Exploring England with Tracy

Even with the ridiculously hot weather and all of the delayed trains, Tracy’s week here in England was still a success. It was so much fun having her here, and I wish she hadn’t had to leave. But alas, all good things must come to an end, and now we’re once again 4,000 miles apart.

Still, while she was only here for a week, we got a lot of exploring done! Well, Tracy and I did. Poor Greg had to stay home and work.

Let’s see, how should I organize Tracy’s week in England? I think I’ll just write a little something about every day she was here. Sound good? Well, even if it doesn’t, too bad. I’m writing this, you’re just stuck reading it πŸ™‚

Saturday
Tracy arrived!! Greg and I met her at Heathrow because she traveled here all by herself. Plus, it was a Saturday, and we had nothing else going on. And I guess I was also excited to see my sister, who I hadn’t seen in about 10 months. So, there were a lot of reasons.

Anyway, that took just about the whole day. We got back to Southampton around 5pm. After getting Tracy settled in, we popped over to Stable to introduce her to the deliciousness that is meat pie. She left England sad she’d never get another decent meat pie in her life, so I’d say the meat pie experience was a success. That night, we spent gabbing on the balcony and drinking as many G&Ts and ciders as we could. We had a lot to catch up on.

Sunday
Beach day! Which was perfect timing because Sunday was the first day of the outrageous heat wave England underwent while Tracy was here. The three of us lathered up with sunscreen, bought beach towels, and then hopped on the train to Bournemouth to lounge the day away on England’s only sandy beach.

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Tracy and I at Bournemouth beach

Turns out everyone else in the area had the same plan. The beach was packed! We were able to find a relatively clear patch of sand further down the beach, though, and set up camp there. We lounged on the beach, splashed about in the cold, but refreshing, water of the English channel, and sipped our lukewarm, Tesco brand ciders that were the only ones left in the empty fridge section.

Around 6, we headed back to the train station. When we got there, no one else was there. The train to take us back to Southampton didn’t arrive for about a half hour, so we sat and waited. And as we did, the station began to fill. And fill. And fill until there were so many people on our platform, we could hardly move. I guess everyone else decided to leave Bournemouth at the same time we did. The train we had been waiting on came and went (we had been unable to get on, it was too full), so we waited for the next one, hoping the crowd would die down. It didn’t, though, and more and more people kept on turning up at the station. The second train finally arrived (with only 4 coaches, the madness), and we shoved our way on. The three of us found seats, but the train was so crowded, people were smashed up against each other in the aisles surrounding us. And of course the AC wasn’t working. It was a rough trip back to Southampton, but we made it, and then got ice cream to celebrate. That night, we ordered Papa John’s for dinner because, believe it of not, Tracy can’t get Papa Johns delivered to where she lives in MN! It’s THAT rural of a place. She had to come all the way to England to get some of her beloved PJs. Go figure.

Monday
We said goodbye to Greg and hopped on a train to London! Our train out of Southampton was delayed on the way (due to a faulty computer system), so we switched trains at the next available station. Which was then also delayed due to some issues with the doors. So, we ended up getting to London about an hour later than we had originally planned.

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London!

Once we got settled into our Airbnb, we caught the underground into Central London and hit up all the general touristy sights. We crossed the Westminster Bridge to get a good view of the London Eye and Big Ben (although the guy who we asked to take our photo was more interested in us than in the clock tower, as it barely appeared in the pictures he took), strolled over to Buckingham Palace and then grabbed dinner at The Clarence Whitehall. After dinner, we popped over to Oxford Street to do a little shopping and then made our way back to the Airbnb for the night.

Tuesday (Tracy’s birthday)
After not enough sleep (due to it being 90 degrees and there being no AC in our Airbnb), Tracy and I headed back into Central London for the day. We started our day at the Tower of London, got lunch at the most beautiful restaurant right on the Thames (complete with gorgeous vines and lavender growing all over the patio), and made our way along the river to the Millennium Bridge (which we crossed because we’re Millennials, said Tracy). Once on the south bank, we gave ourselves our own little Love Actually tour and walked along the river (in the shade and through a nice breeze) towards the London Eye. We contemplated going for a ride, but ultimately decided not to. So, we crossed back over the Westminster Bridge and made our way toward Trafalgar Square, where I knew a bunch of shops were located.

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Reenacting an emotional scene from Love Actually

Unfortunately, there was no shade on the bridge, and no breeze at all on the way to the Square, so we just about died from the heat. Not really, but almost. So we decided to make a pit stop for some cool drinks in an air conditioned pub.

Once refreshed, we shopped around for a little bit and then made our way back to the Airbnb to get ready for Tracy’s birthday dinner. We met up with Greg for dinner at The Fable. It was a pretty good spot, and Tracy was able to try Bangers and Mash for the first time. After dinner, we stopped at a wine bar, and then said goodbye to Greg and headed back to our Airbnb for the night.

Wednesday
Day trip to the White Cliffs of Dover! We got a decently early start out of our Airbnb, but then surprise, surprise, our train to Dover was delayed (but only by 9 minutes. Some other trains had been delayed hours, or canceled all together. And It was due to a person being hit by a train, so I suppose I can’t really complain).

