Inside Edinburgh castle are well-designed exhibits showing the history of the monarchy and nation. The coronation of Robert the Bruce in 1306 and a timeline showing the kings of the Scots and national military history are prominently displayed.
A timeline chronicling Scotland’s kings from ancient times.
Bagpipers provided passion and inspiration for the warriors preparing for battle.
Warriors did not always wear kilts, sometimes plaid slacks.
A flag from 1800
I could not get enough plaid.
As evening falls, the castle is awash in red spotlights causing an eerie glow. And we are off in search of haggis. A pub just off the Royal Mile had authentic Scottish haggis served with neeps and tatties. I had decided to forgo this local dish but it was served so beautifully, I gave in and tried it. Cooked in a baking dish like a small souffle and topped in mashes potatoes, I was pleasantly surprised.
From my childhood I have had a fascination with the stories of Peter Rabbit by artist and author Beatrix Potter. As an adult I realize how difficult it must have been for her to overcome the social mores of Victorian England to create and publish the best-selling children’s books of all time.
I felt it was important to go to the area that inspired and nurtured her creative genius: the Lake District in Northwestern England. The Peter Rabbit tales seem so quintessentially English – gardens, traditions, friendships, mischievousness and redemption. When I saw the movie based on her life I felt I had found my calling – art and storytelling.
The charming villages of Windermere and Bowness with their rock walls and abundant foliage look like pages out of a Beatrix Potter storybook, or should I say, the storybooks look like they were inspired by the adorable villages?
Her lifelong love of nature and the beauty of the Lake District started when Potter was a child vacationing during summers with her family in this “fashionable” part of the country. Like the Potters, we took the train to Windermere then traveled to Bowness.
Beatrix Potter ‘s farm was across the lake.
She began her stories while writing letters to her favorite nanny’s children. Her books and illustrations became wildly popular.
As you can imagine there are a number of stores that sell Peter Rabbit merchandise. I believe Santa will be bringing me a Peter Rabbit calendar and tin filled with colored pencils.
We had the most charming picnic of local cheeses, breads, fruit and greens imaginable at, of all places, the train station. There’s a little grocery store/cafe called Booths that sells locally produced artisan foods. If heaven has a market, I hope it looks like this one. Imagine radish sprouts grown in sawdust and placed in folded paper cartons. I loved how everything was so handmade.
American stores often try to recreate the charm of a village market, but this was the real deal. It seems that Euro markets are more concerned with quality than quantity and the ingredients and products they make are, well, inspirational. Take note American retailers.
Re-energized, it was time to catch the evening train to Edinburgh.
There is a severe shortage of drinking fountains in Europe – imagine Tim’s delight when he found these in a market! Be sure to carry water or be on the lookout for water to purchase.
As much as we enjoyed exploring London, it was time to move on to visit the homes of 2 favorite literary superstars; William Shakespeare and Beatrix Potter (author and illustrator of Peter Rabbit) with a stop at Oxford University.
Oxford is conveniently located about halfway between London and Stratford; we chose to take the train. And here I err, Oxford was the home of 2 more of our favorite literary superstars: C.S. Lewis (Christian apologist and author of The Chronicles of Narnia) and and J.R.R. Tolkein (The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings trilogy.) Both men were professors at Oxford; friends and rivals. Because of Tolkein’s influence, Lewis converted to Christianity; Anglican, not Catholicism, disappointing Tolkein. Here is a wonderful blog post by Ethan Gilsdorf that shares more depth and information about their relationship and experiences: http://www.literarytraveler.com/articles/tolkien_lewis_england/
We saw enough of the town and campus to get a taste of the local flavor.
Oxford is, not surprisingly, a college town. Despite its illustrious reputation and history, it is a very-daily sort of place with lots of bicycles, fast food and college gear shops.
Oxford University is made up of a town-wide collection of colleges, unlike most U.S. universities that have large sprawling campuses.
After visiting an art and craft store to pick up needle and thread for a wardrobe repair and a tiny wooden stamp for baked goodie labels, we dashed back to the train heading for Stratford-upon-Avon.
