Touring Historic #TowerofLondon with #CuzUK #HistoricLondon #BringaRainJacket

Our time in London would not have been complete without visiting the Tower of London. Located on the north bank of the River Thames in central London and contains over 1,000 years of history, the Tower of London is an impressive structure. Much like visiting an aquarium or large popular museum there was a large line and hundreds of visitor from around the world constantly around you, oblivious to where they are walking or who else may be around them. We opted for a self tour more than joining a paid tour, and note that when you pay for the ticket it includes a “donation” that you can ask to remove beforehand. When Emily and I visited it was very rainy so we didn’t stay outside too long, and the line to visit the crown jewels was directly in the rain and was very long so we didn’t see the jewels.

Medieval Residence

When you first arrive you walk over the moat and can continue into a courtyard or walk up on the ramparts. The first are we visited was the Tower’s Mint, which as where the coins were made for the realm within the safety of the walls in the tower from c1279 and until 1810. Since tampering with coins was considered treasonous many thieves and forgers were deterred from continuing with their nefarious actions – but as we learned in the Mint they weren’t all deterred. Keep walking along and you arrive at the medieval residence. The Tower was once the residence for the royal family back in the medieval times of the 1200s. Like most medieval residence, the monarchy rarely lived for long periods of times, but that doesn’t mean that it wasn’t “Fit for a King” in anticipation of their visit. Lavishly decorated and stylishly furnished, the residence and the Great Halls of the residence could be a busy place depending on the night. While wee didn’t get to visit the crown jewels, we were able to walk close by the current residence for the royal family, which had a guard out front! I cannot imagine being so “important” that a guard would need to be in front of my residence! The little lawn was so quaint in front of the apartment but I have to admit seeing such a large, old historic building surrounded by central London was a little off putting. Seeing a monarch’s apartment being guarded even though no one was actually in the apartment was also strange. It was extremely interesting to see history and culture/tradition in action though! The guards also walked in shifts around the entrance to the crown jewels. The jewels are actually underground and heavily guarded. Seeing the uniforms and “changing of the guards” (not the same as at the castles where the royals currently are actually living) was extraordinary!

Monarchy’s Apartment and residence for employees

A notable area to visit in the tower is the historical armaments and the torture areas. I was astonished to see the lack of historical data about torture. It almost seemed as if the museum was trying to gloss over this part of their history. As a self proclaimed historian, I disagree with this method of historical preservation. The tower did a great job of easing into the discussion of England’s role in torture and what took place in the tower, and I do know that torture was not as prolific in the tower as we all originally thought, but they could have done a better job. My opinion! Plus, it was interesting! I wanted to learn and read more but there was only one small room that explained this part of their history. The armaments area was more interesting because a historian for the monarchy admitted to changing history and was caught! To their credit, after the discovery the history was changed and is currently correct. Though it does make you wonder!

Controversial figures throughout the British history have been imprisoned at the Tower of London, including Anne Boleyn. The wife of Henry VIII, she was doomed the minute she fell for Henry. Not much is really known about her but her body does rest in the tower. Princess Elizabeth, imprisoned by Mary I, lived a luxurious life in the tower during her imprisonment until she returned for her own coronation. Guy Fawkes was interrogated and tortured in the tower for plotting to kill James I. He was eventually hanged, drawn and quartered, and his body parts displayed to warn others. How medieval!

The Tower of London was larger than I pictured and had so much more history that I could have imagined. Of course, 1000 year is a lot, but with such a span of history as the #1 in the world it also was really neat to see a timeline of events and evolution. England went through so many changes over their 1,000 years and it is evident visiting the tower. The food is a lot like visiting a cafeteria so if you are looking for more of a British feel, wait and eat in the restaurants around the tower. You can buy tickets online or that morning and of course there are multiple gift shops for you to get your gifts! Take most of the day to visit as there is a lot to cover, and give yourself the time to walk around next to the river Thames. It is very pretty and the bridges that span around the river are remarkable. Take the Underground and get off at the Tower Hill stop and it’s just a short walk into the Tower. Bring a rain jacket if you are visiting during the summer – but also bring your sunglasses because the day could change. And don’t forget to have a great time! Until next time. ❤

Historic #London Part One: Camden Town, Regent’s Park, Queen Mary’s Rose Garden and Princess Diana’s Memorial Walk

Welcome back! So far you’ve read about #CuzUK’s adventures in Sunderland and Scotland, but today we head into London, or more specifically the area where we were staying – Camden Town. We took a day just to stroll around the surrounding area, visiting multiple cafes and restaurants/bars along the way.

