One Short Day series: Boston

Hi all! This past year I was in school in Syracuse, New York. Though it’s a few hours north of NYC, it still put me within easy driving distance (at least compared to Dallas or Birmingham!) of some of the Northeast’s greatest cities. This resulted in quite a few day trips, and I thought I’d share what I did on these trips with you. To be sure, each of these cities could easily fill a week’s worth of touring, but if you’re just driving through or have an extended layover, this series will give you an easy plan to make the most of your time in the city. Bonus: it’s also super affordable because, hey, I was on a grad student budget when I visited!

Up first is one of my favorite cities in the U.S.: Boston!

For my day trip, I visited here in November with my now-husband. We arrived in the city about lunch time, and I knew exactly where I wanted to eat: the Bell In Hand Tavern.

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It claims the title of America’s oldest tavern, and whether or not that’s true, it certainly has the best clam chowder I’ve ever tasted! I usually just get a big bowl of chowder, but this time we also got the soft pretzel appetizer to fill us up more, which were also delicious. Located just around the corner from Quincy Market, it’s in a great location with very reasonable prices.

From there, we spent most of the day following the Freedom Trail. The trail is about 2.5 miles through Boston and visits 16 historic locations. It’s clearly marked by red bricks in the pavement which makes it super easy to follow. You can pay for a tour, but at around $35 per person, we decided to go at our own pace. They have plenty of info on their website about each location, and most spots have ample signage so we didn’t feel like we missed anything by going at it ourselves (and this allowed us to choose where we wanted to spend our time, so we liked it more than a tour!)

The trail officially starts at the Boston Common, but our lunch location situated us near another stop, Faneuil Hall, so we started there.

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Faneuil Hall is also right next to historic Quincy Market, a great place to shop and eat (if you decide to forego Bell In Hand Tavern).  There are also always street performers that are a blast to watch.

Nearby is the Old State Meeting House, and the location of the Boston Massacre. In good weather they sometimes have performers outside, and every hour or so they have a “changing of the guard” performance.

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Inside is a museum.  We decided not go in, but admission is $10 for adults, with student and senior discounts and free for kids under 18.

We did decide to go inside the Paul Revere House. Admission is $5 for adults, again with various discounts for students, seniors, and children. It’s a small museum, but fun to see where an American history icon lived part of his life.

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If you’re looking for more Paul Revere spots, the Granary Burying Ground is worth a visit. The resting place of Revere, John Hancock, Benjamin Franklin’s parents, and other notable citizens, the cemetery is free to enter and a nice shady spot to explore some historical figures.

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The Freedom Trail technically ends at the USS Constitution. While this spot is definitely worth a visit, walking to it adds an extra mile from the second-to-last stop (Copp’s Hill Burying Grounds) to the ship. Crossing the Charlestown Bridge can be nice, but I would recommend doubling back a little bit and taking a ferry from the Long Wharf North. Only $7 for a round trip (included in a day or week pass Charlie Card), it gives a great view of the city and it’s always fun to be out on the water.

The USS Constitution site includes both the ship and the museum, which are operated separately. The ship is free to enter, but is an operative navy base so visitors over 18 need to have a federal or state issued ID. Check their website before you visit also, as it’s not open year-round.

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The museum has a suggested donation amount, but is technically free to enter. If you’re really into nautical history and technology, this is for you. Otherwise, we didn’t find it particularly interesting (especially if you’ve been on your feet walking all day!)

These are just a few of the stops along the trail. If you’re a history buff, they’re all exciting to visit, but some especially notable ones include the Old North Church, King’s Chapel, and Old South Meeting House. Information on these and all the other stops is available on the Freedom Trail website (linked to previously in the article).

If you have some extra time or are looking for some indoor options, here are some of my favorite museums I visited while there for a full week:

1. The Boston MFA

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Easily my favorite museum in the city, it’s definitely worth a visit. They have a wide variety of collections (hello, Ancient Egyptian artifacts!) and interesting temporary exhibits that are constantly changing. It can be pricey to enter normally, but if you’re there on a Wednesday after 4pm it’s free, as well as a few other holidays throughout the year. Visit their website for more info.

