Posts Tagged ‘Sightseeing’

London in the Snow!

I woke up this morning to some serious snowfall outside of my window. The rooftops of neighboring buildings were laced in snow and cars were covered with inches of powder. After getting my morning workout in, I headed to the local Starbucks in Covent Garden to meet up with Steve, a friend of a friend who’s in town as part of a whirlwind tour of Europe (in true backpacking form). We spent the day touring around Central London and as I was showing him around, I realized how different (and beautiful) London looks when it’s covered in snow! It gave me a whole new perspective of the city. Check out our little tour through snow-covered parts of town:

Trafalgar in the winterAfter cutting through Covent Garden and checking out the Piazza, we made our way to tourist hot-spot, Trafalgar Square. Check out the water — frozen over!

National Gallery in WinterWhile we were there, we hit up the always amazing National Gallery. We were in and out in about thirty minutes, but we caught some great glimpses of Monet, Cezanne & Van Gogh. I always forget how pretty this place is inside!

After passing the Buckingham area, we made our way to Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey to snap some pictures. So pretty!

Big Ben & the London EyeAfter checking out the sights (and before grabbing delicious lunch at Pizza Express), we took an alternate route back and stumbled upon quite possible the prettiest place in London! The bird-covered pond looked absolutely gorgeous with the snow all around, plus it made for some pretty incredible pictures.

We also made some cute new friends!

All around super fun day. If you haven’t been out in the snow yet, it’s a must! It’s definitely a chance to see everything in a whole new way.

Lots of love,

A Day at the Museum

With my paper nearly finished, I thought today would be a perfect day to reward myself with getting out of my shoe box of a room before my break comes to an end (*tear*). I decided to embark on a rather cultural excursion after hitting the gym this morning. Mission: Explore the museums at South Kensington. There are three museums in South Kensington, all within ten minutes walking from the tube station: the Victoria & Albert Museum, The Natural History Museum and the Science Museum. The best part is that they’re all free (donations encouraged, of course). In hindsight my mission was clearly too ambitious, nevertheless it still got me to the area to explore. I ended up only seeing the Natural History Museum, but it definitely inspired me to go back for more museum time. I tend to take for granted the fact that some of the world’s best museums are in my backyard; upon coming to this realization I have decided to make much more time for cultural experiences while I live in the epicenter. Duly noted: only in England do you run into museums that look like this (see the facade at left).

I had my doubts about my general interest in so-called ‘natural history’, but thankfully it ended up proving me wrong! It was such a cool experience and definitely lives up to its reputation. Plus, it’s definitely a great place to bring the kiddos – they have loads of interactive exhibits. Plus, they have this if you want to get out of teaching your kids about sex:

Does anyone else think this is a little too Rated R for a museum? They had an entire section dedicated to human biology and ‘how babies are made’. Literally, an entire section showing the birthing process with super-sized human models… it was a little aggressive for me; not entirely sure how a little one would take it. My guess is that they’ll be traumatized for life and never have sex. Maybe that’s the point?

Though that exhibit traumatized me a bit, I was elated when I got to the fossils, volcanos, solar system and the ‘earth’s treasury’ sections: all Grade A!

You definitely have to see this in real life to appreciate the magnitude of it, but the Earth section is seriously cool! There’s an escalator leading up into this massive globe, and then you’re inside of the earth where they have loads of goodies about the earth’s core, volcanoes, magma, etc. I’m not even that much of a geek (a point which I realize can be argued, but I digress…) and I appreciated every second of it.

The treasury… well, that was like shopping without the fear of spending. I think any woman could spend a couple of hours perusing the merchandise… er, I mean, enjoying the natural beauty of it all. They had case after case of precious and semi-precious stones. Gorgeous! I didn’t even realize how many amazing gems there are… definitely gave me some space to think about my engagement ring (*cough, cough, wink, wink*).

(Kidding.)


Plus, more importantly, I got to check out the diamond case and see what different weights look like; this display ranges from 1 carat on the left to about 1/8 of a carat on the far right. 1/8 of a carat looks like a nose stud. Seriously. So small. No offense to any newly minted brides showing off their 1/8 carat of bling.

After spending a few hours there (you could seriously spend the whole day if you’re into this kind of stuff… there was a whole dinosaur section that I sort of breezed by), I headed back home only to find that it was dumping snow outside! It had been snowing pretty lightly when I was on the way to the museum, but the skies started falling on the way back. Pretty crazy seeing London semi-snow covered!

Can you guys see the snow fall at Covent Garden?! So intense!

Despite the mini snow storm, or perhaps because of it, the museum was a perfect way to spend a few hours! Snow-free, free admission plus loads of cool stuff. Still on my list to check off: Victoria & Albert, the Science Museum, Tate Modern, and the Imperial War Museum!

