The UK with Karin: Day 4

To Windsor!

We hopped the train again, this time westbound to the tiny town of Windsor. Last year we visited Windsor Castle a few days before Princess Eugenie’s wedding, so St. George’s Chapel was off limits for tourists.

BUT NOT THIS YEAR.

Flower boxes are my fave!

After watching the changing of the guard, Karin and I bolted for the chapel. I didn’t want to miss it a second time.

St. George’s Chapel

Of course, no photography was allowed inside, but here’s a link to the official site and some stunning photography. Karin and I were so pleased to see the resting places of monarchs and the space where so many royals have gotten married.

Taking photos inside the castle isn’t allowed either, but I snapped a ton of photos last year and posted them here. Windsor is the largest and oldest occupied castle in the world. Much like our luck at Buckingham, the Queen was not in residence when we were there. Maybe one day our schedules will align.

With time and weather on our side, we hopped the train back to Kingston and bolted for Hampton Court via a cab. This would be Karin’s only opportunity (on this trip) to see Henry VIII’s favorite place to hang. (Ha!) We got to Hampton Court with an hour to spare.

Since I’d just been there in May, I was reserved with my photos.

The Great Hall

The sun started to set as we finished our quickie tour of Hampton Court. I couldn’t believe the perfect weather. In the weeks leading up to our trip I’d fretted about possible rain – and there was rain coming, trust me – but for all of our trekking and training, we’d not experienced a drop! Overwhelmed with gratitude, we walked back to Kingston instead of taking a cab. I wanted to soak in as much Kingston as I could.

River Thames

We ended the day with wine and Sticky Toffee Pudding at the hotel. We’d managed four days in and around London on foot, on trains, and in cabs. Thankfully, our cross-country driver would be arriving the next morning to take us to Wales.

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. ๐Ÿ™‚
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 donโ€™t think she even hesitated in saying yes. I canโ€™t even remember how the conversation went other than jumping right to dates that worked for both of us. Truth be told, I wasnโ€™t entirely sure we could pull it off. Chuck was always confident, but I, the budget-keeper and family worrier, wasnโ€™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 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: Days 1 and 2

I’ve already confessed to the number of photos I took throughout our 12-day trip. I’m not embarrassed or ashamed, but whew – I’m overwhelmed. On top of my regular tasks and assignments, I will attempt to edit a chunk each day and post them within a reasonable time. (This goes against the temptation to pull an all-nighter and get them edited in one fell swoop.) 

Day 1, October 5/6: Chuck and I flew out of our hometown, a decision that warranted a little more money but paid off when we realized that, upon landing, we’d be home in 15 minutes. Well worth it! The connecting flight between here and Heathrow was Atlanta, and since Corey happened to be flying home from a business trip at the same time we were dropping in, we met near our gate for a quick goodbye dinner.

The flight was uneventful, minus the fact that I slept exactly zero minutes. Already a fitful sleeper, the Valium I took only helped me not freak out during take-off, flying over the ocean, and landing. I might have dozed here and there, but I didn’t sleep. Chuck didn’t do much better, so we knew a nap was going to be necessary once we got to the hotel. We landed just before 11 a.m. on Saturday, so we grabbed our luggage and headed to the rental car park.

‘Cause yeah – we rented a car!

I’m here to tell you that Chuck had no problem driving on the opposite side of the car or on the opposite side of the road. Only two or three times throughout the whole trip did we have to re-circle a roundabout because we missed our exit. (“Look, kids! Parliament!”) We guessed on the road signs and used the GPS to get us where we needed to be. We drove everywhere except to London since the train was more efficient.

Our first three nights were spent in Kingston-Upon-Thames, a market town about 12 miles west of London, home to Hampton Court, plenty of shopping, and where I ran my 21st race. Before checking into our hotel, we went to packet pickup so I could get my bib and chip. The last thing I wanted was to get lost and miss out. My body can handle only so much anxiety at once.

I didn’t know you could live on a riverboat on the Thames, but alas, you can.

After our nap, we explored Kingston and grabbed a meal at Gourmet Burger Kitchen, a UK chain, then perused a five-story shopping mall to stretch our legs. However, since I was going to run a half marathon the next morning, we grabbed a dessert to go and went back to the hotel to rest.

Day 2, October 7: I woke up the morning of our 18th wedding anniversary refreshed and ready to run. This is not normal for me, as I have consistently slept poorly the night before a race for more than a decade. Not sleeping on the plane combined with not sleeping the night before our trip meant I slept like a baby exactly when I needed to. 

Also, the weather was perfect, a detail I did not anticipate for a half marathon in England.

And then I saw a Packers fan across the square. Her name is Elle and she’s been a fan of American football for ten years. I was HAPPY HAPPY HAPPY to meet her and she was sweet to take a photo with an American stranger. 

I wasn’t worried about my running time because I knew I’d stop to take photos of Hampton Court, a favorite of Henry VIII’s. I was so pleased to see it was along the route.

Medal No. 21:

There was no rest for the weary because we had plans to tackle London on our anniversary. I showered and ate breakfast as quickly as I could, then we caught the train to Waterloo. 

Dobby was also going to Waterloo.

The primary thing I learned while in London is that I am indeed a country mouse. Much of London reminded me of New York City, a city I enjoy visiting but would never want to call home. Neither my brain nor my body is built for that level of chaos or that number of warm bodies. 

That being said, we enjoyed everything London had to offer in the single day we visited. The Tower was a must-see, but the rest I was happy to tour on foot as a passerby.

One interesting thing we learned was that the Beefeaters, the Yeomen Warders of Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress of the Tower, live on site. The Tower is its own little community where the Yeomen Warders and their families live and work. 

I was particularly interested to view this site, a marker for the beheading of Queen Anne Boleyn (among others). Her remains are buried inside the church on site (Chapel Royal of St. Peter ad Vincula, or “Peter in Chains”).

We passed on waiting in line to see the Crown Jewels because, from the looks of it, we could’ve stood in line for several hours. Neither of us wanted to waste that kind of time. (Not to mention that I’d just run a half marathon, so standing in line sounded like Torture in the Tower to me.)

So, off we went to explore more of London.

I love me some flower boxes.

We walked by Westminster Abbey, where both Her Majesty the Queen and Prince Philip and William and Kate were married, plus where dozens of royals are buried. 

I couldn’t get enough of the flower boxes. Give me all the flower boxes. 

Jennie’s kid, Winston: 

Lunch was at a gloriously packed pub with football (soccer) on every screen. Fish and chips with cider became a favorite meal.

We walked by Buckingham Palace, but the Queen wasn’t home. Presumably, she was prepping for her granddaughter Eugenie’s wedding, which was later in the week. 

We took a series of selfies at the palace and Chuck decided to make a crown of fingers for himself. He was being a good sport with all of my monarchy obsessions. God bless him and his good spirits! 

A walk past the National Gallery provided us a quick view of street art we knew our little vexillologist would love. Indeed, Jackson enjoyed this photo of every national flag in chalk. 

George was there, too.

The sun was setting soon and we had plans to watch the Packers-Lions game at the Hippodrome Casino, an NFL ticket hub for Americans and fans of American football. It isn’t the most romantic way to spend an anniversary, but we make our own rules. 

The game did not end the way we wanted it to, but there, in London, on a dream trip together, it really didn’t matter. We grabbed the train back to Kingston and collapsed into bed. October 8 would have plenty of adventure on its own.

Up next: Hever Castle