Visiting London wasn’t done in just a few days, which was good planning on our part because there was a lot to see and we definitely did not see it all. We had met a few lovely ladies during our adventure to the Spice Girl concert who had given us a little idea of places to go or areas of the country to visit if we had the time. On our drive down from Sunderland to London we ended up stopping at a few places for a little bit but we didn’t stay long. The weather was rainy, we were driving on the wrong side of the road (in our opinion), and we had a 5 hour drive without stops so we weren’t necessarily looking to stay in one place for too long. After we arrived at the hotel we were starving, so we walked down the street to a pub and had dinner before they closed for the night. At one point we met another fellow American who worked at the pub (I can’t quite remember if we met him the first or second time we went there) but he was delightful. His husband was a UK citizen and had convinced him to travel across the ocean to live with him permanently. He talked a little about his dreams and goals, but the best part was just talking with a fellow traveler. Many times on our adventures Clinton and I run into others who are willing to travel outside their comfort zone, or take a chance on an opportunity. Not many really would do the same.

The next morning we tried to wake up early enough to get a good long walk around Camden, the are where we were staying. We walked into another pub and had a drink before continuing into the parks. There are many public areas in England but surprisingly not much public land in general. I guess I forget how large the United States really is until I travel to other countries that are much smaller. England especially, since it is an island, had a completely different traveling vibe than other countries. When we were in Iceland I felt similar, just like when traveling to the islands around Alaska or Costa Rica…in any case, driving around I noticed large swats of land for farms or something similar, but not many parks. The countryside was absolutely beautiful because, while they didn’t have the green space as public land they still had tons of green space. It made driving on the highway a completely different experience as well. Set aside the driving on the left side of the road situation, there were barely any signs (what exit is a gas station, where are the houses, what road is coming up?) so you really had no idea where the heck you were, and because the roadside shrubbery and rolling hills hid the cities and towns behind them it was difficult to know when there was an exit or what was available at the exit. We speak the same language but we also don’t! We asked plently of locals to translate English verbiage into American-speak (lorre = semi truck, for instance) but we definitely would need more time to really get the hand of it. In London there are many different parks mostly with gorgeous gardens.

One park we frequently walked through was Regent’s Park. At different points during our time in London we would stop through a park to have a cup of tea or enjoy a pretty pond or garden view for some time before continuing to our destination. I love parks. I think they are extremely calming and soothing. If I can cut through a park on a drive, walk, run, or for any reason I’ll make the excuse or take the time. Not everyone agrees with this mentality, though. As with any travel experience, especially one far away from home, adapting to your surroundings and making sure you can fluctuate planning wise is always important! We walked thousands of steps a day, most of the time well over 20,000. We made sure to be smart about how we dressed each day and if the situation called for a rain jacket or another pair of socks we made sure to follow through. Even in a populated city where the language is the same doesn’t mean that it’ll be easy if an emergency arises. Walking through Regent’s Park the first day we were very aware of this. I remember feeling very tired because I personally had just experienced over 48 hours of traveling based on coming from Page, Arizona through Iceland and then to Sunderland after a 5 hour drive from London. Emily had done basically the same trip in her own fashion and we were still adjusting to the time. Walking around with no agenda felt like the perfect way to introduce ourselves to the area.

I have never quite been a fan of roses, but there were so many rose Garden’s in London I became a fan pretty quickly. The Queen Many’s Garden’s was beautiful and includes over 12,000 roses. The London Zoo was right above Regent’s Park and close to our location as well, but we only walked around the garden permeter. Neither of us were the biggest fans of zoos (no offense, they are great!) and we just wanted to keep walking. We ended up at Princess Diana’s Memorial Fountain. There were many children playing in the fountain and enjoying the nice weather. My mom had always been a fan of Princess Di and to see a gorgeous area for kids to play made me smile – I’m sure she would have loved it. Most of London reminded me of Baltimore or Philadelphia. A large city with historical buildings with visitors queued outside for hours and gorgeous structures. When we walked around downtown London I was historically and happily surprised to see the damage done during World War II was left for visitors to view. What a great way of showing the horrors of war for future generations! Later when we went through the military museums we would notice the pride and honor on full display of the British military. I always love visiting museums when I travel because it’s the best time for the people of that nation to show their successes and failures – basically their history. As a history nerd I’m all in!

Walking around London is just as interesting sign wise as driving on the highway. It took us a little bit of time to find the Underground, but once we did that was the best mode of transportation that we could find. We used a taxi once, which was okay, and walked most of the other time but there was a daily unlimited option for the Underground which was usually cheaper in the long run. We’d walk to a destination, take the U, walk to another destination, etc until we were just too tired to walk anyway. We had a station close to our hotel so it worked out well.

Our adventures in London weren’t over with just a few stops through parks and gardens, however. We did visit touristy spots such as London Bridge, Old Ben (though it was under construction) and Westminster Abbey. I’ll save those for next time though! ❤ Till next time…

Scenic Drive to #CallendarHouse and #CuzUKs day visit to @Scotland

Welcome back to another great post about traveling overseas for the #TravelingTalleys and #CuzUK! During our trip to England, Emily and I had the opportunity to visit both Wales and Scotland for a day trip. When we were in Sunderland we were definitely closer to the border so we decided one of the days that we were in the area would be a day trip to Scotland. Besides the gorgeous views we were sure we would see our true destination was the Callendar House. The drive was past Edinburgh, so we also stopped at a bar/restaurant for a bite to eat before stopping on the border of Scotland and England and snapping a few pictures. It was a long day, but definitely worth the adventure!

