Buckingham Palace Tour

Steph and I LOVE the Royals. It therefore seemed fitting that we should include a tour of Buckingham Palace in our time in London!

The palace is open each year from the end of July through October when the Queen is not in residence. Visitors can tour the state rooms amidst large crowds and many velvet ropes blocking off areas.

But Buckingham also opens its doors for exclusive guided tours, when it is usually not open to the public. The tour offers a much more in depth look inside, including many tidbits about life at the palace and the chance to get a little bit more behind the scenes. The tour ends with a glass of champagne in the Grand Entrance and includes a guide book of the palace.

Steph had the brilliant idea to write about our tour in the book! I now have the best souvenir with notes from our experience and all the fun little things we learned.

Pictures are not allowed at any point during the tour but Steph and I got a little sneaky in the loos.

The hands down most amazing part of the tour is the end. You are escorted out the front entrance by a guard! Through the courtyard, with a glance up at THE balcony, and out the front gates. How amazing is that?!

Steph and I were just giddy after our tour. It was truly a unique and amazing experience and the perfect end to her visit.

London Transport Museum

After two days of adventures in Edinburgh Steph and I flew back to London early Sunday morning. Wanting to make the best of Steph’s last full day we rallied and hit the town. First up was a comforting lunch at one of my favorites, Bone Daddies.

The most delicious chicken to share.
The most delicious chicken to share.
Tonkotsu ramen with spring onion and chashu pork.
Tonkotsu ramen with spring onion and chashu pork.

With full tummies we headed to the London Transport Museum. Located in Covent Garden in the old Flower Market building is a fun museum that highlights the various modes of transportation in the city for the last 200 years.

The first time I visited was shortly after the museum’s refurbishment in 2005. It seemed new and fresh with tons of interesting facts. It also was fairly priced at 10 pounds back then. I was excited to return and found myself a little disappointed. Maybe it was just being tired from our flight, or the mass amount of children there. But some of the displays felt cramped and the price high at 17 pounds. The content is very fascinating and some areas are outstanding however. If you are interested in the transportation aspect of the city I would say to visit, but perhaps early enough and on a weekday if possible to avoid mass crowds.

The construction of the Tube.
The construction of the Tube.

The museum shop however is excellent for all transport-themed items. When I arrived in London in November I decorated my flat with a few posters from this shop! To me it’s a must stop when you are in Covent Garden, and you do not have to see the museum to shop.

Eating in Edinburgh

On our second day in Edinburgh we woke up with the goal to find a local bookshop. We figured out the best route via bus to get to a shop only to find upon arrival they didn’t sell what we were looking for. Frustrating and hungry we googled and picked a cafe at random to have breakfast. Fueled for the rest of the morning we took the bus back towards Old Town.

We had an awkward amount of time to kill before the main event of our day, a food tour with Eat Walk Edinburgh Tours! We stopped at another book shop and walked around before the meet up at 1.

The tour featured five venues and a great history of Edinburgh from our tour guide. The highlight for me was our middle stop at the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. We dined on haggis, the famed dish of Scotland (best to not look up what it’s made of). The society specializes in single cast whiskies that are each unique. The one we sampled was described as “a comforting hug in a mug”. We learned the trick is to sample your whisky then add a trickle of water and stir before sampling again. This process is repeated until you get to the ideal taste for you.

Steph and I had been on one food tour before in Seattle and knew it would be a great alternative way to see and experience the city. We spent a lot of time after the tour comparing this to our tour in Seattle. Both amazing, but different! We felt with this tour we got a lot more city history in addition to culinary facts. Additionally the tour in Edinburgh was a lot heavier on the booze provided at each stop.

We had a very very late dinner than evening and went to bed early for another early flight back to London the next day!

