Friday, May 29, 2015

UK Trip 2015: Day 4&5 - Train to London and Buckingham Palace!

Riding a train has always been this great mystery to me. While we've all taken our fair share of flights, those of us born and raised in the South don't often take a train unless we are visiting another part of the world or the Northeastern part of the United States. It's just not a common mode of transportation for us. That being said, we knew we were going to take the train to London, and purchased our seats weeks in advance - but we suddenly realized that beyond that we didn't really know what to do.

Do you arrive hours beforehand, like you do with air travel? Is there a security line? Are we checking bags? What is the situation? I'm sure we lived up to the dumb American stereotype, but we had to ask lots of questions of our darling hotel concierge the night before we left Edinburgh. She made it sound simple enough, and boy, was it ever.

Wait! Before we "leave" the Scotland part of this blog series, I keep forgetting to mention Donnie Milburn's! What is Donnie Milburn's, you ask? Well, near our hotel was a pub called Deacon Brodie's. Grant could never remember the name of this pub and kept calling it Donnie Milburn's. So that is what it will forever be called. 

On a I'm-totally-joking-and-not-serious note, I told Grant that if this baby is a boy that I think his name should be Deacon Brodie. Okay, back to the train!

We arrived at the Waverly train station in Edinburgh, grabbed some breakfast and sat around. At one point, Tiff and I looked at the platform and realized our train had arrived, and the doors were open. We wheeled our luggage over and texted the boys to come on. We found our coach and our seats. We were able to just walk right on and put our luggage away. No one checked our ticket or even an ID. This was just so weird to me, but it was a nice change from the intensity of the TSA Security lines of airports. 

Someone had advised us weeks before to spend the extra money needed to get a First Class train ticket. This was only about a $15 upcharge, and I'm glad we did it. We had great, spacious seats (with outlets!) and meals and snacks and drinks were brought to our table throughout the 4.5 hour ride. Snacks included the Tunnocks' Tea Cakes Grant was so obsessed with. He grabbed 2-3 every time the cart came by. (By the way, someone did eventually come check our tickets.) (I was glad, because that would've been a lot of money to spend if we actually could have ridden for free!)

The boys watched Days of Thunder on an iPad while Tiff and I rested and read books and made fun of the boys. The usual. 

Here's me and Grantley on the train, as well as a pic of some of the gorgeous scenery we passed:

All in all, I'm so glad we took the train. It was a great experience, low maintenance, and we had fantastic views for much of the trip. 

We arrived at London Kings Cross, walked to the nearest Tube Station, purchased an Oyster Card for each of us (the way you pay for the tubes for the duration of your trip) and hopped on the Piccadilly line to Gloucester Road to check into our hotel in London. We stayed at the Millennium Gloucester Hotel in Kensington. This hotel was another great location. Grant and I were not overly impressed with our room, but then again we weren't there all that much. By the time we checked in and freshened up, it was late in the afternoon. We decided to take a walk through Kensington Park as it was so close.

Kensington Park was beautiful and was filled with people and incredibly obedient and proper dogs that were not on leashes. It was fascinating. 

The park is also home to Kensington Palace, the residence of William, Kate, George and their new baby Charlotte. 

I had brought over a casserole for the family but no one was home to accept it at this time. I just didn't want Kate to have to cook dinner that night, you know?

Just kidding. Everyone knows they are at their "farm house" right now while they adjust to life as a family of four. Remind me to do that when my new baby comes in November, okay?

The next day we braved the rain and visited the Tower of London. 

As it was so cold and rainy, our tour from a Yeoman Warder was cut short and was held in the beautiful chapel, but it was still quite informative and entertaining. We went through the Crown Jewels which was AMAZING.

Y'all. The gems. The stones. There are pearls in the top of the crown that were the pearls from the earrings of Elizabeth I. It was really all breathtaking and one of my favorite things we saw on the whole trip. 

And then there was this lion, whose face was so funny I almost died:

We ate lunch at the Tower of London. Grant had something called an Ox Cheek. I had chicken and vegetable stew that was served with "a crusade of rice" which is pretty much the only way I'll be serving my rice from now on. "Would you like a crusade of rice with your red beans and sausage?" YES.

Here's the Tower Bridge!

We left the Tower of London and hopped on one of the big red double decker tour buses. We listened to the audio commentary. Well, me and Tiff did. The boys listened but chose to listen to their commentary in Japanese and German just for the heck of it. 

We hopped off at Buckingham Palace and I was squealing. I've always wanted to go! We knew months ago that we would not be able to enter as the Queen is currently home and they only open the palace for tours when she is away for the summer at Windsor Castle but I was thrilled to even see the outside! 

We did swing through the palace gift shop because I knew I needed a Buckingham Palace coffee mug!

We ended our evening with a walk through Hyde Park. Tiffany and I were exhausted when we got back to the hotel. We all took a little rest, then the boys went back out for the night. Us girls weren't feeling up to it, so the guys brought us Italian food to our hotel room. I came down to Tiffany and Justin's room, and she and I crawled in bed and watched the Season Finale of Scandal that I had purchased on iTunes because WE JUST COULDN'T WAIT ANY LONGER. We were already days late and we just knew if we didn't hurry and watch it that it would be spoiled for us on social media. 

The finale did not disappoint! We spent the rest of the night talking and visiting and then the boys came back. The 4 of us Facetimed Ellie and then me and the man went back to our hotel room and crashed and that was the end of that day. 

Come back Monday to hear about Westminster Abbey!

Previous Posts in this Series:

Thursday, May 28, 2015

UK Trip 2015: Day 3 at St. Andrews and My Favorite Picture Ever

When we were planning this whole little extravaganza, the boys knew that if we were in the vicinity of St. Andrews they would try their darndest to play it. For those of you who aren't married to men who are obsessed with the game of golf- let me try to explain.

St. Andrews is like Mecca.

St. Andrews is the birthplace of golf. The game was first played at the Links at St. Andrews in THE EARLY 1400's. FOR REAL. It's home to the British Open and the boys just haaaaad to play it. Unfortunately, it's not real easy to get a tee time. The boys had to put their names in a lottery. They tried to get on for Friday, and were unable - but thankfully they got a tee time Saturday and THEY. WERE. PUMPED. Their tee time was for the Old Course which is such a historic place.

We hopped in our rental car and took the drive from Edinburgh to the town of St. Andrews. This was so fun to do as we got to see a lot of the countryside and rural areas. We saw sheep and goats and cows and fields and fields of rapeseed. Yes, rapeseed. It's everywhere in Scotland. This is what rapeseed looks like:

Thank you, Google, for this picture. 

We got to St. Andrews and I thought the guys were going to explode with joy.

They rented clubs there (ain't no way we were going to be dragging their golf bags around the United Kingdom when they weren't even guaranteed to get on the course) and went to warm up. Tiffany and I went to lunch in the clubhouse.

Here's my pretty Tiff and some gorgeous bowls of macaroni and cheese and also some fries for good measure:

After lunch, we decided to leave the boys to do their thing and we would go walk around and explore St. Andrews. As we were leaving, we saw the boys about to tee off. They were taking a pic:

Their caddy was taking the picture. We stood off to the side, and commented how funny it would be if we got in the picture of this most historic and famous of places. Before I knew it, Tiffany and taken off. I couldn't let her do it alone, so I decided to hop into the picture too. 

We danced into frame, the caddy laughed, we were so tickled with ourselves, and then we continued our walk, hoping that we got into the picture and that it turned out. We had no idea if it worked. We just knew that when we saw the boys later, we would ask to see their phones. 

We headed out onto our little journey. It was a long walk, but it was a great day. St. Andrews is also the home of St. Andrews University, which is where Prince William and Princess Kate went to college. We even had a Kate sighting:

Tiff and I ventured into the remains of St. Andrews Cathedral and castle (I'm stealing lots of your pics, Tiff) (Sorry not sorry)

We are very mature. 

The castle was beautiful. We even saw the Chariots of Fire beach!

It was an absurdly windy day. We had hot chocolate at a little coffee shop called The Point, which has a very intriguing advertisement in the window:

We sat and enjoyed hot chocolate with marshmallows and planned out everything we wanted to do in London and on what days. 

