Travel With Me – London // Where We Stayed & What We Ate

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Welcome to part two of my three part Travel With Me series about our recent trip to London. Part one was a day-by-day outline of all the activities, attractions, and places we visited while we were there. I wrote that post intending for it to be read by anyone – both those interested in casually reading about our trip and those who want details to plan their own vacation. Part two (this post) is all about our hotel and all of the delicious food we ate. This post is going to have hotel and restaurant details that may only interest those planning a trip and exploring their accommodation and dining options. Part three (coming soon) will discuss how we planned our time in London, any tips and tricks we picked up along the way, and other miscellaneous trip information.

Where We Stayed

Park Plaza Westminster Bridge London

4 out of 5 stars

Check-in – When we first arrived at our hotel, we checked in with a very friendly front desk clerk who immediately gave us an upgrade from our Superior Room to a Studio Room. Someone did offer to carry our bags, but they were not pushy about it. We usually prefer to handle our own luggage to avoid paying the tip, so it was nice to be able to turn down the offer without feeling uncomfortable about it.

Room – Our room was very nice. Since we were upgraded to a studio, we had a living room and a bedroom. It was very clean and very modern. The decor was a little too modern for my taste, but I don’t care much about that for my hotel room since I’m not actually living there. I was disappointed by our view – the hotel is very close to Big Ben, so I was hoping to get a view of either Big Ben or another nice part of the city, but our window just faced a wall. The best part of the room was the bathroom with the giant jetted tub! I really enjoy baths, so this was a treat that I was not expecting.

Location – The hotel’s location is fantastic! You can see Westminster Abbey and Big Ben from some windows of the hotel, and it is walking distance to two train stations: Waterloo and Westminster. The only downside to the location is that there are not many places nearby to grab an evening snack or dessert. We tried to find ice cream one night, and Daniel ended up just grabbing some Haagen Dazs from a convenience store to bring back to the hotel because there was nothing else nearby. Other than that one evening, this issue didn’t affect us because we were out late exploring other areas of London and were able to conveniently get back to our hotel via the nearby train stations.

Price – Unfortunately, because we booked our room through a travel agent, I’m not really sure what exactly we paid for our room because it was lumped into a travel package. However, after running a few searches on their website, it appears that the superior room ranges from £150 to £180 ($255 to $310) per night and the studios range from £215 to £230 ($365 to $395) per night. Yes, that is pricey, but transportation costs in London are expensive, so we definitely saved money by being able to walk to the two train stations nearby.

Amenities – We were provided both complimentary internet access and breakfast. Breakfast takes place in a very nice dining area with a view of Big Ben (see picture below). I really did not like the coffee (which can be a big deal for me because I love my morning coffee), but the food was good. You could eat from the cold breakfast buffet or order some eggs or omelets from the server.

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The bedroom area – note the view of the wall out the window

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The living room area

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The fancy bathroom and jetted tub

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Other side of the bedroom and our ultra-modern closet door art on the right

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View from the hallway outside of our room

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The outside of our hotel

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View of Big Ben from one of the breakfast rooms

Where We Ate

England does not have the best reputation for food, but we had an overall very good dining experience in London. We ate our free breakfast at the hotel every morning, but we ate out at restaurants for all of the other meals. Here are my thoughts on our experience at those restaurants.

The Old Shades

3 out of 5 stars

While Daniel and I were wandering around and exploring the area right after we checked into our hotel on the first day, we ran across this pub near our hotel.

Food– The food was really good. Daniel ordered the traditional corned beef hash, and I had the fish and chips. We both thought our meals were delicious.

Atmosphere – It is difficult for me to comment on the atmosphere because we ate at a weird time – around 3:30pm. Needless to say, the pub was empty, but there were a few people at the bar making conversation which made for a casual, fun atmosphere.

Service – We have no complaints about the service. The woman who greeted us and served us was really nice and offered her opinion on the different menu options.

Price–  While in London, we quickly learned that everything was expensive; however, this pub in particular is probably even more expensive than normal because it is in a very touristy area. Daniel’s corned beef hash was £10.75 (about $18) and my fish & chips was  £12.95 (about $22).

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My fish & chips

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Daniel’s corned beef hash

Caffè Nero

4 out of 5 stars

We saw these coffee shops all over London.  Since we really enjoy trying new coffee shops whenever we travel, we actually stopped here twice. One thing we learned is that their regular coffee order is actually two shots of espresso in regular coffee. We thought it was good that way, but we didn’t expect the extra espresso! I also learned that they think you are weird if you ask for less or for no espresso, so I decided to stick with the way they prefer to make coffee. The inside of the shops are very cozy – more so than a typical Starbucks. We enjoyed sitting at a table and people-watching. This coffee shop is a chain, but we were impressed because the good coffee atmosphere made it seem more like a local shop rather than a chain. We thought it was a fun “local” experience since we don’t have these shops in the United States.

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Boyds Brasserie Bar & Lounge

4 out of 5 stars

Before we went to the theater to see Les Miserable, we stopped for dinner at this nice restaurant. We had made reservations in advance and requested the pre-theater menu. We really enjoyed the experience. The restaurant was very British which made the experience even more fun!

Food– We really liked most of the food! Daniel ordered the crispy haggis and quail scotch egg as his first course. It was his first time to try either of these British dishes, and he thought they were very good. For his entree, he ordered the Wild Cornish Mushroom Risotto. Daniel said it was good, but it was “nothing to write home about.” For my first course, I had the toasted goat cheese and lobster bisque, and I ordered the Citrus Cured Salmon as my entree. Unfortunately, I forgot to take a picture of our desserts, and they have changed their menu since then, so we can’t remember what we got, but we do remember really liking it.

Atmosphere – The atmosphere was really fun. It was fancy and British, yet it wasn’t intimidating. It was perfect for a pre-theater meal.

Service – We have no complaints about the service. They were very friendly and paid careful attention to what we ordered and when we needed something.

Price–  Again, this was a nice restaurant, and we ordered a three-course meal with wine, but since it was a fixed pre-theater dinner, it was cheaper than ordering from their full menu. It was £19.90 each for the three course meal (about $39).

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My toasted goat cheese and lobster bisque

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Daniel’s crispy haggis and quail scotch egg

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My fantastic citrus salmon

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Daniel’s risotto

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First Floor Restaurant

3 out of 5 stars

While browsing around Portobello Road Market, we looked for a place to eat a big brunch. As I mentioned in my previous London post, we got lost that morning, so our plans to eat a light breakfast from the stands at the markets did not happen. We were starving, so we really wanted to sit down at a restaurant and eat a full meal before picking a few snacks from the market stands.

Food– We both ordered dishes that we wouldn’t normally choose. Daniel had the Lentil & Quinoa Burger (per Daniel, it was “messy but delicious”), and I got the Eggs Benedict. Once again, we both enjoyed our meals. It would be nice to go back one day and try another brunch dish as there were so many options.

Atmosphere – The atmosphere here was strange (hence the 3 stars). When we walked in, we went up some stairs to the second floor (despite it being called First Floor Restaurant), and we couldn’t tell if we were actually going into the restaurant entrance or into a private residence. It was so quiet! Finally, when we turned right at the top of the stairs, we saw a dining room, but we couldn’t see anyone in there! Once we walked in, we saw a server and a couple of people sitting at tables, but it was a little too uncomfortably quiet at first. Once we were seated, more people started coming in and it was fine. Also, they had some cool decorations throughout the dining area (such as the pictured melted candle below).

Service – We enjoyed talking with the servers at this restaurant. They were genuinely interested in where we were from and how we were enjoying our stay in London. Also, we didn’t have a problem with the food service.

Price–  We paid about £25 total for both of our dishes and coffees (about $43).

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Fresh flowers on the table

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My eggs benedict

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Daniel’s quinoa burger and chips

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Interesting decor and chandelier

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Lakwatsa

4 out of 5 stars

My friend Kaitlin highly recommended that we try this bubble tea place while at Portobello Market. I had never even had bubble tea before, so I didn’t know what to expect. If you don’t know, bubble tea is a Taiwanese tea drink with tapioca balls at the bottom. We had such a fun time sitting in Lakwatsa trying out both a fruit tea (honey peach) and a milk tea (watermelon). They had swinging benches inside for guests to sit in (I was jealous – we didn’t get to sit in one because they were all taken). Overall, it was a fun experience. I recently found out that they just opened a bubble tea place near where I live, and I can’t wait to try it! I have a feeling I will be disappointed though because Kaitlin, who has tried many bubble tea places, said that Lakwatsa’s was the best she had ever had.

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Honest Burgers

4 out of 5 stars

This burger joint was recommended to us by Estee of essiebutton. My husband tweeted her for recommendations since she lives in London, and she responded! So, we definitely had to try this place.

Food– I ordered the regular cheeseburger and fries, and Daniel was adventurous again and ordered the fritter (cauliflower, sweet corn, shallots, spices, coriander, and cucumber yogurt). These were both great dishes. The fries were sprinkled with rosemary which I really enjoyed (even though I don’t typically like rosemary).

Atmosphere – This was the first burger joint I’ve been to where we had to be placed on a waiting list! Part of the reason for this is because it was small, but it also was very popular. After our hour wait (we went to Starbucks to get out of the rain), we were seated in a very small room. Daniel didn’t like how cramped it was, but I thought that it made it seem more unique and local that way. It is a very casual restaurant.

Service – We had good service, but it wasn’t anything that stood out.

Price–  Hands down, this was the most expensive burger I have ever ordered which is why I rated this place 4 stars instead of 5. My cheeseburger and fries were £8.5 (about $15!!), and Daniel’s fritter was £6.5 (about $11). Despite the price, if you are looking for a local, very casual restaurant to try, I would recommend Honest Burgers, as long as you are aware that you will be paying quite a bit for that burger.

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Wagamama

4 out of 5

We found this Asian fusion restaurant right next to the Tower of London, so we ate lunch here after our tour. We really enjoyed the ramen restaurant experience! I had never been to a place like this before.

Food– I ordered the chicken ramen, and Daniel had the yaki udon. Delicious! Just look at my chicken ramen in the picture below! This is not just normal ramen – it was full of chicken and vegetables and tons of flavor.

Atmosphere – The restaurant seemed like a mix between fast food and sit down. We were seated at a long table (all of the tables at this restaurant are long and parallel to each other, cafeteria style), and we ordered from our table, but the food came out really quickly. I thought it was a fun atmosphere to get a quick bite because there were so many people to see coming in and out, and you can see the Tower Bridge from the window.

Service – Again, we had good service, but it wasn’t anything that stood out.

Price–  Each of our dishes were £8.75 (about $15), but the portion sizes were huge, so if we had been able to take leftovers with us to use as another meal, this price would have been reasonable.

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My huge bowl of chicken ramen

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Daniel’s yaki udon

The Grenadier

4 out of 5

At the end of our London bike tour (mentioned in my previous London travel post), our guide passed out lists of recommended attractions and pubs. The Grenadier was on that list. This restaurant is in a historical building (built in 1720) that eventually became The Guardsman Public House. They say that it is haunted by the ghost of Cedric, a man who was supposedly caught cheating at a game of cards and then beaten to death. The ceiling is covered with money from all over the world given by people trying to help pay off Cedric’s debt. This was the perfect place to have a nice British dinner with Daniel’s co-worker who was also in London at the time because it was exactly what I have always pictured a London pub to be like.

Food– I ordered fish & chips once again. It was our last dinner in London, so I wanted to have this delicious traditional meal one more time. Daniel had a giant meat pie (see picture below). Both of us were surprised that we didn’t love our food, and Daniel’s co-worker had the same opinion. It was not bad, but the atmosphere was so neat that we expected better.

Atmosphere – Even though the food was not outstanding, the atmosphere was really cool (which is why we chose to give it 4 stars instead of just 3). First of all, this pub is kind of hidden, so it was mostly a local crowd from what we could tell. We entered through an alley (see picture below) which contributed to the local feel. We sat at the bar when we first arrived and waited for our reservation time. You definitely need to make reservations for dinner at this place because there were very few tables. Once we were seated, we were taken to the cozy dining area with bookshelf wallpaper and money pinned to the ceiling. The decor made it feel like you were in a library.

Service – The service was great. Our server answered all of our questions and gave good recommendations.

Price–  This place was very expensive which was unexpected and somewhat took away from the local feel. Daniel’s meat pie was £13 ($22), and my fish & chips were £10 ($17).

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Dining area

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Donations from restaurant patrons helping to pay off Cedric the ghost’s debt

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Daniel’s meat pie

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My fish & chips

As you can see, we ate well in London! Just wait until you see what we ate in Paris….

Click here if you would like to see what activities we did in London as well as some pictures from our adventures in this beautiful city.

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Travel with Me // London – What We Did

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When I first started this blog toward the end of 2013, I was excited to use it as a place to share my travel experiences. Obviously, it has turned into more of a lifestyle blog, but I am still excited to write posts about our adventures. Since I haven’t done one of these posts in a long time, I want to share what I wrote as an introduction to my first “Travel with Me” account:

I love planning vacations. It probably is not an exaggeration to say that my absolute favorite way to pass the time is sitting down with my calendar, scouring through tons of reviews and friend recommendations, booking flights and hotels, and creating lists of things to do on a trip. I get very excited and distracted when I’m in full trip-planning mode.

One of my other favorite things to do is share my travel experiences with friends and family that are traveling to the same places as I did. I’ve been known to write extremely lengthy emails full of suggestions for a perfect vacation. Basically, I probably should have become a travel agent. Maybe I still will “when I grow up”.

I’ve decided to break up my Travel with Me posts into three types: (1) What We Did, (2) What We Ate & Where We Stayed, and (3) Planning & Other Recommendations. This way, people who would like to just read a simple trip re-cap can just read the first post, and those that are actually looking to plan a trip and get activity, attraction, restaurant, hotel, and planning advice and reviews can read all three.

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In May of this year, my husband and I had the opportunity to travel to Europe! Our first stop was London. I’ll get to Paris in future posts….

Day 1

When we first arrived in London, Daniel and I checked into our hotel, quickly unpacked, and went out to explore the city. We took our mini tripod around with us so that we could take pictures with the two of us together, so this first day was really all about finding the perfect picture spots and soaking in the feel of the city. We spent the majority of the evening at Trafalgar Square and in the Piccadilly Circus and Soho neighborhoods. I’ve heard people describe Piccadilly Circus as the Times Square of London, and that is a pretty good description. We loved this area! There were so many cute restaurants, coffee shops, and stores to browse around in.

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Mandatory red phone booth picture!

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Westminster Abbey (Fun fact – Big Ben is actually the bell inside that tower and not the tower itself).

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Piccadilly Circus

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Day 2

Our second day in London included the two events I was most excited for in this city: a bike tour and a show at the theatre!

Brakeaway Bike Tour

5 out of 5 stars

We decided to do a bike tour the morning of our first full day in London. I picked the highest rated tour on TripAdvisor, Brakeaway Bike Tours, and booked our trip online. We loved the experience! We did the Grand London Bike Tour because that was the recommended tour for people who were visiting for the first time. The tour lasted about four hours; the guide stopped us at many of the famous London attractions including The London Eye, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace (where we watched the changing of the guard), and St. Paul’s Cathedral. He also took the time to point out less well-known spots that were very interesting, including a hotel that pays for your funeral if you pass away while staying there and the oldest wig shop in London.

I highly recommend you book this tour if you are traveling to London for the first time. A biking tour allows you to cover more ground than a walking tour does, and we felt better oriented with the city once we had finished. Before the tour, I was slightly concerned about running into pedestrians while biking, but the guide was very careful to take us on pathways and roads that were less busy than the main routes would have been. As another plus, our guide gave us a list of recommended restaurants, pubs, and activities. We ended up going to one of the recommended pubs at the end of our time in London – I will write about that experience in my upcoming Travel with Me // London – What We Ate post. I would love to go back to London one day and take the Secret London Bike Tour!

