10 Reasons Vancouver Should Be Your Next Summer Adventure

While the USA recently celebrated a birthday, Canada also had a big holiday on July 1–Canada Day. In honor of this and my recent graduation trip with best friend Rae to Vancouver, here are some reasons that Vancouver is one of my favorite places I’ve visited in the summer.

1. The obvious: whale watching

Vancouver is right on the west coast of Canada in British Columbia, which makes it an ideal place to find a variety of whale watching options. We chose the Vancouver Whale Watch company. They had above a 90% chance of sighting whales, and if you don’t see a whale they have a lifetime guarantee so you can come back for free until you see one. It also leaves from Richmond, about 30 minutes away from downtown Vancouver, which was pretty convenient (we drove, but they also offer a shuttle service). Our guide was great, and we saw both orcas and humpback whales, as well as harbor seals and bald eagles. Whale watching is what many people think of when they think of a Canada vacation, and this was a great way to experience it.

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2. Double the vacation

Since we live in Texas, getting to Canada was one of the more expensive parts of the trip. But we figured out it was much cheaper to fly into Seattle, rent a car, and drive three hours into Vancouver. That also allowed us to have a car for the whole week, which made getting to places outside the city much easier as well (just don’t forgot to factor in costs of the car, such as parking, gas, and insurance). Being able to fly into Seattle sort of gives you a 2-in-1 trip, if you do what we did and fly in early enough to spend the day in Seattle.

3. The exchange rate

While the U.S. and Canada both use dollars, the difference between the two is notable (at least at the time of this writing). 1 USD is equal to 1.30 CAD, so your trip budget will go even farther there, whether it’s for a place to stay or a souvenir to take home.

4. The weather

While Canada in the winter may be more than these Texans could bear, in June it was the ideal weather. It stayed in the 60s and 70s (Fahrenheit), and while it was drizzly some days, it never lasted too long and we never let it get in the way. So if you’re trying to escape the summer heat, the Pacific Northwest is definitely an ideal spot.

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5. The loooong days

Since Vancouver is so far north, it means that the summer daylight lasted long enough to get everything done, and more! The sun didn’t start setting until around 9:15pm, so we were able to fill our days with activities and still be back before it got too dark, which was perfect for a girls’ trip. The city feels pretty safe anyway, but not having to walk back after sunset made it feel even more comfortable.FullSizeRender (14)

6. Proximity to…everything!

Vancouver is a great city in and of itself, but it’s also a hub of several great destination day trips. Capilano Suspension Bridge Park is a short (free!) shuttle ride away; Whistler Mountain is only and hour and a half drive up the Sea to Sky Highway, one of the prettiest places you’ll ever drive; Vancouver Whale Watch is about a 30 minute drive; Vancouver Island is a ferry ride away. A day trip to Vancouver Island is also customizable to what you want to do–three hours to Victoria on the southern tip of the island,or just twenty minutes to Bowen Island (what we did) and great hiking trails.

7. Poutine

When you Google “Canadian cuisine” (like we did before visiting), there’s really only one thing that stands out: poutine. Poutine is fries covered in gravy and curds, and then you can add toppings of your choice. We got the plate for dinner one night, and it was definitely unique. While it may not look appetizing, it was pretty tasty and you have to try it at least once while you’re there!

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8. The nature

Vancouver is within easy driving (or ferry riding) distance of amazing natural views. We went hiking on Bowen Island, explored Capilano Suspension Bridge Park, biked around Stanley Park, and they all have something to offer any nature lover. Half of my photos from the trip are just pictures of trees! Be sure to find a place to explore the West coast rainforests that are common throughout British Columbia. Yes, Canada has rainforests.

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9. And the city

Staying in Vancouver is also guaranteed to bring adventures. Whether you decide to try all the different food trucks, visit the various museums, or explore the different neighborhoods of the city, there’s something exciting around every corner. Tuesday night is pay-what-you-want night at the Vancouver Art Museum, which had a Picasso exhibit while we were there, and the Vancouver Public Library is worth visiting as well. Gastown is the oldest part of the city, as well as the shopping hub, so it’s an exciting place to walk around. Without ever needing to get into a car, the city will provide endless amounts of things to do!

10. The best of all worlds

Vancouver, we decided, really has everything you could say you want to live nearby: big city, beach, forests, mountains. You don’t have to choose one to enjoy, when they’re all within easy driving distance! It’s enough to fill any vacation with a variety of adventures and will make sure you never get bored.

Have you been to Vancouver, or another part of Canada? What did you love? Anything you would add to the list?

 

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A Walking Tour of Oxford {day 20}

oxford_title.jpgHello all! SO sorry I haven’t posted in awhile. I started my internship (more about that later!) a couple weeks ago and have had zero free time since, so I’m just now getting around to finally posting. So, after a long wait, here is my post about Oxford!

A couple Saturdays ago The Group planned a day trip up to Oxford. Whilst planning, we struggled a bit finding a self-guided tour of Oxford–we knew it was small enough to walk all around, but we weren’t willing to pay for a guided tour! So we ended up putting together this tour of the city. So here it is, for your use and enjoyment!

Ashmolean Museum
Beaumont St, Oxford OX1 2PH
Cost: Free
We arrived in Oxford around 10am, via train from Paddington station. First on our list was the Ashmolean Museum. The Ashmolean Museum is Oxford’s main and biggest museum. Founded in 1683, it was Britain’s first public museum. Having never heard of it before, we were unprepared for how massive it is. They especially focus on ancient civilizations, and we were only able to get through a few of the galleries. They have an impressively large collection of Egyptian artifacts, and one of the most important collections from the pre-Dynastic Egyptian period. Beyond just being a museum enthusiast, I am particularly interested in Egyptian history and would love to specialize in that area, so I was quite ecstatic to spend several hours wandering through this gallery.

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Lunch at Taylor’s
Mainly: 31 St Giles, Oxford, OX1 3LD

Cost: Approx £3
Since we ended up staying at the Ashmolean until about 12pm, we decided it was time for lunch. Taylor’s Deli in Oxford has several locations, one a little down the street from the Ashmolean, and they sell very cheap but very good sandwiches, along with other various things to eat. On the way we passed by the Eagle and Child pub, which we were very excited to go in, but we decided to make that our last stop of the day and not have lunch there. Instead we continued on to Taylor’s, picked up sandwiches, and then set on a short wall across the street and enjoyed people watching and eating our lunch.

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Bodleian Library
Broad St, Oxford OX1 3BG
Cost: Anywhere from free–£13
The Bodleian Library, founded in 1602, is the largest university library in the UK, with millions of printed items and manuscripts. The large price range is caused by the various tours. It is a large building and area, with a courtyard in the center and the various buildings branching off from there. It’s free to enter this historic quadrangle and the exhibition room (currently they have The Great War exhibit for the centennial of WWI). To actually enter the library area, you have to pay for a tour. They have a standard one-hour tour for £7, extended 90-minute tours for £13, and mini 30-minute tours for £5. We just did the free wandering, since we didn’t have much time anyway, but if I went back I would love to be able to go into the reading rooms to see all the books and where so many famous kings, politicians and writers have studied. If you’re interested in a tour, check out their website for scheduling and more information. Whether you go in or not, it’s a beautiful building and full of historic importance.

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Magdalen College
Oxford OX1 4AU
Cost: Free
Perhaps the most important thing to know at first about this college is that it is pronounced “Maudlin” college, contrary to what its spelling suggests. If you pronounce it the way it’s spelled, you will get quite chastised, since there is a college in Cambridge that is spelled the same way but pronounced “magdalene.” Actually important to the college itself, however, are the many prestigious alumni, including Oscar Wilde, Seamus Heaney, King Edward VIII, and of course C.S. Lewis. Of particular interest to Tolkien and Lewis fans are the paths behind the college. The campus itself is beautiful, but directly out the back gate is a large path through trees and around a field, and it is here that Tolkien and Lewis would walk and discuss their writing. It was a thrilling feeling to know that two of the arguably greatest (for sure two of our favorite) writers had walked here just as we were. It was one of my favorite things we were able to do that day.

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The small grassy area that the main college rooms encircle
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The eating hall for students
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The hallways that form the boundaries of the grassy area
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Another grassy meadow on campus
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Behind the college, a small stream runs along through the trees
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The paths behind the college that follow the stream are beautiful, weaving through trees and bushes, with benches placed occasionally so you can simply sit and enjoy the nature

Merton College
Merton Street, Oxford, OX1 4JD
Cost: Free or £2
This is the oldest college at Oxford University, founded in the 1200s. What we were excited about was the fact that JRR Tolkien had taught here. Normally, you can walk around the grounds for free, and go on a tour of the Old Library for £2, but while we were there they were celebrating their 750th anniversary, and unfortunately had closed the college except for various private events to honor this. Disappointed, we moved on to our next stop. Eventually we agreed that it had actually been a good thing we didn’t spend time there, as we were still barely able to fit in everything we wanted to see!