Eventually, we headed back to the golf course and waited for the boys to be done. When they finally joined us, they were thrilled but exhausted. They said it was the strongest wind ever and playing golf was challenging but also awesome. 

I asked to see Grant's phone to see if the picture from earlier and turned out. 

Boy, did it ever.


And by "we" I mean me and Tiffany. The boys weren't all that amused. They didn't think it was that funny. But Tiff and I couldn't stop looking at it. 

It's my favorite pic from the whole trip. Maybe even in life. Tiffany's face. Oh my goodness. 

It's just gold.

We drove back through the countryside and headed back to the Edinburgh airport to turn in our rental car as we would be heading to London the next day by train. We turned in our car so late that the tram back into the city was no longer operating. We hopped on a bus and rode on the upper deck and laughed and talked and Tiff and I annoyed the guys as usual. It was a great night and we Facetimed Ellie and went to sleep. This was one of my favorite days of the trip!

Tune in tomorrow to hear about our first train ride and our attempt to see the baby Princess Charlotte Elizabeth Diana. 

Previous posts in this series:

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

UK Trip 2015: Day 2 in Edinburgh

Edinburgh is just exceptionally beautiful. Someone commented on one of my Instagram pics while I was there that they refer to Edinburgh as "the fairy tale city" and I completely understand why. So picturesque. They do a wonderful job keeping it clean and not modern looking at all.

We started our day taking a tour of the Edinburgh Castle. This was amazing to see and there's just so much history.

It was relatively crowded but not so much that you couldn't walk. We got to see the Crown Jewels of Scotland and see a lot of military exhibits from centuries past, including flags from the Battle at Waterloo.

While walking around, Grant decided to visit a snack cart, as is his custom to do frequently while on vacations, and he stumbled upon what would become his obsession for the entirety of our time in the UK: Tunnock's Tea Cakes.

I got this picture from the internets:

Essentially, it's a s'more. He bought two and about lost his mind. The rest of our trip my sweet husband was basically on a mission to acquire more tea cakes. Hoarding them. Stashing them. It was insanity. I think the Tunnock's Tea Cakes were Grant's favorite part of the Edinburgh Castle. 

One room had what I called the "WHEEL! OF! REVOLVERS!"

All the men in my social media circles very quickly informed me that those were not revolvers. Apparently they are muskets or something. WHATEVS, Y'ALL.

I REALLY wanted to go to Hollyrood Palace (where Mary Queen of Scots lived) but it was closed for pretty much the few days we were in town. Apparently someone royal was visiting or something. Sigh. C'est la vie...

That night we did an underground tour called Mary Kings Close. This was a tour of some underground parts of the city that still exist from the 16th Century. These homes and alley ways were condemned after The Plague and the city just kept building other things right on top of it. It was cool, but I did start to find myself a little claustrophobic. Our tour guide was great but I couldn't understand everything he was saying, even though he was speaking English. The Scottish accent is legit, folks. It was still really cool and the Plague freaks me out. 

A few more pics of the castle and our evening walk:

Tune in tomorrow as we visit St. Andrews and I tell you the story behind what I believe to be my favorite picture of all time. 

Previous posts in this series:

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

UK Trip 2015: The Flight and The Wrong Side of the Road

We took a United flight from Houston Intercontinental to London Heathrow. We flew Coach, but thankfully we were on a very fancy Dreamliner with all the bells and whistles.

 We did not have Wifi, but each seat had outlets and the seats were pretty spacious. Our flight left around 6:30pm (Houston time) and landed at around 9am (London time). However, to us, we felt like we were landing in the middle of the night.

Tiffany and Justin were across from us and their row had an empty seat (SCORE!) while Grant and I had a very nice person sit with us. She was on her way to see her mother for the first time since 2009. I was so excited for her :)

The flight had lots of children and I literally started praying for their parents. One poor guy stood in the galley way and held his baby for hours, trying to rock her to sleep. To no avail.

We came prepared with snacks, neck pillows, and blankets.... because airline blankets gross me out and provide no warmth whatsoever. We had iPads and headphones and Grant needed none of this because the screen in front of him included games that he could play with Justin. Never in the history of air travel have 2 men on a plane stared at a screen and played Yahtzee so passionately, shaking their fists at each other across the aisle.

I took this long trip to finally watch Into the Woods. My high school did that musical my sophomore year. I played the part of Rapunzel. It was so fun to watch the movie and relive some of those songs and think about all my high school friends who played each part. I even had a few of those "Oh my goodness, what ever happened to him?" moments as I thought about people I haven't thought about in 15 years. (Some people have decided to opt out of Facebook, it seems.) (Way to remain mysterious, people.)

The movie was well cast and well done. I found it visually impressive and they did a good job with the music. However, my opinion of the musical hasn't changed - I still like the first act much more than the second. I don't love the story of this musical but I'm still glad I saw it. Agony remains one of my favorite Broadway songs of all time.

At some point, Justin and I traded seats so Tiffany and I could make ourselves a cozy little bed in their row using the empty seat in the middle as leg room to lay down. I slept for probably 2-3 hours.

One thing I enjoyed on this flight was the people watching. Lots of getting up and walking around, visiting with strangers, brushing teeth in the airplane bathroom, people essentially wearing pajamas. One thing I could've done without was seeing a man enter the airplane bathroom BAREFOOT.







It was disturbing to say the least.

Grant was my airplane police officer though as he was with me at my last OB/GYN appointment where my doctor told me to be sure to get up and walk around a lot on the flight. I felt like every 30 minutes or so Grant was telling me it was time for me to get up. He means business!

We finally landed, got off the plane, went through customs, got our baggage, and then turned around and walked right back into the airport.


We were catching our next flight to Scotland via British Airways.

Thankfully, we were welcomed into the terminal by a parade of bagpipers. Seriously.

We found the Heathrow airport to be incredibly efficient. Our flight to Edinburgh was quick and smooth and I can't tell you much else about it because I literally slept from wheels up to wheels down.

We got to Edinburgh to find it VERY COLD AND WINDY. Oh my heavens, we were unprepared. We rented a vehicle and were very amused by Grant trying to figure out the driving situation.

I think we sat in that car for 20 minutes before we left the parking lot while he just tried to get his bearings and wrap his mind around what was about to happen.

He did figure it out and he did an excellent job. Justin was his navigator. There were a few panic attack "WHAT IS HAPPENING" moments but all in all I felt quite safe in the backseat. There are soooo many different road signs there. None of us knew what they meant. It was a pretty hilarious little road trip.

We got to our hotel, the Fraser Suites, (HIGHLY RECOMMEND) and after we freshened up from our day of travel, we hit the streets. Sunset is really, really late in Scotland so we had lots of daylight hours left to explore. We walked around, saw the outside of Edinburgh castle, and grabbed dinner.

(Sorry I stole your pic, Tiff.)

That top left photo is Haggis Fritters, which believe it or not I tried, and believe it or not they weren't bad! I wasn't brave enough to try haggis as it is more traditionally served, but I am still patting myself on the back for my haggis fritter courage.

That pint ain't mine, by the way. Preggo wasn't drinking. 

And then that night we went back to the hotel where I showered and then I FaceTimed with Ellie and then I died in the bed, I'm pretty sure.

Tune in tomorrow to find out Grant's favorite snack in Scotland!

Monday, May 25, 2015

UK Trip 2015: How it Came About

If you follow me on Instagram, you'll know that we just returned from a 1 week, childless trip to Scotland and England. I kept it quiet here on the blog because Grant doesn't like it when I broadcast to people that I am leaving the country and that our home is open to robbers. I'm not sure why I feel like it's okay to post onto Instagram and Facebook about it and not the blog, but whatever. Plus, the blog requires me to form cohesive thoughts and paragraphs. When I post pics I can just convey my message with hashtags. If the Olympics offered medals in laziness, I'd win the gold every time.

Anyways, I have so much to say about this trip, but I'm going to break it down into several blog posts. Ain't nobody wanna come read a 120 paragraph blog entry. (Hooray for grammar!)

So, today I thought I'd talk about how this whole trip came about and all of the pieces that fell into place to make it into a reality. Let's start by talking about Tiffany and Justin.

