Posts Tagged ‘Leisure’

Edinburgh Castle, Camera Obscura & Peter Pan

According to the lady at the Camera Obscura centre, today is the shortest day of the year in good old Edinburgh. The sun starts setting around 230P or so and it’s dark by 4P. Despite that, I managed to sneak a lot of goodies into my relatively short day: a trip to Edinburgh Castle, a visit to Camera Obscura and I’m catching a play of Peter Pan tonight at 7P!

Despite scheduling my wake-up call for 830A, I was up and getting ready by 8A. I hit up the Castle first thing in the morning at 930A (when it opens) to beat the crowds. Unfortunately, Scotland is ridiculously cold at 930 in the morning… the sun doesn’t show it’s face until at least 1030A so I faced some serious snow. Although my ears were fighting frostbite, I got some of the prettiest pictures ever! Being that the Castle is quite the fortress on a hill top (an extinct volcano, actually), the views are absolutely breathtaking:


I didn’t spend that much time at the Castle because it was sooooo cold, but what I did see was amazing! I’m definitely planning on going back when my dad makes a trip over — this is something he would absolutely love!
(I miss you, dad!)

I was a bit upset that they didn’t offer student discounts, but the views from the top of the Castle definitely made the 11 pounds worth it!

I also stopped in this cool store right outside of the castle that’s separated into three sections: tour bookings, a cafe and a weaver that creates tartans, kilts, etc. There was also a section dedicated to this Diablo-looking gear:

There’s an actual blacksmith that makes these swords (he lives about 10 miles from the Castle)… there were loads of these bad boys, plus rapiers, chain mail (which is ridiculously heavy, by the way), maces and axes!

After hitting up the castle, I stopped at Camera Obscura, a place full of optical illusions and amazing panoramic views of Scotland! The 15 minute Camera Obscura business on the 5th floor made the 7 pound ticket worth every penny (pence?)– so cool seeing the whole of the city in a warm teensy tiny room! Check out some of these cool tidbits:

If I were tall and had crazy cankles.

The hot points on my body … interesting.

There were loads of cool optical illusions and holograms, too. Definitely a fun place to take kiddos!

After all that fun, I found a bunch of fun Scottish stores to hit up to grab a few goodies for my loves back in California! Now I’m sitting in a super warm pub down the way from my hotel that has offered me free Wi-fi and delicious pear-flavored Magner’s cider (one of my most favorites). I booked a tour of the Highlands/Loch Ness tomorrow with Timberbush tours and I’m so excited to see a different side of the country! Getting ready to head out and see a live version of Peter Pan at the theatre <3.

Hope everyone’s holiday is fannn-tastic,

Wanna see more amazingness? Check out my album!

Snowy Scotland!

Once again, I’m bundled up in my hotel room for the second night with warm porridge from Marks & Spencer, hot chocolate & Lily Allen singing in the background. Alex is staying for night number two after her second flight in a two-day span was cancelled. After she spent two hours waiting at the airport, Easy Jet announced her flight cancellation and she’s opting for the train back to London tomorrow morning instead. Outside the window to our room, there’s snow covering the nearby buildings and a Christmas market lighting up the dark Scottish sky. Despite the fact that the days are rather short, the town is really a gorgeous sight.

After running into Edinburgh Castle, snow and oddly gorgeous mausoleums, we did a bit of shopping for Scottish goodies followed by a mini whiskey tasting! Although snow is slippery and ridiculously cold, it does make for the most beautiful pictures of life! Normal roads are a thousand times prettier when they’re covered with snow.

Our whiskey tasting was super mini, but my three baby swigs comprised the most Scotch I’ve ever had in my life! The smell of it normally makes me sick, but since I’m in Scotland now, I feel obliged to live like the Scots do!

I’m now deciding what to do tomorrow in terms of sightseeing. Roslin Chapel and some other goodies are on my list of must-sees. I bought a ticket to see a live production of Peter Pan at the local theatre on Monday and am booking a Loch Ness/Highlands tour for Tuesday to get the most out of my Scottish excursion!

