Portuguese Eats

If you like food, and good food at that, Lisbon will not disappoint.  I love trying new food when traveling, and some of my favorite dishes are those that I’ve tried on my international travels.  (Ecuador’s jugo de mora, Peru’s lomo saltado, or England’s Sunday Lunch, anyone?!?)  I will try anything that wasn’t once a living animal, but pretty much the only meats that I eat are chicken, turkey, pork, and beef, and I don’t go anywhere near seafood.  For some reason I feel too bad for those little guys swimming under the sea to eat them.  I know, pigs and cows are much cuter and it makes no rational sense whatsoever.  All I can say is that bacon is delicious and I just can’t help myself sometimes.  All of my food recommendations will obviously also subscribe to that illogical logic.  I think we managed to eat some pretty delicious food while in Lisbon, anyway, even if they do specialize in seafood.


Very close to the Mosterio dos Jerónimos, which we visited on our first day in Lisbon, is Pastéis de Belem, which many say has the best pastel de nata in Lisbon.  Naturally, we headed over to the pastelaria for a late morning snack to try a few ourselves.  The pastel de nata is an egg tart pastry topped with cinnamon and icing sugar, which gives an effect and taste much like the top of creme brulee (read: delicious).  I’ve since had them at a few other places, namely, at the Borough Market in London, and I can’t lie, the Pastéis de Belem was the best.  They sell so quickly that it’s nearly impossible not to get a fresh, warm one, which makes a huge difference.


About  to enjoy a delicious pastel de nata

If you’re in the market for a place to sit, relax, and people watch for a while, the Mercado da Ribera is the place to be.  It’s great for lunch, a very casual dinner, or a snack and a beer anytime.  It, like most things in Lisbon, has been around a long time (aka the 13th century).  It used to be Europe’s most famous fish market, and still holds a more traditional food market, but since 2010 has also had a market featuring some of the city’s favorite food stores and restaurants.


Traditional Part of the Mercado da Ribera


One of  the Kiosks

There are a total of 35 kiosks (read: lots of options for picky eaters).  It’s definitely worth a visit while in Lisbon.  The selections are a bit overwhelming, however, and we ended up at a place that wasn’t my favorite.  I definitely had food envy of people around us, though, so do your research about what’s good before you go.  We didn’t and I wish that we had.  We didn’t eat lunch at the market, but the husband had a beer, and we snacked on some bread and cheese before heading to our actual (late) lunch stop.

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Looks better than it tasted

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Such a cool spot

Given our new obsession with Nando’s and piri piri chicken, we had to try some authentic piri piri for ourselves while in Portugal (yes, I realize that Nando’s is South African).  Roughly 2 hours of time went into finding the best place for piri piri chicken in Lisbon, and my researched landed me right where I started, Bon Jardim.  If you’re looking for luxury, this is not your place.  It’s no frills and the decor is a little worn, but it’s filled with locals and delicious food…in my opinion, it’s the best kind of place to eat.  Our favorite way to eat piri piri chicken is on a sandwich; you can’t order sandwiches there, but all the meals come with rolls and a delicious spreadable cheese, so we made our own.  Luckily, it’s the sort of place where making  your own sandwich at the table is totally okay.  Honestly, though, even if it weren’t, I’m pretty sure I would have done it anyway.  If you’re not a vegetarian, you really must go to Bon Jardim next time you are in Lisbon.  The food, and the empty fish tank that is one of the front windows of the restaurant, will not disappoint.  Sadly, I did not snap a photo of the fish tank, but I assure you, it’s there.

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I’d do anything for one of these sandwiches right now


Making his sandwich


All smiles and ready to eat!

When we travel, we never go for expensive restaurants.  We prefer to try smaller, family owned, local spots and avoid the super swanky places, especially for dinner.  For our only dinner in Lisbon, we found the perfect place that fit the bill.  There was a long wait outside the Taberna da Rua Das Flores, even though we’d arrived early.  We were in no hurry, and they let us wander the streets around the restaurant while we waited.  The place was super cute and quaint, and we were confident that a great meal was to come when an expat we met while waiting outside assured it that it’s the best place in Lisbon.  His only regret was that it was starting to become very popular, which meant frequent waits for a table.  One of the tables was actually on a small set of stairs going nowhere, with a wine box as a table.  I really wanted to eat there, the husband did not.  He won (it was available to sit at without a wait when we arrived).


Taberna da rua das Flores

We ordered tapas style foods, and shared everything.  Lisbon is filled with seafood, and at least 50% of the dishes were fish, which really limited our choices.  Nevertheless, the food was delicious and reasonably priced.  Better yet, I washed it all down with some delicious Vinho Verde.  Don’t skip dessert- I don’t eat it usually, but the chocolate cake can’t be missed.


So excited to eat the amazing chocolate cake

It’s a tradition for the husband and me to eat a burger in every city we visit.  I have a strict no american food policy while traveling, but this is the one exception that I make.  We do a lot of research on the best burger places, as we only have one shot to get it right in each city.  The husband is usually the researcher, and I’m not going to lie, he knocked it out of the park on this one.  It just may be my favorite burger I’ve ever eaten.  That’s not a statement I make lightly, and I’ve eaten a lot of burgers in my lifetime.


The very cute  Hamburgueria do Bairro

While google maps rarely disappoints, it led us astray on our walk to Hamburgueria do Bairro and I was a bit of a brat (I was hangry), complaining every 5 steps about how he got us lost, and that I was so hungry I was going to eat my arm.  Luckily, the husband ignored me and forced me to keep walking rather than ditch our plans and grab the first thing we saw that qualified as food.


Probably smiling mostly because our food had arrived which had meant I had stopped complaining about how hungry I was

Located in a less touristy, more neighborhood-y area of Lisbon, the Hamburgueria do Bairro was packed, and the only people out in the streets surrounding the restaurant were those waiting to eat.  We both had our usual- burger with cheese and onion, the simpler the better.  Why ruin a good thing with too many toppings?  The burger was delicious, as were the fries and aioli on the side.  I love aioli so much I could drink it, and this was one of the best.


Ready to eat- make sure you try a Brisa next time you’re in Portugal.  So Good

We were totally called out for our burger eating ways when the Swedish travelers next to us laughed when they realized that we were from the US.  They told us that they always thought that the idea that all americans love burgers was just a stereotype, but since we were americans eating burgers in Lisbon, it must be true.  Isn’t that just how stereotypes start- thinking that, because a few people from a certain culture do something, that means all of them do?


A closeup of the fries and aioli in case you weren’t hungry enough after reading the rest of this post

After a lovely weekend in Lisbon our bellies were full and we were ready to head back to London.  My stomach is growling just thinking of the delicious food we ate.  If you’re ever in Libson, make sure to hit up at least a few of these spots and wash down the delicious food with some Vinho Verde.  I promise you won’t regret it.

Une Journée à Paris (A Day in Paris)

When we embarked on our London adventure, I told the husband that my one traveling priority was to take a weekend trip to Paris.  Only a 2.5 hour ride on the Eurostar , it’s an easy trip from London.  Fast forward a month, and we both fell so in love with our  pub-hopping, show-catching, and Sunday-roast-eating weekend ritual in London that we significantly pared down our travel plans.  The husband kind of hated Paris when he visited with a friend after college, so it fell from being a priority, to being off our weekend travel list altogether.

Though I’d visited Paris in high school on a trip with my mom, I still wanted to go again while living so close.  Enter cheap, middle of the week train specials.  Tickets on the Eurostar can be expensive, sometimes even more than an airline ticket to the same destination.  However, if you’re on vacation, or have flexible travel plans, you can get really cheap tickets during the middle of the week.  I grabbed a winter weekday special, and for £59, secured a round trip ticket to Paris from London’s St. Pancras train station.  I considered staying the night, but the idea of taking a trip to Paris just for the day was, for some reason, very appealing, not to mention cheaper, so a day trip it was.

I headed out on the earliest train of the day and was in Paris before 10am.  Using the Lonely Planet Pocket Guide to Paris, I planned my day on the train (amidst some napping).  Having been to Paris before, and knowing that I was traveling alone, I had a general idea of where I wanted to go before hopping on the train, but no formal plans.  After waiting in line to get a ticket on the metro for a really long time, I was on my way to my first destination, the Sacre Coeur.


The Eurostar just after arriving in Paris

Like London, many of the most famous sites in London are free, which is a welcome treat for an American like me, who is used to paying to enter every place I visit.  The Sacre Coeur is located on the summit of the butte Montmartre, the tallest point in the city, and offers some of the best views of the city.  It’s a fair number of steps to get up to the top and it’s not for the faint-hearted, or for those who don’t want to be approached by people selling things.


Avoiding the hecklers

I took the steps up on the right side of the church and avoided the heckling from vendors selling items that one neither needs nor should want.  There is supposedly a funicular for those with limited mobility, but I can’t say that I saw it.  After a quick tour of the inside, I headed to the front steps to sit and enjoy the views, both of the city and the basilica itself.  The stones used to construct the basilica are made of stones from Château-Landon, and when it rains, the stones react with the water and secrete calcite, which acts to bleach the stones.  This leaves the church a beautiful white color, providing beautiful contrast against the (hopefully) blue skies behind it.  Otherwise, I’m pretty sure it would be black, since I found Paris to be number one on the list of most polluted cities I’ve visited list (no, I’ve never been to LA).


View over Paris from the Sacre Coeur

The next stop on my whirlwind tour of the city was the Champs-Élysées, more specifically, the Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile, set on the Western end of the famous street.  The arch honors those who died during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, and is also the site of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I.  I can’t say that this is my favorite site in Paris, and is probably one that I would skip next time.


I risked my life by standing in the middle of the street for a crappy photo!

Up next was Paris’s most iconic site, the Tour Eiffel.  I approached it from an odd angle, and I have to admit that, when I saw it for the second time in my life, my reaction was, “oh, that’s it?’  It could have been the 80’s style building in the foreground, or the fact that all the clouds seemed to roll in at that moment, but I can’t say that I was super impressed by its beauty (I know, who am I?).  Given that I’m afraid of heights, and that the husband, who makes me suck it up when we travel together, was back in London working, I skipped the visit to the top.  Plus, it was pretty freezing at ground level, , so I could only image how cold it would be at the top.


No caption needed

I next headed into the heart of the tourist-y area of the city to the Notre Dame Cathedral.  After wandering the streets for a bit, soaking in the local culture, and looking for a vibrant side street I’d loved on my first trip, but not finding it, I went into the cathedral for a quick tour.


In my opinion, the prettiest view of the Notre Dame Cathedral


No, I did not add a lock to the bridge

After more walking through the city streets, enjoying the smells of the food from the street vendors, and marveling at all of the macaroons and their flavors, I headed over to the Louvre, just to take a look (it’s closed Tuesdays, the day I visited).


Not pictured: freezing cold and strong wind gusts

Finally, I headed over to my most-anticipated, longest, and final stop of the day, the Musée D’Orsay.  The museum is located in an old train station (the former Gare D’Orsay, hence the name).  The building itself is beautiful.  While definitely not free, it’s still worth a visit.  It’s most famous for its impressionist gallery, and if you like Monet, Manet, Renoir, or basically any impressionist artist, it’s a must-see.


See what I mean, isn’t it gorgeous?!?

I attempted to take an introductory tour, but in the end, the cashier refused to sell me a ticket.  She said that there were no more English tours for the day (despite one of the guides, as well as multiple signs telling me that there was, in fact, an English tour starting at 2pm).  There are a number of dining options in the museum, and I opted for the cafe on the top floor with beautiful windows for lunch.  There’s also a small cafeteria on the main floor and a nicer dining room a few floors up.  I spent about 3 hours in the museum and don’t think I even got through half of it before it was time to head back to the Gare du Nord and home to London.


Beautiful clock in the Musée D’Orsay

All in all, I have to say that I was a little disappointed on my second trip to Paris.  I remembered loving the city when visiting with my mom, and didn’t have the same reaction this time around.  Don’t get me wrong; it’s a great city, it’s just not my favorite among those I have visited in Europe.  I reflected a lot on why I loved it the first time, but not the second, and these are a few of the reasons I’ve come up with.

1. It’s a little rougher around the edges than other European cities (read: dirty).  It reminded me a lot of Montreal in this aspect, but, compared to London and other cities in Europe, it just wasn’t as clean.  Everyone seemed to smoke, too, and I got more than a little sick of walking through those puffs of smoke when passing someone on the street. When I first visited Paris I hadn’t traveled nearly as much, but now that I have, there are lots of places that I like better.

2. I just didn’t love the famous sites like I did the first time.  Maybe it was that I visited in January (I first visited Paris in sunny, warm July).  It might also have a little to do with the fact that I’m now much more well-traveled than I was the first time around, so what was beautiful to me then just wasn’t as cool in comparison to other places I’ve been now.  Given my love of the city the first time around, it’s also likely that I had too high of expectations due to my, likely romanticized, memories from my trip with my mom.

3. I was alone.  Paris is one of those cities that I think is best visited with someone else.  Much of the culture revolves around food, and I just don’t enjoy dining alone in a new place as much as I do with someone else.


Taking selfies is the worst!

4. I was only there for a day.  It’s hard to really soak up the culture of a place when you are only there for a few short hours.

5. I couldn’t find the place where my favorite memories of Paris happened the first time around.  My favorite part of my visit with my mom all those years ago was when we stumbled upon a vibrant district full of cafés and locals selling local goods.  Fifteen years later, I had no idea where said area of the city was located.  The January streets were neither as full nor as vibrant as I remembered, leaving it feeling cold and impersonal.

6. The metro is gross.  I encountered more broken ticket machines than functioning ones, and more than once had to go far out of my way when the exits were broken and would only accept Paris metro cards, not tickets.  It’s harder to navigate, dirtier, and not as efficient as the underground in London in my opinion.


See what I mean?

7. I happened to encounter the people who give Parisians the stereotype of being rude during my second, but not first, visit.  After my first visit, I thought people were crazy when people said that Parisians weren’t nice.  This time, I understood what they meant that Parisians are rude.  From the people who refused to speak to me in French even when I tried, to the lady who told me that there wasn’t an English tour at the museum when all signs (and the person giving the tour) pointed to the fact that there was, to the man who yelled at me in French for photographing a random building, to the people running into me on the streets, I finally understood where the stereotype comes from.  I’m not so naive to think that this means that all Parisians are rude, but I can confidently say that 80% of those that I encountered during my day trip were, in fact, rude.  If only I had known that the worker who told me that he loved me as I got off the train in Paris would be the nicest anyone would be all day, I might have appreciated it more.


The photo I was yelled at for taking

If you’ve never been to Paris, I would still recommend going, just set your expectations accordingly.  I set mine too high, and was in turn, disappointed.  I really should have listened to the husband and set my expectations low—it doesn’t leave room for disappointment.

Lots of Learning Going On

As you may know, I am a little behind on posting.  I am currently in a plane over the Atlantic, on my way back to the US.  The husband still has two weeks left of work in London, and a few more days after that away from me, but I have some friends’ showers to attend this weekend and need to get back and ready to return to work in a little over a week (boo).  I tried incessantly to change my flight to go home later, but the husband talked me out of it due the costs.  I even tried to do it at the airport, to no avail.  I have the worst flight buyer’s remorse that there is.  It is a real problem.  If only I could afford refundable fares.

I will return to updates on our travels over the last few months soon, but did not want to confuse anyone as to where I am.  I also wanted to reflect a little on what I have gained from this experience.  I cannot begin to explain how wonderful it was to live with the husband in the UK for the last 4 months, and in Montreal before that.


I Love This Guy So Much

Living in another country is something that everyone should experience in his or her lifetime, if possible.  I am biased as I have always loved other cultures (arguably more than my own), but I do not think there is a better learning experience, and I so wish that we could have stayed longer.  Living in London with the husband brought us close in a way that I do not think any other experience could have done.  We certainly could not have grown this close had we stayed in Ohio, nor could we have done so had we just been traveling around during this time.

We have always been supportive of each other and our professional and personal goals, which has often led us apart from one another in physical distance (see About Me section for proof).  Prior to moving to London, the husband traveled 4 days a week, and will return to doing so once we come back to the US.  I fully believe that it takes two strong, independent people to make all that work, and an immense amount of trust.  What it does not do, however, is help a couple learn to lean on one another through adversity, or even just simple, everyday tasks.

Living overseas taught me to rely on the husband in a way that I never would have otherwise and it altered the dynamic of our relationship in a positive way.  I am close with my family, and given the husband’s crazy travel and frequent absence from home, I often relied on friends and family for support when he was away.  Given my crazy work schedule in the US, the husband had also learned to do many things himself, often relying on others for support as well.


Waiting for the Tube

Living in London removed all those other support systems; we only had each other.  As I was not able to work and he was working 80 hour weeks, the husband had no choice but to rely on me.  He has always been the family communicator and I have always been terrible at keeping in touch with friends and family.  I suddenly became the one that replied to all of the emails, the one that arranged our social events, and the one that kept our families in the loop as to where we were and what we were doing.  I took care of getting things fixed in the flat when they needed fixing, and took the initiative on things that I never would have in the past.  The things that I had previously relied on others to do became my responsibility.  It got me out of my comfort zone, and I found myself enjoying tasks that I would have previously hated.

I learned to better support him in a way that he needed it and he learned to do the same for me.  We could not go to friends or family for support that the other person was not great at providing, so we got better at providing those things to one another.

In the past, when I’ve explained that the husband travels during the week, people inevitably ask whether we fight a lot when we are together, and if we like not seeing each other that often.  Honestly, you would be shocked how often I get that question.  The truth is, we get along so much better when we are together.  Living in London was no exception.  When you are away from what you know, you do not take for granted what is near, and you learn to love it more, even for the things that drive you nuts about it.  You also learn to let the small things go and to consider whether what you are upset about really warrants a fight.


That Time I Made Him Walk Through Hyde Park in Search of A Peter Pan Statue

We navigated his high-pressure job in a new culture, my having to re-discover an identity outside of my profession, and living in a culture that, while similar, is still not our own.  I am so thankful to have had this experience, and even more thankful to have had the husband to share it with.  We have that rare sort of love that you only dream of or read about in books (the kind that also makes others want to vomit), and I am so fortunate to have had this experience which brought us even closer.  I only hope that we can remember what we learned when I return to work and he returns to his crazy travel schedule.

Day tripping to Windsor Castle

The last day trip that I took with my parents during their visit was to Windsor Castle.  Located about an hour outside of London, and Her Majesty’s weekend home, it’s an easy and beautiful trip outside of London that I would definitely recommend if you have some extra time while in London.  We hopped on a quick from Paddington Station, and an hour after leaving our central London flat, we were at a beautiful castle in the English countryside.


Winsor Castle was built in the 11th century after the Norman Invasion by William the Conqueror.  It is the oldest and largest inhabited castle in the world, and I can assure you that no matter how many perfect Disney castles you’ve seen in movies, it will not disappoint.  As I have learned,  like most other opulent things owned by the British Monarchy, Windsor Castle was later rebuilt and renovated at great expense by George IV.  If you ever are on Jeopardy and a question comes up as to who commissioned/purchased something expensive owned by the royals, you will be right 95% of the time if you answer George IV.  I thought that my budgeting skills were bad, but this guy makes me feel like I could be the Director of the Congressional Budget Office or the US Treasury.


One of the Castle Entrances

Before exploring the castle, we watched the changing of the guards on the castle grounds.  I have to admit that it was very different from my experiences at Buckingham Palace.  I’ve always found Buckingham Palace’s Changing of the Guard to be incredibly organized and impressive, this one, not so much.  They just couldn’t quite seem to line themselves up correctly, and I found myself wishing that the music would stop as someone in the band was incredibly off tune.  I felt like I, having been last chair of the flute section in 6th grade and then quitting because I was terrible and hated it, could have played better.  To make a short story long- if you have to pick between changing of the guards at Windsor and Buckingham Palace, fight the crowds and go to Buckingham.


The Band With One Not-So-Talented Member

After the Changing of the Guard and the hideous band, we returned to the castle entrance for a guided tour of the grounds.  The guides know a ton about the castle and its history and the tours are free, so you really have no excuse to not take one.  St. George’s chapel was the next stop on our tour, and is a chapel where many of the more recent British monarchs are buried and worship when staying at the castle.  Unfortunately, you can’t take any photos of the inside, so you’ll just have to visit yourself to see it.  There is this thing I’ve heard of called google that might also have some photos if you really want them ;).


St. George’s Chapel

Next, we visited Queen Mary’s Dollhouse.  They are some seriously impressive dollhouses, and I can virtually guarantee that no one reading this blog has ever had a dollhouse quite like Queen Mary; they are certainly nicer than my actual house in Ohio.  The houses all have running water, flushing toilets, and electricity.  Everything in the house works and is real, from the miniature guns that actually fire miniature bullets, to the wine bottles filled with actual wine, to the miniature paintings done by famous artists.  I have to admit, I played with a barbie for the first time in my life a few weeks ago with my very girly niece, so dollhouses were never my thing, but they are seriously impressive and worth at least a cursory look-see.


The Castle Grounds and the Entrance for Her Majesty’s Most Important Guests

After visiting the very impressive exhibition of famous and important works from the archives of the royals, we headed to the main event, The State Apartments.  Unfortunately, you can’t take pictures inside here either, so you will have to use your imagination or visit yourselves.  George IV really spared no expense in decorating and outfitting the State Apartments, and its rooms include works by famous artists such as Rembrandt, DaVinci, and Canaletto.  The rooms are still used by the royal family today to house and entertain various world leaders and other important people.  There are staff members in each room and I highly recommend asking them questions because they are often present at these very important events and know a lot of cool facts that the audio guide does not.  My favorite (the funniest) anecdote that I learned was that when US Presidents visit Windsor Castle, they cannot use the normal room for entertaining heads of state, St. George’s Hall  because we bring such an entourage that they have to set up another room entirely…sounds about right.


A Castle Gate


Visiting the state rooms takes at least an hour or two as the rooms never seem to end.  By this point we were very hungry, so headed of to a delicious lunch at an Italian restaurant called Castello, and then were off to explore the town.  While tiny, it is definitely worth a walk around, as it is a very quaint, cute little English village.


Shops and Restaurants in Windsor 


All Decorated for Christmas 

After a short walk back to the train station, we were on our way back to London.  The Queen has her own private train that she often takes up to Windsor.  Unfortunately, we were not invited and took the regular old train back to London in time for dinner.

From Bath to Shakespeare

After our exhilarating experience at Stonehenge, my parents and I continued to our, hopefully, more exciting next destination, Bath.  As you might expect, Bath got its name from the Roman baths that were built by the Romans in about 60 AD, which still exist today.  Unfortunately, you can no longer do as the Romans did; the hot springs are off-limits to all but a walk around them and an audio guide.  There are lots of spas in the town, but don’t expect any authentic Roman stuff…that’s all UNESCO protected these days.


Roman Baths

After checking into our B&B, we headed down to the town square to explore and check out the Christmas markets.  There are many Christmas markets around England, but Bath is known for having one of the best.  Our first stop was visiting the Roman baths in the center of the city.  Unfortunately, you can no longer soak in the hot springs, but they are beautiful, and worth a visit nonetheless.  If nothing else, they really make you appreciate how advanced the Romans were in almost every aspect of life.  They also clearly valued hygiene, and given that I can’t go more than 24 hours without a shower, I appreciate them for that.


My Amazing Parents

After watching the sunset over the baths, we explored the Christmas markets.  Many of the markets that I’ve visited have little trinkets and food, but not much of value.  The market in Bath was very different in that it had some very nice, handmade goods, not to mention the best mulled wine I’ve had to date.  We ended up purchasing two handmade new wool blankets, a few Christmas ornaments, and some Christmas pudding for my mom.


Roman Baths at Night


Cathedral in Bath

My mom, ever since I can remember, has made Christmas Pudding at Christmas time.  It is a tradition she got from her grandparents and continues to this day, despite being the only one in the family willing to actually eat the pudding (it’s not the most appetizing looking dessert and something about the fact that it can “age” for up to 9 months for better taste deters the rest of us).  The British do not share my family’s fear of Christmas pudding, so my mom was super excited to find a large group of people who love the tradition as much as she does.


Loved the Name, Also Love Savory Pies!


Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire

After a nice rest at our lovely B&B, we were on our way to Stratford-Upon-Avon.  It’s most well-known for being Shakespeare’s birthplace, but is also just a cute little English town.  We had a delicious lunch and walked around the city for a few hours, perusing the shops.  We took a lovely walk along the Avon River to Shakespeare’s church and place of burial before hopping into the car and heading back to London.


Pretty Street in Stratford-Upon-Avon



Avon River



Shakespeare’s Home


Such a Pretty Town


Did you know that the Queen owns all of the swans in England?


The Church Where Shakespeare attended Church and is Buried

After more than a few harrowing moments with my dad driving the car on the left side of the road (a certain round-a-bout taken the wrong direction and a few close encounters with a stone wall come to mind), we made it safely back to London in time for dinner with the husband and his sister, who happened to also be in town for work.

Visitors are the BEST

For the four people who read this, sorry for the delay in posting.  The husband and I literally flew around the world over the Holidays and returned to London on the 10th.  Unfortunately, I was sick for most of the next week and thus have not updated this blog in quite some time.  I’m going to attempt to go back in time and tell you about the time when my parents came to visit!

My mom and dad came to visit in early December, and stayed for about 10 days.  We took a few day trips, did some London sightseeing, took another day trip, and spent about a day at Harrod’s looking for gifts for their friends ;).

First up on the sightseeing tour was Stonehenge.  I hadn’t heard great things, but it was on my dad’s bucket list, and was also listed in the 1000 places to see before you die, so we decided to give it a go.  When the site was made in 3000 BC they weren’t thinking about future accessibility in the time of cars, so needless to say, it’s a pain to get to from London and I’d recommend renting a car to do so.


As you drive along the highway from London, you can see Stonehenge on your right.  You actually have to drive quite a ways past the site to get to the entrance and new visitor center.  As we were driving past, we all remarked how underwhelming it appeared from the highway.  My dad, who was the one who wanted to go in the first place, joked that he had seen enough and that we could keep going on the route to our next destination.


With high hopes of it being much more impressive up close, we pulled into the visitor’s center, picked up our audio guides, and hopped on the tram to the actual site.  Let me remind you, Stonehenge is in the middle of nowhere.  It’s also in the middle of a lot of farms.  This means lots of wind, not a lot of trees, and a WHOLE lot of cold.  If you plan to go in the winter, dress warm, multiply that by 1000, and then double it, and you’ll still probably be cold.


Unfortunately, I found Stonehenge to be no more impressive up close than it was from the warmth of our car.  That drive-by wasn’t such a bad idea after all.  Due to damage done via people walking among the stones, you can no longer do so–they must be viewed from quite a distance, which really detracts from the effect of the site (don’t get me wrong, I’m glad they are protecting it, it just makes the experience not as cool as the pictures online would lead you to believe).

As we walked along in the freezing cold, I reminded myself of the feat that was the building of the site—it is believed that some of the stones came from Wales, over 250 miles away.  It truly is amazing that this was done over 5000 years ago, before, well, ANY modern technology.  Just keep reminding yourself that if you do decide to go and hopefully you won’t be disappointed.


The highlight of the visit was definitely when a few sheep escaped through the fence at the farm adjacent to the Stonehenge and were trying to run towards it and the hoards of tourists.  As I mentioned, Stonehenge is in a farming area of England, and there is a field of sheep literally right next to the prehistoric monument.  As we finished our audio guides and were headed back to the shuttle, we noticed that the workers (3-4 men in their 20’s) were all chasing sheep that had escaped, trying to get them back into their field.  They weren’t having much success, and ended up running in circles for about 20 minutes, getting the sheep away from the stones and the tourists (mostly), but there was one in particular that they could never fully get to go back into the field.


Enter a sheepdog—the workers had clearly called the owner of the sheep, who, after about 10-20 minutes, showed up with his sheepdog.  The dog hopped out of the truck of the man’s car and bolted towards the sheep.  The wayward sheep was back in the field within 30 seconds, and the dog expertly hopped over the barbed wire and ensured that all of the animals were on the far end of the field, opposite Stonehenge.  The workers stood there and stared, seemingly embarrassed that a dog was able to accomplish in less than a minute that which they were unable to accomplish in over 20.  Having never seen a sheepdog at work, it was truly impressive to see how adept they are at their jobs and how much he seemed to love herding sheep for his owner.

Our next stop was Bath…

How NOT to go shopping in London around Christmas

A few weekends ago, the husband and I checked out the Borough Market for lunch.   It’s a massive food market in Southwark, and definitely worth checking out.  There has been a market on the site since the 13th century, which basically means that they know what they are doing when it comes to food and markets.


Sign over one of the entrances to the Borough Market


Raclette at Borough Market

After the market, we headed to the Tate Modern, as it’s one of the most popular museums in London.  Set on the Thames in an old power plant, it has amazing views of St. Paul’s cathedral and the river.  After about 2 minutes into walking around a very crowded gallery, we took a seat to rest.  The bench was one of those pretty, artsy pieces whose designer forgot that furniture needs to actually serve a purpose.  It was curved, with the highest part in the middle, so you slide off (or into the person next to you) while sitting on it.  Function first, aesthetics second when making furniture, please.


View from the Tate Modern

A few minutes into our “rest” we looked at one another and both confessed that we are not huge fans of modern art and that the already passed ten minutes of it was about enough.  We headed outside to explore the Tate Christmas markets while Mike enjoyed a beer…much less classy for a Saturday afternoon, but much more our style.


Santa at the Tate Modern Christmas Market

After a beautiful walk across the Millenium Bridge towards St Paul’s cathedral, we headed to Oxford Circus.  I was looking for a new pair of shoes, and wanted the husband’s opinion on a pair that I had found.  This next part is totally my fault.  In my defense, had been to Oxford Circus 3-4 times before without issues, but it was always during the week and always in the middle of the day.  I learned quickly why locals swear to never go to this area.  Combine the crowd you run into when leaving a concert with the rush experienced during the running of the bulls.  Add in a lot of people who have no idea where they are going, and you are halfway there.  People were literally walking in down the middle of the road.  If you’ve been, you know that Oxford circus is not a small road.  Double-decker buses were stuck waiting for hoards of tourists to realize that the light was green and the buses could mow them over if they really wanted to.   I’m surprised that some of them didn’t try.


St. Paul’s and the Millenium Bridge

On a positive note, the husband helped me pick a different pair of shoes, and we were soon on our way to catch a bus home for a quick dinner and then to see Paddington (yep, a kid’s movie).  It’s about 20 minutes by bus to get home, normally, to give you an idea of the sh%t show that was our next few hours. Luckily, as I had been around this area before, I knew exactly which bus we needed to take, and exactly which bus stop we needed to use.  We waited 20 minutes in the freezing cold for the 74 bus (that comes every 8 minutes), but it never came. We consulted google maps, who confirmed that the 74 was the bus that we wanted, but given that it didn’t appear to be coming, we decided to instead take the 2.  It would require us to take the tube, and take us a little out of the way, but we could see it approaching, and that meant warmth, so we hopped on.  I still don’t know why the bus didn’t come.

Thirty minutes after getting to the bus stop, we were on our way home.  This is where my knowledge of the city and the London public transit system really bit us in the butt.  In looking at the bus route, I noticed that if we got off at the Hyde Park Corner stop, we could hop on the Piccadilly line to South Kensington, completely avoiding going out of our way.  I could also get a waffle at the Wafflemeister outside the South Kensington station.  Win win for everyone.

We hopped off at the Hyde Park Corner stop and headed through a VERY shady underground tunnel to the tube station.  (DO not use the underground tunnels around the Hyde Park Corner Station alone.  It is full of squatters and smells like vomit, sweat, and fried food).  I had to cover my face with my scarf in fear of adding my own donation to the vomit smell.  We arrived at the tube station entrance to find…closed gates.  Due to the traffic from Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park, Hyde Park Corner was an exit only station.  You email me about everything else, Transport for London, why didn’t you email me about this?!?!

We headed back across the street (read: through the vomit, sweat, and food filled tunnel) to catch a bus.  We saw a 74 bus (you know, the one we waited over 20 minutes for before but that never came) at the stop and ran to catch it.  We got there before it left, but the driver refused to open the door.  Seriously?  We were quickly making a very good case in support of Murphy’s Law.

There are Barclay’s bikes that you can rent for 2 pounds for 24 hours and they were about a 5 minute walk away.  Mike, loving bikes like he does, suggested that we just take the home.  Keep in mind, it was dark out and absolutely freezing, but we were desperate.  We got to the terminal to rent some, but guess what?  The rental terminal was broken.  I wish I were kidding, but I can’t make this stuff up.  We asked a friendly constable nearby where the next closest terminal was, and she pointed us a few blocks down, in Hyde Park.  With essentially no more options and almost an hour and a half into our should-be 20 minute journey home, we walked to them.  By some stroke of a miracle, they worked and we were on our way.

We only had one more misstep to come.  I had only agreed to the bikes (in the pitch black in the middle of London, mind you) because we could essentially ride the entire length of our journey by biking from one end of Hyde Park to the other.  This meant bike paths and no cars.  The catch was that once we crossed the road that goes through the park, we realized that the gates to get into Kensington Gardens, and the remainder of our journey, were closed.  Mike navigated us through some side streets to our neighborhood Barclay’s station and after a short walk, we were home…for a second.  Our trip home had taken almost 2 hours in total and we no longer had time for dinner before setting off to see Paddington so we dropped off our bags and headed to the cinema.  Popcorn for dinner it was!


Paddington Bear at the National Portrait Gallery

While the Paddington movie is not yet out in the US, I highly recommend seeing it once it is.  It was really cool for us to watch, as it is set in our neighborhood; the Natural History Museum is a prominent location in the movie and is just a few blocks from where we live.  The husband  remarked that he couldn’t remember the last time I enjoyed a movie as much as I did Paddington (Mary Poppins would be my guess).  This weekend we even discussed wanting see it again, and decided that we would probably just buy it.  We own all of about two movies, so that should tell you something.

In celebration of the movie, The Paddington Trail was created by the National Society for the Protection of Children.  There are 50 bears throughout London with all different designs done by prominent people such as David Beckham.  They are all very cool and I highly recommend checking them, and the movie out.  The statues are currently being auctioned off via online auction at Christies, with the proceeds going to the NSPCC.

After a very busy, mishap filled day, the Paddington movie was the perfect end to our not-so-perfect day.