Monday, September 2, 2013

Summer European Vacation - Part 3

Happy Labor Day! How are you celebrating? We aren't doing anything special, just enjoying doing nothing!

I didn't get to this as quickly as I would have liked, but here is Part 3 of our summer vacation. I am skipping days 7, 8 and 9 because my husband and I took a side trip to Paris that I will be highlighting a little later!

Just in case you missed it--
For Part One, click here.
For Part Two, click here.

Summer European Vacation

Days 10 and 11

We traveled by a commuter train from Swindon to London. Driving to London is very expensive. They charge you to come into the city and parking is horrible. It is highly recommended to take some other form of transportation to get into the city. We were lucky for this portion of our trip because we had our own personal tour guide, Maria. She is the daughter of the couple we stayed with. What was even better, she planned the entire trip for us! YEAH! We bought a Metro Pass that allowed us to use the subway and bus system for the day. We also had tickets for the Double Decker Tour Bus and Tour boat for the first day. It was nice to have so many transportation options available to us. 
Boat Tour in LondonDouble Decker Bus in London
We took the DD Bus around a loop and got off at the Tower of London. I think you could plan at least 3 hours in this place, not including the Crown Jewels. It was massive. The line for the Crown Jewels was long, but we waited (and waited). It was worth the wait. I couldn't take pictures during this visit, but make sure you take your time while inside. The jewels are amazing. You walk inside an actual vault and go on a flat escalator to view the jewels in glass cases. I can't believe that those crowns were once (and still) worn by the Royal Family. One of the jewels weighs 530 carats! 
Crown Jewels in the Tower of London--must see!!

Right outside the Tower of London is a great place to take pictures of the Tower Bridge. Did you know that the Tower Bridge is different than the London Bridge? Many people think they are one of the same.  After some family pics, we headed on the boat tour. It was a nice break for our feet and we got to see the sights from a different view! We even had a great commentator on the bus tour, too. This tour isn't a sight-seeing tour, but makes stops at different tourist attractions. We opted to stay on it the entire time to rest and re-coop. Once we got off, we hopped on the DD Bus and headed to the other side of town.
Tower Bridge, London

Our first stop off the bus was to see Parliament and Big Ben. Right across the street was Westminster Abbey. We didn't tour any of these because they were not open for tours at the time we visited, but it was neat to see them up close and personal.
Big Ben, Elizabeth Tower and Parliament

Did you know that Big Ben is only the bell that chimes, not the tower? It is actually called the Elizabeth Tower. This was re-named last year (previously known as the clock tower) to honor the Queen's Diamond Jubilee in 2012. Parliament is attached to the Elizabeth Tower (which I didn't realize until visiting!). The architecture is brilliant. Across the street is the famous church, Westminster Abbey. That church is exquisite. I do wish we toured inside, but with our short amount of time in London, it wasn't possible.
Westminster Abbey

Back on the DD Bus we went to finish off a cruise around London. We saw the hospital where Prince George was born just a few days earlier (thank goodness we weren't there at that time), main shopping areas, other church's, center parks and more. It was finally the end of day one in London--we were ready for bed!
Chips in Newspaper
Must get chips wrapped in newspaper while you are here!
The London Eye
The London Eye--heard it's worth going on, we didn't have time!

On day two in London, we rushed out of our hotel to make it to Buckingham Palace. Our tour guide scheduled our tour for us first thing in the morning. This was the first weekend that the Palace was open for the summer, so it was very busy. Advance tickets is highly recommended because we walked right in. Pictures weren't allowed inside the Palace either. The tour included an audio guide (kids version, too). I thought the Windsor Castle was amazing, but this place was stunning. The history, the gold, the massiveness of the rooms, the was a lot to take in. We stopped during our tour for our son to take a break and color. They had a kids activity center in one of the rooms. Perfect way to break it up and get the kids re-interested in the tour. He colored his own crown and they displayed it up on the wall!

Buckingham Palace
After the tour and some shopping at the Buckingham Palace gift shop, we toured the Palace gardens and made our way to the Royal Mews, otherwise known as the Carriage House. This was a fun tour to take. We could actually take pictures here! Such history--they kept everything and it was neat to hear how these carriages were used. Some were even gifted to the Royal Family. But the main carriage, was the golden carriage. We enjoyed it very much. 
Royal Mews at the Buckingham Palace

By the time we were done touring and taking pictures of the Palace, half the day was over and it was time for lunch. We ate a quick lunch in hopes to visit the Madame Tussauds Wax Museum. But, we were greeted with our longest wait yet (say what??), it was 3 hours long. No thanks. So, we decided to do some souvenir shopping and head back to Swindon.
Welcome Prince George
Took this picture in the Subway!

I'm going to end our trip here. We stayed the next couple days around in Swindon and had a cookout with the family and a rest day before heading back to Illinois. Here are a few tips we learned in London:

Travel Tips:
  1. Travel light. Bring items that you can wear multiple times--clothing that coordinates with one another.
  2. Plan ahead. It was nice to have advance tickets to all the places to visited in London.
  3. Take your time. Often times you rush through because you want to see "everything", but you ruin your chances of experiencing what you are actually visiting.
  4. Pictures!! Take them and lots of them! And always have a back-up! (our camera died and we ended up using our daughters camera most of the trip)
  5. Purchase electric convertors before traveling overseas. It was helpful to have one beforehand because when we realized we'd like to have another, we couldn't find one that we could actually use with the American plugs in England. So we had to make do with just one. 

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