Thursday, May 14, 2015

12 Days of Hamilton: Day 2 - Welcome to London!

This is what Day 2's Itinerary looked like:

Friday, December 26, 2014
* Avoid main shopping areas on this day, especially Oxford Street*
9:39/9:54 AM - Original Tour Bus at (runs every 5-15 min starting at 9:05 AM)
  • carry print-out of Paddington Bear, in case we get off bus
  • Hop on at Tower Hill stop, exchange tickets prior
  • Red Route
  • Meet at Trafalgar Square/Pall Mall E./Stop Z
  • Tour duration 2 hrs, 15 min. Ride full route, back to Tower Hill
  • YELLOW/GREEN/BLACK routes non-operational on this day.
  • Stops to consider:
    • Hyde Park Corner, Winter Wonderland
    • Switch to Blue Line
    • Off at Piccadilly/Haymarket (walk around Piccadilly Circus/Trafalgar
    • Switch to Red Line
PM - Eat
  • Meet at Tower Hill Tube stop
  • £9 pp + £2 pp for walkabout card
  • End’s near St. Paul’s Tube stop (around 4 PM)
((3:00 PM - Everton Match begins))
3:56 PM - SUNSET
5:00 PM - St. Paul’s Even Prayer with Carols - Feast of St. Stephen
PM - Travel back to Jenn’s/Get Dinner
  • Stop by St. Paul’s Tube Stop
  • Buy Jayson Oyster Card/see if mine still works
  • add fare for a bus ride to each: £1.45
  • Go to SP Bus stop, take Bus 100
    • runs every 6-10 min
  • OR if done around 6 pm:
    • Original Bus Tour, pick up from St. Paul’s 6:06/6:16/6:26
    • Take longer, but free route to Tower Hill stop

This was our first morning in London!
It was actually really hard to sleep the night before because i kept thinking, "London is right out those doors! I want to go and explore everything right away!" But alas, i slept.
When we finally woke, we took our time getting ready, and started out the door at 9:45 am-ish. We decided for the whole trip we wanted to mix the "let's do EVERYTHING!" mentality with the "it's vacation, let's take it slow" mentality.
So we walked to the Tower Hill station, and immediately got confused as to where to go to exchange our Original Bus Tour tickets. We saw a sign that led us to a ticket shop by the Tower of London, went in, and were quickly told to go back to where we saw a bunch of men in parkas standing by the road.
These guys were representatives of all of the London Bus Tours: Original Bus Tour, The Big Bus Tour, and Golden Tours (i think). We used the Original Bus Tour, and from all of my research it should have been great!.... except it was Boxing Day. One of the only days they didn't have a live guide showing us about with interesting tidbits.

Instead of a live guide we had a little pre-made audio guide that was quite bland, and the ride was really cold. So we only made it as far as the South Bank, right across from the Parliament Building.

(Just a note about this tour, I still think it would be amazing to take on a Spring or Summer day with a live guide; but our experience with it shows you should definitely not ride it on Boxing Day.)

The view from the South Bank was the view Jayson always dreamed of seeing in London! At this point we still had great plans of riding the London Eye (weather and injuries prevented this from happening), so we didn't spend too long on the South side of the Thames, thinking we would be back shortly. (This is one of those things that you just have to be flexible with when planning a trip. Not everything goes to plan. That's why Rick Steves says to treat your trip as if you're coming back!)
We crossed over the bridge, and began our exploration of Westminster on foot. 

Interesting tidbit: The green on the bridge we crossed represents the House of Commons, the red on the bridge on the other side of the Parliament building represents the House of Lords.

Really and truly this is my favorite way of exploring London. Even in the cold. Walking lets you really experience everything.

Stopping to hear Big Ben chime in the new hour, walking past the Sovereign's Entrance (me "running" inside it), introducing Jayson to Emmeline Pankhurst, strolling past Westminster Abbey (which we DID come back to), and a quick hello to Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill. This was the stuff I had been waiting to share with my best friend!

Now something special was happening while we were in town. They had Paddington Bear statues throughout the city, advertising the new film. All designed by different artists, celebrities, or organizations, it was a little trail to follow. "See as many Paddington's as you can!" type of thing. So as you see a few of our Paddington's know we aren't just really extreme Paddington Bear fans, but we do love a good scavenger hunt.

