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UK 2015: London – Day 2

Friday morning we awoke to a beautiful morning of blue skies, so we decided to explore Notting Hill. We started along the famous Portobello Road, and quickly found several interesting shops and road stalls, bringing home several origami butterflies from one store, and a sketch of St. Pauls Directly from an artist with a stall on the street. Part way up the road we took a detour to explore some of the beautiful homes nearby (!) then met up with our crew by the Tube station.

Notting Hill  Notting Hill

St John's Church  flowery stairs in Notting Hill

Everyone was hungry so we decided to go to First Floor Restaurant for lunch. I ordered the chicken caesar salad (Leandra had my anchovies – she said yum) and a half-pint of cider, while Leandra had the mussels (yet again) and a glass of rose. The food was tasty, but service was a little slow and we may have been better off with street food or one of the other cafes.

Down the street there were some great dessert stalls, so we got a florentine (almonds, cherries and chocolate cookie) and a chocolate pecan tart. Leandra searched for the blue door of the eponymous ‘Notting Hill’ movie and eventually found it.

Notting Hill Market  the blue door in Notting Hill
Notting Hill market on a Friday; the blue door from the movie ‘Notting Hill’

From here we decided to give our friends a taste of east London, so we took the tube to Shoreditch and walked over to the Old Spitalfields market. It was a little after 4p when we arrived, so parts of the market were packing up, but we managed to find some fun t-shirts and a good deal on four decorative dessert plates. As we learned on our last trip, this area has some great street art, so we spent about an hour exploring the side streets off Brick Lane; finding some old faves and quite a few new ones too.

Otto Schade  rude kids

street art  hug

birds

pumpkin face  secret society

After a quick change of clothes at the we headed back out for dinner. We were a little early for our reservation so we stopped off for a quick cider (me) and Cottage Brewing street porter (Leandra) at the Fitzrovia pub.

Dinner was at Da Paolo with our group and Leandra’s Aunt Kim and Jules, then drinks afterwards in the bustling and expensive Charlotte Street Hotel’s Oscar Bar. The big hit of the night was discovering a new (to us) drink called “Scottish Lover” that we need to recreate at home!

dinnerphoto
photo courtesy of our waiter via Jules’ phone

posing @ the Charlotte Hotel
We didn’t leave till they were shutting the bar down at 1am!

By the time we left the tube was closed, so we had ~1 mile walk back to hotel – as usual, we had a memorably fun evening in London!

UK 2015: London – Day 1

Thursday

We arrived in London’s Kings Cross station, adjacent to the beautiful old brick St. Pancras station. Due to our unfortunate visit to the lost & found office, we also saw the famous track 9 ¾ from the Harry Potter books.

King's Cross  didn't see Harry Potter, unfortunately!
not pictured – a line of tourists waiting to have their photo taken with the trolley, complete with scarves!

Though we’ve been to London many times, Leandra has always visited in the fall or winter. Given the nice weather we decided to head to Kensington Gardens to fully enjoy the spring day, a good choice given the flowers in bloom around the palace.

Kensington Gardens

Kensington Gardens

Italian Gardens

On our way back to the tube Leandra made some new feathered friends, courtesy of an older gentleman who gave her a handful of seeds to share.

making friends with a rose-ringed parakeet
rose-ringed parakeet

A week before our trip we had booked theater tickets with a 7:30p showing, so we decided on an early dinner at Ember Yard. Their small plates menu was perfect for a pre-show dinner. Here is what we tried:

  • Course #1: Padron peppers / grilled flat bread
  • Course #2: Smoked burger / smoked bream carpaccio
  • Course #3: Cheese plate

Wait staff were quite helpful, definitely earned the 12.5% service charge that was added to our check.  Especially nice was their help with tastings of wines that were offered by the glass, where they brought bottles of interest to the table and explained the Spanish or Italian varietals. We definitely enjoyed our meal here.