2. The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

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A unique museum, it used to be the house of Isabella Gardner, and features a plethora of collections, all arranged the way she specified. And yes, the picture above is part of the museum: it’s the courtyard that the entire original museum space is centered around. There is also a recently-built modern building that has changing exhibits, but the original house is an interesting place to visit. General admission is $15, but 20 minute introductory tours are available for free, which I would highly recommend to get a better idea of what the museum is all about. Check out their website for details.

3. The Harvard Peabody Museum

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From the Peabody’s website

The Peabody is on Harvard’s campus, part of the Harvard Museums of Science & Culture, and is a fascinating museum for anybody interested in archaeology or ethnology. They recently renovated their upstairs space and it is BEAUTIFUL, as well as interesting for adults and older children (probably about middle school and up). General admission is $12. Here’s their website.

Of course, there’s much more to do in Boston. Have you been? Do you agree with my recommendations? What would you add?

Happy travels!

 

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?

 

Fall Break Part Two ~ Luxembourg {day 49}

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Hello again! This is part two of my (long) post about our Fall Break. For part one, click here.

Since we spent the first day and a half in our base city of Cologne, it wasn’t until day three that we headed to Luxembourg. Why Luxembourg? Good question. Pretty much because, in order to do all the traveling we wanted, the easiest/cheapest thing was to get a Eurail pass. These things are amazing. You can choose a 2, 4, or 24 bordering countries in the EU and the number of days you want the pass, and then you can travel unlimited between and around those countries within 2 months, for however many days your pass is good for (they don’t have to be consecutive). We paid £175 for a 5 day pass to 4 countries, since we wanted to do more than 2. We were in the northwest part of Germany,  so Luxembourg, Belgium, and the Netherlands were the closest bordering countries to visit, each about a 3-4 hour train ride away. So that’s how we ended up in Luxembourg! Considering a return (or, round trip in American) ticket to Amsterdam was about £135, it’s definitely a great deal!

We arrived in Luxembourg in early afternoon. The center of the city was a short walk from the train station, and we enjoyed exploring some of the streets. You cross over a bridge that spans a forested park which divides the city in half, providing some wonderful views.

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From there, we stopped at their WWII memorial, which looms over the city, since they don’t have skyscrapers or anything, so it dominates the skyline.

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Our next goal was to find food. We ended up eating at a random Turkish food restaurant, which was really good. From there we went to find Rue (Street) Philippe II, where there was supposed to be a fun installation of 1200 umbrellas suspended over the street. Unfortunately, it turns out it had been taken down already, so we instead made our way to the Notre-Dame Cathedral of Luxembourg City. We stopped briefly so Rae and I could get “gelato on a stick”–why we wanted a cold snack when it was already rainy and cold, I’ll never know, but it was delicious!

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Then we arrived at the Cathedral. A beautiful Gothic building with splashes of Renaissance elements, it is the only cathedral in the city and began life as a Jesuit church. We thoroughly enjoyed looking at all the adornment inside and sat inside for awhile.

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From here, we decided to find the Grand Palace. This led to quite the adventure. First, we assumed the tower looming in the distance across the forest was the palace and headed that way, exploring the park along the way.

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We arrived at the building, and it looked very palatial.

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Our first attempt at a picture of the “Palace”

Then, upon further reading, we realized this was not a palace, but a very ornate bank. So we tried again, wandering toward the center of the city and attempting to follow signs (the language of Luxembourg is a mix of French and German called Luxembourgish. I kid you not.) We then found an even grander building, with a lovely garden in front of it. Excited, we again took numerous pictures.

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Palace #2

It then occurred to us that the palace would probably have better security, and we wouldn’t have been able to waltz up to the front door. That’s when we discovered it was a museum. Finally, we went into a coffee shop nearby and asked where the palace was. Turns out, we had been right around the corner of it when we were still at the cathedral. Whoops! So we headed back towards the center of the city. After asking directions (and getting them in broken English and some German), following vague maps, and misguided tourism information, we finally managed to find the palace!

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Okay, it was slightly underwhelming, having seen other castles and palaces, and having spent so long looking for it. But nonetheless, we were excited to finally find it and see what the Grand Palace of Luxembourg looked like! Then we decided to meander back towards the train station, looking for a souvenir shop and a place to buy hot chocolate (it had been cold and drizzly since lunchtime).

