I am back from my epic two week trip to Europe! I'm going to split the recap into three parts: general overview, takeaways from traveling, and a detailed look at the costs of the trip.
Oct 1st: I had a blast spending my first day off with my family and friends in my hometown. It was great to get to relax with those who know me the best.
Oct 2nd: I took the bus to the airport from my hometown and managed to get to meet with the one and only Leigh and her husband. We had a fabulous conversation that made my time in the airport fly by! (pun not intended). After flying to Atlanta with a short stay in one of their lounges (access provided by the Prestige Pass via my Chase Sapphire Reserve) I got on the biggest plane of my life to fly to London. It was GINORMOUS. And had a full service BAR. WHAT. There was room for almost 400 people but we had just over 100 on the flight, so I got a whole row to myself to stretch out on. The redeye went by in a snap!
Oct 3rd: I got into London at 10a. After a brief jaunt through passport control and grabbing my luggage, I was picked up by my sister and her friend from Heathrow and driven to our flat. It was a good thing she was driving, because I have no idea how to drive on the left hand side of the road. I got my butt kicked by jet lag, so after exploring the town a bit I took a nap. Then we had a delicious gluten-free dinner with amazing British cider.
Oct 4th: My first full day in England was spent in Cambridge. I got to meet up with the mastermind behind Ditching the Grind! We had a great chat about life and FI in general as we explored Cambridge University and the surrounding area. I had some of the best beef stew from a street market stall. (Seriously, DTG, don't feel bad your daughter shared my lunch. There was plenty for both of us :D). He had to leave to pick up his other kids from school, so my sister (M) and her friend (A) and I went punting afterwards. You know those gondolas people take in Venice? Same thing. It was a fantastic way to see the city and collect Pokemon without actually having to walk around.
Oct 5th: My second day in England was devoted fully to the Harry Potter play. OMG WAS IT AMAZING. I can't wait to see it again when it eventually comes to the US (which I'm sure it will). I also want the soundtrack because I loved the music. This was my first experience with both public transport in London, and navigating London, and I had to do it by myself. A bit tense, but I figured everything out and it went smoothly. Thank goodness for Google's Project FI phone plan, because I would've been up a creek without data access.
Oct 6th: All three of us went into London to play tourist for the day. We did it in spades as we got tickets to their Hop On Hop Off tour. Highlights include having a pint in the Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese pub where Dickens and a bunch of other famous writers used to frequent, seeing St. Paul's Cathedral, the Tower of London, London bridge, Big Ben, the Shard (so ugly), Westminster and Westminster Abbey and getting a hilarious narrated tour on the River Thames boat ride.
Oct 7th: We went back for our second tourist day in London. We attempted to see the changing of the Guard at the palace, but they weren't doing it that day. They weren't even standing outside. So then we walked to the British Museum and spent a good chunk of the day getting lost in artifacts from various times in history. They've got some seriously cool stuff in there and admission is free!
Oct 8th: After a week of almost non-stop tourism, I was pooped. My companions felt the same, so we had a lazy day inside. I didn't even change out of my pajamas lol. We all spent the day catching up on various stuff (they wrote lesson plans and emails, and I wrote up my monthly spending report for September and checked work emails). We rounded out the day with tasty drinks and a movie.
Oct 9th: We had an easier day scheduled. We drove to St. Albans and explored the town and their market. There's been a market there since 960. The history in England is truly astounding and it seems like you stumble over something ancient at every turn. Then we went and had ourselves a proper British afternoon tea. We picked a place that offered a gluten-free tea, and I'm so glad we did. It was absolutely delicious. I'm not a big tea drinker, but I had two whole pots of an amazing fruit tea by myself. It was held in a building that is now a hotel, but used to be a manor and then a convent school. The grounds were so beautiful.
Oct 10th: We then traveled to the Isle of Wight. Don't underestimate traffic around London, because we did and failed to make the ferry we had booked in time. Fortunately we got on the next one for a small fee. We explored the western half of the island after settling in at their friend's cottage. There were so many quaint British villages to explore! Again, everything was super old and it was humbling to realize even the cushions in the church (built in the 1600's) were older than you. Part of the coast on that side belongs to the National Trust (basically a national park), as it is absolutely gorgeous. We had a great time exploring the area! I've never seen soaring chalk cliffs before but I thoroughly enjoyed the views they provided.
