Europe 2013 Trip Report: Part 3 – The Bells of St. Paul’s

Back to part 2.


We gathered up our souvenirs and decided we’d head to St. Paul’s Cathedral.  I read it was closed to visitors on Sunday, but we figured we’d check out the outside and make our way to Millennium Bridge afterwards.  So, we hopped on a bus to the nearest Tube station.



After exiting the Tube we could see the dome of St. Paul’s.  While on the way we spotted a Starbucks first.  Since I’m not a full adult yet, or a young person who wants to act old, I don’t drink coffee; so I wandered around taking photos while everyone else got some warm drinks.  The wind was blowing mightily still and it was uncomfortable cold for us Arizonans.  I ended up in a convenience store where I bought something even better than overpriced coffee.  Candy bars.  Foreign candy bars I’ve never eaten before.  I ended up only eating one at the time and saved the rest for later.
DSC08587 – these are light and fluffy inside and I love mint so that made it even better
DSC08588 – I honestly don’t remember this one
DSC08589 – this one was good


St. Paul’s is closed to visitors on Sundays and is only open for worship.  It seemed like that just meant you could go inside, just not the main tourist areas.
DSC08597 – you’re not allowed to take photos inside the cathedral
National Firefighters Memorial – the National Firefighters Monument is just to the side of the cathedral


We passed by this British pub on our way to the Millennium Bridge and decided to give it a shot.  Nina ordered fish & chips because we were in London and you know you’ve got to eat them at least once.  Moms and me ordered bangers and mash because sausage and mashed potatoes are just awesome.  Jules ordered roasted chicken, and I don’t recall what Uncle D & Cuz ordered.  I’m used to ordering food on vacation and taking a moment to document my meals, but some people’s appetites were just too ravenous to wait.  So if you’re wondering why I only have a couple food photos for each meal, that’s why.  The food was enjoyable and soon we were back on our way.
DSC08609 – The Centre Page
2013-11-03 15.28.25 – fish & chips
DSC08610 – roast chicken
DSC08612 – bangers and mash


The Millennium Bridge is a pedestrian only bridge that spans the River Thames.  You might remember this bridge as the one the Death Eaters destroy in Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince.  We only went about halfway across the bridge before heading back since we were too tired to really explore the sights on the South Bank.
DSC08621 – The Shard
DSC08632 – Tower Bridge (this has a really good shot of the upper walkways)
DSC08643 – Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre
DSC08652 – we got the roasted almond guy to take a picture with James


We’d been out all day and decided to take a break back in the rooms for a bit.  This was our last night, so we knew we wanted to check out Piccadilly Circus when it got dark.


Part 4 here.


Europe 2013 Trip Report: Part 2 – I’ll have a full English

Here’s a link to part 1.

When I last left you we had spent our first full day in London.  Today is day 2 of our trip November 3, 2013.

We needed to start the day with some nourishment and Jules saw an ad for a place nearby that looked encouraging.  None of us bought any sort of internet plan for the trip, so we wouldn’t be able to rely on any mapping service to get us where we needed to go.  It was okay though, we had maps that were printed on some sort of papyrus you could fold up, as well as a cage full of pigeons to send out in case we had need of any correspondence.  In reality my phone was set to airplane mode but had the wifi on and I used an app called “London Travel Guide with Offline Maps” by tripwolf.  This has an offline map and with wifi on, we could still pinpoint our position on the map, making it easy to navigate without a data plan.  I’m pretty good at reading maps so this worked out well for us this trip and they had an app for each of the cities we were going to.

DSC08335 DSC08336 DSC08351_HDR.jpg

We found the restaurant we were looking for and it was closed, I think because it was a Sunday.  Being a Sunday morning there wasn’t much open, but we just happened across a little restaurant called “Ponti’s Italian Kitchen”.  This place was a hit for all of us, probably in our top 3 meals of the trip.  Sometimes the stuff you stumble into on a trip ends up being the greatest.

