Family, Travel Journal

Travel Journal: Italy – Self-Guided Walk Day 1

In September, I traveled to Italy for two weeks with some of my family, which included an 85-mile, 6 day self-guided walking tour through the Italian countryside. We also spent time in Rome, Venice, Florence, Pompeii and Naples. 

Catch up on my other posts about this trip here:

Travel Journal: Italy – Walking Rieti to Rome – Summary
Travel Journal: Doors of Italy
Travel Journal: Italy – Exploring Rieti

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The first day of our self-guided walk started in Rieti and took us to Poggio San Lorenzo. It covered a bit over 13 miles, taking us along creeks and through fields and forests, and across a 4th century Roman bridge . On this day we didn’t pass through any other towns so we had the hotel in Rieti pack us some lunches.

I’ll add here, as I mentioned in my summary intro post, part of our tour package included a baggage transfer service. So at every place we stayed we collected our luggage together usually in the lobby and the service came to pick it up and take it to the next location for us. It was always there when we arrived at the end of the day and we never had anything missing. It was really great.

Each of us carried a backpack of some sort with water, snacks, bandaids, bug spray and obvious other things we thought we might need throughout the day. I brought my backpack, which has a compartment for my DSLR camera and extra lens that you access from the back side. I bought it back when I first got my camera in 2015 and it is hands down one of the best purchases I’ve ever made. It functions well for my needs (including a spot that is perfect for my Surface when I am carrying that), its lightweight, super comfy even when its full and breathes well if I sweat. It even comes with a rain cover that otherwise lays flat and is stored in the very base of the backpack. I have taken it everywhere with me over the past 3 years and it is only starting to show a little wear and tear now. It doesn’t look like it is available anymore, but I’ve linked it here regardless. I’m sure something else from this brand would be just as good.

Two florists checking out a flower shop in a different country.

One thing that we thought was interesting was that most homes and fenced in business had guard dogs of some sort, with Great Pyrenees probably being the most common breed. This guy looked friendly but I decided it was best to not stick my arm in there to pet him.

Probably not even a minute or so after taking this picture is when I stepped into the pothole and sprained my ankle. We weren’t even a full 2 miles into the walk. I recapped all of that in my first summary post which you can read here.

Since I wasn’t joining them on the walk for the rest of the day I asked my Mom to take my camera with her. And I just have to say that I am so happy that she went outside her comfort zone. She claims that she “so bad” at it when someone hands her a cell phone to take a photo but I think she did a great job considering I don’t think she has ever touched a DSLR before. Now I’m pretty sure she just took it because she just felt really bad for me, but for the rest of the walk she continued to carry it off and on and actually started to enjoy using it.

This is the 4th century bridge that was almost completely covered by vegetation.

My family said that this guy (a donkey) snuck up on them to say hello. We found that it wasn’t uncommon for homes, especially out in the country, to be hidden behind fences and stone walls that were overgrown with vegetation.

I put my name mark on some of these for the sake of consistency, but this pretty one was all my Mom 🙂

And so was this one!

Our first nights stay was at the Agriturismo Santa Giusta, which was just outside of Poggio San Lorenzo. Agriturismo’s are essentially bed and breakfasts, and while nothing compares to the castle we stayed in later in the week, this was by far my 2nd favorite place that we stayed.

I am also really thankful that this happened to be the place we were staying on the day that I sprained my ankle. There were only two other guests besides my family and just a few staff (I think it was a family that ran it). Once I arrived I was able to relax outside in a chair with my ankle propped up and enjoyed a beautiful view and some wine. There was even a small pool that was nice to soak my ankle in for a while.

 

We took quite a few pictures of our rooms in most of the places we stayed, but I didn’t know I really wanted to fill my posts up with those. This room below is where my Mom and I stayed. The ladder leads up to a small loft that had another bed. In every place we stayed all of our rooms were a little different from each other instead of being really cookie cutter like a traditional hotel.

 

Thanks for stopping by again! I have a post for Day 2 of our walk almost ready to go, so I should be back tomorrow!

Have a great rest of your weekend!

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And just for fun here are some of my other past Travel Journal posts:

Nashville, Tennessee – Girls Weekend
London, England
Estes Park, Colorado
Thailand and the Philippines
Tumon Bay, Guam
New York City – Girls Weekend
Lake Tahoe, Nevada
Antigua, Guatemala

Family, Travel Journal

Travel Journal: Italy – Exploring Rieti

In September, I traveled to Italy for two weeks with some of my family, which included an 85-mile, 6 day self-guided walking tour through the Italian countryside. We also spent time in Rome, Venice, Florence, Pompeii and Naples. 

Catch up on my other posts about this trip here:

Travel Journal: Italy – Walking Rieti to Rome – Summary
Travel Journal: Doors of Italy

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So I spent a few days sorting through all of my pictures, and friends, I never claim to be an amazing photographer, but between pictures that I think are actually pretty great, stories I want to tell and things that are more for my family and just creating a journal for our trip… there are SO MANY pictures that I want to edit and share. I tried to narrow things down and combine multiple days in single posts but at this point I don’t think that is going to work. So settle in, there are quite a few more posts on deck!

