The UK and Paris

When my husband and I first married, we had planned on a honeymoon to Thailand.  The dates and lodgings were picked out and the activities were eagerly anticipated; all we had to do was hope we could book a flight that wouldn't interfere with our upcoming move.  Unfortunately, the Air Force had other plans for our newlywed stage and threw us a curveball, giving us less than one week's notification to report to Oklahoma (and only 2 days before Thanksgiving to boot).  We spent our Turkey Day cramped in a tiny hotel room on base in the middle of America, lamenting our lot in life while trying desperately to cook an adequate meal on my favorite holiday.  It snowed that day though, so in my mind, all was absolved at the time and we promised each other we'd take a honeymoon one day.

     Fast forward 7 years and we've had two moves, two kids, and no honeymoon.  Not much of a shock really...life can get in the way sometimes.  With another imminent move on the horizon that will put us even farther away from both sets of grandparents, and with the girls finally being more independent/pleasant to be around, we realized that this would be the perfect year to go somewhere with just the two of us.  We talked it over with the grandparents and they readily agreed to watch the kids, so we booked a flight to London and held our breaths (no vacation is safe in the military, regardless of approved leave, until you set foot on a commercial flight, ha!).

     Now, I had very carefully selected our international flight.  It was a direct flight that left at 6 PM Eastern local time and arrived at 6:45 AM London time with 8.5 hours in the air.  I figured that would be perfect timing to take a sleeping pill as we got on the plane so that we could be knocked out for the duration of the flight and wake up refreshed, free of jet lag and ready to hit the ground running in England.  I'm sure you've already guessed that this is not the way it worked out.  

     As soon as the plane took off, a toddler began to scream.  Normal enough...most kids don't handle takeoff well, and I had ear plugs along with both Dramamine and Unisom in my system, so it shouldn't be a problem, I thought.  I felt pity for the mother who was traveling alone with him; I had been there, too, after all.  However, two hours into the flight, the kid still hadn't even slowed down.  Three hours in, my patience was beginning to wear thin, as was everyone else's.  Six hours in, the little one still hadn't figured out that we weren't all in the process of dying and his little lungs were holding remarkably strong.  I'm pretty sure I heard sobs coming from other parts of the cabin and I know that I wasn't the only one who had the "brilliant" plan of drugging themselves for an overnight flight.  Needless to say, a whole lot of zombies stumbled out of the plane and into the terminal after 8.5 hours of a cacophonous hell.  The little boy stopped screaming the moment the wheels hit the runway and happily scampered down the aisles.  You can imagine how many daggers were being thrown his way.

     Anyhow, we made it from Gatwick into London at some point midmorning (the memory is a bit foggy for some reason) and realized that we couldn't check into our AirBnB for another 4 hours.  We stumbled around the Hoxton area with all of our luggage, generally wreaking havoc on the sidewalks and stopping at every other cafe for another coffee, before we finally found a large, open field and dropped all of our stuff in the only bit of shade.  I promptly fell asleep with my backpack still on and ignored the footfalls by my head (we had managed to position ourselves on the curve of a makeshift track, but we too tired and out of it to move).     

     After a two hour nap out in public, we woke up and were happy to finally check in and shed our baggage before attempting to navigate the streets and underground.  I was immediately struck (figuratively and almost literally) at how different and slightly challenging it is to adapt to an alternate flow of traffic than one is used to.  Initially, I found myself inwardly cursing the people who, in my mind, were very clearly walking on the "wrong side" of the sidewalk and therefore continuously bumping into me.  I was just about to grumble something about the idiocy of Londoners when I stopped dead in my tracks, the cold wave of shame overcoming me as I finally figured out that I was the moron.  Head hung, I shuffled to the left side of the pavement and we proceeded to the nearest pub for our first pint of the vacation.

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     My embarrassment thoroughly drowned in ale, we left the pub and I chose to ignore the helpful pointers painted on the ground at each crosswalk, promptly stepping out in front of an iconic red, double decker.  So, a tip for traveling in London: heed the signs; the locals clearly don't want to be scraping tourists off the road on a daily basis and have taken extensive measures to keep you safe, but they can't help you if you deliberately choose to be drunk or illiterate.  Fight your traffic instincts and trust the Brits.

 Some intersections even had crossing guards for us bumbling tourists.

Some intersections even had crossing guards for us bumbling tourists.