Logan’s Tips and Tricks

  • Sounds silly, but the bus is a great and cheap way to see different parts of the city! Even though our trek was a bust it was still nice to see parts of the University of Edinburgh and local streets.
  • Book your food tour in advance, especially if it is on the weekend as spots will sell out.
  • Steph and I realized how much of travel planners we are, and trying to play things by ear came back to bite us. There were a couple of things we didn’t manage to fit in because our timing was just off. Next time I’d love to climb Arthur’s Seat and see Holyrood House.

Edinburgh, Scotland

I’ve fallen in love with another city. After a rocky start (read: having to clarify the correct pronunciation of the town with a Scottish co-worker…) I was ready for a long weekend away with one of my favorite travel partners-in-crime Steph!

We were up early (too early) to grab the bus to Stansted. We bumped into some friends though once we arrived at the airport!

The flight to Edinburgh is an easy one: just over an hour and no customs since you are still within the UK. I warned Steph before we got on board that Ryanair (our airline carrier) has the ‘brilliant’ ritual of announcing your flight has arrived on time with a blaring trumpeting during the descent. My first Ryanair flight was at an ungodly time in the morning and said trumpet woke me up from a nap. Needless to say I’ve held that grudge against Ryanair for 8+ years!

Once we arrived we took a bus into town. Tickets can be purchased at the time from the ticket stand outside the airport. The ride was about 20 minutes and dropped us off just a few minutes walk from our hotel.

We stayed at Fraser Suites after reading Aspiring Kennedy’s travel tips for Edinburgh. This was an amazing spot and I would absolutely stay here again/recommend to anyone visiting. The rooms were luxurious, the staff friendly, the location prime and the price perfect!

It’s important to note that the shower was FANTASTIC.

Every room has tea and shortbread. Steph and I became obsessed with the shortbread (Brodies) and tried with no success to find the brand in shops. Every shortbread was compared to this over the weekend!

As it was noon by this point our first stop was for lunch!

Union of Genius is a delicious soup cafe located at 8 Forrest Road, Edinburgh EH1 2QN.

They change their soup menu daily, always offering an array which includes both creamy and broth based recipes, as well as vegetarian and vegan options. Excitingly they also offer soup flights where you can select three of the soups to have in smaller portions. Steph and I conferred and coordinated our ordering to be able to sample as many soups as possible!

After an amazing lunch our next stop was The Elephant House, where JK Rowling penned the early Harry Potter novels. We ordered hot drinks, and a millionaire shortbread to share.

Bathroom art.

Steph and I realized we had been in Edinburgh for several hours and all we had done was eat. We needed to remedy this, and trekked up the Royal Mile to Edinburgh Castle for the afternoon!

The castle looks over the whole town and is enriched in centuries upon centuries of history.

It was enjoyable and you could feel the history walking around. That being said as Steph aptly put it when we left “I’m not sure I know anything more than I did when I arrived”.

Feeling that we needed a little more culture for the day we made a very quick stop into the National Gallery.

Before we knew it the sun was setting and our tiredness from the early flight set in. It started raining and we made an impulse dinner decision for a pub that wasn’t very good. I did however get a bit of Oban scotch which was phenomenal! We returned to our hotel and had a great night sleep to prepare for our full Saturday in Edinburgh! 

Logan’s Tips and Tricks

  • You can book tickets in advance for the Edinburgh Castle online and collect upon arrival. This is especially smart during peak visitor times to save yourself from having to wait in line to buy tickets.
  • Wear good walking shoes! Edinburgh is hilly.
  • The Royal Mile is a bit touristy, especially when it comes to souvenirs. Do a little research before you arrive if you are eying a cashmere purchase.

Officially Spring!

London has been gorgeous the last few weeks. Still a bit nippy but the sun has been shining and the days are becoming longer. Here’s a slew of pictures from London life!

Duck eggs have been a staple in my fridge lately; they are slightly larger than chicken eggs and a bit more decadent.

It’s still chilly but bright lips and statement necklaces help take on the day!