Christ Church College
St Aldate’s, Oxford OX1 1DP
Cost: £7, students £5
This college has had numerous notable students and teachers, including 13 prime ministers, John Locke, Charles Wesley, John Wesley, Robert Hooke, William Penn, John Crowe Ransom, and Charles Dodgson, who wrote Alice in Wonderland under the pen name Lewis Carroll.

But let’s be honest. We went the because its Great Hall was where the dining hall scenes in Harry Potter were filmed.

Don’t misunderstand me; we were truly excited about the rest of the history at the college, and enjoyed the full tour. But we freaked out just a little bit more when we got to walk up the stairs where Professor Mcgonagall welcomes Harry and his friends in their first year, and to see the Great Hall of Hogwarts.

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The staircase from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone–try to imagine it without all the tourists
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The Great Hall– of course, a bit of movie magic was added to make it as magical as it is in the movies

The Hall was set up for a private event so we couldn’t actually enter it, but we were able to look in and get some pictures. It ended up working out for the best, as since this part was closed off our admission price was discounted to just £4.50. The rest of the self-guided walking tour was beautiful as well, taking us through the impressive architecture of the building and especially focusing on the historic cathedral on campus.

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Oxford Castle
Prices Vary
The final attraction we had decided to visit was Oxford Castle.We had expected a grand stone building with looming towers that had overlooked and protected the city since ancient times…we were a little disappointed with what we actually found. It was a small building, but still interesting enough. Most of the interesting bits were inside, with the Unlocked Tour and the Prisons exploration, which we didn’t feel like paying for, though they were intriguing. What we did decide to do was climb the hill that is on the castle grounds. Normally it cost £1, but since the weekend we were there was Open House Oxford (where numerous locations have free or discounted rates) it was no cost to climb. Though we were tired from being on our feet all day, the hike was worth it, as it gave you a spectacular view of both the city Oxford and the countryside beyond.

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A part of Oxford Castle
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Hiking up the hill
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Made it to the top!

The Eagle and Child
49 St Giles, Oxford OX1 3LU
Prices Vary
This was perhaps my favorite part of the day. The Eagle and Child, or as it is known by locals, The Bird and Baby, is the pub where Tolkien, Lewis, and the other members of the Inklings writing group would gather on Tuesdays every week to discuss their writings. While the pub has been added onto and extends back farther, the original pub where the Inklings met is at the front part, where we sat. Several of us bought a pint of ale to try, and we enjoyed once again reveling in the fact that at one point, Lewis and Tolkien had sat here and talked of Narnia and Middle Earth.

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From here, we headed to the train station to catch a train back at around 7pm. We had spent a full and amazing day in Oxford, but there was even more we weren’t able to do. If you have time, here are some of the things we missed (and might go back to do!)

Oxford Poetry Walk– For a more literary view of Oxford, this is an audio tour so you can go at your own pace and hear Oxford as described by its years of famous poetry
The Story Museum–  A small museum we saw while walking to Oxford Castle, it looked like a really interesting place to visit, for people of all ages who enjoy reading and stories
St. Mary the Virgin Church– For a small fee you can climb to the top of the tower and see some spectacular views of Oxford
Modern Art Oxford– If you’re into modern art, this looked like an interesting place to visit
Museum of the History of Science– Whether you’re into history or science, this museum is a must-see. We just walked around the introductory exhibit and gift shop and were fascinated

Is there anything else you would suggest visiting? What would you most like to see? Comment below!

Thanks for reading!

Getting Sherlocked {day 12}

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While we were here, it was high on our list to have a “Sherlock Day.” We all loved the movies, TV show, and of course stories of Sherlock Holmes, and what better place to indulge this love than in London! After a little bit of planning, we had an entire day set out to discover key places related to Sherlock, both the modern TV show and the books.

Stop 1: Sherlock and Watson’s House
Address: …221B Baker Street
Tube Stop: Baker Street, via the Circle Line
First on our list was the “actual” location of Sherlock and Watson’s flat, the famous 221B Baker Street. It has been turned into a Sherlock Holmes Museum, with several floors of both recreations of what the flat may have looked like based on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s books and also of the many mysteries Sherlock and Watson solved. The museum,  £10, was worth it to us. Even without that, there’s a wonderful gift shop (be warned: you will want to buy everything) and around the neighborhood you can see his silhouette feature on everything from restaurants to dry cleaners.