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Getting on our bikes in the Graffiti Tunnel – this tunnel was originally painted by the famous Graffiti artist Banksy but is now open to be painted by anyone

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Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace

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Buckingham Palace

The tickets were £20 for each adult – about $34 each.

Les Miserables

5 out of 5 stars

After the bike tour, it was time for us to get ready for the show – Les Miserables! Before this, I had only seen the musical at a children’s theatre and the movie, so I was in for a treat.

We had a nice pre-show dinner, and then we made our way to Queen’s Theatre. I have always dreamed of seeing this musical in London, and it was everything that I hoped it would be! As you can imagine, the talent was unmatched and the sets were beautiful. I got chills throughout the entire show but especially during the end of the first act.

Our tickets were £94.50 total – about $160, and we did not have the best seats, so this was a pricey event. As a reference in case you are deciding on which seats to choose for yourself, we sat in C17 & C18 in the Upper Circle. See the picture below for our view, which I thought was just fine. None of the stage was cut off as we were watching, and it was just low enough that we did not miss out on the set detail toward the top (you would miss this if you sat higher than a few rows above us). Unfortunately, I got stuck sitting behind a really tall person who liked leaning forward, but if a person of average height had been in front of me, it would have been a great view, especially for being so high up.

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View of the stage from our seats – the curtain was down at this point, but when it came up, we could see the full stage

After the show, we walked around the area to find a fun place for drinks. It was neat to see what the London night life is like.

Day 3

On the morning of our third day, we started our day by getting lost. This was really frustrating because I kept thinking about all of the time we were wasting. In the end, I regret that I let myself get frustrated rather than just enjoy walking through an exciting city seeing places we would not have seen had we not gotten lost. I took this thought with me the rest of the trip.

Once we found our way again, we headed over to Portobello Market.

Portobello Market

4 out of 5 stars

If you enjoy shopping around at various market stands, hearing lots of live music, people watching, and trying unique foods, Portobello Market is for you! It is only open on Saturdays which makes it very crowded, but it is well worth the visit. We actually didn’t spend much time shopping or trying foods because of the crowds, but it was a fun experience to just walk through everything. On the way back to the tube from the market, we passed through Notting Hill – a very upscale and beautiful neighborhood. It was fun to see the big houses and all the fancy cars parked on the street.

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These two were lip syncing and air guitaring for hours. It was hilarious!

British Museum

4 out of 5 stars

Our next stop was the British Museum. When you first walk into the museum, you enter a beautiful atrium with a glass roof. From there, you can pick which exhibits and parts of the museum you’d like to visit. A few of the highlights from our visit include Cleopatra’s mummy, the Rosetta Stone, and one of the Easter Island statues. There were many, many exhibits that we did not have time to visit, so we will have to return someday!

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The museum is free and open everyday from 10am to 5:30pm.

London Review Bookshop

Daniel and I always make a point to visit local bookstores whenever we travel. We found this one near the British Museum. It was a neat little shop with a small cafe attached to it – be sure to visit if you like to see local bookshops!

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Day 4

On our final day in London, we had a packed schedule. As usual, time and energy limitations from earlier in the trip had forced us to put many of our “must-sees” on our list of activities for the final day.

Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre

4 out of 5 stars

Our first stop of the day was at the Globe Theatre. We did a 10am tour after exploring the Exhibition. The Exhibition gave a very interesting overview of Shakespeare’s life and the history of the Globe Theatre. Our tour lasted for about an hour, and we really enjoyed it; our guide took us into the main part of the theater and talked about many interesting facts about the past as well as how the theater is used today. Unfortunately, the play that was showing at the time (Titus Andronicus) involved a solid black background, so the detailing and color of the stage were covered by giant black sheets as you can see in the pictures. We did get to see the stage manager crawl through the trap door in the stage as he was setting up for that evening’s show, so that was fun to watch.

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The Exhibition is open every day from 9am to 5:30pm, and tours are given every half hour on Mondays, 9:30am to 5pm; Tuesdays through Saturdays, 9:30am to 12:30pm; and Sundays, 9:30am to 11:30am. Tickets are £13.50 per adult, but we got them “buy-one-get-one-free”! I will explain in my future Planning London post what we did to get this deal.

Tower of London/Crown Jewels

5 out of 5 stars

Our next stop was the Tower of London! Let me tell you, this was much different than what I had imagined. The main surprise for me was that the Tower is not just one tower. It’s a fortress with multiple towers, none of which were as tall as I expected. Our guide was an actual Beefeater who lives in the Tower of London. This is going to show my ignorance of English history, but right up until before I wrote this section of this post, I thought our guide was just playing a part. But no! My all-knowing husband informed me that he was an actual Beefeater, and he did in fact actually live there. So, obviously, this guy knew his facts and stories! His stories were very gory and violent in a humorous kind of way. Just in case you are considering bringing kids, I’m not sure that I would bring them on this tour unless they have a strong sense of humor and can stomach graphic, violent stories of beheadings and torture. I learned a lot of history and interesting information, and I highly recommend this tour on any trip to London.

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Our Beefeater tour guide

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Tower Bridge

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Knight Exhibit in part of the Tower

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The Beefeaters keep ravens on the property because of legend that says “if the Tower of London ravens are lost or fly away, the Crown will fall and Britain with it.”

The Crown Jewels are displayed in an exhibit inside of the Tower and are guarded by the Beefeaters. The Crown Jewels are the regalia or objects involved with the coronations of English Kings and Queens. The current display was opened by Queen Elizabeth II in 1994. It was neat to see such treasured objects up close and in person.

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The Tower admission price is £22 per adult, but once again, we got a “buy-one-get-one-free” deal. It is open Tuesday through Saturday from 9am to 5:30pm and Monday through Sunday 10am to 5:30pm. They close an hour earlier during winter (November through February).

Kensington Palace

3 out of 5 stars

Kensington Palace is the royal residence of Will and Kate. Obviously, we did not tour their actual home, but there is a whole side of the palace that is open to the public. There were four different exhibits: the King’s State Apartments, the Queen’s State Apartments, Victoria Revealed, and Fashion Rules. Each section focused on a different royal family or a different piece of history. Overall, I enjoyed our time there, but we found one of the exhibits to be a bit strange; in the Queen’s State Apartments, there was an exhibit focused on Queen Mary II. It consisted of a long dream sequence with paper birds hanging from the ceiling and whispering voices echoing throughout the halls. There was even a room filled with lit birdhouses that was very pretty (see picture below) but didn’t seem to make a lot of sense for a palace exhibit. We really enjoyed and learned a lot from the other exhibits in the palace. I would recommend taking the time to come to this palace, but if you are short on time, you could skip the Mary II exhibit and not miss out on much.

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Palace admission is £16.50 per adult, and it is open daily from 10am to 6pm, and the last time to get in is 5pm.

Kensington Gardens & Hyde Park

 5 out of 5 stars

After a long day of touring historical buildings and gaining a wealth of knowledge, it was time to wander around a couple of gorgeous parks filled with gardens, ponds, and fountains. Kensington Gardens begins right behind Kensington Palace and extends for 242 acres (!!), eventually turning into Hyde Park. We found the well-known Peter Pan statue in Kensington Gardens and enjoyed the nice weather and people watching. At this point, we were killing time before meeting Daniel’s co-worker for dinner nearby, so we got to spend quite a bit of time exploring the parks. Spending time in both of these parks is a “must-do” in London!

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After going to a cute British pub for dinner, we walked around with Daniel’s coworker and friend Jonathan, got gelato, and took pictures of the beautiful buildings at night. Then it was time to pack and get ready for our train to Paris the next morning!

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I’ll be back – hopefully sooner rather than later – with a couple more posts on London, and then I’ll get to my posts about Paris! Thanks for reading!