Anyway, two hours later, we arrived in Dover! We thought we’d stop in a restaurant on the water for lunch before trekking up the cliffs, but never actually found one. So we ended up on the trail to the cliffs, climbing a ridiculous hill in blistering heat with no water and no food in our bellies, and wondering why we’ve done this to ourselves. We talked about turning around, but managed to make it up the hill to find an information center complete with snacks and ice cold (actually frozen) water bottles for sale. Score.

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The White Cliffs of Dover

The Cliffs were amazing! We were rewarded for our effort with breathtaking views of the English Channel (on a clear day, you can apparently see France from the Cliffs), and of Dover’s busy port. We lounged around the Cliffs for a while, taking pictures and relaxing, before heading back down into the city. We grabbed dinner at a cool pizza place and then boarded a train back to London.

Thursday
We said our goodbyes to London and began our journey back to Southampton. Surprisingly, our train was right on time!

We laid low the rest of the day. Did some shopping and then got dinner with Greg at a tasty BBQ joint (and one of me and Greg’s favorite restaurants in Southampton) called Chalk Valley. The server was very friendly and our meals were delicious.

Friday
Tracy and I boarded another train. This time to Salisbury to go check out Stonehenge (third time for me). We managed to nab a spot right at the front of the double-decker bus which takes you to Stonehenge from the Salisbury train station, and watched as our driver just barely missed hitting a pedestrian. Good fun.

Stonehenge was cool as it always is! We were able to walk all the way around the sight to get some good pictures, unlike when I went with Megan earlier this year. After checking out the stones, we perused the gift shop a bit, and then explored Salisbury. We stopped into a cool pub I didn’t manage to get the name of, and while we were sipping on our ciders, Where You Lead by Carole King started playing. This, as you may know, is the theme song to Gilmore Girls, and (as you probably don’t know) a song that reminds us both of our dear friend, Renua, who we lost a little over a year ago. It was a bittersweet moment, and I’m pretty sure it meant he was watching down on us on Tracy’s trip.

That night, we got dinner at Dancing Man Brewery (located in an old prison) with Greg, and then spent the rest of the night chatting on our balcony.

Saturday
We spent Tracy’s last day in England with a picnic in a park just over the Itchen Bridge from our apartment (Greg was able to join us for this!). We feasted on bread, meats and cheeses, watched a rowing race that was going on, and lost our ability to form words when gigantic, fang-ridden spiders invaded out picnic blanket. The day was a little chilly (English weather for you), so we made our way back to our apartment after not too long.

After a little bit of packing, Tracy and I headed to a restaurant across the parking lot from out apartment building for a cheese platter. We hit the restaurant at the perfect time, as it was doing two-for-ones on all cocktails. So we set up camp at a table inside (out of the cold), sipped on our drinks and snacked on cheeses. Living the good life. Then, we met Greg for dinner at another restaurant near our apartment. That night, Tracy and I had a regular old sleepover in the living room and fell asleep to Love Actually. The perfect end to a perfect trip.

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At the marina on Tracy’s last nigt

Tracy made her way back to the US bright and early Sunday morning. No amount of time I spend with her is ever enough, but I’m so glad she was able to make the trip out here! And I’ll be seeing her again in just a few short months when Greg and I move back to MN. How did that come up so fast, by the way?!

Tracy was our very last visitor! That’s actually a little crazy to think about. We’re still planning on checking out a few more countries, though, while we’re here. We’re planning on Copenhagen next. If time could stop moving so quickly, that’d be great.

 

Germany

Greg made a trip out to Munich, Germany way back in November for work. He was there for just three days and he raved about it to me. I have always wanted to see Germany and I was so jealous of him! So, when it came to planning our May trip, Germany was what I rooted for. And because Greg had loved Munich so much, we put it on our list of cities to see. In total, we were able to explore Munich, Dachau, Nuremberg and Berlin during our short trip over Memorial Day Weekend. Not too shabby! Oh, and we ate tons of ridiculously amazing Asian cuisine, oddly enough.

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In Nuremberg

Munich
We caught an evening flight out of Southampton so Greg could put in a full day of work and not have to take any vacation time for our trip. Hashtag clever. But, because our flight didn’t get us in to Munich until a little after 9, by the time we got to our hotel (the same one Greg stayed at for his work trip and loved) it was almost midnight. We were starving and nothing was open except for a McDonald’s about a half hour walk from our hotel. So yep, we made that trek and scarfed down some German Micky-dees, and then called it a night.

The next morning, we woke up bright an early, took advantage of the free hotel breakfast (hooray for deli meats and cheeses!) and then headed to the train station to make our way to Dachau. We had the hardest time trying to purchase train tickets, though, as the machines at the station didn’t take cash or credit cards that weren’t German. Luckily, a nice guy behind us in line saw our struggle and purchased our tickets for us using his German credit card (we paid him back in cash). So, much later than we planned, we were on the train to Dachau to visit what was once the Dachau concentration camp.