     We spent the rest of our time in London doing a few of the normal tourist things: high tea at Fortnum and Mason, ride on the top of a double decker, pay to pee at any toilet you come across, etc.  We were also sure to "mind the gap," celebrate the Queen's birthday, and eat plenty of fish and chips.  Here is a selection of a few favorite images from our time in this large city...

 Tower Bridge.  Yes, I jumped out in front of traffic.  No, my husband wasn't surprised.

Tower Bridge.  Yes, I jumped out in front of traffic.  No, my husband wasn't surprised.

 Early morning light in King's Cross Station.

Early morning light in King's Cross Station.

 Hyde Park in the morning...we were there later on 4/20 a little before 5 in the afternoon and were genuinely confused by the massive crowds and blue haze hanging over it.

Hyde Park in the morning...we were there later on 4/20 a little before 5 in the afternoon and were genuinely confused by the massive crowds and blue haze hanging over it.

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     After three days in London, we made our way to King's Cross to catch a train into Paris.  I'm a bit of francophile and couldn't stand the thought of being only a couple hours away and missing the infamous city of light.  We arrived in the early afternoon, checked into our AirBnB closet (seriously, I've seen closets larger than this "flat" we stayed in), and immediately ventured out in search of wine, cheese, and a baguette.  

     Making our way to the Eiffel Tower to catch the sunset and enjoy a picnic dinner, I couldn't help but be floored at just how stunning this city is.  The architecture is drop dead gorgeous, the flora is verdant and lush, and the sound of the French language is simply music to my ears. I love the European's appreciation of the simple things and how they can stroll to most places they need to get, and Paris really highlights that slower way of life.  Every meal we ate was spectacular, the weather couldn't have been better, and the locals were actually extremely tolerant of the tourists (I was expecting the quintessential "rude" Parisian, but encountered none).

     The highlights of this segment of our trip were simple: the picnic in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, walking along the Seine with some of the world's best ice cream (Berthillon, if you're interested), and climbing to the second highest point in Paris to take in the city from above.  Below are a few shots from this gorgeous city.

 Be still, my heart.

Be still, my heart.

 The Sacred Heart Basilica.  We had climbed to the top of the tower to get the above shot of the Eiffel Tower.

The Sacred Heart Basilica.  We had climbed to the top of the tower to get the above shot of the Eiffel Tower.

 When I live in Europe, I will have a candy apple red moped.

When I live in Europe, I will have a candy apple red moped.

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 I just found this hilarious.

I just found this hilarious.

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 Europeans love their dogs.  They are everywhere.

Europeans love their dogs.  They are everywhere.

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 You'll see a few "strange" shots like this.  I was experimenting with a film that turns green to purple.  I kind of fell in love with it.

You'll see a few "strange" shots like this.  I was experimenting with a film that turns green to purple.  I kind of fell in love with it.

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 The Eiffel Tower at night on that Lomo Purple film.

The Eiffel Tower at night on that Lomo Purple film.

     After Paris, we hopped back on another train to head north up to Edinburgh.  This was the part of the trip that I was most excited about.  While I enjoy exploring cities from time to time, it's rugged nature that I live for.  Our plan was to stay in Edinburgh for 2 days, then rent a car for the rest of our stay and venture into the countryside of Scotland.  On a quick side note, I absolutely love taking trains to get around.  It's so nice to be able to sit back and relax or read or simply watch the world go by outside your window without having to worry about navigating or traffic.  It's an aspect of Europe that I really wish had caught on in the United States.

     Once in Edinburgh, we encountered our first drizzle of the vacation as we made our way to an apartment in the historic Dean Village.  Our temporary residence was perfectly cozy and so much bigger than the two places we had stayed in prior so far (and it even had shampoo and toilet paper!), complete with a record player, a window seat, and tea.  My husband busted out laughing when he got out of the shower and found me curled up under a blanket in the window seat, wearing a French beret and sipping tea while watching the rain fall and listening to Bach on the record player.  He thought I had died and he had walked into my version of heaven.  He wasn't sure if he'd even be able to get me out of the flat, but eventually we both needed food and so we hit the streets.

     Now, while Scotland is technically a part of the United Kingdom, they definitely do things a bit differently up there.  For one, the Scots do not put helpful advice on their roads directing you which way to check for your impending death by automobile.  They take a far more "fock you, Sassenach," approach and let Darwinism run its course.  Where the English are polished and proper and all things refined, the Scots are a bit more down to earth and rough around the edges in the best way.  I loved them and their lax attitudes (although I did prefer the English accent...I had a hard time understanding the harsh, grating Scottish one at times).

