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Tuesday, November 8, 2011

London: Between Two Bridges

I knew as soon as I arrived that London was much bigger and busier than anywhere else I had been in the U.K.  I could hardly find my way out of the train station at first, but once I figured it out, the subway, also known as the London Underground or “the Tube”, was very easy to navigate.  Not to mention having enjoyable line names such as Bakerloo, Jubilee and Piccadilly.

One of the best things in life is an encounter with an old friend.  Well, I had the opportunity to meet with a group of friends that I hadn’t seen in over 7 years and that I had also met in another part of the world entirely!  Imagine an Ecuadorian, a German, and an American all meeting in London after originally meeting in Brazil.  It was destined to be a good time!

Catching up with Pato and Katha in London, England
When I first arrived I checked into my hostel, St. Christopher’s Village, and was met soon after by my dear friends Pato and Katha.  The hostel was near the London and Tower Bridges so we took a walk along the waterfront between the two.  It was a beautiful night and in addition to the excitement of catching up with old friends we were also fortunate to see the Tower Bridge rise below a nearly full moon.  I’m not certain of how often the bridge rises, but it was impressive.  I am continually amazed with both architecture and engineering, and bridges can be such a quintessential example of both.

Tower Bridge in London, England
We caught up and had a couple drinks before Katha and her boyfriend, who spent the day travelling as well, had to call it a night.  We were near the London Bridge, and I believe that there was a university close by as it was a pretty lively area with many young people out and about.  From there, Pato and I met up with some of his friends, who were also in London for University, and they took me out for an amazing night with a twist of Latin American culture.   Who would have thought I would be salsa dancing until the wee hours of the morning in London!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Hostelling

The best travel experience is always going to relate to the people you are with, or meet along the way.  I don’t believe you can have any stories without the lives and adventures of others intertwined.  For this reason, I love hostels.  Staying in them really completed the whole Euro-trip experience for me because I was able to meet people of all ages, from all around the world, who were in the same locals, for different reasons.  And in hostels, people are generally out for adventure, which makes them even more interesting to meet.

Wonderful ladies I met in a hostel in Paris - we were actually all traveling solo too!
There are many ways to find a hostel, but I had an amazing experience with Hostelworld.com So much so that I don’t mind promoting the site without reserve.  They have pictures, recent reviews, pricing, city maps, directions from wherever you are arriving from and you can book your reservation right there.  I was able to find some excellent hostels and I highly credit this site for me not getting bed bugs and/or not being miles away from where I wanted to be.  In addition, I met some incredible people and learned about local spots I would never have known to visit!

Yes! Lisbon Hostel in Portugal
If you are a little nervous about hostels just from what you've heard, read the reviews and look at the pictures.  What I found was that many of the bunk beds had curtains so you could have a little privacy, almost every hostel had lockers available for you to lock your stuff in, and many even had kitchens which is very helpful when you are on a budget.  Not to mention, pretty much every hostel has a social area and internet access.  Of course, I was in Europe, so this may not apply everywhere.  My one hostel experience in Brazil was just as good though.

Oasis Backpacker's Hostel in Sevilla, Spain
If you want to meet other travelers, learn about free tours, get local insights, and don’t mind a bunk bed, a hostel may be exactly what you are looking for!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Stonehenge via Mad Max

In Lacock, UK

Stonehenge is only about an hour away from Bath, and there was no way I was going to pass up the opportunity to see it.   Little did I realize that Stonehenge wouldn’t even be the best part of the tour!   This is one of the very few things that I booked before I left (note my previous post.)

I took the ‘Stonehenge and Avebury Stone Circles Full Day Tour’ with Mad Max Tours, and if you’ve never been you may be surprised to find that we only spent 45 minutes at Stonehenge.  To start, the tour guide was excellent!  (I feel awful for not recalling his name, but being that I’m writing this a year later, I don’t feel THAT bad.)

Stonehenge
Interesting fact: The name Stonehenge actually has a meaning.  A henge is a big ditch around a circular flat, typically with a monument of some sort inside.  So while what we all notice at first glance are the big boulders, if you look again, you’ll also see a ‘henge’ around them, hence ‘stone-henge’.  There are archeological studies that have determined there was also a ‘wood-henge’ located there before Stonehenge.

Avebury
Stonehenge was cool to visit and take pictures with, but what was really impressive was where we went next, Avebury.  Avebury is basically an enormous ‘Stone-henge’ with a town located inside.   It was created sometime around 2600 BC.  Unfortunately, it was in large part destroyed in the 1300’s at the request of the local preist.  What remains are a small percentage of the original stones still standing, a portion that had been tipped over repositioned, and the missing remainder identified with waist high cement markers.   And with a henge about 35 feet deep!  Stonehenge was curious but Avebury was surreal.