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Wax figures of characters inhabit the museum. Here Holmes and Watson look down at visitors from the attic
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In one room there is a board full of notes people have left to and about Sherlock Holmes and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
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A bust of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

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Stop 2: Sherlock and Watson’s Flat (film location)– “Faker Street”
Address: 187 N. Gower Street
Tube Stop: Euston Square via the Circle line
Not quite as good as the real thing, our next stop was where the outside of Sherlock and Watson’s flat in the BBC show Sherlock. It was still really cool to be standing there and recognize the location from our (many) times of watching the show. Right next door is the cafe Speedy’s, featured especially in the “Scandal in Belgravia” episode, at the end when Mycroft and Sherlock talk in the cafe. They had food that was cheap and good so we grabbed lunch there before moving to our next location.

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~Season 2 spoilers ahead~

Stop 3: Where Sherlock jumps (film location)
Address: St. Bart’s Hospital, W. Smithfield (it’s too big to have one street number)
Tube Stop: Farringdon via the Circle line. We asked a worker to point us in the right direction once we had exited.
This spot actually ended up being one of our favorites. Apparently, after the episode where Sherlock jumps to his “death” from the roof of St. Bart’s hopsital, Sherlock fans in droves had visited the spot and filled it with temporary graffiti–writing quotes in the dust on the windows and putting sticky notes on the telephone box nearby. Thankfully most people had enough respect for the grand building to not write anything permanent on the wall itself, but the spot has become a bit of a Sherlock memorial, which we happily added to.

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Where John would have stood to watch Sherlock jump (a big part of us visiting involved trying to figure out how Sherlock survived!)
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We just had to reenact the scene, Sam even has the hair to go with it! (We might have freaked out the guy sitting on the bench back there) (Also my apologies to Mrs. K as this picture doesn’t actually prove Sam is alive and well, but we promise he is! 🙂
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Some of the graffiti on the telephone box

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Yes, someone left a print out of the screenshot of Sherlock falling

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Stop 4: The Diogenes Club (film location)
Address: British Academy, 10-11 Carlton Terrace
Tube stop: Embankment via the Circle line

Well, this stop ended up being more in theory. We wandered past Trafalgar Square and in that area for awhile and when our GPS failed to locate it, we finally gave up. But if you’re more savvy than we are at finding locations, go for it! If not you can do what we did and take a slight detour from the Sherlock-ness and hang out at Trafalgar Square for a bit, enjoying the architecture, statues, and street performers

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Stop 5: Sherlock Holmes Pub
Address: 10-11 Northumberland St.
Tube Stop: Embankment (walking distance from The Diogenes Club) via Circle Line

This you will pass on the way to the British Academy (if you make it there). It’s right past the tube stop. We had it on our list last so that we could finish there and have a drink. It ended up being too busy to stay, but we enjoyed looking around the pub and small recreation of Sherlock’s room they have on the top floor.

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From here we headed back. It had been a great day and we felt like we had fully satisfied our Sherlock obsession!
If you are interested in more filming locations, you can check out a more complete list here.

Did we miss anything? What would you have visited? Where was your favorite spot we visited? Comment below!

Lessons Learned about the London Pass {day five}

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One of the great options to explore London on a budget is the London Pass. Most major cities have them. You purchase the pass for either 1, 3, or 6 days, and then can use it to get into a variety of tourist attractions and landmarks for free or discounted prices. It is a great way to be able to go to many different tourist options that otherwise might not be worth the money. Part of our trip fee covered a one day pass, and so one Friday we were determined to make the most of it.

Lesson One: Plan. We began planning out everything the night before–the pass comes with a small book listing every option that the London Pass can be used toward, so we had gone through and picked out the things that seemed most interesting. Based on our desire to see them and the hours they were open, we scheduled out our day, and decided to leave at 8am Friday morning. It was early, but it would be worth it.

We set off at 8, and our first stop was St. Paul’s Cathedral. It was a beautiful building, but cost about  £15 normally. It opened at 8:30am, so arrived there just after opening and went to get our tickets to avoid the crowd–after taking afew pictures of the outside of course.

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IMG_3469 Unfortunately, we quickly learned Lesson Two: Check the website, not just the booklet. Although the book had said St. Paul’s was still a part of the London Pass, apparently that was only through April of this year, before London Pass took away that option. Since the book is for the entire 2014 year, though, it was still listed. Always check the London pass website before finalizing your schedule. We decided that £15 was just too much to pay, so we ended up with an hour to kill before our next destination opened. Sam H and Nicole had been around that area the day before on their scavenger hunt, so they showed us the various places they had visited.

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A pub that used to be frequented by Samuel Johnson and Charles Dickens
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Twinings Tea shop. First opened in 1706, it was the shop that turned tea from a relatively unknown drink in England to the number drink. It was a favorite place of people such as Jane Austen and Charles II. They currently sell tea from the Golden Lyon, the very first tea shop in London.
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St. Clement’s Church

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Our next stop was the Globe Theater, where Shakespeare’s plays were performed. We made our way there across the Millennium Bridge.