Travel with Me // Seattle

This post is part of my Travel with Me series in which I post trip reviews and recommendations for trips that I have taken in the past. My hope is that other people will find inspiration and useful tips to help plan their own trips. To read more about the purpose of this series, read the beginning of my first post here.

When & Where:

In May 2013, Daniel and I spent a four day “layover” exploring the beautiful city of Seattle on our way to visit friends in Alaska. We spent our time doing the tourist highlights, eating great food, and soaking in the unique environment. It’s not just anywhere that you find a big, bustling city next to a beautiful body of water and tucked in between mountains.

Where We Stayed:

Just a note – we mostly stay at Hilton hotels because I have a Hilton Gold HHonors membership from work travel.

For my hotel rating system, I’ll use a ranking from 1 to 5 (1 – absolutely terrible, 2 – mediocre, 3 – good, 4 – great, 5 – fantastic).

Homewood Suites – Seattle Convention Center – Pike Street

3 out of 5

When searching for our hotel, the most important feature was distance from Pike Place Market and from public transportation. This hotel was walking distance to these places, but not a short walk. It probably took 20 minutes to walk from the Homewood Suites to Pike Place Market and the surrounding shops and restaurants on the water.

When we checked into the hotel, the person at the desk immediately gave us a nice map of the city with great restaurant and attraction recommendations. Customer service throughout our stay was top notch.

The room was nice. It was a suite with a small kitchen and living area. The bed was very comfortable, and there was plenty of space in the room.

Our main complaint at this hotel was that the breakfast was not good. Well, the hot breakfast might have been good, but it was so crowded both mornings we tried it that the hot breakfast items were almost always out or extremely picked over. It was also a struggle for us to find a place to sit to eat our breakfast – one day we circled the breakfast room for nearly 15 minutes. We both managed to grab a yogurt, a banana, and some dry bagels for breakfast both mornings. The other mornings we decided to eat breakfast out.

Overall, the location of this hotel was convenient and the rooms were decent, so I would stay there again and would recommend it to someone not seeking a high-end luxury hotel.

Where We Ate:

For restaurants, I will offer a Thumbs Up! for the restaurants I highly recommend, a Meh... for restaurants that aren’t bad but that you shouldn’t go out of your way for, or  a Thumbs Down rating for the restaurants that you should avoid. Keep in mind that we usually eat at restaurants highly recommended on sites such as Trip Advisor, so it won’t be very common for me to give a Thumbs Down rating.

Unfortunately, for several places I don’t remember what we ordered or the prices of the order. These are the details I’ll remember to write down on future trips, but I probably won’t have them when I’m reviewing past trips.

Day 1:

Lil’ Woody’s

Thumbs Up!

This was the first place we ate in Seattle. We were just exploring around our hotel when we spotted this burger joint. The woman who took our order was kind of grouchy, but other than that, we enjoyed the restaurant. We each had a burger, I had a bottled root beer, and Daniel had a milkshake. (Note from Daniel: the buns were particularly good – thick and perfectly toasted.)  I recommend this restaurant if you are looking for a quick, casual, and local place to grab a bite.

Sky City Restaurant – Space Needle

Thumbs Up!

Our first day in Seattle was our anniversary, so we booked a reservation at the Space Needle restaurant for a nice dinner with a view. This place fills up fast! We booked a reservation two weeks ahead of time, and we were barely able to get a good time.

We really enjoyed the experience. The seafood was good, and the dessert was fantastic. But the best part – and the real reason to visit this restaurant – was the view. The dining area slowly turns so that you can see Seattle from all angles. Because of our reservation time, we were able to see the views in the daylight, at sunset, and at night.

Many people say this place is over-rated and over-priced. While it is pricey, we thought that the combination of good food and the view actually made it a decent value – especially since the admission fee to just see the view without visiting the restaurant is $11 per person (which you get free when you eat at the restaurant). The food by itself would not have been worth what we paid, but since we got the view too, we thought it was a fair price.

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Day 2:

Blackbird Bakery – Bainbridge Island

Thumbs Up!

During our visit to Bainbridge Island, we stopped at the Blackbird Bakery for a quick lunch. The bakery is a very homey, local place with soups and pastries. You walk up to the counter to place your order, so it is pretty casual. We really enjoyed the food that we ordered, but we were a little disappointed in the limited menu selection. This a great place to stop for a snack but not for a full meal.

Ristorante Machiavelli

Thumbs Up!

Once again, we found this place while walking around near our hotel. It’s just a couple doors down from Lil’ Woody’s. We had a long wait, but we were able to sit down at a table by the bar while waiting. The garlic bread was disappointing, but the pasta was delicious. It wasn’t too expensive. We were seated by the window, so we enjoyed people-watching while eating pasta and drinking Italian sodas.

Bauhaus Books + Coffee

Thumbs Up!

After dinner at the Italian restaurant, we walked across the street to this interesting looking coffee house. We walked into what looked like a library!  The coffee shop has built-in bookshelves filled with books. It was such a neat atmosphere to sit with a mug of coffee and visit. The coffee and pastry were both tasty as well.

Day 3:

Bacco Cafe – Pike Place Area

Thumbs Up!

For breakfast on Day 3, we found a local breakfast spot that serves all kinds of fresh juice along with great omelette options. I wish I had taken a picture of the food so I could remember what we got, but I do remember that it was fresh and tasty! It was a small place, so arrive early if you don’t want to wait.

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Portage Bay Cafe – University District

Thumbs Up!

While exploring the University District, we put our name on the list for brunch at Portage Bay Cafe. Someone had recommended this to us on Facebook, and I’m so glad that we listened! This place is a farm-to-table restaurant where everything you can think of is natural and organic. The menus even said that they were printed with organic ink (whatever that means…). The brunch menu was phenomenal. Just look at the picture of  my pancakes below! They had a pancakes toppings bar with all kinds of fruit, peanut butter, fresh whipped cream, and more. Daniel had a breakfast burrito and loved it as well. (Note from Daniel: the portion sizes where surprisingly enormous for a place that prides itself on sustainability. I’m guessing they feed the leftovers to the chickens out back.)

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El Diablo Coffee Co. – Queen Anne

Thumbs Up!

While looking around the Queen Anne area of Seattle, we stopped at this little gem on the recommendation of a good friend (thanks, Kaitlin!). I would consider this to be one of the best coffee places I’ve visited. As you can see in the picture below, it is a Cuban place, so in addition to coffee, they serve Cuban appetizers and pastries. I had a latte, Daniel had a Cuban coffee, and we shared a delicious empanada! We would have had more if we weren’t waiting our turn for a table at the next restaurant below…. The only weird thing about this place is that it was pretty empty, and we didn’t like that it closes really early in the day. We had to plan to go there before dinner because it would have been closed afterward.

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How to Cook a Wolf –  Queen Anne

Thumbs Up!

This place…. I cannot recommend it enough! Once again, Kaitlin recommended it based on good reviews she had heard, so we went. It is a very small restaurant, but the chef came out to personally greet us and tell us about the menu. This restaurant was similar to a tapas place – there aren’t really any full entrees, so you are meant to order several things to share with the table. We ended up splurging because we could not turn down the drink, appetizer, large plate, or dessert options we were given. Everything was fresh and unique. If you are ever in the Queen Anne area of Seattle looking for a nicer restaurant, please eat here!

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Day 4:

Salty’s on Alki Beach

Meh…

We had brunch reservations at Salty’s for our last day in Seattle. Another friend had recommended doing a nice dinner here, but to make it fit our schedule, we opted for their brunch buffet instead. We were actually kind of disappointed. For such a nice restaurant on the water, and for the price we paid, we didn’t expect the type of set up they have for brunch. There were SO many options (many very, very good), that it made it hard to figure out what would be good to try or what the restaurant was even known for. Whenever we got up to serve ourselves at the buffet, it was crowded and over-whelming. We did try crab legs for the first time which was a fun experience….

One nice perk was that we got to take a water taxi over to the restaurant. That was really nice. Also, the views outside were very beautiful.

If we ever go back to Seattle, I’d love to try dinner at Salty’s since multiple people raved about it. Next time!

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The Crumpet Shop – Pike’s Place Area

Thumbs Up!

Yum! This was fun place to stop for a snack. They offer both sweet and savory types of crumpet. We trip one of each!

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Tully’s Coffee

Meh…

As you can tell, we tried a lot of coffee while in Seattle. That’s not unusual for us even in normal, everyday life, but we had to try several options in a city so well-known for its coffee drinkers and coffee shops. Tully’s Coffee is a place we had never heard of before planning our trip here, so we wanted to try it. It was fine – the coffee was good and so was the customer service, but it’s a pretty wide-spread chain and it definitely felt like a chain when we were sitting inside. I don’t have much against the place, but if I’m going to drink coffee from a chain, I’d rather have Starbucks or Caribou Coffee.

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What We Did:

I use the same rating system for activities that I used for restaurants. Thumbs Up! means I highly recommend that you take time during your trip to do the activity/ explore the area. Meh…  for activities/areas that aren’t bad but that I wouldn’t recommend going out of your way to do/explore, and  Thumbs Down for activities/areas that I believe you shouldn’t bother doing/going to at all during your trip. Keep in mind that many of the things that we do on our trips are based off of good reviews from friends or on TripAdvisor so Thumbs Down ratings will be rare and Meh… ratings won’t occur very often either.

Day 1:

REI

Thumbs Up!

The downtown Seattle REI location is (or at least used to be) the chain’s flagship store, so we decided to walk out there from the hotel. It didn’t seem that far from the hotel, but it wasn’t a very pleasant walk – we had to cross some busy streets and a highway. The store is worth visiting, though! There is a bike trail in the back surrounded by a creek and a waterfall. It was neat to stop and watch some of the bikers – you definitely feel like you are in Seattle when surrounded by tons of active people enjoying the outdoors.

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Seattle Public Library – Central Library Location

Thumbs Up!

This was one of my favorite stops of the trip. Daniel and I love bookstores and libraries, so we like to check out unique public libraries or local bookstores when we travel. I had heard that the Seattle Public Library was worth the stop, so we were excited to see it. I’m very glad that we did. This is the most unique library I have ever seen! Just take a look….

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The giant glass building on the right is the library

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The library was huge! I hope to be able to go back one day and sit and enjoy a book in the terrific lighting, but during this trip, we just walked around and explored the building.

Seattle Great Wheel

Thumbs Up!

We weren’t planning to do this, but we had a little extra time before our dinner reservation, so we decided give the giant ferris wheel a try. The wheel is by the water, so we were able to see the water sparkling in the sunshine as well as the city. Now, I was a little nervous throughout the ride – especially whenever the wheel started turning faster – but overall it was a fun, relaxing way to look at the city and take a break from all the walking around.

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Pioneer Square

Thumbs Down

Pioneer Square is a historic section of the city that now has a variety of shops and nightlife options. We went to take a look around, but we were not very impressed. The whole area seemed a little “worn-out”, and we did not run into any shops that interested us. To be fair, we did not spend much time at all in this part of the city, so maybe with a little more research, we would have liked it better. Also, we visited during the day which is likely not the best time to experience this area.

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Day 2:

Pike’s Place Market

As everyone knows, Pike’s Place is a must see in Seattle!  There is so much to see, with the vendors selling anything from fresh bread and fish to jewelry and handmade beauty products. I really enjoyed seeing the mix of tourists and locals and being able to try samples from a few of the stands. My favorite vendor was Pike Place Fish Market where they throw fish at each other and allow guests to toss the fish as well. It’s a lot more entertaining than it sounds….

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Original Starbucks

Thumbs Up!

Visiting the original Starbucks was a mandatory stop for me. We waited in (a very long) line for coffee. Even though the coffee was just normal Starbucks coffee, it was too cool to see the original site and pick up a Pike’s Place mug (this is the only location where those mugs are sold). It was also fun to see the other Starbucks enthusiasts waiting in line with us.

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Very excited!

Bainbridge Island

Thumbs Up!

One activity we really wanted to do was take a ferry to one of the many islands surrounding Seattle. We picked Bainbridge because two people had recommended it to us. We bought our ferry tickets and then boarded along with many other people and a bunch of cars! I’m not sure why, but I found it very amusing that people actually commute on a daily basis by driving their car onto the ferry to go to work in Seattle and then back home to Bainbridge Island.

On the island, there were lots of cute shops to browse. My favorite was the used and new bookstore (of course!), but the cute knitting store came in at a close second! Bainbridge was also where we ate at the Blackbird Bakery, mentioned above. This was definitely worth the trip over; I highly recommend visiting at least one of the islands if you visit Seattle.

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On the ferry

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Day 3:

University District

Thumbs Up!

We really wanted to visit as many different parts of Seattle as we could, so on our third day, we decided to go check out the University District. They happened to be having a big festival up and down the main road surrounding the campus, so there was even more to see and do than usual. In addition to looking at the booths in the festival, we stopped at a few unique shops such as the record/video-game/electronics store shown in the picture below. We were definitely surrounded by an interesting crowd (mix of UW students and locals), but that made it more fun!

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University of Washington

Thumbs Up!

While walking around the University District, we spent about an hour touring the campus of the University of Washington. The campus was beautiful! The trees and grass were bright and green, and many of the buildings had gorgeous, intricate architecture.

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Upper Queen Anne

Thumbs Up!

Upper Queen Anne was my favorite area of Seattle. It is mostly filled with cute homes, but there are plenty of local restaurants and stores as well. We really enjoyed taking our time walking around the area while waiting for our reservation for dinner. I really wish I had taken pictures of our walk, but unfortunately, I didn’t because those were my pre-blogging days. :)

Day 4:

Kerry Park

Thumbs Up!

For one last great view of the city, we took the public bus to Kerry Park. We were only slightly disappointed that the “park” was actually just a small trip of grass, but our disappointment faded quickly when we saw our view….

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Tips & Tricks…

  • Book your reservation at the restaurant in the Space Needle a few weeks in advance. Also, be sure you know what time sunset is during the time of year you visit so that you can book your reservation an hour or so before that time. Watching the transition from day to sunset to night was unforgettable.
  • When visiting the Pike Place Market, be sure to explore the areas below street level and the side streets. You will miss out on some neat stands and shops if you don’t veer off the main path a bit.

This concludes my second full Travel with Me segment. I hope that it helps make planning a trip to Seattle a little easier for someone or that it encourages a few of you to explore this city in the United States. Please let me know in the comments section below if you have any suggestions for future Travel with Me posts or if there is anything in this post that you particularly enjoyed. Also, feel free to comment with any questions. Thank you for reading and happy trip planning!

 

 

Travel with Me (Briefly) // Philadelphia

I’m back with a different version of a Travel with Me post called Travel with Me (Briefly). For trips that are just a day or two, I’ll write a shorter post that will mostly contain pictures and small descriptions. I hope that these “brief” posts can help you plan a short trip yourself!

I’m kicking off my Travel with Me (Briefly) posts with a review of our one-night trip to Philadelphia! We met up with my cousin and his wife and had a great time exploring historical sites and eating tasty (not-so-good-for-you) food.

For my hotel rating system, I’ll use a ranking from 1 to 5 (1 – absolutely terrible, 2 – mediocre, 3 – good, 4 – great, 5 – fantastic). For restaurants, I’ll give a Thumbs Up! or a Thumbs Down, and for activities, I’ll simply give short descriptions.

When & Where:

Last Friday (January 17th) we drove up to Pennsylvania for a one-night, one-day trip to explore Philly with my cousin Josh and his wife Meredith.

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Obligatory Starbucks road trip stop!

Where We Stayed:

We booked our hotel stay through Living Social at the Wyndham Philadelphia Historic District. It was in a perfect location; we were able to walk to all of the historical sites we were interested in visiting as well as to all of the restaurants we chose.  The room was fairly nice with a very comfortable bed. The hotel was heavily under construction and, on more than one occasion, we had to wait in a long line at the front desk. Overall, I would give this hotel 2.5 out of 5 stars.

