourth grandest church in Europe (after St. Peter’s Basilica, up there with Florence’s Duomo and Notre Dame).
British Parliament, with Big Ben on the side and the Thames in the foreground.
Trafalgar Square, with the National Gallery in the background. When I was in high school, I took an art history class at my local community college. The National Gallery, despite lacking that superstar piece like the Mona Lisa or Michelangelo’s David, has more pieces studied in that class (nine) than any other museum I’ve been to (next most was the Louvre, which had seven).
After finishing at the National Gallery, we were supposed to meet our friend at Heathrow, but his flight was delayed, so we spent the extra time at Camden Market. In the end, we did most everything we wanted to do in London, all but two things: go inside Churchill’s war rooms and see a theater performance. Did you know: front row seats at the Globe, where you are so close to the stage that you can rest your arms and head on it, where the actors might even interact with you, are only £5. The seats are cheap because they are in the elements, which could mean burning in the sun, but more likely means sitting in the rain. But no matter, we will definitely do it next time we come here (we would have done it this time, except we didn’t know about it)!
At the end of the day, after a delay, a late arrival, lost baggage, and lots of headaches and stress, we finally met up with our friend, Matt Avila. He was visiting Los Angeles but lives outside Cambridge, so we caught a ride with him and crashed at his place. This takes us to:
DAY 5 – As amazing as London is, it was great to escape. London is expensive and exhausting; even with us going to bed early, we never got more than six or seven hours of sleep. So our first day in Cambridge, we slept until noon.
Of course, this meant we had to rush to check out Trinity College before it closed (unlike American colleges, Cambridge has visiting hours, and they are short). We arrived with enough time to see the grounds, including the courtyard where the run in Chariots of Fire took place, but not early enough to get into the Wren Library. Then we were escorted out.
The Chariots of Fire courtyard in Trinity College. The guard to escort us out is just off camera to the left.
After Trinity College, we went to the second most famous college at Cambridge (there are 31 colleges in total): King’s. King’s College’s visiting hours are later, so we had some time to explore here. Once finished, we visited the various other colleges and also stopped for lunch at the famous Eagle’s Pub.
King’s College, with the famous King’s Chapel, the largest collection of stained glass in England. We actually went inside this church, since it was included in the entry fee for the college. That’s right, also unlike America, the most famous colleges in Cambridge (ie Trinity and King’s) have entry fees.
Of course, for us, a trip to Cambridge isn’t complete without hanging out with our buddy Matt. We’ll see more of him later, but right now, it’s drink time.
Matt and me at a bar in Newmarket. Inna is taking the picture, so she is there too!
DAY 6 – Goodbye Cambridge and off to Edinburgh. In true European fashion, we took the train, and so we gave ourselves a long changeover in York.
York can basically be summed up with two sights: the Roman walls that surround the city and the York Minster. There are other things, but none too grand and a bit touristy. We spent five hours in York, which was probably one too many. We did have afternoon tea here, the only time on our trip.
On the Roman Wall, the Minstry way in the background.
The York Minstry
After York, we continued north to Edinburgh. We arrived at night, and as soon as we exited the train station, we knew we were in one of the most magical cities in Europe. I wish I had a picture that captures it but unfortunately I don’t. Just know that at night, the entire city looks like this:
Some random building, lit beautifully in the Edinburgh night.
DAY 7 – Okay, lets talk Edinburgh. We only had two nights and one day here, and this was one of the most amazing cities we’d ever been to. When it was time to leave, we wanted to stay longer. It is an incredible city, so fun, so alive, pictures don’t do it justice. But I did my best, so check them out!
The Edinburgh Castle, more like a fortress. The most interesting, best presented castle I’ve been to. It contains great museums and amazing views of the city as well.
The Royal Mile. Everything to do in Edinburgh is contained on a one mile strip between the Hollyrood Palace at the north and the Edinburgh Castle at the south. This picture does not do it justice.
Arthur’s Seat, just outside the old town, offers spectacular views of the city. This was also featured in Chariots of Fire.
The view from the top, taken by then newly discovered panorama mode on Inna’s camera. Notice the castle, towards the top about two-thirds of the way across the picture.
And we are not done yet, in addition to the above, we also visited Greyfriar’s Bobby, walked by the cafe where JK Rowling starting writing Harry Potter, ate the best food on our trip (you can call blasphemy but I say the food in Edinburgh is as good as Paris), drank amazing beer, stayed at the best hostel on our trip, listened to fantastic local music, and met some incredible people, the least of which was – what are the odds – my old friend from high school, Mikey Sherman.
Me and my old high school friend, same city, same hostel, same room, same time. What are the odds?
DAY 8 – With much saddness, we left Edinburgh. But onto our next adventure: meeting up with Matt again, this time in Dublin! Dublin during the day was, well it was okay. The Book of Kells was cool (I would show you a picture but we weren’t allowed to take any), as was the Guinness factory, but there wasn’t much else and the city was hit hard by the economy and we met a lot more unfriendly people than back in the UK.
The economy had hit Dublin hard, and you could feel some tension in the air, but it still was a beautiful city.
Now onto nighttime Dublin, which was completely different. Nighttime Dublin was amazing. Drink your Guinness, listen to Irish music, chat it up with the no-longer-sober locals, and have a blast. And did I mention how delicious Guinness is? It is completely different than in the US and it is amazing, like dinner, dessert, and alcohol all rolled up into one. It’s so good that it is all you do in Dublin; you listen to music and drink Guinness. It was a great time.
We went on a pub crawl through the Temple Bar district. We were over 120 strong.
Photo-bombed while listening to Irish music at a bar.
DAY 9 – Daytime again, so Dublin becomes so-so again. But this time we were prepared. Some locals and other travelers had recommended Howth, a quaint little fishing village a short tram ride away, to us, so we set off.
Howth was filled with delicious seafood, a nice farmers market, and some churches and graveyards that were amazing by American standards, but simple compared to the rest of Europe. However, what Howth really offered was its cliffside hike, overlooking the beautiful Irish coast. They aren’t the Cliffs of Moher, but for being only twenty minutes outside Dublin, they were pretty good.
Matt and Inna, hiking to the cliffs.
The hike was filled with views like this.
A rain, er rainring? No pot of gold at the end of this one, since there is no end of it!
As night fell, we went back to Dublin. No pub crawl this time, just a night out, lots of Guinness, good music, and fun conversation. We also stopped by a comedy show, got some laughs in as well.
DAY 10 – Inna had to head back now, which was sad. Matt and I still had our Poland trip, but the flight wasn’t until the evening, so we bummed around Dublin for a little bit. We went on a couple walks, drank more beer, and had a delicious Irish breakfast (the food in Ireland is amazing, not quite Scotland, but still amazing).
An Irish breakfast. I forgot to take a picture of the one I had with Matt, so here’s one I had a couple days earlier with Inna.
That’s not a gas truck…
Eventually, it was time for our flight, to Krakow, Poland. To continue onto that portion of our Europe-land trip, head on to Part 2!