I’ve been working on the same client for a few weeks and most days entail an afternoon cuppa. I think I’ve finally perfected the art of a cup of British tea!

At the end of February I spent a day in Notting Hill with one of my old dance friends Rachael who was in town for the weekend! We queued for a delicious brunch at Granger & Co, now on the top of my favorite restaurants of London list.

Afterwards we enjoyed a gorgeous day in London with a walk through Notting Hill and Kensington.

I saw ‘Hail Caesar’ at the Electric Cinema in Notting Hill, a super swanky cinema! The film was a bit eh but how can you beat comfy chairs and footstools?

Trying to get into the Snapchat game since most days it’s an afterthought! 

Brunching with Gail.

Last weekend started with a brisk walk through Kensington on the way to the Royal Albert Hall.

I went for a tour in the morning which was spectacular!

The Royal box…

…and the staircase that the royals use to enter (as well as the Queen’s private loo in the corner!)

I popped into the V&A for some culture and a scone (but of course).

Then back to the Royal Albert Hall to see the orchestra play live along with “Raiders of the Lost Ark”!

I absolutely loved this. “Raiders” is one of my favorite films and the talent of the orchestra was just beyond!

Afterwards I took a walk through Hyde Park before heading home. Oh London life!

Guest Post: Wimbledon and The Tower of London

The day of Duck & Waffle I had to head back to work, but Meg and Steph had a lovely day in London. Today I’m passing over the blog to Steph to tell you all about their adventures!


Hi! Stephanie here. Logan has been recapping our trip to visit across the pond to Jolly Ole England. We nerded out at Harry Potter Studios, caught a show on NYE, ventured to Bath and tried to visit the Queen. And after five days packed together, Logan had to go to back to work (le sigh). So, Meg and I ventured across London by ourselves. Our first stop, The All England Lawn Tennis Club aka Wimbledon.

Meg is a huge tennis fan and watches the tournament every year. I’m basically just a fan of the 2004 movie starring Paul Bettany and Kirsten Dunst (go watch it now if you haven’t; I’ll wait). However, the tour and museum were fascinating. The tour was about an hour. We saw the courts and press area.

Our tour guide was not only adorable, but quite knowledgeable about the tennis club and tournament. I was especially interested in the ticketing process. Hopefuls enter their name in a lottery months in advance. If chosen, you receive a day, court and seats for the number of tickets. They can be accepted or declined. That is your one offer. Crazy! Also, strawberries and cream is the thing during the tournament. The club goes through thousands of pounds during the week. Who knew?

It was also our first sunny day, which made for a beautiful walk around the grounds. They were spectacular. I wish I could see them when the flowers are in bloom.

Helpful Tips:

  • Tickets are £24 and can be purchased online on their website.
  • Read the directions prior to getting on the train to Wimbledon. There are three possible tube stops to get off at, all within walking distance to Gate 4 and the museum entrance. There is also a bus that picks up/drops off at the gate.
  • The Wingfield Cafe at the Gate 4 entrance had a yummy lunch. It was reasonably priced and quick.  

After lunch, we hopped back on the tube to Central London to visit The Tower of London. We arrived just in time for the last tour. Our beefeater’s name was Clive and he was hilarious.

A few days earlier we read a short essay by a beefeater as his wife in this book. Did you know they live in the Tower of London? I didn’t. This fascinates me. So naturally, I had a lot of questions for Clive after tour. In case you were wondering, they do not have a curfew despite The Tower being locked down each evening. I forgot to ask if they can have dogs. Next time!

After the tour we saw The Crown Jewels, which were gorgeous and one of my favorite things I saw in London. We were a bit rushed for time, but got to explore the White Tower. We also fit in some selfies with the Tower Bridge.

Overall, a wonderful last day for Meg before heading home.