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View of historic Philadelphia from our hotel room

Where We Ate:

Breakfast

Honey’s Sit ‘n Eat

I found this cute little breakfast spot on TripAdvisor. It was definitely off the beaten path, but it was delicious! I ordered “Giant” banana pancakes with eggs and coffee. Daniel ordered the Honey Cristo, a ham sandwich with french toast as the bread. Josh and Meredith each enjoyed their meal too. I highly recommend you go here for breakfast if you want a place with a local feel. Thumbs Up!

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Lunch

Sonny’s Famous Cheese Steaks

My husband found Sonny’s ranked #1 on a list of best Philly cheese steaks in town. From what I’ve gathered, there is a lot of controversy over who rightfully claims the #1 spot, but it was a fantastic place for us to try our first cheese steaks. At Sonny’s, you order your cheese steak with or without onions and with your choice of cheese: either Provolone or…. Cheese Whiz! I was pretty grossed out when I heard about the Cheese Whiz. We all wanted to try out both kinds, though, so we ordered one with provolone and one with Cheese Whiz for each couple. Let me tell you – the Cheese Whiz was my favorite! It was just so flavorful. My mouth is watering just thinking about it…. Mmmmm… We all split some fries as well. Thumbs Up!

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Coffee Break

Happily Ever After Dessert Cafe

After lunch, I really wanted a coffee – mostly to warm me up in the cold as we walked around! We stopped over at the cafe next door to Sonny’s. It was a cute shop with a movie theme – there were movie posters all over the walls. They also served pastries and frozen yogurt. Although it was a quick stop, we enjoyed it, and the coffee was good! Thumbs Up!

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Dinner

Jones

Josh found this restaurant online. We honestly had trouble finding a reasonably-priced place that sounded good to us that evening, so we just went with Jones because it seemed to serve a wide variety of meals, making it easy for us all to pick out something we would like. It ended up being a great choice! We all got different things: I ordered the Chicken Pot Pie because I had not had one in a really long time, and I absolutely love them. It had warm, flaky crust (the best part!) and delicious chicken/veggie filling. Daniel ordered the Beef Stroganoff, one of the specials of the evening, and really enjoyed it as well. Jones was definitely a crowd-pleaser. Thumbs Up!

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What We Did:

Daniel and I were only able to stay in Philly for one full day, so we weren’t able to do everything that we actually wanted to do. However, with the help of Josh and Meredith, I think we did our best with fitting in the more important things in one day.

Visitors’ Center

First we stopped at the visitors’ center to get some pamphlets and ask a few questions. Josh saw Rocky and just couldn’t help himself….

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While we were there, we found out that it was Benjamin Franklin’s birthday weekend, so his museum was free!

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Liberty Bell

Leading up to the Liberty Bell, there were stations with lots of information on the history of the Bell and the people who lived during the time it was created and used.

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Independence Hall

We waited in a long line for Independence Hall, but it was very interesting to go inside for a quick tour of the place where our Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were debated and adopted.

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The Portrait Gallery (at the Second National Bank of the United States)

I’m related to Meriwether Lewis somewhere down the line, so I had to get a picture with him. See the resemblance?

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Carpenter’s Hall

Carpenter’s Hall is mainly just a small gift shop on the inside now, but it is the site of meetings of the First Continental Congress in which they discussed their problem with Great Britain in 1774. It was neat to see a small glimpse of history.

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Franklin Court

Franklin Court is the site of Benjamin Franklin’s home back in the day, his museum, a running post office, and a printing press where Franklin used to work. Currently, there is a frame marking where his home used to be.

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I really enjoyed the Benjamin Franklin Museum, so even though it was free this weekend, I would recommend paying for a ticket if you visit. This museum was interesting but not large and overwhelming, so I felt like I was able to read and appreciate everything in there. Here is a glimpse of one of the exhibits….

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While we were in the Franklin Museum gift shop, we ran into the Travelocity Roaming Gnome! Apparently, the guy carrying him goes all around the world taking pictures of the gnome at different historic sites. Kind of cool!

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We had to take a break and figure out our next destination….

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Christ’s Church

This active Episcopalian church is the building where Benjamin Franklin, Betsy Ross, George Washington, William Penn, and many other historical figures attended church services. We just took a quick peek in, but it was neat to see it even just for a couple of minutes.

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Elfreth’s Alley

Our final historical site of the day was Elfreth’s Alley. This alley is lined with homes that were built between the 1720s and 1830s. It was a neat little glimpse back in time. People do currently live in these homes, but it is acceptable for tourists to walk down the road to take pictures and enjoy the history. The Museum Shop was closed when we were there, but I read that they offer you free pamphlets with stories about the residents throughout history when they are open.

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After Elfreth’s Alley, we rested at the hotel before going to dinner and then returning back to the hotel to play a game of Settlers.

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Daniel and I then had to start a very late drive back to DC, but it was worth it!

We always grab an ornament and and a Starbucks “You are Here” mug everywhere that we travel. Here is what we picked up this trip:

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Well, that’s my trip recap and review of Philadelphia! Let me know if you have any questions or comments below.

Travel with Me // New England (Part II)

I’m back today with Part II of my Travel with Me post on our early October trip to New England. Read Part I here. In today’s post, I’ll describe what we did day-by-day on the trip, anything that I would change about the trip in hindsight, and any tips and tricks about exploring this area I have to share.

What We Did:

This trip was pretty short for all the places we were visiting. As a result, we didn’t necessarily do everything we would have wanted to do had we had more time. However, I do feel like we made a great use of our time to do the things that we wanted to do the most.

I’m going to use the same rating system as I did for restaurants in Part I.  Thumbs Up! means I highly recommend that you take time during your trip to do the activity/ explore the area. Meh…  for activities/areas that aren’t bad but that I wouldn’t recommend going out of your way to do/explore, and  Thumbs Down for activities/areas that I believe you shouldn’t bother doing/going to at all during your trip. Keep in mind that many of the things that we do on our trips are based off of good reviews from friends or on TripAdvisor so Thumbs Down ratings will be rare and Meh… ratings won’t occur very often either.

Day 1:

Harvard University

Thumbs Up!

On our first day, we arrived at the Boston airport around noon, and then we went straight to our hotel to drop off our bags. Once we were settled, we took the T into Cambridge to explore Harvard University, something I’ve always wanted to do. We had wanted to do this tour, but the available tour times did not fit our schedule. So, instead, we did a self-tour via the Harvard University mobile app. This tour was very long, so we didn’t do everything or read all of the available material on the app, but it was very interesting and it guided us throughout the campus in way that allowed us to see areas and buildings that we might not have caught on our own. We very much enjoyed touring this beautiful campus — it was fun to pretend to be a student again.

After our campus tour, we visited The Coop, a giant student bookstore next to campus. It was a Barnes and Noble, but it had several floors with winding staircases, so it had a different feel than a basic Barnes and Noble. We love exploring bookstores, so we had a great time here.

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Day 2:

Boston Common

Thumbs Up!

On our second day, we woke up fairly early for a long walk to brunch at The Paramount. Along the way, we explored Boston Common, the oldest park in the country. The leaves were just barely starting to change, but we got some decent pictures by a few colorful trees. We sat down and people-watched by the pond, drinking Starbucks coffees and enjoying the beautiful Fall weather. Throughout the whole city, there were pianos that had “Play Me. I’m Yours.” painted on them. Throughout the day, we say several people playing these pianos. I thought that this was a really neat thing for the community to do.

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Beacon Hill

Thumbs Up!

Continuing on our walk to brunch, we explored the Beacon Hill area. This was such a cute neighborhood! Beautiful town homes lined the streets and the storefronts were all decorated for fall. This area remind me a lot of Georgetown in DC with a New England flair. Beacon Hill was definitely my favorite area of Boston.

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Freedom Trail Guided Tour

Thumbs Up!

