London came and went so quickly. I don't know it really even warrants a full blog post of its own. Also, things didn't quite work out as we'd planned. We'll see how this goes. At least you'll get some highlights.
We arrived around 1:00 p.m. We didn't do our research because we'd I'd been to London a few times before, and we'd banked on doing a hop-on-hop-off bus tour to get an overview. Little did we know, they only run until 5:00 p.m.. Once we ate and checked into the hotel, there wasn't even time to do the tour if we'd stayed on the bus for an entire round so we decided just to pick out some highlights and run with it.
We stayed at the Crowne Plaza-The City, which was a nice room, nice size. The downside: Internet was a separate charge and there was literally only ONE available power outlet in the room, including the bathroom. No outlet in the bathroom? I found that strange.
For lunch, we walked across the street to The Black Friar, a historic English pub. The building is wedge-shaped and has been around since the 12th century. It was used as a monastery, a Parliament Chamber and changed hands a couple more times, before becoming the haunted pub, as it stands today. Supposedly the doors will open and close on their own, and glasses will move from one place to another as a way for their friendly ghost to make its presence known. If you're looking for traditional British pub food, this is a good spot.
Our first tourist destination was Big Ben. We hopped on the Tube and got off at an extraordinarily busy section of town, where people are all trying to get a look at the famous Houses of Parliament and the clock tower.
If you're at Big Ben, and turn about 180 degrees and look, you'll see the London Eye. Another tourist cluster. If you want to go up in the Eye, I highly recommend getting tickets in advance, to skip the line.
After a quick look at the London Eye, we went over to the Tower Bridge. This was both of our favorite site. The Tower Bridge is often mistaken as the London Bridge because it is more visually iconic than the London Bridge.
From there, we walked over to Covent Garden, just as the vendors were packing up for the evening. Then a few blocks away to Trafalgar Square. By this time, it was dark, and the fountains were lit up. We didn't have time, but the National Gallery is here as well. Across the street is a rooftop bar across the street at the Trafalgar Hotel, that is open during the warmer months, called Vista Bar.
The next morning, we got up and walked about seven minutes from the hotel, over to St. Paul's Cathedral before breakfast. It's definitely worth a look!
This next part is important: We used the last of our British pounds for breakfast, assuming we could use a credit card for our cab to the train station. Wrong, we were! Most of the taxis only accept cash and when we did finally find one that said they accepted credit, our cards were declined once we got to the station, causing us to miss our train to Paris. Luckily I asked to pay in Euros, and the driver accepted it at a not-so-good exchange rate. We were able to make the next train, which was a half hour later. Another thing to remember... If you're taking the Chunnel, you have to go through security at the station, so be there MORE THAN a half hour early, to be safe. We arrived a half hour early, on the dot. This is how we cut it so close.
Here are some additional worthwhile highlights we didn't have time for:
Hyde Park (This is where the famous Speakers' Corner is.)
If you're into shopping, Oxford Street is London 's most famous shopping destination.
St. Patty's day didn't even exist this year in my mind. We spent the entire day on airplanes. It was a dreaded day, but necessary to get to the next, much anticipated day... March 18. The first day of our honeymoon!
We arrived in Edinburgh at 6:30 a.m., without much sleep. We checked into the hotel the Ibis Southbridge. It was simple, clean and well located. It had a pod of a bathroom. The efficiency of the space was rather impressive. The beds weren't terrible either. We took one look at the bed and resisted the temptation to lie down. We decided to stay awake to get our bodies adjusted to the timezone. With that decision, we knew we needed to get out of the room fast.
First stop, Edinburgh Castle. Right after getting a fantastic cup of coffee at the Brew Lab, to give us a little pick-me-up. Great atmosphere too. The Castle was neat, old, but somewhat underwhelming. We explored for a while and then ventured on to get some lunch at the World's End. Nick liked his fish and chips. I got a meat pie that was pretty terrible. Everything on my plate was bland. My beer was good though.
Next, we decided to take Rick Steves' recommendation and stop at Cadenheads to get some Scotch. Neither of us are scotch drinkers but we like whiskey and bourbon. Before we walked in, Nick warned me not to mention Rick Steves. He'd read reviews on the place saying they get a ton of tourists in there who are looking for free tastings. Sure enough, the guy made mention of this, saying we could have a taste if we were going to buy something. We would have gladly paid for it but their license doesn't allow them to sell tastings. He poured a taste of lowland malt scotch directly from the barrel, into our glass. We liked it so we bought it. Then he recommended we go to Kilderkin's bar up the street and taste some more of their stuff. So that's what we did. The bar tender, Whiskers, was very nice. We told him Cadenheads had sent us to try some more of their scotch options. We told him what we liked, and based on that, he poured us four additional samples. We drank those and made our decision. Had no idea what to expect as to the tab. Nick and I debated. £20? £50? It was only £12.50! So we get back to Cadenheads and they don't have the one we like. We decided we wanted to try a rum barrel aged bottle but he didn't have a open bottle to try. Back to Kilderkin's, we went! We ended up deciding on a bottle from the first tasting, that was a little out of our comfort zone.
