Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The United Kingdom: The White Cliffs of Dover

It was so hard to try to narrow down our trip to just one country. Aaron discovered during the planning process what I had realized planning my Europe trip with Phoebe 6 years earlier, that once you get over to Europe you realize everything is SO CLOSE and it is so hard to narrow down all the places you want to see. We knew we wanted to visit England and we knew with Carla living there, we would be back for sure, but we wavered back and forth for a long time about whether we wanted to add Ireland or Scotland or France or Germany or Italy as our second destination. It was agony for Aaron to know that France and Belgium were just a 3 hour train ride away, so when we settled on Scotland as our second destination, we also decided that we should go out to see the White Cliff of Dover and possible catch a glimpse of Calais, France as our continent fix. Also I had not seen Dover and had always wanted to go.

Phoebe and Liam were happy to tag along on our day trip! Although I will say none of us were really prepared for all the adventures and drama that would ensue on this day.

It all started at the train station when we were getting our tickets out. Aaron and I had bought train passes on the Brit Rail to save us some money on all the train travel we would be doing... BUT we left our passes in the hotel and didn't realize it till we were getting in line at the train station. Unfortunately our hotel was just too far away to go back and get the pass, so we just went ahead and bought another ticket.

The train ride out to Dover was actually uneventful and lovely! It was so nice to sit and relax for a bit after a couple days of running around London. The ride lasted a couple of hours, so we chatted and watched the scenery race by outside out windows. Then we arrived in Dover right around lunchtime!

We stopped in at a local pub on high street, which was quite interesting as it had slot machines and arcade games. I think I still have this image of all pubs being covered in dark wood and dim lighting and old british men having a pint and smoking pipes, so it is rather jarring when my vision is dashed. Pubs come in all types and this particular one was more like an Applebees than a hole in the wall pub.

After lunch we were ready to set off to see the cliffs! I had looked up a lot about how to get to the cliffs and all the information I found sent me on about walk through the lands of Dover castle. Well, I apparently didn't do enough research, because as we started our journey we realized it was going to be a much longer walk than anticipated. We didn't realize the route we took went through an estate that we had to pay to get in. We didn't wan to spend money, just to go for a walk, so we walked all the way around the estate. I swear we walked for over an hour to get to the cliffs! It was ridiculous and exhausting and we did not dress for a hike.

The estate we had planned on walking through, but ended up walking around to avoid paying.


a glimpse of the water! We are getting closer to the cliffs

When we FINALLY got to the visitor center for the cliffs of dover, we were rewarded with an ice cream truck!!

And then we made it to the cliffs!! They really were breathtakingly beautiful! It was the absolute most perfect day weather wise to be there! Not a cloud in the sky and we were able to see all the way to the hazy shores of Calais, FRANCE! 

We walked and walked along the cliffs and just as I thought about turning back, we would come around to another amazingly gorgeous view! It was so amazing and fun! We ran and skipped and danced around the hillsides like crazy people haha. 

kissing gate

feet in the grass

the remains of a ship mostly washed away on the shore

view of the city

liam liked to stray from the path

We had walked for ages and ages and as we got back to the visitor centre, we were loathed to think about the insanely long walk back to the town, but we were clueless about how else to get back. We had decided to call a cab, only to realize that the visitors centre was CLOSED! It was early evening, so we had zero idea why everything was closing. We tried to ask a nearby group to use their phones to call a cab company, but apparently service out along the cliffs is roaming since they are so close to France. I was starting to worry about how we would get back without our feet literally falling apart from exhaustion, until we saw a group of people starting to walk down a path toward the town that was different than the one we walked in on. We figured it was worth following them, just to see how far they got and low and behold we discovered a walking path that took 15 minutes from the cliffs to the town!!!!!!! Why wasn't it on the map??? NO IDEA!! But we made it and had a good laugh at our ignorance of it before and how we wasted over an hour of our day walking so far out of the way, when it was SO close.


buildings built into the mountain

curious windows in the mountain
Needless to say we completely wore ourselves down all day and were completely fried! I think I slept most of our train ride back to London. Our little stow away was sucking every ounce of energy I had remaining.

When we got back to London, we were quite hungry and as it was our last evening together before we parted ways and continued our respective journeys, we decided to go someplace fun and nice for dinner! We did a bit of exploring closer to our hotel and stumbled upon a cute little area of London which had canals and boats everywhere. It looked a bit like Amsterdam. It was a bit later than we had planned for arriving back for dinner, so people were getting out of work, so the restaurants were pretty packed. We tried getting tables a couple different places, only to be met with long wait times. We finally settled in a restaurant after hovering at a bar high top table until the group left.