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The bridge was featured in the sixth Harry Potter movie, and more recently in the Guardians of the Galaxy
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Looking back across the bridge at St. Pauls

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The Globe theater was open and still a part of the London Pass, so we eagerly purchased tickets for a tour and briefly looked at the small exhibit they have before the tour began.

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Inside the Globe. They were striking the set from the previous play and getting ready for the upcoming show, so it’s not as cleanly as it normally is, but it’s still an exciting place to visit!
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Our tour guide. He had a great sense of “British” humor, extremely dry and sarcastic, but he was still clearly knowledgeable and passionate about the subject

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After the tour of the Globe, I branched off with Nicole to try the London Bridge Experience, while the rest of The Group went to the Tower of London. The London Bridge Experience seemed interesting, and Nicole and I both had been to the Tower of London before, so we decided to try something new.

IMG_3529As you can tell from the sign, it was meant to also be a bit scary. The first 30 minutes is a sort of interactive tour of the history of the London bridge. It has been rebuilt 5 times, beginning with the Romans’ wooden bridge crossing over the Thames to connect to Londinium. It was fun and interesting to learn all the different people who have used and rebuilt the bridge. The London Bridge is actually where the concept of driving on the left came from. The bridge became so congested with wagons and horses and people crossing it constantly, that the ruler at the time declared everyone should walk on the left side of the bridge. It was eventually made law, and then transferred to driving once cars were invented.

After the first 30 minutes, you finish the tour section and then, after an opportunity to leave,enter the Tombs. This is pretty much a haunted house, and one of the scarier ones I’ve been in, based on the fact that there used to be tombs and burials under the bridge. Nicole and I still enjoyed ourselves, but it was not for the faint of heart by any means!

After exiting, we actually crossed over the London Bridge.

IMG_3536We were on our way to meet up with the rest of the group in the Tower of London–really a must-see if you’re in London. Since it’s about  £20 normally, it’s a good use of the London Pass.

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The Tower of London is full of history, as it has been used for various functions throughout history. Currently, other than a museum in several of the towers, it also houses the Crown Jewels. Be warned: The line is outrageously long. I saw them when I came here the first time, and thankfully the rest of The Group was also not interested in waiting 4+ hours to see them for maybe 60 seconds. Lesson Three: Also plan according to how “touristy” it is. If seeing the Crown Jewels is at the top of your list to see in London, plan ahead to arrive at the Tower right when it opens and sprint for the line for the jewels. Otherwise, you may find yourself using an entire afternoon to see them. This goes for any other attraction you may be interested in; chances are, if you finding interesting, so do thousands of other tourists.

Something we didn’t realize before we arrived is that the 100th anniversary of the start of WWI happens while we’re here, in November. As a memorial to this, red poppies can be seen in various places all over the city. One of the most prominent locations is the Tower of London’s memorial–they have filled the moat in a sea of the red flowers.

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It is an overwhelming sight, and a humbling reminder of all the people who gave their lives in WWI.

Inside the Tower of London, you can wander along the streets, and also wait in lines to get into various towers which each feature different exhibits. The central tower, the White Tower, focuses mostly on weapons, though there was plenty more to see.

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This was a dragon made out of not only weapons, but also other items such as telescopes, flags, helmets, and maps. It was a nod to when royals used to use weapons to create crests and decor in their courts, which both provided decoration and instilled any visitor with a sense of the power of the ruler.

IMG_3590From there we stopped by the outside of where the Crown Jewels are housed, which of course is where the Royal Guards are.

IMG_3591Then we entered anther tower briefly, which housed the bedrooms of several royals.

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From one of the turrets you get a marvelous view of the Tower Bridge

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We then realized that if we were going to reach our final stop before it closed, we needed to leave right then. Our final attraction was the Winston Churchill War Rooms that were used during WWII when Churchill was prime minister. They stop letting tours in at 5 and it was already 3:30. With the London Pass, we were able to get a free ride on the City Cruise Thames River Cruise. Lesson Four: The London Pass isn’t just for attractions. It can be easy to view the pass as just a way to get in to key tourist spots, but it also includes a variety of novelty transportation discounts as well. In many cases, these can be used to get from one spot to another, which is what we did. The boat left from one pier right by the Tower and landed at Westminster Pier, right near where we needed to go. By taking this instead of the normal tube, we got even more out of our London pass and a great view.