We walked the Royal Mile for a while, and then over to Old Town to hit a genuine Scottish Pub Nick had found online, called Bow Bar. The Royal Mile was touristy; I liked Old Town much better. The shops and pubs were colorful and unique there.
After Old Town, we decided to head outside the tourist zone a bit. Nick is always finding fantastic spots for us through his love of beer. He found two restaurants near each other, that are known for their beer selection. First, Cloisters, where we also grabbed a burger to share. It was quite good. I'd wished we'd each gotten our own! Oh and I should mention, all the beers were cask... Cellar temperature and very low carbonation.
After Cloisters, we went to another place known for their beer; Hanging Bat Beer Cafe. This was a favorite. The atmosphere was great, very contemporary though. It didn't have that authentic Scottish feel. It was very local. By the this time, it was about 8:00 p.m., we were nearly falling asleep at the bar. We took a cab back to the hotel and crashed. Day one over and out.
Day two was a little more low key because we'd checked off most of the things on our list on day one. We slept in, until 10:00 because our bodies were beat from more than 30 hours of no sleep the day before! We stopped for breakfast at a fantastic farm-to-table restaurant called Edinburgh Larder. They were serving breakfast so I initially ordered the quiche. Apparently quiche is lunch... So then I made a quick decision to go with the French toast. It. Was. Amazing. The French toast itself was pretty basic. It was the topping that was amazing. It was a mixture of apples and berries cooked in cinnamon and vanilla. No syrup. No syrup necessary.
The one thing I'd really wanted to do in Edinburgh was Arthur's Seat -- a hike to the top of a hill that overlooks the town. The hike up was steep, especially for us Floridians. I'm not a fan of heights, so the trail that was about the width of my arm span, and then dropped off the side of a cliff, was rather unnerving to me! But I pushed forward. We got to a spot where it became steeper, but was close to the top of the mountain. That was about the point where Nick started anticipating the trip back down. As I started overcoming my fear, his began. Without knowing how much further the top was, he wanted to start back down the hill. I wanted to go to the top. We had a small dilemma on our hands. He begrudgingly agreed to continue onward. Upward. And so we went. Once you get to the top of the hill, it is exactly as you would expect Scotland to be. Hilly and green. The day was beautiful. We got lucky with the weather. The sun was shining, about 50 degrees, standing on top of a giant hill we'd just climbed up , overlooking the city of Edinburgh!
Welp, that was fun. Time to head back down. We'd worked up an appetite so we wanted to go to anotherRick Steves place on our list, Old Bell Inn. We needed to map it, so first we stopped at a random pub called Tollbooth tavern, in hopes that they had WiFi. We grabbed a beer and mapped out our destination, stopping in some shops along the way. Old Bell was another local spot with great food. I had the lamb shank, Nick had fish and chips again, and we shared an amazing cartelized onion and goat cheese tart.
Once again, off the beaten path, and once again, a Rick Steves suggestion, (he hasn't steered us wrong yet!) we headed up the road about a tenth of a mile to John Leslie Fine Ales. We were the only tourists in the place. There was a cute little spaniel dog that reminded me of Simmer only black, skinnier, and super sweet with people. Okay, the only thing that reminded me of Simmer was that it was a dog and a spaniel. The best part about this place was the guy next to us. We talked to him about his travels and ours, and then he bought our beers for us. There was another interesting character on our way out the door. He was drunk but jovial. Really the best thing about Edinburgh was the people. The people really made the place. Everyone is nice and they all seem happy.
About a half mile in the direction of the hotel was The Abbey, a whisky (no "e" in Scotland) bar. We stopped to try to refine our pallets for scotch a bit more. We shared two taste tours that consisted of three different scotches. The first one, we stayed with the familiar lowland malt. Our favorite of the three was Bladnoch 1993. The next tour we ventured out a bit and went with the 18 year selection. Our favorite there was Highland Park, a smokey but smooth island malt.
Last stop day two: Brew Dog... Of course! The brewery is located in Scotland, but not Edinburgh. This was a beer bar that served their brews. It was very Americanized. The beers were on taps and much more robust in flavor. Brew Dog distributes in the US. This was a good spot too. The beer was just okay I preferred some of the other cask porters I'd had to Brew Dog's. But I enjoyed the place and it was a short walk back to the hotel.
And that, my friends, was our Edinburgh adventure! I'm writing this on the train to London. We've only got one day in London, so stay tuned for more Adventures of Nick and Tonya.
By Tonya Cardinali