Ember Yard  smoked fish tapa

The show we choose was A Mad World, My Masters, playing at the Barbican Theater. While it would have been easier to get to and from the Barbican tube stop, we were on a different line and had to walk up from St. Paul’s so it was a little more confusing. The Barbican is a big complex of art venues, and the theater had nice seats with good leg room and seat width, quite unlike some of the older venues in London! The show itself was a retelling of a Jacobean play, set in a 50’s theme… quite bawdy, over-the-top, and lots of fun!

It's Mad World My Masters

After the show we visited our favorite bar in London, Craft. I found a sour saison from Anspach and Hobday, while Leandra ordered the Charlie Brown (peanut butter porter) from Thornbridge. We managed to find an open table in the basement and discussed plans for our next full day in London as we enjoyed our lovely beers.

UK 2015: First Class train to London

There was enough drama with our connecting flight from London to Edinburgh (AA and BA changing the flight time – multiple times) that we were happy we chose the train for the return leg. Because we purchased the tickets so far in advance (November), we got a great price on the first class cabin that included drinks, food, and more comfortable seats.

First class also meant we could use the lounge before the train departed. This was a mixed bag as the lounge entrance is not obvious at all, plus you have to go up a flight of stairs or cram into a tiny elevator to get to the seating area. There were some chairs and tables but overall it was pretty run down and none of the monitors showing the train times were operational. The snacks and coffee machines were nice though.

selfie-trainstation
our last Scotland group selfie of the trip!

Eric had chosen our seats when he bought the tickets but when we got on the train only two of us were actually seated next to each other. Not exactly sure what happened there! Most of the luggage compartments were completely full by the time we boarded, so I would also recommend getting on the train as soon as it arrives.

fields of rape seed (canola oil)
many, many fields of rape seed (used to make canola oil)

The four-hour journey was pleasant enough — the food was pretty good but the wine was fairly terrible. I also managed to forget the plastic bag with our snacks and one of my scarves under the seat next to me when we disembarked. The lost and found guy was friendly and I filled out a report but no luck getting our things back.

We each had several bottles of whisky, so for the price and convenience of not having to check bags and wait for them at the airport, the train was a perfect solution for us. Plus, we had never stayed near Kings Cross before, so it was a new section of the city to explore.

Scotland, April 2015

The Quaich Bar @ the Craigellachie Hotel

Flickr photo set

Blog posts

UK 2015: overview

In late April we traveled to the UK with a group of friends. Altogether we spent eight days traveling around Scotland, where Leandra drove over 900 miles (!) in six days; then onto London for two nights. Our adventure took us past many castles, quite a few hills and lochs, a sun-filled snow storm, and elevated our Scotch whisky experience to a new level.

Scotland-Driving-Map
click to enlarge map

Where we stayed

Park Inn by Radisson, Glasgow

We knew parking in Glasgow would be challenging given the downtown location of this hotel, so we emailed a week before and were given the address of a parking garage that would charge us 7 pounds for 24 hours.

On arrival we pulled up to the hotel to find no available loading zone plus a giant trash bin blocking the front of the hotel. With nowhere convenient to unload the car we just drove to the recommended parking garage about 6 blocks south walked our luggage back to the hotel. On check-in we asked if we needed to do anything special to validate our parking, and found out we had to leave the car in the garage for 24 hours and couldn’t take it out… so basically there was only a special rate if we parked for a whole day, something that was definitely not clear in their communication. Because we parked the car for less time (16 hours), we had to pay the standard garage rate of 14 pounds. We later discovered that street parking was free overnight on the weekends.

Our room was on the 2nd floor and along the main road, so it was a little noisy at night. As usual we had our earplugs so it wasn’t an issue. The room size was fine, with a good size closet and enough space to open our bags. The desk had easy-to-access outlets too.

glasgow-bath  glasgow-bed

The hotel itself has a great location, with the train station quite convenient and quite a few great bars and restaurants very close. (Though the front desk staff didn’t have any specific suggestions on that front either.)