Any must-see sights in Scotland? I have tomorrow and Monday to fill with goodies!

Sending love and warm thoughts,

Where in the World is Shannon Elizabeth?

This is a story all about how
my life got flip-turned upside-down.
Now I’d like to take a minute,
Just sit right there —
I’ll tell you how I became a
victim of a traveling scare.

So, where in the world is Shannon Elizabeth?

Would it be weird if I said I didn’t know the answer to that? Heh. Well, that’s not entirely true, I suppose. I do know where I am. And I most definitely know where I’m not: I’m not in London like I should be. Here are some pictures of the madness that was my day. See if you can put this together and figure out what’s happening in my life.

Fun story: Our flight from Malta to Gatwick was cancelled due to poor weather conditions (read: London’s inability to deal with snow). Quite problematic, mind you, because I had a trip to Edinburgh planned for Sunday and Alex has a trip to California planned for Monday. All flights to Gatwick were cancelled and we were left with two options: fly to Newcastle today or fly to Newcastle or Gatwick on Monday. Unfortunately, Monday won’t work for either of us, thus we were left with one viable option and grabbed the flight to Northern England instead.

Where did we go from there? Well, that was a feat as we navigated the cold wintery weather up North (thank God for iPhones, laptops & Wi-fi). We hadn’t planned to end up in Newcastle and neither of us really had a plan of attack (or proper cold-weather clothing). We were offered a transfer from Newcastle to London via coach, but considering the gross weather and the 25 mile per hour ride involved with taking the coach, that would put us in London at around 3AM after a 7 to 10 hour coach ride. Ten hours on a stinky, stuffy coach is not my idea of fun.

Instead, we decided to take a train from Newcastle to Edinburgh, a much shorter ride than the one that we would have experienced from Newcastle to London. While we were in the train terminal at the Newcastle Airport looking at the train map someone stole my huge bag from literally behind my back! I noticed within 20 seconds that it was gone and Alex and I chased the culprit down and managed to retrieve my bag (thank God)!

After we arrived at Waverly Station in Scotland, we had to scale three sets of  these ridiculous stairs with huge 45 pound bags:

After getting to the top of the stairs we spotted a hotel across the way from the station — perfect price, Wi-fi, showers & warmth! Fortunately, I had over-packed for my Malta trip and have a load of extra clothes to wear in Scotland + my computer + chargers + my books, etc. Now Alex and I are warming our souls with Marks & Spencer salads and music to re-ignite our spirits after this soul-wrenching day. At least our window comes with a pretty gorgeous view:

Love from Scotland,

PS. Thank you to the best family for staying with us at the airport during this whole fiasco! Love you guys! We appreciate all of your support!

PPS. Paul & Charlie – I know you guys read this occasionally, don’t be afraid to comment on my blog; I love blog comments :)

Qormi, Malta {Day 1.}

Alex and I are currently cuddled up in our pajamas, getting ready for bed after an extraordinarily long day. I’ll probably go into further detail about this tomorrow, but let me explain the minor situation that took place at 4AM this morning. I woke up at 330A to get ready for my early morning flight and taxi pick up at 415A. I had called to book the cab on Saturday to make sure we’d have a ride to the airport. Shortly after 410A, a cab pulled up in front of my accommodation. When I went to get in the cab, I discovered that it wasn’t the cab that I had ordered. At that exact same moment, I received a  phone call from the cab company letting me know that they wouldn’t be sending a cab for us! As luck would have it, the cab parked in front of my complex hadn’t been booked (what are the chances at 4AM?!), so I was able to get him to take me to pick up Alex and drop us off at Victoria Station. Let me just say — NEVER book with London Black Cabs. I was so disappointed! If (by the grace of God), a cab hadn’t been lingering in front of my complex, I would have been in a bit of a bind considering the tube station doesn’t open until 530A! In any case, after that minor incident, we jumped on the Gatwick Express, made it through check-in and security in record time and got into Malta without a hitch!