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Memorial inside the Dachau Concentration Camp

 

Established in 1933, Dachau concentration camp was the first concentration camp used by the Nazis. It went on to incarcerate almost 200,000 Jews before liberation in 1945. It was incredibly sobering to see. The area was so much bigger, so much more desolate and horrible than I had imagined or was prepared for. You enter the camp through the same gate the Jewish prisoners would have been forced to enter, the words “arbeit macht frei” (work sets you free) staring down at you. To your left are where the barracks were (most are gone, two have been reconstructed), to your right is what was once the maintenance building, but is now a memorial museum. Greg and I wandered through the barracks and then made our way down the camp road towards the crematorium. Walking through the crematorium was heart-breaking. It was so silent,

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Entrance to Dachau

even with all of the other visitors walking through at the same time. Passing through that building, through the gas chamber and the now empty room which once held hundreds and hundreds of dead bodies, is something I’ll never forget. Afterwards, Greg and I walked down a path in any other circumstance might have seemed pretty. But every couple of feet down the path was a plaque pointing out the horrors that took place there: the otherwise unmarked patch of earth where ashes of hundreds and hundreds of unknown Jewish bodies are buried, the wall Jews had to line up in front of before being executed. It’s unbelievable how much torture and murder and sadness went on in that place some 60 years ago.

 

The rest of the afternoon we spent exploring Munich. We had a picnic of brats, fries, German beer and prosecco in a park, wandered around the city centre, saw the Odeon and Marienplatz, and climbed up to the top of the St. Peter’s Church tower. That night, we got dinner at a Chinese restaurant near our hotel, played on a playground we stumbled upon, and then called it a night.

Nuremberg
The next morning, we took advantage of the free breakfast again, and then picked up our rental car and made our way to Berlin!

One item on Greg’s bucket list is to drive on the autobahn in a German vehicle. Check! The majority of the autobahn has no speed limit, which means you can drive as fast as you want (while still being responsible, of course), so Greg set the cruise control on our Mercedes to 100mph, and we cruised on down the autobahn towards Berlin.

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Zooming down the autobahn!

We stopped for lunch in Nuremberg because it’s a city I’ve wanted to see since I had to do this huge project on the Nuremberg Trials in 10th grade. We walked up the steep hill to Nuremberg castle, which seemed even steeper because it was almost 90 degrees out, and then got lunch at a nearby cafe. I tried weinerschnitzel and some homemade German potato salad! We didn’t get to spend too much time in Nuremberg, but I’m glad we got to stop for a little bit. Nuremberg is beautiful! Hopefully we’ll be back some day.

Berlin
After dropping our rental car off, we hopped on the bus to our Airbnb, which was located in what would’ve been East Berlin had the wall still been up. We explored the area around our airbnb and grabbed dinner at a delicious Japanese restaurant called Takumi NINE. That night, we tried to figure out where the Berlin wall would’ve been in relation to our airbnb, and then fell asleep watching a documentary about the wall.

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Portion of the Eastside Gallery

The next day, we slept in a bit and then got breakfast at a nearby cafe before setting off to explore Berlin. We saw the Berlin Wall Eastside Gallery, the Monument to the Murdered Jews of Europe, Checkpoint Charlie, got pizza for lunch on the river, and snacked on ice cream in a park. That night, we got dinner at an amazing Thai restaurant my friend, Nat, recommended to me, called Lemon Leaf (thanks, Nat!!) and then wandered through a Berlin Wall memorial just a few blocks away from our Airbnb. It’s hard to imagine that not even 30 years ago Berlin was divided by that wall, and that so many innocent people lost their lives just trying to escape East Berlin for a better life.

We got up before the sun began to rise the next morning to catch our plane back to England. I really enjoyed Germany, and hopefully we’ll be back some day so we can see more of it.

Our next visitor is TRACY!!! I cannot wait to explore more of England with her!

The Cotswolds

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Last week, Greg’s parents came to visit! Their flight got in on Thursday and we had a delicious steak dinner at a nearby restaurant to celebrate. On Friday, they went off to explore Salisbury and Stonehenge while Greg and I worked and wrote. Then the four of us popped into our favorite restaurant in Southampton, The Stable, for some meat pies and cider. The next day, it was off to our adventure in the Cotswolds!

Saturday

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The view from our cottage!

Greg and Tim picked up our rental car and we were on our way! Tim was driving, which was good, because he’s the only one with some experience driving on the left side of the road. I’m not sure I could have done it.

Our lakeside cottage for the weekend was about a two hour drive from Southampton, but we stopped a couple times on the way. Once for lunch in the cute little town of Cirencester and then again to check out the Broadway Tower, which was so cool! We climbed the tour and took in the beautiful view of the countryside around us (complete with deer and sheep), and then toured an old nuclear bunker, climbing 15 feet below ground on a teeny tiny ladder.

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Broadway Tower

That night, we stopped into the Chequer’s Inn for dinner. It was tasty, and we got to try some of theΒ  the local asparagus that was growing literally all around our cottage.

Sunday
We slept in a little bit, and then made our way over towards Ledbury to check out the Eastnor Castle. Much like the Inverary Castle we toured in Scotland, Eastnor is still lived in, but allows visitors for a certain period every year as a way to make extra money to help pay for upkeep (which is actually one of the reasons Downton Abbey was filmed on location at the now famous Highclere Manor…which Greg and I still need to see!). Anyway, the castle was really cool, and even though there was a crazy chili festival taking place on the grounds, inside the castle wasn’t too busy at all!

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Gloucester Cathedral AKA Hogwarts

We toured the castle, strolled around its lake, and then made our way to Gloucester to see the cathedral.

Gloucester Cathedral was used in the filming of Harry Potter!! So, you better believe I had a lot of fun exploring there. At one point while walking through the cloisters, I felt like I really was inside Hogwarts. It was magical! Harry Potter aside, the cathedral is impressive. Full of intricate details and amazing stained glass windows, I’d say the Gloucester Cathedral should be on your list if you’re ever in the area.

