May 10, 2017
Every couple of months or so, I always end up getting the traveler’s itch. Maybe it is the field I work in, but what motivates me in my profession is being able to travel again. I work with people and provide a service to them, and at times, it can get draining, which is why self-care is important to me.
Even though I’ve traveled to England 3 times (the third time was under special circumstances – Russia), I still felt like I did not capture everything, and I wanted to explore more. This time, I wanted to make it a goal to explore more of United Kingdom.
United Kingdom comprises of the countries England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. I wanted to explore all of the UK countries, but at the end of the day, it was overwhelming to incorporate an itinerary for four countries in a week’s worth of time. However, I think I was able to capture the best of two UK countries in a week!
Mondrian London – the perfect hotel with spectacular views of London and close proximity to most major attractions (i.e. London Eye, Westminister Abbey, etc.)
Upon entering the hotel, there were unique art installations and expensive cars if you are a cars enthusiast. There were two options to check in: take the ramp or go up the stairs. I liked how the hotel was designed in a way to make it convenient for guests with heavy luggage versus light travelers. I had an amazing experience working with staff here because I was able to ask for advice as far as highlights and learned how to navigate the transportation system in London. The staff made it easy by booking tickets in advance and checking for opening hours. I utilized the hotel’s service to figure out what to do for the last two days of my trip (had nothing planned).
OXO Tower Restaurant – one of the best restaurants in London with a garden terrace and panoramic skyline views of the city
Landing in London early afternoon did not leave me much time to explore by the time I arrived to check in at my hotel. However, the concierge recommended dining at OXO for its food and views. The views, service, and atmosphere was perfect for my first night in London!
Stonehenge – built nearly 5,000 years ago and the most popular prehistoric monument in the world
Stonehenge Private Viewing Tour at Sunrise – one of the best tours, giving you access into the stone circle
Prior to booking this tour, I booked another tour to the Stonehenge, which included the Roman Baths and Windsor Castle. However, I researched this particular tour and noticed that you do not have access into the stone circle, and the tour is overwhelming. I quickly changed tours to the one noted because I figured it would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience getting up close to the stone circle.
The Stonehenge Private View Tour at Sunrise consisted of a private viewing of Stonehenge and access into the stone circle, a visit to Lacock with an optional breakfast, and entry to the Roman Baths and Pump Rooms. I felt very relaxed throughout the tour, and it got me really excited to explore other parts of England.
Lacock – picturesque village featured in the settings of many moveis and television shows, such as Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
The George Inn – vintage English pub built around 1361
Bath – city famous for its Georgian architecture
The Roman Baths are located at the heart of the city, Bath; the Baths still flow with natural hot water. This water is intended to cleanse the body and prevent breakouts.
Leeds Castle – located in Kent and also known as the loveliest castle in the world
Golden Tours Day Tour: Leeds Castle, Canterbury, Dover, and Greenwich River Boat Ride
I have seen photographs of the White Cliffs of Dover and wanted to see it in person. It was unclear to me how close of a view I would have of the White Cliffs of Dover. Since my priority was to see the White Cliffs of Dover, it was slightly disappointing that I was not able to get a close view of the landscape. In addition, most of the day was rainy. However, I felt like I was able to make the best out of this day. The tour included a private visit to Leeds Castle, exclusive Mead tour, entry to Canterbury Cathedral, views of White Cliffs of Dover & Dover Castle, tour of Greenwich, and a boat ride along Thames River.
White Cliffs of Dover – one of the country’s most spectacular natural landscape (white cliffs), an official icon of Britain, and also a symbol of hope and freedom
Canterbury Cathedral – one of the oldest and most famous Christian structures and also part of the World Heritage
Stirling Castle – one of the largest and most important castles in Scotland
I was researching day tours in Scotland and stumbled upon Highland Experience Tours. Originally, I booked the Loch Ness, Glen Coe & The Highlands Day Tour, which encompasses a monster tour of the Cairngorm Mountains, Inverness, Loch Ness, Ben Nevis, and Glen Coe. However, I slept through my alarm and ended up at the meeting place 15 minutes late. The staff at Highland Experience Tours emphasized the importance of being on time/early, but they were able to book another day tour for me. I was disappointed, but I figured everything always happens for a reason; I ended up with one of Highland Experience Tours’ other day tour: Stirling Castle, Loch Lomond, and Whisky.
