Like I mentioned in a previous post (PART 1 of 2: Packing for a 13-day UK trip in a carry-on), my husband and I were so fortunate to take a trip to England and Scotland this past summer, 2018. We had a wedding to attend in Bath, England and decided to go ahead and make a trip of it! We kept the trip to just England/Scotland because of the proximity and the hope that it would allow us to see as much as possible without losing too much time traveling between places. We traveled mostly by train, so we could see the countryside while going between stops (plus the trains added a little adventure to our trip since neither of us had ever traveled via train!). We were really pleased with our trip and how it all turned out.
You have to excuse the length of this post…it really turned into a diary of “all the things” for my own sake of remembering every detail of this trip! I hope you enjoy!
DAY 1 (flight and London)
I’m going to call the flight and first day in London “DAY 1” because it was an overnight flight and, once we landed, we hit the ground running. We flew out of Austin on a Wednesday evening on a British Airways nonstop flight to London. I can’t imagine doing it any other way than nonstop…even if I was saving some money. Now, one thing I can say I wished I had done differently is the seating. We were flying with my brother and sister-in-law and wanted to have seats together, so we decided to reserve the middle row with four seats (so we could just all sit in a row and not be separated). Turns out, our flight was not even close to being full and while everyone around us spread themselves out and had full rows to sleep on, we were all crammed into our one row and were SO UNCOMFORTABLE. Even my sister-in-law (who I have seen sleep sitting straight up on a boat) couldn’t get sleep! So that wasn’t so great…
Upon arrival in London we took a cab from the airport to our hotel. We stayed at the Hilton London Kensington, which was in a nice area that was near things but not right in the middle of everything. We unloaded and took off walking, attempting to find the Notting Hill neighborhood (which was supposedly right down the road) and hopefully some food. Finally, after walking for what felt like ages, we came across the Castle Pub on Portobello Road. It was pretty warm, but the beer was cold and I got my first taste of authentic “fish and chips” (and mushy peas…which are definitely not my fave). After that we were all feeling better and continued checking out the area. There were vendors set-up along the sidewalks, but they started to shut down by mid-afternoon, so we didn’t have much time for shopping.
That evening, we met up with the bride-to-be at a pub in Shepherd’s Bush called Brew Dog. We had several flights of beer and ordered some food…overall it was a great time! We made our way back to our hotel and finally ended what felt like the LONGEST. DAY. EVER.
DAY 2 (London cont.)
We wanted to get a decent start on our day of touring London, so we set out around 9am from the hotel (after grabbing coffee and a quick bite downstairs). Our first stop was Kensington Palace. I was SO excited to see they had a special exhibit set up called “Diana: Her Fashion Story”. I always thought Princess Diana was one of the most classy, beautiful women ever, and I even recognized some of the gowns they had on display from seeing her on TV or in magazines growing up. It was really interesting! They also had an area that was dedicated to Queen Victoria and her history/life. I had just finished Season 2 of the PBS show Victoria before we left for our trip, so I found it fascinating to sort of “fact check” the show based on what I was reading in the palace. I was pleased that it seemed to really follow the history!
After Kensington Palace, we found a spot for lunch to take a break and get out of the heat (this place actually had A/C). Then we decided we should figure out the Oyster card/public transportation situation. We had decided our best bet for the next morning would be to take the London Underground (aka “the tube”) to the airport, so we needed to get ourselves familiar. It ended up being pretty darn easy! As long as you had an idea of which stop you needed to get to, you could easily find the route that you needed to take and it saved you a LOT of steps (and money because it was much cheaper than taking a cab in most cases). We took the tube to the St. James Park station so that we would be closer to some more of the major sights: Westminster Abbey, Big Ben (which was under construction, so we could barely see it), and Trafalgar Square. This is also where I FINALLY got a picture in one of those awesome red phone booths!