That night, we sampled some more local asparagus at a quaint restaurant near our cottage called The Bell.

Monday
We sadly packed up our bags and began the trek to London. On the way, though, we stopped at Stratford-upon-Avon for breakfast and to see the birthplace of Shakesspeare! The house sits right in the middle of a busy high street, with shops and restaurants all around it. It’s crazy to think how different that area must have been when Shakespeare was around.

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Shakespeare’s birthplace

Once we made it to London, we dropped our luggage off at Tim and Roxanne’s hotel and then made our way over to the Winston Churchill War Rooms and Museum. Greg and I have been dying to check it out, but were waiting to do so with Greg’s parents, and it did not disappoint! Being down in the bunker, among the offices used by Churchill and military strategists during WWII, was beyond interesting. The museum is huge, too! You could spend hours and hours down there reading all about Winston Churchill’s life. Eventually, we got hungry though, and made our way back above ground.

After dinner, Greg and I said goodbye to Tim and Roxanne and caught a train back to Southampton. We had a lot of fun exploring a side of England with them we had not yet seen, and we were sad to see them go!

That’s it for visitors for now until Tracy flies over in June. Greg and I are busy planning a trip in the meantime, though, to Germany!

 

 

 

Scotland

Our trip to Scotland was anything but dull! It started with almost missing our high speed train from London, continued with busy bus tours each day, and concluded with a bright and early flight back to Southampton (Dublin for Brian and Trina).

Our train ride from London to Edinburgh was at 10am on Friday morning. “We’ll leave the apartment at 6am,” we said, “that’ll get us to London with plenty of time to spare.” Ha! Possibly because it was Good Friday, but most likely because trains can be so unreliable, we just BARELY made it to London in time to catch our high speed train. We had just minutes to spare. And that was with leaving the apartment four hours early!

The train ride from London to Edinburgh was nice, though! It was about four and a half hours long and offered some awesome views. I’m glad we didn’t miss it πŸ™‚

Friday

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View from our Airbnb balcony

We arrived in Edinburgh around 2:30 and made our way through Old Town to our Airbnb, which had a spectacular view of Edinburgh Castle from its balcony! After Brian walked into the sliding glass door to the balcony, spilling two glasses of wine but not breaking any glass, we made our way to the castle which sits atop an ancient, inactive volcano. We walked through its grounds and then hiked up to it, snapped a few pictures, and then wandered down the Royal Mile, which is really just kind of a tourist trap. But if you’re looking for an authentic Scottish cashmere or woolen scarf, the Royal Mile is the place to go!

Our Airbnb was located on Rose Street, just over the river from Old Town, and was full of little pubs and restaurants. We stopped at one for dinner, then got drinks at the cute pub, The Black Cat, and called it a night.

Saturday

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Inveraray Castle

We got up extra early to catch an 8:15am bus tour. Both tours we did on our trip were through the company Rabbies, and I would highly recommend them! The buses were small, the trips were interesting, and the guides were fun. Saturday’s tour took us through the Scottish Highlands and to the opposite side of the country.

On our journey, we passed through Stirling, famous for the Battle of Stirling Bridge, stopped to explore the bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond, got lunch in Inveraray (after stepping into the most Disney-looking castle I’ve ever seen that also happened to be featured in Matthew Crawley’s last episode of Downton Abbey), and then ended the tour with some very friendly horses at Doune Castle, which was the castle used in Monty Python and the Holy Grail! On our way back into Edinburgh, our guide pointed out the train line used in the Harry Potter movies as the line the Hogwarts Express follows to get to Hogwarts, and made a quick stop in Queensferry, just outside Edinburgh, to see the iconic Forth Bridge.

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Greg and his new horse pal

The tour got us back to Edinburgh at 6:30pm. We grabbed a couple pints at the Cafe Royal Circle Bar and then made our way to Rose Street for dinner. We landed on a restaurant called Rosehip. It was adorable and delicious and offered us our first taste of the traditional Scottish dish, Haggis! We grabbed a couple more pints at another pub, and then headed back to our Airbnb for the night.

Sunday
Back to the Rabbies meet-up for another bus tour! This time, we drove through several small fishing villages on our way to the famous St. Andrews.

The day started out cold and rainy, but by the time we got to St. Andrews, the clouds had gone and the sun came out to stay (which is really good, because we had three hours to kill in St. Andrews, and that could’ve been miserable). We explored the ruins of the historic Cathedral of St. Andrews, which had been, at one point, the center of the Medieval Catholic Church in Scotland before the Scottish Reformation, and then walked through town towards the golf course.

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St. Andrews

Neither me or Greg are golf fans, but the St. Andrews golf course was pretty impressive! And it went on forever! Apparently, there are a total of seven different courses in St. Andrews, including the one used for the British Open. I suppose that makes sense, considering Scotland is the home of golf.

We got back to Edinburgh around the same time as Saturday, explored the Old Town for a little while, and then headed back to Rose Street where we got an unexpectedly delicious meal at a restaurant called the Boozy Cow.

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Greg and Brian in St. Andrews

While the weather for our trip was kind of wacky, I think we picked a good time to see Scotland. Cherry blossoms were just starting to bloom, everything was incredibly green, and there were flowers of all colors everywhere. Even with the rain, it was beautiful. Greg and I had a lot of fun exploring with Brian and Trina. We’ll get to see them one more time before they fly back home, but we’ll be sad to see them go!