Have you guys been to any of the museums in London? Any that you recommend?

Lots of love,

The Land of MacDonald & the Search for Nessie.

I never thought I could walk to the Old Town from St. Andrew’s Square in 1°C temperature and not feel frozen to the bone, but after a day in the Highlands dealing with -13°C, anything above freezing didn’t feel quite so awful. After 13 hours of touring (mostly on bus) and 400+ miles covered, I can say that I have seen a good majority of Scotland, albeit briefly. The tour that I did today with Timberbush was the longest one day tour offered in the whole of Britain – from Edinburgh to Loch Ness/Inverness and back. Once you undertake the tour, you realize how far Loch Ness is from Edinburgh. The views of the Highlands make the journey worth it, but if you have the time, a two-day tour (also offered by the company) would probably be more fruitful.

I started the day bright and early, with a 7AM wake-up call and was at the Timberbush pick-up point in front of Edinburgh Castle by 745A. On the way to our first stop, we passed by Stirling Castle & the Wallace Monument, but the fog was a bit too thick to get a real glimpse of either site. The Wallace Monument was erected in the 1800s but is a testament to William Wallace (famously portrayed by Mel Gibson in ‘Braveheart’), Scotland’s most famous hero from the 13th century. We also passed by Doune Castle, made famous by Monty Python & the Holy Grail. Funny enough, our guide mentioned that the gift shop sells coconut shells for people looking to re-create the famous clip-clopping of horseshoes along the nearby paths (if you’ve seen the movie, you understand)!

Our first stop at 10A was in a town called Kilmahog, where we grabbed coffee, morning nibbles and some scenic views of the passing lowlands. We also got to see Hamish, the famous Highland Cow that lives in the region. She was born in 1993, making her nearly 17. Apparently in ‘hairy coo’ years, that’s the equivalent of being a centenarian:

After our stop, the scenery noticed a dramatic change as we crossed the border of what is typically thought to be the lowland/highland turning point. One of the dead giveaways when leaving the lowlands and entering the Highlands? The signage. The road signs are written in two languages – Gaelic & English, with Gaelic taking precedence; it is spoken in the Highlands by some natives in order to keep the language alive.

The snow was a bit intense in the Highlands – it looked as if the earth was completely blanketed with cotton. At some points, there was only a sliver of blue sky separating the snow-covered grounds with the clouds in the sky. The views are pretty dramatic when the terrain begins getting rugged and the pictures were pretty incredible. The sunrise over the mountains made for some amazing shots as we traveled through Rob Roy Country and entered Glencoe. The Three Sisters (the three peaks which overlook Glen Coe) are absolutely stunning:

As we entered Glencoe, we got to hear the story of the MacDonald Clan massacre, something that I found particularly interesting considering my ties to the great Clan MacDonald. Interestingly enough, the mountains that we passed through was the area that the MacDonald Clan escaped into when they were attacked by the Campbell Clan in 1692. Apparently, the MacDonald Clan took in the Campbell Clan for a few weeks, feeding them and sheltering them before the Campbell Clan turned on the MacDonalds, intending to massacre all persons under 70. When the MacDonalds heard the ruckus and fled, they fled into these snowy mountains. Ironically, a visitor center was built just a few years back and the man put in charge was a Campbell. As you can probably imagine, that didn’t go over so well.

After Glencoe and a quick bite for lunch, we headed up to Loch Ness. Along the path that we followed there were a total of four lochs (lakes) that we were able to see (Loch Linnhe, Loch Ness, Loch Lochy, Loch Urr). The white snow, bright sunshine and lack of wind made for the most amazing views – the water was incredibly still. Some of the smaller lakes and ponds were actually frozen to the point that you could probably ice skate on them!

After hours of driving, we made it to Loch Ness at around 215P and jumped on a cruise boat for an hour cruise on the lake. I tried desperately to look for Nessie, but the peat-saturated water made it difficult to see below the surface (no doubt adding to the enigmatic nature of the loch and the monster). Aside from the tale of the Loch Ness monster (which apparently dates back to the 6th century), the lake itself is pretty fascinating. It’s 24 miles long and 1 – 2 miles wide, but is better known for its depth: around 750 feet deep throughout with parts going down to 1000 feet. If you were to take all of the bodies of water in the rest of Britain (all bodies – lakes, rivers, ponds, etc, — from England + Wales) and added them together, they wouldn’t fill up Loch Ness.

