Wednesday, 15th May – Travelling to Heathrow

After considering the pros and cons of flying business class with Qantas for our next European Adventure, we decided it was worth the money. The extra cost is offset by the opportunity to have extra baggage allowance, chauffeur drive to the airport, access to the business lounge, express lanes through customs, priority boarding, an impressive menu and a fully flat bed to get enough sleep to arrive refreshed.

For this trip we thought it would be a great opportunity to check out the QF9 Melbourne to London via Perth with Qantas.

Once arriving in Perth we were directed to the Transit Lounge. It’s a brand new lounge that Qantas have built with this flight in mind. It’s a lovely space and there is also a ‘refresh area’ with Aurora Spa products including a face cleanser, hydrating face mist and moisturiser. There were chef prepared hotdogs along with a buffet and many different beverage options, showers and a yoga/relaxation room!

The flight from Perth to Heathrow is non stop so after dinner service we utilised the flat bed and managed to get between 8-10 hours of really good sleep. Once arriving at Heathrow we found ourselves shuttled to terminal 5 where we were to await the last leg of our journey to Geneva.

2019 European Adventure England

Friday, 3rd October – London

Today we planned to do all the standard “touristy” London sight seeing before checking out of the hotel and meeting our good friends Blake and Peter.

From the tube, we got out at Westminster which put us right in the heart of things. We made our way over to Westminster Bridge and enjoyed the view of the Thames taking in this iconic view which includes the London Eye and Big Ben.

We decided to have breakfast at St Stephen’s Tavern which claims to be the hangout of the local politicians. Sure, there were probably cheaper places but the Tavern is absolutely gorgeous and we couldn’t resist.

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After breakfast we explored Parliament Square, Big Ben and Westminster Abbey. Walking up Whitehall Street past 10 Downing Street and the Horse Guards, we made our way to Trafalgar Square.

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We had a wonderful day, the weather was perfect and we reluctantly made our way back to the hotel to pack our bags and check out.

In perfect London fashion we walked out of the hotel to find the weather had gone from perfect blue to pitch black and it was pouring. This didn’t bother us as it was a perfect excuse to get an iconic black London cab to meet the boys at The Crabtree in Fulham for drinks and dinner.

It was awesome to finally see our good friends and catch up over a couple of pints and a lovely meal.

2014 European Adventure England

Thursday, 2nd October – London

Today was going to be a very Harry Potter kind of day.

Bec had been looking forward to going to the Warner Bros Harry Potter Studio tour. We purchased tickets online for about 28 pounds each and were given specific times to do the tour.

We travelled to the studio in Leavesden via train from Euston to Watford Junction. At Watford Junction there was a Harry Potter themed bus (no, not the night bus) waiting to take us to the studio (for 2.50 pounds return). The whole trip from our Hotel to the studio took less than 40 minutes.

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Once we arrived, there was too much too look at! The studio was the place where most of the Harry Potter movies were shot and when they finished filming, they turned the studios into a living museum.

The locations that you walked through (like the Great Hall and Diagon Alley) were the actual sets used in the films. There was also a huge amount of props and back drops that were arranged throughout the studio.

The ticket price included a self guided tour that Bec used while Keith just took lots of photos.

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Once the tour was finished we explored the back lot where there was a Night Bus, Privet Drive and the opportunity to try Butter Beer!

The final part of the exhibition also showed a lot of the artwork and models used in the production of the series. This included a massive scale model of Hogwarts that you could walk around. The detail was so perfect that they actually used it for some of the outside shots!

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After spending most of the day in fanboy heaven, we decided to do some sightseeing around London once we got back. A couple of the key things we wanted to see were St Paul’s Cathedral, the Millennium Bridge, London Tower and London Bridge.

We saw some great sights, got some great night shots and had dinner in the city as well. After seeing London Tower and London Bridge we headed back to the hotel.

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2014 European Adventure England

Wednesday, 1st October – Liverpool to London

This morning we set out from Liverpool with a five hour drive ahead of us. Stonehenge was the destination, but we were hoping to see a lot of the English countryside on our drive.

Unfortunately since we had to make pretty good time there wasn’t a lot of stops along the way and hardly any photos. There were two stops worth mentioning, however.

The first was in a rest area in the Cotswolds – a massive forest area that is particularly beautiful and breathtaking. The rest stop was on a hill so we got to see right out over the forest.

The second stop was something we really hoped we would find – Devonshire teas. We came across a little house on the edge of the Cotswolds that had a sign out the front for Devonshire teas. We found a shed converted to a kitchen and cafe with the owner serving home made…. well, everything. We sat outside in his yard and enjoyed the most English thing we could.