It was raining when we arrived; it looked like the Tudor-era town we were expecting to see. Except for paved streets, I imagine this is not too different from the neighborhoods young William Shakespeare passed on his way to school around 1575.
After walking about a mile through the rain to get to our Airbnb, we found out that a roof problem would force us to go to another location (we had to pay the taxi) which turned out ok. We were housed in an old (really old) inn that served the traditional English breakfast we were looking forward to.
The animated owner Pascal, showed us the map and marked the most popular tourist sites. He recommended a couple of pubs that served dinner and we took off to find the Holy Trinity Church were Shakespeare was baptized and buried.
I love old places, including houses, castles, churches and graveyards. The oldest English graveyard in America that I’ve seen was in Jamestown ca. early 1600s. Here was a church built in the 1200s with tombstones so old the names and dates were worn away.
The land was granted for building a town of 20 families in 714 A.D. by the Saxon king. About a century and a half later a church was erected by the river. The chapel has a long and tumultuous history, here is a chronology from the church’s website: http://www.stratford-upon-avon.org/history-overview
This was originally Roman Catholic but when King Henry VIII left the church and started the Anglican Church, all church properties in England were confiscated and given to the Church of England.
The tomb of the Bard. His wife Anne is buried nearby, as is his daughter Susanna.
A side view of the Royal Shakespeare theater in Stratford where Shakespeare’s plays are performed.
In America we have food trucks, on the river in Stratford, food barges.
After a walking tour of the town, we found an old pub that claims to be the oldest building in town, The Garrick, open for dinner. It is thought to have been built in 1596 with parts of the building dating back to the 1300s. In America this might have been the oldest English building in the country, but here, just another old pub.
I tried another round of fish and chips with a salad garnish and mushy peas ( the f&c in London were better), but the atmosphere of a really old building is quaint and a little eerie. An outbreak of the plague is said to have started here in 1564 with the death of Oliver Gunn. Supposedly haunted, we didn’t see any ghosts and we did wash our hands.
After a short walk we returned to the Bed and Breakfast, it was dark and eerie but still no ghosts. And when the sun rose we were treated to the classic traditional English breakfast in a communal dining room with tables set with real dishes and white linen tablecloths.
Now we catch the train to take us to Peter Rabbit’s birthplace.
Richard the Lion-heart, king of England and Crusader whose statue stands outside of the British Parliament. Our ancestors were his cousins; we shared the same grandfather, Henry 1 (Beauclerc).
After our exquisite tea at the Swan, we crossed the Thames, found Parliament, missed Westminster Abbey by one minute and headed up to the British Museum. I know that Great Britain colonized and “acquired” many treasures from around the world. I’m not going to open a discussion about the morality of these actions but will point out that the areas they were in prospered highly compared to the rest of the region; think Hong Cong, India, even the U.S.; another topic for another day.
The British Museum is a formidable structure housing many antiquities, including a few surprises we found inside. Walk with us and see history unfold through this amazing collection of artifacts.
Early Babylonian art; these statues are over 4,00 years old. Nimrod was a “mighty hunter” and great-grandson of Noah who decided that a very tall tower would be protective in case God once again decided to flood the earth. Apparently he was unaware that Noah had covenanted with the Lord who had promised not to send another great flood (2234 B.C.) and set the rainbow in the sky as a symbol of the covenant.
According to scripture, it was during the construction of the Tower of Babel that God became angry because of the people’s rebelliousness and caused the “confusion of tongues” the multiplicity of languages we now have. Thanks Babylon.
Now comes the exhibit I have been waiting to see for years, the Elgin Marbles. Since I studied the history of design and interior design starting in 1983, I have been a fan of great art and architecture. Also known as the Parthenon Marbles, these sculptures were (legally) removed from the Parthenon in Greece and have been displayed in British Museum since 1817. Others are in the Louvre in Paris.
As we continued through the museum, I noticed a case containing a black stone. Sensing that it could be significant, closer inspection disclosed that it was THE ROSETTA STONE; the key to the unlocking of and the translation of ancient languages. The stone was discovered in Egypt in 1799 and has been displayed in the British Museum since 1802.
The symbol of the bull was common in pagan cultures: from Encyclopedia Britannica, “According to myth, Mithra was born, bearing a torch and armed with a knife, beside a sacred stream and under a sacred tree, a child of the earth itself. He soon rode, and later killed, the life-giving cosmic bull, whose blood fertilizes all vegetation. Mithra’s slaying of the bull was a popular subject of Hellenic art and became the prototype for a bull-slaying ritual of fertility in the Mithraic cult.
As god of light, Mithra was associated with the Greek sun god, Helios, and the Roman Sol Invictus. He is often paired with Anahita, goddess of the fertilizing waters.” The cultures that worshipped a sun god would be called pagan or as described in scripture “the church of the devil.” Warfare, fertility rituals and human sacrifice were prominent in these cultures – think Aztecs, Mayans, Egyptians, Rome, Hinduism, etc.
The Brits are very punctual, the museum closed and it was everybody out! As we walked down the street we glanced up at this plaque on a nondescript building; the Caldecott Award is one of the highest honors in children’s literature. Ahh the creativity that is fostered by this intense amount of cultural enrichment.
We came across a treasure that is worth a stop if you are shopping in London. Liberty London is a five-story building filled with unique and wonderful shops with all kinds of fun souvenir possibilities.
This window features a scene including Winnie-the-Pooh characters; a new movie to be released soon, Goodbye Christopher Robin, was heavily advertised in the train stations across London.
We headed downtown to see Trafalgar Square and have dinner at Piccadilly Circus. I’ll share a secret we learned; eat in pubs. The food is reasonably priced and very delicious. If you don’t drink, like we don’t, you’ll have to get used to the irritation and rudeness of the servers (I’m guessing their main profits come from the sale of alcohol) but for authentic local food, it can’t be matched.
Goodbye London, I wish we had more time to discover your treasures, but we will return again.
The double-decker bus, another iconic London sight.
It was finally time to discover the (rebuilt) hangout of the Bard himself. William Shakespeare’s mother Mary was the sister of my 12th great-grandmother Margaret, we respectfully call him “Cousin Will.”
There are multiple bridges that will take you across the Thames to the South Bank, home of Globe Theater. Being Harry Potter fans, we opted for the Millennium Bridge that the Death Eaters destroyed in The Half Blood Prince.
A tour at the Globe Theater shared information about the genius of Shakespeare, the crustiness of the gallery and that most of what the actors produced was improv. With only a very short time to practice, much of what occurred onstage was created as the play progressed. Performances were held in the afternoon due to the absence of artificial lighting. The poorer people paid one coin and were allowed to stand in the pit near the stage. Wealthier patrons had boxes or were seated above the stage with the musicians.
Rebuilding the modern Globe was a project initiated by American director Sam Wannamaker. The theater is so popular that when I tried to order tickets 2 months in advance, every show was sold out. But we drowned our sorrows in a delicious (herb) tea at the Swan Restaurant next door, more on that in a minute.
An exhibit of stage props at the Globe. I think the head on the shelf was Macbeth.
A model of the Globe Theater. Because the Puritans of England circa 1600 A.D. were influential and didn’t like theater, especially that young boys played the roles of women (theater was not considered an appropriate occupation for women), it was outlawed in London. The venues were built across the river; it is ironic that both Queen Elizabeth and King James enjoyed the entertainment so much, they had Shakespeare’s troupe perform at their castles and friends’ manors.
The musicians were seated above the rear exit of the stage by the ladder. These were also high-priced seats for patrons that wanted to be seen by the crowds.
And now it was time for afternoon tea. The Swan restaurant is adjacent to the Globe. We were seated by a bank of windows that overlooked the Thames.
Anyone who knows Newell also knows that he is very careful with his money. I wanted to have an authentic English tea and talked him into taking us there for an early anniversary gift. The china and menu are decorated with characters from a Midsummer Night’s Dream.
The guys’ meals were served on wooden chopping blocks. Mine was on a tiered tray.
Did I mention clotted cream? Oh goodness, this is something we need in America. We all agreed that tea at the Swan was one of the most pleasant experiences we had in London, I highly recommend this restaurant. Be sure to make reservations in advance and request a table by the window.
A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM AFTERNOON TEA
Wild mushroom & leek quiche
Wiltshire ham, grain mustard, pea shoots
Oak smoked salmon, lemon pepper butter, dark rye
Clarence Court egg mayonnaise & watercress
Rose infused raspberry mousse & lemon cake
Elderflower & violet macaroons
Glazed white chocolate blondie, coco nibs
Blackberry compote & lavender cream
Mulberry scones & plain scones served with
clotted cream and seasonal berry jam
GENTLEMAN’S AFTERNOON TEA
Your choice of tea
4oz Shorthorn beef slider
Blue cheese & cider scones
Legbar Scotch egg
Fish finger sandwich
Potted smoked salmon
We selected 2 herb teas: Citrus Chamomile and Lemon Verbena, they were served with rustic lumps of brown and white sugar. Not being a tea aficionado it was all so new, charming and delicious. After this feast we will need to do some serious walking, the Tate Modern and the British Museum are our next destinations.
That and a quick trip to the Globe gift shop to pick up some gifts for the grandchildren. Warning: You can spend a lot of time and money is this quirky establishment. We jokingly say that we dropped a lot of pounds in London (and didn’t lose any weight…)
From Macbeth who killed one of my ancestors, Duncan, King of Scotland around 1000 A.D., not that I’m bitter at all…
The Tate Modern is adjacent to the Globe complex on Bankside south of the Thames.
Notice the Millennium Bridge, the Globe is to the left. As an artist I try to visit different styles and genres of art. Contemporary art is not my favorite, but I think it is important to see what is being made and discussed currently.
At the Tate there were “Black Power” exhibits; interestingly, one of the champions of the American Civil Rights movements was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., named by his father for the great German Reformer Martin Luther. The 500th anniversary of Luther’s translation of the Bible into German and act of defiance against the Catholic Church in posting 95 thesis identifying areas of conflict with the scriptures would be commemorated in Germany in a few days.
If it’s Monday, this must be Windsor. One of the underground trains delivers you right to Windsor, just blocks from the castle. Windsor is an upscale village with delightful shopping and dining (with resort prices).
Windsor Castle was started by William the Conqueror after he took the throne of England in 1066. This building is almost 1,000 years old and is the world’s oldest and largest working castle, it is one of the queen’s favorite residences today. Queen Victoria had a special train and car that transported her directly there, the train is on display.
On the days she is in residence, the royal apartments are closed to the public, we were lucky to visit when they were open. In the ticket office hangs a portrait of the Queen and her great-grandchildren.
The Norman Gate guards the west side.
This used to be a moat between the outer and inner walls of the castle.
St. George’s Chapel named for the Patron Saint of England
There are really no words to describe the grandeur and history of the Windsor Castle.
This is a yard where jousting tournaments were probably held, now more likely to be used for polo games.
After a trip back into London we took a river tour of the Thames and sat down to a dinner of fish and chips.
The Thames River is muddy, very muddy. As an estuary the water comes in and out with the tides. Taking a river tour provides an opportunity to see the city from a very different perspective.
The iconic Tower Bridge is one of the most identifiable landmarks of London.
Newer buildings have changed the city’s skyline and are often nicknamed by residents; the “Shard”, the “Gherkin,” the “Walkie-talkie” and the “Cheese grater” are among others.
Shakespeare’s Globe theater was rebuilt by American director Sam Wannamaker.
This Cleopatra’s Needle obelisk was a gift from Egypt for Britain’s help defeating Napoleon. It’s twin is in New York City.
The London Eye – we didn’t make it up there on this trip.
Big Ben stands as a silent sentinel during its renovation.
As evening falls London blazes with light.
After the cruise we were off to find the fish and chips that Britain is known around the world for. We were not disappointed.
Look up the top “traditional” foods of the region you will be visiting so you know what to eat like the locals. In England we were looking for fish and chips, Spotted Dick, bangers and mash, roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, scones, an authentic British breakfast and toffee pudding. All amazing -all dispelled the fable of flavorless English foods.
“The world is a book, and those who do not travel, read only a page.” St. Augustine 354 – 430 City of God
Our plan was to arise early and walk from our AirBnB across Hyde Park to attend the Britannia (heavenly sounds to the ear of an Anglophile) LDS Young Adult Ward church service on Exhibition Road. It quickly became apparent that with my injured foot I wasn’t going anywhere so Newell and Tim set off to find a pharmacy. They brought back an orthopedic ankle support, but we missed the meeting and felt badly about that.
While looking for a pharmacy, the guys passed the Baden-Powell House, home of the founder of the Boy Scouts. Now furnished as a sort of hotel/hostel/YMCA, there are affordable rooms, meals and community events held there.
Hyde Park was described in the Domesday Book ordered in 1086 by William the Conqueror. After his break from the Roman Catholic Church, Henry VIII took the property from Westminster Abbey and turned it into a deer hunting refuge. Our family tree includes the Conqueror, Hydes and Henry VII, so it seems we have some connection to the history of the park.
Of course, the proper manners expected by the British extend to the roads as well. Did you know that driving on the left hand “The Rule of the Road” was started to keep traffic flowing safely on the London Bridge?
A convent just down the street from the house we were staying at.
After church we were going to walk down the block to the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Natural History Museum. Newell was convinced that I needed to get out because we only had a few days in London, so he located a nearby train station, wrapped my foot, grabbed some snacks and water and we set out. We try to observe the Sabbath Day by not shopping and by focusing on spiritual subjects. I rationalized that the LDS Church Art and History Museum in SLC is open on Sunday so maybe its all right to walk through these; the museums are free.
There is an entrance that comes up from the underground trains “the tube” (mind the gap) straight into the museum so we missed the grand exterior but walked into an amazing collection of art and history. In the tunnel we were treated to the fresh wafting melody of a performing harpist, heavenly.
Ahh, the Victoria and Albert, like a good British home, a melange of collected objects were displayed there. My first stop was at the sketches of Beatrix Potter (Peter Rabbit author) and E H Shepherd (Winnie the Pooh illustrator.)
And a mural showing what an artist can accomplish with a black, white and sanguine pigments.
Then some antiquities
A group of government officials convened at some point and made it legal to copy great art to display in multiple venues. Apparently you don’t need to travel you can find all your favorites right here.
Tim tries on a gauntlet from the 1500’s.
Check the attitude and body language of this gentleman.
The crown and jewel exhibit; I think this one will be fine.
The Natural History Museum featured statues of a variety animals on the exterior.
And inside an entire whale skeleton exhibited from the ceiling (can you imagine assembling and hanging this?)
From here we went to Buckingham Palace, the queen wasn’t in and hadn’t given us her weekend itinerary so we missed her.
I loved how everything had so much history and was accessible and convenient to reach.
One of the things I most admire about the British is their culture of devotion to “queen and country.” I value and hold most dear the freedoms we enjoy in America, but I feel that in our fierce individual sovereignty we have lost some of loyalty and feelings of community enjoyed by the British. I felt like we were with family.
4 words: Rick Steve’s Travel Guides (buy them, upload them, watch his tv shows!)
Look for alternative lodging at The Baden-Powell House and the Penn Club.
Carry drinking water in refillable containers, we found very few drinking fountains in Europe, buying bottled water gets expensive after a while.
You will likely be on your feet a lot – condition yourself by walking and taking glucosamine chondroiton for your knees.
With apologies to Mark Twain for appropriating and misquoting his title, we are prepared to tell the tale of travel, exploration and discovery from our first collective journey overseas. The three-part mission of our adventure was, in addition to boldly going where no Layton McMurtry had gone before…
To experience the best of the canon of European art from the Renaissance to the present. As an art professional and teacher this was a very important aspect of the journey for Pam.
To visit family history sites in Europe. As family historians and writers, this was necessary to have a more authentic voice in chronicling our past.
Spend quality time with our 1 1/2 year-old grandson Ender and his parents Andrew and Annie who are serving our country on a 3-year assignment overseas.
Our whirlwind journey would take us through 6 countries: England, Scotland, Ireland, France, Germany and Italy and last 4 weeks. We invited our youngest son Tim to accompany us which worked out well as he was taking the semester off from his university studies to fine tune career goals. He paid his own way and brought along amazing GPS and navigational skills, a set of well-toned muscles, Krav Maga and some basic French and Italian phrases.
The voyage began on the night of Friday, September 22, 2017 at the Salt Lake City International Airport. We boarded a Delta non-stop flight from SLC to London and took off into the sky at 8:30 p.m. I, Pam, had never left the United States before, except for a brief bakery run in junior high to Tecate, Mexico. I was both thrilled and terrified, imagining pickpockets and scandalous characters around every corner (thankfully not the case.) At the end of our travelogue we will include travel and safety tips, the preparations we made and things wish we would have done differently.
Friday, September 22, 2017
Friend Wendy Bohman volunteered to drive Tim and me to the airport, Newell would take Trax from the U of U Hospital and meet us there. I had never flown anywhere for 10 1/2 hours, tummy was a little upset but Delta served a nice little meal which was appreciated.
comfortable clothes and shoes
donut-shaped travel pillows
under-shirt waist pouches for passports, money and cards
and after reading airline blanket horror stories, I took a flannel throw which was comforting when the proximity to the window and hull proved a bit chilly.
vitamins, meds, sleep aids, pain relievers ( you don’t want to be in a foreign pharmacy trying to figure out what brand approximates the results you are accustumed to .)
We brought black-out eye masks and ear buds, which we found out later the airline supplies all passengers (ours were a better quality though.) We had combination locks on all of our luggage and Tim kept one on the backpack he carried everywhere. Delta was an amazing host offering drinks and snacks every 1 1/2 – 2 hours. The selection of in-flight movies and games was good and the flight tracker showed us the location of the plane and travel time, a nice way to stay informed with USB ports for recharging our phones overnight (note – bring your own cables.) We wiped down our trays, armrests and other areas with disposable disinfectant wipes, took Airborne and Emergence-C and drifted off into something of a rest (after I finally got to watch Wonder Woman – missed it this summer.)
Saturday Delta served breakfast and lunch so we were never hungry (or irritable). It was a good flight and we arrived at Heathrow Airport at 1:30 p.m. local time. *Note – use the airplane restroom before the end of the flight and disembarking, there may or may not be a restroom opportunity before getting to the customs line. A LLLONNGG line on the weekend, it seemed like every traveler in London was there ahead of us.
We were interrogated – how long would we be in England, what was our purpose for being there, where were we staying? Finally we got our first passport stamp and a cheery hope for a good “holiday.” It was nice that our first out-of-country destination was English-speaking – somewhat easing the culture shock.
Heathrow is not in the middle of London – we opted to take the Heathrow Express train to get to the Paddington Station (yes, that Paddington) which was near our AirBnB. We intended to walk as much as possible, for many reasons (VERY IMPORTANT NOTE: wear sturdy flat shoes. I had new comfy travel clogs that were great on the plane and nearly disabling when I rolled my foot on the uneven sidewalk and cobblestones. A month later I am still hobbling around waiting for my foot to heal.) We ended up taking the underground trains more than anticipated and became pros – Mind the gap!
I immediately fell in live with London – I knew I would. The September air was warm and humid, reminding me of Orange County, CA.
And although it is crowded and kind of funky, there was so much to see; one of the great things about London is its lengthy history. We were wheeling our suitcases down a not-very distinguished looking street, when glancing up we spotted this placque
Having a husband and son in the medical professions this was cool; it was St. Mary’s Hospital.
This part of town had a distinctively Middle-Eastern cultural feel about it. The scents and spices, the women with covered heads and the no-nonsense men. The number one baby boy name in London is Muhammed.