Helpful Tips:

  • Don’t miss the guided tour. It’s informative and funny.
  • I would devote 2-3 hours for the grounds. There is a lot to see, but if pressed for time the two must-dos are the tour and seeing The Crown Jewels.
  • The gift shop was quite large and had quite a great selection of goodies. It was also packed. Be warned. It’s outside the gates, so you can stop by without going to The Tower.

Stephanie is twenty-something gal. When she’s not trying new restaurants in Chicago, she’s exploring a new city or kayaking at her lakehouse. She’s an avid reader, podcast listener and foodie. Follow her on Twitter or Instagram @stephaniehermes.

Duck & Waffle

Over by Liverpool Street Station and up amongst the clouds (on the 40th floor) is Duck & Waffle, a 24/7 restaurant that has had London abuzz for years. I’ve read countless blog posts about the restaurant and heard about late night dining from my co-workers after the Christmas party this year. Naturally it was the ideal choice for dinner on Meg’s last night in London!

Cocktails to start: I ordered the Roasted Cosmo 2.0 which the website describes as: Grey Goose Le Citron vodka, orange liqueur, rosemary hydrosol, bone marrow infusion, cranberry & cacao. This was good, but forgettable. The sprig of rosemary was also a bit odd; I just laid it on the table.

We shared (obviously) and ordered tons to eat (also obviously). Overall everything was prepared wonderfully and was delicious!

Crispy pig ears served in a tear-away brown paper bag. A nice starter that felt obligatory to order but I wouldn’t get this again.

Cheesy bread; how could you go wrong with this? Yum.

Bacon wrapped dates. Another no brainer!

Baked haddock with lobster cream and Parmesan crumble.

The pork belly meatball with cranberries.

Sprouts, quite possibly my favorite dish!

Wild mushrooms with a fried duck egg and sprouts.

And of course the namesake, the duck and waffle. The sweet and salty combo is amazing!

The homemade biscuits were beautifully presented (not to mention yummy). And my after-dinner cappuccino hit the spot!

The atmosphere of Duck & Waffle is extremely unique. It’s worth a visit just to experience the lifts to the 40th floor and the views of London. The service was just fine and I think the prices are valid for a more upscale restaurant. It isn’t an every day place to go but perfect for when you need something a bit special.

Since we were on a tight schedule we made a reservation ages in advance (read: before I even left for London). Play it safe with a reservation through the website or dine at an off time. As they are open 24 hours there are no opening/closing times to worry about when planning your visit!

Windsor Castle

The bummer of trying to sight see during January is that the weather can be, quite frankly, horrible. On our last full day in London we woke to a cold rainy day. Between that and a strict ‘no photos’ rule inside Windsor Castle I didn’t take many photos!

We kicked off the day with breakfast on a boat…one of my favorites the Waterside Cafe in Little Venice!

Followed by the best almond milk cappuccino I’ve had thanks to Beany Green along the canal.

We took the train from Paddington to Windsor, about an hour journey with one train change. It was miserable outside but a fascinating tour inside this royal residence. One of my favorite parts of our tour was speaking to one of the guides about what it’s like inside the castle when it isn’t open to the public and the Royal family is in residence. It’s remarkable imagining the Queen walking around the same rooms you are standing in; of course she wouldn’t be restricted by a rope barrier!

We had our Sunday roast across the street from the castle at the Duchess of Cambridge Pub. The inside is decorated with Union Jack bunting, inspired by the Royal Wedding, and is just adorable! I confirmed with our waitress that Duchess Kate has not been in to visit (yet).

I’m so glad to have visited Windsor during my time living in London! Back when I studied here in 2007 my friends came to see the castle on a weekend I was visiting a friend in Vienna and it’s been on my to-see list ever since.

Windsor is located in the county of Berkshire and easily accessible via train from Central London.

Bath

Meg and Steph’s visit was top to bottom fantastic. That being said, if I had to pick a favorite day I think it would be our visit to Bath.

