Scotland – Expats have all the fun

November 17, 2017 – November 19, 2017

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It’s become an annual tradition that every year in November, the Amsterdam EY expats take a trip. Last year, Tyler and I were lucky to join the group to Hamburg, and this year, the destination was Edinburgh. Although I had just been to the city with my sister in May, I was excited to join the rest of the group for what was sure to be an unforgettable weekend.

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Since I had been to Edinburgh before, I opted to fly out on Friday after work in order to save a vacation day. Although most of my friends were on the EasyJet flight, I flew KLM so that I could get my frequent flyer miles. It ended up being good that I did because even though our flight was at the same time, I got to Edinburgh before their flight even left Amsterdam!

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Tyler went to Edinburgh a day before me since he had never been and he wanted to experience more of the city. He met me at the bus stop outside of our hostel. Our hostel where we had one room for 15 people, and the bunk beds were stacked 3 beds high. I don’t know what I was thinking when I agreed to this, but we went and immediately met up with the rest of the group at the arcade bar. So called because of the street fighter game at the back of the bar.

The first night in Edinburgh was pretty uneventful, with us getting pizza after the arcade bar and heading back to the hostel. Only to run into the EasyJet crew and have them persuade us to head back to the clubs. It seems like Edinburgh is a pretty big party city.

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On Saturday morning, we signed up for a walking tour at 11am. I was impressed that pretty much the whole crew made it to the tour and even had time for breakfast beforehand. I have mentioned before that Tyler and I like to do the Sandeman’s free walking tours when we travel. I had already done this particular tour in May when I came with my sister, but joined the tour again this time because the different guides sometimes tell different stories. I think this tour might have been the best one I have ever done. Our guide was a jolly Scottish man who had me lol’ing the whole time. Seriously recommend this tour if you’re in the area.

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Some of the highlight of the tour were hearing the story about where the expressions “shitfaced” and “trip the alarm” allegedly come from, seeing Voldemort’s grave, and getting good views of the castle. We liked our tour guide so much that we even invited him to the pub with us after the tour was over. 5 stars for Angus!

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After the tour, as already mentioned, the crew went for a brew or two. Eventually everyone split up and a group went to see the rugby game, another group went to see the castle, and a few of the girls went to another pub. Since I had already seen the castle before and have no interest in rugby, I was in the third crew who bar hopped. It was really a good time though. After walking for so long in the cold it felt good to rest my feet and warm up. One of the bonuses of picking this weekend to go to Edinburgh is that it was the first weekend of the Christmas markets, which are always a crowd pleaser. We didn’t spend much time, but did get some Gluhwein and cheesy potatoes.

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When the castle people were done we all met up for a dinner that will go down in history of one of the more hilarious dinners of my life. Good times with good people. Post dinner we hit up the town more and went to a real dancing club. The patrons were somewhat scantily clad even though it was absolutely frigid, but we entered regardless. After a few hours of dancing, we called it a night with some McDonald’s fries. I mean, if we were going to sleep in a room with 15 people it might as well have felt like college!

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On Sunday,  we had all signed up for the Scottish Whisky Experience, aka Scotch tasting. I learned one thing real quick – I do not like Scotch. It was kind of cool to hear about how it was made, but man I just can’t drink it. Even with a lot of water added. Luckily the others on the tour picked up my slack. I liked the tour though, and would recommend it for my friends who enjoy a nice Scotch. After the tasting we hit up a few souvenir shops and had a quick bite before catching the bus back to the airport.

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Once we got to the airport, we were already planning our next expat trip. That’s how you know you have a good crew.

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Recommendations:

Tours
– Sandeman’s Free Walking Tour
– The Scottish Whisky Experience

Bars / Restaurants
– Hoot the Redeemer
– Rose Street Brewery
– The Black Cat
– The Bow Bar

 

London: HP & sister time

July 15, 2017 – July 16, 2017

As you may have noticed in my last blog post, Tyler and recently celebrated one year of marriage. Although we already had a big anniversary trip planned, Tyler thought that his “paper” gift should be plane tickets / hotel accommodations. So, he booked 3 hotels in different locations and asked me to pick one. His choices were Bath, Majorca, and Montreux. I decided on Montreux, but as a last ditch effort, we also looked to see if we could get tickets to the Cursed Child in London.

Every Friday at 1pm London time, 40 tickets are released for GBP 40 for 40 lucky individuals for the next weekend’s show. Whenever we don’t have plans for the upcoming weekend, we’ll hop on the Friday 40 to try to get tickets. So far we’ve had no luck, and we didn’t luck out on cheap tix this time, but there were tickets available for purchase for regular price on the website which we have not yet seen. We scooped up the tickets and decided instead to go to London for the weekend. It just so happened to be an added bonus that my younger sister was arriving in London for work on Sunday morning.

Since this was my 4th trip to London and we’ve had such terrible luck with flying (delays both ways and over an hour of travel time once you actually get to the airport) we decided to take the Eurostar and go through the Chunnel. We took the train to Brussels on Friday and stayed the night with an early train to London on Saturday.

Tyler has a friend who lives in Brussels who was available to show us around on Friday night. We got some local fast food and checked out a few bars. One thing I noticed about Brussels was it was kind of seedy. I didn’t really love it and don’t plan on going back.

Taking the train from Brussels to London definitely made the travel easier. Not to mention we could use wi-fi on the train to plan more adventures. We arrived at our hotel in London around 10am and got ready for our Harry Potter shows that afternoon. This time around, we stayed in the Marylebone area at The Marylebone Hotel. I absolutely loved this area of town. It was clean, quiet, cute, and close to everything we wanted to see and do. I definitely recommend it.

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For anyone who is unfamiliar with the Cursed Child, it is a play that begins where the 7th book left off with Harry Potter as a father watching his children board the Hogwarts Express. It follows his children through their years at Hogwarts, and I’ve sworn a vow of secrecy to not reveal any more spoilers. Because the play involves magic, I was a little skeptical of how they would be able to illustrate the effects. It was better than I could have imagined! The special effects were crazy and the acting was also very good. It made me so emotional to watch this story which characters that I grew up reading (and have read several times since) unfold on stage. When we left, we were already talking about going to see it again.

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As the play ended kind of late on Saturday, it pretty much consumed our whole day and we went to bed.

On Sunday, we had plans to meet my sister for a Sunday roast around lunchtime. To kill some time in the morning we walked around Hyde Park which is becoming one of my favorite London pastimes.  Maybe it’s because I love walking by Will & Kate’s house. This time, the gates to their house were open and people were doing tours! We didn’t have enough time, but we did walk around their garden, which was gorgeous.

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For Sunday roast, we went to The Grazing Goat. Mainly because both of us were staying around the Marylebone area and it had good reviews. I will say though that the Sunday roast Tyler and I had on our first trip to London was definitely better. However, it was great to catch up with Mallory and spend some time checking out the bar scene in Marylebone for a good ‘ole Sunday Funday.

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Until next time, London!

Sisters Unite in the Kingdom

May 8, 2017 – May 14, 2017

Bear with me, this is a long one…

When Tyler and I first moved to Amsterdam, we had many friends and family members promise to visit. But the person who was probably the most excited was my little sister Mallory. So when we were home over Christmas, we started seriously talking about planning her trip. She has a love for all things English, so it only seemed natural that the UK would be her top destination. We decided to spend a week in Edinburgh and London.

Edinburgh
Where everything is a castle

The first thing we noticed as we drove away from the airport was that everything in Edinburgh looked like a castle. The buildings were very old and grand. Once we reached the city, however, we could definitely tell which building was the real castle. The castle sits at the top of the Royal Mile and is basically up on a hill at the top of the city. It is eye catching and very majestic.

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On our first day in Edinburgh we arrived around dinnertime and didn’t have much of an itinerary since we knew the next two days there would be full of sight seeing. At the suggestion of our Hotel, the Hilton Carlton (which I highly recommend), we went to the New Town to check out the local pub scene before dining at the Mussel Inn. We enjoyed our buckets of 30 mussels each and hit up a cute cocktail bar called The Rosehip. We hit the hay pretty early that night in order to wake up early and refreshed the next morning.

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Starting to explore any new city by joining the free walking tour is my preferred way of getting my bearings while also learning a little bit about the history. So we signed up for a Sandeman’s Tour and had Paula as our tour guide. Out of all of the free walking tours I have been on, this was hands down the best (especially coming off Bucharest where we only made it to stop 2 of the tour). I think it helped that Edinburgh is just so fascinating and there were plenty of things to see. We learned about Scotlands rocky relationship with England, and probably my favorite story was the one of the college kids who in the 1950’s stole back the Stone of Destiny from Westminster Abbey. This stone weighed about 300lbs and they actually broke it when they tried to pick it up. They ended up getting away with it and buried it in a field somewhere between their final destination and London because the border patrol had been notified that the stone was missing. When they went back to get it, a band of gypsies had settled on the spot where it was buried and good thing the gypsies were Irish and wanted to stick it to England, because they helped the boys get the stone back to Glasgow. Anyway, England ended up taking the stone back and only recently in 1996 presented Scotland with the stone for good. I always love a good tale about mischievous college boys.

The Last Drop Pub located next to the square where hangings used to take place. The convicted felons would have their last drink here.

The other part of the walking tour where I fan-girl’d hard was when we went to the Greyfriars Kirkyard, a graveyard where J.K. Rowling was inspired to write Harry Potter. In Edinburgh it’s totally normal to hang out in graveyards, in fact we saw plenty of people on their lunch breaks enjoying the sunshine and eating their sandwiches in the graveyard as well as a group of boys playing frisbee. Anyway, so J.K. liked to go to this cemetery where there is a prestigious boarding school separated into four houses on one side and a castle on top of a hill on the other side. The school even used to take in orphaned little boys. Being there, I could see how she was inspired to write a book about a castle school with four houses. Not to mention, she got the names of characters from some of the tombstones. We saw the tombstone of a William McGonnagel and the infamous Tom Riddle. Don’t worry, he’s safely buried six feet under – we saw the grave.

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I wasn’t sure the Edinburgh could get much better than the tour, especially since we had pretty much seen the whole city, but I was wrong. Afterwards, we did the strenuous hike from the Palace of Holyrood to the top of Arthur’s Seat. A friend who had been recently told me to make sure to wear tennis shoes, but I’m not sure that even prepared me for how hard the hike actually was. It was pretty much straight up hill and pretty rocky. Not going to lie I did fall once coming down (or twice). However, it was a good workout and the views from the top were incredible. We probably spent 45 minutes hiking to the top, an hour enjoying the views, and 15 minutes making our descent. It really helped that it was an absolutely beautiful day, warm and sunny and we were able to relax at the top. I have had friends who hiked to the top only to be greeted by thick fog and no views. If you are traveling to Edinburgh anytime soon, this would be my top recommendation.

Started from the bottom…

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IMG_1622Now we here!

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We opted for some Scottish food for dinner that night, and I convinced Mallory that we should get the vegetarian haggis so that I could enjoy some. From my understanding, haggis is basically all of the leftover parts of a pig, wrapped in the pigs stomach with some spices and vegetables. No clue as to what is in the vegetarian haggis, but we were assured it tasted similar. Not going to lie, I wasn’t the biggest haggis fan, although I’m pretty sure my husband would have loved it if he were there. After dinner, we went to the fancy bar at the G&V Royal Mile hotel called Epicurean, where we proceeded to befriend the older Russian couple sitting beside us as well as the younger Italian bartender. We ended up drinking our first taste of Scotch at this bar and even had a tequila shot while exchanging travel tales with the group. It is always interesting the type of people you meet at a bar.

On our last full day in Edinburgh, we decided to do a proper tour of the Edinburgh Castle. It was really interesting to tour the ground and see the castle prisons, the chapel, the cannons, and most importantly the crown jewels with the Stone of Destiny. After hearing the story about the stone, I was intrigued to see if in real life as well as the jewels. After waiting in line for 30 minutes in crowded narrow hallways we finally approached the room where all the action is. It was very underwhelming. Basically, just a crown, a scepter, and a big stone with handles that looks like thousands of other stones that I’ve seen. Regardless, I had never seen “crown jewels” before and I kind of liked it.

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IMG_9244.JPGIMG_9249IMG_1644We wandered around the castle for a while soaking it all in and reading about what life was like when the castle was fully operational. After the castle, because we hadn’t gotten enough of HP, we went to the cafe that J.K. Rowling is said to have written parts of Harry Potter. The bathroom was really cool because people have covered the walls in messages to Harry.
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Dinner that night was at a quaint little place called Lovage at which we were the only patrons by the end of dinner. I am not sure why as it was definitely one of my favorite meals of the whole trip.

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We definitely enjoyed our stay in Edinburgh, but we were also excited to head to London.

London
God save the Queen

Having already been to London, I was not as excited about heading here as I had been about Edinburgh. However, we ended up doing a few totally different things than I did the time before and it seemed almost like a new / different city.

We took the train from Edinburgh to London, which might have been one of Mallory’s favorite parts as we passed through the quaint, local villages. Upon arriving in London, we wandered through SoHo and Hyde park before stopping to see Kensington Palace, otherwise known as home of Prince William & Princess Kate. Sadly, no George or Charlotte present. Outside of the massive palace is a reflecting pool teaming with birds and swans.

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We walked around Hyde park some more and then went to dinner at a sushi place in SoHo.

The next morning, we continued our search for the Royals to Buckingham Palace to watch the changing of the guards. The last time we were in London the guards did not change, so I was particularly excited to witness this. It appears that the rest of London was just as excited as I was, because the place was a mad house. We ended up not getting very close to the palace, which in hind sight was probably a good thing since there was an incident and the police evacuated everyone who was on the left side of the palace. I know if I would have gotten there an hour early just to be evacuated before the changing actually took place, I would have been furious. Nevertheless, we were able to see some of the guards and horses and it was pretty neat. The whole process lasts around an hour, but we didn’t stay long since it was raining and there were too many umbrellas.

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Probably my favorite thing that we did that day though was walk around St. James Park. It was gorgeous and all of the flowers were in bloom.

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After we’d had our nature fill we visited Big Ben, the Eye, and Westminster Abbey.

IMG_9304IMG_9312IMG_9314We ended the afternoon at Old Spitalfields Market, but first we got lost and ended up on a really sketchy street where we were definitely the only people who spoke English. I guess I should learn to not rely so much on google maps. But we did see some pretty cool art at Spitalfields and we had great food from the trucks.

IMG_9324.JPGAlthough at this point we were approaching the end of our trip, I was very excited for Tyler to join us and do some of the planning. He had the whole day planned out for us, starting with a tour of the Tower of London, followed by a self-made pub crawl.

I really enjoyed touring the Tower of London. We arrived early enough that it wasn’t insanely crowded, and we were actually able to see the crown jewels without waiting in line for too long. I must say that the crown jewels of London are waaayyyyy more extravagant that the ones in Edinburgh. Too bad they don’t let you take pictures. We walked around the Tower for a while with a tour group and then on our own to see the prison and the views from the top of the towers.

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After we’d had enough of the Tower of London and the London Bridge, we went to get some Fish and Chips and started on Tyler’s list of pubs (see my ranking in parenthesis, with 1 being the best):

  • The Anchor Bankside (5)
  • Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese (1)
  • The Old Bank of England (4)
  • The Churchill Arms (3)
  • The Victoria (2)

We also ate dinner at the Victoria and it was absolutely delicious.

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I had such a great time in Edinburgh and London with my sister and can’t wait for her to come visit again! I think she feels the same way since she was talking about how she would love to move to the UK 🙂

Loving London

Loving London

December 16, 2016 – December 18, 2016

London has been at the top of my list of places to go during our time abroad. Not only is the UK home to some of my favorite movies (Harry Potter, the Holiday, Love Actually), but it’s also only a 40 minute flight from Amsterdam, and everyone speaks English! So, when my husband asked me if instead of exchanging Christmas presents this year I wanted to go on a trip to London, I said “Duh!”.

Because we started planning our trip a week before going, we ended up having to fly on a budget airline that’s reviews indicated “Flight departs/arrives on time = 50%”. Let’s just say we must have had a bad coin flip both times as we were delayed over an hour on the way there and the way back, turning a quick flight into several hours of travel time. Not to mention the fact that the airport we flew into required a train, underground, and bus ride to get to our hotel. Needless to say, next time I fly to London I will pay more attention to the logistics.

Despite missing our dinner reservations on Friday night (thanks budget airline), I really couldn’t have asked for a better vacation with my favorite travel buddy. We stayed in the Westminster area of town within walking distance to the abbey, Big Ben, and the London Eye. We bought an Oyster card to ride the public transportation on the first night, which was a necessity since the town is so spread out. Because we got in town so late on Friday, our exploring adventures didn’t start until Saturday morning.

With a Harry Potter tour! Since we didn’t manage to get tickets to The Cursed Child (although we tried every single Friday at 2pm), we thought it would be fun to explore the city and learn a little more about one of our favorite guys. We had high hopes for this tour, but our tour guide was kind of a nut and definitely a Hufflepuff. He took us to sites that you probably wouldn’t remember from the movies including the place where HP & Crew walked out of the Ministry of Magic, the Millennium Bridge that is blown up by Death Eaters, and Bridget Jones’s apartment. I’m fairly confident the last one wasn’t even in the movies. But he did ask a bunch of HP trivia, and I, being my Ravenclaw self, answered most of them correctly (with Tyler’s help) since I had just reread all 7 books this summer. In summary, although the tour may have left more to be desired, it was nevertheless a great way to get our bearings around the city.

This was our tour guide and the book that he carried around to prove that the obscure places he led us to were, in fact, in the movies. 

HP 1st edition books signed by JK, HP money, and three wizards in the inspiration for Diagon Alley

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The play that we didn’t go to, yet…

After the tour, we did some sightseeing, including Buckingham Palace (where the guards were dressed in gray and very far away – not like in the movies), Big Ben (who’s top half we couldn’t see due to fog), the London Eye (same fog sitch as Ben, and it apparently wasn’t even running), various pubs (including one named after Shakespeare), and several telephone booths (some of which smelled of urine). Here’s a few pictures from the sights. Although it was really foggy both days, I managed to snap a few good ones.

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10/12ths of the London Eye

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Westminster Abbey 

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Big Ben is the name of the clock, which lives in Elizabeth Tower

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Obviously, Tyler’s favorite part of the trip

Buckingham Palace and guards

Hands down my favorite part of the trip was Saturday evening when we spontaneously decided to see a Broadway Show, No Man’s Land, starring Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen and a guy from Game of Thrones. It was the last night of the production, so they really put their hearts into the performance, and we had second row seats to witness it. Basically the premise is that Patrick Stewart has dementia and meets Ian McKellen in a bar and they get wasted and tell stories about their youth. Something I can relate to.

The theatre was really beautiful, but unfortunately the pictures didn’t turn out very well due to being unable to use my flash and also due to the many pubs we visited throughout the day.

After the show, we went to the Cinnamon Club which was THE BEST INDIAN FOOD. Seriously. We did a seven course tasting menu and it was amazing.

Appetizers: Tandoori Norfolk free range chicken chaat in pastry shell, Devon crab and hokum berry salad on lotus root crisp, Carpaccio of home cured Shetland salmon and caramel jar muri

First starter: Kerala spiced seafood bisque flamed with brandy

Second starters: Okra filled with peanut and jaggery and green mango chutney, Pithold with chickpeas and yoghurt gnocchi, banana chili filled with fenugreek raisin and bitter gourd

First main: wild Spencer Gulf king prawns with green mango coriander sauce

Second main: Tandoori loin of Oisin red deer, black stone flower reduction

Dessert: Dark chocolate paan and caramel murk bar, carrot halwa and clove ice cream.

Whew, I can’t believe I ate all of that.

On Sunday the only thing really on our agenda was to attend a Sunday roast at a pub. The food was also delicious. We visited Platform 9 3/4 and a few more pubs then made our journey (substantially longer than the actual flight) to the airport.

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Still waiting for my acceptance letter

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Good thing I waited until after this trip to try my hand at being a vegetarian 

All in all, it was such a great first solo trip with my husband to a city I can’t wait to get back to.

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Recommendations:
Accommodations – DoubleTree Westminster, clean, nice part of town, friendly staff
Breakfast – Regency Cafe, amazing hole in the wall with real English breakfast of beans, eggs, hash browns, and tea with milk
Dinner – Cinnamon Club, just go here
Sunday roast – Hack & Hop
Pubs – all of them