Alright, so once we all flew in to Rome and met up, we hired a car service to drive us North to the city of Rieti. With a population of 47,7000, Rieit is the captial of the province Rieit and is in what is referred to as the Lazio Region. It is also the geographical center of Italy. We arrived in the early afternoon, so after dropping off our bags at our hotel we went back out for food and to explore the city.

The city overlooks the southern edge of the wide Rieti valley at the foot of the Sabine mountains, and has a pretty interesting history. According to legend, when Rome was founded, the Romans kidnapped young women living in this area from the Sabine tribe in order to help populate the new Rome. This led to a war between the two peoples, which later ended once the women threw themselves between the two armies , because at that point there were families intertwined on each side. Other more historical accounts say that the Romans and Sabines built friendly ties over the need for continuous grazing lands. After the Roman conquest of the city in 290 BC, the city of Reate (Rieti) became a strategic point in the early Italian road network, dominating the important salt road (Via Salaria) that linked Rome to the Adriatic Sea through the Apennines. We walked along the Via Salaria at multiple points through out our self-guided walk. That’s just a small piece of what the history section of our guide book shared, but it goes on to share that the city continued to have an important role in the region’s history.

Even though we were all pretty worn out from long flights, I think we all loved Rieti and were happy that we had the chance to explore a bit. With so many different sights, sounds and smells, it was certainly a cultural overload, but a great way to immerse ourselves and kick off our two week trip.

Happy smiles and fresh legs the day before our walk. I was so happy that I was able to share this trip and my overall love for traveling and experiencing new cultures with my Mom.

To say that my Grampy loves all things ice cream, gelato, sherbert, etc. is an extreme understatement. This was the first of almost daily stops for a treat.

I spent most of the trip looking like the ultimate tourist 🙂

We stayed at the Hotel Europa.

Thanks for stopping by! I’ll be back soon with a post about the first day of our walk!

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And just for fun here are some of my other past Travel Journal posts:

Nashville, Tennessee – Girls Weekend
London, England
Estes Park, Colorado
Thailand and the Philippines
Tumon Bay, Guam
New York City – Girls Weekend
Lake Tahoe, Nevada
Antigua, Guatemala

Family, Travel Journal

Travel Journal: Doors of Italy

In September, I traveled to Italy for two weeks with some of my family, which included an 85-mile, 6 day self-guided walking tour through the Italian countryside. We also spent time in Rome, Venice, Florence, Pompeii and Naples. 

Catch up on my other posts about this trip here:

Travel Journal: Italy – Walking Rieti to Rome – Summary

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On our first day in Italy, while wondering around the town of Rieiti, which was the starting point for our walk, my Mom and I kept saying to each other, “look at all of the cool doors.”

A few days later I joked that I should do a “Doors of Italy” blog post because I was taking so many pictures of them, and Mom thought I was serious. So while the rest of my posts for this trip won’t really be organized by theme, but more by city or walking days, I decided that this would be a fun idea. Just for you Mom 🙂

I won’t sit here and claim that I know all that much about different types of architecture or its history, but I do believe it is its own form of art, and that I do have a deep appreciation for. I think a door says a lot about a home or a business, and so many of the doors in Italy had so much character. It made me want to more about the people who chose them, and lived and worked behind them.

I know that someday when I own my own home I’ll make sure my front door has a statement to make.

But for now I’ll just enjoy these ones.

I’ll be back in a day or two with another post!

Have a wonderful day!

**********

And just for fun here are some of my other past Travel Journal posts:

Nashville, Tennessee – Girls Weekend
London, England
Estes Park, Colorado
Thailand and the Philippines
Tumon Bay, Guam
New York City – Girls Weekend
Lake Tahoe, Nevada
Antigua, Guatemala

Family, Travel Journal

Travel Journal: Italy – Walking Rieti to Rome – Summary

Ciao!

I’m settling back in to my normal busy schedule at home and have just started to dive in to the immense amount of pictures (and video!) that my family and I took during our two-week trip to Italy. My family included my mom, my Grammy and Grampy, my (great) Aunt Diane and my 2nd cousins, Ginger and Daryl.

By now, all friends and regular Instagram followers know that I went on this amazing trip, but I thought since what we were doing there was pretty unique that I would do a summary post to share a little background. That way, the rest of my posts can just focus on pictures and a few fun stories.

(L to R): Daryl, Ginger, Gloria (Grammy), Diane, Julie (Mom), Dave (Grampy) and me at St. Peter’s Basilica.