Untitled DSC08373
DSC08363grape & vanilla cooler, this was an amazing drink (from the menu: Juicy red seedless grapes with a splash of vanilla, a dash of lemon juice & cranberry juice)
DSC08366 – eggs florentine
DSC08368 – Special Breakfast, Ponti’s version of the full English

Bellies full we waddled onto the tube and got off next to the Tower of London.  Moms and me visited this last time and while it is a great place to visit, our destination this trip was the Tower Bridge.  Tower Bridge is the iconic bridge of London and most people tend to call it London Bridge, but it’s not.  That’s here in Arizona, or one of them is at least.  Tower Bridge has a walkway at the top between the two towers that gives some nice views of the city.  Originally this walkway was supposed to be used by citizens of London so they wouldn’t have to wait to cross the river when the big ships sailed through and the bridge was raised.  Apparently, the citizens of old London were a bit lazier than the designers thought, because most people preferred to wait and watch the ships pass rather than haul their shopping up and down the stairs.

I am deathly afraid of heights so I was unsure how this was going to go down for me, but the walkway is enclosed and I didn’t really feel the height.  The windows can be a little dirty, but there are portholes for an unfettered view.  There are two walkways and each has photos and info on other famous bridges in the world.  They play a couple of videos about the construction of the bridge and your ticket gains you entrance to the engines tour to see the huge machinery that raises and lowers the drawbridge.  Even if you don’t pay you can walk across the bridge for some great views still.
DSC08395.jpg – Tower of London
DSC08405_HDR.jpg – Tower Bridge
DSC08432 – River Thames
DSC07829 – Moms made these cut-outs of the newest family member to take with us so he could enjoy the trip ala “Flat Stanley”.  Here I am holding him.
DSC08501 – this guy asked Cuz to take his photo and I was taking some other photos and when I turned around he was doing the Gangnam Style dance; it was such an odd moment
DSC08510 – Tower Bridge sign
DSC08518 – engine room
DSC08531 – Tower Bridge

The Tower Bridge engine rooms end like a Disney ride and exit into the gift shop.  This was the first real souvenir shop we encountered so everybody was excited to buy their London merchandise.  I bought some things and headed out to take some photos.

More to come, St. Paul’s Cathedral, more English food, and Piccadilly Circus yet to come.

Continue with part 3 here.

Europe 2013 Trip Report: Part 1 – Beginnings

With our next trip booked I figured I should get this finished/started.

The cast of our play:

Me: your humble narrator.
Moms: my mother

Moms & me have been to Europe twice before – in ’09 to London & Paris and in ’11 to Italy.

Jules: Moms’ younger sister, went with us to Italy in ’11

Nina: Moms’ older sister & my godmother (hence the title)
Uncle D: Nina’s husband
Cuz: the youngest child of Nina & Uncle D

They’ve been all over the US, but this would be their first trip to Europe.


Nina’s lifelong dream was to go to Paris, and shortly after we returned from Italy in ’11 Moms & me were playing the role of instigator to get them to go.  We figured it would be fun to tag along and Jules was down to go back; so our party was set.

The original plan was to visit Paris & Rome.  Nina and family were stoutly proclaiming that this would be a once-in-a-lifetime trip for them in our initial planning.  Eventually, London was added as was Venice, after Moms & my high praise for the city.  In figuring out how to get to Venice from Paris we chose to take a train to Milan and spend a night there before heading out to Venice.  All of us, except Jules, are big Disney fans, so Disneyland Paris was a must do as well.  In the end we decided on 2 nights in London, 3 in Paris, 1 at Disneyland Paris, 1 in Milan, 1 in Venice, & 3 in Rome.  This was going to be a whirlwind of a trip.


We flew US Airways Phoenix to Philadelphia, then crossed the Atlantic to London.

Something I hadn’t seen on our previous flights was flight info displayed on the entertainment screens.  Along with distance travelled/left, speed, exterior temperature, the map showed locations of some shipwrecks we flew over.  That was neat for a nerd like me.  We landed at Heathrow and found out they have 45 minutes of free wifi, so a couple of us hopped on that for our sweet, sweet internet fix.  We made our way through customs to the Heathrow Express.  After a bit of faffing about on the elevators and getting off at the wrong floor, we eventually found our way underground.  The Heathrow Express is a fairly quick, leisurely ride from Heathrow to Paddington Station.  The Tube can get you into London cheaper, but you may have some more transfers with your luggage.  Plus, we got 1/3 off by buying in advance since we had more than 3 adults.
DSC08123 – London taxi cabs lined up upon our arrival at Paddington Station


Due to the size of our group we often had to take two taxis when we travelled.  The breakdown was Moms, Jules, & me in one, with Nina, Uncle D, & Cuz in another taxi.  This first taxi ride set the trend for the entire trip and for some reason Nina and fam were always charged a little bit more for their taxi rides despite us starting and stopping at the same destinations.
DSC08125  DSC08151 – our hotel, Marriott Marble Arch.  This was a big room that even included an American style outlet so you didn’t need a converter or adapter.