Our next stop was the Tower of London. This castle is so beautiful and so well-preserved. We were able to see the torture chambers, a history of the types of armor and weapons used over the centuries, and even the Crown Jewels (where pictures are NOT allowed). It was interesting and educational, and once we exited the castle we realized the London Bridge was within photo-distance! And who knew it had so much bright blue on it!? Not sure what I pictured, but this wasn’t it! It is very beautiful, though, and once we felt satisfied that we had “seen it” we decided to call it a day! We headed back to the hotel and got cleaned up for a quiet, simple dinner in the hotel bar.
DAY 3 (Heading to Edinburgh)
We rolled out at about 7am to take the tube to the London City Airport to catch our flight to Edinburgh (and in case you are wondering, I was told after much laughing in my face from my sweet English friend, that it is pronounced Edinbruh…like “what’s up, bruh?”). We walked out onto the tarmac to board the plane (something I’ve never done before and didn’t really know how I felt about it). Also, my husband didn’t bother telling me that the type of plane we were flying in was a prop plane. Can you detect the look of suspicion and “what the heck did I get myself into?!” from the picture?
We had an uneventful flight and landed in rainy Edinburgh. We took an Uber to the hotel, asking the driver for recommendations of places to eat, visit, etc. We always like to get a local’s perspective when we can. I was surprised that most of the food recommendations were for Thai food places! He also gave us the name of a good steakhouse, so we decided we would definitely look into that. After getting settled in, we decided to take off walking and look around a bit.
It didn’t take long for me to decide…EDINBURGH WAS MY FAVORITE!!! I could have spent the rest of the trip there…the architecture had such an old/romantic feel to it, the cobblestone streets made it feel sort of quaint even though it is FAR from being small, the parks and cafes and the castle…ahh! I can’t say enough. It was exactly what I expected/hoped for from Scotland.
We ate lunch at a place called Henrick’s Bar, which we just happened upon because the rain picked up speed and it was nearby so we ran inside. Luckily, they had great food! I had some really good grilled fish and veggies, and my husband had their fish and chips. Soon it was clear skies and we headed out for some more exploring. We walked along the majority of the Royal Mile, seeing St. Giles’ Cathedral (so beautiful) and many shops, restaurants, random street performers, and we also found our way to the Edinburgh castle. We wanted to scope it out since we would be visiting there the next day. Turns out, you have to not only buy tickets ahead, but they have to be for a certain time of day! I was glad we checked into it early, because we might have been out of luck!
DAY 4 (Edinburgh cont.)
We woke up bright and early to get some breakfast and head to the castle. It was HUGE! Until I walked right up to it, I could not appreciate how massive a structure it was. It always amazes me to see something that was built that long ago still standing so strong. Sure, it has had renovations and has been kept up over the years, but the castle was built by hand almost 1000 years ago! It is incredible! We did a self-guided tour and basically walked every inch of the castle! There was so much to see! Something they still have going at the castle is the “1 o’clock gun” that is fired daily at 1pm to allow seaman to adjust their watches (which is probably not needed these days, but it is tradition). We were there on a Sunday, which is the only day of the week they do not fire the cannon…and Christmas Day and Good Friday. But we did get to see it. There is also a large war memorial in the castle, as well as St. Margaret’s Chapel (which was tiny, but beautiful).
After we finished up, we stopped into the Amber Restaurant and Whisky Bar to grab some food. They have over 400 whiskies there, from all the different regions of Scotland. We decided to share a flight of whisky so we could try several different brands. It was a neat experience. I have done wine and beer flights, but this was a first for me. We ordered the local meat and cheese trays to share, and they were delicious! We headed back down the Royal Mile and ended up taking a detour when I spotted a Harry Potter-inspired shop (which I had to go into). I even made my husband take a picture of me with a wand, Gryffindor scarf, and a broom! He was only slightly embarrassed as young kids were waiting their turn in line, but he got over it.
We ended up making it all the way to the Palace of Holyroodhouse, which is the queen’s residence in Edinburgh. We didn’t take the tour, but we got to see the grounds and other outer buildings. It was all very beautiful. We ended up following the sound of music into a little pub called The Waverley. There was a group of guys in there, sitting in the corner, playing music like old friends and we enjoyed just sitting at the bar and listening to them. They were having so much fun! We finally decided to head back to our hotel (my feet were soaking wet from walking in the rain and I needed a break!).