After brunch, we did a guided tour of parts of Boston’s Freedom Trail. Our guide was very informative and interesting. Some of the places he took us ncluded the Massachusetts State House, Park Street Church, the Granary Burying Ground, King’s Chapel and Burying Ground, the Old State House, the site of the Boston Massacre, and Faneuil Hall. Overall, we are really happy we took this tour because we learned some interesting facts about Boston’s history and saw places that we would not have thought to visit on our own.

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Date Night

After touring around the city a little more on our own, we moved our suitcases from our downtown hotel to the airport hotel and then got dressed for our nice dinner back in downtown Boston. We took the water taxi back into the city which provided a really great view of the city at sunset. After our delicious dinner (see Part I of this post for details), we passed by the sites of the Boston Marathon bombings which were right next to our restaurant. While this reminded us of the very sad events that occurred here, we were glad to pass by and remember the people who were affected by the events of that terrible day.

Day 3:

Portland City & Lighthouse Tour

Thumbs Up!

We drove up to Southern Maine for the third day of our trip. It was only about an hour and a half drive, and we arrived in Portland right in time for our 11am City & Lighthouse Tour. Once we arrived, we checked in to our tour and loaded a van with three other couples. Our guide took us around the city of Portland providing us with interesting facts and history of the city. He then took us out to the Portland Head Light and let us loose for half an hour to explore and take pictures. I love lighthouses, so I was thrilled to be able to see this one up close and in person. Apparently, it is the most photographed lighthouse in North America. We really enjoyed this tour and would definitely recommend it to others who just have a short time to explore Portland, Maine.

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Maine Beach

Thumbs Up!

We made a couple of stops on our way back to our Boston hotel. First, we stopped at a secluded beach that was right in the middle of a neighborhood. The views of the water and the surrounding beach homes were beautiful, and we had a great time walking up and down the beach taking pictures.

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Kennebunkport

Thumbs Up!

Our second stop was Kennebunkport, Maine, a very cute little town on our way back to Boston. When we arrived, the sun was just setting, so most of our time there was spent exploring in the dark. We just walked around, peeking into pretty storefronts and going into a few shops that peaked our interest.

Day 4:

For our fourth and final full day, we drove south an hour and a half to Rhode Island. Our main stop in this state was the town of Newport. We had heard such wonderful things about this city from both friends and TripAdvisor reviews, so I was very excited to get to see it for myself.

The Breakers

Thumbs Up!

The first place we went to in Newport was The Breakers, a summer “cottage” that was built and owned by the Vanderbilt family for many years. We did the standard audio tour of the house for $19.50 apiece. I could not believe the beautiful detail of the home and the size. My favorite part was the giant terrace in the back overlooking the ocean. Newport has many mansions that the public can tour. If we had had more time, we would have toured a couple of the others.

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The Cliff Walk

Thumbs Up!

After our Breakers tour, we walked about a mile to do the Cliff Walk, a pathway that runs along the ocean behind many of the Newport mansions. We really enjoyed taking this walk. The views of the water on the cliffs were very picturesque. It is definitely worth taking an hour or two to walk part or all of this path.

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Watch Hill

Thumbs Up!

After the Cliff Walk, we took a very long walk back to our car and made about a 45 minute drive to Watch Hill, a very affluent neighborhood in Westerly, RI.  It was a random decision to make this drive, but I’m so glad that we did. Once we arrived and parked our car, we took a walk through the neighborhood and came across a path to a small lighthouse. Once we followed the path out by the lighthouse and the water, we were suddenly surrounded by the most beautiful sunset I have ever seen. This spot was absolutely breath-taking. I felt like I had jumped right into a painting. Let the pictures below do the rest of the talking (although, they really don’t do it justice). We hope to come back to this area for a weekend at some point so that we can explore a little more.

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In Hindsight…

There are a couple of things I would do differently if I had the chance to re-do this whole trip all over again.

  • I would go in mid- to late-October rather than early October. The leaves had just barely started changing colors when we were there.
  • I would explore the right area of Newport. We were slightly disappointed in the city of Newport as it just was not quite as cute as we had thought it would be (or so we thought). However, right when we were pulling away, we passed right by what was the actual city center, and it looked ADORABLE! Unfortunately, we were well on our way to Westerly and didn’t want to pay for parking again, so we didn’t get to tour that area. Next time!
  • I would move my car closer to the Cliff Walk entrance. We made the decision to walk one mile to the Cliff Walk entrance so that we didn’t have to move our car and pay for parking again, but I highly recommend moving your car and just paying again. The one mile walk to the entrance wasn’t bad, but after walking a couple more miles down the Cliff Walk, we had quite the hike left to do just to get back to our car. There were no cabs or bike trolleys waiting where we exited the Cliff Walk.

Tips & Tricks…

  • Public transportation from the airport to South Station (in city center of Boston) is free.
  • With a Charlie Card (Boston’s fare card), bus trips are $1.50 one-way and train trips are $2.00 one-way. A 7-Day Pass is $18, so if you are going to be using the public transportation system for more than a day, it’s worth it to get the 7-Day Pass. That’s what we did for our day and a half spent in Boston, and we definitely used public transportation enough for it to be worth the cost. Click here for more detailed information.
  • Book reservations at the nice seafood restaurants in Boston a couple weeks in advance. I booked our reservation at Atlantic Fish Co. two weeks early, and it was the last available option of the evening. Several other places were completely booked.
  • Parking by the water in Portland, Maine is difficult. The garages near where you first drive in are very expensive. In order to avoid paying the high cost of these garages, we drove around looking for another spot. We ended up in a Two Hour Only spot even though we knew we would probably be gone on the tour for over two hours. Later in the day, we found out that their were much cheaper parking garages just a little further down the street.

This concludes my first Travel with Me segment. I hope that it helps make planning a trip to New England a little easier for someone or that it encourages a few of you to explore this great area of the United States. Please let me know in the comments section below if you have any suggestions for future Travel with Me posts or if there is anything in this post or Part I that you particularly enjoyed. Also, feel free to comment with any questions.Thank you for reading and happy trip planning!

 

 

Travel with Me // New England (Part I)

I love planning vacations. It probably is not an exaggeration to say that my absolute favorite way to pass the time is sitting down with my calendar, scouring through tons of reviews and friend recommendations, booking flights and hotels, and creating lists of things to do on a trip. I get very excited and distracted when I’m in full trip-planning mode.

One of my other favorite things to do is share my travel experiences with friends and family that are traveling to the same places as I did. I’ve been known to write extremely lengthy emails full of suggestions for a perfect vacation. Basically, I probably should have become a travel agent. Maybe I still will “when I grow up”.

While I am not a travel agent today, I thought it would be fun to take my passions for traveling, planning trips, and sharing trip ideas and combine them to create a fun series for the blog. So, today I’m going to kicking off a series called Travel with Me. In this series, I will recap trips that I have taken and will offer honest reviews of each hotel, restaurant, and activity that we did. At the end of each post in this series, I will list out the things that I would have done differently on the trip if I did the same trip over again. My hope is that you can take my stories and opinions and use them to help build your own trip.

For the first few posts in this series, I’ll be discussing trips we have taken in the past back before I started this blog or had any intention of writing up reviews. I’ll do my best to remember all that we did on those past trips. In the future, I’ll take notes and pictures during vacations with a blog post in mind, so those will probably be more detailed and more helpful.

Adventurers

To start off this series, I’m going to recap our recent trip to New England. To reach my goal of posting at least two times per week, I’m going to break up this post into two parts in the interest of time. This post will cover the basic when & where, where we stayed, and what we ate. Part II will cover what we did, my tips and tricks, and what I would change if I could go back in time and do the trip over again.

When & Where:

Daniel and I took an early October trip to the New England area. We spent about four days exploring Boston; Portland and Kennebunkport, Maine; and Newport and Westerly, Rhode Island. We both had been really wanting to get up to that area during the fall since we have heard how beautiful it is this time of year. While this trip was short, we wanted to squeeze it in before a big work project of mine started that was going to take up most of the rest of October.

