Sunday, November 17, 2013

London with the Sis

As you know from the previous post, my sister, Kari, made the journey over for her two week fall break.  We had a wonderful time exploring Germany, parts of France, cooking and hanging out.  We were all very excited to go to London for the last few days of her trip!

We flew out of Stuttgart on a Sunday morning, just a few hours after Kyle had finished up a night shift.  Kyle's brother and our sister-in-law live in London.  Unfortunately, they were out of town the entire time we were there, but they still hosted us in their apartment to save us several hundred dollars that we would have spent on a tiny, cramped, overpriced hotel room.  (London is NOT a cheap place!)

We were going to pick up the key to their place at the concierge in their apartment building.  As we were waiting on our flight at the airport, there was some frantic texting back and forth between Cory and Kyle about the key situation.  Apparently the concierge closes early on Sundays and would not be open when we got there.  We boarded our flight not knowing if we'd have a place to stay once we got there.  We landed, and and were very relieved to find out that one of their friends in London picked up the key for us just in the nick of time.

We hired a car to take us to the apartment.  Heathrow airport is way out of the city, and it would have been a two hour journey on the tube, then a bus if we had used public transit. (Not fun with a bunch of luggage!)  We also wanted to maximize our short time there.  We finally arrived to the apartment.  Now we just had to get the key.  This was a time when we were extremely grateful for the iphone, or else finding their friends' place to get the key would have been a lot more difficult!  Kari and I waited outside with the luggage while Kyle sprinted in the pouring rain to get the key.  Round trip, it was probably almost a two mile run for Kyle in the rain!  We had a bit of trouble finding the correct apartment, and at one point we were actually trying to open the wrong door!  But we finally made it, and were starving!  We scarfed down burgers at a restaurant across the street, then headed to the city center to check out some sites!  I worked it out in my head that since it was such a struggle to get there, the rest of the trip would be smooth sailing, and it was!

Kari giving Kyle a look on the train to the airport

Luckily, the rain cleared up and it turned into a beautiful evening with a gorgeous sunset.  We enjoyed the views to the city center from the front seat on the top of a double decker bus.  We got off at London bridge and admired the sunset views over the river Thames.  We walked along the river taking a lot of pictures and enjoying the scenery.  We warmed up with hot chocolate before crossing the Tower Bridge to get a look at the Tower of London.  It was a nice, relaxing evening.





Tower of London is on the left



Lots of construction!


We got up early the next day and went to Victoria Station to catch our tour group for our day trip!  (I found the trip on getyourguide.com.  You can find anything for anywhere there!  We've used it three times with great success.)  We normally don't do many large group tours, but sometimes they're a great way to cover a lot of ground in a little bit of time.  We wanted to get Kari out of the city to enjoy some of the beautiful English countryside.  Our first stop was Windsor Castle, and the Queen just happened to be home!  The castle is extremely impressive.  We saw the royal apartments, an amazing doll house replica of the castle (everything in the doll house is functional including the lights, the bathroom, and even the cars), and finally St. George's Cathedral where King Henry VIII is buried.  (No pics were allowed inside.)

The flag shows that the Queen is in, otherwise it would be the Union Jack.

The part of the castle where the royal family stays



After our quick castle tour, we drove through quaint villages and rolling green hills to our next stop at Stonehenge.  It is really an amazing and mysterious place.  It happened to be extremely windy with a bit of rain while we were there, but it was still pretty awesome.

Combing our hair that night was not fun!



We were all really ready for our lunch stop!  We went to an extremely old pub for lunch in the town of Lacock.  (It is possibly the oldest pub in England.)  It's a protected historic town that looks like it's straight from the movies, because it is!  Several scenes from Harry Potter were filmed in the town, including his birthplace/home were he lived with his real parents before they died.  A grouchy old lady on the trip informed us that Harry Potter isn't a real person.  Wow.  Really?  Ya think???