That night, we headed to Kyloe Restaurant and Grill for dinner. It was a nice steakhouse that our Uber driver had suggested, and it did not disappoint! Fun Fact: the restrooms at Kyloe are unisex…just several stalls in a row that everyone uses. I was forewarned by our waitress, because she (correctly) assumed we may not have those very much in the U.S., so I didn’t have that moment of “oh no, I went in the wrong door!” when I met a man coming out of one of the stalls!
DAY 5 (Edinburgh to Fort William)
The next day we took a train from Edinburgh to Fort William, which is basically on the opposite end of the country. This was our first train ride, so we arrived at the Edinburgh Waverley station super early to scope things out. We would be coming back through Edinburgh on our way to Bath and would have to get from the Waverley station to the Haymarket Station pretty quickly, so we really wanted to have our bearings and know what to expect. Arriving an hour early proved to be WAY more than enough time. There is really nothing to do except find your platform and get on your train at the appropriate time. No security checkpoints or anything. I was expecting something more like an airport, but the train stations were much more relaxed. They were also MUCH more confusing! Finding the right platform proved to be a challenge for us newbies, but the people working at the station were super helpful and before long we were on our way!
We were very lucky to sit across from a very nice English couple who were on holiday (English speak for “vacation”) following their daughter’s wedding, which had just occurred that weekend in Edinburgh. They were very kind and pointed out certain things to us along the way and explained different things about Scotland and England since we had never been there before. A little ways in, they asked where my husband was from because, “they could tell I was a local, but wasn’t sure about him”. Ha ha!!! We got a good laugh about that and explained that we were BOTH from Texas…born and raised! Although my accent is not as thick as my husband’s, they soon realized that they had definitely pegged me wrong (but it made me feel kind of good that I didn’t seem to stick out like a sore thumb among the “natives”)!
We arrived in Fort William mid-afternoon, and checked into our hotel. I had made reservations at the Alexandra Hotel, one of the oldest hotels in Fort William. It was walking distance from the train stop, and really from anywhere we wanted to go! After unloading our stuff in the room, we took off exploring and looking for a place to grab a bite to eat. We landed at The Grog & Gruel – Traditional Alehouse and Restaurant. The food there was pretty good! I tried one of their “pies” and my husband had a burger. We also shared an order of the fried haggis balls…neither of us had ever had haggis and figured this was one way to try it. Everything is better fried, right?! It was a different taste, but we liked it!
DAY 6 (Fort William – Steam Train)
The next morning we woke up and enjoyed the traditional Scottish breakfast buffet, plus a lot of other standard breakfast favorites, which was served daily to guests at the Alexandra. It was definitely a wonderful meal to start our day of sightseeing!
One of the main attractions I was interested in seeing out of Fort William was the Jacobite Steam Train. My boss had told me about it and, also being that I am a huge Harry Potter fan, it sounded like something we would definitely enjoy! The steam train and the Glenfinnan Viaduct (a large bridge the train goes over) both inspired the Hogwarts Express and one of the iconic shots that is shown in the movies of the train going across the viaduct. Needless to say, I was geeking out a little! The train took us to Mallaig, which is a small fishing town on the coast. As soon as we arrived it started POURING down rain. We ran (uphill) to a little restaurant/pub (the Chlachain Inn) a little off the beaten path, since all the others were filling up VERY quickly. It was a good choice. I ordered fish and chips…and they were actually the best I had on the trip! The seafood there was so fresh!
We checked out a couple little shops on our way back to the train, and then we were off for Fort William again.
DAY 7 (Train: Fort William to Manchester)
The morning of Day 7 we headed down for another great breakfast at the Alexandra. We had until about noon to look around, so we set out to discover everything we could about the little town of Fort William. We found what is left of The Old Fort at Fort William, saw the most beautiful, clear water, watched boats go by, and walked through some of the most colorful gardens. It was a really nice outing. Soon, we were boarding our train to head to Manchester…we would have a quick overnight stop there before continuing on the Bath, England (for the wedding).