Oh what a sweet gift this visit was! I felt like I got to travel back in time and relive one of the sweetest periods of my life, but this time Liam and Aaron got to join in the fun and see Phoebe and I in our natural habitat. We laughed and talked and were conspicuously insane in public and of course we danced! It was magical and surreal enough to be back in London, but I could not have imagined doing it without Phoebe by my side! It felt too hard to say goodbye this time. I was sad to miss their wedding and wished she could be with me to meet by little stowaway in just 8 months. Too much life is done apart and so when we get days like this, it is hard to let her go.

last photo before we say goodbye in our hotel lobby

Monday, June 29, 2015

The United Kingdom: Australians, St Paul & Harry Potter

So, when Aaron and I started planning out trip to England and Scotland and bought our tickets 6 month prior, we discovered that Phoebe and Liam were also considering a trip to the UK to visit his family and some of Phoebe's friends! They decided to plan their trip to overlap with ours and I could not have been more thrilled! I was going back to England AND I was gonna be able to see Phoebe too and relive our crazy days as young Royal Holloway exchange students!!

When they were planning their trip, they even booked our same hotel! And while we had actually been in the same city for a couple days now, we had waiting until our 3rd day to meet up! We started our morning with a walk to breakfast! 
During breakfast we had some good news and bad news to share with them. Phoebe and Liam were engaged at the time and their wedding was planned for April 2nd of the following Spring. Aaron and I had planned on going, but unfortunately our stow away would be arriving just 6 weeks earlier and so flying all the way to Australia with a tiny baby just wasn't feasible. We were going to have to share our news with Phoebe and Liam. While they were so excited about our baby on the way, I knew that Phoebe especially was very sad we wouldn't be there for her wedding. But we had TODAY! and the NEXT day to be together, so we made the most of it!!

If any of you guys followed along on my previous European adventures, you might remember Phoebe and my dance videos where St Paul's Cathedral in London is prominently featured! It is my favorite place in London! Seriously I get emotional and teary just walking into this breathtaking building. I think it hold such a special place in my heart because it was here upon my first visit that it hit me with incredible weight the reality that I had finally made it to Europe! That I was living one of my biggest dreams of studying abroad and living in England. It was an overwhelming moment. It was also here that I spent some of my last moments in London before heading home and cried and talked to God about all my fears and doubts about what the future held for me now that one of my first big adventures was coming to an end. I had 3 big dreams in life - get married, be a mom, and travel the world. I had no idea when the first 2 things were going to happen, and now that my first international trip was ending, I feared so deeply that this was it for me. That no more adventures were in my future.  Looking back to that time, I can see what God saw and imagine that He was sweetly smiling at me shaking His head whispering, "Oh kid, you have no idea what I have in store for you. This is just the beginning..."

      ... And now I was back... and I was with my husband... and I was gonna be a mom... and I had done so much more traveling than I could have thought possible in the 6 years since that tearful day sitting in St Paul's. So this trip to the Cathedral held a lot of significance for me.

This day in London was HOT... do you see my bare arms?? That is not something I expected for London! And when an Arizona girl says it is hot, you KNOW it is hot. It was sticky and humid and I didn't not come prepared for this weather. Also, London doesn't see many hot days, so they don't bother with things like A/C... so things were not as comfortable as I would have liked weather wise.

No pictures in the Cathedral, but this trip apparently I was a rebel and caught this photo while pretending to check my phone under the dome.

We climbed all the way up to the whisper gallery and I had a few tears remembering taking my parents here and how entertained my dad was by the whisper gallery and how it worked.

Then we headed up to the look out around the dome!

Then to my surprise the VERY top balcony was open for tourists! When I was there in 2009 it was closed for the entire 6 months I was there and never could go up. Needless to say from my face in the photo below it was really high and a bit terrifying and the walkway is SO narrow that you have to duck into one of the recess spots in the wall to let other tourists squeeze past you.

Aaron definitely loved St Paul's Cathedral and as with all the sites of London, we wished we would have had more time to explore, but it was lunch time and we were getting hungry!

We walked across the bridge to the other side of the Thames and headed to Borough Market!

view of Tower Bridge from over the Thames 
 Aaron and I had read about this spot and how Borough Market is an arcade filled with all sorts of international food stalls that you can try!

 I got a pesto pasta and tried a sample of Paella and some curry dish they had set out. Then for dessert we beat the heat with delicious gelato!

Our day was only just beginning because now that lunch was done, we were on to an evening with HARRY POTTER!!! Phoebe had convinced us to head out of the city to the Warner Brother's Harry Potter experience! They have the film sets and props all on display where you can check them out and of course take photos with them. Since it was out of the city AND you had to buy tickets for a specific entrance time, the journey out there was SO STRESSFUL for me. I had checked on train times and bus schedules to make sure we arrived at the right moment because the website was VERY clear that if you were late there was no guarantee you would get in. I had allowed some breathing room to make sure we got there with time to spare... but of course everything that can go wrong more than likely will go wrong.