Fun fact: In Luxembourg (on Sunday, at least) EVERYTHING closes at 6. It was 6:30. We couldn’t find anything open, so finally we headed back to the train station, where thankfully they had both a place to buy hot chocolate and souvenirs (I’m collecting magnets from everywhere we go, so I was going to be quite disappointed if I broke the record on the first day of fall break!) Then we caught our train back and arrived in Cologne around 10. We were able to get dinner from basically the only shop still open in the train station and headed back to the hostel.

What do you think of Luxembourg–had you even heard of it before? Would you like to visit? Comment below!

Thanks for reading! See our next day in Cochem, Germany here.

When You’re Tired of London, You’re Tired of Life {days 34, 36, 37}

~Day 34~
Today Sam K, Rae and I were looking for something new to do while Sam H was gone for the day. We skimmed through the magazine Time Out, which is a fantastic weekly publication that you can pick up for free and has all sorts of interesting things going on in London that week. We happened to find an article about the Great River Race–a boat race of 21.6 miles along the Thames. It takes about 3 hours to complete. so we headed to the finish line in Richmond to await the boats. There were food booths from countries all over Europe and various activities to do. Perhaps the most exciting part was the cannon–every time a boat crossed the finish line, actors dressed in period clothing fired a cannon and a musket in celebration.

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It was a random things that ended up being a lot of fun. It’s one of the perks of living in London, rather than just vacationing for a week–having time to go to other events beyond the “major must-see” sights. The race was great fun, but more than that Richmond is a beautiful area. We plan to return to ride bikes or kayak along the Thames at some point later in the semester.

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~Day 36~
For our theatre appreciation class today we had the opportunity to go on a backstage tour of the Royal Opera House. It was a great privilege and an amazing experience. The ROH is a repertoire theater, meaning that they don’t have shows that run for weeks on end in the theater, like in West End or Broadway. Every night is a new opera or ballet, and it cycles through for a period of time. This is because operas and ballets simply require more effort and the performers can’t do a show every single night. To accommodate this, the backstage crew has an extremely intense schedule of setting up and taking down sets.The day begins at 7am with a blank stage. The crew puts up one set for a morning rehearsal. By afternoon, the rehearsal is over and the set is completely taken down. This is quickly followed by putting up the set for that night’s show, which is taken down after the night’s performance, leaving the stage blank so it can start all over again the next morning.

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Looking down at the stage, bustling with activity while taking down the set from the morning rehearsal
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The various flies and backgrounds that drop in during a show

The way they accomplish this craziness is by building the sets to be stored on what they call “wagons,” which are sections of stage that can move around like a sliding puzzle. The sets can then be easily and quickly moved on and off stage. In addition to the stage, we got to see the props room and costume areas, as well as the actual front of stage theater house, which was beautiful.

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The fiber glass workshop in the props room
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Moving a set piece, a bridge, off the stage

~Day 37~
Today was one of my favorite things we’ve done in London. At the Old Truman Brewery off Brick Lane in East London is an exhibit called “The Art of the Brick.” It’s an exhibit of about 85 sculptures by Nathan Sawaya all made out of Legos. We expected it to be impressive, but it ended up being incredible. Not only was the talent and skill used to make them amazing, but so many of the sculptures were truly moving and emotional. We were so glad we went and highly recommend it to anybody who has the chance to go.

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The sculpture above is called My Boy., depicting a parent holding a child who has passed away. It was one of my favorite sculptures, simply because I never expected a children’s toy to convey such emotion and depth. The way the face captures such an expression of agony was so incredible and moving.

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We’ve been in London for about six weeks now. It’s starting to feel less like we’re just tourists, and more like we’re actual Londoners, which allows us to explore more and more of the city. Finding hidden gems like these continue to remind us that there is so much to do in this city, and bring to life Samuel Johnson’s words “When one is tired of London, one is tired of life.”

Scotland {days 26,27,28}

~Day 26~

Today we woke up around 5am to catch the first tube train to get to King’s Cross for our 7am train. It was an excruciatingly early morning, but we were all to excited about going to Scotland to be concerned that much about it. It was a five hour train ride, and we arrived on a cold, cloudy drizzly day.  If we had any doubt we were in Scotland, though, we were quickly reassured by our tour guide, who wore a kilt and played bagpipes.