     Unfortunately, we only got one solid day to explore the capital before I fell quite ill.  We had to cancel our castle tour and extend our stay in Edinburgh while I dealt with a high fever and terrible sore throat and migraine.  I insisted on at least walking a nearby path and am so glad that we did.  It was one of the most beautiful walks I've ever been on...old moss-covered stone walls, wild vines tumbling over the path, the sounds of a tumbling brook and birdsong.  It was so peaceful and wonderful.

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 So. Many. Stairs.

So. Many. Stairs.

     I didn't take a ton of shots around the city of Edinburgh...I think I was rather burnt out from shooting the streets of London and Paris quite honestly.  After recovering from the worst of my sickness, we attempted to rent a car in Edinburgh and failed spectacularly.  We ended up having to catch a train to Glasgow in order to rent a car for three days at an exorbitant cost.  So here's another "pro" tip: rent a car far in advance.  When I had checked on prices a couple months out, it was just over $100 for a week.  By the time we got there, we paid over $500 for 3 days.  I had gotten so bogged down with booking trains, lodgings, and things to do, that I completely forgot to confirm the car rental back in February and it cost us big time unfortunately.

     So moving on from our financial blunder, we hopped in (on opposite sides than we're used to) and promptly began to narrowly avoid hitting curbs and pedestrians, randomly screaming in fear as we navigated roundabouts and nearly got crushed between a lorry and a rock face.  It seems we can't travel anywhere internationally without having some near death experience in a rental car.  Anyways, we decided to make our way up to the Isle of Skye and thanks to a tip from a local in Edinburgh, we landed a bed and breakfast in the tiny town of Plocktown just outside of the famous isle.  The sunset when we got there was breathtaking and I stood at the window for an hour just watching the colors change over the mountains and bay.

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 These bramble berry bushes were in full bloom while we were in Scotland.  They were everywhere.

These bramble berry bushes were in full bloom while we were in Scotland.  They were everywhere.

 Plocktown.

Plocktown.

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 The water was surprisingly clear and turquoise.

The water was surprisingly clear and turquoise.

     The next day, we drove around the entire Isle of Skye.  This island is beautiful in a raw and windswept way, but I was actually surprised and sad to see the impact tourism is having on this fragile area.  It made me feel guilty being there, so we ended up not staying long at some areas (like the Faerie Glen) and skipping other areas entirely so as to avoid adding our erosion to already degrading paths and ecosystems (such as the Faerie Pools).  We did hike to Coral Beach on accident (we were looking for the lighthouse, but failed) whose turquoise waters shocked us, and we had to dodge some bulls and wave at seals along the way.  We also went into Dunvegan Castle, ate at the only pub in a tiny town, and marveled at all the sheep and Highland cows along the way.

 Just in case...

Just in case...

 A few brave souls.  Their dog had sense though and refused to enter the frigid water.

A few brave souls.  Their dog had sense though and refused to enter the frigid water.

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 The Faerie Glen

The Faerie Glen

 Dunvegan Castle.  The chief of the McLeod clan still lives there.

Dunvegan Castle.  The chief of the McLeod clan still lives there.

 Coral Beach

Coral Beach

 Highland cow

Highland cow

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 Moonrise over the Cuillin Mountains.  I had my husband stop at the top of a cliff road with no shoulder so that I could climb on top of the car to get this shot.  This was also my first time shooting slide film (which is really tricky), but glad I took the chance.

Moonrise over the Cuillin Mountains.  I had my husband stop at the top of a cliff road with no shoulder so that I could climb on top of the car to get this shot.  This was also my first time shooting slide film (which is really tricky), but glad I took the chance.

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     So there you have it...about a quarter of the shots I took and a rundown on the main points of interest in our travels.  If you made it this far, I salute you, as I know that I can be rather verbose.  While we were sad to leave, we were also more than ready to get home to our girls.  Of course, not even two weeks went by before I piled us back in the car and headed out to the second largest canyon in the U.S., Palo Duro.  I'll be getting all of those scans back next week, so check back then for some Southwestern photography and the full story of the camping trip that will go down in family history as the most exciting/terrifying one to date!