Oct 11th: We explored the eastern half of the Island on the 11th. That side of the island is much newer, so we spent some time walking through the shops in the towns. We also visited an orchard and a vineyard for some super tasty tasting sessions. We must have looked like alcoholics, because all three of us stocked up. I was pleasantly surprised to see there was a meadery on the island, so I got some local mead that I will be happy to drink once the weather here at home turns cold. We also had my first of 3 birthday dinners! The burgers with toasted mayo garlic from The Garlic Farm were delicious and I was also surprised with crème brûlée for dessert! Noms!
Oct 12th: We explored the central part of the island. This basically meant we spent some time in the ‘capital' and explored the Carisbrooke Castle, which is only about 900 years old. It was super cool to stand on the wall where they once defended against French invaders, and getting a tour of the bedroom where King Charles I was imprisoned for a year. I really wish the US had that rich of a history, but that's the problem with living in the “New World”. Also, I don't think castles would survive earthquakes, tornadoes, or hurricanes very well…. After exploring the castle, we had the option of going to see Roman ruins, but we were all exhausted so we just grabbed some fish n chips (gluten-free of course) and ate it at the cottage before we relaxed and took the ferry back home. I'm glad we left earlier, because I had an early flight to Amsterdam the next day!
Oct 13th: I flew to Amsterdam from Luton Airport. I can't say I was impressed, but I was reminded it was a smaller airport and wouldn't necessarily have all the fancy things like heating and seating in their terminals. I managed to successfully navigate the Dutch airport and signs to get from the airport to the City Centre on the train. My hotel, the Crowne Plaza City Centre, was very nice. I was impressed. Since I booked a club room (even though I didn't pay with points), I was given the white glove treatment which included chocolates upon arrival, early check-in, club lounge access which had a wide assortment of free food and drinks, two free drink passes to the hotel bar, and free wi-fi. As this was the most expensive part of my entire trip (including the airplane tickets!!), I was pleased to get so much from the hotel. I met up with my Dutch friend and we explored the city for a bit. We were both very amused as we continually confused the Dutch servers and cashiers by speaking in our native languages. I will say though, that almost everyone we interacted with switched almost effortlessly between English and Dutch. A lot of the restaurants in Amsterdam have both English and Dutch menus so ordering food wasn't a problem. The one restaurant we went to for my birthday dinner even had menus in Italian, Spanish, and Japanese. Total tourist trap, but the traditional Dutch food they offered was amazing.
Oct 14th: MY BIRTHDAY! Also known as the best day of the entire year lol. We walked over 15 kilometers as we explored the city. I think I fell in love with the quiet grace of Amsterdam. We didn't have time to hit anything in-depth, but we did walk past the museums, several historical landmarks, the Anne Frank house, and the Red Light district. That last one was quite…. um interesting lol. The smell of cannabis is pervasive throughout the entire city centre, and was very readily accessible. I did not partake in any, as I wanted to explore and enjoy the city with a clear head. The only drug I did was drink the free champagne the hotel sent up in honor of my birthday. It was very unexpected, and pretty darn good champagne. All in all, I have to say this one was one of the best birthdays I've ever had. A great way to start my 26th year!
Oct 15th: My birthday was so great and then this day sucked hard. I woke up at 4a to pack and get to the airport in time. I made it just fine, but I was unable to link my tickets together. That meant instead of checking my bag all the way to Atlanta, I had to collect it and go through passport control, customs, check-in, and security in Heathrow. It's an international airport, so there were an absolute shit ton of people. Turns out that 2 hours is not enough to do all that, especially when check-in for your flight closes a FULL HOUR before the flight leaves. So I had to rebook my flight for a later one, which then cascaded through my entire day and made me miss my bus home. Thankfully, I have amazing friends and one of them drove the 3 hours to come get me. I of course covered her gas, food, and mileage expenses, but that meant I was up for 27 hours straight and paid for more than I needed to. I was incredibly tired and will be examining any future travel plans to see how long I'll be traveling in one day.
Oct 16th: One last day with my family as I had my last birthday dinner. It was a combination birthday dinner since my other sister has her birthday shortly after mine. We had exchanged presents, had a great time hanging out, and then I drove the last 4 hours to my place. Doing that while jet lagged was not fun. Not only that, apparently my brain flew out the window as I ran out of cat food, litter, and water all at the same time. I also had no food to eat for dinner, which I remedied the next day.
Overall, the trip was incredibly amazing and I'm so grateful I got to go. Two weeks away from the craziness of work was just what the doctor ordered! I can't wait to go back to all these places to explore them more in-depth, especially Amsterdam.
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