England – Trip to Dover Castle

I decided to take a quick jaunt over the pond to visit friends and enjoy the fabulous English culture. While this did involve a lot of time enjoy time on the patio at the pubs around Bristol (yes, the patio, in May, in England!), once I headed to London for my last few days I also managed to make it to Dover Castle to soak up some history. Not only is this one of the oldest castles in Europe, it was also important for the war effort in WWII. Lucky for us they had a WWII reenactment weekend on when we were there. Everyone really got into character with the clothes and hairstyles, plus acting the part of soldiers during that time. Lots of great information and entertainment from WWII, including the music, demonstrations and battle reenactments, in addition to the regular beauty and history provided on a regular day at Dover. Here are a few pictures from our day.





Hello 2015 – New Years Eve in London

Happy New Year everyone! Bit delayed I know but January slipped by entirely too quickly. 2015 started in a great way, with a trip to England and then a whirlwind tour with a friend to Gibraltar, Spain and Portugal which started with a 7am flight to Gibraltar from London on January 1st. Needless to say, we didn’t bother going to bed New Years Eve, what would have been the point?  So we powered through, slept on the flight and started 2015 with a day in Gibraltar. A subsequent post will follow with all the details of our Iberian peninsula tour, this post will be about New Years and the fun I had saying good bye to the horrible 2014 (although it was a good travel year!) and hello to 2015.

I have never been a fan of New Years. Everyone has such high expectations that it will be a great night and more often than not it falls flat, or is absolutely awful. So over the past few years I have made a point of traveling for New Years, at least that way it is guaranteed to be good because I’m traveling and there is nothing better than that!

This year, for the first time in years, I went to an actual New Years event and it was fantastic. The party was at the Southbank Centre in London, England and the party theme was vintage so we dressed up in 20s inspired outfits and headed out. Almost everyone else dressed up as well in outfits from various decades of the twentieth century.  I saw some tacky 80s, a really good Austin Powers, and lots of flappers.  The Southbank Centre itself is beautiful and a great place for an event. It is along the Thames near the London Eye and has a beautiful view over the Thames.


For the event, each floor or area had a different music or decade theme, downstairs was big band and ballroom dancing, another floor had a sixties party, in another room a DJ played guilty pleasure songs of the 80s and yet another had dance music and a DJ.


There were photo booths with props, an arcade with pinball machines and arcade games from the 80s, bars with various specialty drinks and the food theme was American food which included hot dogs and mac and cheese.  One of the girls we were with was a member of the Southbank Centre so we had a reserved table for the night on the top floor in the members’ only section. At midnight everyone went outside on the terrace to watch the fireworks over the Thames, they were amazing, best fireworks I have ever seen. They have fireworks every year over the Thames at the London Eye, although now they charge 10 pounds to watch them along the river as they close the area to traffic and have a band, but they were so fantastic they are worth it. From the terrace at the Southbank Centre we were so close ash from the fireworks fell on us.



After the fireworks we could hear Queen playing at the top of Big Ben so we listened to a song or two then went back inside for some more dancing until it shut down and it was time to head for the airport to start 2015 with a trip to the continent. What a great New Years Eve, and a fabulous start to 2015 which will hopefully be an amazing year full of much travel.



Christmas in Europe

Christmas is such a wonderful time of the year.  I love the lights and decorations, and of course all of the delicious food. I also enjoy the craft fairs that pop up around the city. While Calgary has its charm around Christmas, I absolutely love Europe at Christmas. They really do Christmas well over there. Typically the decorations and Christmas markets start popping up around mid-November and last until early January. When I lived in Copenhagen, one of the best days was when Carlsberg released its Christmas beer. The Carlsberg trucks would drive around the city handing out free cans of that year’s batch. I also love the mulled wine served throughout Europe, each area has its own special brew.

I have spent New Years Eve in England twice before, once in Bristol, once in London, and will be doing so again this year. There are events all over the city of course and the fireworks over the Thames at midnight are amazing.

Below are some pictures I’ve taken in Europe over the years during the holiday season. First is pictures from London.




This picture is in Bath.


I spent a day in Windsor in early January.



These pictures are from Copenhagen on Stroget. At the end of the street they have a skating rink set up in the winter and a Christmas market. Sadly my pictures of the rink didn’t show up very well.


Starting in November, Tivoli in Copenhagen is completely decorated for Christmas and it has Christmas markets set up throughout. There are also areas to have desserts and glog, the mulled wine with cinnamon and raisins traditionally served in the winter in Scandinavia.


I was also in Amsterdam in late November. Such a lovely city.



The Cotswolds – A Tour of the English Countryside

I have been to London and Bristol many times and even ventured into the countryside for days trips, but I have never really spent any time in the English countryside. On my trip to England in June I decided to change that. My first trip was touring the Cotswolds. The entire area is stunningly beautiful.  Green rolling hills, quaint villages and breathtaking views are just part of the charm of this area.


The best way to tour the area is by renting a car as many of the villages are difficult, if not impossible, to reach by public transit. One benefit is you increase the adventure aspect of the trip as driving on the other side of the road on narrow, twisting country roads adds a whole new challenge to your trip!


It also allows you to wander around with no real plan or schedule, which I believe is the best way to really appreciate the area as there are so many great places to stumble across that may not be in the guidebook or on your map.  Each day I planned to visit certain towns and then would stop along the way when I happened upon something else that looked interesting.  I didn’t see everything I wanted to see but that gives me a reason to go back! I decided to stay in one of the larger towns and use it as my base for day trips to the other villages to avoid having to pack and repack my stuff each night. I picked Cheltenham, one of the larger towns in the area, as there were more options to choose from for accommodation and restaurants. It is a nice town with a great pedestrian-only high street.  The architecture is mainly Georgian with wide streets and row houses. Similar to Bath it has mineral springs and became a spa town in the 1700s. Montpellier Walk is a highlight with statues along the storefronts, a park and Neptune’s Fountain.


On my first day of touring I visited five towns (Upper/Lower Slaughter, Bourton-on-the-Water,  Stow-on-the-Wold, Moreton-in-Marsh).  All of them were lovely but there were a few standouts. The first stop was Upper and Lower Slaughter, two of my favourite villages on my trip. These are the quintessential Cotswolds villages with golden honey coloured stone houses and views of green rolling hills. There is a short walk (20-30 minutes) along Warden’s Way between the two towns through woods with streams and fields filled with sheep.  I started in the parking lot in the center of Upper Slaughter and ended beside the old mill in Lower Slaughter.  The walk and the towns are amazingly beautiful. There is a nice shop full of all sorts of touristy and practical items in the old Mill in Lower Slaughter, definitely worth a visit. I couldn’t take enough photos of either town as they are so picturesque, especially walking along the brook in Lower Slaughter. I went in the church in each town and then just walked around enjoying the scenery.

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Another highlight was Bourton-on-the-Water. Such a beautiful spot. The river flows through the middle of town and there are shops and restaurants along both sides with a green space running right along the water.  Although the golden honey stone buildings throughout the centre of town are now shops and restaurants rather than private homes, it does not take away from the charm of the town. I had a wonderful cream tea at Small Talk Tea Rooms (I highly recommend a stop there if you have time) and spent the rest of my time looking at shops or walking along the river.



Outside Stow-on-the-Wold I stopped at Chastleton House. It is a Jacobean property built by a wealthy wool merchant in the early 1600s which contains almost 400 years worth of items and furniture that was owned by a single family until 1991. It also has the first croquet law where the rules of croquet were codified in 1865, and you can take a few shots if you wish.


I had dinner back in Cheltenham at a typical British pub, the Gloucester Old Spot, on the outskirts of town. The food was delicious and the atmosphere is amazing. They also have a great outdoor sitting area which would be perfect for a pint on a hot day.


The next day was jammed packed as well.  This time my focus was more on the sights to see in the area rather than the towns themselves. First stop was Gloucester Cathedral.  It is a gorgeous Norman abbey church from 1100. The exterior is impressive, although it is hard to get it all in a picture as it is surrounded by buildings and a parking lot is along the front.  The interior is equally beautiful and it takes some time to see everything. For an extra few pounds you can go up to the Whispering Gallery where a whisper spoken at one end can be heard clearly by the person standing on the other end. One of my highlights was the cloisters which were used in the filming of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. I recommend buying the 1 pound map of the cloisters as it provides more information on the various pieces of history and movie trivia as you walk around.


Next stop was Sudeley Castle near Winchcombe (a lovely town). It was the last home of Catherine Parr, sixth and last wife of Henry VIII. I highly recommend a stop here if you are in the area. The castle is amazing and the grounds are gorgeous and warrant a walk. There is also a small private church in the gardens. Part of the castle in the back is a ruin but the rest has been well maintained and is worth a look. My favourite parts were the stories of Henry the VIII’s wives, including samples of their typical dress. The exhibit discusses the various inhabitants of Sudeley castle and how the castle has changed through the years.  I had lunch at the cafe in the castle and the food was excellent. Overall it was an impressive place and a fabulous place to spend the morning.


I then continued on to Chipping Camden and Hidcote Manor Garden. The drive to Chipping Camden is picturesque and warrants a few stops for photos. Chipping Camden is a charming village and worth a stop. I wandered up to the St. James wool church on a hill near the edge of town but unfortunately it was closed. From the outside the church is impressive and surrounded by a cemetery.


Hidcote Manor Garden was another highlight of the trip. The gardens are separated into sections, each with a unique theme. You could wander around for hours exploring each section or take some time to enjoy the peacefulness on one of the many benches scattered throughout.  There is something for everyone, from flowers to shrubs to unique trees, and there are fountains and a brook flowing through as well.



I finished my day with dinner in Stratford-upon-Avon. Although not technically part of the Cotswolds, it was so close to Hidcote that I couldn’t resist making a stop to Shakespeare’s birthplace. Unfortunately everything was closed when I arrived but I was still able to wander the streets and see Shakespeare’s home from outside. The Tudor buildings are fantastic, it is a great town to wander around for the scenery and architecture. I took a walk through town and stopped for dinner at Vintner. The restaurant has changed very little since the building was built in 1490, has great atmosphere, low wood beamed ceilings and dark wood floors, plus the food was delicious!  I ended with a stroll along the Avon river. This area is on my list for a return trip when everything is open so I can do it properly.


I feel like I barely scratched the surface of the Cotswolds although I did fit a lot into my 3 days there. Guess I will just have to go back!