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An added bonus was that we ended having a tour guide over the announcer. It’s not on every boat, but for this ride we got to hear about the history of not only the famous buildings we passed but many other small buildings we might not have even noticed if he hadn’t pointed them out. It made for an even more enjoyable (though chilly–it gets windy up top!) ride along the river. Unfortunately, about ten minutes after we left the dock, my phone died, leading me to Lesson Five: Make sure your phone/camera is fully charged! When you’re doing big touristy things all day long, it means you’re taking a lot of pictures. Sadly, this means the battery dies much more quickly! I was especially frustrated at myself because I had my portable charger, but I forgot to bring a cord to use it. I’m just brilliant like that… So whenever you go out exploring, make sure everything is fully charged, and even bring a charging cord if you can, because you don’t want to miss taking all the great pictures yourself and have to rely on whatever pictures your friends decide are cool enough to post on facebook!

We did arrive at Westminster, and by this time it was about 4:45. Desperate to reach the War Rooms before they closed, we sprinted from the pier to the rooms, and arrived just as the employee was going up to lock the doors. Thankfully, he had pity on our breathless souls and let us in to get tickets. When we tried to get tickets, however, we ran into a problem. Lesson Six: The London Pass is not actually unlimited. Though there are endless amounts of things to do with the Pass, the amount of things the pass can be used for is actually limited, especially on a single day pass. We had been led to believe it could be used for any amount as long as it was done in one day. We found out the hard way that for a one-day pass, the value limit is £90, meaning that if you add up the full ticket price of each attraction you visit, that value cannot exceed £90. For me, because I had also visited the London Bridge Experience, I didn’t have enough left on my card to cover the War Rooms. Apparently for the 3 and 6 day passes is might as well be unlimited because of the value amount it’s worth, but for me that didn’t help much! The workers at the War Rooms were really helpful and tried everything they could to find a way for it work, but it just couldn’t happen. I have been to the War Rooms before and really loved it, so I decided it was worth buying a ticket to go in again.

I was not disappointed. The Churchill War Rooms are really one of my favorite things in London. It’s an audio tour that is the perfect balance between being informative but not overly so.  You can go at your own pace, but at one point you have the [strongly suggested] option to tour the Churchill Museum, about Winston Churchill and his life and political career. Slightly disorganized, but it is still full of wonderful displays and interactive features to learn more about this great historical figure. The one regret we had was that we really didn’t have much time–we arrived right at 5, got into the actual tour about 5:15, and the museum closes at 6. We were a little rushed, so I definitely suggest if you want to do this you give yourself plenty of time, maybe close to 2 hours if you are especially interested. Nonetheless, we all enjoyed it and were very happy we had been able to go in.

On the way back we decided to do one last stop with our London Pass at Chocolates by William Curley, since it was on the way back to the house and with the London Pass we got a free chocolate bar. We even did the math and figured out that even though I hadn’t had enough money on the pass for the War Rooms I should be fine to get a chocolate bar. After a slight bit of wandering, we found the shop and entered. Lesson Seven: Actually read the description in the London Pass book. I know this is obvious, but it needs stating apparently because that is exactly what we didn’t do. The layout of the pass book is that in the top corner it says the name of the attraction and whatever discount you get–for the chocolate store it simply says “free chocolate bar.” Unfortunately, I failed to read the short description paragraph below where it clarified you only received aforesaid chocolate bar if  you spend £20 or more. I took full responsibility for the misreading, but we still felt bad to simply walk in, ask about the London Pass, and walk out, so we each got something small. Rae and I split a chocolate bar, and it was absolutely amazing–clear to see why the shop had received so many awards.

From there, after a full day, we headed back to the house. Rae and I were still up for an adventure so we decided to take the bus home (despite the Sams’ disbelief that we would be able to navigate the system!) and met up with the guys for dinner. It had been a long day, but worth every minute to see some of London’s most fascinating locations.

What do you think? Should we have done something else with our London Passes? Do you have any tips you’ve learned? Comment below!

 

 

 

 

 

How to Pack for a Big Trip in Little Luggage–part one

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Hello everybody! I’ve already arrived in London, but I wanted to post about how I managed to pack for 3 1/2 months in one suitcase and a carry-on, so here it goes!