Our rooms weren’t ready yet so we made our way to Selfridge’s to get some food.  Moms fell in love with this store on our last visit and she couldn’t wait to go back.  Selfridge’s is a department store like Harrod’s.  As an American, our department stores like Macy’s and Target and all one store.  These stores are more akin to an open mall concept.  An analogy would be if you went to a Target and the book section was a Barnes & Nobel and you bought your book stuff in that section before moving on.  We ate in the foodhall at a place called “Eat”, so there’s no getting them confused.  They feature ready-made sandwiches on the cheap and can heat them up if you want.  All of us really enjoyed our lunch.  We looked around the store a little before realizing our rooms should be ready.  We were all tired and ready for some naps.
DSC08143 – inside of Selfridge’s
DSC08133 – this was my lunch at Selfridge’s, a ham & cheese sandwich.  I think we all got pretty much the same thing


On our previous visit, Moms and me failed to see Westminster Abbey because we got distracted by St. James’s Park & Buckingham Palace and by the time we got to the Abbey they had closed for the day.  That meant the Abbey was on the top of our to-do list today.  Today was a Saturday, they would be closed on Sunday, and we were leaving on Monday.  That meant today was our only time to see it.  They were scheduled to close at 3:30 today, so we had left Selfridge’s to give us time to get a quick break and make our way to the Abbey before they closed.  I looked them up when we were in the room and of course, they had closed early today.  We decided to hit them up Monday morning before we left instead of going to Abbey Road.

That area of London has so much to see we decided we’d head over there and get our sightseeing on.  First stop – Big Ben.  It really is an impressive sight to see in person and the first timers got their first sense of “Wow, I’m really here.”

After taking some photos we started walking towards Buckingham Palace.  On our last trip, Moms & me kind of stumbled into St. James’s Park and liked the park a lot.  We walked through the park and stopped at Inn the Park, which is a café in the middle of the park, for a quick break.  We got some drinks and a table and just relished being in London in this beautiful green space.
DSC08198 DSC08199 – some of the bottled beverages from In the Park
DSC08203DSC08204 – St. James’s Park


At one end of the Park lies Buckingham Palace, so checking out the Queen’s crib was the next thing on our to-do list.  We all took photos for a bit before trying to find a bus to take us to The London Eye.
DSC08209_HDR.jpg DSC08218_HDR DSC08224 – the gates of the Palace

DSC08228 – a guard out front

DSC08233 – it can be a pretty crowded area


The bus dropped us off just down the street from Westminster Bridge, the wind was blowing and it was frigid down near the river.
Parliament – this was a photo I wanted before we left and I’m pleased with how it turned out.


The London Eye is basically a giant ferris wheel that has enclosed capsules that give you some great views of London.  You buy your tickets in the building next door, where you wait in line to buy tickets.  If they’re really busy you might also have to wait in line to ride.  Luckily, there was no wait to ride.  It’s a 30-minute ride so we went for a potty break at the McDonald’s next door.  They also had free wifi so some of us hopped on that.

DSC08258 – Big Ben & Westminster Abbey from the London Eye
DSC08253 – St. Paul’s Cathedral from the London Eye
DSC08273 – River Thames from the London Eye

After our ride in the sky we did some souvenir shopping mainly to get out of the freezing cold.  By now we were hungry and ready for our beds.  Waterloo Station was nearby and we figured there’d be food there and we could easily get back to our hotel from there.  Everyone got some food from Pret A Manger, but I had to be different and ordered a pasty from The Pasty Shop.  I liked mine and I think everyone else liked there’s as well.  When we were done eating we wondered where to put our trash and realized there were no trash receptacles anywhere.  I asked the people at the café and the reason is kind of depressing.  The IRA used trash bins as places to hide bombs.  Now, many places don’t have trash bins out in public.  Made me think how green we actually are to the evils of the world.
DSC08317 – pasty from The Pasty Shop
DSC08320 – sandwich from Pret A Manger
DSC08321 – sandwich from Pret A Manger
DSC08325 – sign outside of Waterloo Station


We found a taxi for 6 and went back to the hotel for some much needed rest.



Continue to part 2 here.