The UK with Karin: Day 2

We both enjoyed every second of sleep we got that first night. It is definitely the trade-off for flying overnight. You know the first day is a tough one. Pictures help you remember what you saw and what you did, but it’s really a crapshoot.

Day two was another hard trek, but honestly, I can’t imagine traveling any other way unless I’ve checked into an all-inclusive resort with nowhere else to go. I do NOT waste time.

After a full English breakfast, we took a quick peek at the Coronation Stone in Kingston, which is said to have been the very place where seven Anglo-Saxon kings have been crowned. (Having just taught Beowulf to my high school students, I was all warm and fuzzy about Anglo-Saxons and super happy to see the stone.)

We took a quick walk around the riverside so Karin could see more of Kingston in the daylight. I love this borough so dearly – I actually look at rental properties here in my spare time. It’s a dream, I know. But still.

Bridge to Richmond-Upon-Thames and Hampton Court
River Thames

Eventually, we took the train back to London, this time starting near Buckingham Palace so we could see if the Queen was home. (She wasn’t!) We stopped in the gift shop for a few keepsakes, which is where I took the cutest photo of Karin ever.

We took a long walk through Hyde Park to see the Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain and Kensington Palace (all new stuff for me!). The walk was beautiful – perfect temperature and plenty of autumn leaves.

The Queen Elizabeth Gate to Hyde Park
The Serpentine in Hyde Park

Our discovery of Diana memorials continued when we walked into Kensington Palace. Of course, we were hoping that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge would be home, but alas, they weren’t.

Prince Charles and Princess Diana lived at Kensington Palace together when they were married, and Diana continued to live there after they divorced. I was so pleased to see she is still memorialized there.

Time to update these photos for Prince Louis and Archie!
This magnificent wallpaper lines the walls near the restrooms on the bottom floor at Kensington.

The bulk of Kensington Palace features the life of Queen Victoria and her sweetheart (and cousin) Prince Albert, two monarchs I know little about other than the obvious bits and facts. I was thrilled by what I learned about this small, feisty queen. I’m eager to get my hands on a book about her.

We learned that Victoria has limited freedom as a young princess, and her relationship with her mother suffered for it.

Victoria was a “spirited” child. 🙂
I love this. Victoria was so small, and it really bothered her! Now we know why she preferred the tiny crown.
Queen Victoria was born in this room.

Hello, crowns!

After our tour of Kensington Palace, we took tea/coffee and cake on the patio to relish the moment.

A quick stop to the restrooms gave me a glimpse of this adorable sign. Love the crowns!

We took our time strolling back through Hyde Park toward Buckingham Palace and the center of Westminster. Karin still wanted to see a few key spots, such as 10 Downing Street, Big Ben (which is still under construction), and Westminster Abbey.

Prince Albert Memorial
This is the statue of Dame Millicent Fawcett, a suffragist leader. I read that this is the first statue of a woman in Parliament Square (also the first statue designed by a woman), and it commemorates the 100th anniversary of women winning the right to vote in the UK.
Flower boxes are my fave!

We had no idea we’d arrived at Westminster Abbey at the perfect time. We knew the abbey was closed to visitors on Sunday, but there was a line forming outside the west door. A quick inquiry told us that anyone was allowed to attend the Sunday evening prayer service (with strict instructions that it is indeed a prayer service and not an opportunity to tour the church). We jumped at the opportunity to join others in prayer at Westminster. We just couldn’t believe it.

As per the rules, I took no photos inside but instead took the opportunity to be still in prayer, gratitude, and thanksgiving.

Since it was dark, we took a cab to Waterloo and grabbed the next train back to Kingston.

The UK with Karin: Day 1

When Karin and I met in 2001, we became fast friends. This is actually the same origin story for all of my best friends. Upon meeting, I recognize them almost immediately as one of my people. It’s an instinct and a gift.

Karin and I worked together at a chiropractic clinic. We were both in a young season of figuring out our career paths, and this job provided a paycheck and time to think. It also afforded us time together every day to build and mold our friendship. Karin and I were together on 9/11, while Chuck and I walked through infertility, and when she and her then-boyfriend got engaged and married. We were in our mid-20s when life felt open-ended and full of possibilities.

Our jobs at the clinic ended as she went back to social work and I moved into communications, but we stayed best friends, and not just because our firstborns are five hours apart. Some of our biggest commonalities was a love of reading, all things Tudor, and the shared dream of exploring England together. It was an incredible fantasy considering all of the things that happened in our 30s: more kids, moving across the country, new jobs with no vacation time, divorce. You can’t just run off to England when you have Kindergartners and a new mortgage.

Fast-forward to now. Our lives are considerably different than they were ten years ago – emotionally, psychologically, financially. Suddenly, there is time to focus on ourselves without all the mom guilt. There’s a little more money in the bank, and we’ve learned a few things about how to travel smartly. When I went to England for the first time last year, almost every day provided a moment for me to tell Chuck, “Karin would love this.”

Speaking of, you should know that it was Chuck’s idea – this trip with Karin. He called me one evening in the summer while away on a work trip. We weren’t that far removed from our whirlwind vacation with the boys to France, Italy, and Monaco when he said, “What if we took Karin to England over fall break?”

The idea sounded far too lofty to grab and pull down. How could we even afford that? We were just overseas. Of course, I knew what he meant – we’d watch the fares and pounce when they dropped. We’d use all those hotel points he accrues so quickly. We’d split the AirBNB costs and car rental. We’d figure it out just like before. 

When I pitched the idea to Karin, I don’t think she even hesitated in saying yes. I can’t even remember how the conversation went other than jumping right to dates that worked for both of us. Truth be told, I wasn’t entirely sure we could pull it off. Chuck was always confident, but I, the budget-keeper and family worrier, wasn’t. 

Everything wove together near seamlessly, and by October 4, Karin and I were boarding a flight for Heathrow.

The overnight flight meant we’d arrive the morning of Saturday, October 5, with fingers crossed that we could check into our hotel in Kingston and hit the ground running.

This was Karin’s first look at England.

The stars aligned and that’s exactly what we did. We wasted no time taking the train to London and walking straight for The Tower. (I didn’t take new photos there other than my photos of Karin, so y’all can enjoy what I took last year.) Though it wasn’t new to me, it was entirely new to Karin. I was so happy to see her wide eyes taking in all the things I knew she’d love.

What was new to me that Saturday was St. Paul’s Cathedral, an incredible place of worship that I was not prepared to see. The place was stunning.

Even the tilework was beautiful.

After touring St. Paul’s, we crossed the Millennium Bridge for a glimpse at The Globe, then grabbed our first dinner in London. Of course it was fish and chips! And cider!

Like zombies, we took the train back to Kingston-Upon-Thames, crawled into our hotel room, and crashed, deliriously happy.

2019 European Vacation: Day Eight in London

As promised, we made sure the boys set their feet in London before flying back to the States. A quick Easy Jet flight from Milan made that happen.

Honestly, I got teary seeing the land from overhead. I love England. I love it. I love being there, I hate leaving it. I’ve had a crush on Britain for decades and now I’ve been twice within a year. I’m already planning a third trip.

For our final day of sight-seeing, we grabbed dinner at a pub in Shepherd’s Bush (where I had the most amazing BBQ Jackfruit quesadillas!) and then hopped on the tube for Piccadilly Circus so the boys could have that “Times Square” London experience (i.e., all tourists, no locals). That’s where the LEGO store was, after all.

It was there that I saw the most exciting LEGO set ever: Stranger Things!

I didn’t take a lot of photos during our afternoon and evening in London because I’d already taken 700 throughout the trip, and frankly, I just wanted to walk the streets and enjoy myself. We got out of Piccadilly Circus as quickly as we could (because people!) and strolled through St. James Park and Westminster. Both boys wanted to see Buckingham Palace.

Union Jack Heaven!

The Royal Standard was flying above the palace, which meant the Queen was home! (When Chuck and I visited in October, the Union Jack was flying above the palace, which meant the Queen was not in residence.)

When our evening in London ended, I started pouting almost immediately. I didn’t want to leave. I wanted to keep going – head to Wales or Cornwall, maybe drive to Yorkshire and the Lake District. There’s so much more I want to see.

For now, this trip will have to tide me over, and it definitely will. We all agree that Monaco was our favorite day on the trip, and the day after in Antibes and Cannes is a close second. Italy wasn’t what we expected, and I can’t say that I’m in a hurry to go back.

France, on the other hand, has me more curious than ever. I’ve been to Paris and now Côte d’Azur, but there’s a whole lot of countryside in between. ??

2019 European Vacation: Day One in Kingston-Upon-Thames and Brighton

Last year, when Chuck and I flew to the UK, we opted for an overnight flight so we wouldn’t lose a day of sight-seeing. A quick nap upon arrival gave us enough energy to power through the jet lag.

This time, however, remembering how rough it was on the boys when we flew to Iceland, we decided to surrender a day of sight-seeing for a day of travel. We flew out of Chicago at 9 a.m. and landed in London close to 11 p.m. By the time we were settled in Kingston-Upon-Thames and had eaten our room-service pizza, it was time for bed. Despite the incredibly long day, I think it was easier for the boys to acclimate.

I love Kingston-Upon-Thames and couldn’t wait to return, particularly since we had plans to visit Hampton Court. It’s southwest of London, perfectly situated on the river as the name suggests, and entirely walkable.

Before heading to Hampton Court, we stopped by All Saints Church, where the earliest kings of England were crowned. They still have the coronation stone inside.

The 30-minute walk to Hampton Court took us through the town and over the Thames, and it made me love the city all over again.

I’m tempted to draft a long history of Hampton Court’s significance, but I won’t torture those of you only came here for the photos. In short, Hampton Court was Henry VIII’s favorite place to be. It was transformed from a stately home to a true palace under the eye of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, who failed to secure Henry’s first divorce from Catherine of Aragon and therefore secured his fateful death.

It was also where the Protestant King James I (of England) and VI (of Scotland), who reigned after Elizabeth I died, held a conference to discuss the translation of the Holy Bible into English for the faithful to read. (Spoiler alert – he had the first English translation named after him.)

The great kitchens of King Henry’s reign produced meat pies and delicacies literally fit for a king. The Tudor Royal Court was known for its exotic, fantastical dining.
The king’s wine cellar

Hampton Court is essentially two palaces in one – the rose-brick Tudor palace from the 1500s and the baroque palace of William III from the 1700s.

This staircase leads to William III’s apartments. It marks a noticeable shift is style and architecture.

At various points throughout our tour, I kept thinking certain places looked familiar as if I’d seen them before. Sure enough, a quick Google search reminded me that certain scenes of The Favourite were filmed here, as Queen Anne was the last Stuart monarch and spent a lot of time at Hampton Court.

I couldn’t wait to get my eyes on The Great Hall, which is practically a shrine to Henry VIII. My photos of the stained glass don’t do them justice.

If you’re able to zoom in on the stained glass, you’ll see all the wives’ names and their subsequent mottos.

Aw, poor Jane. She is buried with King Henry at St. George’s Chapel at Windsor. Henry considered her his true wife. She was wife No. 3 and the only one who bore him a living son, Edward VI.

My favorite, however, is Anne Boleyn. Her motto was “The Most Happy.” My sweet husband was such a champ to endure my Queen Anne fandom last October when we visited Hever Castle, her childhood home. It ended up being one of our favorite things on that trip.

It was Anne who gave us Elizabeth I.

One area where photos weren’t allowed was the Chapel Royal. (Below is a photo from the official website.) It was in this chapel where Henry’s son and future king, Edward, was baptized. It’s important to note that it was Henry who commissioned the vaulted ceilings in the 1530s and the blue starry sky was painted by Sir James Thornhill for Queen Anne Boleyn. She didn’t enjoy the ceiling for very long since she was executed in 1536.

Here’s a better view of the starry ceiling:

That’s Chuck walking out of the right side of Hampton Court into the gardens (note the baroque style from William III’s contributions).

The grounds were phenomenal and largely attributed to King William III and Queen Mary II.

The great surprise of Hampton Court came to Jackson, who loves ALL THINGS related to Guinness World Records. At the far end of the gardens is the largest grapevine in the world and there’s even a plaque there to prove it.

He wept a little, unprepared to see a Guinness World Record in person with his own eyes. He wanted to take his own photo of the certification.

We walked back to the center of Kingston to catch a quick look at David Mach’s 1989 sculpture “Out of Order” and grab some Cornish pasties. Thus began the carb-loading portion of our vacation.

With plenty of time left in the day, we took a quick drive to the seaside to visit Brighton, a Myrtle-Beach sort of vacation spot. It gave us an opportunity to show the boys the English Channel.

It was on this pier that we got ice cream cones. However, only three of us finished our cones since a seagull swept down and stole mine right out of my hand. I thought they were only interested in french fries. Alas, no! Beware the seagulls!

If you’ve been to my home, specifically my home office, you know I love bunting. England has bunting in spades and Brighton is no exception. Everything looks happier with bunting! Hang ALL THE BUNTING!

After our walking tour of Brighton (you can see more on Instgram, including our dinner at a local pub saved on the UK Instastories), we drove to a hotel connected to Gatwick Airport. The next morning, we were flying to Milan.

The UK Trip: Day 3 at Hever Castle

We visited more than just Hever Castle on Day 3, but my affection for Queen Anne Boleyn warrants its own post on account of the number of photos I took at her childhood home. 

My interest in Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s second wife, is primarily rooted in her impact on the English Reformation as a religious reformer and her insistence to qualify their daughter Elizabeth as an heir to the throne. (Spoiler: Elizabeth I made it to the throne.) 

Hever Castle was Anne’s childhood home, so it was a non-negotiable visit. Though Chuck had no prior knowledge about this place and has limited-to-no interest in the British Monarchy, he enjoyed touring Hever and said it was one of his favorite things we did while in the UK. 🙂 

The property as a whole is stunning, and I remain grateful we visited on a bright, clear day. Upon crossing the drawbridge (THE DRAWBRIDGE!!!) we entered a courtyard that showcased the manor’s architecture.  

Each room offers a delightful amount of access, unlike other castles that prohibit photography and keep a rope draped at the doorway. Some pieces of the home are replicas since the castle went into disrepair until a wealthy American, William Waldorf Astor, purchased the property in the early 20th Century to restore and preserve it

I read as many placards as I could and studied the artifacts with great care. I’ve wanted to visit Hever Castle for more than a decade, and there I stood where the Boleyn family used to live. (Not that I have an affection for the entire family, mind you.)

Of course, Anne was wrongfully executed on the accusation of witchcraft and myriad other silly things. She was unable to produce a male heir (because women were totally in charge of that, you know) and she suffered a series of terrible miscarriages (again, the complete fault of the woman on account of her witchcraftiness). Oh the importance of modern medicine!

Whatever really happened back then, Anne Boleyn remains an important piece of the Protestant Reformation, as well as a crucial role in the validity and success of Elizabeth I.

This marriage tapestry represents the marriage of Henry VIII’s sister, Mary Tudor, to King Louis. 

A few rooms of the manor reflected early 20th Century decor, as this was a private home for the Astor family. 

Interestingly, Winston Churchill was acquainted with the Astor family and often visited Hever to visit and paint. 

The grounds were beautifully manicured and beginning to burst with autumn color. Again, I was so thankful for the clear weather.

One of my favorite memories will always be feeding the ducks at Hever Castle. It was like that moment was crafted specifically for me. 

Like I said, Hever Castle wasn’t our only stop on Day 3, but it was an important one for me.

Up next: Mermaid Street in Rye, the White Cliffs of Dover, and dinner in Canterbury

700 photos later…

In 2006, Chuck and I started talking about taking a trip to the UK. Until last week, it had always remained a conversation, a daydream, or thing that would happen eventually. 

However, earlier this year we decided it was time to stop making excuses and instead it was time to go. We’d been waiting for the right time, whatever that meant, and then we realized there would never be a perfect time. When is it a perfect time for anything, really? There are always sacrifices to make, commitments to rearrange, and money to spend elsewhere.  

We booked the flights and a smattering of hotel rooms and AirBNBs. We rented a car and mapped out an ambitious itinerary. How much could we see and do in 11 days? What would we forgo for another time to see the things we’ve wanted to see for years

We went from one end of the UK to the other, from the White Cliffs of Dover to the coast of the North Sea. We traveled nearly 1,500 miles by car and even more by plane. I ran a half marathon in England and we visited the tiniest towns in Scotland where a few of Chuck’s ancestors lived.

We traipsed castles where royalty still lives and explored ruins from centuries ago. We ate our weight in meat pies and washed it down with barrels of cider. It rained a bit, but not nearly what I feared it would. We made the most of every second and capped off the trip with a one-night layover in Amsterdam. 

The magic happened in the UK though, and I have 700 photos of proof. It will take me ages to edit the best ones and morph them into a video, not to mention posting them here. (For record-keeping, I’ll post a smattering of photos for each day we spent there. The wanderlusts and super curious are welcome back to view them.)

For now, though, I must force my brain back into work mode and sync it to Eastern time, but all I really want to do is lay in bed and enjoy my American kitchen. 

If you’re ready, start here.