In Manchester, we didn’t do much sightseeing but we did “happen upon” the Royal Exchange Theater, which is located in the old stock exchange building. They were in the process of re-setting the stage area for the next show, and one of the gentlemen there let us go “behind the ropes” to look at everyone. Very cool! Later, we ate at a fantastic restaurant that was actually in our hotel! We stayed at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Manchester – Piccadilly and the Store Street Exchange restaurant was there. My husband had a steak that he said was one of the best he ever had, and I had a really yummy salad and some delicious wine. It had a Craft Bar, so my husband tried a couple of the craft beers they had. Everything was really good, and it was nice to just have some downtime to end the day.
DAY 8 (Train: Manchester to Bath)
I was so excited to finally be on the last leg of our trip and headed to Bath. I had heard so much about it from the bride and groom, and I was really looking forward to attending a traditional English wedding! We arrived in Bath in the early afternoon. We had rented an AirBnB with three other couples that was located on Marlborough Street in Bath. It was a little bit off from the busy part of town, but an easy enough walk to get wherever we wanted to go. First stop was the Marlborough Street Tavern for some drinks to celebrate us all finally meeting up! This little tavern was literally across the street from our house! It had a great little patio/garden area where you could sit outside and enjoy the weather. After that, we decided to go exploring a little bit and sort of “get our bearings” before we did our true sight-seeing the next day.
We ended the night at a restaurant, the Bar + Block Steakhouse, where we had great food and the absolute sweetest waitress. We asked her a million questions about sightseeing and what she recommended, and she gave her full and honest opinion about everything (which we really appreciated)!
DAY 9 (Bath):
Day 9 started with me trying to figure out how to work a coffee press (don’t judge…I had never used one before and it didn’t come with instructions!). After a quick YouTube tutorial, we had fresh (and can I just say, very tasty) coffee while sitting on our cute little balcony at the house. Once everyone was up and moving, we headed out for some legit sightseeing.
We went to Bath Abbey, which was a beautiful abbey located right near the Roman Baths. Even after seeing so many beautiful churches, historical buildings, etc. along our trip, I still was in awe of this place! The beautiful ceiling (which I later learned is called a “fan vault”), stained glass, and massive pipe organ were all just breathtaking! One thing that really caught my attention were the memorials and “headstones” that lined the walls and floor. The front and side walkways (not the main aisle) were almost completely covered in these stones. I later learned that, because of the location of the abbey and there not being a space for a cemetery on the grounds of the abbey, that people were actually buried under the church for years! They didn’t have a designated cemetery until the mid 1800s, so there are literally thousands of people buried under the abbey. They were actually in the process of repairing/reconstructing part of the floor while we were there because it was starting to collapse in places. So crazy and interesting!
After leaving Bath Abbey, we walked along the River Avon and eventually made our way to the Pulteney Bridge, which had lots of little shops, restaurants and bars along the way. We ended up finding a beautiful Catholic church, St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church, which happens to boast the tallest spire in all of Bath. Although it felt a little like we had wandered into a bad part of town (judging by the man walking by us talking to himself and fighting the general air around him), the church itself of so ornate and it had the most beautifully-heartbreaking sculpture of Mary holding Jesus right after his crucifixion. It was as if I could feel her pain! So breathtaking!
We decided to head back to our house and just have dinner at the Marlborough Tavern, which turned out to be great! The night ended with all eight of us sitting around the table in our dining room of the house, listening to music, drinking and telling stories!
DAY 10 (WEDDING DAY!!!!)
This is what is was all about, folks. It was finally wedding day! We got up and made breakfast (we had raided a little co-op right down the street and bought eggs and bacon), and started getting ourselves ready for the big day! My oldest brother and our friend who was staying in the house with us were both groomsmen in the wedding, so they had to head out way before the rest of us. We got dressed and donned our fascinators (I was never so excited to be wearing a hat!) and headed to the ceremony.