On our first day, we flew into Boston mid-afternoon and spent our evening exploring Cambridge and Harvard University. On Day 2, we spent the whole day walking around all different parts of Boston. On the third day, we rented a car and drove an hour and half north to Portland, Maine, stopping at Kennebunkport, Maine on the way back to our hotel in Boston. For our final full day, we drove the rental car an hour and half south to Newport, Rhode Island and then another half hour to Westerly, Rhode Island. We flew home the next day.

Where We Stayed:

We mostly stay at Hilton hotels because I have a Hilton Gold HHonors membership due to work travel.

For my hotel rating system, I’ll use a ranking from 1 to 5 (1 – absolutely terrible, 2 – mediocre, 3 – good, 4 – great, 5 – fantastic).

Night 1:  DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Boston – Downtown

2.5 out of 5

It was important to us to stay our first night within walking distance to all of the activities we wanted to do in Boston.We chose this hotel for its location to public transportation and because it was one of the only Hilton hotels downtown that I had enough HHonors points to book one night free.

When we checked in, we were immediately given an upgraded room along with very friendly service. When we arrived at our room, we were slightly disappointed. While the room was very large, it was old and worn looking with tiny windows. The hotel building used to be a high school, so walking around the building definitely took me back to my days at Aledo High. It’s not exactly the homey feeling I would hope for in a hotel.

The bed was very comfortable. The hotel offered a wonderful-looking breakfast, but we did not get a chance to eat it because we ate breakfast in the city . The location is great- it is connected to a Starbucks, and it is very close to bus and subway stops.

Overall, I wouldn’t stay here again, but it was a decent place to stay for one night in Boston.

Nights 2-4: Hilton Boston Logan Airport

4 out of 5

For the remaining three nights of our trip, we wanted to stay at a hotel at the airport for easy access to the rental car center for our drives to Maine and Rhode Island.

This hotel was very clean and comfortable – probably nicer than any Hilton I’ve stayed at before. The breakfast was delicious (and complimentary for Hilton Gold and above). The hotel provided a shuttle to the different airport terminals, the rental car center, and the water taxi. The shuttle was slightly delayed both times we used it, but it wasn’t a big issue. Parking is provided but it was a hefty $30 daily fee.

My absolute favorite perk was the view from our room! We selected a city view room (versus a harbor view), but we had a fantastic view of the city and the harbor. It was gorgeous at all times of the day, but it was particularly beautiful at night with the city lights reflecting on the water in the harbor and the boats lit up. We got to see the same view from our breakfast in the HHonors lounge.

I would definitely stay at this hotel again for the comfort and convenience it offered.

Where We Ate:

For restaurants, due to the variety of types of restaurants and food, instead of giving each a star rating, I will just offer a Thumbs Up! for the restaurants I highly recommend, a Meh... for restaurants that aren’t bad but I wouldn’t recommend going out of your way for, or  a Thumbs Down rating for the restaurants that I believe you should avoid at all costs. Keep in mind that we usually eat at restaurants highly recommended on sites such as Trip Advisor, so it won’t be very common for me to give a Thumbs Down rating.

Please note that at several places I don’t remember what we ordered or the prices of the order. These are the details I’ll remember to write down on future trips, but I probably won’t have much information about when I’m reviewing past trips.

Day 1:

Lizzy’s Homemade Ice Cream – Cambridge, MA

Thumbs Up!

Right before touring around Harvard’s campus in Cambridge on our first day of the trip, we wanted to get some ice cream. We had read really great reviews about several Cambridge ice cream places, but the first of these places we came across was Lizzy’s Homemade Ice Cream. It is a small shop with only one table to sit at outside. I can’t remember what kind of ice cream we had, but I do remember it was delicious. We were very glad we tried this place, and it was a perfect snack to have while walking around the campus.

Charlie’s Kitchen – Cambridge, MA

Thumbs Up!

We found this spot right next to Harvard’s campus. It was a very fun, very casual atmosphere. We were seated outside on the patio which allowed for people-watching. Daniel ordered a crabcake sandwich with fries, and I ordered a tuna melt. Both were enjoyable.

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Day 2:

The Paramount – Boston, MA (Beacon Hill)

Thumbs Up!

While exploring Boston’s Beacon Hill area, we stopped at The Paramount for brunch. I had read tons of Trip Advisor reviews recommending this place, so we were very excited to try it. It was a more casual atmosphere than expected, but we really enjoyed it. When you walk in, you are directed to wait in line to place your order at the counter. They offered a variety of breakfast options such as omelettes, pancakes, waffles, scrambled eggs, etc. I ordered the pumpkin apple pancakes along with some coffee, and Daniel ordered an omelette. Once we paid for our food, we were seated by the window. The place was very crowded, but we didn’t have to wait for a seat, probably because it was a weekday. According to other reviews I have read, brunch on the weekends requires a long wait.

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Ned Devine’s Irish Pub (Faneuil Hall Marketplace)

Meh…

We ran across this pub after our group city tour in Boston ended. It was right in the middle of the busy marketplace we were in, and we really just needed a place to eat quickly and move on with our day. We walked in and were seated right away next to the bar, away from the dining area. I was not impressed by the atmosphere, but being secluded from the other diners might have contributed to that. Our food was some sort of sandwich and a burger. It was fine, but there was nothing impressive about it. My husband would like me to point out that he really enjoyed the restaurant and disagrees with my rating.

Atlantic Fish Co. – Boston, MA (Boylston)

Thumbs Up!

Daniel and I usually pick out one nice restaurant to go to while traveling to new places. For Boston, we chose Atlantic Fish Co. We had made a reservation several weeks in advance, so we were seated right away when we arrived. They seated us right by some open windows, so we were able to people watch but enjoy the indoor ambiance at the same time. Immediately, our server offered us drinks and told us the specials of the day. We both ordered a fish dish, but unfortunately, we can’t remember what type of fish. You can see in the pictures below how delicious the meals look! After dinner, we ordered a slice of key lime pie with blueberry drizzled on top to share. We paid much more than usual for this dinner, we had a fantastic time.

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Day 3:

Portland Lobster Company – Portland, Maine

After taking the city and lighthouse tour in Portland, we stopped off at Portland Lobster Co. to try our first lobster rolls! When we walked in, we ordered our lobster rolls at the counter. They were much more expensive than expected, but the price fluctuates with the market for lobster. We then made our way to find a seat. The majority of the seating was out on a dock. It was a really fun atmosphere and the weather was great. When we got our food, we were starving and excited to try it. Unfortunately, both of us were pretty disappointed in the lobster roll. For some reason, we expected them to be warm, but they were cold and just a little too fishy tasting. I’m unable to give this restaurant a rating because I think we just dislike lobster rolls in general. We loved the environment and wish we could go again to try something else.

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Morning in Paris Cafe – Portland, Maine

Thumbs Up!

While walking around the city on our own, we stopped at this little cafe for some coffee and macaroons. It was a very cute cafe with friendly servers and the homey environment you would expect from a coffee shop.

Coastal Maine Popcorn Co. – Portland, Maine

Thumbs Up!

Not long after our coffee break, we spotted this cute popcorn storefront. We decided to drop in and check it out. We ended up tasting several flavors of popcorn and walking away with one small bag each– Daniel with key lime and me with cheddar cheese. This was a great little “mom and pop” shop.

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Day 4:

84 Tavern on Canal – Westerly, RI

Thumbs Up!

Most of our time in Rhode Island was spent in Newport where we snacked at several places that I can’t remember enough to review. However, in the evening, we headed over to Westerly and had dinner there at 84 Tavern on Canal. This might just be one of my new favorite restaurants. We did have to wait awhile, so I would recommend making a reservation. Once we were seated, we looked over the menu and had a really hard time making our dinner choices because everything looked so great! I ordered the Whole Wheat Penne “Avondale”, and Daniel had some type of fish with pumpkin risotto.  We enjoyed our whole evening. I have no idea why I didn’t take pictures while eating here!

 

Click here to see what activities we did and places we visited in New England!