Our next visitors are Greg’s parents!

Giving Paris the Attention it Deserves

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with mom and dad at the Eiffel Tower!

As you may remember, Greg and I visited Paris very briefly in November with Chris and Megan on my birthday. We stayed for just the night, and then dashed off to Geneva, Switzerland. So, when my parents informed me they’d be traveling all over Europe with a stop in Paris, I knew just where to meet them. It was a lot of fun to really give Paris the attention it deserves. And it was even more fun to be able to experience it with my parents!

Friday
Greg and I got to Paris around dinner time. We checked in to our beautiful hotel just steps away from the Notre Dame, and then met up with my parents, who I hadn’t seen for SIX MONTHS. That’s the longest I’ve ever gone without seeing them. We wandered around the Latin Quarter in search of somewhere to eat (there were so many options, it was almost overwhelming), and then landed on a place looking out onto the River Seine. After dinner, we made our way back to our hotel for the night.

Saturday

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Petit Trianon in Versailles

We got up bright and early to catch a tour bus to Versailles to see the Palace. It was very impressive. As part of the tour, we also got lunch at a cute restaurant that had once been horse stables, saw the Grand Trianon and the Petit Trianon, and visited the Queen’s Hamlet, where Marie Antoinette spent most of her time before her eventual beheading.

The tour bus dropped us back off in Paris in the late afternoon, and we made our way to the Eiffel Tower. My parents wanted to see the Tower when the sun had set and it was all lit up, so we stopped at a cafe to kill some time. We snacked on Foie Gras (Greg’s favorite appetizer) and a gigantic plate of various cheeses (my favorite appetizer) and sipped French wine. Once the sun began to set, we headed over to the Eiffel Tower. We took a ton of pictures, walked underneath it, took a ton more pictures, and then made the trek back to our hotel.

Sunday
After our long day Saturday, we slept in a bit and then stepped out for the day. First, we made a quick stop at the famous bookstore, Shakespeare and Company. I actually had never heard of this little shop until Chris mentioned it on our first visit to Paris. I’m SO glad he did, because that place was amazing! I really could have spent all day inside that cozy space among the books and typewriters. Maybe someday I’ll make my way back there to write or listen to visiting authors.

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Shakespeare and Company!

With a few new books in my bag, we then made our way to the Louvre. Greg and I didn’t have enough time to go in last time we were in Paris, so we were excited to actually step inside! The line was long (we should’ve bought tickets a head of time), but I think it was definitely worth the wait. That place is massive! We spent a few hours inside and still only scratched the surface of just one side.

After we had our fill of art, we wandered over to Luxembourg Gardens. We walked around and then stopped at a cafe in the park for crepes and rose. We sat down right as an orchestra began to play, and we listened to a few classics and then, weirdly, the Austin Powers theme.

We also went to Montmartre, a giant hilltop offering amazing views of the city. We trekked up a steep sidewalk, climbed a bazillion stairs and took a bunch of photos before heading back down and to our hotel. We got dinner at a tiny bistro near the Notre Dame (it was delicious!) and then called it a night.

On Monday, Greg and I flew back to Southampton, and my parents caught the Eurostar, a high speed train which travels underneath the English channel, to London. They’ll be meeting us in Southampton on Thursday before flying back to Minnesota, and I can’t wait to see them again and show them around!

Our next trip will be to Scotland with Brian and Trina!

 

Finally Italy!

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Well, we finally made it to Italy and if I had to describe it in one word, I would choose green. My sweet friend, Mazzy, told me before we flew out that Italy is an incredibly lush country, and she could not have been more right about that! Nature pushed its way through every crack of every surface, carpeting concrete walkways and decorating centuries-old brick walls. I absolutely loved it. On our short, four day trip to Italy, we were able to see Genoa, Santa Margherita, Portofino, Vernazza, Manarola, and Pisa. WHEW!

Genoa

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View of Genoa from our Airbnb

Greg, Scott and I flew into Genoa on Thursday morning. We grabbed a ride with the chattiest taxi driver ever (who gave us some good advice on what to eat), and headed to our Airbnb, which was situated on top of one of Genoa’s massive hills and had amazing views of the city below. We explored Genoa a bit and then grabbed dinner at an okay restaurant. We were starving and it was the first place we saw. After dinner, we wandered around more, got drinks at a cool outdoor wine bar, and then headed back to the Airbnb for the night.

Santa Margherita and Portofino
On Friday, we slept in and then planned our day at a cute little cafe. Scott wanted to check out Portofino, a small fishing village on the Mediterranean coast, and just a half hour train ride from Genoa. So we grabbed a delicious lunch of focaccia pizza (which was amazing!) and headed out.

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Portofino

The train from Genoa takes you to Santa Margherita, where you can then catch a bus, ferry or taxi to Portofino. The ferry was done running for the day, unfortunately, and in some confusion, we missed the bus, so we took a taxi.

Portofino was tiny and beautiful. We got wine and snacks at an adorable waterside bar called Jolly and then ate some gelato and wandered through the village. There is a castle way high up on a hill, and we thought ‘hey, that doesn’t look too far away, let’s go there.’ But HOLY BUCKETS, was that a strenuous walk! Up and down, up and down, up and down we went, only to find the castle was closed. So, back up and down, up and down, up and down we went until we stumbled upon a light house offering amazing views of the village and the Mediterranean. So, while our legs were basically rubber by the time we caught a bus back to Santa Margherita, our hike was definitely worth it.