They had the wedding ceremony at the church at Prior Park College in Bath, and then the reception at the bride’s parents’ home in their gardens. It was such a fun time! There were about 40 of us who made the trip from Texas for the wedding, and they sat us at the reception 50/50 – English/Texan. The people we met there were so incredibly nice, and asked us every stereotypical question about Texas – Do you ride horses? Does everyone walk around with a gun on their hip? How big is the Alamo? But not in an ugly way…they were truly curious!
One big thing we learned is that, while Texas has all the things that want to harm you (snakes, bugs, ants, etc.), England basically has none of that! We were outside, in August, in the evening…and weren’t getting swarmed by flies, mosquitoes, or anything! It was amazing! The bride’s nieces and nephews were rolling around in the grass without any thought of being eaten up by ants! Later, they were running around in the dark without fear of stepping on a snake! What a major difference from Home-Sweet-Home!
DAY 11 (Recovering in Bath):
We purposely made the day after the wedding a non-travel day, because we knew we would be up late and wouldn’t want to have to rush to pack up and head out. We made breakfast again at the house and headed to mass (it was Sunday) at St. Mary’s Catholic Church, just a few blocks down from our house. After mass we relaxed around the house for a bit before heading out to find somewhere to have lunch before going to see the Roman Baths (our only planned sight-seeing for the day). We were all seriously craving some good ol’ “American” food, so we found a place that had a little bit of everything: pizza, wings, burgers, salads and drinks. Almost like an English version of Chili’s.
After that, we headed over to see the Roman Baths. It was really an interesting tour. They give you a little hand-held device that you use to listen to information as you walk through the different areas. It was so amazing to me that they have been able to preserve so much of the original structure! And, they are still uncovering additional spaces that they plan to open for touring in the future. The baths are no longer in use, but they now have the Bath Spa where you can go and get in the spring waters and swim and purchase other spa services. We decided not to do the spa, so after our tours we headed back to the house to pack up and get ready to leave the next morning.
DAY 12 (Back to London):
We were flying out of London, so we decided to head back there a day early to get in a little more sight-seeing. One of the couples with us had not been to London yet, so they wanted to see some things, and we definitely didn’t get to see it all at the start of our trip. We took a train from Bath to London and, after dropping our bags off at the hotel, headed into downtown London. We saw Buckingham Palace, the London Eye (which we chose not to ride because the wait time was over an hour!), ate a late lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe, saw the Horse Guards building (being watched over by guards on horses, of course), and rode one of the red, double-decker buses that run all over town. For being a short day, it was definitely a full one with lots of walking! One thing we missed that I wish we could have seen was the “changing of the guard” at Buckingham Palace. It only happens once per day at 10:45am, so we weren’t able to catch it. Maybe next time!?
We ended our day back at the hotel restaurant for a light dinner and, my new favorite drink, cider.
DAY 13 (Headed home):
We were actually very relieved and super excited to be headed home. Being away from our babies for almost two full weeks was enough! We actually slept a little bit later than we had previously (I think, finally, we were adjusting to the time difference on our last day!), and then headed to the airport to get checked in and get HOME! My brother and our friend who had been in the wedding had their cowboy hats with them (they wanted them all to wear them for the wedding), so we were standing out big time in the airport! We literally had people coming up to them and asking them questions and, obviously, assuming that they were from Texas! One guy in a souvenir store asked my brother if he “knew how to do a lasso”. He was quick to redirect him to our friend, who does actually ride and rope, and he spent a good 10 minutes answering questions. It was hilarious!
We got home and our kids were not as excited to see us as we were to see them (we were basically ruining a 13-day-long-grandparent-fun-fest for them). Lol! But then we got to show them their fun souvenirs and tell them about the things we saw, so that was fun.
Our trip was definitely once-in-a-lifetime, and I really don’t think I would change anything. Getting out and seeing other parts of the world and experiencing other cultures is so inspiring, but it is also nice to be home!