“One country, 7 family members, 6 days and 85 miles (56 for me). One sprained ankle, 2 bum knees, 1 broken tooth cap, a few dozen blisters and a few sunburns and scratches. Daily stops for gelato and Coke Zero, 6 fresh picked peaches from a generous farmer and a handful of apples from yet another generous stranger. Hundreds of acres of olive trees, a 4th century bridge, a 12th century castle and way more inclines than we were expecting. Getting lost 4 out of the 6 days. Lots of lizards, a few guard dogs and endless beautiful views. We were one big hot mess by the time we made it from Rieti to the Vatican, but we made it with quite a few stories to share.”

This caption from my social media post summarizes quite the adventure we went on!

For the first half of our vacation to Italy, my family did a self-guided walking tour from Rieti (north of Rome) over the course of 6 days back to Rome with our finish line being the steps of St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican City. Every time I share this I get quite a few raised eyebrows and lots of questions so here are the basics:

  • We went through a company called Hidden Italy that operates several guided and self-guided walking tours throughout Italy and Spain. Our walk was the last section of the Cammino (walk) of St. Francis.
  • In addition to the guide book, what we paid for included organized breakfast and dinner everyday and accommodations for 7 nights.
  • Also, every day our luggage was picked up by a transfer service and taken to our next accommodation for us. So no, we weren’t strictly living out of only our backpacks.
  • Our accommodations varied from hotels, agriturismo’s (bed and breakfasts), apartments (more AirBnB style) and a 12th century castle!
  • Our route took us on mountain trails, pedestrian paths and a few country roads. So with a few exceptions as we approached towns, we didn’t walk on major roads with heavy traffic.
  • Our guide book provided pretty detailed instructions as well as signs and color markers (blue and yellow that you’ll see in a lot of pictures) to look for. The guide book also provided a history lesson about each of the places that we stayed overnight and any historical markers along the way.
  • According to our guide book, our mileage ranged from approximately 8 to 16 miles a day for a total of 70 miles. We got lost a couple of times or took detours for food so our total mileage was more around 85 miles. Plus we are pretty sure there were a few places where the guide book was a bit off.
  • In regards to getting lost, it was a mix of our own faults and a few directions in the guide book that weren’t crystal clear. We found that as we went through towns that was always where the directions messed us up. But we always eventually figured it out.
  • The “walk” was definitely more of a hike on most days and we all agreed that overall it was much harder than the company advertised.
  • With the exception of a few protective guard dogs, we felt entirely safe the whole time and experienced quite a few acts of kindness from locals along the way.
  • Most of the walk took us through and had us staying in small towns that weren’t very touristy, meaning that there was a language barrier most of the time. But a smile and some patience usually went a long way.
  • The last day of the walk started on outskirts of Rome and led us to the Vatican.

The big headline about the walk that you may have already seen on my social media is that I SPRAINED MY ANKLE ON MILE 2 ON THE VERY FIRST DAY. I was concentrating on the guide book and stepped straight into a big pothole. It was a high sprain and since this is definitely not my first one I knew as soon as I went down that it was not good. So while my family continued on the walk, I waited 3.5 hours on a bench at a nearby water filling station we had passed for the Italian woman working there to drive me to our stop for the evening. She hardly spoke a word of English but another man there for water in the morning helped arrange it. About an hour in to my wait I heard a very familiar “hello.” It was my family, who discovered that we had originally went the wrong way when we passed the water filling station. Which is what I had said and was checking our guide book for when I stepped into the pothole. So if we had went the right direction in the first place my foot would have never found that pothole. The good news is that I made it safe and sound to the next bed and breakfast we were staying in but that experience just adds to the story. The Italian woman, Gabriella, started to leave without me until I hopped and yelled after her waving the piece of paper with the address on it. She drove a small RV (as a Criminal Minds superfan my radar was up!), we had to take a detour to make a bank deposit and once we reached the dirt road where the secluded bed and breakfast was, she didn’t think the RV would fit so I got out and hobbled the final mile. It might have been a little sketchy, but Gabriella turned out to be our Good Samaritan and will be a forever reminder of how important extending kindness to strangers is.

I rejoined my family and managed to hobble through days 2, 3 and 4, before sitting out day 5 so I could finish the last day (6) on the walk through Rome. I’ll be entirely honest, I have a pretty high pain tolerance but I was in quite a bit of pain and am pretty darn amazed that I was able to do what I did. By the end of day 4 my whole foot was twice as big as the other one which was also quickly covered in blisters from doing most of the work. My family insists that they didn’t think I complained too much all things considered but I know that I was pretty cranky overall and am really grateful for all of the grace they gave me. Unfortunately, it definitely put a damper on things at times and I can’t say that I’ll forget that part and remember only the good parts, but it does make quite the story!

OK, that’s it for my “summary!” I’ll be back to start sharing pictures and more about the rest of the trip soon!

Thanks for tuning in!

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And just for fun here are some of my other past Travel Journal posts:

Nashville, Tennessee – Girls Weekend
London, England
Estes Park, Colorado
Thailand and the Philippines
Tumon Bay, Guam
New York City – Girls Weekend
Lake Tahoe, Nevada
Antigua, Guatemala

Travel Journal

Travel Journal: Girls Trip to Nashville

Over Memorial Day weekend, I traveled to Nashville, Tennessee, for a long girls weekend with my best friends Megan and Kyla.