Bec enjoyed motoring around in the Audi A4 – the roads were smooth, the countryside beautiful and the car a treat. We finally realised we were very close to Stonehenge so we pulled over to check our notes and we surprised to see…

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A pig farm! There were massive pigs right there on the side of the road with a HUGE amount of space to run around. They looked really happy, actually, but we’d never seen bacon in it’s natural habitat before.

Around the corner, we found our way to the visitors centre of one of the most well known, oldest monuments in the world – Stonehenge.

We parked the car at the visitors centre. A shuttle service runs from the centre to the stone circle, stopping off halfway to allow visitors the opportunity to walk the remaining stretch if they wish. It cost us 30 pound (AUD$60) to enter the site which included the shuttle.

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After exploring the stone circle, we headed back to the centre to see the exhibitions. In the photo below are replicas of dwellings. It is believed that the people who built Stonehenge would have lived in something similar over four and a half thousand years ago.

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We explored the new visitor centre, opened in December 2013. It houses permanent and temporary exhibitions, including nearly 300 archaeological treasures found buried at the site – from jewellery to pottery to human remains – as well as a gallery, a gift shop and a cafe.

Once we were over the awe of this amazing relic, we had to leave to return the car in London. Only a stone’s throw away and on route to London was a small place that wasn’t well maintained or sign posted called Woodhenge. It seemed interesting so we pulled over for a quick look.

Estimated to be built about 2300 BC, it was originally believed to be the remains of a large burial mound, surrounded by a bank and ditch almost completely destroyed by ploughing. Aerial photography detected rings of dark spots in a crop of wheat, and today concrete markers replace the six concentric rings of timber posts which are believed to have once supported a ring-shaped building.

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Once we set off for London, we only had about an hour or so before we reached our next destination – Ascot Racecourse. This was the last item on our James Bond filming locations list. Since it was closed and we were on a tight schedule, we just took the photo opportunity and then headed off to return the car.

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After dropping off the car we checked back in to the hotel where it all began – the Ibis at Euston St Pancras.

2014 European Adventure England

Tuesday, 30th September – Dublin to Liverpool

We woke up early but a little dusty from our night at the pub. Sadly today we were leaving Ireland and making our way back to England. A short 25 minute drive from our hotel placed us at the Stena line ferry terminal where we would travel from Dublin to Holyhead. It was a 3 1/2 hour trip and so we made the decision to pay for an upgrade and secured a sleeping berth. We both slept the entire way only waking to our alarm set 5 minutes before scheduled arrival.

After an orderly disembarkment we were soon in the car, off the ferry and on our way. We had done a lot of research prior to our trip and so you can imagine our surprise when we started seeing road signs in Welsh! We had no idea that this part of our trip took us through Wales.

After this surprise we decided to take the time to explore a little and stopped in the Conwy Marina. We enjoyed lunch at a local pub, the Mullberry, overlooking the Conwy River. It was a beautiful start to the day.

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Making our way out of the Marina we took a wrong turn, missed the entry to the highway and found ourselves in a walled city – the town of Conwy. As we came around a bend we saw the most magnificent castle. We drove over a spectacular bridge and decided to park the car and investigate further.IMG_5587IMG_5601IMG_5621IMG_5630

As we got closer to the castle we both decided we had to see if we could get in to explore. It cost about 26 AUD for both of us to get in which included a visit to the small museum built alongside the castle. We quickly agreed it was something we both really wanted to do and calculated how much time we could spend exploring.

Once inside we were blown away by the enormity and beauty of the castle. This was indeed an unplanned highlight! The castle ruin has grass covering the ground and no roof but the walls are still mostly intact.

Conwy Castle and the town walls took four years to build. Work started in 1283 costing 15,000 pounds which converts to around 85 million AUD in today’s money. UNESCO considers Conwy to be one of “the finest examples of late 13th century and early 14th century military architecture in Europe”, and it is classed as a World Heritage site.

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There were stairs leading to the top of the castle and we had incredible 360 degree views across the town, river and surrounds.

Our destination for today was Liverpool, England. After leaving Conwy Castle and a short 1 1/2 hour drive, we arrived at 15 Sandeman Rd, Walton, Liverpool. This was the home of Bec’s grandmother, Margaret Elizabeth Bradley (nee Holmes). Bec’s grandmother left this house early in 1930 with her father and sister to migrate to Australia. After a quick chat with a neighbour who remembered the family, and other family members who had made the same pilgrimage, we made our way back to Liverpool city. 

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A few days earlier we realised that our itinerary gave us the opportunity to explore the famous Empire Theatre and enjoy the current production of Wicked. On our way to the theatre we noticed the renown Radio City building.

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The Empire Theatre opened in 1925 and is the largest two tier theatre in Britain. The show was worth the 120 AUD – we enjoyed every second of the performance.

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2014 European Adventure England Wales

Monday, 22nd September – Newcastle upon Tyne to Edinburgh

We decided to get an early start on our sightseeing around Newcastle before having breakfast and checking out of the hotel.