Obviously the first, and arguably hardest step, is deciding what to pack. Check the weather for your destination–some temperatures are easier to pack for than others, since you need less thick clothing. For London, it really is the classic rainy and cloudy most of the time, and I also knew that since I was used to Texas weather, even the time we were there in August would be chilly for me.
Also plan, plan, plan your outfits–if you just start throwing in clothes you think you’ll need, you will absolutely overpack. I wrote out a list about a month before I started packing (it also doubled as a list of things I needed to purchase) so I could be thinking about it. That also help for the return trip so I can remember what I need to bring back! Decide on a color scheme (which may also depend on where you’re going). I chose blues, whites, and greys, since that fits in with London and it’s also what I own the most of. Choosing a color scheme allows you to mix and match more easily, allowing for more outfits. These are the shirts I decided to bring:

IMG_3250Seven shirts, allowing me to do laundry once a week and have clean shirts all week. The white shirt in the middle I plan to wear on the plane, and the one to the right of it will be packed into my carry-on (more on that later). They’re all either long-sleeved or able to be easily layered. I brought 4 toppers to layer with them:

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I am participating in an internship while I’m in London, so I brought 2 blazers for a more professional look (navy and black) and then 2 cardigans for more casual wear (raspberry and black). The raspberry one I’ll wear on the plane. Most of the shirts I brought can match with any of these toppers. While these add some warmth, I’ll obviously need actual jackets:

IMG_3270My heavy winter jacket is the white one. If you have a choice, a darker color coat would be better because the white gets dirty easily, especially in city like London, but I already owned this one and decided I would be fine. The black coat is my raincoat (exceedingly hard to find in August in Texas, but Burlington Coat Factory came through!). This is a necessity in London, but again it depends on where you’re going. The final one is a simple hoodie, so that I can wear it alone when it’s not quite so cold, and I can also wear it under the rain coat when it’s colder and rainy.

For bottoms, I again needed a more professional look for my internship so this is what I ended up bringing:

IMG_3263The two one the left are slacks (black and grey) and then a pair of blue jeans (skinny enough to fit into a pair of boots), which I’ll wear on the plane. The far right pair was my guilty pleasure of bright blue jeans. It only matches with a few of my shirts, but it’s a good way to liven up my options. I also planned on packing a pair of black jeans, but those somehow disappeared right before I started packing, so I’ll have to buy a pair here to have more general casual options.

I also had a few other items for sleeping/relaxing:

IMG_3266I didn’t want to waste much room on this category, so I only brought a pair of sweatpants (pretty much all the pajama bottoms I use anyway) and two T-shirts (I couldn’t go to England without a Harry Potter tshirt!). These can be used to sleep in but also are presentable enough to wear out and about if needed.

I also decided to bring my workout gear (if I take up room in my suitcase it’ll make me actually workout more, right?) Since running shoes can be bulky, I decided to take advantage of that space and packed like this:

IMG_3252My two running shirts, one rolled and stuffed into each shoe. If you bring other shoes that have enough space inside them, you can do this with other shirts in too. I also brought Nike shirts, which I’ll bring in my carry-on. I’ll also use the Nike shorts to sleep in if it gets too warm (though it’s not likely in London fall!)

For the occasional time I feel like dressing up, I brought 2 dresses:

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The one on the left is a bit more for a work place while the right one is more casual, but both can be dressed up or dressed down, and can easily have jackets and tights added to them to make them warmer.

Shoes were probably the hardest part to decide on. Since I would be doing a lot of walking, I needed comfortable shoes, but I also needed warm ones, and then for my internship I need some nicer ones. I finally decided on these pairs:

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The boots are warmer, and what I plan to wear on the plane. The two pairs of heels are for my internship, and maybe a night out. They are the comfiest heels I’ve found, and I only brought them because I was able to wear them all day without hating myself when I was at my internship in Texas. Really, really don’t pack heels unless you’ve tried them out and you know they are so comfortable that it’s worth taking up that space in your suitcase. In a city like London where you’re walking all the time, it can be easy to think you’ll wear something and bring it, only to either never wear it or spend all day in it and end up with blisters. Even if they’re the cutest shoes ever, be honest about if you really need them! For my everyday shoes, I bought the pair of sneakers and two pairs of flats, all purchased at Target (a.k.a the best store ever). The flats I bought and then discovered the tall back on them bothered my ankles some, but I was able to fix that with a product called Sugru, available on Amazon, which you mold like play-doh and then it hardens enough to stay but not to the point where it’s uncomfortable at all. Perfect for walking around.

Accessories are oh-so-important to mixing up your wardrobes and giving you even more outfit choices without taking up much space at all. I chose to bring these essentials:

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Three scarves that are just for looks (I also brought one actually warm one) and a few necklaces. The necklaces I threaded through straws to make sure they didn’t tangle when I packed them. I also have a warm hat to wear. The scarves are all in my color scheme too so they continue to match nearly everything I brought.

