Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Name 'Grand Canyon' is Well-Earned


After the craziness of our last trip, moving back to the U.S. and getting married (all in the span of 3 months), we tried to slow down. However, a new job and another move didn't really allow our life to take on a semblance of normalcy until the start of the new year.  And normalcy is nice, until it gets boring.

And just about the time boredom might have set in, we headed for Arizona to visit Luke's grandparents and see the Grand Canyon!

The drive up from Phoenix offered some interesting sights: some hot air balloons on the side of the highway, and a quick stop at the family's old vacation cabin! It's too bad that I never got a chance to visit when the grandparents still owned it; I've heard stories of fun memories from that place.



When we arrived at the Grand Canyon, the weather didn't afford us the best views. But it was still incredible to see in person! I was surprised that you can walk right up to the edge in most places instead of being blocked by a safety rail. As long as you're careful and have a bit of common sense when taking pictures, you'll be fine.



It soon became too overcast to see much of anything, so we ducked into a little museum to learn about how the canyon was formed.

  


That night, we slept in a lodge on the edge of the canyon. The blue sky that greeted us in the morning looked promising for better views!


There ended up being low clouds and some haze, but the sunlight broke through and made the canyon look beautiful anyway. The colors and shadows of the canyon constantly changed as the light shifted, which was amazing to watch.



On our way out, we stopped by Desert View to see the watchtower and lookout point.





There were a few more things to see on the drive back, too.



Once we got back to Phoenix, we got to hang out with our grandparents for a few days! They've now moved out of their big house, but it was a cozy and welcoming place for everyone to relax. We can't wait to visit them at their new home soon!

Caught a bird on the feeder!

View from the front door: Colorful desert paradise. :)

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

All Good Things Must Come to an End


Now that we're even more behind on the blog, let's just dive in and continue, shall we?

Our plane headed to Dublin, the very last stop on our long Europe trip! The flight was delayed, so we didn't arrive at our B&B until 10:30 p.m. Luckily, it was pretty close to the airport. That left us with just enough time to check in and immediately go to sleep.

The next morning started with a surprisingly delicious continental breakfast at our B&B. What a nice change from the underwhelming food in London! (Yes, the stereotype is true.)

After taking a bus into the city center, we walked down O'Connell Street, taking in the sights. 

This bird has no respect for statues.


That turned into wandering around to whatever looked interesting.





It wasn't very difficult to find the famous Temple Bar.



Since we were still in the British Isles, of course we stuck to the theme of having fish and chips for lunch. :)

Also staying true to our overarching trend of frugality, we saw a free exhibit at Dublin Castle.


Walking outside of St. Patrick's Cathedral didn't cost any money, so we opted to do that instead of paying to go inside. We were pretty burned out on churches and cathedrals at this point; they all start to blend together after a while. And this being Ireland, you couldn't walk 20 feet without hitting a church (or bar. Again, Ireland). 




Ginger kids will take over the world!
Then onward we went to St. Stephen's Green, a nearby park with an adorable cottage at it's perimeter.




Visiting a school isn't a typical activity during our travels, but we couldn't leave without checking out the historic campus of Trinity College.



It was time for dinner, so we decided to shake things up and have sandwiches at Quizno's instead of Subway. No regrets; that turkey, ranch & swiss sub is fantastic!



We only had 1 full day in Dublin, but it turns out that's all we needed. The next morning, we arrived at the airport extra early in an attempt to secure an exit row seat for my tall fiance. The seats were available, but not at a price we were willing to pay. Although I was annoyed about both waking up earlier than necessary and missing breakfast for nothing, we were finally on our way back home!

Despite all the uncomfortable transportation at the earliest and latest hours, the mostly awful to adequate food, the lost sleep due to noise and sub-par accommodations, and the frustration when some plans inevitably didn't work out, we had a great overall experience on our 2-month European adventure.


With the trip done, we were finally returning to America for the first time in over a year. It was time to kick back, relax and reco.....  Just kidding! We had a wedding coming in less than a month. We traded one kind of crazy days for another. But it certainly wasn't boring!

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

A Pauper's Guide to London


Visiting London has always been on my bucket list. So as our plane landed and I looked out over the city, I felt... bored and worn out. It was the last few days of our 2-month, non-stop Europe trip and I was ready to go home!

Boredom turned to impatience in the border control line at the airport. We watched the never-ending queue of EU citizens breeze through, while a dozen of us non-EU citizens stood in line for 30 minutes. :/

Finally, a cheery, middle-aged woman checked my passport and, upon noticing my ginger locks, inquired about any potential Irish ancestry (affirmative). She told me that I have beautiful hair and that I should never mess with it! So sweet. That helped improve my grumpy mood!

We successfully navigated London's light rail and underground systems and arrived at our extremely basic and slightly dilapidated hostel... where we would be sharing a room of bunk beds with 8 strangers. That's what you have to deal with when you're young(er) and poor! (We were also saving money for our wedding and honeymoon, so there's that.)


Dinner was green curry chicken and rice at a nearby Thai restaurant. It wasn't the worst meal we would have in this town.


Keeping with the miserly theme, we picked up some snacks at Sainsbury's supermarket to save money on future meals. Disaster struck (literally) as I stepped one foot outside the store and a stroller slammed into my leg, hard. (Yep, it left a huge bruise.) The woman didn't look where she was going, yet treated me like I endangered her child. Come on, London, we are not getting off to a great start here!

