As usual, our blog is a few weeks behind our life. We had a busy couple weeks there with friends visiting and SEEING OUR PARENTS! Both sets of parents flew into London–mine from Minneapolis; Joost’s from Amsterdam–a couple weeks ago so they could meet in person. I think everyone was a little nervous that the cultural, personality or language differences could be a problem, but we ended up having a great time. We spent a lot of time talking wedding shop (for future reference: planning a wedding via email and Whatsapp is a pain in the heinie), drinking coffee and walking around. We had just under two days together and then Joost’s parents flew back to Holland and my parents stayed for a week of traveling through the UK. It was so nice to spend time with family, especially since our social interaction with other people is pretty limited here! We also really appreciated getting to travel on a more generous budget than we’re used to 😉 You may recall that the last place we stayed in was our cozy room of 14 people in Scotland. Before that, it was our budget hut in Zanzibar that gave me bedbugs and left me sobbing in the middle of the stifling room at 3 in the morning…
Where to sleep: We stayed at the Dolphin Square Apartments, just a few blocks from the Pimlico underground stop. Joost & I stayed in one apartment, Joost’s parents and my parents each in another. Each one had a slightly different layout. Somehow, Joost and I managed to snag the nicest and biggest unit. Each apartment was equipped with a full kitchen, spacious bathroom and decently sized bedroom. Ours also had a full living room with a desk, two coffee tables and large flat screen tv (after spending most of this year without a tv, we definitely took advantage and stayed up late getting sucked into the X Factor). The customer service leaves a bit to be desired (snippy reception staff who didn’t seem to have much idea what was going on), but the location and facilities were great.
Where to eat: Believe it or not, I actually don’t remember the name of a single place we ate in London. We had amazing Indian food our first night, but Joost’s dad found it and I just followed along. Joost and I had each picked a restaurant to try while we were in London–sushi and Malaysian. Funny story: NEITHER restaurant was open. We trekked our parents around London trying to find these places, only to be greeted with locked doors and dark windows. A+ tour guides, right here.
Where to play: We did the usual touristy things: walked by Big Ben, the London Eye, etc. One of the best things we did all weekend though was seeing Stomp at Ambassador’s Theatre. When I was in 6th grade, our band director showed us a video of Stomp during class–ever since, seeing them live has been on my bucket list! It’s a percussionist’s dream. In short, it’s a group of performers dancing and smashing trash can lids together, flicking cigarette lighters in time and banging on kitchen sinks, inner tubes and shopping trolleys with drumsticks.
After saying goodbye to Joost’s parents, my parents, Joost and I hopped on a train to Edinburgh, with a quick stop at Platform 9 3/4 at King’s Cross Station (unfortunately, Joost’s owl got lost trying to deliver his Hogwarts acceptance letter, so we missed the Hogwarts Express). We lucked out with gorgeous weather and had a fabulous few days eating good food, meeting up with my friend Lisa and actually getting to see the city! Last time Joost and I were in Edinburgh, we were there for the half marathon and we were moving so quickly that we didn’t see much. Just kidding. We were moving pretty slowly, but we only had about 24 hours there!
Where to sleep: We stayed at Hotel Indigo, a funky, eclectic hotel near the heart of the city. Our room was delightfully orange–perfect for hubs-to-be’s Dutch roots. The rain showers are amazing, especially because the bathroom has built in speakers. Imagine my surprise when I was peeing and started hearing male voices coming out of our shower after Joost turned on the tv in the other room. The Aveda toiletries were an added plus. The two complaints I had: our room smelled like a flowery old grandma (although my parents claim theirs smelled fine) and the sound from the hallway carries right under the door.
Where to eat: We had some of our best meals of the trip in Edinburgh. Our favorites: Bellinis and Cosmos (for the ladies) at The Dome. Sushi at Kanpai, a hole-in-the-wall a bit outside of the main area of town and away from a lot of the tourists. Freshly squeezed lemonade at the Black Medicine Cafe. Thai food at Dusit–but beware, they aren’t joking when they say something’s spicy. My king prawns and scallops left me in a sweaty puddle by the end of the meal.
Where to play: We lucked out and had great weather in Edinburgh, which meant we got to spend a lot of time outdoors. We took a hop-on/hop-off bus tour with MacTours, which did a great job teaching us some of the history of Edinburgh. I actually conked out partway through (I was tired!), but everyone else assures me it was a great tour. We visited the Edinburgh Castle–no trip to Edinburgh is complete without a quick look around. My favorite part of our time in Edinburgh was our hike to the top of Arthur’s Seat. It takes a couple hours start to finish, but the views of the water and city are breathtaking once you get to the top. It requires a moderate level of fitness–the hills were alive with the sound of us all panting. Bring a jacket–it’s cold at the top, even on a sunny day!
Lake District (Keswick)
Where to sleep: We loved our B&B in Keswick! Howe Keld is clean, close to the lake and–the best part–makes a conscious effort to serve food and products that are local, sustainable and fair trade. The owners are friendly and accommodating, the wifi is unlimited and free and there is a great library in the main living room with tour guide books and maps.
Where to eat: Actually, the best meals we had were the breakfasts at the B&B. The restaurants we ate at were decent, but it was hard to compare after our time in Edinburgh. The breakfasts came with homemade granola, yogurt, fresh fruit, freshly baked banana bread and croissants and a main course–just in case you hadn’t gotten enough yet! Keswick has plenty of restaurants and pubs to offer, but be sure to book ahead! We didn’t realize that almost all of the restaurants required bookings and by the time we called, most of the good ones were fully booked.
Where to play: The lake(s). We arrived right after the tourist season, so most of the boat tours were closed, but we heard about a sunset boat cruise that sounded pretty fabulous. Joost and I spent most of our time here running. We ran our first ever 20 miler and couldn’t have asked for a more scenic route. We ran around the lake twice and almost the entire time was spent with me saying, “OH MY GOD LOOK AT THAT WATERFALL! LOOK A DEER! AHHH LOOK AT THAT COOL TREE! OH MY GOD ISN’T THIS AMAZING? ISN’T THE AIR SO CLEAN?! THAT BRIDGE IS SO PRETTY! THE WATER IS SO CLEAR! MAN THAT SUNRISE WAS GORGEOUS. DON’T YOU JUST LOVE RUNNING!!! I LOOOOOVE RUNNNINNNGG!!” Mile 19 was filled with me saying, “OH MY GOD JUST LEAVE ME HERE TO DIE. I HATE RUNNING. WHYYYY?!” The trail was a bit steeper and rougher than had been advertised–easy enough to walk, but more challenging when you’re on mile 14 or 15 of a long run. The town of Keswick is an adventure-junkie’s heaven; it’s filled with outdoor shops selling everything from waders to rock climbing shoes to down sleeping bags. My mom practically had to drag my dad away.
Where to sleep: NOT at the Mercure Stratford upon Avon Shakespeare Hotel. Again, we willingly paid money earlier this year to stay in a bedbug infested hut in Zanzibar–and even still, that might’ve been more bang for our buck than this place. It was surprising, as it got decent reviews on Trip Advisor. However, apparently half of the hotel has been redone, so it’s important to specify you want to stay in the new part. We didn’t know this, so we were in the back by the garbage dumps. Our windows were cracked (seriously), the mattresses were so old that you sank into the middle as soon as you sat down and when Joost sat down in the armchair, a huge plume of dust flew up. No.
Where to eat: We really only had time for one meal here, but our quick bite to eat at Bamboodle Noodles was excellent. The manager was extremely accommodating (and made a pitch for a good review on Trip Advisor) and the modern vibe was refreshing, as the rest of the town is, well… old. The shredded duck rice paper rolls with plum sauce are delish.
Where to play: We visited Shakespeare’s birthplace (sort of–we stood outside the building) and grave (we actually went into the church), of course. We also snagged last minute tickets to ‘All’s Well That End’s Well’ by the Royal Shakespeare Company. It. Was. Fabulous. Even for non-Shakespeare fans (or fans who don’t speak English as their native language… ahem…), the performers did such a great job that it was easy to understand what was going on–and the screens with the dialogue helped as well.
Our last day together was spent in Oxford and Abingdon grocery shopping (thanks again mom & dad!), eating Ben’s cookies (duh) and Jamie Oliver’s tiramisu with old next door neighbors from our hometown, who are in London for a few months. A rainbow popped up towards the end of the day, and it was the perfect way to end our trip!