Tiffany and I went to school together for most of our lives but didn't really get to know each other until Senior year of high school. We had a class together. Is "Counselor's Assistant" considered a class? I don't know. All I know is we sat and ate snacks and walked around the halls together and occasionally delivered passes to students and helped the counselor's with various tasks. Since we are both on the petite side and also red-headed, many people thought we were twins. We used this to our advantage. 

Somewhere along the line, we realized that both of us were going to be attending the University of North Texas in the Fall. We agreed it would be better to room together than risk going potluck. So, we decided to become roommates.

One of the best decisions I've ever made in my entire life. 

Tiffany and I lived together for 3 years. It was some of the most fun I've ever had in my life. We spent our days eating Lipton Pasta Sides and Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. We made up a dance to theme song to Law & Order: SVU. One of us always had a boyfriend so that someone would come over and take our trash to the dumpster for us. We once spent an entire 24 hours without leaving our dorm room and we spent that entire day watching Lifetime movies. We both love carbs almost as much as we love each other. It was a match made in heaven. 

I moved to Louisiana after I married Grant. She married Justin and after we moved back to Houston, we started hanging out and that's when we realized that we had just helped to create one of the greatest bromances the world will ever know. Grant and Justin love each other so much that Tiff and I have decided that if they ever run away together that she and I will just be roommates again so it's really a win/win for everyone. We share a love of television and comedy and random trivia. We could quote television shows, movies, and SNL sketches for a living. I'm not lying, we could get paid to quote SNL sketches. Or Friends episodes. We have spent many hours brainstorming about how to make this profession a reality. To this day, when one of us comes across something funny, we immediately screen shot it and send it to one another. We are curators of funny things and I treasure her for brightening my every day life. Tiff is a joy and she's incredibly compassionate and kind. She loves my Ellie like her own and Ellie adores her "Tiffy and Justin".

The boys play golf frequently and when they do, Tiff and me and Ellie will have ourselves a girls' day. It's just delightful all the way around.

As Ellie has gotten older, I've realized that Grant and I have not taken many trips away from her. It wasn't intentional, but we just haven't made it a priority. The last time we were away from her was 2 years ago for 2 nights. We've each had a few nights away from her since then individually, but never together. And these trips were just to little places around Texas.

I've always wanted to go to London, and while we intended to go before we had children, it just never happened. Ellie is close to 3 and I knew that Baby #2 was on the horizon. We realized that if we didn't go now, it would probably be several more years before we felt comfortable going. 

So, last Fall, we asked Justin and Tiff if they would be interested in a trip to the UK with us. Tiff shares my love for history and all things old, while Justin and Grant immediately began daydreaming about golf courses. We decided to go. We booked the trip months and months ago and were excited that we all finally "bit the bullet."

And then, life got crazy. After almost a year of looking for a house, we had all but given up. And then this one appeared. And we bought this house and we moved and we sold the old house. And we found out we were pregnant. And we went to Disney World with Grant's family. And Grant suddenly changed jobs. And all of a sudden this Europe trip became very daunting. But, the tickets were purchased and the hotels were booked. This was happening. In the midst of this crazy, insane season, this was happening. 

My parents agreed to watch Ellie. They were real torn up about it, except not at all. My dad bought her a barrel of gifts to welcome her to Camp Grammy and Pops. She was thrilled with the whole thing. I was a little bit anxious. Okay, a lot anxious.

Keep in mind that we haven't been away from her in 2 years, and even then that was only for 2 nights. And we were only 2 hours away. I've gone on two Girl's Weekends since then but she was with Grant the whole time. So the idea of dropping her off with someone else, even with it being her grandparents, and then flying across the Atlantic Ocean and not seeing her for 8 days was a little more than I could wrap my mind around.

Before we left, I typed out some helpful tips for my parents such as what foods she will eat (there's a limited variety), insurance information, school drop off/pick up instructions, and some help with translation. For instance, if she asks for "Green crunchies", that means she wants veggie chips. If she asks for "new minions", she would like to watch Despicable Me 2.  I also went to the dollar section of Target and bought her a small little gift for her to open each morning from Mommy and Daddy. Grammy said this was a huge hit. 