We’ve now been in Malta for nine or so hours and have already seen loads of fun places in Qormi, including the house my mom grew up in and the bakery that her parents owned!


I had actually imagined the old bakery to be in decent working order and was a little sad to see the once-used building in a state of rubble. Still, the fact that my mom walked in same building when she was a child is pretty exciting!

We’re staying with family that I hadn’t really met  before this trip and they have been so incredibly amazing! Not only did the entire family come to the airport to greet us, but they spent the entire day escorting us to must-see sights, making us Maltese treats plus they took the week off to be our personal tour guides!

I’ll have to catch up tomorrow on some amazing sites that we’ve seen: St. George, San Sebastian, a ridiculous amount of nondescript churches, a Christmas market, a life-sized house made of chocolate and loads of other goodies! We’re planning on hitting up Valletta and Mellieha tomorrow, followed by a trip to Gozo on Wednesday via ferry!

Some fun facts that I’ve learned today:

1. There are 365 churches in Malta. One for every day of the year.
2. Malta is a mere 122 square miles with around 425,000 inhabitants. Despite the low population (in terms of absolute numbers), Malta is the third most densely populated nation in the world! I think that definitely speaks to how small the place is!
3. Gozo is called the Isle of Calypso — referred to by Homer in the Odyssey.
4. Gozo is home to Ġgantija megalithic temples, a UNESCO heritage site, and the world’s oldest free-standing structures.

I’ll post more pics and info tomorrow, but sleep is a must!

xoxo,

My Guide to EasyJet

Happy Holidays, Everyone!

In the spirit of the holidays, I have decided to gift something travel-related:
My Guide to EasyJet.
Keep in mind, most of this can be found on the EasyJet website , but I find that websites can be cumbersome: everything that is relevant to you is mixed in with superfluous information that’s totally extraneous. So, here are the things that I think are important to know when traveling with Easy Jet. As a preface, I can’t really stress how much I prefer EasyJet to RyanAir. Although RyanAir has some really great deals, I find that their advertised “£5” fares actually end up being £40+ when you add in taxes, fees, etc. With EasyJet, I hop online and the advertised fee is what I actually pay. Additionally, EasyJet flies into major airports. If you take the time to peruse RyanAir’s website, you’ll see that you typically don’t fly into the city. Rather you fly 45 minutes to an hour outside of the city and then you’re bused in (for a fee, of course). All in all, I prefer paying a few extra dollars (or pounds, as it were) for convenience and time-saving. You are on vacation, after all and dealing with the headaches that come with travel are something you can probably do without.

Your Guide to EasyJet

When to Arrive:

This is relatively standard across airlines, but arrive 60 minutes early for domestic flights and 90 – 120 minutes early for international flights.

Where does EasyJet fly out of [from London]?

From London, you can fly out of Gatwick, Luton or Stansted airports. Just some info on the locations of these (since I had no idea where they were in relation to one another):

Gatwick is about 28 miles south of London; if you’re GPSing it, use postcodes RH6 0NP (South Terminal) or RH6 0PJ (North Terminal)
–  Luton is about 32 miles from London (North, I think!); if you’re using GPS for this one, use the code LU2 9QT
Stansted is in Essex about 36 miles Northeast-ish from Central London; use postcode CM24 1RW

I would recommend flying out of Gatwick unless it’s significantly cheaper to leave from the other two.

What’s the best way to get to the airport?

You can, of course, get to the airport via taxi, car, bus or train, but let’s look at the most efficient and cost-effective ways to get there: EasyBus or the Express. EasyBus leaves from Central London and goes to Gatwick, Stansted, and Luton airports so regardless of where you’re flying out of, you’re well covered. Prices vary, but you’re looking at between £2 and £9 each way.

– If you’re flying out of Gatwick, the EasyBus pick up is at Fulham Broadway, which can be reached by tube.
– If you’re flying out of Stansted, the pick-up points are Victoria, near stop 6 or at Gloucester Place, near the Baker Street tube
– If you’re flying out of Luton, there are multiple pick-up points:  Brent Cross, Finchley Road Underground, Marble Arch (near the tube), Victoria or Gloucester Place

{The tube works great for getting around within London to find your EasyBus pick-up point if you don’t live close to one!}

The Gatwick Express is also an option, albeit a more expensive one. It leaves from Victoria station and it takes roughly 30 minutes to get to the airport; if it’s like the Heathrow Express, it’s comfortable and convenient. Count on your wallet being about £14 – £16 lighter.

What kind of luggage am I allowed?

Not much, I’m afraid. You’re allowed one piece of hand luggage (a carry-on) that can measure no more than 55 cm x 40 cm x 20 cm. On the bright side, there is no weight maximum, so you can load that bad boy up! Keep in mind, this is not British Airways: you don’t get a carry-on plus a personal item. You get one item. If you’re taking a real carry-on, your purse, briefcase or laptop case has to stay at home or it must fit inside of your luggage. The only additional things you can carry-on are:

a) one of the following: an umbrella, an overcoat or a shawl and
b) one standard size bag of goods purchased at the airport

If you need more than one carry-on (like in the case of my Maltese excursion), you can opt to pay a fee and take some extras with you. It’ll run you £18 for a checked bag which has a maximum weight of 20 kg (44 or so pounds). Do not go overweight on this! Every 3 kg of ‘extra weight’ (on top of the 20 kg that you’re allowed) will run you £42. I’m not kidding. Best plan of attack: put your heavy stuff in your carry-on and the bulky stuff in your checked baggage. I have yet to find size restrictions on checked luggage, but I’m taking a pretty large, full-sized suitcase! I’ll let you guys know if I have issues; I’ve never checked baggage before with EasyJet!

How do I change a flight, a passenger name or cancel a flight?

You can cancel a flight within 24 hours of making the original booking for a refund (excluding transaction/administrative fees). You have to call in to cancel (0871 244 2366; costs 10p per minute). After the 24 hour period, your flight fees won’t be refunded. You can purchase insurance for £25.

If you’re looking at changing a name (essentially signing your flight over to another passenger), there’s a £25 fee, but it can be done online. You can also call in and handle the name change, but either way it has to be done at least two hours prior to the flight.

Things to keep in mind when flying:

* Don’t forget the liquid rule! No more than 3 oz (100 ml) allowed in carry-ons. Believe me, it sucks having your brand new lotions/shampoos, etc confiscated. Double-check to make sure your stuff fits the requirement and that it’s in a plastic bag! If you forget the plastic bag, they’re pretty good about supplying them at the airport.

* Don’t forget your passport! That could possibly be the worst situation ever and it’s one that’s easily avoidable. Make sure you have your passport easily accessible but safely stored. I usually keep mine in my laptop case or purse in a zipper pocket. Losing your passport is more awful than forgetting it!

* Try to have some relevant currency. Luckily it’s 2009 and major cards are widely accepted, but it’s always nice to have some cash available just in case! I like to keep a mini stash of euros at home because it’s such a useful currency. I like to have 30 – 50 euros with me just in case we need a cab, bus ticket or in the off-chance that an ATM isn’t functioning. I find that being prepared reduces the headaches. Lots of banks will hook you up with a bit of relevant travel money if you pop in before your trip.

Hope that guide helps someone out there somewhere! That’s most of the information that I’ve ever found myself needing! If I think of anything else that is potentially useful, I’ll add it to the list.

Happy travels,

Prepping for an Early Morning Mediterranean Excursion!

Now that today is my last day of term, I finally feel the excitement for Malta building up! Not that I wasn’t excited before, mind you, but I felt so consumed by all things school-related that I didn’t really have time or energy to get as excited as I should have! Despite the fact that I’m 75% Maltese, I have yet to visit the hailed archipelago and am beyond excited to see my homeland (if you will) and check out the places where my mom and grandpa were born! Now, before the excitement can really begin, there are a few minor things to get in order: packing, getting to the airport and purchasing a thank you gift! Our flight leaves at 715A on Sunday from Gatwick airport which means that we have to be there by around 530A to check in and get through security. We’re flying Easy Jet, which means we can only bring one piece of hand luggage free of charge, anything that gets checked in is a charge (£18 per piece). Despite the fee, I’m opting to bring some luggage. Unlike American Airlines or British Airways, you’re not allowed a carry-on AND a “personal item”. Your personal item would qualify as your carry-on. Thus, since I’m bringing a laptop and other goodies, a checked bag is pretty necessary for five days worth of garb. Also, if I didn’t mention this before — Easy Jet is spectacular! We got our roundtrip flights for £58.