Once we got back to Genoa for the night, we got dinner in a tiny restaurant. The menu was in only Italian (unlike menus we saw everywhere else) and our waitress didn’t speak English. So, we completely guessed at what we were ordering, and were all pleasantly surprised. We each got a delicious pasta dish, and I think it was the best restaurant we ate at our entire trip!

Pisa

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Pisa Cathedral with the Leaning Tower peeking out from behind

On Saturday, we woke up bright and early to catch a 2.5 hour train to Pisa. We settled into our Airbnb (which had a view of the Leaning Tower from its balcony!!) and then went off to explore. First stop, the Leaning Tower. We gazed up in wonder, took pictures of people posing for forced perspective photos with it, and then got pizza at a nearby restaurant. After lunch, we explored around the Tower a little more. We went into the Cathedral and the Baptistery and then lounged in the Field of Miracles before heading off to explore the less touristy parts of Pisa.

We got dinner at a pretty cool restaurant we just happened upon. We were given glasses of prosecco on arrival, along with an additional appetizer! Living the good life! After dinner, we headed back to the Airbnb. Pisa celebrates its own New Year (along with the one on January 1st), and Saturday happened to be the first day of their New Year! So, as we relaxed in our Airbnb, Greg suddenly turned the TV off and rushed to the balcony. Fireworks were going off right next to the Leaning Tower, and we could see if perfectly from our balcony. It was so cool!

Cinque Terre
On our last day in Italy, we decided to explore the Cinque Terre region. The Cinque Terre is a grouping of five tiny fishing villages right on the Mediterranean coast. You can hike a trail between all five, or take a train if you’ve already walked a ridiculous amount and are lazy like us πŸ™‚ We didn’t have time to see all five, so we picked two right in the middle: Vernazza and Manarola.

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Vernazza from inside an old castle spire.

Vernazza was gorgeous. Simply stunning. I have never seen a place so beautiful. And the weather was perfect! We wandered around, took tons of pictures, and then made our way up to a cliff-side restaurant for lunch. I had best pesto I’ve ever had in my life! Days later, I’m still thinking about it. Ugh. So good!

After lunch, we headed to Manarola. Unfortunately, the weather turned, and it started to pour the minute we got there. We ducked into a cute little cafe, ordered cappuccinos and tried to wait out the rain. After a while, we tired of sitting inside, so we decided to explore Manarola anyway, rain or no. We got drenched, but Manarola was still so beautiful to see! We ended up heading back to the same cafe (this time for local wine and limoncello), and then made our way back to Pisa.

Italy was just as perfect as I thought it would be, and I certainly want to go back again. And, Greg and I had a lot of fun exploring it with Scott! His stay with us went by so quickly, but it was so great to see him.

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Greg and Scott at lunch in Vernazza. Look at those two!

Tomorrow, we’re flying out to Paris to meet my parents on their European vacation!

A Weekend Trip to Sweden

So, our trip was amazing and Sweden is officially Greg’s favorite place we’ve visited so far. I keep trying to find a way to describe it, but all I can come up with is that it just felt familiar. This probably has something to do with how many people of Scandinavian origin live in Minnesota, and possibly because it was snowing on the day we arrived and I’ve been missing snow this winter.

Gothenburg
We woke up at 3am on Thursday morning to catch an early flight out of London and arrived in Gothenburg (pronounced yeh-teh-BOR-ee) in the early afternoon and immediately made our way to our SUPER swanky Airbnb for a nap. Our hosts provided us with a big warm blanket, and Greg and I slept for a good two hours or so.

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Swank City

Once refreshed, we made our way into the city for dinner. Gothenburg city reminded me so much of Minneapolis. It wasn’t too big and not busy at all. There was snow on the ground, and yet people were still biking around. Ahh…home.

We got dinner at Smorgas Baren and if you ever find yourself in Gothenburg, you must must must stop there! It was SO good. I’m not a food critic and do not have the right words to fully describe the deliciousness of our meal, but I think it was the best meal Greg and I have had since we moved abroad.

 

Skagen, Denmark
From Gothenburg, you can catch a ferry to Fredrikshavn, Denmark. From there, it’s just a short train ride to Skagen, the very tip top of Denmark where the Baltic and North Seas meet. Greg and I heard about Skagen years ago while watching some movie about Copenhagen. We’ve wanted to see it ever since then. So when we were planning our trip to Sweden, we were sure to include some time for Skagen, too.

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The tip of Denmark

Skagen is a quaint little seaside town and is absolutely beautiful. I can imagine it’s incredibly busy during the summer, but it was pretty dead while we were there, which was nice.Β  The walk from the train station to the point where the seas meet is about 4 miles round trip (something Greg and I had not realized), and there were 40mph winds. So, it took us about an hour to get there. But even though it was cold and windy, Greg and I were determined to see this place, and it did not disappoint! Before heading back to the train station, Greg and I each put a hand in the Baltic Sea and then in the North Sea.

Even though our hands and faces were freezing, our legs tired and our feet sore by the time we made it to the ferry back to Gothenburg, seeing the tip of Denmark was a once in a lifetime opportunity, and I’m so glad we were able to do it!