Henge at Avebury
Lacock
Our next stop was Lacock, a small, quintessentially English city owned by The National Trust. This was our lunch stop as well, and I had the most amazing meal at ‘The George Inn.’  I don’t recall exactly what it was, but it was the Special of the Day and I don’t think you could find a more filling, think of your mom’s cooking on a cold day, incredibly delicious dish.   Not to mention the Inn has a history dating back to 1361 and was brimming with English charm.  On a fun note, Lacock is often used as a filming location, and can be seen in such films as Harry Potter and BBC’s Pride and Prejudice.  Another fun fact: the first photographic negative was created there over 175 years ago!

Corner in Lacock Village
The tour took us all around the Cotswolds, which is a region of England that is known to be ‘quintessentially English’ and that has retained its traditional charm and historical feel.  As we drove around we also passed some crop circles, the Wiltshire White Horses, and through Castle Combe.  Castle Combe in short, is a single street designated as the ‘Prettiest Village in England.’  One of my favorite things to see though were the traditional thatched roofs – yes they still have them!  We were even lucky enough to see a thatcher at work!

Garden in Castle Combe
I met some really remarkable people on the tour and would highly recommend if you are in the region to take a tour with Mad Max.  Everything we saw was amazing, the trip was well organized and the tour guide was a blast!

Travel Like Quillyn: Itinerary

This is how I do an Itinerary:
The picture below was the actual itinerary for my month-long Euro trip – literally drawn up on a piece of paper, written in pencil.  I booked my hostels for the first week, my flight from Dublin to Bristol, and my flight from London to Lisbon.  Other than that, I was a free bird!
2010 EuroTrip Itinerary
"Not all those who wander are lost."  -J.R.R. Tolkien

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Start of Many History Lessons Learned

Bath, UK

My next stop was Bath, a picturesque city about 13 miles away from Bristol.  While the population is only around 90,000, its remarkable history and lasting features have made it a favorite tourist destination for UK locals. 

I found it easy to find the train station in Bristol and for somewhere around £6, purchased a ticket to Bath and was on my way.  I left in the afternoon so I could spend a little longer in Bristol, but still get to Bath before dark.  My hostel, Bath Backpackers, was just up the hill from the train station, which was very convenient.

Bath’s name originates from its history as a luxurious spa getaway and is now a classified as a World Heritage Site.  It was the Romans who first established it as a spa as early as 43 AD!   This was definitely a history lesson for me, as I, to be honest, had no idea their empire extended that far.

I had a tour scheduled for the next day so the first night was calm.  I met a couple girls in the hostel and we went out for dinner and a drink.  Lesson Learned: they don’t do to-go boxes in Bath.  One of my new friends was a little bummed to learn this, as that was a tactic she was hoping to use to save a little money while traveling.

The tour the next morning was with Mad Max Tours.  This was one of the only formal tours I took on my trip, and I am very glad I did.  It was a full-day tour to Stonehenge, Avebury, the Lacock National Trust Village and the Cotswolds, all located about an hour from Bath.  It was such a great tour I have decided to dedicate it with its own post, which I will share tomorrow.

When I returned from the tour I ran across a bakery selling the remaining pastries of the day for 2 for £1.  I may not have mentioned it, but this was a budget trip, making these savory goodies the perfect dinner!  I clearly was not the only one seizing this opportunity as the bakery was bursting with energy, as well as a line out the door. 



My last day in Bath was spent exploring with the girls I had met in the hostel the first evening.  The walk as a whole was beautiful, but I am going to divide it up into the primary areas we visited: the Circus, the Royal Crescent, the Roman Baths and the Bath Abbey.  All of these sights were within walking distance and easy to find as there are street signs to help navigate us tourists on just about every corner.

The Circus

The first point of interest on our walk was The Circus.  In short, it is a large circle of townhouses with a roundabout in the middle and three entry points.  What makes it notable (beyond the rumor that Johnny Depp lives there) is that it is a well-preserved example of Georgian architecture.  Designed to be viewed from the inside of the roundabout, no matter which road you enter on; you will see a beautiful Georgian faƧade.   We found however, as we walked back along the outside, that like many buildings of that time, the backside, or in this case, the outside, wasn’t really designed at all and even shows different heights, widths, and lengths of what appear to be uniform townhouses from the inside.

The Royal Crescent

Similar to The Circus, The Royal Crescent is a stretch of townhouses.  This stretch rather than being a circle though is a crescent overseeing a beautiful park.  These townhouses had a similar style to those in The Circus and were very well preserved.  They are beautiful, but I would not want to live there being that there are hundreds of people taking pictures of your front door and windows all day.  Not to mention a portion of the ‘townhouses’ have been converted into a museum and hotel.


Bath Abbey

This was the first abbey I visited in Europe.  It was remarkable to see a space so old and well preserved still being used for services and worship.  I later learned that it was recently restored and has actually been destroyed multiple times since it was originally built in 1499.  I took some notes to share, but in short it was a beautiful abbey and the first of many religious structures I would see during my time in Europe.


The Roman Baths

I was extremely impressed with the restoration of the baths, as well as the animation and visuals provided throughout the museum to help you picture the original facilities and artifacts.  It was once an entire complex providing cold, warm and hot baths, exercise areas, a gymnasium and massage rooms.  The museum is located within the original spa complex, and has been laid out in a way that preserves the space but still allows you to walk throughout it and around the pools themselves.  Being on a budget, it was pricy at £12.25, but I would still highly recommend it.


I really enjoyed visiting Bath and can’t wait to go back again someday.  My favorite part included the tour of the surrounding areas though and you will have to check back in within the next couple of days to hear all about it!   (Stonehenge included!)

The Big Catch-Up!

Ok, it's official- it's time to get my blog caught up!


It's been a year since my trip to Europe, and a couple months since my last trip here in the US (outside of work) and believe it or not I actually have nearly all of my posts written!  I can't post them all at once though because what fun would that be? For the next month or so I will be posting a new entry at least every other day.  Stay tuned for more on Eurotrip 2010, Texas, Phoenix, the Grand Canyon, Chicago, Las Vegas and more!  I am also going to start a new set of entries titled, "On the Home Front" where I will focus on mini-adventures a little closer to home and maybe even offer a little insight into my life when I'm not on the road.

Rio de Janeiro 2008
I am looking forward to sharing my adventures, reading your comments and would like to say thank you for all of your support and encouragement!
     
        *Quillyn

Monday, February 28, 2011

Let the Accents Begin!

Getting Abroad

Before I can talk about Europe I have to mention how I got there.  I truly believe in the miracle of flight and love the travel experience, so the 25 hour journey was not so bad.  Sure, there are direct flights, but not for $750 round-trip.


This was my first time flying Air Canada and with individual screens, free wine and great flight attendants I was quite comfortable.  After departing from Portland I arrived in Toronto where I met a mob of 17-year olds flying home after competing in the America’s Karate Championship.  I felt a little unaccomplished as a bunch of youthful 17-year olds were all around me representing their countries with their national track suits and all, but it was fun meeting youngins traveling the world for the first time and feeling their excitement. 

The flight from Toronto to Dublin was a lovely introduction to Ireland as about half of the passengers were red-heads with charming Irish accents.  I was almost too excited to sleep…almost.  Since I had decided to save Dublin for the end of the trip, I had one more flight to catch and that was the one-hour flight, just over St. George’s Channel, to Bristol, England that cost me a whopping £1 ($1.50) by means of Ryan Air.  The 8 hour layover wasn’t too noteworthy beyond being impressed at how inexpensive I could get a healthy meal at the Dublin airport, and learning how to sleep on a bench with built-in armrests while defending my backpack.

Bristol

Bristol was an interesting city to be my first stop since it’s not the largest and receives fewer international visitors than others I could have visited.  It was for those reasons though that it was the perfect choice.  Bristol is a very cultured city with a great deal of history and right from the beginning I could get a feel for the difference between America’s ‘old’ versus the rest of the world’s ‘old.’

The shuttle bus I rode from the airport allowed for a good initial view of the city, as my stop was almost the last.  After checking into my hostel, the YHA Bristol, I meandered along the harbor side taking in the city.  I have found throughout my travels that one of the best ways to really see a city is to just walk around.  This provides the opportunity to see locals, life beyond the tourist attractions and usually results in seeing interesting things that you wouldn't have seen otherwise.


It was raining, but being from Oregon, I know what comes with green and that it is wet.  I came prepared with a water resistant coat with a hood and I would highly recommend it if England is on your list of places to visit.  Since I knew absolutely nothing about Bristol, I decided to try a tour bus.  It was the hop-on hop-off variety, but it was raining so I opted to simply stay-on.  It was quite the experience as the bus was literally leaking everywhere, but the tour guide was very knowledgeable about the history of the area and kept everyone engaged.  I enjoyed it so much that I decided to go for another loop and look out the other side; unfortunately they switched tour guides on me.  Another lesson learned: tour guides make all of the difference If you are on this type of tour and get a lackluster guide- I would recommend hopping-off and hopping back on the next one that passes by.

One thing I learned is that the city center of Bristol was nearly destroyed by bombings during WWII, and in between 1940 and 1941 around 1,300 people were killed and almost 90,000 buildings were damaged.  Being from the U.S. this was a bit of a revelation for me.  War has never, literally, touched home.  It was painful to not only hear someone talk about their city that way but to actually see the ruins and bullet holes left behind.  I do not want to discount the loss of loved ones in war and the lasting impact that has on families and communities, but I realized there is a big difference between a war abroad and a war at home.  I’ve never felt unsafe at home when the U.S. has been at war.

I would like to tell you everything I learned about Bristol, but there is so much history in this relatively small city that I can’t even scratch the surface- here are some fun facts to introduce you though.

Bristol fun facts:
  • Home of Wallace and Gromit
  • Building site of the first iron-hulled steam ship to cross the Atlantic: the SS Great Britain
  • Home of the first passenger train station in the world
  • Holds the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta, a hot air balloon festival, every August
  • Ranked as the UK’s Most Sustainable City

I would loved to have stayed longer than one night, but with only 29 days and 12 cities to visit, it was time to catch my train.

On to Bath.