We decided just to walk down to Trafalgar Square. Along the way we stopped by the Horse Guards Parade and pretended we were Andy from Parks and Rec flying helicopters with Lord Covington.

Okay, maybe only I did that.
After that excitement, we popped into Jayson's first ever pub in London, Old Shades! Then Jayson had his very first beer in London, in his very first pub in London. Then we befriended our very first set of old ladies from Gloucester visiting London, while Jayson drank his very first beer in London, in his very first pub in London.

It was marvelous, as was the cheddar and pickle sandwich we had!

We then made a terrible decision to walk up to Oxford St to see how awful it REALLY was... did you see my note in my itinerary NOT to go to Oxford St? I need to start listening to myself.

Packed. Packed. People, it was packed with... people.

We finally squeezed ourselves through a little hole leading us to the street and to a cab! We pulled out as fast as we could, and headed back to The City to go on our Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol walk.

When i was studying in London, my professor was also the owner of London Walks (the world's first walking tour company). I went on many walks, and they were my favorite thing about London!

This one was great, and we had a great guide, but it was so hyper-focused on A Christmas Carol, that it wasn't my favorite i've been on. It was still SO exciting to share it with Jayson, and even though it was bitterly cold, and started to rain we enjoyed it. Always rushing to be the front of the group, we heard stories not only about the book and it's publication, but also about the time in which Charles Dickens lived.

We saw Leadenhall Market, all the streets and alleys where Scrooge "walked" in A Christmas Carol, and ended with St. Paul's; but not before we were introduced to the pub that Christopher Wren built to accommodate the laborers working on St. Paul's.

When the tour ended, we quickly headed back to this beautiful place! Kitchen closed of course, but I just can't explain to you the gorgeousness of a Christmas decor covered old pub in The City of London on a rainy night. If we weren't starving, i think we could have spent all night here.

We had plans to go to St. Paul's for the Feast of Stephen; instead, we went on a Boxing Day hunt for food. So hungry, guys! We were soooo hungry! (The City basically closes down when the workers go home, so on Boxing Day it was DEAD. Nothing to be found for blocks!)

We hopped back on that Bus Tour to get a ride into town, with a surprise announcement mid-way through that it was going to end at Victoria Station. There was food there, but not much, and they seemed to hate vegetarians.

What are two hungry, non-meating eating adventurers to do? Hop on Jayson's first Tube ride!

We went to Soho to a VEGETARIAN PUB! Okay, it wasn't amazing food, in fact, it was rather dull; BUT we went to a vegetarian pub. I find that amazing. Jayson points out that if we didn't go, we would always wonder about it.

After this, we were spent. With food finally in our bellies, and a quick view of that corner of Soho, we took the Tube back home.

As we got close the flat, i noticed that my foot was tensing up and was getting a little knot in it from wearing my converse for the 27, 309 steps we walked that day

...dun dun dunnnnn

to be continued...

View more photos of Day 2:

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

12 Days of Hamilton: Day 1

The planning a trip of a lifetime for months, and then living out that trip, is so hard to explain that it has taken us nearly two months to even post about it.

But here it is, the start. (Warning these posts will probably be long because we had long days!)

I hope that each of our posts both share the planning that went into it, how that planning helped, and how everything went awry (and how preplanning helped those times go smoother)!

So here we begin. Our original plans for this day (i count it as one day because we never really slept):

Wednesday, December 24, 2014 - Christmas Eve
11:00 AM - Sarah & Jayson Uber to Van Nuys Flyaway
11:30 AM - 12:00 PM - Van Nuys Flyaway to LAX ($8 per person)
1:00 PM - Sarah & Jayson arrive at LAX, go through security
2:00 PM - Last time to check in/drop off bags for flight
3:30 PM - Flight load in
4:00 PM -Depart LAX for London Heathrow
Thursday, December 25, 2014 - Christmas Day
10:45 AM - Arrive at London Heathrow
  • Go through Immigration & Passports, pick up luggage, use Green Exit through customs
  • Food & quick rest stop (Cafe Nero or M&S Simply Food)
  • Follow signs to Central Bus Station
12:45 PM - National Express Coach to Victoria Station- NX806
1:30 PM - Arrive at Victoria Station
  • Check luggage with Victoria Coach Station, opposite Gate 6
  • Walk around Buckingham Palace, the Mall, Westminster, and back to the station
    • Paddington Bear: Good News Bear, by the Telegraph. Parliament Square (near where Rick Steves did his audio postcard)
  • Pick up luggage
3:30 PM - Cab to Jenn’s flat
3:56 PM - SUNSET
5:30 PM - Christmas Dinner reservations at Strada - St. Katharine’s Dock
  • 2 Tower Bridge House, St. Katharine’s Way, London, E1W 1AA
  • £21.95 per person, 3-course meal
  • 0.7 miles from Jenn’s flat
7:30 PM - Doctor Who Christmas Special airs!

