London

I'm back from my trip to London and Paris! I'm starting my write up of all we saw and did. But whew boy is it a lot!! Here's the first part of our trip of three and half days in London.

             I started off my first international trip with six hour flight from Orlando to Reykjavik with Icelandair! I really enjoyed my flight on Icelandair, even though I was in economy class each seat had TVs and a USB port for charging. There was even a pretty awesome selection of free movies including Wonder Woman and Baby Driver. I watched part of Wonder Woman and then tried to sleep for a few hours. My flight was an overnight flight that left around 8pm. I arrived in Reykjavik around 3 am EST and I even got to see the faintest flicker of the Northern Lights on way into Iceland so that was pretty cool!

            I spent about 45 minutes in the Reykjavik airport which was kinda strange cause there were so few seats in and around the gates, but I just hung out on the floor for a little while before taking the shuttle back out to my new plane that would take me to London.

            I arrived at Gatwick around 1245pm local time and made it through customs and passport control with little fuss. I then bought myself a national express bus ticket to Heathrow as I was meeting my friend there after her flight arrived. I was so excited to see some fall leaves on my ride there since it had been about 80 degrees when I left Florida. I met up with my friend and we took the Heathrow Express train into London which was super easy. We then hopped on the Tube towards our hostel, which was fairly easy but a little hard to navigate with our big bags. Not to mention that because it was unseasonably warm for October I was of course sweating buckets. Not a good look.

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             We made it to our hostel mid afternoon and checked in. We ended up staying at the Wombat’s Hostel London. We booked two beds in a 6 bed female dorm. We were pleased with the room; it was on the main floor so no stairs needed. When we first checked in all the beds were occupied but by two days later it was just my friend and I and another girl left which was nice. Our room had a private shower and toilet room as well as separate sink, which was nice. The floor were wood and the room felt clean, the shower seemed to be cleaned daily. I’m sure hostel dorm rooms depend on your roommates but we got very lucky and had quiet, chill roommates.

            After dropping our bags and showering off almost 24 hours of traveling we headed out, walking to the Tower of London which was only about a 7 minute walk away. We walked along the Thames and over the Tower Bridge and then back along a super cute walkway along the river. There were tons of people out and we enjoyed all the sights and cute pubs and restaurants. We eventually ended up at a restaurant that as cute and kitschy inside. The food wasn’t bad but unfortunately our service was sort of terrible, it took over an hour for our food to get to us. We walked back by the Globe Theatre and talked about doing a tour of it. We headed back to the hostel and off to sleep soon after. 

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The Globe Theatre! 

           On Sunday we woke up early to get to the Columbia Road Flower Market because we were curious to see the market and I love anything to do with fresh flowers. We took our first spin on the double decker red buses, which was a bit of a bust because even with my citymapper app I found it pretty confusing of which bus to use and in which direction. It didn’t help that when we got on and I asked our bus driver if our stop was on there he said yes initially the said he actually wasn’t sure and tried to look at it on my app… didn’t inspire much confidence. Regardless we eventually got to the stop we wanted and made our way to the market. One bus experience was definitely enough and we didn’t venture back and instead stuck to the Tube.

            The Columbia Road Flower Market is on Sundays only from 8-3ish in East London. I read lots of things saying to arrive early though as the flowers go quickly. I was worried there wouldn’t be as many flowers in October but there were still tons and some truly gorgeous flowers I’d never seen before. One tip is to be cautious, as some stands don’t allow you to take photos or video of their flowers. I was sad we didn’t have anywhere to display flowers or a vase to put them in or I definitely would have bought some.

         We then walked to Beigel Bake for breakfast and had an amazing bagel and pastry! Careful as I believe they are cash only.

        After our bagels for breakfast we headed by tube to stop by and see Buckingham Palace. I managed to unwittingly get us there just in time for the daily changing of the guards. The crowds were so gigantic I actually thought the royal family might be appearing… but no apparently that was just a normal crowd day at Buckingham Palace. Regardless after pushing our way through way too many people we made our way to the other side and the green area near the park there which was gorgeous. We then walked to Harrod’s to check out the curious things they sell. We managed to get rather incredibly lost inside looking for things and kept walking in huge squares.

Our only glimpse of the actual "changing of the guard", taken in a walkway where you couldn't stop. 

            After a stop at a Café Nero for coffee we headed to the Science Museum, London for a bit. I enjoyed the exhibits a lot and there was a lot to look at for adults, not just children. We stopped in the Natural History Museum briefly then grabbed some Italian for dinner at Rocca. Next we stopped by Hatchards the oldest bookstore in London. I actually managed not to buy any books!

            We walked through St. James’ Park to Parliament Square and saw Westminster Abbey and Big Ben. Funny story, we definitely took pictures in front of Westminster and somehow missed that that’s what it was, we thought it was a different smaller church so we went back a day later to see “Westminster Abbey” and discovered we’d actually already seen it! We walked by Big Ben which is under quite a bit of construction and Parliament. We went back out for dessert at Motown in Whitechapel that night and enjoyed some ice cream. 

Hatchard's and it's infamous five story staircase.

The Science Museum London

Inside the Natural History Museum 

             On Monday we headed to Breakfast Club for breakfast on my dad’s recommendation. It was tiny but we only waited probably fifteen minutes. After we headed to the British Museum and wandered there for a few hours. We had a ridiculous amount of fun making up funny snapchats for the different works of art, although I promise we were respectful. After we started to gloss over we walked to Chinatown to get a snack at Bubblewrap London. You should definitely try their egg waffles that you can fill with all sorts of sugar and toppings. Next we headed to Trafalgar Square and looked around the National Portrait Gallery briefly.

            After that we took the Tube to the Florence Nightingale Museum, which I was especially looking forward to as a nurse who learned about Flo in nursing school! We spent about two hours there, which was probably way more than my friend wanted to see. We came outside at 3pm to what appeared to be either a tornado or darkness falling. It was incredibly strange and after I texted my dad (the resident family weather man) to ask if the world was ending, he told me it was Hurricane Ophelia that was hitting Ireland. It had picked up dust and sand from the Sahara and had formed a giant orange cloud over London. It was disturbing and the only way I can describe the strange feeling was the way it looks before tornadoes in the US. I have no recollection of what we ate for dinner nor photo evidence… 

Bubblewrap London!

           On Tuesday we got up early to do laundry and grab Dum Dum Donuts in Bethnel Green. They are in a tiny shop there. The donuts are gorgeous but definitely on the heavy side. We also grabbed bagels again at Beigel Bake for snacks later. We tried to go to the Hunterian Museum but I belatedly realized they are closed until 2020 for and extensive renovation… so that was a bust. We hopped back on the tube, making a stop at King’s Cross Station to see the Harry Potter themed Platform 9 ¾. It was a bit underwhelming honestly, to someone who has visited Harry Potter at Universal. We were glad we didn’t go out of our ways to see it. We then made our way to Portobello Road Market to wander a bit in Notting Hill. We ate at a cute café called Gail’s for lunch.

             After we headed back to see Westminster Abbey although we then realized we’d already seen it. We debated paying to go inside but eventually decided it was a lot of money, we did stop in the gift shop though and picked up some super cute gifts. I have to say I think my favorite places that we bought souvenirs were strange places like museum gift shops and the stationery section at Harrod’s which had some amazing postcards!

         Next we headed to our prebooked time at the Sky Garden to see London from the 34th floor! You do need an advance ticket to visit the Sky Garden and you should arrive during your ticket’s time period. But it's free and you can stay as long as you like. There are also a couple of restaurants in the Sky Garden you can eat at. After a few photos there and a snack we headed to Oxford St to buy me some new sneakers (sidebar London and Paris are no joke, BRING GOOD SHOES) and to Selfridges to get a backpack I’d been eyeing since my carryon seemed in danger of breaking. We then hopped on the tube and headed towards Spitaelfields Market and ate some fish and chips at Poppies. It was a little underwhelming but I really felt like the food just needed better seasoning (how’s that for typical English fare for ya).

         The next morning we were booked on the Eurostar to Paris so we grabbed some breakfast and sprang for an Uber to the train station. The weather had been particularly strange and HOT, in the 60’s and 70’s and sunny every day we’d been there but the day we left it was rainy and much more what I would have imagined as typical London weather. 

            Overall I think my favorite part of London was the London Science Museum and the Florence Nightingale Museum. London is incredibly easy to navigate in my opinion, especially with an app like Citymapper. I found the Tube to be incredibly clean and well organized. We almost never waited more than a minute or two for a train to arrive and there were workers all around if you needed help. I felt very safe on all the trains and platforms. It was a nice change of pace after using the subway in New York the last year and half as the delays get longer and longer.

            London is expensive but we managed to get pretty lucky by eating at places where there were half price menus or other cheaper options like street food or cafes. Almost every museum we went to was free or very low cost which was awesome.

            The biggest downside I see with London is how similar it feels to the US. It feels like a big city anywhere. This is probably comforting to an American not wanting to venture too far outside of their comfort zone. I did enjoy the history of London though and how much older the building are obviously. Plus I love an English accent! I’m looking forward to returning to London but moreso to use it as a base for traveling to see the rest of England like Bath, Darcy’s House and the Harry Potter Studio tour which we didn’t have time to see this time. 

New York in May!

We headed back to New York for a few days at the beginning of May! The weather was oddly cold and rainy a few days but we had fun! I was just happy it wasn't 90 degrees like it was in Florida. 

The rain wasn't super fun and it actually flash flooded on that Friday we were there which was very odd and not very fun to be out in. Other than that the day we went to Central Park it was gorgeous! 

Guys, we got to eat cookie dough at Do!! And the first time we went we barely waited at all!! (We went back a second time on Sunday and we had to wait about 30 minutes). It is so yummy! It tastes exactly like raw cookie dough but without the raw eggs so you don't have to worry about getting salmonella! I had the Nuts for Nuts flavor and it was amazing!

We went back to The Lower East Side Tenement Museum again! We did the Irish Outsiders tour this time and man I love this museum! I think if I lived in NY I would try to figure out a way to work or volunteer there! 

We saw Cats the first night we got there which was amazing! I was really pleasantly surprised how much I enjoyed Cats. It has been updated with cool new hi-tech things and I loved the actress that played Grizabella! The worst part was how long we had Cats songs stuck in our heads... My cousin and I saw Anastasia one night too which I was very excited about but I was a little underwhelmed with actually. They made a lot of changes from the story in the movie and that made me sad. It also felt like they added about 10 new unnecessary songs. Ah well, the audience really seemed to love it. 

I introduced Rachael and Waldo to my favorite bagel place at Best Bagel and Coffee which I have deemed the best bagel I've ever had in my life! Every time we eat there I enjoy it so much. And we ate there 3 times during this trip.... Seriously, go grab a bagel there if you're in New York. 

Ah, New York. That grand dame of cities! Sitting here looking at these pictures I wish I was back there! I'll have to start planning another trip soon! 

An Ode to Disney Springs

Okay, I have to admit I was pretty skeptical when Disney announced they were retheming (and RENAMING) Downtown Disney. Apparently I don't really like change much. But now that Disney Springs is really starting to come together and most of it is open, I have to say I'm pretty darn excited about it! It's so pretty!! I posted a photo of it on instagram the other day and said "I'm sorry for ever doubting you would be great, Disney Springs!" 

It's so much more fun now with the new construction open. Plus there are so many neat stores and most importantly a lot more food options!! That was what Downtown Disney was lacking in my opinion. We've tried a few different places and I'm sure we'll continue to try more. 

So far we've tried Blaze Pizza which is super yummy! You design your own pizza then they flash bake it in like 3 minutes! YUM!

We've also tried D-Luxe Burger which was ok. It is a huge burger which isn't my favorite, I rather like the thinner patties. 

We tried The Daily Poutine and man was it good! I've never had poutine before but dang I'm going to have to do it again! 

Kayla and I tried Frontera Cocina last weekend and it was pretty good as well if you're interested in Mexican food! 

There are a lot more stores to shop at including some of your favorite brands like Sephora and Anthropologie, as well as new ones I'd never been in before. There are so many good restaurants to try I'm sure we'll continue to try new ones as we explore Disney Springs more. I really want to eat at the Boathouse!

Moments from the last few months

Whew, it's been a long time!! 

I don't really have an excuse for not posting, other than we haven't been doing much and I've been staying inside lots because it's so darn hot outside! 

We have managed to make it to Disney a couple of times over the past few months now that we have our annual passes and we got Universal passes last week! 

Here are some moments from my phone from the past few months! 

Our Cruise!

Back in December Rachael and I went on a Royal Caribbean cruise with a few of our friends. It was so nice to escape the gloomy winter weather for the tropical Caribbean! We went on the Six Day Western Caribbean cruise out of Ft. Lauderdale that went to Grand Cayman, Jamaica and Haiti. This was our first cruise and I really had no idea what to expect to be honest!

I found this couch in one of the lounges and I really want one installed in my future house! 

Sunrise the morning we arrived in Grand Cayman. 

7 Mile Beach in Grand Cayman

7 Mile Beach in Grand Cayman

Grand Cayman and not our cruise ship in the background. 

Buster, our towel puppy!

Jamaican kids waiting on the school bus. 

Jamaica!

Jamaica was definitely my favorite out of the three ports we visited. We decided to pay for the RC excursion for the catamaran cruise and snorkeling. We also took a 45 minute bus ride from Falmouth to Montego Bay which I enjoyed because we got to see a little bit of actual Jamaica (not the weird Disney-fied Jamaica that is the Falmouth port). 

Snorkeling in Jamaica. Ugh, so gorgeous. 

Labadee, Haiti

Our private beach bed in Labadee. We split it between all 6 of us, so worth the money! 

We decided the night before we got to Haiti that we were going to rent one of the beach beds. If i recall correctly it was about $175 but you can split it between up to six people, which made it super reasonable! It comes with two floating mats to use in the water and a butler. Plus a bottle of evian for everyone which was nice! It was nice to have a butler because your RC drink packages work in Labadee, so you could order from the butler and have soft drinks and alcoholic drinks delivered right to your beach bed! 

Overall, I'm not sure if the cruise life is for me. Although I definitely enjoyed being able to go to three different ports in three days. The days on the ship though definitely felt like way too many people in a small space (although the ship was really huge). The food was alternatively so-so and pretty good depending on the dish. 

The entertainment on the ship was okay to pretty funny. The love and marriage show (like the Newlywed Game) being the best. There was never a lack of options for scheduled activities if you are in to things like that. I might have also enjoyed it more if we had had better weather on our at sea days so that we could actually lay out. It was alternately cloudy or drizzly for most of them. 

I know some people absolutely love cruises and while I might do another one, specifically a Mediterranean or Hawaiian one, I think there are other ways I'd rather spend my money traveling. That said, we did get a fantastic deal on this cruise that we will probably NEVER beat (BOGO and no port fees). 

Have you been a cruise? Where did you go? Any cruises you're dying to go on? 

We're going to Disney World!

Guess what!?! We're going to Disney World in less than a month!!! I'm so excited! Disney World is kind of one my favorite places ever! It's also the first time we're taking my entire family including my niece and nephews for the first time! It's going to be crazy and hopefully amazing. So I'm sure I'll have lots of photos and video to post once we get back. 

In the mean time I wanted to post a few photos from previous trips to Disney, including a couple of hilarious ones from when we were little! 

My friend Meagan and I in Disney in 2005. This would be the trip we pretended we were twins (which we kinda did a lot) and told everyone it was our birthday. Both false, clearly. 

Rachael and I sometime around 1999? Maybe. Also that horse on the right is killing me. 

Kayla, Rachael and I there around 2010. 

What should have been our family photo this year. 2001?? 

Also, what is now my favorite photo of myself at DIsney that i've found! Just walking casually down Main Street with my Lisa Frank autograph book! And the castle was my favorite way it ever looked! 

We're doing a lot more dining reservations than we've ever done before so that should be interesting. We're trying out some new places like Chef Mickeys and Via Napoli as well as an old favorite, The Whispering Canyon Cafe! 

We also have all of our fast passes planned out so our days are pretty much planned. I'm super excited and can't wait to share a trip report when we get back! 

Have you been to Disney World? What's your favorite ride and food to eat??

Happy 4th of July!!

Happy 4th of July, Americans!! 

We celebrated by getting patriotic doughnuts from Heavenly Donut Company yesterday. Then we drank pretty sodas, laid by the pool, ate tacos at a tapas place, made smores in the microwave (because the fire pit wouldn't light), and watched fireworks today.

We also tried to decide if Kayla's poolside hairdo looked more like Elvis, a victorian woman or Bam Bam from the Flinestones. Cast your votes now. 

All in all not a bad 4th of July! 

June Moments

Some moments from June originally posted on Instagram. Happy Fourth of July weekend!! 

Ft. Myers and Cape Coral

It's travel Tuesday!! So how about the first installment of the Exploring the Sunshine State series??

I have documents full of travel research. Places I’ve been to and place I dream of visiting. Sometimes I’ll read about something on a blog or in a magazine article and add it to the plethora of information I’m saving for someday, just in case.

Sanibel Island

This is one of my favorite parts of traveling, the anticipation and the research. I love research; a trait I definitely inherited from my father who we always joked should be a fact-checker.

At the end of 2013 I was in the final stretch of a Bachelor’s degree in nursing, a 16 month marathon program. I decided that I was definitely rewarding myself for finishing the mother of a program so I started researching warm places for January and February. After trying desperately to find somewhere semi-affordable in the Florida Keys we settled on Cape Coral, which was still far enough south to be warm, but not as expensive. 

Sanibel

My one time victory roll accomplishment for sunday morning

            We rented a 4 bedroom/2 bath house with a private pool and hot tub through VRBO.com. Then I slogged through the end of my degree, managed to pass all of my classes, and actually graduated! We departed Indiana where the wind chill was about -8 and landed in Ft. Myers where it was 82 degrees. Hallelujah! The best part of getting on the plane in Indy was that the demographics of our plane to Ft. Myers was about 95% senior citizens. I joked to my sister that we were definitely on the party plane. (Little did I know that Ft. Myers as a whole would continue to be made up of about 95% people over 60).

            We arrived and got our rental car before heading out to our house, which was in a normal residential neighborhood. Although what the listing forgot to mention was that they were currently in the middle of putting city water and sewer throughout the neighborhood so the roads were all red clay. If we hadn’t had an SUV we might not have made it through some of them. But we persevered and proceeded to stock up on groceries and random stuff from the 5 different Publix grocery stores we visited over the course of two days (I mean I’m a fan of Publix but even for me this was bit much).

            Sunday morning we got up and went to the Arts Fest in downtown Ft. Myers. I’m a big fan of arts festivals, Pensacola has a huge one every year. I usually don’t buy anything but its fun to walk around and look at all the interesting and amazing artwork that’s on display.  

After the arts fest we headed to Ft. Myer’s Beach to do what we came to Florida to do, lay on the beach. We ate dinner at Nemo’s on the Beach and I had the best chicken teriyaki sandwich. Plus we got an appetizer of some of the biggest nachos I have ever seen.

Ft. Myer's Beach

            The next day we headed to Sanibel Island to hang out at the beach. Sanibel is a much different feel than Ft. Myers Beach. Sanibel feels much more deserted and there are multiple little access points up and down the island so you can feel like you have the beach to yourself whereas Ft. Myers Beach you are pretty packed into one small area with lots of people. Sanibel Island also had more wildlife and a less commercial feel.

            After that it’s more of a blur of beaches, shopping, time spent in the pool and searching for good places to eat.   

Places to Shop:

Tanger Outlets

            These outlets are on the way to Ft. Myer’s beach so their a nice stop after you’ve been out in the sun all day.

Bell Tower Shops

            This is an outdoor shopping mall in Ft. Myers. It’s a bit older and doesn’t have a huge variety of stores but there are some unique ones worth checking out.

Coconut Point

            This one is actually in Bonita Springs, south of Ft. Myers. It is a newer outdoor shopping center. It has a ton of variety in stores and lots of food options as well. This one is definitely the winner out of all the shopping we did in the area.

Things to Do:

Manatee Park

           My sister loves marine animals so we definitely made it a point to visit the Manatee Park in Ft. Myers. From the website it’s a “Non-captive warm water refuge for the florida manatee”. The best times to see manatees are December, January and February. There is a fair amount of paved nature trails and you can also rent kayaks. Parking is $2/hr or $5/day. Free admission.

Ford and Edison Estates

            We actually didn’t have time to do this but I wish we had! You can visit their winter homes in Ft. Myers and see the lab where Edison worked on his inventions.

 Places to Eat:

Heavenly Biscuit

            If you go to Ft. Myer’s you MUST GO to Heavenly Biscuit. My cousin had recommended we try this and waxed poetic about the giant cinnamon rolls and biscuits. I’m all about the baked goods, so of course we had to make this a priority. I will tell you, make sure you go early because they do sometimes run out of cinnamon rolls. Also be prepared for a line out the door no matter what time you go. This place is tiny too, so don’t count on getting a table. I had the cinnamon roll and Rachael got the biscuits and gravy which I could hardly photograph she was eating them so fast.

Artsy fartsy photo of Heavenly Biscuit

Ford’s Garage

            Ford’s Garage is another must visit if you’re in the Ft. Myers area. There are a couple of different locations and we went to the Cape Coral one. The theme is a garage during prohibition. It’s super cute and my favorite features were definitely the old Model T’s inside the restaurant and the sinks in the bathroom! I had a turkey burger and it was out of this world!  

Rachael's burger

The sinks in the bathroom at Ford's Garage

Bennet’s Fresh Roast

            We went here one morning to get doughnuts (because of course I couldn’t go to a new city and not try a doughnut!!). I got a peanut butter glazed one that was fantastic! I don’t drink coffee so no idea what theirs tastes like.

Ice Sssscreamin

         Yes I swear that is actually the name of this ice cream place in Cape Coral. I got an amazing dipped cone there! 

Now for some pros and cons of a trip to Ft. Myer’s/Cape Coral 

Pros

-       Warm during the winter (70’s and 80’s while we were there the first week in February)

-       Lots of options for eating and shopping

-       Not a ton of cultural options (though I’m sure there were more than I looked up)

-       Lots of different options for beaches in the area. Some more populated and touristy, others more deserted, lots of good opportunities to get seashells.

-       Lots of vacation rental options if you’re interested in a house with a pool rather than a hotel and cheaper than further south in florida.  

Cons

-       Most of the visitors to Ft. Myers (or at least in the winter time) are older adults. We saw very few families and pretty much nobody in their 20’s. Which is fine because it wasn’t like we were there to party, but if you are Ft. Myers may not be the place for you.

-       If you are staying in Cape Coral know you are at least a 45 minute drive to pretty much any beach that I could find. So, take that into account when picking a place to stay if being close to beach is important to you.

-       Traffic getting on and off some of the beaches is bad as many of the bridges and roads are only two lanes (often par for the course to get to beaches). 

Here's a video of our time in Ft. Myers! 


Michelle turns 25!

On April 11th I turned 25! Twenty five, one of the major milestone birthdays. A quarter of a century (Or as Kayla’s mom texted me, “You’re a half a century old!!).


My mom, my sister Rachael and my niece Emerie were in town for the week before my birthday and so we’d headed to Atlanta on Friday night. We woke up on Saturday to head to the Southeastern Railway Museum (http://www.srmduluth.org). We decided to go because E loves trains but I have to admit I love trains quite a bit too. I’ve been obsessed with them since I was little and I still want to take an Amtrak somewhere so badly!  

The Southeastern Railway Museum is pretty darn cool. They have 35 acres of engines, cabooses, buses, MARTA cars, etc. You can walk through most of the old train cars and climb up in some of the engines. There’s also a train station from the late 1800’s that’s been restored.

 

After the train museum we headed to Atlantic Station in Atlanta for lunch at Copeland’s Cheesecake Bistro (no photos from there!) and then to Old Fashioned Frozen Custard which I’d been dying to visit because I love frozen custard. It was a bit warm and it was melting fast but it was sooo good!

After that we headed back to home to my cake that Kayla had baked me. She and E iced it and we threw some sparklers on it (I thought they were sparkler birthday candles.. turns out they were just actual sparklers). We took it outside so we wouldn’t set off the smoke alarms and I blew out my sparklers… Well really I just watched as they burned out. You can’t really blow out sparklers.

We went to dinner at a little Italian place near my house and consumed a lot of awesome garlic bread.

Overall not a bad way to turn 25.