These gals were my roommates for 4.5 years in college, first in the women’s scholarship house, then out on our own. (They both took an extra semester and my first job was in our college town so that explains the extra half a year I got with them!) Megan and I were co-maids of honor in Kyla’s wedding, and even as we’ve all grown up and lead pretty different lives, their friendship continues to be one of the most important things I have.

A few years ago I got the idea that we should do a reunion trip every 5 years since we graduated college (May and December 2013), and it took no convincing to bring them on board with the idea. We chose Nashville because it was a new city to all of us and travel-wise it was about halfway for all of us.

We all got in on Saturday afternoon and stayed until Wednesday morning. We looked at a lot of options for where to stay, but finally settled on an AirBnB apartment that was across the street from Vanderbilt’s campus and right off of Music Row. We were so happy with it! It gave us the room to relax a bit each day, a kitchen so we could keep some snacks and drinks we picked up on a grocery store run and we even stayed in one night with pizza and a movie. The location was fantastic for the price and I was even able to do an emergency load of laundry for free (long story!). If you are planning a trip to Nashville and look at AirBnB, we highly recommend this one!

Our plan for the trip was to keep it pretty low-key. We wanted to explore the city, eat good food and just enjoy each other’s company without being on-the-go too much. We did some “Pinterest-planning” and thankfully we all still have quite a few of the same interests. I have a lot of pictures to share, so I decided to split up the trip by category instead of day-by-day.

Neighborhoods We Explored

Nashville has such a fun culture and so many little neighborhoods to explore!

12South
This was probably the neighborhood we heard about the most prior to our trip and now we know why. There are so many fun places to eat and boutiques to shop at, all varying in price, but all still staying true to the neighborhoods artsy, laid back culture. 12South is also home to MANY of the city’s fun murals! We walked about a mile to get here from our apartment and spent a good 5 or so hours exploring. Our favorite store was definitely White’s Mercantile, which is further down the street, so make sure you don’t miss it!

These stripes are on the side of the Draper James store, owned by Reese Witherspoon.

This place is on a side street right off of 12South, and was the perfect place for a stop when the heat got to be a bit much. They have a large, unique selection of beer, and we were all wishing that we could have taken a growler or two back home with us.

Hillsboro Village

This neighborhood was a bit closer to where we were staying and also home to a lot of fun food and shopping. We really enjoyed the store A Thousand Faces.

Downtown  // Broadway Street

Broadway Street in downtown Nashville is about as iconic as it gets. And it doesn’t matter what time of day it is, the place is always busy, but always has a pretty laid back vibe

The Gulch
If I lived in or around Nashville, I bet I would spend a lot of time in The Gulch. Just right near downtown, The Gulch has young and hip culture and a great mix of everything, but is still easy to get around in and feel comfortable at. It is also home to the Instagram famous “What Lifts You” mural, which were just right around the corner from where we took a workout class.

Vanderbilt
I don’t actually have much to share here, but since our apartment was right on the edge of Vanderbilt’s campus and the fact that it is also an arboretum, we decided to take a walk through part of campus. We didn’t make it over to see their stadium, but at that point pizza and getting off of our feet was calling our names. However, considering its location, I think Vanderbilt would be a fun place to go to college… and I say that as a Kansas State alum who thinks Manhattan is one of the best little places on earth 🙂

Fun Things We Did

Pedestrian Bridge

When we explored downtown during the day, we started on the other side of the Pedestrian Bridge that starts at Nissan Stadium (where the Tennessee Titans play) and crosses over the Cumberland River and ends just a block off of Broadway.

Yazoo Brewing
One of Megan’s friends from Wichita used to live in Nashville and recommended Yazoo as her “favorite brewery EVER.” So naturally, we went. We each got a DIY flight that allowed us to pick our 6 beers and spent the rainy afternoon chatting inside and working our way through some great brews. I don’t think any of us tried something that we didn’t like and we all loved the atmosphere of the brewery.

Dierks Bentley’s Whisky Row

Our first night (Saturday) we went out on Broadway and ended up spending the whole time at Dierks Bentley’s new bar. (Megan and I are huge Dierks fans!) The first level had a live country cover band and the other three floors, which includes the rooftop had a mix of live DJ’s and non-live music of all genre’s. For what is most likely their busiest night of the week, I felt like this bar was still manageable crowd-wise and clean enough all things considered. Don’t get me wrong, it was still packed, but you can tell when a bar puts a bit of thought into its flow and crowd control.

LA Jackson’s 
One night after dinner in The Gulch, our plan was hop around to a few rooftop bars in the area, but loved our first stop at LA Jackson’s, which is atop the Thompson Nashville Hotel, so we parked it there for the night. It had great views and a fun drink menu.

