Sunday, June 28, 2015


Our next stop after London was Conwy, Wales. I think we were a little surprised by just how much we loved this point in our trip.
Where we stayed: Byrn Guest House
Why we wanted to come: A curiosity to see what Wales was like and Rick Steves' recommendation (we relied quite a bit on Rick Steves...)
Major sights: Conwy Castle and town walls, Plas Mawr, nearby hiking trails and wild ponies!

First off, Bryn was adorable. The owners were fantastic and they run a great little B&B. Bryn is just outside the town walls and this picture is actually looking down from the wall.

That's Bryn on the left, the cute little garden and the piece of the town wall that comes up to the back yard.

Our room!

I mentioned town walls...Conwy is still surrounded by an original medieval wall that protected the town from the Welsh back when it was an English colonial town. The best part is that you can still walk along the top of most of this wall!

Looking out into the hills from the wall.

Christina liked the window seats.

In this picture you can see Conwy Castle in the back center. The wall leads down to it.

It's a good thing the old gates are wide enough for a car! 

Eye-level chimneys in the town as we walked along the wall. 

This gate is right next to Bryn, our B&B.

We only had one full day at Conwy, but we were really happy with everything we were able to pack in!

Our first outing was a hike around the hills outside of Conwy.

I loved the contrast between the wild hills and the green pastures and houses in the valleys.

I also loved the stone fences!

And, there were wild ponies! I was so excited. Our little trail took us right past them.

"Why hello there!"

Aren't their shaggy manes cute? 

About the time we saw the ponies, we also met some nice older Welsh men who encouraged us to head over to the next hill and look at the Stone Age fort that was there. So we did. We were glad to find a sign with a diagram of the fort, because we weren't entirely sure whether what we were looking at was the fort. You can see it in this picture--it's the long line of stones. 

Looking down at Conwy. You can just see the castle in the center there.

We also had fun watching a sheepdog herd a flock of sheep from our bird's-eye view up on top of the hill. It was funny watching all the little white dots in the field scurry around!

 Amber uses the stile at the end of the trail.

Next we checked out Conwy Castle. While I guess it's technically a ruin, it's a really well preserved castle--you can even climb up most of the towers!

Looking down from one of the towers (Amber decided that we should climb every tower that was open to be climbed).

The town had a protected waterfront with walls that went down to the shore.

A typically understated sign that I take to mean, "Use common sense--old castles can be dangerous!" We like the fact that in the UK and Ireland there seems to be less concern about liability; therefore, you can go into areas that Americans would probably have roped off.

We also went to Plas Mawr--an extremely well-preserved 16th century house.

Yet another opportunity for an audio guide tour!

 Steep stairs to the tower at the top of the house.

Plas Mawr isn't the only famous house in Conwy. It also has the "smallest house in Great Britain." People can pay to go inside--we didn't, but it was fun to see!

So there's Conwy. You can probably tell how much I like it from the number pictures I took. Thanks for your patience with all of them!

Friday, June 19, 2015


Now to pick back up where I left off!

So here's where we are so far:

Days 1 & 2: Bath
Day 3: Blenheim, Cotswolds and Oxford day trip

Days 4, 5, and part of 6 were dedicated to London. London is huge. We gave ourselves about two and a half days to see it, so we knew that we would only scratch the surface. Short as it was, I'm really happy with all the things we got to see!

The quick facts:

Where we stayed: The Jesmond Hotel
Why we wanted come: Well, it's London!
Major sights we visited: Westminster Abbey, Churchill War Rooms, the Tower of London, British Museum, British Library, St. Paul's Cathedral

Amber was in charge of choosing our hotel for London and she did a great job. The Jesmond Hotel was in a nice part of North London, but still fairly convenient to the big sights. We loved the breakfast and they even did our laundry, which was great! Our room was up in the attic, so we really got our exercise. It was not the first or last time that we would all wish to ourselves that we had brought smaller suitcases. 

 You can see our window up at the top on the left, behind the street light.

 Looking down the street that our hotel was on--Gower Street.

Candid shot of the messiness that was our room--I thought our room was surprisingly big for being up in the attic!

Amber recommended getting hop-on, hop-off tour bus tickets and I'm glad she did. It's super touristy, but so efficient. We used that quite a bit to get around London.

Christina looking back at Trafalgar Square from the top of a double-decker bus (by the way, why do we not have these in the U.S.?).

Westminster Abbey was on our short list of places we wanted to see. It's incredible how much history is packed into that one building. It's also beautiful, although I must say it seemed almost cluttered to me because it's so full of graves and memorials. Something I had to get used to in the UK is that they often buried their dead inside the churches. Westminster Abbey is full of graves and memorials, along the hallways, in the chapels, in the walls, and yes, even in the very floor you walk on. They don't allow photography, though, so I don't have any pictures of the inside. It was amazing to see the graves of so many important people, including my personal favorite--William Wilberforce.

Looking across the "cloister garth," another part of the Abbey grounds.

We also saw Big Ben and Parliament, but only from the outside.

Our next stop was the Churchill War Rooms, the underground headquarters where Winston Churchill and his staff worked during World War II. It was quite fascinating.

A sign letting those working in the war rooms know what the weather was like above ground.

 Imagine tracking a complex war with paper maps and pins!

One fun aspect of our time in London was meeting up with Amber's friends Phil and Elyse, We did a lot of our sight-seeing with them and also had dinner at the cool old pub--The Anchor.

We started our second day with a tour of the Tower of London. Unfortunately, I kind of failed at taking pictures there. Here's one looking down from the White Tower, one of the older buildings in the complex, at a courtyard within the Tower walls. The crowd of people is a group listening to a Beefeater tour guide. The tour was the best part--the men who lead them are quite entertaining, while giving a lot of good history about the long and rather gory history of the Tower. To the right is the building where they keep the Crown Jewels--quite impressive, but no photography allowed. :-(

We also went to see the British Museum that day. Don't be fooled by this picture. I snapped it while walking past the museum before it opened. By the time we actually went in, this courtyard was very full!

The British Museum has a lot of artifacts that are not actually British. It has a famous collection of Egyptian mummies.

It also has the Rosetta Stone!

This hall contains marble carvings from the Parthenon in Greece.

Statues from the Parthenon. 

It's not a tourist site strictly speaking, but my summary of London wouldn't be complete without talking about the Tube. At first it seemed confusing and I was glad that Amber had already used it before. By the time we left, though, I thought it was great and really enjoyed using it. The tube is so efficient! 

There lots of escalators in the tube stations, many lined all the way with posters. The juxtaposition of the leveled posters and the angled escalators always seemed strange to me.

Our last morning in London was Sunday and we went to church at St. Paul's Cathedral. We used a new (to us) tube station to get there--Goodge Street. We headed down the stairs toward the platform, which happened to be spiral. We kept thinking that surely the bottom must be just around the next bend, but it wasn't. It felt like we were on a journey to the center of the earth! Then we finally got to the bottom and found this sign:
...needless to say we used the lift (elevator) on the way back!

 St. Paul's was beautiful--more spacious than Westminster. It was quite a treat to hear the choir sing during the service in a space like that. And just listening to the bells before and after the service was delightful! (I miss church bells. Why don't we have more church bells in the states?)

Our last notable stop in London was the Twining's store on the Strand, which has operated in that location since 1706!

Amber on the Strand. 

Sunday afternoon we said goodbye to London and hopped on a train for Wales, ready for our next adventure! I can't wait to tell you about it! :-)

p.s. Here's another map, if you'd like to see where all the places I talked about are located: