Summer Vacation '19 (Part 1): London & Salisbury
Updated: Feb 15
We are back on European soil for the 3rd time in four years! In true Linda and family nature, we are visiting new countries on both land and sea. We booked this trip Memorial Day and only had a few months to plan.
I consider this trip much more laid back than last year's trip, so I will be covering the different cities/countries that we visit in four blog posts.
On this trip, we had to do currency exchange in both British pounds and Euros.
1 GBP = 1.20 USD
1 Euro = 1.09 USD
Horrible to say, but thanks to the Brexit, our exchange rate from dollars to pounds was much more tolerable. I think it used to be 1 pound to our 1.30 dollars.
We arrived a little before 11 AM at Heathrow and were out within 20 minutes. Thanks to a new system where we were able to scan our US passports at the automatic E-gates and skip the immigration lines.
For this leg of the trip, we will be staying in the South Bank of the Thames River. The second leg of our trip, we will come back to London and stay in the North Bank.
Our goals for this afternoon was to visit the Tower Bridge, Tower of London, and grab dinner at Borough Market. Our main form of transportation in London is going to be Ubers.
If you are going to be in London for a few days, I highly recommend buying a London Pass for the attractions. It does not include the London Eye, but we were able to use it for Tower Bridge, Tower of London, and the Shard. It even included the hop on, hop off bus which we didn't get a chance to get on.
With two and a half hours before Tower Bridge and Tower of London closing, we sped through both attractions, only stopping at exhibits that interested us.
The Tower Bridge was absolutely breathtaking, it is so beautiful and impressive to see in person. The Tower Bridge is both a suspension and bascule (drawbridge) bridge. It was designed with two towers that connected via walkway, so that when the bridge was raised, foot traffic wouldn't get stopped. Nowadays, it is a tourist attraction with Glass Floors and panoramic views of London.
We lucked out and has little to no one around for our pictures.
Aside from the jaw dropping view of the Tower Bridge from either sides of the Thames river, we also really enjoyed its Glass Floors.
Favorite picture of the day.
Next attraction was the Tower of London. It is right next to the Tower Bridge and less than a 5 minute walk. The Tower of London now houses the Crown Jewels, but before it served as a royal palace, prison, and execution site.
St. Thomas's Tower, later known as the Traitors' Gate.
Our main goals were to check out the Crown Jewels and torture chambers. Unfortunately there are no pictures allowed where the Crown Jewels are kept so... selfie or it didn't happen ;)
Walking around Tower of London, we saw a few ravens. It is believed that at any given time, there has to be at least six ravens at the Castle, any less than six, the country would erupt into chaos and one of the towers would crumble. The last picture below, you can see the ravens' cages.
Unfortunately for us, Borough Market closes at 5 PM every day, so we had fish and chips instead.
Prior to heading to London, I heard from several people that the British have mediocre food. The only food that everyone recommended we try was fish and chips. It was alright, I think the different sauce selections gave it more oomph.
After dinner, we walked along the Thames River.
First day here and we were already enjoying England. I know this is a given, but it really is so nice that we speak the same language here.
Our only full day in London and it is a busy one. Our must-dos were to visit Buckingham Palace, eat at Dishoom, and have afternoon tea.
Jet lag definitely played a factor on when we actually left the hotel this morning. Note to self: Changing of the Guards is at 11 AM and not 11:30 AM.
Buckingham Palace is home to Queen Elizabeth II and the royal family in London. It has served as the headquarters of the United Kingdom's monarchy since 1837. If you are visiting and wonder if the Queen is at her palace, look for the Royal Standard flag, if she's not home, you will see the Union Flag instead. There are tours available for visitors to enter the palace along with a daily Changing of the Guard ceremony that takes place in front of the palace that is free of charge.
Changing of the Guard is not to be missed and lasts for 45 minutes. To sum it up, the "Old Guards" gets relieved of their duties by the "New Guards" with marching band, horses, the whole shabang. It is quite a ceremony from what I saw on Youtube, unfortunately, on the day that we visited, there was no ceremony held.
Lots of tourist, definitely one of the areas that was recommended to be careful with pickpockets.
The Queen was not home today. You can see the flagpole a little bit.
Victoria Memorial, located in front of Buckingham Palace, is in honor of Queen Victoria who had one of the longest reign. The Victorian age was also named after her.
Since we are heading to Windsor Castle later this trip, we decided not to do a tour of Buckingham Palace and concluded our visit here.
Even though the British isn't known for their cuisine, I found out that Indian food is excellent here. Someone told me that the Indian food in England is equivalent to the Mexican food in California and after hearing that huge statement, I had to drag the family to try some authentic Indian food.
Dishoom is one of the best Indian restaurants in London. There are several locations scattered throughout the city, today we dined at the one in Covent Garden. (Swipe for more pictures)
Left to right: Cheese naan, butter-bhutta, raita, Dishoom chicken tikka, black house daal, lamb boti kabab, awadhi lamb biryani, chicken ruby
Since we don't regularly eat Indian food, everything we ordered was based off of descriptions and some yelp pictures to share it family style. We devoured everything, everything was delicious and unique to our taste buds! We even ordered second servings of the cheese naan to ease the spiciness of some of dishes.
After lunch, we started on our self guided walking tour of the area. With our afternoon tea reservation in a few hours, we breezed through the next few locations.
First stop: Covent Garden - known for touristy shopping, entertainment, and restaurants.
Mom and I trying to recreate our Venice picture, the other was better.
London's Chinatown - the 1% Chinese in me really wanted a picture of the Chinatown gate.
Leicester Square - another square with lots of shopping, eating, drinking, and entertainment.
Three places that we try to make time for on trips lately for their exclusives: Mcdonald's, Lego store, and Disney store. We got to check off two of the three today.
Success at both Mcdonald's and Lego for their exclusives! The Twix McFlurry was definitely better than the Mars although they definitely don't mix it like we are used to. Nick got a mini figure of a British gentleman.
Piccadilly Circus aka London's Times Square - has billboards and more shopping, entertainment, and restaurants surrounding it.
Red telephone box - iconic phone booth for pictures.
Thanks to my dad for capturing the perfect picture with London's iconic double decker bus driving by.
One thing that we were adamant about experiencing in London was afternoon tea.
Afternoon tea is a British tradition that was introduced back in the 1800s, I assume by the rich folks, as a sit down meal to enjoy tea, small sandwiches, pastries, and desserts before having dinner later in the evening.
Prices vary amongst the different locations, but we quickly narrowed it down to the Aqua Shard. We really gravitate to anything and everything Disney because this was Mary Poppins themed and not planned.
Views from 31 floors up. (Swipe for more pictures)
Some of the finger sandwiches are interesting... others were decent. My favorite were the scones with clotted cream and homemade jam, that was so yummy!! I'm definitely craving it right now as I write about it.
Favorite about afternoon tea: Clotted cream, Mary's tea where I added copious amounts sugar cubes and milk, how they incorporated Mary Poppins into the overall experience.
Least favorite: Mediocre sandwiches and desserts.
Favorite about the location: Views from 31 floors up, you really can't beat that.
Least favorite: Unenthusiastic staff.
Would I do afternoon tea again? Maybe. I don't want to eat my words and y'all see me at the Disneyland Hotel for their afternoon tea, but it definitely isn't top priority.
After tea, we used our London pass to enter a separate set of elevators to take us up to the observation deck on the 72nd floor.
The Shard is the tallest building in London and its observation deck is actually an open-air skydeck. I was definitely surprised when I felt a nice breeze hit me as we were walking around the deck. It was definitely cool to experience nonetheless.
After a very busy day, we enjoyed a nice quiet stroll along the Thames river with a stop at a beer garden festival going on.. London Eye was closed, but we will be back next week to pay it a visit then.
For breakfast, we walked over to Pret a Manger that was right beside our hotel. Pret a Manger are all over the city and very reasonably priced. The best way for me to describe Pret a Manger is that it's like our 85 degree bakeries here in southern California. Quick and easy, grab and go meals.
We got a private transfer with Eddie Manning's transfer service. He had great reviews on Trip Advisor and the booking process was a breeze. He was punctual and was so knowledgable on everything from planes, politics, random facts, traveling, and even Love Island UK!! We could not recommend him more, seriously amazing service he provided for us.
From London to the Southampton cruise port, we made a quick 2 hour stop in Salisbury for Stonehenge.
Stonehenge is another must-see attraction in England. It is stones placed in a circle, however each stone is around 13 feet high, 7 feet wide, and weighs 25 tons. These stones are much older than the Colosseum and Acropolis, and as old as pyramids.
Eddie, our driver, dropped us off at the visitor center entrance and from there, we had to take the shuttle to the stone circle. Tickets, if I remember correctly, are around $25 dollars each to visit Stonehenge.
Even with paid tickets, visitors are only allowed up to the black ropes circling the perimeter.
Below, with my parents being extra cute, is the best angle to take pictures if you are planning to visit. It is a huge circle so just keep walking to find the best spot. If you have ever been to the Seven Magic Mountain on the way to Vegas, then you know what I mean ;)
From Stonehenge to Southampton, we hit a bit of construction and traffic, but Eddie got us at the cruise port right on time to check in on the ship.
For the next 8 days, we will be sailing off to countries we've never been to with some appearances from two special guests, so stay tuned!
New post will cover our port days in Brussels and Amsterdam.
Thanks for following along!