Country Music Hall of Fame

This museum was definitely worth the price tag (around $24)! We spent about 3 hours here, which was a sufficient time for someone like me who likes to read most of the signage. Right now it has temporary exhibits on Loretta Lynn, Shania Twain and one for Tim McGraw and Faith Hill together. My understanding is these rotate out for various artists throughout the year. The rest of the museum has a variety of permanent and other rotating exhibits that focus on different era’s and milestones of country music.

Grand Ole Opry

I was so, so happy that Megan and Kyla were both up for making a visit to the Grand Ole Opry a part of our trip! We went on Tuesday, our last night, and it ended up being a great way to round out our vacation. We had tickets on the upper deck and off to one of the sides, but the whole experience is still very intimate that we didn’t mind at all. On the bill for our night was Rascal Flatts, Dan + Shay, Carly Pearce, Chris Janson, Connie Miller and Larry Gatlin & The Gatlin Brothers. It was a fun lineup and except for Carly Pearce, this was the first time I’ve seen any of these artists live. One note to anyone using this post to help plan a trip of their own… the Opry House is a little bit of a drive outside of central Nashville. It’s not too bad at all, but when everything else is really close together, just make sure you plan for this.

Parthethon

This is the recreation of the temple in Greece that is dedicated to the goddess Athena, that resides in Nashville’s Centennial Park. It was originally built for Tennessee’s 1897 Centennial Exposition, and now includes an art museum. We didn’t make time to visit the museum, but we did snap a few pictures and Megan (who is a certified yoga teacher in her spare time) couldn’t pass up the opportunity had to “stop, drop and yoga.” 🙂

Pure Barre and Shakti Yoga
If you had told me back when we were in college that we would actively seek to add a workout or two into vacation, I wouldn’t have believed you. Not that we didn’t enjoy exercising back then, but there was definitely a time when the words “vacation” and “exercise” did NOT go together. Megan went solo to a hot yoga class one morning (just a bit intense for us other two amateurs lol) and then we all headed to a 7 AM Pure Barre class together another morning.

Food

Barcelona Wine Bar
Spanish small plates, paella, cocktails & wine are offered in an intimate, late-night setting.
This is where we ate on our first night and it was sooooo good. I’m a sucker for good tapas, and both the mood and the service at this place was top notch. I’m a bit embarrassed to admit though, that I JUST realized that there are THREE locations near me in the DC/NOVA area. There was nothing that we ordered that we didn’t like, but we LOVED the Spiced Beef Empanadas, the Jamon and Manchego Croquetas and the Smoked Pork Belly!

Frothy Monkey
Food + Coffee + Wine
We had breakfast at the 12South location on our first full day. They have a great menu and we passed on the bakery items, but it all looked great. We got here a bit early and are thankful that we missed the big brunch/lunch crowd.

Adele’s
Farm-to-fork restaurant with a cool vibe offering New American dishes, cocktails & patio seating.
I am pretty sure without even confirming with the other girls that this was our FAVORITE meal of the trip! Adele’s is located in The Gulch, has a great atmosphere and also great service. It was a bit more on the spendy side but worth every bite! I usually take pictures of my food when I travel, but never actually share them with anyone or on the blog… but I had to this time! The presentation was great and I want to give you a peek at just how yummy the food is. And though they aren’t pictured here, you can bet that we also enjoyed fun cocktails, a summer squash salad as an app and shared TWO desserts.

My scallops entree.

Megan and Kyla both got the steak.

Fido
This converted pet shop features gourmet espresso drinks, elevated food & a funky coffeehouse vibe.
We stopped here for breakfast in the Hillsboro Village. I can’t remember what the other two girls had, but my chorizo, eggs and hashbrowns with tortillas was AWESOME!

Too Boots
Offbeat chain serving cornmeal-crusted pizzas with quirky Cajun toppings in a kid-friendly space.
We had pizza delivered here for our movie night in (watched The Greatest Showman!) and I loved their unique topping combos. Not sure if it was a random one-time perk, but our delivery was free! Can’t beat that.

Biscuit Love
Bright, spacious offshoot of a food truck known for locally sourced Southern breakfast & lunch fare.
This place was easily the most recommended place to eat at in Nashville on Pinterest and now I can confirm that there is a reason why! It was SO GOOD and I’m sad that I can’t become a regular. We went pretty early on a week day because it was right around the corner from the Pure Barre studio in The Gulch, but otherwise I would recommend getting there early and mentally prepare that you are probably going to have to wait awhile (luckily Nashville does have 2 locations). And I couldn’t review this place without RAVING about the “Chronic Bacon,” which is spicy AND sweet. To clarify, my first job out of college was working for the Kansas Pork Association, so I have tried A LOT of different bacon dishes, and this hands down is my new favorite.

Mike’s Ice Cream and Coffee Bar
This bright ice cream parlor offers cones, sundaes & old-school sodas plus espresso drinks.
Two words: Espresso Milkshake…. i.e. a milkshake made with any flavor of ice cream they have with two shots of espresso added. I’m not really a milkshake girl normally, but I was 100% behind this afternoon snack. I got mine with my favorite ice cream, butter pecan, and have zero regrets.

Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville
I probably should have left this off the list, but for the three of us it is somewhat a comical part of our trip. The short of it is that it was the last day of our trip to we were worn out, it was raining, we had all become pretty hangry in the span of about 10 minutes and we were on Broadway where most places have live music acts all day every day, which is normally great except that it was SO LOUD and just all a little more than we could handle. As we walked by Margaritaville, I practically yelled at the other two ahead of me to stop and come back because while there was live music, the volume was much more manageable. (My younger self is cracking up at this right now). To be fair, the food wasn’t bad by any means, but it wasn’t anything special, except that it did the job. So my advice is to swing by for a fun margarita menu and skip the food… unless you are hangry and need to eat in quiet.

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If you have made it this far, thanks for reading, and let me know if you have any questions about visiting Nashville. We had a wonderful time and filled our tanks with a much needed reunion and best friend time. And as for Nashville, I definitely plan to go back someday!

Friendship, Travel Journal

Travel Journal: London – Part Three

Hey friends! I am back with my third and final post for my Travel Journal on my trip to London. Click below for Part’s One and Two

Travel Journal: London – Part One (all about Buckingham and Kensington Palaces, as well as St. James Park and Hyde Park.)
Travel Journal: London – Part Two (all about many popular historic tourist attractions.)

Today, my post pulls together all of the remaining details and sites of our trip, and then at the end I am going to round up some of my observations and tips for traveling to London.

British Museum

The British Museum was actually our first stop on our first day because Brandi’s work hotel was right around the corner. It was a fun (and very touristy) way to kick off our trip! Most notably, the museum is home to the Rosetta Stone and an impressive Egyptian exhibit. This is going to sound a little silly, but Brandi and I commented multiple times on the age of some of things on display. It’s not that we haven’t been to museums before, but many of the items were dated back to 2000 BC, which is just fascinating to wrap your mind around.

Doctor Who and Harry Potter

One can’t visit London without indulging in a fandom or two. For me that is Doctor Who, and Brandi didn’t put up any complaints when I asked to go out of our way to find this Tardis that sits outside of the Earl’s Court Station.

I also randomly found this Dalek, and lots of other smaller Doctor Who collectors items in this children’s bookstore.

Now when it comes to Harry Potter, I have to throw out a disclaimer. I watched all of the movies in college and I didn’t read the books until AFTER college. Even though I was a HUGE bookworm as I kid I was just never interested in reading Harry Potter and I don’t think any of my close friends did either. Fast forward to college and I made friends who couldn’t handle the fact that it was missing from my life, so I finally jumped in. And of course I loved it and am now a forever fan, but since I didn’t grow up with it, I am not quite as attached as those, like Brandi, who literally grew up with it.

I visited the Platform 9 3/4 area and Harry Potter store at Kings Cross Station with Brandi, but I opted not to stand in the 1+ hour long line for the photo opp. Brandi has already visited once with her co-workers earlier in the week so we just shopped a little in the store.

This theatre was just a few blocks from Brandi’s work hotel, which was fun to walk by.

The Warner Brothers studio where the majority of the movies were filmed are actually 20 miles northwest of London. When we looked into tickets, they were all already booked for the days that I was going to be there, but Brandi was able to extend her trip an extra day to fit the tour in, so these are a few pictures from her. I’ve been to the main Warner Brothers Studios in California, so I was bummed I couldn’t join because I knew this experience would be pretty cool. But I am so glad that she was able to make it work.

Olympic Park

The hotel we stayed at after we moved from Brandi’s work hotel, was the Moxy London Stratford, out in the Stratford area, which is also home to the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park! Our last afternoon we walked over to the park and took a short boat ride on river which was led by a tour guide. He shared all about how the area was built up for the Olympics, how things looked and functioned during the Games and then what things are used for now. Brandi and I are both big sports fans so we really enjoyed this!

This tower of sorts is the large sculpture in the UK, and actually is supposed to be a different representation of the five Olympic rings. You can take an elevator or the STAIRS to the top. And, its a little hard to see from this angle, but there is actually a tube slide that you can take to get down! Or you can repel down with climbing gear. We didn’t allot enough time for it, but had we known I definitely would have planned to do the slide!

Tea Time

A trip to England is also not complete without doing tea! Brandi did the full tea experience with her co-workers earlier in the week, but I was content with the place we found in Soho, Maison Bertaux. They have been baking daily on the premises since 1871 and I learned later that it is the oldest patisserie in London. It was so cute, and SO GOOD!

The Lion King

Brandi and I never actually chatted about seeing a show until I arrived, which is kind of funny, because I think we both agree that it was our favorite part of the trip! We agreed on The Lion King pretty easily, so on Friday close to midnight we jumped online to see what tickets we could find for Saturday. We wanted to a little bit more than the nosebleeds so when we found two seats that included champagne and ice cream, that were labeled in the purple section, as two Kansas State grads, OBVIOUSLY those were the seats for us, and we sleepily bought them without dwelling too much on the price. When we got to will call the next evening we found out that the tickets also included access to a fancy lounge before the show and during intermission! And after all of that, the show was absolutely AMAZING! I teared up multiple times.