IMG_4265He was pretty good at the bagpipes, too. He gave us a bus tour as we drove around Edinburgh and we got to get a first glimpse at the many sights and historical monuments in the city. Some of my favorite locations included the childhood home of Robert Louis Stevenson and the massive monument to Sir Walter Scott, which was funded by donations that poured in from around the world after his death.

It was an especially interesting time to be in Scotland, as the day before we arrived was September 18th–the day of the Scottish referendum vote. We found out as we were on the train to Scotland that they had voted to stay. Despite this being the outcome, nearly everyone we talked to seemed to think it was a wasted opportunity, and a variety of signs could be seen supporting both sides throughout the city and the countryside.

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Some of the signs included drawings from children–future politicians!

After about the hour-long tour, we were dropped off at our hostel, the Elas Guesthouse.

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Our group took up several rooms, so we didn’t have to room with people we didn’t know. For us this weekend the accommodations worked fine, though if it had been just me or a smaller group traveling I don’t think I would recommend it–there were no safes to put your valuables in and the kitchen wasn’t open to residents to use, and the owners are smokers so we had to open our window because of the smell in our room.

After settling in, we set off to get lunch, since it was 2pm and we hadn’t eaten since breakfast. The Group was joined by one of our professors and her daughter (a junior in high school who is also spending this semester over here and has become good friends with everyone in the group) as well as another student who was staying in the hostel. Our group was part of a larger tour organization called International Friends that scheduled everything. The guy we met was a part of this tour group, but didn’t know anybody else,so we welcomed him to come to lunch with us and ended up hanging out together most of the weekend. His name is Razul and he was studying in London like us, but came from Azerbaijan, so we had a lot of really interesting talks about differences in culture and in religion, since he was Muslim. It was a really cool way to experience one of my favorite things about travel–meeting new people and learning about different cultures through them.

After grabbing lunch at a place called Grand Cru, we headed to the Royal Mile. The Royal Mile is the street that forms the backbone of the Old Town in Edinburgh, connecting Edinburgh Castle to Holyrood Palace. It’s a good place to shop and eat, and sight-see as there are many interesting attractions along the way. One of these is St.Giles Cathedral.

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St. Giles was the most beautiful cathedral I have been into in the UK, and I’ve been to my share of cathedrals since I’ve been here. We spent a long while looking around at the beautiful architecture and stain glass windows before finally dragging ourselves away to walk around more.

We decided to go on a historic ghost tour at The Real Mary King’s Close. A “close” is a small, alley-like side street that branches off from the main road. Mary King’s Close was one that was built centuries ago, and had since been built over to form a sort of underground tunnel. The tour guided you through this place as well as reconstructions of the houses and rooms that existed there. It was interesting and educational, but not overly scary so if you’re looking more for a spooky ghost tour I would suggest something else. We thoroughly enjoyed it though, and afterward we grabbed a quick dinner from Sainsbury’s and brought it back to the hostel to eat before heading to bed.

~Day 27~
Saturday was an optional tour of the Highlands. We had gone back and forth about going on this trip, but finally decided at the last minute that we wanted to do it. It was absolutely worth it and we didn’t regret it one bit!

It was another early morning to meet the bus at 7am, but as soon as we got into the countryside it was absolutely beautiful.

IMG_4324And that was just barely getting into the highlands out of the lowlands–there was a marked difference, and it only become more incredible as we went on.

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IMG_4374As we rode through the beautiful scenery, our guide, Fred, played music varying from traditional Scottish bagpipes to epic soundtracks of movies set or filmed in Scotland to a woman singing in Gaelic (pronounced “Gallic” and quite distinct from the Irish Gaelic, as we were informed). It was the perfect way to see the Scottish highlands.

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We stopped several times for photos, which we couldn’t get enough of– I have nearly 200 photos just from that one day! Around 12 we stopped for lunch at small cluster of restaurants and stores nestled in the nature. Directly behind the gravel parking lot where our bus waited was a beautiful stream that the Sams and I explored for a few minutes after lunch.

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The finale of the trip was a visit to Loch Ness and the Castle Urquhart ruins that sit on its shores. The castle has a fascinating 500 year history, and we loved getting to climb around and explore the ruins, set smack in the middle of the incredibly gorgeous highlands.

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After a little over an hour of exploring the castle, we all met at the dock to take a boat ride along Loch Ness. It was cold and windy, but absolutely amazing.

