Tag Archives: tour

Cliffs of Dover

8 Apr

The Cliffs of Dover is really just a photo stop. There’s not a lot to do on that part of the English coast but it sure is nice to look at.

Just one small view of the Cliffs of Dover

Dover Castle

The rocky beach at Dover

Dover Castle is actually one of the largest castles in England, mainly because it is built into the cliff, with defenses all along the cliffs.

The White Cliffs of Dover

Our tour guide played us some Vera Lynn on the drive to Dover, this song is about soldiers coming back to Britain after WWII.


Oxford: Just makes me want to go to Hogwarts

1 Apr

After Stratford-Upon-Avon and our lunch in the Cotswolds we went to Oxford. The University itself is comprised of several colleges including Christ Church which was founded by Cardinal Wolsey, King Henry VIII’s trusted advisor (later imprisoned for treason, Wolsey slit his own throat. His remains are in St. Paul’s) in 1525 but was unable to see its completion. Henry VIII refounded it as King Henry’s College and after breaking from the Vatican and forming the Church of England refounded it again but as Christ Church.

Christ Church College

There was a massive line (or, queue as the Brits say) to get in but luckily we were with a tour and got right in. One of the main tourist draws to Christ Church (in addition to the architecture, cathedral, and art) is that Christ Church inspired some sets from the Harry Potter movies and was used as a filming location for some scenes. This is what we cared most about, naturally.

The dining hall that inspired the Great Hall of Hogwarts. It is a functioning dining hall, so the students of Christ Church get to eat in the Great Hall every day.

The staircase where they filmed a few scenes of the first two Harry Potter films

Professor McGonagall waits for the first year students on the stairs...

The courtyard at Christ Church

Inside Christ Church Cathedral.

Beautiful medieval architecture

Medieval Union Jack flags

Entrance to the library, off-limits to visitors to our great disappointment

This tree has formed a bond with Christ Church

One of many prestigious looking buildings at Oxford

An interesting old building

Logic Lane... Oh, Oxford.

Spring is in bloom in Oxford

The Eagle and Child Pub, a frequent hang-out of J.R.R Tolkien (author of the Lord of the Rings trilogy) and C.S. Lewis (author of the Chronicles of Narnia books).

Overall, I enjoyed Oxford. It’s full of history and beautiful architecture. And it’s Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and Chronicles of Narnia connections certainly help.

Stratford-Upon-Avon: Shakespearean nergasms

28 Mar

This past Saturday I took a bus tour with one of my roommates to Straford-Upon-Avon, the Cotswold’s, and Oxford. I’ve wanted to go to Stratford since I first learned about William Shakespeare. He was born in Stratford-Upon-Avon (the River Avon runs through the town, thus it gets the name) in 1564. The house he was born in and grew up in stands to this day thanks to his popularity before and after his death. The house has hosted a number of famous visitors including future U.S. presidents Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, authors Mark Twain and Charles Dickens and poet John Keats. Needless to say, I was in good company in Stratford.

The first stop on our tour of Stratford was about a mile outside the town to see where Shakespeare’s wife, Anne Hathaway, was born and grew up. Shakespeare married 26-year-old Anne when he was just 18. Oh and she was pregnant with their child at the time of their wedding. Fun fact.

The Hathaway family and then its descendants lived in this cottage until the early 1900s when the Shakespeare's Birth Trust foundation acquired it. The Hathaway's would charge visitors to see the house and would tell lies about furniture, saying, "Shakespeare sat here!" just to make a few extra bucks.

The house itself is neat because it is a medieval/Tudor style home with a thatched roof. Throughout the years the Hathaway descendants kept the house in its original design with little to no updates to the inside. Though there weren’t any artifacts that Shakespeare himself would have seen/used, it was still interesting to see a little bit of what it would have been like to live in the cottage.

Next we headed to the heart of Stratford to see where the Bard was born. I could feel my heartbeat quicken as we walked toward the house, passing all sorts of sights and signs of Shakespeare.

A Statue of the Fool; "A fool thinks himself to be wise, but a wise man knows himself to be a fool"

O, had I but followed the arts! -- Twelfth Night

How well he's read, to reason against reading. -- Love's Labour's Lost

If you have tears, prepare to shed them now. -- Julius Caesar

Soon enough I was walking the ground that my literary hero once walked on. Breathing the air. Taking it all in and savoring each moment.

Shakespeare's actual birthplace, still standing after almost 450 years.

The front entrance to Shakespeare's house, complete with the Shakespeare family crest above the door.

I feel like I can share this with you all: whenever there is a “do not touch” sign, I am about 80% likely to touch whatever object it is I am not supposed to be touching, 99% likely if there are no “guards” there to yell at me. So of course when we walked through Shakespeare’s bedroom, past the four-poster bed he slept in, I had to feel the intricately carved wood. Not only was it beautiful, but the wood was soft yet sturdy. As it must be seeing as it is 400+ years old.

On the way out I signed the guest book. They’ve been keeping a guest book for over 200 years and the very first visitors were American! Just goes to show that Shakespeare has been loved around the world since he first became famous. I had to write my favorite quote in the comments box: “This above all, to thine own self be true” from Hamlet.

After some fun in the gift shop, we had a few minutes to walk around town before getting back on the bus. We went into the bookshop and then passed a few awesome shops.

If music be the food of love, play on. -- Twelfth Night

The Creaky Couldron, an homage to both the witches of Macbeth and Harry Potter

Butter Beer and Pumkin juice: the two beverages consumed most frequently in the Harry Potter books

And soon enough we had to get back on our tour bus and bid adieu to Stratford (for now).

Our tour took us on a drive through the Cotswold’s, stopping for lunch at a pub before continuing our journey to Oxford (more on that later).

The Cotswold’s is a quaint, countryside area of England. Absolutely beautiful with lots of these little guys:

Baa Ram Ewe


Day of Churches: St. Pauls and Westminster Abbey

14 Mar

On Saturday I decided to do a solo tour of St. Paul’s and then walk to Westminster Abbey by way of the Thames.

St. Paul’s is one of the most recognizable churches in the world, mostly thanks to it’s massive dome. The Cathedral was designed by Christopher Wren just after the Great Fire of London (1666) destroyed the previous church. The current cathedral has been standing for almost 400 years. It suffered some minor damage during the air raids of WWII but otherwise remains in tact. Prince Charles married Diana there, another reason it is well-known.

St. Paul's Cathedral

Winston Churchill had soldiers surround the rooftops around St. Paul’s during the war specifically to spot and attempt to prevent bombings in the area. They also served to put out smaller bombs that burst into flames on impact.

St. Paul's Cathedral, the dome.

St. Paul's Cathedral, entrance

Unfortunately, there’s no photography inside. There are beautiful mosaics on the ceilings and even though there are no stained glass windows it works. There is simplicity in the cathedral which makes it even more beautiful.

About a block from St. Paul’s was a cute candy store.

A sweets shop down the road from the cathedral

The weather was great on Saturday. It was the fourth day of sun in a row, a ray feat for London. My walk to Westminster took me down Fleet Street.

Now, Fleet Street was on my list of to-do’s because my favorite musical is Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. It is a tale of revenge and love, it is bloody so it’s not for the faint of heart and stomach. But the music is fantastic (Stephen Sondheim, a true musical genius) and I do recommend it.

Fleet Street itself was a nice walk, even though there was nothing to commemorate Sweeney (which was a surprise, since the show is quite successful).

A few buildings on Fleet Street. A closer look...

I must go here at least once before I leave.

A pub on Fleet Street

A statue at the entrance to Fleet Street

Royal Court of Justices

Royal Court of Justices

Royal Court of Justices

My walk continued along the Thames.

The view along the Thames

The newer area of London and St. Paul's Cathedral to the left.

Cleopatra's Needle

The London Eye

World War II Memorial with a quote from Winston Churchill

Parliament as the sun sets

Big Ben is technically the name of the bell which strikes the hour, not the actual clock.

There were a bunch of protestors across the street from Parliament, mostly anti-war.

Parliament with the Eye in the background

Unfortunately, Westminster was closed when I got there. But I still got to see the outside. Prince William will marry Kate there next month.

Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey

A few grotesques around the doors

The doorways reminded me of Notre Dame

Westminster is very similar to Notre Dame in terms of architectural style

Statues above the main entrance

I walked a bit further before taking the Tube back to campus. It was a long day but I saw a lot and the walk was just what I needed to clear my head.

Windsor Castle and the best cider of my life

8 Mar

One of my favorite experiences that I got to share with my family was going to Windsor Castle. We went on Monday the 21st, catching the bus after a delicious breakfast at Cafe Concerto (where you get your own mini teapot). It’s about an hour outside the city and very easy to get to. Plus, Windsor is a charming town with more to do than I expected.

Sadly, we weren’t allowed to take photographs inside. We did get a free audio tour though… And the Queen herself was home, although she was too busy to come say hello.

Windsor Castle was founded by William the Conqueror at the end of the 11th century. It is the oldest official residence in the UK and Queen Elizabeth II is one of 39 monarchs to have lived there. The Castle’s church, St. George’s Cathedral, is the final resting place of many royals, including the Queen’s father, George VI, and mother, as well as her sister, Princess Margaret. It was also the location of Prince Charles’ wedding to Camilla (Gorilla).

The most recognizable part of the castle, the Round Tower.

The guards don't wear the red uniforms this time of year, which is a shame. But they sure know how to pace while carrying a large weapon regardless of their attire.

St. George's Cathedral, where Henry VIII and other royals are buried.

Interesting architecture with this cathedral; There are no tall spires or giant stained glass windows like most cathedrals. There was no photography inside, unfortunately.

After touring the Castle we went to a pub (of course) for lunch.

The Carpenter's Arms Pub, established in 1518. This is where I had the best drink of my life.

Rekorderlig Berry Cider... If I ever manage to find this again, I just might buy a case. Imagine a Shirley Temple (the drink, not the child actress) and now imagine it to be even more delicious. And you still can't possibly understand how wonderful it is. Seriously, if you find it in the states, please let me know.

We said goodbye to Windsor and headed back to London. We got off the bus at Knightsbridge, also known as Harrod’s.

Mom and I looked around (because really, who can afford anything there anyway?) while Dad and Mark found a pub to pass the time. We all went to Pizza Express (one of my favorite places since going there in St. Andrew’s. Thanks, Charles!) for dinner and a great way to end a wonderful day.

A pile of rocks, a church, and a giant bathtub: The Thomas’ take a tour

6 Mar

On Sunday the 20th we all got up early to take a bus tour of Stonehenge, Salisbury, and Bath. Jack met us (in the nick of time) and we went from the hotel to Victoria bus station to wait for our tour. When we finally got on the big, white bus we were introduced to our tour guide, Michael. Now I have had a number of tour guides over the last two months, but Michael exceeds them all in terms of wit, style, and knowledge. Plus, he was just plain fun. He was also the most stylish of all my tour guides (even surpassing the fabulous Stewart): he wore spats. Yes, spats. The shoe coverings from the 1920s. He also wore a cabby cap, vest, scarf and a classy coat. He looked like he had stepped out of a Jazz Age movie. I definitely enjoyed his sense of fashion.

The tour was great because while we drove to a new destination Michael told us a little about the history of the place and it made the bus ride easier. Our first stop was Stonehenge.

Even though no one is certain what these stones were used for, it's still fascinating to see such giant stones erected into this monument.

We had a free audio tour for Stonehenge and let me tell you, if you ever get the change to go, be sure to take advantage of the audio tour because it is interesting, and there’s not only dramatic music but the commentators (a man and a woman) are so over-the-top dramatic it is almost funny.

Historically speaking, the stones that comprise Stonehenge are from Wales. Stonehenge is in England. So somehow, the stones were moved from Wales to England and then arranged in a circular pattern. Another feature of Stonehenge is what they called “earth shaping” which basically was the ancient people dug out almost a moat around the circle of stones and they often built mini hills which can be seen throughout the nearby countryside.

We were lucky to have mostly clear skies which makes everything look sharper and the grass greener.

We didn’t spend too much time at Stonehenge but you don’t really need that much time there. We headed back to the bus and on to our next stop: Salisbury.

Salisbury is a small town not too far from Stonehenge. Its main feature is a cathedral built in medieval times. Notre Dame was also built in medieval times so there are similar design elements between the two churches.

The shapes of the windows and spires are all similar to Notre Dame.

It's most noticeable in the arches at the doors, the sculptures of the saints and the grotesques.

And especially inside the cathedral, where there are giant archways and sculpted ceilings, stained glass windows and tombs.

Absolutely incredible that a place this spectacular has been standing for hundreds of years.

A medieval clock that is thought to be the oldest working clock in the world (build in or before 1386!). There is no face or minute/hour hands; instead, the clock is connected to a bell which chimes the hour.

The church courtyard, kind of like Hogwarts.

Salisbury Cathedral is also famous because it houses one of the only original copies of the Magna Carta, written in Latin on parchment (which is made of animal skin). Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to take pictures in that part of the Cathedral.

We spent a decent amount of time walking around the Cathedral and gasping at the absolute beauty of it all, Jack and I lit candles in the memory of loved ones and soon we were on our way.

Our final stop on the tour was the Georgian town of Bath, where Jane Austen (among others) lived. Celebrities have homes there now, including Matt Damon, Nicholas Cage, and everyone’s favorite, Johnny Depp.

Bath is a beautiful town built mostly out of limestone. Any buildings that aren’t from the Georgian period must be made in Limestone so as to preserve the Georgian history of the town.

There are many reasons to go to bath including the Jane Austen house and museum, celebrity stalking, and the Roman baths. We were there for the latter.

The Roman bath house and museum

Though the exterior of the bath house is relatively new, the actual baths have been in operation for about 2000 years.

Quite the heated swimming pool...

We were specifically told not to touch the water because it is dirty. And that’s made obvious by the lovely green tint. This main bath was once in a covered space. This is also the only remaining “bath” that is filled with water. The ruins of the other original baths remain in the museum. I won’t bore you with too many pictures of dark, foggy ruins but here’s what a Roman bath ruin looks like:

A bit hard to see... But the best I've got!

Paris Part Two: Do we get to ring the bells?

14 Feb

Saturday (the 5th) was an early start: breakfast at 8:30am, meet for the bus tour at 9am. I don’t mind getting an early start, especially for tours. Our tour guide’s name was Julian and he was originally from London, so he spoke the English I’ve grown accustomed to hearing over the last month. He spoke French with our driver and endured countless “the Bloody French!” jibes from our program chaperone.

Things I saw on the tour:

A typical Parisian church

A typical Parisian house... (This was probably some sort of mansion thing but I can't remember)

The Shakespeare and Company book shop. It had a story to it but sadly I don't remember (This will be a recurring theme)

A fountain. possibly the one from "Devil Wears Prada" when she throws her phone in the water.

Louis Vuitton headquarters, also the largest LV store in the world. Fortunately and unfortunately, I didn't get to go inside.

New York Avenue. And New York Restaurant. In Paris.

Replica of the Statue of Liberty torch

Metro Station designed during the Art Nuevo phase

We drove around Paris and learned about the architecture and different districts before heading onto the Île de la Cité, one of two islands on the Seine, the other being Île Saint-Louis. The Île de la Cité is home to one of the most famous cathedrals in the world: Notre Dame. The last time I was in Paris (summer 2005) I only glimpsed it from afar. Lucky for me, the bus stopped and let us off to see the cathedral up close and walk inside.  The outside is a marvel. I’ve seen some old buildings and I’ve seen medieval churches (well… parts of them, in museums…) but seeing Notre Dame up close was a whole new game.


The view from the side.

A statue on the grounds…

The copper has oxidized so these guys look a bit like the ghost army from Lord of the Rings (always a plus for this nerd).

Though most of the statues were restorations of the originals, the tableaus and their stories remained unchanged.

The three doorways into the cathedral.

Looking up at the center doorway

Statue between two of the doorways

John the Baptist. Holding his head.

Mary and a few other ladies in front of the center window

A few of the gargoyles. Disney gave me false hope that they would sing as Quasimodo rang the bells.

In medieval times the majority of people were illiterate, so Bible stories were told in picture form. Julian focused on the center doorway, as will I.

One of three entrances to the museum, the center door depicts the ascension of souls.

We have Christ seated as a king, flanked by angels. Below him is an angel (on the left) who is holding a set of scales. The scales tip towards good, or those who are going to go to Heaven. The devil is on the right, attempting to tip the scales towards evil, or those who are going to hell.

Tipping the scales... And the devil figures are just plain creepy.

Those on the left (Christ's right) will go to heaven...

Those on Christ's left (our right) will go to hell. This superstition towards the left is what led left-handed people to be treated so poorly.

After learning all of this from Julian, we were given free time to go inside the cathedral. There are few places that have taken my breath away: the Coliseum in Rome, the view from a cliff in St. Thomas, the first time I went to New York City… And now Notre Dame.

Ceiling of the main section of the cathedral

One of two giant windows

The organ

Chandeliers hang from the ceilings, providing a little extra light.

There were dozens of little apses, each with its own stained glass window. This one held a golden crucifix.

I’ve never been so impressed by columns and arches, stained glass windows and high ceilings.

People light candles in memory of loved ones who have passed.

I consider myself to be more spiritual than religious but I felt something while I was there. I can’t describe it entirely, but it was a feeling of contentment and wonder. It’s the same feeling I get when I go to a new museum or a new place that instantly captures my heart; as cheesy as that may sound. I could have spent hours in Notre Dame admiring the details but alas, I only had half an hour, which is more like five minutes for me when in a place that amazes me.

I could have stayed there all day. And night.

We continued the bus tour, getting a brief history of Paris and glimpsing a number of sights:

Arc de Triomphe

Sculpture on the Arc. Someone is having a hard time letting go...

This was a message left on the bridge above the tunnel where Princess Diana crashed. There were thousands of inscriptions on the bridge in tons of languages. This one, being a quote from a Lady GaGa song, was my favorite.

We finished our tour at the Eiffel Tower where we took the elevator to the second floor, the observation deck. There are quite a few monuments to be seen…

The Arc de Triomphe

Do I know what this is? No... Is it pretty? Yes.


Basilique du Sacré-Cœur, Sacred Heart Basilica, on a hilltop in the distance.

A football field

The urban part of Paris isn't in the heart of the city but on the outskirts in order to maintain the classic feel of the city.

I thought about going all the way up but the wind and limited visibility talked me out of it. Besides, I’ve now been up the thing twice. I figure that makes up for not going to the tippity top.

Me on the observation deck; thankfully there is a railing and a fence to prevent clumsy people like me from failing off the edge.