Now, here’s our very minor predicament: We need to be at Gatwick airport by 530A. We’re opting to take the Gatwick Express, which leaves from Victoria station, instead of EasyBus (or a similar service) because it’s so quick and convenient. At 430A, I’m all about quick and convenient. That being said, I need to actually get to Victoria Station. The problem? The tube is closed that early in the morning. So, to manage everything that morning, I’m booking a cab (which, FYI, charge a higher start rate when booked — convenience fee, perhaps?) Here’s our plan of attack to make it to the airport:

415A: Cab pick-up at my flat
430A: Pick up Al from her flat
440A: Get to Victoria Station
510A: Arrive at Gatwick on the Express!

I’m hoping that the Gatwick Express is as great as the Heathrow Express! Lindsay and I opted for the latter when we were heading to Heathrow for our Italian adventure. It’s £16ish for a one-way ticket, but it’s honestly so convenient! We were there in less than 30 minutes and it was so much more comfortable than a bus. EasyBus is another options for travelers looking to get some where on the cheap (I think Alex & I paid £6 each way when we went to Germany). The bus does take quite a bit longer though and it’s not nearly as comfortable!

I think I finally have everything in order. The only other bit on my agenda is purchasing a thank you gift for my Maltese family. They have been kind enough to allow us to stay with them for our five day stint and I’m trying to find the perfect something to say thank you.

Any ideas on an appropriate thank you gift?

Hitting up Borough Market tomorrow morning for a last bit of London love before my Malta/Scotland whirlwind adventure!

xoxo,

Solo in Scotland

So, after much deliberation about Paris versus London for Christmas, I have decided (much to my surprise) to head up to Edinburgh, Scotland for my pre-Christmas solo adventure. I actually hadn’t given Edinburgh much consideration, but after looking at the costs of Paris from the 20th to the 23rd, I decided to explore other options. Had I booked Paris a few weeks back, I probably could have snatched a pretty decent bargain on the trip, but having had waited until just a few weeks before departure, the prices have gone up. Although it wasn’t exorbitant, it would have cost around £350 – £400 for the four-day jaunt. Edinburgh’s running me just under £210 including roundtrip flight (on British Airways) and three nights in a 3-star hotel within a half mile of all major sites [courtesy of Expedia]! I know that I’ll visit Paris at some point during the year, and due to the fact that it’s much pricier than Edinburgh, I’d rather split those costs with a traveling buddy and put my euros to better use elsewhere.

So, as of this morning, it’s all officially booked. My wallet is £210 lighter, but I think it’s a worthy investment. Edinburgh has some great Christmas markets during that period, so it’ll make for a nice setting for sightseeing and having some alone time. I’m super excited to be able to travel on my own for the first time. Being in a country that shares my native tongue and my primary currency is also a bonus. Plus, since I have four full days (getting in at 930A the morning of the 20th and leaving for London the evening of the 23rd) of exploring at my disposal, I’m planning on using one of those days to head up to the Highlands on a tour to do some extra sightseeing. From all of the literature that I’ve run across, Edinburgh is a pretty small/compact area that can be seen in a couple of days, so I’m going to do my best to make the most out of my Scottish soirée and see as much of the country as possible.

Looks like my room isn’t going to see much of me in the latter part of December: Malta from the 13th – 18th and Edinburgh from the 20th through 23rd. Gotta love Europe!

For anyone that’s been to Scotland –
Any must-sees to put on my list?

Your neighborhood traveler,