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After about 45 minutes on the water (during which Sam K and I totally saw the Loch Ness monster) the boat arrived at the dock and we disembarked, only to reembark our bus. We were nearing the end of our trip, with mostly the 3 hour ride back to Edinburgh ahead of us. We drove through Inverness, the capital of the Highlands, and then made our way back through the rolling hills of the Highlands until finally returning to Edinburgh around 8pm. Fred dropped us off at Prince’s Street with instructions to head to Rose Street, which was lined with pubs and restaurants. We sat down at the Amber Rose pub, which had a great deal of getting 2 meals for only £10. After enjoying our dinner there, we headed back to our hostel. We debated watching Braveheart (we were in Scotland after all) but decided since we had another early morning it would be best to get some sleep.

~Day 28~
Sunday morning, the Sams, Razul and I all woke up just before 6am in order to see the sunrise. One of the must-see places in Edinburgh is Holyrood Park, and the highest point in the park is a large hill overlooking Edinburgh called Arthur’s Seat. We decided to hike up this hill to catch the sunrise at 6:45.

It wasn’t an easy climb, especially since we were running late and had to hightail it in order to get there before the sun came up (by “came up” I really mean came up from behind the low lying clouds, not the horizon. Leaving the hostel it was dark but by the time we were doing the more serious hiking it was plenty light enough for us to see–no safety hazards there!). After arriving at the top, huffing and puffing and gasping for breath, we agreed it was absolutely worth it. Even before the sun came up, it was a beautiful view of the city of Edinburgh, just starting to wake up, laid out like a twinkling carpet beneath us, with the North Sea stretching beyond the horizon to the one side. As the sun peeked through the clouds, it became an even grander view.

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The Sams, looking thoughtful as they gaze out over Edinburgh

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Around 8, we finally headed back down. The guys returned to the hostel to meet with Rae, but I had decided to visit Edinburgh Castle so I walked the length of the Royal Mile, stopping along the way to grab a delicious sausage roll for breakfast, to the castle. It opened at 9:30 and I got there about 8:30, so I ended up wandering down to the Grass Market area, where I sat on a bench and read for a little bit. A little after 9 I headed back to the castle to be at the front of the crowds. The castle is £16 to get into, and I had heard it was worth it but not worth the crowds. After my visit I absolutely agreed with this and was very glad I had decided to get there early. I was the second person in line to buy tickets and didn’t have to wait in any lines. You can buy tickets online beforehand if you want to really be ahead of the game, but if you get there early enough you don’t have to.

Built on a chunk of volcanic rock, the castle overlooks the city and has a long and fascinating history. I started the visit with a 30 minute guided tour that is offered for free. It was a good way to get a quick overview of the castle and its history. Afterwards I went through the castle on my own, using the small handout provided to make sure I didn’t miss anything. You can buy audio tours and guide books to accompany you, but I was perfectly content with the free handout and reading the informational plaques at each site.

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A stain glass window in St. Margaret’s Chapel, the oldest building in Edinburgh

It took me about 3 hours to go through everything in the castle, and I still didn’t go as in depth in some of the museums as I would have liked. Finally at 12:30 I left and met up with the rest of the group. On my way out of the castle I came across a favorite historical figure:

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Casually holding a claymore sword with William Wallace

The rest of the group had spent the morning hiking the Holyrood Park more, and we were all ready for lunch. We ended up going to The Elephant House, where JK Rowling had written much of the first book of Harry Potter, overlooking Edinburgh Castle. I, in particular, was very ecstatic to be able to visit here. I brought the Harry Potter book I was reading and read some of it while I was there. I also thoroughly enjoyed the Harry Potter graffiti that covered the bathroom walls in layers. The cafe on the whole was a cute place to eat and hang out, and had managed to not turn into a “Harry Potter mania” or anything like that. The food was really good and well priced, and it was mostly just the bathroom walls they had allowed to be taken over by Potter fans. I, of course, added my own contribution.IMG_4668

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My note on the door

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The view of Edinburgh Castle from the window
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Outside The Elephant House with my Harry Potter book!

From there we wandered along the Royal Mile to do some last minute shopping, then met back up with the group to take our bus to the train station. We were sad to leave Scotland, but we made so many great memories and it was a wonderful experience–the highlight of the trip so far for all of us!

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!