It was a wet and rainy day, but I heard from locals that it has not rained in months. Others have shared with me that even when it rains, it is still beautiful in Scotland.
Loch Lomond – one of my first hikes in U.K.; although I had to switch to a different tour, I learned that this day tour was one of the few that allotted time for a hike/glimpse of the Highlands
Balmaha Millennium Forest Trail – the tour guide gave the group some suggestions on where to hike for views of Loch Lomond; he told me that you can hike as long as you want because the trails are boundless
The left photograph above displayed one of the earlier views along the Balmaha Millennium Forest Trail. It was not until I entered the gate of the trail that the views start to look more magnificent. I saw this lady sitting down, eating lunch, while admiring the views of Loch Lomond. Seeing how peaceful she was made me want to take a break from the hike to admire the views. I met this couple (the same lady who was sitting down earlier) in their 70s embracing on the Western Highland experience; they already hiked ten miles hoping to finish in 9 days. I admired their determination and the fact that they were in great shape; the couple shared that they have been blessed with good health and have always been moderately active in their youth.
Glengoyne Distillery – whisky distillery unique in producing Highland single malt whisky matured in the Lowlands
Primrose Hill – hill that is 213 feet located at Regent’s Park, near Camden
Although I’ve loved every moment thus far in the U.K., I think the best part of my trip was catching up with old friends. I met Heather while I was working at Urban Outfitters. Last time I saw Heather was when she was in the process of moving to England. We were able to catch up during my trip, and it enhanced my trip. It almost felt like we were catching up where we left off, which did not feel long. However, in reality, we have not seen each other close to 7 years! We caught up with drinks at a pub near Camden.
After hanging out with Heather, I caught up with another friend, Cassie. I met Cassie in Byron Bay; we were bunk mates! She shared that she moved to London to pursue her dancing career. Time flies, and I realized that when you connect with people, they will remember the experiences you shared with each other – these encounters always feel effortless because you are essentially picking up where you left off.
Abbey Road – 11th studio album of the Beatles; what I learned during this tour was the fact that the Beatles had to retake the photograph of the album multiple times primarily due to traffic, direction, etc.
There are a lot of vehicles going through this road, which made the picture opportunity difficult to master. However, our guide advised that we paired up so that it was easier for him to snag a photograph of our group in action.
Christ Church – one of the colleges of Oxford University and the set of the Harry Potter movies
The Radcliffe Camera – Palladian architecture designed by James Gibbs; one of Oxford’s most iconic sights; name derived from Dr. John Radcliffe (physician)
The concierge recommended that I dine at Cherwell Boathouse Restaurant because of the food and the views by the water. With the limited wifi I had in Oxfordshire area, I googled the direction to the restaurant with the walking distance feature. The route took me alongside Oxford University and through the University Parks. However, along the way, I noticed that Google took me into the nature parts of University Parks, leaving me unable to cross over to the restaurant towards the end. I ended up finding a bridge to cross over, but I was still unable to find the restaurant in time. Sadly, I was not able to dine at Cherwell Boathouse Restaurant – an award winning restaurant and Punt station on the banks of River Cherwell (Cherwell Boathouse Restaurant, 2017), but I was able to enjoy the views while being lost.
Sometimes being lost allows you to take the scenic route. This was one of my favorite views towards the end of my trip!
Even though I’ve traveled to London several times, this was my first time exploring outside of the metropolitan city. Below are some things I learned along the way when traveling to United Kingdom:
- Public transportation is your friend, and it can save you a lot of time and money especially during rush hour
- Check out this website for information on public transportation in London
- Black cabs usually cost more than Uber so rely on Uber if you decide to take the tax route!
- Trainline is the perfect mobile application that provides all the information you need when booking a train: departure boards, price alerts, seat preferences, preferred routes, etc.
- There are night trains that take you to Scotland from London! Fastest train is around 4-4.5 hours with Virgin.
- Timeliness is a thing, especially in Scotland! Tour guides will leave the meeting location 15 minutes early if they feel like it
- When trying to hike in the United Kingdom, rely less on a tour and research a route that brings you closer to the view
- At the end of the day, traveling is about opening your eyes to new memories/views but also relaxing. Often times, I try to cram as much as I want to see in a day, but it defeats the purpose of traveling
Where have I traveled in Northern Europe?