If you are planning a trip to London, seeing a show is a must, and honestly I would encourage you to let that be your splurge and let yourself get the all-around theatre experience. Obviously, there are a lot of great shows, but we highly recommend The Lion King.

Other Sites Around London

I always really enjoy going to markets in the different cities and countries that I visit, and since Brandi had never been to anything like that, I really wanted to take her. I had a lot of people recommend the Camden Market in Camden Town, so that’s where we went, but honestly I was a little disappointed. It wasn’t bad, and it was an interesting part of London to see, but it just wasn’t what I was looking for and we really could have skipped it. We did though, get our second round of fish and chips in this cute pub, called the “Camden Eye,” that had seating on the second floor that allowed us to look out and enjoy some good people watching.

I always like to buy paintings or other forms of art in the countries that I visit so we did some quick research and headed down to the Spitalfields Market, which was more of the artisan market I was looking for.

The first day that I arrived, I had the afternoon to explore on my own while Brandi was wrapping up her work responsibilities. As I walked through the Covent Garden area I discovered that London, or at least that area, is home to an endless amount of old bookstores, which are my favorite! I just couldn’t believe that there were that many. In many alleyways, and on the main street, there would be multiple stores in a row. And they all seemed to have a little bit of a different focus and range from first editions to new releases.

After an exhausting couple of days, we wrapped up the trip with good old pizza and beer.

Last Thoughts, Tips for Traveling to London, Etc.

  1. Brandi and I are both Type A and super planners… but for this trip we didn’t actually do a lot of planning ahead of time for this trip other than what was necessary. I am not saying that this is best way to do this trip but it worked for us. We did some exploring on Pinterest, asked friends for recommendations and  discussed what were a few things that each of us of interested in. But for the most part we were both content with exploring and seeing where that took us. After our first full day we had a much better idea of how we wanted to spend the rest of our time and planned that out.
  2. London can be expensive and you can spend a lot of time just getting from one place to another. I don’t say all of that to deter people from visiting, but it is important to factor in. We decided to stay further out from central London and got a great rate at the Moxy London Stratford, and then took the Underground in everyday, which was about a 20 to 30 minute ride to wherever we were going. We did  A LOT of walking, which we were personally OK with and had planned on. When it came to spending, there were a lot of extra tours that we could have spent money on, but luckily we were on the same page about what things we were OK with skipping and what we wanted to spend more on.
  3. Speaking of the Underground (London’s subway system) I would recommend buying a Visitor Oyster Card IN ADVANCE. Ordering it online, pre-selecting a balance and having it mailed to you before your trip saves you a bit of money and once you are there, Oyster cards have a daily cap in Zones 1 and 2 (central London and more), meaning once you reach a certain amount, it doesn’t charge you any more that day. Learn more HERE.
  4. Overall for getting around I would recommend downloading two apps. First, “Tube Map – London Underground,” the official app for the Underground. I spent sometime studying the map to better aquaint myself and that was really helpful. The app will give you up to date train schedules and you can map out your trip right in the app. I would also recommend “Citymapper.” I discovered this right before our trip but it actually works for any city you are in! It’s basically a one-stop shop for all things transportation and commuting, including walking. I’d explain more, but its best if you just check it out yourself! Its already become my main app back in DC.
  5. As far as money goes, I just always find it easier in other countries to convert my U.S. dollars to the local currency. With that said, I do have a credit card that doesn’t charge extra fees for international transactions, and I felt completely comfortable using it there the few times that it was necessary.
  6. I didn’t really talk much about food because I never really saw London as a “foodie” destination, so that was never a focus for us. (Note… neither of us like Indian food so that was never something we sought out.) Of course, we got fish and chips a couple of times, and then I’d definitely recommend planning on doing tea.
  7. Two FYIs… first, Heathrow Airport is 30 miles or so out from central London. I had a direct flight both ways and Brandi was traveling with colleagues, so Heathrow was still the choice for us, but I would just take that into consideration and maybe look at Gatwick as well. Second, not all of the Underground stations are handicap accessible, which means if you are using it as your main mode of transportation, be prepared to haul your suitcase up and down the stairs.
  8. Overall the locals were really friendly, and as two 20-something women practicing common sense, I don’t think we ever felt unsafe.

There is so much more I could share, but for the sake of length I am going to stop there. If you are planning a trip to London though, definitely let me know if you have any questions!

Lastly, thank you Brandi for letting me tag along and making this such a fun girls weekend! I loved going on this adventure with you (even though we never saw ANY corgis) and am so thankful for your friendship 🙂

*****

And just for fun here are some of my other Travel Journal posts:

Estes Park, Colorado

Thailand and the Philippines

Tumon Bay, Guam

New York City – Girls Weekend

Lake Tahoe, Nevada

Antigua, Guatemala

Friendship, Travel Journal

Travel Journal: London – Part Two

I’m back with Part Two today of my travel journal for my trip to London with my friend Brandi.