After pulling our suitcases through the streets and my foot injury, I limped to our room. The apartment where we were staying was clean and open with newer furniture and amenities such as an iron and hair dryer. New to us but common to the area – 4 guest rooms shared a toilet room (no ventilation) and bathroom/sink (no shower curtain.) You had to get the timing just right to be able to wash your hands after using the facilities and I always covered the toilet with tp. There was a “normal” kitchen with refrigerator, sink, washing machine, table and stools. I needed to rest my foot, so the guys went out and brought back food for dinner and Sunday meals.
They found Spotted Dick (photo by Woman and Home) and were advised to buy custard to go with it. The local markets became a big hit as we tried English foods and compared prices to the US. The markets were small but had lots of fresh breads, produce, local cheeses and other interesting foods including a leafy green I still haven’t identified. There were Snickers bars made in the Netherlands. and Rolo pudding, be still my heart. Newell and Tim’s first excursion was to Piccadilly Circus and they were impressed by the diversity and number of things to do in London.
Newell and I had a hard time crossing the streets with cars coming from the opposite direction – pretty sure Tim saved our lives a couple of times when he grabbed us as a car came careening around a corner.
Midnight in London was 4 p.m. to our west U.S.A. sleep-deprived bodies, it would take a while to adjust.
Ahead of time:
Pam worked as an art specialist this past year at Kay’s Creek Elementary and we charged as many purchases as possible on our Delta Am Ex credit cards to accrue Skymiles for the trip.
We chose to go in the fall rather than the busier summer season; lodging and other expenses were priced lower and the crowds which were sometimes extensive were smaller according to locals.
We watched for great fares on Delta so we could use our Skymiles for Newell’s ticket.
3 months ahead: order passports, check immunizations (tetanus), get meds, watch for State Department travel advisories. Order airline tickets and select seats if traveling as a group. Reserve rooms and, if desired, tickets for special exhibits at museums and galleries.
Create an itinerary; include all reservation codes, contact numbers, schedules, maps and other important information. Share with each other and contacts not on the trip in case you need to be reached.
2 months ahead of time I tried to get tickets for a performance at Shakespeare’s (rebuilt) Globe Theater in London – all shows were sold out, next time plan farther ahead. Made reservations at the Swan restaurant near the Globe for an afternoon tea – turned out to be one of the highlights of the trip. The Pink Floyd exhibit at the Victoria and Albert Museum was sold out when we arrived. I’m not sure we would have gone, but having the option would have been nice.
Even though we booked our rental cars through Enterprise and thought we were getting good rates, at the actual time of picking up the cars the prices skyrocketed, sometimes tripling. Insurance and who-knows-what-else added a huge amount. In the countries of Ireland, Germany and France the very narrow roads precipitated the need for small cars, when we were given a free-upgrade option in France we all turned pale and refused it. Get GPS – totally worth it when looking for AirBnB addresses and sites to visit, along with markets, restaurants and gas stations.
I was teased for bringing an assortment of snacks on the trip. Peanut butter in individual cups, Belvita breakfast biscuits, mixed nut, dried fruit, cracker and cheese sandwiches and the like. Haha – there were occasions we didn’t take the time to sit down for a meal in order to squeeze in one more experience, the protein snacks proved invaluable.
For most of our lodging we stayed in AirBnB houses – a mixed bag of luxury and near-squalor, more on that later.
Take a set of electrical plug adapters and a couple of extension cords. The plugs were different in every country. By adddng extension cords we were able to run a CPap at night and charge our phones, tablet and computer. You might need a transformer(?) to buffer the 220 volts that Europe runs on.
Watch your times – after searching around a block-ful of scaffolding for the entrance to Westminster Abbey, we found it one minute late at 4:31 only to be denied entrance. We have several relatives buried there and were disappointed to have missed the opp to see their tombs (and the guard seemed to get a little too much pleasure at turning us away; being an American abroad is not always an advantage.) We left London too early the next day to return, maybe another time…