The gates into Hyde Park were closed by that time, so we walked on the sidewalk beside it.


Back in the hostel room, a couple of rowdy Italians made their presence known. Thank goodness for earplugs!

The next morning, we discovered that the free breakfast offered by the hostel was laughable. First of all, it wasn't even served in the hostel; we had to walk a few blocks to the basement of a random restaurant! The extent of the food was: white sandwich bread, butter, jam, and cereal. End of list. But beggars can't be choosers, right?

Royal Albert concert hall.

After the obligatory coffee fix at Starbucks, we took a long walk through Hyde Park.




Peter Pan.
Prince Albert Memorial.

Serpentine bridge.


We were looking forward to our traditional fish & chips lunch! But it was underwhelming. So back to walking for us. Buckingham Palace was first up.

Beefeater.
Buckingham Palace gates.
            
Then a quick visit to Big Ben.


Giant Luke.
Normal me.

And of course, Westminster Abbey.


And across Westminster Bridge.

London Eye.

Palace of Westminster / Houses of Parliament.

Our feet didn't get quite enough abuse yet, so we continued walking! 

Horse guard
Trafalgar Square.

Wellington Arch, with bonus helicopter!

We visited the National Gallery, an art museum with free entry.


There weren't any signs that prohibited photography, but a museum employee reprimanded us for taking non-flash pictures. You can see how much that affected our behavior:

"Winter Landscape" by Caspar David Friedrich.

"A Wheatfield, with Cypresses" by Vincent van Gogh.

We eventually got kicked out of the museum (because it was closing, not due to our law-breaking antics). 

Quintessentially British phone booths.
Now with WiFi!  

Walking back to the hostel, there was a guy roller skiing on the sidewalk. Yes, that's exactly what it sounds like: he was holding ski poles and and his skis had wheels. Pretty bizarre! Apparently, that's how some skiers practice during the off-season.

Our night ended a bit early because the 6+ miles of walking had really exhausted us. Aren't you glad that this long blog post is done?
HAHA, just kidding! That was only the first day!

Day 2 in London started with a visit to Notting Hill and the Portobello Road Market. Luke wasn't too keen on going, but he was a good sport about it. :)



  


Once you get through the overpriced hipster nonsense like antique typewriters and wooden iPhone covers, there are some cute finds!



Since my dream of eating a Belgian waffle in Belgium didn't pan out, I settled for a place called Wafflemeister on Portobello Road. It was delicious!

Check out this bathroom in the middle of the sidewalk:


Next up was a trip to the British Museum, another free-entry venue.


The Rosetta Stone!


If you've been paying attention, you'll notice that the sky was bland and overcast thus far. But for one brief moment, there was a glimpse of blue sky!

Doth mine eyes deceive me?

Much to our delight, we stumbled upon a restaurant called El Mexicana, which seemed similar to Chipotle. The guys working there were from Mexico, so they understood the importance of spicy food. That chicken burrito was the best thing we ate in this city!

Onward, to the Tower of London.


Complete with lion statues to protect it.


We will haunt your dreams.

At sunset, we walked over to the Tower Bridge. 
[Luke:  Our arrival turned out to be perfectly timed.  We got to the bridge just at sunset.  While the sky certainly didn't provide much of a sunset, the dim light of dusk led to a couple great pictures.  The best part was when the bridge raised up to let a ship through.  This was both interesting to watch and enabled us to capture one of my favorite travel pictures we've ever taken.  You can see it at the very bottom of this post.  I love the details, the colors and how it perfectly froze a really cool moment.]

   


Now, for the highlight of the city (for me): Platform 9-3/4 at King's Cross Station!! I've been a fan of the Harry Potter books since high school, so there was no way I could miss this.

I know, you're jealous of my neon star tights!
It's a Hogwarts thing; you wouldn't understand.

This is where the magic happens!

That night, we had our worst meal of the trip: minced meat skewers at a Mediterranean restaurant. We were absolutely sick of eating Subway sandwiches by the end of this trip, but it seemed to be the only way to have a decent, cheap meal without wasting time researching and traveling all over town. I'm not a fan of paying $15 pp for food that doesn't taste good or fill me up.

Looks can be deceiving.

Finally, our last day in the English capital!

It started raining as we strolled down Kensington High Street. We ducked into Harrod's, the famous and expensive department store.


Ready for Christmas in early October.

There was time for one last walk through Hyde Park.


   

So the horses know when to cross the street:

       

Finally, we had to visit Sherlock Holmes while we were in the neighborhood!

       

That night, we crammed ourselves into an uncomfortable and full minivan for a 1.5-hour ride to Stansted Airport. Dublin, the final stop on our absurd trip, was waiting for us.

To summarize, London on a budget:
  • Stay in a 10+ bed hostel room, with no frills or privacy (don't forget an eye mask and ear plugs!).
  • Only eat at Subway or McDonald's (choose the healthiest options).
  • Supplement with snacks purchased from grocery stores.
  • Walk as much as you can. When your feet are screaming, walk some more.
  • Plan logical routes to reduce walking time and cost of public transportation.
  • Visit free events and venues, and don't buy anything unless you can't live without it.
  • Sit on a bench in Hyde Park and people-watch!