A long walk through Newcastle revealed some treasures we didn’t know to expect and ticked off some sights we had read about previously. The following photos show some of these sights – St Mary’s Cathedral (first 2), Cathedral Church of St Nicholas (next 2), All Saint’s Church, a building on Quayside and the Newcastle Central Train Station.

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Castle Garth and Castle Keep are the key landmarks in Newcastle. They are the ruins of the original Roman castle built in the second century AD. The ‘New Castle’ (which gave the town its name) was founded in 1080 by the eldest son of William the Conqueror.IMG_3032 IMG_3048

A pleasant surprise for us was finding the Seven Bridges of Newcastle. The photos below show The Tyne Bridge (remarkably like the Sydney Harbour Bridge) and The High Level Bridge.

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The next two photos are of the Millennium Bridge, the first one with the Sage Gateshead Music Centre looking like a metal caterpillar on the banks of the Tyne.

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And finally a profile shot of the Tyne Bridge, Swing Bridge, High Level Bridge and Queen Elizabeth II Bridge.IMG_3083

After having some breakfast and checking out of the hotel, we left Newcastle making our way towards the Scottish border. A little over an hour later Keith saw a sign advertising Berwick upon Tweed as being the Northernmost town in England, home to the ruins of the old town walls and fortress. We decided to stop in and check them out.

Berwick upon Tweed was a busy little town. We found some free car parking near St Andrews Church and went for a short stroll past the Church and Council Offices up to the Town Wall ruins.

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The last two pictures above are of the old Fortress and a creepy looking cemetery. After leaving Berwick upon Tweed driving along the coastal road, it wasn’t long before we realised we had just driven across the Scottish border. These photos are of Hilton Bay, just across the border on the Scottish side.

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We continued driving along the southeast coast of Scotland making our way to Edinburgh. Since it was close to lunch time, we looked for a little Scottish pub to have a meal. Driving through Dunbar we spotted the Castle Hotel and decided that it would do the trick.

Dunbar is a sleepy coastal town full of charm with a history of conflict. There is a small port there that used to be the site of one of the most mighty fortresses in Scotland. We went for a short walk and found a good view of the port and ruins of the castle.

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After lunch we continued on our way to Edinburgh via the coast. Stopping at a look out for what we thought would be a few quick photos of the Scottish cliffs and ocean, we spotted castle ruins in the distance. Keith got so excited we had to turn around and back track to see if we could get a closer look.

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It turned out that it was Tantallon Castle which was open to tourists to walk through. It only cost about five pounds each to enter the castle, but it was priceless. The photos speak for themselves.

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The plan for today was to make the short 2 and a half hour drive from Newcastle to Edinburgh and have plenty of time to explore the country’s capital. With our unexpected finds of the bridges of Newcastle, city walls of Berwick on Tweed, ruined castle of Dunbar and now the incredible Castle Tantallon, we were well behind schedule.

Stay tuned for our next blog post where we actually make it to Edinburgh!

2014 European Adventure England Scotland

Sunday, 21st September – Ely to Newcastle upon Tyne

After a good sleep in we had a huge English Breakfast and prepared to explore Ely. We parked the car in a free all day council car park and walked into town. Ely is quite pretty with lots of parks and very old buildings.

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The main reason we had decided to go to Ely was a cathedral that we had read about. The cathedral started as an abbey that was built in 672 AD. Although destroyed, rebuilt and restored many times over the years, the current cathedral is unbelievable.

The photos below give you a clue as to how huge the cathedral is. It sits on a large open area (“the fens”) and can be seen easily from all around. The highest tower is 66 metres high and the cathedral itself is about 164 metres in length.

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Even though the outside was amazing, it couldn’t begin to prepare us for what was inside.

The architectural features of the Cathedral have been added to and restored over the centuries. This meant that everywhere we looked we saw outstanding examples of different eras of architecture and design – the gothic arches, the intricate cloisters and the stain glass all were fantastic.

Speaking of the stain glass, it was so impressive that we later found out a museum had been set up here to display these impressive windows. The majority of the exquisite works of art were done during a reglazing project which started in 1854.

As we found with many cathedrals in Europe and the UK, there was a tradition of burying key members of the church within the grounds of the cathedral. Ely Cathedral is no exception with numerous gravestones littered around the church.

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Oliver Cromwell lived in Ely from 1636 to 1646 after inheriting a sixteenth-century property. He was an important historical figure and the property remains today, converted to a museum called Oliver Cromwell House.IMG_3009

Our final destination for the day was Newcastle upon Tyne, a six hour drive from Ely. After enjoying exploring Ely we commenced our journey to Newcastle via Nottingham, Sheffield and Leeds.

2014 European Adventure England