Now that I had decided what to pack, the important thing is how to pack it. I used a mixture of rolling and folding technique–the smaller things (shirts, jeans, scarves) I rolled, while larger (jackets, blazers) I simply folded. Spaces bags are a brilliant way to save space, but if you don’t want to spend money or you didn’t think of it ahead of time, large ziplock bags work just as well. I put in whatever I needed into a 2.5 gallon bag, zipped it part way, and then sat on it, rolled it, folded it, put heavy stuff on it, etc, to get all the air out as I zipped it totally shut. I ended up with five bags looking like this one:

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This bag contains 2 blazers and a cardigan. It looks wrinkled, but about 99% of the wrinkles are just the bag, when I took my clothes out they were fine after I hung them up overnight. It saves a ton of space, and then you just keep the bags in your room for when you have to repack!

I was able to fit just about all my clothes into the ziplock bags. Socks and delicates and such I put in the zipper pocket on the inside top of the suitcase. The rain coat and hoodie I fit in to a bag, but my big winter coat wasn’t having it, so I’ll just pack it separately. With all that taken care of, I began to put things into my suitcase. Again, packing the suitcase takes a bit of strategy and planning as well. I started with a bottom layer of the ziplock bags:

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I then put all my shoes in the space between the bags and the edge of the suitcase, at the top of the above picture. Books (I’m a bit of a bookworm so I had to bring at least a few) I slid along the other edges of the suitcase, locking them and the bags in place by taking up any extra wiggle room on the side. Jewelry went in the small side pocket I have on the inside of my suitcase. I put all my shower stuff and extra toiletries into another ziplock bag to make sure if anything spilled, it didn’t get on my clothes or suitcase. Then I had my separate toiletries bag for stuff I use commonly and a bag for makeup. These laid flat on top. My stuffed tennis shoes occupied the sort of valley space in between the two stacks of ziplock bags. I have a bigger bag for a carry-on, but I wanted to bring a smaller messenger purse for everyday use, which I also packed in here. This is what it ended up like:

IMG_3277My winter coat will be laid on top, but since that would block the view I didn’t include it in the picture 🙂 I still had enough space to end up putting my pillow in after the plane ride, and this suitcase expands and I didn’t need that space yet, I wanted to make sure I had plenty of room to bring things home on the way back!

So that’s how I packed my checked luggage. To see how I packed my carry-on, continue to part two!

Thanks for reading!

Ultimate Travel Playlist

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Rather frequently, I wish my life came with a soundtrack. Currently, the closest thing I can get to that is having a playlist for various events (or, I suppose, buy that personal soundtrack shirt from ThinkGeek, but playlists are a bit more socially accepted).

Since the next big event in my life involves a pretty sizable amount of traveling, I figured a travel playlist was in order. So here is my compilation of some of my favorite traveling songs.

Whether it’s getting ready for a trip, already traveling, missing home while away, or just wishing you could go somewhere else, check out this list of music for roamers. From chill to upbeat, from “I wish I knew someone here” to “I’m gonna have a heck of an adventure!”, spanning decades and genres, here’s my perfect travel playlist. Enjoy!

“Drifter” by Karmin
“Roam” by the B-52’s
“The Road Goes On” from Lord of the Rings: The Musical (yes, they made it into a musical, and it’s not half bad)
“Home” by Phillip Phillips
“Cold Chicago” by Humming House
“Born to Run” by Bruce Springsteen
“Compass” by Lady Antebellum
“Time to Move On” by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
“On Top of the World” by Imagine Dragons
“I Lived” by OneRepublic
“Home” by Michael Bublé
“Mountain Sound” by Of Monsters and Men
“Getaway Car” by Thompson Square
“Gypsy” by Lady Gaga
“On the Road Again” by Willie Nelson
“We Danced Anyway” by Deana Carter
“Come Fly with Me” by Frank Sinatra
And of course…
“Come Sail Away” by Styx

Total time: Approx. 1 hr, 6 min.

Do you agree with my choices? Did I miss any of your favorite travel songs? Tell me below!

Happy travels!

Welcome!

Hello there!

My name is Chelsea. This fall (2014) I will be starting my junior year of college, and I will also be embarking on my first long term international travel– 3 months study abroad in London, England!

I am ecstatic to have this opportunity, and I am also ecstatic to share my experiences with all of you! This blog is for those who are interested in what I’m doing personally on my trip (Journal entries) and for those who are interested in learning more tips on traveling and any secrets I may discover in my travels (Travel log).

I’m looking forward to writing more posts, and I hope you’re looking forward to reading them!

~Chelsea

 

Hello!