Friday, August 24, 2012

Our Iceland-UK-Olympics Vacation PART II

Here it is, finally. My Part II recap of our Iceland-UK-Olympic vacation. I blogged about our Olympic Games experience a week or so ago in a Vacation PART I. Now I'm going to try to cram in everything else we did on our trip in one post because I if I don't get this up all at once, I'll never get around to finishing it. [Like what I did for our Europe trip last summer :( ].

We did A LOT of sightseeing on our Iceland-UK trip. We tend to cram in as much as possible, which is good because we see a lot, but not so good because we sometimes don't have enough time at places we end up really liking. And we are constantly on the go from 7am until 10-11pm, which is exhausting. One of these days we'll go on a relaxing vacation and just stay in one place and do nothing. The kids won't know what hit 'em.

I apologize to those of you who follow me on twitter and or instagram as I include a lot of those photos you've seen already in this post. What can I say? I love using my iphone camera. It's so convenient, light and takes pretty decent pics. I took 472 photos with my iPhone and only 267 with my regular camera.

Iceland July 26-27, 2012 
When we learned that the airfare price was the same to the London with a stopover in Reykjavik no matter how long you stayed in Iceland, we knew we wanted to spend a couple of days in Iceland before making it all the way across the pond. Unfortunately, my husband made a mistake in our reservations that we didn't notice until weeks after, our two day jaunt in Iceland was reduced to barely 24 hours. Disappointing, but it is what it is and we enjoyed what little time we had there anyway. Good thing they get LOTS of daylight there.

Landing in Iceland
Sunset skies at 10:30pm
By the time we took the shuttle bus from the Keflavik airport to Reykjavik it was very late. Of course our stop was the last one. Of course. So now it's after midnight and we get to our room, which was an apartment right out of the coziest pages of an IKEA catalog. Seriously. So nice. We were famished, so headed out for some food. Pizza just because it was close to our apartment and the place was open at 1 am. Showers and then off to bed and it still wasn't fully dark outside. In the morning we walked around the city like tourists and then sadly headed back to the airport for our flight to London. The drive was nice, though, and we got some beautiful views of the Icelandic shores.

On the road from Reykijvak to the airport.
Iceland countryside

Iceland countryside
Such a unique and stunning landscape and overall a fascinating place. I can't wait to go back and explore the island. Hopefully in the winter so we can see the aurora borealis.

London July 27-28, 2012 
We arrived in London late Friday night, which was the night of the Opening Ceremonies for the Olympics. We caught some of it on the television in our hotel room, went out to get some dinner, and then watched the rest when we got back. It was pretty neat hearing booms of the fireworks from our hotel while seeing it on television. It was a surefire reminder that we were really in London during the Olympic Games! Except the next morning we hopped a train for Scotland. But we'd be back to London in just a few days.

Scotland July 28-30, 2012
We arrived in Glasgow, Scotland after a very pleasant and scenic train ride. I spent half the time looking out the window at the pastures and towns and the other half of the time reading an ARC of Hearts of Darkness by Kira Brady. I was very happy. :)

Here's a photo of the British countryside between London and Glasgow. Look! We even saw Dementors!!!! Okay, okay, so it's grime on the train window. ; )
Countryside view from train
between London and Glasgow.

Our first evening in Glasgow we walked around the city for a bit and dined at an Italian restaurant called Pesto for dinner. If you are ever in Glasgow, you have to go there for dinner. It was excellent!