Excited for an afternoon of travel and an evening with Harry!

the tube kind of smelled like poop if I remember correctly...
The main issue with our traveling on trains is that England has different types of trains that all go to the same place. There was express trains and trains that make a million stops and I STILL cannot figure out how to tell which is which. So we go to the station, buy our tickets and then hop of the one we think is the right now (the express train)... but then the express train started making a TON of stops! I got nervous and we tried asking one of the train workers if we had the right train and he wasn't sure, so we go off the train try to catch the next one... only to realize that we were on the right train to begin with and luckily the next train through our station was a good one to take too... but then we got to the destination station near the Studios and tried to find where the bus was that would take us to the Studios tour... it wasn't super clear as to where the busses picked up, but luckily the bus itself was clearly marked, so we hopped on the bus. I was a bit panicked at this point because we were totally going to be late for our entrance time and I had it in my head that they wouldn't let us in cause it would be too busy and then we would have bought tickets and wasted money for something we couldn't get in to see. I had a sob story all ready and pregnancy hormones were flaring and I got to the ticket window to explain everything and the lady looked at me like I was crazy and said that the entrance times were flexible and I had no need to panic. UGH! I felt relief and also a good amount of frustration since the website seriously put the fear of GOD in you that you MUST BE ON TIME!

Anyways, all was well and we were ready to go in!

Aaron's level of excitement vs. my level of excitement. He actually was excited to go in, just not nerding out like Phoebe, Liam and I... ok mainly just Phoebe and I.

Our poor husbands are amazing sports when it comes to being in the presence of the crazy that is Phoebe and I when we get together... especially in a foreign country.

waiting to go in!

in the line to enter you have take a look at Harry's bedroom under the stairs.
And we are ready to enter the Great Hall!

As you can see from the photos there are props and costumes and all the decor set up on the sound stages that you can take a peek at. Apparently every year on Christmas they set our tables in the Great Hall of Hogwarts and you can pay to have a Christmas Feast in true Harry Potter fashion.

After the Great Hall you go into a huge Museum room where there are sections of the sets and more props and costumes from all the movies! It was so fun to get to play a little with the different pieces. They also have some "magic" in certain spots. Like the in the Weasley's kitchen, the dishes are washing themselves like in the movies. It was super fun!

Phoebe and Liam went off and Aaron and I moved at our own pace through the scenes.

The enchanted dining hall ceiling

Hogwarts Gates

Harry's dorm room

If I could have taken anything home from this exhibit, it would have been this. All the wands from each of the characters!

Snape's Potions classroom

Dumbledore's Office

Dumbledore's Office

Gryffindor Common Room

The mirror of Erised shows me what I truly desire - Aaron and an asian family

Enchanted Hogwarts Portrait Gallery

Entrance to the Chamber of Secrets

All the Horcrux' accounted for


Sirius' bike
During the Exhibit they had a section where they filmed you on a broom stick or in the Weasley's flying car going over London and flipping around. You got to wear a Wizard robe and everything. I was so sad they didn't let us take pictures and you had to buy the DVD for an exorbitant amount of money. But it was hilarious watching us all do it!

Aaron at the Ministry of Magic

Professor Umbridge's Office 

After we took in what we thought was all there was to see, there was more! Next stop the Hogwarts Express!
Aaron is super stoked! 
Got my letter!

Ready to board!

poor Aaron

I want all thing candies

Another favorite display! So much detail for pieces you really never see up close
We took a quick break for dinner and a taste of Butterbeer!!

Now after reading the books I kind of day dreamed about Butterbeer, so when I got a chance to try it I was excited... and sadly it was disgusting!!!!

It tasted like flat watered down butterscotch soda with butterscotch whipped cream on top... ok the cream on top, was kind of yummy. But I didn't even finish my beer before tossing it. Let down!

In the restaurant courtyard were a bunch of vehicles and exterior sets from the movies that you could take a look at!
Sirius' motorbike

The Weasley's flying car

Knight Bus

Phoebe showing off her pole skills

Number 4 Privet Drive

The Potter's House in Godric's Hollow

Hogwarts Bridge

This is Wizard's Chess!
The next exhibit was where you got to see some of the make up special effects for the magical creatures at Hogwarts.
Dumbledore's Phoenix

Care of Magical Creatures Textbook

mini Dumbledore




The dead Basilisk... just how I like them

Buckbeak the Hippogriff
This next display room was my FAVORITE! Oh how I had dreamed of wandering around Diagon Alley. Too bad all the shops were closed.

in front of Ollivander's Wand Shop

Weasley's Wizard Wheezes

Flourish & Blotts

Quality Quidditch Supplies
And to finish the tour, a 360 view of the exterior or Hogwarts! This model was used for aerial exterior shots!

And finally the Gift Shop! I wanted a wand so bad, but they are $50+! So Aaron and I settled on a chocolate frog to share and one for my dad as a souvenir (Which is downed in one sitting when we gave it to him, while it took us DAYS to finish ours).
We also got a box of chocolate flies (which are just shaped like flies and not actual flies), but we told my nieces and nephews that they were real flies and while disgusted at the idea were surprised by how delicious they were!

This wall of wand boxes actually has all the names of the people involved in the film production of all 8 Harry Potter movies!
Our Chocolate frog! Only has one good jump in him. 

Our full day was done! We made our way back to London on the train. We seemed to clear out a train car from being so boisterous and loud haha. We got back to our hotel and turned in for the night ready for our second day of adventures with Phoebe and Liam!