UK, 2016 – Recap

Since I don’t travel full-time, I figured that instead of doing a monthly recap, I would recap each of my trips following the full posts. These recaps will contain highs, lows, logistics, funny anecdotes, pictures, etc. that I likely didn’t include in the full posts.

Without further ado, my trip to the UK!

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Countries: 2 – England & Scotland (I know they’re both part of the UK, but I can’t help but think of them separately)
Year: 2016
Number of Days: 16 (including travel)
Favorite City: Stirling
Favorite English site: The Harry Potter Warner Bros. Studio Tour
Favorite Scottish site: Doune Castle
Type of Trip: Relaxation/Family/Friends
Money Spent: This was a fairly pricey trip, but we all chipped in, so it wasn’t so bad. We got our flights on a 2015 Cyber Monday deal for $897 each, all taxes included. Our costs in England totaled roughly 300 pounds (this is a guesstimate). The Scotland portion is a bit more challenging to figure out, as we all split the costs and never properly tallied afterwards.

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Highs:

  • Seeing Carly & T again, and getting the chance to meet their amazing friends and family was by far the best highlight of this trip! Though Carly had been to Canada to visit us several times, this was the first time any of “her Canadians” were able to hop across the pond to visit her neck of the woods. We all loved the chance to meet her nearest and dearest!
  • It had been years since I’d traveled properly with my best friend Alex (Florida, 2008!), and the first time I had the chance to properly travel with my friend Sylvan (we have a few road trips and Nuit Blanches under our belts!). It was also great to meet two of Carly’s other Canadians, and get the chance to hang out with them!
  • The Harry Potter Studio Tour. It was an absolute dream come true, and kind of crazy that I went there for the first time and to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter for the first time within 8 months of each other, after years of dreaming and planning for both.
  • Riding the London Eye was a definite highlight. The view is spectacular, and it’s well worth the cost. For anyone worried about their fear of heights, I say give it a go. My mom, who is beyond petrified of heights, was able to go on and enjoyed it (mostly).
  • Our Stirling Airbnb. I fell head over heels in love with it. Everything was perfection, including the lovely hostess Gillian and the location of the Airbnb. It’s an easy drive to Stirling, Loch Lomond, Edinburgh, and Glasgow, and it’s nestled in the most beautiful farmland. If you want to check it out, here’s the link: Airbnb
  • St. Giles’ Cathedral. This stunning cathedral stole my heart instantly, and I could have stayed there for hours. Even now, just looking at the pictures I took while there fills me with the same peace and wonder I felt inside its wall. The photography fee (2 pounds) is so very worth it.
  • Doune Castle. This was my favorite castle we explored. Its ruinous state leaves everything to the imagination, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. It also had the best audio guide, narrated by Terry Jones!
  • Driving the North Coast 500. I love road trips, and no matter how long the drive, I never seem to get sick of them. We knew we absolutely had to make our way around “Scotland’s answer to Route 66”, and it ended up being one of my absolute favorite times of the whole trip. The scenery is stunning, and the variety of people and places you encounter can’t be beat. A definite must for anyone making their way over there!
  • Getting the chance to have another adventurous trip with my mom and sister. Although there was a massive blow up fight at one point and it seriously darkened the mood, I wouldn’t have traded traveling with them and seeing Scotland for the first time with them for anything.

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Lows:

  • After an overnight flight, it was extremely disconcerting to make our way to the Enterprise rental desk, only to find a note stating that we would need to go to the other terminal for the rentals. Customs had delayed us, so we were already behind schedule, and due to confusing signage and conflicting instructions from airport employees, it took us more than 20 minutes to make our way to the other terminal.
  • We knew we didn’t want to drive right into the heart of downtown London, so we opted for taking the train in a few stops. Unfortunately, while researching for the trip, we somehow missed that the train station didn’t have parking. We arrived at the train station and the hunt began for parking. In the end, we used an app called JustPark where you pay someone to park in an extra spot in their driveway. It was great in terms of price (only 5 pounds!), but there was a bit of pressure in terms of getting back at the correct end parking time.
  • To my great dismay, I had no idea that you can still watch plays at Shakespeare’s Globe Theater. We only learned of this upon arriving and seeing a mass crowd waiting to enter for their show. Seeing a play there would have been a dream come true, and it’s definitely on my list for my next visit!
  • After getting home from our trip, there was a feeling of extreme panic when mom received a pricey ticket relating to where we parked at our hotel for the night in Carlisle. We fought it, particularly as we had checked several times with the concierge to ensure we were parked correctly. In the end, we won and the ticket was dropped.
  • Missing Dunnet Head was mildly frustrating, particularly since it’s essentially my fault. If I had dug a little deeper into research before the trip, I would have realized it was the northernmost point of the mainland, not John O’Groats.
  • Missing the inner cave boat tour at Smoo Cave. The cave can flood very easily, and the wind was so strong that day, we weren’t surprised to see it wasn’t running. The cave itself was still amazing though!
  • Food poisoning. AGAIN. It was the worst I have ever had it.

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Funny Moments:

  • The thing with hotels in Europe is that a lot of them have been there so long that either they don’t have an elevator, or the one they have is extremely small. We ended up dragging our suitcases up and down so many flights of stairs, and laughing so hard we were nearly peeing our pants. Specific shout out to the hotel in Carlisle, which included a tiny elevator, but then also included an extra set of five stairs to our room.
  • The length of hallway from our hotel in England’s reception to where our rooms were was so long. We were hysterical as we dragged our suitcases down it. I timed it one time and the walk was just under 2 minutes!
  • My sister’s newfound dream upon our arrival in Scotland was to get a selfie with a sheep. She had an hilariously bad run of it, and though she did manage to get one in the end, we spent a lot of time laughing about the sheep avoiding her, running away from her, or giving her dirty looks.
  • I seem to have a series of poor luck when it comes to suitcases. Not once but twice have I had wheels pop off my suitcase, and though that didn’t happen, my cloth suitcase did rip to the point of no longer being useful. I purchased a new hard shell one, and it ended up being SO much larger than the one I previously had, which brings me to the next funny moment….
  • Our trunk was a big Tetris game of suitcases, and my newly purchased massive one was not the best fit. Still – somehow – we made it work. There was a specific order we had to put the suitcases in and pull them out, but with one of the backseats down, we managed it.
  • We knew ahead of time that we would need to pay to enter some of the bathrooms in the UK, but no instance was funnier than the bathroom facilities at John O’Groats. Our last real stop had been at Dunrobin Castle, and needless to say we were all in a bit of a need. Unfortunately, the ones at John O’Groats required money, so we stood there laughing uproariously while trying to fish out the proper money to enter.
  • For our North Coast 500 drive, we were relying on previously printed directions combined with an atlas specific to Scotland. We managed to do a pretty good job – as in, we didn’t get terribly lost – but no time was funnier than in Durness. After filling up the gas tank, we got back on the road to continue on our way to Ullapool, only to discover we had driven around in a circle and were back at the same gas station. Look out, Magellan!

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Overall Experience:

Before experiencing London, I had very low expectations. I actually ended up really enjoying the city. The Harry Potter studio tour was amazing, and our time with Carly and T couldn’t be beat. As for Scotland, everything just blew me away. It met my high expectations and far surpassed them. Driving around the North Coast 500 was a dream, and visiting castles was the icing on top of a delicious cake. The whole trip from start to finish was everything I could have hoped for, lows aside. Looking at the pictures and retelling the stories during these blog posts has me longing to return!

Stay tuned for one last post about my UK trip, since I just can’t get enough!

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