The next day we went on a fabulous day tour of the Scottish Highlands. We used Rabbie's personalized small group tours in Glasgow and highly recommend them. Our tour guide, John, was fantastic. He knew so much about the history and culture of Scotland from a thousand years ago until today. When he wasn't telling us about Scotland, he played a wide variety of Scottish music old and new. He also taught us everything he knew about Scottish whiskey. Which was a lot. Ha!
Loch Lomond, Scotland
Bagpiper playing at a rest stop
near Glencoe, Scotland
The Scottish Highlands are absolutely gorgeous and in no way do my photos do this land justice. The colors and textures and magnificence of the hills that go on and on and the little houses tucked into the valleys and the way the clouds just hover over the lands. Just so beautiful and serene. Between you and me, I felt like I was on the set of a Julie Garwood novel the whole time. :)
Glencoe, Scotland
Glencoe, Scotland
Later that day, we did our best to spot Nessie the Loch Ness Monster as we toured the shores of Loch Ness.
On a boat looking for the Loch Ness Monster!
Loch Ness, Scotland
Click on this one for more detail:
Castle Urquhart
Loch Ness, Scotland
I was sitting on the wrong side of the bus to capture a good shot, but here's what I got of the double rainbow we saw on the ride from Loch Ness back to Glasgow.
On plus side of the frequent rain showers in the UK?
So many rainbows! :)
Dinner in a Scottish pub that night. I had a traditional steak and ale pie. I wanted to be brave and have haggis but I just couldn't do it. Next time!

The following day we took a taxi to Celtic Park, home of the Celtic football club--my husband's favorite team. We kind of got there between a sold out tour and the next one, which would be a couple of hours later, so we opted not to do it. Instead we walked around the outside a bit and then bought my husband some clothing from the shop. He was pretty happy, which made us girls happy. :)

After that, we found our way back to the train station and hopped a train for Edinburgh for the day. By the time we arrived in Edinburgh it was probably after noon. Without a clear cut plan as to what to do, we meandered the streets of the Royal Mile--a landmark area of Edinburgh with a lot of history, culture, shopping and things to do. We knew we wanted to see Edinburgh castle, so we casually headed that way, enjoying the sights as we went along. We got taken in by a fun museum called Camera Obscura and ended up spending way more time there than we intended. So much so that by the time we walked to Edinburgh castle, the attendants literally closed the gate in our faces saying they were closed for the day an no one else could enter. I was stunned. I mean, it was totally our fault for not checking the time of the last entry and totally our fault for losing track of time, but ... but.. we were devastated. It still makes me really sad, and quite frankly mad at myself for letting this happen. So stupid! Argh! :( So now we have to go back to Scotland, too. Not a terrible thing, but with a whole big world to explore, I have to be honest with myself and think am I really going to go back there someday? I just don't know. Anyway, we wallowed our disappointment with an elaborate Thai dinner.

A view of Edinburgh, Scotland
The girls walking the Royal Mile
Edinburgh, Scotland
Edinburgh Castle, Edinburgh, Scotland
After dinner we walked the perimeter of the Edinburgh Castle and more of the city streets, where the girls bought some pretty sterling Celtic rings they liked at a street booth. We headed back to Glasgow that evening, checked out of our hotel and headed back to the train station where we hopped a sleeper train from Glasgow back to London. We had taken a sleeper train in Europe last summer in Germany from Berlin to Munich, which was not the most comfortable or enjoyable experience [I felt SO claustrophobic!] so I wasn't so keen on another sleeper train, BUT it was much better this time. The cabins were just a tiny bit bigger, but that little bit of extra space made a world of difference.

London July 31-August 6, 2012 
Back in London early this Tuesday morning we checked into our hotel in Putney Bridge and then headed back into London to meet up with our friends for some sight seeing. [Our close friends from home joined us for part of our stay in London. This is the same family whom we visited for our January getaway to Florida]. We met at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre where we toured the theater and then went through the museum, learning all kinds of fascinating things about Shakespeare, his plays and the theatre itself.

Click on photo to enlarge for more detail:
Inside Shakespeare's Globe Theatre
London, England
We grabbed lunch then headed towards Buckingham Palace. First we "shopped" in Harrods [omg! sO cRaZy!] and then took a tour of Buckingham Palace. As you can imagine, the palace is a pretty fascinating place. Ultra fancy. Everything seemed to be silk, velvet, marble, gilded, etc. A bit much for my tastes, so I guess it's a good thing I'm not royalty! Ha! :o)
Buckingham Palace, London, England
London Monument
London, England
We were super lucky to have scored tickets to a women's football match that night--Great Britain vs. Brazil, which my husband and 17 year old went to see while our 13 year old and I went out for a nice, quiet dinner. They had a fantastic time watching the football--it was quite an exciting game and the crowds were wild, of course because Team GB won 1-0!

The following day we met our friends at London Monument which is a stone tower that commemorates the great fire of 1666 and celebrates the rebuilding of London. You get a certificate of achievement for walking all the way up the 311 stone steps of the spire and back down again. It's true.

That afternoon, we were Olympic spectators for women's court volleyball. We had front row seats! How lucky is that? You can read more about the Olympic stuff and see pictures on my previous vacation post HERE.

After the volleyball, we went with our friends on a London sight seeing boat tour on the Thames. The guide on the boat was very funny and we learned a lot about the history of London, mostly about the buildings and bridges along the river. My favorite part was seeing Tower Bridge up close from the water with the Olympic Rings on display there. After dinner that evening, we went up the London Eye, which is the largest Ferris wheel type thing in the world. I have to admit, it was pretty cool. My favorite part was being able to see inside the stadium where Beach Volleyball was taking place from the top of the London Eye. This is the same area where you can see Big Ben, Parliament and Westminster Abbey.

Here's a picture of London Bridge. It's the one in the foreground. Yes. That very very very plain one. Is London Bridge. Surprised? I know I was. Tower Bridge is the fancy one most people associate with London. You learn something new everyday.

London Bridge in foreground
Tower Bridge in background
Tower Bridge 
The London Eye at night
The next day we took a whirlwind bus tour outside London with our friends to Bath, Stonehenge and Windsor Castle. Like I said, it was a whirlwind tour. Lots of time on the bus and too short a time at the sites. I don't think we had more than 2 hours at any of the stops. It was kind of crazy, but I'm still glad we got to see what we did. Honestly, you don't need more than an hour or two at Stonehenge, but it would have been nice to spend a whole day each in Bath and Windsor.

At the Roman Baths
Bath, England

The girls at the Great Bath
Roman Baths, Bath, England

Stonehenge, England
Walking up to Windsor Castle
Windsor, England
Moat gardens at Windsor Castle
Windsor, England
Changing of the guard
Windsor Castle, Windsor, England
After the tour, we had dinner at an Indian restaurant right near our friends' hotel. It was a buffet and I ate way too much. Buffets are dangerous.. especially when it comes to some of your favorite foods. Ugh. This was our friends' last night in London so we said our goodbyes and headed back to our hotel for some much needed rest. Sightseeing all day and night is tiring!

The next day we toured Westminster Abbey and Westminster Palace, which is where Parliament is held. I learned so much about the British government on the tour of the Parliament. Very interesting and educational. I hope the girls got something out of it, too. I felt a little ignorant learning all this in my 40s and not in my teens or 20s. Anyway, the building is quite stunning on the inside as well as on the outside. Speaking of the outside, did you know that Big Ben is not the official name of the clock tower? Big Ben is only the name of the bell inside the tower. The tower is actually called Westminster Tower but is going to be renamed Queen Elizabeth Tower in the not so distant future. 

Westminster Tower [aka Big Ben]
London Eye in the background
After Parliament, we walked up to Trafalgar Square where we grabbed dinner. When it started to get dark, we took the tube to Tower Bridge for some nighttime photo ops of the bridge and the Olympic Rings. What an exciting time to be visiting London!
Tower Bridge at night
The following morning we caught the end of the women's triathlon in Hyde Park, which you can read in my earlier Olympics post HERE. I was very excited about this, especially since I did my first sprint triathlon last summer. Obviously no where NEAR the level of this kind of event or this caliber athlete, but at least I know what it's like to do an event like this, even in it's most simplest and easiest forms.

After the triathlon, we ventured on with our sightseeing. First we went to London Tower, which was a very interesting place. So much history there, I really had no idea. It has been used as a prison, an artillery, and as a vault of sorts for the Crown Jewels, which we got to see! All I can say is WoW! So sparkly. Absolutely gorgeous. You look at those jewels and think, "Really? That's REAL?" It's so beautiful that I swear your mind starts to rationalize that nothing real can be that beautiful so it must be fake. Does that make sense? Maybe it's just me. lol.

A view from within Tower of London
From London Tower we went to Tower Bridge, which is practically a stone's throw from London Tower. We went INTO the bridge and walked across the enclosed walkway at the tippy top of the bridge. We learned about the construction and operation of the bridge. They also had displays here on the history of the Olympic games which was pretty neat. At this point in our vacation, I think we all started to lose some steam and found ourselves resting on benches any chance we could get.

Resting inside the pedestrian walkway
at the top of Tower Bridge
On our last full day in London, the girls slept in late [myself included!] while my husband went football stadium hopping. He's a big football fan and was excited to be able to go to all these stadiums that he sees on television all year long. :)

After he got back we had a late breakfast and then headed for a special little spot in London. Can you guess where based on this picture?

Abbey Road
Okay, even if you're not a Beatles fan, you probably recognized it anyway, right? Abbey Road studios where the Beatles recorded their albums. This was a pretty fun little excursion.

We then spent the afternoon in The British Museum which was phenomenal. You could spend days there and still not see everything, so we prioritized a few of their most popular items on exhibit and tried to fit it all in before closing time. The girls really petered out here so they plopped on a bench for a bit while Gabe and I zoomed around and tried to see the last few items on our list. We didn't quite get to it all, but did see most of the things on our list.

My guy inside the British Museum
Holding a Sumerian cuneiform
from 2700+ years ago! WOW! 
Hands on exhibit where we got to hold a piece of Sumerian cuneiform from 2700+ years ago! We also got to see the Rosetta Stone, sections of the Parthenon [a lot of controversy having this taken from Greece and placed in this British Museum.], the Lewis Chessman, a stunning collection of jade mosaic masks and sculptures from the Aztecs, and many other collections.

I knew we were all starting to fade because this was the first night we were back to our hotel before 7pm! I really wanted to eat dinner at this charming pub right around the corner from our hotel that we passed by every single day walking to the tube, but my youngest is a picky eater and didn't like anything on the menu and I was just too tired to be adamant about it, so we had dinner in the hotel restaurant. The food was good, but the pub would have been so much more British, you know?

The following day we packed up and headed to Heathrow for our flight home.

We had a brief stopover in Iceland again, but this time it was only an hour or so in the airport with extremely expensive food and souvenirs. We arrived in JFK airport in New York City at sundown and basically drove off into the sunset towards home in New Jersey. After being awake traveling for nearly 24 hours, it was pretty darned nice to sleep in my own bed. Even if jet lag did have me wide awake at 4 am for a few days straight. Yikes.

Arrived home to a beautiful Manhattan sunset
Home Sweet Home

First morning home, catching up on some emails...
Me and Peekaboo. 
I think she missed me. :)

Thanks so much for taking the time to read my vacation recap and look at my photos. :)


  1. Wow! What a trip. I'm totally jealous as I haven't made it to that side of the pond yet. Thanks for sharing about your adventure.

  2. Nice! The teen & I want to go to GB when he graduates high school in 2 years. I'm hoping we can do it. He wants to go to Wales. Love the pictures!

  3. You could take just about any picture in Scotland and I'd drool to be there. I want to look my Mom's cousins up some day, there, too.
    Thank you for sharing your trip with details and pictures. It was so much fun to see where you've been!

  4. Awesome pictures!! Iceland looks out of this world!
    Thanks for sharing your travel experiences :D

  5. Oh wow. I'm so jealous!! Where are you going next year?

  6. Thank you all for reading about our vacation. It was a really fantastic trip!

    Linda: You'll get there someday! It'll be worth the wait. :)

    Phyl: Oh that sounds like a wonderful graduation trip. I'd love to go to Wales, too.

    Brandy: You should start looking up your Mom's cousins now. I bet they'd love to hear from you and it would give you a connection to Scotland. I hope you get there someday.

    Alex:Thanks for checking it out. Iceland was very cool! Literally and figuratively! ha!

    Lisa: It was fabulous! We're hoping to go to Asia next summer--the Philippines, Japan and Hong Kong.

  7. So excited to read and see your pics as I'm jus 4 days away from my trip over to the UK. I'll be doing mostly Scotland with lots of relatives to visit! I don't think Edinburgh is on our list (been there many times), was thinking you should have done the "hop-on, hop-off" bus tour (gives you lots of freedom and the added plus of getting the tourguide history lesson, too. My mom and I are going to do the "hop-on, hop-off" bus in London because I have no idea how to plan our three days there and get to see everything I want to see!

    Would love to get to Iceland some day - should have looked into that for this trip, didn't know.

    Great pics, Christine! My friend and I watched the women's tri - hmmm, wonder if you were in the crowd scanned by the cameras. Like Iceland, one day I hope to try-a-tri :)

  8. Okay, so many comments. let see! First, awesome!! Sounds like you had a blast, Christine!! :) And the pictures are amazing! Very nice memories.

    1) It's too bad you guys didn't get to stay longer in Iceland :( At the end, it feels like you almost lost a day... but wow, those pics are great.

    2) You got to go to Bath! Okay, that's really great! :)

    3) Wow, Anna is almost as tall as Maria! And Maria looks so much like you when she has her hair up! in the pic of them resting at the Tower Bridge, I was wondering whether it was you or Maria till I click on the picture!

    I totally understand what you mean by trying to see as much as possible. And you're lucky your girls are such troopers! LOL. I have to say though, after my trip to Europe, it's nice to take your time and relax ;)

  9. I love that picture of your girls at the Royal Mile. I've been to London before but we didn't have a chance to do any touring elsewhere and I would love to go one day. The pictures of Scotland are breathtaking! And the Olympics!! How much fun were they!!

    I also adore that you have a cat named Peekaboo. :)

  10. Janet: You're on your UK trip right now---hope you are having the best time and I can't wait to hear about YOUR adventures!

    I don't think I was near any cameras, although they had cameramen on motorcycles [maybe mopeds?] following the runners, so those guys passed through crowds, but I'm sure they were focusing on the athletes and not the crowds. Also, we were about four to six people deep on the sidelines so even if they got some of the spectators on film, I'm sure we weren't visible.

    You can certainly do a tri. I did a sprint tri last year and it was awesome! 0.5k swim, 20k bike and 5k run. Over in under 1.5 hrs. You could totally train for that!

    nath: Thanks, nath!
    1. I'm pretty confident we'll make it back to Iceland in the not so distant future. My husband and I were both drawn to the place and are dying to explore more.

    2. Bath! In a flash! LOL! Wish we could have explored longer, but at least we saw the Roman Bath Houses. :)

    3. Anna HAS gotten tall. I don't know how that happened! Where's my baby? That's funny you say that about Maria sort of looking like me when she has her hair up. Most people say she resembles Gabe more than anything. I do know we sound alike on the phone, though. And her physique is more like mine while Anna's is more like Gabe's. Poor Maria.

    Trish: Thanks, Trish! We loved the UK. Scotland was so nice and the people really friendly. :)

    Peekaboo is a sweetie. :) Maria gave her that name when we got her as a kitten. Maria was only three. Classic.


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