Stockholm
From Gothenburg, we took a train to Stockholm! The first thing we did in Stockholm was hit up the Vasa Museum. The Vasa was a very poorly designed navy war ship from the 1600s that sank 15 minutes into its maiden voyage (I shouldn’t be laughing, but it’s a little funny). Anyway, the ship was lifted from its sunken spot in ONE PIECE in the 1950s and is now on display. The museum was really interesting, and I’d suggest it to anyone planning a trip to Stockholm.

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The streets of Gamla Stan

Our Aibnb was about 20 minutes out of the city. It was just a little studio with a view of a frozen lake and heated floors, but it had everything Greg and I needed and was very cozy. We popped in after the museum for another nap (traveling is tiring!) and then made our way back into the city for dinner.

The next day, we spent just wandering around Stockholm. We got breakfast in a neat basement cafe in Gamla Stan (Old Town), gazed up at the ridiculously tall ceiling of the entryway to the Royal Palace (inspiration for a picture book I’m working on), and then checked out the Swedish Centre for Architecture and Design.

We had a lot of fun in Sweden. It was nice to be in a land covered in snow and dotted with lakes again, if only for a little while.

 

 

 

 

Coming Up

January was a pretty slow month for me and Greg. My winter break ended and I started back up at the University, and Greg’s been busy with work. It’s been nice taking things easy, but that’s all going to change real quick! Here’s what we have coming up between now and April:

Sweden
Greg and I are flying off to Sweden this coming Thursday! We’re planning on staying in Gothenburg and then taking a train into Stockholm. We’re also going to ferry over to Skagen, Denmark for a day to see the point where the Baltic Sea meets with the North Sea. It’s going to be amazing!

Italy
In mid-March, our friend Scott is coming out to see us! We’ll bum around England for a bit, and then jet off to Italy. FINALLY! I have been dying to see Italy! We’re planning on flying into Genoa and then taking a day trip to see the villages of Cinque Terre, and (if time allows), possibly one to Pisa.

Greg and I will have to plan another trip to Italy, because I want to see it all.

France
Once Scott heads home, Greg and I are going to meet my parents in Paris, halfway through their European vacation. I can’t wait to spend some more time in Paris (we were only there for a night last time), and to hopefully branch out and explore a bit more of France with my parents, too!

Scotland
In the middle of April, Greg’s brother and fiancee (Brian and Trina) are coming out to visit and we will be taking a train up to Edinburgh, Scotland with them! Trina’s found an Airbnb with the coolest view, and I’m dying of excitement! We’ve got a day trip planned during our stay to check out as much of Scotland as we can.

Prague The Cotswolds
We were going to make another trip to Prague with Greg’s parents, but plans have changed, and we’re actually going to spend our time in England with them instead! We’re heading up to the Cotswolds for a long weekend, and I can’t wait! From what I’ve seen online and heard, it should be absolutely beautiful.

On top of our trips, I’ll be working on assignments for the three classes I have this semester and preparing for my dissertation. Needless to say, we’ve got a busy couple of months coming up! And I couldn’t be happier πŸ™‚

 

The Adventures of Megan and Cori Part 2: England

A New Year’s Eve celebration that almost cost us our friendship (not really, but Megan takes her TV shows very seriously), an unforgettable trip to our first cat cafe, and seeing one of the seven wonders of the world; any way you look at it, Megan and I had a busy few days in England.

New Year’s Eve
We spent the first half of New Year’s Eve hanging out in the Dublin airport watching our plane back to Southampton get delayed again and again because of fog. It was okay, though, because we were given vouchers for a free meal. Can’t complain there!

When we made it back to Southampton, we hung out with Sullivan, beautified ourselves, and then made our way to Chiquitos for nachos, the perfect way to begin our New Year’s Eve celebrations. After some rather disappointing nachos (I will take all the blame for this), we headed to Pitcher & Piano to see what their New Year’s party was like.

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We found party hats and closed down the bar.

Woo! People were dressed up! I have actually never celebrated NYE anywhere else besides my own home, so maybe people always dress up no matter what country you’re in, but it still surprised me and Megan a bit. Regardless, we had a fun night! We met a friendly Canadian in the bathroom, a Scottish man who stopped talking to me when he found out I have a boyfriend (guess you can’t be friends with someone unless you’re single), and a very intoxicated “21” year old who was weirdly unconvinced Megan and I were friends. Around 1am, P&P closed, and Megan and I popped into another bar for last call.

We finally got back to my apartment and decided to watch a couple episodes of The Walking Dead. There was a mix up about who died in the latest season premiere, and Megan was so mad at me, she could hardly talk. Eventually it was resolved, but man, that was an intense few minutes!

London
After a lazy day in Southampton, Megan and I took a train into London! We hit up all the big tourist attractions: Big Ben, the London Eye, Picadilly Circus, Buckingham Palace (there was a HUGE crowd there. I thought maybe we’d see the Queen, but no luck. Next time), and then stopped in a cute cafe for afternoon tea.

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Kitties!!!

Later on, I googled “cat cafe in London” just to see if there was one, and was surprised to find the London Cat Village! We booked a spot, got a taxi, and made our way to East London. We had a little bit of time to kill before our reservation at the cafe, so we wandered around, and stumbled upon some Bambi and Banksy street art. That was pretty cool to see. I think you can do tours of the street art in East London, and I definitely want to do that at some point.