Bath is located in Southeast England and is about a two hour train ride from London. Between the time and the price of the journey (30 pounds when we visited) I wouldn’t say it makes the cut of your average one week trip to London…..but perhaps it should! Bath is home to the famed Roman Baths built around a natural hot spring, very recently recognized as a national monument, though there are loads of other things in town which make your visit worth the trek!

We started off our day at the Bath Fashion Museum. I LOVED this place!

The museum is currently featuring a ‘Behind the Scenes’ exhibit which showcases the fashion from the 1800’s through to the mid-1900’s. I loved observing how the fashions changed and picking my favorites amongst all the dresses!

The museum also features more current fashion pieces. I fell in love with this Alexander McQueen…..

…this glamorous piece by Peter Russell…

…but I loved this cocktail dress from Hardy Amies most of all!

Another highlight of the museum was the ‘Dressing Up’ exhibit with replica Victorian attire to try on! First, a corset and crinoline!

I think I would have fit right in!

For lunch we went to The Raven Pub which specializes in pies!

The raven ale pie with beef, onion, carrot, raven ale and raven ale/red onion gravy. Chips on the side.

The heidi pie with goat’s cheese, sweet potato, spinach, red onion and roasted garlic and red wine/thyme gravy. Mustard mash on the side.

The fungi chicken pie with chicken, chestnut and field mushrooms and sage/onion gravy. Chips on the side.

The chicken pie was hands down my favorite but they were all delicious! I recommend trying to dine at an off time; we managed to beat the crowds by sheer luck but this place can get very busy!

With full tummies we set off for the Roman Baths. Visitors are provided a self guided audio tour. There is a generic tour, a children’s tour and one from Bill Bryson. Each offer great insight. I personally felt a little overwhelmed with the amount of audio so I picked and chose when to listen and when to just observe.

One of the most fascinating things about the Roman Baths are, despite being so old, they were only discovered in 1978!

Despite multiple signs advising not to, of course I touched the water. Just had to make sure it was actually warm : )

You can also sample the water. It’s….interesting. Not bad but not something I’d want a huge glass of to drink!

Overlooking the Roman Baths hot springs is The Pump Room Restaurant. We stopped in for afternoon tea before our train back to London!

The tea was enjoyable. I loved the scones and the sandwiches were unique (including a poached salmon ‘shot’ to have over little bread crisps!). The desserts were forgettable in my opinion.

Visitors can enjoy live music being played in the dining room which really adds to the fancy afternoon tea vibe!

Bath Abbey looked absolutely lovely all lit up at night (actually this was probably around 5pm; seriously I don’t miss those short days of sunlight!)

I would absolutely return to Bath one day, preferably in the warmer months to enjoy walking around and visiting the Royal Victoria Park.

Trains run fairly frequently between London Paddington station and Bath Spa. The city centre is about a 15 minute walk from the station, and the Fashion Museum another 10 minutes away. Plan for a full day as we did, or make it a weekend!

Kensington Palace

The first day of 2016 was spent visiting Kensington Palace, the residence of the British Royal Family since the 17th century. Once home to Princess Diana and now residence of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry!

There is so much history to explore at the palace. A highlight for me was the ‘Fashion Rules’ section that showcases the fashion of Queen Elizabeth, Princess Margaret and Princess Diana. Not to mention all the great photo ops along the way!

One of my favorite moments was stopping to listen to one of the royal staff talk about the British monarchy.  There is A LOT to say when discussing centuries of history but our guide was so fascinating! Not to mention he had an amazing tale about bumping into Duchess Catherine and Prince George!

We enjoyed afternoon tea at The Orangery, located just next door from the palace. The interior is light and airy and I love the place settings at the table!

Afterwards we walked around Notting Hill, stopping in the shops and enjoying all of the painted houses. It was just amazing to be in London with three of my best friends!

For dinner we headed to the Churchill Arms which serves amazing Thai food. I would absolutely recommend a visit if you are in town!