I did better than I thought I would do at saying goodbye, although I did tear up. I did not, however, fully turn on the weeping. I held it together. I knew she was in good hands, and I knew she would have a blast. I just knew I was going to miss her like crazy. At the same time though, I was so excited to go on this trip that I've wanted to go on for years. 

We were off to the airport!

Tune it to my next post where I discuss what I like to do on long flights to another continent and my thoughts on people being barefoot in airplane bathrooms. 

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Disney With a Toddler

We're back! Thank you all for your sweet words of congratulations and happiness. We are very thankful and excited. We will find out the gender on June 1st and I am PUMPED. I really feel like if it's a girl I'll be thrilled and if it's a boy I'll be thrilled. Can't lose. Just curious!

Disney was awesome. SO awesome. We take this trip with Grant's family every few years and it was so fun to do it with Ellie. She has actually gone to Disney once before, but she was only 7 months old at the time so let's just say her Disney experience at that time was spent in a stroller and crying. 

This time she was 2.5 years old and SHE. WAS. DELIGHTED.

Here she is watching the fireworks over the castle in the Magic Kingdom:

Also, if you follow me on Instagram, you will see a video of her meeting Mickey Mouse that makes me sob.

We were in the parks for 3 days. We did go back to the hotel for naps each day. This was perfect for us as we were able to go back out with her late in the afternoon and stay out till pretty late at night.

On Thursday we went to Magic Kingdom, and Epcot post-nap. On Friday we went to Hollywood Studios and then Epcot again post-nap (Epcot was within walking distance of our hotel) (we stayed at Beach Club Villas) and then Saturday we went to Animal Kingdom and then back to Magic Kingdom after naps.

She LOVED the parades and the fireworks. She did like the rides but wasn't overly delighted by them. More just big eyed, jaw dropped wonderment. We were able to ride It's a Small World, Winnie the Pooh, Peter Pan, the Carousel, Ariel, Figment (WEIRDEST RIDE IN THE HISTORY OF DISNEY) (SERIOUSLY WHAT WAS THAT), Dumbo, Triceratops, and the Kilimanjaro Safari. (Ellie saw the giraffes on the Safari and tried to open the door to our vehicle. She said "I be right back.")

She was able to meet Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Sofia, and someone else that I'm not remembering right now. We saw the Disney Junior show which she loved, and also did the Frozen Singalong (ADORABLE) and the Finding Nemo show at Animal Kingdom that was AMAZING. Blew me away, for real. Broadway, right there.

A few tips I'd love to share:

About a week before we left, a friend of mine recommended Orlando Stroller Rentals. We did not bring a stroller with us, but when we arrived at our hotel a stroller was waiting for us. It was in excellent condition, it was clean, it was a top of the line stroller and then we turned it back in to the bell desk at our hotel when we left. The total fee charged to us for the entire stay was $64.95. This was beyond worth it for not dealing with it at the airport, as well as the giant sun canopy. (Our strollers that we own do not have this.)

I can not recommend this enough! It had plenty of storage and cupholders for us, too.

Here's Ellie in her chariot, screaming at Anna and Elsa.

Also, I'd like to mention that during this parade, Ariel was way up high in a seashell and she looked right at me, threw her hands up in delight, then pointed at me and said "OooOooh! I LOVE YOUR HAIR!!"





Another tip I would like to add regarding transportation - depending on where you stay, you have to take buses to various locations throughout the Disney resort. This sounds simple enough, but sometimes the buses are full. And sometimes the buses stop 10 times before you arrive at your intended destination. And sometimes it takes you an hour to get to where you want to go. And sometimes that doesn't put you in a very Disney mood. 

The first morning, we asked the bell desk if we could get a cab to the Magic Kingdom. Apparently cabs aren't allowed to go to the Magic Kingdom. Hard rule. No Magic Kingdom for the taxi cabs. Mr. Disney refuses. 

However, cabs CAN take you to the Contemporary, which is right next door. So we did that. We split a cab and loaded up the kids and the strollers and were taken to the Contemporary, and then we had a short 4 minute walk to the park. 

It was the best decision we made that day. 

Except for the decision I made to eat macaroni and cheese covered in brisket.