Harry Potter's birthplace 

Picture of a picture of Harry Potter and Dumbledore in Lacock

After lunch and a quick walking tour of the town we headed to our last stop of the day, which was Bath.  The entire town of Bath is a UNESCO World Heritage site.  It's a gorgeous town!  If you picture a quintessential English town in your head, you'll probably think of a town that looks just like Bath.  It's most famous for it's ancient Roman thermal baths.  Unfortunately, the weather didn't cooperate with us while we were there.  We walked around and saw a bit of the town in the rain before we found a cafe to warm up in.  Kyle and I had seen the Roman baths several years ago and we didn't have much time, so we decided to relax instead of rushing through the baths.  We headed back to the bus for the two and a half hour ride back to London.  It was a busy and really fun day!

Lovely town, even when it's raining.



The next day was our last full day in London.  After breakfast we caught the bus, then the tube and went straight to Westminster Abbey.  We saw Big Ben on the way, which is so cool to see such an iconic site.  We used an audio guide to tour the abbey and get our history lesson for the day.  There is so much history there, it's too much to list, so you should look it up!  There was a church on the site as early as 1080.  Construction on the abbey that is there now began in 1245.  Every coronation since it's construction has happened there, and also most royal weddings.  There are countless tombs and memorials of monarchs and notable British people, such as Sir Isaac Newton, Shakespeare, Darwin, and Handel just to name a few.  It's a lot to take in!  You aren't allowed to take pictures inside.  The first time we went several years ago Kyle got in trouble by a cross eyed priest while he was sneaking a picture...Kyle couldn't tell he was looking at him!


The cloisters at Westminster




After our tour we had fish and chips at a nice pub before continuing on to Buckingham Palace!  On our way we walked through the quiet and calm St. James park.  We got to see the pelicans being fed, along with a lot of other cool birds.  We also stumbled upon a little parade by the Wellington Barracks Foot Guards.  The Queen must have known we were going to see the palace, because she was there with the flag raised, just for us.







From Buckingham Palace, we walked to Harrod's which is London's most extravagant, ritzy and over the top department store.  It is really something else.  We were the most interested in the amazing food halls to pick out some afternoon sweets.  We picked out treats that were calling our name, and took them to Hyde park to eat and relax.  There were a bunch of cute little squirrels running around.  We didn't have anything to feed them, so Kari tried to feed them whipped cream from her spoon.  They weren't very interested in that, probably for their own good!  The sun was just stunning as we walked by the lake.  A lot of people had bread and were feeding swans and ducks straight from their hands.  Kari managed to get her hands on some bread to feed them as well.  It was a lot of fun!







We continued walking to Picadilly Circus, which is like the Time Square of London.  It's full of bright lights, theaters, street performers and tons of people!  We made a plan of where to meet in case we got lost in the mass of humanity, and made our way through.  We happened to stumble upon the premier of the movie Thor II, right when the actor Tom Hiddleston was making an appearance.  We couldn't get a good look at the stage, but it was pretty exciting!  We kept walking and arrived at China Town.  We took some pics of the pretty lanterns hanging over the streets before deciding that our feet were hurting and headed back.  We had dinner at an Italian restaurant across the street from the apartment, and then changed into our comfy clothes as soon as we got home!



The Thor II premier



The next day we headed back to Heathrow.  Kari was flying back to Indy, and Kyle and I were picking up a rental car to get out of the city and spend some time in the lovely English countryside.  Since we had gotten more comfortable using London's mass transit, we decided to save some pennies and get to the airport via the bus and the tube.  Kari had all of her luggage from her two week trip, and Kyle and I each had luggage long enough to be gone for a week, so we weren't exactly looking forward to the journey.  We started off on the bus.  Luckily we snagged a corner where we were able to stash all of luggage.  Two stops later, the bus was crammed shoulder to shoulder, so we were really lucky to get that spot.  After about 30-40 minutes standing with our luggage on the bus, we hauled it all off and made our way to the underground station, where we would catch the tube to the airport.  It was pretty crowded at first, but as we got further out of the city center some space opened up and we were able to sit down.  Between the bus and the tube, we made it to the airport 65 stops and two hours later.  Whew!

We got Kari checked into her flight and through security, and then Kyle and I went to pick up our rental car for our little English countryside road trip.  (That will be a separate post, coming soon!)  We had a fantastic time with Kari.  It was so nice to be able to spend so much time with her and see some really awesome things.  I wish she could've come with us on the road trip, but I guess school is a little bit important.  We are very anxious for when she comes back next time, with my mom and dad!

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