I originally planned on using Uber to get to Van Nuys Flyaway, and take that to LAX. Then the day before, i realized that with all the hassle of the changing vehicles and waiting, and stopping at several terminals, it would be just as worth it to take Uber all the way to LAX (after all this was Christmas Eve = no traffic!) It would have been about $12 to the Flyaway, and then $16 total for the two of us to ride the bus; a total of about $28. Instead, with taking the Uber straight to our terminal, we paid $31.66. Worth it!

So we left for the airport at 11 am. Partly because we were excited, partly because we were nervous something would go wrong, partly so we could have plenty of time to eat lunch, but really really because we were excited. We were going CRAZY sitting around the house.

Welp, we arrived at the ticket counter at 11:45 am, and found that they had no plans of opening until 12:30 pm. Guess what there is to do while you wait. Go ahead!

If you guessed there was absolutely nothing to do but walk around aimlessly, boy are you right! They really made us wait it out, but we finally made it to the counter and checked in!

all packed and ready to go

We thought we were SO smart as we had one piece of luggage to check, and one piece of smaller luggage with emergency supplies to take on board with us. Well, they made us check both, but luckily Air New Zealand is amazing and didn't lose our luggage, so we had no need of emergency supplies. We were very happy with this.

our crew greeting us (yes, those are Christmas decorations!)

my last instagram collage before takeoff

On board Air New Zealand was fantastic! I do have to say that their seats were much more narrow than i expected, and there wasn't much room between us and the seat in front of us; so those things made it a little disappointing. Other than that the service was pretty great, everyone was very kind, and the ambiance was spectacular!

We paid a little extra to have a row that was just the two of us, but immediately the people in front of us leaned back really far in their seats, cutting off any illusion of space that we had. We were so happy we didn't really care, and for the most part laughed it off.


About an hour in they began food service. We had special order of vegetarian food, which meant we were served first. I LOVED that the flight attendants requested that all people sat their seats up so the person behind them could enjoy their meal. It made a huge difference because, unless asked, most people wouldn't have bothered. They actually had to walk up to several people and ask them to sit up as previously requested.

dinner on board. greek salad, fruit, roll, and i cannot at all remember what our main course was!

The food was good for plane food, and Jayson and I toasted Christmas with prosecco (me) and whiskey (jayson).


The next several hours passed by with attempted sleep, lots of movie watching, and more attempted sleep. Jayson got a little more than me, but i'm pretty sure i got a total of 45 minutes.

There was also a moment of me wanting Ginger Ale in the middle of the flight. Well, apparently they switch crew in the middle, and if your order goes in at this time, they forget about it. I never got my ginger ale, and by the time i tried to order it again, they said it was too close to landing. So if you're ever on an overseas flight, make sure to watch out for this, and check in personally with the flight attendant, instead of just depending on the computers.

Our flight path! Thank goodness it avoided all the storms happening in the Eastern part of America!

The lights slowly illuminated, we were served a quick breakfast, and we received news that we would land shortly. We were landing AN HOUR EARLY! It was an amazing Christmas treat! As we drew closer to landing, the plane first had to fly us over London, which gave us beautiful views of Hyde Park, and so many of the sites we had been reading about for over 6 months!

View of Hyde Park, Winter Wonderland, Kensington Gardens, Kensington Palace, and a bit of my old neighborhood!

We landed about 9:45 am GMT. Quickly got off the plane, no bathroom stops, straight to the border. I'm telling you, that is the trick. Don't stop! I saw so many people go to the bathroom, and then end up 60 people back in line.