Ben A’an House, Callander

Our group of 5 had all three rooms in this B&B. Our room had an ensuite bathroom, and a low bed and large wardrobe in a room with high ceilings and detailed crown moldings. Not too fancy and certainly comfortable enough. Our room faced the street, but Callander is pretty quiet at night so noise was not a problem.

calender-bed

Breakfast was fine with the usual selection of eggs how you like, bacon, blood sausage, haggis, beans, tomatoes, mushrooms and toast.

The other two rooms shared a bathroom across the hall. Showers in both were a little tricky as you needed to start the hot water with a pull chain. Street parking was easy as we found a spot within a block each time we needed one.

Strathallan Guesthouse, Grantown on Spey

The Strathallan Guesthouse was a wonderful experience. On arrival the exterior was wonderfully decorated, and even had a bit of snow!  We received a warm reception from the owner who gave us a quick tour.

scot-101

Our room was large with plenty of space to spread out. There was a small table in the window with two chairs, and very comfortable four-poster bed. Our hosts had included several nice touches like a glass of whisky and chocolates on the dresser.

gos-bed

The bathroom had a marvelous soaking tub and a lot of space.

Breakfast was also quite filling and tasty. Each evening we made selections for the next morning, with plenty of options available. Leandra thought this was the best haggis she’s tried in Scotland. Definitely a good choice for the area, we would easily consider a return on a future trip.

Clamshell Land Apartment Royals Mile, Edinburgh

You definitely can’t beat the location of this apartment – in the middle of the Royal Mile, a few minutes walk from the train station. The apartment itself was fairly modern with high ceilings and lots of technical touches. We had a small bedroom with en-suite bathroom, while the other two bedrooms shared a huge bathroom.

royalmileviews
our view of the Royal Mile just outside our front door!

Both bathrooms were a little weird. For example, the light switch activated the locks for the doors – if you hit the lights before you closed both doors the lock wouldn’t engage, and you had to hit the lights to properly unlock the door. Both were a little difficult for people to remember. Our bathroom was quite narrow with the shower head right in the middle. While it looked cool, it meant that the entire room got wet each time the shower was used and you had to wade across a wet floor to use the toilet. Given the large sauna that was attached, it would be a lot nicer to have a bath/shower room with a door instead.

The living room was nicely sized and comfortable. Given the technology theme, it was equipped with a Sonos player, and the TV had netflix and amazon streaming. The kitchen was well stocked with supplies too.

One item to note: it was a bit difficult to get a hold of the owner/manager via email or text, so we resorted to phone calls. Also, they were quite late to show us around the apartment; however, he was quite apologetic, and gave us a bottle of sauvignon blanc wine as an apology.

Premier Inn London St.Pancras

With a great location one block from the tube and train station, the Premier Inn was a convenient spot for us on this trip. The hotel had check-in via kiosk, which was relatively easy, and our room was ready at 2pm. The room itself was rather small, consistent with London rooms in general, and had a very small window to an interior courtyard. There was no closet, just a small rack with a few hangers available for clothes. The bathroom was fine, a bit more spacious than the rest of the room with an all-in-one body and hair wash dispenser in lieu of bottled amenities. Overall it was clean, in a good location, and reasonably priced.

Travels

2016

vietnam – february
oman – april (coming soon)
abu dhabi, uae – april (coming soon)

2015

beijing – november
istanbul – october
seattle – october
you know, just sitting on a cannonyellowstone np – september
utrecht – august
amsterdam – august
‘s-hertogenbosch – august
london – may
scotland – april
sydney – march
new zealand, north island – march
new Zealand, south island – march
hong kong – february
san diego – january

2014

belgium – december
taipei – december
vienna – december
london – october
toulouse & bordeaux – octoberEric @ Oxbow Bend
albuquerque & santa fe – october
long island – august
los angeles – august
malmo – july
copenhagen – july
indonesia (bali & lombok) – may
granada & malaga – april
parma – march
milan – march
traveling with Hello Kittysonoma co – february
london – february
toulouse – february
san diego – january