If you missed Part One and all of the background on the trip you can read it HERE! In it I shared all about Buckingham and Kensington Palaces, as well as St. James Park and Hyde Park.

As I mentioned in part one, I am splitting up my blog posts for this trip based on highlights, so I can average out the amount of pictures in each post as much as possible.

Today’s post features a lot of popular historic tourist attractions. I’m definitely a history junkie, and thought it was so cool to see so many iconic sites that I learned about as a student growing up.

Trafalgar Square

So even though I just said I was a history junkie, I am also a Doctor Who fan, and I’ll admit the only reason I knew what Trafalgar Square was because of that show. There are actually a lot of real-life locations throughout London that are featured in Doctor Who, but for whatever reason this was one of the main ones that I remembered the scenes from.

Anyway, I actually came to the square twice, first when I was just wondering around on my first day in London while Brandi was finishing up her work engagements, and then again with her on our first full day. It such a great hub for people watching!

The building featured above is the National Gallery, which has portraits and other pieces of art.

Street acts always creep me out, and this one did too, but I was also fascinated. What is their secret?! Is that an actual person standing on a platform that is anchored through the sleeve? Or is it a remote control of some sort?

House of Parliament, “Big Ben” and Westminster Abbey

Trafalgar Square, House of Parliament, “Big Ben” and Westminster Abbey were all a part of our first day, which I talked about in Part One. We put in 13 miles that day!

Parliament and “Big Ben” were unfortunately being worked on so they were under a lot of scaffolding. I’ll be honest though, I really thought that “Big Ben” (whose name is actually the Elizabeth Tower) was smaller than what I had imagined based on pictures and TV. Still impressive though!

London 2018 House of Parliament

London Big Ben 2018

I love seeing the different architecture of cathedrals and churches, and Westminster Abbey was beautiful. We opted not to do the tour just based on the lines and cost, but it was probably the one thing that I wished we would have planned better for ahead of time to do.

Tower of London

The Tower of London was one of the main highlights of the trip for me. I’ve always vaguely known what it was, but knew very little of its history. First and foremost, we were there to see the Crown Jewels (#basicwhitegirl), but the rest of it was really interesting too and we could have spent way more time there than we did. But back to the jewels… this is where most of the Crown Jewels stay (and are guarded) when they are not being used. The exhibit, where we weren’t allowed to take photos, did a really thorough job of sharing the history of all the pieces and coronations in general. Brandi and I chatted about the fact that since the last coronation was in 1953, it will be really interesting to see both the differences and similarities of a modern. We also pointed out that our generation is unique in the fact that we’ll live through two.

Two travel notes here, the Tower of London does require a ticket, and it wasn’t cheap, but I would still definitely recommend it Like I said, we went through some of the other exhibits, but we could have more time. There are also guided tours you can join, but we bought a guide book that was really thorough and something I wanted to keep afterward. My other note is that there are a few really great shops here. On this trip I really wasn’t in the market for a lot of cheap souvenirs or gifts, which is what we saw in most of the other shops we stopped in around London. But the shops at the Tower of London were much more unique, including the official Historic Royal Palaces shop. Growing up, I collected tea sets that my grandparents usually gave me for my birthday or Christmas, so I was really happy to get a tea cup and saucer that is a copy of a set that the Queen uses.

Tower Bridge

Right next to the Tower of London is the Tower Bridge, which we took a walk across. We spent the whole weekend calling it the London Bridge, which I guess is a common mistake. I read somewhere that it lifts for water traffic an average of 1,000 times a year, and only does so with 24 hours notice.

During on of Brandi‘s work dinners, she was up in The Shard, which is pictured in a few pictures below, and got to take in this great view!

London Eye and a few other sites

The famous “Eye” from the Westminster Bridge.

The pointy building above is “The Shard.” I always think its really cool to see the contract between historic and modern architecture in the same place.

The Wellington Arch sits on the corner of Hyde Park and Green Park, along the route from Buckingham Palace to Kensington Palace.

Also near the Wellington Arch is this World War II memorial above and an Australian War Memorial pictured below. The Australian one was being repaired, but was really unique and apparently normally has water running over it.

Admiralty Arch which marks the beginning of “The Mall” which is the road way that leads up to Buckingham Palace.

This building is for the Queen’s Horse Guards, and the open area is where the ceremonial parade takes place. This is also where beach volleyball was played during the 2012 Summer Olympics.

We also opted not to do the tour for the Churchill War Rooms, but I was interested to see it proximity to Buckingham Palace.

Alright, that’s it for today’s post. My third and final post will be in the next few days, and in addition to sharing about the rest of our trip, I’ll also be sharing any final observations and tips about traveling to London.

Thanks for stopping by!