Like I mentioned in my last blog post, Emily was the driver for the entire trip. I was the navigator and attempted to take my role seriously – maybe a few times too seriously! All in all we seldom ran into problems, but one huge difference from the United States was the lack of stop signs and stop lights. Most intersections were roundabouts and only when exiting the highway/freeway did you start to see a stop sign/light. Since we were on the opposite side of the road, going through a roundabout was super strange! The signs were definitely different but at least we understood the language. I have to admit that was very strange at first. I’ve traveled overseas four times now – Mexico/Panama, Germany, Germany/Netherlands and now Iceland/England. When we landed first in Iceland for our connection flight to London I knew to look for symbols and had a feint idea of what I was looking for navigation wise for the language barrier (I try to look up something before visiting a country where I do not know the language well so I have a general idea – try it, you’ll thank me later!) When we landed in England and I read English it was so strange at first to be able to instantly know where and what I was suppose to be doing instead of reading the body language of the locals or trying to decipher a sign. Ha! Traveling is always so much fun. We landed in London and planned to spent at least a full week in London, but our first stop was a few days in Sunderland, which is North England. That is a full five hour drive so by the time we arrived in Sunderland that first day we were exhausted from travel and the time change. We had dinner and went to bed. Not before deciding to spend one of our days in Scotland! It was another five or so hours from our hotel to the Callendar House in Scotland, but we got up early that day and took off into the countryside so we could arrive in time to self tour the house.

Emily has been researching her family history and wanted to see if she could look more into a possible link to the Callendar House. Since the house itself is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and hosts not only the house but an entire park I was super excited to see a lovely and historic side of Scotland during our day trip. Walking through the house it quickly became apparent how stunning the house and surrounding landscape truly looked to me. The kitchen was magnificent – a fully working Georgian period kitchen and the staff in period costumes were cooking and let us have a taste. I didn’t really like it, but hey, I tried! On our way back to Sunderland we stopped at a bar/restaurant The Green in Edinburgh and took a short walk around the surrounding town but it was raining so we didn’t spend too long out of the car!

While our time in Scotland was only a day it was a very nice drive. We stopped at a little cafe and had breakfast before heading into Scotland from Sunderland in the morning, and on the way back we stopped at the border to take some pictures and read about the area. If you have the chance to visit the country take the opportunity even if it is only for a few hours or a very specific destination. The Callendar House had a very interesting history with its various owners and contributions to the area – definitely worth a visit. We didn’t have more time to spend in other areas but we did divert when we could to different parts of the country when we felt that we either needed a break or to see a great sight. Driving along the highway was completely different. In the United States as you drive by a city you see the skyscrapers, the restaurants, and the attractions of the town. Every where in the United Kingdom was long rolling hills and fields with sheep, trees were used as natural fences, and you could not see any restaurants or even gas stations – we started to realize once we hit about half a tank that we hadn’t seen a gas station in awhile. The signs are few and far between, and the names of a “gas station” or equivalent escaped our vocabulary. It was truly an experience! We did figure out that a central gas station/convenience store was a fantastic stop for a quick refill and some fantastic snacks. No kidding, I had a fresh sandwich and an amazing berry smoothie on more than one occasion. Their chips are baked and amazing. We actually started looking for this store whenever we could because of the quality. I have to admit I wish we had those types of stores here!

Fast forward a few days later and after the concert we were scheduled to head back to London to drop off the rental car and head to our hotel that we booked for the rest of the trip in England. Our 25 hour layover in Iceland we decided to get a hotel but it was really a nice hostel…more on that in a future post! Our trip back to London was strategic in nature because we had to get from the airport rental car area to our hotel. The only way to do that was via bus or train. We got there in time to meet the train into London and from there found our way to the Underground. Most of our confusion really took place with the signage in the city and what was a bus, train, the Underground, the Overground…while London had fantastic public transportation, it was rather difficult to really understand where a station was, what time it would arrive, and if there was a delay or a change in the rail line, you may not know because they won’t update you in any fashion. Once we figured out the Underground it made our lives much easier, and we could move from our Camden-area hotel to the gardens and palaces in central London quickly. We ended up walking a lot of the time which helped orient me and gave us a grand view of the various architecture and landscape of the city. I enjoyed walking when we could but we did clock in about 25,000 steps each day so we were exhausted!

Sunderland and Scotland were absolutely amazing places to visit! The temperature was always nice, and weather was sweet, and we had a great time experiencing the culture before heading to London. Keep you eyes to the #TravelingTalleys blog for more on our adventures with #CuzUK in England!

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