The London Cat Village was amazing. You have to book a time slot to visit ahead of time, but then you’re given a full hour to spend with all of the cute kitties. Not much can top a visit to a cat cafe, so Megan and I made our way back to Southampton.

Stonehenge

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Just standing in front of some rocks NBD

On Megan’s final day in England, we hopped on a train to check out Stonehenge! Even the second time around, Stonehenge was still fascinating. Because winter in England essentially just means lots of rain, half of the walkway around the stones was closed and we couldn’t walk all the way around. But, we still got some great pictures!

Megan and I woke up bright and early the next morning to head to the bus station where we had to say goodbye. I had so much fun spending 9 days with Megan, and I’m so glad we got the chance to catch up on what we’ve both been up to in the months we spent apart. I miss her already!

 

 

 

 

The Adventures of Megan and Cori Part 1: Ireland

So, a lot of things didn’t go quite right on our trip to Ireland. First, Greg had to miss the trip completely so he could fly home to be with family after the loss of his grandma. Then, Megan’s plane to the UK was delayed hours and hours. Once in Dublin, we woke up to a broken shower. Then, both the Old Library at Trinity College and Dublin Castle were closed. And finally, our flight back to Southampton was delayed three hours due to fog.

A pessimist would’ve had a bad time (and okay, sometimes I can be a bit of a pessimist), but Megan and I had so much fun! We made a list of things we wanted to see and places we wanted to eat and drink at and were able to cross just about all of them off. We drank our share of Irish whiskey, cider and beer. We met a fun group of tourists who, oops, we forgot to say goodbye to, and we learned more about Ireland than I ever thought we would. In fact, I learned more about Ireland in one day than I have about any other country I’ve been to so far. Our trip to Ireland was incredible. And I can’t wait to go back to explore more with Greg!

Here’s what we did:

Wednesday, December 28th

  • Woke up hours before dawn to catch the second flight out of Southampton. We got there ridiculously early, so we had plenty of time to “relax & shop” before it was time to board.

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    Sampling whiskey at Teeling

  • Landed in Dublin around 9am. We couldn’t check in to our Airbnb until 2pm, so we did a bit of exploring with our bags. We stopped into a cute little bakery for a late breakfast, checked out St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and went on a tour of the Teeling Whiskey Distillery.
  • With bellies full of whiskey, we decided the best thing to do next would be to find some food!
  • Megan was desperate to try some fish and chips, so we made our way to The Bleeding Horse, which was just down the street from our Airbnb and had a sign boasting a Jameson bacon cheeseburger and fish and chips. The Bleeding Horse was a lot of fun! Megan and I made our way back there a few more times before we flew back home.

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    Megan, not a fish-lover, was a bit unsure about her fish and chips

  • After dinner, we caught a cab to the Guinness Storehouse. I was thinking it’d be a brewery, but it’s really more of a museum. A museum with A LOT of stairs. We climbed them all, and were rewarded for the effort with a free pint of Guinness at the top. Not being a fan of dark beer, it was the first Guinness for me. And you know, it actually wasn’t terrible! Pretty smooth!
  • We were tired, and decided to make our way back to our Airbnb, only to find four people there replacing a broken futon! So, we excused ourselves to go buy some snacks for our stay(2 bags of chips and 2 bottles of wine which we consumed all of that night…), and then stopped back at the Bleeding Horse for another pint.
  • We spent the rest of the night warming ourselves by the radiator, drinking wine, and catching up. Pretty good end to our first day in Dublin.

Thursday, December 29th

  • After a bit of a late start (thanks to the whiskey, beer and wine), we made our way into the heart of Dublin to do some site-seeing.
  • We strolled through St. Stephen’s Green and then hit up Trinity College, stopping for a quick pint at McDaid’s Pub. Trinity College was beautiful, but I still wish we could have gone into the library. Next time!

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    Outside the famous Temple Bar Pub

  • Next, We made our way over the river to the Dublin Writer’s Museum and then searched out the original Jameson distillery.
  • We headed over to Dublin Castle next, but by the time we got there, it was closed to visitors. So, we circled back and made our way to the Temple Bar area.
  • After dinner at an Italian restaurant (we were craving noodles and bread), we stopped by Temple Bar Pub for one last pint and live music.

Friday, December 30th

  • We got up bright and early to catch a tour bus to the Cliffs of Moher!!!!
  • We were complete tourists and took a PaddyWagon Tour but I’m so glad we did. We both wanted to explore more of Ireland than just Dublin, and the tour was the perfect solution. The tour made five other stops besides the Cliffs of Moher, including a stop for an Irish lunch. I think it was highly worth the money we spent!
  • The Cliffs of Moher were absolutely breathtaking. They are some 7,000 feet above the water, and have been the backdrop to many a movie scene, including Megan’s favorite chick flick, Leap Year, and the greatest movie ever made, The Princess Bride.

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    The Cliffs of Moher (AKA the Cliffs of Insanity)

  • It was incredibly windy up on top of the cliffs, and our tour guide said gusts can, and have, pushed tourists off. The fall to the bottom takes a whopping 8 seconds, “just long enough to post that cliff selfie on facebook and say goodbye to your friends and family back home.”

Saturday, December 31st

  • We said goodbye to Dublin, and made our way back to Southampton to celebrate the new year.

Another post about Megan’s stay in England will be coming soon!