I’m in London! Initial impressions and anecdotes

London. is. awesome.

After my friend Sarah picked me up from the airport this morning, we took the Tube to Wimbledon, where I am staying with her and her aunt. I must say, the Tube is incredibly cleaner and more aesthetically pleasing than the trains I’m used to in Washington, D.C., and New York City. And it was so pleasant listening to people banter on the Tube with their lovely British accents!

After unpacking my things at Sarah’s aunt’s cute and quaint flat and grabbing a triple shot of espresso, we headed out on our London adventure. Of course, Sarah has been to London loads more times than I have been, so she was essentially guiding me through the sightseeing.

Our first stop was at King’s Cross, where we had every intention to snap a picture with Platform 9 3/4. But the line was extremely long, wrapping around the platform in several layers. Knowing that the wait to take a picture would be at least an hour, and we had lots more sightseeing to do, we decided to skip the platform and take the Tube to our next stop, the London Tower.

The Tower of London is everything I had hoped it would be.
The Tower of London is everything I had hoped it would be.

Visiting the Tower of London and the Tower Bridge was breathtaking. Sitting right on the water, the bridge bellows over the Thames River, perfectly picturesque. We stayed for a while and got some great shots, and then headed for lunch at a nearby Wagamama’s, a Thai-ish noodle restaurant that happens to be one of Sarah’s favorite places to grab a bite.

After eating and dropping into the souvenir shop next door to the restaurant,  we walked to the nearest bus stop to hop on a Big Bus, an open-top sight-seeing tour bus, which costs about 32 GBP. But when the bus pulled up, the driver told us he was already on his last loop, so we could hop on for FREE if we didn’t mind that we’d miss a small par of the tour. UHMMMM, did we mind saving $64 GBP? Of course we didn’t! So we hopped on the bus and had an absolute ball soaking in our free tour of the city.

We were SO HAPPY that we got to ride the tour bus for no cost whatsoever!
We were SO HAPPY that we got to ride the tour bus for no cost whatsoever!

Driving along the Thames, we passed the London Eye and Big Ben, and continued along to see Parliament, Westminster Abbey, the Palace, and other incredible sights. I took so many photos that my camera died!

Can you spot the Eye?
Can you spot the Eye?

 

Big Ben says hi.
Big Ben says hi.

After getting off the bus,  we walked around Piccadilly Circus for a while, catching an awesome breakdancing street performance and doing some people watching. We headed through a few souvenir shops and then made our way to the M&M store, where we bought more chocolate than I’d care to admit.

Piccadily seemed a lot like the British version of NYC's Times Square!
Piccadilly seemed a lot like the British version of NYC’s Times Square!

As dusk turned to night, we grabbed some ciders at the Imperial Pub, and then decided to embark on our own pub crawl. We got a taste of local flavors at four different bars, toasting each time to being young and being thankful that we could take off from work to travel. Sarah and I decided to retire early,  leaving the last pub and heading for the Tube.

On our journey back to Wimbledon, we decided to hop off at Waterloo to see the London Eye at night. It was beautiful!! We took even more photos, then continued our journey back home.

Is it possible the the London Eye is even more beautiful at night?
Is it possible that the London Eye is even more beautiful at night?

Now settled comfortably on an air mattress on Sarah’s aunt’s floor, I’m typing this away on my iPad, trying to get myself to fall asleep. I’m still on U.S. time, so 2:00 a.m. in London means 9:00 p.m. at home, so I’m still not ready to pass out. But we have an even more amazing day to come tomorrow, and I’ll need to be sure I’m prepared to wake up bright and early. I can’t wait to see how the rest of this adventure unfolds. For now, I’m off to bed!

How we’re squeezing in a weekend trip to Dublin

The-Temple-Bar-Dublin

AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!

Sorry about the exclamation — I’m just really, really excited! This summer, I’ll be spending a week in London with my travel pal, Sarah. And in our planning, we figured that we might as well plan a trip to Dublin while we’re in the U.K. We both have a love for pubs and Irish jigs and figured we could spare a couple of days stepping away from England and exploring the Emerald Isle. And going to Ireland means I get to check something off my bucket list!

When we’re going

While Sarah will be in London for nine days, I will only have six days there before I leave for my Contiki tour. So we’re taking a short weekend trip to Dublin — leaving Friday morning and returning Sunday afternoon. Yes, we know we should avoid weekend travel when we’re on a budget, but a weekend trip was the only option that worked for our schedule.

How we’re getting there

Sarah discovered a transportation company that is perfect for our schedule and budget. Called RailEasy, the company lets us find and book a train ride from London to the west coast of England and a ferry from England to Ireland. We booked a train ride from Euston to Holyhead, where we will then hop on a ferry to Dublin Port. The journey takes about eight hours — six by train and two by ferry.Though the ride will be long, it’ll be totally worth it because of the stunning views of the countryside we’ll see along the way.

Here’s a short video of the highlight of the London-to-Dublin journey:

Where we’re staying

We used Hostelworld (as usual) to search for places to stay in Dublin. There are other accommodation options featured on the site than hostels — such as budget hotels and bed and breakfasts — but Sarah and I prefer hostels because they allow us to meet and hang out with other travelers. And we love making friends. We searched Dublin hostels based on price, ratings and location and found several that fit our criteria, such as Isaac’s Hostel and Backpacker’s Citi Hostel.

But the one that caught our attention most was Abigail’s Budget Accommodation. With an 98 percent location rating and a Hostelworld recommendation, Abigail’s stood out as the best place to stay if we want to be centrally located to Dublin’s main attractions. It’s located on Aston Quay overlooking the River Liffey with Temple Bar only footsteps away from the doorstep.

abigails

Since we’ll be tight on time, we need somewhere that is within walking distance of most sites we want to visit, and a few minutes’ car ride away from the rest. Not only is Abigail’s centrally located to all the historical sites we want to see, but the hostel offers free 3-hour walking tours every day at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. This bonus means we’ll have to do way less planning for where to go and what to see.

Nightly bar crawls are another prized feature for the hostel, one that we will happily take advantage of. Have I mentioned that I’m obsessed with Irish pubs? We’ll be visiting the Guinness Brewery and the Jameson Distillery while we’re there, of course, we’ll be sure to salute the local spirits on our night(s) out.

In my next post, I’ll share our tentative itinerary for the trip!

Have you been to Dublin? How did you get there and where did you stay? Comment below!