2013

prague – november
vienna – november
austin – october
tampa – september
portland, or – september
berlin & potsdam – september
canary islands – augustEric in a doorway
cologne – august
germany/france – july
edinburgh – may
montreal – may
budapest – april
nashville – april
new york, NY– april
curacao – march
sonoma, ca – february
singapore – january
brisbane – january
melbourne – january
hong kong – january
Eric with the snow

2012

belgium – november
asheville – october
chicago – october
helsinki – september
tallinn – september
british columbia – august 2012
long beach, ca – july 2012
israel – april 2012
denver – march 2012
chile – march 2012
london – february 2012

barcelona – january 2012me in front of the Twelve Apostles
san diego – january 2012

2011

hong kong – december 2011
phuket, chiang mai, bangkok – december 2011
tahoe – october 2011
anchorage – september 2011
chicago – july 2011
kauai – september 2011
Eric with his favorite red moutain
amsterdam – august 2011
chicago – july 2011
long island – july 2011
tampa – june 2011
st louis – may 2011
bruges, brussels, antwerp – april 2011
madrid – april 2011
washington dc – march 2011
chicago– march 2011
sonoma – february 2011

st.lucia – february 2011
san diego – january 2011

Sirocco

2010

chicago – december 2010
munich – november 2010
salzburg – november 2010
seattle – october 2010
blowing rock nc – october 2010

yosemite national park – september 2010
cancun – june 2010
posing in front of Miscanti Lagoon dominica – april 2010
barbados – april 2010

 brussels, belgium– march 2010
bruges, belgium– march 2010
puerto rico – february 2010
san diego – january 2010

2009

vienna, austria – november 2009up close and personal
bratislava, slovakia – november 2009
asheville – september 2009
peru – september 2009
seattle – june 2009
napa valley / san francisco – april 2009
potsdam/berlin, germany – march 2009
st martin – february 2009

2008

ireland – november 2008Leandra and Riesling
portland – october 2008

upstate ny – june 2008
barcelona, spain – june 2008

paris, france – june 2008
colorado
– may 2008
san francisco – may 2008

san diego – february 2008
zürich, switzerland – february 2008

2007

niagara falls/finger lakes wineries – december 2007
curaçao – october 2007
montana/glacier national park – august 2007
nova scotia – june 2007

southwest national parks – may 2007

shanandoah valley, virginia – may 2007us at dinner @ Shiri Bistro
miami beach – march 2007
london – january 2007

2006

south africa – december 2006
jacksonville – july 2006
sweet briar, va
– june 2006
kansas city – june 2006
tempe – may 2006
washington dc – april 2006dumplings in spicy sauce
southern california – march 2006

2005

virginia wine and waterfall weekend – october 2005
snowbird, utah – october 2005
blacksburg – august 2005
madison – august 2005
seattle – july 2005
tucson – june 2005
portsmouth, norfolk, virginia beach – june 2005
cold spring harbor – may 2005
waterfall weekend along blue ridge parkway – may 2005

2004so peaceful...

philadelphia – october 2004
hanging rock state park – september 2004
fayetteville, nc – september 2004
orient beach state park – august 2004
los angeles – august 2004
penn state road trip – june 2004
waterfall weekend in highlands, nc – may 2004
washington DC – april 2004
south africa – march 2004
waterfall hiking – february 2004
chapel hill, nc – february 2004

2003

new york city at christmastime – december 2003
orlando – november 2003
south carolina camping & waterfalls – november 2003
russell-brasstown scenic byway – october 2003
vogel s.p. & waterfalls – october 2003
chicago museum campus – september 2003
seattle – august 2003
savannah – june 2003
cancun – may 2003Kilchurn Castle
florida – march 2003
black rock mountain state park – february 2003

2002

charleston – november 2002
asheville – november 2002
tallulah gorge state park – november 2002
florida – october 2002
watson mill bridge state park – september 2002
montana – august 2002
kangaroo conservation center – august 2002
helsinki – june 2002
new orleans – april 2002
florida – march 2002

2001

hawaii – our honeymoon, sept 2001
florida – march 2001