After a little confusion as to which line we were supposed to join, we had stamps in our passports, had several people wish us a "Happy Christmas!", and picked up our luggage.

Rick Steves told us (and everyone else that reads his guidebooks) to just get cash at the airport ATM, so we did. Next, we made a small stop for just a couple of items of food at M&S Simply Food, but not as much as I expected. We then hurried on to find our bus!

Along the way we found several people who had no idea that public transportation was closed on Christmas Day. (ALWAYS RESEARCH TRANSPORTATION, PEOPLE!) So as we tried to find the right place to hop on our bus, there was mass confusion as other people showed up to desperately find a way into town.

Now, I am sure National Express Coach is an excellent mode of transportation normally. Probably very orderly even, but Christmas Day was not a great day for them. They seemed understaffed, and had to deal with A LOT of weary travelers. The two women on staff really tried their best, and for that i am very thankful. If they hadn't been on point, it would have been an even bigger disaster than it was turning out to be!

I purchased flexible tickets for Jayse and myself, so even though we were two hours early for the bus time i had booked, if there was room we could join an earlier bus.

Somehow in the mass of people, and watching one or two buses leave without us, we were on a bus an hour earlier than we expected. In the very back, but we didn't mind. We were able to exchange pleasantries with fellow travelers who had also made it through this crazy morning!

ah ha, hush that fuss, everybody move to the back of the bus

The coach bus took us to Victoria Coach Station, and along the way Jayson was able to see real London streets for the first time! I was so excited for him to already see the lovely little nooks and crannies of this town i love so much! And me, well I got to briefly glimpse the TARDIS that we never had time to go back and see. It all happened so fast, i couldn't even take a photo in time!

obviously my PSA for drinking lots of water when you travel

When we arrived at the station, we went to where we were to check our luggage. It was supposed to be the only place to check your luggage on Christmas Day.... it was closed.

So instead of walking around the neighborhood we thought we would, we followed my back up plan (i had my suspicions that things might not work out with our luggage.) We hopped in a cab, and made our way to our friend's flat in the City! (reminder, we had an absolutely amazing friend that let us stay in her flat, while she was visiting family in the states!)

The cab driver took us by all of the great sites in town. I am not sure if this was the most direct path, but i didn't care. We WANTED to see everything! I wanted Jayson to see all of it for the first time! It was a glorious entrance into London!

Buckingham Palace!

Elizabeth Tower with Big Ben inside!

London Eye!

Me playing tour guide

Jayson super excited that we're in LONDON!

After arriving at Jenn's and putting down our things, we went on a walk around the City. We were so lucky that it was a BEAUTIFUL day!

our view from Jenn's flat. absolutely gorgeous!

The Tower Bridge, the Tower of London, the Monument, London Bridge, the streets of the City, we saw it all! My fitbit says we walked 17,781 steps (about 7.42 miles) that day. (if only it knew that that was just a warm up!) We stopped along the way to warm up in a Pret with some tea and a cheddar and pickle sandwich (sooo delicious).

Tower Bridge

light pole leaning

beefeater/yeomen at the Tower of London

The Monument

View of the Tower Bridge from the London Bridge

Tower of London, Jayson's favorite thing in London

Thanks for the Merry Christmas cheer, Tower!

We went a little early to one of the few non-expensive places open for dinner that night, Strada (simple Italian food). This was one thing i really had to research before our trip. Nothing was open, most things charged A LOT of money, and you had to make reservations for most.

St. Katharine Docks, where we had dinner (and we walked by daily)

Strada Christmas cheer

View from dinner

When we ordered our food, the waiter tried to tell us that we couldn't have the special Christmas menu and price, as you had to make reservations and put down money prior to the night to receive that. When I explained that I made reservations from America, and there was no way on the website to pay in advance, he let us have the discounted price.

So while we could have wandered around and found this restaurant day of, it paid (or in this case "saved") to make reservations ahead of time.

Christmas Dinner: Jayson's pasta and my pizza in the background

After dinner, we hurried home to watch
the Doctor Who Christmas Special!

And yes, yes the Christmas Special was disappointing; but we were in London and that eased our pain. We walked out again on to the patio, said goodnight to the Thames; and finally got some much needed sleep.

View more photos of Day 1: