London {3 Day Itinerary}

1 Jan

During our trip to Europe in October of 2013, my husband Andrew and I visited London, Paris, Cinque Terre, and Rome.  Months of planning went into our trip, especially concerning what we were actually going to do while we were visiting.  There’s so much to choose from!  Because there’s an endless array sights to see and things to do, I highly recommend planning your days before you arrive.  As first-time visitors, we wanted to utilize our time to the fullest, and make sure we didn’t miss something important.  I know that some people advocate the “wander and you’ll have more fun” method, but for us, we were less stressed knowing that we didn’t need to figure-out what to do.  And our itineraries were designed with wiggle-room and down time, so that we could do some impromptu things, and not get exhausted.  I hope the following is very helpful as you’re planning your own trip!  Warning: our itineraries are very active, mostly based around walking.  Expect to be on your feet for most of the day!

3 Days in London

TIPS FOR LONDON

  • Some people don’t recommend the Heathrow Express because it’s spendy and avoidable {you can take the Tube from Heathrow}.  However, as first-time tourists, we found it worth the convenience.  If you land at Heathrow Airport, the Express is a train that goes straight into London, without any stops or connections {unlike the Tube}.  We departed at Paddington Station, just 6 blocks from where we were staying.  It was worth it for us!
  • Buy a National Rail Pass to take advantage of the 2-4-1 deals at tourist attractions.  If you buy this specific train ticket for the Tube {you’re going to be buying Tube tickets anyway}, you’ll be able to buy 2-for-1 tickets at a lot of the landmarks you’ll be visiting.  It’s a better deal then “The London Pass”.
  • Download the London Tube app.  You’ll be able to chart all of your Tube directions, and it’s really easy to read and follow.  Don’t bother charting your course on a paper map when you can just punch in your destination and let the app do the rest of the work!
  • 5 general tips for traveling Europe.

DAY ONE

Andrew and I arrived in London after an all night flight from the States.  We had an entire day ahead of us, but we were tired from sleeping on a plane, and the huge time change.  It really screws with your body!  Don’t underestimate the exhaustion that comes along with hopping forward 8 hours.  Because we knew our first day would mostly be orienting ourselves and checking-in to our flat {rented through Airbnb, I highly recommend it!}, we purposefully planned to do some low-key sight seeing.  That’s why we started with…

These low-key sights were the perfect way to start our stay.  We experienced walking around London, got some fresh air to keep us awake, and we were able to move at our own pace.  Plus you can royal watch at Kensington Palace for Will, Kate, and baby George!

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{walking through Hyde Park}

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{Queen Victoria statue in front of Kensington Palace}

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{Kensington Palace, Hyde Park}

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{Sunken Garden Pond, Kensington Palace, Hyde Park}

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{The Albert Memorial, Hyde Park}

DAY TWO

Get your walking shoes on!  We started our day by visiting…

Both of these sights fall into the 2-for-1 deals that you’ll receive by buying a National Rail Pass, so take advantage of that perk and hit them up first.  The Tower tour lasted a couple hours, so we got there right at opening, so that we were out by lunch.  We passed Tower Bridge as we grabbed some fish and chips on our way to St. Paul’s Cathedral, where we spent another couple of hours.  By the time afternoon rolled around, we’d been walking and standing for hours, so we unwound by strolling along the Thames to see these sights:

  • London Eye
  • Big Ben & the Houses of Parliament
  • Buckingham Palace
  • 10 Downing Street
  • St. James Park
  • Wellington Arch

All of the sights above are places we walked by, but didn’t stop to experience.  They’re iconic picture spots, and close enough together to walk from one to the other.

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{Tower Bridge}

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{St. Paul’s Cathedral}

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{Parliament & Big Ben}

DAY THREE

Due to the time change and our exhausting day yesterday, this day was probably the hardest on our bodies.  But we forged ahead, because day three brought us to…

The reason we grouped these together?  Westminster Abbey doesn’t fall into the 2-for-1 deals, so you’re going to have to pay full-price for that visit.  But the public London museums, like the National Gallery and the British Museum, offer free admission!  So this day was pretty much a wash in terms of paying for tickets.  Westminster Abbey was amazing–and not exactly what I expected.  After watching the royal wedding on TV a few years ago, it’s funny to realize that the space is actually pretty darn cramped.  There are tombs and monuments and statues everywhere…literally, in EVERY CORNER.  It’s a crowded, claustrophobic space {to say the least}, and that’s not the sense you get when watching a wedding unfold on TV.  But it was amazingly beautiful, and incredibly cool to see the tomb of Queen Elizabeth I.

The National Gallery was like walking through an art history textbook.  You’ll feel like that a lot while touring Europe, but there’s no other way to describe it.  We passed through Convent Garden on our way to the British Museum.  Convent Garden is trendy, quirky, and full of interesting shops to check-out.  We sat in The White Hart Pub for a while, the oldest licensed premise in London {since 1216!}.  It’s on Drury Lane, which might sound familiar 🙂  Andrew is a lover all things Egypt and ancient, so we stopped by the British Museum to see the Rosetta Stone, Egyptian artifacts, and other antiquities.

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{Westminster Abbey}

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{Sightseeing in London!}

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{The British Museum}

LEAVING LONDON

On our fourth day in London, we departed from St. Pancras Station to catch the Chunnel over to Paris.  Of course, we detoured a bit to swing by King’s Cross Station where we took of picture of Platform 9 3/4.  It’s in front of a Harry Potter merchandise store, and the queue to take a picture was very long, but it was fun to see!

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{Platform 9 3/4 at King’s Cross Station, London}

That sums up London!  Please feel free to leave a comment or email me if you have further questions.  I’m happy to help!

Cheers!

5 Tips for Traveling Europe

30 Dec

Andrew and I took a trip to Europe in October!  It was wonderful, everything that we’d imagined it would be.  But it was A LOT of work to plan.  In fact, I would joke with Andrew that it was practically a part-time job organizing this vacation.  We started in London, hopped over to Paris, then visited Cinque Terre on our way to Rome.

I feel like we did a pretty great job guiding ourselves on our trip.  The travel went extremely smooth, and there were no big snafus.  Success!  So here are my top 5 tips for traveling Europe:

Europe Tips

1. Spend money like you would in the States.  In the past, travelers checks were a popular way to spend money while on vacation.  Not anymore!  Nowadays, the entire world accepts Visa and American Express, so you can spend on your debit or credit card like you would at home.  It takes away the stress of exchanging cash in every new country, plus you won’t need to worry about learning the currency system.  Know how much your credit cards are going to charge you for converting international currency, and in most cases it’ll be worth it {our fess were 1% of whatever we were charging}.  And remember to notify your bank/credit card company that you’ll be out of the country!  However, cash is very prevalent in Europe, so it will be handy to have it on you for the places that only accept cash.  Some of the best food will be at carts on the streets, and they won’t accept plastic 🙂  Andrew and I found that exact change was usually expected, and large denominations were annoying to some people.

2. Get the most out of your smart phone.  Here are some of the ways we used our phones while traveling abroad:

  • Take the SIM card out.  Before we left, we were concerned that switching our phones to “airplane mode” wouldn’t eliminate the risk of incurring international roaming charges.  We wanted to use the wireless capability on our phones, but avoid any international fees for service {especially since we didn’t plan to use the calling feature}.  We had an “oh duh!” moment when we realized that we could just take out our SIM cards, which meant our phones couldn’t roam, even accidentally.  Problem solved!  We simply connected to wireless internet whenever we could {which was most of the time}.
  • Download apps.  Whether you’ll be using your phone or tablet while traveling, apps are going to be a lifesaver.  Everything from city maps to subway directions to airplane boarding passes can be at the tips of your fingers.  I created a folder on my phone to organize everything we used.  I would especially recommend City Maps 2 Go, a free app that allows you to store city maps on your phone which you can use offline.  It was a wonderful resource during those times when we didn’t have wireless internet, but needed directions.  The maps are a bit hard to read, but for free, it’s definitely worth it.

apps

  • Screenshots.  If you’re going to be depending on wireless connectivity {like we did}, you may not always be able to use your phone while you’re out and about.  Which is why Andrew and I would plan our day in the morning before we left, and then screenshot any directions we might need throughout the day.  That way we could just flip through them whenever we needed.

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3. Carry-on your luggage.  This one may be challenging to some people 🙂  Andrew and I traveled for 16 days, and each brought one carry-on size luggage plus a bag.  We also had the luxury of a washer and dryer at all of our apartments, so we could pack lightly and wash along the way.  But it was extremely helpful to have a minimum of luggage, especially while hopping between airports, subways, and train stations.  And it’s amazing what you’ll pack when you have the option to do so.  Without that ability, it really makes you think about what you’ll be bringing with you.  Also, you’ll be less likely to loose your luggage!  In addition to your carry-on luggage, I highly recommend the Longchamp “Le Pliage” large tote.  It was great for lugging around while traveling, but also doubled as my purse while sightseeing.  The large size means you can carry around tons of stuff, it’s water proof, and the single zipper on top deters theft/pickpockets.

4. Visit during the off-season.  October was a wonderful time to travel Europe.  There were a few rainy days here and there, but for the most part it was sunny and dry.  Apart from the weather, traveling during the off-season means fewer tourists and less crowds.  Keep in mind that Europe will always have crowds, and there will always be tourists.  But if it was touristy in October, I can’t imagine what it’s like May-September {American vacation time}.  If you’re looking to avoid hours of wasting away in a crowded line, then try to travel October-April.  Plus you won’t be sweltering in hot weather 🙂

5. Always grab the audio guide.  You will be visiting countless museums and churches while in Europe.  There will be thousands of years of history all around, and it’ll be completely lost on you unless you have someone telling you what it all means.  That’s where the auido/multimedia guides come in.  They’ll be at almost every museum and church you visit, and it will allow you walk yourself through a tour, while listening to the history and stories.  We LOVED them.  At first they’ll seem kinda dorky, but being able to move at your own pace {i.e. passing all the old people} will come in very handy, as will being able to skip sections.  Being stuck on a guided tour where you have to follow along with the entire group…no thank you!  This gives you freedom and flexibility, and they were insanely useful.  We very much appreciated the convenience.  So shell out the extra money for them, because learning about this stuff is the entire reason  you’re visiting, right?

That covers my general tips for traveling while in Europe!  Stay tuned for our itineraries for each city…months of work went into planning our days in London, Paris, and Rome, and I’m going to pass them onto you!

Pond Progress {Chapter I}

24 Oct

This is will be a very picture-heavy post, because mostly it’s just Andrew getting dirty in the pond.

{I was working hard, too.  I’m just the only one who stops to take pictures}

Demoing this space requires us to clean it out first, so we began that process by clearing out all of the overgrown plants and weeds.  It was sweaty and smelly work.

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{pulling the “protective netting” off of the pond}

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{pond demo}

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{netting is outta here!}

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{the first glimpse of water…}

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{making progress}

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{pond demo}

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{pond demo}

When we got to point shown in the picture above, we let some family friends come over and remove the remaining lily pads for use in their pond.  They were happy to jump in and grab them themselves for free, and we were happy to empty the pond.  Win-win!

Once all the plants were removed, it looked pretty barren:

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{cleared out}

Since that picture was taken, the only work I’ve done is to start moving rocks.  Any rock that I’m able to lift/wheelbarrow away I’m piling on the other side of the yard, in an attempt to do this project bits and pieces at a time.  Here’s what it most currently looks like:

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{pond – current}

I think the weeds are growing back, dammit.  And it’s more full than ever.  Oh well…like I keep telling myself, “It’s a start!”

And So It Begins.

22 Oct

There’s a pond in our backyard.  It’s huge.  It’s broken.  It’s gross.

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{pond – before}

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{pond – before}

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{pond – before}

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{pond – before}

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{pond – before}

I’m sure at one point it was pretty, nice to have, and very expensive to install.  A lot of work went into it.  And we’re going to demolish it.

Here are the reasons we don’t want a gigantic pond in our yard:

  1. High maintenance, plus it’s currently broken so we’d have to fix it first
  2. Safety issues with future babies and animals
  3. Space {have I mentioned it’s HUGE?}
  4. Usability — it’s in a great spot of the yard, which could be put to such better use

Andrew and I have decided that it’s going to be our first “big project”.  It’ll take a lot of labor and money to turn it into the space we’re imagining.  But we have a vision, and we’re really excited about it.  Here are some pictures that inspire us:

cambridge pavers

{via Pinterest, originally from Cambridge Pavingstones}

cambridge pavers 2

{via Pinterest, originally from Cambridge Pavingstones}

ledgestone-outdoor-living

{via Pinterest, originally from Landscaping Network}

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{cell phone photo, from PDX Street of Dreams 2013}

Bear with us as we begin to tackle the pond!

Random Updates

17 Oct

Over the past few months we’ve done some small projects around the house.  Things that haven’t warranted their own post, but have been satisfying to complete.

We changed the light in our master bedroom closet.  Andrew said he didn’t care what it looked like, so I had carte blanch.  Score!  I ended up picking a completely blinged-out girly fixture.  Yay for fancy closets!

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{new closet light}

I love how it looks.  I picked the “Eliptic 2-light chrome and crystal flush mount” from Home Depot.  The price was right at only $59.66, and the lighting is definitely sufficient.  I was worried the crystals would cast weird shadows, but they don’t.  It looks way more expensive than it was, and it’s exactly the type of functional-but-pretty light that I was hoping to find.  And despite its sparkliness, Andrew does like it 🙂

We’ve also added a piano to our living room!  My parents promised me my childhood piano long ago, and they were happy to pass it on to us now that we have a house.  It’s been so much fun having a piano again, and of course I’ve been practicing Christmas songs for the upcoming holidays.

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{piano}

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{piano}

 Another addition to the closet happened one day when I was bored.  I had an extra canvas laying around, so I taped a herringbone design to it with painters tape.  Then I painted with acrylics over the top.  I basically just blended the colors of our room together.  Once I peeled the tape away, I was left a with a fun canvas!  I hung it in our closet in my vanity area.

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{painters tape on canvas}

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{painting over the tape}

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{finished canvas!}

That about sums it up!

Cheers!

Refurbished Bench

15 Oct

Our neighbors directly across the street painted their house this summer.  Along with the fresh new paint came a little porch makeover, and all summer I was envious of how put together their front door area looked.  They hung an outdoor art piece, there’s a bright red bench, and blooming flowers.  It looked delightful.

It prompted me to finally address our front porch area.  We inherited a dilapidated bench and a huge ceramic planter with a dead plant…it did not make for a welcoming feeling.  I decided to tackle the bench first.  It was still in good condition, it just looked bad.

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{bench – before}

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{bench – before}

First I took it apart.  This is where you want to be careful.  Pieces like this that have been together for a while have a tendency to warp all the different parts.  Since I didn’t want to run into problems putting it back together, I made sure to 1) take lots of pictures along the way to reference later on, 2) label all the parts with tape, and 3) kept everything in the same order that it was originally in.  This was extremely helpful at the end when I rebuilt the bench.

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{labeling the parts of the bench as I took it apart}

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{bench slates}

I sanded the wood slates, taking off years of dirt and grime.  Then I wiped them down and let them thoroughly dry.  When I started spray painting, I taped the ends, since that’s where I had written numbers on them that would keep them in order.  I did two coats on each side, going through 2 cans.  Lastly, I did a coat of clear protective seal on the side that would be facing up.

The iron sides really just needed a good cleaning, but I ended up giving them a coat of paint just for good measure.

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{sanding the bench slates}

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{cleaning the iron}

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{ready to start painting}

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{painting done!}

Once everything was dry, I rebuilt the bench.  The only trouble I ran into was the iron support that attached to the back side.  It had warped in the time that it was unattached, and putting it back on was a struggle.  It finally conformed back to the shape of the bench, but not without a lot of muscle power.

Now our front entry looks much more inviting!  I chose red because it pops, and it can be decorated for every season.

bench after

{bench – after}

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{bench – after}

Of course, it looks fabulous right now with all the fall decor.

fall bench

{autumn decor}

bench + shoes + pumpkins

{fall decor + leopard print}

Cheers!

bench before-after

{bench – before & after}

Gallery Wall

10 Oct

Gallery walls are more popular than ever.  To help turn our house into a home, we decided we needed pictures, and that a gallery wall would be perfect on one of our living room walls.

After gathering all of the picture frames we wanted to use, we decided that we didn’t have enough.  So we hightailed it over to Michael’s, where all their frames were 40% off.  Plus the additional 20% coupon from my phone app, we ended up buying 8 frames for about $10 a piece.  It was definitely worth it.

Now that we had all the frames, we laid them out on the floor in front of the wall, and played around with different configurations.  You’ll quickly learn what you like and don’t like.  We didn’t want anything to be centered or the focal point, and we tried to mix the sizes and patterns around evenly.  Also keep in mind wall obstacles, like our thermostat.  I was able to convince Andrew to frame it, so that it would blend with the rest of the wall.  He eventually caved, and we had a plan:

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{gallery wall layout}

The tricky part is transferring your layout from the floor to the wall.  I would suggest trying to make some straight lines within your layout, so that you can start hanging your frames along those lines.  Here are the straight lines in our gallery wall:

Gallery wall lines

{hanging your gallery wall}

Once we hung the frames that made-up those straight lines, it was easy to fill-in the remainder.  Also, your design will inevitably change as you start to see it take shape hanging-up.  You can see a few differences between the layout above and below.

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{gallery wall}

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{framed thermostat}

We stuck sticky notes on the frames with the type of picture that we wanted to frame, so that we knew what size to print when we ordered them.  Now that the frames are full, here’s our finished result:

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{gallery wall}

If we’re being completely honest…I’m not thrilled with it…yet.  I don’t like all the pictures, I think it’s too busy looking.  Plus, since we’re a family of two, we’re feeling kinda weird about so many couple pictures.  I count 7 total…too much Andrew & Brittney for me!  We’re planning to replace a lot of the pictures with artwork and vacation memorabilia.  But for now, it works.

Cheers!

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