The tour was gorgeous and totally worth the £34 (with student discount) day trip price. The downside to December is that the days are so incredibly short – the sun began setting during our 3P cruise and the skies were completely black by 430P. If you were to go in the summer, there would be a stark contrast – daylight that goes on forever and completely different (green) views. Either way, I would totally recommend Timberbush tours. Our tour guide, Billy, was awesome (his accent didn’t’ hurt – gotta love the Scottish accent!) and there were enough stops to take in some great photos. If you have the chance to do a 2 or 3 day trip, I would definitely opt for that though… 400+ miles in 13 hours is a bit intense!

Hope everyone’s holiday season is going well! I’m heading back home (to London) this evening and although I’m sad about leaving beautiful Scotland, I’m happy to be able to sleep in my own bed and celebrate Christmas with friends back in the capital.

Lots of love from the UK,

See more pictures here!

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!

Old Town Love!

Alex finally managed to get out of Edinburgh this morning around 10A, which left me with my first day of solo sightseeing. I started by hitting up a few shops on Princes Street (H&M, TopShop, etc.) to pick up some warmer clothing for my trip seeing as how I only had clothing intended for the Mediterranean warmth. Afterwards, I grabbed my luggage from the Royal British Hotel, where Alex & I stayed for two nights and moved them over to a hotel in the Old Town, where I’ll be staying for the remainder of my journey. I was actually a bit sad to be moving out of my Royal British Hotel residence — the people were great and the rooms were super comf for the price! Though the New Town really isn’t that new, there is definitely a stark contrast between Old Town and New Town. After crossing the bridge, I felt like I’d fallen through a rabbit hole into old world Scotland: narrow streets, cobblestone roads and kilt makers galore. The architecture is absolutely stunning and the shops were entirely too cute.

My hotel in Old Town is way better than I expected (despite not having internet). The room is massive, the bathroom is practically as big as my room in London and the view is stellar! Check this out (this is just half of my room!):

The view:

After walking down the main thoroughfare, the Royal Mile, I stumbled across St. Giles Cathedral (and a statue of Adam Smith)! The Cathedral was absolutely gorgeous and admission was free so I was able to pop in and take a quick look around.

I grabbed some tour information and am working on planning out the next three days of my adventure. I think I’m going to hit up Rosslyn Chapel first thing in the morning (10A) and then check out Edinburgh Castle in the afternoon from 1 – 5P or so! After that, I’m heading to the Lyceum Theatre to check out Peter Pan around 7P! I’m so excited to see all the history in the town — it’s seriously amazing! Thus far, I would have to say that Edinburgh is the most inspiring city I have seen. Just stepping outside and looking around is breathtaking — the history is palpable and the buildings are incredible. Plus, the pride Scots take in their country is pretty exciting — so many fun Scottish stores and proud, haggis-eating Scotsmen.

I’m still hoping to do a trip to the Highlands & Loch Ness on Tuesday and I’m leaving Wednesday to figure out what tickles my fancy. Despite the fact that my bones are frozen, I’m loving this town! Hoping to catch the Ghost Tour tonight at 930P. Edinburgh is supposed to be the most haunted town in the world… hoping I don’t get too frightened :)

Lots of love,

Want to see more pics of snow-covered Scotland? Click here to see the album! Also, keep up with my tweets in the Play-by-Play section to the right. I’ve been tweeting loads of pictures as my adventures continue!

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,

Family Fun on the Island!

I have so much to catch up on, but I thought a post about the fun family gatherings we’ve experienced thus far would make for a good filler for family keeping up with my homeland hoorah! Too much family fun in four short days; the sadness about leaving tomorrow is hitting me… *tear*

Monday:

{Zija Cikka & I}

Our first family dinner was at Zija Cikka’s house in Qormi — Soppa Tal-Armla (Widow’s Soup), Gbejniet (Maltese cheese), & Gina’s super delish homemade chocolate cake! It was so fun finally catching up with my mom’s Maltese family!

Tuesday

Some good times in Gozo:

{Charlie & Paul at the Azure Window}

Paul & I at Ggantija Temple in Gozo!

Wednesday:

First stop — Ziju Zeppi’s farm!

{Paul, Zeppi & Maria Luisa}

{Paparazzi shot on the farm}

{View from the farm}

Dinner yesterday was at Joe & Sylvana’s house — delicious & entirely too much fun with two little monkeys running around:

Hosts <3.{Joe & Sylvana}

{Rosie & Joe}

{Princess Martina & I}

{Alex & Katrina}

[Falzon – Farrugia – Saliba Family]

I’ve had such an amazing trip thus far and am so incredibly sad to be leaving tomorrow…. I am in love with my family! I’m looking for a super cheap ticket to come back here for Christmas! Otherwise, I’ll be back in summer 2010 for Part II.

To see the whole Malta album, click here!

PS. PSS (you know who you are), I love you to the moon & am so thankful for the amazing trip you coordinated! You and your family are the most amazing people on the face of the planet!